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

Saturday, April 20, 2019

week ending Apr 20

 Fed's Charles Evans tells CNBC rates can stay unchanged into fall of 2020 - Chicago Federal Reserve President Charles Evans said on Monday that he’d be comfortable leaving interest rates alone until autumn 2020 to help ensure sustained inflation in the U.S. “I can see the funds rate being flat and unchanged into the fall of 2020. For me, that’s to help support the inflation outlook and make sure it’s sustainable,” Evans told CNBC’s Steve Liesman. Though Evans said he wouldn’t categorize the Fed’s December 2018 rate increase as a mistake, the central bank official did highlight more muted economic growth estimates and elusive inflation as priorities. The Fed has for years targeted 2% inflation as a level at which the U.S. economy can grow at a healthy clip. The central bank’s preferred inflation metric, core personal consumption expenditures index, rose to 2% in May 2018, but has had trouble maintaining that level. Some Fed officials that have been concerned about spotty inflation reads — including Evans — have suggested that they’d be comfortable letting prices rise above a 2% pace in times of economic expansion to balance out periods of lower inflation and slower GDP growth. “I had been thinking that inflation was finally going to be solid, hit 2% on a sustained basis — maybe go over a little bit. That was my projection,” Evans added on “Squawk Box ” on Monday. “And on the strength of that I had — as recently as September and December — thought that maybe a couple rate hikes were in our future.” As a member of the central bank’s policymaking arm in 2019, Evans joined his fellow Fed colleagues in voting to hold the benchmark overnight lending rate steady in March. The Federal Open Market Committee also suggested at its meeting last month that no more interest rate increases will be coming this year.

Fed Should Embrace And Communicate Comfort With Even Higher Inflation- Evans -  Despite soaring US housing prices, which continue to rise roughly 2 to 5 times faster than wage inflation every year (depending on the metro area), not to mention out of control college tuition prices, healthcare costs and sharp occasional spikes in food prices which are far more sticky to the upside, stubbornly refusing to drop after any price shock. And then there are runaway asset prices and include both domestic and international stock and bond prices, which as Goldman has repeatedly shown, have soared since January 2009. None of these considerations mattered to Chicago Fed president Charlie Evans on Monday, however, when he again said that in keeping with the Fed's shifting approach to monetary policy which will likely include direct inflation targeting during the next recession, the Federal Reserve "should be willing to embrace inflation above 2% half the time and communicate that preference with the public to avoid missing its current target."In other words, in a country where the purchasing power and net worth of the middle class continues to erode, the Fed is willing and eager to accelerate this relative transfer of wealth from the 90% to the 1% by sending inflation into overdrive any and every time it so desires.“While policy has been successful in achieving our maximum employment mandate, it has been less successful with regard to our inflation objective,” Evans said, clearly referencing US CPI and the various "real economy prices" shown on the right side of the chart above while ignoring the asset prices on the left. “To fix this problem, I think the Fed must be willing to embrace inflation modestly above 2 percent 50 percent of the time. Indeed, I would communicate comfort with core inflation rates of 2-1/2 percent, as long as there is no obvious upward momentum and the path back toward 2 percent can be well managed." In other words, in a world in which central banks have led to unprecedented wealth divides in every jurisdiction, and have been instrumental in the at time violent polarization of the world between haves and have nots, with resulting populist consequences, the Chicago Fed president believes that the right thing to do is take what has clearly not worked so far, and to do much more of it.

Trump Slams Fed Again, Says Stocks Should Be 5,000-10,000 Higher - President Donald Trump, renewing his attack on the Federal Reserve, claimed the stock market would be “5000 to 10,000” points higher had it not been for the actions of the U.S. central bank.“If the Fed had done its job properly, which it has not, the Stock Market would have been up 5000 to 10,000 additional points,” the president tweeted on Sunday. “Quantitative tightening was a killer, should have done the exact opposite!”  His venting comes as his two recent picks for the Fed, businessman Herman Cain and conservative economist Stephen Moore, have come under fire, with several Republicans indicating Cain may not be able to win confirmation in the Senate.It also comes days after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, a frequent target of Trump’s criticism, told lawmakers at a Democratic Party retreat that the central bank won’t bend to political pressure, according to two people in the room for the closed-door event.  Trump picked Powell as Fed chairman, replacing Janet Yellen, but later indicated that he regretted the decision, and in late 2018 discussed the feasibility of firing him before appearing to decide against it. Trump has criticized the Fed’s rate increases as it tried to gradually move them to a level that neither stymies nor stimulates growth.The rate hikes have slowed some segments of the economy, such as housing, but overall the U.S. economic expansion continues, along with the lowest unemployment in decades and inflation near the Fed’s 2 percent target.Lately, Trump has urged the Fed to cut rates to turn the economy into a “rocket ship,” which White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said last week would be growth in the 4 to 4.5 percent range. The Federal Reserve raised rates four times in 2018, but has since paused, saying it will be “patient” as it assesses the need for any additional changes in the policy rate, now in a target range of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent. U.S. central bankers in March signaled no rate moves in 2019, based on their outlook for solid if unspectacular economic growth with inflation near goal. If Trump was referring to the more narrow Dow Jones Industrial Average, his tweet suggested the index could be over 36,000 points absent the Fed’s moves. The Dow closed on Friday at 26,412.30.

White House Talking to Candidates to Replace Cain, Moore for Fed - The White House is interviewing candidates to potentially replace Herman Cain and Stephen Moore as Donald Trump’s picks for the Federal Reserve Board, the president’s top economic adviser said. Cain, the former pizza company executive who ran for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, must decide for himself whether to withdraw from consideration for a Fed job, Larry Kudlow said Tuesday at the White House.“At the end of the day, it will probably be up to Herman Cain if he wants to stay in that process or not,” Kudlow told reporters. “As far as we are concerned he is still in the process and it is proceeding.”Asked whether the White House is interviewing anyone to potentially replace Cain and Moore, Kudlow said, “We are talking to a number of candidates. We always do.” Politico earlier reported that other candidates were being interviewed.Cain said in a video posted on Facebook earlier this month that he faced a “cumbersome” vetting process for the Fed seat, suggesting he may be considering withdrawing. His campaign for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination ended in 2011 after he was accused of sexual harassment when he led the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s and of infidelity.Republican senators have signaled there isn’t enough support to confirm Cain for the job. Trump has privately said he knows Cain would have trouble getting confirmed but wants to wait for the FBI to finish its background check before he makes his decision on whether to formally nominate him, people familiar with the matter have said.

Nein, Nein, Nein- Herman Cain Says He Won't Withdraw From Fed Board Consideration - "Nein, Nein, Nein." That is Herman Cain's response to the White House's subtle hints that he should drop his candidacy for the Fed Board. One day after Bloomberg reported that the White House is in discussion with candidates to replace Herman Cain and Stephen Moore following a widespread outcry over their candidacy, on Wednesday the WSJ reported that Herman Cain he has no intention of withdrawing his name from consideration for a seat on the Federal Reserve Board, despite a clear lack of sufficient support - even among Republicans - for Senate confirmation if President Trump nominates him. The former pizza company executive said that he’s “very committed” to sticking with the process of being vetted by the White House as it considers whether to formally nominate him for the position, the WSJ reported following an interview with the failed presidential candidate.   He said the Fed needs “new voices” and it has been “too quick” to raise interest rates in the past, a view he expressed to Trump and his top economic adviser Lawrence Kudlow in a meeting in late January at the White House. In doing so, he confirms that Trump is aggressively seeking to stack the Fed board with doves so that the Fed will cut rates ahead of the all important 2020 presidential election to avoid a recession which would likely cripple Trump's chances for a second term. “The president asked me one simple question…He said, ’Would you consider doing this if you make it through the process?’ I said yes. Didn’t hesitate,” Cain told the WSJ during the interview at his office in suburban Atlanta.  Sensing that he is a lost cause, the White House has taken a noncommittal tone about Cain’s chances of making it through the process. On Tuesday, Larry Kudlow said “it will probably be up to Herman Cain if he wants to stay in that process or not.” Ironically, Cain said it was Kudlow’s idea to consider him for the Fed job in January, after Trump had been venting his frustration about interest-rate increases for months. Cain said the last time they spoke, Kudlow encouraged him to hang in there—though he couldn’t specify when exactly that was. “What Kudlow was doing was giving me an out, and I appreciate that, but I don’t want an out. I don’t want an out,” Cain said, adding that he doesn’t think the White House is getting cold feet about his potential nomination, even though it clearly is.

Trump May Regret His Fed Takeover Attempt -Some things are too important to leave to politicians.One such thing: the money supply. That’s why the Federal Reserve is an independent agency, at least in theory.Presidents like this arrangement because it lets them disclaim responsibility when the Fed does something unpopular. But that only works if the president doesn’t even try to assert control.Trying to influence the Fed, as Trump is doing, has three possible outcomes—and two of them are bad for Trump. Either…

  • He fails to influence the Fed and makes himself look impotent, or
  • He succeeds in influencing the Fed and takes blame for its mistakes, or
  • He succeeds in influencing the Fed and the economy grows.

Other presidents have tried this, and it didn’t end well. Trump had the chance to make a quick impact by filling several Federal Reserve Board vacancies in his first two years. He didn’t seize that opportunity.  That was unfortunate. The Fed needs broader representation. It shouldn’t be all bankers and economists. And that isn’t just my personal preference. The Federal Reserve Act orders presidents to nominate Fed governors with “due regard to a fair representation of the financial, agricultural, industrial, and commercial interests, and geographical divisions of the country.”  Presidents of both parties have long ignored this law, and senators let them do it. Now bankers run the Fed, supported by PhD-holding economics professors. We have seen the results. I think some more diversity would make the Fed work better. Trump seems to agree, but he has a different kind of diversity in mind. He wants to add Herman Cain and Stephen Moore to the Fed board. Cain and Moore would not represent “agricultural, industrial, and commercial interests.” They would represent partisan political interests, and specifically those of President Trump. Again, I don’t expect saint-like neutrality. Everyone has opinions. But the US has plenty of thoughtful, well-educated people who would do their best to consider the data and make good policy decisions. Cain and Moore aren’t in that category. They’ve already decided what monetary policy they want. And (surprise!) it’s exactly what President Trump wants: lower interest rates.

Where Is Inflation Hiding? In Asset Prices! - A very dangerous fallacy has taken the world of economics by storm over the last several years: the idea that there is very little inflation in the U.S. economy, therefore interest rates should remain at unusually low levels for an even longer period of time. As I will prove in this piece, the people who believe in the “low inflation” myth are being fooled by the fact that inflation in this unusual, central bank-driven economic cycle is concentrated in asset prices rather than in consumer prices. By holding interest rates too low for too long, a massive asset bubble has inflated and is poised to inflate even further as long as economists and central banks like the Fed continue to be fooled by the “low inflation” myth. Unfortunately, the ultimate bursting of this unprecedented asset bubble is going to throw the U.S. and global economy into another depression. One of the most fervent believers in the “low inflation” myth is President Donald Trump himself. Trump has complained many times about the Fed’s interest rate hikes that have occurred during his presidency. Over the past three years, the Fed hiked rates from 0% to 2.5%, which is still extremely low considering that rates above 5% were common throughout history. As Trump said earlier this month – “Well I personally think the Fed should drop rates,” Mr. Trump said. “I think they really slowed us down. There’s no inflation. I would say in terms of quantitative tightening, it should actually now be quantitative easing. Very little if any inflation. And I think they should drop rates, and they should get rid of quantitative tightening. You would see a rocket ship. Despite that, we’re doing very well.” Trump reiterated his “no inflation” belief in a tweet yesterday: Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, recently summarized the Fed’s position that inflation is still low and even believes that the Fed should let inflation run above its target for a few years: Many prominent financial journalists and commentators including my friend Pedro da Costa believe that the Fed has been hiking interest rates too aggressively: The well-known investing pundit and host of CNBC’s “Mad Money” TV show Jim Cramer is a vocal Fed rate hike critic and believer in the “low inflation” myth:  Belief in the “low inflation” myth stems from the overly rigid reliance on conventional inflation indicators even though we have been in an unconventional economic cycle since 2009 (because it has been driven by record low interest rates and trillions of dollars worth of quantitative easing). In this type of environment, it is wise to think outside of the box and to consider all information available, but most economists are still stuck in the past as if we are in a garden-variety business cycle in the twentieth century.

 Fed's Beige Book: Economic Growth "Slight to moderate", Labor Market "Tight" -- Fed's Beige Book "This report was prepared at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis based on information collected on or before April 8, 2019." Economic activity expanded at a slight-to-moderate pace in March and early April. While most Districts reported that growth continued at a similar pace as the previous report, a few Districts reported some strengthening. There was little change in the outlook among contacts in reporting Districts, with those expecting slight-to-modest growth in the months ahead. Reports on consumer spending were mixed but suggested sluggish sales for both general retailers and auto dealers. Reports on tourism were generally more upbeat. Reports on loan demand were mixed, but indicated steady growth. Reports on manufacturing activity were favorable, although contacts in many Districts noted trade-related uncertainty. Most Districts reported stronger home sales, although some Districts noted low demand for higher-priced homes. Among reporting Districts, agricultural conditions remained weak, with contacts expressing concerns over the impact of current and future rainfall and flooding.... Employment continued to increase nationwide, with nine Districts reporting modest or moderate growth and the other three reporting slight growth. While contacts reported gains across a variety of industries, employment increases were most highly concentrated in high-skilled jobs. However,labor markets remained tight, restraining the rate of growth. A majority of Districts cited shortages of skilled laborers, most commonly in manufacturing and construction.

Beige Book Downgrades US Economy Outlook To Slight-To-Modest - One month after the Beige Book described the slowing US economy as an already downgraded "slight-to-moderate", the Federal Reserve again took down its assessment for the US, and while a few Districts reported some strengthening, the outlook among contacts in reporting Districts is for "slight-to-modest" growth in the months ahead, suggesting that this time it is the top end of the range that has come down from its traditional "modest-to-moderate" baseline. Looking at overall economic activity, reports on consumer spending were "mixed but suggested sluggish sales for both general retailers and auto dealers" although at least foreigners are enjoying the US as "reports on tourism were generally more upbeat." The Fed addressed another sensitive issue, namely loan growth, noting that "reports on loan demand were mixed, but indicated steady growth", refuting the assessment by the latest Senior Loan Officer Survey, which concluded that loan demand has continued to shrink. Predictably, trade concerns remained an issue, and while reports on manufacturing activity were favorable, "contacts in many Districts noted trade-related uncertainty." Looking at housing, "most Districts reported stronger home sales, although some Districts noted low demand for higher-priced homes." In a troubling development, the Fed now acknowledges the weakness in US farms, stating that "agricultural conditions remained weak, with contacts expressing concerns over the impact of current and future rainfall and flooding." One place where the economy continued to hum is in the labor market, and according to the Beige Book, "employment continued to increase nationwide, with nine districts reporting modest or moderate growth" even as the other three reporting slight growth. Furthermore, a majority of districts cited shortages of skilled laborers, most commonly in manufacturing and construction, while wages for both skilled and unskilled positions generally grew at about the same pace as earlier this year.

U.S. economy hits soft patch, putting Fed on alert: Kemp - (Reuters) - The U.S. economy hit a soft patch during the first three months of the year with manufacturing output up only slightly compared with the same period a year earlier and freight movements mostly down. U.S. manufacturing production was up by just 1.8 percent in the three months from January to March compared with the first quarter of 2018, down from 3.5 percent growth in the July-September period. Road freight volumes were up 4.6 percent year-on-year in December-February, down from 8.3 percent growth in April-June last year, according to figures compiled by the American Trucking Associations. Containerised rail freight was up by just 1.2 percent in December-February, down from more than 6 percent growth in July-September, according to the Association of American Railroads. More recent data suggests rail freight shrank by almost 2 percent in the first quarter of 2019 compared with the same period in 2018 with declines in both bulk and containerised movements. The number of containers handled by the Port of Los Angeles, the busiest cargo facility on the west coast, which handles trans-Pacific trade, was down by 1 percent in the first three months of the year. Containers handled at the Port of Long Beach, the other main Pacific gateway, and subject to less month-to-month volatility, were down by more than 7 percent in January-March compared with 2018. Manufacturing employment was still 1.9 percent higher year-on-year in January-March, but job creation is no longer accelerating and shows signs of turning over ( On every real-time metric, manufacturing activity lost momentum in the final quarter of 2018 and extending throughout the first three months of 2019, after expanding very rapidly earlier in 2018. 

Conference Board Leading Economic Index: "Economic Growth Likely to Moderate by [EOY]" -- The latest Conference Board Leading Economic Index (LEI) for March increased to 111.9 from 111.5 in February. The Coincident Economic Index (CEI) came in at 105.8, up from 105.7 the previous month. The Conference Board LEI for the U.S. increased again in March. Positive contributions from initial claims for unemployment insurance (inverted), consumer expectations for business conditions, and financial components fueled the most recent gain. In the six-month period ending March 2019, the leading economic index increased 0.4 percent (about a 0.7 percent annual rate), much slower thanthe growth of 2.8 percent (about a 5.6 percent annual rate) during the previous six months. In addition, the weaknesses and strengths among the leading indicators have become equally balanced over the last six months.The Conference Board CEI for the U.S., a measure of current economic activity, edged up in March. The coincident economic index rose 1.0 percent (about a 1.9 percent annual rate) between September 2018 and March 2019, slightly slower than the growth of 1.2 percent (about a 2.3 percent annual rate) for the previous six months. But, the strengths among the coincident indicators have remained very widespread, with all components advancing. The lagging economic index increased also by 0.1 percent last month. As a result, the coincident-to-lagging ratio remained unchanged. Real GDP expanded at a 2.2 percent annual rate in the last quarter of 2018, after increasing 3.4 percent (annual rate) in the third quarter. [Full notes in PDF] Here is a log-scale chart of the LEI series with documented recessions as identified by the NBER. The use of a log scale gives us a better sense of the relative sizes of peaks and troughs than a more conventional linear scale.

Q1 GDP Forecasts: Around 2% - From Merrill Lynch: Despite various distortions to begin 2019 (Government shutdown, inclement weather), we expect real GDP growth in the first quarter to be a solid 2.4% qoq saar, up slightly from 4Q 2018. [April 19 estimate]   From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report   The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 1.4% for 2019:Q1 and 1.9% for 2019:Q2. [Apr 19 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 2.8 percent on April 19, unchanged from April 18 after rounding. After this morning’s new residential construction report from the U.S. Census Bureau, the nowcast of first-quarter real residential investment growth inched down from 4.0 percent to 3.5 percent. [Apr 19 estimate]  CR Note: These estimates suggest real GDP growth will be around 2% annualized in Q1.

Pentagon Spending Set to Hit Near-Record Levels, But 'Establishment Says We Can't Afford' Progressive Policies --Pentagon spending is on track to grow significantly for the fifth consecutive year, but "very few in Congress are questioning" how the U.S. can afford it.That's according to the Washington Post's Jeff Stein and Aaron Gregg, who reported Thursday that "the United States is expected to spend more on its military in 2020 than at any point since World War II, except for a handful of years at the height of the Iraq War.   In his 2020 budget request, Trump called for $750 billion in Pentagon spending. Democrats countered with a $733 billion offer, which would still represent a substantial increase over the Pentagon's 2019 budget. Either number would bring U.S. military spending to "near-historic highs," according to the Post. "Earlier this year, the Congressional Budget Office projected the United States would spend more than $7 trillion on defense over the next decade," the Post reported, "which is in line with both the White House's and House Democrats' budget plans." As Stein noted on Twitter, only a few progressive lawmakers are asking how the United States can afford such spending—a question frequently raised about bold progressive policies. Just a final note: Aside from a handful of lawmakers — @RoKhanna, @IlhanMN, @AOC — very few in Congress are questioning how the US can afford to spend $7.5 trillion on the military at time of already unusually high deficits — Jeff Stein (@JStein_WaPo) April 18, 2019    Consumer advocacy group Public Citizen tweeted that the "establishment says we can't afford" Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, but apparently has "unlimited" funds for the military. As Common Dreams reported, Democratic leaders such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and DCCC chair Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) have both raised alarm about Medicare for All's supposedly high "price tag"—but neither have raised similar alarm about soaring military spending.

The Pentagon's Bookkeeping Is Atrocious- The Books Are Wrong On Everything --The Department of Defense is the world’s worst bookkeeper. The books are so atrocious that they are wrong about everything and it’s impossible to detect just how bad the fraud and corruption that runs rampant through the Pentagon has becomeJournalist Matt Taibbi told RT’s Lee Camp that he discovered it’s not possible to make any sense of the books. Taibbi recently dove headfirst into the insanity that is the Pentagon’s finances to find out how a much-lauded audit of the organization, (which receives half a trillion dollars a year) failed to give the DoD either a pass or fail. What Taibbi found was that the Pentagon operates under a system that is inherently unable to provide financial accountability, he said during an interview on Redacted Tonight. “It’s organized so badly that when the Pentagon at the end of every year goes to ask for more money for the next year...they invent the numbers because they have no audit trail. They submit all those numbers to the Congress, saying we spent this on that, but they don’t actually have the documents,” he said. “The sheer quantity of the numbers makes it impossible to detect anything like fraud or theft because the books are all wrong at every single level of the system.” The massive amount of waste and corruption is unbelievable, yet it’s impossible to even get a handle on just how bad it has become. Taibbi also says that there is no way the Pentagon will ever change the way they do their books unless there is reform to how they receive their money. Unless the Pentagon cuts off weapons contractors, there will never be any type of reform – so don’t hold your breath. “The people who sit on the Armed Services Committee and the Appropriations Committee are going to be primarily funded by military contractors. Which means that none of those people are ever going to approve any measure that threatens to stop funding of the Pentagon until they get their books in order,” Taibbi said.  “And the only way you can make the Pentagon make their books in order is to yank the money.” The Pentagon is not known for their ability to reason or be responsible unless it’s providing “reasons” that they should be responsible for the deaths of millions across the globe.

Kim Jong Un Gives Trump Until Year-End To Become More Flexible - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has given the breakdown in talks with the United States "till the end of this year" before he walks away, suggesting that the Trump administration needs to be more flexible. "It is essential for the U.S. to quit its current calculation method and approach us with a new one," Kim said in a Friday speech to the Supreme People's Assembly, according to Reuters, citing North Korean state-owned KCNA. Trump and Kim have held two summits, in Hanoi in February, and Singapore in June. While the first meeting built goodwill and ended in a generic agreement that North Korea would denuclearize, the Feb. 28 Hanoi summit ended abruptly after Trump handed Kim a piece of paper demanding Pyongyang give the United States its existing nuclear weapons and enriched uranium, according to Reuters, which described the document as representing "Bolton's long-held hardline "Libya model" of denuclearization. A lunch between the two leaders was canceled that day. Kim said during his Friday speech that in Hanoi, the United States came "to the talks only racking its brain to find ways that are absolutely impracticable," and did "not really ready itself to sit with us face-to-face and settle the problem," Kim added - nothing that his personal relationship with Trump is still good. "If it (the United States) keeps thinking that way, it will never be able to move the DPRK even a knuckle, nor gain any interests no matter how many times it may sit for talks with the DPRK," Kim added.

 Trump Vetoes Resolution to End US Support for Saudi-Led Yemen War — On Tuesday, President Trump capped off months of effort in Congress to pass a War Powers Act challenge to the US involvement in the war in Yemen, vetoing the bill and claiming it was a “dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities.”The bill, SJ Res 7, was a straightforward bill under the War Powers Act of 1973. The bill noted that Congress never authorized the US war in Yemen, and demanded an end to it. The US Constitution grants sole power to declare wars to the Congress, and by extension the power to order an end to illegal wars.It is a mere accident of the way bills work that actions under the War Powers Act, designed explicitly as a check on presidential attempts to illegally seize war-making powers, can even be voted by the president. Yet SJ Res 7 won such a narrow victory int he Senate that it would be highly unlikely that an override of the veto will even be attempted. This threatens to set a very dangerous precedent, as after decades of presidents claiming unilateral war-making powers, Yemen was the first real challenge under the War Powers Act to get any momentum. That it was wiped away with an easy veto, and little controversy, only adds to the appearance that the president has unilateral war-making powers, at least as a de facto matter, and Congressional oversight exists only on paper.

 Vetoing Congressional resolution, Trump reaffirms US support for Saudi slaughter in Yemen - President Donald Trump vetoed a Congressional resolution Tuesday that would have required the United States to end direct military support for the Saudi-led slaughter in Yemen, which is now in its fifth year, with airstrikes and other combat operations directly causing the deaths of some 80,000 people. Trump’s veto reaffirms his administration’s support for the war that has resulted in one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, leaving 8 million people on the brink of famine and at least 85,000 children dead from starvation.The war began in 2015 with the support of the Obama administration, which provided Saudi jets with midair refueling and established a joint planning center to provide Saudi forces with intelligence and approve military targets. The US has also provided Saudi Arabia with billions of dollars in jet fighters, bombs and other military equipment and training, which has been used to destroy homes, factories, hospitals, schools, markets and critical water and electrical infrastructure.While seven Republicans in the Senate and 16 in the House joined the Democrats in voting in favor of ending US intervention in Yemen, proponents of the measure won’t be able to pull together the two-thirds majority required to overturn Trump’s veto.The president’s veto statement, delivered to the Senate, is a declaration of the absolute authority of the president to wage war directly and via proxies without the fig-leaf of Congressional approval or oversight. "This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future," Trump wrote. The resolution was opposed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, who insist that the war is necessary to counter Iran, which Washington has claimed, without evidence, is arming the Houthi rebels who overthrew the US and Saudi puppet regime of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in 2014.

Gabbard Campaign Video Slams Trump For Making US The Prostitute Of Saudi Arabia -- Democratic presidential candidate for 2020 Rep. Tulsi Gabbard lashed out at Trump on Wednesday after the president vetoed the Yemen War Powers Resolution this week, which sought to end US support for the Sauid-led war in Yemen. The Hawaiian congresswomen and outspoken US foreign policy critic asserted the president is turning the nation “into the prostitute of Saudi Arabia” and further stated he vetoed the bill “to please his Saudi masters” in a minute-and-a-half campaign video. "Unlike Donald Trump I will not turn our great country into the prostitute of Saudi Arabia."  The former combat veteran who served in the Iraq War has gotten visibility and vast push back even within her own party for making "ending regime change wars" her campaign focus. “By vetoing the war powers resolution, Trump has again proven that he is the servant of Saudi Arabia, the theocratic dictatorship that spends billions of dollars every single year spreading the most extreme and intolerant form of Islam around the world,” Gabbard said in a social media video. “The very same ideology that motivated al Qaeda and other jihadists,” she added, echoing her prior theme calling out Saudi support for al-Qaedia and ISIS. The 37-year-old had  been a key mover behind the bipartisan congressional push to invoke the war powers act directing the commander-in-chief to remove US forces from the Yemen campaign within 30 days.

Jimmy Carter Lectures Trump: US Is ‘Most Warlike Nation in History of the World’ - The only U.S. president to complete his term without war, military attack or occupation has called the United States “the most warlike nation in the history of the world.” During his regular Sunday school lesson at Maranatha Baptist Church in his hometown of Plains, Georgia, Jimmy Carter revealed that he had recently spoken with President Donald Trump about China. Carter, 94, said Trump was worried about China’s growing economy and expressed concern that “China is getting ahead of us.” Carter, who normalized diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing in 1979, said he told Trump that much of China’s success was due to its peaceful foreign policy. “Since 1979, do you know how many times China has been at war with anybody?” Carter asked. “None, and we have stayed at war.” While it is true that China’s last major war — an invasion of Vietnam — occurred in 1979, its People’s Liberation Army pounded border regions of Vietnam with artillery and its navy battled its Vietnamese counterpart in the 1980s. Since then, however, China has been at peace with its neighbors and the world. Carter then said the U.S. has been at peace for only 16 of its 242 years as a nation. Counting wars, military attacks and military occupations, there have actually only been five years of peace in US history — 1976, the last year of the Gerald Ford administration and 1977-80, the entirety of Carter’s presidency. Carter then referred to the US as “the most warlike nation in the history of the world,” a result, he said, of the US forcing other countries to “adopt our American principles.” China’s peace dividend has allowed and enhanced its economic growth, Carter said. “How many miles of high-speed railroad do we have in this country?” he asked. China has around 18,000 miles (29,000 km) of high speed rail lines while the US has “wasted, I think, $3 trillion” on military spending. According to a November 2018 study by Brown University’s Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs, the US has spent $5.9 trillion waging war in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other nations since 2001. “It’s more than you can imagine,” Carter said of U.S. war spending. “China has not wasted a single penny on war, and that’s why they’re ahead of us. In almost every way.”

Bernie Sanders’ Foreign Policy Vision is Incoherent and Dangerous — Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is now leading the pack of Democratic contenders for the 2020 presidential nomination. In the previous election cycle, Sanders served as an anti-establishment underdog, bucking Democratic orthodoxy with a strong progressive economic message. But this time the field is more crowded with like-minded candidates –“progressives” like Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris. It follows then that in order to distinguish himself, Sanders needs visionary solutions to problems outside of the economic realm. In the foreign policy arena, however, he is looking for inspiration on Israel-Palestine from tried-and-failed Democratic presidents of the past — namely, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton — all while echoing Trump and Bush Jr. administration talking points.Sanders has also brought one Robert Malley onto his foreign policy team. Malley served on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council as “Special Assistant to President Obama & Senior Adviser to the President for the Counter-ISIL Campaign” from February 2014 to January 2017. Under his watch, the U.S led operations which saw the near-total destruction of the historic cities of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. Despite this, the New York Times opinion section has said Sanders “stands as one of the few candidates with a fully formed vision for American foreign policy,” while The Atlantic claims “It’s Foreign Policy That Distinguishes Bernie This Time.” In an in-depth article in The New Yorker, journalist Benjamin Wallace-Wells recounts his interview with Sanders and his foreign policy advisor, Matt Duss, a former “Policy Analyst” at the notoriously anti-Sanders Center for American Progress, which receives funding from the United Arab Emirates. Wallace-Wells notes that Sanders’ full foreign policy team left him “surprised” by “how mainstream they seemed.”  Joe Cirincione is a well-known and well-respected progressive figure devoted to denuclearization. Suzanne DiMaggio, for her part, has received praise from Timothy Shorrock — a leading progressive journalist focused on the defense industry and the Korean Peninsula. Her words have also been featured by 38 North, which is arguably the fairest outlet focusing on North Korea and is distinguished by its facts-first approach. She is, however, indisputably part of the establishment, as is respected enough by members of the U.S. Senate that her advice was sought after Trump agreed to an initial meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Trump: Israelis should be immune from Int’l Criminal Court prosecution - — The Trump administration again named Israelis along with Americans as deserving immunity from International Criminal Court prosecution.  In a statement Friday, President Donald Trump declared victory after the ICC rejected a request to investigate U.S. personnel for actions in Afghanistan. “Since the creation of the ICC, the United States has consistently declined to join the court because of its broad, unaccountable prosecutorial powers; the threat it poses to American national sovereignty; and other deficiencies that render it illegitimate,” the White House said in a statement it attributed to Trump. “Any attempt to target American, Israeli, or allied personnel for prosecution will be met with a swift and vigorous response.”  It’s the second time that the Trump administration has extended its vow to protect allies from the court explicitly to Israelis. Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said ICC officials who prosecute Americans or Israelis would be denied entry into the United States.  The ICC is known to be considering whether to act on a request by the Palestinian Authority to investigate Israeli officials for war crimes. Like the United States, Israel is not a member of the court and thus its citizens are susceptible to court action only if they are in countries that belong to the ICC.

al-Sisi is evidently not impressed with Trump -- "The reasons behind the decision, according to the sources, is that Egypt doesn’t wish to harm its relations with Iran, as well as it doesn’t believe that US President Donald Trump would be elected for a second term. If Trump is gone that jeopardizes the entire “Arab NATO” idea since the next POTUS may decide not to follow through. On April 9th, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi visited the US and met with Donald Trump. Trump said that they spoke of security issues, but neither the Arab NATO nor Iran were mentioned in the press conference following the meeting.  Both leaders praised the warm relations between the countries, which could presumably be spoiled if the reports of Egypt giving up efforts are true. In addition to the US and Saudi Arabia, the MESA proposed participants include the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Jordan. Two anonymous sources also told Al Jazeera that the project would be moving forward and that Egypt would be pressured into not revoking its membership. The project was initially proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2017, and was perpetuated by US President Donald Trump.."  SF and al jazeera   It surprises me that Egypt has rather brazenly walked away from the Boltonesque fantasy of an "Arab NATO."  I would have thought that the paychecks Egypt receives every year from the American taxpayer and the Saudis would have kept Sisi in line, but apparently  the prospect of other sources of funding affected the decision to defy the Amiirkaan. With the exception of Jordan's small but competent armed forces, Egypt is the only  country among the members that possesses significant military power,  The armed forces of the other countries are mere playthings for princes.  Egypt's withdrawal from this alliance makes the farcical nature of the plan quite clear.  This is a humiliation for the US in that it demonstrates the waning power and influence of the US in the region and most especially of Donald Trump who has demonstrated his indifference to the interests of the Arabs in repeated slavish support of Israel against the Palestinians, Lebanese and Syrians.On Tax Day, Still 'No Evidence' Trump Tax Cuts Are Trickling Down to Workers

Egypt Withdraws From Trump's Arab NATO Group - Egypt has reportedly withdrawn from President Donald Trump’s “Arab NATO” initiative following President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s visit to Washington. According to Reuters, Egypt has made the decision to withdraw from the U.S.-led “Middle East Security Alliance”, which has been dubbed “Arab NATO”.  This NATO-like group that has been formed by the U.S. administration is composed of a number of Arab states, including Jordan, the United Arab Emirtes, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, and Qatar.  Furthermore, sources from Reuters said the Egyptian authorities were partially motivated by uncertainty over President Trump’s re-election and whether his successor would scrap the entire initiative — just like Trump himself scrapped the Iranian Nuclear Deal. Cairo’s decision is believed to have inflicted a blow on Trump’s strategy of curbing Iranian influence in the region, Reuters says further.  It is worth noting that Egypt has been flirting with the idea of purchasing the Russian-made Su-35 stealth jets; this has prompted outrage from the Trump administration. According to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, “We have made clear that systems were to be purchased that… would require sanctions on the regime” he 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,” Pompeo said previously. Egypt is the most densely populated country in North Africa; it also possesses one of the strongest militaries in the Arab world.

Is The US Losing Influence In The World's Biggest Oil Region? -Egyptian President Abdul Fatah al-Sisi’s visit to the White House on April 9, 2019, resulted in one of the worst setbacks for U.S. Middle Eastern policy under the Donald Trump Administration. What was supposed to be a fence-mending exercise between the two countries essentially ended many of the meaningful strategic aspects of the U.S.-Egyptian relationship, despite the fact that the public appearances between the two presidents appeared to be cordial. There have been significant areas of difference and frustration between Egypt and the US, even since the Trump Administration came to office, but there was at least a concerted effort on both sides to work harmoniously. There has also been good personal chemistry between the two presidents since Trump ended what the Egyptians had regarded as a disastrous period under Barack Obama. President Sisi had essentially broken off strategic relations with the U.S. during the Obama Administration tenure in order to resist Obama’s insistence that the Muslim Brotherhood play a larger role in Egyptian politics. The question now is who in the Washington bureaucracy will take the blame for pushing Trump to insist on actions by al-Sisi which any fundamental analysis of the situation points to being infeasible and against Egypt’s view of its own strategic interests. That is not to say that Egypt wishes to end cordiality and cooperation between Washington and Cairo; it does not. But certain battle lines have been drawn in the greater Middle East, and Cairo and the U.S. are not altogether on the same side. Both sides will need to undertake significant, careful action to put relations back on a positive path before the break becomes calcified. The failure on this occasion lay at the door of the U.S. for failing to realize that Washington now needs Egypt more than Egypt needs the U.S.

Trump praises Haftar in apparent reversal of US policy on Libya  - Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Libya's capital, Tripoli, on Friday after US President Donald Trump praised Libya's Khalifa Haftar amid a military assault by the renegade general to seize the capital. A White House statement said Trump and Haftar spoke by phone on Monday "to discuss ongoing counterterrorism efforts to achieve peace and stability in Libya". On April 4, Haftar and his forces launched an offensive against the country's internationally recognised government, which is based in Tripoli. In their phone call, Trump "recognised Field Marshal Haftar's significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya's oil resources, and the two discussed a shared vision for Libya's transition to a stable, democratic political system." It was unclear why the White House waited several days to announce the phone call. Trump's praise for Haftar was seen in Tripoli as a reversal in US policy on Libya, as earlier this month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded an immediate halt to Haftar's offensive. Al Jazeera's Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from Tripoli, said news of the conversation caused anger in the capital with residents perceiving the call as a show of support by Trump for Haftar's offensive. "People are very angry, thousands of people have come out here on the main streets and squares especially in Tripoli and they are calling on the international community to stop the military aggression by Haftar forces," he said. At least 2,000 people took part in Friday's protest in Tripoli's Martyrs' Square to protest the push on Tripoli by Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA).

Trump’s Sanctions Kill Iranian Reforms - Rohollah Faghihi reports on the damage that Trump administration decisions have done to the political fortunes of Iranian moderates and reformists and their agenda. One of the practical effects of designating the IRGC as terrorists has been to reduce the chances that Iran will adopt international standards on money laundering and terrorism financing: Another impact of the IRGC’s designation as a foreign terrorist organization is the deterioration of prospects for the passage of bills designed to counter money laundering and terrorism financing.This legislation was submitted by the government to parliament in order to permanently exit the blacklist of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an intergovernmental organization created in 1989 that combats money laundering and terrorism financing. Accession to the UN Palermo Convention against transnational organized crime as well as becoming part of what is termed Combating the Financing of Terrorism has been stalled for months, with the bills stuck in the Expediency Council, which mediates disputes between parliament and the Guardian Council. The dispute has pitted the Rouhani administration against mainly hard-liners. “The US action will enhance and strengthen the position of Expediency Council members regarding the FATF [bills] and the likelihood of rejecting them has increased,” said Gholam-Reza Mesbahi Moghaddam, a member of the Expediency Council, on April 8. Applying an overly broad and inappropriate designation to the IRGC has just made it more difficult for supporters of the anti-money laundering legislation to get their bills passed. The administration’s heavy-handed misuse of the foreign terrorist organization (FTO) list is actually harming efforts to combat the financing of terrorism. Instead of encouraging Iran to crack down on money laundering and terrorism financing, the Trump administration just handed the opponents of these measures a propaganda coup and most likely torpedoed the legislation by once again undermining its advocates.

Putin, Xi, Assad, & Maduro vs. the American Hegemon - The American foreign policy Blob’s latest worry is that Venezuela’s radical leftist government is reaching out to the Middle East for support against growing pressure from Washington. Specifically, President Nicolás Maduro is reportedly trying to establish extensive political and financial links with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah. The latter has repeatedly condemned U.S. policy towards Maduro, and already appears to have shadowy economic ties to Caracas. There are indications that Maduro’s regime may be utilizing Hezbollah to launder funds from the illegal drug trade.Washington’s fear is that lurking behind an Assad-Hezbollah-Maduro alliance is America’s arch-nemesis, Iran, which has close relations with both Assad and Hezbollah. Tehran’s apparent objective would be to strengthen the Venezuelan regime, boost anti-U.S. sentiment in the Western Hemisphere, and perhaps acquire some laundered money from a joint Maduro-Hezbollah operation to ease the pain of U.S. economic sanctions re-imposed following the Trump administration’s repudiation of the nuclear deal.  Although Iran, Assad, and Hezbollah remain primarily concerned with developments in their own region, the fear that they want to undermine Washington’s power in its own backyard is not unfounded. But U.S. leaders should ask themselves why such diverse factions would coalesce behind that objective.    It is hardly the only example of this to emerge in recent years, and the principal cause appears to be Washington’s own excessively belligerent policies. That approach is driving together regimes that have little in common except the need to resist U.S. pressure. Washington’s menacing posture undermines rather than enhances American security, and especially in one case—provoking an expanding entente between Russia and China—it poses a grave danger.

Venezuela’s military, despite U.S. expectations, has not turned on Maduro - WaPo.When the Trump administration first demanded in January that Venezuela’s government step aside and allow the political opposition to take over, hopes were high that the Venezuelan military would quickly change sides and make it happen. Underpaid, underfed and humiliated by the autocratic turn their once-rich and democratic country had taken, the armed forces were the linchpin of the U.S. administration’s strategy. Some U.S. officials predicted that Venezuela’s military would flip en masse within days. Nearly three months later, Venezuela’s top-heavy military remains largely intact under President Nicolás Maduro. The once-brisk pace of defections to neighboring Colombia has slowed to a trickle. Fewer than 1,500 Venezuelan soldiers, relieved by the Colombian government of their weapons and uniforms and housed in sparsely furnished hotel rooms near the border, now sit waiting for something to happen. Most are consumed with worry about family and friends at home. A few are making plans to move on to new lives in Peru, Chile or beyond. Many think that a U.S. military invasion is coming and that the Americans will want their help. Some express anger at what they see as ineffectual U.S. bluster and are calling colleagues still inside, telling them to stay put. “I think the administration, as well as the opposition, put too much hope in the military rising up,” said a former senior U.S. official who worked on President Trump’s Venezuela policy. “Hope is not a plan.” The opposition, whose leader, Juan Guaidó, is now recognized by the United States and several dozen other countries as interim president, while Maduro remains in place, “should have had a plan for [the military], and they didn’t,” said a senior official of one of several Latin American countries hosting the defectors. This official and others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive foreign policy matter. .

Is the U.S. Prepared to Accept a Defeat in Venezuela?  - The attack should have been short since the Maduro administration was not strong enough to resist. This was the conviction of the United States as they carried out a strategy to overthrow him: they built a President 2.0 Juan Guaido; they gave him a fictionalized government, international recognition, a collective narrative among mass media companies, accelerated economic sanctions at different levels. Overlapping these variables, different results were expected to be achieved on their path of getting a forced negotiation or the toppling of the government.Events did not take the planned course. First and most important, the breaking of the Bolivarian National Armed Force (FANB): a crucial element that should have happened but did not. A series of tactics were implemented for it, from internal conspiracy with the support of a lot of dollars, visas and guarantees, or the strategy of a latent threat of a possible U.S. intervention. A combination of bluff - an unloaded weapon pointed at your head - with built up dates to try to achieve a rupture, such as on February 23rd.The second event that should have occurred, despite the difficulty in defining a target, was Guaido supposedly building mass support in the streets. He boasted that 90 per cent of the population supports him. Pictures of his mass mobilization capacity show that the initial momentum on January 23, when his self-proclamation was acknowledged by Donald Trump through a tweet, lost strength. A major reason for this was the crisis of expectations that resulted from the unfulfilled promise of an immediate outcome. Another is that it was an artificial, communicational, diplomatic construction which could not gather more than the right’s historical rank-and-file supporters, characterized by a specific social, geographic class, living conditions, idiosyncrasy and symbolism. The opposition looked too much like themselves. Third was the attempt to take the poor to the streets; blackouts and the water shortages were the most favorable of the scenarios to provoke this. But the outcome was not what they expected either.  The clearer and wide reaching reality was the majority trying to solve their problems, individually, collectively, together with the Venezuelan Government. Sustained protests, fostered almost completely by the right, were scarce and without capacity to spread in the country.

Trump Administration Mulls Attacking Venezuela — On Wednesday, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) hosted an “off-the-record” event during which a number of President Trump’s highest ranking advisers discussed the possibility of a US military attack on Venezuela. This included a number of State Department and National Security Council officials, along with officials dispatched from Colombian and Brazilian embassies. Representatives of US-backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido also took part.Details of what was dismissed have not been disclosed, above and beyond the general possibility of the US attacking Venezuela, and the different options for ways the US could attack them going forward.That the Trump Administration is considering attacking Venezuela as an option is no secret, as they tell reporters that much at seemingly every opportunity. That they are holding such events to discuss the details, however, suggest a US war may be closer than anyone realizes.

US Military Attack on Venezuela Mulled by Top Trump Advisors and Latin American Officials at Private DC Meeting -The Washington, DC-based think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) hosted a private roundtable on April 10 called “Assessing the Use of Military Force in Venezuela.” A list of attendees was provided to The Grayzone and two participants confirmed the meeting took place. They refused to offer any further detail, however.Among the roughly 40 figures invited to the off-the-record event to discuss potential US military action against Caracas were some of the most influential advisors on President Donald Trump’s Venezuela policy. They included current and former State Department, National Intelligence Council, and National Security Council officials, along with Admiral Kurt Tidd, who was until recently the commander of US SOUTHCOM.Senior officials from the Colombian and Brazilian embassies like Colombian General Juan Pablo Amaya, as well as top DC representatives from Venezuelan coup leader Juan Guaido’s shadow government, also participated in the meeting.On January 23, following backroom maneuvers, the United States openly initiated a coup attempt against Venezuela’s elected government by recognizing National Assembly president Juan Guaido as the country’s “interim president.”Since then, Venezuela has endured a series of provocations and the steady escalation of punishing economic sanctions. President Nicolas Maduro has accused the US of attacks on the Simon Bolivar hydroelectric plant at the Guri dam, which have led to country-wide blackouts openly celebrated by top Trump officials.In a March 5 call with Russian pranksters posing as the president of the Swiss Federation, US special envoy for Venezuela Elliot Abrams ruled out military action against Venezuela, revealing that he had only held out the threat to “make the Venezuelan military nervous.” Since then, however, Guaido has failed to mobilize the national protest wave the Trump administration had anticipated, and the Venezuelan military has demonstrated unwavering loyalty to Maduro. In Washington, the sense of urgency has risen with each passing day.

Attendees of Secret Meeting for ‘US Military Assault’ on Venezuela Revealed – A group dedicated to regime change in Venezuela held a secret meeting on overthrowing the country’s government last week, according to reporting from The Grayzone Project. Journalist Max Blumenthal on Sunday revealed a list of meeting attendees he obtained over the weekend from a source.  The list (in which the meeting is misdated as being on April 20) shows that the event, held at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., boasted as attendees members of the State Department, the Colombian and Brazilian embassies, members of the Venezuelan opposition, and other officials in the American national security state.  The meeting comes after multiple failed attempts to depose the government of President Nicolas Maduro, who was elected in 2018. The President Donald Trump administration has made no secret of their intent to see Maduro gone—but thus far, nothing has worked.“The CSIS meeting on ‘Assessing the Use of Military Force in Venezuela,'” wrote Blumenthal, “suggests that the Trump administration is exploring military options more seriously than before, possibly out of frustration with the fact that every other weapon in its arsenal has failed to bring down Maduro.”In the article, Blumenthal gave a brief overview of a number of the meeting’s more prominent attendees, including Iran-Contra veteran Roger Noriega and David Smolansky, a Venezuelan national who works with the right wing Organization of American States (OAS), a regional organization for the Americas led in recent years by hardline Venezuela regime change advocates. “Few of these figures are well known by the public, yet many have played an influential role in U.S. plans to destabilize Venezuela,” explained Blumenthal.

New US policy on seized property in Cuba threatens EU ties - The Trump administration will ramp up pressure against Cuba by allowing US nationals to file lawsuits against foreign companies doing business on the island. The major policy shift sets the stage for fresh economic disputes between the US and Europe. It also marks a new escalation in Washington's policy to hammer Havana over its support for Venezuela's socialist acting President Nicolas Maduro. National Security Adviser John Bolton will announce the policy change during a speech Wednesday in Miami, which is home to exiles and immigrants from Cuba, a senior administration official said Tuesday. The speech will also be used to announce new sanctions on Venezuela and Nicaragua, two leftist allies of Communist Cuba. Ahead of Bolton's speech, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking at the State Department, confirmed that the US will allow lawsuits against foreign companies operating on properties that were seized from Americans during the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Pompeo said, "Any person or company doing business in Cuba should heed this announcement." The change will go into effect May 2. The US decision to end a two-decade waiver to part of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act could expose US, European and Canadian companies to billions of dollars in legal claims and undermine Cuba's attempts to attract more foreign investment at a time of economic crisis triggered in part by steep cuts in subsidized Venezuelan oil. Title III of the Act gave Americans who fled Cuba the right to take legal action in US courts against mostly European companies operating out of properties Cuba nationalized following the island's 1959 revolution. In addition, the administration will begin to enforce Title IV of the Act, which requires the denial of US visas to those who "confiscate or 'traffic' in confiscated property in Cuba claimed by US nationals."

 Pentagon Developing Military Options to Deter Russia and China in Venezuela— Under the orders of John Bolton, the Pentagon is busily developing new military options for Venezuela, both for the imposition of regime change, and more specifically for trying to deter either Russia or China from doing anything to help President Maduro.While officials continue to insist “all options are on the table,” Pentagon officials say that they are trying to come up with plans that stop short of direct military invasion or any combat operations.As with a lot of foreign policy cases, the administration’s appetite for aggressive military intervention doesn’t necessarily extend to the Pentagon leadership, and they are more inclined to try to focus on increasing their regional presence instead of outright trying to conquer Venezuela. While Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused China of bankrolling Maduro to prolong the crisis, Chinese officials fired back that Pompeo’s comments were “irresponsible and utterly unjustifiable,” adding that “lies are lies, even if you say it a thousand times, they are still lies. Mr. Pompeo, you can stop.”

Pompeo Has Lost His Mind - China Hits Back At Latin America Remarks - China has come out swinging after Mike Pompeo's three-day Latin America tour in which the Secretary of State publicly called out China for spreading "disorder" in Latin America alongside Russia. Pompeo identified the two countries, both of which have over the past two months condemned US efforts toward regime change in Venezuela, of backing failing investment projects that only fuel corruption and undermine democracy, especially in Venezuela.China’s ambassador to Chile, Xu Bu, quickly lashed out in response to America's top diplomat blaming China for Latin America's economic woes which first came last Friday while standing alongside Chilean President Sebastian Pinera. Ambassador Xu told the Chilean newspaper La Tercera: “Mr Pompeo has lost his mind.” Pompeo had asserted during his tour that Chinese investment and economic intervention in Venezuela, now facing financial and infrastructural collapse amidst political turmoil, had "helped destroy" the country and said Latin American leaders must therefore see who their "true friend" is. “China’s bankrolling of the Maduro regime helped precipitate and prolong the crisis in that country,” Pompeo had stated, and further described Maduro as “a power-hungry tyrant who has brought ruin to his country and to his people”.“I think there’s a lesson … to be learned for all of us: China and others are being hypocritical calling for non-intervention in Venezuela’s affairs. Their own financial interventions have helped destroy that country,” Pompeo added.China is Venezuela’s biggest foreign creditor has provided up to $62bn in loans since 2007, according to estimates.The Chinese foreign ministry didn't hold back in its response: “For some time, some US politicians have been carrying the same version, the same script of slandering China all over the world, and fanning the flames and sowing discord everywhere,” Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a Monday statement.  “The words and deeds are despicable. But lies are lies, even if you say it a thousand times, they are still lies. Mr Pompeo, you can stop,” the spokesman said.

 Pentagon Approves $500 Million Taiwan F-16 Support Program Amid Chinese Threats -  Military build-up and escalation of already heightened tensions between Taiwan and China are on the horizon after the Pentagon approved a new multimillion-dollar training and maintenance program for F-16 fighter jets. The approved program, to take place entirely on US soil, is estimated to cost $500 million and includes flight training, approved training exercises, supply and maintenance support, and spare and repair parts for the F-16; however, the State Department insists the support program is "unrelated" to Taiwan's latest push to purchase a new batch of the jet fighters from the US.It will train Taiwanese F-16 pilots and maintenance crews at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, and continues a program that already goes back several years.A Pentagon statement on Monday said as follows: “This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security and defensive capability of the recipient, which has been and continues to be an important force for political stability, military balance, and economic progress in the region.”And a US State Department official told CNN: "Today's notification is consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act and our support for Taiwan's ability to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability."China has lately conducted a series of military games which many see as signaling and asserting Beijing's authority over Taiwan as the US establishes closer military ties. The latest involved Chinese Sukhoi-30 and Jian-11 jets flying near the autonomous island, which Taiwanese warplanes reportedly shadowed from afar. Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen hailed the new Pentagon approved program “timely” and warned that Beijing’s stepped up military presence near the island “served to strengthen our resolve”. She described the new program as coming “a day after Chinese warplanes once again were flying by to sabotage stability in the Taiwan Strait and the region, and damaging the status quo,” according to the South China Morning Post.

Trade deal nears, but tensions are rising over China’s inroads into America’s backyard - While China and the United States are edging closer to a trade deal to end their protracted tariff war, the mutual distrust and geopolitical rivalry between the world’s top two economies appears to be escalating. Squabbles over China’s growing influence in Latin America and the Caribbean broke out again after Beijing last week secured Jamaica’s official endorsement of its vast “Belt and Road Initiative”. Jamaica joined President Xi Jinping’s signature infrastructure and trade push on Thursday by signing a memorandum of understanding, making it the latest Caribbean country to join the initiative after Barbados, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana. Beijing’s political and economic inroads into countries deemed to be America’s backyard have apparently unnerved Washington, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ramping up his criticism of China in the past few days. During a four-nation tour of Latin America, the top US diplomat focused heavily on China’s role in Venezuela and growing economic reach in the region, accusing Beijing of injecting predatory, corrosive capital to buy off corrupt leaders and playing a long game against Washington’s interests.

Washington Backtracks On Enforcement Progress, Caves On Demands Beijing Scrap Industrial Subsidies - Despite Trade Rep. Robert Lighthizer's insistence that Washington leverage its position of advantage - i.e. the unassailable fact that its tariffs had contributed to a precarious deceleration in Chinese economic growth - the Trump Administration's trade team has repeatedly caved to Beijing. First, the administration compromised on enforcement (the administration has reportedly punted it to 2025) to the currency manipulation. And now it has reportedly softened its demands for the 'structural economic reforms' that Trump had insisted on as part of the final deal. According to Reuters, US negotiators have 'tempered' their demands that Beijing roll back some of its industrial state subsidies as part of the trade deal. Washington's demands were reportedly met with 'strong resistance' from Beijing. The issue is a thorny one because China's brand of state-directed capitalism is deeply tied up with the tax breaks and other advantages that Beijing bestows on state-owned firms, and it's possible that many of these firms could fail without the government's support, potentially setting off a destabilizing chain reaction. The issue of industrial subsidies is thorny because they are intertwined with the Chinese government’s industrial policy. Beijing grants subsidies and tax breaks to state-owned firms and to sectors seen as strategic for long-term development. Chinese President Xi Jinping has strengthened the state’s role in parts of the economy. And as the Trump administration looks to secure a deal in the next month or so, expect them to cave on more of their demands and focus on priorities that they consider "achievable." These include: Ending forced technology transfers, improving intellectual property protection, expanding access to Chinese markets for American firms (and in particular American tech firms). In what sounded like an attempt to spin Washington's walk-backs on subsidies and enforcement, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin - one of the officials tasked with leading the trade delegation - said during a Monday morning interview that there was "more work to do" including on the issue of enforcement, after saying last week that the two sides had agreed to opening 'enforcement offices'. When it comes to restrictions on state subsidies, expect any language in the deal to be vague, allowing Beijing substantial wiggle room to largely maintain the status quo.

U.S. waters down demand China ax subsidies in push for trade deal – sources - (Reuters) - U.S. negotiators have tempered demands that China curb industrial subsidies as a condition for a trade deal after strong resistance from Beijing, according to two sources briefed on discussions, marking a retreat on a core U.S. objective for the trade talks. The world’s two biggest economies are nine months into a trade war that has cost billions of dollars, roiled financial markets and upended supply chains. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has slapped tariffs on $250 billion worth of imports of Chinese goods to press demands for an end to policies - including industrial subsidies - that Washington says hurt U.S. companies competing with Chinese firms. China responded with its own tit-for-tat tariffs on U.S. goods. The issue of industrial subsidies is thorny because they are intertwined with the Chinese government’s industrial policy. Beijing grants subsidies and tax breaks to state-owned firms and to sectors seen as strategic for long-term development. Chinese President Xi Jinping has strengthened the state’s role in parts of the economy. In the push to secure a deal in the next month or so, U.S. negotiators have become resigned to securing less than they would like on curbing those subsidies and are focused instead on other areas where they consider demands are more achievable, the sources said.

U.S. Farmers Fear China Trade Deal Will Leave Them Worse Off - Some U.S. farm groups fear that President Donald Trump’s terms for easing his trade war with China risk leaving large swaths of American agriculture worse off than before the conflict began. Many producers are alarmed by signs that the administration would accept Chinese purchase target pledges for commodities like soybeans and pork without a promise to lift retaliatory tariffs, said industry representatives, some of whom spoke only on condition of anonymity to avoid consequences for publicly criticizing the administration. “This is of great concern to producers out here facing another year of tariffs,” said Mark Powers, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, which represents cherry, pear and apple growers in the Pacific Northwest. “We’re disappointed. Clearly the priority lies elsewhere.” Farmers are unnerved by Trump’s enthusiasm for tariffs and his tendency to pick industry winners and losers, even as he promises in general terms to put “America first” in negotiations with the U.S.’s largest trading partner. As China and the U.S. aim to finalize a trade truce within the next month, Beijing is considering a U.S. request to shift some tariffs on key agricultural goods to other products, people familiar with the situation said. But Trump is still vowing to maintain some U.S. tariffs as leverage for enforcement, which China could counter by continuing retaliatory duties on farmers despite possible purchase agreements for some commodities.  People familiar with the trade negotiations say there has been no agreement to remove retaliatory tariffs, and the issue is likely to be one of the last resolved. Several farm groups are quietly lobbying the administration to reject any agreement maintaining the agricultural levies but have not yet received any assurances from the White House. “Our guys are being told, sorry, you guys are going to have to pay the price,” Powers said. “It’s a hard message to accept.”

U.S. Soybean Exports Plunge, No Recovery In Sight, Farmers Are Concerned About Tariff Man  - Despite earlier good news on the US-China trade deficit, U.S. soybean exports have plunged to their lowest levels since the early days of the U.S.-China trade war in what is an alarming sign for farmers pleading with the Trump administration to resolve all trade disputes.Current data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) revealed that the total U.S. soybean exports reached 460,700 metric tons last week, down from 888,700 tons in the previous week and just above 446,500 tons in the same week a year ago. Of the soybean shipments last week, only 130,200 tons were loaded on vessels for China.The implementation of U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods last summer spurred Beijing to abandon U.S. farmers for South American growers, cultivating links with Argentina and Brazil.American farmers are expected to plant less soybean this year, down 5% to 84.6 million acres according to the USDA, and Chinese feed demand is likely to collapse amid the outbreak of African Swine Fever across several provinces.This means that "even if an agreement was reached between China and the USA, a return to the quantities of soybeans traded before the outbreak of the dispute would be highly unlikely," said Germany’s Commerzbank.The continuing trade dispute has caused bilateral trade between both countries to almost collapse. Total U.S. exports of soybeans globally fell 28% y/y in March compared with the same 12-month period in 2017-2018, at 30 million mt, down from 41.6 million mt.American growers are troubled by indications that the administration would accept Chinese purchase target pledges for soybean without a commitment to lift retaliatory tariffs, said industry representatives, some of whom spoke only on condition of anonymity to Bloomberg."This is of great concern to producers out here facing another year of tariffs," said Mark Powers, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, which represents cherry, pear and apple growers in the Pacific Northwest. "We’re disappointed. Clearly the priority lies elsewhere." Farmers are disturbed by Trump’s interest in tariffs that are destroying free markets while his administration gets to pick industry winners and losers. This is more of a command and control market - some farmers suggested.

Trump Stirs Alarm That He May Be Giving China a New Trade Weapon - High on the list of President Donald Trump’s priorities as he tries to close a trade deal with counterpart Xi Jinping is making sure China faces consequences if it doesn’t live up to its promises. Yet in pursuing that goal Trump may also be giving China a new cudgel to use on American companies and striking another blow to the international rule of law. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said the U.S. has made its own commitments to China and agreed that both sides will be subject to an enforcement mechanism. “This will be a two-way agreement in enforcement,’’ Mnuchin said Monday, after saying over the weekend that the U.S. would be open to “certain repercussions.” Details of the U.S. commitments and how the enforcement mechanism will operate remain scant. But Mnuchin’s comments have caused plenty of raised eyebrows from legal scholars to the business community and Congress. If the U.S. allows China reciprocal enforcement powers, it would make China “judge, jury and executioner as to whether we have honored our obligations,’’ “I don’t think the U.S. business community is sufficiently alert to the risk of constantly being exposed to unilateral enforcement action by China.” The Trump administration wants to have a mechanism that would allow it to quickly punish any foot-dragging by Chinese officials by imposing tariffs or other sanctions without having to go through the World Trade Organization or other adjudicators that they argue have been ineffective in the past. But any reciprocal deal would give Chinese leaders another way to quickly apply their own pressure on American companies. Business groups have declined to comment publicly about Mnuchin’s statements, saying the model of the enforcement system isn’t clear yet. Lobbyists nevertheless complain they’re not being consulted by the administration and fret that once a deal is announced American companies will be forced to accept it as a fait accompli.

GOP senators divided on Trump trade pushback - Senate Republicans are negotiating among themselves over how to respond to President Trump's trade agenda as they brace for new tariffs on the European Union and a trade deal with China that some fear could leave American farmers worse off. There are divisions over whether to send a stern message to the White House with a tough bill that’s likely to get vetoed — or a more modest proposal that could actually get Trump’s signature and become law. It was a dilemma that GOP leaders eschewed altogether in the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections, deciding not to advance legislation curbing Trump’s power to impose tariffs for fear an intraparty fight could hurt voter turnout. This year, however, there is strong support from influential members of the Senate GOP for reining in Trump’s tariff power but disagreement over exactly how to proceed, putting Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in a bind. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) says he will introduce legislation in the coming weeks that would strengthen what his office calls “checks and balances between Congress and the executive branch by imposing new consultation and reporting requirements.” He says that any trade restrictions imposed by the president would be limited to a defined period of time unless extended by an act of Congress. But Republicans on the Finance panel are divided over how hard to push back against Trump, with two leading members — Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) — advocating for different, competing approaches that Grassley is trying to meld together behind the scenes.

U.S., China Aim for Early-May Announcement on Trade Deal - Senior U.S. and Chinese officials are scheduling more face-to-face trade talks in an effort to reach a deal by early-May that President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping could sign later that month, two people familiar with the plans said. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin plan to travel to Beijing the week of April 29, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. The next week Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will come to Washington for negotiations. During his visit, officials want to announce the sides have struck a deal and details of a signing summit, probably set for late May, they said. A spokeswoman for Lighthizer declined to comment on the trip. On April 4, Trump said it might take four weeks to put together a framework for the deal and two weeks more to get the details on paper. Trump, speaking at an event at the White House on Wednesday, said he thinks the negotiations will be “successful” and that an update would be announced shortly. The world’s two biggest economies are locked in negotiations to end the nine-month trade war that has roiled markets and threatened global growth. Mnuchin said on Saturday that the two sides are nearing the final rounds of negotiations. U.S. and Chinese officials have been in regular contact via digital teleconference since Liu last led a delegation to Washington in early April. The two sides are still haggling over an enforcement mechanism and what duties will stay in place or be removed. In an indication the Trump administration is making concessions needed to reach a deal, Mnuchin said that the pact will have “real enforcement on both sides.” That would mean the U.S. -- not just China -- could be hit with penalties if it fails to live up to its commitments. Bloomberg News reported Monday that China is considering a U.S. request to shift some of its retaliatory tariffs from key agricultural products to other American exports. The Trump administration made the demand with the goal to sell this deal as a win for U.S. farmers, people briefed on the negotiations said. One option under consideration is to hold the leaders’ signing summit in Japan where Trump is due to travel in May to meet the country’s new emperor, Crown Prince Naruhito, according to one of the people. The president will return in June for the Group of 20 summit.

 US, China Said To Aim For Late May Trade Deal Signing, But Markets Don't Care  --  Another day, another US-China trade progress headline - but this time it's different... The Wall Street Journal reports that according to a person familiar with the situation, the U.S. and China have tentatively scheduled a fresh round of face-to-face meetings as they seek to close out a trade deal, with negotiators aiming for a signing ceremony in late May or early June. And what makes it different is this - no market reaction at all to the farcical leak...There was a very modest rise in the yuan after the headline...Of course bear in ind that this latest preliminary schedule of meetings corresponds to a goal President Trump announced April 4 after meeting with Mr. Liu in the White House. “Within the next four weeks or maybe less, maybe more, whatever it takes, something very monumental could be announced,” Mr. Trump said at the time.

 China ‘regrets’ WTO ruling after losing grain import quota case brought by US -- China has promised to manage grain import tariff quotas within World Trade Organisation rules after losing an agriculture trade dispute case with the United States. A World Trade Organisation (WTO) panel decided that China’s system of tariff rate quota system for rice, wheat and corn violated international trading rules. China’s Ministry of Commerce said that it “regrets” the ruling and that it would “seriously study” the decision. The Commerce Ministry’s response is “a statement of acceptance” according to Tu Xinquan, a professor at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing. “It’s not the first time that China has lost a case at the WTO and it probably won’t the last – for China, it’s not a big deal,” said Tu. The WTO ruling in favour of Washington came over two years after the administration of former president Barack Obama filed its complaint with the global trade body recognised as the default go-to place to solve trade disputes between member nations. That acceptance, though, has changed to open scepticism under Trump, who has threatened to pull the US out of the trade body and push for bilateral negotiations to fix problems. The Obama administration filed its complaint against China’s quota system in December 2016, saying it denied US farmers access to the China market. If China’s tariff rate quotas for grain had been fully used, an additional US$3.5 billion worth of corn, wheat and rice would have been imported in 2015 alone, according to estimates by the US Department of Agriculture.

Pelosi: No US-UK trade deal if Brexit harms Irish peace deal - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) warned British politicians negotiating a withdrawal from the European Union that a trade deal with the U.S. would be off the table if Brexit harms Irish peace. “Let me be clear: if the Brexit deal undermines the Good Friday accords, there will be no chance of a U.S.-U.K. trade agreement,” Pelosi said in a Wednesday address to the Irish Parliament. The 1998 Good Friday Agreement brought to an end the Northern Ireland conflict, which broke out in the 1960s. One of the central difficulties British negotiators have faced in their Brexit negotiations is how to deal with Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K. but shares a border with Ireland, which is part of the EU. Those opposed to Brexit have raised concerns that a Brexit deal might require imposing a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, upsetting the deal that has maintained peace for over two decades. The EU proposed a “backstop” proposal that would allow Northern Ireland to continue functioning within the EU’s single market, but British politicians raised concerns that such a solution would create trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit proposal, called for an “Irish backstop” that would essentially leave the U.K. in Europe’s customs union and single market unless an alternative solution was agreed upon for Northern Ireland. Britain’s Parliament rejected the plan on several occasions, with Brexit proponents arguing that it left the U.K. confined to the EU system of trade and rules while stripping it of any political power within the trading bloc. Pelosi’s words add pressure to Brexiteers, warning that the U.S. will not be quick to rebuild its trade relationship with a post-Europe Britain in the event that Brexit results in an Irish border. "We must ensure that nothing happens in Brexit discussions that imperils the Good Friday accord — including, but not limited to, the seamless border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland," Pelosi said in her Wednesday address. Any new trade deal would have to be brought to a vote in Congress, meaning the Speaker could block a vote.

As Trump Threatens to Ship Undocumented Immigrants to Sanctuary Cities, Those Cities Say: We Will Welcome Them -Confirming Friday that his administration is considering sending undocumented immigrants en masse to sanctuary cities, President Donald Trump framed the proposal as a threat—but several politicians and rights advocates replied that immigrants would be welcome in those communities.The president announced that the White House is weighing the proposal hours after the Washington Post reported that it had been considered and then rejected last year."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 tweeted. ....The Radical Left always seems to have an Open Borders, Open Arms policy – so this should make them very happy!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 12, 2019At least one sanctuary city mayor, Jim Kenney of Philadelphia, responded that he would happily welcome any number of immigrants sent to his city."The city would be prepared to welcome these immigrants just as we have embraced our immigrant communities for decades," Kenney said in a statement. "This White House plan demonstrates the utter contempt that the Trump administration has for basic human dignity." Mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland expressed pride in her city's status as one that bars all city employees from cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and condemned the president for focusing his immigration agenda on keeping immigrants out of the United States. "I am proud to be the mayor of a sanctuary city," Schaaf told CNN. "We believe sanctuary cities are safer cities. We embrace the diversity in Oakland and we do not think it's appropriate for us to use local resources to do the government's failed immigration work." Much of the response to the Post's earlier reporting centered around what an aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the White House's "despicable" attempt to use human beings as pawns to demonize immigrants. As Libby Watson noted at Splinter, much of the corporate media's reporting on the plan followed the narrative laid out by the Trump administration—that sending undocumented immigrants to sanctuary cities would be an "attack" on those cities and their Democratic leaders. "A premise like 'busing migrants to San Francisco will punish Nancy Pelosi' is not self-explanatory," Watson wrote. "I do not immediately understand the mechanism by which releasing a tired, huddled mass of immigrants in cities with massive populations—and cities where asylum approval rates are much higher—would punish their representatives."

Obama's Border Patrol Chief- Migrant Crisis 'Worst In The History Of The Country' - A second ex-Obama admin official has spoken up over the crisis at the southern US border. Mark Morgan, a career FBI official who served as Border Patrol chief during the last six months of the Obama administration told Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo on Monday that the US-Mexico border crisis has reached historic proportions and is the worst in the history of the country. "this isn’t just a crisis, this is a crisis like we’ve never experienced in the history of this country since we started tracking numbers," said Morgan, who also addressed false statistics floating around comparing the numbers of migrants to those of the 1990s.  There’s still this very false talking point out there that — well, back in the ’90s, the numbers were higher — over a million.” Well, first of all, again, you got to remember they were Mexican adults, we were moving, deporting 90 percent of them. With the broken asylum laws and other loopholes that are there, we’re seeing 65 to 70 percent increase in family units, and because of those broken laws, we’re allowing them in. This year, we’re expected to hit a million, but we’re going to let 650,000 into the country. That’s driving this crisis, driving our resources, being overwhelmed. We have to address it. In late march, former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said that the situation at the southern border has reached a crisis, and that the number of apprehensions has exceeded anything he encountered during his time in the Obama administration. 

Donald Trump told CBP head he'd pardon him if he were sent to jail for violating immigration law - President Donald Trump told Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan he would grant McAleenan a pardon if he were sent to jail for having border agents block asylum seekers from entering the US in defiance of US law, senior administration officials tell CNN. Trump reportedly made the comment during a visit to the border at Calexico, California, a week ago. It was not clear if the comment was a joke. Two officials briefed on the exchange say the President told McAleenan, since named the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, that he "would pardon him if he ever went to jail for denying US entry to migrants," as one of the officials paraphrased. The White House referred CNN to the Department of Homeland Security. A DHS spokesman told CNN, "At no time has the President indicated, asked, directed or pressured the Acting Secretary to do anything illegal. Nor would the Acting Secretary take actions that are not in accordance with our responsibility to enforce the law." Trump denied reports he offered pardons in a tweet late Friday night. The exchange came amid threats by the President to close the border in response to a steep uptick of migrants at the border. In March, there were approximately 92,000 arrests of undocumented migrants for illegal entry on the southern border, up from 37,390 last March, according to CBP.

Armed Militia Rounding Up Migrants At Southern Border - A New Mexico militia operating along the border with Mexico has been stopping groups of migrants who have illegally entered the country, holding them at gunpoint, and then handing them over to Border Patrol agents, according to the New York Times.  Known as The United Constitutional Patriots, the group has long operated along the southern US border, attempting to stem the flood of undocumented migrants entering the country. According to KVIA, the group rounded up more than 350 people this week who had crossed the border in West El Paso, Texas - one town over from Sunland Park, New Mexico. The US Border Patrol has not confirmed the exact number. In YouTube videos uploaded on Tuesday and Wednesday, groups of migrants - many of them coughing - can be seen sitting on the ground until Border Patrol officers arrive on scene. A message posted on the United Constitutional Patriots' page after the migrants were detained Monday night stated:  "This group was so huge we won't have an accurate count until the BP is finished processing them. This needs to stop!!!!! Build the wall." The video shows Border Patrol agents as they apprehend members of the group of migrants that crossed into the U.S.  Some of the migrants seen in the video are overheard coughing and asking for water. When asked why they entered the US, some of the migrants said they are seeking asylum. –KVIA

Barr Clamps Down On 'Catch And Release' With Indefinite Detention For Some Apprehended Migrants --US Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday struck down a decision allowing some asylum seekers to request release on bond in front of an immigration judge - a decision that expands 'indefinite detention' for migrants, some of whom must wait months or years for their cases to be heard.   US immigration courts overseen by the Justice Department have become overloaded - as the number of pending cases have jumped more than 26% since October 2017 from 655,807, to just under 830,000 according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) of Syracuse University.  Last month, Imimgration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said the average daily population of immigrants in detention topped 46,000 for the 2019 fiscal year - the highest level since the agency was created in 2003. Even that figure likely understates the backlog because it doesn’t include the impact of the 35-day government shutdown in December and January. Because the system’s roughly 400 immigration judges were furloughed during the shutdown, some 60,000 hearings were canceled. Thousands were rescheduled, adding to the already long wait times.The administration “has not only failed to reduce the backlog, but has eroded the court’s ability to ensure due process” by pressuring judges to rule “at a breakneck pace” on whether an immigrant should be removed from the United States, the American Immigration Lawyers Assn. — a nonprofit organization of more than 15,000 immigration attorneys and law professors — said in a statement. -LA Times    Barr's decision applies to migrants who have illegally entered the United States as well as those apprehended within the country, according to ReutersTypically, those migrants are placed in “expedited removal” proceedings - a faster form of deportation reserved for people who illegally entered the country within the last two weeks and are detained within 100 miles (160 km) of a land border. Migrants who present themselves at ports of entry and ask for asylum are not eligible for bond.But before Barr’s ruling, those who had crossed the border between official entry points and asked for asylum were eligible for bond, once they had proven to asylum officers they had a credible fear of persecution. –Reuters "I conclude that such aliens remain ineligible for bond, whether they are arriving at the border or are apprehended in the United States," wrote Barr, who added that such people can be held in immigration detention until their cases are eventually heard, or the Department of Homeland Security decides to release them by granting them "parole."

