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

Saturday, March 30, 2019

week ending Mar 30

 Fed Needs to Get With The Program - Fed Watch - Probably best to first step back to last week’s FOMC meeting. That event concluded with the scene of Powell & Co. running backwards as fast as is possible for central bankers to try to correct the error of the December rate hike. As expected, the Fed downgraded their assessment of the economy and held rates steady. Less expected was the sharp downward revision to the dot plot with now eleven of the seventeen participants anticipating no rate hikes in 2019. The median expectation is for another hike in 2020 and then that’s it for this cycle. Note the median rate path doesn’t even get rates up to neutral. In other words, the Fed no longer thinks containing inflation requires restrictive policy. That last point resonates as a substantial change to the outlook. The Fed’s models typically don’t work that way. That call for restrictive policy comes from the need to push unemployment to its natural rate to contain inflationary pressures. Those inflationary pressures have apparently disappeared now that the rate forecast has flattened out despite unemployment remaining below its natural rate. What’s going on here? The persistence of low inflation has finally become too much for the Fed to dismiss, especially now with the economy decelerating. They can’t justify it anymore as a transitory phenomenon so it must be attributable to excessively high estimates of the natural rate of unemployment (which came down again to a now 4.3%) or, more worrisomely, eroding inflation expectations. Powell emphasized inflation concerns in the press conference and acknowledged that the Fed had not met the symmetric inflation target in any convincing way. That’s something of an understatement; if anything, Fed policy has very clearly treated 2% as a ceiling in the actual application of policy.  I see two big points here. The first is that the Fed suddenly remembered that policy rates remain mired near the zero lower bound. They seemed to forget this point over the last year, too excited by the prospect of raising rates to remember that even at the projected end of rate hikes they would lack the room to mount a traditional response to a full-blown recession. The second point is that fading inflation expectations mean a.) they are “paddling upstream” to hold inflation higher and b.) they have “room to cut” when the economy weakens. My interpretation of this new inflation realization is that the Fed has a fairly low bar for a rate cut; see my latest for Bloomberg Opinion.

Fed wrestles with signs of a slowing economy- Kemp (Reuters) - The Federal Reserve's track record suggests policymakers are likely to cut interest rates during the third quarter of 2019, if signs of a slowdown are confirmed, although cuts could come faster if financial conditions deteriorate. The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) normally needs several opportunities to review incoming economic data before deciding to ease monetary policy in response to signs of slowing growth. Quarterly and monthly economic data is often contradictory and volatile, so policymakers need a few months of numbers to spot a change in trend and separate the signal from the noise. This is known as the "recognition lag". Policymakers may also need several discussion sessions and time to challenge previous assumptions and build a consensus around a new course of action, known as the "decision lag". Because of these recognition and decision lags, the Fed almost always acts with a delay to signs the economy is nearing recession. In the run up to interest rate reductions in 1990, 1998, 2001 and 2007, the FOMC met three to six times between first noting signs of slowing growth and making the first rate cut. In 1990, for example, the committee first noted "economic activity was continuing to expand but at a relatively slow pace" at the start of July, although the decision to ease pressure on reserve conditions was not taken until the middle of November. In 2000, the committee noted "softening in business and household demand" in mid-November but the decision to cut interest rates was not taken until the start of January. The committee normally meets eight times each year at intervals of approximately six weeks, so the three-to-six meeting lag translates into a delay of between two and six months. But when weakness is driven by an abrupt deterioration in financial conditions, the committee has held extra unscheduled meetings by conference call, compressing the timetable. In 2007, the committee observed "downside risks have increased somewhat" in early August, then held two emergency conference calls later that month, before cutting interest rates at a regular meeting in September. This year, the committee first acknowledged problems obliquely after its meeting at the end of January and then more explicitly at its recently concluded meeting on March 20. In January, the committee only made a very brief reference to "global economic and financial developments" in justifying why it would be "patient" before deciding on future policy moves. By March, the committee was more direct in noting that "the growth of economic activity had slowed from its solid rate in the fourth quarter". 

Fed done raising interest rates; significant chance of cut in 2020: Reuters poll (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Reserve is done raising interest rates until at least the end of next year, according to economists in a Reuters poll who gave a 40 percent chance of at least one rate cut by end-2020. The Fed left its federal funds rate on hold last week as expected, but its “dot plot” projections shifted and now suggest no hikes in 2019 compared with two in December. A Reuters poll taken just two weeks ago predicted one hike this year. The change in the Fed’s tone lines up with other major central banks which have recently turned dovish, influenced by increasing concerns of a global economic slowdown and political uncertainties like Brexit and the U.S.-China trade war. While the Fed’s projections show one rate hike next year, the latest Reuters poll of over 100 economists taken after the March 19-20 central bank meeting showed the fed funds rate will stay at the current range of 2.25-2.50 percent until at least end-2020. A smaller sample of economists with an end-2021 view predicted no change by then either. “The most dramatic development of the year to date has not been on either trade policy or politics. Rather, it is the Fed’s full-throated embrace of a monetary stance more dovish than many market participants had been expecting,” noted Ajay Rajadhyaksha, head of macro research at Barclays. “We do expect U.S. inflation to exceed 2 percent, but not by much and not early enough to force a tightening within our 2019-20 forecast horizon. We therefore now forecast the Fed to leave the policy rate on hold through 2020.” Only three economists in the poll predict at least one rate cut this year. But the yield spread between U.S. three-month Treasury bills and 10-year notes has already inverted, suggesting a recession is likely in one to two years. The Fed’s preferred measure of inflation is close to the 2 percent target and is not expected to show any significant pick up anytime soon. The U.S. economy, which slowed more than initially thought in the fourth quarter, is expected to slow further over the next three years. Over one-third of contributors with an end-2020 view have now penciled in at least one rate cut by the end of next year compared to around one-quarter of them in the previous poll. When asked on the probability of a rate cut by end-year, the median of those responding to an additional question was 20 percent. But that jumped to 40 percent for end-2020. About one-third predicted a greater than 50 percent chance of lower rates by the end of next year, with the highest forecast at 100 percent. 

Rickards Warns Bernanke Painted The Fed Into A Corner & It Can't Get Out - Four time best-selling author Jim Rickards says the Fed “throwing in the towel” on rate hikes is signaling a big problem for the economy.   Rickards says, “The Fed was tightening to get ready for the next recession...""You need to cut interest rates somewhere between 4% and 5% to get out of a recession. How do you cut interest rates 4% if you are only at 2.25%? The answer is you can’t. You have to get to 4% before you can cut 4%, and that’s what the Fed was trying to do... How do you raise rates in weakness to get ready for the next recession without causing the next recession that you are preparing to cure? That was the conundrum. I never thought they would get it right... and, as of now, it looks like they didn’t get it right. Meaning, they tightened so much to get ready for the next recession they slowed the economy.”  Rickards says, “Bernanke painted them into a corner, and they can’t get out..."  "There is no escape from the room. By the way, one of the reasons gold is preforming so well, the Fed has proved that they can’t get out of this. They got into it, but they can’t get out of it because every time they try, they sink the stock market. They sink the housing market. They raise the specter of recession. They slow economic growth. They don’t want that. So, they sort of pause and maybe tiptoe back into it, but they really can’t get out of it.”

Hassett Says Moore to Curb Rhetoric ‘If’ He’s Picked for Fed -- The White House’s chief economist said Stephen Moore would likely tone down his rhetoric “if” he’s nominated to the Federal Reserve board after the conservative pundit called on the central bank to cut interest rates.“I think that as the process moves forward, if Steve ends up being the nominee, that he’ll have good explanations for his positions,” Kevin Hassett, chairman of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, said on CNBC Wednesday.“He’s gone through his career being a pundit and having really interesting things to say about a whole range of topics,” Hassett said, adding that nominees “have to be more careful about every little word that you utter, and I’m sure that he’s going to start pulling back his op-eds and preparing for confirmation, should that arise.”Hassett in the TV interview was responding to a question about Moore’s comment that the Fed should cut interest rates by 50 basis points. While Hassett’s remarks could be construed as raising questions about the certainty of Moore’s nomination, that was not his intention, according to his office.“Chairman Hassett fully supports the nomination of Steve Moore to the Federal Reserve board,” CEA spokeswoman Rachael Slobodien said in an email. “In his interview earlier today, Chairman Hassett spoke in the conditional about Moore’s nomination because no nomination is official until the White House has sent the individual’s name to the Senate.”Trump hasn’t yet formally nominated Moore, whose selection to the seven-member board would require Senate approval.

Yield Curve Crashes- 10Y Yield Plunges Below Fed Funds With 3M-10Y In Freefall - Traders are watching in horror as the yield curve just took another sharp leg flatter (or more inverted as the case may be) as a sudden bout of 10Y buying sent the 10Y yield sharply below 2.40%, which as a reminder is the effective Fed Funds rate, sliding as low as 2.375%, the lowest since 2017, as the 10-year yield dropped as much as 6.4bps on Monday, after sliding 9.8bps on Friday. This means that the curve is now inverted through the 10Y point: as shown in the chart below, all coupon tenors from 2Y to 10Y are now below the rate guaranteed by the Federal Reserve. The 10Y yield has tumbled more than 20bp since the FOMC on March 20 cut its forecasts for growth and inflation and said it no longer expected to raise interest rates this year and would stop its balance-sheet run-off in September. Meanwhile, the Fed's favorite recession indicator - the spread between the 3 Month Bill and the 10Y Treasury - has plunged further into negative territory, and at last check had dropped as low as -7bps, as the next US recession is now barrelling toward the US. As a result, the US Treasury yield "curve" now looks like... the Nike swoosh. Not surprisingly these recession alerts have hit risk assets, with stocks sliding as sentiment turns increasingly sour, not helped by Apple's announcement that it will compete not only with banks, with the launch of its Apple Card 3% cash back, no fee credit card

Will the yield curve lead to recession? It really is different this time - Yields on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes fell below 3-month Treasury bills on Friday for the first time since 2007, triggering a major recession indicator.  Market analysts have tripped over one another telling us not to worry. This time is different, they insist. And while strategists with high S&P 500 targets are notorious for balking at clear and longstanding recession indicators, they do have a point. Things are different now. : Since Friday's yield curve inversion, the market further positioned for a recession or at least something much worse than the slowdown to 2.1% growth the Fed is predicting. While investors have implored anxious Americans to look to the strong U.S. labor market and solid 2018 GDP numbers, what's really changed is the impact of central banks.  After the financial crisis, the Fed's quantitative easing program saw the central bank tack around $4.5 trillion worth of bonds onto its balance sheet — much of it longer-dated U.S. Treasuries — in an effort to depress yields and support financial institutions. Fed Chair Jay Powell announced earlier this month that the Fed would stop reducing those holdings once the balance sheet gets to around $3.5 trillion. And it's not just the Fed. The ECB and BOJ both have negative interest rates for some deposits. German and Japanese 10-year government bonds now have negative yields. That's driving a flurry of investors to U.S. Treasuries, which pay significantly more.There's also the $1 trillion annual U.S. deficit and unprecedented $22 trillion national debt. The deficit is being funded by issuing more short-dated Treasury bills than longer-dated notes, helping invert the curve, Baumohl says. The yield curve has inverted before the last 7 U.S. recessions, making it impossible to ignore. But the Fed's quantitative easing programs and subsequent stimulus efforts by governments and central banks around the world have distorted markets. It's hard to rely on historical correlations, positive or negative, because we've never seen this before.

Next U.S. recession is likely to be shorter and milder - The progressive inversion of the U.S. Treasury yield curve and signs of a broad deceleration in manufacturing activity and freight movements have focused investors on the possibility of another recession in 2019/2020. But whenever it comes, the next business cycle downturn is very unlikely to resemble the wrenching depression that followed the global financial crisis in 2008 in terms of either severity or duration. Since the end of the Second World War, recessions have generally become shorter and milder, while expansions have become longer and less frenzied. Post-war recessions have generally been milder because of shifts in the composition of the economy, labour force and sources of personal income (“Major changes in cyclical behaviour”, Zarnowitz and Moore, 1986). Counter-cyclical fiscal and monetary policies have also dampened the business cycle and promoted greater economic stability. In contrast, the downturn that followed the global financial crisis was much more like a pre-war economic crisis than any of its post-war predecessors ( ). U.S. manufacturing output slumped almost 21 percent between December 2007 and June 2009, more than twice the average decline of 8.4 percent during the previous 10 recessions. And the recession lingered for 18 months, almost double the post-war average of 10 months, according to the Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research.Statistically, the next recession is likely to be shorter, lasting less than a year, and milder, with economic activity, employment and incomes contracting much less. The next recession, when it arrives, is therefore likely to have a much smaller impact on commodity consumption and prices as well as a smaller effect on other asset markets. 

Chicago Fed "Index points to little change in economic growth in February" -- From the Chicago Fed: Index points to little change in economic growth in February The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) edged down to –0.29 in February from –0.25 in January. Two of the four broad categories of indicators that make up the index decreased from January, and three of the four categories made negative contributions to the index in February. The index’s three-month moving average, CFNAI-MA3, moved down to –0.18 in February from a neutral reading in January. This graph shows the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (three month moving average) since 1967.

Q4 GDP Revised Down to 2.2% Annual Rate - From the BEA: Gross Domestic Product, 4th quarter and annual 2018 (third estimate) Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 2.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018, according to the "third" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the third quarter, real GDP increased 3.4 percent. The GDP estimate released today is based on more complete source data than were available for the "initial" estimate issued last month. In the initial estimate, the increase in real GDP was 2.6 percent. With this estimate for the fourth quarter, the general picture of economic growth remains the same; personal consumption expenditures (PCE), state and local government spending, and nonresidential fixed investment were revised down; imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, were also revised down. PCE growth was revised down from 2.8% to 2.5%. Residential investment was revised down from -3.5% to -4.7%. This was at the consensus forecast. This puts 2018 annual GDP at 2.86%, and Q4-over-Q4 GDP at 2.97%. Here is a Comparison of Third and Initial Estimates.

Q4 GDP Third Estimate: Real GDP at 2.2% -  The Third Estimate for Q4 GDP, to one decimal, came in at 2.2% (2.17% to two decimal places), a decrease from 3.4% for the Q3 Third Estimate. had a consensus of 2.4%. Here is the slightly abbreviated opening text from the Bureau of Economic Analysis news release: Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 2.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018 (table 1), according to the "third" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the third quarter, real GDP increased 3.4 percent. The GDP estimate released today is based on more complete source data than were available for the "initial" estimate issued last month. In the initial estimate, the increase in real GDP was 2.6 percent. With this estimate for the fourth quarter, the general picture of economic growth remains the same; personal consumption expenditures (PCE), state and local government spending, and nonresidential fixed investment were revised down; imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, were also revised down (see "Updates to GDP" on page 2). [Full Release] Here is a look at Quarterly GDP since Q2 1947. Prior to 1947, GDP was an annual calculation. To be more precise, the chart shows is the annualized percentage change from the preceding quarter in Real (inflation-adjusted) Gross Domestic Product. We've also included recessions, which are determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). Also illustrated are the 3.22% average (arithmetic mean) and the 10-year moving average, currently at 2.06%. Here is a log-scale chart of real GDP with an exponential regression, which helps us understand growth cycles since the 1947 inception of quarterly GDP. The latest number puts us 13.6% below trend.

Q4 GDP Revised Lower To 2.2% from 2.6%; Full Year GDP Rises 3.0% - After one month ago the BEA reported that the US economy ended 2018 stronger than expected, with US GDP rising at a 2.6% annualized rate, moments ago the BEA released its third revision to the GDP which was revised modestly lower to just 2.2%, below the 2.3% expected.The downward revision to real GDP growth was primarily accounted for by revisions to consumer spending, state and local government spending, and business investment that were partly offset by a downward revision to imports. For additional information see the technical note. Here are the specific revisions:

  • Personal Consumption contribution to the bottom line: 1.66% from 1.92%. On an annualized basis, however, the number was 2.5%, which was down from the 2.8% pre-revision, and just below the 2.6% expected.
  • Fixed investment was also revised lower, contributing 0.54% to the bottom line, down from 0.69% a month ago
  • Private inventories, while barely changed, were also revised lower from 0.13% to 0.11%
  • Net trade (exports less imports) shrank less than initially reported, reducing GDP by 0.08%, down from -0.22% as initially reported
  • Finally, government consumption ended up being a drag to growth, shrinking by -0.07% vs the initial estimate of 0.07% growth.

Visually: More importantly for Trump, despite the downward revision, the president can still boast of the first 3% GDP print (on a year over year basis). As the BEA notes, measured from the fourth quarter of 2017 to the fourth quarter of 2018, real GDP increased 3.0 percent during the period. That compared with an increase of 2.5 percent during 2017. On the inflation front, the GDP Price Index rose 1.7%, below the 1.8% expected, even though core PCE actually surprised to the upside, rising by 1.8% from 1.7% pre-revision, and also above the 1.7% expected. Separately, the BEA reported that corporate profits fell -0.4% after rising 3.5% in prior quarter, with corporate profits up 7.4% on a year over year basis,  in 4Q after rising 10.4% prior quarter.Meanwhile, financial industry profits declined 5.6% Q/q in 4Q after falling 1.3% prior quarter; nonfinancial sector profits rose 1% Q/q in 4Q after rising 6.4% prior quarter. Finally, corporate profits with inventory valuation and capital consumption adjustments increased 7.4 percent from the fourth quarter of 2017.

GDP revised downward for 2018 as US economy shows more signs of slowing - The U.S. economy grew 2.2 percent in the final quarter of last year, the Commerce Department said Thursday, less than the 2.6 percent the government initially estimated and another sign of a slowdown. President Trump, however, has focused on how fast the economy grew in 2018, which was widely expected to be a strong year after the GOP tax cuts and infusion of more government spending. Trump contends the economy is taking off, while most economists say growth peaked last year. Trump has been touting 3.1 percent economic growth in 2018. But officially, the Commerce Department said Thursday, the economy grew 2.9 percent last year. There are two main ways to calculate GDP growth. The White House method is to calculate the change from the fourth quarter of 2017 to the fourth quarter of 2018, which is preferred by many economists, including the Federal Reserve. The Commerce Department reported Friday that measure of growth was revised down to 3 percent. The official government GDP statistic, however, is calculated by comparing how many goods and services were produced in 2017 ($18.6 trillion) with 2017 output ($18.1 trillion). That change is 2.9 percent. The two measures are typically quite close, and few people beyond data nerds notice the difference. But this report came under more scrutiny because Trump promised 3 percent growth every year for the next decade. Americans are rightly asking: By the official government statistic, Trump did not. But most economists are willing to say he did because they think it is valid to look at the 3 percent calculation.What is perhaps more important is putting growth in historical context. The 2.9 percent measure is the best since 2015, a robust but not unprecedented rate during this recovery.Trump has been pointing to the 3 percent measure as the “best in 14 years.” He says that because it is the best fourth quarter to fourth quarter change during that time frame, but growth also hit 3 percent (or better) several times under President Obama, including during the first quarter of 2015, when it grew 3.8 percent. Economists are not focused on this political debate. The main takeaway for most experts is that growth is showing clear signs of slowing. The economy grew 4.2 percent in the second quarter of 2018, 3.4 percent in the third quarter and a 2.2 percent in the final quarter.

GDP Q4 final reading up 2.2%, but full year falls short of Trump's goal - Economic growth in the U.S. slowed in the final part of 2018, with GDP posting a gain of just 2.2 percent in the fourth quarter, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. The final reading was in line with expectations of economists surveyed by Dow Jones. That was down from the previous estimate of 2.6 percent and leaves full-year growth at 2.9 percent. Third-quarter growth registered 3.4 percent. In all, 2018 was the best year for the economy since 2015 and well above the 2.2 percent increase in 2017. The economy grew 3 percent when compared with the fourth quarter of 2017. Consumer spending as well as government expenditures at the state and national levels and nonresidential fixed investment all were revised down and subtracted from the GDP. Imports also were revised lower amid continuing tensions between the U.S. and its global trading partners. However, exports also rose, helping fuel the GDP rise. Overall, the fourth quarter increase tied for the slowest gain since the first quarter of 2018. Nonresidential fixed investment, a key sign of business activity, rose 5.4 percent, up from 2.5 percent in the third quarter. Equipment spending increased 6.6 percent but investment in structures fell 3.9 percent, its second consecutive decline. Residential investment also fell, down 4.7 percent for its fourth straight negative quarter. Exports increased by 1.8 percent while imports were up 2 percent. In addition to the waning GDP growth, corporate profits edged lower in the fourth quarter but finished the year up 7.8 percent, compared with 3.2 percent in 2017. Companies benefited from the White House-backed tax cut that slashed the corporate rate to 21 percent.

Q4 Real GDP Per Capita: 1.50% Versus the 2.17% Headline Real GDP - The Third Estimate for Q4 GDP came in at 2.2% (2.17% to two decimals), down from 3.4% in Q3. With a per-capita adjustment, the headline number is lower at 1.50% to two decimal points. Here is a chart of real GDP per capita growth since 1960. For this analysis, we've chained in today's dollar for the inflation adjustment. The per-capita calculation is based on quarterly aggregates of mid-month population estimates by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which date from 1959 (hence our 1960 starting date for this chart, even though quarterly GDP has is available since 1947). The population data is available in the FRED series POPTHM. The logarithmic vertical axis ensures that the highlighted contractions have the same relative scale. The chart includes an exponential regression through the data using the Excel GROWTH function to give us a sense of the historical trend. The regression illustrates the fact that the trend since the Great Recession has a visibly lower slope than the long-term trend. In fact, the current GDP per-capita is 7.9% below the pre-recession trend.

Q1 GDP Forecasts: Mid 1% Range -- From Merrill Lynch: Consumer spending inched up only 0.1% mom in Jan, and a downwardly revised Dec provided a weaker handoff into the quarter. The data sliced 0.3pp from 1Q GDP tracking, bringing our estimate down to 1.7% qoq saar [March 29 estimate] From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 1.3% for 2019:Q1 and 1.6% for 2019:Q2 [Mar 29 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 1.7 percent on March 29, up from 1.5 percent on March 27. A decrease in the nowcast of first-quarter real personal consumption expenditures growth from 0.9 percent to 0.5 percent after this morning’s personal income and outlays release from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis was more than offset by increases in the nowcasts of real nonresidential equipment investment growth, real residential investment growth, and the contribution of inventory investment to first-quarter real GDP growth. [Mar 13 estimate] CR Note: These estimates suggest real GDP growth will be in the 1% to 2% range annualized in Q1.

Trump won’t get sustained ‘boom’ without an infrastructure bill and more tax cuts, new White House report shows - President Trump has promised an economic boom that will last for years to come, but he’s unlikely to get one without the help of Congress to pass major new legislation, according to estimates by Trump’s own economic team.To achieve about 3 percent growth for the next decade, Trump would need a big infrastructure bill, more tax cuts, additional deregulation, and policies that transition more people off government aid and into full-time jobs, according to the 2019 Economic Report of the President, released Tuesday by Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers.There’s skepticism that Trump will be able to get all of these policies through Congress, especially with Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) leading the House.“Washington is a really hard place to get things done,” said Kevin Hassett, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, but he stressed that his biggest concern for growth is Trump’s policies getting rolled back or Medicare-for-all becoming reality. The report shows for the first time that the White House is predicting a lot weaker growth if all of those new policies do not come through. Growth would be about 2.5 percent in 2022 if no additional policies are implemented, according to White House calculations. By 2026, growth could fall to about 2 percent, the model suggests. A lot is riding on whether Trump can achieve his promised 3 percent growth. Without it, his tax cuts would add substantially more to the debt than they already have and Democrats would have an easier time hammering his economic track record.

3 reasons to think twice about an infrastructure bill - For Americans eager to see more investment in the nation’s infrastructure, 2019 started strong. With public support from President Donald Trump, congressional committee chairs and Democratic leadership, infrastructure has bubbled to the top of the relatively short list of bipartisan issues that can be achieved this year, despite a divided Congress and an accelerating presidential campaign. This is encouraging as the time is more than ripe to address the deteriorating nature of America’s essential infrastructure. However, the pending debate in Congress seems to assume that more federal funding is the answer without asking the foundational question: What is the problem we are trying to solve? When Americans think of infrastructure projects, they often have the 1956 Highway Act in mind, the law that created the interstate highway system through a national gas tax – arguably the best infrastructure project in world history. But the infrastructure challenges of 2019 are vastly different than those of 1956; we should move on. I spent the past two decades focused on how to deliver infrastructure projects more efficiently in terms of time and money. At every step, I was trying to find ways to make highways, water systems, natural gas systems, transit operations, airports, ports, railroads and pipelines more efficient and provide better value to their users. Across all these systems, in virtually every corner of America, the largest obstacle to building and maintaining infrastructure is insufficient funding. As a result, it’s easy to assume that the basic problem is finding funding and that providing more federal money is the answer. Yet when dealing with infrastructure, that is not always the case.

U.S. Posts Largest-Ever Monthly Budget Deficit in February - The U.S. posted its biggest monthly budget deficit on record last month, amid a 20 percent drop in corporate tax revenue and a boost in spending so far this fiscal year. The budget gap widened to $234 billion in February, compared with a fiscal gap of $215.2 billion a year earlier. That gap surpassed the previous monthly record of $231.7 billion set seven years ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. February’s shortfall helped push the deficit for the first five months of the government’s fiscal year to $544.2 billion, up almost 40 percent from the same period the previous year, the Treasury Department said in its monthly budget report Friday. The release was delayed a week by the government shutdown earlier this year. Receipts dipped less than 1 percent to $1.3 trillion in the October-February period from the previous year, while spending accelerated 9 percent to $1.8 trillion. The fiscal shortfall is widening following President Donald Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax-cuts package that’s weighing on receipts and raising concerns about the national debt load, which topped a record $22 trillion last month. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell reiterated his concern over the government deficit in a press conference Wednesday, saying that the nation’s growing debt pile needs to be addressed. At the same time, there’s a shift among some economists -- led by proponents of Modern Monetary Theory -- on the dangers of a growing deficit, with low inflation and cheap borrowing costs suggesting there’s room for additional spending. The budget deficit as a share of gross domestic product is expected to widen to 5.1 percent this year, up from 3.8 percent a year ago, according to projections from the White House Office of Management and Budget. The shortfall is expected to be 4.9 percent of GDP in 2020, and further narrow every year through 2024, according to the estimates.

The Debt Crisis Is Coming – Marty Feldstein, WSJ - The most dangerous domestic problem facing America’s federal government is the rapid growth of its budget deficit and national debt. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the deficit this year will be $900 billion, more than 4% of gross domestic product. It will surpass $1 trillion in 2022. The federal debt is now 78% of GDP. By 2028, it is projected to be nearly 100% of GDP and still rising. All this will have very serious economic consequences, and the CBO understates the problem. It has to base its projections on current law—in this case, the levels of spending and the future tax rules and rates that appear in law today. Those levels don’t match realistic predictions. Current law projects that defense spending will decline as a share of GDP, from a very low 3.1% now to about 2.5% over the next 10 years. None of the military and civilian defense experts with whom I’ve spoken believe that will happen, given America’s global responsibilities and the need to modernize U.S. military equipment. It is likelier that defense spending will stay around 3% of GDP or even increase in the coming decade. And if the outlook for defense spending is increased, the Democratic House majority will insist that the non-defense discretionary spending should rise to match its trajectory. If defense and other discretionary spending stays steady as a share of GDP, the annual deficit will increase by nearly 1% of GDP—from 4.2% of GDP now to about 5% of GDP 10 years from now. At the same time, the tax increases in current law that the CBO assumes will occur during the next decade as some of the recent cuts are phased out probably won’t happen. Congress will face strong political pressure to avoid a functional tax increase. Federal debt will probably surpass 100% much sooner than 2028. If discretionary spending increases, debt growth will jump to 100% even quicker. When America’s creditors at home and abroad realize this, they will push up the interest rate the U.S. government pays on its debt. That will mean still more growth in debt. A 1% increase in the interest rate the government pays on its debt would boost the annual deficit by more than 1%. The higher long-run debt-to-GDP ratio would crowd out business investment and substantially reduce the economy’s growth rate. That in turn would mean lower real incomes and less tax revenue, leading to—you guessed it—an even higher debt-to-GDP ratio. To avoid economic distress, the government either has to impose higher taxes or reduce future spending. Since raising taxes weakens incentives and further slows economic growth—worsening the debt-to-GDP ratio—the better approach is to slow government spending growth. Defense spending and nondefense discretionary outlays can’t be reduced below the unprecedented and dangerously low shares of GDP that the CBO projects. Thus the only option is to throw the brakes on entitlements. In particular, the government needs to hold back the growth of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Federal spending on the two major health programs is projected to rise from its current 5.5% of GDP to more than 7.2% by 2029. And it will only keep increasing after that. 

A Must Read: Why Does Everyone Hate MMT? -  Randy Wray - The attacks on MMT continue full steam ahead. Janet Yellen (former Fed chair, but clueless on money and banking)—a centrist–has joined the fray. Jerry Epstein—on the official left–has ramped up his ridiculous claims, now associating MMT with “America First” and fascism (you knew that was coming—it has always been the refuge of critics who couldn’t come up with valid critiques). But there are some rays of light. Bloomberg published a more balanced assessment ( The authors of that piece actually took the time to go through our new textbook (Macroeconomics, by Mitchell, Wray and Watts—now available for purchase in the USA : And in Australia). However, here is the best response to the critics I’ve seen:  WHY DOES EVERYONE HATE MMT? Groupthink In Economics, by James Montier, March 2019,  Not only does he take down prominent critics like Summers and Rogoff, he also provides a very useful 400 word summary of MMT. Some of you have asked for a concise statement, and this is as good as you’re likely to find.

  • Money is a creature of the state. Money is effectively an IOU. Anyone can issue money; the trouble is getting it accepted. The ability to impose taxes (or other obligations) makes a country’s ‘money’ valuable.
  • Understanding the monetary environment is vital. The monetary regime under which a country operates matters. Any country that issues debt only in its own currency and has a floating currency can be thought of as being monetarily sovereign. This means it cannot be forced to default on its debt (i.e. the U.S., Japan, and the UK, but not the Eurozone or most emerging markets).
  • An operational description of the monetary system is critical. Understanding that loans create deposits (which in turn create reserves, aka endogenous deposits create loans. For example, knowing that government deficit spending creates reserves and drives down interest rates is vital to understanding Japan’s bond market.
  • Functional finance, not sound finance. Fiscal policy is much more potent than monetary policy. Fiscal policy should be aimed at generating full employment while maintaining low inflation (rather than, say, achieving a balanced budget position). A Job Guarantee scheme is an example of a useful policy option to effect this outcome (acting like a buffer stock in a commodity market) in the eyes of MMT.
  • Limits are real resource and ecological limits. If any sector of the economy pushes it beyond the limits of capacity, then inflation will result. If a government spends too much or taxes too little, it can create inflation, but there is nothing unique about the government sector in this regard. These are the limits that matter – people, machines, factories – not ‘financing’ constraints.
  • Private debt matters. Even in a monetarily sovereign state, private debt matters. The private sector cannot print money to repay its debts. As such, it has the potential to create a systemic vulnerability. Think Minsky’s financial instability hypothesis: stability begets instability.
  • Macro accounting (Godley style) keeps us honest. One sector’s debt is another’s asset. So, the government’s debt is the private sector’s asset. Understanding how one sector relates to another using a sectoral balance framework is very helpful, as is understanding the Kalecki profits equation, or the way reserves work in a financial system. Accounting isn’t glamourous and identities shouldn’t be taken as behaviours, but they can help us spot unsustainable situations.

I urge you to read the rest of his piece. It is spot-on.

House fails to override Trump's veto on bill that would have blocked his national emergency - House Democrats' attempt to override President Donald Trump's first veto failed Tuesday, leaving the president's national emergency declaration in place for now. The chamber fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to overcome the president's opposition to a resolution that would end his executive action. Only 14 Republicans joined with Democrats in voting to override the veto in a 248-181 vote — one more GOP representative than when the House passed the measure last month. In a joint statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Texas Democrat who authored the resolution, said the congressional votes would "provide significant evidence for the courts as they review lawsuits" challenging the move to secure money for the president's proposed border wall. They signaled the House would vote again on ending the national emergency in six months, which lawmakers can do as long as it is in effect. "The President's lawless emergency declaration clearly violates the Congress's exclusive power of the purse, and Congress will work through the appropriations and defense authorization processes to terminate this dangerous action and restore our constitutional system of balance of powers," they said following the vote. "In six months, the Congress will have another opportunity to put a stop to this President's wrongdoing. We will continue to review all options to protect our Constitution and our Democracy from the President's assault." Last month, Trump declared a national emergency to divert money already approved by Congress to the construction of barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border. Democrats and some Republicans worried about Trump circumventing the legislature's appropriations power after lawmakers passed only about $1.4 billion of the $5.7 billion the president sought for structures. But Democrats could not get enough GOP lawmakers to back the measure.

Pentagon directs $1 billion to go toward building Trump’s border wall - The Pentagon notified Congress Monday it had authorized up to $1 billion in funding to go toward building President Trump's wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to plan and build 57 miles of 18-foot-high fencing in Yuma, Arizona, and El Paso, Texas, the Associated Press reports. Trump declared a national emergency in February to push wall funding through, but 12 Republican senators voted against it. Trump made it clear before the vote he planned to veto the bill.   The House was due to vote to override President Trump's veto Tuesday. However, the transfer to the Defense Department that Shanahan authorized was made without using the president's declaration, according to The New York Times.

Navy’s $7.8 Billion Destroyer Now Due for Delivery 5 Years Late The first ship in the U.S. Navy’s $23 billion program to build a new class of destroyers is scheduled for a September delivery -- more than five years later than originally scheduled and 10 years after construction began on the stealthy vessels built by General Dynamics Corp. Delivery plans for the Zumwalt-class guided missile destroyer have been a roller-coaster of changing milestones, most recently moved from May of this year to September, according to budget documents confirmed by a Navy spokeswoman. The ship isn’t expected to have an initial combat capability until September 2021, at least three years later than planned. The latest delay for the first $7.8 billion vessel, designated the DDG-1000, may add to doubts that the Navy can build, outfit and deliver vessels on time and within cost targets. The service is seeking public and congressional support for plans to reach a 355-ship fleet by 2034 from 289 today, a 20-year acceleration over last year’s plan to reach that goal. “The new information underscores the risks that we have reported on for many years: When the Navy pushes forward on lead ships without realistic cost, schedule and performance expectations, the result is ships that are late, over cost, and incomplete,” Shelby Oakley, the Government Accountability Office’s supervisor for naval systems reviews, said in an email. General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works in Maine began construction on the DDG-1000 in February 2009.  Bath “is not the prime contractor for the ongoing combat systems portion of the ship’s completion now occurring in San Diego,”  . The program’s procurement cost also keeps increasing -- by $160 million in fiscal 2020, the 11th straight year of increases that cumulatively total more than $4 billion since 2010. The basic cost for procuring the three ships now planned has risen to just over $13.2 billion, according to newly filed budget documents and the Congressional Research Service. The $23 billion program also includes about $10 billion in research and development.

Pentagon Says Google's Drone Work Is Exempt From Freedom of Information Act - IN SEPTEMBER 2017, Aileen Black wrote an email to her colleagues at Google. Black, who led sales to the U.S. government, worried that details of the company’s work to help the military guide lethal drones would become public through the Freedom of Information Act. “We will call tomorrow to reinforce the need to keep Google under the radar,” Black wrote. According to a Pentagon memo signed last year, however, no one at Google needed worry: All 5,000 pages of documents about Google’s work on the drone effort, known as Project Maven, are barred from public disclosure, because they constitute “critical infrastructure security information.” One government transparency advocate said the memo is part of a recent wave of federal decisions that  keep sensitive documents secret on that same basis — thus allowing agencies to quickly deny document requests. “It is the path of least resistance that enables the agency to avoid detailed review of records.” It’s been a full year since the first reports of Google’s work on Project Maven, and the public still knows precious little beyond the basic gist of the story: that Maven would use artificial intelligence to help pick out drone targets faster and more easily, and that Google backed out of its Maven contract amid staff outcry. (Maven is now linked to defense startup Anduril Industries.) Black’s email was obtained and partially published by The Intercept last year. Was Google’s work for the Pentagon really not intended to be used for lethal purposes, as the company later claimed ? What exactly were Project Maven’s “38 classes of objects that represent the kinds of things the [Pentagon] needs to detect,” as cited by the Defense Department in a news release? And how accurate is Project Maven? In other words, what is its rate of false positives? In response to a Freedom of Information Act request I filed more than a year ago, seeking documents related to Project Maven’s use of Google technology, the Defense Department said that it had discovered 5,000 pages of relevant material — and that every single page was exempt from disclosure. Some of the pages included trade secrets, sensitive internal deliberations, and private personal information about some individuals, the department said. Such information can be withheld under the act. But it said all of the material could be kept private under “Exemption 3” of the act, which allows the government to withhold records under a grab bag of other federal statutes.

US Must Stop Threatening ICC Over War Crime Probes, UN Experts Warn  — Two United Nations experts have urged the United States to stop making threats against the International Criminal Court, saying recent statements by top Trump administration officials may hinder the work of the international body.  In a statement shared by the UN’s human rights body (OHCHR), the experts expressed concern on Friday about specific comments made by the US president’s national security adviser, John Bolton, and by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.  They pointed to a September statement from Bolton, who said at the time “that ICC judges, prosecutors and staff would face measures if they went ahead with investigating alleged war crimes by the US, Israel or other US allies”.Bolton threatened to institute a “ban on ICC judges and prosecutors entering the United States”, and he said that the US would consider “freezing their funds in the US financial system; and ultimately, their prosecution in the US”. “These threats constitute improper interference with the independence of the ICC and could hinder the ability of ICC judges, prosecutors, and staff to carry out their professional duties,” the UN experts said in their statement. Last week, Pompeo said the US was imposing visa restrictions on individuals aiding the ICC initiative or further investigations into American and Israeli citizens. “I’m announcing a policy of US visa restrictions on those individuals directly responsible for any ICC investigation of US personnel,” Pompeo said. “This includes persons who take or have taken action to request or further such an investigation. These visa restrictions may also be used to deter ICC efforts to pursue allied personnel, including Israelis, without allies’ consent,” he added.

Rule of Law, American Style: John Bolton and Mike Pompeo Defy the International Criminal Court -- Events just fly by in the ever-accelerating rush of Trump Time, so it’s easy enough to miss important ones in the chaos.  Under the circumstances, it wouldn’t be surprising if you had missed the Associated Pressreport about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announcing that the United States “will revoke or deny visas to International Criminal Court personnel seeking to investigate alleged war crimes and other abuses committed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan or elsewhere.” In fact, said Pompeo, some visas may already have been denied or revoked, but he refused to “provide details as to who has been affected and who will be affected” (supposedly to protect the confidentiality of visa applicants).National Security Advisor John Bolton had already signaled such a move last September in a speech to the Federalist Society. In what the Guardian called an “excoriating attack” on the International Criminal Court, or ICC, Bolton said, “The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court.”By “unjust prosecution,” he clearly meant any attempt to hold Americans accountable for possible war crimes. An exception even among exceptional nations, the United States simply cannot commit such crimes. Hence, by the logic of Bolton or Pompeo, any prosecution for such a crime must, by definition, be unjust.In calling it “this illegitimate court,” Bolton was referring to the only international venue now in existence for trying alleged war criminals whose countries cannot or will not prosecute them. By “our allies,” Bolton appeared to mean Israel, a supposition Pompeo confirmed last week when he told reporters, “These visa restrictions may also be used to deter ICC efforts to pursue allied personnel, including Israelis.”And when it came to threats, Bolton didn’t stop there. He also suggested that the U.S. might even arrest ICC officials:“We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the U.S. financial system, and we will prosecute them in the U.S. criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans.”This is a dangerous precedent indeed, as the director of the American Civil Liberty Union’s Human Rights Project, Jamil Dakwar, told Democracy Now. It’s outrageous, he pointed out, that the U.S. would prosecute “judges and the prosecutors of the ICC for doing their job and for doing the job that the United States should have done — that is, to investigate, credibly and thoroughly, war crimes and crimes against humanity that were committed in the course of the war in Afghanistan.” What’s all this about?

Trump Tries To Undo North Korea Sanctions – Gets Sabotaged By His Own Staff -  Last week saw some confusion within the Trump administration about sanctions against North Korea. A Trump tweet seemed to contradict his own administration's policies. The White House then thought up an implausible explanation for what Trump had done. The face saving measure worked, but new leaks now again undermine him. U.S. media reported of the episode but missed a major point. The timeline below shows that the internal White House conflict was prompted by reactions from North Korea's side. After bad weather and a strong sanctions regime against it, North Korea is running low on food. Last month its ambassador to the UN requested food assistance: Kim, the ambassador to the U.N., said record-high temperatures, drought and flooding last year shaved more than 500,000 tons off of the 2018 harvest from the nearly 5 million tons produced in 2017.  ... Humanitarian assistance from the U.N. agencies is “terribly politicized,” he said, and sanctions against North Korea are “barbaric and inhuman.” On Thursday the 21st the Treasury Department, ignoring the dire situation, issued new sanctions (pdf) against two Chinese shipping companies that are trading with North Korea. It also named more North Korean vessels that it suspects to be involved in sanction busting efforts. National Security Advisor John Bolton tweeted: Important actions today from @USTreasury; the maritime industry must do more to stop North Korea’s illicit shipping practices. Everyone should take notice and review their own activities to ensure they are not involved in North Korea’s sanctions evasion. The next day North Korea reacted to the move by pulling its officers from the liaison office with South Korea:

US General- North Korean Missile Program Activity Is Inconsistent With Denuclearization --Just days after President Trump tried to override his own Treasury Department by unilaterally cancelling sanctions on two Chinese shipping companies accused if illegally trading with North Korea, America's top military commander on the peninsula appeared before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, where he affirmed that the North's continuing development of its missile and nuclear programs was "inconsistent" with its pledge to denuclearize. Though Trump was eventually convinced to allow those sanctions to stand, and the administration explained away one of his latest attempts to effect "policy by tweet", questions linger about the state of US-North Korea relations following the release of commercial satellite images showing activity at a site used to launch missiles. North Korea claimed this was related to its space program. But later, South Korea intelligence warned that it had detected hints of activity at a factory that the North had used to produce ICBMs.  With no plans for another summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un after talks in Hanoi collapsed when the North purportedly demanded full sanctions relief in exchange for shuttering its nuclear facility at Yongbin under the supervision of international monitors.Echoing DNI Dan Coats' warning from February testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, US Army General Robert Abrams claimed that the North Korean missile and nuclear programs had enjoyed "unchecked" growth since Kim ordered a halt to missile tests in 2017.  "Their activity that we have observed is inconsistent with denuclearization," U.S. Army General Robert Abrams said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing. Abrams did not provide further details.

Russia Gives US Red Line On Venezuela --  At a high-level meeting in Rome this week, it seems that Russia reiterated a grave warning to the US – Moscow will not tolerate American military intervention to topple the Venezuelan government with whom it is allied. Meanwhile, back in Washington DC, President Donald Trump was again bragging that the military option was still on the table, in his press conference with Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro. Trump is bluffing or not yet up to speed with being apprised of Russia’s red line. The meeting in the Italian capital between US “special envoy” on Venezuelan affairs Elliot Abrams and Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov had an air of urgency in its arrangement. The US State Department announced the tête-à-tête only three days beforehand. The two officials also reportedly held their two-hour discussions in a Rome hotel, a venue indicating ad hoc arrangement.  Abrams is no ordinary diplomat. He is a regime-change specialist with a criminal record for sponsoring terrorist operations, specifically the infamous Iran-Contra affair to destabilize Nicaragua during the 1980s. His appointment by President Trump to the “Venezuela file” only underscores the serious intent in Washington for regime change in Caracas. Whether it gets away with that intent is another matter. Moscow’s interlocutor, Sergei Ryabkov, is known to not mince his words, having earlier castigated Washington for seeking global military domination. He calls a spade a spade, and presumably a criminal a criminal. The encounter in Rome this week was described as “frank” and “serious” – which is diplomatic code for a blazing exchange. The timing comes at a high-stakes moment, after Venezuela having been thrown into chaos last week from civilian power blackouts that many observers, including the Kremlin, blame on American cyber sabotage. The power grid outage followed a failed attempt by Washington to stage a provocation with the Venezuelan military over humanitarian aid deliveries last month from neighboring Colombia.After the Rome meeting, Ryabkov said bluntly: “We assume that Washington treats our priorities seriously, our approach and warnings.”  For his part, Abrams sounded as if he had emerged from the meeting after having been given a severe reprimand.“No, we did not come to a meeting of minds, but I think the talks were positive in the sense that both sides emerged with a better understanding of the other’s views,” he told reporters. “A better understanding of the other’s views,” means that the American side was given a red line to back off.

Pompeo Demands Moscow Cease Unconstructive Behavior In Venezuela - As we predicted a number of times before, a proxy war between Russia and the United States appears now heating up in Venezuela this after over the weekend Russia sent a military transport plane filled with Russian troops commanded by First Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Land Forces of Russia Gen. Vasily Tonkoshkurov, which landed in Caracas Saturday. We also reported the major development this morning that new satellite images reveal a major deployment of S-300 air defense missile systems to a key airbase south of Caracas. Russia's highly visible deployment of a small troop contingency along with a reported 35 tons of cargo has resulted in a direct and firm response from Washington as on Monday morning the US Secretary of State called on Russia to “cease its unconstructive behavior”.According to Reuters Pompeo conveyed the message directly via a phone call with his Russian counterpart Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.Spokesman Robert Palladino addressed the phone call in the following statement:The secretary told Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov that the United States and regional countries will not stand idly by as Russia exacerbates tensions in Venezuela. Palladino added that Pompeo specifically condemned Russian military support for the “illegitimate regime of Nicolas Maduro.” Pompeo had earlier this month vowed to continue to put "unconstrained" pressure on the Maduro regime after it became apparent that all internal coup attempts by the Juan Guaido-led opposition had failed.  As we reported previously this week's tensions follows a high-level meeting in Rome last week, during which Russia reiterated a grave warning to the US – Moscow will not tolerate American military intervention to topple the Venezuelan government with whom it is allied - thus it appears Russia is taking no chances with its South American ally. One of those warnings delivered directly by Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov to US “special envoy” on Venezuelan affairs Elliot Abrams is understood to have been that no American military intervention in Venezuela will be tolerated by Moscow.

Tensions rise between US, Russia and China over Venezuelan coup - US President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House Wednesday that “Russia has to get out” of Venezuela. Asked how Washington would enforce this demand, he responded, “We’ll see. All options are open.”Trump delivered his ultimatum during a White House photo op with Fabiana Rosales, the wife of right-wing opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who, with US backing, proclaimed himself “interim president” of Venezuela in January, calling upon the military to overthrow the existing government of President Nicolas Maduro.Rosales, referred to by Trump administration officials as Venezuela’s “first lady,” is conducting an international tour aimed at drumming up support for the US-orchestrated regime change operation, which has flagged noticeably since the fiasco suffered last month with the failure of a cynical attempt to force trucks carrying supposed humanitarian aid across the Colombian-Venezuelan border.Both Guaidó and his US patrons had predicted that the provocation would trigger a rising by the Venezuelan armed forces against Maduro. With a handful of right-wing opposition supporters and gang members turning out for the “humanitarian” hoax, security forces easily contained the attack.The latest US provocation has centered upon the arrival in Venezuela over the weekend of two Russian aircraft carrying approximately 100 military personnel. An Antonov An-124 cargo jet and an Ilyushin II-62 passenger plane landed on Saturday at the Maiquetía airport outside of Caracas.The arrival of the relative handful of Russian military personnel triggered a flurry of denunciations from top Trump administration officials, who have been orchestrating the bid to bring down the Venezuelan government. White House national security adviser John Bolton declared that the US “will not tolerate hostile foreign military powers meddling” within the Western Hemisphere.

Trump tells Russia to get its troops out of Venezuela (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday called on Russia to pull its troops from Venezuela and said that “all options” were open to make that happen. The arrival of two Russian air force planes outside Caracas on Saturday believed to be carrying nearly 100 Russian special forces and cybersecurity personnel has escalated the political crisis in Venezuela. Russia and China have backed President Nicolas Maduro, while the United States and most other Western countries support opposition leader Juan Guaido. In January, Guaido invoked the constitution to assume Venezuela’s interim presidency, arguing that Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate. “Russia has to get out,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, where he met with Guaido’s wife, Fabiana Rosales. Asked how he would make Russian forces leave, Trump said: “We’ll see. All options are open.” Maduro, who retains control of state functions and the country’s military, has said Guaido is a puppet of the United States. Russia has bilateral relations and agreements with Venezuela and Maduro that it plans to honor, Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Dmitry Polyanskiy, said on Twitter. A spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, said the United States should pull troops from Syria before telling Moscow to withdraw from Venezuela. “Before giving advice to somebody to withdraw from somewhere, the United States should bring to life its own concept of exodus, particularly from Syria,” Zakharova said, speaking on Russia’s state Channel One, TASS agency quoted her as saying.

Russian Advisers Will Stay in Venezuela ‘as Long as Necessary,’ Moscow Vows -- Russian military advisers will stay in Venezuela as long as needed, the Russian Foreign Ministry has said, a day after U.S. President Donald Trump called on Moscow to “get out” of the South American country.  Moscow sent military advisers to Venezuela over the weekend amid the escalating political crisis in Venezuela. Trump on Wednesday called on Russia to withdraw from Venezuela and said "all options" were open to make that happen. The Kremlin rejected his call and said its actions there were agreed with the Latin American country’s legitimate government.

Stay Out Of Western Hemisphere! Bolton Warns Russia Over Troops In Venezuela - The White House has dramatically stepped up its rhetoric threatening action against Russia's military presence in Venezuela after the Kremlin deployed a troop contingency to Caracas last Saturday. Trump's national security adviser John Bolton took tensions to a new level, on Friday issuing a new Monroe doctrine of sorts, telling Moscow any attempt to establish or expand military operations in the western hemisphere constitutes a "provocative" and "direct threat" to international peace and security in the region.  "We strongly caution actors external to the Western Hemisphere against deploying military assets to Venezuela, or elsewhere in the Hemisphere, with the intent of establishing or expanding military operations," Bolton said in a statement. "We will consider such provocative actions as a direct threat to international peace and security in the region," he added. This follows the president's own warning on Wednesday that "all options" are on the table regarding potential expanding Russian presence in Venezuela. Kremlin officials responded by explaining that it deployed military specialists merely to service preexisting arms contracts with Venezuela, and that Russia is not interfering in the Latin American country's internal affairs.

Trump to Recognize Israel’s Control of Golan Heights With Netanyahu at White House  — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be at the White House on Monday to watch Trump formally sign the decree that will see the US reverse 50+ years of policy, and recognize the Israeli occupation and annexation of the Golan Heights, legally part of Syria.This decree formalizes an announcement Trump made via Twitter last week, and is seen as primarily boosting Netanyahu’s reelection chances, while having little significance internationally. Israel had no intention of ending the occupation of Golan, and the US recognition is being panned abroad.  Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took it a step farther Sunday,announcing that he intends to take the matter to the United Nations in the future, assuring that Trump’s statement does not  legitimize the occupation of Golan.  Within Israel, Trump’s statement may inform policy, in as much as it suggests an American imprimatur to go even further with its treatment of occupied territory. A new poll suggests growing support, even from two-state-solution proponents of an Israeli annexation of the occupied West Bank. This would’ve been unthinkable a week ago, as it would be seen as a stab against Trump’s peace plan. At this point, however, with Pompeo suggesting God may have sent Trump specifically to benefit Israel, it appears that anything is possible for a far-right Israeli government to get away with.

US Isolated at United Nations Over Golan Heights  — The United States was isolated at the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday over President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights as the other countries on the council opposed the move, Reuters reports.  In a letter requesting Wednesday’s meeting, Syria described the US decision as a “flagrant violation” of council resolutions, while ally North Korea issued a statement backing “the struggle of the Syrian government and people for taking back the occupied Golan Heights.”Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in 1981 in a move the 15-member UN Security Council declared “null and void and without international legal effect.”   British UN Ambassador Karen Pierce told the council that the US decision was in contravention of that 1981 resolution, while Russia’s Deputy UN Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov said Washington had violated UN resolutions and warned it could fuel instability in the Middle East.The European members of the council – France, Britain, Germany, Belgium and Poland – on Tuesday also raised concerns about “broader consequences of recognizing illegal annexation and also about the broader regional consequences.” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier on Wednesday that Washington’s decision would help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by removing uncertainty.

Trump administration approves secret nuclear power work for Saudi Arabia --U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has approved six secret authorizations by companies to sell nuclear power technology and assistance to Saudi Arabia, according to a copy of a document seen by Reuters on Wednesday.The Trump administration has quietly pursued a wider deal on sharing U.S. nuclear power technology with Saudi Arabia, which aims to build at least two nuclear power plants. Several countries including the United States, South Korea and Russia are in competition for that deal, and the winners are expected to be announced later this year by Saudi Arabia.Perry's approvals, known as Part 810 authorizations, allow companies to do preliminary work on nuclear power ahead of the deal, but not ship equipment that would go into a plant, a source with knowledge of the agreements said on condition of anonymity. The approvals were first reported by the Daily Beast.The Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) said in the document that the companies had requested that the Trump administration keep the approvals secret. "In this case, each of the companies which received a specific authorization for (Saudi Arabia) have provided us written request that their authorization be withheld from public release," the NNSA said in the document. The NNSA and the Department of Energy did not immediately respond to requests for comments.Many U.S. lawmakers are concerned that sharing nuclear technology with Saudi Arabia could eventually lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Trump administration OKs nuclear energy transfers to Saudis, sparking new battle with Congress --The Trump administration has given permission to a handful of U.S. companies to engage in early stage nuclear energy trade with Saudi Arabia, igniting a new battle with Congress over plans to sell American-made reactors to the kingdom.The authorizations came to light over the last two days in Congressional hearings and news reports, which suggested the Trump administration is doing an end-run around Congress, facilitating secret discussions and putting the kingdom on track to develop nuclear weapons."It's unlikely that these would have contained any sensitive information that would be helpful if the Saudi intention was to pursue nuclear weapons." -Thomas Countryman, Arms Control Association, chair of board of directorsThe kingdom is currently reviewing bids from international companies to build two nuclear reactors. Westinghouse is leading the U.S. consortium competing for the contract against companies from China, France, Russia and South Korea.U.S. companies need so-called Part 810 authorizations from the Energy and State departments to share non-public information as they attempt to convince the Saudis to choose American reactors and other services."I would speculate that they are much more about information and consulting services that would be valuable for a government that is going to make a decision in this field for the first time," said Thomas Countryman, the former assistant secretary of State for international security and nonproliferation under President Barack Obama."It's unlikely that these would have contained any sensitive information that would be helpful if the Saudi intention was to pursue nuclear weapons," said Countryman, now the chair of the board of directors at the Arms Control Association. Still, the export permissions are becoming public amid a standoff between Capitol Hill and the White House over U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia in the wake of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi's killing by Saudi agents last fall.

US Imposes New Sanctions on 17 Companies and 14 Individuals in Iran, Turkey, UAE — The United States (US) yesterday imposed new sanctions on some companies and individuals in Iran, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The US government said that they had helped in raising funds for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).  The US Department of the Treasury said in a statement that it had blacklisted 17 companies and 14 individuals, whom it believed were funding IRGC activities. Among the targeted companies, the statement added, were banks and other financial institutions, including Iran’s Ansar Bank, Atlas Exchange, and the Iranian Atlas Group Company. “We are exposing an extensive sanctions evasion network that was established by the Iranian regime to evade American sanctions,” Reuters quoted the US special envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, as saying at a press conference. He added that the American government’s move would “increase pressure even further on the Iranian regime.” This is the second American move against Iran in a week. On Friday, Washington imposed similar sanctions on 31 scientists, technicians and companies in Iran “for participating in nuclear and missile research and development programmes.”The new penalties come amid the US administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign aimed at bringing Iran to the negotiating table after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from a multinational accord that world powers had struck with Iran to curtail its nuclear program. Since abandoning the 2015 agreement, the US has imposed a string of new sanctions aimed at choking off Iran’s funding, especially from oil.

Canada Might Nix Trump's NAFTA Deal Unless He Stops Steel Tariffs -  Trump's trade deal scorecard might drop to zero unless Trump halts tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum. With much fanfare Trump bragged about the USMCA replacement for NAFTA. Canada still has not ratified that agreement, and perhaps won't at all. The Wall Street Journal reports Canada Links Trade-Deal Approval to Steel Tariffs.Canada’s foreign minister indicated Monday the government might delay ratification of the revised North American free-trade deal until the Trump administration lifts its tariffs against Canadian steel and aluminum. “The existence of these tariffs for many Canadians raises some serious questions about ratification,” said Ms. Freeland, in Washington to meet with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and members of Congress.Given the scandal-fueled political atmosphere and other pieces of legislation on the agenda, Canadian political watchers have said getting the trade deal ratified before summer would prove difficult—and politically unwise given the steel and aluminum tariffs and general animosity in Canada toward President Trump.  It's not just Canada that may nix this deal. Also consider New Nafta Is Threatened by Partisan Split Over EnforcementLed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrats want the administration to add provisions to last year’s pact with Canada and Mexico that will ensure Mexico enforces environmental protections and allows its workers to form unions freely.“Right now, the president’s Nafta update can’t be enforced,” said Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Senate committee that oversees trade. “No matter how good a deal looks on paper, it doesn’t mean much if you can’t make sure the other countries live up to their end of the bargain.”The USMCA requires ratification in the House and Senate as well as legislatures in Canada and Mexico before it could replace the original Nafta that took effect in 1994.If Mrs. Pelosi’s party remains unified, she could block consideration of USMCA, either by changing the rules of the House or triggering a mechanism inserted by Mr. Wyden into the fast-track trade law—which governs how trade pacts  are passed—that would prevent the agreement from getting expedited consideration

Cold war is back: Steve Bannon helps revive US committee to target ‘aggressive totalitarian foe’ China - A group of Washington policy advisers and former US government officials including Steve Bannon have revived a cold war-era advocacy organisation to take aim at China, which it called “an aggressive totalitarian foe”. The Committee on the Present Danger: China, or CPDC, will be launched to facilitate “public education and advocacy against the full array of conventional and non-conventional dangers” posed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, the group said in an announcement on Monday. The committee’s latest iteration underscores the growth of opposition to Beijing in Washington’s policymaking circles, which has helped to fuel a bilateral tariff war started by US President Donald Trump last year and a new law that will tighten oversight of Chinese investments in the United States. The Committee on the Present Danger (CPD) was first established in the early 1950s as a bulwark against the influence of communism in the US. The group disbanded after some leading members were drafted into the administration of Dwight Eisenhower, but in 1976 was reformed by US foreign policy hawks to counter the Soviet Union during the cold war. The committee members warned at a press event in Washington on Monday that China had posed a broad range of threats to the US: expanding military power, strengthening strategic nuclear capability, stealing US technology, repressing religions, human rights and minority groups, initiating “chemical warfare” by being the prime source of fentanyl reaching the US and influencing US campuses and corporations. “As with the Soviet Union in the past, communist China represents an existential and ideological threat to the United States and to the idea of freedom – one that requires a new American consensus regarding the policies and priorities required to defeat this threat,” the committee’s announcement said.

Another Trade-Deal Obstacle Emerges- China Refuses To Budge On Cloud Computing - With trade-related news in a rare lull, fears about an imminent global recession appeared to be at the forefront of investors' minds last week, as the Fed took a surprisingly dovish turn, which was accompanied by another apprehensive cut to its GDP forecasts, and a spate of weak industrial production data out of Europe (Where the Continent's largest economy has likely already slid into recession) stoked fears that what has been one of the longest expansions in modern history might reach its disastrous conclusion before the end of the year. Amid the vertiginous twists in US equities - amid a spate of single-stock narratives (Boeing's continued troubles, the decline in Nike's North American sales, bank stocks being hammered by the yield curve inversion) - President Trump's comments about a possible tariffs compromise on Friday didn't raise too many eyebrows.But what he said, though the White House once again declined to elaborate, is still important. Because it once again inadvertently illustrated just how far apart Washington and Beijing are. Despite the optimistic rhetoric, it appears that a final deal remains bewilderingly remote. mAnd as Robert Lighthizer and Steve Mnuchin prepare to return to Beijing this week to continue talks with Liu He, another obstacle in the increasingly fraught negotiations appears to have emerged. By all accounts, Beijing hasn't dropped its demands that the US lift most - if not all - of its trade-war tariffs on Chinese imports - immediately as part of the final deal. And while issues ranging from enforcement to currency manipulation to Chinese structural reforms have yet to be resolved, when it comes to the latter of these, the Financial Times on Sunday offered a little more clarity about a particularly important issue: digital trade.

In Latest Blow To Washington, EU Refuses To Recommend Bloc-Wide Huawei Ban -The Trump Administration probably didn't need any more convincing that the longstanding post-war economic and military alliance between the US and Europe now exists solely on paper. But it got it all the same.Just days after Beijing officially annexed Italy to the BRI, and with Brussels still deliberating what can be done to put Europe back on an even economic footing with China, the bloc has decidedly rejected Washington's efforts to muscle Huawei out of the global 5G market. First, individual EU capitals unanimously rejected Washington's warnings that Huawei posed an intractable national security, and refused to disallow the company's telecoms equipment from being used in domestic 5G networks.And on Tuesday, the European Commission tacitly embraced Huawei by refusing to recommend that member states exclude the company, a recommendation made in a set of security guidelines, Reuters reports. EU member states will be required to share information about cybersecurity risks related to 5G, and even develop a plan to tackle them before the end of the year. But for all of Washington's lobbying, the Commission has refused to specifically target Huawei. According to ABC News, EU countries will have until the end of June to study 5G cybersecurity risks. Their findings will be incorporated into a bloc-wide assessment before Oct. 1. Using this assessment, the EU would need to agree on a plan to mitigate these risks by the end of the year. Experts said some measures could include certification requirements and tests of products or suppliers deemed security risks.EU Digital Commissioner Andrus Ansip said this plan would help ensure that Europe's 5G infrastructure would be "resilient" to attack.

Exclusive: China shifts position on tech transfers, trade talks progress - U.S. officials (Reuters) - China has made proposals in talks with the United States on a range of issues that go further than it has before, including on forced technology transfer, as the two sides work to overcome obstacles to a deal to end their protracted trade war, U.S. officials told Reuters on Wednesday. U.S. President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese imports last year in a move to force China to change the way it does business with the rest of the world and to pry open more of China’s economy to U.S. companies. Among Trump’s demands are for Beijing to end practices that Washington alleges result in the systematic theft of U.S. intellectual property and the forced transfer of American technology to Chinese companies. U.S. companies say they are often pressured into handing over the technological know-how behind their products to Chinese joint venture partners, local officials or Chinese regulators as a condition for doing business in China. The U.S. government says that technology is often subsequently transferred to and used by Chinese competitors. The issue has proved a tough one for negotiators as U.S. officials say China has previously refused to acknowledge the problem exists to the extent alleged by the United States, making discussing a resolution difficult. China says it has no technology transfer requirements enshrined in its laws and any such transfers are a result of legitimate transactions. China has put proposals on the table in the talks that went further than any in the past, including on technology transfer, said one of four senior U.S. administration officials who spoke to Reuters. “They’re talking about forced technology transfer in a way that they’ve never wanted to talk about before - both in terms of scope and specifics,” he said, referring to Chinese negotiators. He declined to give further detail. Negotiators have made progress on the details of the written agreements that have been hashed out to address U.S. concerns, he said. 

China makes unprecedented offers to US on tech transfer, trade - China has made unprecedented proposals in talks with the United States on a range of issues including forced technology transfer as the two sides work to overcome remaining obstacles to a deal to end their protracted trade war, U.S. officials told Reuters. U.S. President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese imports last year in a move to force China to change the way it does business with the rest of the world and to pry open more of China's economy to U.S. companies. Among Trump's demands are for Beijing to end practices that Washington alleges result in the systematic theft of U.S. intellectual property and the forced transfer of American technology to Chinese companies. China put proposals on the table in the talks that went further than in the past, including on technology transfer, said one of four senior U.S. administration officials who spoke to Reuters. Negotiators have made progress on the details of the written agreements that have been hashed out to address U.S. concerns, he said. "If you looked at the texts a month ago compared to today, we have moved forward in all areas. We aren't yet where we want to be," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "They're talking about forced technology transfer in a way that they've never wanted to talk about before - both in terms of scope and specifics," he said, referring to Chinese negotiators. He declined to give further detail. Reuters reported previously that the two sides were working on written agreements in six areas: forced technology transfer and cyber theft, intellectual property rights, services, currency, agriculture and non-tariff barriers to trade. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin arrive in Beijing on Thursday for a new round of talks with Chinese officials to work on a deal that would end a months-long trade war that has cost both sides billions of dollars and hurt global economic growth.

Why NAFTA’s 2.0 current labor provisions fall short - EPI  -- One year ago, we were hopeful that renegotiating NAFTA represented the first real opportunity in 25 years to finally rewrite the labor template currently relied on for trade agreements. After all, since NAFTA was implemented, hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs have been outsourced to Mexico by companies taking advantage of workers who do not enjoy the fundamental human rights to form their own free and independent unions, engage in meaningful collective bargaining, be free from discrimination and forced labor, and work in safe and healthy workplaces. In anticipation of the renegotiations, numerous recommendations for improving and enforcing labor standards were submitted—all of which are instrumental in removing corporate incentives to transfer work to Mexico. Specific recommendations for improving the labor template of current U.S. agreements included these five general suggestions:

  1. Incorporate explicit references to labor standards and interpretation of those standards through various cases and reports reflecting specific rules adopted by the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO), including those concerning the freedom of association, collective bargaining, discrimination, forced labor, child labor, and workplace safety and health.
  2. Remove the footnote explicitly limiting the terms of the chapter to the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.
  3. Eliminate the requirement that labor violations under the agreement must be in a manner affecting trade or investment between the parties.
  4. Eliminate the requirement that labor violations must be sustained or recurring.
  5. Verify that labor standards in the agreement are being honored and enforced by the signatories prior to the agreement going into effect.

Unfortunately, none of these essential changes were made to NAFTA 2.0. As noted by the AFL-CIO’s recent Executive Council Statement, “[T]he NAFTA renegotiation requires strong labor rights provisions and strong enforcement provisions that as of today are not yet in the agreement.” Without incorporating the recommendations mentioned above, NAFTA 2.0’s labor standards and enforcement remain weak and Mexico’s workers will still struggle to enjoy fundamental human rights. As a result, wage suppression will continue to provide incentives to for corporations to outsource work to Mexico.

As Another Migrant Caravan Approaches, Trump Revives Threat To Close Southern Border  -- A few months have passed since President Trump last threatened to close the southern border, but with another caravan of 2,500 Central American and Cuban migrants making its way through southern Mexico - where the group has reportedly received a cooler welcome than previous groups - the president has apparently decided that it's time to revive those threats. In a Thursday morning tweet, Trump lashed out at Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras for doing "NOTHING to help stop the flow of illegal migrants", adding that they are "all talk and no action."These countries have "taken our money for years", but nothing has changed. So, with the number of migrants crossing the southern border surging to crisis levels - a fact that even the liberal press like the Washington Post and New York Times have acknowledged - Trump said he "may close the Southern Border."Mexico is doing NOTHING to help stop the flow of illegal immigrants to our Country. They are all talk and no action. Likewise, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have taken our money for years, and do Nothing. The Dems don’t care, such BAD laws. May close the Southern Border!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2019The situation has become so dire, that US detention facilities along the border have been forced to release some families from custody, effectively reversing the president's cancellation of "catch and release", due to overcrowding.Though, to be sure, Trump has made this threat many times before. At this point, it will take more than a tweet to convince America's neighbors that he is serious.

'Mother Of All Caravans' Forming In Honduras - Up To 20,000 Hope To Cross US Border- Report - Mexico is bracing for the "mother of all caravans," after Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero warned on Wednesday "We have information that a new caravan is forming in Honduras, that they’re calling ‘the mother of all caravans,’ and they are thinking it could have more than 20,000 people." The figure has been disputed by activists such as Irineo Mujica of group Pueblo Sin Fronteras, who has accompanied several caravans in Mexico and said in a statement that "there has never been a caravan of the size that Sanchez Cordero mentioned."   According to AP, past caravans have hit "very serious logistical hurdles at 7,000 - strong."  Honduran activist Bartolo Fuentes, who accompanied a large caravan last year, dismissed the new reports as “part of the U.S. government’s plans, something made up to justify their actions.”Later Thursday, Honduras’ deputy foreign minister, Nelly Jerez, denied that a “mother of all caravans” was forming in her country.“There is no indication of such a caravan,” Jerez said. “This type of information promotes that people leave the country.” -APSánchez Cordero made the comments alongside US Secretary of Homeland Security earlier this week in Miami, Florida. Meanwhile, around 2,500 Central Americans and Cubans are currently making their way through Mexico's southern state of Chipas right now in yet another caravan. Last year's caravans contained up to 10,000 people at some points.  Mexico's tolerance for the caravans is wearing thin it seems, as they have stopped giving migrants humanitarian visas at the border, while some previously hospitable towns along the well-traveled route are have stopped allowing caravans to spend the night.

US detaining immigrants under highway overpass in Texas amid renewed crackdown --US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is unleashing a massive crackdown on Central American immigrants attempting to cross the US-Mexico border. According to CBP figures, the agency made 66,450 border arrests in February, the highest monthly total in years. The border region has been placed under military occupation and is turning into a legal no man’s land. Video and images released Wednesday show immigrants being detained underneath an overpass in El Paso, Texas. In the images, hundreds of immigrants huddled behind barbed wire appear beneath a freeway surrounded by trash and armed guards. The decision to hold immigrants under an overpass is a calculated, provocative maneuver. Trump, emboldened by the collapse of the Democratic Party-led Russia witch-hunt, is giving the green light to his fascistic supporters within the military and immigration agencies who are demanding a dramatic expansion of the network of immigrant internment camps across the US.  Late yesterday, NBC News reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will imminently ask Congress to provide billions of dollars in emergency funding for detention centers, including those specifically intended to jail thousands of children. Immigrant children, the DHS letter complains, cannot be “expeditiously removed” due to “outdated laws” and “resource constraints.” The letter blames protections for immigrant children as a “pull factor” that encourages immigration. “We are witnessing the real-time dissolution of the immigration system,” the letter states, warning of a “system-wide meltdown.”The DHS letter calls for granting “emergency” authority “to restore order” and “stem the historic flows” of immigrants, including through the elimination of legal protections for detained immigrants, the building of “temporary processing facilities” and the deployment of “at least hundreds of additional personnel to support CBP and ICE.”

Trump administration ordered jails to hold thousands of US citizens for deportation --According to a recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has issued a staggering number of immigration detainers against US citizens.Every month ICE issues thousands of detainers, legal requests that law enforcement extend a person’s jail time to provide federal agents time to arrive at the jail and take that person into its custody to be deported.The ACLU revelations are based on data provided in a lawsuit filed by Garland Creedle, an 18-year-old US citizen who was wrongly detained for deportation after spending a night in a Miami-Dade jail in March 2017. Creedle has filed a lawsuit claiming his constitutional rights have been violated.The ACLU found that in Miami-Dade County alone, records indicated that during a two-year period from February 2017 to February 2019, ICE issued 420 detainer requests to jails for US citizens. Immigration would later cancel only 83 of the erroneous requests.The remaining 337 individuals continued to be held in jail for ICE to deport them. The report noted that “U.S. citizens have been kept in jail away from their jobs and families, and they have faced the terror of being told they would soon be deported from their only home. Many have spent time in immigration jail, and some have even been deported.” The ACLU report noted that, “Miami’s numbers are not unique. In Rhode Island, over a ten-year period, ICE issued 462 detainers for people listed as U.S. citizens. And in Travis County, Texas, over a similar period, ICE targeted up to 814 U.S. citizens with detainers. Numerous other studies have documented similar patterns. These studies are evidence that, nationwide, ICE has issued detainers against thousands of U.S. citizens over the last decade and a half.”

Trump Complains Puerto Rico Getting 'Too Much' Disaster Aid as More Than 1 Million Face Food Crisis  — With over a million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico facing devastating food stamp cuts as Congress fails to provide necessary hurricane relief funding, President Donald Trump reportedly complained to Republican senators on Tuesday that the island is receiving “too much” aid—a position that was decried as both false and cruel.“The president continues to show his vindictive behavior towards Puerto Rico and he continues to make the humanitarian crisis worse,” said San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. “He is ensuring that people don’t have food to put on the table.”Trump’s remarks came during a private lunch with Republicans Tuesday, during which—according tothe Washington Post—the president inflated the amount of aid Puerto Rico has received since Hurricane Maria and pushed lawmakers to limit funding to the island.“At the lunch Tuesday, Trump rattled off the amount of aid that had been designated for other disaster-hit states and compared it with the amount allocated for Puerto Rico following the 2017 hurricane, which he said was too high,” the Post reported.After claiming that Puerto Rico has received $91 billion in federal aid—it is unclear where he got this number—Trump reportedly said “one could buy Puerto Rico four times over for $91 billion.”Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló responded with outrage to Trump’s reported comments in a statement late Tuesday.“People from all over the nation, and the world, have witnessed the inequalities Americans face on the island,” Rosselló said. “The federal response and its treatment during these past months in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria is clear evidence of our second-class citizenship.”

Defying Trump Promises, American Companies Still Playing Offshore Tax Games - When the GOP tax bill was enacted in 2017, President Trump promised that the United States would become a magnet for new jobs as trillions of repatriated dollars found their way home. But apparently, many companies that have stashed trillions of dollars abroad did not get the memo. Last year, corporate America brought back just $664.9 billion of offshore profits, or just 16.6 percent of the $4 trillion Trump said they would return as a result of the tax overhaul.More worryingly, the languid pace of repatriation has gotten progressively weaker as the quarters roll on, with fourth quarter repatriations clocking in at just $85.9 billion compared to $579 billion recorded for the first three quarters according to Department of Commerce data. You can trust wily American companies to figure out a way to keep as much of their profits as possible away from Uncle Sam’s reach. The new tax law was primarily designed to use a carrot and stick approach to nudge companies to bring back their offshore profits to the country.The carrot: corporate tax was lowered from 35 percent to a more manageable 21 percent.The stick: the US government now taxes all profits accumulated overseas, regardless of where the money is held. Under the old rules, companies were allowed to defer US taxes until they repatriated the money. Incredibly, Congress failed to anticipate a major loophole when it decided to charge US companies an even lower 10 percent corporate tax for profits earned abroad. Clearly, the lawmakers underestimated the labyrinthine workings of corporate tax for international companies. The tax avoidance guardrails put in place in the new territorial system don’t seem to be working. The result: American companies have been shifting their profits to low-tax jurisdictions to lower their tax bills even further. You can clearly see that in the chart belowwhereby reinvested foreign earnings have suddenly shot up.

Trump Administration And Democrats Return Health Law To Political Center Stage - The Trump administration moved Monday night to get more in line with President Donald Trump’s voter base by endorsing a Texas federal judge’s December opinion that the entire Affordable Care Act should be struck down as unconstitutional.  After he arrived at the Capitol for lunch with Republican senators Tuesday, Trump endorsed the change, suggesting it will usher in Republican priorities instead. “The Republican Party will soon be known as the ‘party of health care!’” he told reporters. Less than two hours later, House Democrats unveiled their proposals to not only protect the health law, but also expand it — including extending help paying premiums and other costs to families higher up the income scale than those now eligible and reinstating cuts made by the administration for outreach to help people sign up for coverage. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that, since taking control of the House in January, Democrats have been fighting to preserve the health law and “voted on Day One” to file a motion in the Texas court case to support the ACA.The arguments are a return to one of the key battles during the 2018 midterm elections. Democrats hammered their Republican opponents on the GOP’s two-year efforts to repeal the ACA — and especially its popular protections for people with preexisting medical problems and Medicaid expansion — and credited those attacks for big gains the party scored in the House and legislatures around the country. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said those Democrats were elected to “protect and expand” the health law. He warned Republicans not to undermine it, saying, “Americans don’t want to see the ACA protections undone.” The new filing in the Texas case marks an about-face for the Justice Department. The Republican attorneys general and governors who brought the case argued that when Congress zeroed out the tax penalty for people who lacked health coverage as part of the 2017 tax bill, the entire Affordable Care Act was rendered unconstitutional. In December, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor agreed with them, although he put his ruling on hold while the case is on appeal. The health law is being defended by a group of Democratic attorneys general, led by California’s Xavier Becerra. They filed their brief Monday night, just before the Justice Department issued its position change. “The Affordable Care Act is landmark legislation that has transformed the nation’s healthcare system,” saidthe brief. Striking it down “would strip existing healthcare coverage from millions of Americans” and “it would make a mockery of the dramatic votes in which the same Congress rejected earlier efforts to repeal or substantially revise the ACA.”

