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

Saturday, April 27, 2019

week ending Apr 27

The Fed’s key interest rate keeps climbing higher, and that could become a problem --The Federal Reserve’s benchmark interest rate has inched up to its highest level in 11 years even though the central bank has sent a clear message that it is done tightening policy indefinitely.  In recent days, the effective fed funds rate, which targets the overnight level that banks charge each other for loans, has moved up to 2.44 percent. That’s the highest since March 2008 and is just 6 basis points from the top of the target range and the closest to the top since December, when the Fed last raised rates.For now, the move is looked on as not being especially problematic given that there is still room between the current level and the top of the 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent range in which the rate is supposed to trade. But moves towards the upper end of the band have prompted action before, and the trend likely will be a topic of discussion at next week’s Federal Open Market Committee meeting. When the Fed first began raising rates in December 2015, it succeeded in keeping the funds rate around the midpoint of the target range. But that has changed over the past year. “At 6 basis points from the top of the range, you’re still within the target. The question becomes whether they think technical pressure is driving this,” said Lou Crandall, formerly of the New York Fed. “The only concern is whether you’ll have to make a technical adjustment in the future from preventing it from going higher.” Twice in 2018 the FOMC approved 20 basis point increases in the interest it pays on excess bank reserves, or the IOER, rather than the 25 basis point hikes it approved for the funds rate. The IOER generally has been raised at the same time as the fund rate and has acted as a barrier against, the benchmark’s rise. The 20 basis point hike was aimed at containing the rise of the funds rate as it reached the upper bounds of the target range.

 Trump's Fed pick on critics: 'They're pulling a Kavanaugh against me' - Stephen Moore, President Trump’s planned pick for a Federal Reserve Board seat, said Tuesday that his critics are “pulling a Kavanaugh against me” after controversial writings of his from the 2000s were uncovered and thrust his nomination into tumult. The conservative commentator has come under fire over recently unearthed comments that included derogatory remarks about women and references to Cincinnati and Cleveland as the “armpits of America." “I was so honored when I got the call from Donald Trump. But all it’s been since then has been one personal assault after another and a kind of character assassination having nothing to do with economics,” Moore told "The Flag," a conservative talk radio show in North Dakota. “They’re pulling a Kavanaugh against me.”  The Washington Post was the first to report on Moore’s latest remarks.  The president first announced last month that he would tap Moore, a close political ally and former economic adviser to his presidential campaign, to a spot on the Federal Reserve’s seven-person board. However, Moore was quickly hit with questions over his objectivity and past remarks.  Moore had called for raising interest rates under President Obama when the economy was struggling, but now says interest rates should be cut while the economy is doing well.  CNN this week also resurfaced several columns from the 2000s in which Moore lamented the “feminization of basketball,” said women should not be allowed to referee men’s sports unless they are good-looking and claimed women athletes were seeking “equal pay for inferior work.” Moore told The Post on Monday that he does not stand by any of those comments and that his past writings were a “spoof.” CNBC also uncovered some other past comments in which Moore said that a doctor “might as well have told us that [the boy] has AIDS” when he told him his son had “low muscle tone.”  Moore also described his wife at the time, a stay-at-home-mom, as a “loss leader” who “doesn’t have a job.” The New York Times unearthed even more comments Tuesday in which he called college a place “for men to lose their boyhood innocence” and “do stupid things.” “[T]he women seemed to survive just fine. If they were so oppressed and offended by drunken, lustful frat boys, why is it that on Friday nights the showed up in droves in tight skirts to the keg parties?” Moore wrote in 2000.

Fed pick gets earful from Brown after 'armpit' remark on Ohio — The top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee is raising concerns about the potential nomination of Stephen Moore to serve on the Federal Reserve Board over prior disparaging comments he has made about cities and towns in the Midwest. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, wrote a letter to Moore asking why he described the cities of Cincinnati and Cleveland as the “armpit of America,” and questioned whether he will make decisions that benefit all Americans if he is confirmed to the Fed. “On behalf of the people of Ohio, the Midwest, and every community that has been looked down on and disparaged by Washington and Wall Street, I demand an apology and I demand that you publicly retract your statement,” Brown said in his letter dated Tuesday. Brown’s letter was in response to comments Moore made in 2014 when asked about debt issues Chicago faced at the time. “If you want to live in the Midwest where else do you want to live besides Chicago?” Moore said. “You don’t want to live in Cincinnati or Cleveland, or these armpits of America like that. You want to live in Chicago.” Brown said Moore’s comments raise concerns about whether his decisions on monetary and regulatory policies will support communities across the country. He even asked Moore for a list of other towns and cities in America that he would also characterize as armpits of the country. “If nominated or confirmed, it would be your job to carefully consider monetary policy and regulatory policies that support communities throughout the country — even those you apparently consider beneath you,” Brown said. “Based on your bias against communities across the heartland of our country, it’s clear that you lack the judgment to make important decisions in their best interest.”

Chicago Fed "Index Points to a Pickup in Economic Growth in March" - From the Chicago Fed: Index Points to a Pickup in Economic Growth in March: Led by improvements in employment-related indicators, the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) rose to –0.15 in March from –0.31 in February. Three of the four broad categories of indicators that make up the index increased from February, but three of the four categories made negative contributions to the index in March. The index’s three-month moving average, CFNAI-MA3, moved down to –0.24 in March from –0.18 in February . This graph shows the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (three month moving average) since 1967.  This suggests economic activity was below the historical trend in March (using the three-month average).

 US economy grows by 3.2% in the first quarter, topping expectations - The U.S. economy grew at a faster pace than expected in the first quarter and posted its best growth to start a year in four years. First-quarter gross domestic product expanded by 3.2%, the Bureau of Economic Analysis said Friday in its initial read of the economy for that period. Economists polled by Dow Jones expected growth of 2.5%. It was the first time since 2015 that first-quarter GDP topped 3%. “The upside beat was helped by net trade (exports jumped while imports contracted sharply) and inventories which combined contributed almost 170 bps of the rise,” wrote Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group. “Personal spending though, the biggest component was up just 1.2%, two tenths more than expected as an increase in spending on services and nondurable goods offset a decline in spending on durable goods.” Exports rose 3.7% in the first quarter, while imports decreased by 3.7%. Economic growth also got a lift from strong investments in intellectual property products. Those investments expanded by 8.6%. Disposable personal income increased by 3%, while prices increased by 1.3% when excluding food and energy. Overall prices climbed by 0.8% in the first quarter. Friday’s data was the first look at how the economy fared during the longest government shutdown in history. The federal government ceased operations for 35 days between late December and Jan. 25 amid a standoff between the Trump administration and congressional Democrats over funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Investors were closely watching for the report as they looked for more confirmation that a recession may not be in the cards over the short term. The report “helps offset fears of slowing global growth,” said Alec Young, managing director of global market research at FTSE Russell. “At a time of lingering U.S.-Chinese trade uncertainty and weak economic data everywhere from Germany to Korea to Japan, strong U.S. data acts as an insurance policy against further global economic weakness. And with inflation still subdued, it’s too early to start worrying about Fed rate hikes again.”

BEA: Real GDP increased at 3.2% Annualized Rate in Q1 --From the BEA: Gross Domestic Product, First Quarter 2019 (Advance Estimate) Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 3.2 percent in the first quarter of 2019, according to the "advance" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the fourth quarter of 2018, real GDP increased 2.2 percent....The increase in real GDP in the first quarter reflected positive contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE), private inventory investment, exports, state and local government spending, and nonresidential fixed investment. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, decreased. These contributions were partly offset by a decrease in residential investment. The acceleration in real GDP growth in the first quarter reflected an upturn in state and local government spending, accelerations in private inventory investment and in exports, and a smaller decrease in residential investment. These movements were partly offset by decelerations in PCE and nonresidential fixed investment, and a downturn in federal government spending. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, turned down. The advance Q1 GDP report, with 2.6% annualized growth, was above expectations.Personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased at 1.2% annualized rate in Q1, down from 3.2% in Q4.   Residential investment (RI) decreased 2.8% in Q1. Equipment investment increased at a 0.2% annualized rate, and investment in non-residential structures decreased at a 0.8% pace.

Q1 GDP Advance Estimate: Real GDP at 3.2%, Surprises Forecast - The Advance Estimate for Q1 GDP, to one decimal, came in at 3.2% (3.17% to two decimal places), an increase from 2.2% for the Q4 Third Estimate. had a consensus of 2.0%.Here is the slightly abbreviated opening text from the Bureau of Economic Analysis news release:Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 3.2 percent in the first quarter of 2019 (table 1), according to the "advance" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the fourth quarter of 2018, real GDP increased 2.2 percent.The Bureau’s first-quarter advance estimate released today is based on source data that are incomplete or subject to further revision by the source agency (see “Source Data for the Advance Estimate” on page 2). The "second" estimate for the first quarter, based on more complete data, will be released on May 30, 2019. [Full Release] Here is a look at Quarterly GDP since Q2 1947. Prior to 1947, GDP was an annual calculation. To be more precise, the chart shows is the annualized percentage change from the preceding quarter in Real (inflation-adjusted) Gross Domestic Product. We've also included recessions, which are determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). Also illustrated are the 3.22% average (arithmetic mean) and the 10-year moving average, currently at 2.25%.  Here is a log-scale chart of real GDP with an exponential regression, which helps us understand growth cycles since the 1947 inception of quarterly GDP. The latest number puts us 13.4% below trend. A particularly telling representation of slowing growth in the US economy is the year-over-year rate of change. The average rate at the start of recessions is 3.35%. Four of the eleven recessions over this timeframe have begun at a higher level of current real YoY GDP.

Q1 GDP Smashes Expectations, Soars 3.2%, But The Real Story Is Below The Surface -  With the Atlanta Fed forecasting Q1 GDP of as little as 0.5% about 6 weeks ago, traders were shocked when moments ago the BEA reported a GDP print that at first glance many though was a misprint: at 3.2%, Q1 GDP came in 50% higher than the 2.3% expected, and was the highest Q1 GDP (which is not only the weakest quarter of the year, but also a quarter notorious for its residual seasonality) since 2015. That was the great news: the not so great news - the number was driven entirely by "one-time items" such as a surge in inventories and a far smaller trade deficit, pushing net trade sharply higher, neither of which is sustainable; meanwhile the core drivers of GDP - consumption and fixed investment - came in somewhat weak, dropping from Q4, with PCE and CapEx adding just 1.1%, or about a third, of the bottom line GDP number. The breakdown of contribution to the bottom line GDP was as follows:

  • Personal Consumption: 0.82%
  • Fixed Investment: 0.27%
  • Change in inventories: 0.65%
  • Net Trade: 1.03%
  • Government consumption: 0.41%

And here again is why one should always read the internals: this was the weakest quarter for household spending in five years. Some more details from the report: the increase in real GDP reflected increases in consumer spending, inventory investment, exports, government spending, and business investment that were partly offset by a decrease in housing investment. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, decreased in the first quarter. The increase in consumer spending reflected an increase in services (led by health care) that was partly offset by a decrease in goods, specifically motor vehicles and parts. The increase in inventory investment reflected an increase in manufacturing inventories, notably non-durable goods. The increase in exports reflected increases in exports of both goods and services. Additionally, the report noted that the increase in government spending reflected an upturn in state and local government spending, notably investment in structures. Meanwhile, the Fed is trapped because while on one hand the economy is growing at a torrid pace, at the same time the BEA reported that Core PCE rose at just 1.3%, below the 1.4% expected, and sharply lower from 1.8% last quarter. In total, prices of goods and services increased 0.8% in Q1, after rising 1.7% in the fourth quarter of 2018. Food prices increased 3.0 percent, while energy prices decreased 16.7% in the first quarter.

Q1 GDP: Investment - Investment was weak in Q1 (although private inventories increased).   Also personal consumption expenditures (PCE) was weak (only increased at a 1.2% annual rate).The first graph below shows the contribution to GDP from residential investment, equipment and software, and nonresidential structures (3 quarter trailing average). This is important to follow because residential investment tends to lead the economy, equipment and software is generally coincident, and nonresidential structure investment trails the economy.In the graph, red is residential, green is equipment and software, and blue is investment in non-residential structures. So the usual pattern - both into and out of recessions is - red, green, blue. The dashed gray line is the contribution from the change in private inventories.

 Q1 Real GDP Per Capita: 2.50% Versus the 3.17% Headline Real GDP - The Advance Estimate for Q1 GDP came in at 3.2% (3.17% to two decimals), up from 2.2% in Q4. With a per-capita adjustment, the headline number is lower at 2.50% to two decimal points. Here is a chart of real GDP per capita growth since 1960. For this analysis, we've chained in today's dollar for the inflation adjustment. The per-capita calculation is based on quarterly aggregates of mid-month population estimates by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which date from 1959 (hence our 1960 starting date for this chart, even though quarterly GDP has is available since 1947). The population data is available in the FRED series POPTHM. The logarithmic vertical axis ensures that the highlighted contractions have the same relative scale.The chart includes an exponential regression through the data using the Excel GROWTH function to give us a sense of the historical trend. The regression illustrates the fact that the trend since the Great Recession has a visibly lower slope than the long-term trend. In fact, the current GDP per-capita is 7.7% below the pre-recession trend.Freddie Mac: Mortgage Serious Delinquency Rate Decreased in March --Freddie Mac reported that the Single- Family serious delinquency rate in March was 0.67%, down from 0.69% in February. Freddie's rate is down from 0.97% in March 2018. Freddie's serious delinquency rate peaked in February 2010 at 4.20%. This is the lowest serious delinquency rate for Freddie Mac since December 2007. These are mortgage loans that are "three monthly payments or more past due or in foreclosure".

Trump will try to drive Iran's oil exports to zero by ending sanctions waivers - The Trump administration will sharply accelerate its goal of driving Iran’s oil exports to zero, ending sanctions exemptions that it previously granted to some of the Islamic Republic’s biggest customers. President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from a 2015 nuclear accordwith Iran last May and restored wide-ranging sanctions on the Iranian economy in November. At the time, his administration granted six-month waivers to eight countries that allowed them to continue importing limited quantities of crude oil from Iran.The market widely expected Washington to extend the waivers for five of the countries. However, the administration says that any country still importing oil from Iran will be subject to U.S. sanctions beginning on May 2.“President Donald J. Trump has decided not to reissue Significant Reduction Exceptions (SREs) when they expire in early May,” the White House said in a statement. “This decision is intended to bring Iran’s oil exports to zero, denying the regime its principal source of revenue.”The Trump administration is trying to force Iran to the negotiating table. Last year, it laid out 12 demands that Iran must meet before the U.S. lifts sanctions. The list asks Iran to accept new limits on its nuclear program, end ballistic missile tests, cut off support for U.S.-designated terror groups and free U.S. citizens held in detention. “With the announcement today, we’ve made clear our seriousness of purpose,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a press conference on Monday. “We are going to zero. How long we remain there, at zero, depends solely on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s senior leaders. We’ve made our demands very clear to the ayatollah and his cronies.” The decision to stop issuing sanctions waivers threatens to wipe roughly 1 million barrels per day off the market at a time when analyst say oil supply is already tightening. Crude futures spiked to nearly six-month highs on news of the policy, which was first reported Sunday by The Washington Post. The Trump administration will work with Iran’s regional rivals Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to offset the drop in Iranian supplies, the White House said.

Advancing the U.S. Maximum Pressure Campaign On Iran – State Dept briefing - The United States is not granting any Significant Reduction Exceptions to existing importers of Iranian oil. Maximum pressure means maximum pressure.

  • Secretary Pompeo announced his decision not to grant any Significant Reduction Exceptions to existing importers of Iranian oil.
  • As the Secretary has said, maximum pressure means maximum pressure. We are fulfilling our promise to get Iran’s oil exports to zero and deny the regime the revenue it needs to fund terrorism and violent wars abroad.
  • Targeting Iran’s oil exports is critical because they have historically been the regime’s single largest source of revenue, which it uses to support terrorist proxies, fuel its missile development, and engage in other destabilizing behavior.
  • Entities that engage in sanctionable activity involving Iran risk severe consequences. These consequences could include losing access to the U.S. financial system and the ability to do business with the United States or U.S. companies.
  • The United States will continue to apply maximum pressure on the Iranian regime until its leaders change their destructive behavior, respect the rights of its people, and return to the negotiating table.

The Trump Administration has imposed the toughest sanctions ever on the Iranian regime. Our pressure is working.

  • The announcement today builds on our already historic success.
  • Iran’s oil exports have plummeted due to our pressure. Since President Trump announced that we would cease participation in the nuclear deal in May 2018, over 1.5 million barrels of Iranian oil have been taken off the market, reducing the regime’s revenue by billions of dollars.
  • Overall, we estimate that our sanctions have denied the regime direct access to more than $10 billion in oil revenue since May. That is a loss of at least $30 million a day, and this is only with respect to the oil.

Trump’s Latest Iran Sanctions Show an Unraveling of US Foreign Policy - Real News Network – video & transcript - The Trump administration is ramping up its campaign against Iran by announcing it will end waivers allowing eight countries to continue importing Iranian oil—part of an attempt to drop Iranian oil exports to zero. This follows the Trump administration’s categorization of part of Iran's army, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, as a terrorist organization, and unilaterally withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.“This administration, for all intents and purposes in my view, is working against the interests of the United States,” Colonel Larry Wilkerson told The Real News Network's Marc Steiner. China and Turkey have already said they will not abide by the U.S. ending of the waivers, but India will possibly follow along, all of which could lead to a more profound trade war.The decision also represents the influence of National Security Advisor John Bolton, who was in favor of these sanctions, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wanted the waivers to continue.Steiner noted that the sanctions violate international law and asked whether this brings the U.S. closer to war with Iran, or if the sanctions are “in lieu of war.” Wilkerson explained that John Bolton wants war even if Trump does not, and that regardless, these oil sanctions are “economic warfare”—an especially risky international gamble.“We're getting away with it [only] because we are the most powerful country in the world, economically, financially, and militarily,” Wilkerson said. “That's not always going to be the case.”Wilkerson suspects that countries such as China, Russia, or India will eventually respond to U.S. sanctions with their own, or make an end-run around them.“I think we're going to see other nations objecting in ways we can't really calculate right now,” Wilkerson said. “And by that I mean we're going to have everything from the Chinese attempting to use other means of exchange than the dollar to the Chinese and the Russians perhaps working together to build an entirely separate and functional financial network that will eventually supplant that of the United States.” He told Steiner that it appears as though the U.S. is “suicidal,” lacking any interest in diplomacy, and continuing to distance itself from its allies.

 Trump’s Iran Oil Market Gamble -  Yves Smith - The White House claims it has the Saudis lined up to pump more oil to compensate for the loss of supply that would result from the US announcement that it would impose sanctions on buyers of Iran’s oil. From the Financial Times: The White House said it had worked with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to ensure there was “sufficient supply in the markets” to compensate for the loss of Iranian exports.  Oil prices tonight and tomorrow will show whether Mr. Market believes that or needs to see more production. Frankly, even though Trump owns this move, John Bolton’s fingerprints are all over it. The question is why Pompeo is on board with this. Iran has already cleared its throat. From Bloomberg: Iran will close the Strait of Hormuz, a waterway vital for global oil shipments, if the country is prevented from using it, a senior military official said on Monday in what appears to be a response to the U.S. plan to end waivers on Iranian oil exports. Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, in a new Real News Network interview, is alarmed by the Administration’s move. The transcript is not yet up, but from the summary:“This administration, for all intents and purposes in my view, is working against the interests of the United States,” Colonel Larry Wilkerson told The Real News Network’s Marc Steiner. China and Turkey have already said they will not abide by the U.S. ending of the waivers, but India will possibly follow along, all of which could lead to a more profound trade war….Steiner noted that the sanctions violate international law and asked whether this brings the U.S. closer to war with Iran, or if the sanctions are “in lieu of war.” Wilkerson explained that John Bolton wants war even if Trump does not, and that regardless, these oil sanctions are “economic warfare”—an especially risky international gamble.

 Trump faces a ‘cruel summer’ for crude oil prices after ending Iran waivers: RBC’s Helima Croft - President Donald Trump could be facing a “cruel summer” when it comes to crude oil prices, says RBC’s Helima Croft. Oil prices surged to nearly six-month highs after the Trump administration said Monday that it would end a waiver program that allowed certain countries to purchase oil from Iran. The move, ostensibly aimed at driving Iran’s oil exports to zero, calls into question how global oil supply will fare in a scenario where a few key players hold most of the cards.“It’s the ultimate high-wire act for President Trump,” Croft, who is head of global commodity strategy at RBC, told CNBC’s “Futures Now” on Tuesday. “He’s trying to balance the need to keep oil prices contained in relief for the U.S. consumer while at the same time punishing Iran and Venezuela.”Now that these two OPEC countries are under strict U.S. sanctions, the United States’ relationship with the world’s other major oil powerhouse is coming under scrutiny, Croft said.”[It] puts a lot of pressure on the U.S.-Saudi relationship,” she said. “This policy is now hinging on whether President Trump can get Saudi Arabia to once again open the taps. The Saudis are sitting on about a million barrels of spare capacity, but they do not want to tank this market. So President Trump has a lot of moving parts if he hopes to keep oil prices contained.” To make things more difficult for the president, Saudi Arabia’s goals don’t exactly match his. Croft noted that the Saudi oil minister’s price target forBrent crude, the international benchmark, is between $60 and $80 (though, by Croft’s estimate, their ideal price is closer to $80). That means that Saudi Arabia could hold out for longer than Trump wants it to as it waits for Brent, which is currently around $74 a barrel, to hit $80.“Right now, the Saudis have said, ‘OK, we’re going to look at the market. We’re going to make sure it’s well supplied,’” Croft said. “We think they’ll put probably an additional 400,000 barrels on the market [and] go up to what their OPEC quota is, but I think they’re going to adopt a wait-and-see approach.” However, if the Saudis don’t cooperate quickly enough, and the U.S. oil market starts to feel the heat of shrinking supply, Croft highlighted another potential play for Trump: Strategic Petroleum Reserve releases.  But “how you use the SPR is going to be critical,” she said. “Do you just do a one-time release? That could lower prices but signal the market’s very tight. Or does he have to come out with an announcement of, basically, a continual release over a certain extended period? So the SPR can play both ways, but if Saudi’s not going to help, that’s the tool in his arsenal that he can go to.” The biggest wild card in this situation is what happens in Libya, another OPEC country on the brink of civil war that hasn’t kept consistent production levels in months, Croft said.

End Of Sanction Waivers For Iran’s Oil Will Hurt Trump’s Voter Support  - The U.S. is waging a total economic war on Iran: The United States announced on April 22 it will no longer grant sanctions exemptions to eight countries, including Turkey...."This decision is intended to bring Iran's oil exports to zero, denying the regime its principal source of revenue," the White House said in a statement.   Eight governments were initially given six-month reprieves from the unilateral U.S. sanctions on Iran. They were China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Italy and Greece. Iran currently exports about 1 million barrels of oil per day. The current exemptions from unilateral U.S. sanctions end on April 30. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are U.S. protectorates. They will do as told. Italy and Greece are less dependent and may show signs of resistance. India's reaction depends on the outcome of its current election. China will probably not adhere to the U.S. command. Turkey needs Iranian oil and gas. It can not without it within a reasonable time frame. Iraq is most dependent on Iranian oil and gas which it needs to generate electricity. No electricity during the hot summer would likely lead to riots. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are supposed to make up for the shortfall of oil in international markets. The Saudis were prepared for this when, a year ago, the Trump administration reintroduced oil sanctions on Iran. When it then announced that several countires would receive waivers,  the Saudis suddenly produced more than the market needed and the oil price dropped. They wowed at that time to not repeat that error. The Saudis also have to consider the OPEC quotas to which they and Russia agreed. Will they brake their quota or let the price rise? Trump is betting on the first. My guess is that he will lose that bet. Gas prices in California are already at $4,70 per gallon. They will likely rise to $6,00 when the full sanctions against Iran set in while the Saudis sit back and appreciate their rising income.Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said the world’s biggest oil exporter sees no need to take immediate action in the crude market, signaling a cautious response to the U.S. decision to tighten sanctions on Iran. Any unforeseen event, in Libya or elsewhere, that further constrains the global oil output, will make the costs unbearable for the U.S. consumer. The U.S. economy does not do well under high oil prices. What is Trump going to do when he finds out that the rising prices, caused by the Zionist demand to subdue Iran, endanger his reelection?

Trump’s ‘Zero’ Pledge on Iran Oil Sales Tests Key Relationships - President Donald Trump has warned other countries for months that they must choose between doing business with Iran and the U.S. Now, the president will show how serious he is about a decision to deny any exceptions from his ban on Iranian oil exports. The move puts the administration in direct conflict with Iran oil customers that are important to the U.S. in different ways, and it risks hampering important initiatives on trade and security, from China to South Korea, India and Turkey. A central question for oil traders -- and political analysts -- is just how willing the U.S. is to test those relationships for the sake of choking off Iran’s economy and just how likely the administration is to take advantage of some potential loopholes. “When prices are where they are, the administration has to balance the need to appear tough on Iran and the reality as Brent edges toward $75 that it may have to show some flexibility when it comes to sanctions enforcement,” The Chinese and U.S. economies are interdependent -- and at a crucial point in sensitive trade negotiations -- while South Korea is a key ally, India is a growing one and fellow NATO member Turkey has shown signs of drifting closer to Russia. Living up to the vow of “zero” Iran oil exports could lead to higher prices at the pump in the U.S. as Trump’s re-election campaign gets under way, jeopardize his hope to sign a trade deal with China’s Xi Jinping as soon as May and strain ties with South Korea as the U.S. seeks a nuclear disarmament deal with North Korea. Some countries continue to rely on Iranian oil a year after Trump withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and warned he was intent on ending all of the Islamic Republic’s oil exports in his effort to force it to stop backing groups the U.S. considers terrorists. There was an expectation that some countries, such as China, India and perhaps Turkey, would get extensions when their waivers from U.S. sanctions expired in early May. The administration’s message this week seemed unambiguous: Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and his aides said flatly on Monday that if countries don’t abide by the decision, “there’ll be sanctions.” The administration’s authority to do so comes from the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which directs the U.S. to sanction other governments’ central banks if they facilitate oil transactions with Iran. “You can do business with the United States or you can import Iranian crude oil, but you can’t do both,” Brian Hook, Pompeo’s special representative for Iran, told reporters on Tuesday. “We don’t think it’s in any nation’s interest to even risk that because the cost benefit is simply not there.”

War on Iran & Calling America’s Bluff - Pepe Escobar - The Trump administration once again has graphically demonstrated that in the young, turbulent 21st century, “international law” and “national sovereignty” already belong to the Realm of the Walking Dead.As if a deluge of sanctions against a great deal of the planet was not enough, the latest “offer you can’t refuse” conveyed by a gangster posing as diplomat, Consul Minimus Mike Pompeo, now essentially orders the whole planet to submit to the one and only arbiter of world trade: Washington.First the Trump administration unilaterally smashed a multinational, UN-endorsed agreement, the JCPOA, or Iran nuclear deal. Now the waivers that magnanimously allowed eight nations to import oil from Iran without incurring imperial wrath in the form of sanctions will expire on May 2 and won’t be renewed.The eight nations are a mix of Eurasian powers: China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Italy and Greece.Apart from the trademark toxic cocktail of hubris, illegality, arrogance/ignorance and geopolitical/geo–economic infantilism inbuilt in this foreign policy decision, the notion that Washington can decide who’s allowed to be an energy provider to emerging superpower China does not even qualify as laughable. Much more alarming is the fact that imposing a total embargo of Iranian oil exports is no less than an act of war.  Those subscribing to the ultimate U.S, neocon and Zionist wet dream – regime change in Iran – may rejoice at this declaration of war.  But as Professor Mohammad Marandi of the University of Tehran has elegantly argued, “If the Trump regime miscalculates, the house can easily come crashing down on its head.” Reflecting the fact Tehran seems to have no illusions regarding the utter folly ahead, the Iranian leadership — if provoked to a point of no return, Marandi additionally told me — can get as far as “destroying everything on the other side of the Persian Gulf and chasing the U.S. out of Iraq and Afghanistan. When the U.S. escalates, Iran escalates. Now it depends on the U.S. how far things go.”

Jared Kushner: US will present long-awaited Middle East peace plan after Ramadan, and he will send immigration plan to Trump by next week - Senior White House advisor Jared Kushner said Tuesday that the Trump administration will put forward its long-awaited plan for peace in the Middle East after the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in early June. Kushner, who is also the son-in-law of President Donald Trump, provided few details about the plan to reconcile the disputes between Israelis and Palestinians. But he assured that the proposal itself is “very detailed” and will hopefully represent a “comprehensive vision” for peace. “We were getting ready at the end of last year” to unveil the plan, but that rollout was interrupted by the Israeli election, Kushner said during an interview at the TIME 100 Summit in New York on Tuesday. “Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu had a great victory, and he’s in the middle of forming his coalition, and once that’s done we’ll probably be in the middle of Ramadan, so we’ll wait until after Ramadan and then we’ll put our plan out,” Kushner said. Asked whether the plan would call for a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, Kushner declined to say, but added that “we are going to lay that out very clearly” in the report. “There will be tough compromises for both,” Kushner said.

Kushner rejects two-state solution for his Middle East peace plan - Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-and-law and senior adviser charged with delivering a Middle East peace plan, on Tuesday told the Time100 Summit that his plan would not focus on a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. That approach, “failed” and that “new and different ways to reach peace must be tried,” said Kushner, being interviewed on stage. Ambassador Richard LeBaron, who served in several countries in the region, said Kushner is ignoring history in taking this approach. “You can’t take the political out of the peace process,” LeBaron, currently a nonresident senior fellow at The Atlantic Council, told ThinkProgress. The Trump administration had promised that the plan would be delivered much sooner — first during the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2018, then within four months after that (which would have meant January 2019 at the latest), and most recently in “early 2019,” but before Israeli elections earlier this month. Kushner — who without explanation compared Palestinians in Gaza to Houthi rebels in trying to overthrow the government in Yemen — said the plan now will be revealed in June. He said its rollout will be timed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forming a new cabinet (following his recent victory into a fifth term) and the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

  US Offers $10 Million Reward for Anyone Who Can Help ‘Disrupt’ Hezbollah Finances— The US State Department is offering up to $10 million for anyone who provides intelligence that would allow the government to disrupt Hezbollah’s finances. They want to know who donates to Hezbollah, as well as any business ties.This is a complicated matter, because while the US is treating them as a straightforward “terrorist organization,” Hezbollah is mainly a political party with a substantial role in the Lebanese government, and has ties to charity groups.The group is  treated in an overly simplistic way by US officials, meaning the State Department sees no problem asking questions about donors and ties. It would be unthinkable, however, for them to make similar inquiries, offering large cash awards, for any other country’s major political parties’ donors. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says that Hezbollah’s recent calls for political donations prove that the US is being successful in undermining them. Since they aren’t entirely sure who the donors are, that seems to be mainly a guess.

‘Landmark’ Victory for First Amendment as Court Strikes Down Texas Anti-BDS Law - — In a decision hailed as a “landmark” victory for the First Amendment, a federal judge on Thursday struck down a Texas law requiring government contractors to sign a pledge vowing not to participate in the pro-Palestinian boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. “This is a complete victory of the First Amendment against Texas’s attempts to suppress speech in support of Palestine,” said Gadeir Abbas, senior litigation attorney with Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), one of the organizations that sued Texas over the anti-BDS law. CAIR filed its suit on behalf of Bahia Amawi, a Texas speech pathologist who lost her job at an elementary school after refusing to sign a pro-Israel pledge required by the state’s law. “It’s a huge win not just for me, but for everybody here in Texas,” Amawi said in an interview with the Washington Post. “I was in tears.” In his 56-page opinion (pdf), Judge Robert Pitman of the Western District of Texas ruled the state’s law violated the First Amendment by threatening to “suppress unpopular ideas” and “manipulate the public debate through coercion.” As The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald wrote last December after Amawi lost her job, the language of the pledge she was “told she must sign reads like Orwellian—or McCarthyite—self-parody, the classic political loyalty oath that every American should instinctively shudder upon reading.”  The ACLU—which also sued over the anti-BDS law on behalf of four Texans—celebrated the judge’s ruling in a statement late Thursday

Trump’s Yemen Veto Damages America’s Image Around the World — Last week, US President Donald Trump vetoed a Congressional resolution that would have ended American support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, thereby issuing his second veto since he took office in the White House. This was expected, and is a sign that, regardless of the criticism that America is getting for its involvement in the war, the President is insisting on backing his reckless ally, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.“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 said in his veto message. He insisted that the joint resolution is unnecessary because, apart from counterterrorism operations against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS, the United States is not engaged in hostilities in or affecting Yemen. “For example, there are no United States military personnel in Yemen commanding, participating in, or accompanying military forces of the Saudi‑led coalition against the Houthis in hostilities in or affecting Yemen.”While it may be true that there are no US military personnel in Yemen, US weapons and munitions are being used to kill thousands of civilians there. Indeed, it was US support for the coalition that has turned Yemen into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Without Washington’s backing, it would have been less likely for the coalition to be able to prolong the war in the way that it has. Trump’s veto is thus overt approval of the escalations carried out by the coalition, even its breaches of international law. It signals that the US administration does not oppose the coalition’s bombings and blockade of civilians. Moreover, the veto also demonstrates that having 14 million Yemenis at risk of famine and a rising death toll is not enough to make Washington think again end its support for the coalition.

The Constitutional Travesty of Our War in Yemen  -- “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.” So announced the 45th president of the United States as he vetoed a joint congressional resolution terminating U.S. participation in an ongoing war that Congress never authorized in the first place.  In the catalog of recent military misadventures in which the United States has chosen to involve itself, the war in question—a bitter civil conflict in Yemen—qualifies as small beer. At least it does if you don’t know any of the several thousand civilians who have been killed or injured, mostly as a result of air strikes conducted by the Saudi air force, with direct American support.American warplanes are not dropping the bombs responsible for all this carnage. The United States does, however, provide the necessary ordnance, targeting data, and aerial refueling support. So we don’t do the actual killing; we just facilitate the efforts of those who do. There’s no blood on our hands—just on the soles of our shoes.  The interests cited to justify our participation in this obscure and distant struggle are difficult to discern. By classifying the conflict as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, you might be able to talk yourself into believing that U.S. involvement in Yemen forms part of a larger strategy to avert Iranian regional hegemony. But that argument rests on two problematic assumptions. First, that the United States has a dog in this fight; and second, that of the mutts involved, Saudi Arabia is the one deserving our support. Neither assumption can withstand scrutiny.

Amid mass beheadings, Wall Street scrambles for Saudi profits - The hideous public beheadings of 37 men in a single day in Saudi Arabia last Tuesday have provoked scant protest from Western governments and the corporate media. The same newspapers and broadcast networks that have summoned up their moral outrage over abuses, both manufactured and real, by governments in Russia, China, Iran, Syria or Venezuela, are clearly unmoved by these criminal executions. They maintain their stony silence even as those who were decapitated with swords included three young men who were arrested as minors, tortured into signing confessions and convicted of “terrorism” for daring to join protests against the country’s monarchical dictatorship. One of those beheaded was Abdulkarem al-Hawaj, arrested when he was just 16 by Saudi security forces for attending a protest in the country’s Eastern Province, home to most of Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority population. Beginning in 2011, the oil-rich province has seen protests over the systematic discrimination and oppression against Shias at the hands of a monarchy whose rule is bound up with the official, state-sponsored religious doctrine of Wahhabism, an ultra-conservative Sunni sect. Abdulkarem’s real “crime” was apparently that of using social media to encourage participation in a demonstration. He was held in solitary confinement, beaten, tortured with electric cables and hung in chains by his wrists until he submitted to signing a false confession. Also murdered in the barbaric execution spree was Mujtaba al-Sweikat, who was 17 when he was arrested at an airport as he was about to board a plane to the United States, where he was to become a student at Western Michigan University. His crime was also that of daring to demonstrate against the Saudi royal dictatorship. As in all the other cases, the court ignored the evidence of torture and forced confession and imposed the sentence of death by decapitation already dictated by the House of Saud.

 Trump withdraws from UN arms treaty as NRA crowd cheers in delight -- Donald Trump has announced that the US will withdraw its support for aUnited Nations treaty regulating the multibillion-dollar global arms trade.Addressing the National Rifle Association (NRA) in Indianapolis, the president said he would revoke America’s status as a signatory of the arms trade treatyregulating conventional weapons including small arms, battle tanks, combat aircraft and warships. “My administration will never ratify the UN arms trade treaty,” Trump said. “We’re taking our signature back. The United Nations will soon receive a formal notice that America is rejecting this treaty.” Trump added: “Under my administration, we will never surrender American sovereignty to anyone. We will never allow foreign bureaucrats to trample on your second amendment freedom. I’m officially announcing today that the United States will be revoking the effect of America’s signature from this badly misguided treaty.” The US signed the treaty in 2013 but never ratified it. The NRA has long claimed the treaty poses a threat to the second amendment. On Friday its members stood, applauded and chanted “USA! USA!” as Trump signed a letter to Congress halting the ratification process, then tossed his pen into the crowd.A delighted Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, said: “Barack Obama and John Kerry tried to force us to accept international gun controlunder the power of the UN, but Donald Trump has said: ‘Not on my watch.’”But the move drew sharp criticism.Bob Menendez, top Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee, said: “This is yet another myopic decision that jeopardizes US security based on false premises and fearmongering. While Americans from all walks of life have come to painfully understand the threat posed by not doing enough to prevent weapons from ending up in the wrong hands, it is disturbing to see this administration turn back the clock on the little progress we have made to prevent illicit arms transfers.”

US threatens to veto UN resolution on rape as weapon of war, officials say - The US is threatening to veto a United Nations resolution on combatting the use of rape as a weapon of war because of its language on reproductive and sexual health, according to a senior UN official and European diplomats. The German mission hopes the resolution will be adopted at a special UN security council session on Tuesday on sexual violence in conflict.  But the draft resolution has already been stripped of one of its most important elements, the establishment of a formal mechanism to monitor and report atrocities, because of opposition from the US, Russia and China, which opposed creating a new monitoring body.  Even after the formal monitoring mechanism was stripped from the resolution, the US was still threatening to veto the watered-down version, because it includes language on victims’ support from family planning clinics. In recent months, the Trump administration has taken a hard line, refusing to agree to any UN documents that refer to sexual or reproductive health, on grounds that such language implies support for abortions. It has also opposed the use of the word “gender”, seeking it as a cover for liberal promotion of transgender rights.  “We are not even sure whether we are having the resolution tomorrow, because of the threats of a veto from the US,” Pramila Patten, the UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict, told the Guardian.  In cases of disagreement in the security council, member states often fall back on previously agreed text, but the US has made it clear it would no longer accept language from a 2013 resolution on sexual violence.

Lockheed  Costly F-35 to Be Billions More, Pentagon Finds -- Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 jet, the world’s costliest weapons program, just got even costlier. The estimated total price for research and procurement has increased by $22 billion in current dollars adjusted for inflation, according to the Pentagon’s latest annual cost assessment of major projects. The estimate for operating and supporting the fleet of fighters over more than six decades grew by almost $73 billion to $1.196 trillion. The increase to $428.4 billion from $406.2 billion in acquisition costs, about a 5.5 percent increase, isn’t due to poor performance, delays or excessive costs for labor or materials, according to the Defense Department’s latest Selected Acquisition Report sent to Congress last week and obtained by Bloomberg News. Instead, the increase reflects for the first time the current cost estimates for a major set of upgrades planned in coming “Block 4” modifications, according to the report. “Ensuring our Block 4 efforts are captured in our acquisition baseline and now in our SAR help us to provide full transparency and status on our F-35 modernization progress,” the Pentagon’s F-35 program office said in an emailed statement. “The F-35 program remains within all cost, schedule and performance thresholds and continues to make steady progress,” the program office said in its statement. The office “is committed to the delivery of cost-effective warfighting capability across all areas of the program.” But the long-range cost estimate for operating the fleet from 2011 to 2077 was problematic even before the latest independent Pentagon cost 

War in Libya: A Rare Instance of U.S.-Russian Cooperation - There is little that Russia and the United States agree on these days. Renegade Libyan Field Marshal Khalifa Belqasim Haftar may be a rare exception. As Haftar’s mortars rained on the southern suburbs of the Libyan capital Tripoli and fighting between his Libyan National Army (LNA) and the United Nations-recognized government expanded to the south of the country, both Russia and the United States stopped a call for a ceasefire from being formally tabled in the UN Security Council. Russia, which has joined US allies that include the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and France, in supporting Haftar because of his grip on Libya’s oil resources and assertions that Islamists dominate the Tripoli government, objected to the British draft resolution because it blamed the rebel officer for the fighting. The United States gave no reason for its objection. Yet, it shares Russia’s aversion to Islamists and clearly did not want to break ranks with some of its closest Middle Eastern allies, certainly not at a time that the UN was investigating allegations that the UAE had shipped weapons to Haftar in violation of an international arms embargo. The significance of US-Russian agreement on Haftar’s geopolitical value goes far beyond Libya. It reveals much of how presidents Donald J. Trump and Vladimir Putin see the crafting of a new world order. It also says a great deal about Russian objectives in the Middle East and North Africa. Trump and Putin’s preference for a man with a questionable human rights recordwho, if successful, would likely rule Libya as an autocrat, reflects the two leaders’ belief that stability in the Middle East and North Africa is best guaranteed by autocratic rule or some democratic façade behind which men with military backgrounds control the levers of power. It is a vision of the region promoted by representatives of UAE crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed who sees authoritarian stability as the best anti-dote to popular Arab revolts that swept the region in 2011 and more recently in Algeria and Sudan are proving to have a second lease on life.

Activists Protect Venezuelan Embassy in Washington DC From US-Supported Coup - — An extraordinary chapter in the ongoing saga of Venezuela has been taking place, virtually unnoticed, at the Venezuela Embassy that lies in the heart of swanky Georgetown in Washington DC. A group initiated by CODEPINK and Popular Resistance, all activists opposed to the prospect of the Venezuelan opposition taking over the Embassy, have been living inside the building for the past two weeks, working side-by-side with the skeletal Venezuela diplomatic staff that has been told by the State Department that they must leave by April 24.Calling ourselves the Embassy Protection Collective, we have been working in the embassy during the day, holding educational events every evening, making banners and signs, and sleeping on couches at night. The evening events have included seminars on Julian Assange, US foreign policy in Africa, the history of Venezuela, and update on Honduras and El Salvador. The night before we expect the embassy takeover to occur, April 24, we will have a talk by former CIA officer, John Kiriakou, who will give an insider’s view of US regime change operations.The Embassy Protectors also decorated the Embassy with signs and banners that are giving the Georgetown neighbors a good education. A large banner right above the Venezuelan flag says “End the Deadly Sanctions.” Two placards are bolted on the wall next to the stately building columns: One is an “imperial checklist” about how to orchestrate a coup, another shows the consequences of some of the past US interventions. Thirty-two signs are in the windows, giving a chronology of the attempted Venezuelan coup. The banner that evokes the most curiosity from passersby is the iconic “Eyes of Chavez” – a design representing Hugo Chavez’s piercing eyes that is painted on murals all over Venezuela.  The Collective has good reason to believe the embassy is under attack. On March 18, representatives of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido took over the military attaché building on 2409 California St. in Washington DC, with the help of the DC Police and Secret Service. On that same day, they also took over the Venezuelan Consulate in New York City.

 Embassy Protection Collective Will Refuse To Turn Over Embassy To US Puppet Government: Arrests Expected -- The Embassy Protection Collective is prepared to stay at the embassy for the foreseeable future, for as long as it takes to protect the sovereignty of Venezuela from a coup led by the United States with its fraudulent puppet government that the entire world knows is a farce — unelected and illegal under Venezuelan and international law. We stand with the Venezuelan government and their legitimately-elected president, Nicolas Maduro.  If you can’t come to DC, please mobilize on Thursday, April 25 at the Venezuelan embassy nearest you to say that the embassy is the property of the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro and that you will protect it from illegal takeovers if such were attempted. This is important because if the US is successful at taking the embassy in DC, other countries may follow suit.  In the last two days, more than 800 people and organizations have signed on to the Declaration of the Embassy Protective (Colectivos De La Paz). The Declaration makes explicit the illegal actions of the Trump administration and their fake puppet government and the legitimacy of President Maduro and the elected Venezuelan government. Sign on to the Declaration here to show your solidarity with the Venezuelan people and your opposition to the US coup. There has been a series of amazing events at the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, DC. The art build organized by the Embassy Protection Collective resulted in the Georgetown embassy being covered with political signs that describe the US coup and the fraudulent, illegal, puppet government. A banner with the “Eyes of Chavez” was installed on the embassy along with multiple other banners. This Wednesday night, the Collective, which was initiated by CODE PINK and Popular Resistance, will be holding a forum with former CIA officer John Kiriakou. Kiriakou will discuss “An Inside View of CIA-Led Coups.” The irony of Kiriakou making this presentation from inside an embassy being threatened by US take-over should not be lost on anyone. That forum will be followed by a nonviolent direct action training for people who plan to resist the next day. And, there will be a light projection displaying images on the Venezuelan embassy.

Trump Has Murdered Over 40,000 Venezuelans With Sanctions - Caitlin Johnstone -  — A new study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) has found that tens of thousands of Venezuelans have died as a direct result of Trump administration sanctions put into effect in August 2017, and that tens of thousands more are expected to die as a result of additional sanctions put into place in January of this year. Some noteworthy points:

  • The sanctions are “depriving Venezuelans of lifesaving medicines, medical equipment, food, and other essential imports.”
  • The sanctions “reduced the public’s caloric intake, increased disease and mortality (for both adults and infants), and displaced millions of Venezuelans who fled the country as a result of the worsening economic depression and hyperinflation.”
  • The sanctions “have inflicted, and continue to inflict, very serious harm to human life and health, including an estimated more than 40,000 deaths from 2017–2018.”
  • That means 2019 deaths haven’t been added to this estimate. The year’s nearly half over, and more aggressive sanctions went into effect this past January.
  • Because of the sanctions, “some 22,000 doctors — about one third of the total — have left the country.”
  • “The loss of so many billions of dollars of foreign exchange and government revenues was very likely the main shock that pushed the economy from its high inflation, when the August 2017 sanctions were implemented, into the hyperinflation that followed.”
  • The massive number of already highly at-risk Venezuelans hurting from the 2017 sanctions “virtually guarantee that the current sanctions, which are much more severe than those implemented before this year, are a death sentence for tens of thousands of Venezuelans. This is especially true if the projected 67 percent drop in oil revenue materializes in 2019.”
  • “The United Nations finds that the groups most vulnerable to the accelerating crisis include children and adolescents (including many who can no longer attend school); people who are in poverty or extreme poverty; pregnant and nursing women; older persons; indigenous people; people in need of protection; women and adolescent girls at risk; people with disabilities; and people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex.”
  • The sanctions “would fit the definition of collective punishment of the civilian population as described in both the Geneva and Hague international conventions, to which the US is a signatory.”

Visas Are The Newest Weapon In U.S.-China Rivalry : NPR - Visas are the latest weapon in a growing rivalry between the U.S. and China. This year, the U.S. canceled visas for a number of prominent Chinese scholars with government links over concerns that such exchanges are conduits for peddling influence and for espionage. Increased scrutiny has delayed visas to hundreds of Chinese students. Meanwhile, American academics continue to fail to receive visas to China. Academic exchanges between the U.S. and China have blossomed in frequency and scope since relations were normalized in 1978. Now, as relations sour, Chinese scholars and students face suspicions of espionage and spreading propaganda. The U.S. scrutiny is especially intense for Chinese scholars affiliated with state-linked think tanks and research institutions. U.S. Embassy spokesperson Scott C. Walker told NPR via email that there is no "widespread" campaign to deny visas to Chinese citizens and declined to comment on individual visa cases. He noted that more than 350,000 Chinese students and scholars came to the U.S. in 2018. "We welcome scholars to the United States to conduct legitimate academic activities," he said, adding: "The U.S. intelligence and law enforcement communities have identified an increasing number of instances in which foreign intelligence services co-opt academics, researchers, and others to conduct activities on behalf of foreign governments during the individual's stay in the United States." Chinese graduate students have also come under fire. Last year, Trump administration officials considered banning all Chinese students from studying in the U.S. as a way to combat Chinese espionage, the Financial Times reported. Since last June, due to concerns about intellectual property theft, the U.S. began restricting student visas for Chinese citizens studying in certain tech sectors with potential national security applications. The restrictions include extra screening for students and shortening the length of visas in aviation, robotics and advanced manufacturing from a maximum of five years to one year. Particularly sensitive are disciplines that coincide with China's "Made in China 2025" plan, a state initiative to become the global leader in fields like robotics, semiconductors and aviation. That policy has left at least hundreds of Chinese students in the lurch. Many flew to China over last year's December holidays but have not been able to renew their U.S. student visas to return.

 China Isn’t Cheating on Trade - News reports suggest that in the coming weeks, the United States and China will sign an agreement that repeals the tariffs the two nations have been levying on each other’s goods for the past nine months. If past behavior is any guide, Donald Trump will call it the greatest deal ever, and global markets will breathe a sigh of relief. But the deal will likely constitute only a modest pause in Washington’s growing hostility toward Beijing. That’s partly because, for Trump, no agreement is truly final. The president,The New York Times recently observed, “has repeatedly agreed to new trade terms with foreign partners, then talked about undoing those deals to achieve additional goals.” Trump has already begun to renege on commitments made as part of the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement, which he hailed as “incredible” in October. But the slide toward cold war with China will likely continue for reasons that go beyond Trump himself. While Trump’s language is particularly extreme—during the 2016 campaign, he portrayed the relationship between the Chinese and American economies in the language of rape—describing Beijing’s economic behavior as predatory, and demanding that America respond with punishments and threats, has become commonplace in both parties. From Elizabeth Warren, who earlier this year claimed that China has “weaponized its economy,” to Marco Rubio, who last year tweeted that the Chinese aim to “steal & cheat their way to world dominance,” leading Democrats and Republicans describe China’s economic practices as uniquely malevolent and getting worse. In fact, neither accusation is true. What has changed in the Trump era is that America’s economic ties to China—once the ballast that stabilized a relationship buffeted by tensions over geopolitics and human rights—are now driving the antagonism. On the subject of China, as Mike Pence declared in October at the Hudson Institute, “a new consensus”—that only a far tougher U.S. trade policy can prevent Beijing from continuing to rip off America—“is rising across America.” Only three years ago, during the 2016 presidential campaign, Rubio warned that “we need to be very careful with tariffs” against China because the cost “gets passed on in the price to the consumer.” Last year, he criticized Trump for not implementing tariffs fast enough. For their part, top Democrats have scrambled to out-hawk Trump on trade.

 Lighthizer, Mnuchin to travel to China for latest round of trade talks - United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin will go to Beijing for trade talks beginning April 30, the White House announced Tuesday. Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will head the negotiations for China, then bring a delegation to Washington for additional talks beginning May 8, the White House said in a statement. The negotiations will cover trade topics including intellectual property, forced technology transfer, non-tariff barriers, agriculture, services, purchases, and enforcement. Washington and Beijing have engaged in a series of tit-for-tat trade measures against each other over the past year, with President Trump frequently railing against Beijing's trade practices and intellectual property theft, among other things. Mnuchin said earlier this month that the two countries had agreed on a mechanism for enforcing the trade deal. Trump has also said they are moving closer to a deal. "If we have a deal there’ll be a summit," he said earlier this month. Trump has imposed $250 billion worth of tariffs on Chinese imports. China retaliated with tariffs of its own on billions in American agricultural exports. Both sides in December agreed to halt new tariffs. They further extended the pause in February. Trump at the time said “substantial progress” was being made in the negotiations.

 Washington, Beijing Hope To Finish Trade Deal During Next Round Of Talks - A flurry of reports out overnight affirmed that the next - and hopefully final - round of negotiations will begin in Beijing next week. According to Bloomberg, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Trade Rep. Robert Lighthizer will travel to Beijing on Tuesday as both sides hope to hammer out a final deal by the end of May. Talks starting next Tuesday "will cover trade issues including intellectual property, forced technology transfer, non-tariff barriers, agriculture, services, purchases and enforcement," the White House said in a statement. Answering a question from a reporter during an appearance at the National Press Club, Kudlow said the final deal would be more sweeping in scope than "anything in the history of US-China trade." “We’re not there yet, but we’ve made a heck of a lot of progress,” Kudlow said. "We’ve come further and deeper, broader, larger-scale than anything in the history of U.S.-China trade." "We’ve gotten closer and we’re still working on the issues, so-called structural issues, technology transfers," Kudlow added. "Ownership enforcement is absolutely crucial. Lowering barriers to buy and sell agriculture and industrial commodities. It’s all on the table." The following week, Chinese officials led by Vice Premier Liu He will travel to Washington for discussions set to begin on May 8. By the end of that week, officials on both sides reportedly hope to have a deal in hand that could potentially be signed in Japan later in May during President Trump's visit to the country to meet new emperor Crown Prince Naruhito. Officials hope to announce that a deal has been reached, as well as plans for a signing summit, during Liu's visit to Washington. Still, one Chinese official noted that the US must still agree to some concessions before a deal can be finalized. "The intense meetings indicated that the two sides have the pressure and willingness to reach a deal," said Zhou Xiaoming, a former Chinese Ministry of Commerce official and diplomat. "But whether a deal can be reached or not, depends on both sides needing to show understanding and make concessions."

We’ve Endured Years of Bragging From Trump—What Would an American Trade ‘Victory’ Look Like?Marshall Auerback - Beijing and Washington have been engaged in long-standing negotiations to resolve an increasingly contentious trade dispute. It looks like we are approaching the endgame, but, as James Politi and Lucy Hornby report in the Financial Times, “the two sides remain apart on two key issues—the fate of existing US levies on Chinese goods, which Beijing wants to see removed, and the terms of an enforcement mechanism demanded by Washington to ensure that China abides by the deal.” Assuming we resolve these final issues, what will the ultimate deal look like? Will it rectify lingering structural problems that have devastated U.S. manufacturing (with genuine enforcement provisions)? Or will the deal simply represent yet another faux bargain in which China essentially bribes U.S. officialdom via purchases of some additional soybeans and wide-bodied aircraft to make cosmetic reductions in Beijing’s bilateral trade surplus? There’s no question that a simple restoration of the status quo ante would not constitute a trade win for the president by any stretch. That would be an epitomic case of “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” At the same time, it would be highly unrealistic to expect Beijing to eliminate its elaborate system of state subsidies for industry, the basis for its state capitalist growth model, which has accelerated China’s quantum leap up the technology curve. Even if Beijing goes beyond that and pledges to open up more sectors of China’s domestic economy to U.S. investment, tighten laws on intellectual property, etc., such additional promises do not really help American workers (quite the contrary, if it means that companies like GM keep shutting down domestic facilities and making increasingly large bets on the Chinese market, as they appear to be doing already). Using Trump’s simplistic metric of success—the actual bilateral trade figures between the United States and China—investing more in China will not reduce America’s trade deficit with Beijing and, indeed, might add to it, as these Chinese-manufactured goods are re-exported back to the American market.  Part of the problem stems from the extraordinary fact that Washington has seldom deployed a negotiator who is actually well-versed in trade issues. Since the days of the Clinton administration, it has been the U.S. Treasury Secretary, as opposed to the country’s chief trade representative, who has consistently directed trade negotiations, with the resultant (and eminently predictable) impact that financial interests have superseded those of any other economic sector.  For all of the supposed financial sophistication of America’s Wall Street-based Treasury Secretaries, it is indeed ironic that China has consistently been able to play them for fools with the implied threat of its so-called “nuclear option,” a highly flawed narrative that alleges that as a final resort, Beijing would dump its huge stockpile of U.S. Treasuries, thereby driving up U.S. rates, and creating a catastrophic depression for the U.S. economy.

 Trump vows to ‘reciprocate’ against EU tariffs after Harley reports nearly 27% drop in profit - President Donald Trump appeared to reverse course on Harley Davidson on Tuesday, pledging to retaliate against “unfair” European Union tariffs that the company partially blamed for its nearly 27% drop in first-quarter profit.Trump, who called for a boycott against the motorcycle company last year amid a spat over steel, said that the EU tariffs have forced Harley to move U.S. jobs overseas. “So unfair to U.S. We will Reciprocate!” he said in a tweet.Harley announced plans last year to move production of its motorcycles destined for the EU to overseas facilities from the U.S. to avoid EU tariffs imposed in retaliation against Trump’s duties on aluminum and steel imports. In response, Trump called for a boycott of the company and threatened higher taxes as retaliation.The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday. Harley said it hasn’t moved jobs overseas due to tariffs, but moving production of EU motorcycles to their plant in Thailand, which came on late last year to support customers in the ASEAN region. No jobs were impacted here in the US as a result.

 Seeds Sewn For Major Transatlantic Trade War Starting In May -  Trump wants a trade treaty with the EU to include agriculture. France says no. It only takes one. Trump has made a considerable number of trade threats only to eventually back down. Will it play out that way again?For a number of reasons, I think Trump will act this time. First, let's look at the threats. On February 25, Trump told the EU Play Ball or ‘We’re Going to Tariff the Hell Out of You’"The European Union is very, very tough. Very, very tough. They don’t allow our products in. They don’t allow our farming goods in," Trump said at a meeting with U.S. governors, according to a transcript from the White House. He added that "maybe, in certain ways," the EU is "tougher than China."On March 14, Trump Warned EU of ‘Severe’ Economic Pain if No Progress On Trade Talks.  On April 15, Reuters reported EU Ready to Launch U.S. Trade Talks, but Without Agriculture.The EU approved two areas for negotiation, opposed by France with an abstention from Belgium. But agriculture was not included, leaving the 28-country bloc at odds with Washington, which has insisted on including farm products in the talks.EU trade agreement are unanimous. Tiny countries can and have influenced outcomes. It took over a decade to get an agreement with Canada over concerns of tiny nations.Even if US-EU trade talks take place, nothing will come of them and Trump will quickly get frustrated. On April 18, France has signaled it will not cooperate with Trump in any way. Please consider the new French demand: No EU-US Trade Talks Unless Trump Supports Climate Deal.Earlier this week, the European Union agreed to start trade talks with the United States on industrial goods. France, however, has objected to the decision while Belgium abstained. In Paris, the concern is that there cannot be any agreement over trade while the U.S. refuses to commit to key environmental targets.“France is opposed to the initiation of any trade negotiations with countries outside the Paris climate agreement,” a French official said Monday, explaining why the second largest euro country said no to trade negotiations with Washington. “It is a question of values. Europe must be exemplary and firm in its defense of the climate,” the same official said.

A new study says Trump’s tariffs aren’t hurting Europe much and could have a bigger impact on the US -  President Donald Trump's trade policies have so far had a mild impact on countries across the Atlantic even as they have cast a cloud of uncertainty over global growth, according to the European Central Bank. The Trump administration last year placed sweeping tariffs on imported metal, including from Europe. But those and the retaliatory measures that followed have posed "only a modest adverse risk" to the bloc, said Vanessa Gunnella and Lucia Quaglietti, the ECB economists who authored the new report released Wednesday. That could be in part thanks to ongoing trade tensions between the US and China, which have made the EU more competitive in some markets. Higher tariffs make US and Chinese goods more expensive, the study said, raising demand for some imports from Europe. And because companies have limited suppliers to turn to for certain types of steel and aluminum typically imported from Europe, some American companies and consumers have been forced to absorb the 10% to 25% "If the US expands its tariffs to cars, that will have a much bigger impact on European producers, and there will be some economic pain," said Simon Lester, a trade policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute. Trump has threatened to slap tariffs on cars from the European Union, which is home to companies like Volkswagen, Daimler, and BMW. The global economy is expected to take a hit if the US expands its trade war to the auto sector, but the study said effects on European producers would be limited relative to other countries. "It is estimated that the impact on the euro area as a whole would be small, even when the magnifying effects of global supply chains are taken into account," the ECB study said. "However, the consequences of an increase in car tariffs may weigh significantly on some countries." The proposed tariffs would cost auto sectors in Japan and the EU around 10% and 4%, respectively, the economists estimated. Meanwhile, other research has shown vehicle prices in the US would rise.

Jeremy Corbyn declines invitation to state banquet for Donald Trump --Jeremy Corbyn has declined an invitation to attend a state dinner with Donald Trump when the US president visits the UK in June.Trump has accepted an invitation to a long-delayed state visit, including a formal white-tie dinner hosted by the Queen.In a statement, the Labour leader said he disagreed with the prime minister’s decision to offer a formal visit to the US leader and confirmed he would not attend any state dinner.“Theresa May should not be rolling out the red carpet for a state visit to honour a president who rips up vital international treaties, backs climate change denial and uses racist and misogynist rhetoric,” said Corbyn. “Maintaining an important relationship with the United States does not require the pomp and ceremony of a state visit. It is disappointing that the prime minister has again opted to kowtow to this US administration.”However, Corbyn reiterated his invitation to hold discussions with Trump – an offer that is unlikely to be taken up. “I would welcome a meeting with President Trump to discuss all matters of interest,” he said. His statement follows similar refusals from the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, and the Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Vince Cable. As leader of the opposition, Corbyn is invited to formal state dinners and attended a banquet in honour of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, shortly after becoming Labour leader in 2015. During the last state visit of King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, he was represented by the shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry.

 And if you believe this, I’ve got a great deal to sell you: The economic impacts of the revised NAFTA (USMCA) Agreement --The North American Free Trade Agreement resulted in growing trade deficits with Mexico and steep U.S. job losses after it was implemented in 1994, increasing the bilateral trade gap rose by at least $97.2 billion, andcosting at least 682,900 jobs through 2010. Can NAFTA 2.0 do any better?  The U.S. International Trade Commission’s (ITC) new report on the economic impact of the U.S.—Mexico–Canada Trade Agreement, released last week, projects that the revised NAFTA (USMCA) will have tiny impacts on the economy. The ITC estimates the deal will increase GDP by 0.35% when it is fully implemented (six years after it takes effect), or roughly 10 weeks of growth. Similarly, it projects that 175,000 jobs will be added in the domestic economy, a 0.1 percent increase in total employment (based on CBO projections for the economy in 2025), or roughly as many jobs as the economy adds in a normal month, over the next six years. And it claims real wages will rise about one-quarter of a percentage point (0.27 percent), roughly 4 percent of what workers are expected to gain, in real terms, over the next six years, if promised gains in output and employment are realized.  But there are strong reasons to doubt that these gains will be achieved. The ITC results show that the deal will yield remarkably small gains, and those gains rest on questionable assumptions about how the deal will help workers and the economy. Perhaps the most problematic finding in the ITC study (p. 25) was that labor provisions in the USMCA “would increase Mexico union wages by 17.2 percent, assuming that these provisions are enforced.” Given that unionization rates in the durable goods sectors of Mexican manufacturing are reported to be 20.2 percent (Table F.4), these would be massive impacts, indeed. Yet Mexican workers will not benefit unless there are mechanisms to ensure that labor rights enforcement does improve, but those provisions do not yet exist in the agreement. Thus, it is not surprising to find that the AFL-CIO, other labor unions, and many members of Congress are demanding that “swift [and] certain enforcement tools” are included in the deal before it is submitted to Congress. These concerns also apply to segments of the agreement that pertain to the environment, access to medicines. Furthermore, the assumption that Mexican union wages will increase 17.2 percent seems especially heroic, within the 6-year adjustment period in the ITC model (p 23.), in light of the struggles that will be required to unionize such a large share of the labor force.

FBI Arrests Leader Of Armed Militia Rounding Up Migrants At Southern Border - The FBI on Saturday announced the arrest of Larry Hopkins, the leader of an armed militia comprised mostly of military veterans which 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 Reuters.    Larry Hopkins, 69, was arrested in Sunland Park, New Mexico on a federal complaint charging him with being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition, according to the FBI. The arrest of Hopkins, also known as Johnny Horton, comes two days after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) accused the militia of illegally detaining migrants. In response, New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) ordered an investigation. "We’re not worried about it, he’s going to be cleared," said Jim Benvie, a spokesman for the United Constitutional Patriots (UCP), which blamed the arrest on political pressure by the governor. Hopkins is known as the "national commander" of the group. Around half a dozen UCP members were camping out on a rotating basis since Sunland Park on a rotating basis since late February.  Dressed in camouflage and carrying rifles, UCP says it's a "patriot group" that's helping the US Border Patrol handle a record influx of Central Americans crossing the US border illegally in the hopes of being granted asylum.  Last week, 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. 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.  Benvie said militia gave the migrants a "verbal order of arrest" to the border crossers - telling them to wait until Border Patrol agents could arrive. UCP offered migrants $20 to identify the smuggler who helped them cross the border, however nobody took them up on their offer.  ‘

 Leader Of Border Militia Boasted Of Plans To Assassinate Obama, Clinton, Soros- FBI -- The leader of the militia group which we profiled over the weekend for its detention of migrant families at the US border, was arrested and charged of plotting the assassination of former President Barack Obama, George Soros and various other key Democratic Party figures, the FBI said in court papers. While militia leader Larry Hopkins, 69, was arrested on Saturday for a weapons charge said to be unrelated to his activities on the border, the FBI now claims Hopkins bragged about his fellow militia members "training to assassinate" former President Barack Obama, Trump's nemesis in the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic Party's most generous billionaire donor, George Soros. To be sure, Hopkins had been a busy man - if what the Feds say is to be believed (which these days is a stretch) - for a long time, and before the F.B.I. arrested the militia leader, he’d had so many run-ins with the law that his police record stretched across much of the United States. Oregon police arrested him in 2006 on charges of impersonating a police officer and a felony weapons offense. They had found him showing guns to teenagers in a gas-station parking lot while wearing a police-style uniform and a badge emblazoned with the words "Special Agent" according to the NYT. “Hopkins stated that he worked for the federal government directly under George Bush,” Officer Jack Daniel of the sheriff’s office in Klamath County, Ore., wrote in his report. Hopkins, the report said, claimed variously to be investigating a meth lab, hunting fugitives and undertaking unspecified “operations” in Afghanistan. Over a decade later, Hopkins finally came under the scrutiny of federal authorities in 2017, after the FBI received reports that his group was “training” to assassinate Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and George Soros, according to documents unsealed Monday in federal court. Hopkins appeared in Federal District Court on Monday after his arrest over the weekend on yet another charge, this time of being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition.

 Border Patrol: Apprehensions in Rio Grande Valley Already Surpass All of 2018 – Less than seven months into the fiscal year, the number of undocumented immigrants who have been apprehended or turned themselves in to U.S. Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley has already surpassed last year’s total, the agency said Monday.From October, when the federal government’s fiscal year began, through Sunday, more than 164,000 migrants have been apprehended in the sector, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. During the entire 2018 fiscal year, the sector reported 162,262 apprehensions.The increase is the result of an ongoing surge of migrants, most of them from Central America, who are crossing the border to seek asylum. The 2019 total for the Rio Grande Valley includes 15,310 unaccompanied minors apprehended from October through March — compared to 23,760 during the entire 2018 fiscal year — and 79,000 people who were traveling in families during the same time frame, which has already surpassed the 63,280 family members apprehended in 2018 (April figures were not immediately available). The Border Patrol has reported similar increases along the entire southwest border.

Judge: Trump administration has six months to identify separated children -  A federal judge ruled Thursday that The Trump administration has six months to identify potentially thousands of children officials separated from their families at the country’s southern border. The government initially said it could take up to two years to identify as many as 47,000 children who were separated from their parents and taken into custody between July 1, 2017 and June 26, 2018. The American Civil Liberties Union, which is suing the administration over the separations, objected to the extended timeframe.  The ruling gives administration until Oct. 25, although the order from Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego noted the timeline may be modified for a "showing of good cause." “This order shows that the court continues to recognize the gravity of this situation,” said ACLU’s Lee Gelernt, lead attorney in the family separation lawsuit. HHS has worked since June 2018 to reunite the more than 2,700 children separated under the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, which has largely been finished.  Under zero tolerance, children brought across the border illegally were separated from their parents, deemed “unaccompanied,” and detained by HHS in separate facilities sometimes hundreds of miles from their parents.The department’s inspector general said the precise number of separated children was unknown, and HHS officials initially argued it would be too difficult to identify all of them.  But Sabraw ordered the administration to submit a plan for reunification. HHS officials have since developed a plan to flag certain characteristics in children that would make them likely to be still separated.Lawyers for the Department of Justice initially said their plan would need up to two years to implement, including three months just to create a statistical model to review the files of prospective children.The ACLU objected, saying the plan  “shows a callous disregard for these  families and should be rejected.”

1,600 Migrants Dumped In New Mexico; City Forced To Spend $75K For Humanitarian Assistance - Las Cruces, New Mexico officials reported on Monday that Border Patrol agents released almost 1,600 migrants into the town of just over 100,000 residents over a 10-day period, forcing the city to spend $75,000 on humanitarian assistance. A Border Patrol agent helps migrants out of a van at the Gospel Rescue Mission homeless shelter in Las Cruces earlier this month. On April 12, CBP began releasing the migrants apprehended in the El Paso Sector, according to KVIA ABC7, which come as the agency reaches a breaking point trying to handle thousands of Central American migrant families crossing the border illegally in West Texas and the New Mexico boot heel, reports Breitbart's Bob Price. The City of Las Cruces responded by setting up a network of temporary shelters to house the “asylum seekers” while they attempt to arrange travel to other parts of the U.S., the Las Cruces Sun News reported. Nearly 1,200 were dropped off by Border Patrol agents during the first week alone. Mayor Ken Miyagishima told the local newspaper that most of the migrants move out quickly. He said, “75 percent are gone.” He explained the City is providing resources to about 250 people at any given time. -r  Breitbart.  Mayor Miyagishima made arrangements with Santa Fe and Albuquerque to take migrants on a rotating basis, according to the report. "It looks like they’ll be taking some. We just need to figure out transportation," he said, adding "We could easily handle 200, but not 200 a day."

