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

Saturday, April 13, 2019

week ending Apr 13

 FOMC Minutes: "Patient approach", "Likely ... the target range unchanged for the remainder of the year" - Note that some participants think a rate hike later this year might be appropriate. From the Fed: Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, March 19-20, 2019. A few excerpts: In their discussion of monetary policy decisions at the current meeting, participants agreed that it would be appropriate to maintain the current target range for the federal funds rate at 2-1/4 to 2-1/2 percent. Participants judged that the labor market remained strong, but that information received over the intermeeting period, including recent readings on household spending and business fixed investment, pointed to slower economic growth in the early part of this year than in the fourth quarter of 2018. Despite these indications of softer first-quarter growth, participants generally expected economic activity to continue to expand, labor markets to remain strong, and inflation to remain near 2 percent. Participants also noted significant uncertainties surrounding their economic outlooks, including those related to global economic and financial developments. In light of these uncertainties as well as continued evidence of muted inflation pressures,participants generally agreed that a patient approach to determining future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate remained appropriate. With regard to the outlook for monetary policy beyond this meeting, a majority of participants expected that the evolution of the economic outlook and risks to the outlook would likely warrant leaving the target range unchanged for the remainder of the year. Several of these participants noted that the current target range for the federal funds rate was close to their estimates of its longer-run neutral level and foresaw economic growth continuing near its longer-run trend rate over the forecast period. Participants continued to emphasize that their decisions about the appropriate target range for the federal funds rate at coming meetings would depend on their ongoing assessments of the economic outlook, as informed by a wide range of data, as well as on how the risks to the outlook evolved. Several participants noted that their views of the appropriate target range for the federal funds rate could shift in either direction based on incoming data and other developments. Some participants indicated that if the economy evolved as they currently expected, with economic growth above its longer-run trend rate, they would likely judge it appropriate to raise the target range for the federal funds rate modestly later this year.

Goldman Recalibrates Fed Forecast- No More Rate Hikes Before 2020 Election - Less than six months ago, the 'smartest men (and women we are sure) in the room' at Goldman Sachs' prestigious economics department were in full hawktard mode - forecasting four rate-hikes in 2019, providing cover for a desperate-to-get-back-to-normal Fed's rate trajectory guesses. Since then, Hatzius and his honchos have slowly but surely folded to the market's view, with his latest note proclaiming with no smile on their face that growth will be better than they expect in 2019 and 2020 BUT... pushing back their forecast for the next hike from 2020Q1 to 2020Q4. The 'excuses' that Hatzius et al. use this time for their even-more-dovish tilt - despite rosier growth forecasts - are simple: no-flation and Trump. While the growth news has been encouraging, the inflation numbers have surprised to the downside. Following this morning’s PPI report, we now expect year-on-year core PCE inflation to slow to 1.64% in the March print and to end 2019 at 1.9%, vs. the 2.1% we had expected just a few weeks ago (Exhibit 2). At the same time, the goalposts for the next rate hike have shifted and could move even further back as the Fed undertakes a review of its policy framework. The FOMC’s emphasis on “muted inflation pressures” as a reason for patience suggests that above-2% inflation is now almost a necessary criterion for further tightening, making a rate hike later this year quite unlikely.

Trump calls for more cheap money for financial markets - The Trump administration is stepping up its push to have the US Federal Reserve ease monetary policy and provide a further boost to financial markets amid controversy over proposals to fill two vacancies on the Fed’s governing board.  On Friday Trump followed an earlier call by White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow for a 0.5 percentage point cut in interest rates, telling reporters the Fed should resume financial asset purchases, the policy of “quantitative easing.”Following the release of new data showing that jobs grew by 196,000 last month, Trump said the economy could have grown faster without the Fed’s interest rates rises last year as it attempted to “normalise” monetary policy.“I personally think the Fed should drop rates; I think they really slowed us down,” he said. “There’s no inflation. In terms of quantitative tightening it should actually now be quantitative easing. You would see a rocket ship.”Trump’s comments come in the wake of the Fed’s pullback from its planned interest rate increases this year and its decision to end the winddown of its financial asset holdings, accumulated in the wake of the financial crisis, by September.This followed the market turbulence last December and denunciations of the Fed by Trump who said it had gone “crazy” and “loco,” amid reports he was considering whether he was able to sack Jerome Powell as Fed chairman.In the immediate aftermath of the financial turmoil, Powell indicated in January that the Fed had received the market message. At its March meeting, the FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) indicated there would be no further interest rises this year. Equally significant was its decision to maintain its holdings of bonds and other financial assets at around $3.5 trillion—compared to around $800 billion before the global financial crisis—effectively signalling the end of any attempt to return to pre-crisis monetary policy.

Trump is finally Trumpifying the Fed -- In late March, Trump offered Stephen Moore, a senior fellow at the right-wing Heritage Foundation and a champion of tax cuts for the wealthy, one of the two remaining seats on the Fed's Board of Governors. Then, late last week, Trump told his staff he wants to start prepping Herman Cain, a former Godfather's Pizza CEO and 2012 Republican presidential contender, for a Fed nomination as well.Both picks have been greeted with near-universal horror by observers who closely watch the Fed and monetary policy.  What really stands out about Moore and Cain is the extent to which they're both political animals, of a particularly shallow ideological bent.  Moore had a hand in the massive tax cut experiment that wrecked the finances of Kansas' state government. Neither that failure, nor the complete economic dud that was Trump's own tax cut package for the wealthy, seems to have impacted his views. The Kansas City Star actually stopped running Moore's commentary because he kept fudging his facts on the issue. Cain tried to turn tax policy into a pizza branding campaign in the 2012 primary with a "9-9-9" plan that would've levied a 9 percent sales tax on the country, while cutting income and corporate taxes to 9 percent each. It would've actually blown up the deficit while at the same time raising most Americans' taxes. Then, once his 2012 campaign crashed and burned, Cain turned to selling get-rich-quick schemes and cures for erectile dysfunction. (It's also worth noting that Cain's presidential campaign was cut short by multiple accusations of sexual misconduct.) Basically, the careers of both men demonstrate the same snake oil salesman tendencies as Trump himself.

Why Does Trump Want to Debase the Fed? - Paul Krugman - As far as I know, the Federal Reserve — the world’s most important economic policy institution — doesn’t have an anthem. But if it were to adopt one now, the choice would be obvious: “Send In the Clowns.” You see, the Fed’s governing board currently has two vacancies, and Donald Trump has proposed filling those vacancies with ludicrous hacks. If he succeeds, one of our few remaining havens of serious, nonpartisan policymaking will be on its way toward becoming as corrupt and dysfunctional as the rest of the Trump administration.Stephen Moore and Herman Cain are, of course, completely unqualified — I say “of course” because their lack of qualifications is, paradoxically, a key qualification not just for Trump but for the G.O.P. in general. There are plenty of genuine monetary experts with conservative political leanings, some of them quite partisan. But modern Republicans have shown consistent disdain for such experts, perhaps because of a sense that anyone with real expertise or an independent reputation might occasionally be tempted to take a stand on principle.There’s no risk that either Moore or Cain will ever take such a stand. In fact, what seems to have recommended both men to Trump was their evident willingness to completely reverse their policy views when politically expedient.Both were hard-money men during the Obama years, demanding higher interest rates despite very high unemployment. Both have now taken to berating the Fed for failing to print more money in the face of low unemployment — because that’s what Trump wants.  I wrote about Moore a couple of weeks ago, noting that he has long been a prominent fixture in the conservative movement; he is, basically, a classic right-wing hack who tries (incompetently) to impersonate an economic expert. Cain, on the other hand, is a spam king whose business model involves making his email list available to direct marketers. In recent years Moore has been out there predicting magical results from tax cuts, putting out fake economic numbers, and giving speeches to FreedomFest. At the same time, Cain has been offering a platform for peddlers of get-rich schemes and cures for erectile dysfunction. So it says something about what Trump wants that he apparently sees the two men as equally valuable allies. What does Trump want? His attempted beclowning of the Fed follows, I’d argue, from the fact that his one major legislative success, the 2017 tax cut — which he predicted would be “rocket fuel” for the economy — has turned out to be a big fizzle, economically and, especially, politically.

Whalen- Trump Is Right To Blow Up The Fed --Authored by Christopher Whalen via The American Conservative,  Last week, President Donald Trump set the economics community aflame by suggesting that he will appoint businessman and presidential aspirant Herman Cain to the Federal Reserve Board. Even more than political economist Stephen Moore, the critics maintain, Cain represents a threat to the cabal that has controlled the central bank for decades. Why? Because Cain is a successful executive who founded a real business, took risks, and created jobs, things most academic economists will never ever do. Media outlets and other allied constituencies have howled with rage at the prospect of President Trump “packing the Fed,” a distant reference to attempts by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to pack the Supreme Court in the 1930s. Those worried about the independence of the Federal Reserve Board should reconsider. Independence from what exactly?While the Fed is meant to be independent from the executive branch on a day-to-day basis, it is certainly not independent of Congress or the law. Yet the Fed in recent years has shown a troubling tendency to deviate from its legal mandate and make up new authorities to fit the changing economic situation. Case in point: the dubious notion that we should seek a 2 percent rate of inflation. Anybody who cares to read the 1978 Humphrey Hawkins law will know that the Fed is directed by Congress to seek full employment and then zero inflation. Not 2 percent, but zero. Yet going back a decade and more, the Fed, led by luminaries such as Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke, has advanced a policy of actively embracing inflation. And neither Bernanke nor Yellen bothered to consult Congress when they decided to discard their legal responsibilities. Quantitative easing, to take another example, represents a vast inflation of the financial markets and housing, yet Fed officials actually appear in public and talk about the conundrum presented by “low inflation.” The inflation in home prices that occurred during and after the Fed’s purchase of trillions in securities has permanently raised the price of housing in many parts of the country, preventing millions from purchasing homes. Yellen confesses to be “perplexed” by the dearth of home purchases by young families, but she is the cause of the malady. Not only are these pro-inflation policies in violation of the letter of the Humphrey Hawkins law, but they have contributed to increased volatility in the financial markets. The third and frequently forgotten mandate in the Humphrey Hawkins law commands the Fed to employ policies that will produce “stable interest rates.” But the economists have long since stopped talking about this. The basic problem with the Fed today is that it has gradually fashioned a new set of rules for itself, particularly since 2008, on which Congress has never been consulted. In the same way that economists use their imaginations to concoct new theories about economic behavior, the Fed board has apparently decided to take up legislative powers as well. Is the Fed meant to be free of any real-world restraint on its actions.

Republicans press Trump to drop Herman Cain’s Fed nomination - Herman Cain is in deep trouble. And he hasn’t yet even been formally nominated to the Federal Reserve. Senate Republicans are warning the White House that the 2012 presidential candidate will face one of the most difficult confirmation fights of Donald Trump’s presidency and are making a behind-the-scenes play to get the president to back off, two GOP senators said..“There are concerns that are being voiced to the administrations about qualifications,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the Republican whip. “They’re probably going to hear from a number of our members about concerns that they have. Whether or not that gets them to make a course change or not, I don’t know.” Republican senators have generally waved through Trump’s nominees over the past two years, but they are reluctant to do the same for the Fed, amid fears that Trump’s push to install interest-rate slashing allies will politicize the central bank. The resistance comes as Senate Republicans also actively are pressing Trump to halt his purge at the Department of Homeland Security and reconsider economy-damaging auto tariffs. Some GOP senators said that Cain’s difficult path might have eased Stephen Moore’s confirmation to the Fed, despite Moore’s own problems with unpaid taxes and his partisan reputation. After all, Republicans might be hard-pressed to revolt against both of Trump’s nominees.

Trump’s Fed nominee Stephen Moore was found in contempt of court for failing to pay ex-wife more than $333,000 -- Stephen Moore, President Trump’s planned nominee for the Federal Reserve Board, was found in contempt of court in 2013 for failing to pay his ex-wife more than $330,000 in alimony and child support, court documents show. A court in Fairfax County, Va., ordered Stephen Moore to sell his home in order to pay his ex-wife, Allison Moore, the money he legally owed her but had failed to pay for months. Stephen Moore ended up paying $217,000, although only after the court sent several police officers, two real estate agents and a locksmith to his home to change the locks and prepare the property for sale, records show. Allison Moore told the court the payment was enough that she no longer wanted to force her ex-husband to sell the home. Stephen and Allison Moore, who have three children together, were married for two decades before divorcing in 2011. Allison Moore began divorce proceedings in 2010, and her divorce complaint said her then-husband opened a account and had a mistress. Allison Moore says in the divorce filing that she was a good wife who “suffered emotional and psychological abuse by [Stephen Moore] throughout their marriage,” including having to flee the family’s home with their youngest child in fall 2009. Stephen Moore signed a document saying he “admits all allegations” in his ex-wife’s divorce complaint. The contempt of court was first reported by the Guardian. Allison Moore then petitioned to seal the records. The divorce records were unsealed Friday after an appeal by The Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Guardian.

Officials forced way in to Stephen Moore home after failure to pay ex-wife debts -- A court official accompanied by four police officers had to break into the home of Stephen Moore, Donald Trump’s pick for the Federal Reserve board, after he repeatedly failed to pay debts to his ex-wife. The group used a locksmith to force their way into Moore’s house in Virginia in May 2013, according to court filings. They were there to prepare the property for a court-ordered sale in order to raise $330,000 that Moore owed his ex-wife after their divorce. When the court official telephoned Moore on her way out to ask where she should leave the new key to his home, Moore “was very argumentative” and “denied that we were in his house”, the official, Kyle Skopic, said in a June 2013 motion. The court records were reopened to the public by a judge on Friday, in response to legal action by the Guardian and other media. They had been temporarily sealed this week following the publication of reports about Moore’s past financial and legal problems. Six days after the authorized break-in at his house, Moore made a long overdue payment of $150,000 to his ex-wife, Allison, the records show. She then asked the court to halt the action to sell Moore’s home. 

 March 2019 CPI Inflation -  Kevin Erdmann -  Here are the updated inflation numbers.  Non-shelter core is down to 1.1%, shelter is still at 3.2%, and core CPI inflation is at 2.0%.  As IW readers know, the reason this is important is that (1) shelter inflation is largely an imputed figure of rental values of owned homes that involve no cash transactions and, (2) in the era of Closed Access, in some important markets, these transfers have little effect on production.   This is the setup that I worry will cause the Fed to be behind the curve.  They believe that merely stopping the rate hikes will be enough.  Of course, in this context, the inverted yield curve is also a bad sign in this context. It's not so much that 1% inflation would be an automatic disaster.  I'm not even sure it's a great recession indicator.  It's more a problem of being shielded from timely cyclical developments because of misreading the measures that should lead to shifts in policy trends.  It seems that, along with the Great Moderation, has come a peculiar Fed behavioral tick, where the Fed Funds rate is held for some time at a plateau, which is followed by a contraction.

 10-Year Auction Prices Below 2.5% For The First Time Since 2017 --Following yesterday's subpar 3Y auction, today's 10Y, $24 billion reopening of Cusip 6B1 was nothing short of stellar. Pricing at a high yield of 2.466%, well below last month's 2.615%, this was the first bond auction to price below 2.50% since December 2017, and also stopped through the 2.476% When Issued by 0.1 basis point. The internals were impressive as well: the Bid to Cover of 2.55 dropped from 2.59 last month, but was still above the 2.45 six auction average. Notably, amid concerns that foreigners are stepping away from US paper, Indirects took down a healthy 68.4%, well above the 64.5% recent average, if modestly below last month's 69.4%. More importantly this was toward the high end of the historical range, with just a few auctions pricing in the 70%+ Indirect range. And with Directs taking down 12.0%, modestly above the six auction average, Dealers were left with 19.6% of the auction, the lowest since March 2017. Overall, a very strong auction and certainly refuting any speculation that at least in April, foreigners had any particular desire not to participate in US Treasury auctions.

Kudlow I Don't See Rates Rising Again In My Lifetime - Almost five years ago, in May 2014, when he was setting the scene for the biggest asset bubble trap in history - trap because his own policies made it impossible to undo the Fed's monetary policies without bringing the entire financial system crashing down - Bernanke uttered what was very unwitting gallows humor, when he said that he does not expect the Fed's interest rate to rise back to its 4% average during his lifetime. In retrospect, he was right because just a few years later, with the Fed Funds rate at 2.50%, the Fed realized that any further hikes would crash the market, which was already on the verge of a bear market, and as a result Fed Chair Powell put the Fed's rate hike strategy on hold.Now, five years after Bernanke's infamous statement, Trump's top economic advisor Larry Kudlow has done Bernanke one better, and during an event in Washington, said that he does not think that rates will go up ever again, "maybe never again in my lifetime", effectively admitting that the US economy is on the verge, if not in, a recession (either that, or giving a pretty dire prognosis of his own health).Kudlow also said that Powell is doing a good job, despite disagreements. "I do. I know we’ve had some discussions about that in recent weeks."  Ah yes, it got to the point where Trump even had to call Powell, and while the full conversation shall remain a mystery, Trump told the Fed chair that he is "stuck" with him (for now).Finally, confusing the hell out of anyone who is not yet proficient in Erdoganomics, i.e. "economics for insane people", Kudlow added that the economy is so strong that the Fed should cut rates immediate by 50 bps. Because obviously that makes sense. Incidentally, besides Bernanke and Kudlow (and of course Gartman), another prominent economist making a vow for somethine will never happen in their lifetime, was Janet Yellen who in June 2017 predicted that there would be no new financial crisis in her "lifetime." And while Yellen is still alive, she must have been this close from death in December, when the global market was on the verge of crashing and only Powell's last-ditch dovish relent prevented the former Chair's death.

Q1 GDP Forecasts: Around 2% ---From Merrill Lynch: We continue to track 1.9% for 1Q GDP growth. [April 12 estimate]    From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report  The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 1.4% for 2019:Q1 and 2.0% for 2019:Q2. [Apr 12 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 2.3 percent on April 8, up from 2.1 percent on April 2. [Apr 8 estimate]  CR Note: These estimates suggest real GDP growth will be around 2% annualized in Q1.

The Longest Expansions in U.S. History - According to NBER, the four longest expansions in U.S. history are:
1) From a trough in March 1991 to a peak in March 2001 (120 months).
2) From a trough in June 2009 to today, April 2019 (118 months and counting).
3) From a trough in February 1961 to a peak in December 1969 (106 months).
4) From a trough in November 1982 to a peak in July 1990 (92 months).
So the current U.S. expansion is currently the second longest on record, and it seems extremely likely that the current expansion will surpass the '90s expansion in a few months.  As I noted in late 2017 in Is a Recession Imminent? (one of the five questions I'm frequently askedExpansions don't die of old age! There is a very good chance this will become the longest expansion in history. A key reason the current expansion has been so long is that housing didn't contribute for the first few years of the expansion.  Also the housing recovery was sluggish for a few more years after the bottom in 2011.  This was because of the huge overhang of foreclosed properties coming on the market. Single family housing starts and new home sales both bottomed in 2011 - so this is just the eight year of housing expansion - and I expect further increases in starts and sales over the next year or longer.

Kim Lashes Out At US, Says NKorea Must Deliver "Serious Blow" To Sanctioning Nations; Prepares For Talks With Putin - After a nearly two year hiatus, North Korea may soon be launching empty ICBMs across the Pacific again, much to the chagrin of Japan which tends to be right below the flight path, and this time Kim Jong Un may have the backing of both Xi and Putin.With the detente between Washington and Pyongyang gradually disintegrating, North Korea's corpulent president Kim said his country needs to deliver a “serious blow” to those imposing sanctions through a self-reliant economy - clearly referencing the US - the state-controlled (a redundant descriptor) KCNA news agency said on Thursday.KCNA said Kim stated North Korea’s position on the second U.S.-North Korea summit that took place recently, saying, “We must deal a serious blow to the hostile forces who are mistakenly determined to bring us down with sanctions by advancing the socialist construction to a high level of self-reliance that fits our circumstances and state, based on our own power, technology and resources.”North Korea is expected to convene a session of its legislature, the Supreme People’s Assembly, on Thursday Reuters reported, while U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to hold a summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in later on Thursday.Meanwhile, in the clearest indication that Kim is not going to wait for Trump to roll out the red carpet, Japan's Asahi reported that Kim is seeking to solidify the backing of the global anti-US axis, and in addition to the support of China's president Xi, Kim will reportedly soon hold his first talks with Russia's president Putin in Vladivostok "soon."Whether this means that North Korea will soon launch another ICBM in America's general direction is unclear, but if it does, the algos are ready to buy stocks as the lack of World War III would be bullish. And just in case the ICBM launch does escalate into another world war, well then few will care what level the S&P is at.

The Plan to Resurrect the North Korea Nuclear Talks — Once Air Force One was wheels-up from Hanoi, Vietnam, last February, the American president phoned his South Korean counterpart and asked for help. Donald Trump had just walked out on nuclear negotiations with North Korea’s leader, but he hadn’t given up on diplomacy just yet. Trump told Moon Jae In that “you need to talk to Kim Jong Un,” recalled a senior South Korean official who was aware of what was said during the call but spoke on condition of anonymity. Trump said “‘call him’ … something like six times.” Then, as the call was wrapping up, the U.S. president extended an invitation: “After that, come over to Washington, D.C. Let’s have lunch. We’ll talk about stuff, moving ahead.” A different South Korean official, the presidential adviser Moon Chung In, said that Trump had another request during the phone call. He wanted President Moon to persuade Kim to embrace the “big deal” that the United States proposed at the Vietnam summit, involving complete denuclearization in exchange for peace and economic transformation, rather than North Korea’s smaller offer to dismantle its Yongbyon nuclear facility in return for the lifting of most sanctions. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the Trump-Moon call.It’s not immediately clear whether the Moon-Kim call took place. Regardless, the South Korean president is now in Washington, on a mission to first persuade Trump, not Kim, to consider a compromise between the big and small deals. After meeting with Trump, President Moon is likely to hold a fourth summit with Kim, or send envoys to Pyongyang, according to four South Korean officials.

Kim offers Trump a third summit - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has offered to hold a third summit with United States President Donald Trump, in statements released hot on the heels of Thursday’s meeting in Washington between Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.“If the US proposes holding a third North Korea-US summit with a right attitude and a right method, we have a willingness to do it one more time,” Kim was quoted as saying by Pyongyang’s Korea Central News Agency, which is monitored by South Korean media.Kim said he would wait until the end of the year. Kim was making his first public comments on the issue since the second North Korea-US summit, in Hanoi, Vietnam, collapsed without a deal in February. Prior to their leader’s statements, North Korean officials had expressed their displeasure with the outcome in carefully managed press briefings in Hanoi and Pyongyang.The timing of Kim’s announcement looks significant. His statements were reported by state media on Saturday after being made to the Supreme People’s Assembly on Friday – the country’s rubber-stamp parliament had convened Thursday. Moon and Trump had also met in Washington on Thursday, where both made conciliatory statements toward North Korea.But Kim blew both hot and cold, chastising Washington for the failure of the Hanoi pow-wow.“The US came up to the negotiation venue focusing only on methods that can never be realized,” he said. “It was not ready to sit face-to-face and solve problems. Neither did it have smart directions or methods.“We do not welcome nor have any desire to see another Hanoi summit,” he added.  In Hanoi, Pyongyang offered to close its main nuclear facility in return for sanctions relief, but Washington sought a “big deal” comprising – in details which have emerged post-summit – the demand that North Korea surrender all its nuclear arms and weapons of mass destruction.

‘Shameful’: Trump Admin Revokes ICC Prosecutor’s Visa Over Probe of Potential US War Crimes in Afghanistan --In a move human rights defenders decried as "shameful," the Trump administration revoked the visa of the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor this week for trying to investigate alleged war crimes committed by American forces in Afghanistan. "What we can confirm is that the U.S. authorities have revoked the prosecutor's visa for entry into the U.S." Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda's office said in a statement. The decision, per her office, shouldn't interfere with her travel to the United Nations headquarters in New York City. "Washington's attempt to intimidate the ICC by canceling the ICC prosecutor's visa over a possible Afghanistan investigation is the Trump administration's latest shameful attack on the rule of law," said Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch. Katherine Gallagher, an international human rights attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, condemned the move as "interference with judicial proceedings" that violates international law.

Liz Cheney Proposes Bill to Keep at Least 10,000 US Troops in Afghanistan — 18 years into the US occupation of Afghanistan, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) is looking to ensure that the war can continue to be a sinkhole for US troops and money for years to come, introducing the Ensuring a Security Afghanistan Act.The bill, which Cheney is cosponsoring with Reps. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and Mike Waltz (R-FL), would forbid the president from reducing the US troop level in Afghanistan below 10,000 unless a broad and unlikely set of military requirements are first met.Cheney argued that an unoccupied Afghanistan would be a “safe haven for terrorism,” claiming that al-Qaeda remains close to the Taliban and that the conditions on the ground don’t support the US leaving.In reality, there is no sign of an active Taliban relationship with al-Qaeda at all, and the Taliban have openly promised that in any peace deal they would forbid al-Qaeda and ISIS from being present in Afghanistan. She and her limited Congressional supporters argue that the deal in the process of being negotiated is a “bad deal,” and that the bill is designed to prevent it. They argue keeping US troops there will keep Afghanistan “stable and safe,” despite Afghanistan suffering repeated military defeats to the Taliban, and still nowhere near self-sufficient after a generation of war.

US labels Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist group - In an unprecedented move, the Trump administration on Monday took the US closer to military conflict with Iran by designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization. It marked the first time ever that the US government has officially listed a foreign state entity as a terror group. The move, which came after months of internal debate and over the objections of top Pentagon and CIA officials, sets a precedent that, opponents within the state fear, could rebound against US forces around the world. President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other officials placed the step within the context of the administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, which was launched last year with Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear accord and re-impose harsh economic sanctions. In their statements announcing the move, Trump and Pompeo made a point of threatening other foreign countries, officials and businesses with retaliatory sanctions and possible criminal prosecution for engaging in financial transactions or other contact with entities linked to the IRGC. Since the powerful paramilitary organization exerts strong influence over critical sectors of the Iranian economy, including construction, auto, telecommunications and energy, this is tantamount to a demand for ending business relations with Iran. In announcing the action Monday morning, Trump said, “The IRGC is the Iranian government’s primary means of directing and implementing its global terrorist campaign.” He then declared that the terrorist designation, which takes effect on April 15, “makes crystal clear the risks of conducting business with, or providing support to, the IRGC.” In his statement, Pompeo called Iran “the world’s leading state sponsor of terror” and said: “Businesses and banks around the world now have a clear duty to insure that companies with which they conduct financial transactions are not connected to the IRGC in any material way.”

 Why Is Trump Designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps As Foreign Terrorist Organization? - After their failed coup plot in Venezuela, the Trump administration launched another crazy plan: The United States is expected to designate Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards Corps a foreign terrorist organisation, three U.S. officials told Reuters, marking the first time Washington has formally labelled another country’s military a terrorist group. The White House just issued the designation (no link yet). The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is a part of the general Iranian military. It was founded after the 1979 revolution in Iran to protect the state from a coup by the regular Iranian army that served under the Shah. With some 125,000 men during peacetime the IRGC is only about a third the size of Iran's regular military. It has a similar structure with a groundforce, a navy and an aerospace branch. The IRCG has two additional small branches that are of foreign policy interest. One is the missile force which controls Iran's medium range missiles. The other is the Quds Force, a brigade size unit with some 4,000 men trained for special operations abroad. The IRGC size during wartime is about triple its peacetime size. Like Iran's regular army its personnal is made up of professionals, conscripts and reservists. Attached to the IRGC is the voluntary Basji force, local paramilitaries that can be called up for internal security issues. There are several endowments and charitable trusts (bonyads) with strong relations to the IRGC. They own commercial enterprises but their profits are distributed to IRGC veterans and to widows and orphans of deceased soldiers.

Trump Gives Hard-liners Whatever They Want - As expected, the Trump administration has designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization: The Trump administration on Monday designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization, escalating the U.S. pressure campaign against Tehran and marking the first time an element of a foreign state has been officially designated a terrorist entity. Over the weekend, Iranian officials made it clear that they would respond in kind and apply a similar designation to U.S. forces. There is an obvious danger that this decision could lead to armed conflict between U.S. forces and Iranian-backed militias and proxies, but the designation could have other unexpected consequences that go beyond U.S.-Iranian relations. The precedent set by labeling part of another government’s military as terrorists not only makes it more likely that our military personnel will be subjected to similar treatment, but it also blurs the definition of what constitutes a terrorist organization. Labeling the entire IRGC as a terrorist organization is inaccurate and it continues a trend of using the label of terrorist to mean “something that we don’t like and want to punish.” Richard Nephew comments on the decision: Once again, Trump has given the most hard-line Iran hawks exactly what they want. This has become an unmistakable pattern in Trump’s foreign policy decisions. When push comes to shove, the president indulges the hard-liners in and around his administration without any regard for the consequences. Designating the IRGC has been on their wish list for years because they want to ratchet up tensions with Iran and make diplomatic engagement impossible. As Nephew mentioned, the designation will further poison the relationship with Iran and make it so that no Iranian leader will be able to negotiate with the U.S. on anything. That leaves the Americans wrongfully detained in Iran in a very precarious position, and it puts the U.S. and Iran in new and dangerous territory that will make it harder to avoid escalation and conflict.

Netanyahu Says Trump Named Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a Terror Group at His Request -  In a Monday Tweet, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked President Trump for declaring Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, saying that he had personally requested the move of Trump. Netanyahu said that the move would keep the world safe from Iran, and would also serve the interests of Israel, saying he was glad Trump acceded to “another one of my important requests.” תודה לך ידידי היקר, נשיא ארה״ב דונלד טראמפ, על כך שהחלטת להכריז על משמרות המהפכה של איראן כעל ארגון טרור. תודה על שנענית לעוד בקשה חשובה שלי, שמשרתת את האינטרס של מדינותינו ושל מדינות האזור. נמשיך לפעול יחד בכל דרך נגד המשטר האיראני שמאיים על מדינת ישראל, על ארה״ב ועל שלום העולם. — Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) April 8, 2019  “Thank you, my dear friend, the president of the United States, Donald Trump, for having decided to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization,” he wrote in Hebrew on Twitter Monday morning. “Thank you for responding to another of my important requests, which serves the interests of our countries and countries of the region.” Netanyahu’s emphasis that this is all his idea, and Trump is giving him everything he wants, is clearly being done with an eye toward Tuesday’s election, as he attempts to convince voters that he is able to get concessions out of Trump no one else could. This Tweet was only made in Hebrew, likely intending to avoid US officials believing it makes Trump look week. Getting the far-right Netanyahu reelected is clearly something Trump is keen on, but its unlikely he’ll want to give the impression that US policy is being dictated from Jerusalem.

Iran Designates US Military As Terrorist Organization - Just hours after President Trump formally designated Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization, Iran's foreign ministry has put forward a bill placing US Central Command on a list of organizations designated as terrorists, akin to Daesh.  Statement from the President on the Designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.  Today, I am formally announcing my Administration’s plan to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), including its Qods Force, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.  This unprecedented step, led by the Department of State, recognizes the reality that Iran is not only a State Sponsor of Terrorism, but that the IRGC actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft.  The IRGC is the Iranian government’s primary means of directing and implementing its global terrorist campaign.  But, as Sputnik News reports, the Iranian Foreign Ministry responded to the designation on Monday, recommending that President Hassan Rouhani designate US Central Command (US CENTCOM), a US military theatre-level command whose area of responsibility includes the Middle East, on the list of organisations designated as terrorists by Iran.

Trump Is Laying the Groundwork for War - American Conservative -- Borzou Daragahi explains why what he calls “geopolitical name-calling” is so harmful:Labeling the IRGC as a terrorist organization will likely only push potential American allies into an uncomfortable situation where they may be forced to betray the United States.After all, Iran is what it is and cannot be divorced from the region. Meanwhile, the US has proven itself at best a fickle friend that has repeatedly abandoned allies. The Trump administration has repeatedly threatened to toss Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghan allies aside.Why would the People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters in northern Syria or Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense stop talking to the IRGC, which has been around for 40 years and may be around for another forty, to appease a White House that might change hands in less than two years?More than anything, the terrorism designation just risks making such designations more meaningless than they already are, in a region where the term is bandied about too readily.Trump’s irresponsible decision doesn’t serve U.S. interests in the least, but it will make it more difficult for a future administration to enter into negotiations with Iran or lift sanctions. Iran hawks have been very open about their desire to tie the hands of the next president, and with this designation they are hoping to lock the U.S. on a collision course with Iran. The Iranian government has been trying to wait until Trump is no longer in office, and our hard-liners want to make it seem as if there is no point in doing that. Their goal as always remains Iran’s isolation in the vain belief that this will lead to regime change. Many regional governments that have and need to preserve good relations with Iran aren’t going to participate in this effort, and by putting them on the spot this designation is likely to hurt U.S. relations with Iraq and Lebanon. Worse than that, it lays the groundwork for war. Benjamin Friedman warned against this yesterday: Designating a part of Iran’s government as a terrorist organization is a step toward saying, ‘we cannot live with them and have to bomb them.’ Jason Rezaian, who has more reason than most to loathe the IRGC, questioned the decision: “I worry that this is another instance in which the U.S. government is guilty of criminalizing people simply for being Iranian.”

IRGC Designation: More from the War-with-Iran Playbook  - The decision by the Trump administration to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization marks another dangerous step in the relentless campaign Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton are waging to provoke a U.S.-Iranian military conflict and topple the regime in Tehran. Their success will depend on whether they can manipulate a distracted, ill-informed, impulsive, and erratic president into acting against his own instincts to avoid another regime-change campaign in the Middle East that could drag the United States into a messy and open-ended conflict. They have been able to get the president to dance to their tune on other issues, but can they do it again on an issue with much higher stakes for the country? The IRGC terrorist designation is a political and symbolic decision with no upsides and plenty of potentially dangerous consequences for U.S. interests in the Middle East. It may make the administration look tough to its political supporters, but it doesn’t inflict further economic harm on Iran or extend the reach of a harsh sanctions regime that has already caused great hardship for the Iranian people. Foreign individuals and companies who do business with the IRGC—or IRGC-owned, -operated, or -affiliated businesses—can already be blocked from the U.S. financial system, have their assets frozen, or be subjected to lawsuits. Iran is unlikely to take this designation in stride. Indeed, the majority of the Iranian Majlis is already demanding that the Iranian government retaliate. It is hard to predict how or when Iran might retaliate, but Tehran has numerous options in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf. Thousands of U.S. troops in the region, especially in Iraq and Syria where they operate close to Iranian-organized militias or IRGC personnel, will now have targets on their back if Tehran decides to respond militarily to the designation. If this happens, the United States would be forced to respond. The resulting tit-for-tat cycle could prove difficult to control because the two countries have no diplomatic or military communication channels in place to prevent a local incident from escalating into a serious military conflict.

Reckoning With Failure In The War On Terror - Chris Hedges -Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the presidency, as Max Blumenthal points out in his insightful book “The Management of Savagery: How America’s National Security State Fueled the Rise of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Donald Trump,” was made possible not only by massive social inequality and concentration of wealth and political power in the hands of the oligarchic elites but by the national security state’s disastrous and prolonged military interventions overseas.  From the CIA’s funneling of over a billion dollars to Islamic militants in the 1970s war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union to the billion dollars spent on training and equipping the radical jihadists currently fighting in Syria, the United States has repeatedly empowered extremists who have filled the vacuums of failed states it created. The extremists have turned with a vengeance on their sponsors. Washington’s fueling of these conflicts was directly responsible for the rise of figures such as Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden and ultimately laid the groundwork for the 9/11 attacks. It also spawned the rabid Islamophobia in Europe and the United States that defines Trump’s racist worldview and has been successfully used to justify the eradication of basic civil liberties and democratic rights. The misguided interventions by the national security apparatus have resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, over 5 million desperate refugees fleeing to Europe, the destruction of entire cities, the squandering of some $5 trillion of U.S. taxpayer money, rampant corruption and criminality. The mandarins of national security, rather than blunt the rise of radical jihadism, have ensured its spread across the globe. The architects of this imperial folly have a symbiotic relationship with those they profess to hate. The two radical extremes—the interventionists in the national security apparatus and the radical jihadists—play off of each other to countenance ever-greater acts of savagery. The more perfidious your enemy, the more your own extremism is justified. We are locked in a macabre dance with the killers we created and empowered, matching war crime for war crime, torture for torture and murder for murder. This unrestrained violence has a dark momentum that escapes management and control. It exacerbates the very insecurity it claims to be attempting to eliminate by constantly creating legions of new enemies.

Senators seek oversight after Trump administration reveals nuclear energy transfers to Saudi Arabia - A group of bipartisan senators on Wednesday introduced legislation that would require the executive branch to regularly disclose when it allows companies to engage in nuclear energy cooperation with foreign countries. The move comes amid an uproar on Capitol Hill following reports that the Department of Energy gave permission to several companies to share nuclear energy information with Saudi Arabia. The Energy Department later confirmed that it has granted seven of the so-called Part 810 authorizations to U.S. firms competing to build nuclear reactors in the kingdom. Part 810 authorizations are issued to companies so they can discuss nonpublic nuclear energy technology with foreign counterparts. The companies responding to the Saudi request for bids would need the permissions to make their pitches. Former U.S. nonproliferation officials tell CNBC the authorizations likely cover very basic information and do not raise concerns about nuclear weapons proliferation. Still, members of Congress have hammered Trump officials over the authorizations in recent budget hearings and moved swiftly to introduce oversight to the Part 810 process. On Wednesday, Democratic Sens. Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Tim Kaine of Virginia partnered with Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Todd Young of Indiana to introduce an amendment to the Atomic Energy Act. The amendment would require the Energy and State departments to report to Congress any Part 810 applications reviewed and approved or rejected over the last 90 days in a quarterly report. The amendment would also require the Energy Department to send to Congress all Part 810 authorizations going back to 2015, the last time the department revised the application process. Finally, the legislation would give the chairman or ranking member of several congressional committees the authority to request any pending or approved Part 810 applications. The Energy Department would have to answer the request within 10 days.

In meeting with Egyptian dictator, Trump rails against immigrants -- President Donald Trump welcomed Egyptian dictator General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to the White House Tuesday for the second time in two years. Just as he did when Sisi visited in April 2017, Trump used the opportunity to solidarize himself with a regime established by a military coup against Egypt’s democratically elected president Mohammed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013. Since coming to power, el-Sisi’s regime has slaughtered thousands of protesters and continues to hold tens of thousands of political dissidents, as well as dozens of journalists, in jail.“We agree on so many things,” Trump declared. “I just want to let everybody know, in case there was any doubt, we are very much behind President el-Sisi. He’s done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation.” Sisi has won the admiration of the imperialist powers, including Germany and France, for his leading role in suppressing the revolutionary movement of workers and youth which resulted in the ouster of longtime US-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and inspired millions around the world. Trump’s stamp of approval comes several weeks before a scheduled referendum in Egypt which would amend the country’s constitution to allow el-Sisi to serve for another 12 years beyond the end of his current term, subordinate the judiciary to his control and give the military tighter rein over the political process. “He’s doing a great job,” Trump reiterated when asked about the bloody dictator’s effort to extend his grip on power until 2034. “I don’t know about the effort. I can just tell you he’s doing a great job.” A White House official told reporters ahead of el-Sisi’s visit that the two leaders would discuss Egyptian border and maritime security, counter-terrorism efforts, the Sinai and economic development during closed-door meetings. Congressional leaders sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday advising the Trump administration to use the cover of rampant human rights abuses in order to pressure Egypt over a recent $2 billion arms deal with Russia to purchase over 20 Sukhoi SU-35 fighter jets.

Why Is Trump Helping Egypt’s Dictator Entrench His Power? - As someone who has watched the Egyptian people struggle against dictators for years, it is hard to fathom the fact that President Donald Trump will welcome Egypt’s brutal military leader, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, for a White House visit this week. Eight years after Egyptians went to the streets to remove 30-year ruler Hosni Mubarak and only weeks after Algerians did the same to remove 20-year autocrat Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the White House is betting on Sisi. It’s an endorsement Egypt’s president-for-life will use to entrench his grip on power: Showing he has Trump’s enthusiastic support will help Sisi force any potential critics in the army or elsewhere to follow suit. Sisi’s Oval Office photo-op will come just a week or two before Egypt holds a popular referendum on amendments to the constitution that would give Sisi an exception to term limits, allowing him to stay in office until 2034. The amendments will also give the military a constitutional right to intervene in politics and will tighten his grip over the judiciary. If the referendum is similar to Sisi’s second election in 2018, Egyptian voters—demoralized and cowed by years of brutal repression since the 2013 military coup—will largely stay home.To be clear, amending the constitution is not about the security or prosperity of Egypt. It is Sisi’s attempt to develop a highly personalized form of power for himself and loyal military officers, sidelining other institutions and ending all meaningful accountability—a direct violation of his own promises.  What good, then, can come of supporting Sisi to keep himself in power indefinitely? What harm might it cause? Can the United States remain neutral? As a former policymaker, I know firsthand that U.S. officials often face difficult decisions when trying to balance national security interests with human rights. But our history in the Middle East has shown that we often get these decisions catastrophically wrong.

Pompeo Says Egypt’s Purchase of Russian Su-35s Will Lead to Sanctions – Report - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while addressing the US Senate, reportedly said that Cairo would face sanctions if it buys Russian Su-35 jets. He also reportedly added that Egypt had assured the US it would take into account the possibility of US sanctions and expressed hope it could withdraw from the deal. "We have made clear that systems were to be purchased that… would require sanctions on the regime," Pompeo told the Senate Committee on Appropriations. "We have received assurances from them, they understand that, and I am very hopeful they will decide not to move forward with that acquisition." Earlier in the day, ahead of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi's upcoming visit to Washington, DC, a senior Trump administration official said the United States encourages Egypt to turn toward the West and away from Russia. "In terms of the expanding Russian influence in the region, that's obviously something which we are quite concerned. We don't see a lot of material benefits to engagements with the Russians", the official said on Monday. "We just would encourage the Egyptians to turn more toward the West, toward the United States". The official urged Egypt and other countries that wish to maintain a military relationship with the United States to refrain from buying Russian weapons as they risk being sanctioned under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). In mid-March Russia and Egypt reportedly signed a $2 billion dollar contract for the purchase of more than 20 Russian Su-35 multi-role air-defense fighters and air-launched weapons. 

US Takes Illegal, Dangerous Actions Toward Regime Change in Venezuela -- The United States is taking illegal and dangerous actions to execute regime change in Venezuela. In January, Juan Guaidó declared himself “interim president,” in a strategy orchestrated by the United States to seize power from President Nicolás Maduro. In March, Guaidó announced that “Operation Freedom,” an organization established to overthrow the Maduro government, would take certain “tactical actions” beginning on April 6. Part of the plan anticipates that the Venezuelan military will turn against Maduro. This strategy is detailed in a 75-page regime change manual prepared by the U.S. Global Development Lab, a branch of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The manual advocates the creation of rapid expeditionary development teams to partner with the CIA and U.S. Special Forces to conduct “a mix of offensive, defensive, and stability operations [in] in extremis conditions.” Some of these actions will, in all likelihood, involve combat operations. A USAID official said, “Anybody who doesn’t think we need to be working in combat elements or working with SF [special forces] groups is just naïve.”The manual was written by members of Frontier Design Group (FDG), a national security contractor whose “work has focused on the wicked and sometimes overlapping problem sets of fragility, violent extremism, terrorism, civil war, and insurgency,” according to its mission statement. FDG was the “sole contractor” that USAID hired to write a “new counterinsurgency doctrine for the Trump administration,” Tim Shorrock wrote at Washington Babylon. Guaidó is funded by USAID’s sister organization, the National Endowment for Democracy, which is notorious for meddling in other countries and putting a good face on the CIA’s dirty business, as the late journalist William Blum explained. Writing in Salon, Medea Benjamin and Nicolás J. S. Davies cited Blum’s statement that the United States generally opts for “low-intensity conflict” over full-scale wars. They noted that “’low-intensity conflict’ involves four tools of regime change: sanctions or economic warfare; propaganda or ‘information warfare’; covert and proxy war; and aerial bombardment. In Venezuela,” they added, “the U.S. has used the first and second, with the third and fourth now ‘on the table’ since the first two have created chaos but so far not toppled the government.”Indeed, a combination of punishing sanctions imposed by the United States and blackouts exploited if not engineered by the U.S. have been unsuccessful in removing Maduro and installing Guaidó.

U.S. Military Wary of China’s Foothold in Venezuela = As U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security team mulls a military intervention to oust Venezuela’s strongman president, Nicolás Maduro, the Pentagon is watching China’s commercial and financial creep in the crisis-gripped nation with growing alarm.In an interview with Foreign Policy, Adm. Craig Faller, the four-star military officer who heads U.S. Southern Command, pointed to a Chinese disinformation campaign designed to blame the United States for the blackouts that devastated Venezuela in recent weeks.Maduro, whose government is backed by China, Russia, and Cuba, has himself publicly accused the U.S. Defense Department of causing the blackouts. Following the power failures, Beijing offered to help the Venezuelan government restore its grid.“China came out publicly, a state spokesman, implying the blackouts were attributable to U.S. cyberattacks,” Faller said during a recent trip to Washington, D.C. “That is just such a blatant lie. The blackouts are attributed to Maduro’s inept leadership, corruption, inattention to his people, and lack of concern for any humanity.” The Pentagon is worried about China in other arenas as well. In the Pacific, China is building up its military capability, intimidating its smaller neighbors, and threatening Taiwan. In Africa, Beijing is using debt diplomacy to gain control of crucial ports and other infrastructure. And in Europe, the Trump administration is pushing NATO to address potential Chinese cyberthreats and commercial threats.

Intel Officials Fear China Will Target Globe's Underwater Internet Cables - A new op-ed in Bloomberg Quint has noted what the United States should really be worried about regarding Beijing's intentions after a year of tense China-US Navy encounters in the South China Sea. This potential threat, which is "far harder to discern," involves the world's some 380 underwater cables carrying more than 95% of all data and voice traffic between the continents. Could China be stealthily hacking them? It is certainly now in a better position to do so.   The piece details how the Chinese conglomerate Huawei Technologies already at the center of a broader US-China dispute over theft of trade secrets and unlawful dealings with sanctioned regimes like Iran now has contracts to construct or improve nearly 100 submarine cables globally.   In what sounds like a quick pivot away from now deflated 'Russiagate' (which seemed to also involve bi-monthly articles suggesting Putin was ever ready to cut the world's submerged internet cables), western intelligence officials are now sounding the alarm over Beijing's increased access and influence over such key global communications infrastructure.  The report summarizes the view of "Western intelligence professionals" in the following: Just as the experts are justifiably concerned about the inclusion of espionage “back doors" in Huawei’s 5G technology, Western intelligence professionals oppose the company’s engagement in the undersea version, which provides a much bigger bang for the buck because so much data rides on so few cables.The report notes further that last year Huawei Marine Networks in a joint project with China Unicorn, a state-controlled telecom operator, successfully laid a cable running nearly 4,000 miles from Brazil to Cameroon, and there's plans for greater involvement in global internet traffic cables which would necessitate cooperating and in some case competing with US internet giants such as Google and Facebook, who lease or buy vast cable networks from companies that constructed them, whether private or state-owned.The WSJ observed last month, "Chinese company Huawei is embedding itself into cable systems that ferry nearly all of the world’s internet data." 

US to WTO: China Isn't a Developing Country --There's an interesting fight going on at the WTO on the classification of developing countries as, well, developing countries. The Trump administration--never a fan of multilateral organizations like the WTO to begin with--wants fewer countries to be classified as such. At present, about two-third of WTO member countries have this status, and together with it, special and differential treatment (SD&T). SD&T allows preferences for developing countries that developed countries do not have such as a longer time frame for meeting WTO commitments or subsidizing their agricultural industries. From America's point of view [or is that Trump's?], this abuse has gone on for far too long. On the other hand, China wants to keep this designation despite becoming the world's second-largest economy. From the South China Morning PostChina will refuse to give up the “special and differential treatment” it enjoys as a developing nation at the World Trade Organisation, in a rebuke to a US proposal that would pare back the privileges China and other nations enjoy on trade. China is categorised as a developing country at the Geneva-based institution, which affords it “special and differential treatment”. This enables China to provide subsidies in agriculture and set higher barriers to market entry than more developed economies. The dispute reflects a fundamental divide within the WTO that has threatened the future of the global multilateral trading system. The United States has long complained that too many WTO members – about two-thirds – define themselves as developing countries to take advantage of the terms the status permits them to trade under. Allowing WTO members to classify themselves as developing countries to avail of SD&T is the latest American grievance against the WTO: China, India, South Africa and Venezuela have opposed a US proposal to reform the “special and differential treatment”, published earlier this year. The four have already submitted a paper to the WTO saying that the self-classification of developing member status has been a long-standing practice and best serves the WTO’s objectives.

 China and US reach milestone agreement on road to trade peace - China and the United States have agreed to set up enforcement offices to monitor implementation of trade pledges, making a breakthrough that paves the way for ending their tariff war. The enforcement mechanism and the establishment of the offices have been major hurdles to an accord between the two nations, with China concerned that checks on its policies by US officials would be an infringement of sovereignty. But the agreement will also allow China to monitor US behaviour, a reciprocal concession which analysts said showed determination from both sides to reach a trade deal. US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he had a “productive” phone conversation with Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He on Tuesday night, with another conversation planned for Thursday. “We’ve pretty much agreed on an enforcement mechanism; we’ve agreed that both sides will establish enforcement offices that will deal with the ongoing matters,” Mnuchin told CNBC on Thursday, adding that there were still important issues to be addressed. “We are really focused on the execution of the documents,” he said.Mnuchin said the trade deal ran to more than 150 pages and these were under discussion. There was no time frame for the deal but, he said, they hoped to do it quickly. Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng said senior officials from both sides discussed issues that remained to be tackled in the phone call. “Both sides will maintain close communication and work at full speed to continue the negotiations,” he said on Thursday. China and the US have been embroiled in a tariff war since July 6, but agreed to suspend further tariff rises following a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Donald Trump in December. The two sides have been engaged in a series of negotiations to resolve the dispute since then.

Today's Trade Deal Farce- China Might Accept 'Penalty' For Currency Pact -  We haven't heard much about currency manipulation provisions of the US-China trade pact over the past four weeks, as reports suggested that the talks had stalled after the two sides had come ever so close to a workable agreement. But with the Trump Administration desperate to keep the market rally going after a few days of sputtering returns, the Wall Street Journal has brought us the latest courtesy of a handful of "current and former" officials. The paper's latest 'scoop' is essentially a rehash of what we heard a month ago: That the deal on currency is almost finally done. That both Washington and Beijing have agreed to abide by the G-20's prohibition of currency manipulation, while Beijing has consented to allowing more transparency into  how it manages its FX reserves. This 'revelation' begs the question: If this is just a retread of what we heard a month ago, then why is this a story? But that misses the point. Team Trump wants to keep the market in rally mode, and recent history has shown that nothing pumps the American equity market quite like a well-timed trade-deal scoop. To be sure, Friday's story featured one important new detail, however tenuous: Beijing might concede to an enforcement mechanism that would call for some kind of punishment should either side violate the currency rules.  What form will these measures take? Well, we don't know exactly: All WSJ's sources said is that the agreement might resemble the currency clause in the USMCA trade agreement hashed out last year. But although the details remained murky, WSJ was able to find an expert source who was willing to take a few guesses. A senior Treasury official said the U.S.-China agreement on currency has similarities to the North American Free Trade Agreement revamp that the Trump administration signed last year with Canada and Mexico. The forex deal also has “certain aspects that go beyond” the new, unratified Nafta deal, known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA. Mr. Bertsten said there is a "possibility that the enforcement mechanism may have broader coverage, which would be significant and would represent a further step forward into bringing discipline to the currency-manipulation issue." Mr. Bergsten said the U.S. and China would likely solve currency disputes in similar fashion to strictly trade-related issues, perhaps with sets of consultations among economic or Treasury officials from the two nations, with tariffs and perhaps other sanctions allowed as penalties.

 Trump proposes tariffs on Airbus; EU likely to retaliate against Boeing  -- The European Union is likely to seek stiff tariffs against Boeing and other US exports in retaliation for the Trump Administration’s announcement yesterday it proposes $11bn in tariffs against Airbus and European exports. The Trump tariffs are proposed in connection with a World Trade Organization appeals finding that Airbus failed to cure illegal subsidies for the A380 and A350. Last month, the same WTO appeals process found Boeing and the US failed to cure illegal tax breaks to Boeing. Airbus claims at least $15bn in harm from these in lost sales. Neither the US nor the EU may impose the tariffs in advance of yet another round of WTO proceedings. The disputes already have gone on for 15 years. Taxing wings, fuselages and components The Trump tariff list, here, proposes taxing not only Airbus airplanes and helicopters not used for military and Coast Guard purposes but also components, wings, fuselages and other structures that Airbus imports into the US for its Mobile (AL) A320 final assembly line. The list lumps the United Kingdom in with other EU states, France, Germany and Spain. The UK’s Wales is a major wing producer for Airbus. Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, produces wings for the A220. It’s not clear if these would be included, and the UK’s looming exit from the EU clouds the issue. E the violations occurred during UK’s membership in the EU, would tariffs be levied on its goods and components or not? Airbus immediately responded to the Trump tariff plan by saying the EU will retaliate. Boeing doesn’t assemble airplanes in Europe but it has a major customer base for its 7-Series airplanes. Ryanair is a huge 737 customer, with a major outstanding order for the 737 MAX 200. Lufthansa Airlines is a launch customer for the 777-9; first deliveries are due next year.

EU-U.S. Trade War Escalates Over Disputed Aviation Subsidies - The European Union is preparing retaliatory tariffs against the U.S. over subsidies to Boeing Co., significantly escalating transatlantic trade tensions hours after Washington vowed to hit the EU with duties over its support for Airbus SE. The two sets of punitive measures are the latest twists in a 14-year-old dispute that the U.S. and EU have fought at the World Trade Organization, with each side accusing the other of illegally subsidizing their main aircraft makers. President Donald Trump’s administration on Monday said it would impose tariffs on $11 billion in imports from the EU because of the European aid. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said that EU support for Airbus had caused “adverse effects” when announcing the new measures, which would target European goods including jetliners, cheese, wine and motorcycles. The EU called the sum cited by the USTR “greatly exaggerated” and said preparations were underway to hit back. While the EU hasn’t disclosed the amount of American goods it would target, Airbus said the bloc would proceed with “far larger countermeasures against the U.S.” The heightened tensions come as the 28-nation EU works toward approving a mandate for the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, to negotiate cuts in industrial tariffs with the Trump administration. The new tensions may complicate those efforts, which are part of European attempts to ward off American threats of separate duties on foreign autos and car parts. European officials underscored the option of reaching a negotiated solution with the U.S. that would avoid an escalation with tit-for-tat tariffs. “Whether the tariffs will enter into force will also depend on whether there will be an agreement between the EU and the U.S. about the treatment of subsidies for the aviation industry,” a German Economy Ministry spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. “The EU is open to the U.S. offer for dialogue in order to reach a fair solution.” The threatened American tariffs, which come after the WTO ruled in May that Airbus had received illegal funding for its A380 and A350 models, costing Boeing sales, would be implemented only after the WTO gave the final go-ahead this summer, the administration said, marking a rare show of faith in an institution that Trump himself has assailed. Airbus said in a statement that the U.S. tariff threat was “totally unjustified” and that it had taken “all necessary measures” to comply with the WTO ruling regarding illegal aid.

 EU Readys List Of $12BN In Retaliatory Tariffs On US Ketchup, Orange Juice, Tobacco --  Europe is reportedly preparing a list of US imports worth some €20 billion ($22.6 billion) that will be subject to retaliatory tariffs in what appears to be the latest development in an incipient trade spat that helped crash the S&P 500's eight-day winning streak earlier this week.As the two sides inch closer to an all-out trade war, here's more from Reuters:The European Commission has drawn up a list of U.S. imports worth around 20 billion euros ($22.6 billion) that it could hit with tariffs over a transatlantic aircraft subsidy dispute, EU diplomats said.U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday threatened to impose U.S. tariffs on $11 billion worth of European Union products over what Washington sees as unfair subsidies given to European planemaker Airbus.The EU measures would relate to the European Union’s World Trade Organization complaint over subsidies to Boeing.A WTO adjudicator still has to set a final amount of potential countermeasures.Offering a slightly different version of the facts, Bloomberg reported that the EU is considering retaliatory tariffs on €10.2 billion euros ($11.5 billion) of goods ranging from foods to helicopters. The list reportedly includes frozen seafood, vegetable oil, chocolate, rum, ketchup, orange juice, vodka, tobacco, trunks and many other items. The WTO ruled last week that the European Union had unfairly subsidized French aerospace company and Boeing archrival Airbus, prompting President Trump to chime in and threaten tariffs on $11 billion of goods, though the WTO has not yet ruled on the proper retaliatory measures to which the US would be entitled.

Trump Is Destroying the Farmers Who Voted for Him - Have you noticed how often Donald Trump prefaces his comments and tweets with phrases like “frankly,” “to tell the truth,” and “believe me”?  More than a verbal tic, these qualifiers subliminally admit that being frank, truthful, and believable are not normal for him. So, like a carnival flimflammer selling snake oil, he strains to convince us rubes that he’s not flimflamming. Among those who’re learning about the “truthy-ness” of The Donald are farmers who voted for him, having bought his campaign promise to restore farm prosperity. Once in office, though, he quickly sold them out, throwing a hissy-fit of a trade war with China that ended up slapping U.S. farmers by lowering the already low prices they get for their crops. Instead of prosperity, the average farm profit last year was minus $1,500! Trying to smooth over this betrayal of the heartland, Trump tweeted out a message to ag producers in December meant to warm their hearts: “Farmers I LOVE YOU!” he professed. Actions speak louder than words, of course, so on March 11 Trump took actions to express his true love for farmers: He whacked $3.6 billion from the safety-net programs that offer a measure of relief to hard-hit producers when crop prices crash. Revealing his plutocratic core, his cuts specifically targeted programs that benefit small farmers — a deliberate manipulation meant to drive more families off the land and increase corporate monopolization of agriculture. Not satisfied with intentionally injuring family farmers, Trump added insult by calling the dab of support they get from the government “overly generous.” This from a real estate flimflammer who continues to rake in millions of dollars in government cash and special tax breaks.

White House Tightens Rules On Recruiting Cuban Baseball Talent -  As the Trump administration cracks down on supporters of Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro, it is reportedly planning a new waiver system that could seriously restrict Cuba's most important (and probably only) export to the US.Top baseball talent. Initially reported by WSJ and later confirmed by the White House, the Trump administration has informed MLB that it could impose a waiver system making it tougher for Cuban baseball players to play professional baseball in the US, citing "the dangers of doing business with Havana.""Major League Baseball has been informed of the dangers of dealing with Cuba," a senior administration official said, adding that more details would be released on Monday.In a sign of things to come, National Security Advisor John Bolton tweeted on Sunday that "America’s national pastime should not enable the Cuban regime‘s support for Maduro in Venezuela."Cuba wants to use baseball players as economic pawns – selling their rights to Major League Baseball. America’s national pastime should not enable the Cuban regime‘s support for Maduro in Venezuela.— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) April 7, 2019 The crackdown follows an agreement struck between MLB and the Cuban government in December that allowed for the creation of a "safe, legal path" for Cuban players to travel to the US with their families and return to Cuba in the offseason.

Trump administration nearly doubles H-2B guest visa program, which brings many Mexican workers - As President Donald Trump threatened to shut down the U.S.-Mexico border in recent days, his Department of Homeland Security nearly doubled the number of temporary guest worker visas available this summer. DHS and the Labor Department plan to grant an additional 30,000 H-2B visas this summer on top of the 33,000 H-2B visas they had planned to give out, the agencies confirmed. The H-2B visa is for foreign workers to come to the United States and work for several months at a company such as a landscaper, amusement park or hotel. About 80 percent of these visas went to people from Mexico and Central America last year, government data show. Trump says there is a national emergency at the southern border because too many people are trying to come to the United States. On Friday, he implored migrants to turn around and go home. "We can't take you anymore," Trump said Friday while standing at the border in California. "Our country is full." But his administration is giving a different message to some short-term workers.With the additional visas, the Trump administration is on track to grant 96,000 H-2B visas this fiscal year, the most since 2007, when George W. Bush was president. "It's ironic that Trump is demagoguing and railing against a so-called dangerous and scary flood of migrants and caravans from Mexico and Central America, and even threatening to shut down the border, while at the same time using his legal authority to grow a guest worker program by nearly 50 percent,"

Kirstjen Nielsen resigns as Trump homeland security secretary  - Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary who has been the public face of some of the Trump administration’s most contentious policies, has resigned In a tweet on Sunday, Donald Trump said: “Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen will be leaving her position, and I would like to thank her for her service.“I am pleased to announce that Kevin McAleenan, the current US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner, will become Acting Secretary. I have confidence that Kevin will do a great job!”Nielsen’s position had been rocky for some time. In November, leaks from the White House suggested she would be out by the end of the year as Trump fulminated against what he complained was her weak performance.The previous May, the New York Times reported that Trump had humiliated her in front of the entire cabinet, castigating her for failing to reduce the numbers of undocumented migrants entering the US from Mexico. The newspaper said she considered quitting then.But in the end she managed to hang on for a little more than a year, having taken up the job in December 2017 on the recommendation of her predecessor, Gen John Kelly, who became Trump’s second chief of staff. He left the administration three months ago.

US Homeland Security chief forced out as anti-immigrant crackdown looms --Donald Trump’s announcement last night that Kirstjen Nielsen will resign as Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary is part of a major reshuffling of the leadership of the US government’s mass deportation apparatus. Trump and his fascist advisor Stephen Miller, with the support of the tens of thousands of police and agents who comprise the American anti-immigrant Gestapo, are preparing for a major escalation of the administration’s attack on immigrant workers.The maneuvers come in the wake of the collapse of the Democratic Party-led investigation by Robert Mueller into baseless allegations of Russian meddling in the US election. Strengthened by the investigation’s hollow findings, Trump has launched a renewed attack on immigrants in an effort to build-up his far-right base of support.The fact that Trump considered Nielsen insufficiently tough on immigration is a dangerous indication of the administration’s plans for further mass round-ups and attacks on democratic rights.As DHS Secretary, Nielsen oversaw the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, whereby thousands of immigrant children were separated from their parents, many permanently. Nielsen told the Senate at the time that the policy was justified because the children’s “parents chose to do that.”Nielsen was also in charge of the administration’s violent police riot at the border between San Ysidro, California and Tijuana in November 2018, when US officials fired teargas and rubber bullets at immigrant families seeking asylum in the US. At the time, Nielsen said that the military and border patrol “have the ability of force to defend themselves” from the unarmed refugees and that “every possible action…is on the table.” In a similar move three days ago, Trump withdrew his nomination of Ron Vitiello as head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “Ron’s a good man, but we’re going in a tougher direction,” Trump announced on Friday. Vitiello, who was an ardent supporter of Trump’s proposal to build a wall across the US-Mexico border and called the Democrats a “liberalcratic party or NeoKlanist Party” in a 2015 Twitter post, was also deemed too “liberal” to prepare the coming anti-immigrant crackdown.

Shake-up at Homeland Security speeds beyond Nielsen's exit (AP) — President Donald Trump and White House allies pressing for a harder line on immigration sped up their campaign Monday to clean house at the Department of Homeland Security with a mission far wider than just the departure of Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.The dismantling of the government’s immigration leadership is being orchestrated by Trump adviser Stephen Miller, the impetus behind some of the administration’s most controversial policies, according to three people familiar with the matter. Beyond changing names and faces, Trump is considering separating migrant families at the border again, resuming the practice that drew so much fury and outrage last year, the same people said. The head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, L. Francis Cissna, and Homeland Security General Counsel John M. Mitnick are expected to be pushed out of their positions, the officials said. Nielsen submitted her resignation Sunday after meeting with Trump at the White House, and three days earlier the administration withdrew the nomination of Ron Vitiello to lead Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. Other longtime civil servants in agency posts are also on the chopping block, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

With Nielsen Out, Stephen Miller Is Poised to Remake D.H.S. in His Image - The brusque resignation of Kirstjen Nielsen on Sunday followed months of tension between the Department of Homeland Security chief and President Donald Trump,who had pushed her to take more aggressive (and possibly illegal) steps to close the U.S.-Mexico border to immigrants and asylum-seekers. “Our Country is FULL,” he wrote on Twitter, shortly after announcing her resignation. The move appeared to elevate White House adviser Stephen Miller, an immigration hard-liner who has waged a covert war of influence throughout the Trump administration to weed out officials he believes are too soft on immigration.  While it’s not clear what role Miller had in Nielsen’s ouster, the top adviser has reportedly been gunning for her for months. “He’s actively trying to put in place people who have very different points of view than the current leadership within the agencies,” a former D.H.S. official told Politico on Sunday, characterizing Miller’s master plan. “His idea is basically [to] clean house.” With Nielsen out, the power void will almost certainly be filled, in part, by Miller. The writing was on the wall two days earlier, when Miller reportedly convinced Trump to scrap the nomination of acting director of ICE Ronald Vitiello, who had Nielsen’s support, and instead go in a “tougher direction.” Neither Vitiello nor Nielsen favored closing the southern border, as Trump has threatened to do in recent weeks, driving a wedge between them—and bringing Miller and Trump closer. According to The New York Times, the president and his adviser privately complained about Nielsen, who Trump also faulted for a rise in border crossings.  Nielsen was protected, in part, by former D.H.S. chief John Kelly, her mentor at the department before he headed to the White House. But when Kelly was ousted as chief of staff, Nielsen was left exposed—and surrounded by critics who wanted her gone. Trump, meanwhile, grew increasingly frustrated with the situation at the border and Nielsen’s reluctance to take more extreme measures to limit immigration. According to the Times, Trump frequently pushed her to take sometimes illegal action, including “blocking all migrants from seeking asylum.” When she refused, citing legal limitations, he apparently grew angry—as he did when she was slow, in his view, to sign off on a controversial plan to separate apprehended families at the southern border.  Nielsen, of course, did eventually defend that cruel policy. Though Trump, Miller, and others have reportedly cast her as weak, Nielsen was an ardent proponent of the president’s hard-line immigration policies. Yet even that wasn’t enough to please Miller. “She’s done everything she can do,” a source close to D.H.S. told Axios. “The White House is eating their own.”

Ilhan Omar Is Right: Stephen Miller Is a White Nationalist - Stephen Miller is personally responsible for the most xenophobic policies of the most xenophobic presidency in modern American history. The senior White House adviser authored the travel ban that denied a wide variety of American Muslims the right to be visited by their overseas relatives. He implored the president to adopt a policy of family separation at the southern border, arguing that Central American families would be less likely to seek asylum in the United States if the U.S. government gained a reputation for subjecting their children to psychological torment. The public hated this policy, and the judiciary struck it down. Meanwhile, the Trump administration proved itself incapable of competently administering the program: the U.S. government ended up losing track of thousands of migrant children and allowing others to be legally adopted by U.S. citizens without their birth parents’ consent. And yet Stephen Miller believes that the family separation policy was a success. In his view, having the U.S. government permanently break up a few hundred Central American families is an acceptable price to pay for discouraging such people from exercising their legal right to seek asylum in the United States. Therefore, Miller is advising the president to adopt “a modified version of the family separation policy known as ‘binary choice.’” As the New York Times explains: Under a binary choice policy, which is highly controversial, migrant parents would be given a choice of whether to voluntarily allow their children to be separated from them, or to waive their child’s humanitarian protections so the family can be detained together, indefinitely, in jail-like conditions.  Reasonable people can disagree about whether or not it is worth maintaining a semantic distinction between individuals who openly identify as white nationalists and those whose words and deeds betray an ideological commitment to maintaining the United States as a majority-white nation. But it is impossible to understand the Trump administration’s immigration policies without stipulating that it subscribes to a “soft-core” or reformist version of white nationalism.

 Acting ICE director resigns after Trump pulls nomination - The acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Ron Vitiello, has resigned amid an agencywide restructuring of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Vitiello had originally been nominated to take over the post permanently, but his nomination was abruptly pulled last week by President Trump, who said he wanted to go in a "tougher" direction. Outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced the news of Vitiello's departure on Wednesday, praising his "knowledge and expertise as a seasoned law enforcement professional." Nielsen said in a statement that Vitiello "has left a legacy of excellence as our Department has expanded and refined our efforts to curb illegal immigration and secure our borders." Vitiello's last day at ICE will be Friday. Nielsen, whose own departure from the helm of DHS was announced over the weekend, is leaving Wednesday. The moves come amid a White House shake-up affecting virtually all senior leadership at DHS that has seen the exit this week of Nielsen, Vitiello, Secret Service Director Randolph "Tex" Alles and acting Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Claire Grady. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Lee Francis Cissna, USCIS policy and strategy head Kathy Nuebel Kovarik and General Counsel John Mitnick are also reportedly due to resign. A number of lawmakers from both parties have pushed back on plans to oust senior officials, while even some Trump allies on immigration have expressed concerns that the shake-up may be going too far.

'Catastrophic' Delays at U.S.-Mexico Border Follow Redeployment of deployment of Agents - President Trump may have relented Thursday on his threat to close the southwest border of the United States in punishment for what he has said was Mexico’s failure to control illegal migration. But for a week now the border has, in effect, been partly closed because of American staffing shortages — costing businesses millions of dollars a day, according to industry officials, and causing painfully long delays for people and goods trying to legally cross the border. Last week, the Trump administration announced it was pulling 750 border agents from their normal assignments at specific ports of entry on the border, and reassigning them to help process the surge in migrants who have been crossing the border illegally and seeking asylum. The redeployments have caused slowdowns in inspections — for passenger and commercial traffic — at key crossings along the border, including between Ciudad Juárez and El Paso; Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego; Nogales, Mexico, and Nogales, Ariz.; and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and Laredo, Tex. The delays, which began on March 29, have been particularly severe for trucks delivering commercial goods from Mexico to the United States, with long waits fouling up production and delivery schedules on both sides of the border. According to the United States Chamber of Commerce, nearly $1.7 billion in goods and services flow across the border every day. Mexican trucking industry officials and other business leaders have reported millions of dollars a day in lost commerce and extra costs associated with the delays. Some companies in Mexico have been forced to slow or halt production as a result of the delivery delays, they said. Some firms have even resorted to shipping their products by air despite the significantly higher costs, Manuel Sotelo, a national vice president of the National Chamber of Freight Transportation in Mexico, said Friday.

Delays at U.S.-Mexico border crossing hits autos, trucks still lining up - (Reuters) - Long delays at the U.S.-Mexico border crossing for goods destined for American plants and consumers are hitting the U.S. auto industry, and the gridlock reduced by half the number of northbound trucks that crossed the entry point last week. Washington’s decision to move some 750 agents from commercial to immigration duties to handle a surge in families seeking asylum in the United States has triggered the delays at crucial ports on a border that handle $1.7 billion in daily trade. “The situation in Ciudad Juarez is very serious because these auto parts go to plants in the United States and obviously they put at risk the operation in the United States,” Eduardo Solis, the president of the Mexican Auto Industry Association (AMIA), said on Monday. The North American auto industry is highly integrated and many car parts cross the border several times before they are finally installed on a vehicle. Seventeen 17 hours before the crossing to El Paso even opened on Monday morning, trucks were already lining up in Ciudad Juarez to avoid the fate of some 7,500 trailers that failed to cross last week, said Manuel Sotelo, vice president at the Mexican National Chamber of Freight Transport’s north division. That is roughly half the number of trucks per week that usually cross there, carrying everything from car and plane parts to refrigerators, washing machines, TVs, cellphones and computers. “This is not normal. We had never seen this before in Ciudad Juarez,” said Sotelo. Despite elevated costs, some Mexican exporters are turning to air freight to avoid the mile-long lines at the border. “We’re using charter (planes) which cost between $35,000 and $100,000 depending on the volume and merchandise,” said Pedro Chavira, who heads the manufacturing industry chamber INDEX in Ciudad Juarez.

U.S. government says it could take two years to identify families separated at border (Reuters) - It could take the U.S. government up to two years to identify potentially thousands of additional children separated from their parents by the authorities at the southern border, the government said in a court filing. The filing late on Friday outlined for the first time the Trump administration’s plan for identifying which family members might have been separated by assessing thousands of records using a combination of data analysis, statistical science, and manual review. Last month, a federal judge in San Diego expanded the number of migrant families that the government may be required to reunite as part of a class-action lawsuit brought last year by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The Office of Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said earlier this year that the agency had identified many more children in addition to the 2,737 initially included in the suit. U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw had already ordered that those children be reunited with their parents. “Defendants estimate that identifying all possible children ... would take at least 12 months, and possibly up to 24 months,” the government wrote in Friday’s filing. It added that the time frame would be affected by the efficacy of its predictive statistical model, the manpower it can dedicate to the manual review, and any follow-up meetings required. In a statement on Saturday, the ACLU’s lead attorney for the case, Lee Gelernt, said the group strongly opposed the government’s proposed plan and accused it of not treating the separations with the necessary urgency. “The government was able to quickly gather resources to tear these children away from their families and now they need to gather the resources to fix the damage,” Gelernt said. President Donald Trump’s administration implemented a “zero tolerance” policy to criminally prosecute and jail all illegal border crossers, even those traveling with their children, leading to a wave of separations last year. The policy sparked outrage when it became public, and the backlash led Trump to sign an executive order reversing course on June 20, 2018.