The Trump administration wants all of Obamacare overturned by the courts  The Trump administration wants the federal courts to overturn the Affordable Care Act in its entirety, an escalation of its legal assault against the health care law. The Justice Department said in a brief filed on Monday that the administration supports a recent district court decision that invalidated all of Obamacare. So it is now the official position of President Trump’s administration that all of the ACA — the private insurance markets that cover 15 million Americans, the Medicaid expansion that covers another 15 million, and the protections for people with preexisting conditions and other regulations — should be nullified.When combined with Trump’s endorsement of the various Republican legislative plans to repeal and replace Obamacare and other regulatory actions pursued by his subordinates, the Trump administration’s clear, consistent, and unequivocal position is that millions of people should lose their health insurance and that people should not be protected from discrimination based on their medical history.The Justice Department had previously said that only the ACA’s prohibition on health insurers denying people coverage or charging people higher premiums based on their medical history should fall in the lawsuit being brought by 20 Republican-led states. But their latest brief removed that subtlety, saying that the entire law should go.Legal experts dismiss the states’ argument as “absurd,” yet they have worried it could find a receptive audience among conservative jurists, given the prior success of anti-Obamacare lawsuits thought to be spurious that still found their way to the Supreme Court.The argument has already won in the US district court in northern Texas, after all, though that decision is on hold pending appeal.

Trump backs court action to end health coverage for 25 million people - Speaking with reporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday, President Trump reiterated his support for a lawsuit filed by attorneys general in 16 Republican-controlled states seeking to have the Affordable Care Act (ACA) declared unconstitutional in its entirety. An estimated 20 to 25 million people would lose healthcare coverage if the law that established Obamacare is struck down. A federal district judge in Texas issued a ruling last December that Obamacare is unconstitutional, and the Justice Department supported the ruling only in part, urging the court to strike down the ACA provision that bars insurance companies from discriminating against individuals with pre-existing conditions, but not the entire law. But on Monday night, the Justice Department filed a one-paragraph declaration to the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals shifting its position and indicating its support for a court order striking down the ACA as a whole. Trump gloated to reporters that whatever decision the appeals court makes, he is confident that the Supreme Court, with its right-wing majority reinforced by two of his own nominees, will rule Obamacare unconstitutional.  Outright repeal of the ACA would impact two large populations the most: those who are covered by the expansion of Medicaid, the federal health care program for low-income individuals and families, and those who have been able to purchase individual insurance policies on federal exchanges because of subsidies provided by the ACA.  According to a study issued earlier this month by the Urban Institute, based on fairly conservative assumptions about how the expansion of Medicaid would be rolled back, 20 million Americans would lose their health coverage, nearly three quarters of the total due to the cutback in Medicaid. Eleven million of those who would lose health coverage live in states won by Trump in the 2016 election.

Why Trump’s New Push to Kill Obamacare Is So Alarming  - That’s the headline of my op-ed at the New York Times from this morning. Here’s an excerpt:[T]he Trump administration has signaled loud and clear that its campaign against Obamacare is not over; that it will stop at nothing to achieve in court what it could not achieve in Congress; and that it doesn’t care how many people are hurt if the Affordable Care Act is undone.It has also put health care back at the center of the political conversation. Republicans already took a beating on the issue in the fall midterm elections, and Democrats, who released a bill in the House to strengthen the Affordable Care Act, want to keep running on it. They’ll be sure to remind voters of the Trump administration’s zealous commitment to taking away their health care.Along the way, the Justice Department has trashed the duty to defend. That’s not to be taken lightly. The duty is a close cousin to the president’s constitutional duty to enforce the law. If the Justice Department really thinks that Obamacare is so blatantly unconstitutional that it can’t be defended, that implies that the president is violating the Constitution whenever he applies it. It’s not hard to see that as an incipient justification for refusing to enforce any law that the president believes to be unconstitutional, however ridiculous or partisan that belief might be. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that. But the failure to defend the Affordable Care Act is an ominous sign to anyone who cares about the rule of law.

Trump says he can produce a better healthcare plan than Obamacare (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump pledged on Wednesday to deliver a better healthcare system than Obamacare if the Supreme Court tosses out his predecessor’s signature domestic achievement, a potentially hazardous claim as he seeks re-election. Trump defended his administration’s decision to step up its assault on the healthcare law passed under former President Barack Obama, which expanded healthcare coverage to about 20 million Americans. “Obamacare is a disaster. It’s too expensive by far,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “We’re coming up with plans. ... And if the Supreme Court rules that Obamacare is out, we will have a plan that’s far better than Obamacare.” The Justice Department on Monday asked the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Obamacare, as the 2010 Affordable Care Act that overhauled the U.S. healthcare system is popularly known. Justice said it backed a federal judge’s ruling in December that the Affordable Care Act violated the U.S. Constitution because it required people to buy health insurance. Trump had repeatedly called for the replacement of Obamacare during his 2016 presidential campaign. In a tweet in October 2016, he said, “We will have MUCH less expensive and MUCH better healthcare.” After he entered the White House in January 2017, Trump urged his fellow Republicans to repeal Obamacare, something that they tried and failed repeatedly to do. Republicans have never been able to agree on a replacement plan. Trump predicted on Tuesday that would change, saying Republicans “will soon be known as the party of healthcare.” Top Democrats pounced on the administration’s move, saying their success in winning control of the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections in November showed Americans want them to protect Obamacare against repeated Republican attacks.

Trump administration awards $1.7 million family planning grant to anti-abortion clinics The Trump administration announced Friday it would award a $1.7 million family planning grant to a chain of crisis pregnancy centers that oppose abortion and don’t offer contraceptives, while at the same time cutting funds to some Planned Parenthood affiliates. The Obria group, which considers itself the “pro-life” version of Planned Parenthood, says it will receive a grant to provide family planning services in California. The administration’s decision to fund Obria is a signal of its desire to shift family planning funds toward faith-based groups that oppose abortion and away from groups like Planned Parenthood. “Many women want the opportunity to visit a professional, comprehensive health care facility — not an abortion clinic — for their health care needs; this grant will give them that choice,” Kathleen Eaton Bravo, founder and CEO of The Obria Group, said in a statement. Obria will oversee the work of seven clinic partners, including three of its affiliates that don't provide contraceptives or perform abortions, in four California counties, the group said in the statement. Of the other four clinics under Obria's oversight, two will provide contraceptives, but won't be allowed to use Title X family planning grant program funds to pay for it, the spokesperson said. "None of the funds under this grant going to the subrecipients can be used for contraceptive drugs and devices," the spokesperson said. The group says it offers pregnancy testing and counseling, prenatal care, HIV/AIDS testing, ultrasounds, cancer testing, well-woman care, pap smears, STD testing and treatment, adoption referral and post-abortion support. It will receive $1.7 million in 2019 and, along with other Title X providers, will receive funding through 2022 based on availability of funds, grant compliance and the project’s progress, according to an HHS spokesperson. Obria said it thinks it will get $5.1 million through 2022.

Former WWE Executive Linda McMahon To Resign From Trump Cabinet - After a quarter that has been notably light on turnover following a rash of resignations late last year, another member of the Trump cabinet is reportedly preparing to leave her post.Linda McMahon, head of the Small Business Administration, is reportedly preparing to announce her resignation as soon as Friday, Politico reports. The former wrestling executive and wife of WWE founder Vince McMahon is reportedly leaving to "rejoin the private sector."Her departure comes as a surprise, mostly because McMahon was widely seen as a contender to eventually replace Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.President Trump established a friendly relationship with the McMahons after his now-infamous "hostile takeover" of the WWE during Wrestlemania 23, when he body slammed and viciously beat the wrestling executive before strapping him to chair and shaving his head, in what was widely interpreted as a gesture of dominance.News of Linda McMahon's departure from the administration comes a day after her husband cashed out $270 million of his shares in WWE to help fund his investment in the XFL, an alternative football league that is set to launch in February 2020. However, McMahon will remain in his role as chairman and CEO of the family-run business. So, perhaps McMahon - who mounted two unsuccessful senate bids before joining the administration - will be moving back to Connecticut to play a more active role in the league, per the New York Post. Or maybe she just wants to spend more time on her yacht, "the Sexy Bitch."

The House makes way for equal pay with the passage of Paycheck Fairness Act  -Yesterday, the House of Representatives took an important step toward ending gender-based pay discrimination by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act. The legislation, introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), would strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and guarantee that women can challenge pay discrimination and hold their employers accountable. The legislation specifically requires employers to prove that pay disparities are based on factors other than sex; protects employees against retaliation for discussing salaries with colleagues; prohibits employers from seeking the salary history of prospective employees; removes obstacles in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to allow workers to participate in class action lawsuits that challenge systematic pay discrimination; creates a negotiations and skills training program for women and girls; and improves the Department of Labor’s tools to enforce the Equal Pay Act of 1963. Over fifty years ago, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 was enacted to prohibit pay discrimination on the basis of sex by requiring employers to pay women and men equally for equal work. Since the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, millions of women have joined the workforce. However, more than five decades later, women are still earning less than their male counterparts. On average in 2018, women were paid 22.6 percent less than men, after controlling for race and ethnicity, education, age, and location. This gap is even larger for women of color with black and Hispanic women being paid 34.9 and 34.3 percent less per hour than white men, respectively—even after controlling for education, age, and location. Any way you slice it, women experience a gender pay gap. There are many policies that can reduce gender pay gaps including raising the minimum wage, strengthening collective bargaining rights, and providing paid family and sick leave, among others. The passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act in the House is just one step toward reducing these gender pay gaps and guaranteeing women receive equal pay for equal work.

Bill That Would Restore Net Neutrality Moves Forward Despite Telecom’s Best Efforts To Kill It - Last month, Democrats introduced a simple three page bill that would do one thing: restore FCC net neutrality rules and the agency’s authority over ISPs, both stripped away by a hugely-controversial decision by the agency in late 2017.Tuesday morning, the Save the Internet Act passed through a key House committee vote and markup session—despite some last-minute efforts by big telecom to weaken the bill. “Inside the beltway, this is really about maybe five companies,” Representative Anna Eshoo said during the hearing. “Across the country, the American people really get this. National polling shows that Republicans, Democrats, Independents support net neutrality. We’re still in the same old soup pot here. We need to take our lenses off and look across the country.” Survey after survey have shown that the vast bipartisan majority of Americans supported the FCC’s 2015 rules and opposed the repeal. But the Trump FCC was quick to bow to pressure to telecom giants like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast—despite their long history of using their role as natural monopolies to hamstring competitors and nickel and dime subscribers.The Pai repeal not only ended net neutrality, it dramatically cut back the FCC’s authority over major broadband providers, shoveling any remaining authority to an FTC critics (like former FCC boss Tom Wheeler) say lacks the authority or resources to actually police telecom giants. With neither competition nor meaningful regulatory oversight to keep them in check, these telecom giants will have carte blanche to abuse their roles as internet gatekeepers online, net neutrality activists have repeatedly warned.

FTC Tells ISPs To Disclose Exactly What Information They Collect On Users and What It’s For - The Federal Trade Commission, in what could be considered a prelude to new regulatory action, has issued an order to several major internet service providers requiring them to share every detail of their data collection practices. The information could expose patterns of abuse or otherwise troubling data use against which the FTC — or states — may want to take action.The letters requesting info (detailed below) went to Comcast, Google, T-Mobile and both the fixed and wireless sub-companies of Verizon and AT&T. These “represent a range of large and small ISPs, as well as fixed and mobile Internet providers,” an FTC spokesperson said. I’m not sure which is meant to be the small one, but welcome any information the agency can extract from any of them. Since the Federal Communications Commission abdicated its role in enforcing consumer privacy at these ISPs when it and Congress allowed the Broadband Privacy Rule to be overturned, others have taken up the torch, notably Californiaand even individual cities like Seattle. But for enterprises spanning the nation, national-level oversight is preferable to a patchwork approach, and so it may be that the FTC is preparing to take a stronger stance. To be clear, the FTC already has consumer protection rules in place and could already go after an internet provider if it were found to be abusing the privacy of its users — you know, selling their location to anyone who asks or the like. (Still no action there, by the way.)But the evolving media and telecom landscape, in which we see enormous companies devouring one another to best provide as many complementary services as possible, requires constant reevaluation.

Boeing Anti-Stall Software Mistakenly Activated Before Deadly Crash, Investigators Believe - So far, Boeing executives have done a remarkable job of deflecting questions about the role Boeing's MCAS anti-stall software played in the two plane crashes that inspired airlines around the world to ground the workhorse jets. But that's about to get a lot harder.Confirming widely held suspicions, investigators have reportedly determined that MCAS was active at the time Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 plunged to Earth in March 10, just minutes after taking off from an airport in Addis Ababa, according to WSJ. The report confirms what the CEO of Ethiopian Airlines told the press earlier in the week, when he said that the airline believed the software had been active at the time, though he couldn't confirm it. Investigators have reached a "preliminary conclusion" that the software automatically activated, according to what they told FAA officials during a high-level briefing with the FAA on Thursday. WSJ said it is the "strongest indication yet" that the software was involved in both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes, which killed more than 350 people.US air safety experts have been analyzing information from the "black boxes" recovered from ET302 for the past few days. Meanwhile, a full preliminary report from the Ethiopian authorities is expected in the next few days.Earlier this week, Boeing announced changes to MCAS, including allowing input from two sensors instead of one. Investigators suspect faulty data from the sensor helped trigger the system. Boeing is also adding certain cockpit alerts.Here's an illustration of how MCAS works (courtesy of Bloomberg):

FAA defends its reliance on aircraft makers to certify jets(AP) — Under fire from lawmakers on Capitol Hill over the two deadly Boeing crashes, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday defended the agency’s practice of relying on aircraft makers to help certify their own planes for flight. Acting FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell said the strategy has “consistently produced safe aircraft designs for decades.” And he said the agency would need 10,000 more employees and an additional $1.8 billion a year to do all the work now done by designated employees of the companies it regulates.Under the self-certifying program, these employees perform tests and inspections needed to win safety approvals, with the FAA overseeing their work. The approach is credited with holding down government costs and speeding the rollout of new models.But in the wake of disasters involving Boeing’s new 737 Max jetliner in Indonesia and Ethiopia, that practice has been seized on as evidence of an overly cozy relationship between the FAA and the industry.

WATCH: Hundreds of Protesters March to AIPAC 2019 in DC — “Judaism yes! Zionism no! Israel has got to go!” Yesterday hundreds of activists marched to AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference) to condemn Israeli influence on American foreign policy, and Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.Meriem Abou-Ghazaleh, a young Syrian-Palestinian activist, led the chant. “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be Free!” she chanted.“This is not a fight against Judaism,” she told News2Share. “This is a fight against Zionism, a politically corrupt ideology that literally goes against entire Jewish faith and values.”“We demand an end to AIPAC’s influence over American foreign policy,” said event organizer Abbas Hamideh. “They can say it’s anti-semitic, but nothing could be further from the truth.”“We wanted to take a look at what AIPAC is and how AIPAC influences American foreign policy, not just in Palestine, but they also want to send the American people to war,” Hamideh told News2Share. “We ask them to wake up and understand why AIPAC exists and how much power they have over influencing foreign policy.”“We need to wake up and shut this place down.” AIPAC has been consistently protested every year by the Palestinian community but tends to get the support of both Republican and Democrat politicians. While in the 2016 race only Bernie sanders declined to attend, several Democrats running for president in 2020 have declined to attend, which marks a considerable progress for the anti-AIPAC crowd.

Hate crimes increased 226% in places Trump held a campaign rally in 2016, study claims - US counties where President Donald Trump held a campaign rally saw a 226% increase in reported hate crimes over similar counties that did not hold a rally, political scientists at the University of North Texas said in an analysis published in The Washington Post. According to a study done by University of North Texas professors Regina Branton and Valerie Martinez-Ebers, and PhD candidate Ayal Feinberg, the scientists found that Trump's statements during the 2016 campaign "may encourage hate crimes" in the respective counties. The study measured the correlation between counties that hosted a 2016 campaign rally and the crime rates in the months that followed. The scientists used the Anti-Defamation League's map that measures acts of violence and compared the counties that hosted a rally with others that had similar characteristics, including minority population, location, and active hate groups. "We examined this question, given that so many politicians and pundits accuse Trump of emboldening white nationalists," the analysis said in The Post. FILE PHOTO: Protesters gather at the University of Virginia, ahead of the one year anniversary of the 2017 Charlottesville Protesters gather at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Reuters Branton, Martinez-Ebers, and Feinberg noted that their study "cannot be certain" that the marked increase was solely attributed to Trump's rhetoric. But they also shut down the suggestion that the reported hate crimes were fake. "In fact, this charge is frequently used as a political tool to dismiss concerns about hate crimes," the analysis said. "Research shows it is far more likely that hate crime statistics are considerably lower because of underreporting."

Mueller’s report found no Russia collusion, but vindication remains elusive for Trump– Since his appointment nearly two years ago, Robert Mueller sought to answer one overriding question that has cast a shadow over Donald Trump's presidency: Did his campaign coordinate with the Kremlin to win the White House?  A summary of the special counsel's investigation delivered to lawmakers Sunday said unequivocally that neither Trump nor his campaign conspired with Russian efforts to sway the election that put him in office.   But the four-page summary fell short of giving the White House the "complete and total exoneration” the president, his lawyers and political allies claimed after Attorney General William Barr released it to lawmakers and the public.   On the separate question of whether Trump sought to obstruct Mueller's inquiry, the special counsel was not equally definitive: "While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him," Barr wrote, quoting from Mueller's report.   The striking passage from Mueller's still-secret report all but guaranteed that the 22-month inquiry will continue to loom over Trump's administration. So too does the cascade of new investigations, including criminal inquiries directed at Trump's business and his inaugural committee.   Because Mueller did not make a definitive finding on obstruction, Barr said the decision was left to him and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to conclude that Trump's conduct – including his firing of former FBI Director James Comey after urging the then-director to drop an ongoing inquiry into national security adviser Michael Flynn – did not amount to a crime. That Trump's appointees rather than Mueller drew that conclusion left legal observers and Trump's critics unsatisfied.

Analysis: With Mueller report in, nothing's over. But for Trump, everything has changed  – Special counsel Robert Mueller, whose investigation in large part has defined the first half of President Trump's tenure, was spied in front of the White House on Sunday morning as he and his wife walked across Lafayette Square toward St. John's Episcopal Church.  The former FBI director looked, finally, relaxed.That wasn't exactly the impact his long-awaited and confidential report had on the rest of official Washington. On a balmy spring Sunday, as Attorney General William Barr delivered the "principal conclusions" of the report to Congress, Republicans declared the president vindicated, and some Democrats found themselves on the defensive. To be clear, only a summary of Mueller's report, and none of his inquiry's underlying evidence, was released. What's more, federal and state investigations into the president's business organization, his charitable foundation, his payment of hush money during the campaign and his inaugural committee are continuing and could lead to legal troubles down the road.Even so, Mueller's report, nearly two years in the making, shifted the political landscape. "The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities," Mueller's report concluded, according to Barr. But the special counsel said he couldn't reach a conclusion on the question of obstruction of justice: "While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."Mueller referred that issue to the attorney general. After consulting with other Justice Department officials, Barr said he concluded that the special counsel's investigation wasn't sufficient "to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense."   "It was a complete and total exoneration," Trump told reporters just before he boarded Air Force One to return to Washington from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. "No collusion, no obstruction."

McConnell blocks resolution calling for Mueller report to be released publicly -  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday blocked a resolution calling for special counsel Robert Mueller's report to be released publicly.  Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) asked for unanimous consent for the nonbinding resolution, which cleared the House 420-0, to be passed by the Senate following Mueller's submission of his final report on Friday.  "Whether or not you're a supporter of President Trump ... there is no good reason not to make the report public," Schumer said from the floor. "It's a simple request for transparency. Nothing more, nothing less."  But McConnell objected, noting that Attorney General William Barr is working with Mueller to determine what in his report can be released publicly and what cannot.  "The special counsel and the Justice Department ought to be allowed to finish their work in a professional manner," McConnell said. "To date, the attorney general has followed through on his commitments to Congress. One of those commitments is that he intends to release as much information as possible."   Under Senate rules, any one senator can try to pass or set up a vote on a bill, resolution or nomination. But in turn, any one senator can block their request.  Mueller turned his report over to the Justice Department on Friday, signaling the formal end of the two-year investigation. Barr sent a four-page letter to the House and Senate Judiciary committees on Sunday outlining Mueller's main findings. Mueller, according to the letter, did not uncover evidence that the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election.

Trump begins post-Mueller ‘reset’ by strafing Democrats, media - The anticlimactic end of Robert Mueller’s Russia probe allows President Donald Trump to relaunch his beleaguered presidency with new swagger ahead of the 2020 election.  Trump’s supporters called it a turning point, saying that with lurid questions about election-rigging out of the way, he will have a fresh chance to connect with Americans. "There's a rare moment here for Donald Trump to get a bit of a reset,” said Matt Schlapp, a Trump ally and chairman of the American Conservative Union. “He's got a chance to reconnect with more Americans than he even did previously."But after the nearly two-year investigation found no collusion or clear obstruction of justice, Trump and his aides showed little interest in healing or national unity. They quickly launched a fierce counterattack against both Democrats and the media, claiming that Trump had survived what amounted to an extralegal coup — and implying that other charges of wrongdoing against him should also be discounted.“Democrats simply can’t be trusted,” former Trump White House official Steven Cheung said. “Democrats lied to the American people continually, hoping to undo the legitimate election of President Trump,” a Sunday statement from Trump’s re-election campaign declared.

Russiagate Is Really Finished - On February 12 we wrote that Russiagate Is Finished. The conclusion was based on an NBC report: -- After two years and 200 interviews, the Senate Intelligence Committee is approaching the end of its investigation into the 2016 election, having uncovered no direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to both Democrats and Republicans on the committee.  Russiagate conspiracy theorist Marcy Wheeler countered by arguing that a conspiracy had been proven when Trump's former campaign chief Paul Manafort admitted to handing out polling data to some Ukrainian/Russian contact to curry favor with some Russian oligarch he owned money. But Manafort's crimes, which he plead guilty for on September 14 2018, had nothing to do with "Russia" or with Trump and only peripherally with his election campaign: On Friday, Manafort, who was chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign from June to August 2016, pleaded guilty in federal district court in Washington to two charges of conspiracy against the United States—one involving a lobbying scheme that involved financial crimes and foreign-agent registration violations, and the other involving witness tampering. In the course of his plea, Manafort also admitted guilt on bank-fraud charges on which a federal jury in Virginia hung last month. Marcy and others held out hope that the Mueller investigation would come up with an indictment that would justify the utter nonsense she and other Russagaters promoted for over two years.  That last hope of the Russiagate dead-enders is now gone: Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III submitted a long-awaited report to Attorney General William P. Barr on Friday, marking the end of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by President Trump. ...A senior Justice Department official said the special counsel has not recommended any further indictments — a revelation that buoyed Trump’s supporters, even as other Trump-related investigations continue in other parts of the Justice Department. ...None of the Americans charged by Mueller are accused of conspiring with Russia to interfere in the election — the central question of Mueller’s work. Instead, they pleaded guilty to various crimes, including lying to the FBI.  The investigation ended without charges for a number of key figures who had long been under Mueller’s scrutiny ...

Russiagate Skeptics Rightly Boast About Being Proven 100% Correct - Caitlin Johnstone --There is nothing more epic than a Youtube video by Jimmy Dore immediately after he has been proven right about something. It’s thunderous. It’s unequivocal. And it happens a lot.“Now, I’ve gotten Russiagate right here,” Dore said in a new video following revelations about the finalized Mueller report that there will be no further indictments, leaving the grand total of Americans charged with Russian conspiracy at exactly zero.“I did that in my garage,” Dore added. “Those other stations didn’t do that. Not because they don’t have the resources I have. They did that ’cause they didn’t want to. They did that ’cause they weren’t interested in the truth. They did that because what they wanted to do was fuckin’ get Donald Trump so bad they were willing to turn off their critical thinking skills and just listen to their lizard brains. And they wrecked America in the process. And we stood up against it, and we got smeared for standing up against it, and we still get smeared.” “Congratulations to everyone here, congratulations to our crew,” Dore said. “Congratulations to Ron and Steph and everybody, congratulations to Aaron Maté and Max Blumenthal and Kyle Kulinski, and whoever else got this right; it’s a small club, it’s a short list. And we took a lot of slings and arrows for it, and we’re still taking. People hate you when you out-left them. We out-lefted everybody, and we did it in the right way. And so congratulations to you guys, congratulations to myself, congratulations to this show, and thank God I didn’t try to get into journalism school but I tried to get into comedy first. Because if I was trying to get into that club, I would be just as shitty as the reporters at the Washington Post, the New York Times, MSNBC and CNN, and half the Youtubers, and we’re not. We did a much better job.”

Matt Taibbi: It’s Official – Russiagate is This Generation’s WMD - Nobody wants to hear this, but news that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is headed home without issuing new charges is a death-blow for the reputation of the American news media.As has long been rumored, the former FBI chief’s independent probe will result in multiple indictments and convictions, but no “presidency-wrecking” conspiracy charges, or anything that would meet the layman’s definition of “collusion” with Russia. The Special Prosecutor literally became a religious figure during the last few years, with votive candles sold in his image and Saturday Night Live cast members singing “All I Want for Christmas is You” to him featuring the rhymey line: “Mueller please come through, because the only option is a coup.” The Times story today tried to preserve Santa Mueller’s reputation, noting Trump’s Attorney General William Barr’s reaction was an “endorsement” of the fineness of Mueller’s work: In an apparent endorsement of an investigation that Mr. Trump has relentlessly attacked as a “witch hunt,” Mr. Barr said Justice Department officials never had to intervene to keep Mr. Mueller from taking an inappropriate or unwarranted step. Mueller, in other words, never stepped out of the bounds of his job description. But could the same be said for the news media? For those anxious to keep the dream alive, the Times published its usual graphic of Trump-Russia “contacts,” inviting readers to keep making connections. But in a separate piece by Peter Baker, the paper noted the Mueller news had dire consequences for the press: It will be a reckoning for President Trump, to be sure, but also for Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, for Congress, for Democrats, for Republicans, for the news media and, yes, for the system as a whole… This is a damning page one admission by the Times. Despite the connect-the-dots graphic in its other story, and despite the astonishing, emotion-laden editorial the paper also ran suggesting “We don’t need to read the Mueller report” because we know Trump is guilty, Baker at least began the work of preparing Times readers for a hard question: “Have journalists connected too many dots that do not really add up?” The paper was signaling it understood there would now be questions about whether or not news outlets like itself made galactic errors by betting heavily on a new, politicized approach, trying to be true to “history’s judgment” on top of the hard-enough job of just being true. Worse, in a brutal irony everyone should have seen coming, the press has now handed Trump the mother of campaign issues heading into 2020. Nothing Trump is accused of from now on by the press will be believed by huge chunks of the population, a group that (perhaps thanks to this story) is now larger than his original base. As Baker notes, a full 50.3% of respondents in a poll conducted this month said they agree with Trump the Mueller probe is a “witch hunt.”

Trump Is Going To Repeat This Until November 2020. Thanks, MSNBC. Caitlin Johnstone -- After news broke that Robert Mueller had turned in his final report without recommending any further indictments, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow began frantically retweeting blue-checkmarked Twitter pundits who claimed that since nobody knows the contents of the report yet, the news that the number of Americans indicted for conspiring with the Russian government is set at zero doesn’t matter.  Well guess what, Rachel? We know what the report contains now.  US Attorney General William Barr has sent a letter to congressional officials which you can read here. It contains the following unequivocal quote:  The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. As the report states: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”  A footnote on the document clarifies that the Mueller investigation defined coordination with the Russian government very broadly, to include not just overt coordination but any “agreement—tacit or express—between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference.” No such agreement, tacit or otherwise, was found to have taken place.So that’s it then. The central and foundational claim of the Russiagate conspiracy theory has been found to have been completely baseless. The report asserts that Russia hacked and distributed Democratic Party emails (a claim that the public has still yet to see any hard evidence for), and “did not draw a conclusion – one way or the other” whether Trump committed obstruction of justice in the investigation of baseless collusion allegations, but the central and foundational Russiagate claim that Trump and the Kremlin conspired to steal the 2016 election has been killed. Finito. Case closed. Debate over. And Trump is loving every second of it.

Republican delight, Democrat dismay as Mueller details released (Reuters) - Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia report found no evidence the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in the 2016 election, according to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, delighting Trump’s followers in battleground states and bewildering opponents. “Finally we get to stick it to all the haters who want to undermine our president,” said Ford assembly plant worker Henry Thompson, a lifelong Democrat who backed Trump in the 2016 campaign for his opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement. “How many times did Trump say: ‘No collusion’ - and he was right. They say the president lies. But his enemies have lied about this from the beginning,” he said. Trump, who will hold a rally in Michigan on Thursday and has repeatedly called the Mueller probe a “witch hunt,” quickly hailed the announcement as “complete and total exoneration.” Mueller did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump broke the law by interfering with probes into the 2016 election and left Barr to make a decision. The attorney general said Mueller did not present enough evidence to warrant charging Trump with obstruction of justice. Democrats like Sam Skardon of Charleston, South Carolina, said they wanted to see the full report, not just the summary presented by Barr, a recent Trump appointee. “I’m not going to take William Barr’s word for what the findings are. I want to see for myself. I want the full report,” said Skardon, 30, who works in economic development. However, the announcement was a turning point for other Americans who did not vote for Trump. Miami, Florida-based television and film producer Alfred Spellman said the report showed it was time for Trump opponents to work on beating him at the polls, rather than trying to find grounds to impeach him. “Whatever other issues they have with the president are political issues and should be resolved at the ballot box,” said Spellman, an independent

Conclusion of Mueller probe raises anew criticisms of coverage - WaPo -- After more than two years of intense reporting and endless talking-head speculation about possible collusion between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian agents in 2016, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III put a huge spike in all of it on Sunday. Attorney General William P. Barr relayed Mueller’s key findings in a four-page summary of the 22-month investigation: The evidence was insufficient to conclude that Trump or his associates conspired with Russians to interfere in the campaign.  Barr’s announcement was a thunderclap to mainstream news outlets and the cadre of mostly liberal-leaning commentators who have spent months emphasizing the possible-collusion narrative in opinion columns and cable TV panel discussions.  “Nobody wants to hear this, but news that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is headed home without issuing new charges is a death-blow for the reputation of the American news media,” Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi wrote in a column published Saturday, a day before Barr nailed the collusion coffin shut. He added: “Nothing Trump is accused of from now on by the press will be believed by huge chunks of the population.”   Journalist and commentator Glenn Greenwald — a longtime skeptic of the collusion angle — tweeted his contempt for the media coverage on Sunday, too: “Check every MSNBC personality, CNN law ‘expert,’ liberal-centrist outlets and #Resistance scam artist and see if you see even an iota of self-reflection, humility or admission of massive error.” He added: “While standard liberal outlets obediently said whatever they were told by the CIA & FBI, many reporters at right-wing media outlets which are routinely mocked by super-smart liberals as primitive & propagandistic did relentlessly great digging & reporting.” Greenwald reserved special vitriol for MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, who he said “went on the air for 2 straight years & fed millions of people conspiratorial garbage & benefited greatly.”

Media takes serious hit from Mueller conclusions - The news media has taken a big hit from special counsel Robert Mueller’s conclusion that no one in the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. For the past two years, the media has focused exhaustively on the question of whether President Trump and those closest to him illegally coordinated with Russia to steal the election. The breathless coverage amplified the sense that Trump and some of his family members would go down for crimes, yet in the end, Mueller reported that he found no evidence of a conspiracy. Conservatives are basking in the media’s failures, circulating greatest hits collections of reporting mistakes and mashups of television commentators warning that the walls are closing in on the president.The Trump campaign sent a memo to television producers on Monday asking hosts to challenge past guests who claimed to have evidence of collusion.A few prominent figures on the left are also taking a victory lap, such as The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald, who says he was blackballed from CNN and MSNBC for refusing to promote the Trump-Russia conspiracy narrative. In an email to The Hill, veteran national security reporter Seymour Hersh, a Pulitzer Prize winner, likened the Russia coverage to the run-up to the war in Iraq, when journalists were accused of uncritically accepting claims from government officials that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. “We went through the same drill with WMD,” Hersh said.

As Mueller Finds No Collusion, Did Press Overhype Russiagate? Glenn Greenwald vs. David Cay Johnston DemocracyNow! (video).

 A Catastrophic Media Failure: How America's 'Best & Biased-est' Botched Russiagate From Birth To Death - Robert Mueller’s investigation is over, but questions still abound. Not about collusion, Russian interference or obstruction of justice, but about the leading lights of journalism who managed to get the story so wrong, and for so long. It wasn’t merely an error here or there. America’s blue-chip journalists botched the entire story, from its birth during the presidential campaign to its final breath Sunday - and they never stopped congratulating themselves for it.Last year the New York Times and Washington Post shared a Pulitzer Prize “for deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage in the public interest that dramatically furthered the nation’s understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its connections to the Trump campaign, the President-elect’s transition team and his eventual administration.” A 2017 Time magazine cover depicted the White House getting a “makeover” to transform it into the Kremlin. All based on a theory—that the president of the United States was a Russian asset—produced by a retired foreign spy whose work was funded by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. An unbiased observer would have taken the theory’s partisan provenance as a red flag, but most political journalists saw nothing but green lights. No unverified rumor was too salacious and no anonymous tip was too outlandish to print. From CNN to the Times and the Post, from esteemed and experienced reporters to opinion writers and bloggers, everyone wanted a share of the Trump-treason beat. What good is the 21st-century Watergate if you don’t at least make an effort to cast yourself as the fearless journalist risking it all who got that one big tip that brought down a president? Not only did the press fail to destroy Donald Trump’s presidency; it provided voluminous evidence for his repeated charge of “fake news.”  Each new claim, true or not, became fodder for political pundits. Sure, there may be no actual smoking gun or verified information or anything even approximating evidence, but if you take all the disparate pieces and put them on the same corkboard, stand back at just the right distance, and squint really hard, you can almost make out a barrel and a plume of smoke.

His Victory Complete, Trump Faces A New Challenge: Defining ‘American Autocracy’ We use the term “feigned incredulity” in these pages quite a bit, but there’s nothing “feigned” about the incredulity emanating from Democrats and ardent Trump detractors on Monday. In a sense, the President’s exoneration in the special counsel probe isn’t wholly surprising. One point we’ve made here repeatedly over the course of the last year is that Trump, either by design or, far more likely, by virtue of being a silly person, has made a public show of obstructing justice. We are, after all, talking about a man who said the following to Lester Holt about his (Trump’s) decision to fire James Comey: He made a recommendation, but regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won. Trump would later try to claim that NBC “fudged the tape”, but in reality, Trump “fudged” the coverup. He admitted to obstructing justice on national television and if you recall, his lawyers were acutely aware of how grievous that quote actually was. Or maybe it wasn’t. Because in the end, it looks like the obstruction line is blurred when you do it openly. Trump bullied, badgered and otherwise intimidated everyone associated with the investigation including (and especially) then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. But he did it all on Twitter, at rallies and in remarks to the media. In other words, he committed this particular high crime in the most public of public forums and he did it habitually and loudly.

 Top Democrat- Mueller Report Doesn't Matter, We Know There Was Collusion - Top-ranking Democrat, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jerry Nadler did the rounds of Sunday's political shows this morning but it wasn't until he reached the safety of CNN that he decided to unleash his 'facts' in response to the narrative-crushing conclusions reached by special counsel Robert Mueller."We know there was collusion," Nadler insisted several times during an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union" while shrugging off Mueller's apparent facts - "Why there's been no indictments, we don't know."While the CNN host did attempt to push back, noting that none of Nadler's 'facts' had warranted an indictment, the Democrat would have none of it, reeling off a list of various events, from The Trump Tower meetings (which have been dismissed by fact patterns numerous times) and the way Trump "pressured the FBI to go easy, to stop investigating Flynn," and Trump firing Comey as evidence of the alleged "collusion." “Well, there have been obstructions of justice, whether they are - clearly, whether they are criminal obstruction is another question,” Nadler implored...“But we have - the special prosecutor is limited in scope. His job was limited in scope and limited to crimes. What Congress has to do is look at a broader picture. We are in charge — we have the responsibility of protecting the rule of law, of looking at obstructions of justice, abuses of power, at corruption, in order to protect the rule of law so that our democratic institutions are not greatly damaged by this president.”Of course, Nadler is not alone. House Intelligence chair Adam Schiff said on ABC's "This Week" Sunday that even if the Mueller report does not recommend any new indictments — as has been reported — that does not necessarily rule out impeachment for President Trump.

Trump allies await results of two internal probes that could expose Russia investigation backstory - Following the revelation that Special Counsel Robert Mueller unearthed no evidence that President Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia to sway the 2016 election, Trump allies are now awaiting the results of two long-running internal probes that could expose the backstory behind the Russia probe's beginnings -- and provide more detail on already-documented misconduct among top FBI and DOJ officials.DOJ Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz confirmed at a panel discussion last week that his office is continuing to review potential surveillance abuses by the FBI, a review that began last March and that Fox News is told is nearing completion. Horowitz has previously found that senior FBI officials routinely leaked information without authorization to the media, and also received "improper gifts" from reporters, including meals and sporting event tickets. Most notably, Horowitz found that FBI officials' anti-Trump communications raised doubts as to the integrity of their work.Republicans, meanwhile, are increasingly looking for answers from U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber, who was appointed a year ago by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to review not only surveillance abuses by the FBI and DOJ, but also authorities' handling of the probe into the Clinton Foundation. Huber, Republicans have cautioned, has apparently made little progress, and spoken to few key witnesses and whistleblowers.But in January, then-Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker reportedly indicated at a private meeting that Huber's work was continuing apace. Among the primary looming questions that the IG has said he will address, and that Huber is expected to review: Did the FBI follow all applicable "legal requirements" when FBI lawyer Lisa Page and then-Deputy Director Andrew McCabe obtained a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to surveil Trump aide Carter Page -- weeks before the 2016 presidential election -- by relying heavily on a dossier created by a firm working for the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC)?

What Mueller’s (Apparent) Dud Means for Democrats - Robert Mueller won’t save the American republic from itself. For the moment, we do not have access to the special counsel’s report on Russian intervention in the 2016 election. It is possible that that document’s fine details will prove damaging for Donald Trump. But its “principal conclusions” — as summarized by Attorney General William Barr — have not. According to Barr’s letter to Congress, “the Special Counsel did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government” in its efforts to sway the 2016 election “despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.” And while Mueller did find evidence to support the claim that our president committed obstruction of justice, he did not find said evidence persuasive enough to make a conclusion himself. Instead, he left that prosecutorial decision to Donald Trump’s attorney general, who made precisely the decision that one would expect.None of this should obscure the fact that Mueller’s investigation had previously produced criminal convictions of the president’s former campaign manager, national security adviser, longtime personal attorney, among others in his extended orbit. Nor should it banish from memory Donald Trump Jr.’s eager acceptance of an offer of aid from the Russian government, or his father’s decision to pursue a development project in Moscow while campaigning on an aberrantly Russia-friendly platform, or the president’s repeated insistence that Vladimir Putin’s word was more truthworthy than the CIA’s, or the myriad other undisputed acts that would, in normal political times, be seen as presidency-defining scandals, in and of themselves.But it probably will.

Trump's 'delight' and the discomfort of Democrats: How global media is reacting to the Mueller report - Global media are reacting to the results of one of the most gripping investigations into a U.S. president in modern times — and the somewhat unexpected result of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into whether President Donald Trump colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election. Attorney General William Barr summarized the results of Mueller's investigation on Sunday by sayingit had not found that the Trump campaign had"conspired or coordinated with the Russian government" to influence the 2016 vote. In addition, Barr said Mueller had not concluded one way or another as to whether Trump obstructed justice by trying to influence the investigation. Barr said Mueller's evidence was not sufficient to establish that Trump committed a crime. Trump tweeted that the report's conclusions were a "total exoneration" of him. But in a letter to key members of Congress on Sunday, Barr noted that while Mueller's report "does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him." Disappointed by Barr's summary of the investigation, Democrats have called Mueller's report to be published in full. Meanwhile, much of the global media have focused on the shock result and whether or not Trump is really "exonerated." Here's a selection of global media reaction and commentary to the results of the Mueller probe:

AG Barr to release Mueller report in ‘weeks not months’ - Attorney General William Barr will make a version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report publicly available in weeks, not months, a Justice Department official and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Tuesday. Both the Justice Department official and Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. said there were no plans to give a copy of the report to the White House before it is made public. In an interview on Fox News, Graham said he had spoken with both Barr and President Donald Trump on Tuesday night. He said Trump told him that he had no objection to the report's being made public and that Barr told him that it was being delayed only for a series of reviews to remove classified information, grand jury information and sensitive materials related to associated cases being brought in other jurisdictions. Graham said that the report would be made public and that Barr would appear before the Judiciary Committee some time in April. The Justice Department official said the timeline was "weeks, not months." Barr announced on Friday that Mueller had delivered his report to the Justice Department after a nearly two-year investigation. Barr then sent a four-page letter to Congress on Sunday that said Mueller found no proof that President Donald Trump conspired with Russia in its 2016 election interference campaign.

Barr expects to release nearly 400-page Mueller report by mid-April Attorney General William Barr told lawmakers on Friday that he expects to have a public version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report ready for release by mid-April and that President Trump has deferred to him to decide what makes it into the redacted document. "Our progress is such that I anticipate we will be in a position to release the report by mid-April, if not sooner," Barr wrote to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). "Although the President would have the right to assert privilege over certain parts of the report, he has stated publicly that he intends to defer to me and, accordingly, there are no plans to submit the report to the White House for a privilege review," Barr wrote. His letter indicates that the Justice Department is all but certain to miss an April 2 deadline set by House Democrats to turn over Mueller’s full report. Meanwhile, Democrats later Friday said they were standing by the deadline they had given for the Justice Department. "As I informed the Attorney General earlier this week, Congress requires the full and complete Mueller report, without redactions, as well as access to the underlying evidence, by April 2,” Nadler said in a statement Friday afternoon. “That deadline still stands.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, had separately given Barr an April 1 deadline to turn over the document. The attorney general said officials are reviewing the report to make necessary redactions to restrict grand jury material, sensitive intelligence information that could compromise sources and methods, and details that could impact ongoing investigations stemming from Mueller’s expansive inquiry. The fact that the White House will not receive a copy in advance means Trump will not be able to assert executive privilege to keep some of the content under wraps.

Rachel Maddow, the left’s powerhouse on cable, won’t let the Mueller probe go - Rachel Maddow, the queen of collusion, is not backing down. A day after Attorney General William P. Barr said special prosecutor Robert S. Mueller III hadn’t found collusion between President Trump’s campaign and Russian agents, Maddow — prime-time TV’s primary and most tenacious proponent of the conspiracy angle — still was not buying it. Instead, Maddow moved on to two related questions: Did Trump obstruct justice? And did Barr let him get away with it? “Whatever information [Barr] just received from Robert Mueller about the president’s behavior as it pertains to potential criminal obstruction of justice, Barr could have just passed that information on to [Congress] for them to decide what to do with it,” Maddow said on her MSNBC program Monday night. “But instead, somewhat inexplicably, he decided to take it upon himself to declare definitively, ‘Yeah, you know, I looked at all that stuff, and I can tell you there is no crime there, it’s fine.’ ” She added: “Where did this come from? I mean, on what grounds are you saying that you have concluded there is no crime here?” Maddow’s monologue suggests that she is unmoved by the many attacks on her for promoting a Russia conspiracy that, at least according to the attorney general, seems to have run aground. Her nightly deconstructions of the case against Trump have made her the signal figure of the anti-Trump left and have abetted her rise to the most popular figure in cable news. 

Ilargi Meijer- Can We Lock Up Rachel Maddow Now?- Message to Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Tulsi Gabbard and the rest of the crew: you can stop asking for campaign donations, because you no longer stand a chance in the 2020 elections. Your own party, and the media who support you, made sure of that. Or rather, the only chance you would have is if you guys start another smear campaign against your president, and I wouldn’t recommend that.I don’t want to start another Lock Her Up sequence, that’s too ugly for my taste. But three parties in this No Collusion disaster must be held accountable: US intelligence, the Democratic party, and the media. You can’t just let it go, too much water under the bridge. No can do. “The Democrats need to move on”, a recent ‘soft line’, is not good enough. They must be held to account.Bill Barr can investigate the FBI and DOJ, but the obstacles there are obvious: investigating the investigators. The Democratic party would mean going after individuals, but sure, let’s see what Loretta Lynch, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Maxine Waters have to say for themselves and take it from there, before you get to Hillary. The media, though, is something else altogether.   Freedom of the press, and freedom of opinion, is one thing. Conducting a 2-year+ smear campaign against your own president is another. So what does US law say about this? Let’s hear it. Since Trump made Bill Barr the new Attorney General, Barr is instrumental in answering these questions. Is it a smear campaign? Is that acceptable? Is it legal? Asking for a friend.Not a soul could blame me if I were to gloat because what I’ve said since the 2016 elections has been proven: there is no collusion between ‘the Russians’ and Donald Trump and there never was. But I don’t feel much like gloating because 1) it’s old news and 2) this tale is far from over. The media, and the Democrats, are not going to cave in, because they have nowhere left to ‘cave into’. The biggest shame, I think, is not that the media will just keep doing what they have, but that a remnant, a residue of all the made-up narratives will remain in their audience’s minds, long after Robert Mueller has said it was all lies all that time. That the public will say: there’s been so much, surely some of it must be true?! The power of repetition.

'They've Got Big Problems'- Trump Vows To Hold Officials Behind Collusion 'Hoax' Accountable - President Trump told a packed audience in Michigan on Thursday that he's been fully vindicated by special counsel Robert Mueller's report, and those who perpetrated the Russia 'hoax' will now be held to account, reports PJ Media.  Trump called the Russia probe a "sinister effort" to undermine his election victory, and now "The Russia hoax is finally dead," Trump told the crowd. "We defeated a very corrupt establishment and we kept our promise to the American people and it is driving them crazy. Today, our movement and our country are thriving. Their fraud has been exposed and the credibility of those who pushed this hoax is forever broken. And they have now got big problems," said Trump. "This group of major losers did not just ruthlessly attack me, my family, and everyone who questioned their lies. They tried to divide our country, to poison the national debate, and to tear up the fabric of our great democracy, the greatest anywhere in the world. They did it all because they refused to accept the results of one of the greatest presidential elections, probably number one, in our history."  The political left & their allies in the media spent 2 years attempting to tear down @realDonaldTrump's entire family, as well as his Admin, while needlessly dividing the country in the process, all because they couldn't get over Hillary Clinton— Andrew Surabian (@Surabees) March 29, 2019   Of note, a four-page summary of Mueller's report said that the special counsel investigation found no collusion with Russia during the 2016 campaign, however it also says that the report "also does not exonerate him."  Trump took some time mock Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who has the "smallest, thinnest neck I've ever seen."  "Sick. Sick. These are sick people. And there has to be accountability because it is all lies. And they know it is lies. They know it. They know it is. Jerry Nadler, I have been fighting him for many years. He was the congressman from Manhattan. I built great things in Manhattan. I had to beat him many times and now I have to come here and I have to beat him again. Can you believe it? I want every record in the history of the Trump Organization," said Trump, mocking Nadler. . "We will find something somewhere along the lines. A mistake must have been made. These people are sick."

Adam Schiff Furious After GOP Calls For His Immediate Resignation In Explosive Hearing - Democratic House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who made Donald Trump's now debunked Russiagate "witch hunt" his one mission in life, furiously pushed back as all nine Committee Republicans demanded his resignation, defending his past comments by lighting into the president and his family and campaign over its contacts with Russia. Calls from Republicans and president Trump for the Russiagate-obsessed Schiff to resign as head of the House Intelligence Committee have been loud in the days following the release of the four-page Mueller report summary. And on Thursday, the call was made right to the Congressman’s face in what Mediate described was an "explosive" clash, and The Hill dubbed a "striking display." “Your actions, both past, and present are incompatible with your duty of the chairman of this committee — which alone, in the House of Representatives — has the obligation and authority to provide effective oversight of the U.S. Intelligence community,” Conaway said. “As such we have no faith in your ability to discharge your duties in a manner consistent with your Constitutional responsibility and urge your immediate resignation as chairman of the committee. Mr. Chairman, this letter is signed by all nine members of the Republican side of the committee, and I ask unanimous consent that it be entered into the record at today’s hearing.”All 9 Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee demand Democrat Chairman Adam Schiff resign: "we have no faith in your ability to discharge your duties in a manner consistent with your constitutional responsibility and urge your immediate resignation" Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) March 28, 2019   A visibly angry Schiff responded immediately after, at which point the "clash exploded" as the Russiagate-obssessed Democrat aggressively pushed back defending his past comments by lighting into the president and his family and campaign over its contacts with Russia."My colleagues may think it is OK the president's son was offered dirt as part of an effort to help Trump," Schiff said in his statement. "You might think it is OK. I don’t," Schiff added, his voice rising as he went on.

I Warned Early On Russiagate Would Help Trump. Now You Can See Why - As one of the vanishingly few people in journalism who has been pointing out the fundamentally fallacious premises behind “Russiagate” since the day it started, I can attest to how vociferously skeptics of this charade have been denounced as Donald Trump apologists or even secret supporters. Of course, there was always a vocal faction of people who are partisan boosters of Trump and rejected the Russia conspiracy for no real reason other than that they wanted to protect their beloved president. But for those of us who recognized how vital it was that Trump’s authoritarian tendencies be met with a rational, evidence-based opposition—rather than one overtaken by conspiratorial frenzy—highlighting the glaring flaws in this story was unavoidably necessary. Sadly, our warnings largely fell on deaf ears. The end result is a grand ironic twist for Trump’s most ardent opponents: Because Democrats and their media allies invested so much political capital in the now-discredited Russia collusion theory, they have not only failed to topple Trump, they’ve actually strengthened his hand immeasurably. There’s just no way to sugarcoat it: Robert Mueller has fully exonerated Trump on the core conspiracy charge that impelled the creation of the special counsel in the first place, and Trump is absolutely justified to celebrate this as a profound humiliation for Democrats and huge swaths of the national media. Heading into a re-election campaign, liberals witlessly gifted him the standing to rightly declare victory over opposition forces that compromised their integrity and abandoned their critical faculties in a vain effort to oust him from power.

Despite report findings, almost half of Americans think Trump colluded with Russia: Reuters/Ipsos poll (Reuters) - Nearly half of all Americans still believe President Donald Trump worked with Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted after Special Counsel Robert Mueller cleared Trump of that allegation. Americans did feel slightly more positive about Trump after learning the findings of the 22-month investigation into Russian meddling in the election, the national opinion poll released on Tuesday showed. But U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s four-page summary of Mueller’s investigation did little to change public opinion about the president’s alleged ties to Russia or quench the public’s appetite to learn more. According to Barr’s summary released on Sunday, Mueller found no evidence that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia in the 2016 election, but did not exonerate the president on the question of obstructing the investigation. When asked specifically about accusations of collusion and obstruction of justice, 48 percent of poll respondents said they believed “Trump or someone from his campaign worked with Russia to influence the 2016 election,” down 6 percentage points from last week. Fifty-three percent said “Trump tried to stop investigations into Russian influence on his administration,” down 2 points from last week. Public opinion was split sharply along party lines, with Democrats much more likely than Republicans to believe that Trump colluded with Russia and obstructed justice. The Reuters/Ipsos poll measured the public reaction in the United States on Monday and Tuesday, after the report summary was released, gathering online responses from 1,003 adults, including 948 who said they had at least heard of the summary findings. The poll has a credibility interval, a measure of its precision, of about 4 percentage points. Trump’s approval rating got a slight boost, with 43 percent of Americans saying they approved of his performance in office, the highest he has polled so far this year and an increase of 4 percentage points compared to a similar poll last week.

 How Millions Were Duped By Russiagate- The Illusory Truth Effect -- Caitlin Johnstone - “Mueller Finds No Trump-Russia Conspiracy”, read the front page headline of Sunday’s New York Times. Bit by bit, mainstream American consciousness is slowly coming to terms with the death of the thrilling conspiracy theory that the highest levels of the US government had been infiltrated by the Kremlin, and with the stark reality that the mass media and the Democratic Party spent the last two and-a-half years monopolizing public attention with a narrative which never had any underlying truth to it. There are still holdouts, of course. Many people invested a tremendous amount of hope, credibility, and egoic currency in the belief that Robert Mueller was going to arrest high-ranking Trump administration officials and members of Trump’s own family, leading seedy characters to “flip” on the president in their own self-interest and thereby providing evidence that will lead to impeachment. Some insist that Attorney General William Barr is holding back key elements of the Mueller report, a claim which is premised on the absurd belief that Mueller would allow Barr to lie about the results of the investigation without speaking up publicly. Others are still holding out hope that other investigations by other legal authorities will turn up some Russian shenanigans that Mueller could not, ignoring Mueller’s sweeping subpoena powers and unrivaled investigative authority. But they’re coming around.The question still remains, though: what the hell happened? How did a fact-free conspiracy theory come to gain so much traction among mainstream Americans? How were millions of people persuaded to invest hope in a narrative that anyone objectively analyzing the facts knew to be completely false?  The answer is that they were told that the Russiagate narrative was legitimate over and over again by politicians and mass media pundits, and, because of a peculiar phenomenon in the nature of human cognition, this repetition made it seem true. The rather uncreatively-named illusory truth effect describes the way people are more likely to believe something is true after hearing it said many times. This is due to the fact that the familiar feeling we experience when hearing something we’ve heard before feels very similar to our experience of knowing that something is true. When we hear a familiar idea, its familiarity provides us with something called cognitive ease, which is the relaxed, unlabored state we experience when our minds aren’t working hard at something. We also experience cognitive ease when we are presented with a statement that we know to be true.

Russiagate is Birtherism: It is All a Game - This weekend, Mueller’s “bombshell report”—which was in reality no hat and no cattle—was submitted to the Attorney General and the summary of his findings was released to Congress. What we know now is what independent journalists and political observers have been saying all along even though we were drowned out by the echo chamber of yellow journalists like Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper, Joy Reid and their cohorts in mainstream “press”.I will spare you the details of the findings and how the establishment are busytrying to explain away their fraudulence at this exact moment. Instead, I want to focus your attention no so much on the Mueller report but the reason why the special counsel was impaneled to begin with. You see, while Americans—divided as we are by the tribes of identity and ideology—have been busy declaring wars on each other as we fight over Donald Trump, the ruling class have been laughing at us all along..  At the risk of sounding like Sophia from Golden Girls, I want you to picture 2010 during Barack Obama’s first term. Donald Trump catapulted to prominence in the Republican circles by latching on to the bigoted birther movement. Back then, I was incensed that the nation’s “first black president” was having his Americanism questioned and in the process being otherized by “conservatives”. Intent on fighting hate with anger, I turned to divisive rhetoric; the more they pushed the birther line, the more I promoted the idea that “white” people are the reason why there is injustice in the world. Presto! With that, I fell right into the trap that both Democrats and Republicans were setting before us. What I realize now, thanks to professor hard knocks and his assistant hardship, is that both parties and the entire political establishment were intentionally bolstering the birtherism conspiracy theory.

It's Coming - Graham Vows To Investigate FBI's Unprofessional Conduct And 'Troubling' Behavior - Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said in a Monday press conference that he's going to get to the bottom of "unprofessional conduct" and "shady behavior" by the Justice Department and the FBI surrounding the 2016 US election, and will call on Attorney General William Barr to appoint another Special Counsel "that would look into what happened with the FISA warrant," and "what happened with the counterintelligence investigation."  Graham also laid out that while he hopes AG Barr will release as much of the Mueller report as possible, certain information would need to be redacted. NEW: Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham says he hopes Attorney General Barr "will come to the committee, release as much as possible of the Mueller report."— ABC News (@ABC) March 25, 2019"The rule of law applies both to Republicans and Democrats," said Graham, one day after a four-page summary of special counsel Robert Mueller's report cleared Trump and his team of colluding with Russia to win the election, while AG Barr and Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein cleared Trump of obstruction. There was "unprofessional conduct" and "shady behavior" by @TheJusticeDept and @FBI, says @LindseyGrahamSC, adding they should have gone to candidate @realDonaldTrump to tell him people in his orbit were in contact with Russians— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) March 25, 2019  Graham says he's going to get to the bottom of former FBI Director James Comey's behavior in regards to the Clinton email investigation, the Weiner laptop, and the infamous "Tarmac" meeting between Bill Clinton and Obama Attorney General Loretta Lynch, which the South Carolina Republican suggested was 'something more' than just a casual encounter.   "What makes no sense to me is that all the abuse by the Department of Justice, in the FBI the unprofessional conduct, the shady behavior — nobody seems think that's much important," Graham said of the "double standard" of alleged pro-Clinton and anti-Trump bias by officials

FBI Ordered To Let Judge Review Comey 'Obstruction' Memos Ahead Of Possible Public Release - The FBI was ordered by a D.C. judge to hand over copies of former director James Comey's memos about his interactions with President Trump prior to his firing, in order to determine whether they can be released to the public.   U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in Washington on Thursday ordered the Federal Bureau of Investigation to submit both clean and redacted versions of the documents by April 1 as part of a Freedom of Information Act case brought by CNN and other organizations, including USA Today and the conservative activist group Judicial Watch Inc. –Bloomberg   Meanwhile, CNN argued in a January filing that the public should be permitted to see the memos because Comey and Trump have accused each other "of grave breaches of the public trust," and that the documents will show "contemporaneous records of disputed conversations."  The FBI told the court on March 1 that the files are still redacted and classified, and should remain so in order to avoid interfering with special counsel Robert Mueller's now-completed investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.   Last January, the FBI's chief FOIA officer, David Hardy, gave a sworn declaration to Judicial Watch in which he said that all seven of Comey's memos were classified at the time they were written, and they remain classifiedWe have a sworn declaration from David Hardy who is the chief FOIA officer of the FBI that we obtained just in the last few days, and in that sworn declaration, Mr. Hardy says that all of Comey's memos - all of them, were classified at the time they were written, and they remain classified. -Chris Farrell, Judicial Watch Judicial Watch's Chris Farrell pointed out at the time that Comey therefore mishandled national defense information when he "knowingly and willfully" leaked them to his Law Professor pal at Columbia University, Daniel Richman.  It's also mishandling of national defense information, which is a crime. So it's clear that Mr. Comey not only authored those documents, but then knowingly and willfully leaked them to persons unauthorized, which is in and of itself a national security crime. Mr. Comey should have been read his rights back on June 8th when he testified before the Senate.

CIA-Linked Nellie Ohr Gave Extensive Anti-Trump Research To High-Ranking DOJ Husband: Transcripts The wife of former Justice Department #4 official Bruce Ohr conducted extensive opposition research on Trump family members and campaign aides while working for Fusion GPS - the firm paid by the Clinton campaign to produce a 'salacious and unverified' Russian-sourced dossier which would later be used against Trump and his campaign.  According to a newly released transcript of Nellie Ohr's closed-door Congressional testimony, Ohr - who speaks fluent Russian, explored relationships between then-candidate Donald Trump and Russian organized crime, according to Fox News. “I was asked to research Trump’s family broadly in connection with any—any Russian connections,” Ohr stated, adding that she “did some research on all of them, but not in much depth.”Ohr explained that she researched Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, specifically their “travels.”She added that she was looking “to see whether they were involved in dealings and transactions with people who had suspicious pasts, or suspicious types of dealings.” -Fox NewsAlso interesting from the transcripts is that Nellie passed Bruce research she had done for Fusion GPS on a memory stick. Nellie Ohr was also tasked with researching former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former campaign aide Carter Page, and former national security adviser Michael Flynn - who had relationships in both Russia and Turkey. Earlier this year the Daily Caller revealed portions of Ohr's committee interview, but the transcript was only made available Thursday.  Ohr worked with Fusion GPS between October 2015 and September 2016. She also admitted during testimony that she favored Hillary Clinton as a candidate, and would have been less comfortable researching her Russia ties (P. 105).

Trump- I Plan To Declassify And Release All FISA Docs - President Trump, in an exclusive wide-ranging interview Wednesday night with Fox News’ “Hannity,” vowed to release the full and unredacted Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants and related documents used by the FBI to probe his campaign, saying he wants to “get to the bottom” of how the long-running Russia collusion narrative began.Trump told anchor Sean Hannity that his lawyers previously had advised him not to take that dramatic step out of fear that it could be considered obstruction of justice.“I do, I have plans to declassify and release. I have plans to absolutely release,” Trump said. “I have some very talented people working for me, lawyers, they really didn’t want me to do it early on.”  Trump also accused FBI officials of committing “treason” — slamming former FBI Director James Comey as a “terrible guy,” former CIA Director John Brennan as potentially mentally ill, and Democrat House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff as a criminal. Redacted versions of FISA documents already released have revealed that the FBI extensively relied on documents produced by Christopher Steele, an anti-Trump British ex-spy working for a firm funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee, to surveil Trump aide Carter Page. At least one senior DOJ official had apparent concerns Steele was unreliable, according to text messages exclusively obtained last week by Fox News.

Ocasio-Cortez: Removing Trump from office won’t fix country’s problems - The Hill - Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said Sunday that President Trump is a "symptom of much deeper problems" that would not go away if he was removed from office."As horrific as this president is, he is a symptom of much deeper problems," the New York lawmaker tweeted."Even foreign influence plays on nat’l wounds that we refuse to address: income inequality, racism, corruption, a willingness to excuse bigotry." Ocasio-Cortez made the comments while sharing a tweet from actor George Takei, who said that even if Trump were impeached "we have serious issues to sort out."Earlier Sunday, Attorney General William Barr sent a letter to Congress revealing that special counsel Robert Mueller's report did not find evidence of collusion between Trump's 2016 campaign and Russia.That issue had been considered by many a potential avenue for impeachment of Trump if collusion was proven.  Ocasio-Cortez continued Sunday to argue that the impact of Trump's presidency goes beyond him as an individual."He can stay, he can go. He can be impeached, or voted out in 2020," she wrote. "But removing Trump will not remove the infrastructure of an entire party that embraced him; the dark money that funded him; the online radicalization that drummed his army; nor the racism he amplified+reanimated.""In order for us to heal as a nation, we ALL must pursue the hard work of addressing these root causes. It’s not as easy as voting," Ocasio-Cortez added. "It means having uncomfortable moments convos w/ loved ones, w/ media, w/ those we disagree, and yes - within our own party, too. It’s on all of us."

Lawyer Michael Avenatti Accused of Trying to Extort Nike - California lawyer Michael Avenatti, who made his name as a fierce critic of President Donald Trump, was charged by federal prosecutors on both coasts, accused in New York of trying to extort millions of dollars from Nike Inc. and in Los Angeles of embezzling money from a client and defrauding a bank. The charges, which Avenatti has denied, depict a lawyer desperate for cash and willing to exploit his own clients. In California, prosecutors say, he stole a client’s $1.6 million settlement and used it to cover expenses. In New York, he’s accused of telling Nike he’d cancel a press conference accusing the company of making illegal payoffs to promising basketball players. In exchange, he demanded $1.5 million for an unidentified client, and as much as $25 million for him and another attorney to conduct an internal investigation. Instead, Nike went to prosecutors. Within a week, Avenatti, 48, was arrested -- nabbed on Monday as he was arriving for a meeting at the New York offices of Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, according to a person familiar with the matter. The firm was representing Nike, and its lawyers wore wires to secretly record their conversations with Avenatti, the person said. “I’ll go take ten billion dollars off your client’s market cap. But I’m not f---ing around,” Avenatti told Nike’s attorneys in a March 20 phone call secretly recorded by the FBI, according to a complaint unsealed Monday. At 12:16 p.m. on Monday, just minutes before his arrest, Avenatti posted a tweet saying he would hold a press conference Tuesday to disclose a “major high school/college basketball scandal” perpetrated by Nike that he claimed to have uncovered. “This criminal conduct reaches the highest levels of Nike and involves some of the biggest names in college basketball,” Avenatti said in the tweet..

Avenatti Denies Extortion Charges, Insists Public Will Learn The Truth About Nike's Crimes - It looks like Michael Avenatti has made bail, and the "creepy porn lawyer" - whom federal prosecutors on both coasts charged with extortion, embezzlement and bank fraud in a series of indictments announced yesterday - has a message for all of his disappointed fans in the American cable-news cabal. In a tweet, Avenatti denied charges that he and a cooperating co-conspirator, believed to be celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos (who is representing Jussie Smollett and Colin Kaepernick), tried to extort more than $20 million from Nike after allegedly learning about illegal payoffs made by the company to amateur youth athletes. Charges contained in separate indictment filed by federal prosecutors in California - which alleged that he embezzled settlement money from a client and committed bank fraud - were left unaddressed. After thanking his supporters, Avenatti said he's "anxious for people to see what really happened" and that "we never tried to extort Nike and that when the evidence is disclosed, the public will see the truth about Nike's crime & coverup." Meanwhile, in a statement to Fox News, Avenatti addressed the embezzlement charges, denouncing them as "politically motivated" (he said the same thing about his assault charges) and insisting that the had been entitled to every dollar he received.

 Michael Avenatti, Pedophilia And A Fainting Heiress- NXIVM Sex-Cult Trial Gets Surreal -  Seagram heiress Clare Bronfman had a dramatic day in court Wednesday where the accused NXIVM sex-cult financier fainted in response to being asked if she'd secretly retained lawyer Michael Avenatti. BREAKING: Seagrams heiress Clare Bronfman faints in court after judge seems to suggest that Michael Avenatti was secretly representing her, trying to negotiate deal with US attorney’s office in NXIVM case. An ambulance has been called. — Emily Saul (@Emily_Saul_) March 27, 2019   The 39-year-old daughter of late Seagram CEO Edgar Bronfman (whose funeral Hillary Clinton spoke at) pleaded not guilty last July to charges of racketeering, money laundering and identity theft for NXIVM - a secretive multi-level marketing company founded by Keith Raniere, who was arrested last March along with Smallville actress Allison Mack on federal charges which include sex trafficking, forced labor, wire fraud conspiracy, human trafficking and other counts. Mack allegedly procured women for Raniere - who required that prospective "slaves" upload compromising collateral into a Dropbox account. One such recruit-turned-coach was India Oxenberg - daughter of Dynasty actress Catherine Oxenberg, who met with prosecutors in New York in late 2017 to present evidence against Raniere.   According to a 2010 Vanity Fair report, Clare and her sister Sara Bronfman, who joined NXIVM in 2002, contributed approximately $150 million of their trust fund to NXIVM, while Claire bought 80% of Wakaya island off the coast of Fiji for $47 million in 2016. Last July Clare was charged with a broad range of crimes connected to the cult's operation, and is currently being represented by attorney Mark Geragos - identified by the Wall Street Journal this week as a co-conspirator in an alleged scheme by Michael Avenatti to extort $20 million from Nike. Avenatti was arrested on Monday and released on a $300,000 personal recognizance bond. Raniere was run out of Arkansas in the '90s by then-Governor Bill Clinton's attorney general on charges of fraud and business deception. After paying fines, Raniere and NXIVM executives would go on to donate $29,900 to Hillary Clinton's 2006 presidential campaign a decade later. Meanwhile, at least three NXIVM officials are "invitation-only" members of the Clinton Global Initiative, according to the New York Post.

Warren Unveils Proposal To Bust Up Agribusiness Monopolies -  In advance of a rural issues forum this weekend in Storm Lake, Iowa, Warren released a proposal applying her general principle of aggressive antitrust enforcement and regulation to Big Ag corporations, as reported by the Des Moines RegisterMassachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is taking aim at some of the nation’s largest agribusiness companies, such as Tyson and Bayer-Monsanto, continuing her campaign’s assault on corporate consolidation. The Democratic presidential candidate’s plan, released exclusively to the Des Moines Register before it was unveiled Wednesday, would address consolidation in the agribusiness industry, “un-rig” the rules she says favor its largest players, and elevate the interests of family farmers.In her own description of her plan, Warren attacks both horizontal and vertical integration in the agribusiness sector: The result of mergers and expansions is immense market power. The top four meat processing companies have 53% market share. The three big chicken companies have 90% market share. The two biggest seed companies, Monsanto and DuPont, had 71% of the corn seed market in 2015 — before Monsanto merged with Bayer and DuPont merged with Dow. According to conservative estimates, the newly merged Bayer-Monsanto by itself will control “more than 37 percent of the U.S. vegetable seed market” overall, and will control more than half of the market for some vegetables.  Mergers mean that farmers have fewer and fewer choices for buying and selling, while vertical integration has meant that big agribusinesses face less competition throughout the chain and thus capture more and more of the profits. The result is that farmers are getting a record-low amount of every dollar Americans spend on food, food prices aren’t going down, and agribusiness CEOs and other corporate executives are raking it in. The CEO of the Chinese group that owns Smithfield — a massive meat processing company — made $291 million in 2017 alone. The senator is promising to reverse anti-competitive mergers in agribusiness — including the recent Bayer-Monsanto merger — and break up vertically integrated corporate arrangements, while fighting corporate contracts and other restrictive practices burdening family farms.

Jamie Dimon Laments the Plight of the Poor While His Bank Pays 0.02% on CDs by Pam Martens - JPMorgan Chase’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, gave a CNN interview last week in which he said that the U.S. economy is “fundamentally anti-poor.” Two weeks before that, Dimon boasted in an OpEd for CNN that was co-authored by his fellow Board Member, Mellody Hobson, that the bank was doing all kinds of wonderful things to address the wealth gap among African Americans in the U.S.  Under Dimon’s tenure as top dog of JPMorgan Chase over the past 13 years, the bank has excelled atsettling its crimes on the cheap, launching a big public relations offensive, then being charged with more crimes, settling on the cheap, and spending more on its public relations offensive to massage both the bank’s and Dimon’s reputation. Many of the charges against JPMorgan Chase relate directly to ripping off Americans who can least afford it. In 2011, the bank paid $35 million to settle claims that it had overcharged members of the military on their mortgages. The very next year, it paid the government $659 million in a settlement for overcharging veterans hidden fees in mortgage refinancing transactions. That same year the bank agreed to pay $110 million to settle claims that it overcharged customers for overdraft fees.In 2013, the bank settled a raft of charges over ripping off the poor or average American: the bank paid $410 million to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to settle claims of bidding manipulation of California and Midwest electricity markets. It also paid $22.1 million to settle claims that it had imposed expensive and unnecessary flood insurance on homeowners whose mortgages were being serviced by the bank. The bank agreed to pay $80 million in fines and $309 million in refunds to customers whom the bank billed for credit monitoring services that the bank never provided.In 2016 the bank agreed to charges by the SEC that it had steered its customers into in-house products where it reaped higher profits without disclosing this conflict to the customer. It paid $267 million to settle these charges. Last year it agreed to pay $16.7 million to settle claims that it had failed to pay overtime to its own workers.

 Two Whistleblowers Awarded $50 Million In Massive Enforcement Action Against JPMorgan - The SEC today announced awards totaling $50 million to "two whistleblowers whose high-quality information assisted the agency in bringing a successful enforcement action." The whistleblowers provided information that helped the agency win a $267 million settlement with JPMorgan over claims that the bank failed to inform wealthy clients of conflicts of interest in managing their money. One of the whistleblowers will receive $13 million for reporting a tip to the SEC that led to a massive enforcement action charging J.P. Morgan. The second informant will receive $37 million, the third-biggest payout in the history of the SEC’s whistleblower program, the agency said in a statement. The SEC didn’t name the company involved or the people getting the awards, citing federal law that protects confidentiality. Jordan A. Thomas, chair of Labaton Sucharow’s Whistleblower Representation Practice, served as counsel to the whistleblower, a J.P. Morgan executive, who cooperated in the agency’s investigation. The case, in which JPM agreed to pay $267 million to settle the charges in December 2015, is one of the largest enforcement actions initiated by an SEC whistleblower since the SEC Whistleblower Program was enacted. “Blowing the whistle is rarely easy, and it certainly hasn’t been for my client, but this historic SEC whistleblower award and related enforcement action reaffirms that doing the right thing pays,” said Mr. Thomas, himself pocketing several million of the SEC award. “Thanks to the SEC Whistleblower Program, today corporate whistleblowers know that the Commission has their back and blowing the whistle anonymously dramatically increases the probability of a happy ending"... certainly one for the law firm which will likely keep about a third of the gross proceeds for filing some paperwork and sending out a few Fedexes. In December 2015, JPMorgan agreed to pay more than $300 million to the SEC and to the CFTC when it admitted disclosure failures from 2008 to 2013 related to two units that manage money - its securities subsidiary and its nationally chartered bank - as part of the SEC settlement. “Whistleblowers like those being awarded today may be the source of ‘smoking gun’ evidence and indispensable assistance that strengthens the agency’s ability to protect investors and the capital markets,” Jane Norberg, chief of the  SEC’s whistleblower office, said in the agency’s statement.

Fed offers more details on stress test models — The Federal Reserve released 80 pages of additional information on its stress testing program Thursday in an effort to provide more transparency into how it grades large banks for capital adequacy. In February, the Fed announced changes to the Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review, which included exempting most regional banks from the 2019 cycle and finalizing a series of changes intended to offer more transparency without compromising the “ability to test the resiliency of the nation’s largest banks.” The supplemental document released by the Fed Thursday includes more than 30 tables and “provides significantly more information on the stress test models that are used to project bank losses, compared to disclosures from past years,” the Fed said in a press release. The new information disclosed to the public includes ranges of loss rates for loans that are grouped by separate risk characteristics, portfolios of hypothetical loans with loss rates projected by the regulator’s models as well as enhanced descriptions of the Fed’s models. “Since the inception of the supervisory stress test, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System has gradually increased the breadth of its public disclosures, which allows the public to evaluate the fundamental soundness of the supervisory stress test and can increase public and market confidence in the results of the assessment,” the new report says.

FDIC issues reg relief proposals tied to custodial funds, deposit records — The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. board on Friday issued, amid some dissension, several proposals meant to provide regulatory relief from laws written after the financial crisis. One of the main proposals would exclude certain large banks from having to set aside capital for custodial funds under the supplementary leverage ratio, a change that Congress required when it passed a larger regulatory relief package in May 2018. The other two proposals relate to how banks keep track of deposit insurance coverage in the event of a failure. Former FDIC Chairman Martin Gruenberg — who still sits on the board, and oversaw implementation of the post-crisis rules at issue when he was chairman — raised concerns about the custody-related proposal. Though he voted for the change to the supplementary leverage ratio, he cautioned against providing any capital relief to globally systemically important banks. “Preemptively weakening leverage capital requirements applicable to the custodial banks . . . unnecessarily places financial stability and the Deposit Insurance Fund at risk,” Gruenberg said prior to the votes. “For these reasons, I had strong reservations about this provision prior to its enactment into law, and I felt obliged to reiterate them today. Given that the proposed rule appears to implement the law consistent with the law’s clear language, I am prepared to vote for the proposed rule.” The plan would exclude certain custodial banks from having to set aside capital for those custodial funds. Proponents of the change say these funds are less risky compared with other leverage exposures because they are held at the Federal Reserve or foreign central banks. Such custodial “deposits are especially low-risk, and, as explained in the proposal, tend to increase during times of market stress,” FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams, said during the board meeting. “While maintaining robust capital requirements is a key priority of mine, this proposal recognizes the distinctive activities of custodial banks.” The industry largely favors the proposed exemption but maintains that it should be extended to all banks. Under the current proposal, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup would not meet the requirements for the exemption, which are tied to the relative size of banks' custody holdings; those two banks would still have to keep setting aside capital for such deposits.

  Is Wall Street Putting Lipstick on IPO Pigs (or Unicorns)? – Pam Martens - According to Bloomberg LLP data crunched by the Financial Times, there are more than 300 companies preparing to launch their first ever publicly traded shares known as an Initial Public Offering or IPO in the U.S. Many of these companies have never seen a dime of profits – a harbinger of bad things to come for investors if history is any guide. The IPO stampede seems more motivated by venture capitalists wanting to lock in profits before another stock market meltdown like that which occurred in December than a sincere effort on the part of Wall Street investment banks to bring companies with solid prospects for survival to help boost American jobs and the U.S. economy.A unicorn is a private company valued at more than $1 billion and there will be a number of unicorns IPOing this year if their backers have their way and the stock market doesn’t tank. One of those is the ride-hailing firm Lyft which was priced last evening at $72 a share and will begin its first day of trading this morning on Nasdaq. reports that Lyft “posted losses of $911 million in 2018, a statistic that will make it the biggest loser amongst U.S. startups to have gone public, according to data collected by The Wall Street Journal. On the other hand, Lyft’s $2.2 billion in 2018 revenue places it atop the list of largest annual revenues for a pre-IPO business, trailing behind only Facebook and Google in that category.”Another unicorn prepping for its IPO is Pinterest. Motley Fool writer Chris Neiger reports that Pinterest “lost $63 million in 2018, but that was a huge improvement from its $130 million loss in 2017.” Neiger also notes that another mega unicorn with imminent IPO plans is Uber, another ride-sharing firm. Neiger writes that “Uber lost $1.8 billion in 2018, down from a loss of $2.2 billion the year before, and it could take some time before the ride-sharing company closes the gap between its sales and profits.”Uber’s losses would seem staggering in a more rational era but there is nothing rational about this market.