US attorney general orders denial of bond, indefinite detention of asylum seekers - In the latest outrage against the human rights of asylum seekers, US Attorney General William Barr ordered immigration judges to deny bond to all asylum seekers who are not part of family groups that include children. These asylum seekers, who have committed no crime and have passed the initial test that they have a “credible fear” of persecution if returned to their home countries, would potentially face indefinite detention while awaiting a final decision on their asylum requests. The decision takes effect in 90 days, so that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “may conduct the necessary operational planning for additional detention and parole decisions,” Barr wrote. The order could affect tens of thousands of asylum seekers a month, according to figures released by Customs and Border Protection. Of the more than 100,000 immigrants detained in March, some 60,000 were unaccompanied minors or family groups. Of the remaining 40,000, the majority were asylum seekers without children who are targeted by the attorney general’s order. The order also suggests the direction of administration policy for all asylum seekers, including children and families, who under current procedure cannot be held in custody longer than 20 days. The Trump administration is discussing how to overturn this limit, established by the Flores decision, a court-supervised consent agreement that has been in effect for two decades. The Flores case was the basis for court rulings last summer that compelled the administration to abandon its policy of family separation for asylum seekers, imprisoning the parents while sending the children into juvenile detention or foster care. Immigrant rights group said they would make use of the 90-day period to file legal actions challenging Barr’s order, which they called grossly illegal because it effectively criminalizes the act of seeking asylum, which is protected under both US and international law.

Despite 66% Of Americans Getting A Cut, Only 20% Believe Their Taxes Were Lowered - Donald Trump’s tax cut, passed in 2017, benefited nearly 66% of all Americans in the form of lower taxes. But now, as today's deadline to file taxes for the past year rolls around, a new survey shows just 20% of taxpayers believe that their taxes have actually gone down, according to Bloomberg . The tax cuts, which were supposed to pay for themselves, have also swelled the deficit, making it even harder for President Trump to use them as a talking point in 2020.  Dan Eberhart, a major Republican donor said: “The Democrats really outmaneuvered the Republicans by convincing the American people that the main thrust of the tax reform package was to cut taxes for the wealthy. Republicans failed to fully explain the success to voters.”Trump will try to promote the tax cut on Monday in Minnesota, a potential swing state for 2020. It’s part of a week of events designed to promote the tax law's effect on the economy.  The tax cuts were sold as a catalyst for economic growth and reduction of the deficit. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell assured the public in December 2017 that the measure would contain the deficit and also be a "revenue producer". Larry Kudlow said last week at the tax cut package has "already paid for itself " - a statement that does not gel with government data.Instead, the United States' budget shortfall grew by 17% to $779 billion in 2018, which the CBO has attributed partly to the tax law. Along with additional spending that has been signed into law, the CBO projects this deficit will surpass $1 trillion by 2020.  However, when the law passed, Mitch McConnell said: "If we can’t sell this to the American people, we ought to go into another line of work."

On Tax Day, Still 'No Evidence' Trump Tax Cuts Are Trickling Down to Workers -- Wall Street banks, pharmaceutical companies, and corporate CEOs have a lot to celebrate on Tax Day thanks to President Donald Trump and the Republican Party. The vast majority of workers, not so much. According to the Economic Policy Institute, most U.S. workers have seen little to no benefit from the GOP's $1.5 trillion Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).  "It's Tax Day again, and there's still no reason to believe the Republicans' corporate tax cuts are doing anything for working people," Hunter Blair, a budget researcher with EPI, wrote in an analysis Monday. "With a year's worth of data in, the story remains the same—there's no evidence the corporate tax cuts in the TCJA have trickled down to workers." "The TCJA is set to exacerbate decades of rising economic inequality," said Blair. "The bill blew apart the individual and corporate tax codes with egregious new loopholes tailor made for the rich and big corporations." "And the data offers no reason to think any of this will start trickling down to typical workers," Blair added. Lawrence Mishel, a distinguished fellow at EPI, added in a blog post Monday that the average worker bonus in 2018 "was just $0.01 higher than in 2017."  "This is not what the tax cutters promised, or bragged about soon after the tax bill passed," wrote Mishel. "They claimed that their bill would raise the wages of rank-and-file workers, with congressional Republicans and members of the Trump administration promising raises of many thousands of dollars within 10 years." "The White House contention that corporate tax cut-inspired widespread provision of bonuses that led to greater paychecks through bonuses or wage increases for workers is not supported by the BLS Employer Costs for Employee Compensation data," Mishel concluded.

How A Trump Proposal Could Reduce ‘Happy’ Disabled People - A new policy proposal by the Trump administration calls for the surveillance of disabled people’s social media profiles to determine the necessity of their disability benefits. The proposal, which reportedly aims to cut down on the number of fraudulent disability claims would, monitor the profiles of disabled people and flag content that shows them doing physical activities. When it comes down to it, the policy dictates that disabled people shouldn’t be seen living their lives for fear of losing vital financial aid and, possibly, medical care. The administration has been working closely with the Social Security Administration in an effort to reduce false claims believing that social media holds a cache of information regarding eligibility of Social Security Disability Benefits. They believe that by monitoring the social media accounts of disability benefit recipients, they can root out false claims and reduce the overall amount of money spent on the programs.The proposal, like many of its policies regarding disabled people, shows a fundamental misunderstanding of disability and takes advantage of how social media operates in order to cut them off from the support they need. Disabled people don’t all function in the same way, and disability is not a set of stereotypes like taking selfies staring longingly at the world. They live lives while managing their energy for the activities they can handle and trying to make those they cannot more accessible. Additionally, studies have shown that a majority of social media users show only the good in their lives, not the hardships or difficulties. Disabled people should be allowed to share the full scope of their existence without fear they’ll be accused of lying—and even fraud—by the United States Government which will likely reason that if a disabled person is seen going to the mall or taking time to swim or jog, they can be working.

Disaster relief slows under Trump. Just ask survivors  — A few days after a tornado wrecked six buildings, 40 cars and six trees at his small auto dealership here, Lee Lawrence got a visit from a state emergency management official and asked about financial help."The only thing I can tell you to do is to wait and read the paper," the official said, suggesting Lawrence follow news coverage to find out if President Trump approved federal aid for Mississippi.That was seven weeks ago.Today, 54 days after tornadoes and floods hit northeastern Mississippi and 27 days after Gov. Phil Bryant (R) asked Trump for federal money, the administration still hasn't made a decision.The inaction has angered this low-income, largely black city with mounds of debris on roadsides as it waits for federal help to clean up. More than 30 families have left the city, unable to repair their homes or find temporary housing, said Columbus Community Outreach Director Glenda Buckhalter. The delay is routine for the Trump administration.The government has taken nearly twice as long under Trump to approve or reject governors' requests for federal disaster relief than under former President Obama, an E&E News analysis of government records shows.Trump has taken 26 days on average to act on 155 disaster requests since taking office. On 20 occasions, the administration took more than 60 days, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency records.Obama took 14 days on average to make a decision on 565 disaster requests over two terms. He needed more than 60 days only once.And former President George W. Bush took an average of 13 days during his final year and a half in office, according to FEMA records that are publicly available starting August 2007. "That does seem to be excessive," former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said of Trump's record. "You really try to get those things turned around quickly one way or another."

Trump learns to love acting officials - President Trump is increasingly relying on officials in high-level government positions to serve in an acting capacity, a strategy he appears comfortable taking as he escalates plans to implement his immigration policies and broader agenda. The president argues that having Cabinet members and others serve his administration in an acting capacity is better than having people confirmed by the Senate. “I like acting because I can move so quickly. It gives me more flexibility,” Trump said in a February interview with CBS's “Face the Nation.” The use of acting officials gives Trump even more power over those who serve him since they haven't been through a Senate confirmation process. Some who hope to win permanent positions might even be more likely to back the president on controversial moves. It also could allow Trump to more quickly dispose of someone he grows irritated with or tired of. “The president likes to say it gives him flexibility, and it does to some extent,” said Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who tracks staffing for administrations. “As the president, you can appoint actings. Let’s say he gets tired of the acting [Department of Homeland Security] secretary. Let’s say in three weeks he’s not working in the direction he wants to see him. He can appoint somebody else acting.” Acting officials lack the job security of a full-time nominee and could therefore be hesitant to carry out long-term planning they won't be there to see through, Tenpas said.

 Sen. Majority Leader McConnell to introduce bill to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco to 21 - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will introduce legislation to raise the federal minimum age to buy tobacco to 21 from 18, he announced Thursday. McConnell will introduce the legislation, called the McConnell bill, in May, he said. It will cover all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. McConnell’s backing marks the strongest support yet in Congress for what’s been dubbed “T21.” “For some time, I’ve been hearing from the parents who are seeing an unprecedented spike in vaping among their teenage children,” McConnell said in a statement. “In addition, we all know people who started smoking at a young age and who struggled to quit as adults. Unfortunately it’s reaching epidemic levels around the country.” Ninety percent of cigarette smokers try their first cigarette before they turn 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. High school seniors who can legally buy tobacco products may share them with their friends, an issue that’s come into focus amid a huge surge in teen vaping. In 2018, the number of high school students using tobacco products increased by about 38%, the CDC found in its annual National Youth Tobacco Survey. The agency blamed the increase on e-cigarettes. Use of the products by high school students surged nearly 78%.

The WikiLeaks Case- Democracy Dies in Empire – (video & transcript) In the avalanche of news reports that have washed over the globe since the abduction of Julian Assange, this conversation struck me as containing numerous points of importance. It seemed worthwhile to have some of these points transcribed and listed here. If you have seen it, then the select transcriptions beneath the video might serve as useful reminders; however, if you missed it, watch the video instead (or listen to the podcast below). This comes from CrossTalk with Peter Lavelle, and it was titled “Assange in custody” (April 11, 2016). Guests on the show were Joe Lauria (editor of Consortium News), Ray McGovern (ex-CIA officer, co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, see here for more), and Sara Flounders (anti-war activist). If you have any other video or audio recommendations, please feel free to post them under Comments below (though this may automatically direct your comment to a spam folder, I will search for it).  My little conclusion follows below.

Assange’s ‘Conspiracy’ to Expose War Crimes Has Already Been Punished – WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should never have been punished for working with a whistleblower to expose war crimes. Chelsea Manning, the whistleblower, has done more time in prison, under harsher conditions, than William Calley, a key perpetrator of the My Lai massacre. Remarkably, Manning is in jail again, failed by organizations that should unreservedly defend her, as the US tries to coerce her into helping inflict more punishment on Assange. As for Assange, he has already been arbitrarily detained for several years, according to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Its 2016 press release on the matter stated:The expert panel called on the Swedish and British authorities to end Mr. Assange’s deprivation of liberty, respect his physical integrity and freedom of movement, and afford him the right to compensation.Now Assange could be punished even more brutally if the UK extradites him to the US, where he is charged with a “conspiracy” to help Manning crack a password that “would have” allowed her to cover her tracks more effectively. In other words, the alleged help with password-cracking didn’t work, and is not what resulted in the information being disclosed. It has also not been shown that it was Assange who offered the help, according to Kevin Gosztola (Shadowproof, 4/11/19). The government’s lack of proof of its charges might explain why Manning is in jail again.The indictment goes even further, criminalizing the use of an electronic “drop box” and other tactics that investigate journalists routinely use in the computer age to work with a confidential source “for the purpose of publicly disclosing” information. In other words, the purpose of the conspiracy was to gather evidence of government wrongdoing and report it to the public.

Useful Idiots on Parade - Kunstler - Anyone interested in glimpsing the Wokester media mentality in full intellectual-yet-idiot smuggery might check out Slate’s Political Gabfest (i.e. podcast) from this past Saturday, titled The Wahoo Edition.” The Gabfest’s three regulars, David Plotz, Emily Bazelon, and John Dickerson go after Julian Assange as if they were three college dormitory RAs dissecting the character of an unpopular freshman. Plotz kicked it off by introducing Mr. Assange as “the eminence greasy of Wikileaks,” a cute twist on the French phrase éminence grise (gray eminence, i.e. an elder statesman, pronounced eminence greez, and he knows it). Bazelon offered her explanation for Ecuador’s eagerness to be rid of Mr. Assange: “He was acting like a big jerk. They were tired of him skateboarding all over the residence and scuffing up the walls and not cleaning his bathroom. He wore out his welcome on hospitality grounds.” Note: Emily Bazelon is a lawyer. No one mentioned the fact that Ecuador was promised debt relief from the US-controlled International Monetary Fund within hours of expelling Mr. Assange.Plotz quickly added: “He didn’t clean up after his cat, which, as a cat owner, that is grounds for expulsion.”Dickerson weighed in: “The big problem is he’s not an appealing man… he’s clearly a narcissist. He’s unpleasant. In addition to messing with our election, he’s basically on Team Russia.”Plotz said of Wikileaks: “It’s acting as an agent for a foreign governments, as it has with Russia.”Some people in this sore beset republic get hooked on opiates or crystal meth. Wokesters get hooked on The Narrative: That Russia “stole” the 2016 election from Hillary Clinton by hacking the Democratic National Committee’s emails, with the collusion of the Trump campaign. The latter point has been authoritatively invalidated by Mr. Mueller, of course, but the Wokester’s cling to their hope that some as-yet-concealed mischief in the Mueller Report will somehow contradict Mr. Mueller’s own conclusions. As for the alleged hacking per se, you realize of course that neither the FBI nor Mr. Mueller’s “team,” nor anyone in the DOJ before the retirement of Jeff Sessions made any effort to secure and examine the very DNC computer servers at issue. Rather, they relied on a private company called CrowdStrike, hired by Hillary and the DNC itself, to analyze the alleged hacking. Can you imagine anything more arrantly dishonest or more legally irregular? The Slate Gabfest crew never engages in these dark issues. Nor do they mention the fact that the Mueller “team” (or any other US law enforcement agency) never indicted Mr. Assange for “collusion” with Russia, nor even attempted to interview him and hear what he had to say about it. On his own, Mr. Assange has stated that Russia was not the source of the DNC emails he received and subsequently released to the US news media, including The New York Times, The WashPo, and the Cable TV News networks, who happily ran with the story. There is a pretty good theory though, advanced by William Binney, a former National Security Agency official-turned-whistleblower, and other Intel Community associates, that he DNC data was “leaked,” not hacked, “by a person with physical access” to the DNC’s computer system. Meaning, someone inside the DNC downloaded the info onto a thumb drive. The data transfer rates prove that, they say.

CIA’s Vault 7 Files Launched New Case Against Assange – Attack Intends To Prevent Further Leaks- After the arrest of Julian Assange by British police and the unsealing of the U.S. indictment against him, the question is why is the U.S. doing this and why now?The indictment alleges that Assange 'conspired' with Chelsea Manning by giving support to her attempt to find a password to an account that would have allowed her to conceal her pilfering of U.S. documents. Glenn Greenwald argues that the case is quite thin and clearly an attack on press freedom. That a reporter or editor has to help a source to conceal its identity is part of the job description.The Obama administration, not known for reluctance to go after whistleblowers, had already weighed the 'conspired' case and decided against prosecuting it.  It is thus likely that the case, as unsealed now, is only a pretext to extradite Assange from Britain. The real case will only get unsealed if and when Assange is in U.S. custody. National security reporter William Arkin, who left NBC News over its warmongering, is likely right when he writes that the issue behind this is Wikileaks' publishing of the CIA's hacking tools known as Vault 7. While the publishing of the Vault 7 files received little coverage in the media, it seriously damaged the CIA's capabilities. Arkin wrote on April 11 about the Vault 7 connection. The Guardian and the Daily Beast were offered the piece but declined to publish it: Vault 7 was little noticed in the emerging Russian collusion scandal of the new Trump administration, but the nearly 10,000 CIA documents that WikiLeaks started publishing that March constituted an unprecedented breach, far more potentially damaging than anything the anti-secrecy website had ever done, according to numerous U.S. officials. “There have been serious compromises – Manning and Snowden included – but until 2017, no one had laid a glove on the Agency in decades,” says a senior intelligence official who has been directly involved in the damage assessments. “Then came Vault 7, almost the entire archive of the CIA’s own hacking group,” the official says. “The CIA went ballistic at the breach.” The official is referring to a little known CIA organization called the Center for Cyber Intelligence, a then unknown counterpart to the National Security Agency, and one that conducts and oversees the covert hacking efforts of the U.S. government.

Here's the Interview With Glenn Greenwald About Julian Assange It Seems NPR Didn't Want You To Hear - After a "contentious" live on-air interview with journalist Glenn Greenwald during NPR's "Morning Edition" morning was apparently scrubbed from its online version of the show, several people uploaded the deleted portion to the web so that people could hear what it seemed the public radio broadcaster did not want people to hear."NPR bizarrely seems to have deleted their own lie-filled interview with me and replaced it with something else," Greenwald tweeted on Thursday, "even as it still promotes the page as including its interview of me. Where is it, @MorningEdition?"Among those to post an upload was freelance journalist Dan Froomkin, founder of the White House Watch website. Listen:After Greenwald tweeted about his interview disappearing, NPR tweeted: We saw this issue on the site and have been working to fix it. The interview is on as it aired this morning, beginning at (roughly) 3:31:

Trump Supporters Are Hurting Assange With Their 4-D Chess Talk --Caitlin Johnstone - At a time when everyone should be out in the streets shaking the earth and protesting the Trump administration’s prosecution of Julian Assange for exposing US war crimes, those who continue to support this president have one message and one message only when it comes to the WikiLeaks founder: Don’t do anything. Relax, wait and see, trust Trump, and don’t do anything. Trump is about to save Assange, and save us all. Do nothing.  Who do you guys think this strategy benefits, exactly?  These are all people who say they support Assange and WikiLeaks, who say they support free speech and oppose the deep state, and yet what they are doing today hurts Assange and helps the unelected power establishment known as the deep state just as much as the hysterical Russiavape dupes who are overtly smearing Assange today.To be clear, not everyone who voted for Trump is doing this; many are aggressively opposing this administration’s prosecution of Assange and vocally withdrawing all support for him. But the ones who are engaged in the behavior I’m describing are all helping to kill the loud and aggressive opposition to Assange’s imprisonment which is so desperately needed right now, and they’re helping everyone they claim to oppose. The pussyhat-wearing Assange haters and the MAGA hat-wearing Assange lovers are on the same side on this issue, mindlessly working toward the exact same agenda: the permanent imprisonment of a truth-telling journalist.Every time President Trump advances a longstanding evil agenda of America’s permanent government, I see my social media notifications swarmed with Trump supporters telling me that it is actually a good thing, because it’s secretly a brilliant strategic chess move that the 45th president is taking against the deep state. When I say that this happens every time, I’m not being hyperbolic to make a point. I mean it happens every single time, without a single, solitary exception, always. It happens with such clockwork reliability that I preemptively addressed it in the article I wrote when Julian Assange was arrested, saying, “I am going to have a zero tolerance policy for QAnon cultists who try to tell me that this is actually 5-D chess by Trump to overthrow the Deep State. Stay out of my comments, stay out of my social media notifications, stay the hell away from me, and please rethink your worldview.”  Trump is pursuing the imprisonment of a journalist for exposing US war crimes, so that he can scare off future leak publishers and set a legal precedent for their prosecution.

As Long As Assange Is In Prison, We Are All In Prison - by Ron Paul - Last week’s arrest of Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange by the British government on a US extradition order is an attack on all of us. It is an attack on the US Constitution. It is an attack on the free press. It is an attack on free speech. It is an attack on our right to know what our government is doing with our money in our name. Julian Assange is every bit as much a political prisoner as was Cardinal Mindszenty in Hungary or Nelson Mandela in South Africa. They, and so many more, were imprisoned because they told the truth about their governments.Repressive governments do not want their citizens to know that they are up to so they insist on controlling the media. We are taught, at the same time, that we have a free press whose job it is to uncover the corruption in our system so that we can demand our political leaders make some changes or face unemployment. That, we are told, is what makes us different from the totalitarian.The arrest of Assange is a canary in a coal mine to warn us that something is very wrong with our system. What’s wrong? The US mainstream media always seems to do the bidding of the US government. That is why they rushed to confirm Washington’s claim that the Assange indictment was not in any way about journalism. It was only about hacking government computers! What Julian Assange did in 2010, for which he is facing extradition to the US, is no different from what New York Times and other journalists do every day! He attempted to help Chelsea Manning shield his identity as he blew the whistle on US government crimes to a publisher. The information in question included a video showing US military personnel participating in and cheering the murder of Iraqi civilians. Why is it criminal for us to know this? The difference is that what Assange and Manning did embarrassed the US government, which was lying to us that it was “liberating” Iraq and Afghanistan when it was actually doing the opposite. Mainstream journalists publish “leaks” that help bolster the neocon or other vested narratives of the different factions of the US government. That’s why the US media wants to see Assange in prison, or worse: he upset their apple cart. The lesson is clear: when you bolster the government's narrative you are a “brave journalist.” When you expose corruption in government you are a criminal. Do we really want to live in a country where it is illegal to learn that our government is engaged in criminal acts?  When the government has the power to tell us what we we allowed to see, hear, and know, we no longer live in a free society.

Why did Pierre Omidyar shut down the Snowden archives, with the full agreement of Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill? Virtually nothing is being said about how billionaire Pierre Omidyar, essentially the owner of the Snowden docs, has shut down the release, analysis and custodial care of the archives claiming lack of funds. This decision was made just this past March, 2019 with the full participation and agreement of Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill. Understanding the historical significance of the Snowden cache, Laura Poitras screamed bloody murder that this important treasure trove has been summarily shuttered, particularly since only 10% of the documents have ever been released. The raison d'etre of the new company Poitras, Greenwald and Scahill created in partnership with Omidyar called The Intercept (First Look) was for Omidyar to finance the herculean effort of responsibly releasing the Snowden documents. To date, however, once Omidyar got control of the goods around October 2014, only a trickle of the Snowden archives has seen the light of day. The remainder of the digital documents are in dire danger of never being released -- or worse, being destroyed, accidentally or otherwise. Remember, from June of 2013 when the Snowden event happened to late 2014, for weeks on end all we heard about were the Snowden docs, with one side saying they're a violation of national security, and the Greenwald/Poitras side championing the right to whistleblow state secrets. So now that the famous Snowden archives have been unilaterally shut down by Omidyar, Greenwald, and Scahill, why is hardly anyone from the left, right, or center raising red-flag alarms? Even Snowden himself has been suspiciously silent. We would not know about any of this were it not for Poitras who released the private emails explaining how she was excluded from this momentous decision. She exposed how alleged budget concerns were a smokescreen since a mere 1.5% of the Intercept budget was allocated to the Snowden archives team anyway.

How ‘Russiagate’ Has Reshaped American and Russian Public Opinion - Now that we are (one hopes) at the end of the two-and-a-half year Russiagate circus, a question perhaps worth turning to is: What effect has the media frenzy had on public opinion? A timely new poll taken by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Russia’s respected, independent Levada Center sheds some light on the question. Not surprisingly, the key finding, said researchers in Washington on Monday, was that opinion in both countries reflects tense bilateral relations. “The current period of tensions,” says the joint report, “is arguably the longest on record since the end of the Cold War.” Large majorities of Russians (85 percent) and Americans (78 percent) say the United States and Russia are “more rivals than partners.” In Russia, fully 78 percent of those polled believe their country’s foreign policy is the reason behind the decline in relations with the United States. The number of Americans who see Russia as the country’s greatest foreign threat has risen over 20 percentage points from just two years ago.  There is a strong partisan element in these findings. According to the report, “Russian interference in the 2016 election has clearly impacted how Democrats view the US relationship with Russia.” While “two-thirds of Americans now believe that the Russian government tried to influence the 2016 presidential election,” the numbers split along party lines: 90 percent of Democrats and only 35 percent of Republicans believe there was Russian interference in the election. Large majorities of Democrats (83 percent) and Republicans (73 percent) view Russia as a rival. One of the report’s notable findings is how the events of the past two years have affected Russians’ perspectives on China. In 2016, a Levada poll found that 34 percent of Russians viewed China favorably. In this latest report, Levada found that 84 percent of Russians now view China as “more a partner than a rival” as against 85 percent who view the United States more in terms of rivalry than partnership. The possibility of a deepening relationship between Russia and China has significant strategic implications for US foreign policy that are, perhaps, not yet adequately understood by those who have pushed for a new Cold War approach of isolating and punishing Russia as a response to the Ukraine crisis which began in early 2014.

Bernie Sanders silent on Assange, vocal in promoting nationalism at Michigan rally -- At a campaign rally Saturday in Warren, Michigan, Bernie Sanders maintained his silence on the arrest of Julian Assange. To date, Sanders has not issued a single statement on Assange since the former WikiLeaks editor was dragged from the Ecuadorean embassy by British police on Thursday. The Trump administration is seeking his illegal transfer to the United States, where he faces imprisonment, torture or even execution.World Socialist Web Site reporter Andre Damon, together with this reporter, asked Sanders as he was leaving the suburban Detroit rally venue whether he supported the arrest and imprisonment of Assange and whistleblower Chelsea Manning. We received no reply.Sanders’ silence demonstrates his support for the rendition of Assange. In the days since the arrest, both the Democrats and Republicans have erupted in celebration. For the entire ruling class, the silencing of Assange has been a top priority. Politicians and military officials have for years called for Assange to be captured and killed in retaliation for his journalistic exposures of the crimes of American imperialism.

Bernie Sanders Accuses Liberal Think Tank of Smearing Progressive Candidates - NYT — Senator Bernie Sanders, in a rare and forceful rebuke by a presidential candidate of an influential party ally, has accused a liberal think tank of undermining Democrats’ chances of taking back the White House in 2020 by “using its resources to smear” him and other contenders pushing progressive policies. Mr. Sanders’s criticism of the Center for American Progress, delivered on Saturday in a letter obtained by The New York Times, reflects a simmering ideological battle within the Democratic Party and threatens to reopen wounds from the 2016 primary between him and Hillary Clinton’s allies. The letter airs criticisms shared among his supporters: that the think tank, which has close ties to Mrs. Clinton and the Democratic Party establishment, is beholden to corporate donors and has worked to quash a leftward shift in the party led partly by Mr. Sanders. “This counterproductive negative campaigning needs to stop,” Mr. Sanders wrote to the boards of the Center for American Progress and its sister group, the Center for American Progress Action Fund. “The Democratic primary must be a campaign of ideas, not of bad-faith smears. Please help play a constructive role in the effort to defeat Donald Trump.”Mr. Sanders sent the letter days after a website run by the action fund, ThinkProgress, suggested that his attacks on income inequality were hypocritical in light of his growing personal wealth. The letter is tantamount to a warning shot to the Democratic establishment that Mr. Sanders — who continues to criticize party insiders on the campaign trail — will not countenance a repeat of the 2016 primary, when he and his supporters believe party leaders and allies worked to deny him the Democratic nomination. That primary between Mr. Sanders and Mrs. Clinton left deep divisions in the party. Democratic leaders worked assiduously to heal rifts and avoid a recurrence in 2020, in part by overhauling the party’s presidential nomination process. Specifically, they engaged in extensive outreach to Mr. Sanders’s fervent base of liberal supporters, who had come to distrust party leadership as beholden to major donors who favored centrist positions and supported Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. Some viewed the Center for American Progress, and its leader, Neera Tanden, as part of that cabal, working to stymie liberal activists and ideas.

Sanders Takes the Campaign Against CAP to Eleven -- Well, the highly Clintonist, highly corporate establishment is at it again, in the form of the corrupt Center for American Progress (CAP) and its online publication ThinkProgress. (For more on their corruption, see also here and here.) ThinkProgress published a video critical of Sanders, as Lee Fang (who also delves into their corruption) explains here:  In response to that video Sanders sent CAP a letter, saying in part:  Center for American Progress leader Neera Tanden repeatedly calls for unity while simultaneously maligning my staff and supporters and belittling progressive ideas. I worry that the corporate money CAP is receiving is inordinately and inappropriately influencing the role it is playing in the progressive movement. (emphasis mine)  Team Sanders then went a whole lot further than that in a public fundraising letter, parts of which are reproduced below. Note the expansion of the “corporate money” point from the CAP letter, and also the directness (emphasis mine throughout):  This week, an organization that is the epitome of the political establishment — the Center for American Progress (CAP) — unleashed and promoted an online attack video against Bernie. And behind the scenes on the day Bernie introduced his Medicare for All bill, they held a conference call with reporters attacking the bill. That is the Center for American Progress’ real goal. Trying to stop Medicare for All and our progressive agenda. CAP’s leadership has been pretty upfront about their disdain for Bernie — and for all of us. They see our political revolution as a threat to their privilege and influence. … The Center for American Progress is an organization whose massive annual budget is bankrolled by billionaires and corporate executives that profit from finance, pharmaceutical companies, fossil fuels, and sending American jobs overseas. Last year alone, they took funding from financial giants like Bank of America and Blackstone, whose CEO was chair of Trump’s business council and is a leading Republican donor. Before that, they cashed checks from companies like BlueCross Blue Shield, Pfizer, WalMart, and defense contractors like General Dynamics and BAE Systems. They also took hundreds of thousands of dollars from the fossil fuel pumping United Arab Emirates while the country was bombing innocent civilians in Yemen – a war Bernie has led the fight to end. The Center for American Progress has deep connections to the economic and political elites who have done so much damage to working families in every zip code. Bernie Sanders is not backing down this time. Unlike 2016, this will be a battle with the enemy named out loud and its deeds detailed. Looks like the fight, the one our country has been avoiding for years, is finally on.

Wall Street and finance executives place first bets on 2020 Democrats -Wall Street and finance executives placed their early 2020 bets on a variety of Democratic presidential candidates, from Pete Buttigieg to Kamala Harris, even as the contenders try to distance themselves from big-money donors.The first-quarter fundraising totals are the latest indication that high-profile Democratic financiers are waiting for the field to thin out before they open their funding networks and checkbooks to potential challengers to President Donald Trump next year.Some donors have also been eagerly waiting for former Vice President Joe Biden to enter the race before they open their extensive money networks to other candidates, according to people familiar with the deliberations.Meanwhile, as Democrats vie for limited dollars in a crowded group, Trump’s campaign raised a whopping $30 million in the first quarter and has more than $40 million in cash on hand, giving the president a clear edge even as he suffers from low approval ratings.The early fundraising totals, which were disclosed on Monday in Federal Election Commission filings, show that some players in the financial industry are interested in backing certain candidates early on, including Sens. Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who led the Democratic fundraising field with an $18 million haul in the first quarter, did not appear to get donations from finance executives. Eighty-four percent of the take came from donations of $200 or less.Sen. Elizabeth Warren, another longtime critic of Wall Street and big businesses, received few donations from people in the financial industry. Warren raised $6 million, with 70% coming from small donations.

Nancy Pelosi calls AOC's progressive wing 'like, five people' - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has dismissed Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s sphere of influence, calling the socialist wing of the House of Representatives, “like, five people.”This isn’t the first time she’s been dismissive – and critical – of the young New York congresswoman. Pelosi recently rejected AOC’s proposals, both the Green New Deal plan proposed to tackle climate change and the expansion of Medicare for all Americans. In a new interview with 60 Minutes, Pelosi was asked to describe “AOC and her group.”Pelosi told interviewer Lesley Stahl that those who prescribe to AOC’s left-wing, progressive ideals were “like, five people.”Stahl suggested the “progressive group is more than five” but Pelosi was adamant. “Well, the progressive ... I’m a progressive.”She added: “By and large, whatever orientation they came to Congress with, they know that we have to hold the centre."That we have to … go down the mainstream.

 Ilhan Omar Raises $800,000, Among Top-Earning House Dems - Rep. Ilhan Omar—the freshman Democrat who's quickly found herself a prominent target for Republicans—raised over $800,000 in the first three months of the year, putting her among the top-earning House Democrats. Omar is one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress and has been targeted by Republicans in recent weeks after she was accused of downplaying the September 11 terrorist attacks. She raised about $832,000 in the first quarter, according to her FEC report, $415,000 of which came from people who small donors who gave less than $200. More than $600,000 came from donors who sent funds via ActBlue, a Democratic online fundraising platform, NBC News reports. Omar said Sunday night that she has received increased death threats since President Trump began targeting her. The president has accused her of making “antisemitic, anti-Israel and ungrateful U.S. HATE statements.”

Will the Mueller Report Make the New Cold War Even Worse? Stephen Cohen -  A major theme of my recently published book War with Russia? is twofold: The United States is in a new Cold War with Russia, but one more dangerous, more fraught with possibilities of actual war, than was the 40-year Cold War the world survived. I began arguing the first proposition nearly 20 years ago, long before Donald Trump became a presidential candidate and even before Russian President Vladimir Putin became so widely demonized.  My second and more important proposition remains generally unacknowledged, even denied, as do the ways in which nearly three years of unsubstantiated Russiagate allegations—against both Trump and Putin—have escalated the new Cold War and made efforts to diminish it through traditional détente-like policies exceedingly difficult, perhaps impossible. In particular, those allegations have virtually criminalized the kinds of “cooperation” and “contacts” that kept the nuclear peace between the United States and Soviet Russia in the 20th century. They have misrepresented present-day Russia as a “threat” so ominous that it “attacked American democracy” during the 2016 presidential election. And they have vilified both Trump and Putin to the extent that neither is regarded by much of the US political-media establishment as a legitimate diplomatic partner, even in the event of an existential crisis such as the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. For the legion of anti-Trump Russiagate promoters, Mueller’s findings can do “nothing,” as they have already made clear, to diminish their allegations, however false. (See, for example, Bob Cesca in Salon.) For them, Russiagate has long since become a cult belief with with all the trappings that entails. But for critical-minded people, how the Mueller report answers, or does not answer, the following questions should be of vital importance:

  • § Mueller should treat this as little more than another episode in the long history of both Washington and Moscow habitually “meddling” in the other’s internal politics. But if Mueller presents it—as Russiagate zealots do—as an “attack” comparable to Pearl Harbor and 9/11, it will greatly embolden today’s American cold warriors and their demands for some kind of counter-attack against Russia.
  • § Russiagate is the most egregiously fraudulent political scandal in modern American history. We therefore need to know exactly when, how, and why it began. Barr himself is on record as saying that US intelligence services “spied” on the Trump campaign, seemingly implying this involved primarily top FBI officials. But considerable evidence suggests it was more than that, a fuller operation, and points to President Obama’s CIA director, John Brennan (abetted by his overseer James Clapper), as the actual godfather of Russiagate. Unless the Mueller report fully explores the role of all US intelligence agencies in the origins and promotion of Russiagate, including whether Trump’s campaign pledge to “cooperate with Russia” animated them, a full inquiry comparable to the 1976 Senate Church Committee investigation will be imperative.

 Five takeaways from Mueller's report - The release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Thursday ends a two-year investigation that has shadowed Donald Trump’s presidency but opens a new era likely to keep Mueller and his findings in the spotlight.The White House and congressional Republicans welcomed Thursday’s report as positive news for the president, while Democrats vowed to move forward with their investigations.Mueller ultimately did not establish that Trump or members of his campaign coordinated or conspired with Moscow to affect the 2016 presidential election, but he and his team declined to reach a conclusion on whether the president obstructed justice.That issue is likely to be at the center of the political debate moving forward. Here are five takeaways from Thursday.

  • It’s good news for Trump. Mueller’s report is generally welcome news for the president, particularly when it comes to confronting allegations of Russian “collusion.” The special counsel’s office wrote that while Russia actively sought to help Trump win the 2016 election, campaign officials were either unaware of the efforts or not fully receptive to them.
  • Obstruction takes center stage. Mueller wrote that he lacked “confidence” to rule definitively that Trump did not criminally obstruct justice, and that his report did not exonerate the president. The report says Mueller’s team was challenged in establishing whether Trump acted with “corrupt intent” when he fired FBI Director James Comey and when he sought to remove Mueller as special counsel, among other episodes.
  • Trump was deeply concerned over Mueller appointment.  One of the most interesting revelations about the report is that it shows how concerned Trump was about Mueller’s appointment. He worried when Mueller took the post in May 2017 that it could precipitate the end of his presidency, according to evidence obtained by the special counsel’s investigators.  Trump’s initial reaction was to “slump” into his chair and say, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m f---ed,” according to notes recorded by Jody Hunt, who was then Sessions’s chief of staff.
  • Report sets up challenges for Pelosi.  Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has effectively ruled out impeaching Trump absent new compelling and overwhelming evidence against the president.  On Thursday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) Hoyer told CNN that moving forward on impeachment would not be “worthwhile.”  But Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) at a press conference in Houston said Mueller has “given us ample evidence for us to move forward with impeachment.” He threatened to force another House vote on the subject if congressional committees don’t act.
  • Mueller will be in congressional spotlight. Even before Mueller’s report was released, top Democrats were calling for his testimony. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler(D-N.Y.) issued a letter to the Justice Department moments after Barr held his press conference on the Mueller report, requesting that Mueller testify “immediately,” but no later than May 23. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) has also requested that Mueller appear before his committee.

Mueller Spells Out Trump’s ‘Multiple Acts’ to Undermine Russia Probe - Robert Mueller delivered an exhaustive account of President Donald Trump’s efforts to head off or undermine the special counsel’s Russia probe, all but inviting Congress to take action on at least 10 instances of potential obstruction of justice. “We concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a president’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice," he said in his report sent to Congress on Thursday. While Mueller didn’t find an “underlying crime” by Trump related to Russian interference in the 2016 election, he said acts of possible obstruction include “discouragement of cooperation with the government and suggestions of possible future pardons.” The 448-page report summarizing Mueller’s 22-month investigation cited actions including Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey and efforts to have former Attorney General Jeff Sessions take control of the investigation. “Our investigation found multiple acts by the president that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russia-interference and obstruction investigations," according to the report. “The president engaged in a series of targeted efforts to control the investigation.” The damning assessment was at odds with comments by Attorney General William Barr, who said in a news conference that he found Trump had “non-corrupt motives.” After Barr spoke, Trump quickly tweeted, “Game Over.” Trump said at the White House Thursday morning that he’s “having a good day.” In a tweet late in the day, Trump scoffed at the notion he obstructed justice. “I had the right to end the whole Witch Hunt if I wanted. I could have fired everyone, including Mueller, if I wanted,” the president said. “I chose not to. I had the RIGHT to use Executive Privilege. I didn’t!” In a statement, Trump’s lawyers declared “total victory for the president. The report underscores what we have argued from the very beginning: There was no collusion-- there was no obstruction.” But Mueller’s report raises new questions about whether House Democrats will intensify their investigative efforts -- and perhaps move toward an impeachment inquiry despite earlier statements by leaders to the contrary. Read the full Mueller report

Kremlin- No proof in Mueller's report of Russian meddling - The Kremlin argued on Friday that Special Counsel Robert Muellers 400-page report has not offered any credible evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The redacted report presented on Thursday said that there was no collusion between the Donald Trump campaign and Russian officials but it did document Russian efforts to meddle in the presidential vote. The publication of the redacted report offered Russian officials another I-told-you-so moment to deny any efforts to help Trump win the U.S. presidency. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday that there is no evidence substantiated by any facts that Russia interfered in the election, and said stressed that Moscow rejects the accusations. Peskov pointed out that President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied the claims of interference because there was none. In the upper chamber of the Russian Parliament, the chairman of the information committee, Alexei Pushkov, on Friday mocked the Mueller probe for spending millions of dollars of taxpayers money without ever proving there was any collusion between Trump and the Kremlin, instead charging Trumps former campaign chief with illegal lobbying on behalf of Ukraine. Most of the Russian media on Thursday and Friday made a point of rejecting the well-documented findings about Russian interference in the 2016 elections via hacking and a social media campaign. State-owned Rossiya television channel said in its report on the Vesti. Economy program late on Thursday that the report is not credible because it has failed to release the content of hacked emails or specific files. The Mueller probe was an attempt to threaten the current government and influence U.S. foreign policy without offering any specific evidence, Vesti. Economy said.

Robert Mueller Did Not Merely Reject the Trump-Russia Conspiracy Theories. He Obliterated Them - Glenn Greenwald - THE TWO-PRONGED CONSPIRACY THEORY that has dominated U.S. political discourse for almost three years – that (1) Trump, his family and his campaign conspired or coordinated with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election, and (2) Trump is beholden to Russian President Vladimir Putin — was not merely rejected today by the final report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. It was obliterated: in an undeniable and definitive manner. The key fact is this: Mueller – contrary to weeks of false media claims – did not merely issue a narrow, cramped, legalistic finding that there was insufficient evidence to indict Trump associates for conspiring with Russia and then proving their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. That would have been devastating enough to those who spent the last two years or more misleading people to believe that conspiracy convictions of Trump’s closest aides and family members were inevitable. But his mandate was much broader than that: to state what did or did not happen. That’s precisely what he did: Mueller, in addition to concluding that evidence was insufficient to charge any American with crimes relating to Russian election interference, also stated emphatically in numerous instances that there was no evidence – not merely that there was insufficient evidence to obtain a criminal conviction – that key prongs of this three-year-old conspiracy theory actually happened. As Mueller himself put it: “in some instances, the report points out the absence of evidence or conflicts in the evidence about a particular fact or event.” With regard to Facebook ads and Twitter posts from the Russia-based Internet Research Agency, for example, Mueller could not have been more blunt: “The investigation did not identify evidence that any U.S. persons knowingly or intentionally coordinated with the IRA’s interference operation”

What Mueller Found on Russia and on Obstruction: A First Analysis  - Mueller did not find a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, and no, he did not conclude that President Trump had obstructed justice. But Mueller emphatically did not find that there had been “no collusion” either. Indeed, he described in page after damning page a dramatic pattern of Russian outreach to figures close to the president, including to Trump’s campaign and his business; Mueller described receptivity to this outreach on the part of those figures; he described a positive eagerness on the part of the Trump campaign to benefit from illegal Russian activity and that of its cutouts; he described serial lies about it all. And he described as well a pattern of behavior on the part of the president in his interactions with law enforcement that is simply incompatible with the president’s duty to “take care” that the laws are “faithfully executed”—a pattern Mueller explicitly declined to conclude did not obstruct justice. The Mueller report is a document this country will be absorbing for months to come. Below is a first crack at analyzing the features that are most salient to us.The report answers a great many questions, resolving a raft of concerning issues that had cried out for public resolution. Some of these questions it resolves in Trump’s favor, thereby reducing the long list of concerns that reasonable people will harbor about the president. But by creating a rigorous factual record concerning both Russian intervention in 2016 and presidential obstruction of the effort to investigate that intervention, the report poses other questions acutely. Most importantly, it poses the question of whether this conduct is acceptable—not whether it’s lawful or prosecutable or whether the evidence is admissible, but whether as a nation we choose to accept it, and if not, what means we exercise to reject it. Mueller is not a political figure, but the record he has created puts these fundamentally political questions squarely before us.

Mueller completely dropped the ball with obstruction punt - The most remarkable thing about special counsel Robert Mueller’s 448-page report is how blithely the prosecutor reversed the burden of proof on the issue of obstruction.To be sure, President Trump’s conduct outlined on this score isn’t flattering, to put it mildly. For example, the special counsel’s evidence includes indications that the president attempted to induce White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire the special counsel (in June 2017), and then (in January 2018) to deny that the president had made the request.Mueller’s report further suggests that the president dangled pardons. He made ingratiating comments about Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and Michael Cohen when they appeared to be fighting the cases against them (and presumably fighting the prosecutor’s efforts to get them to cooperate) but then turned on Flynn and Cohen when they decided to plead guilty and provide testimony for Mueller.On the other hand, there is evidence that cuts sharply against obstruction. The president could have shut down the investigation at any time, but he didn’t. He could have asserted executive privilege to deny the special counsel access to key White House witnesses, such as McGahn. To the contrary, numerous witnesses were made available voluntarily (there was no need to try to subpoena them to the grand jury), and well over a million documents were disclosed, including voluminous notes of meetings between the president and his White House counsel. Most important, the special counsel found that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and that the president’s frustration wasn’t over fear of guilt — the typical motivation for obstruction — but that the investigation was undermining his ability to govern the country. The existence of such a motive is a strong counter to evidence of a corrupt intent, critical because corrupt intent must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt in an obstruction case.  In his report, Mueller didn’t resolve the issue. If he had been satisfied that there was no obstruction crime, he said, he would have so found. He claimed he wasn’t satisfied. Yet he was also not convinced that there was sufficient proof to charge. Therefore, he made no decision, leaving it to Attorney General William Barr to find that there was no obstruction.

 The Surprises in the Mueller Report - From the instant Robert Mueller’s report landed Thursday, a nation of legal experts and analysts began tearing into its 448 pages, skipping past the heavy black ink of redactions, and weighing the special counsel’s findings and conclusions against the president’s claims about his campaign’s behavior with the Russians.  What surprises lurked in the two thick volumes released by the Department of Justice? And, given Attorney General William Barr’s decision not to pursue any charges, which of Mueller’s findings will end up mattering the most for the remainder of Donald Trump’s presidency? POLITICO Magazine went to some of the brightest legal minds in America for the answers.

  • ‘The report did not exonerate the president’ (Marisa Maleck, senior associate with King & Spalding.) I found the most surprising part of the report to be twofold: One, that special counsel Mueller went out of his way multiple times to dispel the notion that there is any concept called “collusion,” and that what he investigated was instead coordination and conspiracy; and two, that the report did not exonerate the president even with respect to conspiracy and coordination. Although the report stated that there was “no evidence” of conspiracy or coordination, it left open the possibility that there may be evidence out there that the president’s associates suppressed. Some individuals invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Some information was screened even from the special counsel and his team. Several people affiliated with the Trump campaign (including Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort) lied or provided incomplete information to the special counsel about their interactions with Russian-affiliated individuals. Still others deleted communications or used encryption that did not provide for the long-term retention of data. And with respect to redactions within the report, the ones concerning the Trump campaign’s interest in WikiLeaks’ releases of hacked material are particularly concerning.
  • Mueller whiffed on a crucial legal question (Josh Blackman, constitutional law professor at the South Texas College of Law Houston)  The special counsel’s report spans more than 400 pages. However, only 12 pages are dedicated to a critical question: Can the federal obstruction of justice statute apply to the president? Robert Mueller treated this question—which is separate from whether a sitting president can be indicted—in an underwhelming fashion. Attorney General Barr stated in his press conference Thursday that he “disagreed with some of the special counsel’s legal theories.” I can speculate about one such theory: Mueller failed to do the necessary work to show that the precedents of the Supreme Court, and the Justice Department, support the application of the obstruction statute in this context. Mueller could have avoided the entire second volume of his report—which spends 182 pages summarizing his obstruction of justice investigation—if he had simply concluded that the obstruction statute does not apply to the president. There is no reason to detail whether the president violated a federal law, if the federal law does not apply to the president.
  • ‘The campaign certainly tried to collude’ (Bradley P. Moss, a national security attorney in Washington) It is shocking how misleading and disingenuous the attorney general’s four-page letter, and his subsequent remarks at the press conference, turned out to be. The Mueller report identifies numerous instances of interactions with Russian nationals—by the Trump campaign or Trump associates—in an effort to gain hacked emails and to coordinate their dissemination. That may not be enough to warrant criminal conspiracy charges, but saying there was no collusion—as Barr did—is brazenly dishonest. The campaign certainly tried to collude. Similarly, the attorney general’s description of the president’s lack of corrupt intent regarding obstruction is contradicted by the Mueller report. The president repeatedly tried to shut down or interfere with the investigation. He dangled pardons to try to get people to keep quiet. That he was saved by his aides’ willingness to ignore his rants and instructions is a weak defense. This matter will remain a stain on the Trump presidency going into 2020. Whether the public will care remains to be seen.

Romney says he is ‘sickened’ by Mueller report - Sen. Mitt Romney said Friday that he was “sickened” by President Donald Trump’s actions described in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. In a statement, the Utah Republican said that while it was “good news” there was not enough evidence to bring criminal charges related to conspiring with Russia and that there was no conclusion of obstruction of justice, he blasted the White House and Trump campaign officials for their actions. The report, released Thursday, demonstrated repeated efforts by Trump to interfere with Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. “I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the President,” Romney said. “I am also appalled that, among other things fellow citizens working in a campaign for president welcomed help from Russia.” Romney blasted members of the Trump campaign for not informing law enforcement about Russia’s actions and went after former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort for “actively promoting Russian interests in the Ukraine.” “Reading the report is a sobering revelation of how far we have strayed from the aspirations and principles of the founders,” Romney said. The Utah Republican broke ranks with much of his party in condemning Trump. A number of Republicans emphasized the first half of Mueller’s findings, which said the special counsel did not find evidence that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia, echoing the president’s “no collusion” mantra. Like his GOP colleagues, however, Romney called for the government to move on now that the 22-month probe has concluded.

Mueller report re-ignites political warfare in Washington - The release Thursday morning of the report of Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller has become the occasion for a full-scale resumption of the political warfare in Washington between two equally right-wing factions—the Trump administration, with its fascistic base of support, and the Democratic Party, aligned with dominant sections of the US military-intelligence apparatus. Within minutes of the issuance of the slightly redacted document, congressional Democrats were claiming confirmation of their charges of Trump’s collaboration with Russia, while the White House and Fox News were hailing the president’s complete vindication. Both sides found ammunition for their claims in the 448-page report. Mueller’s nearly two-year-long investigation focused on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, possible collusion with Russia by the Trump campaign, and Trump’s subsequent efforts to block and shut down the investigation. The Mueller report is divided into two books—one on the claims of Russian intervention, the other on possible charges of obstruction of justice. Robert Mueller [Credit: C-Span] The Mueller report accepts as good coin the assertion by US intelligence agencies that Russian hackers stole documents from the Democratic Party and delivered them to WikiLeaks, which published them in July and October of 2016. These documents demonstrated that the Democratic National Committee sought to rig the primary campaign for Clinton against her main challenger, Bernie Sanders, and revealed the text of speeches Clinton delivered behind closed doors to Wall Street audiences, assuring the bankers that a Clinton administration would serve their interests. Far from representing illicit intervention by Moscow, the WikiLeaks revelations were a rare injection of truth into an election campaign dominated by the endless lies of both sides, each claiming to represent the interests of American working people when both parties, the Democrats as much as the Republicans, represent big business and the financial aristocracy. The revelations about Clinton had considerable impact, but they hardly decided the outcome of the election, in which Clinton demonstratively refused to make any appeal to the working class, relying instead on her support from the national security establishment. As for the social media campaign, the other supposed component of Russian election interference, it was trivial in its impact. By one calculation, Russian entities spent $75,000 on Facebook ads, emails and texts, a drop in the bucket for an election campaign in which the Democrats, Republicans and billionaires backing one side or the other spent close to $5 billion.

CNN Op-Ed Admits Mueller's Report Looks Bad For Obama -  With Congressional Democrats tantruming over redactions, presidential candidates out-virtue-signalling one another in denigration of Trump (for what it is unclear) calling for impeachment (again, for what is unclear) and the liberal media desperate for a distraction from the embarrassment of their two-year harassment in lieu of the main headline - "no collusion, no obstruction;" few if any among the mainstream have noticed (or mentioned) one tiny little detail in the Mueller Report... the 'confirmed' interference by Russia in the 2016 US Election took place - knowingly - under President Obama's watch. But amid all this sound and fury, something odd happened. The 'powers-that-be' at CNN - ground zero for the Trump's-a-traitorous-Putin-Puppet propaganda - have allowed the publication of an op-ed amid their hallowed pages that casts blame at the anointed one.  CNN contributor Scott Jennings - soon to be exiled from every social media platform we suspect - dared to point out that the Mueller report looks bad for Obama.  The Mueller report flatly states that Russia began interfering in American democracy in 2014. Over the next couple of years, the effort blossomed into a robust attempt to interfere in our 2016 presidential election. The Obama administration knew this was going on and yet did nothing. In 2016, Obama's National Security Adviser Susan Rice told her staff to "stand down" and "knock it off" as they drew up plans to "strike back" against the Russians, according to an account from Michael Isikoff and David Corn in their book "Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump". Is this some kind of penance on this holy weekend for CNN's past sins of omission? Perhaps. But Jennings then asked the hard question: Why did Obama go soft on Russia?My opinion is that it was because he was singularly focused on the nuclear deal with Iran. Obama wanted Putin in the deal, and to stand up to him on election interference would have, in Obama's estimation, upset that negotiation. This turned out to be a disastrous policy decision. Obama's supporters claim he did stand up to Russia by deploying sanctions after the election to punish them for their actions. But, Obama, according to the Washington Post, "approved a modest package... with economic sanctions so narrowly targeted that even those who helped design them describe their impact as largely symbolic." In other words, a toothless response to a serious incursion. But don't just take my word for it that Obama failed. Congressman Adam Schiff, who disgraced himself in this process by claiming collusion when Mueller found that none exists, once said that "the Obama administration should have done a lot more." The Washington Post reported that a senior Obama administration official said they "sort of choked" in failing to stop the Russian government's brazen activities.

Subpoena issued for full Mueller report -- A subpoena demanding the release of the full report into Russian meddling during the 2016 election has been issued, amid claims the current version "leaves most of Congress in the dark". Democrat Jerry Nadler, chairman of the House judiciary committee, argued they are entitled to an unredacted version. Democrats have promised to continue pursuing Donald Trump following the release of the report on Thursday. But Mr Trump's legal team argues it completely exonerates the president. The 448-page redacted document is the result of a 22-month investigation by Robert Mueller, who was appointed to investigate alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. However, while the report does say the president did not collude with the Russians, it did not come to a firm conclusion on the issue of obstruction of justice. It also includes large swathes of redactions, which Mr Nadler says "appear to be significant" in revealing how Special Counsel Mueller and his team came to their conclusions What's in the report? Mr Mueller's report says he found no criminal conspiracy between Mr Trump's campaign and Russia, but could not reach a concrete legal conclusion on whether Mr Trump tried to obstruct the investigation. "If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state," the report says. "Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgement.

Ocasio-Cortez says she will sign Trump impeachment resolution  - Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said Thursday that she would sign on to a resolution calling for an investigation into whether President Trump should be impeached, citing special counsel Robert Mueller's report in her decision-making. "Mueller’s report is clear in pointing to Congress’ responsibility in investigating obstruction of justice by the President," she tweeted. "It is our job as outlined in Article 1, Sec 2, Clause 5 of the US Constitution," the progressive lawmaker added. "As such, I’ll be signing onto @RashidaTlaib’s impeachment resolution."Fellow freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib(D-Mich.) last month introduced a resolution calling for an investigation by the House Judiciary Committee into whether Trump committed impeachable offenses. Tlaib said at the time that she hopes the resolution "ensures we don't have a lawless society that results in irreparable harm to the American people." Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) alsoreiterated his support for impeaching Trump after the Mueller report's publication. Green has repeatedly pressed for Trump’s removal, including over the objections of House Democratic leadership. He said during a Thursday press conference that Mueller has "given us ample evidence for us to move forward with impeachment."

After Mueller report, Democrats divided over end game — investigate Trump or impeach - WaPo - Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report gave House Democrats a road map for investigating President Trump and the cue they were waiting for — but the party was divided Friday over what, ultimately, should be their end game. In one camp, a faction of Democrats determined to pursue impeachment of Trump was emboldened by the report, seizing on Mueller’s detailed findings about 10 potential instances of obstruction of justice to revive calls for delivering the ultimate congressional censure. Ramping up the pressure for impeachment Friday were two presidential hopefuls — Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Julián Castro, former Housing and Urban Development secretary in the Obama administration. “The severity of this misconduct demands that elected officials in both parties set aside political considerations and do their constitutional duty,” Warren said. “That means the House should initiate impeachment proceedings against the president of the United States.” But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her leadership team have tamped down talk of impeachment, with a sense among top Democrats that the Mueller report — which many Democrats see as incriminating in its details of a president trying to undermine the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election — has changed nothing when it comes to the impeachment question. Democratic leaders appear to be coalescing around a strategy of continuing their investigations of Trump, while arguing that their constitutional mandate doesn’t necessitate that they impeach the president — even if they agree he broke the law. Rather, they argue that Congress can unearth corrupt information about him — then take it to voters in the 2020 election. In talking points sent to lawmakers Thursday night, leadership urged them to highlight Mueller’s findings that did not exonerate Trump, criticize Attorney General William P. Barr’s “deliberately distorted” summary of Mueller’s report, and call out Trump for trying to obstruct the probe. 

BuzzFeed Corrects Trump-Cohen Conspiracy Article After Mueller Report Rips To Shreds -- On January 17, BuzzFeed's Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier dropped an anonymously sourced "bombshell" boldly proclaiming "President Trump Directed His Attorney Michael Cohen To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project" (spearheaded by Cohen and longtime FBI informant and convicted fraudster Felix Sater -- who gave the same BuzzFeed reporters a comprehensive interview last march). The article claims that Trump instructed Cohen to tell Congress that discussions over the Moscow project ended in January, 2016 when they in fact ended months later. In an unprecedented move, Mueller's office immediately disputed the BuzzFeed report right after it published, writing: "BuzzFeed's description of specific statements to the Special Counsel's Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen's Congressional testimony are not accurate" BuzzFeed stood by their reporting, saying it "stands by this story 100%." Leopold and Cormier confidently appeared on CNN that weekend where Cormier insisted "Our reporting is going to be borne out to be accurate." Except, it wasn't.  Following the Thursday release of the redacted Mueller report which found that Trump did not direct Cohen to lie, BuzzFeed quietly corrected their story.

The woman who blew open the Cambridge Analytica scandal says Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey are ‘handmaidens to authoritarianism’ Even before the TED 2019 conference in Vancouver, Canada opened on Monday, the event promised to be political. The theme this year, "Bigger Than Us," focuses on finding solutions to deep-rooted tensions in society. A main source of that tension — privacy issues surrounding tech companies like Twitter and Facebook— came up on Monday evening, when tech executives found themselves directly in the line of fire.. In a talk, Carole Cadwalladr, the journalist who broke the Cambridge Analytica scandal, called out Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey for being "handmaidens to authoritarianism." Her comments were especially bold, given that Dorsey is scheduled to appear on the same stage on Tuesday, and may have been in the audience as her speech was being delivered. But the majority of Cadwalladr's talk focused on criticisms of Facebook. In 2018, Cadwalladr's reporting revealed that Facebook had made data on tens of millions of Americans accessible to Cambridge Analytica, an English political consulting firm. The firm then allegedly used this data to influence the 2016 Brexit vote in the UK and the 2016 presidential election in the US. The stories made Cadwalladr a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize. Her talk condemned Facebook and Twitter for providing a platform for hate speech and misinformation — a decision, she said, that likely fueled the outcomes of the UK and US elections. "What the Brexit vote demonstrates is that liberal democracy is broken, and you broke it," Cadwalladr said, addressing her comments directly to "the gods of Silicon Valley, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg and Larry Page and Sergey Brin and Jack Dorsey."

‘Four Steps Facebook Should Take to Counter Police Sock Puppets - Despite Facebook’s repeated warnings that law enforcement is required to use “authentic identities” on the social media platform, cops continue to create fake and impersonator accounts to secretly spy on users. By pretending to be someone else, cops are able to sneak past the privacy walls users put up and bypass legal requirements that might require a warrant to obtain that same information. The most recent examples—and one of the most egregious—was revealed by The Guardian this week. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security executed a complex network of dummy Facebook profiles and pages to trick immigrants into registering with a fake college, The University of Farmington. The operation netted more than 170 arrests. Meanwhile, Customs and Border Protection issued a privacy impact assessment that encourages investigators to conceal their social media accounts.   This latest DHS investigation uncovered by The Guardian, as well as The Root’s report revealing other agencies that authorize undercover cops to friend people on Facebook, indicates that much more needs to be done.  EFF is now calling on Facebook to escalate the matter with law enforcement in the United States. Facebook should take the following actions to address the proliferation of fake/impersonator Facebook accounts operated by law enforcement, in addition to suspending the fake accounts.

  1. As part of its regular transparency reports, Facebook should publish data on the number of fake/impersonator law enforcement accounts identified, what agencies they belonged to, and what action was taken.
  2. When a fake/impersonator account is identified, Facebook should alert the users and groups that interacted with the account whether directly or indirectly. These interactions include, but are not limited to, a friend request, Messenger messages, a comment, membership in a group, or being shown an advertisement. The user should know what agency operated the account and how long it was in operation. Facebook should also add a notification to the agency’s page informing the public that the agency is known to have created fake/impersonator law enforcement accounts.
  3. Facebook should further amend its “Amended Terms for Federal, State and Local Governments in the United States” to make it explicitly clear that, by agreeing to the terms, the agency is agreeing not to operate fake/impersonator profiles on the platform. Facebook has the right to take actions in response to violation of their terms, but when they do so, Facebook should be fair and consistent with the Santa Clara Principles.
  4. Facebook should review the department policies for social media use by law enforcement agencies. When law enforcement has a written policy of engaging in fake/impersonator law enforcement accounts in violation of the “Amended Terms for Federal, State and Local Governments in the United States,” Facebook should add a notification to the agency’s page to inform users of the law enforcement policy.

 Facebook Partners With The Daily Caller for Fact Checking Help— Facebook is partnering with an extreme right-wing website’s fact-checking arm, a move that is generating condemnation from both mainstream and progressive critics.Axios reported on Wednesday that Facebook would be working with The Daily Caller‘s for-profit fact-checker website Check Your Fact to uncover bias and false statements in stories on the social media site.In a statement to The Wrap, Facebook downplayed its partnership with Check Your Fact, putting the new alliance in a broader context.  “Since we launched our third-party fact-checking program in 2016, we’ve been working with partners around the world who share our goal of stopping the spread of misinformation on our platform,” Facebook’s head of news integrity partnerships, Meredith Carden, told The Wrap. “We now work with 47 partners around the world who fact-check content in 24 languages.”Check Your Fact purports to be separate from the Caller, but the site’s editorial decisions on what to check and how at least hint at right-wing bias. At this writing, the top three “fact-checks” on Check Your Fact are:

  • Did Bernie Sanders say the U.S. has ‘had enough with white men in places of power’?
  • Does Emmanuel Macron want the rebuilt Notre Dame to represent a more ‘diverse’ France?
  • Did Teddy Roosevelt say, ‘to anger a liberal, tell him the truth’?

“Facebook has come under fire for working with certain fact-checking partners in the past,” said Axios, referring to the site’s work with now-defunct right wing site The Weekly StandardWhile the decision to work with the Standard did come with a large amount of criticism, not least because of the magazine’s enthusiastic cheerleading for the Iraq War and its role in perpetuating the WMD myth that led to the U.S. attack on the Middle East country.  But, as The Guardian pointed out, the Caller is further to the right than the Standard. The Caller was founded by the far-right Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who regularly delivers monologues on his show, “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” that have been described as indistinguishable from white supremacist talking points.

Facebook says it ‘unintentionally uploaded’ 1.5 million people’s email contacts without their consent - Facebook harvested the email contacts of 1.5 million users without their knowledge or consent when they opened their accounts. Since May 2016, the social-networking company has collected the contact lists of 1.5 million users new to the social network, Business Insider can reveal. The Silicon Valley company said the contact data was "unintentionally uploaded to Facebook," and it is now deleting them. The revelation comes after pseudononymous security researcher e-sushi noticed that Facebook was asking some users to enter their email passwords when they signed up for new accounts to verify their identities, a move widely condemned by security experts.Business Insider then discovered that if you entered your email password, a message popped up saying it was "importing" your contacts without asking for permission first. At the time, it wasn't clear what was happening — but on Wednesday, Facebook disclosed to Business Insider that 1.5 million people's contacts were collected this way and fed into Facebook's systems, where they were used to improve Facebook's ad targeting, build Facebook's web of social connections, and recommend friends to add. A Facebook spokesperson said before May 2016, it offered an option to verify a user's account using their email password and voluntarily upload their contacts at the same time. However, they said, the company changed the feature, and the text informing users that their contacts would be uploaded was deleted — but the underlying functionality was not. Facebook didn't access the content of users' emails, the spokesperson added. But users' contacts can still be highly sensitive data — revealing who people are communicating with and connect to.  While 1.5 million people's contact books were directly harvested by Facebook, the total number of people whose contact information was improperly obtained by Facebook may well be in the dozens or even hundreds of millions, as people sometimes have hundreds of contacts stored on their email accounts. The spokesperson could not provide a figure for the total number of contacts obtained this way.

Nxivm: Seagram heiress Clare Bronfman pleads guilty in 'sex cult’ case  - US heiress Clare Bronfman has pleaded guilty to her role in an alleged sex trafficking operation. Bronfman, the 40-year-old heir to the Seagram alcohol fortune, was accused of using more than $100m (£77m) to fund the suspected sex cult Nxivm. She pleaded guilty on two counts - conspiracy to conceal and harbour illegal immigrants for financial gain, and fraudulent use of identification. She told the court in Brooklyn that she was "truly remorseful". "I wanted to do good in the world and help people," she added. "However, I have made mistakes." Six people in total have been accused of being involved with Nxivm, pronounced nexium. Bronfman is the fifth to plead guilty, with just one defendant - the suspected cult leader Keith Raniere - due to go on trial next month. Bronfman will be sentenced on 25 July. She could face up to 25 years in prison, although sentencing guidelines suggest it could be up to only 27 months. Nxivm is a group that started in 1998 as a self-help programme and says it has worked with more than 16,000 people, including Smallville actress Allison Mack, who pleaded guilty earlier this month. On its website, Nxivm describes itself as a "community guided by humanitarian principles that seek to empower people and answer important questions about what it means to be human". Despite its tagline of "working to build a better world", its leader, Mr Raniere, stands accused of overseeing a "slave and master" system within the group. 

A Hacker Has Dumped Nearly One Billion User Records Over the Past Two Months - A hacker who spoke with ZDNet in February about wanting to put up for sale the data of over one billion users is getting dangerously close to his goal after releasing another 65.5 million records last week and reaching a grand total of 932 million records overall. The hacker's name is Gnosticplayers, and he's responsible for the hacks of 44 companies, including last week's revelations.  Since mid-February, the hacker has been putting batches of hacked data on Dream Market, a dark web marketplace for selling illegal products, such as guns, drugs, and hacking tools.  He's released data from companies like 500px, UnderArmor, ShareThis, GfyCat, and MyHeritage, just to name the bigger names. Releases have been grouped in four rounds --Round 1 (620 million user records), Round 2 (127 million user records), Round 3 (93 million user records), and Round 4 (26.5 million user records).  Last week, the hacker notified ZDNet about his latest release --Round 5-- containing the data of 65.5 million users, which the hacker claims to have taken from six companies: gaming platform Mindjolt, digital mall Wanelo, e-invitations and RSVP platform Evite, South Korean travel company Yanolja, women's fashion store Moda Operandi, and Apple repair center iCracked. While ZDNet has reached out for comment to each of the named businesses, most of the hacker's previous 38 victims have confirmed hacks, so this new batch of stolen data is also very likely to be authentic as well.

The IRS Claims The World's Most Successful Hedge Fund Owes It $6.8 Billion Dollars - Quant hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, founded by mathematician James Simons and known for both its unprecedented success: it has been dubbed the most profitable hedge fund in history, as well as its secrecy, may have a hidden liability that could negatively affect its investors in a big way. The fund is in talks to settle a dispute with the IRS, which is claiming billions of dollars in unpaid taxes, the NY Post reports.  The fund's Medallion flagship fund - which is only open to Renaissance insiders - was found in 2014 to have avoided paying over $6.8 billion in taxes over a 15 year period, according to the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Now, that tax bill could be passed on to investors. Investors face “substantial” payments if the fund settles with the IRS, RenTech warned in December of 2018.  The tax dispute is tied back to options that the fund controlled tied to one of its portfolios. The fund wound up holding options long enough to incur long-term capital gains, which are much cheaper than short term gains, despite the fact that the fund wound up trading the underlying securities "far more frequently".RenTech then reported the earnings as long-term capital gains and has been fighting the IRS's challenge of the strategy. The Medallion fund is currently open only to current and former RenTech employees and is known for its blistering 40% annual returns, net of fees.  Simons, who founded the fund in 1982, is often named the nation's highest earning hedge fund manager and is estimated to be worth $21.5 billion. Recently we posted an article in which Simons "revealed" some of the fund's secrets.  Renaissance has produced about $55 billion in profit over the last 28 years, making it about $10 billion more profitable than funds run by billionaires Ray Dalio and George Soros. What’s more, it did so in a shorter time and with fewer assets under management.  Its biggest drawdown in one five-year period was half a percent.

It takes two to tango: The complementarity of the derigging project and expanded tax credits. - Jared Bernstein - In a hearing last week, an exchange between Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) and JPMorgan’s CEO Jamie Dimon caught my eye. Dimon was touting the bank’s new minimum wage of $16.50, increasing to $18 in high-cost areas, for entry level workers, often fresh out of high-school. That’s a decent minimum wage, above the $15 that most progressive plans call for (and those proposals typically include a phase-in of numerous years). According to recent EPI analysis, $16.50 is well north of the national 40th percentile wage of just under $15.To be clear, I’m not suggesting the highly profitable bank—market cap about $380 billion; Dimon made over $30 million last year—is fairly compensating its entry-level workers (Dimon says such workers tend to just out of high school). My point is an empirical one: given the nation’s wage structure, its (ridiculously low) federal minimum wage of $7.25, and the weak bargaining clout of low-wage workers, especially those without a college degree, a minimum/entry-level wage of $16.50 is actually pretty high. Rep. Porter, however, pointed out that in pretty much any part of America you choose, a single mom with one child can’t make ends meet on that wage. She’s unquestionably correct, as she demonstrated after the hearing in this tweet (full disclosure: I’ve met Rep. Porter; she’s all that and a big bag of chips; whip-smart, data-driven…one of those new members with just the right recipe of heart, brain, conviction, analytics, etc…). You can read more about their exchange here, but it led me to ask why is the US wage structure so insufficient and what can we do about it? It’s a question that all of us should have at the top of our minds when listening to the proposals from those who would lead the nation.What can we do about this mismatch between earnings and needs? One answer is to work on two tracks, near-term and long-term. In the near term, we need robust wage supports in the form of fully refundable tax credits (i.e., you get the whether or not you owe any taxes), along with other work supports, including child care, health care, and housing.  Over the longer haul we must correct structural imbalances that have, over at least the last 40 years, reduced any bargaining clout for workers relative to employers. The power shift is a function of many forces, including the decline of unions and collective bargaining, but it also relates to the way we’ve handled globalization, the rise of hands-off economics, specifically the notion that progressive interventions are anti-growth (a line of thought that’s led to supply-side policies like cutting taxes for the rich and benefits for the poor), austere fiscal policy, and the many other aspects of what is often labeled the “rigged economy.”

Trump Tax Code: These Companies Made Billions, Paid No Taxes  - We knew President Trump’s 2017 tax bill favored corporate America, but this is ridiculous. According to a new study, a group of 60 companies in the Fortune 500 booked nearly $80 billion in total profits in 2018, but each owed $0 in taxes. Worse: Many of these companies actually got rebates from Uncle Sam, totaling more than $4 billion.  The report, from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), highlights some of the most recognizable names in corporate America who faced no tax bill, including Big Oil giant Chevron ($4.5 billion in profits), tech darling Netflix ($856 million), pharmaceutical titan Eli Lilly ($595 million) and industrial stalwart Goodyear Tire & Rubber ($440 million). “The specter of big corporations avoiding all income taxes on billions in profits sends a strong and corrosive signal to Americans,” the authors write, “that the tax system is stacked against them.” Below, according to ITEP, is a list of the 26 companies that raked in at least $1 billion in profits but — through the magic of the 2017 tax bill, edgy accounting practices, special carveouts and corporate tax shelters — did not pay anything to the government on their earnings.

Chuck Schumer Neglected to Name a Democratic Commissioner for the SEC. Now It’s Open Season for Wall Street, Bank Lawyers Crow -- David Dayen -- Last summer, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer failed to name a candidate for a minority position on the Securities and Exchange Commission, and now Wall Street lawyers are celebrating a virtual amnesty that they think could last the rest of Donald Trump’s term. In a remarkably candid editorial, five partners with the D.C. law firm Debevoise & Plimpton have confidently predicted that the SEC will refrain from imposing financial penalties on corporations for securities violations “for the remainder of the current presidential term.” This benefits the large trading and securities interests that employ Debevoise for legal defense work. The editorial amounts to Debevoise informing their clients that the coast is clear. The reason for the expected decrease in enforcement has to do with a fatal delay by Schumer to name a minority commissioner and the Trump administration’s unprecedented exploitation of this mistake. The SEC is currently operating with four commissioners, three of whom were appointed by Republicans. Like many independent commissions, two of the SEC’s five commissioners must not be members of the party in the White House. But Kara Stein, a Democratic commissioner, ended her tenure January 2, and that seat remains vacant. The Debevoise partners, whose clients include numerous big bank and securities firms, explain that this imbalance will come as good news for companies looking to break securities laws. “Because it is likely that this four-person commission will remain in place for the remainder of the current presidential term, we may soon see fewer corporate penalties in financial reporting cases and, if recent votes are indicative, potentially more broadly,” they write in an analysis for Law360, a trade publication for the legal community.  “Trump’s violation of the longstanding norm that minority-party commissioners will secure nominations and fair confirmation processes is so severe that white-collar defense firms are now advising clients that laws likely won’t be enforced against them for the rest of his term.”

Musk Draws SEC Attention With Another Controversial Tweet -- Just two months after he tweeted a production figure forecast, Tesla’s chief executive has done it again just days after he had to appear in court because the Securities and Exchange Commission accused him of violating an agreement to first ask the board of directors for approval of any tweets that might move Tesla stock. Bloomberg reports that the tweet comes amid concern about the future performance of the company after reports that Tesla and Panasonic were shelving their plans to expand the production capacity of the Nevada gigafactory. The tweet was actually a reply to another network user’s tweet in a discussion regarding the future value of electric cars and Tesla's in particular. However, if the SEC is watching Musk as closely as its reaction to his previous tweet suggests, chances are it will again try to get him in line with the help of the court system. The financial markets regulator in February asked a judge to hold Elon Musk in contempt for violating a deal the regulator struck with the Tesla chief executive last year, which requires him to get the approval of the Tesla board of directors before tweeting anything that could “be material to investors.” The tweet that prompted the SEC move said that Tesla will manufacture half a million cars this year. The tweet, however, was quickly followed by another one, clarifying that “Meant to say annualized production rate at end of 2019 probably around 500k, ie 10k cars/week. Deliveries for year still estimated to be about 400k.”  The judge was not impressed, however, and told both sides to “Take a deep breath, put your reasonableness pants on, and work this out,” giving them until this Thursday to settle their differences out of court. If they fail to do so, Judge Alison Nathan will rule on the contempt charge.