GOP fears Trump return to family separations - President Trump will be picking a new fight with Senate Republicans if he decides to renew his past policy of separating families detained at the border as a way of stopping the wave of immigrants. Trump is expected to select a hard-liner to replace Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who was ousted on Sunday — reportedly after she resisted returning to the policies that led to children being taken from their parents at the border. The family separations created deep unrest among congressional Republicans ahead of the midterm elections, and Senate GOP sources warn that if Trump taps a hard-liner to replace Nielsen, it could lead to a brutal confirmation battle. Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), a member of the Republican leadership team, said “one thing we all agree on now is families ought to be kept together as much as possible.” He said the outcome of a Senate confirmation process to replace Nielsen would depend on whom Trump nominates. “Depends on who it is but it’s going to take some oxygen,” Cornyn said when asked whether GOP leaders would be able to coalesce 50 votes around any nominee. Trump may also have a battle on his hands with Republicans over the confirmation of Herman Cain to the Federal Reserve. Cain was accused of sexual misconduct while he served as a board member and president of the National Restaurant Association. His confirmation battle could reopen a conversation for Republicans about sexual harassment months after the nasty battle over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

Judge halts Trump policy requiring asylum seekers stay in Mexico - A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction Monday to stop the Trump administration’s policy of having some asylum seekers wait in Mexico while their case is under consideration. District Judge Richard Seeborg wrote in his ruling that while it’s unclear how much risk asylum seekers are facing under the policy, “there is no real question that it includes the possibility of irreparable injury.” The ruling will go into effect on Friday. Outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced late last year that the U.S. would force some asylum seekers to be sent to Mexico to wait out the duration of their immigration hearings. The administration recently announced that it would begin to expand the policy, informally known as the "Remain in Mexico" program. The ruling is the latest blow to the Trump administration’s immigration policies. Another federal judge on Friday had ruled against the administration’s policies on detaining asylum seekers while they awaited their appearances before an immigration judge, ordering that the asylum seekers be granted an immigration hearing within seven days of their request or be released. And Trump is currently facing several legal challenges over his attempts to build a wall on the southern border after he declared a national emergency to divert federal funds for the wall’s construction. Monday’s injunction was issued as part of a lawsuit filed on behalf of asylum seekers who claim the policy puts them in danger. “Remain in Mexico leaves individuals and families fleeing persecution stranded on the other side of the border, when what they need and deserve under our laws is protection in America,”

Trump officials discussed using troops to run migrant detention camps --With Trump pledging to send more US troops to the Mexican border, reports have emerged that top national security officials discussed using active duty soldiers to build and run new migrant detention camps. NBC News reported Friday that the illegal and unconstitutional proposal was discussed at a White House meeting of top national security officials Tuesday night. These discussions are part of a sharp intensification of the pogromist assault on immigrants that Trump has made the centerpiece of his domestic policy.NBC cited two unnamed Pentagon officials and one from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) who were “familiar with the conversations.” Potential projects include using troops to conduct land assessments before the construction of new tent cities in El Paso and Donna, Texas and a new central processing center for migrants in El Paso. The latter is to be similar to one currently operating in McAllen, Texas, where children were held in cages last summer while the administration’s family separation policy was in effect. One of the officials said recent meetings have discussed whether using active duty troops to run a detention camp would violate the Posse Comitatus Act, which bars the military from engaging in law enforcement activities within the borders of the United States. Citing one of its sources, NBC added that the idea of military-built and run migrant prisons has “trickled down into planning meetings this week at DHS.”The Defense Department issued a statement saying it could be involved in construction of new detention facilities.Trump is escalating his fascistic persecution of immigrants and pressing for openly illegal policies to create a system of internment centers recalling the camps that imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans during World War II. He is increasingly asserting authoritarian powers and rejecting any congressional control.On Wednesday, during a visit to San Antonio, Texas, Trump said, “I’m going to have to call up more military. Our military, don’t forget, can’t act like a military would act. Because if they got a little rough, everybody would go crazy… They have all these horrible laws that the Democrats won’t change.” What Trump means by getting “a little rough” is indicated by what he told Fox News’ Sean Hannity last month—that ordering troops to turn machine guns on the men, women and children seeking asylum would be “a very effective way of doing it.”

 Trump threatens to send undocumented immigrants to sanctuary cities President Donald Trump on Friday said that his administration is "strongly looking at" releasing detained undocumented immigrants into so-called sanctuary cities — contradicting a previous statement from the White House that the policy was no longer being considered. "Due to the fact that Democrats are unwilling to change our very dangerous immigration laws, we are indeed, as reported, giving strong considerations to placing Illegal Immigrants in Sanctuary Cities only," Trump wrote in a series of tweets. "The Radical Left always seems to have an Open Borders, Open Arms policy – so this should make them very happy!" ..The Washington Post reported Thursday that Trump administration officials proposed last November and again in February transporting undocumented immigrants to cities that shield undocumented immigrants from deportation, including to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s district in San Francisco, to retaliate against the president's political opponents. The White House and Department of Homeland Security denied via statements to the Post that the proposal was still under consideration. But Trump revived the idea later Friday, blaming a court settlement known as the Flores agreement that bars the U.S. for detaining migrant children for more than 20 days. Framing his proposal as calling the bluff of leaders in sanctuary cities, he posed the idea as a potential motivating factor to get Democrats to strike a deal on immigration reform. “We might as well do what they always say they want,” he said at the White House. “We will bring the illegal — I call them the illegals, they came across the border illegally — we will bring them to sanctuary city areas and let that particular area take care of it, whether it is a state or whatever it might be.”

CNN- Obama Separated Migrant Children 'For Their Protection' -  According to CNN National Security Analyst Samantha Vinograd, former President Obama separated migrant children from their families and stuck them in metal cages "for their protection," during a panel discussion criticizing President Trump's border policies.  After playing a clip in which President Trump points out that the child separation policy began under Obama, CNN's Wolf Blitzer said: "The President, in the Oval Office with the Egyptian President, he denied CNN’s reporting and other reporting that he is thinking of reinstating zero-tolerance family separation policy. He repeated this accusation against President Obama. […] [Trump] stopped it after he authorized the zero-tolerance policy." Vinograd chimed in: "President Obama, when he separated children from their families, Wolf,  it was for their protection. It was as if there was a risk of trafficking or other kind of harm that might have been incurred. But even if he did do that, why is Donald Trump saying that two wrongs make a right? Again, Obama wasn’t right, but he’s saying that because something is happening under President Obama, he’s repeating it and upping the ante. That’s an incredibly poor excuse. He’s systemized that inhumane treatment that, again, Obama was doing to protect children."

ACLU Warns Immigrants And People Of Color Against Traveling To Florida - The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued a travel warning discouraging immigrants and people of color from traveling to Florida. On Monday, the group issued the warning via Twitter,“BREAKING: We and partners have issued a travel advisory urging immigrants and people of color to use extreme caution when traveling in Florida. The state is on the verge of passing a draconian anti-immigrant bill which will endanger our communities.”The group advised citizens and non-citizens of heightened threats of “racial profiling, unjust detention, and deportation.”BREAKING: We and partners have issued a travel advisory urging immigrants and people of color to use extreme caution when traveling in Florida.The state is on the verge of passing a draconian anti-immigrant bill which will endanger our communities.— ACLU (@ACLU) April 8, 2019The travel advisory was issued in response to the passage of Florida Senate Bill 168 and House Bill 527, according to an ACLU press release. Moreover, the group criticized the bills for allegedly exposing illegal immigrants to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and preventing sanctuary city policies.“These bills prohibit all localities in the state from adopting policies or procedures that limit entanglement with federal immigration enforcement,” said the group.

Trump’s Most Worrisome Legacy - Joseph E. Stiglitz - Kirstjen Nielsen’s forced resignation as US Secretary of Homeland Security is no reason to celebrate, as President Donald Trump wants to replace her with someone who will carry out his anti-immigrant policies even more ruthlessly.  Trump’s immigration policies are appalling in almost every aspect. And yet they may not be the worst feature of his administration. Indeed, identifying its foulest aspects has become a popular American parlor game. Yes, he has called immigrants criminals, rapists, and animals. But what about his deep misogyny or his boundless vulgarity and cruelty? Or his winking support of white supremacists? Or his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty? And, of course, there is his war on the environment, on health care, and on the rules-based international system. This morbid game never ends, of course, because new contenders for the title emerge almost daily. Trump is a disrupting personality, and after he’s gone, we may well reflect on how such a deranged and morally challenged person could have been elected president of the world’s most powerful country in the first place.But what concerns me most is Trump’s disruption of the institutions that are necessary for the functioning of society. Trump’s “MAGA” (Make America Great Again) agenda is, of course, not about restoring the moral leadership of the United States. It embodies and celebrates unbridled selfishness and self-absorption. MAGA is about economics. The attack by Trump and his administration on every one of the pillars of American society – and his especially aggressive vilification of the country’s truth-seeking institutions – jeopardizes its continued prosperity and very ability to function as a democracy. Nor do there appear to be checks on corporate giants’ efforts to capture the institutions – the courts, legislatures, regulatory agencies, and major media outlets – that are supposed to prevent them from exploiting workers and consumers. A dystopia previously imagined only by science fiction writers is emerging before our eyes. It should give us chills to think of who “wins” in this world, and who or what we might become, just in the struggle to survive.

Obama, Pelosi push Democrats further to the right - In back-to-back interventions this week, the current and former top Democrats in Washington called for the party to move even further to the right. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former President Barack Obama were singing from the same hymn book, disparaging rhetorical calls for “Medicare for all” and other reform policies in favor of a conservative, pro-business approach.Pelosi led the way in an interview with the Washington Post, in which she dismissed the “Medicare for all” proposal pushed by a number of candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination as well as members of her own caucus in the House of Representatives. Accepting the $32 trillion price tag placed on the proposal by a right-wing think tank, Pelsoi said that both the cost and the potential benefits of the plan remained to be explained. “I’m agnostic,” she told the Post. “Show me how you think you can get there.”The House speaker said she preferred a plan based on the Affordable Care Act—the reactionary program enacted under the Obama administration in 2010, which aims to cut spending on health care while safeguarding the profits of the drug and health insurance companies—to any new system. “When most people say they’re for Medicare for all, I think they mean health care for all,” Pelosi said. “Let’s see what that means. A lot of people love having their employer-based insurance and the Affordable Care Act gave them better benefits.” Pelosi rejected the notion that the Democratic Party had moved to the left since the Obama presidency, claiming that it was “just a few people” with high profiles and some of the “presidentials.” This was clearly a reference to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Bernie Sanders, both self-proclaimed “democratic socialists.” Former President Obama sounded the same theme in remarks Saturday to a town hall organized by the Obama Foundation in Berlin, where he discussed the rise of the ultra-right in Europe and internationally and warned against any shift to the left in response to it. He denounced “left” critics of the Democratic Party leadership for undermining party unity.“One of the things I do worry about sometimes among progressives in the United States…is a certain kind of rigidity, where we say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, this is how it’s going to be,’” he said. “And then we start sometimes creating what’s called a ‘circular firing squad’ where you start shooting at your allies because one of them is straying from purity on the issues.”

Medicare for All Critics Are Telling Lies -- Nancy Pelosi said this about Medicare for All the other day: “When most people say they’re for Medicare-for-all, I think they mean health care for all. Let’s see what that means. A lot of people love having their employer-based insurance and the Affordable Care Act gave them better benefits,” said Pelosi, who shepherded the ACA through Congress in 2009 and 2010 in her first speakership. The bolded part is probably the most dishonest argument in the entire Medicare for All debate. It implies that, under our current health insurance system, people who like their employer-based insurance can hold onto it. This then is contrasted with a Medicare for All transition where people will lose their employer-based insurance as part of being shifted over to an excellent government plan. But the truth is that people who love their employer-based insurance do not get to hold onto it in our current system. Instead, they lose that insurance constantly, all the time, over and over again. It is a complete nightmare. I have illustrated this point previously by showing just how often people switch jobs. The latest JOLTS data shows that, in 2018, 66.1 million workers separated from their job at some point. And longitudinal data from BLS shows that the average worker has 11.9 different jobs by the time they are fifty. This labor turnover data leaves little doubt that people with employer-sponsored insurance are losing that insurance constantly, as are their spouses and kids. A study from the University of Michigan tracked insurance churn directly by surveying Michiganders in 2014 about their health insurance situation and then following up with survey participants twelve months later. The amount of insurance churn they picked up was even higher than I would have imagined. Among those who had employer-sponsored insurance in 2014, only 72 percent were continuously enrolled in that insurance for the next twelve months. This means that 28 percent of people on an employer plan were not on that same plan one year later. You like your employer health plan? You better cross your fingers because one in four people on employer plans will come off their plan in the next twelve months.

McConnell dismisses Medicare for All: Not while GOP controls Senate - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Wednesday that "Medicare for All" will not move in the Senate as long as Republicans control the chamber. "Not as long as I'm majority leader. It ought to be Medicare for none. … You want to turn America into a socialist country this is the first step," McConnell told Fox News's Brett Baier. Pointing to the current debate among the Democratic presidential candidates on the progressive proposal, he added that "full socialism" was "on display" as part the primary. "I think what we're seeing here is full socialism on display in the Democratic primaries for president," McConnell said. McConnell's comments come after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced his revamped "Medicare for All" legislation earlier Wednesday with the support of 14 Senate Democrats including four other presidential hopefuls. The bill would largely eliminate private insurance and institute a single-payer system managed by the government. The bill has no chance of currently becoming law with Republicans in control of the Senate, where it would needs 60 votes along with President Trump's signature. But it's become a top punching bag for Republican lawmakers as an example of Democrats shifting to the left ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

I Felt Americans Needed to Know’: Insurance Industry Whistleblower Gives Glimpse of Effort to Crush Medicare for All  In an effort to inform the public about the corporate forces working to crush Medicare for All, an employee at the insurance giant UnitedHealthcare leaked a video of his boss bragging about the company's campaign to preserve America's for-profit healthcare system. "I felt Americans needed to know exactly who it is that's fighting against the idea that healthcare is a right, not a privilege," the anonymous whistleblower told the Washington Post's Jeff Stein. During an employee town hall in February, Stein reported on Friday, UnitedHealthcare CEO Steve Nelson boasted about how much his company is doing to undermine Medicare for All, which is rapidly gaining support in Congress. "One of the things you said: 'We're really quiet' or 'It seems like we're quiet.' Um, we've done a lot more than you would think," Nelson said. "We are advocating heavily and very involved in the conversation. Part of it is trying to be thoughtful about how we enter in the conversation, because there's a risk of seeming like it's self-serving." According to the Post, which did not publish the video of Nelson's remarks, the executive said his company "opposes Medicare for All because it excludes the private sector, which he said does a better job of delivering healthcare than the government, and said he doubted how a single-payer system could be funded or effectively administered." Nelson's remarks were leaked just days after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a 2020 presidential contender, unveiled his improved Medicare for All bill with the support of 14 Democratic senators and over 60 progressive organizations representing nurses, physicians, and consumer advocates.

 Republicans Are Warning Drug Companies Not to Cooperate With a Congressional Investigation — In an unusual move, House Republicans are warning drug companies against complying with a House investigation into drug prices.Republicans on the House Oversight Committee sent letters to a dozen CEOs of major drug companies warning that information they provide to the committee could be leaked to the public by Democratic chair Elijah Cummings in an effort to tank their stock prices.Cummings requested information from 12 drug companies such as Pfizer Inc., Johnson & Johnson, and Novartis AG in January as part of a broad investigation into how the industry sets prescription drug prices.In their letters, Reps. Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows — leaders of the hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus — imply that Cummings may be attempting to collect the information in order to bring down the industry’s stock prices.They write that Cummings is seeking sensitive information “that would likely harm the competitiveness of your company if disclosed publicly.” They then accuse Cummings of “releasing cherry-picked excerpts from a highly sensitive closed-door interview” conducted in an investigation into White House security clearances. “This is not the first time he has released sensitive information unilaterally,” says the letter. The authors say they “feel obliged to alert” the drug companies of Cummings’ actions.Democrats expressed bafflement at the letters. While politicians routinely spar over committee work, warning companies not to comply with an investigation is unconventional — perhaps even unprecedented, Democrats say. “Rep. Jordan is on the absolute wrong side here,” Cummings said in an emailed statement to BuzzFeed News. “He would rather protect drug company ‘stock prices’ than the interests of the American people.”

GOP senator issues stark warning to Republicans on health care - GOP Sen. Mike Braun (Ind.) has a stark warning for Republicans: Come up with a viable alternative to ObamaCare or face another rout in the 2020 election. Speaking with The Hill at his office in the Senate Russell Building, Braun described the GOP’s push to repeal ObamaCare without a plan of their own as one of the primary reasons for the Democratic wave election in 2018.“What was it, about 55 House seats?” Braun said. Republicans lost 40 seats in the 2018 midterm elections, and Democrats earned a majority in the House for the first time since 2011.The freshman senator is worried that Republicans are in for a repeat performance in 2020.“The whole repeal thing hurts our case about what we’re going to replace it with. … [Democrats] have owned the issue pretty well because of the void we’ve created,” Braun said.Republicans campaigned in 2016 on repealing and replacing ObamaCare. Voters gave Republicans control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, but GOP efforts to repeal the law were a legislative debacle and a political disaster. “We weren’t prepared with a comprehensive alternative,” Braun said. “We’ve been apologists for the industry.”

 Last Year The US Government Gave $1 Billion In Benefits To Dead People -- Since 2004, twenty large federal agencies admit paying out an astonishing $1.2 trillion in improper payments. That amounts to more than one-quarter of President Trump’s proposed $4.7 trillion budget for 2020. Last year, these improper payments totaled $140 billion – that’s about $12 billion per month.But what exactly is an improper payment? Federal law defines the term as “payments made by the government to the wrong person, in the wrong amount, or for the wrong reason.”In other words, there’s a lack of basic in-house financial controls within the largest federal agencies. When people or companies receive money they don’t deserve, it erodes our trust in government, our economy and government’s ability to finance everything from defense to health care.Improper payments in health care are especially troubling. In 2011, when President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, Congress vowed to help pay for it by rooting out waste, fraud, corruption and taxpayer abuse from the Medicare and Medicaid programs.It never happened.In fact, the improper payments within these programs soared from $64 billion in 2012 to $85 billion today.The biggest offenders across government include: Human & Human Services (HHS); Internal Revenue Service (IRS); Social Security Administration (SSA); and the departments of Defense (DOD), Labor (DOL), and Education (ED). What were some the ways these agencies wasted our tax dollars last year?

  • Dead people received $1 billion in benefits. Medicare, Medicaid, social security payments and also the federal retirement annuity payouts (pensions) kept flowing to dead recipients.
  • College students were overpaid by nearly $6 billion in Pell Grants and student loans. Approximately four percent of all payments were improper, and ED forecasts a worse figure in FY2019.
  • Social Security recipients were overpaid by $10 billion. Six million active Social Security numbers belong to people aged 112 and older. Here’s the problem: there are only 40 people in the entire world aged 112 and over.
  • $18.4 billion in Earned Income Tax Credit overpayments. Millions of low-income families who Congress designated as qualified recipients were overpaid billions of dollars. The program is rife with errors: the government overpaid $1 in every $4 to beneficiaries. (The IRS administers the program and responded to our request for comment here.)
  • Medicare & Medicaid improperly paid $85 billion in benefits with overpayments amounting to $67 billion. Administered by HHS, Medicaid admits to overpaying recipients $36 billion. Medicare admits to $31 billion in overpayments.

British police arrest Julian Assange in Ecuadorian embassy - On Thursday morning, the regime of Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno illegally terminated Julian Assange’s political asylum, inviting British police into the country’s London embassy to arrest him. Assange was dragged out of the Ecuadorian Embassy by a group of British police officers. Even as he was being brutally manhandled into a police van, Assange challenged his persecutors, “The UK must resist this attempt by the Trump administration… The UK must resist!” “Assange’s expulsion from the embassy and his arrest are unprecedented crimes,” said James Cogan, the national secretary of the SEP (Australia). “A journalist and publisher, who has committed no crime, has had his asylum terminated and has been dragged off to prison in violation of repeated UN rulings upholding his status as a political refugee.” “The attack on Assange is directed against the democratic rights of the working class. It is aimed at creating a precedent for the suppression of mass opposition to war, austerity and dictatorship,” Cogan added. “The arrest of Julian Assange by a Metropolitan Police snatch squad is a political crime for which the Conservative government of Theresa May and the Ecuadorian government of Lenin Moreno are politically responsible,” said Chris Marsden, national secretary of the Socialist Equality Party in Britain.  “The arrest took place after police were invited into the Ecuadorian embassy by the ambassador and following what UK Foreign Minister Sir Alan Duncan said was ‘extensive dialogue between our two countries.’ Behind the scenes the Trump administration in the United States is orchestrating events.

Gabbard: Assange arrest is a threat to journalists - Democratic presidential hopeful Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) condemned the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Thursday, calling the arrest a threat to journalists."The arrest of #JulianAssange is meant to send a message to all Americans and journalists: be quiet, behave, toe the line. Or you will pay the price," Gabbard tweeted.The Democrat's remark came hours after police in London arrested Assange, citing charges he is facing in the U.S.Assange is accused of conspiring to hack into computers in connection with WikiLeaks's release of classified documents from former Army private and intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.The indictment filed under seal last year in Virginia and released Thursday alleges that Assange helped Manning crack a password stored on a Defense Department computer, which was connected to a government system that stored classified information. U.S. intelligence officials and lawmakers have also voiced concerns about WikiLeaks's actions during the 2016 election, when they published troves of hacked emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign. The U.S. has said that Russian hackers were behind stealing the emails. However, Assange has dismissed criticisms surrounding his actions, arguing he acted like other journalists would have by seeking to leak classified documents viewed as in the public interest.

Cascading Cat Litter -  Kunstler - And so now Julian Assange of Wikileaks has been dragged out of his sanctuary in the London embassy of Ecuador for failing to clean his cat’s litter box. The way we always did it was to spread some newspaper — say, The New York Times — on the floor, transfer the used cat litter onto it, wrap it into a compact package, and put it in the trash. It was interesting to scan the Comments section of The Times’s stories about the Assange arrest: Times readers uniformly presented themselves as a lynch mob out for Mr. Assange’s blood. So much for the spirit of liberalism and The Old Gray Lady who had published The Pentagon Papers purloined by Daniel Ellsberg lo so many years ago. Reading between the lines in that once-venerable newspaper — by which I mean gleaning their slant on the news — one surmises that The Times has actually come out against freedom of the press, a curious attitude, but consistent with the neo-Jacobin zeitgeist in “blue” America these days. Anyway, how could anyone expect Mr. Assange to clean his cat’s litter box when he was unable to go outside his sanctuary to buy a fresh bag of litter, and was denied newspapers this past year, as well as any other contact with the outside world? US government prosecutors had better tread lightly in bringing Mr. Assange to the sort of justice demanded by readers of The New York Times — which is to say: lock him up in some SuperMax solitary hellhole and throw away the key. The show trial of Julian Assange on US soil, when it comes to pass, may end up being the straw that stirs America’s Mickey Finn as a legitimate republic. The bloodthirsty hysteria among New York Times readers is a symptom of the mass confusion sown by agencies of the US government itself when its own agents ventured to meddle in the national election of 2016 and then blame it on “the Russians.” As you will learn in the months ahead, it was The Times itself, and other corporate news organizations, who colluded with officers of the FBI, the Department of Justice, the CIA, and the Obama White House to concoct a phony narrative about Mr. Trump being in cahoots with Vladimir Putin, thus depriving Hillary Clinton of her “turn” in the White House; and then to join those agencies, and the grotesquely dishonest two-year investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, in a cover-your-ass operation to hide their nefarious and criminal acts. The official charges so far against Julian Assange include skipping bail in the UK and supposedly attempting to assist the US soldier, then known as Bradley Manning, to find a password for entering certain US government computer data bases. The UK bail matter revolved around Assange’s extradition to Sweden on a bullshit rape charge that was subsequently dropped as having no merit by Swedish authorities. The US supposedly reserves the authority to lob additional charges at Mr. Assange, though they may face a lengthy extradition battle with his attorneys to lever him out of the UK and into US custody. In the meantime, Mr. Assange may receive a Nobel Prize as a symbol of a lone conscience standing up against the despotic deceits of the world’s deep states.

'No Constitutional Difference' Between WikiLeaks And New York Times – Dershowitz - Before WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gained asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012, he and his British legal team asked me to fly to London to provide legal advice about United States law relating to espionage and press freedom. I cannot disclose what advice I gave them, but I can say that I believed then, and still believe now, that there is no constitutional difference between WikiLeaks and the New York Times. If the New York Times, in 1971, could lawfully publish the Pentagon Papers knowing they included classified documents stolen by Rand Corporation military analyst Daniel Ellsberg from our federal government, then indeed WikiLeaks was entitled, under the First Amendment, to publish classified material that Assange knew was stolen by former United States Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning from our federal government. So if prosecutors were to charge Assange with espionage or any other crime for merely publishing the Manning material, this would be another Pentagon Papers case with the same likely outcome. Many people have misunderstood the actual Supreme Court ruling in 1971. It did not say that the newspapers planning to publish the Pentagon Papers could not be prosecuted if they published classified material. It only said that they could not be restrained, or stopped in advance, from publishing them. Well, they did publish, and they were not prosecuted. The same result would probably follow if Assange were prosecuted for publishing classified material on WikiLeaks, though there is no guarantee that prosecutors might not try to distinguish the cases on the grounds that the New York Times is a more responsible outlet than WikiLeaks. But the First Amendment does not recognize degrees of responsibility. When the Constitution was written, our nation was plagued with irresponsible scandal sheets and broadsides. No one described political pamphleteers Thomas Paine or James Callender as responsible journalists of their day. It is likely, therefore, that a prosecution of Assange for merely publishing classified material would fail. Moreover, Great Britain might be unwilling to extradite Assange for such a “political” crime. That is why prosecutors have chosen to charge him with a different crime of conspiracy to help Manning break into a federal government computer to steal classified material. Such a crime, if proven beyond a reasonable doubt, would have a far weaker claim to protection under the Constitution. The courts have indeed ruled that journalists may not break the law in an effort to obtain material whose disclosure would be protected by the First Amendment.

Trump Responds To Assange Arrest- I Know Nothing About Wikileaks - Clearly feeling the pressure from his many supporters who sympathize with Assange, President Trump told reporters in the White House press pool that "I know nothing about Wikileaks. It's not my thing." Of course, then-candidate Trump praised Wikileaks repeatedly during the campaign after it released several tranches of emails purportedly stolen from the DNC and Clinton campaign manager John Podesta (his son also purportedly exchanged Twitter messages with the group). Whatever happens next will be up to the attorney general. Meanwhile, Assange supporters took to twitter to remind the president of his support for the organization during the campaign. Sean Hannity, a Fox News host with whom Trump has a close relationship, once even offered to have Assange host his show.

How You Can Be Certain the US Charge Against Assange is Fraudulent - Caitlin Johnstone — Julian Assange sits in a jail cell today after being betrayed by the Ecuadorian government and his home country of Australia. A British judge named Michael Snow has found the WikiLeaks founder guilty of violating bail conditions, inserting himself into the annals of history by labeling Assange “a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interest.” So that tells you how much of a fair and impartial legal proceeding we can expect to see from the British judicial process on this matter. But the real reason that Assange has been surrendered by the Ecuadorian government, imprisoned by the British government, and ignored by the Australian government is not directly related to any of those governments, but to that of the United States of America. An unsealed indictment from the Trump administration’s District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, accompanied by an extradition request, charges Assange with “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for agreeing to break a password to a classified U.S. government computer” during Chelsea Manning’s 2010 leak of government documents exposing US war crimes.This charge is premised on a fraudulent and manipulative distortion of reality, and you may be one hundred percent certain of it. Let me explain. You can be absolutely certain that this charge is bogus because it isn’t based on any new information. The facts of the case have not changed, the information hasn’t changed, only the narrative has changed. In 2010 the United States opened a secret grand jury in Virginia to investigate whether Assange and WikiLeaks could be prosecuted for the publication of the Manning leaks, and then-Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Obama administration was conducting “an active, ongoing criminal investigation’’ into the matter. The Trump administration has not turned up any new evidence that the Obama administration was unable to find in this active, ongoing criminal investigation (US government surveillance has surely acquired some new tricks since 2010, but time travel isn’t one of them), and indeed it does not claim to have turned up any new evidence.

The Legal Narrative Funnel That’s Being Used To Extradite Assange - Caitlin Johnstone - As we discussed yesterday, the Trump administration’s extradition request is accompanied by criminal charges which are based on the same information which the Obama administration declined to charge Assange for, a point which has been discussed in more detail in a new article by The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald and Micah Lee. The Obama administration looked at the evidence and concluded that there was no way to charge Assange with anything without endangering press freedoms, then the Trump administration looked at literally the exact same evidence and said screw press freedoms, we’re going after him. They wanted to punish Assange and show the world what happens to a journalist who exposes US war crimes, so they changed the narrative to make it happen. But they couldn’t extradite Assange from the UK if the British government didn’t legally have Assange in custody. To get around this problem, the UK, which is functionally just a province within the US-centralized empire, used a bail technicality to justify his arrest. After the Swedish government decided to drop its sexual assault investigation without issuing any charges, Assange’s legal team attempted last year to get a British arrest warrant dropped for a bail violation which went into effect when the WikiLeaks founder took political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy. The judge in that case, Emma Arbuthnot, just happens to be married to former Tory junior Defence Minister and government whip James Arbuthnot, who served as director of Security Intelligence Consultancy SC Strategy Ltd with a former head of MI6. Lady Arbuthnot denied Assange’s request with extreme vitriol, despite his argument that British law does have provisions which allow for the time he’d already served under functional house arrest to count toward far more time than would be served for violating bail. The British government kept police stationed outside the embassy at taxpayers’ expense with orders to arrest Assange on sight. But they couldn’t arrest Assange as long as he had legal political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy. To get around that problem, Ecuador’s new president Lenin Moreno found himself being courted by the US government, meeting with Vice President Mike Pence and reportedly discussing Assange after US Democratic senators petitioned Pence to push for Moreno to revoke political asylum. The New York Times reported last year that in 2017 Paul Manafort met with Moreno and offered to broker a deal where Ecuador could receive debt relief aid in exchange for handing Assange over, and just last month Ecuador ended up receiving a 4.2 billion dollar loan from the Washington-based IMF. And then, lo and behold, we just so happen to see Ecuador justifying the revocation of political asylum under the absurd claim that Assange had violated conditions that were only recently invented, using narratives that were based on wild distortions and outright lies.

Daniel Ellsberg On Assange Arrest: The Beginning of the End For Press Freedom - naked capitalism. Jerri-Lynn here. In this Real News network interview, Daniel Ellsberg discusses the significance of the arrest of Julian Assange: “This is the first indictment of a journalist and editor or publisher…And if it’s successful it will not be the last.”

Assange Arrest and Extradition Round-Up - naked capitalism, by Lambert Strether - Julian Assange was arrested yesterday by British police, at the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he had been staying for the last seven years, having been granted political asylum (recently revoked[1]) by the Ecuadorian government. The ostensible reason for his arrest was breaching his bail conditions for a suit brought against him by the Swedish government (subsequently dropped, or not); the real, or at least less ostensible reason was a recently unsealed criminal indictment (here) in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, brought against him in his capacity as founder of Wikileaks, which published a trove of material from Army intelligence analyst Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning, including the controversial “Collateral Murder” video:That video made a number of powerful people unhappy, and they shared their unhappiness with Manning, who was jailed for seven years (and is now back in jail for refusing to testify against Assange). The Iraq War Logs, also in the trove, “suggest evidence of torture was ignored, and detail the deaths of thousands of Iraqi civilians,” so they made a powerful people very unhappy, too. Patient readers, you can well imagine that there’s already an enormous mass of material on the Assange arrest, and I can’t pretend to have mastered it all. Even the most basic questions — like why? and why now? — are nearly impossible to answer, given the tendentiousness of all the players and the role of the intelligence community and its assets in the press. (We should also remember (1) that, as Sleepwalkers shows before World War I, that determined mediocrities in office, if properly placed, can exert more leverage over events than those ostensibly above them in the chain of command; and (2) the role of accident and error.) For example, when asking “Why now?” we might speculate that the sad dissolution of the Mueller report has deprived the media of a story where they can boost circulation with access journalism from anonymous sources, which is far cheaper than reporting, and that the Assange arrest provides a timely substitute; but we might also consider that prosecuting Assange would provide the intelligence community and the administration generally with more leverage over the press even than they currently have. Who can say? So, as opposed to a theory of the case, I am going to aggregate material I find especially compelling, and toss it under the numbered headings below. (There are so many explainers out there I’m probably not going to get to them!) This is in no way exhaustive, and I hope readers will contribute their own expertise!

Julian Assange’s life is in danger  -- Following Thursday’s arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in London, the governments of the US, Britain and Ecuador are engaged in a conspiracy to facilitate the whistleblower’s extraordinary rendition to the US. Julian Assange’s life and liberty is in imminent danger. It is necessary to mobilize all supporters of free speech to prevent him from falling into the hands of the American government. The official pretext being used to extradite Assange is a transparent lie. In a previously-sealed indictment made public Thursday, the US Department of Justice charged Assange only with violating a federal law against conspiring to break passwords to government computers.The fact that the crime carries only a 5-year sentence and does not fall under the Espionage Act provides all involved parties with a cover for handing Assange over to the Americans. In particular, the US-UK extradition treaty excludes transfer for “political offenses,” including espionage. Citing the Justice Department document, the British government will claim in the courts that Assange’s extradition will not be prevented by this exclusion.The Ecuadoran government, moreover, claims it could revoke Assange’s asylum because the indictment shows he will not face the threat of the death penalty.In fact, once Assange is in the hands of the United States, he will quickly confront a series of additional charges, including espionage. The efforts to downplay the threat to the freedom of the press and understate the charge against Assange are aimed at sowing complacency in the population and distracting from the core free speech issues at stake. The language of the indictment itself makes clear the government is targeting Assange for political reasons, despite the official charge at its conclusion. It asserts: “The primary purpose of the conspiracy was to facilitate [Chelsea] Manning’s acquisition and transmission of classified information related to the national defense of the United States so that WikiLeaks could publicly disseminate the information on its website.” The indictment notes that the information WikiLeaks released to the public included “approximately 90,000 Afghanistan war-related significant activity reports, 400,000 Iraq war-related significant activities reports, 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs, and 250,000 U.S. Department of State cables. Many of these records were classified pursuant to “Order No. 13526,” signed by Barack Obama in 2009. The indictment claims these releases “reasonably could be expected to cause serious damage to the national security.”

Trump administration threatens veto of net neutrality bill -- The White House on Monday threatened to veto House Democrats’ bill to reinstate net neutrality rules as the legislation heads toward a vote.The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said in a release Monday that the Trump administration “strongly opposes” the Save the Internet Act that Democrats have championed in recent weeks.The legislation would put the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2015 rules back into effect. The Trump administration FCC voted to repeal the Obama-era rules at the end of 2017.Those rules prohibited internet service providers from blocking, throttling or prioritizing web traffic. Republicans have long opposed the 2015 order because it opened up the broadband industry to greater oversight from the FCC.The OMB said that the Democrats’ bill would “return to the heavy-handed regulatory approach of the previous administration and undo the FCC’s action that restored the Federal Trade Commission’s authority to investigate and take enforcement action against unfair, deceptive, or anti-competitive acts or practices committed by broadband providers.”Democratic leaders have championed the new bill, hoping that net neutrality’s broad public support will push it through a divided Congress. But the legislation faces an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled Senate. The House could vote on the bill as early as Tuesday.

House Votes to Restore Net Neutrality as Millions of People Watch Online - — Digital rights groups applauded Wednesday as the U.S. House passed the Save the Internet Act (H.R. 1644), in a 232-190 vote, with just one Republican joining the Democrats in supporting the legislation.“Today’s vote is a tremendous victory for the millions of people across the country who’ve been calling, writing, tweeting and visiting their members of Congress to urge them to fight for a free and open internet,” Free Press president Craig Aaron said in a statement. “The energy behind this bill came from the grassroots, not big companies, but there were plenty of industry lobbyists trying to sink it. The overwhelming show of support for the Save the Internet Act proves how important and popular Net Neutrality has become.”  The bill will now go to the Senate for a potential vote. Advocates warned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell against following through on his earlier statement that the bill would be “dead on arrival in the Senate if it passed the House. “Senators must know by now that people across party lines support Net Neutrality protections by large majorities,” Aaron said. “Mitch McConnell and other Senate leaders need to decide whether they’re going to stand with more than 80 percent of voters in their own party or do the cable companies’ dirty work. To prevent a Senate vote on this bill would be wrong, politically short-sighted and an underestimation of the internet’s readiness to mobilize and fight for Net Neutrality.”

 Senators Introduce Bill That Would Ban Websites From Using Manipulative Consent Forms - Platforms are very good at encouraging users to sign away the rights to their data. However, a new bill introduced to the US Senate might make certain strategies illegal.The Deceptive Experiences To Online Users Reduction (DETOUR) Act—introduced by US Senators Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Deb Fischer (R-NE)—would make certain ways that companies try to manipulate users into giving away their data illegal and punishable by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).Per the bill, companies would be banned from manipulating adults into signing away their data, or manipulating children into staying on a platform compulsively. The bill also requires platforms to ensure informed consent from users before green-lighting academic studies.The legislation follows in the footsteps of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, which mandates that companies get informed consent from users before collecting their data. California’s prospective data privacy law, if passed, would also require companies to be more transparent about the types of information they collect from users. But if passed, the DETOUR Act would be federal law, meaning tech companies may have to make widespread changes to their platform in order to comply. The DETOUR Act would make it illegal to “design, modify, or manipulate a user interface” in order to obscure, subvert, or impair a user’s ability to decide how their data is used. The interface refers to the “style, layout, and text” of a privacy policy. The rigor of default privacy regulations would also be subject to regulation under the DETOUR Act. Sen. Warner cited an earlier version of Facebook’s Messenger app as an example of manipulative interface. An earlier version of the app included bolded text and an arrow pointing to the “OK” button, which would give Facebook access to your contacts. (The current version also included bolded text to give Facebook data access.)

 ‘Blatant Violation of the First Amendment’: Public Citizen Sues Betsy DeVos for Censoring Its Website – Public Citizen sued Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday for allegedly blocking access to the consumer group’s website on her department’s guest Wi-Fi and internal networks. “This is a blatant violation of the First Amendment,” Public Citizen president Robert Weissman wrote in an email to supporters. “Users attempting to access Public Citizen’s website though the department’s guest wireless networks receive a message that access is ‘in violation of your internet usage policy.’ We requested the department’s policy for blocking access to internet sites, but it hasn’t responded to our request.”  “What we do know,” Weissman continued, “is that our website contains lots of information critical of DeVos and the department.” BREAKING: We just sued the Department of Education for blocking our website on their networks — a blatant violation of the First Amendment.We’ve been highly critical of Betsy Devos for putting students at the mercy of predatory for-profit colleges. We won't let her silence us. — Public Citizen (@Public_Citizen) April 9, 2019 Public Citizen filed its complaint (pdf) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of David Halperin, a Public Citizen board member who frequently attends meetings at the Department of Education and uses its Wi-Fi network. The organization’s filing alleges that the Department of Education is violating both the First Amendment and the Administrative Procedure Act by blocking access to its website. “The department and DeVos have no legitimate justification for blocking access to Public Citizen’s website,” the group said in a press release. “Public Citizen’s website includes material on a wide range of issues, including information critical of the department and DeVos… Public Citizen also uses its website to inform the public about litigation, including litigation involving DeVos and the department.”  Public Citizen is seeking “a court order declaring the department’s and DeVos’s action unlawful and enjoining them from blocking access” to its site.  “No way are we going to let them get away with suppressing our views,” Weissman said.

Leaked Google Memos Reveal Aggressive News Blacklist Used Against Conservative Sites -  --Leaked internal documents reveal that Google maintains a blacklist preventing certain news outlets from appearing in search results for news or other specific sections, according to the Daily Caller's J. Arthur Bloom.   What this means is that while search results from blacklisted outlets will still appear in the generic "ten blue links" portion of search results - targeted sites will not be allowed in sections such as "top news" or "videos," according to the report."The purpose of the blacklist will be to bar the sites from surfacing in any Search feature or news product. It will not cause a demotion in the organic search results or de-index them altogether," reads the policy document.  Of note, Zero Hedge was removed from Google's News category after the 2016 US election.According to the Caller, the blacklist includes several conservative websites, including Gateway Pundit, Conservative Tribune (a subsidiary of the Western Journal), American Spectator and more, for violating the search giant's "misrepresentation policy" and "good neighbor policy."Two official policies dubbed the “misrepresentation policy” and the “good neighbor policy” inform the company’s “XPA news blacklist,” which is maintained by Google’s Trust & Safety team. “T&S will be in charge of updating the blacklist as when there is a demand,” reads one of the documents shared with The Daily Caller.“The deceptive_news domain blacklist is going to be used by many search features to filter problematic sites that violate the good neighbor and misrepresentation policies,” the policy document says. -Daily Caller

 Trump's sister quit federal judgeship just 10 days after launch of formal probe into whether she and her family ran 9-figure tax 'fraud' scheme -- President Donald Trump's older sister Maryanne Trump Barry retired as a federal judge just 10 days after a judicial panel opened a formal investigation into whether she was part of a Trump family scheme to commit tax fraud on a massive scale.Barry, 82, was a federal appellate judge in the third district, which includes Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. The investigation could have led to her impeachment as a judge. By leaving active status she salvaged her 6-figure pension in retirement.A court official on Feb. 1 notified four citizens who filed complaints against Barry that the investigation into the judge was 'receiving the full attention' of a judicial conduct council. Ten days after the letter was sent, Barry formally filed her retirement notice.The probe followed a New York Times investigation into the possibility that the Trumps engaged in a tax evasion scheme. The Times investigation revealed the Trump family committed fraud by evading taxes when the president's late father Fred Trump left a billion-dollar real estate inheritance to his four living children. The Times pored over 100,000 pages of financial documents, including confidential tax returns from Fred Trump and his companies, and concluded that the value of the bequeathed properties was vastly understated when they were reported as $41.4 million. The paper concluded that the properties were later sold over the next decade for over 16 times that amount. The Times reported Trump's parents transferred over $1 billion to their children. It said that the transfer should have produced a tax bill of at least $550 million, but that the children paid only about $52.2 million. Barry's retirement ended the investigation immediately because retired judges are no longer subject to judicial conduct rules. She did not give any reason for her retirement or make any public announcement. 

Trump called Secret Service director 'Dumbo' because of his ears: NY Times - President Trump previously made fun of his Secret Service director's appearance, calling him "Dumbo" because of his ears, The New York Times reported Monday. The Times, citing two officials, reported that Trump called Randolph "Tex" Alles the name while making fun of his looks. The Times also reported Monday that Trump soured on Alles "a while ago." The White House announced Monday that Alles is being replaced by James M. Murray as director of the Secret Service. "United States Secret Service director Randolph 'Tex' Alles has done a great job at the agency over the last two years, and the President is thankful for his over 40 years of service to the country," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. "Mr. Alles will be leaving shortly and President Trump has selected James M. Murray, a career member of the [United States Secret Service], to take over as director beginning in May." Secret Service staff told the Times that they suspected Alles's departure was accelerated because of the arrest of a Chinese woman who was allowed to enter Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort despite carrying a device containing malware. The announcement of Alles's departure also comes after Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned Sunday, effective Wednesday. The Secret Service is an agency under the Department of Homeland Security.

Secret Service director denies he was fired - Outgoing U.S. Secret Service Director Randolph “Tex” Alles denied Monday that he was fired from his post, saying in a letter to Secret Service staff that he learned "weeks ago" that there would be "transitions in leadership" across the Department of Homeland Security. "My departure from the U.S. Secret Service has been announced and is effective in May. No doubt you have seen media reports regarding my 'firing.' I assure you that this is not the case, and in fact was told weeks ago by the Administration that transitions in leadership should be expected across the Department of Homeland Security," he wrote in the letter, which was obtained by CNN. "The President has directed an orderly transition in leadership for this agency and I intend to abide by that direction. It is my sincere regret that I was not able to address the workforce prior to this announcement," Alles added.Some news organizations reported Monday that Alles had been fired. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement Monday that Alles "will be leaving shortly."Alles reports to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who resigned from her post on Sunday and will leave the agency Wednesday.

Trump under fire over Islamophobia after man threatens to kill Ilhan Omar - Donald Trump and Fox News are coming under fire for contributing to a climate of Islamophobia, following the arrest of a supporter of the president who threatened to kill Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota who was one of the first Muslim women elected to the US Congress. Patrick Carlineo, from Addison, New York, was arrested on Friday and charged with making a threatening phone call to Omar’s office. According to the FBI, Carlineo told a staff member: “Do you work for the Muslim Brotherhood? Why are you working for her, she’s a fucking terrorist. I’ll put a bullet in her fucking skull.”Though Fox News was not mentioned in the complaint against Carlineo, the New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez drew a direct link between controversial remarks made by presenter Jeanine Pirro and the threat against Omar.Last month Pirro attacked Omar’s wearing of the hijab, asking if it was indicative of “her adherence to sharia law, which in itself is antithetical to the United States constitution”.In a tweet on Saturday, Ocasio-Cortez implied there was a causal link between Pirro’s comments and the death threat against Omar. “Understand,” she wrote, “when Jeanine Pirro goes on Fox [and] rallies people to think hijabs are threatening, it leads to this.” She also appealed to people to “talk policy, not personal”.

Congress Is About to Ban the Government From Offering Free Online Tax Filing. Thank TurboTax. Just in time for Tax Day, the for-profit tax preparation industry is about to realize one of its long-sought goals. Congressional Democrats and Republicans are moving to permanently bar the IRS from creating a free electronic tax filing system.Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee, led by Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., passed the Taxpayer First Act, a wide-ranging bill making several administrative changes to the IRS that is sponsored by Reps. John Lewis, D-Ga., and Mike Kelly, R-Pa.In one of its provisions, the bill makes it illegal for the IRS to create its own online system of tax filing. Companies like Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, and H&R Block have lobbied for years to block the IRS from creating such a system. If the tax agency created its own program, which would be similar to programs other developed countries have, it would threaten the industry’s profits.“This could be a disaster. It could be the final nail in the coffin of the idea of the IRS ever being able to create its own program,” said Mandi Matlock, a tax attorney who does work for the National Consumer Law Center. Experts have long argued that the IRS has failed to make filing taxes as easy and cheap as it could be. In addition to a free system of online tax preparation and filing, the agency could provide people with pre-filled tax forms containing the salary data the agency already has, as ProPublica first reported on in 2013. The Free File Alliance, a private industry group, says 70% of American taxpayers are eligible to file for free. Those taxpayers, who must make less than $66,000, have access to free tax software provided by the companies. But just 3% of eligible U.S. taxpayers actually use the free program each year. Critics of the program say that companies use it as a cross-marketing tool to upsell paid products, that they have deliberately underpromoted the free option and that it leaves consumer data open to privacy breaches.  The congressional move would codify the status quo. Under an existing memorandum of understanding with the industry group, the IRS pledges not to create its own online filing system and, in exchange, the companies offer their free filing services to those below the income threshold.

House backs bill barring IRS from offering free tax filing services - Liberals abandoned a last-minute rebellion Tuesday over a bill to change the Internal Revenue Service, with Democratic leaders easily pushing legislation through the House that would bar the IRS from creating free tax preparation software. The House approved the bipartisan legislation on a voice vote as liberals, who feared the measure would enrich private tax preparers at the expense of millions of taxpayers, gave up their fight, in part because of the value of other elements of the legislation. The bill includes other changes to the nation’s tax collection agency, such as protections from private debt collectors and millions of dollars in program assistance for low-income taxpayers. Experts differ on how the measure would, in practice, affect the IRS’s ability to create free tax preparation programs online. On Tuesday, ProPublica reported that the legislation included a provision to codify an existing arrangement preventing the IRS from creating online tax filing software to compete with private services such as TurboTax. But two Senators who have backed the package disputed that characterization, arguing the critique was based on a misunderstanding of the legislation. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking members of the Senate finance committee, both said that the legislation would not prevent the IRS from creating its own tax filing software. Ashley Schapitl, a spokeswoman for Wyden, said that the Senator’s office confirmed with the IRS chief counsel that the tax collecting service can still create its own system under the legislation. “Nothing in the legislation would prevent the IRS from continuing to provide online assistance to taxpayers or develop new online options to help taxpayers,” Grassley said in a statement. “Arguments to the contrary aren’t based in fact and rely on either misunderstandings or misleading special interests.”

Restraining the power of the rich with a 10 percent surtax on top 0.1 percent incomes - Excessive wealth and power commanded by a small group of multi-millionaires and billionaires—the richest one-tenth of 1 percent—poses an existential threat to America’s economic vitality, democracy, and civil society.It’s well-known by now that the richest 1 percent of American households have essentially doubled the share of national income they claim since the late 1970s. Less well-known is that inequality has even risen within the top 1 percent, with the top 10 percent of that overall group—or the top 0.1 percent—accounting for half of all income within the top 1 percent.1The political clout of this top 0.1 percent is likely even more outsized then their share of overall income. This group’s incomes overwhelmingly stem from owning financial assets, not working in labor markets.2 This means that they benefit from the preferential tax treatment given to income from wealth relative to income from work. The Trump tax cut at the end of 2017 was tailor-made for the top 0.1 percent, as its largest cuts accrue to business owners, both corporate and non-corporate.3 Countering the power wielded by the top 0.1 percent will require ambitious policy changes across a range of issues. Steeply progressive taxes have recently been proposed by a number of policymakers and economists as key ingredients in the overall policy portfolio meant to restrain the power of the super-rich. One idea that has not yet gotten the attention it deserves in this discussion is a surtax on the incomes of the top 0.1 percent. A surtax has a number of advantages as a tool for checking the power of the rich. First, it’s laser-targeted on their incomes, phasing in only at the threshold of the top 0.1 percent. Second, it does not provide preferential treatment for wealth-based incomes relative to work-based incomes—it applies to every dollar of any kind over the income threshold. Third, this neutrality across types of incomes means that in the long run it would be hard to avoid or evade.

Treasury expected to miss Dem deadline on Trump tax returns - The Trump administration is expected to miss the Wednesday deadline set by Democrats to hand over President Trump’s tax returns, raising the odds that the battle will turn into a lengthy court fight. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testified to two congressional committees on Tuesday, telling lawmakers the White House had discussed the tax-return issue with Treasury’s legal department before Democrats asked for the documents. Mnuchin said he personally had not spoken to Trump over the tax returns. Trump has said he cannot make the records public because of an audit, and his acting chief of staff on Sunday publicly said the administration will never hand them over to Democrats. Mnuchin was much more reserved in his remarks, telling reporters that it would be a “good guess” that the administration would reply to Democrats by Wednesday in some form. “I think it would be premature at this point to make any specific comments other than, as I’ve been consistent before in saying, it is being reviewed by the legal departments, and we look forward to responding to the letter,” he said at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing. Several hours later, at a House Financial Services Committee hearing, Mnuchin said he will “comply with the law” but has “not made a comment one way or another whether we would supply the tax returns.” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) last week requested that the IRS provide the committee with six years of Trump’s personal and business tax returns by Wednesday. Democrats are bracing for their request to eventually result in a court fight. If Democrats don’t receive the tax returns by their requested deadline, they are likely to take additional steps to try to obtain the documents, such as sending another letter to the IRS or issuing a subpoena. Trump is the first president in decades not to release his tax returns. 

Mulvaney- Democrats Will 'Never' See Trump Tax Returns - Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said on Fox News Sunday that Democrats will "never" see President Trump's tax returns. "Nor should they. That’s an issue that was already litigated during the election. Voters knew the president could have given his tax returns. They knew that he didn’t and they elected him anyway," said Mulvaney, adding that Democrats "know they're not going to" get the tax returns.""They just want attention on the issue because they don’t want to talk to us about policy."MIck Mulvaney says that the democrats will never see President Trump's taxes and that they know they won't #FNS— FoxNewsSunday (@FoxNewsSunday) April 7, 2019On Wednesday evening, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) said that he had filed a formal request with the Treasury, asking IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig to turn over six years' worth of the president's tax returns, putting Rettig's boss - Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, in the hot seat.  On Friday, President Trump said that the law is "100 percent" on his side over his decision not to release his returns while he's under IRS audit.

Romney: 'Moronic' for Dems to go after Trump's tax returns with legislative action - Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on Sunday called Democrats "moronic" for attempting to obtain President Trump's tax returns through legislative action. Romney added, however, that he wishes Trump would publicly release his tax returns. "[Trump] said he would be happy to release his returns. So I wish he’d do that. But I have to also tell you I think the Democrats are just playing along his handbook, which is, going after his tax returns through legislative action is moronic," he said during an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press." "That’s not going to happen," Romney continued. "The courts are not going to say that you can compel a person running for office to release their tax returns. He’s going to win this victory.”

"I Would Love To Give Them, But I Won't": Trump Defies Dems, Won't Release Tax Returns - In a move that will surprise exactly nobody, President Trump said on Wednesday that he won’t release his tax returns while he’s under audit, setting up a legal standoff between the White House, the Treasury Department and House Democrats. "I would love to give them, but I’m not going to do it while I’m under audit," Trump told reporters as he departed the White House for a trip to Texas. "As you know, I got elected last time with the same issue, and while I’m under audit, I won’t do it. If I’m not under audit, I would do it. I have no problem with it, but while I’m under audit, I would not give my taxes." As the Hill notes, Trump repeated the argument of his allies, who have pushed back against the Democratic request, suggesting the issue was litigated during the 2016 election and "frankly, the people don’t care." Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee had set a Wednesday deadline for the Treasury Department to turn over six years worth of Trump’s personal and business tax returns, culminating with a 4 hour grilling of Steven Mnuchin by Maxine Waters on Tuesday. However, Mnuchin gave no indication that the Treasury will meet that deadline, and Trump has insisted he will not voluntarily give up his returns. He has cited an ongoing audit, the same reason he gave when he broke with years of precedent and declined to release his returns during the 2016 presidential campaign. Mnuchin said he personally had not spoken to Trump over the tax returns. “I think it would be premature at this point to make any specific comments other than, as I’ve been consistent before in saying, it is being reviewed by the legal departments, and we look forward to responding to the letter,” Mnuchin said at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing.

Top Republican calls on Nadler to have Mueller testify -  The top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee is urging the panel's Democratic chairman to have special counsel Robert Mueller testify about his findings from the 22-month investigation into Russian interference. Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) in a letter on Monday called on Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) to seek Mueller's testimony, rather than going after Attorney General William Barr, arguing that this is the best path to obtaining transparency. "If you seek both transparency and for the American public to learn the full contours of the Special Counsel’s investigation, public testimony from Special Counsel Mueller himself is undoubtedly the best way to accomplish this goal," Collins wrote to Nadler. "To that end, Special Counsel Mueller should be invited to testify before the Committee during the week of April 22. Although the House is expected to be in recess that week, I think we can agree this business is too important to wait, and Members of the Committee will surely return to Washington at such a critical moment in our country’s history," Collins continued. The GOP lawmaker's letter comes after Democrats on the panel voted last week along party lines to authorize a subpoena for Mueller's investigative report as well as the underlying evidence used in the investigation. While Nadler has said he will give Barr time to turn over the final, unredacted report to Congress before issuing the subpoena, he has not provided a timeline on the matter. Nadler also signaled to reporters last week that he is interested in having Mueller testify, but he indicated he wants to see the full report before making such decisions.

Barr Forms Team to Review FBI’s Actions in Trump Probe - Attorney General William Barr has assembled a team to review controversial counterintelligence decisions made by Justice Department and FBI officials, including actions taken during the probe of the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016, according to a person familiar with the matter. This indicates that Barr is looking into allegations that Republican lawmakers have been pursuing for more than a year -- that the investigation into President Donald Trump and possible collusion with Russia was tainted at the start by anti-Trump bias in the FBI and Justice Department. “I am reviewing the conduct of the investigation and trying to get my arms around all the aspects of the counterintelligence investigation that was conducted during the summer of 2016,” Barr told a House panel on Tuesday. Barr’s inquiry is separate from a long-running investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive matters. The FBI declined to comment. Barr said he expected the inspector general’s work to be completed by May or June. Asked about the prospect of such an inquiry, Trump told reporters Wednesday that he’s most interested in the attorney general “getting started on going back to the origins” of what the president called “an attempted coup.” He said “what they did was treason.” The issue came up as Barr testified before a Democratic-controlled House Appropriations subcommittee. Most of the questioning concerned demands for Barr to give lawmakers Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s full report and the evidence behind it. But the issue is sure to get more attention when Barr appears Wednesday before the panel’s GOP-led Senate counterpart.

Ex-DNI- ‘Stunning and scary’ that Barr would raise spying allegation - Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Wednesday it was "both stunning and scary" that Attorney General William Barr would tell lawmakers that Donald Trump's 2016 campaign was spied on.  "I thought it was both stunning and scary," Clapper, who served under President Barack Obama, told CNN's Anderson Cooper. "I was amazed at that and rather disappointed that the attorney general would say such a thing. The term 'spying' has all kinds of negative connotations and I have to believe he chose that term deliberately."Barr told lawmakers Wednesday that he would look into the FBI's counterintelligence investigation that began in 2016 of potential ties between members of Trump's presidential campaign and the Russian government."For the same reason we're worried about foreign influence in elections, I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal," Barr said. "I'm not suggesting those rules were violated but I think it's important to look at. ... I think it's my obligation." A source familiar with Barr's thinking, however, said that he referred to "spying" in the "classic sense" of intelligence collection, not as "pejorative." The attorney general did not provide evidence of any spying. Clapper slammed Barr for airing such concerns publicly. He said he would have preferred that Barr ask the Justice Department's inspector general for a briefing on an ongoing investigation into whether the FBI mishandled warrant applications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Former FBI Agent Peter Strzok Could Face Serious Charges, Sources Say - Former FBI Agent Peter Strzok could face ‘serious’ charges for his involvement and actions in the bureau’s probe of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server to send classified emails, as well as the FBI’s investigation into President Trump’s campaign, multiple sources with knowledge of Strzok’s actions told   Further, sources contend that the nearly year long investigation by DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, will reveal explosive information and shed light on alleged malfeasance by FBI and DOJ officials directly involved in the Russia investigation. The Inspector General’s report may be completed as early as May or June, according to testimony provided this week by Attorney General William Barr. Strzok who has already been investigated by Horowitz for his role in the FBI’s Clinton investigation is also expected to be named in the IG’s upcoming report on how the Russia investigation was handled by the FBI. He was removed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team in 2017 and then fired from the FBI in August, 2018. He was fired by the FBI after an extensive review by  Horowitz’s office into the FBI’s handling of the Clinton investigation and was removed from Mueller’s team after the IG discovered his anti-Trump text messages to his paramour former FBI Attorney Lisa Page.“There are a number of individuals who are looking at Peter Strzok’s actions and inactions and how those actions affected both of the investigations he was involved in,” said a U.S. official, with knowledge.“Further evaluation of what Peter Strzok did or did not do needs to be evaluated thoroughly.”The official did not reveal what Strzok’s “actions or inactions” may have been but said “obstruction, is a serious concern.” Strzok “is in hot water,” said another government official, with knowledge. “I’m certain he’s not the only one.” After several years of congressional inquiries and investigations many Republican lawmakers say Barr’s statements this past week have renewed their faith that there will be justice and a serious investigation to access what happened prior, during and after the 2016 election. Those lawmakers, like Rep. Mark Meadows, R-NC, expect the Justice Department will take the necessary steps in investigating evidence uncovered by their committees that allege abuse of power in institutions normally trusted by the American public. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and I have long reviewed evidence that suggests improper surveillance occurred on the Trump campaign,” Meadows said. “To have Barr agree that there was spying on the campaign means accountability is only one step away from bringing those who broke the law to justice.”

Will Junta-Mastermind, John Brennan, Ever Face The Music? by Mike Whitney - The Great Russia Deception all began with John Brennan.  It was Brennan who reported “contacts… between Russian officials and persons in the Trump campaign”, just as it was Brennan who first referred the case to former FBI Director James Comey. It was also Brennan who “hand-picked” the analysts who stitched together the dodgy Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) (which said that “Putin and the Russian government aspired to help…Trump’s election chances.”) And it was Brennan who persuaded Harry Reid to petition Comey to open an investigation. At every turn, Brennan was there. He got the ball rolling, he pulled all the right strings, he whipped up a mood of public hysteria, and he excoriated the president at every opportunity. For those who want to know where Russiagate began, look no further than John Brennan. Here’s a bit of what Brennan told the House Intelligence Committee during his testimony in 2017: “We were uncovering information and intelligence about interactions and contacts between U.S. persons and the Russians. And as we came upon that, we would share it with the bureau.” Brennan’s statement clarifies his role in the operation, he was providing the raw intelligence to Comey and Comey was reluctantly following up with surveillance, wiretaps, leaks to the media, and the placing of confidential informants in the Trump campaign. It was a tag-team combo, but Brennan was the primary instigator, there’s no doubt about that.  And let’s not forget that Comey didn’t really want to participate in Brennan’s hairbrain scheme to smear candidate Trump. At first he balked, which is why Brennan leaned on Senate Majority leader Harry Reid to twist Comey’s arm.  Brennan told Reid that the intelligence community had determined that the Russian government was behind the hack and leak of Democratic emails and that Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind it. Brennan also told Reid that there was evidence that Russian operatives were attempting to tamper with election results. Indeed, on August 27, 2016, Reid wrote a letter to Comey accusing President Trump’s campaign of colluding with the Russian government.” (“The John Brennan-Harry Reid Collusion to ‘Get Trump’”, So Brennan fed Reid a load of malarkey and the credulous senator swallowed it hook, line and sinker. It may sound incredible now, given the results of the Mueller report, but that’s what happened. Here’s more of Brennan’s testimony to Congress:

How Rachel Maddow Turned Into Infowars - With Rachel Maddow as their poster child (along with David Corn, Luke Harding, Chris Hayes, the entire staff at CNN, and hundreds more), journalists over the last two years repeated every mistake their predecessors had made in 2003.  They treated gossip as fact because it came from a “source” and told us to just trust them. They blurred the lines between first-hand knowledge, second- and third-hand hearsay, and “people familiar with the matter” to build breaking news out of manure. They marginalized skeptics as “useful idiots.” (Glenn Greenwald, who called bull on Russiagate from the beginning, says MSNBC banned him after he criticized Maddow. He’d been a regular during the Bush and Obama years.)  They accepted negative information at face value and discarded information that did not fit their pre-written narrative of collusion. The Washington Post never even ran a story about how its reporters came up empty after working for months to prove that Michael Cohen met with Russian agents in Prague. They went all in with salacious headlines, every story a sugar high. They purposefully muddled the impact of an indictment versus an actual conviction. They conflated anyone from Russia with the Russian government. They never paused to ask why there weren’t “Sources: Trump is Innocent” stories that later needed to be walked back; the errors were somehow all on one side. They became a machine as trustworthy as the politicians they relied on. Though the wars across the Middle East the media helped midwife are beyond sin, the damage done to journalism itself is far worse this time around. With Maddow in the lead, journalists went a step further than just shoddy reporting, proudly declaring their partisanship (once the cardinal sin of journalism) and placing themselves at the center of the story. In one critic’s words, “In purely journalistic terms, this is an epic disaster.”  So there was Maddow, night after night in front of her serial killer burlap board, Trump and Putin surrounded by blurry images of Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, she running twine between pins so her viewers could keep up with her racing intellect. Anyone with a Russian-y surname “had ties to Putin,” “connections to Russian intelligence,” or was at least an oligarch. She nurtured an unashamed crush on deep state clowns that the Rachel Maddow of a few years back would have smirked at—Brennan, Clapper, Comey. She ignored or downplayed other news, devoting over 50 percent of her airtime to Russiagate alone (Trump’s Muslim visa ban got less than 6 percent). She worked to convince Americans that the cornerstone of justice was not “innocent until proven guilty” but “if there’s smoke there’s fire.” She joined journalists in knowingly publishing material whose veracity they doubted, centering on the Steele dossier.  Maddow became Infowars. She moved beyond the simpleton advocacy journalism of Bush lie peddling journo tools. She was going to save the country. So she created a story out of whole cloth that reinforced her political beliefs and convinced people it was true. And it was all justified because the fate of the republic itself hung in the balance. Any day now, Trump would peel off a rubber mask Scooby Doo-style to reveal that he was Putin all along.

Michael Avenatti Did Everything Wrong - You wouldn’t want a news cycle to pass without something to read about Michael Avenatti, and lord knows he wouldn’t either. Because he cares, and because he’s apparently been on an IRS watch list for a decade, that will never happen. The latest Avenatti news is that he has been indicted in the Central District of California on 36 counts, for a variety of crimes committed both in his personal capacity and through his many businesses. As with all people charged with criminal activity he is innocent until proven guilty, so going forward assume some extremely liberal use of “allegedly” and “according to the Feds,” because I’m not going to muck up the rest of the post with those words. Also if you ever assumed that an Avenatti indictment was inevitable the first time you heard that he was considering a presidential run, please feel free to pat yourself on the back. It was obvious, but you earned it all the same. The wide-ranging indictment charges him with wire fraud (that is, embezzling client funds), tax evasion (personal and both his law firms), failure to pay payroll taxes (Tully’s coffee chain), obstruction of tax collection (coffee chain again), bank fraud (law firm), identity theft (so that he could do bank fraud) and perjury (to conceal assets during his law firm bankruptcy). If you are an Avenatti connoisseur, you will have noticed that these charges aren’t entirely new—most of the indictment tracks a criminal complaint signed by a judge in order to arrest Avenatti last month. Still, that’s a lot of crimes! And some of them were brand new, and were maybe even added to the indictment because other clients he’d screwed over came forward after last month’s news. It’s fair to say that, of all the accusations, the theft of client funds is the one that it is getting the most attention. That isn’t really surprising, if only because it’s hard to get too worked up about the IRS or a bank as a victim; the bank didn’t even lose anything, on account of being paid back. But where your average civilian would have been grossed out by Avenatti stealing settlement money from a permanently disabled client to cover his personal debts, attorneys would be even more shocked because of how this particular crime contravened a quirk of legal ethics.

New York DA Knew Clinton Pal Epstein Was Dangerous Pedophile While Arguing For Leniency -  Since the Miami Herald exposed the sweetheart deal given to billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, a wealthy financier who fraternized with Bill Clinton, Kevin Spacey, lawyer Alan Dershowitz and other famous and powerful people, his victims and their attorneys have renewed their push to have documents from the case that led to his 2008 conviction unsealed. Now, the New York Post has obtained some of these documents after a lengthy court battle. And the revelations contained within were nothing short of shocking. After Epstein was convicted by federal prosecutors in Florida for soliciting sex with an underage girl, the billionaire was forced to register as a sex offender in New York, where he owned a home on the Upper West Side. But just as Alex Acosta, the US attorney responsible for overseeing the Epstein case (now Trump's Secretary of Labor), negotiated an incredibly lenient punishment for Epstein (he spent a year in jail), the Manhattan DA's office was also suspiciously accommodating. When he appeared for a hearing on his sex offender status, the DA was ready to assign him the lowest Sex Offender designation possible, despite possessing overwhelming evidence that he was a dangerous predator who merited the most restrictive penalties. The DA's office had been provided an assessment from the state that delved into the allegations against Epstein (allegations for which he escaped punishment) had sexual contact with "numerous" underage girls ranging from 14 to 17. The board assigned Epstein a score of 130 on its risk assessment scale, solidly above the 110 threshold to be categorized as a "level 3" offender.  Despite this findings, New York's lead sex crimes prosecutor recommended that Epstein be given the lowest threat designation, which would see him avoid the sex offender registry.

 Amazon's Bezos to meet with federal prosecutors about National Enquirer claims: report - Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos will meet with federal prosecutors in New York regarding his claims that Saudi Arabia allegedly provided information about his extramarital affair to the National Enquirer, according to CNN. Prosecutors with the Southern District of New York are reportedly seeking access to Bezos’s electronic devices to verify claims by private investigators that the Saudi government allegedly obtained Bezos’s private information by hacking into his phone, CNN reported, citing people familiar with the matter. Bezos’s attorneys have in recent weeks been negotiating with Southern District prosecutors about his devices, but so far have only turned over documents and materials from his private investigators’ probe, according to the network. Bezos has suggested he was targeted by the Saudis as retaliation for unfavorable coverage of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi was a columnist for The Washington Post, which is owned by Bezos. Khashoggi was reportedly murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October. Bezos’s security consultant, Gavin de Becker, has also expressed “high confidence” that Bezos’s phone was hacked by the Saudis, according to CNN. The Southern District was reported to be investigating the National Enquirer's publisher, American Media Inc. (AMI), in February over the possibility that its handling of stories regarding Bezos’s affair violated a non-prosecution agreement it struck with prosecutors last year. Company officials, as part of the agreement, acknowledged their involvement in a hush-money scheme ahead of the 2016 presidential election to buy the silence of two women alleging to have had affairs with President Trump. The agreement, CNN notes, stemmed from prosecutors' probe into Trump's former longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, who helped arrange the payments.

Trump's tax cuts added billions in profit for America's biggest bank - The CEO of America’s largest bank touted billions in additional profits thanks to Republican tax cuts signed into law by Donald Trump in 2017 — as new research reveals adverse impacts on the nation’s poorest communities stemming from the legislation. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon released an annual investment letter on Thursday that said the president’s tax cuts added to the bank’s net profits by a staggering $3.7bn (£2.8bn). “All things being equal (which they are not), the new lower tax rates added $3.7 billion [£2.8bn] to net income,” he wrote, before celebrating the GOP’s tax bill.  “The new tax code establishes a business tax rate that will make the United States competitive around the world and frees US companies to bring back profits earned overseas,” the letter continued. “The cumulative effect of capital retained and reinvested over many years in the United States will help cultivate strong businesses and ultimately create jobs and increase wages.”  The optimistic view from JPMorgan — which is considered the sixth largest bank in the world as of last year — about Mr Trump’s tax cuts sharply contradicts research produced by the Tax Policy Centre, Joint Committee on Taxation and the Congressional Budget Office, which showed the poorest Americans suffering sharp declines in after-tax income. The Washington Centre for Equitable Growth produced a chart showcasing the harrowing impact the bill could potentially have on the nation’s poorest communities by 2025. While the richest Americans would see an increase of nearly three per cent in their after-tax income over the next several years, the poor will lose after-tax incomes at just about the same rate, according to the research. The loss in poor American’s post-tax income derives from the Republican leadership’s decision to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, Vox reported.

Bank of America is raising its minimum wage for employees to $20 an hour - Bank of America is raising the minimum wage for employees this year and plans to hike it to $20 an hour in two years. “If you get a job at Bank of America, you’ll make $41,000” a year, Chairman and CEO Brian Moynihan told MSNBC on Tuesday. “With the success our company has ... we have to share that success with our teammates.” Starting May 1, the hourly minimum wage will rise to $17 and will go higher in increments for the next two years, the Charlotte, North Carolina-based company said Tuesday in a statement. The bank has also frozen health-care cost increases for lower-paid employees, Moynihan said on MSNBC. The move comes the day before Moynihan, J.P. Morgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon and five other bank CEOs are scheduled to testify before the Democrat-led House Financial Services Committee in Washington. Since income inequality is a hot-button issue ahead of the 2020 election, raising wages for the lowest-paid bank workers may insulate Moynihan from criticism about the gap between branch tellers and the company’s highest-paid employees.

Here’s Why Wall Street Bank CEOs Started to Sweat Yesterday about Today’s House Hearing -  Pam Martens - At 8:00 a.m. yesterday, Politico’s Ben White and Aubree Eliza Weaver dropped the news nugget that the nonprofit watchdog, Better Markets, would be releasing one day ahead of today’s House hearing with the CEOs of the largest banks on Wall Street a report titled: “The RAP Sheet for Wall Street’s Biggest Banks’ Crime Spree,” which promised to detail, for the first time, “that of the more than $29 trillion in total bailouts, the six biggest banks in the country (Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo) received more than $8.2 trillion, or nearly one-third of the total bailouts provided to the entire financial system.”  “At least $29 trillion was lent, spent, pledged, committed, loaned, guaranteed, and otherwise used or made available to bailout the financial system during the 2008 financial crash. The American people were told that this unprecedented rescue was necessary because, if the gigantic financial institutions, mostly on Wall Street, failed and went bankrupt (like every other unsuccessful private business in America), then they would take down the entire financial system, which would take down the U.S. economy, wreaking havoc on Main Street families.“This has actually been true since the 1930s for traditional commercial and retail banks, primarily because they provide essential financial services like checking and savings accounts as well as loans to individuals and businesses small, medium, and large.  That is the fuel for the American economy, standard of living, and overall prosperity, which is why those banks are insured by the FDIC and backed by the taxpayers.  In addition, those banks were guaranteed because the odds of their failure were minimized—and taxpayers were protected—by numerous banking regulators who policed their activities to promote safe and sound banking practices, making bailouts less likely. “However, the $29 trillion in bailouts from the Fed, FDIC, and other regulators (in addition to the $700 billion taxpayer dollars made available under the TARP program) were not only or even primarily provided to those regulated banks that take deposits and make loans. Instead, those bailouts were extended to virtually all financial institutions, including those engaging in the most dangerous, high-risk activities that actually caused the financial crash. Thus, for decades gigantic nonbank financial institutions like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, AIG, money market funds, and many more were allowed to maximize private profits with little or no regulation, but when their activities triggered the crash, they nonetheless were bailed out.