Tim Sloan Decides To Spend More Time Not Running Wells Fargo --- It appears that Wells Fargo is done pretending that Tim Sloan, who was never the right choice for CEO, can effectively keep running Wells Fargo: Wells Fargo & Company announced today that Chief Executive Officer and President Timothy J. Sloan has informed the Company’s Board of Directors of his decision to retire from the Company, effective June 30, 2019, and to step down as CEO, president, and Board member effective immediately. The Board has elected C. Allen Parker, who served as the Company’s General Counsel, as interim CEO and President (and member of the Board), effective immediately. An external search process will now begin for the Company’s new CEO and President. While the timing of Sloan's departure is abrupt, it's wildly unsurprising. Things are not turning around at The Stagecoach and Sloan has never given off any impression that he is either capable or even willing to radically alter Wells Fargo in the way that it needs to be at this point. Getting a 5% raise just a day after he biffed the shit out of a Congressional hearing was a bizarre move that seemed might have been the nail in Sloan's coffin [we're clearly very much buying the "retirement" narrative] but we still have to wonder why anyone around him didn't stop the raise from happening, or if they didn't for this purpose.

BofA, Wells Fargo sour on blockchain— The bill is finally coming due on the investments that two of the nation’s largest banks have made in blockchain technology. At an industry conference Wednesday, top executives from Wells Fargo and Bank of America expressed major skepticism about the technology’s potential in the financial services sphere. The comments suggested that their interest in distributed ledgers is wearing thin. “Personally I think blockchain has been way oversold,” Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan said in remarks at the Fintech Ideas Festival. “By now, that should have completely changed the industry. And that’s just not the way it is.” Finding profitable uses of distributed-ledger technology is "a really tough model,” says Cathy Bessant, chief operations and technology officer at Bank of America. Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan is more blunt: “By now, [blockchain] should have completely changed the industry. And that’s just not the way it is,” he says. Cathy Bessant, BofA’s chief operations and technology officer, indicated that she has become more confident in her belief that the hype associated with blockchain outstrips the reality. “Now I’m more in throw-down mode. I’ll say to anybody, bring me a use case that makes sense, and I will look at it,” Bessant said. “But in financial services, it’s a really tough model.” Nearly two years ago, the Charlotte, N.C.-based BofA and San Francisco-based Wells Fargo were among the banks that invested $107 million in the blockchain consortium R3. Both companies have also been exploring blockchain technology on their own. Digital identity management and cross-border payments have been discussed as potential uses for blockchain technology in the financial services sector. Not all big banks are bearish on blockchain. Last month, JPMorgan Chase announced plans for a digital coin designed to make instantaneous payments using distributed-ledger technology. And there is no sign yet that Wells Fargo and Bank of America are throwing in the towel. Sloan said Wednesday that he thinks blockchain technology will have an impact over time, while Bessant said that BofA is experimenting aggressively. Still, their remarks served as a rejoinder to bold predictions from years past about the game-changing potential of blockchain, the record-keeping technology behind bitcoin. In a December 2015 research note, analysts at Goldman Sachs wrote: “The blockchain could disrupt everything.”

Nearly all Bitcoin trades are fake, apparently - There have been suspicions for a while that the markets are overinflated. In fact, fears of market manipulation have held up regulatory approval for a number of proposed Bitcoin exchange-traded funds (ETFs), frustrating many enthusiasts who believe that the eventual approval of ETFs will spur broader adoption of the technology by investors. Now, in a twist, a company hoping to list an ETF has reported to US financial regulators that around 95% of all Bitcoin trading volume has been faked by exchanges. Bitwise, a crypto-asset management firm, analyzed 81 exchanges, finding that 71 of them exhibited patterns that reflected artificial trading volume. One way to manufacture volume is via a technique called wash trading, in which someone simultaneously buys and sells the same asset. Although the exchanges in the study reported a combined $6 billion in daily volume during four days this month, Bitwise determined that only $273 million of it was real. Bitwise’s global head of research, Matthew Hougan, told the Wall Street Journal that the point of submitting the analysis was to show regulators that “a real market for Bitcoin” still exists despite the storm of artificial trading. Solid evidence for this comes from the small number of exchanges that can actually verify that their trading data is real, he said. If approved, Bitwise’s fund would be based on the volume on those exchanges, which represents only around 5% of the generally reported total. Why would exchanges dishonestly inflate their volumes? One incentive may be to attract ICO (initial coin offering) projects that want to be listed on exchanges that are facilitating lots of trading. To list such projects, some exchanges charge fees that can be as high as a few million dollars. There are at least two important takeaways here. First, the real Bitcoin trading market is an order of magnitude smaller than is broadly reported. If you are eager to see mainstream adoption, perhaps that’s disappointing. On the flip side, however, if zeroing in on the exchanges operating honestly can move the needle with regulators and finally get an ETF approved, this bleak analysis might help spur the kind of adoption you’re hoping for.

Why CFPB payday revamp is an even bigger deal than you think - The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's overhaul of its payday lending rule rolls back a key policy of the prior Obama-appointed leadership. But some observers say the move goes beyond any single regulation. In proposing to unwind the rule, the CFPB appears to rely on a legal doctrine regarding "unfair, deceptive or abusive acts or practices." A UDAAP is prohibited under the Dodd-Frank Act, but the CFPB can determine what types of conduct meet that designation. By softening its view toward payday lenders, some experts say the CFPB is also clarifying what constitutes a UDAAP. Such a move, long sought by the financial services industry, could have wide-ranging effects on how the bureau enforces rules at companies other than payday lenders. “A major concern of businesses subject to UDAAP is that it’s ill-defined and is extraordinarily expansive,” said Nick Gess, of counsel at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. “The proposal is a clear indication" of how CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger views UDAAP "and how it could be applied in any matter that comes before her.” The bureau had cited UDAAP in the original 2017 rule, which required payday lenders to verify borrowers' repayment ability. The agency had said then that high-cost, small-dollar loans were both “unfair” and “abusive.” But under Kraninger, the agency rescinded that finding and proposed that the underwriting requirement be eliminated.   Some see the move as more generally narrowing the agency’s reach. “They are putting on the record a narrower interpretation of UDAAP, and are making a second argument — that the bureau misapplied the law the first time around,” A prohibition on "unfair" and "deceptive" conduct predates Dodd-Frank. But the 2010 law added "abusive" and gave the CFPB authority both to issue enforcement actions for UDAAP violations and to write rules defining the standard. Kraninger’s February proposal on payday lending devotes more than 30 pages to the legal findings.

CFPB, FTC need more teeth in dealing with credit bureaus, GAO says — The Government Accountability Office is recommending a stronger regulatory approach at two agencies to protect consumer financial data. The GAO's report, which calls for a stronger role by the Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, came at the request of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. The two lawmakers, who released the report's findings on Tuesday, had asked the watchdog to examine regulatory authorities over the credit bureaus in the wake of the 2017 Equifax data breach, which compromised the personal information of roughly 148 million Americans. The GAO recommended that the FTC be given stronger civil penalty authority to enforce laws that protect consumer data, and that the CFPB improve its oversight and supervision of credit reporting agencies. "The Equifax breach revealed major gaps in how CRAs protect and use consumers' private information, and the report we released today confirms that vulnerabilities still exist,” Warren and Cummings said in a joint statement. "The GAO has issued very clear recommendations on how to protect consumers, so let's follow them. We need to give the FTC more tools to crack down on consumer data abuses and the CFPB needs to do its job, hold these firms accountable, and protect consumers." Under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, the FTC is currently unable to impose civil penalties against credit reporting agencies hit by data breaches that expose consumer information. The only remedies it has available are disgorgement and consumer redress, which the report said “may be less practical enforcement tools for violations involving breaches of mass consumer data.” “Providing FTC with civil penalty authority can enable it to more effectively or efficiently enforce GLBA’s privacy and safeguarding provisions,” the GAO report said.

 HUD Slaps Facebook With Discrimination Charge -The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has charged Facebook with "violating the Fair Housing Act by encouraging, enabling, and causing housing discrimination through the company’s advertising platform," according to court documents. HUD said in a statementThursday that Facebook was "unlawfully discriminating" by allowing advertisers to define the audience based on race, color, national origin, religion, familial status, sex, and disability, in direct breach of the Fair Housing Act. HUD claims the social media company permitted advertisers to redline poor neighborhoods. "Facebook is discriminating against people based upon who they are and where they live," said HUD Secretary Ben Carson. "Using a computer to limit a person’s housing choices can be just as discriminatory as slamming a door in someone’s face." HUD General Counsel Paul Compton said, "Even as we confront new technologies, the fair housing laws enacted over half a century ago remain clear—discrimination in housing-related advertising is against the law. Just because a process to deliver advertising is opaque and complex doesn’t mean that it exempts Facebook and others from our scrutiny and the law of the land. Fashioning appropriate remedies and the rules of the road for today’s technology as it impacts housing are a priority for HUD." Facebook said that it was shocked by the charges - as it has continued to work with the housing department to "address their concerns" since August 2018. "While we were eager to find a solution, HUD insisted on access to sensitive information, like user data, without adequate safeguards. We’re disappointed by today’s developments, but we’ll continue working with civil rights experts on these issues," Facebook said. In Thursday’s complaint, HUD announced that anyone who has been hurt by Facebook's illegal advertising practices could seek damages, plus the "maximum civil penalty" for each violation of the housing act. 

FHFA allowed GSEs to circumvent salary cap: Inspector general -- The Federal Housing Finance Agency circumvented its own controls when it allowed the government-sponsored enterprises to pay top executives more in annual salary than a cap set by Congress, the agency's inspector general said in two reports issued this week. The matter involves the succession plans the GSEs developed for their CEOs, Timothy Mayopoulos at Fannie Mae and Donald Layton at Freddie Mac, after both executives announced last year they were stepping down. Those plans split the roles of CEO and president at both companies. The president jobs were not covered by a CEO compensation cap of $600,000 passed by Congress in November 2015. Fannie promoted David Benson, its chief financial officer, to the president's job when Mayopoulos announced his departure. His current compensation is $3.6 million, according to the inspector general report on Fannie. Originally it was $3.5 million, but Benson received a raise after seven weeks on the job, Hugh Frater was named Fannie's CEO on March 27 after holding the title on an interim basis following Mayopoulos' departure. He is subject to the cap. After Fannie Mae CEO Timothy Mayopoulos announced he was leaving the company last year, some of his duties were transferred to the newly created president's position. The FHFA's inspector general said that succession plan dodged a cap on CEO pay at the GSEs. Freddie Mac's succession plan was criticized, too.  Yet "by authorizing Fannie Mae to fill the positions of CEO and president with two separate individuals and transfer substantial responsibilities from the CEO and president to the president position, FHFA permitted Fannie Mae to compensate its president at a level more than five times greater than the statutory cap," the inspector general report said.

Trump directs Treasury, HUD to develop GSE reform plan — President Trump is directing his administration to develop a housing finance reform plan with the aim of ending the conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and boosting homeownership. Trump was slated to sign a memo Wednesday asking the Treasury Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to draft both administrative and legislative reform options and deliver their reports to the president “as soon as practicable.” Treasury will craft a plan for reforming Fannie and Freddie, while HUD will form a proposal for reform of the housing finance agencies it oversees, including the Federal Housing Administration. The White House announced the directive on the same day the Senate Banking Committee held the second of two hearings on housing finance reform plans. Although Trump is requesting that the two departments prepare both administrative and legislative solutions for the government-sponsored enterprises, “critically, the administration wants to work with Congress to achieve comprehensive reform that improves our housing finance system,” the White House said in a press release. “We’re lifting up forgotten communities, creating exciting new opportunities, and helping every American find their path to the American Dream — the dream of a great job, a safe home, and a better life for their children,” Trump said in a statement. The memo notably aims to preserve the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, a fixture of the current housing finance system lauded by both Democrats and Republicans. The Trump administration is also seeking to promote competition in the mortgage market, create sustainable homeownership options and protect taxpayers from future bailouts, the White House said. Sustainable homeownership is the “benchmark of success” for reform, according to the press release. The memo said a reformed system should maintain "equal access to the Federal housing finance system for lenders of all sizes, charter types, and geographic locations, including the maintenance of a cash window for loan sales."

 Recap & Release - Trump Unveils Plan To End Govt Control Of Fannie, Freddie - After months (or years) of on-again, off-again headlines, President Trump is expected to sign a memo on an overhaul of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac this afternoon, kick-starting a lengthy process that could lead to the mortgage giants being freed from federal control. The White House has been promising to release a plan for weeks, and its proposal would be the culmination of months of meetings between administration officials on what to do about Fannie and Freddie.Bloomberg reports that while Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said it’s a priority to return the companies to the private market, such a dramatic shift probably won’t happen anytime soon.In its memo, the White House sets out a broad set of recommendations for Treasury and HUD, such as increasing competition for Fannie and Freddie and protecting taxpayers from losses.The memo itself has a worryingly familiar title (anyone else thinking 2007 housing bubble?): President Donald J. Trump Is Reforming the Housing Finance System to Help Americans Who Want to Buy a Home"  We’re lifting up forgotten communities, creating exciting new opportunities, and helping every American find their path to the American Dream - the dream of a great job, a safe home, and a better life for their children."President Donald J. Trump

Fewer GSE foreclosure prevention actions in the fourth quarter - - Home retention actions for loans owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac declined in the fourth quarter and that trend is likely to continue given the strong economy. In the fourth quarter, there were 39,281 home retention actions attributed to the government-sponsored enterprises, down from 61,034 in the third quarter, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency.  Mortgage delinquencies were trending downward, although, for the first time in over a decade there was a month-to-month increase in February, according to Black Knight. Loan modification activity fell to 25,969 from 49,382 in the previous quarter, the FHFA report said. However, the number of forbearance plans offered increased to 5,238 from 3,322 in third quarter. There were also 1,188 short sales and 593 cases where the borrower tendered the deed-in-lieu of a foreclosure, compared with 1,451 and 708, respectively, in the third quarter. But foreclosure starts increased to 36,002 from 32,557, even as the delinquent inventory shrunk compared with the third quarter. There were 364,333 loans between 30 and 59 days late with their payment in the fourth quarter, compared with 403,463 the previous period, while those loans 60 days or more late fell to 302,211 from 313,626. For all of 2018, there were 234,263 distressed loans where the borrower was able to retain the home, up from 190,248 for 2017. Total foreclosure preventions, including situations where the borrower voluntarily gave up the property in a short sale or deed-in-lieu transaction, totaled 243,578, compared with 206,898 in 2017.

 Freddie Mac: Mortgage Serious Delinquency Rate Decreased Slightly in February - Freddie Mac reported that the Single-Family serious delinquency rate in February was 0.69%, down slightly from 0.70% in January. Freddie's rate is down from 1.06% in February 2018. Freddie's serious delinquency rate peaked in February 2010 at 4.20%. This matches the lowest serious delinquency rate for Freddie Mac since December 2007. These are mortgage loans that are "three monthly payments or more past due or in foreclosure". The increase in the delinquency rate in late 2017 and early 2018 was due to the hurricanes (These are serious delinquencies, so it took three months late to be counted). I expect the delinquency rate to decline to a cycle bottom in the 0.5% to 0.7% range - but this is close to a bottom.

Mortgage lenders hitting speed bumps in their rush to adopt AI - The mortgage industry is eager to adopt digital strategies like artificial intelligence to streamline processes, but they are finding it difficult to extend through the full lifecycle of the loan. While on one hand mortgage lenders are extracting rich, comprehensive data, many are then just converting the information into a PDF and shipping it off, explained Blend product manager Grace Qi at the Mortgage Bankers Association Technology Conference on Tuesday in Dallas. More than two-thirds of surveyed attendees at the MBA conference believe the digital mortgage is already possible, but actually implementing the technology is a different story. Origination volume has been down and costs per loan are rising, forcing companies to get creative and determine how to not only craft a simpler process, but also remain profitable. Vendors nevertheless believe they can sell innovative technologies this year.. As companies take tech steps forward, they can't lean on one overall model or particular application to solve for all of its issues. While one tool may be responsible for extracting data, another is likely required to facilitate it through another piece of the mortgage value chain. Businesses looking to build a better overall process could actually benefit from taking a step back and assessing their digital foundation.

Mortgage rates see biggest weekly drop in a decade - Homebuyers got a big boost to their purchasing power this week thanks to falling mortgage rates.The average rate on the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to 4.06 percent with an average 0.5 point for the week ending Thursday, down from last week when it averaged 4.28 percent, according to Freddie Mac. A year ago at this time, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.40 percent."The Federal Reserve's concern about the prospects for slowing economic growth caused investor jitters to drive down mortgage rates by the largest amount in over 10 years," said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac's chief economist. "Despite negative outlooks by some, the economy continues to churn out jobs, which is great for housing demand."Closed home sales jumped dramatically in February, compared with January but were still lower annually. Pending home sales in February, which measure signed contracts, were slightly lower monthly and nearly 5 percent lower annually. Mortgage rates in February were around 4.5 percent, below the 5 percent range last November, but not as low as today. "We expect a continued rise in purchase demand," added Khater.Homebuyers, however, are still facing overheated home prices and low supply of homes for sale. Home price gains are shrinking, but some markets are still beyond the reach of most entry-level buyers. Mortgage applications to purchase a home moved higher last week, as rates fell. "What happens in the coming spring months is what is most relevant for the industry and in our attempt to gauge how consumers respond to lower mortgage costs," said Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group. "The weekly purchase mortgage data seen yesterday points to a possible green shoots start."

FHFA House Price Index: Up 0.6% in January, Near Real Record High - The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has released its U.S. House Price Index (HPI) for December. Here is the opening of the report:. – U.S. house prices rose in January, up 0.6 percent from the previous month, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) seasonally adjusted monthly House Price Index (HPI). The previously reported 0.3 percent increase for December 2018 remained unchanged.The FHFA monthly HPI is calculated using home sales price information from mortgages sold to, or guaranteed by, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. From January 2018 to January 2019, house prices were up 5.6 percent.For the nine census divisions, seasonally adjusted monthly house price changes from December 2018 to January 2019 ranged from -0.7 percent in the New England division to +1.1 percent in the East North Central division. The 12-month changes were all positive, ranging from +4.3 percent in the Pacific division to +7.8 percent in the Mountain division. [Read more] The chart below illustrates the monthly HPI series, which is not adjusted for inflation, along with a real (inflation-adjusted) series using the Consumer Price Index: All Items Less Shelter.

US Home Price Growth Slowest Since 2012 - Following disastrous starts and permits data, Case Shiller's home price index was expected to show growth continuing to slow. and it did, considerably worse than expected. Case-Shiller's 20-City Composite grew at just 3.58% YoY in January (well below the 3.8% YoY expectation and December's 4.14% YoY print). This is the weakest annual growth since September 2012, decelerating for a 10th month in January as buyers held out for more affordable properties. The data indicate that the 2018 slump in housing extended to the start of this year amid the longest-ever government shutdown and still-elevated home prices.All 20 cities in the index still showed year-over-year gains, led by a 10.5 percent increase in Las Vegas and 7.5 percent in Phoenix. The weakest gains were in San Diego, with 1.3 percent, and San Francisco at 1.8 percent -- down from 10.2 percent a year earlier. Prices in 14 cities rose from the prior month on a seasonally adjusted basis, while five declined and one was unchanged. The biggest drop came in San Francisco, at 0.6 percent. Finally, hope springs eternal that the recent collapse in mortgage rates provides some boost to home prices going forward... But Building Permits suggest otherwise...  “It remains to be seen if recent low mortgage rates and smaller price gains can sustain improved home sales,” David Blitzer, chairman of the S&P index committee, said in a statement.

Case-Shiller: National House Price Index increased 4.3% year-over-year in January -- S&P/Case-Shiller released the monthly Home Price Indices for January ("January" is a 3 month average of November, December and January prices).This release includes prices for 20 individual cities, two composite indices (for 10 cities and 20 cities) and the monthly National index. From S&P: S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Index Shows Annual Gains Lowest Since 2015 The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index, covering all nine U.S. census divisions, reported a 4.3% annual gain in January, down from 4.6% in the previous month. The 10-City Composite annual increase came in at 3.2%, down from 3.7% in the previous month. The 20-City Composite posted a 3.6% year-over-year gain, down from 4.1% in the previous month. Las Vegas, Phoenix and Minneapolis reported the highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities. In January, Las Vegas led the way with a 10.5% year-over-year price increase, followed by Phoenix with a 7.5% increase and Minneapolis with a 5.1% increase. Only one of the 20 cities reported greater price increases in the year ending January 2019 versus the year ending December 2018. ... Before seasonal adjustment, the National Index posted a month-over-month decrease of 0.2% in January. The 10-City and 20-City Composites reported 0.3% and 0.2% decreases for the month, respectively. After seasonal adjustment, the National Index recorded a 0.2% month-over-month increase in January. The 10-City Composite did not post any gains, and the 20-City Composite posted 0.1% month-over-month increase. In January, five of 20 cities reported increases before seasonal adjustment, while 14 of 20 cities reported increases after seasonal adjustment. Mortgage rates are as important as prices for many home buyers. Mortgage rates climbed from 3.95% in January 2018 to a peak of 4.95% in November 2018. Since then, rates have dropped to 4.28% as of mid-March. Sales of existing single-family homes slid gently downward from the 2017 fourth quarter until January of this year before jumping higher in February 2019. Home sales annual rate dropped from 5 million units in February 2018 to 4.36 million units in January 2019 before popping to 4.94 in February. It remains to be seen if recent low mortgage rates and smaller price gains can sustain improved home sales.” The first graph shows the nominal seasonally adjusted Composite 10, Composite 20 and National indices (the Composite 20 was started in January 2000).

S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index: Lowest Gains Since 2015 - With today's release of the January S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, we learned that seasonally adjusted home prices for the benchmark 20-city index were up 0.11% month over month. The seasonally adjusted national index year-over-year change has hovered between 4.2% and 6.7% for the last two-plus years. Today's S&P/Case-Shiller National Home Price Index (nominal) reached another new high. The adjacent column chart illustrates the month-over-month change in the seasonally adjusted 20-city index, which tends to be the most closely watched of the Case-Shiller series. It was up 0.11% from the previous month. The nonseasonally adjusted index was up 4.2% had forecast a 0.3% MoM seasonally adjusted increase and 4.3% YoY nonseasonally adjusted for the 20-city series. Here is an excerpt from the analysis in today's Standard & Poor's press release.“Home price gains continue to shrink,” says David M. Blitzer, Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “In the year to January, the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Index rose 4.3%, two percentage points slower than its pace in January 2018. The last time it advanced this slowly was April 2015. In 16 of the 20 cities tracked, price gains were smaller in January 2019 than in January 2018. Only Phoenix saw any appreciable acceleration. Some cities where prices surged in 2017-2018 now face much smaller increases: in Seattle, annual price gains dropped from 12.8% to 4.1% from January 2018 to January 2019. San Francisco saw annual price increases shrink from 10.2% to 1.8% over the same time period.Mortgage rates are as important as prices for many home buyers. Mortgage rates climbed from 3.95% in January 2018 to a peak of 4.95% in November 2018. Since then, rates have dropped to 4.28% as of mid-March. Sales of existing single-family homes slid gently downward from the 2017 fourth quarter until January of this year before jumping higher in February 2019. Home sales annual rate dropped from 5 million units in February 2018 to 4.36 million units in January 2019 before popping to 4.94 in February. It remains to be seen if recent low mortgage rates and smaller price gains can sustain improved home sales. [Link to source] The chart below is an overlay of the Case-Shiller 10- and 20-City Composite Indexes along with the national index since 1987, the first year that the 10-City Composite was tracked. Note that the 20-City, which is probably the most closely watched of the three, dates from 2000. We've used the seasonally adjusted data for this illustration.

Zillow Case-Shiller Forecast: Smaller YoY House Price Gains in February -The Case-Shiller house price indexes for January were released yesterday. Zillow forecasts Case-Shiller a month early, and I like to check the Zillow forecasts since they have been pretty close.From Matthew Speakman at Zillow: January Case-Shiller Results and February Forecast: Lowest Gains Since 2015 The national housing market’s ongoing, slow march back to “normal” is continuing into the start of 2019 — setting up a spring in which buyers will have more power than they have in years, although they still may need to work hard to find a favorable deal. House prices climbed 4.3 percent in January from a year early, down 4.6 percent from the prior month, according to the Case-Shiller home price index. The last time it advanced this slowly was April 2015.  The Zillow forecast is for the year-over-year change for the Case-Shiller National index to decline to 4.0% in February compared to 4.3% in January.

'Too Big To Sell' - Boomers Trapped In McMansions As Retirement Looms - Wealthy baby boomers are trapped in homes that are too big to sell. They want to downsize but can't get what they paid. This was guaranteed to happen, and did. Baby boomers and retirees built large, elaborate dream homes only to find that few people want to buy them.  Please consider a Growing Problem in Real Estate: Too Many Too Big Houses. Large, high-end homes across the Sunbelt are sitting on the market, enduring deep price cuts to sell. That is a far different picture than 15 years ago, when retirees were rushing to build elaborate, five or six-bedroom houses in warm climates, fueled in part by the easy credit of the real estate boom. Many baby boomers poured millions into these spacious homes, planning to live out their golden years in houses with all the bells and whistles. Now, many boomers are discovering that these large, high-maintenance houses no longer fit their needs as they grow older, but younger people aren’t buying them. Tastes—and access to credit—have shifted dramatically since the early 2000s. These days, buyers of all ages eschew the large, ornate houses built in those years in favor of smaller, more-modern looking alternatives, and prefer walkable areas to living miles from retail. The problem is especially acute in areas with large clusters of retirees. In North Carolina’s Buncombe County, which draws retirees with its mild climate and Blue Ridge Mountain scenery, there are 34 homes priced over $2 million on the market, but only 16 sold in that price range in the past year, said Marilyn Wright, an agent at Premier Sotheby’s International Realty in Asheville. The area around Scottsdale, Ariz., also popular with wealthy retirees, had 349 homes on the market at or above $3 million as of February 1—an all-time high, according to a Walt Danley Realty report. Homes built before 2012 are selling at steep discounts—sometimes almost 50%, and many owners end up selling for less than they paid to build their homes, said Walt Danley’s Dub Dellis. Kiawah Island, a South Carolina beach community, currently has around 225 houses for sale, which amounts to a three- or four-year supply. Of those, the larger and more expensive homes are the hardest to sell, especially if they haven’t been renovated recently, according to local real-estate agent Pam Harrington. The problem is expected to worsen in the 2020s, as more baby boomers across the country advance into their 70s and 80s, the age group where people typically exit homeownership due to poor health or death, said Dowell Myers, co-author of a 2018 Fannie Mae report, “The Coming Exodus of Older Homeowners.” Boomers currently own 32 million homes and account for two out of five homeowners in the country.

MBA: Mortgage Applications Increased in Latest Weekly Survey --From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest MBA Weekly SurveyMortgage applications increased 8.9 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending March 22, 2019. ... The Refinance Index increased 12 percent from the previous week. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 6 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 7 percent compared with the previous week and was 4 percent higher than the same week one year ago....“The spring buying season is off to a strong start. Thanks to an unexpectedly large drop in mortgage rates following last week’s FOMC meeting, purchase applications jumped 6 percent and refinance applications surged over 12 percent,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Rates dropped across all loan types, and the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is now more than 70 basis points below last November’s peak. The average loan size increased once again to new highs for both purchase and refinance loans, as borrowers with – or seeking – larger loans tend to be more reactive to the drop in rates.”...The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($484,350 or less) decreased to 4.45 percent from 4.55 percent, with points decreasing to 0.39 from 0.42 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The first graph shows the refinance index since 1990. Now that mortgage rates have fallen more than 50 bps from the highs last year, a number of recent buyers will be able to refinance.

NAR: Pending Home Sales Index Decreased 1.0% in February -- From the NAR: Pending Home Sales Dip 1.0 Percent in February Pending home sales endured a minor drop in February, according to the National Association of Realtors®. The four major regions were split last month, as the South and West saw a bump in contract activity and the Northeast and Midwest reported slight declines.The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings,decreased 1.0 percent to 101.9 in February, down from 102.9 in January. Year-over-year contract signings declined 4.9 percent, making this the fourteenth straight month of annual decreases....The PHSI in the Northeast declined 0.8 percent to 92.1 in February, and is now 2.6 percent below a year ago. In the Midwest, the index fell 7.2 percent to 93.2 in February, 6.1 percent lower than February 2018. Pending home sales in the South inched up 1.7 percent to an index of 121.8 in February, which is 2.9 percent lower than this time last year. The index in the West increased 0.5 percent in February to 87.5 and fell 9.6 percent below a year ago. This was at expectations of a 1% decrease for this index. Note: Contract signings usually lead sales by about 45 to 60 days, so this would usually be for closed sales in March and April.

New Home Sales increased to 667,000 Annual Rate in February -- The Census Bureau reports New Home Sales in February were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 667 thousand. The previous three months were revised up significantly. "Sales of new single‐family houses in February 2019 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 667,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 4.9 percent above the revised January rate of 636,000 and is 0.6 percent above the February 2018 estimate of 663,000." 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.   The months of supply decreased in February to 6.1 months from 6.5 months in January. 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 February was 340,000. This represents a supply of 6.1 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. The last graph shows sales NSA (monthly sales, not seasonally adjusted annual rate). In February 2018 (red column), 56 thousand new homes were sold (NSA). Last year, 54 thousand homes were sold in February. The all time high for February was 109 thousand in 2005, and the all time low for February was 20 thousand in 2010. This was well above expectations of 616 thousand sales SAAR, however, although sales in January were revised up, the two previous months (November and December) were revised down significantly. I'll have more later today.

 New Home Sales Up in February, Better Than Forecast - This morning's release of the February New Home Sales from the Census Bureau came in at 667K, up 4.9% month-over-month from a revised 636K in January. 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. The U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development jointly announced the following new residential sales statistics for February 2019: Sales of new single‐family houses in February 2019 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 667,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 4.9 percent (±14.4 percent)* above the revised January rate of 636,000 and is 0.6 percent (±13.1 percent)* above the February 2018 estimate of 663,000. The median sales price of new houses sold in February 2019 was $315,300. The average sales price was $379,600. [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.

A few Comments on February New Home Sales - New home sales for February were reported at 667,000 on a seasonally adjusted annual rate basis (SAAR). This was well above the consensus forecast, and sales for January were revised up. However sales for November and December were revised down.  With these revisions, sales increased 1% in 2018 compared to 2017.   I expect sales to be around the same level in 2019 as in 2018, and my guess is we haven't seen the peak of this cycle yet.  Months of inventory is now just 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 February were up 0.6% year-over-year compared to February 2018. Year-to-date (just through February), sales are up 2.8% compared to the same period in 2018. The comparison will be most difficult in Q1, so this is a solid start for 2019. 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. Distressing GapThe "distressing gap" graph shows existing home sales (left axis) and new home sales (right axis) through February 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. Existing home sales are counted when transactions are closed, and new home sales are counted when contracts are signed. So the timing of sales is different.

Housing Starts Decreased to 1.162 Million Annual Rate in February -- From the Census Bureau: Permits, Starts and Completions Privately‐owned housing starts in February were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,162,000. This is 8.7 percent below the revised January estimate of 1,273,000 and is 9.9 percent below the February 2018 rate of 1,290,000. Single‐family housing starts in February were at a rate of 805,000; this is 17.0 percent below the revised January figure of 970,000. The February rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 352,000. Privately‐owned housing completions in February were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,303,000. This is 4.5 percent above the revised January estimate of 1,247,000 and is 1.1 percent above the February 2018 rate of 1,289,000. Single‐family housing completions in February were at a rate of 816,000; this is 10.0 percent below the revised January rate of 907,000. The February rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 473,000. The first graph shows single and multi-family housing starts for the last several years.Multi-family starts (red, 2+ units) increased  in February compared to January.   Multi-family starts were down 5% year-over-year in February.Multi-family is volatile month-to-month, and  has been mostly moving sideways the last few years. Single-family starts (blue) decreased in February, and were down 11% year-over-year. The second graph shows total and single unit starts since 1968. The second graph shows the huge collapse following the housing bubble, and then eventual recovery (but still historically low). Total housing starts in February were below expectations, however starts for December and January were revised up.

Comments on February Housing Starts – Bill McBride - Earlier: Housing Starts Decreased to 1.162 Million Annual Rate in February Total housing starts in February were below expectations, however starts for December and January were revised up.The housing starts report released this morning showed starts were down 8.7% in February compared to January, and starts were down 9.9% year-over-year compared to February 2018. Single family starts were down 10.6% year-over-year, and multi-family starts were down 5.4%.  This first graph shows the month to month comparison for total starts between 2018 (blue) and 2019 (red). Starts were down 9.9% in February compared to February 2018.  The weakness in February was primarily in the single family sector.  February starts might have been impacted by the weather. Last year, in 2018, starts were strong early in the year, and then fell off in the 2nd half - so the early comparisons are the most difficult. Below is an update to the graph comparing multi-family starts and completions. Since it usually takes over a year on average to complete a multi-family project, there is a lag between multi-family starts and completions. Completions are important because that is new supply added to the market, and starts are important because that is future new supply (units under construction is also important for employment).These graphs use a 12 month rolling total for NSA starts and completions.The blue line is for multifamily starts and the red line is for multifamily completions. The rolling 12 month total for starts (blue line) increased steadily for several years following the great recession - but turned down, and has moved sideways recently.  Completions (red line) had lagged behind - however completions and starts are at about the same level now. As I've been noting for a few years, the significant growth in multi-family starts is behind us - multi-family starts peaked in June 2015 (at 510 thousand SAAR) The second graph shows single family starts and completions. It usually only takes about 6 months between starting a single family home and completion - so the lines are much closer. The blue line is for single family starts and the red line is for single family completions. Note the relatively low level of single family starts and completions.  The "wide bottom" was what I was forecasting following the recession, and now I expect some further increases in single family starts and completions.

The eviction crisis is starting to look a lot like the subprime mortgage crisis - Stable housing is increasingly out of reach for many Americans, as both rentals and homes to own grow more expensive and options dwindle. Evictions may be one of the most visible manifestations.Now, a new study shows that not all evictions are created equal. Scholars at Georgia State University, in conjunction with a ProPublica journalist, examined “serial” eviction filings, or those done repeatedly by a landlord against a tenant. By comparing serial evictions to ordinary ones, the researchers found patterns of landlord behavior and intentions, some of which are reminiscent of the worst of the housing crisis a decade ago.As a reminder, nearly half of Americans are “rent-burdened,” which means that they spend more than 30% of their income on rent. Homelessness is on the rise. Nationally, as many as one in seven children may have experienced eviction in the last decade. And, just as the foreclosure crisis disproportionately hit African-Americans, so does the eviction epidemic. Black women in Milwaukee, for example, were evicted at a rate three times their share of the population, and black renters in metro Seattle were evicted four times as frequently as whites there, according to earlier research.The Georgia State authors compiled evidence that eviction proceedings can be predatory: “Filings can be the beginning of a forced removal process, but they are also frequently a tool used to enforce the collection of rent and fees,” they note. The authors cite several earlier local studies that demonstrate the phenomenon. Researchers in Baltimore, Cleveland and Dallas “found that some landlords viewed the additional revenue from late fees, enforced by the threat of an eviction filing, as a supplemental source of funding in addition to the regular rent roll.”

Reis: Apartment Vacancy Rate unchanged in Q1 at 4.8% --Reis reported that the apartment vacancy rate was at 4.8% in Q1 2019, unchanged from 4.8% in Q4, and up from 4.7% in Q1 2018.  This ties the last two quarters as the highest vacancy rate since Q3 2012. The vacancy rate peaked at 8.0% at the end of 2009, and bottomed at 4.1% in 2016. From economist Barbara Denham at Reis: The apartment vacancy rate was flat in the quarter at 4.8%. In the first quarter of 2018 it was 4.7%, while at the start of 2017 it was 4.3%.   Both the national average asking rent and effective rent, which nets out landlord concessions, increased 0.5% in the first quarter. At $1,451 per unit (asking) and $1,380 per unit (effective), the average rents have increased 4.4% and 4.2%, respectively, from the first quarter of 2018. Apartment occupancy growth had accelerated in 2018 after slowing a bit in 2017. At the same time, the housing market slumped in 2018 after gaining momentum in 2017. Recently, existing home sales jumped yet apartment occupancy growth was subdued. We had attributed the acceleration in the apartment market in 2018 to the tax cut at the end of 2017 that reduced the incentive to buy a home. Many have cited the drop in mortgage rates to the housing market jump in February. A closer look at the numbers shows that the condo and coop sales were flat in the first two months of 2019 after falling in 2018. This is consistent with our apartment occupancy numbers and suggests that the housing market uptick was concentrated in less urban areas that do not compete as much with strong apartment construction. There are a number of factors impacting housing, but it is too early to say if the apartment market will suffer if the housing market has strengthened. The preliminary housing numbers from the National Association of Realtors are subject to change. We still expect construction to remain robust in 2019 before completions decelerate in 2020. Occupancy should stay consistent with both supply growth and job growth, but the pent-up demand for buying a home could impact some markets more than others.

Hotels: Occupancy Rate Decreased Year-over-year - From STR: U.S. hotel results for week ending 16 March The U.S. hotel industry reported mixed year-over-year results in the three key performance metrics during the week of 10-16 March 2019, according to data from STR. In comparison with the week of 11-17 March 2018, the industry recorded the following:
• Occupancy: -0.9% to 70.2%
• Average daily rate (ADR): +0.6% to US$134.50
• Revenue per available room (RevPAR): -0.3% to US$94.40
The following graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average. The red line is for 2019, dash light blue is 2018, blue is the median, and black is for 2009 (the worst year probably since the Great Depression for hotels).A decent start for 2019 - close, but slightly lower occupancy rate, to-date, compared to the previous 4 years.  Seasonally, the occupancy rate will mostly move sideways during the Spring travel season, and then increase during the Summer.

Personal Income Increased 0.2% in February -- The BEA released the Personal Income, February 2019; Personal Outlays, January 2019Due to the recent partial government shutdown, this report combines estimates for January and February 2019. January estimates include both personal income and outlays measures, while February estimates are limited to personal income. Estimates of outlays for February will be available with the next release on April 29, 2019.  Personal income decreased $22.9 billion (-0.1 percent) in January according to estimates released today by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Disposable personal income decreased $34.9 billion (-0.2 percent), and personal consumption expenditures increased $8.6 billion (0.1 percent). Real DPI decreased 0.2 percent in January, and real PCE increased 0.1 percent. The PCE price index decreased 0.1 percent. Excluding food and energy, the PCE price index increased 0.1 percent....Personal income increased $42.0 billion (0.2 percent) in February. Disposable personal income (DPI) increased $31.3 billion (0.2 percent) The increase in personal income for February was below expectations.

Real Disposable Income Per Capita in January -With the release of this morning's report on January Personal Incomes and Outlays, we can now take a closer look at "Real" Disposable Personal Income Per Capita.At two decimal places, the nominal -0.26% month-over-month change in disposable income was trimmed to -0.20% when we adjust for inflation. This is down from the 1.05% nominal and 0.99% real increases last month. The year-over-year metrics are 3.81% nominal and 2.41% real.Post-recession, the trend was one of steady growth, but generally flattened out in late 2015. Disposable income picked up in 2018. The first chart shows both the nominal per capita disposable income and the real (inflation-adjusted) equivalent since 2000. This indicator was significantly disrupted by the bizarre but predictable oscillation caused by 2012 year-end tax strategies in expectation of tax hikes in 2013. It will be interesting to see how the recent tax legislation affects the trend over time.  The BEA uses the average dollar value in 2012 for inflation adjustment. But the 2012 peg is arbitrary and unintuitive. For a more natural comparison, let's compare the nominal and real growth in per-capita disposable income since 2000.   Nominal disposable income is up 89.1% since then. But the real purchasing power of those dollars is up only 34.4%.

Real personal income and spending sag – (4 graphs) -- Along with jobs and wages, household and personal income and spending are my main focus on how average Americans are doing in the economy. We’ll get the next jobs report a week from now, but today we got - almost updated to the present - January personal income and February personal spending. First of all, in my rubric of long leading, short leading, and coincident indicators, both of these are coincident. They tend to top out, or at least sharply decelerate, right when a recession begins. Here’s the performance of income including the last two recessions, and spending for the last one: So they really tell us nothing about the future of the economy. Now, to the data. Adjusted for inflation, incomes fell -0.2% in January These have declined ever so slightly in the past two months, although they are up +2.7% and +3.0% since last February. Nominally incomes rose +0.2% in February, but we won’t have the inflation-adjusted figure until next month. If the deflator is in line with consumer inflation, which rose +0.2% in February, then real personal incomes will be flat. Personal spending declined -0.1% nominally in January, but rose +0.1% adjusted for inflation, after a decline in December: These are weak reports, in line with the slowdown forecast I made last summer. Where they go from here will have a lot to do with whether the Fed lowers rates quickly or not, and whether or not there are more boneheaded economic moves from the Administration.

US Income, Spending Disappoint As Fed's Favorite Inflation Signal Weakens -  Following the tumble in income (Jan) and spending (Dec) in the last reported month, expectations were for a modest rebound of 0.3% MoM for each, but both underwhelmed. US consumer spending rose just 0.1% MoM in January (well below the +0.3% gain, but still a rebound from the 0.6% MoM drop in Dec)   US personal income rose 0.2% MoM in February (missing the 0.3% MoM expectation).   The spending figures, which reflected weaker sales of new autos, signals first-quarter growth faces additional headwinds, though surveys show consumers remain generally upbeat despite projections for slower expansion.Both income and spending growth year-over-year fell to notable lows...  The spending data add to signs of weakness just ahead of the February retail sales report Monday. Adjusted for inflation, January spending on goods dropped 0.2% on a monthly basis while purchases of services increased, driven by financial services and insurance.The most recent month saw a small drop in savings rate from the surging 7.7% in December to 7.5%... At the same time as spending fell short of projections, inflation also eased, sending an early warning on the economy in the first quarter that may add to concerns about the outlook. The Fed’s preferred price gauge - tied to consumption - fell 0.1% in January from the previous month and was up 1.4% from a year earlier, matching the annual projection with the slowest reading since late 2016.Excluding food and energy, so-called core prices rose 0.1%, less than estimated. The index was up 1.8% from January 2018, also below forecasts, after an upwardly revised 2% gain. All in all, call it some economic justification of the Fed's patient stance (though that 1.4% headline inflation is of course driven by oil prices.) Chairman Jerome Powell said this month rates could be on hold for “some time” as inflation remains muted and global risks cloud the outlook.

PCE Price Index: January Headline & Core - The BEA's Personal Income and Outlays report for January was published this morning by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The latest Headline PCE price index was down 0.06% month-over-month (MoM) and is up 1.37% year-over-year (YoY). The latest Core PCE index (less Food and Energy) came in at 0.06% MoM and 1.79% YoY. Core PCE is below the Fed's 2% target rate. The adjacent thumbnail gives us a close-up of the trend in YoY Core PCE since January 2012. The first string of red data points highlights the 12 consecutive months when Core PCE hovered in a narrow range around its interim low. The second string highlights the lower range from late 2014 through 2015. Core PCE shifted higher in 2016 with a decline in 2017 only to bounce back later in 2018.The first chart below shows the monthly year-over-year change in the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index since 2000. Also included is an overlay of the Core PCE (less Food and Energy) price index, which is Fed's preferred indicator for gauging inflation. The two percent benchmark is the Fed's conventional target for core inflation. However, the December 2012 FOMC meeting raised the inflation ceiling to 2.5% for the next year or two while their accommodative measures (low FFR and quantitative easing) are in place. More recent FOMC statements now refer only to the two percent target.

 Consumer Confidence Declined in March - The latest Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index was released this morning based on data collected through March 14. The headline number of 124.1 was a decrease from the final reading of 131.4 for February. Today's number was below the consensus of 132.0.“Consumer Confidence decreased in March after rebounding in February, with the Present Situation the main driver of this month’s decline,” said Lynn Franco, Senior Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. “Confidence has been somewhat volatile over the past few months, as consumers have had to weather volatility in the financial markets, a partial government shutdown and a very weak February jobs report. Despite these dynamics, consumers remain confident that the economy will continue expanding in the near term. However, the overall trend in confidence has been softening since last summer, pointing to a moderation in economic growth.” The chart below is another attempt to evaluate the historical context for this index as a coincident indicator of the economy. Toward this end, we have highlighted recessions and included GDP. The regression through the index data shows the long-term trend and highlights the extreme volatility of this indicator. Statisticians may assign little significance to a regression through this sort of data. But the slope resembles the regression trend for real GDP shown below, and it is a more revealing gauge of relative confidence than the 1985 level of 100 that the Conference Board cites as a point of reference.

Secondhand clothing market is growing faster than apparel retail  - Secondhand clothing retailer thredUP has just released its annual fashion resale report, and the market is booming. thredUP reports that, over the past three years, resale has grown 21 times faster than apparel retail. The secondhand market, currently worth $24 billion, is expected to reach $51 billion in five years. Growing numbers of shoppers are willing to buy secondhand as the stigma associated with used clothing disappears. Millennials and boomers do the most secondhand shopping, but Gen Z'ers (18-24) are the fastest-adopting group. More than 1 in 3 Gen Z'ers will buy secondhand clothing in 2019. Overall, 64 percent of women say they're willing to buy used apparel, shoes, and accessories, compared to 45 percent in 2016.  Most exciting is that this exploding market is stealing revenue from fast fashion, an industry that is notoriously unsustainable. In fact, thredUP suggests that the resale market will overtake fast fashion if it continues to grow at this rate.

 Just  Before The Great Recession, Mountains Of Unsold Goods Piled Up In Warehouses...And Now It Is Happening Again -- When economic conditions initially begin to slow down, businesses continue to order goods like they normally would but those goods don’t sell as quickly as they previously did.  As a result, inventory levels begin to rise, and that is precisely what is happening right now.  In fact, the U.S. inventory to sales ratio has risen sharply for five months in a row.  This is mirroring the pattern that we witnessed just prior to the financial crisis of 2008, and it is exactly what we would expect to see if a new recession was now beginning.  In recent weeks, I have been sharing number after number that indicates that a serious economic slowdown is upon us, and many believe that what is coming will eventually be even worse than what we experienced in 2008. And even though I write about this stuff every day, I was stunned by how rapidly inventory levels have been rising recently.  The following numbers come from Peter Schiff’s websiteThis comes on the heels of the largest gain in wholesale inventories in more than five years in December.Inventories rose 7.7% from a year ago in January. Meanwhile, sales only rose by 2.7%. Overall, total inventories were $669.9 billion at the end of January, up 1.2% from the revised December level. The increase in durable goods inventories at the wholesale level was even starker. These inventories were up 11.7% from January a year ago, and are up 17% from January two years ago, hitting $415 billion, the highest ever.  Businesses don’t like to have excess inventory, because carrying excess inventory is expensive and cuts into profits.  So they try very hard to manage their inventories efficiently, but if the economy slows down unexpectedly that can catch them off guardThere are few indications of economic slowing that are more convincing than an unwanted build in inventories — and that apparently is what’s underway in the wholesale sector. When inventory levels get too high, businesses often start reducing the amount of stuff they are ordering from manufacturers. So we would expect the numbers to indicate that manufacturing output is down, and that is precisely what we have witnessed over the last couple of months

March Vehicle Sales Forecast: 16.9 Million SAAR -- From JD Power: Auto Retail Sales Off to Slowest Q1 Start Since 2013  Total sales in March are projected to reach 1,562,800 units, a 2.1% decrease compared with March 2018. The seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) for total sales is expected to be 16.9 million units, down 400,000 from a year ago.New vehicle total sales in Q1 are projected to reach 3,952,100 units, a 2.5% decrease compared to the first quarter of last year.“This is the first time in six years that Q1 sales will fall short of 3 million units. While the volume story could be better, there is remarkable growth in transaction prices, with records being set monthly. New-vehicle prices are on pace to reach $33,319 in Q1—the highest ever for the first quarter—and it’s more than $1,000 higher than last year.” .. Given the current weakness and uncertain future, LMC’s forecast for 2019 total light-vehicle sales has been trimmed by 75,000 units to 16.9 million units, a decline of 2.2% from 2018. This forecast is for sales to be higher than in January and February, and down from 17.2 million SAAR in March 2018. 

Trade Deficit decreased to $51.1 Billion in January --From the Department of Commerce reported: The U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis announced today that the goods and services deficit was $51.1 billion in January, down $8.8 billion from $59.9 billion in December, revised. January exports were $207.3 billion, $1.9 billion more than December exports. January imports were $258.5 billion, $6.8 billion less than December imports. Exports increased and imports decreased in January.  Exports are 25% above the pre-recession peak and up 3% compared to January 2018; imports are 11% above the pre-recession peak, and up 2% compared to January 2018.  In general, trade has been picking up, although both imports and exports have declined slightly recently. The second graph shows the U.S. trade deficit, with and without petroleum.  The blue line is the total deficit, and the black line is the petroleum deficit, and the red line is the trade deficit ex-petroleum products. Oil imports averaged $42.59 in January, up from $50.27 in January, and down from $54.76 in January 2018. The trade deficit with China decreased to $34.5 billion in January, from $36.0 billion in January 2018.

US Trade Deficit Shrinks By Most in 10 Years As China Gap Tumbles - Having plunged to a record high deficit in December, expectations were for a modest bounce in the US trade balance in January but in fact the deficit 'tumbled' from a revised $59.9 billion to $51.1 billion.Expectations were for a reduction in the deficit to just $57.0 billion, so this is a considerable improvement. Imports from China plunged, suggesting American companies had been rushing shipments the prior month to beat an expected tariff boost.In fact, with the pre-tariffs surge seemingly over, the US trade deficit's decline of $8.8 billion is the biggest shrinkage since Feb 2009.The data also showed the deficit in goods narrowed to $73.3 billion, while the surplus in services edged up to $22.1 billion. Additionally, the last three months have seen the deficit with China shrink by an aggregate $8.6 billion - the most in 10 years... President Trump will be pleased.

 U.S. trade deficit narrows sharply as exports rebound (Reuters) - - The U.S. trade deficit dropped more than expected in January likely as China boosted purchases of soybeans, leading to a rebound in exports after three straight monthly declines. The Commerce Department said on Wednesday the trade deficit declined 14.6 percent, the largest decline since March 2018, to $51.1 billion also as softening domestic demand and lower oil prices curbed the import bill. Data for December was revised slightly down to show the trade gap widening to $59.9 billion instead of the previously reported $59.8 billion. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the trade gap narrowing to $57.0 billion in January. The trade deficit remains elevated despite President Donald Trump’s “America First” policies, which have left the United States mired in a bruising trade war with China and provoked retaliatory tariffs from other trading partners. Washington last year imposed tariffs on $250 billion worth of goods imported from China, with Beijing hitting back with duties on $110 billion worth of American products, including soybeans and other commodities. Trump has delayed tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports as negotiations to resolve the eight-month trade war continue, with Beijing pledging to resume bulk purchases of soybeans after cancellations at the height of the trade fight. The politically sensitive trade deficit with China fell 6.4 percent to $34.5 billion in January. When adjusted for inflation, the goods trade deficit decreased $7.8 billion to $83.8 billion in January. The drop in the so-called real goods trade deficit could see economists bump up their very low first-quarter gross domestic product growth estimates. The trade deficit in January was pushed down by a 0.9 percent increase in exports to $207.3 billion. Soybean exports rose by $0.9 billion in January. Exports of motor vehicles and parts increased by $1.2 billion, but shipments of capital goods decreased by $0.8 billion, led by a $1.3 billion decline in civilian aircraft. Export growth, however, continues to be constrained by slowing global demand and the dollar’s strength last year, which is making U.S.-made goods less competitive on foreign markets. Despite the rise in soybean shipments, exports to China were the smallest since September 2010. In January, imports fell 2.6 percent to $258.5 billion, the lowest level since last June. Imports previously had surged, likely as businesses stocked up in anticipation of further duties on Chinese imports. Capital goods imports dropped by $3.0 billion in January, led by a $0.9 billion decline in imports of computer accessories. There were also decreases in imports of semiconductors and civilian aircraft. Crude oil imports dropped by $1.4 billion, partly reflecting lower prices. Imported oil prices averaged $42.59 per barrel in January, the cheapest since December 2016. 

 US efforts to cut trade deficit show biggest win in almost a year - The trade deficit between the U.S. and its global partners dropped sharply in January to $51.15 billion as exports rebounded from a slowdown at the end of 2018, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday.Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had forecast that the balance fell to $57 billion in January, from the $59.9 billion recorded the previous month.The decline of 14.6 percent represented the sharpest drop since March 2018 and comes amid continued efforts by the Trump administration to level the playing field with China and other global partners.Exports rose to $207.3 billion, a $1.9 billion increase from December, while imports fell to $258.5 billion, off $6.8 billion. The goods deficit dropped 10 percent to $73.3 billion while the services surplus edged higher to $22.1 billion. "The sharp fall in the trade deficit in January was primarily due to a larger than expected fall in imports, which is hardly a positive sign for the economy," . "Nonetheless, with imports now likely to have been flat, or fallen slightly, in the first quarter overall, net trade is likely to be a positive for economic growth in the first quarter." China specifically represented a good chunk of the reduction in the trade balance shortfall, as the deficit decreased $5.5 billion to $33.2 billion as imports fell 12.2 percent to $40.8 billion. The two nations have been involved in a tit-for-tat tariff battle as officials try to work out a long-range framework that opens up markets for U.S. goods. The White House in 2018 slapped tariffs on $250 billion worth of imports from China, which retaliated with levies on $110 billion worth of American products.In addition to the shift on China, the balance with Canada went from a deficit of $700 million to a surplus of $1.4 billion, though the shortfall with South Korea increased to $2.4 billion from $1.7 billion. At a product level, exports of soybeans increased by $900 million, passenger cars rose by $700 million and aircraft fell by $1.3 billion.

A group of 26,000 truckers wants to strike against the biggest issues plaguing America's trucking industry by shutting down the nation's highways — but not everyone is on board --Chris Polk, who has been a truck driver for two decades, doesn't like the regulations that America's 1.8 million truck drivers must work under — especially the recently implemented safety laws that many truckers say actually make their jobs more unsafe. Because of those laws and the general decrease in pay that truck drivers have seen, a Facebook group with more than 26,000 truckers called Black Smoke Matters is planning to close the US's highways on April 12. Some truckers might park directly on a highway, while others are planning to refuse to work that day and stay at home.Polk and those truck drivers can agree that the so-called electronic-logging-device mandate and other laws are untenable — but he says he won't be joining them."At the core of my belief is that good ideas do not require force — coercing, aggression, blocking a highway, refusing to do work that you have agreed to do," Polk told Business Insider. "That, in my view, is an act of violence."Jonathan Jenkins, who has been a truck driver for 15 years and owns a refrigerated trucking fleet, had a swifter indictment.They're a bunch of criminals. They're a bunch of rebels. And the fact of the matter is they're all going to go to jail on domestic-terrorist charges," Jenkins told Business Insider. If the Black Smoke Matters truck strike takes off on April 12 and the nation's highways are closed, the effects could be drastic. Trucks move some 71% of the nation's freight — and that's not just your Amazon Prime deliveries, but food, water, and medical supplies.

Boeing takes $5 billion hit as Indonesian airline cancels 737 MAX order -- Indonesia's largest air carrier has informed Boeing that it wants to cancel a $4.9 billion order for 49 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft. Garuda Indonesia spokesperson Ikhsan Rosan said in a statement to the Associated Press that the airline was cancelling due to concern that “its business would be damaged due to customer alarm over the crashes.”  Garuda had originally ordered 50 737 MAX aircraft, and Boeing delivered the first of those aircraft in December of 2017. The airline already operates 77 older Boeing 737 models; two of the aircraft ordered were conversions from earlier orders for 737-800s. Garuda also flies Boeing's 777-300 ER, and the company retired its 747-400 fleet in the last few years—so the airline was looking for an economical long-range aircraft to fill in gaps. But the stigma now attached to the 737 MAX 8 may have spoiled that relationship. The airline also has orders in for 14 of Airbus' A330neo, a wide-body design comparable to Boeing's 787 Dreamliner; the airline also flies 24 earlier-model A330s. If Garuda successfully breaks its deal with Boeing, the likely winner will be Airbus. Airbus' A320neo is the most comparable aircraft to the 737 MAX in cost and range.  The Garuda cancellation would only put a small dent in the number of total 737 MAX aircraft on order. Based on data from Boeing, as of February there were 4,636 unfilled orders, so the outstanding order from Garuda would account for a little more than one percent of Boeing's backlog. Still, Garuda's exit could signal bigger long-term problems for Boeing as other carriers with mixed fleets of aircraft re-evaluate their positions. Indonesia's carriers as a whole make up a significant portion of existing orders (with 236 total still on order, including Garuda's 49)—and most of them were ordered by Lion Air, the airline that flew the first 737 MAX to crash. China's air carriers have 43 more 737 MAX aircraft on order currently on hold because the aircraft is grounded—and those orders could become cannon-fodder in ongoing trade disputes between China and the US.

Dallas Fed: "Texas Manufacturing Activity Continues to Grow" -- From the Dallas Fed: Texas Manufacturing Activity Continues to Grow Texas factory activity continued to expand in Marc­h, according to business executives responding to the Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey. The production index, a key measure of state manufacturing conditions, held fairly steady at 11.5, indicating output growth continued at about the same pace as last month. Other measures of manufacturing activity also suggested continued expansion in March, although demand growth slowed. The new orders index fell from 6.9 to 2.4, and the growth rate of orders index slipped into negative territory for the first time since December 2016. The shipments index declined five points to 5.8, while the capacity utilization index moved up four points to 10.9.Perceptions of broader business conditions continued to improve in March, although outlooks were less optimistic than in February. The general business activity index remained positive but fell five points to 8.3. Similarly, the company outlook index stayed in positive territory but fell from 14.2 to 6.0. The index measuring uncertainty regarding companies’ outlooks was largely unchanged at a 10-month low of 3.4.Labor market measures suggested continued employment growth and longer workweeks in March. The employment index held steady at 13.1, a reading well above average. Twenty-two percent of firms noted net hiring, compared with 9 percent noting net layoffs. The hours worked index came in at 4.6, up slightly from February. So far the regional surveys have been somewhat positive for March.

 Richmond Fed Manufacturing: Moderate Growth in March -- Today the Richmond Fed Manufacturing Composite Index decreased to 10 for the month of March, down from last month's 16. had forecast 12. Because of the highly volatile nature of this index, we include a 3-month moving average to facilitate the identification of trends, now at 8.0, which indicates expansion. The complete data series behind today's Richmond Fed manufacturing report, which dates from November 1993, is available here.Here is a snapshot of the complete Richmond Fed Manufacturing Composite series. Here is the latest Richmond Fed manufacturing overview.Fifth District manufacturing activity grew moderately in March, according to the latest survey from the Richmond Fed. The composite index fell from 16 in February to 10 in March but remained in expansionary territory. The fall came from drops in both the shipments and new orders indexes, but the third component, employment, increased. Firms were optimistic, expecting conditions to improve in the coming months.Survey results indicated growth in both employment and wages in March. However, firms continued to struggle to find workers with the skills they needed. Respondents expected this struggle to persist in the near future but also anticipate continued growth in employment and wages.The growth rate of prices paid by survey participants fell slightly in March, while growth of prices received remained fairly stable. While this reduced the gap between the two, growth of prices paid continued to outpace growth of prices received. Firms expected growth of both to slow in the next six months. Link to Report Here is a somewhat closer look at the index since the turn of the century.

Kansas City Fed: "Tenth District Manufacturing Activity Accelerated Moderately" - From the Kansas City Fed: Tenth District Manufacturing Activity Accelerated Moderately The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City released the March Manufacturing Survey today. According to Chad Wilkerson, vice president and economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, the survey revealed that Tenth District manufacturing activity accelerated moderately, and expectations for future activity also increased. “Factories in the region reported an uptick in growth in March, following three straight months in which the pace of growth slowed,” said Wilkerson. “Plans for both hiring and capital spending picked up.” ... The month-over-month composite index was 10 in March, up from 1 in February and 5 in January. The composite index is an average of the production, new orders, employment, supplier delivery time, and raw materials inventory indexes. Factories expanded production of both durable and nondurable goods, particularly food and beverage products, as well as wood, paper, and printing manufacturing. Most month-over-month indexes increased in March, with production, shipments, new orders, order backlog, new orders for exports, and materials inventories rebounding back into positive territory. Most year-over-year factory indexes grew in March, and the composite index rose from 23 to 27. The future composite index also climbed up from 13 to 22, as future factory activity expectations increased across the board. This was the last of the regional Fed surveys for March. Here is a graph comparing the regional Fed surveys and the ISM manufacturing index: The New York and Philly Fed surveys are averaged together (yellow, through March), and five Fed surveys are averaged (blue, through March) including New York, Philly, Richmond, Dallas and Kansas City. The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) PMI (red) is through February (right axis).Based on these regional surveys, it seems likely the ISM manufacturing index will be at about the same level in March as in February, maybe slightly higher. The early consensus forecast is for a reading of 54.5, up slightly from 54.2 in February (to be released on Monday, April 1st).

March Regional Fed Manufacturing Overview -- Five out of the twelve Federal Reserve Regional Districts currently publish monthly data on regional manufacturing: Dallas, Kansas City, New York, Richmond, and Philadelphia. Regional manufacturing surveys are a measure of local economic health and are used as a representative for the larger national manufacturing health. They have been used as a signal for business uncertainty and economic activity as a whole. Manufacturing makes up 12% of the country's GDP.The other 6 Federal Reserve Districts do not publish manufacturing data. For these, the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book offers a short summary of each districts’ manufacturing health. The Chicago Fed published their Midwest Manufacturing Index from July 1996 through December of 2013. According to their website, "The Chicago Fed Midwest Manufacturing Index (CFMMI) is undergoing a process of data and methodology revision. In December 2013, the monthly release of the CFMMI was suspended pending the release of updated benchmark data from the U.S. Census Bureau and a period of model verification. Significant revisions in the history of the CFMMI are anticipated." Here is a three-month moving average overlay of each of the five indicators since 2001 (for those with data). The latest average of the five for March is 7.0, up from the previous month's 4.9. It is below its all-time high of 25.1, set in May 2004.

Chemical Activity Barometer "Up Slightly" in March -- Note: This appears to be a leading indicator for industrial production. From the American Chemistry Council: Chemical Activity Barometer Up Slightly in March The Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB), a leading economic indicator created by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), rose 0.1 percent in March on a three-month moving average (3MMA) basis, the first gain in five months. On a year-over-year (Y/Y) basis, the barometer is down 0.3 percent (3MMA). ...“The CAB continues to indicate gains in U.S. commercial and industrial activity through mid-2019, but at a markedly slower rate of growth, as measured by year-earlier comparisons,” said Kevin Swift, chief economist at ACC.Applying the CAB back to 1912, it has been shown to provide a lead of two to fourteen months, with an average lead of eight months at cycle peaks as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The median lead was also eight months. At business cycle troughs, the CAB leads by one to seven months, with an average lead of four months. The median lead was three months. The CAB is rebased to the average lead (in months) of an average 100 in the base year (the year 2012 was used) of a reference time series. The latter is the Federal Reserve’s Industrial Production Index. This graph shows the year-over-year change in the 3-month moving average for the Chemical Activity Barometer compared to Industrial Production.  It does appear that CAB (red) generally leads Industrial Production (blue). The year-over-year increase in the CAB has softened recently, suggesting further gains in industrial production into 2019, but at a slower pace.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims decreased to 211,000 - The DOL reported: In the week ending March 23, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 211,000, a decrease of 5,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised down by 5,000 from 221,000 to 216,000. The 4-week moving average was 217,250, a decrease of 3,250 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised down by 4,500 from 225,000 to 220,500. The previous week was revised down. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

 41% Of New York Residents Say They Can No Longer Afford To Live There - More than a third of New York residents complaint that they "can't afford to live there" anymore (and yet they do). On top of that, many believe that economic hardships are going to force them to leave the city in five years or less, according to a Quinnipiac poll published Wednesday. The poll surveyed 1,216 voters between March 13 and 18. In total, 41% of New York residents say they can't cope with the city's high cost of living. They believe they will be forced to go somewhere where the "economic climate is more welcoming", according to the report. Ari Buitron, a 49-year-old paralegal from Queens said: “They are making this city a city for the wealthy, and they are really choking out the middle class. A lot of my friends have had to move to Florida, Texas, Oregon. You go to your local shop, and it’s $5 for a gallon of milk and $13 for shampoo. Do you know how much a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment is? $1700! What’s wrong with this picture?” In response to a similar poll in May 2018, only 31% of respondents said they felt as though they would be forced to move, indicating that the outlook among residents is getting much worse - very quickly. New York native Dexter Benjamin said: "I am definitely not going to be here five years from now. I will probably move to Florida or Texas where most of my family has moved.” Many of those who have moved, prompted by New York's tax burden and new Federal law that punishes high tax states, aren't looking back. Robert Carpenter, 50, who moved from Brooklyn to New Jersey told the Post: “Moving to New Jersey has only added 15 minutes to my commute! And I am still working in Downtown Brooklyn. I save about $300 extra a month, which in the long run it matters.” He continued: "Because of the city tax and the non-deductibility of your real estate taxes, we’re seeing a lot more people with piqued interest." The poll also found that minorities have an even more pessimistic outlook on things. Non-whites disproportionately ranked their situations as “poor” and “not good” according to the poll. 

Don't Shoot The Dogs- The Growing Epidemic Of Cops Shooting Family Pets - The absurd cruelties of the American police state keep reaching newer heights.Consider that if you kill a police dog, you could face a longer prison sentence than if you’d murdered someone or abused a child.If a cop kills your dog, however, there will be little to no consequences for that officer.Not even a slap on the wrist.  In this, as in so many instances of official misconduct by government officials, the courts have ruled that the cops have qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that incentivizes government officials to engage in lawless behavior without fear of repercussions.This is the heartless, heartbreaking, hypocritical injustice that passes for law and order in America today.It is estimated that a dog is shot by a police officer “every 98 minutes.”The Department of Justice estimates that at least 25 dogs are killed by police every day. The Puppycide Database Project estimates the number of dogs being killed by police to be closer to 500 dogs a day (which translates to 182,000 dogs a year).In 1 out of 5 cases involving police shooting a family pet, a child was either in the police line of fire or in the immediate area of a shooting. For instance, a 4-year-old girl was accidentally shot in the leg after a police officer opened fire on a dog running towards him, missed and hit the little girl instead.At a time when police are increasingly inclined to shoot first and ask questions later, it doesn’t take much to provoke a cop into opening fire on an unarmed person guilty of doing nothing more than standing a certain way, or moving a certain way, or holding something—anything—that police could misinterpret to be a weapon.All a cop has to do is cite an alleged “fear” for his safety.

The Human Costs Of Kamala Harris’ War On Truancy - On the morning of April 18, 2013, in the Los Angeles suburb of Buena Park, a throng of photographers positioned themselves on a street curb and watched as two police officers entered a squat townhouse. Minutes later, officers re-emerged with a weary-looking woman in pajamas and handcuffs, and the photographers were jostling to capture her every step. “You would swear I had killed somebody,” the woman, Cheree Peoples, said in a recent interview.   In fact, Peoples had been arrested for her daughter’s spotty school attendance record under a truancy law that then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris had personally championed in the state legislature. The law, enacted in January 2011, made it a criminal misdemeanor for parents to allow kids in kindergarten through eighth grade to miss more than 10 percent of school days without a valid excuse. Peoples’ 11-year-old daughter, Shayla, had missed 20 days so far that school year.  The law was the capstone of Harris’ yearslong campaign to get “tough” on truancy, the term for when a child consistently misses school without a valid excuse. Harris’ involvement began in the mid-2000s, when the future senator and 2020 presidential candidate was the San Francisco district attorney. Harris had been disturbed to learn that a disproportionate number of the city’s homicide victims were high school dropouts, and that dropouts are more likely to become perpetrators or victims of crimes. Preventing truancy, she argued, was not just about the noble goal of ensuring every child’s education, but a matter of averting future criminals. So it only made sense for the city’s top law enforcement officer to get involved. Orange County heeded her call with particular enthusiasm. On the morning Peoples was arrested, police arrested five other parents — including several in front of waiting news crews — as part of what one assistant district attorney painted as an effort to prevent children from “being criminals or joining a gang.” The district attorney described Peoples’ conduct in unsparing terms, telling local news outlets she had ignored the school’s numerous requests for meetings and multiple warnings that Shayla was truant. 

New Jersey Legislators Demand "Huck Finn" Be Removed From State's Schools - Here we go again: A pair of lawmakers in New Jersey want the state’s schools to stop using the classic Mark Twain novel “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn“ in their classrooms.  As reported by Politico, although the book contains numerous “anti-racist and anti-slavery themes” it also features over 200 mentions of the N-word. New Jersey State Assembly members Verlina Reynolds-Jackson and Jamel Holley contend the latter “can cause students to feel upset, marginalized or humiliated and can create an uncomfortable atmosphere in the classroom.”The lawmakers’ non-binding resolution notes various school districts in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Minnesota and Mississippi have ditched the book from their curricula.“There are other books out there that can teach about character, plot and motive — other ways besides using this particular book for that lesson,” Reynolds-Jackson told Politico. She noted the catalyst for the measure was a cyber-bullying incident against a black student which featured racist epithets and threats of lynching … but admitted Twain’s novel had nothing to do it.  According to the American Library Association, “Huck Finn” was the 14th most challenged or banned book from 2000-2009. Top 20 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11. Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
12. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
15. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
16. Forever, by Judy Blume
17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
20. King and King, by Linda de Haan

My Son's History Teacher Taught Him That The Electoral College Should Be Abolished - During my son’s junior year of high school, he was taught by his U.S. history teacher that the electoral college is unfair and should be abolished. How do I know? My husband and I had made a habit out of asking him what he learned in school each day over dinner.And so over a plate of chicken enchiladas, our then-16-year-old son told us about how his public school teacher had bemoaned and decried the electoral college as an outdated and unjust system that subverts the will of the people. Needless to say, we quickly explained to him how the electoral college is the best presidential voting method for our republic, as it helps protect states’ rights, ensures checks and balances, and defends against tyrannical majorities.But my point here isn’t to cheer the electoral college, it’s to warn parents that the indoctrination starts in high school. We were already on high alert over my son’s U.S. history teacher. The educator had also shown several Michael Moore documentaries and Young Turks video clips in class. On the flip side, he never showed Dinesh D’Souza films or PragerU videos in class as a balance. We, as parents, viewed the latter with our son, because we understood he was only getting one side of the story in class.It’s not a stretch to suggest my son’s experience in U.S. history was not an anomaly. Teachers in high school can often be just as guilty as pushing an agenda as their peers in the professoriate.

Three suicides in two weeks linked to US mass shootings -- Last week saw the tragic deaths of two high school students who survived the 2018 Parkland massacre in Florida followed by that of one of the parents of a girl who was killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut. All three died in apparent suicides. The first was 19-year-old Sydney Aiello, who was a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year at the time of the Parkland mass shooting. A day after her funeral, which took place on Friday, a current sophomore, 16-year-old Calvin Desir, also took his life. While it is difficult to say exactly why these two young people took their own lives, many of the parents are speaking out, saying that their children struggle with “survivor’s guilt.” Les Gordon, a family therapist who works with the students in Parkland, says that “they wonder why they’re alive and their friend is not. I’ve had kids tell me that they should have been able to do something to stop the shooting.” This past Monday morning, 49-year-old Jeremy Richman, the father of 6-year-old Avielle, who was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, was found dead not far from his office in a third apparent suicide. A few months after their daughter’s death seven years ago, Richman and his wife, Jennifer Hensel, co-founded the Avielle Foundation to support neuroscience research that draws together biochemical and behavioral sciences. Richman’s dream was “a paradigm shift in the way society views the health of the brain.” He told NPR in 2017, “just like resources were poured into landing a man on the moon and exploring outer space, we need to invest in exploring our own inner space.” Richman remained a public figure until his death this week and spoke out to news media following many subsequent mass shootings. He said that at first, “We would just bawl. It would hit us so hard.” As the years went on and shootings kept happening, however, he said that their anger grew. “I feel like we’re letting it happen. There are things that could be done that aren’t being done.”

AOC Has Some Advice For Parents - Given statewide public-school parent organizing — for funding equity, and against high-stakes testing and school privatization — and a climate in which progressives have been building electoral power, opponents of neoliberal education policy have reason for optimism in New York state. But thanks to the longstanding bipartisan consensus in favor of hedge-fund driven education remedies like charter schools and testing, even the most progressive national politicians have been complicit with pernicious “teacher accountability” schemes. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren both pushed to keep the annual standardized-testing mandate — beloved of education-reform types as a cudgel to use against “low-performing” public schools and teachers, as well as a reliable profit stream for the test-prep industry — in the 2015 renewal of ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act, the latest rebranding of No Child Left Behind).  Would AOC similarly disappoint? Spoiler: She did not, at least not on Saturday. Instead, she came out firmly against the privatization agenda, and urged parents to organize to have the testing mandate removed from federal education policy. But more than that, she exhorted us to reject the menu of bad options and divisive fights served up by austerity conditions, and instead embrace “a solution on the scale of the problem” as well as the solidarity that such an approach requires.  AOC nodded in agreement when Diane Ravitch, historian and author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System, criticized anti-democratic efforts to privatize public goods and encouraged parents to resist by refusing standardized testing for their children. When AOC had the floor, she made a strong call to “turn the ship around” on education policy. She talked about her own parents’ painful decision to leave their Bronx community for Westchester and better schools for their children and how, decades later, a similar set of “perverse incentives” led her cousins to enroll their kids in charter schools “because the public schools in Hunt’s Point didn’t feel good enough…We should never feel that way. And the moment we start feeling that way is the moment we should start fighting to improve them. Not to reject them.” AOC described how Betsy DeVos and her band of privatization zealots in the the federal Education Department were actively deregulating education in the interests of charter school profiteers on Wall Street. “What we need to do is realize the scale of the problem and organize our hearts out. Because it is not going to come from just one vote,” she explained, “and it’s not just going to come from the Congresswoman in New York’s Fourteenth district. This needs to be a national movement. Where we realize our agency. And the good news is that it has already started.” She connected the organizing reflected in the room to the ongoing wave of teachers’ strikes, most recently in West Virginia, Los Angeles and Oakland, in which opposition to austerity and privatization has taken center stage. “We are seeing it all over the country,” she emphasized.

‘Making Amazon Look Bad’- Microsoft Is Backing a Major Tax On Itself and Amazon -- In this era of corporations using blackmail and threats to win sweetheart tax deals, Microsoft is making waves at the state Capitol in Olympia with a far more unusual demand. Tax us more, the company is telling lawmakers.   The bill, introduced Monday by Hansen and co-sponsored by Pollet among others, is this year’s big push in higher education. It would pour about a billion dollars over the next four years into a “workforce education account,” to be spent on more financial aid as well as more degree slots in high-demand subjects such as computer science, engineering and nursing.  The premise now is to put a surcharge on businesses that benefit the most from a highly skilled workforce. That means high-tech of course, as well as professional services firms.  The bill proposes increasing the state business and occupation tax by 20 percent on about 40 categories of technical services, such as telecom, engineering, medical and finance. And by 33 percent on tech firms with more than $25 billion in annual revenue. But here’s where this goes off the charts, into politically unheard-of territory. It mandates a top rate, a whopping 67 percent business tax increase, for those “advanced computing businesses” with “worldwide gross revenue of more than one hundred billion dollars” per year.  There are only two businesses headquartered here that fit that rarefied description. And one of them, Microsoft, is the tax’s biggest booster.But that other company that would also be most on the hook? Apparently it isn’t so thrilled to have been volunteered for civic duty by one of its chief rivals. “Amazon was surprised to be included in such a public ‘hey, let’s do this’ by Microsoft,” said Rep. Gael Tarleton, D-Seattle, who said she heard that lament directly from an Amazon lobbyist. Added Pollet: “Amazon has groused in meetings down here that Microsoft is doing this mostly as a way of making Amazon look bad.”

Betsy DeVos grilled in Congress over proposed elimination of Special Olympics funding - Education Secretary Betsy DeVos struggled before a congressional subcommittee on Tuesday to defend the administration's proposal to cut at least $7 billion from education programs, including eliminating all $18 million in federal funding for the Special Olympics.When Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee, asked whether DeVos knew how many children would be affected by cutting Special Olympics funding, DeVos said she did not know.Pocan responded: "I’ll answer it for you, that's OK, no problem. It’s 272,000 kids that are affected."DeVos then said, "I think that the Special Olympics is an awesome organization, one that is well supported by the philanthropic sector as well."Pocan at that point interrupted the education secretary to say that the proposed budget includes a 26 percent reduction to state grants for special education and millions of dollars in cuts to programs for students who are blind.After referring to his own nephews with autism, Pocan asked DeVos, "What is it that we have a problem with, with children who are in special education?"She replied, “Supporting children with special needs, we have continued to hold that funding at a level amount and in the context of a budget proposal that is a 10 percent reduction."The congressman stopped DeVos and claimed she was not answering his question.Pocan wasn't the only House member to criticize DeVos over the proposed cuts to special education.Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., noted that past proposed budgets also attempted to eliminate federal funding for the Special Olympics. "I still can’t understand why you would go after disabled children in your budget," Lee said Tuesday. "You zero that out. It’s appalling.”