DHS Releases 7,000 Border Crossers Into US Cities Over Five Day Period - Swamped and overloaded with a massive influx of people at the southern border, the US Department of Homeland Security has released approximately 7,000 migrants into the interior of the United States over a five-day period ending on Wednesday, according to Breitbart News, citing information they obtained on 'catch and release.'  The catch and release process often entails federal immigration officials busing border crossers into nearby border cities and dropping them off with the promise that they will show up for their immigration and asylum hearings, sometimes years later. The overwhelming majority of border crossers and illegal aliens are never deported from the country once they are released into the U.S. -Breitbart News Over the five-day period, El Paso, TX received 2,800 of the 7,000 border crossers, while San Antonio, TX received 2,200, Phoenix - 1,200 and San Diego - 800.  According to former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) told Breitbart that the Trump administration could take several steps to immediately end catch and release, including creating more detention facilities where immigration court hearings can be quickly heard.  The expanded use of catch and release by the Trump administration has forced communities like Yuma, Arizona, to declare a local state of emergency as the city and county is unable to deal with soaring levels of illegal immigration. Since December 21, 2018, about 153,000 border crossers and illegal aliens have been released into the interior of the U.S. This dictates that DHS is releasing about 38,250 border crossers and illegal aliens into the country every month with close to 10,000 released every week and about 1,400 released every day. -Breitbart News At this rate, almost half-a-million border crossers could be released into American communities by the end of the year. According to the Pew Research Center, there were 10.7 million illegal immigrants in the United States at the end of 2016.

Mexico Cracks Down- Arrests Hundreds Of Central American Caravan Migrants - Mexican police arrested between 300-500 Central American migrants outside the southern city of Pijijiapan, Chiapas, according to DW.  Mexican police an immigration officials rounded up the undocumented migrants who had crossed illegally into Mexico in the hopes of obtaining asylum by the United States. The raid is one of the largest targeting a caravan since the exodus began last year, and follows pressure by US authorities on Mexico to curb the flow of migrants.   Mexico has stepped up migrant detentions since US President Donald Trump threatened last month to shut the US-Mexico border if the caravans weren't stopped. Several organizations have condemned the rise in arrests, warning that detention facilities were overcrowded and the rights of migrants were being violated. –DW Those arrested were part of a caravan of around 3,000 Central Americans heading north. Witnesses described authorities wrestling men, women and children into vehicles - where they were then driven to buses. DW reports that they were likely headed to migration centers for deportation, according to activists. Meanwhile, local media reported on Friday that over 250 migrants were arrested in the nearby city of Mapastepec.   Kevin Escobar from Honduras, who fled onto private property to avoid immigration agents, told the Associated Press he would never return to his hometown because "the gangs are kidnapping everyone back there."DW Thousands of Central American migrants - mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador - made international headlines last October when they marched north through Mexico to the southern US border. Since then, several other caravans have made the same journey, claiming to flee violence and poverty in their home countries - yet in many cases refusing to accept offers of food, shelter and work in Mexico. 

 DHS to Face-Scan 97% of International Travelers Within Four Years - – The Department of Homeland Security says that facial recognition technology will be used on 97% of passengers departing the US by 2023,  according to The Verge.  Already deployed in seventeen international airports, including Atlanta, New York City, Boston, San Jose, Chicago, and two airports in Houston, DHS systems will photograph and scan passengers at their departure gate, cross-referencing their face against a library of face images from visa and passport applications, as well as those taken by border agents when foreigners enter the country. The aim of the system is to offer “Biometric Exit,” which gives authorities as good an idea of who’s leaving the country as who’s entering it, and allows them to identify people who have overstayed their visas. Quartz notes that US authorities have traditionally relied on airline flight manifests to track who’s leaving the country. –The Verge     Last week, JetBlue customer MacKenzie Fegan was shocked after finding out that her face had been scanned in order for her to board the plane. “I just boarded an international @JetBlue flight. Instead of scanning my boarding pass or handing over my passport, I looked into a camera before being allowed down the jet bridge,” she tweeted. “Did facial recognition replace boarding passes, unbeknownst to me? Did I consent to this?”

Democrats Ran On Lowering Drug Prices. Now They Could Cut A Bad Deal With Donald Trump. - For months now, House Democratic Party leaders have been feuding behind closed doors with members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus about how to lower prescription drug prices. But as details of negotiations between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and President Donald Trump have leaked into the public, frustration among progressives is boiling over.  Speaking in a personal capacity on Thursday, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) told HuffPost that he and “the overwhelming majority” of his fellow CPC members “will oppose” any prescription drug bill that cedes the government’s authority to regulate drug prices to an independent arbitration firm. It’s a direct challenge to Pelosi ― who is championing arbitration in private ― and an effort to disrupt the talks with Trump, which progressives believe are ignoring their views. “Any bill that allows Pharma to engage in arbitration is inconsistent with a real effort to hold Big Pharma accountable,” said Khanna, who is vice chairman of the CPC, but was careful to note that he was not speaking on behalf of CPC leadership. “The Democrats should at the very least get behind” price negotiation with the threat of ending drug monopolies.  House Democrats promised lower prescription drug prices throughout the 2018 midterm campaigns, and began their new majority in 2019 with a plethora of legislative options. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Khanna proposed one plan in November, followed quickly by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) with another. Both bills would require pharmaceutical firms to bring the prices they charge in the United States in-line with a much lower average international price ― or face severe penalties. In early February, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), introduced yet another bill that would allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices with pharmaceutical companies. Since Doggett chairs the Health Subcommittee on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, his bill would be the logical starting point for a drug bill under ordinary congressional procedure. But big-ticket legislation has been bypassing the committee process since the Obama years. Most major bills in recent years have been negotiated between the White House and congressional leadership.

 The IRS stats are in: Here’s how tax refunds look compared to last year - The final stats are in from the IRS — and it looks like the average tax refund check isn’t all that different from last year. The average refund check for the week ended April 19 was $2,725, according to the tax agency. That’s down 2% from a year ago. In all, the federal government paid $260.9 billion in refunds to taxpayers, compared to $265.3 billion in 2018. Tax returns are in the public eye as filers and accountants grapple with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the 2018 overhaul of the tax code. Under the new law, the standard deduction has been nearly doubled to $12,000 for single filers ($24,000 for joint) and a number of key itemized deductions have been curtailed. The personal exemption — once valued at $4,050 for each filer, spouse and dependent — has been suspended. The new law also doubled the child tax credit to $2,000 per kid under 17. Finally, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has trimmed down individual income tax rates across the board.Though the IRS data suggests that things aren’t all that different for individual taxpayers year over year, CPAs said that clients had plenty of surprises when they filed.

Trump sues to block subpoena from House Democrats seeking information on his finances - President Donald Trump and his business filed suit against Democratic House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings on Monday to block a subpoena sent last week seeking information about the president’s finances. In the complaint filed in Washington, D.C., federal court Monday morning, Trump’s lawyers said that Democrats have “declared all-out political war” against him. “Subpoenas are their weapon of choice,” the filing states. Last week, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee subpoenaed Mazars, an accounting firm that Trump had used to prepare several years of financial statements, according to the lawmakers’ document. The subpoena requested a slew of financial documents and related materials from Trump, his trust, the Trump Organization, the Trump Corporation, Trump’s holdings company, the Trump Foundation and the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Mazars told the committee that it would not be able to comply with demands for those documents without a subpoena, according to Cummings. In a statement, Cummings said that Trump has a “long history of trying to use baseless lawsuits to attack his adversaries, but there is simply no valid legal basis to interfere with this duly authorized subpoena from Congress.” Cummings added: “This complaint reads more like political talking points than a reasoned legal brief, and it contains a litany of inaccurate information. The White House is engaged in unprecedented stonewalling on all fronts, and they have refused to produce a single document or witness to the Oversight Committee during this entire year.” Mazars and Peter Kenny, the Oversight Committee’s chief investigative counsel, are also listed as defendants in the lawsuit. Trump’s lawyer in the lawsuit, William Consovoy, said in a statement that the attempt by Cummings’ committee to “obtain years’ worth of confidential information from their accountants lacks any legitimate legislative purpose, is an abuse of power, and is just another example of overreach by the president’s political opponents.” The president’s counsel, Jay Sekulow, told NBC News: “We will not allow Congressional Presidential harassment to go unanswered.”

Mueller referred 14 criminal matters to other prosecutors, but only 2 of them are public so far - Mueller referred 14 criminal matters to other prosecutors, but only 2 of them are public so far  --The special counsel Robert Mueller's team made 14 criminal referrals to other prosecutors, but only two of those cases are publicly known, according to Mueller's final report in the Russia investigation."During the course of the investigation, the Office periodically identified evidence of potential criminal activity that was outside the scope of the Special Counsel's jurisdiction established by the Acting Attorney General," Mueller wrote. "After consultation with the Office of the Deputy Attorney General, the Office referred that evidence to appropriate law enforcement authorities, principally other components of the Department of Justice and the FBI." The two criminal investigations we know of that were referred by Mueller are those dealing with Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer, and Gregory Craig, the former White House counsel under former President Barack Obama.  During the course of the Russia investigation, Mueller's team uncovered evidence of hush-money payments Cohen had facilitated to two women who alleged affairs with Trump. The payments were made shortly before Election Day 2016, and investigators believed that if they were done to protect Trump's candidacy, they could be in violation of federal campaign-finance laws. The special counsel apparently believed the matter fell outside the scope of his mandate and referred the case to the US attorney's office for the Southern District of New York. Last year, Cohen struck a plea deal and admitted to five counts of campaign-finance violations, tax fraud, and bank fraud in the SDNY's investigation. In a court filing late last year, investigators said Cohen told them he had broken election law "at the direction" of "Individual-1," who is widely believed to be Trump.

Don McGahn, ex-White House counsel, subpoenaed over Mueller report - The Democratic chairman of the House judiciary committee has issued a subpoena demanding that former White House counsel Don McGahn testify before Congress as House speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed to hold Donald Trump to account following the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s long-awaited report on Russian influence on the 2016 US election. The move escalates the Democrats’ investigations into Trump, as the party remains split over moves towards impeachment, and debates how to proceed with the evidence contained in Mueller’s 448-page report, which laid out 10 episodes of potential obstruction of justice and abuse of power by the president. “The special counsel’s report, even in redacted form, outlines substantial evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction and other abuses,” said Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House judiciary committee, which has the power to launch impeachment proceedings. “It now falls to Congress to determine for itself the full scope of the misconduct and to decide what steps to take in the exercise of our duties of oversight, legislation and constitutional accountability.” In a statement, Nadler said the committee asked for McGahn, who cooperated extensively in the special counsel investigation and was involved in several incidents at the heart of whether Trump obstructed justice, to turn over documents by 7 May and to testify before his committee by 21 May. The move came as Democrats gathered for the first time since the report was released on a conference call to discuss how the House would proceed.

On WikiLeaks, Mueller Ignored Findings of Former US Intelligence Officials— Kevin Gosztola - Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on an investigation into alleged Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election does not confirm, without a doubt, that Russian intelligence agents or individuals tied to Russian intelligence agencies passed on emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign to WikiLeaks.Mueller’s team highlighted statements from WikiLeaks on Twitter about former Democratic National Committee (DNC) staff member Seth Rich, which seemed to relate to the alleged source of emails and documents the organization published. Yet, more explicit claims from WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange on the source of emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta were not addressed in the report.A group of former military and intelligence officials, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), conducted their own forensic tests that received a bit of attention in the United States press because they were some of the first people with prior backgrounds in government to question the central allegations of hacking into DNC servers. They asserted their examinations of the files showed DNC emails published by WikiLeaks were leaked, not hacked.However, the Mueller report makes no mention of the claims made by VIPS over the past two to three years—not even to debunk them.The report stated, “Unit 26165 officers appear to have stolen thousands of emails and attachments, which were later released by WikiLeaks in July 2016.” But “appear to have” indicates the team did not have incontrovertible proof. They could only speculate.“The Office cannot rule out that stolen documents were transferred to WikiLeaks through intermediaries, who visited during the summer of 2016,” the report acknowledged. “For example, public reporting identified Andrew Müller-Maguhn as a WikiLeaks associate who may have assisted with the transfer of these stolen documents to WikiLeaks.”Yet, this is wildly misleading. The source for this example is a 2018 profile of Müller-Maguhn by journalist Ellen Nakashima that was published by the Washington Post. Müller-Maguhn told Nakashima it “would be insane” for him to hand deliver sensitive files, especially when the CIA has labeled WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service.” “How many of you wouldn’t be scared shitless by the head of the CIA declaring you the next target?,” he said.

I Was The CIA Director - We Lied, We Cheated, We Stole -- Former CIA director and now Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has long accused WikiLeaks of being a “non-state hostile intelligence agency”, usually manipulated by Russia. Since Pompeo first made this claim as CIA Director in April 2017, countless major US news sources from NPR to CNN to the Washington Post have uncritically repeated the line, smearing Julian Assange and WikiLeaks as "Russian agents," and more broadly using the narrative to stifle independent journalism and government whistleblowers. But whether Pompeo or any other current or former CIA director makes such a bombastic claim without offering evidence such as more recently asserting that China and Russia have "helped destroy" Venezuela through faltering investments, should anyone ever believe a high CIA official? Certainly the mainstream media routinely takes intelligence officials simply at their word, but Pompeo himself recently admitted the CIA is in the business of lying, cheating, and stealing.  Last week Mike Pompeo spoke at Texas A&M University, itself long known for being a favored recruiting ground of the CIA, considering too that one of the university's last presidents, Robert Gates, was CIA chief and later served as Bush and Obama's Secretary of Defense.  During the Q&A session, Pompeo boasted that in the CIA both the training and culture are geared toward the following:"We lied, we cheated, we stole." Interestingly, a Christian religious news broadcaster was the only media that seemed to pick up on Pompeo's words last week, and described it as follows: "that's not the resume of the Secretary of State... that's the resume of Satan."

Mueller Time is Finally Over - When it comes to the Mueller report, believing there are still more questions than answers means refusing to accept the answers. With the release of the redacted report, #MuellerTime is now over. Robert Mueller has ended conclusively the three-year Russiagate tantrum, and chosen not to pursue obstruction via indictment or a direct referral to Congress for action. He could have but he did not. Trump will serve his full term and voters will decide whether he gets another. That should be it.But it won’t be. Mueller’s inclusion of information on obstruction of justice that portrays unbecoming conduct by the president that nonetheless doesn’t rise to the level of indictable crime allows Democrats to decide where to take this next. Mueller has not tossed the ball to a Democratic Congress to play out its check and balance role so much as handed dirt to Democratic politicians to use as they see fit. It’s an odd end for the righteous Robert Mueller, twisting the tools of justice and state to slander.The report was issued in two “volumes.” Volume I focuses on Russian interference in the election. Volume II focuses on obstruction of justice. Volume I concludes two important and exclusive things. First, the Russian government, under Barack Obama’s watch, tried to influence the election via social media and by obtaining Democratic National Committee emails. And second, no American colluded, cooperated, or coordinated with that effort. The report (volume I, page 2) is clear that the Trump campaign’s reacting to or even anticipating released materials was not criminal. A crime would have required coordinated interaction, not merely two parties (in Mueller’s words) “informed by or responsive to the other’s actions or interests.” The report also deflates any credibility left in the Steele Dossier and most of the Russiagate reporting. None of the subplots matter outside of the Washington-Twitter-New York corridor because either they didn’t happen or they did not constitute a crime. That includes the Trump Tower meeting, the Moscow Hotel Project, the polling data, the Alfa Bank server, the changed Republican platform on Ukraine, Jeff Sessions meeting Ambassador Kislyak, the meeting in the Seychelles, Cohen (not) in Prague, Manafort (not) meeting Assange, and Trump (not) ordering Cohen to lie to Congress. All of that should be in the headlines but isn’t. That’s because of a new focus on obstruction of justice.

In wake of Mueller report: Democrats, media push anti-Russian hysteria - In the wake of the April 19 release of the report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the Democratic Party and the bulk of the corporate media have decided to intensify their campaign of anti-Russian slander and provocation. They are doubling down on their two-year effort to depict President Trump as a Russian stooge, rather than a representative of Wall Street who is seeking to build a fascistic movement in America. The tone for the past weekend was set by the New York Times in an editorial published in Saturday’s print edition (see: “The Mueller report and the campaign against Russia”), which acknowledged the failure of the anti-Russia campaign to provide any evidence of coordination between the Trump campaign and alleged Russian “meddling” in the 2016 election. The editorial nonetheless sought to salvage the effort by the military-intelligence apparatus to frame up Russian President Vladimir Putin as the alleged political mastermind of Trump’s surprise electoral victory, arguing that in Mueller’s report “one conclusion is categorical: ‘The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.’” Actually, the Mueller report presents zero new evidence of Russian intervention in the 2016 campaign, relying entirely on the uncorroborated assertions of US intelligence agencies and their journalist mouthpieces like the Times itself. (A remarkable number of footnotes in the report cite press reports, most of them planted by the anti-Trump faction within the national security establishment). But the focus on demonizing Russia was taken up by all of the Democrats and many of the pundits who appeared on the Sunday television interview programs on the five broadcast and cable networks. On the ABC program “This Week,” correspondent Terry Moran opined that the Russian role in 2016 was “the most serious and dastardly attack on the American election process in our history.” Apparently, Moran has entirely forgotten the stolen election of 2000, when the US Supreme Court—not Moscow—intervened to shut down vote-counting in Florida and award the presidency to George W. Bush.

Russiagate was journalist QAnon (Part 1) - Matt Taibbi - The final revelation, tabbed MUELLER DAY, was a national emergency for most news organizations. Most every reporter and editor with profile was recalled to man barricades on the morning of April the 18th,* and await the bombshell of bombshells.  Cable hosts took places on extra-large sets to await the sacred document. It would pass judgment on Trump, validate years of fulminating coverage, and grant permission to leave Classroom Earth and graduate the Human Evolutionary Level. CNN featured a preposterous eight-person panel, whose members were furious in advance. Commentators had been in full rage mode since March 24th, when evil always-liar and Attorney General Bill Barr (who in a narrative inconvenience has been close friends with St. Robert Mueller for 30 years) sent a brief letter to Congress dashing hopes for a Presidency-ending conspiracy.That the so-called “Barr letter” was a “fake” and a treacherous lie – “meaningless” as Joe Scarborough put it – was accepted without question across commercial media. It was deemed a political document and delaying tactic, designed to give Trump fans time to spin things before the real truth came out.The emotion charging the CNN panel the morning of the 18th was a thing to behold. Professional media figures – whose job is keeping a cool head in war zones, natural disaster areas, shootings of school children, and other horrific scenes – were visibly shaken, overcome with a mix of hopeful anticipation and pre-emptive outrage.They were furious Barr even planned a press conference, angry about redactions they hadn’t yet seen, and even seething over improprieties they hadn’t the slightest indication had or would occur, like Trump or Barr asserting executive privilege.“Here’s the important thing about – about what we don’t know,” snapped Laura Coates, CNN’s legal analyst, on the privilege subject.“We know his personal view, though,” said anchor John King. “We know Bill Barr’s personal view on a very strong, executive power.” “Very strong,” said senior political analyst Gloria Borger.“Very strong,” agreed correspondent Dana Bash, because you can never have too many people on a cable news set agreeing about something that in just a few minutes will turn out to be wrong.   Over on MSNBC, “Morning Joe” Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski and Willie Geist were in full spleen over Barr’s decision to hold a presser before the release of the report, instead of after. It prompted Scarborough to re-think the framework of executive government. “It seems bizarre at this point the President should get to pick his own Attorney General,” he said solemnly.  The whole scene was a microcosm of the last years of coverage: unhinged speculation, a flailing, openly accusatory posture, maximally evil motives ascribed to insignificant actions, lockstep agreement on everything (especially the limitless treason of the president), no allowance for the possibility of gray areas, hostility toward the mere suggestion that the Mueller investigation might reveal Trump and his campaign staffers to be innocent, not even of everything, but just some things.

Hollow And Laughable - Russia Issues Own Scathing 120-page Reaction To Mueller Report -- One day following last Thursday's bombshell Mueller report or rather we should say the report which ended three years of nonstop 'Russiagate' hysteria with a not-so-dramatic whimper the Russian embassy in the US issued its own scathing report, calling the collusion conspiracy which Mueller's team sought to uncover "hollow and laughable".  The Russian embassy also said it was "no surprise" that the investigation delivered "no tangible result" in its own massive 120-page study, released online Friday, even the title of which pulled no punches The Russiagate Hysteria: A Case of Severe Russiaphobia. The publication blasted a list of "groundless accusations" repeated since Trump's 2016 election, including allegations of Russian election meddling, the Kremlin's supposedly being behind the DNC hack, as well as Trump's working with Russian intelligence.  It concluded in the wake of the Mueller report:The investigation... didn't show any real evidence to back up claims of Moscow's cyberattacks and attempts to "subvert democracy".Though Mueller's report failed to deliver on much of what the mainstream hyped over the years, it did point to efforts of Russian "interference" in US elections and alleged that Russian military intelligence was complicit in “hacking” the DNC."An obvious conclusion is reached – there was no collusion" the English language Russian report asserts.  The report reads:After three years, more than 8,000 publications in just four main outlets (Washington Post, New York Times, CNN and MSNBC), endless congressional inquiries, 22 months of the work of Robert Mueller that cost taxpayers an estimated $32 million, more than 2,800 subpoenas, 500 witnesses interrogated, and as many search warrants, an obvious conclusion is reached – there was no collusion. The report also outlines multiple instances where Moscow had "fruitlessly" asked Washington to provide "hard proof" of the allegations, even going so far to offer cooperation in any investigation, but “the US refused every single time.”   During the entirety of the ordeal, the embassy report finds, “All this time, Russia pointed to the obvious made-up nature of these insinuations.” Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov ripped continued lack of US cooperation related to already agreed upon US-Russia initiatives to foster US-Russian economic and business ties.

 How the Obama White House engaged Ukraine to give Russia collusion narrative an early boost - As Donald Trump began his meteoric rise to the presidency, the Obama White House summoned Ukrainian authorities to Washington to coordinate ongoing anti-corruption efforts inside Russia’s most critical neighbor.The January 2016 gathering, confirmed by multiple participants and contemporaneous memos, brought some of Ukraine’s top corruption prosecutors and investigators face to face with members of President Obama’s National Security Council (NSC), the FBI, State Department and Department of Justice (DOJ).The agenda suggested the purpose was training and coordination. But Ukrainian participants said it didn’t take long — during the meetings and afterwards — to realize the Americans’ objectives included two politically hot investigations: one that touched Vice President Joe Biden’s family, and one that involved a lobbying firm linked closely to then-candidate Trump.U.S. officials “kept talking about how important it was that all of our anti-corruption efforts be united,” said Andrii Telizhenko, then a political officer in the Ukraine embassy in Washington tasked with organizing the meeting.  Telizhenko, who no longer works for the Ukraine embassy, said U.S. officials volunteered during the meetings — one of which was held in the White House’s Old Executive Office Building — that they had an interest in reviving a closed investigation into payments to U.S. figures from Ukraine’s Russia-backed Party of Regions.That 2014 investigation was led by the FBI and focused heavily on GOP lobbyist Paul Manafort, whose firm long had been tied to Trump through his partner and Trump pal, Roger Stone.Agents interviewed Manafort in 2014 about whether he received undeclared payments from the party of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, an ally of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and whether he engaged in improper foreign lobbying.The FBI shut down the case without charging Manafort.Telizhenko said he couldn’t remember whether Manafort was mentioned during the January 2016 meeting. But he and other attendees recalled DOJ officials asking investigators from Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) if they could help locate new evidence about the Party of Regions’ payments and its dealings with Americans.“It was definitely the case that led to the charges against Manafort and the leak to U.S. media during the 2016 election,” he said. That makes the January 2016 meeting one of the earliest documented efforts to build the now-debunked Trump-Russia collusion narrative and one of the first to involve the Obama administration’s intervention.

'Nothing wrong with taking information from Russians', Giuliani says - Donald Trump’s personal lawyer has claimed there was “nothing wrong” with his campaign taking information from Russia, as the fallout and toxicity triggered by the publication of Robert Mueller’s report grew. As Democrats said they were keeping open their options of seeking to impeach Mr Trump for his alleged efforts to obstruct Mr Mueller’s probe, Rudy Giuliani went on the offensive, saying “any politician” in the US would have sought damaging information about an electoral rival. “There’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians,” Mr Giuliani told CNN. Asked by CNN host Jake Tapper if he would have taken information from a foreign source, the former New York City mayor replied: “I probably wouldn’t. I wasn’t asked. I would have advised, just out of excess of caution, don’t do it.” Mr Giuliani’s defence of the president came after senator Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate who lost to Barack Obama, launched a scathing attack on Mr Trump’s campaign, following the release of Mr Mueller’s report. While the report said it did not find evidence the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, it said the “investigation established multiple links between Trump campaign officials and individuals tied to the Russian government”. It also said, Russia’s alleged interference in the election was intended to help Mr Trump.

"I Did Nothing Wrong" - Trump Warns "Angry Dems" He'll Take Impeachment Threats To Supreme Court -While Pelosi is desperately playing down impeachment threats (along with Bernie Sanders), many on the left refuse to let reality sink in and keep pushing for this distraction from their lack of policy positioning. In a series of tweets this morning, President Trump once again exclaims his innocence and makes it clear what he is willing to do to protect it: " I DID NOTHING WRONG. If the partisan Dems ever tried to Impeach, I would first head to the U.S. Supreme Court." The Mueller Report, despite being written by Angry Democrats and Trump Haters, and with unlimited money behind it ($35,000,000), didn’t lay a glove on me. I DID NOTHING WRONG. If the partisan Dems ever tried to Impeach, I would first head to the U.S. Supreme Court. Not only........are there no “High Crimes and Misdemeanors,” there are no Crimes by me at all. All of the Crimes were committed by Crooked Hillary, the Dems, the DNC and Dirty Cops - and we caught them in the act! We waited for Mueller and WON, so now the Dems look to Congress as last hope! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 24, 2019

Rosenstein Slams Obama, Selective Leaking Of Classified Information - Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein slammed the Obama administration's failure to "publicize" Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 election, according to the National Review.  Rosenstein - who recommended firing former FBI Director James Comey and then oversaw the special counsel investigation which ensued - said that the Obama administration did the public a disservice by choosing not to publicly reveal "the full story" of what authorities say happened. "Some critical decisions about the Russia investigation were made before I got there. The previous Administration chose not to publicize the full story about Russian computer hackers and social media trolls, and how they relate to a broader strategy to undermine America," said Rosenstein in remarks to the Armenian Bar Association's Public Servants Dinner. Rosenstein also slammed the 'selective leaking' of classified information to the news media. "The FBI disclosed classified evidence about the investigation to ranking legislators and their staffers. Someone selectively leaked details to the news media. The FBI Director announced at a congressional hearing that there was a counterintelligence investigation that might result in criminal charges. Then the former FBI Director alleged that the President pressured him to close the investigation, and the President denied that the conversation occurred."

Watergate’s Woodward: FBI, CIA Handling of Steele Dossier “Needs to Be Investigated”“Worse than Watergate” is how Rep. Adam Schiff described the Mueller Report’s findings as he doubled-down (or is it quadrupled?) on his fantasy dissonance about The Man In The White House. “Well, I think it’s clear from the Mueller report that that’s exactly right. The obstruction of justice in particular in this case is far worse than anything that Richard Nixon did. The — the break-in by the Russians of the Democratic institutions, a foreign adversary far more significant than the plumbers breaking into the Democratic headquarters. So yes, I would say in every way this is more significant than Watergate. And the fact that a candidate for president and now president of the United States would not only not stand up and resist Russian interference in our election but would welcome it goes well beyond anything Nixon did.”“The fact that the president of the United States would take Putin’s side over his own intelligence agencies go well beyond anything Richard Nixon did. So yes, I think it is far more serious than Watergate.”So, it is with great irony that the previously outspokenly anti-Trump journalist, and Watergate exposer, Bob Woodward, sees things quite differently to Schiff. During an interview with Fox News’s Chris Wallace, Woodward said Sunday that the FBI and CIA’s reliance on the Steele dossier “needs to be investigated” now that the Mueller reported has undercut many of the salacious document’s claims.

Mueller Report Reveals Russia Taped Bill Clinton Having Phone Sex With Monica Lewinsky - The Washington Examiner reports that a redacted portion of the Mueller report mentions a claim that Russia recorded President Bill Clinton having phone sex from Air Force One with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.  Clinton allegedly was recorded by Russia in the 1990s, allowing Russia to learn of the affair before American officials. A reference to the Clinton intercept was redacted from the Mueller report to protect “personal privacy,” but sources told the Washington Examiner that the context makes clear what was blacked out. According to the report, Center for the National Interest President Dimitri Simes sent Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner a 2016 email with recommended talking points to counter Hillary Clinton's Russia attacks. The email referenced “a well-documented story of highly questionable connections” between Bill Clinton and Russia. At a meeting in New York, Simes told Kushner the details: Russia allegedly recorded President Clinton on the phone with Lewinsky, opening questions of foreign leverage over the ex-president-turned-potential first spouse. -Washington Examiner

FBI Texts Show Agents Discussed Recruiting White House Sources To Spy For Bureau - Senior Republican chairmen submitted a letter Thursday to Department of Justice Attorney General William Barr revealing new texts from former FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok to his paramour FBI Attorney Lisa Page showing the pair had discussed attempts to recruit sources within the White House to allegedly spy on the Trump administration. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Charles Grassley and Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson revealed the information in a three page letter. The texts had been obtained by Tuesday and information regarding the possible attempt to recruit White House sources had been divulged by several sources to this news site last week. The texts and sources reveal that Strzok had one significant contact within the White House – Vice President Mike Pence’s Chief of Staff Joshua Pitcock, whose wife was working as an analyst for Strzok on the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server. A senior White House official told this news site that Pitcock’s wife recused herself from the Clinton investigation as soon as Pence and Trump became the Republican nominees in July 2016. A senior law enforcement official also told that Pitcock’s wife no longer worked under Strzok after she recused herself from the Clinton investigation. However, the text messages uncovered from November, 2016 and have left questions lingering about the relationship between Strzok, Pitcock and his wife among congressional investigators and lawmakers.

The Press Will Learn Nothing From the Russiagate Fiasco - Matt Taibbi - It's shocking to see national media voices after the release of Robert Mueller’s report patting each other on the back, congratulating themselves for a three-year faceplant they must know will haunt the whole business for a long time.“Fake news? Mueller isn’t buying it,” writes David Bauder of the Associated Press. He noted that with a “few exceptions,” Mueller’s investigation “repeatedly supports news reporting that was done on the Russia probe over the last two years.”Bauder added the report showed “several instances where the president and his team sought to mislead the public.” He congratulated the New York Times and Washington Post for correctly reporting that White House counsel Don McGahn had been ordered to find a way to fire Mueller.Trump, Bauder noted, had called this “fake news, folks, fake news.” It wasn’t. And neither were some other stories.So, yay journalism! You were more truthful than Donald Trump, at times. This is like being proud of beating a fish at Boggle.We’re not trying to be right more often than Trump — we’re trying to not be wrong, ever. It’s a standard, not a competition.You know what was fake news? Most of the Russiagate story. There was no Trump-Russia conspiracy, that thing we just spent three years chasing. The Mueller Report is crystal clear on this.He didn’t just “fail to establish” evidence of crime. His report is full of incredibly damning passages, like one about Russian officialdom’s efforts to reach the Trump campaign after the election: “They appeared not to have preexisting contacts and struggled to connect with senior officials around the President-Elect.” Not only was there no “collusion,” the two camps didn’t even have each others’ phone numbers!

Hillary Clinton op-ed: Don't rush to impeachment, it could backfire - Hillary Clinton cautioned House Democrats on Wednesday against immediately launching impeachment proceedings against President Trump following the release of Special Counsel Robert Muller’s report this month, urging Democrats to widen their platforms to a more “sensible agenda” for the upcoming elections. The former secretary of state and 2016 Democratic nominee called the ultimatum presented by Democrats - “immediate impeachment or nothing” - a “false choice” in an op-ed published in The Washington Post. “History suggests there’s a better way to think about the choices ahead.” Clinton, whose husband, President Bill Clinton, was impeached in 1998, called the issue “personal” and said that while some might argue she was “not the right messenger,” her experience in politics has proven otherwise. “My perspective is not just that of a former candidate and target of the Russian plot. I am also a former senator and secretary of state who served during much of [Russian President] Vladi­mir Putin’s ascent, sat across the table from him and knows firsthand that he seeks to weaken our country,” she wrote.

WaPo Poll- Support For Trump Impeachment At All-Time Low - A national survey conducted by ABC News/Washington Post reveals that support for impeaching President Trump has fallen to an all-time low following the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russia's involvement in the 2016 US election, which found that President Trump and his campaign did not coordinate with the Kremlin to affect the outcome of the election.  According to the new poll released on Friday, support for impeachment dropped to 37%, down from 40% in January. For context, support to impeach Trump hit a high of 49% in August.  While the overall figure dropped - Democrat support of impeachment actually rose to 62%, but sharply to 36% among Independent voters, and 10% among Republicans.  The public overall appears cautiously supportive of the Mueller report, which Trump has characterized as “a total hit job.” Fifty-one percent in this survey, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, call the report fair and even-handed – just a bare majority, albeit far more than the 21 percent who say it’s unfair. Still, that leaves many, 28 percent, who are withholding judgment on whether Mueller’s report is fair or not. While criticizing the report, Trump has claimed “complete and total exoneration” in its findings. Again the public’s response differs: Thirty-one percent say the report cleared Trump of all wrongdoing, almost entirely an ingathering of his political supporters. Many more, 53 percent, say the report did not exonerate Trump. An additional 16 percent have no opinion. -ABC News

Debunking All The Assange Smears - Caitlin Johnstone - Have you ever noticed how whenever someone inconveniences the dominant western power structure, the entire political/media class rapidly becomes very, very interested in letting us know how evil and disgusting that person is? It’s true of the leader of every nation which refuses to allow itself to be absorbed into the blob of the US-centralized power alliance, it’s true of anti-establishment political candidates, and it’s true of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.Corrupt and unaccountable power uses its political and media influence to smear Assange because, as far as the interests of corrupt and unaccountable power are concerned, killing his reputation is as good as killing him. If everyone can be paced into viewing him with hatred and revulsion, they’ll be far less likely to take WikiLeaks publications seriously, and they’ll be far more likely to consent to Assange’s imprisonment, thereby establishing a precedent for the future prosecution of leak-publishing journalists around the world. Someone can be speaking 100 percent truth to you, but if you’re suspicious of him you won’t believe anything he’s saying. If they can manufacture that suspicion with total or near-total credence, then as far as our rulers are concerned it’s as good as putting a bullet in his head.Those of us who value truth and light need to fight this smear campaign in order to keep our fellow man from signing off on a major leap in the direction of Orwellian dystopia, and a big part of that means being able to argue against those smears and disinformation wherever they appear. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find any kind of centralized source of information which comprehensively debunks all the smears in a thorough and engaging way, so with the help ofhundreds of tips from my readers and social media followers I’m going to attempt to make one here. What follows is my attempt at creating a tool kit people can use to fight against Assange smears wherever they encounter them, by refuting the disinformation with truth and solid argumentation. This article is an ongoing project which will be updated regularly where it appears on Medium and as new information comes in and new smears spring up in need of refutation.

The Prosecution Of Julian Assange Is Infinitely Bigger Than Assange -Caitlin Johnstone - Julian Assange’s mother reported yesterday that the WikiLeaks founder has not been permitted any visitors during his detention in Belmarsh Prison, including from doctors and his lawyers. Doctors who visited Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy have attested that he urgently needs medical care. Belmarsh is a maximum security prison sometimes referred to as “the UK’s Guantanamo Bay“.And yet we’re asked to believe that this has something to do with an alleged bail violation and a US extradition request for alleged computer crimes carrying a maximum sentence of five years. If you zoom out and listen to the less-informed chatter of the overt propagandists and the brainwashed rank-and-file western mass media consumers, you will also see that people believe this has something to do with Russia and rape allegations as well.Actually, none of these things are true. Assange is being imprisoned under draconian conditions for journalism, and for journalism only. The Obama administration declined to prosecute him after WikiLeaks’ publication of the Manning leaks out of concern that doing so would endanger press freedoms, and the Obama administration didn’t have any more evidence at its disposal than the Trump administration has now. The “crime” Assange is accused of consists of nothing other thanstandard journalistic practices that investigative journalists engage in all the time, including source protection and encouraging the source to obtain more material. The only thing that has changed is an increased willingness in the White House to prosecute journalists for practicing journalism, and there are an abundance of reasons to believe that he will be hit with far more serious charges once extradited to US soil. They’re not going to all this trouble for a bail violation and a five-year maximum sentence. But if you zoom out even further, in the grand scheme of things this barely even has anything to do with Assange. Sure, he has of course been a thorn in the side of those who operate the transnational western power alliance, and given the choice they would of course prefer him to be locked up or dead than free and alive. But that’s not what the corrupt influencers who are strangling our world are shooting for here. They are making a grab for something much, much bigger. Assange just happens to be a stepping stone along the way.

  Snowden archives at great risk — As alarming as Assange's arrest - Billionaire Pierre Omidyar (right), the owner of the Snowden archives through his company, First Look Media, has shut down the analysis, release, and custodial care of the archives claiming lack of funds. Since 2013, only 10% of the documents have been published. The decision was made just this past March, 2019, with the full participation of Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill, star journalists with The Intercept, one of First Look Media’s various properties, as reported by MintPress News. Laura Poitras — who with Glenn Greenwald was originally given custody of the documents by Edward Snowden in 2013 and works for Field of Vision, a First Look film company — was purposefully excluded from the decision, as was the company’s board of directors. In 2014, Greenwald, Poitras, and Scahill launched The Intercept, an online publication whose initial raison d'etre was the reporting of the Snowden material. In short order, the effort of responsibly overseeing the security protocols and the analysis and release of the Snowden documents were turned over to a research group within First Look. (As planned, The Intercept went on to become the full news operation it is today.) Aware of the historical significance of the Snowden cache, on March 13, Poitras went public informing the Daily Beast of the shutdown. On March 27, she released a series of emails which dramatically memorialized the play-by-play timeline. Poitras was basically screaming bloody murder as the research team investigating the valuable treasure trove was being eighty-sixed. On March 14, Greenwald (shown at left in a file screenshot from 2013) released a statement embedded in a tweet in which he represented that he, Poitras, and “other individuals and institutions” possess “full copies” of the archives. Who else has “full copies”? Snowden? Booz Allen Hamilton (Snowden’s employer at the time)? The CIA (Snowden’s one-time employer and NSA rival)? Greenwald further represented that four media outlets — the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Guardian, and der Spiegel — “have possessed large parts” of the Snowden archives since 2013. He noted that these media companies have “budgets and newsrooms far larger” than The Intercept, implying that they are in a better position to take over the herculean effort of releasing and analyzing the remaining 90% of the unpublished documents. However, it is disingenuous of Greenwald to insinuate that the four media companies who possess “large parts” of the archives have commensurate access to the archives as the alleged individuals and institutions who have “full” access. Furthermore, it is not clear if those “large parts” consist simply of the 10% of the archives already released. With Omidyar in control of the goods, only a trickle of the Snowden archives has seen the light of day. Although technically the documents are not in danger of disappearing, now that the entire archives research staff has been eliminated, the risk of the archives being publicly memory-holed has significantly increased, as Poitras so urgently tried to publicize. 

  The Antitrust Case Against Facebook You Need to Know About - Yves here. Don’t kid yourself that Facebook might be considering turning over a new leaf in light of all the bad press it’s been getting about fake news and its spying. As Lambert pointed out in Water Cooler yesterday:  “Facebook’s new chief lawyer helped write the Patriot Act” [The Verge]. “But many are already troubled by [Jennifer] Newstead’s history lobbying and legislating for more powerful electronic surveillance. As The Hill points out, a 2002 Justice Department press release describes her as “helping craft” the legislation. Notorious Bush administration lawyer John Yoo described her as the ‘day-to-day manager of the Patriot Act in Congress’ in his 2006 book.” • Jon Yoo? That’s quite a recommendation. I mean, depending on the kind of business you’re in. By Lynn Parramore, Senior Research Analyst, the Institute for New Economic Thinking. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website: Former ad tech entrepreneur and advertising executive Dina Srinivasan is author of a well-researched study in the Berkeley Business Law Journal laying out the case that social network giant Facebook has now entered America’s annals of dangerous monopolies. Taking a deep dive into the company’s practice of tracking and watching consumers, even after they leave Facebook itself and as they travel around the web, she describes a firm that is getting away not only with alarming levels of surveillance, but anticompetitive behavior that has pernicious effects on the economy. Srinivasan discusses how Facebook came to have these frightening powers and why they should not be tolerated in a democracy.

 Google knows everywhere you go — here’s how to stop it from tracking you and delete the logs - Google knows a lot about you and, if you use Google Maps or other Google apps, it stores a copy of everywhere you go. I recently performed Google’s “Privacy Checkup” to learn a bit more about what it knows about me, and was pretty surprised at the level of detail it had on my exact locations. I picked a random date: April 16, 2019. It knew everywhere I went, including that I took Interstate 95 to our office in northern New Jersey and that I arrived at 7:58 a.m. It knew that at 1:02 p.m. I drove to Jersey City and took a train in to Manhattan to the New York Stock Exchange before returning home at 4:38 p.m. And it has a copy of the pictures I took at each location. It’s a creepy level of detail. Google says it uses location history to “create a private map of where you go with your signed-in devices even when you aren’t using a specific Google service.” It also says the “map is only visible to you.” The data, it says, provides “improved map searches and commute routes, as well as helping you to rediscover the places you’ve been and the routes you’ve traveled.” I don’t really care about that information. I know the roads I drove on April 16, and I can’t see any reason why Google should store it, even if it’s only for my use. I never know who might be able to access that data, even if Google promises it’s private. You can stop Google from storing your location history and delete what it has already stored. Here’s how.

Amazon's Alexa Team Can Access Users' Home Addresses -- An Inc. team auditing Alexa users’ commands has access to location data and can, in some cases, easily find a customer’s home address, according to five employees familiar with the program. The team, spread across three continents, transcribes, annotates and analyzes a portion of the voice recordings picked up by Alexa. The program, whose existence Bloomberg revealed earlier this month, was set up to help Amazon’s digital voice assistant get better at understanding and responding to commands.Team members with access to Alexa users’ geographic coordinates can easily type them into third-party mapping software and find home residences, according to the employees, who signed nondisclosure agreements barring them from speaking publicly about the program.While there’s no indication Amazon employees with access to the data have attempted to track down individual users, two members of the Alexa team expressed concern to Bloomberg that Amazon was granting unnecessarily broad access to customer data that would make it easy to identify a device’s owner.  Location data is more sensitive than many other categories of user information, said Lindsey Barrett, a staff attorney and teaching fellow at Georgetown Law’s Communications and Technology Clinic. “Anytime someone is collecting where you are, that means it could go to someone else who could find you when you don’t want to be found,” she said. Widespread access to location data associated with Alexa user recordings “would set up a big red flag for me.”

How Nest, designed to keep intruders out of people’s homes, effectively allowed hackers to get in - WaPo  Tara Thomas thought her daughter was just having nightmares. “There’s a monster in my room,” the almost-3-year-old would say, sometimes pointing to the green light on the Nest Cam installed on the wall above her bed. Then Thomas walked into the room and heard pornography playing through the Nest Cam, which she had used for years as a baby monitor in their Novato, Calif., home. Hackers, whose voices could be heard faintly in the background, were playing the recording, using the intercom feature in the software. “I’m really sad I doubted my daughter,” she said.Though it would be nearly impossible to find out who was behind it, a hack like this one doesn’t require much effort, for two reasons: Software designed to help people break into websites and devices has gotten so easy to use that it’s practically child’s play, and many companies, including Nest, have effectively chosen to let some hackers slip through the cracks rather than impose an array of inconvenient countermeasures that could detract from their users’ experience and ultimately alienate their customers.The result is that anyone in the world with an Internet connection and rudimentary skills has the ability to virtually break into homes through devices designed to keep physical intruders out. As hacks such as the one the Thomases suffered become public, tech companies are deciding between user convenience and potential damage to their brands. Nest could make it more difficult for hackers to break into Nest cameras, for instance, by making the log-in process more cumbersome. But doing so would introduce what Silicon Valley calls “friction” — anything that can slow down or stand in the way of someone using a product.

 Racist, Sexist Diversity Disaster Looming In AI Thanks To White Male Programmers - According to new research by New York University's AI Now Institute, we may be in for a future of racist, mansplaining, sexist AIs which are "at risk of replicating or perpetuating historical biases and power imbalances," reports The GuardianExamples cited include image recognition services making offensive classifications of minorities, chatbots adopting hate speech, and Amazon technology failing to recognize users with darker skin colors. The biases of systems built by the AI industry can be largely attributed to the lack of diversity within the field itself, the report said. -The Guardian"The industry has to acknowledge the gravity of the situation and admit that its existing methods have failed to address these problems," said report author Kate Crawford. "The use of AI systems for the classification, detection, and prediction of race and gender is in urgent need of re-evaluation."As the report notes, over 80% of AI professors are men, while 'progressive' Silicon Valley's super-sexism isn't helping either. Facebook's AI research team, for example, is only 15% women. Microsoft's stands at 10%. Nevermind that women comprise just 18% of computer science majors - which is the exact percentage of authors presenting their work at leading AI conferences.  Big tech's 'overt racism' is also on display - as just 2.5% of Google's workforce is black, while Facebook and Microsoft are each at 4%. Could this be why Microsoft's AI, Tay, turned into a raging Holocaust denier after "machine learning" from the internet over the span of 24 hours"Tay" went from "humans are super cool" to full nazi in <24 hrs and I'm not at all concerned about the future of AI

U.S. intelligence says Huawei funded by Chinese state security: report (Reuters) - U.S. intelligence has accused Huawei Technologies of being funded by Chinese state security, The Times said on Saturday, adding to the list of allegations faced by the Chinese technology company in the West. The CIA accused Huawei of receiving funding from China’s National Security Commission, the People’s Liberation Army and a third branch of the Chinese state intelligence network, the British newspaper reported, citing a source. Earlier this year, U.S. intelligence shared its claims with other members of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group, which includes Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, according to the report. Huawei dismissed the allegations in a statement cited by the newspaper. “Huawei does not comment on unsubstantiated allegations backed up by zero evidence from anonymous sources,” a Huawei representative told The Times. The company, the CIA and Chinese state security agencies did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

Microsoft Discovers Huawei Driver Allowing Backdoor Hack Into Laptops -  Huawei, which is at the center of a long-running scandal accusing China of spying on western establishments, is facing criticism after Microsoft discovered a backdoor-like vulnerability in the Matebook laptop series that could have allowed hackers remote system access, reported Ars Technica. Microsoft said the security flaws were discovered by Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) kernel sensors, which traced the vulnerability back to a Huawei driver. The report noted that Huawei’s driver allowed for remote device management also enabled access to the Windows 10 OS operating system, thus allowing for a backdoor-like hack.  "Further investigation revealed that on this particular occasion, it wasn't malware that was injecting and running code in a user process; it was a Huawei-written driver. Huawei's driver was supposed to act as a kind of watchdog: it monitored a regular user mode service that's part of the PCManager software, and if that service should crash or stop running, the driver would restart it. To perform that restart, the driver injected code into a privileged Windows process and then ran that code using an APC—a technique lifted straight from malware.Why Huawei chose this approach is not immediately clear, as Windows has as a built-in feature the ability to restart crashed services. There's no need for an external watchdog.The Huawei driver did make some attempts to ensure that it would only communicate with and restart Huawei's own service, but improper permissions meant that even an unprivileged process could hijack the driver's watchdog facility and use it to start an attacker-controlled process with LocalSystem privileges, giving that process complete access to the local system. Microsoft's researchers then continued to look at the driver and found that it had another flawed capability: it could map any page of physical memory into a user process, with both read and write permissions. With this, the user process can modify the kernel or anything else, and as such it, too, represents a gaping flaw."

Sharia Law- As American As Apple Pie  - Two of the world’s great financial regimes are diverging. Not the Chinese and the Americans — these are converging. Rather, the regimes of the West and the Islamic world. And you’ll have to forgive me for preferring the Islamic model. Let’s start with a basic outline of Islamic finance. Islamic finance is not too different from most moralistic approaches to finance. It views money as a neutral mediator of transactions. For that reason, it views the ability to acquire more money by simply lending money (riba, in Islamic parlance) as a barren and hence sinful activity – it is proclaimed haram (prohibited) under Sharia law. In this way, it is pretty much the same as the anti-usury laws in force during the Middle Ages in Europe. This view of usury was aptly summarized by the great Catholic theologian and saint Thomas Aquinas when he wrote, “to take usury for money lent is unjust in itself, because this is to sell what does not exist, and this evidently leads to inequality which is contrary to justice.” This remains the basic position of the Catholic Church, albeit with some modification. It did not even take monotheism to recognize that usury was wrong. Aristotle saw it as being against the natural law and lumped usurers in with “those who ply sordid trades, pimps and all such people.” And despite the anti-Semitic trope that Jews have a tendency to lend money, the Old Testament is skeptical at best (Exodus 22:25). Usury is not just haram under Sharia Law. It is haram under most serious systems of moral philosophy and theology. Contemporary Islamic finance favors financing investment through part ownership. In financial speak, this is called ‘equity financing.’ That is, projects are financed through the selling of public shares. When you buy a public share, you get partial ownership of the project and you get some of the profits in the form of dividends – but since you have a stake in the company you are less likely to exploit it, as you may exploit someone in your debt.

Deutsche Bank Merger Talk Ends – Now Comes the Pain by Pam Martens - Anyone who thought that Commerzbank was going to agree to a merger with Deutsche Bank while the latter was under multiple investigations in the U.S. for money laundering and questionable loans to the President of the United States, a man who was himself under a criminal probe until last month, was likely off their meds.Why Commerzbank allowed the speculation of a merger to proceed this long is the real question. At any event, both banks confirmed this morning that merger talks have ended with a spokesperson for Commerzbank saying this:“After careful analysis it became apparent that such a combination would not be in the interests of either bank’s shareholders or other stakeholders.”The breakdown of merger talks comes on the heels of a report on CNN last evening that Deutsche Bank has “begun the process of providing financial records to New York State’s Attorney General in response to a subpoena for documents related to loans made to President Donald Trump and his business.”Deutsche Bank is also the subject of a probe by the House Financial Services Committee and House Intelligence Committee. Congressman Adam Schiff, Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, told Politico last week that “As part of our oversight authority and authorized investigation into allegations of potential foreign influence on the U.S. political process, the House Intelligence Committee today issued subpoenas to multiple financial institutions in coordination with the House Financial Services Committee, including a friendly subpoena to Deutsche Bank, which has been cooperative with the Committees.” According to news reports, the other banks receiving subpoenas or document requests include JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Capital One, Royal Bank of Canada and Toronto Dominion Bank.The potential for more fines and reputational damage to Deutsche Bank is extensive. Last month Bloomberg sized up the bank’s risk management skills as follows: “Lax money-laundering controls, market rigging, selling toxic securities—Germany’s Deutsche Bank has been investigated for all of these practices since the 2008 financial crisis, running up $18.3 billion in fines and legal costs, more than any other European bank. Regulators and prosecutors have raided the bank’s Frankfurt headquarters, subpoenaed documents and grilled executives in dozens of probes on three continents.”

Cryptocurrencies shed $10 billion in an hour on worries over ‘stablecoin’ tether - Cryptocurrencies fell amid reignited regulatory worries and questions around the legitimacy of so-called “stablecoin” tether. The entire market shed about $10 billion in value in the space of an hour late Thursday, CoinMarketCap data showed. This after the New York attorney general accused the operator of bitcoin exchange Bitfinex and tether issuer Tether Limited of hiding an $850 million loss. The state’s top lawyer alleges Bitfinex used at least $700 million from Tether’s cash reserves to cover up the apparent loss of $850 million of client and corporate funds. Its findings were detailed in papers filed with the Manhattan Supreme Court. Tether is a cryptocurrency that is meant to be pegged to the U.S. dollar — otherwise known as a stablecoin. Worries have been raised over whether Tether Limited holds enough dollars to back all the tokens in circulation. The price of bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency, has fallen 4% over the last 24 hours, according to industry website CoinDesk. In the same time period, the prices of ethereum and XRP — the world’s second and third-largest virtual currencies by market value — also dropped 6% and 3%, respectively. Tether’s price fell over 1%, coming off its dollar peg. The attorney general’s office said Thursday that Bitfinex handed $850 million to a Panama entity called Crypto Capital without disclosing it to investors. Executives at Bitfinex and Tether then allegedly “engaged in a series of conflicted corporate transactions” — where Bitfinex gave itself access to Tether’s cash reserves.

Bitcoin Tumbles After Officials Allege $850 Million Fraud - The cryptocurrency markets buckled on Thursday evening after New York’s attorney general accused the owners of a prominent exchange, Bitfinex, of using illicit transactions to mask $850 million in missing funds. According to a 23-page legal filing, Bitfinex raided the reserves of a so-called stablecoin called Tether—a digital currency purportedly backed one-to-one by U.S. dollars—in order to pay out customers demanding withdrawals from the exchange. The news caused Bitcoin to fall nearly 6% to around $5,100, and raises questions about the viability of Tether, which many investors use as a surrogate for dollars to move in and out of different cryptocurrencies. The attorney general’s filing says the funds raided from Tether amount to $850 million. According to Chad Cascarilla, who is head of a company called Paxos that makes a rival stablecoin, that figure would account for at least 27% of Tether’s dollar reserves. Instead of U.S. dollars, the $850 million is instead backed by a revolving line of credit from the exchange Bitfinex. But as Thursday’s filing explains, Bitfinex appears to have borrowed that amount in order to cover a shortfall of its own. The filing also reproduces messages written by a Bitfinex executive last August, which plead for capital from a Panamanian payment processor to which it had transferred funds. “The situation looks bad. We have more than 500 withdrawals pending and they keep coming in … [T]oo much money is parked with you and we are currently walking on a very thin crust of ice,” reads a message from a Bitfinex executive who used the name “Merlin.” Merlin also warns his contact, “Oz,” that the situation posed a grave threat to the larger crypto industry and that Bitcoin “could tank” to below $1,000 if they didn’t act quickly.

 Supreme Court rules in favor of businesses seeking to block class-action lawsuits The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled on behalf of a business seeking to stop a class-action lawsuit brought forward by an employee, handing a win to companies that want to block some types of litigation. In a 5-4 ruling divided along ideological lines, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that under the Federal Arbitration Act, an "ambiguous" arbitration agreement between an employee and their employer does not mean that that both parties agreed to any class arbitration. Roberts was joined in the decision by conservative Justices Neil Gorsuch, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas, who also wrote his own concurring opinion. However, each of the court's four liberal justices wrote their own dissenting opinions opposing the ruling, signaling a deep divide on the court when it comes to arbitration cases. The case centered around any employee named Frank Varela, who filed a class-action lawsuit against his employer, Lamps Plus, after a hacker used a spear-phishing attempt to get another employee to inadvertently reveal the tax information of about 1,300 staffers. Varela had signed an arbitration agreement with the company, but filed state and federal lawsuits against Lamps Plus. The business sought to dismiss the lawsuits, pushing for individual legal action instead. A district court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Varela, finding that the arbitration agreement he signed “include[d] no express mention of class proceedings.” However, the conservative majority on the court on Wednesday overturned those rulings.

Claims of Shoddy Production Draw Scrutiny to a Second Boeing Jet - NYT - When Boeing broke ground on its new factory near Charleston in 2009, the plant was trumpeted as a state-of-the-art manufacturing hub, building one of the most advanced aircraft in the world. But in the decade since, the factory, which makes the 787 Dreamliner, has been plagued by shoddy production and weak oversight that have threatened to compromise safety. A New York Times review of hundreds of pages of internal emails, corporate documents and federal records, as well as interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees, reveals a culture that often valued production speed over quality. Facing long manufacturing delays, Boeing pushed its work force to quickly turn out Dreamliners, at times ignoring issues raised by employees. Complaints about the frenzied pace echo broader concerns about the company in the wake of two deadly crashes involving another jet, the 737 Max. Boeing is now facing questions about whether the race to get the Max done, and catch up to its rival Airbus, led it to miss safety risks in the design, like an anti-stall system that played a role in both crashes. Safety lapses at the North Charleston plant have drawn the scrutiny of airlines and regulators. Qatar Airways stopped accepting planes from the factory after manufacturing mishaps damaged jets and delayed deliveries. Workers have filed nearly a dozen whistle-blower claims and safety complaints with federal regulators, describing issues like defective manufacturing, debris left on planes and pressure to not report violations. Others have sued Boeing, saying they were retaliated against for flagging manufacturing mistakes. Joseph Clayton, a technician at the North Charleston plant, one of two facilities where the Dreamliner is built, said he routinely found debris dangerously close to wiring beneath cockpits. “I’ve told my wife that I never plan to fly on it,” he said. “It’s just a safety issue.” In an industry where safety is paramount, the collective concerns involving two crucial Boeing planes — the company’s workhorse, the 737 Max, and another crown jewel, the 787 Dreamliner — point to potentially systemic problems. Regulators and lawmakers are taking a deeper look at Boeing’s priorities, and whether profits sometimes trumped safety.  All factories deal with manufacturing errors, and there is no evidence that the problems in South Carolina have led to any major safety incidents.  But workers sometimes made dangerous mistakes, according to the current and former Boeing employees, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation.

Boeing’s 737 Max Debacle: The Result of a Dangerously Pro-Automation Design Philosophy? - Yves Smith - The aftermath of two crashes of Boeing 737 Max jets shortly after takeoff has led to the global grounding of the airplane. Boeing has been forced to cut production, and even so, undelivered planes are piling up. Big buyers like Southwest American Airlines have been forced to cancel flights during their peak time of year as a result of taking their 737s off line. American lengthened its 737 grounding to June 5 and Southwest, to August 5. Even though Boeing is scrambling to fix the software meant to counter the 737 Max’s increased propensity to stall as a result of the placement of larger, more fuel=efficient engines in a way that reduced the stability of the plane in flight, it’s not clear that this will be adequate in terms of flight safety or the public perception of the plane. And even though the FAA is almost certain to sign off on Boeing’s patch, foreign regulators may not be so forgiving. The divergence we’ve seen between the FAA and other national authorities is likely to intensify. Recall that China grounded the 737 Max before the FAA. In another vote of no confidence, even as Boeing was touting that its changes to its now infamous MCAS software, designed to compensate for safety risks introduced by the placement of the engines on the 737 Max, the Canadian air regulator said he wanted 737 Max pilots to have flight simulator training, contrary to the manufacturer’s assertion that it isn’t necessary. Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that American Airlines is developing 737 Max flight simulator training. But a fundamental question remains: can improved software compensate for hardware shortcomings? Some experts harbor doubts. For instance, from the Spokane Spokesman-Review: “One of the problems we have with the system is, why put a system like that on an airplane in the first place?” said Slack, who doesn’t represent any survivors of either the Lion Air or Ethiopia Airlines crashes. “I think what we’re going to find is that because of changes from the (Boeing 737) 800 series to the MAX series, there are dramatic changes in which they put in controls without native pitch stability. It goes to the basic DNA of the airplane. It may not be fixable.” “It is within the realm of possibility that, if much of the basic pitch stability performance of the plane cannot be addressed by a software fix, a redesign may be required and the MAX might not ever fly,” [aviation attorney and former NASA aerospace engineer Mike] Slack said.

Why Boeing and Its Executives Should be Prosecuted for Manslaughter - If manslaughter charges can be brought against ordinary American citizens, why not against powerful American corporations and their executives? Two Boeing 737 Max 8 jets have crashed within five months leaving 346 dead. Early evidence of Boeing’s wrongdoing in the design of the 737 Max 8 and the company’s failure to train pilots to handle its Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) warrants a criminal manslaughter prosecution of both the company and the responsible executives. Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg has admitted that “it’s apparent that in both flights, the MCAS activated in response to erroneous angle of attack information.” And Boeing kept pilots in the dark about potential failure modes that could result in a taxing mental and physical struggle in the cockpit with just seconds to execute correct decisions and maneuvers. Pilots complained saying that it is “unconscionable” that Boeing, the Federal Aviation Administration and the airlines had pilots flying without adequate training or sufficient documentation about the MCAS system, that the flight manual “is inadequate and almost criminally insufficient.” Denis Tajer, an American Airlines pilot and spokesperson for the pilots’ union, the Allied Pilots Association, said that the MCAS “was designed in a hideous manner.” “MCAS was a monster,” Tajer told the Seattle Times last week after a meeting with the Federal Aviation Administration. (FAA). Jon Weaks, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, told the Seattle Times that the airline and the pilots “were kept in the dark” about the MCAS. “Boeing will, and should, continue to face scrutiny of the ill-designed MCAS and initial nondisclosure of the new flight control logic,” Weaks wrote last week. But evidence is not enough to successfully bring corporate manslaughter prosecutions. That’s because there is a political economy of corporate criminal prosecutions that favors the powerful. And that’s one reason why we see so many manslaughter prosecutions against ordinary Americans, and so few against powerful corporations and executives.

CFPB to give more information to firms under investigation - The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will provide more information to companies subject to enforcement investigations about what conduct the agency is targeting and what legal provisions a firm may have violated. The CFPB announced the changes Tuesday on how it handles so-called civil investigative demands that are issued to companies under the agency's microscope. When issuing CIDs, the CFPB said it will specify the relevant business activities that fall under the bureau’s authority. The CFPB said it made the changes in part in response to a request for information issued last year by then-acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney — now the acting White House chief of staff — who had asked for public input on the CID process as part of a full review of all the CFPB’s processes. “The new policy takes into account recent court decisions about notifications of purpose, and is consistent with a 2017 report by the Bureau’s Office of Inspector General that emphasized the importance of updating Office of Enforcement policies to reflect such developments,” the CFPB said in a statement. Former CFPB Director Richard Cordray was criticized for how he used CIDs to uncover potential wrongdoing. Lawyers for firms that have received CIDs have claimed the agency did not provide a "statement of purpose" identifying the precise law at issue and the conduct the bureau believed was in violation of the law. CFPB-supervised entities that receive civil investigative demands are required to comply as they would with a subpoena, by providing written answers, documents, reports and testimony. The American Bankers Association urged the bureau last year to consider the cost burdens that CIDs create for companies.

Temporary relief from CFPB remittance rule set to expire next year - The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is seeking public input on "potential next steps" as a temporary exception to the agency's remittance rule is set to expire. The rule, which became effective in 2013, requires that money transfer providers disclose specific information to consumers including the price of a remittance transfer, the exact exchange rate, the amount to be delivered to a recipient and the date of availability. But as noted in the agency's request for information released Thursday, the rule provides an exception allowing banks and credit unions, under certain conditions, simply to estimate the exchange rate and certain fees when sending money transfers. Because the exception expires in July 2020 and cannot be extended, the CFPB said it is trying to determine how to proceed. “The statutory provision authorizing the temporary exception expressly limits its length and does not provide the Bureau the authority to extend the exception beyond July 21, 2020,” the CFPB said in a press release. Less than 1% of all remittance transfers sent in 2017 relied on the temporary exception. A CFPB analysis found that all remittance transfers sent by credit unions and roughly 6% of total bank transfers relied on the temporary exception in 2017. "While a substantial majority of remittance transfers may not involve the use of the temporary exception, the Bureau also recognizes that a large number of remittance transfers, specifically, 886,000 of them in 2017, could be affected by the expiration of the exception, and these effects could be particularly significant in some countries or corridors," the RFI stated. The bureau also is considering whether to add a small financial institution exception to the remittance rule and is looking into whether to change a safe harbor threshold that excludes providers of 100 or fewer remittance transfers from the rule. The public will have 60 days to comment after the RFI is published in the Federal Register.

Fed finds AML problems at U.S. branch of Japanese bank — The Federal Reserve Board is ordering Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. to correct anti-money-laundering deficiencies in the Japanese bank's U.S.-based branch. The Fed issued an enforcement action against both the bank — one of the largest financial institutions in Japan — and the branch located in New York, citing deficiencies related to risk management and compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act. Under the written agreement between the company and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the bank’s board of directors must submit written plans within 60 days on how the company will enhance oversight of the New York branch’s AML procedures. The bank and branch must also submit a revised customer due diligence program within 60 days that meets the satisfaction of the regulator. The enforcement action is dated April 23. The bank and the branch must also submit a written program, within 60 days, to ensure accurate and timely reporting of suspicious transactions, as required by applicable laws, as well as written plans to enhance compliance with Office of Foreign Asset Control regulations. The bank must also designate an official responsible for coordinating the submission of all plans to the New York Fed within the next 10 days.

Fed seeks to clarify bank control framework — For bank investors, understanding the Federal Reserve's "control" framework can be somewhat of a guessing game, which poses challenges for institutions trying to raise capital. But the central bank is attempting to make the process clearer. In a proposal unveiled Tuesday, the agency sought to standardize how those owning less than a quarter of a bank can determine if they hold a "controlling" stake, and therefore must register as a bank holding company. The proposal was approved unanimously by the Fed board. “Providing all stakeholders with clearer rules of the road for control determinations will responsibly reduce regulatory burden,” Fed Chair Jerome Powell said in a statement prepared for the Fed's board meeting. “As a result, it will be easier for banks, particularly community banks, to raise capital to support lending and investment.” The Bank Holding Company Act uses three prongs for determining control: owning or controlling at least 25% of a financial institution's stock; controlling the selection of a majority of directors; or having a "controlling influence" over a firm's management or policies. The rules are similar in the case of thrift holding companies. The first two prongs are pretty cut and dry. But in terms of the third standard the Fed has made decisions on what constitutes as “control” on a case-by-case basis, making it challenging for investors and banks to determine for themselves what triggers holding company requirements and other provisions of the BHCA. Under a new proposed framework, which the Fed said would codify already existing practices, those owning or controlling stakes would be divided into four tiers, based on how of a bank's voting shares much they owned. The four tiers are: less than 5%, 5-9.99%, 10-14.99%, and 15-24.99%. For each tier, the framework would establish "presumptions of control" based on various factors such as the size of a company’s total equity investment and director representation. “The framework would focus on certain relationships between the companies that are important in determining whether the overall relationship provides a company the ability to exercise a controlling influence over another company,” the notice of proposed rulemaking says. “The complexity and relative lack of transparency of the Board’s case-by-case approach to control can impose a substantial compliance and uncertainty burden on both banking organizations and investors in banking organizations,” . The framework would also create a presumption of “noncontrol,” which would apply to a company that owns less than 5% of the voting securities of another company. 

 FDIC must have full board to rule on BB&T-SunTrust: Sherrod Brown — The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. must have a "full five-member" board in place in order the consider the proposed merger between BB&T and SunTrust, Sen. Sherrod Brown said Tuesday. The Ohio Democrat, who is the ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, said in a letter to FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams that the "merger cannot be approved until internal directors of the FDIC are nominated and confirmed." In a separate letter to President Trump, Brown called on the administration to "move decisively to nominate a full slate of members to the board." “A merger of this scale not only increases systemic risk and concentration, but it could also decrease competition,” Brown said in the letter to McWilliams. “Not only must this decision be made by the board, which is directly accountable to Congress, but also a decision of this magnitude deserves consideration by a full five-member FDIC Board." The combined bank is said to prefer the FDIC as its primary regulator, and the agency currently supervises BB&T. The FDIC along with the Federal Reserve are set to host two public hearings on the merger, with the first to take place Thursday in Charlotte, N.C. Brown reiterated his concern about the proposed merger coming in the wake of regulatory relief mandated by Congress and implemented by the agencies. “Legislative giveaways and regulatory rollbacks have already amplified the potential for the biggest banks to threaten our financial system,” Brown said. “Further consolidation by large banks would make matters even worse. … A merger of this scale not only increases systemic risk and concentration, but it could also decrease competition.” In addition to McWilliams, former FDIC Chairman Martin Gruenberg — a Democrat — retains a seat on the board, but a third inside director's position is vacant. Two other board members are heads of other agencies: Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Kathy Kraninger.

 OCC official tied to Wells Fargo scandal lands role overseeing midsize banks - Last year, the former top regulatory official overseeing Wells Fargo stood accused of improperly disclosing sensitive information about a government investigation to the scandal-plagued bank. Now Bradley Linskens is getting a new job at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, where he has worked for more than two decades. Linskens, who was examiner-in-charge at the San Francisco bank, will become an associate deputy comptroller for midsize-bank supervision, according to an internal email obtained by American Banker. The email, which was sent Monday, states that Linskens will oversee an OCC team that is based in Chicago. “Brad brings a breadth and depth of experience, knowledge and supervisory talent to the position, and a valuable perspective gleaned from his 20 years in Large Bank Supervision,” William Haas, the agency’s deputy comptroller for midsize bank supervision, wrote in the email. It could not be determined Wednesday what Linskens’ salary will be. In 2017, the last year for which data was available, he was paid a salary of $268,000, according to, which publishes information on government employees’ compensation.  On April 7, 2017, multiple anonymously sourced news reports stated Linskens had been removed from his role as the top examiner at Wells. That same day, the OCC asked the Treasury inspector general to look into allegedly inappropriate disclosures by the OCC’s examiner-in-charge at Wells Fargo. That request led the inspector general to open an investigation. In the wake of the April 2017 news reports, Linskens filed a lawsuit against the OCC, seeking information regarding agency correspondence with reporters about him. The case was dismissed after the OCC provided emails to Linskens.