Tough Questioning Turns Jamie Dimon into a Piñata at House Hearing --Pam Martens - What a difference a day makes. On April 9, the day before JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon was to testify at a House Financial Services Committee hearing along with six of his fellow mega bank CEOs, his legions of publicists and handlers still thought there might be a presidential run in his future. Today, not so much.  You know just how torturous the day was for Dimon when the worst part wasn’t his being forced to admit that his bank previously accepted African-American slaves as collateral for loans. That line of questioning came from Congressman Al Green of Texas.  Green said that his ancestors were slaves and asked Dimon if it was true that JPMorgan Chase had released information in 2005 “indicating that it directly benefited from slavery” and had made loans using slaves as collateral. Dimon said he believed this was true. In fact, according to a 2005 report in The Guardian, it was actually worse than that – the bank’s predecessor institutions had actually owned slaves. Two banks that are now part of JPMorgan Chase made loans to plantation owners of slaves in the 1800s, accepted 13,000 slaves as collateral, and “ended up owning about 1250 slaves” when the plantation owners defaulted on the loans, according to The Guardian report. The poignancy of this line of questioning — of banks’ willingness to act against humanity in the name of competitiveness or profits — would come into sharp focus again later in the hearing when Dimon attempted to justify his bank being the number one funder of fossil fuels in the world. That line of questioning came from Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. The exchange went like this: Tlaib: “Mr. Dimon, your bank alone has provided more than $195 billion in fossil fuel lending and underwriting over the past three years since signing of the Paris Climate Agreement, making your bank the number one funder of fossil fuels in the world…Don’t say that you’re committed to clean and sustainable financing because your company’s words are not consistent with your actions.”  Dimon indicated that JPMorgan Chase had started green initiatives but added this:  Dimon: “In the meantime the United States does need energy to eat, drive, get here, eat, ventilate hospitals. And there’s a smart way to do this and a not smart way to do this.”   After being flogged for greenwashing, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts lectured Dimon on  “pink lining.” Pressley explained that “Women were 30 to 46 percent more likely to receive subprime mortgage loans during the financial crisis than men. And black women were 256 percent more likely to receive subprime loans than white men – 256 percent!”

Watch As A Flustered Steve Mnuchin Erupts At Maxine Waters In Chaotic Hearing -- Right out of the gate on Tuesday, it was obvious that today's grilling of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin by Maxine Waters and the House Financial Services Committee would lead to fireworks. Waters used her first question to ask Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin whether he would comply with a Democratic request for copies of six years of the president’s personal and business tax returns by Wednesday's deadline. The answer, not surprisingly, was no: “I want to acknowledge we have received the request,” Mnuchin said, dancing around any solid commitment but repeating the jist of testimony he provided at another hearing earlier Tuesday. “As I said before, we will follow the law. We are reviewing it with our internal legal department and I would leave it at that.”  Initially, Waters complained that Mnuchin had made another engagement tonight, warning him that if he doesn't stay for the full hearing, she would compel him to return in May for multiple hearings. Then, after about three hours and 15 minutes of testimony, Mnuchin asked to leave the committee after Waters told Mnuchin that he was free to leave, but declined to end the hearing, where several members waited to question Mnuchin. Waters had already criticized Mnuchin for scheduling a 5:30 p.m. meeting, which he said was with a senior member of the government of Bahrain, on the same day as an annual appearance before Congress. "No other secretary has ever told us the day before that they were going to limit their time", the House's top financial expert said.  "This is a new way, this is a new day, this is a new chair, and I have the gavel,” Waters explained to Mnuchin, just in case he was unaware. That, as the Washington Examiner notes, then led to an awkward stand off in which Mnuchin told Waters to end the hearing to avoid the appearances of him leaving while a hearing centered around his testimony continued. At which point we got one of the most awkward phrases uttered in Maxine's vicinity: "I believe you’re supposed to take the gavel and bang it,” said an increasingly angry Mnuchin, adding that "you're ordering me to stay here .... that's not what I want to do."  However, after briefly conferring with a legal advisor, Mnuchin then quickly changed his mind when got some good news, namely that he could finally escape the circus: "I've just been advised that I'm under no obligation to stay ... I've withdrawn my offer to voluntarily come back." Waters response: "You may choose to do whatever you want."

Research Study on Ongoing Crime Spree by Wall Street Mega Banks Gets News Blackout: Here’s Why – Pam Martens - One day before Democrats on the House Financial Services Committee held an historic grilling of the CEOs of the mega banks on Wall Street, the nonprofit watchdog, Better Markets, released an in-depth research report on “Wall Street’s Six Biggest Bailed-Out Banks: Their RAP Sheets & Their Ongoing Crime Spree.” The report detailed facts, figures and this inescapable conclusion: “[Six Wall Street mega banks] have engaged in—and continue to engage in—a crime spree that spans the violation of almost every law and rule imaginable. Taking the breadth and depth of their illegal conduct as a whole, the six biggest banks in the country look like criminal enterprises with RAP sheets that would make most career criminals green with envy. That was the case not just before the 2008 crash, but also during and after the crash and their lifesaving bailouts…In fact, the number of cases against the banks has actually increased relative to the pre-crash era.”The six mega banks profiled in the report are: Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo.A reliable source tells us that all major business media received the report on Tuesday, April 9. We know that Politico had the report by 8:00 a.m. because its “Morning Money” column provided a small news nugget at that time announcing that the report was out. Politico did not follow up, however, with any detailed coverage of the shocking revelations in the report. Wall Street On Parade, after carefully reading and digesting the report, published an article on its contents the next morning, April 10. Then we began to hear from our outraged readers, who wanted to know why they weren’t reading about this report at major business media outlets. We checked the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Financial Times, Bloomberg News, Reuters, CNBC, and CNN. We could find no mention of the Better Markets report. (We checked again this morning. There is still a news blackout.) We know that the Wall Street Journal was aware of the report because Lalita Clozel, a banking regulation reporter for the Wall Street Journal, Tweeted on April 10 that Democrats in the House Financial Services Committee room were handing out the report to journalists while the Chair of the Committee, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, was introducing the bank CEOs.There are four words in this outstanding report from Better Markets that rendered it unpalatable to corporate business media: “rap sheets” and “criminal enterprise.” We searched Bloomberg News, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times back to 2004 to see if at any time they had used the words “rap sheet” to describe the unprecedented serial crime sprees of these Wall Street mega banks. They had not.

The Senate Banking Chairmen Are Selling Access  -The phrase “drain the swamp” has been around for a while but its current usage probably began in 1976 when Ronald Reagan, who was making an ultimately unsuccessful bid for the Republican Party’s nomination, said, “Sometimes, when you are up to your elbows in alligators, it is hard to remember your original objective was to drain the swamp.“  To me, the most glaring examples of swamp-like behavior are seen when retired or ousted lawmakers take positions at lobbying firms or governmental regulators take jobs at companies they were responsible for overseeing. This is sometimes referred to as the “rotating” or “revolving door.”  The basic problem is that well-connected and wealthy people are able to game the system by usurping the legislative role or capturing the regulatory scheme. The losers are generally everyone else who doesn’t have special access or high-priced lobbyists. We can’t ignore campaign finance law and practice, however, when we’re talking about gaming the system.  Lawmakers are required to raise unholy amounts of money, and that makes them solicitous of big donors who can help cut down on the amount of time they have to spend dialing for dollars. To see an example of how this works, we need not look no further than the freshly minted new chairman of the Senate Banking Committee:Got $15,000? If so, Sen. Mike Crapo’s campaign invites you and a guest to a dinner with Senate banking subcommittee chairmen. $10,000 raised or donated gets you one seat. But giving or raising either sum allows access to a good time with Crapo, the Senate Banking Committee chairman, including fishing on the Chesapeake Bay or a fall retreat at the posh Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia. “The campaign is quite literally selling access in exchange for money,” said Brendan Fischer, director of the federal reform program at the Campaign Legal Center, a group that advocates for reducing the influence of money in politics. “Clearly the intent is selling access and influence. What it is not doing is selling action,” Ryan said. But, Fischer added, “Mike Crapo’s constituents are not going to have this opportunity to go fishing with him unless they give him $15,000.”

Hensarling to join UBS as executive vice chairman — Former House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, has been hired by UBS as executive vice chairman of the Americas region and will be based in Dallas. Hensarling joins the Swiss Bank after chairing the committee for six years, where he frequently pushed for sweeping rollbacks of the Dodd-Frank Act.   Hensarling’s move to UBS comes after some speculation that he could be considered for a regulatory post in the Trump administration. Some had speculated he could be tapped to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency, but Mark Calabria, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, was recently confirmed by the Senate and sworn into that position.  Former Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm, R-Texas, who was Hensarling’s mentor, also joined UBS after he retired from Congress.

Still stress testing, even when they don’t have to - Here's a surprise — some banks are willingly complying with a Dodd-Frank-era regulation even though they aren’t required to. A year after Congress passed a regulatory relief law that eliminated certain stress tests for midsize and regional banks, many of those banks are continuing to conduct stress tests anyway. They are doing so because asset quality remains top of mind — amid continued predictions of a recession and worries about elevated levels of risky leveraged loans — and many bankers believe that stress-testing loan and securities portfolios for economic shocks is simply a sound business practice. Some, including FirstBank in Lakewood, Colo., are even going beyond what was required under Dodd-Frank and modeling for economic downturns in specific geographic markets. Previously they had used generic models provided by the Federal Reserve. “The infrastructure is already there to do the tests, so instead of just dismantling it, we’re using it in a different way,” said David Kelly, the chief risk officer at the $18.5 billion-asset bank. These company-run stress tests had been mandatory under the Dodd-Frank Act for all banks with more than $10 billion of assets. The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, which President Trump signed into law last May, eliminated the stress tests for banks with less than $250 billion of assets, or about 125 institutions. The Dodd-Frank stress tests are separate from supervisory stress tests run by the Federal Reserve. Those stress tests remain in place, though in February, the Fed said it would exempt banks with assets of $100 billion to $250 billion from the 2019 Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review stress-testing cycle.  While many banks say they have ample capital to weather a recession, they say that stress-testing still helps them identify potential trouble spots in their portfolios. The $45 billion-asset Synovus Financial in Columbus, Ga., was exempted but it still “rigorously” stress-tests, Chairman and CEO Kessel Stelling said during a January conference call. “We believe we’re well positioned from a credit quality standpoint, regardless of the timing or the severity of the next downturn,”

Warren’s Antitrust Proposal: Should We Break Up Big Tech, or Just Regulate It Better? - Marshall Auerback - Senator Elizabeth Warren made national headlines with her recently released plans to break up tech giants Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple, making it one of her signature proposals as she campaigns for the presidency. Warren’s essential rationale is that these tech companies act as monopolies and need to be cut down in size in order to promote more competitive markets, via traditional antitrust instruments such as the Sherman Act. Furthermore, as legal scholar Kelsey Mullane highlights, Warren is also advocating “new legislation that would regulate large tech platforms and the appointment of federal regulators who will enforce our antitrust laws and retroactively terminate anti-competitive mergers.” . She wants to use antitrust law to address other social friction points, notably improving the quality of employment, mitigating wealth inequality, better protecting data privacy and enhancing national security. In short, her policies reflect an expansion of antitrust policy away from the narrow focus of the so-called “Chicago School” (which largely uses the metrics of economic efficiency and consumer welfare to determine whether to deploy antitrust remedies), toward broader philosophical concerns over monopoly’s effects on democracy itself. Her two most notable planks boil down to this:Companies with an annual global revenue of $25 billion or more and that offer to the public an online marketplace, an exchange, or a platform for connecting third parties would be designated as “platform utilities.”These companies would be prohibited from owning both the platform utility and any participants on that platform. Platform utilities would be required to meet a standard of fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory dealing with users. Platform utilities would not be allowed to tr ansfer or share data with third parties. In other words, the rationale for the breakup of tech companies in part turns on “structural separation,” as journalist David Dayen explains, which means that companies like Amazon or Google “would not be allowed to both own the platform and also participate as a seller on that platform.” The idea behind this separation is that it prevents the companies from controlling content via control of distribution, which can create long-term competitive distortions, even though in the short term, consumers might benefit from the lower prices offered by a large-scale retailer like Amazon. This logic moves beyond book retailing: It is what gave America separation of ownership of movie studios and movie theaters before online streaming provided by Amazon and Netflix started taking over.

A new scam targets your direct deposit info and sends your paycheck to a criminal’s account - Around two or three times per month, KVC Health Systems receives phishing emails from criminals with the goal of rerouting an employee’s paycheck by direct deposit.The emails look legitimate at first, as though they come from the CEO, CFO or payroll director. “They might just say, ‘I need to update my direct deposit information,’” said Erik Nyberg, director of information technology at KVC. “Or they start with, ‘Hey, do you have a second?’ and if that target person responds, then they go from there.”The fake emails defy many existing controls for malicious communications, he said. They are usually well written, cordial and lack the misspellings, grammar mistakes and exclamation points that would trigger many popular email filters that search for spam or phishing attempts. The scammer is trying to convince human resources personnel to change the bank account and routing information the employee uses to have paychecks direct-deposited. Once routed to the criminal’s account, the company is on the hook for replacing the stolen funds and the employee faces the inconvenience of a late paycheck. It’s a new version of wire fraud scams that have devastated businesses in recent years, and a more focused version of a series of payroll fraud crimes that the IRS warned late last year were on the rise. The fraud is growing, experts said, because it easily bypasses many existing technical controls, and the small sums stolen are inoffensive enough that they can be folded into the cost of doing business.

Will Inflated FICO Scores Be The Catalyst For The Next Meltdown?  - Consumer credit scores have been artificially inflated over the last decade ears and are covering up a very real danger lurking behind hundreds of billions of dollars in debt. And when Goldman Sachs is the one ringing the alarm bell, you know the issue may actually be serious. Joined by Moody's Analytics and supported by "research" from the Federal Reserve, the steady rise of credit scores during our last decade of "economic expansion" has led to a dangerous concept called "grade inflation", according to Bloomberg. Grade inflation is the idea that debtors are actually riskier than their scores indicate, due to metrics not accounting for the "robust" economy, which may negatively affect the perception of borrowers' ability to pay back bills on time. This means that when a recession finally happens, there could be a larger than expected fallout for both lenders and investors. There are around 15 million more consumers with credit scores above 740 today than there were in 2006, and about 15 million fewer consumers with scores below 660, according to Moody’s. On the surface, this disappearance of subprime borrowers is good news. But is there more than meets the eye to the American consumer's FICO score renaissance? Cris deRitis, deputy chief economist at Moody’s Analytics said: “Borrowers with low credit scores in 2019 pose a much higher relative risk. Because loss rates today are low and competition for high-score borrowers is fierce, lenders may be tempted to lower their credit standards without appreciating that the 660 credit-score borrower today may be relatively worse than a 660-score borrower in 2009.” 

We're All Being Judged By A Secret 'Trustworthiness' Score - Nearly everything we buy, how we buy, and where we're buying from is secretly fed into AI-powered verification services that help companies guard against credit-card and other forms of fraud, according to the Wall Street Journal.  More than 16,000 signals are analyzed by a service called Sift, which generates a "Sift score" ranging from 1 - 100. The score is used to flag devices, credit cards and accounts that a vendor may want to block based on a person or entity's overall "trustworthiness" score, according to a company spokeswoman. From the Sift website: "Each time we get an event -- be it a page view or an API event -- we extract features related to those events and compute the Sift Score. These features are then weighed based on fraud we've seen both on your site and within our global network, and determine a user's Score. There are features that can negatively impact a Score as well as ones which have a positive impact."  The system is similar to a credit score - except there's no way to find out your own Sift score.   Factors which contribute to one's Sift score (per the WSJ): 

  • • Is the account new?
  • • Are there are a lot of digits at the end of an email address?
  • • Is the transaction coming from an IP address that’s unusual for your account?
  • • Is the transaction coming from a region where there are a lot of hackers, such as China, Russia or Eastern Europe?
  • • Is the transaction coming from an anonymization network?
  • • Is the transaction happening at an odd time of day?
  • • Has the credit card being used had chargebacks associated with it?
  • • Is the browser different from what you typically use?
  • • Is the device different from what you typically use?
  • • Is the cadence of the way you typed out your password typical for you? (tracked by some advanced systems)

Amazon workers study conversations recorded by Alexa: report - Amazon employees working with the company's Alexa digital voice assistant reportedly review audio recorded from the homes of Amazon Echo users while they work to improve Alexa's voice recognition and command responses.Several employees told Bloomberg News that dozens of Amazon employees working out of countries such as India, Romania, Costa Rica and the U.S. listen to voice recordings taken by Amazon's Echo systems, which the workers then transcribe and annotate for use in Alexa's understanding of human speech patterns.The practice has exposed Amazon employees to recordings that would otherwise be private, according to Bloomberg. The outlet reported that Amazon employees have discussed in internal chat rooms amusing audio clips recorded by the Echo systems, as well as hearing recordings that are shocking or possibly criminal, such as possible sexual assaults, which two workers reported having heard.Amazon workers described to Bloomberg hearing other audio clips including a child screaming for help and a woman singing off key in the shower.  Bloomberg noted that a frequently asked questions site detailing concerns about the Alexa software did not mention specifically that human beings would have access to audio files recorded in users' homes. “We use your requests to Alexa to train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems,” the webpage reads.

Is Your Smart Speaker Listening In on You? --Almost a third of American households have a smart speaker, according to a study from National Public Radio and Edison Research. These devices play music, turn on lights, set alarms and perform numerous household tasks, all with a simple voice command.The Google Home, Apple HomePod and Amazon Echo, among other smart speakers, are like having a personal assistant that happens to be inanimate. But for every voiced request, it’s difficult not to wonder if anyone is listening. As Matt Day, Giles Turner and Natalia Drozdiak write inBloomberg, for users of Amazon’s Echo speaker, with its digital assistant, Alexa, thousands might be.Amazon, as Day, Turner and Drozdiak report, employs thousands of voice reviewers, people around the world who help refine Alexa’s responses. As they explain: “The team listens to voice recordings captured in Echo owners’ homes and offices. The recordings are transcribed, annotated and then fed back into the software as part of an effort to eliminate gaps in Alexa’s understanding of human speech and help it better respond to commands.”Bloomberg points out that Google and Apple also use human reviewers, but their processes appear to less robust.For iPhone’s Siri assistant, Bloomberg says the recordings “Lack personally identifiable information and are stored for six months tied to a random identifier, according to an Apple security white paper. After that, the data is stripped of its random identification information but may be stored for longer periods to improve Siri’s voice recognition.”For Google’s Home, “Some reviewers can access some audio snippets from its Assistant to help train and improve the product, but it’s not associated with any personally identifiable information and the audio is distorted,” Google told Bloomberg. Amazon’s process emphasizes the human role required to create effective algorithms. The Bloomberg article notes that Amazon’s marketing materials downplay that element, saying, “Alexa ‘lives in the cloud and is always getting smarter,’ but like many software tools built to learn from experience, humans are doing some of the teaching.”

CMBS delinquencies rise as late payments on retail properties increase -- The commercial mortgage-backed securities delinquency rate increased for the first time since October, led by a 31-basis-point rise in late payments for loans secured by retail properties, Fitch Ratings said. Five times as many loans were added to the delinquent inventory ($417 million) than were resolved ($82 million) during March. The overall CMBS delinquency rate increased by 8 basis points to 2.08% in March from February. But this was still 88 basis points below the 2.96% rate for March 2018. Commercial real estate debt outstanding grew 6.8% last year to $3.39 trillion, according to a Mortgage Bankers Association report. Of that total, $466.1 billion held by securitizers. Delinquencies in the retail segment increased by 31 basis to 5% from 4.69% in February; this segment had the highest delinquency rate. The largest loan that went into delinquency was for $222.6 million. It is secured by eight community shopping centers in Florida and was not repaid by its maturity date. The original due date was extended after the loan was split into two notes and turned into an interest-only mortgage. However, the borrower is reportedly selling the loans to a single buyer, where the proceeds will repay the senior note and a portion of the junior note. There is another increase anticipated in the retail delinquency rate for April, as two regional mall loans became 30 days late on their payments during Mach, one for $49.9 million and the other for $45 million. The mixed-use sector had a 30-basis-point rise in the rate, to 1.66% from 1.36% in February, the only segment with a significant increase in delinquencies. That increase was tied to a securitization, originally consisting of 14 properties leased (either fully or partially) to the federal government. There are three properties remaining; the borrower was late on a balloon payment due in March. Across other commercial real estate segments, the CMBS default rate remained flat compared with February. The delinquency rate for the office sector fell 3 basis points, hotels rose 1 basis point, industrial declined 2 basis points, multifamily rose 2 basis points and other property types were down 1 basis point. 

 Deutsche Bank, the DOJ and how $4B in aid to distressed homeowners evaporated -- In the waning days of the Obama administration, Deutsche Bank made a series of unusually frank admissions in a U.S. court filing. The German bank acknowledged that during the housing boom it made intentionally false representations to buyers of its mortgage-backed securities, concealing the actual risks from purchasers of the bonds. It lied, for example, about borrowers’ credit scores. It also lied about the amount of equity that borrowers held in their homes. Banks typically do not fess up to deliberate wrongdoing, and when they do, their language is usually more equivocal than it was here. So the Department of Justice, which extracted the confession, took credit. “Our settlement today makes clear that institutions like Deutsche Bank cannot evade responsibility for the great cost exacted by their conduct,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a January 2017 press release. The Justice Department also said that the $1.77 trillion-asset bank had agreed to pay $7.2 billion, more than half of which would come in the form of aid to consumers who were harmed by its misconduct. “Specifically, Deutsche Bank will provide loan modifications, including loan forgiveness and forbearance, to distressed and underwater homeowners throughout the country,” the DOJ’s press release stated. But that claim, like many statements that Deutsche made to mortgage bond investors a decade earlier, proved to be false. The multibillion-dollar settlement did not actually require Deutsche to offer any loan modifications; they were merely one option on a menu of choices available to the bank. And after initially pledging to provide modifications, Deutsche Bank recently backed out of that plan, saying that it would instead fulfill its settlement obligations by financing new mortgages, some of which have gone to wealthy borrowers. These loans — ostensibly made for consumer relief purposes — do not need to have any connection to the borrowers who were harmed a decade ago. The homebuyer merely has to reside in one of 18 U.S. states in which more than half of the nation’s population lives in order for Deutsche to receive credit. The bank’s about-face serves as a fitting coda to President Obama’s foreclosure prevention efforts, which failed to stem the sharp nationwide increase in vacant homes. It also illustrates how one particular Obama-era program was creatively repurposed by lawyers, who found a way to give banks settlement credit for funding new mortgages that likely would have been made anyway.

Insights — including Dimon’s sour take on mortgages — from JPMorgan’s 1Q - Most things went right for JPMorgan Chase in the first quarter. Profits and deposits surged, there were few asset-quality issues and even growth in expenses was slower than some analysts had predicted. But on its earnings call with analysts Friday, executives at the largest U.S. bank by assets still highlighted some areas of concern. Like most banks, JPMorgan had expected the Federal Reserve Board to raise interest rates at least a couple of times this year and its recent decision to hit pause on rate hikes could crimp profit margins, Chief Financial Officer Marianne Lake said. Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon, meanwhile, told analysts that he’s becoming increasingly disenchanted with the mortgage business. JPMorgan Chase is the nation’s third-largest mortgage lender, but Dimon suggested that the bank might shrink its home-lending operation — or exit the business entirely — due to what he views as excessive regulation. Here are five takeaways from the bank’s first-quarter results and management’s call with analysts.

Agencies near consensus on key elements of CRA reform — Just as the heads of two federal banking regulators have signaled progress in talks regarding modernizing the Community Reinvestment Act, their staffs have detailed common areas of agreement that could lead to a joint plan. Senior officials at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Federal Reserve briefed industry leaders at a conference last week on their discussions, providing further signs of momentum in efforts to develop an interagency CRA proposal. The officials indicated that, after preliminary talks and a review of public comments submitted to the OCC, the agencies are ready to start writing a proposal. “We have a lot of information and ideas. It's now time to put pen to paper,” Mark Pearce, director of the FDIC’s Depositor and Consumer Protection division, said at the Consumer Bankers Association conference. Regulators signaled the agencies agree on the need for a clearer and consistent method for grading CRA compliance, but may stop short of developing a single CRA metric. They appeared to support some type of expansion for CRA assessment areas to capture more of a bank's digital activities, but not do so in a way to detract from community reinvestment now centered on the branch network. The officials also hinted that regulators may consider limiting the amount of CRA credit a bank can receive for securities-related activities. Here is a progress report on key areas of reform: Consistency is crucial in CRA grading, but 'single metric' idea might be problematic The regulators said their top priority was to have a clear and uniform measurement system for grading banks on their CRA activities.

Foreclosure filings fall to a low last seen after the housing bubble - The number of properties with foreclosure filings dropped to the lowest quarterly amount since the Great Recession, according to Attom Data Solutions. A total of 161,875 filings were recorded in Attom's U.S. Foreclosure Market Report for the first quarter, down 15% year-over-year and 23% from the previous quarter. The last time foreclosure activity dipped this low was the first quarter of 2008. Total foreclosure filings fell even though foreclosure starts increased on a consecutive-quarter basis. There were 91,397 filings started on U.S. properties in the first quarter, up 7% from the previous quarter, but down 3% from a year ago, marking the 15th consecutive quarter with a year-over-year decrease in foreclosure starts. Foreclosure times Bank-repossessed properties fell year-over-year for the 14th straight quarter. There were 35,787 real estate owned properties in 2019's opening quarter, and REO was down by 45% annually and 21% from the prior quarter.  Foreclosure timelines rose for the second quarter in a row, going to 835 days from 791 the year prior and from 811 in 2018's fourth quarter. The average time to foreclose has grown steadily since the financial crisis, when it ballooned to a high of 1,027 days in the closing quarter of 2017. There was a wide gap of in foreclosure processing times from state to state in the first quarter. A total of nine had average foreclosure timelines above a thousand days. Indiana led with 1,806 days, followed by Hawaii's 1,565 and Arizona's 1,385. On the opposite end of the spectrum, West Virginia had the shortest timeline at 159 days, with Virginia next at 206 and followed by Minnesota at 235. Atlantic City, N.J., had the highest foreclosure rate out of the 220 metropolitan areas with populations of 200,000 that Attom tracks. One in every 177 housing units in the city had a foreclosure filing. Other areas with high foreclosure rates include Lakeland, Fla., which had one foreclosure for every 338 units, and Trenton, N.J., with one for every 345 units.

 MBA: Mortgage Purchase Applications up 13% YoY -- From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey Mortgage applications decreased 5.6 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending April 5, 2019.... The Refinance Index decreased 11 percent from the previous week. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 1 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 1 percent compared with the previous week and was 13 percent higher than the same week one year ago.... “Mortgage rates inched back up last week, but remain substantially lower than they were in the second half of last year,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “As quickly as refinance activity increased in recent weeks, it backed down again in response to the rise in rates. However, this spring’s lower borrowing costs, coupled with the strong job market, continue to push purchase application volume much higher. Purchase applications are now up more than 13 percent compared to last year at this time.”... The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($484,350 or less) increased to 4.40 percent from 4.36 percent, with points increasing to 0.47 from 0.44 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The first graph shows the refinance index since 1990. Once mortgage rates fell more than 50 bps from the highs of last year, a number of recent buyers were able to refinance.  But it would take another significant decrease in rates to see further refinance activity.  The second graph shows the MBA mortgage purchase index. According to the MBA, purchase activity is up 13% year-over-year.

These 40 cities may see housing prices decline, survey says - If you're looking for a new home in an urban area, you might be attracted to some more up-and-coming areas.But buyer beware: Some of those areas come with big risks.That is according to a new study from GOBankingRates, which evaluated cities based on multiple criteria: percentage of homes with mortgages in negative equity, foreclosure rates, delinquency rates on mortgage payments, homeowner vacancy rates and rental vacancy rates. The site then ranked 40 cities according to these risks.To be sure, many areas of the country are holding steady. Separate research from CoreLogic, a provider of property information, data and analytics, released in March found that delinquency and foreclosure rates overall were the lowest since 2000. On top of the list is Newark, New Jersey, which also came in first with highest delinquency rate and highest homeowner vacancy rate.Other Northeast cities to make the list include Baltimore; Bridgeport, Conn.; Hartford, Conn.; Philadelphia and Syracuse, New York. Midwestern cities were also prominent, including Chicago; Cleveland; Dayton, Ohio; Detroit; Toledo, Ohio; Akron, Ohio; Milwaukee; and Rockford, Joliet and Aurora, all in Illinois.Southern cities also rounded out the top 40, including Birmingham, Alabama; Columbus, Georgia; Jacksonville, Florida; Memphis; Mobile, Alabama; New Orleans and Norfolk, Virginia, among others. Tulsa landed on the bottom of the list, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's a safe bet, DePietro said. That's because it still has above-average foreclosure rates, homeowner vacancy rates and rental vacancy rates. Following are the 40 cities that could be in danger of a housing decline this year, according to GOBankingRates. GOBankingRates used data from the Census Bureau, RealtyTrac and Zillow to complete the study.

Americans' Expectations For Home Prices Appreciation Drops To Lowest On Record Today, the NY Fed released its March 2019 Survey of Consumer Expectations, which showed no change in the short-term inflation expectations and a slight increase in medium-term inflation expectations. And  while expected earnings and household income expectations improved slightly, in keeping with various consumer confidence surveys, a red flashing alert was noted in regard to home price change expectations which remain at their lowest level on record, suggesting that most Americans do not anticipate any increase in the price of their homes - an asset which has traditionally been an equity piggy bank for America's middle class - for a long time. Here are the main findings from the March 2019 survey: Inflation:

  • Median inflation expectations at the one-year horizon remained stable at 2.8% in March, while increasing by 0.1 percentage point to 2.9% at the three-year horizon.
  • The median expected change in the cost of gas increased from 4.3% to 4.7% in March, the highest reading since June 2018. The median one-year ahead expected changes in the cost of food, medical care, college education, and rent changed little in March, all staying within 0.1 percentage points of the previous month’s expectations. 

And while the median home price change expectations remained steady at 3.0% for the fourth consecutive month, this was the lowest reading of the series, driven mostly by a continued drop in appreciation expectations by those earning over $100,000. There were notable improvement in the labor market where median one-year ahead earnings growth expectations increased from 2.5% in February to 2.6% in March, the highest reading since September 2018. These expectations, however, varied substantially across demographic groups. In particular, median earnings growth expectations reported by respondents over the age of 60 and respondents with a high school diploma or less actually decreased in March.Separately, the mean perceived probability of losing one’s job in the next 12 months decreased 0.3 percentage points to 14.3% in March, equal to its 12-month trailing average. This decrease was driven mostly by respondents under the age of 40. Adding to the labor market optimism, the probability of leaving one’s job voluntarily in the next 12 months increased from 21.2% to 21.8%.

 American Rents Climb To Record Highs Despite Slump In Home Sales - Home sales in the US have slowed dramatically over the past year - and in some markets, like tony Manhattan, they have virtually ground to a halt - as high prices and a shortage of affordable inventory have squeezed cash-strapped young buyers. But unfortunately for the average renter (a group that includes the bulk of millennials who don't still live with their parents), this housing market weakness hasn't translated to lower rents. In fact, in March, the average national rent increased by 3.2% YoY to $1,430 (up $44) to a fresh all-time high. What's worse, the increases were spread throughout the country, with 92% of the 253 largest cities in the US registering an increase in the average rent paid, while 6% of cities registered no change, and rents dropped in just 2% of cities, according to data from the Yardi Matrix published by  On a monthly basis, rents climbed 0.3% (or $4), which was in line with last year's rate for March. And unfortunately for all of those cash-strapped creatives living in Brooklyn, the 20 largest rental markets in the US continued to see robust price appreciation, with the average rent in the borough climbing to $2,860. Manhattan's rental market remained the most expensive in the country, with the average rent a staggering $4,141. While coastal enclaves like San Francisco and NYC continued to dominate the most expensive list, cities in the South and Midwest remained the most affordable markets, with Wichita, Kansas claiming the title of most affordable city for renters, with an average rent of just $645. Here's a map of the biggest increases and decreases for small cities... ...mid-sized cities... ...and large cities...

Update: Framing Lumber Prices Down 30% Year-over-year --Here is another monthly update on framing lumber prices.   Lumber prices declined from the record highs in early 2018, and are now down about 30% year-over-year. This graph shows two measures of lumber prices: 1) Framing Lumber from Random Lengths through April 5, 2019 (via NAHB), and 2) CME framing futures. Right now Random Lengths prices are down 27% from a year ago, and CME futures are  down 34% year-over-year.  There is a seasonal pattern for lumber prices, and usually prices will increase in the Spring, and peak around May, and then bottom around October or November - although there is quite a bit of seasonal variability.

Consumer Price Index: March Headline at 1.86% -- The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the March Consumer Price Index data this morning. The year-over-year non-seasonally adjusted Headline CPI came in at 1.86%, up from 1.52% the previous month. Year-over-year Core CPI (ex Food and Energy) came in at 2.04%, down from the previous month's 2.08% and above the Fed's 2% PCE target.Here is the introduction from the BLS summary, which leads with the seasonally adjusted monthly data:The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.4 percent in March on a seasonally adjusted basis after rising 0.2 percent in February, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 1.9 percent before seasonal adjustment.The energy index increased 3.5 percent in March, accounting for about 60 percent of the seasonally adjusted all items monthly increase. The gasoline index increased sharply, and the electricity index also rose, although the natural gas index declined. The food index also increased in March, with the indexes for food at home and food away from home both continuing to rise.The index for all items less food and energy increased 0.1 percent in March, the same increase as in February. The indexes for shelter, medical care, new vehicles, recreation, education, and tobacco were among those that increased in March, while the indexes for apparel, used cars and trucks, and airline fares all declined.The all items index increased 1.9 percent for the 12 months ending March, a larger increase than the 1.5-percent rise for the period ending February. The index for all items less food and energy rose 2.0 percent over the last 12 months. The food index rose 2.1 percent over the past year, its largest 12-month increase since the period ending March 2015, while the energy index declined 0.4 percent over the past year. [More…] was looking for a 0.3% MoM change in seasonally adjusted Headline CPI and 0.2% in Core CPI. Year-over-year forecasts were 1.8% for Headline and 2.1% for Core.   The first chart is an overlay of Headline CPI and Core CPI (the latter excludes Food and Energy) since the turn of the century. The highlighted two percent level is the Federal Reserve's Core inflation target for the CPI's cousin index, the BEA's Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) price index. The next chart shows both series since 1957, the year the government first began tracking Core Inflation.

Key Measures Show Inflation about the same in March as in February on a YoY basis -- The Cleveland Fed released the median CPI and the trimmed-mean CPI this morning: According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, the median Consumer Price Index rose 0.3% (3.3% annualized rate) in March. The 16% trimmed-mean Consumer Price Index rose 0.2% (2.8% annualized rate) during the month. The median CPI and 16% trimmed-mean CPI are measures of core inflation calculated by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland based on data released in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) monthly CPI report. Earlier today, the BLS reported that the seasonally adjusted CPI for all urban consumers rose 0.4% (5.0% annualized rate) in March. The CPI less food and energy rose 0.1% (1.8% annualized rate) on a seasonally adjusted basis. Note: The Cleveland Fed released the median CPI details for March here. Motor fuel increased at a 111.3% annualized rate in March. This graph shows the year-over-year change for these four key measures of inflation. On a year-over-year basis, the median CPI rose 2.8%, the trimmed-mean CPI rose 2.3%, and the CPI less food and energy rose 1.8%. Core PCE is for February and increased 1.9% year-over-year. On a monthly basis, median CPI was at 3.3% annualized, trimmed-mean CPI was at 2.8% annualized, and core CPI was at 2.0% annualized. Using these measures, inflation was about the same in March as in February on a year-over-year basis. Overall, these measures are at or above the Fed's 2% target (Core PCE is below 2%).

US Consumer Prices Rebound In March But Real Wage Growth Slumps - Something for everyone in today's CPI data with the headline consumer price index rising more than expected at +1.9% YoY (+1.8% YoY exp) and core CPI weaker than expected at +2.0% YoY (+2.1% YoY). The index for all items less food and energy increased 0.1 percent in March, the same monthly increase as in February. Both goods and services prices slowed with the former sliding back to unchanged YoY... Under the covers, it was an even more mixed bag as shelter costs jumped 0.4% while apparel tumbled 1.9%... The medical care index, which declined in February, rose 0.3 percent in March. The index for prescription drugs increased 0.6 percent in March following a 1.0-percent decline in February. The index for hospital services also increased in March, rising 0.3 percent, but the index for physicians’ services declined, falling 0.4 percent. The shelter index continued to rise, increasing 0.4 percent. The index for rent rose 0.4 percent, while the index for owners’ equivalent rent increased 0.3 percent. This is the fastest pace of rent inflation since April 2018... The energy index increased 3.5 percent in March, accounting for about 60 percent of the seasonally adjusted all items monthly increase. The gasoline index increased sharply, and the electricity index also rose, although the natural gas index declined. The food index also increased in March, with the indexes for food at home and food away from home both continuing to rise. Notably, as Bloomberg reports, Wednesday’s numbers likely reflect some effects from new data collected directly from a department store company, which the March report incorporated for the first time. Economists at Goldman and SocGen had projected the change could cause a drag from apparel on the broader measure. Apparel prices fell 1.9 percent from the prior month, the most since 1949, and were down 2.2 percent from a year earlier. The category accounts for 3.1 percent of CPI. However, perhaps most notably, real average hourly earnings growth slowed dramatically from +1.9% YoY to +1.3% YoY...

2019 Core CPI -  Spencer England - In a low inflation world firms tend to raise prices once a year, typically in the first quarter of the calendar year or their fiscal year.   Because of this very strong seasonal pattern, on a not seasonally adjusted  around 50% of the annual increase in the core CPI —  excluding food and energy — occurs in the first quarter This very strong pattern gives great insight in to the annual inflation rate. One, is if this year’s first quarter is greater than or less that the prior year’s first quarter, this year’s annual increase will be greater of less than the prior year’s annual increase. This has worked every since year since 1990. Second, just doubling the NSA first quarter rate gives you an amazingly accurate estimate of the annual increase in  the core CPI for that year. In 2018 the first quarter rose 1.20% and the annual increase was 2.16%.  This year the first quarter rose 1.06%.  This implies that the rise in the core CPI should be slightly less in  2019 than  it as in 2018.

Why much of the country is headed for $4 gas - A consortium of oil-producing countries has taken more than a million barrels a day off the market — and that’s the least of the problems plaguing American gasoline prices. Across the U.S., regular gas averaged $2.77 a gallon, up 7 cents on the week and 29 cents on the month, according to GasBuddy. Last year, gas prices topped out at $2.98 at the outset of Memorial Day weekend. Skyrocketing prices are particularly pronounced on the West Coast. According to GasBuddy, California already has the highest gas prices in the country at an average of $3.77 per gallon for regular gas, an increase of 49 cents over last month’s average. GasBuddy head of petroleum analysis Patrick DeHaan warned in a Sunday tweet that prices weren’t done going up just yet, predicting that the average price in California will top $4 this week. “It’s nothing short of spectacular on the West Coast. A trifecta of issues is causing gas prices to surge,” DeHaan said. Oil prices are climbing, but that only accounts for about one-quarter of the recently higher gas prices American drivers have been facing, he said. A bigger issue is that this is around the time of year when many oil refineries plan maintenance as they make their annual switch to summer-blend fuels. This year, unexpected issues took a higher number of refineries offline, squeezing supplies. “This laundry list of refinery issues, both planned and unplanned, is having a dramatic impact on prices,” DeHaan said. “It’s almost inevitable every year that there will be a refinery issue.” Another factor driving up gas prices is ethanol, a corn-based fuel refiners are required to mix into summertime gasoline blends. Flooding in key Midwestern ethanol production hubs like Chicago has disrupted the delivery of ethanol and made supplies scarce. The upshot is that drivers in different parts of the country will continue to see prices climbing in the coming weeks, albeit at different rates.

AAR: March Rail Carloads down 8.9% YoY, Intermodal Down 1.5% YoY --From the Association of American Railroads (AAR) Rail Time Indicators. Total U.S. rail carloads in March 2019 were down 8.9% (93,616 carloads) from March 2018. That’s the biggest percentage decline for total carloads for any month since May 2016. …U.S. intermodal originations were down 1.5% (16,387 containers and trailers) in March 2019 from March 2018. Combined with a 0.9% decline in February, this marks the first two-month decline for intermodal since October 2016.A slowing economy may be having an impact on rail traffic, but bad weather is a more likely culprit. March had bad weather events in many places, but the worst was the horrendous flooding in Nebraska and Iowa caused by melting snow and heavy rain.  This graph from the Rail Time Indicators report shows U.S. average weekly rail carloads (NSA).  Red is 2019. Rail carloads have been weak over the last decade due to the decline in coal shipments. In March, just 4 of the 20 carload commodity categories the AAR tracks saw carload gains — the fewest since July 2016. The 8.9% decline in March was the biggest percentage decline for total carloads for any month since May 2016, and follows a 2.7% decline in February. Weekly average total carloads in March 2019 were 239,286, the fourth lowest of any month since sometime prior to 1988, when our data begin. For the first quarter of 2019, total carloads were down 3.1%, or 100,800 carloads, from the first quarter of 2018. That’s the biggest quarterly decline since the third quarter of 2016. The second graph is for intermodal traffic (using intermodal or shipping containers): U.S. intermodal originations were down 1.5% (16,387 containers and trailers) in March 2019 from March 2018. Combined with a 0.9% decline in February, this marks the first two-month decline since October 2016. Weekly average intermodal volume in March 2019 was 266,448 units, the second best for March in history (behind March 2018). For the first quarter, intermodal was down 0.6%.

U.S. factory orders fall modestly, shipments increase - (Reuters) - New orders for U.S.-made goods fell modestly in February and shipments rose after four straight monthly declines, but the manufacturing sector is slowing amid rising inventories. Factory goods orders dropped 0.5 percent, the Commerce Department said on Monday, pulled down by weak orders for machinery, transportation equipment and computers and electronic products. Data for January was revised down to show factory orders unchanged instead of edging up 0.1 percent as previously reported. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast factory orders falling 0.6 percent in February. Factory orders rose 2.4 percent compared to February 2018. The release of the report was delayed by a 35-day partial shutdown of the federal government that ended on Jan. 25. Manufacturing, which accounts for about 12 percent of the economy, is losing momentum as the stimulus from last year’s $1.5 trillion tax cut package fades. Activity is also being hampered by a trade war between the United States and China as well as by last year’s surge in the dollar and softening global economic growth, which are hurting exports. While a survey last week showed a measure of national manufacturing rebounded from a more than two-year low in March, factory payrolls fell for the first since July 2017. Job losses were mostly concentrated in the automotive sector, where slowing sales that have led to an inventory bloat. Shipments of factory goods rose 0.4 percent in February after dropping 0.3 percent in January. They had declined for four straight months. With unfilled orders falling 0.3 percent and inventories rising 0.3 percent in February, factory orders are likely to remain sluggish. In February, orders for machinery fell 0.6 percent after rising 2.1 percent in the prior month. Orders for industrial machinery declined 2.6 percent after surging 15.5 percent in January. Orders for electrical equipment, appliances and components rose 1.0 percent after increasing 1.1 percent in January. Computers and electronic products orders fell 0.5 percent after dropping 1.9 percent in January. Transportation equipment orders tumbled 4.5 percent in January after gaining 0.4 percent in the prior month. Orders for civilian aircraft and parts plunged 31.1 percent. Motor vehicles and parts orders gained 0.5 percent. The Commerce Department also said February orders for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft, which are seen as a measure of business spending plans on equipment, slipped 0.1 percent as reported last week. 

More Boeing Backlash- China Suspends $6 Billion Order For 100 737s -- Dealing another blow to public confidence in Boeing's ability to swiftly reassure regulators that its 737 MAX 8 can be made safe for passenger travel, the South China Morning Post on Monday reported that China Aircraft Leasing Group Holdings has put an order for 100 new 737s on hold, until it can be assured of the aircraft's safety.This follows a decision by Indonesia's national carrier to cancel a $6 billion 737 MAX order. The airline had been planning to order 49 planes. Boeing last week said it would cut its pace of production by 20% to just 42 a month. China was the first country to ground the 737s after Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 crashed just minutes after takeoff - the second deadly incident involving the planes in just 5 months. A preliminary report from investigators found that the pilots followed Boeing's safety procedures, but were still unable to right the plane. Boeing is working on an update of its MCAS anti-stall software, which is believed to have contributed to both the crash of ET302 and a deadly Lion Air crash that occurred just five months earlier, but the fix is taking longer than anticipated. Per its original delivery schedule, the first 737 was supposed to be delivered to the aircraft lessor in Q3 of this year. Originally, the lessor signed its contract with Boeing in June 2017, ordering 50 aircraft, then increasing it by 25 with an option for another 25. The order for the initial 50 aircraft was valued at $5.8 billion. The company said it has stopped paying installments on the planes it has ordered.

March Producer Price Index: Core Final Demand Up 0.3% MoM - Today's release of the March Producer Price Index (PPI) for Final Demand came in at 0.6% month-over-month seasonally adjusted, up from 0.1% last month. It is at 2.2% year-over-year, up from 1.9% last month, on a non-seasonally adjusted basis. Core Final Demand (less food and energy) came in at 0.3% MoM, up from 0.1% the previous month and is up 2.4% YoY NSA. MoM consensus forecasts were for 0.23% headline and 0.2% core. Here is the summary of the news release on Final Demand:The Producer Price Index for final demand rose 0.6 percent in March, seasonally adjusted, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Final demand prices edged up 0.1 percent in February and decreased 0.1 percent in January. (See table A.) On an unadjusted basis, the final demand index increased 2.2 percent for the 12 months ended in March, the largest 12-month rise since a 2.5-percent advance in December 2018.In March, over 60 percent of the increase in the index for final demand can be traced to a 1.0-percent advance in prices for final demand goods. The index for final demand services moved up 0.3 percent. More The BLS shifted its focus to its new "Final Demand" series in 2014, a shift we support. However, the data for these series are only constructed back to November 2009 for Headline and April 2010 for Core. Since our focus is on longer-term trends, we continue to track the legacy Producer Price Index for Finished Goods, which the BLS also includes in their monthly updates. As this (older) overlay illustrates, the Final Demand and Finished Goods indexes are highly correlated.

Import Prices Come In Hot As Fuel Costs Resurge -  After a mixed picture of America's inflationary outlook from CPI and PPI, import prices were expected to shrink year-over-year for the fourth month in a row in March. But both import and export prices came in hot in March, rising 0.6% and 0.7% MoM respectively, which pushed import prices back to unchanged year-over-year (but fell 0.8% ex-fuel)...

  • Import prices ex-fuels fell 0.2% m/m after rising 0.2% in Feb.
  • Import prices ex-petroleum rose 0.2% m/m after rising 0.2% in Feb.
  • Import prices ex-food and fuel fell 0.7% y/y in March

February levels were also revised higher… The big driver of March's import price increases was fuels, which rebounded notably… And China exported the most deflation since Nov 2007...

 Small Business Optimism Index increased slightly in March -- Note: Most of this survey is noise, but there is some information, especially on the labor market and the "Single Most Important Problem". From the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB): March 2019 Report: Small Business Optimism IndexThe Small Business Optimism Index improved slightly, increasing 0.1 points to 101.8. Three Index components fell, two were unchanged, and five improved. The major soft spot was in inventories: stocks were viewed as too large (a negative in the Index) and plans to invest in inventories turned slightly negative (e.g. more firms plan reductions than additions). The labor market indicators improved, capital spending plans held steady, and the outlook for expansion and real sales gained ground as did reports of rising earnings... Job creation was solid in March with a net addition of 0.50 workers per firm (including those making no change in employment), close to February’s record of 0.52, and up from 0.33 in January. Twenty-one percent of owners cited the difficulty of finding qualified workers as their Single Most Important Business Problem, only 4 points below the record high. Thirty-nine percent of all owners reported job openings they could not fill in the current period, up 2 points from February and equal to the record high set in December.

 Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims decreased to 196,000 - The DOL reported: In the week ending April 6, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 196,000, a decrease of 8,000 from the previous week's revised level. This is the lowest level for initial claims since October 4, 1969 when it was 193,000. The previous week's level was revised up by 2,000 from 202,000 to 204,000. The 4-week moving average was 207,000, a decrease of 7,000 from the previous week's revised average. This is the lowest level for this average since December 6, 1969 when it was 204,500. The previous week's average was revised up by 500 from 213,500 to 214,000. The previous week was revised up.  The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

Initial Jobless Claims Plunge To Lowest In 50 Years --The last time this few Americans sought the help of government after losing a job was in November 1969. Initial Jobless Claims tumbled another 8K from the prior week's revised 204K to just 196K: the first sub 200K print in 50 years! While the number will probably not come as a big surprise in light of the recent sharp rebound in payrolls, the Fed will be hard pressed to explain why it is pausing its rate hikes at a time when the fewest number of Americans are filing for jobless benefits in half a century. For some context, the last time claims were this low:  The Beatles' "Abbey Road" Album hit #1

BLS: Job Openings Decreased to 7.1 Million in February --Notes: In February there were 7.581 million job openings, and, according to the February Employment report, there were 6.235 million unemployed. So, for the twelfth consecutive month, there were more job openings than people unemployed. Also note that the number of job openings has exceeded the number of hires since January 2015 (over 4 years). From the BLS: Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary The number of job openings fell to 7.1 million on the last business day of February, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the month, hires and separations were little changed at 5.7 million and 5.6 million, respectively. Within separations, the quits rate was unchanged at 2.3 percent and the layoffs and discharges rate was little changed at 1.2 percent. ...The number of quits was little changed in February at 3.5 million. The quits rate was 2.3 percent. The quits level was little changed for total private and for government. The following graph shows job openings (yellow line), hires (dark blue), Layoff, Discharges and other (red column), and Quits (light blue column) from the JOLTS..Note: The difference between JOLTS hires and separations is similar to the CES (payroll survey) net jobs headline numbers. This report is for February, the most recent employment report was for March. Note that hires (dark blue) and total separations (red and light blue columns stacked) are pretty close each month. This is a measure of labor market turnover.  When the blue line is above the two stacked columns, the economy is adding net jobs - when it is below the columns, the economy is losing jobs.Jobs openings decreased in February to 7.087 million from 7.625 million in January.The number of job openings (yellow) are up 9% year-over-year.Quits are up 10% year-over-year. These are voluntary separations. (see light blue columns at bottom of graph for trend for "quits").Job openings remain at a high level, and quits are still increasing year-over-year. Despite the decrease in job openings, this was still a solid report.

Jolted JOLTS: Job Openings Plunge By 538,000; Biggest Drop In 42 Months Back in February, the BLS reported a dismal jobs report, when the unrevised number saw only 20K payrolls added. While the subsequent data saw a marked improvement, and an upward revision to the February number which was a cold-weather related outlier, the JOLTS survey appears to not have caught up, and the result was the ugliest job openings survey in three and a half years. Specifically, in February, the BLS reported that only 7.087 million jobs openings existed, the lowest number since March 2018, and a drop of 538,000 in one month: the biggest plunge since August 2015. Notably, the January print was revised higher to 7.625 million, effectively tied with the all time high in this series. Ironically, just last month we said that "with the Fed positioned for an economic slowdown, the JOLTS data better turn negative fast or else Powell will soon be facing some very unpleasant questions why the Fed's rate hikes are on pause when the number of job openings in the economy is soaring to unprecedented levels." One month later, as if on cue, we got the most negative JOLTS data in almost 4 years. According to the BLS, the number of job openings fell for total private (-523,000) and was little changed for government. Job openings decreased in a number of industries, with the largest decreases in accommodation and food services (-103,000), real estate and rental and leasing (-72,000), and transportation, warehousing, and utilities (-66,000). The number of job openings fell in the Northeast, South, and Midwest regions. Despite the plunge in job openings, February was the 12th consecutive month in which there were more job openings then unemployed workers: considering that according to the payrolls report there were 6,21MM unemployed workers, there were 876K more job openings than unemployed workers currently, (how accurate, or politically-biased the BLS data is, is another matter entirely). In other words, in an economy in which there was a perfect match between worker skills and employer needs, there would be zero unemployed people at this moment (of course, that is not the case.) Adding to the sharp deterioration in the labor picture to close the year, as job openings tumbled, so did the number of total hires which dropped by 133K, to 5.696 million, the lowest since last September. The hires level hires level was little changed for total private and fell for government (-40,000). The number of hires decreased in construction (-73,000), nondurable goods manufacturing (-33,000), and state and local government education (-22,000). According to the historical correlation between the number of hires and the 12 month cumulative job change, the pace of hiring right now is precisely where it should be relative to the cumulative change in hiring.

Philly Fed: State Coincident Indexes increased in 42 states in February --From the Philly Fed:The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia has released the coincident indexes for the 50 states for February 2019. Over the past three months, the indexes increased in 44 states, decreased in three states, and remained stable in three, for a three month diffusion index of 82. In the past month, the indexes increased in 42 states, decreased in four states, and remained stable in four, for a one-month diffusion index of 76.  Note: These are coincident indexes constructed from state employment data. An explanation from the Philly Fed:  The coincident indexes combine four state-level indicators to summarize current economic conditions in a single statistic. The four state-level variables in each coincident index are nonfarm payroll employment, average hours worked in manufacturing by production workers, the unemployment rate, and wage and salary disbursements deflated by the consumer price index (U.S. city average). The trend for each state’s index is set to the trend of its gross domestic product (GDP), so long-term growth in the state’s index matches long-term growth in its GDP. Here is a map of the three month change in the Philly Fed state coincident indicators. This map was all red during the worst of the recession, and all or mostly green during most of the recent expansion. The map is mostly green on a three month basis, but there are some red and grey (unchanged) states. And here is a graph is of the number of states with one month increasing activity according to the Philly Fed. This graph includes states with minor increases (the Philly Fed lists as unchanged).  In February, 45 states had increasing activity (including minor increases).

Wage Growth - Spencer England - Based on my wage equation, last January I warned to expect a sharp acceleration in wage growth in 2018.  Now that wage growth has risen       from 2.4% in 2017 to 3.4% in 2018, the same economic variables imply that wage growth may be flattening out.  If wage growth remains near    current levels it will be one less factor pressurizing the Fed to tighten. One of the key variables driving wages higher a year ago was inflation expectations.  Because there  are no good long run measures of inflation expectations  I use the three year trailing growth in the CPI as a proxy for  inflation expectations.  A year ago that measure was starting to     accelerate, but now it appears to be flattening out and should be an   important  factor limiting wage gains. The first sign of slower wage growth was the 3 month growth rate of average hourly earnings slipping below the year over year change in this months employment report.

 Real wages got gassed in March - The consumer price index rose +0.4% in March, mainly as a result of a big monthly increase in gas prices. That really shouldn’t have been a surprise, since almost every time gas prices have increased by as much as they did in March — up 9% for the month — consumer prices as a whole have gone up at least +0.4%. I’m showing just the last 10 years in the graph below: In fact, ex-gas, consumer inflation ex-energy has been remarkably stable between 1.5% and 2.5% YoY ever since gas prices made their long term bottom in early 1999. The only big exceptions were in the year before each of the last two recessions: As a result of the 0.4% jump in inflation, real wages for non-supervisory employees, which went up +0.3% last month, actually declined slightly: On a YoY% basis, real wages also decelerated slightly, down to +1.4%. Here’s the big picture look going back over 50 years: Just one month, so not a big deal. Unless gas prices continue to increase at this rate for several more months, in which case headline inflation will be significantly over 2%, and the Fed may feel compelled at very least not to lower rates. In that regard, it’s worth noting that, as shown in the above graph, the typical late cycle pattern over the past 50 years is for wages to increase more than earlier in the cycle, but for the inflation rate to rise even more.

Trash pickers in San Francisco make a living by going through billionaires’ garbage and selling the designer jeans, vacuum cleaners, and iPads they discover --San Francisco trash pickers rummage through their billionaire neighbours’ garbage and sell the discarded treasures they find, The New York Times revealed in a story published Sunday.  One man The Times profiled – Jake Orta, a 56-year-old military veteran – lives in government subsidized housing near Mark Zuckerberg’s roughly $US10 million home. Orta has uncovered a hair dryer, a vacuum cleaner, and a coffee machine (all still in working condition) in the Facebook CEO’s trash, and an iPad in someone else’s.Orta sells what he finds, with a goal of earning about $US30 to $US40 a day, according to The Times.The Times notes that trash picking is illegal in California, as the contents of garbage bins on the footpath are property of the trash collection company – but the law is seldom enforced.The trash-picking trend illustrates the growing gap between San Francisco’s wealthiest and poorest residents. An analysis of 2017 US Census data by Bloomberg found that the chasm between the top and bottom 20% is widest in San Francisco ($US339,900). Other trash-pickers have made similar discoveries: The blogger Financial Pantherpublished a post about making over $US1,000 selling items he found in a single dumpster in the garage of a luxury apartment building. Those items included a coffee table, bar stools, and clothes with the tags still on.

The Number Of Americans With No Religion Has Soared 266% Over The Last 3 Decades --Over the last 30 years, there has been a mass exodus out of organized religion in the United States.  Each year the needle has only moved a little bit, but over the long-term what we have witnessed has been nothing short of a seismic shift.  Never before in American history have we seen such dramatic movement away from the Christian faith, and this has enormous implications for the future of our nation.  According to a survey that was just released, the percentage of Americans that claim to have “no religion” has increased by 266 percent since 1991… The number of Americans who identify as having no religion has risen 266 percent since 1991, to now tie statistically with the number of Catholics and Evangelicals, according to a new survey. People with no religion – known as ‘nones’ among statisticians – account for 23.1 percent of the U.S. population, while Catholics make up 23 percent and Evangelicals account for 22.5 percent, according to the General Social Survey.In other words, the “nones” are now officially the largest religious group in the United States.At one time it would have been extremely difficult to imagine that one day the “nones” would someday surpass evangelical Christians, but it has actually happened. And the biggest movement that we have seen has been among our young people.  According to a different survey, two-thirds of Christian young adults say that they stopped going to church at some point between the ages of 18 and 22Large numbers of young adults who frequently attended Protestant worship services in high school are dropping out of church.Two-thirds of young people say they stopped regularly going to church for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22, a new LifeWay Research survey shows.

Allison Mack Pleads Guilty In NXIVM Sex-Cult Case - Former Smallville actress Allison Mack wept in a Brooklyn federal courtroom on Monday as she pleaded guilty to charges that she manipulated women into becoming sex slaves for the leader of a purported self-help group tied to the Clintons.  The 36-year-old Mack apologized to the women who prosecutors say were exploited by the group's leader, Keith Raniere, within the "inner sanctum" of his NXIVM self-help business known as "dominus obsequious sororium" - Latin for "master over the slave women."  Mack allegedly occupied the second-most-senior position in the group."I believed Keith Raniere's intentions were to help people, and I was wrong," Mack told the judge as she pleaded guilty to racketeering charges. "I know I can and will be a better person," she added. Her sentencing was set for September 11. 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.  Mack's guilty plea will mean she doesn't have to stand trial with Raniere, wealthy Seagram's heiress Clare Bronfman, and another NXIVM inner circle member, Kathy Russell - all of whom have pleaded not guilty and denied wrongdoing, according to the Hollywood Reporter.  Most recently, Raniere was accused of having sex with children and producing kiddie porn, to which he has pleaded not guilty.Raniere, 58, is accused of having a child “engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing one or more visual depictions of such conduct, which visual depictions were produced and transmitted,” reads a new indictment released Wednesday. Raniere’s co-defendants, “Smallville” actress Allison Mack, Seagram heiress Clare Bronfman, Lauren Salzman and Kathy Russell were allegedly aware of his predilection for predation, and even facilitated it, according to prosecutors, who have now charged them for that conduct under a racketeering count.

Police arrested for allegedly forcing man to lick public urinal  Two Hawaii police officers were arrested on Friday for allegedly forcing a homeless man to lick a urinal in a public bathroom. Honolulu police chief Susan Ballard told local broadcast station KITV that the arrests “cast a dark shadow” on her department.  Officers John Rabago and Reginald Ramones were accused of depriving the man of his civil rights when they responded to a trespassing complaint last year. When they came across the homeless man, they allegedly forced him to put his mouth on a urinal. Rabago and Ramones each face up to 11 years in prison and a $350,000 fine, and both pleaded not guilty in federal court on Friday, NBC News reports. “Something that started as a joke or a miscomment was turned into a federal case,” Megan Kau, an attorney for Rabago, told USA Today. “We plan on going to trial immediately because I don’t believe that this complainant is credible.”Another Honolulu officer first reported the alleged incident last year, and the department turned the case over to the FBI, according to NBC. Rabago and Ramones were reportedly placed on unpaid leave. They’ve collectively served 27 years on the force.

Father allegedly beat 5-year-old daughter to death because she didn't do her homework A New Mexico father was arrested on Friday and charged with child abuse after allegedly beating his 5-year-old daughter to death as a result of a dispute over homework. According to a criminal complaint obtained by Yahoo Lifestyle, Brandon Reynolds, 36, told police that he had been helping his daughter with her school work on Thursday evening when she expressed that she didn’t want to do it. He said that he became enraged and “that’s when the discipline kicked in.”The police report says that the father began spanking his child with a shoe and that he ended up “blacking out.” Reynolds eventually called 911 at around 1:00 AM on Friday and claimed that his daughter had gone into cardiac arrest.Police explained during a press conference on Friday afternoon that first responders decided to alert police officers after determining that the situation had been criminal. The complaint states that officers noticed blood stains on the living room wall and carpet upon arrival. Medics performed CPR on the 5-year-old girl before transporting her to the University of New Mexico Hospital where she was later pronounced dead. There, hospital staff and officers noted the bruises that covered the little girl’s side and back, and decided to bring Reynolds into custody.

Michigan Conservatives Don’t Want Kids to Learn ‘Democracy’  - On Tuesday, the Michigan State Board of Education will vote on a plan to reform the state’s standards for social studies, the rubric that determines how teachers cover history, civics, economics, and geography in their classrooms. The new standards, first developed by former Republican State Senator Patrick Colbeck and a group of like-minded conservatives, propose a few right-turns in the lesson plans of Michigan teachers from kindergarten through 12th grade.According to the local nonprofit Bridge magazine, Colbeck and company’s plan would remove from the standards all LGBT references in the section dealing with civil rights, all references to Roe v. Wade, and would severely limit teachers’ ability to discuss climate change. Colbeck told Bridge that he personally added a zero-sum proposal about “how the expansion of rights for some groups [including immigrants, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ Americans] can be viewed as an infringement of rights and freedoms of others.” This is more or less standard fare for conservative education advocates: altering lesson plans or textbooks to make them more friendly to small-government ideas, or less critical of the country’s most egregious human rights violations. In Texas in 2010, the state board of education approved anew set of textbooks that corrected a perceived left-leaning bias within the school system.   Among other attempts to provide what Dr. Don McLeroy called “balance” was a rewrite of history book chapters on slavery, which glossed over the atrocities of centuries of bondage and included feel-good passages like “Some slaves reported that their masters treated ​them kindly,” and “many enslaved Africans found comfort in ​their community and culture. They made time ​for social activity, even after exhausting workdays, in order to relieve the hardship of their ​lives.” In Oklahoma in 2015, state Republicans drew up a bill that would ban public schools from using state money to teach the AP U.S. history course, because it emphasizes “what is bad about America” and doesn’t teach “American exceptionalism,”

 Video shows Chicago officers dragging 16-year-old student down stairs, using stun gun - Surveillance video shows two former Chicago school resource officers dragging a 16-year-old student down a flight of stairs and Tasering her three times, ABC 7 Chicago reported late Thursday. The footage reportedly stems from a January incident involving John Marshall Metropolitan High School student Dnigma Howard, who was kicked out of a class for refusing to put her phone away. The newly-released video showed Howard and an officer at the top of a flight of stairs before the officer grabbed her and tackled her to the ground. The student is then dragged down the stairs by one leg. "In the video, you can see they pull her by the leg down the stairs, the whole flight of stairs," her father, Laurentio Howard, told the station. In the video, Howard is seen being held on the ground while she thrashes and appears to fight back, ABC 7 noted. One officer appears to kick and punch her before he ultimately deploys his stun gun a total of three times. "I thought maybe they were going to try to choke her out or she would lose consciousness or something like that. They had their foot on her chest. She has asthma, she's telling me she can't breathe. She's turning red, I see a vein sticking out her forehead," Laurentio Howard said. Her father had witnessed the clash at the school after he was called to pick his daughter up. "I couldn't believe I seen two sworn police officers of Chicago abusing my daughter like this and I'm standing right there watching them do this and can't do anything about it," he told the station.

Tennessee teachers organize protests over educational funding and vouchers -- Teachers across Tennessee have been holding “walk-in” protests before classes and have called a sickout and noon rally at the state capitol in Nashville for today, April 9. Educators are voicing their opposition to a proposal by the state’s new governor to increase charter schools and implement a voucher scheme. Teachers are also demanding increased salaries and school funding.  “There are a lot of teachers holding second jobs because they cannot support themselves at the salaries they are being paid, and the state seems to be moving as fast as it can in the wrong direction,” Nancy, a school volunteer, told the World Socialist Web Site.  “Because the district cannot provide us another body, another teacher, those children suffer—and it’s because of the money,” school counselor Constance Wade said at a town hall in February. She described first-graders “almost packed in like sardines.”  Teachers and their supporters have organized informational pickets in the morning before classes during the past two weeks. More than 150 protesters also demonstrated at the Knox County Lincoln Day dinner last Saturday as Republican Governor Bill Lee promoted his “educational savings account” (ESA) program with the oft-used lie that such a program, which would drain money from public schools, would “help” the underprivileged. He stated, “I’ve signed this education savings account to specifically target low-income kids that are stuck in a failed school that is not giving them a quality education.” While states like Kentucky, West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma have seen wildcat strikes and student walkouts, anger in Tennessee has been kept to a simmer until now. But Governor Lee’s decision to make the voucher plan a legislative centerpiece has rapidly brought anger to a boil.

Sacramento Teacher Strike Is a Warning to #RedForEd Movement Everywhere -- “We thought we had an agreement when we threatened to strike last year,” David Fisher tells me in a phone conversation. Fisher is the president of the Sacramento City Teachers Association (SCTA), which threatened a walkout in November 2017 of the previous school year. The strike was averted when the union and district administration came to an agreement and signed a new contract in December 2017. Specifically, the three-year contract included an across-the-board pay increase for teachers. Salaries for the district’s teachers are below state averages and rank fourth from the bottom when compared to 14 other comparable districts in the state, according the Sacramento Bee.Also, teachers won an adjustment to salary schedules that would result in an additional 3.5 percent increase to teachers in the middle stages of their careers. Fisher maintains the pay lag for those teachers had resulted in significant attrition as teachers left the district and went to work in adjacent districts to increase their salaries. Another significant win for the teachers was to get the district’s reassurance it would hire additional teachers to lower class sizes, especially in the later elementary and middle school grades, and add more school support personnel. Now the district is refusing to implement the salary rescheduling, Fisher says, and the administration claims the savings from the health care benefits aren’t there, so there’s no money for the class size reduction and additional support staff.  As the district has dug in its heels, teachers went to court to force the district into arbitration—something else the contract required—to implement the salary schedule restructuring. And teachers are demanding the district confirm what kinds of savings it has and hasn’t been able to wring from the health care plan in order to pay for class size reductions and increased support staff, according to Fisher.

Sacramento, California teachers conduct one day strike -- Sacramento, California teachers walked out of school on Thursday in a one-day strike to oppose savage budget cuts being demanded by county officials. More than 1,500 teachers rallied outside the Serna Center, where the Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) offices are located. The district employs some 2,800 teachers, serving 42,000 students. Sacramento teachers are joining a nationwide and international upsurge of teachers and the working class more broadly. Over the last 14 months, more than 450,000 teachers around the United States walked out in the largest strike wave by educators in decades. As Sacramento teachers manned the picket lines, over 300,000 Polish teachers continued their indefinite, nationwide strike launched Monday to demand improved pay and classroom conditions. In dozens of countries spanning five continents, teachers have entered into struggle to demand the social right to free, high quality public education. Sacramento County is demanding over $70 million in budget cuts over the next two school years, demands the district has quickly moved to impose after the county’s Office of Education rejected the district’s proposed budget in August 2018. In 2017, the Sacramento City Teachers Association (SCTA) and SCUSD agreed to a contract that cut teachers’ health care benefits, with teachers assuming the money would be used to fund additional student programs and for more positions such as nurses, counselors, and librarians.Instead, the money is being funneled back to the local government, which claims the district ran a $10 million deficit during the 2017-2018 school year, despite a $5 million surplus in 2017. The county then denounced the 2017 contract, which included a moderate pay raise, as being responsible for the supposed growing deficit. This will undoubtedly be used as a pretext for slashing wages after the current contract expires in June.

New Jersey principal dies after donating bone marrow to 14-year-old he never met - A high school principal in New Jersey died this week, shortly after donating bone marrow to a 14-year-old boy he never met. Westfield High School Principal Derrick Nelson, 44, died Sunday after being in a weeks-long coma following a procedure to extract his bone marrow for donation, reported Tuesday. Nelson’s donation procedure took place in February at a Bergen County, New Jersey, hospital, but he slipped into a coma shortly after. “After the procedure he did, he couldn’t speak and was lying in the bed,” his father, Willie Nelson, told the local news outlet. “His eyes were open and he realized who we were. But he couldn’t move. He never spoke again.”“We really don’t know the full story of what happened,” Willie Nelson added. “We were expecting him to come out of the coma he was in. But he didn’t make it.”Nelson told the Westfield High School student newspaper previously that he wanted to help the 14-year-old from France because he was identified as a donor match.“If it’s just a little bit of pain for a little bit of time that can give someone years of joy, it’s all worth it,” Nelson told the student newspaper.The bone marrow was to be extracted in order to p rovide stem cells to help the sick teen. The teen's condition was not disclosed.

Pete Buttigieg argues against free college. This is why progressives can’t agree about subsidizing tuition. WaPo -- Pete Buttigieg wants you to know he doesn’t believe in free college. He said as much on Wednesday night — to an audience of college students, no less: Americans who have a college degree earn more than Americans who don’t. As a progressive, I have a hard time getting my head around the idea a majority who earn less because they didn’t go to college subsidize a minority who earn more because they did.  The Buttigieg argument goes like this: College increases the incomes of those who complete it. But the people who go to college are typically already better off. By charging them less than the actual cost of their education, we’re using the tax dollars of poorer non-college-goers to pay for the education of their richer counterparts — whose earning potential will only increase with their shiny new bachelor's degree. However standard this position seems today, historically speaking, it’s relatively novel. Making it requires two intellectual moves that didn’t take place until the 1960s. First, you have to think of college in human capital terms: as an investment that produces future earnings. Second, you need a cost-benefit approach to evaluating policy: spending the least possible money to achieve the maximum desired benefit — in this case, education.Liberal economists such as Alice Rivlin began advancing this way of thinking about college in policy circles during the Lyndon Johnson administration. Public higher education is irrationally cheap, they argued. Because individuals benefit from attending — and especially because they’re mostly better off — they should bear the cost. If that’s the case, the best policy is to let tuition rise, but ensure students can borrow affordably. It will still pay off for them in the long run but at less cost to the government. If you really want to be progressive, replace the loans with grants for the poorest.

School Lets You Pay Tuition By Selling 17% Of Your Future Income -- Step side student loans: the Lambda School is the first school to equitize human labor as a business model. Based in California, the school teaches information technology skills online and charges zero tuition, according to Bloomberg. In fact, it even offers select students a stipend as they attend. The school's website describes it as a school that "trains people online to be software engineers at no up-front cost."But as always, there is a catch: what The Lambda School does ask for, is for students to pay back 17% of their income from the first two years of working, if their earnings exceed $50,000 per year. The school caps a student's maximum payment at $30,000 and those who don't earn $50,000 per year aren't required to pay anything. Students also have the option of a "traditional" schooling arrangement where they pay $20,000 upfront and get to keep their future income (after the government takes its cut, of course). As of now, there are about 1300 students enrolled and, confirming the company has investors' seal of approval, it has already raised nearly $50 million. More importantly, its job placement record has been impressive so far, with 86% of its graduates getting jobs within 180 days of finishing their program. And the piece de resistance: the median starting salary is a whopping $60,000. The "free market" style benefits of equitizing labor are obvious: it gives the school incentive to invest in the future of its students. The school has an incentive to train and place students where they will earn the most return on investment for the school. Additionally, students who receive stipends can use them for further investments in training, which can be valuable for hard-working students from lower income backgrounds. It's simple: higher earners pay back more and lower earners pay back less. Already the idea is being considered for broader adoption amid traditional universities. The model would include free or reduced tuition - similar to what Purdue is now offering - in exchange for a share of students' future income. A second model would allow graduates to use a similar arrangement to pay back their federal student loans.

From Pre-K On, US Schools Privilege the Already Privileged - The college bribery admissions scandal called “Operation Varsity Blues” has exposed the opportunities for corruption afforded wealthy parents so eager to secure admission for their children to elite colleges and universities that they willingly pay tens of thousands of dollars to game a system already skewed in their favor. Falsified Scholastic Aptitude Tests, photo-shopped pictures touting participation in sports that applicants never played, use of a charitable organization to launder bribe money paid to coaches and administrators: the sheer cockiness of the seven-year scheme shocked some and angered many, especially families of color and lower-income families, for whom admission to an elite school is often an intergenerational dream achieved only through sheer grit and access to opportunities that reward hard work. While an incredulous disdain for traditions like legacy admissions and use of large donations to literally buy a child’s way into elite schools has occupied much of the public discourse, too little attention has been given to the public policies that disadvantage children in low-income communities starting as early as pre-K. Wealthier families able to afford the private cost of making their children’s college applications sing — with money spent on tutors, travel and enrichment like music lessons and technology camps — are often already ahead in their public dollars, too, as they receive more spending per student in the neighborhood schools their children attend. Lower-income families are marginalized years before their children take the PSATs because of inequities in school funding that reduce government per-child investment in their learning.