After a $354 Billion U.S. Bailout, Germany’s Deutsche Bank Still Has $49 Trillion in Derivatives -  Pam Martens - When the GAO released its audit of the Federal Reserve’s secret $16.1 trillion in bank loans during the financial crisis, Germany’s largest bank, Deutsche Bank, ranked number 9 on the list of the largest borrowers.  Deutsche Bank took $354 billion in revolving loans from the U.S. Federal Reserve. According to an article in the Financial Times last week “Germany’s federal and state governments have spent €70bn on bailing out banks since the financial crisis, according to an estimate by Gerhard Schick, head of lobby group Finance Watch.” The figure of  €70bn is about 79 billion U.S. dollars. Why did the U.S. Fed throw $364 billion at one German bank when its country of origin has only reached in its pocket to the tune of $79 billion for all of its troubled banks? (Read on for the answer.) During 2018, the serially troubled Deutsche Bank – which still has a vast derivatives footprint in the U.S. as counterparty to some of the largest banks on Wall Street – trimmed its exposure to derivatives from a notional €48.266 trillion to a notional €43.459 trillion (49 trillion U.S. dollars) according to its 2018 annual report. A derivatives book of $49 trillion notional puts Deutsche Bank in the same league as the bank holding companies of U.S. juggernauts JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, which logged in at $48 trillion, $47 trillion and $42 trillion, respectively, at the end of December 2018 according to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). (See Table 2 at this link.)Deutsche Bank’s feeble 10 percent reduction in mind-numbing derivatives stands in stark contrast to the reduction in Deutsche Bank’s share price last year. On the first trading day of 2018, Deutsche Bank opened at $19.27. On the last trading day of the year, December 31, 2018, Deutsche Bank closed at $8.15 – a reduction in shareholder value of 58 percent.What that did to Deutsche Bank’s market capitalization was this: with 2,066,773,131 shares outstanding at both the start of the year and at the end of the year, shareholders lost an enormous $23 billion in market cap. With those numbers in mind, now study this chart provided by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which issued subpoenas and took testimony from more than 700 witnesses. The chart lists Goldman Sachs’ derivatives counterparties as of June 2008 and the dollar amount of exposure.  Between Deutsche Bank, Barclays, and the Royal Bank of Scotland, Goldman had a cumulative derivatives exposure to just those three foreign banks of $7.2 trillion notional (face amount).

Robert Reich Calls Out JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon for Dismissing Socialism While Accepting Government Bailouts - In his annual letter to shareholders, distributed last week, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon took aim at socialism, warning it would be “a disaster for our country,” because it produces “stagnation, corruption and often worse.”Dimon should know. He was at the helm when JPMorgan received a $25bn socialist-like bailout in 2008, after it and other Wall Street banks almost tanked because of their reckless loans. Dimon subsequently agreed to pay the government $13bn to settle charges that the bank overstated the quality of mortgages it was selling to investors in the run-up to the crisis. According to the Justice Department, JPMorgan acknowledged it had regularly and knowingly sold mortgages that should have never been sold. (Presumably this is where the “stagnation, corruption and often worse” comes in.) The $13bn penalty was chicken feed to the biggest bank on Wall Street, whose profits last year alone amounted to $35bn. Besides, JPMorgan was able to deduct around $11bn of the settlement costs from its taxable income. To state it another way, Dimon and other Wall Street CEOs helped trigger the 2008 financial crisis when the dangerous and irresponsible loans their banks were peddling – on which they made big money – finally went bust. But instead of letting the market punish the banks (which is what capitalism is supposed to do) the government bailed them out and eventually levied paltry fines which the banks treated as the cost of doing business. If this isn’t socialism, what is? Yet it’s a particular form of socialism. Millions of homeowners who owed more on their homes than the homes became worth didn’t get bailed out. Millions of workers who lost their jobs or their savings, or both, didn’t get bailed out. No major banker went to jail. Call it socialism for rich bankers. It’s a gift that keeps giving. Dimon took advantage of the financial crisis to acquire Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, vastly enlarging JPMorgan. America’s five biggest banks, including Dimon’s, now control 46% of all deposits, up from 12% in the early 1990s. And because they’re so big, Dimon’s and other big Wall Street banks are now considered “too big to fail”. This translates into a hidden subsidy of some $83bn a year, because creditors who face less risk accept lower interest on deposits and loans.

OCC should speak up on Wells Fargo's exec changes: Warren — Sen. Elizabeth Warren is keeping the pressure on the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency over its oversight of Wells Fargo following the departure of the beleaguered bank's CEO. In a letter to Comptroller Joseph Otting, the Massachusetts Democrat took issue with the OCC apparently not exercising its authority — in the case of Wells — to object to candidates for senior positions at troubled institutions. “Under federal law, underperforming financial institutions must give the OCC the opportunity to object before making changes to their senior leadership, such as hiring new board members and senior executive officers,” Warren said. “The OCC, however, has systemically exempted Wells Fargo from this requirement — raising questions about the agency's willingness to hold the bank accountable for its misdeeds.” Warren suggested that the OCC could have more effectively scrutinized the bank's promotion of Tim Sloan to succeed John Stumpf as Wells Fargo CEO following the revelation of the bank's fake-accounts scandal. Sloan was the target of persistent congressional criticism as subsequent consumer protection scandals came to light. The bank announced Sloan's departure in March. Warren cited consent orders issued against Wells Fargo in 2015 and 2016, in which the OCC exempted it from requirements for troubled banks to get approval by the regulator to make changes to directors and senior executive officers. “Had the OCC conducted a review of Mr. Sloan's ‘competence, experience, character, or integrity,’ it may have concluded that Mr. Sloan's tenure as a high-ranking Wells Fargo executive — including serving as the head of the bank's Wholesale Banking business from 2014 to November 2015 while the bank failed to comply with anti-money laundering laws — disqualified him from becoming CEO at a time when Wells Fargo was in need of drastic reform,” Warren said. Warren is asking whether the OCC plans to conduct a review of the next CEO and president of Wells Fargo at the conclusion of the bank’s search. She also inquired why the OCC exempted Wells Fargo from the executive approval process in its 2015 and 2016 consent orders, and whether the regulator believes that the appointment of Sloan as CEO was in the best interest of Wells Fargo's depositors and the public.

FDIC board backs reg relief proposals for foreign banks, living wills — The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. board on Tuesday proposed easing resolution plan requirements for large financial firms as well as certain capital and liquidity standards for foreign banking giants operating in the U.S. The board advanced three items: a proposal drafted jointly with the Federal Reserve Board that tailors the frequency and content of "living will" filings based on a bank parent company's size; a companion proposal issued just by the FDIC on adjusting resolution plan requirements for bank subsidiaries; and an interagency proposal codifying capital and liquidity changes for foreign banks with a U.S. footprint. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. board on Tuesday proposed easing resolution plan requirements for large financial firms as well as certain capital and liquidity standards for foreign banking giants operating in the U.S. The living will proposal issued with the Fed would stagger timelines for turning in plans, with larger and riskier firms subject to a more demanding schedule than regional banks. However, the proposal would codify longer timelines even for the biggest banks. Smaller U.S. banks with $100 billion to $250 billion in assets would not have to submit a resolution plan while larger firms could submit plans biannually, rather than annually. “Under the staggered cycles the agencies would be able to concentrate resources on addressing systemic risks and those areas more closely associated with building greater resilience and resolvability,” said FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams. “Importantly, the proposal ensures rigorous resolution planning will continue at the largest, most complex firms.” The Fed's board of governors approved the living will and foreign bank proposals on April 8. Board member Martin Gruenberg, formerly the agency's chairman, dissented on all three items. He said the resolution plan proposal crafted with the Fed exceeds regulatory relief provisions passed by Congress.

Will reg relief plan bring back failure-related risks? — There is broad agreement that several years after the crisis regulators should ease the rigor of resolution planning requirements. But critics say the Federal Reserve Board plan to reduce the frequency and severity of "living wills" goes too far. The proposal that the Fed drafted jointly with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. would tailor the requirements based mostly on institution size. U.S. banking companies with assets of between $100 billion to $250 billion would be exempted from submitting a resolution plan entirely, while larger firms could submit plans less often. The changes would reflect some relief already in practice and implement certain measures from the regulatory reform law passed last year. But several observers argued the agencies went way beyond those measures and the proposal needlessly waters down requirements designed to make failed banks easier to resolve in a crisis. “When things are rosy, you don’t always walk away from the things that made them rosy,” said Ron Klein, a partner at Holland & Knight and a former Democratic House lawmaker from Florida who sat on the House Financial Services Committee during the drafting of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act. “This is the time to make sure you keep in place the things that are working well." Under Dodd-Frank, banks with over $50 billion of assets were required to plan out their hypothetical bankruptcy. The aim was to avoid a repeat of the messy failures that had sent systemic shock waves to other banks during the crisis. Supporters pointed to two benefits of living wills. The plans would assist the FDIC in building a new system, also created by the 2010 law, to manage certain resolutions where the government viewed traditional bankruptcy as too risky for financial system. Secondly, living wills would force banks to simplify their structure so that a bankruptcy would be less threatening. But completing the plans and awaiting feedback on them from the Fed and FDIC has proven to be an arduous process, and many policymakers have concluded that they can achieve the same benefits but still provide the industry with relief.

The Republican Party Is Making America Great Again—for Plutocrats and Well-Heeled Thieves  Which brings us to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, the brainchild of Senator Professor Warren, an agency that has returned billions of dollars to citizens swindled, burgled, or double-talked out of their money by large financial institutions. The Republicans—and, especially, their donor class—hated the CFPB and vowed to bring it down at the first opportunity. They got one with the election of the current president*, who quickly put Mick Mulvaney in charge of it. And it was Mulvaney's primary task to hollow out the CFPB's essential functions. In an upcoming New York Times Magazine, Nick Confessore provides a definitive account of how well this strategy still works.  Mulvaney’s careful campaign of deconstruction offers a case study in the Trump administration’s approach to transforming Washington, one in which strategic neglect and bureaucratic self-sabotage create versions of agencies that seem to run contrary to their basic premises. According to one person who speaks with Mulvaney often, his smooth subdual of the C.F.P.B. was part of his pitch to Trump for his promotion to White House chief of staff — long one of the most powerful jobs in Washington. Mulvaney’s slow-rolling attack on the bureau’s enforcement and regulatory powers wasn’t just one of the Trump era’s most emblematic assaults on the so-called administrative state. It was also, in part, an audition.   

Kraninger outlines her vision for a revamped CFPB — The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should be focused on preventing consumer harm rather than merely handing fines against companies, Director Kathy Kraninger said Wednesday. In her first policy speech since taking the helm of the agency in December, Kraninger signaled a continued shift in emphasis away from enforcement actions under Trump-appointed leadership. She said the agency should not view "outputs," such as money returned to consumers or the volume of enforcement actions, as measures of its success. “All too often agencies tend to judge themselves by their outputs,” Kraninger said at an event hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center, which followed a three-month listening tour with stakeholders. “For example, how many complaints did they handle … how much money did they recover. “If we succeed in fostering a culture of compliance and preventing harm, we would expect the number of complaints and the number of meritorious complaints to decline.” Along the lines of focusing more on prevention and education, Kraninger said the CFPB will soon be launching a “savings boot camp,” which will include a series of videos to educate consumers. “Tackling emergency savings is a logical place to start,” Kraninger said. “The goal is to move the needle on the number of Americans in this country who can cover a financial shock like a $400 emergency.”   Kraninger succeeded former acting Director Mick Mulvaney and has been the focus of criticism by consumer advocates who say she plans to continue Mulvaney's efforts to rein in the agency. Mulvaney, who also ran the Office of Management and Budget, where Kraninger worked, took initial steps to freeze enforcement actions, halt staffing and conduct a full review of the agency's operations, among other things. He also brought on roughly a dozen of political appointees to help run the bureau. Kraninger said the agency will continue to use enforcement as a tool when appropriate. “Enforcement is an essential tool that Congress gave the bureau [and] there will always be bad actors who don’t comply with the law,” she said. “I am committed to ensuring that enforcement investigations proceed carefully and purposefully.”

How far will CFPB go to modernize debt collection rules? - The ability of debt collectors to use text messages and emails to track down consumers who owe debts will be addressed in an upcoming proposal by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, according to sources familiar with the plan. Debt collectors and trade groups that have met with CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger said the bureau will look at developing regulatory policy for modern communication practices including text messaging and emails that were not invented when the Federal Debt Collection Practices Act went into effect. The CFPB signaled in October that it would address such issues as “communication practices and consumer disclosures” as part of a plan to revamp debt collection practices. Its proposal is expected within the next few weeks. Debt collectors and debt buyers say the 42-year-old law has not kept pace with technology. “There has not been any incremental effort to keep up with technology and the law dates back to 1977 when they were still talking about using telegrams,” said Jan Stieger, executive director of the Receivables Management Association International, a trade group. “It’s hard to say that voicemail is a new technology at this point.” The CFPB is expected to ask for input on the use of text and email in collecting debts, and how often collectors should be able to contact consumers. Consumer disclosures also are expected to be a centerpiece of the CFPB’s plan, which is likely to be broad and less prescriptive than past proposals. 

Small businesses turning far more often to online lenders: Fed - Small-business owners are turning to online lenders for financing much more frequently than they did even two years ago, the Federal Reserve Banks found in a new survey. Last year 32% of credit-seeking small businesses applied to an online lender, up from 19% in 2016, according to the survey, which was released Tuesday. Over the same period, large banks, small banks and credit unions all saw either steady application rates or a slight decline in interest from those same small businesses, which typically had fewer than 10 employees. Those business owners are relying more heavily on online lenders even though they ultimately tend to be relatively dissatisfied with their choice, the survey found. Respondents pointed to high interest rates in the online lending sector as a key source of unhappiness. Annual percentage rates in the online business lending sector often exceed 25% and can be much higher. Approval rates on small-business loan applications by large bank, small bank, online lender Still, the findings suggest that more traditional lenders risk being left behind if they do not match the faster processes that many online lenders offer. Among small-business owners who applied to an online lender, the top reason cited was the speed at which they anticipated receiving either a loan decision or the requested funding. “We can tell from the factors that they cite in their choice of lender that they prioritize speed far above cost and interest rate,” a Fed researcher who worked on a report that summarized the survey’s findings said. By contrast, speed was not among the top three factors cited by business owners who applied to either large banks or small banks.

 U.S. Online Lenders Are Now Preparing For A Recession - Almost ten years after the Great Recession ended, online lenders in the U.S. including LendingClub, Kabbage, and Avant are preparing for an economic slowdown by reviewing their risk exposure, reported Reuters.The U.S. economy stalled in the last six months, as the threat of a recession surged in March with the 3 month-10 year spread inverting for the first time since 2007. A slowing economy will amplify credit losses, liquidity crunches, and higher funding costs could strain some digital lenders if not adequately prepared.  "This is very top of mind for us," LendingClub Chief Executive Officer Scott Sanborn told Reuters in referencing the possibility of a recession. "It’s not a question of ‘if,’ it’s ‘when,’ and it’s not five years away." Sanborn and executives at several other online lender shops who spoke with Reuters said economic indicators continue to deteriorate.   Economists polled by Reuters last month saw a 25% chance of a U.S. recession over the next 12 months. More recently, the IMF warned about a synchronized global downturn, indicating that the world is now in a "significantly weakened global expansion.""We were seeing economists bringing up some warning signs, and we were following the Fed signals and that they were becoming more dovish," said Bhanu Arora, the head of consumer lending at the Chicago-based lender Avant. "We wanted to be prepared and ready." Arora said he positioned the company for a recession, indicating that tightening credit standards was one way to reduce risk.   Reuters noted that the executives said there were no immediate signs of stress in their loan portfolios, however, with momentum in U.S. growth slowing, they said the time to prepare is now. If a downturn hits, lenders with the weakest balance sheets will fail first.  "All these different platforms say they can underwrite in unique ways," said Robert Wildhack, an analyst at Autonomous Research. "This will be the first chance we have to see who is right and who might have been taking shortcuts."

 How tax reform changed the mortgage market's outlook -- Tax reform leaves mortgage-related deductions far too low to help the average homeowner this tax season, in contrast to last year, when they slightly exceeded the standard deduction. Mortgage interest and property tax deductions were $9,012 lower than the standard deduction for an average couple in 2018, a recent study by John Burns Real Estate Consulting finds. In 2017, mortgage-related deductions exceeded the standard deduction by $345. The analysis uses a 1.5% property tax rate to calculate the annual interest and property tax paid. It also assumes the borrowers put 5% down on a median-priced home, and had an average mortgage rate. On the surface, this suggests tax reform has taken away a homeownership incentive from the average U.S. couple; but a look further back at the period before tax reform went into effect shows the average borrower hasn't benefited much or at all from these mortgage-related deductions for several years. While the average U.S. couple's mortgage-related deductions exceeded the standard deduction for the 2017 tax year, they were $650 to $2,999 lower than the standard deduction each year between 2009 and 2016 due to a combination of tax policy, historically low rates and weaker housing market conditions. "The takeaway here is that as standard deductions have risen and mortgage rates have fallen, there is less of an incentive to itemize, and the tax benefits of homeownership for the average person has fallen," . Under current tax rules and market conditions, interest rates would have to average 8.4% or higher before mortgage-related deductions would exceed the standard deduction of $24,000 for the average U.S. couple with a home loan, Seabaugh said. So long as rates remain lower, the most immediate effect of lowering the limit for the mortgage interest deduction to $750,000 from $1 million, and putting a $10,000 limit on property tax deductions, could be a reduction in the tax-incentive to buy higher-cost homes. "It could impact the wealthier, higher-priced areas, or areas where there are not necessarily super high-priced homes, but the tax rate is higher,"

Even with slowing economy, Fannie Mae forecasts rising mortgage volume - Economic growth will slow in 2019, but conditions will help home sales hold steady, with mortgage volume now being projected to rise over 2018, according to Fannie Mae. Housing inventory will, however, remain a homebuyer hurdle.Fannie Mae now projects $1.62 trillion in total volume for 2019, compared with $1.6 trillion in 2018. This is a change in direction from its March forecast, which had a slight year-over-year decline to $1.59 trillion.Home sales are likely to stay on pace with 2018 levels due to improved wage growth, slower property value appreciation and lower mortgage rates, the Fannie Mae Economic and Strategic Group's forecast said. These conditions should help purchase volume increase modestly in 2019, and lower rates in particular will push up refinance volume greater than previously expected (though refis will still be down from last year). The current forecast calls for $1.18 trillion in purchase loans and $446 billion in refis this year. "On housing, the recent dip in mortgage rates to their lowest level in over a year — combined with wage gains and home price deceleration — supports our contention that home sales will stabilize in 2019," Doug Duncan, Fannie Mae's chief economist, said in a press release."The greatest impediment to both sales and affordability continues to be on the supply side, as new inventory, particularly among existing homes, is being met quickly by strong demand — as evidenced by the already thin months' supply hitting a new one-year low," he said.Fannie Mae still anticipates an interest rate hike this year, but moved its projected timeline for the increase to December, since the Federal Reserve aims to stop trimming its balance sheet by September.In terms of economic growth for the year, it will likely be a more sluggish 2.2%, compared to the 3% rate of 2018. Last year's fiscal stimulus and slowing business and consumer spending are among the main reasons for the deceleration, though residential fixed investment should rebound, according to Fannie.  Economic growth should be greater in the second half of the year compared to the first as the impact from the partial government shutdown and fourth-quarter stock market volatility trail off.

MBA: Mortgage Applications Decreased in Latest Weekly Survey --From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey Mortgage applications decreased 3.5 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending April 12, 2019... The Refinance Index decreased 8 percent from the previous week. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 1 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 2 percent compared with the previous week and was 7 percent higher than the same week one year ago...“Mortgage applications decreased over the week, driven by a decline in refinances. With mortgage rates up for the second week in a row, it’s no surprise that refinancings slid 8 percent and average loan sizes dropped back closer to normal levels,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Purchase activity remained strong and increased slightly, reaching its highest level since April 2010. The spring buying season continues to be robust, with activity more than 7 percent higher than a year ago and up year-over-year for the ninth straight week.”..The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($484,350 or less) increased to 4.44 percent from 4.40 percent, with points decreasing to 0.42 from 0.47 (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.

NMHC: Apartment Market Tightness Index Increased in April -- The National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) released their April report: April NMHC Quarterly Survey Highlights Continued Strength of the Apartment Market The apartment market showed signs of strengthening in the National Multifamily Housing Council’s Quarterly Survey of Apartment Market Conditions for April 2019. The Market Tightness (52), Equity Financing (53), and Debt Financing (81) indexes were all above the breakeven level (50), while the Sales Volume index (45) improved, but still showed some continued softness on property sales.“Even as overall economic growth slowed somewhat in the last quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, the apartment market has rallied,” noted NMHC Chief Economist Mark Obrinsky. “Thirty percent of respondents saw stronger rents and occupancy levels, the most since July 2015. Strong demand for apartments across the country continues to underpin the apartment industry’s strong fundamentals.”…The Market Tightness Index increased from 46 to 52, indicating overall improving conditions for the first time since October of 2015. Nearly one-third (30 percent) of respondents reported tighter market conditions in the three months prior compared to 25 percent who reported looser conditions. Almost half (45 percent) of respondents felt that conditions were no different from last quarter. This index helped me call the bottom for effective rents (and the top for the vacancy rate) early in 2010. And it also helped me call the bottom in vacancy rate more recently.

Housing Starts Decreased to 1.139 Million Annual Rate in March - From the Census Bureau: Permits, Starts and Completions Privately‐owned housing starts in March were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,139,000. This is 0.3 percent below the revised February estimate of 1,142,000 and is 14.2 percent below the March 2018 rate of 1,327,000. Single‐family housing starts in March were at a rate of 785,000; this is 0.4 percent below the revised February figure of 788,000. The March rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 337,000. Privately‐owned housing units authorized by building permits in March were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,269,000. This is 1.7 percent below the revised February rate of 1,291,000 and is 7.8 percent below the March 2018 rate of 1,377,000. Single‐family authorizations in March were at a rate of 808,000; this is 1.1 percent below the revised February figure of 817,000. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 425,000 in March. The first graph shows single and multi-family housing starts for the last several years. Multi-family starts (red, 2+ units) were unchanged in March compared to February.   Multi-family starts were down 20% year-over-year in March. Multi-family is volatile month-to-month, and  has been mostly moving sideways the last few years.  Single-family starts (blue) decreased in March, and were down 11% year-over-year. The second graph shows total and single unit starts since 1968. Total housing starts in March were below expectations.  Starts for February were revised down, and starts for January were revised up.

Housing Starts Collapse Continues - Worst Annual Drop Since 2011 -Well this should steal the jam out of the green-shoot-brigade's donut. Housing Starts and Permits unexpectedly tumbled in March.  Housing Starts fell 0.3% MoM (against expectations of a 5.4% rebound) and to make matters worse, February's 8.7% plunge was revised down to a shocking 12% collapse... This is the weakest level of Housing Starts since May 2017..  And biggest Y/Y drop since 2011, suggesting builders remain wary even as lower mortgage rates and steady wage gains offer support to consumers. And the collapse was broad-based:

  • Northeast: -28.3% Y/Y
  • Midwest: -28.0% Y/Y
  • South: -4.1% Y/Y
  • West: -19.5% Y/Y

Both Multi- and Single-family Starts dropped... with the latter at its lowest since Sept 2016 Permits were just as ugly - dropping 1.7% MoM (against expectations of a 0.7% rise) and, like Starts, February's data was downwardly revised (from -1.6% to -2.05% MoM) The drop signals developers continue to struggle to build affordable properties amid rising labor and materials costs...

Comments on February Housing Starts - Earlier: Housing Starts Decreased to 1.139 Million Annual Rate in March.  Total housing starts in March were below expectations, however starts for January and February, combined, were revised up slightly.The housing starts report released this morning showed starts were down 0.3% in March compared to February, and starts were down 14.2% year-over-year compared to March 2018. Single family starts were down 11.0% year-over-year, and multi-family starts were down 21.8%. This first graph shows the month to month comparison for total starts between 2018 (blue) and 2019 (red). Starts were down 14.1% in March compared to March 2018. The year-over-year weakness in March was in both the single family and multi-family sectors. Last year, in 2018, starts were strong early in the year, and then fell off in the 2nd half - so the early comparisons this year are the most difficult. My guess is starts will be down slightly year-over-year in 2019 compared to 2018, but nothing like the YoY decline we've seen in February and March. Below is an update to the graph comparing multi-family starts and completions. Since it usually takes over a year on average to complete a multi-family project, there is a lag between multi-family starts and completions. Completions are important because that is new supply added to the market, and starts are important because that is future new supply (units under construction is also important for employment). These graphs use a 12 month rolling total for NSA starts and completions. The blue line is for multifamily starts and the red line is for multifamily completions. The rolling 12 month total for starts (blue line) increased steadily for several years following the great recession - but turned down, and has moved sideways recently. Completions (red line) had lagged behind - however completions and starts are at about the same level now. As I've been noting for a few years, the significant growth in multi-family starts is behind us - multi-family starts peaked in June 2015 (at 510 thousand SAAR). The second graph shows single family starts and completions. It usually only takes about 6 months between starting a single family home and completion - so the lines are much closer. The blue line is for single family starts and the red line is for single family completions. Note the relatively low level of single family starts and completions. The "wide bottom" was what I was forecasting following the recession, and now I expect some further increases in single family starts and completions.

NAHB: "Builder Confidence Edges Higher in April" - The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported the housing market index (HMI) was at 63 in April, up from 62 in March. Any number above 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor. From NAHB: Builder Confidence Edges Higher in April Builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes rose one point to 63 in April, according to the latest National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) released today. Sentiment levels have held in the low 60s for the past three months. “Builders report solid demand for new single-family homes but they are also grappling with affordability concerns stemming from a chronic shortage of construction workers and buildable lots,” said NAHB Chairman Greg Ugalde, a home builder and developer from Torrington, Conn.“Ongoing job growth, favorable demographics and a low-interest rate environment will help to modestly spark sales growth in the near term,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “However, supply-side headwinds that are putting upward pressure on housing costs will limit more robust growth in the housing market.”…The HMI index gauging current sales conditions increased one point to 69, and the component measuring traffic of prospective buyers rose three points to 47. The measure charting sales expectations in the next six months fell one point to 71. Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the Northeast posted a three-point gain to 51, the Midwest increased two points to 53, and the South was up one point to 67. The West remained unchanged at 69.

AIA: "Architecture Billings Index backslides in March" - Note: This index is a leading indicator primarily for new Commercial Real Estate (CRE) investment. From the AIA: Architecture Billings Index backslides in March Following consistently increasing demand for design services for over two years, the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) dipped into negative territory in March, according to a new report today from The American Institute of Architects (AIA). The ABI score for March was 47.8, down from 50.3 in February. Indicators of work in the pipeline, including inquiries into new projects and the value of new design contracts remained positive. “Though billings haven’t contracted in a while, it is important to note that it does follow on the heels of a particularly tough late winter period for much of the country,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker.. “Many indicators of future work at firms still remain positive, although the pace of growth of design contracts has slowed in recent months.“
• Regional averages: South (54.2), Midwest (48.7), West (47.2), Northeast (43.5)
• Sector index breakdown: mixed practice (53.1), commercial/industrial (47.0), institutional (48.9), multi-family residential (47.7)
This graph shows the Architecture Billings Index since 1996. The index was at 47.8 in March, down from 50.3 in February. Anything below 50 indicates contraction in demand for architects' services. Note: This includes commercial and industrial facilities like hotels and office buildings, multi-family residential, as well as schools, hospitals and other institutions.  According to the AIA, there is an "approximate nine to twelve month lag time between architecture billings and construction spending" on non-residential construction.  This index has been positive for 11 of the previous 12 months, suggesting a further increase in CRE investment in 2019.

Average US Credit Score Hits An All Time High - Something unexpected happened after the financial crisis: Americans have become far more responsible when it comes to their finances. At least that is the conclusion one would derive by looking at the average US credit score, which has increased by nearly 20 points, from 686 in 2009 to 704 in 2018. Additionally, according to Moody's, 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.As we discussed recently, 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? And, separately, are FICO scores subject to "grade inflation", as the Federal Reserve recently claimed?To answer these questions, Goldman recently conducted an analysis into the causes behind this welcome development in US credit scores. The bank founds that, as expected, some of this increase reflects legitimate improvements in the credit behavior of US consumers. For example, household debt has declined as a percentage of GDP: Since measures of indebtedness/over-extension represent roughly 30% of the FICO credit score calculation, this de-leveraging will, appropriately, lead to higher credit scores.Some of the increase in average FICO scores is also a reflection of the relatively benign macro-economy to which consumers have been exposed in recent years, according to Goldman. Past payment history is the largest driver of most credit score formulas, and low current delinquency rates help drive credit scores higher even if these low rates of delinquency are partly explained by the strong economy. With these two considerations in mind, Goldman cautions that in light of the strong economy and lack of a (recent) stressful economic scenario, with unemployment rates now below 4%, high credit scores for 2019 vintage borrowers might overstate credit quality. Echoing this point, Cris deRitis, Moody's deputy chief economist said that "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.” "Borrowers’ scores may have migrated up, but inherently their individual risk, and their attitude towards credit and ability to pay their bills, has stayed the same. You might have thought 700 was a good score, but now it’s just average," deRitis continued.

January Retail Sales: 1.57% Jump in March --The Census Bureau's Advance Retail Sales Report for March was released this morning. HHeadline sales came in at 1.6% month-over-month to one decimal and was better than the forecast of 0.9%. Core sales (ex Autos) came in at 1.17% MoM (to two decimals).  Here is the introduction from today's report:Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for March 2019, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $514.1 billion, an increase of 1.6 percent (±0.5 percent) from the previous month, and 3.6 percent (±0.7 percent) above March 2018. Total sales for the January 2019 through March 2019 period were up 2.9 percent (±0.7 percent) from the same period a year ago. The January 2019 to February 2019 percent change was unrevised from down 0.2 percent (±0.2 percent)*. Retail trade sales were up 1.7 percent (±0.5 percent) from February 2019, and 3.5 percent (±0.5 percent) above last year. Nonstore retailers were up 11.6 percent (±1.4 percent) from March 2018, while sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, and book stores were down 9.7 percent (±2.5 percent) from last year. [view full report]  The chart below is a log-scale snapshot of retail sales since the early 1990s. The two exponential regressions through the data help us to evaluate the long-term trend of this key economic indicator.

Retail Sales increased 1.6% in March -- On a monthly basis, retail sales increased 1.6 percent from February to March (seasonally adjusted), and sales were up 3.6 percent from March 2018. From the Census Bureau report: Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for March 2019, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $514.1 billion, an increase of 1.6 percent from the previous month, and 3.6 percent above March 2018. … The January 2019 to February 2019 percent change was unrevised from down 0.2 percent.This graph shows retail sales since 1992. This is monthly retail sales and food service, seasonally adjusted (total and ex-gasoline). Retail sales ex-gasoline were up 1.4% in March. The second graph shows the year-over-year change in retail sales and food service (ex-gasoline) since 1993. Year-over-year change in Retail Sales Retail and Food service sales, ex-gasoline, increased by 3.65% on a YoY basis. The increase in March was well above expectations, and sales in January and February were revised up, combined. A solid report following the recent weakness in retail sales.

March real retail sales very strong, but no “all clear” yet - This morning’s retail sales report for March was very strong on both a nominal basis, up +1.6%, and also on a real, inflation-adjusted basis, up +1.2%. At the same time, it is still ever so slightly below its peak of five months ago, and YoY real sales have not recovered to those typical for this expansion. Let’s take a look.  Below are real retails sales for the last few years, and because it is a long leading indicator, real retail sales per capita (in red):   As revised, both of these last made new highs last October. So the good news is, the weakness of the last few months has been entirely reversed. The caution is, we still don’t have a new high, although this data series is notoriously noisy.  Although the relationship is noisy, because real retail sales measured YoY tend to lead employment (red in the graph below) by a number of months, here is that relationship for the past 25 years (averaged quarterly to cut down on noise):  Although there has been some recovery in the YoY real retail sales measure, the prior weakness has not been revised away. As a result, I continue to think that employment gains are likely to downshift significantly over the next several months. Next, here are both forms of real retail sales YoY recently:

Shopocalypse Now! 5,994 Stores Already Closed In 2019, Blowing Past 2018's Full Year Total -- 2018 ended on an optimistic note for retailers with strong consumer spending “data” and what was widely considered to be an unexpected comeback for many brick and mortar stores. While that may have been fun while it lasted, the carnage and pressure on the retail sector has once again been ramped backed up, resulting in a breakneck pace for store closings to start 2019.In a start to the year that can only be described as absolutely demoralizing for the industry, 5,994 stores have closed in the US so far this year, which is already more than last year‘s total of 5,864, according to Real Deal and WSJ. And retail sales have begun falling again recently, down 0.2% in February from a month earlier, after being up 0.7% in January. Retail sales fell 1.2% in December.Mall vacancy rates ticked up in the first quarter to 9.3% from 9% in the fourth quarter of 2018. Ana Lai, an analyst at S&P Global Ratings said: "I don't think malls are out of the woods yet." S&P still has a negative outlook on the United States retail sector overall and predicts that roughly 12 of the 136 retailers that it rates will wind up defaulting this year. This is an astonishing four times the average annual rate.And as retailers continue to struggle, mall owners are also facing financial difficulties. Some malls have even pushed back their opening dates. For instance, the opening of the American Dream retail and entertainment center in the Meadowlands in New Jersey, which was originally supposed to open in the spring, has already been pushed back to late summer. The Empire Outlets shopping center on Staten Island is now scheduled to open in May, after it was initially planned to open last fall. Finally, one of the country’s largest malls, Destiny USA in Syracuse, recently saw its mortgage taken over by a special servicer. And even though the mall owner, Pyramid Management Group, says that it is trying to discuss an extension, the servicer is expecting a default from the owner in June. Just four months into 2019, we have already seen bankruptcies or store closings from companies like Payless Shoesource, Gymboree and Charlotte Russe. UBS has estimated that another 75,000 stores will have to close by 2026 if online retail continues to rise from its current 16% market penetration to its expected 25%.

Sears sues Eddie Lampert, Steven Mnuchin, others, for alleged 'thefts' Sears on Thursday lodged a lawsuit against its former CEO Eddie Lampertand a string of its high-profile past board members, including his former Yale roommate Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, for allegedly stealing billions of dollars from the once-storied retailer.Sears Holdings filed for bankruptcy this past October, after years of losses under Lampert, who was then its chairman, CEO and largest shareholder. Lampert saved the retailer from complete liquidation by buying it through Transform Holdco, an affiliate of his hedge fund ESL Investments.But Sears’ unsecured creditors repeatedly argued that Lampert was the cause of, not the solution to, Sears’ downfall. They believe that Lampert, along with Sears’ biggest shareholders, unduly benefited from deals that occurred under Lampert’s watch, including its spinoff of Lands’ End in 2014, and the carve out of many of its best properties into Seritage Growth Properties, a real estate investment trust Lampert created a year later. Those claims laid the groundwork for the unsecured creditors to pursue their claims against Lampert and others on behalf of Sears. Lampert had requested a release from potential ligation as part of his deal to buy Sears out of bankruptcy but was denied the protection.“Altogether, Lampert caused more than $2 billion of assets to be transferred to himself and Sears’ other shareholders and beyond the reach of Sears’ creditors,” the lawsuit alleged on Thursday.Among the allegations lobbed at Lampert, the company said he rejected a $1.6 billion offer for Lands’ End from private equity firm Leonard Green & Partners and the Tommy Hilfiger investment group in favor of a spin that would keep his stake in the brand untouched.It cites an email from the company’s then-CFO, Robert Schriesheim, who explained to another Sears employee that ”[Lampert] was trying to optimize cash for [Sears] while maximizing his (esl) equity stake ... because he knows that [Lands’ End] is worth a great deal outside of [Sears].”The filing claims Lands’ End was distributed to Lampert, ESL and other Sears’ shareholders for no consideration, following a prespin dividend of $500 million. On the stock’s first day of trading, its value topped $1 billion, with Lampert’s share worth at least $490 million. The stock currently has a market value of $591.3 million.It further alleges that Seritage’s deal with Sears to give it ownership of 266 of Sears’ best retail stores was not negotiated and undervalued the properties by at least $649 million.

Wall Street Stunned As Containerboard Carnage Wipes Out $3 Billion In Minutes - Was there any "good news" in today's release of March containerboard and box data? If so, BMO's Mark Wilde - and the market - missed it.As the Canadian bank's analyst wrote in an urgent dispatch, "markets have deteriorated rapidly" as box demand tumbled 3%, operating rates fell to 86.4% and exports slumped 19% y/y (containerboard and box shipments are a coincident indicator of trade momentum, and the latest data is quite simply a dire signal for global trade). As BMO points out, even with big production cut, "inventories fell less than the seasonal norm" and risk has increased that North American prices will follow sharp erosion in global prices. What happened?   Following the release of the latest, March figures by the American Forest & Paper Association and the Fibre Box Association for containerboard mill and downstream corrugated box plants (impacting such producers as IP, WRK, PKG, and GEF), the market was in shock. The reason: box demand was much weaker-than-expected, amid continued global trade war fallout. Furthermore, actual and “average week” shipments were down 3% y/y, far less than even the more bearish estimates of 1-2.5% growth. Putting the number in context, this was sthe worst comp since January 2016 - when global markets were in a post-China devaluation bear market - and when blended box volumes fell 3.2%. "With an uptick in March ISM index, we expected some strength" BMO writes... but it did not get it, suggesting the ISM index - and broader expectations of a global economic "green shoot" - has been wildly wrong. Some more details, courtesy of BMO:

  • Overall mill operating rates fell to their lowest levels in almost a decade. March's 86.4% was below a very weak February (89.5%). Anything below 92-94% to be “buyers' market” territory. Linerboard was at 84.0%, medium at 92.5%.
  • Exports fell sharply again, -18.9% y/y to 354.2k tons. Offshore prices have been under increasing pressure since last autumn. Trade paper pricing is down ~$75-100/ ton; spot transactions have been reported at much lower levels

The containerboard news shocked traders and within an hour of the market open wiped off more than $3 billion in industry market-cap.. It was the worst single day for the Containers & Packaging Industry Index (S5CONP) since mid-December, and trading volume was above average too.

U-Turn In Trucking- Cass Freight Shipment Index Contracts For 4th Consecutive Month - The Cass Freight Index, a measure of truck shipments is down for the fourth consecutive month year-over-year.  Please consider the Cass Freight Index Report for March 2019. The Cass Freight Index was one of the first freight flow indicators to turn positive (in October 2016) and confirm our prediction of a recovery in the U.S. economy. Beyond our concern that the Cass Freight Shipments Index has been negative on a YoY basis for the fourth month in a row. Bottom line, the data in coming weeks will indicate whether this is merely a pause in the rate of economic expansion or the beginning of an economic contraction.

  • We are concerned about the severe declines in international airfreight volumes (especially in Asia) and the recent swoon in railroad volumes in auto and building materials
  • We are reassured by the sequential increase in the Cass Freight Shipments Index (up 2.0%) and the volumes in U.S. domestic trucking (especially in truckload dry van)
  • We are closely watching the volumes of chemicals and other shipments via railroad, as they have lost momentum in recent weeks and may give us the first evidence of the global slowdown spreading to the U.S.

J.B. Hunt, the largest US trucking company had this to say: “Volume, or lack thereof, is obviously the main story.” The inventory pile-up hurts. And the driver shortage is ending." Wolf Richter provides excellent commentary. Largest US Trucking Company Details U-Turn of Trucking Boom. J.B. Hunt: “Volume, or lack thereof, is obviously the main story.” The inventory pile-up hurts. And the driver shortage is ending. — Wolf Richter (@wolfofwolfst) April 16, 2019

Lumber & Copper Prices Are Diverging – Which Is Signal & Which Is Noise? -  The tale from some of the most cyclical and predictive economic indicators are telling investors two very different things at the moment. Copper, the metal with a PhD in economics is giving us the all-clear sign while lumber, which is perhaps only regarded as having a master’s or bachelor’s in economics, is saying, “be careful.” Both indicators can’t be right, so which is actually the most useful in telegraphing economic activity? From my perspective, it’s lumber, despite its rather lesser educational attainment. The reasoning is simple. Lumber has a leading relationship with leading indicators of economic activity while copper has a coincident relationship with leading indicators of growth. Yes, you read that right: lumber prices are a leading indicator of a leading indicator, and the data bears it out. In the second and third charts below I plot the lumber and copper prices, respectively, against the ISM new manufacturing orders series. ISM new manufacturing orders are regarded as one of the best and most consistent indicators of economic activity over the next quarter or so. Lumber prices lead the ISM new manufacturing orders series by three months while copper prices act coincidentally. Therefore, the message from lumber should be paid attention to. It’s currently telling us that ISM new manufacturing orders will peak in May and then struggle through at least July. But we also need to be vigilant to see where lumber prices move next. A break below levels of last Fall would be undoubtedly bearish for the economy and stocks too while a reversal right here could paint a more benign picture.

Trade Deficit Decreased to $49.4 Billion in February - From the Department of Commerce reported: The U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis announced today that the goods and services deficit was $49.4 billion in February, down $1.8 billion from $51.1 billion in January, revised.February exports were $209.7 billion, $2.3 billion more than January exports. February imports were $259.1 billion, $0.6 billion more than January imports.Exports increased and imports decreased in January.Exports are 27% above the pre-recession peak and up 2% compared to February 2018; imports are 12% above the pre-recession peak, and down slightly compared to February 2018.In general, trade has been picking up, although both imports and exports have declined slightly recently.The second graph shows the U.S. trade deficit, with and without petroleum. The blue line is the total deficit, and the black line is the petroleum deficit, and the red line is the trade deficit ex-petroleum products. Oil imports averaged $46.89 per barrel in February, up from $42.59 in January, and down from $54.61 in February 2018.The trade deficit with China decreased to $24.8 billion in February, from $29.3 billion in February 2018.

US Trade Deficit Shrinks As Exports To China Surge - President Trump will be pleased with this set of numbers as the apparent front-running of trade tariffs has now worn off and the US trade balance (deficit) shrinks to its smallest deficit since June 2018. The U.S. trade deficit's unexpected narrowing was driven largely by a surge in civilian aircraft exports, which may come under pressure after the grounding of Boeing Co.’s 737 Max planes.

  • Imports rose 0.2% in Feb. to $259.07b from $258.49b in Jan.
  • Exports rose 1.1% in Feb. to $209.69b from $207.36b in Jan.

The February decrease in the goods and services deficit reflected a decrease in the goods deficit of $1.2  billion to $72.0 billion and an increase in the services surplus of $0.5 billion to $22.6 billion.  The increase in exports of services mostly reflected increases in transport ($0.2 billion) and in other business services ($0.1 billion), which includes research and development services; professional and management services; and technical, trade-related, and other services.The increase in exports of goods mostly reflected increases in capital goods ($2.1 billion) and in automotive vehicles, parts, and engines ($0.6 billion). A decrease in industrial supplies and materials ($0.4 billion) partly offset the increases.  The February figures show surpluses, with South and Central America ($3.7), Hong  Kong ($2.8), United Kingdom ($0.9), Brazil ($0.6), Singapore ($0.4), Canada ($0.4), and OPEC ($0.3). Deficits  were recorded with China ($30.1), European Union ($12.4), Mexico ($7.7), Japan  ($6.7), Germany ($5.5), Italy ($2.8), South Korea ($2.4), India ($2.2), France ($2.2), Taiwan ($1.7), and Saudi  Arabia ($0.3).The deficit with China decreased dramatically with imports from China fell 3.6 percent in February from the prior month while exports to the nation rose 21.6 percent.

LA area Port Traffic Down Year-over-year in March - Special note: The expansion to the Panama Canal was completed in 2016 (As I noted two years ago), and some of the traffic that used the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is probably going through the canal. This might be impacting TEUs on the West Coast. Container traffic gives us an idea about the volume of goods being exported and imported - and usually some hints about the trade report since LA area ports handle about 40% of the nation's container port traffic.  The following graphs are for inbound and outbound traffic at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in TEUs (TEUs: 20-foot equivalent units or 20-foot-long cargo container). To remove the strong seasonal component for inbound traffic, the first graph shows the rolling 12 month average.On a rolling 12 month basis, inbound traffic was up 0.1% in March compared to the rolling 12 months ending in February. Outbound traffic was down 0.5% compared to the rolling 12 months ending the previous month. The 2nd graph is the monthly data (with a strong seasonal pattern for imports). LA Area Port Traffic Usually imports peak in the July to October period as retailers import goods for the Christmas holiday, and then decline sharply and bottom in February or March depending on the timing of the Chinese New Year (February 5th this year). In general imports have been increasing, and exports have mostly moved sideways over the last 8 years.

Tariff Hangover- Trade Volume Plunges At U.S. West Coast Ports - Trade wars don't appear to be as "good, and easy to win" as President Trump tweeted a year ago. The disputes over tariffs forced American importers to pull forward growth in the second half of 2018, which supercharged the overall economy until October. But when the artificial growth was over, shipping rates across the world fell, as new evidence today from Drewry Maritime Research show the "tariff hangover" has cast a gloomy outlook over 2019 for U.S. west coast ports, reported The Loadstar.In the first three months of 2019, west coast ports transpacific imports plunged 19% on the previous quarter and by 3% y/y."The west coast market was always likely to suffer the most from a tariff hangover, as shippers had prioritized that gateway as the quickest means to beat the deadline [for import duty hikes on Chinese imports]," said Drewry."Now that the sugar rush, caused by the threatened tariffs on Chinese goods, has passed, the market is readjusting to much slower volumes and prices," it added.According to Drewry, Asia-US west coast trade lanes in January experienced near-100% load factors on head-haul vessels, but in February utilization plummeted to 80% - the lowest in two years.Weekly spot rates for 40' containers for China to the U.S. West Coast plummeted 51% from its October 2018 high of 2852 to 1,267 by the end of March. In the last 14 days, the spot rate has rebounded to 1,586.Drewry noted that the timing of the spot rate decline "could not have occurred at a more inopportune moment," given that shippers are in the process of trying to secure rate increases on annual contract renewals that begin on May 1."Earlier in the year, it seemed the carriers might be able to secure some modest increase in revenue from their BCO [beneficial cargo owner] contracts, but those hopes now seem dashed," suggested Drewry."The only discussion point that remains is to what extent the shipping lines can secure some agreement to a floating BAF [bunker adjustment factor] arrangement within those contracts, so that when, towards the end of 2019, the carriers start having to pay a premium for low-sulfur fuel oil, they can rely on some mechanism to kick in to automatically recover some of those additional costs," it added.

Hangover- U.S. Whiskey Exports Plunge As Trade War Deepens - American whiskey exports faced a severe hangover in the second half of 2018, taking a dangerous hit from retaliatory tariffs by top trading partners following President Donald Trump’s duties on steel and aluminum imports, a trade group announced Thursday.The first shot in President Trump's trade war against trading partners was fired off in May 2018. Hefty tariffs were slapped on aluminum and steel imports from the European Union, Mexico, and Canada. Steel imports from those places were taxed at 25% and aluminum imports at 10%. Those were large numbers that had a retaliatory effect on American liquor exports to those regions.Exports of bourbon, whiskey, and rye whiskey plunged by 11% in the back half of 2018 compared to the prior-year six-month period as the true impact from the trade war started to filter through, the Distilled Spirits Council said.  Last month, at the Annual Economic Briefing, the council revealed that American whiskey exports fell by 8.2% between July and November as compared to the same period in 2017. But for some strange reason, the council excluded all trade data from December.  “With the full year data in hand it is clear that the retaliatory tariffs are having a significant and growing impact on American Whiskey exports, which had been a bright spot for U.S. agriculture exports,” said Council President and CEO Chris Swonger. “The damage to American Whiskey exports is now accelerating, and this is collateral damage from ongoing global trade disputes.”Export data has reinforced concerns among whiskey producers that President Trump's trade war would severely damage the export segment of their companies. And they were right. European Union, American whiskey exports collapsed by 13.4% in the second half of 2018 when tariffs stalled shipments, the council said.

American Airlines cancels Max flights through mid-August -— American Airlines announced Sunday that it was canceling 115 flights per day through mid-August because of ongoing problems with the Boeing 737 Max aircraft. The announcement made American the second major carrier to cancel Max flights through the busy summer season. Southwest Airlines, the largest operator of Boeing jets, announced last week that it would cancel its Max flights through Aug. 5. American’s cancellations will last through Aug. 19. The U.S. and other countries grounded Boeing’s 737 Max plane in mid-March after deadly plane crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia. Boeing aims to finish fixing the planes in late April, and any changes would have to be submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration and foreign regulators for approval. American previously planned to cancel Max flights through early June. But by extending cancellations through the summer, the airline can plan more reliably for the peak travel season, said Doug Parker, American’s chairman and CEO, and Robert Isom, president, in a letter to employees Sunday. Airlines are being forced to ground their planes longer than expected after Boeing and the FAA said the company needs more time to complete changes to a flight-control system suspected of playing a role in the crashes. American’s cancellations represent 1.5% of its total flights each day of the summer. The airline, which has 24 Max jets, said its reservations and sales teams will work with customers to manage their travel plans.

An engineer at Uber’s self-driving car unit warns that it’s more like ‘a science experiment’ than a real car capable of driving itself -- In February, California released self-reported data on "disengagements" from all autonomous-vehicle companies licensed to drive in the state. That refers to how often human safety drivers "disengage" the car's self-driving capabilities and take control of the car themselves. Uber reported that its cars had driven nearly 27,000 miles in self-driving mode in the state between March 8, 2017, and November 30, 2018. Human drivers manually took control more than 70,000 times. That means that for every mile the car drove itself, a driver grabbed the wheel 2.6 times. ATG chief Eric Meyhofer.UberCompare that track record with Waymo's, the self-driving-car company spun out from Google that pioneered the field and is considered the market leader. Waymo reported that in 2018 human drivers were taking control of its robot cars only one time per 11,017 miles while in self-driving mode. It's worth noting that Uber's report covers only about a year. On March 18, 2018, one of its cars killed a pedestrian in Arizona, and Uber benched the cars until December. They haven't returned to California roads but are driving in Pittsburgh, the home of ATG's headquarters. Pennsylvania does not require autonomous-vehicle companies to disclose disengagement information. The employee we talked to said the cars have not made giant strides of progress in their ability to drive themselves in the four-plus months since they've been back on the road. Insiders previously told Business Insider that before the crash, the cars had trouble around foliage, certain shadows, tree branches, and other things. One former safety driver told us he needed medical attention from the time when his car continuously slammed on the brakes whenever it detected a pedestrian on the sidewalk.

Industrial Production Decreased 0.1% in March - From the Fed: Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization  - Industrial production edged down 0.1 percent in March after edging up 0.1 percent in February; for the first quarter as a whole, the index slipped 0.3 percent at an annual rate. Manufacturing production was unchanged in March after declining in both January and February. The index for utilities rose 0.2 percent, while mining output moved down 0.8 percent. At 110.2 percent of its 2012 average, total industrial production was 2.8 percent higher in March than it was a year earlier. Capacity utilization for the industrial sector decreased 0.2 percentage point in March to 78.8 percent, a rate that is 1.0 percentage point below its long-run (1972–2018) average.This graph shows Capacity Utilization. This series is up 12.1 percentage points from the record low set in June 2009 (the series starts in 1967). Capacity utilization at 78.8% is 1.0% below the average from 1972 to 2017 and below the pre-recession level of 80.8% in December 2007. Note: y-axis doesn't start at zero to better show the change. Industrial ProductionThe second graph shows industrial production since 1967. Industrial production decreased in March to 109.7. This is 27% above the recession low, and 4.6% above the pre-recession peak. The decrease in industrial production and decrease in capacity utilization were below consensus.

Industrial production continues to decelerate -- Industrial production is the King of Coincident Indicators. In dating the onset and end of recessions, in practice the NBER relies upon industrial production more than any other measure. March 2019 production continued a string of recent disappointments, with overall production declining -0.1%, and manufacturing production unchanged. For the first quarter of 2019 in total, overall production declined -0.3%, and manufacturing declined -0.8%. Here’s the graphic look at the past nine years:  Note that the recent flatness is on par with, e.g., 2012, which was nowhere near to recession. But on the other hand, after a surge last summer, leading some to conclude that we were in a “boom,” both total and manufacturing production have decelerated sharply on a YoY basis. Both levels YoY were last seen in late 2017:  The below graph subtracts the current YoY measure from each of the two so that the current level shows as zero on the historical graph. As of now both are at typical YoY levels for most of this expansion, but at or below YoY levels which in the past have typically been seen during slowdowns, e.g., 1966, 1985, 1996, and 2002, not to mention the “shallow industrial recession” of 2015-16: In short, by long term historical standards, industrial production is in a slowdown. By the standards of this expansion, it has slowed down from last summer’s “mini-boom” to more normal levels.

NY Fed: Manufacturing "Business activity grew modestly in New York State" - From the NY Fed: Empire State Manufacturing Survey Business activity grew modestly in New York State, according to firms responding to the April 2019 Empire State Manufacturing Survey. The headline general business conditions index rose six points to 10.1, indicating that growth picked up somewhat but remained fairly subdued. New orders rose slightly, and shipments continued to grow modestly. Delivery times and inventories both increased. Labor market indicators pointed to ongoing employment gains and a small increase in hours worked.Optimism about the six-month outlook was much lower than last month. The index for future business conditions dropped seventeen points to 12.4—its lowest level in more than three years. This was slightly above the consensus forecast.

 Manufacturing Weakness Continues- US Economic Data Nears Two-Year Lows - (graphs) Despite all the talk of a great US economy ready for rebirth now that The Fed has taken its foot off the neck of expansion, US macro-economic data has collapsed (absolutely and relative to expectations) in recent weeks to its lowest since July 2017 - taking on the ugly title of 'worst economic data in the world'... And things are getting worse. As Knowledge Leaders Capital blog's Steven Vanelli notes, so far this week, we’ve received a few data points that reinforce the manufacturing slowdown taking place in the US. On Monday, we got the Empire State Survey, a survey of manufacturing in New York. Importantly, this is one of the few “soft” data points we have for April, so its message is important. It turned up slightly from last month, showing some stabilization and beating estimates, but it is still well down from 2018 levels. Underneath the surface, the data was a bit less encouraging. In the 6-month outlook, expectations for general business conditions and new orders plunged. Industrial production undershot monthly estimates, falling .10% when it was expected to rise .2%. This brought the 1-year percent change down to 2.8% from a rate about twice that of last September. The manufacturing component of industrial production came in .10% under expectations also, slowing to a 1% 1-year rate of change. Lastly, capacity utilization was reported at 78.8%, coming in .3% lower than the 79.1% estimate. All of this explains why the Bloomberg Industrial Surprise Index - a sub-index of the Bloomberg Economic Surprise Index - has notched down recently. ...even as stocks near record highs.

Philly Fed Manufacturing Index: Continued Growth in April --The Philly Fed's Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey is a monthly report for the Third Federal Reserve District, covers eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and Delaware. While it focuses exclusively on business in this district, this regional survey gives a generally reliable clue as to the direction of the broader Chicago Fed's National Activity Index. The latest Manufacturing Index came in at 8.5, down 5.2 from last month's 13.7. The 3-month moving average came in at 6.0, down from 8.9 last month. Since this is a diffusion index, negative readings indicate contraction, positive ones indicate expansion. The Six-Month Outlook came in at 19.1, down from the previous month's 21.8. Today's 8.5 headline number came in below the 10.4 forecast at is the introduction from the survey released today:Regional manufacturing activity continued to grow in April, according to results from this month’sManufacturing Business Outlook Survey. Although the survey’s indicators for general activity and shipments fell from their readings last month, the indicators for new orders, employment, and the workweek improved. The survey’s indexes for future activity and employment continued to moderate, but the surveyed firms remained generally optimistic about growth over the next six months. (Full Report) The first chart below gives us a look at this diffusion index since 2000, which shows us how it has behaved in proximity to the two 21st century recessions. The red dots show the indicator itself, which is quite noisy, and the 3-month moving average, which is more useful as an indicator of coincident economic activity. We can see periods of contraction in 2011, 2012 and 2015, and a shallower contraction in 2013. 2016 saw an improvement, but has since lost its gains and has been detracting.

US Services PMI Crashes To 2-Year Lows, Signals GDP Slump - While all eyes focused on retail sales rebound in March, the flash US composite PMI plunged to 31-month lows in April, led by a collapse in the Services economy, catching down to the Manufacturing side.

  • Flash U.S. Composite Output Index at 52.8 (54.6 in March). 31-month low.
  • Flash U.S. Services Business Activity Index at 52.9 (55.3 in March). 25-month low.
  • Flash U.S. Manufacturing PMI at 52.4 (52.4 in March). Unchanged.

So it seems 'hard data' was right after all and 'soft' surveys wrong... Commenting on the flash PMI data, Chris Williamson, Chief Business Economist at IHS Markit said: “The US economy started the second quarter with its weakest expansion since mid-2016 as businesses reported a marked slowing in output, new orders and hiring.“The survey indicates that the manufacturing downturn seen in the first quarter has persisted into April, but growth in the service sector has now also slumped to a two-year low as the malaise showed further signs of spreading beyond the factory sector.“April also saw firms become more reluctant to hire as a result of weaker order book growth, pushing jobs growth to a two-year low. The survey’s headline employment index is indicative of non-farm payrolls growing by 130,000 in April, well below the 198,000 average indicated in the first quarter.“A drop in price pressures meanwhile suggests that inflationary pressures continued to moderate, signalling that annual consumer price inflation could drop below 1% in coming months, as pricing power fades alongside weaker demand.“While the overall rate of growth and job creation being signalled remain relatively solid, the slowdown likely has further to run. Companies’ expectations of future growth slid to one of the lowest levels seen since comparable data were first collected in 2012. Only mid-2016 has seen gloomier business prospects.”And finally, Williamson notes that GDP is expected to slow dramatically...“The April surveys are consistent with GDP rising at an annualised rate of just under 2%, with the official measure of manufacturing production remaining in decline.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims decreased to 192,000 -- The DOL reported: In the week ending April 13, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 192,000, a decrease of 5,000 from the previous week's revised level. This is the lowest level for initial claims since September 6, 1969 when it was 182,000. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 from 196,000 to 197,000. The 4-week moving average was 201,250, a decrease of 6,000 from the previous week's revised average. This is the lowest level for this average since November 1, 1969 when it was 200,500. The previous week's average was revised up by 250 from 207,000 to 207,250. The previous week was revised up. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971. The dashed line on the graph is the current 4-week average. The four-week average of weekly unemployment claims decreased to 201,250. This was below the consensus forecast.

Initial Jobless Claims Tumble To Fresh 50 Year Lows - Initial jobless claims keep grinding lower and lower. The last time this few Americans sought the help of government after losing a job was in November 1969. Initial Jobless Claims tumbled another 5K from the prior week's revised 197K to just 192K: the second consecutive sub-200K print in 50 years, and the lowest print since September 1969. The YTD change in the absolute number of claims is now the best since at least 2011. 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.

50-year low in jobless claims but not just from few layoffs --  The fewest people in nearly 50 years sought unemployment benefits last week, a sign of a strong job market and an unusually low level of layoffs.Yet the decline in applications for jobless aid isn't due solely to a tight employment picture. Many states have imposed stricter rules on their unemployment insurance programs — from making it harder to qualify to reducing the duration of benefits to cutting payouts. The combined effect has been to reduce the number of unemployed people who apply for and receive aid, economists say. Nationwide, just 30% of people out of work now receive unemployment insurance, down from about 40% before the Great Recession. Another reason for the decline is that long-term unemployment remains much higher than in previous periods when the unemployment rate fell as low as last month's figure of 3.8%. People who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more aren't eligible for unemployment insurance. In March, 21% of the unemployed were out of work for 27 weeks or more. The last time the unemployment rate fell below 4%, in 2000, the proportion was about half that. And in 1969, less than 5% of those out of work were long-term unemployed.

BLS: Unemployment Rates at New Series Lows in North Dakota, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Vermont -- From the BLS: Regional and State Employment and Unemployment Summary Unemployment rates were lower in March in 6 states, higher in 3 states, and stable in 41 states and the District of Columbia, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. North Dakota and Vermont had the lowest unemployment rates in March, 2.3 percent each. The rates in these two states, as well as those in Kentucky (4.0 percent) and Pennsylvania (3.9 percent), set new series lows. (All state series begin in 1976.) Alaska had the highest jobless rate, 6.5 percent. This graph shows the number of states (and D.C.) with unemployment rates at or above certain levels since January 1976. At the worst of the great recession, there were 11 states with an unemployment rate at or above 11% (red). Currently only one state, Alaska, has an unemployment rate at or above 6% (dark blue). Note that the series low for Alaska is above 6%. Four states and the D.C. have unemployment rates above 5%; Alaska, Arizona, New Mexico and West Virginia. A total of nine states are at the series low.

 Insiders describe a world of chaos and waste at Panasonic’s massive battery-making operation for Tesla - Insiders have described a chaotic environment in Panasonic’s battery-making operation in the Nevada desert, one where standard operating procedures go ignored, expensive mistakes are born from carelessness, and half a million pieces of scrap are generated daily. “I do not think that Tesla knows everything [that goes on on Panasonic’s side],” one former employee who left the company last year said. “It’s impossible to know everything. If Elon Musk was to know what was truly going on, he would flip his lid.” Tesla and Panasonic share the Gigafactory, the massive manufacturing plant outside Reno, Nevada, built in 2016. At the Gigafactory, under the same roof, Panasonic makes cells for Tesla’s cars, and then Tesla turns the cells into batteries for its new Model 3 sedan. Tesla also makes the drive units for the Model 3 there. Last week, Nikkei reported that Tesla and Panasonic would freeze plans to expand the Gigafactory. Tesla’s stock fell, while Panasonic’s rose after the news. Tesla responded by saying that both companies were still putting “substantial funds” into the Gigafactory, but that there’s more “output to be gained from improving existing production equipment.” Tesla CEO Elon Musk called Panasonic's production rate a “constraint on Model 3 output” that the company has known about since July. Three current and former employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Business Insider that the operation scraps roughly half a million cells each day. Business Insider reviewed internal company documents, including some related to an oil spill that sent management scrambling for weeks to find potentially contaminated cells. Together they tell a story of an operation that is still trying to get its bearings as batteries roll off the production line and into Model 3s. And just like on the Tesla side of the Gigafactory, there’s intense pressure to meet production goals and work at breakneck speed.

ICE Deports Spouse of U.S. Soldier Killed in Afghanistan - Immigration officials deported the spouse of a U.S. soldier killed in Afghanistan, leaving their 12-year-old daughter in the country without parents. According to The Arizona Republic, 30-year-old Jose Gonzalez Carranza was detained by immigration officials and deported last week. Carranza, who arrived in the U.S. when he was a teenager, married Army Pfc. Barbara Vieyra in 2007. Vieyra died in 2010 after she was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan at the age of 22, and Carranza was subsequently granted a “parole in place” that terminated any deportation hearings he had at the time, according to the Republic. However, Carranza’s lawyer told the newspaper that Immigration and Customs Enforcement re-filed the case against him 2018 and detained him when he failed to show up for his court date. Carranza’s attorney told the paper ICE sent the court notice to the wrong address. According to the Republic, Carranza is currently in Nogales, Mexico, and worried about his daughter, who is staying with her grandparents. “I feel so bad,” he told the newspaper. “I’m thinking about, I might never see her again.” His lawyer later told the newspaper that ICE permitted Carranza re-enter the U.S. on Monday evening, transporting him to Phoenix for release and releasing him on “his own recognizance.” The agency reportedly provided no information about the case to the Republic.

You elected them to write new laws. They’re letting corporations do it instead - Each year, state lawmakers across the U.S. introduce thousands of bills dreamed up and written by corporations, industry groups and think tanks. Disguised as the work of lawmakers, these so-called “model” bills get copied in one state Capitol after another, quietly advancing the agenda of the people who write them. A two-year investigation by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic and the Center for Public Integrity reveals for the first time the extent to which special interests have infiltrated state legislatures using model legislation. USA TODAY and the Republic found at least 10,000 bills almost entirely copied from model legislation were introduced nationwide in the past eight years, and more than 2,100 of those bills were signed into law. The investigation examined nearly 1 million bills in all 50 states and Congress using a computer algorithm developed to detect similarities in language. That search – powered by the equivalent of 150 computers that ran nonstop for months – compared known model legislation with bills introduced by lawmakers. The phenomenon of copycat legislation is far larger. In a separate analysis, the Center for Public Integrity identified tens of thousands of bills with identical phrases, then traced the origins of that language in dozens of those bills across the country. Model bills passed into law have made it harder for injured consumers to sue corporations. They’ve called for taxes on sugar-laden drinks. They’ve limited access to abortion and restricted the rights of protesters. In all, these copycat bills amount to the nation’s largest, unreported special-interest campaign, driving agendas in every statehouse and touching nearly every area of public policy.

Seattle's Suicide- Drugs And Homelessness Take Their Toll On The City -  Widespread drug use and homelessness is plaguing all socialist regions of the country.  From San Francisco, where pedestrians have to literally watch the homeless shoot up, to Los Angeles where Medieval diseases have returned thanks to policies which have made it impossible for the everyday American to scrape by anymore. Seattle is also committing suicide.  “It is about the damage they inflict on themselves, to be sure, but also on the fabric of this place where we live. This story is about a beautiful jewel that has been violated. And a crisis of faith among a generation of Seattlites falling out of love with their home,” said KOMO’s Eric Johnson in the intro to the video he helped create about the crisis. Years of authoritarian socialist policies are taking their toll on America’s cities.  It’s time to say “enough is enough.” The entire video is about an hour long, but it is pretty easy to see where Seattle continues to go wrong.  A heavy tax burden, regulations that push out businesses, and a power-hungry group of totalitarian sociopaths have been slowly eroding the city. The decay of Western civilization can be seen up and down the entirety of the West coast.  Some say it’s by design, others disagree.  But the commonality is that all of the cities are being pushed into poverty by illusions and lies of socialists. Calling Seattle anything other than a leftist’s paradise would be inaccurate.  The city has all of the laws the socialists want, yet it’s killing itself because of it. Colion Noir also has a video which shines a light on the epidemic disguising itself as a homelessness problem, that is plaguing Seattle. While the politicians refuse to even acknowledge the issue and instead scapegoat owners and diminish the rights of the law-abiding, they simultaneously turn Seattle into a perfect socialist utopia.

Man sues parents for throwing out porn collection - An Indiana man is suing his parents for getting rid of his vast pornography collection, which he estimates was worth $29,000. The 40-year-old man last week filed a lawsuit in federal court in Michigan, where he moved in with his parents in 2016 following a divorce. He says that when he moved out 10 months later, they delivered his things to his new home in Muncie, Indiana, but that his 12 boxes of pornographic films and magazines were missing. His parents admit they dumped the porn, which included titles such as Frisky Business and Big Bad Grannys [sic]. The man filed a complaint with police but the Ottawa county prosecutor declined to press charges. The lawsuit includes an email excerpt from the man’s father, who told his son, “I did you a big favour by getting rid of all this stuff.” The man is seeking triple financial damages of roughly $87,000.

Our Lying Eyes - Judge Jed Rakoff - An eyewitness’s identification of an accused defendant often provides some of the most dramatic and powerful evidence in a criminal case. “Do you see in this courtroom the person you saw fire the fatal shot?” asks the prosecutor. “Yes,” says the eyewitness, pointing to the defendant, adding for good measure, “I will never forget his face.” But in fact the eyewitness is frequently wrong: inaccurate eyewitness identifications appear to be the single greatest contributor to wrongful convictions. For example, they were introduced as evidence in over 70 percent of the more than 360 cases that the Innocence Project, using DNA analysis, later proved were wrongful convictions. Nearly a third of these cases, moreover, involved multiple misidentifications of the defendant. By comparison, the next-most-frequent contributor to wrongful convictions, misleading testimony by forensic “experts,” was present in 45 percent of these cases, and the third-most-frequent factor, false confession, was present in about 30 percent of them.While some eyewitnesses have had prior contact with the person they identify as the perpetrator of a crime (as when a neighbor sees a husband abusing his wife), many have had none and only see the defendant once, when they witness the crime. But in some respects this makes their testimony stronger, for they have no motive to lie. The defendant was a complete stranger to them, and they simply had the misfortune to have been a passer-by or, worse, a victim. In either case, the encounter was not something they were likely to forget—and the jury generally finds their testimony believable.  Why are eyewitnesses so often wrong? Improper police practices sometimes play a part, as when a police officer conducting a line-up urges the eyewitness to “take a good look at number 3,” or when the eyewitness only tentatively identifies the person in the line-up that the officer suspects is the culprit and the officer says, “Good work.” But the chief causes of inaccurate eyewitness identifications are shortcomings inherent in human perception and memory that cannot be eliminated easily, if at all. . The ability of an eyewitness to perceive the face of a culprit will be affected by lighting, by distance and angle, by the acuity of the eyewitness’s eyesight, by the amount of time the eyewitness looked at the culprit, and by distractions such as a gun. Similarly, memories tend to fade over time, which may affect how accurately an eyewitness can remember a face seen many hours, days, or even weeks earlier.

SC inmate’s baby died in toilet: Lawsuits allege rampant medical neglect in prisons  --When Sinetra Johnson discovered she was pregnant, she was two days away from going to prison for a parole violation.The 24-year-old was set to deliver twins while behind bars.“As they got bigger, as I started growing more, that’s when reality hit, like ‘I’m really going to be here, behind the walls having (the babies) and I won’t be able to see (them),’” said Johnson who lived in Cherokee County at the time. “First pregnancy ever in life.“While serving her more than two-year sentence, she would be dealt an unimaginably devastating blow: the loss of one of her twins, who drowned in a toilet after prison guards refused to help, according to Johnson.“It’s enough to go to prison in itself,” said Johnson, who now lives in North Carolina. “But to have to worry about — Am I going to be able to go home to my child? No mother should have to go through that.” The 2012 tragedy was preventable if officials at Camille Griffin Graham Correctional Institution in Columbia, a facility for female inmates with medical needs, had responded to Johnson’s calls — and later screams — for help, according to her lawsuit, filed against the S.C. Department of Corrections, which runs the state’s 21 prisons. SCDC is failing to meet inmates’ most basic health care needs, according to at least 83 medical malpractice lawsuits pending in local S.C. courts as of December. Additionally, 78 of 126 wrongful death or personal injury lawsuits reviewed by The State Media Co. also cite inadequate medical care inside the state’s prisons.

27 possible graves have been discovered at a reform school with a history of brutality WaPo - The Florida School for Boys, opened at the turn of the 20th century, was supposed to provide a new start for troubled young men who had committed crimes ranging from theft to rape. Instead, it was the beginning of a horrifying, 111-year-long chapter of Florida history that has yielded troubling revelations to this day.Twenty seven geological “anomalies” that could be “possible graves” based on their shape and size were discovered by a contractor near the now-shuttered school, the Tampa Bay Times reported on Friday. More than 50 sets of human remains had previously been exhumed by researchers from a small cemetery on the grounds.According to a March report to state authorities, obtained by the Times, a contractor employed by Geosyntec, an environmental cleanup company, was using radar to survey the grounds when they found the “anomalies”. Given the history of the site, the report recommended the area be treated as graves until further testing could be done. Nearly 100 deaths took place at the school between 1900 and 1973, according to the report, many of which went undocumented by the school or unreported to the state. Researchers excavated 55 graves on the grounds — far more than the state had previously known about. Some of the remains, but not all, have been identified.

 Active shooter drills are scaring kids and may not protect them. Some schools are taking a new approach. - Pottinger’s son started doing the active shooter and lockdown drillsat his private nursery-through-eighth-grade school when he was just 3. During the drills, the Tucson, Arizona, youngster — whom Pottinger asked NBC News not to name to protect his privacy — would quietly crouch with his classmates and teachers behind furniture, rehearsing what to do if a real shooter were to burst in.The drills affected him deeply. At home, he bit his nails and did pretend lockdowns while he was playing. Eventually, he refused to go anywhere alone, even to his room or a bathroom at home.“He would say, ‘The lockdown is going to get me,’” Active shooter drills have become more common as school gun massacre after massacre has made headlines. The drills give teachers and students a blueprint to follow during emergencies, which may save lives. Forty-two states have laws requiring some sort of emergency or safety drills in schools, many of which are designed to protect against active shooters, according to the nonprofit Education Commission of the States.But there is hardly any research on the drills’ effectiveness, and while there are some federal recommendations, there is no standard template for schools to follow in terms of how to do them, how often to conduct them and how to explain them to students of different ages.Over the past two decades, the drills have ramped up in intensity — with some schools going so far as to use fake blood and fire blanks at students. A drill last month at an Indiana school prompted outrage when teachers were shot execution-style with pellet guns, leaving them injured.At the same time, students’ anxieties have swelled. Some are not told that the lockdowns are just drills, prompting them to send what they believe are final goodbyes over text to their parents orfaint or throw up. Others are afraid to go to school in the days following the drills. As a result, a growing number of schools are experimenting with ways to lessen the toll of the drills while still doing everything possible to keep students safe. For some school districts, that means using age-appropriate language; for others, it involves having guidance counselors or school psychologists available during and after the drills.

Making American Schools Less Great Again -- Three weeks ago, I sat in a cramped conference room in the large public high school where I teach in Beaverton, Oregon. I was listening to the principal deliver a scripted PowerPoint presentation on the $35-million-dollar budget deficit our district faces in the upcoming school year. Teachers and staff members slumped in chairs. A thick funk of disappointment, resignation, hopelessness, and simmering anger clung to us. After all, we’ve been here before. We know the drill: expect layoffs, ballooning class sizes, diminished instructional time, and not enough resources. Accept that the teacher-student relationship — one that has the potential to be productive and sometimes even transformative — will become, at best, transactional. Bodies will be crammed into too-small spaces, resources will dwindle, and learning will suffer. These budgetary crises are by now cyclical and completely familiar. Yet the thought of weathering another of them is devastating. This is the third time in my 14-year-career as a visual arts teacher that we’ve faced the upheaval, disruption, and chaos of just such a budget crisis. In 2012, the district experienced a massive shortfall that resulted in the firing of 344 teachers and bloated class sizes for those of us who were left. At one point, my Drawing I classroom studio — built to fit a maximum of 35 students — had more than 50 of them stuffed into it. We didn’t have enough chairs, tables, or spaces to draw, so we worked in the halls.  During that semester I taught six separate classes and was responsible for more than 250 students. Despite the pretense that real instruction was taking place, teachers like me were largely engaged in crowd management and little more. All of the meaningful parts of the job — connecting with students, providing one-on-one support, helping struggling class members to make social and intellectual breakthroughs, not to speak of creating a healthy classroom community — simply fell by the wayside.  I couldn’t remember my students’ names, was unable to keep up with the usual grading and assessments we’re supposed to do, and was overwhelmed by stress and anxiety. Worst of all, I was unable to provide the emotional support I normally try to give my students. I couldn’t listen because there wasn’t time. On the drive to work, I was paralyzed by dread; on the drive home, cowed by feelings of failure. The experience of that year was demoralizing and humiliating. My love for my students, my passion for the subjects I teach, and ultimately my professional identity were all stripped from me. And what was lost for the students? Quality instruction and adult mentorship, as well as access to vital resources — not to mention a loss of faith in one of America’s supposedly bedrock institutions, the public school.  The truth of the matter is that a society that refuses to adequately invest in the education of its children is refusing to invest in the future. Think of it as nihilism on a grand scale.