Commercial and industrial loans: another sign of a slowdown? - There are lots of cross-currents in the economy right now. At the absolute tip of the spear is the decline in interest rates since November, which has led to an improvement in some of the housing market metrics. In the shorter-term outlook, a simple quick-and-dirty metric of initial jobless claims (new 49 year lows) and the stock market (just made new all-time highs) suggests all clear. But there are contrary signs as well. For example, the weekly measure of temporary jobs by the American Staffing Association just fell to -1.8%, its worst YoY comparison since the 2015-16 shallow industrial recession.  Here’s one other little tidbit. Yesterday I read an article elsewhere about how a near-term recession isn’t in the cards, citing among other things a declining delinquency rate for commercial and industrial loans. Here’s their accompanying graph: True enough, although if you look carefully, in the lead up to both the 1990 and 2008 recessions there were only two quarters of significant increases off the bottom before the recessions began. Since the latest data in the graph is for Q4 2018, a similar pattern wouldn’t rule out a recession beginning as soon as Q3 of this year, i.e., July.  The value of commercial and industrial loans is a lagging indicator, typically not bottoming on a YoY basis until after a recession is already over: But here’s the interesting thing. The same graph shows that YoY volume of such loans significantly *decelerated* from its YoY peak before 8 of the 11 recessions since 1945, as well as for all of the significant slowdowns, e.g., 1966 and 1995.No big deal, right? At the far right of the graph, the YoY volume of loans was increasing as of March.Except for this: when we zoom in on the recent weekly, rather than monthly data, we get this: A very sharp deceleration over the past three weeks. Of course, this could reverse with this Friday’s report. And since loans tend to follow bank tightening by about 5 quarters:

Calabria’s ambitious FHFA agenda (it’s not just housing finance reform) Less than two weeks on the job, Mark Calabria has set a bold agenda for himself as the new director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. It’s not just helping to chart a future for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — a Herculean task that has stumped policymakers for more than a decade. Calabria also plans to do a deep dive into problems with mortgage servicing, repair issues with the “qualified mortgage” patch set to expire in 2021, and ensure a better cooperative culture between the government-sponsored enterprises and their regulator. If there is an overarching theme to his goals, it is to ensure the mortgage market does not become what it was in the pre-financial-crisis days. “Anything that's simply a return to sort of pre-2008, I would say is unacceptable,” Calabria said during a sit-down interview. The biggest challenge, of course, is housing finance reform. Calabria is clear he intends to help force the end of the conservatorship of the GSEs, one way or another. At the moment, he is waiting to see the results of a recent presidential directive to the Treasury Department and Department of Housing and Urban Development to deliver comprehensive plans for administrative and legislative reform. Calabria is hopeful to start implementing changes as early as this year. If Treasury and HUD’s final reports on housing finance reform are completed as expected this summer, the FHFA would be set to begin discussing changes to the preferred stock purchase agreements in September or October, Calabria said. In 2012, the FHFA and Treasury altered the senior agreements to require Fannie and Freddie to deliver nearly all of their profits to the Treasury Department in an effort to repay taxpayers, leaving the GSEs with an incredibly small capital cushion of $3 billion each. “To me, the GSEs may be able to retain earnings, may be able to build capital, but I think it will absolutely require a conversation and an agreement between the FHFA and Treasury on what are other avenues for raising capital,” Calabria said. Changes to those agreements would accompany a plan for Fannie and Freddie to exit conservatorship, said Calabria, with no specific end dates in mind, but rather a checklist of progress. “What I see coming out of this is a road map with mileposts, and at the end of the day it's really predominantly in the hands of the GSEs whether they meet those mileposts,” he said.

Black Knight: National Mortgage Delinquency Rate Decreased in March --From Black Knight: Black Knight’s First Look: Prepayments Surge on Lower Interest Rates; Seasonal Delinquency Rate Improvement Remains Muted:

• Prepayment activity increased by 28% month-over-month, the largest single-month increase in more than 2.5 years, in response to declining interest rates and the start of the homebuying season
• The national delinquency rate fell by 5.3% for the month, the smallest improvement for any March in six years in what is typically the strongest-performing month of the year
• March 2019 ended on a Sunday, which has historically led to an increase in delinquencies, and came on the heels of February’s atypical increase in delinquencies
• At 40,400 for the month, foreclosure starts were down 19.5 percent from January and edged close to September 2018’s 15-year low
• The month’s 39,700 foreclosure starts marked the lowest single-month volume in more than 18 years, while reduced outflow held active foreclosure inventory steady at 264,000
• Outstanding 90-day delinquencies have now fallen below 500,000 for the first time in more than 12 years
According to Black Knight's First Look report for March, the percent of loans delinquent decreased 5.3% in March compared to February, and decreased 2.0% year-over-year.  The percent of loans in the foreclosure process decreased 0.2% in March and were down 18.8% over the last year. Black Knight reported the U.S. mortgage delinquency rate (loans 30 or more days past due, but not in foreclosure) was 3.65% in March, down from 3.89% in February.

‘I suffered the whole year’: Thousands of San Antonio public housing units lack air conditioning - It’s only April 10, but it’s already 92 degrees in San Antonio.  Rather than sit on her living room sofa, Margarita Ramos is sprawled across the linoleum floor. She picks that spot for a reason: Sometimes, she can feel a breeze blowing through the windows and front door. Ramos lives in the Alazan-Apache Courts, which was San Antonio’s first public housing community when it opened in 1940. But nearly eight decades later, the units lack basic amenities. Most conspicuous, and potentially dangerous, is the absence of air conditioning. In San Antonio, where temperatures soared to 109 degrees last summer, almost 2,400 public housing apartments — about 40 percent of the units — aren’t equipped with air conditioning. Statewide, at least 7,400 apartments subsidized by federal tax dollars lack cooling capabilities, according to a San Antonio Express-News survey. Those uncooled homes are scattered across the state, including 1,364 in humid, coastal Corpus Christi and 598 in Laredo, along the U.S.-Mexico border where temperatures reached 110 degrees last year.  Although the federal government mandates that all subsidized housing units have heat — even in balmy places such as Florida and Texas — cooling has never been required. In fact, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development generally discourages local housing from providing air conditioning, unless it is paid for by tenants. That leaves some of the most physically and financially vulnerable Texans to shell out their own cash to install window units and shoulder the electricity costs to chill often outdated, uninsulated homes. For tenants paying rent for those apartments, summer days are spent trying to escape the smothering blanket of heat. Scientists predict it’ll only get worse. In San Antonio, for example, it’s estimated the city could see two to three additional weeks a year when temperatures top 100 degrees due to climate change. . Children, seniors and people with pre-existing medical conditions — especially those living in urban areas with more concrete and less tree cover — are the most at-risk of heat exhaustion and stroke. Those aren’t the only threats: Heat can exacerbate conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease and mental illness, ailments that aren’t traditionally tracked as heat-related, according to the federal government.

FHFA House Price Index: Up 0.3% in January, At Real Record High -- The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has released its U.S. House Price Index (HPI) for February. Here is the opening of the report:  U.S. house prices rose in February, up 0.3 percent from the previous month, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) seasonally adjusted monthly House Price Index (HPI). The previously reported 0.6 percent increase for January 2019 remained unchanged.The FHFA monthly HPI is calculated using home sales price information from mortgages sold to, or guaranteed by, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. From February 2018 to February 2019, house prices were up 4.9 percent.For the nine census divisions, seasonally adjusted monthly house price changes from January 2019 to February 2019 ranged from -1.2 percent in the Middle Atlantic division to +1.4 percent in the East South Central division. The 12-month changes were all positive, ranging from +3.5 percent in the West South Central division to +6.5 percent in the Mountain division. [Read more] The chart below illustrates the monthly HPI series, which is not adjusted for inflation, along with a real (inflation-adjusted) series using the Consumer Price Index: All Items Less Shelter.

NAR: Existing-Home Sales Decreased to 5.21 million in March From the NAR: Existing-Home Sales Slide 4.9% in March: Existing-home sales retreated in March, following February’s surge of sales, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Each of the four major U.S. regions saw a drop-off in sales, with the Midwest enduring the largest decline last month. Total existing-home sales, completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, fell 4.9% from February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.21 million in March. Sales as a whole are down 5.4% from a year ago (5.51 million in March 2018)...Total housing inventory at the end of March increased to 1.68 million, up from 1.63 million existing homes available for sale in February and a 2.4% increase from 1.64 million a year ago. Unsold inventory is at a 3.9-month supply at the current sales pace, up from 3.6 months in February and up from 3.6 months in March 2018.This graph shows existing home sales, on a Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) basis since 1993. Sales in February (5.21 million SAAR) were down 4.9% from last month, and were 5.4% below the March 2018 sales rate. The second graph shows nationwide inventory for existing homes. Existing Home InventoryAccording to the NAR, inventory increased to 1.68 million in March from 1.63 million in January. Headline inventory is not seasonally adjusted, and inventory usually decreases to the seasonal lows in December and January, and peaks in mid-to-late summer. The last graph shows the year-over-year (YoY) change in reported existing home inventory and months-of-supply. Since inventory is not seasonally adjusted, it really helps to look at the YoY change. Note: Months-of-supply is based on the seasonally adjusted sales and not seasonally adjusted inventory. Inventory was up 2.4% year-over-year in March compared to March 2018.  Months of supply was at 3.9 months in March.

Comments on March Existing Home Sales  -- McBride - Earlier: NAR: Existing-Home Sales Decreased to 5.21 million in March.  A few key points:
1) The key for housing - and the overall economy - is new home sales, single family housing starts and overall residential investment.
Overall, this is still a somewhat reasonable level for existing home sales.  No worries.
2) Inventory is still low, and was only up 2.4% year-over-year (YoY) in March. This was the eighth consecutive month with a year-over-year increase in inventory, although the YoY increase was smaller in March than in the five previous months.
3) Year-to-date sales are down about 6.5% compared to the same period in 2018.   On an annual basis, that would put sales around 5 million in 2019.  Sales slumped at the end of 2018 and in January 2019 due to higher mortgage rates, the stock market selloff, and fears of an economic slowdown (unfounded).
The comparisons will be easier towards the end of the year. The second graph shows existing home sales Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA). Sales NSA in March (400,000, red column) were below sales in March 2018 (434,000, NSA), and sales were the lowest for March since 2014.

How Millennials Are Reshaping Real Estate - If you want to sell your house to a Millennial--and chances are, demographically, that’s who you’ll sell to--it’s got to have curb appeal.   According to the new survey by the National Association of Landscape Professionals, nearly 80 percent of homebuyers in the United States want a spacious and well-maintained lawn. It used to be that curb appeal was just an added benefit. Now, it’s a necessity.And part of the reason, according to a study conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of SunTrust Mortgage, is uniquely demographic: Millennials like dogs and there is a trend to focus on pets before getting married and starting a family.The real estate market can’t afford to ignore the Millennials, either.  This generation numbers some 80 million in the U.S. alone, and has emerged as the dominant force in the housing market--reshaping everything to meet their needs and demands. According to the National Association of Realtors’ study of generational housing trends, Millennials comprise the largest segment of the buyers’ market at 35%, ahead of Generation X, which comprises 26%.

New Home Sales increased to 692,000 Annual Rate in March - The Census Bureau reports New Home Sales in March were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 692 thousand.   The previous three months were revised down. "Sales of new single‐family houses in March 2019 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 692,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 4.5 percent above the revised February rate of 662,000 and is 3.0 percent above the March 2018 estimate of 672,000." The first graph shows New Home Sales vs. recessions since 1963. The dashed line is the current sales rate. Even with the increase in sales over the last several years, new home sales are still somewhat low historically. The second graph shows New Home Months of Supply. The months of supply decreased in March to 6.0 months from 6.3 months in February. The all time record was 12.1 months of supply in January 2009. This is at the top of the normal range (less than 6 months supply is normal). Starting in 1973 the Census Bureau broke inventory down into three categories: Not Started, Under Construction, and Completed. The third graph shows the three categories of inventory starting in 1973. The inventory of completed homes for sale is still somewhat low, and the combined total of completed and under construction is a little low.The last graph shows sales NSA (monthly sales, not seasonally adjusted annual rate).  In March 2019 (red column), 68 thousand new homes were sold (NSA). Last year, 66 thousand homes were sold in March.

New Home Sales Up 4.5% in March, Beats Forecast - This morning's release of the March New Home Sales from the Census Bureau came in at 692K, up 4.5% month-over-month from a revised 662K in February. Here is the opening from the report: Sales of new single‐family houses in March 2019 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 692,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 4.5 percent (±17.6 percent)* above the revised February rate of 662,000 and is 3.0 percent (±11.4 percent)* above the March 2018 estimate of 672,000. The median sales price of new houses sold in March 2019 was $302,700. The average sales price was $376,000. [Full Report]For a longer-term perspective, here is a snapshot of the data series, which is produced in conjunction with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The data since January 1963 is available in the St. Louis Fed's FRED repository here. We've included a six-month moving average to highlight the trend in this highly volatile series. Over this time frame, we see the steady rise in new home sales following the 1990 recession and the acceleration in sales during the real estate bubble that peaked in 2005. Now let's examine the data with a simple population adjustment. The Census Bureau's mid-month population estimates show a 75.0% increase in the US population since 1963. Here is a chart of new home sales as a percent of the population.

New home sales suggest housing bottom is in - New home sales are extremely volatile, and extremely revised, but they do have the advantage of probably being the single most leading housing statistic, ahead of permits and starts. So it is noteworthy that new home sales for March rose to 692,000, below only one month in late 2017 when they hit their expansion high of 712,000:  I have been looking for the bottom in housing, as mortgage interest rates have fallen in the past 5 months, and purchase mortgage applications have risen to new expansion highs: Subject to revisions(!) —this morning’s data indicates we’ve already made the bottom in new home sales, and adds to my confidence that we either have just made or will shortly make the bottom in housing permits and starts. My guess is that interest rates have now stayed lower long enough for new expansion highs to be set in all of the metrics, although because of continuing increases in the price of houses, there is not much room for advances beyond that.

A few Comments on March New Home Sales -- McBride - New home sales for March were reported at 692,000 on a seasonally adjusted annual rate basis (SAAR). This is the second highest sales rate for this cycle (just behind November 2017). This was well above the consensus forecast, however sales for the previous three months were revised down.   With these revisions, sales increased slightly, just 0.7%, in 2018 compared to 2017.   And my guess is we haven't seen the peak of this cycle yet. This graph shows new home sales for 2018 and 2019 by month (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate). Sales in March were up 3.0% year-over-year compared to March 2018. Year-to-date (just through March), sales are up 1.7% compared to the same period in 2018.  The comparison will be most difficult in Q1, so this is a solid start for 2019. And here is another update to the "distressing gap" graph that I first started posting a number of years ago to show the emerging gap caused by distressed sales. The "distressing gap" graph shows existing home sales (left axis) and new home sales (right axis) through March 2019. This graph starts in 1994, but the relationship had been fairly steady back to the '60s. Following the housing bubble and bust, the "distressing gap" appeared mostly because of distressed sales.   The gap has persisted even though distressed sales are down significantly, since new home builders focused on more expensive homes.  I still expect this gap to slowly close.   However, this assumes that the builders will offer some smaller, less expensive homes. If not, then the gap will persist.  Another way to look at this is a ratio of existing to new home sales.  This ratio was fairly stable from 1994 through 2006, and then the flood of distressed sales kept the number of existing home sales elevated and depressed new home sales. (Note: This ratio was fairly stable back to the early '70s, but I only have annual data for the earlier years).  In general the ratio has been trending down since the housing bust, and this ratio will probably continue to trend down over the next few years.

New Home Prices - As part of the new home sales report released yesterday, the Census Bureau reported the number of homes sold by price and the average and median prices.  From the Census Bureau: "The median sales price of new houses sold in March 2019 was $302,700. The average sales price was $376,000." The following graph shows the median and average new home prices. During the housing bust, the builders had to build smaller and less expensive homes to compete with all the distressed sales.  When housing started to recovery - with limited finished lots in recovering areas - builders moved to higher price points to maximize profits. Now it appears the home builders are offering some less expensive (and probably smaller) homes. The average price in Mar 2019 2018 was $376,300, and the median price was $302,700. The second graph shows the percent of new homes sold by price. About 6% of new homes sold were under $150K in Mar 2019.  This is down from 30% in 2002, but up from recent levels.  In general, the under $150K bracket is going away.    The $400K+ bracket increased significantly since the housing recovery started, but has started to decline.  Still, a majority of new homes (about 56%) in the U.S., are in the $200K to $400K range.

HVS: Q1 2019 Homeownership and Vacancy Rates - The Census Bureau released the Residential Vacancies and Homeownership report for Q1 2019. This report is frequently mentioned by analysts and the media to track household formation, the homeownership rate, and the homeowner and rental vacancy rates.  However, there are serious questions about the accuracy of this survey.   The Census Bureau is investigating the differences between the HVS, ACS and decennial Census, and analysts probably shouldn't use the HVS to estimate the excess vacant supply or household formation, or rely on the homeownership rate, except as a guide to the trend."National vacancy rates in the first quarter 2019 were 7.0 percent for rental housing and 1.4 percent for homeowner housing. The rental vacancy rate of 7.0 percent was virtually unchanged from the rate in the first quarter 2018, but 0.4 percentage points higher than the rate in the fourth quarter 2018 (6.6 percent). The homeowner vacancy rate of 1.4 percent was 0.1 percentage point lower than the rate in the first quarter 2018 (1.5 percent), but not statistically different from the rate in the fourth quarter 2018. The homeownership rate of 64.2 percent was virtually unchanged from the rate in the first quarter 2018, but 0.6 percentage points lower than the rate in the fourth quarter 2018 (64.8 percent)." The Red dots are the decennial Census homeownership rates for April 1st 1990, 2000 and 2010. The HVS homeownership rate decreased to 64.2% in Q1, from 64.8% in Q4.I'd put more weight on the decennial Census numbers - given changing demographics, the homeownership rate has bottomed. The HVS homeowner vacancy decreased to 1.4% in Q1. The rental vacancy rate increased to 7.0% in Q1.  Overall this suggests that vacancies have declined significantly, and my guess is the homeownership rate has bottomed - and that the rental vacancy rate is close to the bottom for this cycle.

Hotels: Occupancy Rate Increased Year-over-year - From STR: US hotel results for week ending 13 April The U.S. hotel industry reported positive year-over-year results in the three key performance metrics during the week of 7-13 April 2019, according to data from STR. In comparison with the week of 8-14 April 2018, the industry recorded the following:
• Occupancy: +2.4% to 69.9%
• Average daily rate (ADR): +4.4% to US$136.25
• Revenue per available room (RevPAR): +6.9% to US$95.22
The following graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average. The red line is for 2019, dash light blue is 2018, blue is the median, and black is for 2009 (the worst year probably since the Great Depression for hotels). A decent start for 2019 - close, to-date, compared to the previous 4 years. Seasonally, the occupancy rate will mostly move sideways during the Spring travel season, and then increase during the Summer.

 Michigan Consumer Sentiment: Sideways Move for April Final  -The April Final came in at 97.2, down 1.2 from the March Final reading. had forecast 97.1.Surveys of Consumers chief economist, Richard Curtin, makes the following comments: The Index of Consumer Sentiment has moved sideways, recording only small monthly variations since Trump first entered office. The Sentiment Index has averaged 97.2 in the past 28 months, identical to the April 2019 reading. Moreover, the Sentiment Index has remained between 95.0 and 99.0 for 21 of the past 28 months. Variations within plus or minus 2.0 percentage points for the Sentiment Index meant that most of the monthly changes were statistically insignificant. The last time consumer sentiment was as favorable for as long a period of time was during the late stages of the Clinton expansion. When asked about their financial prospects for the year ahead, 44% of consumers anticipated improvements compared with just 8% who expected worsening finances. This was the best overall reading since 2004 (see the chart). Moreover, when asked about longer term financial prospects, 60% reported in the April survey that they expected to be better off financially over the next five years. This was the highest proportion ever recorded, although the question was only asked sporadically from 1979 to 1985 and then consistently from 2011 onwards. Overall, the data indicate that inflation-adjusted personal consumption expenditures will grow by 2.5% in 2019. [More...]See the chart below for a long-term perspective on this widely watched indicator. Recessions and real GDP are included to help us evaluate the correlation between the Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index and the broader economy.

U.S. gas prices are going up — and Saudi Arabia is in the driver's seat - It’s a pretty good bet that you are going to pay more to fill up your gas tank as we head into the summer driving season. Prices are rising rapidly, including a 5-cent-per-gallon increase in the space of five days this past week. And among other factors, you can thank President Trump and his tightened sanctions on Iran for that. Trump is so concerned that his sanctions will raise gasoline prices that on Friday, he said he “called up” the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and told them to bring down oil prices. The president has lobbied OPEC hard in the past to pump enough oil to keep U.S. gasoline prices low. It’s a state of affairs that reeks of irony. U.S. independence from Middle East oil has stood at the forefront of national ambitions since the 1970s, when oil prices went wild and the economy went into a long and painful funk. Almost five decades and an economic transformation later, vehicle gas mileage has vastly improved, buildings are becoming more energy-efficient, we have a growing renewable-energy sector and, incredibly, the United States produces more oil and natural gas than ever. We even export some, though we are still a net importer. And guess what. The Saudis are in control again, thanks to the Trump administration’s sanctions on Iran and the Venezuelan crisis. Throw in some uncertainty in unstable producer states such as Libya and Nigeria, and the world markets may once again need Saudi Arabia to ride to the rescue. “We are really at the mercy of Saudi Arabia like never before, even going back to the 1970s,” said John Kilduff of the Again Capital investment firm. If the Saudis so desire, they can tighten their taps, slow the flow of oil and send prices high enough to impair global economic growth. It’s all up to them. Trump’s Iran policy “is clearly beneficial for the Saudis,” according to an analyst report issued Tuesday by Raymond James, a financial services firm.And that’s squeezing American drivers at the pump. According to AAA, the national average price for regular gasoline Friday was $2.88 a gallon, about 25 cents more than a month ago. The average was $4.04 in California, the most expensive gas in the country. The cheapest was in Alabama, at $2.51.

Trump's hardline Iran policy could cost Americans 'billions' at the gas pump - President Donald Trump’s goal of bringing Iran to its knees threatens to exact a heavy toll on American drivers this summer, fuel analysts warn. The White House surprised the oil market on Monday, announcing new measures aimed at driving Iran’s crude exports to zero in just over a week. The sudden policy shift comes on the heels of nine straight weeks of rising U.S. gasoline prices and at the outset of the annual uptick in gasoline demand. The national average for regular gasoline has finally paused at $2.84 a gallon, following the roughly two-month rally, according to fuel price technology firm GasBuddy. While prices continued to bubble higher in most states last week, the pace of has finally slowed. But the Trump administration’s shock decision to end all sanctions waivers for Iran’s oil buyers may cause another round of gas price increases, creating a “more painful summer at the pump,” said Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy. The Trump administration is relying on Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other OPEC members to hike output and prevent a price spike. But analysts say the producers are fearful of sparking a repeat of last year’s oil price crash, and will likely proceed with caution rather than open the taps.  “With such a policy move, if OPEC fails to increase output to offset the likely drop from an end to Iran waivers, expect oil prices to continue to surge. This will cost Americans billions if the Administration enforces the end to waivers,” DeHaan said. Oil prices, which account for more than half of the cost of gasoline, have already surged more than 3% to nearly six-month highs since Trump announced the decision. The move now threatens to push prices at the pump past key psychological levels and ding drivers in the pocketbook.  “U.S. consumers could be staring down a $3 per gallon national average now, at least for a time as we get into the start of the summer driving season. That’s going to hit consumer confidence,”

 Google Spinoff’s Drone Delivery Business First to Get FAA Approval - An offshoot of Alphabet Inc.’s Google has become the first drone operator to receive government approval as an airline, an important step that gives it the legal authority to begin dropping products to actual customers. The subsidiary, Wing Aviation LLC, now has the same certifications that smaller airlines receive from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Transportation. It plans to begin routine deliveries of small consumer items in two rural communities in Virginia within months, the company said. A Wing drone delivers a package at a home during a demonstration in Blacksburg, Virginia.Photographer: Charles Mostoller/Bloomberg “It’s an exciting moment for us to have earned the FAA’s approval to actually run a business with our technology,” Wing Chief Executive Officer James Ryan Burgess said in an interview. He called it “pivotal” both for his company and the drone industry in general. Drone regulations still don’t permit most flights over crowds and urban areas, limiting where Wing can operate. But the approvals signed by the FAA on Friday and Monday give the company the ability to charge for deliveries of clients’ goods in Virginia and apply for permission to expand to other regions. While scores of companies working in test programs have gotten FAA waivers to perform demonstration flights or to make deliveries over short distances, there has never been a drone company approved under the regulations designed to ensure safety at traditional charter airlines or smaller air-cargo haulers.

 Top auto executives are privately very worried about the state of auto sales -- More than two dozen new cars, trucks, crossovers and concept vehicles are making their debut at this week’s annual New York International Auto Show, the sort of rollout that would traditionally be expected to give a boost to the U.S. new car market. But despite the almost uniformly bullish speeches at the show’s media preview Wednesday, there’s a sense of growing concern, if not outright pessimism, that came across during interviews and private conversations with industry leaders and analysts at the show. “At best, stagnation is expected for 2019,” said Steve Rich, a vice president with auto supplier Autoneum, during the opening ceremonies of the show, which runs through April 28. And that may be an overly optimistic view. January and February saw sharp downturns in U.S. new vehicle sales, though many in the industry tried to downplay the poor showing by blaming the bad weather that spread across the country. Things didn’t look much better in March, with overall first-quarter demand down by nearly 4%. Even powerhouse manufacturers like General Motors and Toyota tumbled, only four brands finishing out the first three months of the year with increased retail sales. Manufacturers are trying to retain a positive attitude. Fiat Chrysler’s U.S. sales director Reid Bigland said earlier this month that it was a tough first quarter, but “with spring finally starting to show its face and continued strong economic indicators ... we are confident that new vehicle sales demand will strengthen going forward.”

Tariff Hangover- Trucking Slump Hits Orders, Miles Decline In Latest Fears Of Downturn -- Reuters spoke with dozens of drivers, regional operators, and industry officials across the U.S. to assess the performance of the U.S. trucking sector. What they discovered was an industry that slumped in late 2018, with accelerating deterioration into April. Reuters noted that the decline in freight rates and hauling is not an indication of an immient recession, but as we have explained earlier this week, it's a tariff hangover that currently plagues the U.S. economy. The slowdown in trucking has been uneven nationwide, with declining orders and miles in the Midwest and Southwest, with a slight uptick on the West Coast, economists and regional officials said.Trucking accounts for 70% of U.S. shipment tonnage, and is the primary means of transportation for manufacturing, construction and retail sectors, all of which have shown weakness in 1Q19. The primary cause for the decline is the sugar high in economic activity last summer, caused by threatened tariffs on Chinese goods, has passed, and the market is now readjusting to much slower freight volumes and prices.The ACT Research index of truck carrier volumes fell into negative territory in November for the first time since the summer of 2016. It bounced slightly into positive territory in January but returned to negative territory the following month. The weakening index mirrors a soft first quarter for GDP, which is expected to be 1.5% to 1.8% range."Clearly, the economy is slowing down," Kenny Vieth, president of ACT Research, said in an interview. "When the economy moderates, the trucking industry can be exceptionally worse than the overall economy because of the deep cyclical trend that characterizes the industry.' The Cass Freight Index, a measure of American freight volumes and expenditure, has been down for the fourth consecutive month y/y.

Texas exports, boosted by oil, rise 3 times faster than the US increase, outshining California -- Robust demand for Texas oil and gas in the first two months of 2019 pushed the state’s export activity into high gear: triple the national rate and contrasting with a slight decline by California. The Lone Star State’s exports totaled more than $50.9 billion in the January-February period of 2019, increasing 9% from a year earlier, according to WISERTrade, a trade research firm. For California, total international sales dipped 1% to $28.1 billion in the two months compared with national export growth of 2.6% to $260 billion in the period. Texas represented nearly 20% of all U.S. exports in the January-February period while California accounted for about 11%. California has seen its share of total U.S. exports fall in recent years while Texas has been growing its share due mainly to the new oil boom. “Two-thirds of the U.S. increase in exports over these last two months have come from Texas,” said Michael Cox, a former chief economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and an executive in residence at Southern Methodist University. “And 99.4% of that is oil and gas.” Oil and gas exports from Texas rose 45% in value in the first two months of 2019, and petroleum and coal products grew by 5%. One laggard was agricultural products, which fell about 22%, reflecting a drop in oilseeds, grains and other farm-related products. Mexico, which bought $17.4 billion worth of products from Texas during January and February, remains the leading export sales destination followed by Canada. Texas’ agriculture exports to Mexico were up 9% in the first two months of 2019, but there was weakness from sales of meat and dairy products. In response to President Donald Trump’s steel and aluminum import duties, Mexico and Canada last year imposed tit-for-tat tariffs on a variety of U.S. food and agricultural products, including pork and some dairy items. As for China, Texas saw its total exports to the world’s second-largest economy fall by 52% to $1.6 billion in the first two months of the year, with the agriculture trade portion plunging 85% in value. Similarly, total U.S. agricultural exports to China were sharply lower in January and February, falling by 48% during the two months, according to WISERTrade. It followed Beijing last year imposing retaliatory tariffs on a variety of U.S. farm-related products, including soybeans, grains, meats, cotton, dairy products, fruit and nuts.

 Headline Durable Goods Orders Up 2.7% in March - The Advance Report on Manufacturers’ Shipments, Inventories, and Orders released today gives us a first look at the latest durable goods numbers. Here is the Bureau's summary on new orders: New orders for manufactured durable goods in March increased $6.8 billion or 2.7 percent to $258.5 billion, the U.S. Census Bureau announced today. This increase, up four of the last five months, followed a 1.1 percent February decrease. Excluding transportation, new orders increased 0.4 percent. Excluding defense, new orders increased 2.3 percent. Transportation equipment, also up four of the last five months, led the increase, $6.1 billion or 7.0 percent to $93.8 billion. Download full PDFThe latest new orders number at 2.7% month-over-month (MoM) was better than the consensus of 0.7%. The series is up 2.3% year-over-year (YoY).If we exclude transportation, "core" durable goods came in at 0.4% MoM, which was better than the Investing.comconsensus of 0.2%. The core measure is up 2.9% YoY.If we exclude both transportation and defense for an even more fundamental "core", the latest number is down 0.5% MoM and up 0.4% YoY.Core Capital Goods New Orders (nondefense capital goods used in the production of goods or services, excluding aircraft) is an important gauge of business spending, often referred to as Core Capex. It is up 1.3% MoM and up 5.3% YoY. For a look at the big picture and an understanding of the relative size of the major components, here is an area chart of Durable Goods New Orders minus Transportation and Defense with those two components stacked on top. We've also included a dotted line to show the relative size of Core Capex.

Durable Goods Orders Show Weakest Yearly Gains In 2 Years Despite MoM Rebound - Following February's surprise slump, March Durable Goods Orders were expected to rebound and preliminary data showed just that - a big beat.  March preliminary durable goods orders jumped 2.7% MoM (from a revised higher -1.1% drop in February)  However, YoY Durable Goods Orders slowed to just 0.8%... Excluding transportation-equipment demand, which tends to be volatile, orders rose 0.4 percent following two straight declines. Defense capital-goods orders rose 7.4 percent. Of course the data is extremely noisy with such swings as this...

  • nondefense aircraft orders +31.2%
  • Defense aircraft new orders +17.7%

And the business spending proxy - Capital Goods Orders non-Defense, Ex Air surprised to the upside... However, shipments did disappoint, falling 0.2% MoM... Some figures used to calculate gross domestic product were mixed: Shipments of non-military capital goods excluding aircraft fell 0.2 percent, missing forecasts for a gain, after an upwardly revised 0.2 percent rise the prior month. As Bloomberg notes, the improvement in equipment orders signals manufacturers are seeing stable demand, which should contribute to a still-solid pace of economic growth in the first quarter. At the same time, companies must contend with larger inventories heading into the second quarter, a factor expected to boost gross domestic product in the short-term but weigh on it later.

  Chemical Activity Barometer Increases in April - Note: This appears to be a leading indicator for industrial production. From the American Chemistry Council: Chemical Activity Barometer Shows Second Monthly Gain in April The Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB), a leading economic indicator created by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), rose 0.5 percent in April on a three-month moving average (3MMA) basis, the second monthly gain after several weak months....“The latest CAB signals gains in U.S. commercial and industrial activity through mid-2019, but at a slow pace,” said Kevin Swift, chief economist at ACC. “As a result, the recovery and expansion underway is likely to surpass the record of 120 months set during the 1990s. The CAB reading suggests that there are glimmers of hope for improving activity in the closing months of the year.”.. Applying the CAB back to 1912, it has been shown to provide a lead of two to fourteen months, with an average lead of eight months at cycle peaks as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The median lead was also eight months. At business cycle troughs, the CAB leads by one to seven months, with an average lead of four months. The median lead was three months. The CAB is rebased to the average lead (in months) of an average 100 in the base year (the year 2012 was used) of a reference time series. The latter is the Federal Reserve’s Industrial Production Index. This graph shows the year-over-year change in the 3-month moving average for the Chemical Activity Barometer compared to Industrial Production.  It does appear that CAB (red) generally leads Industrial Production (blue).

Richmond Fed Manufacturing: Moderate Growth in April -  Today the Richmond Fed Manufacturing Composite Index decreased to 3 for the month of April, down from last month's had forecast 10. Because of the highly volatile nature of this index, we include a 3-month moving average to facilitate the identification of trends, now at 9.7, which indicates expansion. The complete data series behind today's Richmond Fed manufacturing report, which dates from November 1993, is available here. Here is a snapshot of the complete Richmond Fed Manufacturing Composite series.  Here is the latest Richmond Fed manufacturing overview. Fifth District manufacturing activity moderated in April, according to the latest survey from the Richmond Fed. The composite index fell from 10 in March to 3 in April, weighed down by slightly negative readings in the indexes for both shipments and new orders but buoyed by a positive reading for the third component index, employment. Firms were optimistic, expecting conditions to improve in the next six months. Survey results suggested continued positive growth in both employment and wages, although these indexes dropped slightly in April. However, firms reported a decline in the average workweek as they continued to struggle to find workers with the necessary skills. Firms expected this difficulty to continue in the coming months. The growth rate of prices paid by respondents rose in April, while that of prices received fell, widening the gap between the two, as growth in prices paid continued to outpace growth in prices received. Firms expected growth of both prices paid and prices received to decrease in the near future. Link to Report  Here is a somewhat closer look at the index since the turn of the century.

Kansas City Fed: "Tenth District Manufacturing Activity Grew More Modestly" --From the Kansas City Fed: Tenth District Manufacturing Activity Grew More ModestlyThe Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City released the April Manufacturing Survey today. According to Chad Wilkerson, vice president and economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, the survey revealed that Tenth District manufacturing activity grew more modestly, but expectations for future activity remained generally solid.“Regional factory growth in April was a bit weaker than in March, but similar to previous months,” said Wilkerson. “About a third of firms noted that flooding and extreme weather had negatively affected their activity in recent months.” The month-over-month composite index was 5 in April, down slightly from 10 in March but higher than 1 in February. The composite index is an average of the production, new orders, employment, supplier delivery time, and raw materials inventory indexes. Growth eased slightly in factory production of both durable and nondurable goods, particularly food, machinery, electronic, and chemical products. Most month-over-month indexes slowed in April but remained positive, with production, shipments, order backlog, and employment all decreasing. In contrast, the new orders index edged higher from 4 to 10. Most year-over-year factory indexes fell in April, and the composite index eased from 27 to 22. The future composite index also moved lower from 22 to 11, as most future factory activity indexes eased somewhat.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims Increased to 230,000 - The DOL reportedIn the week ending April 20, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 230,000, an increase of 37,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 from 192,000 to 193,000. The 4-week moving average was 206,000, an increase of 4,500 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 250 from 201,250 to 201,500. The previous week was revised up. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

How Your Employer Uses Perks Like Wellness Programs, Phones and Free Food to Control Your Life - Companies offer all sorts of benefits and extras to attract the most favored workers, from health care and stock options to free food. But all those perks come at a price: your freedom. There’s a reason labor historians call these perks “welfare capitalism,” a term that originated to describe company towns and their subsidized housing, free classes and recreational activities. Like government welfare, offering any benefits that people come to rely on is also a convenient vehicle to mold their behavior. And just as Henry Ford sought to transform auto workers through a generous though invasive profit-sharing program, today’s employers also use perks to influence our behavior in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. You might think of compensation in terms of your hourly wage or salary. Companies see it differently. Back when I drafted employment contracts and policies as an employment lawyer, companies tended to think in terms of “total compensation,” which also included commissions, bonuses, stock options and sometimes benefits like medical insurance and vacation. And that’s where they stand to influence behavior.  Under state and federal law, companies aren’t allowed to mess around with your hourly wage. A company can’t dock an entire day’s pay if you show up five minutes late. Or issue paychecks only once every six months. However, that’s not true of other types of compensation. Lawyers like me attach all sorts of policies and restrictions on these benefits as a way to influence worker behavior. The aim of such policies generally ranged from a modest goal like getting you to work harder to making it painful to leave for a competitor. For example, companies such as Facebook, Dropbox and LinkedIn have offered free food, but it’s not necessarily for employee well-being. It’s for the bottom line. And if your employer offers a gym, free dry cleaning or – heaven forbid – a nap pod, don’t assume it’s an act of charity. As former Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff observed, perks of this sort mean “that employees are expected to work very long hours and not leave the office too often.”

Empty buildings, empty promises: Foxconn con job continues in Wisconsin - Confirming earlier reports, Wisconsin’s Democratic Governor Tony Evers announced last Wednesday, April 17 his administration's intentions to “renegotiate” the now estimated $4.5 billion contract between Foxconn Technology Group and the state of Wisconsin. Foxconn is the world’s largest electronics manufacturer, employing as many as 1.3 million workers in highly exploitative conditions across the globe, raking in more than $4.3 billion in profits in 2017. The much heralded deal was initially announced as a subsidy of between $1 billion and $3 billion, with the Taiwan-based company promising up to 20,000 manufacturing jobs to a heavily deindustrialized part of the Midwest, just 30 minutes south of Milwaukee and 10 minutes west of Racine. The proposal has been drastically altered over the last two years. At the initial announcement at the White House in July 2017, President Donald Trump, flanked by then Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and Foxconn founder and Chairman Terry Gou, gloated that the proposed factory complex would become “the eighth wonder of the world.” From the very outset, however, this “wonder” was a mirage. The Foxconn Wisconsin project was a hedge bet in the increasingly volatile trade war between the US and China. In order to avoid tariffs, Foxconn could have parts manufactured in low-wage countries such as Mexico and shipped to Wisconsin for assembly, thereby circumventing additional costs brought on by the trade war. However, Foxconn still insisted on its commitment to creating “13,000” jobs in Wisconsin. This bald-faced lie, peddled by Foxconn for nearly two years, and abetted by both political parties, was put to rest this week with Evers’ announcement of his intention to renegotiate the terms of the deal. Speaking to reporters at the Capitol in Madison on Wednesday, the governor finally admitted the obvious: "Clearly the deal that was struck is no longer in play and so we will be working with individuals at Foxconn and of course with the WEDC (Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.) to figure out how a new set of parameters should be negotiated."

 Americans Are In Deep Trouble- 23% Save Nothing From Paychecks - Americans continue to dig themselves in a deeper and deeper hole.  While many have no savings, they continue to pile on the debt and liabilities.  All of these problems will make the next recession difficult for most to get through financially.  A new report by Forbes states that 23% (nearly one in four) Americans are saving not even one penny from their paychecks. As part of its 2019 Savings Survey, First National Bank of Omaha examined Americans’ habits, behaviors, and priorities when it comes to saving, monthly spending, and retirement planning.  And based on the fact that nearly 80% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, the rest of the results of the survey are, unfortunately, unsurprising. According to the survey, only 40% of Americans prioritize their savings for their emergency fund with 27% saying their highest priority is saving for their retirement. 39% of Americans plan on putting this year’s tax refund in a savings account while 25% have never withdrawn from their savings account.  Most Americans are optimistic too, with 60% reporting that they are “somewhat” or “very likely” to be on track with their savings to retire by age 65. But those few decent statistics don’t detract from the scary ones.  Such as, 63% of Americans do not set annual savings goals and 74% of Americans put 10% or less of their monthly paycheck towards savings. In fact, 23% reported that they put in 0% of their monthly paycheck toward savings.Almost half (49%) said they only have enough liquid funds to cover living expenses for 0-3 months and 26% attribute high costs of living as to why they don’t have as much in savings as they would like.  With the level of debt Americans have saddled themselves with, easy to see why they are blaming the cost of living as opposed to their oppressive monthly debt repayments.  However, only 13% say credit card debt prevents them from saving while 13% say student loan debt prevents them from saving. The truth is, the sooner we all, individually and as a society, get a grip on our debt and overspending, the sooner we could be on our way to real wealth and prosperity. It’s an easy journey to start, but not an easy one to go through with.  One can simply find themselves buried in debt while digging out could take years.

 Man poured hot sauce into four-year-old's mouth as punishment, police say — Leander police have arrested a man accused of hitting his four-year-old son and feeding him hot sauce for swearing. According to an arrest warrant, San Antonio resident Demitro Revillas, 24, is accused of hitting and force-feeding hot sauce to his four-year-old child after the boy said a curse word. The warrant states that Revillas and the boy's mother were staying with her cousin due to a CPS safety plan involving the couple's other children. The cousin of the victim's mother told police that Revillas had gone to the store and that while he was gone, the man's son had said a curse word. When Revillas returned, the woman told him what had happened and the Revillas allegedly blew up — grabbing his son by his hand and cussing at him. She told police she then saw the man hit the boy in the face with an open hand so hard that the child fell to the ground. According to the warrant, the boy would not admit to cursing, which caused Revillas to become even angrier. Revillas then reportedly walked his son into the kitchen and began pouring hot sauce into the boy's mouth. According to the woman, this lasted around 4 minutes with the boy screaming for his father to stop. She told police she could hear him choking from the hot sauce. The boy would reportedly still not admit to cursing and Revillas took him into a nearby bathroom with a belt and locked the door. She said she could hear the man hitting him inside. Police later questioned the woman's 14-year-old nephew, who was home during the incident. He confirmed a similar story about the incident. When police questioned the four-year-old boy about what had happened, the boy said he had been hit and that it happened in the bathroom. The officer also saw small dark red/purple spots that appeared to be blood vessels in addition to bruising beneath his right eye.

Silicon Valley Came to Kansas Schools. That Started a Rebellion. NYT — The seed of rebellion was planted in classrooms. It grew in kitchens and living rooms, in conversations between students and their parents. In the nearby town of Wellington, high schoolers staged a sit-in. Their parents organized in living rooms, at churches and in the back of machine repair shops. They showed up en masse to school board meetings. In neighborhoods with no political yard signs, homemade signs with dark red slash marks suddenly popped up. Silicon Valley had come to small-town Kansas schools — and it was not going well. Eight months earlier, public schools near Wichita had rolled out a web-based platform and curriculum from Summit Learning. The Silicon Valley-based program promotes an educational approach called “personalized learning,” which uses online tools to customize education. The platform that Summit provides was developed by Facebook engineers. It is funded by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, and his wife, Priscilla Chan, a pediatrician. Many families in the Kansas towns, which have grappled with underfunded public schools and deteriorating test scores, initially embraced the change. Under Summit’s program, students spend much of the day on their laptops and go online for lesson plans and quizzes, which they complete at their own pace. Teachers assist students with the work, hold mentoring sessions and lead special projects. The system is free to schools. The laptops are typically bought separately. Then, students started coming home with headaches and hand cramps. Some said they felt more anxious. One child began having a recurrence of seizures. Another asked to bring her dad’s hunting earmuffs to class to block out classmates because work was now done largely alone. “We’re allowing the computers to teach and the kids all looked like zombies,”  The resistance in Kansas is part of mounting nationwide opposition to Summit, which began trials of its system in public schools four years ago and is now in around 380 schools and used by 74,000 students. In Brooklyn, high school students walked out in November after their school started using Summit’s platform. In Indiana, Pa., after a survey by Indiana University of Pennsylvania found 70 percent of students wanted Summit dropped or made optional, the school board scaled it back and then voted this month to terminate it. And in Cheshire, Conn., the program was cut after protests in 2017.

Public funding of private-school security grows by millions -A program that uses public funds to pay for unarmed security guards at private schools – including some of the city’s most elite institutions – is on pace to cost taxpayers $22.3 million over the last three years, THE CITY has learned. The effort has expanded in size and cost each year since it was created under City Council legislation and approved by Mayor Bill de Blasio in late 2015 — growing from $4 million for 127 schools in its first year to an expected $10.7 million and 163 schools this year, according to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services. While the vast majority of participating non-public institutions are Catholic and Jewish schools, at least 10 elite private schools have collected funding to pay for guards — including Manhattan’s The Dalton School, Lycée Français of New York and The Buckley School. Tuition at the 10 schools ranges from $37,150 to $51,950 — raising questions among some officials who oppose doling out taxpayer money to private schools. “We’re essentially providing [for] some of these schools that can easily afford to pay for their own security,” said City Council Finance Committee Chair Daniel Dromm (D-Queens), a former public school teacher who voted against the 2015 bill. “It just seems to me that it was a way around funding their own security system.” But former Brooklyn City Councilmember David Greenfield, the prime sponsor of the original legislation, said it isn’t fair to judge the program based on a few high-priced schools getting funds. “The overwhelming majority of non-public schools can’t afford security guards, just like the vast majority of public schools are struggling and can’t afford to pay for their own security guards,” said Greenfield, now the CEO of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.

More than 12,000 Boy Scout members were victims of sexual abuse, expert says - An expert who has been working with the Boy Scouts revealed that there may have been as many as 7,819 allegedly sexually abusive troop leaders and volunteers in the storied organization, according to newly released court documents.More than 7,800 individuals allegedly abused 12,254 victims, according to the court testimony. These figures were released Tuesday by attorney Jeff Anderson, whose firm regularly represents victims of sexual abuse and has been involved in numerous clerical sexual abuse cases.The new testimony was entered into the court record as part of a January trial about child sex abuse at a Minnesota children's theater company.One of the expert witnesses who testified was Dr. Janet Warren, who is a professor in the Department of Psychiatry & Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia’s medical school.  Warren testified that she has been "on private contract" with the Boy Scouts of America for the past five years, evaluating its handling of sexual abuse within the organization from 1944 through 2016. Warren testified that she and her team worked with the group's ineligible volunteer files, which have sometimes been referred to as perversion files.In her January court appearance, Warren said that she and her team have coded through all of those files, determining that there were "7,819 perpetrators who they believe were involved in sexually abusing a child.""From reviewing all these files, we identified 12,254 victims," Warren said. Anderson publicly released those numbers at a news conference Tuesday, saying 130 of those perpetrators are in New York and could face legal repercussions. Earlier this year state lawmakers passed the Child Victims Act, which allows claims of sexual abuse from any time period to be brought forth in spite of existing statutes of limitations for one-year period starting last August.

 4 in 5 Parents Wish Teachers Taught Climate Change – But Most Teachers Aren’t - Across the political aisle, a majority of American parents support teaching climate change in schools even though most teachers currently do not. According to a poll conducted by NPR and non-partisan research company Ipsos, nearly four-in-five Americans — children or not — support teaching climate change in schools, two-thirds of which are Republicans and 9-in-10 Democrats. Despite such support, more than half of teachers say they don't actually cover climate change in their schools — or even talk about it, for that matter. "You cannot explain the story of the Earth without it, and you cannot talk about most natural sciences without it," Patrick McCormick, a former middle school science teacher in Alaska, told EcoWatch.The survey is the first to gauge both public and teacher opinion on how climate change should be taught, reports NPR. Conducted between March 21 and 22, the poll asked more than 1,000 adults ranging from adults to millennials from the continental U.S. questions about whether schools should teach about climate change and its impacts on the environment, economy and society or to rate the threat global warming or climate change poses to the U.S.Almost three-quarters of Americans (71 percent) surveyed believe climate change poses a threat to the country and though most agree that it should be taught in schools, one-third do not think impacts on the environment, economy or society need to be addressed in the classroom.Even though most states have classroom standards that require at least mentioning human-caused climate change, most teachers aren't doing so and less than half of parents are talking about it with their children. "I think it's important to talk about [climate change] in the context of certain classes, but the way high school is modeled, it would be tough to teach really effectively — especially in required classes," said McCormick. "Unfortunately, curriculum hasn't really changed in most high school classes. I read the same books in literature that my teachers did, and the kids now get taught that same thing."

 High school journalists were barred from a Betsy DeVos event. So they took her to task in an editorial. - The students were on deadline, and they were on a mission. They piled into a car last Wednesday and pulled away from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, their public school in Lexington, Ky. With permission, they drove across town to a community college where their Republican governor, Matt Bevin, was hosting a roundtable discussion on education featuring Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The high schoolers — writers and editors for their school paper, the PLD Lamplighter — believed they were following the advice offered by DeVos last fall when she counseled, “It is easy to be nasty hiding behind screens and Twitter handles. It’s not so easy face to face.” So the student journalists went in pursuit, they would later say, of “that face-to-face opportunity." They would never get it. They were shut out of the roundtable, advertised as an “open press event,” because they had not sent in an RSVP to an invitation they had never received and didn’t realize was required. They were confused and dejected. But they still had to come up with copy — and fast. Unable to document the event, or query DeVos in person, they set about investigating the circumstances of her private appearance at the public community college. Ultimately, they penned an editorial flaying the education secretary and the Kentucky governor, accusing them of paying lip service to the needs of students while excluding them from the conversation. “How odd is it that even though future generations of students’ experiences could be based on what was discussed, that we, actual students, were turned away?” they asked in their piece, titled “No Seat at the Roundtable” and published on their website the following day.

US education secretary to gut regulations, seek a “major shift” in higher education - Among the Trump administration’s most far-reaching rule modifications for higher education are those which affect the lucrative online program industry. Despite the prevailing conditions of adjunct professors, typically paid poverty wages without benefits or job security, the industry is seeking to eliminate them wherever possible and cut overhead. The new Department of Education (ED) proposal would do just that. It would no longer require colleges or career schools to supply a course “instructor” for online classes. Many online courses are now taught by faculty holding advanced degrees in their subject matter, just as face-to-face classroom courses are. The change would allow students to be “taught” by an “instructional team” without stipulating any specific credentials. Further, it would allow entire college programs to be handled by nonaccredited outfits from outside the sponsoring university. As part of this overhaul, the ED aims to redefine the credit hour and loosen the accreditation system which governs higher education. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is prioritizing career training in the federal grants applications process. She is also seeking to open up the sluices of federal financial aid to institutions offering competency-based education or “credit hours” which do not meet the current criteria of one hour of classroom time with direct faculty instruction and a minimum of two hours of out-of-class student work. In other words, education is reduced to buying a series of canned class materials of uncertain quality. It is no longer news when the Trump administration hires the fox to guard the chicken coop, but billionaire DeVos’ department has more than its fair share of such predators. A significant role in this rule-making is being undertaken by Diane Auer Jones, principal deputy undersecretary of education and a former high-ranking employee of the for-profit college Career Education Corporation (CEC). Owner of Le Cordon Bleu, California Culinary Academy and others, CEC was investigated and fined tens of millions of dollars for inflating the job placement rates of its graduates, violating a law that prevents recruiters from receiving commissions, committing fraud with potential students about job and salary prospects, and lying to accreditors.

A Western Michigan University–Bound Student Was Beheaded In Saudi Arabia - A young man who had been set to attend Western Michigan University prior to his arrest in 2012 was among the 37 people beheaded in Saudi Arabia Tuesday in the largest mass execution in the country in three years.Mujtaba Nader Abdullah al-Sweikt (also spelled as al-Sweikat) had been accepted as a student at Western Michigan University in 2012, the university confirmed to media outlets.But later that year, Sweikt was arrested by Saudi officials at King Fahd International Airport when he was on his way to the US to begin his studies at the college, according to Reprieve, a human rights group that focuses on the death penalty.He was just 17 years old at the time of his arrest.Sweikt had reportedly attended a pro-democracy rally during the Arab Spring, which led to his arrest, the Detroit Free Press reported. Sweikt was "severely beaten all over his body, including the soles of his feet," according to Reprieve. The organization said he was convicted "on the basis of a confession extracted through torture."   Saudi Arabia's interior ministry announced Tuesday that it had executed 37 Saudi nationals who were convicted of terrorism-related and anti-government crimes. The ministry also released a list of their names. At least three of the individuals executed on Tuesday were minors at the time of their alleged offenses, Reprieve said, calling it "a flagrant violation of international law, which prohibits sentencing juveniles to death."

Former USC Soccer Coach Pleads Guilty, Will Cooperate In College Admission Scandal - A University of Southern California assistant women’s soccer coach embroiled in the college admissions scandal will plead guilty and cooperate with prosecutors, according to the Wall Street Journal. Former coach Laura Janke will plead to one count of racketeering conspiracy by May 30 and, as a result, will forfeit $134,000 and likely receive the "low end" of potential jail time. She has also reportedly agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in the case, according to plea and cooperation agreements filed in court.The maximum sentence she was facing was 20 years, but it is likely she will now get 27 to 33 months as a result of the plea. She'll also be on supervised release for a term of 12 months. Janke must also pay any tax penalties related to payments she received. The length of her prison sentence is still going to be determined on how cooperative she is going to be as a witness, prosecutors said.  Another parent who worked with Janke also accepted a plea deal recently: Toby MacFarlane, a parent charged in the case, will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts. MacFarlane had already telegraphed his intent earlier this month to enter into plea discussions.MacFarlane paid $450,000 to have his children admitted to USC as recruited athletes and, working with Janke, helped create fake profiles for the children. Janke then built profiles for both of MacFarlane's kids: one for his daughter in 2013 claiming she was a soccer star and another in 2017 for his son, claiming he was a basketball player. Both children eventually wound up going to USC.Janke was one of four USC officials charged in the case. Prosecutors say she created profiles for a number of William Rick Singer's clients, stocking them with fake honors for their respective sports. In another example, Janke helped fabricate a bogus athletic profile for the son of media executive Elisabeth Kimmel as an elite pole vaulter, despite him having no record of ever pole vaulting. Janke even used a photo of another individual pole vaulting as part of the submission, prosecutors say. Kimmel has plead not guilty to charges of mail fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.

A Mystery Solved in the College Admissions Scandal: The Family Who Paid $1.2 Million – NYT One of the mysteries of the sweeping college admissions fraud case has been over the families that prosecutors say paid the biggest sums to a college consultant at the center of the schemes but that have not been charged. One family paid Mr. Singer $6.5 million to get their child into college through the recruitment scheme, the prosecutors have said. Another was described in court documents as having paid Mr. Singer $1.2 million in connection with their daughter’s application to Yale. Prosecutors said that the daughter, whom they called Yale Applicant 1 in court documents, was admitted to Yale as a recruit for the women’s soccer team, despite not being a competitive soccer player. According to documents charging Rudolph Meredith, the former women’s soccer coach at Yale, Mr. Singer had paid Mr. Meredith a bribe to designate the young woman as a recruit for the team. Mr. Singer has pleaded guilty to racketeering and other charges, and Mr. Meredith has pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy charges. On Friday, Yale Applicant 1 was finally identified: She is Sherry Guo, a young woman from China who moved to Southern California for high school, and who was a freshman at Yale until last month, according to her lawyer, James Spertus. According to the charges against Mr. Meredith, Ms. Guo and her family were introduced to Mr. Singer in 2017 by a financial adviser based in Los Angeles. An employee of the financial adviser sent Mr. Singer an email “stating that Yale Applicant 1’s father wished to make a ‘donation’ to ‘one of those top schools for his daughter’s ‘application,’” A few days later, he sent Mr. Meredith an athletic profile that falsely described Ms. Guo as the co-captain of a prominent club soccer team in Southern California. Mr. Meredith then designated her as a recruit for the soccer team. According to the charging documents, Mr. Singer mailed Mr. Meredith a check for $400,000 in 2018, and later that year, Ms. Guo’s relatives paid Mr. Singer $1.2 million in several installments, $900,000 of which was sent to a nonprofit foundation Mr. Singer had set up, and which prosecutors argue was used to hide much of Mr. Singer’s and his clients’ illicit activity.  Mr. Spertus said that Ms. Guo and her parents did not know that the payment was going toward a bribe. Her parents did not speak English and were not in direct contact with Mr. Singer, he said, while Ms. Guo herself was naïve about how the college admissions process worked in the United States.

TPG To Strip Manager Embroiled In College Bribery Scandal Of Shares Worth Millions Of Dollars -- As Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli plead not guilty in the hopes that their 'we didn't think we were doing anything wrong' defense manages to win over a jury of their not-quite-peers, private equity firm TPG Capital has taken the unprecedented step of stripping a former employee who was embroiled in the scandal of assets worth tens of millions of dollars.  According to Axios, after a brief internal investigation, the firm is moving to strip former fund leader Bill McGlashan of shares in some of the firm's funds, despite the fact that some of McGlashan's shares in the funds' - in some cases, funds that he himself helped manage - had already vested. The firm has decided to deny McGlashan all unvested and vested interests in four TPG growth funds and one TPG rise fund.  In a letter to employees obtained by Axios, TPG details how it hired law firm Ropes & Gray and accounting firm Ernst & Young to conduct an investigation into McGlashan to see if his actions impacted the firm, or whether any other employees might be involved. Though it didn't find any other evidence of wrongdoing (aside from the criminal charges that McGlashan is now facing), the investigation discovered six expenses totaling $25,000 that were either erroneously charged to McGlashan's fund, or were charged in error. The investigation found:

  • No evidence that any other TPG employees were aware of, of involved with, McGlashan's alleged misdeeds.
  • Two other TPG employees hired Rick Singer, the college bribery scheme's mastermind, but it was for legitimate college counseling services. A different employee discussed such services via phone with Singer, but didn't hire him.
  • In March 2017, McGlashan introduced Singer to TPG colleagues for the purpose of a potential investment opportunity. This was prior to McGlashan's alleged illegal activities with Singer, and TPG passed on the deal.
  • No evidence of fraud related to McGlashan's financial dealings with TPG or its funds. It did, however, discover six expenses totaling nearly $25,000 that were either charged in error to the funds or lacked proper documentation. The firm has reimbursed that money to the funds.

US Government Spending On Colleges Is Already Higher Than In The Countries With Free College -  Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have both come out in favor in "free" public colleges and universities. The scheme could be funded, as CNN describes it, by "drastic increase in federal spending on higher education." Much of the rhetoric around swirling around this issue relies on the idea that government spending on higher education in the United States is significantly lower than most other wealthy countries. The narrative goes like this: "everyone knows that Americans are incredibly stingy when it comes to spending on government services. 'Public spending' on higher education is much lower here than in Europe and Japan, and because of this, people must spend much more on higher education." But here's the rub: that statement isn't true. Governments in the United States pay more (as a percentage of GDP) toward higher education than many other so-called "peer" countries. According to the OECD's 2018 "Education at a Glance" report, public spending on higher education in the United States is 1.3 percent of GDP. That's equal to public spending in Switzerland and the United Kingdom. And it's higher than spending rates found in Germany (1.2), France (1.2), Canada (1.2), Spain (1.0), Italy (0.8), and Japan (0.7).

Rutgers University faculty union blocks strike by professors and teaching assistants -- Last week Rutgers University’s faculty union announced it had reached a tentative agreement with administrators and was calling off an impending strike by over 3,000 professors and teaching assistants at the university’s three campuses in the state of New Jersey. The American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) called off the walkout after nearly three weeks of self-described “strike preparation” by the union, which followed an overwhelming strike authorization vote by union members. The union has not announced when it will hold a ratification vote and has only released self-serving “highlights” of the tentative deal. The AAUP’s scuttling of a strike, which would have been the first in the university’s 252-year history, blocked the faculty from joining the ongoing, international struggle of educators against austerity and other attacks on public education. AAUP President Deepa Kumar claimed the union had won “historic gains” for the full-time and grad student faculty. The deal covers all 2,100 full-time professors and 906 graduate student teaching assistants. The deal reportedly includes securing equal pay for full-time professors with the same experience across the university, bridging a 10-20 percent wage difference between campuses, and giving non-tenure-track faculty access to permanent residency. It also includes a new program that will allegedly allow women and minority professors to appeal for slightly higher wages in order to bridge a reported but not uniform or consistent wage gap of 2-3 percent with white, male counter-parts. Outside of the scope of the contract, University President Robert Barchi also agreed to spend $41 million for a “Faculty Diversity Hiring Initiative.” The wage gap and minority hiring measures, which will cost the university little or nothing, were presented by union officials as “social justice” demands that were at the heart of the supposed historic victory.

Less Than 25% Of College Graduates Can Answer These 4 Simple Money Questions -- Americans have become numb to financial intelligence. This is no more evident than a recent Sallie Mae survey, which indicated that college graduates can’t even answer simple questions about financial concepts, such as interest.  The statistics are not looking good for the United States, a nation deeply indebted, addicted to consumerism, and woefully ignorant about it all.  Not long ago, SHTFPlanreported that a mere 1 in 10 Americans is actually capable of getting an A on a basic financial security test. And even college graduates, who are likely tens of thousands (if not more) dollars in debt because of school, learned little to nothing about handling their personal finances. The big red flag comes from consumer banking firm Sallie Mae. The firm released its new “Majoring in Money” study which asked hundreds of current and recently graduated college students up to age 29 about basic financial concepts. The results are worrisome. Sallie Mae asked these individuals four questions related to credit and interest, and fewer than one in four got all four of these correct. The fact that we have an entire generation, largely college educated, who cannot answer these questions does not bode well for our future as a society.  Not knowing the answers to these could end up costing people a lot of money down the road. According to Market Watch, 83% of college grads carry a credit card as revealed by Sallie Mae, but only about six in 10 say they pay the balance(s) in full and on time each month. Coupled with the fact that nearly seven in 10 college students take out student loans, graduating with an average of nearly $30,000 in debt, the decline in financial intelligence is evident.

The Student Debt Conundrum - Using data from the Federal Reserve, Student Loan Hero — an organization that provides “resources, tools and information” to help “student loan borrowers understand their student loans and make intelligent repayment decisions” — reports thatAmong the Class of 2018, 69% of college students took out student loans, and they graduated with an average debt of $29,800, including both private and federal debt. Meanwhile, 14% of their parents took out an average of $35,600 in federal Parent PLUS loans.Americans owe over $1.56 trillion in student loan debt, spread out among about 45 million borrowers. That’s about $521 billion more than the total U.S. credit card debt.11.5% of student loans are 90 days or more delinquent or are in default.Average monthly student loan payment (among those not in deferment): $393.What makes the statistics even more alarming is that only about 15 percent of student debt is private debt. Most of the money borrowed by students was borrowed from the deep pockets of Uncle Sam. But it gets even worse.  According to the Final Audit Report of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General, “Federal Student Aid: Additional Actions Needed to Mitigate the Risk of Servicer Noncompliance with Requirements for Servicing Federally Held Student Loans,” Federal Student Aid (FSA), the agency within the Department of Education responsible for servicing all federal student loans, has not been doing a very good job:

  • FSA had not established policies and procedures that provided reasonable assurance that the risk of servicer noncompliance with requirements for servicing federally held student loans was mitigated.
  • FSA’s oversight activities regularly identified instances of servicers’ not servicing federally held student loans in accordance with Federal requirements.
  • FSA management rarely used available contract accountability provisions to hold servicers accountable for instances of noncompliance.
  • FSA did not provide servicers with an incentive to take actions to mitigate the risk of continued servicer noncompliance that could harm students.
  • FSA employees did not always follow policy when evaluating the quality of servicer representatives’ interactions with borrowers.
  • FSA management did not have reasonable assurance that servicers were complying with Federal loan servicing requirements when handling borrowers’ inquiries, borrowers might not have been protected from poor services, and taxpayers might not have been protected from improper payments.

Naturally, the FSA “strongly disagreed with the overall conclusion that it did not establish policies and procedures that provided reasonable assurance that the risk of servicer noncompliance with Federal requirements was mitigated.”

Elizabeth Warren releases sweeping student debt cancellation and free college plan - Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Monday proposed eliminating the student loan debts of tens of millions of Americans and making all public colleges tuition-free, staking out an ambitious stance on one of the central policy debates of the 2020 Democratic primary. Student debt and college affordability have become a key dividing line in the Democratic race, between more progressive candidates who favor sweeping new tuition and student-loan benefits and others who support more incremental adjustments to the way Americans pay for education. Warren's new plan would forgive $50,000 in student loans for Americans in households earning less than $100,000 a year. According to analysis provided by her campaign, that would provide immediate relief to more than 95% of the 45 million Americans with student debt. The Massachusetts Democrat and 2020 contender is also calling for a drastic increase in federal spending on higher education that would make tuition and fees free for all students at two- and four-year public colleges and expand grants for lower-income and minority students to cover costs like housing, food, books and child care. The campaign estimates that the plan would cost $1.25 trillion over 10 years. The revenue from Warren's wealth tax proposal -- a 2% tax on wealth above $50 million and a 3% tax on wealth above $1 billion -- would pay for her newest proposal, her campaign said. According to details shared by her campaign, the massive debt cancellation and free college plan additionally asks states to chip in to cover the cost of tuition and fees. Warren has also said her universal child care proposal would be paid for by her wealth tax. Asked about connecting the viability of her new proposal to another, Warren insisted that there is broad support for the idea of taxing the ultra-rich. "For two cents on the dollar, we could pay for universal child care, universal pre-K, universal college and knock back the student loan debt burden for about 43 million Americans and still have nearly, just short, of $1 trillion leftover," Warren said in an interview with CNN. "It tells you how badly out of whack our economy is right now."

 Social Security trustees report shows modest improvement in financial outlook --The big news in the Social Security trustees report released yesterday is that the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) trust fund depletion date was extended 20 years, to 2052. Recent declines in SSDI applications and in assumed SSDI take-up going forward contribute to a small improvement in Social Security’s overall financial status, as did higher-than-projected mortality in recent years.  Other demographic factors—recent and projected declines in the birth rate and immigration—had negative effects on the program’s finances, though not enough to offset higher-than-expected mortality. However, when combined with the “valuation period” effect—the retirement of the large Baby Boomer cohort and subsequent slowdown in the growth rate of the working-age population—the demographic factors are essentially a wash—reducing the projected long-term deficit by .01 percent of payroll. Economic factors included both positive and negative factors, but on balance increased the projected deficit by .04 percent of payroll. The positive factors include lower expected inflation, slightly higher long-term wage growth, and the current strong economy as a starting point for projections. The negative factors were lower productivity growth and interest rate assumptions. With the aforementioned positive effect of changes to disability experience and assumptions, which reduced the projected deficit by .07 percent of payroll, and minor technical adjustments, the overall effect was to shrink the projected deficit by .06 percent of payroll over the 75-year window. Is this good news? Yes, in the sense that the annual release of the report often serves as an excuse for fearmongering. It’s more challenging to put a doom-and-gloom spin on an improved financial outlook—though some will inevitably try. One possible news hook is the fact that the combined “old age” and “disability” trust funds (often simply referred to as “the [combined] trust fund”) will start to shrink this year as more Baby Boomers retire. This is entirely proper and predictable—the Baby Boomers are the reason we built up the trust fund in the first place—but it has never stopped anyone from yelling “Social Security is going bankrupt!” in a crowded theater of bad ideas. (The challenge for the doomsayers, rather, is that they’ve been saying this ever since Social Security revenues minus the interest on trust fund assets weren’t enough to cover benefit payments, so this talking point has become a bit dull with time.)

 Soaring Healthcare Costs Jeopardize Retirement In America - Retirement means something quite different in America today: Increasingly, it is being redefined as “laboring in old age”. In fact, the Baby Boomers that are now reaching retirement age are still playing a key role in the American workforce–but not necessarily by choice. Seniors are mostly working longer because they need the money. Hikes in Social Security’s retirement age, massive health-care costs, depleting savings and high levels of personal debt have made it harder than it was in the 1960s and 1970s to retire. According to a new report from money manager United Income, the participation rate in the labor force of retirement-age workers has topped the 20-percent mark for the first time in 57 years. “As of February, the ranks of people age 65 or older who are working or seeking paid work doubled from a low of 10 percent back in early 1985,” the report found. What’s worse is this: The upward trend is expected to continue, with the report estimating that 13 million Americans aged 65 or older will be in the labor force by 2024. While some switch to new jobs within their long-time careers, for others a retirement job means trying something entirely new. According to the data, the most popular jobs of 65+ people including accounting, teacher assistants, retail… However, not everybody can work longer. As workers with desk jobs can work past retirement age, the ones working hard labor can’t. About 10 percent of those over 50 had to leave their jobs because of health. And there is no getting around the obvious here: At the core of the problem is the cost of healthcare and prescription drugs–the number one biggest threats to retirement solvency.

 Department of Justice Indicts Two Drug Company Executives Over Opioid Sales; More to Come?Yves Smith --On Tuesday, the Southern District of New York and the Drug Enforcement Administration announced a series of indictments against one of the ten largest drug distributors in the US, Rochester Drug Co-Operative, and two former executives, the CEO and the chief compliance officer, and the latter has pled guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. The company has agreed to pay fines and has entered into a deferred prosecution agreement which includes a $20 million penalty. So the fish remaining to be fried is 74 year old former CEO Laurence Doud III, who could spend the rest of his life in prison. As we’ll explain, it’s a welcome development to see the Department of Justice embrace the idea that executives should be held accountable, which can and should include criminal prosecution. However, the jury is out as to whether this action against Rochester Drug and Doud is a training-wheels case for the DoJ to get practice and refine its arguments before going after bigger targets, or whether this prosecution came about due to particularly bad conduct at a relatively small player. We’ve embedded the Doud indictment at the end of this post; you can find links to the other major filings at the end of the press release. As it states: Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Ray Donovan, the Special Agent in Charge of the New York Division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”), announced today criminal charges against Rochester Drug Co-Operative, Inc. (“RDC”), one of the 10 largest pharmaceutical distributors in the United States; Laurence F. Doud III, the company’s former chief executive officer; and William Pietruszewski, the company’s former chief compliance officer, for unlawfully distributing oxycodone and fentanyl, and conspiring to defraud the DEA. Mr. Berman’s Office also filed a lawsuit against RDC for its knowing failure to comply with its legal obligation to report thousands of suspicious orders of controlled substances to the DEA.

WHO: Don't Expose Babies to Electronic Screens -- Infants less than a year old should not be exposed to electronic screens, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday. Issuing its first such guidelines, the United Nations health agency said that older children, aged two to four, should be limited to one hour per day sedentary screen time. The guidelines also covered sleep and exercise. Among the findings were that:

  • Infants under one should interact in floor-based play — or "tummy time" — for at least an hour each day and avoid all screens.
  • Children between one and four should spend at least three hours in a variety of physical activities spread across the day, with no more than an hour of screen time.
  • Children shouldn't be restrained in a pram or high chair, or strapped to someone's back, for more than an hour at a time.