Some wealthy parents cut deals, others fight on in college admissions scandal. A look at what’s next -- In a busy week in the college admissions scandal, some accused parents have decided to cooperate with prosecutors. One couple that balked, however, has been indicted with an added charge of money laundering, indicating the government is ready to wield more charges as leverage.The question is how many will continue to fight — and whether those who cooperate are providing information that authorities could use to build more cases. Some legal experts have said it makes sense to cut deals, given the evidence prosecutors have amassed. They have laid out hundreds of pages of wiretapped phone conversations, emails, and bank and tax records in depicting a scheme that rigged college entrance exams and corrupted the athletic recruiting processes of at least eight universities. Still, other parents are fighting on, questioning the strength of the cases and assailing the credibility of the prosecution’s star witnesses and the scheme’s mastermind, William “Rick” Singer. Here is a rundown:

Suspended Co-Chair Of Biglaw Firm Charged In College Admissions Scandal Will Plead Guilty - Above the Law -- Last month, 40 people were charged in a $25 million college entrance exam cheating scandal, including actresses Felicity Huffman of Desperate Housewives and Lori Loughlin of Full House. Rich parents worried about their children’s ability to get into elite colleges and universities allegedly paid money to have their kids recruited as athletes (regardless of their athletic abilities) or assisted on admissions exams.Also caught up in the scandal was Willkie Farr’s now-suspended co-chairman, Gordon Caplan, who paid $75,000 to college coaches turned government cooperating witnesses in a scheme to have someone else take an admissions exam for his daughter. Today, Caplan announced that he will be pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. According to a statement from Caplan’s lawyers, he says he takes “full and sole responsibility” for his actions. The American Lawyer has the rest of the details:“I apologize not only to my family, friends, colleagues and the legal Bar, but also to students everywhere who have been accepted to college through their own hard work,” the statement said. “I want to make clear that my daughter, whom I love more than anything in the world, is a high school junior and has not yet applied to college, much less been accepted by any school. She had no knowledge whatsoever about my actions, has been devastated to learn what I did and has been hurt the most by it.   “The remorse and shame that I feel is more than I can convey.” Caplan faces up to 20 years in prison.

Feds Dig In- 16 Parents Indicted In College Admission Scam, Including Ex-TPG Leader - Prosecutors in the U.S. college cheating scandal have now indicted 16 parents, including actor Lori Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli as well as former TPG managing partner Bill McGlashan, as prosecutors aggressively pursue the biggest admissions scam ever pursued. According to Bloomberg, in addition to conspiracy to commit fraud, the parents now face an additional charges of conspiring to launder the bribes and other payments they may have made to the admitted mastermind of the scheme, the U.S. attorney in Massachusetts said Tuesday.  “The prosecutor’s case against Mr. McGlashan is deeply flawed and ignores important exculpatory facts,” his lawyer said in a statement. “We look forward to presenting his side of the story.”  Just yesterday, we reported that actress Felicity Huffman, former co-chair of Willkie Farr & Gallagher, Gordon Caplan, and 12 others agreed to plead guilty in the scandal, signaling that prosecutors were aggressively wresting deals from the wealthy parents. The 16 are now among 50 people accused by Boston federal prosecutors of engaging in schemes that involved cheating on college entrance exams and paying $25 million in bribes to secure their children admission at well-known universities. Federal prosecutors announced the deals on Monday afternoon, identifying the parents and a University of Texas men’s tennis coach who have negotiated plea bargains. It’s not yet clear what their sentences will be: according to one New York lawyer, Huffman and Lori Loughlin could end up serving time in prison for their alleged involvement in the high-profile college admissions cheating scandal. Last Wednesday, the Full House and Desperate Housewives stars appeared alongside other wealthy parents in U.S. District Court in Boston for the first time since they were charged in March. During their preliminary hearings, they were both read the federal felony charges they face after their arrests in March: conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.  And while the charges carry a potential maximum sentence of five years for each actress, it is more likely that as a result of the plea deal, the celebrities will avoid prison time and be slapped with substantial penalties instead.

Actress Lori Loughlin, husband hit with new charges in college admissions scheme --Actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, are among 16 parents facing new federal charges in the largest college admissions scam in U.S. history.The parents were charged with money laundering in a second, superseding indictment on Tuesday. They were already facing charges of conspiring to commit fraud, as of their arrests last month. An arraignment date has not yet been scheduled. Loughlin and Giannulli are among 33 prominent parents originally accused of conspiring with William Singer and others in a scheme that involved rigging college entrance exams and bribing coaches at elite universities. The second indictment charges parents with “conspiring to launder the bribes and other payments in furtherance of the fraud by funneling them through Singer’s purported charity and his for-profit corporation, as well as by transferring money into the United States, from outside the United States, for the purpose of promoting the fraud scheme.”Other parents indicted on the new charge Tuesday include Michelle Janavs, whose family developed the microwave snack line Hot Pockets before selling their company, and William McGlashan, who co-founded an investment fund with U2′s Bono in 2017, according to the Associated Press. This comes just one day after actress Felicity Huffman and 12 other parents agreed to plead guilty. The fraud conspiracy scheme dates back to around 2011, documents show.

 Feds Seek Harsh Punishment for Lori Loughlin, Says Source: They Can’t 'Skate Because They’re Rich' - As prosecutors move forward in the cases against Lori Loughlin and her husband in the high-profile college admissions cheating scandal, they are sending a clear message: the defendants’ money and status won’t help them. “They really want to make sure that there isn’t this perception that these people are able to skate by because they’re rich,” a legal source close to the case tells PEOPLE. “They want to make sure everyone is equal in the eyes of the law.” The source says prosecutors are pushing for jail time for Loughlin, fellow actress Felicity Huffman, and more than 40 other defendants. “They know this is a high profile case and they want to make an example of the defendants,” says the source. On March 12, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts announced that it had charged 50 people, including Huffman and Loughlin, in the cheating scandal. The two actresses, along with coaches, admissions counselors, parents and Loughlin’s husband, fashion designer J. Mossimo Giannulli, were accused of such alleged crimes as falsifying SAT scores and lying about the athletic skills of their children.

Man Who Bribed His Son Into UPenn Found Guilty Of Largest Healthcare Fraud Ever -- It may be the case that all those parents who bribed to get their children into select prestigious universities, may not have had the highest ethical standards when it comes to other avenues in life. On Friday, Philip Esformes, a 50-year-old Miami Beach resident was convicted of running a massive 18 year, $1.3 billion healthcare fraud that prosecutors called "the largest such scheme ever charged" by the DOJ, according to Bloomberg. The kicker? Esformes used proceeds from his fraud to bribe the University of Pennsylvania's basketball coach into helping get his son into the school.  Esformes used a network of nursing homes and assisted living facilities in South Florida to defraud U.S. government health-care programs, while at the same time providing inadequate and unnecessary care to patients, according to prosecutors. He funneled out at least $37 million between 1998 and 2016, using the money to finance a lifestyle that included fancy cars and a $360,000 watch.The University of Penn's basketball coach plead guilty to money laundering last year in connection with the case. Esformes is said to have bribed doctors to admit patients to his facilities, where they didn't get appropriate care and sometimes received unnecessary services, which Esformes then billed the U.S. government for. He also bribed a Florida regulator to get advance notice of surprise inspections of company facilities ahead of time. The sum of his fraudulent claims submitted to Medicare and Medicaid exceeded $1.3 billion.

West Virginia college axes liberal arts; Pennsylvania Historical Society slashes workforce -- West Virginia’s Wheeling Jesuit University (WJU) late last month announced the elimination of all of its liberal arts majors, along with the layoff of 20 of its 52 tenured faculty members. The move was followed this week by the termination of the college’s affiliation with the Jesuit order of the Roman Catholic Church.The college, founded in 1954, recruits students from Wheeling and surrounding economically depressed areas of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, once the heart of the American steel and coal industry.Nineteen majors will be eliminated, including in every field associated with classic liberal arts education—among them history, literature, philosophy, mathematics, and even theology, long a feature major at colleges linked to the Catholic Church.The college cut every Jesuit position at the school, which this week resulted in the revocation of its Jesuit affiliation by the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus, apparently the first time such a move has taken place. The Jesuit order sponsors 28 US colleges and universities, including Boston College, Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and Marquette University in Milwaukee.Only 11 majors will remain—each one of them a “pre-professional,” or vocational program. Also spared are the college’s athletic programs. WJU, which announced a financial emergency in early March, will be reduced in all but name to a technical school—should it not close its doors entirely, the fate of 24 liberal arts colleges since 2016. Behind WJU’s axing of liberal arts is the gathering financial crisis in American higher education, driven most immediately by spiraling tuition costs and stagnant high school graduation rates. Decreases in enrollment at institutions dependent upon student tuition—a category that includes most public colleges under conditions of declining state support—are seized upon by banks to impose higher borrowing costs. Colleges are responding by targeting for savings—or outright destruction—fields in the humanities and social sciences.WJU’s move is symptomatic of the development of an openly class-based system in higher education. On one side are low-endowment private colleges and financially starved public universities and community colleges. These colleges are increasingly dropping even the pretense that they are doing anything more than preparing young people for a lifetime of exploitation. On the other side of the higher education class divide are the massively endowed private institutions and a handful of the very elite “public” universities. Here the attack on liberal arts is spearheaded by highly paid professors, practitioners of identity politics and postmodernism, ideological currents hostile to art, science and historical truth.

Confidence In Higher Education Plummets- Gallup -- Confidence in higher education in the United States has dropped significantly since 2015, according to polling company Gallup, which notes that it's the worst-performing institution they measure.   The crisis in confidence coincides with a similar decline in the public's view that higher education is affordable and available to those who need it, according to the report - suggesting that affordability and access are linked to the faith people have in the institution of higher learning.  The waning confidence in higher education isn't limited to the general public either; academics have begun to lose faith as well.  Concerns about the future of higher education also exist within academia. College and university trustees and board members -- many of whom are intimately familiar with higher ed's services, operations and impact -- remain concerned about the industry's future, despite being more confident in their own institution's future. The AGB 2018 Trustee Index, a recent study conducted by the Association of Governing Boards and Gallup, finds that three in four trustees (74%) are concerned or very concerned about the future of higher education in the U.S. Their concerns remain focused largely on one main challenge: affordability. –Gallup What do college and university trustees point to as the top issues causing the drop in public confidence? Negative media reports about student debt (72%) and news reports on the cost of tuition (64%). To that end, more than half of trustees (58%) say their top concern about the future of higher education is the cost.

'Free' Money- How Students Mine Cryptocurrency In Their Dorm Rooms - Last month, reports surfaced on crypto mining research conducted by tech conglomerate Cisco with the following headline: “College kids are using campus electricity to mine crypto.” Indeed, many students don’t have to worry about paying power bills, as per their university housing contracts, which tend to cover electricity expenses. That “free” power allows them to host cost-efficient mining rigs, where the only expense is the actual hardware. It almost seems too good to be true: Mining students receive a passive income, which can potentially cover the purchase of a few textbooks — or even pay for the whole semester and more.  However, there’s a catch: No electricity is actually free, and someone ultimately has to pay the price. Cisco’s security researchers investigated cryptocurrency mining activity across various industry verticals. The research was carried out with the company’s cloud security platform Umbrella, which monitors clients’ network connections to screen malicious activity, allegedly revealing incidents of crypto mining.According to the findings, university campuses are the second-biggest miners of virtual currency across industry verticals at 22 percent, second only to the energy and utilities sector, with about 34 percent. As Cointelegraph reported, miner revenues began to wane in 2018 (the last full year for statistics), thanks to the crypto winter and its attendant price drop. That made mining less profitable. But hash rates have continued to increase, indicating that the global mining pool continues to grow, even as individual miners come and go.Cisco threat researcher Austin McBride explained the trend to PCMag, saying that "you leave [the mining rig] running in your dorm room for four years, you walk out of college with a big chunk of change."

Brett Kavanaugh: backlash after US university hires justice to teach in UK -  The US supreme court justice Brett Kavanaugh is heading to England this summer – specifically to Runnymede, the place immortalized by Magna Carta and called the “birthplace of modern democracy” – to teach a course on the US constitution for an American university. But the appointment is sparking uproar among some students and they are demanding the school rescind its invitation. The judge, who faced a tempestuous and hugely divisive confirmation process last year over sexual assault allegations stemming from his youth, has been hired by George Mason University to teach the course. But in a transatlantic twist, the course is slated to be held in the bucolic setting of Runnymede, where Magna Carta was sealed in 1215, and where George Mason University has located its Antonin Scalia Law School, named after the late supreme court justice who relished his position as a conservative bulwark on the court.  Soon after Kavanaugh’s hiring became public, Mason For Survivors, a student group of sexual assault survivors and their advocates, created a petition and began hosting protests against Kavanaugh’s hiring. “There is a historic amount of institutional negligence on your part to support survivors of sexual assault and the student body as a whole,” reads the petition, which is addressed to the administration of the university and has received more than 3,000 signatures. The anger over the school’s hire is a stark reminder of the controversy that enveloped Kavanaugh last fall when he was appointed to the court. It’s been more than six months since the California professor Christine Blasey Ford gave explosive testimony in front of the Senate judiciary committee, alleging that Kavanaugh attacked her at a party when they were teenagers and attempted to rape her, which the judge has denied. But the legacy of the milestone hearing, in which Kavanaugh gave a furiously indignant rebuttal, continues to follow him.

George Mason University law school receives largest donation in school’s history from estate of far-right judge -- In early March, George Mason University (GMU), the publicly funded research university based in Fairfax, Virginia, announced that its Antonin Scalia Law School had received a record-breaking donation of $50 million from the estate of the late Judge Allison Rouse and his wife Dorothy Rouse. Allison Rouse was a conservative judge appointed to the California Court of Appeals under Republican governor Ronald Reagan in 1971. The donation gives permanent endowments to 13 new faculty positions at the law school and will further serve to consolidate its explicitly right-wing character. “Judge Rouse and Justice Scalia were both appointed to the bench by Ronald Reagan, and Mrs. Rouse was an enthusiastic fan of Justice Scalia,” gushed law school dean Henry N. Butler of the donation. “This is a transformational gift that will further strengthen our law school’s position among the best in the nation and will provide a strong foundation for our university,” GMU president Angel Cabrera added in a law school press release. The Rouse estate also left the Heritage Foundation, an influential conservative think tank which famously played a role in policy-making during the Reagan administration, a huge bequest of $43 million. GMU’s law school was renamed after the ultra-reactionary Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia following his death in 2016 as a result of an anonymous donation of $20 million. A Freedom of Information Act request revealed the donation came from individuals tied to the conservative Federalist Society, as well as an additional $10 million coming from the Koch Foundation.  With an influx of money from far-right conservative donors, the law school is situating itself as the center of reactionary legal views in American academia.

Georgetown Students Approve Mandatory Fee For Slavery Reparations - Students at Georgetown University have approved a measure to mandate a $27.20 per semester fee to create a fund that would benefit the descendants of the 272 slaves the college sold in 1838 to pay off the Georgetown Jesuits' debt, a move which saved the university from financial ruin, according to ABC News.  The measure, which still must be approved by the university, passed with 66% voting yes.  The slaves were sold in 1838 for $17,000 (approximately $465,000 adjusted for inflation).   Todd Olson, vice president for student affairs at Georgetown University, in a statement issued after the vote, lauded the students' efforts saying "university values the engagement of our students and appreciates that 3,845 students made their voices heard in yesterday’s election. Our students are contributing to an important national conversation and we share their commitment to addressing Georgetown’s history with slavery." The university has vowed to "carefully review the results of the referendum, and regardless of the outcome, will remain committed to engaging with students, Descendants, and the broader Georgetown community and addressing its historical relationship to slavery," Matt Hill, the university's media relations manager, told ABC News in a statement. -ABC News "The Jesuits sold my family and 40 other families so you could be here," said Georgetown student Melisande Short-Colomb during a town hall to discuss the proposal last week. Short-Colomb is attending Georgetown under an admissions policy which counts descendants of the 272 slaves as "legacy" students, according to the report.

Ocasio-Cortez rips College Republicans over branding her a 'domestic terrorist' - Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) slammed an Ohio chapter of the College Republicans on Wednesday after the group reportedly referred to her as a "domestic terrorist" in a fundraising email. Referencing recent death threats Ocasio-Cortez says she and other prominent Democratic House members have faced, the New York congresswoman questioned when Republicans would stop using rhetoric that she says endangers her and others. "This puts me in danger every time. Almost every time this uncalled for rhetoric gets blasted by [conservative groups], we get a spike in death threats to refer to Capitol Police," Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter. "Multiple ppl have been arrested trying to harm me, Ilhan, & others," she added, referring to Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). "@GOP, what’s it going to take to stop?" The Ohio College Republican Federation reportedly referred to Ocasio-Cortez as a "domestic terrorist" in the subject line of a fundraising email, first reported by Public Integrity on Wednesday. The email went on to slam the "Marxist" views of Ocasio-Cortez and other Democratic members of Congress, according to a screen capture posted to Twitter by Public Integrity.

University of Illinois at Chicago grad student union pushes sellout contract  - On Friday, April 5, the strike by 1,600 University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) graduate students was called off by the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) Local 6297 after the union reached a tentative contract agreement with UIC administration. The union told grad students to return to work today even before voting on the deal. Grad students are reportedly voting Monday night.The GEO, which is an affiliate of the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), called the strike on March 19, six months after the previous contract expired.The proposed three-year deal increases the campus minimum salary by $2,550 over three years. Grad students will also receive an additional $55 each semester to offset the cost of a $50 increase in the general student fee next year. Grad students in the 2020-2021 school year will receive a one-time $150 raise. The cost of the University provided healthcare dropped slightly from $295 to $240. The university will cover 20 percent of the cost of one dependent and 10 percent of the cost for additional dependents. The agreement does nothing to address the central demands of grad students to totally waive the fees and increase pay to provide a reasonable standard of living in one of the costliest cities in America. The raise will be swallowed up by the fees that grad students have to pay in full at the beginning of each year. The $18,140 salary is far below the original GEO demand for $24,000 per year, which was below the estimated minimum cost of living in Chicago of $28,000 per year.

 College Grads Sell Stakes in Themselves to Wall Street - To pay for college, Amy Wroblewski sold a piece of her future. Every month, for eight-and-a-half years, she must turn over a set percentage of her salary to investors. Today, about a year after graduation, Wroblewski makes $50,000 a year as a higher education recruiter in Winchester, Va. So the cut comes to $279 a month, less than her car payment. If the 23-year-old becomes a star in her field, she could pay twice as much. If she loses her job, she won’t have to pay anything, and investors will be out of luck until she finds work.Wroblewski struck this unusual deal as an undergraduate at public Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. To fund part of the cost of her degree in strategy and organizational management, she sidestepped the common source of money, a student loan. Instead, she agreed to hand over part of her future earnings through a new kind of financial instrument called an income-sharing agreement, or ISA. In a sense, financiers are transforming student debtors into stock investments, with much of the same risk and, ideally, return. In Wall Street terms, Wroblewski, a first-generation college student, is more small-company stock than Microsoft. Her mother works as a waitress; her father, as a quality control inspector in a car dealership’s body shop. With a strong work ethic, Wroblewski always held down at least two part-time jobs in school, working as a Purdue teaching assistant, a Target cashier, and an Amazon seasonal worker. Showing potential for leadership—not to mention earnings—she rose to vice president of Delta Sigma Pi, a business fraternity. Those qualities impressed a company called Vemo Education, which vets students at Purdue and a handful of other schools on behalf of potential investors. More important, perhaps, Wroblewski believes in herself and her ability to make good on the contract. “Even with all my other loans, I knew I could make it work,” says Wroblewski. Americans owe $1.5 trillion in higher education debt, a burden that weighs down their dreams and the U.S. economy. The Federal Reserve says millennials are now less likely to buy homes than young people were in 2005, and even senior citizens find themselves still making payments on their student loans. Wall Street sees the crisis as an opportunity. College graduates on average earn $1 million more over their lifetimes. Investors could capture some of that wage premium for themselves.

 Wall Street Is Now Buying College Students Like Stocks - Shortly after we wrote about an online software engineering school that was allowing students to pay their tuition by forfeiting 17% of their income after they graduated, it's becoming clearer that the model of selling an "equity stake in yourself" to fund tuition is making its way to the mainstream. Equitizing students was the topic of an in-depth Bloomberg Businessweek look into the details of what Americans are doing to combat the $1.6 trillion in higher education debt that they owe. Specifically, the article followed the path of 23 year old Amy Wroblewski, who has been literally turning over a set percentage of her salary to investors - and will do so for the 8 1/2 years after graduating college.  Wroblewski makes about $50,000 a year as a higher education recruiter and surrenders about $279 a month to investors who helped pay for her tuition. If she winds up doing extremely well in her field, she may wind up paying twice as much. But if she loses her job, she won’t have to pay anything and investors will be stuck with the bill until she finds work. Wroblewski is part of a new program at Purdue University that sidesteps regular student loans in favor of allowing students to hand over future earnings through an "income sharing agreement". The agreement turns students into equity investments, instead of debt notes. And like any investment in equity, students require some amount of due diligence. Wroblewski's history of always holding down two jobs and rising to vice president of Delta Sigma Pi, a business fraternity, attracted a company called Vemo Education, who made her the offer after vetting her as a "potential investment".

First the NIH Came for the Iranian Born Legal US Resident Scientists  - Transparency, honesty, and collaboration are necessary to do science, including biomedical and clinical science right.  In the US, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have always had a good reputation for transparency, honesty and collaboration, although they have had some revolving door and conflict of interest issues of late (look here, here, here here, and here). However, an April 3 article in the Washington Post suggests that things are going downhill. The lede was: The National Institutes of Health is requiring all visitors — including patients — to disclose their citizenship as a condition of entry, a policy that has unnerved staff scientists and led to recent disputes with at least two Iranian scientists invited to make presentations, only to be blocked from campus. The most important point was that although the two scientists were born in Iran, they were both legal US residents who had apparently lived in this country for a long time.In one incident, a Georgetown University graduate student arriving for a job interview was held up at security, then allowed to proceed to one of the campus buildings. But as he prepared to make a presentation, NIH police arrived, removed him from a lab and escorted him off campus, according to a complaint Monday to a group that represents staff scientists. In another, a brain researcher said he was told to leave, then delayed at security for nearly an hour filling out online forms. After interventions by NIH police and other officials, he was told an exception had been made that would allow him to deliver his presentation to the two dozen waiting researchers. Both men had green cards and U.S. driver’s licenses and had previously visited NIH without incident. There was no obvious reason,other than their Iranian birth, to be suspicious of these two men. In particular, 'I am very surprised and disappointed that there are all these restrictions,' said the brain researcher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing his relationships at NIH. He said he worked at NIH from 2009 to 2014 on an H-1B visa and had been invited to speak on his specialty last week. As recently as two months ago, he said, he had no problem entering the campus. The actions seemed to have had their genesis in a post 9/11 policy that was never previously enforced.

Americans Are Delaying Health Care Until Tax Refunds Arrive - Myer and many other Americans rely on getting money back at tax time to pay for important health needs. It’s a result of thin household savings colliding with rising medical prices and high-deductible insurance plansthat expose them to greater health expenses.“I’ve never been able to use my return for anything that is a leisure or a pleasure,” said Myer, who earns about $40,000 a year running a peer-support line for a mental-health nonprofit in Richmond, Virginia.The federal deadline for people to file income taxes is April 15. Out-of-pocket spending on health care jumps about 60 percent in the week after people get their refunds, according to an analysis of account data published last year by the JPMorgan Chase Institute, a research group that draws on the bank’s data. The bulk of that money is spent during face-to-face encounters at clinics, hospitals or other medical providers. That suggests people aren’t merely using refunds to pay down old debts; they’re waiting until they have cash in hand to get treated.

 A woman miscarried at a California hospital. 6 years later she discovered the hospital had secretly taped the procedure.  When Eileen Brandt first woke up from the anesthesia in early 2013, she immediately started to cry. Up until that point, it hadn’t fully hit her: she just had her third miscarriage.  In the weeks prior to the D&C, Brandt, who was 31-years-old at the time, and her husband, were cautiously optimistic about the pregnancy. She knew she had a history of miscarriages, but she also grew hopeful as time continued to progress and everything appeared to be going smoothly. Brandt and her husband desperately wanted to start a family. During a routine ultrasound examination, however, doctors discovered no heartbeat. They told her they needed to schedule a D&C procedure. Brandt was devastated. In the weeks after the D&C, Brandt grieved the loss of her child; she felt ashamed and angry at the world for her fertility struggles. “Why are we having all these troubles? We’re healthy, we’re doing everything the right way, why are we having all these troubles when other people don’t seem to be having any problems?” Brandt told INSIDER. “There’s those things you go through in your mind that eat at you when you’re grieving from a miscarriage.” And then she found out that the procedure at the Sharp Grossmont facility had secretly been filmed. A recent lawsuit in California, for which Brandt is a plaintiff, claims the Women’s Health Center at Sharp Grossmont Hospital secretly recorded around 1,800 women between July 2012 and June 2013 as they underwent a range of gynecological procedures, including Caesarean births, D&Cs after miscarriages, hysterectomies, and sterilizations. They claim their faces – and therefore their identities – were exposed in the videos. In total, the hospital’s surveillance system generated nearly 7,000 video clips.“The recordings captured women while they were emotionally and physically exposed, and at their most vulnerable,” the complaint, filed in March, states. “At times, Defendants’ patients had their most sensitive genital areas visible.”

Is your pregnancy app sharing your intimate data with your boss? - Like millions of women, Diana Diller was a devoted user of the pregnancy-tracking app Ovia, logging in every night to record new details on a screen asking about her bodily functions, sex drive, medications and mood. When she gave birth last spring, she used the app to chart her baby’s first online medical data — including her name, her location and whether there had been any complications — before leaving the hospital’s recovery room.But someone else was regularly checking in, too: her employer, which paid to gain access to the intimate details of its workers’ personal lives, from their trying-to-conceive months to early motherhood. Diller’s bosses could look up aggregate data on how many workers using Ovia’s fertility, pregnancy and parenting apps had faced high-risk pregnancies or gave birth prematurely; the top medical questions they had researched; and how soon the new moms planned to return to work.“Maybe I’m naive, but I thought of it as positive reinforcement: They’re trying to help me take care of myself,” said Diller, 39, an event planner in Los Angeles for the video game company Activision Blizzard. The decision to track her pregnancy had been made easier by the $1 a day in gift cards the company paid her to use the app: That’s “diaper and formula money,” she said.Period- and pregnancy-tracking apps such as Ovia have climbed in popularity as fun, friendly companions for the daunting uncertainties of childbirth, and many expectant women check in daily to see, for instance, how their unborn babies’ size compares to different fruits or Parisian desserts. But Ovia also has become a powerful monitoring tool for employers and health insurers, which under the banner of corporate wellness have aggressively pushed to gather more data about their workers’ lives than ever before.

 GOP Texas lawmaker reintroduces bill to allow death penalty for women who have abortions - A Republican state lawmaker in Texas has reintroduced a bill that would criminalize abortion without exception, making it possible for women to be convicted of homicide and sentenced to death for having the procedure. Texas state Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R) was placed under state protection in 2017 when he first introduced the bill because of the death threats he received, The Washington Post reported Wednesday. His bill earned its first public hearing this week, and he argued that his intention is to guarantee “equal protection” for life inside and "outside the womb.” He has previously said that his proposal would completely remove access to abortions and “force” women to be “more personally responsible” with sex. “Right now, it’s real easy," Tinderholt told the Texas Observer in 2017. "Right now, they don’t make it important to be personally responsible because they know that they have a backup of ‘oh, I can just go get an abortion.’ Now, we both know that consenting adults don’t always think smartly sometimes. But consenting adults need to also consider the repercussions of the sexual relationship that they’re gonna have, which is a child.” The bill would criminalize abortion and classify it as homicide, which would make it possible for a woman to receive the death penalty for having the procedure done. The legislation's language directs authorities to enforce its requirements “regardless of any contrary federal law, executive order, or court decision.”

We Need to Stop the Overdiagnosis Disease. Step 1: Remove Vested Interests -- Yves Smith - Yves here. This setting of overly stringent boundaries for health versus disease is widespread, and also annoyingly contrast with conventional medicine’s indifference to what they regard as subclinical problems like fatigue. For instance, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology published “new” cholesterol guidelines in 2018. I have been told for at least a decade that Homocysteine and triglyceride levels are much better indicators of heart disease risk that cholesterol. So why the fixation on cholesterol?  Because statins? Research shows statins are beneficial only for people with actual heart disease, not people at risk of getting heart disease. From a 2018 article:A comprehensive new study on cholesterol, based on results from more than a million patients, could help upend decades of government advice about diet, nutrition, health, prevention, and medication. Just don’t hold your breath.The study, published in the Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology, centers on statins, a class of drugs used to lower levels of LDL-C, the so-called “bad” cholesterol, in the human body. According to the study, statins are pointless for most people.“No evidence exists to prove that having high levels of bad cholesterol causes heart disease, leading physicians have claimed” in the study, reports the Daily Mail. The Express likewise says the new study finds “no evidence that high levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol cause heart disease.”The study also reports that “heart attack patients were shown to have lo wer than normal cholesterol levels of LDL-C” and that older people with higher levels of bad cholesterol tend to live longer than those with lower levels.

 New York City declares emergency over measles as cases double in two months Battling a fast-growing measles outbreak, New York City has declared an emergency and ordered mandatory vaccinations under threat of fine in a Brooklyn neighborhood where the disease is spreading. New York’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, announced a public health emergency on Tuesday morning and ordered people living in four zip codes in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn to get the vaccine or face fines up to $1,000. The city has also threatened to shut down yeshivas, or traditional Jewish religious schools, if they do not follow an order to keep unvaccinated children out of class. There have been 285 cases of measles since the outbreak began in the fall, mostly in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, and the number has more than doubled since February.  Measles has made a comeback in New York and around the country as some parents refuse to get their children vaccinated, citing scientifically debunked concerns that the shots are dangerous. The 285 cases in the city in the current outbreak compare to just two cases in all of 2017. Most of the victims have been children, and 21 have been hospitalized, with five sent to intensive care. The highly contagious disease can cause serious complications. The outbreak began with an unvaccinated child who got measles while traveling to Israel, which is also battling a large outbreak. Though the city has given out thousands of vaccines, there are still an estimated 1,800 unvaccinated children in the Williamsburg neighborhood and the disease has continued to spread. The city plans to enforce the mandatory vaccine order by tracing the contacts of people who come down with measles. If residents who have been exposed are not vaccinated, health officials will try to get them the shot within three days, which can protect them from contracting the disease.

NY Judge Rules in Favor of Unvaccinated Children Spreading Measles With Impunity - A state judge has ruled against one New York county’s effort to stem a massive measles outbreak, arguing that the county cannot ban unvaccinated minors from public places.The Washington Post reports that on Friday, Judge Rolf Thorsen issued an injunction on Rockland County’s attempted month-long ban after only ten days, ruling that the unvaccinated children were “permitted to return to their respective schools forthwith and otherwise to assemble in public places” immediately.  The ban, which the county implemented last month, was fairly controversial, mandating fines and short-term jail sentences to parents who permitted their unvaccinated children to attend schools, parks, malls, and other public spaces. But Rockland County is in the midst of a major medical emergency, with 167 cases of measles confirmed as of Friday, and officials had hoped the extreme measure would spur parents to finally suck it up and vaccinate their kids. Anti-vaxxers reacted pretty much as you’d expect, per the Washington Post: After Rockland County’s ban, anti-vaccination activists likened the public health measures to the Nazi persecution of Jews that included forcing them to wear yellow stars. Still, for a short time, the ban seemed to work. Last Friday, Rockland County Executive Ed Day told CNBC they’d gotten about 500 immunizations since the ban was put in place a few days prior, and believed they’d be able to get a 93 percent immunization rate—up from Rockland’s current rate of 72 percent—by the end of April. Thanks to Thorsen’s ruling—made as a result of a lawsuit spearheaded by anti-vaxxer parents—that’s probably not going to happen now. “The read I get on this now is that we have to wait until this gets much worse,” Day toldreporters after the ruling was made public. “While that might be legally sufficient, I think it is very wrongheaded.” Congratulations to disease, the one true winner.

Why ‘Measles Parties’ Are A Bad Idea For Parents – Health officials made a specific point to condemn the resurgence of “measles parties,” get-togethers where parents gather unvaccinated children with kids already suffering with measles in order to intentionally infect the group at a young age. The practice has its own faulty logic based on how humans fight off the disease. Once people have become infected by measles, their bodies build up their immune systems to prevent new inflections. They are immune for the rest of their lives.  “As a parent, I have no doubt that each and every parent is making decisions based out of what they believe is best for their children,” said Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Dr. Herminia Palacio. “But as a doctor, a public health practitioner, and a mom, I must warn you that exposing your unvaccinated child to measles is very dangerous, and it could even be deadly.” That’s the point of vaccines – safe ways of making people immune to infections with limited side effects. But “measles parties” carry a number of serious drawbacks.  “Because vaccines have been so effective at preventing previously widespread diseases, we tend to forget that measles and other childhood diseases can be very serious,” said CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez. “Why would you purposely expose your child to measles, causing them to feel awful, run a high fever (which can lead to seizures), risk expensive hospitalization and other potentially serious complications when a simple vaccine can prevent all that?” “Plus, there’s the chance that an infected person could transmit measles to an immuno-compromised person (cancer, HIV, other chronic diseases) who could get very sick and even die,” he said. “That’s not being a responsible member of the community.”

Mysterious Drug-Resistant Germ Deemed An Urgent Threat Is Quietly Sweeping The Globe -- Thanks to the overprescription of antimicrobial drugs and use of antifungicides in crop production, a relatively new germ that preys on people with weakened immune systems is rapidly spreading across the globe, according to the New York Times.  The infection - a fungus known as Candida auris, kills almost half of all patients who contract it within 90 days, according to the CDC - as it's impervious to most major antifungal medications. First described in 2009 after a 70-year-old Japanese woman showed up at a Tokyo hospital with C. auris in her ear canal, the aggressive yeast infection has spread across Asia and Europe - arriving in the US by 2016.   The earliest known case in the United States involved a woman who arrived at a New York hospital on May 6, 2013, seeking care for respiratory failure. She was 61 and from the United Arab Emirates, and she died a week later, after testing positive for the fungus. At the time, the hospital hadn’t thought much of it, but three years later, it sent the case to the C.D.C. after reading the agency’s June 2016 advisory. –NYT    "It is a creature from the black lagoon," said the CDC's Dr. Tom Chiller, who heads the fungal branch. "It bubbled up and now it is everywhere."  In the last five years alone, it it has swept through a hospital in Spain, hit a neonatal unit in Venezuela, spread throughout India, Pakistan and South Africa, and forced a prestigious British medical center to close its ICU for nearly two weeks.   After C. auris reached New York, New Jersey and Illinois, the CDC added it to a list of germs deemed "urgent threats."

Drug-resistant “superbugs” are spreading — but your hospital doesn’t have to tell you  - As doctors and farmers have indiscriminately doled out antimicrobial drugs (such as antibiotics and antifungals), harmful bacteria and fungi that can outsmart these drugs have proliferated. These superbugs threaten modern medicine, the safety of our food system — and us. Experts warn that as early as 2050, the death toll from drug-resistant infections will rise to 10 million. Yet many superbug outbreaks largely remain hidden from public view. In a breathtaking Saturday feature in the New York Times, reporters Matt Richtel andAndrew Jacobs shined a light on one such hidden outbreak: the spread of a drug-resistant fungus, Candida auris, around the world.  This pathogen, which typically sickens people with weakened immune systems, causing fever and chills, is “so invasive” hospitals have had to bring in special equipment to eradicate it, even removing ceiling and floor tiles. And they also document the stunning lack of transparency around reporting outbreaks:  With bacteria and fungi alike, hospitals and local governments are reluctant to disclose outbreaks for fear of being seen as infection hubs. Even the C.D.C., under its agreement with states, is not allowed to make public the location or name of hospitals involved in outbreaks. State governments have in many cases declined to publicly share information beyond acknowledging that they have had cases. So states have the primary authority when it comes to public disclosure of these outbreaks — and they tend to opt out. This means, amazingly, there’s no public system for tracking and naming current outbreaks. It also means patients and their family members have no way of knowing whether they’re potentially being exposed to superbugs at a hospital they’re going to. In the US alone, we’re seeing 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses — a conservative estimate — from drug-resistant infections every year.

In a Poor Kenyan Community, Cheap Antibiotics Fuel Deadly Drug-Resistant Infections NYT -- With no money to see a doctor, Sharon Mbone carried her son to the local pharmacy stall, a corrugated shack near her home in Kibera, a sprawling impoverished community here in Nairobi. The shop’s owner, John Otieno, listened as she described her 22-month-old son’s symptoms and rattled off the pharmacological buffet of medicines he had dispensed to her over the previous two weeks. None of them, including four types of antibiotics, were working, she said in despair.  Like most of the small shopkeepers who provide on-the-spot diagnosis and treatment here and across Africa and Asia, Mr. Otieno does not have a pharmacist’s degree or any medical training at all. Still, he confidently reached for two antibiotics that he had yet to sell to Ms. Mbone. “See if these work,” he said as she handed him 1,500 shillings for both, about $15.  Antibiotics, the miracle drugs credited with saving tens of millions of lives, have never been more accessible to the world’s poor, thanks in large part to the mass production of generics in China and India. Across much of the developing world, it costs just a few dollars to buy drugs like amoxicillin, a first-line antibiotic that can be used against a broad range of infections, from bacterial pneumonia and chlamydia to salmonella, strep throat and Lyme disease. Kibera residents are prodigious consumers of antibiotics. One study found that 90 percent of households in Kibera had used antibiotics in the previous year, compared with about 17 percent for the typical American family. But the increasing availability of antibiotics has accelerated an alarming downside: The drugs are losing their ability to kill the germs they were created to conquer. Hard-wired to survive, many bacteria have evolved to outsmart the medications. And as these mutant bacteria commingle with other pathogens in sewage canals, hospital wards and livestock pens, they can share their genetic resistance traits, making other micro-organisms impervious to antibiotics.

 Mysterious E. Coli Outbreak Spreads To 5 States; 96 People Infected -- A mysterious E. Coli outbreak outbreak of unknown provenance has now spread to five states, and infected 96 people, the CDC disclosed on Tuesday. As of April 8, the states include Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia, according to law firm publication the Food Poison Journal.   The source of the outbreak has not yet been determined. Though late last year, another E. coli outbreak prompted supermarkets around the country to destroy supplies of romaine lettuce after the outbreak was traced to tainted lettuce tied to a California farm. Illnesses tied to the current outbreak were first reported on March 2, 2019, to March 26, 2019. The infected have ranged in age from 1 to 81 years, with a median age of 17, just over half of whom have been women. No deaths have been reported, but 11 people have been hospitalized.  State and local public health officials have been interviewing the victims to try and determine what they ate and how they might have been exposed to the virus in the week before they fell ill. In addition to locals, the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, the US Food and Drug Administration, and the CDC have all been investigating the outbreak. "This investigation is still ongoing, and a specific food item, grocery store, or restaurant chain has not been identified as the source of infections. State and local public health officials are interviewing ill people to determine what they ate and other exposures in the week before their illness started," the CDC said. People infected with E. coli typically start experiencing symptoms two to eight days after exposure, according to Newsweek. Most people take a week to recover. While the infection typically doesn't require hospitalization, E. coli can lead to a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can be deadly. Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, as well as cramps and vomiting. Some might experience a low-grade fever. People can protect themselves by washing their hands and cooking meat, vegetables and fruit thoroughly. They can also avoid smoking street marijuana, which has recently been found to contain a surprising quantity of human feces, the NYP reports.

 Brussels Becomes First Major City to Halt 5G Due to Health Effects -  A Belgian government minister has announced that Brussels is halting its 5G plans due to health effects The statement was made by Céline Fremault, the Minister of the Government of the Brussels-Capital Region, responsible for Housing, Quality of Life, Environment and Energy. From an interview last Friday, with L'Echo: I cannot welcome such technology if the radiation standards, which must protect the citizen, are not respected, 5G or not. The people of Brussels are not guinea pigs whose health I can sell at a profit. We cannot leave anything to doubt." - Céline Fremault, Minister of the Government (Brussels-Captial Region), responsible for Housing, Quality of Life, Environment and Energy Ms. Fremault accurately identified that a 5G pilot project is not compatible with Belgian radiation safety standards (9 V/m, or 95 mW/m2 according to this online converter), and stated that she does not intend to make an exception. (In the Building Biology guidelines, the threshold for extreme concern is 1 mW/m2. However, many government agencies still only consider thermal effects, instead of the cumulative body of thousands of peer-reviewed scientific studies.) Perhaps with Brussels heading up the European Union, and with one of the two major 5G appeals being addressed to the EU, officials there are better informed and motivated to protect themselves. Dr. Martin Pall, the WSU Professor Emeritus whose research actually lays out the mechanism of how wireless radiation causes harm in our cells, calls 5G "the stupidest idea in the history of the world."

NASA Twins Study results show how a year in space affects an astronaut’s DNA - For almost one year, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly circled the planet on the International Space Station, completing three spacewalks, conducting experiments on plants and playing ping-pong with a ball of water. His earthbound twin, Mark, lobbied for stronger gun laws, played golf and drank an occasional beer. Together, the genetically identical subjects constituted the starkest nature-versus-nurture study in history.By comparing blood samples from the twins before, during and after the mission, researchers found that Scott’s gene expression was exceedingly altered after spending a year in space, and that his DNA suffered “gross, large-scale damage,” probably as a result of radiation exposure.Scott’s body exhibited a sharp uptick in biological markers of inflammation, changes in eyeball shape and a glaring deterioration of cognitive function. But six months after his return to Earth, the experiment revealed no significant differences in the twins’ overall health.  The results, published Thursday in a suite of studies in the journal Science, bolster NASA’s plans to embark on a more arduous human endeavor to Mars in the next decade. More than 550 people — including the Kelly twins — have traveled to space on short-term missions, so some biological stressors are well known. Exposure to radiation and microgravity can deteriorate bones; restricted diets and limited exercise decrease muscle mass; disrupted sleep cycles cause fatigue and even dangerous flight errors. But only eight astronauts have stayed in space for more than 10 months, so the effects of extended journeys are still a mystery. Under the direction of NASA’s Human Research Program, about 84 researchers at 12 institutions analyzed thousands of biochemical measurements of the twins over the course of 25 months. They began six months before Scott took off for the space station in late March 2015 and ended nine months after his return in early March 2016. Indeed, the world’s only genetically identical astronauts may have been studied with greater depth than any other humans, said Christopher Mason, a biophysics professor at Weill Cornell Medical College, who led genetic investigations for the study.

Monkeys Injected With Human Brain Genes - And It Made Them Smarter - Scientists in southern China report that after creating several "transgenic macaque monkeys" which contained extra copies of a human gene linked to brain development, the monkeys did better on a memory test, exhibited better short term memory, and had faster reaction times vs. their non-altered simian counterparts. What's more, the monkeys' brains took longer to develop, similar to that of a human child.  The gene, MCPH1, was successfully introduced to five out of 11 monkey embryos using "lentivirus transfection" - in which genetic material effectively hitches a ride on an injected virus. A derivation of the gene called haplogroup D appeared around 37,000 years ago across the globe except for Sub-Saharan Africa.  Anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals shared a long period of coexistence, from as early as 130,000 years ago in the Middle East to as late as 35,000 years ago in Europe, consistent with the estimated introgression time of the microcephalin D allele at or sometime before ≈37,000 years ago. Furthermore, the worldwide frequency distribution of the D allele, exceptionally high outside of Africa but low in sub-Saharan Africa, suggests, but does not necessitate, admixture with an archaic Eurasian population. -via"  This was the first attempt to understand the evolution of human cognition using a transgenic monkey model," said lead geneticist Bing Su of the Kunming Institute of Zoology.   The experiments, described on March 27 in a Beijing journal, National Science Review, and first reported by Chinese media, remain far from pinpointing the secrets of the human mind or leading to an uprising of brainy primates. Instead, several Western scientists, including one who collaborated on the effort, called the experiments reckless and said they questioned the ethics of genetically modifying primates, an area where China has seized a technological edge. -MIT Technology Review "The use of transgenic monkeys to study human genes linked to brain evolution is a very risky road to take,"

Toxic Air Kills 100,000 Americans Per Year, Costs Economy Billions, Study Finds - Air pollution is poisoning Americans: A new study links air pollution spewed from industrial factories, motor vehicles, and farmlands to approximately 107,000 premature deaths each year. The report, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said the economic toll of air pollution costs taxpayers $866 billion per year. Researchers concentrated on PM2.5, refers to atmospheric particulate matter (PM) that is 1/20th the width of a human hair - can travel past human body defenses and absorb into the bloodstream or even lungs. The particles cause irritation and inflammation and can lead to lung disease. Long-term exposure can cause cardiovascular disease. "The link between fine particulate matter pollution and decreased health impacts is well-established in the literature from epidemiological studies, and our work builds on that," says study co-author Jason Hill, an associate professor of engineering at the University of Minnesota. "This is a substantial cost to human health, both in terms of lives lost and economic impact." The highest exposure to PM2.5 is in metropolitan areas across the country such as Los Angeles and Seattle. Researchers used the Intervention Model for Air Pollution (InMAP) to calculate specific estimates of air pollution from emission sources. The model showed that 33% of the deaths reported in the study were people who lived within 5 miles of the pollution source. About 25% of the deaths were people who lived more than 150 miles from the pollution source. “Overall, the number of deaths we are seeing with this, that’s more than traffic accidents and homicides combined,” said study co-author Julian Marshall, a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Washington. “Seeing this should be a strong motivator to make improvements.” Of the 107,000 deaths per annum, 57% were associated with emissions from energy consumption. About 28% was related to transportation, 14% from coal-fired and gas plants and 15% from farms.

Why is it taking so long to regulate toxic PFAS chemicals in Pennsylvania’s drinking water? - Thousands of Pennsylvanians are being exposed to dangerous chemicals in their drinking water—many without knowing it—and some experts feel state agencies aren't moving quickly enough to protect residents.The class of chemicals, known as PFAS (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances), includes more than 4,000 individual chemicals with similar properties. PFAS don't readily break down once they're in the environment or human bodies, so they can accumulate in animal and human tissues. The compounds, used in products such as stain- and water-resistant clothing, nonstick pots and pans, firefighting foam, carpets and furniture, are linked to health effects including testicular and kidney cancers, decreased birth weights, thyroid disease, decreased sperm quality, high cholesterol, pregnancy-induced hypertension, asthma and ulcerative colitis. The chemicals are increasingly found in water supplies throughout the United States. In Pennsylvania, there are 20 known contaminated sites, including at least two in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Despite the widespread contamination and mounting evidence the chemicals are harming people's health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has yet to set a Maximum Contaminant Level, or MCL, for the compounds. This has left states like Pennsylvania on their own to protect residents, who are waiting for action without knowing what potential exposure is doing to them or their families. Some health experts say Pennsylvania should rely on this existing scientific groundwork to act fast in protecting residents. "Delaying action to protect residents from harmful PFAS in drinking water until you can hire in-house researchers to reinvent the wheel on PFAS toxicity is absurd,"

Michigan Dealing With Multiple Chemical Threats - Chemical threats have long plagued Michigan. The state's long history as an industrial powerhouse also led to contaminations of several communities. Many have heard of Flint’s challenges with lead-tainted water, but less-well-known are contaminations of polybrominated biphenyl (PBB) and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in other communities.Senator Winnie Brinks (D) sponsored a lunch session for the Michigan Legislature to learn about these pollutants, attended by more than 20 legislators and staff and several members of the public, including former Michigan Representative Francis Spaniola, who served in the 1980s. “It’s like déjà vu all over again,” Spaniola said when asked about responding to these chemicals. “People don’t want to admit it’s a problem.”  As the chemicals are found in more places, state legislators and administrations are being forced to act in response to the public. States lack clear direction from the federal government, which has produced conflicting guidance regarding the substances. States do not have a federally-delegated chemical safety regulatory program as they do under the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which governs how the EPA regulates the introduction of new or existing chemicals, largely ignores states. You can find more information on PFAS on the NCSL website.

Teeth whitening products can harm protein-rich tooth layer - Americans spend more than a billion dollars on teeth whitening products each year. Although these products can make smiles brighter, new research shows that they might also be causing tooth damage. In three new studies, researchers found that hydrogen peroxide, the active ingredient in over-the-counter whitening strips, can damage the protein-rich dentin tissue found beneath the tooth’s protective enamel.  Most studies of whitening strips have focused on tooth enamel, which contains very little protein. Kennan’s research team focuses on dentin, which makes up most of the tooth and has high levels of protein, most of which is collagen. It is well established that hydrogen peroxide can penetrate the enamel and dentin. Previous work by the researchers showed that collagen in the dentin layer decreased when teeth were treated with whitening strips. In the new work, the researchers demonstrated that the major protein in the dentin is converted to smaller fragments when treated with hydrogen peroxide. In additional experiments, they treated pure collagen with hydrogen peroxide and then analyzed the protein using a gel electrophoresis laboratory technique that allows the protein to be visualized. “Our results showed that treatment with hydrogen peroxide concentrations similar to those found in whitening strips is enough to make the original collagen protein disappear, which is presumably due to the formation of many smaller fragments,” said Keenan.

 French Court Rules Monsanto Liable for Farmer's Health Problems - A French appeals court ruled Thursday in favor of a farmer who has been in a decade-long fight with Monsanto since he fell ill after inhaling a now-banned weedkiller. Paul Francois, 55, said he suffered neurological damage after inhaling Monsanto's Lasso in 2004. He sued the company arguing that the labeling on the product had been inadequate. Courts ruled in his favor in 2012 and 2015, but France's top court overturned those rulings and ordered a new hearing. "We are all happy to have won but it came at a heavy price," Francois told reporters, according to Reuters. "It's a big sigh of relief. It's been 12 years of fighting, 12 years during which I had to put my whole life on hold." Bayer, which acquired Monsanto in 2018, told BBC News it was considering options including an appeal. Thursday's decision follows a series of legal setbacks for the company since it acquired Monsanto. Two juries in the U.S. have now ruled in favor of plaintiffs claiming that glyphosate, the active ingredient in the company's Roundup weedkiller, caused them to develop cancer. There are more than 10,000 similar lawsuits pending. Bayer's chief executive said the company was "massively affected" by the lawsuits, Reuters reported, which are partly responsible for the loss of 30 billion euros (approximately $33.9 billion) of its market value since August 2018. Lasso has a different active ingredient, monochlorobenzene, that was found in Fracois' body after he inhaled the weedkiller. Francois said he suffered memory loss, headaches and difficulty speaking that forced him to stop working, BBC News reported. Lasso was banned in France in 2007 and had been prohibited in Canada as early as 1985 and in Belgium and the UK in 1992, AFP reported. Francois is asking for 1 million euros (approximately $1.1 million) in damages, arguing that Monsanto was aware of the dangers of the product and should have done more to warn users of potential hazards.

Killing Fields: Air Pollution from Corn Production Tied to Higher Mortality - The health effects of eating too much corn and corn products has sparked much debate in recent years. But corn is killing us in unseen, complicated ways in addition to damaging the environment, according to new research in Nature Sustainability. The study finds that air pollution from corn production in the U.S. causes 4,300 premature deaths every year.Ammonia emissions from fertilizer use is the biggest driver of corn’s air quality impact, the research shows. And the top five corn-producing states—Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota and Indiana—are responsible for more than half of this premature mortality. Greenhouse gas emissions from corn farming, meanwhile, result in climate change damages of $4.2 billion.The use of fertilizers, pesticides, and fuel make farming a major contributor to poor air and water quality and to climate change. And in the U.S., corn is a dominant crop that is used for animal feed, ethanol, and for human consumption. About 96 million acres of land are devoted to corn production, mainly in the Heartland states.  Researchers specifically looked at pollutants that contribute to the formation of PM2.5, tiny airborne particles that are smaller than 2.5 nanometers in diameter and are associated with cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, diabetes and cancer. Dust and burning fuel lead directly to PM2.5, while chemical pollutants like ammonia, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides all help form the particulates. The researchers created a life-cycle model to calculate emissions responsible for PM2.5 from every step in the corn supply chain: fertilizer production, electricity use, transportation, and on-field corn production, and incorporated air movement patterns and census data to analyze its population exposure and its health and economic effects. They estimated life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions as well. Corn produced in the eastern states like Indiana, Michigan and Ohio had dramatically higher health damages per ton of corn. That’s because the farms are near densely populated urban areas; have lower yields; and use more animal manure as fertilizer, which gives more ammonia emissions than synthetic fertilizers. Ammonia emissions from fertilizer use account for 71 percent of pollution-linked deaths. And the numbers don’t paint the full picture, the researchers say, because they do not consider what happens to the corn after it is produced. Almost 90 percent of corn produced in the US is used to makeanimal feed or ethanol, both of which further contribute to PM2.5 and greenhouse gases.

Mosquito-borne diseases could reach extra ‘one billion people’ as climate warms -- Nearly one billion people could face “their first exposure” to a host of mosquito-borne diseases by 2080 under extreme global warming, a study finds. Countries in Europe, including the UK, would be the most affected by the influence of extreme warming on diseases such as dengue fever, Zika and chikungunya, the research says.Meeting the Paris Agreement’s target of limiting warming to below 2C could greatly stem the increase, the authors say. However, this would also shift the burden of disease from wealthy mid-latitude countries to the developing tropics.The findings “point to a future world where a much larger proportion of the human population will be at risk of viruses borne by mosquitoes,” a scientist tells Carbon Brief.  There are around 3,500 species of mosquito on Earth. The new study, published inPLOS Neglected Tropical Disease, focuses on two species that are particularly dangerous to humans: the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti) and the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus).  Both mosquitoes carry viral diseases such as dengue fever, Zika, yellow fever andchikungunya – which they pass on to humans when feeding on their blood. The insects are currently found throughout the tropics, including in central Africa, Asia and Latin America and, to a lesser extent, in the US and southern Europe. The research aims to estimate how the mosquitoes’ geographic range is likely to change with varying levels of future climate change. It also estimates how the seasonality of disease risk and the overall number of people exposed could change. To do this, the authors used modelling to simulate how the risk of disease transmission could change under four scenarios of future climate change, known as the “Representative Concentration Pathways” (RCPs). These pathways range from a scenario where the world meets the Paris target of limiting warming to “well below” 2C (“RCP2.6”), to a scenario with no climate action where future global warming could reach 5C (“RCP8.5”).  The model not only considers how warming could impact disease transmission, but also a range of mosquito traits. For example, the model considers how warming could affect the rate at which mosquitoes reproduce. (Female mosquitoes only seek human blood when they have developing eggs.)

The Insect Apocalypse Is Coming: Here Are 5 Lessons We Must Learn - In a new report, scientists warn of a precipitous drop in the world's insect population. We need to pay close attention, as over time, this could be just as catastrophic to humans as it is to insects. Special attention must be paid to the principal drivers of this insect decline, because while climate change is adding to the problem, food production is a much larger contributor. The report, released by researchers at the Universities of Sydney and Queensland and the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences, concluded that 40 percent of insect species are now threatened with extinction, and the world's insect biomass is declining at 2.5 percent a year. In 50 years, the current biomass of insects could be cut in half. Such a sharp decline could trigger a "catastrophic collapse of nature's ecosystems." We have, it appears, a lot to learn to avert the looming insect apocalypse. Here are five critical lessons.

  • 1. Small things tend to get overlooked. While the volume of scientific research on the threat of species extinction is growing rapidly, most of the focus has been on the declining population of fish and large mammals. Compared to larger species, insect species and their populations get very little attention.s. Yet arthropods (insects, spiders, crustaceans) account for about half of the world's animal biomass — 17 times more than humans.
  • 2. Small things matter. When it comes to endangered species, large mammals get all the headlines, but insects are essential to the underlying web of life on which larger creatures depend. About 60 percent of bird species rely upon insects as a primary food source, and birds consume up to 500 million tons of insects every year. Moreover, it is estimated that 80 to 90 percent of wild plants depend upon insects for pollination.
  • 3. Environmental degradation is accelerating. Climate change, pollution and the ongoing destruction of forests, wetlands, reefs and other vital habitats are taking an ever-increasing toll on nature. And it's not just insects; environmental degradation is accelerating and rapidly diminishing non-human populations, including birds, fish and large undomesticated mammals. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that wildlife populations, on average, have declined 60 percent since 1970. The International Union for Conservation of Nature now classifies 26,000 species as threatened with extinction, and leading scientists publicly warn that a "sixth mass extinction" has commenced.
  • 4. It’s not just our greenhouse gas emissions … No one should underestimate the impact that rising greenhouse gas emissions are having on the web of life, but the authors of the insect report indicate that the three largest drivers of insect depopulation are, in order of importance: 1) habitat loss attributable to agriculture and urbanization; 2) pollution, mainly caused by pesticides and fertilizers and; 3) the introduction of invasive species. Climate change, which many believe is the largest driver of ecological ruin, ranked only fourth as a driver of insect decline.
  • 5. … It’s us.  The principal drivers of insect extinction have a common denominator. Simply put, the insect decline, in one form or another (including climate change), is attributable to humans. Our growing numbers and our appetites are driving insects to extinction. There is no letup in sight. World population, presently 7.6 billion, is expected to reach nearly 10 billion by mid-century, and the world's middle class is expected to rise at an even faster rate. Humans already use a land mass about the size of South America to produce crops for consumption and an area nearly the size of Africa to feed our livestock. Add in the pesticides and fertilizers that we depend upon to boost crop yields, and it's no wonder that insect populations are suffering mightily.

Cuba’s worker bees boost thriving honey business - In the floral valleys of Cuba's Matanzas province, old fashioned farming means bees can swarm without the threat of pesticides that have decimated populations across the world. "The bee is made neither for urban areas nor rural areas. It is made for the mountains," says Rogelio Marcelo Fundora, surveying a lush mountain valley east of Havana where his bees are thriving. Fundora, 51, is a mechanical engineer by trade. His 54-year-old brother Santiago Esteban is a teacher. But both have become Cuba's best-known beekeepers by passion, owning 600 hives in the valley. In this idyllic valley a few hours drive from the capital, "last year we produced 80 tonnes of honey," Shrinking bee populations around the world have caused scientists and conservationists to sound the alarm over the effects of intensive agriculture, disease and pesticides. But not in Cuba, a Communist-run island nation that has become a kind of apicultural paradise, thanks to the purity of its countryside. That environmental integrity dates back to Cuba's crippling economic crisis of the 1990s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, which once provided the island with thousands of tonnes of pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides. Deprived of that support, Cuba had no choice but to develop natural alternatives. In the process, it reduced to almost zero the use of chemicals, so harmful to bee populations and the quality of their honey. Average production is 51 kilograms (112 pounds) of honey per hive, a level considered high. However, the Fundora brothers, considered the nation's beekeeper kings, show yields of up to 160 kilograms of honey per hive -- triple the national average. 

American Skyscrapers Kill an Estimated 600 Million Migratory Birds Each Year - An estimated 600 million birds are killed every year from collisions with some of the country's largest skyscrapers, according to research from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Particularly deadly are those tall buildings found in three cities in particular. "Chicago, Houston, and Dallas are uniquely positioned in the heart of North America's most trafficked aerial corridors. This, in combination with being some of the largest cities in the U.S., make them a serious threat to the passage of migrants, regardless of season," said study lead author Kyle Horton.The researchers cite artificial light at night as a contributing factor to heightened mortality numbers givenalmost one-half of the contiguous U.S. experiences substantial light-pollution during nighttime, including streetlights, safety lights and extensively lit buildings. These findings are especially troubling during migratory seasons in spring and fall, when billions of birds fly across the nation as they travel between North and South America. The birds normally depend on natural light from the moon, sun and stars to navigate.Publishing their work in Frontiers and the Environment, researchers combined over two decades of satellite data showing light pollution levels with weather radar measuring bird migration from across 143 stations. Times and locations throughout the year showed when the highest numbers of migrating birds are exposed to light pollution. Results indicate that avian light exposure in cities is 24 times as high as the countrywide average, potentially contributing to millions of birds fatally colliding with buildings, communications towers, power lines and wind turbines. Rankings of the most dangerous cities change with the season because birds change their migration routes between spring and fall. During the spring, billions of birds fly through the central U.S. between the Rocky and Appalachian Mountain ranges, with cities in the center of these areas being particularly deadly. A large spring migration along the West Coast also means Los Angeles is a particularly dangerous city. Meanwhile, fall migrations are most intense along the Atlantic seaboard, which experiences heavy light pollution.

A Heat Wave in Australia Killed 23,000 Spectacled Flying Foxes -- Weighing up to two pounds and with wingspans approaching five feet, spectacled flying foxes are among the largest bats in the world. Now imagine what it would be like if 23,000 of them fell out of the trees and onto, say, your car or backyard pool.That's what happened last November on the northern coast of Australia when a record-setting heat wave pushed temperatures past 107 degrees Fahrenheit for days on end. The spectacled flying foxes, which are accustomed to shady forest understories, tried to ride out the wave by fanning their wings, panting, and spreading saliva across their bodies, but these cooling measures can combat only so much heat. In the end, tens of thousands of these fruit bats fell to the ground dead. Hundreds more wound up in rehabilitation facilities. "We have never seen die-offs in this species before," said David Westcott, coordinator of Australia's National Flying-Fox Monitoring Program. "Indeed, across the species' range, we have rarely, if ever, seen temperatures like this before." Spectacled flying foxes — named for the yellow fur encircling their eyes — live in the forests of northeastern Australia, Indonesia, and New Guinea. Since November, severe heat waves have continued to hit Australia, killing fish along with wild horses and camels and even cooking fruit as it grew on trees. A 2014 heat wave in Queensland killed 45,500 bats of various species, including black, gray-headed, and little red flying foxes. And while scientists have found evidence of 39 such die-offs on the continent going back as far as 1791, the vast majority of those, 35, have occurred since 1994. Anytime you're talking about 23,000 animals falling dead, it's clear that the scale of the problem is serious. But the number of casualties becomes even more significant when dealing with already endangered species. Previous estimates put the global population of spectacled flying foxes at just 75,000. November's heat wave wiped out nearly a third of them.

High-cat diet- urban coyotes feast on pets, study finds - Doug McIntyre let his cat, Junior, out of the house on a sunny summer morning last June.  All day, McIntyre waited for Junior to return, to no avail. The next morning, as he and his wife were putting up missing pet flyers, they ran into a neighbor who said her husband had seen Junior in the mouth of a coyote. It’s a common story in southern California, and one now backed up by research: a new study by the National Park Service has found that 20% of urban coyotes’ diets is made up of cats. Once restricted to the western plains, coyote populations are surging in cities across the US. They are master adapters who have learned to survive in urban environments – a recent study found coyotes present in 96 out of 105 cities surveyed. But many communities are struggling to figure out new ways to deal with predators in their neighborhoods. In Los Angeles there were 16 coyote attacks on humans in 2016, up from two in 2011. For small pets, the danger is even greater. Reports of coyotes attacking cats in the daytime – even in Hollywood – have popped up on social media. A neighborhood in Culver City recorded 40 pet deaths from coyotes in just six months last year. “Coyotes are the top – besides us – in urban landscapes,” says Justin Brown, a biologist for Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area who conducted the study. The NPS’s findings come from a new investigation of coyote’s poop. Brown – along with a team of volunteers – dissected more than 30,000 specimens of scat collected from two different sites over the course of two and a half years. They found a number of strange things: work gloves, rubber bands, condoms, even a piece of a computer keyboard. One of the most startling findings has been that people’s gardening choices could be contributing to the problem of disappearing pets. A quarter of coyotes’ diet was found to be ornamental fruit, including fruit from palm trees, small red berries called pyracantha, and grapes found around people’s homes. These trees attract coyotes, who – once in the neighborhood – are also finding cats and small dogs. “We are subsidizing the coyotes with these gardens,” says Brown.

Rhino poacher trampled to death by elephant; remains eaten by lions -- A rhino poacher was trampled to death by an elephant and his remains were devoured by a pride of lions, Kruger National Park officials said Thursday. The man was hunting with a group in the preserve in South Africa on Tuesday when he was trampled by the elephant, the Letaba Herald reported. Four other hunters were arrested Wednesday.The poachers told the man’s family what happened. The relatives then called park officials, who started a search to recover his remains. A human skull and a pair of pants were recovered Thursday. A pride of lions is believed to have eaten the man after he was crushed. Park officials offered a warning and their condolences to the man’s family. “Entering Kruger National Park illegally and on foot is not wise, it holds many dangers and this incident is evidence of that,” Glenn Phillips, who manages the national preserve, told the Letaba Herald. “It is very sad to see the daughters of the deceased mourning the loss of their father, and worse still, only being able to recover very little of his remains.”

Oil giant Shell has a new plan for cutting carbon footprint: planting millions of trees - The CEO of Royal Dutch Shell recently said the world needs to plant enough trees to essentially create another Amazon rainforest in order to combat climate change. On Monday, the Anglo-Dutch oil major announced plans to support a mass reforestation drive.Shell will spend $300 million over the next three years on initiatives like planting more than 5 million trees in the Netherlands and Spain, supporting forest regeneration in Australia and potentially engaging in conservation in Malaysia. The company also revealed new investments in electric vehicle battery charging stations and a fuel program to help drivers offset carbon pollution from their tailpipes.The investments in ecosystems are part of Shell's plan to reduce its net carbon footprint by 2% to 3% over the next three years. By shoring up forests, which absorb carbon dioxide, Shell aims to offset the CO2 emitted when its customers burn the petroleum products and natural gas that it produces — and which still account for the vast majority of its revenue.

Snake's 'boyfriend’ leads hunters to largest python in Florida Everglades --Snake hunters have captured what they say is the largest python ever found in the swamps of the Florida Everglades: a pregnant female more than 17ft (5.2 metres) long and weighing 140lb, or 63.5kg.The team from the Big Cypress National Preserve posted news of their record-setting catch in a Facebook post that also noted the giant reptile was carrying 73 eggs.Environmentalists have been struggling to find ways to eradicate Burmese pythons, a non-native species, from the 1.5m-acre wilderness since the 1980s, when some were released into the wild as overgrown pets. Others escaped from a breeding facility wrecked by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Populations of raccoons, opossums and bobcats have fallen by between 88% and 99% as the python population has exploded, studies have shown, while several species of rabbits and foxes have all but disappeared. Experts believes tens of thousands of the snakes are currently slithering through Everglades waterways. “All of the python work at Big Cypress is focused on controlling this invasive species, which poses significant threats to native wildlife,” the researchers wrote in the post.They also said the record-breaking python was snared after its position was given away by a boyfriend – a so-called Judas snake.“Using male pythons with radio transmitters allows the team to track the male to locate breeding females,” they said. “The team not only removes the invasive snakes, but collects data for research, develop new removal tools and learn how the pythons are using the preserve.”

 The farm industry is pushing for tighter right-to-farm laws across the country Every state has a “right-to-farm” law on the books to protect farmers from being sued by their neighbors for the routine smells and noise created by farming operations. But this year, the agriculture industry has been pushing in several states to amend those laws so that they will effectively prevent neighbors from suing farms at all—even massive industrial livestock operations. The push is a response to the millions of dollars awarded so far to five groups of farm neighbors in North Carolina who sued a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, the biggest pork company in the country. The first of 26 lawsuits against the company, representing nearly 500 plaintiffs, was heard in 2017. In the past several months, legislators in Utah, Nebraska, Georgia, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Oklahoma have proposed, and in some cases passed, legislation that they say will protect farmers against similar lawsuits. The legislation varies, but several proposals reduce the potential damages that plaintiffs could win in such a suit or limit the distance from the farm a neighbor must live in order to bring a suit. Some do both. Critics say that these changes to existing right-to-farm laws aren’t necessary to protect farmers. “Our law is already extremely strong [in Georgia]. They’re trying to find a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” says April Lipscomb, a staff attorney with the Atlanta office of the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Nuisance lawsuits have not been prevalent in the state.” Yet the agriculture industry is framing these bills as a necessary response to the threat farmers face from nuisance lawsuits, such as those brought in North Carolina, where since last spring, juries in five cases have awarded plaintiffs in Duplin, Bladen, Pender, and Sampson counties more than $574 million in their lawsuits against pork company Murphy Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield. The plaintiffs alleged that the company’s mismanagement of hog waste degraded their quality of life and reduced their property values.

 Proposal could weaken some Ohio River pollution standards by making them voluntary - For decades, Ohio River pollution control standards have been uniform among the states where it flows, to the benefit of many. From the humans who tap it for water, fish and play to the aquatic life dwelling in its depths, these standards are important to maintaining a healthy river, say a Cincinnati drinking water expert and environmentalists. But some of those standards would become voluntary under a new proposal put forth by the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission. The Commission, commonly referred to as ORSANCO, was established in 1948. Its goal – to create uniform standards aimed at preventing one state from polluting and harming stakeholders of another downriver – has sustained to this day. Last year, ORSANCO postponed a vote to eliminate entirely its standards. That plan was ultimately swapped for the current one: to allow states to voluntarily opt in to the standards recommended by ORSANCO. The proposal, introduced last month, weakens pollution standards and is opposed by some, including Bruce Whitteberry, a Greater Cincinnati Water Works official who serves as an assistant superintendent in the Water Quality and Treatment Division. Though states must adhere to federal regulations, Whitteberry said, individual states can modify those standards, "and our concern is that some states will take more liberty with that and allow more liberal discharges" into the river if ORSANCO's proposal passes. The ORSANCO change could make the river vulnerable to "short-term political whims, either within states or at the federal level," Whitteberry added, though the immediate effect is unclear.

Congress approves seven-state Colorado River deal addressing drought conditions -The House and Senate both approved a seven-state agreement Monday night designed to reduce use of water from the parched Colorado River by drought-stricken Western states.   Sponsored by House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) the bill gives approval to a deal crafted through years of negotiations, designed to manage a limited water supply in the dry but rapidly-growing West. The bill passed by voice vote in both chambers.  The Colorado River is a water source for some 40 million people in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. But reservoirs along the river are increasingly drying up: Lake Mead and Lake Powell sit below 40 percent capacity.   “Unfortunately the last 19 years have been the Colorado Basin’s driest on record,” McSally said, leaving water supplies for major cities at risk of reaching crisis levels.  Congressional and presidential approval is required for interstate compacts, and supporters stressed the deal's importance to avoid dire consequences.  Lake Mead currently sits just 15 feet above the 1,075 feet above sea level mark that would trigger mandatory water restrictions already hashed out by a 2007 agreement. The goal with this year’s deal is to stave off those cuts with progressively severe cutbacks as the water level at the lake drops.   But more troubling than future restrictions is what would happen if Lake Mead, located outside of Las Vegas, Nevada, falls too low. At 950 feet above sea level the water would no longer be high enough to supply electricity from the dam. And at 895 feet, water would fail to flow over the dam at all.

California's Climate-Change-Driven- Never-Ending Drought Is Over -- It was not that long ago, that some folks were wringing their hands about drought in California, claiming that normal rains were a thing of the past.  The NY Times and other outlets warned of "permanent" and "unending" drought fueled by global warming. 2013-2015 were dry years, but 2017 was extremely wet, 2018 was near normal, and 2019 is turning out to be a real soaker.    The official U.S. Drought Monitor, which often lags behind facts on the ground,  officially removed drought status from California this winter.This winter, the water situation is extraordinarily good for virtually all of California, with their very large reservoir system storing much more water than normal.   Let's examine the situation.Here is the difference from normal of the accumulated precipitation over the past six months.  Nearly the entire southwest U.S. was above normal, with parts of California being 8-20 inches above normal...that is a lot in California. Water storage is everything in California, and unlike Washington State, they have multi-year storage capacity.  Why?  Because historically California experiences more variation between wet and dry years than the more reliably wet Pacific Northwest.The current reservoir conditions are excellent, with all of the major reservoirs being well above normal.  Some are even near capacity (e.g., San Luis and Lake Shasta). The other major water storage system is the snowpack....and CA has a HUGE snowpack this year, averaging about 165% of normal (see below). Streamflow?   No worries.  Streams are running much above normal or high over the northern portion of the state ( blue and black colors) and near normal over most of the southern half. Surface soil moisture is above normal for most of the state (not shown). The bottom line of all this is that California has had an extraordinarily moist winter (and a very wet March) and there will be plenty of water for the urban centers and agriculture this year. 

Midwest floods have pushed some gas prices toward a five-year high - The March floods that punished the U.S. Midwest have roiled the ethanol industry, hammering prices and trapping barrels in the country's interior while the U.S. coasts suffer from shortages of the biofuel. The historic March floods have dealt a series of blows to large swaths of an ethanol industry that was already struggling with high inventories and sluggish domestic demand growth. And the ethanol shortages are one factor pushing gasoline prices in Los Angeles and Southern California to the highest in the nation and they could top $4 a gallon for the first time since 2014, according to tracking firm GasBuddy.Benchmark price for ethanol used in most supply contracts initially jumped on news of the floods but has been hobbled by rising waters around the Chicago hub that have halted barges and sales. That stands in contrast to prices on the coasts, which rose dramatically - drawing in heavy imports from Brazil, the main U.S. ethanol competitor.The floods inflicted billions of dollars in damage to crops and homes in the U.S. Midwest, and knocked out roughly 13 percent of ethanol capacity.

Midwest floods hammer U.S. ethanol industry, push some gasoline prices toward five-year high (Reuters) - The March floods that punished the U.S. Midwest have trapped barrels of ethanol in the country’s interior, causing shortages of the biofuel and helping to boost gasoline prices in the western United States. The historic floods have dealt a series of blows to large swaths of an ethanol industry that was already struggling with high inventories and sluggish domestic demand growth. The ethanol shortages are one factor pushing gasoline prices in Southern California, including Los Angeles, to the highest in the country, and they could top $4 a gallon for the first time since 2014, according to tracking firm GasBuddy. Benchmark price for ethanol used in most supply contracts initially jumped on news of the floods but has been hobbled by rising waters around the Chicago hub that have halted barges and sales. That stands in contrast to prices on the coasts, which rose dramatically - drawing in heavy imports from Brazil, the main U.S. ethanol competitor. The floods inflicted billions of dollars in damage to crops and homes in the U.S. Midwest, and knocked out roughly 13 percent of ethanol capacity. U.S. ethanol is made from corn and required by the government to be blended into the country’s fuel supply to reduce emissions. While some ethanol plants were flooded, the primary effect of the rising waters was to shut rail lines that serve as the main arteries for corn and ethanol deliveries. Ethanol prices on the coasts spiked due to shortages, but Midwest producers have been unable to take advantage because of washed-out rail lines, market sources told Reuters.  At Chicago’s Argo terminal, the nation’s main ethanol pricing hub, the cash price for ethanol fell for an eighth straight session last week to $1.29 a gallon, the longest downward skid since April of last year, according to Oil Price Information Service, which does daily assessments. 

