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

Saturday, April 6, 2019

week ending Apr 6

The Media Endlessly Talks About Interest Rates—Are They Even an Effective Economic Tool at This Point? -- The one silver lining in the nomination of political hack Steve Moore to the Federal Reserve is that it might spur a productive discussion on the benefits (or lack of them) of monetary policy as an instrument of economic growth. This is principally because it’s just one ingredient for what is necessary to instill economic growth, and not a particularly good one at that. A more direct approach is via appropriately targeted and sufficiently large fiscal actions.  In regard to monetary policy, low interest rates kept in place for a long time can actually constrain economic growth unless they are coupled with sensible compensating fiscal policy, due to the adverse income impact to savers emanating from a resultant lower income stream. There is also a problem of political legitimacy when so little of the funding is explicitly approved by Congress, and is left instead to the discretion/creation of the Federal Reserve (which has historically tended to prioritize the narrow interests of finance over the rest of the economy). And Steve Moore, a leading advocate of cutting rates to promote additional economic growth (even as he has historically championed spending cuts), will simply perpetuate the (unfortunately) widely held notion of monetary policy as an effective cure-all, if his ideas gain policy traction within the Powell-led Federal Reserve.  In fact, what is truly required is well-formulated fiscal policy and less monetary policy activism, precisely the opposite of today’s prevailing trends. Solvency per se is not the issue. The key here is how the money is spent, lest fiscal policy become as diffuse in its effects as monetary policy has become, as well as discredited politically because of perceived ineffectiveness when long-standing structural issues (such as inequality) remain unaddressed.

 Trump To Nominate Herman Cain For Last Open Fed Seat - When Bloomberg reported a few months back that President Trump had interviewed former Godfather's Pizza CEO and one-time presidential challenger Herman Cain for a seat on the Fed board of governors, Eccles watchers largely wrote him off as a novelty, and focused on cracking jokes about the monetary policy implications of Cain's infamous 9-9-9 plan. But others swiftly pointed out that as a former chairman of the Kansas City Fed's board of directors, Cain was technically qualified for the position, and not really an outlandish pick. So when BBG again reported that Cain was seriously being considered for one of the two open seats - one of which has since gone to Steve Moore - Fed watchers took notice, despite concerns about Cain's expressly hawkish views on monetary policy (which apparently wasn't a problem for self-styled "growth hawk" Moore) and worries about the Senate confirmation process.  White House is considering 2 political figures for board that governs the independent central bank and conducts nation’s monetary policy: Steve Moore, Herman Cain.  Concerns in the WH, though, about whether Cain could clear Senate confirmation process. — Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) March 22, 2019  Two weeks later, it appears Trump has made up his mind. According to Axios, Trump has settled on Cain to fill the last remaining open seat on the board, but will wait until his background check is cleared before making the official announcement. To be sure, there's a possibility that the background check could pose a problem. Cain's candidacy during the 2012 Republican primary was cut short following a sexual harassment scandal (Axios's sources were careful to note that they would attach an "asterisk" to his candidacy). But them again, the president's favor can often outweigh such considerations."He won't formally announce until the vet is completed...But he likes Cain and wants to put him on there," said one senior official.

Senators request details from Trump's Fed pick on unpaid taxes — Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., pressed Stephen Moore, a presumed nominee for the Federal Reserve Board, for information on his reported unpaid federal taxes. Moore, a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation and an economic adviser to the 2016 Trump campaign, has drawn pushback from critics who say he is unqualified for the role. Those calls intensified when court records surfaced showing that he owes more than $75,000 in taxes and failed to pay more than $300,000 in alimony and child support. Brown, who is the ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, and Wyden, who is the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, requested that Moore explain the circumstances around his unpaid taxes, why he failed to respond to notifications from the Internal Revenue Service and whether or not he still owed taxes. “As the Senate considers your potential nomination, we read with concern reports that a court entered a lien against you in January 2018 in favor of the United States government for unpaid taxes, interest, and penalties in the amount of $75,328.80,” the senators wrote in their letter. The Banking Committee may request his 2014 tax returns, and if Moore is nominated by the White House the Senate panel could ask for more detailed information, the senators said.

 Recession Signs Everywhere - John Mauldin -This month, the Federal Reserve joined its global peers by turning decisively dovish. Jerome Powell and friends haven’t just stopped tightening. Soon they will begin actively easing by reinvesting the Fed’s maturing mortgage bonds into Treasury securities. It’s not exactly “Quantitative Easing I, II, and III,” but it will have some of the same effects.  Why are they doing this? One theory, which I admit possibly plausible, was that Powell simply caved to Wall Street pressure. The rate hikes and QT were hitting asset prices and liquidity, much to the detriment of bankers and others to whom the Fed pays keen attention. But that doesn’t truly square with his 2018 speeches and actions. The Fed’s March 20 announcement suggests more is happening. I think two other factors are driving the Fed’s thinking. One is increasing recognition of the same slowing global growth that made other central banks turn dovish in recent months. The other is the Fed’s realization that its previous course risked inverting the yield curve, which was violently turning against its fourth-quarter expectations and possibly toward recession (see chart below, courtesy of WSJ’s “Daily Shot”). That would not have looked good in the history books, hence the backtracking. On the second point... too late. The yield curve inverted, and recession forecasts became suddenly de rigueuramong the same financial punditry that was wildly bullish just weeks ago. My own position has been consistent: Recession is approaching but not just yet. Yet like the Fed, I am data-dependent and the latest data are not encouraging. Today, we’ll examine this and consider what may have changed. Let’s start with a step back…

The last long leading indicator, corporate profits, declined in Q4 2018 -- Three months after the quarter ended, corporate profits for Q4 of 2018 were reported this morning, and they were down slightly (-0.1%). Here’s the quote from the BEA: […] Corporate profits deflated by unit labor costs are a long leading indicator. Since these costs were already reported at +1.6% q/q, that means that adjusted corporate profits were down about the same percentage.   Earlier, proprietors income for Q4 had been reported at positive, but that is a less accurate placeholder. In contrast, Q4 corporate earnings for the S&P 500, with 99.7% reporting, declined over -3% q/q. This means that, in Q4 of last year, almost *all* of the long leading indicators declined, the first time that has happened since – perhaps not coincidentally – shortly before the last recession.

 Q1 GDP Forecasts: 1.5% to 2.0% Range - From Merrill Lynch: We are tracking 1.9% qoq saar for 1Q GDP growth. Retail sales and capex data this week had little impact on tracking, while strong construction and inventory reports mostly offset consumption weakness at the end of the prior week. [April 5 estimate]   From Goldman Sachs: Our Q1 GDP tracking estimate rose by one tenth to +1.5% (qoq ar). [April 5 estimate]  From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report”  The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 1.4% for 2019:Q1 and 1.9% for 2019:Q2 [Apr 5 estimate]. And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNow:The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the first quarter of 2019 is 2.1 percent on April 2 [Apr 2 estimate]CR Note: These estimates suggest real GDP growth will be in the 1.5% to 2.0% range annualized in Q1.

March 2019 Yield Curve Update - -  Kevin Erdmann - Since the zero lower bound distorts the yield curve at very low rates, an inverted yield curve at low rates is worse than an inverted yield curve at higher rates.  This is a reason why the curve didn't invert in the 1950s. The necessary adjustments here could be made either by just looking at the short end of the curve, recognizing that the long end of the curve will have a bias for a positive slope. Or, it could be estimated with a regression of the depth of the inversion in the various economic downturns that have happened since WW II.Here are visualizations using each estimate.  In the Eurodollar market, the inversion of the short end is very deep.  Today rates bounced up a bit.  They will do that.  In the post-WW II era, though, even though rates seem to bounce around within the inversion, yield curve normalization has only happened when the short end rate has been lowered.  At this point, I have a fairly strong expectation that short term rates will be well below 2% before 2021.  The estimate using the 10 year minus Fed Funds spread also has us well into inversion.  As this graph shows, in 2006 and 2007, the 10 year rate moved up and down without normalizing for some time, then, when the Fed finally lowered rates, the entire curve came down. The inversion from early 2006 to summer of 2007 was especially extended.  I think the Fed was already sucking cash out of the economy far to aggressively for that whole period.  The housing boom is what delayed contraction, because many households could access their home equity for liquidity.  Lending was still growing at something close to double digits even into mid 2007. Today, this source of liquidity is not significant.  Mortgages are growing at low single digits, if that.  Home equity is still declining.  General bank lending is at around 5% annual growth.  So, I expect falling rates to come sooner this time.  But, admittedly, I was surprised by a rising yield curve after the Fed raised rates in 2015, so my credibility on this point is worth the monthly subscription price to this blog. Whatever else happens, this is definitely an inversion event at this point.

The Pentagon Wins Again - In budget negotiations this week, congressional Democrats seem to have brought knives to the Republican gunfight. This time, the issue was defense spending.The Democrat-controlled House Budget Committee voted 19-17 Wednesday to move a bill sponsored by Chairman John Yarmuth (D-KY) out of committee. Called the “Investing for the People Act of 2019,” it’s essentially the Democrats’ answer to Donald Trump’s radical budget proposal from early March. As expected, the legislation gives the Pentagon a raise.The Trump budget proposes a fundamental re-configuration of America’s spending priorities. It seeks a whopping 9% cut overall in non-defense or NDD spending (NDD stands for “non-defense discretionary “ spending), while seeking a 5% increase in defense spending.  Trump wants to reward the Pentagon for flunking its first-ever audit last year by giving it a fat bump — from a record $716 billion to new record of $750 billion. Meanwhile, Trump hopes to slash non-defense spending from last year’s $597 billion figure to $543 billion this year.As reported by Rolling Stone a few weeks ago, the early word on the Hill was Democrats were not planning to seriously oppose the hike in Pentagon spending. Instead, the strategy would be to try to negotiate with Republicans to raise non-defense spending, basically by surrendering on the question of a defense hike. Rolling Stone was told the Democrats’ opening negotiating number on defense was going to be “really high.” This turned out to be true. In fact, the Yarmuth bill sets defense spending at the same level – $733 billion – that Pentagon officials like then-Defense Secretary James Mattis were asking for at the end of last year, before Trump told them to ask for a bigger raise.

 Liberal groups slam Dem spending plan- Four liberal groups on Thursday slammed House Democrats for a spending proposal that would have increased military spending. “House Democrats appear to be accepting at face value the absurd notion that the Pentagon needs more money, when it can’t even account for what it already spends, can't even spend the obscene amount of money Congress already appropriates, and can’t rein in waste, fraud, and abuse,” the groups CREDO Action, Indivisible, MoveOn, and Win Without War wrote in a joint statement. Democrats on the House Budget Committee narrowly advanced a plan Wednesday that would have raised spending caps on defense by $17 billion and non-defense by $34 billion relative to current caps, a plan that would keep the defense cap some $33 billion higher than non-defense. Non-defense spending covers categories such as health, education, transportation, environment and foreign operations. The groups called on Democrats to “immediately drop this plan,” which Democrats are expected to bring to a full floor vote on Tuesday. Committee Democrats lost three votes from progressives who objected to the increased levels of military spending, a level that Committee Chair John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) said he had reached after consulting with different Democratic factions and Senate Democrats. An amendment proposed by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) to freeze defense spending only garnered seven of 22 Democratic votes. On Thursday, Yarmuth reiterated his position that the final spending deal negotiated with Republicans would allow defense and non-defense caps levels to rise at an equal level from their legal 2020 caps, which like the Democratic caps legislation would leave defense spending $33 billion above non-defense.

 How the Pentagon Budget is a Threat to the Middle Class  - According to SAIS Professor Hal Brands, progressives and Americans should embrace the social benefits military spending offers to the middle class. Not only does American military strength support the liberal world order that makes the world “safe for democracy,” Brands claimed, but military spending undergirds millions of middle-class jobs for service members, civilian employees, and contractors for the Pentagon.In reality, the opposite is true: American military adventurism and massive spending undermines middle-class prosperity and makes the world less free and secure. A militarized approach to American foreign policy harms global freedom and security far more than it helps. Though modern Washington seems to have forgotten it, the architects of the post-World War II American-led liberal world order understood that it would not—and could not— be secured by American military power alone. Strong diplomatic and trade relationships allow international institutions to flourish and help secure global buy-in from national governments. In recent years, reckless interventions, underinvestment in relationships and diplomacy, and the hypertrophy of the U.S. military has undermined America’s ability to shore up this order. In a vicious cycle that former Defense and State Department advisor Rosa Brooks compared to a Walmart devouring the local general store, Washington’s growing reliance on the military’s vast capacity to fill in for civilian agencies leads to further atrophy of American diplomacy and adaptability in foreign affairs.  The notion that military spending underwrites a middle-class lifestyle for millions is even more off base. It discounts the long-term effects of military spending on the American economy as a whole, as political economy experts increasingly see a dangerous relationship between free-wheeling military spending and boom-bust cycles.

Pentagon’s $1 Billion for Wall: A Door-Opener to Crucial Fixes for Infrastructure, Environment?  - Now that President Donald Trump’s sleight-of-hand has just moved $1 billion and soon possibly $5.1 billion more from the Pentagon’s $674 billion  FY2019 allocation to furnish labor and materials to build his border wall, he’s opened precedent to actions he’s probably never imagined. But domestic activists surely can—and will—if fast enough. So could those in Congress once they stop caterwauling about his “reprogramming” Defense funds they stipulated only for “repairs to existing structures.”The Corps of Engineers has been assigned to build that “emergency” wall—plus fix roads, lighting in the Yuma-El Paso areas—with Army personnel, construction materials, and vehicles on the American taxpayers’ allocation to the Pentagon’s spending. For FY2020 its take of a proposed $750 billion from federal appropriations is nearly 53 percent of $1.4 billion in the discretionary spending section.However, because of that action and the Pentagon’s past use of “reprogramming,” the doors could also swing wide to “reprogramming” billions for two real and major national emergency crises threatening our domestic security, let alone the Constitutional guarantee of providing for the common defense, ensuring domestic tranquility, and promoting the general welfare of the American people. The two threats are the oncoming environmental catastrophies and infrastructure repairs to prevent the pending collapse of the nation’s bridges, highways, railways, waterways, dams, levees, and airports. Moreover, today’s taxpayers certainly know by now that the Pentagon has cash available to cover this kind of “defense,” considering decades of audit avoidance. The public has long suspected billions have covered waste, cost overruns, and defunct or questionable projects, like the recent $11.5 billion order for 141 of the technically troubled F-35 fighter jets at $89.2 million apiece.

NASA plans to land astronauts on Mars by 2033 - Xinhua English -- NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine announced at a congressional testimony on Tuesday a plan to put human to Mars by 2033 and would request more money to fund the ambitious plan. It came after NASA's new schedule to land American astronauts on the Moon by 2024, four years ahead of its previous schedule, an aggressive plan U.S. Vice President Mike Pence called a "stated policy of this administration," but American lawmakers worried NASA couldn't meet the deadline. Pence urged NASA last week to return American astronauts to the Moon within five years, warning that if NASA cannot do it, it is NASA, not the mission, that must change. Bridenstine cited at the congressional hearing on NASA's budget in fiscal year 2020 the goal of putting astronauts on Mars by 2033 as a reason why NASA need to accelerate the Moon landing plan. The NASA chief said so in response to U.S. congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson's question why the country need a "crash program for the Moon." "The Moon is the proving ground," said Bridenstine. "We can move up the Mars landing by moving up the Moon landing."

Effective Tax Rates -  Spencer England - Along with fourth quarter GDP, corporate profits for the the fourth quarter was also reported.  Profits growth was either quite strong or very weak depending on how you looked at them.  On a year over year basis, after tax profits growth was 11% and appeared to be accelerating. However, on a quarter to quarter basis after tax profits actually fell -6.73% (SAAR) in the fourth quarter  and that is after a third quarter annual growth rate of only  3.7%(SAAR).  By comparison after tax profits growth surged 38.4 % (SAAR) and 14.0 % (SAAR) in the first and second quarters, respectively.  Much of this early 2018 growth was due to the tax cut.  But now that the tax cut is behind us, it looks like the Administrations promised strong growth remains just that, a Republican  forecast and we all know how seriously to take them.  After this it looks like a good time to look at the impact of the corporate tax cut on the effective corporate tax cut — taxes as a share of  pre-tax profits. The effective tax rate fell from around 20% to just over 10%.  That sounds like a big drop, but compared to the historic trend where the effective tax rate has fallen from almost 50% in 1950 to just over 10% now it does not look like such  a massive tax cut after all.  Moreover, as the data shows the big impact appears to be behind us and is unlikely to provide much of a boost to growth in 2019. It also raises serious questions about the Republican promises to eliminate loopholes and other special arrangements so that the revenue loses from lower corporate taxes would not be significant.  I have not seen them make much of an effort along those line.  But maybe I am missing something and commenters can point out such legislation.

  Senate Democrat Ron Wyden revives plan to make capital gains tax due annually - The top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, Ron Wyden, is reviving a plan that would tax wealthy individuals annually on their investments, instead of when those assets are sold. The plan represents a fundamental change to the timing of capital gains taxation — it would require wealthy investors to pay the capital gains tax on the appreciation of their assets each year, rather than paying the capital gains tax once when they sell an asset. The proposal, which is unlikely to become law while Republicans control the Senate and White House, is likely to be discussed by Democratic presidential hopefuls ahead of the 2020 elections. “This eliminates serious loopholes that allow some to pay a lower rate than wage earners, to delay their taxes indefinitely, and in some cases, to avoid paying tax at all,” Wyden said in a statement Tuesday. Wyden’s overhaul of the capital gains taxation system is frequently called “mark-to-market” taxation in policy circles. The Oregon Democrat has introduced similar proposals for several years and it was briefly discussed during the 2017 Republican tax overhaul, but ultimately wasn’t included because of the complicated nature of how to structure such a plan. Wyden’s proposal comes as the Democrats are envisioning new ways to tax the rich ahead of the 2020 presidential election. One hopeful, Senator Elizabeth Warren, has proposed an annual 2 percent wealth tax on households worth more than $50 million. Other contenders, including Senators Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, have backed expanding the estate tax as a way to pay for social programs. “Mark-to-market would certainly increase the tax liability on the wealthiest,” Kyle Pomerleau, an economist at the conservative Tax Foundation, said in an email. And Steve Wamhoff, the director of federal tax policy at the left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, said the bill “would certainly slow down the ability of billionaires to accumulate massive fortunes very rapidly.” Capital gains represent a significant portion of the money earned by the wealthiest households, compared to lower-income taxpayers. Sales of capital assets accounted for 55.1 percent of income for the top 0.001 percent of taxpayers while only accounting for 6.1 percent of income for all returns, according to IRS analysis of 2016 tax data. Wyden’s proposal would reduce income inequality, but it would also dampen investors’ incentive to save, said Alan Viard of the American Enterprise Institute. That in turn could reduce the supply of capital and drive down investments, he said.

Progressive tax reform requires a healthy IRS -- Internal Revenue Service (IRS) funding was in the news at the end of last year, after a series of articles by ProPublica detailed just how badly its resources had been gutted by cuts enacted by the Republican-controlled Congress. And the IRS remains in the news with ongoing pressure to release President Trump’s tax returns. Complaining about the IRS is a popular pastime for lots of Americans, and we would certainly agree that in recent years the IRS has spent too much time auditing low-income households—a recent ProPublica story notes, “the IRS audits Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) recipients at higher rates than all but the richest Americans.” But the IRS needs mended not ended, with a large infusion of resources as well as a reorientation of its enforcement priorities. The reason for not giving up on having a functional IRS is simple: if we want a country where rich people and powerful corporations pay their fair share, we will need a higher-functioning IRS, and we should be willing to pay for it. The chart below shows the substantial budget and employment cuts at the IRS since 1994. IRS operating costs (in 2017 dollars) have declined 29 percent between 1994 and 2017 as a share of total returns filed. And those budget cuts have real consequences for IRS staffing; full time equivalent employees as a share of total returns filed has fallen by 42 percent since 1994.

Russia and China Forced America’s Hand on the INF Treaty -- Just as China has transformed its economy in a short period of time, the same has happened with its military. The Chinese navy has become the world’s largest, and there is no realistic chance that the United States will catch up under its present shipbuilding program. Compounding that, the United States has a global naval role and cannot concentrate all its naval forces near China’s coasts. The balance of naval power in the eastern Pacific has moved toward China.  Considering that U.S. aircraft carriers can no longer operate within the first island chain, this underscores that the era of American naval dominance, particularly in East Asia, is ending.  China’s maritime power has been multiplied by shore-based, anti-ship missile systems. The PLA Rocket Force has deployed on the mainland a new generation of medium range, anti-ship missiles, the DF21-D (with a nine-hundred-mile range) and the DF26-D (a thousand-six-hundred-mile range). They are believed to be potentially capable of hitting naval targets, including Nimitz class carrier battle groups, up to two-thousand-five-hundred miles from China’s coast.  The DF26-D, called “the Guam Killer,” by Chinese media, has recently been deployed, according to the PLA Rocket Force, in China’s remote, northwest plateau desert region, where it is ferried from place to place for quick launch on mobile trucks. Such capabilities mark the opening of a new era of naval strategy in which hard to locate, land-based, anti-ship missiles could become dominant over the seas.  This could be particularly true against surface ships with an inherently limited ability to fend off swarming missile attacks. Armed with anti-ship missiles, China’s land mass is transforming into one big, unsinkable ship. Those conventional systems are also capable of striking all U.S. and allied bases in the region, including Japan and Korea, raising concerns over Chinese preemptive, conventional attacks against such installations in any crisis.  The 1988 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia, to which China is not a signatory, has prohibited for over three decades the United States from developing comparable land-based, medium-range missiles (three-hundred to three-thousand-four-hundred miles). The United States, and supposedly Russia, has been required by the treaty to rely only on ship and aircraft for the launch of such systems.

Pentagon Obsession: China, China, China - Pepe Escobar - Chinese nuclear bombers. Chinese hypersonic missiles. Chinese carrier killer missiles. Chinese cyberattacks. Chinese anti-satellite weaponry. Chinese militarization of the South China Sea. Chinese Huawei spying. So many Chinese “malign intentions”. And we’re not even talking about Russia. Few people around the world are aware that the Pentagon for the moment is led by a mere “acting” Defense Secretary, Patrick Shanahan. That did not prevent “acting” Secretary to shine in the red carpet when presenting the Trump administration’s 2020 Pentagon budget proposal – at $718 billion – to the Senate Armed Services Committee: the top US national security threat is, in his own (repeated) words, “China, China, China”. “Acting” Shanahan has been in charge since Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis – the original butcher of Fallujah in 2004 – resigned last December. His former employer happened to be Boeing. The Pentagon’s inspector general is still investigating whether Shanahan was in fact acting as a no holds barred Boeing commercial asset whenever he met the Pentagon top brass. That, of course, fits the classic Beltway “revolving door” pattern. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, a Washington-based group, actually filed a complaint around the fact that “acting” Shanahan blasted Lockheed Martin, Boeing’s competitor, in every top-level Pentagon meeting. Shanahan told the Senate, “China is aggressively modernizing its military, systematically stealing science and technology, and seeking military advantage through a strategy of military-civil fusion.” That includes Beijing’s development of a nuclear-capable long-range bomber that, according to Shanahan, will put it on the same level as the US and Russia as the only global powers controlling air-, sea- and land-based nuclear weapons.

Trump Suggests US, China, and Russia Reach Deal on Military Spending -  In surprising comments today during talks with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, President Trump said that the US, China, and Russia are all spending a lot of money on their militaries, and nuclear weapons. He suggested the three nations should reach a deal to spend less on arms, and more on long-term peace.  “I think it’s much better if we all got together and we didn’t make these weapons,” Trump suggested, which is a surprising position for him to have taken since his policy has been so heavily driven by both increasing US arms exports, and trying to convince the world to spend more on militaries to increase arms sales.  “China is spending a lot of money on military, so are we, so is Russia,” Trump said. The US spends by far the most of anyone in the world, with his 2020 military budget shooting for $750 billion.  China is estimated to spend $168 billion, while Russia is spending only $63 billion. Russia has plans to further cut spending going forward as it is.  Of course Trump is also right that all those nations would benefit from spending less on their military, particularly the United States, which is spending well beyond anyone else’s level keeping up a military intervening across the entire planet. China’s Liu He seemed to embrace the idea, saying it had merit. Trump suggested that such discussions could even be a second track of discussion after finalizing trade negotiations with China.  Getting the three nations to negotiate a more sustainable military budget could allow for a substantial cut of almost $1 trillion annually to be redirected toward something more productive than war, which realistically could be almost anything.

Reuters Confirms That Bolton Torpedoed The Hanoi Summit -An explosive report by Reuters confirms that John Bolton sabotaged the denuclearization talks between Kim Jong un and Donald Trump in Hanoi in February. According to a March 29 exclusive by journalists Lesley Wroughton and David Brunnstrom: “Donald Trump handed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a piece of paper” demanding that Kim surrender all of his “nuclear weapons and bomb fuel to the United States.” Trump also added a number of unrelated demands including “fully dismantling” all “chemical and biological warfare program(s)…. and ballistic missiles, launchers, and associated facilities.”  Trump surprised Kim by demanding complete, unilateral disarmament in exchange for a flimsy promise to lift economic sanctions sometime in the future. Naturally, Kim rejected the offer. “The document appeared to represent Bolton’s long-held and hardline “Libya model” of denuclearization that North Korea has rejected repeatedly….North Koreans rejected Bolton’s repeated demands for it to follow a denuclearization model under which components of Libya’s nuclear program were shipped to the United States in 2004. Seven years after a denuclearization agreement was reached between the United States and Libya’s leader, Muammar Gaddafi, the United States took part in a NATO-led military operation against his government and he was overthrown by rebels and killed” (“Exclusive: With a piece of paper, Trump called on Kim to hand over nuclear weapons”, Reuters) Bolton presented Kim with an offer he knew Kim would reject, the same offer that led to the destruction of Libya and the savage murder of Gaddafi. Bolton wanted the talks to fail so he could push for tougher sanctions that would pave the way for regime change. That was his goal. Kim’s nuclear weapons were never the target, they were merely the pretext for intensifying the economic strangulation, the relentless belligerence and the threats of war.

 Joe Biden’s 2020 Ukrainian nightmare- A closed probe is revived -- Two years after leaving office, Joe Biden couldn’t resist the temptation last year to brag to an audience of foreign policy specialists about the time as vice president that he strong-armed Ukraine into firing its top prosecutor.In his own words, with video cameras rolling, Biden described how he threatened Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in March 2016 that the Obama administration would pull $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees, sending the former Soviet republic toward insolvency, if it didn’t immediately fire Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin.“I said, ‘You’re not getting the billion.’ I’m going to be leaving here in, I think it was about six hours. I looked at them and said: ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money,’” Biden recalled telling Poroshenko.“Well, son of a bitch, he got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time,” Biden told the Council on Foreign Relations event, insisting that President Obama was in on the threat.Interviews with a half-dozen senior Ukrainian officials confirm Biden’s account, though they claim the pressure was applied over several months in late 2015 and early 2016, not just six hours of one dramatic day. Whatever the case, Poroshenko and Ukraine’s parliament obliged by ending Shokin’s tenure as prosecutor. Shokin was facing steep criticism in Ukraine, and among some U.S. officials, for not bringing enough corruption prosecutions when he was fired. But Ukrainian officials tell me there was one crucial piece of information that Biden must have known but didn’t mention to his audience: The prosecutor he got fired was leading a wide-ranging corruption probe into the natural gas firm Burisma Holdings that employed Biden’s younger son, Hunter, as a board member.

Diplomats, Washington skittish on Maduro’s downfall in Venezuela - The excitement in some U.S. and foreign diplomatic circles about the rise of Juan Guaidó and an expectation for the fall of Nicolas Maduro has been replaced by frustration over the Venezuelan leader’s staying power and concerns of Russian and Chinese meddling, according to multiple diplomatic sources. His staying power has led diplomats, foreign leaders and some Washington officials to reassess their timelines and consider that, barring military action, Maduro may be able to follow in the footsteps of other authoritarian leaders who have held onto power despite crushing sanctions. “Maduro has definitely shown he is more resilient than what people thought. That’s a fact,” said one diplomat from Latin America, who was unauthorized to speak publicly about the regional strategy. “If you think about what the administration said about ‘this is the end, this is the end,’ and yet Maduro is still there.” Foreign diplomats in Washington say they got caught up in expectations raised by some in the Trump administration that Guaidó would take over the government, and so were disappointed that Maduro’s regime has not yet fallen. Confidence that Maduro’s fall was guaranteed has now turned to more hope that he will - and concern he may not. SIGN UP “There was this euphoric reaction that we all felt that it was the end of Maduro,” said Fernando Carrera, Guatemala’s foreign minister in 2013 and 2014. “I felt it. I was part of that group. I thought Maduro is gone. But no Guaidó couldn’t make it happen. The Trump administration couldn’t make it happen. And the Chinese and Russians have raised the stakes too high.” 

Trump’s intervention in Venezuela has stalled — because Caracas knows he’s bluffing - WaPo - Back in January, the Trump administration launched an aggressive effort to convince the Venezuelan military that if it did not topple President Nicolás Maduro, it would be destroyed by sanctions and, perhaps, a U.S. invasion. The rhetoric succeeded in alarming American leftists, who loudly denounced the coming coup, and Russia, which dispatched two planeloads of military advisers and equipment to stiffen the regime’s defenses. To date, however, the campaign has had virtually no effect on its intended target. There have been no significant defections of Venezuelan generals, and no sign of any move against Maduro, who has remained entrenched in the presidential palace even as opposition demonstrations have sputtered. The drive to replace Maduro with National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó, which has been the Trump administration’s most robust foreign policy initiative after the attempt to disarm North Korea, has stalled. The problem here is not the Russians and their mostly for-show intervention. More important is the corruption of senior military leaders and the malign influence of the thousands of Cuban advisers embedded in the chain of command. The most salient factor, however, may be that, unlike Bernie Sanders and other self-styled resisters of U.S. imperialism, the Venezuelans know that Trump is bluffing. There is no credible U.S. military option in Venezuela, and very little chance that Trump would actually try one. The result is that the administration lacks a surefire means to bring about the regime change upon which it has staked considerable political capital and prestige. It has to hope that sanctions, diplomatic pressure and, above all, a horrendous and steadily worsening humanitarian crisis for the 30 million or so people remaining in Venezuela eventually force a change. Venezuelans who support the opposition are growing skeptical. “They think that if they tweet hard enough the government will get scared and run away,” said one. “It’s not going to happen.”

Russia Defends Military Presence in Venezuela, Says U.S. ‘Nervous’ Because Its Plans ‘Failed’ - Russia has defended its military presence in Venezuela amid warnings from the United States, whose plans for regime change Moscow claims have been thwarted. The presence of up to 100 Russian personnel spotted last week in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas has worsened already tense relations between the world's top two military powers, each of whom has backed separate sides in Venezuela's ongoing political and economic crisis. Russia has thrown its support to Nicolás Maduro, while the U.S. has recognized Juan Guaidó as the rightful president.  In a statement published Saturday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova addressed how "the arrival in Venezuela of Russian specialists for military-technical cooperation continues to cause a nervous reaction in Washington."The remarks came days after President Donald Trump warned that "all options are open" in ensuring that Russia withdraws from the socialist-led Latin American state and just one day after Elliot Abrams, Washington's envoy to Venezuela, asserted that "the Russians will pay a price" for reportedly helping the South American country prepare the S-300 surface-to-air missile defense system for combat.  "Of course, we understand what causes American nervousness," Zakharova said. "The planned rapid change of power in Caracas failed. With its self-confidence, Washington only 'set up' those in Latin America and Western Europe who rashly hurried to recognize an impostor whom the people did not elect as the head of Venezuela. Thus, they deprived themselves of space for diplomatic maneuvers."

Trump has a Russia problem in Venezuela - WaPo - A couple of months ago, leading officials in the Trump administration confidently spoke of the imminent collapse of the Venezuelan regime. Now, they’re girding themselves for a more uncertain and prolonged contest. President Nicolás Maduro, a pariah in the eyes of much of the Western hemisphere, looks no closer to exiting the presidential palace in Caracas. The country’s influential military is mostly still in his camp and his grip on power remains intact, no matter the catastrophic economic crisis hollowing out his country and fueling an unprecedented hemispheric refugee crisis. While more than 50 nations may recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president, Maduro is counting on the continued support of friendlier governments, including China, Turkey and, especially, Russia. So far, the Kremlin hasn’t disappointed him. It’s attempting to offset the burden of U.S. sanctions on Venezuela’s state oil company by helping the Maduro regime refine its heavy crude. Russia is also increasing wheat sales and continuing its deliveries of sorely needed medical supplies. This week, a senior Russian diplomat in Caracas told my colleagues, a delegation of Venezuelan officials is expected in Moscow to discuss Russian investments in Venezuela’s mining, agricultural and transport sectors. But it is what happened toward the end of March that sent heads spinning in Washington. Two planeloads of roughly 100 Russian military personnel landed in Venezuela. The stated reason for their arrival was to help service Venezuela’s Russian-purchased S-300 air defense systems, which may have been damaged amid the country’s increasingly frequent blackouts. The news followed earlier reports of Russian mercenaries or private military contractors already operating as security for the embattled regime. John Bolton, the White House national security adviser, said on Friday that the “introduction of Russian military personnel and equipment into Venezuela” was a “provocative” act and a “direct threat to international peace and security in the region.”

Don’t Mention the ‘Red Line’ -- The framing of this NYT article on Trump and Venezuela is the sort of coverage that reinforces the bias towards action in our foreign policy debates:During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump often complained about how President Barack Obama drew red lines that he never enforced, and how a diminished America let Russia walk into Syria unchallenged, something he said would not happen if the Russian leader respected the United States president. Now, in Venezuela, President Trump is facing his own red-line moment — again, with Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. It’s true that Trump has periodically whined about Obama’s “failure” to back up the so-called “red line” he drew in Syria, but like many other criticisms that he has made of Obama it is mostly an opportunistic dig against his predecessor that doesn’t have to mean anything more than that. Some of his critics will probably be tempted to use Trump’s previous statements about the “red line” against him now to make him look bad, but that would be a mistake. U.S. “credibility” is not in danger if Trump doesn’t back up his reckless Venezuela rhetoric. U.S. interests will definitely be harmed if he chooses to back up that rhetoric with aggressive action. Hawks are always eager to use bogus “credibility” arguments to create excuses for military intervention where no U.S. interests are at stake, and we are already seeing attempts to goad Trump into escalation. Sanger’s article isn’t helping:That seemed to set up a test: Would Venezuela be the place where Mr. Trump, who has often seemed willing to tolerate Mr. Putin’s most audacious provocations, finally draws his own red line? And, if so, does he have a plan to enforce it? If Trump drew a “red line” in Venezuela and enforced it, it would be one of the stupidest things he has done as president. It would be unnecessary and potentially costly, but the downsides of backing up the threat go unmentioned. Sanger’s framing of this “test” makes it seem as if Trump has to confront Russia in Venezuela or the president will have “tolerated” another one of their “provocations.” Everything is set up here to make escalation seem more appealing than it really is.

 Putin To Trump- Mind Your Own Business On Venezuela; Russian Troops Will Stay As Long As Needed -- Days after Trump's Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded that Russia "cease its unconstructive behavior" by landing a transport plane full of Russian troops in Caracas last Saturday, the Kremlin has responded - essentially telling Washington to pound sand - and that their troops will remain in Venezuela "for as long as needed" according to the Independent. In the latest indication the crisis in Venezuela is taking on elements of a proxy battle between the former Cold War rivals, a spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry said the troops had been dispatched to fulfil “military contracts”.“They are involved in the implementation of agreements in the sphere of military and technical cooperation,” said Maria Zakharova, according to the AFP, adding that the troops would stay there “for as long as needed”.“Russia is not changing the balance of power in the region, Russia is not threatening anyone,” she said. -IndependentLast week we also noted that new satellite images reveal a major deployment of S-300 air defense missile systems to a key air base south of Caracas shortly after Russia arrived. On Wednesday while meeting with the wife of opposition leader Juan Guaidó, President Trump called on Russia to pull its troops out of Venezuela, warning that "all options" were on the table to make that happen.  When asked by a reporter about the Russian troops, Trump said "Russia has to get out. What’s your next question." When asked if that sentiment had been conveyed to the Kremlin, Trump replied: "They know. They know very well." The United States, UK and other Western nations claim that last year's elections in Venezuela were unfair, while President Maduro and his supporters have pointed to the testimony of independent election observers who say it was legitimate. Guaidó declared himself president in January, finding the immediate support of 50 nations led by the United States.  Maduro, meanwhile, has refused to accept Western aid - suspecting it will be used as a guise to smuggle weapons to the opposition.

CNN, WaPo Demand That Trump Further Escalate Tensions With Russia - Caitlin Johnstone -  CNN has aired a segment in which pundit Fareed Zakaria tells the network’s audience that the US president has “been unwilling to confront Putin in any way on any issue” and asks “will Venezuela be the moment when Trump finally ends his appeasement?”  The segment is a near-verbatim reading of Zakaria’s Washington Post columnfrom a couple of days prior, so that’s two massive prongs through which this false and pernicious narrative is being driven into mainstream consciousness claiming that the Trump administration has been far too dovish toward Moscow, rather than dangerously hawkish as is actually the case.  Zakaria begins his segment by describing the Trump administration’s (completely illegitimate) efforts to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, then describing Russian efforts to counter this agenda as an attempt to “taunt the United States.” He then spends the rest of the segment asking if Trump will be brave and patriotic enough to further escalate tensions against a nuclear superpower. Zakaria concludes by implying that if Trump fails to increase world-threatening nuclear tensions to effect yet another US regime change intervention in yet another oil-rich country, it will be because he is a Kremlin agent.   Yes Fareed, there is a real “danger” that if the Trump administration you liberal pundits claim to oppose doesn’t act like the reckless madman you claim he is and tempt hot war with a nuclear superpower in order to effect regime change in a sovereign nation, that regime change agenda will fail. Very, very dangerous to not flirt with nuclear war over US resource control agendas.   Zakaria goes on to cite the Obama administration’s ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul, who claimed in a Washington Post article that, contrary to the Trump administration’s claims of being hawkish toward Russia, “Even on small issues of little relevance to American national interests, Trump sides with Putin.”   War obsessed CNN pushing Trump to destroy Venezuela to prove he’s not Putin’s bitch.

China Sends Over 120 Troops To Venezuela In Defiance Of US Warnings -  It doesn't appear last Friday's strong warning from national security adviser John Bolton for countries "external to the Western Hemisphere" to keep their militaries out of Venezuela had the intended effect. Bolton's and other White House statements saying "Russia has to get out" came following Russian Air Force planes landing in Caracas with about 100 troops, which the Kremlin said were there as "specialists" servicing existing defense equipment contracts. And now according to Al-Masdar News, citing defense analyst photographs and local reports, "more than 120 soldiers from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army arrived at Venezuela’s Margarita Island to deliver humanitarian and military supplies to the government forces." The military flight appears to have touched down on Sunday, two days after a prior Chinese cargo plane delivered 65 tons of medicine and other aid to Venezuela. The Chinese troops are also there ostensibly to assist with the humanitarian mission, but it appears Beijing is also now alongside the Russians pushing back against Washington ultimatums to stay out of Venezuela, after repeatedly condemning any external coup plotting against President Nicolas Maduro. "We strongly caution actors external to the Western Hemisphere against deploying military assets to Venezuela, or elsewhere in the Hemisphere, with the intent of establishing or expanding military operations," Bolton had warned in his statement. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had also last week accused external actors of assisting Maduro in "plundering" the already cash-strapped and impoverished Latin American country, stating in a tweet: “Maduro calls for hands off Venezuela while he invites security forces from Cuba and Russia, so he and his cronies can keep plundering Venezuela. It is time for Venezuelan institutions to stand for their sovereignty..." The Maduro government has repeatedly blocked attempts of US aid from entering the country; however, late last week the Red Cross announced it now has unhindered access to bring aid into the increasingly desperate country amidst medieval conditions, of failing power and water infrastructure. Red Cross officials plan to begin delivering aid to "650,000 people within 20 days" something which both sides, Maduro and Guaido supporters are claiming as a victory.