The WHO said under-fives should be physically active and getting plenty of sleep, and that this would establish healthy habits through adolescence and into adulthood. "Healthy physical activity, sedentary behavior and sleep habits are established early in life, providing an opportunity to shape habits through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood," the WHO stated in the guidelines to member states. Being inactive is a "leading risk factor" for mortality, and is fueling a global rise in overweight and obesity, the agency said. Being excessively overweight can lead to diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and some types of cancer. In a report from 2017, the WHO said the number of obese children and adolescents globally had skyrocketed tenfold to 120 million inside the past 40 years. It added that the rise was accelerating in low- and middle-income nations, especially in Asia.

One in six people dying of lung cancer in UK are non-smokers, experts say - Growing numbers of non-smokers are being diagnosed with lung cancer, many at a stage when it is incurable, experts in the disease have revealed. They blame the rise on car fumes, secondhand smoke and indoor air pollution, and have urged people to stop using wood-burning stoves because the soot they generate increases risk. About 6,000 non-smoking Britons a year now die of the disease, more than lose their lives to ovarian or cervical cancer or leukaemia, according to research published on Friday in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. That is about a sixth of the 36,000 deaths a year from lung cancer. “If considered as a separate entity, lung cancer in never-smokers is the eighth most common cause of cancer-related death in the UK and the seventh most prevalent cancer in the world,” the authors state. A “never-smoker” is classed as someone who has smoked fewer than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime. “With declining rates of smoking, the relative proportion of lung cancers in never-smokers is rising,” the authors said. “In addition, the absolute numbers and rates of lung cancers in never-smokers are increasing.” Cosford – himself a non-smoker with lung cancer – said: “People will find these numbers very surprising. They rarely think of lung cancer as a non-smoker’s disease. They’re so focused on smoking as the main risk factor that we forget that there are quite a few causes of lung cancer that affect non-smokers.

 Measles Cases Reaching Highest Number In Decades, New Research Finds (CBS) – Measles cases are approaching numbers the United States hasn’t seen in 20 years. The number of measles cases in the United States is approaching the record, with 70 new cases reported, for the decade in a four-month time span, according to new data released Monday. Pediatrician Dr. Jeffery Avner is on the front lines of a measles outbreak that is showing no signs of slowing down. His hospital in Brooklyn has treated nine cases of measles so far, including an adult and a child who ended up in the intensive care unit. ‘Parents don’t really understand risks of measles because it’s become such a rare disease, but measles does have very serious complications. One in 20 children with measles get pneumonia, which by the way, is the most common cause of death,” Avner said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now reporting 626 cases of the highly contagious virus in 22 states, including New Jersey and Delaware. It’s the second-highest number of cases reported since measles was declared eliminated in 2000. Most of the New York cases have occurred in unvaccinated people in Orthodox Jewish communities. Doctors across the country are also fighting against the anti-vaccine movement among some parents. “They are getting information from sources that are incorrect, that are trying to sell them on ideas and studies that were fraudulent and debunked,” Avner explained. Some experts are concerned with Passover this week there will be an increase in measles cases after the holiday in the coming weeks.

U.S. measles outbreak triggers quarantine at two Los Angeles universities (Reuters) - A nationwide measles outbreak has led health officials to quarantine dozens of people at two Los Angeles universities, officials said on Thursday. The quarantine affects the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and California State University, Los Angeles (Cal State LA) and comes as the United States battles the highest number of measles cases since the country declared the virus eliminated in 2000. The United States has confirmed 695 cases of measles, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday. California has confirmed 38 cases, state health officials have said. The people ordered quarantined at the two California campuses were exposed to measles and could not provide evidence they had been immunized against the disease, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said in a statement. “Both universities are assisting with the implementation of quarantine orders and determining how best to support students who must be quarantined and who live on campus,” the Department of Public Health said. At Cal State LA, the quarantine is related to a measles exposure at a library on April 11. The quarantine initially affected about 200 employees, including some student-employees, the university said in a statement. That number was later reduced to 156 people, the Department of Public Health said in an email on Thursday, and the quarantine will end in a week. At UCLA, 119 students and eight staff members who were exposed to measles at the campus earlier this month and could not provide proof of immunity were ordered quarantined on Wednesday, the university said in a statement. Since then, officials have released more than 40 people from the quarantine after establishing they had immunity. The UCLA quarantine will end by Tuesday, according to the Department of Public Health. The virus can lead to deadly complications, but no measles deaths have been reported in the latest U.S. outbreak. U.S. public health officials have blamed the nationwide outbreak, which coincides with a global rise in the prevalence of the disease, in part on the spread of misinformation about the safety of vaccines. 

Could antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” become a bigger killer than cancer? - CBS 60 Minutes – video & transcript -  When antibiotics were first used in the 1940s they were a revolution in medicine. Before that, diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis were often a death sentence, and even an infected scratch could be fatal. Since then, antibiotics have saved hundreds of millions of lives. But now many of these drugs are becoming ineffective. Scientists say it's a problem of our own making. We've used antibiotics so freely, some bacteria have mutated into so-called "superbugs." They've become resistant to the very drugs designed to kill them. A study commissioned by the British government estimates that by 2050, 10 million people worldwide could die each year from antibiotic resistant bacteria. That's more than currently die from cancer. To understand the danger posed by superbugs, we start with the story of David Ricci.

Climate Change Could Worsen Antimicrobial Resistance Threat, Scientists Predict --Climate change could worsen the spread of microbes which are immune to drugs and substances we use to kill them, such as antibiotics, scientists have warned.Overusing antibiotics, in both humans and animals, is commonly blamed for the growing threat of what is known as antimicrobial resistance. Antibiotic resistance, a subset of antimicrobial resistance, is one of the “biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today,” the World Health Organization has said.The authors of a study presented at the 29th European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) say global warming could also play an important role. The study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal. The team were partly inspired to explore this association off the back of a 2018 study published in the journal Nature, which showed the combination of rising local temperatures and population density in the U.S. was linked to an increase in antibiotic resistance.A spike in temperature of 10C was linked with a 4.2 percent increase in antibiotic resistance to E.coli, which can trigger serious food poisoning; a 2.7 percent increase in Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause skin infections and food poisoning; and a 2.2 percent increase in Klebsiella pneumoniae, which can cause pneumonia. In the new study, the authors wanted to find out if they would find similar trends in Europe, "A region with diverse healthcare systems and societies."

We ignore the disaster in the antibiotics market at our peril - FT - Achaogen is not a company most people have heard of. . And yet its recently announced bankruptcy is one of the most significant — and worrying — corporate failures of this decade. In the global struggle against superbugs, Achaogen is a biotech at the front line. Its failure is the latest symptom of an ailing antibiotics market. Decades of disinvestment have left perilously few companies active in antibiotic development.   Without external investment, small biotechs cannot carry prospective drugs through the complex and expensive later-stage trials they must pass. Against the odds, Achaogen appeared to have succeeded. Its antibiotic, plazomicin, was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2018 for treating complex urinary tract infections caused by drug-resistant bacteria. It is a vitally needed drug and just one of the many new antibiotics we need to replace drugs that are rapidly losing their effectiveness against superbugs. Achaogen was a leading example of what could be achieved by a smart start-up working in partnership with government and philanthropic funders.  In the year before filing for bankruptcy protection last week, Achaogen closed research and development programmes, laid off staff and even auctioned lab equipment online in desperate efforts to stay afloat. It is not alone. Ten of 12 antibiotics launched in the US in the past decade (not all of them breakthrough products) are achieving US sales of less than $100m a year. This barely covers the cost of keeping them on the market, let alone recouping investments. The tragedy is not that investors have lost their money. Rather, it is the signal that there is no viable route to market for new antibiotics, however valuable they may be to society. Capital-starved smaller companies will fold. Innovation will die on the vine. Money already invested by governments and charities will be squandered. Despite agreement about what is wrong, our political leaders have chosen not to address the problem.

 The Next Ebola Epidemic: International slow-walking — and threatened cuts to aid from the Trump administration — could exacerbate a burgeoning ebola outbreak in the Congo.- The Ebola epidemic in West Africa from 2013 to 2016  left more than 11,000 dead and panicked the American public when a few isolated cases turned up on U.S. soil. By the time the outbreak was contained, the international community had learned valuable lessons about how to combat the virus.Now, a new outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is testing that knowledge — and the political will of the global community to mount a robust response.With more than 830 deaths since August 2018, the epidemic in northeastern DRC is the second-largest recorded, behind the multi-country epidemic in West Africa. The DRC outbreak has not yet crossed international borders. Moreover, responders are applying new solutions, including a vaccine that has proved effective.But many health experts argue that the threat is underestimated, leading to a dangerously inadequate global response.As of late March, the World Health Organization (WHO) had received less than half of its $148 million funding request for Ebola over the next six months. The WHO bureaucracy, moreover, appears hesitant. On April 12, the agency again declined to declare the epidemic a “public health emergency of international concern” — a designation that could unlock critical resources needed to bring the outbreak under control.One reason for the tepid response may be the remote location. The DRC epidemic is centered more than 1,000 miles from the capital, Kinshasa. In West Africa, by contrast, three coastal countries were affected, including capital cities with direct air links to Europe and North America. Nonetheless, the threat of spread beyond the DRC worries health experts. Tens of thousands of people a day cross the borders from the area into Rwanda, Uganda, and South Sudan. Indeed, WHO’s statement expressed “deep concern” about the “potential risk of spread to neighboring countries.”

Outbreak- Statewide Hepatitis A Infections In Georgia - The state of Georgia is experiencing a statewide viral outbreak.  Hepatitis A is spreading across the state as 250 cases of the infection have been identified. That’s more than four times the number of infections in 2017. The Georgia Department of Public Health says the cases date as far back as June 2018. The number of cases identified is nine times higher than the total of 24 infections identified in 2017, the department said according to a report by First Coast News.Hepatitis A has been spreading rapidly in areas with a large homeless population.  Some cities in California have even taken to bleaching the streets in an attempt to contain the infection.  The Hepatitis A viral infection (HAV) is most commonly spread through close person-to-person transmission through fecal-oral exposure, according to the department. Drug users, homeless populations, and men who have sex with men are the most at risk for HAV, the department says. Although less common, it can also be transmitted through contaminated food, water or other objects. 31 additional cases of the virus have been reported in just the past week. This HAV outbreak is ongoing, and complicated by the E. coli outbreak also ravaging the state of Georgia.  According to Northwest Georgia News, health officials also said Wednesday that the number of Georgians hit by an E. coli outbreak has increased to 27, up from 17 a week ago. The CDC late last week identified the probable source of the E. coli as contaminated ground beef.

E. Coli Outbreak Linked to Ground Beef Has Spread to 10 States - An E. coli outbreak linked to ground beef has spread to 10 states and infected at least 156 people, CNN reported Wednesday.The outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O103 began March 1 and has hospitalized 20 people, but no one has died, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said. "Ill people in this outbreak report eating ground beef at home and in restaurants," CDC wrote. "Traceback investigations are ongoing to determine the source of raw ground beef supplied to grocery stores and restaurant locations where ill people reported eating." As of an update Tuesday, the CDC said no common supplier of the beef had yet been found. However, also on Tuesday, K2D Foods recalled around 113,424 pounds of raw ground beef over possible contamination with the same strain of E. coli, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced. Investigators are working to determine if the recalled beef is linked to the outbreak in any way. K2D Foods does business as (DBA) Colorado Premium Foods and is based in Carrolton, Georgia. The recalled beef was produced on March 26, March 29, April 2, April 5, April 10 and April 12 and came in two 24-pound vacuum-packed packages in cardboard boxes labeled "GROUND BEEF PUCK" with "Use Thru" dates of April 14th, 17th, 20th, 23rd, 28th and 30th, according to FSIS. The products had an establishment code of "EST. 51308" and were sent to distributors in Ft. Orange, Florida and Norcross, Georgia. The first cases in the outbreak were reported to the CDC by health officials in Kentucky and Georgia, Reuters reported. When it first announced the outbreak earlier this month, CDC said that it had infected 109 people in six states, according to CNN. It has since spread to 10, with cases reported in Tennessee, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio and Virginia.

Deregulation could give bacon a bad taste - Do you know who is being put in charge of regulating the pork industry to make sure your bacon, ham and pork chops aren’t contaminated? The pork industry!  Until now, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service has been responsible for food safety regulation. The agency was founded a century ago to combat brutal practices in livestock slaughterhouses, which included the trifecta of maimed slaughterhouse workers, abused animals and health epidemics. Now the Trump administration has unveiled plans to get rid of about 40 percent of federal pork inspectors and basically let the pork industry regulate itself. What can we do? We can all become vegetarians. Doesn’t interest you? How about everyone start keeping kosher? Or perhaps we can pressure Republicans to ease off on their deregulation efforts. The residents of Flint, Michigan, would support this 100 percent. For decades, the Flint River was an unregulated dumping ground for local industries. When the city fell into debt, then-Michigan Gov. Rich Snyder oversaw a decision to stop piping in treated water from Detroit, and instead use the Flint River as the city’s prime water source. Lately, the Trump administration has pushed for self-regulation of offshore oil rigs, while the nuclear industry is eager to slash government safety inspections and handle them itself.  Similar efforts have led to Boeing being allowed to certify the safety tests of its own 737 Max airliners, according to NPR. And that policy has worked like a charm — except for the recent crashes of two such jets that killed 346 passengers. Former and current Boeing employees interviewed by The New York Times describe “a culture that often valued production speed over quality.”  But hey, every Boeing plane didn’t crash. So stop whining, you big-government socialists!

 Pig brains kept alive outside body for hours after death -  Since the early twentieth century, scientists have conducted experiments that keep animals’ brains alive from the moment the heart stops, by cooling the brains and pumping in blood or a substitute.   This made Yale neuroscientist Nenad Sestan wonder: could a whole brain be revived hours after death? Sestan decided to find out — using severed heads from 32 pigs that had been killed for meat at a slaughterhouse near his lab. His team removed each brain from its skull and placed it into a special chamber before fitting the organ with a catheter. Four hours after death, the researchers began pumping a warm preservative solution into the brain’s veins and arteries. The system, which the researchers call BrainEx, mimics blood flow by delivering nutrients and oxygen to brain cells. The preservative solution the team used also contained chemicals that stop neurons from firing, to protect them from damage and to prevent electrical brain activity from restarting. Despite this, the scientists monitored the brains’ electrical activity throughout the experiment and were prepared to administer anaesthetics if they saw signs that the organ might be regaining consciousness. The researchers tested how well the brains fared during a six-hour period. They found that neurons and other brain cells had restarted normal metabolic functions, such as consuming sugar and producing carbon dioxide, and that the brains’ immune systems seemed to be working. The structures of individual cells and sections of the brain were preserved — whereas cells in control brains, which did not receive the nutrient- and oxygen-rich solution, collapsed. And when the scientists applied electricity to tissue samples from the treated brains, they found that individual neurons could still carry a signal. The BrainEx system is far from ready for use in people, he adds, not least because it is difficult to use without first removing the brain from the skull. Nevertheless, the development of technology with the potential to support sentient, disembodied organs has broad ethical implications for the welfare of animals and people. “There isn’t really an oversight mechanism in place for worrying about the possible ethical consequences of creating consciousness in something that isn’t a living animal,”

 China’s African swine fever crisis ‘very serious’ with stocks falling and pork prices set to hit all-time high - African swine fever has had a “very serious” impact on China’s pig industry, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, with stocks shrinking and pork prices expected to rise to an all-time high later this year. China has already culled 1.02 million pigs since August, with a total of 129 cases discovered, said Wang Junxun, a deputy chief of the veterinary bureau of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, on Tuesday. The number of sows, or mother pigs, has plunged 21 per cent in March from a year earlier, said Wang, pointing to a supply problem in the future. Pork prices rose only 2.1 per cent in the first week of March from a year earlier, but in the first week of April, prices increased by 36 per cent. “Pork output will fall, and supply will be tight. The price of live hogs will hit new historical highs in the fourth quarter of this year,” said Wang. According to China’s statistics bureau, the country still had 375 million sows, pigs and piglets as the end of March, a rapid fall from 428 million at the end of December. But while the official picture is bleak, the real situation on the ground could be much worse, according to two industry insiders who had access to classified information about the situation. The executives at a state-controlled pork producer and trader declined to be named as they are not allowed to speak about the swine fever, but believe official statistics are being under reported. 

High CO2 levels will wreck plants’ nutritional value, so don’t plan on surviving on vegetables - Kristie Ebi, the University of Washington professor who was the lead author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) blockbuster report last fall on the need to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, made it clear that climate shifts are far from the only consequence of rising CO2 levels. “Our emission of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels is reducing the nutritional quality of our food,” she says. Ebi directly refuted an idea that’s been floating around for a while about the effect of CO2 on food production and global hunger. Technically, plants need CO2 to survive: They bring it in, break it down, and rely on carbon to grow. Some researchers have claimed that more CO2 means that more plants will be able to grow, and higher CO2 levels will then help solve food insecurity. That, according to Ebi, is a hugely, dangerously wrong. Not only will climate change and global warming make agricultural productivity and much more unstable, but when plants take in an excess of CO2, their chemical makeup changes in a way that that’s harmful to the humans and animals that depend on them for nutrition: higher concentrations of CO2, increases the synthesis of carbohydrates like sugars and starches, and decrease the concentrations of proteins and nutrients like zinc, iron, and B-vitamins. “This is very important for how we think about food security going forward,” Ebi says. A lack of iron can lead to outcomes like anemia and stunted development; low levels of zinc contributes to loss of appetite and additional developmental difficulties. B vitamins are crucial for converting our food into energy, and the way our bodies function overall. “It’s not just us,” Ebi says. Animals like cows that rely on grains and plants for their diet produce meat and milk that contain fewer nutrients and vitamins, and people who eat meat take in fewer of those crucial resources. To understand just how profound these effects will be, Ebi’s team studied fields of rice that were saturated with CO2 levels equivalent to those we might experience in 2050. They found that levels of protein in the rice declined by around 10%, iron by around 8%, zinc by 5%, and B vitamins by around 18%. “These don’t sound like major changes, but when you think about the poor in countries who eat mainly starches, this will put them from the edge to over the edge and into nutrient deficiency,” Ebi says.

PepsiCo is suing farmers in India for growing the potatoes it uses in Lays chips - PepsiCo has offered to stop pursuing four small farmers in India it accuses of illegally growing a variety of potatoes registered for exclusive use in its Lays chips. The company's Indian subsidiary filed lawsuits against the farmers earlier this month. They were heard by a court in the Indian state of Gujarat on Friday, when a lawyer for PepsiCo offered to drop the case provided the farmers join thousands of others in the company's authorized cultivation program. "That was a discussion that happened in the court today," a PepsiCo spokesperson told CNN. "We told them, why don't you join our program and we will provide seeds ... Either join us or grow other potatoes. That way, we are willing to let go of the case." A lawyer for the farmers has asked for time to consider the offer. The next court hearing is due June 12.  Farmer unions and activists have been fighting back against the food and beverage maker over the case, the latest battle in India between local businesses and big global players.  PepsiCo, which owns brands like Pepsi, Lays, Gatorade and Quaker Oats, is reportedly seeking damages of 10 million rupees ($143,000) from each farmer. The farms they operate have only a few acres each.

We'll be eating the first Crispr'd foods within 5 years, according to a geneticist who helped invent the blockbuster gene-editing tool - While ethicists debate the applications of blockbuster gene-editing tool Crispr in human healthcare, an inventor of the tool believes it has a more immediate application: improving our food. "I think in the next five years the most profound thing we'll see in terms of Crispr's effects on people's everyday lives will be in the agricultural sector," Jennifer Doudna, the University of California Berkeley geneticist who unearthed Crispr in early experiments with bacteria in 2012, told Business Insider. Crispr has dozens of potential uses, from treating diseases like sickle cell to certain inherited forms of blindness. The tool recently made headlines when a scientist in China reportedly used it to edit the DNA of a pair of twin baby girls. Then there are Crispr's practical applications — the kinds of things we might expect to see in places like grocery stores and farmers' fields within a decade, according to Doudna. Crispr's appeal in food is straightforward: it's cheaper and easier than traditional breeding methods, including those that are used to make genetically modified crops (also known as GMOs) currently. It's also much more precise. Where traditional breeding methods hack away at a crop's genome with a dull blade, tools like Crispr slice and reshape with scalpel-like precision. Relatively cheap and easy to use, Crispr is showing up in everything from veggies to lab-grown meat. Want a mushroom that doesn't brown? A corn crop that yields more food per acre? Both already exist, though they haven't yet made it to consumers' plates. What about a strawberry with a longer shelf life or tomatoes that do a better job of staying on the vine? "I think all of those things are coming relatively quickly," Doudna said.

New Roundup-Cancer Lawsuit Exposes Cozy Relationship Between Monsanto and EPA — On Monday, Monsanto Co. corporate spokesman William Reeves admitted the corporation has regularly communicated with U.S. regulatory agencies regarding reviews of the controversial Roundup herbicide. Reeves denied that Monsanto had given the agencies orders to follow. Reeves’ testimony came about during the latest lawsuit against biotech giant Monsanto, as Alva and Alberta Pilliod fight to prove that Roundup caused their cancer. The Pilliods are both living with non-Hodgkin lymphoma after spraying the herbicide Roundup on their properties for nearly 30 years. The septuagenarian couple were diagnosed with the most common form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, in 2011 and 2015. Now the couple is seeking damages related to their use of Roundup after recent studies have linked the world’s most popular herbicide to cancer. Courthouse News reported on the latest developments in the case: “Attorney Brent Wisner, representing plaintiffs Alva and Alberta Pilliod, played video testimony of Monsanto corporate spokesman William Reeves in court Monday, in which he acknowledged Monsanto executives had exchanged text messages with regulators who sat on a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency committee that found glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, is not carcinogenic for humans.The Pilliods’ legal team hopes these email and text exchanges will be enough evidence of collusion between Monsanto and the EPA to delay a review by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a public health agency connected to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” The text messages show that on June 18, 2015, Monsanto scientist Eric Sachs sent a text message to former EPA toxicologist Mary Manibusan, looking for help finding a contact in the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).  The ATSDR had begun working on the profile after the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research concluded that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans.”   In another text, Manibusan told Dan Jenkins, Monsanto’s liaison to U.S. regulatory agencies like the EPA, that he may need help “trying to do everything we can to keep from having a domestic IARC occur with this group,” in reference to the ATSDR. By June 23, 2015, Jenkins wrote to his Monsanto colleagues alerting them that Jack Housenger, director of EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, would put a hold on the report..

Court Orders EPA To Decide Whether To Ban Brain-Damaging Pesticide from Food — Today, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to decide by mid-July whether to ban chlorpyrifos, the organophosphate pesticide linked to neurodevelopmental damage in children. Organophosphates like chlorpyrifos were first developed by the Nazis for chemical warfare but were later repurposed for agriculture. Chlorpyrifos was banned from home use nearly two decades ago, as it is too toxic to children. “We commend the court for this ruling as it forces the EPA to stop stalling,” said Patti Goldman, Earthjustice attorney. “While we are moving forward, the tragedy is that children are being exposed to chlorpyrifos, a pesticide science has long shown is unsafe. We hope Trump’s EPA finally decides to protect the future of countless children and the health of millions of farmworkers.” Last year, the same court ordered EPA to finalize its proposed ban on chlorpyrifos based on undisputed findings that the pesticide is unsafe for public health and particularly harmful to children and farmworkers, but EPA asked and received a rehearing. Last month, advocates represented by Earthjustice argued again in court that chlorpyrifos has no place near fruits or vegetables. Today’s court order comes two years after the Trump administration reversed EPA’s own proposal to ban this pesticide. That decision happened weeks after former EPA boss Scott Pruitt met with the head of the largest manufacturer of chlorpyrifos, Dow Chemical (now DowDupont), which sells it under the name of Lorsban. In 2017, Pruitt falsely claimed the science is “unresolved,” and decided EPA would study the issue until 2022 even though agency scientists said chlorpyrifos is unsafe. Chlorpyrifos is a widely used agricultural pesticide linked to reduced IQ, attention deficit disorder, and other developmental damage in children, according to multiple studies. Chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate that comes from the same chemical family as sarin nerve gas, is used on foods like strawberries, apples, citrus, broccoli, corn and more.

Deadly Kissing Bug Spreads to Delaware, CDC Confirms - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that the kissing bug, which can transmit a potentially deadly parasite, has spread to Delaware, ABC News reported Wednesday.The CDC had warned in September of last year that the bug was spreading north from South and Central America, and had already been sighted in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, The Delaware News Journal reported. But the agency confirmed last week that a bug that bit a child's face in Kent, Delaware in July 2018 was indeed a kissing bug. Kissing bugs earned their name for their habit of biting people on their face, according to the World Health Organization. They are also called triatomine bugs, a range of species that can carry the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes Chagas disease, the CDC explains. Chagas can lead to stroke or heart failure, though most people who are infected experience no symptoms. Initial symptoms can include fever, fatigue, aches, headache, rash and swelling at the site of transmission, according to ABC News. There are currently 300,000 people in the U.S. and 8 million people in Central and South America living with the disease. Most of those living in the U.S. with the disease were infected while visiting Latin America,The Delaware News Journal reported. However, researchers have predicted U.S. infections could increase withclimate change."We know the bugs are already across the bottom two-thirds of the U.S., so the bugs are here, the parasites are here. Very likely with climate change they will shift further north and the range of some species will extend," Loyola University Chagas disease specialist Patricia Dorn said in a 2012 University of Vermont press release reported by ScienceDaily.Delaware is one of the northernmost states in which the bug has been documented, The Miami Herald reported.

Forty hospitalized after toxic chemical leak in Chicago suburb - A disaster unfolded in the northern Chicago suburb of Beach Park in Lake County, Illinois on Thursday morning when a cloud of toxic anhydrous ammonia leaked into the air. At approximately 4:25 a.m., authorities were called to respond to a “possible vehicle fire” near North Green Bay Road and 29th Street. When sheriff's deputies arrived at the scene they reported what appeared to be a “cloud of smoke” and were “overcome by an airborne chemical.” The chemical emitted from a semi-trailer tank was later confirmed to be anhydrous ammonia, a chemical most often used in fertilizer and as an industrial refrigerant according to the Centers for Disease Control. A semi-truck was towing two separate two-ton containers of the chemical which began to leak out onto the road, releasing plumes of toxic gas into the surrounding air creating a cloud of poison which was originally thought to be smoke, although no actual fire occurred. So far, 40 people have been hospitalized after inhaling the gas, including 11 firefighters. Seven victims remain in critical condition as of the time of this writing. A worker called 911 after driving through the gas cloud on her way to work and feeling as if she could not breathe. The spill prompted a Level 5 Hazmat emergency response, and area schools announced closures early in the day due to the spill. Authorities issued a warning at around 5 a.m. on Twitter to residents living in a one-mile radius to stay inside with the windows closed and shut all HVAC systems off. The shelter-in-place order was lifted at 10 a.m. and roads reopened at 11 a.m.. The number of hospitalizations reported by the media continued to rise throughout the day, from 30 to 37 to 40. ABC 7 News reported that residents woke in the morning to the smell of burning, indicating the potency of the toxic gas which was released. Some residents left the area with their families after smelling the gas. Those admitted to the hospital who remain in critical condition are being intubated. Patients who had inhaled the chemical were admitted with severe swelling of the vocal chords and upper airways and required mechanical ventilation.

"Americans more concerned about pollution in drinking water than climate change - Americans are more concerned about pollution in their drinking water than about global warming, according to research from Gallup. A report released on Monday, based on data aggregated between 2017 and 2019, showed that Americans are more concerned about a range of environmental issues than they are about global warming.The Gallup poll presented data on six areas of concern: global warming, loss of tropical rain forests, air pollution, extinction of plant and animal species, pollution of rivers, lakes and reservoirs and pollution of drinking water. Americans in each region expressed less concern about global warming than about each other topic, with the exception of loss of tropical rain forests. (Only individuals in the northeast were more concerned about global warming than about rainforest loss.) The report showed strong regional differences in the amount of concern about global warming. Residents of the Northeast expressed the greatest concern about global warming, with 70 percent saying they believed the "seriousness of global warming is generally correct or underestimated."Americans living in the South exhibited the least concern about the seriousness of global warming, with 53 percent saying that global warming had already begun and 60 percent saying they believed the "seriousness of global warming is generally correct or underestimated." 72 percent of those living in the Northeast said they worried a great deal or fair amount about global warming, while 61 percent of those living in the South indicated the same views. 

‘It is not alarmist to say that the people of Florida are being slowly poisoned by the water’ - The dead fish that piled up on Florida’s beaches last year demonstrated the environmental impact of red tide and blue-green algae and the dramatic consequences for tourism, businesses and, potentially, real-estate values.   But it is past due to focus on the public health crisis.  While more research is needed, evidence points in the same direction:

  • Blue-green algae are laden with microcystins that are a cause of non-alcoholic liver cancer. The algae blooms also produce BMAA (β-Methylamino-L-alanine), a toxin that is linked to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, ALS and Parkinson’s. Last year, Drs. Paul Cox and James Metcalf of Brain Chemistry Labs reported that microcystin levels in samples from Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie canal were 300 times the level recommended as safe by the United Nations.
  • BMAA is a documented cause of Alzheimer’s and ALS. The University of Miami Brain Endowment Bank reported that the BMAA toxin is found in the brains of people with neuro-degenerative diseases.
  • Dr. David Davis, a neuropathologist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, reported that monkeys fed BMAA developed early symptoms of ALS. Another study, from 2017, documented that monkeys given BMAA developed the amyloid plaque and “tau tangles” that are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Last month, Dr. Davis’ team reported that detectable levels of the BMAA toxin were found in the brains of dead dolphins that displayed degenerative damage similar to Alzheimer’s, ALS and Parkinson’s in humans.
  • High concentrations of BMAA have been found in the seafood in South Florida waters where blue-green algae blooms occur. Ingestion of BMAA contaminated food is known to lead to Alzheimer’s and ALS.
  • Toxins in blue-green algae are airborne: Dr. Elijah Stommel of Dartmouth reported that people living near bodies of water with heavy blue-green algae blooms had a 15 times greater chance of getting ALS. Research by Prof. Mike Parsons, a Florida Gulf Coast University marine biologist, found airborne cyanobacteria toxins a mile from retention ponds and three miles from the Caloosahatchee River. A study of air filters near bodies of water infected with blue-green algae along the Caloosahatchee River taken during the heavy blooms in 2018 by Dr. Larry Brand of the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Atmospheric and Marine Science is expected soon.

Flint: 5 Years Later, and Our Water Is More Threatened Than Ever -- Five years ago this week, an emergency manager appointed by then-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder made the devastating decision to save money by switching Flint's water supply over from Detroit's water system to the Flint River. Seen as a temporary fix, the new water supply was not properly treated. High levels of lead leached from the old pipes, poisoning a generation of Flint's children, and bacteria responsible for an outbreak of Legionnaires' Disease killed more than a dozen residents. Five years ago, we hoped this would be a rallying cry for federal investment in our water systems. But today, things aren't better: they're worse. Almost daily, there are new headlines about how vulnerable our water infrastructure has become. Martin County, Kentucky, has suffered a catastrophic failure of its water system that has led to higher water rates for discolored, toxic water; like residents in Flint, they don't trust what comes out of the tap. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), have contaminated water in states across the country where military and industrial facilities have released this dangerous chemical associated with cancer risks. Testing has shown a widespread problem with lead in our schools. And on top of all of this, climate change is exacerbating many of our water problems, stressing water supplies, threatening critical infrastructure and overburdening our aging stormwater collection systems. What's more, a recent survey by Food & Water Watch of the two largest water systems in each state revealed a shocking estimated 15 million people had their water shut off in 2016 for nonpayment. That's 1 in 20 households. Statistically, someone in your neighborhood is having a hard time paying their water bills. Water affordability is just one more aspect of our deepening water crisis. Since peaking in the 1970s, federal funding to maintain our aging water systems has plummeted by 82% on a per capita basis. In 1977, the federal government spent $76.27 per person (in 2014 dollars) on water infrastructure, but by 2014 that support had fallen to $13.68 per person. Meanwhile, many water systems are nearly 100 years old.

Federal Judge Rules Flint Residents Can Sue EPA Over Water Crisis - — As Flint, Michigan, marks five years since the city’s deadly water crisis began, a federal judge ruled in favor of residents who want to sue the federal government for not acting promptly to ensure the city had clean drinking water.Residents filed suit against the EPA in 2017, demanding $722 million in damages and arguing that the agency was able to inform the city that its drinking water was contaminated months before it finally issued an emergency order.“These lies went on for months while the people of Flint continued to be poisoned,” Judge Linda Parker, an Obama appointee, wrote in her ruling Friday.The EPA was notified that Flint was using a contaminated drinking water source—the Flint River—in mid-2015, when a whistleblower wrote in a memo that the water contained lead. But the agency didn’t issue an emergency order to protect residents for another seven months.  By that time, residents of the majority-black city had been drinking the tainted water for a year and a half.City officials began drawing drinking water from the river in April 2014, switching from Detroit’s system to save money. Residents began complaining of rashes, hair loss, and other health concerns almost immediately, and reporting that the water was brown and had an unpleasant taste and odor—but the city insisted the water was safe.State regulators continued telling residents that the water was safe for drinking even after a group of doctors reported in September 2015 that they had detected high levels of lead in children’s bloodstreams. The EPA issued its emergency order in January 2016 and claims that it lacked the authority to take action sooner because of the state’s decision-making.As residents are arguing in their lawsuit, the agency’s inspector general reported later that year that under the Safe Drinking Water Act, in the event of state inaction “the EPA can and should proceed with an [emergency] order” to protect the public “in a timely manner.” “The lead-contaminated public water supply system will affect the residents for years and likely generations to come,” Parker wrote. “The acts leading to the creation of the Flint Water Crisis, alleged to be rooted in lies, recklessness and profound disrespect, have and will continue to produce a heinous impact for the people of Flint.”

Climate change threatening to dry up the Rio Grande River, a vital water supply  -- For nearly 2,000 miles, the Rio Grande River winds it way from the Rocky Mountains down to the Gulf of Mexico. As one of the country's longest and most iconic rivers, it provides drinking water and irrigation for more than six million people in three U.S. states. But climate change is threatening that vital water supply.For more than 130 years, one river gauge in northern New Mexico has tracked the pulse of the Rio Grande. "It's the oldest continuously operated gauge in the United States operated by the U.S. Geological Survey," USGS hydrologist Mark Gunn said.When CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller and her team visited, the Rio Grande was beating along. But Gunn told us last July that its flow nearly flat-lined."Since we've been measuring since 1889, last year was the lowest discharge … in the history of this gauge," Gunn said, adding, "It was so low that we actually had to dig out this whole entire area and dig a channel into the river to be able to get water to go to the gauge." "So it basically made your machine here malfunction," Miller said."Yes, it did," Gunn said. The Colorado snowpack that melts into the Rio Grande is declining – 25 percent over the last 50 years – and University of New Mexico climatology professor David Gutzler said climate change is threatening to dry it up. With that in mind, cities downstream have been preparing. Albuquerque's water authority has spent $6 million incentivizing desert-friendly landscaping. The city even sends every 4th grade class to the river for a lesson in water conservation. We followed the Rio Grande 150 miles south to where it pools into the Elephant Butte Reservoir, New Mexico's largest.  The shrinking reservoir can be seen from space. But up close, you can see the bathtub ring left by higher water levels 25 years ago. That means less of it can be released to the 90,000 acres of farmland on the other side of this dam. "It is now April … and we have not released any water from storage. We should have been running for a month and a half by now," King said.Until water is released in June, parts of the Rio Grande will look dusty and dry, like the desert around it. The canals that deliver water to farms like Dixie Ranch will remain empty.

Agent Orange: US to clean up toxic Vietnam War air base – BBC - The US has launched a multi-million dollar clean-up operation at an air base in Vietnam it used to store the notorious chemical Agent Orange. The ten-year programme, unveiled more than four decades after the end of the Vietnam War, will cost $183m (£141m). The site at Bien Hoa airport, outside Ho Chi Minh City, is considered the most contaminated in the country. Agent Orange was a defoliant sprayed by US forces to destroy jungles and uncover the enemy's hiding places. It contained dioxin, which is one of the most toxic chemicals known to man and has been linked to increased rates of cancers and birth defects. Vietnam says several million people have been affected by Agent Orange, including 150,000 children born with severe birth defects. At Bien Hoa the chemical has contaminated the soil and seeped into nearby rivers.  The amount of dioxin in the area is four times higher than that found at Danang airport where a similar operation was completed in November. A statement from the US development agency USAID, which is behind the clean-up, described the site as the "largest remaining hotspot" of dioxin in Vietnam.

Interior’s Bernhardt worked closely on matters he promised to avoid - Interior Secretary David Bernhardt began working on policies that would aid one of his former lobbying clients within weeks of joining the Trump administration, according to a POLITICO analysis of agency documents — a revelation that adds to the ethics questions dogging his leadership of the agency. Bernhardt’s efforts, beginning in at least October 2017, included shaping the department's response to a key portion of a water infrastructure law he had helped pass as a lobbyist for California farmers, recently released calendars show. The department offered scant details at the time about meetings that Bernhardt, then the deputy secretary, held with Interior officials overseeing water deliveries to the farmers, leading many observers to believe he was steering clear of the issues he had previously lobbied on. But newly disclosed schedule "cards" prepared by Interior officials for Bernhardt show more than three dozen meetings with key players on California water issues, including multiple lengthy meetings on specific endangered species protections at the heart of his previous work. Those appointments were only vaguely identified on his official calendars. Interior'sinspector general is probing whether Bernhardt violated ethics rules by working on policies he had pushed as a lobbyist for the Westlands Water District, a job that earned his former firm more than $1.3 million in the five years before he returned to government service. Bernhardt's ethics agreement barred him from participating in any "particular matters" involving Westlands until August 2018, one year after he arrived at the agency, and it was only after that recusal period ended that then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke publicly tasked him with working on California water issues. But the newly released information shows that Bernhardt had weighed in on discussions around Westlands' policy priorities for nearly a year by that point.  "They were creating the perception that he was not involved in these issues that his former client had a major stake in, when we now know he was deeply involved in them,”

Ethics Investigations Opened into Actions of EPA Head Wheeler, Top DOI Officials --Ethics investigations have been opened into the conduct of senior Trump appointees at the nation's top environmental agencies. The two investigations focus on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler and six high-ranking officials in the Department of Interior (DOI), The Hill reported Tuesday. Both of them involve the officials' former clients or employers. "This is demonstrative of the failures at the very top of this administration to set an ethical tone," Campaign Legal Center Ethics Counsel Delaney Marsco told The Washington Post of the DOI investigation. "When people come to work for government, they're supposed to work on behalf of the public. It's a betrayal of the public trust when senior political appointees seem to give privileged access to their former employers or former clients." Here's a run-down of the two investigations.  The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is investigating Wheeler for failing to disclose that he lobbied for Darling Ingredients within two years of assuming his post at the EPA, CNN reported Wednesday. The Ethics in Government Act mandates that all officials must disclose the sources of any money over $5,000 earned in the two years before their appointment, but Wheeler failed to disclose his work on behalf of the chemical company in 2015 and 2016 while working for Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting. The committee cited Faegre's quarterly disclosure forms as proof that Wheeler had not listed the earnings. "These documents indicate that you may have improperly omitted Darling from your financial disclosure, and they raise concerns that you may have failed to identify other clients who paid for your service as a lobbyist during the period covered by your disclosure report," House Oversight chairman Elijah Cummings wrote in a letter to Wheeler informing him of the investigation. Six officials at the DOI are being investigated by the department's Office of Inspector General over meetings with former employers or clients on department-related business, The Washington Post reported Tuesday. President Donald Trump signed an executive order early in his term saying all appointees must recuse themselves from matters involving former clients for two years. But the Campaign Legal Center sent a letter to the DOI watchdog in February detailing how six officials had violated that pledge. The Office of Inspector General wrote back to the center April 18 to say an investigation was in process. "The department takes ethics issues seriously," Interior spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort told The Washington Post in an email.

Frogs, salamanders and toads suffering ‘catastrophic population decline’, scientists say - Amphibians across the world are experiencing “catastrophic population declines” from a widening range of interacting pathogens, scientists say. Fungal disease chytridiomycosis is thought to have caused the extinction of 90 amphibian species around the world and the marked decline of at least 491 others over the last 20 years.   According to Dr Benjamin Scheele, the lead author of a study into chytridiomycosis, it is “the greatest recorded loss of biodiversity attributable to a disease”.   But now amphibians are also under attack from another pathogen known as the ranavirus, which exists in at least four varieties.In addition scientists have found that there are at least two species of chytridiomycosis, and within these, many different genetic types.In response to the demise of worldwide amphibian populations, this week zoological experts will gather in London in a bid to develop an emergency plan to save these creatures.   A description of the event on the Zoological Society of London’s website reads: “Amphibians continue to experience worldwide declines and remain the most threatened vertebrate class.“Nearly 30 years of research has shown that pathogens, in particular chytridiomycete fungi and ranaviruses, are responsible for infectious diseases that cause catastrophic population and host community declines on all continents where amphibians exist.”  Among the 90 species of amphibians wiped out since chytridiomycosis began taking its toll across the world are the golden toad in Costa Rica (Incilius periglenes), the southern gastric-brooding frog of Australia (Rheobatrachus silus), and Arthur’s stubfoot toad (Atelopus arthuri) in Ecuador. Researchers believe that globalisation and the wildlife trade are the main causes behind the spread of this global pandemic.

Plans to expand Iceland’s fish farms risk decimating wild salmon populations - A five-fold expansion in open net fish farms that scientists believe could decimate Iceland’s wild salmon stocks is pitting Big Aquaculture against ecologists in the country. Next month, a parliamentary bill is expected to extend farm licenses from 10 to 16 years, while omitting critics from oversight panels and handing primary monitoring powers to industry. Jon Kaldal of the Icelandic Wildlife Fund said: “We are at a crossroads. If industrial-scale open net salmon farming is allowed to take over, it will cause massive pollution and a dramatic increase in the risk of farmed fish escaping. Iceland is the final frontier for north Atlantic salmon.” It is also a new horizon for a multi-billion euro Norwegian industry that campaigners say has halved its own wild salmon population and steam-rollered opposition. But scientists say that they are under pressure from the industry to play down their findings. The Guardian has seen evidence of targeted pressure against Icelandic environmental scientists, although a fear of reprisal prevents many from speaking out. One scientist said: “I felt that I had to be careful because everything I said would be scrutinised for its potential to benefit industry.”

Antarctica: Thousands of emperor penguin chicks wiped out - Thousands of emperor penguin chicks drowned when the sea-ice on which they were being raised was destroyed in severe weather. The catastrophe occurred in 2016 in Antarctica's Weddell Sea. Scientists say the colony at the edge of the Brunt Ice Shelf has collapsed with adult birds showing no sign of trying to re-establish the population. And it would probably be pointless for them to try as a giant iceberg is about to disrupt the site. The dramatic loss of the young emperor birds is reported by a team from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). Drs Peter Fretwell and Phil Trathan noticed the disappearance of the so-called Halley Bay colony in satellite pictures. It is possible even from 800km up to spot the animals' excrement, or guano, on the white ice and then to estimate the likely size of any gathering. But the Brunt population, which had sustained an average of 14,000 to 25,000 breeding pairs for several decades (5-9% of the global population), essentially disappeared overnight. Emperors are the tallest and heaviest of the penguin species and need reliable patches of sea-ice on which to breed, and this icy platform must persist from April, when the birds arrive, until December, when their chicks fledge.

Researchers say world's second-largest emperor penguin colony has been wiped out - Researchers say what was once the world’s second-largest colony of emperor penguins has “now all but disappeared” after changes in sea-ice conditions made their typical breeding grounds highly unstable.A group of researchers from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) published their findings in the Antarctic Science journal on Thursday. The team said in a statement that they studied “very high resolution satellite imagery to reveal the unusual findings.”   According to their research, satellite imagery showed that the emperor penguin colony at Halley Bay in Antarctica had drastically decreased over the past three years on account of breeding failures caused by severe changes in local environmental conditions.“For the last 60 years the sea-ice conditions in the Halley Bay site have been stable and reliable,” the team said. “But in 2016, after a period of abnormally stormy weather, the sea-ice broke up in October, well before any emperor chicks would have fledged.”The group said the conditions were repeated the following two years, leading to “the death of almost all the chicks at the site each season.” “The colony at Halley Bay colony has now all but disappeared, whilst the nearby Dawson Lambton colony has markedly increased in size, indicating that many of the adult emperors have moved there, seeking better breeding grounds as environmental conditions have changed,” the researchers said.

'Coming Mass Extinction' Caused by Human Destruction Could Wipe Out 1 Million Species, Warns UN Draft Report - On the heels of an Earth Day that featured calls for radical action to address the current "age of environmental breakdown," Agence France-Presse revealed Tuesday that up to a million species face possible extinction because of destructive human behavior.The warning comes from a forthcoming United Nations report, a draft of which was obtained by AFP, that "painstakingly catalogues how humanity has undermined the natural resources upon which its very survival depends." A product of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the landmark three-year assessment was prepared by 150 experts from 50 countries, with additions from another 250 contributors.As John Vidal wrote in a preview of the study for HuffPost last month, "It is the greatest attempt yet to assess the state of life on Earth and will show how tens of thousands of species are at high risk of extinction, how countries are using nature at a rate that far exceeds its ability to renew itself, and how nature's ability to contribute food and fresh water to a growing human population is being compromised in every region on Earth."Outlining some of the experts' key findings, AFP reported Tuesday:  The accelerating loss of clean air, drinkable water, CO2-absorbing forests, pollinating insects, protein-rich fish, and storm-blocking mangroves—to name but a few of the dwindling services rendered by nature—poses no less of a threat than climate change...The direct causes of species loss, in order of importance, are shrinking habitat and land-use change, hunting for food or illicit trade in body parts, climate change, pollution, and alien species such as rats, mosquitoes, and snakes that hitch rides on ships or planes, the report finds.As AFP reported, the draft document warns that "subsidies to fisheries, industrial agriculture, livestock raising, forestry, mining and the production of biofuel, or fossil fuel energy encourage waste, inefficiency, and over-consumption." Unsustainable human activity, according to the document, already has "severely altered" 40 percent of the marine environment, 50 percent of inland waterways, and three-quarters of the planet's land.

Environment Aotearoa: Government stocktake describes New Zealand environment on the brink - New Zealand's environment is in a precarious state and facing an overwhelming number of threats, according to a sweeping government stocktake.The major issues include thousands of species threatened or at risk of extinction, rivers unsafe for swimming, the loss of productive land due to urban expansion, and a warming climate likely to destabilise many parts of the environment.The findings were detailed in Environment Aotearoa 2019, undertaken by the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) and Stats NZ. The agencies are required by law to produce such a report every three years. It measured dozens of environmental issues, some of which used updated or newly released data. It described an environment besieged in numerous ways, largely as a result of human actions.The report showed that when it came to the environment's overall health, "things are very bad," said Forest & Bird's chief executive, Kevin Hague."We've spent too many years in denial about how our actions – from rampant dairy conversions to destructive sea bed trawling – are irreversibly harming our natural world," he said."As a nation, we need to make a bold plan to protect and restore nature now."While it paints a grim picture in many respects, the report's assessment of native ecosystems and the plants and animals they contain is particularly bleak.Almost two-thirds of rare ecosystems were threatened by collapse, the report said, and thousands of individual species were either threatened or at-risk of extinction. Those species include 90 per cent of all seabirds, 84 per cent of reptiles, 76 per cent of freshwater fish and 74 per cent of terrestrial birds.

Illegal Charcoal Trade Wrecks Myanmar’s Bulwark Against Cyclones - The depletion of mangroves in southern Myanmar is impacting local fisheries near the island villages and playing havoc with the mangrove forest that protect the coastline from extreme weather events. The illegal charcoal trade persists due to a lack of law enforcement and oversight in Myanmar and Thailand. Many Burmese labor workers, charcoal kiln owners and traders are indebted to the charcoal warehouses that they ultimately supply in Thailand, which guarantees a steady supply of charcoal into Thailand. It’s illegal to produce charcoal in Myanmar for commercial use, so figures on cross-border trade are sketchy at best. (A 2017-2018 Mongabay investigation found that approximately $10 million worth of charcoal was being smuggled from Katha, a town in northern Myanmar, into China.) Thailand used to produce its own charcoal, but the government banned the practice in the late 1990s. After Thailand’s ban, charcoal tycoons moved across the border to Myanmar to help fulfill Asia’s demand for charcoal. Mangrove charcoal allows such illegal supply chains to persist, and it can also lead to exploitation. When the Thais created a new industry and an incentive to commit environmental crimes in Myanmar, they also set up a debt trap for the workers involved, so that Thailand would receive a steady supply of charcoal, said Ko Myo Oo, founder of the Myanmar environmental nonprofit Green Network. Those selling charcoal from Myanmar would be able to earn nearly 16 times more selling to Thailand than if they were to sell to a domestic market, he said. The illegal charcoal trade poses a deadly threat to the world’s remaining original mangrove cover, of which approximately 35 percent is already gone, according to the WWF.

  Trump's EPA wants to put a toxic mine in pristine Alaska. What could go wrong? - Back in my youth, while in Montana, I came across Berkeley Pit, called “the richest hill on earth.” There, churches and historic neighborhoods were bulldozed to expand the pit so greedy men could make their fortunes mining copper, silver and gold. After the riches were extracted, and problems arose, those men absolved themselves of any wrongdoing, and left. Over time, the mine closed and the pit began to fill with an acidic brew so toxic that when snow geese landed there, they died. As it threatened Montana’s groundwater, the pit became an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) superfund site that would cost American taxpayers billions of dollars for generations. I fear the same awaits Alaska’s Pebble Mine, a nightmare proposed by the Canadian mining company, Northern Dynasty. Don’t be fooled by the name. For many Alaskans, Pebble is a boulder on their heart. If built, it would be a massive pit one mile in diameter and 600ft deep. It would obliterate 3,500 acres of wetlands and 80-plus miles of salmon streams, and produce an estimated 10 billion tons of waste. Earthen dams would hold back toxic mine tailings, all in earthquake country, in the headwaters of Bristol Bay, the richest sockeye salmon run in the world. What could go wrong? In 2014, a 40-meter-high earthen dam that contained a massive copper and gold tailings pond at Mount Polley Mine, in British Columbia, failed. A toxic slurry emptied downstream into lakes and waterways, including Quesnel Lake, until then the cleanest deep water lake in the world. Knight Piésold, the geotechnical consulting firm that provided the design and supervised construction (and paid no post-disaster fines), is the same firm Northern Dynasty has hired to build the earthen dams at Pebble. An earthen dam would hold back toxic mine tailings, all in earthquake country And who will pay to remediate the Mount Polley mess, the biggest mine disaster in Canada’s history? Taxpayers, to the tune of an estimated $40m-100m. Opposed by more than 65% of Alaskans, and 80% of Bristol Bay residents, Pebble was barely breathing until Donald Trump won the White House. With Scott Pruitt in charge of the EPA, Pebble mine became a symbol of virtuous enterprise hobbled by government regulatory overreach.

Indonesian Companies Fined for 2015 Climate Disaster Have Not Paid, Group Says - More than $1 billion in fines have not been paid by 11 Indonesian palm oil and paper pulp companies found guilty for their failure to prevent burning on their land during the historic 2015 Indonesian forest fires, according to Greenpeace Indonesia. The activist group is calling attention to the unpaid fines to pressure the government and the companies, which were found guilty of improper land management in lawsuits filed by the Indonesian government. The verdict found that the companies’ practices contributed to the massive fires, which charred more than 6.1 million acres. The companies, which include Kallista Alam, PT Surya Panen Subur, Jatim Jaya Perkasa and Bumi Mekar Hijau, released the equivalent of an estimated 1.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide, believed to be the largest human-caused climate event in decades. “The government must be sure to enforce the law, and ensure that the legal institutions, like the courts, push the companies to pay the fine,” said Asep Komarudin, a campaigner with Greenpeace Indonesia. The nation experienced an extreme El Nino event in 2015 that brought abnormally dry conditions. This, along with years of mismanagement of forests and carbon-rich peatlands, resulted in the unprecedented fires. “That year at the peak, the daily fire emissions coming from Indonesia exceeded the daily emission produced from the entire U.S.,” said Hanny Chrysolite, a forest and climate program officer with the World Resources Institute (WRI) – Indonesia. “The fires also affected other sectors of Indonesia like the economy and also health.”

How China’s ban on plastic waste imports became an ‘earthquake’ that threw recycling efforts into turmoil - China’s ban on accepting the world’s used plastic has thrown recycling efforts into turmoil. For many years, China took the bulk of scrap plastic from around the world, processing much of it into a higher quality material that could be used by manufacturers. But, at the start of 2018, it closed its doors to almost all foreign plastic waste, as well as many other recyclables, in an effort to protect its environment and air quality, leaving developed nations struggling to find places to send their waste. “It was like an earthquake,” “China was the biggest market for recyclables. It created a major shock in the global market.” Instead, plastic was redirected in huge quantities to Southeast Asia, where Chinese recyclers have shifted. With a large Chinese-speaking minority, Malaysia was a top choice for Chinese recyclers looking to relocate, and official data showed plastic imports tripled from 2016 levels to 870,000 tonnes last year.In the small town of Jenjarom, close to Kuala Lumpur, plastic processing plants appeared in large numbers, pumping out noxious fumes around the clock. Huge mounds of plastic waste, dumped in the open, piled up as recyclers struggled to cope with the influx of packaging from everyday goods, such as foods and laundry detergents, from as far afield as Germany, the US, and Brazil. Residents soon noticed the acrid stench over the town – the kind of odour that is usual in processing plastic, but environmental campaigners believed some of the fumes also came from the incineration of plastic waste that was too low quality to recycle. “People were attacked by toxic fumes, waking them up at night. Many were coughing a lot,”  Thirty-three factories were closed down, although activists believed many had quietly moved elsewhere in the country. Residents said air quality had improved but some plastic dumps remained.   In Australia, Europe and the US, many of those collecting plastic and other recyclables were left scrambling to find new places to send it. They faced higher costs to have it processed by recyclers at home and in some cases resorted to sending it to landfill sites as the scrap piled up so quickly. “Twelve months on, we are still feeling the effects but we have not moved to the solutions yet,” 

How recycling is changing in all 50 states - Waste Dive began tracking the effects of China's scrap import policies across all 50 states (and the District of Columbia) during Nov. 2017 in honor of America Recycles Day. Since then, a host of other foreign and domestic changes have spurred ongoing ripple effects that will continue for years to come. Many service providers have taken this as an opportunity to reset pricing conditions and local governments are struggling to adapt to this new reality. While portrayals of all residential recycling programs being in free-fall are an exaggeration, it's clear that the system is going through a significant transformative period.Small and mid-sized municipalities are particularly vulnerable to price increases and program changes. Many stakeholders are working to help stabilize and improve this system, and results are shining through, but a clear path forward has yet to materialize. Ongoing turbulence is expected in 2019 and we'll be tracking the news for as long as it's relevant. We scan the news daily, but can't spot it all. See information that doesn’t reflect your knowledge or would help expand ours? Send an email to

 Cigarette Butts: The Most Littered Item in the World - We've known for more than 50 years that smoking cigarettes comes with health hazards, but it turns out those discarded butts are harmful for the environment, too. Filtered cigarette butts, although small, contain dozens of chemicals, including arsenic and benzene. These toxins can leach into the ground or water, creating a potentially deadly situation for nearby birds, fish and other wildlife. These tiny bits of trash are a very big problem. Each year trillions of cigarette butts are tossed out around the world. Beach cleanups continually find that cigarette butts are the most-littered item — even more than plastic bags. Municipalities have started to take steps to curb plastic pollution, enacting bans on plastic straws, bags and other single-use items. Will similar efforts be undertaken to snuff out cigarette butt litter?

Mozambique Hit by Second Historic Cyclone in Little Over a Month - Cyclone Kenneth made landfall in Mozambique's Cabo Delgado province on Thursday as the strongest storm to ever hit the country, The Guardian reported. It struck with wind speeds of 140 miles per hour and was expected to raise waves 16 feet higher than usual and bring torrential rain.The storm comes little over a month after Cyclone Idai killed more than 700 people, displaced tens of thousands and caused $1 billion in damage, making it the deadliest and costliest storm in Mozambique's history, CNN reported. In the entire region, including Mozambique's neighbors Malawi and Zimbabwe, Idai killed more than 1,000 and forced millions from their homes, The New York Times reported."It's really an anomaly in the history of cyclones in this region. There's never been two storms this strong hit in the same year, let alone within five weeks of each other in Mozambique," meteorologist Eric Holthaus told The Guardian.Kenneth has already killed one person in Mozambique, who was struck by a falling coconut tree in the city of Pemba, BBC News reported. The storm was downgraded to an ex-cyclone Friday as winds decreased, but France's meteorological agency predicts more than 23.6 inches of rain could fall over the next few days. That's nearly double the 10 days of rainfall that caused devastating flooding in the port city of Beira during Cyclone Idai.It's the extreme rainfall that can be directly linked to climate change, Holthaus told The Guardian."We have very strong evidence that everywhere in the world, rainfall is getting more intense. So that means you can get the same amount of rainfall, but it just happens in a shorter period of time, because if the atmosphere is warmer then that will create more intense thunderstorms that rain out faster," Hotlhaus said. "We can directly link Kenneth with climate change for that reason. Not only is this an extremely intense rainfall event, globally, but it's being made worse because of climate change." Cabo Delgado, where Kenneth struck, is 600 miles northeast of Beira. The region had never before in modern history been struck by a hurricane-force storm, The New York Times reported.

Hurricane Michael Upgraded to Category 5 at Landfall -In its full report on devastating Hurricane Michael, published Friday, the NOAA/NWS National Hurricane Center found that Michael was a Category 5 storm with top sustained winds of 140 knots (160 mph) when it smashed ashore near Tyndall Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle on October 10. In the U.S., Michael is being blamed for 16 direct deaths, 43 indirect deaths, and damages of $25 billion.Michael intensified at a heart-stopping rate while moving through the eastern Gulf of Mexico, rocketing from Category 1 to Category 4 strength in just 24 hours less than a day before landfall. At the time it moved ashore, Michael was officially classified as a top-end Category 4, with top sustained winds of 155 mph—just 2 mph short of the Cat 5 minimum.Michael joins an elite group of just three other hurricanes recognized as Category 5 storms when they struck the continental United States. All but one of these powerhouse storms hit Florida while at Cat 5 strength.

  • Hurricane Andrew: 145 kts (165 mph) landfall at Homestead, Florida, on August 24, 1992
  • Hurricane Camille: 150 kts (175 mph) landfall at Pass Christian, Mississippi, on August 18, 1969
  • Labor Day Hurricane: 160 kts (185 mph) landfall at Long Key, Florida, on September 2, 1935

Like Michael, Andrew was initially classified as a high-end Category 4 at landfall, but was subsequently upgraded to Category 5 in post-season analysis. In Andrew’s case, the upgrade from 140-mph to 160-mph peak landfall winds did not occur until a review completed in 2002, a full decade after Andrew struck. In a similar 2014 reanalysis, Camille's winds were downgraded from 190 to 175 mph, but the storm remained a Category 5. Michael's upgrade means that the U.S. was hit by two Category 5 storms in 2018, since Super Typhoon Yutu made landfall on Tinian in the U.S. Northern Mariana Islands on October 25 with 180 mph winds. Category 5 landfalls have also occurred in two other U.S. territories in the past: byTyphoon Karen in Guam (1962), and by the San Felipe Segundo hurricane in Puerto Rico (1928).

The Sea Beneath Us -  Water will leach inside homes, she said, through basement cracks. Toilets may become chronically backed up. Raw sewage may seep through manholes. Brackish water will corrode sewer and water pipes and inundate building foundations. And most hazardous of all, water percolating upward may flow through contaminants buried in the soil, spreading them underground and eventually releasing them into people’s homes. The coup de grace will be the earthquakes, which, when they strike, may liquefy the entire toxic mess, pushing it toward the surface.  The future Hill described is caused by a phenomenon called groundwater rise. In a nutshell, as a warming climate raises sea levels, the sea won’t only move inland, flooding low-lying land near the shore; it may also push water up from beneath our feet. That’s because for those of us living near the shore, a sea lurks in the ground—a saltwater water table. On top of that salt water floats a layer of lighter fresh water. As the salt water rises with rising seas, Hill and others think, it will push the fresh water upward. In low-lying areas, that water may emerge from the ground.   The result, Hill explained, will be that in places like Oakland, flooding will occur not just at the shoreline, but inland in areas once considered safe from sea level rise, including the Oakland Coliseum and Jones Avenue, where Hill and her students now stood, more than a mile from San Leandro Bay. In fact, she added, rising groundwater menaces nearly the entire band of low-lying land around San Francisco Bay, as well as many other coastal parts of the U.S.   The threat it poses can’t be neutralized with the usual strategy: physical structures that keep the sea at bay. No matter how many seawalls we build, many experts say, groundwater can still gurgle up from below, potentially turning large swaths of the densely populated shoreline around the Bay into unwanted, unplanned, possibly toxic wetlands. The issue is barely on the radar of Bay Area planners and decision-makers; it’s been mostly overlooked until recently. The public has hardly heard of it. Hill is trying to change all that. She’s on a mission to increase awareness of sea level rise’s gotcha-from-behind twin—groundwater rise.

The desperate race to cool the ocean before it’s too late - Coral reefs smell of rotting flesh as they bleach. The riot of colors—yellow, violet, cerulean—fades to ghostly white as the corals’ flesh goes translucent and falls off, leaving their skeletons underneath fuzzy with cobweb-like algae.Corals live in symbiosis with a type of algae. During the day, the algae photosynthesize and pass food to the coral host. During the night, the coral polyps extend their tentacles and catch passing food. Just 1 °C of ocean warming can break down this coral-algae relationship. The stressed corals expel the algae, and after repeated or prolonged episodes of such bleaching, they can die from heat stress, starve without the algae feeding them, or become more susceptible to disease.Australia’s Great Barrier Reef—actually a 2,300-kilometer (1,400-mile) system made up of nearly 3,000 separate reefs—has suffered severe bleaching in the past few years. Daniel Harrison, an Australian oceanographer looking at what might be done to buy more time for the Great Barrier Reef, says the situation is getting dire. “There might be as little as 25% of shallow-water coral cover left from pre-anthropogenic times. We don’t really know, because nobody started surveying before 1985,” he tells me. “You’ve got less than 1% of the ocean in coral reefs, and 25% of all marine life. We’re looking at losing all of that really quite quickly, in evolutionary terms. In human-lifetime terms.”Coral reefs are not just about colorful fish and exotic species. Reefs protect coasts from storms; without them, waves reaching some Pacific islands would be twice as tall. Over 500 million people depend on reef ecosystems for food and livelihoods. Even if the temperature increase eventually stabilizes at 1.5 °C a century or two from now, it’s not known how well coral reef ecosystems will survive a temporary overshoot to higher temperatures. The corals are like the canary in the coal mine.The corals are like the canary in the coal mine, Harrison says: “They’re very temperature-sensitive. I really do think it’s just a harbinger of things to come. You know, the coral ecosystem might collapse first, but I think there might be quite a few more ecosystems that’ll follow it. Life is very resilient, but ecosystems as we know them aren’t.”

Glaciers gone after record hot summers = Some of the southern region's smaller glaciers have disappeared, following two of the hottest summers on record. The discovery was made by Niwa climate scientists and glaciologists last month, during the annual long-term aerial Snowline Survey of the South Island's glaciers. Niwa scientists take to the skies every March to record the snowline altitude of up to 50 glaciers, using specialised cameras from a light aircraft. Thousands of photos are taken from different angles to build 3-D models of glaciers that can be compared year on year, to give an accurate depiction of how much of the previous winter's snow remains to contribute to long-term glacial ice accumulation. The information gathered over the past four decades has produced a unique and valuable data set that provides an independent measure of how climate change and variability are affecting New Zealand's water resources. Although Niwa scientists are still piecing together data from the latest survey, project leader Andrew Lorrey said it was not hard to miss the fact that some of the smaller glaciers at lower altitudes had now disappeared. "It's really sad to see that some of our smaller glaciers - particularly on the fringes of the Southern Alps, that are a little bit lower in altitude like North Canterbury and as you go south out of Queenstown - are reducing to nothing.

One of Alaska’s warmest springs on record is causing a dangerous thaw - Alaska is in the midst of one of the warmest springs the state has ever experienced — a transformation that has disrupted livelihoods and cost lives. The average temperature for March recorded at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) observatory in Utqiagvik (which was known as Barrow before 2016, when the city voted to go by its traditional Inupiaq name) was 18.6 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.  Fairbanks, Alaska, notched its first consecutive March days when the temperature never dropped below freezing. Ice roads built on frozen waterways — a vital means of transportation in the state — have become weak and unreliable. At least five people have died this spring after falling through ice that melted sooner than expected.  “Climate change is happening faster than it’s ever happened before in our record,” Thomas said. “We’re right in the middle of it.” Utqiagvik set daily temperature records on 28 of the first 100 days of this year, according to the Alaska Climate Research Center. In early February, residents awoke to find the landfast ice that usually clings to the shore until summer had been swept out to sea by strong winds — a sign the ice wasn’t as thick or well-grounded as it used to be. “It was like, ‘Whoa, I’ve never seen that before,’” Thomas said. “It was surprising in a human way,” he added. “But not necessarily surprising in a science way.” The Barrow observatory has been monitoring climate for more than 40 years. Thomas knows where the trends are headed. This time of year, he explained, “you shouldn’t be able to smell anything.” The ground should still be frozen solid. The historic warm temperatures this spring are linked to vanishing ice on the Bering and Chukchi seas west of Alaska. Both areas set records this year for their lowest amount of ice in March. When ice forms later and melts earlier, it leaves coastlines vulnerable to erosion from fall and spring storms. The shoreline on Shishmaref has retreated more than 100 feet in Erickson’s lifetime, and the town has voted to relocate to a new site farther from the sea. Residents who subsist on seal and walrus meat must navigate an increasingly unreliable ice pack as they search for food.

 It's been exceptionally warm in Greenland lately and ice is melting a month early - You might have heard about the exceptional heat this year in the northern hemisphere and around the world. March was just declared the second warmest on record globally Records have been shattered in Alaska. Scotland hit 70 degrees in February. Winter warmth has torched the U.K., Netherlands and Sweden as well — coming on the heels of Europe’s warmest year on record. But they’re not alone. Greenland is baking, too. In fact, its summer melt season has already begun — more than a month ahead of schedule.Marco Tedesco is a professor in atmospheric sciences at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. He monitors behavior of the cryospherethe part of earth’s water system that is frozen. He says melting of this extent shouldn’t begin until May. “The first melt event was detected on April 7,” he wrote in email.“Air temperature anomalies were up to more than 20 degrees Celsius [36 Fahrenheit] above the mean,” noted Tedesco. His team has been eyeing Greenland’s southeast coast as ground zero for the early-season thaw. “Surface air temperature jumped to 41 degrees on April 2, up from minus-11,” he said. Temperatures dropped below freezing briefly before again soaring into the 30s, where the mercury has held steady for most of the past week.What’s been sling-shotting this balmy air northward? “The subtropical jet stream,” wrote Jennifer Francis, senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Mass. It’s teamed up with the polar jet to “transport warm, moist air from near Florida northward into southern Greenland,” she explained. “Locking this pattern in place has been a strong ridge — a northward bulge in the jet stream — just east of Greenland.” A lack of ice cover in the Arctic Ocean north of Scandinavia gave this bubble of warmth a bit of an extra boost, intensifying its warm conveyor belt into Greenland. “Arctic ice cover continues to dwindle and temperatures there soar.”

Greenland Is Melting Even Faster Than Experts Thought, Study Finds CNN - Climate change is eliminating giant chunks of ice from Greenland at such a speed that the melt has already made a significant contribution to sea level rise, according to a new study. With global warming, the island will lose much more, threatening coastal cities around the world. Forty percent to 50% of the planet's population is in cities that are vulnerable to sea rise, and the study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is bad news for places like New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Tokyo and Mumbai.Researchers reconstructed the mass balance of the Greenland Ice Sheet by comparing estimates of the amount of ice that has been discharged into the ocean with the accumulation of snowfall in the drainage basins in the country's interior for the past 46 years. The researchers found that the rate of ice loss has increased sixfold since then -- even faster than scientists thought. "We wanted to get a long precise record of mass balance in Greenland that included the transition when the climate of the planet started to drift off natural variability, which occurred in the 1980s," study co-author Eric Rignot wrote in an email. "The study places the recent (20 years) evolution in a broader context to illustrate how dramatically the mass loss has been increasing in Greenland in response to climate warming."