Betsy DeVos Defends Cutting $18 Million in Special Olympics Funds — Critics expressed shock and anger Tuesday after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos defended the Trump administration’s proposed budget, which cuts ten percent of her department’s overall funding—including huge cuts to the Special Olympics—while increasing funds private charter school.Appearing before a House subcommittee on appropriations for the Education Department, DeVos told lawmakers that the proposed budget “focuses on freedom for teachers, freedom for parents, freedom for all students.”While cutting funding $7 billion for public schools and other programs, DeVos and Trump’s budget calls for $60 million for charter schools—a long-time cause for the education secretary.“This budget in my view is cruel. It is reckless,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.)Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) added in his questioning of DeVos that the administration appears to have no regard for the Americans who will be affected by the $18 million in cuts for the Special Olympics, which serve children and adults with disabilities.“Do you know how many kids are going to be affected by that cut?” Pocan asked. Unable to extract a straight answer from DeVos, the congressman cut her off as she repeated her refrain, “We had to make some difficult decisions with this budget.”“It’s 272,000 kids that are affected,” Pocan informed her.Watch Pocan’s whole exchange with DeVos:

Teacher strikes blanket the nation as a labor of love meets economic hardships -- School districts around the country, faced with a historic shortage of teachers, should be scrambling to offer those educators higher pay and better working conditions. That’s what the economics of supply and demand would dictate. Instead, we are seeing a spread of teachers’ strikes and protests, with Denver and Oakland among the latest in a series of protest waves spreading from West Virginia to Los Angeles. The gap between the estimated number of additional teachers needed in U.S. public school classrooms and the number that are available to be hired grew from zero to over 110,000 in just the last few years. What gives? The lack of reaction from policymakers shaping the education landscape is emblematic of a broader disrespect for teachers as professionals over time. Teachers face a curious social situation—clearly and deeply needed but demonstrably undercompensated and poorly supported at work. The spate of recent strikes suggests conditions have reached a breaking point as teachers are forced to take on second and third jobs to make ends meet, and to spend money out of their own pockets to supply classrooms.  Our new analyses for EPI suggest that breaking point is here. This week, we released the first in a series of reports on the growing teacher shortage and the working conditions and other factors behind it. Our research shows that, when we account for the shrinking share of teachers who hold credentials associated with more effective teaching, especially in high-poverty schools, the teacher shortage is worse than estimated. The reports of the series will also show that low relative pay, tough working conditions, and a lack of supports for teachers aren’t isolated problems in a handful of districts but challenges being reported by teachers nationwide. The depth and breadth of the crisis shows that the education industry—i.e., the nation’s state and local departments and boards of education—urgently need to rethink how they cultivate, train, recruit, and support teachers.  While teaching has long-required forgoing the additional income that teachers could earn if they pursued other careers with similar educational requirements, that income loss has grown substantially in recent years. As our colleagues Larry Mishel and Sylvia Allegretto have shown, in 1994, the pay gap between public school teachers and their comparably educated peers was negligible: teachers earned only 1.8 percent less in wages. In 2017, the teacher pay gap was 10 times that, 18.7 percent. Even accounting for teacher pensions and other benefits, which are often cited as substantially boosting educators’ real compensation, the compensation gap is still large, 11.1 percent in 2017. It should come as little surprise, then, that fewer people are choosing teaching as a career and more teachers are leaving.

Looking for the missing teachers, understanding the reasons why they aren’t found, and finding long-term solutions for the teacher shortage problem -- Our schools are not only temporarily without teachers because of teacher strikes for better working conditions and more investment in education. Some schools are chronically short of teachers: they can’t find teachers able and willing to work at current wages and conditions. The estimated teacher shortage of about 110,000 teachers may seem small in a labor force of about 3.8 million. But its sudden appearance after years of teacher surpluses and its consequences are certainly a large cause for concern. Teacher shortages depress student performance, reduce teachers’ effectiveness,alter the cohesion of the school, and consume economic resources that could be better deployed elsewhere. These consequences also make it more difficult to build a solid reputation for teaching and to professionalize it, further perpetuating shortages. Finally, the teacher shortage reflects school districts’ failure to make the kinds of investments (in smaller class sizes, in resources to meet the needs of students, and in teacher development) that the expanding teacher protest movement seeks. EPI has published the first in a series of reports that will document some of the reasons why the demand for teachers is outstripping the supply. In our report we argue that when issues such as teacher qualifications and equity across communities are taken into consideration, shortages are more concerning than we thought.  Our research shows that as of the 2015–2016 school year, one in eleven (8.8 percent) of K–12 teachers in the country are not fully certified, over one-fifth (22.4 percent) of teachers are inexperienced (with five or fewer years of experience (22.4 percent), 17.1 percent followed an alternative route into teaching, and about one in three (31.5 percent) of teachers do not have an educational background in their subject of main assignment. Teacher quality, as measured by these shares, either eroded in recent years in some respects, or failed to improve in others, thus growing the teacher shortage. Children in high-poverty schools are consistently, albeit modestly in some cases, more likely to be taught by lower-credentialed and inexperienced teachers, meaning that the shortage of qualified teachers is more acute in high-poverty schools.

Striking Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians hold successful free concerts - The strike by Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) musicians is now in its third week with management canceling performances through April 2. On Sunday, the musician union’s negotiating team and management agreed to suspend negotiations after talks broke down.The CSO Board—headed by Helen Zell, wife of billionaire real estate mogul Sam Zell, and president, Jeff Alexander (who makes more than half a million dollars in annual salary)—continues to demand that musicians accept drastic changes to their pension plan. Zell’s wife previously said, “it would be irresponsible for the Board to continue to authorize a pension program that jeopardizes the Orchestra’s future.” Under the proposal by management, the musicians would see their pensions transformed from a defined-benefit plan to a defined-contribution plan. Such a change would lead to an increase in pension contributions from musicians and tie the fate of their retirement benefits to the gyrations of the stock market. In addition to ending payments to the current pension plan, management also wants all new musicians enrolled into a defined-contribution plan from the outset, effectively creating a second-tier retirement plan. Also, at issue are salary increases. The Board has called for a five percent increase over three years, an effective wage cut when adjusted for inflation. The Chicago Federation of Musicians has called for a 12.5 percent increase.

What happens after rich kids bribe their way into college? I teach them - If you think corruption in elite US college admissions is bad, what happens once those students are in the classroom is even worse. I know, because I teach at an elite American university – one of the oldest and best-known, which rejects about 90% of applicants each year for the small number of places it can offer to undergraduates. In this setting, where teaching quality is at a premium and students expect faculty to give them extensive personal attention, the presence of unqualified students admitted through corrupt practices is an unmitigated disaster for education and research. While such students have long been present in the form of legacy admits, top sports recruits and the kids of multimillion-dollar donors, the latest scandal represents a new tier of Americans elbowing their way into elite universities: unqualified students from families too poor to fund new buildings, but rich enough to pay six-figure bribes to coaches and admissions advisers. This increase in the proportion of students who can’t do the work that elite universities expect of them has – at least to me and my colleagues – begun to create a palpable strain on the system, threatening the quality of education and research we are expected to deliver. Students who can’t get into elite schools through the front door based on academic merit don’t change once they’re in class. They can’t do the work, and are generally uninterested in gaining the skills they need in order to do well. Exhibit A from the recent admissions corruption scandal is “social media celebrity” Olivia Jade Gianulli, whose parents bought her a place at the University of Southern California, and who announced last August to her huge YouTube following that “I don’t know how much of school I’m going to attend. But I do want the experience of, like, game days, partying … I don’t really care about school.” Every unqualified student admitted to an elite university ends up devouring hugely disproportionate amounts of faculty time and resources that rightfully belong to all the students in class. By monopolizing faculty time to help compensate for their lack of necessary academic skills, unqualified students can also derail faculty research that could benefit everyone, outside the university as well as within it. To save themselves and their careers, many of my colleagues have decided that it is no longer worth it to uphold high expectations in the classroom. “Lower your standards,” they advise new colleagues. “The fight isn’t worth it, and the administration won’t back you up if you try.”

 Yale rescinds admission for student whose parents allegedly paid $1.2 million to get her in - Buzzfeed's Julia Reinstein reports that Yale “has rescinded admission for a student whose family allegedly paid $1.2 Million to get her into the school.”  This is believed to be the first such rejection of a student by an American college since the admissions scandal broke over the past few weeks. Dozens of parents, coaches, and university administrators were indicted in a series of interconnected scams.From her reportAs part of the scandal, former Yale women's soccer coach Rudy Meredith, was charged with accepting bribes in exchange for designating two applicants as soccer recruits to get them admitted.  According to the school, one applicant was rejected despite Meredith's endorsement, but the other was granted admission. "Yale investigated the allegations, and the admission of the student who received a fraudulent endorsement has been rescinded," the school said in a statement posted to their website.   According to the indictment, the family of the admitted student paid $1.2 million to William “Rick” Singer, the ringleader of the admissions operation, who sent Meredith a $400,000 check. In exchange, the coach helped to falsely present her as a competitive soccer player, including lying that she was co-captain of a prominent soccer club. Yale said today the Department of Education has launched a preliminary investigation into Yale and seven other schools as part of the scandal.

From 'Full House' To The Big House: Lori Loughlin, Others Face Jail In College Admissions Scandal - The American justice system has been criticized (and not without reason) for allowing white collar criminals to get off with fines, community service or probation, while poor mothers who - and we're just throwing out an example here - used a relative's address to enroll their child in a better public school system wind up in jail.But as the backlash to the college cheating scandal intensifies, will Aunt Becky's (aka Lori Loughlin) white privilege be enough to spare her from a stint in the big house? It's looking increasingly plausible that it won't.  To wit, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that federal prosecutors who have been negotiating pre-indictment plea deals with some of the 33 parents arrested in the college admissions cheating scandal are insisting on at least some jail time.Federal authorities and at least some parents accused in the college-admissions cheating case are negotiating possible guilty pleas, according to people familiar with the matter.Prison time may be included in pre-indictment plea deals, the people said. Nearly all the 33 parents accused in the case face a single charge of conspiring to commit what is known as honest-services fraud. Most haven’t been indicted.The Wall Street Journal reported that prosecutors could add money laundering conspiracy charges for some of the parents as soon as next week. Two parents were indicted on such a charge on Tuesday.Per WSJ, prosecutors are expected to indict some of the parents on charges of money laundering, to be added to the charges of honest services fraud (a type of mail fraud) that the group is facing. Most of the 33 parents who were arrested in the sweep haven't been formally indicted, due to the opportunity to negotiate a pre-indictment plea.And in a sign that prosecutors are putting the screws to parents, a lawyer for one couple who spoke with WSJ said his clients had rejected a deal offered by prosecutors, and would plead not guilty at trial. "They are definitely incentivizing parents to plead now and get a better deal than if they are indicted," Mr. Hooper said. He said he was told ahead of time that the money-laundering conspiracy charge would be added in the indictment.

Rutgers University faculty in New Jersey votes to strike - Teaching faculty at Rutgers University, including professors and graduate student teachers, voted last week by 88 percent for strike action to demand an increase in wages, smaller class sizes and other improvements across the university’s three campuses. The Rutgers chapter of the American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) has said it is preparing for a strike and starting Monday faculty will begin scheduling times for pickets in different locations around the large campus. There has never been a strike of faculty at Rutgers in its 253-year history, and this is the first strike authorization vote in 15 years.  The faculty at Rutgers have been working without a contract since last June. The union has met with university officials 33 times over the last 12 months but only “a few hours of time a month,” according to the union, which says at least two more meetings are scheduled before the end of the month. More than 2,100 full-time professors, 2,000 part-time teachers, and 906 graduate student teaching assistants are union members, about half of the 8,500 full-time and part-time faculty across the three campuses. At the end of 2018, 24 contracts covering faculty at the university expired. Since then, five contracts have been negotiated, with an average of a 3 percent raise, but against a 1.3 percent cost of living rise in the area, this means a real increase of a meager 1.7 percent. The demands of the faculty include raising the base pay of the student teachers, closing the gap between pay at the three Rutgers campuses—faculty at New Brunswick are paid better than colleagues at the Camden and Newark campuses—and equalizing the wages of female faculty with male faculty who have the same amount of teaching experience.

The inventors of insulin sold their patent for a buck. Why is it so expensive? - On March 22, 1922, Frederick Banting and his co-discover Charles Best announced the discovery of insulin, described in the Toronto Star as a "diabetes cure." But it wasn't a cure, it is just a replacement for the insulin that diabetics are not producing themselves, and they have to keep taking it forever. Fortunately, Banting and Best thought it should be available for everyone, so they sold the patent to the University of Toronto for one dollar. According to the Canadian Encyclopaedia: "Arguably one of Canada’s greatest contributions in the area of medical research, the discovery of insulin completely transformed the treatment of diabetes, saving millions of lives worldwide." So on this 97th anniversary of its public announcement, why are there headlines like "Americans are dying because they can’t afford their insulin"? Bernie Sanders wondered this too:  “Today in 1922, researchers at the University of Toronto announced the discovery of insulin. They sold the patent for $1 so it would be available to all,” he wrote. “97 years later, Eli Lilly is charging ~$300 and Americans die because they can’t afford their medication. Outrageous.”  In Canada, that same insulin costs $32. What's happening here? It turns out that in 1972 the University of Toronto sold Connaught Labs, which made insulin, to the Canada Development Corporation, which sold it to Sanofi, which is now one of the big producers. In 1982 Eli Lilly started selling genetically engineered synthetic insulin, and now, according to Wikipedia, "The vast majority of insulin currently used worldwide is now biosynthetic recombinant 'human' insulin or its analogues." OK, but even that patent would have expired. Except the companies keep making changes. According to T1International,   Pharmaceutical companies take advantage of loopholes in the U.S. patent system to build thickets of patents around their drugs which will make them last much longer (evergreening). This prevents competition and can keep prices high for decades.

 How Cubans Live As Long As Americans at One Tenth the Cost -- On public-access TV in 1985, Bernie Sanders defended an element of Fidel Castro’s regime: It was rarely mentioned that Castro provided health care to his country. Sanders grumbled that the same could not be said of then-President Reagan.  Sanders said he didn’t exactly remember the context for his comment (being 31 years ago) but that Cubans “do have a decent health-care system.” Many consider it more than decent. After a visit to Havana in 2014, the director-general of the World Health Organization Margaret Chan called for other countries to follow Cuba’s example in health care. Years before, the World Health Organization’s ranking of countries with “the fairest mechanism for health-system finance” put Cuba first among Latin American and Caribbean countries (and far ahead of the United States).Cuba has long had a nearly identical life expectancy to the United States, despite widespread poverty. The humanitarian-physician Paul Farmer notes in his book Pathologies of Power that there’s a saying in Cuba: “We live like poor people, but we die like rich people.” Farmer also notes that the rate of infant mortality in Cuba has been lower than in the Boston neighborhood of his own prestigious hospital, Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s.All of this despite Cuba spending just $813 per person annually on health care compared with America’s $9,403.In Cuba, health care is protected under the constitution as a fundamental human right. As a poor country, Cuba can’t afford to equivocate and waste money upholding that. This pressure seems to have created efficiency. Instead of pouring money into advanced medical technology, the system is forced to keep people healthy. It’s largely done, as the BBC has reported, through an innovative approach to primary care. Family doctors work in clinics and care for everyone in the surrounding neighborhood. At least once a year, the doctor knocks on your front door (or elsewhere, if you prefer) for a check-up. More than the standard American ritual of listening to your heart and lungs and asking if you’ve noticed any blood coming out of you abnormally, these check-ups involve extensive questions about jobs and social lives and environment—information that’s aided by being right there in a person’s home.

What Oklahoma’s Opioid Settlement Means for Other States, Cities and Counties Suing Purdue Pharma -- Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter recently announced that the state had reached a US$270 million settlement with Purdue Pharma, the largest manufacturer of prescription opioids. The settlement resolves the state’s claims against Purdue over costs incurred in addressing the opioid crisis and allows Purdue to avoid a trial that was scheduled for May.So the natural question arises: What does this development mean for the 1,700 or so cases brought largely by city and county governments against Purdue and a swath of other pharmaceutical-industry defendants?My advice for other plaintiffs and opioid victims, based on my nearly three decades studying and practicing civil litigation: Don’t get your hopes up. Most of the outstanding cases have been consolidated into so-called multidistrict litigation in Ohio. The court’s judge, Dan Polster, has pushed hard for a settlement. So will these cases follow Oklahoma’s lead and reach a settlement?Not so fast.Rumors have swirled around Purdue’s possible plan to seek bankruptcy protection from creditors, including the plaintiffs in the opioid cases. That plan may make sense to Purdue given that the ongoing litigation could result in judgments in the tens of billions of dollars – presumably far in excess than the combined net worth of the family that owns the private company, the Sacklers.But a bankruptcy filing would create havoc for any prospect of near-term settlement for the outstanding opioid cases. An automatic stay would be issued that would bring all pending U.S. litigation to a screeching halt – including the bellwether multidistrict trial, which is set for October.A bankruptcy judge with no familiarity with the case would suddenly find herself responsible for resolving perhaps the largest mass litigation of its kind in history in terms of monetary size. That judge would have to approve any new settlement involving ongoing litigation in other jurisdictions and would likely require it to be global. That’s a herculean task – just ask Polster, who had hoped to settle the cases before him by now. At the same time the alternative is also unthinkable in which all of the claims against Purdue would potentially relocate to the bankruptcy court where Purdue files. In other words, all 1,700 or so cases – including the multidistrict litigation and the state lawsuits – would be lumped together before the bankruptcy court to be resolved there.

American anti-vaxxers quarantined after children contract measles in Costa Rica’s first case for 13 years -- Two American children who had not been vaccinated by their parents have fallen ill with measles in Costa Rica, in the first case to originate in the country for 13 years. The Ministry of Health announced that it tested four American children between the ages of three and 10, who displayed symptoms of the disease after being treated at a clinic in the Cóbano region. Two of them tested positive. The parents, who are American citizens with five more children, never vaccinated their kids for measles. The case is the first time an individual contracted the measles virus while residing in Costa Rica since 2006. On Thursday, Patronato Nacional de la Infancia (PANI), Costa Rica’s the child welfare agency, placed the family of 11 under tight quarantine in Cabuya de Cóbano to prevent them from spreading the virus. “The children were treated at the CCSS (Social Security) Cóbano Clinic, have had a fever since 15 March and skin breakouts since the 18th,” the Health Ministry said in a statement. It is suspected that the children contracted measles from an American woman who visited the family before leaving the island on 12 March.   Costa Rican officials said national surveillance protocol would be used to determine if additional actions need to be taken to prevent the spread of the virus. “There will not be an epidemic of measles in our country,” Daniel Salas Peraza, the minister of health, told Tico Times.

 Rockland County Declares Measles State of Emergency, Bans Unvaccinated Minors From Public Spaces - Rockland County has declared a state of emergency and banned children who are unvaccinated against the measles from public places after a local outbreak entered its 26th week — the longest since the disease was eradicated in the United States in 2000, according to officials in the New York.The ban went into effect at midnight, Wednesday, barring anyone younger than 18 who is unvaccinated against the measles from public places until they receive the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. The ban expires in 30 days.Those unable to be vaccinated for documented and confirmed medical reasons are exempt from the declaration.  The outbreak started after seven unvaccinated travelers with measles entered the county in early October, Day said. As of Tuesday, there were 153 confirmed cases. Rockland County has been grappling with a measles outbreak in recent months affecting residents in Spring Valley, New Square and Monsey. Officials had previously asked students who are unvaccinated not to attend school. Still, Day said county officials have been met with "pockets of resistance" from people unwilling to comply with health department advice and this played a part in the decision to enact a ban. Anyone found in violation could face six months in jail and/or a $500 fine, Day said.

New York county declares measles outbreak emergency - A county in New York state has declared a state of emergency following a severe outbreak of measles. Rockland County, on the Hudson river north of New York City, has barred unvaccinated children from public spaces after 153 cases were confirmed. Violating the order will be punishable by a fine of $500 (£378) and up to six months in prison. The announcement follows other outbreaks of the disease in Washington, California, Texas and Illinois. Vaccination rates have dropped steadily in the US with many parents objecting for philosophical or religious reasons, or because they believe discredited information that vaccines cause autism in children. "We will not sit idly by while children in our community are at risk," Rockland County Executive Ed Day said. "This is a public health crisis and it is time to sound the alarm." The outbreak in Rockland County is largely concentrated in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, the New York Times reported. It is believed it could have spread from other predominantly ultra-Orthodox areas around New York which have already seen outbreaks of measles.Mr Day said health inspectors had encountered "resistance" from some local residents, which he branded "unacceptable and irresponsible"."They've been told 'We're not discussing this, do not come back' when visiting the homes of infected individuals as part of their investigations," he said.According to the CDC, there are 314 cases of measles currently reported in the US, with nearly half of those coming from Rockland County.Dylan Skriloff, the editor of local newspaper the Rockland County Times, told the BBC the number of measles cases in the county had been increasing steadily in recent weeks.  "The first reports came six months ago, and each week we've had a new report with increased numbers," he said.

The Anti-Vaxxer Movement Is Getting More Organized and Powerful Than Ever Before - In 2015, then-Texas state Senator Sylvia Garcia (D) introduced a bill requiring teachers, their aides and others who work in schools to have the same vaccinations as the children they oversee. “I just thought, it makes sense,” said Garcia, who is now a freshman member of the House of Representatives. “If we expect that out of the kids, we should expect that out of the people around them, otherwise we aren’t helping anybody.” On the day the bill was scheduled to be addressed in committee, Garcia entered the hearing room and was shocked to see it packed with demonstrators from Texans for Vaccine Choice. “It was a surprise because they had not approached me, they had not talked to me, and then all of the sudden there’s all these people crowded in the hearing room,” she said. The scene Garcia described from 2015 has since played out in committee rooms and legislative offices around the country as lawmakers try to end non-medical exemptions to certain childhood vaccinations in an effort to curb outbreaks of measles, mumps and other preventable diseases that have been made worse in areas where fewer children are vaccinated. Experts say the anti-vaccine or vaccine choice groups, as they commonly refer to themselves, are becoming larger, better organized and funded in part because their prolific use of social media, as well as the rise of a group founded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. which has helped to coordinate their efforts to push back on new laws. “Social media has given it a national presence. It’s no longer just a collection of different states, it’s now gone across the country,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccine researcher and pediatrician. “Right now you might call it a media empire—you have almost 500 anti-vaccine websites.” The campaign has not just been online or in the statehouses, either. On Feb. 22, 2019, Kennedy’s group, Children’s Health Defense, posted a call to action on its site to get activists to show up on Capitol Hill for a set of vaccine-related hearings.

BEWARE: McDonald’s touchscreens had enough fecal matter to ‘put people in the hospital,’ study finds - McDonald’s customers could be picking up more than just their meals if they use touchscreens to place their orders. According to a recent study, researchers found fecal matter on every touchscreen they tested at eight different McDonald’s restaurants. The amount of fecal matter found on each screen was “enough to put people in the hospital,” according to Metro. Researchers swabbed the screens at various McDonald’s restaurants in both Birmingham, England and London, England, some of which included newer touchscreens that had just been installed. The study indicated that numerous customers placed their orders using the touchscreens, then ate their meals without washing their hands after touching the screens. “We were all surprised how much gut and faecal bacteria there was on the touchscreen machines. These cause the kind of infections that people pick up in hospitals,” Dr. Paul Matewele of London Metropolitan University said. NBC 25 reports that one of the touchscreens “tested positive for staphylococcus,” a group of contagious bacteria that can cause people to develop skin infections, toxic shock syndrome, as well as blood poisoning. “Seeing Staphylococcus on these machines is worrying because it is so contagious,” Dr. Matewale said. Further, listeria bacteria was found on touchscreens in one of the restaurants. Listeria bacteria, also contagious, can cause women to have miscarriages and stillbirth, according to Matewale.

Food Companies Are Making Their Products Addictive, and It's Sickening (Literally) - Can't stop eating that bag of chips until you're licking the salt nestled in the corners of the empty package from your fingers? You're not alone. And it's not entirely your fault that the intended final handful of chips was not, indeed, your last for that snacking session. Many common snack foods have been expertly engineered to keep us addicted, almost constantly craving more of whatever falsely satisfying manufactured treat is in front of us."Humans have an inherited preference for energy-rich foods — like fats and sugars — and thus natural selection has predisposed us to foods high in sugar and fat," explains Jennifer Kaplan, instructor of the course Introduction to Food Systems at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, California. "Food scientists know this and create ingredients that are far higher in fat and sugar than occur in nature. The most common such sugar is high-fructose corn syrup and is therefore intrinsically addictive." In fact, foods that didn't used to be sweet, like pasta sauce, are now artificially sweetened to keep consumers craving the product, with sugar levels that can rival those found in packaged desserts.High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is found in everything from ketchup and salad dressing to cereal and breads — foods that aren't necessarily perceived as sweet — and sometimes even in "healthier" alternatives, like light beer. Anheuser-Busch, the St. Louis-based brewer of Bud Light, highlighted the popular beer's lack of HFCS during a controversial Super Bowl commercial. The ad, which tried to push Bud Light as the more desirable light beer because of its lack of corn syrup (as opposed to its competitors), notably annoyed the brewery's neighboring midwestern corn farmers, who are subsidized by the U.S. government to essentially keep pumping our processed foods As an ingredient, HFCS was shown in a 2013 study to be as addictive as drugs, like cocaine or heroin, withsalt proven to have similarly addictive, opioid-like qualities. Australian neuroscientist Craig Smith has studied the effect of salt cravings in humans for years, concluding that eating excessive amounts of sodium makes people crave salt more, and those who eat less junk food can benefit from lower salt cravings and therefore fewer of the negative effects associated with too much salt consumption.

California avocado recall 2019- Everything you need to know - Over the weekend, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a new food recall involving avocados out of California. This is a voluntary recall impacting a large number of people in multiple US states where the produce must be destroyed to prevent risk of illness. At the heart of the matter is an organism called Listeria that can, in some cases, be deadly. On March 23, the FDA announced that Henry Avocado Corportation had initiated a voluntary recall of avocados grown in California that were sold whole in bulk at various retail stores. The recall was initiated after a routine test on samples at the company’s California packing facility. The company said in a statement that it is ‘taking every action possible’ to alert and protect consumers. The recall covers both conventional and organic avocados that were distributed to stores in Wisconsin, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Florida, Arizona, and California. According to the company, covered conventional avocados can be identified by the ‘Bravocado’ stickers on the products. The recalled organic Henry Avocado products don’t feature this label, instead featuring stickers that say ‘California.’ Stores are being alerted about the recall in order to pull the products from shelves. During a routine government inspection of Henry Avocado Corp’s California packing facility, a test on environmental samples revealed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes, an organism that can cause serious, potentially fatal, illnesses in people who contract it. The elderly, health-compromised, and very young are particularly vulnerable to serious outcomes. The FDA states that individuals who contract this organism may experience nausea, high fever, severe headaches, stomach pain, diarrhea, and stiffness. Pregnant women are at risk of experiencing stillbirths or miscarriages. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek medical assistance.

EBOLA CRISIS- Outbreaks hit 1,000 cases as 600 killed – medical centres ATTACKED -- THE EBOLA epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo has surpassed 1,000 cases, the Health Ministry has confirmed, adding the outbreak had already killed more than 600 people.  Ebola spreads among people through contact with bodily fluids. It causes haemorrhagic fever with severe vomiting, diarrhoea and bleeding – more than half of cases are fatal.  The current outbreak is the second-deadliest ever recorded, behind the 2013-2016 crisis in West Africa that killed more than 11,000 people, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The total is now 1,009 new cases,” Congolese health officials said in a statement. “But the response, led by the Health Ministry in collaboration with its partners, has limited the geographical spread.” Out of the 1,009 cases, 944 are confirmed as Ebola and 65 are probable; while out of the 629 deaths 564 are confirmed as Ebola and 65 are probable. Ebola is one of the most deadly known viruses, killing more than half of those infected by it. Last week, the WHO warned of an increase in the weekly rate of confirmed Ebola cases after several weeks of decline, citing “increased security challenges, including the recent direct attacks on treatment centres, and pockets of community mistrust” as causes for the spike. “The communities affected by this outbreak are already traumatised by conflict. Their fear of violence is now compounded by fear of Ebola. Community engagement takes time. There are no quick fixes. But we are learning and adapting to the evolving context every day. “Despite the increased frequency of attacks by armed groups, WHO will stay the course and will work with communities to end this outbreak together with the Ministry of Health and partners,” he continued.

Bacteria can travel thousands of miles through the air on its own - A new study is providing evidence that bacteria can fly thousands of miles through the air without depending on people and animals for transport. According to the experts, their new “air bridge” theory may explain how harmful bacteria have the same antibiotic resistance genes in common. Study senior author Konstantin Severinov is a principal investigator at the Waksman Institute of Microbiology and a professor of Molecular Biology at Rutgers University. “Our research suggests that there must be a planet-wide mechanism that ensures the exchange of bacteria between faraway places,” said Professor Severinov. “Because the bacteria we study live in very hot water – about 160 degrees Fahrenheit – in remote places, it is not feasible to imagine that animals, birds or humans transport them. They must be transported by air and this movement must be very extensive so bacteria in isolated places share common characteristics.” The investigation was focused on “molecular memories” that are stored in bacterial DNA, providing a record of when the bacteria encountered viruses. Bacteriophages, which are viruses that infect bacteria, can be found everywhere on the planet that bacteria exist and have a profound influence on microbial populations. The scientists collected Thermus thermophilus bacteria in hot gravel on Mount Vesuvius and from hot springs in Italy, Chile, and Russia. After bacterial cells are infected by viruses, they store molecular memories in special regions of bacterial DNA called CRISPR arrays. Cells that survive infections pass the memories as small pieces of viral DNA to their offspring. Scientists can trace the history of the bacterial interaction with viruses by looking at the chronological order of the memories.

Study Links Air Pollution and Teenage Psychotic Experiences - Air pollution has long been known to have a potentially deadly impact on the heart and lungs, but increasing evidence is showing it might be bad for the brain as well. Studies have linked it to dementia, and now, researchers at King's College London have found the first evidence of an association between exposure to polluted air and experiences of psychosis in teens. The study, published Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry, looked at more than 2,000 17-year-olds born in England and Wales and found that those who lived in polluted areas were 27 to 72 percent more likely than those who did not to have psychotic experiences like hearing voices or feeling intensely paranoid, The New York Times reported. Nitrogen dioxide and nitrogen oxides, the pollutants released by diesel vehicles, were the most associated with psychotic symptoms. In the areas most polluted with nitrogen oxides, 12 teens reported experiencing symptoms for every 20 who did not; in less polluted areas, seven teens reported symptoms compared to 20 who did not, The Guardian reported. "There seems to be some link between exposure to air pollution and effects in the brain and this [new research] is perhaps another example of this," study author and King's College London professor Frank Kelly told The Guardian. "Children and young people are most vulnerable to the health impacts of air pollution owing to the juvenility of the brain and respiratory system." The researchers took into account other factors such as smoking, alcohol and marijuana use, psychiatric history and income level and found that exposure to nitrogen oxides explained 60 percent of the association between living in polluted areas and psychosis symptoms. However, the researchers noted that this was a preliminary, observational study and could not prove that pollution caused the symptoms.

Second Roundup Verdict: Jury Finds Weedkiller a “Substantial Cause” of Plantiff’s Cancer -Jerri-lynn Scofield -  A San Francisco jury found last Tuesday that Roundup – the glyphosate-based weedkiller – was “a substantial cause “ of the plaintiff Edwin Hardeman’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, in the first of a three-phrase process, which focused only on scientific evidence.Roundup is the largest selling herbicide in the world, originally developed and marketed by US agricultural company Monsanto. Following a $63  billion acquisition last June, Bayer, the German pharmaceuticals company better known for its aspirin, also assumed the Roundup legal liability.On Wednesday, the same jury began the second trial phase, during which it will decide whether Bayer is liable. If the jury decides yes, the third and final phase would determine damages.This is the second time since last August that a jury has found in favour of a Roundup plaintiff, according to the Wall Street Journal’s account, Monsanto Hit by $289 Million Verdict in Cancer Case. A judge scaled back the jury damages award to $78 million from $289 million; that earlier verdict is under appeal. At least 11,200 further legal claims are pending – more than 760 in the same San Francisco federal district court that heard Hardeman’s case, as reported in U.S. Jury Hears More Evidence as Second Phase of Roundup Cancer Trial Begins by the New York Times.The Grey Lady’s coverage warns that this second verdict is a serious setback to the new trial strategy Bayer had adopted for the second proceeding in Jury Finding Upends Bayer’s Roundup Defense Strategy: Experts The jury decision was a blow to Bayer after the judge in the Hardeman case, at the company’s request, had split the trial, severely limiting evidence plaintiffs could present in the first phase. Tuesday’s defeat on terms considered advantageous to Bayer sets up the second phase to be even tougher and limits the grounds on which the company could appeal any final verdict, the experts said.

Monsanto Ordered to Pay $80 Million in Roundup Cancer Case - A federal jury on Wednesday ordered Monsanto to pay more than $80 million in damages to a California man whose cancer it determined was partly caused by his use of the popular weedkiller Roundup. The six-member jury found that Monsanto should be held liable for the man’s illness because it failed to include a label on its product warning of the weedkiller’s risk of causing cancer. The verdict, delivered in United States District Court in San Francisco, is a milestone in the continuing public debate over the health effects of Roundup and its active ingredient, glyphosate, the world’s most widely used weedkiller. Monsanto is currently defending itself against thousands of similar claims. The plaintiff, Edwin Hardeman, 70, used Roundup to control weeds and poison oak on his property for 26 years. In 2015, he learned that he had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The next year, after the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer declared glyphosate a probable carcinogen, Mr. Hardeman sued Monsanto. Wednesday’s verdict ended the second of two phases in the trial. Last week, the jury issued an initial verdict saying that the weedkiller was a “substantial factor” in causing Mr. Hardeman’s cancer. The jury then started deliberating on Tuesday afternoon about whether Monsanto demonstrated negligence and should be held liable. In determining that Monsanto was responsible, the jury awarded Mr. Hardeman $75 million in punitive damages, Jennifer Moore, one of his lawyers, said in a phone interview. About $5 million was also awarded for Mr. Hardeman’s past and future suffering, as well as more than $200,000 for medical bills, Ms. Moore said. Ms. Moore said that Monsanto had continually ignored scientific studies showing the harmful health effects of Roundup.

Monsanto Found Liable for Man’s Cancer, Ordered to Pay $80 Million in Damages  – In a victory for consumers and yet another massive blow to Monsanto, a federal jury on Wednesday found the company liable for causing a California man’s cancer and ordered it to pay $80 million in damages. “The jury resoundingly held Monsanto accountable for its 40 years of corporate malfeasance and sent a message to Monsanto that it needs to change the way it does business,” said the legal team of 70-year-old Edwin Hardeman, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) in 2015 after using Roundup on his property for more than two decades. “It is clear from Monsanto’s actions that it does not care whether Roundup causes cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about Roundup,” Hardeman’s lawyers added. Earlier this month, the San Francisco jury ruled that Roundup was a “substantial factor” in the development of Hardeman’s cancer. In its Wednesday ruling, the jury said Monsanto—which was acquired by German pharmaceutical giant Bayer last year—should be held liable for failing to give sufficient warnings about Roundup’s cancer risks. “Clearly, the testimony that informed the jury’s decision was Bayer-Monsanto hiding Roundup’s carcinogenic properties, manipulating the science, and cozying up with EPA so it would not have to warn consumers of its dangerous product,” Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, said in a statement.

More Than 90 Percent of Americans Have Pesticides or Their Byproducts in Their Bodies - Every year US farmers use about a billion pounds of chemicals on crops, including the fruits, nuts, and vegetables many parents beg their kids to eat. The Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration are charged with ensuring that these chemicals don’t endanger consumers, and both agencies test the food supply for pesticide residues each year. They focus on foods eaten by babies and children, whose developing bodies are particularly sensitive to toxic chemicals, and typically report that pesticide residues in these products rarely exceed safety standards.  Yet, experts say, the agencies’ pesticide-monitoring approach suffers from several limitations that make it difficult to draw meaningful conclusions about pesticide risks to the nation’s food supply. What’s more, government agencies don’t monitor risks to farmworkers who labor among those chemicals, or to pregnant women and children who live near agricultural fields.   Since pesticide monitoring began about three decades ago, scientists have learned that even low doses of pesticides and other synthetic chemicals can harm children and that exposure to chemical mixtures, particularly during critical windows of neurodevelopment, may carry serious health risks that take years to emerge. And though crops are often sprayed with multiple chemicals over the growing season, both agencies track pesticide residues one chemical at a time, to determine whether a specific chemical exceeds safety standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.   That’s why, several years ago, scientists at the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit consumer-advocacy group, started doing their own analysis of pesticides on produce.   About 70 percent of US produce harbors traces of pesticides, the EWG reports in its latest shoppers’ guide to the “ dirty dozen,” those fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide load. More than 90 percent of Americans have pesticides or their byproducts in their bodies, mostly from eating conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. Health experts worry that the EPA’s pesticide-residue safety levels are too high to protect young children.  Olga Naidenko, the EWG’s senior science adviser for children’s environmental health, says she was surprised to see kale contaminated with a chemical called dacthal, which the EPA classifies as a possible human carcinogen and European regulators banned in 2009. Among the more troubling pesticides found on spinach is permethrin, a neurotoxic insecticide that’s been linked to ADHD.

Rising Temperatures Will Help Mosquitos Infect a Billion More People - Mosquitoes are unrelenting killers. In fact, they are among the most lethal animals in the world. When they carry dangerous viruses or other organisms, a bite can be unforgiving. They cause millions of deaths every year from such infectious diseases as malaria, dengue, Zika, chikungunya, yellow fever and at least a dozen more.But here's the really bad news: climate change is expected to make them even deadlier. As the planet heats up, these insects will survive winter and proliferate, causing an estimated billion or more new infections by the end of the century, according to new research."Plain and simple, climate change is going to kill a lot of people," said biologist Colin J. Carlson, a postdoctoral fellow in Georgetown University's biology department, and co-author of the study, published in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. "Mosquito-borne diseases are going to be a big way that happens, especially as they spread from the tropics to temperate countries." The study predicted an amenable climate could prompt some of these new cases within regions not previously regarded as vulnerable, including the U.S. These viruses can result in volatile outbreaks when conditions are right, as was the case with Zika. "We've known about Zika since 1947, and we watched it slowly spread around the world until 2015, when it arrived in Brazil and suddenly we had an explosive epidemic on our hands," Carlson said."Chikungunya has done something not too different from that," he added. "These viruses proliferate quickly in populations that don't have any immunity — and we're very scared about that. If you only have one month that's warm enough for outbreaks, the question is: 'how much damage you can do…?' For viruses like these, it's a lot."The study underscores the growing evidence that climate change is having — and will continue to have — a deleterious impact on global health, not only from the direct effects of extreme weather events like heat waves and flooding, but also because mosquitoes thrive in warm temperatures and carbon dioxide, encouraging them to flourish and spread disease. Rising temperatures also are causing many to migrate to new locations.

Stanford researchers explore the effects of climate change on disease --  Wild creatures seek out weather that suits them. But a changing climate is moving that comfort zone for many animals, including disease-carrying mosquitoes that kill about 1 million people a year.  Stanford biologist Erin Mordecai and her colleagues have made startling forecasts of how climate change will alter where mosquito species are most comfortable and how quickly they spread disease, shifting the burden of disease around the world. A major takeaway: wealthy, developed countries such as the United States are not immune. “It’s coming for you,” Mordecai said. “If the climate is becoming more optimal for transmission, it’s going to become harder and harder to do mosquito control.”Mosquitoes and other biting insects transmit many of the most important, devastating and neglected human infectious diseases, including malaria, dengue fever, chikungunya and West Nile virus. Economic development and cooler temperatures have largely kept mosquito-borne diseases out of wealthier Northern Hemisphere countries, but climate change promises to tip the scales in the other direction.“As the planet warms, we need to be able to predict what populations will be at risk for infectious diseases because prevention is always superior to reaction,” said Desiree LaBeaud, an associate professor of pediatrics in the Stanford Medical School who collaborates on research with Mordecai. Mordecai’s research has found that warmer temperatures increase transmission of vector-borne disease up to an optimum temperature or “turn-over point,” above which transmission slows. Just as they carry different diseases, different mosquitoes are adapted to a range of temperatures. For example, malaria is most likely to spread at 25 degrees Celsius (78 degrees Fahrenheit) while the risk of Zika is highest at 29 degrees Celsius (84 degrees Fahrenheit). Mordecai’s lab is working to predict thermal responses for 13 such diseases and to map future changes in their distribution accordingly. Among the findings so far: carriers of dengue are among the warmest adapted, so will likely continue to plague hot regions such as sub-Saharan Africa. Mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus, however, prefer a more temperate climate, so likely will migrate to historically cooler regions such as the U.S. as the climate warms.

 Thyroid cancers near Lake Norman baffle researchers. But they might have clues. Investigations into a baffling number of thyroid cancers in southern Iredell County are picking up momentum, even as answers so far elude researchers. Some of the state’s top health and environment officials, legislators and scientists from Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill met Thursday night with local physicians to brief them on ongoing research.  s.Duke researchers said they will dig deeper into two potential sources of ionizing radiation, the only environmental source clearly linked to thyroid cancer: radon, a naturally-occurring radioactive gas, and coal ash, which can contain radioactive elements and is stored nearby.   Occurrences of papillary thyroid cancer, the most common form, are rising globally and in North Carolina since the mid-1990s, said a N.C. Department of Health and Human Services report released in January. But between 2005 and 2009, the rate in Iredell County rose significantly higher than in the state as a whole. Two southern Iredell zip codes — 28115 and 28117 — had still higher cancer rates. While 11.6 cancer cases were diagnosed for every 100,000 people statewide between 2012 and 2016, Iredell’s rate was 21.8 cases. Southeastern and southwestern Iredell, in turn, had higher rates than the overall county rate.   Eleven other counties also reported thyroid cancers above the state rate, including Rowan and Cabarrus near Iredell County. Another apparent hot spot is in the Cape Fear region near Wilmington.  Scientists are rarely able to pinpoint environmental sources of cancer. The disease may appear only years after an exposure, and people have often moved from place to place in that time. Specific forms may afflict relatively few people, complicating the work.  Radiation is the only known environmental source clearly linked to thyroid cancer, DHHS said, but some research suggests that chemicals in flame retardants, benzene, nitrates and some pesticides might also be associated with the disease.

Cancer Cluster At California Elementary School Results In Removal Of Sprint Cell Phone Tower -  A Sprint cell phone tower will be removed from a California elementary school after four students and three teachers were diagnosed with cancer.  Weston Elementary School in Ripon, CA went on high alert after the controversy erupted two years ago - with some parents even pulling their children from school over the tower which Sprint has been paying the school $2,000 per month to place on its property. The Ripon Unified School District initially defended the cell phone tower earlier this month, with board president Kit Oase saying tests done on the tower had found it was operating within safety standards.  Monica Ferrulli, whose son was treated for brain cancer in 2017, said RUSD has cited an obsolete American Cancer Society study in keeping the tower in place since the controversy erupted two years ago. “It is just denial,” Ferrulli told the board. She vowed that parents will continue to fight and keep their children out of the school. -Modesto Bee   Around 200 parents attended a meeting after a fourth student was diagnosed with cancer on March 8.   Richard Rex, whose family lives across the street from Weston School, said a bump appeared on his 11-year-old son’s abdomen a month ago. He said his son’s classroom is near the tower.  The parents first thought it was a skating injury. Instead of going to science camp, 11-year-old Brad was taken to doctors for examinations and tests that found a tumor wrapped around his liver. The boy now has a portal for starting cancer treatment, the parents said.  Richard Rex said he’s hearing different options for treating the cancer. “They said they can shrink it and cut it out. They’re also talking liver transplant. It is very scary,” Rex said. -Modesto Bee Sprint representative Adrienne Norton said that the company has been "working with the community in Ripon to address their concerns."  The potential negative health effects from electromagnetic fields (EMFs) emitted by cell towers or transmission lines have been long debated. While the National Cancer Institute cites studies which conclude that EMFs are a possible human carcinogen based on research which focused on childhood leukemia, The institute's website says there are no increased risks from brain tumors or other cancers based on European epidemiological studies.

Clean Water: UNICEF Shows More Children Die from Diarrhea than Direct Violence in Conflict Zones -Jerri-lynn Scofield - Friday was World Water Day and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) produced a report, Water Under Fire, documenting how deadly tainted water can be to children in war zones.Lack of access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is far more dangerous to children in conflict zones than direct violence. From the report: In protracted conflicts, children younger than 15 are, on average, nearly three times more likely to die from diarrhoeal disease linked to unsafe water and sanitation than violence directly linked to conflict and war. For younger children, the impact of unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene is greater: Children under 5 are more than 20 times more likely to die from diarrhoeal disease linked to unsafe water and sanitation than violence in conflict (report, p. 3)The report isn’t based on anecdote and examined World Health Organization (WHO) mortality estimates in 16 countries undergoing protracted conflict: Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen. World Health Organization (WHO) mortality estimates were used for ‘collective violence’ and ‘diarrhoeal disease’.Using HO data covering 2014-2016 and published in 2018, the report concluded that 85,700 children under the age of fifteen died from WASH-related diarrhea, compared to 31,000 deaths due to direct violence. Most deaths were of children under the age of five, 72,000 of whom died due to diarrhoea, compared to 3,400 from direct violence (report, p. 5). The report didn’t offer much by way of solutions, other than a call to combatants to stop targeting water infrastructure during such conflicts. The problem of WASH fatalities isn’t limited to war zones, and it is expected to get worse, due to increased water scarcity, some of which may be exacerbated by climate change. As the Guardian reports in Diarrhoea kills more children in war zones than war itself – Unicef more than 4 billion people and 844 million lack access to water close to home. WaterAid, a non-profit set up in 1981, estimates diarrhea caused by dirty water and a lack of sanitation kills nearly 800 children a day.

Clean drinking water a bigger global threat than climate change, EPA's Wheeler says -  Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler says that unsafe drinking water -- not climate change -- poses the greatest and most immediate global threat to the environment.  "We have 1,000 children die everyday worldwide because they don't have safe drinking water," Wheeler told Garrett. "That's a crisis that I think we can solve. We know what goes into solving a crisis like that. It takes resources, it takes infrastructure and and the United States is working on that. But I really would like to see maybe the United Nations, the World Bank focus more on those problems today to try to save those children. Those thousand children each day, they have names, we know who they are."  The World Health Organization estimates that at least 2 billion people globally use a drinking water source contaminated with feces. It's unclear what, if any, new funding the Trump administration might be providing for the clean water push.  Climate change, Wheeler said, "is an important change we have to be addressing and we are addressing." But he added that "most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out," while unsafe drinking water is killing people right now. Wheeler noted that the U.S. has already cut CO2 emissions, which are thought to be the primary driver of climate change, by "14 percent since 2005." He argued that the U.S. is "doing much better than most westernized countries on reducing their CO2 emissions, but what we need to do is make sure that the whole world is focused on the people who are dying today, the thousand children that die everyday from lack of drinking water. That is something where we have the technology, we know what it will take to save those children. And internationally, we need to step up and do something there."  

Your mama's so fat she can drink WV water - Bil Lepp: “Your mama is so fat she can drink West Virginia water and not get cancer.” The West Virginia Manufacturers Association, according to reports, just busted hard on your mama. They are arguing that, because West Virginians are heavier than people in other states — and they don’t mean larger, they mean fatter — our bodies can tolerate higher levels of cancer-causing chemicals. Your mother is a circus sideshow performer to the West Virginia Manufacturers Association. “Step right up and see The Amazing Fat Lady from Big Ugly drink poison from her faucet! She can drink 10 times as much poison as little ladies from other states!” And the reason they want your mama to drink poison is so they can make money. This claim didn’t happen by accident. There wasn’t a fluke and this report just magically spewed forth from a printer. This report was created by human beings. The West Virginia Manufacturers Association presumably had a meeting in which someone theoretically asked, “How can we convince the government to let us put more chemicals in the water?” Then, hypothetically, somebody said, “West Virginians are fat. Write that down. Write down West Virginians can tolerate more toxins ‘cause they are fat.” Maybe someone in the group said, “Gosh, that seems harsh,” but, in the end, the folks at the top apparently signed off on the report with a wink and a backslap while saying, and I’m just conjecturing here, “Way to think outside the box, fellas!”  I don’t know who wrote the report, or whose idea it was, but the West Virginia Manufacturers Association — actual living, breathing human beings — agreed that the best way to pump more chemicals into our streams and rivers was to capitalize on your mother’s weight problem.   Probably, they innocently forgot that there are babies and small children in West Virginia, too.

Devon’s largest ever fatberg successfully removed - A 64m-long (210ft) mass of congealed fat oil and grease, wet-wipes and cotton buds found in the sewers of Sidmouth has been cleared. For seven weeks, a team of workers removed the huge mass found by Charlie Ewart, who was inspecting the sewers. Mr Ewart and his colleagues "braved exceptionally challenging conditions to break up the beast", South West Water (SWW) said. It added: "The 64m fatberg is the biggest ever discovered in Devon or Cornwall and is thought to be one of the largest found so close to the sea." The team had to be winched into the sewer and for the first few days needed to wear full breathing apparatus because of dangerous gases in the pipe. Occasionally, water levels in the sewer made it too dangerous to enter. Specialist equipment and manual labour were used to break up the fatberg before it was loaded on to tankers. 

Who keeps buying California’s scarce water? Saudi Arabia - Four hours east of Los Angeles, in a drought-stricken area of a drought-afflicted state, is a small town called Blythe where alfalfa is king. More than half of the town’s 94,000 acres are bushy blue-green fields growing the crop. Massive industrial storehouses line the southern end of town, packed with thousands upon thousands of stacks of alfalfa bales ready to be fed to dairy cows – but not cows in California’s Central Valley or Montana’s rangelands. Instead, the alfalfa will be fed to cows in Saudi Arabia. The storehouses belong to Fondomonte Farms, a subsidiary of the Saudi Arabia-based company Almarai – one of the largest food production companies in the world. The company sells milk, powdered milk and packaged items such as croissants, strudels and cupcakes in supermarkets and corner stores throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and in specialty grocers throughout the US. Each month, Fondomonte Farms loads the alfalfa on to hulking metal shipping containers destined to arrive 24 days later at a massive port stationed on the Red Sea, just outside King Abdullah City in Saudi Arabia. With the Saudi Arabian landscape there being mostly desert and alfalfa being a water-intensive crop, growing it there has always been expensive and draining on scarce water resources, to the point that the Saudi government finally outlawed the practice in 2016. In the wake of the ban, Almarai decided to purchase land wherever it is cheap and has favorable water conditions to produce enough feed for its 93,000 cows. In 2012, they acquired 30,000 acres of land in Argentina, and in 2014, they bought their first swath of land in Arizona. Then, in 2015, they bought 1,700 acres in Blythe – a vast, loamy, agricultural metropolis abutting the Colorado river, where everything but the alfalfa seems cast in the hue of sand. Four years later, the company owns 15,000 acres – 16% of the entire irrigated valley. But what business does a foreign company have drawing precious resources from a US desert to offset a lack of resources halfway around the globe? What Fondomonte Farms is doing is merely a chapter in the long story of water management in the west, one that pierces the veil on the inanities of the global supply chain – how easy it is to move a commodity like alfalfa, or for that matter lettuce or clementines or iPhones, across more than 13,000 miles of land and sea, how much we rely on these crisscrossing supply lines, and at what cost to our own natural resources.

‘We Fear Drought More Than War,’ Say Border Villagers in Gujarat - Mota is among the last villages before the international border in western Kutch. Jaloya is about 35 km from the international border in north Gujarat’s Banaskantha district. Both districts are going through one of the worst droughts in recent history. Kutch has received only 26% of its 30-year annual average rainfall, while Banaskantha has received 33%. The talukas – administrative subdivisions – within which the two villages are located have fared even worse. Mota is located in Bhuj taluka, which has received 22% of its 30-year average rainfall. Suigam taluka, which contains Jaloya, has received only 10% of its average. Both villages were visited by TV crews in recent days during the India-Pakistan military standoff after the attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama, which led to the deaths of 40 security personnel. “Nobody comes here. So we were happy that they had come. But they only asked us about the war,” said Bahema Rabari, a 38-year-old farmer and cattle herder in Jaloya. “We have had no water for the last 12 months. But they only asked us if we were scared of the war.” Rabari told the TV crew that he wasn’t. “We fear drought more than war. War has to be fought by the army, not us. The drought has to be fought by us,” he told The Wire, standing in his parched field which resembled a desert.Mota, too, played host to TV crews. “They asked us if any bombs were dropped on us,” said Mukim Hussain Jat, a 40-year-old cattle herder, laughing. According to residents, Mota received rainfall only on one day in July 2018. “We saw dark clouds gather and it began to rain. The atmosphere turned festive,” Mukim told The Wire. It stopped less than a minute later, recounted Mukim. “It came and went like a dream. And it never rained again the entire season,” Mukim said.

It Was 70 Degrees in Alaska Last Week    - Forget Cancun. Spring break in Alaska is where it’s at. Bizarre March warmth has engulfed the Frontier State, setting an all-time temperature record in the latest manifestation of a new climate gripping the Arctic. On Tuesday, Klawock, Alaska topped out at 70 degrees Fahrenheit. That marks the earliest 70-degree Fahrenheit day ever recorded in Alaska. The previous record was set just three years ago when Klawock reached 71 degrees Fahrenheit on March 31. In comparison, many cities in the Northeast have yet to crack that mark.Now Klawock is pretty far south in Alaska, sitting about equidistant between Anchorage and Seattle. But the rest of the state, while not quite as sizzling, has been in the grips of a serious warm wave. In addition to Klawock, at least five other locations set monthly high temperature records according to an analysis by Alaska weather watcher Rick Thoman.The warm weather led organizers to cancel the Tok Race of Champions dog sled race, which takes place about 250 miles northeast of Anchorage.Organizers said that the “unprecedented warm weather” had made “trails unsafe for Mushers and their dogs by this weekend.” This marks only the second time the event has been called off. The heat didn’t stop at the border, either. Record-setting warmth spread over western Canada and the Pacific Northwest as monthly records fell across British Columbia, Alberta, the Northwest Territories, and the Yukon. And not to be outdone by the 70s in Alaska, temperatures topped 81 degrees Fahrenheit in Quillayute on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula and 79 degrees Fahrenheit in Seattle. Both are all-time March records.

‘A punch in the gut’: Farmers hit by tariffs see crops swept away by flood — His farm is still cut off by floodwaters, so Iowa soybean farmer Pat Sheldon had to view the damage from the air. On a helicopter ride over what seemed like an endless stretch of water, he came to a place he recognized as his own land — and saw that one of the grain silos had burst open, spilling yellow soybeans into the dingy, toxic water. “It was like a punch in the gut,” Sheldon said. “You work hard planting, taking care of these beans and harvesting them. Then, to have that happen makes you almost physically ill,” he said. Although the water has yet to recede enough for a true examination, Sheldon says more than $350,000 of his corn and soybeans is in jeopardy, and he worries he may lose the farm that’s been in his family for generations. Before the terrible “bomb cyclone” sent warm rain down on frozen ground, resulting in catastrophic flooding throughout the Midwest and displacing thousands, American farmers were already struggling after several seasons of low commodity prices and the continuing trade war with China. In towns along the overflowing Mississippi and Missouri rivers, farmers are seeing their crops — and their futures — swept away by floodwaters. In Nebraska, Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) has called the flooding “the most widespread destruction we have ever seen in our state’s history.” Iowa has more than 100,000 acres of farmland still underwater. Officials from both states say the damage estimates are more than $1 billion and counting. “Essentially, it’s two years of negative; these farmers lost what was stored in the bins and won’t be able to plant next year’s crop. So it’s going to be really tough for a lot of people.” Some farmers had more soybeans in storage this year than normal, according to Frayne Olson, a crop economist and marketing specialist with North Dakota State University. The government estimates there are more than 3.7 billion bushels of soybeans still in storage — a record — partly because Chinese purchases of the grain have plummeted in recent months during the ongoing tariff war. “A lot of farmers have not been selling, hoping for better prices and some kind of trade agreement,” Olson said.

"As Many As A Million Calves Lost In Nebraska" – Beef Prices To Escalate Dramatically In Coming Months - According to Agriculture Secretary Sunny Purdue, there “may be as many as a million calves lost in Nebraska” due to the catastrophic flooding that has hit the state. This number comes to us directly from the top agriculture official in the entire country, and it means that the economic toll from the recent floods is far greater than most of us had anticipated. You can watch Purdue make this quote on Fox Business right here, and it is important to remember that this number is just for one state.  It is hard to imagine what the final numbers will look like when the livestock losses for all of the states affected by the flooding are tallied up.  This is already the worst agricultural disaster in modern American history, and the National Weather Service is telling us that there will be more catastrophic flooding throughout the middle portion of the nation for the next two months.  Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts says that this is the worst flooding that his state has ever experienced.  Ricketts originally told us that 65 out of the 93 counties in his state have declared a state of emergency, but that number has now risen to 74.  Hundreds of millions of dollars of damage has been done in his state alone, and that is just an initial estimate. It deeply offends me that the big mainstream news channels have spent so little time covering this disaster. This is the biggest news story of 2019 so far by a very wide margin, but because it happened in the middle of the country they are not giving it the attention that it deserves. In the short-term, food prices will not rise too dramatically because the stores are selling the food that has already been produced.  But as the months roll along, you will start to notice food prices steadily increase.  Millions of bushels of wheat, corn and soybeans have been destroyed by the flooding so far, and thousands of farmers will not be able to plant crops at all this year.  And the livestock losses that we have already experienced will be felt for many years to come.

Farmers in the Midwest Face Decades of Recovery as Flooding Strips Away Crucial Soil - The Midwest floods continue to be a slow-moving disaster. Towns, farms, and infrastructure are still underwater in Nebraska, and water will take months to work through the vast network of rivers, creeks, and streams that drain the Upper Midwest into the Gulf of Mexico. The damage to the region could last much longer than that, though. It could require years to rebuild infrastructure, but the real challenge will be restoring the region’s greatest resource, the reason there are so many farms there in the first place: its soil.Early estimates indicate the floods could be responsible for $440 million in crop losses in Nebraska, which sits at the epicenter of the floods. That number could easily rise the longer floodwaters cut farmers off from fields and prevent spring plantings. That’s bad news for a state where one in four jobs are tied to or supported by farming, according to the state’s Department of Agriculture. States next door are dealing with their own varying levels of crisis from rivers overtopping their banks. Even after the floodwater recedes, the region’s farms and the soil they’re built on could face a long road to recovery, spanning years or decades. Soaked soils couldn’t absorb the sudden influx of water, and so it began to run off into rivers and streams, scraping the earth away with it. Add in dam and levee failures, and the torrent truly clawed away at the Midwest’s most bountiful resource.Basically what it’s going to do is going to erode the most productive topsoil,” Mahdi Al-Kaisi, a soil and water specialist with Iowa State’s extension program, told Earther. “This is why we need to think about climate change more seriously. That’s become very destructive to this whole system and put a lot of stress on these surfaces.”It’s not even just the top layer of soil that’s being ripped up and washed away. Where the floodwaters have receded, huge blocks of soil have been gouged away. The weight of the water has also compacted soil in some locations, while others are covered in sand and silt that’s been swept up by engorged rivers, neither of which is as nutrient-rich or structured as the soil that supports the wheat, soybean, and corn crops. 

U.S. Military Knew Flood Risks at Offutt Air Force Base, But Didn’t Act in Time - For several years, the U.S. military and federal and local officials knew that Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska lay exposed to the threat of catastrophic flooding. But a key federal agency moved too slowly to approve plans to protect the base from last weekend's deluge, a top local official said. The flooding submerged part of the runway and inundated dozens of buildings at one of the nation's most important air bases. The calamity likely will cost many times more to repair than it would have cost to prevent, said John Winkler, district general manager of the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District, the local government agency responsible for managing the section of the river nearest Offutt and Omaha. The damage has crippled capabilities at an Air Force base considered essential to national security. Among its many roles, Offutt is home to the U.S. Strategic Command that oversees the Pentagon's nuclear strategic deterrence and global strike capabilities.The risks to Offutt, long known, were laid bare back in 2011 when floodwaters crept to within 50 feet of the runway.  But even as military officials in Washington and across the country increasingly realized that their defense infrastructure was vulnerable to the effects of climate change, the response to protect Offutt was agonizingly slow, Winkler said. Crucially, construction never began to reinforce an earthwork levee system to protect the vital base from the Missouri River the next time it raged over its banks. Winkler said approval for the levee construction was complicated by myriad requirements from the Army Corps of Engineers that took six years to navigate.   Approval from the Corps finally came last year. The district approved construction bids earlier this year for work that will begin as soon as the floodwaters recede and the ground dries, probably in May or June.

The Midwest floods are going to get much, much worse - A massive deluge of rain and melting snow from a “bomb cyclone” and other recent storms continues to inundate several Midwestern states including Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Nebraska.The flooding has killed at least three people and caused at least $3 billion in damages so far. Rising water levels have breached levees along the Missouri River and forced several towns to evacuate. In southern Minnesota, flood impacts spread over the weekend, according toMPR News.Some residents in South Dakota have been stranded for two weeks as already poor roads were blocked by floodwaters. In Nebraska alone, the flooding has already caused more than$1 billion in damages, with more than 2,000 homes and 340 businesses lost.More rainfall is expected in the region later this week.And on Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s spring outlook reported that the situation for the central US is soon going to get much, much worse. “The extensive flooding we’ve seen in the past two weeks will continue through May and become more dire and may be exacerbated in the coming weeks as the water flows downstream,” said Ed Clark, director of NOAA’s National Water Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in a statement. “This is shaping up to be a potentially unprecedented flood season, with more than 200 million people at risk for flooding in their communities.”

Terrifying map shows all the parts of America that might soon flood --The record-breaking flooding disaster in the Midwest is just beginning. On Thursday, the National Weather Service issued its annual spring flood outlook, and it is downright biblical. By the end of May, parts of 25 states — nearly two-thirds of the country — could see flooding severe enough to cause damage.  Pretty much every major body of water east of the Rockies is at elevated risk of flooding in the coming months, including the Mississippi, the Red River of the North, the Great Lakes, the eastern Missouri River, the lower Ohio, the lower Cumberland, and the Tennessee River basins.  “This is shaping up to be a potentially unprecedented flood season, with more than 200 million people at risk for flooding in their communities,” said Ed Clark, director of NOAA’s National Water Center, in a press release. That represents about 60 percent of all Americans.Across the Midwest, the recent floods have already caused an estimated $3 billion in damages — a total that will surely rise. Extremely heavy snowfall in the upper Midwest this winter, combined with a forecast for a wetter-than-normal spring, set the stage for this calamity. With the exception of Florida and New England, soil moisture in much of the eastern United States is above the 99th percentile — literally off the charts. When the ground is this saturated, there’s nowhere for water to go but into streams and rivers, taking precious topsoil with it and carving lasting changes into the land.And that’s exactly what’s been happening in Nebraska, where flood-protection infrastructure has been utterly overwhelmed by record-setting water levels. Virtually every levee on the Missouri River between Omaha and Kansas City has been breached in the last week. “I don’t think there’s ever been a disaster this widespread in Nebraska,” said Governor Pete Ricketts. Several states and tribal nations throughout the region have declared a state of emergency. President Trump has approved a federal disaster declaration for Nebraska, and one is pending for Iowa. In a tweet showing an aerial video of the flooding, the Nebraska State Patrol wrote: “The Missouri looks like an ocean.” None of this is supposed to be under water.

When a river swells, are levees the best way to deal with it? - The flooding along the Mississippi River in 1927, which left a million people homeless and drowned half the region’s livestock, launched the Army Corps of Engineers on a mission — to tame the nation’s central arteries by building bigger levees and creating spillways to control flooding. In the decades that followed, that approach has both protected numerous heartland communities from high waters and created a false sense of security for people who have increasingly populated flood plains. It also has led to agonizing decisions whenever monumental floods have come. Now, as the rivers fed by a massive late-winter “bomb cyclone” churn south, the nation’s patchwork flood protection system is once again revealing its strengths, its vulnerabilities and the constantly competing interests of farmers, city dwellers, wildlife and industry. The ongoing disaster unfolding in the Midwest also has revitalized the long-running debate over whether to continue to try to control rivers or to make more room for them to swell.  “We expect the flooding to get worse and become more widespread,” Mary Erikson, deputy director of NOAA’s National Weather Service, told reporters. “The stage is set for record flooding now through May.”  Because of river levels that are already high, hefty snowpack in the Northern Plains and above-normal soil moisture, “conditions are primed” for more flooding, said Edward Clark, director of NOAA’s National Weather Center. “This is potentially an unprecedented flood season,” he said. And the levee system is not centralized under one governing body. According to the National Committee on Levee Safety, approximately 85 percent of the 14,685 miles of levees in the National Levee Database are operated by local sponsors, not the Corps of Engineers. And that database accounts for only a portion of the estimated 100,000 miles of levees across the United States, most of which are not part of any federal program. Moore said that levees traditionally have been built to withstand certain thresholds, such as a 100-year or 500-year flood event. But parts of the country have seen epic floods more often in recent years, and scientists predict that climate change could fuel more frequent and intense flooding.  “But if the 500-year flood happens twice in 30 years, have you really provided the protection that’s promised? Absolutely not.” There are no easy answers, he said, because of the development that has taken place in many flood plains.

Seven Midwestern Superfund Sites Have Dealt With Flooding Since the Bomb Cyclone, But EPA Says Everything’s Fine - The tragic situation in the Midwest continues to unfold more than two weeks after a bomb cyclone brought in snow that eventually melted, triggering floods that destroyed farms and threatened tribal communities. The latest areas under scrutiny are Superfund sites, whose toxic pollutants can be spread far and wide by floodwaters. Currently on the radar for federal and state officials are seven Superfund sites and a landfill across Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri, states that are still experiencing some minor to major flooding as of Thursday. These are some of the most contaminated sites in the U.S., and when floodwaters hit them, they can become major threats to human and environmental health if their pollutants travel off site, as was seen in Houston after Hurricane Harvey. “Superfund sites contain some of the most dangerous chemicals known to humankind,” Jacob Carter, a research scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy, told Earther. That’s why the Environmental Protection Agency is now monitoring a bunch of Superfund sites closely, although so far, it seems to think all of them are doing okay. The EPA has taken action on two Superfunds in particular, it announced Tuesday: Nebraska Ordnance Plant, a former munitions production plant in Mead, Nebraska, and Conservation Chemical Corporation in Kansas City, Missouri, which used to store chemicals. The agency hasn’t spotted any contaminant releases at either, but floodwaters did hit them hard. The Nebraska Ordnance Plant, which sits in the state’s still slightly-flooded southeast corner, has its soil and groundwater contaminated with potentially carcinogenic substances like trichloroethene (or TCE), as well as explosives.

Senate Urged to Reject 'Walking, Talking Conflict of Interest' David Bernhardt to Run Interior - Environmental activists are calling on senators to reject the nomination of former fossil fuel lobbyist David Bernhardt to lead the U.S. Department of the Interior.The calls come ahead of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee's Thursday morning hearing to consider his nomination. "David Bernhardt is a walking, talking conflict of interest," said Alissa Weinman, a senior organizer for the nonprofit Corporate Accountability. "Between his Big Polluter ties and corporate lobbying connections, it's clear Bernhardt will continue to serve the corporate interests to whom he owes his career, not the people or our public lands."Bernhardt has been under fire for his fossil fuel past since the Senate confirmed him as the agency's deputy administrator in July of 2017. He currently serves as the department's acting administrator, a position he has held since scandal-ridden Ryan Zinke resigned in December. President Donald Trump nominated Bernhardt to the permanent post last month."David Bernhardt heading the Interior Department would be a dream come true for fossil fuel companies, but a nightmare for the American people," warned Greenpeace USA climate and energy campaign director Janet Redman.Noting that "people who care about clean air, safe water, and a healthy climate have been sounding the alarm about Bernhardt's history" for the past two years, Redman charged that "he's done nothing since but prove he's not fit for this job."A coalition of more than 160 conservation groups, including Greenpeace USA, sent a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), on Tuesday imploring them to oppose Bernhardt's nomination:In his 18 months serving as the Interior Department's deputy secretary, Mr. Bernhardt has been at the center of a culture of corruption that has been the Interior Department's hallmark under the Trump administration. He consistently puts private profit above the public interest, crafting policies to benefit past clients and rolling back longstanding rules to protect habitat, imperiled species, and public health. These actions come straight from the fossil fuel and mining industry's wishlist, including some corporations for which Bernhardt used to work as a lobbyist and lawyer. The letter outlines the ways in which Bernhardt has helped facilitate a siege on science, put fossil fuels first, imperil wildlife, promote development in the Arctic Refuge, harm national parks and monuments, and block transparency and oversight by Congress and the public. Campaigners at various groups that signed on to the letter spoke out about Bernhardt's record and urged senators to reject him.

Harrowing scenes after Cyclone Idai with inland ocean visible from outer space  -- As many as "300 to 400" bodies line the banks of a road out of the city of Beira in Mozambique, according to an eyewitness account, and flood waters have formed an inland ocean that is visible from outer space.The harrowing scene, described by Zimbabwean Graham Taylor, suggests that the human toll of Cyclone Idai is likely to far exceed official estimates. It follows reports from aid agencies on the ground detailing how entire villages and towns have been completely flooded in the wake of last Thursday's high-end Category 2 storm.Taylor said the bodies were located on a 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) track of highway, where flood waters had created an inland ocean, submerging entire villages around a "densely populated" sugar cane plantation. The area is a mere fraction of the land in the southeast African nation left flooded after two major rivers burst their banks in the days following the storm.The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said that the destruction left by the cyclone is "worse than we imagined" and warned that the humanitarian needs "will tragically only deepen in the coming weeks."In a statement, IFRC said that flooding creates ideal conditions for disease outbreaks."Already, some cholera cases have been reported in Beira along with an increasing number of malaria infections among people trapped by the flooding," read the statement. Flooding is so extreme in Buzi, central Mozambique, that the water can be seen in satellite images from outer space.

Cyclone Idai- Death toll rises to 750 as Mozambique city of Beira begins long road to recovery - As the death toll for Cyclone Idai rises to 750 people across southern Africa, the storm hit city of Beira is slowly beginning the long road to recovery. The Category 2 storm made landfall shortly after midnight on March 15 in Beira, a port city on the coast of Mozambique, with 175 kph (109 mph) winds that brought huge rains and submerged villages as it moved inland towards Zimbabwe and Malawi. Mozambique's Minister of Land and Environment, Celso Correia, said on Sunday that 446 people have now been reported dead in Mozambique. More than half a million have been affected in the country and 110,000 were safe in camps. Nearly two weeks later, the city is starting to recover. Cyclone debris, such as uprooted trees, toppled street lights and aluminum roofs, are being cleared from the streets as the rain eases. Much of the city's telecommunication infrastructure was destroyed in the storm, but at least two telephone networks are operating again, albeit with intermittent service.  Yesterday, the main road that brings supplies into the city reopened. Smaller shops have been selling items in rations. But in more remote areas of Mozambique, efforts to reach those trapped in stagnant waters remain ongoing.  On the road to the village of Tica, 80 kilometers (49 miles) from Beira's beaches, drone footage shows massive tracts of submerged land and huge trees snapped like twigs. An eye witness has described seeing 300 to 400 bodies wash up on a flooded stretch of road just north of Tica. Cholera cases have already been reported in Beira, and there is an increasing number of malaria infections among those trapped by the flooding, according to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.  The government is setting up cholera treatment centers in affected areas.The high commissioner for Mozambique in the UK, Filipe Chidumo, last week called Cyclone Idai "a big tragedy of biblical proportions."Chidumo added the restoration of electricity, water and   sanitation facilities would be needed to prevent the spread of waterborne diseases.

Confirmed cholera cases jump to 138 in Mozambique's Beira after Cyclone Idai - The number of confirmed cases of cholera in the cyclone-hit Mozambican port city of Beira jumped from five to 138 on Friday, as government and aid agencies battled to contain the spread of disease among the tens of thousands of victims of the storm. Cyclone Idai smashed into Beira on March 14, causing catastrophic flooding and killing more than 700 people across three countries in southeast Africa. Many badly affected areas in Mozambique and Zimbabwe are still inaccessible by road, complicating relief efforts and exacerbating the threat of infection. Story continues below advertisement Although there have been no confirmed cholera deaths in medical centres in Mozambique yet, at least two people died outside hospitals with symptoms including dehydration and diarrhea, the country’s environment minister Celso Correia said. A Reuters reporter saw the body of a dead child being brought out of an emergency clinic in Beira on Wednesday. The child had suffered acute diarrhoea, which can be a symptom of cholera. “We expected this, we were prepared for this, we’ve doctors in place,” Correia told reporters. The government said for the first time that there had been confirmed cholera cases on Wednesday. Mozambique’s National Disaster Management Institute said the local death toll from the tropical storm had increased to 493 people, from 468 previously. That takes the total death toll across Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi to 738 people, with many more still missing. “Stranded communities are relying on heavily polluted water. This, combined with widespread flooding and poor sanitation, creates fertile grounds for disease outbreaks, including cholera,” the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement.

Climate Change: Hurricanes to Deliver a Bigger Punch to Coasts - When tropical cyclone Idai made landfall near Beira, Mozambique on March 14, a spokesperson for the UN World Meteorological Organization called it possibly the the worst weather-related disaster to hit the southern hemisphere. This massive and horrifying storm caused catastrophic flooding and widespread destruction of buildings and roads in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi feared the death toll might rise to more than 1,000 people. Cyclones, also known as hurricanes or typhoons, generate large ocean waves and raise water levels by creating a storm surge. The combined effects cause coastal erosion, flooding and damage to anything in its path. Although other storms have hit this African coast in the past, the storm track for cyclone Idai is fairly rare. Warmer-than-usual sea-surface temperatures were directly linked to the unusually high number of five storms near Madagascar and Mozambique in 2000, including tropical cyclone Eline. Warmer ocean temperatures could also be behind the intensity of cyclone Idai, as the temperature of the Indian Ocean is 2 C to 3 C above the long-term average. Climate change and ocean warming may be linked to the increasing intensity of storms making landfall and to the development of strong hurricanes reaching places not affected in recent history. These regions may not be prepared with the coastal infrastructure to withstand the extreme forces of these storms.. The intensity of storms could also increase so that there are more major hurricanes (categories 4 and 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale) with winds reaching speeds greater than 209 km/h. Since these storms are fuelled by ocean heat, warmer ocean conditions will influence their intensity and longevity. This may enable them to travel farther over ocean water at higher latitudes, and farther across the continent after they make landfall. With global sea level rise expected to continue to accelerate through the 21st century, the impacts of coastal flooding from tropical cyclones is also expected to worsen.

  Many sharks closer to extinction than feared- Red List - Human appetites are pushing makos and other iconic sharks to the brink of extinction, scientists warned in a new assessment of the apex predator's conservation status. Seventeen of 58 species evaluated were classified as facing extinction, the Shark Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation (IUCN) said late Thursday in an update of the Red List of threatened animals and plants. "Our results are alarming," said Nicholas Dulvy, who chairs the grouping of 174 experts from 55 countries. "The sharks that are especially slow-growing, sought-after and unprotected from overfishing tend to be the most threatened." That category includes the shortfin mako, whose cruising speed of 40 km/h (25 mph)—punctuated by bursts of more than 70 km/h—makes it the fastest of all sharks. Along with its longfin cousin, the two makos are highly prized for their flesh and fins, considered a delicacy in Chinese and other Asian culinary traditions. "Today, one of the biggest shark fisheries on the high seas is the mako," Dulvy told AFP. "It is also one of the least protected."

Amphibian 'apocalypse' caused by most destructive pathogen ever -FOR DECADES, A silent killer has slaughtered frogs and salamanders around the world by eating their skins alive. Now, a global team of 41 scientists has announced that the pathogen—which humans unwittingly spread around the world—has damaged global biodiversity more than any other disease ever recorded. The new study, published in Science on Thursday, is the first comprehensive tally of the damage done by the chytrid fungi Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) and Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal). In all, the fungi have driven the declines of at least 501 amphibian species, or about one out of every 16 known to science.Of the chytrid-stricken species, 90 have gone extinct or are presumed extinct in the wild. Another 124 species have declined in number by more than 90 percent. All but one of the 501 declines was caused by Bd.“We’ve known that's chytrid's really bad, but we didn't know how bad it was, and it's much worse than the previous early estimates,” says study leader Ben Scheele, an ecologist at Australian National University. “Our new results put it on the same scale, in terms of damage to biodiversity, as rats, cats, and [other] invasive species.”Scheele has seen the fungus's carnage firsthand. At one of his field sites in Australia, an extended El Niño fueled mass frog breeding and dispersal—letting Bd spread as never before. Before the fungus, populations of the alpine tree frog were so abundant there, he had to watch his step when he went out at night. Now, the species is nearly impossible to find. “Chytrid fungus is the most destructive pathogen ever described by science—that's a pretty shocking realization,” adds Wendy Palen, a biologist at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia who wrote about the study for Science.