Chicago is Tracking Kids With GPS Monitors That Can Call and Record Them Without Consent  - On March 29, court officials in Chicago strapped an ankle monitor onto Shawn, a 15-year-old awaiting trial on charges of armed robbery. They explained that the device would need to be charged for two hours a day and that it would track his movements using GPS technology. He was told he would have to be given permission to leave his house, even to go to school. But he found out that through his monitor, officers wouldn’t just be able to track his location, as most electronic monitors do. They would also be able to speak—and listen—to him. “I feel like they are listening to what he’s saying,” said Shawn’s mother.  “They can hear everything. We could be here talking about anything.”Shawn, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, is one of hundreds of children in Chicago whose ankle monitors are now equipped with microphones and speakers. The stated purpose of these devices is to communicate with the children, but they are raising concerns among civil liberties watchers that they are actually a mechanism for surveilling the conversations of these kids and those around them—and potentially for using the recordings in criminal cases.“I can’t quite even start down the parade of horribles in terms of all the ways this could be a problem,” said Sarah Staudt, senior policy analyst and staff attorney for Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice and a former juvenile defense attorney in Cook County. “The idea that an adult can turn on a listening device while a child is, say, in the bathroom or in their bedroom is not good.”In January, Cook County, home of Chicago, awarded a contract to the electronic monitoring company Track Group, which will lease 275 ankle monitors to keep tabs on children awaiting trial. The devices, known as ReliAlert XC3, have two-way communication capabilities that allow both electronic monitoring officers at the criminal court and employees at Track Group’s monitoring center to call an individual wearing a monitor at any time. The wearer can press a button on the device to reach the monitoring center, but there is no way to decline an incoming call.

REVEALED: We Found Jeffrey Epstein’s Secret Charity - Billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein may have stopped trumpeting his million-dollar donations to charities in light of accusations he molested dozens of underage girls. But he continues to quietly distribute his wealth through a shadowy private foundation called “Gratitude America, Ltd.,” The Daily Beast has learned.  Gratitude America, Ltd. was launched in 2012 to back “organizations around the world that seek to celebrate the United States of America and the American Ideals,” the group stated in its application for tax-exempt status. Those ideals, the nonprofit added, include “liberty, equality, democracy, individualism, unity, and diversity.” At the time, Epstein was three years out of jail, but disturbing allegations from his alleged victims, including one who claimed Epstein kept her as a “sex slave” for his famous friends, continued to hound him.  In 2016 and 2017, Gratitude America Ltd. funded an all-girls school in Manhattan, a youth tennis program, cancer charities, Harvard’s famous theater troupe, posh New York arts societies at Lincoln Center and the Met, and a nonprofit linked to the wife of a former Harvard president who flew on Epstein’s private jet, dubbed the “Lolita Express” by the press.  Indeed, a review of tax returns reveals Epstein’s foundation donated at least $1.84 million to host of causes, including $15,000 to the Hewitt School, the elite private girls school on the Upper East Side; $30,000 to the O’Gorman Garden, a Harlem preschool; and $25,000 to the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Maryland.

Lori Loughlin Felt She Did What Any Mother Would Do, Report Says - Lori Loughlin is “still not ready” to make a plea to charges in the college admissions scam, according to CNN ― and a new report may explain why.The actress doesn’t yet accept that it was against the law for Loughlin and husband Mossimo Giannulli to pay $500,000 to have their two daughters admitted to the University of Southern California posing as crew athletes, according to People, which cited an unnamed source “close to the actress.”“To her, it wasn’t egregious behavior,” the source said. “Was it entitled and perhaps selfish? Perhaps. But she didn’t see it as being a legal violation.” The source added that it was “taking some time for it to sink in.”Loughlin, who starred as Aunt Becky on “Full House,” thought she was being a good parent getting her daughters into the prestigious private university, the insider said. “From the beginning, she didn’t want to take a deal, because she felt that she hadn’t done anything that any mom wouldn’t have done, if they had the means to do so,” People quoted the person as saying. Loughlin and Giannulli are delaying a plea deal because “they are hoping to just let this play out in the judicial system,” CNN reported Thursday, citing an insider close to the pair.

UCLA knew of a cash-for-admissions deal, years before the scandal - Documents show that years ago UCLA knew there were concerns about parents pledging donations to its athletic program in exchange for their children being admitted to the university in violation of rules prohibiting the practice. (Frederic J. Brown / AFP / Getty Images)Like thousands of students each year, the high school senior hoped to secure a coveted spot in the UCLA freshman class.She ran track for a private school in Los Angeles, but her personal best in the 800 meters wasn’t nearly fast enough to earn a place on a high-level college team. The UCLA track and field director had never even heard of the runner. But she had an advantage: Her parents were potential donors to the school. The young woman’s admission to UCLA as a recruited athlete — and her parents’ subsequent $100,000 pledge to the athletics program — were detailed in an internal investigation the university completed in July 2014, a year after she began taking classes there. The confidential report, reviewed by The Times, shows that years before the current college admissions scandal, UCLA knew of allegations that parents were pledging donations to its athletic program in exchange for their children being admitted to the university.  The investigation determined that the timing of the pledge by the parents “together with the revelation that she was intended to be only a manager, in violation of the department recruitment and admission policy, removes any reasonable doubt that the contribution from the parents was obtained quid pro quo for the daughter’s admission.” William Cormier, then the director of UCLA’s administrative policies and compliance office, wrote the report. It is unclear who received it. The track and field director later said in a letter, also reviewed by The Times, that he had approved the admission at the request of a senior athletics official.

Harvard Test-Taking Whiz At Center Of College Admission Scandal Pleads Guilty - Mark Riddell, one of the key pieces to the largest ever college admissions scandal, pleaded guilty before a federal judge in Boston late last week after arranging a deal with federal prosecutors. Riddell pleaded to fraud conspiracy and money laundering and faces 33 to 41 months in prison as a result. As part of his deal, he admitted to conspiring with William Rick Singer, the scam's ringleader. Riddell is hoping for leniency at his sentencing as part of his plea deal. He has also agreed to forfeit $239,449. Prosecutors claim that Riddell was central to the cheating scheme. “I’m being charged with conspiracy to commit fraud for cheating on the SAT and ACT,” Riddell admitted to the judge on Friday afternoon. Riddell previously said last month: “I will always regret the choices I made, but I do also believe that the more than 1,000 students I legitimately counseled, inspired and helped reach their goals will paint a more complete picture of the person I truly am.” Riddell had been referred to as the "secret weapon" in the college admissions cheating scandal. U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, Andrew Lelling, said last month: “He did not have inside information about the correct answers. He was just smart enough to get a near-perfect score.”

Lori Loughlin And Mossimo Giannulli Plead Not Guilty In College Admissions Scandal - Actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli both pleaded not guilty Monday in "the largest ever college admissions scandal." Loughlin, 54, and Giannulli, 55, both said they are waiving their right to appear in court for an arraignment, according to Fox News. Loughlin and Giannulli didn't appear in court on Monday and both requested to waive their appearance for an arraignment. As of now, it is not known if the judge will permit the pleas without Loughlin and her husband present. Monday's filing means Loughlin, currently free on bail, won't have to come back to court in Boston anytime soon unless the judge orders an in-person arraignment, according to Tom Winter of NBC News. Previously it had been reported that Loughlin was worried about what a guilty plea would do to her daughters. “She is very concerned about what a guilty plea would do to her daughters, who may not have grasped everything that was going on. Yes, she can think about the public perception of her, but that’s nothing compared to what her daughters think of her. So that is something that has understandably made her less likely to enter a plea,” a source told People several days ago.

Lori Loughlin's Daughter Is First Student Under Criminal Investigation In Admissions Scandal - A third member of the Loughlin family - the most familiar faces in the recent college admissions scam - is now facing a criminal investigation, according to The Daily Mail. A daughter of Full House star Lori Loughlin, who recently plead not guilty to charges in "the largest ever college admissions scandal" is now the focus of a Department of Justice probe as to her involvement in the case.  Multiple sources have said that the actress’ daughter was on the receiving end of a letter from federal prosecutors in Massachusetts earlier this month regarding the investigation. The letter said that Loughlin's daughter was the subject of an investigation that could result in criminal charges. Another source interpreted the letter as clear telegraphing of more charges to come: "It is clear that some students are going to be charged." Sources said that five additional people whose children received letters all refused a plea deal and filed a plea of not guilty, as Loughlin and her husband have done. Loughlin's daughters, as part of the scam, pretended they had previously been on crew teams in order to gain preferential treatment as potential athletic recruits. To sell that idea, they posed for photos on ergometers, offering the suggestion that they were aware and willing participants in their parents' plan. Loughlin daughter Olivia also reportedly had scam ringleader William Rick Singer's team fill out her college applications for her. According to the complaint: 'On or about December 12, 2017, Loughlin e-mailed [Singer], copying Giannulli and their younger daughter [Olivia], to request guidance on how to complete the formal USC application, in the wake of her daughter’s provisional acceptance as a recruited athlete,' states the complaint. 'Loughlin wrote: "[Our younger daughter] has not submitted all her colleges [sic] apps and is confused on how to do so. I want to make sure she gets those in as I don’t want to call any attention to [her] with our little friend at [her high school]. Can you tell us how to proceed?"' In response, Singer wrote an email 'directing an employee to submit the applications on behalf of the Giannullis’ younger daughter [Olivia]. Perhaps if you're too "confused" on how to fill out a college application, that should automatically discredit you from admission - just a thought.  Regardless, this is the first report of a student potentially being investigated in the scandal that has already seen 16 parents face indictments. Previously it had been reported that Loughlin was worried about what a guilty plea would do to her daughters.

Economic Stratification And College Admission - The recent arrests of actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman for allegedly using fraudulent means for getting their daughters into prestigious private universities has exposed a dark underbelly in college admissions, something that will reverberate for a long time. (Huffman already has agreed to plead guilty, which almost certainly will mean some jail time.) Unfortunately, we can assume that Americans will learn the wrong lessons from this scandal. The most important issue is notthat people should be more honest when applying to college (although that is a good lesson to learn), but rather that college plays an outsized role in economic matters, and especially elite higher education institutions.  American politicians are demanding that college be free and open to everyone, but at the same time they are helping to create a political economy that demands a college degree even for lines of work that should not require higher education at all. As this country makes the unfortunate transition from an entrepreneurial market economy to one that is becoming increasingly dependent upon political power, college takes on an oversized role. The greatest irony is that higher education in the USA is becoming as important to one’s financial future as it was in the former Soviet Union even outside the so-called professions. Let me explain further. In the United States, we understand that one receives a college education and beyond if one wishes to be a physician or lawyer, an engineer, or even a nurse. The more prestigious the institution of higher learning, the more one is likely to land a position in an elite firm or medical practice. For example, students who gain their M.D. from Harvard Medical School are likely to seek different professional goals than students who complete their medical training at a place like the University of Kentucky. Likewise, a graduate of Yale Law School is likely to have a more prestigious career path than someone who receives a law degree from West Virginia University. An economics doctorate from Stanford University will guarantee the recipient a gateway to teach in other prestigious programs where an economics degree from my alma mater, Auburn University, only qualifies one to apply at lower-tier places. Thus, in certain areas of work, where one receives a degree is all-important to one’s career, and it is becoming more important where one goes to undergraduate school as well, and it is not just in the professions.

Mike 'Dirty Jobs' Rowe Routs America's School System: "We're Obsessed With Credentialing, Not Education" - Almost exactly a year ago, Dirty Jobs’ Mike Rowe noted that many Americans are dissatisfied with their lives because they no longer appreciate the intrinsic value of work.Additionally, Rowe previously concluded, millions of reasonable people – Republicans and Democrats alike – are worried that our universities are doing a poor job of preparing students for the real world. They’re worried about activist professors, safe spaces, the rising cost of tuition, a growing contempt for history, a simmering disregard of the first amendment, and most recently the so-called 'Varsity Blues' scandal of systemic elite cheating into prestigious schools. And on the heels of that, Mike Rowe slammed the system on Tucker Carlson's Fox News show last night, blasting Americans, and the American establishment for being "obsessed with credentialing, not education."“ I think because stuck in this binary box, this or that. Right, blue-collar or white color, good job or a bad job. Higher education or higher alternative education. When you only have two choices or you think you only have two choices, then you do one thing at the expense of the other. So for instance, you know we have talked about this before, but it just seems so clear now. When four year degree universities needed a P.R. Campaign 40 years ago, they got one. But the P.R. Came at the expense of all of the other forms of education. So it wasn’t hey, Tucker get your liberal arts degree because it will give you a broad base of appreciation for humanity. It was come if you don’t go get that degree, you will wind up over here turning a ranch or running a welding torch or doing some kind of consolation prize. So we promoted the one thing at the expense of all of the others. And that one thing just happened to be the most expensive thing. And so, look come I don’t think the skills set is the mystery. A reflection of what we value. 7 million — 7 million jobs available and they require training. Yet we are obsessed not really with education, you know. What we are obsessed with this credentialing. People are buying diplomas. They are buying their degrees. It is a diploma dilemma, honestly. And it is expensive. It is getting worse. It’s not just the kids holding the note. It is us.”

College (As We Knew It) Is Broken In The USA - College (as we know it) is broken.  The system of higher education in the United States is being rebuilt from the foundation and we’ve only just started to see the impact of this dramatic transformation.

  • The way students and parents pay for college is changing
  • The methods and the places students learn are changing (and have been for a while)
  • Our culture is changing to finally accept that “traditional” 4-year college isn’t the answer for everyone

But before we talk about all of the changes that are happening in higher education right now, let’s talk about why college is, to put it simply, broken in the United States.  It’s impossible to miss the many ways college is broken today. And I’m not just talking about the high profile bribery scandal that broke several weeks ago.  While parents paying hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars to guarantee college admission through a “side door” is concerning, it pales in comparison to these other indicators of college broken-ness.

  • 1. Student Loans Are Crippling Tens of Millions.  44.2 Million Americans currently are carrying close to $1.5 Trillion in student loan debt (this is ~20% of the US adult population).  Even more astonishing, over 11% of these loans are delinquent (90+ days without payment or in default).  This delinquency rate is >5x the credit card delinquency rate! Student loans have become such a burden that companies have been started to offer student loan repayment as a fringe benefit: Goodly.
  • 2. Tuition Increases Are Relentless. From 1988 to 2008, tuition increased on average by 3.5% per year. From 2008 to 2018, tuition continued to increase at a still-suffocating 3% per year. In 1998, tuition at a private 4-year college was 77% of the average male income in the United States. By 2016, this had increased to 116%. On the public college side, the increase is even more dramatic. In 1998, the costs averaged 29% of the average male income in the United States,increasing to 52% in 2016.
  • 3. Incentives Are Distorted Between Colleges and Students. Students continue to attend college and continue to take on these significant loans because they believe they are making a good investment. College graduates earn substantially more than High School graduates over the course of their career, right? Correct, but… The fundamental problem is that if the college they attend turns out to be a bad investment, as a growing number of private 4-year colleges do, only the student pays this penalty (and they pay a BIG, often lifelong, one). The college already got paid by either the government or the student loan company and there is simply no penalty for their lack of performance in student education and career placement (save for some very limited publicly funded university penalties).There are also no meaningful incentives from the government to provide education in areas where jobs are in the highest demand.

US education secretary to gut regulations, seek a “major shift” in higher education—Part 1 - Behind the quiet rule-making activities of US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the Trump administration is dealing hammer-blows against the edifice of public higher education. A series of policy and budgetary decisions are being proposed which will have catastrophic implications for students and educators. They include opening the regulatory door for a frenzy of privatization while exacting budget cuts from programs to aid students.   The budget request for 2020, released in March, demanded a $7.1 billion reduction in the Education Department, a restatement of prior year Trump administration budget proposals which aim to dismantle the department itself. As for the state of higher education, overall state funding of public two- and four-year colleges has already fallen a staggering $9 billion below 2008 levels, forcing tuition costs and student loan debt—now over $1.5 trillion—to balloon. Public university tuition has doubled in the last two decades, tripled in the last three. They escalate the years-long assault by Democratic and Republican policymakers. The proposed changes include:

  • Eliminating the public service loan forgiveness program which cancels loans after 10 years for public servants, such as teachers in low-income school districts. The program, now projected to cost $24 billion over the next 10 years, has been part of the national student loan system in some form since the 1950s.
  • Terminating the Obama-era “gainful employment” regulation which amounted to a modest fig-leaf applied to the “Wild West” of for-profit career schools. The original rule would punish programs whose graduates had student debts higher than a certain percentage of their incomes. As many lawsuits have proven, the for-profit industry was rife with programs that lured students in, saddled them with massive debts and then “trained” them for jobs at subsistence pay.
  • Tearing down the separation of church and state. DeVos announced in March that the Department of Education (ED) will no longer enforce the prohibition against giving federal education dollars to “faith-based entities.” She described as “unconstitutional” the education policy which prevents the subcontracting to religious organizations of tutoring, mentoring and other special services. This follows her attack last year on state “Blaine Amendments” which prohibit federal funding of religious and parochial schools.
  • The ED has, under DeVos, deliberately dragged its feet on tens of thousands of applications for loan forgiveness under the current law which provides loan relief for students who have been defrauded by their college. The administration is seeking to dramatically restrict or jettison this “borrower’s defense” remedy.

 Devos’s Magic Show - What would it take to save a scab industry from leaving the market place? The sorcerous of Grand Rapids Betsy DeVos has the answer.  Betsy DeVos’s Department of Education reversed the Obama-era crackdown on vocational and career schools thereby allowing new and inexperienced entrants into the field and alleviating pressure on old participants to have meaningful programs leading to “gainful employment in a recognized position” for which they were trained. Making the words “gainful employment in a recognized position” disappear is what made prior scammers nervous when the government would take action and refunded the fees paid and loans alleviated. Redundancy alert . . . precisely, the Western Michigan sorceress of charter schools removed the one regulation for “non-profit” and for-profit schools offering programs leading to careers and which allowed the Department of Education to crack down on fraudulent educational programs or programs which did not result in those meaningful words “gainful employment in a recognized occupation.” Ms. DeVos made this one requirement disappear because she did not want to “target schools simply by their tax status” such as “for-profit.” Her assumption was in error as the regulation covered “all” schools whether for-profit or nonprofit and was looking at the offered programs. Our current president even had to ante up when his real estate school did not produce results in gainful employment in a recognized occupation.” Now if thee six words “gainful employment in a recognized occupation” magically disappeared (psst and they did), what would it take for a career education program to lose its eligibility for federal student aid under DeVos? . . . a for-profit institution could not lose its financial lifeline or federal student aid no matter how poorly it performed its mission as spelled out in a statute to prepare students for “gainful employment in a recognized occupation” resulting from that education as stipulated previously. One hundred percent of students could be dropped from their career program with all of them deeply in debt, or perhaps no single graduate landing a job in their field of training, and still . . . still the federal government would keep the pipeline of guaranteed federal student loans and Pell Grants flowing in to the school.

Judge finalizes $25 million settlement for ‘victims of Donald Trump’s fraudulent university - Trump University attendees are getting paid back. A federal judge in the Southern District of California on Monday finalized a $25 million settlement to be paid to attendees of the now-defunct real estate seminar called Trump University. Judge Gonzalo Curiel's decision came after an appeals court rejected arguments from a Florida woman who attended Trump University and said she wanted to pursue a separate lawsuit. New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman called the settlement a victory for Trump U. "victims." "Judge Curiel's order finalizing the $25 million Trump University settlement means that victims of Donald Trump's fraudulent university will finally receive the relief they deserve," he said in a statement, adding that the amount surpassed the initial number the class-action suit initially negotiated. "This settlement marked a stunning reversal by President Trump, who for years refused to compensate the victims of his sham university," the statement added. "My office won't hesitate to hold those who commit fraud accountable, no matter how rich or powerful they may be."

Tragic: Graduates of Historically Black Colleges Hard Hit by College Loan Debt - Historically black colleges were established to help young African Americans get a good start in life. But today graduates of these colleges are suffering disproportionately from the kind of college loan debt that holds young people back. A front-page story in the Wall Street Journal lays out the debt situation facing graduates:

    1. • HBCU alumni have a median federal-debt load of about $29,000 at graduation—32% above graduates of other public and nonprofit four-year schools.
    2. • The majority of HBCU grads haven’t paid down even $1 of their original loan balance in the first few years out of school.
    3. • America’s 82 four-year HBCUs make up 5% of four-year institutions, but more than 50% of the 100 schools with the lowest three-year student-loan repayment rates.

As the Journal notes, these colleges, established before the Civil Rights Act of 1964,were supposed to provide opportunities for a traditionally disadvantaged population. But saddling young people with debt is the opposite of providing advantages. One reason this situation has come about is that black families have the "least wealth of the largest U.S. racial groups" but the costs of HBCUs has (like all U.S. colleges) risen significantly. HBCUs have not grown the kinds of endowments other colleges have and thus have fewer resources to help students pay for their education. Here is how that plays out in the life of one young man:

Your Student Loan Servicer Will Call You Back in a Year. Sorry The emails started arriving in my inbox from borrowers in the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program in late February. Their states of residence — Tennessee, California, Michigan — were all different. So were their jobs — teacher, doctor, member of the military.But their stories were the same. FedLoan, the servicer the federal government employs to administer the program, had undercounted the payments they had made, sometimes by years. And when they called to request a review, FedLoan told them that it would take a year to sort it all out.You read that right. A year.Trying to have kids? Considering buying a house? Pondering your next career move? You’ll need to make those big life decisions without knowing whether your student loan payments will go away in 2021, or five years later instead.“It is enough to make a grown man cry,” wrote David Russell, a science teacher in Ann Arbor, Mich. Another bewildered borrower, Meghan Keller, a lower and middle school counselor in Washington, D.C., simply asked this: “What in the world is going on over there?” Here’s what’s going on: The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is an administrative quagmire unlike nearly anything I’ve covered in a quarter-century as a journalist. It wasn’t supposed to end up like this. When the program was created in 2007, the big idea was to dismiss the remaining loan balances of government and nonprofit employees after 120 on-time payments. Participants have to be in the right kind of repayment plan with the right kind of loan, and end up at the right servicer: FedLoan. These rules did not end up being easy to explain or administer. The program became such a mess that Congress stepped in recently with $700 million-plus to try to help people who inadvertently disqualified themselves. Amid this chaos, plenty of borrowers have managed to follow the right-job-right-loan-right-plan rules only to discover that their all-important payment count is off. So they call FedLoan and ask for a review. Nicole Skrzyniarz, a physical therapist who lives in Medford, Mass., said she had been requesting a review since March 2018. But when she asks how long it will take, she gets different answers. “Three months, six more weeks expedited, up to one year and, today, ‘a long time; nobody should have given you a time frame,’” Ms. Skrzyniarz, who works at a nonprofit hospital, wrote in an email last week.

Healthcare Triage: Why Have Doctors Been So Slow to Embrace Email? - Aaron Carroll - Medicine has been slow to catch up with the idea of email communication in the workplace. Electronic consultations are less expensive and can be more convenient than in-person visits, but they aren’t without cost.  Why Have Doctors Been So Slow to Embrace Email? – YouTube  This episode was adapted from a column Austin wrote for the Upshot. Links to sources can be found there.

Pfizer CEO gets 61% pay raise—to $27.9 million—as drug prices continue to climb - As drug giant Pfizer Inc. hiked the price of dozens of drugs in 2017, it also jacked up the compensation of CEO Ian Read by 61 percent, putting his total compensation at $27.9 million, according to financial filings reported by Bloomberg. The 61 percent raise comes after a string of separate reports noting drug price increases by Pfizer. In January, FiercePharma reported an analysis finding that Pfizer implemented 116 price hikes just between this past December 15 and January 3 of this year. The list price increases ranged from 3 percent to 9.46 percent. The analysts noted that Pfizer increased the price of 20 drugs by 9.44 percent. Those included Viagra, Pristiq, Lipitor, and Zoloft, which are available as generics, as well as Chantix.Additionally, Pfizer had increased the prices of 91 drugs by an average of 20 percent in just the first half of 2017, according to data first reported by Financial Times. That included two waves of price hikes, one in January and the other on June 1. That echoes the pattern seen in 2016, 2015, and 2014, according to a report by STAT. In June of 2016, Pfizer raised the list prices of its medicines by an average of 8.8 percent. That followed an average 10.4 percent raise in list prices in January of that year. The 61 percent raise comes after a string of separate reports noting drug price increases by Pfizer. In January, FiercePharma reported an analysis finding that Pfizer implemented 116 price hikes just between this past December 15 and January 3 of this year. The list price increases ranged from 3 percent to 9.46 percent. The analysts noted that Pfizer increased the price of 20 drugs by 9.44 percent. Those included Viagra, Pristiq, Lipitor, and Zoloft, which are available as generics, as well as Chantix. Additionally, Pfizer had increased the prices of 91 drugs by an average of 20 percent in just the first half of 2017, according to data first reported by Financial Times. That included two waves of price hikes, one in January and the other on June 1.

‘The Greed of UnitedHealth Is Killing Americans’: Progressives Hit Back as Insurance CEO Bashes Medicare for All - The CEO of America’s largest private insurance company faced a flood of pushback from progressives Tuesday after he launched a misleading attack on Medicare for All.UnitedHealth Group CEO David Wichmann said during a call with investors that Medicare for All would “destabilize the nation’s health system”—a common talking point that has been deployed by the right-wing media, Republicans, and establishment Democrats”  “And the inherent cost burden would surely have a severe impact on the economy and jobs—all without fundamentally increasing access to care,” Wichmann said.Under the Medicare for All plans introduced in both the House and Senate, every American would be guaranteed comprehensive health coverage. Two studies released over the past year—including one from a Koch-funded think tank—showed single-payer would result in trillions of dollars in savings compared to the current for-profit system.“As usual, an insurance company CEO has got it backward—Medicare for All stabilizes healthcare for people, as Senator [Bernie] Sanders said last night on Fox News, and disrupts the failed business model of the insurance industry,” Michael Lighty, founding fellow of the Sanders Institute, told Common Dreams. “So yes, we will end the insurance company denials of care, eliminate premiums, deductibles, and co-pays, no longer allow our taxes to subsidize their profits,” Lighty said. “We will ‘destabilize’ UnitedHealth’s ability to enrich themselves at the expense of our healthcare.”

You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep—and It’s Killing You -- “The decimation of sleep throughout industrialized nations is having a catastrophic impact on our health, our wellness, even the safety and education of our children. It’s a silent sleep loss epidemic. It’s fast becoming one of the greatest challenges we face in the 21st century,” Walker, an expert in sleep at UC Berkeley and author of the best-selling book Why We Sleep, told a rapt TED audience on Thursday. He ran down all the ways in which sleep deprivation hurts people: it makes you dumber, more forgetful, unable to learn new things, more vulnerable to dementia, more likely to die of a heart attack, less able to fend off sickness with a strong immune system, more likely to get cancer, and it makes your body literally hurt more. Lack of sleep distorts your genes, and increases your risk of death generally, he said. It disrupts the creation of sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone, and leads to premature aging. Apparently, men who only sleep five hours a night have markedly smaller testicles than men who sleep more than seven. “Sleep loss will leak down into every nook and cranny of your physiology,” he said. “Sleep, unfortunately, is not an optional lifestyle luxury. Sleep is a nonnegotiable biological necessity. It is your life support system.”

New York Sues Big Pharma for Opioid Crisis – video - Sackler and PurduePharma profited from “suffering and death,” NYC AG Letitia James says. NEP’s Bill Black discusses the case on The Real News Network. You can view with a transcript here.

Opioid Epidemic: Doctors Charged In 7 States For Prescribing Big Pharma Painkillers - In what is being dubbed the “largest opioid takedown” in the United States, 31 doctors spanning 7 states have been charged with prescribing drugs that are legal. However, the charges state that these doctors had illegally prescribed more than 32 million pain pills, including a dentist who unnecessarily pulled the teeth of his patients so he could prescribe pain pills. According to the Washington Post, these arrests included doctors who prosecutors allege traded sex for opioid pain killer prescriptions. A total of 60 people were indicted, including the 31 doctors, seven pharmacists, eight nurse practitioners, and seven other licensed medical professionals. The charges stem from the government’s largest prescription-opioid takedown. In Tennessee, a doctor who branded himself the “Rock Doc,” allegedly prescribed dangerous combinations of opioids and benzodiazepines, sometimes in exchange for sexual favors. Over the course of three years, prosecutors say he prescribed nearly 500,000 hydrocodone pills, 300,000 oxycodone pills, 1,500 fentanyl patches and more than 600,000 benzodiazepines. –Washington PostBut there are some who allege the government themselves, thanks to lobbying and Big Pharma’s money, are responsible for the opioid crisis, and they are only now trying to do damage control.  This is yet another example of how the government screws up the economy and lives of the public then swoop in with some kind of “fix” that likely won’t fix anything at all. Many of those addicted to opioid painkillers eventually take to the streets to get their drugs, where their “high” is much cheaper and more readily available.  But this recent takedown did involve more than 350,000 illegal prescriptions written in Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and West Virginia, according to indictments unsealed in federal court in Cincinnati.“The opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug crisis in American history, and Appalachia has suffered the consequences more than perhaps any other region,” Attorney General William P. Barr said in a statement. “That is the equivalent of one opioid dose for every man, woman and child” in the region, Brian Benczkowski, an assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s criminal division, said in an interview. “If these medical professionals behave like drug dealers, you can rest assured that the Justice Department is going to treat them like drug dealers.”

US measles cases surge nearly 20% in a week, CDC says - The number of confirmed cases of measles in the United States this year jumped by nearly 20% in the week ending 11 April, in the country’s second-worst outbreak in nearly two decades, federal health officials reported on Monday. As of 11 April, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded 555 cases of the disease since the beginning of the year, up from 465 cases confirmed by 4 April. The cases were found in 20 states spanning the country. The measles virus is highly contagious and can lead to complications and death, particularly in children. The CDC report did not say whether there have been any fatalities.  The US outbreak is part of a worldwide rise. The World Health Organization reported on Monday that global cases had risen nearly fourfold in the first quarter of 2019 to 112,163 compared with the same period last year. A growing and vocal fringe of parents in the United States oppose vaccines, believing, contrary to scientific evidence, that ingredients in them can cause autism or other disorders. Five parents filed a lawsuit with the New York state court against the city’s health department on Monday, requesting a halt to emergency orders requiring the measles vaccine on the grounds that it goes against their religious beliefs.   “There is insufficient evidence of a measles epidemic or dangerous outbreak to justify the respondents’ extraordinary measures, including forced vaccination,” said the lawsuit, identifying the parents only by their initials. The city’s department of health did not respond to requests for comment. New York City has confirmed 329 cases of measles since October, including 44 since last week’s emergency order, according to local health officials, the large majority among children of the Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn. Six of the additional 44 cases are newly diagnosed, while the other 38 are recently discovered, the New York health department said.

As Syphilis Invades Rural America, A Fraying Health Safety Net Is Failing To Stop It - Pregnant women, young men and teens are all part of the rapidly growing number of syphilis patients coming to the Choices Medical Services clinic in the rural southwestern corner of Missouri. She can barely keep the antibiotic treatment for syphilis, penicillin G benzathine, stocked on her shelves. Public health officials say rural counties across the Midwest and West are becoming the new battleground. While syphilis is still concentrated in cities such as San Francisco, Atlanta and Las Vegas, its continued spread into places like Missouri, Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma creates a new set of challenges. Compared with urban hubs, rural populations tend to have less access to public health resources, less experience with syphilis and less willingness to address it because of socially conservative views toward homosexuality and nonmarital sex. In Missouri, the total number of syphilis patients has more than quadrupled since 2012 — jumping from 425 to 1,896 cases last year — according to a Kaiser Health News analysis of new state health data. Almost half of those are outside the major population centers and typical STD hot spots of Kansas City, St. Louis and its adjacent county. Syphilis cases surged at least eightfold during that period in the rest of the state. At Choices Medical Services, Schrage has watched the caseload grow from five cases to 32 in the first quarter of 2019 alone compared with the same period last year. “I’ve not seen anything like it in my history of doing sexual health care,” she said.

The Ebola Outbreak In Congo Is Close To Becoming A Global Emergency -  In recent months, public health experts have claimed the deadly Ebola virus outbreak that has been ravaging the Congo will not become a global health threat.  However, recent events and updates paint a less optimistic picture.  Last week, the World Health Organization issued a statement on the ongoing Ebola outbreak in North Kivu and Ituri provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo..The recent spike of cases increases the threat that the deadly virus will spread to other countries and efforts must be redoubled to stop it, the WHO said last Friday after a meeting of its expert committee. Here are a few concerning excerpts from the statement: The Committee wished to express their deep concern about the recent increase in transmission in specific areas, and therefore the potential risk of spread to neighbouring countries.Special emphasis should be placed on addressing the rise in case numbers in the remaining epicentres, notably Butembo, Katwa, Vuhovi, and Mandima.Because there is a very high risk of regional spread, neighbouring countries should continue to accelerate current preparedness and surveillance efforts, including vaccination of health care workers and front-line workers in surrounding countries.Cross-border collaboration should continue to be strengthened, including timely sharing of data and alerts, cross-border community engagement and awareness raising. In addition, work should be done to better map population movements and understand social networks bridging national boundaries.  The Committee maintains its previous advice that it is particularly important that no international travel or trade restrictions should be applied. Exit screening, including at airports, ports, and land crossings, is of great importance; however, entry screening, particularly in distant airports, is not considered to be of any public health or cost-benefit value. (source) As of April 15, the outbreak has claimed 821 lives. The total case number is 1273. Unfortunately, both numbers are soaring, and experts say it is not even close to ending: Some health experts predicted months ago that the outbreak would end within six months’ time. As complications keep appearing, the time frame is pushed back. “Given the average number of cases we’re seeing now, this is not going to be over for at least another six months or more,” Tariq Riebl with the International Rescue Committee said Friday. (source)

Men’s beards carry more germs than dog fur, according to science  A new Swiss study has found that men with beards carry more germs than dogs.  Study author professor Andreas Gutzeit told the BBC that the researchers found a significantly higher count of germs and bacteria in men's beards than dogs' fur. Researchers from the Hirslanden Clinic in Switzerland took swabs from the facial fuzz of 18 men and the necks of 30 dogs, across a range of breeds, and compared the results between the two. Seven of the men tested positive for microbes that actually posed a threat tohuman health. "On the basis of these findings, dogs can be considered as clean, compared with bearded men," Gutzeit told the BBC.All of the men in this small study, who were aged from 18 to 76, had high counts of bacteria in their beards, while only 23 out of the 30 dogs carried high levels. In good news for pet lovers, the other dogs tested had only medium to low levels. The takeaway, say the experts, is that men should shampoo their beards more regularly.

Selfie Deaths Are an Epidemic - Termed “killfies” by some social media researchers, these accidental deaths have involved social media personalities and, of course, adventurers. Canadian rapper Jon James McMurray perished last October after crawling out onto the wing of a Cessna while filming a music video. Last October also witnessed the much-publicized deaths of travel bloggersMeenakshi Moorthy and Vishnu Viswanath, who apparently fell while taking a selfie at Yosemite’s Taft Point, a popular rock outcrop with an 800-foot drop. A month prior, Tomar Frankfurter, an 18-year-old from Jerusalem, also fell to his death in the park while reportedly taking a selfie at Nevada Fall. Last July, three stars of High on Life, a popular YouTube thrill-seeking adventure travel show, plummeted to their deaths at a waterfall near Squamish, British Columbia. And in late March, a man from Macau fell 1,000 feet to his death while attempting to take a selfie on the rim at Grand Canyon West.Then there are the hundreds of other people you’ve probably never heard about who died trying to get the perfect cliffhanger photo. The student who fell 700 feet at Ireland’s iconic Cliffs of Moher in January. The 68-year-old woman who was fatally scalded in a Chilean geyser. The man in his fifties who was struck by lightning while hiking with a selfie pole in the Welsh mountains. The teenage girl swept away by an unexpected wave on a beach in the Philippines. For each of these recorded deaths, there are also thousands of near misses (misfies?). These include such high-profile incidents as the woman who, in March of this year, allegedly climbed over the barrier at an Arizona zoo to take a selfie with a jaguar and was mauled by the animal; the infamous 2014 bear selfies taken by visitors at Lake Tahoe’s Taylor Creek Visitor Center during the creek’s annual salmon run; and several reports in recent years of individuals who have been gored by bison at Yellowstone. No one died in those incidents, but authorities say they could have. Selfies have resulted in peloton crashes at the Tour de France and may have contributed to a helicopter crash over New York City in March 2018. According to a report in the New York Times, the pilot, who was the only survivor, told the National Transportation Safety Board that the crash may have occurred because a passenger was trying to take a photo of his feet dangling out the helicopter door—a so-called “shoe selfie”—and might have accidentally hit the emergency fuel shut-off. All five passengers died.

China Genetically Engineering Monkeys to be More Human - When a Chinese scientist known as JK genetically engineered two children a bit ago, outrage was (temporarily) expressed. “The scientists” wrung their hands about the ethics of it all — but I suspect it’s all a con. They weren’t upset about what was done, but when, that is, before the public had been sufficiently anesthetized.  The Chinese government reacted to the world’s (transitory) outrage by arresting JK, claiming he was a rogue actor. Are you kidding me? China is the most technologically sophisticated tyranny the world has ever seen. Nothing that important happens there without somebody in high places knowing about it. Now, Chinese scientists have genetically engineered a monkey to make it more human. From the MIT Technology Review: According to their findings, the modified monkeys did better on a memory test involving colors and block pictures, and their brains also took longer to develop—as those of human children do. There wasn’t a difference in brain size. A few years ago we were promised experiments that would effect the brain would never be done in mice. They were right. It was done in monkeys! My friend, the bioethicist William Hurlbut has often worried about “outsourcing ethics,” that is, Western scientists and funders cooperating with experiments in countries with an “anything goes” approach, allowing them to participate in research considered unethical in their own countries while remaining in good odor among their peers. China sure fits that bill! For example, scientists there brought cloned monkeys to birth recently, meaning human reproductive cloning could be on the horizon.

Brain functions in pigs restored hours after death  -- Scientists have restored some brain functions in pigs four hours after the animals were decapitated, a breakthrough that could advance neuroscience but which raises ethical questions about the line between life and death. The experiment at Yale University infused artificial blood into the pig brains restarting some circulation and electrical activity, according to a study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature. The researchers stressed that there were no indications of “perception, awareness, or consciousness” in brains.  “This is not a living brain but it is a cellularly active brain,” . “This line of research could lead to a whole new way of studying the postmortem brain,” said Andrea Beckel-Mitchener, team lead at the National Institutes of Health brain initiative in the US, which funded the research. It might eventually be possible to use reactivated brains for experiments that would not be possible on live subjects or preserved specimens, the Yale researchers said.   Nenad Sestan, professor of neuroscience at Yale and the project leader, said the methods used to restore the pigs’ brains might one day lead to new stroke treatments. The findings also raise moral questions and challenge “longstanding assumptions about what makes an animal — or a human — alive”, several ethicists wrote in Nature. Professor Sestan’s team worked with the brains of 32 pigs killed at a slaughterhouse. Four hours after the animals were decapitated, a system of computer-controlled pumps called BEx began to infuse the blood substitute into the brains. The BEx fluid, which is laden with compounds designed to protect and nourish neurons, preserved and revived neural structures and cells. The technique restored the brains’ circulation and metabolism, as well as electrical and chemical activity at synapses — the junctions between neurons. Researchers sustained these reanimated functions for six hours (10 hours after decapitation), far longer than had been achieved before. Yale scientists said the next step in the research would be to try to sustain the functions for much longer. The results raise a host of ethical questions. Stuart Youngner and Insoo Hyun, two bioethicists at Case Western Reserve University who commented on the study in Nature, urged medical standards associations to set guidelines that balance the need for donor organs against the interests of people who appear to have just died but might be brought back to life.

Cause of cancer is written into DNA of tumours, scientists find, creating a ‘black box’ for origin of disease - The cause of cancer is written into the DNA of tumours, scientists have discovered, in a breakthrough which could finally show how much disease is attributable to factors like air pollution or pesticides. Until now the roots of many cancers have proved elusive, with doctors unable to tease out the impact of a myriad of carcinogenic causes which people encounter everyday. Even with lung cancer, it is not known just how much can be attributed to smoking and how much could be linked to other factors, such as living by a busy road, or inhaling pollutants at work. But now scientists at Cambridge University and King’s College London have shown that tumours hold information like a 'black box' pointing to the cause of disease. They exposed stem cells to dozens of known carcinogens and recorded how each alters its DNA code as cancer forms. It provides a ‘fingerprint’ or ‘mutational signature’ of the underlying cause and could even show which was the biggest culprit. The researchers have today released a catalogue of the signatures caused by 41 environmental agents linked to cancer so that scientists and doctors can understand its origin. “Mutational signatures are the fingerprints that carcinogens leave behind on our DNA, and just like fingerprints, each one is unique,” said Dr Serena Nik-Zainal from the Department of Medical Genetics and MRC Cancer Unit at the University of Cambridge, who led the Cambridge Team. “They allow us to treat tumours as a crime scene and, like forensic scientists, allow us to identify the culprit – and their accomplices – responsible for the tumour.”

Iredell County leaders support Senate bill to research 'cancer clusters'  - Leaders in Iredell County are getting serious about 'cancer clusters.' On Tuesday, they voted on a resolution to get results for those who are sick. Many are worried that you could have an elevated risk of developing cancer depending on where you live. That’s why leaders are throwing support behind a Senate bill (SB 297) to study cancer hot spots statewide. The decision these commissioners just made could have a far-reaching impact on Iredell County residents. “We don't know what we don't know,” said Iredell Board of Commissioners Chairman, James Mallory III, “and we're trying to figure out the facts on the ground,” Here are the facts: There have been two so-called hot spots for cancer in our area. There was a ‘cluster’ ocular melanoma in Huntersville, and in Iredell County-- thyroid cancer. Now, the state wants to assemble a cancer research panel to study cancer clusters in North Carolina. “Probably went on too long before we realized there was a cancer cluster in our county,” said Councilmember Jeff McNeely, “and I’m hoping for us and the other 11 counties with increased cancer risk, this'll be a start to where we can predict these patterns sooner and find the causes and the cures,” The UNC panel will use state data to determine if there are certain cancer clusters throughout the state. Earlier this year, the North Carolina Health Department determined the spike in thyroid cancer in Iredell county was not caused by coal ash. “Although coal ash can contain radionuclides, there are no published studies to support an association between coal ash exposure and thyroid cancer,” the study stated.

Arsenic in Some Bottled Water Brands at Unsafe Levels, Consumer Reports Says - Natural foods grocery chain Whole Foods introduced its new brand of bottled water at a 2015 investor event, where company executives heralded the product’s purity and healthfulness. Yet from late 2016 to early 2017, Starkey Water—the name of Whole Foods’ brand—recalled more than 2,000 cases of water after tests by regulators showed an impermissible level of arsenic beyond the federally mandated threshold of 10 parts per billion. A year later, Whole Foods’ internal testing showed results that were just under the federal limit but still at levels that pose risks if regularly consumed, according to growing research and independent experts, including Consumer Reports’ scientists. Over the past few years, as consumers have worried more about the quality of municipal tap water, bottled water has surged in popularity. It's now the nation’s best-selling bottled beverage, according to the International Bottled Water Association. But a CR investigation has found that in some cases bottled water on store shelves contains more potentially harmful arsenic than tap water flowing into some homes. “It makes no sense that consumers can purchase bottled water that is less safe than tap water,” says James Dickerson, Ph.D., chief scientific officer at Consumer Reports. “If anything, bottled water—a product for which people pay a premium, often because they assume it’s safer—should be regulated at least as strictly as tap water.” For this report, CR tracked down and reviewed hundreds of public records and test reports from bottled water brands, and from various federal and state regulators. We found that several popular brands sell bottled water with arsenic levels at or above 3 ppb; current research suggests that amounts above that level are potentially dangerous to drink over extended periods of time. CR believes the federal limit for bottled water should be revised to 3 ppb from the current federal standard of 10 ppb. In total, CR identified 11 brands out of more than 130 that either self-reported or, based on tests we commissioned, had detectable amounts of arsenic. Of those, six had levels of 3 ppb or higher. These brands are Starkey (owned by Whole Foods), Peñafiel (owned by Keurig Dr Pepper), Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water, Volvic (owned by Danone), and two regional brands, Crystal Creamery and EartH₂O.

'We're not a dump' – poor Alabama towns struggle under the stench of toxic landfills  --David Brasfield, a retired coalminer who has lived in West Jefferson for 45 years, thought at first the foul stench came from the carcass of a shot pig. By the time he realized that human feces was being transported from 1,000 miles away to a nearby landfill site, a scene of biblical pestilence was unfolding upon West Jefferson.  “The odor was unbearable, as were the flies and stink bugs,” . “The flies were so bad that you couldn’t walk outside without being inundated by them. You’d be covered in all sorts of insects. People started getting headaches, they couldn’t breathe.”  The landfill, called Big Sky Environmental, sits on the fringes of West Jefferson and is permitted to accept waste from 48 US states. It used a nearby rail spur to import sewage from New York and New Jersey. This epic fecal odyssey was completed by trucks which took on the waste and rumbled through West Jefferson – sometimes spilling dark liquid on sharp turns – to the landfill.  Outrage at this arrangement reached a crescendo in April last year when Jefferson county, of which West Jefferson is part, barred the landfill operator from using the rail spur. Malodorous train carriages began backing up near several neighbouring towns.  “It smells like rotting corpses, or carcasses. It smells like death.” Residents started hounding the phone lines of elected officials and showed up at public meetings with bags of dead flies. One man described the smell as similar to “25,000 people taking a dump around your house”. The growing national media attention eventually stung New York and New Jersey, which halted convoys of human waste to the site.  But while the distress lifted from West Jefferson, other communities across Alabama struggle forlornly in a miasma of nearby landfills. Alabama has gained a reputation as the dumping ground of the US, with toxic waste from across the country typically heaped near poor, rural communities, many with large African American populations. Alabama has a total of 173 operational landfills, more than three times as many as New York, a state with a population four times greater but with just 54 dumps. California – three times larger than Alabama and containing eight people for every Alabamian – has just a handful more landfills than the southern state.

Mapping San Francisco’s Human Waste Challenge – 132,562 Cases Reported In The Public Way Since 2008 - Forbes - By many measures, San Francisco is a world-class city. It’s a tourist mecca that boasts 25 million visitors each year. It’s home to wonders of the modern world – the Golden Gate Bridge and its iconic cable cars – as well as powerful progressive politicians, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Governor Gavin Newsom, and U.S. Senator (and presidential hopeful) Kamala Harris. The broader San Francisco Bay Area can also claim Silicon Valley and its booming economy. But the city itself is in trouble. Today, San Francisco hosts an estimated homeless population of 7,500 people. Affluent sections of the city have become dangerous with open-air drug use, tens of thousands of discarded needles, and, sadly, human feces. Since 2011, there have been at least 118,352 reported instances of human fecal matter on city streets. New mayor, London Breed, won election by promising to clean things up. However, conditions are the same or worse. Last year, the number of reports spiked to an all-time high at 28,084. In first quarter 2019, the pace continued with 6,676 instances of human waste in the public way. We reached out to San Francisco Mayor London Breed for comment regarding our findings and the continued trajectory of the human waste problem. This column will be updated with any response or comment.

Heavy Pollution in Southwest Detroit Will Worsen With the Gordie Howe Bridge - Head south from the stately skyscrapers downtown to southwest Detroit, a community rich in culture, but suffocating in pollution. The predominantly Hispanic community is known for its colorful murals, Spanish groceries, historic churches and Mexicantown, one of the top tourist destinations in the city. But southwest Detroit has another, more ignominious claim to fame as one of the most polluted places in Michigan, surrounded, as it is, by three busy highways, a coal-fired power plant, a gas-fired power plant, an oil refinery, a steel mill and a wastewater treatment plant. If that weren't enough, the state is now building a six-lane bridge through the middle of the neighborhood."They dump everything here," said Cassandra Compton-Montgomery, executive director of the People's Community Services, a nonprofit based in southwest Detroit. "When they need somewhere to put waste, it's like they think, 'Oh let's put it in Southwest.' It's almost like we are the toilet bowl of the city."  In October, construction began on the $4.4 billion Gordie Howe Bridge, named after the all-time Red Wings great, a project that promises to expedite the flow of traffic to and from Canada. Many residents opposed the project from the start, and some are now calling for restitution to the community, which is coping with contamination so severe that locals complain of the foul odor. "Where I live, most of our pollution comes from the Marathon refinery. The smell is sometimes gas or a rotten stench, and how bad it is depends on which way the wind is blowing," said southwest Detroit native Nathan Love. "During the summer, we just pray the wind doesn't blow our way." The smell comes from the high concentration of sulfur dioxide, a dangerous pollutant emitted by oil refineries and steel mills, as well as cars and trucks. The high volume of diesel exhaust from surrounding highways, as well as the the Ambassador Bridge, is only making the problem worse. Heather Gordin, vice president of communications for the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority, defended the Gordie Howe Bridge by explaining that it would keep traffic moving so that trucks and cars don't sit still and churn out exhaust. "A lot of pollution and air quality concerns come from the stopping and starting of vehicles and the backing up of vehicles on highway infrastructure, so we spent a lot of time on how to keep vehicles moving to mitigate that type of pollution," she said.

Mapping the U.S. Counties Where Traffic Air Pollution Hurts Children the Most -- In the U.S., more than 6 million children had ongoing asthma in 2016. Globally, asthma kills around 1,000 people every day — and its prevalence is rising. This condition has a high economic cost. Each year in the U.S., more than $80 billion is lost because of asthma. This is mainly due to premature deaths, medical payments and missed work and school days. The burden is higher for families with asthmatic children, who, on average, spend $1,700 more on health care than families with healthy children. One major environmental factor that might contribute to the development of asthma is air pollution from traffic.In our study, published on April 3, our team mapped where in the U.S. children are most at risk for developing asthma from this type of pollution. Asthma presents as episodes of wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath due to the reversible, or partially reversible, obstruction of airflow. Six in 10 of children with asthma worldwide had a form of persistent asthma, meaning that either they were on long-term medication or their condition could not be controlled even with medication. In our analysis, we looked at 70 million kids and conducted all calculations at the census block level, the smallest available geographical unit for census data. We collaborated with researchers from the University of Washington, who modeled the concentrations of nitrogen dioxide, a strong sign of traffic-related air pollution, using satellite imagery combined with environmental ground monitoring data.We then took data extracted from surveys by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, estimating childhood asthma incidence in the U.S. Alongside data from our air pollution models, we used these data to estimate the number of childhood asthma cases caused by exposure to traffic pollution. We then created a first-of-its-kind, county-by-county interactive heat map and city-by-city table detailing the distribution of childhood asthma due to nitrogen dioxide across the U.S. in both 2000 and 2010. Each county is represented, and users can explore the data to see the findings for a particular county.

Journalist Jenna Orkin on 9/11’s Deadly Dust - Parallax View - (podcast) A fine detail of the latest budget proposal by President Donald Trump is that it will defund the federal agency responsible for compensating first responders to the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attack who were adversely effected by the dust and degrees at Ground Zero in New York. The story of 9/11's "Deadly Dust", however, goes much deeper and the lives it has damaged reaches far beyond the heroic first responders of that fateful September day. Joining us on this edition of Parallax Views to discuss the full story of 9/11's Deadly Dust is Jenna Orkin, who has tirelessly pursued the saga as a journalist, activist, and concerned parent in the vicinity of Ground Zero since its earliest stages.  We begin by discussing how Jenna became involved in activism related to 9/11's deadly dust. From there we delve into a number of different areas including the EPA's assurances that "the air is safe to breathe" after 9/11 and the conflicts of interest that existed with then EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman. Jenna and I dive deep into the asbestos and toxins that were inhalable throughout New York in the aftermath of 9/11 and the lives adversely affected by it, including schoolchildren. We also discuss how the media covered the story initially and how the saga of 9/11's deadly dust has changed since those days. Additionally, Jenna tells us about her work with investigative journalist Michael C. Ruppert, the 5th anniversary of whose death will occur on April 13th, and how Ruppert's work on 9/11, peak oil, Wall Street, and energy issues ties into not only Jenna's writings on the 9/11 deadly dust but also a broader picture of our world and where it is headed.

New EPA Asbestos Rule Falls Short of Full Ban - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) passed a new rule on asbestos Wednesday that it says will "close the door" on new, unapproved uses. But public health advocates warn the rule could actually open the door to increased use of the carcinogenic fibrous material. The Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) would require any company seeking to manufacture or import asbestos for any of 15 discontinued purposes would need to get the approval of the EPA. The regulation also includes a blanket rule requiring review for "any use of asbestos not previously identified," The New York Times reported."Prior to this new rule, EPA did not have the ability to prevent or restrict certain asbestos products from being reintroduced into the market," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement reported by The New York Times. However, some public health advocates worry that the rule creates a mechanism by which companies can introduce new uses of asbestos as long as they get approval. "This toothless regulation requires companies to seek approval from EPA to resume manufacturing, importing, and processing of asbestos for 15 obsolete uses. It does not ban these uses, but leaves the door open to their return to the marketplace. To think that any company would willingly attempt to resurrect these 15 obsolete asbestos uses is ludicrous. That EPA would enable it is unconscionable," Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization President Linda Reinstein said in a statement. Reinstein also noted that the rule does not cover existing uses of asbestos, such as its use by the Chlor-Alkiki industry. It also does nothing about the asbestos left in schools, homes and offices from when the material was widely used as an insulator and flame retardant.

Airborne plastic particles blanket remote mountains: study - A secluded mountain region thought to be free of plastic pollution is in fact blanketed by airborne microplastics on a scale comparable to a major city such as Paris, alarmed researchers reported Monday. Over a five-month period in 2017-2018, an average of 365 tiny bits of plastic settled every day on each square metre of an uninhabited, high-altitude area in the Pyrenees straddling France and Spain, they reported in the journal Nature Geoscience. "It is astounding and worrying that so many particles were found in the Pyrenees field site," said lead author Steve Allen, a doctoral student at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland. The study focused on microplastics mostly between 10 and 150 micrometres across, including fragments, fibres and sheet-like pieces of film. By comparison, a human hair is, on average, about 70 micrometres in width. "We would never have anticipated that this study would reveal such high levels of microplastic deposits," added co-author Gael Le Roux, a researcher at EcoLab in Toulouse, in southwestern France. Plastic litter has emerged in the last few years as a major environmental problem. Up to 12 million tonnes of plastics are thought to enter the world's oceans every year, and millions more clog inland waterways and landfills. Plastic takes decades to break down, and even then continues to persist in the environment. Scientists are only now beginning to measure the damage to wildlife and potential impacts on human health. A study earlier this year uncovered plastic fragments in the guts of animals living more than 10 kilometres below the ocean surface. Two whales found beached since the start of the year—one in the Philippines, the other in Sardinia, Italy—had 40 and 20 kilos, respectively, of plastic in their stomachs. Microplastics have also been found in tap water around the world, and even the furthest reaches of Antarctica.

Windborne Microplastics Are Everywhere - Plastic gets around. Previously, researchers had discovered fragments of microplastics in the world's most remote locations, like the depths of the Marianas Trench and Antarctica. New research has shown that microplastics rain down on the pristine peaks of the Pyrenees mountains.  The researchers found a daily rate of plastic pollution falling from the sky in the Pyrenees was comparable to the amount raining down on Paris and Dongguan, a large industrial city in China, NPR reported."It was incredible how much microplastic was being deposited," said Deonie Allen, a researcher at EcoLab in the School of Agricultural and Life Sciences in Toulouse, France, as reported by National Geographic. There were no obvious sources for the microplastics within 60 miles, said Allen, the lead author of the study published Monday in Nature Geoscience. The study is the first of its kind to show the how far microplastics can travel on the wind. Scientists had previously thought that atmospheric microplastic pollutants would rise up and settle again near the cities and industrial hubs where they originated.  Microplastics, which measure less than one-fifth of one-inch, have been shown to affect the health and reproductive systems of marine life. In fact, they were present in every marine mammal that researchers looked at in a recent British study. Microplastics also contaminated the drinking water, according to The Guardian. The new study suggests that humans will not only consume microplastics, but also inhale them. "We ... don't know what they do to humans," said Allen to NPR. "They're a brand new [type of] pollution, but there's so much of it and it's increasing so fast that it's something we really need to start learning about."  Yet, there are some things we do know. Microplastics smaller than 25 microns can enter the human body through the nose or mouth and those less than five microns can end up in lung tissue. And, we know that microplastics tend to be sticky and accumulate heavy metals like mercury and persistent organic pollutants, including materials with known health impacts, according to National Geographic. To make matters worse, the researchers say that atmospheric plastic pollution is nearly impossible to clean up, so the only solution is to produce less plastic, according to Science.

60 Minutes: Australia’s recycling lie exposed: Plastics being dumped, buried and burned in Malaysia - We were encouraged to reduce, reuse, recycle, in a desperate bid to clean up the country. But as 60 Minutes reporter Liam Bartlett revealed, the reality is that much of the public’s efforts to recycle the huge amounts of plastic we consume are often a waste of time.  60 Minutes has tracked mixed plastic waste - the material assumed easiest to salvage and re-use - from the recycling bins of Australian suburbs to dozens of illegal processing sites in Malaysia, where our discarded plastics often end up being dumped, buried or even burned.It’s turned Malaysia into Australia’s dumping ground, with dire consequences including contamination of drinking water and air pollution. Despite so many Australians diligently separating plastics from their general waste and placing it in their recycling bins, very little reprocessing of mixed plastic is happening on home soil - with the exception of milk bottles and soft drink bottles which have a discrete market. Haydn Breheny, who runs a recycling business for industry waste in south-east Melbourne, revealed to 60 Minutes that when plastic arrives at his warehouse, if it can’t be sold to Asian markets then it can’t actually be recycled here in Australia and just ends up in the tip. “Morally, you want to do something for it,” he told Bartlett. “But if I can’t get rid of it, what am I meant to do? Eat it myself?”For the last two decades, Australia’s recycling industry has been dependent on China – which had been taking a staggering 125,000 tonnes of our plastic waste every year, sorting it by hand with low labour costs and melting it down into new plastic products to be sold back to us and the rest of the world. But in January 2018 China effectively closed its doors, citing environmental concerns. The decision threw the world’s recycling industry into a tailspin as nations, including Australia, scoured the globe for new buyers.

There is no garbage patch in the Southern Indian Ocean, so where is the rubbish? Great areas of our rubbish are known to form in parts of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. But no such “garbage patch” has been found in the Southern Indian Ocean. Our research – published recently in Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans – looked at why that’s the case, and what happens to the rubbish that gets dumped in this particular area. The Indian Ocean has many unique characteristics compared with the other ocean basins. The most striking factor is the presence of the Asian continental landmass, which results in the absence of a northern ocean basin and generates monsoon winds. As a result of the former, there is no gyre in the Northern Indian Ocean, and so there is no garbage patch. The latter results in reversing ocean surface currents.The Indian and Pacific Oceans are connected through the Indonesian Archipelago, which allows for warmer, less salty water to be transported from the Pacific to the Indian via a phenomenon called the Indonesian Throughflow (see graphic, below).  This connection also results in the formation of the Leeuwin Current, a poleward (towards the South Pole) current that flows alongside Australia’s west coast. As a result, the Southern Indian Ocean has poleward currents on both eastern and western margins of the ocean basin. Also, the South Indian Counter Current flows eastwards across the entire width of the Southern Indian Ocean, through the centre of the subtropical gyre, from the southern tip of Madagascar to Australia. The African continent ends at around 35 degrees south, which provides a connection between the southern Indian and Atlantic Oceans. In contrast to other ocean basins, the Indian Ocean is under-sampled, with only a few measurements of plastic material available. As technology to remotely track plastics does not yet exist, we need to use indirect ways to determine the fate of plastic in the Indian Ocean. We used information from more than 22,000 satellite-tracked surface drifting buoys that have been released all over the world’s oceans since 1979. This allowed us to simulate pathways of plastic waste globally, with an emphasis on the Indian Ocean. We found that unique characteristics of the Southern Indian Ocean transport floating plastics towards the ocean’s western side, where it leaks past South Africa into the South Atlantic Ocean.

EU Plastics Ban: “Doesn’t Go Far Enough” - naked capitalism - Lambert here: This is very nice, to see The Real News Network picking up on an article our own Jerri-Lynn Scofield wrote back in January, and giving Naked Capitalism a shout-out, as well. A video of the interview, plus the transcript, follow.

Wild Bee Population Collapses By 90% In New England, Study Warns - Researchers from the University of New Hampshire conducted a study to document declines in about 100 wild bee species critical to pollinating crops throughout New England. What they discovered, according to the study, was a collapse in the wild bee population across the state, reported AP. Researchers analyzed 119 species in the state from a museum collection at the college dating back more than a century. Sandra Rehan and Minna Mathiasson published the study in the peer-reviewed journal called Insect and Conservation Diversity this month. They concluded 14 species found across New England were on the decline by as much as 90%. Several of the species include leafcutter and mining bees. "We know that wild bees are greatly at risk and not doing well worldwide," Rehan, assistant professor of biological sciences and the senior author on the study, said in a prepared statement. "This status assessment of wild bees shines a light on the exact species in decline, besides the well-documented bumblebees. Because these species are major players in crop pollination, it raises concerns about compromising the production of key crops and the food supply in general." The AP noted that wild bee populations across the world are in decline, and scientists have blamed a wide range of factors including industrialization, insecticides, herbicides, parasites, disease, and climate change. Bees are crucial for pollination, and about one-third of the human diet derives from plants that are directly pollinated by bees.  Greg Burtt, founder of Burtt’s Apple Orchard in Cabot, Vermont, told the AP that his farm relies heavily on wild bees for crop production.   "Making sure that pollinators in the area are healthy and doing well is definitely something we’re concerned about," Burtt said. The study noticed that half of those wild bees on the decline were located in higher elevation regions like the White Mountains than in the state's coastal areas. The study said as the wild bees shift northward, some of the species don't have the same kind of flowers and plants to pollinate. "They have nowhere else to go," Rehan said. "That is the biggest concern." Rehan warned as wild bee populations collapse so will crop yields, which could produce food shortages across the country. She says wild bees are facing similar threats that have also caused honeybee populations to plunge - including the overuse of pesticides and herbicides, a lack of seasonal wild plant diversity and volatile weather.

Surge of Ticks Expected in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic States Due to Wet, Mild Winter -- Record setting precipitation combined with mild temperatures this winter are setting the stage for an explosion in the tick population this spring, according to researchers at Rutgers University. “Ticks, like most small organisms, are very sensitive to dry weather. It kills them,” said Dina M. Fonseca, a Rutgers entomology professor and director of its the Center for Vector Biology. “But we have been experiencing exceptionally wet seasons. It slows down their decline in number. So we could end up for a very large population this year.” The Northeast and Mid-Atlantic experienced above average precipitation and temperatures during the winter months leading to this spring. According to New Jersey State climatologist David Robinson, the Garden State averaged 64.8 inches of precipitation in 2018 — the wettest year on record — followed by a winter featuring the 13th-most precipitation since 1895. Ticks are known for spreading a host of diseases like ehrlichiosis, tularemia, and Lyme Disease, but the Lone Star Tick is also known to cause alpha-gal syndrome where one develops an allergy to a sugar found in red meat and in some medications.

Greenpeace Study Shines Light on China’s Polluted Soils - Land sales in major Chinese cities are thwarting the restoration of polluted soils despite growing government transparency about the extent of contamination, according to a study co-published Wednesday by Nanjing University and environmental group Greenpeace East Asia.  Provincial capitals are increasingly publishing “pollution lists” outlining contaminated plots thanks partly to a 2016 guideline — which became law in January of this year — governing soil management on contaminated land, the study says.   However, capitals that depend financially on lucrative land-transfer fees often sell plots without fully restoring the soil.  The study — the first of its kind in China — sheds light on how the country is dealing with the environmental costs of industrialization. Around 41% of all listed plots are the sites of former chemical plants, while more than half of all identified soil pollution comes from heavy metals, which are linked to a number of health risks, including some cancers.“Soil pollution is as big of a problem as air pollution,” Bao Hang, a toxics campaigner with Greenpeace East Asia in Beijing and lead researcher for the study, told Sixth Tone. “But its impact is not as visible. People often suffer silently from soil pollution.” Since 2017 — the year the pollution lists were first made public — 27 out of the Chinese mainland’s 31 provincial capitals have released lists of contaminated sites, totaling 174 plots nationwide. The megacities of Tianjin, Chongqing, and Shanghai posted the highest numbers, with 21, 17, and 14 plots, respectively.  Pollution lists aim to clarify which tracts of China’s urban landscapes suffer from soil pollution and form a basis for remediating them, a process that is both time-consuming and expensive. The study’s authors estimate that the 174 plots will require investment of more than 7.75 billion yuan ($1.16 billion) to meet existing environmental standards.

Paradise, Calif., Water Is Contaminated But Residents Are Moving Back Anyway -  Five months after the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history, the town of Paradise remains a disaster zone. Only 6 percent of the debris from last November's Camp Fire has been hauled away. Burned out skeletons of cars, piles of toxic rubble and blackened old-growth pine trees can still be seen everywhere. Before the wildfire, the population of Paradise was about 26,000. Today, it's in the hundreds. The extent of the latest crisis unfolding in Paradise is yet unknown: The deadly fire may also have contaminated up to 173 miles of pipeline in the town's water system with cancer-causing benzene and other volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Preliminary results have shown contamination in about a third of the lines tested, though only about 2 percent of the entire system has been sampled. Still, the water crisis is just the latest setback that has called into question whether the town was ready to reopen. And some have had no choice but to move back. "As soon as the house was cleaned, our insurance company told us that we had to come home," says Kyla Awalt.They considered selling. But how do you put a home on the market if it doesn't have any water? "You can't," Awalt says. "That's part of the inspection process.The district's manager, Kevin Phillips, says his staff is overwhelmed. "There is no playbook for a wildfire that destroys a town and you have a depressurization of a system that creates contamination," Phillips says.

EPA won't regulate pollution that moves through groundwater - EPA won't regulate any pollution to surface waters that passes through groundwater. The Clean Water Act regulates pollution to surface water and requires permits for so-called point-source discharges to them.But questions have remained about whether the law regulates any pollution that ends up in surface waters, or only direct discharges. EPA now says it's the latter. "The agency concludes that the best, if not the only, reading of the Clean Water Act is that Congress intentionally chose to exclude all releases of pollutants to groundwater from the [point source] program, even where pollutants are conveyed to jurisdictional surface waters via groundwater," the agency wrote in an interpretive statement posted online last night. If pollution travels through groundwater, EPA says, it "breaks the causal chain" between a source of pollution and surface waters.  That could affect regulation of pollution from a variety of sources, including seepage from coal ash and manure management ponds, sewage collection systems, septic system discharges, and accidental spills and releases.The guidance comes as the Supreme Court is preparing to hear arguments on the same issue.But the memo contradicts arguments EPA and the Department of Justice made on the same case three years ago."The case law does not require the means by which the pollutant discharged from a point source reaches a water of the United States to be a point source," the agencies wrote in a brief to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in County of Maui, Hawaii v. Hawai'i Wildlife Fund. That 2016 brief further concludes that while the Clean Water Act clearly does not regulate groundwater, the law does cover "the movement of pollutants to jurisdictional surface waters through groundwater with a direct hydrological connection."

Lead poisoning blamed in death of Yellowstone golden eagle - An adult female golden eagle found dead at Yellowstone National Park in December was killed by lead poisoning, according to necropsy results announced yesterday.The eagle was the first fitted with a radio transmitter at Yellowstone as part of a study to track the movements and survival of the birds.Park officials said the lead levels in the eagle "were extremely high and well over lethal toxicity," likely because it had scavenged gut piles or flesh of animals shot by hunters using lead bullets."The lead levels in the marked eagle indicated it likely ate carrion that contained lead fragments," the park said in a statement.Todd Katzner, an eagle scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Boise, Idaho, said the research project will continue, with five other golden eagles already fitted with similar transmitters. "We know that eagles and other scavenging birds of prey are at risk from lead poisoning and this tells us that even birds from Yellowstone face some of those same risks," he said this morning. "It's not completely unexpected, but it's a new piece of information on the way that eagles and humans interact."

Bald eagles are littering Seattle backyards with landfill trash - Well this is rich. An army of bald eagles in Seattle, exasperated with humankind's reckless culture of waste and disposability, have decided to fight back. The team of 200 birds have taken to repatriating landfill trash by stealing it from the dump and returning it to the backyards of suburban residences. Given that the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill, located near Renton, receives 2,500 tons of trash a day, the avian vigilantes have plenty of pickings to choose from. One cheeky bird went so far as to select a biohazard bag containing human blood for delivery to the yard of David Vogel, a man who lives near the dump.  “Anybody that lives within close flying distance of the landfill knows that the eagles deposit this stuff everywhere,” Vogel said. “The eagle population has exploded in the last five years, and why? Because they have a free lunch at the dump.” The Seattle Times reports:  "As the Metropolitan King County Council continues to mull how to best dispose of the 2,500 tons of trash deposited daily at the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill near Renton, one thing they’d like to see is a plan to better manage the hundreds of bald eagles that haunt the landfill, feasting on the refuse. About 200 bald eagles frequent the landfill, perching on trash and diving between bulldozers to pick out choice morsels. There are adult eagles, with their distinctive colors. And there are juveniles, their heads not yet white, with mottled brown and white feathers."  Part of the problem appears to be that there's just too much garbage; the landfill is nearing capacity, but the county’s new "Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan" would delay the closing date until 2040 by spending by expanding the site.

A Deadly Pig Disease Is Reshaping Global Soybean Markets - Forget Donald Trump’s trade war. It’s a deadly pig disease spreading through China that will really reshape the global soybean market for years to come. Getting rid of the disease and rebuilding the herd in a nation that consumes half the world’s pork will take three to five years, curbing demand for soybeans used in feed, according to analysts. Given China is the largest soybean importer and most of its shipments usually come from the U.S., the oilseed has been the poster-child for the tit-for-tat tariff spat. While trade tensions have prompted China’s feed makers to curb the oilseed’s usage, it’s the pig virus that will upend the market. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and INTL FCStone Inc. are already forecasting a decline or slower growth in Chinese soy imports for the next couple of years. “Today, African swine fever is the bigger story as it relates to demand,” said Corey Jorgenson, president of the grain unit of U.S. crop handler The Andersons Inc., which buys and sells corn, wheat and soybeans from American farmers. “It will impact us for a crop year or more. This is not a 2019 event.” African swine fever, first spotted in Africa in the 1900s, kills most infected pigs within 10 days, although it isn’t known to harm humans. China has already culled more than a million pigs after 122 outbreaks in 30 provinces. The disease shows no signs of abating. Pork production in China probably will decline about 30 percent this year, a drop roughly the size of Europe’s entire annual supply, according to Rabobank, a top lender to the agriculture industry. The number of breeding sows in China already slumped 21 percent in March from a year earlier, according to a report by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs published Friday. The bank says it will take at least three years to rebuild the herd.  FCStone expects at least five years. The structure of China’s pork industry makes it “nearly impossible” to stop the spread of African swine fever, said Arlan Suderman, chief commodities economist for FCStone. That’s because a large part of the production and slaughter is in small family-owned operations. Many farmers who had the disease and tried to repopulate their herds ended up getting it again, according to Informa.

Pig Shorts Get Slaughtered: Pork Prices Are Soaring Around The Globe --One month after we reported that US federal agents seized 1 million pounds, or 454 metric tons, of pork smuggled from China to the same port amid growing fears the meat could contain traces of the African swine fever virus that has ravaged the Asian country’s hog herd, and which has sent pork prices soaring, the pig panic has gone global and as Bloomberg writes, as a result of the crippling virus that has decimated China's hog industry, everything from barbecue to chorizo and German bratwurst will be sharply move expensive in the coming months.  With Chinese pigs getting slaughtering left and right to contain the Arrican swine fever, so are port shorts as meat processors around the world scramble to sell more pork to China to make up for sharp shortages of China's most popular protein. The consequence is tighter supplies in the U.S. and Europe, which is pushing up prices. And as the disease continues to spread throughout China - the world’s largest producer and consumer - the trend will only get worse.Case in point: US retail prices for boneless hams hit $4.31 per pound in March, the highest since 2015. In the European Union, wholesale pig prices have climbed 16% in two months, while lean hog futures traded on the CME are higher by 32% since the February lows.  But none of this compares to what is about to hit China, where consumers are bracing for a shock as pork prices may surge more than 70% in the second half of this year an agriculture ministry official said this week, as the country's pork output plunges as much as 30% this year, according to Rabobank, and could spike Chinese CPI in the coming months, sharply limiting the PBOC's efforts to stimulate and boost liquidity in the world's (credit-driven) growth dynamo and curbing China's latest attempt to reflate the world and boost global economic growth. “Some meat that used to go to the U.S. is now going to China because it pays more,” Far from limited to just pigs, the virus which has upended China’s meat industry, will have devastating - for meat lovers and pork shorts - and far-reaching effects, from pushing up food prices to increasing demand for other meats, like chicken and beef.

Most Trafficked Mammal at Risk of Extinction, Record Haul Shows - Singapore seized its biggest-ever haul of pangolin scales in a sign that the endangered animal is being hunted to the brink of extinction.About 26 tons of scales worth $77 million were seized, more than what is generally caught globally every year and the potential result of the killings of more than 40,000 of the endangered animals. Inspectors found a container carrying 12.9 tons of pangolin scales packed in 230 bags and marked ‘frozen beef’ on April 3, according to a jointstatement by the National Parks Board and Singapore Customs. Five days later, a shipment with 12.7 tons of scales was seized from a container supposed to be carrying cassia seeds. Before the recent seizures, Singapore had caught just a total of 440 kilograms of the mammal’s scales in 2015 and 2016.The massive haul, more than two-and-a-half years after 180 countries signed a treaty to end all legal trade of pangolins to protect the species from extinction, indicates growing risks for the shy, nocturnal animal found across Asia and Africa. The world’s most trafficked mammal is killed for its meat, which is considered a delicacy in countries like China and Vietnam. The animal’s body parts are used in traditional medicines and folk remedies, according to the Washington D.C.-based World Wildlife Fund. ”It was estimated that on average 20 tons of scales were being smuggled each year,” Crawford Allan, senior director at TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network jointly set up by WWF and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, said in an email. “Already, in 2019 we have seen nearly twice that being detected and seized. And those are just the shipments that get detected."  In Asia, poaching has decimated the numbers of pangolins, the only mammals wholly covered in scales. Both the shipments caught in Singapore were headed for Vietnam from Nigeria. China, followed by Vietnam, is the biggest consumer of pangolins and their parts, according to Allan.

Last Known Female of Endangered Turtle Species Dies - The last known female Yangtze giant softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) has died, putting the critically endangered species at risk for extinction. There are now only three left in the world.  The turtle lived at Suzhou Zoo in China, where researchers attempted to artificially inseminate her Friday, according to the Suzhou Daily, as CNN reported."Sadly the female Rafetus did not wake up and after 24 hours died," conservation group the Asian Turtle Program (ATP) wrote in a Facebook Post. In an earlier post, before the death was confirmed, ATP lamented what it would mean."As she was the only captive female globally this would be a tragic loss for such a rare species," the group wrote.Researchers said that the turtle was in good health before the procedure, and that the procedure appeared to go smoothly, the Associated Press reported. They will conduct an autopsy to determine the cause of death.This was the fifth time that the more-than 90 year old turtle had been artificially inseminated. Researchers said they would store ovarian tissue samples "for future use," according to CNN. There are now three of the turtles remaining, one male at the same Suzhou Zoo and two in the wild in Vietnam. One lives in a lake called Dong Mo and is estimated to be around 40 or 50 years old. The other was just discovered last April in Xuan Khanh lake, offering a rare bit of hope for the species, The New Yorker reported in December of 2018.