Greenland Is Melting 6 Times Faster Than in the 1980s - Greenland is melting six times faster than it was in the 1980s, which is even faster than scientists thought,CNN reported Tuesday. The new figure is part of a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesthat reconstructed the mass balance of Greenland over the past 46 years, comparing ice lost to snowfall gained over the period. The results showed that Greenland has contributed 13.7 millimeters to sea level risesince 1972, half during the last eight years. If all the ice in Greenland were to melt, it would raise global sea levels by more than 20 feet.In reporting the findings to The Washington Post, study author and Earth systems scientist for the University of California at Irvine and NASA Eric Rignot echoed the urgency of activists from the Sunrise Movement toExtinction Rebellion who have called for immediate government action on climate change. "If we do something now, it will take 30 years to affect the climate and another few decades to turn the melt down of glaciers, so probably half of that signal is already written in stone," Rignot said. "But the impact sea level will have on humanity increases with every 10 [centimeters] of sea-level rise, and right now we are about to commit to multi-meter sea-level rise in the coming century if we don't do something drastic." Monday's study found that ice loss from Greenland began to exceed its natural variability in the 1980s. From 1980 to 1990, Greenland's glaciers discharged 51 billion tons of ice into the ocean. From 2010 to 2018, they discharged 286 billion tons. "When you look at several decades, it is best to sit back in your chair before looking at the results, because it is a bit scary to see how fast it is changing," Rignot told AFP. The research also showed that even Greenland's colder north is impacted by ice loss. "The entire periphery of Greenland is affected. I am particularly concerned about the northern regions, which host the largest amount of potential sea-level rise and are already changing fast," Rignot told The Washington Post.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions from thawing Arctic permafrost may be 12 times higher than thought, scientists say - Emissions from thawing Arctic permafrost may be 12 times higher than previously thought, scientists have discovered. Permafrost is a mix of soil, rock or sediment that has been frozen for at least two years which is mostly found in the uppermost areas where temperatures are rising more quickly than the rest of the world. When it thaws because of global warming, it releases large quantities of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, causing temperatures to rise and creating a perpetual cycle where more permafrost melts. Nitrous oxide, a third greenhouse gas nearly 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, stays in the atmosphere for an average of 114 years, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It has “conventionally been assumed to have minimal emissions in permafrost regions,” according to a fresh study published in the Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics journal. However the research team behind the study, led by Harvard University scientists, has found that nitrous oxide emissions are 12 times higher than previously thought and therefore more of a threat. The group used a small plane with a probe on its nose to measure greenhouse gases over 120 square miles of thawing permafrost in the North Slope of Alaska. They found that nitrous oxide emissions reached what was previously thought to be the expected yearly limit within just one month in August 2013. Nitrous oxide also poses a second threat because “up in the stratosphere, sunlight and oxygen team up to convert the gas into nitrogen oxides, which eat at the ozone,” Harvard University said in a statement. Jordan Wilkerson, one of the authors of the study, said: “Much smaller increases in nitrous oxide would entail the same kind of climate change that a large plume of CO2 would cause.”

Arctic Laughing Gas Emissions Could Accelerate Global Warming - Scientists have identified yet another hazard linked to the thawing permafrost: laughing gas. A series of flights over the North Slope of Alaska has detected unexpected levels of emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide from the rapidly warming soils.  Nitrous oxide, which chemists know also as laughing gas, is an estimated 300 times more potent as a climate warming agent than the principal greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. It was present in data recordings at levels at least 12 times higher than all previous estimates.And it is long-lived: it survives in the atmosphere for around 120 years, according to a separate new study of the microbiology of nitrous oxide. And if it gets even higher, into the stratosphere, it can be converted by the action of oxygen and sunlight into another oxide of nitrogen, to quietly destroy the ozone layer.Oxides of nitrogen are at least as damaging to stratospheric ozone — an invisible screen that absorbs potentially lethal ultraviolet radiation from the sun — as the man-made chlorofluorocarbons banned by an international protocol three decades ago.Nitrogen is an inert gas which makes up almost four-fifths of the planet's atmosphere. It is vital to life: growing plants build their tissues by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere with the aid of photosynthesis. But they must also absorb nitrogen from plant decay and animal waste, through their roots, with help from soil microbes.The process is natural, but too slow to help deliver the cereals, tubers and pulses needed to feed seven billion humans and their livestock. For more than 100 years, nations have been making nitrogenous fertilizer in factories and applying it generously to soils to boost harvest yields.As a consequence, nitrous oxide is now the third most significant greenhouse gas, and the news that it isrising from the permafrost could be troubling. The permafrost is home to enormous stores of carbon: as soil microbes become warmer and more active,they start to break down long-frozen and partly-decomposed plant material to release both carbon dioxide andpotent quantities of methane. The implication is that nitrous oxide could add to the mix, and accelerate warming still further.

Arctic's Melting Permafrost Will Cost Nearly $70 Trillion, Study Finds - An alarming study released Tuesday found that melting Arctic permafrost could add nearly $70 trillion to the global cost of climate change unless immediate action is taken to slash carbon emissions. According to the new research, published in the journal Nature Communications, melting permafrost caused by accelerating Arctic warming would add close to $70 trillion to the overall economic impact of climate change if the planet warms by 3°C by 2100. Even if action is taken to limit warming to 1.5°C by the end of the century, the research found melting permafrost would still add $24.8 trillion to overall climate costs. Dmitry Yumashev of Lancaster University, the lead author of the study, told National Geographic that melting permafrost and sea ice "are two known tipping elements in the climate system" that could trigger a cycle of unstoppable global warming.In an interview with the Guardian, Yumashev called his study's results "disheartening," but said nations of the world have the technological capacity to confront the crisis.What's needed, he said, is urgency and political will. "Even at 1.5°C to 2°C [warming], there are impacts and costs due to thawing permafrost. But they are considerably lower for these scenarios compared to business as usual," said Yumashev. "We have the technology and policy instruments to limit the warming but we are not moving fast enough."  "With climate change we're conducting a high-risk experiment where we don't know what is coming," co-author Kevin Schaefer told National Geographic. "The most important thing to remember about our study is the greater the warming, the stronger the feedbacks and the higher the costs to society." As National Geographic reported, the "$25 to $70 trillion cost of Arctic warming adds four to six percent to the total cost of climate change—which is estimated to reach $1,390 trillion by the year 2300 if emissions cuts are not better than the Paris Agreement. However, the costs of the current business-as-usual path could be more than $2,000 trillion."

Global Climate Coalition: Documents Reveal How Secretive Fossil Fuel Lobby Group Manipulated UN Climate Programs - A fossil fuel–backed industry group was able to influence the process behind the United Nations climate assessments for decades, using lobbyists and industry-funded scientists to manipulate international negotiations, a cache of recently discovered documents reveals. The documents include hundreds of briefings, meeting minutes, notes, and correspondence from the Global Climate Coalition (GCC). They were released Thursday by the Climate Investigations Center in collaboration with DeSmog and Climate Liability News. The documents date from 1989 and continue through 2002, when the lobbying group disbanded as its fossil fuel industry backers succumbed to public pressure to disavow its tactics. The documents show how the GCC influenced international negotiations, manipulated the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) process, and undertook a disinformation campaign designed to cast doubt on mainstream climate science.  The GCC was initially part of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), before becoming its own entity in 1995. NAM has a long history of defending portions of its membership, including tobacco companies that were facing an onslaught of liability litigation, with aggressive tactics that include discrediting science, attacking scientists, and misleading the public. Founding members of the GCC were mainly fossil fuel producers and utilities, including oil majorsShell, Texaco (now a part of Chevron), and Amoco (now part of BP); oil refiner and retailers ARCO (now a subsidiary of Marathon Petroleum) and Phillips Petroleum; coal miners BHP-Utah International and Peabody; and utilities American Electric Power and Pacific Gas and Electric. Other companies, including Exxon, joined later — and the international oil giant would go on to be a key player in the group. Revealed in the documents is a decades-long campaign that continued until 2002, intended to protect its members’ interests by denying and casting doubt on climate science. Internally, the group acknowledged the dangers of climate change and the scientific consensus that it is overwhelmingly driven by the burning of fossil fuels as early as 1995.

'We Are the Ones Making a Difference': Greta Thunberg Addresses Extinction Rebellion in London - A day before countries around the world celebrate Earth Day, activist and leader of the School Strike for Climate Greta Thunberg addressed protesters in London who have been occupying a number of major landmarks for almost a week, rallying the demonstrators to continue their fight against the "existential crisis" brought about by climate change."Humanity is now standing at a crossroads," Thunberg told the protesters gathered at the Marble Arch. "We must now decide which path we want to take. How do we want the future living conditions for all species to be? We have gathered here today and in many other places around London and across the world too, because we have chosen which path we want to take and now we are waiting for the others to follow our example."Watch: The demonstrators had joined Extinction Rebellion's public action, in which members of the movement have also occupied Oxford Circus and Parliament Square and superglued themselves to train cars to disrupt daily life and call attention to the climate crisis. Police have made at least 963 arrests, according to the Guardian, while London mayor Sadiq Khan has called for the demonstrators to disperse. But leaders of the movement say their message is getting out to the public and that disruption is necessary to convey the dire situation in which world governments have placed communities by ignoring the climate crisis for decades. "People are willing to be arrested," spokesperson Ronan McNern said in a statement. "What this disruption is doing, we are the news now. It is making people talk in pubs and buses about Extinction Rebellion. It makes them think about their existence which is under threat.""We—people in Extinction Rebellion and the children in the School Strike for Climate—we are the ones making a difference," said Thunberg, who is 16 and started a global movement last fall when she staged a one-person protest outside Swedish Parliament, refusing to attend school unless lawmakers took action to stop the burning of fossil fuels. "It shouldn't be like that but since no one else is doing anything we will have to do so," she continued. "And we will never stop fighting, we will never stop fighting for this planet and for the futures of our children and grandchilden."

 1,000+ Arrested as Extinction Rebellion Protests in London Enter Second Week - Extinction Rebellion, the climate protest that has blocked major London thoroughfares since Monday April 15, was cleared from three key areas over Easter weekend, The Guardian reported. Police removed protesters from Oxford Circus Saturday, and from the roads Parliament Square and Waterloo Bridge Sunday. The last person to be arrested clearing the bridge was a 70-year-old woman who had been arrested once before during the protests at Oxford Circus. "I have been a nurse and a childminder most of my life," the woman, who preferred not to give her name, told The Press Association. "The world we are leaving for the children and grandchildren is going to be horrendous and we let it happen. It happened on our watch. So we have to stand up and fight or lie down and fight." Despite the loss of the three sites, the movement is far from over. On Monday afternoon, around 100 protesters staged a die-in at London's Natural History Museum to call attention to the sixth mass extinction, BBC News reported.Protesters also continue to gather at Marble Arch, where they were addressed Sunday by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who has been credited with inspiring the youth climate strike movement."Keep going. You are making a difference," Thunberg said, as BBC News reported Sunday. The protesters are calling for the government to "tell the truth about climate change," to reduce UK greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025 and to create a citizen's assembly to help drive the process. They aim to maximize arrests in order to call attention to the climate crisis.

Police arrest over 1,000 climate change protesters in London - More than 1,000 people have been arrested in London over the last seven days of climate change protests organised by the Extinction Rebellion (XR) group.Protesters continued to peacefully occupy public spaces in the capital, including Parliament Square, Piccadilly Circus, Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus and Marble Arch, despite mounting and provocative police arrests. On Saturday, 200 extra police from neighbouring forces were demanded by the Metropolitan Police to deal with the protesters. Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick declared, “Every day we have had over 1,000 officers—and now over 1,500 officers.”The right-wing media and politicians have applauded the manhandling of protestors by the police, demanding the full force of the law to be used against them.Video footage shot Saturday afternoon showed police dragging protesters down the road near Regent Street adjacent to the Oxford Circus area. By Saturday evening police heavily outnumbered protesters. Forcing protesters to leave Waterloo Bridge on Saturday, police issued a warning that remaining there would be an arrestable offence. By Sunday evening, 963 people had been arrested, and a further 100-plus were arrested by Monday afternoon—for a total at 1,065 people. Those arrested range in age from 19 to 77. Of these, 53 have been charged for various offences including breach of Section 14 Notice of the Public Order Act 1986, for obstructing a highway and obstructing police.A Met spokesman said that, contrary to reports, its cells were not yet full in London and that they had contingency plans to handle even larger-scale arrests. On Sunday, police moved in to clear protesters from Oxford Street and Parliament Square during the day, and the remaining activists from Waterloo Bridge in the evening. Those demonstrators not arrested were being allowed to go to a small designated “legal” protest area at nearby Marble Arch.  After evicting them, police remained at all three sites in force.

 Climate movement grandpa James Hansen says the Green New Deal is ‘nonsense’ -In the 1980s, NASA scientist James Hansen brought climate change to the attention of Congress, and shortly thereafter the public. Humans, he testified in 1988, were responsible for rising global temperatures. But the man who put his reputation on the line to alert the world to the dangers of global warming doesn’t appear to agree with the most recent crop of climate advocates.In April 20 debate with Sunrise Movement’s Varshini Prakash and Christian Aid’s Amanda Mukwashi, Hansen called the Green New Deal “nonsense.” Hosted by Al Jazeera, the 12-minute debate highlights a growing fault line between two theories of climate action. Among progressives and environmental justice advocates, the Green New Deal represents a last-ditch, economy-wide overhaul. Hansen, on the other hand, seems to argue for a more economically incremental approach that is centered on a carbon tax.That tension came to a head when Hansen appeared visibly aggravated by the progressive proposal and Prakash, realizing that one of the most prominent climate scientists in the world was scoffing at her organization’s central focus, could only laugh in disbelief.  Although Hansen is a proponent of using technology to bring down emissions, a carbon tax, he said, “is the underlying policy required. People need energy, we need to make the price of fossil fuels include their cost to society.”The green new dealers, on the other hand, think their predecessors are offering too little too late. Prakash referenced a “point of no return” during the debate, a threshold past which temperatures rise so much that they trigger a series of unstoppable and catastrophic feedback loops. That kind of outcome can only be stopped by drastic action, she argued. When I spoke to Sunrise’s Evan Weber late last year, he indicated that the organization wasn’t actively pursuing a carbon tax. What was most striking about Hansen’s argument was his measured tone, a stark difference from the way even the typically staid scientists behind the U.N’s IPCC report are beginning to discuss the issue. “We should be phasing down emissions now,” he said, which seems like a bit of an understatement considering he’s been advocating for decreased emissions for the last, oh, four decades. “If we do that, we will get a little bit warmer than we are now, and then temperature(s) can begin to decline,” he said, adding that we will have to phase out fossil fuels over the “next several decades” in order to accomplish this goal.

No Silver Bullets - It’s no secret that we need to rapidly decarbonize the US economy to respond to the threat of catastrophic climate change. But the Green New Deal’s (GND) greatest promise isn’t the goal of 100 percent renewable energy and net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. Its promise lies instead in the grassroots organizing that’s pushed a leftist pipe dream to the center of congressional politics in a matter of months. That activist energy will be key to implementing the underlying policies that will transform our inequitable, exploitative, carbon-intensive energy system. Even seemingly technocratic policies to expand energy efficiency upgrades in buildings — which Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s GND resolution goes all in on — require political struggle on the ground. Take the case of New York State. A decade ago, working with broad social justice coalitions, the state’s government tried to generate the same upgrades that the GND now proposes — and failed. I was a member of the coalition that drove New York’s building upgrade experiment. I saw up close how technocratic policy divorced from on-the-ground organizing undermined the bold vision laid out in the legislation. An obsession with targets and timetables distracted from the imperative to continuously organize for a just and sustainable tomorrow. Instead of chasing silver bullet solutions, we’d be wise to follow the Black radical tradition: the recognition that justice is always elusive, that the fight never stops, and that our movements are, to a degree, ends in and of themselves.

How to stop climate change? Nationalise the oil companies -- Extinction Rebellion has retaught a lesson every generation must learn: that civil disobedience works. Amid the spluttering of obnoxious news presenters, it has forced the existential threat of climate change on to the airwaves and into newsprint. But as this phase of protest winds down, the demands must radicalise. With capitalism itself rightly being challenged, the focus must shift to the fossil fuel companies and the banks. As long as they remain under private ownership on a global scale, humanity’s future will be threatened.  Take ExxonMobil, which plans to pump an astonishing 25% more oil and gas in 2025 than it did in 2017. As that well-known bastion of eco-socialism, the Economist, puts it: “If the rest of the industry pursues even modest growth, the consequence for the climate could be disastrous,” adding that “the market cannot solve climate change by itself”. According to the UN’sIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, if we wish to prevent global temperatures rising by more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels – beyond which climate disasters multiply – then oil and gas production has to fall by 20% by 2030, and 55% by 2050. However, the economic self-interest and political power of the fossil fuel industry is deliberately sabotaging this goal. Last year, the industry spent an astonishing $124,837,199 on lobbying politicians in the US. During the 2016 elections, the industry spent over $100mon campaign contributions; recent top donors include the Koch brothers, Chevron and ExxonMobil. This is not wasted money, far from it. In the neoliberal era, rolling back the state has in practice meant withdrawing state support and social security for the majority, but continuing vast subsidies for vested interests. One recent study found that worldwide fossil fuel subsidies amounted to $4.9tn in 2013. So long as these sectors remain in private hands, they will continue to place short-term profit for elite investors ahead of the future of the planet and continued existence of humanity. They must be brought under public ownership, with a legal mandate to “green” the economy. One suggestion by the Next System Project is that the US government could create a community ownership of power administration, modelled on Roosevelt-era New Deal agencies. It would grant legal authority and funding mechanisms to buy back the energy grid and take over energy utilities.

The Way We Talk About Geoengineering Matters - Solar geoengineering describes a set of approaches that would reflect sunlight to cool the planet. The most prevalent of these approaches entails mimicking volcanic eruptions by releasing aerosols (tiny particles) into the upper atmosphere to reduce global temperatures — a method that comes with immense uncertainty and risk. We don't yet know how it will affect regional weather patterns, and in turn its geopolitical consequences. One way we can attempt to understand potential outcomes is through models.Models are representations of complex phenomena that are used to approximate outcomes. While they have limitations, they are an important tool to help scientists and decision makers understand potential futures based on scientific, technological and policy changes. With both potential and profound risks and uncertainties, we need more expansive modeling research on solar geoengineering techniques — not only to understand possible environmental impacts and risks, but political and social consequences as well. Without looking at this broader range of outcomes, the messaging behind solar geoengineering can then lead to simplifications and mischaracterizations of its potential in the media. In spaces where public familiarity is low and risks are high, scientists and journalists should both be responsible for capturing the nuance and complexities around geoengineering — only a full picture will enable an informed public debate. In the case of solar geoengineering, models offer the opportunity to examine questions on a global scale — a scale at which real world experiments aren't yet feasible or ethical. A small set of researchers have been examining the potential outcomes of solar geoengineering through modeling impacts for several years. This research has been valuable in gaining a deeper understanding of the possible consequences of deploying solar geoengineering. However, many of the scenarios analyzed have been under idealized, or "best case" conditions — in other words, we're not comprehensively looking at what could go wrong.And as we all know too well, the real world rarely imitates the best-case scenario. An example that comes to mind is that of DDT. Developed as an insecticide, DDT was extremely effective at reducing mosquito populations for a number of years during and after World War II. However, widespread use of the chemical led to massive environmental harm due to a failure to thoroughly investigate its impacts before widespread use — impacts that were not accounted for.

Beyond the Green New Deal: Another climate cause is dividing Democrats - — Democrats running for president have debated the Green New Deal for months, but a separate demand from climate advocates to aggressively restrict fossil fuel extraction is exposing new fissures within the field of primary candidates. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., unveiled a plan for public lands last week headlined by a moratorium on fossil fuel exploration. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., called for a similar ban as well. "Any serious effort to address climate change must include public lands — fossil fuel extraction in these areas is responsible fornearly a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions," Warren said in a Medium post outlining her plan. The move drew cheers from activists in the "keep it in the ground" movement, a coalition of environmental activists who seek to block mining, drilling and fracking operations in order to push the economy toward renewable energy more quickly."Keep it in the ground" supporters draw on the same arguments as the Green New Deal: According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world has only a limited window to slash greenhouse gas emissions to levels that are likely to head off a dangerous increase in global temperatures.But the two causes, while closely related, are not identical. The Green New Deal resolution co-authored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., called for sweeping investments in renewable energy, but kept silent on how to regulate fossil fuels. That omission prompted some criticism from groups like Greenpeace, which praised Warren and Sanders for their plans. Sens. Warren, Sanders and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., have signed onto the "Keep It In The Ground Act," a bill by Sen. Jeff Merkley that would block new oil, coal and gas leases on public land and waters. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who is running on a climate-focused platform, has said he supports it as well. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., is backing a separate bill with Sanders that seeks "a mandatory fossil fuel phase-out" in the electricity sector by 2050. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., has tweeted that she opposes drilling on public land.

The Problem With Putting a Price on the End of the World - New York Times -On a Saturday afternoon in early December, in his acceptance of the Nobel Prize in economics, William Nordhaus gave the crowning lecture of his half-century career as an economist, titled“Climate Change: The Ultimate Challenge for Economics.”  The Nobel was a tribute to the originality and influence of his work developing economic models that help people think about how to slow climate change. It also seemed to be a cri de coeur from the Swedish academics who choose the economics laureates: Climate change is a threat like no other. Fatal heat waves, droughts, wildfires and severe hurricanes are all becoming more common, and they are almost certain to accelerate. Avoiding horrific damage, as a United Nations panel of scientists recently concluded, will require changes in human behavior that have “no documented historic precedent.”  In his speech, Nordhaus explained that people use too much dirty energy because they don’t have to pay the true costs it imposes on the world: pollution-related health problems in the short term and climate change in the long term. Economists refer to these costs as externalities, because they are not naturally part of the market system. “We have a climate problem,” Nordhaus said, “because markets fail, and fail badly, in the energy sector.” The only solution, he argued, was for governments to raise the price of emissions.  Economists and other policy experts have long focused on this idea of carbon pricing. It can take the form of a carbon tax, as Nordhaus prefers. Or the pricing can be embedded in a system of permits known as cap-and-trade, as President Barack Obama and other Democrats proposed in their 2009 bill to address climate change. Either way, the underlying concept is simple. When a product becomes more expensive, people use less of it. Carbon pricing is an elegant mechanism by which market economics can work on behalf of the climate rather than against it. But if the idea’s straightforwardness is its great economic advantage, it has also proved to be its political flaw. Energy, for utilities and transportation, is a major cost of living. And across the industrialized world, the middle class and the poor have been struggling with slow income growth. As Nordhaus acknowledged in his speech, curbing dirty energy by raising its price “may be good for nature, but it’s not actually all that attractive to voters to reduce their income.”

Developer cancels plan for large Upper Peninsula wind project - Citing planning delays, a global renewable energy developer has canceled plans for a major wind project in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.A local referendum on the project is scheduled for May 7, though it is not clear whether that impacted developers’ decision.  The 130-megawatt Summit Lake Wind project, backed by global developer Renewable Energy Systems (RES), had divided local residents over its location in “pristine U.P. wilderness” near Lake Superior. The project in L’Anse Township northwest of Marquette was opposed by the local tribe for threatening hunting and fishing access.“After a careful review of several factors, RES has decided to discontinue the development of the Summit Lake Wind project,” RES project manager Sean Stocker said in a statement. “We have enjoyed working with the local community and want to thank all the landowners and supporters of the Summit Lake Wind project.”The company said “continued delays in the planning process have ceased to make the project financially and logistically viable.” A company spokesperson declined a request for further comment.  Researchers who previously spoke to Energy News Network described Summit Lake as unique because of its location (most Michigan wind projects are on rural farmland) and leasing structure with primarily one landowner. The project called for 49 turbines spread over thousands of acres near the McCormick Wilderness area of the Ottawa National Forest. The company previously said the site was chosen due to the local wind availability, grid capacity, distance from residences and for its “compatible use of timberland.”

Unreliable Nature Of Solar And Wind Makes Electricity Much More Expensive, Major New Study Finds - Solar panels and wind turbines are making electricity significantly more expensive, a major new study by a team of economists from the University of Chicago finds. Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) "significantly increase average retail electricity prices, with prices increasing by 11% (1.3 cents per kWh) seven years after the policy’s passage into law and 17% (2 cents per kWh) twelve years afterward," the economists write. The study by Michael Greenstone, Richard McDowell, and Ishan Nath compared states with and without an RPS. It did so using what the economists say is "the most comprehensive state-level dataset ever compiled" which covered 1990 to 2015. The cost to consumers has been staggeringly high: "All in all, seven years after passage, consumers in the 29 states had paid $125.2 billion more for electricity than they would have in the absence of the policy," they write. Last year, I was the first journalist to report that solar and wind aremaking electricity more expensive in the United States — and for inherently physical reasons. Solar and wind require that natural gas plants, hydro-electric dams, batteries or some other form of reliable power be ready at a moment’s notice to start churning out electricity when the wind stops blowing and the sun stops shining, I noted. And unreliability requires solar- and/or wind-heavy places like Germany, California, and Denmark to pay neighboring nations or states to take their solar and wind energy when they are producing too much of it. My reporting was criticized — sort of — by those who claimed I hadn't separated correlation from causation, but the new study by a top-notch team of economists, including an advisor to Barack Obama, proves I was right. Previous studies were misleading, the economists note, because they didn't "incorporate three key costs," which are the unreliability of renewables, the large amounts of land they require, and the displacement of cheaper "baseload" energy sources like nuclear plants. The higher cost of electricity reflects "the costs that renewables impose on the generation system," the economists note, "including those associated with their intermittency, higher transmission costs, and any stranded asset costs assigned to ratepayers."

Is the grid ready for electric vehicles? - Some Americans appear increasingly ready to give up their gas cars for electric vehicles. But are the country’s electric grids prepared for them?The question is a critical one in the quest to address climate change, because transportation is now the single largest sector contributing to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. EVs are widely viewed as a key way to help change that.“The broad answer is actually yes, the grid can handle the introduction of large amounts of EVs,” said Matt Stanberry, vice president of Advanced Energy Economy, a business association dedicated to development of clean and affordable global energy systems. “The capability is there,” Stanberry said. “The question is how do you get there.”Stanberry, along with others looking at the issue, believes what’s needed is not more power, it’s more efficiently and strategically provided power.“Cars sit around 20, 21 hours a day. There’s plenty of time to charge – so quite a bit of flexibility,” said Dan Bowermaster, program manager for electric transportation at the Electric Power Research Institute, an independent non-profit center for public interest energy and environmental research, which has been looking at grid readiness for EVs.But he said with new technology coming, such as storage and the ability to use a vehicle’s battery to power a home or to provide extra power to the grid, “Now is the time for everyone to prepare.” Ideally, people would charge their cars when the grid isn’t jammed with activity or when there’s extra power available. That would be in the middle of day in the sunny West when solar power is peaking. In windy areas like Texas, it’s nighttime. In the Northeast, it’s overnight when there’s less power usage. Utilities think they can influence people’s charging behavior by making it more advantageous to charge during those times.

Electric Car-Owners Shocked: New Study Confirms EVs Considerably Worse For Climate Than Diesel Cars - The Brussels Times reports that a new German study exposes how electric vehicles will hardly decrease CO2 emissions in Europe over the coming years, as the introduction of electric vehicles won't lead to a reduction in CO2 emissions from highway traffic. According to the study directed by Christoph Buchal of the University of Cologne, published by the Ifo Institute in Munich last week, electric vehicles have "significantly higher CO2 emissions than diesel cars." That is due to the significant amount of energy used in the mining and processing of lithium, cobalt, and manganese, which are critical raw materials for the production of electric car batteries. A battery pack for a Tesla Model 3 pollutes the climate with 11 to 15 tonnes of CO2. Each battery pack has a lifespan of approximately ten years and total mileage of 94,000, would mean 73 to 98 grams of CO2 per kilometer (116 to 156 grams of CO2 per mile), Buchal said. Add to this the CO2 emissions of the electricity from powerplants that power such vehicles, and the actual Tesla emissions could be between 156 to 180 grams of CO2 per kilometer (249 and 289 grams of CO2 per mile).  German researchers criticized the fact that EU legislation classifies electric cars as zero-emission cars; they call it a deception because electric cars, like the Model 3, with all the factors, included, produce more emissions than diesel vehicles by Mercedes.  They further wrote that the EU target of 59 grams of CO2 per kilometer by 2030 is "technically unrealistic." The reality is, in addition to the CO2 emissions generated in mining the raw materials for the production of electric vehicles, all EU countries generate significant CO2 emissions from charging the vehicles’ batteries using dirty power plants. For true emission reductions, researchers concluded the study by saying methane-powered gasoline engines or hydrogen motors could cut CO2 emissions by a third and possibly eliminate the need for diesel motors.

Bill Black: Faked Emissions May Send Volkswagen CEO to Prison -- In this Real News Network interview, Bill Black examines the VW emissions scandal examines the Volkswagen (VW) emissions scandal and discusses how corruption has become endemic in corporate Germany, and why the SEC and DoJ are targeting VW. Black is the author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One, an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and co-founder of Bank Whistleblowers United.

Fire mostly contained after ethanol train derailment in Texas: Union Pacific (Reuters) - A fire that broke out early Wednesday after 25 cars of a Union Pacific train hauling ethanol derailed at Fort Worth, Texas, has been “mostly contained”, a company spokeswoman said. Union Pacific was working with the Fort Worth Fire Department and planned to clear the site Wednesday morning, she said. The company did not have a timeline for reopening the tracks. The derailment and subsequent fire prompted evacuations in the neighborhood, and there were no injuries, a report with said. The company did not comment on the evacuations.

Trump Appointed Fossil Fuel Insiders to Federal Agencies. It’s Backfiring.  President Trump enjoys broad support from conservative Christians because of his promises to attack reproductive rights and stack the courts in their favor, but thousands of anti-choice “evangelical environmentalists” lashed out at his administration this week. Their gripe? An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal to gut the regulatory analysis behind pollution standards that have drastically reduced mercury and other toxic emissions from coal-burning power plants. Mercury, after all, can harm fetuses and developing brains. In a letter published in The Hill this week, the Evangelical Environmental Network became the latest group to speak out against an EPA proposal to heavily revise the cost-benefit analysis behind its Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, or MATS, which have required coal plants to invest in pollution controls that reduced the amount of mercury they spew into the air by up to 90 percent over the past decade. Progressive environmental groups, lawmakers in both parties and even electric utilities also came out against the proposed rule-making during a public comment period that ended this week.The unusual dissent from conservative evangelicals was the latest evidence that Trump’s plan to unleash fossil fuels production by stacking federal agencies with industry insiders and slashing regulatory oversight is backfiring. The president’s first picks to run the EPA and the Interior Department resigned in scandal, and their replacements are already mired in investigations and ethical concerns. Earlier this week, ethics watchdogs requested an internal investigation of EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s involvement in the proposal to gut MATS, which are estimated to save $37 to $90 billion in public health costs each year by reducing thousands of asthma and heart attacks and cases of lung cancer. Wheeler was formerly a lobbyist hired by the Murray Energy coal mining company, which challenged the economic analysis behind the regulations and asked the Trump administration to throw them out as recently as 2017, according to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). “It is becoming more and more clear why coal and energy companies are happy to have their former lobbyist Andrew Wheeler in charge of the EPA,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder, in a statement. “Administrator Wheeler’s apparent failure to abide by ethics obligations and to avoid the reality or appearance of conflicts continues to undermine the EPA’s integrity and weakens public confidence in our government.”

Detroit denies Marathon's request to keep pet coke piles uncovered - Mayor Mike Duggan's administration on Monday denied Marathon Petroleum Corp.'s request to continue storing petroleum coke in an uncovered pit after years of complaints from southwest Detroit residents about clouds of black dust blowing in the air and into the Detroit River. The Buildings, Safety, Engineering and Environmental Department (BSEED) formally denied Marathon's request for a variance to a 2017 city ordinance requiring the oil refining byproduct to be stored inside a covered facility. Marathon has stored its pet coke in a 30-foot deep pit since 2012. The soot-like black substance, which is burned for energy for utility boilers and kilns, has to be trucked away from Marathon's sprawling refinery along I-75 and the Rouge River. Marathon has to either enclose its pit or reapply for a variance that addresses issues with "fugitive dust" from the pet coke getting into the air from the wheels of trucks exiting the refinery facility, said Raymond Scott, deputy director of BSEED. "Their application lacks quite a bit of information that would give us the comfort we need in order to continue with a variance," Scott told Crain's. "They'll be provided the opportunity to correct the lack of information in their current application." Marathon failed to demonstrate in its variance application that it has a daily street sweeping schedule to clean up any pet coke dust that may escape the storage pit while it's being loaded and trucked out of the facility, according to a variance denial letter BSEED Director David Bell sent Monday morning to Marathon.

Ocasio-Cortez plans Kentucky visit despite being uninvited by GOP colleague - Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York is planning to visit Kentucky soon despite being uninvited by one of the state's Republican members of Congress. Corbin Trent, a spokeswoman for the New York congresswoman, told CNN on Friday that they've been invited by other Kentuckians and that plans are in the works for a visit to the Bluegrass State on their own, though the exact timing is unclear. "Luckily, we still have open borders with Kentucky, we are free to travel there," Trent said. "We hope to visit and have a town hall, listen to concerns of workers in Kentucky." In a spirited House Financial Services Committee hearing last month, Rep. Andy Barr, R-Kentucky, invited Ocasio-Cortez to his home state to see the impact her Green New Deal proposal would have on coal miners. "I want to invite the gentlelady to come to eastern Kentucky where thousands of coal miners no longer have paychecks," he said. "I invite her to go underground with me and meet the men and women who do heroic work to power the American economy." Ocasio-Cortez was quick to take him up on the offer. "I'd be happy to," she said, adding her proposal calls for "fully funding the pensions of coal miners in West Virginia and throughout Appalachia because we want a just transition to make sure that we're investing in jobs across those swaths of the country." Last week, however, Barr appeared to rescind his invitation, calling on Ocasio-Cortez to apologize to fellow GOP Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas before any potential Kentucky trip.

Environmental groups want ruling on coal ash water pollution (AP) — Two Tennessee environmental groups are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on whether the federal Clean Water Act applies to pollution from a coal ash dump. The groups sued to force the Tennessee Valley Authority to clean up coal ash pits at its Gallatin Fossil Plant. Court documents showed pollutants from the ash leech into the groundwater and then enter the Cumberland River. That’s a source of drinking water for Nashville. In September, a divided panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Clean Water Act doesn’t address leaks through groundwater, only direct discharges, such as through a pipe.

Judge Brian Morris Stymies New Trump Coal Sales on Federal Lands - US federal district judge Brian Morris dealt a serious setback to the Trump administration’s decision to increase coal mining on federal lands – stymieing issuance of new leases until the Department of the Interior undertakes further necessary environmental review required under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970. Morris deferred for the time being a further ruling on whether to reinstate completely the 2016 moratorium on new activity – overturned by Trump in March 2017. More than 40% of the coal mined in the United States comes from federal lands. And as Energy World reports, the Department of the Interior’s: Bureau of Land Management administers about 300 coal leases in 10 states. Most of that coal – 85 percent – comes from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana. Other states with significant federal coal reserves include Colorado and New Mexico. Production and combustion of coal from federal lands accounted for about 11 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2014. As Energy World reports:[Judge Morris] said Interior Department officials had wrongly avoided an environmental review of their action by describing it “as a mere policy shift.” In so doing, officials ignored the environmental effects of selling huge volumes of coal from public lands, the judge said. “The moratorium provided protections on public lands for more than 14 months,” Morris said in Friday’s 34-page order. He added that lifting the moratorium was a “major federal action” sufficient to trigger requirements for a detailed analysis of its environmental impacts. As the New York Times reports last Friday in Judge Delivers Major Setback to Trump Policy to Increase Coal Mining on Federal Land: The decision means that “the Interior Department has to go back to the drawing board if they want to continue to sell coal mining leases on public lands — they have to do a better job of legally and scientifically justifying this,” said Jenny Harbine, an attorney for Earthjustice, who took part in the oral arguments against the Trump administration.  Morris ordered government attorneys to undertake further negotiations with environmental groups, states – including the attorneys general of California, New Mexico, New York and Washington, who had sued over the decision to resume federal coal leasing – and tribal officials, according to Energy World.

Indiana chamber rejects ex-EPA chief Pruitt effort to keep coal-fired plants online (Reuters) - The leading business lobby group in Indiana on Monday rejected a plea from former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt to back legislation that would keep aging coal-fired power plants online because it would raise electricity rates for local businesses and homeowners. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce took the unusual step of calling out Pruitt and Rail Point - a coal company with whom he has registered as a lobbyist - for pressuring local lawmakers to block utilities Vectren Corp and the Northern Indiana Public Service Co (NIPSCO) from shutting their remaining coal plants and replacing their generation capacity with natural gas and renewables. Hallador Energy Co, the parent of Rail Point, on Saturday announced it hired Pruitt, who resigned as the head of the EPA amid a series of ethics investigations, as a lobbyist who is calling on the state legislature to put a moratorium on new utility generation purchases. The Indianapolis Star on Friday reported that Pruitt registered as a coal lobbyist in the state. The Chamber’s 50-member energy committee unanimously rejected Pruitt’s campaign.

India Looks To Add 12 New Nuclear Power Stations - India will add 12 nuclear power stations to its lineup to shore up its power supply situation, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) said on Monday, according toThe Times of India.  The “irreplaceable source of clean, pollution-free energy” is expected to be a significant and essential part of India’s energy needs, KN Vyas, DAE secretary said at an industry event in Russia, adding that there is no substitute for nuclear energy as it is particularly reliable.  Vyas highlighted its Kaiga Nuclear Power station which, according to him, has had a streak of 962 uninterrupted days of runtime.  As of 2018, six nuclear reactors were being constructed in India to meet the growing needs of the country.  Its nuclear capacity was expected to triple by 2031. India’s Nuclear Power Corporation, tasked with building and operating India’s power plants, had voiced reservations about this ambitious timeline, saying that it would need to lower those expectations, according to a Telegraph report. In 2018, India slashes its nuclear power plant construction plans by two-thirds, an unfortunate reality that was expected to increase its reliance on coal power.  India has long battled pollution problems, with the WHO estimating that at its worst, India can be 70 times dirtier than what the WHO considers safe. Nuclear power could prevent worsening of this pollution problem as its energy needs continue to grow. India is a signatory to the Paris Climate Agreement, and ranks 14th on the Global Climate Risk Index, according to Business Insider India, yet still it is vulnerable. Plans to be the world’s greatest solar energy success has fallen flat. It is largely dependent—perhaps too much so—on thermal and hydropower plants, both which require water. Nuclear power could add another layer of security for India.

U.S. Nuclear Power Plants Weren’t Built for Climate Change - In 2011, after an earthquake and tsunami caused a meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima-Daiichi power plant, Gregory Jaczko, then the chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, had to worry about two things: whether radioactive fallout would harm the U.S. and whether a similar accident could befall an American plant. The answer to the first question turned out to be no. The second question preoccupies him still. The NRC directed the operators of the 60 or so working U.S. nuclear power plants to evaluate their current flood risk, using the latest weather modeling technology and accounting for the effects of climate change. Companies were told to compare those risks with what their plants, many almost a half-century old, were built to withstand, and, where there was a gap, to explain how they would close it. That process has revealed a lot of gaps. But Jaczko and others say that the commission’s new leadership, appointed by President Donald Trump, hasn’t done enough to require owners of nuclear power plants to take preventative measures—and that the risks are increasing as climate change worsens. According to a Bloomberg review of correspondence between the commission and plant owners, 54 of the nuclear plants operating in the U.S. weren’t designed to handle the flood risk they face. Fifty-three weren’t built to withstand their current risk from intense precipitation; 25 didn’t account for current flood projections from streams and rivers; 19 weren’t designed for their expected maximum storm surge. Nineteen face three or more threats that they weren’t designed to handle. The industry argues that rather than redesign facilities to address increased flood risk, which Jaczko advocates, it’s enough to focus mainly on storing emergency generators, pumps, and other equipment in on-site concrete bunkers, a system they call Flex, for Flexible Mitigation Capability. Not only did the NRC agree with that view, it ruled on Jan. 24 that nuclear plants wouldn’t have to update that equipment to deal with new, higher levels of expected flooding. It also eliminated a requirement that plants run Flex drills.  The commission’s three members appointed by President Trump wrote that existing regulations were sufficient to protect the country’s nuclear reactors. Jaczko disagrees. “Any work that was done following Fukushima is for naught because the commission rejected any binding requirement to use that work,” he says. “It’s like studying the safety of seat belts and then not making automakers put them in a car.”

33 Years Later- Chernobyl's Deadly Effects Estimates Vary - April 26 marks the 33rd anniversary of the 1986 radiation disaster at Chernobyl reactor Number 4 in Ukraine, just north of Kiev the capital. It is still nearly impossible to get scientific consensus on the vast extent of the impacts. The explosions and two-week long fire at Chernobyl spewed around the world something between one billion and nine billion curies of radiation — depending on whose estimates you choose to believe. The accident is classified by the UN as the worst environmental catastrophe in human history.Chernobyl’s radioactive fallout has been blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths, but the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) acknowledges only 56 deaths among firefighters who suffered and died agonizing deaths in the disaster’s immediate aftermath. However, the IAEA’s officially chartered mission is “to accelerate and enlarge the contributions of nuclear power worldwide.” Because of its institutional bias, one can dispute nearly everything the IAEA says about radiation risk.Also on the low-end of fatality estimates is the World Health Organization which has to have its radiation studies approved by the IAEA! In 2006, the WHO’s “Expert Group concluded that there may be up to 4,000 additional cancer deaths among the three highest exposed groups over their lifetime (240,000 liquidators; 116,000 evacuees, and the 270,000 residents of the Strictly Controlled Zones).” The WHO added to this 4,000 the estimate that “among the five million residents of areas with high levels of radioactive cesium deposition” in Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine” predictions suggest “up to 5,000 additional cancer deaths may occur in this population from radiation exposure…”Alternately, Ukraine’s Minister of Health Andrei Serkyuk estimated in 1995 that 125,000 people had already died from the direct effects of Chernobyl’s radiation. Serkyuk said a disproportionate share of casualties were among children, pregnant women and rescue workers or “liquidators.” Liquidators were soldiers ordered to participate in the removal and burial of radioactive topsoil, heavy equipment, trees, and debris, wearing no protective clothing, respirators or radiation monitors. On January 10, 2010 The Guardian reported that “reputable scientists researching the most radiation-contaminated areas of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine” dispute the IAEA estimates that only 56 firefighters died “and that about 4,000 will die from it eventually.” The paper noted for example, that, “The International Agency for Research on Cancer, another UN agency, predicts 16,000 deaths from Chernobyl; an assessment by the Russian academy of sciences says there have been 60,000 deaths so far in Russia, and an estimated 140,000 in Ukraine and Belarus.” The Guardian further noted that, “Meanwhile, the Belarus national academy of sciences estimates 93,000 deaths so far and 270,000 cancers, and the Ukrainian national commission for radiation protection calculates 500,000 deaths so far.”

 Russia Unveils Sub With 'Nuclear Tsunami' Doomsday Drones- Russia has launched a new submarine that will carry underwater nuclear torpedoes capable of devastating enemy coastlines with a tsunami wave up to 500 meters (1,600 ft) that can leave behind radioactive isotopes, according to NBC News and US-Govt. funded outlet RFE/RL. The U.S. intelligence agencies estimate Status-6 will carry a multi-megaton thermonuclear bomb payload. For comparisons' sake the bomb dropped on Hiroshima was 16 kilotons, several orders of magnitude smaller. A one megaton bomb is the equivalent of 1,000 kilotons—one one million tons of TNT. Reports from Russia indicate the bomb could be as large as 100 megatons. Status-6 is designed to attack enemy coastal cities, ports, shipyards, and naval bases. Once Status-6 arrives at its destination it detonates the bomb, causing an enormous amount of damage through blast and heat. A 100 megaton bomb would generate artificial tsunamis, carrying the destruction far inshore. -Popular Mechanics.   Russian President Vladimir Putin oversaw the launch of the Project 09852 special-purpose nuclear-powered submarine Belgorod at the Sevmash Shipyard in Northern Russia on Tuesday, according to Russian state news agency TASS. Of note, the submarine is not yet operational. Construction will be completed afloat, according to TASS, which predicts that the submarine will begin sea trials in 2020, after which it will be delivered to the Russian navy at the end of that year. A Russian defense industry source told TASS that the Belgorod will carry up to six strategic underwater drones, which can travel up to 54 knots (62 mph) underwater and "avoid all acoustic tracking devices and other traps," according to Popular Mechanics. 

Swing and a miss on nuclear bailout - Toledo Blade editorial -  The latest bill put before the Ohio General Assembly to save two agingnuclear power plants, including Davis-Besse 30 miles east of Toledo, is a swing and a miss.While Ohio has some legitimate reasons to try to preserve the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear power stations, or at least postpone their phase-out, the legislation introduced by state House Speaker Larry Householder (R., Perry County) has not achieved the critical mass to justify a “yes” vote.While posing as green-energy legislation, it’s really a bailout for a private company and a not-balanced energy policy; too much campaign finance influence and not enough sacrifice by parent owner FirstEnergy Corp. of Akron. The plants are owned by FirstEnergy Solutions Corp., a FirstEnergy subsidiary that has filed for bankruptcy. And while it’s true that nuclear is a carbon-free energy generator — unlike natural gas and coal — it is not renewable. This legislation needs to reward conversion to renewable sources of energy, not give up on it. The measure would provide a credit of $9.25, to be adjusted annually for inflation, for each megawatt hour of carbon-free electricity generated. Together, Davis-Besse and Perry, in Lake County, east of Cleveland, generate 90 percent of the zero-carbon energy in the state. Mr. Householder’s bill would impose surcharges on all electric-utility customers in the state — $2.50 a month for the typical residential consumer. It would also eliminate renewable and energy efficiency mandates, thereby saving ratepayers $1.89 per month, on average.  Though they produce no climate-warming carbon, Davis-Besse and Perry, like all nuclear plants, are potential environmental disasters. They generate hazardous waste and a radiation release into the atmosphere would have severe consequences.PJM, the interstate organization that coordinates the transmission of electricity through Ohio and 12 other states, has said the plants are not critical to maintaining reliable and affordable power in the region. But the plants are a public utility, whose regulation and oversight has required significant public investment.And Ohio has an interest in diversified electrical energy sources, rather than allowing natural gas to be the sole source of power while new, renewable sources are brought up to scale. Ultimately, it is FirstEnergy’s problem, not the consumers’. FirstEnergy bears the burden of these plants’ economic inefficiency. FirstEnergy has made sure to spend generously on getting friendly lawmakers elected to the statehouse. Toledo needs an energy policy that promotes power through renewable sources like wind, solar, and water power. The Householder bill is not that policy.

DeWine Declines Comment On Nuclear Plant Bailout Proposal  - Ohio lawmakers are debating a plan to bail out the state's two nuclear power plants by raising rates on customers.  Governor Mike DeWine isn't weighing in on that proposal, but says nuclear energy needs to be a part of Ohio's short-term energy landscape. Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles reports.  FirstEnergy Solutions has filed for bankruptcy, saying it needs state lawmakers to step in and pass a bailout of its nuclear power plants. DeWine says those two facilities are needed. “You cannot dramatically reduce carbon or keep those numbers down without using nuclear. I’m all for wind and solar. Those are going to continue to move forward, I believe, but you cannot hit the number without using nuclear. So nuclear is an important part of this.”DeWine won’t comment on the specifics of the plan being pushed by Republican House Speaker Larry Householder, which would also wipe out the current requirements for utilities to get power from alternative energy. Many environmentalists do not consider nuclear a form of “green energy.”

Siderewicz to testify against energy bill -  Should Blockbuster have been subsidized to compete with Netflix?  Siderewicz made the analogy Monday — two days ahead of his scheduled testimony before the Ohio House’s energy generation subcommittee on House Bill 6, opponents of which, including Siderewicz, say is no more than a bailout of Ohio’s two struggling nuclear power plants. The legislative proposal that creates the Ohio Clean Air Program, Siderewicz said, could have a chilling effect on a second nearly identical $900 million natural-gas electric plant that would be known as Trumbull Energy Center and built nearby LEC. Supporters of the bill say it would generate $300 million each year for clean energy production and should save most customers money because it calls for getting rid of renewable energy mandates that add on extra charges. The idea, supported by the leader of the Republican-controlled Ohio House, drew immediate criticism from groups that favor renewable energy, such as wind and solar, and those who say the plan too heavily favors the nuclear plants. About half of the money from the surcharge would go to the Davis-Besse nuclear plant near Toledo and the Perry plant in Lake County that produce 14 percent of the state’s electricity. The rest would go to expanding Ohio’s clean energy sector. Both plants are slated to close by 2021 unless their operator, FirstEnergy Solutions, can find a buyer or the government eases the cost of operating them. Siderewicz called the proposal “so embarrassingly silly it’s hard to believe it’s actually being debated.” Subsidizing the plants negatively affects the free market and could cause potential investors in TEC to pull back their financial support, he said.

Ohio nuclear subsidy bill designed to undermine wind and solar, experts say — Analysts say legislation to subsidize Ohio’s nuclear plants through the creation of a statewide “Clean Air Program” would discourage development of wind and solar energy because it would undermine renewable energy requirements set in place a decade ago. The bill would eliminate a surcharge allowing utilities to pass along their costs for complying with the state’s renewable portfolio standard, replacing a competitive renewable energy market with subsidies that appear aimed toward existing nuclear and coal power plants. Terrence O’Donnell, a Columbus-based lawyer who represents wind and solar developers, wrote in comments for the committee that House Bill 6 amounts to a “government takeover of the energy sector.” The bill, O’Donnell wrote, is tantamount to undoing the renewable portfolio standard, which “sets out competitive, market-based procurements whereby the state sets a target and allows the flourishing clean energy private sector to select least cost projects.” Hearings on the bill continue this week before the House Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee, which includes three new Republican members added by Householder amid rumors the bill as written might not have enough support to advance. Unveiled April 12 by Rep. Householder, R-Glenford, HB 6 would replace monthly customer fees that reflect utility costs to obtain renewable energy and separate fees financing utility energy efficiency programs with “clean air fees” that Householder said will be lower. The entire renewable energy and energy efficiency package, said Householder and the bill’s sponsors, is now adding $4.39 to the average residential customer bill. The new charges, which have no sunset provision, would cost about $2.50.  But the renewable energy charges only amount to 37 cents on average for residential customers, according to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. The remainder of the $4.39 figure, an estimate produced by Householder’s staff, is presumably for efficiency and peak demand programs, and some of the state’s utilities plan to continue the old charges at least until they have paid for previously created expenses. And state regulators can, under existing law, allow utilities to create new customer-paid energy efficiency programs in the future. Language buried deep in the 27-page bill also makes it difficult, if not impossible, for a solar or wind developer trying to finance a new project to rely on funding from the Clean Air Fund that HB 6 would create.

Nuclear bailout bill slammed by environmental, other groups - As Gov. Mike DeWine came out in support of aid for the state’s two nuclear power plants, members of a House subcommittee got an earful Tuesday from environmental and other groups who say a bill that would shore up the plants is nothing but a corporate bailout.“It is an Orwellian twist to call (House Bill) 6 a ‘clean air resource’ bill. The bill creates a new tax on all customers of the four Ohio utilities, even if they buy their power from other suppliers. The main beneficiary will be FirstEnergy Solutions, which is now in bankruptcy and will soon be owned mainly by a few Wall Street hedge funds,” said John Finnigan, lead counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund.“It is not clean air policy. It is a corporate bailout policy — and no one should be surprised to see such widespread opposition to the proposal,” said Todd Snitchler, vice president of market development at the American Petroleum Institute, and a former chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and former Republican lawmaker.Backers of the legislation say the proposal to create a new Ohio Clean Air Program would help plants that are the biggest source of carbon dioxide-free energy in the state. Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, has made the bill a priority and wants it approved quickly.The proposal would create a new Ohio Clean Air Program, charging residential customers $2.50 per month on their electric bill to create a $300 million fund. More than half of the money would go to FirstEnergy Solutions, owner of the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants in northern Ohio. . It says without help, the plants will close within two years.. The state also would likely create a program to send funding to coal and gas power plants that make emissions improvements.

 Spill released 1,000 gallons — City officials said 1,000 gallons of oil were released into Conneaut’s sewer system during last week’s spill.  “It was a catastrophic failure of the oil-water separator at Love’s Truck Stop,” Sewer Superintendent Brian Bidwell told city council members Monday. On April 14, a storm hit Conneaut and the power went out at Love’s Travel stop. The tank of Love’s oil water separator filled up, and when the separator’s pump restarted, it emptied both the oil and the water into the city’s sewer system, Bidwell said. Oil reached the city’s wastewater treatment plant, where it started disrupting the micro-organisms the plant uses to treat water. “There’s no permanent damage to anything,” Bidwell said. Last week, there was some concern the oil would kill all the micro-organisms in the plant. After testing, officials know at least some of the micro-organisms are still alive.  “It was impacted, but it’s not completely gone,” Bidwell said. To help keep the micro-organisms alive, the plant will be cleaned. The plant has six tanks and a clearing basin, and all six tanks will be cleaned.  Cleaning the plant is expected to take three to four weeks, City Manager Jim Hockaday said. Bidwell said the wastewater department put oil-eating micro-organisms into the lift stations to help the cleaning process. They will help clean affected areas of the sewer as they were pumped through the system.  . There was a light sheen on the lake after the spill, but no massive discharge of oil into the lake, Bidwell said. “The plant was very effective at capturing most of everything that came to the plant,” he said. Officials couldn’t take samples from the lake on the day of the spill because of the weather conditions, Hockaday said.  People might smell oil or gas near the wastewater station, Hockaday said. They should still report it, but tests currently show the air quality is safe. In addition to the oil spill, 20 feet of sewer main under Lake Road collapsed Friday, forcing Lake Road to close for a time and creating additional work for Bidwell and his team.

 Ohio shale investment hits $74 billion since 2011 Investment in the energy-rich shale sector in eastern Ohio continues to grow, reaching $74 billion since 2011, according to a report commissioned by JobsOhio. Investment in the energy-rich shale sector in eastern Ohio continues to grow, reaching $74 billion since 2011, according to a report commissioned by JobsOhio. The quarterly report, done by Cleveland State University’s Energy Policy Center at the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs, shows that about two-thirds of that investment has been in drilling, land acquisition, building roads and other expenses tied to the “upstream” portion of oil and gas production. The rest has been spent on activities such as collecting and gathering the oil and gas along with transmission lines and investments in natural-gas power plants and other uses. The study represents investment through the first half of 2018. It comes just weeks after researchers at IHS Markit released estimates that show by 2040, the Utica and Marcellus shale regions in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania will supply 45% of U.S. natural gas production. That’s up from 31% this year. Production of natural-gas liquids ethane, propane and butane is expected to double during this period, accounting for 19% of the nation’s total. The latest data shows production from the region, which is primarily natural gas, continues to surge. Oil production in the final three months of 2018 was 5.8 million barrels, a 38.6% increase from the same period in 2018, according to the most recent report from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Gas production hit 663.5 million cubic feet, a 32 percent increase from the final three months of 2018.

Utica Shale oil, natgas production expected to grow in '18 - — Martin Shumway and Tim Knobloch used an array of drilling data to paint pictures of Ohio’s Utica Shale and the entire Appalachian Basin in twin presentations Thursday at the 72nd annual Ohio Oil and Gas annual meeting, sponsored by the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, with roughly 700 attendees in Ohio’s capital city.   Oil production in 2018 is expected to increase by 20% from 2017, reaching 23.4 million barrels (Mmbbl), and reversing a declining trend from 2015 to 2017, he said. Ohio’s all-time oil production record was set in 1897, at 23.9 million barrels, and Ohio is likely to smash that record very soon, Shumway said. Natural gas production is projected to increase 34% from 2017 to 2018, he said, from 1.8 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), to 2.4 Tcf in 2018. Those 2018 totals are based on production totals for three quarters and estimates for Q4 2018. In 2018, Ohio’s Belmont County had the most well completions with 98. Monroe County had 95 and Jefferson County had 42. Ohio had 408 well completions in 2018, a drop of 9% from 2017. Of that total, 336 wells were producing in 2018. In addition, a total of 493 permits were issued by the state, a drop of 47% from 2017. Of those completions, 70 were by Ascent Resources, 45 were by Gulfport, 39 by Antero Resources, 36 by Rice and 35 by Chesapeake. Antero’s wells drilled increased by 77% in 2018, while most other companies showed declines, he said. To date, Chesapeake has drilled the most Utica wells in Ohio with 688, followed by Ascent with 378, and Gulfport with 304. The most linear feet were drilled in Belmont County: 1.85 million feet. It was followed by Monroe and Jefferson counties. In 2018, energy companies drilled 6.5 million feet on 371 wells. That compares to 6.03 million feet drilled on 378 wells in 2017. The top year for linear feet drilled in Ohio was 2016 with 7.95 million feet.Ascent drilled the most linear feet in Ohio in 2018: nearly 1.3 million feet. Second was Rice with 775,323 feet, Gulfport with 764,456 feet, Eclipse with 716,216 feet and Chesapeake with 644,424 feet. Ohio has 328 wells with laterals that exceed 10,000 feet, with the greatest number in Belmont, Monroe and Jefferson counties, he said.Pennsylvania has 346 laterals that exceed 10,000 feet, with the greatest number in Washington, Greene and Susquehanna counties. West Virginia has 170 laterals that exceed 10,000 feet with most in Doddridge, Ritchie and Tyler counties.Eclipse has drilled an Ohio well in Monroe County with a 20,720-foot lateral that’s the longest in Ohio

Studies link earthquakes to fracking in the central and eastern US - Small earthquakes in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas can be linked to hydraulic fracturing wells in those regions, according to researchers speaking at the SSA 2019 Annual Meeting. While relatively rare compared to earthquakes caused by wastewater disposal in oil and gas fields in the central United States, Michael Brudzinski of Miami University in Ohio and his colleagues have identified more than 600 small earthquakes (between magnitude 2.0 and 3.8) in these states. Brudzinski said these earthquakes may be "underappreciated" compared to seismicity related to wastewater disposal since they appear to happen less frequently. He and his colleagues are studying the trends related to the likelihood of induced seismicity from hydraulic fracturing or fracking, which could help industry and state regulators better manage drilling practices. The numerous fracking wells in eastern Ohio prompted Brudzinski and his colleagues to take a closer look at whether small earthquakes in the region could be connected to fracking operations. "The wells are more widely spaced when they're active, and there isn't as much wastewater disposal going on," Brudzinski explained, "so you can see a bit more specifically and directly when wastewater disposal is generating seismicity and when hydraulic fracturing is generating seismicity in the Appalachian Basin." The scientists used a technique called multi-station template matching, which scans through hundreds of seismic signals to find those that match the "fingerprint" of known earthquakes. The technique allowed them to detect small earthquakes that might have otherwise been overlooked, and to compare the more complete earthquake catalog in a region to information on the timing and location of regional fracking well operations. Seismologists identify earthquakes as being caused by hydraulic fracture wells when they are tightly linked in time and space to fracking operations. Fracking-related seismicity also tends to look different from seismicity caused by wastewater disposal, Brudzinski said. "The [fracking] seismic signature when you look at it in a sort of timeline shows these bursts of seismicity, hundreds or sometimes thousands of events over a couple of days or weeks, and then it's quiet again. You don't tend to see that pattern with wastewater disposal," he explained.

GOP Legislator Criticizing Company Behind Mariner East Pipelines As It Faces Criminal Investigation - Few legislators are more supportive of Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry than state Sen. Gene Yaw (Bradford), who serves as the Republican chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.However, when he addressed oil and gas industry representatives Wednesday at the Upstream PA Conference in State College, Yaw called out Energy Transfer for being irresponsible. It’s the company behind the embattled Mariner East project– a set of export pipelines moving natural gas liquids through the southern part of the state.“This particular company, in my opinion, rode roughshod over people,” Yaw said in his remarks. “They haven’t explained what’s gone on. They haven’t addressed issues.”The Mariner East project has resulted in dozens of violations for spills of drilling mud, which has contaminated private well water. Last year, state utility regulators temporarily shut down one of the pipelines, after sinkholes opened up in a Chester County neighborhood. Energy Transfer is now under criminal investigation by the attorneys general of Chester and Delaware counties, as well as State Attorney General Josh Shapiro.Yaw said Energy Transfer is damaging the reputations of more responsible pipeline operators, citing Williams, which recently completed the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline, an expansion of its natural gas transmission line system.“You have one company in Pennsylvania that is probably being counterproductive to your interests,” Yaw said, referring to Energy Transfer. “I’ve talked to these people until I was blue in the face. I know Williams isn’t happy, because they get tarred with the same brush.” Energy Transfer did not respond to a request seeking comment Thursday, but it has previously said there is no basis for a criminal investigation. In a February conference call with investors chief executive, Kelcy Warren, acknowledged the company has “made mistakes” with its Mariner East project adding, “we are correcting those mistakes and will not make those mistakes again.”

Sunoco sends notice that it plans to restart Mariner East 1 pipeline - The Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement (I&E) – the independent investigation and enforcement bureau of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) – on Friday received notice from Sunoco Pipeline LP, a/k/a Energy Transfer Partners (SPLP or Sunoco), of Sunoco’s intent to restart the Mariner East 1 (ME1) pipeline. Sunoco also will take a series of additional steps to address safety concerns regarding the Mariner East pipelines, according to a press release. Mariner East 1 (ME1) has been out of service since Jan. 20, 2019, as engineers from I&E’s Pipeline Safety Division monitored stabilization and remediation efforts undertaken by SPLP following a subsidence event or “sinkhole” that exposed a small segment of the pipeline along Lisa Drive in West Whiteland Township, Chester County, the release said.  Enhanced safety actions to be undertaken by Sunoco include:

  • I&E and Sunoco have agreed upon a plan to further remediate the Lisa Drive area surrounding ME1. The site remediation plan will contain a going-forward approach based on all data collected to date. The site remediation plan will also consider the impact of the planned or anticipated open trench excavation of the 20-inch Mariner East 2 line, and the plan will be submitted to I&E for review by I&E’s consultants.
  • SPLP will commit personnel to walk the Lisa Drive section of ME1 daily, except where inclement weather would put personnel in danger, until the grouting along ME1 is complete. SPLP will further provide I&E with summary reports describing the observations recorded during each visual inspection.
  • Sunoco will perform geophysical tests in the right-of-way area behind Lisa Drive every six months for two years, and report the findings to I&E.
  • SPLP will maintain the existing top-of-pipe elevation survey locations and strain gauges on this section of ME1 and will continuously monitor strain gauge data in its control room that is staffed 24/7, and routinely provide reports to I&E.

Energy Transfer- Mariner East 1 Pipeline Back in Service - Energy Transfer LP announced that effective today, Mariner East 1 pipeline has resumed operations. The 350-mile, 8-inch natural gas liquids (NGL) pipeline transports NGLs across Southern Pennsylvania to Energy Transfer’s Marcus Hook Industrial Complex in Delaware County, PA. Energy Transfer worked closely with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement (BI&E) throughout an extensive three-month investigation, through which Energy Transfer confirmed the integrity of the pipeline in the area of West Whiteland Township, Chester County, PA. The investigation also confirmed that at no time was Mariner East 1 ever destabilized in this area.  Mariner East 1 is part of Energy Transfer’s Mariner East system of pipelines designed to provide much-needed NGL takeaway capacity for the Marcellus and Utica Shale production areas in Eastern Ohio, West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania.

Sinkhole opens up along ME2 route in Delaware County; no leaks or injuries - A sinkhole opened up on Wednesday along a Sunoco pipeline route in Middletown, Delaware County, state, county and township officials said. The sinkhole – called a “subsidence” by the Public Utility Commission – was in the right-of-way for a 12-inch pipeline that is part of the Mariner East system to carry highly volatile natural gas liquids and petroleum products, the PUC said in a statement late Wednesday. No leaks or injuries were reported, and Sunoco officials have been working to “stabilize and monitor” the situation, the PUC said. The regulator said its Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement has launched a safety investigation. Earlier this week, Sunoco restarted the Mariner East 1 pipeline which had been shut down for three months because another sinkhole exposed a section of the pipe on a construction site at Lisa Drive, a suburban development in West Whiteland Township, Chester County. Sunoco confirmed that the new sinkhole had opened up but said Thursday morning that the hole has been filled and that there was no interruption to pipeline operations. “A subsidence feature did occur yesterday along our right of way,” said Vicki Granado, a spokeswoman for Sunoco’s parent, Energy Transfer. “The appropriate regulatory agencies were notified and an investigation determined our pipelines in the area are safe and secure. Nothing was exposed. The area was immediately contained and grouted. We placed our personnel in the area to continue to monitor the area. Our pipelines remain in service.” 

Underground wastewater pipelines can be a big, unregulated business in Pennsylvania - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette -- Equitrans Midstream Corp. is in the gas pipeline business and a little bit in the water pipeline business. There are lots of reasons to grow that little bit, promised Thomas Karam, the CEO of the Pittsburgh-based midstream firm. He was previewing a strategy that he said would be fleshed out later this year to take advantage of shale gas’s extreme thirst for water. “Produced water services are particularly exciting because the Appalachian Basin needs a solution,” Mr. Karam said in March while announcing a $1 billion deal for control of two Ohio gas pipeline systems. Produced water is a kind of catch-all term for wastewater that comes back out of a well after chemical-laced frack fluid is pumped into it. Once fracking is over and the well starts producing gas, it also brings to the surface a salty and often radioactive brine that is now mostly trucked around Pennsylvania. There are at least several hundred miles of produced water pipelines buried in Pennsylvania, but they are largely unregulated and untracked. Environmental regulators say they’ve been hesitant to push for regulations because the pipelines haven’t been known to cause problems and because the technology — both how they’re built and how they’re inspected — has been changing faster than they can regulate. So for now, Pennsylvania has had a hands-off approach, happy that at least some wastewater trucks are taken off the roads due to pipelines.  Mr. Karam didn’t harp on the reduced truck traffic. Produced water pipelines, he told investors last month, are a juicy business opportunity. They are a service, with predictable product volumes and the potential for long-term contracts, just like gas gathering lines. “We don't have to re-create the wheel,” he said. “Produced water is piped in other basins, so that what we're going to try to do is introduce that to the Appalachian Basin with similar contractual characteristics.” It wasn’t clear if Mr. Karam was speaking specifically of buried produced water pipelines. After requesting a list of questions, Equitrans did not respond.

Shale Wastewater Pipelines in PA – The Next Big Thing? --Are underground shale wastewater pipelines the “next big thing” for the Pennsylvania midstream (i.e. pipeline) industry? According to Thomas Karam, CEO of Equitrans Midstream Corp., they just may be. Most of Equitrans’ pipeline business is flowing natural gas. A little bit of their business is dedicated to flowing wastewater. Karam wants to grow that little bit into a much bigger bit.The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a major story yesterday on the developing market for underground wastewater pipelines for the PA shale gas industry. The story’s spin is that these types of pipelines are not currently regulated by the state, and therefore are somehow dangerous. Anything unregulated is “dangerous” for leftists. They can’t conceive of an industry self-regulating. So what if there is a leak or spill? It’s salty water.The Post-Gazette article talks about water that’s “radioactive” and “laced with chemicals” from frack fluid. Yes, if you spill a bunch of produced water on the ground–which is water from the depths full of minerals making it super salty–the grass might die. And then a month later the grass will grow back. Produced water is not some highly contaminated hazardous substance. It’s water! With some minerals in it! And it’s not radioactive–at least not at any level that harms humans or the environment. Water itself has natural radioactivity in it–did you know that?One of the big positives with pipelines is that it removes thousands of truck trips from our roads–reducing traffic resulting in fewer accidents that spill produced water, and making for cleaner air (apologies to our trucking company friends, but facts are facts).At any rate, the wastewater pipeline industry in the Marcellus/Utica didn’t even exist five years ago, but does today. Big midstreamers like Equitrans are taking notice.

 Study tracks Pennsylvania's oil and gas waste-disposal practices - More than 80 percent of all waste from Pennsylvania's oil and gas drilling operations stays inside the state, according to a new study that tracks the disposal locations of liquid and solid waste from these operations across 26 years. Numerous human health hazards have been associated with waste from oil and gas extraction, including potential exposure to compounds known to cause cancer. The study is the first comprehensive assessment of Pennsylvania's waste-disposal practices, tracking from 1991 - when the state began collecting waste-disposal information - through 2017. In southwestern Pennsylvania, most solid waste goes to landfills in the county where it was produced, the study also found, while in northern counties along state borders, solid waste generally moves to neighboring states of Ohio and New York. Oil and gas development produces high-salinity water that can contain strontium and radium - substances classified as known human carcinogens. Solid waste includes cuttings from drilling that can bring naturally occurring radioactive materials including uranium, radium, and thorium, up from the subsurface to the surface, creating the potential for human and environmental exposures to these toxic compounds. Previous studies have tracked only subsets of oil and gas waste-disposal data. For example, many past studies have focused just on waste from high-volume hydraulic fracturing, the process used at scale since 2008 to extract oil and gas from Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale formation. But the PSE-led study also tracks waste from conventional oil and gas development, which has taken place in Pennsylvania since records have been kept and continues today. Conventional drilling operations accounted for nearly one third of all waste, the data showed.

EPA Decides Not to Regulate Fracking Wastewater as Pennsylvania Study Reveals Recent Spike - On April 23, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told two environmental groups that it had decided it was “not necessary” to update the federal standards handling toxic waste from oil and gas wells, including the waste produced by fracking.  State regulators have repeatedly proved unable to prevent the industry’s toxic waste from entering America’s drinking water supplies, including both private wells and the rivers from which public drinking water supplies are drawn, the Environmental Protection Agency concluded in a 2017 national study. The corrosive salt-laden wastewater from fracked wells has been spread on roads as a de-icer. It’s been sprayed into the air in the hopes of evaporating the water — a practice that spreads its blend of volatile chemicals into the air instead. Oil industry wastewater has even been used to irrigate crops — in California, where state regulators haven't set rules to keep dangerous chemicals like the carcinogen benzene out of irrigation water. If equally contaminated waste came from other industries, it would usually be designated hazardous waste and subject to strict tracking and disposal rules designed to keep the public safe from industrial pollution. But in July 1988, after burying clear warnings from its own scientists about the hazards of oilfield waste, the EPA offered the oil and gas industry a broad exemption from hazardous waste handling laws.  The decision comes as a new study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Science of the Total Environment, calls attention to the oil and gas waste produced in Pennsylvania for nearly that entire time. The oil and gas industry has flooded Pennsylvania with over 380 million barrels of liquid waste from 1991 to 2017, that study found — enough to fill an area the size of a standard city block with a column of wastewater over 200 feet tall.  “Pennsylvania also has the third highest cancer incidence rate of all U.S. states,” Environmental Health News reported, citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Approximately half of all Pennsylvanians will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime, and about one in five Pennsylvanians will die of cancer.” Fifty-five known chemicals that fracked oil and gas operations release into the air and the water can cause cancer, a Yale Public Health analysis found last year. Oil and gas workers are routinely exposed to dangerous levels of cancer-causing chemicals like benzene, a 2014 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found.