“Most Destructive Pathogen Ever” Has Created Zombie-Like Apocalypse for World’s Amphibians  — A terrifying new study details the havoc being wrought by what scientists call “the most destructive pathogen ever” recorded on earth, finding that with help from unwitting humans a “silent killer” has caused major declines of frogs, salamanders, and hundreds of other amphibian species.  Chytridiomycosis, or chytrid fungus, has killed off 90 species over the past 50 years while leading to huge losses of 501 kinds of frogs, toads, salamanders, and other amphibians, according to researchers from a number of worldwide universities. Nearly 125 of those species have declined by at least 90 percent due to the rapid spread of the pathogen.The report, published in Science on Thursday, offers disturbing new information about a disease which scientists first detected in 1998—but whose power they didn’t grasp until now. “We’ve known that chytrid’s really bad, but we didn’t know how bad it was, and it’s much worse than the previous early estimates,” Ben Scheele, an ecologist at Australian National University and lead author of the study, told National Geographic.Chytrid fungus kills amphibians by eating away the skin of its hosts, leaving amphibians unable to breathe and quickly going into cardiac arrest. The pathogen is easily spread and rapidly destructive to the 695 species it infects. “If it were a human pathogen, it’d be in a zombie film,” biologist Dan Greenberg told National Geographic.

Government Study Confirms Endangered Red Wolves Are a Separate Species Worthy of Protection - One of the most endangered wolves in the world is indeed its own species. That's the important finding of aNational Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report released Thursday, which determined that red wolves are genetically distinct from gray wolves and coyotes. The finding is a boon to conservationists, who have been arguing for continued protections for the approximately 35 red wolves left in the wild. After being nearly wiped out from their historic range in the eastern U.S., the endangered species was reintroduced to an area in eastern North Carolina in 1987, but last spring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposed to limit their territories to public lands and allow landowners to shoot or trap them if they entered private property. "The USFWS decision to reverse course on a successful recovery program and facilitate the red wolf's slide toward extinction in the wild is a travesty and a clear violation of federal law," Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) Wildlife Biologist D.J. Schubert said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. "With today's finding, there is no more excuse for not immediately restoring full protections and urgently enacting management measures to rebuild North Carolina's wild red wolf population and to restore the species to other areas within its historic range."The study, which was mandated by Congress in 2018, also confirmed that Mexican gray wolves are a valid taxonomic subspecies of gray wolf. There are only 114 of this subspecies left in northern Mexico and the southeastern U.S. They are one of 93 endangered species threatened by President Donald Trump's proposed border wall, and their movement and survival is already threatened by razor wire placed along the border.

Full-Boar Onslaught- Nearly 1000 wild boar complaints in 2018, up 26 percent from 2017 - Last year the government received more than 900 wild boar-related complaints and reports, more than they received in the last three years put together.The Environment Bureau revealed the figures in response to a question raised at the Legislative Council, saying that the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) received 929 reports of wild boar sightings and complaints in 2018, more than ever recorded before, and a 26 percent increase over 2017, reports. There were also seven recorded instances of boar-related injuries.In January, the AFCD revealed that there had been 679 boar sightings in Hong Kong in the first 10 months of 2018, meaning there were a whopping 250 reports of wild boar sightings in November and December alone.The ongoing war on boars has been a source of much controversy of late, with politicians offering unorthodox suggestions for how best to beat back the boar menace. Authorities used to control the wild boar population through a hunting program — which some advocate bringing back — but that initiative was replaced with the pilot “Capture, Contraception and Relocation/Release Programme” last February.Under the scheme, boars are captured, sterilized, fitted with a GPS tracking device, then relocated or released into the wild. The AFCD said it expects to complete an evaluation of the program by the end of 2019.The authorities revealed today that, as of last month, the AFCD has surgically sterilized 15 wild boars, and administered contraceptive vaccines to 55. They’ve also relocated 111 wild boars to remote areas within the territory. They added that they’ve increased the number of employees on the pilot scheme from six to 14, and have also increased its funding from HK$3.8 million (about US$484,000) to HK$6.4 million (about US$815,000) for this year, a 64 percent increase.

Forests scramble to absorb carbon as emissions continue to increase - Forests around the world are absorbing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but they still can’t keep up with the sheer volume of the global-warming gas being emitted through human activity, a new study has found.“Intact forests are playing a large role in absorbing the CO2 we’re emitting,” said Benjamin Gaubert, the lead author of the study and a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), in an interview. “This means that global forest are helping to mitigate climate change or at least helping to mitigate the impacts of carbon emissions in the atmosphere.”The study, published in the journal Biogeosciences, suggests forest growth is becoming more robust as atmospheric carbon concentrations increase, and therefore taking more CO2 out of the air. Nevertheless, the concentration of heat-trapping carbon in the atmosphere continues to intensify as the forests can only capture a fraction of total human-caused emissions, which in 2018 totaled 37.1 billion tonnes. The study looked at models of atmospheric inversion from research institutions across the world. It combined these with surface observations to estimate carbon fluctuations over northern and southern forests and verified using aircraft observations. The study relied on supercomputers to run simulations of the climate models. The scientists started with data on atmospheric CO2 levels measured all over the world since 1985. From there, they implemented the models to predict how much CO2 had been sourced and sunk in different regions of the world to make sure they matched the measurements. While northern forests, which cover a greater landmass, account for the majority of the CO2 absorption, the study suggests that tropical forests in the global south are most effective, per given area, at trapping carbon. Gaubert said forests in the tropics were likely more effective at capturing carbon than northern forests because of favorable growing conditions, such as year-long sunlight and more rainfall. According to Gaubert, around 30 percent of annual carbon emissions are captured by global net forest growth.

 Why the US–China trade war spells disaster for the Amazon - Last year, the United States introduced tariffs of up to 25% on Chinese imported goods worth US$250 billion. In retaliation, the Chinese government imposed tariffs of 25% on $110-billion worth of US goods — including soya beans, a crop mainly used for animal feed. As a result, exports of US soya beans to China dropped by 50% in 2018, even though the trade war began only midway through the year. We forecast that a surge of tropical deforestation could occur as a result of the fresh demand being placed on China’s other major suppliers to provide up to 37.6 million tonnes of the crop (that is how much China imported from the United States in 2016). Already, two decades of growth in the global market for soya has led to large-scale deforestation in the Amazon rainforest1.As of 2016, Brazil supplied almost half of China’s soya-bean imports, and it has the infrastructure and land area to rapidly increase production. We estimate that the area dedicated to soya-bean production in Brazil could increase by up to 39%, to 13 million hectares, extrapolating from the most recent (2016) data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). For comparison, almost 3 million hectares of rainforest were cleared in 1995 and in 2004, the country’s two peak deforestation years (see urge the United States and China to adjust their trading arrangements immediately to avoid this catastrophe. We also lay out some of the broader changes needed — globally and within nations — to shield tropical forests from shifting trade patterns. China depends heavily on soya-bean imports from three trading partners. Brazil is the largest, followed by the United States and Argentina2. Ninety-four other countries, including China itself, together produce little more soya than Brazil alone (see ‘Soya swings’, panel B; and Supplementary Information).

India’s Ban on Imports of Recyclables Generates A Global Crisis - The March 6 decision by the Indian government to ban imports of plastic and mixed paper – like the decision a year earlier by China – has thrown the global recycling industry into a level of chaos that it is unlikely to recover from, demanding a new approach to the disposal of waste, including attempting to not produce it at all, or to design in recyclability. As has been widely reported, the price of recyclables has fallen through the floor, with mountains of paper, plastic and other materials piling up in western countries, with no place to sell the scrap. It is increasingly clear that collection, sorting and reuse is no longer viable, if it ever was. The world generates about 1.3 billion tonnes of trash per year. Germany, arguably the most advanced country on the planet when it comes to recycling, produces 3 million tonnes of plastic packaging waste annually. According to official statistics, less than half of that was recycle – 48.8 percent. It has been famously estimated that by 2050 the combined volume of waste in the world’s oceans will be bigger than the world’s fish. As other countries have reacted to the China ban, the recyclers have turned to countries like India, which during the first 11 months of 2018 took in 120,000 tonnes of plastic imports from the US worth US$46 million, according to India’s Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. Shipments from the EU to India reached close to 160,000 tonnes in 2018, up from 110,000 tonnes in 2017. That is dwarfed by India’s own waste generation, an estimated 62 million tonnes annually, of which less than 60 percent is collected and only around 15 percent is processed. Landfills oozing methane rank third in terms of greenhouse gas emissions in the country. Malaysia and Vietnam have implemented their own import restrictions, citing environmental concerns over becoming the world’s dumping grounds. Thailand says it will ban all scrap plastics by 2021. India has said it will allow imports that already are on their way to the country’s free trade zones, then close them off.  This is starting to lead to the inability to sell recyclables at any price. Clearly the decades of shipping trash overseas are over.  The west is learning that there is no longer an “away.”

EU Parliament Bans Plastics Responsible for 70% of Ocean Trash - The European Parliament approved a ban on single-use plastics Wednesday, meaning that common plastic items that make up 70 percent of marine litter will be banned in the EU by 2021, the parliament announced in a press release.The law also sets targets for the collection of plastic bottles, includes new labeling laws and strengthens provisions to ensure companies pay to clean up the pollution they cause."Today we have taken an important step to reduce littering and plastic pollution in our oceans and seas," European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said, as The Guardian reported. "We got this, we can do this. Europe is setting new and ambitious standards, paving the way for the rest of the world."  The details of the new rule are as follows:

  1. Banned Items: The following items will be banned in the EU by 2021:
    • Single-use plastic cutlery
    • Single-use plastic plates
    • Plastic straws
    • Cotton swabs with plastic sticks
    • Plastic balloon sticks
    • Oxo-degradable plastics and food containers and expanded polystyrene cups
  2. Plastic Bottles: Plastic bottles will need to be made with 25 percent recycled material by 2025 and 30 percent by 2030. EU states will need to collect 90 percent of plastic bottles by 2029.
  3. The Polluter Pays: The law will strengthen provisions requiring companies to pay for cleaning up pollution. This will mean requiring cigarette companies to pay for removing cigarette butts and fishing gear manufacturers to pay for removing nets from the sea, CNN explained.
  4. Clearer Labeling: Items like cigarette filters, plastic cups, wet wipes and sanitary napkins will be labeled if they contain plastic and the labels will include instructions for disposing of them in an environmentally responsible manner.

Are natural fibres really better for the environment than microplastic fibres? Researchers from the University of Nottingham have found a much higher percentage of 'natural' fibres than microplastic fibres in freshwater and atmospheric samples in the UK. The findings, which are released ahead of World Water Day, raise the question of whether we know enough about the environmental threat of some of the plastic-alternatives we are turning to, to help save the planet. Over a 12-month period, experts from the University's School of Geography and the Faculty of Engineering Food, Water, Waste Research Group, collected 223 samples from 10 sites from the River Trent, the River Leen and the River Soar. Microplastic textile fibres, such as polyester and nylon, were absent from 82.8% of samples, whereas 'natural' textile fibres were absent from just 9.7% of samples. The results of the project are published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, titled "Freshwater and airbourne textile fibre populations are dominated by 'natural,' not microplastic, fibres." Microplastic pollution has garnered a great deal of scientific, political and media attention in recent years, leading to widespread concern. As the impact of plastic and microplastic pollution has grown, many people and companies have made a considerable effort to minimise the amount of plastic they use in their day-to-day lives. The potential role of natural textile fibres like cotton and wool, as an environmental pollutant, has been speculated on by some environmental scientists, but there has been a general consensus that their biodegradability reduces their environmental threat (in comparison to that of plastic). However, 'natural' textile fibres are the product of multiple potentially hazardous processes, and are inherently 'unnatural." For example, the commercial production of cotton fibres requires large quantities of water, pesticides and herbicides and the wastewaters of the textile industry have also been long recognised as sources of chemical pollutants. Whilst these risks remain poorly understood, this new research from the University of Nottingham has found high concentrations of so-called 'natural' fibres in samples of river water and atmospheric deposition.

Dead bodies are emerging from Mount Everest's melting glaciers - Some 300 mountaineers have perished on the peak in the last century, and it is estimated that two-thirds of the bodies remain, buried in the ice and snow. But as Sandra Laville writes in the The Guardian, "bodies previously entombed in ice have been made accessible due to global warming.""Because of global warming, the ice sheet and glaciers are fast melting and the dead bodies that remained buried all these years are now becoming exposed," Ang Tshering Sherpa, former president of Nepal Mountaineering Association, told the BBC. "We have brought down dead bodies of some mountaineers who died in recent years, but the old ones that remained buried are now coming out."It appears that most of the dead bodies have been emerging from the Khumbu icefall, a spot noted for being particularly dangerous, as well as in the final camp area. Officials say that they have been gathering the ropes left behind from the climbing season, but the bodies are a bit trickier. Professional climbers from the Sherpa community are on the job, but as one might imagine, they say it's not easy. Nor is it cheap; removing a dead body can cost up to $80,000.As morbid as it sounds, however, some dead bodies serve a purpose: They act as landmarks. "One such waypoint had been the 'green boots' near the summit," writes the BBC. "They were a reference to a climber who died under an overhanging rock. His green boots, still on his feet, faced the climbing route." Much like the WWII-era anthrax-laden reindeer that were unleashed from the ice after a Siberian heatwave a few years ago, who knows what other gory surprises a warming planet may have in store for us. Suffice to say that as Earth's ice melts, we can expect more strange things to emerge – unlucky mountaineers may be just the tip of the iceberg.

‘It’s Getting Worse’: Melting Ice Is Exposing More and More Bodies as Mount Everest Warms -- Climate change is having a grizzly effect on Mount Everest as melting snow and glaciers reveal some of the bodies of climbers who died trying to scale the world's highest peak. "Due to the impact of climate change and global warming, snow and glaciers are fast melting and dead bodies are increasingly being exposed and discovered by climbers," former Nepal Mountaineering Association President Ang Tshering Sherpa told CNN in a March 21 report.More than 200 people have died on Mount Everest since the first climbing death was recorded in 1922. Most of those bodies are believed to be buried beneath glaciers and snow, but now warmer temperatures are melting glaciers throughout the Himalayas, studies have shown. A 2015 study found that ponds on Everest's Khumbu glacier, where the majority of bodies have been discovered recently, were growing larger and joining together. In 2017, a research team drilled the glacier, took its temperature and found it was warmer than they expected, BBC News reported. Bodies have also been found near the Camp 4 area. In 2017, a hand emerged above the ground near Camp 1, and the body was removed. "It's a very serious issue because it's increasingly common and affects our operations," Nepal National Mountain Guides Association official Sobit Kunwar told CNN. "We are really concerned about this because it's getting worse. We are trying to spread information about it so that there can be a coordinated way to deal with it." Ang Tshering Sherpa said that his organization had brought down seven bodies since 2008.  It can cost between $40,000 to $80,000 to bring down dead bodies, experts told BBC News. It can also be dangerous. Ang Tshering Sherpa told CNN of one found at 8,700 meters (approximately 28,543 feet), near the peak. "The body weighed 150 kilograms (approximately 330.7 pounds) and it had to be recovered from a difficult place at that altitude. It was a Herculean task," he said.

 'We Can't Trust the Permafrost Anymore': Doomsday Vault at Risk in Norway -  Just over a decade after it first opened, the world's "doomsday vault" of seeds is imperiled by climate change as the polar region where it's located warms faster than any other area on the planet. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which opened in late February 2008, was built by the organization Crop Trust and the Norwegian government on the island of Svalbard next to the northernmost town in the world with more than 1,000 residents, Longyearbyen. "Svalbard is the ultimate failsafe for biodiversity of crops," said Crop Trust executive director Marie Haga. Northern temperatures and environment on the island were a major reason for the construction. According to in-depth reporting from CNN, the project planners hoped that the permafrost around the construction of the underground vault would, in time, refreeze. But the planet has other plans.  Longyearbyen and, by extension, the vault, is warming more rapidly than the rest of the planet. That's because the polar regions of Earth—the coldest areas on the planet—are less able to reflect sunlight away from the polar seas due to disappearing ice and snow cover.It's an ironic turn of events for the creators of the vault, who chose the location for the vault "because the area is not prone to volcanoes or earthquakes, while the Norwegian political system is also extremely stable,'" said CNN.Because of the warming, the permafrost around the underground vault's tunnel entrance has not refrozen. That led to leaking water in the tunnel in October 2016, which then froze into ice.In response, CNN reported, "Statsbygg [the Norwegian state agency in charge of real estate] undertook 100 million Norwegian krone ($11.7 million) of reconstruction work, more than double the original cost of the structure."But the warming now may become unsustainable for the structure. It's already forcing changes to Longyearbyen's population of 2,144 as the people in the town find themselves scrambling to avoid avalanches and deal with a changing climate that's more often dumping rain rather than snow. "We can't trust the permafrost anymore," said Statsbygg communications manager Hege Njaa Aschim.

Key Greenland glacier growing again after shrinking for years, NASA study shows — A major Greenland glacier that was one of the fastest shrinking ice and snow masses on Earth is growing again, a new NASA study finds. The Jakobshavn glacier around 2012 was retreating about 1.8 miles and thinning nearly 130 feet annually. But it started growing again at about the same rate in the past two years, according to a study in Monday’s Nature Geoscience. Study authors and outside scientists think this is temporary. “That was kind of a surprise. We kind of got used to a runaway system,” said Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland ice and climate scientist Jason Box. “The good news is that it’s a reminder that it’s not necessarily going that fast. But it is going.” Box, who wasn’t part of the study, said Jakobshavn is “arguably the most important Greenland glacier because it discharges the most ice in the northern hemisphere.”A natural cyclical cooling of North Atlantic waters likely caused the glacier to reverse course, said study lead author Ala Khazendar, a NASA glaciologist on the Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) project. Khazendar and colleagues say this coincides with a flip of the North Atlantic Oscillation — a natural and temporary cooling and warming of parts of the ocean that is like a distant cousin to El Nino in the Pacific. The water in Disko Bay, where Jakobshavn hits the ocean, is about 3.6 degrees cooler than a few years ago, study authors said. While this is “good news” on a temporary basis, this is bad news on the long term because it tells scientists that ocean temperature is a bigger player in glacier retreats and advances than previously thought, said NASA climate scientist Josh Willis, a study co-author. Over the decades the water has been and will be warming from man-made climate change, he said, noting that about 90 percent of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases goes into the oceans. “In the long run we’ll probably have to raise our predictions of sea level rise again,” Willis said.

Australian researchers find huge lakes beneath largest east Antarctic glacier -  Australian researchers have discovered huge underwater lakes beneath the largest glacier in east Antarctica. The lakes were detected by scientists setting off small explosives 2m below the surface of the Totten glacier and listening to the reflected sound. The Australian Antarctic Division glaciologist Dr Ben Galton-Fenzi said the research was critical to helping scientists predict how the melting of Antarctic glaciers would change the world’s oceans. The Totten glacier is 30km wide and up to two kilometres thick, and has the potential to raise sea levels by seven metres. “The explosives were a sound source for us … and it would then echo off different layers in the ice,” Galton-Fenzi told the Guardian. “We placed geophones [a series of microphones] along the surface of the glacier to listen to the reflected sound, giving us a picture of what lies beneath the ice.” He said the speed glaciers travel at is determined by what they move across. “If there’s bedrock under the glacier, it’s sticky and will move more slowly, but if there’s water or soft sediments, the glacier will move faster,” he said. Galton-Fenzi said the next step for researchers would be to drill down to take a sample of the lakes but he lamented there was no funding certainty for future research. “I’m not just a scientist saying ‘I need more money’ … I’ve got kids who are six and eight and [climate change] is a real threat for them.” 

Global carbon emissions hit record high in 2018: IEA (Reuters) - Global energy-related carbon emissions rose to a record high last year as energy demand and coal use increased, mainly in Asia, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Tuesday. Energy-related CO2 emissions rose by 1.7 percent to 33.1 billion tonnes from the previous year, the highest rate of growth since 2013, with the power sector accounting for almost two-thirds of this growth, according to IEA estimates. The United States’ CO2 emissions grew by 3.1 percent in 2018, reversing a decline a year earlier, while China’s emissions rose by 2.5 percent and India’s by 4.5 percent. Europe’s emissions fell by 1.3 percent and Japan’s fell for the fifth year running. Carbon dioxide emissions are the primary cause of global average temperature rise which countries are seeking to curb to avoid the most devastating effects of climate change. For the first time, the IEA assessed the impact of fossil fuel use on the increase in global temperature and found that CO2 emitted from coal consumption was responsible for over 0.3 degrees Celsius of the 1 degree rise in global average temperature since pre-industrial times. Global energy demand grew by 2.3 percent in 2018, nearly twice the average rate of growth since 2010, driven by a strong global economy and higher heating and cooling demand in some parts of the world, the IEA said. “We have seen an extraordinary increase in global energy demand in 2018, growing at its fastest pace this decade,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director. By country, China, the United States, and India together accounted for nearly 70 percent of the rise in energy demand. Global gas demand increased at its fastest rate since 2010, up 4.6 percent from a year earlier, driven by higher demand as switching from gas to coal increased. Demand for energy from renewable sources rose by 4 percent but the use of renewables needs to expand much more quickly to meet long-term climate goals, the report said. Oil demand grew by 1.3 percent in 2018, while coal consumption was up 0.7 percent as higher demand in Asia outpaced declines everywhere else. “Coal-to-gas switching avoided almost 60 million tonnes of coal demand, with the transition to less carbon-intensive natural gas helping to avert 95 million tonnes of CO2 emissions,” the IEA said. “Without this coal-to-gas switch, the increase in emissions would have been more than 15 percent greater,” it added. 

“We Are in Deep Trouble”- Carbon Emissions Break Record in Devastating Global Setback - Global energy experts released grim findings Monday, saying that not only are planet-warming carbon-dioxide emissions still increasing, but the world's growing thirst for energy has led to higher emissions from coal-fired power plants than ever before. Energy demand around the world grew by 2.3 percent over the past year, marking the most rapid increase in a decade, according to the report from the International Energy Agency. To meet that demand, largely fueled by a booming economy, countries turned to an array of sources, including renewables. But nothing filled the void quite like fossil fuels, which satisfied nearly 70 percent of the skyrocketing electricity demand, according to the agency, which analyzes energy trends on behalf of 30 member countries, including the United States. In particular, a fleet of relatively young coal plants located in Asia, with decades to go on their lifetimes, led the way toward a record for emissions from coal fired power plants - exceeding 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide "for the first time," the agency said. In Asia, "average plants are only 12 years old, decades younger than their average economic lifetime of around 40 years," the agency found. As a result, greenhouse-gas emissions from the use of energy - by far their largest source - surged in 2018, reaching an record high of 33.1 billion tons. Emissions showed 1.7 percent growth, well above the average since 2010. The growth in global emissions in 2018 alone was "equivalent to the total emissions from international aviation," the body found.   Monday's report underscores an unnerving truth about the world's collective efforts to combat climate change: Even as renewable energy rapidly expands, many countries - including the United States and China - are nevertheless still turning to fossil fuels to satisfy ever-growing energy demand.

The two key reasons the world can’t reverse climate emissions - Global energy demand and related carbon emissions both rose again in 2018, according to new figures out this week.  This comes as no surprise. The analysis from the International Energy Agency is in line with other preliminary reports from other organizations. But it raises an awkward question: if renewables are growing and the prices of solar, wind, and batteries are falling, why is the world’s climate pollution still going up?   The first answer is the growing global economy, which pushed energy demand up by 2.3% last year, the IEA says. A contributing factor was that more energy was needed for extra heating and cooling in regions hit by unusually severe cold snaps and heatwaves. These were at least partly driven by our shifting climate. All of that drove increases in generation from coal and natural gas, both of which spew greenhouse gases that warm the planet.  Ultimately, those fossil fuel increases outpaced sharp improvements in solar and wind generation, both of which climbed by double digits in 2018. Even nuclear generation grew at modest levels, rising 3.3%, mainly due to new turbines in China and four reactors that went back online in Japan, according to the IEA.  But figures deeper in the report highlight a systemic issue that’s making it harder to drive down emissions in a consistent way.  From 2000 to 2018, while the portion of global electricity generation from solar and wind grew by 7%, nuclear declined by the same percentage. Meanwhile, coal only dipped by 1% over that time, while natural gas, which emits just more than half as much carbon dioxide, climbed from 18% to 23%.  In other words, renewables mainly picked up market share forfeited by another source of carbon-free power, rather than seizing it from fossil fuels. Once you add that to the increasing use of natural gas and coal use to fuel economic growth, it’s no surprise that the world still isn’t making a real dent in energy emissions,decades after the threat of climate change became clear.

 Harvard scientists want to limit how much sunlight reaches Earth's surface in order to curb global warming - Climate change is one of the greatest challenges mankind has faced up until now. How we'll be able to curtail global warming and its devastating consequences is still very much a hot potato among politicians and scientists alike — and so far, the outcome of all these debates hasn't been particularly fruitful. However, researchers at Harvard may have come up with a solution that sounds just a little too good to be true. In conjunction with researchers from MIT and Princeton, the group has suggested slowing down global warming by diminishing the amount of sunlight that reaches Earth's surface. According to a study published in Nature Climate Change, the researchers are considering what might happen if they were to introduce sunlight-reflecting particles into Earth's atmosphere. The most important thing to note is that the researchers aren't suggesting the method is a solution to rising global warming trends; it isn't designed to bring temperatures back to pre-industrial levels nor does it address the real crux of the problem — the amount of carbon dioxide we're producing.  In fact, too high a dose of "dimming" could even worsen the situation.

Big Banks Can Block Shareholder Climate Proposals, SEC Rules The Securities and Exchange Commission recently allowed two large banks to block a shareholder proposal addressing the climate impact of the banks’ investment portfolios. The proposal requested that Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo reduce the carbon footprint of their loan and investment portfolios to align with the Paris Climate Agreement’s goal of holding global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. The SEC’s decision means that it will be excluded from proxy materials that the companies’ shareholders will consider at the annual meetings. “We’re very disappointed that [the SEC] won’t even allow this on the ballot,” said Danielle Fugere, president of As You Sow, a shareholder advocacy group involved with this resolution and other climate-related proposals. She said the proposal, if passed by the company’s shareholders, would not have mandated action but would have raised the issue with the banks’ boards and management. “This issue will not go away by ignoring it,” Fugere added. The SEC, however, interpreted the proposal as a mandate. “In our view, the Proposal would require the Company to manage its lending and investment activities in alignment with the goals of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement of maintaining global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius,” the Office of Chief Counsel wrote in a letter to the banks. “By imposing this overarching requirement, the Proposal would micromanage the Company by seeking to impose specific methods for implementing complex policies in place of the ongoing judgments of management as overseen by its board of directors.” 

The Problem With the ‘Warm’ in Global Warming: Most Like it Hot - With every incongruous 50-degree F day in Boston this winter, I noticed the same transformations in the people around me: Revelers shed their layers of clothing, smiled more, and made polite small talk about what a great, beautiful, or perfect day it was. I’m always on the outside looking in on these interactions. Whereas my fellow Bostonians take delight in the warm, snowless days, I find them inescapably grim this time of year. In light of what we know about climate change, I feel as though I’m clutching onto a season that is systematically disappearing from my part of the world — and that few others care. In a report called “Most Like It Hot,” the Pew Research Center found that 57 percent of Americans prefer to live in a city with a hot climate, and only 29 percent prefer cold locales. (The rest don’t have a preference.) Even human psychoses reflect this preference for warmth. Almost always, the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are triggered during the cold, dark winter months. Only 10 percent of people with seasonal affective disorder suffer symptoms during the summer. And if you track growth in American cities since the early 1900s, a clear pattern emerges: The biggest upward trends are in places known for warmth.  I have always known that my disdain for warm weather makes me an outlier, but lately I’ve been wondering if it also has something to do with the inertia I’ve witnessed when it comes to addressing global warming — a term, by the way, that has always evoked hell to me, though maybe not to others. Although most of us are now well aware that the potential dangers of global warming go beyond weather — devastating natural disasters, famine, the reemergence of centuries-old diseases from melting permafrost — perhaps a collective preference for warmth has dulled our response to these larger threats that come with climate change. Would there be more urgency and better compliance with initiatives like the Paris Climate Agreement if we were facing the threat of an ice age instead?

OK, I’ll bite. What the hell is my carbon footprint? Grist -- The carbon footprint is the building block of climate understanding: If you begin to quantify your own contribution to the massive cloud of emissions trapping heat in the atmosphere, you can wrap your head around the importance of shrinking your little piece of it. But that doesn’t mean it’s exactly intuitive. Basically, a carbon footprint measures the amount of carbon dioxide released throughout an object’s manufacturing process and existence. So, say we’re measuring the carbon impact of a pencil — you might measure CO2 emitted by the timber operation that felled and processed the wood for the pencil, the machinery that mined graphite, the trucks that brought those raw materials to the pencil factory, the pencil factory itself, the generators powering the pencil factory, and finally, by the truck that shipped the pencil to the Staples or wherever. Understanding the energy that feeds the multiple supply chains that touch a product’s life cycle is difficult, but Barnhart says calculating a product’s environmental impact could be a lot more complicated. You have to truncate the history at some point, or, theoretically, you could go all the way back to the invention of the wheel. “We count all the big components [which make up an estimated 90 percent of the carbon mass of a product] and ignore the rest.” Calculating the carbon impact of a person’s lifestyle takes a similar approach — you look at the big CO2 contributors, which are home, transportation, diet, and purchasing habits. The only peer-reviewed personal carbon footprint calculator is made by the CoolClimate Network, a project at UC Berkeley, and I have to say I’m a big fan: It’s easy to use, kind of fun, comprehensive, and gives you a sense of how your household’s footprint compares to others’. I played around with it to see what makes up my household’s biggest contribution:

Trump Administration Dims Rule On Energy Efficient Lightbulbs - If it's been a few years since you shopped for a lightbulb, you might find yourself confused. Those controversial curly-cue ones that were cutting edge not that long ago? Gone. (Or harder to find.) Thanks to a 2007 law signed by President George W. Bush, shelves these days are largely stocked with LED bulbs that look more like the traditional pear-shaped incandescent version but use just one-fifth the energy.A second wave of lightbulb changes was set to happen. But now the Trump administration wants to undo an Obama-era regulation designed to make a wide array of specialty lightbulbs more energy efficient.At issue here are bulbs such as decorative globes used in bathrooms, reflectors in recessed lighting, candle-shaped lights and three-way lightbulbs. The Natural Resources Defense Council says that, collectively, these account for about 2.7 billion light sockets, nearly half the conventional sockets in use in the U.S.  At the very end of the Obama administration, the Department of Energy decided these specialty bulbs should also be subject to efficiency requirements under the 2007 law. The lighting industry objected and sued to overturn the decision."DOE, in our view, exceeded its authority," says Clark Silcox, general counsel for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association. NEMA argued that Congress never intended for the law to apply to all these other lightbulbs. After President Trump took office the Energy Department agreed and proposed to reverse the agency's previous decision.

 Green New Deal fizzles out in the Senate as Dems accuse GOP of putting on a 'stunt' vote -- A Green New Deal proposal backed by numerous Democrats failed to advance in the Senate on Tuesday as Democrats protested what they called a political show vote orchestrated by majority Republicans. The nonbinding resolution, which calls on the United States to make an ambitious effort to slash its use of fossil fuels to fight climate change, fell short in a procedural vote. The Senate did not proceed to debating the measure, as 57 senators voted against it and 43 Democrats and independents who caucus with them — nearly all of the Democratic caucus — voted "present." Four senators who vote with Democrats — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Doug Jones and Alabama and independent Angus King of Maine — voted against the resolution. By voting "present," Democrats hoped not to go on the record on a bill that had no realistic chance of passing, even if they support the concept of a Green New Deal. The six Democratic senators running for president next year — who co-sponsored the original resolution introduced by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. — did not take a position on the measure Tuesday. Democrats have pushed for drastic action to combat climate change as the planet warms and severe weather events such as recent Midwestern flooding have devastated U.S. communities. They say the U.S. has only a limited window to combat climate change and address an existential threat. Republicans have gleefully criticized the Green New Deal, warning about Democratic efforts to take away anything from cars to hamburgers. They accuse Democrats of a drift toward socialism spurred in part by freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., a champion of the measure in the House.

Green New Deal Voted Down by Senate, but Activists Aren’t Deterred - Real News Network, video & transcript - The Senate rejected the proposal in what Democrats called a “sham vote,” but 18-year-old Jeremy Ornstein of the Sunrise Movement says that won’t stop the movement for climate action

The Green New Deal and the case against incremental climate policy - The public debate over the Green New Deal has taken on a surreal quality. The non-binding resolution introduced to Congress last month, meant to address the dual crises of climate change and growing inequality, is just 14 pages long. It only takes a minute to read it. Yet the debate has been dominated by phantasms and lurid projections, all sorts of things imagined to be in the GND, or imagined to be prohibited by it (e.g. cars and airplanes). The reality of what’s on those pages has made only glancing appearances.The most puzzling critiques have come not from Republicans, but from the center left, broadly speaking. They urge policies to reduce greenhouse gases that are perfectly commensurate with the GND framework ... but present them as alternatives to the GND framework. (We’ll look at some examples later.)The connecting theme, the message, sometimes implicit and sometimes explicit, is this: move more slowly. Accept piecemeal progress rather than a big thing. Don’t push beyond strict carbon policy into social or economic policy. A chorus of voices is telling GND proponents, in short, to ask for less.If the choice these critiques presented — ask for everything and get nothing versus ask for and get incremental progress — were in fact the choice on the table, the critiques would make sense. I think it’s long past time to admit that it isn’t possible. Republicans will block any federal Democratic climate initiative that they have the power to block. Period. Big stuff. Small stuff. Anything. And under the current alignment of forces, they can block everything.

Big problem facing the Green New Deal: A lack of power lines to deliver wind and solar - The Green New Deal would require an overhaul of the transmission lines that deliver wind and solar power, a major logistical obstacle to the progressive plan for radically revamping the economy to address climate change. The Green New Deal's plan to ramp up federal funding for wind and solar to reach 100 percent renewable or clean electricity won't be sufficient without addressing transmission lines, which often meet political opposition at the local, not federal, level.  “It's not getting enough attention from policymakers,”  “People often want to believe the myth you can get to high renewable energy without transmission networks. Unfortunately, that is not going to work.” Transmission lines are critical to transporting electricity from places, typically rural areas, that have an abundance of wind or solar to consumers in population centers that don’t generate significant renewable electricity. “There are major areas of the country where we have significant wind and solar resources that cannot reach market,”  Economists from the Brattle Group said in a report this month that policymakers risk overbuilding the electricity system with surplus wind and solar if they don’t appreciate the need for expanding the U.S. transmission system. The Brattle Group projects $30 billion to $90 billion would have to be spent on transmission by 2030 to “cost-effectively” serve “the coming electrification of the American economy,” meaning more use of wind and solar for electricity, and more drivers using transportation powered by electricity. That investment would represent a 20 to 50 percent increase in average annual transmission spending compared to the past 10 years. But building transmission is hard. Major long-distance transmission projects require 10 or more years to be approved and developed, because of a diffuse permitting process that is subject to delay because of local opposition from people living near the planned power lines — a problem known as not-in-my-backyard-ism, or NIMBYism. Unlike with natural gas pipelines, which have also been plagued by NIMBYism mostly because of environmental reasons, the federal government has little power to approve transmission lines, with the authorities mostly delegated to states. And the places where power lines would need to be built don't necessarily benefit from using or generating the power, making it harder to get their approval to build.

Company receives key approval for wind turbines on Lake Erie near downtown Cleveland - A wind energy project proposed off the coast of downtown Cleveland has received a key approval on the way to getting turbines installed The Icebreaker Wind project received approval of a construction permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. The Army Corps oversees the Rivers and Harbors and the Clean Water Act. “The issuance of the permit represents a big step forward for this thoroughly reviewed project,” said Lorry Wagner, President of the Cleveland-based Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation, which is developing Icebreaker Wind. “It would put Cleveland on the international map as being a progressive leader in clean energy and it would lead to Ohio becoming a participant in the booming $50 billion U.S. Offshore Wind industry.” This project represents the first step toward realizing the substantial potential of making our region a national hub for wind energy.” Some state approval is still needed.The wind farm would go up eight miles off the coast of downtown Cleveland, off the Port of Cleveland. (Map of the location included in photo gallery below.)The wind farm would consist of 6 turbines. Construction could start as early as 2021.The company reports the project would have a minimal visual impact. (Photos of their renderings in the photo gallery below.) The company says the 6-turbine wind farm would create a minimum of 500 jobs and power 7,000 homes.

New Wind and Solar Power Is Cheaper Than Existing Coal in Much of the U.S., Analysis Finds  - Not a single coal-fired power plant along the Ohio River will be able to compete on price with new wind and solar power by 2025, according to a new report by energy analysts.The same is true for every coal plant in a swath of the South that includes the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. They're part of the 86 percent of coal plants nationwide that are projected to be on the losing end of this cost comparison, the analysis found.The findings are part of a report issued Monday by Energy Innovation and Vibrant Clean Energy that shows where the shifting economics of electricity generation may force utilities and regulators to ask difficult questions about what to do with assets that are losing their value.The report takes a point that has been well-established by other studies—that coal power, in addition to contributing to air pollution and climate change, is often a money-loser—and shows how it applies at the state level and plant level when compared with local wind and solar power capacity.  "My big takeaway is the breadth and universality of this trend across the continental U.S. and the speed with which things are changing," said Mike O'Boyle, a co-author of the report and director of energy policy for Energy Innovation, a research firm focused on clean energy.The report is not saying that all of those coal plants could or should be immediately replaced by renewable sources. That kind of transition requires careful planning to make sure that the electricity system has the resources it needs. It also doesn't consider the role of competition from natural gas.The key point is a simpler one: Building new wind and solar power capacity locally, defined as within 35 miles for the report, is often less expensive than people in those markets realize, and this is indicative of a price trend that is making coal less competitive. This shift shows how market forces are helping the country move away from fossil fuels. At the same time, coal interests have been trying to obscure or cast doubt on this trend, while seeking more government subsidies to slow their industry's decline.

Shutting Down Almost Every Coal Plant and Swapping For Renewables Would Save Money, Report Finds - An analysis released Monday from Energy Innovation, a energy policy shop focused on developing policies for a clean energy transition, finds that right now, its cheaper to tear down three-quarters of American coal plants and replace them with renewables than to let them continue operating. That number will only continue to rise into the future as renewables continue on their way to becoming among the cheapest sources of energy. The research has dubbed this inflection point the “coal cost crossover.” And many aging coal plants in the U.S. are on the wrong side of it. To reach that conclusion, analysts at Energy Innovation and Vibrant Clean Energy, another energy research group, took a look at public data on power plant operating costs and weather modeling about when the sun shines and wind blows. They then compared continuing to run existing coal plants with what it would cost to replace them locally with wind or solar. The findings show that retiring 74 percent of American coal power plants and replacing them with wind or solar plants would provide an immediate saving to utilities. About 44 percent of that coal power is substantially at-risk, that is it could be replaced by renewables that are at least 25 percent cheaper. The biggest chunk of at-risk coal plants is in the Southeast where solar power, in particular, would provide a substantial cost savings. The analysis includes projections to 2025 and finds that number of at-risk coal plants increases to 86 percent. That rise reflects the addition of a number of coal plants in the Midwest, places where wind is already cheap but where solar will become even more attractive as prices drop. Even the percentage of at-risk coal plants is likely conservative, because the analysis required any replacement renewables to be sited within 35 miles of the coal plant they would replace. Nor does the analysis include anything about the societal toll coal from contaminated groundwater to health issues tied with mercury and other heavy metals it emits.

74% of US Coal Plants Threatened by Renewables, But Emissions Continue To Rise - The International Energy Agency (IEA) released a report on Monday saying that in 2018, "global energy-related CO2 emissions rose by 1.7 percent to 33 Gigatonnes." That's the most growth in emissions that the world has seen since 2013. Coal use contributed to a third of the total increase, mostly from new coal-fired power plants in China and India. This is worrisome because new coal plants have a lifespan of roughly 50 years. But the consequences of climate change are already upon us, and coal's hefty emissions profile compared to other energy sources means that, globally, carbon mitigation is going to be a lot more difficult to tackle than it may look from here in the US.Even in the US, carbon emissions grew by 3.1 percent in 2018, according to the IEA. (This closely tracks estimates by the Rhodium Group, which released a preliminary report in January saying that US carbon emissions increased by 3.4 percent in 2018.)"By country, China, the United States, and India together accounted for nearly 70 percent of the rise in energy demand," Reuters wrote. The numbers remind us that economics alone is likely not enough to rein in carbon emissions in the United States. Last week, the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration (EIA) said that barring some significant and unforeseeable changes, carbon emissions from the US are likely to stay about the same through 2050.  This estimate takes into account big carbon-cutting measures that were already on the books in many states at the end of 2018, including California's pledge to meet 100 percent of its energy needs with carbon-free electricity. (It doesn't, however, take very recent policy decisions into account, like New Mexico's similar pledge that was signed in March.)

On its way to carbon-free power, Xcel wants to buy a natural gas plant -- Opponents of Xcel Energy’s proposed purchase of a Mankato natural gas plant say the sale would be a bad deal for ratepayers and runs counter to the company’s own pledge of achieving 100 percent carbon-free power by 2050. The utility announced in November that it had agreed to purchase the 760-megawatt Mankato Energy Center from Atlanta-based Southern Company. The Public Utilities Commission still must approve the $650 million sale. In comments to regulators, a wide range of critics contend the utility would be overpaying by around $100 million for a power plant that may not be needed as the company continues to make progress on wind and solar generation. They point out that even Xcel’s filings concede ratepayers will not see a price benefit for more than a decade, and perhaps two decades. Xcel already buys electricity from the plant. In regulatory filings, Xcel said that owning the plant “provides long-term cost benefits for our customers” by mitigating risks associated with two power purchase contracts set to expire in 2026 and 2039. Owning the plant would also allow for greater flexibility in meeting electricity demands while incorporating more renewable energy, the company said. The company also has plans to build a natural gas plant in Becker, Minnesota, to replace two coal units.

China bucking global shift from coal-fired power: environmental study (Reuters) - China restarted construction on more than 50 gigawatts (GW) of suspended coal-fired power plants last year, bucking a global shift away from fossil fuels, a new study showed on Thursday. China has repeatedly pledged to reduce its reliance on coal, a major source of smog and climate-warming greenhouse gases, and it has already cut coal’s share of its total energy mix to 59 percent, down from 68.5 percent in 2012. But satellite images show China “quietly resumed” construction in 2018 on dozens of previously shelved plants, making it a “glaring exception to the global decline”, said a joint report by environmental groups Global Energy Monitor, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club. The report warned that China could build an additional 290 GW of capacity - more than the whole of the United States’ coal capacity - and still remain within the 1,300-GW cap for national coal-fired power generation proposed by the China Electricity Council, an influential industry group. China’s National Development and Reform Commission and its National Energy Administration did not immediately respond to faxed requests to comment on the conclusions of the report. Lauri Myllyvirta, analyst with Greenpeace’s Global Air Pollution Unit, said Chinese firms are now “pushing for hundreds of additional coal-fired power plants”. “Another coal power construction spree would be near impossible to reconcile with emission reductions needed to avoid the worst impacts of global warming,” he said. Worldwide, the number of newly completed coal projects fell 20 percent in 2018 and plant retirements continued at a record pace, the study said. But China’s relationship with the dirtiest of fossil fuels remains ambivalent. The domestic coal power capacity under construction rose 12 percent in 2018, though it was still a third lower than what was being built in 2015. Beijing has also cut back dramatically on new project permits. While China has vowed to cap consumption nationally and even make cuts in regions like Beijing, Hebei and Henan, overall coal-fired generation has increased, particularly from new “coal bases” in the nation’s northwest. And though it has promoted alternative fuels at home and built hundreds of solar and wind farms, China is still financing more than a quarter of the new coal-fired plants abroad. China is also keen to prop up coal prices and ensure a “soft landing” for a commodity responsible for millions of domestic jobs in struggling industrial districts.  

In 2018, U.S. coal exports were the highest in five years - While U.S. coal consumption has generally declined since its 2008 peak, EIA expects that U.S. coal exports reached 116 million short tons (MMst) in 2018, the highest level in five years, based on foreign trade data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. Exports of coal from the United States have increased since 2016 as international prices have made it more economic for U.S. producers to sell coal overseas.  In 2018, the United States exported 15% of its coal, and the remaining 85% was sold to end-use markets, primarily power sector and industrial customers. Coal exports have increased during the past two years, driven by increasing international coal demand, and in 2018 accounted for the largest share of total U.S. coal disposition on record. The United States exported 54 MMst of steam coal and 62 MMst of metallurgical coal in 2018, based on export data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. Strong international demand has led to export prices increasing in recent years; coal export prices have increased in each of the past two years to average $59 per ton for steam coal and $138 per ton for metallurgical coal in 2018. Metallurgical coal, which is used in the steel-making process, has greater value than steam coal, which is used to create heat for industrial processes, commercial use, and utility-scale electricity generation. Asian countries account for about 75% of metallurgical coal trade in the world, and increased demand in China and India in 2017 and 2018 has helped to push metallurgical coal prices up throughout Asia.  U.S. steam coal exports to Asia have also increased during the past two years, from 5 MMst in 2016 to 20 MMst in 2018, or nearly 40% of total U.S. steam coal exports. India, Japan, and South Korea were the primary Asian destinations for U.S. steam coal. U.S. steam coal exports have also increased to some new markets such as Egypt, Thailand, and Ukraine in recent years, providing some potential for market growth.   Price data from EIA’s Annual Coal Report show that foreign coal trade appears to drive the market for U.S. metallurgical coal. The volume of metallurgical exports has grown to triple the level of domestic coke producer demand for metallurgical coal. Steam coal export prices also respond to international price movement, but they have a more limited impact on domestic coal prices because steam coal exports account for less than 10% of steam coal demand.

Dominion makes final decision to close 10 coal and gas-fired units in Virginia - Dominion Energy has made a final decision to permanently shutter 10 older and less-efficient generating units that can no longer compete profitably. The utility had previously put the units into cold storage,taking a wait-and-see approach on whether to bring them back online.  The units include a mixture of coal and gas-fired resources, along with one biomass unit. There are no job losses associated with the decision,the company said. Dominion has almost 2,000 MW of renewables generation across its utility territories and is working to grow emissions-free generation, but maintained the option to restart the 10 units for more than a year. Company officials say there is little chance energy market conditions will change, prompting the permanent closures. The economics have not changed since Dominion put the 10 units in cold storage, as cleaner and more-efficient generation continues to dominate the market. Ultimately, the utility determined there was no reason to wait longer."These are smaller, older, less-efficient units that could not compete in the current energy market, and we did not see that changing," Dominion spokesman Dan Genest told Utility Dive.  The recent decision to close them permanently was made "for the same reason they were put into cold reserve in the first place," said Genest. All of the units are in Virginia, and are located at Dominion's Chesterfield, Bremo, Bellemeade, Pittsylvania and Possum Point power plants.EPA says Missouri’s plan to regulate coal ash ponds and landfills is too weak - The Environmental Protection Agency notified Missouri environmental regulators this month that the state’s plan for overseeing the disposal of toxic waste from coal-fired power plants is not strong enough to protect human health and the environment.In a recent letter to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, EPA officials noted several provisions in the state’s plan that are weaker than the 2015 federal coal ash rule. Some allow the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to waive requirements for utility companies to clean up groundwater contamination or even monitor groundwater for toxic chemicals if they can show that it doesn’t affect drinking-water supplies or harm the environment.Environmentalists and utility companies have disagreed over whether the MDNR’s proposed coal ash regulations will be strong enough to address contamination that’s been detected near many coal ash ponds and landfills in Missouri. The number of comments EPA has made about the state’s plan is unusual, said Andy Knott, a representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “I think that this is astonishing and that it’s just further evidence that the DNR cares more about the demands of the coal utilities than the needs of Missourians for clean water,” Knott said at a public hearing MDNR hosted in Jefferson City on Thursday afternoon.

Creditors of PG&E, owner of the biggest US power utility, reportedly propose a $35B exit plan - Creditors of PG&E, including Elliott Management and Pacific Investment Management Co. (Pimco), are proposing a $35 billion plan for the California power utility to emerge from bankruptcy within a year, Bloomberg reported late on Wednesday.Pimco, Elliott and David Kempner Capital Management have discussed the proposal with California lawmakers and other stakeholders, Bloomberg reported, citing sources familiar with the matter.The plan would form a $14 billion cash trust to pay for the claims linked to the wildfires in 2017 and 2018, it said, citing the proposal seen by the news outlet. Neither of the parties responded to requests for comment outside regular U.S. business hours.

Who Pays When Polluting Companies Shut Down? -- Operating a hazardous waste facility can be a messy business that often leaves soils, groundwater and drinking water aquifers polluted with some of the most dangerous substances used in industry.  To shield the public from possible health risks and financial liabilities, battery recyclers, landfill owners and others are required to provide financial assurance, a sum of money similar to an insurance policy for cleaning these facilities up when it’s time to close them down. If the contamination is especially difficult to remediate, operators must put up enough money to pay for cleanup costs long after a hazardous waste facility stops operating—decades, potentially.  California, however, has a long history of failing to make hazardous waste operators provide adequate financial assurances, leaving taxpayers to pick up a tab that can bloat into millions of dollars. Over the last 15 years alone, multiple oversight agencies and panels have criticized this aspect of the state’s approach to financial assurance. A Capital & Main review of California’s 106 permitted hazardous waste facilities listed on the state website has found that the Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC)—the state agency responsible for overseeing hazardous waste facilities—still repeatedly fails to require adequate financial assurances from operators of hazardous waste facilities, leaving taxpayers potentially liable for massive clean-up costs.

Geothermal plant 'triggered earthquake' in S. Korea - A rare earthquake in South Korea was triggered by the country's first experimental geothermal power plant, a team of government-commissioned experts said Wednesday. The southeastern port city of Pohang was rattled by a 5.4-magnitude earthquake in November 2017—the second-most powerful tremor ever in the normally seismically stable South. Dozens of people were injured and more than 1,500 left homeless—while a nationwide college entrance exam was postponed in an unprecedented move as authorities scrambled with recovery efforts. A year-long government-commissioned study pointed to the geothermal power plant as the cause. The plant works by injecting high-pressure water deep underground to tap heat from the Earth's crust, but the process had produced micro-sized seismic activity as a result, said Lee Kang-kun, who led the research. "And as time passed, this triggered the earthquake in Pohang," he added. "We concluded that the Pohang earthquake was a 'triggered quake'. It wasn't a natural earthquake." Pohang residents filed a lawsuit against the government after the quake, and following the assessment Seoul expressed its "deep regret". The geothermal plant—which was temporarily suspended during the study—will be "permanently shuttered", the trade, industry and energy ministry said in a statement.

Trump signs executive order to protect the US from a ‘debilitating’ EMP attack - President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday to protect the US from electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) that could have a "debilitating" effect on critical US infrastructure.Trump instructed federal agencies to identify EMP threats to vital US systems and determine ways to guard against them, Bloomberg first reported. A potentially harmful EMP event can be caused by a natural occurrence or the detonation of a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere.The threat of an EMP attack against the US reportedly drove the president to issue Tuesday's order. Multiple federal agencies, as well as the White House National Security Council, have been instructed to make this a priority."Today's executive order — the first ever to establish a comprehensive policy to improve resilience to EMPs — is one more example of how the administration is keeping its promise to always be vigilant against present dangers and future threats," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement,according to The Hill.With the release of the White House National Security Strategy in 2017, Trump became the first president to highlight the need to protect to the US electrical grid."Critical infrastructure keeps our food fresh, our houses warm, our trade flowing, and our citizens productive and safe," the document said."The vulnerability of U.S. critical infrastructure to cyber, physical, and electromagnetic attacks means that adversaries could disrupt military command and control, banking and financial operations, the electrical grid, and means of communication."

Public will never know truth behind Three Mile Island, anti-nuclear energy advocates say - The public will never know the truth behind some of the most basic facts about the nation’s worst nuclear disaster nor the actual amount of radiation that was released. Those were some of the messages underscored on Monday by the head of Three Mile Island Alert, an anti-nuclear advocacy group, and other advocates at a press conference in the Main Rotunda of the state Capitol. Just days shy of the 40th anniversary of the partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Londonderry Township, TMI Alert’s Eric Epstein excoriated the nuclear industry for misrepresenting the facts of the accident, and in the process misleading and misinforming the public. “Three Mile Island is an accident without an ending,” Epstein said. “There’s no bookends to it. If you look at the holy trinity of nuclear accidents, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, we can probably pretty much tell you when they started. The reality is there is no ending. This is a funeral where the pallbearers need to stand in place for 500 years. That’s tough for a society that has the memory of a fruitfly.” Epstein was joined by Tim Judson, executive director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service, and Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer, who over the years converted from a proponent to an ardent critic. Judson and Gundersen outlined the chain of events that took place on March 28, 1979, the start of the partial meltdown, as well as the levels of radiation released and subsequent impact on the health of the region. Repeated studies find no conclusive link between the TMI accident and public health. But those conclusions don’t satisfy those who live around the plant and know people who became sick and died at young ages. Judson said the Three Mile Island story amounted to a “mistelling of history” of what could have been a preventable accident. He said that as a result of inconsistencies provided by the nuclear industry, the public was not given - nor will never have - a clear picture of the facts and the risks surrounding the meltdown. Gundersen explained that because inadequate radiation monitors were in place at the time, officials were never able to get an accurate reading of radiation levels. All analysis of radiation releases were based on mathematical corrections to estimates derived from off-site dose readings, he said.

Radioactive material released from Fukushima plant doubled up since last year - The released amount of Cs-137 and Cs-134 from the crippled reactors in Fukushima plant reached over the double compared to the previous year. Tepco released their monthly report about the additional atmospheric contamination on 25th February 2019. According to the report, from January 2018 to January 2019, 933,000,000 Bq of Cs-137 and Cs-134 were release from the buildings of reactor 1, 2, 3 and 4 in total. It was 471,000,000 Bq during the corresponding period of the previous year.  Tepco commented it is likely to be affected by debris removal task around reactor 1 etc.. They avoided mentioning the further details.

Risberg Pipeline crews begin clearing land  — Work has begun on the Risberg Pipeline as crews have started clearing land in Pennsylvania and Ohio. The $86 million natural gas pipeline expansion project includes a 28-mile expansion of a pipeline that now ends in Meadville, Pennsylvania. New, 12-inch pipe will stretch in a northwestern direction through Pennsylvania before entering Ohio in Conneaut near Baldwin Road. Once in Ohio, the pipe will extend another 12 miles through stretches of Conneaut and Kingsville Township before reaching its end in North Kingsville near the CSX Railway crossing on Route 193."The project in earnest is still in Pennsylvania," Dennis Holbrook, spokesperson for RH energytrans, said.There also is some work happening in Ohio at the meter station in North Kingsville, where the pipeline will end. The project currently employs more than 170 people, and Holbrook expects that number to rise above 200 before the project finishes.  RH energytrans has set up a camp in Kingsville, just north of Interstate 90, he said. The camp will act as a staging area, and also has temporary office facilities and portable restrooms."The biggest challenge right now is getting cooperation from the weather," Holbrook said. If the weather cooperates, he said, the project should be completed sometime in the early summer.

Work Underway at Injection Well Idled by Quake -  – Work is underway at a Class II injection well site in Coitsville Township that was drilled, but then idled after a 4.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the Mahoning Valley more than seven years ago.On Friday morning, backhoes and construction workers were busy at the well site along McCartney Road, preparing the area for further development.“The Northstar Collins No. 6 well is listed as drilled, and the old permit has expired,” said Adam Schroeder, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Oil and Gas Division. “We’re having ongoing conversations with the owners and are awaiting an application for a new permit, if that’s the direction they want to go with the property.”Schroeder said it’s likely that Bobcat Energy will apply for a permit to use the site for “oil and gas activity” once it is prepared.When contacted by a reporter, a representative from Bobcat Energy hung up the phone.The Collins No. 6 well was drilled but never activated. That’s because an injection well in Youngstown, then owned by now-defunct D&L Energy, was tied to a series of earthquakes that shook the region beginning in March 2011. On New Year’s Eve of that year, a magnitude 4.0 quake that officials say was triggered by the Youngstown well shook the Mahoning Valley.Gov. John Kasich ordered the well shut down and declared a moratorium on further injection well activity within a five-mile radius of the Youngstown well. That moratorium has since been lifted. The Coitsville well, once owned by D&L but now owned by Canfield-based Bobcat, was drilled in 2011 but never activated, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

ODNR Issues 2 Well Permits in Columbiana County - The Ohio Department of Natural Resources last week awarded five new permits for horizontal wells in the Utica shale – two of which are targeted for Columbiana County. ODNR approved permits March 18 for Houston-based Hilcorp Energy Co. to drill two horizontal wells at the Auer well pad in Elk Run Township, according to records. There were no new permits issued for Mahoning and Trumbull counties in the northern tier of the Utica shale. EAP Ohio LLC secured three permits to drill new wells in Jefferson County, in the southeastern tier of the play, ODNR reported. As of March 23, the state had issued 3,042 permits across Ohio’s Utica shale. Of these, 2,554 wells have been drilled and 2,167 of these wells are in production. ODNR reported there were 15 rigs operating in the Utica shale during the week ended March 23. There were no new permits issued in the Utica for Lawrence or Mercer counties in western Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Natural gas industry has generated $45.8 million in taxes in eastern Ohio - Over the past nine years, the oil and gas industry has brought jobs, better roads and increased tax revenues to counties and school districts throughout eastern Ohio. That was the message that Mike Chadsey, director of public relations for the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, brought to members of the New Philadelphia Rotary on Tuesday. After he made his presentation, he stopped at The Times-Reporter office to discuss issues related to the industry. “My message was, as Tuscarawas County, you are not on the outside looking in, regarding shale development. There is much going on locally that is positive and directly connected to the oil and gas industry.” Between 2010 and 2015, the industry has paid $45.8 million in taxes in six Ohio counties — Belmont, Carroll, Guernsey, Harrison, Monroe and Noble, he said. During that time, it paid $14 million in property taxes in Carroll County and $11 million in Harrison County. In addition, the industry has spent $302.6 million to improve 639 miles of highway in eastern Ohio. That includes $44.7 million in Carroll County for 99.33 miles of roads and $31.4 million in Harrison County for 54.75 miles of roads. Energy companies have invested $8.1 billion on five pipeline projects. Kinder Morgan spent $500 million to build the 215-mile-long Utopia Pipeline and Energy Transfer spent $4.3 billion to build the 570-mile-long Rover Pipeline. Both pipelines run through Harrison, Carroll and Tuscarawas counties.

Power sector pushed domestic U.S. natural gas consumption to new record in 2018 - U.S. natural gas consumption increased by 10% in 2018, reaching a record high of 82.1 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), according to EIA’s recently released Natural Gas Monthly. Domestic consumption of natural gas increased across all sectors in 2018, led by a 3.8 Bcf/d increase in the electric power sector caused by a combination of recent natural gas-fired electric capacity additions and weather-related factors. The electric power sector consumed 29.1 Bcf/d in 2018, or 35% of total domestic U.S. natural gas consumption. Natural gas continued to make up the highest share of utility-scale electricity generation after first surpassing coal-fired generation on an annual basis in 2016. Specifically, natural gas accounted for one-third (35%) of utility-scale electricity generation in 2018, followed by coal (27%), nuclear (19%), and hydropower (7%). New natural gas generator capacity additions continued to displace coal-fired power plants and other less efficient sources of electricity. In 2018, about 14.5 gigawatts (GW) of net natural gas capacity were added, while almost 13 GW of coal-fired capacity were retired. Annual fluctuations in natural gas consumption are largely driven by weather. During the winter, U.S. natural gas consumption levels are at their highest because natural gas is the predominant source of space heating in the residential and commercial sectors. As natural gas makes up a larger share of electricity generation, natural gas consumption increases both in the summer—when air conditioning demand is high—and in the winter, especially in places such as the South where electric space heating is more common. In 2018, the United States experienced several periods of extremely warm and cold weather, contributing to record-high natural gas consumption. Much of the Lower 48 states experienced prolonged periods of colder-than-normal temperatures in January 2018, and record-high average monthly temperatures during summer 2018 increased natural gas use in the electric power sector. In July 2018, natural gas consumption in the electric power sector set an all-time record of 39.9 Bcf/d, followed by the second-highest recorded level in August 2018 of 38.6 Bcf/d.

IHS Markit Study: Ohio Valley region will supply nearly half of USA’s natural gas by 2040 - The Marcellus and Utica shale formations are among the largest sources of natural gas and NGLs in the world, and their production will increase exponentially in the next two decades, according to an IHS Markit study released at the World Petrochemical Conference in San Antonio, Texas. Natural gas from the tri-state region of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia will supply 45% of the nation’s production by 2040, up from 31% this year, according to the study. The production of the highly lucrative NGLs ethane, propane, and butane is expected to nearly double in the same period, accounting for 19% of the nation’s total by 2040, up from 14% in 2018, the study shows. The study, ‘Estimated Logistics Benefits of the Shale Crescent USA Region Versus the U.S. Gulf Coast for Natural Gas and LPG’ examines both production trends and the economics of petrochemical production in the region. “Research continues to drive home the myriad economic advantages for manufacturers in the Shale Crescent region when compared to other, more traditionally accepted energy and chemical hubs,” said Wally Kandel, spokesperson for Shale Crescent USA. “Investors are catching on that the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations offer unprecedented benefits. There are few other places in the world, if any, where the supply, manufacturing facilities and end users are all in close proximity.” The IHS study, commissioned by Shale Crescent USA and JobsOhio, quantifies for the first time the anticipated development and production growth emerging from one of the world’s most prolific sources of natural gas and natural gas liquids. In 2018, an IHS study evaluated the prospects for a world-scale ethylene and polyethylene plant based on ethane feedstock in the Shale Crescent region. The 2019 study says the region “will play a key role in satisfying America’s increasing reliance on natural gas, as well as keeping energy costs moderate. Favourable production economics place the Marcellus and Utica shale plays amongst the most cost competitive in the nation.”

Marcellus-Utica turn US energy picture upside down — The Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and West Virginia and the Utica Shale in eastern Ohio have transformed the U.S. energy picture, an industry expert said Thursday. That assessment came from product manager Colette Breshears of Genscape, a speaker at the Sixth Annual Utica Midstream conference sponsored by the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce and Shale Directories.  In 2018-2019, total U.S. natural gas production will reach roughly 97 Bcf/d – with the Marcellus and Utica together producing about 33% of that total, Breshears said. The Rockies are producing 13%, the Permian Basin 12% and the Mid-Continent 11%, she noted. “Today there’s just a huge surge of gas coming out of the Northeast,” according to Breshears. That natural gas is being increasingly being shipped to markets on the Gulf Coast, which has required major changes to the country’s energy infrastructure, she said. More pipelines from the Appalachian Basin to markets and additional infrastructure are needed, Breshears told her audience. She cited roughly 20 pipeline projects in development, and more announcements are expected soon, she added. Utica production has grown from 0.2 Bcf/d in 2009, to 7.3 Bcf/d in 2018, she said.   If prices hold, there is enough natural gas in the Marcellus and Utica to drill for another 20 to 30 years, Breshears said. As of March 9, Ohio has permitted 3,094 Utica horizontal wells, of which 2,586 have been drilled, said Rick Simmers, chief of the Ohio Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management. He said Ohio lists 2,163 wells as being capable of production, but that number of wells is actually closer to 1,700 wells. Ohio has 15 rigs at work in the Utica, compared to 60 rigs at the peak of production in 2015. Drillers in Ohio have become more efficient, Simmers said. In 2012-2103, it took drillers 35 days to drill a 6,000-foot vertical well with a 4,000-foot lateral, he said. Today, drillers in 14 days can drill a 10,000-foot-deep well with a 12,000-foot lateral. Ohio is reworking its rules to allow drillers to determine the spacing between wells on a pad, after a micro-seismic review indicated significant oil and gas was being left behind in drilling, Simmers said. Those rule revisions will likely be completed by July

Shell Sees New Role for Former Steel Region: Plastics — The expansive Royal Dutch Shell chemical processing plant under construction on a big bend of the Ohio River in western Pennsylvania is one of the largest and most expensive projects ever to be built along the tributary. It’s not only the plant’s mammoth scale that has attracted attention. Just as significant is the project’s location: 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, on a river that for four decades has been a corridor of Rust Belt industrial ruin.That era is over, Shell executives say. The sentiment is shared by the region’s tradespeople, business executives and political leaders, who are eager to strengthen the economies of towns along the river. For the first time in two generations, steel girders and worn tubing are not being dismantled along the banks of the upper Ohio and shipped away. Instead, new parts are being assembled by Bechtel, Shell’s primary contractor, into a world-scale, state-of-the-art chemical processor to convert liquid natural gas into polyethylene, a common plastic. The 386-acre plant replaces a long-shuttered zinc smelter. It is among the most expensive industrial production projects ever built along the 981-mile Ohio River and the first sizable new factory on the Ohio since North American Stainless opened its metal manufacturing operation in 1992, downriver in Ghent, Ky.    Shell never discloses the cost of its projects, but an economic analysis prepared several years ago for Shell by Robert Morris University and submitted to the state projected that the cost would be $6 billion. Shell ended its polyethylene production in 2005 in the face of increasing costs and growing competition, but it began evaluating a return in 2012. At the time, the colossal dimensions of the natural gas reserves bound up in shale formations deep beneath the rural upper Ohio River counties in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia were becoming clearer, and technology was making it easier to tap those reserves.In 2005, the first wells were drilled in the region. Since then, some 17,000 more gas wells have been drilled and hydraulically fractured under high pressure to release a torrent of “dry” methane for electrical generation and heating and “wet” gas liquids like ethane, pentane and propane. During the same period, billions of dollars were spent on gas separation plants, pipelines, pumping stations, gas-fired electrical generating stations and shipping terminals. The investments turned the upper Ohio River Valley into the largest natural gas field in the United States. The region produced nine trillion cubic feet of fuel last year, a third of the national production.

Meeting set on proposed shale gas well at U.S. Steel mill in Mon Valley - The state Department of Environmental Protection will hold a public meeting this week on a controversial proposal that eventually could result in a half-dozen Marcellus Shale gas wells being drilled and fracked on U.S. Steel Corp.’s Edgar Thomson steel mill site in the Monongahela Valley. Lauren Fraley, spokeswoman for DEP’s southwest district, said in an email response to questions that the department has received approximately two dozen letters or postcards expressing opposition to the proposed project. At the meeting, scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, DEP will present information and answer questions about the proposal to build the well pad and drill an initial shale gas well between Braddock Avenue and Turtle Creek, straddling the North Versailles-East Pittsburgh border.   The well-drilling operation, which could include as many as five additional wells, was proposed by Merrion Oil & Gas Corp., which has leased the land from U.S. Steel. New Mexico-based Merrion previously has said the well would be drilled vertically about 6,000 feet below the surface and then have extended laterals of 8,500 to 10,000 feet horizontally. The company, which is invited to Wednesday’s meeting, did not return phone calls seeking comment Friday. The shale gas well would be the first “unconventional” horizontal shale well drilled by the company, and the first well of any kind it has drilled in Pennsylvania. Merrion does have extensive experience drilling vertical, so-called “conventional” wells, in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. Environmental advocates have opposed the project and called for public hearings, saying they have public health and safety concerns about such a drilling operation in a densely populated area already impacted by industrial emissions from steel making and coke making operations in the Mon Valley. Approximately 21,000 people live within a 2-mile radius of the proposed shale gas drilling site. 

New Risks Posed by 2100 psi Pressure on Mariner 2x Pipeline in Penna. - Pipeline opponents are raising new concerns about the safety of Energy Transfer/ Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner East 2x natural gas liquids line, which the company says will have a maximum operating pressure much higher than that of the Mariner East 1 and 2 lines.  The pressure on the Mariner East 2x had previously been reported in public documents as equal to the pressure of parallel Mariner East 2, which uses the same right-of-way. A pipeline’s “Maximum Allowable Operating Pressure,” or MAOP, is set by the Department of Transportation and, for safety reasons, is lower than what the design characteristics of the pipe can withstand.In permit applications filed in 2016 with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and with the Delaware River Basin Commission in 2015, Sunoco stated the MAOP for Mariner East 2 and 2x would be 1480 psig, or pounds per square inch gauge. But a footnote in recent reports filed with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection point to a much higher number: 2100 psig.  Clean Air Council attorney Alex Bomstein, who says he discovered the difference while analyzing Sunoco’s new horizontal directional drilling plans filed with DEP, said a risk assessment conducted of the pipeline project was based on a lower pressure. “Every risk assessment done on Mariner East has used the 1480 psig figure in calculating destructive potential, because that’s what Sunoco has always represented to the public and to regulators,” Bomstein said. Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety hired Quest Consultants to do a risk assessment on the line. Quest’s senior engineer Jeff Marx, who conducted the assessment, says the risks are greater with a higher pressure. “Something up in the 2100 psi range would be a significant increase and will increase the hazard because the release rate of material is largely driven by pressure,” Marx said. Sunoco spokeswoman Lisa Dillinger confirmed in an email that the maximum operating pressure of the Mariner East 2x is 2100, but insists that is not a change. In a review of public documents submitted to the PA-DEP as part of their permit applications in 2016 and to the Delaware River Basin Commission in 2015, StateImpact Pennsylvania could find no reference to the 16-inch Mariner East 2x line operating at 2100 psig. The only references are from the footnotes in recent drawings submitted to DEP as part of the revised construction plans involving horizontal directional drilling.

Property owners along Atlantic Sunrise gas pipeline get letters warning of possible liens -A fight over payment for work on the Atlantic Sunrise gas pipeline made its way to the mailboxes of Lancaster County residents who own land the pipeline crosses.Some local landowners along the Atlantic Sunrise gas pipeline are expressing surprise and concern about letters warning that liens might be placed on their properties.Several said they received certified letters in the last few days that were formal notice of intent to file liens against their property if Michigan-based MacAllister Machinery Co. Inc. does not receive timely payment of about $1.02 million it asserts it is owed by Welded Construction LP, which was the main contractor on the project.Jeff Kann of Conestoga said he never wanted the pipeline, which  crosses about half an acre of his pasture land, and was surprised and concerned to receive the letters.“They can come and take the pipe any day they want it,” he said.But, he added, he’s seeking advice because “I don’t think a mortgage company would refinance me with a lien against my property.”  The letters indicated the liens would be filed under the Mechanics’ Lien Law, which allows unpaid contractors, subcontractors and suppliers to recover payment for work done by filing liens against the owners of properties where “improvements” had been made.The pipeline crosses 250 properties across 37 miles in the western part of the county. It was not clear if all of those property owners received letters, because Harpst Ross Becker, an Ohio-based law firm that sent the letters, did not return phone and email messages Monday morning.The Adorers of the Blood of Christ  are Roman Catholic nuns near Columbia who unsuccessfully sued to stop the pipeline crossing their property. Dwight Yoder, a Lititz attorney representing them, confirmed Monday that they had received the letters warning of liens.

Grid steps up pressure to get state approval of undersea pipeline - National Grid will begin notifying the dozens of midsize companies that apply for new natural-gas service that it won’t be able to supply them with firm gas service if a new undersea pipeline fails to win state approval, a company official said. It's the latest move by the company to highlight its need for a supply project that would increase local gas capacity by 14 percent, easing demand constraints, National Grid says. Con Edison has issued similar moratorium alerts. The latest letters this week will include a footnote that tells customers their future service is "contingent on the successful and timely approval and permitting" of the Northeast Supply Enhancement Project, a $1 billion pipeline to bring an additional 400 million cubic feet of natural gas per day to the region, connecting to existing infrastructure in the Rockaways, the company official said Tuesday. National Grid announced in February that it had put 35 large customers on notice about a potential moratorium on new gas service, informing them of its inability to supply “firm” gas service to planned projects such as the redevelopment of Belmont Park. The new notifications to midsize customers — those with businesses of around 15,000 square feet — is the latest move by the company to highlight the need for the new pipeline.

Containership spills oil in New York -  A containership has reportedly leaked fuel oil into the Arthur Kill waterway near Staten Island, N.Y., the U.S. Coast Guard said. The Coast Guard said it is working alongside partner agencies to respond to the spill, which occurred while the vessel was moored at the Global Marine New York Container Terminal on Thursday afternoon. The amount of fuel spilled is currently unknown, and the cause of the spill is under investigation, the Coast Guard said. A Unified Command has been established on scene to coordinate cleanup efforts. Containment boom has been placed around the vessel and there are multiple oil spill response vessels actively skimming. The vessel has activated its vessel response plan and engaged commercial oil spill removal organizations. The Captain of the Port has established a safety zone on the Arthur Kill waterway from the Goethals Bridge to Shooters Island. “The Marine Transportation System in this area is vital to the movement of commercial goods and petroleum cargoes throughout the Port of New York/New Jersey,” said Capt. Jason Tama, Captain of the Port of New York and New Jersey. “Our priorities are to mitigate the risk of pollution and re-open the waterway as quickly as possible.” Coast Guard Sector New York Vessel Traffic Service is monitoring all marine traffic in the area. An Coast Guard helicopter aircrew conducted an overflight to assess the situation. Members of the New York Police Department Aviation also responded to the incident.

Briefing: Atlantic Coast Pipeline – Risk Upon Risk - The Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), a proposed fracked gas pipeline owned by Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, and Southern Company, faces some of the stiffest community and environmental opposition in the country today, comparable to that faced by TransCanada’s ill-fated Keystone XL project. Seventeen months after the project was granted certification by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, construction has barely progressed due to this opposition and other sources of risk. The ACP, if completed, would be a 600-mile, 42-inch-diameter pipeline carrying fracked gas from the Appalachian Basin in West Virginia through Virginia to North Carolina. First announced in 2014, the project is two years behind schedule and substantially over-budget. The latest update from Duke Energy estimates the project cost at between $7 to $7.8 billion – 37% to 53% higher than the original estimate of$5.1 billion – with the latest date for full operation now pushed back to 2021. The ACP is facing a triple threat of challenges that combine to present serious obstacles for the project to reach completion:

  • Extensive legal and regulatory challenges that are delaying construction and raising costs, which may lead to cancelation;
  • Fundamental challenges to its financial viability in the face of lack of growth in domestic demand for methane gas and increased affordability of renewable energy options; and
  • The Pipeline Compliance Surveillance Initiative, an unprecedented citizen initiative positioned to ensure strict compliance with environmental laws and regulations, even in remote locations, if construction proceeds.

These challenges and the accompanying risk are likely to further delay construction and raise the project’s price tag even higher. If completed, state utility regulators in North Carolina and Virginia are unlikely to justify passing the full cost of methane gas transportation contracts onto ratepayers. It would be prudent for investors in Dominion, Duke, and Southern to question whether pursuing the ACP further is a good use of capital. As the transition to clean energy gathers pace, the risks and growing costs of this major methane gas pipeline project look increasingly unwise to ratepayers, regulators and investors alike. Download the full briefing here.

ACP builders reject claim pipeline project is dead — The Sierra Club has issued a statement painting a picture of and end for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, but builders of the natural gas highway and one industry observer reject that notion. Doug Jackson, a spokesman for the environmental group, sent out an email, which was received Tuesday by The Robesonian, in which the Sierra Club stated Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good is considering a “Plan B” for the pipeline. The email cites a recent Bloomberg article for which Good was interviewed and in which Good “conceded that because ‘Atlantic Coast pipeline was sized and designed with a time frame,’ the energy giant may need to move on to another project.” The 600-mile pipeline that would carry fracked natural gas from West Virginia to a point near Pembroke has been besieged by a string of legal challenges that has forced work on it to stop. “Local activists and communities along its route have opposed the project from the beginning, and recent court decisions, combined with a negative outlook on the economics of fracked gas, have cast doubt on the fate of the pipeline,” Jackson’s email reads in part. Sierra Club Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign Director Kelly Martin issued a statement in which she says Duke Energy is seeing that it cannot defeat the grassroots organizations that have stepped forward to oppose the ACP and an economic environment that favors clean energy. “Now, Duke is trying to double down on fracked gas but ‘plan B’ for Duke is still a worst-case scenario for our climate and communities,” Martin said in her statement. “To avoid severe negative health effects, polluted water, and the worst impacts of climate change, Duke must abandon their dirty fossil fuel projects and invest in the clean, renewable energy sources that are already abundant and affordable.” Builders of the ACP, subsidiaries of Dominion Resources, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company, remain “highly confident” in timely resolution of the legal challenges that have been filed in Virginia and North Carolina and that the pipeline will be completed, said Karl Neddenien, Media Relations manager for Dominion Energy. “Our current expectation is that construction could restart in the third quarter of this year,” Neddenien said. “Regardless of temporary delays, we know that the completion of ACP is essential to meeting the energy needs of millions of Americans, and we are confident in the ultimate outcome: The ACP will be completed.” 