Western industrial farming is eating our forests and accelerating climate change --  Humans are eating the world's forests. Not directly, of course—but a spate of new studies shows we might as well be.This is, of course, extremely bad news for the climate—which is bad news for all life on earth.Deforestation is the world's second largest source of human-induced carbon emissions, which are the main driver of climate change. Currently we are on course to breach the climate danger threshold within 12 years according to the UN.  But a new scientific study by a team of European scientists reveals that the biggest cause of deforestation is industrial farming—and the major culprits include some of the most well-known names in Western agribusiness, such as Cargill and Bunge. The study, published in the journal Global Environmental Change at the end of March, is the first of its kind to demonstrate the extent to which deforestation in the tropics is directly driven by industrial food production.Focusing on the period between 2010 and 2014, it shows that beef and oilseed products account for over half of emissions from tropical deforestation, with Europe and China among the major importers. And overall, global trade in such products accounts for up to 39 percent of emissions.The paper, whose lead authors are Florence Pendrill and Martin Persson at the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, demonstrates that deforestation is driven chiefly by land uses for crops, pastures, and forest plantations to produce specific commodities which are widely consumed around the world by industrial nations.Other researchers involved in the study are from the Stockholm Environment Institute in Sweden, Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre in Germany, and NTNU, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. The study finds that the average European citizen’s diet has a substantive carbon footprint, a sixth of which comes from deforestation emissions. For some countries (such as Malta, Japan, Luxemburg, and Belgium), carbon emissions due to imports of products linked to deforestation are actually higher than half of their own domestic national agricultural emissions.

Sikhs aim to plant million trees as 'gift to the planet' --Sikhs around the world are taking part in a scheme to plant a million new trees as a “gift to the entire planet”. The project aims to reverse environmental decline and help people reconnect with nature as part of celebrations marking 550 years since the birth of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak. Rajwant Singh, the president of the Washington DC-based environmental organisation EcoSikh, which is coordinating the Million Tree Project, said he wanted to mark the anniversary in a significant way. “Guru Nanak was a nature lover. [He] had talked about nature as a manifestation of God and many of his writings talk about how we need to learn lessons of life from nature.” One of Guru Nanak’s hymns, which many Sikhs recite as a daily prayer, includes the lyrical line: “Air is the teacher, water is the father, earth is the mother.” Singh said he hoped the project would motivate Sikhs – especially the young – to improve their relationship with nature and would be seen more broadly as “a gift to the entire planet”. 

Trump Signs Ambitious EMP Preparedness Executive Order -- After years of the government blowing off concerns about an electromagnetic pulse, President Trump has signed an executive order that will put EMP preparedness in the hands of the White House.  The Executive Order on Coordinating National Resilience to Electromagnetic Pulses is a first step toward learning more about how an EMP would affect us and how to protect critical infrastructure. The Order outlines the responsibilities of specific offices to help get the country ready for a threat to the grid and sets up a 4-year plan.It is the policy of the United States to prepare for the effects of EMPs through targeted approaches that coordinate whole-of-government activities and encourage private-sector engagement.  The Federal Government must provide warning of an impending EMP; protect against, respond to, and recover from the effects of an EMP through public and private engagement, planning, and investment; and prevent adversarial events through deterrence, defense, and nuclear nonproliferation efforts.  To achieve these goals, the Federal Government shall engage in risk-informed planning, prioritize research and development (R&D) to address the needs of critical infrastructure stakeholders, and, for adversarial threats, consult Intelligence Community assessments.(b)  To implement the actions directed in this order, the Federal Government shall promote collaboration and facilitate information sharing, including the sharing of threat and vulnerability assessments, among executive departments and agencies (agencies), the owners and operators of critical infrastructure, and other relevant stakeholders, as appropriate.  The Federal Government shall also provide incentives, as appropriate, to private-sector partners to encourage innovation that strengthens critical infrastructure against the effects of EMPs through the development and implementation of best practices, regulations, and appropriate guidance.Sec. 4.  Coordination.  (a)  The Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (APNSA), through National Security Council staff and in consultation with the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), shall coordinate the development and implementation of executive branch actions to assess, prioritize, and manage the risks of EMPs.  The APNSA shall, on an annual basis, submit a report to the President summarizing progress on the implementation of this order, identifying gaps in capability, and recommending how to address those gaps. (source)

Pepsi Plans to Project a Giant Ad in the Night Sky Using Cubesats - A Russian company called StartRocket says it’s going to launch a cluster of cubesats into space that will act as an “orbital billboard,” projecting enormous advertisements into the night sky like artificial constellations. And its first client, it says, will be PepsiCo — which will use the system to promote a “campaign against stereotypes and unjustified prejudices against gamers” on behalf of an energy drink called Adrenaline Rush.  Yeah, the project sounds like an elaborate prank. But Russian PepsiCo spokesperson Olga Mangova confirmed to Futurism that the collaboration is real. “We believe in StartRocket potential,” she wrote in an email. “Orbital billboards are the revolution on the market of communications. That’s why on behalf of Adrenaline Rush — PepsiCo Russia energy non-alcoholic drink, which is brand innovator, and supports everything new, and non-standard — we agreed on this partnership.”

Interior watchdog probes agency’s newly confirmed chief -- (AP) — The Interior Department’s internal investigators have begun probing allegations of conflicts of interest involving Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, they confirmed Monday, just four days after the Senate confirmed the former corporate lobbyist to lead the agency. Deputy Interior Inspector General Mary Kendall wrote Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon on Monday that her office had launched the probe to address seven separate ethics allegations leveled against Bernhardt, including one from Wyden. The allegations have centered on charges from Democratic senators, environmental groups and others that Bernhardt was violating ethics standards by involving himself in Interior Department deliberations with his former lobbying clients, including a politically influential California water agency. Interior spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort said in a statement that Bernhardt “is in complete compliance with his ethics agreement and all applicable laws, rules, and regulations.” Vander Voort said the allegations had come from “Democratic Members of Congress and DC political organizations” and that the agency’s ethics office already had looked into many of the allegations and absolved Bernhardt. Announcement of the probe came on Bernhardt’s second full day as interior secretary. He won Senate confirmation to the post Thursday over objections of several Democratic lawmakers, who had urged fellow senators to wait to vote on his appointment until Interior’s inspector general’s office had addressed the various ethics allegations.

Here Is A Major Soil Problem That Will Affect Health -  Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates wrote about something dirty in his March 26, 2019, edition of his Gates Notes. The dirt on soil is that it may be playing a major role in climate change, food security, and thus human health.  For years, Rattan Lal, PhD, Distinguished University Professor of Soil Science at the Ohio State University, has been trying to raise awareness on how soil management affects food and the environment. He has pioneered ways to better manage and conserve soil, literally "groundbreaking" work which just earned him the very prestigious 2019 Japan Prize, one of the top science and technology prizes in the world. If you think you have nothing to lose when you disrupt soil, you'd be wrong. What you'd lose would be a lot of carbon into the air. That's because soil has tons of carbon in it. Actually, more than tons. Gates mentions a fact that "there’s more carbon in soil than in the atmosphere and all plant life combined." More carbon in the air can then contribute to the Greenhouse Effect, where more heat is trapped around the Earth, warming the whole Earth like an Easy-Bake Oven. In turn, such global warming and climate change can have numerous negative health effects, which is why the World Health Organization (WHO) listed climate change as one of the top 10 global health threats in 2019. Lal cited the following statistic, "between 1750 and 2017, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere in carbon equivalents was 235 gigatons, plus or minus 95 gigatons. This is almost half the amount emitted by fossil fuel burning and cement production, which was 430 gigatons, plus or minus 20 gigatons."Poor soil management could also cost us the ability to produce enough food for the growing world population. As Michael Drake, MD, President of The Ohio State University, pointed out to emphasize the importance of Lal's work, "70% of the Earth is ocean. If you then remove the parts where you already can't grow crops such as mountains, desserts, and places that are built up, that doesn't leave much." He added that "food insecurity is a serious global problem. It is important to think about how the world will be sustained moving forward and be thoughtful of how use scarce resources." Lal emphasized that "soil erosion takes away the best part of the soil. It picks up the organic matter and then leaves stone and other materials that don't support crop growth." More people and less soil to grow on doesn't add up to a good situation.

Flash Floods Kill 235 People, Destroy 15000 Homes in Afghanistan - At least 235 people have died and more than 15,000 houses destroyed due to flash floods in Afghanistan, an official said on Wednesday. “235 people are dead, 38 people are missing, and 294 are injured. 15153 houses are totally damaged,” said Reshad Aziz, an official in Afghanistan’s National Disaster Management Authority (ANDMA). According to the official, nearly two thousand houses are partially damaged and more than ten thousand animals have been killed in the recent floods across the country. The government has aided more than 30,000 flood affected families, Aziz further said. However, the victims say they have not received any support from the government. “We don’t have a blanket to wear at night. We have escaped from our homes,” said Shams-ul Rahman, a resident of Parwan province. “We lost everything. How the government aids help us,” said Abdul Rahman, a resident of Sar-e Pol province. Annually, heavy rainfalls leading to flash floods affect thousands of people across the country.

Just a little warming brings record-breaking rain — study - Record-breaking rainfall and flooding may happen more frequently across the United States even if the Paris climate targets are met, new research suggests.  Extreme rainfall events that currently might have only a 1-in-500 chance of happening in any given year — dubbed "500-year" events — may be up to 50 percent more likely under 2 degrees Celsius of climate warming. And the risk of 1,000-year events may increase by twofold to fivefold. The study, published earlier this month in Geophysical Research Letters, found that the risks will likely increase the most on the East Coast, in the southern Great Plains and in the southern Rocky Mountains. The projections are more uncertain under higher levels of warming, but the study suggests risks are generally even greater as the climate warms beyond 2 C. Under 4 C of warming, for instance, the study found the risk of 1,000-year events could increase tenfold in some regions of the country. By definition, these events are rare to begin with. Even a doubling in the likelihood of a 1,000-year rainfall event gives it only a 1-in-500 chance of occurring in any given year. But these kinds of benchmarks are sometimes used by community planners when judging the level of resilience that should be expected in infrastructure, or the amount of damage that might be caused if such an event occurred. These kinds of predictions — particularly when it comes to extreme rainfall events that may cause damaging floods — are critical for decisionmaking about how to protect or update community infrastructure, from roads to bridges to buildings.It's an issue that's been at the forefront in the Eastern and Midwestern states in recent weeks. Last month, a bomb cyclone brought a deluge of both rain and snow to the Midwest, causing historic flooding in communities along the Missouri River, particularly in parts of Nebraska and Iowa.In the weeks since, parts of the Great Plains, Midwest and East Coast have been repeatedly battered with bouts of severe weather, including more rain and snow, tornadoes and additional flood warnings. NOAA's spring weather outlook last month warned that the majority of the Lower 48 states are expected to see above-average precipitation throughout the next few months. At least 25 states have the potential to experience major or moderate flooding through May.

Trump woos Republicans hit by 'bomb cyclone'— Air Force One should make a smooth landing in the Twin Cities today, where President Trump will arrive for a tax-focused business roundtable under clear skies and 50-degree temperatures.Had he come a few days prior, the president might have needed a snowplow to get to his final destination, as one of the largest and most powerful April snowstorms in recent memory tracked across the Great Plains and set a bull's-eye on Minnesota.Between Wednesday and Friday, the storm dumped nearly 2 feet of snow across southern and central Minnesota, while 50-mph winds downed trees and splintered utility poles across the state's southeast corner. Its 900-mile frontal boundary deposited airborne dust on Minnesota yards from Texas and New Mexico, giving the fresh snow a brownish tint.Climate scientists say the massive storm — considered a "bomb cyclone" by many meteorologists — was atypical for even the Midwest in spring, and its high moisture content and rapid intensification bore the signature of a warming climate (Climatewire, April 11).Yet for a climate skeptic president who routinely conflates "weather" with "climate," last week's Midwest blizzard passed without comment. It didn't even merit a tweet like the one Trump posted in January when Minnesota was in the grip of a bone-chilling polar vortex. "In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded," Trump wrote at the time. "In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can't last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming? Please come back fast, we need you!"

US disaster aid won't cover lost crops in Midwest floods, farmers out millions of dollars - Record flooding that has overwhelmed the midwestern United States this spring has taken a significant toll on farmers, and the U.S. disaster aid isn't covering crops lost by the floods.The federal policy states that the grain damaged from flooded river water has to be destroyed, and according to Reuters there’s nothing the U.S. government can do about the millions of damaged crops under current laws or disaster-aid programs.Reuters reports this is a problem the USDA has never seen on this scale before because U.S. farmers have never stored so much of their harvests. Midwestern farmers have been storing their corn and soybeans in unprecedented amounts due to the U.S. and China trade war, according to the BBC. Last year, the USDA made $12 billion in aid available to farmers who suffered trade-war losses, but there is no program to cover the catastrophic and largely uninsured stored-crop losses from the widespread flooding. Nebraska's Gov. Pete Ricketts has estimated the losses to the agricultural sector alone at $1 billion. However, the damage doesn't stop there. States such as Missouri, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Iowa were also greatly impacted. AccuWeather estimated the total damage and economic loss caused by record-breaking flooding in the midwestern U.S. this spring will total $12.5 billion, based on an analysis of damages already inflicted and those expected by additional flooding, as well as the lingering health effects resulting from flooding and the disease caused by standing water.

US Gulf Coast still devastated six months after Hurricane Michael - Six months after Hurricane Michael made landfall on the Gulf coast of Florida as a category four storm, the region is still in shambles and many of the remaining residents are homeless and desperate.Michael was the fourth strongest hurricane ever to impact the continental US. In terms of sustained wind speed, it was the most powerful to hit the US since Hurricane Andrew devastated south Florida in 1992.Fifty-seven US deaths have been attributed to the storm, with an additional 17 deaths in Central America. Overall, some $25.1 billion in damages were inflicted by the hurricane. Mexico City, Panama City and surrounding communities were destroyed, with some areas seeing all houses, businesses and other structures leveled by the storm’s winds.The impact was aggravated by its rapid intensification. First identified by meteorologists as a tropical depression on October 7, it grew into a major hurricane within two days, making landfall on October 10. The speed with which it developed made evacuation impossible for most residents, many of whom lacked the means to flee the storm in the first place. Congress has yet to pass a disaster relief funding bill to address the long-term impact of Hurricane Michael, so residents affected have had to rely upon the meager assistance provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), along with charitable donations, which have totaled approximately $35 million so far. This compares unfavorably to the $64.3 million donated in the wake of Hurricane Florence, which impacted the Carolinas a month earlier, and the $97 million donated after Hurricane Irma, which hit Florida a year earlier but did less overall damage.

After A $14 Billion Upgrade, New Orleans’ Levees Are Sinking - The $14 billion network of levees and floodwalls that was built to protect greater New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was a seemingly invincible bulwark against flooding. But now, 11 months after the Army Corps of Engineers completed one of the largest public works projects in world history, the agency says the system will stop providing adequate protection in as little as four years because of rising sea levels and shrinking levees. The growing vulnerability of the New Orleans area is forcing the Army Corps to begin assessing repair work, including raising hundreds of miles of levees and floodwalls that form a meandering earth and concrete fortress around the city and its adjacent suburbs. “These systems that maybe were protecting us before are no longer going to be able to protect us without adjustments,” said Emily Vuxton, policy director of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, an environmental group. She said repair costs could be “hundreds of millions” of dollars, with 75% paid by federal taxpayers.“I think this work is necessary. We have to protect the population of New Orleans,” Vuxton said.The protection system was built over a decade and finished last May when the Army Corps completed a final component that involves pumps. The agency’s projection that the system will “no longer provide [required] risk reduction as early as 2023” illustrates the rapidly changing conditions being experienced both globally as sea levels rise faster than expected and locally as erosion wipes out protective barrier islands and marshlands in southeastern Louisiana.Of primary concern are the earthen levees that form the backbone of the 350-mile maze of protection that includes concrete floodwalls, pump stations and gated structures, Army Corps spokesman Matthew Roe said. The levees are losing height as they start to settle—a natural phenomenon that is exacerbated by the soft soils in southern Louisiana. Some floodwalls are built into the levees.But “the global incidence of sea level rise” also is contributing to the inadequacy of the levees, the Army Corps said in the April 2 Federal Register notice announcing that it is studying system improvements. “It’s happening a little bit faster than our projections in 2007,” Roe said.

Oil and gas geologist: Suing energy industry won't help preserve New Orleans - Current sea level rise projections present substantial challenges, and the world is watching New Orleans. On March 29, the city took a step in the wrong direction by choosing litigation as the best path forward. Perched on one of the world’s great river deltas, New Orleans experiences natural rates of subsidence that are two to three times the rate of global sea level rise. This means that New Orleans will experience the relative impacts of sea level rise before almost anyone else does. New Orleans has the task of showing the way.For the last decade, New Orleans has performed admirably at this task. About $14 billion has been invested in flood protection, and the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan is incorporating an intelligent approach to managing water within that infrastructure. The biggest advances have been in the application of science to the challenges ahead. The Departments of Earth and Environmental Sciences at UNO and Tulane, along with the Coastal Research Laboratory at UNO and the ByWater Institute and its River and Coastal Center at Tulane, are world-class institutions leading the study of coastal processes — and how best to face the challenges of subsidence and rising sea level.  The lawsuit filed by the City of New Orleans against a group of oil and gas companies tears at the fabric of this cooperative relationship. It couldn’t have come at a worse time. The March 20 Board of Directors Meeting of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority featured a presentation by Krista Jankowski, a CPRA geologist and Tulane graduate. She gave an overview of the science and research that is going into the development of the 2023 Master Plan. It featured the research partnerships that CPRA has with Dr. Mark Kulp at UNO and Nancye Dawers at Tulane, and it showed the trace of the Ironton fault that is projected to cross near to the site of the proposed Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion. The research collaboration among CPRA, UNO and Tulane is based almost entirely on the use of oil and gas industry seismic data to study faulting and subsidence. The critical study of the Ironton fault and other faults across coastal Louisiana will require an expansion of that cooperative relationship.

Great Barrier Reef will die without climate action — report --Australia's iconic Great Barrier Reef will die unless radical climate action is taken, including phasing out coal-fueled power, The Sydney Morning Herald reported, citing a report by a government agency.The reef will collapse if the planet warms by another half a degree, according to a private report prepared by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority — the government's lead agency for managing the reef — and obtained under freedom of information laws, the paper said.Australia is blessed with natural wonders such as the Great Barrier Reef, but its economy remains reliant on mining and fossil fuels. Political inaction has made climate change a key election issue as Australians prepare to head to the polls on May 18. While neither the incumbent Liberal-National coalition nor main opposition Labor Party has committed to phasing out coal, Labor is targeting emissions cuts and a greater reliance on renewable energy.The agency's report says limiting the average global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius or below since industrial times began "is critical to maintain the ecological function of the Great Barrier Reef," according to The Sydney Morning Herald. The world has already warmed by 1 degree, the newspaper said.Scientists have said that coal must be phased out within three decades to avoid the 1.5-degree threshold, the newspaper reported. Climate change has already wrought devastating effects on the World Heritage-listed reef, the paper reported, including two consecutive years of mass coral bleaching in 2016 and 2017.

Pace of Bering Sea changes startles scientists - Winter storm surge flooding is the latest indication that something’s off-kilter around the Bering Strait, the gateway from the Pacific Ocean to the Arctic Ocean. Rapid, profound changes tied to high atmospheric temperatures, a direct result of climate change, may be reordering the region’s physical makeup. Ocean researchers are asking themselves if they’re witnessing the transformation of an ecosystem.The Bering Sea last winter saw record-low sea ice. Climate models predicted less ice, but not this soon, said Seth Danielson, a physical oceanographer at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.“The projections were saying we would’ve hit situations similar to what we saw last year, but not for another 40 or 50 years,” Danielson said.Walruses and seals use sea ice to rest and give birth. Villagers use sea ice to hunt them. Sea ice is the primary habitat of polar bears. Algae that clings to the bottom of sea ice blooms in spring, dies and sinks, sending an infusion of food to clams, snails and sea worms on the ocean floor — the prey of gray whales, walruses and bearded seals.Sea ice also affects commercially valuable fish. Sea ice historically has created a Bering Sea “cold pool,” an east-west barrier of extremely cold, salty water at the bottom of the wide, shallow continental shelf. The wall of cold water historically has concentrated Pacific cod and walleye pollock in the southeastern Bering Sea.  “It tends to extend from the Russian side to the northwest,” said Lyle Britt, a fisheries biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “It kind of comes down almost like a little hockey stick shape ... through the center of the southeast Bering Sea.” However, when Britt and other NOAA researchers last year conducted annual fish and ocean condition surveys, they got a big surprise: For the first time in 37 years, they found no cold pool. Researchers found high concentrations of Pacific cod and walleye pollock in the northern Bering Sea. But the species that was supposed to be there, Arctic cod, was hardly found. It’s too soon to conclude that atmosphere and ocean changes are due simply to climate change, said NOAA physical oceanographer Phyllis Stabeno, who has studied the Bering Sea for more than 30 years. The southern Bering Sea since 2000 has undergone multi-year stanzas of low and extensive ice, she said. “We’re in winter,” she said. “This is all supposed to be frozen.”

Climate change made the Arctic greener. Now parts of it are turning brown. - The Chugach people of southern Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula have picked berries for generations.   But in the summer of 2009, the bushes stayed brown and the berries never came.  For three more years, harvests failed. “It hit the communities very hard,”  The berry bushes had been ravaged by caterpillars of geometrid moths — the Bruce spanworm (Operophtera bruceata) and the autumnal moth (Epirrita autumnata). The insects had laid their eggs in the fall, and as soon as the leaf buds began growing in the spring, the eggs hatched and the inchworms nibbled the stalks bare.   At the peak of the multiyear outbreak, the caterpillars climbed from the berry bushes into trees. The pests munched through foliage from Port Graham, at the tip of the Kenai Peninsula, to Wasilla, north of Anchorage, about 300 kilometers away. In summer, thick brown-gray layers of denuded willows, alders and birches lined the mountainsides above stretches of Sitka spruce.   For more than 35 years, satellites circling the Arctic have detected a “greening” trend in Earth’s northernmost landscapes. Scientists have attributed this verdant flush to more vigorous plant growth and a longer growing season, propelled by higher temperatures that come with climate change. But recently, satellites have been picking up a decline in tundra greenness in some parts of the Arctic. Those areas appear to be “browning.”Like the salmonberry harvesters on the Kenai Peninsula, ecologists working on the ground have witnessed browning up close at field sites across the circumpolar Arctic, from Alaska to Greenland to northern Norway and Sweden. Yet the bushes bereft of berries and the tinder-dry heaths (low-growing shrubland) haven’t always been picked up by the satellites. The low-resolution sensors may have averaged out the mix of dead and living vegetation and failed to detect the browning. Scientists are left to wonder what is and isn’t being detected, and they’re concerned about the potential impact of not knowing the extent of the browning. If it becomes widespread, Arctic browning could have far-reaching consequences for people and wildlife, affecting habitat and atmospheric carbon uptake and boosting wildfire risk.

Thawing Permafrost Emitting Higher Levels of Potent Greenhouse Gas Than Previously Thought: Study - As the Arctic enters an "unprecedented" state of warming, a new study shows that emissions of a potent greenhouse gas from thawing permafrost in the planet's northernmost region may be 12 times higher than previously thought.  That's according to a study published this month in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. The paper's findings add even more weight to scientists' urgent warnings about the mounting threats of permafrost thaw.Permafrost is a frozen mix of soil, rocks, and sand that covers about a fourth of the Northern Hemisphere—and is primarily found in the uppermost areas, where temperatures are rising more rapidly than the rest of the world.When permafrost melts because of human-caused global warming, it pours greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) into the atmosphere, further heating the planet.Nitrous oxide (N2O), a greenhouse gas nearly 300 times more potent than CO2, stays in the atmosphere for an average of 114 years, per the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).N2O "has conventionally been assumed to have minimal emissions in permafrost regions," the report said, citing research published in the 1990s.But the new study's findings challenge that assumption.A team of researchers, led by Harvard University scientists, used a small plane to measure greenhouse gas levels over 120 square miles of thawing permafrost in the North Slope of Alaska. They found that in just one month of 2013, emissions of nitrous oxide in the region reached what was previously believed to be the yearly total. “This revelation could mean that the Arctic—and our global climate—are in more danger than we thought," explained a statement from Harvard. "This is widespread, pretty high emissions," lead author and Harvard graduate student Jordan Wilkerson said of his team's findings."We don't know how much more [N2O is] going to increase," he added, "and we didn't know it was significant at all until this study came out." What is clear, though, is that "much smaller increases in nitrous oxide would entail the same kind of climate change that a large plume of CO2 would cause," Wilkerson said.

Airpocalypse’ smog events in China linked to melting ice cap, research reveals - The fast-melting ice in the Arctic and an increase in snowfalls in Siberia, both the result of global warming, are changing winter weather patterns over east China, scientists found. Periods of stagnant air are becoming more common, trapping pollution and leading to the build up of extreme levels of toxic air. The work is the latest to show that changes in the rapidly warming Arctic are already leading to severe impacts for hundreds of millions of people across North America, Europe and Asia. The US has also seen a rise in episodes of stagnant air, which may be leading to higher air pollution there.  “The very rapid change in polar warming is really having a large impact on China,” said Prof Yuhang Wang, at Georgia Tech in the US, who led the new research. “Emissions in China have been decreasing over the last four years, but the severe winter haze is not getting better.”“Mostly that’s because of a very rapid change in the high polar regions where sea ice is decreasing and snowfall is increasing,” he said. “This perturbation keeps cold air from getting into the eastern parts of China, where it would flush out the air pollution.”  Air pollution causes 1.4 million early deaths every year in China and the “airpocalypse” in 2013, when levels soared to 10 times national limits, grabbed global attention. The US embassy had been tweeting data on the “crazy bad” air, which led the Chinese government to open up its reporting and then to crack down on pollution later in 2013.  However, despite cuts in emissions helping clear the air in summer, the winter haze remained a serious problem, leading Wang’s team to investigate. Their research, published in the journal Science Advances, found that periods of stagnant air over east China correlated closely with years of very low Arctic ice and high snowfall in Siberia.

The Kids Are Taking Charge of Climate Change - The Fridays for Future international school strike on March 15 was, by any measure, breathtaking. An estimated 1.6 million to 2 million people—mostly teenagers and preteens—gathered in thousands of cities and towns in more than 125 countries to demand their political leaders meet existing climate goals. As intended, they grabbed the world’s attention. Of course, the more important question is whether the protesters can achieve their goals. Critics argue the movement’s uncompromising demands—such as that Germany exit coal-fired power generation by 2030—are naive. Thus far, the activists admit they haven’t managed any concrete progress, whether in Germany, the United Nations, or anywhere else. But to apply that standard would be to misunderstand the grassroots activists’ methods. In just a few months’ time, the climate strikes have already reframed the political debate in several countries. The leading figures, including Germany’s Luisa Neubauer and Sweden’s Greta Thunberg, have thrived on prime-time talk shows, and their words and photos are splashed across the dailies and blogosphere. The most recent rallies on Friday, April 5, happened in 54 towns across Germany, as well as weekly strikes in nearly 450 other locations in 68 countries, according to Fridays for Future. Far from a fad, the protests promise to have a lasting political impact. Europe’s political class has already been at pains to show it is moved by the unprecedented outpouring. German Chancellor Angela Merkel twice paid the young people praise in recent weeks, calling for a “radical shift” to electro mobility and hydrogen propulsion to decarbonize the country’s notoriously emissions-heavy transportation sector. The movement’s leaders have met with German cabinet ministers, the French president, EU commissioners, the highest-ranking U.N. officials, and even Barack Obama. In civil society, there has been plentiful solidarity, including the formation of Parents for Future, Entrepreneurs for Future, and Teachers for Future groups. In German-speaking countries, 26,000 natural scientists have rallied around the campaign as Scientists for Future and are helping the young activists with the technical sides of their policy agenda. “The kids are saying what we’ve been saying for 20 or 30 years. But they’re getting a hearing right now that we never got,” said Volker Quaschning, a professor of renewable energy systems at the University of Applied Sciences in Berlin and co-founder of Scientists for Future. “We’ve been telling the politicians exactly this for years, and they brushed us off. But the young people, they’re honest, innocent in a way, and speak straight to the problems, which they didn’t create but will have to pay for.”

Parents around the world mobilise behind youth climate strikes - Parents and grandparents around the world are mobilising in support of the youth strikes for climate movement that has swept the globe. Under the banner Parents for the Future, 34 groups from 16 countries on four continents have issued an open letter. It demands urgent action to fight climate change and prevent temperatures rising by more than 1.5C, beyond w hich scientists say droughts, floods and heatwaves will get significantly worse.“What our kids are telling us is what science has been telling us for many years – there is no time left,” the letter says. “We now owe it to them to act.”“Parents – we are everywhere in society: in classrooms as teachers, in fields as farmers, in factories as workers, in hospitals as healers, in boardrooms as CEOs, in legislatures as policymakers,” it says. “We have the power to build this safe, just and clean future for our kids.” “On 15 March 2019, 1.6 million students from 125 countries and more than 2,000 cities marched to demand urgent and decisive actions against the climate crisis.What our kids are telling us is what science has been telling us for many years. There is no time left. Climate change is not a looming threat anymore. It is an existential crisis whose impact we are already feeling from deadly wildfires in California and bleaching corals in Australia, to historic heatwaves in Japan and drought in South Africa.We, parents, grandparents, carers and all those who care about the next generation stand with and for our kids. We stand with the scientific community. We stand for urgent and far more ambitious actions, policies and measures in line with a future below 1.5C of warming.

Extinction Rebellion Kicks Off Week of Civil Disobedience to Demand Climate Action -- The Extinction Rebellion movement kicked off a week of marches, demonstrations and peaceful civil disobedience across the U.S. and around the world on Monday to demand "systemic changes to stop global warming while there's still time left." In Scotland, climate campaigners plan to shut down Edinburgh's North Bridge to get their government's attention. Similar disruptions are planned in dozens of cities across the U.S. and the United Kingdom. According to Extinction Rebellion — which several climate activists in the U.K. launched last year — tens of thousands are expected to take to the streets in nearly 40 countries across six continents. As the Guardian reported Sunday, American activists "hope the arrival of Extinction Rebellion will be a watershed moment for the U.S. environmental movement, shifting it from what they see as a tepid response to the cavalcade of disasters threatening the livability of the planet." View a map of Extinction Rebellion regional groups to find an event near you."Governments have failed us," Bea Ruiz, national coordinator for Extinction Rebellion U.S., said in astatement. "Those who are most vulnerable and least responsible for this crisis are the ones who are suffering the most. People are dying. Species are disappearing. Everything is at stake." "It's time to do what's never been done before in the fight against climate change—a collective and coordinated international rebellion that will continue to escalate until our demands are met," Ruiz added.

Only Rebellion Will Prevent an Ecological Apocalypse - Monbiot -- Had we put as much effort into preventing environmental catastrophe as we’ve spent on making excuses for inaction, we would have solved it by now. Everywhere I look, I see people engaged in furious attempts to fend off the moral challenge it presents.  The commonest current excuse is this: “I bet those protesters have phones/go on holiday/wear leather shoes.” In other words, we won’t listen to anyone who is not living naked in a barrel, subsisting only on murky water. Of course, if you are living naked in a barrel we will dismiss you too, because you’re a hippie weirdo. Every messenger, and every message they bear, is disqualified on the grounds of either impurity or purity. As the environmental crisis accelerates, and as protest movements like YouthStrike4Climate and Extinction Rebellion make it harder not to see what we face, people discover more inventive means of shutting their eyes and shedding responsibility. Underlying these excuses is a deep-rooted belief that if we really are in trouble, someone somewhere will come to our rescue: “they” won’t let it happen. But there is no they, just us.  Even when broadcasters cover these issues, they carefully avoid any mention of power, talking about environmental collapse as if it is driven by mysterious, passive forces, and proposing microscopic fixes for vast structural problems.  The political class, as anyone who has followed its progress over the past three years can surely now see, is chaotic, unwilling and, in isolation, strategically incapable of addressing even short-term crises, let alone a vast existential predicament. Yet a widespread and wilful naivety prevails: the belief that voting is the only political action required to change a system. Unless it is accompanied by the concentrated power of protest – articulating precise demands and creating space in which new political factions can grow – voting, while essential, remains a blunt and feeble instrument. Those who govern the nation and shape public discourse cannot be trusted with the preservation of life on Earth. There is no benign authority preserving us from harm. No one is coming to save us. None of us can justifiably avoid the call to come together to save ourselves.

Thousands of activists block London roads to demand action on climate change  - Thousands of environmental activists paralysed parts of central London on Monday by blocking Marble Arch, Oxford Circus and Waterloo Bridge in a bid to force the government to do more to tackle climate change.Under sunny skies, activists sang songs or held signs that read “There is no Planet B” and “Extinction is forever” at some of the capital’s most iconic locations.Roadblocks will continue night and day at each site and the demonstrators say the protests could last at least a week.The protests are being led by the British climate group Extinction Rebellion and will involve demonstrations in 33 countries around the world over the coming days.“I realised that signing petitions and writing letters was not going to be enough. Real action is needed,” said Diana McCann, 66, a retired wine trader from south London, holding a banner in the middle of a traffic-free road. “It’s like a world war. We have to go on to a war footing.”Extinction Rebellion, which generated headlines with a semi-nude protest in the House of Commons earlier this month, has warned its members that some of them could be arrested for taking part in non-violent civil disobedience.The group is demanding the government declare a climate and ecological emergency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025 and create a citizen’s assembly of members of the public to lead on decisions to address climate change.  Extinction Rebellion wrote to Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday outlining their demands and asking for face-to-face talks, warning that they will escalate their disruptive actions over the coming weeks unless the government acts. “Make no mistake, people are already dying,” the letter states. “In the majority world, indigenous communities are now on the brink of extinction. This crisis is only going to get worse Prime minister, you cannot ignore this crisis any longer. We must act now.”

100+ Arrested in London Extinction Rebellion Protests - More than 100 people were arrested during ongoing climate change protests in London that brought parts of the British capital to a standstill, police said Tuesday. Demonstrators had started by blocking off a bridge and major central road junctions on Monday at the start of a civil disobedience campaign that also saw action in other parts of Europe. The protests were organized by the campaign group Extinction Rebellion, which was established last year in Britain by academics and has become one of the world's fastest-growing environmental movements. Metropolitan Police in London said that by early Tuesday 113 adults had been arrested.  That number includes three men and two women who were arrested at the UK offices of energy company Royal Dutch Shell on suspicion of criminal damage. Campaigners daubed graffiti and smashed a window at the Shell Centre building.  The majority of people arrested were held for breaching public order laws and blocking a highway. The protest saw more than a thousand people block off central London's Waterloo Bridge and lay trees in pots along its length. Later, people set up camps in Hyde Park in preparation for further demonstrations throughout the week.  Police have ordered protesters to confine themselves to a zone within Marble Arch, a space at the junction of Hyde Park, the Oxford Street main shopping thoroughfare and the Park Lane street of plush hotels.

'The Time for Excuses Is Over': Extinction Rebellion Protests Shut Down European Cities --Activists across Europe blocked off major streets and public areas Monday as they called for immediate action from world leaders to deal with the climate crisis.  The movement, Extinction Rebellion (XR), is holding protests across the world from April 15 to 22 for an "International Rebellion" against a climate crisis that is escalating rapidly.  Importantly, XR stresses that it "doesn't rely on false positivity or hope." A London protester bemoaned the fact that she found it unlikely she'd have children due to the climate crisis.   "One day I want to have kids," said the woman protester. "But I don't think I can. I don't see a future that's livable at the moment." "XR communicates precisely about the climate emergency we face and then asks people to act accordingly," said the group in a statement announcing the week's action. "It's working." The protest movement was endorsed by writer and activist George Monbiot in a Guardian column Monday.  "The time for excuses is over," wrote Monbiot. "The struggle to overthrow our life-denying system has begun." “No one is coming to save us. Mass civil disobedience is essential to force a political response.”  That militant posture is leading to real actions with real consequences. In London, protesters shut down the Waterloo Bridge and Oxford Circus with marchers and floats.  #ExtinctionRebellion have just blocked Waterloo Bridge to traffic. Still open to pedestrians and cyclists [ro]   Swedish protesters held a die-in to occupy the country's Parliament.  Swedish Parliament right now #InternationalRebellion   The Oberbaum Bridge in Berlin was shut down by protesters as well.  The Oberbaum Bridge, an important connection across the Spree river in central Berlin, is completely blocked by about 200 activists of #ExtinctionRebellion

Decrying ‘Toxic Alliance’ of Macron and Polluters, Climate Campaigners Stage One of France’s Largest Ever Acts of Civil Disobedience - Parts of a major business district just outside of Paris city limits were "paralyzed" Friday when more than 2,000 climate campaigners staged what organizers described as one of France's largest ever acts of civil disobedience. Peaceful demonstrators descended on La Défense to protest government complicity and companies fueling the global climate crisis.Carrying signs that condemned Emmanuel Macron as "president of polluters," the protesters blocked access to the buildings of three major businesses and the Ministry for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition.The direct action was organized by Action Non-Violente (ANV) COP21 and the French chapters of Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, but members of at least 14 climate groups reportedly joined the mass mobilization."Through this action of extraordinary civil disobedience, the French climate movement denounces the toxic alliance that Emmanuel Macron and his government maintain with the large companies whose activity accelerates climate change, while radical and immediate action is needed to limit global warming to +1.5°C by the end of the century," organizers said in a statement in French, referencing a key target of the Paris climate accord. The demonstration in France came as the climate activism group Extinction Rebellion is spearheading an International Rebellion Week featuring similar civil disobedience in London. The group's French arm supported the action Friday:

Spare us from the deluded arrogance of the middle-class climate warriors -- Commuters in our nation’s capital have found the journey harder than usual this week, thanks to the efforts of an organisation called Extinction Rebellion. Frustrated with other people’s refusal to take the threat of climate change as seriously as they would like, these activists are deliberately causing traffic jams by blocking roads in central London this week. In this way, they hope that carbon emissions will drop. Or something. And many are getting annoyed at this inconvenience. Parents have been delayed in dropping off and picking up their kids at day-care (an already fraught exercise, let me tell you), while office workers are clocking in late and people on zero-hours contracts are losing money waiting for non-existent buses.   This is no one-off rebellion - it’s the new democracy. Nearly a decade ago, after the coalition government inherited the responsibility to sort out the deficit, activists from UK Uncut started targeting High Street shops in order to get some media attention for their campaign against spending restrictions. Their modus operandi was to wait until the busiest time just before Christmas, then invade a branch of TopShop and prevent anyone from doing their seasonal shopping. One of the protesters tweeted at the time that the shop workers probably enjoyed the distraction from their dull jobs. I suppose that’s what happens when privileged middle class students learned everything they know about the working classes by reading Nineteen Eighty-Four. Their mindset, then and now, seems to be “Our cause is more important than your silly little priorities.” Therefore they have the moral right – nay, a duty – to disrupt everyone’s lives as much as they like, provided they get the attention they crave.

Sadiq Khan accused by rank and file police of ‘aggravating’ Extinction Rebellion protests -- The Mayor of London has been accused by rank and file police officers of “aggravating” climate protests as demonstrators brought havoc to the capital.Sadiq Khan was criticised by  policing and business leaders after activists from Extinction Rebellion were able to disrupt major transport routes for a third day.Hundreds of arrested protesters even cited the Mayor’s support for their cause to police in a bid to escape criminal charges, The Telegraph has learned. It came after another chaotic day in which three protesters glued themselves to a train, while Oxford Circus, Waterloo Bridge and Parliament Square were brought to a standstill. Around half a million people are thought to have been affected by the protests.

Activists glue themselves to London train on third day of climate protests - Climate change activists have demonstrated in London for the third straight day, as two protesters glued themselves to the roof of a train, others shut down major traffic routes and police confirmed they have made more than 300 arrests since Monday. The Extinction Rebellion (XR) group organized the protests, seeking to highlight "disastrous inaction" on climate change. Demonstrators have blocked some of central London's main traffic arteries since Monday -- including at Marble Arch, Parliament Square, Oxford Circus and Waterloo Bridge -- and on Wednesday began a day of "light" disruption of the city's overground train network. A pair of demonstrators at Canary Wharf station, in the heart of one of London's financial districts, glued themselves to the roof of a train and also unfurled a banner reading "Climate Emergency." Police officers then climbed up onto the train to unstick the protesters, who were put into harnesses and gently lowered by the police to the station floor. A third protester, who had glued his hand on the side of a train, was removed after a short-lived, yet polite, protest.

Extinction Rebellion spreads to North America - (pictures) But London is the epicenter, and the city has never seen anything like it. There is such a cognitive dissonance in this world between those who are fighting to stop climate change with the Extinction Rebellion, and those who are actively encouraging it, like the Alberta politicians who were elected yesterday, ready to battle for pipelines and against carbon taxes. They should be looking instead at what is happening in London and even New York City, as people rise up to deliver the message that something must be done. In London, the police are moving in to clear out protesters from Parliament square. There seem to be thousands of them, and so far it all seems peaceful; they are not dressed in riot gear and they appear to be gently picking people up and carrying them away. But things can change.Participants are evidently prepared to be evicted.Protests in Boston are not nearly so dramatic.. Freiburg, Germany, sure has a lot of bikes.And Edinburgh sure has a lot of police.  In New York City, the roads around City Hall are blocked. How will the Mayor get from his gym in Brooklyn? I sit here and wonder how people in North America can elect carbon arsonists who just want to flare more gas and burn more oil and not worry about what is happening when, as Greta says, our house is on fire and we have to do something now.

'Shut the country down': British climate group Extinction Rebellion heads to US  -  Bea Ruiz, a veteran progressive coordinator, has been telling scores of first-time climate change protesters they face being harassed and beaten by police next week. Most seem happy with the deal. “I told a 72-year-old volunteer that he will probably be targeted by police,” said Ruiz, who is based in Eureka, California and is helping organize the first US rollout of Extinction Rebellion, a group founded in the UK that has grabbed attention through disruptive protests leading to mass arrests. “He paused and then said: ‘OK, yes.’” Following a foray into New York in January, several thousand protestors will aim to cause similar mischief in dozens of US cities next week. “This is a coordinated rebellion that targets industry and government indefinitely, to shut the country down,” Ruiz said. “In my 30 years plus of activism I’ve never seen so many everyday people worried in such a visceral way, for themselves, their children, their grandchildren. It’s unprecedented.” Some activists hope the arrival of Extinction Rebellion will be a watershed moment for the US environmental movement, shifting it from what they see as a tepid response to the cavalcade of disasters threatening the livability of the planet. Extinction Rebellion is aimed at spurring a muscular, punkish outpouring of civil disobedience, snarling cities and frogmarching politicians towards meaningful action. In the UK, Extinction Rebellion members have caused uproar by halting traffic on bridges in central London, stripping naked in parliament and blockading the BBC. Last week, protestors glued themselves to the entrance of a fracking conference. “Troublemakers change the world,” said Roger Hallam, one the group’s founders. 

Over 60 climate change activists arrested in NYC 'die-in' - Over 60 protesters were arrested at a climate change demonstration near City Hall this morning. Organized by Extinction Rebellion, an international protest movement demanding dramatic action on climate change, today’s action kicked off a planned “Week of Rebellion” in New York City. The group, which started in England in late 2018, has been using roadblocks and glue to disrupt parts of central London for three days. The New York City chapter began today's demonstration with a rally including chants, signs, chalk writing on the sidewalk, and a band. Approximately 60 protesters, including a six-month pregnant woman, joined in a symbolic die-in on Centre Street. Two men also climbed light poles to tie a large sheet reading “Declare Climate Emergency” with the Extinction Rebellion logo on the bottom. In January, Extinction Rebellion protesters held a smaller demonstration at the rink at Rockefeller Center, resulting in nine arrests.Activists at today’s protest called upon the City of New York to formally “declare a climate emergency with an aggressive target for reaching zero greenhouse gas emissions and drawdown,” along with an “immediate emergency mobilization” to ensure a safe climate. Globally, the Extinction Rebellion has four main demands, including reducing greenhouse gases to net zero by 2025, making a citizen’s assembly to instigate the changes put forth to prevent climate change, and establishing climate justice. “Obviously the government has not done enough within the amount of time they’ve had to do something," Christina See, the press liaison for Extinction Rebellion NYC, told Gothamist. "We’ve known about this for years, scientists have known about this for years, and yet nothing has happened."    Nydia Leaf, a member of the Granny Peace Brigade, said, “I am a grandmother and I feel a responsibility that my generation has not done what it could to wake up the world.”  An NYPD spokesperson told Gothamist 62 people were arrested at the die-in, which blocked motor vehicle traffic on Centre Street. The demonstration wrapped up around 11 a.m., as the arrested protestors lined up for the NYPD bus. 60 protesters were charged with disorderly conduct and two were charged with reckless endangerment, the spokesperson said.

INTERIOR: Bernhardt: Don't ask me to fight climate change - Newly minted Interior Secretary David Bernhardt doesn't consider it his job to combat climate change.Bernhardt says he accepts that humans contribute to warming — but says future climate projections are uncertain, and his job is to maximize energy development, not regulate carbon emissions."The Department of the Interior's role is to follow the law in carrying out our responsibilities using the best science. Congress has not directed us to regulate carbon emissions," he wrote to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which had been considering his nomination, in late March. Bernhardt was confirmed this month."The laws governing Interior — such as the Federal Land Policy and Management Act — require us to manage our onshore federal resources on the basis of multiple use and sustained yield, which includes energy development," Bernhardt continued.He gave versions of that answer to multiple questions, writing elsewhere that Interior is obliged to get "maximum sustained yield" from energy development.  Climate does shape some department actions, Bernhardt acknowledged. "The Department's role is to follow the law in carrying out our responsibilities using the best science," he wrote. "We do evaluate the climate impacts of proposed actions. The [U.S. Geological Survey] scientists have told me there is no 'best' climate model, that each has its strengths and weaknesses." Bernhardt sidestepped questions probing how much he accepts climate science, including from Sen. Maria Cantwell.He also wrote that his personal beliefs played no role in the order he signed erasing the departmental handbook's chapter on climate change. That was just fulfilling an executive order signed by President Trump, Bernhardt said.

White House eyes nuclear weapons expert to lead challenge to climate science - A controversial plan by the White House to review the connections between climate change and national security might be led by a former official with the Department of Energy (DOE) who oversaw talks about nuclear weapons tests with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Former Ambassador C. Paul Robinson, who served as chief negotiator for the Geneva nuclear testing talks from 1988 to 1990, is favored to lead the review panel, according to two sources involved in the talks. Robinson also directed DOE's Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, from 1995 to 2005 and was head of the nuclear weapons and national security programs at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Robinson has been quietly recruiting researchers outside the government to participate in the review panel, the sources said. He has been working with Steven Koonin, a New York University professor and former undersecretary for science at DOE during the Obama administration, to find participants. They have focused their recruitment efforts on a small number of climate skeptics with academic credentials, including Judith Curry, a former professor at Georgia Tech's School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences in Atlanta; Richard Lindzen, a retired Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who has called those worried about global warming a "cult"; and John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, and a newly installed member of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Science Advisory Board. Robinson's involvement is notable because he doesn't have a history of speaking about climate change, unlike other potential members of the panel. He earned a Ph.D. in physics from Florida State University and has spent much of his career specializing in nuclear weapons and national security. Robinson was among dozens of signatories on a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump in September 2017 encouraging him to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal signed by President Barack Obama. The letter compared the benefits of exiting the Iran deal, which Trump ultimately decided to do, to the president's withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.  "The sky did not fall when you withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Accord."

Should a Green New Deal include nuclear power? - It’s a perennial question. The issue here, in this month’s “This is Not Cool” video feature, is of course the potential that “clean” nuclear energy can help combat global warming by reducing future reliance on still more combustion of fossil fuels, in particular coal. Many fear that the projected threats posed by a rapidly warming climate are so serious that “even” nuclear power may shine by comparison, reducing need for more combustion of coal and other fossil fuels, including natural gas. This theory holds that renewable and other “clean energy” sources can’t do enough, soon enough. So, are what independent videographer Peter Sinclair refers to as “green new nukes” the way to go? Or at least one of the ways to go? Maybe yes, but maybe no, two university energy experts say. They point not only to high construction costs but also to long lead times before on-the-drawing-board “new nukes” could really go commercial. They point to the pros and cons of keeping aging nuclear power plants on the job: “If we shut them down and replace them with natural gas,” says climate change expert (and Yale Climate Connections contributor) Zeke Hausfather, “that’s a disaster from a climate perspective.”A nuclear power representative at one point in the video recalls often being asked by eager would-be customers, “Can we have it ready in six months?” Her reply: Think a decade or more, more like at least 15 years. Given that a new nuclear power plant getting underway today is unlikely to come online, on average, until around 2033, those seeing nukes as a silver bullet are engaging in “a complete boondoggle and a waste of money,” Stanford’s Mark Jacobson says..In the real world, concludes Hausfather of Berkeley, “new nuclear power is pretty much off the table” at least in the U.S. and in Western Europe, and “no new large build-out” is foreseeable. Like it or not, find it promising or find it inadequate, Hausfather says, renewables appear to present the most promising prospect, “sort of ideal” compared with other foreseeable and practical options.

Climate change targets are slipping out of reach: Kemp - (Reuters) - For all the commentary around a transition to a clean energy system, the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is continuing to rise rapidly and shows no sign of slowing down. Climate change targets are slipping out of reach as the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere continues to march higher, leaving policymakers confronting uncomfortable choices ( ). If the concentration continues to rise, policymakers will have to plan for a world with significantly higher temperatures or rely on untested strategies to remove CO2 from the air later in the century.   Under the UNFCCC Paris Agreement, concluded in 2015, signatories are committed to holding the global average temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Science advisers on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have estimated the limits imply an atmospheric CO2 concentration of no more than 450 parts per million (for 2 degrees) or 430 ppm (for 1.5 degrees). On current trends, these limits will be reached sometime between the late 2020s and the late 2030s, which leaves less than 10 or 20 years to make profound changes to the energy system and the global economy. But energy systems are notorious for changing slowly, because they are embodied in long-lived capital investments such as domestic appliances, industrial machinery, power plants, pipelines and transmission systems. Given the projected life of current equipment and the slow pace of replacement, it is becoming increasingly hard to envisage a scenario in which atmospheric CO2 can be held below 430-450 ppm in the next two decades.Measurements at Mauna Loa on Hawaii show atmospheric CO2 concentrations have already risen to around 410 ppm in early 2019, up from 387 ppm a decade earlier and 314 ppm in 1958 when the observations began.Separate sea-level measurements from a network of observatories around the world show atmospheric CO2 concentrations averaged 407 ppm in 2018, up from 385 ppm a decade earlier and 339 ppm in 1980.Global average CO2 concentrations have risen at an annual average rate of more than 2 ppm, or almost 0.6 percent per year, in the last ten years, according to the U.S. government's Earth System Research Laboratory.  Crucially, the observations show no sign the rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration is decelerating as a prelude to levelling off. Given the trajectory, CO2 concentrations are almost certain to overshoot the Paris targets set by policymakers - implying average global temperatures will also overshoot both objectives.

Geoengineering Is Inevitable in the Face of Climate Change. But at What Cost? - The world is losing its battle against climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions rose to record levels last year, as countries lagged in meeting their already inadequate pledges under the Paris Agreement. Based on the current trajectory, the warming Earth will blow well past the 2-degrees Celsius ceiling widely agreed to be the maximum acceptable increase in average global temperatures before catastrophic impacts set in. In the face of this looming threat, climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts are necessary but insufficient. Humanity must also consider a third option it has long resisted: geoengineering, or the deliberate, large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment. Geoengineering takes various forms, but most fall into one of two categories: carbon-dioxide removal and solar radiation modification. The first one, also known as negative emissions, entails the permanent removal of CO2 from the atmosphere and its subsequent storage, either in plants, underground or beneath the ocean floor. Solar radiation modification denotes the deployment of technologies to alter the amount of radiation entering or leaving Earth’s atmosphere. Unlike carbon removal, solar radiation modification does not remove greenhouse gases. Rather, it reduces the heat that they trap.

In 2018, the United States consumed more energy than ever before - Primary energy consumption in the United States reached a record high of 101.3 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) in 2018, up 4% from 2017 and 0.3% above the previous record set in 2007. The increase in 2018 was the largest increase in energy consumption, in both absolute and percentage terms, since 2010. Consumption of fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and coal—grew by 4% in 2018 and accounted for 80% of U.S. total energy consumption. Natural gas consumption reached a record high, rising by 10% from 2017. This increase in natural gas, along with relatively smaller increases in the consumption of petroleum fuels, renewable energy, and nuclear electric power, more than offset a 4% decline in coal consumption.

  • Petroleum consumption in the United States increased to 20.5 million barrels per day (b/d), or 37 quadrillion Btu in 2018, up nearly 500,000 b/d from 2017 and the highest level since 2007. Growth was driven primarily by increased use in the industrial sector, which grew by about 200,000 b/d in 2018. The transportation sector grew by about 140,000 b/d in 2018 as a result of increased demand for fuels such as petroleum diesel and jet fuel.
  • Natural gas consumption in the United States reached a record high 83.1 billion cubic feet/day (Bcf/d), the equivalent of 31 quadrillion Btu, in 2018. Natural gas use rose across all sectors in 2018, primarily driven by weather-related factors that increased demand for space heating during the winter and for air conditioning during the summer. As more natural gas-fired power plants came online and existing natural gas-fired power plants were used more often, natural gas consumption in the electric power sector increased 15% from 2017 levels to 29.1 Bcf/d. Natural gas consumption also grew in the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors in 2018, increasing 13%, 10%, and 4% compared with 2017 levels, respectively.
  • Coal consumption in the United States fell to 688 million short tons (13 quadrillion Btu) in 2018, the fifth consecutive year of decline. Almost all of the reduction came from the electric power sector, which fell 4% from 2017 levels. Coal-fired power plants continued to be displaced by newer, more efficient natural gas and renewable power generation sources. In 2018, 12.9 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired capacity were retired, while 14.6 GW of net natural gas-fired capacity were added.

 America’s record high energy consumption, explained in 3 charts - The US Energy Information Administration dropped some troubling new data this week: US energy consumption hit a record high in 2018 in large part due to the growing use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels provided 80 percent of total energy used in 2018. Consumption of natural gas and petroleum grew by 4 percent, while coal consumption declined by 4 percent compared to the year before. Renewable energy production also reached a record high last year, climbing 3 percent relative to 2017. The growth in energy use is largely a function of the growing US economy. More goods, more travel, more services mean using more fuel and electricity. However, that also means we are moving further away from our already limited ambitions in fighting climate change.The EIA’s latest numbers starkly reveal where we are and just how far we have to go if we want to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels this century. And it follows a report from the Rhodium Group earlier this year that found that US greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.4 percent in 2018 compared to the year before, reversing a three-year decline in the production of heat-trapping gases that contribute to climate change.

The world could transition entirely to cheap, safe renewable energy before 2050: Finnish study -- A global transition to the exclusive use of renewable energy sources is not only possible but also cheaper and safer than reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear energy, according to a new study from the Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) and the Energy Watch Group (EWG) from Germany.The study claims that the rapid development of renewable energy sources and energy storage technology will likely make it possible for the entire planet to reduce its CO2 emissions to zero even earlier than the current 2050 deadline.The report is the first of its kind to suggest a cost-effective, all-inclusive, global roadmap to keep average global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius. It is also the first planet-wide climate change resistance plan that suggests not using carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) techniques to mechanically remove CO2 from the atmosphere.According to the model, in 2050 some 69 percent of the world’s energy would come from solar panels, 18 percent from wind power, 3 percent from hydropower systems and 6 percent from bioenergy.Fossil fuels and nuclear power would not be needed at all. Cars, planes and ships would run on carbon-neutral synthetic fuels produced from hydrogen and carbon dioxide.

 Report: Going 100% Renewable Power Means a Lot of Dirty Mining - For more than a decade, indigenous communities in Alaska have been fighting to prevent the mining of copper and gold at Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery and a crucial source of sustenance. The proposed mine, blocked under the Obama administration but inching forward under the Trump administration, has been billed by proponents as necessary to meet the growing demand for copper, which is used in wind turbines, batteries, and solar panels. Similar stories are playing out in Norway, where the Sámi community is fighting a copper mine, and in Papua New Guinea, where a company has been mining the seabed for gold and copper. Weighing those trade-offs — between supporting mining in environmentally sensitive areas and sourcing metals needed to power renewables — is likely to become more common if countries continue generating more renewable energy. That’s according to a report out Wednesday from researchers at the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia. The report, commissioned by the environmental organization Earthworks, finds that demand for metals such as copper, lithium and cobalt would skyrocket if countries around the world try to get their electric grids and transportation systems fully powered by renewable energy by 2050. Consequently, a rush to meet that demand could lead to more mining in countries with lax environmental and safety regulations and weak protections for workers. Take cobalt. Each electric vehicle needs between five to ten kilograms of the bluish-white metal for its lithium-ion batteries. The authors consider cobalt a “metal of most concern for supply risks,” because nearly 60 percent of its production takes place in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country with a dismal record of child labor and human rights abuses. Should the world’s transportation and electricity sectors ever switch to running entirely on renewables, demand for the metal would soar to more than four times the amount available in reserves, according to the researchers. The report’s authors modelled one scenario in which they assumed 100-percent renewable energy use for electricity production and transportation — a key goal in keeping temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels — and no recycling of metals. In this case, they projected that demand for lithium and nickel would increase 280 percent and 136 percent, respectively. In another scenario, the researchers assumed a high rate of recycling and more efficient renewable technologies that require less metal. Demand for the two metals still surpassed existing reserves by 86 percent and 43 percent.

California’s cap-and-trade program may vastly overestimate emissions cuts - Under a California program aimed at curbing climate pollution, landowners across the US have received hundreds of millions of dollars for promised carbon dioxide reductions that may not occur. The state has issued carbon offset credits to projects that may overstate their emissions reductions by 80 million tons of carbon dioxide, a third of the total cuts that the state’s cap-and-trade program was expected to achieve in the next decade, according to a policy brief that will be released in the next few days by the University of California, Berkeley.The findings raise troubling questions about the effectiveness of California’s cap-and-trade program, one of the world’s most high-profile tests of such a market-based mechanism for combating climate risks. Implemented in 2013, the system is a centerpiece of the state’s ambitious efforts to rollback greenhouse-gas emissions, expected to achieve nearly 40% of of California’s total cuts.“If [the] findings are correct, then it would appear that a substantial component of the cap-and-trade program is not producing real emission reductions,” said Danny Cullenward, a research associate at the Carnegie Institution and member of a California Environmental Protection Agency committee that analyzes the impacts of the cap-and-trade system, in an e-mail. California’s offsets program allows timber companies, Native American tribes, and other private landowners to sell credits to climate polluters in exchange for growing trees or taking other steps that reduce or absorb greenhouse-gas emissions. To date, such forestry projects have received more than 122 million credits, worth more than $1 billion. But more than 80% of the credits that California’s Air Resources Board (ARB) has issued to some three dozen analyzed forestry projects likely don’t represent “true emissions reductions,” according to the new analysis by Barbara Haya, a research fellow with the Center for Environmental Public Policy, who has been studying and raising concerns about the state’s offset system for years.

Missouri House backs landowners fighting wind energy line (AP) — The Missouri House passed legislation Thursday that could effectively block one of the nation’s largest wind energy projects by prohibiting its developers from using eminent domain to run a high-voltage power line across the Midwest. The House vote targets a $2.3 billion project that would carry electricity generated by Kansas windmills on a 780-mile (1,255-kilometer) path across rural Missouri and Illinois before hooking into a power grid in Indiana serving eastern states. The project’s private developers say it has the potential to bring affordable, renewable energy to millions of homes. But the long-delayed power line has faced opposition from some property owners in its path and trouble clearing some regulatory requirements. It appeared to overcome a major hurdle last month when Missouri utility regulators reversed previous denials and granted their approval — a step that could allow developers to pursue condemnation cases to acquire easements from unwilling sellers. But legislation intended to block that passed the House 115-35 and now heads to the Senate. On Thursday, Republican Gov. Mike Parson appeared to show support for the legislation. “I am a firm believer in protecting individual freedom and rights of private property owners, especially our farmers and ranchers,” Parson said in a written statement to The Associated Press

Federal court dismisses Trump administration's repeal of coal, oil valuation rule (Reuters) - A federal court has struck down the Trump administration’s repeal of an Obama-era policy aimed at boosting revenue for taxpayers by changing how energy companies value sales of coal, oil and gas extracted from federal and tribal land. The decision, which found the Interior Department’s repeal of the so-called valuation rule was “arbitrary and capricious”, was the latest blow to the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda in the courts, where environmental groups and some states have challenged dozens of de-regulatory actions. “Once again, the Trump Administration has been checked by the courts in its unlawful attempt to bend over backwards to please special interests at the expense of hardworking Americans,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement late on Friday. Becerra said the district court ruling would result in $71 million a year more in royalties for U.S. taxpayers from companies that mine or drill on federal lands. The Interior Department is currently reviewing the decision, agency spokeswoman Molly Block said on Monday. Interior and industry group interveners have 60 days to appeal the decision. The valuation rule was proposed by former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in 2016 to close a loophole that enabled companies to dodge royalty payments when mining on taxpayer-owned public land. It required energy companies to pay royalties on sales to the first unaffiliated customer, known as an arm’s-length sale, as the fuel moves to market. A Reuters investigation found in 2012 that coal companies were using affiliated brokers to settle royalty payments on exports to Asia at much lower domestic prices. 

Former EPA chief Scott Pruitt registers as lobbyist in Indiana - Scott Pruitt, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has registered as a lobbyist in Indiana. Pruitt listed himself as a self-employed consultant in his filing with the Indiana Lobby Registration Commission, the Indianapolis Star reported Thursday. Pruitt left the EPA and the Trump administration in July, ending a brief tenure that was marred by several controversies. The Star reports that Pruitt’s filings identified RailPoint Solutions LLC as his only client and his lobbying topics include "energy" and "natural resources." Pruitt previously served as Oklahoma's attorney general and in the state legislature. The Star noted it was unclear what Pruitt was working on in Indiana. The RailPoint Solutions lobbying registration reportedly lists Heather Tryon, the chief financial officer of Sunrise Coal, as a responsible party. Sunrise Coal is the second-largest coal producer in the state, according to the Star.

Mining project on federal lands hires former Interior head — Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has a new job: a more than $100,000-a-year post with a gold-mining firm that’s pursuing project approvals involving the federal agency that Zinke left fewer than four months ago.Zinke told The Associated Press on Tuesday that his work for Nevada-based U.S. Gold Corp., which focuses on mining exploration and development, would not constitute lobbying. But that company’s CEO cited Zinke’s “excellent relationship” with the Bureau of Land Management and the Interior Department in explaining his hiring.“We’re excited to have Secretary Zinke help move us forward” on two pending mining projects, in Nevada and Wyoming, Edward Karr, head of U.S. Gold Corp., said by phone.Karr said one of the mining projects is on land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, which is under the Interior Department.A 2017 executive order by President Donald Trump says executive-branch appointees cannot lobby their former agency for at least five years after leaving their government post.Separately, criminal statutes impose one and two-year bans on various kinds of communications between senior federal officials and their former agency, said Virginia Canter, chief ethics counsel of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit ethics-watchdog.Zinke, who announced his resignation from Interior in December amid ethics investigations, said Tuesday that his new mining job does not violate any prohibitions on post-administration lobbying. “I don’t lobby,” Zinke said. “I just follow the law, so I don’t talk to anybody on the executive side or influence” anyone.

Blackout fears fuel move toward solar, storage - Melvin Hoagland and Melissa Lin lost power at their Sonoma, Calif., home for more than a week after a wildfire tore across the region in 2017. Now, their utility is warning it may shut off electricity sporadically to prevent more catastrophic blazes. So Hoagland, 63, and Lin, 57, added solar and battery storage to their wine country home. The couple are among those looking at the role of locally based renewable power, energy storage and microgrids in California, as San Francisco-based Pacific Gas & Electric Co. considers power blackouts to reduce wildfires that have ravaged the state. "PG&E was talking about just periodically shutting off large sections of their grid and cutting off large swaths of the population from electricity," Hoagland said. "We decided that wasn't a secure way to live." PG&E — the largest utility in California — has alerted its 5.3 million electric customers that they could lose electricity service repeatedly in the future. The plan is aimed at switching off power in extreme-risk areas whenever high winds and other conditions raise the chance that tree branches or other vegetation will knock down electric lines and ignite fires. The utility is in bankruptcy reorganization as it faces potentially $30 billion in fire-related liabilities.

Facing likely closures, owner of Southern Illinois coal power plants supports bill to help repurpose sites for solar, energy storage projects --The owner of economically challenged coal-fired power plants in Southern Illinois is supporting legislation that, if passed, would help transform those sites into facilities for utility-scale solar and energy storage projects.The Texas-based company, Vistra Energy, acquired the region’s fleet of coal plants when it completed its purchase of Dynegy Inc. last year. It says the facilities are beset by tough economic and policy conditions, and favors a bill before the state legislature that would provide funding to phase them out of production and repurpose the sites, instead of just shutting them down abruptly.But some environmental groups oppose the measure, characterizing it as a potential “$140 million a year coal bailout,” according to J.C. Kibbey, an Illinois clean energy advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Chicago. Regardless of what becomes of the legislation in Springfield, the electric grid in downstate Illinois — a longtime bastion of coal production — faces major shifts in how it generates power. “We know that drastic changes are imminent,” said Meranda Cohn, Vistra’s director of media relations and corporate affairs. The company says 75 percent of its generating capacity in the region “at risk of being shut down,” according to Cohn. Amid that backdrop, Vistra argues that the Illinois Coal to Solar and Energy Storage Act provides a way to more “responsibly transition” for plant employees, local communities, and the state’s ambitious clean energy goals.

TVA's own tests revealed radium, heavy metals in coal ash before 2008 spill -- The Tennessee Valley Authority’s own testing – in 1981 and 1995 – revealed its coal ash contained radioactive materials and toxic heavy metals, a USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee investigation shows. For more than two decades following that testing, TVA didn’t tell plant workers and contract laborers about those radioactive materials and toxic heavy metals, the ongoing investigation shows.And when 7.3 million tons of that coal ash gushed from a busted dike in December 2008 at the Kingston Fossil Plant in Roane County and into the Clinch and Emory Rivers, TVA didn’t tell emergency responders or the workers tasked with cleaning it up, a report by TVA's Office of the Inspector General showed.Even now, amid allegations members of the Kingston disaster clean-up workforce were poisoned by long-term exposure to its coal ash, TVA contends in a letter to twoTennessee congressmen that its coal ash is safe.“Years of scientific and regulatory review, including by the EPA, have confirmed that coal ash should be deemed and regulated as nonhazardous,” TVA Chief Executive Officer Bill Johnson wrote in a March letter to U.S. Reps. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, and Steve Cohen, D-Memphis. “The known trace elements, some of which can cause illness where sufficient concentration and exposure conditions exist, have not been thought to be present at high enough levels in coal ash to harm people given known exposure pathways and the safety measures required at the recovery project site,” the letter continued. The Kingston coal ash spill remains the nation’s largest human-caused environmental disaster in U.S. history, bigger than the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon oil spills. A decade later, more than 40 TVA and contract laborers who cleaned up the spill are dead and more than 400 are dying from what they say is exposure to the toxic elements in coal ash.

Where will the nuclear waste go after Three Mile Island shuts down? -- After the infamous Three Mile Island nuclear accident 40 years ago, most of the reactor’s partially melted uranium fuel was hauled away to the Idaho National Lab, where the radioactive waste now slowly decays in steel and concrete containers, awaiting long-term disposal. But the formal decommissioning of the damaged Unit 2 reactor near Harrisburg, site of America’s worst commercial nuclear disaster, has not yet really begun. Its owner, FirstEnergy Corp., has said that the plant would remain dormant until the surviving reactor, owned by a different company, shuts down. FirstEnergy, in a 2013 filing with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said that both reactors would be decommissioned simultaneously "to achieve economies of scale, by sharing costs between the units, and coordinating the sequence of work activities."The timing of the final dismantlement and interment of Three Mile Island plant was thrown into uncertainty last week when the owner of the operating reactor, Exelon Generation, announced that it would take nearly 60 years to decommission its unit if it prematurely shut down operations in September.Exelon says it is losing money on the plant and has no option but to shut it down without a state rescue.The prolonged decommissioning of the operational reactor — and by implication, the damaged reactor — could push back the final cleanup and remediation of Three Mile Island to 2079, a century after the meltdown. “We’ve been living with this for 40 years," said Eric Epstein, chairman of Three Mile Island Alert, a Harrisburg nuclear watchdog group. “Out of a sense of fairness, we need to have this cleaned up.” The fate of the damaged reactor is further complicated because FirstEnergy Solutions, an Akron company that operates FirstEnergy Corp.'s power generation plants, including the Beaver Valley Power Station in Pennsylvania, last year filed for bankruptcy. The Unit 2 decommissioning costs, which FirstEnergy last year estimated at $1.26 billion, would be paid out of a trust fund. (Exelon estimates its reactor, TMI Unit 1, would need an additional $1.2 billion to decommission, paid from a separate trust fund.)  Three Mile Island nuclear reactor dismantling could take six decades, and cost more than $1 billion.

Bomb Watchers Twitching as Looser Rules Weighed for Uranium -Back in the 1970s and 1980s when he was keeping America’s nuclear weapons up to date, Robert Kelley didn’t pay much attention to their source of uranium. But then he was reassigned to lead the international team that accounted for the of hundreds of tons of the heavy metal Iraq secretly extracted at a fertilizer factory to feed Saddam Hussein’s weapons program. That discovery at the Al-Qaim phosphate plant underscored a loophole in the global policing of nuclear materials, allowing countries without much scrutiny to derive uranium from a mineral more often used as a nutrient for soil. It’s also why Kelley and his colleagues are now concerned that United Nations officials and atomic regulators are poised to loosen rules on the industry, unlocking finance to take more radioactive material out of the ground without corresponding new checks. “Uranium extraction from phosphates flies under the radar,” said Kelley who also inspected phosphate plants in Egypt and Syria as a director with the International Atomic Energy Agency. “This isn’t a theoretical risk. It’s real.” Diplomats at the UN and IAEA have proposed reclassifying uranium as a “critical material.” That would allow countries to tap funding from the World Bank and other development institutions to ensure supply under the guise of the UN’s sustainable development goals. While the change could potentially cut mining waste, it might also lead to a reduction of the scrutiny uneconomical projects get from nuclear inspectors. The biggest beneficiaries to the new rules would be countries including Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which have large reserves of phosphate and growing populations that need to be fed with the crops it fertilizes. However the extraction process could weigh on the uranium market, where prices have stagnated since the last recession started in 2008.

Coal, nuclear cleanup costs central to FirstEnergy’s rejected bankruptcy plan - The ball is back in FirstEnergy’s court after a judge rejected a bankruptcy plan last week from the utility’s generation subsidiary. FirstEnergy Solutions has yet to file a revised bankruptcy plan statement. The company said last week that it intended to refile; a spokesperson for parent company FirstEnergy Corp. said the company was still evaluating the ruling.Bankruptcy Judge Alan Koschik said on April 4 that FirstEnergy Solutions’ plan was “patently unconfirmable.” In other words, it wouldn’t satisfy federal standards for wiping out liabilities described in the plan.Of prime concern were terms that would have excused parent company FirstEnergy from ongoing liability for environmental cleanups at the company’s coal and nuclear power plant sites.Environmental and consumer advocates have sided with government lawyers in opposing FirstEnergy’s gambit to escape future liability and would object to any efforts to get more subsidies from distribution customers for expenses linked to the generation side of the business. Some claims are detailed in the plan. Yet much remains unknown without full engineering studies, noted Howard Learner, president and executive director for the Environmental Law & Policy Center. Moreover, it’s questionable whether the subsidiaries would be able to pay for environmental claims in the future. Current and former coal plant sites will likely present multiple liabilities under federal and state air, water, waste and hazardous substance laws, Learner said. And the nuclear plant sites need to be decommissioned and decontaminated consistent with Nuclear Regulatory Commission requirements. As currently proposed, that process could take up to 60 years. Indeed, FirstEnergy and its predecessors directly owned and operated those plants for most of their history before they were transferred to FirstEnergy Solutions.

House speaker unveils plan to save state's nuclear power plants — Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder (R., Glenford) on Friday rolled out a bill that he said would reward cleaner electricity generation to the tune of $300 million a year, roughly half of which could prop up two struggling nuclear power plants on Lake Erie. It would mean surcharges of $2.50 a month on the bills of all residential electricity customers in the state, $20 for commercial users, $250 for industrial users, and $2,500 for big industrial users of 45 million or more kilowatts a year to fund these credits for zero-carbon-emission power. But Mr. Householder said customers would ultimately save money because the new Ohio Clean Air Program would eliminate current mandates that utilities find more of their power from renewable sources and reduce energy usage over time. Those costs would be removed from customers’ bills. “At the end of the day, we’re not lowering our carbon footprint in the state of Ohio with these mandates,” Mr. Householder said. “If that was the intent, they’re failing miserably.” The bill, sponsored by Reps. Jamie Callender (R., Concord) and Shane Wilkin (R., Hillsboro), will be the subject of hearings beginning next week. Mr. Householder said he hopes to get it to Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk by the end of June, before lawmakers recess for the summer.

Revised Ohio nuclear ‘bailout’ bill raises more questions — Republican lawmakers in the Ohio House introduced legislation Friday that would provide subsidies for two Ohio nuclear power plants owned by FirstEnergy Solutions, while at the same time defunding decade-old renewable energy and efficiency programs. The bill also includes language to allow funds collected from ratepayers to “reduce the emissions from other generating technologies that can be readily dispatched to satisfy demand in real time,” without specifying what technologies that could include. The Ohio Clean Air Program created by the proposed legislation would provide an annual subsidy for any power plant producing zero carbon dioxide emissions at the rate of $9.25 for every megawatt-hour produced. While the word “nuclear” does not actually appear anywhere in the bill, this designation would include nuclear plants and potentially some wind and solar installations. But solar farms would have to be able to generate at least 50 megawatts (MW) in order to participate, and only wind farms between 5 MW and 50 MW could qualify. A spokeswoman for the office of House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) acknowledged that there are currently no solar farms that large in operation in Ohio, but that three have been approved and another six very large solar projects are pending. Strict setback restrictions passed in 2014 have brought wind development to a standstill in the state. Natural gas and even coal power plants could attempt to qualify for a subsidy but at reduced levels, based on the amount of carbon dioxide emitted for every megawatt-hour generated, Householder said in a morning news conference. But details in the language of the legislation, which was not available until hours after Householder’s news conference, are not clear.