Thousands Of Venezuelans Break Through Border Barricades - Bolton Cheers Mayhem - After US coup attempts targeting the Nicolas Maduro government failed to produce the desired result over the past two months, it appears things are about to heat up again, as the White House grasps at any incident that could again take Venezuela into international spotlight, ramping up external pressures amid continued infrastructural collapse and mass power outages. National security adviser John Bolton on Tuesday evening tweeted a video showing ongoing mayhem at a key border crossing with Colombia, where desperate Venezuelans have been attempting to break through Maduro forces imposed barriers: "The Venezuelan people have broken through Maduro’s barricades and have begun moving humanitarian aid from Colombia across the border. Another important victory for Interim President Juan Guaido," Bolton stated. The Venezuelan people have broken through Maduro’s barricades and have begun moving humanitarian aid from Colombia across the border. Another important victory for Interim President Juan Guaido. — John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) April 2, 2019Bolton called attention to the footage described as showing "the moment Venezuelans broke down the barriers on the Simon Bolivar bridge to cross back into Venezuela with supplies." It appears the White House plans to put continued focus on border clashes following the late February failed attempt of US-backed "interim president" Juan Guaido personally leading humanitarian aid caravans from Colombia into Venezuela, in order to undermine and ultimately overthrow Maduro.

White House Aide: US to Pump Money Into Venezuela After Regime Change  — In a special briefing for the Christian Science Monitor, President Trump’s top economic adviser Larry Kudlow revealed that the administration is already working with banks internationally in plans to greatly increase US investment in Venezuela if there is a regime change.President Trump has demanded immediate regime change, with Venezuela’s president to be replaced by their opposition leader, who is seen as more pro-US. Kudlow says there is a “Day Two” plan to see huge influxes of cash if and when that happens.This is in keeping with the Trump Administration’s belief that it can effectively shut down the economy of a disobedient nation, and then miraculously turn things around at a moment’s notice once they comply.Whether the US can actually revive Venezuela’s long-suffering economy with a single round of investment, even government-approved investment, is unclear. Since this is the carrot the US is dangling in diplomatic operations with nations like North Korea, a failure could hurt the US negotiating position.

 Whistleblower: Trump Admin. Overruled Dozens of Security Clearance Denials -  A White House whistleblower says the Trump administration cast aside "the best interest of national security" when it overturned dozens of security clearance application denials made by career officials. The allegation was made by current White House employee Tricia Newbold—a security specialist whose 18 years in government have been spent under Democratic and Republican administrations alike—and was publicized in a letter (pdf) sent Monday from House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone. release of the information comes about a month after The New York Times reported that Trump ordered officials to grant [Trump son-in-law Jared] Kushner a clearance over the objections of national security officials and after Newbold spoke out to NBC News and other news outlets about her concerns," as The Associated Press reported.The new letter comes as part of the oversight committee's ongoing probe of the administration's security clearance processes, and while the investigation has been met with obstruction from the White House, Cummings wrote, his committee has "not been idle." Action has included an on-the-record interview with Newbold, who told the committee, "I would not be doing a service to myself, my country, or my children if I sat back knowing that the issues that we have could impact national security." From Cummings' letter:She has informed the committee that during the Trump administration, she and other career officials adjudicated denials of dozens of applications for security clearances that were later overturned. As a result, she warned that security clearance applications for White House officials "were not always adjudicated in the best interest of national security."She also reported to the committee that she has been targeted for retaliation after declining to grant security clearances based on longstanding national security protocols. She stated: "I'm terrified of going back. I know that this will not be perceived in favor of my intentions, which is to bring back the integrity of the office."Yet, despite these risks, she has agreed to identify herself publicly at this time because she strongly believes that Congress must intervene immediately to safeguard our national security.   Cummings also fired off a memo to committee members on Monday. "Committee staff have spoken with other whistleblowers who corroborated Ms. Newbold's account, but they were too afraid about the risk to their careers to come forward publicly," it said. The letter to the White House counsel says that Newbold identified 25 individuals whose security clearance denials were overruled. While no names are given, Cummings's letter to staff says that the list included "two current senior White House officials."

The White House whistleblower bombshell, and what it could mean - It wasn’t that long ago that Donald Trump ran for president making the case that Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state represented a grave national security threat and made her unfit for office.  Evidence is now mounting that he and his White House have taken plenty of their own shortcuts, with the kind of dire implications Trump warned about. And now a key figure is stepping forward to blow the whistle on it. The Post’s Rachael Bade reports on a new White House whistleblower who alleges that the Trump administration has awarded 25 security clearances to people who had been denied those clearances by national security officials. Tricia Newbold has served 18 years in the security clearance process, in both Democratic and Republican administrations. She says the denials had been issued for reasons including concerns about potential blackmail, foreign influence, conflicts of interest, questionable or criminal conduct, financial issues and drug abuse. That’s a range of denials that covers pretty much all the major reasons one might not get cleared. She alleges that the administration has looked past all of them. She even says she was told not to raise concerns and retaliated against when she did, by being demoted.  By itself, the accusation would be serious. But it also affirms a whole host of reporting, and there seem to be plenty of people raising the same red flag. The Washington Post and others reported recently that Trump demanded that then-White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly get a long-delayed clearance for Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Kelly, a retired general, was reportedly so uncomfortable with the request that he memorialized it in a memo. And the committee says other anonymous whistleblowers have come forward. In other words, there seem to be lots of people who could vouch for Newbold. The hypocrisy side of it is one thing. But even setting that aside, the evidence of a fast-and-loose and even negligent approach to information security is building. One longtime national security aide has apparently thought it serious enough to go through the arduous process of being a public whistleblower, and she will apparently have some backup — both from other people and from documentation. In many ways, the argument that Trump could be either a witting or unwitting asset of the Russians is missing the much less speculative potential national security threat. And we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a named whistleblower stepping forward in this manner.

 Kushner's security clearance was denied due to concerns of foreign influence: report - President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner was reportedly denied security clearance last year over concerns of foreign influence and private business interests, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.The Post, citing people familiar with the situation, identified Kushner as the “Senior White House Official 1” identified in House Oversight Committee documents released this week.According to the documents, the individual was denied security clearance initially by career officials before being overruled by Carl Kline, who oversees the White House’s personnel security office.House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) on Monday released a memo detailing allegations from whistleblower Tricia Newbold, a whistleblower who has worked as a career official in the Executive Office of the President for 18 years.Newbold told the committee lat month that officials in the Trump administration overruled her and other’s recommendations not to grant security clearances to 25 individuals.She also reportedly told the committee that a background investigation into Kushner brought concerns regarding foreign influence, personal conduct and other business interests, according to the Post. The New York Times reported in February that Trump ordered Kushner be given top-secret security clearances despite concerns raised by the intelligence community. Cummings's memo did not mention Kushner or any other specific individuals, but Reuters reported Monday that Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, President Trump's daughter, are among the individuals who received clearance despite warnings from experts.

AOC: Security Clearances ‘What’s Next…Putting Nuclear Codes’ in Instagram -  New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez delivered a fiery rant Tuesday before the House Oversight Committee Hearing on security clearances. The House freshman decided to target Senior Advisor to President Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, which some Democrats have accused of being a national security concern.  “Every day that we go on without getting to the bottom of this matter is a day that we are putting hundreds if not potentially thousands of Americans at risk. I mean, really, what is next, putting nuclear codes in Instagram DMs?!? This is ridiculous.” said Ocasio Cortez. On Monday night, Kushner told Fox News’ Laura Ingraham “I’ve been accused of all different types of things, all have been false”.Before Tuesday’s hearing, Cummings received a letter from an administration whistleblower alleging national security concerns in the Trump White House. The whistleblower alleged that 25 officials had received security clearances ‘improperly’, which she shared during a meeting with committee Democrats on Saturday.Tricia Newbold, who was the adjudications manager in the White House Personnel Security Office told Cummings and a bipartisan staff that her office had issued 25 denials of security clearances that have been overturned by the White House. However, the Republican staff on the committee responded to both Cummings and Newbold. The members complained that Cummings “cherrypicked” partisan information and didn’t not give ample opportunity for Republican members to respond to Newbold.

 President Rouhani: Trump’s Demands for Meeting Rejected 8 Times - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that he has 8 times rejected his US counterpart Donald Trump's demand for talks during the 2017 trip to New York to participate in the UN General Assembly conference, stressing the need for Washington to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal. "Today, we do not have any way but resistance. During the 2017 visit to New York, the US administration demanded 8 times for meeting with the US president and in the year 2018, 5 world leaders mediated for this meeting. I told them that conditions and time are not appropriate. The US should first return to the nuclear deal and admit their mistake," President Rouhani said, addressing the officials of Gilan province's administrative council on Thursday. "They are after negotiations. We do not escape from negotiations either, and are associated with negotiation. Since I am specialized in negotiations, I powerfully say that we do not fear the negotiating table and our logic is so much strong and framed that we can stand against the US (officials) or any other individuals," he added. President Rouhani underscored that Iran neither fears the battle ground nor the negotiations, saying that the Iranian officials love their country's national interests and will not compromise on it.

US to Declare Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as Terrorist Group — The United States will designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organisation, an unprecedented move that will ramp up pressure on the elite force, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.The newspaper, citing unidentified officials, said President Donald Trump’s administration will announce the decision as soon as Monday and that concerned defence officials were bracing for the impact.The officials told the WSJ that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House National Security Adviser John Bolton, who have repeatedly railed against Iran, are strong proponents of the designation.Still, senior military officials, including Marine General Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have expressed reservations about it on the grounds that it would have little impact on Iran’s economy while increasing security risks for US troops abroad, the sources said.A former State Department official cautioned against the move.“The designation of IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization is precedent setting. Never before has the FTO sanctions tool been directed at a state-body. The future ramifications of this decision will be profound,” Jason Blazakis, the former Counterterrorism Finance and Designations Office director, told the WSJ.The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps was formed after Iran’s 1979 revolution with a mission to defend the government, in contrast to more traditional military units that protect borders.The Revolutionary Guards have amassed power within Iran, including holding significant economic interests.The Guards’ prized unit is the Quds Force, named for the Arabic word for Jerusalem, which supports forces allied with Iran around the region, including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. The Trump administration has already imposed sweeping sanctions on Iran after withdrawing last year from an international agreement under which Tehran drastically scaled back its nuclear programme.

U.S. halts F-35 equipment to Turkey, protests its plans to buy from Russia   (Reuters) - The United States has halted delivery of equipment related to the stealthy F-35 fighter aircraft to Turkey, marking the first concrete U.S. step to block delivery of the jet to the NATO ally in light of Ankara’s planned purchase of a Russian missile defense system. U.S. officials told their Turkish counterparts they will not receive further shipments of F-35 related equipment needed to prepare for the arrival of the stealthy jet, two sources familiar with the situation told Reuters on Monday. The Pentagon confirmed the Reuters report that the equipment delivery had been stopped. “Pending an unequivocal Turkish decision to forgo delivery of the S-400, deliveries and activities associated with the stand-up of Turkey’s F-35 operational capability have been suspended,” Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Mike Andrews, a Defense Department spokesman, said in a statement. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has refused to back down from Ankara’s planned purchase of a Russian S-400 missile defense system that the United States has said would compromise the security of F-35 aircraft. The disagreement over the F-35 is the latest of a series of diplomatic disputes between the United States and Turkey including Turkish demands that the United States extradite Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, differences over Middle East policy and the war in Syria, and sanctions on Iran. Related Coverage •Pentagon halts deliveries, activities linked to Turkey's F-35 capability The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the next shipment of training equipment, and all subsequent shipments of F-35 related material, had been canceled. The aircraft is built by Lockheed Martin Corp. A Pentagon official had told Reuters in March that the United States had a number of items it could withhold in order to send Turkey a signal that the United States was serious about Ankara dropping its ambition to own the S-400. Turkish officials in Ankara were not immediately available for comment. Turkey has said it will take delivery of the S-400s in July.

Erdogan Remains Unmoved As US Senators Seek To Kill F-35 Transfer To Turkey - Turkey has slammed the door on Washington's demands that it cancel its S-400 contract with Moscow in the wake of continued US threats that it will deny transfer of F-35s to Turkey over the Erdogan government's plans to move forward with taking delivery of the advanced Russian anti-air defense system.  This after on Thursday four US senators introduced a bipartisan bill to prohibit the transfer of the F-35 until the US can certify that Ankara will reject the S-400 deal. But Turkish officials reiterated their prior stance that it's a "done deal" and that Turkey won't back down.  "We have signed a deal with Russia, and this deal is valid. Now we are discussing the delivery process," Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Friday during a press conference while standing beside his Russian counterpart. He added that "We have an agreement with Russia and we are bound by it."Confirming Turkey is set to take delivery from the Russians in July of this year, Cavusoglu added that every aspect of Turkish defense purchases were legitimate and in accord with international law.He noted Ankara has met its obligations to Lockheed Martin, producer of the advanced F-35 stealth fighter. "Turkey is also a partner in the F-35 project. Some parts are being made in here in Turkey. Turkey has fulfilled its responsibilities in this regard," the minister said.The first Russian S-400 delivery is expected in July, and the Turkish and Russian FMs confirmed delivery process details are now being hashed out.

Mike Pence Warns Turkey They Will Have to Choose Between S-400s and NATO - Turkey must choose whether it wants to remain a critical partner of NATO, or continue its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system, US Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday, Anadolu reports. Pence said Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 system could potentially pose a risk to NATO. “Turkey must choose, does it want to remain a critical partner in the most successful military alliance in the history of the world, or does it want to risk the security of that partnership,” Pence said at “NATO Engages: The Alliance at 70”, an event hosted by the Atlantic Council in Washington. “If Turkey completes its purchase of the S-400, Turkey risks expulsion from the joint F-35 program, which will harm not just Turkey’s defense capacity but it may cripple many of the Turkish component manufacturers that supply that program,” Pence added. Pence reiterated the US is suspending shipments of F-35 equipment and material to Ankara. Turkey joined the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program in 2002 and has invested more than $1.25 billion. It also manufactures various aircraft parts for all F-35 variants and customers. Turkish firms supply the F-35 program with key components, including airframe structures and assemblies and the center fuselages. Two F-35s already delivered to Turkey are currently at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, where Turkish pilots are being trained. These jets were scheduled to be transferred to Turkey in November.

Turkey Issues Counter-Ultimatum To Pence- Either Stand With Us Or With The Terrorists - In the latest in the continuing fallout between the US and Turkey over Ankara's plans to install Russia's S-400 missile defense systems — for which the United States this week finally halted delivery of not only the jets but also equipment related to the stealth F-35 fighter aircraft, and canceled all future shipments of F-35 related material — Turkey has issued its own counter-ultimatum: you are either with us or with the terrorists. In response to yesterday's threat by Vice President Mike Pence putting Turkey on notice to either scrap the S-400 deal with Russia or say goodbye to the Lockheed F-35, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay tweeted, “The United States must choose. Does it want to remain Turkey’s ally or risk our friendship by joining forces with terrorists to undermine its NATO ally’s defense against its enemies?” Ironically it's precisely the "undermining of NATO defense" that has Washington concerned related to the S-400, given the potential for compromising the F-35 advanced radar evading and electronics capabilities as Russia could get access to the extremely advanced Joint Strike Fighter stealth aircraft, enabling Moscow to detect and exploit its vulnerabilities. Pence said during a speech Wednesday at the ""NATO Engages" summit in Washington, DC: "We've also made it clear that we'll not stand idly by while NATO allies purchase weapons from our adversaries, weapons that threaten the very cohesion of this alliance." "Turkey's purchase of a $2.5 billion S-400 anti-aircraft missile system from Russia poses great danger to NATO and to the strength of this alliance," he added, warning further that Turkey could face serious consequences. While Turkey's VP didn't specify which "terrorists" the US would be taking sides with as part of his response, there's little doubt this was a reference to Syrian Kurdish militias which has also been the source of tensions given ongoing US support to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) just across Turkey's border with Syria. Over the past year Washington has repeatedly warned against Turkish forces foraying deeper into Syria to fight Syrian Kurdish militants.

Egypt killed tourists with US weapons. An American survivor wants justice -- A US woman who survived an attack by the Egyptian military on a group of tourists is now fighting to prevent the sale of the US-made weaponry that left her permanently scarred. April Corley from San Diego and her Mexican boyfriend Rafael Bejarano were traveling with a tour group in Egypt’s White Desert in September 2015 when they were attacked by Egyptian military, who later claimed they mistook the group for jihadist militants.“I was doing cartwheels in the sand, Rafael was taking pictures of me. Then all of a sudden it felt like I was thrown to the ground, and Rafael wasn’t near me any more. There was just … black, black all over the sand,” she said. Corley described how the tourists scrambled for shelter as an Apache attack helicopter circled overhead, firing at them with rockets and 30mm machine guns for several hours – even while their guides desperately waved a white flag   “I played dead,” she said, describing how the helicopters returned to fire on the group for several hours, even though a member of the Egyptian tourist police was traveling with the tour vehicles which were marked with logos from the their travel company.“I thought if I get hit one more time, I’ll need to be taken out as I won’t survive these injuries,” said Corley. “They just kept coming back around, again and again, and shooting. They wanted to wipe everything out.” When the attack finally ended, Bejarano, his mother and six other Mexican tourists were lying dead, along with four of their Egyptian guides.Corley is now seeking to draw attention to the deadly consequences of American weaponry used on foreign soil.The United States supplies Egypt with an average of $1.3bn in annual military aid, and Corley and her lawyers are pressuring Donald Trump to raise her case when the country’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, visits Washington next week.Corley has called on the US to deny Egypt the $1bn sale of a further 10 Apache AH-64E helicopters, arguing that the attack is a stark example of misuse of weapons made by the US manufacturer Boeing. “It’s not what their designs were intended for,” she said. The 40-year-old former pilates instructor and professional rollerblader sustained injuries that doctors say she will never fully recover from. Ammunition broke her shoulder, collarbone, arm and ribs, tore off parts of her skin and ripped muscle from her bones; she still suffers from debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder. “I was not trained for war,” she said.

How the mysteries of Khashoggi’s murder have rocked the U.S.-Saudi partnership - It has been nearly six months since Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, but the aftershocks continue. Saudi Arabia still hasn’t explained officially how and why the Post Global Opinions columnist was killed.  The basic questions remain much the same as they did in October, when Khashoggi died: How was the Istanbul strike team that carried out the operation trained and controlled? What exact roles did Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his close aides play in the killing? What new controls can be implemented, in Riyadh and Washington, to make sure that such a grisly murder of a journalist never happens again? And most important, will anyone be held accountable? Saudi Arabia’s initial lies about the killing collapsed soon after Khashoggi disappeared on Oct. 2. But MBS, as the crown prince is known, still hasn’t taken responsibility for the killers’ actions, which were done on his behalf and perhaps his orders. Until he provides real answers, the U.S.-Saudi military and intelligence partnership, important for both countries’ security, is likely to remain in limbo. This case is personal for us at The Post. Khashoggi was our colleague, and my friend for 15 years. To understand how his gruesome murder happened and whether it’s possible to rebuild the U.S.-Saudi relationship, I’ve interviewed more than a dozen knowledgeable American and Saudi sources, who revealed some previously secret details because they hope to establish new rules and accountability that might preserve the relationship. The sources requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information. The bottom line is that unless the crown prince takes ownership of this issue and accepts blame for murderous deeds done in his name, his relationship with the United States will remain broken. Saudi officials claim that MBS has made changes, firing Saud al-Qahtani, his former covert-operations coordinator. But the Saudi machine of repression remains intact, run by many of the same people who worked for Qahtani. U.S. officials worry that the young crown prince has become a Saudi version of Saddam Hussein, an authoritarian “modernizer.”

Several of Jamal Khashoggi’s Killers Were Trained in United States — In a further blow to US-Saudi ties, reports emerged this weekend on the October murder of Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi kill team. The kill team’s leader, Maher Mutreb, and other members, had apparently been trained by the US government in the past. It’s a familiar story, heard often enough when the US aligns itself with a country with a flimsy human rights record. The trainees were part of ongoing routine training operations meant to increase the ties of rank and file Saudi figures with the US security state. During his training Mutreb, a colonel in the Saudi spy agency, apparently went so far as to try to befriend Khashoggi, likely gathering more intelligence on him, but likely also making his murder all the more uncomfortable. While the Trump Administration has time and again shrugged off Khashoggi’s murder as not worth risks to US-Saudi ties, and business relationships, Congress doesn’t feel that way at all. This new revelation is almost certain to add to Congressional calls to further stem ties with the Saudi government, specifically so US training and equipment aren’t involved in routine atrocities such as this.

Senators Demand Details On US Aid To Possible Saudi Covert Nuclear Weapons Program - The Trump administration has been sharing sensitive nuclear technology and energy information with the Saudis an issue that's gained increased scrutiny since the Oct. 2 murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi by a Saudi hit team at the consulate in Istanbul. American lawmakers now want to get to bottom of it, and a group of senators have notified Energy Secretary Rick Perry to demand answers over how and why he allowed multiple US firms to provide Riyadh with potential nuclear secrets and information sharing typically only available to Washington's closest western allies. The Senators are also seeking answers regarding the kingdom's possible development of atomic weapons and the degree to which they've received any level of assistance from the United States. Starting a week ago various media reports revealed that Perry had authorized so-called Part 810 approvals, which gave US companies authorization to share otherwise closely guarded nuclear information with Riyadh. Alarmingly, according to Reuters, the "approvals were kept from the public and from Congress." The approval had been reportedly given first in November 2017, which facilitated the transfer of “unclassified civil nuclear technology”.It appears the Energy Department's defense will hinge on the necessity of leaving such information sharing programs private in order not to reveal “proprietary business information.” The department has further emphasized “no enrichment or reprocessing technology” was shared with Saudi Arabia. Perry has also recently testified before Congress that countries like Saudi Arabia will go elsewhere, relying on unsavory actors like Russia and China, for help with nuclear energy if the US shuts the door on them.

If You Cannot Trust Saudis With Bone Saw, Says US Lawmaker, 'You Should Not Trust Them With Nuclear Weapons' - The revelation that the Trump administration secretly authorized several U.S. companies to sell nuclear technology and assistance to Saudi Arabia is generating alarm over ongoing negotiations about a broader deal that critics worry could eventually lead to a nuclear-armed Saudi Arabia. The Daily Beast and Reuters reported Wednesday that Energy Secretary Rick Perry had approved at least six Part 810 authorizations, which "allow companies to do preliminary work on nuclear power ahead of any deal but not ship equipment that would go into a plant."Those reports provoked concerns from lawmakers that the development of nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia, with crucial assistance from the American government and companies, could potentially enable the key U.S. ally—and serial human rights abuser—to also pursue a nuclear weapon. "This is incredibly dangerous," Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) tweeted Thursday with a link to the Daily Beast article. "We must do everything we can to make sure the Saudi regime cannot develop nuclear weapons."  We must do everything we can to make sure the Saudi regime cannot develop nuclear weapons. Proud to join a bill by @BradSherman to do just that.— Rep. Ilhan Omar (@Ilhan) March 28, 2019Worries over a nuclear-armed Saudi Arabia have been mounting since Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) said on CBS's "60 Minutes" last year that "Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible."While Iranian leaders also insist they do not want a nuclear weapon, President Donald Trump has continued to ratchet up regional tensions since last year, when he ditched the international deal designed to prevent Iran from acquiring one, despite assurances from U.N. watchdogs that nation was complying with the agreement.

 A tax on a tax: U.S. customs demands bigger bonds as trade tariffs rise (Reuters) - Stephen Wang is counting the costs of President Donald Trump’s trade war. He had to put down 12 times more cash as a guarantee to U.S. customs that he would pay the bill for tariffs on the Chinese-made pumps, valves and motors he imports. The cost of the guarantee - a U.S. customs bond - has shot up, an additional hit to importers already facing steep customs bills adding up to tens of billions of dollars for tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on incoming Chinese goods, as well as steel and aluminum imports. Since coming into effect last year, the tariffs have pushed up manufacturing costs, upended decades-old global supply chains and inflated prices for consumers, resulting in lower sales and forcing companies to defer investments. This, in turn, has dimmed global growth outlook, roiling financial markets. Other ripple effects are less obvious, among them the rising expense of U.S. customs bonds. But for small companies that can ill afford the added cost, the impact can be crippling. Given the extra duties associated with Trump’s tariffs, importers have been forced to post bonds that are worth much more to guarantee they can cover the added cost of bringing Chinese imports, and foreign steel and aluminum, into the United States. In some cases, customs bond requirements have increased 500-fold, according to Reuters interviews with a dozen importers, underwriters and customs brokers. After duties on its merchandise surged from zero to $6 million a year, U.S. Customs required Hengli to post a $600,000 bond. Its previous bond was $50,000. Other importers reported similarly sharp increases. Lisa Gelsomino, chief executive officer at underwriting firm Avalon Risk Management, said one client recently had to replace a $50,000 bond with one worth $26 million. The rise in tariffs means that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has issued thousands of importers with notices that their bonds are inadequate. The CBP has issued about 3,500 insufficiency notices since January, it said. That compares to an average of 2,070 notices a year for the period between 2006 and 2017, according to data compiled by Roanoke Insurance Group. 

China purchases could undercut Trump’s larger trade goal - At the heart of President Trump’s negotiations with China is a troubling contradiction: The United States wants to use the trade talks to encourage the country to adopt a more market-oriented economy. But a key element of a prospective deal may end up reinforcing the economic power of the Chinese state. Negotiators are still working out deal terms, but any agreement seems certain to involve China’s promise to purchase hundreds of billions of dollars of American goods. For Mr. Trump, this is an essential element that will help reduce the United States’ record trade deficit with China and bolster farmers and other constituencies hurt by his trade war. But those purchases will be ordered by the Chinese state, and most will be carried out by state-controlled Chinese businesses, further cementing Beijing’s role in managing its economy and potentially making United States industries even more beholden to the Chinese. After months of talks, the two sides are inching closer to an agreement. Robert Lighthizer, Mr. Trump’s top trade negotiator, and Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, discussed the remaining sticking points with their Chinese counterparts on Thursday evening and Friday in Beijing. Mr. Mnuchin wrote on Twitter on Friday that the talks had been “constructive.” Both sides are trying to iron out an agreement by this week, to coincide with a visit to Washington by Liu He, the Chinese special envoy charged with negotiating the deal, who will begin meeting with his American counterparts on Wednesday. The United States and China had been looking to reach a tentative agreement by the end of Mr. Liu’s visit, with a signing ceremony between Mr. Trump and President Xi Jinping of China potentially later this month. But the two sides are still wrestling with two major sticking points: how an agreement will be monitored and enforced and how many of Mr. Trump’s tariffs come off and when, said Myron Brilliant, executive vice president and head of international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Brilliant said there was no question the United States and China were “in the endgame with regard to a deal.” However, he said these factors were “complicating the fact that the agreement is 90 percent done at this point.”

Taiwan Just Became A Huge Variable In The China Trade War  Washington knows how to do one thing well: pick a fight.  Potential sales of F-16 fighter jets and M-1 Abrams tanks to Taiwan is a sure fire way to tick off Xi Jinping, the Chinese president with whom Donald Trump is trying to sign a “great trade deal” as early as this month. Following another Steve Mnuchin/Robert Lighthizer lackluster showing in Beijing last week, all bets are off that China and the U.S. sign anything should the two presidents meet later this month as discussed. Taiwan is a new sticking point. The U.S. hasn’t sold fighter jets to Taiwan since 1992 in an effort to appease China, which sees Taiwan as a breakaway province designed to sow political discord between Beijing and the West. Last week, the Trump administration responded to the Taiwanese president’s request for some of the biggest weapons made in the U.S., saying he was fine with the order. The formal request still needs congressional approval. Beijing will lobby hard against it before Trump and Xi meet. No meeting date has been set.  Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s president, just placed herself in the center of China-U.S. trade talks, dividing loyalties between Beijing and Washington, Washington and Taipei. credit: Ashley Pon/Bloomberg  Taiwan’s request is an unwelcome risk for ongoing U.S. China talks, says Chris Rogers, a senior analyst for Panjiva, the trade research division of S&P Global Market Intelligence. Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen seems willing to ruffle feathers and challenge Trump, asking for the F-16 and the M-1 tank in order to “show the world the U.S. is committed to Taiwan’s defense,” Reuters reports.“Should the U.S. approve the orders it would ... jeopardize relations between the U.S. and China just as trade talks are due to reach a conclusion,” Rogers says.

US and China are reportedly drawing closer to a final trade agreement - American and Chinese officials negotiating a trade deal have resolved most of the outstanding issues but are still haggling over how to implement and enforce such an agreement, the Financial Times reported late Tuesday. Both countries have yet to agree on a number of important issues. Beijing wants Washington to remove existing U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods, while the United States wants China to agree to terms of an enforcement mechanism ensuring it abides by the deal, the FT said. Myron Brilliant, executive vice president for international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce told reporters that 90 percent of the deal is done, but the final 10 percent remains the trickiest part of the negotiations and would require trade-offs on both sides, according to the FT. The U.S. and China have levied tariffs on billions of dollars worth of each other's goods since last year, which which disrupted supply chains and raised costs for companies. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are set to resume talks with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He on Wednesday, days after both sides reported progress in talks that took place in Beijing. If the discussions prove fruitful, the FT said it's possible that U.S. President Donald Trump will meet with Chinese president Xi Jinping to formally sign an agreement. In the event the world's two largest economies are unable to reach a trade deal soon, some analysts have warned that a global recession could follow.

Trump To Give China Until 2025 To Commit To Trade Deal --With 4 minutes to go before the close of trading and stocks within spitting territory of red for the day, someone had to take control of "price discovery" and with the FT's street cred already used up after it's "90% done" report last night, it was up to Bloomberg to preserve the "trade talk optimism" which it did when it reported fresh details on the ongoing trade deal being finalized (and we use the term loosely) between the US China, which according to Bloomberg source would give Beijing until 2025 to meet commitments on commodity purchases and allow American companies to wholly own enterprises in the Asian nation.And here is where the "deal" gets downright farcical: according to the proposed agreement (and we again use the term loosely), China would commit by 2025 to buy more U.S. commodities, including soybeans and energy products, and allow 100 percent foreign ownership for U.S. companies operating in China as a binding pledge that can trigger retaliation from the U.S. if left unfulfilled.In other words, any deal announced this week would be nothing more than a photo opportunity, and be completely toothless for the next 6 years. More importantly, as we noted earlier, the 5 years interval would allow stocks to levitate each and every day for the next 5 years on "trade deal optimism", putting S&P 36,000 within grasp. Other hilarious non-binding promises China has offered to implement by 2029 wouldn’t be tied to U.S. retaliation, Bloomberg's sources said.  And now that a "bogey" for the 2025 target has been set, the talks are continuing in Washington where Chinese Vice Premier Liu He began planned meetings with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Wednesday.

Jamie Dimon: US ‘absolutely’ right to enter trade war, despite short-term economic toll J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon did not condemn the White House's decision to face off with China on trade. Even if it's a drag in the near-term. When asked whether he thought the trade dispute was one we should have entered into, Dimon said "absolutely." "We're better off dealing with it now, whatever that means for the economy," Dimon said on stage at the Council on Foreign Relations Thursday evening. "I wasn't in favor of the tariffs and the threatening but absolutely in facing the issues." The 63-year-old CEO highlighted "serious issues" affecting global companies include intellectual property theft, non-bilateral investment rights and non-tariff barriers. The two largest economies have been locked in a stalemate over trade, each imposing billions of dollars worth of tariffs on each others' goods. Washington and Beijing moved closer to a deal during trade talks this week. But negotiators still need to smooth out details as they push for a final summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump. "We're glad," Dimon said, adding that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have "made a huge amount of progress." Details matter though, Dimon said. "We don't want a soybean deal. If they agree to buy $200 billion in goods from us that doesn't fix the problem," Dimon said during the discussion, which was moderated by David Rubenstein, co-founder and co-executive chairman of The Carlyle Group. The series of tariffs imposed by both countries has rattled financial markets and led to concerns about the effects on both economies. Dimon was optimistic about the U.S. economy though, and said he's not worried about an immediate recession. "The U.S. is chugging along," Dimon said. "Forget the noise — all the geopolitical stuff affects market but unemployment is going down, and wages are going up, business confidence is high and housing is in short supply."

Trump to Meet China’s Liu in a Sign Trade Talks Are Reaching Final Stages -- U.S. President Donald Trump will meet Chinese Vice Premier Liu He at the White House on Thursday as speculation grows that negotiations over a trade deal between the world’s biggest economies are entering the final stages. Liu returned to the U.S. Trade Representative’s office for a second day of talks on Thursday morning, where he was greeted by USTR Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Trump is scheduled to meet Liu at 4:30 p.m. in the Oval Office. Drafts of an agreement to end a nearly year-long trade war would give Beijing until 2025 to meet commitments on commodity purchases and allow American companies to wholly own enterprises in the Asian nation, according to three people familiar with the talks. “Both sides do want an agreement but they want to make sure it’s the right deal for their respective domestic audience,” U.S. and Chinese officials are still discussing when the two leaders could sit down to sign off on their trade deal. A meeting date between Trump and Xi could be announced as early as Thursday, people familiar with the plans said. After Xi’s team initially floated a formal state visit to Washington as an option, China has pushed back against a meeting on U.S. soil and wants to instead meet in a neutral third country, the people briefed on the plans said.

‘New consensus’ reached on US-China trade, says Chinese Vice Premier Liu He - Chinese Vice Premier Liu He said a new consensus has been reached between China and the U.S. on the text of a trade agreement that they are negotiating, according to official state news website Xinhua. Liu led a delegation to Washington this week to meet with U.S. officials for another round of high-level negotiations as the two sides seek to end a potentially devastating trade conflict. On Thursday, Liu met U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House's Oval Office. Chinese President Xi Jinping, through a message conveyed by Liu, told Trump that both sides have made new and substantial progress on key issues regarding trade in the past month, according to Xinhua. Xi said he hopes both sides will continue to work together to conclude talks on the trade text as early as possible, Xinhua reported. Trump said on Thursday that "we'll know over the next four weeks" if the two countries have a deal. The U.S. and China — the two largest economies in the world — are engaged in a tariff fight that started last year. The Trump administration imposed additional tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese imports, while Beijing slapped duties on $110 billion of American goods. Representatives from both countries have been meeting to address their differences on issues such a trade imbalance and alleged forced technology transfers from American firms to their Chinese partners. Tensions between the U.S. and China have roiled global markets and hit economic activity worldwide.

US-China trade deal pushed back  - The signing of a possible trade deal between the US and China has been pushed back following the failure of top-level negotiators to reach agreement in talks held in Washington this week.There was speculation that a meeting between US President Trump and China’s chief trade negotiator Vice Premier Liu He held at the White House on Thursday could have resulted in the announcement of a meeting between Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping to sign off on a deal.But Trump emerged from the meeting to tell reporters that it would take at least four weeks to reach an agreement as he declined to set a date for a summit with Xi. With one eye firmly on the stock market, which has risen in recent weeks on the prospect of a deal, Trump continued to express optimism saying though there was “some way to go” the two sides remained “very close.”But he indicated that the main sticking points remained intellectual property rights, tariffs and the enforcement mechanisms for any agreement. From the outset these issues have been at the heart of the negotiations.There has been little comment from the Chinese aside from a statement by Liu through the official Chinese news agency Xinhua that he hoped the negotiations would be completed as quickly as possible and that trade relations between the two counties would develop in a healthy and stable way. According to the report, he said the two sides had “reached a new consensus in such important issues as the text.” US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who heads the US side, said there were “major, major issues left.” But then, in keeping with Trump’s upbeat tone, he added: “We’re certainly making more progress than we would have thought when we started.”

 WTO ‘National Security’ Ruling Meets Trump - Here's a heads-up for everyone; over the next few days, the World Trade Organization is expected to ruleover Russia hitting the Ukraine with trade sanctions on "national security" grounds [DS512]. In the past, such claims were considered unquestionable by the WTO. However, the expectation now is that the WTO will rule against Russia and in favor of the Ukraine. You should be asking by now, "What do Russia-Ukraine 'national security' dust-ups have to do with the United States?" Well, it sets a precedent for the WTO proceeding with cases having to do with national security and ruling in favor of the complainant. And, insofar as the United States has hit so many of its trade partners with such claims for limiting imports, the WTO's change of heart would render the US vulnerable to a world...of hurt:The World Trade Organization is set to rule for the first time on a dispute involving a member’s national security, challenging a key justification for President Donald Trump’s tariffs and putting the arbiter of international trade conflicts on a collision course with the U.S. The WTO will issue a ruling on a case in which Russia imposed trade restrictions on Ukraine, saying they were necessary in the interest of national security, according to an official with knowledge of the report who asked not to be named because the process is private.The decision could still be appealed or settled outside of the WTO. The ruling confirms the WTO’s authority to determine whether such measures are necessary to protect a country’s security. The ruling could set up a showdown as US trade partners take it to the WTO dispute settlement mechanism over similar "national security" tariffs: A WTO ruling on the Russia dispute could force the U.S. to justify why the European Union, Canada, Mexico and a half-dozen other nations that have filed disputes against Trump’s metal tariffs, pose a security threat.” To be sure, the isolationist-nationalist Trump would like nothing more than to pull the US out of the WTO, and being taken to court there over "national security" could be the last straw. Then again, Trump is still not the United States, and there may be a more united pushback from the business community and business-mindedsenators if Trump threatens WTO withdrawal. At any rate, the fate of the WTO is going to be shaped a lot over the next few days. Stay tuned.

 Top House Democrat Cites Labor, Enforcement Concerns on New NAFTA (Reuters) - U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Tuesday lawmakers could not take up the replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement unless Mexico passes legislation protecting workers’ rights. Pelosi, speaking in an interview with Politico, also cited concerns over enforcement provisions for the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), among other issues. “No enforcement, no treaty,” she told Politico. The new trade deal has received a cool reception in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives because of its provisions on labor, biologic drugs and other matters. “The concerns that our members have are workers rights, the environment and issues related to pharmaceuticals,” Pelosi said. “The overarching concern that we have is - even if you have the best language in the world in that (deal), if you don’t have enforcement, you ain’t got nothin’. ... You have to have strong enforcement provisions.” Democratic lawmakers say the deal must ensure workers in Mexico have the right to organize, a step that would require new Mexican labor laws. They believe a major weakness of NAFTA was that it allowed Mexican wages to stagnate. “When you don’t have strong enforcement provisions, you are essentially facilitating the outsourcing of jobs and bad worker protections and undercutting of U.S. workers,” Representative Pramila Jayapal said last month. Pelosi underscored that concern in the Politico interview. “One of the things that the Mexican government has to do before we can even consider it, is to pass legislation about workers’ rights in Mexico,” she said.