Years after record Marcellus Shale fine was dropped, gas leak continues in Lycoming County — Josh Woda, wearing fishing waders, trudged through sparse winter woods near an ice-glazed stream and pointed to a spot where the ice had curved into a dome the width of a salad plate.Beneath it, methane gas rose from the stream bed as it had for seasons, in bubbles so frequent and persistent that it bowed the frozen water.“If you broke a hole, you could probably light it,” he said. Three years ago, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection dropped its pursuit of the largest fine it had ever tried to collect against an oil and gas drilling company — $9 million. Regulators said the methane bubbling up in this stream in Lycoming County, called Sugar Run, came from a leaking Marcellus Shale well that also damaged water quality at a dozen homes and created dead zones in farm fields.The fine was meant to send a message — to make it “clear that we take seriously our responsibility to protect residents and Pennsylvania's natural resources,” then-DEP Secretary John Quigley said at the time.  But in 2016 the well’s owner, Range Resources, had become more cooperative with DEP’s directions to fix the well — even as the Texas company maintained it was not the source of the problem — and the way that the state had proposed the fine meant its legal foundation was rickety. DEP’s reversal caused outrage. The outrage faded. Eight years after it was first detected, the leak has not been plugged and deep gas is still finding a path to the surface.  New research out of Pennsylvania State University led by Mr. Woda, a geosciences graduate student, suggests a methane plume is moving through the aquifer and causing cascading effects: feeding bacteria that interact with other elements in the water, giving the water a rotten-egg odor, and turning stream sediment and residents’ plumbing fixtures orange. Even as the years-long leak indicates a series of failures, mechanical and human, it has offered researchers a rare, prolonged look at how new sources of methane affect aquifers and the surrounding landscape. It has also meant a drawn-out ordeal for the affected homeowners. Nancy DeWire, a 76-year-old sheep farmer and recent widow, can describe a personal timeline: the day her family discovered bubbling in the creek, the day an oily looking sheen of iron bacteria appeared on the water in a dish pan, the day installers put a complex water treatment system in the basement at Range Resources’ expense and ran a white pipe up the side of the red brick house.  In January, she was one of seven area homeowners to receive a letter from DEP confirming the changes in her water were caused by gas drilling. She had been waiting for the letter since 2015, when she and her husband first noticed dead spots in their field.

Shell hires global firm for maintenance, repair work at cracker plant --— Shell Chemicals’ ethane cracker plant project hit another milestone Thursday as the company hired a firm to perform maintenance work on the plant when it becomes operational in several years. Shell announced it has awarded a contract to AECOM Energy and Construction, which will provide “skilled mechanical craft labor and supervisory maintenance” work once the plant moves into an operational phase sometime early next decade. Financial terms of the contract were not disclosed. AECOM, which has its headquarters in Los Angeles, is a global company with about 87,000 employees, including about 1,200 people in Pennsylvania. AECOM’s employees will perform maintenance on the plant to ensure it is “running safely and efficiently while minimizing downtime,” Shell said in a news release. Duties will include changing out pumps, tightening flanges, and other general repairs and maintenance. “This routine preventative maintenance will create a plant which runs more efficiently, minimize potential for downtime and preserve the asset for the long term,” Shell said. Shell said AECOM’s role will be “essential to the planning and execution of maintenance once we move into operations.” The company also called the contract agreement an “important milestone” in the project’s history.

Appalachian producers expected to report modest production gains in Q1— Appalachian-focused oil and gas producers are expected to report only modest gains in gas production in the first quarter of 2019 as they seek to hold the line on capital spending. In guidance issued toward the end of last year and earlier in 2019, most of the larger Appalachian Basin producers announced plans to scale back on capex spending on drilling, with an eye toward living within cash flow and increasing investor returns. Southwestern Energy said it had reduced planned capital investment by $200 million compared with 2019 guidance, which the company had released when it announced the sale of its assets in the Fayetteville shale last September. The company's projected 2019 capex is also $120 million lower than 2018 capex. In February, Range Resources announced a 2019 capex budget of about $756 million -- about 83% of its 2018 estimated capex budget. The company said it expects its full-year 2019 production to average between 2.32 Bcfe/d and 2.35 Bcfe/d, up only slightly from the 2.2 Bcf/d reported in 2018. Appalachian producer CNX in recent guidance said it expects 2019 average production volumes of between about 5.5 Bcfe/d and 5.7 Bcfe/d, an annual increase of about 5%, compared with 2018 volumes from retained assets of about 5.3 Bcfe/d. "Most of the companies said they expect to grow production at a modest pace while living within cash flow,"  Pennsylvania issued 35% fewer permits to drill wells in Q1 2019 compared with the same period of 2018. The state Department of Environmental Protection reports that 491 permits were issued in Q1 2019 versus 758 in Q1 2018. However, the move to slow down drilling in the basin in 2019 is not yet being reflected in the rig count, particularly the number targeting the dry gas Marcellus shale play of northeastern Pennsylvania, data from S&P Global Platts Analytics shows. Producers in that region have been increasing the number of operated rigs fairly aggressively since the beginning of the new year, averaging 65 rigs year to date compared with 54 in 2018, Platts Analytics finds. This contrasts with rig activity in the Utica Shale play, where the total number of rigs has been on the decline throughout most of 2018, with the trend continuing into the current year. The number of Utica rigs averaged 19 in 2018 and has averaged just 16 in 2019 year-to-date.

PennEast pipeline: NJ says dozen historic sites on proposed route - The state Department of Environmental Protection's Historic Preservation Office (HPO) has identified nine properties in path of the proposed PennEast pipeline that could qualify for historic preservation. The sites include the Belvidere-Delaware Railroad Historic District along the Delaware River, an 1850 house at 1155 Frenchtown-Flemington Road in Kingwood, the Hoagland Farmstead on Route 179 in West Amwell which has a stone farmhouse dating back to 1807, and farm buildings at 327 Milford-Warren Glen Road, Holland Township; 177 Gallmeier Road, Alexandria; 48 Spring Hill Road, Kingwood; 60 Stanford Road, Delaware Township; 56 Lambertville Headquarters Road, Delaware Township and 1431 Route 179, West Amwell. The HPO is recommending that more intensive research be conducted on the properties to determine their historic value. According to the HPO, the properties contain farmhouses that date back to the early to mid-19th century and most have outbuildings more than 50 years old. "PennEast has requested a meeting with the Historic Preservation Office (HPO) to gain a better understanding of the sites in question, as well as the information HPO is seeking," said Patricia Kornick, a PennEast spokesperson. The HPO's decision was seen was pipeline opponents as a welcome delaying tactic for the $1 billion project. “PennEast is trying to run around historic preservation requirements and New Jersey will not let them," Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said in a statement. "PennEast tried to get off easy by claiming only three properties in its path might be eligible for historic preservation. Now the HPO has stepped in to say that potentially nine sites in PennEast’s path should be saved."  

This proposed pipeline is fracturing New York's green new image - Rockaway peninsula is a sliver of land roughly 10 miles long and half a mile wide that juts out from the New York City borough of Queens. Locally, it’s known for its beautiful beaches, its isolation from the rest of the city, and for being especially hard-hit by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Today, the Rockaways are in the news for a different reason — they are the proposed end-site of a new 23-mile pipeline that would run beneath lower New York Bay, carrying fracked natural gas from Pennsylvania to New York City. Controversy over the Williams Pipeline has sparked something of a region-wide identity crisis. New York state is in the middle of a green makeover. Earlier this year, it was the first state to formulate its own Green New Deal. New York City is leading the U.S. in a green overhaul, passing a carbon pricing fee charging drivers in some of the most traffic-choked neighborhoods. Last week, the city council voted to pass aClimate Mobilization Act that includes bills to make infrastructure more energy-efficient.  Many activists say that, given New York’s new, greener identity, the state going forward with the Williams Pipeline doesn’t quite seem to compute. Fracking is a controversial process that involves shooting high-pressured water and chemicals deep into the earth to release hard-to-reach natural gas. It’s associated with public health threats including soil, water, and air contaminationCritics of the project say construction of the underwater pipeline could dredge up arsenic, lead, and other dangerous metals from the seafloor. They also argue that the release of methane during fracking is a powerful contributor to a warming climate. Proponents, on the other hand, say natural gas is a cleaner source of energy than oil, and that the pipeline is needed to address the state’s energy needs. Either way, the project is difficult to reconcile with the state’s own environmental policies on sourcing natural gas — Governor Andrew Cuomo imposed a statewide fracking ban back in 2014. “It’s incredibly hypocritical for us to ban fracking [in New York state] but then frack people in Pennsylvania,” said Lee Ziesche, Community Engagement Coordinator for Sane Energy Project, one of the New York-based groups leading a coalition to stop the pipeline from being built. “To be pushing for new fracked gas infrastructure, it’s the same as climate denialism really,” she contends, “You can’t say you’re a climate leader and then push these fracked gas projects.”

NYC vs Another Fracked Gas Pipeline: Notes From Activists On The Ground - The same industry that coined the term “natural” gas to package it as a “clean bridge fuel” are pushing a massive buildout of pipelines, compressor stations, power plants and export facilities to move fracked gas from shale plays like the Marcellus Shale to new markets as seen here on the interactive You Are Here map.But just as there never was a safe cigarette, there’s no safe consumption of fracked gas when it comes to our climate and health. Methane, the main component of fracked gas, is an even more potent a greenhouse gas than C02 for the first 20 years it’s in the atmosphere and if just a small percentage leaks, it’s worse for the climate than coal.(Marcellus shale map courtesy of May 16, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo will have to make a decision whether he stands with climate science or fossil fuel industry propaganda when his administration’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will decide to approve or deny permits for theWilliams NESE fracked gas pipeline. And to thicken this plot, Donald Trump recently declared he will issue executive orders — to destroy the political power that anti-fossil fuel infrastructure communities have built — to demand that Williams NESE Pipeline gets built.The proposed 23-mile long pipeline would bring fracked gas from Pennsylvania through New Jersey and NY Harbor and into New York City through an existing pipeline off the coast of the Rockaways, still working to rebuild after Superstorm Sandy 6 years ago.Construction of the pipeline would dredge up industrial toxins and heavy metals that have sunk below the seafloor threatening wildlife that has seen a rebirth since the creation of Gateway National Park in 1971 to address the New York Harbor Pollution. Locking New York into several generations of fossil fuels with the Williams NESE Pipeline is not a risk we can afford to take right now. National Grid, whose current business model is dependent on fracked gas expansion, claims the pipeline is necessary to meet growing gas demand. However, a new report, False Demand: The Case Against the Williams Fracked Gas Pipeline, proves there’s no need for it, especially when energy efficiency efforts to reduce gas usage are taken into account.

 WVDEP investigates oil spill at Stonecoal Lake - An oil spill was discovered by canoers at Stonecoal Lake on the morning of April 18. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection was contacted, and an environmental cleanup company was contracted to contain and clean up the spill. Initial response began on Thursday, April 18, said Casey Korbini, acting chief communications officer, deputy director for DEP remediation programs. Korbini said officials think the spill came from a leaking residential gas line that was connected to a gathering line of a well operated by Ross and Wharton Gas Company Inc. The cause of the leak was a coupler that came apart, Korbini said. The WVDEP does not know how long the line had been leaking or the amount of oil spilled. No wildlife has been identified as exhibiting effects from the spill. The WVDEP will contact the responsible party or parties and will oversee remediation of the spill, Korbini said. As of April 18, the party had not been determined. On Tuesday, Korbini provided an update on the spill, saying that cleanup efforts are continuing on land in the area where the line separation occurred. She added that oil is being removed from the surface of the lake that ponded at the dam. “Booms have been placed in the outlet below the dam for precaution; however, these remain clean (oil free), with no indication that oil has left the lake.

 DEP: 'Security concerns' hampered plans for hearing on pipeline permit -- The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection scheduled a public hearing for a pipeline permit in Jefferson County, but then canceled the hearing over “security concerns” and quietly issued the permit. Residents and lawmakers in Jefferson County had requested a public hearing for the 4.85-mile-long natural gas pipeline, which would be built by Mountaineer Gas and deliver gas to Rockwool, a controversial 460,000-square-foot coal- and gas-fired manufacturing plant being built in the City of Ranson, off Route 9. The DEP had initially scheduled a public hearing for the extension project for Feb. 21 at the Ranson Civic Center, in Jefferson County. Five days before the event, the DEP issued a press release citing logistical concerns “raised by local officials.” “The WVDEP was aware that citizens had concerns and planned a discretionary hearing accordingly. However, upon notification of security concerns, the WVDEP canceled the hearing for the safety of all anticipated attendees,” Casey Korbini, deputy director for remediation programs for the DEP, said in an email. Korbini did not answer questions about what kinds of concerns were raised. The City of Ranson also didn’t respond to questions about the concerns.  In the public notice, the DEP asked that comments be addressed to the DEP’s Charleston office, and said the public comment period would span from Jan. 25 to Feb. 25. The notice said a public hearing was scheduled for Feb. 21 at the Ranson Civic Center. A week before the hearing, the DEP issued a press release, canceling the event. Residents wrote to the DEP asking that the meeting be rescheduled. Regina Hendrix, chair of the Eastern Panhandle Sierra Club, said in a prepared statement. “The WV Department of Environmental Protection has utterly betrayed Eastern Panhandle residents with their approval of the permit for the Rockwool Pipeline Extension,” she said.

Mountain Valley Pipeline gets good and bad news on court challenges - A state regulation that delayed a key part of work on the Mountain Valley Pipeline — the crossings of more than 1,000 streams and wetlands in the two Virginias — has been revised in a way likely to benefit the project. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection wrote in a letter Wednesday to federal regulators that it has modified about 50 conditions to permits issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. One of the conditions was that the pipeline needed to be built across four major rivers in West Virginia within 72 hours. The Army Corps improperly bypassed that rule when it issued what’s called a Nationwide Permit 12 to the natural gas project, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in throwing out the authorization in October. Although several more steps need to be taken before water body crossings can resume, a revised condition doing away with the time restriction in certain cases was seen as a victory for Mountain Valley. However, complications from another court challenge involving a different pipeline in Virginia led one of the five partners in the joint Mountain Valley venture to say this week that completion of the project by the end of this year now “appears unlikely.” Rebecca Kujawa, chief financial officer of NextEra Energy Inc., made her comments in a report on first quarter results posted to the company’s website. Construction of Mountain Valley, which began last year, is expected to ramp up in the coming months following a winter lull, Kujawa said. But she expressed concerns about a 4th Circuit decision last year that prohibited the Atlantic Coast Pipeline from crossing the Appalachian Trail. The Mountain Valley pipeline would also cross the scenic footpath, and backers worry that the project could be jeopardized by the Atlantic Coast ruling. Natalie Cox, a spokeswoman for Mountain Valley, said Thursday that there have been no announced changes to the company’s most recent goal of a late 2019 completion date. When work on the 303-mile pipeline began a year ago, plans were to have it done by late 2018. As for the Nationwide Permit process, Cox said, the next step will be for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to review the modified conditions from West Virginia. Then the Army Corps will do the same. Mountain Valley still hopes to receive a new permit from the Army Corps in time to compete the project this year, she said.

Living in the trees to protest the pipeline -   Phillip Flagg pokes his head out from the tarps that make up his treetop home and looks down. He carefully lowers an empty paint bucket the 50 feet to the ground. A friend puts a Tupperware container with pigs-in-a-blanket (made with fake meat) into the bucket and Flagg pulls it back up. It’s his lunch.  “Are you bored up there?” the friend — his ground support — calls. He laughs, then says no.  His platform is slightly larger than a double-size mattress with 14 buckets hanging beneath, each with a purpose: food, books, water and other essentials. A solar panel charges Flagg’s phone. The ground crew says that he gets a better signal in the treetops than they do. The protesters took to the treetops in early September 2018, and seven months later they’re still there. “At this point we’re kind of mentally preparing for the long haul,” Flagg said. Flagg hasn’t touched the ground in more than five months, since he climbed the tree on Oct. 12 to block construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 303-mile line running from northern West Virginia to the border of North Carolina. With the announcement of a 70-mile extension into Rockingham and Alamance counties in North Carolina, called Mountain Valley Pipeline Southgate, the protesters’ role has taken on new importance to North Carolinians.  The protesters sit just outside of Elliston, Virginia, 25 miles west of Roanoke in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The camp is about a mile back along the gravel road that gave them their name — Yellow Finch. They’re part of Appalachians Against Pipelines, a loose group of individuals with the same mission: fighting pipelines through the mountains they call home. The organization uses nonviolent direct action — physically blocking construction with their campsites, tree sits, and their bodies. Their goal is to delay or even stop the pipeline.

FERC Report: Still More Demand than Supply for NatGas in 2018 - Last week the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) released its annual State of the Markets report–for 2018. The report summarizes FERC’s assessment of natural gas, electric, and other energy market developments during the past year. The revelation (for us) coming from the report was in reading that although the U.S. had record high natural gas production and demand last year (from electric generation and LNG exports), the growth in demand for natgas outpaced the growth in production.  A few other tidbits: Gas production averaged 80.7 billion cubic feet per day, up 12% from 2017. And of course the Marcellus Shale was the most productive basin, averaging 19.4 Bcf/d in 2018, up 13.5% from 2017. The following article from RTO Insider does a great job summarizing the report. The FERC report follows the article.  Record high natural gas demand and production highlighted FERC’s 2018 State of the Markets report, released last week. The report by the Division of Energy Market Oversight said gas demand was driven by electric generation and growing LNG exports. Despite big jumps in the Marcellus Shale and the Permian Basin regions, demand growth outpaced production increases. As a result, storage levels were lower than average and “at times were the lowest in more than a decade,” FERC said, contributing to higher gas and power prices. The Henry Hub benchmark averaged $3.12/MMBtu for the year, up 5% from 2017. Reduced storage inventories pushed Henry Hub prices up 31% in the fourth quarter over a year earlier. Although gas prices remained relatively low, there was increased price volatility because of storage constraints, extended winter cold and infrastructure constraints in the West. In January 2018, an East Coast cold snap pushed gas prices to $140.85/MMBtu in New York and $128.39/MMBtu in the Mid-Atlantic, with prices peaking at $78.88/MMBtu in Boston. In contrast, New York’s spot price never reached $21/MMBtu in 2017.Gas production averaged 80.7 Bcfd, an increase of 12% from 2017. The Marcellus Shale was the most productive basin, averaging 19.4 Bcfd for 2018, up nearly 13.5% from 2017.Haynesville Shale production jumped to an average of 6.5 Bcfd, a 46% increase that FERC attributed to higher gas prices and lower production costs. Rising crude oil prices were a factor in the 2.1-Bcfd increase in associated natural gas production in the Permian, a jump of 41%.  More than 689 miles of commission-jurisdictional pipelines, representing 13 Bcfd of capacity, went into service during 2018, much of it connecting Marcellus and Utica supplies to markets in the Midwest, Northeast and Southeast. There was no capacity increase in New England. *RTO Insider (Apr 22, 2019) – Record Gas Demand, Production Highlights FERC Markets Report

Why Are Natural Gas Prices Crashing? -- Shrugging off low levels of storage, natural gas prices have continued to plunge.  The U.S. entered this past winter with natural gas supplies at a 15-year low. Paltry levels of gas in storage, just ahead of the peak winter demand season, pushed prices up to the highest level in four years. A cold snap in November led to a jump of around 30 percent in a week, an increase so fast and so quick that it forced at least one trading firm out of business. By mid-November, prices had climbed as high as $4.80/MMBtu.   Gas supplies in storage were at their lowest levels in a decade and a half, and demand had steadily increased year-after-year as gas-fired power plants replaced shuttered coal plants. The surge in LNG exports and petrochemicals also amounted to a new source of demand that didn’t exist in its current form only a few years ago. To top it off, there were several rounds of extreme cold that swept across the North American continent, forcing millions of people to crank up the heat.  Yet, despite that backdrop, prices shockingly fell back rather quickly. A few weeks after the November price spike, Henry Hub spot prices dropped below $4/MMBtu. By February, prices fell below $3/MMBtu and remained there, with the market eyeing the end of the winter demand season. Now, with temperatures rising, prices recently plunged as low as $2.50/MMBtu.  However, the price decline comes even as storage remains remarkably tight. Natural gas inventories stood at 1,247 billion cubic feet (Bcf) as of April 12. Notably, despite the large increase of 92 Bcf from the week earlier, gas inventories were still 414 Bcf below the five-year average, and also at multi-year lows for the time of year.  Why are prices hovering close to their lowest levels in years, even though inventories have been decimated? The answer largely comes down to record levels of production, with output continuing to rise on an ongoing basis. Analysts and gas traders have largely shrugged off low storage levels, expecting that the “injection season” – the months between April and November when demand is seasonally soft – will see storage levels fill up quickly, replenishing depleted stocks.

Firm Cash And Slightly Higher Demand Allow Natural Gas Prices To Rise - After quite a decline in recent sessions, May natural gas prices were able to close just over 3 cents higher on the day today.  The strength, however, was limited mostly to the front of the curve, with later-dated contracts unable to move.  The rise in the front came as a result of firmer cash prices, as well as a bump up in weather demand compared to the forecasts from back on Thursday.  In terms of absolute demand, the pattern remains weak, however, despite the increase that showed up over the weekend.  There is still a lot of warmth indicated on the forecast maps, with cooling confined to the far northern parts of the U.S.   This is warm enough to generate some cooling demand across the South, though nothing major yet at this early stage of the season. Fundamentals data was mixed over the weekend, with both production as well as LNG exports climbing back to near-record high levels.  These factors essentially negated one another, which is why the later-dated contracts were unable to move today.

Natural Gas Prices Remain Stuck In Shoulder Season Rut For Another Day - After an early rally that saw May natural gas prices up as much as 3 cents on the day, much of the rally reversed, with the May contract finishing up only 7 ticks on the day.  Yesterday, cash prices were the culprit in triggering widespread selling, though today's cash prints were a little firmer.  So, if not cash, then what halted today's attempt at a rally? It was continued pressure on later-dated contracts, from summer through next winter, which then bled into the front of the curve.  The relentless selling in the later-dated contracts has not allowed us to have a true "Spring rally", which has historically been common, making this year a big outlier in recent seasonality trends.  On the weather side, we have seen some colder adjustments in the northern half of the nation, along with some warmer changes in the southern U.S.   This pattern leads to more heating demand in the north, and some early season cooling demand in the south, boosting GWDD levels back closer to normal for this time of year.   For the first time in several weeks, we also now finally see forecast GWDDs (weather demand) higher than the same dates from last year.  Is all of this enough to finally spark a rally in natural gas prices, or are the robust supply levels too much to overcome? 

Trump Considering Waiving Jones Act Mandate for Natural Gas, Sources Say - President Donald Trump is seriously considering waiving the requirement that only U.S.-flagged vessels can move natural gas from American ports to Puerto Rico or the Northeast, according to people familiar with the deliberations. The issue was debated during an Oval Office meeting on Monday, following requests from Puerto Rico and pressure from oil industry leaders to ease the nearly 100-year-old Jones Act requirements, according to three people. Although top administration officials are divided on the issue, Trump is now leaning in favor of some kind of waiver, said two of the people, who asked for anonymity to discuss the private deliberations. The move -- which would be fought by U.S shipbuilding interests and their allies on Capitol Hill -- has been promoted as essential to lower the cost of energy in Puerto Rico and ease the flow of American natural gas to the U.S. Northeast, where there aren’t enough pipelines to deliver the product from Pennsylvania. But even inside the Trump administration, there are fierce defenders of the Jones Act, a 1920 law requiring that vessels moving cargo between two U.S. ports be U.S.-built, -owned and -crewed. The law was originally designed to protect the domestic shipping industry and the country’s maritime might, and supporters argue that it’s just as essential today to ensure ships are made in the U.S. Any move to weaken or waive the requirements threatens the U.S. shipbuilding industry and the jobs tied to it, they argue. That divide was apparent during Monday’s White House meeting, where Jones Act supporters included Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, pushed for waiving the Jones Act, three of the people said. Even as the White House weighs waivers, a handful of Trump administration officials have pushed to expand the Jones Act’s reach, two of the people said. They are aiming to effectively revive a Customs and Border Protection bid to revoke rulings allowing foreign vessels to transport some equipment to offshore oil rigs. The agency withdrew the formal proposal in 2017, after the oil industry warned it could cripple production in the Gulf of Mexico. The White House press office did not respond to a request for comment. Trump faces increasing pressure to relax the shipping requirements. Puerto Rico is seeking a 10-year waiver to allow liquefied natural gas to be delivered to the island on foreign-flagged vessels.

Natural Gas Storage Stocks Move Above Year-Ago Levels After EIA Reports 92 Bcf Build - The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported a 92 Bcf injection into U.S. natural gas storage for the week ending April 19, pushing inventories to a 55 Bcf surplus over year-ago levels. The reported build was in line with market expectations and compares to last year’s 20 Bcf withdrawal and the five-year average injection of 47 Bcf. Natural gas futures prices had a muted initial response to the reported injection, shifting about a penny higher after the print hit the screen, although pushing the prompt month into positive territory. By 11 a.m. ET, the May Nymex gas futures contract had tacked on additional small gains as it traded at $2.481, up 1.9 cents on the day. Ahead of the report, a Bloomberg survey of 17 analysts showed a build ranging from 69 Bcf to 98 Bcf, with a median of 92 Bcf. A Wall Street Journal poll of 13 market participants had estimates ranging from an increase of 82 Bcf to 94 Bcf, with an average build of 89 Bcf. A Reuters survey of 19 analysts ranged from a 69 Bcf to 95 Bcf build, with a median of 91 Bcf. Intercontinental Exchange EIA Financial Weekly Index futures settled Wednesday at a build of 90 Bcf. NGI’s model predicted an 82 Bcf build, slightly below consensus. The South Central continued to surprise to the upside this week, with the EIA reporting a 45 Bcf build in that region. IAF Advisors’ Kyle Cooper questioned whether part of that storage build could be attributed to local distribution companies in the Midwest and Northeast indexing gas now for the upcoming winter and passing on the cost to ratepayers. “Obviously, things have changed a lot over the years,” Cooper said on Enelyst, a chat room hosted by The Desk. “From a long-term plan, buy April/May South Central, then buy the Northeast local gas in the summer, maybe when Texas gets hot … just a theory.” Broken down by region, the EIA reported a 23 Bcf injection in the East, a 10 Bcf build in the Midwest and a 45 Bcf injection in the South Central region. Salt facilities added 17 Bcf, while nonsalts added 29 Bcf to inventories, according to EIA. Total working gas in storage as of April 19 was 1,339 Bcf, 55 Bcf above last year and 369 Bcf below the five-year average.

Natural Gas Prices Finally Halt Their Slide - After quite the decline in recent weeks, natural gas prices were finally able to put together a noteworthy upward move today, with May prices rallying over 2% on the day.  The move came after being down initially in morning trading. In our morning report, we had warned of some upside risk in prices, with our sentiment being "slightly bullish" for the day.  That worked out well, with the entire curve finishing the day with gains. Helping to spark today's rally appeared to be alleviating fears that today's EIA Report would show an injection around 100 bcf for the week ending 4/19/19. The number wound up coming in right at our estimate of 92 bcf.  While still a much larger build compared to the 5-year average, it did not represent quite as weak of a supply / demand balance as the prior two weeks.  We also have continued to see gains in forecast weather demand over the next couple of weeks, with our forecast running a little higher than normal demand levels, and much higher than demand levels on the same dates one year ago.  At this time of year, weather isn't typically as much of a player in the natural gas world, but this setup is rather unique, with enough cold weather in the north for heating demand to be enhanced, but also some heat in the southern U.S. to enhance cooling demand, as shown in the GFS Ensemble projection for the 6-10 day period.  Forecast high temperatures even this weekend are rather chilly for this time of the year from the Upper Midwest to New England.  By the middle of next week, focus shifts quickly to the South, where we will see numerous high temperatures in the 85-90 degree range, definitely enough for folks to crank up the air-conditioning.  

Catch A Wave, Part 2 - More U.S. LNG Export Projects Moving Toward FID -- 2019 is slated to be a watershed year for U.S. LNG export projects vying to catch the second wave — the first wave being the slew of liquefaction trains already operational or in the process of being commissioned or constructed. As expected, regulatory and commercial activity has heated up around the two dozen or so longer-term proposals to add liquefaction capacity along the U.S. coastlines over the next decade. Last week, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved two of those projects — Tellurian’s Driftwood LNG and Sempra’s Port Arthur LNG — and several others, including Driftwood and NextDecade’s Rio Grande LNG, also have made progress on the commercial front. Many of these projects are targeting a final investment decision (FID) this year. Today, we continue a series highlighting the second-wave projects’ latest developments. We started our update of the “second-wave” LNG export projects in Part 1 with a discussion of the key hurdles that LNG export projects must clear before developers will take FID, i.e., make the full financial commitment to build these multibillion-dollar terminals. It’s not a quick or linear process, with different projects taking different routes to reach that point depending on their location and business model, but, generally speaking, conditions must align in two or three areas in order for project developers to pull the financial trigger: regulatory approvals, commercial agreements, and supply or pipeline capacity arrangements. On the regulatory front, U.S. projects must secure environmental approval from FERC, in addition to approvals from the Department of Energy (DOE) for exporting to free-trade-agreement (FTA) and/or non-FTA countries (or, in the case of Canadian projects, for example, from the National Energy Board or NEB). And when it comes to offshore projects, approvals from the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) also come into play. On the commercial front, developers look to lock in third-party financial commitments to help finance the terminal and spread the risk. This may come in the form of offtaker sales and purchase agreements (SPAs) for LNG supply, project financing and/or equity partnerships. (As a general rule of thumb, developers aim to “pre-sell” about 75% of their liquefaction capacity, which can then attract additional investors to join the project.) And, finally, the projects (or their offtakers) must be able to secure the feedgas supply and the firm pipeline capacity to physically move it to the terminal for liquefaction and export. This may involve signing up for firm transport on existing or new third-party pipeline routes or developing their own pipeline to supply the terminal. Some may also opt to underpin their projects with upstream positions.

US exports transform NGL markets -  - U.S. propane is fanning out across the planet, with export volumes now triple those of any other country.  The global LPG market today is dominated by cargoes shipped from U.S. ports. Buyers from Mexico to South Korea can’t make a move without considering conditions on the Houston Ship Channel or pipeline constraints in Pennsylvania. But an interconnected market is a two-way street. U.S. propane prices are now influenced more by the weather in Europe and Asia than by the weather in Wisconsin or New Hampshire. And it’s not only propane. All NGLs are experiencing growth in U.S. export volumes, with huge implications for infrastructure, capacity constraints and, of course, prices. Today, we preview the deep dive into these issues on the agenda at RBN’s upcoming xPortCon conference. NGL exports have been a frequent topic in the RBN blogosphere, with our most recent series on the subject titled Between Mont Belvieu and the Deep Blue Sea posted earlier this year.  We also considered the impact of all of these exports on the U.S. domestic NGL market in Complicated - Petchem Demand, Exports. But these blogs only scratched the surface of what’s going on with U.S. NGL exports. Figure 1 puts the magnitude of U.S. LPG (propane and butane) exports to overseas markets in perspective. From less than 100 Mb/d 10 years ago (for those of you that think in metric, that’s about 3 million metric tons per annum, or MMtpa), U.S. exports have soared to more than 1.1 MMb/d (about 33 MMtpa) — an 11-fold increase. In recent years, 60% of LPG exports have been sourced from the two docks located on the Houston Ship Channel: Enterprise and Targa. Another 30% came from two other Gulf Coast facilities: Energy Transfer at Nederland and Phillips 66 at Freeport. Only about 5% moved out of the Energy Transfer dock at Marcus Hook, PA, but that is changing fast. With the completion of the Mariner East 2 pipeline in December 2018 (see It's All Wrong, But It's Alright), Marcus Hook export volumes have been hitting all-time records in early 2019. 

No emergency plan for Bayou Bridge Pipeline violates permit: environmental group - The controversial – but now complete – Bayou Bridge Pipeline has drawn another legal challenge from the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper environmental group, which questions why the pipeline was allowed to begin operating on April 1 without having an approved emergency response plan. The state Department of Natural Resources said it would investigate the complaint, but said the pipeline’s operation falls under federal law, and the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration say the pipeline is complying with federal regulations. The 163-mile Louisiana segment of the pipeline that is transporting oil from Texas to St. James Parish has been the subject of of numerous legal challenges by environmentalists concerned about its effects on swampland in the Atchafalaya Delta and by landowners whose property was crossed without their permission. The pipeline is operated by Houston-based Energy Transfer Partners, its majority owner. Phillips 66 Partners owns 40 percent of the pipeline. On Friday (April 19), the Basinkeeper filed a “citizen complaint” asking the state Department of Natural Resources to enforce a condition included in the pipeline’s state coastal use permit that the group says requires a “facility response plan” to be in place before it transports oil. A spokesman for DNR said Monday that the agency actually relies on the federal pipeline agency to regulate the day to day operations of pipelines, but that it was looking into the Basinkeeper complaint.  The Basinkeeper complaint pointed out that the federal pipeline agency had informed it on April 11 that Bayou Bridge had not yet submitted the response plan. But in an April 16 letter submitted as part of motions on behalf of DNR in a state Supreme Court case involving the pipeline, a PHMSA official said that Energy Transfer Partners had submitted a similar “Integrated Contingency Plan” that includes the 162-mile Bayou Bridge segment, but that PHMSA had not yet approved that plan.

 Trump is shelving plans to open virtually all federal waters to offshore drilling - The Trump administration will not move forward with plans to open virtually all federal waters to offshore drilling, according to recently confirmed Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.The administration is putting the expansion on hold after a federal judge shot down its attempt to overturn President Barack Obama’s Arctic drilling ban, Bernhardt told The Wall Street Journal. The ruling could lead to a prolonged appeals process that delays the Interior Department’s decision on which offshore areas it will put up for auction, Bernhardt said.“By the time the court rules, that may be discombobulating to our plan,” Bernhardt said in an interview with the Journal. He said he’s not sure it’s “a very satisfactory and responsible use of resources” to offer offshore blocks that may get tied up in legal proceedings.Last month, Judge Sharon Gleason for the District Court of Alaska ruled that President Donald Trump’s executive order overturning Obama’s Arctic drilling ban was unlawful and invalid. In doing so, Gleason ruled in favor of environmental groups, who argued that Congress gave the U.S. president the power to remove federal waters from consideration under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, but not the authority to overturn a previous president’s withdrawal.

Interior abruptly pauses offshore drilling action following legal setbacks and bipartisan opposition - Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said the agency has abruptly paused its controversial plans to open virtually all U.S. waters to offshore drilling, a stunning reversal following more than a year of bipartisan uproar from coastal communities.The news comes as some Democratic presidential candidates have started to speak out on the issue. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) recently took a strong stand against offshore drilling in South Carolina, a key primary state that has largely revolted against President Donald Trump’s coastal fossil fuel ambitions. Several others have since joined in calls against the expansion of offshore drilling.In an interview Thursday with the Wall Street Journal, Bernhardt said the administration’s long-anticipated five-year leasing plan targeting the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) has been sidelined following a federal court decision in Alaska earlier this month. U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason blocked Trump administration efforts to reverse the Obama-era ban on oil and gas leasing in both the Arctic Ocean and parts of the Atlantic Ocean, determining that Trump had “exceeded” his authority in challenging the limits on drilling. The decision left DOI officials unsure of how to proceed on broader offshore drilling efforts. “By the time the court rules, that may be discombobulating to our plan,” Bernhardt said, pointing to the limits of any future efforts to expand offshore drilling in the area. DOI acknowledged Bernhardt’s comments but said there were no more updates available on the department’s offshore drilling plans. Opponents, however, cautiously greeted the news with optimism.

Houston suffers a petrochemical disaster every 6 weeks -  In the past month, Houston area-residents faced three major disasters related to oil and gas infrastructure. As a Houston resident, I was alarmed to see weekly news reports presenting the unknown dangers each fire posed to the community members living next door, and to those of us living just a few miles away. These facilities store and process various types of petrochemical products including feedstocks for plastics. Ethane, a fracked natural gas liquid, is one of the primary building blocks for plastics. In places like Houston, petrochemical facilities first crack (process) the ethane molecule into ethylene, using it to create polyethylene, today’s most commonly used plastic. Above is a map of the three locations where fires associated with oil and gas infrastructure were located.  On March 16th, Exxonmobil's Baytown refinery caught fire for over four hours. A plume was visible over the skyline Saturday afternoon. Although dark smoke came from the facility, no shelter-in-place was issued for surrounding residents.  According to historical documents on the facility, this was the 9th major incident at the site in the last 10 years.  On March 17th, a fire erupted in Deer Park, Texas at the Intercontinental Trading Company (ITC) site, which created a plume that spread over 100 miles. ITC is a storage facility for the US Gulf Coast containing 242 storage tanks that store petrochemical liquids and gasses, as well as fuel oil, bunker oil, and distillates. Ten storage tanks were on fire for almost a week, resulting in days of closed schools for thousands of students, shelter-in-place orders for several surrounding communities due to elevated benzene levels, and a breach in a dike wall leading to thousands of toxic chemicals spilling into the ship channel.   On, April 2nd, just three weeks after the Exxon and ITC fires, another fire broke out at the KMCO plant in Crosby that left one person dead and two others injured. Located just a 30-minute drive north of the previous fires, the facility caught fire and spread more toxic fumes over the Deer Park neighborhood previously contaminated by the fire at ITC. According to officials, a gas line caught fire near a tank full of isobutylene, a flammable gas used for rubbers, plastics, fragrances in fuels or pharmaceuticals. The fire resulted in emissions of over 2,300 pounds of toxic chemicals including isobutylene, toluene, and other volatile organic compounds known to cause many health issues. Crosby residents suffer from a poverty rate twice that of the US at large and live in a region with elevated cancer risks. KMCO is one of the many contributors to cancer-causing agents in the region. And, similar to ITC, has repeatedly violated the Clean Air and Clean Water Act.

Oil Producers Are Burning Enough 'Waste' Gas to Power Every Home in Texas - America’s hottest oil patch is producing so much natural gas that by the end of last year producers were burning off more than enough of the fuel to meet residential demand across the whole of Texas. The phenomenon has likely only intensified since then. Flaring is the controversial but common practice in which oil and gas drillers burn off gas that can’t be easily or efficiently captured and stored. It releases carbon dioxide and is lighting up the skies of West Texas and New Mexico as the Permian Basin undergoes a massive production boom. Oil wells there produce gas as a byproduct, and because pipeline infrastructure hasn’t kept pace with the expansion, energy companies must sometimes choose between flaring and slowing production. The amount of gas flared in the Permian rose about 85 percent last year reaching 553 million cubic feet a day in the fourth quarter, according to data from Oslo-based consultant Rystad Energy. Local prices that are hovering near zero will remain “under stress” until more pipelines come online, Moody’s Investors Service said in a note Thursday. There will always be a “mismatch” between the amount of gas produced and pipeline capacity, so some flaring is inevitable, according to Ryan Sitton, the head of the Railroad Commission of Texas. Despite what its name suggests, his agency oversees the oil and gas industry in the state and regulates flaring, allowing companies to burn gas for limited periods, or in times of emergency. Some 4 billion cubic feet of pipelines are expected come online in the next year or so, which will likely reduce, but not eliminate, the need to flare, the commissioner said in an interview. Right now, there’s about 9.5 billion feet a day of gas pipeline capacity in the basin that can reach markets that need the heating and power plant fuel, according to RS Energy Group. That’s not enough to carry the more than 13 billion cubic feet a day of gas that’s being pumped out of wells in the region. Unsurprisingly, with such an abundance of gas but also real difficulties in getting it to consumers, prices for the fuel in Permian have been cheaper than in other parts of the U.S., and earlier this month they went negative, meaning producers had to pay customers to take their gas.

 Apache Shuts In Permian Gas Production As Prices Crash -- Apache Corporation said on Tuesday that it had temporarily started to delay natural gas production at its Alpine High play in the Permian in late March to mitigate the impact of the extremely low prices at the Waha hub in West Texas. Currently, the company is deferring around 250 million cubic feet (MMcf) per day of gross gas production. Natural gas prices at the Waha hub plummeted to record low negative levels in early April, as pipeline constraints and problems at compressor stations at one pipeline stranded gas produced in the Permian. Spot prices at the Waha hub plunged to a record low of minus $4.28 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) in the first week of April. Gas production in the Permian has been rising in lockstep with crude oil production, and even though gas takeaway capacity has attracted less media attention, pipeline constraints for natural gas are similar to those of crude oil pipeline capacity. The natural gas takeaway capacity constraints have resulted in more gas flaring in the Permian on the one hand, and in a record-high spread between the Waha gas hub price and the U.S. benchmark Henry Hub in Louisiana, on the other hand. “We will closely monitor daily pricing and return our gas to sales when it is profitable to do so. We are carefully managing these actions so there is no adverse impact on long-term wellbore integrity or reservoir productivity and look forward to returning this production to market as soon as practical,” John J. Christmann IV, CEO and president of Apache Corporation, said in a statement today. Apache contracted two years ago more than 1 billion cubic feet (Bcf) per day of long-term, firm takeaway capacity from the Permian Basin on Kinder Morgan’s pipeline projects Gulf Coast Express and Permian Highway, Apache said, noting that Gulf Coast Express is expected to be in service later this year, while Permian Highway is set to start operations next year.

Permian Oil Now Selling At A Discount - Gulf Coast refiners are having trouble swallowing up all of the ultralight oil coming out of the Permian. The Permian continues to add production, even as drilling activity slows down in Texas and elsewhere. According to the EIA, the Permian could add another 42,000 barrels per day in May, with output now well above 4 million barrels per day (mb/d). That comes even as the rig count has declined sharply from fourth quarter highs last year. The record levels of production present new challenges. The pipeline bottleneck that really became an acute problem a year ago has eased somewhat. New capacity came online in recent months, while larger pipeline projects are expected to reach completion later in 2019. That will allow more oil to reach the Gulf Coast. But from there, the flow of oil runs into other bottlenecks. U.S. oil exports continue to break new records. Although the numbers bounce around from week to week, U.S. crude exports now routinely top 2 mb/d, and even exceeded 3 mb/d at times this year. A year ago, exports above 2 mb/d would have been considered exceptionally high, and only occurred on rare occasions. As recently as 2017, exports tended to hover below 1 mb/d. Still, Gulf Coast ports are bumping up against their limits, unable to export every last barrel. That leads to another bottleneck: Gulf Coast refiners are not equipped to handle huge volumes of ultralight oil. Refineries built years ago were done so with the intention that they would import medium and heavy barrels from abroad. They can’t simply switch over to light and ultralight oil without problems. Growing supplies of light and ultralight oil come at a time when medium and heavy blends around the world are in shorter supply. Iran sanctions, Venezuela sanctions, Canadian pipeline woes, declines in Mexican heavy oil, and the OPEC+ cuts have all cut into the supply of medium and heavy oil. Light oil was already coming under pressure from soaring production at a time when medium and heavy blends were tight, but now the increasing volumes of ultralight oil have made it difficult to even put together the right specs for what is commonly known as WTI.   As such, the surplus of ultralight oil has led to discounts of a few dollars per barrel below WTI, according to Reuters. “For the past 10 years, US traders have been able to manage the wide range of crude oils coming from the various shale basins to create marketable, WTI quality barrels,” Bank of America Merrill Lynch wrote in a report on April 18. “Recently though, this task has become more difficult due to surging output of superlight crude in the Permian.”

Is the Permian Played Out?  -  The Permian is not played out, according to Regina Mayor, global sector head of energy and natural resources for KPMG, who made the statement in a recent television interview with Bloomberg.“What the industry is proving is that the Permian is not played out yet,” Mayor said in the interview, which was published on Friday last week.“I keep getting asked ‘is the Permian played out?’ and I keep saying no. Permania is alive and well and I think it’s here to stay,” Mayor added.In a separate television interview with Bloomberg earlier this year, Fatih Birol, executive director at the International Energy Agency, said “we have not seen the full impact of the shale revolution yet”.“[There is] more to come both for oil and gas and it will have huge implications for the oil industry, gas industry and the markets,” Birol told Bloomberg in the interview.“There was a major problem in [the] United States in the Permian basin. It is a logistical problem, the pipe capacity was not enough to bring the oil to the markets. And now, as of end of 2019 this problem will be solved with the new construction of the pipelines,” he added.Last month, Texas Independent Producers & Royalty Owners (TIPRO) Association President Ed Longanecker told Rigzone “we will continue to see oil and natural gas employment growth in the Permian basin this year”. As of March, TIPRO was tracking over 1,000 open positions in the upstream sector in the Permian, including Texas and New Mexico. The full oil and natural gas industry in the Permian - including upstream, midstream and downstream - had approximately 2,700 open positions as of March, according to TIPRO.

Railroad Commission, Kinder Morgan sued over route of Permian Highway Pipeline - Hays County, the city of Kyle and a coalition of Hill Country landowners have filed a lawsuit to fight the route of Kinder Morgan's proposed Permian Highway Pipeline and challenge how the state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry allows companies to use eminent domain laws.During a Monday morning news conference at Kyle City Hall, the coalition released copies of a 19-page lawsuit against the Texas Railroad Commission, five agency executives, pipeline operator Kinder Morgan and a subsidiary of the Houston company overseeing the project. The lawsuit, filed in state District Court in Travis County, asks a judge to block construction of the 42-inch pipeline designed to move 2 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day from the Permian Basin of West Texas to the Katy Hub near Houston. That's roughly enough gas to fuel about 10 million U.S. homes per day.Opponents claim that the Railroad Commission is allowing the 423-mile pipeline to run through residential areas of Kyle, about 20 miles south of Austin, near the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park in Stonewall and less than a mile away from Jacob's Well, a popular summertime swimming hole near Wimberley."A lawsuit is a regrettable event," said Clark Richards, an attorney for the project opponents. "But we believe that the Texas Constitution affords more protection to our clients than is being provided to them in the current process, and we look forward to the opportunity to present that to the court." Legal fees for the lawsuit are being paid for by the Texas Real Estate Advocacy and Defense Coalition, or TREAD, which represents landowners. The nonprofit advocacy organization was founded last year in response to concerns over property taxes, water rights and eminent domain issues.

Texas House panel considers controversial eminent domain reforms - Lawmakers, lobbyists and landowners sparred at a Capitol committee hearing on Thursday over a batch of bills designed to protect property owners whose land may be seized by private companies to build oil and gas pipelines.A bipartisan — though largely Republican — group of House and Senate legislators whose districts have been targeted for pipeline construction amid a historic oil and gas boom have proposed several measures this year aimed at helping landowners and local officials negotiate with deep-pocketed energy companies eager to move fossil fuels to processing and export facilities on the Gulf Coast.The reform push has put some Republicans at odds with an industry they typically champion — and one that donates significant dollars to their political campaigns — as well as members of their own party.Perhaps the most controversial legislation — proposed by Republican state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham — would require companies to include specific provisions in agreements with landowners explaining exactly where they plan to construct pipelines and a promise that they will repair fences, gates or other infrastructure if they damage them. Senate Bill 421 — one of 11 eminent domain-related bills that the House Land and Resource Management Committee considered on Thursday — also would require private companies to offer to pay landowners fair market value and to hold public meetings if they plan to seize 25 or more tracts of land. "It’s well known that Texas property owners continue to struggle with the eminent domain process in a variety of ways and it's paramount that Texas property owners have greater assurance that the eminent domain process be fair, transparent, respectful," state Rep. DeWayne Burns, a Republican from Cleburne who filed a similar bill in the House, told the committee on Thursday.

 Bill Being Considered by Texas Senate Would Let Companies Dump Fracking Waste Into Waterways - Environmental groups are warning that a bill passed by the Texas House and now awaiting discussion in the Texas Senate would give fracking companies a license to pollute the state's waterways.  House Bill 2771, which received an affirmative vote yesterday afternoon, would allow the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to grant permits to let oil and gas companies discharge water used at fracking sites into rivers and streams. The Senate is expected to take up companion legislation, Senate Bill 1585, early next week.     The bill requires energy companies to treat the water before it can be discharged, but environmental groups caution that the bill is vague about what that means. What's more, Texas law allows companies to keep the ingredients of their fracking fluids secret, making testing and follow-up tricky to say the least.  "We have no ability to confirm what chemicals are in the water," said Adrian Shelley, director of watchdog group Public Citizen's Texas office. "Without that, there's no assurance you're correctly catching everything when you test for it."  According to a recent study, wastewater from fracking sites is on the rise. Companies used 770 percent more water per well in 2016 than in 2011 across all major gas- and oil-producing regions in the United States, the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances found.

Texas-based company to address oilfield waste in the Permian  - Waste from the oilfield could be addressed as a Texas-based company secured permits to develop multiple landfills in the Permian Basin of southeast New Mexico and West Texas. Milestone Environmental Services announced on April 9 that it received a landfill permit from the Railroad Commission of Texas to build its second landfill in the area. The 7.8 million cubic yard landfill will be situated about 34 miles sound of Midland, off Texas State Highway 34, about 8.5 mils sound of the company’s existing South Midland slurry injection facility.The landfill will sit on 93 acres, serving customers in the southern portion of the Midland Basin, the Texas side of the Permian, and will accept cuttings, contaminated soil and other solid waste from oil and gas operations. Milestone President and Chief Executive Officer Gabriel Rio said the asset will allow Milestone to accept and dispose of a broader variety of waste.“The Midland Basin continues to have some of the highest density of drilling, completion, and production activity in the world, and responsible development of this important play requires a world-class oilfield waste management solution,” he said. “Located near our South Midland slurry injection facility, the addition of the Upton landfill will allow us to accept the entire spectrum of oilfield wastes from customers in the Midland Basin.”

Neighbors sue 2 Trempealeau County frac sand mines over pollution, nuisance complaints - More than three dozen western Wisconsin residents are suing subsidiaries of a frac sand mining company that spilled 10 million gallons of wastewater into the Trempealeau River last spring. In four separate complaints filed Monday by the same attorney, neighbors of Hi-Crush mines in Whitehall and Blair allege ongoing air, water, noise and light pollution from the mines. According to complaints filed in Trempealeau County Circuit Court, silica dust from the mines regularly blows onto their property, violating air-quality standards, and their well water is undrinkable because of dangerous levels of arsenic and other particles. Plaintiffs say they can’t open their windows and are subject to constant noise and light. According to the complaints, living near the mines has led to marital strife, anxiety, depression and high blood pressure. “Hi-Crush strives every day to adhere to all applicable rules, regulations and agreements with local jurisdictions,” company spokesman Steve Bell said in a written statement. “As a Green Tier company, we recognize the importance of environmental stewardship and being a good neighbor. We take these matters seriously and will present a vigorous defense based on the facts and the law.” Attorney Tim Jacobson of La Crosse said he believes these to be the first such lawsuits against Wisconsin frac sand mines, although he represented clients who sought to block two proposed mines on the grounds that they would create similar nuisances. “Our clients have had their quality of life severely diminished by the nearby presence of the frac sand operations,” Jacobson said. “It is difficult for them to live there every day.” The 40 plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages and penalties stiff enough to “punish Hi-Crush and to deter it and others … from engaging in similar wrongdoing.”

Pipeline spill in Lyon County, Minnesota -- Crews are working to cleanup a pipeline spill near Cottonwood in Lyon County, Minnesota Thursday morning. According to Magellan Midstream Partners, an oil pipeline company, the spill was confirmed around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday night. The leak was diesel fuel and an estimated 200 barrels or 8,400 gallons of fuel leaked. By 10:30 p.m., the leaking had stopped. Cleanup efforts are underway Thursday to contain the fuel, which has entered a drainage ditch, from entering lake waters in the area. The cause of the leak is under investigation and all regulatory agencies have been notified. The have been no injuries, evacuations or road closures associated with the incident.

Ruptured southwestern Minn. pipeline may have been intentionally damaged — A broken pipeline that caused an undetermined amount of diesel fuel to flow into a drainage ditch and the Yellow Medicine River may have been intentionally damaged. The Lyon County Sheriff's Office said a suspect has been identified for allegedly damaging the pipeline Wednesday night near Cottonwood and causing diesel fuel to leak into downstream waters. The issue has been turned over to the Lyon County Attorney's Office for consideration of charges. The ruptured pipeline was reported at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday when operators at Magellan Midstream pipeline control center observed a pressure drop associated with their eight-inch refined products pipeline near Cottonwood. Representatives from Magellan Midstream, based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, closed the valves on the system Wednesday night and fuel was found to be leaking from a small hole in the pipeline. The leak was stopped around 10:30 p.m. and crews began working to recover the product. In a news release issued Thursday afternoon, Bruce Heine, media contact with Magellan Midstream, said crews at the scene are focused on containment and recovery operations along the drainage ditch. "We have made significant progress recovering a high percentage of the available diesel fuel in the drainage ditch, which ultimately flows into the Yellow Medicine River," he said. Heine said, however, that "minor remnants of a petroleum sheen have passed through the containment areas along the drainage ditch into the Yellow Medicine River. We are continuing cleanup operations on the drainage ditch."

New Colorado Law Requires State to Consider Health Impacts of Oil Drilling - Colorado has passed a law requiring state regulators to prioritize public health and the environment in regulating oil and gas operations, drawing sharp criticism from the fossil fluel industry and praise from a group of young people who had unsuccessfully sued the state trying to force those regulations. Gov. Jared Polis signed the law on Tuesday, requiring the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to prioritize protecting public health, the climate and environment in issuing permits for oil and gas operations. The youth-led lawsuit Martinez v. COGCC had sought exactly that, but the Colorado Supreme Court rejected that argument in dismissing the case in January. Since then, Polis, a Democrat who ran on a pro-climate platform, took office and the legislation was quickly passed. As stated in the bill, Section 11 “requires the commission to protect and minimize adverse impacts to public health, safety, and welfare, the environment, and wildlife resources and protect against adverse environmental impacts on any air, water, soil, or biological resource resulting from oil and gas operations.” The law also establishes local governments’ authority to regulate siting of oil and gas development to minimize adverse impacts. The youth lawsuit, which was supported by the legal advocacy nonprofit Our Children’s Trust, was unsuccessful because the Supreme Court said previous regulations were unclear about how to balance public health concerns with the development of resource. The new law addresses this perceived ambiguity, acknowledging that the “[Oil and Gas Conservation] Act has been construed to impose a balancing test between fostering oil and gas development and protecting the public health, safety, and welfare.” But the new law clarifies that instead of a balancing test, the commission must protect public health, welfare and the environment.

EPA, Colorado reach $3.6M settlement with oil and gas company over alleged failure to control toxic emissions from storage tanks - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state health officials have reached a $3.6 million settlement with an oil and gas company that regulators allege has failed to minimize toxic emissions from storage tanks at its operations along Colorado’s Front Range. The EPA and Colorado on Friday filed a lawsuit against HighPoint Operating Corporation and a proposed settlement agreement in U.S. District Court in Denver in which the company agrees to spend $3 million improving pollution controls and pay civil penalties of $550,000 — $220,000 of which would be devoted to project to improve the environment. “We remain committed to reducing the emissions of volatile organic compounds that contribute to high levels of ground-level ozone and so endanger the public health,” Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark said in a statement from Washington, D.C. The case arose after air pollution inspectors from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment equipped with infrared cameras detected the emissions at multiple clusters of storage tanks, according to the lawsuit. The 27-page lawsuit accused HighPoint of failing to control volatile organic compounds (VOCs), precursors of ozone smog, as well as benzene, toluene, xylene and other pollutants identified under the Clean Air Act as hazardous. Storage tanks at more than a dozen sites north of Denver in Adams and Weld counties — including many that HighPoint’s predecessor the Bill Barrett Corporation had certified to the CDPHE as “controlled” — have emitted excessive pollutants since April 2014, according to the lawsuit. RELATED: Colorado’s unannounced air-pollution inspections at oil and gas sites are showing results — yet emissions are up as production increases This happened in a Front Range area where air quality for years has flunked federal air quality health standards, worsening the problem, the EPA and state attorneys said. HighPoint failed to design, run and maintain pollution control systems as required by the state to minimize leakage of the volatile organic and other chemicals to the maximum extent “practicable,” the attorneys said. “HighPoint’s failure to comply with these requirements has resulted in excess VOC emissions, a precursor to ground-level ozone. … HighPoint’s unlawful emissions of VOC into the atmosphere contribute to this exceedance of the ozone NAAQS (National Ambient Air Quality Standards) in this area,” the lawsuit said.

Report: Oil and gas leasing under Trump bleeding into protected habitats - About one-quarter of the Western land offered in auctions to oil and gas companies under the Trump administration so far has been in state-designated priority habitat or migration corridors for big game, according to a review of public lease sales by the Center for American Progress. In Wyoming, 20 percent of leases offered in 2017 and 2018 coincided with protected areas, the reports states. The study used publicly available data to overlap parcels offered in lease sales in the last two years with acres under a number of state protections — from state-designated migration corridors to big-game winter ranges as identified in state action plans written in accordance with a secretarial order from then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last year. Lease sales that overlap with key habitat has become a point of discord between industry development and the environment under President Donald Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda, with persistent disputes over whether more land is going to oil and gas interests as a result of the president’s federal land policy in the West. Environmental groups have pointed out that the amount of acreage leased in recent years is higher than the norm over the last decade and that leasing is happening in some of the best habitat for wildlife. Industry has downplayed the environmentalists’ point of view, arguing that federal policies — like the tighter timelines on public review of environmental analysis implemented under Trump — have helped streamline the process of development on federally managed lands. There is not a sudden or overwhelming drilling presence on public land to the detriment of other concerns, they argue. Since 2017, the administration has sold 4,500 leases in the West. In 2018, the administration leased 450 percent more acres to industry than it had in 2016, according to the report. The leasing story across the West hasn’t been uniform. In New Mexico, lease sales offering part of the Permian for oil and gas development helped drive a record $1 billion sale in September. That same month in Nevada a BLM auction of 300,000 acres sold nothing. Industry had proposed the land for sale, but none bid on it.

 Produced water spill near Tioga - Nearly 400 barrels of produced water spilled near Tioga on Saturday, April 20, according to the North Dakota Department of Health. The spill happened because of a mechanical failure at a salt water disposal site owned by Hess Bakken Investments II LLC about 8 miles south of Tioga. The initial estimate is that 390 barrels of saltwater spilled, and an agricultural field was affected, according to a news release. The spill was reported on Sunday and personnel from the Health Department are inspecting the site and will continue to monitor the investigation and remediation. Produced water is a byproduct of oil and gas production.

Officials discuss parameters of North Dakota oil study (AP) — A federal estimate of recoverable oil in North Dakota and the surrounding area needs to factor in more geologic formations and rapidly advancing technology, state and energy industry officials said Wednesday. The U.S. Geological Survey has begun updating its estimate of recoverable oil and gas resources in the Williston Basin in North Dakota, eastern Montana and northwestern South Dakota. It expects to wrap up the effort by the end of the year, Energy Resource Program Coordinator Walter Guidroz said during a meeting with the officials to map out the best strategy for compiling the new estimate. The USGS in 2013 estimated 7.4 billion barrels of oil could be recovered from the basin’s Bakken and underlying Three Forks shale formations, which encompass about 25,000 square miles within the Williston Basin. However, there are 17 other, smaller geologic formations that also show “significant” potential with new drilling and hydraulic fracturing technology, according to state Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms. Five have already been studied by state officials. “They’ve identified maybe a billion barrels of oil potential,” Helms said. North Dakota is already the nation’s second-leading producer of crude behind Texas, accounting for about 12 percent of U.S. production. The state saw record production in January of 1.4 million barrels daily. Almost all of that came from the Bakken and Three Forks, where technology advancements are enabling companies to extract more oil “than we ever thought possible,” Continental Resources Geologic Manager Tony Moss said. “We’ve completely replaced our top 10 (producing) wells within about the last year and a half,” he said. “We’re really just getting to the point where we feel like we’re really starting to optimize development.” Continental estimates as much as 40 billion barrels of recoverable oil from the Bakken and Three Forks alone.

Dakota Access Company Bought Up Dozens Of Anti-Pipeline URLs -- Texas-based pipeline giant Energy Transfer Partners went on a website-buying spree after months of fierce public protest over its Dakota Access Pipeline, nabbing dozens of URLs it expected pipeline opponents might use to target the company’s other projects.  The damage-control effort is related to several ongoing operations, including the company’s $4.2 billion Rover natural gas pipeline in Ohio, the $670 million Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana, and the Trans-Pecos and Comanche Trail pipelines in West Texas.  Energy Transfer Partners purchased at least 102 anti-pipeline websites between January and June 2017, according to a list compiled by the nonprofit Climate Investigations Center and shared with HuffPost. Those domain names, purchased mostly through web hosting company GoDaddy, include addresses like “,”  “,” “,” “,” “,” “” and “”  When a company buys the .sucks website for their own name, you know they have problems.Kert Davies, director of the Climate Investigations CenterEnergy Transfer Partners spokeswoman Alexis Daniel told HuffPost this website buying is “standard brand management practice for our company before we begin any major project in order to protect the brand of the project.”“During the time we had multiple projects under construction or beginning construction, all of which have been successfully completed and are operating today,” Daniel said in an email. She did not respond to questions about whether the effort was motivated by protests on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota or for how long the company plans to hold on to the sites. Kert Davies, director of the Climate Investigations Center, called the company “paranoia incorporated.”  “Every one of ETPs recent pipeline projects has created major scandal and controversy across the country — from North Dakota to Pennsylvania to Louisiana,” Davies told HuffPost via email. “This preemptive GoDaddy website effort shows that ETP is pretty self conscious and paranoid about their social license. When a company buys the .sucks website for their own name, you know they have problems.”

Will Newsom end oil drilling in California? Many environmentalists are betting yes - California’s legacy of oil drilling should be just that, many environmentalists argue — relegated to the history books. They are urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to ban new oil and gas drilling in California and completely phase out fossil fuel extraction in one of the nation’s top petroleum-producing — and gasoline-consuming — states. At the least, they want the state to impose buffer zones prohibiting new oil and gas wells near schools, hospitals and residential neighborhoods and also require monitoring for potentially hazardous emissions from abandoned or plugged wells, proposals already being considered by state lawmakers. “It sure would make us happy if he made a big splash about this. It’s month four. People are being very patient. By month six, patience may wear thin,” said Sierra Club California Director Kathryn Phillips. Phillips said her organization and other groups that support curtailing oil production in California have met informally with Newsom administration officials. While Newsom has not made any promises, expectations remain high, she said. Newsom, who served on the state lands commission for eight years, says he’s well versed in the issues surrounding on-shore and off-shore oil drilling in California and said he would announce his administration’s detailed strategy on energy policy in the next few weeks. The governor was coy about core aspects of that policy, and declined to say if it would ban the controversial practice of hydraulic fracking, a process that uses drilling and large volumes of high-pressure water to extract gas and oil deposits. “I’m taking a very pragmatic look at it, in scoping this,” Newsom told The Times last week. “It’s also an inclusive scoping because it includes people in the industry, that have jobs; communities that are impacted from an environmental justice prism but also from an economic justice prism. It’s a challenging issue. There’s a reason Gov. Brown used a lot of dexterity on this issue.”

Trump fracking plan targets over 1 million acres in California - LA Times - The Trump administration on Thursday detailed its plan to open more than a million acres of public and private land in California to fracking, raising environmental concerns at a time when opposition to oil and gas drilling in the state is intensifying. The action would end a five-year moratorium on leasing federal land in California to oil and gas developers. That pause came after a federal judge ordered the Obama administration to halt similar leasing efforts until it could better evaluate the environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. Trump’s plan – first proposed by the administration in 2018 — targets public and private land spread across eight counties in Central California: eastern Fresno, western Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura.  The move drew immediate criticism from environmentalists, who said it would pose health risks and worsen air quality in a part of the state notorious for pollution. “The Central Valley has some of the worst air quality in the nation, and we know fracking and drilling make air quality worse,” said Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental advocacy group. Lakewood said Trump’s plan would unleash a “fracking frenzy” that would endanger people and wildlife alike. Once a plan is finalized and approved, environmental groups are expected to sue to block it, as they have in the past. Proposed by the Bureau of Land Management, the plan is only the latest in a series of attempts by the federal government to open public land in Central California to fracking. In 2013, a federal judge ruled that the government had violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it issued oil leases in Monterey County without analyzing the environmental dangers of fracking. Three years later, another federal judge reached a similar conclusion.

In letter, Alaska governor asks Trump for help on oil, mining and other issues - In a letter to President Donald Trump last month, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy seeks fewer federal restrictions and changes he says will boost the state’s economy and efforts to mine, drill and sell timber. The governor also lays out concerns about Alaska’s relationship with the federal government, asserting that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “career employees” are sabotaging the goal that both leaders share of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The March 1 correspondence, highlighting matters of “great importance to Alaskans," suggests the state and federal government work together to achieve “economic growth and energy dominance." The letter was obtained by the Daily News through a public-records request. One request — that Trump help Alaska become the first state to receive Medicaid dollars as a block grant — made headlines earlier this month as advocacy groups in Alaska criticized the idea. “We continue to work with the Trump administration on a long list of priorities, including those identified” in the letter, he said in a prepared statement. In the letter, the governor suggests the Environmental Protection Agency should “officially announce” that it will not use a pre-emptive veto under the Clean Water Act to stop any proposed development in Alaska. The EPA has been blamed for wielding that authority in 2014 to hobble the Pebble copper and gold prospect in the Bristol Bay region. “The Pebble Mine Project is the poster child, but every potential investor must evaluate whether that pre-emptive veto could be used against their project; which results in a serious brake that chill(s) potential resource development opportunities,” Dunleavy wrote.

Polar opposites: the remote Alaskan village divided over oil drilling – Reuters - In 1968, the largest proven oil reserve in U.S. history was discovered about 175 km (110 miles) west of Kaktovik in Prudhoe Bay on Alaska’s North Slope. With the completion of the Trans Alaska Pipeline in 1977, the region became a key energy source. In 1971, the U.S. government passed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which paid nearly $1 billion at that time to Native Alaskans and transferred about 44 million acres of public land to indigenous-controlled corporations. With the Kaktovik Inupiaq Corporation, the two indigenous companies own 92,000 acres of surface and subsurface rights in ANWR which contains some of North America’s wildest territory. Within the refuge borders, there are no roads, established trails, or buildings of any type, and no cell phone service, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. “This is a true wilderness refuge,” the Arctic park’s website states. In the 1980s oil major Chevron drilled the only exploratory well in ANWR, the most significant step toward petroleum development in a decades-long debate about whether oil could be drilled safely in the refuge, without affecting wildlife. That debate took a new turn in December 2017 when Congress passed a tax-overhaul bill with a provision mandating two oil lease sales in the 1002 area, each offering at least 400,000 acres, within seven years. Environmental and Native groups criticized the Department of the Interior (DoI) for moving too swiftly on readying a lease sale for later this year, saying more time was needed to consult with tribes and other locals. Last December, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a draft environmental impact statement outlining four possible scenarios for oil drilling. In February, the DoI’s Bureau of Land Management held public meetings in several Alaskan cities and villages, including Kaktovik, as well as in Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital. Both steps are part of the standard procedure to move ahead with selling an oil lease, said Kara Moriarty, president of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, furthering her hopes that drilling will proceed under the Trump administration. “According to the schedule released by the Department of Interior, they plan to issue a final environmental impact statement later this summer or early fall,”

US total oil, natural gas rig count falls 10 on week to 1066— The combined US oil and natural gas rig count fell by 10 to 1,066 this week, S&P Global Platts Analytics data showed Thursday. The decline pushed the total number of active rigs to the lowest level seen since January 2018, and down 13.5% from the recent high of 1,233 in mid-November. The number of active oil rigs fell by eight to 846, a 14-month low, while the active gas rig count dipped by three to 215. The addition of a single cyclic steam rig pared the overall decline. The Permian Basin led the decline, falling by seven to its early March level of 462. The number of active rigs in the Eagle Ford play dipped by two to 84, a 15-month low, and drillers in the Denver-Julesburg Basin idled three rigs, taking the total number active there down to 28. The Bakken Shale rig count ticked one higher to 60, continuing a rangebound trend there that has held for most of 2019. While overall rig counts have steadily declined since last fall, Permian counts have stabilized in the 460-470 range in recent weeks. Active rigs have held in this range even as discounts for Permian crude have widened. WTI at Midland, Texas has fallen to as much of a $5.50/b discount to WTI at Cushing, Oklahoma in the back half of April. WTI Midland was priced at a premium to Cushing briefly in early March. The Marcellus Shale play rig count fell by two to 62, while operators in the Utica Shale play added four rigs for a total of 15. In the SCOOP-STACK, the rig count edged down by three to 83, the lowest since February 2017. The number of active drilling rig permits was broadly stable week on week, with the total count edging up by 13 to 1,269. But counts were significantly more volatile at the basin level. The number of active Denver-Julesburg permits plunged 165 to 83 this week while Bakken and Permian basin permits fell by 26 and 25 to 6 and 162, respectively. Eagle Ford permits were up 22 at 49 and Marcellus permits climbed by 24 for a total of 51.

US Crude Oil Inventories Up A Whopping 5.5 Million Bbls -- April 24, 2019 - EIA weekly petroleum report, link here. API reported a whopping increase of almost 8 million bbls of crude oil in its report yesterday.