New fee a 'bailout' for FirstEnergy nuclear plants, environmental groups say - Ohio lawmakers want to charge you $2.50 a month to help bail out two nuclear plants in northern Ohio. A new energy plan announced Friday by Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford in Perry County, would add a $2.50 per month surcharge to every residential customer’s bill, a $20 per month surcharge to every commercial customer’s bill and a $250 monthly charge to every industrial customer’s bill and a $2,500 surcharge to large energy users.Householder says you won't see a higher bill because lawmakers plan to eliminate a requirement that forces companies to make renewable energy a certain percentage of their total portfolio. Hitting those benchmarks costs companies money, and when those requirements are gone, those companies will pass those savings on to the customers, Householder said.  The new fee would bring in about $300 million for companies that generate electricity with no carbon emissions.One big winner from this plan: FirstEnergy Solutions, which operates the Davis-Besse nuclear plant east of Toledo and the Perry nuclear power plant northeast of Cleveland. It would be eligible for about $169 million of the $300 million Ohio expects to collect in fees. Without the deal, FirstEnergy plans to deactivate the plants in May 2020 and 2021, respectively.In comparison, wind energy in Ohio would be eligible for about $16.4 million and solar could get about $1.4 million, using the plan's formula. Environmental groups oppose the plan. Neil Waggoner of the Sierra Club called it "regressive and destructive."“It guts Ohio’s clean energy and efficiency standards while forcing electric customers to pay more each month to bail old uneconomic nuclear plants – all while calling it a clean air program," Waggoner said.

 FirstEnergy and its allies, seeking nuclear plant bailout, have spent millions on influence campaign — FirstEnergy’s efforts to try to get Ohio politicians to rescue its troubled nuclear power business haven’t come cheap. Since 2017, FirstEnergy and its allies have spent millions on campaign contributions to Ohio politicians, as well as on lobbying, public relations and advertising, state and federal records show. The time period covers multiple attempts to subsidize the Davis-Besse nuclear plant near Toledo and the Perry nuclear plant, near Cleveland, including a new iteration, a “clean air” bill Republican state lawmakers rolled out on Friday.. Nailing down an exact number is difficult. But the spending can be tracked through two main sources:

  • · State and federal campaign-finance filings, which detail campaign contributions from FirstEnergy and its allies.
  • · Filings in the ongoing bankruptcy proceedings for FirstEnergy Solutions, a former subsidiary which FirstEnergy spun off last year as it works to exit the power-plant business. FirstEnergy Solutions now owns the plants, part of a corporate restructuring plan that’s currently before a federal bankruptcy judge in Akron for approval.

Some of that campaigning showed itself on Friday, when state lawmakers rolled out House Bill 6, which would tack new fees onto every electric bill in Ohio, raising $300 million for “clean energy” — including $150 million for the Davis-Besse and Perry plants — while eliminating different charges that fund renewable energy projects. Backers of the plan bill it as a way to fund clean energy and protect jobs, while downplaying the legislation’s origins as a way to rescue the nuclear plants, which together have about 1,400 full-time employees. After House Bill 6 was unveiled, a group calling itself the Ohio Clean Energy Jobs Alliance, with a veteran Republican PR operative serving as its spokesman, unveiled a list of dozens of politicians, union officials, business owners and more who support the plan. FirstEnergy officials say they have no longer have a stake in the nuclear plants. But shoring up the plants’ finances could help both FirstEnergy and FirstEnergy Solutions in the face of concern from environmental groups and regulators that if the plants were to close, the restructuring plan doesn’t include enough money to pay to adequately clean them up. A federal bankruptcy judge cited those concerns in a ruling last week that blocked the restructuring deal.

Nuclear plant bailout debate kicks off at Statehouse -More than 30 minutes passed during Tuesday’s initial hearing on the General Assembly’s plan to provide about $150 million a year to FirstEnergy Solutions before anyone mentioned the bankrupt company or its slated-to-close nuclear power plants in Ohio. Sponsors of House Bill 6 talked about lowering the carbon footprint in the state, reducing monthly costs for energy users and creating stability. “Let’s face it, the low-hanging fruit of energy-efficiency programs has been taken advantage of and come and gone,” said Rep. Shane Wilkin, R-Hillsboro. “The time is now to move forward and stake our claim as an energy producer and exporter here in the Midwest.” Then Rep. Michael O’Brien, D-Warren, noted that several newspapers in Ohio were referring to the bill as a bailout for the corporation that split from Akron-based FirstEnergy. Rep. Jamie Callender, R-Concord, the other primary bill sponsor, called it the “white elephant in the room.” “Do the nuclear plants in northern Ohio benefit from this? Absolutely, yes. Will it save the nuclear plants? I have no idea,” he said. The state would pay companies $9.25 for every megawatt hour of energy produced with zero carbon-dioxide emissions, be it nuclear, wind, solar or hydro. FirstEnergy would be in line for about half of the estimated $300 million raised annually via fees attached to consumer electricity bills. Those monthly fees would range from $2.50 for residential customers to $2,500 for major industrial users. In exchange, lawmakers would do away with the state’s current energy and efficiency standards and the monthly fees that go with them.

ODNR Issues 13 Permits in Utica Shale – Thirteen horizontal well permits were issued last week to one energy company exploring Ohio’s Utica shale for oil and gas reserves, according to the latest data from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. ODNR reports that Ascent Resources Utica LLC, based in Oklahoma City, was awarded all of the permits approved for the week ended April 13. The company secured permits for well sites in Belmont, Harrison and Jefferson counties in the southern portion of the play.No permits were issued to any other companies or to prospective wells in the northern Utica, which includes Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties. As of April 13, ODNR had approved 3,059 permits for horizontal wells in Ohio’s Utica. There are 2,571 of these wells drilled and 2,179 in production, according to the latest data.The rig count across the Utica play during the week remained unchanged from the previous week at 16. No new permits issued in the northwestern Pennsylvania sector of the Utica, which includes Lawrence and Mercer counties, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Pin Oak Energy acquires 43000 Utica acres— Pin Oak Energy Partners LLC is closing a transaction with SWEPI LP (Shell) for approximately 43,000 acres prospective for Utica Shale development in northwestern Pennsylvania. The transaction increases Pin Oak Energy’s acreage position across the Appalachian Basin to 167,000 net deep acres with 99% of those net deep acres being held by production. Pin Oak Energy’s net deep acre position in Mercer, Crawford and Venango counties increased to 60,000, 5,500 and 7,100 respectively. The company now touts 64,000 net deep acres in Ohio and 103,000 net deep acres in Pennsylvania. The acquisition also includes drilled and completed, but not online, horizontal Utica Shale wells along with previously built, but not drilled, well pads. The company currently operates wells producing nearly 14.0 MMcfe/d net (11% liquids), over 125 miles of midstream assets, and maintains 178,000 net acres (167,000 net deep acres) in the basin.

 Ohio EPA Looks to Update Air Quality Rules at Fracking Sites - WKSU - The Ohio EPA is considering changes to its regulations on air quality at fracking and natural gas transmissions sites. The state Environmental Protection Agency is doing what deputy director Heidi Griesmer calls a periodic rules review. One thing it is considering has to do with changes in regulations. Normally they’re applied to new shale wells or compressor stations coming on line. The agency may make them applicable to established sites too. “This would cover air pollution emissions from existing non-conventional oil and gas facilities that aren’t covered by our most current regulations.” As part of the review the sate EPA is also gathering input from interested parties. “It’s just an extra step we take to involve stakeholders before we begin drafting rules.” The open period for ideas is underway through December 19th.

Ohio Residents Sick Of Dealing With PA's Fracking Wastewater - Much of the wastewater from Pennsylvania’s fracking industry is trucked across the border to Ohio. Last year, Pennsylvania and West Virginia contributed nearly half of the more than a billion gallons of frack waste that were injected into underground wells in Ohio. Residents in at least one county say they’ve had enough.  Michelle Garman remembers News Years Eve 2011, when a 4.0-magnitude earthquake shook nearby Youngstown, Ohio. Around a dozen smaller quakes followed. The state determined that the quakes were caused by an injection well. And one in New Castle, Pennsylvania was linked to fracking as well. The well believed to have caused the Youngstown quakes has been closed permanently. Garman describes big trucks carrying chemical-laced wastewater that squeal into the site at all hours. She can hear the pump from her yard. And Garman fears for her family.“How does it affect our health, my son’s health?” she wondered. “I mean, it is toxic. Plain and simple, that’s poison that they’re pumping into the ground.”Garman says her concerns didn’t get much response from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), the agency with authority over injection wells. In Ohio, there’s no local control of the oil and gas industry. And few leaders in her town would criticize the local company, Kleese Development Associates, that built the well next to her property.Then, in April of 2015, a waste oil spill caused a slew of dead animals and a polluted nearby wetlands. It was caused by another injection well owned by Kleese.Garman says neighbors contacted her for help. “People were scared,” she said. “[The were asking], ‘can I drink the water, can I bathe my children in it, can I cook with it?”

Study ties fracking to radioactive wastewater - Two Dartmouth studies recently established a link between fracking and the production of radioactive wastewater. Lead researcher and senior research scientist Josh Landis and his team found that the prevalent radioactive material in wastewater after hydraulic fracking comes from the interaction between slick water and black shale.“Prior to our work, everyone was assuming that the radium was from pre-existing [briny water] found underground,” Landis said.However, Landis added the study points to the controversial oil and gas extraction method as the cause of this radioactive waste.“We are able to argue pretty vigorously that the fracking itself is producing the fluid,” he said. “[This] shows that the frackers are responsible for its creation, and if you want to minimize its production, you have to do that through their process.” According to Sharma, radioactive wastewater cannot currently be treated. It is either mixed with fresh water and used to frack again, or it is sent away to be buried into the ground. For example, radioactive wastewater from fracking locations in Pennsylvania may be sent to Ohio, Sharma said.  The first study — focused on the rapid desorption of radium from black shale — found that radium comes from both organic and mineral surfaces as the wastewater moves toward the surface. The second study contextualized the first study’s findings with the available data from research in fracking on radium isotopes.

Taking a Long Look at the Risks of Fracking -  Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health reviewed numerous studies on the effects of fracking activity on the health of a community and the people who live close to natural gas wells. They found that there is strong evidence–despite an industry narrative to the contrary–that fracking exposure is associated with an increased risk of preterm birth and high-risk pregnancy, asthma flare-ups, fatigue and possibly low birth weight. In the review paper published in Global Public Health, authors note that, while natural gas is promoted as a less harmful “bridge” fuel to be used until more renewable sources take over, the fracking infrastructure in rapid development today throughout the U.S. and beyond is not temporary. It is too soon, given the relative newness of the technology, to determine possible effects on rates of cancer and neurological  diseases. But the epidemiological data to date “offers no reassurances.” Co-author Irena Gorski told Environmental Health News, “We have enough evidence at this point that these health impacts should be of serious concern to policymakers interested in protecting public health.”

After a decade of research, here’s what scientists know about the health impacts of fracking - Fracking has been linked to preterm births, high-risk pregnancies, asthma, migraine headaches, fatigue, nasal and sinus symptoms, and skin disorders over the last 10 years, according to a new study. The study, which was published in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Global Public Health in February, looked at several hundred scientific articles about the community and health impacts of fracking. The researchers focused on the design of those studies to ensure that the ones they included in their study were scientifically valid, then summarized what's been learned about the industry in the last decade. "What we found pushes back against the narratives we often hear that say we don't know enough about the health impacts yet," Irena Gorski, co-author of the study and an environmental epidemiology doctoral candidate at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told EHN. "We have enough evidence at this point that these health impacts should be of serious concern to policymakers interested in protecting public health," Gorski said. She added that, while they found a number of documented health impacts, the ones with the most evidence for concern are negative impacts on pregnancy and birth outcomes. Evidence suggests women living closer to fracking have increased odds of having a baby with lower-than-average birth weight; of having a high-risk pregnancy; or having a baby with a low infant health index.

Oakmont approves new ordinance to ward off fracking - - The fracking industry has slowly been encroaching on Allegheny County’s suburbs over the past few years. Oakmont residents displeased with this trend have taken steps to ensure their borough won’t be home to anatural-gas drilling anytime soon. Last week, Oakmont Borough Council voted to approve an updated Oil and Gas Well Ordinance. The amended ordinance expands definitions for natural-gas development infrastructure, restricts all oil and gas development to industrial zones, and sets a 2,000-foot setback from property lines. Oakmont’s updated zoning ordinance is the result of months of work by residents seeking more protections from drilling in the area. Fracking company Huntley & Huntley notified the borough in June 2017 that it was about to begin “seismic testing,” a process of setting off explosive charges in deep holes to find where gas may be trapped. This inspired Oakmont residents to consider ways to regulate fracking in the area, including modifying the existing zoning ordinance.Huntley & Huntley pulled back on their planned surveys soon after, but residents continued to push for an updated ordinance. The local group Citizens to Protect Oakmont offered a list of suggestions to borough council in Dec. 2018, including restricting fracking to only industrial zones, a 2,000-foot setback from residential properties, the removal of fracking from Oakmont’s light industrial district (which comprises a limo company, a landscape supply yard, a park and green space), and more transparency from drilling companies.The council initially considered passing a notably weaker measure which would have left open possibilities for fracking in residential areas. But after continued pressure from community members, the council opted for a stronger ordinance.  According to research from the oil and gas watchdog FracTracker Alliance, nearly a fifth of Allegheny County is leased to gas drillers.

Mariner East 2 pipeline draws heat at Haverford hearing— Speakers at the Haverford Community Action Network (H-CAN) meeting Sunday invoked chilling fears about what might happen to them, their children and their communities if the Mariner East pipelines that are sending highly volatile substances though heavily populated towns in Chester and Delaware counties should experience a serious problem. Eric Friedman with the group Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety said that his background in commercial aviation risk led him to the conclusion that all of those two suburban counties are “high consequence” areas, meaning if a pipeline leak resulted in an explosion many people would die or be injured. “There is no acceptable plan to protect the public from leaks,” he told an audience of about 35 people who came to Hope United Methodist Church. The Mariner East project is a series of pipelines that eventually will transport hundreds of thousands of barrels of volatile liquid gases every day across the full 350-mile width of Pennsylvania to a facility in Marcus Hook. Mariner East 1 is currently shut down after sinkholes formed for the second time in a Chester County Community. Mariner East 2 went online the last week of December, although utilizing a hybrid mish-mash of pipes instead of the new 20-inch pipe originally proposed. A series of construction delays and state-mandated work stoppages have put Mariner East 2 behind schedule. The full 20-inch pipeline now is not expected to be completed until at least 2020. Mariner East 2x remains under construction. The Mariner East pipelines traverse 23 miles through the heart of central Chester County and another 11 miles through western Delaware County as it snakes its way toward the facility in Marcus Hook, where the gases will be stored and eventually shipped to customers, most overseas. The project has been the target of vehement opposition from citizen groups and local legislators, and is the focus of no less than two criminal investigations.

Property owners along Atlantic Sunrise pipeline in Lancaster County get another round of letters -- One company’s efforts to get paid for work on the Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipeline that runs through Lancaster County have led to a settlement, and now another company is starting down the same path.Chris Stockton, spokesman for Atlantic Sunrise owner Williams Partners, said in an email this week that Michigan-based MacAllister Machinery Co. Inc. has settled with the bond surety Federal Insurance Company.MacAllister was behind letters sent last month to Lancaster County residents who own land the pipeline crosses. The letters issued notice of intent to file liens if MacAllister didn’t receive timely payment of about $1.02 million it asserted was owed by Welded Construction LP, the main contractor on both the Atlantic Sunrise and Sunoco Mariner East pipelines.Joseph R. Spoonster is an attorney at the Ohio firm of Harpst Ross & Becker Co. LLC, which sent the letters on behalf of MacAllister.He said this week that the firm has sent similar letters to Lancaster County landowners on behalf of Ohio Machinery Company, which is seeking about $4.5 million from Welded Construction LP.  A similar situation played out in Berks County late last year, with letters threatening liens from a Minnesota company that said Welded hadn’t paid it for work on the Mariner East Pipeline. Sunoco, which owns that pipeline, said shortly afterward that the situation had been resolved.

State senator wants to block sale of Pa.-produced natural gas to anti-fracking neighbors - As Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry has boomed, neighboring states including New York, New Jersey, and Maryland have taken steps to curtail gas drilling and infrastructure. Now, a state senator wants to prevent them from purchasing gas produced in Pennsylvania. Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, who chairs the Senate Environmental Resources & Energy Committee, announced at a natural gas industry conference Wednesday that he intends to introduce a bill blocking the transportation and sale of Pennsylvania-produced natural gas to states that have blocked fracking and pipeline expansions. The remarks, delivered in Yaw’s keynote speech at the UpStream PA conference, were first reported on a blog written by former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Dave Hess. The conference was hosted by groups with ties to the Marcellus Shale drilling industry. In his address, Yaw took aim at New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has led that state’s ban on hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — and pipeline expansions. New York continues to process imported natural gas, including large volumes from Pennsylvania. Yaw told gas industry professionals that those policies have “stalled infrastructure development” that’s necessary to create new markets for natural gas in the U.S. and across the world, leading to price disparities that benefit international competitors at the expense of Pennsylvania producers. Yaw noted that states have imported gas from Russia since New York scaled back its own gas production. “As lawmakers, we have an obligation to be aware of the competing interests that involve our state and the nation,” Yaw said, according to remarks published by his office. “New York, New Jersey and Maryland have worked to limit the expansion of pipelines, which curtails our ability to market Pennsylvania produced natural gas. In keeping with the wishes of those states to impede marketing, I intend to introduce a measure, which would prohibit the transportation and sale of any Pennsylvania natural gas that is produced by fracking to those states.” It’s unclear whether Yaw’s proposal would violate the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause, which says that only Congress has the power to regulate international and inter-state trade.

Companies tout economic benefit of gas drilling while seeking tax breaks - Earlier this year, at a legislative breakfast in Charleston, representatives from two of West Virginia’s natural gas associations spoke about the economic benefits of the industry.The state was prospering thanks to the oil and gas industry, said Charlie Burd, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia. In 2018, the industry contributed $139 million in severance taxes, and $88 million and property taxes, Burd told the room. This wasn’t the first time Burd, or other industry officials, promoted the gas industry’s positive influence. But while Burd was trumpeting the industry’s contributions to tax coffers, major producers were quietly litigating against multiple counties and state tax officials to dramatically slash those tax payments. Those cases rose to the West Virginia Supreme Court, where lawyers for the industry argued vigorously just last month for the justices to back formulas that would curb their property tax payments. One month after Burd’s presentation, lawyers for the West Virginia Tax Department, as well as the Doddridge County Tax Department, stood in front of the justices, asking that they reverse a Business Court Division ruling on the value of natural gas wells in four counties. In each case, the Business Court Division ruled that the state Tax Department failed to assess gas wells operated by CNX Gas Co. or Antero Resources “at their true and actual value.”In several cases, the companies argued that this was a violation of the state constitution. The Business Court agreed with that assessment.The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Business Court’s ruling could have a devastating impact on the state,county and state department lawyers argued in legal briefs and in front of the Supreme Court justices in March.Those cuts would hurt schools and local governments, shattering their ability to provide for their citizens, opponents say. Several letters compiled into an amicus brief by the West Virginia Association of County Officials Inc. describe the potential effects the Business Court’s decision would have on services, such as the maintenance and repair of roads, police protection and emergency services.

Exclusive: Air Permit OK’d After New Evidence of Carcinogens at Enbridge’s Planned Gas Facility in Massachusetts Left out - In the Greater Boston area, Enbridge is planning to build a controversial natural gas facility at a densely populated site which already has elevated levels of previously unreported carcinogens, documents obtained by DeSmog suggest. Despite receiving new information indicating the current presence of these pollutants in the air around Enbridge’s proposed gas compressor station in Weymouth, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) did not include the data in the project’s health impact assessment (HIA) which it oversaw. The assessment, which was published 10 days later, found that human health likely will not be affected by direct exposure to the station. Shortly afterwards, the DEP permitted the facility — a 7,700 horsepower compressor station that will pump natural gas through pipelines and a key part in Enbridge’s Atlantic Bridge project to upgrade its pipeline capacity. The air quality permit, which was essentially greenlighted by the HIA’s findings, is currently under appeal before the DEP.  During last year’s HIA — which was ordered by Governor Charlie Baker following a public outcry over the project — the DEP conducted air sampling to establish baseline conditions near the compressor station site. This effort combined 24-hour air sampling canisters, which were sent to a private lab for analysis during a five-week period in July and August, and sampling in intervals to record several compounds for four months. Although the sampling found some elevated levels of the carcinogens formaldehyde and benzene, the HIA concluded that existing air quality levels were such that additional emissions from the station are not likely to affect human health through direct exposure. Yet according to documents obtained by DeSmog through a public records request, the DEP also sent sample canisters from the compressor site during August and September to the Rhode Island Department of Public Health’s (RIDOH) air lab to “verify” its measurements during the HIA. The existence of these samples was not reported in the HIA.

Crews working to clean up oil spill at Five Mile Pond in Springfield - - Crews are working to clean up an oil spill at Five Mile Pond in Springfield. According to Springfield Fire Spokesperson Dennis Leger, firefighters were called to the pond at 968 Boston Road at 9:28 a.m. for a fuel spill. Leger said the rescue squad tried to contain the spill and determine how big the leak was and where it was coming from.  Massachusetts Environmental Police and the  Department of Environmental Protection have since taken over the clean-up. The pond is closed to boats until the spill has been cleaned up completely.

Don't roll back standards for pipelinesCitizens Voice Editorial - The American natural gas and oil boom that has been spawned by advanced deep-drilling technology would be even more so if the abundant gas could be delivered safely to more markets that need it. Foremost among those markets is cold and snowy New England, which should be among the primary markets for natural gas extracted from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations of Pennsylvania. But some New England markets sometimes buy gas overseas because there is no safe, reliable delivery method for the gas produced a few hundred miles to the southwest. New York State has rejected permits for the Constitution Pipeline, which would carry Pennsylvania gas from Susquehanna County across the Empire State to New England. There are similar situations in other parts of the country, where potential markets including international export terminals are cut off from massive gas supplies due to incomplete interstate pipeline projects. President Donald Trump signed an executive order recently directing the Environmental Protection Agency to issue new pipeline permitting guidance to states, focusing on “the need to promote timely federal-state cooperation and collaboration” and “the appropriate scope of water quality reviews.” New York’s permit reactions were based largely on water quality concerns, and problems with several pipelines in Pennsylvania give credence to those concerns. Federal-state cooperation and collaboration is a good thing for interstate projects. The problem with the Trump administration, though, is that its answer to most industrial-environmental disputes is to simply roll back environmental standards that are rooted in experience and science. Pipelines indisputably are the safest and most economical means to transport large amounts of gas. Federal-state cooperation should come in the form of holding industry to high water-quality standards rather than rolling back those standards to expedite pipeline development.

Industry Reaction to Trump's Executive Orders - Several industry associations have reacted positively to President Donald Trump’s executive orders signed yesterday, which make it harder for states to block pipelines and other energy projects. The Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) welcomed Trump’s actions, with IPAA Executive Vice President Lee Fuller stating in an organization release that the IPAA “consistently has supported development of much needed infrastructure to transport America’s oil and natural gas resources to consumers”. Fuller added that the IPAA supports, in particular, the aspect of the executive orders that calls on the Environmental Protection Agency to update the interim 2010 guidance over permitting under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA). “This guidance, overdue for updating, has allowed for implementation of the CWA in a manner inconsistent with the statute and to inhibit projects that are clearly in interstate commerce,” Fuller continued. The Association of Oil Pipe Lines (AOPL) and the American Energy Alliance (AEA) both applauded Trump’s new orders. AOPL President and CEO Andy Black stated in an organization release that the President “knows pipelines are good for the American economy, create good-paying jobs and help consumers”. Commenting in an AEA statement, the organization’s president Tom Pyle said, “for America to operate from a position of strength, we must have the critical energy infrastructure to deliver affordable energy to power our lives”. Pyle stated that the executive orders are an attempt to make necessary changes to ensure federal statute is properly interpreted and followed and make certain that politically motivated delays blocking pipeline infrastructure come to an end. “It’s time to let America’s energy flow freely through pipelines which are a proven, safe, and efficient way to transport our resources,” he added. Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil & Gas Association, said the organization appreciated the administration’s work to bring clarity and certainty to the pipeline construction permitting process. “Politically-motivated delays and pipeline bottlenecks in the Permian Basin and around the United States are hindering growth,” he added.

U.S. natural gas inventories end withdrawal season at lowest level since spring 2014 - Working natural gas in storage in the Lower 48 states at the end of March totaled 1,137 billion cubic feet (Bcf) according to EIA’s Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report. As of March 31, the usual end of the natural gas withdrawal season, working natural gas inventories were 30% lower than the previous five-year average for that time of year. This end-of-season level was the lowest since 2014, when working natural gas inventories at the end of March 2014 totaled 837 Bcf.  Working natural gas inventories entered the winter heating season in November 2018 at 3,198 Bcf—the lowest level for that time of year in more than a decade—and declined during the winter at a rate consistent with historical trends. In November 2018, relatively cold weather resulted in 206 Bcf of natural gas withdrawals, almost twice as much as a typical November. However, the pace of withdrawals slowed during December, with a monthly total of 320 Bcf compared with the five-year average of 523 Bcf. Net withdrawals in the remaining months of the 2018–2019 withdrawal season were within 20% of their typical values. EIA’s Natural Gas Storage Dashboard provides visualizations of natural gas storage levels across the Lower 48 states as well as other factors that affect the amount of natural gas withdrawn from or injected into storage.

 Natural Gas Is Holding - After trading to a high at $4.929 per MMBtu in mid-November 2018 and falling to a low at $2.543 in mid-February, the price of nearby natural gas futures was sitting at the $2.66 per MMBtu level at the end of last week. Natural gas is holding, at least in part, because the energy commodity moved into the peak season for demand with the lowest level of inventories in years. As the 2018/2019 withdrawal season ended recently, the natural gas market headed into the 2019 injection season with the lowest level of stockpiles since 2014 as inventories hit a low at 1.107 trillion cubic feet. In the past, natural gas demand peaked in the winter months as demand for heating increased and declined after March when the gas flowed into storage during typical years. However, the changes in the fundamental equation in the natural gas market continues to change the supply and demand dynamics. While massive reserves of gas in the Marcellus and Utica shale regions, technological advances in fracking, and fewer regulations under the current administration have driven productions to record levels, the demand side of the equation has expanded alongside supply as necessity is the mother of invention. With the injection season underway, the second increase in inventories was a little less than I had expected. My projection was for a rise of 35 billion cubic feet in stocks, but they came in at 25 bcf on Thursday, April 11, for the week ending on April 5. As the chart highlights, stockpiles stood at 1.155 trillion cubic feet for the week ending on April 5 after reaching a bottom at 1.107 tcf at the end of the 2018/2019 withdrawal season. Stocks were 13.7% below last year's level and 29.6% under the five-year average for this time of the year. Stocks remain at the lowest level since 2014 when they reached a low at 824 billion cubic feet. Neither the low level of stocks compared to past years, or an only 25 bcf injection caused any support for the price of natural gas futures on NYMEX. As the 10-minute chart illustrates, the price of May futures fell from the $2.70 to $2.71 per MMBtu level before the EIA's data release to the $2.67 level on Thursday. On Friday, April 12, the price of the energy commodity settled the week at $2.66 per MMBtu. The daily chart shows, since the beginning of April, May natural gas futures have settled into a trading range between $2.632 and $2.7290. Both price momentum and relative strength metrics are in the lower region of neutral territory. Open interest, the total number of open long and short positions in the natural gas futures market, is holding steady at 1.234 million contracts.

US Shale Gas Swamps Market -- Natural gas futures tumbled to the lowest in almost three years as U.S. shale output swamps the market amid mild spring weather, soothing concern about a potential supply crunch next winter. A seasonal lull in heating and cooling demand, coupled with surging production, is accelerating gains in stockpiles of the fuel in underground caverns and aquifers. While inventories are more than 30 percent below normal, they’re poised to refill quickly: Analysts predict that stored supplies probably rose by more than quadruple the average last week. Though gas demand has climbed as new U.S. export terminals send super-chilled cargoes to buyers as far away as Japan, soaring production continues to dog the market. In the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico, where the fuel is pumped as a byproduct of oil exploration, gas supply has overwhelmed the capacity of pipelines to carry it out of the region, pushing prices below zero on some days. ‘‘This is below the multi-year low and we are basically in no man’s land right now.’’ Gas for May delivery fell 4.8 cents to $2.524 per million British thermal units at 11:14 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange after earlier sliding to $2.517, the lowest since June 9, 2016. Prices are down 14 percent this year. Stockpiles probably rose by 88 billion cubic feet last week, based on analysts’ estimates. That compares with a five-year average gain of 21 billion for the period, U.S. Energy Information Administration data show. Production, meanwhile, is at the highest for the time of year in Bloomberg data going back to 2014. ‘‘We have just a lot of gas production in this country,’’ Yawger said. ‘‘Storage is in fact pretty far behind last year, but you can have as much gas as you want and as soon as you want it. That’s what’s killing the market.’’

EIA Reports 92 Bcf Storage Build as May Natural Gas Futures Sit Near $2.50 - The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported a 92 Bcf injection into storage inventories for the week ending April 12, a build that was on the higher end of market expectations and a few Bcf above consensus.May natural gas prices, which had already sunk just below the critical key support level of $2.50 ahead of the EIA’s report, bounced a bit after the print hit the screen, trading at $2.502. By 11 a.m. ET, the May Nymex gas futures contract had moved back to $2.517, flat to Tuesday’s settle.Bespoke Weather Services, which had called for an 88 Bcf injection, said much of this week’s selloff may have been driven by the fear that the market could see its first triple-digit injection of the season already.“This does still reflect loose balances, though not quite as loose as the last couple of weeks, and we suspect that next week’s number will be somewhat tighter also, as we find it very difficult to imagine that balances will not show meaningful tightening ultimately, given price levels sitting at multi-year lows,” Bespoke chief meteorologist Brian Lovern said. “As such, our view remains that we are near a bottom, if not have already set one, but confidence not increased until we see early next week’s data.”Blue Gold Research’s Adrian Bakker, research chief, agreed that any additional downward spiral is rather limited at this point. Speaking on Enelyst, an energy chat room hosted by The Desk, Bakker said part of the reason for the recent price plunge is because “too many intermediaries were caught with too many long positions. So once they started to liquidate, the floor disappeared, so to speak.”Bulls have capitulated completely and the market price has therefore departed from fundamental factors, he said. “The price is now below ‘fair value’, and it doesn’t even matter how you calculate the ‘fair value.’”At $2.50, Blue Gold expects to see 8 Bcf/d of potential coal-to-gas switching, which will exert a bullish pressure on the end-of-season storage index. “Over the course of this injection season, we currently project 29 builds of 80 Bcf (on average). The year/year storage surplus should be around 400 Bcf by October, but in terms of the five-year average, the storage will still be in deficit in our opinion,” Bakker said.

Duke Energy nixes plan for Lake Julian gas-fired peaker plant — Duke Energy's plan to build a more than $100 million plant at Lake Julian to accommodate increased electricity production during peak demand times now will be on hold for at least 15 years. The gas-fired plant — which would have been used to ensure electricity production during increased consumption, particularly in the winter — was proposed by Duke because of a projected increase in energy usage in the growing Asheville area. Originally slated to build in 2023, it now has removed the plant from its list of future projects. That means the company has no plans to build the 190-megawatt peaker plant until at least 2032. The plant would have primarily used hydraulic fracked natural gas — largely from Texas, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma — in times of high demand as part of the company's combined utilities in Western North Carolina. If electrical demand at peak times starts to grow again, however, Duke may reconsider the project. "But I'm also here to make a call to action and say we're not done yet," said Jason Walls, Duke's spokesman. "And we're going to be at the table with this community each and every step of the way." Members of the Energy Innovation Task Force, a more than three-year-old collaboration between businesses, local government and nonprofits, made the announcement during an April 18 press conference. Delaying the construction of the plant was one of the group's primary goals.  Officials pointed to the community's energy-reducing efforts as the reason for Duke's decision, including work by Mountain Housing Opportunities and the Energy Savers Network. MHO enrolled 600 residents in Duke's EnergyWise Home program and Energy Savers Network assisted more than 150 homes last year with weatherization and other efforts to lower utility bills.

Florida LNG Project Hits Milestone -- Eagle LNG Partners reported Friday that it has received the final environmental impact statement (FEIS) from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to construct the Jacksonville LNG Export Facility in northeast Florida. Receiving the FEIS marks the final step in the environmental review process before the final federal authorization decision deadline and anticipated FERC approval of the Jacksonville LNG project, Eagle LNG noted. “Achieving this critical milestone is a significant step forward for Eagle’s Jacksonville LNG Export Facility as we continue to advance our efforts to supply clean-burning, domestic and affordable LNG for marine bunkering and small-scale LNG export to both domestic and international markets,” Sean Lalani, Eagle LNG president, said in a written statement. “We appreciate the continued support we have received from regulators, the Jacksonville and North Florida communities and local agencies.” Eagle LNG, a unit of The Energy & Minerals Group’s portfolio company Ferus Natural Gas Fuels LP, initiated the FERC process for the approximately $500-million project in December 2014. Intended to support the Caribbean power generation market, the small-scale LNG facility along the St. Johns River will initially comprise three liquefaction trains capable of producing up to 1.65 million gallons of LNG per day or approximately 1 million tonnes per annum, Eagle LNG stated. The FEIS is available on FERC’s website. According to a timeline on the Eagle LNG website, construction could start during the second half of this year and the facility could begin service in 2021. Another small-scale LNG project, Pivotal LNG and NorthStar Midstream, LLC’s JAX LNG liquefaction facility, began operations in Jacksonville last year.

US Anti-Fracking Groups Demand Probe of Earthquakes Near State of Florida Border -   Recent earthquakes near a border separating the US states of Florida and Alabama need to be investigated for links to oil and gas drilling before Florida issues any new permits for hydraulic fracturing (fracking), environmental groups said in a press release on Wednesday. "Out of precaution, state agencies should put a pause on the issuing of any new permits in the area," Earth Action Director Mary Gutierrez said in the release. "Our group has filed a petition for an administrative hearing to challenge an intent to issue [permits] for additional drilling in the Jay area." On Wednesday, environmental and water advocacy groups gathered at Florida's Escambia County government complex to call on Governor Ron DeSantis to fully investigate 12 recent earthquakes near the Florida-Alabama border that may be linked to oil and gas operations, the release said. Geologists have known for years that oil drilling in the region extending from Southern Alabama to the Jay Field in Escambia County may be prone to man-made earthquakes as a result of fracking, the release said. As far back as 1999, the USGS [US Geological Survey] found some evidence that a series of tremors in the Florida Panhandle could be related to oil operations, the release said. In 2015, the USGS also added the region to the list of areas likely to see an uptick in tremors from oil waste injection wells, the release said. In 2016, the USGS confirmed that oil and gas operations were indeed inducing seismic activity in the states of Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Ohio, according to the release.

Environmentalists cite report on Florida oil spills as bid to ban fracking stalls - A set of bills that would ban some forms of fracking in Florida have likely stalled out in the Legislature, leaving environmentalists discouraged and petroleum industry representatives hopeful.People from the petroleum industry have said they are responsible for what they do and want to continue drilling and discovering new opportunities for oil in Florida as they have for the last 70 years.But drilling can cause accidents, leaks and spills because of a variety of reasons, including leaky well casings, traffic accidents and pipeline bursts, according to national advocacy group Food & Water Watch. Environmentalists who have testified at bill hearings say fracking in Florida’s porous geology escalates the risk of contaminated soil and drinking water.And a new report based on data from the Department of Environmental Protection shows that between 2015 and 2018, conventional oil drilling led to 35 spills, averaging nine a year. While fracking isn’t part of Florida drilling operations now, environmentalists fear its future use will contribute to a similar pattern of incidents. Oakley Shelton-Thomas, a researcher with Food & Water Watch, said their estimate of the number of spills is conservative because it only counted surface spills, not underground well-casing leaks. He pointed out that the largest volume spill recorded in the report was in Collier County in 2015, where 10,000 gallons of waste water and oil spilled from a ruptured oil tank. In 2018, more than 2,000 gallons of a combination of crude oil and waste water was released into the Big Cypress National Preserve in Collier County.

 New report examines the safety of using dispersants in oil spill clean ups - A multi-disciplinary team of scientists has issued a series of findings and recommendations on the safety of using dispersal agents in oil spill clean-up efforts in a report published this month by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine.By measuring the level of a leading dispersal agent, dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate, in sea life following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the team was able to establish how long the chemical lingers and what health effects it has on various organisms. The scientists found the risks associated with using DOSS were minimal, the team found that in areas where oil concentrations in water were more than 100 milligrams per liter did increase the toxicity, though they noted oil concentrations are typically much lower than that in most spills. Terry Hazen, the University of Tennessee-Oak Ridge National Laboratory Governor's Chair for Environmental Biotechnology, who is known for his work on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill recovery efforts, co-authored the report.  "One of the biggest concerns in cleanup efforts is the effect the spill has on people's health and livelihood," Terry Hazen, University of Tennessee said. "It's not just that oil itself is harmful and potentially even flammable, but you have to be careful what kind of chemicals you expose crews to while trying to clean or contain the oil."

This Legendary Shale Basin Just Broke Its 2011 Production Record -- The Haynesville Shale in northeastern Texas and Louisiana is producing 10.522 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas this month, and is expected to produce even more next month, beating the previous production record of 10.4 billion cu ft/day from back in 2011. According to this this month’s Drilling Productivity Report by the EIA, natural gas production from the Haynesville shale is expected to rise to 10.754 billion cu ft/day in May. Among the key shale plays in the U.S., Haynesville currently ranks third in terms of natural gas production after the Appalachia basin with the Marcellus and Utica shale plays and the Permian region, where associated gas production has been surging alongside booming crude oil production over the past year. Those three regions accounted for almost half of America’s natural gas production in the middle of last year, compared to less than 15 percent of total U.S. natural gas output in 2007, the EIA said in August 2018. Production in the Haynesville region started to rebound in 2017, driven by improving initial production rates and increasing rig counts, the EIA said. The main reason for the resurgence for the Haynesville Shale is its proximity to the U.S. Gulf Coast—home of a growing number of liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals. Another driver of Haynesville’s renaissance is the productivity gains achieved in the past decade, according to the EIA. Between 2013 and 2016, production at the Haynesville dropped due to the higher relative production costs compared to the Marcellus, for example, because the Haynesville formation lies at depths of 10,500- 13,500 feet, much deeper than the Marcellus depths of between 4,000 feet and 8,500 feet, the EIA says. As early as in January this year, Rystad Energy said that the Haynesville Shale would soon reach record-high natural gas production levels. “We conclude that Haynesville Shale’s revival, for the second year in a row, looks sustainable. Supported by its proximity to a new LNG export terminal, gas production will continue to grow, and achieving new all-time high gas production levels should happen within a matter of months,” Rystad Energy partner Artem Abramov said.

Cameron LNG Marks Transition - Train 1 of the Cameron LNG project in Hackberry, La., has reached the final commissioning stage, McDermott International, Inc. and joint venture partner Chiyoda International Corp. reported late Monday.According to a written statement emailed to Rigzone, McDermott and Chiyoda have introduced pipeline feed gas into Train 1 of the liquefaction export facility. Representing the transition from construction to startup, the milestone marks the precursor for the production of LNG, McDermott stated.“We are extremely proud of the Cameron LNG project team for this achievement and their remarkable safety performance,” Mark Coscio, McDermott’s senior vice president for North, Central and South America, stated. “Their accomplishment is more than just a project milestone; it is an impressive feat of engineering and construction. Once Train 1 is fully operational, it will have the capacity to produce 4 million tonnes of LNG per year.” McDermott and Chiyoda have provided the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) for the Cameron LNG project. McDermott’s website states that the scope of work under the approximately $6 billion EPC contract included adding liquefaction and export facilities at the existing LNG regasification complex. The company added that the project includes three liquefaction trains with a projected export of 12 million tonnes per annum, or approximately 1.7 billion cubic feet per day.

U.S. FERC approves two new LNG export terminals in Texas and Louisiana (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Thursday approved construction of two proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals, Tellurian Inc’s Driftwood in Louisiana and Sempra Energy’s Port Arthur in Texas.  Demand for LNG around the world has exploded, rising by 9.8%to a record high for a fifth consecutive year in 2018, as countries, like China and India, seek cleaner alternatives to burning coal to meet their growing energy needs, according to data from the International Gas Union (IGU). Driftwood and Port Arthur are just two of dozens of LNG export terminals under development in the United States, Canada and Mexico. With so many plants under development, analysts have said that most will likely not be built over the next decade. Tellurian said it planned to make a final investment decision on its $30 billion Driftwood project, which includes pipelines and production fields in addition to the liquefaction plant, in 2019 with first LNG production expected in 2023. Sempra has said it planned to make a final investment decision on Port Arthur around the first quarter of 2020.

FERC approves LNG terminals as anti-fossil protestors scale headquarters - The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Thursday approved two liquefied natural gas export facilities as the agency was again beset by protestors calling on it to halt fossil fuel permits and boost renewable energy. Two anti-fossil fuel protestors scaled an awning above the entrance of FERC headquarters in Washington during the early hours of Thursday morning. They unfurled a banner calling on FERC to become the “Federal Renewable Energy Commission.” But later at the agency’s monthly open meeting, regulators approved two large LNG export facilities in a 3-1 vote — the Driftwood terminal in Louisiana and the Port Arthur facility in Texas. Protestors dressed in painting coveralls scaled the FERC building shortly after 6:30 a.m. on Thursday. Credit: Brian Tucker, Industry Dive Democrat Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur crossed the aisle to vote for the export facilities with FERC’s Republican members — just as she did in February, when their compromise on how to consider climate impacts of LNG exports allowed the agency to approve its first terminal in two years. Due to a vacancy on the five-member commission, LaFleur is the swing vote on LNG exports, and has since pushed FERC to expand its climate considerations. In opening comments at the meeting, she said striking climate compromises with the Republican members is getting “harder, not easier.” “Despite my considerable and even growing concerns about the commission’s current approach to analyzing climate impacts in these cases, I’m trying to supplement that analysis myself and decide case-by-case so I don’t become paralyzed into dissenting in every case because I don’t like the way the commission is doing it,” she said. For protestors from the group Beyond Extreme Energy, the approvals represent the commission again kowtowing to fossil fuel interests. The group of mid-Atlantic environmental activists has fought FERC for years over natural gas pipelines, disrupting commission meetings and even blockading FERC’s underground parking garage during one action last year. "It's just locking in fossil fuel infrastructure for the next 40 or 50 years,” Melinda Tuhus, a spokesperson for Beyond Extreme Energy, said of the LNG orders.

LNG Approvals Boost America's Export Outlook-- America is set to become an even bigger player in the global liquefied natural gas market after the nation’s top regulator approved two more projects to export the super-chilled fuel. Tellurian Inc.’s proposed $28 billion Driftwood terminal in Louisiana and Sempra Energy’s Port Arthur LNG project in Texas were cleared by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in a 3-1 vote in Washington on Thursday, with Democratic Commissioner Richard Glick dissenting. The approvals followed a breakthrough at the commission, which had been divided 2-2 along partisan lines over how much climate change should be factored into pipeline and LNG projects. That resulted in Venture Global LNG Inc. getting the go-ahead for its $5 billion Calcasieu Pass LNG export terminal in Louisiana in February. Tellurian and Sempra will face fierce competition as global gas supplies soar, however. New terminals in Australia, Russia and Qatar are sending cargoes across the world, and three more U.S. projects may start up by the end of the year, putting the nation on course to challenge Qatar as the second-largest exporter. LNG prices have plunged, calling into question the economics of new plants. ”FERC’s job is not to judge which projects are the most competitive or have the best chances of finding financing,” said Jason Feer, global head of business intelligence at ship broker Poten & Partners Inc. in Houston. “So while you need FERC approval to start construction, you still need to have all of the contracts or financial commitments you need to actually execute the project.” Since the Venture Global approval, U.S. regulators have said LNG projects will be decided on their own merits, and the Democratic commissioners have renewed calls for FERC to pay more attention to greenhouse gas emissions in its deliberations. The commission is short one member following the death of former Republican Chairman Kevin McIntyre in January. Both projects received final environmental impact statements in January. ClearView Energy analysts said the Energy Department may issue LNG export licenses for both proposals over the next few weeks. 

U.S. refiners planning major plant overhauls in second quarter (Reuters) - U.S. oil refiners are planning a heavy slate of plant overhauls in the second quarter, with total production this month off 8.5 percent compared with the start of the year, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Early spring and winter traditionally are heavy periods for U.S. refinery maintenance. But refiners are planning more upgrades than usual in the first half of 2019 to avoid fall and winter shutdowns as they prepare to meet coming low-sulfur standards. This year’s maintenance schedule and higher crude prices helped push U.S. gasoline prices to a national average of $2.83 a gallon last week, up 26 percent since the start of the year, according to data from the American Automobile Association. U.S. crude futures rose 32 percent in the first quarter. International Maritime Organization (IMO) 2020 is a standard for maritime diesel that takes effect on Jan. 1 and is designed to reduce air pollution. Refiners have been revamping their plants to make IMO 2020 compliant fuel. Most U.S. refiners typically ramp up production of motor fuel during the second quarter to build inventories for the summer driving season. But Bell said an average of 1 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil refining capacity could be offline through the second quarter. Work on refiners’ crude distillation units (CDUs) and catalytic crackers helped send volumes down to 15.85 million bpd in the last week of March, from 17.5 million bpd in the first week of January, the EIA said. CDUs generate feedstocks for fuel processing units such as catalytic crackers. Among the refiners scheduling major maintenance this month are Valero Energy Corp and BP Plc. Valero’s Memphis, Tennessee, refinery will shut its 65,000 bpd gasoline producing fluidic catalytic cracking unit for a 60-day overhaul the last week of April. BP is shutting one of two small CDUs at its 413,500 bpd Whiting, Indiana, refinery on Monday for 30 days of work. The Whiting refinery is BP’s largest in North America. Work also is continuing this month on a planned overhaul of the 112,000 bpd gasoline-producing residual catalytic cracking unit at Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s 218,200 bpd Norco, Louisiana, refinery. That unit is expected to restart in the first full week of May.

 US Gulf Imports Nosedive After Chemical Fire, Reduced Iraqi Shipments -- The U.S. Gulf Coast imported the least amount of crude in nearly three decades as shipments from Iraq plummeted and congestion lingered on a critical waterway weeks after a blaze and chemical spill at the Intercontinental Terminals Co. tank farm. The Gulf Coast took just 1.4 million barrels a day of crude last week as Iraqi oil imports fell to a trickle of only 5,000 barrels a day, according to weekly preliminary government data. That’s the lowest amount since August 2015 when the OPEC producer shipped nothing its U.S. buyers. The reduced Iraqi shipments caused deliveries from OPEC’s top six suppliers to fall below 1 million barrels a day for the first time in data going back to 2010. ITC’s petroleum and chemical tank farm caught fire mid-March resulting in shipping restrictions on part of the Houston Ship Channel, a critical waterway for the petroleum industry. Two weekends ago, the same channel was shut again because of a severe storm, but it resumed traffic with restrictions the next day. OPEC and its partners have entered into a pact to reduce crude supply in an effort to cut inventories. The group’s de facto leader Saudi Arabia has been targeting the U.S. for most its cuts, even sending Saudi Aramco-owned Motiva Enterprises LLC no crude in January. That may change if President Trump has called for more supply because of rising international crude prices.

Recent chemical fires spur safety concerns – video - CNBC’s Brian Sullivan reports from Crosby, Texas, on recent major chemical fires and the growing concern over safety following deregulation.

Soaring Permian Output To Cap Oil Rally - The U.S. crude oil production juggernaut continues to move forward. In 2018, U.S. production increased 17 percent over the previous year in a dynamic that is impacting both geopolitics as well as setting a new course for American global diplomacy. Annual U.S. crude oil production reached a record level of 10.96 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2018, 1.6 million b/d higher than 2017 levels. In December 2018, monthly U.S. crude oil production reached 11.96 million b/d, the highest monthly level of crude oil production in U.S. history, the EIA said on Tuesday. Moreover, U.S. crude oil production has increased significantly over the past 10 years, driven mainly by production from tight rock formations using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, hence the U.S. shale oil revolution. The EIA now projects that U.S. crude oil production will continue to grow this year and in 2020, averaging 12.3 million b/d and 13.0 million b/d, respectively. Not surprisingly, Texas is still leading U.S. production, similar to the lead it took up to the 1970s when the state was largely responsible for allowing the U.S. to play the then-role of global oil markets swing producer before ceding that role to a Saudi Arabia-led OPEC for the next four decades. Texas accounted for 40 percent of the national total oil production last year. Crude oil production in Texas averaged 4.4 million b/d in 2018 and reached a record-high monthly production level of 4.9 million b/d in December. Texas’s 2018 annual production increased almost 950,000 b/d. This growth has been largely driven by output in the Permian region in west Texas. For its part, Permian production represented nearly 60 percent of the total increase in overall U.S. oil output last year. Oil production increases in the Permian region, which spans parts of Texas and New Mexico, also drove a 215,000 b/d, or 45 percent production increase in New Mexico in 2018. This level was the second-largest state-level growth in 2018 and accounted for 13 percent of the total U.S. increase, setting a new annual record production level in New Mexico.

Beta Crude Gathering System To Help Permian's Midland Basin Grow -- The rapid development of the Permian’s vast hydrocarbon resources that we expect will continue through the 2020s and beyond can’t happen if there’s insufficient gathering-pipeline infrastructure in place to transport crude from well sites to takeaway pipelines. Similarly, the favorable pricing that Permian producers hope to receive for their crude oil is possible only if their gathering systems are interconnected to two or more long-haul, big-bore pipelines that offer them some serious destination optionality. The need for new gathering pipes with multiple links to Gulf Coast- and Cushing-bound takeaway pipes is the driving force behind the Beta Crude Connector, a planned 100-mile-plus pipeline network in the heart of the Permian’s Midland Basin that was unveiled on Monday (April 15) by a joint venture of Concho Resources and gathering specialist Frontier Energy Services. Today, we kick off a new blog series on crude-gathering projects in the Permian with a look at the Concho/Frontier plan. Gathering pipelines play a critically important — but often overlooked — role in the midstream sector. These hydra-like systems, with a number of small-diameter-pipe “tentacles” feeding larger-bore pipes downstream, provide the most cost-effective means of transporting crude oil from the lease to storage and to takeaway pipelines. The rapid development of new, high-intensity production areas like the Permian’s Delaware and Midland basins depends on well-planned gathering systems; relying only on trucks to haul crude to long-haul pipelines would slow development of these areas to a crawl. As we said in our Hot Legs blog series a couple of years ago, there’s been a fierce battle on to build new gathering pipelines in the Permian, and midstream companies better bring their A game. Why? Because successfully developing these systems requires a keen understanding of three key factors: lining up producer commitments, providing takeaway optionality, and minimizing the total cost of moving crude from the lease to the Gulf Coast, Cushing or other destinations. Takeaway optionality is particularly important. Producers want to get the highest possible price per barrel, and the best way to do that is to have access to the destination that offers the best price at a given moment.

Argus launches new crude price reflecting shifting Permian crude quality - Global energy and commodity price reporting agency Argus today launches a new light crude price assessment to reflect growing light oil production in the Permian basin of west Texas and New Mexico. The new West Texas Light (WTL) price, published daily in the Argus Crude report, is for Permian basin crude with a gravity of 44.1-49.9°API traded at terminals in Midland, Texas.Midland is the chief gathering hub for Permian basin crude, the fastest growing source of oil in the world. An increasing share of Permian crude is lighter than 44°API, and midstream companies have created the WTL stream to separate lighter crude from the denser main Permian WTI grade, which is typically at 40-44°API.Much WTL trade is taking place at differentials to Argus’ benchmark WTI Midland price, which is assessed at terminals in Midland, Texas. Argus will publish its new WTL price assessment as a differential to WTI Cushing as well as an outright number.WTL has also begun to trade at Houston at a differential to the benchmark Argus WTI Houston price, which is widely used to price US exports. Argus WTI Houston, which is assessed at Magellan’s MEH terminal, is also the settlement price for derivatives contracts on the Ice and CME exchanges, where open interest currently stands at 200mn bl with daily trading volumes topping 10mn bl. Argus intends to publish a separate WTL Houston index as volumes grow.   “Argus WTI Houston and Argus WTI Midland are two of the most liquid and transparent physical spot crude price indexes in the world. We expect to see the liquidity of the WTL market at Midland and later at Houston grow rapidly as well.”

Permian Basin water disposal volumes expected to double by 2022 - Oilfield wastewater disposal volumes are expected to double in the Permian Basin within the next two to three years, a new analysis from global energy intelligence firm Wood Mackenzie shows. As drilling activity continues to expand in the arid region between West Texas and southeastern New Mexico, hydraulic fracturing has resulted in growing challenges in sourcing water and what to do with wastewater from completed wells. Wastewater disposal costs can account for a third of total lease operating expenses in the Permian Basin, Wood Mackenzie Director of Upstream Consulting Matthias Bloennigen said in a statement. "Even with 100 percent water reuse for further completions, which is unlikely, the current saltwater disposal infrastructure is expected to hit capacity in the near future," Bloennigen said. "As Permian operators continue to focus on boosting production output, they will need to develop and refine their water strategies." While exploration and production companies scramble to avoid bottlenecks and well shut-ins, water midstream companies are providing various solutions as the water management challenges grow. More than a dozen water-related infrastructure deals have taken place in the Permian over the last three years, and the pace of transactions is expected to pick up considerably in 2019. "We've seen a lot of interest from private equity, as there's still a huge need for water infrastructure," Bloennigen said. With more than 460 drilling rigs in operation in the Permian Basin, the arid region accounts for nearly half of the exploration and production activity in the United States. Some 246 operators have filed more than 2,400 drilling permits for projects on the Texas side of the Permian Basin, accounting for nearly two-third of drilling permits in the Lone Star State, Railroad Commission of Texas show.

The Largest Challenge to Permian Field Development  - From sourcing to disposal, water is becoming the largest challenge to field development in the Permian Basin. That’s according to energy research and consultancy company Wood Mackenzie (WoodMac), which made the statement in a recent post published on its website. In the post, WoodMac said failure to address these issues could increase costs, “with potential consequences as severe as well shut-ins”. “The number of completed Permian wells continues to increase, and water disposal volumes are forecast to double by 2022,” WoodMac said in the statement. “This produces increasingly large volumes of water. Even with 100 percent water re-use for completions, which is unlikely, the current salt water disposal infrastructure is expected to hit capacity in the near future. Additionally, increased water trucking has created traffic jams and damaged roads,” WoodMac added. “Water disposal costs can account for a third of total lease operating expenses in the Permian. Producers simply cannot afford to cut corners on water management,” WoodMac continued. In the post, WoodMac stated that the water midstream space is “ripe” for mergers and acquisitions and revealed that it expects the pace of water-related infrastructure deals in the Permian to “pick up considerably” in 2019. “The water midstream space is screaming out for capital in the Permian. The infrastructure business is in its early stages of development and offers numerous possibilities for revenue streams,” WoodMac said. Back in January,Rystad Energy revealed that demand for frac water in the Permian exceeded the total U.S. demand of 2016. The company forecasted at the time that water demand in the Permian will likely surpass 2.5 billion barrels by 2020. Earlier this week the U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasted that oil and gas production in the Permian would hit 4.13 million barrels and 14.11 billion cubic feet per day in May, respectively. 

 US Drops 10 Oil and Gas Rigs -- This week's rig count saw declines of eight oil rigs and two gas rigs for a net loss of 10. The U.S. dropped a total of 10 rigs this week, according to weekly data released today from Baker Hughes, a GE Company. This is the second consecutive week that the U.S. rig count has declined. This week’s count saw declines of eight oil rigs and two gas rigs for a net loss of 10. All 10 rigs lost were onshore. No states added rigs this week, but the following states lost rigs: •Louisiana (-2) •Oklahoma (-2) •Texas (-2) •Wyoming (-2) •Alaska (-1) •Colorado (-1).   Among the major basins, all rig counts remained flat, except for the Haynesville – which lost two rigs – and the DJ-Niobrara, Mississippian and Permian – all of which declined by one rig. The Permian currently has 463 active rigs, which accounts for almost half of the U.S.’ onshore rigs. The nation’s overall rig count is currently 1,012. This is one rig less than the count one year ago.

U.S. shale producers see rising ultralight crude output hitting pricing (Reuters) - Much of the new crude coming from the top U.S. shale field is so light that it is starting to affect pricing for the region’s oil, producers attending an energy conference this week said. Permian producers generally sell their crude at WTI benchmark prices, but rising supplies of ultralight oil may require them to offer $1 to $2 a barrel discounts to refiners requiring heavier grades, some said. Newer production coming from the Permian Basin in West Texas and New Mexico has API gravity in the low 50s degrees, compared to 40 to 44 degrees for West Texas Intermediate. Refiners on the U.S. Gulf Coast, whose plants are geared to run heavier crudes, are having to pay higher prices for those supplies because of slowing output and transport problems at heavy-oil producers Venezuela, Mexico and Canada. Whether buyers increasingly demand a discount for Permian oil “just depends on how much everyone keeps growing the lighter production, and the vast majority of the growth is in lighter crude,” Rob MacAskie, finance chief at Zarvona Energy LLC, said in an interview at a Hart Energy conference in Fort Worth. Zarvona has been selling its oil, most of which has a gravity of 38-42 degrees, at WTI pricing, he said. The U.S. benchmark generally is classified as 44.1-49.9 degrees. Price reporting agency Argus Media last week launched a daily WTL price assessment based on trading at Midland, Texas, the heart of the Permian Basin. The discount for that lighter crude is running between $1 and $2 a barrel, said Allen May, executive vice president at Scala Energy LLC. Colgate Energy LLC, another Permian producer, has had its output blended with heavier West Texas grades, insulating it from potential pricing pressure, said Will Hickey, the company’s co-CEO. “The whole world is scared of this really high API. We haven’t seen it (price pressure) yet but it’s something that could happen, he said. “You’re at the mercy of what your acreage produces,” said Hickey. 

Trump uses energy orders as political weapon in Texas - President Trump appeared last week in Crosby, Texas, to sign executive orders aimed at boosting the oil and gas sector at a union traditionally loyal to the Democratic Party. Those hard hat-donning onlookers and the manufacturing setting were no accident. Trump is aiming to drive a wedge between union members and the Democratic Party on energy at a time when the state's demographics are changing, so much so that the Lone Star State is no longer quite the shoo-in it has been for the Republican Party. "Trump gets to show union workers he is delivering," said Joe Barton, a former Texas Republican congressman who successfully limited federal oversight of hydraulic fracturing, helping spur the country's shale revolution. It's a message that Trump is also delivering in other swing states. Yesterday in a Minnesota speech at a trucking company, Trump said, "For some reason, Democrats don't like pipelines." The president delivered the executive actions in Texas before a crowd gathered at a training center for the International Union of Operating Engineers, an organization that has more than 400,000 members who have greatly benefited from the oil and gas boom in the U.S. in the past decade. "We've ended the war on American energy," Trump told a few hundred heavy-machine workers. "We put thousands and thousands of patriotic union members like you to work, building our energy future. Since the election, we created more than 5.5 million new jobs and more than 60,000 oil and gas construction jobs." 

Chevron bid shows there is no place like home for US oil - Anyone who wants to understand how big oil views the energy market should take a close look at the $50bn bid by Chevron for the US company Anadarko, announced on Friday. The deal is based on three important assumptions. The first is that oil is here to stay. Peak oil — meaning peak demand — is still a long way off and is unlikely to be reached before 2030. Electric vehicles get all the attention but the number of cars and other light vehicles with internal combustion engines is still between 97 and 98 per cent of the global market. Even when oil demand peaks there should be no presumption that it will be followed by a sudden fall. A plateau is much more likely. Electric vehicles will win a share of the market but the growth areas of freight transport and aviation are still secure, almost completely unchallenged markets for oil. So is the petrochemicals business. A plateau of 100m barrels a day is the most likely outcome and that means that there is still a strong need for oil resources to be found and developed. Second, the industry is starting to realise that it has put too much emphasis on gas in recent years and not enough on oil. Natural gas demand has been strong and that has encouraged heavy investment in new gas developments. Chevron itself has invested heavily in gas in recent years — notably in a series of expensive large-scale projects in Australia. The nagging worry is that natural gas supply will outweigh demand as low-cost renewables, backed by public policies designed to reduce emissions, begin to penetrate electricity markets across the world. The demand for gas for use in power generation has driven recent growth but as the electricity market becomes more competitive gas will be increasingly vulnerable to the onward march of renewables. In the medium term, oil begins to appear a better bet. But the challenge, and the third and crucial message from the Chevron bid is that of access to the resources needed to sustain a large oil business. The challenge is compounded by the need to find supplies which can be developed at a low cost which will be resilient to any further fall in prices. There is no physical shortage of oil across the world but there are high political barriers to investment. The oil reserves of the Middle East remain largely closed to international investment because of state ownership (Saudi Arabia), or sanctions (Iran) or physical risks (Libya). Russia is off limits because of US sanctions legislation, Nigeria is still mired in corruption and Venezuela is trapped in its own political conflict. Much easier then to focus on the resources available at home. If you have to pay a premium so be it.

Investors are placing buyout bets on oil drillers after Chevron-Anadarko deal -- Chevron’s $33 billion deal to buy Anadarko Petroleum is having a halo effect for U.S. oil drillers, as investors place bets on the next acquisition target in the U.S. shale oil space.Shares of drillers with positions in the Permian Basin are on the rise following the deal, the sixth biggest on record in the oil and gas sector by enterprise value. The Permian Basin, which stretches across western Texas and southeastern New Mexico, is the center of a renaissance in U.S. oil and gas drilling.Chevron’s tie-up with Anadarko isn’t just about stitching together their Permian acreage, but the opportunity was a driving force in the deal.Many of the shale space’s biggest gainers since the deal are drillers that focus exclusively on the Permian.Paul Sankey, oil equity analyst at Mizuho Securities, said that makes sense. He believes future consolidation will be driven by efforts to more efficiently develop Permian acreage.Drillers can do that by stringing together big strips of land that make it more cost-effective to execute the advanced drilling methods necessary to extract oil from shale rock formations. Following the deal, Chevron boasted that the combined company would have a 75-mile-wide corridor in a sweet spot of the Permian.“As a consequence, expect focus to be on complementary acreage position, which helps explain the recent performance of the Permian pure-plays following the CVX-APC news — a single basin operator seems a lot simpler to integrate into an existing position,” Sankey said in research note Wednesday.

Chevron's Anadarko deal to pressure U.S. shale producers to explore sales (Reuters) - Oil major Chevron Corp’s $33 billion deal on Friday to acquire Anadarko Petroleum Corp has some investors and industry executives asking whether it is time for other U.S. shale oil and gas producers to consider selling themselves. Anadarko has been one of the pioneers of the shale revolution, which turned the United States into the world’s biggest oil producer, overtaking Russia and Saudi Arabia. The Houston-based company’s willingness to ink a sale, rather than capitalize on oil prices rebounding, illustrates the significant challenges facing many U.S. shale producers. These challenges include exploration and production becoming more expensive, as the oil and gas that is easier to access gets scarcer and existing wells turn less productive. Deep-pocketed oil majors such as Chevron can better cope with these costs, because they can get cheaper drilling rates by committing to longer contacts and afford cutting-edge technology to get more out of wells. Shale producers such as Pioneer Natural Resources, Continental Resources, Diamondback Energy and Concho Resources have already been under pressure from investors to improve their profitability. Many investors now say Chevron’s deal will embolden them to grill companies in the sector whether it is time to throw in the towel and sell. “If you have large acreage positions like Pioneer and Concho, or lesser but more contiguous positions like Parsley Energy, and you’re a pure-play Permian producer, there’s no doubt that you are on the radar screen for these majors,” said Rob Thummel, portfolio manager at Tortoise Capital Advisors. Pioneer, Concho and Parsley shares rose 11.5 percent, 8.8 percent and 11.7 percent respectively on Friday following the announcement of the sale of Anadarko, amid investor speculation over who the next takeover target will be. 

Chevron and Exxon Say They Can Turn Around the Failed Finances of Fracking Industry -- After a decade of the American fracking industry burning through hundreds of billions of dollars more than it earned, this industry previously dominated by shale drilling specialists is entering a new phase. The oil majors — a group of multinational companies that typically have divisions throughout the oil supply chain — now are investing heavily in fracked oil and gas operations.  The latest development is Chevron acquiring shale oil and gas company Anadarko for $33 billion. One of Chevron’s current “human energy” ads uses the catchphrase “We do difficult.” Which is good for Chevron if the oil major hopes to profit off this investment, because making money on U.S.shale oil has proven very difficult for the current players.  Why would major oil companies choose to invest in an industry that has failed to turn profits in the past decade? It helps to consider the state of the broader oil and gas industry. Oil producers working in Canadian tar sands have been losing money for years, a trend that continues. The natural gas industry in Canada is in even worse shape. In the U.S., natural gas prices are so low that in areas flush with it like the Permian Shale in Texas, gas is selling for negative amounts — meaning gas producers have to pay someone to take it. Norway’s state-owned investment fund — an international leader with approximately a trillion dollars under management — recently announced its divestment from U.S. shale oil and Canadian tar sands oil companies. Chevron CEO Mike Wirth recently told investors of the shale decision, “There’s nothing we can invest in that delivers higher rates of return.” To put that in perspective, Reuters recently concluded, “U.S.shale producers last year again spent more money than they collected.” Chevron’s top executive says the company’s best investment option is a business model that consistently has delivered negative returns. Not to be outdone, ExxonMobil is also making a big move into U.S. shale, with plans focused on the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico. As DeSmog reported, Exxon is selling the idea that a partnership with Microsoft and the use of cloud computing will help it unlock the secret to profits in the Permian.  Chevron also has stated it doesn’t expect to make money on shale oil production in 2019 but that should change in 2020. The refrain of “we’ll make money next year” is one constant in the shale oil industry.

Sur de Texas nat gas pipeline seen starting by June  - TransCanada and IEnova's  Sur de Texas-Tuxpan pipeline to add U.S. natural gas export capacity to Mexico should come online by the end of June, a Mexican government official says. The texas-to-Mexico pipeline had been expected to come online by mid-February but technical and other problems have delayed the project by more than a year. Sur de Texas will connect with Enbridge's 2.6B cf/day Valley Crossing pipeline; once the entire pipeline system comes online, it will comprise the largest cross-border gas pipeline by volume.

A creek flowing to the Colorado River turned black. Now the state has sued the alleged polluter. - — For more than two months, the waters of Skull Creek have flowed black, its surface covered in an iridescent sheen. Yellowed fish skeletons line the pebbled banks of the Colorado River tributary, and a dizzying chemical odor hangs in the air. The odor is so strong that Julie Schmidt says she can smell it inside her house. She and her husband bought 10 acres along the creek in December with visions of an idyllic country upbringing for their children, ages 10 and 2. Now, she isn't sure they should play outside. “Last summer, you could go into the creek behind the house and it was crystal clear. You could play in it, you could fish,” said Schmidt, who moved from nearby Garwood and has lived in Colorado County her entire life. “Now you don’t want to touch it. You pick up a rock, turn it upside down, and it’s completely black.”  Locals and elected officials in this small southeast Texas community near the intersection of Interstate 10 and Texas 71 say the source of the problem is obvious: an oil and gas waste recycling facility near the creek that is owned by Columbus-based Inland Environmental and Remediation. Although Inland has denied wrongdoing, the Texas attorney general sued the company Friday — 10 weeks after citizens first began complaining — alleging the company illegally discharged industrial waste into the creek and stored that waste without a permit. On Friday, a state district court in Travis County granted a temporary restraining order against the company and its president, David Polston, saying he must “cease and prevent all discharges of waste” from the site into state waters. The state’s lawsuit seeks monetary damages of up to $1 million.

Environmental group IDs New Mexico methane emissions surge -- — A prominent environmental group announced new evidence Thursday that methane emissions in New Mexico are climbing amid a surge in oil and natural gas production in the Permian Basin drilling zone that straddles the state boundary with Texas.The analysis from the Environmental Defense Fund estimates that statewide emissions at oil and natural gas production sites of the potent heat-trapping gas linked to global warming are five times higher than what is reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA tracks emissions by large petroleum producers.Defense Fund scientist David Lyon said the analysis incorporates methane sensor measurements from about 90 locations in the Permian Basin of New Mexico and Texas in mid-2018. That monitoring was done by a research team from the University of Wyoming.“The Permian Basin has become the pre-eminent, most active drilling basin of anywhere in the country,” said Jon Goldstein, director of regulatory and legislative affairs for the Environmental Defense Fund. “We wondered, ‘What is that doing to statewide methane emissions?’ ”The new analysis estimates annual methane emissions of just over a million metric tons (1.1 million U.S. tons) linked to oil and natural gas facilities including well pads, compression stations and pipelines — with the majority of emissions emanating from southeastern New Mexico.A prior study by the Environmental Defense Fund based on 2015 data documented emission of about 570,000 annual metric tons across New Mexico. Industry officials said that producers are already taking steps to capture more of the methane because of economic incentives, while Goldstein says that drillers who target oil do not always stand to profit when natural gas emerges.

Indigenous leaders want less drilling near sacred sites (AP) — Leaders of the Navajo Nation and Pueblo tribes expressed frustration Monday with federal oversight of oil and gas leases on public holdings near ancient Native American cultural sites and endorsed legislation to restrict natural gas development around Chaco Culture National Historic Park. Acoma Pueblo tribal Gov. Brian Vallo told members of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources at a hearing in New Mexico that not enough is being done to safeguard sacred sites scattered beyond the national park at Chaco Canyon. Many of the sites involve more than just physical features that can be surveyed by archaeologists, he said, referring to the less tangible aspects of Chaco. “Only we can identify these resources,” he said. Lawmakers including U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona and New Mexico’s Debra Haaland and Ben Ray Luján said they were profoundly moved by a visit Sunday to ancient Chaco dwellings and nearby industrial sites where they used infrared camera technology to view methane escaping into the atmosphere. “You could see the plumes coming out and moving across the sky,” Luján said. “There’s no question that this is occurring.” The House committee was exploring the possible impacts of air pollution on sacred sites. They also quizzed New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on her administration’s push to contain emissions of methane through stricter local regulation. New Mexico’s all-Democratic House delegation is seeking to halt new oil and natural gas lease sales on federal holdings within a 10-mile (16-kilometer) buffer zone around Chaco Culture National Historic Park.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren says she'd ban new fossil fuel production on public lands as president -Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Monday that she would immediately move to place a “total moratorium” on new federal fossil fuel leases if elected president, blocking energy companies from drilling offshore and producing oil, gas and coal from U.S. government-owned land. The Massachusetts Democrat and 2020 contender said she would prioritize building new renewable energy projects. Warren said her administration would set a goal of producing 10 percent of the nation’s electric power from wind towers, solar farms, and other clean energy projects constructed offshore or on public lands. Warren revealed the proposal in a blog post on Medium that laid out her plans for managing the public parks and vast swaths of land that the federal government manages. She said it would form part of her strategy for addressing climate change. “It is wrong to prioritize corporate profits over the health and safety of our local communities,” she wrote. “And it’s not enough to end our public lands’ contribution to climate change. We have an enormous opportunity to make them a part of the climate solution, and for both economic and environmental reasons, we should take it.” Warren said she would also reinstate an Obama-era rule to prevent methane — a potent greenhouse gas — from escaping into the atmosphere from oil and gas operations on federal land. The policy would mark a dramatic reversal from President Donald Trump’s position. Trump has sought to increase drilling on public lands and open virtually all federal offshore areas to oil and gas exploration. The Trump administration has overseen the rollback of dozens of environmental and energy regulations, including the methane rule. Warren’s plan goes further than measures taken by the Obama administration. President Barack Obama placed a moratorium on federal coal leasing — though not on oil and gas production — and sought to indefinitely block offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean and parts of the Atlantic. Permitting for onshore oil and gas drilling was up nearly 40% in 2018, due in large part to expanded use of automated systems set in motion under Obama, according to a Reuters analysis. In 2018, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management generated $1.1 billion in onshore oil and gas lease sales, nearly three times the previous annual record set in 2008.

What Warren's leasing moratorium would mean for CO2 - Climate activists have long called for an end to leasing federal lands for fossil fuel development. Now, they can count a 2020 presidential candidate among their number.Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, said yesterday that she would sign an executive order on her first day in the White House to end new leases for fossil fuel development on federal land. Doing so would result in significant carbon reductions over time, analysts say. Nearly a quarter of U.S. emissions stem from energy production on federal land. In a 2018 paper, researchers at the Stockholm Environment Institute estimated that putting a stop on new leases would reduce carbon emissions by 280 million tons in 2030, or about 4% of total U.S. emissions."Given the climate imperative, there is a lot of reasons not to be extracting fossil fuels from public lands," said Peter Erickson, a senior scientist at the institute and the paper's author. "We don't need those fossil fuels for our energy supply."But whether Warren's plan is legal is up for debate. While federal law rests considerable discretion with the Interior secretary to make decisions over leasing, it also calls for quarterly lease auctions.Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, which represents oil and gas interests, called Warren's plan "not a serious proposal.""Congress has specifically mandated oil and natural gas development on appropriate public lands, and an executive order cannot undo law that has been in place for decades," Sgamma said. "Her premise about development damaging public lands is completely false, coming from her complete inexperience with public lands issues."

Bernie Sanders ‘Raises the Bar Even Further’ on Climate With Vow to Ban Fracking, All New Fossil Fuel Projects - Bernie Sanders won praise from environmental groups after releasing a climate platform that calls for a complete ban on fracking, a moratorium on all new fossil fuel infrastructure, an end to oil exports, and a Green New Deal."Climate change is the single greatest threat facing our planet," the Vermont senator and 2020 contender wrote on the climate page of his website, which was unveiled this week. If elected president, Sanders said, his administration will work to:

  • Pass a Green New Deal to save American families money and generate millions of jobs by transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels to 100 percent energy efficiency and sustainable energy. A Green New Deal will protect workers and the communities in which they live to ensure a transition to family-sustaining wage, union jobs.
  • Invest in infrastructure and programs to protect the frontline communities most vulnerable to extreme climate impacts like wildfires, sea level rise, drought, floods, and extreme weather like hurricanes.
  • Reduce carbon pollution emissions from our transportation system by building out high-speed passenger rail, electric vehicles, and public transit.
  • Ban fracking and new fossil fuel infrastructure and keep oil, gas, and coal in the ground by banning fossil fuel leases on public lands.
  • End exports of coal, natural gas, and crude oil.