Mexico Beefs Up Labor Bill Amid Speaker Pelosi’s Nafta Threat - After Democrats in the U.S. threatened to hold up a renegotiated Nafta, Mexico’s ruling party beefed up a labor bill to meet requirements laid out in the trade deal and plans to vote it through this month.The bill now satisfies "diverse obligations" required by the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, as the new Nafta deal is known, saidMario Delgado, the majority leader for Mexico’s lower house. The lower house could vote on it in a week’s time, he told reporters Thursday. Mexico is racing to amend laws to comply with new USMCA rules that explicitly require that workers vote for their unions and labor contracts, both of which rarely happen in Mexico, where employees often lack basic representation. The original draft of the bill by leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s party didn’t go far enough, according to U.S. labor leaders and Democrats in Congress."It’s a reform for labor justice and will democratize unions," Delgado said. "One of its main objectives is to transform the labor justice system." The new draft comes the same day Lopez Obrador demanded the bill comply with the USMCA and get passed quickly, in order to eliminate any "pretext" to reopen trade negotiations. It also follows comments by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that there are outstanding USMCA issues including treatment of workers in Mexico. Democrats hold a majority in the House of Representatives and have raised issues with the trade deal the Trump administration clinched last year with Mexico and Canada.The latest draft of the labor bill, which is expected to be discussed in committee and voted in the full plenum as soon as Thursday, requires secret votes for workers to choose unions and their delegates and to approve their labor contracts, Delgado said. It also creates new labor courts to resolve disputes. While requiring votes to choose unions and delegates, the original draft didn’t do enough to ensure they’d vote on the contracts themselves, or that they’d even see copies of the contracts, said Ben Davis, director of international affairs at United Steelworkers, an AFL-CIO affiliate. The AFL-CIO is America’s biggest federation of labor unions. The new labor bill might require a review of that position, a representative of the group said.

Mexican official rejects Democratic effort to reopen new NAFTA - A top Mexican official Thursday ruled out renegotiating the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement to address Democratic concerns about labor and pharmaceutical provisions. “Reopening it is as good as killing it,” said Jesús Seade, Mexican foreign affairs undersecretary for North America. The Mexican position rebuffs efforts by some Democrats and Speaker Nancy Pelosi who said earlier this week that parts of the agreement should be reopened to strengthen labor enforcement and address the 10-year monopoly that pharmaceutical companies would have in pricing biologic drugs. Seade, who met with the New Democrat Coalition and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Thursday, told reporters later that he is working to convince U.S. lawmakers that their concerns about labor rights can be addressed without renegotiating the trade agreement. If approved by legislatures in the United States, Mexico and Canada, the trade pact would replace the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. or NAFTA for short. He said a labor overhaul package pending in the Mexican Senate contains enforcement provisions that put muscle into proposed changes designed to end company-sponsored unions and allow workers to organize their own unions. For example, he said, the package would phase out over four years so-called protection contracts of company-sponsored unions. Seade said he expected the Mexican lawmakers to approve the labor legislation this month and implementation to begin quickly. Seade also pointed out that President Andres Manuel López Obrador campaigned on a populist platform that included greater labor rights. “It is the number one political priority of this president. It is the same agenda as the Democrats,” Seade said.

States ask judge to stop construction of Trump border wall - California on Friday led a group of 20 states in requesting that a federal judge stop President Trump from diverting federal funds to build his wall on the southern border. The state attorneys general announced their request for the preliminary injunction as Trump traveled to California to visit a segment of the border wall. In the filing, the states argue that Trump’s declaration of a national emergency in order to divert federal funding to the wall from other sources is unconstitutional, and that construction of the wall under those circumstances would cause irreparable damage. “Notwithstanding the president’s expressed frustration with Congress and the legislative process, he must act in accordance with the procedures established in the Constitution to obtain funding for his border wall,” the filing reads. The states also claim that construction of the wall could cause “possible irreparable harm to endangered species” living near the border, and that the administration has violated the National Environmental Policy Act by not studying the potential environmental impact of the wall. The states’ request came just hours after the American Civil Liberties Union also asked a federal judge to implement a preliminary national injunction to halt construction of the border wall. Trump declared a national emergency earlier this year following shortly after a 35 day partial government shutdown after Congress refused to pass a funding bill granting him his requested amount of funding to construct the border wall. Attorney General William Barr said at the time that Trump had the legal authority and standing to declare the national emergency. And Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other immigration officials have since called the situation at the border a crisis.

The Trump administration is streamlining visas for Mexican farm workers - Trump wants a wall with Mexico. America’s farmers want a way around it for hundreds of thousands of farm workers. In a sign of the Trump administration’s politically motivated priorities, farmers are getting their wish. On April 3, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched a new streamlined process for the H-2A visa process that allows agricultural guest workers, mostly from Mexico, to work legally in the US. For years, delays in the program have meant that food rotted in the fields, or crops weren’t planted on time. Even for farmers who applied for the visa, a mountain of paperwork awaited. No longer. The H-2A visa is now one of the most streamlined visa applications in the US government. The new USDA process, built in partnership with the US Digital Service (USDS), begins with a click on the site. For the first time, the site lets different agencies—the Department of Labor, US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Department of State, as well as state agencies—share data to review H-2A visas. Farmers click through each stage, submit forms, download calendar reminders for their phones, and get a workflow to help make decisions. While paperwork isn’t eliminated (some agencies didn’t embrace an online-only process), it radically simplifies a process complex enough to have supported a cottage industry for managing H-2A applications. Why did this particular issue get special treatment for modernizing government? The H-2A visa was seen as a priority for Republicans eager to please GOP-leaning farmers who need workers. Democrats, of course, would like to make less restrictive the immigration policies that they say are undermining America’s economy and historical openness toward immigrants.

GOP lawmaker calls for answers on releases of undocumented immigrants - Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) is calling on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to provide details on the steps U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) take before releasing undocumented immigrants. In a letter to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Monday, the Arizona Republican said he has received “alarming reports” and heard concerns from Phoenix officials over undocumented immigrants more frequently being dropped off at churches and bus stations, a situation that has been “overwhelming the community and posing a crisis to which Phoenix has no solution.” “A report from March 28 indicates that Border Patrol agents assigned to the Yuma Sector have begun releasing detainees on their own recognizance with little more than a notice to appear for immigration hearings. I have also received reports from agents that similar instructions have been given to release aliens apprehended and detained in the Tucson Sector,” he wrote. “Reports at the end of 2018 indicated that more than 5,000 illegal aliens were released in Mesa between mid-October and November.” Biggs went on to say he is concerned what impact the releases will have on ICE and Border Patrol agents. “The release of these individuals should be of concern to every American, as their behavior is a flagrant exploitation of our immigration laws; our inability to properly vet and monitor them puts our communities at risk,” he continued. “Cities and communities should not be forced to bear the brunt of this crisis, which is inherently a federal responsibility. Moreover, I fear that this will only worsen the overall low-morale of ICE and Border Patrol agents who are grossly under-resourced and overworked.” Biggs asked Nielsen to provide information on how the agencies determine which undocumented immigrants don't pose a threat to the public, whether they are given a tracking device so “so ICE can track their movement after release,” and whether undocumented immigrants are required to provide a verified address prior to their release.

Trump plans to cut U.S. aid to 3 Central American countries in fight over U.S.-bound migrants - WaPo — President Trump plans to slash hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to three Central American countries in retaliation for what he called their lack of help in reducing the flow of migrants to the U.S. border. The move was one of Trump’s harshest yet as he escalates a confrontation with Mexico and Central America over a surge in irregular migration, largely involving children and families seeking asylum. Trump has already warned that he could close the U.S.-Mexico border — or at least large stretches of it — in the coming week unless Mexico takes further steps to halt the northward flow of migrants.The State Department said in a statement Saturday that it would be “ending . . . foreign assistance programs for the Northern Triangle” — a region encompassing El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The move would affect nearly $500 million in 2018 funds and millions more left over from the prior fiscal year. The money was destined for Central America but has not yet been spent. Trump’s action was the culmination of a months-long battle in the U.S. government over the aid program, which grew substantially under the Obama administration and was intended to address the root causes of migration — violence, a lack of jobs and poverty. Some Trump administration officials thought the program had failed to achieve enough results and in recent months have been looking into alternatives. But the president’s decision to cut off the remaining funds appeared to take many people by surprise. It came just a day after Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen signed what the department called a “historic” memorandum of cooperation on border security in Central America.  One former U.S. official said there was “chaos” in the State Department and U.S. embassies as officials tried to figure out whether they had to cancel existing contracts or simply not renew them. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities. The number of apprehensions along the U.S.-Mexico border has been soaring, with more than 76,000 migrants taken into U.S. custody in February, most of them from Central America. On Friday night, during a trip to Florida, Trump faulted governments in the region for the increase.  “I’ve ended payments to Guatemala, to Honduras and El Salvador. No more money is going there anymore,” Trump told reporters. “We were giving them $500 million. We were paying them tremendous amounts of money, and we’re not paying them anymore because they haven’t done a thing for us.”

 "This Is A System-Wide Collapse" - Texas Border City Overwhelmed By "Surge" Of Central American Migrants -- the true weight of the ongoing disaster at the border has suddenly become difficult to ignore, as reports about the number of migrant families declaring asylum between border checkpoints climbing to an all-time high were picked up by the mainstream press.  Even the peso, which had mostly shrugged off his prior threats, tumbled when Trump warned that he would close the border next week if Mexico doesn't try to stop illegals from entering the US. And in the latest report that, like the others, will be difficult for the public to chalk up to more conservative fear mongering, USA Today published a story on Saturday about a border city that has seen public resources overwhelmed as asylum seekers are released into the city at a rate of more than 800 per day.  The city is McAllen, Texas, which has seen a surge of migrants crowding church shelters and other resources in the community as ICE has been forced to release more asylum seekers as they await their immigration hearings. ICE shelters have simply become too overcrowded, and the agency, which can hold migrants for up to 20 days, longer than the 72 hours for the border patrol, has few alternatives.Under a bridge connecting the U.S. with Mexico, dozens of migrant families cram into a makeshift camp set up by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The families are there because permanent processing facilities have run out of room.Seven hundred miles east, busload after busload of weary, bedraggled migrants crowd into the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas. Organizers there are used to handling 200 to 300 migrants a day. Lately, the migrants have been arriving at a clip of around 800 a day, overflowing the respite center and straining city resources."It’s staggering,” McAllen City Manager Roy Rodriguez said. “Really, we’ve never seen anything like this before." Along the Texas border with Mexico – from El Paso to Eagle Pass to the Rio Grande Valley – masses of migrants have been crossing the border in unprecedented numbers, overwhelming federal holding facilities and sending local leaders and volunteers scrambling to deal with the relentless waves of people.

US Halts Foreign Aid To Central American 'Caravan' Countries; Guatemala, Honduras And El Salvador Cut Off - The Trump administration has cut off all foreign aid to the Central American nations of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras - known as the Northern Triangle countries. "At the Secretary’s instruction, we are carrying out the President’s direction and ending FY 2017 and FY 2018 foreign assistance programs for the Northern Triangle," reads a statement to The Hill from a State Department spokesperson. The sudden move comes after a Friday statement by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen - who said she signed a "historic" regional compact last week with the Northern Triangle to "combat human smuggling and trafficking, crack down on transnational criminals fueling the crisis, and strengthen border security to prevent irregular migration." Later Friday, President Trump said that said countries "set up" migrant caravans, per CNN. "We were paying them tremendous amounts of money. And we're not paying them anymore. Because they haven't done a thing for us. They set up these caravans," Trump reportedly said. "At the Secretary's instruction, we are carrying out the President's direction and ending FY 2017 and FY 2018 foreign assistance programs for the Northern Triangle," said a State Department spokesperson. "We will be engaging Congress as part of this process."The move comes after disputed reports of the "mother of all caravans" assembling in Honduras. On Wednesday Mexico's Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero warned "We have information that a new caravan is forming in Honduras, that they’re calling ‘the mother of all caravans,’ and they are thinking it could have more than 20,000 people."Trump, meanwhile, did not mince words on Friday - threatening to close the border with Mexico if they don't stop the latest caravans. "Mexico could stop it so easily," Trump said of "big caravans" he claimed are now coming from Central America. He said he stopped foreign aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador because "they set up these caravans" and threatened to close the border "for a long time"

El Salvador's president-elect trolls Fox News for '3 Mexican countries' mistake - Nayib Bukele, the president-elect of El Salvador, on Monday trolled "Fox and Friends" after the Fox News show over the weekend used a chyron referring to "3 Mexican countries.""The Presidents of 2 mexican countries #FoxandFriends," Bukele wrote on Twitter alongside a photo of himself and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. "Fox & Friends Weekend" apologized Sunday after displaying a chyron that read, "Trump cuts U.S. aid to 3 Mexican countries."The graphic stayed on screen for about 30 seconds and co-host Ed Henry apologized later during the show."Now we want to clarify and correct something that happened earlier in the show," Henry said. "We had an inaccurate graphic on screen while talking about this very story. We just want to be clear, the funding is being cut off to the three Central American countries. We apologize for the error. It never should have happened." The State Department last week announced it would no longer provide foreign assistance to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Mulvaney- It Would Take Something Dramatic For Trump Not To Close The Southern Border -- Following reports over the weekend warning about a "system-wide collapse" along the southern border as a surge in asylum-seeking migrants has overwhelmed Customs and Border Protections' detention centers and strains municipal resources, Trump acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney warned during an appearance on ABC's "This Week" that President Trump's threat to close the southern border this week should absolutely be taken seriously. The Mexican peso tumbled Friday afternoon after Trump tweeted that he would close the border unless Mexico took steps to stop Central American migrants traveling through its territory, before telling a group of reporters that he would shut the border "for a long time" if nothing is done.Responding to a question about whether Trump was serious about closing the border, Mulvaney affirmed that it would take "something dramatic" for him not to do it. Even former Obama officials have come forward to talk about the burgeoning crisis at the border, and the fact that the situation isn't a "made up emergency" has now been well established."When Jeh Johnson said it’s a crisis, I hope people now believe us. A lot of folks in the media...Democrats didn’t believe us a month ago, two months ago, when we said what was happening at the border was a crisis: a humanitarian crisis, a security crisis," he said.  "One hundred thousand people coming across the border this month...that is a crisis," he added. Mulvaney was referring to figures from the border patrol that 100,000 migrants, many of whom were traveling in families, crossed the southern border in March, which would be a new record. Last week, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan warned that the agency's resources had reached a "breaking point", and called on Congress to act to authorize more resources for the border patrol and customs enforcement at the border. Watch the clip with Mulvaney below:

The threat to close the US-Mexico border -The threat by the Trump administration to close the 2,000-mile-long US-Mexican border, the busiest international boundary on the face of the planet, with roughly 350 million documented crossings each year, is an unmistakable symptom of the intense crisis of a global capitalist system that is careening toward dictatorship and war. The pretext for this international provocation is a supposed “national emergency” created by Central American refugees fleeing horrific levels of violence and poverty. These conditions in the so-called Northern Triangle of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are the legacy of a century of US imperialist oppression, marked by near-genocidal counterinsurgency wars and savage military dictatorships installed with Washington’s backing.Trump lashed out at the right-wing and corrupt US-backed governments in Central America, tweeting that they “have taken our money for years, and do Nothing.” He followed the tweet with an order to cut off all US aid to the three Northern Triangle countries.He also accused Mexico of “doing nothing to stop the flow of illegal immigrants to our Country,” and issued the threat to shut down the US-Mexico border.He wants these governments to implement a policy of bloody repression sufficient to terrorize would-be asylum seekers, i.e., to make it clear that they are more certain to die if they attempt to leave their home countries than if they stay.Trump, who has deployed some 4,700 US troops to the border and boasted of turning it into a war zone, confided last week to Fox News’ Sean Hannity that ordering troops to turn machine guns on the men, women and children seeking asylum would be “a very effective way of doing it,” but “We can’t do it.” One only need add the unspoken thought, “At least not yet.”

Trump steps back from Mexico border threat as companies warn of economic fallout   (Reuters) - President Donald Trump took a step back on Tuesday from his threat to close the U.S. southern border to fight illegal immigration, as pressure mounted from companies worried that a shutdown would cause chaos to supply chains. Trump threatened on Friday to close the border this week unless Mexico acted. He repeated that threat on Tuesday but said he had not made a decision yet: “We’re going to see what happens over the next few days.” Closing the border could disrupt millions of legal crossings and billions of dollars in trade. Auto companies have been warning the White House privately that it would lead to the idling of U.S. plants within days because they rely on prompt deliveries of components made in Mexico. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest U.S. business lobbying group, has been in contact with the White House to discuss the “very negative economic consequences that would occur across the country,” said Neil Bradley, the group’s top lobbyist, on a call with reporters. Trump praised efforts by Mexico to hinder illegal immigration from Central America at its own southern border. On Monday, the Mexican government said it would help regulate the flow of migrants. “I really wanted to close it,” Trump said on Tuesday night at a fundraiser for congressional Republicans.

Trump Says U.S. Is ‘Full’ and Can’t Accommodate More Migrants - President Donald Trump said the U.S. is “full,” and can’t accommodate any more migrants from Latin America, capping a week of heated threats against Mexico over undocumented migration and the flow of illegal drugs. “Our country is full. Our area is full. The sector is full,” Trump said at a briefing on border security in Calexico, California, on Friday. “Can’t take you anymore. I’m sorry, turn around, that’s the way it is.” Last week, Trump threatened to close the U.S. border with Mexico to stop a spike in migration. Customs and Border Protection apprehended 66,450 who crossed the border illegally in February, an increase of more than 18,000 from the month before, and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has said apprehensions approached 100,000 in March. Trump backed down after business leaders and Republican lawmakers raised concerns about economic damage from closing the border. Instead, he said he’d impose tariffs on Mexican-built cars if the country doesn’t stem the flow of migrants and illegal drugs over the border in a year. “I’m totally willing to close the border but Mexico over the last four days has done more than they’ve ever done,” Trump said in Calexico. “Apprehending people by the thousands and bringing them back to their countries.” Mexican officials have said their immigration policies and enforcement practices haven’t changed this week. Before departing the White House, Trump reiterated threats to hammer Mexico with tariffs or close the border if the country “stops apprehending and bringing the illegals back to where they came from.”

Trump’s right that there’s a border crisis. But he’s making it worse. President Donald Trump is right: There is a crisis at the U.S. border with Mexico. That wasn't the case when he first promised to build a wall in 2015, claiming Mexico was sending the U.S. its "rapists" and people who "bring drugs and ... crime." It wasn't true when Trump first mused about cutting off aid to Central American countries, vowed to close the border, shut down the government over immigration or announced that he would build his wall without Congress' consent. But it's sure true now. The federal government has been overwhelmed by Central American refugees arriving by the thousands. There are two reasons for that: Trump's policies sent the signal that this may be the last best chance to find safe harbor in the United States, and existing laws make handling migrants from Central America — as opposed to Mexico — much more complicated for the administration. "The system is full. We can't take you anymore ... Our country is full," Trump declared during a public discussion with border security officials in El Centro, California, on Friday. "So turn around." Late last month, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen sent a letter to lawmakers imploring them to provide more funding for the administration to deal with what she called a "humanitarian crisis," and to alter the law so that Central American children could be quickly reunited with their families and sent back to their countries of origin if they do not have a "legal right" to stay in the U.S. The difference in the treatment of Central American and Mexican minors — authorities can't send back unaccompanied kids from Central American countries quickly, like it can with children from Mexico — creates what Nielsen called a "pull factor" for migrants from Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador. Trump's decision to suspend aid to those countries, his determination to build a wall and his grand gestures to demonstrate his desire to cut off illegal immigration are also incentives for migrants to get to the border as fast as possible. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called it a terrible idea to hurt the economies of countries that immigrants are fleeing. "Stiff competition, mind you, this is one of his worst ideas," she told Politico. Indeed, cutting off aid is what one might do to intentionally encourage more migration.

Trump Considers Immigration Czar To Coordinate Border Policy Across Agencies - The Trump administration is floating the idea of hiring a "border" or "immigration" czar who would coordinate executive policies across several federal agencies, according to TPM, citing three anonymous sources familiar with the discussions.  Two candidates are reportedly under consideration; Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli - both of whom have strong conservative views on immigration.  It has yet to be decided whether the post would be housed within the Department of Homeland Security or the White House. Trump, meanwhile, halted foreign aid to the Central American 'caravan' countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador - and threatened last week to close the US border with Mexico. On Friday Trump accused the countries of 'setting up' migrant caravans,  per CNN. "We were paying them tremendous amounts of money. And we're not paying them anymore. Because they haven't done a thing for us. They set up these caravans," Trump reportedly said. "At the Secretary's instruction, we are carrying out the President's direction and ending FY 2017 and FY 2018 foreign assistance programs for the Northern Triangle," said a State Department spokesperson. "We will be engaging Congress as part of this process." Meanwhile, the Customs and Border Protection agency has its hands full with record numbers of migrants crossing the border illegally between ports of entry.

White House immigration plan may call for commission on future visas -- The White House is nearing completion of a proposal to revamp the legal immigration system that could include the creation of an independent blue ribbon commission that would help decide how many future visas will be allocated and what kind of workers should receive them, according to two sources familiar with the talks.   The draft proposal, which follows several West Wing meetings hosted by senior advisor Jared Kushner with dozens of interest groups important to the Republican Party, could be presented to President Donald Trump as early as this week after being approved by key Cabinet leaders and department heads. Giving the information to the president marks Phase Three of a process kick-started by Trump’s son-in-law last year to see if there was enough consensus among Republican stakeholders to overhaul the legal immigration system.   While Kushner led many of the early meetings, he’s been working closely with other top officials on the effort, including Vice President Mike Pence, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and senior adviser Stephen Miller, White House officials have said. The proposal also looks to potentially increase caps on employment-based visas, raising the number of temporary guest worker visas while ensuring immigrants in the United States on temporary visas don’t automatically get permanent ones. If approved by Trump, the White House would champion the proposal to the public and Congress for legislation in a way similar to how it pressed lawmakers for new legislation that met its “four pillars,” including protection for those brought to the country illegally as children, cuts to family migration, ending the diversity lottery program and wall funding.

Stephen Miller’s Power Over Trump Is About to Be Tested - Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, appears to be on a collision course with Stephen Miller, Donald Trump’s favorite anti-immigration ghoul. According to Politico, Kushner has been working behind the scenes on a plan to expand some forms of legal immigration in an effort to “increase the number of low- and high-skilled workers” in the country. Even Trump, who delights in spewing anti-immigrant rhetoric and stoking xenophobic fears, seems to be on board, calling this week for more legal immigrants to “run the factories and plants and companies that are moving back in.” One person who may be less enthused? Miller, who has reportedly been only peripherally involved in the effort, and whose restrictionist views likely put him at odds with Kushner. “The different factions in the White House represent different factions among Republicans,” an immigration activist involved in Kushner’s efforts told Politico. “It sure looks like the folks who want an expansion are winning.” Ironically enough, the schism comes as the president ramps up his draconian efforts to halt illegal immigration, including a threat to shut down the United States’ southern border and a seemingly counterproductive call to cut aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—a plan experts say could actually increase the number of migrants seeking entry into the U.S. Those efforts, harebrained though they may be, are in keeping with Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail and in office. But in recent months, the president has also made calls to increase legal immigration, including an ad-libbed line in February’s State of the Union address in which he said he “want[s] people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever.” According to Politico, Kushner has been put in charge of those efforts, potentially teeing up an inter-administration showdown between his views and Miller’s. Kushner has long been viewed as a more moderate member of the Trump administration, in part on the basis of the bipartisan criminal-justice reform package that he helped ferry through Congress. Miller, on the other hand, is among the last remaining members of a cadre of fringe figures like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka that initially populated the Trump administration. Miller has survived in the administration as one of Trump’s closest advisers in large part because, as Politico noted, his anti-immigrant views appear to align with those of the president. Indeed, Miller has been one of the primary architects of Trump’s hard-line immigration agenda, and the wordsmith behind much of the president’s fear-mongering rhetoric.

Google Urged to Boot 'Anti-LGBTQ and Anti-Immigrant' Right-Winger From AI Ethics Council - Google is under fire from employees, tech experts, and members of the LGBTQ community for appointing Kay Coles James, president of the right-wing think tank the Heritage Foundation, to the company's new ethics advisory board for artificial intelligence. An open petition launched by Google employees Monday—which has garnered more than 800 signatures—decries James as "vocally anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-immigrant." It demands her immediate dismissal from Google's Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC), which weighs in on the "responsible development" of artificial intelligence, or AI. Kent Walker, Google's senior vice president for global affairs, announced the formation of ATEAC and the council's members in a blog post last week. "This group will consider some of Google's most complex challenges that arise under our AI Principles," Walker explained, "like facial recognition and fairness in machine learning, providing diverse perspectives to inform our work."Google's stated AI Principles, unveiled last year, include the objectives to "be socially beneficial" and "avoid creating or reinforcing unfair bias." The company also vows to not pursue technologies that cause or are likely to cause harm, or "whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights." Experts and human rights advocates have emphasized how AI technologies can disproportionately target and harm members of marginalized groups. According to Googlers Against Transphobia, the group of employees that launched the petition, "Following the announcement, the person who took credit for appointing James stood by the decision, saying that James was on the council to ensure 'diversity of thought.'" Meanwhile, many employees were "livid." As The Verge reported Monday:

Massive disaster relief bill stalls in Senate over Puerto Rico dispute – WaPo - A massive emergency aid bill for victims of hurricanes, wildfires, flooding and other natural disasters was defeated in the Senate on Monday amid a fight between Democrats and President Trump over relief for Puerto Rico.Senate Democrats opposed the $13.45 billion legislation, contending the $600 million included for Puerto Rico’s food stamp program is inadequate to meet the U.S. territory’s needs as it attempts to recover from Hurricane Maria. The Democrats are embracing a House-passed relief bill containing hundreds of millions of dollars more for Puerto Rico than the GOP version, but it, too, failed to advance Monday as Republicans opposed it.Trump opposes sending any additional aid to Puerto Rico apart from the food stamp money, funding Republicans convinced him to accept as the price for passing the long-pending disaster bill.The vote on the GOP bill was 44 in favor and 49 against. The House Democratic bill failed on a vote of 46-to-48. Sixty votes were needed for either piece of legislation to advance.It’s unclear how Congress and the administration will move forward to revive the emergency package, and the impasse risks indefinitely delaying disaster funding nationwide amid partisan sniping. Support for disaster aid is often bipartisan on Capitol Hill, but the dispute over this legislation has become increasingly bitter, despite the evident need. Ahead of the vote, Republicans accused Democrats of holding up much-needed aid for victims of flooding in the Midwest, tornadoes in the South and volcanic eruptions in Hawaii, so they could use Puerto Rico as a political issue against the president.

2020 Democrats reject GOP call to back Iowa disaster aid  - Democratic senators running for president in 2020 lined up on Monday to block a GOP disaster aid package that would support the key caucus state of Iowa. The votes against a move by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to limit debate on a $13.45 billion Republican plan came as part of a broader dispute between President Donald Trump and Democratic lawmakers over assistance for Puerto Rico’s recovery. Democratic White House hopefuls Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts voted no. Sen. Kamala Harris of California was not present on Monday. She is scheduled to hold campaign events in Carson City, Nev., on Tuesday. The overall vote was 44 to 49. The motion would have needed 60 votes to shut off the debate. Senate Republicans had sought to win support of the Democrats running for president in 2020, citing the addition of disaster relief to help flood-ravaged Midwestern states including Iowa — the home of the first caucuses of the presidential contest. “At a time when some families in Iowa have everything that they own underwater, and the people of Puerto Rico are facing a funding cliff, now is not the time to play politics with a disaster relief bill,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley said Monday afternoon, “If you vote against moving forward with the Shelby amendment, how are you going to look Iowans in the eye and justify a vote against moving this disaster relief bill ahead?”

US Senate fails to restore sweeping cuts to food assistance for Puerto Rico -- Since a factional battle broke out between Democratic and Republican parties last weekend, the US Senate has failed to pass a disaster relief bill that allocates federal money to recovery projects in all areas of the country recently affected by fires, floods, tropical storms and other natural disasters. The failure to approve this funding has left more than a million Puerto Ricans with drastically-reduced food stamp payments, one year and seven months after Hurricanes Maria and Irma struck the US territory.The island has faced a severe economic and social crisis for decades, especially after the 2008 recession. However, Hurricane Maria exacerbated the issues by shattering basic infrastructure like the electrical grid, hospitals, homes, highways and schools. An estimated 5,000 individuals died from the direct physical and social impacts of the storm, although the politicians in San Juan and Washington along with their media outlets accepted the ludicrously low initial death count of 64 for months. For many residents, 43.5 percent of whom live below the federal poverty line, daily life can still be a struggle, with power outages, health issues, and difficulty securing a job and education.The slow progress is a direct result of the insufficient and stalled response of the US government, which has left the fate of the island’s working class to the policies of the ultra-right Trump administration and the bitter conflicts in Congress over scraps they have left for urgent social needs.As a result of the initial dispute over disaster relief that arose when the House passed the first Democratic Party-sponsored bill in January, the Trump administration and Puerto Rican officials slashed funding for food stamp programs, which initially affected 43 percent of recipients but have slowly spread to all recipients. By early March, benefits fell by as much as 50 percent for the 1.4 million people out of a total 3.4 million residents who receive food stamp benefits, 300,000 of whom signed up after Hurricane Maria. For those affected, that reduction means living off $200 a month instead of $400 a month.

Trump ” Tweets his Ignorance” about Puerto Rico - Real News video & transcript -  San Juan, Puerto Rico Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz calls out Trump’s false statements about how much aid has reached Puerto Rico, and says that he uses the peoples suffering to pitch them against each other

 Yasha Levine: Respectable Racists -- This bigotry isn’t coming from the “lower-classes” that liberals love to mock so much, but from very top — the crème de la crème of our media and political class.I’ve been trying to write about the liberal xenophobia that undergirds so much of today’s elite panic about “Russia” and “the Russians.” Since Trump’s election, the usual stereotypes and tropes about Russians have morphed into an all-encompassing racist conspiracy. It’s become totally fine — and even respectable — in American liberal media circles to bombard viewers and readers with all sorts of conspiracies that see shadowy Russian interests infecting “our” society and lurking behind everything that’s going wrong in America and around the world.As a Soviet-born Jew who grew up in America, it’s been impossible for me not to notice just how similar these conspiracies are to old antisemitic fantasies about “Judeo-Bolsheviks” and the “Elders of Zion” — deadly fairytales about degenerate “easterners” wielding total power in secret, and plotting from the shadows to dominate and exploit white, Christian civilization.The liberal journalists, academics, media personalities, Hollywood stars, and New York Times documentary filmmakers who’ve been screeching about “the Russians” for the past three years may not be aware that they’re serving up reheated racist fantasies, but they are. And this bigotry isn’t coming from the “lower-classes” that liberals love to mock so much, but from very top — the crème de la crème of our media and political class. One day you get Rachael Maddow working herself into paranoid seizure about a supposed Russian plot to cut power lines and freeze millions of Americans in their sleep. On another, you can watch the screenwriter of Mrs. Doubtfire take to the Internet to theorize about how the Russians are plotting to take down Joe Biden (and I guess to covertly boost Bernie Sanders) by getting an American politician to highlight the creepy and demeaning way Biden treats women.It’s gross, and it goes to show that the respectable liberal opposition to Donald Trump is no less racist and paranoid than he is — it just operates in a different xenophobic market demographic. Anyway, I say that I’ve been “trying” to write about this because, well, it’s such a gross and unpleasant topic that it’s hard to find the words. So far, the only way I’ve been able to process it is to tweetto tweet and to draw.

 Seema Verma Spends $Millions of Taxpayer Funds Trying to Improve Her Reputation ---Spoiler: It isn’t working.  Politico reports CMS Administrator Seema Verma, the person in charge of Medicare/Medicaid and who takes great joy in trashing Medicare and Medicaid, has spent millions of dollars on partisan consulting firms to boost her image. The Trump appointee who oversees Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare quietly directed millions of taxpayer dollars in contracts to Republican communications consultants during her tenure atop the agency and including hiring one well-connected GOP media adviser to bolster her public profile.The communications subcontracts approved by CMS Administrator Seema Verma was routed through a larger federal contract and described to POLITICO by three individuals with firsthand knowledge of the agreements. The move by the CMS Administrator represents a break from precedent at the agency. Managed by Verma’s deputies, the deals came over the objections of some CMS staffers who raised concerns about her push to use federal funds to pay GOP consultants to amplify coverage of her own work. CMS has a capable communications shop which includes about two dozen people who handle the press.The good news is that Congress is finally on the case now that the Democrats have the reins.On Friday, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone called for an HHS inspector general probe into CMS’ use of CMS funding for communications consultants, calling it a “highly questionable use of taxpayer dollars.”IN a statement, the New Jersey Democrat said; I intend to ask the HHS OIG to immediately begin an investigation into how these contracts were approved, whether all regulations and ethical guidelines were followed, and why taxpayers are stuck paying for these unnecessary services.”For the record, Seema Verma is also the one who slashed the HealthCare.Gov marketing and navigator program budgets by 90% and 80% respectively over the past year and a half, allegedly in the interest of . . . “providing more efficient, targeted outreach” (via one of her press releases from last year).

 Former Medicare Fraud CEO To Lead GOP Health-Care Push - -- If there's been one trend within the Trump administration's domestic policy practices so far, it would be appointing industry insiders to top positions in the White House in order to remove the regulations in any given department, the New York Magazine writes. And on Thursday, President Trump continued to follow his controversial decision making tactics. Trump told reporters that Florida Senator Rick Scott and fellow Republican Senators John Barrasso of Wyoming and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, will lead the party's emphasis on health-care reform. “They are going to come up with something really spectacular,” Trump said. But Scott's past looks to be everything but spectacular. During the 1990's, Scott served as CEO of Columbia/HCA, a company that boasted over 340 hospitals, 550 home-health locations, and 135 surgery centers before his resignation in 1997. That year, federal agents began investigating whether the company committed large scale Medicare and Medicaid fraud. And, the investigators found, they did. In what the Justice Department labeled “the largest health-care fraud case in U.S. history," Columbia/HCA paid the government $1.7 billion for charges including billing federal programs for tests that were neither necessary nor ordered, attaching false diagnosis codes to records to receive more reimbursement, and a host of other crimes, according to Politifact. During his time in politics, Scott has been extremely inconsistent with his stance on health care. When he first became governor, Scott refused Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. But not long after, in 2013, he agreed to use federal funds to expand the program. By his second term, Scott's position on the expansion totally reversed.

Rick Scott’s Company Committed Historic Medicare Fraud. He Will Now Lead Trump’s Health Care Push. - If the Trump administration has a domestic policy doctrine at this point, it could be described as the following practice: the appointment of industry insiders to Cabinet-level positions in order to deregulate or otherwise surgically dismantle the protections of a given department. In this spirit comes the announcement that Florida Senator Rick Scott intends to deliver on President Trump’s promise that the GOP “will soon be known as the party of health care.” On Thursday, Trump told reporters that Scott, and fellow Republican Senators John Barrasso of Wyoming and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, will lead the party’s push on health-care reform.  “They are going to come up with something really spectacular,” the president said. If by spectacular, he means a candidate who was at the helm of a company that pleaded guilty to historic efforts to defraud Medicare, the president has found his man. In the 1990s, Scott was the CEO of Columbia/HCA, a company that, under his direction, owned more than 340 hospitals, 135 surgery centers, and 550 home-health locations by the time Scott resigned in 1997. That year, federal agents announced an investigation into whether or not the company defrauded Medicare and Medicaid on a massive scale. Turns out, they did: According to Politifact’s summary of the settlement Columbia/HCA made with the Justice Department, the company took the following actions while Scott was CEO:

  • Columbia billed Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal programs for tests that were not necessary or ordered by physicians;
  • The company attached false diagnosis codes to patient records to increase reimbursement to the hospitals;
  • The company illegally claimed non-reimbursable marketing and advertising costs as community education;
  • Columbia billed the government for home health-care visits for patients who did not qualify to receive them.

As part of the settlement, Columbia/HCA agreed to plead guilty to 14 corporate felonies — charges that involve financial penalties, but no jail time. (Corporations are people, but they cannot be sent to prison.) Over two settlement rounds, Columbia/HCA wound up paying the government $1.7 billion in criminal fines, civil damages, and penalties, in what the Justice Department called “the largest health-care fraud case in U.S. history.

Trump- Group Of GOP Senators Writing 'Spectacular' ObamaCare Replacement - President Trump said Thursday that a group of GOP senators will come up with a "spectacular" plan to replace ObamaCare if the courts strike down the law. Trump told reporters at the White House that lawmakers including Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) are working on the plan, at Trump's request. "We've put together a group of four or five," Trump said. "Bill Cassidy is a terrific health care person, and they are going to work together to come up with something that's really spectacular, maybe we'll even get support in the House from Democrats, but it's going to be far better than ObamaCare." Trump is hoping that Democrats will be forced to come to the table if the courts strike down ObamaCare, as his administration called for in a surprise legal filing Monday that has set off days of controversy. But many legal experts in both parties expect the case will ultimately fail, meaning that the opportunity to replace the law that Trump imagines will never come to pass. Democrats are in control of the House, preventing any ObamaCare repeal and replacement from getting through unless the Supreme Court eventually struck down the law, which most experts view as very unlikely. Trump, though, said he was hoping to win in court. "We're working on a plan now," Trump said when asked for a timeline on his plan. "There's no very great rush from the standpoint we're waiting for decisions in the court." "If the decisions help up, if we win on the termination of ObamaCare, we will have a plan that's far better than ObamaCare, including, very importantly, pre-existing conditions," Trump said.

McConnell To Trump: Health Care’s All Yours - Mitch McConnell has no intention of leading President Donald Trump’s campaign to transform the GOP into the “party of health care.” “I look forward to seeing what the president is proposing and what he can work out with the speaker,” McConnell said in a brief interview Thursday, adding, “I am focusing on stopping the ‘Democrats’ Medicare for none’ scheme.” The Senate majority leader spent untold weeks and months on the party’s health care quagmire in 2017, when the GOP controlled both the House and the Senate and still failed to repeal Obamacare. The episode caused endless headaches for Republicans as their replacement plan fell apart first, followed by the so-called “skinny” plan they slapped together at the last minute. Now in divided government, with the Senate majority up for grabs next year and McConnell himself running for reelection, another divisive debate over health care is the last thing McConnell needs. But that’s exactly where Trump is taking Republicans after his administration endorsed a wholesale obliteration of the law in the courts earlier this week. So the Kentucky Republican and his members are putting the onus on the president to figure out the next steps.

McConnell to Trump: We're not repealing and replacing ObamaCare - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told President Trump in a conversation Monday that the Senate will not be moving comprehensive health care legislation before the 2020 election, despite the president asking Senate Republicans to do that in a meeting last week. McConnell said he made clear to the president that Senate Republicans will work on bills to keep down the cost of health care, but that they will not work on a comprehensive package to replace the Affordable Care Act, which the Trump administration is trying to strike down in court. “We had a good conversation yesterday afternoon and I pointed out to him the Senate Republicans’ view on dealing with comprehensive health care reform with a Democratic House of Representatives,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday, describing his conversation with Trump. “I was fine with Sen. Alexander and Sen. Grassley working on prescription drug pricing and other issues that are not a comprehensive effort to revisit the issue that we had the opportunity to address in the last Congress and were unable to do so,” he said, referring to Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and the failed GOP effort in 2017 to repeal and replace ObamaCare. “I made clear to him that we were not going to be doing that in the Senate,” McConnell said he told the president. “He did say, as he later tweeted, that he accepted that and he would be developing a plan that he would take to the American people during the 2020 campaign.” After getting the message from McConnell, Trump tweeted Monday night that he no longer expected Congress to pass legislation to replace ObamaCare and still protect people with pre-existing medical conditions, the herculean task he laid before Senate Republicans at a lunch meeting last week. “The Republicans are developing a really great HealthCare Plan with far lower premiums (cost) & deductibles than ObamaCare," Trump wrote Monday night in a series of tweets after speaking to McConnell. "In other words it will be far less expensive & much more usable than ObamaCare Vote will be taken right after the Election when Republicans hold the Senate & win back the House.” Trump blindsided GOP senators when he told them at last week's lunch meeting that he wanted Republicans to craft legislation to replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

Pelosi aide sought to undercut Medicare for All -  A top aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi used a private meeting to encourage health policy groups to raise public concerns about “Medicare for All“ just weeks after Democrats recaptured the House majority, multiple people familiar with the session told POLITICO. Wendell Primus, Pelosi’s senior health policy adviser and a long respected voice on health and domestic policy, told the roughly two dozen attendees at the Nov. 30 gathering that House Democratic leadership worried the progressives’ push for Medicare for All risked diverting attention from the party’s core health agenda — the agenda that won them the House and would likely animate Democratic voters right into 2020. Pelosi herself has been tepid in her support of Medicare for All, while some Democratic presidential candidates and more liberal Democrats have gone all in for the single-payer health care movement, reflecting the serious divisions within the party’s moderate and left wings. But Primus dismissed Medicare for All during the private session as an unhelpful distraction, according to four people in the room and two people briefed on the meeting, and he expressed a need for more scrutiny of single-payer’s policy implications. Some of those six sources interpreted it as a request for data and economic analysis, but others saw it as a harder-edged invitation to discredit the idea, or at least amplify its risks. “It came across as, we need this so we can get on with our agenda,” according to a person in the room. “Can you help us point out the problems?” 