 Second bomb cyclone in a month brings threat of snow, flooding - Flood, snow, avalanche and fire alerts popped up Monday from Idaho to Colorado, as parts of the U.S. interior that were paralyzed by blizzards and floods last month braced for round two of an unusual weather phenomenon involving what's known as a "bomb cyclone." Welcome to springtime in the Rockies and parts of the Great Plains.  It's not unusual for floods, snow and fire to co-exist in the Rockies thanks to powerful storms blowing through the mountains, melting snow swelling waterways and high winds sweeping across dry grasslands and trees that haven't seen their first green shoots and leaves. What is unusual is a storm system that is moving in from the Pacific Ocean and forecast to intensify and form into a new inland bomb cyclone.  A bomb cyclone is a rapid drop in air pressure — at least 24 millibars in 24 hours — and often is over or near oceans or seas because it requires warm moist air smacking into cold dry air, along with volatile weather from the jet stream. The central and mountain parts of the country may get one of these every few winters,  But this would be the second such storm in less than a month. A March 13 storm caused massive flooding in the Midwest, a blizzard in Colorado and Wyoming, and produced winds between 96 mph and 110 mph. This week's bomb cyclone is expected to be similar in intensity and in snowfall, meteorologists said. CBS News contributing meteorologist Jeff Berardelli said on CBSN that it will become a "monster storm" when it hits the Plains. "We're talking a blockbuster blizzard," Berardelli said. He expected it to start hitting the northern Plains on Wednesday and then slowly move across the region for at least two days.

Another Bomb Cyclone Hammers U.S. Plains And Midwest - As the storm reaches "bomb cyclone" criteria on Thursday, more than 200 million people in the United States will feel the impact of this dangerous weather system sweeping across the Plains and Midwest. Heavy snow has developed and will continue to fall on the northern Plains, a portion of the central Plains and Upper Midwest into Thursday night as arctic air rushes in, reported Reuters. Into the overnight, heavy snow will extend from northeast Colorado and northwest Kansas through Nebraska, South Dakota, southeast North Dakota, Minnesota, northern Wisconsin and part of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. "It is a bomb cyclone, the second we’ve had," said Brian Hurley, a meteorologist at National Weather Service (NWS) in College Park, Maryland. "This is like a slow-moving snowstorm inside a hurricane." PowerOutage.Us shows 13,660 homes and businesses are without power in Minnesota, and about 9,500 in South Dakota around 7 am est. Between 4 am and 8 am, there are 61 airport delays across the U.S., mostly seen at Minneapolis−Saint Paul International Airport, according to Flight Aware. The region in focus is the Central U.S., the same area where a "bomb cyclone" hit last month and unleashed deadly flooding and blizzards. A little over $3 billion in damage was done to property, crops, and livestock in Nebraska and Iowa alone. "The heaviest snow so far is piling up in South and North Dakota, with some areas getting 17 inches, and more is on the way," Hurley said. "We’re expected another 10 to 15 inches before this is done."

Hundreds of car crashes contribute to travel misery as a powerful spring blizzard hits parts of the US - A major spring storm has unloaded heavy snow and blizzard conditions from the Dakotas to Minnesota and is expected to make travel a nightmare for hundreds of thousands of people still in its path Thursday as it makes its way toward Canada. Blizzard warnings stretch from Colorado to Minnesota, and winter storm warnings and advisories encompass a larger area, from Utah into Michigan, the National Weather Service said. Officials urged drivers to be cautious, with states such as South Dakota warning people in some counties to stay off the roads completely. The heaviest snow Thursday will fall in western Nebraska, much of South Dakota and much of Minnesota as the system tracks northeast into Canada. Those areas could get 2 feet of snow by Friday morning, with 30 inches possible in places. More than 40,000 utility customers were without power Thursday morning, mainly in Minnesota and South Dakota.This is the second bomb cyclone to hit the Rockies and Plains in four weeks, and it's delivering a temperature shock to a region that had been enjoying springlike conditions, dropping snow Wednesday in parts of Wyoming, Colorado, South Dakota and Minnesota. The extremely powerful storm produced wind gusts of hurricane strength. The strongest wind gust reported was in Pueblo, Colorado, at 107 mph -- the equivalent of sustained winds in a Category 2 hurricane. High winds will continue Thursday. Wind advisories or warnings stretch from Texas and Louisiana north into the Upper Midwest. Four weeks ago, a similarly powerful system dumped heavy snow and rain on some of the same regions, leaving hundreds of millions of dollars in livestock and crop damage in Nebraska alone, largely through flooding. It's rare enough to have one bomb cyclone to form inland, much less two in a month. More typically, bomb cyclones form off the US East Coast as nor'easters.

Deadly Bomb Cyclone Brings ‘Historic’ Snowfall to Central U.S. One person died and tens of thousands lost power as the second "bomb cyclone" in a month brought snow and wind to the central U.S. Wednesday and Thursday. The storm dumped snow on Colorado Wednesday, canceling hundreds of flights at Denver International Airport before moving through the plains to the upper Midwest, where it covered some parts of the region with up to two feet of snow, the Associated Press reported. Heavy snow fell in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Minnesota and Wisconsin, The Independent reported. Whiteout conditions were also reported in parts of Nebraska and Kansas, according to the Associated Press."We're calling it historic because of the widespread heavy snow," South Dakota meteorologist Mike Connelly told the Chicago Tribune, as The Independent reported. "We will set some record."  The storm claimed at least one life when a Colorado man lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a snow plow, AccuWeather reported. The weather site projected the storm would cost $3 billion in economic damages. It led to road closures and forced the cancellation of almost 1,000 flights across the region. Conditions prompted Minnesota Governor Tim Walz to declare a state of emergency Thursday night.  Blizzard conditions in Minnesota led to more than 500 crashes, the Minnesota State Patrol said, according to the Associated Press. A video posted on social media by the Minnesota Department of Transportation showed every power line down along a stretch of Highway 59, NPR reported. The storm comes about a month after another "bomb cyclone" triggered record-breaking flooding along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. This storm is not expected to cause as much flooding, AccuWeather explained: The March 'bomb cyclone' caused a rapid meltdown of existing snow cover combined with torrential rainfall.  In contrast, rain associated with this storm was not as widespread and snow farther north is not expected to rapidly melt. Even though rivers are high and some are currently still at major flood stage, a new round of record river flooding is not expected behind the storm.

70 Dead From Weeks of Flooding in Iran as Warnings Continue - At least 70 people have died in flooding caused by heavy rainfall in Iran since mid-March, as forecasts for more wet weather have prompted additional evacuations in the country's south, Al Jazeera reported Sunday.  The floods have caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to agriculture and water infrastructure across the country and forced thousands to flee their homes. Since March 19, around 1,900 cities and villages have been inundated, Iran's Mehr News Agency reported.  "The destruction is high," director of international relations at the Iranian Red Crescent Society Mansoureh Bagheri told NPR. "I can say regarding the agriculture, regarding the infrastructure, regarding the livelihood, the impact is high." So far, around 24 of the country's 31 provinces have been impacted by the rain, Bagheri told NPR. The Islamic Republic News Agency gave a brief timeline of the flooding: The disaster began with heavy rainfalls in the northern provinces of Iran since March 19, and continued across Iran with flash floods in southern, central and western provinces. The largest number of deaths, 21, occurred in the southern province of Fars, where a month's worth of rain fell in a few hours and caused dramatic flash flooding in the city of Shiraz. The second largest number of deaths took place in Lorestan province in the west, where 15 people died. Deputy Minister of Roads and Urban Development Abdolhashem Hassannia said Saturday that road access to 275 villages in the province were blocked and that 200 bridges and 400 kilometers (approximately 248.5 miles) of roads had been destroyed.  "The level of the damages left by the recent floods has been unprecedented during the past century," he was quoted as saying

US Sanctions Impede Rescue Efforts In Iran During Historic Flooding - In yet more confirmation that US sanctions don't fundamentally punish or weaken regimes they seek to bring down, but hurt the common population America feigns to be helping, a new report finds that relief efforts in the wake historic floods which have created a disaster zone in Iran are being hindered due to Washington's sanctions.  The Middle East's main regional emergency response and humanitarian aid arm, the Red Crescent, says that US sanctions have prevented the bulk of badly needed external emergency relief from getting through after record rains have caused the worst floods in nearly a century in multiple provinces across Iran, killing at least 70 and displacing many tens of thousands.  The worst flooding in 70 years has hit Iran over the past 3 weeks, via the AP. “No foreign cash help has been given to the Iranian Red Crescent society. With attention to the inhuman American sanctions, there is no way to send this cash assistance,” the Red Crescent said in a statement, cited by Reuters. In all, international humanitarian groups say up to 90,000 have sought emergency shelter amid response efforts which are faltering due to lack of external help. The floods began on March 19, and produced surreal scenes coming out of the country involving flash floods sweeping away cars and whole towns over the past three weeks.  The US has acknowledged the crisis, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledging the US government was prepared to help through the Red Cross and Red Crescent. However, in rhetoric that sounded similar to his tough talk on Venezuela amid ongoing economic and infrastructural collapse there, he blamed Iran's woes on “mismanagement in urban planning and in emergency preparedness” due to the inept and corrupt leadership of Iran's Ayatollah and other leading clergy.  Surreal scenes of entire towns being swept away by flash floods have come out of Iran over the past weeks. But Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in statements last week pointed the finger at Washington for imposing an economic blockade by seeking to prevent European and other international companies from doing business with Iran: “Blocked equipment includes relief choppers: This isn’t just economic warfare; it’s economic TERRORISM,” he said on Twitter.

Brazil mining giant Vale will face criminal charges over deadly dam collapse: report - Brazilian prosecutors intend to file criminal charges against Vale and employees of the mining giant following a deadly dam collapse at a company mine in January, the Wall Street Journal reports.Investigators have gathered enough evidence to bring charges connected to the disaster, Jose Adercio Leite Sampaio, the lead prosecutor in the inquiry told the Journal. That evidence shows certain employees working at the mine knew the dam was unsafe, but it remains to be seen whether directors were aware, he said.The breach in a dam containing mining waste at Vale's Corrego do Feijao mine in southeastern Minas Gerais sent torrents of muddy sludge ripping through the area and killed about 300 people near the city of Brumadinho.The charges under consideration include murder, manslaughter, environmental damage and false representation, Sampaio told the Journal.The false representation charges are being leveled at employees of both Vale and German inspections company Tuev Sued, which certified the dam was safe shortly before the collapse. A report completed by Tuev Sued in September raised concerns about the dam, identifying problems with the drainage infrastructure and faulty monitoring systems, the Journal reported in February.

Coral reproduction on Great Barrier Reef falls 89pc after repeated bleaching THE severe and repeated bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef has not only damaged corals, it has reduced the reef’s ability to recover.   Our research, published Thursday in Nature, found far fewer baby corals are being produced than are needed to replace the large number of adult corals that have died. The rate at which baby corals are settling on the Great Barrier Reef has fallen by nearly 90 percent since 2016. While coral does not always die after bleaching, repeated bleaching has killed large numbers of coral. This new research has negative implications for the Reef’s capacity to recover from high ocean temperatures.Most corals reproduce by “spawning”: releasing thousands of tight, buoyant bundles with remarkable synchronisation. The bundles burst when they hit the ocean surface, releasing eggs and/or sperm. Fertilised eggs develop into larvae as they are moved about by ocean currents. The larvae settle in new places, forming entirely new coral colonies. This coral “recruitment” is essential to reef recovery. The research team, led by my colleague Terry Hughes from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, measured rates of coral recruitment by attaching small clay tiles to the reef just before the predicted mass spawning each year. These settlement panels represent a standardised habitat that allows for improved detection of the coral recruits, which are just 1-2mm in size. Almost 1,000 tiles were deployed across 17 widely separated reefs after the recent mass bleaching, in late 2016 and 2017. After eight weeks they were collected and carefully inspected under a microscope to count the number of newly settled coral recruits. Resulting estimates of coral recruitment were compared to recruitment rates recorded over two decades prior to the recent bleaching.

Plastic Watch: 2.5 Trillion Dollar Annual Cost of Ocean Plastic Pollution -- naked capitalism by Jerri-lynn Scofield  - Last week, scientists led by a group at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory in Devon published a study in Marine Pollution Bulletin that’s the first to attempt to quantify the economic costs of marine plastic pollution.An estimated 8 million tons of plastic ends up on the world’s oceans each year, according to The Guardian inMarine plastic pollution costs the world up to $2.5tn a year.The study’s takeaway:On a global scale, it has been estimated that for 2011 marine ecosystem services provided benefits to society approximating $49.7 trillion1 per year (Constanza et al., 2014). Most of the values on which this approximation was calculated were based on maximum sustainable use (actual or hypothetical) of natural (or semi-natural) systems, reflecting functioning biomes with minimal anthropogenic disruption. While limitations in its accuracy are acknowledged, this figure is considered to provide sufficient precision for global analysis and an estimate of the decline in its value, due to the presence of marine plastic, can be taken as a first order approximation of an economic cost.This 1–5% decline in marine ecosystem service delivery equates to an annual loss of $500–$2500 billion in the value of benefits derived from marine ecosystem services. With the 2011 stock of plastic in the marine environment having been estimated between 75 and 150 million tonnes (Jang et al., 2015; McKinsey, 2015), this would equate in 2011, under 2011 levels of marine plastic pollution and based on 2011 ecosystem services values to each tonne of plastic in the ocean having an annual cost in terms of reduced marine natural capital of between $3300 and $33,000.This postulation of an economic cost relates only to the impacts of marine plastic on marine natural capital and as such represents a ‘lower bound’ of the full economic costs of marine plastic. This figure does however illustrate the potential order of magnitude of the impacts.

Drinks bottles now biggest plastic menace for waterways – report - Plastic bottles, the detritus of our throwaway water and soft drinks habits, are the most prevalent form of plastic pollution in European waterways, according to a new report. Food wrappers, including crisp and sweet packets, were the second biggest form of plastic pollution in rivers, followed by cigarette butts. All of these forms of litter can cause problems for wildlife and fish, and are hard to clean up once they have found their way into the water. Plastic bags were found to make up only 1% of plastic rubbish in freshwater, reflecting years of efforts to reduce their use, including charges on them in the UK and many other European countries. Consumers should be more aware of what they can do to prevent the fouling of waterways, from using cotton buds with paper sticks to binning wet wipes instead of flushing them, and bringing their own receptacles for food takeaways, according to the Plastic Rivers report from Earthwatch Europe and Plastic Oceans UK. “The products we buy every day are contributing to the problem of ocean plastic,” said Jo Ruxton, chief executive of Plastic Oceans UK. “Our discarded plastic enters rivers from litter generated by our on-the-go lifestyle and items we flush down toilets. This throwaway approach is having much more serious consequences and the report shows really simple ways to avoid this problem and stop plastic pollution.” Although most attention on the plastic scourge has focused on the plight of oceans, about 80% of plastic rubbish flows into them from rivers. Many experts believe that focusing on the clean-up of rivers is the best way to choke off the flow of existing rubbish into seas, while the ultimate source of the problem – our dependence on throwaway plastic products – is tackled. 

Climate Change Unleashes Giant Wave of Landslides on Canadian Island -- On the Canadian outpost of Banks Island, new findings show that landslides have increased an astounding 60-fold in the span of a few decades owing to a series of hot summers and thawing permafrost. As the Arctic continues its great transformation, the landslides are almost guaranteed to become more common. To reach their conclusions published in Nature Communications on Tuesday, researchers used satellite imagery captured by Google Earth Engine. The open source collection of satellite data covers 1984-2016, a period which has seen Arctic warming skyrocket. For Antoni Lewkowicz, the lead author on the paper and a permafrost expert at the University of Ottawa, the time period was also one of personal interest.  While their research didn’t ultimately end up in the paper, Lewkowicz and his colleagues did their own scan of the time lapses to find “retrogressive thaw slumps”, which is both a great ‘90s band name and the term used to describe what can happen when frozen soil known as permafrost thaws out. These slumps happen when permafrost cliffs begin to degrade, sending a slurry of mud and water tumbling downslope. Once it starts, the process can last for decades and the landslides can stretch up to a mile wide and leave cliffs towering hundreds of feet overhead. Those features are clearly visible to satellites, along with other telltale signatures like bowl-shaped mudflows and lakes turning from deep blue to turquoise because of the sediment pouring into them. The researchers found only 63 active landslide areas in 1984. But over the three decades that followed, that number spiked. Google Earth Engine data revealed that more than 4,500 slumps appeared over the study period and nearly 4,100 were active in 2013, the height of the meltdown. The vast majority of the newly-active landslide areas formed in just a few years, all after 1999 and following back-to-back hot summers. By the end of the century, researchers estimate there could be 10,000 new slumps on Banks Island alone even if we start to curtail emissions in the coming decades.

Canada's sea levels are rising — and that's got British Columbians in coastal cities concerned - Canada's sea levels are rising at a dramatic rate, according to new climate change report leaked this week, and that has B.C.'s coastal cities worried.The report, commissioned by the Environment and Climate Change Department, warns that the country's oceans are going up between one millimetre and 4.5 millimetres each year. "The effects of sea level rise — what you see, as sea levels rise — depends on what your coastline is doing," said Greg Flato, one of the authors of the new government report who also teaches at the University of Victoria.   On B.C.'s North Coast, for example, without a reduction in global warming, the water is predicted to rise by 50 centimetres over the next eight decades. "[A few millimetres per year] may not seem like a lot to many people," said John Clague, an earth sciences professor at Simon Fraser University.  "But if it's accompanied by strong storms, you really have an exacerbated effect."  As glaciers melt and the temperature of the ocean heats up, the water occupies more space and that's why sea levels rise. That leads to damage along the coast, as low-lying areas previously out of harm's way are flooded. While some municipalities like Delta and Richmond have been preparing for rising water levels, Clague argues much more action needs to be taken across all levels of government. "We don't really see resources being made available to deal with the problem," he said.

Himalayan glaciers on the eve of destruction -  New report warns that two-thirds of glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, which feed 10 major river systems across Asia, could melt by 2100. There was no official leak, but this must have been discussed when Presidents Xi Jinping and Emmanuel Macron met last week in Paris. After all, Macron has been posing as a staunch defender of the environment and the self-attributed MC of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.  It’s certainly not being discussed as part of the current election campaigns in India. And, in Washington, the issue does not seem to even register. The Hindu Kush Himalayan region extends for 3,500km across eight nations. It is the earth’s de facto Third Pole, considering the immense amount of ice it holds. The area is an absolutely critical water source for about 250 million mountain dwellers across Asia, as well as the staggering 1.65 billion people living in the river valleys below.   Now, a detailed report by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), the result of five years of research by over 350 analysts and policy experts from 22 nations and 185 organizations, has come to a stark conclusion.Even if the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century is met – and everyone attuned to realpolitik knows that it won’t – that would cause the melting of nothing less than one-third of glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region.  Considering that the Paris Agreement goal won’t be realistically met, that translates into current emissions leading to no less than five degrees (5C) in warming and the melting of two-thirds of the Hindu Kush Himalayan glaciers by 2100. Imagine that spectacular succession of glacier-covered peaks across the region being mostly reduced to bare rock in less than a century. The full report is here.

Melting Glaciers Causing 25 to 30% of Sea Level Rise - Glaciers may be melting faster than scientists thought, causing 25 to 30 percent of global sea level rise, according to comprehensive research published in Nature on Monday, While previous studies had only assessed 500 glaciers, the new study looked at more than 19,000 glaciers using both satellite data and field visits, lead study author and University of Zurich glaciologist Michael Zemp told CNN. The researchers found that, between 1961 and 2016, the world's non-polar glaciers had lost around 9,000 billion tons of ice and contributed 27 millimeters to rising ocean levels. That's enough ice to turn the U.S. into an ice-rink four feet thick. "Over 30 years suddenly almost all regions started losing mass at the same time," Zemp told the Associated Press.. "That's clearly climate change if you look at the global picture." The new report put the shrinkage rate for glaciers at 18 percent faster than that calculated by another international study in 2013. It found that glaciers are contributing as much ice melt to sea level rise as the Greenland ice sheet and more than the Antarctic ice sheet, National Geographic reported. In the 1960s, when the study period began, glaciers would melt in summer and regain mass in winter. But beginning around the 1980s, they began to lose more in the summer than they regained in winter, and by the 1990s, almost every glacier they studied was losing more than it could recuperate.  Today, glaciers lose about 335 billion tons of ice a year, the equivalent of one millimeter per year of sea level rise, according to a University of Zurich release. "Globally, we lose about three times the ice volume stored in the entirety of the European Alps – every single year!" Zemp said.

7 American cities that could disappear by 2100 - No city is immune to the effects of a warming world, but a few are more vulnerable than the rest. As sea levels continue to rise, low-lying coastal cities can expect more devastating floods that ruin buildings, destroy infrastructure, and claim lives.By conservative estimates, cities around the world could witness more than 6 feet of flooding by the year 2100. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has predicted that sea levels could rise by 10 to 12 feet if global emissions continue unabated. But these numbers are averages, which means some areas would see higher levels, while others would be less affected. Under the worst-case climate scenario, some cities might even disappear underwater.  Though it's possible for cities to install new infrastructure and artificial barriers to protect themselves from climate change, time is running out. Here are the 7 cities in the US most likely to disappear underwater by 2100.

Researchers Warn Arctic Has Entered 'Unprecedented State' That Threatens Global Climate Stability - A new research paper by American and European climate scientists focused on Arctic warming published Monday reveals that the "smoking gun" when it comes to changes in the world's northern polar region is rapidly warming air temperatures that are having — and will continue to have — massive and negative impacts across the globe. The paper new paper — titled Key Indicators of Arctic Climate Change: 1971–2017 — is the work of scientists at the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland in Copenhagen (GUES). "The Arctic system is trending away from its 20th century state and into an unprecedented state, with implications not only within but beyond the Arctic," said Jason Box of the GUES, lead author of the study. "Because the Arctic atmosphere is warming faster than the rest of the world, weather patterns across Europe, North America and Asia are becoming more persistent, leading to extreme weather conditions. Another example is the disruption of the ocean circulation that can further destabilize climate: for example, cooling across northwestern Europe and strengthening of storms."John Walsh, chief scientist at AUF's research center, was the one who called arctic air tempertures the "smoking gun" discovered during the research — a finding the team did not necessarily anticipate."I didn't expect the tie-in with temperature to be as strong as it was," Walsh said. "All the variables are connected with temperature. All components of the Arctic system are involved in this change." The study, published Monday as the flagship piece in a special issue on Arctic climate change indicators published by the journal Environmental Research Letters, is the first of its kind to combine observations of physical climate indicators — such as snow cover, rainfall and seasonal measurements of sea ice extent — with biological impacts, such as a mismatch in the timing of flowers blooming and pollinators working. According to Walsh, "Never have so many Arctic indicators been brought together in a single paper." This three-and-a-half minute video put together by the research team, explains its methodology and findings in detail:

 Rapidly declining remarkability of temperature anomalies may obscure public perception of climate change - The changing global climate is producing increasingly unusual weather relative to preindustrial conditions. In an absolute sense, these changing conditions constitute direct evidence of anthropogenic climate change. However, human evaluation of weather as either normal or abnormal will also be influenced by a range of factors including expectations, memory limitations, and cognitive biases. Here we show that experience of weather in recent years—rather than longer historical periods—determines the climatic baseline against which current weather is evaluated, potentially obscuring public recognition of anthropogenic climate change. We employ variation in decadal trends in temperature at weekly and county resolution over the continental United States, combined with discussion of the weather drawn from over 2 billion social media posts. These data indicate that the remarkability of particular temperatures changes rapidly with repeated exposure. Using sentiment analysis tools, we provide evidence for a “boiling frog” effect: The declining noteworthiness of historically extreme temperatures is not accompanied by a decline in the negative sentiment that they induce, indicating that social normalization of extreme conditions rather than adaptation is driving these results. Using climate model projections we show that, despite large increases in absolute temperature, anomalies relative to our empirically estimated shifting baseline are small and not clearly distinguishable from zero throughout the 21st century.

We’re gobbling up the Earth’s resources at an unsustainable rate - George Monbiot, a correspondent for Britain’s The Guardian newspaper and known for his environmental and political activism, has made a surprising call for people in the United Kingdom to cut the use of cars by 90 per cent over the next decade. Many will balk at this idea but it is perhaps sounding somewhat less bizarre after the release by the United Nations of a new report which paints a scary picture of the rate at which we are gobbling up the Earth’s resources. The global automobile industry requires huge amounts of mined metals as well as other natural resources such as rubber, and the switch to electric vehicles, while a necessary move to curb air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, is not without some adverse environmental consequences: large-scale lithium mining for the batteries required to run electric vehicles could cause fresh environmental headaches. UN Environment’s Global Resources Outlook 2019, prepared by the International Resource Panel, examines the trends in natural resources and their corresponding consumption patterns since the 1970s. Its main findings:

  • The extraction and processing of materials, fuels and food contribute half of total global greenhouse gas emissions and over 90 per cent of biodiversity loss and water stress
  • Resource extraction has more than tripled since 1970, including a fivefold increase in the use of non-metallic minerals and a 45 per cent increase in fossil fuel use
  • By 2060, global material use could double to 190 billion tonnes (from 92 billion), while greenhouse gas emissions could increase by 43 per cent
  • Cement, a key input into concrete, the most widely used construction material in the world, is a major source of greenhouse gases, and accounts for about eight per cent of carbon dioxide emissions, according to a recent Chatham House report.
  • Both concrete and clay manufacturing (for bricks) include energy-intensive processes for raw material extraction, transportation, and fuel sources for heating kilns.
  • Building quality sand is currently being extracted at unsustainable rates.

Why Don't You Want Kids?  Because, Apocalypse - ARE YOU PREGNANT yet? Don’t you like kids? Well, it’s different when it’s your own child. Being a parent is the most important job in the world. You’re being a bit selfish. What if your parents had decided not to have you? Speaking of your parents, isn’t it cruel to deny them the joy of grandchildren? Besides, who will take care of you when you get old? You’re just saying that because you’re young. You’ll change your mind. Your biological clock is ticking! What if your kid cured cancer?If you don’t have kids and don’t want them, apologies: You’ve heard this all before from well-meaning relatives, friends, coworkers, cashiers, taxi drivers, crossing guards. If you do have kids and you’ve said anything like the above, the childfree community would like to let you know that you’re not being as thoughtful and caring as you (maybe) mean to be. See, all of those questions and statements are forbidden by the bylaws of popular subredditr/childfree, where they’re known as “bingos”: “cliché phrases parents say in an effort to convince the childfree that their decision is wrong, and that they are shirking their societal duty by not reproducing.” The subreddit is a forum to vent about being antagonized by “mombies” and “daddicts.”  Multiple sociological studies have found that voluntary childlessness often sparks immediate disdain and “moral outrage,” even from total strangers.  For the childfree, the reasons to consider childfreedom extend beyond baby hatred, questions of bodily autonomy, or suboptimal finances. Concerns go broader, ranging from the economy to politics to climate. “We basically have 12 years until the planet is an apocalyptic hellscape,” says Justine, a longtime r/childfree member in her early thirties. “We aren't as lucky as our parents, and they seem to have no idea how much more difficult it is to ‘get by’ for us than it was for them.”

REVEALED- The five ways the human race could be WIPED OUT because of global warming - Author Bill McKibben, a scientist and environmental activist who wrote the influential End of Nature - one of the first books for a mainstream audience on climate change - has followed up with this doomsday study of possible homosapien endgames - which include rising tides, falling crops and exploding populations.

  • Oceans heating up and disrupting photosynthesis leading to mass suffocation. By the end of this century if the world's oceans continue to warm up they might become hot enough to stop oxygen production by phyto-plankton by disrupting the delicate process of photosynthesis, a 2015 study in the Journal of Mathematical Biology suggested. More than two thirds of the earth's oxygen comes from phyto-plankton so the disruption of photosynthesis would more than likely result in the mass extinction of life on earth through suffocation.
  • Melting icecaps sparking catastrophic tsunamis destroying coastal life.  Additionally, the increased seawater could create a bending in the earth's crust which would prompt a massive increase in volcanic activity with lava poisoning marine life.  'That will give you a massive increase in volcanic activity. It'll activate faults to create earthquakes, submarine landslides, tsunamis, the whole lot,'
  • Deadly diseases in frozen animals thawing out and contaminating the water supply.    Permafrost creates the perfect conditions for microbes and viruses to survive because 'it is cold, there is no oxygen, and it is dark'. 
  • Increased carbon dioxide causing decreased brain function. McKibben also points to the increased carbon dioxide levels impairing cognitive ability. Again, by the year 2100, carbon dioxide levels could rise to a thousand parts per million, while would cause a 21 percent cognitive regression.
  • Food supply breakdown causing mass starvation.  Farmers have been displaced in third world countries, forcing them into slums, while fertilizers, pesticides and machinery has increased production radically. However, that production could be completely halted with increased heat and drought, with studies on coffee, cacao and chickpea growth highlighting the damning effect warming has on them. 

Bipartisan senators want 'highest possible' funding for carbon capture technology - A bipartisan group of senators is pushing for funding at the "highest possible levels" for carbon capture technology development. The 12 lawmakers, including four Republicans, urged Senate appropriators to provide the Department of Energy with maximum funding for carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS). “As the world transitions towards a carbon constrained economy, investment in CCUS technology will spur economic development and ensure energy security while protecting the environment from carbon dioxide emissions and maintaining global leadership role in research and development,” the lawmakers wrote Thursday in letter to the top senators on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development. . They argued that investment in creating viable options to capture carbon emissions released into the atmosphere could spur U.S. job growth. “According to the International Energy Agency and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), CCUS is a critical component of the portfolio of energy technologies needed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions worldwide,” the senators wrote. “As the U.S. develops CCUS technologies, we will benefit not only from cleaner power here at home, but from new markets for U.S. technologies abroad, including innovations towards direct air capture.” The two federal programs that include carbon capture research received $101 million and $98 million in funding, respectively, for fiscal year 2019. President Trump's budget request for 2020 calls for combining the two programs into one, funded at $69 million.

Bill Clinton Honoree Thrown In Jail Over Biggest Clean Energy Scam In American History - One of three scam artists behind a $54 million ponzi scheme was sentenced to prison for her role in the biggest 'green energy' scams in US history, according to NBC New York. 35-year-old Amanda Knorr of Hellertown, Pennsylvania received just 30 months in federal prison for a ponzi scheme involving her 2005 startup, Mantria, in which "many people lost their life savings," according to assistant US Attorney Robert Livermore following Knorr's sentencing. Knorr co-founded a company called Mantria Corp., which with the help of a slick-talking Colorado "wealth advisor" raised millions for a supposed clean energy product called "biochar."Knorr and fellow Mantria co-founder Troy Wragg both graduated in 2005 from Temple University and within four years had raised $54 million from hundreds of investors. Most of the investors were wooed through seminars run by Wayde McKelvey, of Colorado.Their pitch about producing biochar, however, turned out to be completely baked, according to prosecutors, and eventually proved to be a giant Ponzi scheme. -NBC New York According to federal prosecutors, Mantria never came close to producing biochar at their Tennessee facility. At seminars run by "wealth advisor" Wayde McKelvy of Colorado, investors were told a different story. "These investors, husbands and wives nearing retirement, retirees looking to invest their savings, and other small-time prospectors, were wooed by the idea of big profits from clean energy: getting rich and saving the world," according to the report.

EV Superchargers Face One Key Hurdle  -Companies around the world are developing superchargers that can “fill up” an EV battery in a matter of minutes, but there is one problem: they can’t be deployed because battery makers have yet to make their product capable of withstanding the supercharge.Tesla last month opened its first V3 Supercharger station that has a capacity of 250 kW and can add 30 km of range per minute. The company has made its new cars compatible with the new, faster chargers, but Tesla is more of an exception in that it makes its own batteries and chargers.An Australian company, Tritium, makes chargers that can add more than 215 miles to an EV’s range in just ten minutes. This is a whole new category of ultrachargers that could have a capacity of as much as 350 kW, adding range at a rate of 20 miles per minute, Bloomberg’s David Stringer in a recentoverview of the industry. This compares with 20 miles per hour for regular chargers dominating the EV landscape at the moment.“The main reason you own a car is for the freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you feel like it. That will always be playing on your mind if you have a slow charger,” Stringer quotes the CEO of Tritium, David Finn, as saying. Indeed, one of the main concerns among drivers regarding EVs is the slow charging speeds, which explains the race among carmakers, battery makers and builders of chargers to alleviate this concern. However, it seems batteries have yet to catch up with the superfast chargers.“We barbecued a couple of cars until we got there,” Swiss ABB’s chief executive Ulrich Spiesshofer said at CERAWeek commenting on the company’s foray into high-speed chargers. It’s very likely that other battery makers have also run into the same “barbecueing” problem in their efforts to make sturdier batteries.

United States sets sights on China in new electric vehicle push (Reuters) - U.S. government officials plan to meet with executives from automakers and lithium miners in early May as part of a first-of-its-kind effort to launch a national electric vehicle supply chain strategy, according to three sources familiar with the matter. While Volkswagen AG, Tesla Inc and other electric-focused automakers and battery manufacturers are expanding in the United States and investing billions in the new technology, they are reliant on mineral imports without a major push to develop more domestic mines and processing facilities. For a graphic, click China already dominates the electric vehicle supply chain. It produces nearly two-thirds of the world’s lithium-ion batteries - compared to 5 percent for the United States - and controls most of the world’s lithium processing facilities, according to data from Benchmark Minerals Intelligence, which tracks prices for lithium and other commodities and is organizing the Washington, D.C., event. U.S. imports of lithium have nearly doubled since 2014 due in part to rising demand from Tesla, SK Innovation Co and others building battery plants in the country, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. “We need to find ways to more efficiently develop our nation’s domestic critical mineral supply because these resources are vital to both our national security and our economy,” North Dakota Senator John Hoeven, a member of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement to Reuters when asked about the meeting. 

The Skeleton In The Electric Car Closet - The number of electric vehicles is increasing rapidly, but at great human cost. You probably have not heard anything other than praise for electric cars in the mainstream media. They are sexy and environmentally friendly too, we are told. The first may be true, but not the latter. Batteries are not good for the environment, and their raw materials are mined at the expense of human health. Rare earth metals are needed to make efficient batteries. The minerals are found in low densities in the earth’s crust, and tons of rock need to be mined, filtered, and transported in order to find the amount required to make a vehicle battery. Typically, the energy needed to create them exceeds the amount that they store during their lifetime. That is why they are so expensive.Cobalt is one of the ingredients needed to make batteries. In 2018, 70% of this mineral came from the Democratic Republic of Congo in Central Africa. The metal is mined by poor Congolese people who work under conditions that would have been unthinkable and highly illegal in any Western country. Accidents are common, sometimes killing the miners. Little attention is given to those who toil to make wealthy Western environmentalists happy. It is not uncommon for green ideals to be at odds with human health. DDT is a miracle chemical that was used to eradicate malaria in America and Europe, but environmentalists were able to de facto ban it in the 1970s, resulting in tens of millions of unnecessary deaths in developing nations. It should come as no surprise that environmentalists have little concern for the lives of miners in Congo.’

‘Flight shame’ has Swedes rethinking air travel - It turns out Swedes have a word for guilt over the carbon footprint of air travel Saddled with long dark winters at home, Swedes have for decades been frequent flyers seeking out sunnier climes, but a growing number are changing their ways because of air travel's impact on the climate. "Flygskam", or flight shame, has become a buzz word referring to feeling guilt over the environmental effects of flying, contributing to a trend that has more and more Swedes, mainly young, opting to travel by train to ease their conscience. Spearheading the movement for trains-over-planes is Sweden's own Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate school striker who refuses to fly, travelling by rail to the World Economic Forum in Davos and the climate summit in Katowice, Poland. A growing number of public figures have vowed to #stayontheground, including Swedish television skiing commentator Bjorn Ferry who said last year he would only travel to competitions by train. And 250 people working in the film industry signed a recent article in the country's biggest daily Dagens Nyheter calling for Swedish film producers to limit shoots abroad.

Increases in electricity generation from biomass stop after a decade of growth - Electricity generated from biomass and waste totaled 70.6 million megawatthours (MWh) in 2018, or about 2% of total U.S. electricity generation. Expansion in electricity generation from biomass and waste has ended in recent years, after growing from 2004 through 2014, and in 2018 was 2% below its peak generation of 71.7 million MWh in 2014. Electricity generation from biomass and waste is a diverse collection of organic feedstocks including wood and wood waste solids, black liquor, municipal solid waste, and landfill gas. These four feedstocks accounted for more than 94% of biomass and waste electricity generation in 2018. Wood solids were the largest feedstock for biomass and waste electricity generation, accounting for 21.4 million MWh in 2018, or 30% of total biomass and waste electricity generation. Wood solids primarily consist of residues from forestry, lumber production and manufacturing, paper mills, and other allied industries and are used to produce heat and electricity in the electric power and industrial sectors. The decline in wood solids electricity generation since its 2014 peak was highest in non-paper industries (25%) and lowest in the electricity industry (8%). Black liquor, a byproduct of making wood pulp, accounted for 28% of biomass and waste electricity generation in 2018, second only to wood solids. Black liquor has a high heat content, making it desirable as a boiler fuel, and contributes 56% of total electric generation at papermaking plants. Production of black liquor depends on the papermaking industry’s demand for wood pulp. Although paper production has grown over the past decade, recycled paper replaced wood pulp as the principal feedstock for much of the increase in paper production. As a result, papermaking plants have increased their share of generation from using their own wastes from 66% in 2004 to 75% in 2018.  Municipal solid waste (MSW) contains landfill solids of biogenic and non-biogenic origin, which can be used to produce electricity and heat. Generation from MSW has been fairly stable since 2010, as a result of increased recycling activity that has moderated the growth in available MSW feedstock.

Amazon Is Aggressively Pursuing Big Oil as It Stalls Out on Clean Energy - In 2014, Amazon announced that it would power its rapidly expanding fleet of data centers with 100 percent renewable energy. Apple, Facebook, and Google made similar pledges two years before that, and pressure from consumers and environmental groups drove Amazon to follow suit. For the next two years, the tech giant made admirable strides toward achieving its goal, bankrolling large solar plants and wind farms. Then, it stopped.Amazon hasn’t announced any new deals to supply clean energy to its data centers since 2016, and it quietly abandoned plans for one of its last scheduled wind farms last year. Meanwhile, in 2017, according to internal company documents viewed by Gizmodo, Amazon undertook a concerted push to win over a new industry, perhaps best summed up by the name of a presentation at Amazon Web Services’ annual company Sales Kick-Off event that February: “Positioning for Success in Oil & Gas.”   Over the last two years, as Amazon’s clean energy promises have stalled out, Earth’s most customer-centric company has aggressively courted the fossil fuels industry, landing deals and partnerships with companies like BP, Shell, and Halliburton, offering data-based services such as machine learning for enhanced exploration, internet of things-enabled oilfield automation, and remote site data transportation. All this has occurred during a period in which the threat of climate change has been widely and clearly articulated by the top scientists in the field, and the urgency they say is necessary to reduce carbon emissions has never been better understood.

Gail Tverberg: The True Feasibility of Moving Away from Fossil Fuels - One of the great misconceptions of our time is the belief that we can move away from fossil fuels if we make suitable choices on fuels. In one view, we can make the transition to a low-energy economy powered by wind, water, and solar. In other versions, we might include some other energy sources, such as biofuels or nuclear, but the story is not very different.  The problem is the same regardless of what lower bound a person chooses: our economy is way too dependent on consuming an amount of energy that grows with each added human participant in the economy. This added energy is necessary because each person needs food, transportation, housing, and clothing, all of which are dependent upon energy consumption. The economy operates under the laws of physics, and history shows disturbing outcomes if energy consumption per capita declines. There are a number of issues:

  • The impact of alternative energy sources is smaller than commonly believed.
  • When countries have reduced their energy consumption per capita by significant amounts, the results have been very unsatisfactory.
  • Energy consumption plays a bigger role in our lives than most of us imagine.
  • It seems likely that fossil fuels will leave us before we can leave them.
  • The timing of when fossil fuels will leave us seems to depend on when central banks lose their ability to stimulate the economy through lower interest rates.
  • If fossil fuels leave us, the result could be the collapse of financial systems and governments.

According to BP 2018 Statistical Review of World Energy data, wind, water and solar only accounted for 9.4% 0f total energy consumption in 2017.Even if we make the assumption that these types of energy consumption will continue to achieve the same percentage increases as they have achieved in the last 10 years, it will still take 20 more years for wind, water, and solar to reach 20% of total energy consumption.  Thus, even in 20 years, the world would need to reduce energy consumption by 80% in order to operate the economy on wind, water and solar alone. To get down to today’s level of energy production provided by wind, water and solar, we would need to reduce energy consumption by 90%.

U.S. natural gas-fired combined-cycle capacity surpasses coal-fired capacity – EIA - The amount of generating capacity from natural gas-fired combined-cycle (NGCC) plants has grown steadily over time, and in 2018, surpassed coal-fired plants as the technology with the most electricity generating capacity in the United States. As of January 2019, U.S. generating capacity at NGCC power plants totaled 264 gigawatts (GW), compared with 243 GW at coal-fired power plants. Total capacity for generating power in the United States across all types of natural gas-fired generating technologies surpassed coal as the primary capacity resource more than 15 years ago. However, different natural gas-fired generating technologies are used differently.  Steam turbines (which can also be powered by oil or coal) combust fuel to generate steam, which is used in a steam turbine to generate electricity. Combined-cycle units heat up fuel and use the fuel-air mixture to spin gas turbines and generate electricity. The waste heat from the gas turbine is used to generate steam for a steam turbine that generates additional electricity.  Natural gas-fired combustion and steam turbines are less efficient and more expensive to run, so they are typically used only during periods of peak electricity demand. Similarly, almost all coal plants (except integrated gasification units, which are rare) combust coal to generate steam, with little opportunity for efficiency improvements. As of the end of 2018, NGCC power plants accounted for about half of all U.S. natural gas-fired generating capacity, but they provided almost 90% of total natural gas-fired generation. Capacity factors for NGCC plants, which reflect their actual output as a percentage of their capacity, are nearly equivalent to those of coal plants and are typically in the 50% to 60% range, while natural gas combustion and steam turbines are much lower at about 10%. Since the beginning of 2015, about 40 GW of coal-fired capacity have retired, and no new coal capacity has come online in the United States. During that same time period, NGCC net capacity has grown by about 30 GW. The electricity generation from these NGCC capacity additions, as well as output from new wind and solar generators, has largely offset the lost generation from coal retirements.

TVA contract workers say they’re being exposed to toxic coal ash - Workers at two Tennessee Valley Authority power plants in East Tennessee say they are continuing to be exposed to fly ash dust and flue gas — both toxic substances — without masks or respirators, an ongoing USA TODAY Network-Tennessee investigation reveals.USA TODAY Network-Tennessee has been investigating for two years the treatment of workers who cleaned up TVA’s massive coal ash spill — the nation’s largest — and current working conditions.Fly ash is the term for the dry form of coal ash, the byproduct of burning coal to produce electricity. Coal ash contains concentrated forms of at least 26 toxins and heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, lithium, mercury, radium and sulfate, according to a Duke Energy materials safety data sheet.  The news organization has now obtained videos and photographs that show what workers say is coal ash dust on the dashboards and floorboards of enclosed cab heavy equipment machinery at TVA Bull Run Fossil Plant in Anderson County and on the floors and walls in enclosed work areas inside TVA Kingston Fossil Plant in Roane County. Those videos and photographs also show what workers say is fly ash dust escaping into the air at Bull Run in an area of the plant near a public park in February, and flue gas — a toxic substance that TVA must scrub clean before emitting — escaping into the air at Kingston. 

 In Illinois, the risk of coal ash contamination rises with floodwaters - Just as towns were built along rivers in decades past, so were coal-fired power plants that relied on the water for cooling and transporting coal. Now, those plants — some defunct and some still operating — are also repositories for toxic coal ash that could pose a risk of contamination when floodwaters rise.   This may be of particular concern this spring, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicting a heavy flood year, including along the Mississippi River and its tributaries in Illinois.  Multiple coal ash impoundments along the Mississippi and its tributaries are located in flood plains, as depicted in interactive maps compiled by the Prairie Rivers Network using flood maps from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  Coal ash impoundments on the banks of the state’s only designated wild and scenic river, the Middle Fork of the Vermilion in central Illinois, are also in a flood plain and at risk from severe erosion from the river. Coal ash storage at the site has long been the subject of legal battles, and environmental groups last month filed a lawsuit demanding Dynegy take action to prevent coal ash contamination of groundwater and the river. The Dynegy plant on the site closed in 2011. “The vast majority of the ash ponds in the state are essentially at risk,” said Jennifer Cassel, an attorney for Earthjustice, which has conducted comprehensive studies of coal ash repositories nationwide. The maps compiled by Prairie Rivers Network in some cases show ash ponds lying entirely within flood zones, and in multiple cases show the perimeter of flood zones directly tracing the border of ash ponds. That’s because ash ponds are constructed with berms surrounding them, which essentially lift the pond out of the flood zone, as Prairie Rivers Network water resources engineer Andrew Rehn describes it.

‘Mine 9,’ movie about a coal mine entrapment, opens Friday (AP) — A film whose chilling theme is known all too well by residents of coal producing states — an entrapment inside an Appalachian mine — opens in theaters this week. “Mine 9” debuts Friday in West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia. It’s expected to roll out nationwide starting next week, news outlets reported. New Martinsville, West Virginia, native Eddie Mensore wrote, produced and directed the film, which takes place deep inside a coal mine where nine miners with a limited oxygen supply are trapped after a methane explosion. “Nobody has ever made this movie,” Mensore said. “That was really the inspiration,” along with real-life tragedies while growing up that “shook our state.” West Virginia has seen its share. In 2010, 29 men died in an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in southern West Virginia. In 2006, a methane gas explosion at the Sago Mine in northern West Virginia killed 12 miners. Another miner survived. Later that year, five miners were killed in an explosion at a mine in Harlan County, Kentucky. The worst mining disaster in U.S. history occurred in December 1907 when 362 died in an explosion at a coal mine in Monongah, West Virginia. Mensore said the film isn’t based on a particular event, but “we had to make it as realistic as possible.” The characters are based on miners Mensore knew. The story highlights a dangerous and often underappreciated profession, but after a friend in the coal industry scoffed at Mensore’s initial script, “it was back to square one,” he said. Mensore said it took him years to find a coal operator willing to allow camera crews to film the real workings in a mine. The movie blends footage shot at a mine in Buchanan County, Virginia, with scenes recreated on a set built in Atlanta. “It was the only way to do it,” Mensore said. “It was hard enough crawling on a set that was 4 foot high. I couldn’t imagine doing that in a coal mine. 

Coal Community Residents Again Ask Congress For Health Study Of Mountaintop Removal - Residents of Appalachian coal communities told a Congressional subcommittee Tuesday that the controversial mining practice known as mountaintop removal should be halted until its health effects are better studied.Late in the Obama administration the National Academy of Sciences launched a study into the health effects for communities near mountaintop removal coal mines.Donna Branham of Lenore, West Virginia, was among the many residents with questions and concerns about effects on air and water quality. She was hopeful the National Academy study would bring some answers. But in the summer of 2017 the Trump administration’s Interior Department abruptly cancelled funding and ordered the National Academy to halt the study.“We felt abandoned, we felt as if our lives didn’t matter,” Branham told lawmakers.Branham was one of four witnesses from Kentucky and West Virginia who told members of the House Natural Resources Committee that the National Academy study should continue. Until such a study is complete, they argued, regulators should place a moratorium on mountaintop removal mining. Former coal miner Carl Shoupe of Benham, Kentucky, organizes for the citizens’ action group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. He said mining also threatens cultural and natural areas that could be part of the region’s new economy.“As we speak, a coal company is seeking a permit to strip mine the ridge behind my home,” Shoupe said. “They plan to go up the entire valley.”

 Are You Biased Against Nuclear Power? Yup, Say Scientists --Nuclear power is, objectively, the safest form of base load power generation that can be sited where needed. Some natural instances of hydro electric power (no dams!) or geothermal sites may rival nuclear power for safety and reliability. Consider that the first significant nuclear power generation efforts arrived in the mid to late 1950s, depending on the country. Britain built Calder Hall in Sellafiedl in 1956, producing 50 MW – about the output of four quite large diesel generators. An American reactor in Shippingport, Pennsylvania turned on in 1957, while France had a reator at Marcoule in 1956. Let us put this in context. Construction of Chernobyl began in 1970, approximately 13 years after the first even roughly commercial scale power stations went on line. The design was deeply flawed – a complete explanation would run scores of pages, but if you are curious there are some good accounts available on the net. It has been long enough that I would have to reread the ones I could find now or go digging through a pile of old hard drives to evaluate them, so I am loathe to point to a specific site.The Chernobyl accident was a confluence of at least a dozen different errors ranging from fundmental reactor design, through operator training, to an extremely unwisely executed safety test that triggered the whole thing.In the end, somewhere roughly between 50 and 5,000 people have died or may die earlier than otherwise due to effects of the accident.If the plant was built starting in 1970, then it was designed probably around 1965 or so, followed by refinement, planning, etc. That’s only 10 years after the first commercial scale plants. World nuclear safety, *including* Fukushima and Chernobyl is 90 deaths per terawatt-hour, with world hydro power at 1,400 deaths – about 15 times deadlier than nuclear power.  Wind (not base load, unreliable power) is at 150 deaths, rooftop solar is at 440 deaths, biomass is at 24,000 deaths, US coal is at 10,000 deaths, and Chinese coal is at 170,000 deaths per terawatt-hour.

New Mexico Is Divided Over The 'Perfect Site' To Store Nation's Nuclear Waste Thirty-five miles out of Carlsbad, in the pancake-flat desert of southeast New Mexico, there's a patch of scrub-covered dirt that may offer a fix — albeit temporarily — to one of the nation's most vexing and expensive environmental problems: What to do with our nuclear waste? Despite more than 50 years of searching and billions of dollars spent, the federal government still hasn't been able to identify a permanent repository for nuclear material. No state seems to want it. So instead, dozens of states are stuck with it. More than 80,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel, a still-radioactive byproduct of nuclear power generation, is spread across the country at power plants and sites in 35 states. The issue has dogged politicians for decades. Energy Secretary Rick Perry recently described the situation as a "logjam." But some hope that this remote, rural corner of New Mexico may present a breakthrough. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering a proposal by Holtec International, a private U.S.-based company, to build a massive consolidated interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel on that patch of desert. It could eventually hold up to 100,000 metric tons of the material, storing it until a permanent repository is found. The bid has support from a group of local officials, drawn by the promise of tax revenues, high-paying jobs and a stable source of income. But familiar challenges persist. A broad coalition of local and national groups opposes the plan, as does the state's new governor. They're worried about transporting the nuclear waste and the environmental impacts of storing it. "Why should we be the ones to take this negative project on and put up with the consequences?" says Rose Gardner, a florist who lives 35 miles from the proposed site. "We didn't get any of the nuclear generated electricity. We're not even involved."

Davis-Besse remains in limbo after bankruptcy judge strikes down FirstEnergy plan - It’s back to the drawing board for FirstEnergy Corp. and its subsidiary, FirstEnergy Solutions, now that a federal bankruptcy judge has struck down an important part of the utility company’s proposed restructuring plan. The plan attempted to free the parent company of liability for mounting losses for the division of the firm that controls FirstEnergy’s unprofitable coal-fired and nuclear power plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania, including the Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Ottawa County. FirstEnergy Solutions, which has been assigned to take on the debt and operations of those plants, responded by saying it expects to submit a revised disclosure statement for its reorganization plan. The filing will be with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Akron overseeing its Chapter 11 restructuring. “Working with our advisers, we have already initiated action to address the court’s ruling and will submit a new request to have the disclosure statement approved in a timely manner,” John Judge, FirstEnergy Solutions’ chief executive officer and president, said. “The company remains focused on a plan that will significantly strengthen its financial position and allow it to exit Chapter 11 in 2019.” FirstEnergy Solutions also wants to assure Ohio and Pennsylvania residents that Thursday’s ruling by Judge Alan Koschik has no impact on the company’s operations or its ability to continue delivering safe and reliable energy. That’s good news for Davis-Besse’s 700-employee workforce and the Benton-Carroll-Salem Local School District that has relied on property tax revenue generated by the plant since it went online 42 years ago, on April 22, 1977. But the long-term outlook for that plant and others managed by FirstEnergy Solutions remains hazy at best. Davis-Besse remains set to close for good no later than May 31, 2020, unless a buyer or a bailout emerges. FirstEnergy Solutions said in its most recent statement that it “will continue operating its nuclear and fossil generation [units] until their previously announced deactivation dates, with a possibility of running the units for an extended period if the company obtains sufficient legislative support and meaningful market reforms.” But so far, no firm rescue efforts have emerged. Critics from both parties have been fiercely determined to let the situation play out on its own without a bailout or market reforms, some claiming such efforts are acts of socialism.

Some say local profits from Rover pipeline have Biblical significance (VIDEO) - — The Rover Pipeline paid more than $3 million to Richland County in annual property taxes for 2018, with more than $69 million paid across the state, according to a press release by the company last week.  Some say the pipeline coming to the economically-stagnant region can be attributed to GOD’s hand of blessing following diplomatic efforts by clergy that took international stage.The massive 713 mile natural gas pipeline was approved for construction thru north central Ohio ten daysafter a clergy apology letter was sent by 103 leading area clergymen to Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu.In the letter, the clergy apologized for the role of the United States played under President Barack Obama in the anti-Semitic U.N. Resolution 2334 . The resolution stated Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, have “no legal validity,” and constitutes a ‘flagrant violation’ under international law.One of the signers of the clergy letter, Reverend Robert Kurtz of Mansfield Temple Baptist, believes the uncanny timing of the Rover Pipeline approval could not have come at a better time, especially when energy projects often go contested. “There is something precious and beautiful about seeing GOD’s hand of blessing as a community seeks Him and His direction,” said Kurtz. “We can be grateful for the leadership that GOD has provided in Richland County and all glory goes to GOD for this injection of income.”Co-authors of the clergy correspondence stated to the Ashland Times Gazette that they believe the favor of the Lord can occur with people who bless Israel and the Jewish people. It appears this favor has manifested itself as natural gas. Describing the abundance of natural resources like natural gas as a “blessing” is not foreign in the marketplace of ideas.

Eight New Permits Issued in Utica Shale– The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has issued eight new permits for horizontal wells in the Utica shale during the week ended April 6, according to the latest data provided by the agency. Ascent Resources Utica LLC secured five permits for wells in Belmont County, while Eclipse Resources was awarded three permits to drill new wells in Monroe County, ODNR reported. ODNR did not issue any new permits during the previous week. As of April 6, ODNR reported there are 3,046 horizontal well permits issued in the Utica shale. Of that number, 2,568 are drilled and 2,179 wells are in production. The rig count – the number of rigs operating across the Utica during a single day – stood at 16. There were no new permits issued in the northern Utica during the week, which includes Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties. And the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection did not issue permits last week for Utica shale wells in neighboring Mercer and Lawrence counties in western Pennsylvania.

Ohio's Utica shale drilling numbers staying consistent - Akron Beacon Journal - Oil and gas companies have drilled more than 2,500 horizontal shale wells in Ohio, causing the state’s oil and natural gas production to surge.  Drillers came to Ohio planning to explore the Utica and Marcellus shales beneath the eastern half of the state, but most horizontal drilling — sometimes called fracking — has concentrated in the Utica Shale deposits in counties near the Ohio River.  In the early days of shale drilling, the average well was 6,000 feet deep and 4,000 feet long. Now, the average well is being drilled 8,500 to 10,000 feet deep and 12,000 feet long; some wells are as long as 20,000 feet, Simmers said. Last year, 358 new horizontal shale wells were drilled, according to the Division of Oil and Gas, which is part of the Department of Natural Resources. “These numbers, we project, are going to be pretty consistent for the next two years,” Simmers said.Utica Shale wells have caused Ohio’s natural gas production to surge. Last year, they produced 2.35 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, more than twice what the state consumes in year.“Gas production is growing very, very quickly,” Simmers said, explaining that natural gas production had increased every quarter since ODNR began quarterly tracking in 2013.Pipelines and processing plants have been built throughout the region to handle all of that natural gas, and four gas-burning electric power plants have been built, with more in the planning stage.Ohio has gone from producing less than 14 percent of the natural gas it consumed in 2011, to producing more than twice what it used last year.Although the Utica Shale primarily produces natural gas, the  formation also contains a significant amount of oil, Simmers said. Last year, shale wells produced almost 20 million barrels of oil.

Extending Utica gas play into Pennsylvania remains possibility — A recent acquisition by a privately held oil and natural gas producer might be an early indication that Appalachian operators remain interested in producing gas from western Pennsylvania wells targeting the Utica shale, although large-scale development of that potential play remains years away. Pin Oak Energy Partners earlier this month closed on the acquisition from Shell affiliate SWEPI LP of about 43,000 acres in northwestern Pennsylvania, which Pin Oak views as prospective for Utica shale development.Mark Van Tyne, Pin Oak cofounder and chief business development officer, said the deal bolsters the company's deep Utica rights in both the wet gas and oil windows of the play."We clearly understand the impact and nature of the Utica and Marcellus," Van Tyne said in an interview. "Our portfolio is a mix of conventional wells, predominantly in Ohio, and Utica and Marcellus wells across Ohio and Pennsylvania."As a result of the acquisition, Pin Oak Energy increased its net acreage position in the deep Utica play in the northeastern Pennsylvania counties of Mercer, Crawford and Venango to a total of 60,000, 5,500 and 7,100, respectively. The acquisition also includes drilled and completed, but not online, horizontal Utica Shale wells along with previously built, but not drilled, well pads.  To date, virtually all of the drilling targeting the Utica Shale is been concentrated in a few counties in eastern Ohio, close to the state's borders with Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The vast majority of these wells are concentrated in nine eastern Ohio counties, stretching from Columbiana County on the northern edge of the play to Noble and Monroe counties on the south. In contrast, the bulk of drilling activity conducted in western Pennsylvania is concentrated in three counties in the southwestern corner of the state -- Washington, Greene, and Westmoreland -- where producers are targeting the shallower Marcellus shale formation.  While most production from the Utica Shale has been focused on eastern Ohio, the aerial extend of the play extends far beyond that region, encompassing most of the areas of two states, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, as well as large swaths of Ohio and New York and extending northward into Quebec. However, across much of its extent Utica drilling is constrained by the depth of the play. The Utica formation underlies the prolific Marcellus shale by several thousand feet over much of its geographic footprint. Several larger Appalachian exploration-and-production companies, such as EQT, have drilled a few Utica wells, Leo Mariani, an analyst with KeyBanc Capital Markets, said in an interview. "Generally speaking, the wells have been pretty good, but the big hang-up has been they're very expensive to drill," he said. "Given the lower oil price environment, a lot of a guys have put that on hold."

The shale boom may be a semi-bust: study - -- The “boom” the oil and gas industry associates with the shale revolution in the U.S., is more like the pffffttt sound a balloon make as it flies around a room losing air and altitude, a recent study postulates. A trio of professors, including assistant economics professor Amanda Weinstein from the University of Akron (Ohio), and Alexandra Tsvetkova and Mark Partridge from The Ohio State University, researched the flow of money in energy “boomtowns” nationwide. The authors looked at earnings in oil and gas extraction and mining support activities in four regions comprising 26 states between 2001 and 2013. Their research found $1 of every $5 in earnings leave the counties where the booms are ongoing, as commuting men and women takes their money back home, or spend it in nearby counties. Growth in the oil and gas sector generally boosted earnings and employment in drilling counties. In non-metropolitan counties, every additional dollar earned in oil and gas boosted earnings in other industries by 30 cents. Metropolitan counties saw an increase of 10 cents per dollar. The study didn’t consider the impact of oil and gas royalty or lease payments, and noted the quality of data might be lower in counties where the oil and gas sector was small. The impact on earnings varied from region to region, according to the study. In the Marcellus Shale play, including Ohio, oil and gas development had crowded-out other economic activity, the study found.  “Ultimately, our findings are in line with the previous research on previous energy booms,” Weinstein told Kallanish Energy. “The economics literature on the impact of energy booms like this fairly consistently shows that the economic impact of energy booms is more modest than initial predictions from the energy industry suggest, and that long-run outcomes are an issue for most energy-dependent areas.”

Environmentalists question Pennsylvania's new methane rule -- The administration of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is pushing a regulation to control methane emissions from existing natural gas facilities that doesn't directly target the potent greenhouse gas, raising alarm among environmental groups. Instead, the proposed rule sets limits on smog-forming volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, emitted by Pennsylvania's enormous gas industry, with methane reduction listed as a "co-benefit." The rule, which is working its way through the regulatory process, doesn't establish specific emissions standards for methane, the primary component of natural gas and a key contributor to climate change. Administration officials say they're under a federal mandate to do something about VOCs, a component of ground-level ozone that can worsen bronchitis and asthma and contribute to premature death from respiratory disease. They say that controlling VOCs will also help reduce fugitive methane emissions since both are a result of gas production. "The techniques for reducing VOCs are the same as the ones for reducing methane, so you're getting at the problem by doing the VOC regulation," Environmental groups criticize that approach, however, questioning why the state wouldn't directly regulate the gas industry's methane emissions. Pennsylvania is the nation's No. 2 gas-producing state after Texas. The proposed regulation "took the focus completely away from the methane part of the equation, which, by greenhouse gas emission standards, is the largest issue at natural gas operations in Pennsylvania," The proposed rule, which goes before an advisory committee on Thursday before heading to the Environmental Quality Board, the state's primary environmental rulemaking body, is part of Wolf's 2016 plan to curb gas industry methane emissions. 

Pennsylvania governor under scrutiny for role in approving pipeline - Internal government records obtained by the Guardian raise questions about the role of Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf in permitting construction of a controversial fossil fuel pipeline that now faces two criminal investigations stemming from widespread environmental and property damage.Tom Wolf, who is a Democrat, has received substantial donations from companies with a financial stake in the Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline.  The 350-mile, $2.5bn Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline through southern Pennsylvania has sparked growing outrage. It has caused roughly 140 documented industrial waste spills into wetlands and waterways, destroying numerous residential water wells, and opening large sinkholes just steps from residents’ homes. Emails, text messages and regulatory records show that the secretary of Pennsylvania’s department of environmental protection (DEP), Patrick McDonnell, directed staff to cut short their environmental review even as numerous shortcomings remained in the project’s permit application. The department also appeared to be under pressure from Wolf’s office at the time. DEP staff internally circulated two “deficiency letters” on 20 January 2017 that they were preparing to send to an ETP subsidiary, Sunoco Logistics, citing inadequacies in the company’s plans concerning earth disturbance activities and drilling beneath water bodies. Five days later, a senior official in Wolf’s office, Yesenia Bane, texted McDonnell to request the agency refrain from sending a deficiency letter, pending a meeting involving Wolf, the governor’s chief of staff, and McDonnell.“Understood,” McDonnell wrote in response. Less than an hour later, McDonnell emailed several staff members involved in the pipeline review that “Govs [sic] office needs a list of the outstanding issues ASAP”.Roughly two weeks after that, the DEP approved the pipeline without requiring many of the environmental safeguards it had initially sought. A DEP senior official who was involved in the Mariner East 2 project, John Stefanko, noted in a later legal deposition that McDonnell had directed staff “that we needed to make a decision by February 10th”, although the review had been scheduled to persist for at least several additional months.The text messages and a handwritten note from a DEP staff member show that the then CEO of Sunoco, Mike Hennigan, regularly talked to McDonnell in the lead-up to the permit authorization, and that McDonnell reported to the governor’s staff on those conversations.

 Chester County sues Sunoco over Mariner East pipeline - Chester County has sued Sunoco over its controversial Mariner East pipelines, asking the court to prohibit the company from starting construction on two county-owned properties, the county commissioners said Wednesday.This marks the first time county officials have initiated a civil suit over the project, although in February they intervened in an existing legal challenge brought by several residents from Delaware and Chester Counties against Sunoco and its parent company, Energy Transfer Partners, involving safety risks. On Friday, Sunoco representatives told county employees that they intended to begin open trench construction of Mariner 2 on Chester County Library property in West Whiteland Township, the commissioners said. That excavation method, however, is not permitted on county land without special permission.“Sunoco must understand that the county owns this property,” Michelle Kichline, chair of the Chester County Board of Commissioners, said in a statement, “and we have the right to ensure as they cross county land that adjacent neighbors and our citizens are not adversely affected in any way.” The commissioners are asking Chester County Court to restrict Sunoco from constructing pipelines on the library land in Exton, as well as on nearby Chester Valley Trail property. Sunoco’s $5.1 billion plan is to build three adjacent pipelines, which would transport natural gas liquids such as propane from western Pennsylvania to the Sunoco refinery in Marcus Hook. Over the last several months, Chester County District Attorney Thomas P. Hogan, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, and Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun M. Copeland have launched criminal investigations into the project’s construction, citing environmental risks and safety concerns.

Judge orders tiny Pa. township to pay $103000 in expenses - A federal judge has ordered a tiny Pennsylvania township to pay nearly $103,000 in legal fees and expenses to an independent producer behind a proposed injection well after the township’s fracking-waste bans were thrown out by the courts.The payment will come from Grant Township in Indiana County in west-central Pennsylvania, roughly 70 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. The producer involved in Warren, Pennsylvania Pennsylvania General Energy Co (Pge). Grant Township, with just 698 residents must pay a portion of Pge’s legal fees after the company successfully challenged the township’s fracking waste bans that had asserted rights of nature/home rule by the township and claimed sweeping rights to self-government, Kallanish Energy reports.  U.S. District Judge Susan Paradise Baxter in Erie, Pennsylvania, awarded the money to Pge. The township has told Pennsylvania media it does not have the money to make such a payment. “This is not great. This is a terrible thing to put a community through,” Stacy Long, a member of the Grant Township’s board of supervisors, told StateImpact Pennsylvania. The township has not decided if Baxter’s decision will be appealed. The Indiana Gazette newspaper says the cost would be equal to $147.53 per resident.  The decision is also a major blow to the Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (Celdf), a non-profit public interest law firm that has pushed its rights of nature/community bill of rights movement in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, New Mexico and New Hampshire. It has worked with more than 200 communities.

Haunting Poems and Photos From a State Torn by Fracking - When Julia Spicher Kasdorf pulled off Pennsylvania’s Route 15 on her way upstate in 2012, she noticed something she’d never seen before. Across the highway, by the restaurant where she and her husband stopped for lunch, helicopters dangling strange pendants were hovering over the mountainside. Kasdorf, a poet and English professor at Pennsylvania State University, asked her server what was going on. “Those guys are here because of fracking,” the waitress said. Oil and gas companies were doing seismic testing for a new pipeline.Kasdorf grew up in central Pennsylvania surrounded by dairy farms. She’d seen the way coal mining had ravaged the state’s southwest, but this destruction was new. Determined to keep an open mind, she began seeking out stories from people affected by fracking. Her curiosity turned into a six-year project and a collaboration with documentary photographer Steven Rubin that culminated in their recent book, Shale Play: Poems and Photographs from the Fracking Fields. In her university town, State College, Kasdorf was cloistered from the realities of fracking. As she began her research, however, she became aware of the discord between rural residents she spoke with, who saw fracking as a lifeline in poor communities, and her friends in East Coast cities, who questioned why Pennsylvania would allow extraction companies to destroy the state’s natural environment. “I was really determined to keep an open mind,” Kasdorf says. “My impulse was to defend rural people for whom making a living has become increasingly difficult. If fracking means you can keep your farm, am I going to stand in judgment about that? I didn’t know.”

The Energy Edge: Marcellus/Utica Country Now Largest Global Source of Natural Gas - Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia have solidified their place atop the natural gas production food chain, and this growing dominance is showing no signs of slowing down. Doubters of the potential of this world-class resource now seem like a distant memory and operators continue to more efficiently develop the resource.The Marcellus and Utica shale formations found across the tri-state region have become the largest sources of natural gas and natural gas liquids in the world. Now, new research shows that energy production from these sites will grow exponentially over the next 20 years. According to IHS Markit, 41 percent of the natural gas produced in the U.S. will come from this tri-state area by 2040, up from 31 percent this year. Other profitable natural gas liquids, such as ethane, propane and butane are expected to nearly double in production over this same period. By 2040, production of those liquids in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia will account for 19 percent of the nation’s total by 2040, up from 14 percent in 2018. We’ve seen this regional dominance coming for some time now. Natural gas production across the tri-state area has grown significantly over the last several years by the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s count. In fact, the Marcellus Shale area recently surpassed Texas in natural gas production earlier this year, a development almost no one thought possible a decade ago.  Combined with the nation’s increasing reliance on gas and the natural resource’s favorable economics, energy production in this area of the country is experiencing unprecedented growth. These trends are attracting the attention of investors. Officials from Ohio have indicated the abundance of natural gas and gas liquids has drawn in additional projects as companies seek to expand and construct new production plants in the region.  The next step is bringing this vast resource downstream, enabling the cost-effective energy supply to reach more consumers through various fuels, petrochemicals and other products.  Public and private leaders now face an historic opportunity to continue to build off of prior job-creating investments in the region to attract new investment through smarter and more predictable permitting, tax policy and highlighting the region’s vast supply of available sites for new construction.

The Fracking Hub: Is Appalachia the Next Cancer Alley? - When it comes to boom-and-bust extractive industries, Appalachia has been there, done that. It’s endured coal mining, clearcutting, and most recently, the fracking boom.  Now, as the country is moving toward renewable energy and mountain towns are leaning into outdoor recreation, politicians and international investors are putting their weight behind a fossil-fueled plan to turn the Ohio River Valley into a petrochemical powerhouse.A development group is seeking a $1.9 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy to build the Appalachia Storage and Trading Hub—a network of underground caverns to store petrochemical byproducts of the natural gas fracking in Appalachia. In December, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry wrote an op-ed in support of the hub, calling it “an opportunity we can’t afford to waste.” West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said it’s the “number one economic focus of my office today.” And U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia identified it as a priority in his agenda as ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. If the Appalachia Development Group, the developers behind the hub, can secure the necessary funding, it will still be several years before the hub is up and running. Communities within the region, however, already are seeing the petrochemical infrastructure beginning to take shape.In November 2017, China Energy Investment Corp. Ltd. agreed to invest $83.7 billion in natural gas development in West Virginia, including in chemical byproducts. Royal Dutch Shell is pursuing a $6 billion ethane plant in southwestern Pennsylvania, while PTT Global Chemical and South Korea-based Daelim Industrial Co. is planning a similar plant in southeastern Ohio. Another company, Mountaineer NGL, is working its way through permitting for six salt caverns to store natural gas liquids near Wheeling, West Virginia.Each one of those announcements represents a major industrial project that has inspired both hope and fear. Paired with the Appalachian Storage and Trading Hub, however, they amount to a massive buildout of extractive infrastructure with the potential to affect the five million people who rely on the Ohio River for drinking water, not to mention the growing outdoor economy built around the waterway.

Marcellus and Manufacturing conference draws People Over Petro protestors - As the gas industry celebrated its progress inside the Marriott at Waterfront Place, outside by the rail-trail close to 40 people assembled to protest the expansion of the plastics industry. They called themselves People Over Petro, and the three-hour protest was coordinated by the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. OVEC Project Coordinator Dustin White told the group, “They scream jobs and like a carrot on a stick, and politicians chase them.” Out-of-state and out-of-country companies come to capitalize on West Virginia’s people. They minimize the health impacts, such as cancers and neurodevelopmental defects. There’s an aspect of futility in developing the industry here, he said, because 40 percent of plastics are single use. “Where is the market?” He led the group in a short chant, “No more toxic jobs in Appalachia!” Protestors carried a variety of signs: “People and environment over plastic”; “People before pipelines”; “End death by plastic”; “The Ohio River is not a sacrifice zone.” One protestor in a red parrot costume carried a colorful sigh: “Poly doesn’t want a cracker.” B.J. McManara spoke at length about petrochemical plant pollution and possible health effects. “We are here as water protectors, protectors of the future for the next seven generations.” The balancing act of health and environmental concerns versus the reality of daily living was evident: One protestor carried a plastic-bodied camera, carried her notes on a plastic clipboard and stored her goods in a synthetic-fiber backpack. Other protestors wore plastic-frame eyeglasses and synthetic shoes and carried plastic cell phones. Ethan Cade is a WVU student and member of the WVU Sierra Student Coalition. “The young people of West Virginia are tired of the big corporations pillaging our state,” he said. They have no concern for West Virginia or its people. They come, pollute the land and make people sick “for a quick buck.” Following the organized speaking portion of the protest, the group moved to the front of the hotel to make its presence known to passersby.

Officials Push Petrochemical Expansion, Protestors Fight Back - State and federal politicians announced initiatives this week to move forward an effort to build a major underground natural gas liquids storage facility in the Ohio Valley, an effort opposed by environmental activists who fear a petrochemical expansion in the region will threaten not only the environment, but public health. The Appalachian Storage and Trading Hub has been in the works for almost a decade. Developers are seeking billions in loan guarantees from the Department of Energy.  This week, Gov. Jim Justice met with officials from the U.S. Department of Energy to discuss the hub and developing the petrochemical industry in West Virginia. In a press release the governor said he would appoint a liaison to work with Energy Department officials on these issues.“It is absolutely vital that we create a petrochemical industry in West Virginia versus building more pipelines that leave our state without creating any long-term manufacturing jobs,” Justice stated.Officials from West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania support efforts to bring cracker plants and other plastics manufacturing infrastructure to the Ohio Valley, which sits upon two of the nation’s most productive natural gas and natural gas liquids repositories, the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.A 2018 study by the Department of Energy estimates the largest growth in natural gas liquids production is expected from this region. "Ethane production in Appalachia is projected to continue its rapid growth in the coming years, reaching 640,000 barrels per day in 2025 – more than 20 times greater than regional ethane production in 2013," the report state.   “Petrochemicals are not energy. It's plastic,” said Belmont County, Ohio resident Bev Reed. “It's a dead product that doesn't go anywhere except to poison people.”