Sanders' climate platform comes just days after fellow 2020 hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) vowed that her administration would ban fossil fuel drilling offshore and on public lands on day one. Environmentalists celebrated the senators' bold climate positions and urged other 2020 contenders to follow suit.

 Industry-Threatening Colorado Bill Signed into Law -- Colorado Governor Jared Polis has signed Senate Bill 181 into law. In a statement posted on social media site Twitter, Polis said he was “proud” to stand alongside bipartisan elected officials, environmental organizations and the oil and gas industry to sign the bill. Commenting on the development, Colorado Petroleum Council (CPC) Spokesman Ben Marter said, “Governor Polis’ signature makes Senate Bill 181 law, which fundamentally alters the natural gas and oil industry’s future in the State of Colorado”.“From the introduction of the measure early last month, our industry vigorously opposed the policy and the process. Senate Bill 181 remains a threat to one of the foundations of Colorado’s economy,” he added. “We are appreciative that legislative leaders heard our concerns and worked with us to begin to address them. Colorado’s energy future is too important to be wielded as a partisan weapon, and all Coloradans deserve to know the consequences of this bill, both intended and unintended,” Marter continued. The CPC representative said that while Senate Bill 181 remains “deeply flawed”, Governor Polis and state officials have pledged to work with industry to create “a reasonable regulatory framework that works for all Coloradans”. In an organization statement posted on its website last month, the American Petroleum Institute said Senate Bill 181 would “at the very least hinder, if not prohibit” energy development in Colorado, “directly threatening hundreds of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars of state revenue and hundreds of millions in education funding”.

 Gov. Jared Polis ushers in new era of drilling regulation, but are “oil and gas wars” over? - Erin Martinez was at a news conference in February when Colorado legislative leaders and Gov. Jared Polis announced a bill that would make sweeping changes to how oil and gas are regulated. And she and her family had a front-row seat as Polis signed the bill into law Tuesday. The bill was signed into law a day before the second anniversary of the house explosion that killed her husband, Mark Martinez, and brother, Joey Irwin. The explosion, which severely burned Martinez, was caused by an uncapped, cut flow line that was still attached to a well and leaked odorless methane and propane into the house. The new law requires increased monitoring of flow lines and public disclosure of information about them. “We’re really happy. This is something that means a lot to our family,” said Martinez, whose son and daughter sat with her to see the bill signed. “It feels like it’s a great way to honor Mark and Joey. The two-year anniversary is tomorrow so it’s really fitting that we got this done before that came.” As he prepared to sign the bill, Polis said he hoped the new law will end the conflicts over the drilling that has increased in more populated areas. “Today, with the signing of this bill, it is our hope that the oil and gas wars that have enveloped our state are over and the winner is all of us,” Polis said. The bill makes protecting public health and safety and the environment a priority when considering oil and gas projects. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the main regulatory body, would no longer be charged with fostering development. RELATED: Colorado regulators prepare to hit the ground running when oil and gas bill becomes law It also allows cities and counties to regulate oil and gas development under their planning and land-use powers, something communities have requested as drilling has increased in and near the growing cities and counties north and east of Denver.

Appeals court weighs Trump permit for Keystone XL pipeline  (AP) — U.S. Justice Department attorneys want an appeals court to let construction proceed on the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada. But opponents say President Donald Trump is trying to skirt the law by issuing a new permit for the project. The Trump administration has asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a lower court ruling that blocked construction of the $8 billion pipeline. Government attorneys say the November ruling that more environmental study was needed is now meaningless. That’s because Trump issued a new permit to developer TransCanada in March. In a legal filing late Wednesday, environmental groups asked the appeals court to keep construction blocked. Legal experts say the case is another test of Trump’s use of presidential power to get his way.

Canada's Oil Patch Divided on Nixing Crude-by-rail Plan -- Alberta Premier-Elect Jason Kenney’s vow to cancel his predecessor’s C$3.7 billion ($2.8 billion) plan to increase the province’s crude-by-rail capacity is dividing Canada’s oil industry, with even one of his supporters saying he should keep the program. Kenney, whose United Conservative Party won a majority of legislative seats in the province’s election on Tuesday, argued on the campaign trail that taxpayer money shouldn’t be spent on the plan to alleviate a lack of pipelines. That stance is backed Brian Schmidt, the chief executive officer of Alberta oil and gas company Tamarack Valley Energy Ltd. Schmidt said he’s opposed to any government intervention in the oil market and that a widening discount for Canadian heavy crude compared with U.S. prices would spur companies to action. "As soon as there’s enough differential, the market will build those cars,” Schmidt said in an interview on the sidelines of a Canadian energy conference in Toronto. “I’m not sure it’s necessary to do public funding.” However, other Albertan oil producers are more supportive of the rail plan, introduced by Premier Rachel Notley last year. MEG Energy Corp. CEO Derek Evans said the investment is “a critical piece of the short-term strategy to solve the egress problem.” “Do I believe the province should be in the rail business in the long term? No,” Evans said in an interview. “That is a producer responsibility in the long term, but the government is required to act in the best interest of the constituents in the province, and that’s exactly the right thing to be doing at this time.” Grant Fagerheim, the CEO of Whitecap Resources Inc. and a Kenney supporter, said the premier-elect may maintain the program temporarily because it’s needed in the short term. However, new pipelines should come online before the program is scheduled to end, and keeping it beyond that point may distort the market for Canadian crude, he said. Whether any of Kenney’s planned changes actually increase investor interest in Canada’s energy industry remains to be seen. ARC Energy Research Institute Senior Director Jackie Forrest said Tuesday before the election results were released that the institutional investors from outside of Canada that she talks to don’t follow the country’s politics too much. She said she gets more questions on pipelines than anything else. 

California Water Board Finds Oil-industry Contaminants in Water Wells — Oil-industry pollutants were present in water-supply wells in Kern County, according to a new report released by the State Water Resources Control Board. Chemicals detected at elevated levels include arsenic, barium and boron. The report also showed a recent increase in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) near protected groundwater in California.  The report’s preliminary results were part of groundwater monitoring mandated by California Senate Bill 4 to determine the effects of fracking on groundwater. Though the report is unclear on whether the detected pollutants are from fracking operations, there were “multiple lines of geochemical evidence” showing oil-industry contaminants have co-mingled with nearby sources of protected groundwater.  The water board stated that pollution is “expected” given how close water wells are to oil and gas activities. It also deemed it “likely” that unlined oil-industry wastewater pits caused some of the water pollution. California is the only state with significant oil production that allows wastewater to be dumped into unlined pits, and independent scientists have called for the state to phase out this practice. The regional water boards still allow toxic wastewater discharges to continue at hundreds of wastewater pits.  The report also disclosed that fracking has increased in areas with protected groundwater. In 2017 oil companies submitted 12 proposed groundwater monitoring plans that, if approved, would allow fracking near valuable groundwater resources. In 2018 that number doubled to 24.  Fracking and oil-waste fluids can contain high levels of benzene and other cancer-causing chemicals. A 2015 study from the California Council on Science and Technology concluded that fracking in California happens at unusually shallow depths, dangerously close to underground drinking water supplies, with unusually high concentrations of dangerous contaminants. The study also concluded that groundwater monitoring alone is inadequate to protect water and that shallow fracking should be prohibited unless it can be proven safe.

The U.S. exported 2 million barrels per day of crude oil in 2018 to 42 destinations --In 2018, U.S. exports of crude oil rose to 2.0 million barrels per day (b/d), nearly double the 1.2 million b/d rate in 2017. Export volumes by destination changed significantly during the year, as U.S. crude oil exports to China fell and exports to other destinations such as South Korea, Taiwan, and Canada increased. The increase in U.S. crude oil exports was the result of increasing U.S. crude oil production and infrastructure changes. U.S. crude oil production increased 17% to 10.9 million b/d in 2018, with U.S. Gulf Coast states—the departure point for more than 90% of U.S. crude oil exports—producing 7.1 million b/d. The increased production is mostly of light, sweet crude oils, but U.S. Gulf Coast refineries are configured mostly to process heavy, sour crude oils. This increasing production and mismatch between crude oil type and refinery configuration causes more of U.S. crude oil production to be exported.In early 2018, the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) in the Gulf of Mexico was modified to enable the loading of vessels for crude oil exports. .In 2018, Asia was the largest regional destination for U.S. crude oil exports, followed by Europe, while, as in previous years, Canada was the largest single destination for U.S. crude oil exports. Canada received 378,000 b/d of U.S. crude oil exports, representing 19% of total U.S. crude oil exports in 2018. South Korea surpassed China to become the second-largest destination for U.S. crude oil exports in 2018, receiving 236,000 b/d compared with China’s 228,000 b/d. In the first half of 2018, the United States exported 376,000 b/d of crude oil to China, which made China the largest single destination for U.S. crude oil exports for that period. However, in August, September, and October of 2018, the United States exported no crude oil to China. U.S. crude oil exports to China resumed in the final two months of the year but at much lower volumes. On average, the United States exported 83,000 b/d of crude oil to China in the second half of 2018. In the summer of 2018, as part of ongoing trade negotiations between the United States and China, China temporarily included U.S. crude oil on a list of goods potentially subject to an increase in import tariffs. Around that time, the difference between the international crude oil benchmark Brent and the U.S. domestic price West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures prices narrowed: Brent prices went from $9 per barrel (b) higher than WTI in June to $6/b higher than WTI in July. The rapidly narrowing price discount of U.S. crude oils versus international crude oils and the potential for higher import tariffs caused China’s imports of U.S. crude oil to slow. As U.S. crude oil exports to China fell, exports to South Korea, Taiwan, Canada, and India increased. Ultimately, the rate of crude oil exports to all destinations in the second half of the year (2.2 million b/d) was higher than in the first half (1.8 million b/d).

Supertanker Loads American Oil Without Nearing US - (Bloomberg) -- A supertanker filling up with crude in the Gulf of Mexico is routine these days. Less so is a supertanker loading American oil without coming within a thousand miles of the Texas or Louisiana coast. The Alsace is steaming for China laden with about 2 million barrels of West Texas Intermediate crude after spending three weeks in the Caribbean, according to ship-tracking data and a document seen by Bloomberg. It received its cargo via two ship-to-ship transfers and one terminal visit in the U.S. Virgin Islands. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, the Alsace didn’t go to the U.S. coast to get the oil. Instead, two ships -- the Almi Galaxy and Ionic Aspis -- traveled some 2,000 miles from Beaumont, Texas, and arrived in late March at Limetree Bay oil terminal at St. Croix. The Almi Galaxy offloaded its contents via ship-to-ship transfer to the Alsace. The Ionic Aspis, which had arrived earlier, offloaded its cargo into a tank at the terminal where the supertanker later picked it up, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the purchases aren’t public. After loading at St. Croix, Alsace set course for Aruba. Off its coast, the supertanker received more oil from the Serenea, which had also loaded in Beaumont, according to the person familiar and ship-tracking data. Alsace was chartered by Unipec, the trading arm of China’s largest refiner China Petroleum and Chemical Corp., known as Sinopec, the person said. Unipec has been using tanks leased by Sinopec at Limetree Bay’s oil terminal at St. Croix. But the Asian trader has previously loaded VLCCs in the Gulf of Mexico to send American oil overseas. Alsace is now signaling that it’s heading to China, expected to reach Zhoushan around May 19

Schlumberger profit falls 19.8 percent on weak North America activity (Reuters) - Oilfield services provider Schlumberger NV on Thursday forecast rising international and offshore exploration spending this year, after posting a 20 percent drop in first-quarter profit due to weak North American demand. The oilfield services sector bellwether said it expects a 7 to 8 percent increase in investments by oil producers in markets outside North America, citing a 20 percent increase last quarter in offshore rig counts and growing exploration activity in Latin America, Africa and Asia. “We still see a fairly decent runway for increased international investments,” Chief Executive Officer Paal Kibsgaard said, citing higher new project approvals and a renewed interest in exploration outside North America. Second-quarter earnings per share will be 35 cents, in line with the Wall Street consensus estimate, said Kibsgaard. He cautioned seasonal factors would preclude the potential for exceeding that figure. Shares rose 1.8 percent to $48.27 in early trading, adding to the nearly 31 percent increase this year through Wednesday. Schlumberger previously forecast high single-digit percentage growth in international markets this year and a 10 percent year-over-year decline in onshore North American customer spending due to constraints on producer spending. U.S. oil producers remain wary of boosting spending, despite record U.S. oil production and a recovery in crude oil prices, as they focus on earnings growth to pacify shareholders. Schlumberger’s cash flow from operations fell to $326 million in the first quarter, from $568 million a year earlier. Net income declined to $421 million in the three months ended March 31, from $525 million a year earlier. 

Exxon, Others Add to Claims That US Sold Toxic Crude -  Exxon Mobil Corp. is the latest company to raise concerns that a stockpile of U.S. government crude is tainted with poisonous gas. The American energy giant said some of the oil it purchased last year from the Energy Department’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, or SPR, contained "extremely high levels" of hydrogen sulfide, according to emails obtained by Bloomberg under the Freedom of Information Act. In some cases, the gas level was 250 times higher than government safety standards allow.   Analysts have pointed to the stockpile as a safeguard against tightening crude supplies after U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela curbed their oil exports. But Exxon’s discovery, which follows complaints by Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Macquarie Group Ltd and PetroChina Co., suggest that the reserve may not offer refiners as much insurance against diminishing volumes of higher sulfur, or sour, crude as previously thought.  In PetroChina’s case, the agency acknowledged spending around $1 million to clean up a contaminated cargo. The prospect of tainted crude in the reserve complicates future sales of U.S. oil, a key tool for funding government programs. A 5 million-barrel sale is planned for 2019, and 221 million barrels of oil are planned for sale from 2020 to 2027. While hydrogen sulfide occurs naturally in crude, producers often take pains to remove it because it can put workers at risk and corrode pipelines and refineries. Many pipelines have capped the permitted amount of hydrogen sulfide, or H2S, at 10 parts per million (ppm). " Exxon was one of five companies that purchased oil in an Energy Department sale in August. Exxon took 1.5 million barrels of Bryan Mound sour crude -- a high sulfur oil that’s recently become more expensive as global supply shrink -- by pipeline to Texas City. There, the company discovered hydrogen sulfide levels that were at 5,000 ppm, according to emails sent to the department in November by Mattias Bruno, a lead oil trader at Exxon Mobil. The exposure limit set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is 20 ppm. Exposure at 500-700 ppm could cause a person to collapse in five minutes and die within an hour.

Russia seeks Chinese support in developing Arctic shipping routes, promising long-term gas supplies in return - Russia wants to team up with China to build an Arctic shipping route, its ambassador to Beijing has said. Moscow recently set out an ambitious programme to build new ports and other infrastructure facilities to increase cargo shipments across the Arctic, also known as the Northern Sea Route. Russian ambassador Andrey Denisov told the South China Morning Post that negotiations over the supply of Russian gas to China through a route known as Power of Siberia Two were at an advanced stage. “Almost everything has been completed so far but there is only one gap, which is the price,” Denisov said. “Price is the final detail but a crucial one and it’s quite natural in the discussion between seller and buyer – the seller wants the price as high as possible but the buyer wants to pay as little as possible.” Denisov said the two sides were accelerating the pace of the negotiations and he was optimistic they would reach a deal. “China as a buyer needs gas and a reliable long-term source. Russia is definitely that kind of source,” he said. 

Venezuela skirts U.S. sanctions by funneling oil sales via Russia - President Nicolas Maduro is funneling cash flow from Venezuelan oil sales through Russian state energy giant Rosneft as he seeks to evade U.S. sanctions designed to oust him from power, according to sources and documents reviewed by Reuters. The sales are the latest sign of the growing dependence of Venezuela’s cash-strapped government on Russia as the United States tightens a financial noose around Maduro, who it describes as a dictator. With its economy reeling from years of recession and a sharp decline in oil production, Venezuela was already struggling to finance imports and government spending before Washington imposed tough restrictions on state oil company PDVSA in January. Oil accounts for more than 90 percent of exports from the OPEC nation and the lion’s share of government revenues. Maduro has accused U.S. President Donald Trump of waging economic war against Venezuela. Since January, Maduro’s administration has been in talks with allies in Moscow about ways to circumvent a ban on clients paying PDVSA in dollars, the sources said. Russia has publicly said the U.S. sanctions are illegal and it would work with Venezuela to weather them. Under the scheme uncovered by Reuters, Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA has started passing invoices from its oil sales to Rosneft. The Russian energy giant pays PDVSA immediately at a discount to the sale price avoiding the usual 30-to-90 day timeframe for completing oil transactions and collects the full amount later from the buyer, according to the documents and sources. “PDVSA is delivering its accounts receivable to Rosneft,” said a source at the Venezuelan state firm with knowledge of the deals, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Venezuela's Guaido to seek to annul $8.7 bln Conoco award (Reuters) - Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido will seek to annul an $8.7 billion arbitration award to U.S. oil producer ConocoPhillips as he moves to preserve foreign assets, Guaido’s chief legal representative said on Tuesday. If accepted, the annulment request would halt enforcement of the award over the 2007 loss of Conoco’s projects in the South American country. It would follow a March decision by the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) to impose the largest arbitration award against Venezuela. Jose Ignacio Hernandez, whom Guaido has tapped as a special prosecutor, told Reuters his team separately has challenged the amount of the ICSID award, claiming “the methodology to determine the compensation was errant.” Conoco would see no merit in a request for “annulment or rectification” and would “strongly defend” against such requests, company spokesman Daren Beaudo said. George Kahale, a U.S. attorney who represented the Venezuelan government before the World Bank tribunal, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Venezuela’s information ministry also had no immediate response to a request for comment. An annulment would be a boost to Guaido, who in January invoked a constitutional provision to assume an interim presidency. Backed by the United States and dozens of other countries, Guaido argues President Nicolas Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate. 

Exclusive: Spain's Repsol suspended swap deal for Venezuelan oil under U.S. pressure (Reuters) - Spain’s Repsol suspended its swaps of refining products for crude with Venezuela’s state-run oil company PDVSA, people familiar with the matter said, as U.S. officials weighed penalties for foreign firms doing business with Venezuela. The Spanish oil company has been swapping fuel and waiving payments due from a joint venture with PDVSA in exchange for crude, even as the United States rolled out new sanctions aimed at ousting Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro. The arrangement made Repsol one of the OPEC-member nation’s main fuel suppliers, alongside Russia’s Rosneft and India’s Reliance Industries, according to three sources and vessel-tracking data. Repsol declined to comment on the matter on Wednesday. On Thursday, a day after the United States decided not to take new actions against foreign companies doing business with Venezuela, Repsol said it had not suspended its program. “The operations are continuing normally,” spokesman Kristian Rix said. “There has been no change from last week, the prior week to now.” The Trump administration blames Maduro for a severe economic crisis that has forced millions of Venezuelans to flee. The United States and dozens of other countries recognize Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the nation’s interim president. Maduro considers Guaido a U.S. puppet.

Bombing damages Colombia pipeline, second spill under investigation (Reuters) - A bombing damaged a section of Colombia’s Trasandino pipeline, state-run company Ecopetrol said on Saturday, and the company was investigating a crude spillage from the Cano Limon pipeline to determine if it was also caused by an attack. The attack on the Trasandino took place late on Friday in Barbacoas municipality in southwestern Narino province, Ecopetrol said in a statement. The company was assessing the extent of the damage, it said. Photos posted by Ecopetrol on Twitter showed oil-slicked grass and a puddle of crude next to the damaged pipeline. The Trasandino was not operating at the time of the attack, the company said. Ecopetrol is working to verify the cause of a crude spillage from the Cano Limon pipeline in Tibu municipality in eastern Norte de Santander province, it said in a second statement. There were reports of a loud explosion and crude has spilled into two ravines in the area, it said. There have been around 20 attacks on Colombian pipelines so far in 2019. The 485-mile (780-km) Cano Limon pipeline was kept offline for most of 2018 because of more than 80 bombings. Although Ecopetrol did not name the group responsible for the Trasandino bombing, the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group, considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, regularly attacks pipelines.

Petrobras CEO denies government interference after diesel price hike canceled (Reuters) - Roberto Castello Branco, chief executive officer of oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA, denied there was government interference even after the state-controlled oil company delayed a diesel price hike after a call from President Jair Bolsonaro. Castello Branco, the CEO of Petrobras, said President Bolsonaro warned him in the call about the risks of a potential new truckers strike if diesel prices rose. “The decision was taken by Petrobras management, no one told the company to cancel the price rise,” he said, after leaving a meeting with cabinet ministers at the presidential palace in Brasilia. Castello Branco met on Monday with Mines and Energy minister Bento Albuquerque, Infrastructure minister Tarcisio Freitas, and Economy minister Paulo Guedes. He said Petrobras fuel pricing policy was not discussed during the meeting. The presidential palace said in a statement the meeting discussed “solutions to road transportation.” The CEO said the company will decide whether the price of diesel will be raised. Castello Branco will meet with President Bolsonaro on Tuesday to discuss the diesel pricing policy. 

Petrobras hikes diesel price, eyes divestments amid investor unease (Reuters) - Brazilian state-run oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro SA hiked diesel prices on Wednesday, and executives said the firm could expand its already aggressive divestment plan while arguing the company was completely free of political interference. In an impromptu news conference at the Rio de Janeiro headquarters of Petrobras, as the company is known, Chief Executive Roberto Castello Branco announced a diesel price hike of 10 cents per liter and said Petrobras has complete control over its pricing strategy. Speaking only minutes before at an event in Sao Paulo, Chief Financial Officer Rafael Grisolia said Petrobras was looking at selling off assets such as deepwater pipelines and Petrobras Distribuidora SA, which includes a gas station chain stretching across the country. The comments come as executives scramble to contain the fallout from the company’s cancellation on Friday of a diesel price hike at the behest of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, stirring fears of political interference and tanking Petrobras shares. While Bolsonaro´s government has promised a hands-off approach to Petrobras, investors are wary of a return to policies enacted under past administrations, in which the company was forced to sell fuel at a discount to international rates. On Tuesday, Bolsonaro´s spokesman and Economy Minister Paulo Guedes sought to characterize the canceled price hike as a one-time error that would not be repeated. According to an information posted on Petrobras’ website, the company increased the price of diesel at refineries by 4.7 percent after canceling a 5.7 percent increase on Friday. Castello Branco said Petrobras “rigorously” keeps its prices in line with international rates and has no plans to change its policy of adjusting fuel prices every 15 days. 

ConocoPhillips exits UK oil and gas production in huge $2.7 billion North Sea sale - ConocoPhillips on Thursday announced it has struck an agreement to sell its U.K. oil and gas operations for nearly $2.7 billion, setting up its exit from the North Sea. The Houston-based driller will sell its ConocoPhillips United Kingdom subsidiaries for $2.675 billion to Chrysaor E&P, a company focused on producing oil and natural gas from the North Sea. The transaction is expected to close in the second half of 2019. The deal is the largest transaction in the exploration and production space outside the U.S. this year, according to investment bank Jefferies, which acted as Chrysaor’s financial advisor. . ConocoPhillips has been marketing the assets for several months. The company will retain its commercial trading business in London and its roughly 40% interest in the Teesside oil terminal. It will also continue to operate the terminal, which receives oil and gas from the North Sea fields. Earlier this year, Conoco’s chief operating officer, Matthew Fox, said the company’s major portfolio restructuring was essentially complete, with the exception of the North Sea sale. The company earned nearly $1.1 billion on dispositions in 2018. The deal makes Chrysaor one of the largest producers in the U.K. North Sea.

Life imitates art: Norway rejects oil prospecting in sensitive Arctic islands -- In what seemed like an episode of the Norwegian television drama Occupied, Norway's largest political party joined smaller ones in the nation's parliament to prevent oil exploration in the scenic Lofoten archipelago. The Labor Party's environmental wing made climate change and scenic beauty big issues.Unlike another contentious oil resource, Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, these islands get around 1 million visitors each year. That implies that many Norwegians have actually seen the islands.In the history of oil-rich nations, Norwegians have followed an unorthodox path. While most such nations have chosen to subsidize domestic prices of petroleum products or at least keep them cheap by policy, Norway has taxed consumption of oil and oil products as if the country were an importer trying to economize on petroleum use.A recent Bloomberg survey showed that the average price of a gallon of gas worldwide was $3.48. The range was 1 cent in Venezuela to $7.61 in Hong Kong. Norway ranked second highest at $6.89.Even more strange is that Norway has become a leading market for all-electric cars. About one-third of all new cars sold in the country last year were all-electric. Of course, Norway has very large hydroelectric resources, resources which produced 93.6 percent of the country's electricity in February 2019, the most recent month for which data is available. But these copious hydropower resources have long been available and didn't prevent the country from becoming dependent on petroleum-fueled transportation just like the rest of the world.  Norway also made a fateful and propitious decision shortly after the discovery of its oil and natural gas riches in the North Sea. The country decided to invest much of the tax revenue derived from oil and gas in a sovereign wealth fund to be managed on behalf of the Norwegian people for use by future generations. Most oil-rich nations choose to spend their oil wealth as quickly as it comes in. Today, based on current exchange rates, the Norwegian fund has more than $1 trillion invested, making it the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world.

Argus is publishing a new price index for crude oil in Europe called New North Sea Dated --- The new price index is based on a robust methodology that combines the liquidity of the existing market for North Sea crudes with a range of delivered Rotterdam assessments of other crudes regularly consumed in Europe. The North Sea market provides the price benchmark for much of the crude traded around the world, including exports from Russia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East (to Europe) and deliveries into Asia. The disruption to the Forties pipeline in late 2017 and the increasing removal of benchmark-grade Forties from the North Sea market for shipment to Asia has left the market appearing short, illiquid and volatile. However, there is a large and growing volume of similar light, sweet crude available to European refiners, especially from the US. The market requires a regional European benchmark that reflects the new reality. Argus is the first to introduce a fully formed new methodology that builds on the strengths of the existing market, while incorporating new market reality. Today, delivered grades are just as likely to provide the clearing price signal. As North Sea production declines and European refiners look for alternative sources of crude, the volume of US WTI crude refined in Europe (around 900,000 b/d) is expected to surpass the combined production of all North Sea BFOET grades (currently 910,000 b/d). US WTI crude is the most competitively priced light, sweet grade in the European market and should be part of the benchmark-setting process. We also include other similar-quality grades that are regularly delivered to Europe — Saharan Blend, BTC Blend, Bonny Light, Escravos and Qua Iboe — to increase liquidity and allow for more participation in the benchmark-setting process. 

Treasure on the high seas for gas dealers (Reuters) - In the booming market for super cooled natural gas, the most precious commodity is the ship. A global quest for cleaner energy has fired up demand for liquefied natural gas (LNG), which produces less carbon dioxide than coal. But an abundance of supply has helped keep prices subdued, meaning the most profitable trade is in renting out vessels to transport it. Reflecting the white-hot demand for ships, over a dozen different companies, including energy majors BP and ExxonMobil, trading house Trafigura and gas utility Centrica are already looking to charter boats for the winter, according to four shipping industry sources, months earlier than usual. ExxonMobil, Centrica and Trafigura declined to comment. BP did not respond to requests for comment. Energy firms are trying to avoid getting stuck without ships on charter for the winter, when cold weather typically drives up trade in LNG and, consequently, transport costs. They also want to profit off less nimble rivals. Last winter, spot charter rates – the cost of renting a ship to transport LNG in real-time – soared to almost $200,000 per day in November compared to around $40,000 in May, squeezing those companies which had left it too late to secure vessels cheaply. Currently, spot rates are around $40,000 per day while rates for charters covering next winter are between $70,000-$80,000 a day, two shipping industry sources said. Energy groups including Shell, BP, China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC), Cheniere and Gazprom, utilities Naturgy and Centrica and trading firms such as Gunvor and Trafigura are renting vessels for months or years and sub-letting some of them to competitors, according to half a dozen sources. None of the firms would comment. 

Exxon Eyes Floating LNG Partnership in Israel -- Exxon Mobil Corp. is in discussions to build a platform that would expand the export reach of Israel’s biggest natural gas field, according to people familiar with the matter. Israeli gas stocks rose. The world’s largest publicly-traded oil and gas company is in talks with the firms developing Israel’s Leviathan reservoir to build a floating liquefied natural gas ship, the people said, requesting anonymity because the matter is private. Such a project would allow the Leviathan partners to export to countries not reachable with pipelines and avoid the need to build expensive infrastructure to connect to LNG facilities in Egypt. It’s possible the discussions ultimately won’t lead to a partnership, the people cautioned. An Exxon representative said the company was still evaluating its options. “It’s too early to comment on specific development and production timelines,” the representative said. Despite considerable gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean region over the past decade, viable export routes have proven tough to find and global energy firms haven’t rushed in. The Leviathan partners have signed deals to meet surging demand in Egypt, Jordan and Israel, but haven’t yet found a way to export to Europe or East Asia. The partners developing Leviathan, a deep-sea find of about 600 billion cubic meters -- at the time it was found, the biggest underwater gas discovery in a decade -- have bookmarked the next phase of the reservoir’s development for export deals and are examining ways to reach markets outside the region. The talks with Exxon are the latest sign that an unofficial energy boycott on Israel, imposed by leading Arab countries, is fading. Energy majors that partner with big Arab firms have hesitated to do business with Israel in the past, for fear of risking ties with states that control some of the world’s biggest energy reserves and have been hostile toward Israel until now.

Significant Gas Discovery at Karish North - Energean Oil and Gas announces that the Karish North exploration well has made a significant gas discovery. Energean Oil and Gas plc announced Monday that the Karish North exploration well has made a “significant” gas discovery. Preliminary analysis of the find indicates initial gas in place estimates of between 1 and 1.5 trillion cubic feet, according to Energean. The Karish North discovery will be commercialized via a tie-back to the Energean Power FPSO, which is located 3.3 miles from the Karish North well. The FPSO is being built with total processing and export capacity of 775 million cubic feet per day. Drilling of the initial phase of the Karish North well is complete. Energean said it will now deepen the well to evaluate hydrocarbon potential at the D4 horizon. “We are delighted to be announcing this significant new gas discovery at Karish North, which further demonstrates the attractiveness of our acreage offshore Israel,” Mathios Rigas, CEO of Energean, said in a company statement. “We are building the Energean Power FPSO with spare capacity, which will enable us to quickly, safely and economically develop both Karish North and future discoveries,” he added. In a statement posted on his Twitter page, Rigas highlighted that this was the first gas discovery in Israel “after a long time” and stated that Energean is “now a producer, developer and successful explorer in the Med”. 

$6B Project with Up to 8,000 New Jobs Sanctioned - The steering committee for the offshore Azerbaijan ACG field has sanctioned the next stage of the development. The $6 billion Azeri Central East (ACE) project will include a new offshore platform and facilities designed to process up to 100,000 barrels of oil per day. The project is expected to achieve first production in 2023 and produce up to 300 million barrels over its lifetime. Construction activities, which will commence this year and run through mid-2022, will take place in-country utilizing local resources. It is expected that, at peak, construction activities will create up to 8,000 jobs. “Today’s announcement supports the long-term production plans we set for ACG when we extended the production sharing agreement (PSA),” Gary Jones, BP’s regional president for Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, said in a company statement. “It demonstrates our commitment to work with SOCAR and Azerbaijan’s government to continue to unlock ACG’s resources more efficiently and competitively,” he added. Rovnaq Abdullayev, president of SOCAR, said, “today’s sanctioning marks yet another important milestone in the development of ACG for the benefit of the nation”. “Looking forward, we expect more than three billion barrels of additional oil production from ACG. This strategic decision supports Azerbaijan’s increasing role as an energy supplier for the regional and global markets,” he added. 

Foreign tankers suspected of causing oil spill off Kota Tinggi - Authorities suspect foreign tankers discharged marine fuel oil that resulted in the oil spill detected off Kota Tinggi yesterday.Southern Region Marine Department director Dickson Dollah said satellite images had captured several vessels anchored over two days from April 14 in the waters of Tanjung Balau and Batu Layar where the spill had occurred.“We believe they discharged the oil at night to escape detection by the authorities,” he told Bernama when contacted today.He said it is believed that the vessels had left the area. Dickson also said it is estimated that 300 tonnes of marine fuel oil had been discharged and the spill covered an area four nautical miles from the coast. A clean-up operation was launched at 6am today and it could take three or four days to clear the spill, he said.

 1km oil spill detected in Tanjung Balau - Johor Marine Department detected a one kilometre oil spill along Tanjung Balau waters here this afternoon. Its director Dickson Dollah said the oil spill was discovered during a patrol at the area at about 3pm. He said some of the oil spill has reached Tanjung Balau beach. “We haven’t confirmed the type of oil yet, but it’s black in colour and we believe it’s marine fuel oil. “We also haven’t confirmed the vessel responsible as we’ve been informed that there were no vessels at the area that could be involved in spilling the oil. “We have informed Johor Environment Department and they will conduct a check tomorrow,” he said in a statement tonight. Dickson said a boat from the Marine Department Southern Region has been ordered to do the clean-up and will depart from Tanjung Pengelih towards the location at 6am tomorrow. He added that ‘Oil Spill Response’ team has also been ordered to prepare additional tools such as the absorbent boom and petrol supply to Tanjung Pengelih tonight. “Pengerang local authority has also been informed to help with beach clean-up,” he said.

Oil Spill Dispersant market to reach $23.6bln by 2026 - The global Oil Spill Dispersant Market is anticipated to grow at a constant CAGR around 3% during the forecast period 2019 to 2026 and reach the market value around USD 23.6 billion. The growth of the market for oil spillers depends directly on the frequency, the time and volume of petroleum spill events, said a market report by Acumen Research and Consulting. Oil pollution is a common term for seawater, land water or land contamination due to oil release due to an accident or human error. Oil contamination is spread throughout the world and is boiled both onshore and offshore. The number of major oil spills annually decreases since the last ten years, but very frequent small oil spills are mainly driving the market for petroleum spills. In addition, a consistent search for the new petroleum sources and oil plants will fuel the growth of the market for petroleum spills. Another driving force of the global market for oil spills is strict government regulations and penalties to enhance the response of oil spills. The small oil spills occur regularly and can be easily and rapidly monitored. Large-scale oil spills such as the oil spill of Deepwater Horizon can have a catastrophic effect on the environment's ecosystem for decades. Also, such massive oil spills could result in the long-term ruin of the area's infrastructure and economy. Consequently, it is very important to prevent or reduce further environmental and economic losses to reduce the impact of oil spills early on. In order to prevent oil spills, several products and services are available on the market. One of the most popular methods to reduce the effect of oil spills is the use of oil spills dispersants. The global market of oil spills is divided into offshore and onshore based on application. With 70 percent of market share in 2017, the offshore application segment led the market. The incidents of offshore crude oil spills have a higher frequency than onshore crude oil spills, which lead to an increased utilization of offshore oil spills. Offshore and onshore products are the global market for oil spills.

Indian Refiners Rush To Buy Iranian Oil Before It’s Too Late - India’s oil imports from Iran increased by some 5 percent between March 2018 and March 2019 compared to the previous fiscal year through March 2018, because Indian refiners rushed to buy Iranian oil before the U.S. sanctions kicked in in November and hurried to wind up purchases ahead of the waiver expiring early next month.  According to preliminary data for tanker arrivals, obtained by Reuters from industry and shipping sources, India’s imports of Iranian oil rose to around 479,500 bpd in the 2018/2019 Indian fiscal year ended last month, compared to some 458,000 bpd that Indian refiners imported in the 2017/2018 fiscal year. Between April and October 2018, India’s refiners were buying more than usual Iranian oil because none of Iran’s oil customers were certain that it would get a U.S. sanctions waiver to continue purchases from Iran after the sanctions were re-imposed in early November 2018. Another major reason for increased Indian buying of Iranian oil before November was that Iran was offering very attractive terms to Indian buyers, including almost free shipping and an extended credit period for payment.  India—alongside seven other Iranian oil customers including the biggest buyer China—received a U.S. waiver to continue buying Iranian oil, at a rate of around 300,000 bpd. Although not all Indian refiners continued purchases because private companies with exposure to the U.S. financial system were wary of secondary sanctions if they buy oil from Iran, India used up its 300,000 bpd quota allowed under the current exemption.According to the data obtained by Reuters, India’s imports of Iranian oil jumped to 405,000 bpd in March 2019, up by 56 percent from February 2019. Refiners want to make sure they wind down payments before the waivers expire, while a shortage of ships moved some cargo loadings to the end of February with arrival in India in March. India is not booking Iranian oil due to load in May, as refiners are waiting for more clarity from the U.S. on whether India will get its sanctions waiver extended, Reuters reported earlier this week, citing four sources.

Iran Peddling 1MM Barrels of Oil Again -- An Iranian exchange has offered investors as much as 6 million barrels of oil so far this year. Only a single deal closed, for the minimum 35,000 barrels. Iran’s oil production and exports have slumped after the U.S. reinstated sanctions last year, and new curbs are set to further restrict its exports. Exemptions for importing countries including Japan, China, Turkey, India and South Korea have partially cushioned the blow. With foreign investors steering clear of the world’s fourth-largest holder of crude, it’s trying via the Iran Energy Exchange to offload some oil to domestic buyers. Sales have been dismal, and even Iranian oil officials concede that the physical contracts are undesirable as long as oil sanctions remain intact. “We knew from the beginning that it was almost impossible to sell oil” on the exchange, Morteza Behrouzifar, deputy head of the Iranian Association for Energy Economics, said in an interview. “Iran’s crude is sanctioned and under no circumstances can anyone buy Iranian crude except those who were granted waivers.” Iran has tried to sell oil on its exchange in the past. The first offerings in 2011 weren’t successful, and another effort to sell just under three thousand barrels in 2014 wasn’t received well by potential buyers, state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported last week. The exchange is offering another million barrels of light crude for a 6 percent down payment and 90 days of credit this week. But it’s up to the buyer to line up the tanker and insurance needed to transport the fuel to the ultimate user. “Those who have waivers go directly to the National Iranian Oil Co. They don’t need to participate in the bourse,” Behrouzifar said. “It’s pretty immature to think of the energy exchange as a way to get around sanctions.” 

 Iran Oil Buyers Stay on Sidelines -- The biggest buyers of Iranian oil are said to be putting their purchases on hold as they wait to see whether the White House will extend waivers allowing them to keep buying the crude. Most Asian buyers are avoiding imports for next month as it’s unclear what will happen to the exemptions that are set to expire in the first week of May, according to people with knowledge of the matter. Even if the waivers are extended, it would be too late to order and receive cargoes for the month, said the people who asked not to be identified as the information is private. The U.S.’s surprise decision last year to allow eight nations to keep buying Iranian oil was a big contributor to the plunge in crude prices in the fourth quarter. While the White House appears keen to keep the pressure on the Persian Gulf nation, analysts including FGE have speculated that preventing further gains in oil prices is a bigger priority for President Donald Trump. Given that crude has recovered strongly this year, that suggests that at least some of the waivers may be extended. At least five refiners in South Korea, Japan and China are not planning to import Iranian crude and condensate loading in May, the people said. Some Korean and Japanese processors have already bought alternative cargoes for the period, while Iran is being flexible with its customers on timing, they said. Iranian shipments take over 20 days to reach east Asia, meaning there won’t be enough time for the cargoes to load and arrive during the same month. Japanese refiners say imports from Iran might start loading in June at the earliest if the exemptions are extended, the people said. The nation took 108,000 barrels a day of Iranian supplies last month, tanker tracking data from Bloomberg show. India may take some shipments next month if the waivers are extended because shipping time from Iran is only about a week, the people said. The South Asian nation was already in discussions for an extension of the waiver and the country’s processors are allowed to import 9 million barrels of Iranian oil every month under the 180-day exemption.

White House will tie Iran sanctions review to response by Saudi Arabia: Kemp (Reuters) - The White House will have to weigh costs and benefits carefully before tightening sanctions on Iran and Venezuela further – and decide whether the economic price is worth the diplomatic gains. If the White House toughens sanctions on Iran and Venezuela significantly (and the next decision on Iran sanctions is scheduled for the first week of May) any decision is likely to be tied to production increases by Saudi Arabia. The White House is likely to agree to scale back Iran sanctions waivers if, and only if, Saudi Arabia commits to replacing the lost barrels at least one-for-one to leave the global production-consumption balance unchanged. High-level discussions between the two countries over sanctions and production policy are likely to have begun already. President Donald Trump spoke with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman by telephone earlier this month about maintaining pressure on Iran and human rights, according to a statement from the White House. The content of the discussions was not made public but it is safe to assume that oil prices, production and sanctions formed part of the discussion since they are central to the bilateral relationship as well as policy towards Iran. If sanctions are tightened, it will be because the White House believes it has an undertaking from Saudi Arabia to increase production by at least the equivalent amount, if not more, to contain the impact on U.S. motorists. 

IEA Says Oil Market Tightening-- Global oil markets are tightening as OPEC supply falls, the International Energy Agency said, while warning it could lower demand forecasts because of economic threats. Crude inventories are set to decline for the rest of the year as Saudi Arabia and its partners curb production, while exports from Venezuela and Iran are squeezed by economic and political crises, the agency said in its monthly report. But it cautioned that threats in the world economy, from Europe to emerging markets, could take a toll on fuel consumption. “The oil market shows signs of tightening as we move into the second quarter of 2019, but we see mixed signals in terms of the outlook for demand,” said the Paris-based agency, which advises most major economies. Risks to demand are “currently to the downside.” Crude prices have rallied more than 30 percent in London this year and are trading above $71 a barrel as Saudi Arabia spearheads output cutbacks by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies. Yet the gains have been capped by fears about global economic growth, which the International Monetary Fund predicts will this year be the weakest since the financial crisis a decade ago. Global oil supplies declined last month amid another steep drop in OPEC output, as the Saudis cut more production than promised and Venezuela’s unintended losses swelled. Supply growth outside OPEC also slowed sharply as Canada pared output and the North Sea suffered declines, the IEA said. As a result of OPEC’s restraint, inventories in developed nations are below their five-year average in terms of the amount needed to cover projected demand, having fallen in February for the first time in four months. The agency noted that crude-oil inventories will decline by more than 2 million barrels a day in the third quarter, the biggest drop since 2011. There was a similar, though smaller, reduction in the same period a year earlier as refiners processed more crude to build up stockpiles of fuels ahead of the winter.

Hedge funds' oil positions start to look stretched: Kemp - (Reuters) - Hedge fund managers continue to accumulate positions in crude and gasoline in the most sustained bull market since 2017 but the market is starting to look stretched and the balance of risks is shifting to the downside. Hedge funds and other portfolio managers have boosted their net long position in the six most important petroleum futures and options contracts by 503 million barrels over the last 13 weeks. Fund managers have added 294 million barrels of bullish long positions since Jan. 15 while trimming 215 million barrels of bearish short positions since Jan. 8, according to exchange and regulatory data published on Friday. Bullish long positions now outnumber bearish short ones by a ratio approaching 7:1, up from less than 2:1 at the start of January ( ). Since 2015, the accumulation of a large concentrated long or short position has often heralded an impending turning point in the petroleum price trend. In early January, the large number of hedge fund short positions signalled an approaching rally in prices from the lows late last year, as fund managers covered short positions. By April, however, the concentrated long positioning started to signal a likely reversal in the rally, or at least a pause, if fund managers attempt to take some profits. The biggest positioning imbalances are concentrated in crude and U.S. gasoline; there is no sign of similar imbalances in middle distillates such as U.S. heating oil and European gasoil. Portfolio managers have raised their combined net long position in Brent and WTI in 11 out of the last 13 weeks by a total of 397 million barrels. Long positions in Brent and WTI outnumber short ones by a ratio of almost 8:1, up from less than 2:1 at the start of January. In addition, funds have raised their net long position in U.S. gasoline in nine out of the last 10 weeks by a total of 58 million barrels. Long positions outnumber short ones by more than 26:1, up from just 2:1 in late January, one of the largest imbalances on record. Bullish long positions in gasoline and crude are still below the record levels set earlier in 2018, so there is still scope for fund managers to increase their long positions. But most of the short positions in crude and gasoline initiated during the fourth-quarter sell off have now been closed out, removing an important source of buying.

Oil edges lower as supply concerns check losses Oil prices fell on Monday as investors weighed mixed signals on global supply and signs that Russia may exit coordinated production cuts by nearly two dozen nations.Losses were limited by a tightening of global supplies, as output has fallen in Iran and Venezuela amid signs the United States will further toughen sanctions on those two OPEC producers.  Brent crude oil futures were down 61 cents, or nearly 1%, at $70.94 a barrel around 8:35 a.m. ET (1235 GMT), having hit their highest since Nov. 12 on Friday at $71.87.  U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures fell 61 cents, or 1%, $63.28 per barrel. WTI touched a five-month high at $64.79 last week. "I would expect oil to trade in a relatively tight band around $70 per for the time being," said Virendra Chauhan, pointing to differing signs from the United States and OPEC on future supply."Leading edge indicators on U.S. supply suggest activity levels are stepping up, which is supportive for strong production growth in the second half," said Chauhan.  But at the same time, "murmurings from various ministers of the OPEC+ pact suggest supply from the group will not be ramped up pre-emptively as per last summer," he said. OPEC and its allies meet in June to decide whether to continue withholding supply. OPEC, Russia and other producers, are reducing output by 1.2 million barrels per day from Jan. 1 for six months.OPEC's de facto leader, Saudi Arabia, is considered keen to keep cutting, but sources within the group said it could raise output from July if disruptions continue elsewhere.Meanwhile, Russia's Finance Minister Anton Siluanov was quoted by the TASS news agency as saying on Saturday that Russia and OPEC may decide to boost production to  fight for market share with the United States but this would push oil prices as low as $40 per barrel.

Did Russia Just Call The End Of The OPEC Deal? - OPEC and heavyweight Russia may fight America for its share of the oil market, Russia’s Finance Minister Anton Siluanov told TASS on Saturday, even if it means quitting the OPEC deal and lowered oil prices.OPEC and Russia have tapered oil production according to the agreed upon production cut deal, but the United States continues to increase its production and is picking up market share in the process - market share formerly held by OPEC members and the other non-OPEC signatories to the deal including Russia.Any failure in the production cut deal, however, will have a negative impact on prices, and could theoretically plunge prices into the $40 per barrel territory. This, in turn, would squeeze US oil producers and hurt new investments, Siluanov said.“(If the deal is abandoned) the oil prices will go down, then the new investments will shrink, American output will be lower, because the production cost for shale oil is higher than for traditional output.”Siluanov’s comments came in tandem with warnings of a looming global economic recession.“The risks of an upcoming global recession are very high,” the Finance Minister said.“We are ready for a change in global energy prices – we have prepared the budget, the reserves, the balance of payments. We have created this kind of system.”Russia has been the wildcard in the OPEC+ production cut deal, and has long sent mixed messages regarding their all-in-ness of the deal. And as US production increases and its market share expanding, OPEC’s clout is waning, highlighting the importance of its relationship with Russia. OPEC’s production has fallen to levels below its commitment. The United States, however, continues to increase production, and currently sits at an all-time-high of 12.2 million bpd, according to the EIA. Before the original production cut deal was established in December 2016, US oil production sat at 8.77 million bpd—a significant increase that undoubtably puts pressure on any of the countries who have tapered production. President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, however, assured markets that Russia would continue its cooperation with OPEC. “We will closely monitor the market, but we will continue cooperation with OPEC,” Putin told TASS, following it up with a more ambiguous chaser.

Oil ends lower as Russian reportedly questions output cuts on market share - Oil futures ended lower Monday on the heels of a multiweek climb, as a Russian official reportedly questioned his country’s participation in the OPEC-led production cut deal on concerns over market share.  West Texas Intermediate for May delivery, the U.S. benchmark crude, on the New York Mercantile Exchange  fell 49 cents, or 0.8%, to settle at $63.40 a barrel. It rose last week, marking a sixth straight weekly gain.  “The [year-to-date] performance is astonishing and investors feel that they need to take some profit off the table.” The global benchmark, June Brent crude also lost 37 cents, or 0.5%, to $71.18 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe, after a third consecutive weekly rise. On Saturday, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov was quoted by the TASS news agency as saying, according to Reuters: “There is a dilemma. What should we do with OPEC: should we lose the market, which is being occupied by the Americans, or quit the deal?” Siluanov said such a move could drive the price of oil to $40 a barrel or below, the report said. U.S. crude production remains in record territory, at 12.2 million barrels a day for the week ended April 5, according to recent data from the Energy Information Administration. In a monthly report issued Monday, the government agency saidcrude-oil production from seven major U.S. shale plays is forecast to climb by 80,000 barrels a day in May to 8.46 million barrels a day, from 8.38 million in April.

Oil prices tick higher, but threat of OPEC+ output hikes hangs over market -- Crude oil futures ticked higher on Tuesday after several days of back-and-forth trade, but prices remain pressured by expectations of higher U.S. inventories and concern about Russia’s willingness to stick with OPEC-led supply cuts. Brent crude, the global benchmark, was up 8 cents at $71.26 a barrel at 8:45 a.m. ET (1245 GMT). U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude gained 25 cents to $63.65. Analysts on average expect U.S. crude stockpiles to have risen by 1.9 million barrels last week, the fourth straight increase. The first of this week’s stockpile reports is due at 4:30 p.m. ET (1630 GMT) from the American Petroleum Institute. “We have already seen these inventories going higher in the last week’s print,” said Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst at TF Global Markets in London. “The rising inventory data has raised many questions for investors — no one wants to see the oil glut again.” While OPEC-led supply cuts have boosted Brent by more than 30 percent this year, gains have been limited by worries that slowing economic growth could weaken demand for fuel. Oil also fell on Monday after comments from Russia raised concern the OPEC-led supply-cutting pact may not be renewed. Russia and the producer group may decide to boost output to fight for market share with the United States, TASS news agency quoted Finance Minister Anton Siluanov as saying. OPEC and other producers including Russia, an alliance known as OPEC+, have been cutting output since Jan. 1. They decide in June whether to continue the arrangement. “There is a growing concern that Russia will not agree on extending production cuts and we could see them officially abandon it in the coming months,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA. Russian officials sent mixed signals over renewal of the deal with OPEC last time it was being renegotiated in December, before finally agreeing to remain on board.

Oil Bulls Undaunted By OPEC Fears -  Oil prices dipped on Monday on renewed fears that OPEC+ might abandon production cuts, but prices firmed up in early trading on Tuesday. . Hedge funds and other money managers are at their most bullish so far this year, posting a fifth consecutive week of rising bullish bets on Brent crude. Short positions fell by 18 percent last week, according to Bloomberg. “There’s not many people who are willing to short this market,” Tyler Richey, co-editor at Sevens Report in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, told Bloomberg. “We could be near a market top, but it’s just too early to tell. Right now, the path of least resistance is higher for oil.”  Russia’s finance minister Anton Siluanov suggested that Russia and OPEC could fight for market share with U.S. shale, a move that would likely crash prices. “There is a dilemma. What should we do with OPEC: should we lose the market, which is being occupied by the Americans, or quit the deal?” Siluanov said at a forum in Washington. “(If the deal is abandoned) the oil prices will go down, then the new investments will shrink, American output will be lower, because the production cost for shale oil is higher than for traditional output. The government of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro decided to cancel a price hike on diesel last week, over concern for the impact on truckers and consumers. After cultivating a pro-business reputation, the decision spooked investors and dragged down Petrobras, which will have to shoulder the burden of regulated prices. Petrobras’ share price fell 8 percent on the news, the largest decline in 10 months. 

Oil up 1 percent as market focuses on supply risks (Reuters) - Oil prices rose 1 percent on Tuesday, as fighting in Libya and falling Venezuelan and Iranian exports raised concerns over tightening global supply, but uncertainty surrounding an OPEC-led production cut limited gains. Brent crude futures rose 54 cents, or 0.8 percent, to settle at $71.72 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures gained 65 cents, or 1 percent, to settle at $64.05 a barrel. Prices extended gains in post-settlement trade after data from industry group the American Petroleum Institute showed that U.S. crude inventories fell unexpectedly last week, dropping by 3.1 million barrels, versus analysts’ expectations of a 1.7 million-barrel build. Gasoline stockpiles fell by 3.6 million barrels, the API said, more than forecasts of a 2.1 million-barrel drop.

WTI Extends Gains After Surprise Crude Draw - WTI rebounded from a brief and unusual losing day, as investors tended towards tightening global supplies and against soaring inventories, but, as Bloomberg notes, stockpiles, already at the highest since 2017, are set to rise for a fourth week, according to a Bloomberg survey ahead of government data due Wednesday.  Gasoline inventories, however, are forecast to fall for a ninth week. “Everybody’s waiting to see what happens with inventories," said Ashley Petersen, an oil analyst at Stratas Advisors LLC in New York. “We’ve run out of good news to reinforce the momentum of the market right now."  API:

  • Crude -3.096mm (+2.3mm exp)
  • Cushing -1.561mm
  • Gasoline -3.561mm - 9th draw in a row
  • Distillates +2.33mm

After last week's huge drop in gasoline inventories, all eyes will be on products as expectations for 2.3mm build in crude would make it the 4th in a row, but API reported a surprise crude draw of 3.096mm barrels and gasoline continued to draw too (9th weekly draw in a row)... WTI hovered just above $64 ahead of the API print and kneejerked higher after the surprise crude draw.

WTI Unchanged After Crude Draw, Production Drop - WTI has erased the overnight gains following API's surprise crude draw despite 'good' news from China on growth overnight as all eyes are focused once again on inventories already at the highest since 2017.  “As long as the products look like they’re still trending strong and it looks like demand is still there, prices will be supported," says Ashley Petersen, an analyst at Stratas Advisors.  DOE:

  • Crude -1.396mm (+2.3mm exp)
  • Cushing -1.543mm
  • Gasoline -1.174mm - 9th draw in a row
  • Distillates -362k

Inventories fell across the board in the energy complex with DOE confirming (though less so) API's reported surprise crude draw and gasoline's 9th weekly draw in a row. US Crude production dipped modestly last week (and rig counts resurrected - though that will have only a lagged effect).

Oil Prices Edge Downward -  All but one of the benchmarks Rigzone tracks ended the day lower. May West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures shed 29 cents Wednesday, settling at $63.76 per barrel. The benchmark traded from $63.66 to $64.61 during the midweek session.“May WTI futures have continued to flirt and test the major resistance seen on the daily and daily continuation charts for the past week and a half,” said Steve Blair, senior account executive with the RCG Division of Marex Spectron. “This resistance lies in the $64.40 to $64.65 level. The horizontal congestion range continues to be bounded by this upper resistance and the support at the $63.00 level.” Blair added that further support for the May WTI exists at $62.63. “Until such time as the market can break out of either side of this congestion range, on a closing basis, the market will trade back and forth giving many great trading opportunities,” Blair noted.Brent crude oil for June delivery posted a more modest 10-cent loss to end the day at $71.62 per barrel.“June Brent, like May WTI, has also been trading in a horizontal congestion range during the same period as WTI,” said Blair, referencing the daily chart for Brent. “However, today prices finally broke above the congestion range, but alas, failed to close above it. And so June Brent remains in the congestion range, but showing signs that it may be ready to make a break to the upside.”If prices breakout to the upside, some minor resistance exists near the $72.50 level but major resistance would approach $75.00, Blair said.“The weekly chart, however, is showing that if prices remain at these levels that it would breakout to the upside of the range it has been in since the beginning of the year and move into another congestion range above,” added Blair.The reformulated gasoline (RBOB) contract edged upward Wednesday. Adding a penny, May RBOB settled at $2.04 per gallon. Henry Hub natural gas declined for the third consecutive trading day. May gas futures settled just under $2.52, reflecting a 5.5-cent decrease.

 Oil prices rise on lower US stockpiles, OPEC+ supply cuts - Oil prices rose slightly on Thursday, boosted by a decline in U.S. inventories, ongoing supply cuts from OPEC and its allies, and U.S. sanctions on Venezuela and Iran. Brent crude futures rose 28 cents to $71.90 a barrel around 8:15 a.m. ET (1215 GMT), near Wednesday’s five-month high of $72.27 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures were up 27 cents at $64.03 per barrel. Both contracts traded slightly lower earlier in the day and were on track to post weekly gains. U.S. crude inventories fell by 1.4 million barrels in the week to April 12, U.S. Energy Information Administration data showed on Wednesday. “The latest weekly statistics on U.S. oil inventories were seemingly positive. All the major categories registered draws,” Tamas Varga of London-based oil brokerage PVM said. Gasoline stocks fell by 1.2 million barrels, and distillate stocks, which include diesel and heating oil, fell by 362,000 barrels, the EIA data showed. Prices have been supported this year by an agreement reached by OPEC and its allies, including Russia, to limit their oil output by 1.2 million barrels per day. Global supply has been tightened further by U.S. sanctions on OPEC members Venezuela and Iran. Iran’s crude exports have dropped in April to their lowest daily level this year, tanker data showed and industry sources said, suggesting a reduction in buyer interest ahead of expected further pressure from Washington. Indian refiners are turning to other OPEC members, Mexico and the United States to make up for any loss of Iranian oil.

Oil prices inch up on signs of tightening global supply - (Reuters) - Oil futures edged up on Thursday as a drop in crude exports from OPEC’s de facto leader, Saudi Arabia, and a draw in U.S. drilling rigs and oil inventories supported prices. Brent crude futures settled at $71.97 a barrel, up 35 cents from their last close and near Wednesday’s five-month high of $72.27. Brent saw a weekly gain of 0.6 percent, marking the fourth consecutive weekly rise for the international benchmark. In post-settlement trade, the contract added 4 cents to $72.01 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures settled at $64.00 a barrel, up 24.00 cents. U.S. futures gained just under 0.2 percent for the week, their seventh weekly gain in a row. Many financial markets will be closed on Friday for public holidays. Saudi Arabia’s crude oil exports fell by 277,000 barrels to just under 7 million bpd in February from the month before, according to data from the Joint Organizations Data Initiative (JODI). U.S. crude, gasoline and distillate inventories dropped this week, with crude posting an unexpected drawdown, the first in four weeks, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) data showed on Wednesday. “I think it’s pretty clear that tightening supplies and receding fears of demand growth is a boost to the market to these five month highs,” said Gene McGillian, vice president of market research at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut. (GRAPHIC: U.S. crude inventories, weekly changes since 2017 - U.S. energy companies this week cut the number of oil drilling rigs for the first time in three weeks as production growth forecasts from shale, the country’s largest oil fields, continue to shrink. The U.S. rig count, an early indicator of future output, fell by eight in the week ending April 18, General Electric Co’s Baker Hughes energy services firm said in its weekly report, which was released a day early because of the Good Friday holiday. (GRAPHIC: U.S. Rig count - Oil has been driven up this year by an agreement reached by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, including Russia, to limit their oil output by 1.2 million bpd. Global supply has been tightened further by U.S. sanctions on OPEC members Venezuela and Iran. Iran’s crude exports have fallen in April to their lowest daily level this year, tanker data showed and industry sources said, suggesting a reduction in buyer interest ahead of expected further pressure from Washington.

Oil Heads for Weekly Loss -- Oil headed for its first weekly drop since early March as uncertainty over the future of global producer curbs, Iranian exports and U.S. inventories kept investors on edge. New York futures traded below $64 a barrel, holding a 0.5 percent loss from the previous session. While government data Wednesday showed U.S. inventories slid last week, the drop was less than half what an industry report indicated. Meanwhile, as speculation swirls over whether OPEC and its allies will extend output cuts, Asian buyers of sanctioned Iranian oil are said to be putting purchases on hold as they await a White House decision on waivers. While oil has advanced over 40 percent this year on the back of the OPEC+ coalition’s supply curbs, the rally’s run out of steam in the past couple of weeks. May could be a pivotal month for the market as the U.S. decides on whether to extend waivers allowing some countries to keep buying Iranian crude, while a meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies in Saudi Arabia may provide clues on future production levels. “Investors are taking a wait-and-see stance ahead of events in May, including the expiry of waivers on U.S. sanctions on Iran and the OPEC meeting,” . “It will remain difficult to make bets until May because there is so much uncertainty.” West Texas Intermediate for May delivery fell 4 cents to $63.72 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange as of 7:46 a.m. in London. The contract dropped 29 cents to $63.76 on Wednesday. It’s down 0.3 percent since April 12. Both WTI and Brent won’t trade on Friday due to holidays. Brent for June settlement dropped 7 cents to $71.55 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. The contract fell 10 cents to $71.62 on Wednesday and is steady for the week. The global benchmark crude was at a premium of $7.74 to WTI for the same month. Before the EIA released its crude inventories data on Wednesday, which showed the first drop in four weeks, the API was said to report a decline of 3.1 million barrels. The median forecast in a survey of analysts by Bloomberg before the government data pointed to an increase of 2.3 million barrels in U.S. stockpiles.

The Firm Floor Under Oil Prices - Oil held steady at the close of the week, with a slowdown in U.S. shale and the looming deadline for a decision on Iran sanctions waivers putting a floor under oil prices. Schlumberger said its earnings were hit in the first quarter by the drilling slowdown in the Permian, while market conditions globally continue to improve. Schlumberger sees “higher investments in the international markets simply to keep production flat, while North America land activity is set for lower investments with a likely downward adjustment to the current production growth outlook,” according to CEO Paal Kibsgaard. “the higher cost of capital, lower borrowing capacity and investors looking for increased returns suggest that future E&P investments will likely be at levels dictated by free cash flow.” The U.S. oil industry slashed its rig count by 8 rigs this week, bringing the total down to 825. The sharp decline put an end to two consecutive weeks of increases. . President Trump spoke with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and they talked about “contributions to the global energy markets as a reliable supplier of oil,” according to a readout of the call from the White House. Trump is expected to make a decision on Iran sanctions in the next week or two, and a hardline may require higher oil production from OPEC.  Cooler than average temperatures are expected for this summer, and the U.S. could see lower electricity bills, according to the EIA. Relatedly, natural gas prices are near multi-year lows on expectations of record-breaking gas production this year.

OPEC's Production Cuts Success At Risk with $80 Oil  -- After managing to revive oil prices through production cutbacks, OPEC now risks squandering its victory again by letting crude surge too high. In the first quarter, coordinated production curbs by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies helped oil rally the most in almost a decade, restoring prices to over $70 a barrel. Saudi Arabia, the group’s most powerful member, has made clear that it’s determined to keep supplies tight. That risks a repeat of 2018, when production cuts propelled oil to a four-year high, provoking a backlash from President Donald Trump and a hasty reversal by the kingdom. “It appears that the producer group is over-tightening the market,” said Ed Morse, head of commodities research at Citigroup Inc. in New York. OPEC and its partners launched a new round of output cuts at the beginning of the year when it looked like booming U.S. shale-oil production and fragile global demand growth would lead to a supply surplus. But as the group implements the curbs, and as supplies are squeezed further by crises in Venezuela and Iran, there’s now a greater risk of a shortage. Supply ContractionIf the group continues with its cutbacks, global oil inventories will contract by almost 1 million barrels a day in the third quarter, the steepest drop in nearly two years, data from the organization shows. However, the group won’t make a decision whether to extend until it meets in late June. The strain on markets could go even deeper. A conflict is flaring in Libya, output is plunging in Venezuela because of a spiraling economic crisis, and the U.S. will soon decide whether to tighten sanctions on Iran’s oil exports. “OPEC is one major shutdown -- Libya, say -- from a very damaging price surge that throws all the plans out the window,” That could easily send crude prices to levels that prompt disapproval from the White House, the Saudis’ most important political ally. “There’s no doubt that in a scenario where Brent crude heads to $80, President Trump will voice his concern,”

Aramco in talks to buy stake in refining business of India's Reliance (Reuters) - Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil producer, is in talks to buy a stake of at least 20 percent in the refining and petrochemicals businesses of India’s Reliance Industries Ltd, sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday. State-owned Aramco plans to boost investments in refining and petrochemicals to secure new markets for its crude, and sees growth in chemicals as central to its downstream strategy to lessen the risk of a slowdown in oil demand. Aramco’s discussions with Reliance were for a roughly 20 percent stake, one source said, adding that the current thinking was to create an entity covering that part of Reliance’s refining, petrochemicals and marketing businesses. If the deal went ahead, it could mean a boost in Aramco’s crude oil supply to Reliance by possibly more than 50 percent, the source added. Another source said talks with Reliance were so far for a 25 percent stake. “Reliance has offered an integrated deal - a stake in existing refineries and the planned 600,000 barrels per day (Jamnagar) refinery, along with petrochemical business,” the second source said. The Times of India reported earlier that Aramco was in talks to buy a stake of up to 25 percent, which could be worth around $10-15 billion, valuing the Indian company’s refining and petrochemicals businesses at some $55-60 billion. Aramco and Reliance declined to comment. Reliance, controlled by Asia’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, is India’s biggest refining and petrochemicals company and runs a 1.4 million bpd refining complex at Jamnagar in western India. It plans to expand capacity to 2 million bpd by 2030, according to plans shared with the Indian government. Last year, Aramco and the United Arab Emirates’ national oil company ADNOC teamed up with state-run Indian refiners in a plan to build a 1.2 million bpd refinery and petrochemical project in Maharashtra state. However, the planned refinery, which was initially expected to cost $44 billion, faces delays, as thousands of farmers have refused to surrender land for it and the Maharashtra government is looking to move the plant’s location. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited India in February and said then that he expected investment opportunities worth more than $100 billion there over the next two years. 

 Over 70,000 Killed in Yemen War Since 2016 - Official figures on the deaths in the Yemen War have been virtually unavailable, or at least years out of date. The database tracker from the Armed Conflict and Location Event Data Project, however, issued their own data on Yemen Thursday, showing more than 70,000 have been killed in Yemen just since January 2016.This is a huge amount of deaths, and if there is some decrease in fighting in Hodeidah because of UN talks, it’s not like the war is slowing much. At least 10,000 people were killed just in the past five months.The decline in Hodeidah was made up for by substantial increases in fighting in Taiz and Hajjah. Stopping the fighting in Hodeidah was still important, since it prevented a famine that could’ve killed even more people, but the combatants have largely just started fighting elsewhere. The database included 3,155 direct attacks targeting civilians, with more than 7,000 civilians killed. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of the civilians were killed by the Saudi-led coalition, at least 4,800, while the Houthis killed about 1,300 civilians.

Secret Report Reveals Saudi Incompetence and Widespread Use of U.S. Weapons in Yemen - Since the brutal murder of Saudi dissident and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi last October, Congress has increasingly pressured the Trump administration to stop backing the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting in Yemen and halt U.S. arms sales to Riyadh. In response, President Donald Trump has repeatedly said that if the U.S. does not sell weapons to the Saudis, they will turn to U.S. adversaries to supply their arsenals.“I don’t like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States,” Trump told reporters in October, referring to a collection of intent letters signed with the Saudis in the early months of his presidency. “You know what they are going to do? They’re going to take that money and spend it in Russia or China or someplace else.”   But a highly classified document produced by the French Directorate of Military Intelligence shows that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are overwhelmingly dependent on Western-produced weapon systems to wage their devastating war in Yemen. Many of the systems listed are only compatible with munitions, spare parts, and communications systems produced in NATO countries, meaning that the Saudis and UAE would have to replace large portions of their arsenals to continue with Russian or Chinese weapons. “You can’t just swap out the missiles that are used in U.S. planes for suddenly using Chinese and Russian missiles,”   “It takes decades to build your air force. It’s not something you do in one fell swoop.” The Saudi-led bombing campaign in North Yemen primarily relies on three types of aircraft: American F-15s, British EF-2000 Typhoons, and European Tornado fighters. The Saudis fly American Apache and Black Hawk helicopters into Yemen from military bases in Saudi Arabia, as well as the French AS-532 Cougar. They have lined the Saudi-Yemen border with American Abrams and French AMX 30 tanks, reinforced by at least five types of Western-made artillery guns. And the coalition blockade, which is aimed at cutting off aid to the Houthi rebels but has also interfered with humanitarian aid shipments, relies on U.S., French, and German models of attack ships with, as well as two types of French naval helicopters.

Leaked Docs Show Saudis 'Overwhelmingly Dependent' on Western Weapons to Wage War on Yemen - Leaked documents from France's military agency "show that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are overwhelmingly dependent on Western-produced weapon systems to wage their devastating war in Yemen," The Intercept reported Monday.  The report was obtained by the French investigative news organization Disclose, and published in full Monday by The Intercept, Disclose, and four other French media outlets.An unprecedented leak of secret documents has revealed the massive use of French-made and US-made weapons in the ongoing civil war in Yemen. #yemenpapers #publicinterest@theintercept— (@Disclose_ngo) April 15, 2019DRM produced the 15-page report for an October meeting of top French officials that included French President Emmanuel Macron, Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly, and Minister of European and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian. As The Intercept explained: The Saudi-led bombing campaign in North Yemen primarily relies on three types of aircraft: American F-15s, British EF-2000 Typhoons, and European Tornado fighters. The Saudis fly American Apache and Black Hawk helicopters into Yemen from military bases in Saudi Arabia, as well as the French AS-532 Cougar. They have lined the Saudi-Yemen border with American Abrams and French AMX 30 tanks, reinforced by at least five types of Western-made artillery guns. And the coalition blockade, which is aimed at cutting off aid to the Houthi rebels but has also interfered with humanitarian aid shipments, relies on U.S., French, and German models of attack ships... as well as two types of French naval helicopters. In addition to the U.S., the U.K., and France, the report mentions radar and detection systems from Sweden; Austrian Camcopter drones; defensive naval rockets from South Korea, Italian warships, and even rocket launcher batteries from Brazil.

Iran's Parliament Passes Vote Declaring US Central Command A Terror Organization - Following Monday's formal US listing of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, or FTO, Iran was quick to hit back as previously promised. Iranian lawmakers voted Tuesday to in turn list US Central Command, or CENTCOM, as a terrorist organization, which means that any support given CENTCOM will be treated as an act of terrorism. It essentially means all American troops in the Middle East will be treated as terrorists, according to the newly passed law. “The Islamic Republic of Iran’s government and Armed Forces are required to adopt preventive actions and preemptive defensive measures whenever necessary, to deter any hostile US forces’ use of any possibilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran’s interests,” the bill states, according to Fars news. It passed with a near unanimous vote in parliament, taking effect immediately, and includes 13-article legislation which mandates the armed forces to gather intelligence about CENTCOM activities. Such material could be used to prosecute either individuals or foreigners giving any level of assistance to the US military in the Middle East. CENTCOM covers the Middle East and Central Asia, and coordinates command of all US armed forces in places like Afghanistan and Iraq — both of which hold major potential for clashing up against Iranian forces or proxies, especially true of Iraq. Iran's Defense Minister Amir Hatami said this week that Washington's moving forward with the FTO designation of the IRGC is proof that sanctions on Tehran were failing. During remarks made early last week when President Trump first unveiled his intent to designation the IRGC, he said, “This designation will be the first time that the United States has ever named a part of another government as an FTO,” and added, “This action sends a clear message to Tehran that its support for terrorism has serious consequences. We will continue to increase financial pressure and raise the costs on the Iranian regime for its support of terrorist activity until it abandons its malign and outlaw behavior.”

Former ISIS Commanders Rehabilitated as Traffic Cops in Syria Under US Watch — Locals of Ein Issa, a Syrian town just north of the city of Raqqa are reportedly fed up with former ISIS members and commanders who have been rehabilitated by U.S. proxy forces as traffic cops.“Reliable sources” told the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) that former Daesh militants have been converted into “security members” and are extorting the public.The rehabilitated ISIS fighters are reportedly “imposing bribes” and royalties on vehicles, “not to mention the shameful acts against the pedestrians in the streets and the harassment of the citizen women.”  Earlier this year, according to the same outlet, American generals met with “administrative representatives” in the town. SOHR is run by a single individual living in the U.K., Rami Abdulrahman, a man with pro-opposition sympathies. The outlet is funded by the British Home Office. Typically in the aftermath of war, the losers are severely punished — especially snipers, and ISIS had many. Extrajudicial killings against suspected ISIS members have run rampant in Iraq and Syria, as citizens release their rage over being held captive for so many years. It is no surprise that the citizens of Raqqa and its suburbs, who are mostly Sunni Arabs, are incensed that former ISIS members, whom they may even recognize, are allowed to continue issuing traffic tickets and harassing women.

Israel Launches Overnight Airstrikes On Syria Just After Netanyahu's Re-election -  Earlier this morning, the Israeli Air Force launched several airstrikes on the key Syrian city of Masyaf in the Hama Governorate. According to a military source near the scene of the airstrikes, the Israeli warplanes hit a number of sites near the Masyaf National Hospital. The source said the Israeli airstrikes targeted some of the military storages in Masyaf; this resulted in several loud explosions that could be heard as far east as Hama city. He added that the S-300 system was not in use during the Israeli attack.Masyaf is an important city because it is considered headquarters of the Tiger Forces and several other military units. The S-300 system has also been installed around the city. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strike killed several Iranian fighters and wounded 17 Syrian troops and their allies— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) April 13, 2019

US Issues New Map Showing Golan Heights as Israeli Territory — The US has issued a new map showing the occupied Syrian Golan Heights as Israeli territory, just three weeks after US President Donald Trump announced he would recognize the region as belonging to Israel.  The US’ Special Representative for International Negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, yesterday tweeted a picture of the new map with the words “welcome to the newest addition of our international maps system after [President Trump] issued a proclamation recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”  The map shows the 1974 ceasefire line between Israel and Syria – which was imposed after Israel captured the Syrian Golan Heights in the Six Day War of 1967 and reaffirmed after the 1973 October War – as a permanent border, using a solid line as opposed to the dashes usually used to demarcate such armistice lines. In contrast, the other armistice lines separating Israel from Lebanon, the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip are still shown with dashed lines.  The move represents further entrenchment of Trump’s decision in March to recognize the Golan Heights as Israeli. In a tweet, President Trump wrote: “After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!” His decision reversed years of official US policy which, in line with international law, designated the Golan as “Israeli controlled.”  President Trump’s decision was slammed by the international community, with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, the Arab League and Russia all lambasting the move.  A week later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Washington DC to attend the signing of an official proclamation of the US’ new policy on Golan. Netanyahu praised the decision, saying “just as Israel stood tall in 1967, just as it stood tall in 1973, Israel stands tall today. We hold the high ground and we should never give it up.” The announcement was seen as a gift to Netanyahu before Israel’s general election on 9 April. Throughout his re-election campaign, Netanyahu repeatedly emphasized his strong relationship with Trump, claiming to have “got things done” during his premiership and won a number of “successes” such as moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and the recognition of the Holy City as Israel’s capital.