The winning health care message will be about out of pocket costs -- As the 2020 campaign ramps up, Democrats may be able to rally their base by talking about universal coverage and making health care a right through Medicare-for-all. Republicans may be able to motivate their core voters by branding progressive Democratic ideas as socialism.  But it’s the candidates who can connect their plans and messages to voters’ worries about out of pocket costs who will reach beyond the activists in their base. And the candidates aren’t speaking to that much, at least so far.   By the numbers:

  • The anxiety over out of pocket costs is real. In a January 2017 Kaiser poll, 48 percent of voters worried about paying their health care bills.
  • People who are sick are especially concerned, with 66 percent worried and 49 percent very worried.
  • It isn’t just in their heads: a whopping half of people who are sick have a problem paying their medical bills over the course of a year. The health insurance system is not working for people who are sick.

Thanks in part to the Affordable Care Act, only 10 percent of the population remains uncovered. But that means many Americans are less focused on getting to universal coverage, even though candidate after candidate talks about it. They have insurance and are focused on their own, often crippling health care costs. Most Americans are healthy and don’t use much care, but almost everyone, not just people with a major illness, worries about what might happen if they or a family member get cancer or heart disease or suffer a permanent injury.  That's what fuels health care as an issue: the fear of facing costs people know they cannot afford. And that’s why protections for people with pre-existing conditions broke through as a prominent issue in the midterm election.  The debate and the Democratic message could shift back to the ACA again, after President Trump and the Justice Department’s surprise decision to push for throwing out the entire law in the courts. That move handed Democrats a political opportunity they will not ignore: a pre-existing conditions debate on steroids.  Recent trends have made problems with out of pocket costs worse: Deductibles rose eight times faster than wages between 2008 and 2018 for the 156 million Americans who get their insurance at work.  Forty three percent of all insured Americans said in 2017 that it was difficult to pay their medical bills before their deductible kicked in, up from 34 percent just two years before.  Some of the administration’s policies are exacerbating the problem, such as their efforts to push cheaper short term insurance plans for the healthy, which drive up costs for the sick because they leave fewer healthy people in the regular insurance plans to help pay for sick people's costs.

 House committee passes bill to upgrade 401(k) plans amid 'retirement income crisis' -The most comprehensive changes to private retirement plans in more than a decade are gaining momentum in Congress.A key House committee on Tuesday unanimously passed a bill intended to increase the flexibility of 401(k) plans and improve access to the accounts, particularly for small businesses and their employees. The proposal, known as the Secure Act, was backed by the top Democrat and Republican on the tax-writing Ways and Means committee. The bill includes:

  • A host of provisions aimed at encouraging small businesses to provide private retirement benefits to their workers.
  • It allows them to band together to offer 401(k)s and creates a new tax credit of up to $500 for companies that set up plans with automatic enrollment.
  • Businesses with long-term, part-time workers must also allow them to become eligible for retirement benefits.
  • It repeals the maximum age for IRA contributions and raises the age for required mandatory distributions from 70½ to 72.
  • It also expands the use of 529 plans, from only college-related expenses to include home schools and student loans.

"Americans currently face a retirement income crisis, with too many people in danger of not having enough in retirement to maintain their standard of living and avoid sliding into poverty," committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., said Tuesday.The bill is one of the few proposals with a significant chance of becoming law amid a bitterly divided Congress. Elements of the bill have been debated among members for years and enjoy wide support among both industry groups and advocacy organizations. On Tuesday, Neal called the legislation "a major bipartisan accomplishment.""The Ways and Means committee is where we find solutions and get things done for the American people," he said.The last time Congress passed major retirement legislation was in 2006. The Pension Protection Act focused on underfunded accounts and reforms to that system. Since then, lawmakers have d ebated proposals to address the popularity of 401(k)s and individual savings accounts.

Argument analysis: Justices divided on agency deference doctrine - SCOTUSblog - The Supreme Court heard oral argument this morning in a dispute over veterans’ benefits that could become one of the most significant cases of the term. Although the case arose when the Department of Veterans Affairs refused to give James Kisor, who served as a Marine during the Vietnam War, benefits for his post-traumatic-stress disorder dating back to 1983, it has morphed into something much bigger. Kisor and his lawyers have asked the justices to overrule a doctrine that Chief Justice John Roberts has described as “going to the heart of administrative law”: the idea that courts should generally defer to a federal agency’s interpretation of its own regulation. After roughly an hour of debate today, the justices were deeply divided in a case in which their ruling could have implications not only for veterans but also for other areas of the law ranging from the environment to immigration. The doctrine at the center of today’s case is known as Auer deference. It was named after the 1997 case Auer v. Robbins and is also sometimes known as Seminole Rock deference, after the 1945 case Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co. The doctrine rests, at least in part, on the idea that a federal agency has more expertise in the subject matter covered by the regulation (and by the law that the agency was interpreting when it issued the regulation), and – as law professor Aaron Nielson wrote three years ago, the agency that wrote a regulation will “know best what it means.”

Unusual Cruelty at the Supreme Court - In the 5–4 majority opinion for a case called Bucklew v. Precythe, Judge Neil Gorsuch, the author of The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia did not simply tolerate but warmly embraced state killing—even if the state knowingly inflicts agony in the process. Bucklew was an appeal by a condemned inmate, Russell Bucklew, in Missouri. Bucklew is a thoroughly evil killer. He assaulted his former girlfriend, shot a man who tried to intervene and left him to bleed to death, kidnapped his ex, and raped her. Later he broke out of jail, broke into the ex’s home and attacked her mother with a hammer. Bucklew also suffers from an exceedingly rare disease called “cavernous hemangioma,” which produces blood-filled tumors around his body. Even rarer, his tumors are on his head and in his oral cavity. The tumors are inoperable and fragile; if they break, they might flood his throat with blood. He cannot, for example, sleep lying flat, or else he will choke. For this reason, he argued to the Court, Missouri’s execution procedures will likely cause him to choke to death on his own blood. Five years ago, Bucklew filed a challenge to Missouri’s lethal-injection procedures. The Supreme Court in a 2008 case had approved lethal injection in general, holding that it does not violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishments.” A mode of execution, the majority said, need not be entirely pain-free: “Because some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution … the Constitution does not require the avoidance of all risk of pain.”

 As GOP Deploys ‘Nuclear Option’, New Reports Detail Damage Done By Trump’s Far-Right Takeover of Judiciary --As Senate Republicans rammed through a rules change enabling faster approval of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees, two advocacy groups released reports on Wednesday showing the far-reaching and long-lasting damage his confirmed federal judges have already inflicted on the nation.People for the American Way (PFAW) and Alliance for Justice (AFJ) both published studies Wednesday about Trump’s success in appointing 92 judges to district courts, federal appeals courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court—with PFAW writing that the president’s effort to remake the judicial branch in his own image could be disastrous for a number of marginalized groups.“In just under two years on the bench, these narrow-minded elitist judges have already harmed workers, consumers, voters, immigrants, reproductive rights, and many more,” wrote the group in its report, “Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears.”The report was published shortly before the GOP-controlled Senate triggered the so-called “nuclear option” by voting 51-48 to allow the approval of most executive nominations with a simple majority vote. Trump’s future judicial nominees will be subject to just two hours of debate instead of an additional 30 hours.Trump’s two most high-profile appointments so far are those of Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, whose most recent pro-death penalty ruling was called “bloodthirsty” and “atrocious” by critics. But the groups also highlighted the 37 judges who now have seats on the District Court of Appeals, which often has final say in federal cases that do not make it to the Supreme Court. Trump’s influence has made its way into the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, where four of his appointees upheld an Ohio law barring funding to Planned Parenthood; and the 7th Circuit, where four judges appointed by Trump went against federal law when they ruled that older workers cannot claim discrimination by their employers.

Leaked Recording: Cory Booker and AIPAC President “Text Message Back and Forth Like Teenagers”  - IN A CLOSED-DOOR meeting with activists from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Tuesday,  presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., spoke about working closely with the organization and his desire to create a “unified voice from Congress” against the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, or BDS. Booker spoke to AIPAC members from New Jersey at the organization’s annual policy conference in Washington, D.C., a gathering of thousands of activists from around the country, culminating in a lobbying effort on Capitol Hill. Booker’s appearance came at a contentious time; last week, the progressive advocacy group MoveOn called on 2020 candidates to skip the conference, and at least five of the Democrats declined to attend. Booker’s remarks, some of which were first reported by the Jerusalem Post, did not appear on a schedule of on-the-record events for journalists covering the conference. The Intercept obtained a 35-minute audio recording of the session from a conference attendee and is publishing the recording in full here.

The IRS Tried to Take on the Ultrawealthy. It Didn’t Go Well -- In 2009, the IRS had formed a crack team of specialists to unravel the tax dodges of the ultrawealthy. In an age of widening inequality, with a concentration of wealth not seen since the Gilded Age, the rich were evading taxes through ever more sophisticated maneuvers. The IRS commissioner aimed to stanch the country’s losses with what he proclaimed would be “a game-changing strategy.” In short order, Charles Rettig, then a high-powered tax lawyer and today President Donald Trump’s IRS commissioner, warned that the squad was conducting “the audits from hell.” If Trump were being audited, Rettig wrote during the presidential campaign, this is the elite team that would do it. The wealth team embarked on a contentious audit of Schaeffler in 2012, eventually determining that he owed about $1.2 billion in unpaid taxes and penalties. But after seven years of grinding bureaucratic combat, the IRS abandoned its campaign. The agency informed Schaeffler’s lawyers it was willing to accept just tens of millions, according to a person familiar with the audit.How did a case that consumed so many years of effort, with a team of its finest experts working on a signature mission, produce such a piddling result for the IRS? The Schaeffler case offers a rare window into just how challenging it is to take on the ultrawealthy. For starters, they can devote seemingly limitless resources to hiring the best legal and accounting talent. Such taxpayers tend not to steamroll tax laws; they employ complex, highly refined strategies that seek to stretch the tax code to their advantage. It can take years for IRS investigators just to understand a transaction and deem it to be a violation. Once that happens, the IRS team has to contend with battalions of high-priced lawyers and accountants that often outnumber and outgun even the agency’s elite SWAT team. “We are nowhere near a circumstance where the IRS could launch the types of audits we need to tackle sophisticated taxpayers in a complicated world,” said Steven Rosenthal, who used to represent wealthy taxpayers and is now a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution.

Trump’s Financial Statements Are So Full Of Lies That His Accountants Put a Warning Label on Them - During his 72 years on Earth, Donald Trump has told something like 2,936,880 lies, based on my back-of-the-envelope calculations. (According to The Washington Post, the president has told at least 9,179 whoppers just since taking the oath of office—so, you do the math.) Sometimes, the lies are big, like the one he told about seeing “thousands” of supposed terrorist sympathizers “cheering” from New Jersey as the World Trade Center towers collapsed on 9/11. Other times, the lies are small and largely pointless, like his claim that he didn’t call Tim Cook “Tim Apple” when he 100 percent did, on-camera, in a room full of people. Frequently, the lies revolve around his net worth, including its origin (his father) and how big it is (a lot smaller than he claims). As we learned from Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony last month and a New York Times exposé last week, Trump’s lies about his wealth haven’t been confined to bragging about it on TV, but have also allegedly manifested in financial statements sent to banks and insurance companies, in which the ex-real-estate developer inflated his assets in order to obtain loans. And now, thanks to documents obtained by the Post, we have some fun examples of his most absurd financial claims, many of which are now under scrutiny. In a 2011 document known as a “Statement of Financial Condition,” Trump purported to own 55 home lots ready to sell for at least $3 million apiece at his Southern California golf course. Yet, in reality, he’d only been zoned for 31, thereby overstating his future revenue by a cool $72-odd million. In a document from 2012, he tacked on an extra 800 acres to the size of his roughly 1,200 acre Virginia vineyard. In 2013, in an attempt to bolster his bid for the Buffalo Bills, a two-page “Summary of Net Worth” conveniently omitted his ownership of two hotels, in Chicago and Las Vegas, meaning, per thePost, “that some of Trump’s actual debt load was hidden from anyone reading the statement.” In perhaps the most brazen, Trumpian “exaggeration,” he invented an extra 10 stories at Trump Tower, claiming that the building was 68 stories when, in actuality—you can literally look at the building and count them—there are 58.

Trump hires law firm to fight bid by Congress to get his income tax returns - President Donald Trump has hired a law firm to battle congressional efforts to see his income tax returns. In a letter Friday to Treasury Department General Counsel Brent McIntosh, lawyer William Consovoy argued that the House Ways and Means Committee has no "legitimate committee purpose" for seeking the president's returns. The attorney from the law firm Consovoy McCarthy Park also wrote that the Treasury would set "set a dangerous precedent" by releasing the returns. "Even if Ways and Means had a legitimate committee purpose for requesting the President's tax returns and return information, that purpose is not driving Chairman [Richard] Neal's request. His request is a transparent effort by one political party to harass an official from the other party because they dislike his politics and speech," Consovoy argued in the letter obtained by NBC News. The letter escalates the legal dispute between the White House and House Democrats, who formally requested the president's tax returns on Wednesday evening. Trump, who came into office in 2017 still owning sprawling global business holdings, did not release his returns during the 2016 election, breaking with decades of precedent. Democrats have said politics did not inspire their request. Neal, D-Mass., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, asked the IRS, which is part of the Treasury, for six years of the president's personal tax returns and some of those for his businesses. It was the first time Congress asked for a sitting president's tax information in 45 years. "I take the authority to make this request very seriously, and I approach it with the utmost care and respect," Neal said in a statement Wednesday. "This request is about policy, not politics; my preparations were made on my own track and timeline, entirely independent of other activities in Congress and the Administration." Trump has repeatedly claimed he cannot release his returns because he is under audit. Asked Wednesday about sending his tax returns to Congress, he said that "until such time as I as I am not under audit, I will not be doing that."

 Trump Attorney Demands That Treasury Withhold Tax Returns - One of Donald Trump’s attorneys recommended to the U.S. Treasury Department and the IRS that they not turn over to Congress the president’s tax returns until the Justice Department can issue a formal opinion on whether House Democrats’ request is legal. The letter, written by Washington lawyer William Consovoy and sent Friday, argued that this week’s demand by House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal for six years’ worth of Trump’s personal and business returns does not have a “legitimate committee purpose,” flouts “fundamental constitutional constraints,” and undermines “IRS’s ability to do its job fairly.” Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat, asked Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig on Wednesday to turn over the returns by April 10. Neal wrote that the committee needed the returns as well as audit records and other files associated with them to ensure that the IRS was following its policy of auditing the president’s returns yearly. But House Democrats have said they also wanted to see Trump’s returns as part of their broad investigations into his financial dealings before he was elected in 2016. Consovoy’s letter, which was addressed to Treasury General Counsel Brent McIntosh, said Neal’s stated reasons were merely a pretext for a political attack and “would set a dangerous precedent.”

Trump is the world’s worst cheat at golf, players and celebs say - Sixteen of the last 19 US presidents have played golf — and now, in Donald John Trump, the nation can finally boast the very best of them all.  Well, that’s what he’d like you to believe.   “To say ‘Donald Trump cheats’ is like saying ‘Michael Phelps swims,'” writes Rick Reilly in the new book “Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump”  (Hachette Book Group), out Tuesday. “He cheats at the highest level. He cheats when people are watching and he cheats when they aren’t. He cheats whether you like it or not. He cheats because that’s how he plays golf … if you’re playing golf with him, he’s going to cheat.” Reilly, a former Sports Illustrated columnist who has played with Trump in the past, spoke to dozens of players — both amateur and professional — to recount some of the president’s worst cons on the course, starting with his declared handicap of 2.8. In layman’s terms, the lower the handicap, the better the player. Jack Nicklaus, winner of a record 18 major golf titles and generally considered the greatest golfer in the history of the game, has a handicap of 3.4. Nicklaus’ handicap is listed on the same Golf Handicap and Information Network website used by Trump, where players post their scores. “If Trump is a 2.8,” writes Reilly, “Queen Elizabeth is a pole vaulter.”

Mueller is done, but DOJ probe of alleged bias on Mueller and FBI teams is not -- The White House says President Donald Trump is "completely vindicated" by special counsel Robert Mueller's conclusions as relayed by Attorney General William Barr. But that doesn't mean Trump is vindicated in his unrelenting attacks on the Mueller and FBI probes as biased and corrupt. Allegations of misconduct in the federal government’s Russia-related probe are still under investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general.In fact, a government report on allegations of political bias within Mueller's office and the FBI isn't expected to be finalized for several more months, sources told ABC News.And on Monday, Trump conceded he now believes Mueller acted honorably, even if others didn't. The day before, within hours of Barr releasing a letter on Mueller’s final conclusions, some of Trump’s strongest allies on Capitol Hill also praised Mueller’s work. “Great job by Mr. Mueller and his team to thoroughly examine all things Russia,” proclaimed the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.But, shortly after Barr released his letter Sunday, Trump described Mueller's investigation as "an illegal takedown that failed." And over the past year, he's derided it as a "rigged" and "conflicted investigation in search of a crime" that was led by "13 angry Democrats." Trump and his allies have repeatedly cited what they claim was "abuse" of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act -- or FISA -- which allows U.S. agencies to secretly intercept a target's communications with court approval.

How the Media Got it Wrong on Trump and Russia  Quoting directly from the Mueller report, “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” Coordination was defined by the report as “agreement—tacit or express—between the Trump campaign and the Russian government on election interference.” Mueller was unable to find evidence that the Trump campaign had even an unspoken understanding with the Russian government, and Attorney General Barr and Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein have said there is not sufficient evidence to establish an obstruction of justice charge.  With the most anticipated investigation of the decade now concluded, some Republicans are angling to start their own counter-investigation. “What they should really be investigating is who started all this. This was a classic frame-up. It didn't come out of thin air,” said Rudy Giuliani, former New York City Mayor and personal lawyer to the president for the better part of the Mueller probe. Steve Bannon, former Chief Strategist for the White House, came to the same conclusion with CNN’s Anderson Cooper: “What was done at the beginning of this investigation of the Trump campaign? I think it’s really got to be looked into. And I’ve said now, Anderson, for over a year and a half, I believe something like the Church Commission is gonna have to be established to look into the FBI’s behavior in this, and the CIA.” In the 1970s, the Church Committee (a precursor to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence) investigated significant and numerous civil liberties abuses by the CIA, FBI, and other parts of the national security state. Senator Lindsey Graham, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has signaled his interest in such an investigation.  The word being thrown around, from the New York Times Peter Baker to ABC’s Terry Moran, to Bloomberg’s Eli Lake, is “reckoning.” To quote from Lake at length, he explains, “[i]t’s a reckoning for Democrats who saw almost every development in this almost-two-year investigation as another dot connecting a conspiracy Mueller has not found. It’s a reckoning for many in the media that dutifully passed along this theory without scrutiny or context. And it’s a reckoning for many national security officials who abandoned their traditional nonpartisan role as custodians of state secrets to engage in a campaign against a president they loathed.” But do the “journalists” and politicians who got the story so wrong, and the national security officials who fed them the wrong story, have to worry about the consequences?

No, the Meuller report ***DID NOT*** “find no collusion!” - This past week I nearly became apoplectic about he malfeasance of much of the press and the punditry reporting of Barr’s 6 paragraph substantive “summary” (3 paragraphs each as to “collusion” and “obstruction of justice”) of Mueller’s roughly 300 page report. As an initial matter, because Mueller’s grand jury is continuing to meet, and there are still subpoenas and witnesses outstanding, it is incorrect to say that “the investigation” has concluded. clearly “the investigation” is ongoing. What *has* concluded is Mueller’s involvement as special counsel, now that an Attorney General has taken over who did not have to recuse himself. Keep that basic point in mind. But that’s not what got me livid. Much has already been covered by others. But it is one important, even fundamental, aspect of Barr’s executive summary on which I wanted to focus. Start with the fact that Barr is a very good attorney. He is going to choose his words, and what he cites and what he omits with great care. Now, this is the *totality* of the language from the actual Mueller report that Barr quotes as to collusion: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” Barr repeats this formulation virtually verbatim twice more in his letter.   Barr is a seasoned attorney. He chose the weaker rather than the stronger formulation for a reason.

 House Democrats To Issue Subpoena For Full, Unredacted Mueller Report And Underlying Evidence - The House Judiciary Committee led by Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) will vote on Wednesday to authorize subpoenas for a full, unredacted copy of the nearly 400 page Mueller report, according to CNN and the Wall Street Journal.   Nadler said Monday that he had scheduled a markup on Wednesday to authorize a subpoena for the Mueller report, as well as the special counsel's underlying evidence. The markup would give the New York Democrat the green light to subpoena the report, though Nadler has not said whether he would do so before Attorney General William Barr releases a redacted version publicly, which he is expected to do later this month. -CNNNadler's committee will also vote on whether to issue subpoenas for five former White House staffers; Steve Bannon, Hope Hicks, Reince Priebus, Don McGahn and Ann Donaldson - who Nadler claims may have received documents from the White House connected to the Mueller probe that would waive executive privilege. On Friday, Barr sent Nadler and Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham a letter notifying them that he was working with Mueller to redact sensitive information which could affect ongoing matters - including grand jury material, information that would infringe on someone's personal privacy or information which could compromise the DOJ's sources and methods of investigation, and that the redacted report would be ready by mid-April "if not sooner." This wasn't good enough for Nadler, who responded "As I informed the Attorney General..Congress requires the full and complete Mueller report, without redactions, as well as access to the underlying evidence, by April 2.  That deadline still stands."Nadler also said Barr should work with Congress through the court system to allow the grand jury material to be made public - which one Democratic aide called the "primary obstacle" to its full release. "We have an obligation to read the full report, and the Department of Justice has an obligation to provide it, in its entirely, without delay. If the department is unwilling to produce the full report voluntarily, then we will do everything in our power to secure it for ourselves," wrote Nadler in a New York Times op-ed published Monday. "We require the report, first, because Congress, not the attorney general, has a duty under the Constitution to determine whether wrongdoing has occurred."

There Are Still Democrats Praying For A Deus-Ex-Mueller Ending - Caitlin Johnstone - Well it certainly hasn’t taken long for the establishment narrative control machine to pace Russiagaters into a new arsenal of talking points. Now if you try to speak online about how Attorney General William Barr’s letter says that the Mueller report contains the explicit phrase “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” or mainstream media reports that there are no sealed indictments and that no new indictments have been recommended, you’ll be inundated with comments telling you “We don’t know what’s in the report! You don’t know! No one knows!” “Mueller reported Trump did not collude with Russia to influence our elections,” Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard stated on Twitter yesterday.“Now we must put aside partisan interests, move forward, and work to unite our country to deal with the serious challenges we face.”Peruse the comments on Gabbard’s post and you’ll see some 20 thousand furious responses all more or less saying the same thing: we don’t know what Mueller reported. It’s a complete and total mystery. There could be anything in there. For all we know Barr lied about the whole thing.“Mueller has not reported anything,” tweeted journalist Soledad O’Brien to thousands of likes and retweets in response to Gabbard’s post. “Why does anyone support this idiotic lady?”   Mueller has not reported anything. Why does anyone support this idiotic lady?  This lays out clearly where the victims of the Russiagate psyop are being herded in response to Mueller’s report. A few days ago when I would talk on social media about the fact that Don Jr and Jared Kushner aren’t being dragged off in chains as promised, there was deathly silence from the Russiagate crew. Now when I talk about it (check out the responses to this post just for an example), I get a bunch of responders going on about the fact that we haven’t seen the report, and that Barr’s letter only contains partial sentences from the report (as though there’s anything else that could be in those sentences which would change the meaning of “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities”). These are the arguments that the narrative managers have taught them to make.

To Understand Mueller’s Work, Focus on Counterintelligence - According to Attorney General William Barr, the Mueller team concluded that it “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” Assuming that Barr has not misquoted Special Counsel Robert Mueller—and I am confident he has not—I am not terribly surprised that the investigation produced this result. Nor am I surprised that President Trump and his allies are declaring total victory, after a concerted public relations campaign to define success on terms they were always likely to satisfy. I am, however, surprised that some media commentators have mischaracterized this declination decision as total and complete absolution of the Trump campaign. Some headlines have declared that Mueller found “no evidence” of collusion or coordination. But as Paul Rosenzweig has pointed out, federal prosecutors will not return an indictment unless, among other things, they believe the admissible evidence will establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.The reason for my surprise, perhaps better characterized as disappointment, is not just that these descriptions of “no collusion” ignore the plain text of the Barr summary—not to mention the extensive body of information about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia in Mueller charging documents and in other press reports, much of it catalogued here by House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff. Rather, I am disappointed because these reports miss the most important point of all of this: The special counsel’s prosecution and declination decisions tell only a small part of the story that all Americans, and their elected representatives, should care deeply about. After all, criminal culpability is not the standard by which someone’s fitness to be elected to the office of president of the United States, or in this case to remain in that office, should be judged. As some observers have correctly explained in recent days, this distinction goes to the heart of the difference between a criminal investigation, on the one hand, and a counterintelligence investigation, on the other. Barr’s summary speaks only to the former and omits any facts, findings or conclusions from the latter. Counterintelligence is always where the action was going to be.

Taibbi- On Russiagate and Our Refusal to Face Why Trump Won - Last weekend, I published a book chapter criticizing the Russiagate narrative, claiming it was a years-long press error on the scale of the WMD affair heading into the Iraq war.Obviously (and I said this in detail), the WMD fiasco had a far greater real-world impact, with hundreds of thousands of lives lost and trillions in treasure wasted. Still, I thought Russiagate would do more to damage the reputation of the national news media in the end. A day after publishing that excerpt, a Attorney General William Barr sent his summary of the report to Congress, containing a quote filed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” Suddenly, news articles appeared arguing people like myself and Glenn Greenwald of the Intercept were rushing to judgment, calling us bullies whose writings were intended to leave reporters “cowed” and likely to “back down from aggressive coverage of Trump.”This was baffling. One of the most common criticisms of people like Greenwald, Michael Tracey, Aaron Mate, Rania Khalek, Max Blumenthal, Jordan Chariton and many others is that Russiagate “skeptics” — I hate that term, because it implies skepticism isn’t normal and healthy in this job — were really secret Trump partisans, part of a “horseshoe” pact between far left and far right to focus attention on the minor foibles of the center instead of Trump’s more serious misdeeds. Even I received this label, and I once wrote a book about Trump called Insane Clown President. I had no illusions about Trump. The Russia story bothered me for other reasons, mostly having to do with a general sense of the public being misled, and not even about Russia. The problem lay with the precursor tale to Russiagate, i.e. how Trump even got to be president in the first place.

Journalists Matt Taibbi and Aaron Maté explain how the Russiagate narrative helped Trump (interview & transcript) The claim that President Trump engaged in collusion with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election was so pervasive and unquestioned that only a handful of journalists demonstrated the healthy skepticism required by their profession. Last week, special counsel Robert Mueller delivered his report on the Trump-Russia investigation to the Justice Department, which then released a four-page summary written by Attorney General William Barr. While the full report is over 300 pages, and Mueller punted on the question of obstruction, he found no evidence of collusion. Despite this, the “Russiagate” truthers, if you will, are doubling down on the Russiagate narrative, moving the goalposts to focus on the possibility of obstruction of justice and conveniently ignoring that the collusion that was so central to their theory has not been established.A sad irony is that the Russiagate narrative, which so many people clung to in an attempt to bring down Trump, only helped him. Actual occurrences that could have undermined Trump’s authority and damaged his reputation were ignored as much of the media and political class focused almost exclusively on a literal conspiracy theory that does not resonate with the voter base that stayed home on Election Day or the Obama-to-Trump voters. Surely, Trump has done awful things, coverage of which could get out the vote and galvanize opposition. But the Russiagate obsession perpetuated Trump’s narrative about being picked-on by a media that peddles fake news and a political elite that represents the status quo. Trump was able to come off, once again, as the outsider who takes on the establishment, which in turn persecutes him. And now that the Mueller report has said he didn’t collude with Russia, he’s celebrating. In a recent episode of my podcast, I spoke with two journalists who pushed back on the Russiagate narrative: Aaron Maté, contributor to The Nation and former host and producer for “The Real News” and “Democracy Now!,” and Matt Taibbi, the award-winning Rolling Stone journalist and author of four New York Times best-sellers. They weighed in on the way Russiagate benefited Trump, undermined journalistic integrity and thwarted a real resistance.

The U.S. Needs a Post-Mueller Reality Check - It’s clear now that the myth of a Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin conspiracy presented the Russian president as an exaggerated threat, when he is more of a mouse. American Russia watchers should be looking for other mistakes of this kind. The concept of a Russian “hybrid war,” fought simultaneously with weapons, cyber intrusions and propaganda, is a good place to start this reappraisal. The conspiracy theory about Trump as a Russian asset was grotesque and implausible, the plot of a cheap Cold War-era spy thriller. The narrative was built on the shakiest of foundations: A retired British spy’s unattributed fantasies, an obscure Russian lawyer’s lobbying efforts in the U.S. on behalf of her client, a real estate project that never even got as far as serious discussions and, most recently, on a campaign manager’s decision to share some polling data with a Russian national. Yet serious people chose to believe it, as they once believed in the might of the Soviet empire. As the Soviet Union fell apart, I remember many conversations with American visitors astounded to discover how wrong they’d been once they saw how much of the giant’s supposed power had been a Potemkin village. I’m not sure Americans were all that easy to deceive then or now, though: It just fit certain political agendas to see Russia as a mighty adversary. That’s the case with the “hybrid war” narrative, too: It sustains an industry of information warriors. But the narrative is as flawed as the conspiracy theory of Trump as a Russian asset was. It’s easy to determine that Russia never adopted a “hybrid war” strategy. Chief of General Staff General Valery Gerasimov has only spoken, time and time again, of the need to respond to a putative Western hybrid assault, including with information warfare and economic pressure to complement military force. But in saying that, Gerasimov has himself been pushing a conspiracy theory popular with the Kremlin – that the U.S. is trying to engineer regime change in Russia by various means, including a “fifth column.”

Unable To Wait Two Weeks, Democrats Plan Nationwide Tantrum If Mueller Report Not Released Tonight  - A coalition of prominent progressive grassroots organizations are planning a nationwide protest on Thursday if Attorney General William Barr does not release special counsel Robert Mueller's full Russia report by a Tuesday deadline set by House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler.  Nadler vehemently opposed releasing the full Clinton report in 1998 "as a matter of decency and protecting people's privacy rights."  Rep. Jerry Nadler wants to see the full Mueller report, exactly the opposite of what he said in 1998 when the Clinton report was finished ‍♂️   Barr and Mueller are currently working to redact sensitive information ahead of the report's full public release, which Barr says should be ready by mid-April or sooner. Not soon enough, however, for Democrats hoping that the full report will provide "gotchas" that will prove Trump and his team committed malfeasance - despite Mueller's conclusion that there was no collusion between Trump and Russia. "We are calling for a National Day of Action on Thursday, April 4, to demand that Attorney General William Barr #ReleaseTheReport if he fails to meet the deadline set by congressional leaders of Tuesday, April 2," announced the Trump Is Not Above The Law coalition on late Monday.  "Barr has offered an alternate timeline for a redacted version of the report," said the group "but we deserve the full report and Congressional leaders and the American people expect it now."

“Release the Mueller Report”: 300+ Rallies Nationwide to Demand Full Transparency — Campaigners have organized rallies nationwide for Thursday in order to give voice to the widespread public demand the report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice by Special Counsel Robert Mueller be disclosed to members of Congress and the public—with as little redaction as possible—without further delay.Spearheaded by a coalition of progressive groups— including MoveOn, Public Citizen, People For the American Way, and Indivisible— more than 300 rapid-response events across the country have been scheduled to make it clear that people want the report made available to lawmakers in the public. Most protests will start at 5 pm local time. Find one near you here.  In addition to the dispersed rallies nationwide, people in Washington, D.C. will demonstrate outside the White House on Thursday afternoon to demand Attorney General William Barr releases the full report to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee and as much information as possible to the public. “Majorities of Americans believe the full Mueller report should be made public,” declared Public Citizen in a statement, referencing polls showing “overwhelming” support for the report’s disclosure. “Protesters will demand full transparency so that Congress can conduct responsible oversight of the executive branch.”  Angel Padilla, Indivisible’s national policy director, argued that both Barr and the Trump administration “have drawn unverifiable conclusions from a report no one else has been allowed to see while ignoring the overwhelming majority of Americans who want it to be made public.” On Thursday evening, Padilla added, “the people will make it clear that they want the report and they want it now. We hope Barr listens.”

Rand Paul blocks resolution calling for release of Mueller report - Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) blocked a resolution calling for special counsel Robert Mueller's report on the Russia probe be made public, marking the fifth time Republicans have blocked the House-passed measure. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, asked for unanimous consent on Thursday to pass the resolution, which cleared the House in a 420-0 vote earlier this year. "What we're talking about is basic transparency, let's make sure the full Mueller report is released to Congress … and then let's make sure the American people see as much of this report as possible," Warner said from the Senate floor. He added that to warn future campaigns and candidates about potential election interference "we need to fully understand what the Russians were trying to do." Under Senate rules, any one senator can request that any bill or resolution be passed. But because it requires the sign-off of every senator, any one senator can also block their request. Paul objected because Warner wouldn't agree to amend the non-binding House-passed resolution to include provisions calling for the public release of communications between several Obama-era officials including former President Obama, former FBI Director James Comey and former CIA Director John Brennan. Paul argued that Congress still needs to figure out the "entire story" including the origins of the investigation into Trump's campaign and a controversial research dossier compiled against then-candidate Trump.

The Fight for the Mueller Report Could Get Ugly Fast - Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee gave Representative Jerrold Nadler some muscle Wednesday in the ongoing tug of war over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia report. Nadler now has the power, if he chooses, to subpoena the Justice Department and require it to turn over a 400-page report detailing what Mueller discovered when he investigated President Donald Trump and his team’s intersection with Russia during and after the 2016 presidential campaign. Barr has promised to turn over a redacted version of the report by mid-April; Democrats worry that waiting that long gives Barr too much time and latitude to decide what should and shouldn’t be disclosed. If Barr insists on more time, and Nadler unleashes his subpoena, Barr may still resist, setting up a legal battle that could find its way to the Supreme Court. The White House itself has other cards to play as well, including asserting that some parts of the Mueller report pertain to the presidency’s internal processes and deliberations and are therefore protected by executive privilege and are, presto, subpoena-proof. Should Trump go in that direction, he is likely to find an ally in Barr. In 1989, Barr, prior to becoming George H.W. Bush’s attorney general, wrote a Justice Department memo in which he argued that if congressional requests for confidential executive-branch information couldn’t be accommodated and Congress issues a subpoena, then it may become “necessary for the President to consider asserting executive privilege.” Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s occasional carnival barker, has said in the past that he was “sure” the president would invoke executive privilege if Democrats sought the Mueller report. In an interview with the New Yorker in September, he said that Trump’s legal team had reached a deal with Mueller in which the White House had “reserved the right to object to the public disclosure of information that might be covered by executive privilege.” All of this is further complicated by how little the public already knows about Mueller’s decision-making process.

‘Lock them up’? Trump’s attention turns to his enemies list — President Donald Trump identified the enemies of his state Thursday night.At a raucous campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan — his first since Attorney General William Barr reported that the president would not be prosecuted for obstruction of justice and that special counsel Robert Mueller had not established the existence of a conspiracy between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russian operatives — Trump listed them by name and occupation."Little pencil-neck Adam Schiff," Trump said of the House Intelligence Committee chairman, who continues to oversee a Russia probe as the president's campaign seeks his resignation or expulsion from Congress."Jerry Nadler," he said, invoking the name of the House Judiciary chairman, who is looking into the obstruction-of-justice allegations for which Mueller, in the still-secret report to Barr, laid out evidence for and against concluding the president had committed criminal conduct."I have beat him many times, and now I have to come here and beat him again," Trump said of the New York Democrat."These people are sick," he continued. "All of the Democrat politicians, the media bosses, bad people. ... crooked journalists, the totally dishonest TV pundits. ... And all the current and former officials who paid for, promoted, and perpetuated the single greatest hoax in the history of politics in our country. They have to be — I am sorry, they have to be accountable." The crowd chanted a solution for that: "Lock them up!"

Trump calls for revoking New York Times, Washington Post Pulitzers - President Donald Trump on Friday called for the New York Times and the Washington Post to have their Pulitzer prizes rescinded for their coverage of the special counsel's Russia investigation. “So funny that The New York Times & The Washington Post got a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage (100% NEGATIVE and FAKE!) of Collusion with Russia - And there was No Collusion! So, they were either duped or corrupt? In any event, their prizes should be taken away by the Committee!” Trump tweeted. Trump has lashed out at the media in recent days after a synopsis of special counsel Robert Mueller's report was released by Attorney General William Barr. The full report has yet to be released. The newspapers received a joint Pulitzer Prize last year for their coverage of the Mueller investigation and the connections between Russia's interference in the 2016 elections and Trump campaign members and aides. Trump has called the New York Times the “enemy of the people” over Twitter. And he accused Jeff Bezos — the owner of the Washington Post and e-commerce giant Amazon — of using the publication as a “lobbyist weapon against Congress to keep Politicians from looking into Amazon no-tax monopoly.” Both media organizations have responded forcefully against the president's repeated allegations of wrongdoing.

Michael Cohen Dangles Mystery Dirt On Trump - If Only House Democrats Will Keep Him Out Of Jail -- With 'collusion' and 'obstruction' now off the table for all but the most cognitively dissonant leftist, attorneys for Michael Cohen are leveraging the desperation of several members of Congress to try and keep President Trump's former lawyer out of prison. In a letter sent to lawmakers Thursday, The New York Times reports that the lawyers said Cohen is still sorting through documents that might be of interest to House Democrats investigating his former boss, President Donald Trump, and that Mr. Cohen can best help their oversight inquiries if he remains out of prison to sift through the rest of the millions of his documents. The lawyers sought the help of the Democrats in convincing federal prosecutors in Manhattan of “the need for Mr. Cohen to be readily available to Congress and to prosecutors conducting these investigations, such that his date to report for incarceration about four weeks from now will be substantially postponed while he is fully cooperating with prosecutors and Congress.” The lawyers cited the potential for his cooperation in the investigations to lead to a “reduced term” for Mr. Cohen. “There is no doubt that Mr. Cohen’s testimony, both public and private, has contributed substantially, with documents and other evidence, to triggering additional areas for investigation by law enforcement authorities and the Congress,” the lawyers wrote. “He has done so despite intense personal pressures and stresses he faces for himself and his family. However, with 30 days left before he surrenders to prison, time is no longer a luxury he is capable of.” As a reminder, Cohen pleaded guilty to tax evasion, fraud, lying to Congress and campaign finance violations.