  • US crude oil inventories: increased by a whopping 5.5 million bbls
  • US crude oil inventories: total inventories now stand at 460.6 million bbls; at the 5-year average, but the average has been increasing ever since the Saudi surge, 2014 - 2016;
  • refineries: operating at 90.1% capacity; much better than previous few weeks, but still very, very low; 
  • but look at this: imports increased by 1,157,000 bopd from the previous week
  • imports now average 6.6 million bopd, almost 20% less than the same four-week period last year, so the increase had to occur sooner or later, I suppose

North American drilling boom threatens big blow to climate efforts, study finds - More than half of the world’s new oil and gas pipelines are located in North America, with a boom in US oil and gas drilling set to deliver a major blow to efforts to slow climate change, a new report has found. Of a total 302 pipelines in some stage of development around the world, 51% are in North America, according to Global Energy Monitor, which tracks fossil fuel activity. A total of $232.5bn in capital spending has been funneled into these North American pipeline projects, with more than $1tn committed towards all oil and gas infrastructure. If built, these projects would increase the global number of pipelines by nearly a third and mark out a path of several decades of substantial oil and gas use. In the US alone, the natural-gas output enabled by the pipelines would result in an additional 559m tons of planet-warming carbon dioxide each year by 2040, above 2017 levels, according to Global Energy Monitor, citing International Energy Agency figures. This surge in emissions is set to take place at a time when scientists havewarned of punishing heatwaves,floods and economic damage ifgreenhouse gases are not drastically cut. A landmark UN report released last year warned that global emissions must be halved by 2030 and essentially nullified by 2050 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. “This is a whole energy system not compatible with global climate survival,” said Ted Nace, co-author of the Global Energy Monitor report. “These pipelines are locking in huge emissions for 40 to 50 years at a time, with the scientists saying we have to move in 10 years. These pipelines are a bet that the world won’t get serious about climate change, allowing the incumbency of oil and gas to strengthen.” New gas pipelines outnumber oil pipelines by about four to one, bolstered by a glut of abundant natural gas that is swiftly replacing coal as the leading electricity source for US homes and businesses. The most active area for pipelines is the Permian basin in west Texas, a sprawling formation that contains huge deposits of oil and gas. Other active zones include the shale formations in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, and the Canadian tar sands of Alberta. Several of these pipeline projects have spurred bitter protests from climate andindigenous activists, such as the Dakota Access project, which resulted inviolent clashes at the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota. The extension to the Keystone pipeline, which would link the Alberta tar sands to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico, has also aroused opposition that Donald Trump has vowed to sweep aside by pushing the project forward.

Exxon Mobil's quarterly profits tumble on poor refining and chemicals results - Exxon Mobil reported on Friday that its first-quarter profits fell nearly 50% from a year ago, hit by poor results in its refining and chemicals segments. Shares of the oil giant were down more than 2% on Friday. Exxon reported a quarterly loss in its downstream business, which focuses on refining oil into fuels like gasoline and diesel. The company said brimming stockpiles of gasoline led to weak fuel margins during the quarter. It also continued a heavy slate of refinery maintenance. That maintenance has weighed on downstream profits in recent quarters, and Exxon warned analysts on Friday that it will continue in the second quarter of 2019. Profits in the chemicals business also tumbled $219 million from a year ago. While Exxon sold more chemicals, profit margins came under pressure because the industry has recently added capacity. The oil major’s output of crude, natural gas and other fossil fuels reached 4 million barrels of oil equivalent, up 2% from last year. Still, income in the upstream exploration and production unit fell by $621 million from last year. While crude oil prices strengthened, they still remained relatively weak, Exxon said. “Solid operating performance in the first quarter helped mitigate the impact of challenging Downstream and Chemical margin environments,” Exxon Chairman and CEO Darren Woods said in a statement.

Lower hydraulic fracturing prices continue to sting Halliburton in first quarter - Lower prices for hydraulic fracturing services in North America continue to sting Houston-based Halliburton, the second largest oilfield service company in the world. Halliburton posted a $152 million profit and earnings per share of 17 cents on $5.7 billion of revenue during the first quarter, the company reported early Monday morning. The company's first quarter earnings fell in line with Wall Street expectations of earnings per share of 22 cents and beat expectations of $5.52 billion of revenue First quarter figures also marked a dramatic improvement over the $46 million profit and earnings per share of 5 cents on $5.7 billion of revenue during the first quarter of 2018. With 58 percent of its revenue coming from onshore activities in the United States, Halliburton has high risk exposure to fluctuations in demand for horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing services in U.S. shale basins. Crude oil prices fell dramatically during the fourth quarter of 2018 sending demand and prices for hydraulic fracturing services falling through most of the first quarter. Halliburton CEO Jeff Miller believes that the worst pricing declines are over. Earlier this year, Miller predicted that new pipelines coming into service in the Permian Basin of West Texas during the second half of this year would eventually result in higher demand and prices for drilling and completion activities. "As expected, the first quarter activity levels in North America were modestly higher compared to the first quarter of 2018, and we experienced pricing headwinds throughout the quarter," Miller said. "We believe the worst in the pricing deterioration is now behind us. For the next couple of quarters, I see demand for our services progressing modestly." 

Occidental Petroleum bids $76 a share for Anadarko, trumping Chevron offer for the oil and gas driller - Occidental Petroleum bid $76 a share for Anadarko Petroleum on Wednesday, higher than a previous offer by Chevron for the oil and gas driller.The new Occidental offer, which was sent via a letter to Anadarko’s board on Wednesday, is half cash and half stock, specifically $38 in cash and 0.6094 Occidental shares. It values Anadarko at $57 billion, including debt. Chevron announced an agreement on April 12 to buy Anadarko for $33 billion in cash and stock, valuing the company at $65 a share. CNBC later reported there was another bidder for Anadarko, Occidental, which was offering mid-$70s per share before Chevron stepped in with its offer.After the new Occidental bid, Anadarko shares surged 10% in Wednesday’s premarket trading, to above $70.The Chevron offer is a 75% stock and 25% cash transaction. The breakup fee for the Chevron-Anadarko deal is said to be 3% of the deal, sources said.“Anadarko has great assets,” Occidental CEO Vicki Hollub said in a interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box ” on Wednesday. “We are the right acquirer ... because we can get the most out of the shale.”Hollub said she considers this a friendly offer, even though Anadarko may not see it that way. The offer is 20% above where Anadarko was trading on Tuesday.  Occidental shares fell more than 7 percent in Wednesday’s premarket. Chevron, whose stock was flat, did not immediately return a call for comment.

Occidental CEO says she will prevail in bidding war for sought-after oil driller Anadarko. - Occidental Petroleum CEO Vicki Hollub said Wednesday her company can squeeze the best results out of Anadarko Petroleum’s wells in the top U.S. shale basin, making Occidental a better acquirer than Chevron. Earlier Wednesday, Occidental launched a rival bid for Anadarko, which agreed to sell its business to Chevron in a deal valued at $33 billion earlier this month. Occidental is offering $76 a share for Anadarko, representing a roughly 20% premium to Chevron’s $65-per-share offer. Hollub says 75 percent of Anadarko’s value lies in its assets in the Permian Basin, the shale oil region underlying western Texas and eastern New Mexico. The Permian is the epicenter of a boom in U.S. oil production. “We are the right acquirer for Anadarko Petroleum because we can get the most out of the shale,” Hollub told David Faber on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “We have a lot more experience there. We are performing really, really well, and what hasn’t been talked about very much is that the upside in this deal is the shale play, is the shale development.” Shares of Occidental fell about half a percent on Wednesday, while Chevron’s stock price slumped 3.1%. Meanwhile, Anadarko shares surged 11.6% for the biggest daily gain in the S&P 500 stock index. Anadarko confirmed on Wednesday that it had received Occidental’s unsolicited bid. The company said its board will carefully review the proposal to determine the best course of action for shareholders. “The Anadarko board has not made any determination as to whether Occidental’s proposal constitutes, or could reasonably be expected to result in, a superior proposal under the terms of the Chevron Merger Agreement,” the Company said in a statement. Chevron is also pitching itself as an ideal steward of Anadarko’s Permian assets. The oil major says the deal stitches together a 75-mile-wide strip of continuous land in the Delaware Basin, a sweet spot within the larger Permian. That allows Chevron to bring efficient, industrial-scale production to the shale field, the company says. “We are confident the transaction agreed to by Chevron and Anadarko will be completed,” said Kent Robertson, manager for global external affairs for Chevron.

Canada Extends Deadline for Trans Mountain Pipeline Decision to June 18 -- Canada has extended the deadline for a decision on whether to push forward with the expansion of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline to June 18 from mid-May, the government said on Thursday. The Trans Mountain expansion (TMX) project would nearly triple the amount of crude flowing from Alberta’s oil sands to British Columbia’s coast, but has been beset by regulatory delays and opposition from indigenous groups, environmentalists and the government of British Columbia. Amarjeet Sohi, Canada’s minister of natural resources, said the delay would give the federal Liberal government more time to consult with indigenous groups impacted by the pipeline. “The Government has consistently said that a decision would only be made on the project once we are satisfied that the duty to consult has been met,” he said. However, Conservative shadow minister for natural resource Shannon Stubbs said the delay meant another summer construction season would likely be missed. “There is also still a very real risk that the Liberals will cancel this project for political reasons,” she said in a statement. Last August, the Canadian government bought the pipeline from Kinder Morgan Canada for C$4.5 billion ($3.37 billion) to ensure it gets built. That came after Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal overturned the Liberal government’s 2016 approval to expand the pipeline. The court ruled Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB) regulator had not considered marine impacts and the government had not adequately consulted indigenous groups. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government ordered a new NEB review of Trans Mountain last September, and in February the regulator recommended the government approve it a second time.

Mapping The Countries With The Most Oil Reserves - There’s little doubt that renewable energy sources will play a strategic role in powering the global economy of the future. But, as Visual Capitalist's Jeff Desjardins notes, for now, crude oil is still the undisputed heavyweight champion of the energy world. In 2018, we consumed more oil than any prior year in history – about 99.3 million barrels per day on a global basis. This number is projected to rise again in 2019 to 100.8 million barrels per day. Given that oil will continue to be dominant in the energy mix for the short and medium term, which countries hold the most oil reserves? Today’s map comes from and it uses data from the CIA World Factbook to resize countries based on the amount of oil reserves they hold. Here’s the data for the top 15 countries below:  Venezuela tops the list with 300.9 billion barrels of oil in reserve – but even this vast wealth in natural resources has not been enough to save the country from its recent economic and humanitarian crisis. Saudi Arabia, a country known for its oil dominance, takes the #2 spot with 266.5 billion barrels of oil. Meanwhile, Canada and the U.S. are found at the #3 (169.7 billion bbls) and the #11 (36.5 billion bbls) spots respectively.

Venezuela Imports Crude for the First Time in Five Years - Oil production in Venezuela has dipped so low that the owner of the world’s largest reserves is importing crude for the first time in five years. The nation’s output fell below 1 million barrels a day to a 16-year low in March, amid rolling blackouts and U.S. sanctions. As the power disruption shut oil fields, pipelines and ports, bringing oil infrastructure to a halt, state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela SA bought a cargo of crude from fellow OPEC member Nigeria, marking the first oil import since 2014. Nosedive Venezuela oil production hits 16-year low in March Source: Bloomberg survey (2002-2009), OPEC secondary data (2010-2019) Almost 1 million barrels of light, sweet Agbami crude is discharging Tuesday, after loading in early April, and may help to offset falling domestic production. PDVSA can also use the lighter oil as a diluent to thin Venezuela’s sludgy crude so it can be more easily extracted from underground reservoirs. The streams that are blended with light oil are marketed as Merey 16, the country’s top exported oil and a grade used to calculate the OPEC oil basket price. The cargo of Agbami will likely be used to make Merey as the production of domestic of light oils has been falling over the years. According to the latest official data available, production fell by half between 2006 and 2016 to 313,000 barrels daily. The last time Venezuela imported crude, in 2014, it purchased Algerian crude to mix with extra-heavy oil for a grade that became known as Blend 16. PDVSA discontinued the blend amid disagreements with Algeria’s state oil company Sonatrach and complaints from U.S. refiners, then the company’s biggest buyers.

 Brazils Petrobras reports oil spill from Albacora field offshore pipeline - Brazil's Petrobras oil company reported an oil spill from its offshore oil pipeline in the Albacora field Monday, according to Reuters report. According to the company's statement, the leak has been identified around dawn Monday. Oil production at platform P-25, located some in the Campos Basin some 110 km away from the coast, has been halted shortly after the discovery of the leak, the company's statement says. "The company has promptly sent ships to the location, tasked with removal of the oil spill," Petrobras said in the statement, adding that the regulatory bodies have been notified of the incident. The spill is estimated at 941 liters.

 One week to clean up Tanjung Balau oil spill, says Marine Dept - Johor Marine Department today said it will need about one week to clean up the oil spill off Tanjung Balau waters, near Kota Tinggi. That, according to its director Dickson Dollah, would also depend on the weather. "Looking at the current situation, we can estimate that the clean up job will take about one week. "If the weather permits, and the currents do not spread the spill landwards, I believe it is doable." he said when contacted. Dickson said an Oil Spill Response Team has been deployed to the site to monitor and control the spread using absorbent booms. "We are hoping that the monitoring and measures taken since yesterday will prevent the spill from spreading to the shores." he added. It was reported that foreign tankers were believed to have dumped marine fuel oil that resulted in the spill. Authorities said it was estimated that 300 tonnes of marine fuel oil had been discharged and the spill covered an area four nautical miles from the coast.

Fresh oil spills in Ogoni kill 2, as Army invades community - AT least two persons have been killed in Kegbara-Dere Community, Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State, following two fresh oil spills in the area. It was gathered that there was a spill from an oil facility owned by the Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, in B-Dere and Kpor communities of the same LGA. It was also gathered that Shell had tried to access the site and repair the damage before the incident occurred. However, the Chairman of Kegbara-Dere Town Council, Dornu Godswill, disclosed that one Nen-Elkpege Legbara and one other person lost their lives, while, Mr. Friday Komene and two others who sustained bullet injuries are receiving treatment. Speaking, Godswill expressed worries that their community is under siege by military men, who allegedly invaded the area. He said: “On April 18, 2019, I was returning from the hospital and I saw Shell vehicles parked at Kpor trunk line. I had to find out what the problem was. I was informed that there was an oil spill. “I was worried that they did not inform the community. Immediately, I called on the president to stay with them. “I later heard that some people obstructed their activities. They invited us to give them access to the spill site.” Godswill noted that oil thieves had set the spill at Kpor ablaze, adding that three of the thieves died at the spot. He, however, said the military that escorted Shell to the area attacked their community when the spills were not in their community. “On the 18th of April, around 10 pm, we heard a sound and we later got information that the oil spill at Kpor was on fire. It was not our boys that did it. We only heard that some oil bunkerers that were cooking products around that area caused it.” When contacted the spokesman of Shell, Mr. Michael Adande, said the firm would respond to the allegations raised against it at the appropriate time. 

Oil spill: Group urges NOSDRA to visit affected communities - A Niger Delta-based Non- Governmental Organisation, the Center for Peace and Environmental Justice (CEPEJ), has called on the Director General of National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), Mr.Idris Musa, to visit communities and creeks in the Niger-Delta region affected by oil spill. CEPEJ, in a statement signed by its National Coordinator, Sheriff Mulade and made available to newsmen in Warri recently, noted that oil spill related environmental damages need urgent attention, adding that NOSDRA needed to be abreast with numerous oil spill in the region to enable it discharge the agency’s statutory obligations to the people. “We see reasons to redirect the attention of NOSDRA to several explosions of oil and gas facilities, pipelines resulting to severe environmental and ecological damages. “There are numerous sub-standard oil and gas transportation facilities that are often prone to leakage, spill and explosion and if NOSDRA makes it a priority to know the locations of such facilities they could give better response operations which includes detection, prevention and result oriented response,” it added. The NGO drew the attention of NOSDRA to the preventable incident of 11 persons that allegedly died in 2016 from pipeline explosion at Agip’s oilfield in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, noting that it was necessary to call on NOSDRA to plan for a familiarisation visit to oil spills affected sites particularly in the creeks and interact with host communities across Niger Delta. 

Germany, Poland suspend oil imports via Russian pipeline amid contamination worries - Several European nations have suspended oil imports from Russia after contaminated supplies were found in a major pipeline from the world’s second-largest crude exporter. The sudden suspension of imports from the Soviet-built Druzhba pipeline has disrupted supplies to European refineries. Germany, Poland and Belarus have all suspended shipments through the Druzhba line, and trading sources say the Czech Republic has also halted imports, according to S&P Global Platts. The firm estimates that 700,000 barrels per day of Russian oil that usually transits through the Druzhba line has been suspended. At least five tankers containing the contaminated oil also sailed from the Baltic port of Ust Luga. The incident will cause short-term disruptions to supply, potentially resulting in reduced activity at affected refineries, according to Chris Midgley, global head of analytics at S&P Global Platts. That should boost product prices and refinery margins in northwest Europe, but it’s not likely to significantly tighten global oil supplies or disrupt production. Russia currently plans to start pumping clean fuel through Druzhba on April 29. The Druzhba pipeline can ship up to 1 million bpd, according to data sourced by Reuters — approximately 1% of global demand. The line supplies branches north to supply Poland and Germany and forks south to deliver Russian crude to the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. German plants belonging to Total, Shell, Eni and Rosneft as well as refineries belonging to Poland’s PKN Orlen and Grupa Lotos were all reportedly at risk. PKN Orlen is receiving seaborne shipments from Gdansk port, but capacity from Gdansk may be limited and cannot completely compensate for the disruption, according to S&P Global Platts. “The first thing to note is that this incident involving contaminated Russian oil is rare occurrence,” In fact, Brennock said it is the “first time I have seen anything like it.”

ExxonMobil Signs 20-year China LNG Supply Deal - China-based Zhejiang Provincial Energy Group has signed a liquefied natural gas (LNG) sales and purchase agreement with Exxon Mobil Corp. According to a written statement Monday from ExxonMobil, Zhejiang Energy should receive 1 million metric tons per annum (mtpa) of LNG over a 20-year period. “This sales and purchase agreement represents an important milestone and provides a solid foundation for our strategic partnership with Zhejiang Provincial Energy Group,” Peter Clarke, ExxonMobil’s LNG senior vice president, stated. As an Aug. 22, 2018, Reuters article posted to Rigzone notes, Zhejiang Energy is partnering with Sinopec Corp. to build a 3-mtpa LNG receiving terminal at Wenzhou in China’s eastern Zhejiang province. The initial phase of the facility reportedly is targeted to begin operations in late 2021. “ExxonMobil shares Zhejiang Energy’s vision in developing a major LNG gateway in the Ningbo-Zhoushan region,” said Clarke. “We look forward to continuing our support for Zhejiang Energy during the construction, commissioning and operation of its Wenzhou LNG receiving terminal.” 

Saudi Arabia is set to lead a trillion-dollar regional energy splurge - The energy sector in the Middle East and North Africa will amass almost $1 trillion in investment over the next five years, as countries build out energy capabilities and pivot to renewables, according to new research. The Arab Petroleum Investments Corporation (Apicorp), a multilateral development bank with around $7 billion in total assets, provides an annual estimate for both planned and committed investments for 2019 to 2023. “We are seeing growth in the total amount of investments going into the energy sector,” Apicorp CEO Ahmed Attiga told CNBC’s “Capital Connection” on Wednesday. The group says planned investments account for the majority of the spending at $613 billion while committed investments cover the remainder. Oil remains key, but gas is rising The power sector accounts for the largest share of total investments at $348 billion. Of that, there are $90 billion worth of projects currently under execution. “The power sector is really showing tremendous growth, and this is a direct outcome of the countries of the region diversifying their energy mix and also trying to rely on renewables as a major source of energy,” Attiga said. “Most of the countries of the region are determined now to implement an energy transition regardless of the volatility of oil prices,” he added. The report said the case for switching from oil to gas and renewables remains strong in countries with sizeable gas reserves, such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq, or where the share of liquids in power generation remains significant. Total investments in the gas sector will amount to $186 billion over the five years, it said, which includes $87 billion of committed investment. Despite that, the oil sector (upstream, midstream and refining) is still a key investment driver at $304 billion, of which committed investments account for a little under 50% or $138 billion.

U.S. to announce end to Iran sanctions waivers, oil prices spike (Reuters) - The United States on Monday demanded that buyers of Iranian oil stop purchases by May 1 or face sanctions, a move to choke off Tehran’s oil revenues which sent crude prices to six-month highs on fears of a potential supply crunch. The Trump administration on Monday said it will not renew exemptions granted last year to buyers of Iranian oil, a more stringent than expected decision that caught several key importers who have been pleading with Washington to continue buying Iranian oil sanctions-free. The United States reimposed sanctions in November on exports of Iranian oil after U.S. President Donald Trump last spring unilaterally pulled out of a 2015 accord between Iran and six world powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear program. Eight economies, including China and India, were granted waivers for six months, and several had expected those exemptions to be renewed. Japan expects limited impact from U.S. move to scrap Iran oil sanctions waivers Tehran remained defiant, saying it was prepared for the end of waivers, while the Revolutionary Guards repeated a threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipment channel in the Gulf, Iranian media reported. The White House said it was working with top oil exporters Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to ensure the market was “adequately supplied.” Traders, already fretting about tight supplies, raised skepticism about whether this more stringent approach, along with ongoing sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry, could backfire in the form of a major spike in prices. “It is a surprise that the requirement to cease importing Iranian oil should come at this next May deadline,” said Elizabeth Rosenberg, director of the energy, economics and security program at Washington-based Center for a New American Security. “Having only several weeks’ notice before the deadline means there are lots of cargoes booked for May delivery. This means that it will now be harder to get it out by the deadline.”

 US Cancels Iran Oil Waivers for Turkey, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Italy, Greece— The United States announced on Monday it would no longer grant sanctions exemptions to eight countries, including Turkey, the Hürriyet Daily News reported.The White House said Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — close US allies that back President Donald Trump’s hawkish stance against regional rival Iran — would work to make up the difference in oil to ensure that global markets are not rocked.“This decision is intended to bring Iran’s oil exports to zero, denying the regime its principal source of revenue,” the White House said in a statement.“The Trump administration and our allies are determined to sustain and expand the maximum economic pressure campaign against Iran to end the regime’s destabilizing activity threatening the United States, our partners and allies and security in the Middle East,” it said.Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said there would be no grace period for those economies to comply.“We’re going to zero. We’re going to zero across the board,” Pompeo told reporters after the White House announced the end to waivers in order to pressure Iran over its nuclear program. “There are no [oil] waivers that extend beyond that period, full stop.”Eight governments were initially given six-month reprieves from the unilateral US sanctions on Iran. They were China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Italy and Greece.Trump last year withdrew the United States from an accord negotiated by his predecessor, Barack Obama, under which Iran drastically scaled back its nuclear program in return for promises of sanctions relief. The Trump administration, backed by Saudi Arabia and Israel, has instead unilaterally imposed sanctions and demanded that other countries follow suit.

Trump's Latest Oil Market Gamble - Global oil prices started the week by spiking around 3 percent on reports that Washington was preparing to announce that all buyers of Iranian oil will have to end those imports soon or face U.S. sanctions. Reuters cited a Washington Post article and sources stating that the U.S. will announce the termination of Iranian oil import sanctions waivers on Monday.The waivers move, granted by Trump in November, shocked global oil markets and created a supply overhang that the OPEC+ group of producers is now working to eliminate.  The sanctions waivers put in place by Trump particularly caught U.S-ally, OPEC de facto leader and the world’s largest oil exporter Saudi Arabia by surprise as well. As discussed in my April 20 post, since Trump didn’t consult with Riyadh before granting Iranian oil waivers, it resulted in an uptick in global oil supply and downward pressure on prices, costing the Saudis and other major producers lost revenue. Since that time, Saudi Arabia has largely been immune to Trump’s tweets calling for the Kingdom and OPEC to pump more oil to reduce oil prices which are at five-month highs.  The Reuters report added that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will announce today “that as of May 2, the State Department will no longer grant sanctions waivers to any country that is currently importing Iranian crude or condensate.”  Other media outlets on Monday morning, Asia time, were also verifying the reports. The London-based Financial Times said that a U.S. official had told them that Pompeo would announce on Monday, U.S. time, and an end to the waivers which expire in early May. Earlier this month, the U.S., took the unprecedented step of branding Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a foreign terrorist organization, the first time formally labeling part of a foreign government as terrorists. These developments underscore Trump’s apparent push to bring the Iranian economy to its knees an in-effect force regime change, a stance not lost on leaders in Tehran who claim that such a scenario is impossible.   If Pompeo does carry through with the announcement, it will put considerable upward pressure on global oil prices, even as Trump has recently called on the Saudis and OPEC, via Twitter again, to increase production to bring prices down. It will also likely cause global oil inventory levels to revert to a shortage of the commodity - in effect creating the opposite market scenario that Trump has asked for and needs as the 2020 presidential election cycle kicks in. Trump could be hedging that he is just calling in a favor again from Riyadh. However, it’s a dangerous gambit since the Saudis don’t’ always follow the same logic as Western leaders, particularly in global oil markets.

Statement from the Press Secretary on Cooperation between the United States, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates on Energy and Iran Policies -- President Donald J. Trump has decided not to reissue Significant Reduction Exceptions (SREs) when they expire in early May. This decision is intended to bring Iran’s oil exports to zero, denying the regime its principal source of revenue. The United States, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, three of the world’s great energy producers, along with our friends and allies, are committed to ensuring that global oil markets remain adequately supplied. We have agreed to take timely action to assure that global demand is met as all Iranian oil is removed from the market. The Trump Administration and our allies are determined to sustain and expand the maximum economic pressure campaign against Iran to end the regime’s destabilizing activity threatening the United States, our partners and allies, and security in the Middle East. The President’s decision to eliminate all SREs follows the designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, demonstrating the United States commitment to disrupting Iran’s terror network and changing the regime’s malign behavior. We welcome the support of our friends and allies for this effort.​

 Oil prices spike more than 3% on reports that US will end waivers for Iran sanctions - Oil prices spiked by more than 3 percent on Monday — past highs not seen since November 2018 — after reports that Washington is set to announce that all buyers of Iranian oil will have to end imports, or be subject to U.S. sanctions. Brent crude futures surged more than 3 percent to over $74 per barrel on Monday morning during Asia hours, while U.S. crude futures rose around 2.67 percent to $65.71 per barrel. That price spike followed a report by the Washington Post, citing two unnamed State Department officials, that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will announce that “as of May 2, the State Department will no longer grant sanctions waivers to any country that is currently importing Iranian crude or condensate.” Condensate is an ultra-light form of crude oil. Following that report, Reuters confirmed the news, citing a source familiar with the matter. Brent prices have risen by more than a third this year, while U.S. crude has soared more than 40 percent. The U.S. reimposed sanctions in November on exports of Iranian oil after U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and six world powers. Washington, however, granted Iran’s eight main buyers of oil, mostly in Asia, waivers to the sanctions which allowed them limited purchases for an additional six months. The eight buyers are China and India — Iran’s biggest customers — as well as Japan, South Korea, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Taiwan. “The sanctions (are) obviously one of the major movers, I think, which is influencing prices,” said Daryl Liew, head of portfolio management at financial services company Reyl Singapore. He also pointed to stronger-than-expected economic growth data from China last week, which could be driving demand expectations. Of the buyers of Iranian oil, he said India could suffer the most from Washington’s move. “I think India is probably one of the key potential countries that might suffer from a higher oil price, in terms of their current account deficit, for example. And that’s going to be basically putting pressures on inflationary pressures as well,” Liew said, speaking on CNBC’s “Street Signs” on Monday. “No doubt the Indian central bank has ... turned to a more dovish stance in recent meetings. But if oil prices continue to hit higher, and inflationary pressures come back into the picture again for India especially, then the central bank probably has to reverse the dovish moves,” he concluded.

Oil hits a 2019 high on the US plan to tighten squeeze on Iran - Oil topped $74 a barrel on Monday, the highest since November, with the United States set to announce a further clampdown on Iranian oil exports, tightening global supplies. The United States is expected to say later on Monday that buyers of Iranian oil need to end imports soon or face sanctions, a source familiar with the situation said, confirming an earlier Washington Post report. “This does bring a lot more uncertainty in terms of global supplies,” said Olivier Jakob, analyst at Petromatrix. “It is a bullish surprise for the market.” Brent crude, the global benchmark, rose as much as 3.3 percent to $74.31 a barrel, the highest since Nov. 1. It was up $1.94 at $73.91 at 0847 GMT. U.S. West Texas Intermediate climbed by as much as 2.9 percent to $65.87, the highest since Oct. 31, and was last up $1.51 at $65.51. In November, the U.S. reimposed sanctions on exports of Iranian oil after President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and six world powers. Washington, however, granted waivers to Iran’s eight main buyers — China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Italy and Greece — that allowed them to continue making limited purchases for six months. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due make an announcement on Monday, the Washington Post said. Another drop in Iranian exports would further squeeze supply in a market already tightened through the U.S. sanctions against Iran and fellow OPEC member Venezuela, plus voluntary cuts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. An end to the exemptions would hit Asian buyers hardest. Iran’s biggest oil customers are China and India, both of which have been lobbying for an extension to the sanction waivers. The prospect of reduced Iranian supply brought a cautious reaction from top OPEC exporter Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally and also a driving force behind the OPEC-led supply-cut deal. A source familiar with Saudi thinking told Reuters on Monday Saudi Arabia is willing to compensate for any potential loss of crude supply but the kingdom will assess the impact on the market before raising its output.

Iran sanctions decision rewards hedge fund oil bulls: Kemp (Reuters) - Hedge fund managers added even more bullish long positions in crude oil and gasoline last week as traders bet prices will continue rising despite a sluggish economy and political sensitivity around escalating motoring costs. The Trump administration's decision to toughen sanctions on Iran's oil exports has rewarded fund managers who have been increasingly confident that the oil market will tighten significantly this year, lifting prices. Even before the latest sanctions announcement, hedge funds and other money managers increased their net long position in the six most important petroleum futures and options contracts by another 61 million barrels in the week to April 16 ( ). Fund managers have purchased a total of 564 million barrels of crude and refined products over the last 14 weeks in one of the longest and certainly smoothest and most consistent bull markets on record. Funds were net buyers last week of Brent (+22 million barrels), NYMEX and ICE WTI (+21 million), U.S. gasoline (+10 million), U.S. heating oil (+3 million) and European gasoil (+5 million). Portfolio managers now hold a net bullish position in the six contracts equivalent to 865 million barrels, nearly three times higher than in early January, although still below the recent high of 1.099 billion in late September. Long positions outnumber short ones by a margin of 7:1 across the petroleum complex but 13:1 in Brent and a record 39:1 in U.S. gasoline. From a pure positioning perspective, the crude and especially gasoline markets appear very stretched, with lopsided positioning pointing to a future reversal in the upward price trend. But the Trump administration's decision to eliminate all sanctions waivers for purchasers of Iranian oil is expected to tighten the market and could validate hedge fund bets on higher prices.

Iranian Sanctions 2.0: Oil Market Risks and Price Stakes - Oxford Institute for Energy - Before the recent announcement on Iran sanction waivers, the base case for most analysts was that the US would renew the waivers allowing a few buyers to continue importing limited quantities of Iranian oil. The logic behind this thinking was very simple: the Trump administration would not risk an oil price spike that could endanger US growth prospects and hurt motorists by tightening sanctions on Iran and disrupting oil exports further. Thus, President Trump’s latest decision not to reissue waivers caught the market off guard and caused a mini rally in the oil price with Brent prices reaching a six month high of near $75/b. Trump has been keen to emphasize that the US secured offset commitments from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and that these countries ‘along with other friends and allies, have committed to ensure that global oil markets remain adequately supplied … and that global demand is met as all Iranian oil is removed from the market’. This latest decision comes on the back of a quarter which saw market fundamentals tighten due to deep output cuts from Saudi Arabia, which exceeded the pledged target, the sharp deterioration of Venezuelan output, and demand remaining relatively healthy despite widespread pessimism about global growth prospects. As the Brent price consolidated at above $70/b in early-April, market focus quickly shifted to whether OPEC+ will relax its output cuts or even exit the deal altogether in June. The US campaign of ‘maximum pressure’ on Iran has added another layer of uncertainty to an already complex web of events; Saudi Arabia’s response, the future of the OPEC+ agreement, the success of the US in driving Iran exports to ‘zero’, as well as demand prospects on both the upside and the downside. This comment assesses these risks and discusses the market outcomes under the different choices facing OPEC and Saudi Arabia.

Trump tightens sanctions on Iran’s oil exports—How India will respond - Brookings - The Trump administration’s decision not to extend waivers from Iran sanctions will not be welcome in New Delhi. India imports over three-quarters of the oil it consumes, and Iran has long featured in the list of its top sources. Washington had previously issued it a waiver, and, since sanctions had gone into effect, India had decreased its imports from Iran.  As a U.S. strategic partner, whose cooperation the Trump administration has sought for its Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy, India had hoped to get another waiver—even if that required further import reductions on its part. The administration’s decision will therefore irk Delhi, particularly since Washington has also imposed sanctions on another of India’s top suppliers, Venezuela.   Indian public- and private-sector refiners will likely find other sources—the Indian government has indicated that it has been planning for this eventuality. But this step comes at an inopportune time for the Modi government, which is seeking re-election and will likely face opposition accusations that it has caved to American pressure. For that reason, and to maintain relations with Iran, it will likely seek to continue to import some quantity of oil from Iran using the rupee payment mechanism it had developed (even though it might upset the United States). Moreover, New Delhi has other concerns about this U.S. step: the potential impact on oil prices, and on India’s development and use of the Iranian port of Chabahar to facilitate alternate connectivity with/for Afghanistan. Three broader concerns should also be kept in mind.

  • First, the Iran and Venezuela sanctions problems have come at a time when other irritants in the U.S.-India relationship have come to the fore. There are trade frictions, with the administration’s announcement that it intends to withdraw India’s benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences because of continuing concerns about Indian trade and investment policies. The 60-day deadline for a final decision on this step falls in early May, though it can be deferred until after the Indian election results are due on May 23. Moreover, Washington is unhappy with India’s defense deals with Russia, despite U.S. sanctions—not just for the S-400 system, but also a number of others. Defense deals with the United States, meanwhile, are still being negotiated or have stalled. India, in turn, is concerned about the Afghan peace talks and what Washington might cede to the Taliban—and to Pakistan for bringing them to the table.
  • Second, this step is counterproductive to the goals outlined in the administration’s National Security Strategy, giving India common cause with China and Russia.
  • Third, these developments will reinforce the very Indian instinct that American policymakers dislike: the quest for strategic autonomy, which is in no small part based on a sense that the Unites States is not a reliable partner and will not be mindful of Indian interests. Two competing instincts are constantly at play in Indian foreign policymaking: the need for alignment and the desire for autonomy. This step on Iran sanctions waivers will fuel the latter. A frustrated Delhi will see it as one more unilateral U.S. decision that hinders or harms its interests, and constrains its choices. Even though India is not their primary target, it has become collateral damage to certain U.S. actions. These include the administration’s steel and aluminum tariffs, its withdrawal from the Paris climate change agreement, its intended drawdown or withdrawal from Afghanistan, as well as the sanctions on Iran, Russia and Venezuela. These steps furthermore strengthen the voices—and hands—of those in the Indian establishment who urge caution in furthering the partnership with the United States.

What Does The End Of The Iran Sanction Waivers Mean To Asian Crude And Condensate Buyers? (Platts podcast) The US announced the end of all waivers from Iran oil sanctions when they expire on May 2. Ada Taib, Eesha Muneeb andAndrew Toh, S&P Global Platts editors in Asia, examine what this announcement means to crude oil buyers in the region, with China, India, and South Korea being among the biggest buyers of Iranian supply.

 Here's why China and India will remain defiant amid threat of US sanctions for Iranian oil imports - China and India are both unlikely to completely cut off Iranian crude imports, energy analysts have said, despite the imminent threat of U.S. sanctions. President Donald Trump’s administration announced Monday that buyers of Iranian oil must stop purchases by May 1 or face sanctions. The move, which took many market participants by surprise, ends six months of waivers which had allowed Iran’s eight biggest buyers of crude to continue to import limited volumes. International benchmark Brent crude traded at $74.26 Tuesday afternoon, up around 0.3%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $65.93, almost 0.6% higher. “Iranian exports will not actually reach zero,” analysts at Eurasia Group said in a research note published Monday. “China, which imports approximately 500,000 bpd (barrels per day), will make considerable cuts in the near term. For Beijing, securing the trade agreement with the U.S. is the top priority, and China will not link Iran oil imports to the trade talks.” China is Iran’s largest crude oil customer, with total imports last year of approximately 29.3 million tons or about 585,400 bpd, according to customs data sourced by Reuters. That’s roughly 6% of China’s total oil imports. On Tuesday, China’s Foreign Ministry reportedly said it had formally complained to the U.S. over its decision to end waivers on sanctions of Iranian oil imports. Beijing said it was resolutely opposed to the move, adding its energy cooperation with Tehran is lawful and reasonable. Alongside India and six others, China was one of the eight global buyers of Iranian crude that won exemptions from the U.S. last November.

Goldman Sachs is not expecting oil to rally despite the US tightening sanctions on Iran - Goldman Sachs expects the United States’ decision to end exemptions from sanctions for countries still buying oil from Iran to have a limited impact on crude prices, even though the timing is likely to have caught energy market participants by surprise.“While we acknowledge the near-term upside price risks, we reiterate our fundamentally derived Brent price trading range of $70-75 per barrel for the second quarter of 2019,” the U.S. investment bank said in a research note published Monday, Reuters reported.The world’s largest economy said Monday that from May 1, it would eliminate all waivers allowing eight economies to buy Iranian oil without facing U.S. sanctions.These eight economies that were initially allowed to continue buying Iranian crude without facing penalties include: China, India, Japan, Turkey, Italy, Greece, South Korea and Taiwan.Oil prices jumped more than 2% in the previous session, hitting their highest level this year amid intensifying concern about global supplies after the U.S. announced a further clampdown on Iran’s oil exports. International benchmark Brent crude traded at $74.40 Tuesday morning, up around 0.5%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $65.93, almost 0.6% higher.

Oil surges as US ends Iran sanction waivers—four experts forecast what’s next - The Trump administration announced Monday that it would end exemptions to its sanctions on Iran, a move meant to significantly curb Iran’s oil output. Crude prices surged after the announcement, with the U.S. benchmark, West Texas Intermediate crude, gaining nearly 3 percent. Here’s what experts say higher oil prices could mean for the broader market: Savita Subramanian, head of U.S. equity and quantitative strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said a significant uptick in the price of crude would likely be a double-edged sword: ”[Higher] oil is actually good for corporate profits because the S&P [500] is levered to oil, so I think this could be a source of positive earnings surprise[s] for the year where analysts are penciling in super low expectations. So I think that’s one potential silver lining of higher oil. And then … consumers are making more money, so we might not feel that energy pinch until we get to higher levels. But $5 a gallon in California is not a good environment to be in, so we’re getting to a point where this could turn ugly. ”Aperture Investors CEO Peter Kraus didn’t anticipate major changes to the status quo:“I think the oil prices are going to continue to reflect this sort of restriction in supply. And we’re not going to see a lot of new drilling based on these prices. We’re not going to see more holes being punched into the world to create more oil at these current prices. And so my guess is that economic activity stays where it is [and] oil prices will remain relatively constant. […] People predicted oil was going to go to $100, $120 a barrel, which I don’t see happening.”Alex Dryden, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan, said macroeconomic global risks could catch up to the oil market itself:“I think what you’re looking at is incoming restrictions on supply. That’s going to couple with what we’ve been seeing in Venezuela, this likely forcing the oil price up [like] we’ve seen this morning. Now, again, it’s about how sustainable that oil price is. You look at … the futures market. Go three years out — you typically go out that far when you want to take out political risk and look at how much geopolitical risk premium [is] priced into oil..” RBC Capital Markets’ head of U.S. equity strategy, Lori Calvasina, was fairly bullish on the prospect of higher oil prices for the broader market:“ I would say energy [is] this sector [that] looks super cheap to us. You’re in the middle of an earnings revision rebound in that space; 2020 earnings expectations actually look pretty good. I think, as long as that can hold up, I actually think this can help generate excitement in the space.”

Oil Prices Start Week Strong - Crude oil futures posted strong gains Monday amid a development on the US-Iran oil sanctions front. Crude oil futures posted strong gains Monday after the Trump administration announced that the U.S. will no longer grant sanctions waivers to any importer of Iranian oil effective May 1, 2019. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude for May delivery added $1.70 to end the day at $65.70 per barrel. The WTI peaked at $65.92 and bottomed out at an even $64 during the early week session. June Brent crude oil futures gained $2.07 during Monday’s trading to settle at $74.04 per barrel. “Today it’s all about Iran, and the U.S. decision to eliminate waivers for China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey,” said Tom McNulty, Houston-based managing director with Great American Group. “The most critical thing to analyze is where the barrels will be replaced from. Those five users will not cut back much, if at all. They simply cannot.” McNulty also noted that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are expected to be able to replace much of the Iranian barrels. Where lighter crudes can be refined, the U.S. will boost exports, he added. “I also think the Russians will increase production as a result, killing off the so-called agreement to manage production,” said McNulty, referring to the “OPEC+” deal in which OPEC member countries, Russia and others agreed to limit output to stabilize the oil market. In a written statement emailed to Rigzone, Michael Roomberg, portfolio manager with Miller/Howard Investments, remarked that the White House has “raised the stakes” with its decision on Iran waivers. He added, however, that the move is “a calculated risk” that will not by itself lead to Brent prices at $90 or even $100 anytime soon. “We expect oil prices to remain range-bound near current levels, though upside geopolitical risk continues to rise,” Roomberg stated. “Venezuela continues to teeter, and Libya fighting intensified over the weekend. Brent crude is now roughly $74 per barrel this morning.” Roomberg added that Saudi Arabia and Russia have spare production capacity to offset lost Iranian barrels but not enough to make up for a simultaneous output collapses in Libya, Venezuela and Iran.

Trump's crackdown on Iran leaves the oil market vulnerable to price spikes - In the Trump administration’s telling, its decision to cut off Iran’s oil exports in just over a week will have little impact on crude prices. There’s enough supply to meet global demand, officials say, and the administration’s Middle East allies will ride to the rescue if the world finds itself short of fuel. But outside the Oval Office, the outlook is not so rosy. Analysts say President Donald Trump’s hardline approach injects new risks into a fragile market besieged by instability in key oil-producing nations. They say global crude supplies are already getting tight, and Trump’s surprise crackdown will leave the market with little cushion to address future disruptions. “Oil production is being curtailed at a time when Venezuelan output is rapidly falling, conflict in Libya is reviving, and OPEC spare capacity remains tight. This could nudge the oil market dangerously close to a negative supply shock,” Montreal-based macro research firm BCA Research said Monday. Oil prices surged to nearly six-month highs after the Trump administration said it will not extend sanctions waivers for several of Iran’s biggest oil customers. The exemptions allowed a handful of countries — including China and India — to import limited shipments of Iranian crude without triggering U.S. sanctions on Iran. The move aims to shrink Iran’s oil shipments from roughly 1 million barrels per day to zero, though analysts expect some countries to defy the ultimatum. Still, investment banks now expect Iranian shipments to fall by another several hundred thousand barrels per day, further tightening the market. This comes as Venezuela’s output craters under the weight of economic crisis and U.S. sanctions and a fresh round of deadly civil conflict rocks Libya. The Trump administration says Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to fill the gap left by the Iranian barrels.

Iran Raises Stakes in U.S. Showdown With Threat to Close Hormuz - Iran will close the Strait of Hormuz, a waterway vital for global oil shipments, if the country is prevented from using it, a senior military official said on Monday in what appears to be a response to the U.S. plan to end waivers on Iranian oil exports. “If we are prevented from using it, we will close it,” the state-run Fars news agency reported, citing Alireza Tangsiri, head of the Revolutionary Guard Corps navy force. “In the event of any threats, we will not have the slightest hesitation to protect and defend Iran’s waterway.” Iranian officials have threatened to close the waterway in the past amid rising tension with the U.S. and Tangsiri’s remarks could be an attempt to deter the U.S. from its plan to slash the nation’s oil exports. The price of Brent crude, already at a six-month high, was little changed after the statement. But the commander’s response comes as President Donald Trump prepares to deal a severe blow to the Islamic Republic’s economy. On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will deliver the decision that no waivers from sanctions will be renewed to importers of Iranian oil, according to four people familiar with the matter. The U.S. will also announce offsets through commitments from other suppliers such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Strait of Hormuz is a narrow waterway carrying a fifth of the world’s traded oil that Iranian officials have threatened to block in retaliation for sanctions targeting the country’s nuclear program. The U.S. has said it would move to stop any Iranian attempt to block the waterway.

Could Iran close the Strait of Hormuz? Energy analysts are skeptical of Tehran's latest threat - Iran has reportedly renewed its threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s busiest transit lane for seaborne oil shipments, prompting fears about the potential ramifications for oil prices and broader financial markets. President Donald Trump’s administration announced Monday that buyers of Iranian oil must stop purchases by May 1 or face sanctions. The move, which took many market participants by surprise, ends six months of waivers which had allowed Iran’s eight biggest buyers of crude to continue to import limited volumes. In response, Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency quoted Revolutionary Guards General Alireza Tengseiri as saying that if Tehran was barred from using the Strait of Hormuz, they would “shut it down.” Analysts at Barclays said in a research note published Monday that approximately 20% of all the sea-borne crude and condensates passes through the Strait of Hormuz. “The short-term upside risk to prices is based on a) our view that Saudi Arabia’s response will likely be lower and slower compared to late last year and b) heightened risks of the closure of the Strait of Hormuz as a result of this action,” analysts at Barclays said. The bank added that the Trump administration’s decision not to reissue waivers in May did not materially impact its view on longer-term prices. International benchmark Brent crude traded at $74.17 Tuesday afternoon, up around 0.2%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $65.90, almost 0.6% higher.

IEA: OPEC’s Spare Production Capacity Reaches 3.3 Million Bpd - OPEC’s spare capacity has reached 3.3 million barrels per day, according to an International Energy Agency (IEA) statement on the global oil markets released on Tuesday. “As a result of OPEC’s high compliance rate with the agreed supply cuts in the OPEC+ group, global spare production capacity has risen to 3.3 mb/d, with 2.2 mb/d held by Saudi Arabia and around 1 mb/d by the United Arab Emirates, Iraq and Kuwait,” the IEA said in its release as oil prices reached new 2019 highs. The Brent and WTI benchmarks were both trading up on Tuesday following the news that the United States would not extend Iran sanction waivers to purchasers of Iranian crude oil, leaving the original May 1 cutoff date firm. The global oil markets are now adequately supplied, the IEA said, with plenty of spare capacity to make up for any gaps in oil supplies. Iran’s April oil exports of 1.1 million barrels per day were already lower than in March. With spare capacity of 2.2 million barrels per day in Saudi Arabia, OPEC should theoretically be able to comfortably lift production to compensate for lost Iranian barrels, with Saudi Arabia currently pumping about a million less than in November 2018. The IEA cautioned, however, that global economic growth is still fragile, and urged oil consumers and producers to “take steps to avoid higher oil prices that will prove painful to all alike.” Global OECD oil inventories, too, are above the five-year average at 2,871 million barrels, according to the IEA. The API is due to release US crude oil inventory figures today at 4:30pm EST—a highly watched metric that traders use to assess the condition of the oil markets.

Saudis Pledge to Ensure Oil Supply -- Saudi Arabia will coordinate with other crude producers to ensure that adequate supplies are available and the market “does not go out of balance,” Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih said, after the U.S. ended waivers for buyers of Iranian oil. The Saudis are closely monitoring oil-market developments after the U.S. announcement regarding export sanctions on Iran, Al-Falih said in a statement. “In the next few weeks, the Kingdom will be consulting closely with other producing countries and key oil consuming nations to ensure a well-balanced and stable oil market, for the benefits of producers and consumers as well as the stability of the world economy.” Any nation continuing to buy Iranian oil will face U.S. sanctions, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said Monday after announcing that temporary waivers granted to some nations late last year won’t be renewed when they expire next month. The current set of waivers -- issued to China, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey -- are to expire on May 2. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will ensure an “appropriate supply” of oil along with the U.S., Pompeo told reporters in Washington. “Saudi Arabia and others in OPEC will more than make up the Oil Flow difference in our now Full Sanctions on Iranian Oil,” President Donald Trump said on Twitter. The Saudis and the U.A.E. can increase their combined production by about 1.5 million barrels a day within a short period, according to people with knowledge of the situation, asking not to be identified because the matter is confidential. Iran shipped about 1.1 million barrels a day of crude and condensate in the first two weeks of April, tanker-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg show. ‘Fill the Gap’The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and allied producers such as Russia “could easily come in and fill the gap caused by any reduction in Iran exports,” Ashley Petersen, senior oil market analyst at Houston-based Stratas Advisors LLC, said in an interview with Bloomberg television. The elimination of waivers will probably remove about 700,000 to 800,000 barrels a day from the oil market in the near term, according to RBC Capital Markets. Analysts at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. estimate that it could cause Iran’s production to decline by 900,000 barrels from current levels. Saudi Arabia will assess the impact of the U.S. decision on the oil market before raising output, according to one of the people. The biggest producer in OPEC can pump an additional 1 million barrels a day within a short period, the person said. Saudi Arabia produced 9.82 million barrels a day in March, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. 

Oil traders to Saudi Arabia: "show us the barrels" - Kemp - (Reuters) - "The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates ... are committed to ensuring that global oil markets remain adequately supplied," the White House said in a press statement issued on Monday. "Oil markets are well-supplied and oil inventory levels are seasonally strong," the U.S. State Department wrote in an accompanying briefing note explaining the rationale for eliminating sanctions waivers for buyers of Iranian oil. "We have commitments from oil-producing countries, including the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to increase oil production to offset reductions in Iranian oil exports," the department announced. The department observed that oil stocks in OECD countries remain above the five-year average while U.S. oil production and exports are increasing. "Other major producers have signalled to markets a willingness and ability to increase production to compensate for additional Iranian reductions," the department added. The decision to eliminate all remaining sanctions waivers for Iran's oil buyers follows a round of top-level diplomatic contacts between the White House and leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Tougher sanctions are likely contingent on a U.S. understanding that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will make up lost Iranian barrels at least one-for-one to keep prices steady. Senior U.S. policymakers have been anxious to stress tougher sanctions will not reduce the availability of crude or lead to higher crude costs and increased fuel prices for motorists. Oil traders, however, think differently. Tougher sanctions are seen reducing oil supplies during the second half of the year, leaving the market under-supplied, inventories falling, and prices likely rising. Brent's six-month calendar spread has jumped to a backwardation of more than $3 per barrel, up from less than $2.50 before the announcement and just $1.20 a month ago ( Brent's calendar spread has been the best signal for changes in the production-balance since the late 1990s, alternating between backwardation and contango as the market cycles between under- and over-supply. Brent's backwardation is now at the highest level since March-April 2018 (when Iran sanctions were also high on the agenda) and before that June 2014 (when Libya's production was interrupted by civil war and Islamist fighters were racing across northern Iraq).

Oil Hits 2019 High On Iran Sanctions - Oil prices shot up to new highs for the year on this week after the U.S. announced that it would let waivers on Iran sanctions fully expire. In early trading on Tuesday, WTI topped $66 per barrel and Brent moved above $74.   Trump surprised the oil market on Monday, announcing that he would let U.S. sanctions waivers expire at the end of the month. The eight countries granted six-month waivers last year had hoped to obtain extensions, but the Trump administration has opted for “maximum pressure” on Iran. However, it may also mean maximum pressure on the oil market if Iran loses a significant portion of its oil exports. Oil surged by roughly 3 percent on Monday.  The Trump administration says that it has secured assurances from Saudi Arabia and the UAE that they would cover the gap leftover by lost Iranian crude. However, the Saudi oil minister was more measured, saying on Monday that Riyadh would respond after it assesses the impact to ensure the oil market “does not go out of balance.” That likely means it will wait and see before actually increasing output rather than acting preemptively.  The two top buyers of Iranian oil may not obey U.S. sanctions. “Iranian exports will not actually reach zero,” analysts at Eurasia Groupsaid in a research note published Monday. “China, which imports approximately 500,000 bpd (barrels per day), will make considerable cuts in the near term. For Beijing, securing the trade agreement with the U.S. is the top priority, and China will not link Iran oil imports to the trade talks.” Goldman Sachs acknowledged the upside risk to oil prices from Iran sanctions, but nonetheless stuck with its second quarter forecast for Brent to trade within a $70-$75 per barrel range. “Given our confidence in better supplied markets next year and the still high uncertainties around the aggregate OPEC+ production path in coming months, we are, however, not changing this forecast for now,” the investment bank said in a note.   An estimated 8.5 percent of U.S. refining capacity is set to go offline in the second quarter as facilities enter a period of maintenance. While late winter and early spring are typical times for maintenance, the volumes going offline this year are unusually high because refiners are preparing for the IMO 2020 rules on low sulfur fuels, according to Reuters.

Oil rises 1.1% to nearly 6-month high, settling at $66.30, on Trump’s Iran crackdown - Oil prices hit nearly six month highs on Tuesday, continuing to rally after U.S. President Donald Trump surprised the market with strict new measures aimed at driving Iran’s crude exports to zero. The Trump administration announced on Monday that it will not extend sanctions waivers to a handful of countries that import Iranian oil. The decision means any entity caught purchasing Iran’s barrels after May 1 risks triggering U.S. sanctions, which are designed to deprive the Iranian leadership of oil revenue. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude settled 75 cents higher at $66.30 a barrel, rising 1.1% and setting a new closing high going back to Oct. 29. WTI earlier rose as high as $66.60 on Tuesday, its best intraday price since Oct. 31. Brent crude futures were up 53 cents at $74.57 per barrel around 2:30 p.m. ET. The international benchmark for oil prices earlier rose to $74.73, its highest since Nov. 1. Brent surged 3 percent and WTI popped 2.7 percent during the previous session, driven by the change in U.S. policy towards Iran. “The decision to completely eliminate waivers was a surprise, as the market expectation was for a more gradual reduction,” Credit Suisse said in a research note. The administration issued waivers to eight countries when it restored sanctions on Iran’s energy industry in November, allowing them to purchase limited quantities of Iranian crude. Five of the countries — China, India, Turkey, South Korea and Japan — took advantage of the exemptions. The waivers allowed 1.4 million barrels per day of Iranian crude to flow to the market, down from about 2.5 million bpd last year. The new U.S. policy threatens to wipe out much of that supply at a time when the oil market is already tightening, though analysts expect some countries to defy Trump’s ultimatum. Credit Suisse thinks Iran’s exports will not fall to zero, but could drop by another 600,000 bpd. The investment bank estimates the global oil market is already undersupplied by about 300,000 barrels per day. The Trump administration says Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other allies have agreed to fill any gap left by the loss of Iranian exports. Saudi Arabia will “coordinate with fellow oil producers to ensure adequate supplies are available to consumers while ensuring the global oil market does not go out of balance,” said Khalid al-Falih, the kingdom’s influential energy minister.

Gulf OPEC members ready to raise output if there is demand: sources   (Reuters) - Gulf OPEC producers can step in to meet any oil supply shortage following a U.S. decision to end waivers on buyers of Iranian crude, but will first wait to see whether there is actual demand, OPEC and industry sources said.   The United States has decided not to renew exemptions from sanctions against Iran granted last year to buyers of Iranian oil, taking a tougher line than expected. Eight countries, including China and India, were granted waivers for six months, and several had expected those exemptions to be renewed. A senior U.S. administration official said Trump was confident Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would fulfill their pledges to compensate for the shortfall in the oil market.

 WTI Slides After Bigger Than Expected Crude Build - WTI surged once again to its highest settlement price in over six months (even as the dollar spiked) as Saudi Arabia was said to be tentative about raising output to mute the impacts of American sanctions against Iran. “It’s been made clear that Trump is very serious about enforcement of the sanctions,” said said Tyler Richey, co-editor at Sevens Report Research in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. “The question is how much will their exports fall versus how much and how quickly can Saudi Arabia and other producers increase?” American pressure on Iran’s exports won’t work, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh told his parliament. “We will act wholeheartedly to break the U.S. sanctions,” he said. But for now, all eyes are on inventories... API:

  • Crude +6.86mm (+500k exp)
  • Cushing -389k
  • Gasoline +2.163mm (-1.82mm exp) - first build in 10 weeks
  • Distillates -865k (-712k exp)

After last week's surprise crude draw, expectations were for a modest build in the last week but API reported a much bigger than expected rise in inventories of 6.86mm... Gasoline also surprised with a sizable build - the first in 10 weeks

Saudi Arabia plans to keep oil output within levels of OPEC cuts, energy minister says - Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said on Wednesday he saw no need to raise oil output immediately after the United States ends waivers granted to buyers of Iranian crude, but added that the kingdom would respond to customers’ needs if asked for more oil. Khalid al-Falih said he was guided by oil market fundamentals not prices, and that the world’s top oil exporter remained focused on balancing the global oil market. “Inventories are actually continuing to rise despite what is happening in Venezuela and despite the tightening of sanctions on Iran. I don’t see the need to do anything immediately,” Falih said in Riyadh. The United States has decided not to renew exemptions from sanctions against Iran granted last year to buyers of Iranian oil, taking a tougher line than expected. “Our intent is to remain within our voluntary (OPEC) production limit,” Falih said, adding that Riyadh would “be responsive to our customers, especially those who have been under waivers and those whose waivers have been withdrawn.” “We think there will be an uptick in real demand but certainly we are not going to be pre-emptive and increase production,” the minister said. He said Saudi Arabia’s oil production in May was pretty much set with very little variation from the last couple of months. June crude allocations would be decided early next month, he said. The kingdom’s exports in April will be below 7 million barrels per day (bpd), while production is around 9.8 million bpd, Saudi officials have said. Under the OPEC-led deal on supply cuts, Saudi Arabia can pump up to 10.3 million bpd. Falih said there would most likely be “some level of production management beyond June” by OPEC and its allies, but it was too early to predict the output targets now.

Oil Algos Confused By Big Crude Build, Gasoline Draw - WTI is hovering unchanged from last night's surprise crude and gasoline builds reported by API as Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said the world’s biggest oil exporter sees no need to take immediate action in the crude market, signaling a cautious response to the U.S. decision to tighten sanctions on Iran.“We will see what the customers want,” Al-Falih told reporters. “I think our intent is to remain within our voluntary production limit, but at the same time to be responsive to our customers, especially those who have been under waivers, and those waivers have been withdrawn.”“We will not leave our customers scrambling,” Al-Falih said.But for now, all eyes are on DOE's official inventory data for any signs of demand growth (not just supply curtailment):“The fundamental dynamic has been one of gasoline supplies being under pressure," says Tyler Richey, co-editor and commodities analyst at Sevens Report Research. “That’s going to be supportive for prices until it stops."  DOE:

  • Crude +5.48mm (+500k exp)
  • Cushing +463k
  • Gasoline -2.13mm (-1.82mm exp)
  • Distillates -662k (-712k exp)

WTI Crude stocks were expected to rise for the 4th week in the last 5 (rebounding from last week's surprise draw) and did so, blowing out expectations with a 5.48mm build. Gasoline inventories fell for the 10th week in a row (ignoring API's build)...

Oil falls as supply still adequate despite Iran sanctions, but market tightening (Reuters) - Oil prices steadied on Wednesday near six-month highs after data that showed U.S. stockpiles rose to their highest levels since October 2017, countering fears of tight supply resulting from OPEC output cuts and U.S. sanctions on Venezuela and Iran. Brent crude futures lost 9 cents to $74.42 a barrel by 1:06 p.m. EDT (1706 GMT). The international benchmark reached $74.73 a barrel on Tuesday, highest since Nov. 1. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures fell 49 cents to $65.81 a barrel. The contract hit $66.60 a barrel on Tuesday, the highest since Oct. 31. U.S. crude inventories rose 5.5 million barrels last week, the Energy Information Administration said, far more than analysts’ forecast of an increase of 1.3 million barrels. However, gasoline stocks fell by 2.1 million barrels, a larger-than-anticipated drop. “What we’re looking at is a headline number bearish on crude but supported somewhat by the gasoline number,” said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. “Because of the sanctions that are coming down on Iran and the fact that there’s going to be no waivers, it makes this number look more bullish.” Crude futures and prices for spot delivery rallied after the United States said on Monday it would end all exemptions for sanctions against Iran, demanding countries halt oil imports from Tehran from May or face punitive action. The move raised worries about tighter global oil supplies. The United States must be prepared for consequences if it tries to stop Iran from selling oil and using the Strait of Hormuz, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, warned on Wednesday.

Oil dips on well supplied markets despite tighter Iran sanctions - Oil prices slipped below six-month highs on Wednesday after signs that cushioned a rally based on fears of tight supply resulting from OPEC output cuts and U.S. sanctions on Venezuela and Iran. U.S. crude stocks rose by 6.9 million barrels last week, more than expected, data from the industry group American Petroleum Institute showed on Tuesday. Official stocks figures are due at 1430 GMT on Wednesday. “The focus will return today to the micro-picture of the U.S. data,” Petromatrix’s Olivier Jakob said in a note. Also bearish, the International Energy Agency, a watchdog for oil-consuming countries, said on Tuesday markets are “adequately supplied” and that “global spare production capacity remains at comfortable levels.” Brent crude futures were at $74.37 per barrel at 1047 GMT, down 14 cents from their last close. The benchmark is still set for its fifth consecutive weekly gain. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude future were at $65.97 per barrel, down 33 cents - not enough to steer them away from what is set to be their eighth week of gains. Crude oil prices for spot delivery rallied after the United States said on Monday it would end all exemptions for sanctions against Iran, demanding countries halt oil imports from Tehran from May or face punitive action. China, Iran’s biggest oil customer, has formally complained about the move. The spot price surge has put the Brent forward curve into steep backwardation, in which prices for later delivery are cheaper than for prompt dispatch. The United States has said it saw Saudi Arabia as a partner to balance oil markets.

Iran Vows To Bust US Crude Sanctions - Tehran officials have vowed that White House plans for taking Iran's oil exports down to zero will never materialize, as the Islamic Republic, along with its regional allies and crude customers - most notably China - plan to bust US sanctions. Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh told parliament on Tuesday: the “U.S. dream to cut Iran’s crude exports to zero won’t be fulfilled,” according to Bloomberg. The minister also said, “We will act wholeheartedly to break the U.S. sanctions,” and cited export deals with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq and Turkey. He described the US gamble to end the waiver program by bringing the full force of the "oil weapon" as a "big mistake" — referencing the fragility of the market and inflated claims of regional countries to have more reserves than what they actually do. Meanwhile, oil prices hit nearly six month highs on Tuesday following Monday's announcement by Trump that the US will end sanctions waivers to a handful of countries that import Iranian oil. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude rose 88 cents, or 1.3%, to $66.43 a barrel around 11:15 a.m. ET (1515 GMT), continuing to ride momentum from Monday's White House announcement, trading near their highest level since Oct. 31. Brent crude futures are also near the highest level since Nov. 1, up nearly 1%. "The decision to completely eliminate waivers was a surprise, as the market expectation was for a more gradual reduction,” Credit Suisse said in a research note, after Monday's statement that the waiver program to allow eight countries to purchase limited supplies of Iranian crude would not be extended. The dramatic policy shift saw Brent surge 3 percent on the news, and WTI popped 2.7% during the previous session. Currently China, India, Turkey, South Korea and Japan - Iran's biggest oil clients - have been taking advantage of the exemptions, and Iraq is on its own 90-day waiver program granted last month by the State Department.

Brent hits 6-month high as buyers suspend Russian oil imports - Oil prices turned lower heading into Thursday’s settlement, after Brent crude earlier touched $75 per barrel for the first time in nearly six months. Crude futures earlier drew support as quality concerns halted some Russian crude exports to Europe and the United States prepared to tighten sanctions on Iran. Wednesday’s report of a bigger-than-expected build in U.S. crude inventories last week to their highest since October 2017 was weighing on the U.S. benchmark, analysts said. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude settled 68 cents lower at $65.21 per barrel, down 1% and slipping further from this week’s 2019 high at $66.60. Brent crude futures were down 17 cents at $74.40 around 2:30 p.m. ET (1830 GMT). They earlier hit a session high of $75.60, their strongest since Oct. 31. Poland and Germany suspended imports of Russian crude via the Druzhba pipeline due to contamination. The pipeline can ship up to 1 million barrels per day, or 1 percent of global crude demand. About 700,000 bpd of flow was suspended, according to trading sources and Reuters calculations. “We consider the quality issues with Russian crude oil as a supply disruption that is happening at the same time sanctions on Iran and Venezuela are impacting supply,” said Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates in Houston. U.S. attempts to drive Iranian oil exports down to zero also boosted prices. The United States this week said it would end all exemptions for sanctions against Iran. Iran has been under U.S. sanctions for more than six months, but several major buyers, including China and India, were given temporary exemptions until this week. Beginning in May, those countries have to halt oil imports from Tehran or face sanctions. The U.S. decision comes amid supply cuts led by OPEC since the start of the year aimed at propping up prices.

Trump says he called OPEC and told producer group to bring fuel prices down - President Donald Trump on Friday said he “called up” OPEC and told the producer group to take action to bring down fuel costs, making a dubious claim that gasoline prices are already falling. Crude futures extended earlier losses after Trump’s statement. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was down 3.4% at $63.01 per barrel, while international benchmark Brent crude fell 3.2% to $71.98. “The gasoline prices are coming down. I called up OPEC. I said, ‘You’ve got to bring them down. You’ve got to bring them down,’ and gasoline’s coming down,” Trump told reporters en route to a National Rifle Association event in Indianapolis. In fact, the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline is $2.883 per gallon, up from $2.877 a day ago and $2.839 a week ago, according to AAA. Wholesale U.S. gasoline prices have ticked lower in recent days, but are still up about 10% from a week ago and nearly 7% from a month ago. It was not immediately clear whether Trump meant that he had contacted the OPEC Secretariat in Vienna, or whether he was referring to OPEC members and close U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. OPEC could not immediately be reached for comment. The Wall Street Journal reported that OPEC’s Secretary General Mohammed Barkindo has not spoken to Trump, citing a source. Saudi officials also told the Journal that Trump has not discussed lowering prices with them.  Earlier this week, the administration said it will not extend waivers that allow several countries to continue buying Iranian crude despite U.S. sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Oil prices surged more than 3% in the two days after the announcement.The administration said it has secured commitments from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other allies to fill any gap left by the anticipated drop in Iranian supplies. However, influential Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said earlier this week that there is no need to immediately start pumping more oil, and the kingdom will hike output only after customers ask for more supplies.Bill Farren-Price, a geopolitical analyst at RS Energy Group, said there is subtle but considerable dissonance between the U.S. and Saudi statements following the sanctions waiver announcement. “I think when you actually analyze what the Saudis have said, it’s actually just a broad restatement of their existing supply policy, which is that they will always seek to work to keep markets balanced and make up the shortfall,” he said.

Oil prices plunge 3% after Trump says he told OPEC to tame fuel costs -- Oil prices fell on Friday on expectations that some OPEC members will raise output to counter shrinking exports from Iran after sanctions imposed by the United States. The pullback on Friday threatened to derail the longest run of weekly gains in years. Oil markets have tightened amid an OPEC output cut deal, sanctions on Venezuela and Iran and unsteady production in Libya. Brent crude futures were down $1.36, or 1.8%, at $72.99 per barrel around. Brent was still up about 1.6% for the week, set for a fifth weekly price gain, the longest stretch in a year. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures fell $1.14, or 1.8%, to $64.07 per barrel and were roughly flat for the week. WTI had been on track for its eighth successive weekly gain, the longest weekly run since the first half of 2015. The drop followed Brent’s rise above $75 per barrel for the first time this year on Thursday after Germany, Poland and Slovakia suspended imports of Russian oil via a major pipeline, citing poor quality. The move cut parts of Europe off from a major supply route. Russia has said it planned to start supplying clean oil via a pipeline on April 29. Crude futures are up around 40 percent so far this year. Washington said on Monday it would end all exemptions for sanctions against Iran. “The end of the U.S. waivers on Iran exports will be offset by higher core-OPEC and Russia and as a result we do not expect further price upside, even if volatility is likely to increase in coming months,” U.S. bank Goldman Sachs said. Despite U.S. efforts to drive Iranian oil exports down to zero, many analysts expect some oil to still seep out of the country.

Top OPEC, Saudi officials didn't discuss lowering oil prices with Trump: report - Neither Saudi Arabia’s energy minister nor OPEC’s secretary general discussed lowering oil prices with President Donald Trump, sources told the Wall Street Journal, denying the U.S. leader’s earlier claim. Moments after the Journal reported the denials, Trump took to Twitter to double down on his earlier remark. “Spoke to Saudi Arabia and others about increasing oil flow. All are in agreement,” the president tweeted. Earlier on Friday, Trump told reporters he had “called up” OPEC and urged the producer group to take action to bring down fuel costs. “I called up OPEC. I said, ‘You’ve got to bring them down. You’ve got to bring them down,’ and gasoline’s coming down,” Trump said, inaccurately stating that gasoline prices are falling. Oil prices tumbled more than 4% following Trump’s comment. When the president made the remarks, it was not clear whether Trump meant that he had contacted the OPEC Secretariat in Vienna, or whether he was referring to OPEC members like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which are close U.S. allies. But as the day wore on, it remained unclear who was on the other line with Trump. The White House did not return requests for clarification. OPEC Secretary General Mohammed Barkindo did not discuss the matter with Trump, and neither did Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih, sources familiar with the situation told the Journal. Saudi officials told the Journal Trump did not speak with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The discussion did not involve Venezuelan Oil Minister Manuel Quevedo, who currently holds OPEC’s rotating presidency, one of the country’s oil officials told the paper. OPEC could not immediately be reached by CNBC for comment. The Saudi Embassy did not immediately return a request for comment.

 Oil drops but finishes off session lows as traders weigh impact on Trump's OPEC plea - Oil futures declined Friday, with prices taking a hit after U.S. President Donald Trump reportedly said he told OPEC to lower oil prices. OPEC's Secretary General Mohammed Barkindo, however, said he hasn't spoken with Trump, according to news reports. That denial, along with data showing a hefty weekly decline in active U.S. oil drilling rigs, prompted prices to end off their session lows. June West Texas Intermediate oil fell $1.91, or 2.9%, to settle at $63.30 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after earlier trading as low as $62.28. Prices fell 1.2% for the week.

Trump’s Gulf Backups for Iranian Oil Will Not be Good Enough for Turkey -  Turkey is loath to buy more oil from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as the United States looks to squeeze exports from Iran, currently the third-largest supplier of crude to the Middle East’s biggest economy, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.“Iranian oil isn’t cheap, but there is a big difference” between it and the price of Saudi and UAE crude, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said at a reception in Ankara, according to state-run TRT television. “The US is taking a decision and wants all countries to comply with it. Why should we pay the price?”The Trump administration is ending waivers that allowed a handful of countries including Turkey to continue importing oil from sanctioned Iran a year after the US withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said he’s confident the market will remain stable as Saudi Arabia and the UAE would ensure an “appropriate supply” of oil along with the US. Turkey is resisting the idea of buying oil from America’s two anti-Iran allies, whose relations with Ankara are fraught after the murder of Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in İstanbul last October. Turkey has also long opposed the US curbs on Iran, with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan saying last year that “such sanctions are aimed at tipping the balance in the world” and violate international law and diplomacy. Iran and Turkey plan to set up a financial mechanism to circumvent US sanctions on the Islamic Republic, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said after visiting Ankara last week. Turkey has long defended the trade with its eastern neighbor as a strategic necessity, but taking on the US can be risky as Ankara struggles to secure the release of a senior banking executive convicted in New York of helping Iran evade US financial sanctions.