Duke Energy needs ‘plan B’ if Atlantic Coast Pipeline fails, CEO says  - Duke Energy Corp. will need another way to shuttle natural gas to customers in the U.S. Southeast if the troubled Atlantic Coast shale pipeline fails to overcome legal setbacks, Chief Executive Officer Lynn Good said. “Atlantic Coast pipeline was sized and designed with a time frame to meet the needs of our customers,” Good said Monday in an interview with Bloomberg Television at the BNEF Summit in New York. That time frame is in limbo after a federal appeals court vacated key permits that allowed the pipeline to cross the Appalachian Trail, a decision lead developer Dominion Energy Inc. is planning to appeal to the Supreme Court. Atlantic Coast has seen its start date pushed back several times and its price tag balloon to as much as $7.5 billion. Construction has been stopped since late last year. If the embattled conduit fails to prevail, a potential Plan B could include a pipeline that would run from eastern to western North Carolina, versus north-to-south, Good said, adding that the company “remains committed” to completing Atlantic Coast. The 600-mile (966-kilometer) project isn’t the only pipeline out of America’s hottest shale gas play facing backlash. EQM Midstream Partners LP has said the company is closely watching Atlantic Coast’s legal battles to see if there’s any impact to its Mountain Valley pipeline, which has also been ensnared in court battles.

Prices Slide As The Storage Deficits Contract And Winter Comes To A Close - Highlights of the Natural Gas Summary and Outlook for the week ending March 22, 2019 follow. The full report is available at the link below.

  • Price Action: The April contract fell 4.2 cents (1.5%) to $2.753 on a 17.6 cent range ($2.897/$2.721).
  • Price Outlook: The market posted both a new high and low after bullish weather forecasts early in the week helped lift prices only to see moderating weather forecasts and a relatively small storage withdrawal and a bearish revision to the previous week’s storage report pressured prices lower. Of the 1,003 weeks since 2000, 115 have witnessed both a new high and new weekly low while only 96 have witnessed inside weeks, where neither a new high nor low was posted.  CFTC data indicated a 545 contract increase in the managed money net long position as longs added and shorts added. This is the highest net long position since February 5. Total open interest rose 37,054 to 3.202 million as of March 19. Aggregated CME futures open interest fell to 1.151 million as of March 22. The current weather forecast is now cooler than 5 of the last 10 years. Pipeline data indicates total flows to Cheniere’s Sabine Pass export facility were at 2.5 bcf. Cove Point is net exporting 0.8 bcf. Corpus Christi is exporting 0.698 bcf. Cameron is exporting 0.000 bcf.
  • Weekly Storage: US working gas storage for the week ending March 15 indicated a withdrawal of (47) bcf. Working gas inventories fell to 1,143 bcf. Current inventories fall (303)bcf (-21.0%) below last year and fall (544) bcf (-32.3%) below the 5-year average. The EIA noted a revision for the withdrawal for the week ending March 8 that resulted in change from the originally reported (204) bcf to a withdrawal of (200) bcf. This was still a record weekly withdrawal.
  • Supply Trends: Total supply fell (1.2)bcf/d to 83.0 bcf/d. US production fell. Canadian imports fell. LNG imports fell. LNG exports fell. Mexican exports fell. The US Baker Hughes rig count fell (10). Oil activity decreased (9). Natural gas activity decreased (1). The total US rig count now stands at 1,016. The Canadian rig count fell (56) to 105. Thus, the total North American rig count fell (66) to 1,121 and now trails last year by (35). The higher efficiency US horizontal rig count fell (7) to 900 and rises +30 above last year.
  • Demand Trends: Total demand fell (24.5) bcf/d to +88.9 bcf/d. Power demand fell. Industrial demand fell. Res/Comm demand fell. Electricity demand fell (10,661) gigawatt-hrs to 70,792 which trails last year by (1,856) (-2.6%) and trails the 5-year average by (780)(-1.1%%).
  • Nuclear Generation: Nuclear generation fell (3,303)MW in the reference week to 83,879 MW. This is (3,412) MW lower than last year and (1,525) MW lower than the 5-year average. Recent output was at 83,432 MW

Natural Gas Shakes Off Production Increase - The April natural gas contract shook off long-range warm trends and an increase in estimated production over the weekend that led prices to gap down last evening, as the contract eventually settled up two ticks from Friday. It was the May contract the led the way higher, however, as it dragged up both April and summer gas. The result was another tick lower in the April/May contract spread that is set to expire on Wednesday. Prices initially dipped on indications that production had surged back near record levels over the weekend. We also noted looser balances over the past month, and a dip in LNG exports hit prices last week as well. Through the day gas prices found some support on medium-range weather forecasts that continued to trend colder, verifying our Neutral sentiment in our Morning Update as well. Henry Hub cash prices saw some firmness through the morning with modest cold expected tomorrow, though they were not particularly strong. Attention now turns to April contract options expiry tomorrow, which last month brought quite a bit of volatility and a violent move upwards.

 Warm Mid-April Pressures Gas Futures Lower -  It was another down day along the natural gas futures curve, with the April contract settling down around half a percent and the rest of the curve seeing more pronounced losses. The April contract was actually strongest into options expiry, with the rest of the curve getting hit even harder. The result was a pronounced move higher in the April/May contract spread, though this came back post-settle. Our Morning Update was "Neutral" for subscribers, but highlighted slight GWDD losses and also explained that looser daily balances seemed to pose downside risks even when prices were creeping higher. Afternoon Climate Prediction Center forecasts then moved towards our Week 2 ideas of widespread warmth. Combined with long-range weather we are expecting a loose EIA number to be announced Thursday as well, as seen by smaller combined draws in DTI/TCO. All this worked to limit upside Henry Hub futures today despite a small bump higher in Henry Hub cash prices. Tomorrow traders have to contend with both the April contract expiry, which will certainly increase volatility, as well as the pricing in of expectations around Thursday's EIA number. Another small draw is expected, and there's a chance this could be the last draw of the season as well.

April Gas Expires Lower Despite Pre-Expiry Bounce  The April natural gas contract sold off hard through the morning, and though it attempted to bounce into the expiry still wound up expiring lower by about a percent on the day. As expected the April contract showed some relative strength into expiry, with the rest of the curve getting hit about equally. The result is that the April/May contract spread went off the board at a very slight contango of -6 ticks. In our Morning Update for subscribers, we held a Neutral sentiment but highlighted that due to our reading of today's supply/demand balance, "we would look for April and eventually May gas to creep towards at least the $2.7 level over the next day or two, with any bounce or support at the front of the curve due to expiry temporary." This is exactly what played out, with the May contract heading to $2.7 before bouncing right around expiry. Both these factors came despite only minimal overnight GWDD changes. Now, gas traders are turning their attention to tomorrow's EIA storage number. The market expectation is for a draw slightly smaller than what was observed last week, as we saw slightly less weather-driven demand. Early estimates show as well this could be the final storage draw of the season, with next week a small injection potentially being announced. While it previously had appeared that next week a small draw could be announced, maintenance on the Sabine Pass LNG export facility has limited exports more than expected through the week.

US natural gas in storage falls 36 Bcf as heating season likely wraps up — The heating season ended with a whimper as US gas in storage likely posted its final net withdrawal of the season last week due to dwindling demand, but multiple regions have a lot of work to do to approach five-year average levels in time for the next one. US natural gas in storage decreased 36 Bcf to 1.107 Tcf for the week ended March 29, the US Energy Information Administration reported Thursday. The withdrawal was slightly more than an S&P Global Platts' survey of analysts calling for a 33 Bcf pull. However, the withdrawal was less than the 66 Bcf pull reported during the corresponding week in 2018 as well as the five-year average draw of 41 Bcf, according to EIA data. As a result, stocks were 285 Bcf, or 20.5%, less than the year-ago level of 1.392 Tcf and 551 Bcf, or 33.2%, less than the five-year average of 1.658 Tcf. NYMEX Henry Hub May contract was static at $2.72/MMBtu following the announcement on its first day as the prompt month, as the draw was in line with market expectations. However, the summer strip, running from May through October, was down half a cent to $2.80/MMBtu. While low storage levels in the Pacific region, specifically on the Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Gas Company storage systems, have grabbed headlines this winter, equally notable is the large storage deficit in the Rockies. The current level of 62 Bcf in the Rockies region is lower than at any other time in EIA's five-region data history set that stretches back to 2010. Even during the polar vortex of 2014, the lowest Rockies storage fell was 80 Bcf. Within the Rockies, the Clay Basin storage field has just 2.3 Bcf left in the ground, its lowest mark in the past five years, while Ryckman Creek has only 2.7 Bcf remaining in inventory, also the lowest level in the past five years, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. A further drawdown is expected on regional storage fields this coming weekend as a cold front sweeps the region. Rockies demand is forecast to rise as high as 3.8 Bcf/d this weekend, roughly 1 Bcf/d higher than today's mark. This appears to be the final withdrawal of the heating season. A forecast by Platts Analytics calls for a build of 16 Bcf for the week ending March 29 and a 32-Bcf injection for the following week. With 1.107 Tcf in the ground, it would mark the lowest volume for the start of the injection season since it bottomed out at 824 Bcf on March 28, 2014. Even with the low start that year, storage rebounded to 3.611 Tcf by the next heating season, which was only 119 Bcf below the five-year average.

Natural Gas Prices Pressured By Warm Weather And Weak Supply/Demand Balances -- May natural gas prices closed today's trading session down about 5 cents on the day, arriving there by way of a general slow decline throughout the day. The decline was felt throughout the natural gas strip, but was focused most on the front month contracts. Initially, the decline was due to a significant warming trend in overnight weather models, forcing forecasts to lower demand estimates this morning. This change pushed the 15-day forecast solidly to the warmer side of normal, and much warmer than the same period one year ago. On the supply side, natural gas production has finally returned back to near-record highs. With the increase in supply combined with the warmer, lower demand weather changes, we warned in our morning report that there was a "slightly bearish" risk to natural gas prices today. This worked out well, as prices did fall another 3-4 cents from the time our report was issued, with the supply/demand picture weak, and longer range weather data showing little sign of notably boosting demand.

What’s next for Enbridge Line 5? It may come down to Nessel -- For years, environmentalists have called to shut down a 66-year-old oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac. What happens next may be determined by an upcoming legal opinion from the state’s new attorney general. Attorney General Dana Nessel is expected to soon release a legal opinion on a 2018 Lame Duck law that, in effect, allows Enbridge to continue pumping oil through the Great Lakes for almost another century. The Canadian energy company’s Line 5 currently carries about 23 million gallons of oil and some natural gas every day through the intersection of lakes Michigan and Huron, at the tip of the Lower Peninsula. Nessel, a Democrat who made a campaign promise to shut down the oil pipeline, will issue an opinion that could further define the contours of a political battle with Enbridge that has dragged on for years. Although her opinion has not been released, Nessel has indicated that she has “serious and significant concerns” with it. The company was responsible for the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, when one of its oil pipelines ruptured in 2010, spilling 1 million gallons of heavy crude oil into the Kalamazoo river. For environmentalists, nothing less than the purity of the Great Lakes hangs in the balance.

Whitmer budget calls for inventory of pipeline infrastructure - A $1.4 million line item in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s $60.2 billion budget proposal unveiled March 5 calls for a three-year project to catalog “hazardous materials pipelines” that cross Michigan waterways. Department of Natural Resources Director Daniel Eichinger told lawmakers this month the study, spurred by the debate over Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, is needed to fill an information gap about dangers posed to Michigan waters. Michigan has 3,500 miles of such pipelines criss-crossing the state, but state government has a comprehensive inventory of just 645 miles, according to the DNR. Those are related to Line 5, and identify nearly 400 water crossings. “A lot of these are old,” Eichinger said. “A lot of the data about where they are and what sensitive environments or habitats they may cross is not well known or understood by us.” Speaking to a state Senate appropriations subcommittee March 12, Eichinger said the “mapping exercise” to inventory pipelines would “give us critical business intelligence of where risk might reside underground.” The plan is to digitize historic documents and gather information from pipeline owners, using GIS technology to overlay pipelines at water crossings. Once complete, the inventory “would be evaluated to determine priority water crossings, and we would provide that information to the public and applicable pipeline owners,” said DNR spokesperson Ed Golder. The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) defines these pipelines to include crude oil, refined petroleum products, “highly volatile liquids or other flammable or toxic fluids,” carbon dioxide and biofuel. 

Enbridge Line 5 Project Dealt Severe Blow In Michigan - The Governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, has ordered the suspension of all work on a tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac that’s part of a project for the replacement of a section of the Line 5 crude oil pipeline operated by Enbridge.The order followed an opinion by the state’s new Attorney General, Dana Nessel, who said the bill that allowed the construction of the tunnel violated the state constitution because “it went beyond what the bill’s title reflected,” the Associated Press reports. The AG’s opinion has the force of a law unless a court overrules it, the AP notes.Enbridge issued a response, stating “Enbridge worked in good faith with the Michigan government on the tunnel project,” adding, “We disagree with the Attorney General’s opinion and continue to believe in the benefits of the tunnel.”The pipeline producer also noted that the project could help bt 'reducing the chance of a release of product to virtually zero,' 'preventing an anchor strike from a ship in the Straits of Mackinac,' and 'ensuring Michigan will continue to receive the economic benefits from Line 5.'Last December, The Michigan Legislature approved the Great Lakes pipeline project that envisages the replacement of a section of Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline, which is 65 years old, and agreed to set up a state authority to oversee the construction of a tunnel for a section of the new pipeline. The new pipeline will replace two old ones and be set in a tunnel, to be drilled at a depth of 100 feet under the four-mile Straits of Macinac linking Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. As part of the deal, Enbridge will pay between US$350 and US$500 million for the construction of the tunnel for the pipeline. The project could take between 7 and 10 years to complete.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer halts action on Line 5 tunnel - – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday ordered state agencies to halt action on a proposed tunnel to encase the controversial Line 5 pipeline in a tunnel.Whitmer’s executive directive came minutes after a fellow Democrat, Attorney General Dana Nessel, issued a legal opinion claiming that a law creating a state authority to oversee construction of the tunnel is unconstitutional.“I agree with the conclusion reached by Attorney General Nessel,” Whitmer said in a statement. “The Great Lakes are our most precious resource in Michigan, and because of their significance, I’ve instructed state departments and agencies to halt any actions in furtherance of this law.”Nessel’s opinion was her first since taking office Jan. 1, and it came in response to a request from Whitmer to review the law. Last year, both campaigned on shutting down the 66-year-old oil pipeline, and they opposed compromises including a tunnel.The move puts Whitmer and Nessel on a collision course with Republicans that could likely end up in court. "An AG opinion is exactly that, an opinion.  It’s not binding.  It's not final.  And it's certainly not without cause to challenge," said Senate Majority Leaker Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake."The Senate will pursue its options in order to advance the very important work and purpose of the energy tunnel. This is the fastest, safest, and most economical long-term solution for Michigan. It’s very important to our economy."

State regulators issue final approval for Line 3 oil pipeline project -- Minnesota utility regulators have granted their final approval to the contentious Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project. Opponents of the Line 3 project — including the state Commerce Department — petitioned the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to reconsider the approval it gave the project in June. The commission unanimously rejected that request Tuesday. Now the process moves to the courts. Tribes and environmental groups have already sued to overturn the state's approval of the environmental review conducted for Line 3. The Minnesota Court of Appeals held a hearing on that challenge last week. Tribes, environmental groups and the Department of Commerce have filed separate challenges seeking to overturn the PUC's approval of a certificate of need for Line 3. And appeals have also been filed to block the commission's granting of a route permit for the pipeline. "That's the process," Commissioner Dan Lipschultz said during the PUC's meeting Tuesday. "And I don't think any of us begrudge an appeal to the court of appeals. That's part of the checks and balances that we have in our system." Last year, the PUC approved Enbridge's plan for replacing its aging Line 3 oil pipeline, which has been transporting oil from Alberta, Canada, since the 1960s. The company said at the time that it anticipated having the new pipeline in service by the end of 2019. But the company still needs several state and federal permits before it can break ground on the project in Minnesota. And earlier this month, the state of Minnesota gave the company a timeline for issuing those permits that will likely put the new line in operation in the second half of 2020. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency told the company it expects to issues its permits by November 2019. Within a month or two after that, the company expects to secure its remaining federal permits. The new pipeline would replace one of the five Enbridge pipelines that carry oil across northern Minnesota. It has drawn strong opposition from environmental groups, tribal groups and some tribal governments and climate change activists. 

House blocks bill to bar state’s Line 3 pipeline appeals (AP) — Just as quickly as the Minnesota Senate passed it, the state House shot down legislation to force the state Commerce Department to drop its appeals of a regulatory panel’s approval of Enbridge Energy’s hotly disputed plan to replace its aging Line 3 crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota. The Public Utilities Commission gave its final reaffirmation to the project Tuesday. Gov. Tim Walz said his administration would study the decision before deciding its next steps. The GOP-controlled Senate voted 34-30 along party lines Thursday to prohibit the Commerce Department from spending money on further appeals. Some Democrats who strongly support Line 3 said they voted no anyway because the ban would set a bad precedent. But hours later the Democratic-controlled House voted 75-51 to table the bill, blocking further consideration. 

Enbridge proposes another pipeline replacement across Fond du Lac reservation -- Enbridge Energy is proposing to replace a 10-mile section of an oil pipeline that crosses the reservation of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in northeast Minnesota. The Canadian company has filed an application with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to replace a section of its Line 4 pipeline — which was built above ground — with a new section of underground pipe. Enbridge said the proposal comes at the request of the Fond du Lac Band. Enbridge and the band are also asking state regulators a streamlined permitting process for the project. The $100 million proposal is "the result of the Band's requirement that Enbridge address the Band's concerns over the above-grade segment" of the pipeline that runs through the reservation, Fond du Lac Chairman Kevin Dupuis Sr. wrote in a letter of support to the utilities commission. Dupuis explained in his note that the pipeline has disrupted natural water flow across the reservation, and "also functions as a physical barrier, affecting not just wildlife crossings but Band members' ability to access areas where they gather medicinal plants and other culturally important resources." Enbridge asserts that Line 4, which was built in the 1970s, continues to operate safely. Some sections of pipe were intentionally built above ground in areas of heavily saturated soils and then covered with soil. But over the years, some of that soil has eroded away, and some band members have expressed concerns about exposed sections of the aging pipeline on the reservation. The commission voted to accept the application from Enbridge at a hearing Thursday. Commissioner John Tuma noted that he could actually see the exposed pipeline using the Google Earth mapping program. • Full coverage: Pipeline | Environment After installing the new 36-inch pipe, Enbridge proposes to remove the old 48-inch pipe segment, a step the company said would make the area more accessible to tribal members and "help restore traditional land use" for the band. 

Bayou Bridge Pipeline is now complete, after years of controversy  -The Bayou Bridge Pipeline is now complete and slated to begin transporting oil between Texas and St. James Parish next week, the companies that own the controversial project have announced.  The 163-mile-long Louisiana section of the pipeline, which sparked years of protest and legal challenges from environmentalists and property rights advocates, links to a nearly 50-mile section in Texas that was completed in 2016.  Houston-based Energy Transfer Partners owns a majority of the pipeline and will operate it. Phillips 66 Partners owns a 40 percent share of the pipeline. In a statement released Tuesday (Mar. 26), the companies said the pipeline will provide Louisiana refiners better access to North American crude oil and reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil.   Environmental groups opposed to the pipeline say its route imperils the Atchafalaya Basin, considered one of the largest swamps in America, and poses human health and safety risks in dozens of communities.  Greenpeace USA and the Waterkeeper Alliance released a report last year indicating Energy Transfer is a poor manager of its pipelines. Citing data from federal and state regulators, the report documented nearly 530 hazardous incidents, including spills, from Energy Transfer pipelines between 2002 and 2017.  Energy Transfer defended its environmental record, pointing out that the spills represented a small percentage of the oil transported in its pipelines.

Embattled Louisiana Oil Pipeline Is Complete, But the Fight Isn’t Over - In Louisiana, the controversial Bayou Bridge Pipeline is finally complete. This Monday, it’s set to start transporting up to 480,000 barrels of oil a day between Nederland, Texas, and St. James, Louisiana. That doesn’t mean that its opponents are going to stop challenging this pipeline—and others like it—any time soon.  There’s a landowner upset that the pipeline company allegedly cut trees on his property without his permission. Indigenous-led activists who call themselves “water protectors” have taken direct action after direct action against the pipeline; their efforts motivated by the oil industry’s toll on the planet more broadly. There are also the environmentalists who want to protect the state’s splendid Atchafalaya Basin—the nation’s largest river swamp that spans some 15,000 acres—which the pipeline cuts right through. “We are calling for nothing new to be built.” A lawsuit was launched in federal district court to protect the basin in January 2018. The plaintiffs, including local environmental organization Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, are suing the Army Corps of Engineers for allegedly approving two key permits without proper environmental analysis. There’s still a chance that judge could decide that the approval didn’t follow federal laws, but that ruling could also be appealed, dragging the case on further. “There’s a number of ways this could turn out,” Misha Mitchell, a counsel on the case and attorney with the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, told Earther. “At this point, I’m not really sure which way it could go.”  Mitchell hopes to see the pipeline hit pause if the judge rules that its approval was illegal, but she’s not confident it will. What’s certain is that the pipeline will begin moving oil through some of Louisiana’s most-polluted and predominantly black communities, in what’s known as Cancer Alley. In light of that reality, some residents are taking a renewed stand against the petrochemical industry. Their ultimate goal is nothing less than a shutting down of the state’s fossil fuel industry. “We are calling for nothing new to be built,” Rolfes told Earther. “And I think that this movement has been built in a significant way because of Bayou Bridge.”

USG Lease Sale 252 reflects some exploration interest, widespread wildcatting unlikely for now — US Gulf of Mexico Lease Sale 252 last week saw a slew of bidding aimed up shoring up production at existing fields, but also reflected some exploratory interest in areas that may be targets for future drilling and production given lower costs and seismic technology that better pinpoints prospects. Sale sponsor US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management noted some new areas targeted by larger companies - particularly Shell, which was far and away the busiest player in the auction, with 87 high bids captured for offers totaling nearly $85 million. The auction brought in $244 million in high bids, up 37% from the last US Gulf sale in August 2018. It was the largest such sum in two years and four sales, made for 227 blocks. Even though the line from prospect capture to drilling and production is not necessarily a direct one, most agree the US Gulf needs more exploration to replenish oil production in that arena, which is currently 1.85 million b/d, according to government estimates, and on track to reach 2.38 million b/d by the end of 2020. "Right, now, our estimate is peak production in 2020," William Turner, a Gulf of Mexico analyst for energy consultants Wood Mackenzie, said. "But our forecast doesn't include [fields] yet to find, and it's those barrels that would pick up production" from there. "I'm not convinced there are enough [exploration prospects today] to stop Gulf of Mexico production from peaking in 2020 and falling off in the first half of the [next] decade," Turner said. At the recent CERAWeek by IHS Markit conference, Hess Corp. CEO John Hess noted that in 2004, the number of blocks licensed to oil companies totaled 8,800, whereas today the number is 2,500. "The pipeline of long-cycle projects is running on empty," Hess told the annual gathering. Shell is already an aggressive explorer in the eastern Mississippi/western DeSoto Canyon area off the coast of Louisiana, where it has turned up a number of discoveries that include the Appomattox and Vicksburg fields that are currently being readied for first production this year. But BOEM Gulf of Mexico regional director Mike Celata said at a post-sale press briefing March 20 that Shell's bidding spree in the two deep- and ultra-deepwater areas where it won 24 blocks in DeSoto Canyon and seven blocks in the Lloyd Ridge area south of DeSoto, were chasing a relatively new, deeper play.

U.S. oil projects begin to falter as producers curb spending (Reuters) - The number of pipeline and storage terminal projects proposed to move shale to the U.S. Gulf Coast has dwindled amid steps by oil producers to pare exploration spending. Last year, booming West Texas production overwhelmed existing pipelines out of the region, sinking local prices and helping launch nine projects proposing to add 5.4 million barrels per day (bpd) through the first half of 2021. On Monday, Magellan Midstream Partners LP cut its capital spending outlook by $450 million over two years, saying the proposed Permian Gulf Coast pipeline was unlikely to proceed. The project, proposed with partners including Delek US Holdings Inc, would have carried up to 1 million barrels per day (bpd) to the Gulf Coast. Its proposed mid-2020 start lagged behind other projects and as shale producers pare drilling outlays. Delek on Monday also shifted its stance on the joint venture, deleting a reference to the venture in an investor presentation. “A winnowing process of sorts has been occurring, with some projects advancing and others falling to the wayside,” said John Zanner, an analyst at consultancy RBN Energy, in a blog post this week. The same day that Magellan ended its project, Schlumberger NV’s chief executive forecast North American onshore spending will decline more than 10 percent this year. Kinder Morgan Inc also this week exited an $800 million deepwater terminal project off Freeport, Texas, selling its stake to project leader Canada’s Enbridge Inc, which continues to pursue the terminal. Kinder said the project no longer fit its strategic priorities. There are eight proposed oil-export terminals for the U.S. Gulf Coast. If all eight were built, they would have capacity to export a combined 12.5 million bpd, more oil per day than the United States produced in the week ended March 15, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. 

Puerto Rico Faces Flood of Fracked Gas in Wake of Hurricane Maria -- Real News Network video & transcript - This is Dimitri Lascars reporting for The Real News Network. Media have descended on Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria devastated the island a year and a half ago, and many reported on its struggle to rebuild its energy grid. But behind the scenes, some policymakers and fossil fuel industry leaders are using the crisis to transform Puerto Rico into a hub for liquefied natural gas–gas obtained from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the mainland United States.

Commodity Traders Turn to LNG as Big Oil Profits Prove Elusive - With margins narrowing in the crude oil business, some of the world’s biggest commodity trading houses are helping to reshape the energy industry with a drive into liquefied natural gas. Gunvor Group Ltd., Trafigura Group Pte. Ltd. and Vitol SA have moved a step beyond trading LNG, investing in ships and terminals handling the fuel. That’s accelerating the growth of the industry, moving more gas that traditionally has flowed through pipelines onto ocean-going tankers chilled to minus 162 degrees Celsius (minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit). Those houses in the 1970s broke away from Big Oil’s long-term contracts and created a market where cargoes change hands in the blink of an eye. Now they’re turning their attention to LNG, where spot trading is rapidly expanding. The result is handing utilities from Centrica Plc to RWE AG more flexibility to buy gas, encouraging them to make the leap away from more polluting coal. “It looks like a much younger crude oil market,’’ Russell Hardy, chief executive officer of Vitol, said in an interview in Lausanne, Switzerland. “It is an area that can grow and that is a positive for us.’’ The top three commodity trading houses active in LNG have more than doubled their delivered volumes over the past two years and took almost 9 percent of the global trade in 2018, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Royal Dutch Shell Plc remains the industry leader with 22 percent and stakes in LNG plants and import terminals. Other traders such as Glencore Plc and Koch Supply & Trading LP also are building expertise or looking to expand in LNG. Most trading houses set up their desks earlier this decade, while Vitol started back in 2005.

Port Report: Back To The Future As Politicians Seek To Make U.S. LNG Shipping Great Again -- Proposed legislation seeks to piggyback U.S. maritime industry to gas export boom, but bill lacks loan guarantees behind the ‘70s heyday.  The United States' growing role as an exporter of natural gas is one of the most remarkable turnaround stories for the domestic economy of the last decade. In 2017, the U.S. crossed over from being a net importer of natural gas to a net exporter thanks to the growing reserves of shale gas tapped through hydraulic fracturing. Concerns about shortages of U.S. natural gas reserves led to the construction of 12 import facilities for liquefied natural gas (LNG). Now four of those sites are in various stages of building export facilities, while another seven facilities have been approved for export LNG, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Those new facilities are expected to make the U.S. the second largest exporter of LNG in the world, just behind Qatar, according to the International Energy Agency.Alongside the LNG story, the U.S. maritime industry sees an opportunity to revivify its fortunes. As FreightWaves' John Gallagher reports, U.S. Representative John Garamendi (D-CA) plans to reintroduce a bill that would require a relatively small, but escalating, percentage of LNG and crude oil be shipped on U.S.-built ships with American mariners starting in 2023. The bill, which was introduced last year as the "Energizing American Maritime Act," could mean upwards of 50 oil and LNG tankers being built over the next 10 years. In advocating for the bill, Garamendi said the goal of using U.S.-built ships and U.S. crews for energy shipping "is precisely what China, India and now Russia are doing."

 Infected U.S. Shale Oil Is Being Turned Away by Asian Buyers - The complex web of U.S. pipelines, tanks and export terminals that’s helped make America the world’s top oil producer is causing a headache for some crude buyers. As various types of crude pass through the supply chain from inland shale fields spanning Texas to North Dakota, they risk picking up impurities before reaching Asia -- the world’s biggest oil-consuming region. Specifically, refiners are worried about the presence of problematic metals as well as a class of chemical compounds known as oxygenates, which can affect the quality and type of fuel they produce. Two refiners in South Korea -- the top buyer of U.S. seaborne supply -- have rejected cargoes in recent months due to contamination that makes processing difficult. Growing North American output from dozens of fields pushes everything from highly-volatile oil to sticky residue through shared tributaries and trunk pipes. Smaller carriers then take cargoes from shallow-water ports to giant supertankers in the Gulf of Mexico for hauling to far-away buyers. Throughout its transit from pipes to tanks and onto vessels, foreign compounds from other fuel or chemicals for cleaning tanks or stabilizing material can leach into the supply and foul up refining equipment. While crude passes through a similar chain in the Middle East too, the risk of impurities is lower because each oil variety typically has its own designated infrastructure. In the case of American condensates, a type of ultra-light oil pumped in shale fields, cargoes can get pollutants such as “oxygenates, metals and cleaning agents,” said Sebastien Bariller, senior vice president at South Korea’s Hanwha Total Petrochemical Co. That’s causing uncertainty around U.S. oil quality, unlike purchases from the Middle East, where quality is stable, he said.The two South Korean refiners -- SK Innovation Co. and Hyundai Oilbank Co. -- turned away their purchased shipments of Eagle Ford crude that were due to arrive in January and February due to quality issues, according to people with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be identified because the information is private. The cargoes were sold by oil giant BP Plc, the people said. At least one of the unwanted cargoes was rerouted to China’s Qingdao port in a smaller vessel and purchased by Sinochem Hongrun Petrochemical Co., an independent refiner that has different quality requirements and plant configurations.

1,000 Locals Reportedly Seek Treatment After Multi-Day Fire at Houston Chemical Facility - Roughly 1,000 people sought treatment at a pop-up treatment center for symptoms including nausea, headaches, and respiratory problems after Intercontinental Terminals Co.’s (ITC) chemical storage facility in Deer Park, Houston caught fire this week, Bloomberg reported on Friday, with at least 15 cases dubbed serious enough to warrant a transfer to local emergency rooms.  The massive fire broke out on March 17, releasing over 9 million pounds of pollutants into the region, and was eventually extinguished on March 20. The catastrophe also released large amounts of benzene, a carcinogenic chemical, in the form of vapor after the fire was put out. On Thursday, benzene levels detected near the facility spiked to 190.68 parts per billion, exceeding Texas Commission on Environmental Quality one-hour maximum safe exposure limits of 180 parts per billion. (The TCEQ wrotethat level of exposure would cause “no lasting effects.”)On Friday, Bloomberg reported, a wall at the facility collapsed amid another blaze, resulting in contamination of and a temporary shutdown of the busy Houston Ship Channel:The U.S. Coast Guard is forbidding vessel traffic on a stretch of the key industrial shipping route after a wall collapse and fire at Intercontinental Terminals Co.’s already-damaged chemical storage complex on Friday. A mix of toxic gasoline ingredients, firefighting foam and dirty water flowed from the site into the channel, and a benzene plume above the water poses a threat to ship crews, said Coast Guard Capt. Kevin Oditt.... Since the initial blaze was squelched earlier in the week, ITC made two unsuccessful attempts to drain a charred tank that’s holding pygas, a petroleum derivative composed largely of benzene. Early on Friday, ITC executives estimated they would have that tank emptied in about 12 hours; then the wall failed and flames erupted nearby. Jerry Mouton, mayor of nearby Deer Park, told media on Saturday that “It’s been a never-ending, re-occurring case of things not working out as planned,” Bloomberg wrote. The news agency added that while ITC said approximately 2.52 million gallons of hazardous chemicals remained within the damaged facility as of Friday, on Saturday it said it could not produce a reliable estimate.

Dozens Of Tankers Stranded In Houston Ship Channel After Chemical Leak Contamination - The Houston Ship Channel already closed for days since last Friday afternoon a large-scale contamination of leaked chemicals from the Intercontinental Terminals Co. (ITC) fire spilled Benzene and other dangerous chemicals into and over waterway (especially via toxic smoke clouds) could remain shut to regular through traffic for several more days, the Coast Guard has confirmed, trapping dozens of inbound and outbound oil and LPG tankers.At the end of last week's days-long massive fire engulfing multiple petrochemical tanks at the oil facility, emergency crews led by the Coast Guard noticed elevated Benzene levels in the area, and even what was described as a "benzene plume" hovering above the water. This as Deer Park area residents complained of illnesses ranging from nausea to headaches to irritation and burning in the skin, eyes, nose and throat from the disaster which began on March 17.  And though the ship channel is not a source for drinking water, the stretch of a roughly 2-mile-long no-go zone near the ITC facility had been shut down to boat traffic due to the potential danger to crew members from a cloud of cancer-causing benzene from the onshore tank fire, per Bloomberg: The U.S. Coast Guard is forbidding vessel traffic on a stretch of the key industrial shipping route after a wall collapse and fire at Intercontinental Terminals Co.’s already-damaged chemical storage complex on Friday. A mix of toxic gasoline ingredients, firefighting foam and dirty water flowed from the site into the channel, and a benzene plume above the water poses a threat to ship crews, said Coast Guard Capt. Kevin Oditt. Fox Business has quoted a Coast Guard official who said Monday morning it could be "several more days" before a key section of the Houston Ship Channel will be opened up amid continuing clean up efforts.  The Coast Guard says it's currently testing the possibility that a limited number of ships could be let through if they undergo a decontamination processThe vessels are being decontaminated as they move through the roughly seven-mile portion of the Houston Ship Channel near the Lynchburg Ferry, extending from Tucker Bayou, where the ITC facility is located, to Houston Ship Channel light 116. It's a test to see when the Houston Ship Channel could be reopened.

Katrina, the BP spill, now Houston: This consulting firm keeps coming under fire - A crude oil spill during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A coal ash spill in Tennessee in 2008. The BP oil spill in 2010. In all three cases, the companies responsible for these environmental calamities turned to the same Arkansas-based consulting firm, the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health, to monitor air and water quality and chemical exposure in workers.  In each case, CTEH was found to have either incorrectly handled data collection or downplayed the risks of exposure to toxic chemicals. But the companies used CTEH’s data to reassure people that the spilled chemicals posed little risk to public health. This week, a fire at International Terminals Company’s chemical storage facility outside Houston, blanketed the country’s fourth-largest city in a cloud of smoke. Multiple school districts in the area cancelled classes. Once again, CTEH got the call to provide air quality monitoring. The fire at ITC’s facility reignited late Friday afternoon after a dike wall used to contain chemicals partially collapsed, renewing concerns about air quality. According to initial reports, the company released 9 million pounds of pollutants in just the first day of the fire. On Thursday, the city of Deer Park, home to the facility, issued a shelter-in-place advisory after benzene levels spiked overnight. Long-term benzene exposure can cause anemia, lead to cancer, and damage women’s reproductive health. Earlier in the week, ITC had said that its air quality testing data showed conditions “below levels” that would raise health concerns, even as residents near the fire complained of nosebleeds, headaches, and irritated throats. The statement prompted Deer Park to lift an earlier shelter-in-place advisory. Elena Craft, senior director for climate and health at Environmental Defense Fund, said CTEH was a “concerning choice” as a consultant “given their history.” ITC has posted nine air quality monitoring reports produced by CTEH on its website since the Deer Park fire began and Craft, a toxicologist by training, said that at least one contained “clear, obvious errors.”

 Permian region crude oil prices have increased with additional pipeline takeaway capacity -Crude oil prices in the Permian region have increased since the beginning of the year as two recent pipeline capacity additions reduced some of the takeaway constraints that developed in the middle of 2018. These transportation constraints had forced producers to use more expensive ways to transport crude oil, resulting in lower received prices.  The difference between the West Texas Intermediate-Midland (WTI Midland) crude oil price compared with WTI Cushing and Magellan East Houston crude oil prices began narrowing in September 2018, and they narrowed further in late January 2019. WTI Midland reflects crude oil prices in the Permian production region of western Texas and eastern New Mexico, and Magellan East Houston and WTI Cushing reflect crude oil prices at aggregation points in Houston, Texas, and Cushing, Oklahoma, respectively.  WTI Midland prices are now similar to WTI Cushing, suggesting the previous pipeline capacity constraints from the Permian region to Cushing have been largely removed. Conversely, WTI Midland prices still trade lower than Houston crude oil prices, suggesting that the region still faces some takeaway constraints in shipping Permian crude oil to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Most recently, the difference has been about $7 per barrel, which is less of a discount than in the middle of 2018. An extension to the Sunrise Pipeline added an estimated 120,000 barrels per day (b/d) of takeaway capacity from the Permian region in early 2019, which increased pipeline capacity to Cushing. In addition, the Seminole-Red pipeline, which had previously delivered natural gas liquids from the Permian region to the U.S. Gulf Coast, was repurposed to deliver crude oil. Seminole-Red is expected to be fully operational by April, adding an estimated 200,000 b/d of takeaway capacity.  Although EIA expects that growing Permian production could face takeaway constraints again in the coming months, the recent capacity additions could prevent prices from widening back to the levels reached in the second and third quarters of 2018. New pipelines scheduled to come online in the third quarter will alleviate the remaining takeaway constraints in the Permian region.

Tight oil development will continue to drive future U.S. crude oil production -  EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2019 (AEO2019) Reference case projects that U.S. tight oil production, which became the more common form of oil production in 2015, will continue to increase through 2030, ultimately reaching more than 10 million barrels per day (b/d) in the early 2030s. Tight oil production reached 6.5 million b/d in the United States in 2018, accounting for 61% of total U.S. production. EIA projects further U.S. tight oil production growth as the industry continues to improve drilling efficiencies and reduce costs, which makes developing tight oil resources less sensitive to oil prices than in the past.  Recent growth in U.S. crude oil production has been driven by the development of tight oil resources, primarily in the Permian Basin in western Texas and eastern New Mexico. Three major tight oil plays in the Permian Basin—the Spraberry, Bone Spring, and Wolfcamp—accounted for 41% of U.S. tight oil production in 2018. In the AEO2019 Reference case, approximately half of cumulative tight oil production through 2050 is expected to come from these three plays. The Bakken and Eagle Ford plays also remain major contributors to U.S. tight oil supply through 2050, accounting for 19% and 17% of cumulative tight oil production, respectively. However, future growth of domestic tight oil production depends on a variety of factors, including the quality of resources, technology and operational improvements that increase productivity and reduce costs, and market prices. AEO2019 includes several sensitivity cases that incorporate different assumptions regarding oil prices, technological improvement, and resource recoverability.  The High Oil and Gas Resource and Technology case uses more optimistic technology and resource assumptions than in the Reference case. In this case, U.S. tight oil production increases through the mid-2040s, as higher productivity reduces development and production costs, spurring additional resource development. Tight oil production slowly decreases toward the end of the projection period as drilling moves to less productive areas. Total U.S. oil production in 2050 in this case is nearly 19 million b/d, much higher than the Reference case level of about 12 million b/d.  In the Low Oil and Gas Resource and Technology case, which uses more pessimistic technology and resource assumptions than the Reference case, tight oil production still increases from its current level through the early 2020s before gradually declining through 2050. Total U.S. oil production in 2050 in this case falls to about 8 million b/d.

US oil output slips in January, hits monthly record in December, new data show  - U.S. oil production slipped in January, but fresh data from the Department of Energy show the nation's output was much higher than originally reported at the end of last year. American energy companies pumped 11.871 million barrels per day in January, according to the Energy Information Administration, the department's statistics bureau. That was down from 11.961 million bpd in December, a new monthly record.Last month, EIA reported that December's production averaged 11.849 million bpd — a difference of 112,000 bpd from its second reading released on Friday. November output was also revised higher, from 11.905 million bpd to 11.926 million bpd.EIA's first reading for January was roughly in line with preliminary figures, which the administration releases weekly. The latest weekly figures show U.S. production holding steady around 12.1 million bpd — an all-time high if confirmed by EIA's monthly reading.Bottlenecks in the biggest U.S. shale oil field, the Permian basin, are expected to keep a lid on growth through the first half of the year. There are not enough pipelines and other infrastructure in western Texas and southeastern New Mexico to accommodate the surge in crude oil from Permian fields.Production from Texas dipped 1.3 percent in January to 4.832 million bpd, the EIA data show. New Mexico's output was roughly flat at 815,000 bpd. Compared with January 2018, production was up 24 percent in Texas and 50 percent in New Mexico.

US oil, gas rig count continues downward slip, falls 6 on week to 1077 - The US oil and natural gas rig count fell by six on the week to 1,077 Thursday, down nearly 13% from mid-November peak levels and continuing what has largely been a 19-week downward slip, according to the latest S&P Global Platts Analytics data.Decreases were seen in both oil and gas rig counts: oil rigs fell four to 857, while gas rigs were down two to 217. "Small rig fluctuations over short periods of time can be considered noise, but since the [mid-November] 2018 peak, US rig activity has decreased by 156 rigs," Matt Andre, an analyst with S&P Global Platts Analytics, said. Rigs in the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico, the US' largest producing oil and gas play with about 4.1 million b/d of oil production and nearly 14 Bcf/d of gas production, fell this week by three, to 466, after a three-week streak of increases. But several other basins gained two rigs apiece. Among them were the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas, now at 92 rigs; the Denver-Julesburg Basin in Colorado, now at 29; the gas-prone Haynesville Shale in East Texas and Northwest Louisiana, now at 63; and the Williston Basin of North Dakota and Montana, also at 63.The Utica Shale, largely sited in Ohio, lost two rigs, leaving 14, while the dry Marcellus Shale, mostly located in Pennsylvania, lost one rig, to 40. Unchanged from last week were Oklahoma's SCOOP-STACK at 88 rigs and wet Marcellus, also largely in Pennsylvania, at 26.  "Smaller basins across the US have been ramping down drilling activity but even the major oil-rich basins have seen a significant decrease, with the Permian basin down 34 rigs since mid-November, down 7%, and SCOOP/STACK decreasing by 21 in the same time frame, a drop of 19%," Andre said.  WTI oil prices have continued to hang just shy of $60/b, up more than 25% from the start of 2019, although this was not reflected in permit levels, which tallied 1,091, down 21% on the week. Permitting fell the most in two large basins this week, including the Permian, down 35% to 151, and Denver-Julesburg, down 65% to 87 permits.Other than that, nominal increases were posted in the Eagle Ford, up 22 to 56 permits; Haynesville, up nine to 29 permits, and SCOOP-STACK, up by 15 to 50 permits. Slight decreases came from the Williston, down by six to 15 permits, and the wet Marcellus, down by 10 to eight permits.

US drillers cut most oil rigs in a quarter in three years -Baker Hughes (Reuters) - U.S. energy firms this week reduced the number of oil rigs operating to their lowest in nearly a year, cutting the most rigs in a quarter in three years despite a 30 percent hike in crude prices so far in 2019. Drillers cut eight oil rigs in the week to March 29, bringing the total count down to 816, the lowest since April 2018, General Electric Co’s Baker Hughes energy services firm said in its closely followed report on Friday. That is the first time the rig count declined for six weeks in a row since May 2016 when it fell for eight consecutive weeks. For the month, the rig count fell by 37 in March, the most in a month since April 2016 when it declined by 40 rigs. For the quarter, the rig count fell by 69, the most in a quarter since the first quarter of 2016 when it fell by 164 rigs. The U.S. rig count, an early indicator of future output, is still a bit higher than a year ago when 797 rigs were active after energy companies boosted spending in 2018 to capture higher prices that year. Drilling this year has slowed as independent exploration and production companies cut spending as they focus on earnings growth instead of increased output with crude prices projected to decline in 2019 versus 2018. U.S. crude production slipped in January to 11.87 million barrels per day (bpd), from a monthly record high of 11.96 million bpd in December, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a monthly report on Friday. U.S. crude futures rose to a four-month high over $60 a barrel on Friday, putting the contract on track for its best quarter since 2009, as U.S. sanctions against Iran and Venezuela as well as OPEC-led supply cuts overshadowed concerns over a slowing global economy. Looking ahead, crude futures were trading around $60 a barrel for the balance of 2019 and about $59 in calendar 2020. U.S. financial services firm Cowen & Co said this week that projections from the exploration and production (E&P) companies it tracks point to a percentage decline in the mid single digits in capital expenditures for drilling and completions in 2019 versus 2018. Cowen said independent producers expect to spend about 11 percent less in 2019, while international oil companies plan to spend about 16 percent more. In total, Cowen said all of the E&P companies it tracks that have reported will spend about $81.0 billion in 2019 versus $85.5 billion in 2018. There were 1,006 oil and natural gas rigs active in the United States this week, according to Baker Hughes. Most rigs produce both oil and gas. Analysts at Simmons & Co, energy specialists at U.S. investment bank Piper Jaffray, this week forecast the average combined oil and gas rig count will fall from 1,032 in 2018 to 1,016 in 2019 before rising to 1,092 in 2020. That was an increase in Simmons’ prediction last week of 999 rigs in 2019 and 1,087 in 2020.

The Declining Rig Count Doesn't Mean What You Think - Oil prices plunged in the last few months of 2018, putting stress on many oil producers' budgets. This led to widespread predictions of reduced capex, idled oil rigs, and a downturn in U.S. oil production in 2019. Sure enough, the number of rigs drilling for oil in the U.S. has been falling for most of this year, including declines in each of the past five weeks. The oil rig count is still higher than it was a year ago, but it has fallen by about 60 since late 2018. However, the widely followed oil rig count statistic doesn't really mean much anymore. Even with fewer rigs at work -- at least for now -- U.S. oil production is likely to continue rising at a rapid clip in 2019 and beyond as oil giants like Chevron and ExxonMobil ramp up their shale drilling activities. The most fundamental reason why the rig count has become misleading is that in shale oil plays, drilling an oil well doesn't always lead immediately to starting production. At some point after the well is drilled, hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking) -- the injection of highly pressurized water and sand -- starts the flow of oil. Fracking sometimes takes place right after the rig is removed, but not always. There are various reasons for drilling but not immediately completing a well. For example, fracking crews or materials may be in short supply. Some oil leases require drilling within a certain time period, but don't require production to begin -- or require only a token amount of production. That means it might make sense to keep drilling but slow well completion activity when oil prices fall. Shortages of pipeline capacity could also affect well completion activity. Over the past five years or so, the number of drilled but uncompleted (DUC) wells in the U.S. has soared. At the end of 2013, the DUC well count was 4,199 in the seven major regions tracked by the Energy Information Administration (EIA). That figure reached 8,576 by the end of February 2019. The Permian Basin (centered in western Texas) accounts for the vast majority of this increase. The Permian DUC well count has surged more than sixfold (from 636 to 4,004) since the end of 2013, whereas the number of DUC wells has risen 28% across the other six regions combined.

 With The Colorado Government Run By Boulder Democrats, Progressives Push Their Agenda In Denver -- Bernie Sanders made news this week when he stated that, if elected President, he wants to ban hydraulic fracturing in the U.S. While Sanders' proposal won’t become a reality anytime soon, at least on a national scale, the progressive lawmakers who run Colorado are seeking to make it happen at the state level this year with a new bill, Senate Bill 181, that is being rushed through the state legislature in Denver. SB 181 - which was introduced fewer than three weeks ago but has already passed the state senate and is now pending in the Colorado House of Representatives - would give local governments the authority to restrict or prohibit oil and gas development. In a further attempt to stifle fossil fuel development, under SB 181 municipalities could mandate financial assurances that make resources cost prohibitive to develop. "Make no mistake, this bill is not about local control, it is about total control," Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer told the Senate Transportation & Energy Committee when it heard SB 181 earlier this month. "It's about total control by Boulder County elected officials and the extreme left." Critics of SB 181 point out that this sweeping reform is being rammed through the legislature without needed and appropriate input from key stakeholders, such as the employers, workers, and officials who represent areas of the state that will be most directly and negatively affected by this proposal. Passage of SB 181 would would also have ruinous consequences for many employers outside of the oil and gas industry, such as restaurants, hotels, and gas stations.  This legislative attempt to shut down fossil fuel development in Colorado comes less than five months after Colorado voters rejectedProposition 112, a ballot measure that would’ve imposed restrictions on oil and gas extraction like those now sought through SB 181.

After Paris agreement, big oil and gas companies invested $110 billion in fossil fuels -- In the three years since most of the world's nations signed on to the Paris climate agreement, major oil and gas companies have poured more than $100 billion into their fossil-fuel infrastructure. That's more than 10 times the amount the same companies have spent on low-carbon investments, despite lip service toward that area, according to a new report. InfluenceMap analyzed public disclosures of major oil and gas companies. The five biggest—ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, BP and Total—will collectively spend $115 billion on capital investments this year, according to the report. Just 3 percent of that spending will go to low-carbon investments, like hydrogen batteries or electric-car charging stations. InfluenceMap contrasts this with the money the companies spent on "branding and lobbying" related to climate, which cost the oil and gas giants $1 billion since the end of 2015, per the report. That includes money spent directly as well as through trade groups that oppose carbon restrictions, including the American Petroleum Institute and American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers. "The aim is to maintain public support on the issue while holding back binding policy," the report says. The spending shows "the increasing disconnect between the oil majors' efforts towards positive climate branding and their lobbying and actual business decisions," it reads. BP last year put $13 million toward defeating a carbon pricing proposal in Washington State. Exxon stated it would support a carbon tax, provided that the tax wouldn't raise any government money and would offer immunity in climate-change lawsuits, of which there are many. At the same time, Exxon ran extensive social media ads promoting oil and gas development and opposing restrictions on fossil fuels. That's significant because scientists have given the world a roughly 10-year window to rapidly move off fossil fuels if it is to avoid catastrophic levels of warming, according to the United Nations' climate change panel and the U.S. federal government. Recognizing this, oil and gas companies have devoted more attention to low-carbon rhetoric, though InfluenceMap notes there's a lack of money backing the investment in alternatives. 

Recording Reveals Oil Industry Execs Laughing at Trump Access - Gathered for a private meeting at a beachside Ritz-Carlton in Southern California, the oil executives were celebrating a colleague’s sudden rise. David Bernhardt, their former lawyer, had been appointed by President Donald Trump to the powerful No. 2 spot at the Department of the Interior.Just five months into the Trump era, the energy developers who make up the Independent Petroleum Association of America had already watched the new president order a sweeping overhaul of environmental regulations that were cutting into their bottom lines — rules concerning smog, fracking and endangered species protection. Dan Naatz, the association’s political director, told the conference room audience of about 100 executives that Bernhardt’s new role meant their priorities would be heard at the highest levels of Interior.“We know him very well, and we have direct access to him, have conversations with him about issues ranging from federal land access to endangered species, to a lot of issues,” Naatz said, according to an hourlong recording of the June 2017 event in Laguna Niguel provided to Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.The recording gives a rare look behind the curtain of an influential oil industry lobbying group that spends more than $1 million per year to push its agenda in Congress and federal regulatory agencies. The previous eight years had been dispiriting for the industry: As IPAA vice president Jeff Eshelman told the group, it had seemed as though the Obama administration and environmental groups had put together “their target list of everything that they wanted done to shut down the oil and gas industry.” But now, the oil executives were almost giddy at the prospect of high-level executive branch access of the sort they hadn’t enjoyed since Dick Cheney, a fellow oilman, was vice president.   Today, Bernhardt is in line for a promotion: the former oil industry lobbyist has been nominated by Trump to be secretary of the Interior.  The post gives Bernhardt influence over regulations affecting energy production on millions of acres of public lands, deciding who gets to develop it, how much they pay and whether they are complying with the law.

Feds Accused of Holding Back on California Fracking Plans - – Armed with a recent court ruling that climate change must be considered in decisions to open federal land to oil and gas drilling, conservationists shot the opening volley Thursday in what promises to be a protracted legal battle over the future of fracking and oil drilling in Northern California. The federal lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity accuses the Trump administration of withholding environmental review records on its plans to end a six-year moratorium on leasing federal land to oil and gas companies in California. “The Trump administration is plotting behind closed doors to turn over some of California’s most precious wild places to dangerous drilling and fracking,” said Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the center, in a statement Thursday. The suit was filed a mere eight days after a federal judge blocked oil and gas leases in Wyoming for failure to consider climate change. Environmentalists seek records that will reveal precisely what factors the Bureau of Land Management is considering in its ongoing environmental review of proposals to open up to 793,000 acres in 11 California counties to fossil fuel extraction. “We want to know what they’re looking at and who they’re talking to when they make decisions that will affect Californians,” Lakewood said in a phone interview. The renewed leasing program would end a six-year ban on federal oil and gas leases in California. That moratorium took effect in 2013 after a federal judge ruled the Bureau of Land Management violated the law by failing to consider the environmental risks of fracking when it issued oil leases in Monterey County. Since then, Monterey County and San Benito County voters passed ballot measures to ban fracking, and Santa Cruz County passed an ordinance also forbidding the practice.

Trump Doubles Down on Keystone Oil Pipeline With New Permit - President Donald Trump issued a new permit for TransCanada Corp.’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline Friday, circumventing a court ruling that blocked a previous authorization by his State Department. The move aims to undercut legal challenges to the $8 billion project, including a November ruling by a Montana-based district judge that faulted the State Department’s previous environmental analysis, according to a person familiar with the matter. It could pave the way for beginning some preliminary work, according to Clearview Energy Partners. “It looks like the intent is to wipe the slate clean and replace the previous presidential permit with this new one,” Height Securities LLC analyst Katie Bays said. Keystone XL doesn’t need the changes to the supplemental environmental impact statement “because Trump invalidated that whole process and issued this new president permit.” The pipeline, proposed more than a decade ago, would carry crude from Canada’s oil sands to the U.S. Midwest. Trump’s State Department approved the project in 2017 after President Barack Obama denied TransCanada a permit on grounds its oil would contribute to global warning.

Trump to sign executive order to speed up pipeline development -- President Trump is expected to sign an executive order imminently to expedite pipeline development, according to sources familiar with the plans. White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said the executive order could come as soon as next week, while speaking at a closed-door event Wednesday hosted by conservative think tank American Council for Capital Formation, according to two sources with direct knowledge.  Trump has long supported pipelines as part of his agenda backing oil and natural gas and what the administration has dubbed America’s “energy dominance” around the world. The reality is more mixed.

  • One of his first moves was to sign executive orders streamlining construction of the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.
  • The latter is operating, but the former remains stuck in legal limbo.
  • The administration has a more mixed record with its role reviewing natural gas pipeline projects in the Northeast, which are facing intense opposition from local politicians and environmentalists.

Requests for comment to White House spokespeople weren’t immediately returned. It's unclear what the details of the policy will be. Politico reported on the potential of such executive orders in late January. The publication wrote then that the policies could “weaken states’ power to block energy projects and ease the construction of new pipelines to facilitate the movement of a glut of domestic oil and gas.”

Crude Shippers Struggle With Locking In Down-The-Rockies Pipeline Space - Crude production is at all-time highs in the Bakken and the Niobrara, and the latest pipeline-capacity expansions out of both regions have been filling up fast. At the same time, producers in Western Canada are dealing with major takeaway constraints and are on the hunt for still more pipeline space. Midstream companies are trying to oblige, proposing solutions like a major Pony Express expansion or a new Bakken-to-Rockies-to-Gulf Coast fix — the Liberty and Red Oak pipelines — that could help address all of the above. The catch is that, with multiple producing areas funneling crude along the same general eastern-Rockies corridor and the outlook for continued production growth uncertain, how’s a shipper to know whether to sign a long-term deal for some of the incremental pipe capacity now being offered? Today, we consider the need for new takeaway capacity, the potential for an overbuild scenario, and what it all means for producers and shippers. It’s tough enough to determine how best to increase pipeline capacity between one production area and one destination market — the Permian and Corpus Christi, for example, or the Permian and Houston. As we’ve seen recently, multiple pipeline projects in these distinct corridors were initially proposed, then a winnowing process of sorts has been occurring, with some projects advancing and others falling to the wayside. Things become even more complicated, though, when you’re dealing with a situation in which multiple producing areas are served by — and vying for space on — the same pipeline systems. Crude flows from one production area through (or nearby) another — and then another — on its way to a number of possible destinations. That’s the case along the eastern Rockies, where crude works its way down from Western Canada, the Bakken, and the Niobrara’s Powder River Basin (PRB) and Denver-Julesburg (D-J) Basin on its way to either the Midwest, the Midcontinent or the Gulf Coast. Put another way, Niobrara shippers are affected by production trends, pipeline capacity and pipeline utilization upstream and downstream of them — if pipes come down to Wyoming and Colorado filled to the brim, the opportunities to add PRB and D-J barrels to the systems diminish.

More States Crack Down on Pipeline Protesters, Including Supporters Who Aren’t Even on the Scene - Bills to clamp down on pipeline protests have spread to at least nine new states this year, part of an industry-backed push that began two years ago to heighten penalties for activists who try to block fossil fuel infrastructure projects. Several of the bills also allow prosecutors to go after people or organizations as "conspirators" or "riot boosters" for merely supporting or coordinating with others who violate the law. Civil liberties advocates argue that these vague and far-reaching provisions risk violating free speech protections under the First Amendment, and they have already started launching legal challenges. The latest government move came on Wednesday in South Dakota—one of the states the planned Keystone XL pipeline is slated to cross—when Republican Gov. Kristi Noem signed a law that enables state and local governments, as well as "third parties," to seek civil damages from people or organizations that engage in "riot boosting."Lawmakers in North Dakota, a hub of oil and gas development, also passed a bill this week that stiffens penalties for anyone who interferes with the construction or operation of pipelines and other "critical infrastructure."   While the details vary from state to state, the bills generally increase penalties for trespassing on or tampering with a range of facilities, including pipelines, oil storage tanks, railroads and utility infrastructure. Several of them, including North Dakota's, also include language assigning higher penalties—up to $1 million in some cases—for any group found to be a conspirator in violating the law. The South Dakota law is different. Rather than imposing new penalties for interfering in pipeline construction, the bill enables state or local governments—or a third party working with government—to seek compensation from anyone who engages in "riot boosting," which includes encouraging or directing someone to engage in a riot, defined by the state as the use of force or violence by three or more people acting together. Someone can qualify as a "riot booster" even if they reside out of state and act indirectly "through any employee, agent or subsidiary." Anyone found liable would be responsible for three times the ordinary penalty.

ACLU challenges South Dakota pipeline protest legislation (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging a new law signed by South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem aimed at potential protests against the planned Keystone XL oil pipeline. The ACLU filed a federal lawsuit Thursday on behalf of groups and individuals planning to protest the pipeline or encourage others to do so. Noem signed the act on Wednesday that allows officials to pursue money from demonstrators who encourage violence. The Republican governor also signed another bill requiring pipeline companies to help pay extraordinary expenses such as the cost of policing during protests, but the ACLU is not challenging that new law. The pro-pipeline GAIN Coalition says the legislation provides “clarity about what crosses the line.” But the ACLU and American Indian tribes say Noem’s approach will stifle free speech. 

The green scare: how a movement that never killed anyone became the FBI’s no. 1 domestic terrorism threat - So-called eco-terrorism became the Justice Department’s No. 1 domestic terror concern — “over the likes of white supremacists, militias, and anti-abortion groups,” as one senator pointed out at the time. Operation Backfire, which sent Dibee running, was the climax of the crackdown. “There was money, there was administrative support, there was management support,” said Jane Quimby, a retired FBI agent who worked on Backfire. The results were “an affirmation that given the resources that you need, and the support that you need, you can really make these things work.” In 2009, when a Department of Homeland Security intelligence report raised alarms about the rising threat of right-wing extremist violence, it provoked a very different response. After outcry from conservative groups, DHS backtracked on the report and later disbanded the domestic terrorism unit that produced it. Daryl Johnson, a former domestic terrorism analyst at DHS, says there’s a reason law enforcement took a less aggressive approach to right-wing white supremacists and anti-government attackers. In the case of the eco-extremists, the government had a powerful ally: industry. “You don’t have a bunch of companies coming forward saying I wish you’d do something about these right-wing extremists,” said Johnson, who left his position in 2010, after his warnings about right-wing violence were dismissed. “If enough people lobbied congresspeople about white nationalists and how it’s affecting their business activity, then I’m sure you’ll get legislation.”

Oil sheen detected on floodwaters of Yellowstone River -- A small oil spill that hadn’t been fully cleaned up in northwest North Dakota has contaminated the Yellowstone River after the well site flooded, the North Dakota Department of Health reported Tuesday. An oil sheen was detected on floodwaters of the Yellowstone River on Monday. Bill Suess, spill investigation program manager, said the oil originated on a Whiting Petroleum well pad in McKenzie County. The sheen appears to be from residual oil associated with a spill that occurred on the well pad that had not yet been fully remediated, the department said. Ashley McNamee, spokeswoman for Whiting, said the release occurred last week. “We immediately recovered the majority of the 2 barrels of oil which was contained on location; however, we were unable to fully remediate the affected soil before the Yellowstone River began to rise,” McNamee said. Suess said the health department was not aware of the original spill because it was contained to the well pad and less than 10 barrels and wasn’t required to be reported. State regulations do require all spills to be cleaned up, though there is no set timeframe required, Suess said.

Cleanup continues at Buskin River oil spill site - Oil spill responders are continuing the cleanup at the American President Lines facility near Anton Larsen Bay Road and Old Tom Stiles Road, the Buskin River, its tributary and the Saint Paul Harbor after a spill of approximately 1,370 gallons of diesel that occurred there on the night of March 15th, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation reports. The spill, which was discovered at 9 am on March 16th, originated from a broken fuel line to a refrigeration unit on the APL property. When discovered, the leak had emptied the contents of the storage tank into the yard. From the yard, rain runoff washed the oil into the drainage ditch and into a culvert on the property. From that point, the oil drained into a tributary of the Buskin River, into the Buskin and out into the Saint Paul Harbor. That area is Kodiak’s main subsistence and sport fishing river in the Kodiak area, and is also used to gather grasses for traditional use by Kodiak’s Sun’aq tribe. Immediately after discovering the spill, APL contacted their consultant Environmental Contracting Services who in turn contacted ADEC. By 12:20 pm, ADEC had contacted the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Detachment. APL and ECS personnel set up check dams, dug trenches and laid absorbent materials to stem the flow into and out of the culvert. As personnel from the Marine Safety Detachment and the Coast Guard Fire Department responded to assist, ECS conducted aerial surveys to determine the extent of the spill area. After being notified, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service responded to begin wildlife surveys. Also, following notification that afternoon, Alaska Chadux Corporation arrived at the scene of the spill by the night of the 16th. By the morning of the 17th ADEC had also arrived and along with Chadux began shoreline assessments.

It’s been 30 years since the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Here’s what we’re still learning from that environmental debacle. - Dan Lawn was one of the first responders to reach the 986-footlong Exxon Valdez after it went off course and punctured its hull on Bligh Reef in a debacle that marks its 30th anniversary Sunday. Some 11 million gallons of crude would leak out of the Exxon Valdez in what was then the largest oil spill in U.S. history, and one that Lawn had long warned could happen. Eventually, the oil would foul parts of 1,300 miles of coastline, killing marine life ranging from microscopic planktons to orcas in an accident that would change how the maritime oil-transportation industry does business in Alaska, and to a lesser extent, elsewhere in the world. For four years, crews embarked on a $2.1 billion cleanup that left behind crude that still can be detected on some stretches of the Prince William Sound shoreline.  Up to 10,000 workers were employed in the cleanup, and 1,000 boats. One line of an attack was using hot water on the beaches, but that was stopped when it was found to cook marine life, do more harm than good, according to research cited by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council. Amid the oil slicks in the water, killer whales surfaced to breathe. Among a resident pod of 36 whales in the area, 14 had disappeared by 1990, according to the Trustee Council. Whales likely inhaled petroleum vapors and may have eaten contaminated prey.  Over the long term, a transient whale pod that also frequented Prince William Sound fared the worst. Before the spill, the pod had 22 whales. Since then, the pod has declined to seven whales, and there have been no new calves born.  That pod appears doomed. “I give them maybe a two percent chance (of survival). It is so sad,” Matkin said. Today, due to changes to U.S. law and international regulations, all oil tankers traversing the oceans are double-hulled, unlike the more breech-prone single hull of the Exxon Valdez. This significantly reduces but does not eliminate the risk of spills, as was demonstrated last year when a double-hulled Iranian tanker exploded and leaked fuel oil after crashing into a freighter in the South China Sea.  Three decades after the spill, Alyeska and the oil companies — under pressure from the state of Alaska — have greatly expanded measures to prevent spills. Two escort tugs, for example, accompany every oil laden tanker that motors through Prince William Sound. If needed, they can steer the tanker, counter any unwanted move or take it under tow.  If oil should escape a tanker, Alyeska has more than 40 miles of boom, compared with five in 1989.

 Groups say they will sue unless EPA renews effort to restrict oil spill dispersants - A coalition of environmental and public health advocates say they will sue the federal government unless it takes action to restrict the use of dispersants for oil spill cleanup.The plaintiffs say the federal Environmental Protection Agency is shirking its duty to update its rules so that they reflect the latest science on how dispersants affect the environment. They argue the update is especially urgent now that the Trump administration is moving to expand offshore oil leasing, including in Arctic waters.The news comes a day after the 30th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, when thousands of gallons of dispersant were used.EPA did propose stricter standards for dispersants in 2015. But the agency has not moved to finalize those standards since then. The plaintiffs say they will file suit in 60 days unless the agency renews its work on the issue.“We’re very concerned about the lack of oversight and regulation that takes into consideration this newer science, and EPA is definitely long overdue in fulfilling their responsibility to regulate these chemicals,” said Pam Miller, executive director of the Alaska Community Action on Toxics.Alaska Community Action on Toxics is one of the plaintiffs in the case, along with the Homer-based advocacy group Cook Inletkeeper, Nuiqsut resident Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, La. resident Kindra Arnesen and Calif.-based environmental advocacy group the Earth Island Institute.In a statement, EPA said the agency is reviewing the notice of intent to sue, but declined to comment further. Dispersants don’t get rid of oil. They’re used to help oil dissolve in the water column so it doesn’t stay on the water’s surface or wash on shore.

The Russians are coming (and they're bringing oil) - As America's Russia hysteria is stirred once again by the arrival of the long-awaited report of the U.S. Department of Justice's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, a surge in Russian oil imports has arrived on America's shores.   By effectively preventing the national Venezuelan oil company from getting paid for its cargoes to the United States, the U.S. government has forced Venezuela, previously a major source of imported oil, to seek other customers for its mostly heavy crude.   But the loss of Venezuela as a major U.S. oil supplier has opened up room for other exporters, most notably Russia. Russian oil has never been subject to the economic sanctions arranged by the United States against the country. The arrival of increasing amounts of Russian crude at America's ports belies the notion so frequently trumpeted by a chorus of fawning admirers of America's get-tough foreign policy that the U.S. can now use its rising oil dominance to advance its geopolitical goals.  Here's what's wrong with that story. First, the United States remains a substantial importer of petroleum products, both on a gross and a net basis. Yes, the country does export a large amount of the light oil produced from the shale deposits in Texas and elsewhere because American refineries cannot use all of it. Those refineries are generally designed to mix light and heavy crudes for optimal output. But, this means the United States must import a significant amount of heavy crude. America remains wildly dependent on world oil to keep its voracious refining industry in operation.  In addition, the official net import numbers are deceiving because they include liquids that come from natural gas wells called natural gas liquids. Once those are netted out and removed from the calculations, America's net imports of petroleum products rise from about 1.5 million barrels per day (mbpd) to about 2.4 mbpd. That's far lower than in the past, but it does not spell energy independence. The country remains dependent on the world market and must pay world prices.  That dependence is likely to increase over the long term. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts that U.S. crude oil production (defined as crude oil and lease condensate) will peak in the mid-2020s and then decline slowly through 2050.  Given that almost all the rise in production and sustained output is expected to come from deep shale deposits—which the industry as a whole has lost money on every year—it's hard to see how the EIA forecast can be realized. To quote economist Herbert Stein, "If something cannot go on forever, it will stop." A more realistic forecast shows a dramatic decline in U.S. crude oil production between the 2020s and 2050.

Canada crude-by-rail exports fall to 325,499 b/d in Jan, first dip since Feb - Canadian crude-by-rail exports fell for the first time in 11 months in January as government-mandated production cuts took effect and differentials rose to levels that made rail shipments uneconomical. Exports by rail from Canada averaged 325,499 b/d in January, down 28,290 b/d from the all-time high of 353,789 b/d in December 2018, according to the latest figures from the country's National Energy Board published Friday. The slight decline in January comes after producers turned rail exports amid pipeline constraints and mounting inventories in Hardisty, Alberta.  Crude oil exports were still more than double the amount shipped in January 2018. The NEB's January export figures are the first to capture government-mandated production cuts of around 325,000 b/d that took effect January 1. Those cuts sparked a price rally for Western Canadian Select, the benchmark heavy crude, that saw its differential gain more than $44/b from October 11, 2018, to a high of minus $6.95/b January 11. Traders have said shipping WCS to the US Gulf Coast by rail is typically uneconomical when differentials are above WTI CMA minus $15/b. Stronger differential have prompted some players, such as Canada's Imperial Oil, to cut back or abandon rail shipments. During its February 1 earnings call, Imperial Rail CEO Richard Kruger said he expected Imperial' crude-by-rail shipments to be "at or near zero" for February. Western Canadian Select at Hardisty was last heard to trade at WTI CMA minus $9.25/b Friday morning, after it strengthened from Thursday on the prospect of upcoming supply turnarounds. Since limiting production by 325,000 b/d in January, the Alberta government has gradually lifted its production cap. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley increased production by 75,000 b/d at the end of January and by another 25,000 b/d in April and said the province was looking to buy 7,000 rail cars to move an additional 120,000 b/d by rail. Alberta officials said Monday they would lift the production restriction by 25,000 b/d in May and by another 25,000 b/d in June, increasing the total production cap to 3.71 million b/d.

Province releases review of hydraulic fracturing in B.C - The Province of B.C. has released a review of hydraulic fracturing.  The report, prepared by a three-member panel makes 97 recommendations the focus on environmental impacts and knowledge gaps about the industry.The report focused on four main areas, water quality, water quantity, induced seismicity, and fugitive emissions.   The panel also reviewed how hydraulic fracturing impacts human health, impacts on environmental health, and cumulative effects of the process.  The Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources says they will take a phased approach to implement the scientific panel’s 97 recommendations. In May of 2019, the Province will release its short-term plan and in December the long-term plan.  Read the full report below.  (236 pages, embedded) The Province says they have already started to make changes to now the OGC regulates dams and water storage, new regulations for orphaned well sites and instructing the OGC to work more with Treaty 8 members.

Fracking plan 'will release same CO2 as 300 million new cars' - The government's fracking proposals would release the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as almost 300 million new cars, fatally undermining ministers' obligation to tackle the escalating climate crisis, according to new research. Analysis by the Labour party shows that the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere if the government's plans go ahead would be the same as the lifetime emissions of 286 million cars - or 29 new coal-fired power plants. The findings come as ministers' efforts to kickstart their fracking proposals face growing resistance, with defeat in the courts, fierce local objections and opposition from Labour and Tory councils alike.Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was in Lancashire on Saturday to join the anti-fracking campaign in the region, said a future Labour government would ban fracking "once and for all"."The Conservatives' fracking plans will damage our environment and fly in the face of community opposition," he said. "There is a clear alternative to fracking. Clean, renewable energy is the future of our economy and will create more than 400,000 jobs as part of Labour's green industrial revolution."Concerns about drilling flared in the run-up to Christmas when energy company Cuadrilla was forced to pause operations near Blackpool three times after drilling caused small earthquakes that breached government safety limits. Several local authorities - including London, Manchester, Leeds, Wakefield, Hull and York - have expressed opposition to fracking. There is also opposition from many Tories. In Westminster, almost two dozen Tory MPs are reported to be against fracking and willing to "destroy the government's majority" if it tries to weaken planning laws. Several Tory-run local authorities - including Derby, Dorset and Nottinghamshire - are fiercely opposed to a change in planning proposals, which would mean companies could drill test sites without applying for permission. Labour, which has vowed to oversee "an economic revolution to tackle the climate crisis", says on top of the widespread opposition, the government's plans would produce huge amounts of greenhouse gases, wrecking any chance of the UK complying with its Paris climate obligations.

MPs warn taxpayers could face 'hefty bill' from North Sea and fracking decommissioning -The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of MPs has today published a new report warning there is "significant uncertainty over costs to taxpayers of decommissioning offshore oil and gas assets", as well as a "poor understanding" within government of the potential liabilities associated with decommissioning fracking assets. The report calls for a clearer strategy from government to minimise decommissioning costs, establish the UK as a global hub for offshore decommissioning expertise, and take steps to ensure taxpayers do not "pick up a hefty bill"  to decommission fracking infrastructure. The report notes that HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) estimates oil and gas companies will pass on £24bn of decommissioning expenditure to taxpayers through tax reliefs, but there remains a wide range of possible future costs as most companies are still improving the certainty of their cost estimates. Work is on-going to reduce the cost of decommissioning, but the PAC argues savings could be maximised if the government developed a more coherent strategy to support the sector. The report also raises fresh concerns about how tax breaks and wider support for the oil and gas industry could run counter to the UK's carbon targets."The Department... needs to ensure its support for oil and gas remains compatible with its other activities aimed at achieving climate change goals, including ensuring alignment with the development of carbon capture, usage and storage, which could potentially reuse offshore oil and gas assets," the report states."Taxpayers will incur costs running to billions for oil and gas decommissioning, but it is far from clear what these costs will be in practice," said PAC chair Meg Hillier, MP. "The Oil and Gas Authority must bring greater certainty to its cost estimates. Together with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy it should be transparent about how these estimates measure up to reality, and explain exactly what impact it is having on reducing costs."

Fracking ban decision delayed by Scottish government - BBC News - A decision on whether to ban fracking in Scotland has been delayed, the Scottish government has said.A moratorium on the controversial process has been in place since 2015, and the government said in October 2017 that it backed an "effective ban".Scottish ministers pledged they would set out their finalised policy on fracking by the end of March.However, they have now said they will launch a further consultation process after the Easter break.The Scottish government said it planned to publish an "addendum" to its previous report which would require further comments from interested parties. It said it would make a final decision "as soon as possible after this process is complete".  The development of unconventional oil and gas remains prohibited in Scotland, with ministers enforcing a moratorium on it via planning powers. Mr Wheelhouse told MSPs in October 2017 that the moratorium would continue "indefinitely", calling this an "effective ban" and saying that fracking "cannot and will not take place in Scotland".This position was endorsed by MSPS by a vote of 91 to 28, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon later told the SNP conference that "fracking is now banned in Scotland". However, when petrochemical firms Ineos and Reach launched a legal challenge, the government's legal representative told the Court of Session that there was no ban in place as the policymaking process was still ongoing.

 Will Venezuela's Oil Sector Ever Recover? – podcast - On this week's Capitol Crude, Frank Verrastro and Andrew Stanley with the Center for Strategic & International Studies' energy and national security program talk about the state of Venezuela's oil sector, the impact of US sanctions on PDVSA and what recovery might look like. With US imports of Venezuelan crude now at zero, Verrastro and Stanley talk about India's plans to cut imports from PDVSA, remaining markets for Venezuelan crude, potential changes to the country's hydrocarbons law and why long-term sanctions may do irrevocable harm to the South American country's oil output.

Refinery Investments In Low-Sulfur Crude Production Hit $1B -- Investments in the production of lower-sulfur fuels at refineries across the world have reached US$1 billion to date, a BP executive said at an industry forum in the UAE. “There’s been a huge amount of investment in refineries since 2015 and (it) will continue beyond 2020,” Eddie Gauci, BP’s global head of marine fuels, said as quoted by Reuters at the Fujairah Bunkering and Fuel Oil Forum. Refiners have been preparing for the entry into effect of a sulfur emission cap drafted by the International Maritime Organisation. The cap is 0.5 percent, down from 3.5 percent, and it enters into effect in January 2020. The new rule has sparked a lot of speculation about where oil markets will swing in the coming months and years, with warnings about a possible shortage of middle distillates and an oversupply of light crude. What seems certain enough is there will be a lot of fuels in storage ahead of the entry into effect of the new rule. “We will see some floating storage of high sulfur or low sulfur for a period of time until the land-based infrastructure establishes some kind of equilibrium that’s in tune with what grades of fuel are called for in particular locations,” BP’s Gauci said. Earlier this month the International Energy Agency said in its annual Oil 2019 report, “The 2020 IMO marine regulation change is one of the most dramatic ever seen to product specifications, although the shipping and refining industries have had several years notice.” So refiners are investing in preparatory activities, be it by adjusting their equipment to produce lower-sulfur fuels or, most immediately, in changing refinery maintenance schedules to capture the higher profit margins of middle distillates such as diesel and marine gasoil, which have a lower sulfur content, with an anticipated spike in demand later this year. 