 Was John Brennan The Russia Lie Ringleader?  - With Mr. Mueller’s findings, Mr. Comey’s and Mr. McCabe’s media benders look increasingly suspicious. --As do those of their comrades in the Obama national security apparatus, including former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and his partner in possible crime, former CIA Director John Brennan, who, apart from former President Barack Obama himself, may be the biggest player of them all. Any investigation into the origins and execution of the Big Lie must focus on Mr. Brennan, whose job as the nation’s chief spook would have prohibited him, by law, from engaging in any domestic political spy games.  Of course, the law didn’t stop him from illegally spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee by hacking into its computers and lying repeatedly about it, prompting Democratic senators to call for his resignation.Once out of Langley, Mr. Brennan tore into Mr. Trump, accusing him of “treason” (among other crimes) in countless television appearances and bitter tweets. It got so vicious that Mr. Trump pulled his security clearance.  The Obama Department of Justice and FBI targeting of two low-level Trump aides, George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, was carried out in the spring of 2016 because they wanted to spy on the Trump campaign but needed a way in. They enlisted an American academic and shadowy FBI informant named Stefan Halper to repeatedly sidle up to both Mr. Papadopoulos and Mr. Page. But complementing his work for the FBI, Mr. Halper had a side gig as an intelligence operative with longstanding ties to the CIAand British intelligence MI6.Another foreign professor, Joseph Mifsud, who played an important early part in targeting Papadopoulos, also had abiding ties to the CIA, MI6 and the British foreign secretary. A third operative, Australian diplomat Alexander Downer, targeted Mr. Papadopoulos in a London bar. All of these interactions reek of entrapment. Mr. Papadopoulos now says,  Given the deep intelligence backgrounds of these folks, it’s difficult to believe that former DOJ/FBIofficials such as Peter Strzok or even James Comey and Andrew McCabe on their own devised the plan to deploy them. So: who did? How did the relationships with Messrs. Halper, Mifsud and Downer come about? Who suggested them for these tasks? To whom did they report? How were they compensated?

More Voters Think Hillary Clinton Illegally Colluded With Foreign Operatives Than Trump- Poll - Now that the Mueller report is out, a new nationwide poll of voters reveals that more people believe Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign "illegally colluded with foreign operatives" than Trump's, according Rasmussen.   47% of Likely U.S. Voters think Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign is more likely than President Trump’s to have illegally colluded with foreign operatives. Nearly as many (45%) still suspect the Trump campaign more. -RasmussenThe respondents are predictably biased by party affiliation - with 71% of Democrats thinking Trump more likely colluded and 73% of GOP voters thinking Clinton colluded.  Let's review the Clinton campaign's ties to Russia (and imagine if this were Trump's team):

  • Individuals connected to the Uranium One deal, in which Russia purchased the rights to mine 20% of American uranium, reportedly donated $145 million to the Clinton foundation before the deal was approved while Clinton was Secretary of State.
  • Bill Clinton picked up a cool $500,000 for one Moscow speech. During the same trip he hung out with Russian President Vladimir Putin at his house.
  • Hillary Clinton's Chief of Staff, John Podesta (who would have likely become her Secretary of State), sat on the board of Massachusetts energy company Joule Unlimited, along with senior Russian official Anatoly Chubais and Russian oligarch Ruben Vardanyan – who was appointed by Vladimir Putin to the Russian economic council. Two months after Podesta joined the board, Joule managed to raise $35 million from Putin’s Kremlin-backed investment fund Rusnano.
  • Not only did John Podesta fail to properly disclose this relationship before joining the Clinton Campaign, he transferred 75,000 shares of Joule to his daughter through a shell company using her address. Despite the Russian assistance, the Daily Caller reports that Joule Unlimited folded shortly after Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election.
  • John Podesta's brother, Tony, received $180,000 to lobby for Uranium One during the same period that the Clinton Foundation was receiving millions from U1 interests, and after Russia took majority ownership in the "20 percent" deal (source – you have to add up the years).  Tony Podesta visited the White House at least 114 times during the Obama years according to White House visitor logs, and was said to have had 'special access' to the administration through his brother while lobbying for various pro-Kremlin interests.

Silicon Valley and “Communication Weapons of War” - Yasha Levine: I was in the New York Public Library recently doing research in the archives when I stumbled on a 1944 pamphlet from Western Electric, the old American techno-telephone monopolist. It’s called “Circuits for Victory” and its 40 glossy, slickly produced pages are dedicated to one thing: celebrating all the ways that the company’s telecommunication technology helps the United States government fight and win wars. The pamphlet is a historical document, but if you squint at it right and replace “Western Electric” with, say, “Facebook” or “Google” or “Amazon,” you actually get an accurate sense of what Silicon Valley monopolies are today: privatized extensions of American Empire. Since the dot com boom, Silicon Valley has been selling itself to the world as a new breed of global corporation — neutral platforms that sit on top of the world, unconcerned with and totally removed from American geopolitical and national security interests. The public believed it. Even Silicon Valley people believed it. It was the dawn of a new depoliticized corporate internationalism. It was all about a utopian technological revolution that would connect and empower people, regardless of their nationality or language. Indeed, Silicon Valley was supposed to make “the nation” obsolete. Of course, this was always a transparent sham. And perhaps the one positive thing that’s come out of RussiaGate — and the ridiculous mainstream belief that Russia attacked American democracy with Internet memes — is that no one believes this Silicon Valley global utopianism anymore. RussiaGate forced Silicon Valley to publicly admit something that I’ve been saying for years — something that is at the core of the thesis of my book, Surveillance Valley: American Internet companies are not abstract global platforms, but privatized instruments of American geopolitical power. It’s out in the open now. Even Google CEO Sundar Pichai admits it — and Donald Trump blasts it out to the world:

 The FCC Has Collected Just $6,790 Of $208 Million It Has Fined Robocallers The Federal Communications Commission has been fighting what seems like a never-ending battle against robocallers for the last several years. Of the $208 million in fines that they have levied against illegal automated callers, they have only collected about $6,790, according to the Wall Street Journal. Since 2015, the FCC has ordered those who’ve violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act to pay fines of $208.4 million, including forfeiture orders in cases that involve robocalling, Do Not Call registry and telephone solicitation violations. The $6,790 collected represents an extraordinarily paltry sum, 0.003% percent of what has been fined.The total sum secured by the FTC through court judgments in cases involving civil penalties for robocalls or Do Not Call registry violations, plus the sum requested for consumer redress in fraud related cases, has been $1.5 billion since 2004. It has collected on $121 million of that total. This marks about 8%, a number the agency is proud of.Ian Barlow, coordinator of the agency’s Do Not Call program, said:  “That number stands on its own. We’re proud of it; we think our enforcement program is pretty strong." The FTC and FCC say there are challenges to collecting these penalties, especially when small illegal operations quickly close up shop and change their name. Many are also based overseas, making it difficult to seize assets. : "Fines are a deterrent on legitimate companies that have real assets in the U.S. For a spam caller or overseas operator, that’s really just pushing for Social Security numbers or bank account information—it’s less of a deterrent, because they don’t really have anything that could be collected anyway.”In cases where there are civil penalties, the FTC may secure a judgment but it still may be difficult to get individuals to pay.   Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC since January 2017 said: "It's important to send a signal to other would-be robocallers that you're not going to be able to get away with it."  Of the $202 million in fines issued during Pai's tenure, nothing has been collected.

 Mega Banks Tell SEC: Derivatives Could Blow Up Wall Street Again -  Pam Martens - The most recent 10Ks (annual reports) filed by the largest Wall Street banks covering their financial condition as of December 31, 2018, provide the strongest argument thus far for Congress to enact legislation to separate the Federally insured, deposit-taking commercial banks from the trading casinos on Wall Street. In other words, Congress needs to restore the Glass-Steagall Act, which kept the U.S. financial system safe for 66 years until its repeal in 1999. If the average American knew that the very same banks that blew up the U.S. economy, devastated the housing market, crashed the stock market, threw millions of Americans out of work just a decade ago were warning in their own 10K legal filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission that the same thing could happen again at any moment, there would be mobs with pitchforks in the street. But because corporate media does not put this critical information on the front pages of newspapers, the public remains in the dark and Congress dawdles. According to JPMorgan’s 10K, it has sold credit derivative protection on $177 billion of “subinvestment grade” i.e., junk credits. When you sell credit protection, you are on the hook to pay the buyer if that entity goes belly up. When you are selling credit protection on subinvestment grade entities, it is far more likely that they could go belly up. JPMorgan Chase will likely argue that they have also purchased boatloads of credit derivatives, which might be on the same entities, but there is no way for anyone to accurately predict if this mega bank has aligned these risks correctly. Even the bank admits that, writing in its 10K the following: JPMorgan Chase could incur significant losses arising from concentrations of credit and market risk. JPMorgan Chase is exposed to greater credit and market risk to the extent that groupings of its clients or counterparties:“Engage in similar or related business, or in businesses in related industries;“do business in the same geographic region, or;“have business profiles, models or strategies that could cause their ability to meet their obligations to be similarly affected by changes in economic conditions. “For example, a significant deterioration in the credit quality of one of JPMorgan Chase’s borrowers or counterparties could lead to concerns about the creditworthiness of other borrowers or counterparties in similar, related or dependent industries. This type of interrelationship could exacerbate JPMorgan Chase’s credit, liquidity and market risk exposure and potentially cause it to incur losses, including fair value losses in its market-making businesses…

Warren doubles down on ending ‘too big to jail’ — Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., introduced legislation Wednesday that would require executives of large corporations to serve jail time when their companies commit crimes, including for violations of civil law. In unveiling the bill, Warren cited the recent resignation of Tim Sloan as Wells Fargo's CEO following a string of consumer-related scandals at the bank. “Last week, after years of pressure, [Wells Fargo] finally parted ways with its second chief executive in three years,” Warren wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post. “But that’s not nearly enough accountability. It’s time to reform our laws to make sure that corporate executives face jail time for overseeing massive scams.” Warren has previously called for stiffer punishments for executives, unveiling a bill last year to create a permanent law enforcement unit to investigate potential criminal activity at large financial institutions and require big-bank executives to certify that there is no criminal conduct or fraud within their company. In addition to reintroducing that legislation, her new bill announced Wednesday would go further. The Corporate Executive Accountability Act would expand criminal liability to executives of large companies that are found guilty of any crime, or that are found liable by a regulator for violations of civil law that negatively affect finances of 1% of the U.S. population or 1% of any state's population. The punishment for any violation under the legislation would be up to a year in jail, while a second violation could lead to up to three years in jail. The bill builds on other existing laws — including the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and the Clean Air Act— that hold executives liable when company negligence is found to have caused harm to the public. “If top executives knew they would be hauled out in handcuffs for failing to reasonably oversee the companies they run, they would have a real incentive to better monitor their operations and snuff out any wrongdoing before it got out of hand,” Warren wrote in The Washington Post.

 Deutsche Bank’s U.S. Unit Enabled a $150 Billion Laundromat - Years before regulators learned about what may be one of the biggest money-laundering pipelines in history, low-level bank employees in Jacksonville, Florida, sounded repeated alarms. Compliance workers for Deutsche Bank AG flagged some of at least $150 billion in transactions that the bank’s U.S. subsidiary handled for a tiny Estonian unit of Danske Bank A/S, according to a former compliance officer. It’s not clear how urgently the Florida team warned executives at Deutsche Bank Trust Co. Americas. But when workers sought broader scrutiny of certain clients, they got a familiar response from some higher-ups, the officer said: Shut up, focus on the transaction in front of you, file your paperwork and move on.Internal documents, court records and interviews with dozens of people -- including more than 20 current and former employees of the troubled German lender -- show that its U.S. unit largely resisted strict money-laundering compliance for years. The insider accounts help explain why Deutsche’s U.S. subsidiary kept handling Danske’s business after competitors quit.Although U.S. executives routinely promised regulators they’d get tough, former staffers say such efforts were often disregarded in favor of cozy relationships with overseas customers. The suspicious billions kept flowing -- not just from Danske’s Estonian branch, but from various clients that would eventually be snared in other global money-laundering scandals.Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank, which is in talks to merge withCommerzbank AG after years of losses, declined to address allegations about its past practices. But the bank said in a statement that its U.S. operations “have increased our anti-financial crime staff and enhanced our controls in recent years.” The lender takes compliance with money-laundering laws and related provisions seriously, it said. In the Danske case, bank executives have said they’re cooperating with investigators in multiple jurisdictions and that they met their legal obligations as they dealt with the Danish lender from 2007 to 2015.“Their defense would have more appeal if Deutsche Bank didn’t have such a poor track record,” said Jimmy Gurulé, a former undersecretary for enforcement in the U.S. Treasury Department and a professor at Notre Dame Law School. “There’s been one problem after another.”

 Deutsche Bank's Decades-Long History Of Compliance Failures Exposed --Christmas just came early for Maxine Waters and Adam Schiff.As the leaders of the House Financial Services Committee and House Intelligence Committee ramp up an investigation into Deutsche Bank's lending relationship with the Trump Organization (the first round of subpoenas has already been sent and Waters has said that DB is cooperating in the probe), Bloomberg has handed them a gift in the form of an extensive report chronicling a culture of chronic compliance failures at the bank's US unit. At first glance, the story appears to support Waters' claim that Deutsche is "one of the biggest money laundering banks in the country, or maybe the world."The report describes Deutsche's US unit, which is headquartered inside a gleaming Wall Street tower, making it one of the few Wall Street banks still situated on Wall Street, as a "kind of legal mirage". For years, the leaders of the US subsidiary were merely puppets, with little real power, influence or knowledge about the subsidiary's operations. Even the distribution of bonuses was outsourced to the headquarters in Frankfurt, BBG said. Top executives couldn't answer questions about the bank's operations, and they had little influence over personnel decisions. This lack of authority helped foster an atmosphere of lax compliance and AML controls, which endured even after US regulators demanded that changes be made. After DB expanded its US presence by buying out the floundering Bankers Trust, which was mired in a scandal involving sales of shady derivatives products. But DB swiftly established a shady track record of its own: From 1999 through 2006, it handled almost $11 billion in U.S. dollar transactions for customers in nations under sanctions: Iran, Syria, Libya, Burma and Sudan. Later, it helped rich Russians move $10 billion from their country using “mirror trades” - simultaneous stock trades in separate jurisdictions that bypassed customary hoops for transferring money.And those were just the cases where the bank was accused of wrongdoing. Here's a roundup of other incidents where the bank managed to escape regulatory scrutiny.

Fed to weigh changes to resolution plans, foreign bank requirements — The Federal Reserve Board will hold an open meeting April 8 to consider proposals to change resolution planning requirements for both foreign and domestic banks, as well as the tailoring of requirements for foreign banks. Rules implemented under the Dodd-Frank Act require the largest banks to draft living wills that outline how they would be unwound in the event of a failure, but the Fed has previously suggested that it was considering making changes to the resolution planning guidelines. In a speech last July, Fed Vice Chairman for Supervision Randal Quarles suggested that banks in the $100 billion to $250 billion range could get a break from filing resolution plans. "We should consider limiting the scope of application of resolution planning requirements to only the largest, most complex, and most interconnected banking firms because their failure poses the greatest spillover risks to the broader economy,” Quarles said. The Fed had also announced in October that it planned to present a proposal in the near future on the applicable prudential standards for foreign banking organizations in line with last May’s regulatory relief law.

March 2019: Unofficial Problem Bank list declined to 72 Institutions, Q1 2019 Transition Matrix -Note: Surferdude808 compiles an unofficial list of Problem Banks compiled only from public sources.Here is the unofficial problem bank list for March 2019. Here are the monthly changes and a few comments from surferdude808: Update on the Unofficial Problem Bank List for March 2019. During the month, the list dropped by four to 72 institutions after four removals. Assets decreased by $1.2 billion to $51.6 billion. A year ago, the list held 98 institutions with assets of $19.9 billion.This month, actions have been terminated against Crown Bank, Elizabeth, NJ ($505 million); Connecticut Community Bank, National Association, Westport, CT ($461 million); WestSide Bank, Hiram, GA ($128 million); and Stonebridge Bank (n/k/a LINKBANK), West Chester, PA ($84 million).With the conclusion of the first quarter, we bring an updated transition matrix to detail how banks are moving off the Unofficial Problem Bank List. Since the Unofficial Problem Bank List was first published on August 7, 2009 with 389 institutions, a total of 1,742 institutions have appeared on a weekly or monthly list since the start of publication. Only 4.1 percent of the banks that have appeared on a list remain today as 1,670 institutions have transitioned through the list. Departure methods include 983 action terminations, 406 failures, 262 mergers, and 19 voluntary liquidations. Of the 389 institutions on the first published list, only 6 or 1.5 percent, are still designated as being in a troubled status more than nine years later. The 406 failures represent 23.3 percent of the 1,742 institutions that have made an appearance on the list. This failure rate is well above the 10-12 percent rate frequently cited in media reports on the failure rate of banks on the FDIC's official list. Unofficial Problem Bank List:

Meet The 28-Year-Old Russian Woman Who Conned A New York Bank By Using "Financial Jargon" -- Con artist Anna Sorokin took the phrase "fake it 'til you make it" to another level.The broke 28-year-old Russian was constantly making claims that she had access to wealth. One day, she was supposed to be a wealthy German heiress. Other days, she claimed to be the d aughter of a diplomat, an oil baron or a solar panel entrepreneur. Other days, she simply boasted about having access to a $60 million fortune. And the fabricated claims worked: they thrust her into a lifestyle that she sought to live, but could not afford. Sorokin wound up living a lavish lifestyle in New York for nearly 10 months, despite being broke. Prosecutors claim that Sorokin has "not a cent to her name, as far as we can tell". She's been in custody since her arrest in 2017.  One banker, Ryan Salem, recounted to SkyNews how Sorokin was turned down for a $22 million loan, which she claimed at the time was going to be used to fund an arts club. And despite some red flags, Salem and City National Bank wound up handing over $100,000 to Sorokin anyway because "she was so convincing". The money was supposed to be repaid in days, but - to nobody's shock - never made its way back to the bank.  "We always believed that she had money. She seemed to speak the language. She understood the financial jargon that you need to know to interact and transact in this environment," Salem said in a Manhattan court last week.   Sorokin now faces charges over various claims that she stole an aggregate of $275,000 from friends, banks and hotels in New York City over 10 months, using the name Anna Delvey. She allegedly lived large in luxury hotels, promised a friend a trip to Morocco and stiffed her on the $62,000 bill and handed over bogus bank statements to try and secure a massive loan. She also routinely tipped Uber drivers and hotel concierges $100 bills "in an effort to show she belonged in high society".   Jurors were shown emails between Sorokin and the bank this week, showing how she became increasingly unavailable as the bank began to ask for their money back. Her lawyers claim she was "easily seduced by glamour and glitz," but that she had intentions of paying back any money she borrowed. Regardless of the trial's outcome, she now faces deportation for overstaying her visa.  And in true American fashion, Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Grey's Anatomy, is already planning a TV series based on her crime spree. We're sure she'll have her own clothing line, hip hop video and millions of Instagram followers upon her release from jail or eventual extradition.

 The Biggest Problem in the War on Cash -- Cash is cumbersome, dirty and increasingly too tangible for our digital desires. And while we’ve already given it up to a fair extent for the credit and debit card–it still means we have to wait in lines, and that’s so 1990s. In an effort to cut costs and avoid long lines in front of the cash register, a small-but-growing number of retailers have stopped accepting paper currency entirely. Over the past couple of years, some retail stores and restaurants in large cities have simply ceased cash operations. But the problem is that while it may be safer and more convenient to pay without cash, banning the use of cash could be discriminating against low-income individuals without credit or bank accounts because of the fees and minimum balance requirements. In fact, local and state governments are rather up in arms about the whole thing. Earlier this month, the Philadelphia City Council passed a bill making it the first major city to ban cashless payments. New Jersey. Now New York City, Washington, San Francisco and Chicago are now all weighing similar bills. “With a 26-percent poverty rate in Philadelphia, the mayor believes in equal opportunity for all,” city spokesman Mike Dunn said in an emailed statement to USA Today. “It is important to recognize the fact that not everyone has access to banks or lines of credit,” the New York Times cited State Senator Nellie Pou, one of the sponsors of the bill in New Jersey, as saying. Going cashless is inevitable, but much of the country isn’t ready for that just yet.  This was mostly expressed in Philadelphia where more than one-quarter (some 400,000 people) live below the poverty line, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts report from last year. With $19,700 a year for an adult with two children at home these families lack access to credit cards. A Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation report from 2017 shows that 6.5 percent of the U.S. households were “unbanked”; in other words, households in which no individual has a checking or savings account. Another 18.7 percent of households were categorized as “underbanked”. And while those rates are declining all the time, they are still some large hurdles to a cashless society. It’s also worth noting that cash was the most frequently used payment instrument in 2017, accounting for 30 percent of all payments. Credit and debit cards were used in 48 percent of consumer transactions in 2017, of which 27 percent went to debit and 21 percent to credit card payments, according to the Federal Reserve report from the fall.

The $9 Trillion Corporate Bond Market Is Ditching Banks For Electronic Trading -- Banks that for decades were tasked with brokering corporate bond trades - and paid Boiler Room-type spreads for the privilege - are now being pushed aside. As Bloomberg reports, upstart bond marketplaces like MarketAxess, Tradeweb and Liquidnet are all indicating that many bond trades occurring on their platforms are now happening between investors directly, without traditional bank-side brokering. This, needless to say, would have a deleterious effect on bank top lines as brokering institutional order flow for the $9.2 trillion market has historically been one of the main key source of revenue.Over the last 10 years, corporate-bond traders have been one of the last groups of traders to adopt electronic transactions, even as the rest of the market evolved around them, largely due to the non-standardized nature of corporate bonds (and certainly leveraged loans). But now new rules have forced many dealers to act like machines, seeking bids and offers for bonds and linking the two, instead of just buying securities and holding onto them. As Bloomberg reports, 27% of the corporate bond trades at MarketAxess were made on its all-to-all platform, Open Trading, in the fourth quarter; this was up from 3% in 2014. On Liquidnet’s platform, more than 90% of volume is between investors. And while electronic trading still remains relatively small, its market share is growing and will likely accelerate as it presents a much more cost-beneficial option to the buyside, especially in a time when trading volumes have collapsed in a world of buy-and-hold-while-praying-the-Fed-will-stay-loose. One of the reasons behind the tectonic shift is that regulations after the 2008 crisis made it more expensive for dealers to hold bonds, which has resulted in inventories dwindling by more than 55% over the last 5 years. Rising corporate debt also has investors fearful of a looming credit crunch and speed matters. As the market starts to weaken, money managers look to offload bonds any way they can - through dealers or electronically - in the fastest possible way, and often that involves computers.

Bond Downgrades Surpass Upgrades By The Most Since 2016 - Here's another paradox for traders to digest. In a quarter in which virtually every asset class posted positive returns, the lowest, BBB-rated investment-grade bonds shruged off well-publicized fears of a "fallen angel" tsunami, i.e., a wave of downgrades to junk, and soared to the best first quarter performance since 1995. According to Bloomberg debt rated BBB returned 5.8% in the first three months, compared to a drop of 2.1% in the first quarter of 2018. The breathtaking move continued on the first day of April and benefited the riskiest of names as Junk bonds spread tightened by a massive 11bps, the most since January. As Bloomberg's Sebastian Boyd noted, "the breadth is spectacular. Of 480 movers in the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. High Yield index, 89% are tighter on the day. Every single industry group is tighter, led by pharmaceuticals. On a sector basis, the best performers are communications and health care, but with a move as broad as this isn't really linked to industry-specific news" and is instead tied to the euphoria that was unleashed by China's manufacturing PMI which sent global risk assets soaring. But it's not junk bonds we are concerned about at least in the context of this post, but rather the BBB IG space: as a reminder, BBB debt now accounts for nearly 60% of the entire $6.4 trillion US investment grade space, with a similar portion for Europe. This is why virtually every fixed income luminary has warned that the next recession may be catalyzed by massive downgrades which would blow up the junk bond space, which at last check was roughly one-third the size of the entire BBB-rated bond universe.  And yet, despite the blistering return of the lowest-rated IG debt, concerns of massive downgrades are starting to be realized: according to the latest S&P data compiled by Bloomberg, the first quarter saw the most credit ratings downgrades for U.S. companies relative to upgrades since the beginning of 2016.

The ETF Tax Dodge Is Wall Street’s “Dirty Little Secret”  --One day last September an unidentified trader pumped more than $3 billion into a tech fund run by State Street Corp. Two days later that trader pulled out a similar amount.  Why would someone make such a large bet—five times bigger than any previous transaction in the fund—and then reverse it so quickly? It turns out that transfusions like these are tax dodges, carried out by the world’s largest asset managers with help from investment banks. The beneficiaries are the long-term investors in exchange-traded funds. Such trades, nicknamed “heartbeats,” are rampant across the $4 trillion U.S. ETF market, with more than 500 made in the past year. One ETF manager calls them the industry’s “dirty little secret.” Typically, when you sell a stock for more than you paid, you owe tax on the gain. But thanks to a quirk in a Nixon-era tax law, funds can avoid that tax if they use the stock to pay off a withdrawing fund investor. Heartbeats come into play when there isn’t an exiting investor handy. A fund manager asks a friendly bank to create extra withdrawals by rapidly pumping assets in and out. “If the IRS were looking at it, they would say that’s a sham transaction,” says Peter Kraus, a former chief executive officer of mutual fund manager AllianceBernstein Holding LP.

 Don't buy bitcoin, warns wealth manager: We're likely 'going to see cryptocurrencies collapse' -- The price of bitcoin surged more than 15 percent on Tuesday and briefly crossed the $5,000 mark for the first time since mid-November. It's still well below the all-time high it hit in December 2017 of near $20,000.Other virtual currencies saw sudden price jumps, too: Ether and XRP both rose around 7 percent. Before you start buying cryptocurrency, though, consider the advice of Peter Mallouk, certified financial planner and president of wealth management firm Creative Planning: "What we're going to see, most likely, is, we're going to see cryptocurrencies collapse."  There are so many types of virtual currencies — like litecoin, ethereum, ripple and, of course, bitcoin — that "there's no way that even a fraction of them can survive," Mallouk, who is also author of "The 5 Mistakes Every Investor Makes and How to Avoid Them," tells CNBC Make It. "Is it possible that maybe one or two will work out in the future? Sure it is." But, he says, "in the meantime," if you buy cryptocurrency, "you get no income. It's not a real investment. It's speculation."

 SEC Publishes Framework For Determining If ICOs Are Investment Contracts - Staff at the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have published a framework to help market participants ascertain whether or not a digital asset is deemed to be an investment contract, and therefore a security. The new “Framework for ‘Investment Contract’ Analysis of Digital Assets” was published on April 3, accompanied by an official statement.  Notably, the framework is the work of two SEC Commissioners, and is therefore not a rule, regulation, or statement of the U.S. Commission, which has reportedly neither approved nor disapproved its content. As the authors stress, the framework is not intended to be exhaustive nor to provide formal legal advice, but to serve as an analytical tool that will help operators of initial coin offerings (ICO) and token issuers determine whether their offering is likely to fall subject to federal securities laws. Market participants are thus urged to further consult the formal rules and regulations available on the SEC’s Strategic Hub for Innovation and Financial Technology (FinHub).The framework focuses on determining whether a digital asset has the characteristics of one particular type of security - an investment contract - rather than covering the full gamut of possible security classifications.In accordance with the 71-year old Howey Test, such a contract is deemed to exist where there is an investment in a common enterprise, in which investors are reasonably led to expect profits that other generate.The authors’ framework tackles in detail all aspects of the Howey test in regard to digital assets, beginning with the investment of money and the distinct element of a common enterprise that holds for investment contracts. In regard to this latter, the authors note, "in evaluating digital assets, we have found that a ‘common enterprise’ typically exists." The framework devotes just over six pages to the most complex criterion - "a reasonable expectation of profits derived from the efforts of others" - noting that this is usually the "main issue in analyzing a digital asset under the Howey test." The authors state that a large part of the inquiry for this criterion focuses on the economic reality of the transaction itself and “what character the instrument is given in commerce by the terms of the offer, the plan of distribution, and the economic inducements held out to the prospect."

 Hundreds of millions of Facebook records exposed on public servers – report -- More than 540m Facebook records were left exposed on public internet servers, cybersecurity researchers said on Wednesday, in just the latest security black eye for the company.Researchers for the firm UpGuard discovered two separate sets of Facebook user data on public Amazon cloud servers, the company detailed in a blogpost. One dataset, linked to the Mexican media company Cultura Colectiva, contained more than 540m records, including comments, likes, reactions, account names, Facebook IDs and more. The other set, linked to a defunct Facebook app called At the Pool, was significantly smaller, but contained plaintext passwords for 22,000 users. The large dataset was secured on Wednesday after Bloomberg, which first reported the leak, contacted Facebook. The smaller dataset was taken offline during UpGuard’s investigation. The data exposure is not the result of a breach of Facebook’s systems. Rather, it is another example, akin to the Cambridge Analytica case, of Facebook allowing third parties to extract large amounts of user data without controls on how that data is then used or secured. “The data exposed in each of these sets would not exist without Facebook, yet these data sets are no longer under Facebook’s control,” the UpGuard researchers wrote in its blogpost. “In each case, the Facebook platform facilitated the collection of data about individuals and its transfer to third parties, who became responsible for its security.” Facebook said that it was investigating the incident and did not yet know the nature of the data, how it was collected or why it was stored on public servers. The company said it will inform users if they find evidence that the data was misused.

Elizabeth Warren Introduces Bill That Could Hold Tech Execs Responsible For Data Breaches - On Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced a new piece of legislation that would make it easier to criminally charge company executives when Americans’ personal data is breached. The Corporate Executive Accountability Act is yet another push from Warren who has focused much of her presidential campaign on holding corporations and their leaders responsible for both their market dominance and perceived corruption. The bill, if approved, would widen criminal liability of “negligent” executives of corporations (that make more than $1 billion) when they commit crimes, repeatedly break federal laws, or harm a large number of Americans by way of civil rights violations, including their data privacy. “When a criminal on the street steals money from your wallet, they go to jail. When small-business owners cheat their customers, they go to jail,” Warren wrote in a Washington Postop-ed published on Wednesday morning. “But when corporate executives at big companies oversee huge frauds that hurt tens of thousands of people, they often get to walk away with multimillion-dollar payouts.”  One of Warren’s first significant policy proposals focused on the market power of big tech companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple, and she suggested that, if elected president, she would work to break up the companies through antitrust law. For years, discussion on revamping American antitrust law to better account for technology companies circulated primarily in academic circles, but Warren has pushed the discussion into themainstream policy debate and the 2020 election cycle. “It’s not equal justice when a kid with an ounce of pot can get thrown in jail while a wealthy executive can walk away with a bonus after his company cheats millions of people,” Warren wrote. “Personal accountability is the only way to ensure that executives at corporations will think twice before ignoring the law. It’s time to stop making excuses and start making real change.”

Why aren’t Boeing executives being prosecuted for the 737 Max 8 crashes? It is nearly a month since the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, which slammed into the ground only six minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa airport, killing all 157 people on board. That disaster came less than five months after the fatal crash of Lion Air Flight 610 only 13 minutes after takeoff from Jakarta airport, killing all 189 passengers and crew members. In the weeks since these disasters, there have been no calls within the media and political establishment for Boeing executives to be criminally prosecuted for what were evidently entirely avoidable tragedies that killed a total of 346 people. This speaks to the corrupt relationship between the US government and the aerospace giant—the biggest US exporter and second-largest defense contractor—as well as the company’s critical role in the stock market surge and the ever-expanding fortunes of major Wall Street investors.Black box recordings and simulations show that in the 60 seconds the pilots had to respond to the emergency, faulty software forced the Lion Air flight into a nose dive 24 separate times, as the pilots fought to regain control of the aircraft before plunging into the ocean at more than 500 miles per hour. Evidence has mounted implicating in both crashes an automated anti-stall system, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which was installed by Boeing in response to the new plane’s tendency to pitch upward and go into a potentially fatal stall. On a whole number of fronts—design, marketing, certification and pilot training—information from the black boxes of the two planes points to a lack of concern for the safety of passengers and crew on the part of both Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration, reaching the level of criminality.

 Whistleblowers Claim FAA Inspectors Not Properly Trained On Boeing 737 Max 8 -  Multiple whistleblowers have come forward claiming that Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety inspectors were not properly trained and did not hold valid certifications on the Boeing 737 Max aircraft, according to a letter to FAA Acting Administrator Daniel Elwell from Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS).  "Allegations from these whistleblowers include information that numerous FAA employees, including those involved in the Aircraft Evaluation Group (AEG) for the Boeing 737 Max, had not received proper training and valid certifications," the letter reads.  "Some of these FAA employees were possibly involved as participants on the Flight Standardization Board (FSB)," a group formed to evaluate the 737 Max 8 to determine requirements to rate pilots, develop minimum training recommendations, and to ensure "initial flightcrew member competency."  Two Boeing 737 Max 8s were involved in similar crashes within a five month period, while investigators are pointing to sensor failures connected to an anti-stall system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS).  Of note, an off-duty pilot flying in the jumpseat on a Lion Air 737 Max 8 last October was able to talk pilots through disabling the MCAS system on the same plane that crashed a day later off the coast of Indonesia, killing all 189 on board.  The FAA whistleblowers also claim that the FAA may have been informed of the 737 Max 8s deficiencies as early as August 2018, two months before the Lion Air crash.

Investigation shows that a malfunctioning Boeing sensor caused Ethiopian Airlines crash - On Thursday, Ethiopia’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) released a preliminary report on the March 10 crash of a Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft which killed all 157 people on board. The findings in the AIB report show that faulty readings from a malfunctioning angle-of-attack (AOA) sensor on the Boeing plane was behind the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. The report also reveals that efforts by the flight crew to follow safety procedures provided by Boeing did not stop the aircraft from making a fatal nosedive less than six minutes after takeoff. The AIB worked with a team of international investigators to analyze information from the recovered digital flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder and reconstruct a timeline of events during the doomed flight. The timeline shows that less than a minute into the flight, the measurements of the left AOA sensor changed suddenly and were dramatically at odds with the measurements of the right AOA sensor. At two minutes, the pilot described flight control problems and the automated system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS)—designed to overcome the tendency of the 737 Max 8 to stall—began rapidly pushing the nose of the plane down. The pilots took measures to override the actions of the MCAS, but the automated system continued to force a nose-down orientation. The crews then followed the emergency check list provided by Boeing and cut the electrical power to the entire stabilization system and attempted to manually right the plane. At about four minutes into the flight, the first officer said the manual override “is not working.” They then turned the electrical system back on, and the MCAS reengaged. With the plane at over 5,000 feet by this time, it was pushed back into a final nose dive from which it never recovered.

"We Own It": Boeing Admits Its Software Was Behind 737 Max Crashes, Says "Sorry For Lives Lost" - Several hours after Ethopian investigators found that the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 was not the result of pilot error (hence, it was the result of Boeing error), and demanded a full review of the Boeing 737 Max flight control system, just after 3pm, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg took to social media where in what passed as an attempt at a a "heartfelt" apology, the CEO of the most important, for the Dow Jones, company said that Boeing was "sorry for the lives lost" and essentially admitted that it was the company's software that was responsible for the crashes, saying that "with the release of the preliminary report of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302accident investigation, it's apparent that in both flight the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, known as MCAS, activated in response to erroneous angle of attack information." Here are Muilenburg's prepared remarks:  We at Boeing are sorry for the lives lost in the Boeing 737 MAX accidents. These tragedies continue to weigh heavily on our hearts and minds and we extend our sympathies to the loved ones of the passengers and crew on board Liion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. All of us feel the immense gravity of these events across our company and recognize the devastation to the families and friends of the loved one who perished. The full details of what happened in these two accidents will be issued by the government authorities in the final reports. But with the release of the preliminary report of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302accident investigation, it's apparent that in both flight the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, known as MCAS, activated in response to erroneous angle of attack information.The history of our industry shows most accident are caused by a chain of events. This again is the case here, and we know we can break one of those chain links in these two accidents. As pilots have told us, erroneous activation of the MCAS function can add to what is already a high workload environment. It's our responsibility to eliminate this risk. We own it, and we know how to do it. The full video apology is below.

Mortgage bankers had a record loss on originations in 4Q - Independent mortgage bankers lost the largest amount for originating a loan in the fourth quarter since this data has been tracked, as costs rose and volume dropped, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. "Independent mortgage bankers continued to struggle in this very competitive mortgage market environment, with the average pretax net production income per loan reaching its lowest level since the inception of our report in 2008," Marina Walsh, the MBA's vice president of industry analysis, said in a press release. "Among the headwinds for mortgage bankers were lower volume, lower revenues and higher costs relative to the previous quarter." The mortgage industry needs to realize that it must optimize their operations around an originations market that will be $200 billion to $300 billion, said consultant Christopher Whalen in an interview. Originators need to "right size the business now, look at revenue now and do what you have to do to make your business work." There was an average net loss of $200 per loan originated in the quarter, compared with an average profit of $480 per loan in the third quarter. For the fourth quarter of 2017, they had an average net gain of $237 per loan. While average total production revenue was $8,411 per loan, the average total expense was $8,611. Average net secondary marketing income, a component of production revenue, fell to $6,466 per loan from $6,802 in the third quarter. On a pretax basis, the average loss in the fourth quarter was 11 basis points, compared with an average profit of 20 bps in the third quarter and 9 bps in the fourth quarter of 2017. It wasn't just independent mortgage bankers that lost money on production. JPMorgan Chase lost $28 million on originations in the fourth quarter. This is only the third time ever and the second period in 2018 that the independent mortgage banking industry lost money on production.

  Ocwen whittles servicing suits down to two with latest settlement -- Now that Ocwen settled the servicing practices lawsuit brought by the Massachusetts attorney general, just two outstanding complaints remain from the 30 filed nearly two years ago. The settlement was for $2 million, according to a press release from Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy. The company said it settled for a $675,000 payment, along with funding a loan modification program and certain already-completed relief that could bring that up to the amount the attorney general announced. Ocwen separately settled with the Massachusetts Division of Banks, which regulates mortgage bankers, one year ago. "We have agreed to resolve this matter, which covers certain legacy servicing activities, without admitting liability," the company said in a press release. "While Ocwen believes that it has sound legal and factual defenses, we concluded that settling this matter in order to avoid the distraction and expense of litigation is in the best interest of Ocwen and its constituents, and resolves another legacy matter. We are committed to serving our customers in a fair and appropriate manner, and we look forward to continuing to work proactively with our regulators and making a difference in the lives of the customers we serve." In April 2017 Ocwen — based in West Palm Beach, Fla. — was sued by 30 state regulators and/or attorneys general, along with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB case is still pending, along with a suit filed by the Florida attorney general's office working with the state's Commissioner of Financial Regulations. Ocwen challenged the CFPB's constitutionality in response to the regulator's lawsuit. To meet the conditions of its prior settlements, Ocwen had to switch its servicing platform to Black Knight's MSP from Altisource Portfolio Solutions. It acquired PHH, which already was on Black Knight, to speed the process. PHH had also challenged the CFPB's constitutionality in response to a $109 million fine. Besides the cash payment, Ocwen must notify 4,000 borrowers who may be eligible to receive a loan modification. It agreed to halt foreclosure proceedings for certain homeowners to allow them time to apply for the modification, the Massachusetts attorney general's press release said.