Israeli Settler Kills Palestinian Woman After Ramming Her With Car, Soldiers Shoot And Seriously Injure Teen -- A Palestinian woman was killed, earlier Thursday morning, near her home in Teqoua’ town, southeast of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, after being rammed by the car of an illegal colonialist settler. The soldiers later shot and seriously injured a Palestinian teen while handcuffed, when he reportedly attempted to escape. The slain Palestinian woman has been identified as Fatima Suleiman, 42. According to eyewitnesses, the assailant was driving a large truck when he struck the woman’s car, throwing her out of the vehicle, and then rammed and killed her, before fleeing the scene. The slain Palestinian woman was a teacher at the Rashayda School. The Israeli Police did come to the scene, but only to remove all security camera footage from a house overlooking the area where the incident took place. The incident led to protests as dozens of residents, mainly youngsters, took to the streets, and hurled stones at the Israeli army jeeps, while the soldiers attacked them with live fire, rubber-coated steel bullets and gas bombs. The soldiers then detained a Palestinian teen, before handcuffing and blindfolding him, and later shot him from a very close range, after he attempted to escape while he was still cuffed and blindfolded. The shooting took place following the funeral procession of the Palestinian woman. A picture was posted on social media showing the young man, who was cuffed and blindfolded trying to run away, before the soldiers shot him. A video posted on social media shows the teen on the ground when witnesses lifted the teen’s limp body, bleeding heavily, carrying him from the scene, as the Israeli soldier stood pointing the same pistol at another young Palestinian man. 

13th century Palestinian mosque converted into 'bar and event halls' -- A centuries-old Palestinian mosque has been converted into a bar and events hall, according to Gulf News, quoting Al-Quds Al-Arabi on Wednesday.The historic mosque changed from Al-Ahmar (Red) mosque to Khan al-Ahmarin an occupied Palestinian town in the northern Safed district of Israel experienced a series of desecrations since 1948.First, the mosque was converted into a Jewish school, then in 2006, it became a campaign center for the Israeli Kadima Party, before being used as a clothing shop and now a bar and a wedding hall.Khair Tabari, secretary of a Palestinian Islamic endowment agency ‘Safed and Tiberias Islamic Endowment’ has been trying to rescue the mosque for years.“I was shocked when I saw aspects of sabotage inside the mosque,” Tabari, told London-based newspaper Al Qodus Al Arabi. “I felt dizzy when I noticed the vandalism inside the mosque, as can be seen by the remains of Qu’ranic verses which were removed from the pulpit and replaced by the Ten Commandments in Hebrew,” Tabari told al-Quds al-Arabi.  According to Dr. Mustafa Abbasi, a historian and a native of Safad, the mosque was built in 1276, has great historical and architectural value.  “Al Ahmar Mosque derives its name from its red stones. Today, it is used in several ways except as a prayer place for Muslims,” said Abbas.“Muslims visiting the place face attacks from Jewish colonists,” he added. “The mosque has a rare historical and architectural value as it was established by the Mameluke Sultan Al Daher Baibars [1223-1277 AD),” Abbas said. The other historical mosques, cemeteries and other religious sites have similar stories. They are either converted into nightclubs or blew up. The Greek mosque, built in 1319, was transformed into an art gallery where praying is forbidden.

Blaze Erupts at Jerusalem’s Historic al-Aqsa Mosque as Notre Dame Burns (VIDEO) Notre Dame de Paris wasn't the only beloved house of worship that caught fire Monday. Part of the Haram ash-Sharif, the huge Jerusalem mosque built where a pivotal event in the prophet Muhammad's life is believed to have occurred, also caught fire, damaging a part of the structure dating to Judean King Herod the Great's reign. ​The fire broke out in the guard room outside the al-Marwani Prayer Room Monday evening, according to a statement by the mosque's Islamic Waqf (Endowments) Department. According to The New Arab, a guard reported a short gap in guard rotations between 7:15 and 7:30 p.m. local time.  The waqf department praised the responsiveness of staff firefighters, who quickly put out the blaze. The fire seems to have been started by children fooling around, and the waqf's statement urged worshipers "who live around the mosque and in the Old City to educate their children not to tamper with fire, especially inside al-Aqsa mosque."  Israeli police told al-Araby they were opening an investigation into the incident. Israel has governed the entire city since 1967, when it seized the territory from Jordan. The United States has recently recognized Israel's claim that Jerusalem is its capital, but few nations have followed suit, with most sticking by the many United Nations resolutions condemning Israel's annexation of the territory. ​Al-Aqsa means "the farthest" in Arabic; a house of worship was built in the site because of a verse in the Quran describing the prophet Muhammad's "Night Journey," which says he went to the farthest mosque before ascending to heaven atop a flying horse named Buraq ("lightning, in Arabic). It's unclear which caliph founded the modern structure, but it was almost certainly built in the late seventh century and steadily expanded ever since.

Europe urged to reject US Middle East plan if it is unfair to Palestinians  -High-ranking former European politicians have condemned the Trump administration’s one-sided Israel-Palestine policy and called in a letter for Europe to reject any US Middle East peace plan unless it is fair to Palestinians. The letter, sent to the Guardian, the EU and European governments, was signed by 25 former foreign ministers, six former prime ministers, and two former Nato secretary generals.“It is time for Europe to stand by our principled parameters for peace in Israel-Palestine,” read the letter, calling for a two-state solution in which Israel and Palestinian states live side by side. Europe, it said, should reject any plan that does not create a Palestinian state alongside Israel with Jerusalem as the capital for both countries.  “Unfortunately, the current US administration has departed from longstanding US policy,” it said, criticising Donald Trump’s 2017 recognition of “only one side’s claims to Jerusalem”. Washington had also “demonstrated a disturbing indifference to Israeli settlement expansion” in the occupied West Bank and cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Palestinians, a move the letter said was “gambling with the security and stability of various countries located at Europe’s doorstep”. Since taking office, and amid praise from Israel’s government, Trump has taken measures seen as both punishing to Palestinians and which also stifle the viability of a Palestinian state.  The US president has promised to unveil a still-secret “ultimate deal” for Israelis and Palestinians, although the Palestinian leadership preemptively rejected it as biased, and Israel’s leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, categorically ruled out a Palestinian state.  The US team tasked with drafting the plan includes Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer who has been vocal in his support for Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories.

Libya- Detained refugees 'terrified' as clashes near Tripoli rage - As fighting between rival forces rages on the outskirts of the Libyan capital, thousands of refugees and migrants locked up in detention centres inside Tripoli say they are terrified of what might happen to them. Renegade General Khalifa Haftar on Thursday ordered his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), which is allied to a parallel administration in the east, to march on Tripoli, the seat of the country's internationally recognised government which is protected by an array of militias. Despite international calls for a truce, clashes have intensified, with dozens of people killed on both sides since the fighting began. In recent days, Al Jazeera contacted detainees in several migrant detention centres across Tripoli. The detainees, who use hidden phones to communicate, asked that their names not be published for fear of retaliation. Some of the detention centres are also not named to protect the detainees' identities. Their statements could not be independently verified, but they offered similar accounts. Some of the refugees and migrants said they had been left without food or water, including hundreds in the middle of an active conflict zone. Others said they had been taken from their cells and forced to move weapons. "We can see the military," said a man in Qasr bin Ghashir detention centre, on the southern outskirts of Tripoli, in an area where clashes are ongoing. Speaking to Al Jazeera on Sunday, he said hundreds of refugees and migrants being held there had not had any food in two days. "The food store is empty," he said. "The war is still continuing. Even the electricity and water supply stopped." Two men wearing military outfits reportedly arrived to tell Qasr bin Ghashir's detainees, including children, they would be moved to a safe place - but those being held there were worried the men were traffickers or smugglers who might take them for ransom. "Maybe they'll take us to sell us," said one man, who sent recordings in which loud explosions could be heard. 

Turkish Ambassador Denies Report Claiming Ankara Sent ISIS Fighters to Libya– Turkish Ambassador to Tunisia Ömer Faruk Doğan has denied a Tunisian news report accusing Ankara of sending Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists to the Libyan capital of Tripoli from Syria, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.In a statement, Doğan described the report by private newspaper Al-Chourouk as “lies.”The source “did not verify the authenticity of the information, which was built on false statements,” the diplomat stressed.  The Tunisian daily cited statements by Ahmad al-Mesmari, a spokesman for east Libyan-based forces, in which he claimed that there were “open lines” to provide weapons and fighters from Turkey and Malta to the Tripoli-based government.“The baseless allegations do not serve peace in the region, nor Tunisian-Turkish relations, but weaken them, especially at a time when the entire region needs solidarity,” Doğan said.The Turkish envoy warned that such reports “mislead Tunisian public opinion, to which we attach great importance.”“Turkey has always defended the stability of Libya, which it considers a brotherly country like Tunisia, with both of which Turkey shares a common culture and history,” he said. “Turkey has always maintained close ties with Libya and feels that political dialogue is the solution,” the diplomat stressed.

Trump Thanks Gen. Haftar For Securing Libya’s Oil Resources Amid Tripoli Fighting -In a sharp reversal of longstanding US policy which recognizes only the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli as the legitimate authority over Libya, the White House on Friday said President Trump spoke by phone this week to Benghazi based commander Kalifa Haftar, pledging support to the general and his Libyan National Army (LNA) as it lays siege to the capital. The White House statement said Trump “recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources, and the two discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system.” The call took place on Monday, but was only revealed at the end of this week amid ongoing fighting in and around Tripoli, under assault for the past two weeks by Haftar's forces, which early this month led to the withdrawal of a contingency of US Marines, citing the deteriorating security situation. The White House readout said the two discussed “ongoing counterterrorism efforts and the need to achieve peace and stability in Libya.”Interestingly in early April Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had urged in a statement for Haftar to halt his advance: “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,” Pompeo said at the time. Haftar who solidified control of Eastern Libya over the past two years and swept through the south in January, seeks to capture Tripoli and seize military control of the entire country, and has over the past weeks made inroads into the capital.

 Libya – U.S. Reveals Support For Hafter’s Side  -The situation on the ground in Libya has changed little since we last looked at it two weeks ago. The Libyan National Army (LNA) troops of General Hafter attack the militias which support the UN recognized government in Tripoli from the south. The LNA still lacks forces for a larger break through. Several objects at the front changed hands several times. There are bloody skirmishes but no big fights. Those are still to come. Some people doubt that Hafter can be successful: Analysts believe that Haftar over-estimates the strength of his LNA.  They say the controversial field marshal, who backs an administration rival to the GNA based in eastern Libya, was counting on a quick collapse of Tripoli militias. But pro-GNA reinforcements from around Tripoli rushed to assist in driving back his forces. It was never clear if Hafter really hoped that a lightning attack on Tripoli would achieve a fast victory, or if his sudden move was intended to rally support from outside. He is now certainly getting such support and that will be to his decisive advantage in the longer play. As we described it:Hafter has open support from France, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Russia. The Trump administration is not interested to step into the mess. Hafter is an old CIA asset and if he takes control there is a good chance that the U.S. will have influence over him. As long as Libyan oil flows and keeps the global oil price down Trump will be happy. Russia is trying to stay in the background to not give the anti-Russian forces in Washington an excuse to intervene.  The Muslim Brothers, supported by Turkey and Qatar, are still in play in Misrata but have otherwise lost their influence on the ground.Since then the Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Arabia pledged tens of millions of dollars to support Hafter's move on Tripoli. During the last week Hafter visited President Sisi of Egypt. Europe is disunited over the issue. Italy wants to keep its influence in its former colony Libya and its historical position in the Libyan oil industry. It is also concerned about a new wave of refugees. It supports the government in Tripoli. France is supporting Hafter with an eye on taking over some oil business. It is also concerned about Islamist activities in former French colonies west and south of Libya. With Italy and France in a clinch, the European Union only issued a weak statement that called for a stop of fighting without naming any side.

Death toll in Libya fighting continues to rise-  Clashes between rival militias fighting for control of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, has killed at least 213 people and wounded more than 1,000 others, the United Nations' health agency said on Friday.In a tweet containing the updated death toll from more than two weeks of fighting, the World Health Organization also warned against attacks on civilians, health workers and health facilities, saying they were "not a target."Fighting erupted in Libya after Khalifa Haftar, who commands the self-styled Libyan National Army, ordered his troops to launch an offensive on Tripoli to oust a UN-backed government on April 4.Haftar, who supports a rival administration in the east of the country, has seized growing control of southwestern Libya in recent months. He has rejected calls to call off his offensive, which has raised fears of renewed civil conflict.Later on Friday, the White House said US President Donald Trump had called Haftar earlier in the week to acknowledge "Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources, and the two discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system."The call came amid efforts by the UN to broker a ceasefire. On Thursday, the US and Russia opposed a UN ceasefire bid that was backed by the United Kingdom, France and Germany. Libya has been in political turmoil since the ouster and killing of long-time dictator Moammar Ghadafi in a NATO-back uprising in 2011.

Sudan coup: Military leader vows to ‘uproot regime’ The leader of Sudan's interim military council has vowed to "uproot the regime" two days after a military coup. Speaking on TV, Lt-Gen Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan announced the restructuring of state institutions, the end of a night curfew and the release of political prisoners. Protests continue despite the ousting of long-time leader Omar al-Bashir. Demonstrators have demanded an immediate move to civilian rule and vow to stay in the streets. Gen Burhan, who replaced the coup leader after he resigned on Friday, also dissolved all provincial governments and pledged respect for human rights. The army would maintain "peace, order and security" across Sudan during an already announced transition period that would last at most two years until elections could be and civilian rule introduced, he added. Using a more conciliatory tone, Gen Burhan also called on the opposition to "help us restore normal life", promised to try those who killed demonstrators and vowed a war on corruption. The speech followed the resignation of feared security chief Gen Salah Gosh hours after the coup leader himself, Defence Minister Awad Ibn Auf, stepped aside. No official reason has been given for either departure. Later on Saturday the army named Lt Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo as the deputy head of the Transitional Military Council. Known by the nickname "Hemeti", the general commands the paramilitary Rapid Support Force (RSF), which grew out of the government-backed Janjaweed militia.  The Janjaweed are accused of carrying out atrocities in the western region of Darfur in the early 2000s.

 Inside The US-Led Operation To Bust North Korean Oil Smugglers On The High Seas - For the first time details of an extensive anti-smuggling surveillance operation involving eight United Nations member countries in the East China Sea, in waters near China and North Korea, have been revealed by a new Wall Street Journal investigation. WSJ reporters accompanied the USS Milius and an allied Japanese warship, cooperating further with military surveillance aircraft, on a mission to thwart sanctions busting illegal oil transfers on the high seas to North Korean tankers.  The stunning report provides a first hand account of in some instances Chinese ships turning off their transponders ("ghosting" international trackers) to covertly transfer petroleum products to North Korean bound tankers on the open waters.  One dramatic episode involved the US warship intercepting a cluster of 3 "ghosting" ships pulling near a UN-blacklisted tanker known for illegal smuggling operations into North Korea:One of the two smaller ships began to quickly move away from the group as the other loosened its mooring to the tanker. Both of the smaller ships carried Chinese flags. No flag was visible on the tanker.  The Milius’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Jon Hopkins, set a course to pull alongside the tanker. “We got them,” said a Milius crew member on lookout duty. The United Nations over a year ago imposed tight limits on North Korea's ability to import oil and petroleum products due to its banned nuclear testing and missile program.

North Korea tests new tactical guided weapon, state media reports North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has overseen the testing of a new type of tactical guided weapon, state media Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) has reported early this morning local time. It is North Korea's first public weapons test since the second US-North Korea summit in Hanoi ended with no agreement in February. KCNA did not describe exactly what the weapon tested on Wednesday was, including whether it was a missile or another type of weapon, but "tactical" implies a short-range weapon, as opposed to the long-range ballistic missiles that have been seen as a threat to the United States. Nevertheless, the missile has a "peculiar mode of guiding flight" and "a powerful warhead," KCNA said in a statement released early this morning (local time). Mr Kim said "the completion of the development of the weapon system serves as an event of very weighty significance in increasing the combat power" of the North Korean army, according to KCNA..

Satellite Images Indicate North Korea is Making Radioactive Bomb Fuel - Is this the relaunch of Rocket Man? Satellite images have exposed new activity at at North Korea’s main nuclear site which experts say may show the reprocessing of radioactive material into bomb fuel. Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies said the images, snapped last week, show new railcars near the site's uranium enrichment and radiochemistry labs, indicating the movement of radioactive material. “In the past these specialized railcars appear to have been associated with the movement of radioactive material or reprocessing campaigns,” the report said. “The current activity, along with their configurations, does not rule out their possible involvement in such activity, either before or after a reprocessing campaign.” The images follow a serious worsening of relations between the U.S. and North Korea after the failure of a second summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Hanoi in February.

Satellite Footage Exposes Smuggling On North Korean Border - Since the February 2019 Hanoi Summit, media outlets have been awash with inaccurately interpreted satellite images of North Korean installations at locations such as the Sohae Satellite Launching Station and the Sanumdong Research and Development Facility. The United Nations Panel of Experts has also turned to satellite footage as a means of proving sanctions evasion but likewise engaged in misrepresentation when trying to pin violations onto the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). So where are North Korea's sanctions violations generally occurring?While much of the media coverage tends to be manipulated with the intention of aggravating tensions between North Korea and the outside world, real evidence of smuggling along the DPRK's northern border can easily be identified even by members of the public. Disobedient Media has been able to pinpoint a number locations where cross-border smuggling was occurring using Google Earth. This kind of activity not only violates sanctions, but also poses a security risk to the DPRK since it reduces their ability to control who can enter and exit the country. Combatting smuggling has recently become a priority for not only North Korea but also their neighbors as the United States and DPRK continue to negotiate denuclearization. On April 11, 2019, President Donald Trump thanked China and Russia for helping "more than people think" with combatting smuggling along the border with North Korea while meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Just days before on April 8, South China Morning Post revealed that a Chinese border patrol unit in Tonghua, Jilin province had contracted with China Mobile to build the country's first 5G checkpoint at Yunfeng Reservoir along the border with North Korea. Using satellite imagery made available through Google, it is possible to identify a large number areas where illegal border crossing is occurring on a pervasive scale. Authorities in China, Russia and North Korea will continue to have their work cut out for them. One kind of smuggling occurs by using boats to cross North Korea's border along the Yalu and Tumen Rivers. A selection of photos is provided below:

Kim Jong Un's 'princess' sister may have been kicked out of North Korea's ruling body, suggesting a fall from favor --Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, may have been kicked out of North Korea's high-profile ruling politburo,NK News reported, suggesting a fall from favor.Kim Yo Jong, who is considered to be the most powerful woman in the country, was not listed as an alternate member of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party of Korea's (WPK) politburo — the party's top decision-making body — and did not appear at any high-profile events during an important party gathering last week, NK News reported, citing state media.The circumstances of her apparent ejection from the politburo are not clear.  Kim was, however, seen at some party meetings, at a session of the Supreme People's Assembly, and in a photo of "members of the newly elected party and state leading organs," NK News said — suggesting that she has not been left out in the cold completely.

Diego Garcia- The Unsinkable Carrier Springs A Leak - The recent decision by the Hague-based International Court of Justice that the Chagos Islands - with its huge U.S. military base at Diego Garcia - are being illegally occupied by the United Kingdom (UK) has the potential to upend the strategic plans of a dozen regional capitals, ranging from Beijing to Riyadh. For a tiny speck of land measuring only 38 miles in length, Diego Garcia casts a long shadow. Sometimes called Washington’s “unsinkable aircraft carrier,” planes and warships based on the island played an essential role in the first and second Gulf wars, the invasion of Afghanistan, and the war in Libya. Its strategic location between Africa and Indonesia and 1,000 miles south of India gives the U.S. access to the Middle East, Central and South Asia, and the vast Indian Ocean. No oil tanker, no warship, no aircraft can move without its knowledge.Most Americans have never heard of Diego Garcia for a good reason: No journalist has been allowed there for more than 30 years, and the Pentagon keeps the base wrapped in a cocoon of national security. Indeed, the UK leased the base to the Americans in 1966 without informing either the British Parliament or the U.S. Congress.The February 25 Court decision has put a dent in all that by deciding that Great Britain violated United Nations Resolution 1514 prohibiting the division of colonies before independence. The UK broke the Chagos Islands off from Mauritius, a former colony on the southeast coast of Africa that Britain decolonized in 1968. At the time, Mauritius objected, reluctantly agreeing only after Britain threatened to withdraw its offer of independence. The Court ruled 13-1 that the UK had engaged in a “wrongful act” and must decolonize the Chagos “as rapidly as possible.”

Interview: Ex-Afghan Warlord Says 'No Doubt' Pakistan 'Supports Taliban’ -  Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of Afghanistan’s most notorious former warlords, said there is "no doubt" neighboring Pakistan supports the Afghan Taliban. In an interview with RFE/RL in the Afghan capital on April 14, Hekmatyar also expressed hope that talks scheduled this week between the Western-backed Kabul government and the Taliban could prove a significant step towards ending the war. U.S. and Afghan officials have long accused Pakistan of providing safe havens for the militants, a claim rejected by Islamabad. Hekmatyar forged close ties with Pakistan's shadowy military establishment and its notorious spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), a relationship that was built during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, when the mujahedin commander was one of the main beneficiaries of Pakistani and CIA money and weapons. "Pakistan has an interest in Afghanistan’s political affairs," said Hekmatyar, whose Hezb-e Islami militant group signed a controversial peace accord with the Kabul government in 2016. "Pakistan is supporting the Taliban. There is no doubt about it." Hekmatyar said Pakistan now sees the war in Afghanistan as “more harmful” than beneficial to its interests, especially because of a crippling financial crisis and growing international pressure on Islamabad to clamp down on the Taliban

GitHub Has Become A Haven For China’s Censored Internet Users - China is remarkably successful at scrubbing its Internet of social dissent. Twitter and Facebook have been blocked ever since deadly ethnic riots in 2009. Chinese social media platforms employ armies of internal censors to take down posts, images and even emoji. But this month, coordinated dissent has popped up in an unexpected place: GitHub, the world's largest open-source site that lets programmers collaborate on code.  China's beleaguered tech workers have deluged GitHub in the past month with thousands of posts protesting "996" schedules — 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week — and demanding better working conditions. Tech-savvy programmers in the world's most thoroughly censored cyberspace are turning to unconventional means to collectively organize. They created a "repository,"or collaborative project, on GitHub called "996.ICU," based on a joke that a 996 schedule will send you to the intensive care unit. It's become one of the most popular projects on GitHub, with more than 200,000 GitHub members following the project."First they came after my two breaks. Then they came after my remaining break. Then we had 996," one GitHub programmer wrote in Chinese on the 996.ICU page last month. The viral GitHub campaign puts Beijing in a tight spot: How do you keep China's Internet just free enough to enable economic development without opening the door to protest?

Why China’s Current Account Balance Approaches Zero  The IMF’s spring edition of the World Economic Outlook projects the Chinese current account balance to be around 0.5% of GDP in 2019, enter negative territory in 2022, and stand at minus 0.2% by 2024. But during the last 15 years, the current account balance of China, the world’s manufacturing powerhouse, has been consistently positive and before the great financial crisis as high as 10% of GDP in 2007. As a result, there is a considerable debate whether and how quickly the Chinese current account will be falling below zero.A report by Morgan Stanley, an investment bank, argues that such projections are too conservative as China’s current account will already be negative for 2019 and grow in the coming decade to reach 1.6% of GDP by 2030. The report notes that this deficit is relatively small, especially when taking into account China’s large net foreign asset position. Nevertheless, the authors conclude that China should take steps towards opening up its financial markets to foreign investors to facilitate the inflow of foreign capital, which will be needed to finance the new normal of current account deficits. Two articles in The Economist take a closer look at the underlying forces and implications of a negative Chinese current account. The articles highlight that the negative drift in the current account is due to cyclical but also structural forces. The cyclical aspects are best seen from the trade perspective: the currently high prices of Chinese imports, for example oil and semiconductors, drag the trade balance downwards. Once these prices come down to their long-term average, China’s import bill will shrink and the current account balance will increase again. The structural shifts are best seen from the finance side as they affect Chinese saving and investment rates. While investments in China have remained at around 40% of GDP for a while, the share of domestic income that Chinese households (and some firms) save has fallen from 50 to 40% of GDP. From that perspective, the current account balances should now be close to zero. Brad Setser sees the situation differently by pointing not only to the importance of savings, but also to investments. First, he disagrees that structural factors are pushing the current account into deficit. Drawing on an IMF study, Setser argues that ageing will reduce saving by a mere 6 percentage points of GDP by 2030, therefore saving rates will remain very high. Furthermore, he argues that China’s level of investment, which is one of the highest among large economies, is likely to decline as well, which then balances the current account again.

The dark side of China’s latest rebound - China shares something more in common with Donald Trump than fighting a trade war. The shared interest: avoiding a meltdown in 2020. The fates of both Trump and China became closely linked when the former bet his foreign policy legacy on tackling the latter. Yet China’s ability to maintain growth and stability in 2020 is greatly complicated by Trump’s tariffs in 2018. And, it’s important to acknowledge, its own actions since then. Something else must be acknowledged – there’s just as much bad news as good in China’s most recent economic rebound. A raft of data released Wednesday cheered world markets. It included a better-than-expected 6.4% first-quarter growth rate year-on-year. The more “high-frequency” monthly data series look better, too. They include industrial production and improved demand for everything from cars to phones to cement to crude steel. “The world’s second-largest economy is proving more responsive than expected to the authorities’ supportive policy measures.” Exports jumped 14.2% year-on-year in March after plunging 20.8% In February. This stabilization is a welcome development for the global economy. For now. Though good news for 2019, it comes at a high cost: total social financing is up an eye-popping 40% so far this year. There’s been an uptick in the shadow-banking activity Xi Jinping promised to curb. Loans aren’t heading into productive sectors, a state of affairs hinted at by the paltry 6% increase in fixed-asset investment. Account receivables are building up, a sign many companies aren’t getting paid what they’re owed. Credit cards, meantime, are getting quite a workout. While data lag, household balances rose 23% in the fourth quarter year-on-year. It means that a not-inconsequential driver of consumption comes at a high cost. The bigger question, though, is what happens when Beijing tabulates the bill for today’s 6.4% growth rate? Or, for that matter, the broader tab for generating rapid growth in the decade since the Lehman Brothers crisis.

China Prepares New Stimulus- Will Subsidize Car, Appliance Purchases -China is now preparing to take even more stimulus steps to boost growth.According to the report, Chinese officials are drafting measures to bolster sales of objects which have seen a surprising decline in consumer demand, namely cars and electronics. Notably, the report coincided with the latest GDP data showing a stronger than expected 6.4% expansion in the first quarter. Yet that appears to be insufficient for Beijing - which remains stuck in a protracted trade war with the US - and Chinese leaders are "stepping up attempts to bolster consumption and mitigate the threats posed by trade tensions with the U.S."As Bloomberg reports, "the proposals include subsidies for new-energy vehicles, smartphones and home appliances, and are at a consultation stage with other government branches, with no guarantee that they’ll be approved." Among the other components of the proposal, via Bloomberg:

  • An increase in the number of automobile licenses
  • A waiver on car-ownership quotas for families who don’t own vehicles
  • Subsidies for people who exchange vehicles that are as many as 10 years old for electric, hybrid or fuel-cell vehicles
  • No limits or traffic controls for new-energy vehicles
  • Encouraging banks to increase auto loans in tier-3 cities or below
  • Considering deducting auto purchases from personal income tax
  • Subsidies of up to 13 percent for a home appliance purchase at a maximum of 800 yuan ($120) per purchase
  • Exemption of value-added taxes for used-car transactions until the end of 2020

The target of the latest stimulus is clear: to boost flagging auto sales. As we reported last week, 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, and follow the worst year for Chinese auto sales in decades.

Huawei Founder Ren Zhengfei Says Daughter’s Arrest Will Be Good for Her -- The founder of the Chinese telecom colossus Huawei says the arrest of his daughter on fraud charges brought by the U.S. will be good for her because she hasn’t faced enough hardship in life. “These difficulties will make her stronger and prepare her for even greater things ahead. So I’ll let her face what she is facing,” Ren Zhengfei told CNBC. Meng Wanzhou, who is chief financial officer of Huawei, is under house arrest in Canada, awaiting likely extradition to the U.S. on charges she helped evade sanctions on Iran—allegations she denies. “I think my children have grown up without experiencing much hardship. Struggling a bit can be good for them,” her father said. “Cuts and bruises toughen her up, and even since ancient times, heroes were born of hardship. I think this challenge will be good for my daughter.”

My way or the Huawei: how US ultimatum over China’s 5G giant fell flat in Southeast Asia - Malaysia is just the latest in a string of Southeast Asian nations to have welcomed the world’s largest telecommunications company with open arms, flying in the face of warnings from the United States that doing so will leave their most highly classified secrets vulnerable to Chinese spies. The region is shaping up as a key battleground in a war between the US and China to influence the roll-out of superfast 5G internet services, billed by experts as an era-defining technological shift that could pave the way for breakthroughs in everything from artificial intelligence to the creation of smart cities. In the West, the battles are going Washington’s way. Its claims that Huawei is a front for Chinese espionage have prompted every single one of its fellow members in the Five Eyes intelligence sharing community – Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand – to question the wisdom of dealing with the company. But in Southeast Asia, where Huawei estimates there will be 80 million customers within the next year and US$1.2 trillion of business opportunities over the next five years, Washington’s fears have had little impact. Thailand hopes to roll out a Huawei-led 5G service by 2020 and is already carrying out joint research with the firm in its hi-tech Sriracha district; Singapore’s M1 service, Malaysia’s Maxis and Indonesia’s Telkomsel have all signed up to trial services with the company; and in the Philippines, a Huawei-backed service is to be introduced by the leading wireless provider Globe Telecom as soon as the second quarter of this year.

Malaysia, China agree to resume railway project after slashing cost (Reuters) - Malaysia and China agreed on Friday to resume construction of a multi-billion dollar rail project, shaving nearly a third of the cost, after months of negotiations that strained ties between the two trade partners. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who came to power after a stunning election victory in May, has vowed to renegotiate or cancel what he calls “unfair” Chinese projects authorized by his predecessor, Najib Razak. The two sides have agreed to cut the cost of the 688-km (430-mile) rail project to 44 billion ringgit ($10.7 billion) from the original 65.5 billion ringgit, Mahathir’s office said in a statement. “This reduction will surely benefit Malaysia and lighten the burden on the country’s financial position,” it said, adding that more details would be revealed on Monday. In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular news briefing that officials in both countries had maintained close communication on the project. “We also hope that both sides can resume project construction at an early date, manage well this good situation, and expand areas of mutual benefit,” he said. In January, Reuters reported, citing sources, that contractor China Communications Construction Co Ltd (CCCC) had offered to nearly halve the cost to save the project, known as the East Coast Rail Line (ECRL). In March, Malaysia’s representative in the talks, Daim Zainuddin, said they could include commercial elements that would benefit the southeast Asian nation, but he did not elaborate. Launched in 2017, the centerpiece project of China’s Belt and Road program in southeast Asia aimed to link Malaysia’s east coast on the South China Sea with the busy waterway of the Malacca Strait on the west. But Malaysia suspended the project last July, after its cost ballooned amid a lack of transparency, threatening to saddle the country with uncomfortably large debt. 

Malaysia to ‘take advantage’ of rail link deal to sell China more palm oil - Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Monday said China was likely to buy more palm oil from his country in exchange for his government's decision to resume work on a Beijing-backed rail project following renegotiations that shaved off nearly a third of the cost. Mahathir said in a press conference that the price reduction of 21.5 billion ringgit (S$7 billion) - dropping the project's cost from more than 65 billion ringgit to 44 billion ringgit - announced on Friday was partly made possible because the Chinese contractor, China Communication Construction Company (CCCC), had agreed to bear some of the risks involved in maintaining and operating the line when it comes into operation in 2026. Under the original deal signed by Mahathir's predecessor, Najib Razak, Malaysia bore those risks alone. The prime minister, 93, said negotiations were now underway to reduce the amount Malaysia had borrowed under the original deal from the Export-Import Bank of China. The prime minister also revealed that the CCCC had began refunding 3.1 billion ringgit in advance payments it had received for the second phase of the project. Mahathir's comments were his first on the fresh memorandum of understanding signed by both countries over the controversial rail link, which he had targeted before last May's election as among several unnecessary and expensive China-backed projects that needed to be axed. His ruling coalition suspended work on the rail link - which will connect the port of Klang to peninsula Malaysia's rural east coast - soon after its victory over Najib in the polls. Construction on the rail link suspended since last July is expected to resume as early as next month, according to Darwis Abdul Razak, chief executive of Malaysia Rail Link, the state-owned firm that is in charge of the rail project.

 US scrambles to keep F-35’s secrets safe from Russia and China -- The U.S. and Japan have deployed an unprecedented amount of resources to search for the wreckage of a Japanese fighter jet with advanced technology that could potentially tip the balance of air supremacy if Russian or Chinese forces find it first.Ever since the Aichi Prefecture-made F-35A stealth fighter disappeared from radar off the Japanese coast Tuesday, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force and U.S. military have scrambled planes and ships in a frantic search in the Pacific Ocean for the wreckage and the jet's pilot, Major Akinori Hosomi, who is still missing.  P-8A patrol planes, used to search for submarines, have been deployed in the search, as well as the USS Stethem, a destroyer equipped with powerful Aegis radar. It was learned that B-52 bombers were also dispatched from an air base in Guam. The U.S. has placed a never-before-seen level of priority on this crash. That is likely because the F-35A is expected to play a crucial role in the future of modern warfare. Indeed, the crash of an F/A-18 fighter jet after it collided with a KC-130 Hercules refueling aircraft off Japan's coast in December, killing six people onboard, did not prompt the same wide-scale search to find the F-35A.The F-35, developed by Lockheed Martin, is the next generation of aircraft developed after Washington invested many years and billions of dollars on research. The jet is expected to handle missions for the U.S., Japan, the U.K, Australia and other allies over the next few decades. But it is the planes ability to be used in missile defense, thanks to a high-performance radar system, that has drawn the most attention.The F-35 has the capability to be loaded with advanced interceptor missiles that will be developed later. The planes, flown by Japanese and American pilots, will stake standby positions ready to detect and shoot down ballistic missiles during their initial boost phase, when the missiles are at their slowest speeds.The ability to destroy ballistic missiles in mid-air would not only serve as a defense against Chinese and North Korean missile launches, but would add an extra layer of protection against Russia. Military analysts believe that in the event of war, Russia would target onshore Aegis missile shield systems with small nuclear weapons to allow it to fire other missiles. F-35s would add an extra layer of defense with their ability to intercept ballistic attacks.

Japan's Population in Record Decline- Startling Projections – Mish - Japan is set to lose a midsize city, approximately the size of Austin Texas, every year according to a Financial Times report and stats from the IMF.  “The reason Japan’s population is now falling so fast is not the low birth rate but rather an increase in the number of deaths,” said Akihiko Matsutani, professor emeritus in applied economics at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. The population decline is despite record immigration. Interesting Stats:

  • There were 944,146 births in the year to October 2018 compared with 1,368,632 deaths.
  • Long-term projections suggest Japan’s population will fall to just 50 million in a hundred years. That's the same population as a hundred years ago.

I suspect the long-term projections are hugely wrong. If so, Japan's mountain of debt will pose a huge problem. Japan's battle against deflation will turn into a battle against inflation.

Food insecurity in India is hurting children’s ability to learn -- There has been an impressive expansion in school enrolment in India since the early 2000s. Despite this, India is in the midst of a “learning crisis”, with improvements in learning lagging behind increases in enrolment. Worldwide, India also has one of the highest rates of childundernutrition and household food insecurity – that is, inadequate or inconsistent access to enough safe and nutritious food to sustain a healthy life.Both of these issues have negative implications for the long-term health, well-being and productivity of young people, as well as for the economy more broadly.In our recent study, we used survey data from the Young Lives study of childhood poverty to examine whether there is a link between food insecurity and learning for Indian adolescents.There are good theoretical reasons why learning and food insecurity may be linked. When households experience food insecurity, they may have to make difficult decisions in order to meet the family’s nutritional needs.For instance, households that need money for food might reduce spending on school fees and materials. Children might miss school, have less time available to study, or even drop out altogether so that they can contribute to the household economy. Food insecurity can also cause children to experience hunger, undernutrition, and micronutrient deficiencies. This can lead children to have problems with concentration and memory. It can even impair their cognitive development.

 Nusrat Jahan Rafi: Burned to death for reporting sexual harassment -- Nusrat Jahan Rafi was doused with kerosene and set on fire at her school in Bangladesh. Less than two weeks earlier, she had filed a sexual harassment complaint against her headmaster. Her courage in speaking out against sexual assault, her death five days after being set alight and everything that happened in-between has gripped Bangladesh and brought attention to the vulnerability of sexual harassment victims in this conservative South Asian country. Nusrat, who was 19, was from Feni, a small town 100 miles (160km) south of Dhaka. She was studying at a madrassa, or Islamic school. On 27 March, she said the headmaster called her into his office and repeatedly touched her in an inappropriate manner. Before things could go any further she ran out. Many girls and young women in Bangladesh choose to keep their experiences of sexual harassment or abuse secret for fear of being shamed by society or their families. What made Nusrat Jahan different is that she didn't just speak out - she went to the police with the help of her family on the day the alleged abuse happened. At the local police station she gave a statement. She should have been provided with a safe environment to recall her traumatic experiences. Instead she was filmed by the officer in charge on his phone as she described the ordeal. In the video Nusrat is visibly distressed and tries to hide her face with her hands. The policeman is heard calling the complaint "no big deal" and telling her to move her hands from her face. The video was later leaked to local media.

Mali's PM Maiga, government resign over Ogossagou massacre - Mali's prime minister and his government have resigned four weeks after a massacre of almost 160 Fulani herders by an ethnic vigilante group shocked the nation. President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita accepted the resignation on Thursday without giving a reason for the departure of Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga. "A prime minister will be named very soon and a new government will be put in place after consultations with all political forces" from both the ruling and opposition sides, the statement from Keita's office said. The president had on Tuesday said in a televised address that he had "heard the anger", without explicitly naming the prime minister. Legislators had discussed a possible motion of no confidence in the government because of the massacre and failure to disarm armed groups or beat back fighters. The March 23 killings by suspected hunters from the Dogon community on Ogossagou, a village in central Mali populated by rival Fulani herders, were bloody even by the recent standards of Mali's ever-worsening violence. They followed a deadly assault by armed fighters on an army post that killed at least 23 soldiers, also in Mali's central region, which was claimed by an al-Qaeda affiliate that counts many Fulani herders in its ranks. Malian authorities have detained five people suspected of taking part in the massacre. But they have not yet succeeded in disarming the group that many believe organised it, despite pledges by Maiga and Keita to do so. The killings in Ogossagou, which left the charred bodies of women and children smouldering in their homes, shocked a population that has grown increasingly frustrated by the failure of government forces to protect them from both armed-group onslaughts and ethnic reprisals. 

Impact of high debt levels on least developed countries ‘cannot be overstated’, says UN - “While debt financing remains an important source for achieving positive development outcomes in LDCs, the recent trends are a cause for concern” UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner said at the meeting on strengthening resilience to LDCs’ debt vulnerability.He mentioned that some countries, such as Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi where Cyclone Idai wreaked havoc last month, faced intersecting development threats.“Cyclone Idai not only demonstrates the devasting effects of a climactic shock, it also amplifies other vulnerabilities that we need to pay close attention to in order to build resilience within countries to maintain their sustainable development”, said Mr. Steiner.He elaborated on how global stock debts have risen to levels not seen since the 1980s deb crisis and called even “more concerning” the LDCs debt build-up after being written off in the 1990s and early 2000s.Attributing this to “increased public investments” and “a shift from traditional sources to commercial sources of financing”, Mr. Stiner said: “This has presented new and significant challenges in debt management at the country-level”. According to the most recent International Monetary Fund (IMF)-World Bank debt sustainability analyses, 40 per cent of LDCs and low-income countries are either in or at high risk of debt distress, while 164 others are at extreme risk.

‘Large’ IMF majority on Venezuela leader issue needed: Lagarde (Reuters) - The International Monetary Fund will not be able to help Venezuela deal with its economic crisis until a “large majority” of its members decide who to recognize as the country’s leader, the head of the global lender said on Saturday. World Bank Group President David Malpass and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde at the IMF and World Bank's 2019 Annual Spring Meetings, in Washington, U.S. April 13, 2019. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan Managing Director Christine Lagarde said the IMF “can only be guided by the membership, so it’s not a question of us deciding” whether to help in the event that Venezuela’s government reaches out to the Fund. “It has to be a large majority of the membership actually recognizing diplomatically the authorities that they regard as legitimate,” Lagarde said in a press conference at the IMF and World Bank spring meetings in Washington. Venezuela is mired in a deep economic crisis marked by widespread food and medicine shortages, while hyperinflation has all but rendered its currency worthless.

Former Venezuelan general with ‘treasure trove’ of intelligence arrested for drug trafficking (Reuters) - Spanish police on Friday arrested Hugo Carvajal, a former head of Venezuelan military intelligence, who Washington believes has a “treasure trove” of details he is willing to share about Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Carvajal, a former general and close ally of the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, was arrested on drug trafficking charges on a warrant issued by the United States, a police spokeswoman said. “He is, I would dare to say, the most knowledgeable person to now be outside of Venezuela and be willing and able to cooperate with ... a treasure trove of information,” the U.S. administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “He will clearly be cooperating with us. He’s expressed that publicly,” the official said. A court spokesman said Carvajal would appear before Spain’s High Court on Saturday. The court needs to decide within 24 hours of his arrest whether he will be jailed pending a decision on his extradition or if he will be set free. The U.S. Justice Department said it had asked Spain to extradite Carvajal to face cocaine-smuggling charges that were filed in 2011 and unsealed in 2014. Carvajal, head of military intelligence from 2004 to 2008, denounced Chavez’ successor Maduro in February and gave his support to Juan Guaido, who in January invoked the constitution to become Venezuela’s interim president. Guaido was later recognized by the United States and dozens of governments, but Maduro remains in office with support of the military and has denounced Guaido as a U.S. puppet. Guaido has offered amnesty to military leaders who took his side.

Record Ship-Breaking Suggests World Economy Slowing - As world trade volume rolled over in late 2018 and into the new year, a sharp decline in shipping rates across all vessel types forced some operators to scrap their ships in Southeast Asia in the first three months of the year, reported The Wall Street Journal.In all regions of the world, warning signs are flashing red about the health of developed and emerging economies. The IMF downgraded its forecast for global economic growth for the fourth time in three quarters. We are now in a "significantly weakened global expansion," according to IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath. With a global synchronized slowdown in full swing, Chinese imports plummeted by 7.6% in March compared with a year earlier. The decline followed disappointing data in February, when imports dropped by 5.2%, indicating that the demand for vessels transporting raw materials to the country is at its weakest point in many years.Ship-broker BTIG said in a recent report that 107,000 deadweight metric tons of ship steel were recycled in 1Q19, an increase of 35% from 78,000 metric tons in the same period a year ago. A total of 23 vessels were scrapped, of that 16 were capesize. Ship owners tend to scrap vessels when the cost of operating them or idling them outweighs the price of scrap.  Capesize vessels charge about $9,000 per day, well below the industry standard of $25,000 needed to breakeven. The Baltic Dry index, issued daily by the London-based Baltic Exchange, is a composite of the Capesize, Panamax and Supramax Timecharter Averages. The index is sometimes regarded as a general shipping market bellwether.  The Baltic Dry Index closed at 726-handle on Friday, down 27% in the past year.

 World Trade Suffers Biggest Collapse Since Financial Crisis - The recent collapse in world trade volume is the worst since the financial crisis and as dangerous as during the dot-com bubble of the early 2000s, according to The Telegraph.  Data from the CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis revealed that world trade volume dropped 1.8% in the three months to January compared to the preceding three months as a synchronized global downturn gained momentum."An industrial slump has been triggered by a perfect storm of factors, including China’s slowdown, the car industry downturn, Brexit paralysis and Donald Trump’s attempt to upend the international trade system with tariffs on European and Chinese goods," explained The Telegraph. A further escalation of the trade war between the U.S. and China could spark a world trade recession. Already, Washington has imposed steep tariffs on Chinese imports worth $250bn in a tit-for-tat battle with industrial centers in Asia and Germany experiencing sharp drops in trade in recent months.The Telegraph describes the sudden loss in trade momentum is equivalent to the months after the dot com bubble imploded in 2001 when trade volumes sank as much as 2.2%. Today's current move is the biggest fall since the financial crisis of 2007–2008 when global trade plummeted, diving as much as 12.7%.The International Monetary Fund warned last week that this is a "delicate moment" for the global economy as many countries are in the midst of a severe slowdown.The global economy has "lost further momentum" in the last six months, said IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde.Lagarde pinned trade volume deterioration on decelerating global growth and "the impact of increased trade tensions on spending"  on producer goods.The global downturn in trade is widespread geographically. The synchronized slowdown is expected to stabilize beyond 2020; however, in the meantime, it's likely the world could be headed for a trade recession, if not already in one.

Betting on a Soft Landing: the Takeaways From the IMF Meetings -Global finance chiefs ended talks in Washington mixing concern toward the current state of the world economy with confidence that it will soon rebound. The shift away from tighter monetary policy by central banks, recent stimulus in China and easing trade tensions were hailed as reasons to hope the slowdown will prove short-lived although nobody forecast a renewed boom. With stocks already rallying on optimism about the outlook, officials at the International Monetary Fund’s spring meetings said growth is set to “firm up.” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde nevertheless warned the world is at a “delicate moment,” and at risk of “self-inflicted wounds.” “It’s a time that’s characterized by very high uncertainty,” World Bank chief economist Pinelopi Koujianou Goldberg said in an interview. “It’s not a time where people are bullish about the global economy. People don’t feel that we’re in a major crisis, either.” The IMF cut its forecast for global expansion to the slowest pace since the financial crisis a decade ago, but played down the risk of recession and predicted growth will pick up in the second half of the year to stabilize at about 3.6 percent in 2020. That would be an improvement over the 3.3 percent pace projected for this year, but below the 3.8 percent of 2017. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stoked optimism by saying he was hopeful the U.S. and China are “close to the final round” of trade talks. U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond said the government and main opposition party could strike a Brexit deal within weeks. Europe’s struggles again emerged as a source of worry, leaving Germany under pressure to ease fiscal policy and the U.K. to arrange its withdrawal from the European Union. Still, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi was cautiously optimistic in arguing the euro-area has shown “remarkable resilience.” President Donald Trump’s bashing of the Federal Reserve -- which he renewed with a tweet on Sunday claiming stocks would be much higher had it not been for its actions -- had policy makers circling the wagons in defense of central-bank independence. Draghi took the rare step of wading into politics to back the Fed. He said he was “certainly worried about central-bank independence,” especially “in the most important jurisdiction in the world.” Tobias Adrian, the head of the IMF’s monetary department, warned that political meddling in central banks “would be dangerous.” The Fed is set up so that its senior officials “don’t have to listen if they get calls” from politicians, he said.

China says it respects EU laws and standards as 16+1 becomes 17+1 with new member Greece - China pledged to respect EU rules and standards as the summit with Central and Eastern European countries concluded on Friday, with Premier Li Keqiang praising Greece for officially joining the group – making it “17+1”. Li said the growing platform was an important “supplement” to Beijing’s relationship with the European Union, on the heels of the EU-China summit in Brussels on Tuesday. The EU is China’s largest trading partner, with both sides trading more than €1.5 billion (US$1.9 million) worth of goods every day. Speaking at the end of the summit in Dubrovnic, Croatia, the Chinese premier said he hoped the cooperation would help deepen Beijing’s relationship with the 28-member bloc. “We respect the EU’s laws and standards,” Li said. “We all need to increase trade and connect our economies.” In a joint statement, the two sides lent support to EU initiatives including the EU-China Comprehensive Investment Agreement, which Brussels and Beijing on Tuesday committed to complete before the end of 2020, in time for the next EU-China summit. It also emphasised the need for a “level playing field” – a key demand by the 16+1 countries in their negotiations with China. The statement included a list of nearly 40 deals signed between China and the partner countries covering areas such as agricultural exports, e-commerce, finance and technology cooperation. It also contained references to new principles that did not appear in last year’s statement, including the “three pillars of the United Nations” – peace and security, human rights and development. The China-led 16+1 platform held its first summit in Warsaw, Poland, in 2012. Greece is the first new member to join the group, which now comprises 12 EU member states and five Balkan nations that are also slated to join the EU in the future.

Hungary ponders pitfalls of Chinese rail line - Funded by loans from China’s Eximbank, work is now underway – at least on the Serbian side of the frontier – on upgrading the line to a high-speed rail link that will slash the travel time to just three hours. This project is just one of the more visible aspects of Chinese involvement in the countries at each end of the line, too. Other signs range from the Hungarian location of Huawei’s European supply and logistics HQs to Chinese management of Serbian steelworks and copper mines. The signs are also to be seen in the vibrant Chinese Market in Budapest – home to Eastern Europe’s largest Chinese population – and in groups of hard-headed Serbian business lawyers in Belgrade, now attending classes in Mandarin. “Every Friday, they meet up for lessons,” says James Thornley, a former senior partner with KPMG and now an independent consultant in Belgrade. “And you really know something has changed when people like that see a clear, financial advantage in doing something so difficult.” This growing influence is not without its local critics, though – or its challenges for China. The railway – and other projects – have raised suspicions for some of Chinese ‘debt diplomacy’, while others worry that such deals may drive a wedge within the EU, being used by Beijing and Budapest in their respective battles with Brussels. “What started as something with a very economic rationale to it,” says Agnes Szunomar, head of the Research Group on Developmental Economics at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, “has become something increasingly political.”

 A Big Old Problem Just Re-Erupted On Eurozone's Southern Flank - Last week, Italy’s coalition government slashed its growth forecast for the Italian economy in 2019 to 0.2% – the weakest forecast in the Eurozone – from a previous forecast of 1%. Italy is already in a technical recession after chalking up two straight quarters of negative GDP growth in the second half of 2018.The government’s budget for this year was based on the assumption that the economy would expand by 1% this year. Now, it seems the economy may not grow at all; it could even shrink.One direct result of this is that Italy’s current account deficit for 2019 will be substantially higher than the 2.04% of GDP Italy’s government pledged to stick to late last year. And that can mean only thing: another standoff between Rome and Brussels over the direction of fiscal policy is in the offing.Italy already boasts the largest public debt pile in Europe in nominal terms, clocking in at €2.14 trillion, as well as the second largest in relative terms after Greece’s twice bailed out economy. Rome just forecast that public debt would hit a new record high of 132.6% of GDP this year. That record is unlikely to last very long given Italy’s stagnating economy and the government’s determination to cut taxes, reduce the retirement age and introduce a citizens’ basic income.The biggest problem with Italy’s economy is that many of its problems are chronic and deep seated. Many of them date back to the adoption of the euro, in 2000, or in the case of Rome’s massive addiction to public debt, to the 1980s. As the OECD points out, real GDP in Italy is still well below its pre-crisis peak. Italy is also the only OECD country where incomes (as measured by GDP per capita) are no higher than in 2000. By contrast, in France, Spain, the UK and Germany they have risen during the same period by 13%, 17%, 21% and 23 respectively. The IMF now envisages Italy’s public debt ratio ratcheting up to 134.4% of GDP in 2020 to 138.5% in 2024. As the debt increases, so too will the interest payments on the debt. That is unsustainable, especially with much of that debt scheduled to fall due in the next few years. In 2019 alone, Italy has an eye-watering €250 billion of bond redemptions to fund, which is roughly the equivalent of all Eurozone bond maturities this year.

Steve Bannon Calls Soros A 'Role Model', Pope Francis The Enemy - Steve Bannon admires George Soros, hates Pope Francis, and has gone full-throttle to oppose the 'open-border' advocates with the launch of a European nationalist powerhouse. Based out of a thirteenth-century Carthusian monastery 90 minutes outside of Rome, Bannon has teamed up with Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, Catholic UK politician Benjamin Harnwell and American Cardinal Raymond Burke - who has called Islam a threat and is an open supporter of US President Donald Trump.  Bannon spoke recently with The New Yorker's Elisabeth Zerofsky - who describes him as "corpulent" (clearly a fan), and provided an update to a story we originally reported on last June.  In short, Bannon's new academy seeks to coordinate nationalist movements across Europe as a "right-wing response to George Soros's Open Society Foundation," which Bannon says he admires for its power and organization.

Salvini Is Positioning Italy For Confrontation - Italy’s Matteo Salvini is riding high right now. Having weathered a couple of cheap legal moves to derail his assault on the European Parliament this May, Salvini is working to galvanize Euroskepticism across the continent into a viable political force. He’s got his work cut out for himself. But, he has at least two major allies. Marine Le Pen of the National Rally in France and Viktor Orban, the leader of Hungary. Salvini and Le Pen met last week to announce they would be campaigning together for the European elections as well as a major summit in Milan soon. This is only the beginning, however. I’ve been saying for over a year now that Salvini needs to be the person who lays the foundation for a wholesale revolt against the European Union and Italy’s participation in the euro. His Lega party have skyrocketed in the polls, reversing the dynamic between it and coalition partner Five Star Movement. It’s a coalition that is of the kind which frightens the political establishment in Europe because it isn’t formed on the traditional left-right false divide. It is a populist one united on the common cause of overthrowing the corrupt, corporatist system which most western governments are fronts for. And since coming to power last year there have been multiple attempts to drive wedges between these supposedly strange bedfellows. All of them have failed. And part of the reason for that has been the surging popularity of Lega and Salvini. Having survived to this point and scared the EU a few times with Trump-like ‘big asks’ on the budget and immigration reform, Salvini and his partner in populism Luigi Di Maio are looking towards the EP elections as a first major test of their government. And being able to bring together groups from all over Europe to agree on a common platform to challenge the French/German axis of power would put them in a good position in the second half of 2019 to push things farther, especially as it pertains to Italy’s insane fiscal situation.

French President Emmanuel Macron vows to rebuild Paris’ Notre Dame after devastating fire - The devastating fire that ripped through Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral, collapsing the roof and spire, was likely sparked accidentally, prosecutors said Tuesday. President Emmanuel Macron vowed to rebuild the heavily damaged symbol of France. “We will rebuild. All together,” Macron said. “It’s part of the fate, the destiny of France, and our common project over the coming years. And I am committed to it.” As investigators look into what started the fire, a drive to rebuild the cathedral has already gotten more than $300 million in donations. More than 400 firefighters battled the blaze for 15 hours. The fire was largely extinguished, saving the 8½-century-old building from “total destruction,” according to a French fire official. The two iconic rectangular bell towers were saved even though the fire spread to one of them Monday evening. No deaths were reported, but two police officers and a firefighter were injured. The blaze erupted around 6:50 p.m. Paris time Monday, luckily after it had closed to the public. The destruction came during Holy Week, six days before Easter.

Greece Escalates Demands For WWII Reparations From Germany -- Six months since Der Speigel revealed a 2016 report detailing the cost of Germany's Nazi occupation of the nation during World War II, the Greek Parliament voted Wednesday to demand Germany pay reparations for those damages. As we noted previously the audit report, ready since August 2016, claims Greece is entitled to €269.5 billion of repairs from the Second World War. In addition, Greece demands the repayment of a €10.3 billion occupation loan.«The claim for German war reparations is a historical and moral debt for us» Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras @PrimeministerGR said, adding that it would help «build a better future with Germany». «It is our duty to give both people the chance to close this chapter»— Greece in Stockholm (@GreeceStockholm) April 18, 2019Having emerged from a decade of Troika-imposed austerity in the past year, Tsipras, a leftist, said his government did not want to link the two issues (imposed austerity and reparations), responding to criticism over the parliament’s delayed response to the report on the matter issued in 2016.“We could never put the absolute evil of Nazism... on a scale,” he said.“No slaughter, no monstrosity, not even one drop of blood could be balanced against any bailout.”   For its part, the German government is expected to reject the request. Already in the past, it has made it clear that Greece has no legal right to claim damages for the Second World War.

 German Lawmakers Consider Nationalizing Private Apartments To House The Poor - While Mario Draghi continues to lament the lack of inflation that the ECB's massive balance sheet - now at 41% of Europe's GDP - has failed to spark, and is contemplating even more aggressive measure to create higher prices, to one group of people, the ECB's reflationary efforts have been more than successful: Berlin renters who are furious that the median rent has more than doubled since 2011, soaring past 10 euros a square meter, meaning a 1,000-square-foot apartment costs more than $1,100 a month (still be a bargain in most other major cities), And as the anger over soaring rents grows, so do the protests: last weekend, 50,000 protesters took part in a march against rent increases in Germany's capital city, which was organized by an affordable housing advocacy group in an effort to collect signatures for a referendum that would push the city to expropriate apartments from large landlords, and transfer some of the city's increasingly expensive residential rental properties to public ownership. If the group gathers enough signatures — about 20,000 — the city's government will have to consider a plan to seize more than 250,000 apartments from their corporate owners, The Associated Press reported. The proposal targets for-profit companies that own more than 3,000 apartments in Berlin: "These are companies that are coming in and seeing a really profitable market," Thomas McGath, a spokesperson for the group that organized the campaign, told NPR. "It's not your normal mom and pop landlord." In other words, far from not sparking inflation, the ECB has not only doubled Berlin rents, but sparked a historic backlash that may result in the confiscation and the nationalization of big, corporate chunks of the housing market.

Volkswagen’s Former CEO Charged In Germany Over Diesel Rigging  - Former Volkswagen AG head Martin Winterkorn was charged with serious fraud in Germany for his role in the diesel-rigging scandal that rocked the carmaker and cost it about 29 billion euros ($33 billion). The former chief executive officer was accused alongside four other managers of equipping vehicles sold to customers in Europe and the U.S. with a so-called defeat device, authorities in Braunschweig said Monday in an emailed statement. Fraud charges carry a sentence of as long as 10 years, and prosecutors also want to seize bonuses paid to the five men, which ranged from 300,000 euros for some managers to about 11 million euros for Winterkorn. Allegations that VW wrongfully withheld information about the emission software used in its diesel cars have loomed over the company since the scandal first broke in 2015. The crisis involved as many as 11 million diesel cars worldwide, and shattered the Wolfsburg-based company’s reputation. Winterkorn’s lawyer Felix Doerr said prosecutors haven’t given him full access to their files. Unless all information is disclosed to him, he said, he can’t comment on the charges. CEO Targets The 71-year-old former CEO is also charged with breach of trust because of his failure to swiftly tell authorities about the devices, bringing higher fines for the company. Winterkorn will join a group of other top executives who have stood trial in Germany if the case proceeds.

 Brexit: British Steel seeks £100m government loan to meet EU rules - British Steel is seeking a £100m loan from the government in order to meet EU emission rules.Previously, the company could have used EU-issued carbon credits to settle its 2018 pollution bill. However, the steel maker has been affected by a European Union decision to suspend UK firms' access to free carbon permits until a Brexit withdrawal deal is ratified.Sources say there is no danger to British Steel sites or jobs. The EU's emissions trading system's rules allow industrial polluters to use carbon credits to pay for the previous year's emissions, or trade them to raise money. Each free permit gives a firm the right to emit a tonne (1,000kg) of carbon dioxide (CO2), and they can be traded for money. In a statement the company said: "We are discussing the impact of Brexit on our business with ministers and officials from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and they have been extremely responsive and supportive to date."The company is in talks with Department for Business about financial help. The Department for Business, Energy and Industry Strategy told the BBC: "As the business department, we are in regular conversation with a wide range of sectors and companies."

New push to oust May as Tory grandees say the rules CAN be changed to hold a new no confidence vote on her leadership Theresa May could face a fresh leadership challenge within weeks after senior Tories agreed to launch a review of the party’s rulebook. The backbench 1922 Committee is looking at whether to tear up the rules that prevent the party leader facing more than one challenge in a 12-month period. Sources on the committee last night said the change would be debated by the ruling executive at its first meeting back after Easter on April 23. Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady is understood to be seeking legal advice on the proposed change, amid concerns that it could be challenged by supporters of the Prime Minister. If the switch is approved, it would clear the way for disgruntled Tory MPs to launch a fresh attempt to oust Mrs May before the end of this month. A senior Tory said: ‘There is a real push to get this sorted out. She cannot be allowed to go on.’ Former party leader Iain Duncan Smith yesterday led calls for Mrs May to stick to her offer to resign next month. The PM’s offer was conditional on MPs passing her Brexit deal, which has since been defeated for a third time. But Mr Duncan Smith said the timetable ‘still stands’. He told Sky News: ‘The Prime Minister has already said she’d go; she said she’d go as and when the agreement was ratified which was looking at around May/June. I think those dates still stand. ‘I think what the Prime Minister has to do is to aim everything now towards departure before the Euros (elections) which would then allow her to step away having done what she said she would do, getting the UK out of the European Union one way or the other.

Brian Monteith: The Brexit Party should not be written off in Scotland -  The Brexit Party has launched, and all the evidence suggests it shall complete a successful mission to change our political constellation – but will it land with any Scottish MEPs? The tendency in Scotland is to write off sympathy for Brexit but, just as I warned in this column five years ago, there is a substantial eurosceptic minority looking for a voice. The last time there were EU elections in 2014 Scotland returned a Ukip MEP with over 140,000 votes and 10.5 per cent of the vote. On 23 May, when the European elections that were not meant to take place will be held, the Brexit Party should pick up that seat if it offers a rational and inoffensive home for that existing support. Indeed it could do even better if there is a significant fall in Conservative or Labour support. In England and Wales the Conservative Party is already on its way to a collapse. Reports from members out on the stump for council elections on 2 May already make for harrowing reading back at Tory HQ with tales of doors being slammed in canvassers’ faces, donations drying up and members resigning from the party. What had been a trickle of dissent over first, the Prime Minister’s Chequers betrayal and then her surrender by way of the EU’s Withdrawal Agreement, became a torrent of protests when the UK did not leave the EU on 29 March as promised incessantly by Theresa May. Over a hundred (and growing) Conservative council candidates and Tory association chairmen have written to the press warning of what could become an existential shock to the party’s actual survival. Social media is full of Tweets and posts about supporters never voting Conservative again so long as Theresa May is leader and the party does not honour its commitment to deliver Brexit. The latest UK polling for the European Parliament elections makes shocking reading for Theresa May’s Conservative Party. A YouGov survey shows Labour ahead on 24 per cent with Conservatives on 16 per cent and the Brexit Party – even before it had officially launched on 15 per cent. Ukip is below on 14 per cent and the Liberal Democrats slipping to 8 per cent, and the Independent Group formed of Remain defectors from the Labour and Conservatives (and now called Change UK) on 7 per cent. SNP/Plaid Cymru polled 6 per cent. One opinion survey is, however, only a snapshot; further evidence is necessary to identify trends that suggest a credible consistency in support. Unfortunately for the Conservatives a second poll by Opinium provided that the day after with again Labour first (29 per cent) and Conservatives second (17 per cent) – with Ukip third (13 per cent) and the Brexit Party already fourth (12 per cent). The Liberal Democrats came in at 10 per cent, Greens and SNP both 6 per cent and Change UK on 4 per cent.

Nigel Farage has caught his second wind – trivialising his influence now will make him unstoppable -  Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water… but you never thought that. The water was perfectly well infested as it was. Nonetheless, the great white shark of Brexit is visible just off the beach again, and the landscape looks more hellish than it did a week ago.No one, not Ken Clarke or Michael Heseltine or any other Euro-romantic, you suspect, was as distressed by the referendum result as Nigel Farage.Although he faked the joy, it was a shattering blow to a pouting mega-narcissist with a saviour complex to lose the spotlight. No victory in modern politics can have felt more pyrrhic. It robbed him of the right to scream “betrayal!” His political relevance evaporated. So this public school, City boy anti-establishmentarian tried his luck in the States, first as Trump’s warm-up man at campaign rallies, then flitting around the outer edges of the presidential whirlpool in search of a job.That this came to nothing must also have hurt. How can it feel to the Moses who freed his people from bondage to be so insignificant in the promised land across the pond that he wasn’t among the rogues and imbeciles – “the best”, in Trumpese – who were hired?Imagine watching another Brit, the stridently revolting Sebastian Gorka, strutting his stuff on the telly while the granddaddy of the Brexit that aided (if not enabled) the idiot’s election was denied access to the Trump Tower elevator?After the wilderness years, having concluded that a 23rd stint as Ukip’s leader wasn’t worth the hassle after the endless pantomime grotesqueries, the comeback is on.  The Brexit Party he relaunched last week with the elegant mission statement to “put the fear of God into MPs”, stands poised for a splendid European elections (assuming they are held) in May.The Conservatives are crashing in the opinion polls, and disintegrating before our very eyes. Labour’s lower level internal strife and dismally confused line on a second referendum suggests it too will struggle. The Lib Dems cannot find the traction to capitalise on the main parties’ weaknesses. Change UK, unless it agrees an electoral pact or informal merger with Vince Cable, will duplicate his message and split the Remain vote. For the lounge lizard demagogue, the ground couldn’t be more fertile. If he can incinerate the remnants of Ukip, Farage will hoover up the Tory (and in some parts of the country, Labour) refuseniks.

Exclusive: Grassroots Conservative chairmen planning no-confidence vote in Theresa May ‘within weeks’ Telegraph - Grassroots Tories believe they are just weeks away from triggering a little-known process that could help to bring down Theresa May. Party chairmen are circulating a petition calling for the party's National Convention, which represents the grassroots, to call an Extraordinary General Meeting to pass a vote of no confidence in Mrs May, the Tory leader. If the petition motion is signed by more than 65 association chairmen, the party is obliged to hold the meeting. So far between 40 and 50 party chairmen have signed it, and the threshold could be passed as early as next week.

Festering Brexit – Yves Smith -  A short list of updates:

  • Labour-Tory talks still going nowhere. I’m not sure it would be progress even if the negotiations were going somewhere, since Labour’s Brexit scheme is awfully unicorn-y (wanting a customs union that has pretty much all the goodies of the Single Market without having Single Market obligations). But independent of the substantive difference, it’s not clear that the Tories have incentives to compromise now, given the upcoming municipal council election. The party is already looking plenty battered. Why give Labour another talking point that will give loyal Conservatives another reason to stay home?
  • More Tory plotting to oust May. May has stared down so many coup attempts that she likely has a food taster. Nevertheless, as always, the noise is this time they really will get her. And in fairness, there has been so much wolf-crying that it would be too easy to dismiss the scheme that finally does May in.  The state of play, per the Telegraph:Grassroots Tories believe they are just weeks away from triggering a little-known process that could help to bring down Theresa May.Party chairmen are circulating a petition calling for the party’s National Convention, which represents the grassroots, to call an Extraordinary General Meeting to pass a vote of no confidence in Mrs May, the Tory leader. If the petition motion is signed by more than 65 association chairmen, the party is obliged to hold the meeting. So far between 40 and 50 party chairmen have signed it, and the threshold could be passed as early as next week. The wee problem is that even if this move succeeded, it would not remove May as Prime Minister, just as party leader. My understanding is there have been Prime Ministers who have not been the heads of their party. So this move would fall in the category of further reducing her authority…when it’s hard to see how driving her lower from her diminished position would make much difference.
  • Voter positions on Brexit largely entrenched. Admittedly, this item comes from a study written up in, but it’s a large scale conducted by academics who asked many of the same questions in earlier surveys.  Hard Remainers and hard Leavers have not changed their minds. There does however seem a shift in sentiment among Left Wing Leavers with a quarter them now ranking Remain as their top preference and also among Sovereignty Remainers. Leave voters who have changed their minds mostly voted Labour in 2017 while changing Remain voters mostly voted Conservative. This means that as Labour has become more Remain, the Conservatives have become more Leave. While Left Wing Leavers now seem slightly keener on Remain, and Sovereignty Remain voters seem to prefer some kind of Brexit deal, there hasn’t really been a significant shift in sentiment. Note I have trouble reconciling the text of the article with this chart, which shows the hard and near-hard Leave factions to outnumber the hard and near-hard Remain cohorts:

 Tories Hit by New Defections and Slump in Opinion Polls as Party Divide Widens - The bitter fallout from Brexit is threatening to break the Tory party apart, as a Europhile former cabinet minister Stephen Dorrell on Sunday announces he is defecting to the independent MPs’ group Change UK, and a new opinion poll shows Conservative support plummeting to a five-year low as anti-EU parties surge.Writing in Sunday’s Observer, Dorrell, who was health secretary under John Major, says he can no longer continue in a party that “has fallen progressively under the influence of an English nationalist outlook” and turned its back on the traditions of many of its greatest former leaders.Arguing that neither the Conservatives nor Labour now represent mainstream opinion in the UK, Dorrell says that the current two-party system no longer serves the interests of the electorate. He writes: “I shall continue to describe myself, as I always have, as a liberal Conservative but I shall do so in future as a supporter of Change UK – The Independent Group, which I believe has become the natural home of those who regard themselves, as I do, as the heirs of Disraeli, Churchill, Macmillan and Heath.” He adds: “I do not believe any of them would have countenanced the idea that Britain should imagine its interests are best served by removing itself from the European mainstream.”Dorrell is understood to be interested in standing in next month’s European elections for Change UK, if they go ahead. Another former Tory MP, Neil Carmichael, who was chairman of the Commons education select committee, has also left the party and wants to stand for Change UK in the European elections. Carmichael said he could not carry on as a Conservative. “I think the attitude of the Conservative party at the moment is simply wrong. It isn’t easy for the prime minister – she was dealt a bad hand. But the ‘Brexit means Brexit’ slogan got us off to a hard Brexit start and her red lines on leaving the customs union and single market did not help thereafter.

 Farage's Brexit Party Leapfrogs Tories To Lead European Election Polls - Support for the Tories is plunging following Theresa May's latest Brexit can-kick (a six-month extension until Halloween), and as cross-party talks for a Brexit compromise stall, it appears Nigel Farage's newly formed Brexit Party is emerging as the biggest winner from all the Brexit chaos.According to the latest YouGov poll, the second in two days, Farage's newly formed party, which enjoyed its official coming-out party on Friday during a rally in Coventry, has leapfrogged both establishment parties in the upcoming European Parliamentary elections.That poll put the Brexit Party at 23%, Labour at 22% and the Conservatives at 17%. Change UK, the group of MPs who defected from the Conservatives and Labour earlier this year, were at 8%, just behind the Green Party, 10%, and the Liberal Democrats, 9%.Intriguingly, the report suggest the Brexit Party has drawn supporters from UKIP following Farage's departure - after quitting UKIP late last year, Farage slammed the party as Islamophobic.  This is an improvement from polls carried out just days ago, which showed support for the Brexit Party climbing, though it was still behind the two dominant parties and UKIP.

The UK will be one of the only advanced economies in the world to see slower productivity growth this year - The UK economy is taking a beating with slugging productivity figures underpinning decades of decline for the world's fifth largest economy. A report from US non-profit Conference Board says that the UK is set to be the only large large advanced economy in the world to see a decline in productivity growth in 2019. This is contrasted by an average productivity growth of around 1.1% in other developed economies, per Conference Board's figures.UK output per hour is down to just 0.2%, a drastic reduction in productivity growth, according to Conference Board's figures. In comparison, productivity growth was 2.2% between 2000 and 2007, and then just 0.5% from 2010 to 2017.This is partly explained by a slowdown in Western European productivity in the second half of 2018, but the UK was the worst hit. Total factor productivity, a measure of economic efficiency, in the UK was down 0.1% in 2018."The UK is a consistent story of slow output growth, slow employment growth, and slow productivity growth," according to Bart van Ark, chief economist of the Conference Board, as quoted in the Financial Times. Productivity growth has gone from 0.8% in 2017 to a projected 0.2% this year, the Conference Board report estimated."While strong employment performance was in part offsetting the UK's productivity growth between 2010 to 2017, the growth rate of hours worked has rapidly declined recently," according to the report.In a separate emailed report on Monday, recruiter Morgan McKinley said that the UK's performance has been hit hard by Brexit uncertainty. The firm's recent employment monitor saw a 9% decrease in jobs available in London year-on-year, with Brexit having "crushed confidence among City employers."

70 MPs Demand Assange Face Extradition To Sweden, Not US - Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has said the UK should resist the US's extradition warrant for Julian Assange because, as Corbyn explained, Assange's charge of conspiring to hack into a government computer stems from efforts to expose government malfeasance in the Middle East - and that the UK shouldn't be a party to punishing those who try to hold the Americans accountable. However, another faction in Parliament opposes handing Assange over to the US for a different reason: According to the FT, a bipartisan group of some 70 MPs wants to prioritize Assange's extradition to Sweden, arguing that delivering justice to purported victims of sexual violence.The UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid is facing calls from more than 70 MPs to prioritise Julian Assange’s potential extradition to Sweden, where he could face an investigation concerning allegations of rape. […]In their letter to Mr Javid, MPs urged the minister to “stand with the victims of sexual violence”. The letter, which is signed by a cross-party coalition of MPs, said: "We do not presume guilt, of course, but we believe due process should be followed and the complainant should see justice be done.""We urge you both to confirm that you will give every assistance to Sweden should they want to revive and pursue the investigation. We must send a strong message of the priority the UK has in tackling sexual violence."Their is at least some legal precedent to support the MP's demands. The UK Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that Assange should be extradited to Sweden for questioning in the "preliminary investigation" into allegations of rape, sexual misconduct and coercion". The investigation, which was discontinued by Swedish prosecutors in 2017, has now been reopened (though it must be completed before August 2020, according to the country's statute of limitations). Because of these time constraints, the MPs insisted that the government must act quickly to ensure that the allegations against Assange are "respected" and justice isn't again "denied."

Half Of England Is Owned By 1% Of The Population -- Half of England is owned by less than 1% of its population, according to new data shared with the Guardian that seeks to penetrate the secrecy that has traditionally surrounded land ownership.The findings, described as “astonishingly unequal”, suggest that about 25,000 landowners – typically members of the aristocracy and corporations – have control of half of the country.The figures show that if the land were distributed evenly across the entire population, each person would have almost an acre – an area roughly the size of Parliament Square in central London. Major owners include the Duke of Buccleuch, the Queen, several large grouse moor estates, and the entrepreneur James Dyson.  While land has long been concentrated in the hands of a small number of owners, precise information about property ownership has been notoriously hard to access. But a combination of the development of digital maps and data as well as pressure from campaigners has made it possible to assemble the shocking statistics.   Jon Trickett, Labour MP and shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, hailed the significance of the findings and called for a full debate on the issue, adding: “The dramatic concentration of land ownership is an inescapable reminder that ours is a country for the few and not the many. “It’s simply not right that aristocrats, whose families have owned the same areas of land for centuries, and large corporations exercise more influence over local neighbourhoods – in both urban and rural areas – than the people who live there. “Land is a source of wealth, it impacts on house prices, it is a source of food and it can provide enjoyment for millions of people.” Guy Shrubsole, author of the book in which the figures are revealed, Who Owns England?, argues that the findings show a picture that has not changed for centuries. “Most people remain unaware of quite how much land is owned by so few,” he writes, adding: “A few thousand dukes, baronets and country squires own far more land than all of middle England put together.”“Land ownership in England is astonishingly unequal, heavily concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite.” Half of England is owned by 25,000 landowners – less than 1% of its population

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