 Tanker Hijacked By Migrant Pirates Seized By Special Forces In Mediterranean - Maltese special forces have seized a Turkish oil tanker, El Hibu 1, which had been hijacked by the very migrants it stopped to rescue in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya.  Five of the migrants have been arrested, and are accused of overpowering the vessel's 12-man crew - forcing the oil tanker's captain to cede control "through coercive action," according to the Telegraph, citing Maltese government sources.  77 of the 108 migrants - or 71% - were men, who were traveling with 19 women and 12 children.  "The captain repeatedly stated that he was not in control of the vessel and that he and his crew were being forced and threatened by a number of migrants to proceed to Malta."   The tanker was prevented from entering Maltese waters by a Maltese patrol vessel, after which a special forces unit was dispatched to board the tanker and regain control. The operation was backed up by a patrol vessel, a helicopter and two fast interceptor craft.  "The tanker, her crew and all migrants are being escorted by the Armed Forces of Malta to Boiler Wharf (in Valletta) to be handed over to the police for further investigations," said Maltese authorities.

Major new inquiry into oil spills in Nigeria's Niger Delta launched - A major new inquiry into oil companies operating in the Niger Delta has been launched by the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu. The probe will investigate "environmental and human damage" in Nigeria's vast oil fields. "This Commission will investigate the human and environmental impact of multinational oil company activity and is crucial to the prosperous future of the people of Bayelsa and their environment, Nigeria and hopefully to other oil-producing nations," he said. Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer. The country's crude oil production -- estimated at over 300 million liters per day -- makes up 70 percent of the Nigerian government's revenue. This new commission, convened by Bayelsa Governor Seriake Dickson, says that it wants to make oil companies in the region more accountable. "The world has looked on for too long without taking the necessary collective action to put a stop to the damage being done by oil companies in Bayelsa. We must put the environment and the health and wellbeing of our communities first," Dickson said in a statement Wednesday. Big oil spills are common in the Niger Delta where over 40 million liters of crude oil is spilled annually, resulting in human deaths and damage to the local ecosystem. A 2018 study by the Journal of Health and Pollution found that more than 12,000 oil spill incidentshave occurred in the oil-rich region between 1976 and 2014. Pipeline corrosion and tanker accidents caused more than 50 percent of them. Other incidents can be attributed to operational error, mechanical failure, and sabotage mostly from militant groups, the study said.

Coast Guard probes oil spill in Sibulan-Dumaguete waters – The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) here is investigating an oil spill that has left patches of oil in coastal areas in nearby Sibulan town and this capital city. Lt. Commander Jansen Benjamin, PCG-Dumaguete Station Commander, disclosed Friday that the oil spill was estimated to have occurred around three days prior to its discovery, based on the characteristics seen in the oil retrieved from shallow waters and from the shore. The extent of the damage, however, has yet to be ascertained pending reports on the effects of the oil spill on the environment. Benjamin hoped there would be no serious consequences. So far, no oil slick that would pose a greater threat to the environment has been reported yet although the Coast Guard here is coordinating with its counterparts in nearby areas outside of Negros Oriental to be on the lookout for any, he said. According to Benjamin, it is also difficult for them to determine as yet who could be responsible for the oil spill, or perhaps an oil leakage, but he said the oil most likely came from a sea vessel. The quantity of the spill could not be determined, as the black substance that hit the local shores here has already split up into smaller portions and there is no need for containment because there are no oil slicks or large oil clumps, he pointed out. Speaking in the vernacular, Benjamin explained that the oil appeared thick and heavy, and was emulsified, which means it was no longer fresh and had already been in the seawaters for several days. The oil spill was first brought to the attention of authorities, through the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC) on Thursday, after a caller said oil patches were seen in Maslog, Sibulan.

Solomon Islands oil spill: currents push slick away from world heritage site –- Ocean currents have carried oil leaking from a shipwreck on the Solomon Islands away from a nearby world heritage site as authorities continue a clean-up operation that is expected to take months. Cleaning up after the bulk carrier MV Solomon Trader, which ran aground on a coral reef in early February and released 80 tonnes of oil, is expected to take up to four months. But the slick has been pushed away from the island’s eastern flank which is a world heritage site. Rennell Island is the the largest raised coral atoll in the world. Australian authorities, who kicked off the initial on-water clean-up, have now retreated and the ship’s Korean insurer has taken charge of the operation. There will be ongoing surveillance flights carried out to monitor the process. 'We cannot swim, we cannot eat': Solomon Islands struggle with nation's worst oil spill Read more MV Solomon Trader had been loading bauxite from a mine in the days before rough seas pushed it aground on a coral reef in the early hours of 5 February, in the lead-up to Cyclone Oma. The clean-up operation of the oil slick could take between three to four months, an expert said, while the ship wreck itself could be removed in the next four to six weeks. It is unknown what percentage of oil has been cleaned up so far and the amount removed from the water each day varies from dozens of tonnes to single digits. A barge pump has been steadily removing the 600 tonnes of oil still onboard the vessel. About 300 to 400 tonnes has been removed so far. The Solomon Islands Maritime Safety Administration said its investigation into the incident was ongoing and officials were trying to get access to the ship’s voyage data recorder. “This should shed some light on the circumstances of the incident,” acting director Jonah Mitau told the Guardian.

Australia's east faces gas shortage from 2024, market operator warns (Reuters) - Australia will face a gas shortage from 2024 unless new reserves are developed, pipeline capacity is increased or eastern states start importing liquefied natural gas, the country’s energy market operator warned on Thursday. The Australian Energy Market Operator’s (AEMO) annual gas outlook was more dire than in June last year, when it forecast no shortage before 2030. Since then, companies have cut reserve and production estimates, AEMO said. In the near term, government pressure on three liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporters in Queensland, led by Royal Dutch Shell, Origin Energy and Santos, to boost gas supply to the domestic market has succeeded in averting potential shortfalls, AEMO said. “However, southern Australia’s overall supply-demand balance for 2021-2023 remains very finely balanced, reflecting the ever-tightening integration of Australia’s electricity and gas markets,” AEMO’s chief system design and engineering officer Alex Wonhas said in a statement. Longer term, as gas output dwindles in the ageing Gippsland Basin fields off Victoria, which have long fed demand centres in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, more gas will be needed from Queensland in the north or LNG will have to be imported. Victoria’s ability to supply New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania is expected to drop from 150 petajoules (PJ) a year currently to just 23 PJ in 2023, AEMO said. To fill that gap with gas from Queensland, pipeline capacity would have to grow, it said. The key uncertainty in all the forecasts is demand for gas in power generation, which is hard to predict as it is highly dependent on weather, the speed of development of solar and wind farms, and outages at coal-fired power plants, AEMO said. While demand for gas-fired power has been falling, AEMO said that could reverse as more coal-fired power plants shut.  “Continued interest in LNG import terminals ... would be expected to help relieve pressure on meeting southern gas demand during peak periods and assist in reducing pipeline constraints, but may do little to ease gas pricing pressures,” AEMO said. 

U.S. orders foreign firms to further cut down on oil trades with Venezuela - (Reuters) - The United States has instructed oil trading houses and refiners around the world to further cut dealings with Venezuela or face sanctions themselves, even if the trades are not prohibited by published U.S. sanctions, three sources familiar with the matter said. The move comes as Washington’s efforts to oust President Nicolas Maduro in favor of opposition leader Juan Guaido have stalled, and is further evidence of how it is leaning on non-U.S. firms to achieve its foreign policy goals. The U.S. imposed fresh sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry earlier this year but some companies have continued to supply the country with fuel from India, Russia and Europe. Washington is particularly keen to end deliveries of gasoline and refined products used to dilute Venezuela’s heavy crude oil to make it suitable for export. Jet fuel and diesel would be exempt for humanitarian reasons, the sources said. The U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a ban in early February on the use of its financial system in oil deals with Venezuela after April. But as recently as this week, the U.S. State department has called up foreign firms to say that the scope of the sanctions is wider. The sources said that the State Department made clear that any kind of oil trade, whether it be direct, indirect or barter, would be considered a breach. OFAC did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for the State Department said “we continue to engage with companies in the energy sector on the possible risks they face by conducting business with PDVSA.” “This is how the United States operates these days. They have written rules and then they call you to explain that there are also unwritten rules that they want you to follow,” one of the sources said.  Washington has been using its oil clout more and more. At a major oil event in Houston this month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a rare appearance and laid out a vision of working with energy firms to isolate Iran and Venezuela.

 US warns oil shippers to avoid violating Syria, Iran sanctions— The US government on Monday warned the oil shipping industry to avoid violating sanctions against Syria and Iran by scrutinizing vessel histories and trading partners. The advisory includes a list of vessels believed to have been involved in illicit oil shipments in 2016-2018, including 51 deliveries to Syria and 33 banned ship-to-ship transfers. "Any violations of prohibitions or weaknesses in compliance that result in sanctionable conduct exposes the shipping community to significant risks and can trigger severe consequences," the Treasury Department's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, Sigal Mandelker, said in a statement. The alert issued by Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Control, along with the US State Department and US Coast Guard, comes after a similar advisory last week warning the oil sector to avoid violating sanctions against North Korea. That report said North Korea received at least 263 refined oil product deliveries from banned ship-to-ship transfers in 2018. If all of the vessels were fully laden, the shipments would amount to 3.78 million barrels, or more than seven times the annual limit that North Korea is allowed to import under UN sanctions, Treasury said. "Despite robust US and United Nations sanctions on North Korea, North Korea continues to evade sanctions, particularly through illicit ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum and coal," the Treasury said.

South Korean officials to press for Iran sanctions waiver in United States (Reuters) - South Korean government officials are expected to press for extending a sanctions waiver on Iran’s petroleum exports that expires in May on a visit to Washington this week. South Korea’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Economic Affairs Yoon Kang-hyun and other leaders will meet with U.S. State Department officials on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the waiver issued in November to keep buying Iranian oil in exchange for having reduced such purchases, the Seoul government said in a news release on Monday. The Trump administration has unilaterally reimposed sanctions on Iran’s oil exports, the lifeblood of its economy, as it seeks to curb Tehran’s nuclear and missile ambitions and its influence Syria and other countries in the Middle East. Washington issued sanctions waivers for eight economies in November, including for South Korea, Iran’s fourth largest oil customer in Asia. But the administration has said it wants the exports to go to zero as quickly as possible. The U.S. goal is to reduce the number of sanctions waivers and to cut Iran’s oil exports about 20 percent, to below 1 million barrels of oil per day from May, sources said this month. The South Korean officials will meet with the State Department’s top energy diplomat Francis Fannon on Thursday. On Wednesday they will meet with Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, and David Peyman, the deputy assistant secretary of state for counter threat finance and sanctions. A State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed the meeting with Peyman. Officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the other meetings. Peyman met with South Korean officials in Asia earlier this month. He offered “to continue to closely consult on the extension of sanctions exemption and Korean companies’ technical issues regarding trade with Iran,” a statement from Seoul’s foreign ministry said at the time. South Korea is a large buyer of a light oil called condensates from Iran and has told a former U.S. official that there are few options for getting the same quality of condensate from other suppliers. South Korea’s oil imports from Iran fell 12.5 percent year-on-year in February, customs data showed this month. 

Oil Sanctioned by U.S. and Shunned by World Finds Haven in China - China is doubling down on purchases of cheap oil that other buyers are shunning due to U.S. sanctions. The world’s biggest crude importer boosted imports from Venezuela and Iran last month from January, with the shipments costing the least since November 2017, data released on Monday by the General Administration of Customs show. Both of the OPEC producers are subject to separate U.S. sanctions that have squeezed their sales to customers across the globe. While the U.S. has granted several buyers waivers from its sanctions to continue buying Iranian oil, the volumes they are allowed to buy are restricted. What’s more, other nations such as Japan are limiting cargoes to a minimum to avoid even the possibility of breaching America’s rules. China, however, has imported about 446,000 barrels a day on average since November, customs data show. The Asian nation is said to have been allotted 360,000 barrels daily under the exemption, though that excludes the share of oil owed to Chinese companies that hold stakes in Iranian projects. In Venezuela’s case, the Donald Trump administration’s sanctions only effectively block shipments to the U.S. and don’t restrict flows to other nations. Still, big buyers such as India’s Reliance Industries Ltd. have shied away from purchases to avoid potential repercussions. China buys more oil from Venezuela, Iran on cheaper cost “Increased purchases from Venezuela may very likely be due to cost concerns,” said Li Li, an analyst with Shanghai-based commodities researcher ICIS-China. If the import price is low enough, oil giant PetroChina Co. can easily make a profit by selling to independent refiners, also called teapots, at a higher premium, she said by phone. China bought 2.03 million metric tons, or 531,000 barrels a day, of crude from Venezuela last month, 17 percent more than January and the highest since December 2017, the customs data show. Imports from Iran rose 22 percent from a month earlier to 1.96 million tons. China’s purchases are also probably spurred by a shortage of so-called heavy oil, which is more dense and sulfurous than lighter crude. The squeeze has been exacerbated by output cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies as well as the U.S. sanctions.

China cuts gasoline, gasoil exports in Feb— China's gasoline exports in February fell to a three-year low, a sharper decline than analysts had expected, latest data from General Administration of Customs showed. Exports to Singapore, the traditional top destination for China's gasoline, sank 66.5% from 1.14 million mt in January, to just 383,000 mt last month. It was also down 38.5% year on year. The February gasoline exports were well below market expectations. Two Beijing-based analysts and two traders in Singapore had earlier said they expected exports to be around the normal level of 1 million mt in the month. China's exports to Malaysia also dropped 69.6% month on month to 530,000 mt in February. Asian trading hubs of Singapore and Malaysia remained the top destinations for Chinese gasoline -- both took 84.6% of the total outflows from China amounting to 1.75 million mt, up from 75% over January-February 2018. Oil products from Asian countries are usually sent to the hubs for blending or trading before heading to end-users. Exports in February to all other Asian destinations except Vietnam fell drastically from January. The only increase outside Asia was to Australia, with 24,000 mt exported in February, compared with zero in January and a year earlier. The lower realized export total for the month could be due to the methodology used by GAC, one Singapore-based trader said. Monthly exports were last lower at 426,000 mt in October 2015. China's gasoil exports to African continues to grow in 2019, despite the drop in overall volume in February. Exports to Mozambique totaled 185,000 mt over January-February from zero a year earlier, to be the sixth top destinations for China's gasoil export. Mozambique, for the second time, has remained in the top 10 destinations in February, receiving 39,000 mt of gasoil. This compared with zero in February 2018, but was down 73.4% from January at 147,000 mt. Meanwhile, exports from China to Hong Kong were up 76.9% year on year to 272,000 mt, though down 11.6% from January. Total exports to Hong Kong over the first two months, rose 91.9% from a year earlier to 580,000 mt, making it the top second destination after Singapore.  Besides Singapore and Hong Kong, Bangladesh was the top third destination for China's gasoil export, taking 180,000 mt last month. It doubled from a year earlier, and also up 182.8% from January.

Us China Trade Tensions In Focus As The Lng2019 Conference In Shanghai Takes Center Stage (podcast) S&P Global Platts senior natural gas writer Harry Weber and Platts Analytics team lead for North America natural gas Ross Wyeno preview the upcoming LNG2019 conference in Shanghai with natural gas managing editor Joe Fisher. The conference will bring together global liquefaction terminal developers, end users and traders interested in buying capacity. The US will be a key player during the conference, and the question of whether trade tensions with China will ease or escalate will be on many people's minds, as officials from both countries continue to meet in Beijing and Washington.

World’s 2nd Largest Oil Company Sees Huge Drop In Profit -Sinopec reported a 76-percent drop in its latest quarterly profit for October-December 2018, which is the lowest since at least the third quarter of 2016, Reuters reports, citing the company. However, the bad news was not a result of the company’s normal operations but of derivatives trading losses incurred by its trading arm Unipec. The division booked net losses of US$690 million (4.65 billion yuan) in the fourth quarter of last year on bad oil hedging bets. This pressed the parent company’s net result to US$461.57 million (3.1 billion yuan) despite a 33-percent increase in revenues during the three-month period, as calculated by Reuters.In refining specifically, China’s top refiner reported even worse profit figures, according to Bloomberg calculations. This fell by as much as 90 percent in the fourth quarterFor the full year, however, things looked much better in the profit department, with Sinopec reporting a 23-percent annual rise and solid growth in revenues. The improvements, like the better results of other oil companies, came on the back of higher oil prices.Now the company plans to spend more to boost oil production as instructed by Beijing. This year, however, production will not grow but decline from 2018, projected at 288 million barrels, of which 39 million barrels from projects abroad. Last year, Sinopec pumped 288.5 million barrels, of which 39.6 million barrels from projects abroad.To this end, Sinopec’s 2019 capital spending will be the highest in five years at US$20.3 billion (136.3 billion yuan), versus US$17.58 billion (118 billion yuan) spent last year. Boosting local production of oil and gas is a priority for China’s government as demand for the commodities rises and so do imports.No wonder then that 44 percent of the total 2019 budget will be allocated for exploration and production, with the focus being on boosting natural gas production to 1.02 trillion cubic meters from 977 billion cubic meters in 2018.

More shale, who cares? Saudi Arabia pushes for at least $70 oil (Reuters) - Budget needs are forcing Saudi Arabia to push for oil prices of at least $70 per barrel this year, industry sources say, even though U.S. shale oil producers could benefit and Riyadh’s share of global crude markets might be further eroded. Riyadh, OPEC’s de facto leader, said it was steeply cutting exports to its main customers in March and April despite refiners asking for more of its oil. The move defies U.S. President Donald Trump’s demands for OPEC to help reduce prices while he toughens sanctions on oil producers Iran and Venezuela. The export cuts are designed to prop up prices, sources close to Saudi oil policy say. Saudi officials say the kingdom’s output policies are merely intended to balance the world market and reduce high inventories. “The Saudis want oil at $70 at least and are not worried about too much shale oil,” said one industry source familiar with Saudi oil policy. Another source said Saudi Arabia wanted to “put a floor under oil prices” at $70 or slightly lower, and added: “No one at OPEC can talk about output increases now.” Officially, Saudi Arabia, which plans to raise government spending to boost economic growth, does not have a price target. It says price levels are determined by the market and that it is merely targeting a balance of global supply and demand. Even a price of around $70 a barrel would not balance Saudi Arabia’s books this year, according to figures cited by Jihad Azour, director of the International Monetary Fund’s Middle East and Central Asia department in February. For that, he said, Riyadh needs oil prices at $80-$85 a barrel. Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, also wants to make sure it avoids a repeat of the 2014-2016 oil price crash below $30 per barrel, sources familiar with Saudi policy said. 

OPEC struggles to keep Russia on board with oil cut, may offer shorter extension (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia is having a hard time convincing Russia to stay much longer in an OPEC-led pact cutting oil supply, and Moscow may agree only to a three-month extension, three sources familiar with the matter said. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak told his Saudi counterpart Khalid al-Falih when the two met in Baku this month that he cannot guarantee an extension to the end of 2019, the sources said. “Novak told Falih that he will extend in June but can only do it until the end of September as he is under too much pressure internally to end the cuts,” a source familiar with Russian oil policy said. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and other non-OPEC producers - an alliance known as OPEC+ - agreed in December to reduce oil supply by 1.2 million barrels per day from Jan. 1 for six months. “We can extend for three months when we meet in June and then see if we need to extend later,” an OPEC source said. “We really don’t know now, and we may not know until the last minute before we meet in June, whether the Russians will stay.” The OPEC+ alliance was formed in 2017. Since its inception, oil prices have doubled to more than $60 per barrel - mainly as a result of a series of production cuts by its members. Should Russia pull out of the latest agreement on cutting output, oil prices would drop. Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members could be forced to consider continuing the cuts alone if Russia opted not to stay, the OPEC source said. It was unclear whether Russia’s tough stance was a negotiation tactic or a real threat to quit the agreement as Novak faces mounting pressure from Russian oil companies that no longer want curbs on their production, the sources said. Igor Sechin, head of Russian oil giant Rosneft and an ally of Vladimir Putin, told the Russian president that the deal with OPEC is a strategic threat and plays into the hands of the United States, Reuters reported in February. There is no guarantee Putin will back Sechin’s view. The president sees the pact with OPEC as part of a bigger puzzle involving dialogue with OPEC’s de facto leader, Saudi Arabia, over Syria and other geopolitical issues. But Russia knows Saudi Arabia wants oil at a minimum $70 a barrel for its budget requirements, while Moscow needs just $55 a barrel to balance its books, the sources said. 

Hedge funds increase appetite for oil: Kemp-(Reuters) - Hedge funds bought another 65 million barrels of petroleum futures and options in the week to March 19, taking total purchases over the last 10 weeks to 384 million barrels, according to reports published on Friday. The one-week increase in net long positions was the largest since the end of August 2018, a strong bullish signal about the expected direction of prices over the next six months. Hedge funds and other money managers have boosted their overall bullish position in the six most important derivative contracts linked to crude and fuels prices to 685 million barrels, up from just 302 million on Jan. 8. Funds were substantial net buyers in the most recent week of NYMEX and ICE WTI (+50 million barrels) as well as Brent (+16 million barrels) and U.S. gasoline (+12 million barrels). But they were net sellers of U.S. heating oil (-4 million barrels) and European gasoil (-9 million barrels), according to exchange and regulatory data ( ). Funds now hold almost five bullish long positions for every short bearish one in petroleum, up from a ratio of less than 2:1 at the start of the year, but still far below the recent peak of 12:1 at the end of September. Until recently, most of the buying was concentrated in Brent and European gasoil, but buying rotated into WTI and U.S. gasoline in the most recent week. Funds have reduced most, though not all, of the short positions that they started to accumulate from the end of August, indicating that the most recent short-selling cycle is nearing its end. Portfolio managers have now reduced the number of short positions across the petroleum complex to just 173 million barrels, less than half a recent peak of 357 million on Jan. 8. 

Oil traders wait to assess impact of IMO regulations- Kemp (Reuters) - If oil traders and consumers are worried about the impact of new maritime fuel regulations from the start of next year, they have not yet started to mark up prices for low-sulphur middle distillate fuels. Under new rules agreed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), ships will be forced to switch to using low-sulphur fuels rather than high-sulphur residual fuel oil, or fit scrubbers to remove sulphur dioxide emissions. Refiners have been gearing up to increase the production of IMO-compliant shipping fuels, and many ship owners have installed or plan to fit scrubber units to enable them to continue using cheaper residual fuel oil. There is considerable uncertainty about exactly how vessel owners will comply with the new regulations and how much extra low-sulphur fuel the refiners will manage to produce. But the forthcoming regulations are expected to increase consumption of middle distillates and cause that segment of the oil market to tighten significantly. Ships will be competing for the same low-sulphur middle distillates used as diesel, jet fuel and heating oil by road hauliers, railroads, airlines and farmers as well as many homes, offices and factories. As a result, some analysts are forecasting a severe shortage of middle distillates, causing prices to spike, while others see a more limited impact. 

Oil prices fall as markets brace for potential US recession - Oil prices slipped on Monday, with concerns of a sharp economic slowdown overshadowing support from tighter supply due to OPEC's production cuts and U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela. Brent crude oil futures were down 14 cents, or 0.2 percent, at $66.89 per barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures were at $58.96 per barrel, down 8 cents, or 0.1 percent. Both crude oil price benchmarks closed down last week after briefly hitting their highest since November 2018. "Oil remains in a tug-of-war between fundamentals and a fickle sentiment in the global financial markets," said Vandana Hari of consultancy Vanda Insights. Concerns about a potential U.S. recession emerged on Friday after cautious remarks by the U.S. Federal Reserve caused 10-year treasury yields to slip below the three-month rate for the first time since 2007. Historically, an inverted yield curve - where long-term rates fall below short-term ones - has signaled an upcoming recession, and world stocks hit a 12-day trough on Monday. Bullish sentiment helped drive benchmarks to last week's highs, but that move could now leave them vulnerable to a correction. "Speculators increased their net long in ICE Brent by 15,934 lots over the last reporting week, to leave them with a net long of 308,606 lots ... the largest position since late October," ING said in a note. "A large gross long is a key downside risk for the market, especially with growing concerns over the economy."

 Oil prices hit by worries of sharp economic slowdown – (Reuters) - Oil prices were mixed on Monday, as concerns about a slowdown in global economic growth lingered, offset by the prospect of tighter U.S. crude supply. Brent crude oil futures settled at $67.21 a barrel, up 18 cents, while U.S. crude fell to $58.82 a barrel, down 22 cents. “Some of the weakness we saw earlier was related to the reawakening of concerns surrounding demand growth,” said Gene McGillian, vice president of market research at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut. The market is now looking ahead to weekly data on U.S. crude inventories, McGillian said, beginning with Tuesday’s report from the American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, followed by U.S. Energy Information Administration figures on Wednesday. [API/S] “If we see another week of inventory numbers like we saw last week that could restart the rally,” he said. The latest data is expected to show U.S. crude inventories falling for a third straight week, after having declined by nearly 10 million barrels the prior week on a near-record week for exports. [EIA/S] “We expect U.S. crude balances to see some additional tightening as crude exports remain sharply elevated and imports are likely downsized,” Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates, said in a note. “(But) we see a reduction in the rate of global oil demand growth as becoming a larger price influencer during the next few weeks,” Ritterbusch said. Oil prices took a hit last week after cautious remarks by the U.S. Federal Reserve and weak factory data from the United States, Europe and Asia led to the inversion of the U.S. Treasury yield curve for the first time since 2007. Three-month Treasury bills currently yield more than 10-year notes. An inverted yield curve, where long-term rates fall below short-term ones, has historically pointed to a looming recession, as it reflects investor belief in greater short-term risk.

Oil rises 2 percent as tightening supplies take focus (Reuters) - Oil rose nearly 2 percent on Tuesday as attention centered on geopolitical factors tightening supplies that are leading to falling exports from Venezuela and declining U.S. inventories. Despite concerns about weaker demand due to an economic slowdown, oil prices have risen more than 25 percent this year, supported by supply curbs by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries plus allies, and losses due to U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela. Venezuela’s main oil export port of Jose and its four crude upgraders have been unable to resume operations following a massive power blackout on Monday, the second in a month, according to industry workers and a union leader close to the facilities. “There is no electricity, everything is paralyzed,” oil workers’ union leader Jose Bodas told Reuters on Tuesday. The blackout earlier this month, due to years of underinvestment and lack of maintenance, also interrupted oil exports at Jose, the lifeblood of the OPEC nation’s economy, eroding total export volumes and causing delays in loading and discharging oil. “We’re seeing increasing attention paid to what is going on in Venezuela and to the effect of sanctions,” said Gene McGillian, director of market research at Tradition Energy. “Buyers are driving prices higher due to expectations that tightening of waivers on U.S. sanctions on Iran will create a tighter fundamental picture.” Brent settled up 76 cents at $67.97 a barrel, not far below its year-to-date high of $68.69, reached on March 21. U.S. crude futures’ gains were sharper, rising $1.12, or 1.9 percent, to $59.94 a barrel, ahead of government inventory data. Crude futures were little changed in post-settlement trade after the American Petroleum Institute, a trade organization, said U.S. crude inventories rose 1.9 million barrels in the latest week. The market was waiting to see whether official figures due on Wednesday confirmed the API data or were in line with estimates that forecast a 1.2 million-barrel decline. Worries about demand have limited oil’s rally as manufacturing data from Asia, Europe and the United States pointed to an economic slowdown, although bullish bets by some investors are rising.

WTI Drops Back Below $60 After Surprise Crude Build - WTI crude extended recent gains, hovering around $60 - setting the stage for its best quarter since 2002 - ahead of the API inventory report that was expected to show a draw after three draws in the last four weeks.“We’re back in rally mode,” said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital LLC, a New York hedge fund focused on energy. “We’re seeing a steady supply decline that’s getting us back to $60 and everyone is trying to figure out the fallout from the refinery snags in Houston and the disruption in the Houston Ship Channel.” API

  • Crude +1.93mm (-3mm exp)
  • Cushing +688k (+300k exp)
  • Gasoline -3.469mm (-3mm exp) - 5th draw in a row
  • Distillates -4.278mm (-500k exp)

Amid disruptions to refiners along the Houston Ship Channel, expectations for a 4th draw in 5 weeks were dashed as API reported a 1.93mm build... However, the notable draws in the product side took the bearish slant of price reaction.  “The second wave of the U.S. shale revolution is coming,” said Fatih Birol, the head of the International Energy Agency.“This will shake up international oil and gas trade flows, with profound implications for geopolitics.” WTI was hovering at $60 ahead of the API print and dropped as the data disappointed...

Oil prices mixed as US crude stockpiles rise, gasoline and fuel stocks fall - Oil prices were little changed on Wednesday morning after U.S. government data showed the nation's crude oil stockpiles increased last week, but its fuel inventories fell. Crude inventories rose by 2.8 million barrels in the last week, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported, compared with analysts' expectations for a decrease of 1.2 million barrels. Meanwhile, gasoline stocks fell by 2.9 million barrels, a slightly greater draw than analysts expected in a Reuters poll that called for a 2.8 million-barrel drop. Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, fell by 2.1 million barrels, versus expectations for a 896,000-barrel drop, the EIA data showed. Brent added 16 cents to $68.13 around 10:30 a.m. ET (1430 GMT), reversing earlier losses, and was not far off its year-to-date high of $68.69 reached last week. U.S. crude futures were down 5 cents at $59.89, also rebounding from an early morning dip. The U.S. benchmark rose 1.9 percent in the previous session. Crude futures gyrated earlier in the session as disruptions to Venezuela's crude exports provided support but were offset by an earlier report of rising U.S. fuel stockpiles last week. Gains were also kept in check amid growing fears over the impact of a global economic slowdown on demand. "We seem to have reached a state of equilibrium after the recent headline-driven choppy trading and we need to see some new impetus for price direction," said Jeff Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA in Singapore. That is unlikely until a conclusion is reached on U.S.-China trade talks, he added, referring to negotiations due to restart on Thursday as the world's two largest economies seek to end an eight-month old trade war. Worries about demand have limited oil's rally as manufacturing data from Asia, Europe and the United States pointed to an economic slowdown. Venezuela's main oil export port of Jose and its four crude upgraders were unable to resume operations following a massive power blackout on Monday, the second in a month.

WTI Tumbles Back Below $60 After Surprise Crude Build, Record Production - WTI chopped around after last night's surprise crude build from API but remains back at $60 ahead of the DOE dataAs Bloomberg Intelligence's Senior Energy Analyst Vince Piazza notes, WTI crude will likely have a difficult time sustaining $60 a barrel, with macroeconomic headwinds slowing its ascent. We're more concerned about demand slowing, yet we appreciate compliance with output curbs by OPEC and its partners. Still, capacity hasn't disappeared; it's been deferred. While U.S. production growth has ebbed on calls for capital discipline, the backlog of uncompleted wells highlights the industry's potential for just-in-time inventory should crude prices seem attractive. Stockpiles are 3% above 2018 levels and about 1% below the five-year norm and Cushing inventories, almost 58% above last year. DOE:

  • Crude +2.88mm (-3mm exp)
  • Cushing +541k (+300k exp)
  • Gasoline -2.883mm (-3mm exp)  - 6th weekly draw in a row
  • Distillates -2.075mm (-500k exp)

After last week's huge crude draw, and despite last night's surprise API-reported build, expectations remained for a smaller draw but, like API, crude inventories rose by 2.88mm barrels... Bloomberg notes that refinery runs took a tumble at a time when they have typically started to creep higher after seasonal maintenance, thanks to a spate of fires and other upsets. The Gulf Coast was especially hard hit, with crude demand down 294,000 barrels a day. That may have contributed to the 4.6 million-barrel increase in crude stocks in the region. Production was flat at record highs as the lagged impact of declining rig counts is set to hit... Unsurprisingly, Venezuelan crude imports into the U.S. remained at zero for the second week in a row. The LatAm country continues to struggle with power losses that have crippled production, as well as American sanctions on PDVSA.

Oil Prices Down Amid Unexpected US Build - Both major oil benchmarks were lower Wednesday.  May West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures lost 53 cents Wednesday, settling at $59.41 per barrel. The benchmark traded within a range from $58.81 to $60.22.The latest U.S. commercial crude oil inventory data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) contributed to the downward momentum for crude. The EIA data showed an unanticipated build in domestic crude stocks for the week ending March 22, 2019. Last week’s 2.8 million-barrel build brought the EIA’s oil inventory figure to 442.3 million barrels, which amounts to a nearly three-percent increase compared to this time last year.As an analyst told Rigzone Tuesday, the market had been expecting EIA to report a drawdown exceeding 1 million barrels. Bloomberg, in an article posted to Rigzone earlier Wednesday, reported that a survey of analysts that it conducted projected a 2.5-million-barrel decrease in inventories.Brent crude oil for May delivery posted a more modest decline than the WTI, shedding 14 cents during the midweek session to end the day at $67.83 per barrel.The contract price for reformulated gasoline (RBOB) also edged downward Wednesday. April RBOB futures dropped six cents to settle at just under $1.90 per gallon.  Henry Hub natural gas futures also finished the day lower. The April price for the gas benchmark fell three cents, settling at $2.71.

 Analysis: US crude supply adds barrels as refinery runs, exports slow — US crude supply edged higher last week as exports dipped and refinery headwinds weighed on utilization rates, US Energy Information Administration data showed Wednesday. Commercial crude inventories added 2.8 million barrels last week, bringing stocks to 442.28 million barrels for the week ended March 22, EIA data showed. Despite the build, nationwide inventories still fell relative to historic levels, and the deficit to the five-year average widened to 1.8% from 1.6% the week prior.The crude build was concentrated in the US Gulf Coast, where stocks grew 4.58 million barrels on the week to 21.81 million barrels last week. Draws of 1.55 million and 1 million barrels in the Midwest and West Coast, respectively, blunted the nationwide crude build. Notably, stocks at Cushing, Oklahoma, the delivery point of the NYMEX crude contract, added 541,000 barrels, snapping back-to-back weeks of declines.Crude exports dropped 506,000 b/d to 2.89 million b/d last week, but the impact on crude stocks was mitigated by a 392,000 b/d drop in imports. The import decline was especially notable in the Gulf Coast where inbound crude volumes fell 219,000 b/d to 1.48 million b/d, testing multi-decade lows of 1.43 million b/d seen in early February. Nationwide refinery utilization dropped 2.3 percentage points to 86.6% of capacity. The decline put rates at the lowest since mid-February and more than 3% below the five-year average. About 3.1 million b/d of crude distillation capacity was offline for planned turnaround work last week, compared with 2.7 million b/d during the week prior, S&P Global Platts Analytics data showed. Last week was expected to be the high-water mark of seasonal turnaround work, and nationwide offline distillation capacity was expected to decline going forward.

Oil extends losses into second session as US stocks rise - Oil prices fell on Thursday, but bounced from session lows struck after President Donald Trump asked OPEC to hike production and tamp down the cost of crude.International Brent crude oil futures were down 59 cents, or nearly 1 percent, at $67.24 a barrel around 10 a.m. ET (1400 GMT). U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures were down 50 cents to $58.91 per barrel.Crude futures briefly extended losses, falling almost 2 percent, after Trump issued his second tweet this year geared toward changing OPEC's policy of cutting production."Very important that OPEC increase the flow of Oil. World Markets are fragile, price of Oil getting too high. Thank you!" Trump tweeted.U.S. crude inventories rose last week by 2.8 million barrels, compared with analysts' expectations for a decrease of 1.2 million barrels, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said.  Demand concerns on the back of economic jitters linked to the U.S.-Chinese trade war have also capped prices.In a fresh development, China has made unprecedented proposals on a range of issues, including forced technology transfer, as the two sides work to end their protracted dispute.

Trump says it's 'very important that OPEC increase the flow of oil' because prices are too high -- President Donald Trump told OPEC on Thursday that its members should start pumping more oil, marking his second warning to the producer group this year as crude prices continue to rise. Trump's latest tweet comes as OPEC and a group of allies led by Russia are cutting production following a collapse in oil prices in the final months of 2018. The output curbs by the so-called OPEC+ group have played a major part in the rebound in the oil market this year.  Oil prices briefly fell nearly 2 percent after Trump's tweet, but soon rebounded, settling just pennies below Wednesday's closing price. The last time Trump tweeted at OPEC, oil prices tanked about $2 a barrel, or more than 3 percent."I would say that it is apparent that the oil market has concluded that the OPEC+ group has put President Trump's Twitter account on mute," said John Kilduff, founding partner at energy hedge fund Again Capital.Analysts say pressure from the Trump administration last year — punctuated by a series of Twitter attacks on OPEC — contributed to the producer group's decision to lift production limits in June. But in recent months, OPEC members have mostly shrugged off Trump's social media demands.The OPEC+ alliance agreed to a fresh round of production cuts in December, despite Trump calling on the group to keep pumping at high levels. Since January, the group has aimed to keep 1.2 million barrels a day off the market in order to drain oversupply.After Trump asked OPEC last month to "please relax and take it easy," Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falihtold CNBC "We are taking it easy." He added that he is leaning toward extending the six-month production cuts into the second half of 2019.Last week, OPEC+ canceled an April meeting meant to review the output pact, leaving the production curbs in place until at least June. OPEC ministers have expressed frustration with the Trump administration for allowing several of Iran's biggest oil buyers to continue purchasing limited amounts of the Islamic Republic's crude, despite U.S. sanctions on the country.

Crude Oil Prices Plunge After Trump Tweet Bashes OPEC Supply Cuts -- President Trump tweeted this morning that it’s “very important that OPEC increase the flow of Oil” which sent crude prices tumbling lower. Trump’s remarks were not the first time he’s voiced his opinion that oil prices are too high. OPEC agreed to cut its supply of oil after prices collapsed through the fourth quarter of 2018 in response to shrinking demand for the commodity amid slowing global growth. Crude oil prices have since surged over 40 percent to $60/bbl after bottoming around $42/bbl in December. Although, risks of a slowing global economy remains a burden which is reflected by the latest downward revisions to GDP growth forecasts and plummeting sovereign yields.On that point, President Trump also stated that ‘world markets are fragile’ in his tweet. The President of the United States has a history of chiming in on market performance, especially when it comes to stocks and the Dow Jones Industrial Average. As such, it appears that POTUS is looking to jawbone growth-favorable turns attemping to boost the equity index higher with positive US-China trade war news – or alternatively talk down high oil prices which can increase costs across the economy as is the case today.That being said, OPEC likely will disregard Trump’s comments with the oil cartel independently deciding their production plans. OPEC was supposed to convene to discuss oil output in April, but have since canceled the meeting as the group and its allies remain in agreement to hold production cuts at 1.2 million barrels per day.However, Russia’s Gazprom Neft, one of the important non-OPEC oil producing stalwarts, stated it does not expect to continue the previously agreed upon supply cuts through the end of 2019. This news could be adding further downward pressure on oil prices today thus exacerbating the move lower in Crude following Trump's tweet. But, prices look to remain steady above $58/bbl as OPEC output decisions vastly outweigh non-OPEC members in terms of relative impact on the global supply of oil.

Oil near flat, shrugs off Trump calls for OPEC to boost output (Reuters) - Oil futures were near flat on Thursday after recovering from the day’s worst losses that came when U.S. President Donald Trump called for OPEC to boost crude output in an effort to lower prices that were headed for their best quarterly gains in a decade. Futures hit a session low immediately following Trump’s comments, but subsequently rallied above pre-tweet levels. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures dropped 11 cents to settle at $59.30 a barrel. Earlier the contract fell to $58.20 in the wake of Trump’s tweet, where he said it was “very important that OPEC (the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) increase the flow of Oil” due to fragile world markets. Brent crude futures lost 1 cent to settle at $67.82 a barrel, after earlier sinking to $66.54 a barrel. Oil prices have risen more than 25 percent this year, with WTI heading for the biggest first quarter gains since 2002 and for both benchmarks the best quarterly gain since 2009, mainly due to moves by OPEC and allies such as Russia to cut output. The group, known as OPEC+, agreed to cut 1.2 million barrels per day of output at the beginning of this year. “These Trump tweets where he ambushes the OPEC folks are not having the same kind of price significance that they did when it was a brand-new phenomenon,” “The market is finding this a bit old and it’s not a novelty anymore.” Sowing uncertainty for the OPEC-led pact, Saudi Arabia is having a hard time convincing Russia to stay much longer in the deal, and Moscow may agree only to a three-month extension, three sources familiar with the matter said. U.S. sanctions on Venezuela and Iran have restricted those countries’ oil exports and buoyed crude prices this year. The United States has instructed oil trading houses and refiners around the world to further cut dealings with Venezuela or face sanctions themselves, even if the trades are not prohibited by published U.S. sanctions, three sources familiar with the matter said. On top of U.S. sanctions, power blackouts this month have crippled Venezuela’s oil industry. The country’s main oil export port of Jose and four crude upgraders, needed to convert Venezuela’s heavy oil into exportable grades, were halted this week, industry sources said. 

 Oil prices set for biggest first quarter gain since 2009 on US sanctions, OPEC - Oil prices rose on Friday, on track for their biggest quarterly rise in a decade, as U.S. sanctions against Iran and Venezuela as well as OPEC-led supply cuts overshadowed concerns over a slowing global economy.The rebound comes after a swift and punishing collapse in oil prices during the final quarter of 2018. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures settled 84 cents higher at $60.14 per barrel, up 1.4 percent on the day. WTI earlier touched $60.73, its highest level since Nov. 12. WTI futures rose for a fourth straight week and surged 32 percent in the first three months of the year. The May Brent crude futures contract, which expires Friday, gained 57 cents to $68.39 a barrel, gaining 27 percent in the first quarter. The more-active June contract was up 57 cents to $67.67 a barrel around 2:30 p.m. EDT (1830 GMT). For both futures contracts, the first quarter 2019 is the best performing quarter since the second quarter of 2009 when both gained about 40 percent. U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela have boosted oil prices this year, as the sanctions have restricted crude exports out of the countries. The United States is keen to see that Malaysia, Singapore and others are fully aware of illicit Iranian oil shipments and the tactics Iran uses to evade sanctions, a top U.S. sanctions official said on Friday.

Oil Rig Count Falls As WTI Hits $60 - The the number of active oil and gas rigs fell for the second week in a row in the United States this week according to Baker Hughes, while actual US production was stagnate for the week.The total number of active oil and gas drilling rigs fell by 10 rigs­ according to the report—like last week—with the number of active oil rigs falling by 8 to reach 816 and the number of gas rigs falling by 2 to 190.The oil and gas rig count is now just 13 up from this time last year, with oil being seeing a 19-rig increase year on year, gas rigs seeing a 4-rig decrease, and miscellaneous rigs seeing a 2-rig decrease for the year. Oil prices were trading up earlier on Friday leading up to the data release despite reports on Wednesday from the Energy Information Administration that showed a build in crude oil inventories.WTI was trading up $0.75(+1.26%) at $60.05—above the psychologically important $60 per barrel. The Brent benchmark was trading up $0.44 (+0.66%) at $67.54 at 10:47am EST. Prices for both represent a gain over last week’s prices at this time. US crude oil production for week ending March 22 was 12.1 million bpd for the second week in a row.Canada, too, saw a marked decline in the number of active rigs this week. Canada’s total oil and gas rig count fell by 17 and is now 88, which is 46 fewer rigs than this time last year as Canada’s oil industry continues to face steep uphill battles over its constrained pipeline capacity that is necessary to get its heavy crude to market along with production caps instituted to keep Western Canadian Select prices from falling further. By 1:08pm EDT, WTI was trading up 1.28% (+$0.76) at $60.06 on the day. Brent crude was trading up 0.70% (+$0.47) at $67.57 per barrel.

Oil posts biggest quarterly rise since 2009 on OPEC cuts, sanctions (Reuters) - Oil prices rose about 1 percent on Friday, posting their biggest quarterly rise in a decade, as U.S. sanctions against Iran and Venezuela as well as OPEC-led supply cuts overshadowed concerns over a slowing global economy. The May Brent crude oil futures contract, which expired Friday, gained 57 cents, or 0.84 percent, to settle at $68.39 a barrel, marking a first-quarter gain of 27 percent. The more-active June contract settled up 48 cents at $67.58 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures rose 84 cents, or 1.42 percent, to $60.14 a barrel, and posted a rise of 32 percent in the January-March period. For the two benchmarks, the quarterly rise was the biggest since the second quarter of 2009, when both gained about 40 percent. U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela have boosted prices this year. Washington is keen to see that Malaysia, Singapore and others are fully aware of illicit Iranian oil shipments and the tactics Iran uses to evade sanctions, a U.S. sanctions official said on Friday. Sigal Mandelker, under-secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, told reporters in Singapore that the United States had placed additional “intense pressure” on Iran this week. Meanwhile, the United States has instructed oil trading houses and refiners to further cut dealings with Venezuela or face sanctions themselves, even if the trades are not prohibited by published U.S. sanctions, three sources familiar with the matter said. “With U.S. sanctions taking Iranian and Venezuelan oil off the market, at the same time OPEC and non-OPEC producers want to see higher prices and are currently reluctant to make up for any lost volume,” said Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates in Houston. Also lifting prices this year has been a deal between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies such as Russia to cut output by around 1.2 million barrels per day, which officially started in January 

U.S. approved secret nuclear power work for Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has approved six secret authorizations by companies to sell nuclear power technology and assistance to Saudi Arabia, according to a copy of a document seen by Reuters on Wednesday. The Trump administration has quietly pursued a wider deal on sharing U.S. nuclear power technology with Saudi Arabia, which aims to build at least two nuclear power plants. Several countries including the United States, South Korea and Russia are in competition for that deal, and the winners are expected to be announced later this year by Saudi Arabia. Perry’s approvals, known as Part 810 authorizations, allow companies to do preliminary work on nuclear power ahead of any deal but not ship equipment that would go into a plant, a source with knowledge of the agreements said on condition of anonymity. The approvals were first reported by the Daily Beast. The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) said in the document that the companies had requested that the Trump administration keep the approvals secret. “In this case, each of the companies which received a specific authorization for (Saudi Arabia) have provided us written request that their authorization be withheld from public release,” the NNSA said in the document. In the past, the Energy Department made previous Part 810 authorizations available for the public to read at its headquarters. A Department of Energy official said the requests contained proprietary information and that the authorizations went through multi-agency approval process. Many U.S. lawmakers are concerned that sharing nuclear technology with Saudi Arabia could eventually lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told CBS last year that the kingdom would develop nuclear weapons if its rival Iran did. In addition, the kingdom has occasionally pushed back against agreeing to U.S. standards that would block two paths to potentially making fissile material for nuclear weapons clandestinely: enriching uranium and reprocessing spent fuel. Concern in Congress about sharing nuclear technology and knowledge with Saudi Arabia rose after U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed last October in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The Part 810 authorizations were made after November 2017, but it was not clear from the document whether any of them were made after Khashoggi’s killing. 

Saudi Aramco reaches $69.1 billion deal to buy majority stake in petrochemicals firm SABIC - Saudi Arabia's state-controlled energy giant Aramco has reached a $69.1 billion deal to purchase a majority stake in petrochemicals firm Sabic from the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund. The deal will see Aramco purchase the 70 percent stake in Sabic held by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund in a share purchase agreement. It will expand Aramco's footprint in refining and petrochemicals and inject cash into PIF, which underpins ambitious plans to remake Saudi Arabia's economy. Aramco and PIF announced the news Wednesday shortly after CNBC and other news outlets confirmed the transaction. The deal remains subject to closing conditions and regulatory approvals. Saudi Arabia is attempting to diversify its economy and reduce its reliance on oil revenues under a plan called Vision 2030 directed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Plans to sell shares in Aramco are meant to underwrite that endeavor, but an initial public offering on an international exchange has been delayed by several years.  The Aramco-Sabic deal further delayed the IPO plans — the company now expects to list shares in 2021. The kingdom sought to raise $100 billion by publicly listing a small percentage of Aramco. Wednesday's agreement comes as Aramco, the world's largest oil company by production, is expanding its high-value downstream operations, which includes refining crude oil into fuels and making petrochemicals. Aramco currently has the capacity to produce 17 million tons of petrochemicals per year, while Sabic's capacity is 62 million tons. By 2030, Aramco aims to increase its refining capacity from 4.9 million barrels per day to 8 million to 10 million bpd. "This transaction is a major step in accelerating Saudi Aramco's transformative downstream growth strategy of integrated refining and petrochemicals," Aramco President and CEO Amin Nasser said in a statement. "SABIC is a world-class company with an outstanding workforce and chemicals capabilities." Sabic has operations in 50 countries and employees about 35,000 people around the world.

Saudi Aramco Buying 70% Of SABIC In $70 Billion Cash Injection For Mohammed bin Salman -- Saudi oil giant Saudi Aramco is acquiring a 70% stake in the country's petrochemcial firm Saudi Arabian Basic Industries Corporation - or SABIC - from the country's sovereign wealth fund, Aramco reported on its Twitter account shortly after Bloomberg leaked the news on Wednesday morning. The remaining 30% publicly traded shares in SABIC will not be part of the transaction The agreed purchase price for the shares is 123.40 riyals per share, totaling 259.125b riyals, which is just shy of $70 billion. The transaction will give Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s agenda a giant jolt of cash according to the WSJ, adding that the agreement culminates over a year of negotiations between Saudi Arabia’s two biggest companies, which Prince Mohammed has urged to tie up to free up money for his economic agenda. The deal would give billions of dollars to the Public Investment Fund, which has become one of the world’s biggest tech investors in recent years in collaboration with Japan's SoftBank.The Sabic deal was initially proposed last year after the oil giant’s plans for an IPO were indefinitely postponed after potential investors threw up on the $2 trillion valuation proposed by MbS. By channeling money from Aramco to the PIF, two arms of the Saudi state, the deal offered another route to the cash originally sought from the offering.Saudi Aramco may stagger payments for the Sabic acquisition, offering flexibility in how to finance the largest deal in the kingdom’s history, Al-Falih said in January. The company has very little debt and plans to issue bonds to fund at least part of the purchase. Saudi Aramco picked banks including JPMorgan Chase & Co., Morgan Stanley, Citigroup Inc., HSBC Holdings Plc, National Commercial Bank to manage the bond sale, people familiar with the matter have said.  As a reminder, this is merely a money "recirculating" transaction meant to provide funding to Saudi Arabia by way of international creditors, who will be expected to buy tens of billions in bonds from Aramco as we explained last year.This is how we simplified the money flow last July: the cash goes from international yield chasers, to a consortium of banks, to Aramco, to Sabic, to Crown Prince MbS.

Saudi Aramco reportedly plans to issue $10 billion bond, opening books for the first time - Saudi Arabia's state-controlled energy giant Aramco plans to tap bond markets for the first time as early as next week, sources within the company told CNBC on Thursday. While the exact dollar figure has not been confirmed, initial media reports put the Aramco bond issuance amount at $10 billion, which sources have told CNBC is "reasonable as a minimum." The move is designed to help raise funds for a down payment on the oil giant's $69.1 billion purchase of a majority stake in Saudi petrochemicals firm Sabic. It would also mark the first-ever debt issuance from the world's largest oil firm, enabling greater visibility into its financial performance. While the corporate issuance has been in the works for some time, the news comes sooner than expected — Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al Falih said in January that Aramco would likely issue bonds in the second quarter of 2019. Al-Falih, who also serves as Aramco's chairman, has said the company will release data on its financial health and oil and gas reserves as part of a bond prospectus. The oil giant delayed a highly-anticipated initial public offering originally scheduled for 2018 reportedly over Saudi concerns about public scrutiny over its finances and because of the complexity of its corporate structure. Aramco declined to comment when contacted by CNBC Thursday morning. Saudi Arabia is attempting to diversify its economy and reduce its reliance on oil revenues under a plan called Vision 2030 directed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. "The Saudi government is increasingly becoming more open and transparent about its finances and budget updates,"

Hedge Fund Returns $300 Million To Saudis Over Khashoggi Killing - In a rare move, a hedge fund has returned about $300 million in investment funds to Saudi Arabia over the Oct. 2nd murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Bloomberg cited anonymous sources with knowledge of the matter after British hedge fund Pharo Management told investors it had returned the money to the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) due to the heinous killing which last year shocked the world, and further has made things increasingly difficult for Riyadh in attracting foreign investment for its Vision 2030 project.  SAMA, the kingdom’s central bank, invested the funds with Pharo in December, but the decision to publicly return the money has turned heads as a rare rebuke to one of the world's most powerful and influential investors. According to Bloomberg's sources: Guillaume Fonkenell, 54, who founded Pharo, told some investors in January that the decision was made to uphold its principles due to concerns about Khashoggi’s death at the hands of government agents last year, the person said.

US Media Remains Silent as Historically Huge Protests Take Place Across Yemen — Massive demonstrations took place across Yemen’s major cities on Tuesday to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the Saudi-led war on the country. The war ostensibly began on March 26, 2015, when Saudi Arabia, backed by the U.S. and other regional allies, launched a large-scale attack on Yemen under the pretext of reinstating ousted former president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. The war’s real purpose was to defeat the Houthi Ansar Allah movement, which gained popular support following the Arab Spring and has grown even more powerful since the Saudi war began. In Yemen’s capital city of Sana`a, where the largest demonstrations took place, hundreds of thousands of residents from the suburbs of Sana`a and its neighboring provinces gathered in the southern al Sabaeen district carrying Yemeni flags and holding banners emblazoned with messages of steadfastness, promises to challenge to the Saudi-led Coalition, and pledges of resistance against foreign forces in Yemen. In the Sada’a province in northern Yemen, hundreds of thousands also took to the streets despite an ever-present hovering of Saudi warplane above. The Saudi air presence began two days ago as residents started their preparations for the upcoming rallies. The demonstrations were organized primarily by the Houthis, the main force battling the Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen. Large rallies also took place in the provinces of Hodeida, Ibb, Ta`ze, al-Jawf, Reimah and Dhamar. The number of people who took part in the demonstrations dwarfed similar rallies that took place in previous years, indicating a growing opposition to the Saudi-led Coalition war in Yemen. Anti-Saudi demonstrations were also held for the first time in the northwest province of Hajjah and the central province of al-Beidha. Images of demonstrations show a sea of Yemeni flags, posters bearing pictures of Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi and the slogan, “Four years of aggression — We are steadfast for the fifth year — We will win.” A protest leader in Sana`a’s Sabaeen Square rallied the crowd, chanting, “I am ready to make more sacrifices against the Saudi-led Coalition.”

With an Eye on Iran, US to Open Yet Another Military Base in the Middle East -  — The United States clinched a strategic port deal with Oman on Sunday which US officials say will allow the US military better access the Gulf region and reduce the need to send ships through the Strait of Hormuz, a maritime choke point off Iran.The US embassy in Oman said in a statement that the agreement governed US access to facilities and ports in Duqm as well as in Salalah and “reaffirms the commitment of both countries to promoting mutual security goals.” The accord is viewed through an economic prism by Oman, which wants to develop Duqm while preserving its Switzerland-like neutral role in Middle Eastern politics and diplomacy. But it comes as the United States grows increasingly concerned about Iran’s expanding missile programs, which have improved in recent years despite sanctions and diplomatic pressure by the United States.  A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity to Reuters, said the deal was significant by improving access to ports that connect to a network of roads to the broader region, giving the US military great resiliency in a crisis.

An Iran-Syria ‘Belt & Road’- A Far-Reaching Geopolitical Strategy Unfolds -  As the US tries to consolidate its strategy for weakening and confronting Iran, the contours of an important geopolitical strategy, launched by Syria and Iran, are surfacing. On the one hand, it consists of a multi-layered sewing together of a wide ‘deterrence’ that ultimately could result in Israel being pulled into a regional war – were certain military trip wires (such as air attacks on Syria’s strategic defences) – to be triggered. Or, if the US economic war on Iran crosses certain boundaries (such as blockading Iranian tankers from sailing, or putting a full stranglehold on the Iranian economy). To be clear, the aim of this geo-political strategy is not to provoke a war with the US or Israel – it is to deter one. It sends a message to Washington that any carelessly thought-through aggression (of whatever hybrid nature) against the ‘northern states’ (from Lebanon to Iraq) might end by putting their ally – Israel – in full jeopardy. And that Washington should reflect carefully on its threats.  The deterrence consists at the top-level of Syrian S300 air defences over which Russia and Syria have joint-key control. The aim here, seems to be to maintain strategic ambiguity over the exact rules of S300 engagement. Russia wants to stand ‘above’ any conflict that involves Israel or the US – as best it can – and thus be positioned to act as a potential mediator and peace-maker, should armed conflict occur. In a sense, the S300s represent deterrence of ‘last resort’ – the final option, were graduated escalation somehow to be surpassed, via some major military event.  At the next level down, deterrence (already well signalled in advance) is focussed on halting Israeli air attacks on either Iranian or Syrian infrastructure (in either state). Initially, air attacks would be countered by the effective (80%) Syrian, Panzir and BUK air defence systems.More ‘substantive’ attacks will be met with a proportionate response (most probably by Syrian missiles fired into the occupied Golan). Were this to prove insufficient, and were escalation to occur, missiles are likely to be fired into the depth of Israel. Were escalation to mount yet further, the risk would be then of Iranian and Hizbullah missiles entering into the frame of conflict. Here, we would be on the cusp of region-wide war.

Netanyahu: Golan Endorsement ‘Proves’ Israel Can Keep Occupied Territories - Still trying to make political gains on President Trump’s endorsement of the Golan Heights annexation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is hinting that Trump’s extra-legal decree could have broad ramifications across the occupied territories.  Netanyahu claimed Trump’s move “proves” that Israel is able to hold occupied territories permanently, telling reporters that anything that is occupied “in a defensive war, then it’s ours.”  That the 1967 War actually saw Israel attack several countries and seize territory from them is beside the point, as Netanyahu and a generation of politicians have engaged in enough historical revisionism to sell at least a modicum of the far right on the idea that the attack was a “preemptive war.” The war not only saw the capture of Golan Heights from Syria, but also of the West Bank from Jordan. Netanyahu’s new “it’s ours” mantra is clearly meant to sent the message to Israeli voters that the annexation of the West Bank, too, could be in the offing. Annexing the West Bank would have been unthinkable before Trump’s Golan move, as it would be seen as a formal and irrevocable disavowal of peace with the Palestinians. Netanyahu may, however, believe that Trump will go for it, and his far-right constituents also certainly will go for it. Whether he intends to actually attempt to do so before the election or not, Netanyahu has made the West Bank annexation a political issue.

Israeli Jets Strike Syria’s Aleppo, Causing Electricity Blackout  — The Syrian military said Israel on Wednesday launched air raids on an industrial zone in the northern city of Aleppo, causing damage only to materials, while opposition sources said the strikes hit Iranian ammunition stores and a military airport used by Tehran’s forces, Reuters reported. “The Israeli aggression targeted some positions in Sheikh Najjar industrial zone and a number of enemy missiles were brought down,” an army statement said, as cited by Reuters. Israel had not commented on the claims.A number of residents of Aleppo city told AFP that the attack caused a power cut for the entire city. The blasts caused an electrical blackout in Aleppo, the country’s second-largest city and a major industrial hub that bore the brunt of years of fighting and heavy Russian and Syrian aerial bombardment of its former rebel-held areas. Military experts told Reuters that Aleppo is one of the main areas where Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have a strong military presence supporting local militias that have for years been fighting alongside the Syrian army to defeat rebel groups. Two opposition sources familiar with Tehran’s military presence in the area told Reuters large ammunitions depot and a logistics hub that belonged to Iranian-backed militias inside the industrial zone received direct hits.Other strikes hit the vicinity of Nairab military airport on the outskirts of Aleppo in the second such strike on the installation used by Iranian troops in less than a year, they added. Israel, which considers Iran its biggest threat, has repeatedly attacked Iranian targets in Syria and those of allied militia, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

US Airstrikes Kill Over 50 People in Syria  — Officials very much want to brand the ISIS battle in Syria as “over,” so long as it is understood that it won’t involve withdrawing forces or ending anything in practice. The village of Baghouz, however, continues to be the center of conflict.According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, US forces attacked some caves on the outskirts of Baghouz on Thursday, killing over 50 people. They are assuming everyone killed was an ISIS remnant, though of course none were positively identified.The conclusion of ISIS is based on the fact that ISIS had fighters hidden in caves and connecting underground bunkers. Yet there was also what Kurdish forces described as a nearly endless number of civilians hiding in the same area, with tens of thousands fleeing the tiny village long after everyone had assumed it was more or less entirely depopulated. That the strikes are still centering on what is effectively Baghouz also undercuts claims that the Kurds actually “won” in that village, as clearly the US believes someone is still there worth dropping bombs on well after the war was called over.

All ISIS Has Left Is Money. Lots of It. - BEIRUT—If you’re looking to transfer money here, there’s a chance you will be directed to Abu Shawkat. He works out of a small office in a working-class suburb of the Lebanese capital, but won’t give you its exact location. Instead, he’ll direct you to a nearby alleyway, and whether he shows up depends on whether he likes the look of you. Abu Shawkat—not his real name—is part of the hawala system, which is often used to transfer cash between places where the banking system has broken down or is too expensive for some to access. If he agrees to do business, you’ll set a password and he will take your cash, then provide you with the contact information of a hawala broker in the city where your money is headed. Anyone who offers that specific password to that particular broker will get the funds. Thus, cash can travel across borders without any inquiry into who is sending or receiving it, or its purpose.In the case of neighboring Syria, U.S.- and British-funded projects have sent millions of dollars into the country using the hawala system, humanitarian organizations use it to pay staff, and Syrians working abroad depend on it to get money to impoverished relatives. But Abu Shawkat runs the hawala equivalent of a mom-and-pop store: One of the giants of the industry, which analysts believe owns a network of money-services businesses and has moved millions of dollars a week, is the Islamic State. Even as U.S.-backed forces wrest back the Islamic State’s last strip of territory in Syria, the United States and its allies are nowhere close to bringing down the terrorist organization’s economic empire. The group remains a financial powerhouse: It still has access to hundreds of millions of dollars, according to experts’ estimates, and can rely on a battle-tested playbook to keep money flowing into its coffers. That continued wealth has real risks, threatening to help it retain the allegiance of a committed core of loyalists and wreak havoc through terrorist attacks for years to come. The Islamic State’s financial strength offers a window into the broader challenge facing the United States and other governments. In its effort to squeeze the group financially, Washington has been forced to rely on a fundamentally different strategy than it employed in its military campaign: The main weapons at its disposal are not air strikes and artillery barrages, but subtler tools, such as sanctioning Islamic State–linked businesses, denying them access to the international financial system, and quietly cooperating with governments across the globe. Successes will be less visible, the campaign against the group will likely take years, and there is no guarantee of victory.

Israel Avenges Burning Balloons With Airstrikes on Gaza Refugee Camp — Israeli fighter jets carried out two airstrikes in the Gaza Strip early Sunday following the launch of incendiary balloons from the Palestinian territory, according to the military. In a statement, the army said the attacks targeted two Hamas posts in the seaside enclave. According to an Anadolu Agency reporter, the Israeli warplanes struck positions in Al-Awda refugee camp, east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. No injuries were reported. These airstrikes followed two other airstrikes earlier today, on eastern parts of the Bureyc refugee camp, which injured three Palestinians. Palestinian activists have been flying burning kites and balloons into Israel as part of ongoing anti-occupation protests along the Gaza-Israel buffer zone. According to Israeli officials, the improvised aerial “weapons” have caused a number of fires inside illegal Israeli settlements, causing significant material damage but not resulting in any deaths or injuries.Since March of last year, more than 250 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more injured by Israeli army fire during protests demanding the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in historical Palestine from which they were driven in 1948 to make way for the new state of Israel. Israeli forces have recently been targeting Gaza with airstrikes, alleging that burning kites and balloons were sent from Gaza to the Israeli side.

Israel rocket attack: Seven wounded north of Tel Aviv - An early morning rocket, allegedly fired from the Gaza Strip, struck a home in central Israel on Monday, wounding seven people and prompting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cut short a trip to Washington.The developments set the stage for a potential major conflagration, shortly before Israel's upcoming elections.The rocket attack destroyed a residential home in the community of Mishmeret, north of the city of Kfar Saba, wounding six members of the family.  Israel's ambulance service said it treated seven people overall, including two women who were moderately wounded. The others, including two children and an infant, had minor wounds.The sounds of air raid sirens jolted residents of the Sharon area, northeast of Tel Aviv, from their sleep shortly after 5am (03:00 GMT). A strong sound of an explosion followed. An Israeli military spokesperson said the rocket attack was carried out by Hamas, adding that the army was set to deploy two brigades and infantry units to the southern Gaza area. It also called up reserves after the rocket attack.There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Monday's incident. Al Jazeera reached out to Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip but received no response.Later on Monday, a Hamas official denied to AFP news agency that the movement was behind the attack. "No one from the resistance movements, including Hamas, has an interest in firing rockets from the Gaza Strip towards the enemy," the official said

Israel military mobilizes troops after Gaza rocket wounds 7— The Israeli military said it was reinforcing troops along the border with the Gaza Strip and calling up reserves after a rocket attack on an Israeli home wounded seven people. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would cut short his trip to the United States after news of the rocket strike on Mishmeret, an agricultural town north of Tel Aviv. In Mishmeret one house was completely destroyed, and at least one other house and cars were left badly damaged. Israel's Magen David Adom ambulance service said it was treating seven people, including an infant, a 3-year-old boy, a 12-year-old girl and a 60-year-old woman who was suffering from blast injuries, burns and shrapnel wounds. Netanyahu, who arrived in Washington on Sunday for a four-day visit ahead of an April 9 Israeli election, said he would fly home immediately after meeting President Donald Trump at the White House, as planned, later on Monday. "In light of the security events I decided to cut short my visit to the U.S.," Netanyahu said, calling the rocket fire a "heinous attack." The early morning attack came at a time of high tension ahead of the anniversary of Gaza border protests over the weekend, and Trump's expression of support for Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights.

Israel Launches Strikes on Gaza, Putting ‘Ceasefire’ in Jeopardy - Israel has struck several targets in the besieged Gaza Strip, potentially shattering a ceasefire that Hamas said was negotiated between Egypt and Israel. Israel’s military attacked a Hamas compound and a weapons site in the Khan Yunis district, Haaretz reported, citing an Israeli army spokesperson. The strikes by Israel on Tuesday night came one day after a rocket from Gaza hit a house north of Tel Aviv. Contrary to Hamas’s claim, Israeli media outlets Haaretz and Ynet reported on Tuesday that a ceasefire had not been reached to end this week’s flare-up in violence in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli military bombed several targets in Gaza throughout the day on Monday, including the office of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and a Palestinian family’s home in central Gaza City. The violence began after a rocket fired from the besieged Palestinian territory hit a town in central Israel, wounding seven people. Israel was quick to accuse Hamas of being behind the attack, but the Palestinian group denied responsibility. An unidentified official in Gaza told AFP on Monday that the rocket may have been triggered unintentionally due to “bad weather”.

Israeli Airstrikes Rock Gaza, Target Hamas Command, After Netanyahu Cut Short US Trip - As predicted, a major Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip is underway after an early Monday morning long-range rocket launch from the strip scored a direct hit on a home in central Israel. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) struck targets across the strip throughout the evening Monday, and targeted the offices of Hamas’ supreme leader, though there were no early reports of fatalities, but Gaza's Health Ministry cited at least seven wounded in the campaign.  Israel says it's responding to an early Monday morning rocket launch from Gaza which destroyed a residential home in Mishmeret, an agricultural town north of Tel Aviv, which reportedly left at least seven Israelis injured, including children, after the family was able to escape the flaming building. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in the immediate aftermath of the prior Hamas attack that he would be returning to Tel Aviv from a visit to the United States, cutting short his trip to Washington, saying he would “respond forcefully” to the rocket attack, on the same morning President Trump signed an order officially recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights, seized from Syria in 1967, in a move which Netanyahu also welcomed as "historic". “The [Israeli Defense Forces] has begun striking Hamas terror targets throughout the Gaza Strip,” the IDF confirmed in a statement.Amidst the Israeli onslaught on Gaza, Israel opened public bomb shelters throughout most major cities, and its 'Iron Dome' missile defense systems appeared busy as Hamas responded to the Israeli assault with its own rockets. According to the AP, by Monday evening Hamas had fired at least ten rockets since the IDF aerial attack began. “Israel will not tolerate this. I will not tolerate this,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said while meeting with Trump at the White House moments before he departed for Tel Aviv. “Israel is responding forcefully to this wanton aggression,” he said. “We will do whatever we must do to defend our people and defend our state.”

Gaza Strikes Continued Overnight Despite Reports Of Cease-FireLocal reports say that Israel and Hamas militants continued to exchange blows throughout the night and early Wednesday morning despite reports of a ceasefire brokered by Egypt, and after Tuesday witnessed moments of relative calm.  The Israeli military said it continued strikes on Hamas targets throughout the early morning hours of Wednesday after a rocket launch from the strip targeted southern Israel, triggering rocket sirens and seek shelter warnings in the Israeli city of Ashkelon.  Tuesday was the second day of cross-border violence after the latest round of fighting began when a long-range rocket launched from Gaza slammed into a residential house in central Israel, reportedly wounding seven, including multiple children.Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had cut short his US trip where he discussed White House recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights with President Trump a move which most international countries that have spoken on the matter have condemned, including close regional American ally Saudi Arabia. The politically embattled prime minister is now just under two weeks ahead the most high pressure reelection campaign of his career on April 9, and as he faces down indictments related to multiple corruption charges and a rising opposition.

 Ten children killed by U.S. air strike in Afghanistan- U.N. - (Reuters) - Ten children, part of the same extended family, were killed by a U.S. air strike in Afghanistan, along with three adult civilians, the United Nations said on Monday. The air strike early on Saturday was part of a battle between the Taliban and combined Afghan and U.S. forces that lasted about 30 hours in Kunduz, a northern province where the Taliban insurgency is strong. The children and their family had been displaced by fighting elsewhere in the country, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said, releasing its preliminary findings about the incident. UNAMA said in a statement that it is verifying that all 13 civilian casualties occurred around the time of the air strike. Three other civilians were wounded. The incident happened in the Telawka neighborhood near Kunduz city. Sgt. Debra Richardson, spokeswoman for the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, confirmed that U.S. forces carried out an air strike, but she said on Monday that the mission still had not confirmed that it had caused civilian casualties. She said the mission aims to prevent civilian casualties, while the Taliban intentionally hides among civilians. A record number of Afghan civilians were killed last year as aerial attacks and suicide bombings increased, the United Nations said in a February report. Child casualties from air strikes have increased every year since 2014. Fighting has accelerated during a period of recurring talks between U.S. and Taliban officials aimed at ending Afghanistan’s 17-year war.

Algerians rally fifth consecutive Friday against ailing leader -Tens of thousands of Algerians have once again taken to the streets of the capital to demand that ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika quit immediately.Carrying Algerian flags and chanting anti-Bouteflika slogans, protesters on Friday braved cold weather and light rain as they gathered in central Algiers, the site of weekly demonstrations since February 22.Amid growing pressure, Bouteflika on March 11 abandoned his bid to seek a fifth term at the helm of Algeria, a key petrol exporter. His announcement that he would not seek another term caused instant celebrations.But the protesters' joy was short-lived as the president also announced that elections scheduled for April 18 would be postponed and declared his intention to preside over a transition period - both moves that prompted critics to accuse the 82-year-old of attempting to prolong his 20-year rule. Noureddine Bedoui, who was named prime minister earlier this month, has since struggled to form a cabinet that has been tasked with managing the transition.

US Ships Again Provoke Beijing By Sailing Through Strait Of Taiwan -- Beijing is already threatening retaliation over Washington's expected sale of dozens of F-16s and tanks to Taiwan. But as if ties between the world's two largest economies hadn't already been sufficiently strained, the Navy and Coast Guard again provoked the Chinese leadership on Sunday when they sailed two ships - identified as the Navy destroyer Curtis Wilbur and the Coast Guard cutter Bertholf - through the Strait of Taiwan.  According to Reuters, the gesture, which is part of a redoubled US effort to flex its muscles near Chinese waters, should be interpreted - like other 'freedom of navigation' operations before it - as a sign of support for Taiwan, which is struggling with an increasingly threatening Beijing. The Chinese military has been holding more military drills and missions around the island, as President Xi has made bringing the wayward province back under Beijing's thumb a top priority for his rule.Sunday's mission coincided with a trip abroad by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who will stop in Hawaii later this week following a tour of the Pacific.The US was unrepentant about the mission, saying it was intended to demonstrate that the Indo-Pacific remains free and open.

The US just ‘invaded’ an island in the South China Sea & no one noticed - RT - Just recently, the US military launched a full-on invasion of an island in the East China Sea to send a strong message to China, and yet barely any mainstream media outlet has covered the story or its massive implications.  Last week, US marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit invaded a tiny island in Japan’s Okinawa archipelago, known as Ie Shima. Ie Shima is approximately 23 sq km, holds an airstrip, a fishing port and a local population of about 4,500 inhabitants.Colonel Robert Brodie announced the planned operations in a Marine Corps statement last week. According to Colonel Brodie, because the Indo-Pacific region is “incredibly dynamic” the US Marines are preparing and training daily for “real world crises” coming about as a result.The crises he is referring to is the loss of the Indo-Pacific region to an adversarial state, being China.Island-snatching will be “critical for us to be able to project power in the context of China,” Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said at the beginning of March to a Senate Armed Services Committee. “In the South China Sea and elsewhere in the region, we also fly bomber missions, demonstrating a resilient global strike capability that checks Chinese ambition and assures our regional Allies and partners. Throughout the Pacific, our troops exercise and engage with partners to signal our commitment and counterbalance China's challenges to the rules-based order,” he added.

  Industry says China has stopped buying Canadian canola seed - The ongoing trade dispute between Canada and China escalated Thursday, with word this country’s biggest market for canola seed has stopped importing Canadian product. The Canola Council of Canada said in a news release that Chinese importers “are unwilling to purchase Canadian canola seed at this time,” which has forced exporters to sell to other markets. “We’re disappointed that differing viewpoints cannot be resolved quickly,” President Jim Everson said. “Under the circumstances, Canadian canola seed exporters who normally ship to China have no alternative but to supply customers in other countries who value high quality Canadian canola.” Based on ongoing technical discussions between the two countries, the council said there’s been no indication “an immediate resolution is possible.” Everson said the federal government must “continue to intensify efforts to resolve the situation.” China is Canada’s largest market for canola, accounting for 40 per cent of exports. In 2018, exports to China were valued at $2.7 billion. Until recently, demand in the market had been considered stable. Thursday’s announcement comes just weeks after Chinese officials announced they were pulling the canola export license from one of Canada’s largest canola exporters, Richardson International Ltd, alleging “hazardous organisms” had been found in one of the company’s shipments. Two days later, Chinese officials announced all Canadian canola imports into China would face heightened import inspections because of pest concerns. Canadian officials, including International Trade Minister Jim Carr and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, have vehemently refuted those claims, arguing they are not based on science.

In Sri Lanka, the new Chinese Silk Road is a disappointment -- For critics of the new Silk Road, Washington being the chief one, the Sri Lankan experience is often highlighted as an example of the dark side of the new Silk Road plan. In the mid-2000s, Colombo (the commercial capital of Sri Lanka) agreed to let Beijing build a new port from scratch in the town of Hambantota, in the south of the island. It wasn’t yet thought of as part of a new Silk Road -- that programme was conceptualizsed by Xi Jinping in 2012 -- but all the ingredients were there. "Chinese funds and engineers are mobilised to build infrastructure outside China, as part of a partnership that was meant to be win-win: this is the very definition of the rationale of the Silk Road," said Jean-François Dufour, economist and director of DCA China-Analysis. The Chinese president integrated the Sri Lankan project into his Silk Road initiative in 2013. At the time, Colombo thought it could make a profit from the operation of the port, while Beijing would get a key point of transit in "the very strategic Indian Ocean, through which a large percentage of Chinese commercial ships travel to Europe," the European Union Institute for Security Studies noted in an April 2018 report. The project provided China with a presence in an area of fierce competition between Beijing and the other great Asian power: India. But in 2015, financial clouds began gathering over the future of Hambantota’s port, which cost $1.1 billion. Sri Lanka was crumbling under the debt, and was unable to repay the more than $8 billion in loans it had taken from China for several infrastructure projects in the country. Furious, Beijing turned up the heat and threatened to cut off financial support to the island nation if it didn’t quickly find a solution. In December, 2017, after two years of negotiations, Colombo finally agreed to turn over the port to China for 99 years in exchange for the cancellation of its debt. The concession was humiliating for Sri Lanka, while "the opponents of China, like India, painted the entire operation as a deliberate plan to acquire strategic positions in the region," Dufour said. China was suspected of intentionally strangling Colombo with loans at a 6 percent interest rate, which was much higher than the other lenders - such as the World Bank – from which Colombo had previously borrowed. Dufour acknowledged that "this episode shocked and pushed countries like Malaysia to reconsider their participation in the new Silk Road”. But he doesn’t see China risking compromising the credibility of its entire investment program for one port in Sri Lanka.