OCC and FDIC chiefs signal progress on CRA reform — The heads of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency on Wednesday expressed hope that bank regulators could agree by early next year on a plan to modernize the Community Reinvestment Act. FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams and Comptroller Joseph Otting were both scheduled to address a conference of the Consumer Bankers Association. Speaking first during a question-and-answer session with CBA Chief Executive Richard Hunt, McWilliams was asked if CRA reforms would be completed in time for the trade group's next annual conference in March 2020. “By March next year, yes. I am hopeful,” McWilliams said. “I actually believe [CRA] needs to be modernized. I don’t know that it’s working as it should.” In his remarks, Otting, the regulator who has been the most vocal in support of modernizing the CRA, suggested a more aggressive timetable. “I think we should move the [CBA annual] conference up to December,” he said. The two agencies along with the Federal Reserve have been in discussions on how to update the grading system for CRA, a 1977 law that assesses banks' lending to the communities they serve. That grading system has not been updated since the 1990s, before the rapid emergence of online banking. So far, only the OCC has released anything official regarding modernizing the law. The agency's advance notice of proposed rulemaking, which solicited feedback on the reform effort, gathered roughly 1,500 comments in November. Recently, regulators at the FDIC and Federal Reserve have appeared to be in agreement with the OCC on general changes to CRA, including the need to develop clearer measurements of banks' community lending efforts and to revisit CRA assessment boundaries in light of digital banking and other changes. Otting, who spoke immediately after McWilliams at the conference, said the principals of the banking agencies will meet April 11 to begin “mapping out” a notice of proposed rulemaking. 

 House hearing on fair-lending rules keeps spotlight on Facebook - A House Financial Services Committee hearing Tuesday on how to modernize fair-lending rules quickly turned into a sharp critique of Facebook's advertising practices. Members of both parties appeared open to updating the rules meant to prevent discrimination in light of social media's impact on the housing and mortgage industries. Rep. Maxine Waters, chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, blasted Facebook for practices that she said give advertisers a road map to discriminate against minorities. Last week, the Department of Housing and Urban Development sued Facebook for allegedly allowing advertisers to exclude consumers from viewing or receiving certain rental or housing advertisements. ProPublica first reported on the advertising practice in 2016.  Waters charged that the company has engaged in modern-day redlining. She also criticized HUD for being “woefully behind” in understanding how discrimination works on social media platforms, and urged increased enforcement of the Fair Housing Act. “Facebook provided advertisers including mortgage lenders, real estate agencies and housing developers with a map to exclude people who live in a specified area from seeing an ad by drawing a red line around the area,” Waters said. “This is eerily familiar to when the Federal Housing Administration drew red lines around black and brown communities, systematically starving them of access to capital and lending.” Several members of the committee said Congress needed to investigate further.. “Some have concluded wrongly that systems built on big data and sophisticated algorithms are objective and make it harder to discriminate,” “If you can’t see what’s going on, and you don’t know what the algorithms do, you don’t know that discrimination is happening.”

Congress pits VA mortgage costs against veterans' health care — The mortgage industry is stepping up its fight against legislation that would raise the Department of Veterans Affairs' mortgage fees in order to fund health care for Vietnam War veterans affected by Agent Orange. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would hike the VA's mortgage "guarantee fees" to cover medical costs of roughly 90,000 Navy veterans who served in Vietnam's territorial seas between 1962 and 1975 and suffer from diseases connected to the U.S. military's forest-clearing herbicide. But mortgage lenders charge that a negative repercussion of caring for older veterans could be pricing younger veterans out of the housing market, including those trying to buy a first home or get zero-down-payment financing for a second home as a result of having to move. If the bill "goes through as written in the House ... and gets passed that way, you’ll get to a point where nobody will use a VA loan,” said Ed Wallace, the executive director of the Community Mortgage Lenders of America. The biggest hike in guarantee fees would be for veterans looking to buy a subsequent home. The g-fees for first-time users of the VA mortgage program would increase 11% to 240 basis points, but for non-first-time borrowers, the fees would rise 15% to 380 basis points. The bill unanimously passed the House last year but stalled in the Senate after two senators objected to its cost and claimed there was not sufficient evidence to connect Agent Orange exposure with certain diseases. The chemical weapon has been linked to certain cancers, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, among other conditions. The bill was swiftly reintroduced in the House at the beginning of this year and people familiar with the proposal say it is expected to get a vote and draw bipartisan support. But critics object to the idea of taking from one veterans benefit to pay for another. The VA home loan program offers veterans the ability to fold closing costs into the amount of a loan and not to have to provide a down payment or pay mortgage insurance. Many veterans and active-duty service members use the program to buy a subsequent home if the military requires them to move.

House Democrat moves goalposts for GSE reform — A housing finance reform plan must maintain a government backstop for the mortgage system, modernize credit scores and provide troubled homeowners with ways to avoid foreclosure, a senior House Democrat said Tuesday. Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., who chairs the House Financial Services Committee’s subcommittee on consumer protection and financial institutions, said those three components are “non-negotiable” requirements for any legislative fix for the government-sponsored enterprises. "The federal government must continue to pay a central role in the mortgage market, and it should do so with a paid-for guarantee of mortgage-backed securities and through affordable housing requirements," Meeks said at a Mortgage Bankers Association conference. He added, "Housing finance reform must include reasonable alternatives to foreclosure … to help distressed borrowers.” Meeks said that it is critical that GSE reform include a federal guarantee for MBS to maintain adequate mortgage options particularly for low- and moderate-income borrowers. “A liquid secondary mortgage market means a deeper primary market,” Meeks said. “It means the most underserved or hard-to-serve communities may have a greater shot at participating in the housing market.” Meeks went on to say that the credit evaluation processes that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac use to evaluate whether a mortgage is creditworthy enough must also be modernized as part of any reform package.  “Housing finance reform must include modernization of credit scoring models used by the GSEs,” Meeks said. “We should be moving toward incorporating credit scoring models that include as much predictive information as possible.” Meeks concluded by saying that any housing finance proposal should include alternatives to foreclosure for borrowers who become delinquent on their loans.

Fannie and Freddie are way too big - In the run-up to the financial crisis, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were more powerful than Congress, as they were able to keep it from enacting reform until July 2008, a mere two months before the government-sponsored enterprises were placed in conservatorship and received a massive taxpayer bailout. They were more powerful than the Federal Reserve, pushing back on former Chairman Alan Greenspan’s efforts to rein them in. And they were more powerful than the president, successfully fighting the Bush administration’s efforts to rein them in. In short, the GSEs placed themselves above the government that created them, making them a danger to democracy. In a report the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (the GSEs' regulator from 1992-2008) sent to Congress on April 15, 2008, it noted a March 2008 pact under which "both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac agreed that a ‘world-class regulatory structure’ is needed and ‘renewed a shared commitment to work for comprehensive GSE reform legislation.' " As already mentioned, Congress passed such GSE reform legislation a few months later in July. Notwithstanding a new “world-class regulatory structure” under the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the GSEs are once again growing in power and continue to be the biggest of the “too big to fail” companies. Case in point, the combined assets of the GSEs are about equal to the combined assets of the nation’s three largest banks. If not reduced substantially in size, they will continue to be a danger to the country and certainly too dangerous to allow out of their respect conservatorships.

 FHFA’s Otting authorizes GSE affordable housing payments — Acting Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Joseph Otting has authorized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to contribute to the National Housing Trust Fund and Capital Magnet Fund, ending a delay in transferring funds that worried affordable housing advocates. In a letter sent Wednesday to Fannie CEO Hugh Frater and Freddie CEO Donald Layton, Otting directed the government-sponsored enterprises to transmit “as soon as possible" the funds totaling $376 million that the companies had set aside at the end of last year for affordable housing initiatives. “On reviewing 2018 year-end financials, transfer of funds allocated and set aside in 2018 would not cause the Enterprise to make a draw on the Treasury Department under the Senior Preferred Stock Purchase Agreement,” Otting said in both his letter to Frater and Layton. Between 2015 and 2018, the two mortgage giants transferred funds annually to the National Housing Trust Fund and the Capital Magnet Fund at the beginning of every March. They were instructed to make the contributions yearly by March 1 in a formal memo from formal Director Mel Watt, who stepped down in January. But Otting had sent no such memo until Wednesday, leaving Fannie and Freddie's 2019 contribution in limbo even though the two mortgage giants had already designated the money for the two housing funds. An FHFA spokesperson had previously told American Banker that it was “under advisement” whether the agency would continue to require Fannie and Freddie to fund the housing programs. Affordable housing groups had said that the delay or potential suspension of the funds would have significant consequences for pending affordable housing projects.

 Fannie Mae: Mortgage Serious Delinquency Rate unchanged in February -- Fannie Mae reported that the Single-Family Serious Delinquency rate was unchanged at 0.76% in February, from 0.76% in January. The serious delinquency rate is down from 1.22% in January 2018.  These are mortgage loans that are "three monthly payments or more past due or in foreclosure".   The Fannie Mae serious delinquency rate peaked in February 2010 at 5.59%. This matches the last three months as the lowest serious delinquency rate for Fannie Mae since August 2007.  By vintage, for loans made in 2004 or earlier (3% of portfolio), 2.72% are seriously delinquent. For loans made in 2005 through 2008 (5% of portfolio), 4.58% are seriously delinquent, For recent loans, originated in 2009 through 2018 (92% of portfolio), only 0.34% are seriously delinquent. So Fannie is still working through poor performing loans from the bubble years. The increase late last year in the delinquency rate was due to the hurricanes - there were no worries about the overall market. I expect the serious delinquency rate will probably decline to 0.5 to 0.7 percent or so to a cycle bottom. Note: Freddie Mac reported earlier.

MBA: Mortgage Applications Increased Sharply in Latest Weekly Survey --From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest MBA Weekly Survey Mortgage applications increased 18.6 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending March 29, 2019... The Refinance Index increased 39 percent from the previous week, and was at its highest level since January 2016. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 3 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 4 percent compared with the previous week and was 10 percent higher than the same week one year ago. “There was a tremendous surge in overall applications activity, as mortgage rates fell for the fourth week in a row – with rates for some loan types reaching their lowest levels since January 2018. Refinance borrowers with larger loan balances continue to benefit, as we saw another sizeable increase in the average refinance loan size to $438,900 – a new survey record,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “We had expected factors such as the ongoing strong job market and favorable demographics to help lift purchase activity this year, and the further decline in rates is providing another tailwind. Purchase applications were almost 10 percent higher than a year ago.” The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($484,350 or less) decreased to 4.36 percent from 4.45 percent, with points increasing to 0.44 from 0.39 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The first graph shows the refinance index since 1990.Now that mortgage rates have fallen more than 50 bps from the highs last year, a number of recent buyers are able to refinance. The second graph shows the MBA mortgage purchase index According to the MBA, purchase activity is up 10% year-over-year.

"Low Mortgage Rates Had a Big Impact, But Now They're Moving Back Up" - From Matthew Graham at Mortgage News Daily: Super Low Rates Had a Big Impact, But Now They're Moving Back Up  Mortgage rates resumed a week-long move higher today, bringing them to the highest levels since March 19th or 20th, depending on the lender. Between now and then, they'd fallen abruptly to the best levels in more than 15 months. The improvements were meaningful enough to draw out refinance applicants in droves according to weekly mortgage app data released by the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) this morning. … Over the past few days, depending on the lender and scenario, a 30-yr fixed rate quote could be as much as a quarter of a percentage point (0.25%) higher. This would increase the payment on a $300,000 loan by $43/month. [30YR FIXED - 4.125-4.375%]  CR Note: The decline in mortgage rates - from around 5% to just over 4% - really boosted refinance activity in the weekly MBA survey, and also helped with purchase activity.

 CoreLogic: House Prices up 4.0% Year-over-year in February  - The CoreLogic HPI is a three month weighted average and is not seasonally adjusted (NSA). From CoreLogic: CoreLogic Reports February Home Prices Increased by 4 Percent Year Over Year CoreLogic® ... today released the CoreLogic Home Price Index (HPI™) and HPI Forecast™ for February 2019, which shows home prices rose both year over year and month over month. Home prices increased nationally by 4 percent year over year from February 2018. On a month-over-month basis, prices increased by 0.7 percent in February 2019. (January 2018 data was revised. Revisions with public records data are standard, and to ensure accuracy, CoreLogic incorporates the newly released public data to provide updated results each month.) Looking ahead, after some initial moderation in early 2019, the CoreLogic HPI Forecast indicateshome prices will begin to pick up and increase by 4.7 percent on a year-over-year basis from February 2019 to February 2020. On a month-over-month basis, home prices are expected to decrease by 0.5 percent from February 2019 to March 2019. The CoreLogic HPI Forecast is a projection of home prices calculated using the CoreLogic HPI and other economic variables. Values are derived from state-level forecasts by weighting indices according to the number of owner-occupied households for each state. “During the first two months of the year, home-price growth continued to decelerate,” said Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic. “This is the opposite of what we saw the last two years when price growth accelerated early. With the Federal Reserve’s announcement to keep short-term interest rates where they are for the rest of the year, we expect mortgage rates to remain low and be a boost for the spring buying season. A strong buying season could lead to a pickup in home-price growth later this year.” CR Note: The CoreLogic YoY increase had been in the 5% to 7% range for the last few years. This is the slowest twelve-month home-price growth rate since 2012. The year-over-year comparison has been positive for seven consecutive years since turning positive year-over-year in February 2012.

Americans Can't Afford To Buy A Home In 70% Of The Country - Even at a time of low interest rates and rising wages, Americans simply can’t afford a home in more than 70% of the country, according to CBS. Out of 473 US counties that were analyzed in a recent report, 335 listed median home prices were more than what average wage earners could afford. According to the report from ATTOM Data Solutions, these counties included Los Angeles and San Diego in California, as well as places like Maricopa County in Arizona.New York City claimed the largest share of a person's income to purchase a home. While on average, earners nationwide needed to spend only about 33% of their income on a home, residents in Brooklyn and Manhattan need to shell out more than 115% of their income. In San Francisco this number is about 103%. Homes were found to be affordable in places like Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia.This news is stunning because homes are considerably more affordable today than they were a year ago. Although prices are rising in many areas, they are also falling in places like Manhattan. Unaffordability in the market has been the result of slower home building and owners staying in their homes longer. Both have reduced the supply of homes in the market. And the market may continue to create better conditions for buyers. Affordability could improve because of the fact that homes are out of reach for so many seekers, according to Todd Teta, chief product officer at ATTOM Data Solutions. Today’s market is also more affordable than it was a decade ago, before the crisis. Home prices were about the same prior to the crisis, even though income adjusted for inflation was lower.  We recently wrote about residents of New York City who simply claimed they couldn’t afford to live there. More than a third of New York residents complained that they "can't afford to live there" anymore (and yet they do). On top of that, many believe that economic hardships are going to force them to leave the city in five years or less, according to a Quinnipiac poll published a couple weeks ago. The poll surveyed 1,216 voters between March 13 and 18. In total, 41% of New York residents said they couldn't cope with the city's high cost of living. They believe they will be forced to go somewhere where the "economic climate is more welcoming", according to the report.

D-FW home prices are down, but affordability is still a hurdle - While housing prices in North Texas have stopped soaring higher, homeownership is still unaffordable for the majority of Dallas-Fort Worth residents. More than 70 percent of U.S. home markets are not affordable for average wage earners who want to buy a midpriced house, according to a new report by Attom Data Solutions. But conditions in many markets, including the D-FW area, are starting to change. "We are seeing a housing market in flux across the United States, with a mix of tailwinds and headwinds that are pricing many people out of the housing market but also are creating potentially better conditions for buyers," Todd Teta, chief product officer for Attom Data Solutions, said in the report. "Continually rising home prices in many areas do remain a financial stretch — or simply unaffordable — for a majority of households. "However, quarterly wage gains have been outpacing prices increases for more than a year and mortgage rates are falling, which have helped make homes a bit more affordable now than they've been in a year," he said. "Affordability may improve because of the simple fact that homes are out of reach for so many home seekers, suggesting that prices need to moderate down in order to attract buyers." Wages are rising faster than home prices in Dallas, Collin and Denton counties, Attom Data researchers found. But after years of rising prices, homes in those areas are still out of the reach of most wage earners. Average residents would have to pay the largest percentage of their incomes to buy a midpriced house in Denton County (45.3 percent) and Collin County (39.3 percent). Tarrant County housing prices are still rising faster than the rate of overall wage increases, Attom Data Solutions said. North Texas home prices are about 50 percent higher than they were before the Great Recession. The D-FW area has had one of the biggest percentage run-ups in residential values since the economic downturn. But there are growing signs that the boom in D-FW housing values has peaked. Attom Data Solutions found that median home prices in the first quarter of 2019 were down slightly from a year ago in Dallas, Collin and Denton counties. Tarrant County was among the 232 of 473 Attom Data analyzed where home prices are still rising faster than incomes. 

Construction Spending increased 1.0% in February - From the Census Bureau reported that overall construction spending decreased in December:  Construction spending during February 2019 was estimated at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1,320.3 billion, 1.0 percent above the revised January estimate of $1,307.3 billion.  Both private and public spending increased: Spending on private construction was at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $994.5 billion, 0.2 percent above the revised January estimate of $993.0 billion. ... In February, the estimated seasonally adjusted annual rate of public construction spending was $325.8 billion, 3.6 percent above the revised January estimate of $314.4 billion.This graph shows private residential and nonresidential construction spending, and public spending, since 1993. Note: nominal dollars, not inflation adjusted. Private residential spending had been increasing - although declined in the 2nd half of 2018 - and is still 20% below the bubble peak. Non-residential spending is 9% above the previous peak in January 2008 (nominal dollars). Public construction spending is now back to the previous peak in March 2009, and 25% above the austerity low in February 2014. Year-over-year Construction SpendingThe second graph shows the year-over-year change in construction spending. On a year-over-year basis, private residential construction spending is down 3%. Non-residential spending is up slightly year-over-year. Public spending is up 1% year-over-year. This was well above consensus expectations, and spending for December and January were revised up.

A 58-story residential skyscraper in Manhattan is reportedly tilting to the side, and there’s a battle over who’s to blame On March 22, a contractor for a 58-story skyscraper in Manhattan sued the tower's developer after a subcontractor discovered the building was tilting 3 inches north. The contractor, Pizzarotti, alleged that the developer, Fortis Property Group, allowed for the tower to be built on a shoddy foundation. Fortis Property Group said Pizzarotti filed the suit to distract from its inability to complete the project. Both parties said they have terminated their mutual contract. The tower, known as 1 Seaport or 161 Maiden Ln., stands at the tip of lower Manhattan along the East River. When it's finished, the shimmering glass structure will become downtown Manhattan's first residential skyscraper. Though most new towers don't lean or tilt, 1 Seaport isn't the first of kind. The Millennium Tower in San Francisco has tilted 14 inches toward the northwest since opening in 2009. The issues underlying both structures bear some striking similarities. The Millennium Tower developers said that nearby construction workers pumped too much water out of the ground, causing the sand to compress and the tower to sink. That same developer has been accused of failing to anchor the structure to bedrock to support its weight. In the case of 1 Seaport, Pizzarotti alleged that the developer ignored the recommendations of a geotechnical report, which said to drive piles into the ground before laying the foundation. A Fortis spokesperson said that two top engineering firms, Arup and WSP, assessed the building and found no safety issue.According to the spokesperson, the leaning is "a misalignment issue" that can be addressed with a "slight redesign of the building's curtain wall, which is already being installed." The spokesperson also said that Pizzarotti owes Fortis tens of millions of dollars because of defaults and delays.

 Reis: Office Vacancy Rate decreased in Q1 to 16.6% -- Reis reported that the office vacancy rate was at 16.6% in Q1, down from 16.7% in Q4 2018. This is up from 16.5% in Q1 2018, and down from the cycle peak of 17.6%. From Reis Economist Barbara Denham:The office vacancy rate fell slightly in the quarter to 16.6% from 16.7% last quarter and 16.5% a year ago. The office vacancy rate had bottomed at 16.3% in Q1 2017.The national average asking rent increased 0.4% in the first quarter while the effective rent, which nets out landlord concessions, increased 0.5% in the quarter. At $33.58 per square foot (asking) and $27.26 per square foot (effective), the average rents have increased 2.2% and 2.3%, respectively, from the first quarter of 2018....In the tenth year of the expansion, the office market continues to move at a snail’s pace. That said, the widening gap between the stronger markets and weaker ones is particularly noteworthy and is otherwise obscured by the flat national numbers. The underlying data shows that tech firms are fueling much of the growth in the stronger office markets, particularly in west coast metros, parts of Texas and parts of the east coast.With more construction underway in 2019, vacancy is expected to increase a bit more while rent growth should continue to stay below the rate of inflation.

Reis: Regional Mall Vacancy Rate increased Sharply in Q1 2019 -- Reis reported that the vacancy rate for regional malls was 9.3% in Q1 2019, up from 9.0% in Q4 2018, and up from 8.4% in Q1 2018. This is down slightly from a cycle peak of 9.4% in Q3 2011, and up from the cycle low of 7.8% in Q1 2016. For Neighborhood and Community malls (strip malls), the vacancy rate was 10.2% in Q1, unchanged from 10.2% in Q4, and up from 10.0% in Q1 2018. For strip malls, the vacancy rate peaked at 11.1% in Q3 2011, and the low was 9.8% in Q2 2016. Comments from Reis: The neighborhood and community shopping center retail vacancy rate was unchanged at 10.2% in the first quarter. It was 10.0% a year ago.
Both the national average asking rent and effective rent, which nets out landlord concessions, increased 0.4% in the quarter. At $21.30 per square foot (asking) and $18.65 per square foot (effective), the average rents have both increased 1.6% from the first quarter of 2018. With the closing of more than two dozen Sears stores, the Regional Mall vacancy rate increased 0.3% to 9.3%. The average rent, however, was flat in the quarter. A number of other Sears stores closed in the quarter, but they were not included in the regional mall trends, either because they are owner occupied or they are outside of our geographic coverage. The mall vacancy rate had jumped 0.5% in the third quarter of 2018 due to earlier Sears store closings. Many Sears stores remain in operation. As the retail sector continues to undergo restructuring, a number of retail real estate markets face more vacancies and falling rents. This pattern is expected to continue as more stores will close this year. At the same time, we continue to see stores opening in every metro. A number of other big box vacancies have been converted to self storage and/or sold to developers for redevelopment. 
This graph shows the strip mall vacancy rate starting in 1980 (prior to 2000 the data is annual). The regional mall data starts in 2000. Back in the '80s, there was overbuilding in the mall sector even as the vacancy rate was rising. This was due to the very loose commercial lending that led to the S&L crisis. Mall vacancy data courtesy of Reis

US Consumer Credit Storms Above $4 Trillion, As Credit Card Debt Hits New All Time High High --After a few months of wild swings in mid 2018, in February US consumer credit continued to normalize, rising by $15.2 billion, slightly below the $17 billion expected, following January's $17.7 billion increase. The continued increase in borrowings saw total credit storm above $4 trillion, and hit a new all time high of $4.045 trillion on the back of a America's ongoing love affair with auto and student loans, and of course credit cards. That said, as shown in the chart below, there has been a decisive slowdown in total monthly consumer credit creation, which has shrunk notably from $26 billion last July to just over $15 billion in February. Revolving credit increased by $3.0 billion, an increase from January's $2.6 billion, rising to $1.061 trillion, a new all time high in total credit card debt outstanding. There was a small decline in the monthly increase in non-revolving credit, i.e. student and auto loans, which jumped by $12.2 billion, down from the $15.1 billion increase in January, and bringing the nonrevolving total also to a new all time high of $2.984 trillion. And while February's continued rebound in credit card use may assuage some concerns about the sharp slowdown in spending in the end of 2018 and start of 2019, and the subsequent plunge in retail sales, as the household savings rate surged by the most in years, one place where there were no surprises, was in the total amount of student and auto loans: here as expected, both numbers hit fresh all time highs, with a record $1.569 trillion in student loans outstanding, an impressive increase of $10.3 billion in the quarter, while auto debt also hit a new all time high of $1.154 trillion, an increase of $8.4 billion in the quarter. In short, whether they want to or not, Americans continue to drown even deeper in debt, and enjoying every minute of it.

 January Retail Sales: Down 0.2% MoM - The Census Bureau's Advance Retail Sales Report for February was released Monday morning. Headline sales came in at -0.2% month-over-month to one decimal and was worse than the forecast of 0.3%.  Core sales (ex Autos) came in at -0.42% MoM (to two decimals).  Here is the introduction from today's report:Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for February 2019, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $506.0 billion, a decrease of 0.2 percent (±0.5 percent)* from the previous month, but 2.2 percent (±0.7 percent) above February 2018. Total sales for the December 2018 through February 2019 period were up 2.2 percent (±0.5 percent) from the same period a year ago. The December 2018 to January 2019 percent change was revised from up 0.2 percent (±0.5 percent)* to up 0.7 percent (±0.3 percent).Retail trade sales were down 0.2 percent (±0.5 percent)* from January 2019, but 2.1 percent (±0.5 percent) above last year. Nonstore retailers were up 10.0 percent (±1.8 percent) from February 2018, while health and personal care stores were up 5.9 percent (±2.5 percent) from last year. [view full report] The chart below is a log-scale snapshot of retail sales since the early 1990s. The two exponential regressions through the data help us to evaluate the long-term trend of this key economic indicator.

Retail Sales decreased 0.2% in February - On a monthly basis, retail sales decreased 0.2 percent from January to February (seasonally adjusted), and sales were up 2.2 percent from February 2018. From the Census Bureau report:Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for February 2019, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $506.0 billion, a decrease of 0.2 percent from the previous month, but 2.2 percent above February 2018. … The December 2018 to January 2019 percent change was revised from up 0.2 percent to up 0.7 percent.  This graph shows retail sales since 1992. This is monthly retail sales and food service, seasonally adjusted (total and ex-gasoline).Retail sales ex-gasoline were down 0.2% in February.The second graph shows the year-over-year change in retail sales and food service (ex-gasoline) since 1993. Retail and Food service sales, ex-gasoline, increased by 3.2% on a YoY basis. The increase in February was below expectations, however sales in January were revised up significantly.

Retail Sales Unexpectedly Tumble In February - Larry Kudlow Was Wrong- After January's much-heralded rebounded from December's "well it can't be real" plunge, retail sales were expected to continue the rebound in February (albeit at a slower pace) but they did not - disappointing gravely. Against expectations of a 0.2% rise, headline retail sales dropped 0.2% MoM in February (exaggerated by strong upward revisions) and core retail sales (ex-auto and gas) tumbled 0.6% MoM... Sales in the “control group” subset, which some analysts view as a cleaner gauge of underlying consumer demand, also fell 0.2%, missing estimates for a gain, after an upwardly revised 1.7% increase in the prior month. The measure excludes food services, car dealers, building-materials stores and gasoline stations. On a year-over-year basis, retail sales growth slowed to +2.2%... Seven of 13 major retail categories showed declines... Led by Building Materials & Garden Equipment plunging 4.4% - the biggest drop since 2012... (additionally, receipts at electronics and appliance stores fell 1.3 percent, the most since May 2017). As Bloomberg notes, the report suggests consumer spending will be limited as a growth driver in the first quarter, with pressure points also including smaller-than-expected tax refunds and global economic weakness that may be weighing on jobs. At the same time, rising wages, a stock-market rally and steady interest rates are likely to be pillars for consumption in coming months. But, but, but... White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Friday that the “underlying economy” isn’t slowing.

Only The Strong Survive- JCPenney, Payless, LifeWay To Close Over 3,000 Stores - The weak keep getting weaker. Another 3,000 stores will bite the dust and mall vacancies are at an 8-year high. “In the post-digital era, only the strong will survive. Darwin would love this,” said one retail analyst as JCPenney, Payless, LifeWay Announce 3,000+ Combined Store Closures.  Retail job cuts for January and February total 41,201, said research firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas in a new survey, including nationwide retailers such as Payless and Charlotte Russe.“This is significant, and marks an acceleration of store closures and job cuts in the near term," said Mark Hamrick, a senior economic analyst at Bankrate.“Retail is ground zero for seeing the shifts of change in our lives.”Lifeway Christian Bookstores announced last week it would be closing the doors of all 170 brick and mortar stores, in a pivot to focusing on digital and e-commerce.“The decision to close our local stores is a difficult one,” said Lifeway Chief Executive Officer Brad Waggoner.“While we had hoped to keep some stores open, current market projections show this is no longer a viable option.”“In the post-digital era, only the strong will survive,” Ron Johnson, CEO of Enjoy, a retail technology company, told NBC News.“You need a great brand, a strong balance sheet, and a vision for experience that commences digitally. Darwin would love this.”

 March U.S. Auto Sales Numbers Aren’t Looking Good As Consumer Confidence Slumps Further -With an unstable regulatory environment, high tariffs, underwhelming tax returns, low consumer confidence, a lack of incentives, and rising interest rates, economists aren’t surprised by the sales dip the industry is experiencing. Perhaps the worst news is that there is no expectation for a turnaround any time soon. According to a report by Automotive News, the four major sales forecasters expect a drop in March of between 1.5% and 6.7%.To be more specific, auto industry sales watchers TrueCar, Edmunds, J.D. Power, and Cox are predicting March sales declines of 1.5%, 4%, 5.6%, and 6.7% respectively. It is possible at this rate that U.S. car sales for the year will shrink below 17 million for the first time in years. We’ll see the full official numbers from automakers on Tuesday, but none of them seem to be particularly optimistic. The Cox estimates read most dismal, projecting that every major auto manufacturer will experience a sales dip this month. This includes Subaru, which hasn’t seen a down month for over seven years. Nissan, Cox says, will be hit the hardest, with a double-digit 12.6% sales crunch in the North American market. The Fed has recently increased interest rates, which President Trump has been vocally opposed to, leveling the full blame for an economic slowdownon this single move. It’s a little more complex than that. A volatile stock market, trade policy trepidation, and a 7 point dip in the consumer confidence index lay the seeds for an all-around economic slowdown.

US Auto Sales Wrap Up Terrible First Quarter with Dismal March Numbers -Auto sales in the U.S. wrapped up an ugly first quarter with dismal results for the month of March as the buying frenzy from last year’s tax cuts wore off and the economy continues to decelerate. Of the sales data that was reported for the month, Honda was the only major automaker that didn't see a year-over-year sales decline. Here's how some of the bigger name manufacturers ended the month:

  • General Motors saw deliveries drop 7% for the quarter, with all four brands falling
    • Chevy Silverado was down 16%
    • Chevy Suburban dropped 25%
  • Fiat Chrysler sales fell 7.3% (estimates were for a decline of 6.4%)
    • Jeep sales fell 11%, continuing the February trend of SUV demand drying up
  • Toyota sales fell 3.5%
    • This beat estimates for the month, but still showed softness
    • Toyota also fell 5% for the first quarter, hurt by a decline in demand for its Corolla
    • Nissan sales were down 5.3% in March
      • Nissan's first quarter sales were down 11.6%
      • Deliveries fell 23% for its Infiniti brand
    • Ford sales were down 5% in March, according to industry data
      • The company is expected to show a 2% decline for the quarter
    • Honda saw a 4.3% percent increase, as passenger car sales rose more than 4%

    BEA: March Vehicles Sales at 17.5 Million SAAR --The BEA released their estimate of March vehicle sales. The BEA estimated sales of 17.48 million SAAR in March 2019 (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate), up 5.7% from the February sales rate, and up 1.4% from March 2018. With the strong sales in March, 2019 is averaging 16.9 million (average of seasonally adjusted rate), just behind sales last year (17.0 million average through Q1).  This graph shows annual light vehicle sales since 1976.   Source: BEA. Sales for 2018 were the fourth best ever, and the 2019 sales rate is lower than in 2018.The second graph shows light vehicle sales since the BEA started keeping data in 1967.Note: dashed line is current estimated sales rate of 17.48 million SAAR. A small decline in sales this year isn't a concern - I think sales will move mostly sideways at near record levels. This means the economic boost from increasing auto sales is over (from the bottom in 2009, auto sales boosted growth every year through 2016).

    Headline Durable Goods Orders Down 1.6% in February - 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 February decreased $4.2 billion or 1.6 percent to $250.6 billion, the U.S. Census Bureau announced today. This decrease, down following three consecutive monthly increases, followed a 0.1 percent January increase. Excluding transportation, new orders increased 0.1 percent. Excluding defense, new orders decreased 1.9 percent. Transportation equipment, also down following three consecutive monthly increases, drove the decrease, $4.3 billion or 4.8 percent to $86.0 billion. Download full PDF  The latest new orders number at -1.6% month-over-month (MoM) was better than the consensus of -1.1%. The series is up 1.8% year-over-year (YoY).If we exclude transportation, "core" durable goods came in at 0.1% MoM, which was worse than the Investing.comconsensus of 0.3%. The core measure is up 3.3% YoY.If we exclude both transportation and defense for an even more fundamental "core", the latest number is down 0.1% MoM and up 4.6% 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 down 0.1% MoM and up 2.6% 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.

    US durable goods orders fall 1.6% in February - — Orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket manufactured goods fell 1.6% in February, the biggest drop in four months, reflecting a plunge in the volatile commercial aircraft category. Demand in a key sector used to track business investment decisions also declined in February. The Commerce Department said Tuesday that the February decline came after a small 0.1% rise January and was the weakest showing since a 4.3% fall in October. Orders in a category that serves as a proxy for business investment plans edged down 0.1% in February after a 0.9% advance in January. The manufacturing sector has been strained for the past few months, reflecting a global economic slowdown and rising trade tensions which have hurt U.S. exports. But there have been more hopeful signs recently. The Institute for Supply Management reported Monday that its manufacturing index rose to 55.3 in March, up from a reading of 54.2 in February, with employment gains in manufacturing a key driver of the increase. Analysts said factories are hiring to make sure they can meet demand in the coming months. The report on new orders for durable goods, items expected to last at least three years, showed that much of the overall weakness came from a 31.1% plunge in orders for commercial aircraft, a drop that followed health gains in the past two months. Orders for motor vehicles and parts dipped a small 0.1% following a 0.5% decline in January. Demand for machinery fell 0.3% while orders for computers and electronic products fell 0.3%.

    Class 8 Heavy Truck Orders Crash 66% In March - Among the latest dismal news about the strength of the US economy, on Tuesday ACT Research released preliminary truck orders for March 2019 which showed that Class 8 truck orders collapsed an astounding 66%. The decline is being attributed to a 300,000+ vehicle backlog potentially prompting fleets to halt purchases in the near term, however it is also likely that concerns about the economic slowdown are also playing a major part in the latest collapse.  Specifically, March Class 8 net orders were just 15,700 units (16,000 SA; 192,000 SAAR), down 66% YoY from 49,600 a year ago and down 6.7% sequentially. Class 8 trucks, which are made by Daimler (Freightliner, Western Star), Paccar (Peterbuilt, Kenworth), Navistar International, and Volvo Group (Mack Trucks, Volvo Trucks), are one of the more common heavy trucks on the road, used for transport, logistics and occasionally (some dump trucks) for industrial purposes. Typical 18 wheelers on the road are generally all Class 8 vehicles, and traditionally are seen as an accurate coincident indicator of trade and logistics trends in the economy. “March marks the fourth consecutive month of orders meaningfully below the current rate of build,” said Steve Tam, vice president of ACT. During that four-month period, Class 8 orders have been booked at a 194,000 seasonally adjusted annual rate, or SAAR. This is down significantly from 489,000 SAAR for the same period a year earlier, Tam said. Don Ake, FTR vice president of commercial vehicles, said demand is still strong, but supply is limited with all of the choice build slots for 2019 filled. Fleets that need trucks are basically taking whatever is available. “These are extraordinary market conditions. Most fleets ordered well in advance of their need for trucks in 2019,” Ake said. OEM production slots were scarce in 2018 and supplier constraints caused disruptions in supply, so fleets didn’t want to get shutout this year. Now so many build slots have been reserved, fleets that are currently placing orders for delivery this year don’t have many options. “Even though the economy and freight growth appear to be slowing, it has not impacted OEM line rates as of yet. Fleets are still putting more trucks in service and competing in a still decent freight market. It is expected that Class 8 sales will moderate sometime before the end of the year, as industry capacity begins to catch up with the freight surge that began in 2018.” According to JPMorgan, the New Orders component of the ISM Manufacturing Index tends to be the best leading indicator of future freight trends and truck demand.  Specifically, the year-over-year change in New Orders has historically led the year-over-year change in the Cass Freight Index (the bank's preferred broad-based indicator of freight trends) by 6-9 months. The ISM New Orders index was 57.4 in March, down 8.0% YoY but still above 50. Meanwhile, the Cass Freight Index continues to drop, and was down 2.1% YoY in February (the latest month available).

     Boeing delays 737 MAX software fix delivery -- Delivery of Boeing’s promised fix to the flight system software at the center of two 737 MAX crash investigations has been pushed back several weeks after an internal review by engineers not connected to the aircraft raised additional safety questions. The results of the “non-advocate” review have not been revealed, but the Federal Aviation Administration confirmed on April 1 that the software needed additional work.  “The FAA expects to receive Boeing’s final package of its software enhancement over the coming weeks for FAA approval,” an FAA spokesperson said in a statement. “Time is needed for additional work by Boeing as the result of an ongoing review of the 737 MAX Flight Control System to ensure that Boeing has identified and appropriately addressed all pertinent issues.”  The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) was developed by Boeing to mitigate changes in the handling of the 737 MAX from other 737 designs. It included a more aggressive anti-stall feature intended to counter the modified aircraft’s inherent tendency to “nose up” during flight—automatically correcting the position of the aircraft’s stabilizers to bring the nose back down. Evidence from the crashes of a Lion Air 737 MAX off Indonesia in October and an Ethiopian Airlines flight last month indicates that a single faulty sensor input caused the anti-stall system to activate in error, pushing both aircraft into a dive shortly after take-off. Lack of diagnostic information and a change in how pilots would normally disable the software also contributed to the Lion Air crash; the investigation of the Ethiopian Airlines crash is still in progress. Boeing had previously detailed its plans for changes in the MCAS, which the company started work on following the Lion Air crash in October. The updated software will use sensor inputs from both of the aircraft’s “angle of attack” (AOA) sensors on the aircraft’s nose rather than relying on a single sensor. An AOA sensor “disagree” indicator on the aircraft’s cockpit display, previously an optional component of MCAS, will be made standard for all 737 MAX aircraft. And the update will make MCAS less aggressive in its level of control over the aircraft’s stabilizers. These changes might have additional impact on the overall handling of the 737 MAX and will likely require additional pilot training as part of any rollout.

    Boeing Slashes 737 Production By 20% -- Just a few hours after Ethiopian Airlines warned of a "stigma" associated with the 737 Max that may make them choose not to take delivery of the planes they ordered, Boeing has released a statement after-hours that the company will slash production of the 737 plane from 52 to 42 airplanes per month.Bloomberg reports that Boeing plans to coordinate with customers and suppliers to blunt the financial impact of the slowdown, and for now it doesn’t plan to lay off workers from the 737 program. “When the Max returns to the skies, we’ve promised our airline customers and their passengers and crews that it will be as safe as any airplane ever to fly,” Boeing Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg said in a statement Friday after the market close. Boeing had planned to hike output of the 737, a workhorse for budget carriers, about 10 percent by midyear, to meet the backlogs. Full Statement from Boeing:

     ISM Manufacturing index Increased to 55.3 in March - The ISM manufacturing index indicated expansion in February. The PMI was at 55.3% in March, up from 54.2% in February. The employment index was at 57.5%, up from 52.3% last month, and the new orders index was at 57.4%, up from 55.5%. From the Institute for Supply Management: March 2019 Manufacturing ISM® Report On Business®   “The March PMI® registered 55.3 percent, an increase of 1.1 percentage points from the February reading of 54.2 percent. The New Orders Index registered 57.4 percent, an increase of 1.9 percentage points from the February reading of 55.5 percent. The Production Index registered 55.8 percent, a 1-percentage point increase compared to the February reading of 54.8 percent. The Employment Index registered 57.5 percent, an increase of 5.2 percentage points from the February reading of 52.3 percent. The Supplier Deliveries Index registered 54.2 percent, a 0.7 percentage point decrease from the February reading of 54.9 percent. The Inventories Index registered 51.8 percent, a decrease of 1.6 percentage points from the February reading of 53.4 percent. The Prices Index registered 54.3 percent, a 4.9-percentage point increase from the February reading of 49.4 percent, indicating a return of increasing raw materials prices after a two-month respite. Here is a long term graph of the ISM manufacturing index. This was above expectations of 54.0%, and suggests manufacturing expanded at a faster pace in March than in February.