'Virtually No Risk of Drilling Restrictions,' West Virginia Official Tells Fracking-Reliant Petrochemical Industry – DeSmog  This week, at an industry conference focused on wooing petrochemical producers to West Virginia, officials from the state and federal government made clear their support for continuing fracked shale gas extraction and petrochemical industry development near the natural gas-rich Marcellus Shale. Why should petrochemical companies build in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio? For one thing, don’t expect regulation of shale gas drilling, Michael Graney, executive director of the West Virginia Development Office, predicted in his presentation. “Contrasted to other U.S. regions, Tri-State region is industry-supportive and industry-friendly,” read a slide that Graney, who was appointed by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice in September 2018, presented to the conference. “Virtually no risk of drilling restrictions.” Graney also elicited “hallelujahs” from the crowd after describing West Virginia's low worker turnover rates. “We have earned an A from the Cato Institute in fiscal policies,” he told representatives from fossil fuel and petrochemical companies, referring to a libertarian think tank that Sourcewatch describes as “founded by Charles G. Koch and funded by the Koch brothers.” Officials from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) offered the petrochemical industry the services of the federal government. “And what we're going to do is everything within the government's power to shine a bright light on this and help get this over the finish line,” Steven Winberg, the Department of Energy’s Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy, told the conference. “With regard to DOE, there's a couple of things that we can do. One is, private sector investors can take advantage of the DOE's loan guarantee program.” “We can walk you through that process, the loan guarantee process that the DOE has,” he continued. Second, the Department of Energy hired a full-time staffer to push for petrochemical projects, according to Winberg, a former vice president for the coal and natural gas producer CONSOL Energy. “Secretary Perry gave me instructions to get somebody on board full time to work on behalf of the federal government to make this happen. And that somebody is Ken Humphreys.”“I want to put a name with a face — so this is your guy here,” Winberg said, asking Humphreys to stand. “It is his job to do whatever the federal government can to help make this a reality.”

MarkWest Sherwood Complex in Doddridge County, WV, plans further capacity expansion in 2019 — The operators of the MarkWest Sherwood Complex in Doddridge County plan to further expand the facility’s capacity this year. Randall Eastham, facility manager of the Sherwood Complex, said it has 2.2 billion standard cubic feet per day of processing capacity, making it the largest gas-processing facility in the nation. “We plan to expand it by another 400 million cubic feet per day this year,” he said. “Gas processing removes the heavier and more valuable hydrocarbon components of natural gas, which are extracted as a mixed natural gas liquids (NGL) stream, which includes ethane, propane, butane and natural gasoline.” Liquid natural gas has multiple commercial applications, Eastham said. “They are used as inputs for petrochemical plants, burned for space heating and cooking and blended into vehicle fuel,” he said. “In addition, Sherwood has a 60,000-barrel per day de-ethanization plant, which removes ethane from the other NGLs. We plan to expand this de-ethanization capacity by 20,000 barrels per day this year.” MarkWest is a wholly owned subsidiary of MPLX. The complex is part of MPLX’s system that provides gas gathering and processing in the Marcellus and Utica shale regions. “We employ about 220 people and retain the services of hundreds of contract workers as well,” he said. The company has spent more than $10 billion building infrastructure in the region over the last decade, Schupbach said. In 2017, MPLX entered into a partnership with Antero Resources, which allowed it to expand the Sherwood Complex’s capacity, Schupbach said. “We formed a joint venture with Antero Midstream Partners LP to support Antero Resources’ development in the Marcellus Shale,” he said. “At the time we formed the joint venture, Sherwood’s six cryogenic processing facilities had a total capacity of 1.2 billion cubic feet per day. “At the time the joint venture was formed, ongoing development of gas processing infrastructure included three new joint-venture processing facilities totaling an additional 600 million cubic feet per day of processing capacity for Antero Resources. Since then, another 400 million cubic feet per day of capacity has been added.” MPLX has plans in the works for another natural gas facility in Doddridge County to be called the Smithburg Complex, which will have the capacity to process 1.2 billion cubic feet per day, Schupbach said.

WV oil and gas production projections optimistic; industry continues to set, break records — The evidence of North Central West Virginia’s continued oil and gas boom is hard to miss. From parking lots filled with heavy-duty pickup trucks to campsites packed with recreational vehicles, the signs of the industry’s activities are everywhere. Industry experts say production levels for both oil and gas remain on the rise, with new records being set year after year, and projections for the future remain positive.Anne Blankenship, executive director of the West Virginia Oil & Natural Gas Association, said it’s impossible to overstate the importance of the role the state’s extractive industries play in its economy.“The oil and natural gas industry is a major economic driver in the state and has the potential to grow even more significantly over the coming years and decades,” she said. “We have only begun to scratch the surface of developing this enormous resource beneath us.”According to information complied by WVONGA, natural gas production increased by more than 9 percent between 2016 and 2017, while oil production grew by 14.6 percent during the same time period.A total of 1,514,277,709 thousand cubic feet of natural gas and 7,558,169 barrels of oil were produced in the state in 2017, the most recent year for which production data is available.During fiscal year 2018, severance tax collections increased by nearly 4.4 percent over the previous fiscal year. Collections for fiscal year 2017 were $133,052,031 and rose to $138,844,391 for fiscal year 2018.Natural gas pipeline construction jobs — including work on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline  projects — increased over 400 percent between the first quarter of 2017 and the second quarter of 2018.

 Trump Said to Seek Limit on State Power Over Pipelines - Developers have been trying for six years to build a 124-mile natural gas pipeline from Pennsylvania to New York. Despite winning a federal approval in 2014, the project is still no closer to reality. Enter President Donald Trump, who on Wednesday is poised to issue two executive orders to promote energy infrastructure, including projects like the long-stalled Constitution Pipeline, according to an administration official. The orders will direct federal agencies to make specific changes meant to remove bottlenecks to natural gas transport in the Northeast and streamline federal reviews of border-crossing pipelines and other infrastructure. One of the orders seeks to short-circuit regulators in New York who have denied the planned pipeline a crucial permit, invoking their powers under the Clean Water Act to reject projects they deem a threat to water supplies and the environment. Other states and tribes have wielded the power to restrict a coal export terminal and hydropower project on the U.S. West Coast -- which has frustrated the industry.   Trump’s orders comes as the president continues to chafe at regulatory barriers he says throttle the full potential of American “energy dominance.” One of the executive orders is aimed at facilitating the shipments of U.S. natural gas in the Northeast, where limited pipeline capacity and legal constraints prompted the region to import natural gas from Russia last year, according to the administration official who asked not to be identified. It would ask the Department of Transportation to propose a new regulation to treat liquefied natural gas like other cryogenic liquids, allowing it to be shipped by rail in approved tank cars, something that isn’t allowed today. Trump will also direct regulators to develop a master agreement for placing energy infrastructure in federal rights-of-way -- a move aimed at expediting approvals and renewals.

Trump talks fracking with NY Gov. Cuomo - -President Trump Tuesday told New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo he should open his state to hydraulic fracturing to improve its economy, various media reported Wednesday.The two spoke at the White House after Cuomo requested a meeting to discuss a provision in the Republicans' 2017 tax-cut law that caps state and local tax (Salt) deduction at $10,000.Cuomo is blaming Salt for a $2.3 billion plunge in New York State tax receipts.Deputy press secretary Judd Deere said in a statement Trump listened to Cuomo's concerns about Salt, and "reiterated the negative impact that high taxes in states like New York have on hardworking families and job creators.""The President discussed economic growth opportunities for the State of New York, including helping lower energy prices throughout the entire Northeast by allowing low-cost, American energy to thrive with fracking and pipeline systems," Deere said. "The two also discussed the need to update America’s outdated infrastructure system."Cuomo signed a law effectively banning fracking in New York State roughly four years ago, citing health risks. The governor has faced criticism for the stagnating economy in parts of Upstate New York, especially from counties on the Pennsylvania border, where residents can look across the border and see the impact of drilling and fracking in the Marcellus and Utica Shale plays.Trump earlier this month suggested those in Upstate New York struggling to find prosperity should "go to another state where they can get a great job." "It's ironic that the same Democrats who criticized the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act for supposedly benefiting only the wealthy are now advocating for a change to the law that would primarily benefit the wealthy,” said Michael Zona, a spokesman for Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee, Fox News reported.

Trump executive order will aim to prevent states from blocking pipelines, energy infrastructure --President Donald Trump will issue an executive order that aims to prevent states from blocking pipelines and other energy infrastructure by using authority granted to them under the Clean Water Act.Senior administration officials on Tuesday previewed the action and several others, which are contained in two executive orders that Trump will sign during a trip to Texas on Wednesday. They are the latest in a series of executive orders by Trump meant to roll back energy regulations and promote fossil fuel development.The new executive order represents a shot from the White House in the ongoing battle between beltway Republicans and Democratic governors opposed to fossil fuel developments in their states. It has been anticipated for nearly three months and is expected to be challenged in court.The state powers are laid out in federal law, and a presidential order cannot override them, some lawyers and energy analysts have said.Under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, companies must obtain certifications from the state before they can build federally-approved infrastructure, like pipelines, within that state's borders.States can refuse to issue the certifications if they determine the project will have a negative impact on water quality within their jurisdiction, even if the project has gotten the green light from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the independent panel that regulates interstate pipelines and transmission lines. Republican lawmakers have accused Democrat-controlled states of abusing their power under Section 401 to block FERC-approved infrastructure tied to fossil fuels.

 Trump signs orders making it harder to block pipelines (AP) — President Donald Trump’s support for shifting more power to states on Wednesday faded next to his affinity for oil and gas production, as he aimed to make it harder for states to block pipelines and other energy projects due to environmental concerns. At the urging of business groups, Trump signed two executive orders designed to speed up oil and gas pipeline projects. The action came after officials in Washington state and New York used the permitting process to stop new energy projects in recent years, prompting complaints from Republican members of Congress and the fossil fuel industry. “Too often badly needed energy infrastructure is being held back by special interest groups, entrenched bureaucracies and radical activists,” Trump complained before signing the orders. The Trump administration insisted it was not trying to take power away from the states but, rather, trying to make sure that state actions follow the intent of the Clean Water Act. Under a section of the law, companies must get certification from the state before moving ahead with an energy project. Washington state blocked the building of a coal terminal in 2017, saying there were too many major harmful effects including air pollution, rail safety and vehicle traffic. Tap to unmuteNew York regulators stopped a natural gas pipeline, saying it failed to meet standards to protect streams, wetlands and other water resources. Less than a week ago, nearly a dozen business groups told Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler that the environmental review and permitting process for energy projects “has become a target for environmental activists and states that oppose the production and use of fossil fuels.” The groups said in an April 5 letter that individual states shouldn’t be able to use provisions of the Clean Water Act “to dictate national policy, thereby harming other states and the national interest and damaging cooperative federalism.” 

WV senators applaud President Trump's orders on pipelines — West Virginia lawmakers are applauding President Donald Trump’s efforts to speed up natural gas pipeline projects. Trump issued a pair of executive orders Thursday aimed at making it harder for states to block pipelines and other energy projects due to environmental concerns. “Too often, badly needed energy infrastructure is being held back by special interest groups, entrenched bureaucracies and radical activists,” Trump said before signing the orders. Both Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., issued statements voicing their approval of the president’s actions. Manchin praised the role of Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who the senator said took steps to recognize the importance the Appalachian region plays in the nation’s energy industry. Manchin said he is hopeful the orders will help accelerate development of the proposed the Appalachian Storage Hub, a long-discussed project that many see as the future of the state’s oil and natural gas industry. “After talking with Secretary Perry this week and after today’s executive order, I am more confident than ever that the administration is serious about being a partner in helping us develop the Appalachian Storage Hub,” Manchin said. “Since 2017, I have been working with the administration and Secretary Perry to make sure they understood the positive economic impact and the potential energy security an Appalachian Storage Hub will bring to West Virginia and the country,” Manchin said. “I have long said that the Appalachian Storage Hub is a vital project that will help us capitalize on our state and region’s abundant natural resources, growing infrastructure and innovative spirit.” Capito said she also believes the executive orders are a positive development for West Virginia. “Political games are preventing West Virginia energy from being sent to places that need it. The United States is energy rich, and we should make it easier to use energy resources produced in West Virginia to meet demand across America,” she said. “We should also facilitate coal and liquid natural gas exports to promote West Virginia jobs. Earlier this year, I sent Environmental Protection Agency Administrator (Andrew) Wheeler a letter voicing my concern with certain states blocking natural gas pipelines for political reasons, and I have worked hard to end the previous administration’s war on coal. I’m glad to see the president once again asserting American leadership in energy today.” Representatives of Dominion Energy, the company leading the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, declined to comment for this article.

Trump executive order could affect future of stalled Constitution Pipeline -President Donald Trump wants to make it easier for companies to transport natural gas from places like Pennsylvania to the Northeast. He signed an executive order this week that would speed up pipeline permitting. It takes aim at states like New York that have blocked pipeline projects that would carry Marcellus Shale gas to markets in the Northeast, where gas is not always readily available. Trump’s order also opens the door to natural gas being transported by rail. “Too often, badly needed energy infrastructure is being held back by special interest groups, entrenched bureaucracies and radical activists,” the president told a crowd gathered Wednesday at an International Union of Operating Engineers facility in Crosby, Texas before he signed several executive orders related to oil and gas. Trump’s directive stems in part from New York’s denial of a water quality permit for the Constitution Pipeline, among other projects blocked by states under the federal Clean Water Act. New York in 2016 halted the Constitution project, which would carry gas north from Susquehanna County. The fight over the pipeline continues to play out in court and among regulatory agencies. In his executive order, Trump directs the Environmental Protection Agency to issue new permitting guidance to states. He did not explicitly say how states’ authority should change, but he said the EPA’s review should focus on “the need to promote timely Federal-State cooperation and collaboration” and “the appropriate scope of water quality reviews.” Trump also asked the EPA to go a step further by formally revising its rules surrounding that portion of the Clean Water Act. Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry welcomed Trump’s order. “If you have the rules in place where the game is fair in terms of siting pipelines and critical infrastructure projects, then I think it opens the door for new development,” said David Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry trade group. Still, the fate of the Constitution Pipeline is unclear. Williams, the lead developer of the project, said in a statement that it “supports efforts to foster coordination, predictability and transparency in federal environmental review and permitting processes for energy infrastructure projects.” The company, however, declined to comment specifically on the president’s order and what it means for the future of the pipeline.

Trump executive orders to speed up gas, oil projects draw rebuke from Maryland, Delaware officials -  Aiming to streamline oil and gas pipeline projects, President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed two executive orders making it harder for states to block construction because of environmental concerns.The orders were prompted by fossil fuel industry pressure after officials in New York and Washington state had stopped new projects with permitting processes in recent years. “Too often, badly needed energy infrastructure is being held back by special interest groups, entrenched bureaucracies and radical activists,” Trump said before signing the orders in Texas at the International Union of Operating Engineers International Training and Education Center.In 2017, Washington state blocked construction for a coal terminal, citing air pollution, rail safety and vehicle traffic concerns. Regulators in New York likewise blocked a natural gas pipeline because of standards to protect streams and wet lands, despite the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approving the project in 2014. Trump called out New York, saying “obstruction” by the state “was hurting the country.” Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo described the orders as a gross overreach threatening environmental protections. One order requests the Environmental Protection Agency meet with states and tribes before creating new rules for complying with the Clean Water Act. It also calls for proposing a rule allowing liquefied natural gas to be shipped in approved rail tank cars. The move has drawn sharp criticism by Delmarva politicians, including Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. "This top-down order threatens to undermine good environmental stewardship. It could seriously jeopardize our historic Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts, including our regional partnership to reduce pollution and debris at the Conowingo Dam," Hogan said a news release. "From day one, our administration has worked with the federal government to ensure responsible environmental protections and safeguards when permitting dams, pipelines, and other infrastructure projects. State sovereignty should never be shortchanged under the guise of government streamlining.

Study: Natural gas pipelines leaking in Danbury, other cities - A new survey of natural gas pipelines in Danbury and other Connecticut cities shows methane is seeping into the air from underground pipes and could cause a disaster similar to the explosions last year that rocked three Massachusetts towns. “It’s just a matter of rate and time and situation that determines if any of these leaks are going to be dangerous,” said Nathan Phillips, a University of Boston professor who participated in the study conducted for the Connecticut Chapter of the Sierra Club. The study found an average of 3.6 leaks per mile of underground gas lines in Danbury. The Hartford results showed an average of 4.3 leaks per mile and 2.6 leaks per mile in New London. “The potential for what happened in the Merrimack Valley [in Massachusetts] exists in Connecticut,” Phillips said. “It was the same kind of low pressure gas line that the study surveyed.” Last September, exploding underground gas lines in Massachusetts damaged as many as 40 homes and caused over 80 individual fires in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover. The cause of the explosions was blamed on human error related to nearby construction work. Sierra Club members and others said it’s time to strengthen laws regarding leaks while transitioning from carbon-based energy sources to renewable energy. “This report shows again that Connecticut has a real problem with gas leaking from pipes, and that we urgently need legislation that incentivizes gas companies to repair this ongoing hazard,” said Leah Lopez Schmalz, chief program officer for the Connecticut Fund for the Environment.  An earlier survey by the Sierra Club found similar leak frequency levels in Hartford. Martha Klein, a past Sierra Club president, said the state has not improved leak regulation or detection since the club’s previous study

Containership may have leaked 100,000 gals. of oil along East Coast - A containership discovered to be leaking fuel oil in New York may have spilled up to 100,000 gals. during a transit up the U.S. East Coast from Florida, Coast Guard officials said. The 922’x102’x33’, 54,155-dwt Dublin Express, operated by Hapag-Lloyd, was identified as the source of a March 28 spill in the Arthur Kill waterway, at the Global New York Container Terminal near the Goethals Bridge between Staten Island, N.Y., and New Jersey. Oil sheens and tar balls showed up on New York beaches in the following days. A 15” hole was found in a fuel tank with 300,000 gals. capacity, and chemical analysis by the Coast Guard confirmed Dublin Express oil matched what cleanup teams had found. About 35,000 gals. of oily water was recovered from the Arthur Kill. Based on what its investigators found and information from ship operators, Coast Guard officials believe the containership may have lost as much as 100,000 gals. of fuel oil through the leak. The cause has not been determined. Environmental damage appeared to be minor, with four oiled birds recovered and delivered for rehabilitation to Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research, Newark, Del. “This response was a joint effort between state and federal agencies and the responsible party,” said Capt. Jason Tama, the Coast Guard captain of the port in New York and the federal coordinator for the spill response. “We take any release of oil into the maritime environment extremely seriously, and we are thankful for the quick and efficient response from all agencies involved.”

Lawmakers endorse ban on oil and gas drilling off Maine’s coast — A legislative committee Friday endorsed a bill that aims to send a message to federal officials by prohibiting exploration or drilling for oil and gas in Maine’s state-owned waters.Members of the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted 7-4 to support a ban on “any oil and natural gas exploration, development or production in, on or under the waters of the state.” The state’s jurisdiction extends only three miles from shore, but supporters say the bill, L.D. 955, also would prohibit transportation of oil and gas through state waters to onshore facilities. Committee members supporting the bill stressed Friday that they do not want that language to interfere with importation of heating oil, natural gas or other petroleum products to existing facilities in Maine, such as the South Portland oil terminal. As a result, they directed the committee’s legislative analyst to draft additional language – subject to final approval – ensuring existing facilities are not affected. “I think we need to be careful and clarify that that’s not the intent of this bill,”   Several other states in New England and the Mid-Atlantic have adopted or are debating similar prohibitions in response to the Trump administration’s stated intent to dramatically expand offshore oil and gas development.The U.S. Department of the Interior, which administers oil and gas leases in federal waters, is finalizing a five-year energy plan that, as originally proposed in early 2018, would reopen the North Atlantic and 90 percent of the nation’s Outer Continental Shelf to fossil fuel exploration. Governors, legislators and citizens all along the Eastern Seaboard have objected to the plan. All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation oppose fossil fuel exploration off Maine’s coast. And Gov. Janet Mills withdrew Maine from a coalition of governors that supported expanded offshore oil and gas drilling.

Fatal Natural Gas Explosion Rocks Durham, NC -- One person was killed and 17 were injured after a natural gas explosion in Durham, North Carolina Wednesday morning. The explosion occurred at 10:07 a.m., about 30 minutes after firefighters responded to a 911 call reporting the smell of gas in the 100 block of North Duke Street, Fire Chief Robert J. Zoldos II told The Durham Herald-Sun. The firefighters had begun evacuating nearby buildings when the blast destroyed one building and damaged four others, sending up a plume of dark smoke."It looks like the front of the Pentagon on 9/11 — but on a very, very small scale," Zoldos, who was a first responder during the attacks, told CBS. Witness Jim Rogalski, who was working in a nearby office, described the scene to CNN in a text message."Half the block is destroyed," Rogalski wrote. "Lots of injuries. Our office across the street was blown out. It was terrifying. Glass and debris everywhere. No one killed in our office but several injuries — deep cuts, head lacerations."Zoldos told the Durham Herald-Sun that he contacted Dominion Energy, the company that supplies gas to Durham, after receiving the 911 call. Dominion tweeted that its subsidiary PSNC Energy "responded to a call about third-party damage to a natural gas line and the explosion occurred shortly thereafter." Additional PSNC crews shut off gas to the area following the blast. Dominion has been the driving force behind the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would bring fracked natural gas through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. Dominion has said it will appeal to the Supreme Court after an appeals court tossed key permits for the project over environmental concerns. For anti-pipeline group No ACP!, the explosion underscored the dangers of using gas as an energy source. "They tell us gas is safe but it's clearly not," the group tweeted.

 Massive gas explosion in Durham, North Carolina leaves 1 dead, 17 injured - One person is dead and 17 more are injured, 6 critically, following a gas line explosion Wednesday morning in downtown Durham, North Carolina. The cause of the explosion has yet to be determined. Initially, Durham Police Department spokesman Wil Glenn stated the blast was caused when a contractor digging under the sidewalk struck a 2-inch gas pipe. Subsequent reports and statements by city officials, however, have walked back that statement, “pending a complete investigation.”Durham firefighters responded to an emergency services call regarding a gas leak at approximately 9:38 a.m. The leak was limited to the 100 block of North Duke St. After firefighters arrived they contacted Dominion Energy to begin the process of isolating the gas leak and determining if an evacuation was necessary. Witnesses downtown at the time stated they could smell the characteristic odor permeating the area. Firefighters began evacuating persons near the leak at approximately 10:00 a.m.Less than ten minutes later a fireball leveled the building located at 115 N. Duke St. and caused significant structural damage to four other nearby buildings. By 10:26 a.m. additional utility crews from PSNC Energy, a subsidiary of Dominion, arrived to assist in turning off the gas, which was still leaking. One PSNC worker was injured in the explosion.Over a quarter million people live in Durham, which is home to several colleges including Duke and North Carolina Central University. Seven of those injured were taken to Duke University Hospital, while one person is being treated at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at the University of North Carolina in neighboring Chapel Hill.The concussion from the blast caused glass to shatter and at least one door blew off its hinges several blocks away from the initial blast zone. Local weather radar was able to detect the fire that raged for hours afterwards as firefighters sought to contain the damage as gas continued to fuel the inferno.

 Trump Plan to Ship Natural Gas by Rail Stokes 'Bomb Train' Fears - President Donald Trump wants to allow natural gas to be shipped in railroad cars, a move that would open new markets hungry for the fuel but could risk catastrophic accidents if one were to derail.Trump on Wednesday ordered the Transportation Department to write a new rule permitting super-chilled natural gas to be shipped in specialty tank cars. The order follows a multiyear lobbying campaign by railroads and natural gas advocates, who argue it is needed to serve customers in the U.S. Northeast, where there aren’t enough pipelines, and making it possible to use the gas to power ships and trains.“There are all sorts of new opportunities where you can use rail much more efficiently,” said Charlie Riedl, head of the Center for Liquefied Natural Gastrade group.The effort, which could help offset falling rail shipments of coal, mirrors how the oil industry turned to trains to ship crude when there weren’t enough pipelines to meet demand. But a series of spills and other accidents -- including a runaway oil train that derailed and killed more than 40 people in a small Quebec town in 2013 -- have safety advocates warning against putting gas on the rails. “It’s a disaster waiting to happen,” said Emily Jeffers, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, who added that Trump’s initiative evokes earlier concerns about crude-filled “bomb trains” traveling through American cities. “You’re transporting an extraordinarily flammable and dangerous substance through highly populated areas with basically no environmental protection.” LNG is natural gas that has been chilled to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 167 Celsius) in a process that removes water, carbon dioxide and other compounds, leaving mostly methane in a fluid that takes up less than 1/600th the space it previously occupied as a gas. It is already shipped across oceans around the globe, ferried across the U.S. in trucks and stashed in storage tanks to ensure natural gas is on hand when demand escalates. LNG does not burn on its own, and it can’t ignite in its liquefied state. The risk comes if a tank car were ruptured and LNG were exposed to the air, triggering the LNG to rapidly convert back into a flammable gas and evaporate.

Consumers Energy submits report on compressor station fire  (AP) — Consumers Energy says a release of natural gas led to a compressor station fire that sparked concerns about keeping fuel flowing to millions of people during a bitter cold snap in January.The Jackson-based utility said it submitted its report on the fire Friday to the Michigan Public Service Commission . It said a plume of natural gas was released by a safety fire-gate system, mixed with air outside because of high winds, and was ignited by “extremely hot equipment” at the Ray Natural Gas Compressor Station in Macomb County.Consumers says those were the findings of its two-month internal investigation and confirmed by a third-party consultant. It says the fire “was precipitated by a safety venting fire-gate process that is proven safe and effective” but became hazardous in extreme weather.

Walz administration renews challenge to Line 3 oil pipeline (AP) — Gov. Tim Walz said Monday that his administration has renewed its challenge to a regulatory panel’s approval of Enbridge Energy’s plan to replace its aging Line 3 crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota, saying he wants to let the legal process play out. Walz told reporters the Commerce Department refiled its appeal last week with the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which had dismissed earlier appeals in the case on procedural grounds. The independent Public Utilities Commission last month gave its final reaffirmation of its earlier approvals of the project, clearing the way for the department and the environmental and tribal groups to refile appeals that began under previous Gov Mark Dayton’s administration. “We think that that appeal should simply be heard, and that’s fair,” he said. The Democratic governor said the state’s appeal doesn’t delay the timeline for the permitting process for or construction on the replacement pipeline because the state isn’t seeking an injunction. Regulators have told Enbridge that they expect to certify all remaining state permits by November. The company hopes to put the new pipeline into service in the second half of 2020.  Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge wants to replace Line 3, which was built in the 1960s, because it’s increasingly prone to cracking and corrosion. Native American and environmental groups argue that the project risks oil spills in pristine areas of the Mississippi River headwaters region, and that the Canadian tar sands oil that the line would carry accelerates climate change. Enbridge said in a statement that it believes the courts will affirm the commission’s decisions, “which were made in accordance with the law based on full and complete evidence developed and presented over years of open and transparent regulatory and environmental review processes.” Walz was critical of lawmakers who’ve tried unsuccessfully to prohibit the state from spending taxpayer money on the appeal, calling their efforts “a gross violation of the separation of powers.” The legal issue at the heart of the Commerce Department’s appeal is whether Enbridge provided legally adequate long-range demand forecasts to establish the need for the project. The Public Utilities and Enbridge say the company did. Walz said the statutory language is ambiguous, and that there would no basis for the state’s appeal if lawmakers clarified the statute.

Minnesota Supreme Court weighs Winona County frac sand case -- A sand mining company argued before the state Supreme Court on Wednesday that it should be allowed to mine silica sand in Winona County despite a local ban on the practice. Attorneys for Minnesota Sands have argued that Winona’s 2016 ban, the state’s first, violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution and violates the company’s property rights to extract minerals. The county ban focuses on silica sand, sometimes called frac sand, which is valued by the fossil fuel industry for its strength and uniform shape, qualities that make it useful for the extraction of natural gas, oil and other natural gas liquids through fracking. The company’s arguments were rejected at the district court and appeals court levels, with appeals court justices issuing a 2-1 split decision last year in favor of the county. Wednesday’s hearing, held at the University of Minnesota Law School, lasted about an hour. The justices typically release an opinion three to five months after hearing arguments, according to the court’s website.

Pipeline owner announces safety testing "successfully completed” — On Monday, officials from Energy Transfer announced that it successfully completed its safety testing of its Panhandle Eastern Pipe Line in Audrain County. The testing was done along a 15-mile pipe section that runs west to east starting at Panhandle’s Centralia Compressor Station near Missouri Highway Z and ending near Missouri Highway J.The hydrotest, using water, was completed on Monday afternoon. Representatives from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration were onsite during the testing. Energy Transfer stated that PHMSA is the regulating body for this pipeline. All tests confirming the integrity of the pipeline are now complete and the line will be prepared to return to service. Updates on timing will be provided through press releases. Panhandle Eastern Pipe Line’s transmission system consists of four pipelines extending approximately 1,300 miles from producing areas in the Anadarko Basin of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas to Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and into Michigan.A little more than a month has passed since the Panhandle Eastern pipeline ruptured just north of Mexico, sending a fireball into the night sky. Nobody was hurt in the incident.  On Friday, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said the pipe section that ruptured has failed four hydrostatic tests. The tests involve running a gas or liquid through a pipe at 125 percent of the pipe's maximum operating pressure for 4 hours, plus another 4 hours at 110 percent of maximum operating pressure for pipes that are not visible. KRCG 13 reviewed the parent company's safety records and found the pipeline has had a series of ruptures.

Bullish Natural Gas Storage Data No Deterrent for Bears; Permian Cash Climbs Again -  After a couple of days at a stalemate, natural gas bears took control over the futures market Thursday as they brushed off slightly bullish storage data and looked ahead to what could be a substantial improvement in storage deficits in the weeks ahead. The Nymex May gas futures contract fell 3.6 cents to settle at $2.664/MMBtu, and June slipped 3.4 cents to $2.708. Cash prices in the Permian Basin and in Western Canada continued to strengthen in an otherwise soft spot gas market where most other regions posted declines. The NGI Spot Gas National Avg. fell a penny to $2.365. With only modest changes seen in weather data during the last few days, all eyes were on Thursday’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage report. The EIA reported that implied flows reflected a 29 Bcf injection into storage inventories for the week ending April 5. The net change week/week, however, was a smaller 25 Bcf build, due to multiple reclassifications in the Pacific and South Central regions that moved some stocks into base gas, rather than working gas. The EIA’s reported build came in much larger than last year’s 20 Bcf withdrawal and the five-year average injection of 5 Bcf. It was, however, smaller than estimates that had pointed to a build of a few more Bcf. Nevertheless, Bespoke Weather Services viewed the EIA report as neutral. Even though the implied flow was a miss to the bullish side this week, the firm believes the miss simply negates the bearish miss the market saw in last week’s report. “Even at 29 Bcf, it is still reflective of balances that are currently quite loose.” Other analysts also noted that this week’s EIA data was likely a true-up of last week’s overstated injection. “Average the last two weeks together, and everything makes sense,” said Jacob Meisel, head of gas fundamental research at a New York energy trading firm. “Each week in isolation is harder to justify.” Meanwhile, continued loose balances point to another hefty injection versus the five-year average next week as well, according to Bespoke. On Wednesday, Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. said there was a potential for the EIA to report a 100 Bcf-plus build, which would be five times the five-year average. Most analysts, however, are estimating a build closer to around 90 Bcf. Broken down by region, the EIA reported a 1 Bcf withdrawal in the East and in the Midwest, a 6 Bcf net injection in the Pacific after a 1 Bcf reclassification to base gas and a 21 Bcf net injection in the South Central. Salt facilities reported 12 Bcf in implied flows, although 2 Bcf was reclassified to base gas. Working gas in storage as of April 5 stood at 1,155 Bcf, 183 Bcf below last year and 485 Bcf below the five-year average, according to EIA.

The Permian Basin, as Vast as South Dakota, Becomes World’s Highest Producing Oilfield “Things like horizontal drilling and fracturing, the shale revolution, oil derricks that dot the landscape all throughout the Permian Basin, new drilling technology and greater energy output are transforming American life and lives all around the world,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently. Just two months after the New York Times reported that Texas and New Mexico’s Permian Basin could surpass Saudi Arabia’s Ghawar oilfield to become the highest producing oilfield in the world in the next three years, data released this week provides a new take: It already has.The Permian, as vast as South Dakota, is distinct from other shale fields because of its enormous size and thickness of its multiple shale layers — some as fat as 1,000 feet — as well as its proximity to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. The Permian is rich in oil, and its shales are relatively easy to tap with today’s rigs. Now we know the Permian basin is now the most productive oil field in the world. As Bloomberg explains,“The new maximum production rate for the Ghawar oil filed in Saudia Arabia [3.8 million barrels a day] means that the Permian in the U.S., which pumped 4.1 million barrels a day last month according to government data, is already the largest oil production basin. “The comparison isn’t exact – the Saudi field is a conventional reservoir, while the Permian is an unconventional shale formation – yet it shows the shifting balance of power in the market.” The most recent Energy Information Administration (EIA) drilling productivity report shows the Permian produced 4.1 million barrels of oil per day in March and will come close to 4.2 million barrels per day in April.

‘Really Smart Guys’ Push to Make Biggest Oilfield Even Bigger - Standing at the center of the prolific Permian Basin, Scott Hodges explains how the future of the world’s largest oil field may very well depend on what he calls jokingly calls the "really smart guys." Hodges, a 57-year-old manager with Occidental Petroleum Corp., runs a cluster of installations at the Hobbs oil field, where dozens of wells don’t pump a single barrel of oil but instead do the opposite: push stuff -- lots of it -- into the ground. Occidental runs the operation in southeast New Mexico as part of its so-called enhanced-oil-recovery program, injecting carbon dioxide and water underground to force out crude that might otherwise languish in the reservoir. EOR already works in conventional oil fields -- now the company is trying to make it work commercially in shale rock. If Occidental and its rivals’ experiments with similar techniques are successful -- a big if, in the view of many others -- it could further transform the Permian, which is already the world’s largest oil patch. To do that, knowing how the oil, gas, CO2 and water work together thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface is crucial. "The guys who know what’s happening underground is the RSG," Hodges says in reference to the company’s Reservoir Study Group. "That stands for the really smart guys," he adds, laughing. While the U.S. shale revolution has boosted American oil production to a record, it’s also leaving lots of crude in the ground. At best, fracked wells only recover about a 10th of what the industry calls the oil-in-place. "We are trying to be very conservative, but certainly we believe that we can improve from 10-11 percent to 17-18 percent," Occidental Chief Executive Officer Vicki Hollub said in an interview in Houston. "It’s a lot. When you consider the scale of the Permian basin, to do that will be amazing."

Chevron to buy Anadarko Petroleum in a $33 billion cash and stock deal - Chevron announced on Friday it will acquire oil and gas driller Anadarko Petroleum in a cash and stock deal valued at $33 billion, marking one of the biggest energy sector mergers in years and a transformative moment for one of the industry's dominant players. The transaction will expand the second biggest U.S. energy company's operations in U.S. shale oil and gas production, offshore drilling and liquefied natural gas exports. The deal represents the 11th biggest ever for an energy and power company, according to Refinitiv. The acquisition launches Chevron to a new competitive level, establishing the San Ramon, California-based company as a more formidable challenger to rival oil giants Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and BP, says energy and mining research firm Wood Mackenzie. After the deal closes, Chevron will go from being the fourth biggest international oil major by production to the second largest. "This is the biggest upstream deal since Shell and BG in 2015," said Roy Martin, senior analyst at Wood Mackenzie. "Chevron now joins the ranks of the UltraMajors — and the big three becomes the big four." In a sign of the value the industry places on Anadarko's assets, fellow mini-major Occidental Petroleumattempted to buy the company, sources told CNBC's David Faber. Occidental was prepared to pay $70 a share for Anadarko and is currently exploring its options, the sources said. Shares of Anadarko rose 33.6% following the news. Chevron shares were down 4.7% from Thursday's close of $125.99 a share. Chevron's deal values Anadarko at $65 per share, a 37% premium to its Thursday close. Based on Anadarko's closing price of $46.80 on Thursday, Anadarko shareholders will receive 0.3869 shares of Chevron and $16.25 in cash for each Anadarko share. Chevron will assume $15 billion of Anadarko's debt.

Why oil giant Chevron is buying Anadarko Petroleum for $33 billion - To understand why Chevron struck the biggest oil and gas deal in years to purchase Anadarko Petroleum, you should probably pull out a globe. Start in Texas, where Chevron will expand its presence in the top U.S. shale field. Then trace a line to the Gulf of Mexico, where the energy giant will grow its offshore drilling operations. Next, skip across the Atlantic to southern Africa, where Chevron will acquire a massive natural gas export project that's currently under development.The $33 billion blockbuster acquisition — $50 billion including debt — ranks as the sixth-largest oil and gas deal on the books, according to Drillinginfo and Dealogic. It's the largest deal since 2015, when Royal Dutch Shell bought British energy giant BG Group for $82 billion in enterprise value.Here's why Chevron thinks Anadarko is worth the record-setting price tag. Shale drilling, or extracting oil and gas from rock formations, is fueling a boom in U.S. production. Small, independent drillers pioneered U.S. shale production, but the new rule is "the shale game is a scale game," according to Chevron CEO Michael Wirth.Now that the industry has refined technologies such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, the next frontier is industrializing the shale process. That's where companies such as Chevron come in.Oil majors have the scale and financial wherewithal to essentially turn shale fields into factories. They do that by stringing together large parcels of continuous acreage, which allows them to do highly efficient pad drilling on a massive scale. Pad drilling involves drilling multiple horizontal wells from a single location.Chevron says it can produce oil and gas from a one-square-mile area from a single drilling pad. On Friday, Chevron highlighted that the Anadarko deal creates a 75-mile-wide corridor in the Delaware Basin portion of the larger Permian Basin, the biggest U.S. shale field.The 2014-2016 oil price crash sparked a land rush in the Permian, where drillers can produce crude at low breakeven costs compared with other regions. With the best land spoken for, energy companies are now turning to mergers and acquisitions to enhance their positions in the region underlying western Texas and eastern New Mexico.That's illustrated in the Chevron-Anadarko deal, which connects a large patch of Chevron's Permian acreage in Culberson County, Texas, with Anadarko's holdings in neighboring Reeves and Loving counties. Wirth says Chevron plans to add more rigs, expand pad drilling and introduce his company's digital analysis to the Anadarko-held land.

‘Big Oil’ is rapidly becoming ‘Big Shale’ -- It is not often that routine corporate updates can rattle nations but that is exactly what happened this week. ExxonMobil and Chevron, the two largest US energy supermajors, both raised their guidance for the amount of oil they expect to squeeze out of the Permian Basin, the heartland of the US shale boom, over the next five years. In the process they sent a signal to Opec countries that any hopes that the shale revolution might falter are grossly misplaced. The scale of the revisions are hard to overstate, with “Big Oil” increasingly becoming “Big Shale”. Operators are bringing expertise and efficiency earned over decades in far-flung corners of the globe to an area previously dominated by wildcatters and domestically-focused US oil companies. By 2024 Exxon and Chevron now expect to be pumping almost 2m barrels a day combined from the Permian, which straddles Texas and New Mexico. That is 60 per cent more than previously forecast. The Permian as a whole will already produce about 4m b/d this year, meaning that this one region — if it were an Opec country — would be the third-largest producer in the cartel, behind only Saudi Arabia and Iraq. For Opec this spells trouble. Members, including Saudi Arabia, have consistently downplayed shale’s longevity, arguing that higher prices are still needed to foster investment in production and avoid a future supply crunch. It is a line of reasoning still favoured by many oil company chief executives too. But it looks, at best, outdated. While the shale industry has undoubtedly relied on a gusher of Wall Street money to grow, often leaving investors disappointed by its ability to generate cash, Big Oil is now leading the way not just in getting production up, but in getting costs down. Chevron says that returns on its shale investments are now “north of 30 per cent”, even with lower prices. Exxon says it could make a return of 10 per cent even if oil fell to $35 a barrel. For Opec this means the days when members could rely on $100 crude to top up government coffers look like an anomaly, rather than a mean to which the market will one day revert. 

Occidental bid more than $70 a share for Anadarko and is now considering options: Sources --There was another bid for Anadarko Petroleum, the oil and gas explorer that Chevron said it was buying for $65 a share in cash and stock.Before Friday's announcement of the deal, Occidental Petroleum had bid more than $70 a share for Anadarko in cash and stock, people familiar with the situation told CNBC, but the company ultimately decided to go with Chevron.In addition to being higher, the Occidental bid contained more cash than the Chevron offer and would have required a shareholder vote, the people said.However, the people familiar said there were some structural issues with the Occidental bid with which Anadarko may not have been as comfortable.Occidental is now considering its options, people familiar with the matter told CNBC, but it's unclear if the company will launch a hostile bid for Anadarko. The Chevron-Anadarko breakup fee is said to be 3% of the deal price, which is nearly $1 billion. That transaction will expand the second biggest U.S. energy company's operations in shale oil and gas production, offshore drilling and liquefied natural gas exports. The deal also would be the 11th biggest in history for an energy and power company, according to Refinitiv.

Rig count sails past one year above 1000 mark - The North American Rig Count cruised past one year above the 1,000 mark as crude oil prices continue to hover in the mid-$60 per barrel range. Exploration and production companies are now using 1,022 drilling rigs in North America, according to figures released Friday in the Baker Hughes Rig Count. Although the figures mark a decrease of three drilling rigs in operation compared to last week, they represent a year and a week above the 1,000 mark.West Texas Intermediate crude oil prices suffered a dramatic drop during the fourth quarter of 2018 but have been trading above the $60 per barrel mark for the past three weeks, allowing the rig count to remain relatively steady.  Exploration and production companies removed nine rigs from operations in Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, New Mexico and West Virginia over the pas week but put six of them into service in Texas, Ohio, Kansas and the Gulf of Mexico. The Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania and West Virginia lost six drilling rigs, which was partially offset by a gain of three rigs in the Utica Shale, which lies beneath a large area of the Marcellus.Gains to the Texas rig count were made in areas outside of the state's four shale basins. Although the Permian Basin gained two drilling rigs, the Haynesville Shale lost two and the Eagle Ford Shale lost another. Compiled by Houston oilfield service company Baker Hughes, the weekly rig count is considered to be a barometer of exploration and production activity.

U.S. shale producers turn to jobs cuts as investor pressures mount (Reuters) - Having slashed spending plans and run out of willing buyers for assets, some U.S. shale producers are turning to workforce cuts as investors step up demands for returns. Pioneer Natural Resources Co, one of the largest producers in the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico, and Laredo Petroleum Inc another Permian producer, this week disclosed plans to shed workers. Irving, Texas-based Pioneer declined to say how many of its about 3,200 employees would be cut. The company has not had a layoff since 1998. Severance packages will be offered and the company said it expects to dismiss workers by June. Pioneer has been trying to sell assets in South Texas to concentrate on the Permian for more than a year. In February, it released fourth-quarter financial results that fell short of Wall Street expectations and that same month Chief Executive Tim Dove agreed to retire. Shale firms have pushed U.S. oil output to record levels. But years of heavy spending led to investor pressure to reduce spending and use the cash to provide payouts, rather than produce more oil. Pioneer employees told a Midland, Texas, TV station that the company wanted to cut about 300 workers, or about 10 percent of its workforce. Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Laredo Petroleum said on Tuesday it cut about 20 percent of its 340 employees, which would save the firm around $30 million per year. It also replaced its finance chief. Laredo had to make the staff cuts to “focus on increasing corporate-level returns and growing within cash flow from operations,” CEO Randy A. Foutch said in a statement. 

$3.7B Gas Pipeline Would Combat Permian Flaring - Tellurian Inc. reported Monday that it is holding a binding open season to secure prospective shippers for its proposed Permian Global Access Pipeline (PGAP), an approximately $3.7 billion conduit that would deliver Permian natural gas to Southwest Louisiana. The proposed 42-inch diameter interstate natural gas pipeline would originate at the Waha Hub in Pecos County, Texas, and terminate at Gillis, La., which is located north of Lake Charles – where Tellurian has proposed building its $15.2-billion Driftwood LNG export facility. Tellurian noted that the 625-mile-long pipeline would be able to transport at least 2 billion cubic feet of gas per day. The company added that construction could start as soon as 2021 and that the pipeline could begin service as early as 2023. “Permian producers have recently paid $9.00 per mmBtu (million British thermal units) to move their natural gas away from the wellhead, reflecting the acute need for infrastructure development in the basin,” Tellurian President and CEO Meg Gentle said in a written statement. “By contrast, Southwest Louisiana is a market expected to grow 300 percent in the next five years. The Permian Global Access Pipeline is critical infrastructure that will interconnect stranded Permian gas production with growing markets, reduce flaring and provide a valuable cleaner fuel to reduce urban pollution and carbon globally.” In early Dec. 2018, the energy research and business intelligence firm Rystad Energy reported that the “persistent rise” in Permian production coupled with “severe takeaway challenges” caused gas flaring to hit an estimated average of 407 million cubic feet per day (MMcfd) during the third quarter of 2018. At the time, Rystad called that figure an “all-time high” but predicted that Permian flaring would likely hit “at least 600 MMcfd” by the middle of this year – assuming a West Texas Intermediate crude oil price of $60 per barrel.

Trump Signs Two Executive Orders Giving Himself “Sole Approval” on Pipelines - During a day of fundraisers and rallies across Texas, President Donald Trump signed two executive orders intended to speed up the approval process for oil and gas projects. The orders also limit states’ ability to intervene in these projects. “My action today will cut though destructive permitting and delays,” Trump told an enthusiastic crowd at the International Union of Operating Engineers. Trump stated that he “ended the war on energy” since entering the White House. One of Trump’s executive orders is aimed at streamlining the approval process for energy infrastructure that crosses international borders. Trump said pipelines, roads, and railways along the border will take no more than 60 days to be approved or denied and that the decision will now come directly from the President himself. “The President will have sole approval, not the bureaucracy,” Trump told his supporters at the union. This order changes previous rules which gave the Secretary of State the authority to issue permits for cross-border pipelines and similar infrastructure—a process that has, in some cases, taken years. Trump blamed the delay of pipeline projects on states like Washington and New York for restrictive policies on oil and gas. “New York is hurting the country because they are not allowing the pipelines to get through,” Trump said. He also blamed “radical activists” for slowing down the completion of pipeline projects around the nation, including the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The DAPL faced heavy resistance from environmental groups, indigenous communities, and allied activists from around the world in 2016. In late March, the Trump administration approved the equally controversial and long-delayed TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline by ignoring previous court rulings and issuing a new presidential permit for the project. Trump had approved the pipeline two years ago but the project was mired in legal challenges. While the southern portion of the project was completed years ago, construction of the portion from Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska, has been delayed. “We approved the Keystone XL pipeline, almost on day one,” Trump stated at Wednesday’s event. “We got the Dakota Access Pipeline out of a lot of trouble. They had a little problem, they didn’t have a permit but I gave it to them.” Wednesday’s executive orders are an indication that Trump wants to speed up construction of the Keystone XL.

Trump Is Rewriting the Rules to Favor the Pipeline Industry  - Domestic oil and gas production is soaring, and nowdays, it’s not enough to simply pull the stuff from the ground. With the fossil fuel boom comes demand for new pipelines and refining infrastructure, putting the expanding industry on a collision course with communities across the country. Major pipeline projects are facing resistance from a public worried about accidents and climate disruption, so President Trump wants to rewrite the rules in the industry’s favor.  On Wednesday, Trump announced two executive orders designed to speed up approvals for fossil fuel infrastructure and make it easier for energy firms to transport oil and gas from the nation’s booming fracking fields to domestic and international markets. One order seeks to limit the role of state governments in approving federal clean water permits, a move that environmentalists say undermines states’ ability to delay or block fossil fuel projects that threaten wetlands and waterways, as New York and Washington have done. “This executive order shows the administration’s commitment to states’ rights is hollow; once again, the administration is putting profit above all else,” said Marc Yaggi, executive director of the Waterkeeper Alliance in a statement on Wednesday.  Trump announced the new executive orders in Texas, where the oil and gas industry has a long history of dominating economies, landscapes and politics. Texas lawmakers are currently considering legislation that environmentalists say is designed to intimidate environmental protesters and landowners fighting a pipeline company’s attempt to seize their property under eminent domain. Similar legislation passed last year in neighboring Louisiana, allowing police to charge water protectors with felonies for visiting pipeline construction zones in pristine swamplands. Welcome to the pipeline wars. The U.S. is simultaneously poised to dominate oil and gas production for decades to come and coming under heavy political pressure to stave off the worst impacts of climate disruption and switch to renewables. As the encroaching fossil fuel industry enriches some communities and tramples over others, new pipelines and other infrastructure projects are becoming the real-life points of conflict in the debate over the nation’s energy future.

Pipeline opponents ask judge to strike down Trump’s permit (AP) — Opponents of the long-stalled Keystone XL oil pipeline asked a federal court Friday in a lawsuit to declare President Donald Trump acted illegally when he issued a new permit for the project in a bid to get around an earlier court ruling. In November, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled that the Trump administration did not fully consider potential oil spills and other impacts when it approved the pipeline in 2017. Trump’s new permit, issued last week, is intended to circumvent that ruling and kick-start the proposal to ship crude oil from the tar sands of western Canada to U.S. refineries. White House officials have said the presidential permit is immune from court review. But legal experts say that’s an open question, and the case could further test the limits of Trump’s use of presidential power to get his way. Unlike previous orders from Trump involving immigration and other matters, his action on Keystone XL came after a court already had weighed in and blocked the administration’s plans. “This is somewhat dumbfounding, the idea that a president would claim he can just say, ‘Never mind, I unilaterally call a do-over,’” said William Buzbee, a constitutional scholar and professor at Georgetown University Law Center. The pipeline proposed by Calgary-based TransCanada has become a flashpoint in the debate over fossil fuel use and climate change. Opponents say burning crude from the tar sands of Western Canada would make climate change worse. The $8 billion project’s supporters say it would create thousands of jobs and could be operated safely. The line would carry up to 830,000 barrels (35 million gallons) of crude daily along a 1,184-mile (1,900-kilometer) path from Canada to Nebraska. Stephan Volker, an attorney for the environmental groups that filed Friday’s lawsuit, said Trump was trying to “evade the rule of law” with the new permit. “We have confidence that the federal courts_long the protectors of our civil liberties_will once again rise to the challenge and enforce the Constitution and the laws of this land,” Volker said. 

Colorado lets oil and gas companies pollute for 90 days without federally required permits that limit emissions - Colorado public health officials have let oil and gas companies begin drilling and fracking for fossil fuels at nearly 200 industrial sites across the state without first obtaining federally required permits that limit how much toxic pollution they can spew into the air.Air pollution control officials at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment allow the industry to emit hundreds of tons of volatile organic chemicals, cancer-causing benzene and other pollutants using an exemption tucked into the state’s voluminous rules for the industry — rules that former Gov. John Hickenlooper, state leaders and industry officials long have hailed as the toughest in the nation. Overall, companies are polluting without permits at 193 sites in Colorado, mostly concentrated in Weld County, according to a document reviewed by The Denver Post and information state health officials provided in response to Post queries. Industry officials say they run their facilities to meet state health standards whether they are operating within the 90-day exemption period or have obtained permits — but need the flexibility to determine how much a site will pollute before limits are set.

Oil and Gas Emissions, Health Research Suggests Pollution Standards Are Inadequate - A paper published this month suggests recent air quality study models and pollution level recommendations are inadequate to gather appropriate data to inform policy or explain unhealthy symptoms in people living near active oil and gas development. The paper in the Annual Review of Public Health was written by California and New York researchers and included analysis of 37 peer-reviewed journal articles on oil and gas emissions published between 2012 and February 2018, several of which studied extraction site data measured on Colorado’s Front Range. Data observed in seven other states and Poland also was reviewed. Because recommended safe limits for individual air pollutants are usually set by accounting for health risks caused by exposure to just one substance at a time, standards might need to become more stringent to protect people against impacts that are possibly worsened and expedited by contact with and ingestion of multiple substances simultaneously and over time, which is possible near drilling, the paper states. “We don’t have much research on what happens when you’re exposed to a cocktail of pollutants,” said Diane Garcia-Gonzales, an author of the paper. “I think using the methods that we’ve used in the past to understand impact, which is basing ambient air quality concentrations of a single pollutant and comparing it to a health-based standard, would be inadequate and misleading to describe health effects potentially associated with extraction,” she said. The paper also concluded that hazardous air pollutants — for which there are no regulatory standards, but only recommended thresholds to avoid exposure to — are associated at possibly dangerous levels with the production phase of oil and gas development, and not just the fracking stage, as commonly thought. “Hydraulic fracturing has received the greatest attention for its potential impact to human and environmental health,” the paper stated. “In the context of hazardous air pollutants, however, we did not find evidence to support the common assumption that the discrete hydraulic fracturing phase itself is associated with the highest risk of exposure.” Instead, the paper said, the production phase of oil and gas, or the actual harvesting of underground minerals, involves the largest number of air pollutants that could be emitted and has the potential to spew the highest concentrations and most varied mixtures of pollutants over the longest time period — wells can remain productive for years. Even the storage phase for energy mined and wastewater once used to access it has a chance of exposing people to harmful contaminants, the paper stated.

A Former Oil Lobbyist Is Now Officially in Charge of America’s Public Lands - The Senate voted to confirm former oil-and-gas lobbyist David Bernhardt as Secretary of the Interior Thursday, despite calls from Democrats and government watchdogs to investigate his past conduct, The New York Times reported. The confirmation vote was 56-to-41, making Bernhardt—who has so many conflicts of interests he has to write them on an index card to make sure he doesn't deal with former clients—the least popular Interior Secretary in 40 years, the Center for American Progress (CAP) told The Washington Post. The second least popular was Ryan Zinke, President Donald Trump's first pick to lead the Department of Interior (DOI), whoresigned last year amidst a series of ethics investigations. A CAP analysis showed that Bernhardt bested his former boss in another respect: he has the most conflicts of interests of all 31 Trump cabinet-level nominees."It still amazes me," New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer said of Bernhardt's nomination, as The New York Times reported. "Donald Trump campaigns on cleaning up the swamp and he does exactly the opposite when in office. An oil and gas lobbyist as head of the Department of Interior? My God. That's an example of the swampiness of Washington if there ever was one. And when are Donald Trump's supporters going to understand this?" Bernhardt worked for the DOI under President George W. Bush, contributing to efforts to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development. He then spent seven years as a lobbyist with severalfossil fuel clients including Halliburton; another of his clients was the powerful California utility Westlands Water District. Trump nominated him to serve as deputy secretary at DOI in April 2017, he was confirmed in July of that year and he has been acting as interior secretary since Zinke's resignation in December of 2018.

House Democrats Voted for a Natural Gas Future, and Nobody Noticed - Last week, a video went viral of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) offering up an impassioned rebuke to Senate Republicans for bringing her Green New Deal to a premature vote the day before. Something that got less attention, however, was the vote the environmental champion and the vast majority of her Democratic colleagues cast two days earlier. Ocasio-Cortez had been one of 224 House Democrats to back a bill that, if passed, would allocate roughly $580 million in federal funding over two years to public and private energy development projects in Europe and Eurasia, including natural gas infrastructure.   Disguised as a measure to crack Russia’s energy dominance in Europe and Eurasia, it passed the House easily on March 25 with a margin of 391-to-24 and no Democratic opposition—though 10 Democrats did not vote, including six members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The bill’s true intention, however, seems to be opening up new energy markets to American fossil fuel companies, enabling the easy export of liquid natural gas. In fact, it practically said so in its statement of policy. […]  In service of this aim, the bill resolved to provide “diplomatic and political support to the European Commission and such countries, as necessary to—A, facilitate international negotiations concerning cross-border infrastructure; B, enhance Europe’s and Eurasia’s regulatory environment with respect to energy; and C, develop accessible, transparent, and competitive energy markets supplied by diverse sources, types, and routes of energy.”  In addition to U.S. political backing, the bill pledged “early-stage project support and late-stage project support for the construction or improvement of energy infrastructure” which included “natural gas infrastructure, such as interconnectors, storage facilities, liquefied natural gas import facilities, or reverse flow capacity.”

2019 Oil and Gas Exploration Off to Flying Start - Oil and gas exploration is off to a flying start in 2019, according to independent energy research and business intelligence company Rystad Energy. Global discoveries of conventional resources in the first quarter reached 3.2 billion barrels of oil equivalent (boe), Rystad revealed Monday in a statement sent to Rigzone. Most of the gains were recorded in February, which saw 2.2 billion barrels of discovered resources, Rystad highlighted. Majors reported more than 2.4 billion boe of the discovered resources for the quarter, Rystad outlined in the statement. ExxonMobil was the most successful, with three offshore discoveries accounting for 38 percent of total discovered volumes. “If the rest of 2019 continues at a similar pace, this year will be on track to exceed last year’s discovered resources by 30 percent,” Rystad Upstream Analyst Taiyab Zain Shariff said in the company statement. The total volume of global conventional discoveries in 2018 was 9.1 billion boe, according to Rystad. Total global conventional discoveries were 10.3 billion boe in 2017 and 8.4 billion boe in 2016. No Signs of Slowing DownIn the statement, Rystad said the push for “substantial” new discoveries shows no signs of slowing down, with another 35 “high impact” exploration wells expected to be drilled this year, both onshore and offshore. Rystad highlighted that three such wells are already underway; the Shell-operated Peroba well off Brazil - with pre-drill prospective resource estimates of 5.3 billion boe, Eni’s Kekra well in Pakistani waters -with pre-drill prospective resource estimates of 1.5 billion boe and the Total-operated Etzil well off Mexico -with pre-drill prospective resource estimates of 2.7 billion boe. “If these wells prove successful, 2019’s interim discovered resources will be the largest since the downturn in 2014,” Shariff stated.

Alberta, Canada's tar sands is the world's most destructive oil operation—and it's growing -- AS THE WORLD’S largest industrial project, the scale of Alberta’s tar sands operations is hard to grasp. Imagine driving on a highway and to either side behind a thin screen of trees is a vast industrial landscape as far as the eye can see. Now imagine 500 miles of that highway. If Alberta, with its population of four million people, was a country it would be the fifth largest oil producing nation. While it produces conventional oil, most comes from the Alberta oil sands, the world’s third largest proven oil reserve at 170 billion barrels.The local and national Canadian governments are pushing to expand oil extraction operations in the vast tar sands region, which already has a footprint roughly the size of England, even as they promote action on climate change on the world stage. And although the relationships between local people and the extraction operations are complex, involving jobs and services, a growing chorus of environmentalists and indigenous people are speaking out against pollution and degradation in the oil sands. Many are digging in for a fight against proposed expansions, including a major pipeline project. Against the brewing fight in the oil sands region, Canada pushed for the 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) global warming target at the Paris climate summit in 2015—but when protestors blocked construction of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline in 2018, the Justin Trudeau government bought the pipeline from its Texas owners. Canada’s national carbon tax to cut its global warming emissions went into effect April 1, 2019. And yet the country spent U.S. $3.4 billion (C $4.5 billion) last year to buy the only oil pipeline from Canada’s west coast to the Alberta oil sands to ensure future growth of its oil exports, and allow expansion of operations in the oil sands. Texas-based Kinder Morgan, owners of the 65-year-old Trans Mountain oil pipeline, had been building a much larger pipeline along the same 715-mile (1,150-kilometer) route along the banks of numerous major rivers and through world-renowned Jasper National Park, but were bitterly opposed by indigenous and environmental groups. Frustrated by lawsuits and protests Kinder Morgan announced last April they were abandoning the project. The Trudeau government stepped in knowing it will cost billions more to complete the project.

Oil pipeline explodes in Leon, Mexico after thieves try to steal fuel - An oil pipeline has exploded in the Mexican city of Leon in the aftermath of a botched attempt to steal fuel by one of the country's notorious drug cartels. Flames reaching as high as sixteen feet were the only lights some residents of the central Mexican city could see on Saturday night as the explosion caused mass blackouts. The explosion occurred after a group of 'huachicoleros' - cartel bandits who steal petrol and adulterated alcohol - were trying to pilfer oil from the pipeline when they accidentally caused the explosion. Fifteen foot flames were seen in Leon, Mexico after criminals caused an explosion while trying to tap into an oil pipeline The Mexican Army was called in to the town to guard the perimeter and keep watch over the fire. No one was injured in the incident The country's army was called in to keep watch over the blaze to ensure the safety of Leon's residents. Firefighters eventually got the blaze under control without any recorded injuries. The pipeline in question belongs to the state-owned oil firm Pemex, which is one of the world's largest petroleum companies. Theft from oil pipelines has become a large industry in Mecixo for the country's notorious cartels. Gangs of 'huachicoleros' scale the country, drilling into unguarded pipelines to steal thousands of litres of oil at a time. Oil theft is a large trade for the country's notorious drug cartels. The practice saps more than £1 billion worth of state revenue annually With Pemex's status as Mexico's largest oil company, the practice has become a drain on the nation's public finances. It has been reported that the cartel's activities deprive the state of more than £1 billion in revenue every year.

Another Pemex Pipeline Explosion, This Time in Guanajuato --Another Pemex pipeline exploded in the Mexican causing a major fire and explosions, according to local media. A section of pipeline of the Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) state company exploded late Saturday night in Guanajuato state, inciting a major fire that reach 15 meters into the air, torching a vehicle parked nearby. No fatalities or injuries have been reported, says El Universal newspaper. According to the media outlet the area that exploded, near the capital city of Leon, was being illegally tapped for fuel. The Leon city fire department says it has activated "a series of actions to mitigate the magnitude of its effects and avoid a tragedy," including blocking off the exploded pipeline area that runs through La Providencia community.  The intensity of the flames has decreased. @BomberosdeLeon is cooling down the explosion so that @Pemex security can enter the area. @Proteccion_leon, @vialidad_leon and police are maintaining the area blocked off. A Jan. 18 oil pipeline explosion in the state of Hidalgo left as many as 135 people dead from the initial combustion and subsequent burn wounds.On the day of the tragedy, people gathered around a leaking pipeline in Tlahuelilpan at about 5 pm with bottles and containers to collect the fuel for use and sale amid national gasoline shortages meant to combat fuel stealing in the first place. On Dec. 27 President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) launched a crackdown on fuel theft ordering the temporary closedown of certain pipelines, including the one in Tlahuelilpan, to prevent the illegal oil taps that have cost the heavily-indebted and corrupted Pemex US$3.4 billion in losses in 2018 alone.​​​​​​​

Amid Blackouts and Food Shortages, Pence Unveils New Sanctions Targeting Venzuelan Oil Exports to Cuba -- – Despite Venezuela’s worsening humanitarian crisis fueled by political unrest and economic sanctions, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced new sanctions targeting the government and companies that transport oil to Cuba as part of the Trump administration’s ongoing effort to oust Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.Recognizing that “oil is the lifeblood” of the Venezuelan government, Pence said in Houston on Friday that the United States is sanctioning 34 vessels owned or operated by Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA)—the state-run oil company—and two international businesses and a vessel that have recently shipped crude oil to Cuba, a key ally of Maduro.“Cuba is a major importer of crude oil from Venezuela,” the U.S. Treasury Department noted in a statement Friday, “and in return, sends assistance to Venezuela in the form of political advisers, intelligence and military officials, and medical professionals, all of whom are used to ensure Maduro’s hold on power.”Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez immediately spoke out against the sanctions. “I strongly reject new measures of economic piracy adopted by Washington to damage #Venezuela and steal its resources,” he tweeted in Spanish on Friday. “They will fail.”  “These measures are an act of extraterritoriality, interference, and imperial arrogance,” Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez added on Saturday.  The administration’s move on Friday came after President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton said, in an interview with Reuters last weekend, that the administration was considering the so-called “secondary sanctions.” After Pence’s announcement, the women-led peace advocacy group CodePink highlighted Bolton’s interview and tweeted Saturday, “Reminder: sanctions are an act of war. #HandsOffVenezuela.”

Venezuela reports collapse in oil supply, tightening global market: OPEC (Reuters) - Venezuela’s oil output sank to a new long-term low last month due to U.S. sanctions and blackouts, the country told OPEC, deepening the impact of a global production curb and further tightening supplies. Supply cuts by OPEC and partners led by Russia, plus involuntary reductions in Venezuela and Iran, have helped drive a 32 percent rally in crude prices this year, prompting pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump for the group to ease its market-supporting efforts. In a monthly report released on Wednesday, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries said Venezuela told the group that it pumped 960,000 barrels per day (bpd) in March, a drop of almost 500,000 bpd from February. The figures could add to a debate within the so-called OPEC+ group of producers on whether to maintain oil supply cuts beyond June. A Russian official indicated this week Moscow wanted to pump more, although OPEC has been saying the curbs must remain. OPEC, Russia and other non-member producers are reducing output by 1.2 million bpd from Jan. 1 for six months. The producers are due to meet on June 25-26 to decide whether to extend the pact. One of the key Russian officials to foster the pact with OPEC, Kirill Dmitriev, signaled on Monday that Russia wanted to raise output when it meets OPEC in June because of improving market conditions and falling stockpiles. OPEC+ returned to supply cuts in 2019 out of concern that slowing economic growth and demand would lead to a new supply glut. OPEC’s report said the economic backdrop was weakening and lowered its estimate of global growth in demand by 30,000 bpd to 1.21 million bpd. “Newly available data has confirmed the recently observed downward trend in global economic activities,” the report said. In a development that will ease OPEC concern about a new glut, the report also said inventories in developed economies fell in February, after rising in January. Stocks in February exceeded the five-year average - a yardstick OPEC watches closely - by 7.5 million barrels, less than in January. The report suggests that if OPEC kept pumping at March’s rate it would slightly undersupply the world market in 2019, even with the lower demand outlook. 

Comptroller warns Colombia is not ready for fracking - Colombia is not prepared to begin fracking and should at least temporarily ban the controversial activity, the country’s comptroller general said in a report on Thursday. According to the comptroller report, the state is unprepared to avoid the potential environmental consequences of fracking. Surface and underground water reservoirs can become contaminated, increased risk of earthquakes, and spillage of hazardous substances used for hydraulic fracking all need tight regulations and strong institutions to enforce them, the report said. The report contradicts the finding of a panel of experts convened by the government earlier this year and advised the government to move forward. The Alliance for a Fracking-Free Colombia criticized the panel for not being comprised of independent experts and instead of being full of industry professionals. The panel allegedly investigated fracking for three months and held only three meetings with regional communities. There is currently no fracking in Colombia, and no regulations to govern the production phase of a fracking operation, which could prevent Colombia running out of oil within a decade. President of state-run oil company Ecopetrol Felipe Bayon estimated that fracking could increase Colombian reserves between two and seven billion barrels. Colombia now has about two billion left. The comptroller general highlighted what it called legal uncertainty in the regulation. Colombia has only 16 regulations, which the comptroller general’s office criticized for being too vague to adequately enforce the activity. It is inconceivable that the national agency of hydrocarbons could block exploration and exploitation of the resources when the state lacks the environmental knowledge and regulations, the report said. Former Comptroller General Edgardo Maya asked the government to put a complete moratorium on fracking for the same reasons last year.

Indigenous Peoples Go to Court to Save the Amazon From Oil Company Greed - On Feb. 27, hundreds of Indigenous Waorani elders, youth and leaders arrived in the city of Puyo, Ecuador. They left their homes deep in the Amazon rainforest to peacefully march through the streets, hold banners, sing songs and, most importantly, submit documents to the provincial Judicial Council to launch a lawsuit seeking to stop the government from auctioning off their ancestral lands in the Pastaza region to oil companies. An eastern jungle province whose eponymous river is one of the more than 1,000 tributaries that feed the mighty Amazon, Pastaza encompasses some of the world's most biodiverse regions. Co-filed with the Coordinating Council of the Waorani Nationality of Ecuador–Pastaza (Pastaza CONCONAWEP), a political organization of the Waorani, and the Ecuadorian Human Rights Ombudsman against the Ecuadorian Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Natural Resources, the Secretary of Hydrocarbons and the Ministry of Environment, the lawsuit alleges that the Waorani's rights granted to them under the Ecuadorian constitution "were violated due to an improper consultation process prior to an oil auction which would offer up the Waorani's lands in the Pastaza region to the highest bidding oil company,"according to Amazon Frontlines, a nonprofit advocacy group supporting the Indigenous peoples living in the Amazon rainforest. The government's auction, announced in February of last year, included 16 new oil concessions covering nearly seven million acres of roadless, primary Amazonian forest across southeast Ecuador.  A hearing to argue the lawsuit was held in Puyo on March 13, but according to Amazon Frontlines, the group of assembled Waorani women "broke into song in court and did not stop" until the judge, "unable to be heard over the songs of the Waorani women ... called the parties' lawyers to the bench and declared the suspension of the hearing until a translator was found." The Waorani said that, in keeping with Waorani tradition, they would only accept a translator approved by their elder leaders.

Brazil Will Pay Petrobras $9 Billion in Oil Contract Settlement - Brazilian oil giant Petrobras will get $9.06 billion to settle a deep-water contract dispute with the government, ending years of negotiations and paving the way for Big Oil to access enormous crude deposits in the area. Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque told reporters on Tuesday that compensation for a 2010 contract review will be paid in one settlement, and the resolution will allow for an Oct. 28 auction to develop excess oil reserves beyond the 5 billion barrels Petrobras is allowed to produce under the 2010 Transfer of Rights contract, also known as TOR. The government expects to pay Petrobras after the Oct. 28 auction is held, Albuquerque said. Any winners in the auction will need to compensate Petrobras for investments the state-controlled company has already made in the areas being sold off. Rules for the compensation will be announced next week, along with the value of the singing bonuses and criteria for the auction, he said. “This brings an important, positive end towhat had become a prolonged negotiation process that was continually monitored by the markets,” Banco Santander SA analysts including Christian Audi and Gustavo Allevato said in a note to clients. “The company will likely pursue not only the October but also other pre-salt auctions to make sure that its reserve and production growth outlook keep improving.” 

Norway Is Walking Away From Billions of Barrels of Oil - Western Europe’s biggest petroleum producer is falling out of love with oil. To the dismay of the nation’s powerful oil industry and its worker unions, the opposition Labor Party over the weekend decided to withdraw its support for oil exploration offshore the sensitive Lofoten islands in Norway’s Arctic, creating a solid majority in parliament to keep the area off limits for drilling. The dramatic shift by Norway’s biggest party is a significant blow to the support the oil industry has enjoyed, and could signal that the Scandinavian nation is coming closer to the end of an era that made it one of the world’s most affluent. Oil companies led by state-controlled Equinor ASA, the biggest Norwegian producer, have said that gaining access to Lofoten is key if the country wants to maintain production as resources are being depleted. Estimates suggest that 1 billion to 3 billion barrels could be hiding off the archipelago, which is also considered a natural wonder. “The whole industry is surprised and disappointed,” said Karl Eirik Schjott-Pedersen, head of the Norwegian Oil and Gas Association. “It doesn’t provide the predictability we depend on.” Yet Labor’s decision wasn’t a big surprise. Norwegians are starting to question their biggest export and source of wealth amid growing concerns over climate change. Even some oil executives had already given up on Lofoten, which has been kept off limits for years thanks to political compromises. But the battle will now likely move on to whether drilling should continue in the Barents Sea. The oil industry also fears that Labor now could be willing -- or forced -- to compromise on other issues the next time it takes the reins of government, such as petroleum taxes and an attractive exploration refund for companies that aren’t profitable. Norway’s biggest oil union, Industry Energy, a long-time ally of Labor, lashed out at the party’s new stance on Lofoten, which was adopted less than two years after an internal party compromise on the issue. “It creates imbalances in the policy discussions for an industry that’s dependent on a long-term perspective and we can’t accept that,” Frode Alfheim, the union’s leader, said by phone on Monday. “There’s probably a lot of people in the industry who are wondering what Labor actually stands for.”

MSC boxship spills oil at Port of Sines - Work is ongoing to contain a “large oil spill” that contaminated waters in Port of Sines, Portugal late on Thursday night during a routine refuelling operation. MSC Sandra Panama-flagged container ship, operated by Swiss Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) has reported leakage of marine fuel oil while bunkering in the Sines harbour late on 4 April. "The authorities were immediately informed and action was swiftly taken to minimize the environmental impact of the incident. We understand that removal of the oil from the water has progressed at a good pace," said a press note from MSC. MSC will continue to cooperate fully with the relevant authorities and provide full support and expertise to assist with any enquiries, it said. The causes of the incident are still being analyzed. Customers with cargo onboard MSC Sandra are being notified of any schedule changes incurred as a result of this incident, the press note pointed out. As a responsible, sustainable business MSC takes environmental stewardship extremely seriously and is dedicated to minimizing such incidents, MSC said. Anti-pollution operation was put in to place and the oil spill was quickly contained. Authorities are currently carrying out clean-up activities and an investigation into the incident is underway. 

EPA charges Darwin company over oil spill - An industrial company has been charged over a large oil spill that killed wildlife and damaged bushland around Darwin. The Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority has begun prosecution proceedings against Norblast Industrial Solutions, a company that provides protective coating, cleaning and other services. The company has been charged following a large oil spill in February last year that spread from its industrial premises in Pinelands. The company allegedly discharged oil into bushland, contaminating a significant area of public land which required clean up and killed native birds including rainbow bee eaters, an EPA statement said. The company did not have a licence to collect, store or treat liquid wastes including waste oils, according to the EPA. Norblast, including an employee and director, has been charged with contravening the Waste Management and Pollution Control Act, including causing environmental harm, obstruction of authorised officers and operating without environmental authorisation. "It is concerning that the company was operating without an environment protection licence which would have set environmental operating conditions to prevent such an incident from occurring," EPA director Peter Vasel said.