 If US Refuses to Supply F-35s, Turkey Will Satisfy Need Elsewhere – FM - Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has reportedly said that if the US won't supply Turkey with F-35 fighter jets, Ankara would satisfy its need for them in "another place". Turkish media earlier carried reports about possible purchase by Turkey of Russian Su-57 fighters in the event the United States refuses to supply Turkey with F-35 fighters."Why do we buy S-400 [air defense systems]? Because we have an urgent need for an air defense system. We are already partners in the F-35 manufacturing program, we participate in this project, we have paid the necessary amount. There are currently no problems with this. But in the worst case scenario, we will have to satisfy our need in another place, where the best technologies will be offered," Cavusoglu said.     Mevlut Cavusoglu has also noted that Ankara had no intention to hand over S-400 air defense missile systems bought from Russia to Qatar and Azerbaijan.  "There is no talk about plans to place the S-400 in Qatar or Azerbaijan. We have never discussed such an issue," Cavusoglu said.    Turkish media earlier reported on the possible handover by Ankara of S-400 systems to Qatar and Azerbaijan. Earlier in April, Cavusoglu argued that Ankara would find a substitute for the F-35 if the United States refused to deliver the aircraft to Turkey to penalize the country for its purchase of Russia's S-400 air defence systems. Earlier in the month, the Pentagon announced that Washington halted deliveries and activities with Turkey on F-35 fighter jet program over Ankara's decision to buy the Russian S-400 air defence systems.

Saudi Arabia carries out 'chilling' mass execution of 37 people for 'terrorism offences' -- Saudi Arabia executed 37 people for terror offences on Tuesday, the country’s interior minister said, in one of the largest mass executions in recent years. Human Rights Watch described the punishment as "grotesque," and said the news represented a "day we have feared." The country’s state news agency said the Saudi nationals were guilty of “adopting extremist terrorist ideologies and forming terrorist cells to corrupt and disrupt security as well as spread chaos and provoke sectarian strife.” The individuals were found guilty of attacking security installations with explosives and killing a number of security officers, the Interior Ministry said. It added that the executions were carried out by beheading, and that authorities pinned two of the bodies to a pole as a warning to others. The killings were quickly condemned by Human Rights Watch, which said that most of the convicted were members of the country’s persecuted Shia minority. “Today's mass execution of mostly Shia citizens is a day we have feared for several years. The punishments are especially grotesque when they result from a flawed justice system that ignores torture allegations," said Adam Coogle, Middle East researcher at HRW.

Crimea Vows To Ship Oil To Syria Amid Ongoing Fuel Crisis, Thwarting US Sanctions - The President of Crimea, Sergey Aksyonov, vowed to help the Syrian Arab Republic amid their ongoing fuel crisis that is a result of the sanctions imposed on the country by western nations. Aksyonov told Russia’s Sputnik News that there are plans to export wheat, petroleum derivatives and power tools to Syria as well as rebuilding railways there. He pointed out that whether it is Crimea or Russia, they are willing to export products to Syria in order to help the war-torn nation.The Crimean President noted that a shipment of wheat and other industrial products is being prepared and will be heading to Syria soon.He also pointed out that a joint shipment company is being founded, adding that Syria will export citrus fruits, olive and olive oil to Russia.The fuel crisis in Syria has forced the Syrian government to issue rations on gas in order to deal with the ongoing sanctions that are greatly effecting the country. Over the last two weeks, thousands of cars in cities like Damascus, Latakia, and Aleppo are forced to wait several hours to fill up gas as the lines often stretch 3-5km long.With Iran under strict sanctions by the U.S., Syria has run into a serious fuel problem that has harmed almost the entire country. The fuel crisis is not only effecting travel, but also providing electricity to homes in several large cities, including Aleppo, Damascus, and Homs.

US-Led Bombing Campaign in Syria Killed 1,600 Civilians and Left Raqqa Destroyed - — An “unprecedented” new study released on Thursday revealed that the U.S.-led bombing campaign on Raqqa, Syria in 2017—which one military commander at the time claimed was the “most precise air campaign in history”—killed an estimated 1,600 innocent civilians while leveling the city on a scale unparalleled in recent decades.The research collated almost two years of investigations into the assault on Raqqa, the groups said in a statement,  and “gives a brutally vivid account” of the enormous number of civilian lives lost as “a direct result” of thousands of coalition air strikes and tens of thousands of US artillery strikes in Raqqa from June to October 2017.The report—”Rhetoric vs. Reality: How the ‘Most Precise Air Campaign in History’ Left Raqqa the Most Destroyed City in Modern Times“—is detailed on the interactive website created by investigative news organization Airwars and the human rights group Amnesty International-USA which carried out what they call the “most comprehensive investigation into civilian deaths in a modern conflict.” The findings confirm that the U.S.-led coalition has admitted to just a fraction of the civilian carnage it has caused in Syria, even as it has boasted of the care it’s taken in avoiding such casualties and the precision of the Raqqa offensive.

US Navy SEALs Were Warned by Commanders Not to Report War Crimes— US war crimes in Iraq in general are a well-substantiated fact. Navy SEALs say they saw some “shocking” things, which other SEALs kill children with sniper rifles, spraying civilian neighborhoods with machine gun fire, etc.Seeing such things was par for the course, in Iraq, but talking about it was another thing entirely. Several platoon members took the matter of war crimes by their platoon chief to troop commanders. They were immediately rebuked.Not only did the commander tell them not to report the crimes to him, he warned them that talking about the war crimes at all would jeopardize their careers. War crimes are meant to be seen, but not heard about. It was expected this would be the end of it, but the SEALs went around the commander, and to higher ups in the Navy that were not directly tied to the SEALs. This quickly led to a court-martial for the platoon chief. It’s broader than just the one platoon chief. The court-martial is quickly delving deeply into the underlying culture of the SEALs. That culture encouraged both the war crimes and silence about them.

State of Pakistan's Relations With Iran and India - What does Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan hope to accomplish during his Iran visit? What are the key issues bedeviling Iran-Pakistan relations? Cross-border terrorism alleged by both? Pakistan's relations with the Gulf Arabs? CPEC? Afghanistan? Gwadar? Chabahar? Indian RAW's use of Iran to launch terror attacks in Pakistani Balochistan? Who calls the shots in Iran? President Rouhani or the hardline Iranian Revolutionary Guard leaders? Why is Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi continuing to threaten Pakistan with use of force, including use of nuclear weapons? Is this part of his election campaign to appeal to his base? Or will this intimidation go beyond elections if he wins a second term? Is Pakistan Prime Minister's hope of better ties with India under BJP just a mirage? Are analysts like Moeed Yusuf right about India waiting it out to achieve overwhelming superiority to eventually dictate term to Pakistan?  Viewpoint From Overseas host Faraz Darvesh discusses these questions with Misbah Azam and Riaz Haq ( State of Pakistan's Relations With Iran and India - YouTube

US Gave Rogue General Haftar Green Light To Attack Tripoli - European officials as well as UN-backed leadership in Tripoli have both confirmed and angrily denounced President Trump's recent sharp reversal of longstanding US policy which recognized only the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) as the legitimate authority over Libya, with Fayez al-Sarraj as prime minister. The UN, UK and others have long backed Sarraj, while the UAE, Egypt, and France have been vocal supporters of Haftar.Late last week the White House had shocked European allies in announcing that President Trump had spoken by phone to offer support to Benghazi based commander Kalifa Haftar, at a moment his Libyan National Army (LNA) lays siege to the capital.  The White House statement at the time 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.”A prior personal call to Haftar by US National Security Adviser John Bolton had also left Haftar with the impression that he'd had a "green light" for his ongoing offensive to secure the capital, which began April 4, and has involved shelling and air power used over civilian areas. EU officials have this week urged President Trump to reverse his surprise declaration of US support for Haftar's LNA. European officials have further demanded greater clarity of the United States' position on Libya, saying Washington's policy confusion will only add fuel to the chaos, similar to recent contradictory US statements on Syria. According to The Guardian: EU officials greeted Trump’s remarks with disbelief and a fear that the White House had accepted a joint interpretation of the war by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia that underplayed its complexity.As Bloomberg reports further this week, the revelation of official US support to the renegade General Haftar came soon after a meeting between Trump and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on April 9. Sisi has long been known as a backer of Haftar, alongside the UAE and France.

Trump’s Call to Libyan National Army Leader Increases Risk of ‘Protracted Urban Conflict,’ Experts Say  - A phone call from President Donald Trump to Libyan National Army leader Khalifa Haftar helped to escalate deadly violence in the Libyan capital of Tripoli this weekend, as well as undercutting the United Nations' hope for a ceasefire in the country. A number of airstrikes, allegedly including strikes by armed drones, hit Tripoli in Sunday's early morning hours, escalating Haftar's assault on the city as he attempts to oust the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and take control of Libya. The Libyan National Army's (LNA) attacks on Tripoli have now killed an estimated 227 people, injuring more than 1,000 and leaving at least 16,000 displaced. The airstrikes followed a conversation Trump had with Haftar last week, which the White House revealed several days later on Friday. A number of sources reported Sunday that Trump appeared to give approval to the leader, who legal experts have accused of ordering his troops to commit war crimes, to move ahead with the air campaign—going against a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire last Thursday. According to the White House's statement on Friday, Trump told the LNA leader he "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."  As Patrick Wintour reported in the Guardian: The airstrikes on Tripoli, first launched last week, appear to reflect the approval given to Haftar by Donald Trump in a phone call on Monday....The U.S. appears to have accepted the view from its chief Middle Eastern allies that Haftar’s assault can be seen as the act of a strong leader fighting jihadist militias in Tripoli. But many independent Libyan experts claim Haftar has no commitment to democracy. Haftar ordered his troops into Tripoli on April 4, after three years of fighting to secure control of southern and eastern Libya. The strikes in Tripoli have been backed by the United Arab Emirates, reportedly with funding from Saudi Arabia. In addition to undermining the U.N.'s hope for a ceasefire, Trump's call to Haftar also indicated a reversal in U.S. policy regarding Libya. On Friday, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters, "A military solution is not what Libya needs," while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on April 7 that the U.S. "oppose[s] the military offensive by Khalifa Haftar's forces."

Slide Into Chaos - 30,000 Displaced, 300 Dead And 1,200 Wounded In Libya Fighting - African leaders met in Egypt on Tuesday in a summit addressing continuing violence and dramatic political upheavals in neighboring Libya and Sudan, with Egypt's President Sisi calling for a unified regional response in order avoid “a slide into chaos”. This as since early April fighting around Tripoli between Gen. Khalifa Haftar's advancing Libyan National Army (LNA) and the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) has resulted in 264+ deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and some 1,266 people wounded, with 21 among the deceased civilians. Some media reports have cited as many as 300 killed in the violence. The United Nations has put the number of displaced due to Haftar's offensive on the capital at more than 30,000 civilians. Meanwhile in Sudan fierce protests have continue in Khartoum despite the toppling of longtime strongman Omar al-Bashir, resulting in unpopular rule by military council with emergency powers. "The principle of African solutions to African problems is the only way to deal with common challenges facing us," Sisi said in opening remarks to the summit. Concerning Libya, Sisi's fear's of a "slide into chaos" which has actually long been a reality all the way back to the 2011 NATO-led toppling of Muammar Gaddafi will be viewed as largely hypocritical considering Sisi is among Gen. Haftar's main backers.This week intense fighting has continued in the southern suburbs of Tripoli, with shelling disrupting daily life in the city's center. Reuters reports: Forces supporting Libya’s internationally recognized government pushed back troops loyal to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar to more than 60 km southwest of the capital Tripoli on Tuesday, Reuters reporters said. The town of Aziziya was fully under the control of the Tripoli forces, with shops reopening after days of fighting, a Reuters team at the scene said.

Israel’s Elite Undercover Units Are Increasing Activities Against Palestinians — In recent weeks and months, Israel’s elite undercover Special Forces units, known as the Musta’ribeen (Mista’arvim), have increased their activities against the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. The units are responsible for the arrest and assassination of Palestinian resistance members wanted by the Israeli occupation authorities. For example, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) revealed that the murder of Omar Abu Laila, who carried out an operation in Salfit, in Ramallah in late March, was a result of a Special Forces unit infiltrating the city. The soldiers posed as vegetable vendors before making the hit. In December, the Musta’ribeen killed resistance member Asem Barghouti in the same manner. In March, Special Forces disguised as journalists killed the former head of the Birzeit University Student Council Omer Al-Kiswani, within the university campus in Ramallah.  Palestinian activists have been carrying out an awareness campaign among demonstrators to protect them from the undercover units. Tips include wearing light-coloured clothing, as the Musta’ribeen usually wear dark and loose clothing to hide their weapons. This helps them to identify the infiltrators. Another tip is for protestors to tuck in their shirts because Musta’ribeen keep their shirts untucked, again in order to hide their guns. Palestinian protestors are also advised to engage in confrontations with the Israeli army in small groups in order that everyone knows each other and strangers are easier to identify. The IDF’s repeated use of the Musta’ribeen Special Forces is considered a war crime and a crime against humanity that is punishable by law, because they carry out assassinations in cold blood and in front of cameras. This requires us to document their crimes on film, to add to the International Criminal Court’s case files on the Israeli military occupation and its crimes and violations of Palestinian rights.

Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinians Supported by American administration - In the Jordan Valley, the Israeli occupation authorities issued orders to seize some 51,000 dunams to the east of the Tayasir area, to the Ras Ahmar area, and the Makhol and Samra areas, in order to expand the Itammar settlement, knowing full well that 5 residential communities are living there. The residents were prevented from accessing those areas and given 14 days to reject the decision. Moreover, Israeli forces erected signs in Khirbet Yanon, a village belonging to the land of Aqraba, south of Nablus, stating that hundreds of dunams have been turned into “nature reserves”. And, entry is not allowed. A report issued by the Madar Strategic Center, for the year 2019, warned that the next step will witness a shift towards annexing the settlements over to Israeli sovereignty and accelerating their expansion, thus preventing any possibility to establish a Palestinian state. The report added that the policies accelerate the establishment of the Jewish national identity of Israel, which will negatively affect the reality of Palestinians in the territories taken in1948. The report, which was announced at the annual Madar conference, in Ramallah, said that the recent election results provided international momentum to the Israeli right, which is represented by the Trump administration, in the US, and reflected Arab failure. Within this context, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, in an interview with CNN, that he doesn’t see Israeli sovereignty over West Bank settlements as damaging to the Trump’s “Deal of the Century” for the Middle East. PM Netanyahu said he intends to impose Israeli law on all settlements, and hopes to do so with the consent of America. He pledged to maintain Israeli control over the West Bank, and to solidify Israeli rule among more than 400,000 settlers in the West Bank, adding that this will not only apply to the larger settlement blocs, but also to remote settlements. Furthermore, both right-wing and Haredi parties that won the Knesset elections are betting on the support of the administration of US President Donald Trump, for the Israeli annexation policy, which make up about 60% of the West Bank.

More civilians now killed by US, Afghan forces than by insurgents: UN - Afghan civilians are for the first time being killed in greater numbers by US and pro-government forces than by the Taliban and other insurgent groups, a UN report released Wednesday revealed. The bloody milestone comes as the US steps up its air campaign in Afghanistan while pushing for a peace deal with the Taliban, who now control or influence more parts of the country than at any time since they were ousted in 2001. During the first three months of 2019, international and pro-government forces were responsible for the deaths of 305 civilians, whereas insurgent groups killed 227 people, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report. The majority of the deaths resulted from US air strikes or from search operations on the ground, primarily conducted by US-backed Afghan forces, some of which UNAMA said "appear to act with impunity". "UNAMA urges both the Afghan national security forces and international military forces to conduct investigations into allegations of civilian casualties, to publish the results of their findings, and to provide compensation to victims as appropriate," the report states. UNAMA started compiling civilian casualty data in 2009 amid deteriorating security conditions in Afghanistan. It is the first tally since records began that shows pro-government forces have killed more civilians than insurgents have, though insurgents were responsible for more than twice as many injuries as were pro-government forces.

‘Oversubscribed’ US Navy leans more on coastguard to help counter China - As a US coastguard cutter sailed through the East China Sea last month, Chinese vessels shadowed it on the high seas, service officials said. It was a reminder to the Americans of where they were: in a strategic area a couple hundred miles from China’s shores. The situation underscored the evolving US response to the rise of China and the coastguard’s role operating missions typically closer to home. The coastguard is increasingly orienting itself toward China, senior officials said, by deploying new cutters, repositioning older ones and dispatching service members to countries such as Vietnam and Sri Lanka to help train those nations’ coastguards. Admiral Karl Schultz, the coastguard commandant, said that as the Defence Department shifts its focus to competing with Russia and China, the Navy is “oversubscribed”. The factors he cited include “realities in the South China Sea” and the loss of two Navy destroyers involved in deadly collisions in 2017. “The coastguard brings some capacity to that equation,” Schultz said in an interview. “The coastguard brings some authorities below the threshold of war. We’re US warships, but we look different, with a white hull and an orange stripe.” The deployment of the USCGC Bertholf to the Asia-Pacific region from Alameda, California, in January marked an expansion of coastguard operations there. The vessel, part of the service’s growing fleet of modern cutters, is under the control of the Navy’s 7th Fleet in the Asia-Pacific region during the deployment, despite the coastguard being part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Peak Globalism- Slowdown In Number Of International Students Choosing Chinese Schools - China’s Ministry of Education reports that total foreign enrollment in the country reached almost half a million international students in 2018. This figure represents a 0.62% rise in 2017 enrollment data, furthermore points to a collapse in growth when compared to double-digit increases observed in the last decade. ICEF (International Consultants for Education and Fairs) Monitor, a market intelligence resource for the international education and student travel industry, noted that foreign enrollment in China expanded per annum on average 10% between 2006 and 2015. During 2017 to 2018, y/y growth fell to less than 1%, indicating that international students have begun to shun Chinese schools. ICEF Monitor shows Beijing had the largest population of international students, with 80,786, or 16.4% of the 2018 total. Other top regions were Shanghai (61,400), Jiangsu (45,778), Zhejiang (38,190), and Liaoning (27,879). There are 195 countries that feed into China's current foreign exchange program, but six out of ten come from neighboring countries. South Korea is the top feeder with 50,600 students enrolled in 2018, followed by Thailand (28,600) in the same period. In the Western Hemisphere, the US sent 21,000 students in 2018.  The Ministry of Education showed that 87% of international students are self-funded, with about 63,000 students receiving government-funded scholarships. The slowdown in international students feeding into China comes at a time when globalism has peaked. Now protectionism and nationalism are spreading like wildfire throughout the world, destroying complex supply chains - thus reworking international trade.

The Difference Between China's Haves And Have Nots- A Piece Of Plastic  - Having a credit card in China is much more of a luxury than it is in the United States, and its exclusivity in China could actually be weighing on China's economy, according to a new Bloomberg op-ed. More than 66% of Americans over the age of 15 have a credit card, but that number stands at just 21% in China. And it’s not because the Chinese don’t want to spend – a recent survey showed that 44% of Chinese internet users plan to consume more and only 33% intended to scale back.The lack of credit isn’t because the Chinese are financially irresponsible, either. Most borrow within their means and the average loan usually amounts to a little more than a month's salary. But the lack of access to credit in China "dramatically undercuts Chinese citizens' financial security" according to Bloomberg, and cardholders are a privileged bunch.The average credit card holder in China is a 34-year-old millennial who earns at least $16,400 per year, which is close to three times the average urban income in China. There is an 82% chance that they live in one of the country's four biggest megacities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou.  Those Chinese without credit cards are forced to either live within their cash flow means, or resort to online borrowing, where loans come relatively easy to those who have established good Sesame Credit, a scoring system developed by Alibaba group. For those who have online loans already, or for those who want to borrow more, peer to peer lending or even payday loans are popular – just as they have grown in popularity in the United States. But online rates are much higher than those charged by credit cards. This has led to predatory lending scandals across the country in recent years. For instance, US listed company Quidan (QD) sparked outrage in 2017 after it disclosed that more than half of its transactions had annualized rates exceeding 36%, the legal limit. In March, CCTV ran a lengthy interview with a woman whose debt  went up 70 fold in three months because she took out a "714 missile loan", the name for a 7 to 14 day loan. She would’ve never faced these consequences if she had a credit card, which doesn’t charge interest for a whole month, the op-ed argues.

The Bank of Japan Is Now A Top-10 Shareholder In 50% Of All Japanese Companies - The last time we looked at how much of the stock market the Bank of Japan controls, we found that Kuroda's central bank owned a stunning 75% of all Japanese ETFs as the central bank keeps buying stocks under its ultraloose monetary policy. Perhaps more importantly, as of March 2018, the Japanese central bank has also become a major shareholder in nearly 40% of listed companies. According to Nikkei calculations at the time, the bank was one of the top 10 shareholders in 1,446 listed companies out of 3,735.  Fast forward to today, when according to the latest BOJ holdings update following even more ETF purchases, the BOJ held over 28 trillion yen ($250 billion) in ETFs as at the end of March, or 4.7% of the total market capitalization of the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange. This, of course, in addition to the BOJ's trillions in Japanese JGB holdings, which at last check were over 100% of GDP and 43% of all outstanding.It gets better. According to  the latest Nikkei calculations, not only has the BOJ also become the top shareholder in 23 companies, including Nidec, Fanuc and Omron, through its ETF holdings, but as of Q1, it was among the top 10 holders for 49.7% of all Tokyo-listed enterprises. In other words, the BOJ has gone from being a Top 10 holder in 40% Japanese stocks last March, to 50% just one year later. But wait, there's more: as the Nikkei further calculates, the Bank of Japan will overtake a state-run pension fund - the world's largest - as the top shareholder in Tokyo-listed companies as early as 2020, even as concerns rise regarding the central bank's outsize role in the nation's capital market. Assuming that the bank maintains its current target of 6 trillion yen (just over $53BN at prevailing rates) in new purchases a year, its holdings would expand to about 40 trillion yen by the end of November 2020. This would place it above the Government Pension Investment Fund's TSE first-section holdings of more than 6%. In other words, Japan's central bank will soon be the biggest individual owner of Japanese stocks.

North Korea’s Kim arrives in Russia for summit with Putin - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un Un arrived in the Russian city of Vladivostok on Wednesday (Apr 24) for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin aimed at mustering international support while nuclear talks with Washington are in limbo. The armoured train carrying Kim - on his first official visit to Russia - pulled into the station on the quayside in Vladivostok, a few hours after crossing from North Korea into Russia. Kim is expected to project himself as a serious world player with his first meeting with the Russian leader and at the same time seek assistance from a key ally to ease economic pressure brought on by US and international sanctions. The young leader will meet with Putin in Vladivostok on Thursday with the nuclear stalemate with the United States topping the agenda, Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said. "In the last few months the situation around the peninsula has stabilised somewhat, thanks in large part to North Korea's initiatives of stopping rocket testing and closing its nuclear test site," Ushakov told reporters. "Russia intends to help in any way possible to cement that positive trend."

North Korea summit: Putin says Kim ‘needs guarantees’ Russian President Vladimir Putin has said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un needs international security guarantees if he is to end his nuclear programme. Such guarantees would need to be offered within a multinational framework, he added, following talks near Vladivostok in Russia's far east. Mr Kim praised the summit as a "very meaningful one-on-one exchange". Mr Putin said North Korea's leader was "fairly open" and had "talked freely on all issues that were on the agenda". The meeting followed the breakdown of talks between the US and North Korea in February, when Mr Kim met US President Donald Trump in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi. Those talks reportedly stalled over North Korea's demand for full economic sanctions relief in return for some denuclearisation commitments - a deal the US was not willing to make. Speaking after the talks on Thursday, Mr Putin said he wanted to see full denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula. But he said this could only be achieved through respect for international law. "We need to restore the power of international law, to return to a state where international law, not the law of the strongest, determines the situation in the world," he said.

North Korea signals shift in nuclear diplomacy; Kim’s right-hand man sidelined (Reuters) - The demotion of Kim Yong Chol, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s point man for nuclear talks with the United States, signals that long-time diplomats who had been sidelined from the process will return to center-stage, diplomatic sources in Seoul and regional experts said. The hawkish former general and spymaster was recently removed from a key party post, taking the fall for the failed Hanoi summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump. Kim Yong Chol remains a formidable force in Pyongyang but there is no word whether he has been given a new role in the ultra-secretive North Korean power structure. He did not accompany Kim Jong Un to Russia this week for a summit with President Vladimir Putin, the North Korean leader’s first international foray since his Hanoi meeting with Trump in February ended in disarray. Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and his deputy, Choe Son Hui, flanked the North Korean leader at the meeting in Vladivostok, including riding in his car, a highly unusual display of proximity. “The Hanoi summit damaged the North’s long-held principle that its leader never makes an error, so they have to shift the blame,” said Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy in Seoul, referring to Kim Yong Chol’s demotion. “This may not mean an immediate shift in their U.S. strategy, but the diplomats will likely take the initiative to contain the fallout from Hanoi and promote diplomacy with various countries.”

What Does Jokowi’s Win Mean for Indonesia’s Economy? - Joko Widodo, popularly known as “Jokowi,” was just re-elected for a second five-year term as president of Indonesia, according to a quick count conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, defeating Prabowo Subianto, his presidential challenger, for a second time. The election, although not without scandal, was a relatively peaceful affair, further solidifying Indonesia’s young democracy, but did show a swing toward Islamic conservatism in Indonesia. Fake news also spread on social media, with some hoaxes, but was rife on both sides of the political divide. Although Subianto is contesting the result, all reliable polling shows that Jokowi has won around 55 percent of the vote. Official results are not expected for some weeks, however.The election was a battle over the economy, with millennials and the middle class having the decisive vote in the election. Jokowi’s man-of-the-people image propelled him to the presidency once again on a platform agenda of economic and social welfare success stories, with a vision to continue his reformist and infrastructure building agenda. Jokowi’s successes in running the economy in his first term were notable where he tackled fiscal deficits and ballooning energy subsidies and returned Indonesia to a full investment grade rating for the first time in two decades. Indonesia also became Southeast Asia’s only trillion-dollar economy during Jokowi’s first term. His success in capping the price of staple goods, generating jobs and building new infrastructure paid off and the Indonesian electorate rewarded him for it. His shrewd choice of an Islamic clergyman, Ma’ruf Amin, as his vice president also helped Jokowi address any questions around his Islamic credentials.

Major Indian airline grounded, threatening 23,000 jobs - Jet Airways, until recently India’s largest private airline, has been forced to ground all its aircraft since last Wednesday, threatening the jobs of its more than 23,000 employees. The airline announced the grounding of all flights with immediate effect after it failed to secure funding from investors to pay for fuel and other bills.With around $1.2 billion in bank debt, the country’s oldest private airline was desperate to secure a stopgap loan of about $217 million from its lenders as part of a rescue deal that had been agreed to in late March. But the lenders balked at advancing the funding. As the airline said in an April 17 statement, “Since no emergency funding from the lenders or any other sources is forthcoming, the airline will not be able to pay for fuel or other critical services to keep the operations going.”The grounding of Jet Airways poses the immediate danger of massive job losses and demonstrates how the company, its shareholders, and lenders are determined to place the burden of the airline’s crisis on its workforce. All Jet Airways employees have yet to receive their March salary, and its pilots, engineers and senior staff have not been paid since January.Desperate Jet Airways employees demonstrated in New Delhi and Mumbai last Thursday, calling for government intervention to bail out the airline. They displayed placards saying, “Save Jet Airways, Save our family”. The collapse of Jet Airways has taken place in the midst of campaigning for India’s general election and presents the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with yet another crisis. Modi and his Hindu supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have boasted about India’s “world-beating” economic growth. But numerous reports, including from government agencies, have pointed to a sharp rise in unemployment among all sections of the population, from rural women to university graduates.

Chronic malnutrition stunts Asia’s rising-star economies -- Malti Bhogade, a 32-year old farm laborer working 150 km north of India's financial capital Mumbai, delivered her twin daughters prematurely in January. One died almost instantly due to malnutrition. The other died of a heart attack within a month. "It was painful to lose them," she said. It is a pain far too many families are experiencing in some of Asia's fastest growing economies. From India to the Philippines and Indonesia, youthful societies promise "demographic dividends," but malnutrition is cutting lives short and hindering children's growth. As the world races toward a digital future, these countries are scrambling to prevent their population blessing from becoming a curse -- large numbers of infirm citizens who cannot support themselves. Bhogade and her husband, Bhimjaya, live in a hamlet of roughly 50 families in Mokhada, part of a large tribal belt in India's most prosperous state. Mokhada has seen hundreds of malnutrition-related deaths in recent years. The wider district of Palghar, to which Mokhada belongs, recorded over 3,000 such deaths in the last five years. When it does not kill, chronic malnutrition causes stunting -- when a child cannot grow to an age-appropriate height. Stunting also impedes brain development, especially in children up to the age of 5, preventing them from ever reaching their full potential. For these children, the future is bleak. They struggle in school, are more likely to drop out altogether, and have little chance of landing a good job and becoming financially secure, productive citizens. In India the median age is 28.5, making it the envy of aging countries like Japan, where the median is over 47. But 46.6 million Indian children, or 38%, suffer from stunted growth despite the government's efforts to address the problem; only neighboring Pakistan has a higher ratio. The situation in the Philippines is similarly grim: 1 child out of 3 is stunted, a ratio that has remained virtually unchanged for two decades. Health experts say the country is stuck in a vicious cycle, where children who were malnourished 20 years ago are now becoming mothers to malnourished children of their own. Gabriel Demombynes, World Bank program leader for human development in several Southeast Asian countries, said the Philippines must do more to solve chronic malnutrition. "It is quite shocking, really, that there has been no progress on stunting in the Philippines in over a decade," he said. "They are going to grow up and find themselves living in a digital economy where they can't compete."

Bombs tear through Sri Lankan churches and hotels, killing more than 200 people - The calm of Easter Sunday was shattered by gruesome bombings that killed at least 207 people in Sri Lankan churches and hotels.Though it's not clear who's behind the eight explosions that forced the country of 21 million people to go on lockdown, they are "certainly acts of terror," said Manisha Gunasekera, high commissioner of Sri Lanka to the UK.An intelligence memo warning of a possible attack had circulated 10 days earlier, raising questions about whether more preventative measures could have been taken."Serious action need to be taken as to why this warning was ignored," Sri Lanka's Minister of Telecommunications, Harin Fernando, tweeted along with a photo of the memo. The document, titled "Information of an alleged plan attack," is dated April 11 and signed by the Deputy Inspector General of Police, Priyalal Dissanayake. The explosions blew out the tiled roofs of churches and hotel windows, killing worshippers and hotel guests in the process. Images and footage showed bloodied pews, broken glass, and plumes of smoke. "You can see pieces of flesh thrown all over the walls and on the sanctuary and even outside of the church," Father Edmond Tillekeratne, social communications director for the Archdiocese of Colombo, told CNN from St. Sebastian's Church, one of the explosion sites. He estimated that more than a thousand people had come to the church for Easter Sunday "because it is a special day." Many came from villages afar, he said."This is an attack against the whole of Sri Lanka because Sri Lanka is (a) multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural country, and the whole country comes together in celebration of Easter Sunday," Gunasekera said.  The violence punctured a decade of relative peace in the country following the end of its civil war in 2009 -- where attacks were common during the 25-year struggle.

Sri Lanka attacks death toll rises to 290, about 500 wounded — police - Authorities lifted a curfew in the Sri Lanka on Monday, a day after 290 people were killed and about 500 wounded by a string of bombings that tore through churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday.There was still no claim of responsibility for the attacks on two churches and four hotels in and around Colombo, the capital of predominantly Buddhist Sri Lanka, and a third church on the country’s northeast coast.A government source said President Maithripala Sirisena, who was abroad when the attacks happened, had called a meeting of the National Security Council early on Monday. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would attend the meeting, the source said. There were fears the attacks could spark a renewal of communal violence, with police reporting late on Sunday there had been a petrol bomb attack on a mosque in the northwest and arson attacks on two shops owned by Muslims in the west.Sri Lanka had been at war for decades with Tamil separatists but extremist violence had been on the wane since the civil war ended 10 years ago.The South Asian nation of about 22 million people has Christian, Muslim and Hindu populations of between about eight and 12 percent. The island-wide curfew imposed by the government was lifted early on Monday, although there was uncharacteristically thin traffic in the normally bustling capital.

Sri Lanka death toll expected to rise as leaders condemn killings- Political and religious leaders across the world have rushed to condemn the killing of nearly 300 people in a wave of bombings that targeted churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. The death toll from the attacks on three churches and three hotels on the island nation stands at 290 but is expected to rise, with at least 500 injured. Dozens of foreign visitors are among the casualties, with five British citizens confirmed killed. The six initial blasts appeared timed to cause maximum casualties among worshippers attending Easter services and customers in restaurants eating breakfast in the Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand hotels in Colombo. The Sri Lankan security services are also likely to have questions to answer after Ranil Wickremesinghe, the prime minister, said there had been “information” about possible attacks, believed to be a reference to warnings reportedly received by local intelligence services around 10 days ago that “prominent churches” would be targeted by suicide bombers. It is not clear what if any precautions were taken. A spokesperson for the National hospital said among the casualties were citizens of the US, Denmark, China, Japan, Pakistan, Morocco, India and Bangladesh. Eleven foreigners have been so far been confirmed dead, with nine missing. The toll is expected to rise. The British MP Tulip Siddiq tweeted that she had lost a relative in the attacks but did not give any more details.

Sri Lanka bombings: Local Islamists to blame, government says  - On Monday, Sri Lankan officials said an Islamist militant group called National Thowfeek Jamaath had carried out multiple suicide bomb attacks on Easter in which at least 290 people died and 500 were injured.  Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne told a news conference that all the bombers were Sri Lankan citizens, but that the group likely had foreign links as the attacks seemed too sophisticated to have been carried out without "international support."  Officials said 24 suspects were now in custody for questioning in connection with the attacks. A government forensic crime investigator said an examination of the attackers' body parts showed that they were suicide bombers. The attacks, which targeted Christian churches and hotels popular with foreigners, amounted to the deadliest violence to hit Sri Lanka since a civil war ended 10 years ago. More than 500 people were injured in the blasts.Also on Monday, a police spokesman said that 87 bomb detonators had been found at the main bus station in the capital, Colombo, and a nearby garbage dump. Earlier, police said that they had defused an improvised bomb at the international airport in Colombo.  Sri Lankan authorities have also ordered a state of emergency to be imposed from midnight on Monday, the president's office said.

Sri Lanka has a history of conflict, but the recent attacks appear different - Sri Lanka has long been subject to extremist violence. Easter Sunday’s coordinated bomb blasts, which killed almost 300 and injured hundreds more, are the latest in a long history of ethno-religious tragedies. While no one has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, 24 people have been arrested. Three police were killed in their capture. The Sri Lankan government has blamed the attacks on the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ), a radical Islamist group known for vandalising Buddhist statues. These attacks are different from previous ethno-religious violence in Sri Lanka. By fomenting generalised religious hatred, they appear to have more in common with Al-Qaeda, which has sought specific political change. For many, the bomb blasts immediately recalled Sri Lanka’s ethnic civil war. The war was fought between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers) and the Sri Lanka government from 1983 until 2009. In its final weeks, around 40,000 mostly Tamil civilians were killed, bringing the war’s total toll to more than 100,000 from a population of around 20 million. The Tamil Tigers were completely destroyed in 2009. Many Tigers, including their leader, were summarily executed. There remains much bitterness among Tamils towards the ethnic majority Sinhalese, but there is no appetite for renewing a war that ended so disastrously. Sri Lanka’s Muslims are predominantly ethnic Tamils and make up about 10% of the population. They have been at the margins of these more recent conflicts – excluded as Tamil speakers, but at odds with the more numerous Hindu Tamils. However, they also have long been subject to Sinhalese persecution, with anti-Muslim riots dating back at least as far as the early 20th century. As the Tamil Tiger war progressed, Sinhalese Buddhism became more radicalised. Some Sinhalese claimed that all of Sri Lanka should be exclusively Buddhist. With the Tamil Tigers defeated, Sri Lanka’s non-Buddhist communities were again persecuted. This culminated in 2013 with a Buddhist attack on a mosque. Anti-Muslim riots in 2014 resulted in a ten day state of emergency. Last year, there were more anti-Muslim riots. Buddhist monks have also disrupted Christian church services.

ISIS Says Behind Sri Lanka Bombings; Was 'Retaliation' For New Zealand Mosque Massacre -  Shortly after the death toll from Sunday's Easter bombings in Sri Lanka climbed above the 300 mark, ISIS validated the Sri Lankan government's suspicions that a domestic jihadi organization had help from an international terror network while planning the bombings were validated when ISIS took credit for the attacks.  The claim was made via a report from ISIS's Amaq news agency. Though the group has lost almost all of the territory that was once part of its transnational caliphate, ISIS now boasts cells across the Muslim world, including in North Africa and elsewhere. Before ISIS took credit for the attack, a Sri Lankan official revealed that Sunday's attacks were intended as retaliation for the killing of 50 Muslims during last month's mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand. However, the Sri Lankan government didn't offer any evidence for that claim, or the claim that Sunday's attacks were planned by two Islamic groups (though that now appears to have been substantiated by ISIS's claim of responsibility). The group is believed to have worked with the National Tawheed Jamaath, according to the NYT.  "The preliminary investigations have revealed that what happened in Sri Lanka was in retaliation for the attack against Muslims in Christchurch," State Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardene told the Parliament. Meanwhile, the number of suspects arrested in connection with the attacks had increased to 40 from 24 as of Tuesday. The government had declared a national emergency that allowed it sweeping powers to interrogate and detain suspects.  On Monday, the FBI pledged to send agents to Sri Lanka and provide laboratory support for the investigation. As the death toll in Sri Lanka climbs, the attack is cementing its position as the deadliest terror attack in the region.

Picture emerges of well-to-do young bombers behind Sri Lankan carnage - (Reuters) - Details began to emerge in Sri Lanka on Wednesday of a band of nine, well-educated Islamist suicide bombers, including a woman, from well-to-do families who slaughtered 359 people in Easter Sunday bomb attacks. The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the coordinated attacks on three churches and four hotels. If that connection is confirmed, the attacks looks likely to be the deadliest ever linked to the group. Both the Sri Lankan government and the United States said the scale and sophistication of the coordinated bombings suggested the involvement of an external group such as Islamic State. The Islamist group released a video late on Tuesday through its AMAQ news agency, showing eight men, all but one with their faces covered, standing under a black Islamic State flag, declaring loyalty to its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. The one man in the video with his face uncovered was Mohamed Zahran, a Sri Lankan preacher known for militant views. While the video showed eight men, Sri Lanka’s junior defense minister, Ruwan Wijewardene, said there were nine suicide bombers. Eight had been identified and one of them was a woman, he said. “Most of the bombers are well-educated, come from economically strong families. Some of them went abroad for studies,” Wijewardene told a news conference. “One of them we know went to the UK, then went to Australia for a law degree. Foreign partners, including the UK, are helping us with those investigations.”

Mastermind Of Easter Sunday Suicide Bombing Died During Hotel Attack - Typically, instead of blowing themselves up, leaders of Islamic terror organizations will find some vulnerable recruit who can be lured into the plot with promises of reverence and martyrdom. But in Sri Lanka, it appears that the leader of the domestic terror group that partnered with ISIS to carry out the deadly Easter Sunday bombings opted to don the suicide vest himself. Confirming rumors that spread in the immediate aftermath of the attacks (and which had been denounced as 'islamophobic' by some members of the media for daring to presume that a jihadi preacher was involved in the attacks), the BBC reported Friday that a preacher named Zahran Hashim both planned and participated in Sunday's attacks, detonating a suicide vest at the Shangri-La hotel In Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital, according to President Maithripala Sirisena. Hashim was accompanied by a second bomber, who has been identified only as "Illham". Sirisena also revealed that authorities believe around 130 ISIS members are in the country, and police are scrambling to arrest 70 suspects who are still at large.Hashim was a leader of National Tawheed Jamath, which was blamed for the attacks, along with ISIS. Hashim first gained notoriety in jihadi circles for participating the defacement of Buddhist statues in 2014. He soon gained a following on YouTube with videos calling for violence against non-Muslims (many of those videos have since been taken down). His sister told BBC that she was 'horrified' at what her brother had done, and that she hadn't spoken with him in more than two years.

The IMF Is Fueling an Argentine Crisis – Again - In little more than three years, Argentine President Mauricio Macri's government has already signed two agreements with the International Monetary Fund. And recent developments suggest that the country’s long and troubled history with the Fund may be about to repeat itself. Argentina first needed to borrow from the International Monetary Fund back in 1958. In the six decades since, the country has signed 22 agreements with the Fund. Most were subsequently derailed or ended in failure. And recent developments suggest that Argentina’s troubled history with the Fund may be about to repeat itself. The latest chapter began in June 2018, when the country was running fiscal and current-account deficits equivalent to a combined 11% of GDP. Investors became wary of Argentine bonds, forcing the Macri government to rush to the Fund for help. With the strong backing of the United States, Argentina was soon given a $50 billion IMF loan to use over the next three years. The government pretended that this was just a “precautionary” program: Argentina would keep the money in its back pocket to reassure private investors. Only two months later, however, Macri admitted that Argentina needed even more than $50 billion – and right away. In IMF jargon, the deal had to be “front-loaded.” At this point, Macri’s friendship with US President Donald Trump (they knew each other from the world of real estate) paid off. The Fund agreed – albeit reluctantly – to top up the loan with an additional $7 billion, bringing it to $57 billion. Moreover, about 90% of the full amount, or $51.2 billion, would be disbursed before Argentina’s next presidential election in late 2019. This is the IMF’s largest-ever loan to a country, and Argentina’s ailing economy badly needs the financial support. On April 15, the Fund sent a $9.6 billion installment. But rather than using this money to build up its foreign-exchange reserves or buy back debt, the Macri government will instead buy Argentine pesos. Unsurprisingly, Argentina’s risk premium has soared. Investors are restless, and not only because former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is leading the polls. They know that by front-loading the IMF’s financial support into his current term in office, Macri has also bunched Argentina’s future repayment obligations to the Fund. And because the IMF has preferred-creditor status, it will be first in line to be repaid. So if Argentina does not have enough dollars after 2020 to repay all its creditors, private investors could be forced to restructure their claims at a loss. Investors therefore have a narrow window of opportunity to leave Argentina, and they may use it soon.

Ukraine election: Comedian Volodymr Zelensky elected president in landslide win, humiliating incumbent Petro Poroshenko - Reflecting on an extraordinary triumph that saw him sweep home with three times the votes of his opponent, comedian Volodymr Zelensky said his victory offered an example of democratic change to the rest of the former Soviet Union. “I say to you, look at us,” he said. “Everything is possible.” Delivering a speech to more than 700 cheering aides and journalists, the president-elect promised he would not “mess up” on the challenge he had been given, after an exit poll suggested he would gain nearly three-quarters of votes. But in line with a campaign that has remarkably avoided any detailed policy discussion, Mr Zelensky offered no clarity about the future direction of his presidency. With polls showing Mr Zelensky enjoying a commanding lead since the first round on 31 March, the result of the election was never in much doubt. But the scale of his victory, projected at 73 per cent against 25, was such that Petro Poroshenko must now be wondering about his political future.

Comedian Who “Came to Break the System” Wins Ukraine Election by Landslide — According to exit polls, millions of  voters – weary of war and economic hardship – have thoroughly rebuked the incumbent elites, overwhelmingly voting for 41-year-old TV comedian Volodymyr Zelensky in Ukraine’s presidential election today. “I voted for Zelensky because everything he said is true,” said Viktoriia Bengalska, a 45-year-old secretary in Kiev. “It’s impossible to survive on this salary, prices have increased like crazy, and we were promised something totally different.”  With no political record (aside from playing the president on TV), Zelensky crushed President Petro Poroshenko, who was running for his second five-year term, with 73% of the vote.  The comedian had been a heavy favorite ahead of today’s election according to polls. “To all Ukrainians, no matter where you are, I promise that I will never let you down,” Zelensky said after the results came in. “Though I’m still not president, I can say as a Ukrainian citizen to all the countries of the former Soviet Union: Look at us. Everything is possible.” As The Washington Post notes, Zelensky’s apparent victory is the latest in the global trend of political outsiders harnessing TV and social media to out-muscle the unpopular establishment. “Zelensky doesn’t have experience, and Putin is a very dangerous adversary,” said Volodymyr Fesenko, a political analyst in Kiev. “There’s a lot of risk here.”

Zelenskiy faces battles with Ukraine’s hostile parliament (Reuters) - Before Ukraine’s new president Volodymyr Zelenskiy was even elected, an opposition leader was plotting to curb his powers and make it easier for him to be impeached. Andriy Sadovyi, head of the Samopomich party, the second largest opposition group in parliament, announced two days before the vote he was garnering support for a parliamentary bill to weaken the presidency. The opening salvo is a measure of the hostility that may be in store for Zelenskiy, a 41-year-old comedian who beat incumbent president, Petro Poroshenko, in Sunday’s election despite having no prior political experience or representation in parliament. Zelenskiy is expected to take office next month. His ability to work with parliament, known as the Rada, will be crucial to meeting the expectations of his voters and passing reforms to keep foreign aid flowing. Lawmakers from Samopomich and other parties feel the president has too many powers. “Let him have responsibility like other political players, he cannot stand above the law,” Oksana Syroyid, a Samopomich lawmaker and deputy speaker in parliament told Reuters. Zelenskiy’s powers will include appointing the head of the state security service, the head of the military, the general prosecutor, the central bank governor and the foreign and defense ministers. But parliament must confirm each appointment and although Zelenskiy beat the incumbent decisively in the presidential vote and his party could win the largest number of seats in parliamentary elections in October it is unlikely to win an outright majority, opinion polls show. This means he would need to ally with at least one other party if he is to get his election pledges enacted and his appointments approved. He has not indicated which parties he would be prepared to work with. Adding to the hostility is his election promise for a bill to strip lawmakers, and himself, of immunity from prosecution.

Ukraine’s President-Elect Demands Sanctions Against Russia Over Passports — Ukraine’s President-elect Volodymyr Zelensky has demanded that the international community impose new sanctions against Russia to punish them for a new decree offering Russian passports to ethnic Russians in war-torn eastern Ukraine. Since Ukraine’s revolution installed a pro-West government, measures against ethnic Russians sparked a rebellion in the far east, which ended in a stalemate, and the region remains under de facto rebel control.People in these areas have no access to certain government services, like getting passports. Russian President Vladimir Putin today vowed to greatly simplify the means of them getting a Russian passport, which he said was a “purely humanitarian issue.”Zelensky, on the other hand, is presenting it as proof Russia is an “aggressor state” and claims their offer of passports reflects them occupying eastern Ukraine. This is a troubling first stage for Ukraine-Russia ties after the new election in Ukraine. Zelensky’s position to a fairly minor Russian move meant to increase ease of travel for Ukraine’s Russian minority is being used as an excuse to push global action against them, suggesting the new Ukraine government is going to continue its hostility toward Russia under every pretext.

Abysmal Conditions for Refugees in the Greek Islands - Annick Toudji has found a bit of shelter in between some cardboard boxes, tarps and plastic bottles. It stinks of urine that has trickled in from the hillside above, past rickety tents and past the rocks where Toudji is about to build a fire. The acrid stench is a constant presence. A tall and gaunt 33-year-old, Toudji is perched on a stump and cutting tomatoes with short, decisive blows into a pot. "This is our jungle," she says. It is a jungle without electricity or toilets. Instead, it has rats, cockroaches and scabies. Thousands of migrants are languishing here on the Greek island of Samos and Toudji, whose journey from Cameroon began almost a year ago, is one of them. There are far too many migrants on the island to fit into Samos' official refugee camp and it has been spreading, tent after tent, for quite some time. That's how "The Jungle" came into being. The camp and the hillsides surrounding it are currently home to some 3,800 migrants despite having been intended to house just 648 people. No other "hotspot" in the Aegean Islands is as overcrowded. And because the migrants aren't allowed to leave, Samos has developed into a kind of prison. The situation, says the aid organization Doctors Without Borders, is out of control. The roots of the current situation were established three years ago in spring 2016, when the European Union reached an informal deal with Turkey. The key elements of that agreement are as follows:

  • Turkey is to keep migrants from continuing onward to the EU and will received 6 billion euros from Brussels in return;
  • the Greek government likewise receives support from the EU and in return promises to collect migrants on five Aegean islands and return them to Turkey, irrespective of their rights to international protection;
  • for every Syrian sent back to Turkey, the EU will accept a different Syrian refugee who will be brought in legally.

Despite significant resistance from her European partners, German Chancellor Angela Merkel managed to push the deal through. The pragmatic goal of her pact: enabling the control of migration while not seeming inordinately inhumane. And according to Merkel, the policy has been a success -- to the point that she would like to establish similar deals with countries like Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. She sees it as being a key element of her foreign policy legacy and even the European Commission sees the pact with Turkey as a "game changer" -- and in a recent bulletin, the EU executive declared the migration crisis to be over.

Chinese internet users cry foul after Italy labels preserved eggs inedible  - Italian police confiscated 800 preserved eggs from two restaurants in Sicily earlier this month, labelling them “unfit for human consumption”. Two Chinese restaurant owners in the commune of Misterbianco, outside the town of Catania, were detained. In a statement dated April 9, Italy’s health ministry said that the eggs were not fit for human consumption and were a violation of European Union import laws. Most of the confiscated goods were century eggs, while some were salted duck eggs. Century eggs are a traditional Chinese delicacy made by burying eggs in a mixture of clay, ash, salt and lime for days or months until they develop a distinctive pungent aroma and salty taste. Many Chinese internet users took to social media to say that foreigners did not understand the cuisine. “Century eggs are such a delicacy, how could they be unfit for human consumption,” commented one person microblogging on the Chinese platform Weibo.

Yellow Vests Demonstrate in Paris as Notre Dame Donations Highlight Wealth Inequality - The contrast between the French government's and upper class's response to Monday's fire at Notre Dame and ongoing inaction to combat income inequality, was a primary driver of mass protests in Paris on Saturday.The Gilets Jaunes, or Yellow Vests, staged their first major protest since large portions of the historic cathedral burned, apparently due to an electrical short-circuit, to call attention to the €1 billion ($1.1 billion) that the country's richest families have donated to help rebuild the church, months after the yellow vest movement began demonstrating against income inequality."You're there, looking at all these millions accumulating, after spending five months in the streets fighting social and fiscal injustice. It's breaking my heart," Ingrid Levavasseur, a founder of the movement, told the Associated Press.France 24 noted that many members of the Yellow Vest movement—which began in rural areas last fall when many struggling French people demonstrated against high fuel costs and President Emanuel Macron's generous tax cuts for the rich, and has since gathered support from a number of ideological groups—mourned earlier this week along with the rest of the country as news of the heavily damaged 674-year-old church spread. "Some of the activists said they cried in front of their TV sets as they watched the Gothic architectural masterpiece being consumed by flames Monday night and some even made small donations for the restoration of the iconic building, despite their struggles to make ends meet," reported the outlet.But grief turned to anger for many, Levavasseur said, as the Yellow Vests watched donations pour in and Macron call for the church to be repaired within five years, exacerbating the perception of many that he is a "president for the rich." "What happened at Notre-Dame is obviously a deplorable tragedy. But nobody died," Levavasseur told France 24. "I've heard someone speaking of national mourning. Are they out of their minds?"

 Yellow Vest Violence Erupts Again, Spreads To Libya; 137 Arrested - More clashes broke out on Saturday between Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vest) protesters and French riot police during the 23rd straight week of protests across France. Police had arrested 137 protesters by 15:40 CEST (3:40 PM local time), according to Euro News. Authorities warned that they expected the protests to be more violent following the catastrophic fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral on Monday. Some demonstrators took issue with the approximately 1 billion euros ($1.12 billion) pledged so far to restore the landmark by some of the country's wealthiest families, including the owners of luxury groups LVMH and Kering, the Bettencourt family behind the L'Oreal beauty empire, and scores of companies such as BNP, Total, Société Générale and Sanofi, according to Euro News.  Several demonstrators clearly alluded to the catastrophic fire at Notre-Dame cathedral on Monday, which prompted an outpouring of national sorrow and a rush by rich families and corporations to pledge around 1 billion euros ($1.12 billion) for its reconstruction. "Millions for Notre-Dame, what about for us, the poor?" read a sign worn by a demonstrator. "Everything for Notre-Dame, nothing for the miserables," read another sign that evoked Victor Hugo's well-known novel. –Reuters

France must work more, Emmanuel Macron tells ‘yellow vests’ - Emmanuel Macron promised “significant” tax cuts for France’s middle classes while cutting public spending but told the French they must work like their “neighbours”, in a much-awaited response to five-months of “yellow vest” protests. In what the French media dubbed his “moment of truth”, the 41-year old centrist promised citizens a “new act in our Republic” during a marathon two hour and 20 minute press conference at the Elysée - his first since his election - in which he confessed his way of running the country had lacked “humanity”. After enacting a whirlwind set of reforms, notably loosening labour laws, the president has been on the back foot since he was blindsided by nationwide protests initially fuel tax rises but which morphed into wider anger at the inability of provincial France to make ends meet. Much of the fury was directed towards Mr Macron in person, seen as an arrogant “president of the rich”. Stunned, he offered a first string of sweeteners in December worth €10 billion euros but this failed to calm anger among low-income workers. He then launched an unprecedented three-month nationwide “great debate”, personally taking place in many himself. Millions made online contributions. On Thursday, Mr Macron confirmed he would continue to take part in debates around the country, saying they were all part of “the art of being French”. During his address, he said the tax cuts would be worth around €5 billion euros. "We must work more, I've said it before. France works much less than its neighbours. We need to have a real debate on this," Mr Macron told 150 journalists gathered under the chandeliers of the Elysée’s recently refurbished ballroom. Mr Macron confirmed leaked plans to scrap the ENA, France’s finishing school for future presidents, saying that while he deeply believed in a meritocratic system of recruiting the country’s elite civil servants, it failed to reflect a cross-section of society. He stood firm on calls to reinstate a wealth tax he had cut at the start of the presidency, saying it would be reviewed in 2020. "It was a reform to stimulate production, not a present for the rich,” he insisted.

MPs to warn Theresa May she will be forced out over Brexit failure if she fails to name her departure date - Theresa May will be told by her own MPs to name the date of her departure or face being ousted in June after the Conservative Party’s patience with her finally ran out.Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, will tell the Prime Minister that the party is preparing to change its rules to make it easier to throw out unpopular leaders if they refuse to go.Backbenchers have already set June 12 as the date Mrs May will be forced out if she does not comply - exactly six months on from the day she fought off the last attempt to depose her through a confidence vote in her leadership.One MP summed up the mood in the party by saying Mrs May will be told that she cannot “Superglue herself to Downing Street like the eco-warriors”. Tory MPs will return from their Easter break on Tuesday with the anger of constituents still ringing in their ears, and facing a huge new threat from Nigel Farage’s increasingly popular Brexit Party. Brexiteer Cabinet ministers will on Tuesday morning tell Mrs May to put her Brexit deal to a Parliamentary vote for a fourth time in a last-ditch bid to avoid the European elections.They want Mrs May to give MPs one final chance to agree a deal with Europe by May 22, the eve of the poll, or risk being punished by voters for delaying Brexit.It comes as a new poll shows support for Boris Johnson as Mrs May’s replacement has surged among grassroots Tory members after Mrs May agreed to extend Article 50 until October.A survey of 1,100 party members by the Conservative Home website found that 32 per cent of them want the former foreign secretary as prime minister, more than twice that of his nearest rival Dominic Raab on 15 per cent. Support for Mr Johnson has risen by 10 percentage points since the survey was last carried out in March.

Brexit latest: Cross-party talks to resume as Theresa May faces fresh pressure to quit  - Brexit negotiations between the government and Labour will resume on Tuesday as Theresa May launches a fresh bid to break the deadlock in parliament and quash new attempts to oust her from office.The prime minister’s deputy, David Lidington, and the Brexit secretary, Steve Barclay, will lead talks with Labour shadow ministers, including shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer, in a new effort to find a cross-party solution to the current crisis.They will be joined by government chief whip Julian Smith and Ms May’s chief of staff, Gavin Barwell.The two negotiating teams have also set up working groups to consider the different elements of the relationship between the EU and UK after Brexit. Mr Barclay and Sir Keir will take part in a meeting of the security working group on Tuesday. The talks have so far failed to end the impasse, with a major sticking point being the government’s refusal to agree to Labour’s demand for a permanent customs union with the EU.Last week, Jeremy Corbyn‘s spokesman admitted there remained “substantial differences” and that the two sides were still “a long way” apart.  Ms May has said that if the two parties cannot agree on a way forward, they will instead propose a series of options for MPs to vote on. She has insisted that the government “stands ready to abide by” whatever the Commons decides, providing Labour does that same.

The awkward truth is that a Norway Brexit almost certainly wouldn’t work - There’s been a lot of talk about Norway in the Brexit debate of late. And in keeping with the tenor of that debate as a whole, much of it has skipped happily around uncomfortable practicalities such as what a “Norway option” might mean in practice, whether Norway would welcome imitation by us, and whether the EU would even allow us to try. The idea that membership of the European Economic Area, plus a comprehensive customs arrangement might offer an acceptable way forward in the Brexit process has been propounded by a cross-party group of MPs. Under this scheme we would be in the EU single market along with the 27 EU member states, but like Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland, we would be outside formal EU membership. The Common Market 2.0 (CM2) plan, however, is rather misleading. First, proponents of CM2 stress that, while the UK would have to sign up to free movement of workers, the EEA model provides “new controls over free movement in exceptional circumstances.” This is a reference to safeguard measures in the EEA agreement that allow for the temporary suspension of any of the four freedoms—of goods, services, capital and labour. What the CM2 crowd are less keen to point out is that the bar for application is high. The treaty states that there would need to be “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties” arising from the migration of EEA nationals. Moreover, the process for triggering the brake is not unilateral. Article 113 EEA specifies the need for notification of the contracting parties and consultation with the joint committee to find a “commonly acceptable solution.” The second key claim made about CM2 is that it would allow the UK to take back control “of budgetary contributions from the EU to allow more money for public services.” Leave aside the potentially misleading claim regarding “more money for public services.” Both the IFS and the OBR have said there won’t be any kind of Brexit dividend—quite the contrary. The fact is that although under CM2 we will be able to decide which EU programmes we’d like to be a part of, we won’t get a say on the budget for those we do decide to participate in. The third claim is that the Norway approach would take the UK out of ever closer union and hence remove jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). This is something of a sleight of hand. The new arbiter would be the European Free Trade Association Court, which takes the Treaty-based duty of “homogenous interpretation” seriously.

Ireland takes steps towards cementing Wales and Scotland as allies - Nearly 10 years ago, the then Welsh first minister, Rhodri Morgan, described the decision of the Government to close the Irish Consulate in Cardiff as “a sad and regrettable” one.  A decade on, the Irish are back in Cardiff, or soon will be, with the reopening of the consulate there in coming months a visible indicator that the Republic has emerged from the financial crash of 2008. Equally, however, than ever before. “We are really looking forward to having the Irish back here very shortly,” says Richard Wyn Jones, who is professor of Welsh politics at Cardiff University. Wyn Jones is of many well-placed academics and commentators in Scotland and Wales grappling with the unintended consequences of the United Kingdom vote to quit the European Union. The reinstated Cardiff consulate will be run by the new Irish Consul-General Denise Hanrahan. Her counterpart in the Edinburgh consulate, which never closed despite 2009 cutbacks, is Mark Hanniffy. Brexit will serve to strengthen the Welsh-Irish relationship, Wyn Jones tells The Irish Times: “Clearly the Welsh government is very keen on closer links with Ireland. ” Though similar in many ways, Cardiff and Edinburgh reject traditional British notions of sovereignty. In Wales, there is little pressure for independence, but strong support for more devolution.

 May Ready To Bring Back Hated Brexit Plan For Unprecedented 4th Vote Though the pound's weakness against the dollar in the euro on Tuesday has been widely interpreted as a knock-on effect of the dollar's strength, traders could be forgiven for assuming otherwise. Because after a brief Easter recess, Parliament is back in session, and Brexit-related news is back in the headlines.Little has happened since Theresa May struck an 11th-hour agreement with the EU for a six-month extension of Article 50. Talks with Labour to find an alternative to May's Brexit deal (talks that May clearly disdains) appear unlikely to succeed. Though the Tory and Labour delegations resumed talks on Tuesday, whispers suggest the talks could fall apart in the coming days. Whatever happens with the talks is largely irrelevant anyway, since the EU has made it clear that the withdrawal agreement is the only deal that it would accept. That deal has already been rejected three times by Parliament, albeit by slightly more favorable margins in each successive vote, though as long as the Irish Backstop, the big  sticking point in the deal, remains, it's unlikely that May will be able to win over enough Brexiteers to push the deal through. With few viable alternatives (apart from another can kick or, failing that, a second referendum), the Financial Times reported on Tuesday, surprising absolutely no one, that May is already preparing to bring the text of her withdrawal agreement back for a fourth vote. Just like the third vote, May will need to embrace some procedural maneuvers to satisfy Speaker Bercow's condition that the deal must be "substantially different" than prior votes if May wants to bring it back. This time, the withdrawal agreement will come packaged in a more far-reaching withdrawal agreement bill.  And a vote could come as soon as next week.  If the bill is defeated, which is extremely likely, May would be prohibited from bringing it back for another vote until a new session of parliament begins. That wouldn't happen until later this year, though we imagine May will find some kind of procedural loophole to keep bringing her deal back. Even if it does manage to pass the Commons, it would still need to pass a few procedural hurdles before Brexit could be officially delivered.

Labour should leave government talks and campaign in the European elections - Why can’t the pro-Remain parties unite in a single electoral alliance to defeat Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party on 23 May? That was the complaint dominating the Easter-tide conversations of Britain’s liberal centre. The simple answer is that, while Farage is constructing a single-use tool to destroy the Tory party and coerce Britain towards a hard Brexit, the rest of us cling to the quaint belief that politics should be about parties, programmes, reasoned debate and giving voters a choice. Labour, whose entire strategy is to try to win sections of its voting base that wanted to leave the EU back to its progressive politics, cannot profitably turn the 23 May vote into a proxy referendum on Europe. It can, however, do much more than it is currently inclined to, to advance its strategic goal. Right now Labour’s front bench is trapped in a situation that was not of its own making. It took part in initial discussions with the government in good faith. But the Tories have offered nothing that could meet Labour’s demand for a customs union; thus there is nothing on offer that could get through parliament. Nor is it in the gift of Jeremy Corbyn to stop the sudden advance of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. It is currently polling above 20 per cent because a section of the electorate, mostly from the right, believes Brexit is such an existential issue that they are prepared to desert the Tories to achieve it, and if necessary destroy the Tory party in the process. That is a problem for the Tory party, not Corbyn. What Labour can control is the energy, message and offer it makes to the majority of the British electorate, which is not high on the helium of outrage and xenophobia. Unfortunately, a mixture of classic Labourite routinism, political divisions and bureaucratic manoeuvring have left Labour paralysed as Farage storms ahead in the polls. Labour insiders report a de-facto freeze on campaigning for the European elections because some fear that a mixed message will blur Labour’s impact in the local council elections on 3 May. Because Labour never took the European elections seriously, the regional party machine is not well geared to the task. In addition, so long as the party is engaged in talks that might lead to Britain leaving the EU, Labour cannot start campaigning in good faith for the EU elections.

Goldman Sachs says dragged-out Brexit is doing deeper damage to UK economy (Reuters) - Britain’s protracted divorce from the European Union is hurting the world’s fifth largest economy as dwindling company investment, signs of a looming labour market shock and poor productivity hinder growth, Goldman Sachs said. The United Kingdom was due to have left the EU on March 29, though Prime Minister Theresa May has been unable to get her divorce deal approved by parliament. Now the new deadline is Oct. 31, more than three years since the 2016 referendum. It is now unclear when, how and even if Brexit will happen. Goldman Sachs said in a note to clients that its base scenario was the divorce deal would be ratified by May 22 but that there was a risk of Britain’s exit being delayed until much closer to the new Oct. 31 deadline. “The politics of Brexit have become more protracted and, as a result, the side-effects of Brexit on the UK economy have intensified,” Goldman said in a note entitled “Brexit — Withdrawal Symptoms”. “From both a top-down and a bottom-up perspective, Brexit has taken a toll on the UK economy — even though it has not yet happened,” Goldman said. It said Britain’s economy has underperformed other advanced economies since mid-2016, losing nearly 2.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product relative to its pre-referendum growth path, in large part due to weaker investment. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said in February that Britain had lost around 1.5 percent of GDP compared with the central bank’s expectations before the referendum. Carney said this month that uncertainty facing British businesses has gone “through the roof” due to Brexit. Capital expenditure by businesses has been particularly subdued, Goldman said, and strong employment data masks a deepening misallocation of resources to labour rather than capital which will ultimately make the economy less efficient.

No-deal Brexit stockpiling panic as British businesses warn warehouses are already booked up for Christmas — Shelves in British stores would quickly empty in the event of a no-deal Brexit at the end of October, due to the warehouse space required to stockpile goods already being largely booked up for the Christmas period, industry leaders involved in contingency planning have told Business Insider. Much of the warehouse space previously allocated to cope with a no-deal Brexit at the end of March, is now unavailable for a no-deal exit on October 31, with much of it booked up to three years in advance. One business leader familiar with the no-deal plans of British retailers said that one major food company had used warehouses to stockpile around 24,000 pallets of stock in the run-up to a potential no-deal exit in the spring. However, none of this space is available at the end of the year, as it is already booked to cope with the strains of Christmas. Demand for many goods including food, clothes, and medicines rockets at this time of year. They told Business Insider that warehousing space is "at maximum capacity over Christmas in any normal year," and that the risk of a no-deal Brexit in October was creating demand for additional space which does not exist. "Christmas is already a difficult period... Brexit is a pain in the arse which has fucked everything up even more." UK ministers and businesses have warned that leaving the European Union without a deal would slow down the movement of goods across the border and lead to temporary shortages of certain goods.

John Helmer: The Julian Assange Case Now Puts the US on Trial in a British Court – Is There a Get-Out-of-Jail Card for Assange? -- The case for and against Julian Assange (lead image, 3rd from left) will keep him in the UK for at least eighteen months, probably two years, possibly three, according to leading London lawyers.  The UK will have a new government by then; the US too.  In the interval, Assange’s lawyers are preparing to prove the US indictment for conspiracy to commit computer hacking will be superseded by espionage charges. That, they will argue, requires the Westminster Magistrates’ Court to throw the US extradition application out. In addition, their  evidence for American  political motivation in the prosecution of Assange, and of US violations of the UK and European standards for a fair trial in an independent and impartial court, will be presented. The Chief Magistrate, Emma Arbuthnot, is likely to preside. The hearing is unlikely to start before December of this year.  The more UK and US Government officials take sides in public against Assange and support the allegations in the indictment, the stronger his case will be in court. The announcement by public letter  to the Home Secretary last week that seventy-one members of the British parliament oppose Assange’s extradition to the US cuts even more of the ground from under UK prosecutors and the lawyers who will appear in court for the US. Reversing their campaign to block the Swedish extradition warrant between 2010 and 2012, Assange’s lawyers are also mobilizing to have the Swedish prosecutors return to London with a new warrant, so that this can stretch out the legal wrangling in London for long enough to reach a new British election. If won by Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party forms a new government, Assange may benefit from a decision to move Assange’s prosecution to the UK courts, and then to release him. “The anger for and against this man is extraordinary”, explains a leading London lawyer on extradition cases. “You need very technical lawyering now, and Assange will have to pay for it.  But in parallel there will be the PR campaign amplifying the political issue, principally for the Labour Party. The Assange case will stand for every British voter’s idea of what [President Donald] Trump and the Americans are doing to the world.  [Chief Magistrate Emma] Arbuthnot is not afraid to make decisions that would be unpopular. But as independent as she is, the pressure on her will be huge not to rule against the US.”  It was Assange’s defeat in the Supreme Court, the highest of the British courts,  on May 30, 2012, which triggered within days his move to the Ecuador Embassy in London and his asylum there, which ended last week.  Read the judgement in full here.  The source says that if Assange were able to win the forum argument,  requiring the prosecution on the American charges to be moved to the UK, it would be up to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to decide whether to do so, or not.  If the Conservative Government has been replaced by Labour, by the time the DPP would face a decision on Assange, Prime Minister Corbyn would have the authority to stop the proceeding.

Julian Assange denied access to lawyers, visitors in Britain’s Belmarsh prison - WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange has spent most of the past two weeks in isolation at Belmarsh prison said Christine Assange, his mother, on Monday.  Assange had “still not been able to receive any visits. Not even from his lawyers!” Mrs. Assange said on Twitter on April 22. She added that his treatment had been “outrageous, & appears punitive to continue to keep him isolated.”  Mrs. Assange noted that Belmarsh has been dubbed “the UK’s Guantanamo,” after the US military prison notorious for indefinite detention, torture, protracted isolation and other violations of human rights. It is where most British individuals charged with terrorism offences have been imprisoned. Some 36 hours after she issued her tweet, Mrs. Assange stated on April 24: “Julian has had one video conference with his lawyers & they will visit him at Belmarsh Prison on April 26. Many thanks to all those calling for this visit from his lawyers.” WikiLeaks subsequently confirmed that Assange will have an “in person visit” with his legal team “in the coming days.”Assange was arrested by UK police officers on April 11, who dragged the journalist out of the Ecuadorian embassy, as he shouted, “the UK must resist.” The WikiLeaks founder, a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, is being pursued by the Trump administration for exposing US war crimes.

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