Modi hails India as military space power after anti-satellite missile test (Reuters) - India shot down one of its own satellites in low-Earth orbit with a ground-to-space missile on Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, hailing his country’s first test of such weaponry as a breakthrough establishing it as a military space power. India would be the fourth country to have used such an anti-satellite weapon after the United States, Russia and China, according to Modi, who heads into general elections next month. “Our scientists shot down a live satellite 300 kilometers away in space, in low-Earth orbit,” Modi said in a television broadcast. “India has made an unprecedented achievement today,” he added, speaking in Hindi. “India registered its name as a space power.” Anti-satellite weapons permit attacks on enemy satellites, blinding them or disrupting communications, as well as providing a technology base for intercepting ballistic missiles. Such capabilities have raised fears of the weaponization of space and setting off a race between rivals. Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan warned that the use of anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons like the one India tested on Wednesday risk making a “mess” in space due to the debris fields the can leave behind. The U.S. military’s Strategic Command was tracking more than 250 pieces of debris from India’s missile test and would issue “close-approach notifications as required until the debris enters the Earth’s atmosphere,” Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Dave Eastburn said. The New Delhi government and Washington, which have generally close relations, have been in talks regarding the event, and India publicly issued an aircraft safety advisory before the launch, Eastburn added. 

Pakistan's Prime Minister Warns India Has Caught War Hysteria - The conflict between India and Pakistan that erupted last month following a deadly terror attack on a caravan of Indian soldiers that was purportedly carried out by a Pakistan-based Islamist group has faded from the headlines. But that doesn't mean the tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors and bitter geopolitical enemies have subsided.  With weeks left before a crucial election, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata have been upping their belligerent rhetoric, hoping to appear strong before hundreds of millions of voters take to the polls. Gazing apprehensively across the border, Pakistani Prime Minister (and former cricket legend) Imran Khan told the Financial Times that he's worried more hostilities could erupt before the election. India is in the grip of "war hysteria", he said.  "I’m still apprehensive before the elections, I feel that something could happen," Mr Khan said at his office in Islamabad in the wake of the most serious conflict between the nuclear-armed countries in decades.  Khan conceded that Pakistan must do everything in its power to crush Islamist terror cells like Jaish-e-Mohammad, but he insisted that the Pakistani state doesn't have any links to the group, and that Modi was had acted aggressively by launching a missile strike on Pakistani soil in retaliation for the deadly terror attack (India said the missile strike targeted a JeM training camp, though Pakistan has disputed this). The "new Pakistan" has been cracking down on terrorists, he insisted. Moreover, how could Indian blame Pakistan for the attack when the young man who carried out the deadly Feb. 14 suicide bombing that killed more than 40 Indian paramilitary soldiers was Ian Indian Kashmiri who was purportedly radicalized after an encounter with India's security services? Perhaps Modi's own heavy-handed crackdown on Muslims was to blame for the attack, Modi suggested..

Human rights groups slam draft UN plans to send Rohingya to barren island - Human rights groups have reacted with horror to reports of United Nations draft plans to help relocate thousands of Rohingya refugees from Bangladeshi camps to a barren, flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal. A document drawn up this month by the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN's food aid arm, and seen by Reuters, has revealed how the agency supplied the Bangladeshi government with detailed plans of how it could provide for thousands of Rohingya being transported to the island on a voluntary basis. Dhaka has long insisted that it is unable cope with the dramatic influx of refugees to camps in Cox’s Bazar since a brutal crackdown by the Burmese military in August 2017, said by UN investigators to have been conducted with “genocidal intent”, prompted some 730,000 Rohingya to flee their homes. Relocation to the uninhabited, remote island of Bhasan Char has been touted as a solution to chronic overcrowding. But many Rohingya are fearful to go and human rights experts warn that the move to an island made of silt and vulnerable to frequent cyclones could spark another crisis. “What the hell is the WFP thinking? Bangladesh’s plan to move Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char looks like a human rights and humanitarian disaster in the making so UN agencies should be talking about how to stop this ill-considered scheme, not facilitate it,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. 

 Workers Jump To Their Deaths As Bangladesh Fire Kills 19, Many Trapped -Desperate workers leaped to their deaths as a huge fire tore through a Dhaka office block Thursday, killing at least 19 people and trapping others in the latest major inferno to hit the Bangladesh capital. Rescue workers warned the death toll could rise sharply as fire fighters recovered charred bodies from the complex where an unknown number of office workers were engulfed by intense smoke and flames. At least six people died after jumping from the 22-floor building, officials said. Dhaka police chief Asaduzzaman Mia told reporters at least 73 people were injured and being treated in hospitals across Dhaka. People were seen screaming for help as hundreds of panicked onlookers crowded the streets of the upmarket Banani commercial district. Some workers slid down a television cable on the side of the building. Others grabbed ropes lowered by emergency service helicopters which pulled them out of the blaze. The inferno erupted barely a month after at least 70 people were killed in Dhaka apartment buildings where illegally stored chemicals exploded. The latest disaster brought new scenes of horror amid fears that the toll would rise. More than 100 ambulances were parked in streets around the building. 

Turkey Blames JPMorgan For Lira Crash, Launches Probe; Erdogan Threatens Manipulators - On Friday, when the Turkish lira suddenly cracked, and suffered its biggest one-day drop since last summer's crisis as public attention turned to the sudden plunge in the nation's reserves and the bank's unexpected 150bps equivalent tightening in policy, JPMorgan FX strategists poured gasoline on the fire when - as the lira was sliding - they published a note recommending a 5.90 target on the USDTRY. As JPM analysts Anezka Christovova and Saad Siddiqui wrote on Friday morning recommending a lira short, Turkish authorities would likely "attach less significance to lira stability and reduce FX reserve support" for the currency following March 31 elections, resulting in further lira weakness, adding that the pace at which Turkey’s burning net foreign reserves is “unsustainable” and therefore “FX reserve support will abate post local elections on March 31, which could lead to USDTRY trading substantially higher." Despite (or perhaps due to) our sarcastic comment .... JPM's note only added impetus to the selloff, and by the end of the day, the TRY has crashed almost 400 pips, closing 5.5% lower on the day as it almost hit JPM's target, and sparking fresh panic that Turkey's economy is once again on the edge. Predictably, it also sparked Erdoga's fury, with Turkey’s banking and capital markets regulators opening separate investigations into JPMorgan Chase the bank's recommendation to short the lira. Desperate to create a scapegoat for the sudden plunge in the currency, which as it turned out had since last summer been artificially propped up by local banks (while the central bank pretended not to intervene), Turkey delighted at the opportunity to blame the plunge in the lira, which is only just now restarting, on JPMorgan. As a result, the banking regulator BRSA said the JPMorgan analysts’ note had “misguiding and manipulative” content that resulted in volatility in markets and hurt the reputation of Turkish banks, according to state news agency Anadolu. The Capital Markets Board began its own investigation on similar grounds, according to a statement on its website. According to Bloomberg, the disclosure of the two probes almost simultaneously suggested coordination between the regulators one day after the Turkish currency plunged as much as 6.5% against the dollar, leading retreats among emerging market peers. Panicked by the plunge, Turkey’s central bank was forced to announce a surprise tightening action in the middle of the day to stem the lira’s slump but it only made the selloff worse. And in keeping with some quite bizarre banana republic measures, the banking regulator began another investigation against banks that manipulated their own clients to buy foreign currencies without naming the financial institutions that are targeted, Anadolu reported. Finally just to make sure that the public knew the lira's crash was due to evil "manipulators", on Sunday Erdogan made it clear that anyone caught selling the lira would probably be thrown in jail...

After fascist terror attack, New Zealand and Australia stoke tensions with Turkey - Last week the Australian and New Zealand governments furiously attacked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over his response to the March 15 Christchurch mass shooting, in which Australian fascist terrorist Brenton Tarrant killed 50 people in two mosques.Addressing a political rally on March 18, Erdogan likened Tarrant’s white supremacist ideology to the anti-Muslim views of Allied soldiers sent to fight the Ottoman Empire in World War I. His comments prompted immediate, belligerent denunciations from the Australian and New Zealand political establishment and media, which glorifies the role of the Anzacs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) in WWI, especially the disastrous attempted invasion of Turkey via the Gallipoli Peninsula in the Ottoman Empire in 1915.The Anzac “legend” is a central ideological tool used by Australia and New Zealand’s ruling elite to promote patriotism and militarism particularly amid acute social tensions over poverty and inequality. It has helped create the environment that fuelled the growth of fascist groups and led to the Christchurch massacre.Speaking to a crowd near the Gallipoli battle site, Erdogan declared that Tarrant’s shooting “wasn’t an individual attack, this is organised,” contradicting claims by New Zealand police that Tarrant acted alone. Turkish authorities believe he was backed by a well-resourced organisation and may have been planning terror attacks in Turkey, which he visited twice in 2016.Referring to the defeat of the Allies at Gallipoli, Erdogan said anyone travelling to Turkey with views like Tarrant’s would face the same fate. “Your grandparents came, some of them returned in coffins,” he declared. “If you come again like your grandfathers, be sure that you will be gone like your grandfathers.”

 Facebook Attacked For 'Monetizing Neo Nazi Content' -- Even After Christchurch - Despite the rhetoric and the hand-wringing, Monday's Independent newspaper accused Facebook of still "allowing Neo-Nazi groups to stay on Facebook because they do not violate 'community standards'", even after recent events and the highlighting of social media's role in radicalizing and then inciting extremists. The newspaper uncovered that "pages operated by factions of international white supremacist organizations including Combat 18 and the Misanthropic Division were reported, but Facebook refused to remove the content and told researchers to unfollow pages if they found them 'offensive'.  ”Facebook's published 'community standards' say: "We do not allow hate speech on Facebook because it creates an environment of intimidation and exclusion and in some cases may promote real-world violence. We define hate speech as a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics — race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disease or disability." The sheer volume of content being removed from Facebook is staggering. Over a six-month period last year, the company removed 12.4 million pieces of terrorist content, 99% of which was automatically flagged. There are similar statistics for graphic and violent content and for hate speech. But, despite this, Facebook allegedly "refused to take down a page used by Combat 18’s Greek wing, despite its cover photo showing a man performing a Nazi salute, in front of a wall sprayed with a swastika" and "racist and homophobic statements, such as calling non-whites “vermin” and gay people “degenerates”, images of Adolf Hitler and fascist symbols."

Russian Troops, Aid Arrive in Venezuela After Delivering Red Line Warning to Trump  — Just days after a high-level meeting in Rome this week, during which Russia reiterated a grave warning to the US – Moscow will not tolerate American military intervention to topple the Venezuelan government with whom it is allied – it appears Russia is taking no chances with its South American ally. After the Rome meeting, Ryabkov said bluntly:“We assume that Washington treats our priorities seriously, our approach and warnings.”One of those warnings delivered by Ryabkov is understood to have been that no American military intervention in Venezuela will be tolerated by Moscow.For his part, Abrams sounded as if he had emerged from the meeting after having been given a severe reprimand.“No, we did not come to a meeting of minds, but I think the talks were positive in the sense that both sides emerged with a better understanding of the other’s views,” he told reporters. “A better understanding of the other’s views,” means that the American side was given a red line to back off.   And now, according to journalist Javier I. Mayorca, Colonel General Vasily Tonkoshkurov, chief of the Main Staff of the Ground Force, arrived in the Bolivarian Republic accompanied by 99 servicemen. On board the An-124 delivered 35 tons of cargo.

Venezuela Military Deploys S-300 Missiles Following Arrival of Russian Troops  — Following the major weekend development of Moscow unambiguously asserting its ‘red line’ concerning potential US military intervention in Venezuela, for which Russia sent a military transport plane filled with Russian troops which landed in Caracas Saturday, new satellite images reveal a major deployment of S-300 air defense missile systems to a key airbase south of Caracas. Crucially the Russian An-124 transport plane which touched down in Caracas on Saturday carried no less than Russian General Vasily Tonkoshkurov, identified as chief of the Main Staff of the Ground Forces and First Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Land Forces of Russia, accompanied by 99 servicemen and 35 tons of cargo.As we reported the flight came just days after a high-level meeting in Rome last week, during which Russia reiterated a grave warning to the US – Moscow will not tolerate American military intervention to topple the Venezuelan government with whom it is allied – thus it appears Russia is taking no chances with its South American ally.One of those warnings delivered directly by Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov to US “special envoy” on Venezuelan affairs Elliot Abrams is understood to have been that no American military intervention in Venezuela will be tolerated by Moscow. And just a day following the contingency of Russia troops landing in Caracas, Maduro’s National Bolivarian Armed Forces have reportedly activated S-300 missiles after completing military drills that previously took place in February.

Venezuela Suffers Another Major Power Outage as Gov’t Denounces Alleged Attacks  — Venezuela suffered another widespread power outage on Monday, with authorities claiming a “double attack” against the country’s main hydroelectric dam took place.Both alleged attacks against the Simon Bolivar Hydroelectric Plant, known as the Guri Dam, affected as many as 16 of Venezuela’s 23 states.The first one took place around 1:30 pm on Monday, with Venezuelan authorities denouncing a cyber attack similar to the one they claim caused a major blackout on March 7, targeting the computerized system of the electric grid. While Caracas and other central and eastern areas had power restored and stable within 72 hours, it was not until March 12 that western states Merida and Zulia finally had electricity.However, this time electricity was restored to Caracas within three hours and to the rest of the country after several additional hours when a second alleged attack took place at 9.50 pm. Reports emerged of a fire affecting three transformers in the Guri Dam switchyard, which then took out the San Geronimo high voltage transmission line. Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez issued a communique accusing the opposition of “sowing instability to achieve their destabilizing goals.”“An attack of this nature against the electric system had never been seen,” he added.No further information has been provided as to how the fire was set and who the perpetrators might be, with Attorney General Tarek William Saab announcing that three prosecutors had been assigned to investigate.The Venezuelan armed forces had held military drills earlier this month with special focus on protecting electricity infrastructure. The Venezuelan government has reported that workers from state electricity company CORPOELEC are working around the clock to restore the damaged transformers, but no estimate of the damage and recovery time are currently known. By Tuesday evening, power had been restored to most of the metropolitan area around Caracas and to some other locations around the country, including parts of the western state of Merida.

Russia wants to cut itself off from the global internet. Here’s what that really means. In the next two weeks, Russia is planning to attempt something no other country has tried before. It’s going to test whether it can disconnect from the rest of the world electronically while keeping the internet running for its citizens. This means it will have to reroute all its data internally, rather than relying on servers abroad. The test is key to a proposed “sovereign internet” law currently working its way through Russia’s government. It looks likely to be eventually voted through and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin, though it has stalled in parliament for now.Pulling an iron curtain down over the internet is a simple idea, but don’t be fooled: it’s a fiendishly difficult technical challenge to get right. It is also going to be very expensive. The project’s initial cost has been set at $38 million by Russia’s financial watchdog, but it’s likely to require far more funding than that. One of the authors of the plan has said it’ll be more like $304 million, Bloomberg reports, but even that figure, industry experts say, won’t be enough to get the system up and running, let alone maintain it.Not only that, but it has already proved deeply unpopular with the general public. An estimated 15,000 people took to the streets in Moscow earlier this month to protest the law, one of the biggest demonstrations in years. So how will Russia actually disconnect itself from the global internet? “It is unclear what the ‘disconnect test’ might entail,” says Andrew Sullivan, president and CEO of the Internet Society. All we know is that if it passes, the new law will require the nation’s internet service providers (ISPs) to use only exchange points inside the country that are approved by Russia’s telecoms regulator, Roskomnadzor.

One by One, Global Bond Markets Are Flashing the Same Warning - Wherever you look in developed markets, sovereign bond yields are at their lowest levels in years as traders ratchet up bets that major central banks will be easing. Yields in Australia and New Zealand dropped to record lows after a closely-watched part of the U.S. curve inverted on Friday as investors wager that the Federal Reserve will need to cut rates. Trading volumes in Treasury futures were double the norm during Asian trading, while Japan’s 10-year yields fell to the lowest since 2016. “Bond markets globally, along with dovish central banks, have been telling us a slowdown is on the way,” “Some parts of the world will be better equipped than others to handle this. The U.S. can at least cut rates and apply monetary tools, while things could be worse for Europe and Japan, where they cannot.” U.S. yield slide has fed through to Australia, New Zealand Treasuries have led a global debt rally amid bets that a rate-cutting cycle is coming. On Friday, the yield on 10-year notes fell below the rate on three-month U.S. bills for the first time since 2007 amid reports showing economic weakness in the U.S., France and Germany. Money markets are pricing around a 90 percent chance that the Federal Reserve will cut rates by 25 basis points by December, followed by another reduction in September 2020. This comes after the central bank projected no hikes this year at its policy meeting last week. It’s difficult to see “strong inflationary pressures” in the economy, Chicago Fed President Charles Evans said in Hong Kong Monday, adding that the central bank will be monitoring data very closely. Open interest, a measure of outstanding positions across Treasury bond futures, jumped Friday as the yields on the 10-year cash bond dropped 10 basis points to 2.44 percent. Hedge funds and other speculators have also cut shorts in 10-year futures after holding record positions as recently as September, according to the latest Commodity Futures Trading Commission data. Australia’s 10-year bond yields fell five basis points to 1.78 percent. New Zealand’s dropped as much as 8 basis points to 1.899 percent, a record low in data compiled by Bloomberg since 1985. In Japan, the benchmark fell 2 basis points to minus 0.084 percent. Yields on German debt fell below zero for the first time since 2016 Friday after weak factory data. Still, confidence among German firms unexpectedly improved this month, according to the Ifo.

Over $10 Trillion In Debt Now Has A Negative Yield - NIRP is back. -- On Friday, when Germany reported disastrous mfg and service PMI prints, the 10Y German Bund finally threw in the towel, with the yield sliding back under zero for the first time in three years. When that happened, and when the 3M-10Y yield curve inverted in the US right around that time, just over $400 billion in global debt changed the sign on its yield from positive to negative.  As a result, the total notional of global negative yielding debt soared on Friday, rising above $10 trillion for the first time Since September 2017, and which according to Bloomberg has intensified "the conundrum for investors hungry for returns while fretting the brewing economic slowdown." Paradoxically, the amount of negative-yielding debt has nearly doubled in just six months, and confirms that the global asset bubble is back because as Gary Kirk, a founding partner at London-based TwentyFour Asset Management, said "money managers face increasing pressure to reprise the yield-chasing mentality synonymous with quantitative easing." “This obviously tempts those investors holding cash to move along the maturity curve -- or down the rating curve -- to seek yield, which is once again becoming a scarce commodity,” he said. “It’s a classic late-cycle conundrum.” Despite the Fed's renewed herding of investors into the riskiest assets, Kirk is so far "resisting the temptation" to snap up longer-dated credit obligations that will be the first to default when the next recession hits, and prefers duration bets in interest-rate markets. Others won't be so lucky: as we noted last Friday, the 'reverse rotation', or flood into fixed income instruments, is accelerating and fund flows confirmed the fresh panic for yield just as the specter of QE4 returns as investors in the latest week parked $6.6 billion into investment-grade funds, $3.2 billion into high-yield bonds and $1.2 billion into emerging-market debt, according to EPFR data. Meanwhile, negative yields mean that investors will lose money just by holding bonds to maturity, and are merely hoping that the Fed's insanity will push prices even higher, allowing them to sell to other panicked bond investors at even lower yields down the road, which wouldn't be that difficult if a global depression emerges, resulting in negative growth and/or outright deflation. But - as Bloomberg notes- along the way, risk assets may be entering the danger zone.

 Global Bond-Market Investors Are Getting Really Nervous - The global bond market’s soaring performance has left investors queasy about the ride ahead.The Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate index has earned 2.3 percent through March 28, its best quarter since mid-2017. But with yields sinking across major sovereign markets, investors now face a dilemma. Buying government bonds at these levels is perilous because economic data may improve, while taking more risk could leave investors nastily exposed to a global downturn. Jim Caron at Morgan Stanley Investment Management sees an opportunity to pick up yield after the Federal Reserve’s dovish pivot, which he says has unleashed value in lower-quality corporate debt. Emerging-market dollar bonds and local Mexican debt look more inviting for Charles Diebel at Mediolanum Asset Management. But Tano Pelosi at Antares Capital expresses a common refrain: With the U.S. expansion almost a decade old and the yield curve flashing recession warnings, investors should tread carefully.“It’s getting very difficult to put money to work,” . “We need to preserve capital here now, we need to be taking insurance where we can.”This is a long way from the rallying cry of post-crisis investing, when weak growth and accommodative central banks spurred a hunt for yield. There’s more trepidation than thrill-seeking in today’s markets, and it’s not only the growth outlook that could derail these strategies. Prospects for a China-U.S. trade resolution are in flux, and a calamitous Brexit is a possibility. Investors may be confident that the Fed is out of action next quarter, but the gulf between the central bank’s views and the market’s leaves plenty of room for volatility.

Xi Jinping tours Europe amid growing divisions between America and EU - On Tuesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping wrapped up a six-day tour of Europe that took him to Rome, Sicily, Monaco and Paris. This trip and the signing of multiple business and strategic agreements between China and the European powers have exposed the deep conflicts that exist between the United States and its nominal European allies. Before Xi’s trip, the press had leaked news that Italy planned to endorse China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) for transport, energy and industrial infrastructure across Eurasia.This provoked bitter opposition from Washington. After launching a “pivot to Asia” to militarily isolate China in 2011, the US has now repudiated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty to allow it to deploy large numbers of nuclear missiles targeting China and Russia. On Twitter, the US National Security Council warned Italy it was legitimizing China’s “predatory approach to investment and will bring no benefits to the Italian people.”The European Union (EU) powers thrust aside US objections, however. After the EU powers all signed on in 2015 to the BRI’s funding arm, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, this weekend Rome signed a Memorandum of Understanding endorsing the BRI.Paris bitterly complained that Rome had sidelined its EU partners in its talks with China. However, when Xi arrived, it proceeded to sign its own multi-billion-euro deals with him. The biggest, a €30 billion deal for Franco-German firm Airbus to sell jetliners to China, included a large new order as China abandons the Boeing 737 MAX for Airbus A320s after two horrific crashes. French President Emmanuel Macron then met Xi together with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said she saw “nothing to criticize” in Italy’s deal with Xi endorsing the BRI.

Xi signs strategic EU-China deals amid growing EU-US tensions --  On Tuesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping ended a six-day tour of Europe in which the major euro zone powers made business deals with China and signaled support for its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) for infrastructure across Eurasia. As Washington threatens both China and its nominal European Union (EU) allies with trade war sanctions, deep divergences are emerging between Washington and the EU over relations with China.As part of its “pivot to Asia” to diplomatically isolate and militarily threaten China, Washington has opposed the BRI, which US Vice President Mike Pence mocked last year as a “constricting belt and one-way road” allowing China to trap the world in debt. In 2015, the EU powers defied US calls to boycott the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the BRI’s funding arm. Now, they are again ignoring Washington.  On March 5, the Financial Times reported that Italy would sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) backing the BRI, making it the first major EU power to do so. The FT said this “would undercut US pressure on China over trade and would undermine Brussels’ efforts to overcome divisions within the EU over the best approach to deal with Chinese investments.” The White House told the FT endorsing the BRI would “end up harming Italy’s global reputation.” The US National Security Council Tweeted that by endorsing BRI, Italy would legitimize China’s “predatory approach to investment and will bring no benefits to the Italian people.” Nonetheless, Xi was greeted in Rome with full honors, including a cavalry guard for his car, state dinners, and a concert by tenor Andrea Bocelli. Rome then signed the MOU endorsing the BRI, together with deals worth €2.5 billion for building oil pipelines and steel plants, and promoting Italian agricultural exports. Italy will also be allowed to finance its massive €2.3 trillion sovereign debt by issuing so-called “panda bonds” directly to Chinese citizens.

Germany declines to recognize Juan Guaido's Berlin emissary - As Venezuela's self-appointed interim president, Juan Guaido has named diplomats to 10 EU countries. The German government considers Guaido Venezuela's president, but it hasn't confirmed Otto Gebauer as ambassador.In a video posted online dated March 16 and shot in Cologne, Otto Gebauer criticizes the government of acting Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, discusses the details of a recent conversation with Marian Schuegraf, the German Foreign Ministry's commissioner for Latin America and the Caribbean, and emphasizes the urgency of working with the industrial manufacturer Siemens to reduce power outages back in Venezuela. The on-screen text refers to Gebauer as "Venezuela's ambassador to Germany." He holds no such title.The German government will not recognize Gebauer as ambassador. For the purposes of conducting official talks, on March 13 the government described him as the "personal representative of interim President Juan Guaido" and, in a request for clarification from the opposition Left party, added that "further steps are not currently planned.""I believe that this decision is comprehensive, pragmatic and proportionate to the situation," said Helge Lindh, a Social Democrat and member of the Bundestag's parliamentary group for the Andean nations. "Given the difficult situation in Venezuela, there is simply no perfect solution. It is not something inconsequential, but rather diplomacy in the narrowest sense of the word." Spain has lobbied its fellow European Union members to not grant Guaido's emissaries diplomatic status. "Recognizing Guaido was a political decision and a signal," Lindh said. "But, in the current situation, it doesn't make sense to confirm Guaido's shadow ambassadors, as that ignores the fact that the power remains with Maduro and his system."

Internet Freedom Crushed In the EU -- When I recently referred to the EU as an authoritarian (incipient fascist) organization, I was not kidding, though getting a sufficient number of people to take an interest in protecting their freedoms remains an intractable problem. Well, in a world in which all 16 felony charges against Jussie Smollett can be dropped at the whim of a corrupt prosecutor, and the evidence in the case sealed for all eternity, anything is possible.  Still, Jussie's fake hate crime against himself is small potatoes compared to what has just been done to the internet by the EU parliament. If what Dave Cullen says in the video below is accurate, and I have no reason to doubt him, then internet freedom has just been crushed in the European member states, including the U.K., which would be wise to leave on March 29th just as they were supposed to, deal or no deal. Or perhaps U.K. elites hate internet freedom as much as the continental elites do. Ya' think? Pay particular attention to the "link tax" part (Article 11).

European Union intensifies internet censorship - Two months before the European elections, the European Parliament has voted to massively escalate internet censorship. Yesterday, the majority of MEPs voted in favour of a directive which, under the guise of copyright reforms, would enforce the use of so-called upload filters in social media, thus further restricting the internet.According to Article 17 (formerly Article 13) of the Directive, internet platforms must now ensure that works protected by copyright are not uploaded without permission. This could only be enforced through upload filters, which automatically filter and censor content. The consequences are clear: internet giants such as YouTube and Facebook, which cooperate closely with the secret services and governments and already censor left-wing and progressive content on a massive scale, are being urged to delete articles, videos or other postings even before they are uploaded.So far, platforms such as YouTube and Facebook have had to delete copyrighted works from their sites as soon as they receive a complaint. According to Article 17 of the new directive, operators must ensure that copyrighted works are not uploaded without permission. Alternatively, they must seek licences for the material uploaded by third parties and, in principle, develop mechanisms to prevent works from being made available in the first place where the rights holders have proven their claims.In practice, given the amount, variety and speed with which new content is uploaded, this could only be achieved by automatically scanning and filtering all content in advance. Anyone who inserts images, excerpts from texts, videos or music to their own content, or modifies such content to create new content from it, can fall victim to the upload filters just as much as someone actually violating copyright law.  The European governments and giant tech companies fear growing social opposition and are already censoring left-wing and progressive content on a massive scale. Facebook regularly deletes accounts that oppose war and police violence. In Germany, tens of thousands of posts have been deleted since the so-called Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG) came into force.

EU Parliament Signs Off On Disastrous Internet Law- What Happens Next- In a stunning rejection of the will five million online petitioners, and over 100,000 protestors this weekend, the European Parliament has abandoned common-sense and the advice of academics, technologists, and UN human rights experts, and approved the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive in its entirety. There’s now little that can stop these provisions from becoming the law of the land across Europe. It’s theoretically possible that the final text will fail to gain a majority of member states’ approval when the European Council meets later this month, but this would require at least one key country to change its mind. Toward that end, German and Polish activists are already re-doubling their efforts to shift their government’s key votes.If that attempt fails, the results will be drawn-out, and chaotic. Unlike EU Regulations like the GDPR, which become law on passage by the central EU institutions, EU Directives have to be transposed: written into each member country’s national law. Countries have until 2021 to transpose the Copyright Directive, but EU rarely keeps its members to that deadline, so it could take even longer.Unfortunately, it is likely that the first implementation of the Directive will come from the countries who have most enthusiastically supported its passage. France’s current batch of national politicians have consistently advocated for the worst parts of the Directive, and the Macron administration may seek to grab an early win for the country’s media establishment.Countries whose polity were more divided will no doubt take longer. In Poland, politicians were besieged by angry voters wanting them to vote down the Directive, while simultaneously facing brazen denunciations from national and local  newspaper owners warning that they would “not forget” any politician who voted against Article 11. The passing of the Directive will still leave that division between the Polish people and the media establishment, with politicians struggling to find a domestic solution that won’t damage their prospects with either group.

Report: European Parliament Screwed Up Their Chance to Amend Copyright Directive By Voting Wrong  The European Parliament approved a massive, sweeping overhaul of online copyright rules on Tuesday, leaving the extremely controversial Articles 11 and 13 untouched on as the EU Copyright Directive cruised through the legislative body. According to a report on TechDirt, they may have done so in part because several members of the European Parliament cast incorrect ballots on a key vote to allow amendments.Article 11, sometimes called the “link tax” by detractors, requires web platforms to obtain a license to link to or pull quotes from news articles. It is ostensibly intended to ensure that publications get a slice of the revenue that big services like Google News pull in, but critics say it could undermine the ability of users to share content across the web.Article 13 requires platforms make their “best efforts” to obtain licenses to copyrighted material before it is ever uploaded to their servers, changing the current standard in which they respond to copyright takedown request from rights holders. The fear is that platforms will turn to oppressive filters that prevent users from uploading anything that could potentially violate copyrights, or—considering the sorry state of existing content filters—arbitrarily block user-generated content that filters mistakenly is in violation of one copyright or another. The cost of setting up such technology may also tighten, rather than loosen, the grasp of massive companies like Facebook and Google on the internet, as smaller competitors may not be able to deploy it.As TechDirt’s Mike Masnick noted, the key vote on Tuesday was not on the entire Copyright Directive, which was broadly supported other than those two articles. It was on whether to allow amendments, which could have resulted in changes to Articles 11 and 13 or their excision from the final copyright directive. That vote failed 317-312, though it turns out that this may have been due to changes in the voting order that left 13 members of the European Parliament casting incorrect votes: That vote failed by just five votes, 317 to 312. Unfortunately, soon after the vote was finalized, a few of the MEPs who voted against the plan for amendments — Peter Lundgren and Kristina Winberg — said they voted incorrectly and meant to vote for the amendments in order to get rid of Articles 11 and 13. Apparently, someone changed the vote order which threw them off...

Italy becomes first Western European nation to sign up for China’s belt and road plan - Italy has signed up for China’s multibillion-dollar “Belt and Road Initiative”, becoming the first Western European nation to jump on board despite scepticism from its EU counterparts and Washington. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Chinese President Xi Jinping witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding on Beijing’s trade and infrastructure scheme on Saturday in Rome. Among the 29 other agreements signed were two port management deals between China Communications Construction and the ports of Trieste, situated in the northern Adriatic Sea, and Genoa, Italy’s biggest seaport. While Genoa is a long-established port, Trieste has the most potential for China, Italian government sources earlier told the South China Morning Post. The port is strategically important for China because it offers a link from the Mediterranean to landlocked countries such as Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Serbia, all of which are markets Beijing hopes to reach through its belt and road programme. Other deals signed cover areas including satellites, e-commerce, agriculture, beef and pork imports, media, culture, banking, natural gas and steel. The two countries also agreed to boost cooperation on innovation and science, increase bilateral trade and set up a finance ministers’ dialogue mechanism.

Italy’s move to join New Silk Road may see European Union tighten coordination on China - Italy’s decision to join the controversial belt and road programme has been heavily criticised at home and abroad. Critics said the move helped to legitimate China’s geopolitical ambitions, with the heavy borrowing for infrastructure spending creating a “debt trap” for participating nations. The Italian government has also met with a domestic backlash from its own politicians. Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who heads the Northern League faction in the coalition government, did not attend the signing ceremony in protest of the deal. “The investment should only be allowed on equal terms … Don’t tell me that China is a free market,” Salvini said on Saturday after the ceremony. The belt and road scheme has long been accused of serving China’s political agenda to replace the United States as the world’s top global power broker. French President Emmanuel Macron was forceful in describing the change in attitude towards Beijing among many European nations, saying on Friday that the “time of European naivety” on China was over. “For many years we had an uncoordinated approach, and China took advantage of our divisions,” Macron said, calling for stricter rules on Chinese investments in the European Union. German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed a similar view, according to reports. Italy’s participation sparked an outcry in Germany on Sunday, including a call by the EU’s budget commissioner, Gunther Oettinger, for the European Union to block such deals with a veto. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also criticised Italy.   In a paper released earlier this month, the European Commission urged its leaders to adopt a 10-point action plan that would establish a more balanced and reciprocal relationship with China in areas such as trade and technology. In the document, China was for the first time labelled an “economic competitor” by Brussels and “a systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance”.

Bus full of children set alight by angry driver in Italy (Reuters) - A bus full of school children was set on fire by its driver in the outskirts of Milan on Wednesday in an apparent protest against migrant drownings in the Mediterranean, Italian authorities said. All the children managed to escape unhurt before the bus was engulfed in flames. Police said the driver was an Italian of Senegalese origin. “He shouted ‘Stop the deaths at sea, I’ll carry out a massacre’,” spokesman Marco Palmieri quoted the driver as telling police after his arrest. A video posted on Italian news sites showed the driver ramming the bus into cars on a provincial highway before the fire took hold. Children can be seen running away from the vehicle screaming and shouting “escape”. One of the children told reporters that the driver had threatened to pour petrol on them and set them alight. One of group managed to call the police, who rushed to the scene and managed to get everyone to safety. Palmieri said some children were taken to hospital as a precautionary measure because they had bruises or were in a state of shock, but none suffered serious injuries. The United Nations estimates that some 2,297 migrants drowned or went missing in the Mediterranean in 2018 as they tried to reach Europe. A Libyan security official said on Tuesday that at least 10 migrants died when their boat sank off the Libyan coast near the western town of Sabratha. 

Sporadic clashes as Yellow Vests march to Montmartre for ‘Act 19’ of protests - Yellow Vest protesters clashed sporadically with French police firing tear gas on Saturday during a mostly peaceful march through Paris to the Sacré Coeur basilica in Montmartre. Scattered Yellow Vest protesters clashed with French police firing tear gas Saturday after a peaceful march through Paris, but tougher security measures and protest bans in high-risk neighbourhoods prevented the kind of rioting that devastated the capital a week ago."Protesters were clever in that they ensured it was more peaceful this week after what the government said, in terms of police and army deployment," Alexis Poulin, co-founder of Le Monde Moderne (The Modern World) website, told FRANCE 24."Furthermore, the anarchists (who were at the heart of the violence last week) stayed away."The Yellow Vests saw a drop in overall support after restaurants, shops and banks were attacked and set alight last weekend by some extreme elements within the movement. Thousands of demonstrators marched peacefully through Paris – their 19th straight weekend of protests – ending up at the Sacré-Coeur Cathedral overlooking the city from the historic Montmartre neighbourhood. Protesters set off yellow flares and unfurled a neon banner from atop the cathedral's white dome. In a relaxed mood, demonstrators and tourists alike took selfies as the march wound down.Later, however, tensions erupted as small clusters of masked protesters set garbage cans on fire and threw projectiles as they moved toward République Plaza in eastern Paris. Helmeted riot police fired volleys of tear gas in response. The Yellow Vest protesters want more help for struggling French workers and retirees and say President Emmanuel Macron favours the elite.

French “yellow vest” protests defy threat of army repression - Despite “yellow vest” protesters’ anger at French officials’ threats to have the army fire on them, their marches on Saturday overall unfolded peacefully and without violent incidents. On Friday morning, the military governor of the Paris area, General Bruno Le Ray, had said that soldiers deployed to confront the “yellow vests” would have “different means for action faced with all types of threats. That can go as far as opening fire.”Ultimately, there were no confrontations between the army and the “yellow vests” this weekend, or soldiers opening fire on protesters. It was the police forces that committed the only major act of violence that marred the weekend. In Nice, they violently charged and beat over the head a 73-year-old woman who was not threatening the police forces, as footage from several video surveillance cameras has confirmed. She has been hospitalized with subdural hematomas and was reportedly for a time in a coma.“The police prefect has given the hospital very firm instructions not to communicate with the exterior, including with the family, who finds it very difficult to obtain information,” said Arié Alimi, the lawyer for the victim’s family. The family intends to bring a lawsuit against police for “voluntary violence by individuals disposing of state authority on vulnerable persons.” The daughter of the victim raised the question of the president’s responsibility, stressing that police are under no obligation to “obey the orders of a little king.” The “Yellow Number” Facebook page announced that there had been 123,000 “yellow vest” protesters in many cities across France. The Interior Ministry announced the absurd figure of 8,100 protesters across France, before changing its estimate to over 40,000.

Macron hopes older protester gains “wisdom” after injuries (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron said in a newspaper interview Monday he hoped a 73-year-old yellow vest protester who suffered serious head injuries after being charged by police in Nice gains “wisdom” over the incident. Anti-globalization activist Genevieve Legay remained hospitalized after riot police carrying shields suddenly pushed toward people defying a protest ban Saturday. An Associated Press reporter saw Legay, who was waving a rainbow flag marked “Peace” and holding a yellow vest, fall to the pavement as blood spilled from her head. In an interview published in Nice Matin on Monday, Macron suggested Legay didn’t behave “responsibly,” saying that “fragile” people shouldn’t attend “places that are defined as prohibited.” “I wish her a speedy recovery, and perhaps a form of wisdom,” he added. French authorities banned protests in several areas Saturday, and Nice was under extra security because the city was preparing for the arrival of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Attac, the group that Legay is a member of, is pushing back, saying Monday it is filing a complaint for “voluntary violence” on a vulnerable person by a person holding “public authority.” In a statement, it said “Attac France demands that all the light be shed and that the responsibility for these acts of violence against Genevieve Legay be clearly established.” In addition, French authorities in Nice said Sunday they were investigating the case. At least 2,000 people have been injured in protest violence since the yellow vest movement began in November, and 11 people have been killed in protest-related road incidents.

Yellow Vests Act 19 (Paris): Report - The Saker. videos and more - March 23rd in France marked the 19th consecutive weekend of nationwide Yellow Vests protests, the most noteworthy of which happened in Nice, Lille, Montpellier, Toulouse, Caen, and Paris. An estimated 127,000 Yellow Vests took to the streets of France on this day to protest against the Macron regime. Firstly, let’s state some facts: there was NOT military troops everywhere in Paris. Near the Champs-Elysees – yes, but nowhere else. And secondly, people were indeed fined €135 if they tried to protest on the Champs-Elysees, despite the assurances from some media outlets that the fine would be only €11. Below is a copy of a penalty issued to a Yellow Vest as proof.  I personally did not go to the Champs-Elysees, but plenty of footage filmed by others exists. Here is an example of a Yellow Vest going there without wearing a Yellow Vest (incognito). The footage is rather surreal, considering what happened on this Avenue just 1 week prior. In Nice there was a casualty: after the police violently charged protestors, a 75-year-old lady was slammed to the pavement head first. According to her daughter, cited by AFP, she suffered from several fractures of the skull and petrosal bone (inner ear). “She has to stay another 48 hours under surveillance. She is conscious, under morphine infusion, because she has severe headaches,” she said, adding that the doctors were “very, very scared” for her. The activist told her daughter, who she did not recognise at first, what happened: “I remember that a policeman charged at me and afterwards I do not remember anything”. Meanwhile, in Toulouse the mobilisation was as strong as always, however the police soon arrived to shut it down.

'Islamist Attack Plot' Foiled By German Police; 11 Arrested For Planning "To Kill As Many Infidels As Possible" - German police arrested 11 people on Friday during a series of raids on a terror cell planning an "Islamist terrorist attack" using guns and a vehicle, prosecutors said. The goal, according to police, was to "kill as many "infidels" as possible." According to, the plan was foiled by a team of more than 200 police, which carried out simultaneous raids early Friday morning in several German cities near Frankfurt. The raids turned up €20,000 ($22,640 US), several knives, narcotic drugs and computer files. The primary suspects are two 31-year-old brothers from Wiesbaden as well as a 21-year-old man from Offenbach. The group had allegedly made contact with various arms dealers, according to, which added that they had rented a large vehicle - ostensibly for the attack. The arrrests come one week after two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand were attacked by 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant, killing 50. Authorities have been on high alert for both copycat and revenge attacks.

 Calls grow for public inquiry into Brexit - Calls for a public inquiry into Brexit are mounting among diplomats, business figures, peers and MPs, amid claims that the civil service is already planning for a future investigation into how it has been handled. The decision to call the referendum, the red lines drawn up by Theresa May and Britain’s negotiating strategy are all issues that senior figures would like to be examined. Bob Kerslake, the former head of the civil service, said an inquiry was needed into “the biggest humiliation since Suez, certainly since the IMF crisis [in 1976]”. The cross-party peer said he believed the civil service “is both expecting and preparing for this”. “We do need to understand how on earth we ended up where we have and it probably needs to go back to the decisions around holding a referendum and the way the question was framed,” he said. “It would need to be a public inquiry, probably judge-led.” Peter Ricketts, the former national security adviser and former head civil servant in the Foreign Office, cited the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war. I think the handling of Brexit has been such a failure of the process of government, with such wide ramifications, that there needs to be a searching public inquiry. “What advice was given to ministers? Was it taken? Did the processes of collective cabinet decision-taking work? Were the right skills available, for example on no-deal planning and all the costs involved? They are all legitimate questions for an inquiry. It should have the powers of a judicial inquiry.” Sir Mike Rake, the former chair of BT, said: “When the dust has settled, there really should be some kind of public inquiry, looking at both the issues around holding a referendum and the context of what has happened in terms of pursuing Brexit.” Many figures are already pointing to May’s early decision to set out strict red lines that seriously limited Britain’s ability to negotiate. John Kerr, Britain’s former EU ambassador who drafted the article 50 process of leaving the bloc, said: “Those red lines laid down in 2016 emerged with no consultation with the country, the devolved assemblies, parliament or with the cabinet. Then there was the decision to trigger article, 50 still with no agreement in cabinet of where we wanted to end up.” Sir Jonathan Faull, a former senior EU official, said: “It would be surprising if the events relating to UK withdrawal from the EU were not the subject of one or more inquiries. An important initial question will be when to start. The 2015 election? The 2016 referendum? The article 50 notification? The scope ranges from Whitehall and Westminster to Belfast, Brussels and beyond.”

Brexit: hope dies last - It's like all the bits have been thrown up in the air and allowed to land at random. Whatever coherence there was – and it was very slight – has completely evaporated and there is no sense whatsoever to be gained from the situation as it currently stands. On the agenda is the third vote on the Withdrawal Agreement, ostensibly due for Tuesday except that the feeling is that Mrs May will pull it if she fears she will lose it, which is thought likely to be the case. That might then lead to a different ploy, with the MP collective being asked to give their views on what they prefer, through a series of seven "indicative" votes, none of which as yet have been specified in detail. Where that would actually leave us legally in respect of Article 50 is not entirely clear, because that option is not directly factored in the outcome of the European Council just gone. What we do have to help us is the formal text of the European Council Decision, which does set out the exact position in respect of two separate scenarios. Firstly, if the Withdrawal Agreement is approved by the House of Commons by 29 March, the Article 50 period is extended until 22 May. If it is not approved by then, the period is extended until 12 April. And in that event, the United Kingdom will indicate a way forward before that day, for consideration by the European Council. Putting that together, the easy (but less likely) bit is that the Commons agrees the Withdrawal Agreement next week. That will give until 22 May to sort out all the legislation needed to implement our departure from the EU, whence we will then slip, seamlessly into the transitional period and start the negotiations to establish the long-term relationship. If by 29 March – in less than a week – the Commons hasn't approved the Withdrawal Agreement, all bets are off. Basically, the government then has two weeks to tell the European Council what it thinks should happen, without there being any commitment on its part to any particular action.

One million join march against Brexit as Tories plan to oust May - In one of the biggest demonstrations in British history, a crowd estimated at over one million people yesterday marched peacefully through central London to demand that MPs grant them a fresh referendum on Brexit. The Put it to the People march, which included protesters from all corners of the United Kingdom and many EU nationals living here, took place amid extraordinary political turmoil and growing calls on prime minister Theresa May to resign. Some cabinet ministers are considering her de facto deputy David Lidington as an interim replacement for her, although as pro-Remain he would be strongly opposed by Brexiters. Organisers of the march said precise numbers had been difficult to gauge, but they believed the protest could have been even bigger than that against the Iraq war in February 2003. The decision by so many to take part, waving EU flags and banners and carrying effigies of Theresa May, came just three days after the prime minister said in a televised statement to the nation that she believed the British people did not support another referendum, and blamed MPs for trying to block their will. Senior politicians from all the main parties joined the march, including Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, former Tory deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and the SNP leader and first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon.

Cabinet coup to ditch Theresa May for emergency PM  - Theresa May was at the mercy of a full-blown cabinet coup last night as senior ministers moved to oust the prime minister and replace her with her deputy, David Lidington. In a frantic series of private telephone calls, senior ministers agreed the prime minister must announce she is standing down, warning that she has become a toxic and “erratic” figure whose judgment has “gone haywire”. As up to 1m people marched on the streets of London against Brexit yesterday, May’s fate was being decided elsewhere. The Sunday Times spoke to 11 cabinet ministers who confirmed that they wanted the prime minister to make way for someone else. The plotters plan to confront May at a cabinet meeting tomorrow and demand that she announces she is quitting. If she refuses, they will threaten mass resignations or publicly demand her head. Last night, the conspirators were locked in talks to try to reach a consensus deal on a new prime minister so there does not have to be a protracted leadership contest. At least six ministers are supportive of installing Lidington, the de facto deputy prime minister, as a caretaker in No 10 to deliver Brexit and then make way for a full leadership contest in the autumn. Lidington’s supporters include cabinet remainers Greg Clark, Amber Rudd and David Gauke. The chancellor, Philip Hammond, also believes Lidington should take over if May refuses this week to seek a new consensus deal on Brexit. Crucially, the home secretary, Sajid Javid, has agreed to put his own leadership ambitions on hold until the autumn to clear the way for Lidington — as long as his main rivals do the same. Lidington is understood not to be pressing for the top job but is prepared to take over if that is the will of cabinet. He would agree not to stand in the contest to find a permanent leader. A cabinet source said: “David’s job would be to secure an extension with the EU, find a consensus for a new Brexit policy and then arrange an orderly transition to a new leader.” However, others called for Michael Gove or Jeremy Hunt to take charge instead. Hunt, the foreign secretary, does not support Lidington because he believes he would do a deal with Labour to take Britain into a permanent customs union with the EU, although he has lost confidence in May’s ability to take advice or deliver the deal.

Brexit: Controlled Flight into Terrain - Yves Smith - One has to admire the EU’s parry to Theresa May’s request for an extension to Brexit to June 30, which was to offer an extension to May 22 if she could get her Withdrawal Agreement approved by Parliament by March 29. If not, the UK would be out by April 12 unless it asks for a long extension and described how it would arrive at a different Brexit (“a way forward”) or revoked Article 50, and also agreed to participate in the upcoming European Parliament elections.The EU faced a number of considerations in coming up with this counter, and don’t kid yourself that any of them were about being nice to the UK. The EU didn’t like the prospect of having to hold an emergency summit when May’s Meaningful Vote 3 failed and being made the bad guys if they denied May’s plea for more runway to flail about. This concern has little to do with the UK; the European press has been giving Brexit virtually no attention, plus for most EU pols, being mean to the UK is more of a vote-getter then being generous Forgive me for quoting from Robert Peston at length, but he appears to have the most extensive network of EU political/diplomatic sources of all UK/Irish reporters. From EU leaders ‘want rid’ of ‘Brexit poison’ at ITV last Friday: The big drivers for why the EU’s 27 leaders came up with their new formula for determining when and whether we Brexit are:

  • EU leaders had – and have – zero confidence that the Prime Minister will win her meaningful vote next week, and they quite rationally decided it was unreasonable for them to determine in conditions of extreme pressure in seven days whether we we are falling out at 11pm on the Friday.
  • Many EU leaders are utterly fed up with how our Brexit mess is infecting their domestic political debates and derailing their attempts to forge an agenda to address the huge challenges faced by the EU. “They increasingly see Brexit as poisoning the EU and European nations” said a participant in the talks. “They want rid of it”.
  • They did not dare set 22 May as the new default Brexit day, for fear that if the UK exited with no deal as late at that, elections for the European Parliament which begin the following day would be utterly overshadowed and skewed by the anticipated first-day no-deal chaos.
  • Significant numbers of EU leaders are admitting privately that the time has come to “cut the UK loose”, that the prolonged Brexit uncertainty is damaging both their nations and the EU, and that therefore a no-deal Brexit on 12 April may be the best of assorted bad options.

So the purpose of the concessions to the UK look to have been to make it as clear as possible that the UK was in charge of its Brexit destiny while cutting their losses.

Most voters believe Parliament is trying to block Brexit, poll reveals - Most voters believe Parliament is determined to block Brexit in defiance of the electorate’s will, a poll reveals. Some 55 per cent believe Parliament is determined to thwart Brexit, including almost two in five (38 per cent) Remain voters and 87 per cent of Leavers. Fewer than one in five (19 per cent) of the public disagree. The ComRes online poll of 2,030 British adults found most voters (54 per cent) also felt Remain-supporting MPs and other Establishment figures trying to stop Brexit had damaged the UK’s negotiating position with the EU, against just 24 per cent who disagreed. Two in five (41 per cent) agreed that instead of delaying Brexit, Britain should just leave to trade on WTO rules on March 29, compared to 28 per cent who disagreed. The potential damage to democracy is revealed by the proportion of voters - 20 per cent - who say they will never vote again if MPs attempt to stop Brexit, including two in five (38 per cent) Leave voters. More than half (53 per cent) agree that if MPs revoke Article 50 and go against the 2016 referendum result it could damage the democratic process beyond repair. The contention is backed by a third (32 per cent) of Remainers. Just a quarter overall (24 per cent) who disagree. Just 7 per cent of Britons believe Theresa May is handling the Brexit negotiations well, down from 29 per cent two years ago, according to NatCen polling of 2,654 people. Two thirds of Britons (63 per cent) believe the UK has got a bad deal, up from 37 per cent in 2017. The study found that Britain is more divided on Brexit than before the UK voted to leave with support for leaving the EU among the over-55s 21 points higher now than it was in 2015; among those aged under 35 there has only been a 7-point increase.

Cabinet ‘war game’ prepares for election to end Brexit standoff - Cabinet ministers yesterday “wargamed” how they might call a general election to break the Brexit deadlock. In an emergency meeting ministers debated whether they would have any choice other than to call an election if the UK were forced into a long Brexit delay or a softer Brexit. The debate came after Steve Barclay, the Brexit secretary, warned on Sunday that the risk of a general election was increasing. During the meeting Geoffrey Cox, the attorney-general, Sajid Javid, the home secretary, and Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the House, were said to have agreed with Mr Barclay that if MPs mandate a long Brexit extension and a softer Brexit then an election might be inevitable. “It’s not just scaremongering, it’s the only way out of this,” said a source. The cabinet even discussed the circumstances under which Jeremy Corbyn could become prime minister even without an election. Under the provisions of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, the government losing a vote of confidence in the Commons does not necessarily lead to an election. Instead there is a two-week period in which others can attempt to form a government that commands a majority of the Commons. The party political calculations played out despite some ministers’ concerns that civil servants were ensuring that official minutes recorded partisan debate to insulate themselves from blame in a future inquiry into Brexit. Theresa May has repeatedly insisted that she does not want to call a general election. When she appeared before the 1922 committee of Tory MPs last December in a bid to save her job hours before they held a confidence vote in her leadership, she vowed not to fight the next election as leader. It has since become contested whether her commitment applied only to an election in 2022 rather than a snap election before.

 Theresa May's future in doubt as UK lawmakers seize control of Brexit process - Lawmakers in the U.K. have voted to effectively rip control of the Brexit process away from Theresa May's ailing government. Working late into Monday night, MPs (Members of Parliament) voted to pass an amendment proposed by a cross-party group of lawmakers in the hope of finding a Brexit solution. The measure passed with 329 votes in favor of the proposal and 302 voting against. The passing of the "Letwin amendment" looks to change the rules of Parliament, allowing lawmakers to set a timetable for debate and subsequent votes on alternative outcomes for Brexit. On Wednesday this week, MPs are now expected to control business in the House of Commons in order to hold the series of votes on different Brexit outcomes. This takes the power away from the government and allows MPs to put forward business motions relating to the U.K.'s departure from the EU. These non-binding "indicative votes" will be held in a bid to find out what EU exit deal Parliament can vote through. Ballots could now be cast on May's deal, the U.K.'s membership of the EU's single market, a customs union, a no-deal Brexit, a Canada-style free trade agreement, a second referendum or even rescinding Brexit altogether. Oliver Letwin, the amendment's main proponent, is a member of May's Conservative Party, underlining the current division within U.K. politics. In fact, three government ministers resigned on Monday evening as they approved the amendment and rebelled against their leadership. As these votes would be non-binding, it's still possible that the government could ignore any results. May has also said there is no guarantee she will abide by their wish for these indicative votes. Labour MP Hilary Benn, who co-sponsored the Letwin amendment, explained to BBC radio Tuesday how the indicative vote process could work. Benn said MPs would invited to put forward a series of propositions and the speaker of the House (of Commons) would choose the options to be listed on a piece of paper. He added lawmakers could then vote on as many Brexit alternatives as they might support, before the options could then be narrowed down and a similar process repeated.

Brexit- Petition to revoke Article 50 to be debated next week - The government has officially responded to the record-breaking petition calling for Brexit to be cancelled, which will be debated by MPs next week.The petition, which has passed more than 5.75m signatures, has been scheduled for debate on Monday, 1 April along with two other Brexit petitions.Responding, the government said it "acknowledges the considerable number of people" who have signed it.But revoking Article 50 would "break the promises" made to voters, it said.The petition on the UK Parliament's website - started by retired lecturer Margaret Georgiadou - calls on the government to revoke Article 50, the two-year process which is triggered when a country wants to leave the EU.  It is the most-signed petition ever to be submitted on the website. Mrs Georgiadou, 77, responded to a date being set for the debate by calling for more signatures, adding: "The battle draws nigh again." Any petition which gathers 100,000 signatures or more will be debated by MPs.On Tuesday, the Petitions Committee - which is in charge of considering the petitions submitted - announced that it has been scheduled to be debated in Westminster Hall at 16:30 GMT on Monday. Debates will also take place on two other petitions:

  • One, which has passed 120,000 signatures, calling to hold another EU referendum
  • Another, which has passed 140,000 signatures, calls for the UK to leave the EU with or without a deal on the original Brexit date of 29 March

The committee said it decided to combine the three petitions into one single debate to ensure they were debated as soon as possible, "so they would be less likely to be overtaken by events". It comes as MPs in the House of Commons prepare to start voting on alternative Brexit plans on Wednesday.

To Brexit or Not to Brexit - Yves Smith - What is playing out as a “constitutional crisis” is the result of the failure of the leading parties to operate properly. When a Prime Minister is performing badly, either his own party or Parliament is supposed to turf him out. May was deemed to about to hand over the keys to No. 10 repeatedly, starting from right after her snap election fiasco. The deep splits in both major parties over Brexit, the horrible Tory pretenders, the fact that the Tories were even less willing than usual to risk a loss in a general election because Corbyn has kept May in place way way beyond her sell-by date. Parliament, awfully late in the game, is attempting to cashier May as far as Brexit is concerned while keeping her on as Prime Minister. But is this “taking control over Brexit” a dangerous delusion? What Parliament is attempting to do looks an awful lot like trying to drive a car from the back seat with pulleys and rods…while the driver is still seated in his usual spot. Parliament cannot address the EU Council. Only the head of state can. It is May who will convey any long extension request to the EU. And unless I am missing something, the only way Parliament can make her carry a message she does not want to convey is via legislation.Now perhaps there is enough time for that…but it isn’t clear that anyone has quite worked this out. Indicative votes on Brexit options are set for today. Some options are expected to be winnowed out, with another round of indicative votes next week. If a winner emerges, is there a plan to draft legislation to bring May to heel? And what happens if Parliament can’t agree? And that’s before remembering, as May warned, that Parliament could choose an option that the EU won’t accept. Anand Menon in the Guardian not only thinks that’s a risk: For one thing, MPs will need to be careful not to encourage those who insist on ordering stuff that’s not on the menu at all. Think the Brady amendment, mandating the prime minister to tootle off to Brussels and negotiate something the EU had already said was not on offer. If parliament spends its day of control voting on unicorns, then none of us will be any the wiser.Equally, some options might not be as simply as a yes/no vote in parliament might make them seem. Take Norway. The notion that the EU would happily give us the same deal as they give to a group of small states with economies far different to our own strikes me as being for the birds…. And, of course, sequencing matters enormously. MPs sitting through a series of votes on possible Brexit outcomes might contradict themselves. They could, for example, decide to stay in the customs union and single market while voting against a plain old customs union….. Now to the Brexit fun of the day: Yet another effort to push May’d deal over the line is on. One of the big ERG spokesman, Jacob Rees-Mogg, is saying he is inclined to back May’s deal as preferable to the risk of no Brexit. The DUP appears to be holding firm. both as indicated by statements to the press yesterday (that they’d rather have a one year delay than May’s deal) and in the European Parliament today.

Parliament rejects all alternatives as May’s offer to resign fails to stem Brexit crisis --Wednesday began with Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May informing her MPs that she will resign as party leader and prime minister if parliament passes the withdrawal deal she has agreed with the European Union (EU). It ended with a series of indicative votes on possible alternatives post-Brexit, none of which secured a majority.May made her statement to the Tories’ backbench 1922 Committee, as MPs were set to vote on eight different Brexit policies, with the aim of ascertaining whether there was any consensus that could secure a majority.While May did not give a precise timetable for her departure, Sky News reported from a Downing Street source that if her EU deal was passed this week—triggering an EU exit date of May 22 instead of April 12—she would stand down at that point to set into motion a Tory leadership contest. During this election period, May would remain as prime minister, but would be gone for the beginning of the next stage of negotiations with the EU when the two parties thrash out a trade deal.May’s pledge to resign is her last card in the attempt to convince the Tories’ hard-Brexit wing and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), upon whose 10 MPs she relies, to back the agreement. But by last night, only around 25 Brexiteers had come out openly in support of her deal.They were led by the head of the party’s European Research Group (ERG), Jacob Rees-Mogg, who penned an article in the Daily Mail stating that May’s deal was not a good one and he would have voted against it if “No Deal remained the default legal option.” However, “the Government and the Prime Minister have now ruled this out.” The current agreement not passing could result in a “long delay,” and given “the opposition to Brexit, it could be revoked or put to a skewed second referendum.”Following Rees-Mogg, leading Brexiteer and former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he would also come on board. However, a substantial number of some 30 ERG Tories, including the ERG deputy chairman, Steve Baker, are still not prepared to back the deal and May has failed to win the backing of the DUP. Late last night, the party’s parliamentary leader, Nigel Dodds, rejected abstaining on May’s deal, stating that the “DUP do not abstain on the [preservation of the UK] union.” To make things worse still for May, parliament’s speaker, the Remain-supporting Tory John Bercow, reiterated that he would not allow May’s vote to be put a third time, after being decisively rejected in votes previously, unless it was materially different, and he would not allow the government to attempt to get around his ruling by using parliamentary manoeuvres.

Brexit: Chaos Continues as Parliament Votes Down All Brexit Options, Press Focuses on May Rather than April - Yves Smith - Things are bad in Brexit land and yesterday illustrated how the press has played a big role in that. What was the lead story pretty much everywhere, including the Wall Street Journal? That Theresa May said she’d go if her deal was approved by Parliament this week. This is like watching pilots argue over who will man the plane on the next leg of a flight plan when if you look out the windshield, you can see it’s going to crash into a mountain. This should have been the biggest Brexit news of the day: In a spectacular display of indecision, the House of Commons has voted against remaining in the EU and every version of leaving the EU.— James Cleverly MP (@JamesCleverly) March 27, 2019   As we’ll discuss, the odds are still solidly against May’s deal passing. Under any scenario save becoming physically incapable of serving, May will still be Prime Minister as of April 12, the current crash out date. Parliament hates May’s deal yet still has no plan of its own as to how to escape a no deal Brexit.  Why May’s pledge to resign is news is beyond me, since she made that offer the last time she was toying with Meaningful Vote 3. Was this commitment deemed to be more serious because the 1922 Committee demanded a meeting on when exactly May intended to leave and they supposedly wrested this concession from her? Or was it the fact that the Maybot reportedly got tearful? Frankly, even though I do not fathom why she still wants the job, it looks like May played everyone. Admittedly, she does still appear to be clinging to the delusion that her deal might pass. And if that were to happen, May’s rigidity would in a flash of revisionism, become courage and tenacity. And if her deal fails, she’s made no promise as to when she’ll clear out of No. 10. May has managed to get some members of the ERG, in particularly media hounds Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, to say they’d support her deal. But the DUP has not budged, consistent with earlier accounts that they are people of principle….just not very lofty ones. And Rees-Mogg has flip-flopped: So even with ERG solidarity buckling, it does not appear that May can get enough Labour votes to get her Withdrawal Agreement approved. May is out of time. But even the reading above charitably assumes John Bercow would allow May’s pact to come up for a vote. He is still holding fast to his position, that the bill needed to be substantially different to be considered in the current Parliamentary session.

Theresa May says she will resign as prime minister after Brexit – Theresa May said she would resign as the Conservative Party leader and prime minister once the United Kingdom has left the European Union. The prime minister told a meeting of the 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs on Wednesday that she would not lead the next stage of negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU. “I am prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended in order to do what is right for our country and our party,” she said. “I have heard very clearly the mood of the parliamentary party. I know there is a desire for a new approach – and new leadership – in the second phase of the Brexit negotiations, and I won’t stand in the way of that.” She signalled that she would depart from Downing Street if Parliament backs her Brexit deal, amid suggestions that she is planning to put the agreement back to the House of Commons on Friday for another vote. “I ask everyone in this room to back the deal so we can complete our historic duty: to deliver on the decision of the British people and leave the European Union with a smooth and orderly exit,” she said. May told members of her party in December that she would not lead them into the next general election, in 2022. But she had resisted setting out the date of her departure, insisting she still had a full domestic agenda beyond Brexit she wanted to deliver. Her announcement on Wednesday came as MPs prepared to take part in a series of “indicative votes” which could force the government to dramatically change course on Brexit. Options due to be voted on include pursuing a softer Brexit, revoking Article 50 and cancelling Brexit, and holding a second referendum.

Bercow issues fresh warning over third vote on May’s Brexit deal Theresa May’s hopes of putting her Brexit deal to a third meaningful vote have hit another obstacle after John Bercow said parliamentary procedures could not be used to present it unchanged, even as more senior Eurosceptics seem to be getting behind the agreement. Amid speculation the prime minister is making a private pact to set a date to stand down when the deal goes through, more than 20 Conservative Eurosceptics have publicly suggested they will change their minds because they do not want a softer Brexit. Even if this many MPs in the European Research Group (ERG) switched, the vote would be extremely tight, but there was mounting speculation the government could table it on Thursday or Friday. This plan, however, could be scuppered after the Speaker told ministers he stood by his ruling that the twice-defeated motion could not be put to MPs again without significant change. Bercow said he had instructed officials to block any attempts to put forward the same or similar plan using procedural rule changes, for example, by using a vote by MPs to instruct the Commons to overlook the rule behind his block. “I understand that the government may be thinking of bringing meaningful vote three before the house either tomorrow or even on Friday, if the house opts to sit that day,” Bercow told the Commons before the start of a debate on indicative votes on Brexit. “Therefore, in order that there should be no misunderstanding, I wish to make clear that I do expect the government to meet the test of change. They should not seek to circumvent my ruling by means of tabling either a notwithstanding motion or a tabling motion. “The table office has been instructed that no such motions will be accepted. I very much look forward, colleagues, to today’s debate and votes which give the house the chance to start the process of positively indicating what it wants.”

Jeremy Corbyn hit by rebellion over Brexit after whipping MPs to back a second referendum - Jeremy Corbyn was forced to defend his decision to whip his MPs behind a motion for a second referendum on any Brexit deal after threats of frontbench resignations over the move. The Labour leader sent a letter to all MPs in which he acknowledged the motion for a “confirmatory referendum” could be read as “going beyond” party policy. But he claimed it was necessary to support it to keep the option of a public vote on the table as a way to block a no-deal or stop Theresa May’s deal. Earlier, he had been warned by a shadow minister he would face “a very significant rebellion” if he tried to force MPs to back the motion, while another said: “If we whip for it, we won’t have a shadow cabinet by the...

Brexit delay could last FIVE YEARS if May’s deal fails, MPs are warned: PM fights to last minute to win over 50 Tory rebels on day Britain was meant to leave the EU – amid No 10 threats that an election looms if she loses vote - Theresa May will challenge MPs to finally back Brexit with her allies warning another defeat for her deal would be a 'betrayal' of the 17.4million Britons who voted to leave the EU today. In a high-stakes gamble, Mrs May will throw down the gauntlet to Labour and her own Eurosceptic MPs, amid fears that she risks a third, and possibly final, defeat and warnings that Britain will not cut ties with Brussels for five years. If she does lose – and Parliament tries to make her accept a customs union and second referendum – allies fear she could be forced to call a General Election as early as next week. A Whitehall source said another defeat for the Prime Minister's deal could see Brexit delayed for up to five years. 'Once you have taken part in the European elections, there is no limit on the number of extensions you could have during the lifetime of the parliament,' they said. International Trade Secretary Liam Fox warned that voters would feel 'betrayed' if the deal was not passed and Brexit was not delivered. He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'This is a great historic moment for our country, this is about whether Parliament does what Parliament wants or whether Parliament does what the people want. I fear for the consequences if Parliament chooses to utterly ignore a promise that they made directly to the voters.' Tory MP James Heappey tweeted: 'Today should’ve been Brexit Day. It still could be day on which Parliament finally agrees a plan and confirms our departure from EU. But only if we, at last, do what country is screaming for and vote for the frickin’ deal. Please colleagues. Please, please, please. Lets get this done'.

Brexit: Mayday -  Yves Smith - Like yesterday, the English language press is preoccupied with a drama that is not likely to drive the outcome of Brexit, and paying less attention to a bigger story. And in keeping, the UK is obsessed with its own politics, and again ignoring clear messages from the EU.The show today is the last-ditch vote on May’s Withdrawal Agreement. Today is what was to have been Brexit day, so it seems fitting that this will also be the day on which May’s pact either gets approved or dies. The smart money expects it to die. Some of the ERG is wobbling (more on them shortly) but the DUP is still against it and Labour is also whipping hard in opposition.  I’ll skip over bits that were sources of much tooth-gnashing yesterday, such as how the Government decided to get past the John Bercow “No voting twice!” problem by parsing out the Withdrawal Agreement and adding some other bits. It’s not clear that this ruse works under Article 50 and it also pissed MPs off. But May is so low in Parliament’s estimation that she doesn’t appear to have much to lose.  One odd but telling part of this contest is the rationalization of supposed do-or-die ERG figures of their switch to support May’s deal. After decrying it as relegating the UK to being a “vassal state,” they’ve now decided that what they’d have before called a Brexit In Name Only is better than none. For instance, from Jonathan Isby, editor of BrexitCentral (and who will soon need to make an honest living):  Leaving without a deal – a clean break from the EU – is what I would prefer to the bad deal that has been presented to us by the Government – a view that I know is shared by many BrexitCentral readers. But I’m afraid I have come to the conclusion that No Deal is simply not an option on offer, given the political reality and parliamentary arithmetic of a House of Commons which two days ago rejected the idea of No Deal by a majority of 240. Parliament is not driving the Brexit bus. Parliament said “no” to no deal, but it also said no to everything, and also still has unicorns on its menu of things it thinks it might get. No deal is still the default, even though the EU graciously allowed the UK a bit more time to attempt to sort itself out and settle on something is achievable (in Barnier’s ladder terms). Really really objecting to “no deal” is not sufficient to prevent that from happening. But the BrexitCentral/Ultra view illustrates how, still, after 1000+ days, most of the UK’s political classes still have not gotten it through their thick heads that the EU always had more leverage, and has even more now. If May’s final push for her agreement fails, as expected, the best the UK can hope for is that it is able to make a coherent enough pitch for an extension before April 12 to win the EU’s approval.  The EU has gone into “no deal” overdrive. Barnier has said for some time that no deal looked like the most likely outcome. The EU is now engaging in intensive preparation, not just to deal with the immediate impact of a crash out, but also how to take advantage of the UK’s stupidity without going into Versailles Treaty territory.

Pound Tumbles As Third Vote On Brexit Deal Fails By 58 Votes - Despite a last-minute round of defections from some Labour MPs and Tory Brexiteers, what reporters jokingly referred to as "meaningful vote 2.5" - the third vote on May's withdrawal agreement - has been defeated 344-286, a margin of about 60 votes. In a speech after the result, May raised the possibility of new elections. The pound tumbled on the results. "We are reaching the end of this process in this House," May said. One way out would be holding another election. Indicating that she isn't planning to resign, the prime minister said she would "continue to press the case for an orderly Brexit. Unsurprisingly, the pound plunged as the defeat has raised the likelihood that the UK will leave the EU without a deal on April 12. While May said only that an election might be one option to break the impasse, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn went further and called for a vote, and also called on May to fulfill her promise and quit, now. In a statement, Deputy ERG Chairman Steve Baker insisted that this must be the final defeat for May's withdrawal deal, and that the Commons must now move on and find another way - or, presumably, accept a 'no deal' exit. "This must be the final defeat for Theresa May’s deal. It is finished. And we must move on.” "It's finished and we must move on. It has not passed and it will not pass," he added. Cable started weakening ahead of the vote on speculation that the group of Brexiteer Tories voting against the bill would be large enough to hand May a third defeat. Reports attributed to SNP MPs about a "sizable" group of Tories massing in the 'no' lobby pushed the currency even lower. Early reports estimated that the vote would fail by roughly 50 votes. May ended the debate on Friday with an impassioned speech, telling MPs that she was "prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended to secure the right outcome for our country." She also said there would need to be a "greater involvement of Parliament" during the next phase of talks with the EU, when the two sides will hash out the details of their future relationship. While Friday's defeat is yet another major setback for the prime minister, who will now presumably push for a much longer Article 50 extension that could last for months or even years, the margin was better than the last two votes, indicating that May has made progress - just not enough to finally deliver Brexit. 

UK faces new Brexit crisis after lawmakers reject May’s deal (AP) — British lawmakers on Friday rejected the government’s Brexit deal for a third time, leaving the U.K. facing the stark prospect of a chaotic departure from the European Union in just two weeks, with political leaders in turmoil and the country ill-prepared for the shock. It’s either that, or a long delay to the country’s exit from the EU. The alternatives are dwindling. The House of Commons voted 344-286 against the withdrawal agreement struck between Prime Minister Theresa May and the EU, rebuffing her plea to “put aside self and party” and deliver the Brexit that Britons voted for. Amid business warnings that a no-deal Brexit could mean crippling tariffs, border gridlock and shortages of goods, a visibly frustrated May said the vote had “grave” implications. “The legal default now is that the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union on 12 April — in just 14 days’ time,” she said. “This is not enough time to agree, legislate for and ratify a deal, and yet the House has been clear it will not permit leaving without a deal. And so we will have to agree an alternative way forward.” Had the deal been passed, Britain would have left the EU on May 22. The bloc said the rejection of the divorce terms made a no-deal Brexit “a likely scenario” and called an emergency summit of EU leaders for April 10 to decide what to do next. An EU Commission official said the 27 remaining EU nations were “fully prepared for a no-deal scenario at midnight 12th of April.” Almost three years after Britain voted in June 2016 to leave the EU, and two years after it set its departure date for March 29, 2019, British politicians remain deadlocked over Brexit. Like the country as a whole, they are split between those who want a clean break, those who want to retain close ties with the bloc, and those who want to overturn the decision to leave. Last week, to prevent Britain from crashing out, the EU granted an extension to May 22 if the divorce deal was approved by Friday — or to April 12 if it was rejected. Friday’s 58-vote margin of defeat for the deal was narrower than previous votes in January and March, but it still left the government’s blueprint for exiting the bloc in tatters. May’s deal was voted down even after the prime minister sacrificed her job in exchange for Brexit, promising to quit if lawmakers approved the agreement. With the deal’s rejection, she will face pressure to step aside and let a new Conservative Party leader take over negotiations with the EU. .

Brexit: Theresa May ponders fourth bid to pass deal - Theresa May and her cabinet are looking for ways to bring her EU withdrawal agreement back to the Commons for a fourth attempt at winning MPs' backing. The PM said the UK would need "an alternative way forward" after her plan was defeated by 58 votes on Friday. MPs from all parties will test support for other options during a second round of "indicative votes" on Monday. However, Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis said the government did not support any of those options. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn refused to say whether his party would offer an option to remain in the EU during these votes, but said the obvious choice was "a good economic relationship with Europe". The latest vote came on the day the UK was supposed to leave the European Union: 29 March. The date was postponed to allow Mrs May more time to find a Brexit solution. Friday's defeat was the third time MPs have rejected her withdrawal agreement - the first vote was lost by 230 votes, the second by 149. The government has so far failed to win over 34 Conservative rebels, including both Remainers as well as Tory Brexiteers, who say the deal still leaves the UK too closely aligned to Europe. Northern Ireland's DUP - which has propped up Mrs May's minority government - also continues to oppose the deal. But a No 10 source indicated the prime minister would continue to seek support in the Commons and insisted efforts were "going in the right direction".

Crippling Debts 'Linked To Depression', New Study Says - People with mental health issues are more likely to be trapped with insurmountable debts than those without such conditions, a new study suggests.Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, an independent charity focused on finance and mental health, conducted research that revealed the missing link between financial difficulty and mental health disorders. The institute is expected to present a Consumer White Paper to the government in the United Kingdom and lobby Members of Parliament to make sure people with mental health disorders get more protection from debt collection agencies. The institute analyzed data from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, which had responses from 7,500 people in England. The analysis showed:

  • 1.5 million people in England are currently struggling with both problem debt and mental health problems at the same time.
  • People with mental health problems are three and a half times more likely to be in problem debt than those without mental health problems.
  • 46% of all people in problem debt are also experiencing a mental health problem.

The explained that people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder were six times more likely to have financial troubles. People with bipolar disorder or depression are five times more likely to encounter debt problems than clinically sane people."When you’re struggling with your mental health it can be much harder to stay in work or manage your spending, while being in debt can cause huge stress and anxiety — so the two issues feed off each other, creating a vicious cycle which can destroy lives. Yet despite how connected these problems are, financial services rarely think about our mental health, and mental health services rarely consider what's happening with our money." The government has an opportunity to use its upcoming Consumer White Paper to introduce minimum standards that people with mental health problems can expect across essential services like energy and banking, to ensure that they get a fair deal. That should include help to avoid problem debt, and better protection from aggressive debt collection practices when it does happen." "And ensuring that money advice is routinely offered to people using mental health services would increase recovery rates, as well as improving the financial wellbeing of the 1.5 million people currently dealing with this terrifying combination of problems," Helen Undy, Chief Executive of Money and Mental Health, said. Earlier this year, Britain’s household debt reached a new record high. According to Trades Union Congress, UK households now owe an average of $20,358 to credit card companies, financial institutions, and other lenders. In 2017, academic Johnna Montgomerie called it “one of the biggest problems facing the United Kingdom’s economy and society.”

'BirthStrike' Movement Encourages People to Stop Having Children in the Face of Climate Change -A growing movement is encouraging future parents to reconsider their decision to conceive and instead vow not to procreate in the face of climate change. As the world's increasing population pushes the boundaries of natural resource extraction and carbon emissions, the organization hopes its proclamation will bring attention to addressing the world's ecological crisis. UK-based BirthStrike is a voluntary organization comprised of around 200 members globally who have decided not to have children in response to "climate breakdown and civilization collapse," reports The Guardian. Founder Blythe Pepino discussed the group in March shortly after U.S. congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) voiced her own concerns over procreating because of the current climate situation and lack of government action."We, the undersigned, declare our decision not to bear children due to the severity of the ecological crisis and the current inaction of governing forces in the face if this existential threat," declare BirthStrikers on their blog page, calling for "fast acting and deep change towards an equality based, sustainable, caring, and non-violent future for humans and between all life on earth." Scientists argue a sixth mass extinction event is underway capable of triggering "biological annihilation." They point to wildlife population losses and declines around the world directly linked to overconsumption of resources by an increasing human population. Indeed, the world population currently hovers around 7.7 billion and the United Nations estimates numbers will continue to grow to 9.8 billion in three decades, reaching 11.2 billion by the end of the century. In response, members like Alice Brown say they won't be having children for fear they will enter a world on the verge of extinction. "I'm 24 and instead of dreaming about my career and family, I'm burdened with the disease we've created. My decision not to have a child I truly feel is a necessity not a choice. Sadly but with courage to fight this fight," wrote Brown on the movement's blog.

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