Shell Breaks Market Mold With LNG Deal-- Royal Dutch Shell Plc agreed to sell liquefied natural gas to a Japanese utility at prices that include a link to coal, the latest innovation in the booming LNG market where buyers are seeking to diversify risks. In what Shell and its customer, Tokyo Gas Co., said Friday is the world’s first such contract, the 10-year deal includes a pricing formula that is based on coal indexation. By diversifying its price exposure for LNG, which has historically been linked to oil, costs of the fuel will be stabilized, Toshio Kawamura, a general manager with Tokyo Gas, said in a briefing Friday. This type of deal would allow a utility to align the pricing of its LNG with changes in the coal market, and therefore better compete in its own power market, said Christopher Goncalves, chair of the energy practice at Berkeley Research Group. This is “a risk management strategy for somebody who is competing with coal-fired generation in the home market,” Goncalves said. “That is attractive in places which have a lot of coal-fired generation, such as China, India and Japan.” Coal and natural gas face off as power generation fuel in several markets. In the U.S., cheap and abundant gas has decimated coal’s share from more than 50 percent as recently as 2008 to less than 25 percent last year, according to the Energy Information Administration. In Europe, utilities must add the cost of carbon emissions, which weighs more on coal users because it emits nearly twice as much carbon dioxide. The rivalry hasn’t been as prevalent in Asia, where coal is typically the cheapest fossil fuel and most utilities in the region lack the ability to switch quickly to gas. Buyers like Japan, South Korea and China usually pay a premium for gas that is liquefied and shipped on ocean-going tankers. Spot LNG in early 2014 cost nearly $80 per barrel of oil equivalent more than coal, but has tumbled to a discount as wide as $12 last month, according to Bloomberg calculations. The deal also highlights a growing diversity of pricing options in the LNG market as demand and spot trading booms. And it’s Shell’s second foray into unorthodox gas pricing this week. The company earlier announced a deal with NextDecade Corp. to buy U.S. LNG, which is usually linked to the American gas benchmark Henry Hub, on a Brent oil-linked basis. Shell’s Singapore general manager last week piqued interest in the possibilities of coal-linked contracts when he mentioned in a panel discussion that it had reached such a deal with a Japanese buyer, which he said helped the company decide to build a gas-fired plant, rather than coal.

Egypt's gas exports can give it a foreign policy edge, petroleum minister says --Egypt's goal to be a net gas exporter by the end of this year will strengthen it politically, Egypt's petroleum minister said Saturday, stressing the opportunities for growth that would come from the recently-launched Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum. "We cannot deny that if we are able to have our own energy this will give us some — not independence but let us say some strength, edge," Tarek el Molla told CNBC.   "The destiny of each country is at its own decision, however, you get to capitalize on what you have — so if you have the resource, the gas, you can play smart. And of course it would be a tool, or a card, that you can play with in politics, definitely," el Molla said. "When I talk about the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, and we talk about the hub, I say that we will together be the hub," the minister stressed. "Egypt will not ever be able to be the hub, no, it will be the hub together with its neighboring countries, allies, partners … we are complementing each other in this field." The forum, which aims to establish a regional gas market and offer more competitive prices, consists of Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, and the Palestinian Authority, with its headquarters in Cairo. El Molla has described high investor interest in the opportunities the forum will offer. Hit by revolution and terrorist attacks from 2011 onward, Egypt ceased exporting its gas for several years, but has now made a comeback, becoming a key player in what many energy experts have called the "Eastern Mediterranean gas gold rush." Cairo is expected to become a net gas exporter by the end of 2019 and the country has seen widespread interest in its natural gas potential — particularly after the success of Egypt's Zohr gas field, an offshore natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea operated by Italian energy firm Eni.

India delays May order for Iran oil, awaits clarity on sanctions waiver: sources (Reuters) - Indian refiners are holding back from ordering Iranian oil for loading in May pending clarity on whether Washington will extend a waiver from U.S. sanctions against the OPEC-member, four sources said. In November, U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and re-imposed broad economic sanctions. Washington, however, gave a six-month waiver to eight nations including India, allowing them to import some Iranian oil until early May. India, Iran’s top oil client after China, was allowed to buy about 9 million barrels a month. India hopes to get clarity in seven to 10 days on any extension of the waiver, as well as the amount of oil that could be purchased if an extension is given, the sources said. “We don’t know about U.S. thinking, whether they will allow India to buy oil or not,” said one of the sources, all of whom declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue. Under the current waiver, India can buy about 300,000 bpd of Iranian oil - about half the amount before the sanctions were imposed - and New Delhi wants to keep buying Iranian oil at that level, Indian sources said last month. Since November only state-run Indian Oil Corp, Bharat Petroleum Corp, Hindustan Petroleum and Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals have been buying Iranian oil. . Brian Hook, the special U.S. envoy for Iran, in March said Washington is pursuing its plan to bring Iranian crude exports to zero. Last week Hook said three of eight importers granted waivers by Washington have cut shipments to zero. 

Trump wants to drive Iran's crude exports to zero. The oil market is not cooperating - Just one month ago, President Donald Trump's top envoy for Iran told a major energy conference that oil market conditions are making it easier to choke off the Islamic Republic's crude exports without causing a price spike. "When you have a better supplied oil market, it allows us to accelerate our path to zero," U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said at CERAWeek by IHS Markit in Houston. Since then, the cost of U.S. crude oil has jumped 12%, international Brent crude is trading above $70 a barrel, and the national average gasoline price is up 30 cents a gallon. The primary reason for the run-up is simple: The market is tightening. That means a global oversupply of crude is draining, bringing supply and demand into balance and putting the market at risk of flipping into shortage. On Thursday, the International Energy Agency said global oil supplies are tightening in the second quarter as OPEC and its allies slash production and U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela look increasingly effective. "Tightness in the oil market, however, is not just a supply story. In recent months, the resilience of demand has received less attention than the vicissitudes of production, but it is very important too," said IEA, a Paris-based energy policy adviser. That tightening will make it more difficult for Trump to justify significantly curtailing Iran's crude shipments next month. In just a few weeks, the president must decide whether to extend waivers that allow several countries to import oil from Iran, which is under wide-ranging U.S. economic sanctions. To be sure, analysts doubt Trump will refuse to extend the waivers, despite administration officials repeatedly invoking the administration's goal of driving Iran's oil exports to zero. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — pressed by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, to stop issuing the waivers — appeared to indicate that the move is not imminent. "I think we've been clear about our objective of getting Iran to zero just as quickly as we possibly can, and we will continue to do that," Pompeo said during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. But the question remains how much crude the Trump administration will allow to flow to countries like China and India.

Iran, Iraq forge ahead with collaboration amid US pressure - Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi visited Tehran April 6-7, his first official visit to the neighboring country since assuming office in October 2018. Accompanied by a large delegation of high-ranking Iraqi officials and representatives of the private sector, Abdul Mahdi came to Tehran at the formal invitation of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Apart from meeting with Rouhani, the Iraqi leader also met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and attended a joint meeting of the Iranian and Iraqi business sectors at the Iran Chamber of Commerce. The visit came less than a month after Rouhani’s visit to Iraq — the first by the Iranian president since taking office in 2013 — in which the two sides reached a number of important agreements, mostly on economic issues. The increased frequency of high-level meetings between Iranian and Iraqi officials, as well as Abdul Mahdi's busy schedule while in Tehran, sparked fresh discussion on the growing ties between the two neighbors. In fact, taking into account Abdul Mahdi’s agenda in Iran, as well as the regional and international circumstances surrounding the visit, it could be said that the visit was important from three main aspects. First and foremost, the visit came amid increased pressure from the United States to limit Iran’s influence in Iraq, giving the visit a symbolic aspect. Although the US administration agreed on March 20 to extend the sanctions waiver for Iraq, so it can import gas and electricity from Iran for a 90-day period, it has been pressuring Baghdad to eliminate its energy dependence on Tehran.  However, Iraq’s parliamentary speaker Mohammed al-Halbusi said March 30 that his country needs at least three years to become “economically independent.” Until then, Iraq needs to continue importing energy. Furthermore, Abdul Mahdi himself previously emphasized that his country is "not obliged" to abide by US sanctions against Iran. One of the main topics of discussion during both Rouhani’s visit to Baghdad and Abdul Mahdi’s visit to Tehran was how to bypass the sanctions in bilateral economic ties.

Saudi Arabia denies that it threatened to strip the US dollar from oil trading - Saudi Arabia on Monday denied a report that the kingdom is threatening to sell its oil in currencies other than the U.S. dollar if American lawmakers pass legislation targeting OPEC. Reuters reported last week that the Saudis had raised the issue within OPEC and with U.S. officials. Most crude oil is traded in U.S. dollars, and selling crude in other currencies could chip away at the greenback's dominant role in the international financial system. On Monday, the kingdom called the report inaccurate, saying it does "not reflect Saudi Arabia's position on this matter." "The Kingdom has been trading its oil in dollars for decades which has served well the objectives of its financial and monetary policies," the Ministry of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources said in a statement. According to Reuters, the plan to marginalize the dollar in oil trading was a response to potential passage of the bipartisan No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act in Congress. The so-called NOPEC legislation would enable the Justice Department to sue OPEC for coordinating production. The 14-nation producer group helps to drain oversupply from the oil market and boost crude prices by cutting output. The group is currently partnering with Russia and other nonmember oil producers to keep 1.2 million barrels per day off the market. The Saudi Energy Ministry on Monday suggested that targeting the dollar could disrupt OPEC's objectives. "Furthermore, the Ministry reaffirms the Kingdom's commitment to its role as a stabilizing force of energy markets, and its desire not to risk such a key policy priority through a fundamental change to the financial terms of oil trading relationships around the world," it said.

Saudi Arabia says no change to policy of trading oil in dollars (Reuters) - Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said on Monday there was no change to the kingdom's long-standing policy of trading oil in U.S. dollars. "Absolutely not. There is no change whatsoever to our long-standing policy," Falih said when asked to comment on the possibility that Saudi Arabia could ditch the dollar.Saudi Arabia is threatening to sell its oil in currencies other than the dollar if Washington passes a bill exposing OPEC members to U.S. antitrust lawsuits, three sources familiar with Saudi energy policy told Reuters last week.

UAE says changing oil trading currency from dollar can't be done overnight - (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates' energy minister said on Monday that the use of the U.S. dollar as the main oil trading currency could not be changed overnight. "Trading with the U.S. dollar is something you don't change overnight ... Let's not jump into some of those ideas," Suhail bin Mohammed al-Mazroui said when asked about the possibility that OPEC members may move away from trading oil in dollars. Saudi Arabia is threatening to sell its oil in currencies other than the dollar if Washington passes a bill exposing OPEC members to U.S. antitrust lawsuits, three sources familiar with Saudi energy policy told Reuters last week. "OPEC did not say that, OPEC did not claim that they will change the currency in the trading and I have no views on the doability of that," Mazroui said at an energy conference in Dubai. He added that compliance with a supply-cutting agreement between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and non-OPEC members, an alliance known as OPEC+, was expected to be good in April. "OPEC and its allies are achieving balance in the oil market ... OPEC and OPEC+ will always do whatever (is) necessary to achieve that balance in the market," the minister said. On whether OPEC+ would extend the production cuts for three months or more and whether Russia would be part of that decision, Mazroui said: "It is not one country's prediction or decision ... OPEC is unanimous and non-OPEC is also unanimous." "We will do always the right decision for the market." Russia is a reluctant participant in its agreement with OPEC to withhold output, and it may increase production if the deal is not extended before it expires on July 1, Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Friday.

Oil Traders Hail Output Cuts But Wary On Economic Outlook- Kemp (Reuters) - Hedge fund managers are becoming progressively more bullish on the outlook for crude and gasoline prices, but they are turning increasingly against diesel, notwithstanding the IMO marine fuel deadline at the end of the year. Hedge funds and other money managers were net buyers of 23 million barrels of futures and options linked to crude and refined products in the week to April, according to exchange and regulatory position records. Fund managers have raised their overall bullish position in the six most important petroleum-linked futures and options contracts to a total of 745 million barrels, an increase of 444 million barrels in the last 12 weeks. But the overall bullish trend masks sharply differing fortunes for crude and U.S. gasoline on the one hand and middle distillates such as U.S. diesel and European gasoil on the other ( Portfolio managers purchased 27 million barrels of Brent and 8 million barrels of WTI-linked derivatives in the week to April 2, while there was essentially no change in their position on U.S. gasoline. Fund positions now total 600 million barrels in Brent and WTI and 98 million barrels in U.S. gasoline, with long positions outnumbering short ones by 6.5:1 in crude and almost 15:1 in gasoline. By contrast, hedge funds were net sellers of 4 million barrels of U.S. diesel and 8 million barrels of European gasoil, cutting the long-short ratio in those two contracts to just 0.86 and 4.79 respectively. Hedge funds now hold an overall net short position in U.S. diesel of almost 5 million barrels, their most oversold position since July 2017. 

Oil markets will see 'much more upside than downside,' Citi strategist says- Edward Morse, the global head of commodities research at Citi Group, gave a bullish outlook for global oil markets Sunday, saying that current inventories were at a "constructive" level. Crude futures have surged in recent months, with Brent and U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) both rallying more than 20 percent since the start of 2019. International benchmark Brent crude stood at $70 a barrel on Friday, with WTI trading at around $63. Morse believes that more upside is in store with supplies being taken off the market in Iran and Venezuela, as well as major oil cartel OPEC. "I think there's much more upside than downside," he told CNBC's Dan Murphy in Dubai Sunday. "I think it's under bought, I think it was oversold ... The market is very constructive, it's fairly tight and we think it's going to be in the $70 range through the second quarter and into the third quarter depending on what happens. And there's a lot of variables between now and then." One variable is whether the President Donald Trump administration will extend sanctions waivers on eight countries importing Iranian oil and he has until May 2 to decide. Morse believes that the focus for the U.S. will be sanctions and Venezuela and this would likely see "kinder" actions on those importing Iranian oil. Meanwhile, Fereidun Fesharaki, the chairman of leading consulting group FGE, backed up Citi's forecast, telling CNBC Sunday that the supply and demand fundamentals will likely push the oil price up to $75 and $80 for the second half of this year.

Oil won't be going back up to $80 levels, Goldman Sachs' commodities head Jeff Currie says  — Oil won't be returning to the peak levels it saw last year when global benchmark Brent crude hit $86 a barrel, Goldman Sachs' top commodities analyst said Monday."We've had a really bad fourth quarter, so the question is 'how much have we recouped thus far?'" Jeff Currie, Goldman Sachs' head of commodities research, told CNBC's Dan Murphy at the 27th Annual Middle East Petroleum and Gas Conference in Dubai."Looking at oil more broadly... We don't think you're going to get back to those $80 levels again, so you've got some modest upside here.""It's been a fundamental deficit, lower inventories pushing cash in physical prices higher," Currie said. "This market is in a million barrel per day deficit right now, and we think upside price is $70 to $75 (per barrel), but the back end anchored around $60," he said." That back end low, he explained, is based on three things: expansion of pipelines in Texas's shale-rich Permian Basin in the third quarter of this year, OPEC potentially exiting its oil cut program because investments are likely to reach the five-year average sometime in May, and more supply coming in from non-OPEC members."That's what is going to keep the back end under pressure, lower inventories pushing prices to $70, to $75, that's where the investment opportunity is — but it's not going to be like what we saw in quarters three or four of last year."Crude futures have surged in recent months, with Brent and U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) both rallying more than 20 percent since the start of 2019. International benchmark Brent crude stood at $70 a barrel on Monday, with WTI trading at around $63.Numerous analysts believe that more upside is in store with supplies being taken off the market in Iran and Venezuela, as well as potentially continued supply cuts from major oil organization OPEC.

Oil hits Nov. 2018 highs amid OPEC supply cuts, US sanctions -- Oil prices rose to their highest level since November 2018 on Monday, driven upwards by OPEC's ongoing supply cuts, U.S. sanctions against Iran and Venezuela, fighting in Libya as well as strong U.S. jobs data. International benchmark Brent futures were up 31 cents at $70.65 per barrel around 8 a.m. ET (1200 GMT) on Monday, up 28 cents, or 0.4 percent from their last close. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude were up 27 cents at $63.35 per barrel. Brent and WTI both hit their highest since November at $70.86 and $63.53 a barrel, respectively, early on Monday. To prop up prices, OPEC and non-affiliated allies like Russia, known as OPEC+, have pledged to withhold around 1.2 million barrels per day of supply this year."OPEC's ongoing supply cuts and U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela have been the major driver of prices throughout this year," said Hussein Sayed, chief market strategist at futures brokerage FXTM."However, the latest boost was received from an escalation of fighting in Libya which is threatening further supply disruption," he added.Strong U.S. jobs data on Friday also still supported markets on Monday.Despite the host of price drivers, there remain factors that could bring oil down later this year.Russia is a reluctant participant in its agreement with OPEC to withhold output and it may increase production if the deal is not extended before it expires on July 1, Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Friday.  Another key architect of the OPEC-Russia deal, Kirill Dmitriev, the head of Russia's direct investment fund, said on Monday OPEC and allies should raise output from June. Dmitriev previously said it was too early to pull back from cuts. Russian oil output reached a national record high of 11.16 million bpd last year.In the United States, crude production reached a global record 12.2 million bpd in late March. U.S. crude exports have also risen.

Oil gains up to 2% to five-month high as Libyan output threatened (Reuters) - Oil prices rose up to 2 percent on Monday, hitting five-month highs on expectations that global supplies would tighten due to fighting in Libya, OPEC-led cuts and U.S. sanctions against Iran and Venezuela. International benchmark Brent futures rose 76 cents, or 1.1 percent, to settle at $71.10 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures gained $1.32, or 2.1 percent, to settle at $64.40 a barrel. Brent’s session high of $71.19 a barrel and WTI’s of $64.44 were the highest since November. Traders said prices extended gains after data from market intelligence firm Genscape showed crude stockpiles at Cushing, Oklahoma, the delivery point for WTI, fell by about 419,000 barrels last week. Investors already were focused on supply during the session as fighting in oil-rich Libya threatened to disrupt exports. Eastern forces were advancing on the country’s capital, disregarding global appeals for a truce. “The violence in Libya is captivating the market,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC in New York. “Given the intense efforts of Saudi Arabia and other countries to restrict output, there is a sense that losing the Libyan oil, again, has the makings of a supply crunch.” To prop up prices, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies such as Russia pledged to withhold around 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) of supply from the start of this year. The group, led by Saudi Arabia, has exceeded those expectations so far this year.  Despite the factors boosting prices, there are still factors that could bring oil prices down later this year. Russia is a reluctant participant in its agreement with OPEC, and Kirill Dmitriev, the head of Russia’s direct investment fund, signaled on Monday that Russia wanted to raise oil output when it meets with OPEC in June. He added that it could be appropriate for Russia to increase output by 228,000 bpd, by which it had previously cut production, “and maybe even further.” 

Oil Prices Spike On Libyan Violence - The Libyan National Army (LNA) has launched a campaign to take over Tripoli and oust the internationally-recognized government, the latest phase in a long-running civil war that has simmered since the fall of Gaddafi eight years ago. The LNA, led by Khalifa Haftar, is marching on Tripoli after solidifying control of vast swathes of territory in Libya’s east. Haftar ordered the offensive last week, and there are reports of fighting near Tripoli over the weekend, with the LNA having conducted at least one airstrike as of Sunday. It’s unclear how the situation will play out. The LNA is widely thought to be more organized than its counterpart in Tripoli, but Haftar is disliked in and around the capital. Libya’s internationally-recognized government vowed to fight back and “cleanse all Libyan cities of the aggressors,” a spokesman said.“At the moment it’s too early to come to any firm conclusion, and ultimately fighting could drag for weeks,” said Mohammad Darwazah, a director at Medley Global Advisors, according to Bloomberg. The rival factions had made progress on political talks in recent months, pushed along by the UN. The fighting now underway erases all of that goodwill and it seems that UN officials were caught off guard with how quickly the situation deteriorated.  A contingent of U.S troops supporting U.S. Africa Command temporarily exited the country due to “declining security” in Libya. “The security realities on the ground in Libya are growing increasingly complex and unpredictable,” said U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, commander, U.S. Africa Command, in a statement. The turmoil could threaten Libya’s oil supplies. On and off civil war, as well as more minor skirmishes involving pipelines and oil fields, has repeatedly disrupted Libya’s oil production and exports. For now, Libya’s main oil fields, pipelines and export terminals do not lie in the path of the fighting, although there is one major port nearby. “Oil operations have been largely normal but any sustained fighting could quickly bring Libya back below one million barrels a day,” Darwazah said. The irony is that Libya’s oil sector has rebounded strongly over the past year, and the head of the National Oil Corp. has laid out ambitious goals of continuing to ratchet up output this year and in 2020.  Last year, the LNA tried to block oil exports and take control of shipments. Also, just a few months ago Libya’s Sharara oil field – the country’s largest – went offline amid unrest.

Brent Breaks $70 On Libya Violence -Oil prices hit a five-month high on Monday, with WTI surging above $64 per barrel and Brent topping $71. “The mood is increasingly turning bullish, but several feedback loops are about to start spinning that stand in the way of a prolonged oil rally,” Norbert Ruecker of Swiss bank Julius Baer told Reuters. “Russia already signaled its willingness to raise oil output from June. Fuel remains costly in emerging markets, with soft currencies adding to high oil prices.” Battling in and around Tripoli has intensified in recent days, with the Libyan National Army (LNA) conducting some airstrikes on the city and its airport. The international community, including the U.S., called on the LNA to cease fighting. Libya’s main oil fields are away from Tripoli and are already in territory controlled by the LNA. They don’t face immediate disruption, but because the LNA could become stretched by fighting for Tripoli, the potential for outages is on the rise. Oil prices spiked on Monday as a result of uncertainty.  A Wall Street Journal survey of 12 investment banks finds rising expectations for oil prices. The banks average forecast puts Brent at $68 per barrel this year, up $1 from the same survey in February.  Indian refiners are holding off on buying oil from Iran ahead of the expiration of U.S. waivers on sanctions, according to Reuters. India had been granted a waiver by the Trump administration to buy about 300,000 bpd, which was about half of what India was importing prior to sanctions. Until the White House offers clarity on next steps, India is delaying purchases, Reuters reports.    A blockbuster report from the Wall Street Journal posits that the shale industry, in its quest to aggressively ramp up output from wells, could be front-loading production but reducing overall output over time. “In effect, frackers have jumped on a treadmill and ratcheted up the speed, becoming ever more dependent on new capital to keep oil production humming, even as Wall Street is becoming more skeptical of funding the industry,” the WSJ wrote. Some wells are exhibiting an increasing proportion of natural gas output relative to oil, a sign of dropping reservoir pressure. 

 Oil prices hit highest in five months as fighting in Libya tightens supply -- Oil prices hit fresh five-month highs on Tuesday, supported by concern that violence in Libya could further tighten supply, although Russian comments signaling willingness to pump more dampened the rally.Supply curbs led by OPEC have underpinned a more than 30 percent rally this year for Brent crude, despite downward pressure from fears of an economic slowdown. Brent, the global benchmark, rose to $71.34 a barrel, the highest since November. Around 9:45 a.m. ET (1345 GMT), it was down 50 cents at $70.60. U.S. crude also hit a high going back to November 2018 at $64.79 and was later down 24 cents at $64.16.   "The mood is increasingly turning bullish, but several feedback loops are about to start spinning that stand in the way of a prolonged oil rally," "Russia already signaled its willingness to raise oil output from June. Fuel remains costly in emerging markets, with soft currencies adding to high oil prices."Russia, a participant in the OPEC-led supply cuts that currently expire in June, signaled on Monday it wanted to raise output when it meets with OPEC because of falling stockpiles.Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Tuesday there would be no need to extend the supply-curbing deal if the market was expected to be balanced in the second half of the year.U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela have deepened the OPEC supply cut and concern has grown this week about the stability of Libyan output. The OPEC member pumps around 1.1 million barrels per day, just over 1 percent of global supply. "The oil market is already undersupplied, so if supply from Libya also falls away the supply deficit will become even bigger," On Monday, a warplane attacked Tripoli's only functioning airport as eastern forces advancing on the Libyan capital disregarded international appeals for a truce. Yet despite generally bullish sentiment, concerns that an economic slowdown this year will hit fuel consumption have been preventing crude prices from rising even higher, traders said.

Oil dips on global growth worry, possible output rise (Reuters) - Oil fell from five-month highs on Tuesday after the International Monetary Fund cut its global economic growth forecasts and as Russia signaled it may retreat from its production-cutting deal with OPEC. A threat by Washington to slap tariffs on hundreds of European goods halted a rally in global equities, which also dragged on oil futures. Brent settled 49 cents lower at $70.61 a barrel, after hitting $71.34, its highest since November. U.S. crude ended at $63.98 a barrel, down 42 cents on the day, after also reaching a five-month high of $64.79. “I think the IMF lowering global growth is really the biggest headwind today that oil futures are seeing,” The IMF cut its global economic growth forecasts for 2019 and warned growth could slow further due to trade tensions and a potentially disorderly British exit from the European Union. The IMF downgrade, its third since October, added to concerns a slowdown this year will hit fuel consumption and prevent crude prices from rising even higher. Prices also faltered as Russia, a participant in the OPEC-led supply cuts that expire in June, signaled on Monday it wants to raise output when it next meets with OPEC because of falling stockpiles. On Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin said Russia did not support an uncontrollable rise in oil prices and that the current price suited Moscow. “We are ready for cooperation with OPEC in decision-making ... But whether it would be cuts, or just a stoppage at the current level of output, I am not ready to say,” Putin told an Arctic conference in St. Petersburg. U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela have deepened the OPEC supply cut and concern has grown this week about the stability of Libyan output. The OPEC member pumps around 1.1 million barrels per day, just over 1 percent of global supply. Rising U.S. crude production and inventories continued to weigh on the market. 

OPEC's oil production plunges to four-year low in March as Saudis slash output --  Oil supplies from OPEC sank by half a million barrels a day in March, hitting a four-year low, as Saudi Arabia continued to slash output and Venezuela's production plunged amid ongoing economic crisis.The monthly production decline amounts to roughly half a percent of global oil demand. The drop is greater than the total monthly output of four of OPEC's 14 members.The producer group, along with Russia and other nonmember countries, is trying to keep 1.2 million barrels per day off the market through June, following a collapse in crude prices at the end of 2018. The production curbs by the so-called OPEC+ alliance aim to drain oversupply from the oil market and boost prices.OPEC's output fell by 534,000 bpd in March to 30.02 million bpd, according to independent sources cited by the group in its monthly report. This year, supply from the group has fallen by more than 1.5 million bpd, helping to drive international Brent crude prices 30 percent higher.  The headline OPEC output was the lowest since February 2015, when the group pumped 29.97 million bpd, though its membership has changed several times since then.Much of the March decline is due to Saudi Arabia's willingness to aggressively cut production. In March, the Saudis took another 324,000 bpd off the market, bringing output to just under 9.8 million bpd and delivering on Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih's vow to pump well below 10 million bpd.Saudi output has now fallen by about 1.3 million bpd from its all-time high at 11.1 million in November, when the kingdom's production surged to offset U.S. energy sanctions on OPEC-member Iran.The terminal decline in Venezuelan output continues to help OPEC+ cut global oil supplies. Following a series of blackouts that disrupted oil operations, Venezuela's production plunged by 289,000 bpd to 732,000 bpd in March.Venezuela, already mired in a years-long economic crisis, is now grappling with U.S. sanctions against state-owned oil giant PDVSA and a political standoff between socialist leader Nicolas Maduro and opposition figure Juan Guaido.The next biggest decline came from Iraq, which cut production by 126,000 bpd in March to just over 4.5 million barrels. That brought OPEC's second-largest producer roughly in line with its production cap for the first time this year.The declines were offset by Libya, where output surged by 196,000 bpd to nearly 1.1 million bpd. The nation's production often fluctuates due to unrest, and its supplies are now in question after an insurgent Libyan general sent his troops into Tripoli, the seat of the rival United Nations-recognized government.

Trump discussed Iran, human rights with Saudi crown prince: White House (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump spoke with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman by phone on Tuesday, discussing Riyadh’s role in Middle East stability, maintaining pressure on Iran and the importance of human rights issues, the White House said. Washington’s Middle East ally faces rising pressure over its handling of the war in Yemen and moves to stifle internal dissent, including the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and prosecution of women’s rights activists. A bipartisan chorus of U.S. lawmakers has called on the White House to harden its stance toward Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. U.S. intelligence believes the crown prince ordered the killing, which Saudi officials deny. Trump has said the U.S. partnership with Saudi Arabia is important for the U.S. economy and maintaining stability in the region. The U.S. State Department on Monday publicly designated 16 people for their role in Khashoggi’s death and said they and their families would be barred from entering the United States. The United States on Monday also designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, drawing an angry reaction from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday. The White House said Trump used the call with the crown prince to discuss ways of “maintaining maximum pressure against Iran.” Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition battling Iranian-backed Houthi insurgents in Yemen. 

High oil supply disruptions set stage for next slump- Kemp (Reuters) - Global oil output is being hit by expanding U.S. sanctions and other unplanned disruptions which, in an echo of market conditions around five years ago, are pushing prices higher in the short term but also setting the stage for the next slump. Unplanned factors reduced global production by 2.8 million barrels per day in March, down from 3.3 million bpd in February, but up from 1.8 million bpd a year earlier, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Disruptions among members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) reached 2.49 million bpd in March, double the same month last year. In recent months, OPEC and total disruptions have been running at the highest levels for almost three years and near some of the highest for a decade (“Short-Term Energy Outlook”, EIA, April 2019). And the EIA figures do not include Venezuela, where output has been erratically declining and too variable to define a "normal" undisrupted level. Nor do they take into account the potential impact of renewed fighting in Libya, which could upset production and exports in the next few months if it intensifies. The figures therefore understate the extent to which involuntary production cuts - actual and threatened - have caused the oil market to tighten in recent months ( ). Sanctions and unplanned problems can help make Saudi Arabia’s role as swing producer more effective by simplifying coordination with other producers and reducing the risk of cheating. But unplanned problems can also cause the oil market to over-tighten temporarily, pushing prices higher and masking underlying imbalances between production and consumption, contributing to a subsequent slump. 

Oil rises amid OPEC supply cuts, US sanctions - Oil prices rose on Wednesday towards five-month highs hit the previous day as OPEC production cuts andU.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela continued to tighten supply, though economic worries increased.International benchmark Brent futures were at $70.85 per barrel at 8:19 a.m. ET, up 24 cents, or 0.34%, from their last close. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures were at $64.31 per barrel, up 33 cents, or 0.52%. Oil markets have tightened this year because of U.S. sanctions on oil exporters Iran and Venezuela, as well as supply cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and some non-affiliated producers including Russia, a group known as OPEC+. Supplies from OPEC dropped by half a million barrels a day in March to a four-year low as Saudi Arabia continued to curb production. The monthly output cut totals about half a percent of global crude demand. The drop is greater than the total monthly output of four of OPEC's 14 members.Brent and WTI crude oil futures have risen by around 30% and 40% respectively since the start of the year."The global oil market is clearly moving back towards balance thanks to OPEC+ production cuts," ING bank said.The Dutch bank said the reduction was not only down to voluntary supply cuts, which the group started this year to prop up prices, but also involuntary curbs from Venezuela and Iran - which are exempt from the OPEC cut pact - due to U.S. sanctions."Declines from these two exempt countries account for almost 47% of the reduction seen from OPEC," ING added.But Russia's role in the pact came into focus after a senior Russian official signalled Moscow might seek to raise output, though President Vladimir Putin indicated on Tuesday that current prices suited Russia. "The Russian camp is increasingly coy about extending supply cuts. Suffice to say, this may throw a spanner in the works for a sustained price recovery," said PVM analyst Stephen Brennock.Not all regions are in tight supply, however. U.S. crude stocks rose by 4.1 million barrels in the week to April 5 to 455.8 million barrels, data from industry group the American Petroleum Institute showed on Tuesday, though gasoline and distillate inventories fell more than expected.

Oil Prices Rise as Libya, Growth Forecast in focus - - Oil prices rose on Wednesday in Asia as traders weighed the impact of the IMF’s latest economic growth forecast cut and geopolitical concerns in Libya. U.S. Crude Oil WTI Futures were up 0.3% to $64.14 by 1:06 AM ET (05:06 GMT). International Brent Oil Futures inched up 0.1% to $70.79/ Brent and WTI crude oil futures have risen by around 40% and 30% respectively since the start of the year. In Libya, forces loyal to renegade general Khalifa Haftar continued their advance on the capital, striking Tripoli's only working airport and ignoring international calls for a truce. Haftar's forces are already in control of oil fields that produce half or more of Libya's total output of about 1.1 million barrels of crude a day. Any disruption in Libyan oil volumes will further squeeze a global crude market already in panic mode from U.S. sanctions against Iran and Venezuela. In addition to concerns over the ongoing conflict in Libya, John Driscoll, chief strategist at JTD Energy Services, told CNBC in an interview that Venezuela and Iran are other potential sources of risks for the oil markets. For Venezuela, he said: “Things are terrible there, oil output is plummeting, then you’ve got this wave of electrical outages that have halved their exports.” “Libya has come back into play, Iran, Venezuela, it’s all getting stronger,” he said. On the demand side, concerns that an economic slowdown will soon hit fuel consumption intensified after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) downgraded its outlook for global economic growth for 2019 to 3.3% from the previous 3.5%.

US Crude Oil Inventories Increase By A Whopping 7.0 Million Bbls -- April 10, 2019 --  EIA's weekly petroleum report, link here:

  • US crude oil inventories up a whopping 7.0 million bbls
  • LOL -- at 456.5 million bbls, the US crude oil inventories are at the five year average -- going unreported is that that the 5-year average now includes the Saudi $1 trillion mistake / Saudi surge of 2014 - 2016
  • at 456.5 million bbls, largest inventory in 20 weeks
  • but look at this: total motor gasoline inventories decreased by 7.7 million bbls just as the US starts to enter its annual driving season; it can all be traced back to the Obama policies; not enough heavy oil to counter al that light oil, and, there are some refineries "down" due to "unexpected" maintenance; gasoline will get expensive;
  • refineries operating at 87.5% capacity; at the far low end of the continuum
  • crude oil imports are 15.5% less than the same four-week period last year -- this is not trivial; if that is mostly heavy oil, it's a problem for refiners
  • WTI after the report: up 24 cents, at $64.22.

 Oil rallies as U.S. gasoline inventory draw offsets crude build - (Reuters) - Oil futures climbed more than 1 percent on Wednesday after U.S. data showing a deep decline in gasoline stocks overrode a rise in crude inventories to 17-month highs, and as an OPEC report showed further tightening of Venezuela’s crude supply. International benchmark Brent futures settled at $71.73 a barrel, gaining $1.12, or 1.59 percent, after hitting a five-month high of $71.78 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures settled at $64.61 a barrel, rising 63 cents, or 0.98 percent, holding just below its strongest level since mid-November. “At the end of the day, that big gasoline stock draw was more important to the market than the build in crude stocks because I think the crude build could easily be largely reversed next week,”  U.S. crude stockpiles last week rose to their highest level since November 2017 as imports grew, while gasoline inventories posted the steepest drawdown since September 2017, the Energy Information Administration said. Crude inventories swelled by 7 million barrels last week, far surpassing forecasts for an increase of 2.3 million barrels. Gasoline stocks, however, fell 7.7 million barrels, more than triple the 2-million-barrel drop analysts had expected.   U.S. sanctions on oil exporters Iran and Venezuela, as well as supply cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies including Russia, known as OPEC+, also boosted prices. “With geopolitical risks continuing to impact production from Venezuela and Iran and now also potentially Libya and even Algeria, the crude oil market is likely to remain supported until the price reaches a level that is satisfactory for OPEC and Russia,”  An OPEC monthly report released on Wednesday showed that Venezuela’s oil output sank last month to a long-term low below 1 million barrels per day, due to U.S. sanctions and blackouts. The figures could add to a debate within OPEC+ about whether to maintain oil supply cuts beyond June. .

Oil prices dip on surging US crude stockpiles - Oil prices fell on Thursday, but prices continued to find a floor as OPEC-led cuts and free-falling Venezuelan output tighten global supplies. International benchmark Brent futures were down 63 cents, or nearly 1%, at $71.10 a barrel around 7:45 a.m. ET (1345 GMT). Brent hit a more than five-month high at $71.78 on Wednesday. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude oil futures fell 59 cents, or 1%, to $64.02 per barrel. WTI was not far off Tuesday's high of $64.79 going back to Nov. 1. U.S. crude inventories surged by 7 million barrels to a 17-month high of 456.6 million barrels last week, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday. However, U.S. gasoline stocks fell by a whopping 7.7 million barrels, sending U.S. gasoline futures higher by 3.5 percent on their close on Wednesday. "While U.S. crude stocks built last week, a massive draw on (gasoline) inventories likely buoyed the whole complex," Vienna-based consultancy JBC Energy said. U.S. crude oil production remained at a record 12.2 million barrels per day, according to preliminary weekly data, making the United States the world's biggest oil producer ahead of Russia and Saudi Arabia. Oil markets are tightening amid the increasing effectiveness of U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela, the International Energy Agency said on Thursday. U.S. sanctions and power outages pushed OPEC member Venezuela's crude output to a long-term low of 870,000 bpd, IEA says. On Wednesday, OPEC reported Venezuela's March output sank to 732,000 bpd, citing independent sources, while figures provided by the country put production at 960,000 bpd. Overall output from OPEC, which has agreed with allies to withhold 1.2 million bpd of crude from the market since the start of 2019, fell 550,000 bpd in March to 30.1 million bpd, the IEA said. OPEC's official report on Wednesday put the group's output at a four-year just over 30 million bpd. 

Oil markets are tightening amid 'increasing effectiveness' of US sanctions, IEA says -- Oil markets are tightening at the start of the second quarter amid a flurry of intensifying risk indicators, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said Thursday. But, the group warned an "extraordinarily" wide range of views about the health of the global economy was making it difficult to forecast oil prices. It comes at a time when energy market participants are concerned surging U.S. crude stockpiles and an economic slowdown could soon dent fuel consumption. However, global oil markets remain firm, amid OPEC-led supply cuts, U.S. sanctions on oil exportersVenezuela and Iran and escalating fighting in Libya. "The huge increase in oil production we saw in the second half of 2018 has reversed following the implementation of the new Vienna Agreement and the increasing effectiveness of sanctions against Iran and Venezuela," the Paris-based IEA said Thursday. "This turnaround in supply has contributed to a dramatic increase in prices, with Brent crude rising from $50 a barrel at the end of December to more than $70 a barrel today." International benchmark Brent crude traded at around $71.21 Thursday morning, down 0.7 percent, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $63.95, around 1 percent lower. Brent and WTI crude futures have risen by approximately 30 and 40 percent respectively since the start of the year. "In a world where we saw Brent at $86 a barrel in October, $50 a barrel in December and now back to over $70, I think it is a very brave person that attempts to forecast what the price will be at the end of the year," Neil Atkinson, head of the oil industry and markets division at the IEA, told CNBC's "Street Signs" on Thursday. This year's oil price rally has prompted President Donald Trump to call on OPEC to hike output and tamp down prices. The producer group has so far ignored Trump's warnings. OPEC, along with Russia and other non-member countries, is trying to keep 1.2 million barrels per day (b/d) off the market through June, following a collapse in crude prices at the end of 2018.

 A 'forecasting nightmare': Volatile oil prices are virtually impossible to predict, analysts say - A flurry of intensifying risks in the energy market has made it "virtually impossible" to confidently forecast the price of oil, industry experts told CNBC on Thursday.Oil prices have soared since the start of the year, due to a number of risk factors such as OPEC-led supply cuts, U.S. sanctions on oil exporters Iran and Venezuela and escalating fighting in Libya.But, alongside mounting concerns about the health of the global economy, surging U.S. crude inventories appears to have capped further gains."There are so many uncertainties surrounding the oil market that it makes it virtually impossible to predict developments for the rest of the week let alone for months or a year ahead," Tamas Varga, senior analyst at PVM Oil Associates, said in a research note published Thursday."There are economic and geopolitical developments to deal with and these can change almost on a daily basis," Varga said. He described oil market conditions at present as a "forecasting nightmare."International benchmark Brent crude traded at around $71.15 Thursday afternoon, down 0.8%, while U.S.West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $64.05, around 0.9% lower.Brent and WTI crude futures have risen by approximately 30% and 40% respectively since the start of the year. A dramatic upswing in prices so far this year has prompted President Donald Trump to call on OPEC to ratchet up supply.

 Oil prices firm amid OPEC supply cuts, US sanctions on Iran and Venezuela - Oil prices rose on Friday as involuntary supply cuts from Venezuela and Iran plus conflict in Libya supported perceptions of a tightening market, already underpinned by production cuts from OPEC and its allies. Brent crude oil futures rose 57 cents to $71.40 per barrel around 10:45 a.m. ET (1445 GMT), heading for a weekly gain of 1.5%, their third weekly gain in a row. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures were up 51 cents at $64.09 per barrel, set for a weekly rise of 1.6 percent, their sixth straight week of gains. Oil markets have been lifted by more than a third this year by supply cuts led by OPEC, U.S. sanctions on oil exporters Iran and Venezuela, plus escalating conflict in fellow OPEC member Libya. The head of Libya's National Oil Corporation warned on Friday that renewed fighting could wipe out crude production in the country. "We see Brent and WTI prices averaging $75 per barrel and $67 per barrel respectively through the rest of this year, but risk is asymmetrically skewed to the upside," RBC Capital Markets said in a research note. "Geopolitically infused rallies could shoot prices toward or even past the $80 per barrel mark for intermittent periods this summer," the Canadian bank said. OPEC and its allies will meet in June to decide whether to continue withholding supply, and while OPEC's de-facto leader, Saudi Arabia, is seen to be keen to continue cutting, sources within the group said it may raise output from July if disruptions elsewhere continue. On the demand side, most of the world's growth in fuel consumption is coming from Asia, where China's economic growth is expected to slow to a near 30-year low of 6.2 percent this year, a Reuters poll showed on Friday. But concerns over such a slowdown were muted on Friday.

Inventories Still Significantly Above Normal Level - Inventories are still significantly above what the Saudi Energy Minister would consider a normal level. In a recent television interview with Bloomberg, Saudi Arabia Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih revealed that inventories are still significantly above what he would consider a normal level. “The last I checked [it] was 70 to 80 million barrels,” Al-Falih stated in the interview, which was published on Monday. In the interview, Al-Falih told Bloomberg the objective of bringing inventories to a reasonable level remains unchanged. “Everybody I talk to agrees with the same, that we do want to bring inventories down. We saw how sensitive oil markets are to inventories,” Al-Falih stated in the interview. “When we increased production in the second half [of 2018], for the reasons we all know, we saw how quickly the markets reacted and therefore we want to avoid that scenario materializing again,” he added. Last month, in a speech at the 13th meeting of the JMMC in Azerbaijan, Al-Falih said market fundamentals had been slowly improving since the latter part of last year but added that “much more work still needs to be done”. “Inventories in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the United States continue to fluctuate, and our goal is to bring global inventory levels down to more normal levels—and even more importantly, to proactively protect against a glut,” Al-Falih stated in his speech. Al-Falih has been chairman of the board of Saudi Aramco since April 2015. From 2009 to 2015, he served as the president and chief executive officer of Saudi Aramco and previously held a range of roles at the company. Al-Falih has a Master of business administration from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, and a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University

Saudi energy minister expects Aramco bond demand at 'north of' $30 billion --Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al Falih expects robust demand for state oil giant Saudi Aramco's first-ever bond issuance, the deal for which is expected to close on Wednesday. Demand for the bond should be "north of" $30 billion, al Falih said while speaking at the inaugural Gulf Intelligence Saudi Arabia Energy Forum in Riyadh on Monday. Saudi Arabia's state-controlled energy giant Aramco plans to tap bond markets this week, marking the first-ever debt issuance from the world's largest oil firm and enabling greater visibility into its financial performance. Initial media reports put the Aramco bond issuance amount at $10 billion, which sources have told CNBC is "reasonable as a minimum." An Aramco oil tank is seen at the Production facility at Saudi Aramco's Shaybah oilfield in the Empty Quarter, Saudi Arabia. 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. Aramco, the world's top oil producer, earlier this month received an "A+" rating from Fitch and an "A1" rating from Moody's in its first ever credit ratings, following 2018 earnings that dwarfed those of international oil majors. Saudi Arabia has already seen formidable success in its recent tapping of the bond market: It issued $7.5 billion in sovereign bonds in January which drew an impressive $27 billion in orders. Saudi Arabia has "A1" and "A+" ratings from agencies Moody's and Fitch, respectively, a sign of reliability and low risk for investors.

Aramco’s True Breakeven Price - Saudi Aramco, the national oil company of Saudi Arabia, is by far the largest oil company in the world. The company produces around 13 percent of the world’s oil, but its business operations have been notoriously opaque for decades. This week Saudi Aramco lifted the veil on its financial condition in a bond offering for the company. (PDF link here).There are many important financial details in the filing. The company is indeed the world’s most profitable, earning $111 billion on $356 billion in revenue in 2018. This is nearly double the $59.4 billion made by Apple, the world’s second-most profitable company, in 2018. It’s also over five times the $20.8 billion made by ExxonMobil last year. Bloomberg points out that Aramco’s “funds flow from operations” was $26 per barrel last year, which they note was worse than Shell or Total which reported $38 and $31, respectively. However, I found the most significant item in the prospectus to be that Saudi Aramco struggled to break even in 2016 when Brent crude averaged about $45 per barrel. Net income in 2016 was only $13 billion, and free cash flow a mere $2 billion. Contrast that with the $111 billion in income and $86 billion in free cash flow the company made in 2018 (when Brent crude averaged $71.34/bbl), and it looks like Aramco’s breakeven price is just about $40/bbl.  No wonder OPEC threw in the towel in 2016 and decided to abandon its price war with U.S. shale. OPEC’s largest member saw its income dry up and was on the verge of posting a loss if oil prices didn’t turn around. I once characterized OPEC’s decision to declare war on U.S. shale oil producers as a trillion dollar miscalculation, and at least now we can see that it likely cost Saudi Aramco alone several hundred billion dollars. The implications of this news are that we will likely never again see an extended period of time with world oil prices below $45, because OPEC will have to take action at that point to prop up prices as the cartel did in 2016. Otherwise, they will quickly find themselves in deep financial trouble, unable to balance government budgets.

The monster Aramco bond offering may have just doomed the Saudi oil giant's IPO -Aramco's hugely successful bond offering on Tuesday may be the final nail in the coffin for the Saudi oil giant's much-anticipated and long-delayed stock market debut.Just three years ago, the Saudis cast the initial public offering for Aramco as the key to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's ambitious plan to diversify his nation's oil-dependent economy. By offering investors the opportunity to own a piece of the world's largest oil company, the kingdom hoped to raise $100 billion to seed investments in new industries and turn the petrostate into a technology and entertainment hub.Market watchers were already questioning the IPO after Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund struck a $69.1 billion deal last month to sell Aramco its 70% stake in petrochemicals giant Sabic. Aramco's first-ever bond offering only raised further doubts about the need to go public. "What the Aramco bond offering shows you is you have an underleveraged giant that you can use to juice up your capital when you need it." -Roger Diwan, vice president for financial services, IHS MarkitSeeking to raise $10 billion in its first debt sale, Aramco attracted more than $100 billion in bids from bond investors. While the bond offering will reportedly fund a portion of the Sabic acquisition, it also suggested there is plenty of appetite for future debt sales."To the degree to which the goal of the IPO was seen as providing more funding for the Public Investment Fund ... if you can do this with a bond offering, the question is do you need an IPO?" said Helima Croft, global head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, referring to the Saudi sovereign wealth fund.

High-Hyped $12B Aramco Bond Sees Disappointing First-Day Moves - After seeing significant interest with an unprecedented $100 billion in orders on Tuesday, Aramco’s bond saw but mild upward moves on Wednesday, its first day out of the gate.The lackluster response suggests, according to Reuters sources, that the initial demand was inflated.Despite the $100 billion in orders, only $12 billion of debt was issued—this huge disparity in the two led many to believe that first-day activity would have been stronger than it was. The reason for this, according to a trader who spoke to Reuters, is that many had already anticipated that the demand would be significant and orders would go unfilled, so traders placed additional orders in hopes of elbowing their way past other traders who were also scrambling for a piece of the Aramco pie.Still an overall success, if not somewhat disappointing, the bond sale has dispelled any notion that traders are overly concerned with getting into bed with Saudi Aramco, which for all intents and purposes is the same thing as The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.Some see yesterday’s bond issuance success as a measure of the interest that Aramco’s massive IPO would generate, should the oil company ever overcome the host of challenges that come with such an undertaking. Others think it’s possible that the IPO will not take place at all now that Aramco has pulled off the bond in what not only could be construed as a face-saving move, but as taking the place of the IPO’s cash generating purpose. The hope? That the IPO would generate a hard-fought $100 billion—harder than issuing bonds, anyway. The official word on Aramco’s IPO is that it is still on track, but quite a ways out, in 2021.

US-Backed Coalition Bombs Another Yemen School, Killing Mostly Children — With a War Powers resolution that would end U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia’s assault on Yemen currently on President Donald Trump’s desk, the Saudi-led coalition on Sunday reportedly bombed a residential area in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, killing at least 11 and injuring dozens more.According to local medical officials, most of those killed were young children after Saudi airstrikes hit a Yemeni school.“Everyone was hysterical, some were crying and shouting in panic,” Fatehiya Kahlani, principal of Al Raei school, told Al Jazeera. “The situation was horrible as the school population is 2,100. Some girl students were killed and others were wounded and are in a hospital as a result of the missile strike. The school building was destroyed too.”Just imagine that your kids were among students in this school.  Footage taken today in Sana'a after Saudi led coalition air strikes hit al-Raei school, killing 11 girl studets and wounding 35 others. #Yemen #YemenCantWait— Fatik Al-Rodaini (@Fatikr) April 7, 2019  Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who helped lead the Senate effort to end U.S. complicity in Saudi Arabia’s atrocities in Yemen, once again called on Trump to sign the Yemen Wars Powers resolution. “Another horrific attack in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. More children dead,” tweeted Sanders, a 2020 presidential candidate. “President Trump, I urge you to sign the resolution Congress passed last week ending U.S. support for this conflict. Yemen needs humanitarian aid, not more bombs.”   Reacting to the latest Saudi-led attack on Yemen—which comes around two weeks after the coalition bombed a Yemeni hospital—Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) demanded to know whether the Trump administration provided the Saudis with “targeting or other assistance… for this airstrike that killed girl students.”

US-Backed Saudi Coalition Launches New Round of Airstrikes on Yemen’s Capital— Saudi coalition officials have announced a new round of airstrikes against an industrial area in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa on Thursday. The strikes centered on the al-Jeraf neighborhood. According to the coalition statement, the attack targeted two industrial buildings. They claimed one was manufacturing drones and the other contained launch pads. The locals, however, told a very different story. According to locals, the strikes hit a plastics factory, starting a large fire, and a neighboring warehouse. On top of that, an additional strike hit a nearby house, though there were no casualties reported. Still, the strikes caused a panic in the neighborhood, and the fires caused a fair bit of damage. Such strikes have been increasingly common across northern Yemen, where the Saudi forces have been carrying out such strikes for over four years.

Iran rebukes US over rumoured IRGC ‘terrorist’ designation --Iranian officials have cautioned the United States against pushing ahead with a rumoured move to designate Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a "terrorist" group, warning it could destabilise the region and draw a tit-for-tat response. The expected shift in Washington's policy was initially reported by the Wall Street Journal on Friday, which cited unnamed US officials claiming it could be rolled out as soon as Monday. Seen as part of a broader effort to make good on US President Donald Trump's vow to take a tougher line against Iran, the proposal would - if implemented - mark an unprecedented step against an entire institution of a foreign government. It would also go far beyond pre-existing sanctions put in place by the US to target entities linked to the IRGC, including the Quds Force, which is in charge of the force's operations abroad. On Sunday, Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said such a measure was "another US disaster" in the making, and warned of the consequences it could have. "#NetanyahuFirsters who have long agitated for FTO designation of the IRGC fully understand its consequences for US forces in the region," Zarif wrote on Twitter, referring to supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, Iran's regional archenemy. "In fact, they seek to drag US into a quagmire on his behalf. @realDonaldTrump should know better than to be conned into another US disaster," Zarif added. 

Iran Revolutionary Guard Commander Warns US Carrier- Stay Away From Our Speed Boats --  It begins: unprecedented tit-for-tat formal "terror" designations exchanged between Washington and Tehran on Monday could soon enter a hot war on the ground. A mere hours after President Trump formally designated Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization on Monday, Iran's foreign ministry responded in kind by immediately putting forward a bill placing the US Central Command (CENTCOM) on a list of organizations designated as terrorists, akin to ISIS. This means each side has given its armed forces authorization to target the other as part of "war on terror" operations. And already on Tuesday an IRGC commander has put the US Navy in the Persian Gulf on notice, warning it not to come anywhere near Revolutionary Guards speed boats. Specifically, according to Iran's ISNA news agency, Tehran has warned that America's aircraft carrier currently deployed to the gulf, the USS John C. Stennis, should not come anywhere near IRGC boats. According to Reuters, citing Iranian state media: An Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander warned the U.S. Navy to keep its warships at a distance from Revo lutionary Guards speed boats in Gulf waters, a day after the United States designated the Guards as a terrorist organisation.“Mr Trump, tell your warships not to pass near the Revolutionary Guards boats,” ISNA news agency reported a tweet from Mohsen Rezaei as saying. Over the past years there's been a number of intercept incidents in the Persian Gulf carried out by each side none of them escalating to the point of serious exchange of fire.  The last major international incident was the January 2016 crisis wherein two US Navy Riverine Command boats cruising from Kuwait to Bahrain strayed into Iranian territorial waters, resulting in the combined of crew of nine men and one woman being taken into Iranian detention. The crew was released 15 hours later, but to the great embarrassment of Washington, for which four of the sailors were later punished.

US Views Iran’s Qassem Soleimani as “Equivalent” to ISIS Leader --  — During remarks early this week in a Fox News interview following Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) being formally designated by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed that the US will view Iran’s elite force just as it does ISIS. Specifically Pompeo agreed that the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, Maj Gen Qassem Soleimani, is a “terrorist” on the level of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during a Fox News interview on Monday.  Fox’s Bret Baier posed the question to the Secretary of State: The head of the IRGC, this man Qasem Soleimani, is by all accounts a bad character and has led all kinds of attacks. But are you saying that he now is equated to, let’s say, the head of ISIS, al-Baghdadi, in U.S. policy perspective? Responding to whether Suleimani is now “equated” to notorious “caliphate head” Baghdadi, Pompeo affirmed, “Yeah. He is a terrorist.” This introduced the next obvious question which has no doubt been on the minds of Pentagon planners since the designation was announced: will the US military now target Soleimani and other IRGC commanders the way it does ISIS, with airstrikes and targeted assassination and/or invasion of territory held? Baier asked: “So we as a country have a policy to target him or capture him?” Pompeo explained, “Qassem Soleimani has the blood of Americans on his hands, as do the forces he leads,” according to the State Dept. read out of the interview. This is insane. Mike Pompeo equates Iranian IRGC general Qasem Soleimani with the leader of ISIS. Pompeo’s thinking is pure lunacy and propaganda — Rania Khalek (@RaniaKhalek) April 9, 2019  “Each time we find an organization, institution, or an individual that has taken the lives of Americans, it is our responsibility – it’s indeed President Trump’s duty, and we have made tremendous progress in this administration’s first two years – to reduce the risk that any American will be killed by Qasem Soleimani and his merry band of brothers ever again,” Pompeo responded. Whether the Pentagon will actually be given the order to go after Quds force and other IRGC officers is perhaps a different matter, given such action would spark a direct war which would necessarily lead to US invasion and occupation of Tehran. But legally it remains that US forces would be required to go after IRGC members wherever they are encountered in a foreign theater, which means the Persian Gulf and especially the narrow Strait of Hormuz — where IRGC speed boats are known to operate with regularity not far from US Navy ships (currently the US aircraft carrier John C. Stennis is deployed in the gulf) — is now a major flash point where exchange of fire between Iran and the US could erupt at any moment.

Iran Is Preparing To Link Tehran To The Mediterranean Via A New Highway - The Islamic Republic of Iran is looking for new ways to link their capital, Tehran, with Syria's Damascus and Iraq's Baghdad. One of the proposed actions they are taking to make this a reality is the construction of new highways and rail systems that would link Syria with Iran via Iraq.Iran's Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri in statements this week underlined his country’s determination to build new roads and railways in order to link the Persian Gulf states to Syria and the Mediterranean region.“Iran which understands the political and economic conditions and developments believes that the necessary capacities for cooperation in transferring power and electricity, building roads and etc. will be provided and we hope that obstacles will be removed through the presence of the private sector,” Jahangiri said, addressing the joint Iran-Iraq economic-trade forum in Tehran on Sunday.He noted that building the Shalamcheh-Basra railway was one of the agreements made during the recent visit by the Iraqi delegation to Iran.Jahangiri stressed the importance of developing a cross border highway between the two countries in order to boost trade and commerce, while also protecting their interests in the region.“We will connect the Persian Gulf from Iraq to Syria and Mediterranean via railway and road,” Jahangiri said.The Shalamcheh-Basra railway project is said to cost around 2.22 billion rials and once implemented, it will link the Iranian railway to Syria through Iraq. For years since the start of the war in Syria, analysts have speculated what the so-called "Shia land bridge" or Iran-Iraq-Syria corridor to the Mediterranean would look like:

Fresh violence in Libya could provide new shock to oil markets  — A resurgence in fighting around the Libyan capital of Tripoli this week has driven U.S. forces to pull out of the country and is providing a new upside risk to global oil prices, underscoring the OPEC producer's importance to markets and the fragility of its supply. Rebel forces loyal to renegade General Khalifa Hifter, who effectively controls the country's breakaway east, launched a surprise offensive against the home of Libya's UN-recognized government last week in a move that risks plunging the country back into civil war. "The Libyan conflict coming back onto the front of the mind of the marketplace is actually very significant right now," Dave Ernsberger, global head of energy at S&P Global Platts, told CNBC in Dubai on Monday. "We've seen Venezuelan production fall of a cliff, we've seen already inventories against the five-year average move into more bullish levels, so the fact that there might be a lack of Libyan supply to the market is potentially a bit of a shock right now." The looming conflict follows a surge in crude futures in recent months on the back of tightening supply, with global benchmark Brent and U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) both rallying more than 20 percent since the start of 2019. Brent crude stood at $70 a barrel on Monday, with WTI trading at around $63.

Libya crisis- Fighting near Tripoli leaves 21 dead - BBC News- Libya's UN-backed government says 21 people have been killed and 27 wounded in fighting near the capital, Tripoli. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called for an immediate halt to the fighting and called for talks. Forces under Gen Khalifa Haftar have advanced from the east with the aim of taking Tripoli. Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj has accused him of attempting a coup and says his forces will not be allowed to continue. Among the dead was a Red Crescent doctor killed on Saturday. Gen Haftar's forces said they had lost 14 fighters. Earlier the UN appealed for a two-hour truce so casualties and civilians could be evacuated, but fighting continued. And in a statement, Secretary of State Pompeo said the US was "deeply concerned about fighting near Tripoli" and stressed the need for talks. "This unilateral military campaign against Tripoli is endangering civilians and undermining prospects for a better future for all Libyans," the statement said. International powers have begun evacuating personnel from Libya amid the worsening security situation. Libya has been torn by violence and political instability since long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and killed in 2011.

 Libya's GNA forces announce 'counteroffensive' to defend Tripoli - The army behind Libya's UN-backed government has announced a counteroffensive to defend Tripoli, vowing to reclaim all areas seized by forces loyal to renegade General Khalifa Haftar, who have been marching on the outskirts of the capital. Colonel Mohamed Gnounou told reporters in Tripoli on Sunday that the counteroffensive, dubbed Volcano of Anger, was aimed at "purging all Libyan cities of aggressor and illegitimate forces". The announcement came as Haftar's forces said they conducted the first air raid on a Tripoli suburb as part of their aim to overthrow the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) and take control of Tripoli. The alleged attack came after GNA forces launched air raids on Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) around 50km south of Tripoli on Saturday, reportedly killing one person. The health ministry of the UN-backed Libyan government said on Sunday that clashes in the southern part of Tripoli resulted in 11 killed and 23 wounded. Meanwhile, the UN mission in Libya (UNSMIL) made an "urgent appeal" for a two-hour truce in the southern suburbs to evacuate the wounded and civilians caught in the fighting.

Pompeo Urges Libya's Haftar To Halt Advance On Capital, Fearing Bloodbath -- The White House has joined other international voices in urging Benghazi-based renegade General Khalifa Haftar to halt his ongoing assault on the country's capital  this as the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli has already spent days battling Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA), which has included the use of air power.  Late in the day Sunday, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said in a statement, “We have made clear that we oppose the military offensive by Khalifa Haftar’s forces and urge the immediate halt to these military operations against the Libyan capital.” And additionally Pompeo stated, "There is no military solution to the Libya conflict"  an absurd and ironic line for a top US official, given it was the US-NATO led 2011 war on Libya's Gaddafi that plunged the country into years of internecine civil war and violence in the first place. “A political solution is the only way to unify the country and provide a plan for security, stability and prosperity for all Libyans,” Pompeo said further.

Libya on the brink of all-out civil war -- As troops and tanks of the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA) of “Field Marshal” Khalifa Hifter advance on the capital of Tripoli, the internal conflicts that have been ripping the North African country apart are dramatically intensifying.Advancing from its base in the east, the LNA has captured the abandoned international airport south of the capital. On Monday, it carried out bombing raids against the country’s sole functioning airport in Tripoli’s eastern suburbs. The Pentagon responded on Sunday to the threatened siege of the city of 1.2 million people by withdrawing its military personnel by sea. The chief of the US Africa Command (AFRICOM), Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, said that the “security realities on the ground in Libya are growing increasingly complex and unpredictable.” He added that the US military command in Africa would “continue to remain agile in support of existing US strategy.” Whether the withdrawal signals US acquiescence to Hifter’s offensive or the preparations for American airstrikes against his forces remains to be seen.

Libya’s descent into civil war: The bitter fruit of the pseudo-left's pro-imperialism -- The threat of a bloody battle for Tripoli has continued to mount as “Field Marshal” Khalifa Haftar has massed troops and tanks south of the Libyan capital and warplanes belonging to his so-called Libyan National Army have bombed the city’s sole functioning airport, stranding civilians seeking to escape the country.  Partial casualty figures have included 51 dead and over 181 wounded. Thousands have fled their homes to escape the fighting, and there are reports that thousands of refugees and migrants, held under unspeakable conditions in concentration camps run by various rival militias, are frantic over the prospect of becoming helpless victims of a potential massacre. In the midst of the escalation toward full-scale civil war, the United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet warned that any attack on civilians in Libya could amount to war crimes and demanded that all sides “respect international humanitarian law, and to take all possible measures to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including schools, hospitals and prisons.” The UN human rights body’s attitude toward the latest flareup of violence in Libya stands in stark contrast to its response to the one-sided US-NATO war waged in 2011 under the pretext of protecting civilian lives from repression at the hands of the government headed by Col. Muammar Gaddafi. A UN resolution allowing for a no-fly zone was used as the pretext to launch a seven-month-long bombing campaign in support of CIA-backed Islamist militias to destroy Libya’s security forces and vital infrastructure and overthrow its government. This campaign culminated in the carpet bombing of the coastal city of Sirte, a Gaddafi stronghold, and the lynch-mob torture and murder of Gaddafi himself.  The UN human rights advocates held their tongues throughout this campaign of imperialist slaughter, whose victims number in the tens of thousands, far beyond any estimate of the number who lost their lives to the repression of the Gaddafi regime.

Tripoli's only functional airport hit by air raid as clashes rage - Forces under the command of Libya's renegade General Khalifa Haftar have launched an air raid against the only functioning airport in Tripoli as heavy fighting rages for control of the capital.Al Jazeera's Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from Tripoli, said services at the Mitiga airport in the east of the city were temporarily suspended after the attack on Monday."Passengers have been asked to evacuate the Mitiga airport after Haftar's aircraft raided the runway," he said, citing sources at the facility."In the area around the airport, civilians were terrified immediately after this air strike." No casualties were reported in the airport strike.In a statement, Ghassan Salame, the United Nations' envoy to Libya, condemned the LNA's air raid which targeted the only airport in Tripoli that is available for civilian use. "As such, this attack constitutes a serious violation of international humanitarian law which prohibits attacks against civilian infrastructure," he said.

Battle rages for Libya's capital, airport bombed (Reuters) - A warplane attacked Tripoli’s only functioning airport on Monday as eastern forces advancing on the Libyan capital disregarded international appeals for a truce in the latest of a cycle of warfare since Muammar Gaddafi’s fall in 2011. Casualties were mounting in fighting that also threatens to disrupt oil supplies, fuel migration to Europe and wreck U.N. plans for an election to end rivalries between parallel administrations in the country’s east and west. The eastern Libyan National Army (LNA) forces of Khalifa Haftar - a former general in Gaddafi’s army - said 19 of its soldiers died in recent days as they closed in on the internationally recognized government in Tripoli. A spokesman for the Tripoli-based Health Ministry said fighting in the south of the capital had killed at least 25 people, including fighters and civilians, and wounded 80. Mitiga airport, in an eastern suburb, was bombed and closed, authorities said. The U.N. envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame, condemned the air strike as a “a serious violation of humanitarian law”. A spokesman for the LNA confirmed the strike, saying his force had not targeted civilian planes, only a MiG parked at Mitiga. The closure left Misrata airport, 200 km (125 miles) to the east down the coast, as the closest option for Tripoli residents. Haftar’s LNA, which backs the eastern administration in Benghazi, took the oil-rich south of Libya earlier this year before advancing fast through largely unpopulated desert regions toward Tripoli. Seizing the capital, however, is a much bigger challenge. The LNA has conducted air strikes on the south of the city as it seeks to advance along a road from a disused former international airport. 

 How Libya's Haftar blindsided world powers with advance on Tripoli (Reuters) - Western diplomats sat down for three hours with Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar in his eastern stronghold last month to try to dissuade him from launching an offensive against the internationally recognized government in Tripoli. They urged him not to plunge the country into a civil war and told him he could become a successful civilian leader if he committed himself to pursuing a political settlement, according to two sources with knowledge of the meeting outside Benghazi. But Haftar, a military strongman who critics describe as the new Muammar Gaddafi, paid them little heed, said the sources who spoke on condition the ambassadors were not identified. He said he was prepared to negotiate with the prime minister, but if no power-sharing deal was reached, he could invade the capital. Two weeks later, on April 4, he sent troops from his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) streaming towards Tripoli - just at a time when U.N Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was in the city to prepare for a national reconciliation conference this month which Guterres’ aides thought Haftar supported. For world powers including France, Italy and Britain, the general’s military campaign, the biggest in Libya since the 2011 uprising that deposed Gaddafi, represented a major setback. They had tried for years to co-opt Haftar, 75, into a political settlement that would stabilize the major oil and gas producer after almost a decade of conflict that had acted as a breeding ground for Islamist militancy. Even the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, which have backed Haftar and see him as a bulwark against Islamists in north Africa, appear to have been surprised by his rapid advance. A French diplomatic source said Paris, which has also aided the general, had no prior warning of the offensive. The diplomats’ calls for military restraint in the meeting last month had echoed those from other Western and U.N. envoys who had traveled to Haftar’s base outside the city of Benghazi in the preceding weeks, four separate diplomatic sources said. In a sign of how far the situation in Libya - and Haftar - was beyond their control, U.N. and Western envoys in daily contact with his camp about the conference had no idea he was about to launch the offensive, the four diplomatic sources said. Some even thought the general was bluffing. 

Saudi Arabia Bankrolling Haftar's Bid To Seize All Of Libya - “Haftar would not be a player today without the foreign support he has received,” a Libyan affairs expert told The Wall Street Journal in a new lengthy profile of the Benghazi-based General Khalifa Haftar, whose Libyan National Army (LNA) is advancing this week on Tripoli.  As Haftar consolidated power over much of the country's war ravaged east, also making huge gains in the past year over the south, he's all along enjoyed the political backing of an unlikely assortment of powerful countries that include the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, France, and Russia. But the new WSJ report reveals his latest major external backer with endlessly deep pockets:Days before Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive to seize the capital and attempt to unite the divided country under his rule, Saudi Arabia promised tens of millions of dollars to help pay for the operation, according to senior advisers to the Saudi government. Citing senior Saudi officials, the report reveals further the offer came during a recent visit to Saudi Arabia, as part of a broader trip which took Haftar to European capitals where the perception was that the renegade general now militarily challenging the UN-backed Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) was crucial to negotiating a lasting power sharing settlement between the eastern and western halves of the country. The diplomatic meetings bolstered his status and resolve to take the whole country, even as lately the US and EU have vehemently called on him to halt the LNA's military advance, which lately included airstrikes on suburbs of Tripoli.  But apparently, the Saudis and possibly other backers are actually funding the assault on Tripoli, and further securing weaponry. The WSJ continues:Mr. Haftar accepted the recent Saudi offer of funds, according to the senior Saudi advisers, who said the money was intended for buying the loyalty of tribal leaders, recruiting and paying fighters, and other military purposes.“We were quite generous,” one of the advisers said.

Israel PM vows to annex West Bank settlements if re-elected - Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank if he is re-elected.Israelis go to the polls on Tuesday and Mr Netanyahu is competing for votes with right-wing parties who support annexing part of the West Bank. The settlements are illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.Last month the US recognised the occupied Golan Heights, seized from Syria in 1967, as Israeli territory. Israel has settled about 400,000 Jews in West Bank settlements, with another 200,000 living in East Jerusalem. There are about 2.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank.Palestinians want to establish a state in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.What happens to the settlements is one of the most contentious issues between Israel and the Palestinians - Palestinians say the presence of settlements makes a future independent state impossible.Israel says the Palestinians are using the issue of settlements as a pretext to avoid direct peace talks. It says settlements are not a genuine obstacle to peace and are negotiable.

Turkey says ‘irresponsible’ Netanyahu cannot change West Bank status (Reuters) - Turkey on Sunday criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “irresponsible” for saying he would annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank if he wins Tuesday’s election.Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the West Bank, which Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war, was Palestinian territory and Israel’s occupation violated international law.“Prime Minister Netanyahu’s irresponsible statement to seek votes just before the Israeli general elections cannot and will not change this fact,” Cavusoglu tweeted.Netanyahu, asked why he had not declared Israeli sovereignty over large West Bank settlements as Israel has already done in the occupied Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, said he was already discussing the move. “I am going to extend (Israeli) sovereignty and I don’t distinguish between settlement blocs and the isolated settlements,” he told Israel’s Channel 12 News on Saturday.Palestinian leaders reacted angrily, blaming what they said was a failure by world powers to stand up for international law.Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman echoed those charges on Sunday. “Will Western democracies react or will they keep appeasing? Shame on them all!” Ibrahim Kalin tweeted. The Palestinians and many countries deem settlements to be illegal under the Geneva conventions that bar settling on land captured in war. Israel disputes this, citing security needs and biblical, historical and political connections to the land.

Netanyahu Rules Out Palestinian State, Says He’ll Immediately Annex West Bank — Looking to continue his bid to court right-wing voters on the eve of the election, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took extra steps to announce that not only will the Palestinians never have their own state, but that he, assuming he is reelected, will immediately start annexing the occupied West Bank into Israel, starting with settlements. Netanyahu ruled out ever evacuating any “community” built in occupied territory, and insisted that the realization of a Palestinian state would necessarily “endanger our existence.” He took credit for the last eight years of the Palestinians not getting a state, saying no one had ever had to withstand such pressure.Whether this is just usual pre-election bluster or a statement of policy is unclear. Netanyahu claimed to have already informed Trump of his intentions, saying that he would prefer to do the annexations gradually, with US support, but would do it either way. With Trump having just endorsed the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, it will doubtless be seen internationally that any further Israeli land grabs are at least somewhat Trump’s fault. Trump has in the past suggested he wasn’t particularly concerned if the Middle East peace process included a Palestinian state or not, and Israel may well be taking him up on that.

Arab League Calls for ‘International Response’ to Netanyahu’s West Bank Remarks— The Arab League (AL) yesterday called for “a decisive international response” to the recent statements made by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on annexing the occupied Palestinian West Bank. The league’s Assistant Secretary-General for the Occupied Palestinian and Arab Lands, Saeed Abu Ali, said that that Netanyahu’s remarks would lead “dangerous repercussions,” adding that that the international response must be “derived from international law.” “The Israeli occupation has always aimed for continuing the construction of new illegal neighborhoods and settlement units in East Jerusalem,” Abu Ali explained, pointing out that Israel hoped to house “more than one million settlers in the West Bank alone.” Abu Ali urged the international community to “immediately announce its stance” on the Israeli remarks. He also demanded the International Criminal Court open an “immediate official investigation” into what he described as “the ongoing settlement crimes in the Palestinian territories.” “Netanyahu is using the settlement file as a card to guarantee the Israeli right-wing’s loyalty in his election campaign,” the Arab official noted. On Saturday, Netanyahu told the Israeli Channel 12 that he would annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank if he “wins another term in office”, a move that had enraged the Arab and international governments. Later on the day, the chief Palestinian negotiator and a close aide to the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Saeb Erekat, said Israel would “continue to brazenly violate international law for as long as the international community will continue to reward it with impunity.” Hamas official, Sami Abu Zuhri, urged the Palestinian Authority to halt its security cooperation with Israel in the occupied West Bank, stressing that “Netanyahu’s dreams of annexing the West Bank” would never be achieved.