    Manufacturing activity rebounds in March, construction spending hits 9-month high in February - U.S. manufacturing activity rebounded a bit more than expected in March, according to an industry report released on Monday, as production, new orders and hiring all picked up. The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) said its index of national factory activity rose to 55.3 from 54.2 in February, which had marked the lowest level since November 2016. The reading was slightly above expectations of 54.5 from a Reuters poll of 69 economists. A reading above 50 indicates expansion in the manufacturing sector and a reading below 50 indicates contraction. The employment index rose to 57.5 from 52.3 a month earlier. Expectations called for a reading of 52.4. The new orders index rose to 57.4 from 55.5 in February. The prices paid index rose to 54.3, indicating that prices producers are paying for materials rose for the first time since December. Production also picked up, with that index at ticking up to 55.8 from 54.8 the month before. Construction spending hits 9-month high U.S. construction spending increased for a third straight month in February, boosted by gains in both private and public construction projects, offering some good news on the economy following a string of weak reports. The Commerce Department said on Monday construction spending rose 1.0 percent to a nine-month high after an upwardly revised 2.5 percent surge in January. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast construction spending falling 0.2 percent in February after a previously reported 1.3 percent jump in January. Construction spending increased 1.1 percent on a year-on-year basis in February. In February, spending on private construction projects rose 0.2 percent after vaulting 1.5 percent in January. Investment in private residential projects increased 0.7 percent, rising for a third straight month. The strong gains are despite a sluggish housing market, which has been held back by higher mortgage rates, expensive building materials as well as land and labor shortages. But there are signs of green shoots emerging in the housing market as mortgage rates have declined from last year's lofty levels. Spending on private nonresidential structures, which includes manufacturing and power plants, fell 0.5 percent in February after jumping 1.1 percent in January. Investment in public construction projects rose 3.6 percent in February after accelerating 5.7 percent in the prior month. Spending on federal government construction projects rose 0.9 percent to the highest level since October 2017, after soaring 5.7 percent in January. Investment in state and local government construction projects rose 3.8 percent after surging 5.7 in January.

     March Markit Manufacturing Dips -  The March US Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index conducted by Markit came in at 52.4, down 0.6 from the 53.0 final February figure. Markit's Manufacturing PMI is a diffusion index: A reading above 50 indicates expansion in the sector; below 50 indicates contraction.Here is an excerpt from Chris Williamson, Chief Business Economist at IHS Markit in their latest press release: "A futher deterioraton in the manufacturing PMI suggests the factory sector is acting as an increasing drag on the US economy. The March survey is consistent with production falling at a quarterly rate of 0.6% according to historical comparisons with official data." [Press Release]Here is a snapshot of the series since mid-2012.   Here is an overlay with the equivalent PMI survey conducted by the Institute for Supply Management (see our full article on this series here, note that ).

     Manufacturing slowdown apparent, but no contraction –(5 graphs) With yesterday’s ISM report for manufacturing in March, let’s take an updated look at this sector, with a particular emphasis on what to look for in this Friday’s jobs report.The ISM manufacturing index, and its more leading new orders sub-index, both continued positive in March, with the former at 55.3 and the latter at 57.4. Both of these are good, solid, positive numbers. Here’s the updated graph from Although as noted above, these are positive numbers (any value above 50 indicates expansion), the last few months have shown a considerable slowdown from the red hot pace of expansion one year ago. This is in line with the five regional Fed reports, which have also slowed to very tepid - but still positive - readings in the last few months. As I wrote last week, I am expecting a slowdown in employment growth. This is particularly true as to manufacturing and other goods-producing jobs. Here’s two graphs going back nearly 60 years of the spread between 10 year and 3 month treasuries (blue) and the YoY% change in goods producing jobs (red):  Note that in *every* case that the interest rate spread has inverted, or just decreased to nearly zero, within about 18 months YoY growth in goods-producing jobs has declined to less than 0.5%, and usually outright declined. That translates to an annual pace of not more than 7000 goods producing jobs a month. By contrast, in the past several years at least 20,000 goods productions jobs have been added virtually every month So if history is a guide, a sharp slowdown in goods producing jobs growth should begin very soon, if not having already begun in February.In addition to watching for poor manufacturing and other goods producing jobs growth in Friday’s employment report, an even more forward looking indicator is the average manufacturing work week, which tends to decline even before jobs do. Here’s the history of that number over the past 35 years: Although it wasn’t the case in 2007, usually the average manufacturing work week declines by nearly an hour if not more before a recession begins. In the past 10 months, this has declined by -0.6 hours. Any further decline this Friday would be cause for significant concern.

    ISM Non-Manufacturing Index decreased to 56.1% in March - The March ISM Non-manufacturing index was at 56.1%, down from 59.7% in February. The employment index increased to 55.9%, from 55.2%. Note: Above 50 indicates expansion, below 50 contraction. From the Institute for Supply Management: March 2019 Non-Manufacturing ISM Report On Business®  “The NMI® registered 56.1 percent, which is 3.6 percentage points lower than the February reading of 59.7 percent. This represents continued growth in the non-manufacturing sector, at a slower rate. The Non-Manufacturing Business Activity Index decreased to 57.4 percent, 7.3 percentage points lower than the February reading of 64.7 percent, reflecting growth for the 116th consecutive month, at a slower rate in March. The New Orders Index registered 59 percent, 6.2 percentage points lower than the reading of 65.2 percent in February. The Employment Index increased 0.7 percentage point in March to 55.9 percent from the February reading of 55.2 percent. The Prices Index increased 4.3 percentage points from the February reading of 54.4 percent to 58.7 percent, indicating that prices increased in March for the 22nd consecutive month. According to the NMI®, 16 non-manufacturing industries reported growth. The non-manufacturing sector’s growth cooled off in March after strong growth in February. Respondents remain mostly optimistic about overall business conditions and the economy. They still have underlying concerns about employment resources and capacity constraints.” This graph shows the ISM non-manufacturing index (started in January 2008) and the ISM non-manufacturing employment diffusion index. This suggests slower expansion in March than in February.

    Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims decreased to 202,000 -- The DOL reported: In the week ending March 30, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 202,000, a decrease of 10,000 from the previous week's revised level. This is the lowest level for initial claims since December 6, 1969 when it was 202,000. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 from 211,000 to 212,000. The 4-week moving average was 213,500, a decrease of 4,000 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 250 from 217,250 to 217,500. The previous week was revised up. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

    Unemployment claims at lowest level since 1969 - (UPI) -- The number of people who filed for unemployment benefits last week was the lowest in 50 years, Labor Department figures showed Thursday. Jobless claims reached 202,000 in the final week of March -- the fewest since Dec. 6, 1969. The mark was 10,000 fewer than the week before.  The numbers indicate continued strength in the employment market. Last month, the department said productivity among U.S. workers increased in the fourth quarter of 2018 at a greater pace than expected. Wednesday, ADP and Moody's projected job growth of 129,000 for March. Official monthly government figures arrive Friday and analysts expect them to show job growth of about 170,000. The positive report Thursday coincided with another study that showed more than 60,000 U.S. workers were laid off in March, topping off the worst quarter for job cuts since 2015 and the worst first quarter in 10 years. The analysis by Challenger, Gary & Christmas said layoffs are up 35 percent over the same period a year ago. Many of the layoffs occurred last month and experts said some have not yet filed for unemployment. Most of the layoffs for the first quarter of 2019 were seen in the retail sector, 46,000. In March alone, the auto industry saw 8,800 layoffs and the energy sector nearly 8,200.

    Challenger Job-Cut Report  -- In what has yet to lead to a comparable rise in actual jobless claims, the number of lay-off announcements has clearly shifted higher over the last half year. March announcements totaled 60,587 which is down from February's outsized 76,835 but still higher than the fourth-quarter monthly average of 57,534 and the third-quarter's 40,293. Layoff announcements totaled 190,140 in the fourth quarter, this is up from 172,601 and 120,879 in the prior two quarters. It is also the highest total in 4-1/2 years and the highest first-quarter total since the recession (note that Challenger data are not adjusted). The report cites concerns over an upcoming downturn as among the likely reasons for the increase.  Challenger's data point squarely at a comparable shift higher in jobless claims which did begin to move up from historic lows late last year and early this year but have since moved back lower. There's always an unknown time lag between announcements and layoffs but the risk for a rise in claims is clear. The results are also likely signaling a slowing in payroll growth ahead yet are not likely to affect expectations for tomorrow's employment report where a substantial bounce-back from a weak February is the universal call.

    ADP: Private Employment increased 129,000 in March --From ADP: Private sector employment increased by 129,000 jobs from February to March according to the March ADP National Employment Report®. ... The report, which is derived from ADP’s actual payroll data, measures the change in total nonfarm private employment each month on a seasonally-adjusted basis....“March posted the slowest employment increase in 18 months,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and co-head of the ADP Research Institute. “Although some service sectors showed continued strength, we saw weakness in the goods producing sector.”Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, said, “The job market is weakening, with employment gains slowing significantly across most industries and company sizes. Businesses are hiring cautiously as the economy is struggling with fading fiscal stimulus, the trade uncertainty, and the lagged impact of Fed tightening. If employment growth weakens much further, unemployment will begin to rise.” This was below the consensus forecast for 160,000 private sector jobs added in the ADP report.

      ADP Shows Weakest Job Gains Since Sept 2017 As Manufacturing, Construction Shrink - Following last month's weak ADP print which front-ran the dismal "must be an outlier due to weather, shutdown, or anything else" payrolls data, expectations were for a slightly weaker ADP employment headline in March. However, despite the apparent emergence of 'green shoots' around the world, ADP disappointed, adding just 129k jobs in March (well below the expected +175k and only just above the 125k lowest estimate of analysts). This is the weakest growth in employment since Sept 2017... Under the hood, Small businesses shrank their employee base, as Construction lost 6k jobs... March posted the slowest employment increase in 18 months,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and co-head of the ADP Research Institute.“Although some service sectors showed continued strength, we saw weakness in the goods producing sector.”Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, said, “The job market is weakening, with employment gains slowing significantly across most industries and company sizes.""Businesses are hiring cautiously as the economy is struggling with fading fiscal stimulus, the trade uncertainty, and the lagged impact of Fed tightening. If employment growth weakens much further, unemployment will begin to rise.” Zandi is not wrong - after 26 straight months of manufacturing jobs gains, March saw shrinkage...

    March Employment Report: 196,000 Jobs Added, 3.8% Unemployment Rate -- From the BLS: Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 196,000 in March, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.8 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Notable job gains occurred in health care and in professional and technical services. ... The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for January was revised up from +311,000 to +312,000, and the change for February was revised up from +20,000 to +33,000. With these revisions, employment gains in January and February combined were 14,000 more than previously reported. ..  In March, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 4 cents to $27.70, following a 10-cent gain in February. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 3.2 percent. The first graph shows the monthly change in payroll jobs, ex-Census (meaning the impact of the decennial Census temporary hires and layoffs is removed - mostly in 2010 - to show the underlying payroll changes). Total payrolls increased by 196 thousand in March (private payrolls increased 182 thousand). Payrolls for January and February were revised up 14 thousand combined. Year-over-year change employmentThis graph shows the year-over-year change in total non-farm employment since 1968. In March the year-over-year change was 2.537 million jobs. The third graph shows the employment population ratio and the participation rate. The Labor Force Participation Rate declined in March to 63.0%. This is the percentage of the working age population in the labor force. A large portion of the recent decline in the participation rate is due to demographics and long term trends. The Employment-Population ratio declined to 60.6% (black line). I'll post the 25 to 54 age group employment-population ratio graph later. The fourth graph shows the unemployment rate. The unemployment rate was unchanged in March at 3.8%. This was above the consensus expectations of 169,000 jobs added, and January and February were revised up by 14,000 combined. A solid report.

    March jobs report: good nowcast, concerning forecast - HEADLINES:

    • +196,000 jobs added
    • U3 unemployment rate unchanged at 3.8% 
    • U6 underemployment rate unchanged at  7.3%
    • the average manufacturing workweek was unchanged 40.7 hours. This is one of the 10 components of the LEI. It is down -0.6 hours from its peak during this expansion.
    • Manufacturing jobs declined by -.6,000. YoY manufacturing is up 209,000, a big deceleration from last summer’s pace.
    • construction jobs rose by 16,000. YoY construction jobs are up 246,000, also a big deceleration from last summer. 
    • temporary jobs declined by -5400. YoY these are up +44,900. These are only up 3700 in the past 5 months, a big slowdown.
    • the number of people unemployed for 5 weeks or less fell by -68,000 from 2,194,000 to 2,126,000.  The post-recession low was set 10 months ago at 2,034,000.
    • Not in Labor Force, but Want a Job Now: increased by 5,000 from 5.222 million to 5.227 million
    • Part time for economic reasons: increased by 189,000 from 4.310 million to 4.499 million
    • Employment/population ratio ages 25-54: declined -0.1% from 79.9% to 79.8%
    • Average Hourly Earnings for Production and Nonsupervisory Personnel: rose $.06 from  $23.18 to $23.24, up +3.4% YoY.  (Note: you may be reading different information about wages elsewhere. They are citing average wages for all private workers. I use wages for nonsupervisory personnel, to come closer to the situation for ordinary workers.)   Manufacturing jobs rose an average of +22,000/month in the past year vs. the last seven years of Obama's presidency in which an average of +10,300 manufacturing jobs were added each month.   
    • Coal mining jobs rose by 100 for an average of 150/month vs. the last seven years of Obama's presidency in which an average of -300 jobs were lost each month
    • January was revised upward by 1,000. February was also revised upward by 13,000, for a net change of 14,000.
    • Overtime declined -0.1 hour to 3.4 hours.
    • Professional and business employment (generally higher-paying jobs) increased by 34,000 and  is up +534,000 YoY. This has also decelerated from last year’s pace.
    • the index of aggregate hours worked for non-managerial workers rose by 0.5%
    • the index of aggregate payrolls for non-managerial workers rose by 0.7% 

    SUMMARY: The headline jobs number was very good, although a little below the pace of last year. But the internals were generally neutral to negative. To begin with, all three of the jobs sectors I am watching closely - construction, manufacturing, and temporary jobs - showed a marked slowdown in growth. All three have declined over the last two months, and temporary jobs are at a virtual standstill over the last five months. Another source of concern is that the household survey’s number showed an outright loss of jobs for the month, for the second time in four months. This measure has grown by only an average of 130,000 per month for the last year. All of this heightens concern that a big slowdown in jobs growth has probably already begun. Unemployment, underemployment, labor force participation, and the prime age employment/population ratio all either stalled or, in the last case, declined slightly. On the bright side, wages for ordinary workers grew at 3.4% YoY, a slight slowdown from their recent best pace. Perhaps the best news was the continued strong pace of growth in aggregate hours and payrolls.  To sum up, the jobs nowcast is very good. The jobs forecast is for a significant slowdown, the scope of which is not clear yet.

    Job market bounces back in March with 196,000 gain in payrolls - Job creation posted a solid rebound in March, with nonfarm payrolls expanding by 196,000 and the unemployment rate holding steady at 3.8%, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday. That was better than the 175,000 Dow Jones estimate and comes after a dismal February that had economists wondering whether the decade-old economic expansion was nearing an end. The unemployment rate met expectations. "With a strong March employment report now in the books, we've gotten some reassurance that the labor market is still strong," said Steve Rick, chief economist at CUNA Mutual Group. "Of course, last month's nosedive was disappointing, especially after December and January had such impressive numbers despite some sizable headwinds. But a good March report shows that February was more of an outlier than a canary in the coal mine." Wage gains fell off the recent strong pace, increasing just 0.14% for the month and 3.2% year over year, below expectations of the 3.4% pace from last month. The average work week increased by 0.1 hour to 34.5 hours. A broader gauge of unemployment that also counts discouraged workers and those holding part-time jobs for economic reasons also was unchanged at 7.3%. The measure, known as the "real unemployment rate" is down from 7.9% a year ago. Health care led with 49,000 new workers, professional and technical services added 34,000 and food and drinking establishments contributed 27,000. Construction rose by 16,000 but manufacturing saw 6,000 jobs lost. The numbers came a month after February's jaw-dropping gain of just 20,000, which was revised up to 33,000 in the March report. January's big increase of 311,000 also got pushed up a nudge to 312,000, bringing the average gain over the past three months to 180,000. That's still solid though below the 233,000 average monthly gain for all of 2018. Household survey data showed there were 201,000 fewer people counted as employed, but that came with a contraction of the labor force by 224,000. Those counted as not in the labor force increased by 369,000 to 95.6 million.The labor force participation rate declined to 63%, down 0.2 percentage points to its lowest level since November. The total employment level nudged down to 156.7 million, while those counted as unemployed also edged lower to just over 6.2 million. Broadly speaking, the report is likely to restore some confidence in a labor market that had looked shaky and an economy whose prospects were equally uncertain. Wednesday's private payrolls reading from ADP and Moody's Analytics was well below market expectations, indicating that more bad news could be on the horizon. Early-year data on retail sales and housing looked bad from a consumer standpoint, though some of those numbers have improved lately. Economic conditions now look more favorable than they did at the start of the year. First-quarter GDP is projected to rise 2.1%, according to the Atlanta Fed, which had been tracking gains of just 0.2% only a few weeks ago. Fourth-quarter GDP increased by 2.2%, bringing the 2018 calendar year increase to 2.9%.

     March Payrolls Surge By 196K But Wage Growth Disappoints - Expectations that the February cold weather"outlier" print would normalize in March were confirmed, when moments ago the BLS reported that the US added 196K payrolls in March, higher than the 177K expected, while February payrolls were revised modestly higher to 33K from 20K. The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for January was revised up from +311,000 to +312,000, and the change for February was revised up from +20,000 to +33,000. With these revisions, employment gains in January and February combined were 14,000 more than previously reported. Employment  growth averaged 180,000 per month in the first quarter of 2019, compared with 223,000 per month in 2018.As we previewed earlier, winter weather was said to lower job growth in February by around 100k, much of which itself reflected payback from the relatively mild weather in December and January.Commenting on the March report, Bloomberg's economist Wliza Winger writes that "The March rebound in payrolls is consistent with previous episodes that followed much weaker-than-expected prints. Since the unemployment rate fell below 7% in late 2013, there have been five instances (not counting last month) in which the hiring rate dipped below 100,000. The average payroll print in the following month was 250,000, and there was only one instance where it was below 200,000."While the headline payrolls report coming in better than expected, and snapping back from February's cold weather, there was some unexpected weakness in manufacturing jobs, which dipped by 6K in March, their first drop since July 2017. There was more weakness in the Household Survey, where the number of employed workers declined by 201K from 156.949MM to 156.748MM, even as the ranks of unemployed shrank modestly from 6.235MM to 6.211MM.And while most were focused on the headline jobs print, which came in stronger than expected, the surprise this month was the average hourly earnings number, which came in far weaker than expected, rising just 0.1% in the month, far below the 0.3% expected, and a sharp drop from February's 0.4% increase while on an annual basis AHE rose 3.2%, also below the 3.4% expected and prior month print. That said, a big reason for last month's jump in earnings had to do with the decline in hours worked, which dipped to 34.4. This number rose back to its recent normal of 34.5 in March, confirming that wage growth is once again becoming a problem for the Fed, and is the reason why both the dollar and bond yields dipped immediately after the report. Less eventful was the unemployment rate, which remained unchanged in March at 3.8%, just as expected.

    Strong Jobs Headline Hides Broad-Based Weakness -  Despite the stronger than expected headline jobs print, which allayed fears over the unexpectedly poor February number, there was pervasive weakness everywhere.While we previously discussed the disappointing hourly earnings print, a closer look behind the headlines in today's jobs report suggests that there may have been some political "massaging" to goalseek a goldilocks number.First, the Household Survey showed that the number of employed workers actually declined by 201K to 156.748K.Then, looking at the composition of the jobs report shows that the March jump was entirely due to part-time workers, which rose by 60K, while full-time workers dropped by 190K, the biggest monthly decline since August 2018.What about the establishment survey? Well, while the headline number was indeed impressive, staging a major rebound from 33K to 196K, more than a third of this surge was due to low-wage Education and Health workers, which surged by 70K, while Leisure and Hospitality (i.e., hotel workers as well as waiters and bartenders, surged by 33K, with these two categories responsible for more than half the gains.Confirming that the US manufacturing sector is hurting badly, among U.S. goods-producing industries, the 3-month annualized rate of increase in average hourly earnings in March was 0.8%, lowest in 58 months. For construction workers, it was 0.4% and for manufacturing workers 0.7%, slowest since Sep '15 and Jul '15, respectively.Additionally, as Reuters Jeoff Hall points out, for U.S. manufacturing workers, the sum of regular and overtime hours was 41.1 in March, the lowest in 18 months. The shorter workweek trimmed average weekly earnings by 0.2% m/m, leaving year-on-year growth at 1.3%, lowest in 40 months. Weakness prevalent in nondurable goods. Furthermore, As South Bay Research there was evident weakness in goods production jobs, which saw +12K jobs added, and +61K in Q1:

    • Mining+2K
    • Construction +16K
    • Manufacturing -6K, as a result of the slump in the auto sector (Motor vehicle -6.3K)

    Why is this notable? Because Q1 Construction and Manufacturing payrolls were the weakest since 2016. Furthermore, March was the worst month for manufacturing since August 2016.

    Comments on March Employment Report - The headline jobs number at 196 thousand for March was above consensus expectations of 169 thousand, and the previous two months were revised up 14 thousand, combined. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.8%.  Overall this was a solid report. In March, the year-over-year employment change was 2.537 million jobs. That is solid year-over-year growth. Wage growth was slightly below expectations. From the BLS: "In March, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 4 cents to $27.70, following a 10-cent gain in February. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 3.2 percent."  This graph is based on “Average Hourly Earnings” from the Current Employment Statistics (CES) (aka "Establishment") monthly employment report. Note: There are also two quarterly sources for earnings data: 1) “Hourly Compensation,” from the BLS’s Productivity and Costs; and 2) the Employment Cost Index which includes wage/salary and benefit compensation. The graph shows the nominal year-over-year change in "Average Hourly Earnings" for all private employees.  Nominal wage growth was at 3.2% YoY in March. Wage growth has generally been trending up. Since the overall participation rate has declined due to cyclical (recession) and demographic (aging population, younger people staying in school) reasons, here is the employment-population ratio for the key working age group: 25 to 54 years old. In the earlier period the participation rate for this group was trending up as women joined the labor force. Since the early '90s, the participation rate moved more sideways, with a downward drift starting around '00 - and with ups and downs related to the business cycle.The 25 to 54 participation rate was unchanged in March at 82.5%, and the 25 to 54 employment population ratio was decreased to 79.8%.  The number of persons working part time for economic reasons increased in March to 4.499 million from 4.310 million in February.   The number of persons working part time for economic reason has been generally trending down. These workers are included in the alternate measure of labor underutilization (U-6) that was unchanged at 7.3% in March.This graph shows the number of workers unemployed for 27 weeks or more. According to the BLS, there are 1.305 million workers who have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks and still want a job. This was up slightly from 1.271 million in February. Summary: The headline jobs number was above expectations, and the previous two months were revised up slightly.  The headline unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.8%.This was a solid jobs report, and was probably boosted by some bounce back from the poor weather in February.   The economy added 541 thousand jobs in Q1, down from 683 thousand jobs in Q1 2018.   So it appears job growth has slowed somewhat, but is still solid. This was strong enough to alleviate recession fears (no worries!), but not too strong to change the Fed's view of the economy (stay on hold).

    Philly Fed: State Coincident Indexes increased in 38 states in January -- From the Philly Fed: The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia has released the coincident indexes for the 50 states for January 2019. Over the past three months, the indexes increased in 44 states, decreased in one state, and remained stable in five, for a three-month diffusion index of 86. In the past month, the indexes increased in 38 states, decreased in seven states, and remained stable in five, for a one-month diffusion index of 62. Note: These are coincident indexes constructed from state employment data. An explanation from the Philly Fed: The coincident indexes combine four state-level indicators to summarize current economic conditions in a single statistic. The four state-level variables in each coincident index are nonfarm payroll employment, average hours worked in manufacturing by production workers, the unemployment rate, and wage and salary disbursements deflated by the consumer price index (U.S. city average). The trend for each state’s index is set to the trend of its gross domestic product (GDP), so long-term growth in the state’s index matches long-term growth in its GDP. Here is a map of the three month change in the Philly Fed state coincident indicators. This map was all redduring the worst of the recession, and all or mostly green during most of the recent expansion. The map is mostly green on a three month basis, but there are some red and grey (unchanged) states.

    California accounted for nearly three-quarters of US jobs added in February - California accounted for nearly three out of every four nonfarm jobs created in the U.S. during February, according to data released Friday. Employers in the state added 14,600 nonfarm payroll jobs last month, the California Employment Development Department reported Friday. Earlier this month, the U.S. government reported nonfarm payrolls in the U.S. rose by just 20,000 jobs in February, or the weakest national showing since September 2017. "Whatever caused the nation as a whole to have a subpar job gain didn't have as much influence in California in February," said Aubrey Henry, a spokesman for the state's EDD agency. Even so, Henry said California's February job gain was below trend for the state in terms of its average for the entire nine-year expansion. California — the fifth-largest economy in the world — has added more than 3.13 million jobs since the economic expansion began in February 2010. The state official added that comparing California's share of the nation's job gains each month with its size in the national economy also shows many months when the state outperforms the nation and many when it lags. "February 2019 stands out because California's job gain was large in relation to the nation's unusually small gain," he said. "You could just as easily look at January and ask why California's 5,900-job gain was so small relative to the nation's 311,000 job gain."

    GM squeezed $118 million from its workers, then shut their factory - The union hall in Lordstown, Ohio, is a hive of confusion, anxiety and anger. Mostly anger. Three weeks after employees at the town’s General Motors Co. compact car plant assembled their last Chevrolet Cruze, employees are filing into the United Auto Workers Local 1112 hall to sign up for unemployment benefits and try to figure out if they should take a transfer to another GM plant or wait it out in the one factory most have ever worked and see if it survives. Union workers are livid that they agreed to make $118 million a year in annual concessions to save the plant in mid-2017, only to have GM effectively threaten to close it down a year and a half later. Unless GM reverses its course, Lordstown will fall victim to the harsh reality that fewer consumers are buying small cars and that Chief Executive Mary Barra is hyper-focused on doing business only where GM can earn big returns. “Everything they asked us to do, we did,” said Dan Morgan, the shop chairman of Local 1112 and chief negotiator of the agreement, the details of which haven’t previously been reported. “And still, we don’t have a product to build.” GM idled the plant in March, saying demand for the Cruze was too weak to continue. In an email, GM spokesman Dan Flores said that the union agreed to many concessions but that they didn’t address the realities the company faces. The problem isn’t high wages, it’s falling sales — and GM’s post-bankruptcy cash flow discipline. “We didn’t discontinue the Cruze because of something the local union did or didn’t do,” Flores wrote. “It was a market-driven decision to discontinue the Cruze, and there were no products to allocate to Lordstown.” The union disagrees the Cruze was a loser and thinks its concessions merit adding another product to the plant, perhaps one currently being built in Mexico. Of the 38 models GM sold in the United States, only five did more volume than the roughly 143,000 Cruzes delivered last year. But sedans no longer command much of a premium as car buyers shun them in favor of crossovers, SUVs and trucks. And even at the peak of the Cruze’s popularity, profit margins were thin. 

    Chicago symphony musicians host sold-out concerts as strike reaches turning point -- Almost a month into their longest-ever strike, Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) musicians continue to host successful free public concerts to sold-out crowds as their struggle reaches a turning point. Performances at the symphony hall have been canceled through April 9 as negotiations resumed on Friday. The striking musicians at the world-class orchestra have received widespread support from around the world in their fight to defend their pensions, salaries and other benefits. The resistance of the musicians comes amid a mass resurgence of strikes by workers globally to fight against poverty wages and concessions, including by teachers and autoworkers. At stake is nothing less than the right to art and culture more broadly. As part of their free concert series “From the Heart of the Orchestra,” CSO musicians on strike performed three well-attended concerts this week in the Chicago area to appeal to the public in their struggle. On Monday, the musicians performed at the Benito Juarez Performing Arts Center with a full orchestra and a rapt audience that warmly received them. On Wednesday and Friday, they held two more successful chamber concerts at Lutkin Hall in Northwestern University and at the Chicago Temple. Entering the fourth week of their strike, the CSO musicians strike is now in the 26th day, the longest ever so far in more than 128 years of the orchestra’s history. In 1982, the musicians went on strike for more than 21 days and in 1991 they were on strike for 17 days. In 2012, the musicians went on strike for two days and ended up taking concessions on health care, paying more out of pocket. The previous contract from 2015 through 2018 also imposed salary increases below the rate of inflation.

     Equal Pay Day is a reminder that you can’t mansplain away the gender pay gap -- April 2nd is Equal Pay Day, a reminder that there is still a significant pay gap between men and women in our country. The date represents how far into 2019 women would have to work to be paid the same amount that men were paid in 2018. On average in 2018, women were paid 22.6 percent less than men, after controlling for race and ethnicity, education, age, and geographic division. Even after extensive research has been done to show the gender pay gap exists (and persists), some skeptics refuse to believe the data. This infographic shows some of the most common criticisms of the gender wage gap and rebuts the “mansplainers” with data. It’s not so easy to explain away the existence of the gender pay gap. It remains after controlling for relevant factors, showing up in nearly every occupation—whether it’s dominated by men or women—and across all levels of education. It bears repeating that women with advanced degree are paid less, on average, than men with bachelor’s degrees. Furthermore, if the overall 22.6 percent gender pay penalty isn’t cause enough for alarm, the gaps for black and Hispanic women are even larger. Compared to white men, black and Hispanic women are paid 34.9 percent and 34.3 percent less, respectively, after controlling for age, education, and geographic division. There is no silver bullet to solving pay equity, but rather a menu of policy options. My colleague Margaret Poydock and I recently extolled the benefits of the Paycheck Fairness Act, passed last week by the House of Representatives, but there are more policies that can close not only the gender pay gap but also gaps by race and ethnicity. These include: requiring federal reporting of pay by gender, race and ethnicity; prohibiting employers from asking about pay history; and adequately staffing and funding the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission and other agencies charged with enforcement.  To close the gender pay gap, women need to see real wage growth faster than their male counterparts. As it turns out there’s plenty of room in the economy for the pay gap to narrow while both women and men see real annual wage growth.  For more policies that will raise wages, see EPI’s Policy Agenda.

     Chicago elects its first black woman mayor - Chicago voters on Tuesday signaled a strong break from decades of machine politics, choosing a black gay woman and former prosecutor to be the city's next mayor. Voters overwhelmingly chose Lori Lightfoot, an attorney who once worked to root out corruption in Chicago's Department of Procurement Services but who had never held public office before. She beat out Toni Preckwinkle, the president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, a veteran politician who also runs the Cook County Democratic Party. With two-thirds of precincts reporting, Lightfoot held 74 percent of the vote. Lightfoot is the first woman to win the mayoralty since Jane Byrne in 1979. She is the first African-American to win the office since Harold Washington in 1983. And she is the first openly gay woman to win the office. The race between two black women — and the crowded field they beat out in the first round of voting — became a referendum on the city's long history of corruption and machine politics. Weeks before voters went to the polls in February, Chicago's longest-serving alderman, Edward Burke, was arrested and charged with attempting to extort a small-business owner. Virtually every major candidate in the race had ties to Burke. Preckwinkle had benefited from a fundraiser at his house and hired his son. Another candidate had worked for him in the past, and a third got married at his home. Lightfoot was the only significant candidate in the race without a connection to Burke.

     Massive ICE workplace raid jails 280 immigrant workers in Texas - Agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided an Allen, Texas business on Wednesday morning and arrested 280 undocumented workers. The business, CVE technology, employs 2,100 workers who repair cell phones and other electronic devices. The business is the third largest employer in that city.Some 200 law enforcement officers participated in the raid, rounding up the entire workforce and separating them into groups based on immigration status. Agents then forced workers to wear wristbands, labeling employees in green if they had legal status and yellow if they were suspected of being undocumented.Yessenia Ponce, an employee of CVE, described the raid to NPR: “Man, it was crazy, “ she said. “We were working like a normal day. ... We just heard screaming, you know, people screaming and stuff. We went out and an officer just said 'follow my voice, follow my voice.'” Those deemed by ICE to be undocumented were then transported to detention centers in four busses as helicopters flew overhead and local police patrolled the area. All of those arrested now face deportation.Many will also face indefinite detention, including those with a prior criminal conviction. The US Supreme officially recognized this authoritarian rule in a recent 5-4 decision. Protestors gathered outside of CVE to defend the immigrant workers as news spread of the police action. According to the Dallas Morning News, at least 100 people, including some relatives and friends of those arrested, gathered to demand the workers’ release. Workers inside the facility began frantically calling and texting their family members as the raid unfolded, fearful of being separated from their loved ones forever.

    'Motel 6' To Pay $12 Million After Giving ICE Info On 80,000 'Latino-Sounding' Guests - More than a year after Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson launched a lawsuit against Motel 6 when it was discovered that several locations gave information on thousands of guests to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) without warrants, the hotel chain has agreed to a $12 million settlement.  AG Ferguson said on Thursday that Motel 6 shared the information of around 80,000 guests in Washington state between 2015 and 2017, according to NPR. Ferguson added that the lists resulted in targeted investigations of many guests with Latino-sounding names, and that ICE had questioned, detained or deported people as a result of the disclosures. "ICE agents would circle the names that looked Latino-sounding and ran those names through a database and then would detain individuals based on those random checks," Ferguson told NPR's Scott Simon last January. The hotel chain has also signed a legally binding, nationwide commitment to stop sharing guest information without a warrant. "Motel 6's actions tore families apart and violated the privacy rights of tens of thousands of Washingtonians," said Ferguson in a statement. Motel 6 told NPR in an emailed statement that it would "continue to enforce its guest privacy policy, which prohibits the sharing of guest information except in cases where a judicially enforceable warrant or subpoena is present, or local law requires this information." "The company has also implemented a system of additional controls to ensure corporate oversight and compliance in cases where law enforcement requests are made."

     Rich San Francisco Residents Raise $75,000 To Oppose Homeless Shelter --Residents in an upscale San Francisco neighborhood have raised tens of thousands of dollars to oppose a 24-hour, 200 bed waterfront homeless "Navigation Center" in a 2.3 acre empty parking lot just south of the Bay Bridge. It would allow people to bring in partners and pets, and would work to connect them to local resources and services with the ultimate goal of finding permanent housing.  The center was approved earlier this month by Mayor London Breed in the hopes of a Summer opening, while the Port Commission is expected to consider the project in April.  Over the past 8 days, over $75,000 out of a $100,000 goal has been raised by 152 people opposed to the project. One donor contributed $10,000. The funds for "Safe Embarcadero" will be used for legal expenses to fight the homeless shelter. Wallace Lee, the father of a two-year-old who lives two blocks from the proposed site, said he is helping to organize against the project out of concerns for his family’s safety. “It is increasingly a place where  people are starting families,” he said. “There are a lot of strollers in the neighborhood that weren’t here when I moved in 2013.”While little research has been done on the impact shelters have on communities, the campaign cites one study done in Vancouver that found a sharp increase in thefts. -The Guardian Meanwhile, a competing GoFundMe has been established in support of the homeless shelter - which quickly received a $5,000 donation from GoFundMe itself, and has raised over $40,000 $137,000 of its $50,000 now $150,000 goal.   Kelley Cutler, a human rights organizer for the Coalition on Homelessness, argues that the fears are rooted in stigma, and that they are not unique to San Francisco. “No matter where the location is, folks say this is not the right space. Not in our community. So they are going through that right now in the Embarcadero,” she said. -The Guardian "We really are talking about a life and death issue," said Cutler - noting that 240 homeless people died in San Francisco last year. "The issue is impacting the community as a whole," she said, adding "We all need to step up – that way it can be safer for everyone."

     17-year-old faces 140 charges over series of 911 'swatting' calls - A 17-year-old from Ohio is facing 140 counts of delinquency including misdemeanors and felonies for a series of 911 "swatting" calls, prank calls designed to elicit a SWAT team response, ABC News reportedWednesday.The teenager allegedly placed fake 911 calls that prompted SWAT mobilization in six jurisdictions across the country, including Ohio, Wisconsin and New York.In one case, a SWAT team reportedly shut down a major highway for hours in response to a fraudulent call. Wes Skeels, the juvenile court administrator in Mahoning County, told ABC that 73 of the charges, including 40 felonies, stem from incidents that occurred in Ohio and date back to May 2017.Skeels added that the suspect, who is unnamed due to his juvenile status, appeared in juvenile court on Monday and was ordered to undergo psychological and competency examinations.Dodge County, Wis., Sheriff Dale Schmidt told ABC he was relieved the suspect had been prosecuted."I am thankful for the prosecution because we need to make sure that we send a message to others out there that might decide it's a good idea to try something like this," he said."It really does put lives at stake and puts them in jeopardy of serious harm by something as dumb as this." Schmidt ordered an all-hands emergency response in response a call the teen allegedly placed on March 22, 2018."I had my entire SWAT team respond to this incident. I had all of my on-duty staff responding to this incident on a major U.S. highway," Schmidt told ABC. "We had to shut down that highway for a couple of hours ... We had EMS standby to respond and we had other agencies assisting with that shutdown."