Secret Document Reveals Plans For Civil War In Lebanon, Israeli False Flags, & Invasion - During his visit with US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, Lebanese President Michael Aoun reportedly received a US-Israeli document detailing plans for creating a civil war in Lebanon with covert false flag operations and possible Israeli invasion. Although the source of the document is Israeli and created in partnership with Washington, no one knows who presented it to Aoun. The Lebanese TV station, Al-Jadeed, initially reported the document on Lebanese TV and a video on its website. Geopolitics Alert translated the report for this article. The document details American plans to splinter the Lebanese Internal Security Forces, a domestic institution separate from the Lebanese Army. The plans involve Washington investing 200 million dollars into the Internal Security Forces (ISF) under the guise of keeping the peace but with the covert goal of creating sectarian conflict against Hezbollah with 2.5 million specifically dedicated to this purpose. The document states the ultimate goal is to destabilize the country by creating a civil war in Lebanon which will “help Israel on the international scene.” The United States and Israel plan to accomplish this by supporting “democratic forces,” sounding remarkably similar to the same strategy used in Syria, Libya, Venezuela, and elsewhere. According to the document, although “full load of our firepower will be unleashed,” they somehow do not anticipate any casualties. They do, however, expect the civil war to “trigger requests” for intervention from the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) which Israel must only agree to after extreme reluctance. The document says Israel will also play an important role by creating “covert false flag operations” as the conflict progresses. Perhaps these operations would include chemical attacks similar to the chemical attacks on civilians in Syria or even direct attacks on Lebanese or Israeli civilians to blame on Hezbollah and justify international intervention.. The document admits that the United States and Israel will need an unprecedented amount of credibility to pull this off and also admits that the Lebanese Army may be an obstacle, likely due to the Army’s diverse makeup. As a legitimate political party with members throughout all aspects of Lebanese society, Hezbollah already has members and allies throughout the ISF as well as the Army.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz both declare Israeli election victory – video - Benjamin Netanyahu was on track on Wednesday morning to become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, despite his Likud party winning the same number of seats as the party of his main rival. With 97% of votes counted, both Likud and the Blue and White party, led by the former army general Benny Gantz, had won 35 seats in the 120-seat parliament, the Knesset. However, results showed Netanyahu would be in a much better position to form a majority governing coalition made up of nationalist, far-right and religious allies. Gantz had fewer potential factions to partner with. Hours before it was clear what the result would be, both Netanyahu and Gantz declared victory to their supporters, buoyed by exit polls showing they had strong figures

Netanyahu prepares to form fourth consecutive government - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to form his fourth consecutive Likud-led coalition government after an election that saw a spectacular collapse of Labor, the party that governed Israel for the first 30 years of its existence. Netanyahu will head a coalition of ultra-orthodox religious and right-wing parties as well as an openly fascistic organization, all of which have pledged to introduce legislation giving him immunity from prosecution for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He called early elections to face down Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit over his expected corruption indictment for allegedly granting regulatory concessions to businessmen in return for lavish gifts and favourable news coverage. In an unexpectedly close race, portrayed as a referendum on Netanyahu, the incumbent won the same number of seats, 35, in the 120-seat parliament, the Knesset, as the Blue and White electoral alliance of his main rival, former Army Chief of Staff General Benny Gantz. He was able to emerge with a clear road to a new term in office because his allies in the far-right and religious parties won a further 30 seats.Gantz could at most muster only an additional 20 supporters for his nominally “centre-left” government--a misnomer, as he was offering in opposition to Netanyahu’s fascistic orientation only redoubled militarism. He conceded defeat on Wednesday, the day after the election, when it became clear that Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc had a 10-seat lead. President Reuven Rivlin will call on Netanyahu to form a government once the 300,000 double-sealed votes by soldiers, prisoners and overseas Israelis, equivalent to eight Knesset seats, have been counted. Since at least two parties are close to the threshold of 3.25 percent of the vote, the distribution of seats among the various parties may change slightly when the final count is announced on April 17.Included in Netanyahu’s bloc are the religious parties, Shas and United Torah, which increased their seats from 13 to 16, in line with the increase in the religious population; Kulanu, a split-off from Likud, whose seats have fallen from 10 to four; and the far-right Rightist Union, with five seats.

Netanyahu reigns supreme, and the left is crushed - Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party emerged from Tuesday’s Israeli election tied with the Blue and White party, led by Benny Gantz and other high-powered generals. Although each party has 35 seats in the 120-seat parliament, Netanyahu is now firmly in the driving seat. The small far-right and religious extremist parties that were needed to make up a parliamentary majority lost no time in declaring their support for Netanyahu. That will allow him to establish his fourth consecutive government. Netanyahu now enjoys the luxury of choosing between a narrow government of these far-right parties, and a right-wing national unity government embracing Gantz. The latter option would potentially command four-fifths of the seats in the Israeli Knesset. Whatever his decision, Netanyahu is now set this summer to become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, beating the record set by Israel’s founding father, David Ben Gurion. The only obstacle on the horizon – a set of corruption indictments against Netanyahu, announced by the attorney-general during the campaign – is certain to be swept away once Netanyahu has been formally installed as head of the next government by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. Netanyahu’s coalition partners are already insisting on the passing of special “immunity” legislation – which would make it impossible to indict a sitting prime minister – as a condition for their support. Bezalel Smotrich, of the far-right Union of Rightwing Parties, said such a law would “build trust among coalition members that the next government can rule for a full term”. They understand that Netanyahu, given his track record, is their best meal ticket to a long-term place in government. And Netanyahu’s own voters have demonstrated that they care not a whit whether he is corrupt, as long as he continues to promote a Jewish supremacist agenda. 

Palestinians- Israelis voted to maintain status quo, apartheid – Israel Palestinian officials in Ramallah said on Wednesday that they were not surprised by the results of the election in Israel and expressed concern over the rise of the right-wing bloc. “Israelis have voted to maintain the status quo, as far as the occupation of Palestine,” said PLO secretary-general Saeb Erekat. “They voted for apartheid and to an endless occupation. Exit polls show that only 18 members of the 120 seats in the Knesset support two states on the 1967 borders.” PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said that Israelis have voted for candidates “who are unequivocally committed to entrenching the status quo of oppression, occupation, annexation and dispossession in Palestine and escalating the assault on Palestinian national and human rights.” The Israelis, she added, have “chosen an overwhelmingly right-wing, Xenophobic and anti-Palestinian parliament to represent them. Israelis chose to entrench and expand apartheid.” Ashrawi said that the Palestinians will “overcome this dark and highly dangerous chapter and remain deeply rooted in our homeland.” Another senior PLO official, Ahmed Majdalni, expressed deep concern over the fate of Arab Israelis in the aftermath of the results of the election. The Arab Israelis, he said, faced a “fierce campaign of racism and fascism” during the election campaign.” Bassam al-Salhi, general-secretary of the Palestinian People’s Party (formerly the Palestinian Communist Party) said that Netanyahu’s victory “was the result of growing extremism, racism and corruption” in Israel. He called on Palestinians in the West Bank to step up “popular resistance” against Israel. He also urged the Palestinian Authority to abandon all agreements signed with Israel.

No more excuses – Israeli voters have chosen a country that will mirror the brutal regimes of its Arab neighbours So now I guess we’ve all run out of excuses. Bibi Netanyahu’s Israel will not be a new and more right-wing Israel. It’s been that for a long time. It’s the propaganda that’s going to fall to bits. The only democracy in the Middle East? Give me a break. I think Israel now looks much more like its Arab neighbours. It dominates its own Arab minority, and its new prime minister has promised to annex much of the territory legally belonging to their fellow Palestinian Arabs – the very colonies built on lands which have already been stolen for the majority Jewish population in Israel. Including Jerusalem, that comes to around 5,700 square kilometres, just a third the size of Kuwait – for which we all went to war when Saddam Hussein annexed the emirate in 1990. And that’s what Israel is beginning to resemble: just another Middle East nation. It bombards and threatens its neighbours, jails (Palestinian) political prisoners on spurious grounds and rules well over two million Arab Palestinians with killer police squads, extrajudicial executions, torture and paid spies. It claims it doesn’t even occupy these people’s homes and lands. You could hear this in almost any Arab country. Go to Riyadh, Damascus, Cairo, Iraq (under Saddam). “With our blood and souls, we sacrifice ourselves to you,” the Arabs shout. Now that the Israelis have voted Netanyahu and his outrageous party allies back into power, they too have sacrificed their souls to Bibi. Not, maybe, their blood – because even Bibi knows that long and painful wars are not what Israelis have voted for. Short and painless ones for Israel are OK – it is the Arabs who must bear the pain.

Netanyahu, Trump and Putin: A love story -  Al Jazeera - Call him a crook, call him a warmonger, but who other than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could boast two successful summits with both US and Russian presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, all within two weeks of the Israeli elections? His immediate motives are clear, but there is something beyond his obviously shrewd use of diplomacy for electoral gain. There are greater strategic implications of such high-powered statesmanship. So how did a politically challenged, corruption-ridden leader of a tiny state get the world superpowers to do his bidding and on his schedule? The answer lies in a three-way bromance that has been blossoming for some time, and could potentially shape the Middle East for years to come.

 Putin hosts Turkey's leader to discuss weapons deal, Syria - (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted his Turkish counterpart in Moscow on Monday, discussing how to coordinate their next moves in Syria and how to deepen business ties, including the sale of advanced Russian missiles to Turkey that has riled the United States. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Russia, his third this year, underlined the increasingly close cooperation between the two countries and Turkey’s readiness to defy the U.S. Last week, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence warned Turkey that it was risking its NATO membership and its participation in the F-35 fighter program by failing to heed Washington’s demand to cancel the contract with Russia for the S-400 air defense missile systems. After Monday’s talks, Erdogan said that Turkey considers the Russian deal done and won’t submit to pressure. “On the issue of the S-400s, we have determined our road map, we have taken steps,” Erdogan said. “Those who tell us to give up our plans, those who make recommendations do not know us. If we have made a contract, if we have reached a deal, then this business is finished. This is our sovereign right, this is our decision.” Putin described the S-400 contract as a top priority in cooperation between the two countries, adding that other weapons deals are in the making. “We may reach agreements on the joint development and production of high-tech weapons,” he said. Turkey’s purchase of the Russian missiles marked the first such contract for a NATO member. Turkey has ignored U.S. demands to abandon the agreement, and Erdogan said Friday that deliveries of the S-400s will begin in July. The Turkish leader noted that Washington had offered Ankara the U.S.-made Patriot air defense system, but said the U.S. offer isn’t as favorable as Russia’s. The U.S. and other NATO allies say the S-400s aren’t compatible with the alliance’s weapons systems. Washington has voiced concerns that their use by Turkey could compromise security of the state-of-the art U.S. F-35 fighter jets that Turkey stands to receive.

 Shell enters China's shale oil scene with joint study with Sinopec (Reuters) - Royal Dutch Shell has entered China’s shale oil sector, signing an agreement with state-owned Sinopec to study an East China block, part of the nation’s early efforts to unlock the potentially massive unconventional resource. China is already in the initial stages of developing its vast shale gas resources, with production last year making up just 6 percent of total gas output after more than a decade of work. China’s shale oil is at an even more basic phase due to challenging geology and hefty development costs, experts said. Shale oil makes up less than 1 percent of China’s crude output after several years of development, according to Angus Rodger, research director of Asia-Pacific upstream at Wood Mackenzie. “China’s shale oil has very low permeability, which means very low per well output that makes the economics hard to work,” said an oil and gas official with China’s Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR). The official declined to be named because he’s not authorized to speak with the press. Sinopec said on Monday it had agreed with Shell to study the Dongying trough of Shengli in China’s eastern province of Shandong, without giving further details. Shell confirmed the joint study agreement, but did not offer further comment. That makes Shell one of the few international oil and gas explorers venturing into China’s shale oil sector, and follows the Anglo-Dutch company’s exit from shale gas drilling in Sichuan province in the southwest after spending at least $1 billion and getting unsatisfactory results. Unlike shale gas resources, which are highly concentrated in Sichuan, most of China’s shale oil is trapped in eastern regions such as the Songliao and Bohai Rim basins. North China’s Ordos and Junggar basins are also believed to hold large shale oil resources, the experts said. 

China-South Sudan Oil Deal Raises Red Flags - China has long been criticized for imposing massive debt on developing countries as well as securing their natural resources to help them build up infrastructure with funding by Beijing, something about which the U.S. has been especially vocal, particularly in Africa and South Asia. Now, that criticism will likely be taken to a new level. On Friday, South Sudan’s information minister Michael Makuei Lueth told reporters in Juba, the capital, that the country will provide 30,000 barrels of oil per day to state-owned lender Export-Import Bank of China to help fund South Sudan’s largest infrastructure project, which is being funded by Beijing. The amount has tripled from the 10,000 barrels of oil per day it provided to China in February. South Sudan, which produces around 170,000 barrels of oil per day, gained its independence from Sudan in 2011 after years of Civil War which saw China supply Sudan with arms and financing in-spite of allegations of human rights abuses. Since South Sudan gained independence it has also been embroiled in civil war as troops and militias backing President Salva Kiir square off against former Vice President Riek Machar.  A peace deal was signed in 2018 to end the war, but the situation still simmers, with atrocities being committed by both sides, according torecent media reports. The UN Human Rights Council released a report in February describing what it believes is actually funding the war - the country's rich oil industry. The UN report added that “even before the country’s independence, there were concerns about the appropriation of natural resources, particularly oil, and the significant role this has played in the conflict. The fighting continues in the oil-producing areas of the country, which has become increasingly militarized by Government forces.”

Sudan Army Detains President Bashir, Declares State of Emergency -  — The Sudanese Army has detained long-term dictator President Omar Al-Bashir and declared a three month state of emergency in an effort to bring calm to the country, the minister of defence said in a statement.After four months of protests which have seen thousands come out on to the streets calling for better living conditions and an end to Al-Bashir’s rule, the army has taken action and removed the former president from power, arresting him and a number of his officials today.Sudanese Defence Minister Awad Ibn Auf said in a hotly anticipated press statement that the army was “sorry for the loss of life amongst civilians” during the protests calling for Al-Bashir’s removal; which government figure place at 32. Amnesty International, however, puts the number at 52. The army will now form a caretaker government which will preside over the country for two years, Ibn Auf added. All government departments have now been dissolved however the courts will continue to operate as normal, he explained.All political prisoners are “to be release from prison immediately”, Ibn Auf said. While all bridges and airports will remain closed for the near future to ensure the country’s safety and so no one escapes capture. Finally, Ibn Auf reassured all neighbouring states that the caretaker government aims to maintain relations with all its neighbours and continue the policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of others.

Sudan's Bashir ousted by military; protesters demand civilian government (Reuters) - President Omar al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan in autocratic style for 30 years, was overthrown and arrested in a coup by the armed forces on Thursday, but protesters took to the streets demanding the military hand over power to civilians. The ouster of Bashir, 75, followed months of demonstrations against his rule. In an address on state television, Defence Minister Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf, announced a two-year period of military rule to be followed by presidential elections. He said Bashir was being detained in a “safe place” and a military council would now run the country. He did not say who would head it. Ibn Auf announced a state of emergency, a nationwide ceasefire and the suspension of the constitution. Seated on a gold-upholstered armchair, he said Sudan’s airspace would be closed for 24 hours and border crossings shut until further notice. The main organizer of protests against Bashir, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), rejected the minister’s plans. It called on protesters to maintain a sit-in outside the defense ministry that began on Saturday. Shortly afterwards, thousands of demonstrators packed the streets of central Khartoum, their mood turning from jubilation at Bashir’s expected departure to anger at the announcement of a military-led transition, a Reuters witness said. “Fall, again!” many chanted, adapting an earlier anti-Bashir slogan of “Fall, that’s all!”. Sudanese sources told Reuters that Bashir was at the presidential residence under “heavy guard”. A son of Sadiq al-Mahdi, the head of the main opposition Umma Party, told al-Hadath TV that Bashir was being held with “a number of leaders of the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood group”.

China’s Special Forces To Station In Zimbabwe, Build Secret Underground Base To Protect Natural Resource Claims -- Spotlight Zimbabwe has reported that China is preparing to station elite special forces in Zimbabwe, as Beijing increases military cooperation with Harare, amid concerns that the Asian powerhouse is set to construct a secret underground military base in the country.  The new report comes one year after Spotlight Zimbabwe revealed that China installed next-generation surface-to-air missiles (SAM) in the country, the same ones that are deployed to the South China Sea on Woody Island. China’s new military base is set to protect its large diamond claims and gold mines across the country, where some of its SAM launchers are already located. According to a former minister of ex-leader President Robert Mugabe’s administration, China has been planning on sending their special forces to the country since 2014 "to offer technical assistance and support" to the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA). However, Mugabe called off the plan several years ago, after accusing the Chinese of corruption, and the plunder of natural resources in Marange. “They (China) have been itching to set a permanent military presence in this country, to protect their vast economic interests here but Mugabe was resisting the overtures,” said the former cabinet minister. “Although the cover argument was around offering technical assistance and support to our armed forces, it later became clear that Mnangagwa had his own agreement and arrangements with China. This infuriated Mugabe, and it was also during the same period Mnangagwa had first traveled to China as vice president, holding high-level meetings which his boss had not fully been briefed on. The incident increased Mugabe’s political mistrust for Mnangagwa, whom he suspected was presenting himself to President Xi Jinping, as the best political actor to secure China’s investments in Zimbabwe after he steps down. The rest is history. Mnangagwa has since invited China back to mine diamonds in Marange, and their special force has received the greenlight from vice president Rtd General, Constatino Chiwenga, to find a station in the country. Now there is every reason to believe that Mugabe’s November 2017 ouster, could have been a result of China viewing his stay in power as a threat to their economic investments, especially after having stripped them of diamond mining rights.”

Chinese Car Sales Thrashed In March As Unprecedented Collapse Slump Continues -  Car sales in China, the world's largest vehicle market, continue to tumble, exposing an increasingly ugly picture for the global automotive market. The data marks a dismal and protracted reversal in a market that had done nothing but grow for decades, according to Bloomberg. In March, retail sales of sedans, SUVs, minivans and multipurpose vehicles dropped 12% to 1.78 million units, according to the China Passenger Car Association. This is after an 18.5% drop in February and a 4% drop in January. The country's slowing economy and continued trade tensions with the United States are weighing on consumer sentiment among its 1.4 billion people. Additionally, changes in tax policies and import tariffs have also acted as a headwind for car demand. Cars were the only consumer product category in China that shrank the first two months of 2019.Cui Dongshu, secretary general of the CPCA, is among those calling for more government intervention to spur buying: “There are only 200 million private vehicles in China, leaving huge room for growth. Policies should be put in place to spur vehicle consumption in 2019.” Because as we all know, the government manipulating the market to create demand where there isn't any could never backfire, right?  Even better, despite the horrifying data, Cui still thinks that car sales "may recover in April", helped by the country's planned tax reductions. He stopped short of predicting sales gains, but PCA raised its forecast for 2019 sales of new energy vehicles - battery, hybrid and fuel cell cars - to 1.7 million from 1.6 million. With China out of the picture, global automakers like Toyota and Ford are left with few places to go for growth in sales. Markets in Europe and North America continue to slow alongside of China as the availability of car sharing services makes buying less necessary. Japan is also slowing down, while gains in smaller markets are unable to offset growth in larger markets.

China says it wants to eliminate bitcoin mining - China’s state planner wants to ban bitcoin mining, according to a draft list of industrial activities the agency is seeking to stop in a sign of growing government pressure on the cryptocurrency sector. China is the world’s largest market for computer hardware designed to mine bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, even though such activities previously fell under a regulatory grey area. The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said on Monday it was seeking public opinions on a revised list of industries it wants to encourage, restrict or eliminate. The list was first published in 2011. The draft for a revised list added cryptocurrency mining, including that of bitcoin, to over 450 activities the NDRC said should be phased out as they did not adhere to relevant laws and regulations, were unsafe, wasted resources or polluted the environment. It did not stipulate a target date or plan for how to eliminate bitcoin mining, meaning that such activities should be phased out immediately, the document said. The public has until May 7 to comment on the draft. State-owned newspaper Securities Times said on Tuesday that the draft list “distinctly reflects the attitude of the country’s industrial policy” towards the cryptocurrency industry..

Japan confirms F-35A fighter jet crashed; remaining aircraft still grounded — The Japan Air Self-Defense Force confirmed Wednesday morning local time that a missing F-35A fighter jet has crashed, pointing to debris sighted and recovered Tuesday night by ships and helicopters searching for the aircraft. The pilot remains missing. U.S. military assets have also joined the search, including a U.S. Navy Boeing P-8A Poseidon multimission aircraft on temporary duty in Japan.  The crashed aircraft, which the JASDF identified as serial number 79-8705, was the first of 13 Japanese F-35As assembled so far by Mitsubishi’s final assembly and check out facility in Nagoya. In addition to the 12 JASDF F-35As affected by a temporary Japanese grounding order, the 14th aircraft assembled, which is still at Nagoya and undergoing pre-delivery flight tests, has also been grounded.Local media reported Tuesday that contact with the Lockheed Martin-made stealth fighter was lost just before 7:30 p.m. local time, with the aircraft’s last reported location identified over the Pacific Ocean about miles 85 miles east of Misawa city in Aomori prefecture, in the northern part of Japan’s main island of Honshu.Japan’s national public broadcaster, NHK, quoting Japan Air Self-Defense Force officials, reported that the missing F-35A was one of four JASDF F-35As that had taken off from nearby Misawa Air Base for a training mission at 7:00 p.m. local time. Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force aircraft and vessels quickly kicked off a search mission, with Japan’s Coast Guard sending two vessels soon after. Other JASDF aircraft, most likely search-and-rescue U-125A jets and UH-60J Black Hawk helicopters that are deployed throughout Japanese air bases, also reportedly joined the search efforts.

'Prepare For Suicide Missions'- Duterte Warns China Not To Invade Island In Philippines -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has warned China that his soldiers occupying the island of Thitu in the South China Sea, which is currently surrounded by some 275 Chinese fishing militia and Coast Guard vessels.  Since January, at least 275 Chinese boats functioning as part of a maritime militia have gathered for varying lengths of time near Thitu Island, according to the Philippines’ military. Their tactics raise concerns about their “role in support of coercive objectives,” the country’s foreign ministry said Thursday. –WSJ Laying down his 'kamikaze' threat, Duterte told Beijing during a speech to public officials: "Let us be friends, but do not touch Pag-asa Island and the rest," adding "I will not plead or beg, but I am just telling you that lay off the Pag-asa because I have soldiers there. If you touch that, that’s a different story. I can tell my soldiers ‘prepare for suicide missions’"  Thitu has a small military garrison and a fishing village for some 100 civilians, according to The coral outcrop sits some 500km from Palawan, the closest mainland island of the Philippines.Six governments claim territories in the South China Sea.The dispute has flared ever since Beijing began aggressively building remote reefs into artificial islands, and placing extensive fortifications upon them."It has been observed that Chinese vessels have been present in large numbers and for sustained and recurring periods — what is commonly referred to as ‘swarming’ tactics — raising questions about their intent as well as concerns over their role in support of coercive objectives," said the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in a statement.  China has long used its fishing fleet for what are known as "gray zone" tactics to pressure countries into relenting to its territorial claims of sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea. In a statement to the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, China said that it has sovereignty over Thitu Island - which Beijing calls Zhongye Island.  According to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) housed at Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, a handful of Chinese vessels began operating in that area since at least July 2018 - and grew in size beginning in December to as high as 95 in one day. AMTI says that the timing of the Chinese boats' arrival appears to coincide with construction activities on the island.  Following a statement last week by the DFA that the Chinese presence was "illegal" and a "clear violation of Philippine sovereignty," Duterte reminded Beijing that while the two countries have grown closer under his leadership - if they invade or threaten the island, "things would be different."

View: Nuclear bunker in Delhi, zeitgeist of achhe din - When the cover page of Delhi Times is, yet again, an ad for a residential complex of 4-5 bedroom apartments fitted with the usual amenities, some not-so-common facilities and a soaring, glitzy tower to house them in, Times employees nod in approval: if ad revenues are good, increments should not be stingy. But then you notice an extra-ordinary feature of this housing project: it offers a nuclear bunker. This, my friend, is what Germans mean by zeitgeist, the spirit of the times.  We in Delhi live expecting a nuclear attack the way people in Mumbai expect to be stuck in traffic or the residents of Chennai are resigned to giant cut-outs blotting the skyline.  The neurosis is already in place, to make a nuclear bunker look like not just a good idea but something we just cannot do without. A climate of fear, the constant dread of an enemy poised to strike anytime anywhere, with the help of contingents of anti-national traitors standing ready to do their bit to break up the motherland, the ever looming presence of the soldier in the public discourse, with retired generals pulverising the enemy every minute of evening prime-time television, the army chief speaking like a politician (meaning, of course, with polished grace, total logic and relying on hard facts authenticated on Whatsapp), a dominant narrative in which anyone who dares to differ with the dominant narrative is automatically a traitor, deserving to be charged with sedition and thrashed in the courtroom, a high-priest of the gospel of the besieged and media outlets eager to spread the grim word — what more could makers of nuclear bunkers ask for?  The sheer banality of offering a nuclear bunker along with indoor squash courts and poolside party spaces serves an important purpose: it is part of normalising the neurosis. Have the barista pour you a flat white and, while sipping it, if the sirens go off, announcing an air attack, gulp down anti-national thoughts about why our brave airmen and fancy missile interceptors failed to fend off the menace whizzing towards you, and duck into the nuclear bunker. Come out once the attack is over, go back and finish your coffee and reach for that squash racquet. Did someone mutter something about nuclear winter, electromagnetic storms and radiation that Geiger cannot count? What you don’t know won’t hurt you, because you would be beyond this-worldly sensation.

3 Massacres in 12 Days Suspected in Brazilian Amazon --Violence in the Brazilian countryside is on the rise. In the last two weeks, Amazonia has seen an alarming increase in targeted killings, with three massacres and at least nine deaths.  The most recent killings took place on April 3 in a landless peasant workers' camp near the hamlet of Vila de Mocotó in the Altamira municipal district, in southwest Pará state, near the Belo Monte mega-dam. This is not far from Anapu, where Sister Dorothy Stang, an American nun who worked with Amazon landless peasant communities, was murdered in 2005.  The squatters were campaigning for the area to be turned into an officially authorized agrarian land reform settlement. According to unconfirmed reports, military police were attempting to evict the settlers at the behest of a man claiming to own the land. The police were reportedly acting without a judicial order. The action ended with one confirmed death, a member of the military police, Valdenilson Rodrigues da Silva. Some witnesses say there were three other victims, all landless workers. These killings occurred just four days after four people are believed to have been killed in Seringal São Domingos, in Ponta do Abunã, a remote area in the Lábrea municipal district near the intersection of the borders of the states of Acre, Amazonas and Rondônia, about 150 kilometers (approximately 93 miles) upstream from the Jirau hydroelectric dam. Landless movement squatters, likely traumatized by the violence, remain too afraid to speak openly, but it is believed that many other people remain missing. According to information provided by the Military Police, four hooded and armed men arrived in Seringal São Domingos and told the families living there they must leave their homes. The squatters' leader, 53-year-old Nemis Machado de Oliveira, was reportedly shot dead. The gunmen then expelled the other squatters by firing shots into the air and burning their homes. These two cases, which may upon investigation turn up a larger number of victims than initially confirmed, both came on the heels of another massacre. On 22 March, Dilma Ferreira Silva, a socio-environmental activist leader with the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB), her husband and a friend, were killedby hooded motorcyclists in the Baião municipal district about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the Tucuruí dam in Pará state. They were assassinated inside the family home; Dilma had her throat slit after watching her husband and friend killed. Two days later three burnt bodies were found on a cattle ranch just 14 kilometers (approximately 9 miles) from the Salvador Allende settlement where Dilma and the other two victims lived. The three new victims were identified as Marlete da Silva Oliveira and Raimundo de Jesus Ferreira, who looked after the ranch, and Venilson da Silva Santos, who worked there as a tractor driver.

Exclusive- Venezuela removes eight tonnes of gold from central bank – sources (Reuters) - Venezuela removed eight tonnes of gold from the central bank’s vaults last week, and the cash-strapped socialist state is expected to sell the bullion abroad as it seeks to raise hard currency in the face of U.S. sanctions, a lawmaker and one government source said. FILE PHOTO: People walk outside of the Venezuela's Central Bank in Caracas, Venezuela, January 31, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello/File Photo With sanctions imposed by Washington choking off revenues from exports by state oil company PDVSA, President Nicolas Maduro’s increasingly isolated administration has turned to sales of Venezuela’s substantial gold reserves as one of the only sources of foreign currency. The government source said the central bank’s reserves had fallen by 30 tonnes since the start of the year before U.S. President Donald Trump tightened sanctions, leaving the bank with around 100 tonnes in its vaults, worth more than $4 billion. At that rate of decline, the central bank’s reserves would nearly disappear by the end of the year, leaving Maduro’s government struggling to pay for imports of basic goods. Venezuela’s central bank and its information ministry responded to requests for comment. Trump’s administration has declared Venezuela part of a “troika of tyranny” in Latin America, including left-leaning governments in Cuba and Nicaragua. It is seeking to cut off cash flow to Maduro’s government, foster dissent in the armed forces and oust him from power in the OPEC nation. 

As trade tensions increase, IMF lowers forecasts for global growth -- The International Monetary Fund has pointed to a slowdown in growth for 70 percent of the world economy by value in 2019, with the most significant weakening taking place in the advanced economies. Any recovery in 2020 is dependent on expanded production in emerging market economies. The forecast was contained in the IMF’s World Economic Outlook report issued on Tuesday for its spring meeting in Washington this week. The WEO cut the forecast for global growth for 2019 by 0.2 percentage points from its prediction in January and said global growth would fall to 3.3 percent this year from 3.6 percent in 2018. Commenting on the report, IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath said the downward revision reflected “negative revisions for several major economies including the euro area, Latin America, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.” Measures of industrial production and investment remain weak in “many advanced and emerging market economies” and global trade “has yet to recover.” The IMF has forecast a return to 3.6 percent global growth in 2020, but this is based on shaky foundations. According to Gopinath, the recovery is “precarious” and is predicated on a rebound in emerging market and developing economies. “Specifically,” she wrote, “it relies on an expected rebound in growth in Argentina and Turkey and some improvement in a set of stressed developing countries, and is therefore subject to considerable uncertainty.” Growth in the advanced economies would continue to slow, despite a partial recovery in the euro area. The fact that the prospect for “recovery” is dependent on Turkey and Argentina, both of which have experienced major falls in value of their currencies, speaks volumes about the state of the world economy. While the IMF says the global economy is continuing to grow at a “reasonable rate” and recession is not in its projections, there are many “downside risks.” As Gopinath noted: “A deterioration in market sentiment could rapidly tighten financing conditions in an environment of large private and public sector debt in many countries, including sovereign-bank doom-loop risks.”

 IMF Slashes World Growth Outlook To Weakest In A Decade - Following Christine Lagarde's warnings last week, The IMF has officially cut its outlook for global growth to the lowest since the financial crisis amid a worsening outlook in most major advanced economies and signs that higher tariffs are weighing on trade.“Following a broad-based upswing in cyclical growth that lasted nearly two years, the global economic expansion decelerated in the second half of 2018,” the International Monetary Fund says in its latest World Economic Outlook.“Activity softened amid an increase in trade tensions and tariff hikes between the United States and China, a decline in business confidence, a tightening of financial conditions, and higher policy uncertainty across many economies” In its latest World Economic Outlook, the IMF forecasts that the world economy will grow 3.3% this year, down from the 3.5% the IMF had forecast for 2019 in January: This is the third time the IMF has downgraded its outlook in six months.

China-EU Summit faces challenging times - When Chinese and European Union (EU) leaders sit down together in Brussels on Tuesday for their 21st annual bilateral summit, relations between these powerful Eastern and Western giants will, indeed, have come of age. Since 1998, there have been some major shifts in the two parties’ views of each other, as well as in the balance of power between the developed world economies of the EU and the rapidly developing economy of China. This shift is likely to be marked at the summit, too, by the fact that this time, EU leaders are not only concerned by long-standing issues over European firms’ access to Chinese markets, but also by growing Chinese power and influence in Europe. These concerns were underscored by last month’s Italian sign-up to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – the first time one of the EU’s ‘Big 4’ members (France, Germany and the potentially soon-to-leave UK being the others) had done so. They will also likely feed into a subsequent summit later this week, in the Croatian port of Dubrovnik, which will see Chinese leaders meet representatives from 16 central and east European countries, without the presence of the Western European EU member states. “Official EU policy documents from Brussels now describe China as a ‘systemic challenge’,” says Professor Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at SOAS, University of London. “In other words, the EU is beginning to realize just how serious an issue China is for them.”

Moscow Slams NATO Black Sea Drills As Alliance Vows Support To Ukraine And Georgia -  The Kremlin has slammed NATO's multi-national "Sea Shield 2019" naval drills which kicked off in the Black Sea on Friday and will include limited Ukrainian defense forces. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said upon the military games' beginning, which also happens to mark NATO's 70th birthday: "Having militarized NE Europe, NATO has decided to increase its military presence in the Black Sea." The Sea Shield 2019 is set to run from April 5 to April 13 and involves "14 Romanian warships and six warships from Bulgaria, Canada, Greece, the Netherlands, Turkey with 2,200 troops will carry out joint combat tasks in the Black Sea region," according to Ukraine's Mission to NATO and the Romanian Ministry of National Defense. Aerial assets will also be deployed as part of the games. Crucially, non-NATO countries Ukraine and Georgia will also take part both of which have long been potential flash points between the west and Russia. However, officials reports say their involvement will be limited to coast guard maneuvers. But NATO officials have described the exercise as "a long-planned, annual exercise led by Romania" and claimed that "neither the patrols, nor the exercise, are linked to events in Ukraine." "Three Allied nations [Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey] border the Black Sea, and NATO regularly conducts exercises and operations in the Black Sea in order to maintain credible deterrence and readiness," a NATO official continued in response to questions from Russian reporters last week.

Poland's Former Army Chief Floats US Pre-Emptive Nuclear Strike On Russia - One of Poland's top former military commander's who led the country's Land Forces until 2009, General (ret.) Waldemar Skrzypczak, has made stunning remarks on the nature of the "Russian threat" to Europe and the readiness of western allies to deploy nuclear weapons in any future conflict. Alarmingly, his recent remarks during an interview with Polish media conglomerate Wirtualna Polska this week likely reflect powerful and hawkish elements of the Polish military establishment who along with Skrzypczak now see Poland as a bulwark against "aggression from the East." The retired general imagined a future scenario of conflict where a US nuclear strike would be welcomed and necessary as "the most reasonable response".  As part of his remarks the former land forces commander laid out a scenario where he sees Poland as a future ground zero for clashes between NATO and Russia.He advanced the eastern European country as "an extremely important state from a strategic point of view" to prevent encroachment of "the Russian war machine" on the west, which further presents the greatest concern of the free world.”According to a translation of the interview by Russia's RT, Skrzypczak actually mused that Russian invasion of Poland would be the likely catalyst for US first strike scenario involving nuclear weapons: “It is true that the Americans vowed nuclear attacks to stop the Red Army in Poland,” Skrzypczak said, in an apparent reference to the days of the Cold War."Now there are plans like this if Putin hits. Not only that, in a military sense, this is the most reasonable [response]."Such an outcome is “unacceptable” for Poland but if an all-out war breaks out, “nobody will ask our opinion,” the former general said. Going back to reality, he acknowledged that the worst thing that could happen to Poland is its isolation “as a result of our own political mistakes.” Poland was a Warsaw Pact country from 1955 to 1991, and is now a full NATO member since 1999, and has thus always been at the geopolitical center of rivalry between the Kremlin and the West. Though itself not a nuclear armed power, it's grown increasingly reliant on western partners like the United States for defense against its powerful neighbor.

Polish teachers launch nationwide strike - As part of an international rebellion by teachers, on Monday April 8, over 80 percent of Poland’s 400,000 teachers joined an indefinite, nationwide walkout. This is the first national strike by teachers in the country in 25 years, and one of the biggest strikes in Poland over the past several decades.The strike was declared by the trade union ZNP (Związek Nauczycielstwa Polskiego, Union of Polish Teachers) after month-long negotiations with the government of the extreme right-wing Law and Justice Party (PiS) broke down on Sunday. The other teachers’ trade union, Solidarity, had accepted a government offer on Sunday for a gradual 15 percent wage increase, and had called upon its members not to join the national walkout. The union signed the deal with the government without any consultation with the membership and has still not disclosed its exact contents.Outraged over the union leadership’s deal with the government, teachers from the Solidarity trade union joined the walkout across the country. Many nonunionized teachers also joined the strike.According to the ZNP, over 86 percent of Poland’s teachers participated. Polish media reports suggest that even these numbers might be an understatement. As one newspaper remarked, “silence in the class rooms” reigned in most of the country’s schools. The strike has already badly shaken the PiS government ahead of the European elections in May, and the Polish parliamentary elections in the fall. For the first time since 2015, when PiS received the majority of votes in the parliamentary elections, there is a real possibility that it will lose its majority in the country’s parliament and suffer major losses in the European elections.Behind the strike lies enormous social and political anger. Thirty years after the restoration of capitalism in Poland, teachers and their families are forced to live on poverty wages. The starting salary for a teacher in Poland is 2,538 Zloty ($666), and the maximum salary is around 5,603 Zloty ($1471). Meanwhile, prices in Poland for basic food items and clothing are similar to those in Western European countries.

Four EU countries to take rescued migrants after Med standoff (Reuters) - Four European Union countries have agreed to take in 64 African migrants rescued by the German ship Alan Kurdi and stranded at sea for almost two weeks, the Maltese government announced on Saturday. The ship, operated by the humanitarian organisation Sea-Eye, had been refused entry by Italy and Malta, but two migrants were evacuated to Malta earlier this week because of poor health. Both countries had insisted it was Libya’s responsibility to take in the boat, Sea Eye said earlier in the week. The Maltese government said that through the coordination of the European Commission, the migrants will be redistributed among Germany, France, Portugal and Luxembourg. “None of the migrants will remain in Malta. The ship Alan Kurdi will not be allowed to enter Malta,” the government said. “Once again the smallest member of the European Union was put under unnecessary pressure, being asked to resolve a case which was neither its responsibility nor its remit,” the government added. “A solution was found in order not to let the situation deteriorate further while making it clear Malta cannot keep shouldering this burden.” In March, Malta received 108 migrants after the small tanker which rescued them was hijacked by some of the migrants themselves. Maltese soldiers stormed the vessel and escorted it to Malta. Three teenagers have since been taken to court and are under arrest.

It Belongs To The People, Not The Bankers - Italy Moves To Seize Gold From Central Bank - Two weeks ago, somewhat out of the blue, ECB President Mario Draghi issued an odd statement confirming that the European Central Bank needs to approve any operation in the foreign reserves of euro zone countries, including gold and large foreign currency holdings.“The ECB shall approve both the operations in foreign reserve assets remaining with the NCBs (national central banks)...and Member States’ transactions with their foreign exchange working balances above a certain threshold,”“The purpose of this competence is to ensure consistency with the exchange rate and monetary policy of the Union.” Specifically, Draghi made this statement to two Italian members of the European Parliament. At the time it did not seem notable for any reason other than its peculiar timing, but now things are starting to make more sense as The Wall Street Journal reports that Italy’s ruling populists pushed ahead this week with efforts to seize control of the central bank and its gold reserves. Complaining that hundreds of thousands of small individual investors lost billions of dollars after several Italian banks failed in recent years, the anti-establishment '5 Star Movement' and the nationalist 'League', depict the central bank as a symbol of a technocratic elite aloof from the needs of ordinary Italians.  “We need a change of course at the Bank of Italy if we think about what happened in the last years,” said Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, leader of the 5 Star Movement.

French ‘Gilets Jaunes’ march for the 21st consecutive week as Macron wraps up nationwide debate Euronews France's Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) protesters marched across the country for the 21st consecutive week on Saturday.They were 22,300 to march across France, according to government figures, the lowest turnout since the movement started in November last year. Thousands marched in French cities including Rouen, where figures of the movement had called to rally, Bordeaux, Lille, Nice, Montpellier, Forbach, Nantes, St Malo or Mulhouse.  The turnout in Paris, at the authorised march from Place de la Republique to La Defense financial district, was 3,100 by noon, against about 1,800 last week. The Paris march to La Defense was organised to demand "social, fiscal and ecological justice".There were 28 arrests in Paris and a few clashes with police in Rouen. The French authorities had issued protest bans for the Champs-Elysees and areas near the Elysee Palace and the National Assembly in Paris.The protests were relatively quiet compared to previous marches, which should come as a relief for president Emmanuel Macron. His government is expected to release on Monday the outline the findings of the "Great National Debate", a three-months-long dialogue with the French to find out about their concerns, which ended officially on Friday. The debate was launched to appease the Gilets Jaunes and try to develop policies that would convince the movement to stop.Yet five months after it started as a protest against fuel taxes on 17 November, although the Gilets Jaunes movement has seen its numbers fluctuate, the protesters still show up week after week on the street. Those who are still protesting show no intention to stop."What would make me stop protesting would be the sacking of the Interior minister, Christophe Castaner, because of the police violence", a protester on the Paris march called Catherine told the AFP on Saturday. On Friday night, Gilets Jaunes organised a surprise protest in Le Touquet, a coastal town in northern France, where Macron owns a villa. About a hundred rallied near the president's house and some chanted: "Emmanuel Macron, we're here, we're coming to get you", a reference to Macron's boastful comment from last summer, when he dared his critics to "Come and get him".

The Return of la Marine - For the past twenty years, the Front National (FN, now Rassemblement National, RN) experienced a series of blows and major convulsions that seemed to put nail after nail into the coffin of its political project: Marine Le Pen’s disastrous performance in the televised debate with Emmanuel Macron ahead of the second and decisive round of the presidential election of 2017, which exposed her to ridicule; scandals involving “fictive employees” supposedly working for MEPs – a reflection of the party’s increasing financial difficulties reminiscent of earlier days; Marine Le Pen’s less than amicable break with her father followed by the discarding of the party’s traditional label, a move that disgusted a significant number of FN supporters; and, last but not least, the defection of Florian Philippot, her closest adviser and influential strategist.  As a result, in early 2018, Marine Le Pen’s public image was “in free fall,” as was the proportion of the French public sympathetic to her ideas Hardly surprising, by mid-2018, observers of the French political scenespeculated that it was not entirely unlikely that the RN would disappear in the near future as a relevant force in French politics.  Mark Twain once sardonically noted that the reports of his death were highly exaggerated. The same holds true for Marine Le Pen. A laughing stock in 2017, outed as unprepared, incompetent and not ready for prime time, she has come back with a vengeance. Recent surveys on a hypothetical presidential contest have credited her with running neck and neck with Macron, the current president of the republic. Surveys conducted in anticipation of the European elections later this year go in the same direction. The centrist joint list of La République en Marche(created by Macron for the presidential election of 2017) and Modem(François Bayrou) with roughly 25 percent of the vote and Marine Le Pen’s RN with roughly 20 percent are way ahead of all other lists, including Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s France Insoumise (roughly 8 percent). The turn in fortunes is also reflected in Marine Le Pen’s improved public image. Not only has she reappeared on the cover of major French news magazines; pollsters are also again taking her seriously enough as a major political contender to measure her support as well as her appeal, particularly compared to the current president of the republic.

French officials call Project Gutenberg archive, 15 million ebooks, Grateful Dead recordings and Prelinger Archive “terrorism,” demands removal from Internet Archive - In the past week, the French government's L’Office Central de Lutte contre la Criminalité liée aux Technologies de l’Information et de la Communication (OCLCTIC) have sent 500 "terrorism" takedown demands to the Internet Archive demanding the removal of tens of millions of works: the entire archive of Project Gutenberg; an archive of 15 million texts, the entire Grateful Dead archive, the Prelinger Archive of public domain industrial films (much beloved by the MTV generation as they were the source of the channels classic interstitial animations), and the Archive's collection of recordings from CSPAN. The takedowns come in just as the EU is getting ready to vote on a proposal that will force platforms to remove "terrorist" content within one hour or face censorship through national firewalls, fines, and criminal sanctions.Even if it was possible for the Internet Archive to sift through tens of millions of documents in a collection targeted by one of these takedowns inone hour to figure out if the takedown notice is valid, the timezone problem means that they would have to be ready to do this in the middle of the night in San Francisco, when the EU agencies most typically send their demands. Even without this absurd law, the situation is dire. The French authorities gave the Internet Archive 24 hours to comply with its demand or face a nationwide block.

ECB Keeps Policy Unchanged, No Change To Rates "Through End Of 2019", No Mention Of Tiering Yet - As expected, unlike the March ECB decision, today there were no surprise, with the central bank announcing no changes to its three rates, and said that it sees rates at present levels "at least through the end of 2019", in line with last month's announcement, while expecting to reinvest debt for an extended time after the first rate hike. In other words, absolutely no changes. The full statement is below:At today’s meeting the Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB) decided that the interest rate on the main refinancing operations and the interest rates on the marginal lending facility and the deposit facility will remain unchanged at 0.00%, 0.25% and -0.40% respectively. The Governing Council expects the key ECB interest rates to remain at their present levels at least through the end of 2019, and in any case for as long as necessary to ensure the continued sustained convergence of inflation to levels that are below, but close to, 2% over the medium term.The Governing Council intends to continue reinvesting, in full, the principal payments from maturing securities purchased under the asset purchase programme for an extended period of time past the date when it starts raising the key ECB interest rates, and in any case for as long as necessary to maintain favourable liquidity conditions and an ample degree of monetary accommodation.The President of the ECB will comment on the considerations underlying these decisions at a press conference starting at 14:30 CET today. And since there was no mention of either the TLTRO or potential tiering of rates, attention now turns to Mario Draghi in 45 minutes when the ECB president will likely discuss these issues in broad terms.

Hackers broadcast live stream of police camera at Podemos leaders home -- Spain’s leftist Podemos party filed a complaint on October 17 reporting that a security camera installed outside the family home of the group’s leader, Pablo Iglesias, had been hacked, and that footage was being streamed live on a publicly accessible website.  The Interior Ministry, which was first alerted about the incident, has confirmed the report. The security camera had been installed by the Civil Guard on a property owned by Podemos chiefs Pablo Iglesias and his partner Irene Montero in Galapagar, northwest of the Spanish capital. Details about the security operation had been leaked just a few days before the camera was hacked The law-enforcement agency had to reset the camera and install new devices to prevent hackers from accessing the images again.  Investigators have traced the hackers back to a server in Singapore, but have been unable to identify the perpetrators, said a ministry spokesperson.  Three days before the complaint, the party had received an anonymous message with screenshots of the website broadcasting live images of the Galapagar property.Details about the security operation approved by the Interior Ministry to protect the politicians’ home had been leaked just a few days before the camera was hacked. Podemos was also apparently targeted by the so-called “Patriotic Brigade,” a group of police officers who allegedly engaged in irregular activities during ex-prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s first term in office in an attempt to damage the reputation of the PP’s political rivals. Last week, Podemos sources said they will ask an investigating judge to accept as evidence several audio recordings revealed by the online dailies El Confidencial and in which a police chief inspector named José Angel Fuentes Gago asks former Venezuelan minister Rafael Isea for help to prevent Podemos from coming to power in Spain.

 London's Uber, Cab Drivers Catch Yellow Vests' Bug, Rail Against Fossil Fuel Taxes - Also known as the yellow-vests movement, the gilets jaunes movement in France gets a lot of hate from the left-leaning media. To critics, climate change requires government action, and if that means the working class will have to endure more poverty and misery, that’s just how it is. But as the gilets jaunes’ message spreads far and wide, the sentiment against fossil fuel taxes is becoming the strongest in neighboring England. And as a new environmental policy goes into effect this month, cab and Uber drivers protest, claiming that charges associated with the new rules will cut their earnings in a meaningful way.The new rules, which are collectively known as the ultra-low emissions zone (ULEZ), go into effect starting April 8, forcing drivers of older vehicles to pay a £12.50 charge to drive inside the northern and southern circular roads in London during peak hours.To Uber drivers, this could mean £90 a week in charges, wiping out a major chunk of their earnings.While the new policy does not apply to “clean” cars such as hybrid or electric vehicles, older models are vulnerable. And which drivers are impacted the most as a result? Those who cannot afford to purchase newer cars.In other words, this new tax isn’t the solution to climate change; it is only a way to make the poor poorer. Unfortunately for the environmentalists' plan, those impacted the most are not going to go down without a fight. To environmentalists such as Katie Nield, a lawyer at the nonprofit ClientEarth, which is backed by celebrities such as the members of the band Coldplay, this new legislation could be the future of the country, as it could set the standard for air-pollution regulation from now on.“The way that our legislation works isn’t really good enough,” Nield told reporters.“Air pollution has risen up the political agenda — and the public psyche — even though the same stuff w as happening five years ago.”

Brexit: the leader speaks --Popping up from nowhere late Saturday evening after the national newspapers had gone to print, Mrs May has by-passed the media and spoken directly to the nation via a statement published on the Downing Street website.This makes a distinct change from having to find out what the prime minister says on paywalled media, cutting out the rather dubious practice of paying for the privilege of finding out what our government leader has to say. That much, at least, is to be encouraged. In her online statement bearing her stock photograph, Mrs May tells us that delivering Brexit has been her priority ever since she became prime minister, something which hardly comes as a surprise, and she affirms that this remains her objective today.Rather forlornly, she adds that she wants the UK to leave the EU in an orderly way as soon as possible, which "means leaving in a way that does not disrupt people's lives", something she has already failed to achieve.Going back over old ground, she asserts that her "strong preference" was to leave "by winning a majority in Parliament for the agreement the UK reached with the EU last November". She had done, she said, "everything in my power to persuade the Conservative and DUP MPs who form the government's majority to back that deal", repeating her rather thin mantra that she had "securing legally-binding changes to address MPs' concerns".As we can hardly avoid knowing, that deal has been rejected three times by parliament, but Mrs May now seems to acknowledge reality, saying: "there is no sign it can be passed in the near future". And, she says, because parliament "has made clear it will stop the UK leaving without a deal, we now have a stark choice: leave the European Union with a deal or do not leave at all". This is a seriously worrying assertion. As long as leaving without a deal is the default outcome, written into Article 50, it is not within the power of parliament directly to intervene in this manner. And, if the revocation of the Article 50 notification remains Crown prerogative, parliament cannot force the issue. The real choice remains what it has been for some time: deal or no deal. Nevertheless, Mrs May seems to be intent on presenting us with a false choice, undoubtedly to rack up the tension in her own party and to soften resistance elsewhere. And to avoid this fate, she has taken "a new approach", telling us that "we must deliver Brexit" and to do so, "we must agree a deal".

Amid Brexit Chaos, Theresa May’s Conservative Party Implodes --Brexit, which was originally supposed to take place on Friday of last week, has gone into overtime. As things currently stand, it's unclear if the extra period will last weeks, months or even years. But the longer the political war of attrition surrounding the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union continues, the more divided the country and its institutions will become.That's especially true of the Conservative Party of Theresa May, who is, at least for now, still the prime minister.It was a small group of Conservatives, blinded by nationalism, that brought on the referendum in the first place. It is that same group that has also ensured that every attempt to bring Brexit to a conclusion -- any conclusion, really -- has failed miserably. Yet it was only on Tuesday evening, almost three years after the referendum, that Theresa May made her first desperate attempt to free herself from the hardliners by offering to meet with Labour to find a joint way out of the chaos.It could very well be that May will be able to pull her country back from the brink at the very last second. But for her party, it may already be too late.The Tories, long one of the best-oiled political machines in Europe, are on their way to total collapse. William Hague, a leader of the party, has warned that the situation is far worse now even than it was following the devastating election defeat against Tony Blair in 1997. "The ruin I moved into as the new leader was, at least, intact," he has said. The irony is difficult to miss. Ever since the tenure of Margaret Thatcher, Tory prime ministers have sought to assuage the party's anti-EU voices by taking on many of their demands. But 30 years later, the Conservatives are more divided than ever. And Theresa May, who took the job after the brutal Brexit battle of 2016, has only made that gap wider.

Brexit: Disintegration - Yves Smith -It is likely of little comfort to those of you in the UK who are dreading the outcome of this week’s European Council meetings. As we’ll discuss, the apparent best outcome the UK can hope for, in terms of the near-term impact on ordinary citizens, that of a one-year extension, is virtually certain to solve nothing. And you can fuggedaboud May’s proposal to Donald Tusk last week, of an extension to June 30. As many have said, the way Brexit came about and has been prosecuted is a tragedy, not just for the UK but for Europe, and for the naive idea that economic integration would be a force for peace. Narrowly, it was: Europe has been free of war since the World War II conflagration. But as we are now seeing, tighter ties have led to the growth of international firms, and with their rise, inequality in advanced economies has also risen sharply. One can go through a long list of reasons, not all of which can be linked to more globalization, but many can. And perhaps more important, the rise of a global elite meant that not enough well placed people cared about curbing the rise in inequality; it’s obvious virtually all of them greatly enjoy it. Nevertheless, national economies can blunt inequality through taxing and spending policies (witness Japan, which still has the best social indicators in the world despite having an aging population and falling relative per capita income). Since the EU will makes its big decision on April 10 and 11, it’s not clear how much benefit there is in tracking the details of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn trying to come to an understanding. As Richard North describes long form, the ideas under discussion are so confused as to not map on to the benefits they hope to achieve, most importantly, “frictionless trade”. This tweet gives a brief take: The final, inevitable knot in which @theresa_may has tied herself.  Good tour of #Brexit talks here by @ShippersUnbound @cazjwheeler — Peter Foster (@pmdfoster) April 7, 2019    Nevertheless, May attempted to put lipstick on the pig of her Brexit mess:  Chris Grey highlighted one important issue: that May proposed her non-starter of an extension to June 30 as a way to slip Parliament’s leash: The Cooper Bill – proposed by Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who has emerged as one of the parliamentary stars of Brexit – requires the Prime Minister, within a day of it passing, to seek MPs’ approval to apply to the EU for an extension to the Article 50 period. The length of extension proposed would be of the Prime Minister’s choosing, but could be amended by MPs. Although Theresa May had already said she would be applying for an extension, the difference is that under this legislation parliament would control the application and its period. 

Theresa May to Meet Merkel and Macron as Furious Tories Try to Oust Her Theresa May will head to Berlin and Paris Tuesday as part of her efforts to win a short delay to Britain’s departure from the European Union, while at home some in her Conservative Party try to throw her overboard. EU diplomats are said to be settling on the idea of offering an extension to Britain despite the lack of progress at home. It will also be tied to commitments from May that she -- and any successor -- wouldn’t try to disrupt EU business. The prime minister will press her case when she meets German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. “This isn’t a time problem, we have above all, on the British side, a decisions problem,” German Europe Minister Michael Roth told reporters when asked what Merkel would tell May about the length of an extension. Meanwhile, in London, face-to-face talks will resume between the government and the main opposition Labour Party, after four days in which the two sides have exchanged messages without reaching an agreement. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Monday evening that while the talks have been “serious,” May has “not yet moved off her red lines.” France and Germany together shape responses to U.K.’s moves May wants Labour to vote for her deal, which has now been rejected by Parliament three times. Labour wants a commitment that the government will seek a customs union with the EU. And like European leaders, it wants that commitment to be binding on whoever succeeds May as prime minister. The problem is that May has no political room left to compromise. Even her decision to sit down with Corbyn is too much for many Tories. Because they failed to oust her in December, their constitution forbids them from trying again for a year, but some Conservative members of Parliament want to try anyway. One, Mark Francois, on Monday demanded that Conservative MPs be given a chance to vote on May’s position Wednesday.

Is cancelling Brexit the Prime Minister’s new default? - Is the de facto Brexit default now revoking Article 50 this week rather than a no-deal Brexit on 12 April? I ask because the PM is now explicitly saying the choice is a binary one between some version of her negotiated deal and not leaving at all (that is what she said in her sofa chat on Sunday). The point is that she has no power to prevent a no-deal Brexit on 12 April by delaying Brexit; for a delay, she needs the unanimous agreement of the EU's 27 leaders. But she does have the unilateral power to prevent a no-deal by cancelling Brexit altogether, by revoking the Article 50 application to leave the EU. So, have she and Whitehall, who are persuaded (rightly or wrongly) that no-deal on April 12 would be a catastrophe (especially for the integrity of UK), made a huge emotional leap to prepare for the political (if not economic) explosion of cancelling Brexit this week - in that there remains a serious risk that the EU will not grant the UK an extension or an extension on acceptable terms. Theresa May to travel to Berlin and Paris ahead of crunch European Council meeting As I understand it, from Government sources, there is no intensifying of no-deal preparations on Monday (the famous Operation Yellowhammer), which there really ought to be if there was any serious prospect of the UK leaving without a deal in just a few days. The Prime Minister has consistently pledged she won't revoke Article 50, but what she said on Sunday - about the UK facing a simple binary choice between her Withdrawal Agreement and no Brexit - makes no sense unless she is prepared to cancel the UK's departure from the EU. And although she might claim that MPs would force her to revoke, that she would become their puppet, in practice - with so little time before April 12 - MPs could probably only instruct her in a non-binding way, and she would retain discretion. If right at the last, the UK performs the volte face of volte faces and cancels Brexit, that would be her responsibility and her legacy, no one else's - for which many in her own party would vilify her, and many outside would cast her as the lost hero returned

Brexit: Mayhem by Yves Smith - Tusk is still talking up a “long” but not longer than a year flexible extension….while Barnier is making tougher noises:  @MichelBarnier in #GAC50: “Any extension should serve a purpose. The length should be proportional to the objective. Our objective is an orderly withdrawal. “No-deal” will never by the EU’s decision. In order to avoid “no-deal”, the #UK needs to agree to a deal.” #Brexit    It is still unclear what a nine month or one year extension would accomplish. It’s barely enough time for a second referendum, and the Government isn’t proposing one. The Tories are unlikely to go for self-immolation, um, a General Election, and even then, it’s not clear whether a General Election would end the domestic political gridlock, particularly since so many unicorns are alive and well: So one has to conclude that a “long” extension isn’t about the UK. It would take a much longer extension to achieve consensus around a different position, even if that were possible. So it must be about other factors, like Ireland’s lack of preparedness for a crash out, the temperament of some key figures, like the native caution of Merkel, and perhaps the desire of too many not to have a no-deal Brexit as part of their legacy, even though they went further than they should have trying to protect the UK from itself. May is still sticking to her June 30 extension request. Don’t ask. I think there is a word in German that means something like “Feeling embarrassed for someone who ought to be embarrassed and isn’t.” Her posture is surreal given that over half the Conservative MPs in the House refused to back her request to the EU for an extension to June 30: 99 “noes” and 80 abstentions, including by some ministers. May got enough votes from Labour to secure passage. And this is from Donald Tusk’s invitation letter to the members of the EU Council:  Given the risks posed by a no-deal Brexit for people and businesses on both sides of the English Channel, I trust that we will continue to do our utmost to avoid this scenario. Therefore I propose that we consider Prime Minister May’s request for an extension at our meeting tomorrow.  However, our experience so far, as well as the deep divisions within the House of Commons, give us little reason to believe that the ratification process can be completed by the end of June.  The EU already has the outlines of a deal. From Richard North: Already, draft conclusions have been leaked to the media, which suggest that the UK will be given an extension. At worst, the cut-off will be 1 June if the UK has failed to hold European elections, but otherwise it will be allowed an unspecified period “to allow for the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement”. The EU isn’t budging on the Withdrawal Agreement. Again from Tusk’s letter: Some of you have raised concerns that the UK’s continued presence as a departing EU country would pose risks for the functioning of the EU27 at a time of key decisions on its future. To address them we would need to agree on a number of conditions: no re-opening of the Withdrawal Agreement; no start of the negotiations on the future, except for the Political Declaration; the UK would have to maintain its sincere cooperation also during this crucial period, in a manner that reflects its situation as a departing member state.

Maybe, just maybe, we need an extension -  Like a drunk, Brexit staggers on without a sense of destination or urgency, with all the sorrows implicit in the behaviour fully on view and yet wholly unacknowledged by those with any capacity to change the situation. The government has not moved red lines when it says it has. Labour still demands solutions that change little and alienate many. Parliament passed an almost meaningless Act that requires very little, as it turned out, yesterday. And May criss-crosses Europe to avoid any real decision being taken. At some time it will be appreciated that, like alcohol will the drunk, so Brexit will kill the country. And the only way to stop that happening is to give up Brexit altogether. We may need 12 steps to recover from this folly. We will regret forever the time that this issue dominated life. Its legacy cannot be erased from our lives. We will forever have to remind ourselves that we tried Brexit and must never go there again. And we have to appreciate that this attempt at self-harm must be over. But as we have not done that yet then maybe, just maybe, the EU needs to give us a few more weeks, and an EU election, to appreciate the reality of our condition. That, though, is the only reason I can see for an extension in the state we are in. This is so bad. And it could get worse.

May’s position is looking shakier than ever as Brexit negotiations drag on British Prime Minister Theresa May will face her fellow -- for now -- European Union leaders at a summit Wednesday with everyone around the table knowing she is running out of options on Brexit. May was supposed to have come up with a credible alternative Brexit plan, that could be passed by her Parliament, to present at the summit in Brussels, yet talks with the UK opposition Labour Party on that new deal have failed to bear fruit. It's likely, then, that the summit will be difficult, but not a disaster for May. And yet even if she squeaks through it unscathed, the storm clouds are gathering back home. Those talks with the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his allies are not just about window dressing, but a serious attempt by both parties to reach a consensus on Brexit. But they are in danger of coming to nothing because both sides remain far apart on issues like a permanent customs union between the UK and EU after Brexit. The talks are scheduled to resume Thursday, but there is a sense in Westminster that because both parties remain far apart on the fundamentals the two sides are just going through the motions. This sense is being picked up in Europe too, which is why EU leaders are pressing for a long delay to Brexit -- of up to a year -- because there is no quick deal in sight. Of more urgent concern to May will be the mood of her Conservative Party. There was a point, a week or so ago, when despite crushing parliamentary defeats on the prime minister's original Brexit deal, Conservative Eurosceptic lawmakers were starting to weaken their opposition to May's plan -- in the interest of making sure Brexit happens and stopping Corbyn becoming prime minister. Yet May's decision to open up talks with the Labour leader have caused outrage inside her own government, ordinary Conservative lawmakers and grassroots activists. Now, the prospect of the EU imposing a lengthy delay to Brexit has only compounded that outrage. Conservative lawmakers are starting to get restless, once again, about May's ability to cling to power. An ominous sign of this restlessness for the prime minister appeared in the House of Commons Tuesday, when more than half of Conservative members failed to support May on what should have been a straightforward vote to approve the PM's request for a short extension to Brexit until June 30.

Brexit: Torygeddon? -  Yves Smith - We’ll be brief because the news of the EU Council to give the UK a Brexit stay of execution until October 31 broke relatively late, and so there isn’t a lot of informed commentary so far. However, this has the appearances of being an arbitrary end date, arrived at as “someplace in the middle” date between Macron pushing for a short extension (reportedly backing Theresa May’s June 30 request) and Merkel’s desire for a longer extension. Key conditions:

    • The UK must organize itself to participate in the EU Parliamentary elections, otherwise the extension terminates as of June 1
    • The Withdrawal Agreement will not be renegotiated. If the UK does manage to pass it, Brexit day is the day after it is voted through
    • The UK must play nicely: it will “refrain from any measure which could jeopardise the attainment of the Union’s objectives, in particular when participating in the decision-making processes of the Union”
    • The UK has to make a progress report in June

You could see the frustration in Donald Tusk’s official statement in which he wished the UK well and hoped they’d make good use of the time. May is still pretending she can get the Withdrawal Agreement passed by June 30. It is hard to see how anything changes by October 31. May will still be in charge unless she leaves No. 10 feet first. There will be no General Election or referendum in that time. While key players on the EU side will change (for instance, Juncker will be out by October 31), that seems unlikely to affect Brexit or Not to Brexit, since the ball is in the UK’s court. Brexit hardliners may get a new shot of life from the upcoming council elections. The hard Brexit faction seemed to be in retreat as stalwarts like Jacob Rees-Mogg were ceding ground by saying they could back May’s deal rather than risk losing Brexit altogether. The pro-EU camp in the Tories even dared float the idea of revoking Article 50. However, the push for a softer Brexit or revocation is likely to take a setback in the upcoming council elections in early May. This vote is seen as an indicator of party fortune. The Tories are expected to take a big hit due to member frustration over the failure to deliver Brexit. From “We’re doomed”: The mood of Conservative councillors facing the electorate varies from nervousness to despair in ConservativeHome: However, among most of the councillors and candidates I spoke to the prevailing mood was still downcast. Seasoned campaigners were shocked by the level of anger they encountered on the nation doorsteps – invariably from Brexiteers who felt betrayed.

May Hints at Customs Compromise With Labour - Theresa May tells Parliament she’s still trying to get a Brexit deal approved to avoid getting stuck in a long extension. She also hinted that a compromise on what trade ties with the bloc should look like after Brexit might be possible in talks with the opposition Labour Party. Key Developments:

  • EU leaders agree to extend Brexit to Oct. 31
  • May still aims to leave next month, if a deal can get done
  • PM hints at possible compromise over a customs union
  • Brexiteer MP Bill Cash calls on May to resign
  • May repeats she opposes a second referendum

Theresa May just suggested there isn’t much difference between Labour and her government on their trade proposals. Her comments indicate a customs union is a possible area for compromise in cross-party talks aimed at finding a new Brexit approach.“There is actually more agreement in relation to a customs union than it is often given credit for when different language is used,” May said. “We’ve been very clear that we want to obtain the benefits of a customs union –- no tariffs, no rules of origin checks and no quotas – while being able to operate our own independent trade policy.’’ “The Labour Party has said they want a say in trade policy,’’ she said. “The question is how we ensure that we can provide for this country to be in charge of its trade policy in the future.”

Brussels Bets a Delay Until Halloween Will Spook Britons into Staying - y postponing Brexit until Halloween, European Union leaders are hoping to spook a majority of Britons into remaining in the EU. After British Prime Minister Theresa May appealed for more time to persuade Parliament to back her unloved withdrawal agreement, European leaders handed down the new date of Oct. 31 on Wednesday following a long evening of negotiations—from which May herself was largely excluded—ignoring her pleas for a short extension until June 30. Eroding public support for Brexit—as well as a massive pro-EU march in London last month and a dramatic “SOS” message projected on the white cliffs of Dover against a background of an EU flag—were key factors in the EU’s decision to delay Britain’s departure in the hope that the United Kingdom will change its mind. And some British officials say the six-month postponement could well work. “I have always said that if Brexit is delayed for as much as 10 minutes, the whole thing is off,” said one senior U.K. civil servant with direct knowledge of the latest talks in Brussels, who is not authorized to speak on the record. Under the new time frame, Britain may leave the EU at any time if May manages to get parliamentary backing for her withdrawal agreement—with EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier hinting that even more time could be given if there is still no consensus by the end of October. The new date effectively rules out the prospect of the U.K. leaving the EU without a deal—which was also one of the few things that the fractious House of Commons was able to agree on over weeks of inconclusive votes over the direction of Brexit. “Once ‘no deal’ is no longer on the table, and there’s no longer a ticking clock, [May] loses her last two weapons,” the official said. For months May had tried to cajole members of parliament into backing her unpopular withdrawal agreement with the threat of economic turmoil if Britain were forced to leave without a deal—but she still lost three parliamentary votes by huge margins.

Theresa May rejects call for her resignation from Tory Brexiteers - British prime minister Theresa May has dismissed calls from Conservative Brexiteers for her resignation after she agreed a six-month delay to Brexit with European Union leaders early on Thursday morning. Mrs May told MPs that she would continue to seek a compromise with Labour that could command a majority in the House of Commons. She and Jeremy Corbyn met briefly on Thursday and agreed to continue talks “in an effort to make substantive progress” towards finding a compromise plan for Brexit. “This is not the normal way of British politics – and it is uncomfortable for many in both the government and opposition parties. Reaching an agreement will not be easy, because to be successful it will require both sides to make compromises,” said Mrs May. “But however challenging it may be politically, I profoundly believe that in this unique situation where the House is deadlocked, it is incumbent on both front benches to seek to work together to deliver what the British people voted for.” Veteran Eurosceptics Bill Cash and Peter Bone suggested that Mrs May should resign because the extension until October 31st contradicted a promise she made in the House last month not to agree any extension beyond June 30th. DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the prime minister should learn the lessons from this week’s summit, which he claimed marked the EU backing down before the threat of a no-deal Brexit.

Amid Brexit Chaos, Theresa May’s Conservative Party Implodes - Brexit, which was originally supposed to take place on Friday of last week, has gone into overtime. As things currently stand, it's unclear if the extra period will last weeks, months or even years. But the longer the political war of attrition surrounding the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union continues, the more divided the country and its institutions will become. That's especially true of the Conservative Party of Theresa May, who is, at least for now, still the prime minister. It was a small group of Conservatives, blinded by nationalism, that brought on the referendum in the first place. It is that same group that has also ensured that every attempt to bring Brexit to a conclusion -- any conclusion, really -- has failed miserably. Yet it was only on Tuesday evening, almost three years after the referendum, that Theresa May made her first desperate attempt to free herself from the hardliners by offering to meet with Labour to find a joint way out of the chaos. It could very well be that May will be able to pull her country back from the brink at the very last second. But for her party, it may already be too late. The Tories, long one of the best-oiled political machines in Europe, are on their way to total collapse. William Hague, a leader of the party, has warned that the situation is far worse now even than it was following the devastating election defeat against Tony Blair in 1997. "The ruin I moved into as the new leader was, at least, intact," he has said. The irony is difficult to miss. Ever since the tenure of Margaret Thatcher, Tory prime ministers have sought to assuage the party's anti-EU voices by taking on many of their demands. But 30 years later, the Conservatives are more divided than ever. And Theresa May, who took the job after the brutal Brexit battle of 2016, has only made that gap wider. It was May who -- following the narrow referendum result -- steered her country towards a hard Brexit, despite that being only one possible interpretation of the vote.  Then, this woman -- who has a weakness for pithy grandiloquence -- backed herself into a rhetorical corner: "No deal is better than a bad deal," she famously said. In doing so, she emboldened both hardliners within her party and all nationalist Brits to not give up an inch to the EU during negotiations. It was the first shot fired in an unprecedented smear campaign against any Conservative who dared to push for a compromise between London and Brussels.

  UK-Based Multinational Department Store Debenhams Collapses After 200 Years of Trading. Thank Private Equity - Shares of UK-based multinational department store Debenhams — with 165 stores in the UK and Ireland and with 58 franchise stores in 19 other countries — were suspended today after the company and its creditors turned down two last ditch rescue offers from discount retail group Sports Direct, which owns close to 30% of Debenhams’ stock. Debenham’s shares have collapsed spectacularly since they were floated on the stock market in 2006 by its then-private equity owners, Texas Pacific Group, CVC, and Merrill Lynch Private Equity: The latest rejection means that Debenhams, after gracing British high streets for over 200 years, now faces a “pre-pack” administration that will wipe out its shareholders, including Sports Direct which is estimated to have plowed at least £150 million into the firm.On its corporate website Debenhams stated that while the Group’s holding company has gone into administration, its operating companies “continue to trade as normal” and its commercial stakeholders, including suppliers, are not adversely impacted by the Company’s administration. “We remain focused on protecting as many stores and jobs as possible, consistent with establishing a sustainable store portfolio in line with our previous guidance.”Debenhams had given Sports Direct until Monday April 8 to launch a firm takeover bid that included arrangements to either refinance the group’s debt or underwrite the issuance of new shares. Sports Direct, which rescued the rival department store House of Fraser from administration last October, had offered to underwrite a £150-million rights issue for Debenhams, but on two conditions: that Mike Ashley, Sport Direct’s CEO be appointed Debenhams chief executive, and that Debenham’s lenders pledge to write off a similar amount of debt. It was an offer Debenhams’ board of directors and lenders felt they could and should refuse. Even when Ashley upped the bid to £200 million late Monday evening, it was still rejected. Trading in Debenhams’ shares was later suspended at the company’s request. By Tuesday morning the retail group that once boasted the UK’s biggest chain of department stores had become the property of its lenders, which intend to close around 50 of Debenhams’ 165 stores via an insolvency process called company voluntary arrangement.

Introducing the shadow education sector - Since 2015, 75 websites fraudulently offering UK degrees have been closed down. A government-backed agency, the Higher Education Degree Datacheck (Hedd), now lists 243 “bogus universities” on its website, compared with 471 that are recognised. Hedd is handled by Prospects, a UK company that provides services for students and recruiters and was commissioned by the Department for Education in 2015 to address the problem. The company says the majority of websites are based outside of the UK, and that in several cases, the branding of real universities is used to mislead potential "students".  The trend is yet another unexpected consequence of the creation of a global education exports industry. Such an industry -- like any other based around the manufacture of pieces of paper that denote value -- is vulnerable to the emergence of shadow activities that seek to capture returns while operating outside of the realm of official regulation. In at least some cases, degrees are now financialised to the point that secondary black markets have emerged. In 2014, around the time the UK government began to get interested in this issue, the BBC reported that degrees from the University of Kent were on sale in China for £500.  This kind of problem, as the history of finance illustrates continuously, invites collaboration from regulated incumbents. Prospects is owned by a charity, which in turn receives some of its funding from Universities UK, the representative body for the country’s higher education sector. Hedd, which Prospects manages, offers verification services, starting at £12, which allow you to verify a “current or past student’s place of study, the award and grades received and dates of attendance” (you need the student’s permission). It says it can verify more than 80 per cent of the UK’s graduates.  The victims of this kind of fraud are overwhelmingly likely to be international students unfamiliar with an exporter country’s education system, who will in turn have minimal recourse to legal processes.

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