     Unvaccinated Children Torn From Parents In Late Night SWAT Raid - On February 25, a pregnant mother took her 2-year-old son to the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine clinic in Tempe, Arizona because he had a fever of over 100. The doctor instructed the mother to take him to the emergency room because he is unvaccinated and she feared he could have meningitis.The doctor called the emergency room at Banner Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa to let them know the boy would be arriving.  But after leaving the doctor’s office, the boy showed signs of improvement. He was laughing and playing with his siblings, and his temperature moved closer to normal. Around 6:30 pm, the mother called the doctor to let her know the toddler no longer had a fever and she would not be taking him to the emergency room. The doctor assured her DCS would not come after her. According to police records, the mother then agreed to take her son to the hospital. This is when things took a particularly nasty turn, reports AZCentral: About three hours later, the hospital contacted the doctor to advise her that the child had not shown up and the mother wasn’t answering her phone, according to police records. The doctor contacted DCS. A DCS caseworker called Chandler Police and “requested officers to check the welfare of a two year old infant,” according to police records. A caseworker said he was on his way to the house. It was about 10:30 p.m. when two police officers knocked on the family’s door. The officers heard someone coughing. Officer Tyler Cascio wrote in a police report that he knocked on the door several times but no one answered. (source) The police then asked a neighbor to call the mother to let her know they wanted to speak to her. Meanwhile, the boy’s father contacted the police: Police dispatch told the officers that a man at the home had called requesting that they call him. They called, and the man identified himself as the sick boy’s father.The officer said they told the father they needed to enter the home for DCS to check on the child. The father refused, explaining that his son’s “fever broke and he was fine,” according to police records. (source)  Then things escalated.Despite the father’s attempt to assure police his child was fine, things escalated.The caseworker informed officers that DCS planned to obtain a “temporary custody notice” from a judge to remove the child for emergency medical aid. Officers then consulted with the police criminal investigations bureau and SWAT. After 1:00 AM, officers kicked down the family’s door.One officer carried a shield, while another was described as having “lethal coverage.” Officers pointing guns yelled, “Chandler Police Department,” and entered the house.The father came to the door. Officers placed him in handcuffs and took him and the mother outside. (source)

     Child Protective Services Has Created A Gestapo Police State-- Paul Craig Roberts -  My generation and that of our children grew up without Child Protective Service (CPS).  We stand up very well compared to subsequent generations.   Child Protective Services is an extremely intrusive government agency that would not have been tolerated. The power of this police agency trumps parental rights and responsibilities. The agency is an important part of the destruction of liberty that I have witnessed over my lifetime.   The Gestapo power that the state now wields over parents is a creation of “child advocates” who believe that it is the function of government to protect children from parents.  One consequence has been to erode parental control and to effectively end it in the case of rebellious children who respond to punishment by calling CPS and reporting their parents.   CPS has powerful incentives to seize children as it justifies the agency’s existence and brings a federal payment for each child seized. There are reports that many of the seized children end up in the hands of pedophiles, but governments seldom want to hear that they are doing harm rather than good.Why has child safety changed so much over my lifetime that children need a police agency to protect them?  Why could I and my 5 year old classmates walk alone to our neighborhood schools, for example, but such a thing is unthinkable today.  Could the destruction of homogeneous neighborhoods by “diversity” have anything to do with it? Could the redefinition of the parental control of my day as child abuse have anything to do with it?  Could all the forces that have broken up the family have anything to do with it?  When I grew up children had parents, two sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins all in the same geographical area.  There was tremendous support for marriages and children.  Divorce was rare compared to today.  Families went to church, an important mission of which was to inculcate and reinforce moral and ethical standards of behavior.  The father’s income was enough to support the family, so mothers were at home to provide child and household services.  Today both parents have to work. The support systems have been swept away.  Corporations have transferred employees to relative-free geographical locations, thus increasing the stress on marriages.  Divorce has broken up families, creating animosity where once there was support.  Mass immigration has brought “multiculturalism” where once were shared standards.  Identity Politics has produced a disunited population.  Over the course of my lifetime I have watched the destruction of America’s social capital - the shared norms, understandings, values, cooperation, and trust that make a society functional.  In the dysfunctional society in which Americans live today, government tries to glue things back together by exercising more power, regulating speech, controlling explanations, and imposing more constraints on human action.   The consequence is the death of liberty and individual responsibility and the erasure of a nation.

    Texas Senate Passes Bill Allowing School Marshals to Carry Their guns  – After a brief debate, the Texas Senate approved a bill Wednesday that would allow local school boards to let their marshals carry their concealed guns on campuses.The legislation — Senate Bill 406 by Republican state Sen. Brian Birdwell of Granbury — would eliminate the mandate that trained school marshals, whose identities are kept secret from all but a few local officials, keep their firearms under lock and key.More specifically, it would give the board of trustees or the governing body of public schools, open-enrollment charter schools, private schools and junior colleges the discretion to decide whether their marshals carry their weapons on their person or in a locked and secured safe.The measure passed 28-3, with Democratic state Sens. José Menéndez of San Antonio, José Rodríguez of El Paso and Kirk Watson of Austin voting against it. The bill can now be sent to the Texas House for debate. “The code we’re currently dealing with specifically requires that those individuals who are designated as school marshals store their handguns in a locked box at all times,” Birdwell told other senators. “While a marshal would be acting in accordance with this state law, the practicality of this security is nullified if a school marshal cannot protect their students at the critical time and the critical place.”  “School districts retain the discretion to decide whether to implement the school marshal program fully, not at all or to some degree,” Birdwell said.

    Teaching Muslim Values in Public Schools Turned Back in California -The terrorism-linked Council on American-Islamic Relations recently suffered a rare defeat in its long-running push to mainstream Muslim values in American schools, when a federal lawsuit was settled. The group agreed to end its program in San Diego, California schools, which critics say pressured students to accept Islam or risk being labeled “Islamophobic.” CAIR was named an unindicted co-conspirator in 2007 in an alleged criminal conspiracy to support both Hamas and the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development. In 2014 the United Arab Emirates designated CAIR a terrorist organization.  CAIR, which touts itself as a Muslim civil rights organization, claimed with scant proof that President Donald Trump’s election caused a wave of attacks on Muslim students in San Diego schools and throughout the country. The radical Southern Poverty Law Center, which recently fired two of its longtime leaders, made similar claims, which it dubbed “The Trump Effect.”  In May 2017, Rancho Santa Fe, California-based Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund (FCDF) sued on behalf of behalf of five families. The legal complaint asserted that the San Diego Unified School District’s “anti-Islamophobia initiative,” launched to fight purported anti-Muslim bullying was unconstitutional. But attorney Charles LiMandri of FCDF said in reality non-Muslims ended up being the victims of discrimination in the school district. “CAIR’s insinuation that there are hordes of MAGA hat-wearing students prowling the schools and terrorizing Muslim students is a study in mass deception,” LiMandri said.

    Charter Schools Are All About the Kids, OK?  - We begin in Tennessee, where a lot is going on and most of it is terrible. As you can imagine, creative ways to keep inconvenient people from voting is at the top of the hit parade. From theTennessean: […] Elsewhere in the state assembly, they want to arm teachers, but the assault on public education goes on. Again, from the Tennessean: The bill would create a Tennessee Public Charter Commission, which would have the power to authorize charter schools denied by a local school district. The commission would take over for the Tennessee State Board of Education in hearing charter school appeals. Rep. Patsy Hazelwood, R-Signal Mountain, said she wanted members of the nine-member board the legislation would create to have representation from the communities that are most likely to be affected. The state board has heard mostly appeals involving urban districts such as Shelby County and Metro Nashville schools. Hazelwood signaled that she would vote in favor of the proposal, but wanted to see changes to the bill. "I am very concerned about who the commissioners are and the knowledge of the communities they are making the decisions for," Hazelwood said. The fiscal note of the bill is not significant but does shift money from the state board to the commission. Remember that the original sales pitch for charter schools was that they would be part of the public system and not a drain on it. That, of course, has never been true. The charter industry bridles at any regulation. Hell, it bridles at any form of transparency. An independent charter board that could overrule local school boards is proof enough of that but, if you need more, skip on down to Texas with us, and see what happened in Houston. From the Houston Chronicle:A trio of intertwined charter school networks operating within Houston ISD have paid or lent at least $17 million during the last five years to a company owned by their highest-ranking employee, an unusual arrangement drawing criticism from some HISD school board members ahead of a vote to renew their contracts. Financial records show the Energized For Excellence, Energized For STEM and Inspired For Excellence academies have maintained deep ties with a company controlled by Lois Bullock, who founded the three networks and works as the head of schools for each. Over the past half-decade, Bullock’s company has served as the landlord for Energized For Excellence Academy, taking in $10.8 million in lease payments, and received a $4.2 million loan from the organization, records show. Bullock’s company also earned about $2 million over five years for her “labor and job benefits,” an annual amount roughly equivalent to the compensation of HISD’s superintendent. The three charter networks enroll about 4,000 students at eight campuses, while HISD serves nearly 210,000 students. Wait. She founded the charter networks for which she's also the landlord. Boy howdy, do I have a president for her!

    3 Questions That ‘Created Havoc’ in Betsy DeVos’ Department of Education -- U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is famous for giving a nonresponse to fairly straightforward questions. More than one commentator has had fun with her contorted evasions, but her inability to explain the rationale for current education policies isn’t confined to her own personality and ideology. It’s actually been endemic in the education policy world for years, particularly in how the federal government continues to hide its agenda to further privatize the nation’s public school system by creating and expanding charter schools. Arne Duncan, who served as secretary for the longest period of time before DeVos, was famous for being the consummate non-listener, often talking over people with his prepared remarks and ignoring the advice of teachers and education experts. My latest brush with the education policy edifice’s imperviousness to outside inquiry occurred while researching and writing a new report on the education department’s Charter School Program (CSP). I coauthored the report“ Asleep at the Wheel: How the Federal Charter Schools Program Recklessly Takes Taxpayers and Students for a Ride” with Network for Public Education Executive Director Carol Burris.Burris and I found that up to $1 billion awarded by the CSP—in more than 1,000 grants—was wasted on charter schools that never opened or opened for only brief periods before being shut down for mismanagement, poor performance, lack of enrollment, and fraud. During our investigations, we came across a previous report published by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) in 2015, during the Obama presidential administration, that found similarly disturbing results, where federal grants had gone to hundreds of charter schools that had basically taken the money and run. To compile its report, CMD had submitted 33 Freedom of Information Act requests with the Department of Education and was told these records would be forthcoming. The promised records never came.Consequently, on March 8, I sent emails to contacts provided for three CSP grant programs that were the subject of our report. The three emails repeated basically the same three questions, but the email I sent to the contact overseeing the SEA grants, now called “Grants to State Entities,” follows:

    How “illegal” teacher strikes rescued the American labor movement - Organized labor in the U.S. is having a moment. Sen. Bernie Sanders recognized a staff union for his campaign, the first presidential candidate ever to do so. Kamala Harris, the California senator running for president, unveiled her first big 2020 policy plan, which is all about taxing America's hyper-rich to give heavily unionized public-school teachers a $13,500 raise. As if confirming Big Labor’s new clout, President Trump took time this month toattack UAW Local 1112 President David Green by name on Twitter, saying he should “get his act together and produce,” a big moment for a guy who represents laid-off auto workers in Lordstown, Ohio. The broadside got Green on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC, and a visit from another 2020 presidential candidate, Beto O’Rourke. The nation is paying attention to labor again, and for that America has one profession to thank more than any other: the public school teacher. In 2018, 485,000 workers participated in what the Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies as a “major work stoppage,” up from just 25,000 in 2017. It was the first major increase in work stoppages in three decades, and it was nearly entirely driven by 379,000 teachers and other education workers, who accounted for 78 percent of all those who went out on strike. But while teachers — with their #RedforEd movement — brought new attention to labor, healthcare, fast-food service, graduate student, and hotel workersalso went on strike. Marriott employees, for example, led a strike against the nation’s largest hotel chain in December and won San Francisco housekeepers a pay bump and some workplace protections. By their sheer numbers, teachers breathed new life into the stagnating U.S. labor movement — even with nationwide union membership at historic lows. Union membership stood at 10.5 percent in the U.S. in 2018, down 0.2 percent from 2017, and down by nearly 50 percent since 1983, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics started keeping track. “In recent decades it has become much harder to organize a union in the U.S.,” “That makes this recent burst of organizing and successful striking particularly significant.”

    Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman, other admissions scandal parents appear in court  - Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman and other parents charged in the college admissions scandal appeared before a federal judge Wednesday in Boston. Authorities have called it the biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted.  33 parents, including prominent Hollywood figures and business people, are among those facing charges. Prosecutors say the parents paid an admission consultant to rig their children's test scores or bribe coaches at sought-after schools.   The racketeering conspiracy case includes the parents of applicants, ACT and SAT administrators, a test proctor and coaches at universities including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, University of Southern California, UCLA and the University of Texas at Austin.   Loughlin and her husband, designer Mossimo Giannulli, allegedly paid half a million dollars to have their two daughters categorized as recruits to the USC crew team even though neither participated in the sport.   Prosecutors said Huffman agreed to pay $15,000 -- disguised as a tax-deductible charitable contribution -- to a foundation operated by admissions consultant William Singer, who in turn allegedly arranged for a particular proctor to ensure Huffman's daughter scored well on a college entrance exam.   CBS News learned from court documents filed Tuesday that at least one of the parents expected in court Wednesday -- businessman Devin Sloane, who's accused of paying a $250,000 bribe -- is in plea discussions with the government. CBS News correspondent Don Dahler reports both Loughlin and Huffman will have limited ability to travel from their homes, must receive court permission to travel internationally for their acting careers, and are not allowed to have firearms in their homes. They were also ordered not to break any more laws.Judge Kelly did make an exception to a rule in that both women have been granted permission to speak about their respective cases with family members, as the case involves their children. Going forward, the defendants will have to decide whether to go to trial or work out a plea deal with prosecutors. Of the 50 people charged in the scandal, there have been four guilty pleas so far. CBS News has learned one of the other parents who was not in court today is in talks with prosecutors about a plea deal.

    Schlichter: The Admission Scam Is Another Reason To Destroy Academia As We Know It - Instead, we have a bunch of people who are dragged down by crushing debt after wasting years of their youth chasing a piece of paper that often has no relationship to these graduates’ futures. Compounding the failure is how these grads march off campus infatuated with ridiculous commie notions abhorrent to a free people. The college system is a disaster – an expensive disaster that picks our pockets as well as those of the suckers who matriculate – and we should stop tolerating it. Time for conservatives to reform academia the hard way, and by “reform” I mean, “Destroy it, sow the campuses with salt, and rebuild academia into something that isn’t useless.”About 99% of current college grads will feel that “sow with salt” line zoom over their empty heads. Most of them probably think “Carthage” is a rapper, or maybe a lesser Kardashian.   The college admission scandal, where a herd of rich Democrat donors paid a ton of dough to get their half-wit progeny into Snooty U, was the perfect encapsulation of how big a rip-off college really is. Did you notice how the parents forked over cash to get Junior into school because Junior scored 112 on his SAT and then…Junior stayed in the elite school with no problem? You might think that if these schools were rigorous institutions of higher learning instead of ruling class credential rubber-stump machines, they might flunk out? But no. When the internet famous daughter of that (former) Full House / Hallmark-movie-about-a-widow-finding-love-with-a sexy-carpenter-at-Christmas starlet Lori Loughlin was busted, she was literally sailing around the Bahamas on a yacht owned by a USC trustee. I guess she needed a break from her work carrying on Dr. Hawking’s particle physics research.  Of course, according to our betters – the same betters who pulled off this scam and all the myriad other scams that are wrecking our culture – the answer to this outrage is to eliminate standardize testing. That way there will be no objective criteria for college admission at all, and the elite can simply wield its influence, pull a few strings, and voilà – Kaden has his gender studies degree from Yale! But your kid, like every other Normal kid, will have even less chance of being accepted at, say, Harvard, because they can’t test in anymore.

    The Corporations Devouring American Colleges - The price of college is breaking America. At a moment when Hollywood celebrities and private equity titans have allegedly been spending hundreds of thousands in bribes to get their children into elite schools, it seems quaint to recall that higher learning is supposed to be an engine of social mobility. Today, the country’s best colleges are an overpriced gated community whose benefits accrue mostly to the wealthy. At 38 colleges, including Yale, Princeton, Brown and Penn, there are more students from the top 1 percent than the bottom 60 percent.Tuition prices aren’t the only reason for this, but they’re a major one. Public university tuition has doubled in the last two decades, tripled in the last three. Prestige-hungry universities admit large numbers of students who can pay ever-increasing fees and only a relative handful of low-income students. The U.S. now has more student loan debt than credit card debt—upward of $1.5 trillion. Nearly 40 percent of borrowers who entered college in the 2003 academic year could default on their loans by 2023, the Brookings Institution predicts. The colleges would have you believe that none of this is their fault. They would point out that public schools took a huge financial hit during the recession when states slashed their education budgets. This is true, but that hardly explains the size and pace of the price hikes or the fact that tuition at private schools has exploded, too. [1]Average real-dollar private school tuition jumped from $17,000 in the late 1980s to over $35,000 in the most recent academic year. It also doesn’t explain why colleges have failed to take advantage of the best opportunity to radically drop the price of a good degree that I’ve seen in 15 years of watching and reporting on the industry. This opportunity doesn’t have the daunting price tag of worthy proposals like “free college.” It doesn’t require any action from Congress at all. The answer is online learning. . Nearly every prestigious college and university now offers multiple online degrees taught by skilled professors. And many of the courses are really good—engaging, rigorous, truly interactive. They are also a lot cheaper for universities to run. There are no buildings to maintain, no lawns to mow, no juice bars and lazy rivers to lure new students. While traditional courses are limited by the size of a lecture hall, online courses can accommodate thousands of people at a time.And yet nearly every academic institution, from the Ivies to state university systems to liberal arts schools, has refused to pass even the tiniest fraction of the savings on to students. They charge online students the same astronomical prices they levy for the on-campus experience.

    University charges students for protesting against border patrol US - The University of Arizona is facing criticism for its to decision to criminally charge two students for protesting an appearance of US border patrol officers at a campus event. Denisse Moreno Melchor, 20, and Mariel Alexandra Bustamante, 22, allegedly disrupted an appearance of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) representatives at the university on 19 March. Both students were issued misdemeanor citations for “interference with the peaceful conduct of an educational institution” and Melchor was also cited for “threats and intimidation”, a university spokesman said on Tuesday. The charges could carry up to six months of jail time.  The decision by university police to bring criminal charges over a non-violent demonstration has sparked a backlash from lawmakers, free speech advocates and immigrant rights’ groups.“They’re making an example out of these students, and they are trying to ensure nobody will follow in their footsteps,” Arizona state senator Martín Quezada told the Guardian. “The students should have the ability to express their opinions about what the government is doing,” he added.The border patrol agents had come to campus for a presentation at a student club event. A group of protesters chanted outside the meeting, calling the agents “murderers” and shouting “murder patrol”, the Arizona Republic reported.

    Americans Face A New Kind Of Crisis As College Costs Careen Higher -- Sheila Bair- It is commonly said that a college degree will generate more than $1 million in additional income during a graduate’s lifetime. Indeed, that seductive statistic can even be found on the Department of Education’s website. Unfortunately, I fear many students and their  families have borrowed heavily, lured by this seven-figure “college premium.”  Yet this premium is an average and varies widely by the choice of major. Capturing the premium depends on students graduating, and less than 60 percent do so, leaving many with the worst of both worlds: debt and no degree. In addition, it represents enhanced income, not wealth, and the wealth premium college graduates used to enjoy has seriously eroded, presumably due in part to student debt obligations interfering with their ability to save and invest. Consistent with that thesis, in the recent CNBC Invest in You and Acorns Savings Survey, when asked what kept survey participants from saving more money, the most common answer among college graduates was “paying off debt.” The question of whether college is worth it cannot be answered with an easy soundbite. It requires good information about the costs of financing college and the outcomes students can reasonably expect to achieve. Unfortunately, that information is simply not available to most students. The vast majority of student loans are made by the government but arranged by colleges, which are well-intentioned but better equipped to educate than originate loans. College “award” letters do not always spell out clearly the level of borrowing that will be required of a student to finance his or her education. Financing terms are not disclosed in a consistent, standardized format, to facilitate comparisons with other schools’ offers.Most colleges do not provide a good faith estimate of the projected total cost of degree completion, leaving students vulnerable to unforeseen tuition hikes. Finally, most colleges do not report earnings outcomes by major even though this is probably the biggest determinant of post-graduate income and the capacity to repay debtInstead of enticing our youth with the promise of million-dollar riches, policy makers should ensure that they have the skills and information needed to make cost-effective educational choices.

    Education Dept has stalled on approving debt relief for defrauded students - The Department of Education did not approve any applications for federal student loan relief in the second half of 2018, according to new department data reviewed by The New York Times. The Times reported that the data likely means students defrauded by their colleges may not be able to turn to Washington for help in the near future. The department, according to the Times, did not approve or turn down a single relief claim filed under the borrower defense rule from June to December, despite a federal ruling that the agency’s deliberate delay was illegal.A judge ruled in October that the Education Department must enforce a rule implemented under the Obama administration that broadened and expedited loan relief for defrauded students after many of them were cheated by for-profit institutions, the Times reported. More than 150,000 pending claims now await approval from the agency, more than doubling the number the department inherited from the previous administration. The Education Department has blamed lawsuits filed by advocates seeking a more robust response to loan relief applications for the delay. “Pending litigation has slowed down the department’s processing to provide relief to additional borrowers,” Education Department spokeswoman Liz Hill told the Times. “We will fully implement the 2016 borrower defense regulations and ensure those who qualify for discharge receive it.”The department “continues to assess alternatives to provide a fair, balanced and consistent approach for legitimate borrower defense applications,” as the discharge 22,000 approved applications are delayed. Hill added that the department is making efforts to expand its ability to manage applications, which are reportedly streaming in at a rate of 2,000 per week, according to the Times. The Education Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos defended for-profit institutions when she was grilled on Capitol Hill last month over the backlog, saying there was blame to be pinned "on both sides."

    Senate Dems press CFPB on student loan forgiveness - Six senior Democrats are seeking information from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau about oversight of student loan servicers involved in the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. In a letter sent Wednesday to CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger, the senators questioned whether the bureau is prioritizing its supervision of potentially illegal practices by student loan servicers that administer the program that forgives the student loan debt of public servants. The letter was signed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Bob Menendez of New Jersey. “We are concerned that CFPB leadership has abandoned its supervision and enforcement activities related to federal student loan servicers,” said the five-page letter. “This suggests a shocking disregard for the financial wellbeing of our nation's public servants, including teachers, first responders, and members of the military.” Lawmakers cited recent enforcement actions and lawsuits brought by state attorneys general in Massachusetts and New York, and by private plaintiffs, alleging student loan companies deceived borrowers about their eligibility for the federal program. Congress created the program in 2007 under the Bush administration to encourage students to enter teaching, nursing, policing and qualified nonprofit careers and have their loans forgiven after 120 monthly payments. But recent data from the Department of Education show that 99% of applications for the loan forgiveness program have been denied. Of the more than 41,000 borrowers who applied to have their loans discharged as of Sept. 30, only 206 had their debt forgiven, according to data published by the Department of Education. Lawmakers asked Kraninger to clarify the role that the CFPB has played in overseeing student loan servicers since December 2017, when Mick Mulvaney, the former acting CFPB director, assumed control of the bureau. The senators asked Kraninger to respond to a series of questions, including whether the CFPB has asked servicers to produce documents and whether servicers have declined to do so.

    I Smuggled Cocaine Into the US to Pay Off My Student Loans - Vice video - Like many Millenials across the country, Luke graduated college owing thousands of dollars in Student Loan debt - $130,000, to be exact. With no job and no money in the bank, Luke devised a desperate plan: He would smuggle cocaine from Panama to the United States to pay off his Student Loans.

     Taken for a Ride- How Ambulance Debt Afflicts the Extreme Poor - I was in total shock, strapped to a gurney in the back of an ambulance.  However, no one ever warned me about the financial duress that I would face when I emerged from my nervous breakdown on the streets. That burden translated into nearly $4,000 for three ambulance rides between April 2016 and March 2017. These debts wrought havoc on my credit and hampered my recovery from homelessness. The interest on my uncollected debts damaged my credit score. As a result, stores like Best Buy rejected my attempts to buy a laptop on credit, which would have let me pursue my vocation as a journalist once again. This pulled me further into the catch-22 of credit in America: How can you improve it without already having good credit? MEDICAL DEBT IS A leading cause of bankruptcy and an increasingly common cause of homelessness. A 2017 survey by found that the top reason for homelessness in South Florida was medical debt.   Once a person becomes homeless, for whatever reason, that lack of housing drastically increases the need for emergency medical care. According to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council in Nashville, Tennessee, homelessness dramatically elevates the risk of illness, injury, and death, which is why people without homes die 12 years sooner on average than the general U.S. population. Homeless people are also often unable to store medicine, seek out regular medical treatment, or avoid contagion from others staying in shelters. They also find it hard to protect themselves from physical harm, and I endured these risks—psychological as well as physical. Between November 2014 and May 2016, I spent 442 days at the The Road Home, a homeless shelter in Salt Lake City. Most nights at the shelter, I saw someone being carted off in an ambulance. I will never forget one woman lying down and curling up in a ball inside the shelter’s front entrance. I sat down and held her until the paramedics arrived. Most mornings when I stepped out of the shelter, another ambulance was parked at the curb, waiting for the next emergency. My ambulance bills ranged from $937 to $1,105 per ride. When asked why the price was so high, Gold Cross Ambulance, the private company that transported me during my homelessness, did not respond to requests for comment. Similarly, The Road Home would not speak to me on the record, with its marketing director supplying a written response that they have “many community partners that play important roles in providing support for people who come through our doors, including emergency medical services.”

    Americans Had To Borrow 88 Billion Dollars To Cover Their Medical Bills Last Year -  According to a brand new report that was just released, Americans had to borrow 88 billion dollars to cover their medical bills last year.  That is a truly astounding number, and it shows just how dramatically our current health care system has failed.  And even though the vast majority of Americans are covered by “health insurance”, millions of us are deathly afraid to go to the hospital because of what it might cost.  Today, two-thirds of all personal bankruptcies in the United States are caused by medical bills, and most of the people going bankrupt actually had health insurance.  Overall, more than half a million American families are financially ruined by medical bills each year, and meanwhile our “representatives” in Washington are doing absolutely nothing to fix the problem. Surveys have shown that up to two-thirds of the country is living paycheck to paycheck at least part of the time, and an unexpected medical bill can be absolutely devastating for those that are just barely scraping by. Without much of a financial cushion to fall back on, many families must borrow money when confronted with a large medical expense, and the scale at which this is happening is absolutely stunningHealth care costs in the United States are generally measured as the highest in the world. Last year, many Americans could not afford their health care costs and so borrowed $88 billion to pay for that portion they could not afford. According to a new West Health and Gallup poll, in a new report titled “The U.S. Healthcare Cost Crisis,” the $88 billion was borrowed in the year before the survey, which was done from January 14 to February 20. The poll was conducted via a random group of 3,537 adults over 18 living in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.  How in the world is this possible? After all, more than 90 percent of all Americans have some form of health coverage.  So why did Americans need to borrow 88 billion dollars to cover their unpaid medical bills last year alone? Well, first of all it is important to remember that health insurance deductibles have gotten obscenely huge.   Secondly, even if you have surpassed your deductible, there is still no guarantee that your health insurance company will cover your medical bills.  If you do not jump through every single little hoop they want you to jump through, in many instances they will leave you high and dry. 

    Study: Keeping the Same Doctor Can Lead to a Longer, Healthier Life -- If you’ve been a loyal patient of your primary care physician, here’s some good news:Patients who continuously use the same primary care doctor live longer, according to a recent study published in BMJ Open journal. Results also suggest continuity of care from your primary care doctor is particularly valuable for patients living with a chronic condition or mental health illness.  Researchers from the University of Exeter reviewed 22 studies – a combination of cohorts and cross-sectional studies -- from nine countries with different cultures and health systems. Close to 82 percent of the studies found a link between going to the same doctor for more than two years and fewer deaths when compared to patients who saw different doctors. Researchers chalked up the results to better human interaction, which may be neglected in favor of medical technology.    “We’ve always recognized the importance of continuity of care – it’s a cornerstone ofMDVIP’s program,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, MD, medical director, MDVIP. “Our smaller practices enable patients to establish a relationship with their PCP and see them every time they come into the office. That’s not always possible at a large practice where patients may have to see whichever provider is available.”

    Alzheimer’s disease affects ‘twice as many people’ as experts thought -- Twice as many people may have Alzheimer’s disease as currently estimated, experts now believe.  In the US, 5.8 million people are living with the debilitating condition, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, and that number is projected to rise to nearly 14 million by 2050. Scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota believe, however, that many more people are probably already living with it without having a formal diagnosis.They’ve been using brain imaging to give a definite answer as to how many people are affected.Tests on 2,500 people have shown that double the number of people have telltale signs of protein plaques and tangles in the brain — markers of Alzheimer’s disease — even if they’re not experiencing dementia. Dr. Jack Clifford, the Alexander Family professor of Alzheimer’s disease research at the Mayo Clinic, told The Telegraph: “The prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease is all based on clinical assessment. It’s just based on the question ‘Do you have dementia?'” But, he warned, the presence of the biomarkers that classically define Alzheimer’s disease tends to be about two times higher than the numbers diagnosed in clinics.

    New York Sues Big Pharma for Opioid Crisis – (interview & transcript) Yves here. In this Real News Network interview, Bill Black gives a high-level overview of the New York case against not just opioid profiteers, the Sackler family and their companies, but also other key participants, like “pain doctors” who were tied in to the Sackers’ marketing efforts.

    Fake Cancerous Nodes in CT Scans, Created By Malware, Trick Radiologists -  in widely used CT and MRI scanning equipment? Researchers in Israel say they have developed such malware to draw attention to serious security weaknesses in critical medical imaging equipment used for diagnosing conditions and the networks that transmit those images — vulnerabilities that could have potentially life-altering consequences if unaddressed.  The malware they created would let attackers automatically add realistic, malignant-seeming growths to CT or MRI scans before radiologists and doctors examine them. Or it could remove real cancerous nodules and lesions without detection, leading to misdiagnosis and possibly a failure to treat patients who need critical and timely care.  The research isn’t theoretical. In a blind study the researchers conducted involving real CT lung scans, 70 of which were altered by their malware, they were able to trick three skilled radiologists into misdiagnosing conditions nearly every time. In the case of scans with fabricated cancerous nodules, the radiologists diagnosed cancer 99 percent of the time. In cases where the malware removed real cancerous nodules from scans, the radiologists said those patients were healthy 94 percent of the time.

    Mobile phone electromagnetic radiation affects Amyloid Precursor Protein and α-synuclein metabolism in SH-SY5Y cells - Science Direct. In this study, the effects of low-level, GSM emitted ElectroMagnetic Field (EMF) on Amyloid Precursor Protein (APP) and alpha-synuclein (α-syn) in human neuroblastoma cells was investigated. Our data indicated alterations on APP processing and cellular topology, following EMF exposure (ℇ = 10.51 V/m, SAR = 0.23 W/kg, exposure time: 3 times, for 10 min, for 2 days). Furthermore, changes in monomeric α-syn accumulation and multimerization, as well as induction of oxidative stress and cell death, were documented. The results presented here require further investigation to determine potential links of EMF with the molecular pathogenic mechanisms in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases.

    Measles cases hit second-highest level since elimination in 2000 - Almost 400 cases of the measles have been confirmed in 15 states this year as the disease nears record numbers since being declared eliminated almost two decades ago. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 387 measles cases have been confirmed from Jan. 1 to March 28, an increase of 73 cases last week alone. The surge has thrown a spotlight on the anti-vaccination movement. Most people who contract measles have not been vaccinated, the CDC said, and measles are extremely contagious. "If one person has it, up to 90 percent of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected," the CDC said. Almost 400 cases of the measles have been confirmed in 15 states this year as the disease nears record numbers since being declared eliminated almost two decades ago. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 387 measles cases have been confirmed from Jan. 1 to March 28, an increase of 73 cases last week alone. The surge has thrown a spotlight on the anti-vaccination movement. Most people who contract measles have not been vaccinated, the CDC said, and measles are extremely contagious. "If one person has it, up to 90 percent of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected," the CDC said.

    More measles cases in the US in first 3 months of 2019 than all of 2018- CDC - The number of measles cases so far this year is more than all the cases reported in 2018, according to new data. The Centers for Disease Control reported Monday there had been 387 measles cases between Jan. 1 and March 28, 2019. By comparison, in all of 2018, there were 372 confirmed measles cases in the U.S. The first quarter of this year and all of last year are on the higher end for the past decade, though the year with the most cases came in 2014, when there were 667 cases over the course of the year, according to CDC data. The numbers of measles cases in 2014 and, now, 2019 are the highest since measles was eliminated in the United States in 2000. The disease being "eliminated" meant there were no transmissions of measles for more than a year, and the CDC's website says the 2000 elimination "was thanks to a highly effective vaccination program in the United States, as well as better measles control in the Americas region."   Vaccinations for measles and other contagious diseases like mumps have come under fire in recent years as individuals who decide not to get vaccinated or vaccinate their children -- in the face of scientific evidence -- are lowering local and national rates. Experts explain that the problem with some people opting out of vaccinations is that those lower numbers impact herd immunity, which refers to the protection of an entire community when immunity rates are sufficiently high. When this occurs, the likelihood of someone with a disease encountering someone non-immune is negligible, preventing the disease from spreading through the population.

    Measles cases soar across US: ‘It’s getting worse’ The US has seen more reports of measles cases in the first three months of 2019 than in the whole of last year, health officials said this week. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday reported 387 measles cases so far in 2019, 15 more than the total number of cases last year. The numbers make 2019 the second-worst year for measles since the United States declared itself measles-free nearly two decades ago. Fifteen states reported confirmed measles cases this year. Rockland county in New York saw 157 cases, most of them concentrated in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. Clark county, Washington, reported 73 cases, the majority of them in children 10 and younger. California reported 16 measles cases so far this year, compared with 21 cases in 2018. (Last year’s data is provisional and likely to change, according to the California department of public health.) The numbers come on the heels of the state’s 2014 and 2015 measles outbreak at Disneyland, which was the largest in state history. The number of measles cases typically declines in the summer months, but experts worry the early 2019 numbers indicate the disease is on the rise. “My concern is that this is trending the wrong way,” said Dr Peter Hotez, professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and author of the book Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel’s Autism. “It’s getting worse, it’s not getting better,” he added.

    E. coli outbreak sickens 72 people in 5 states, CDC says - Health officials are investigating an E. coli outbreak that has sickened 72 people across five states, federal health agencies said Friday. The reported cases were in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement announcing the outbreak. Eight people have been hospitalized, the CDC added. The agency is working with the Food and Drug Administration and Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service to investigate the outbreak. They have not yet pinpointed a specific food, grocery store or restaurant chain that's responsible for the infections. As a result, the CDC is not recommending people avoid a particular food. For more on investing in health care innovation, click here to join CNBC at our Healthy Returns Summit in New York City on May 21. E. coli O103 is the particular strain involved in the cases, which were reported between March 2 and March 29, the CDC said. The people infected range between the ages of 1 to 74, with 17 being the median age. Symptoms of E. coli include severe stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea, according to the CDC. Most people get better within five to seven days, though the illness can be severe and in some cases even life-threatening, the CDC said. Last year, an E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce sickened 62 people across 16 states and Washington, D.C.

    Poor Diets Killed 11 Million People in 2017, Study Finds -- Poor diet killed 11 million people in 2017, making it a more deadly health risk than smoking, a major new study has found. The finding is part of a Global Burden of Disease Study published in The Lancet Wednesday that looked at dietary habits in 195 countries between 1990 and 2017. It concluded that one in five deaths per year worldwide could likely be prevented by a better diet. In 2017, poor diet led to 10 million deaths from cardiovascular disease, around 913,000 from cancer and around 339,000 from type 2 diabetes. "Diet is an equal-opportunity killer. People — independent of age, gender, country of residence and socioeconomic status — to some extent are affected by poor dietary habits," study co-author and assistant professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) Dr. Ashkan Afshin told Time. "Low intake of healthy foods and high intake of unhealthy foods is the leading cause of mortality, globally and in many countries."  In general, the researchers found that not eating enough healthy foods was more of a problem than eating too many unhealthy ones. While eating too much sodium was a major risk factor for mortality, and the leading risk factor in the East Asia and wealthy Asia Pacific regions, eating too few whole grains was the leading risk factor for death in the vast majority of regions studied. Not eating enough fruit was also a major risk factor. Overall, diets high in sodium and low in whole grains led to around three million deaths each in 2017, while diets low in fruits contributed to around two million. Taken together, the three were responsible for more than 50 percent of deaths caused by poor diet.

    Bad diets killing more people globally than tobacco, study finds - Unhealthy diets are responsible for 11m preventable deaths globally per year, more even than smoking tobacco, according to a major study. But the biggest problem is not the junk we eat but the nutritious food we don’t eat, say researchers, calling for a global shift in policy to promote vegetables, fruit, nuts and legumes. While sugar and trans-fats are harmful, more deaths are caused by the absence of healthy foods in our diet, the study found. The research is part of the Global Burden of Disease study by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in Seattle, published in the Lancet medical journal. Heart attacks and strokes are the main diet-related causes of death, followed by cancers and type 2 diabetes, say researchers. The study found that eating and drinking better could prevent one in five deaths around the world. Although diets vary from one country to another, eating too few fruits and vegetables and too much sodium (salt) accounted for half of all deaths and two-thirds of the years of disability attributable to diet. “Our findings show that suboptimal diet is responsible for more deaths than any other risks globally, including tobacco smoking, highlighting the urgent need for improving human diet across nations,” they write. Rather than trying to persuade people to cut down on sugar, salt and fat, which has been “the main focus of of diet policy debate in the past two decades”, it would be better to promote healthy options, they say.

    The Story We Are Not Talking About Enough - The National Center for Health Statistics reported that, between 2016 and 2017, US life expectancy dropped from 78.7 to 78.6 years. This marks the third consecutive year that life expectancy in the US has decreased. We have not had a drop like this since the 1918 flu pandemic. What does our lack of attention tell us about how we think about health in this country?One possibility it that we simply don’t know about these data. Perhaps we should have news headlines, “Our national health has taken a turn for the worse,” appear regularly until we reverse this trend.Or perhaps we have come to accept the longer-term trend in which US life expectancy has lagged relative to other economically comparable countries. Perhaps knowing that our health is not terrific  is simply the American condition.. As recently as thirty years ago we were in the top half of the pack. Or perhaps we think that our collective national problems with health—addiction and suicide are the notable crises driving our falling life expectancy—are not my problem. Or perhaps we don’t know how to correct this slippage in life expectancy. We see the problem as too large, beyond our control, untenable. If we continue to accept our collective poor health, it is in part because we are not paying attention to health the way we should be, and it is in part because we have accepted changes in the past 30 years—such as growing levels of income inequality—that have made our health worse. In the end, poor health for some will affect the health of many of us. Our chances of getting infectious diseases, of being a killed by a car while walking, of developing asthma due to secondhand smoke, all depend on the health of others around us.   Shouldn’t we then start paying attention to the worst American health deterioration in a 100 years?

     Medieval Diseases Are Making A Comeback- It's A Public Health Crisis - “Infectious diseases - some that ravaged populations in the Middle Ages - are resurging in California and around the country, and are hitting homeless populations especially hard,” the report explains.Los Angeles recently experienced an outbreak of typhus — a disease spread by infected fleas on rats and other animals — in downtown streets. Officials briefly closed part of City Hall after reporting that rodents had invaded the building.People in Washington state have been infected with Shigella bacteria, which is spread through feces and causes the diarrheal disease shigellosis, as well as Bartonella quintana, which spreads through body lice and causes trench fever.Hepatitis A, also spread primarily through feces, infected more than 1,000 people in Southern California in the past two years. The disease also has erupted in New Mexico, Ohio and Kentucky, primarily among people who are homeless or use drugs. (source)  These diseases will eventually spread to the public. While the outbreaks are occurring primarily among the homeless, public health officials warn that these diseases can easily spread outside of that population.Terms like “disaster” and “public health crisis” are being used to describe the outbreaks.In his State of the State speech in February, California Governor Gavin Newsom warned, “Our homeless crisis is increasingly becoming a public health crisis,” citing outbreaks of hepatitis A in San Diego County, syphilis in Sonoma County, and typhus in Los Angeles County.  “Typhus,” he said. “A medieval disease. In California. In 2019.” The report goes on to explain that the homeless population has grown in the past two years, and infectious diseases spread quickly and widely among those who are living outside or in shelters.“About 553,000 people were homeless at the end of 2018, and nearly one-quarter of homeless people live in California,” the report says. Sidewalks contaminated with human feces, crowded living conditions, weakened immune systems and limited access to health care are all factors contributing to the proliferation of these medieval diseases.

     Deadly germs, Lost cures: A Mysterious Infection, Spanning the Globe in a Climate of Secrecy -- Last May, an elderly man was admitted to the Brooklyn branch of Mount Sinai Hospital for abdominal surgery. A blood test revealed that he was infected with a newly discovered germ as deadly as it was mysterious. Doctors swiftly isolated him in the intensive care unit. The germ, a fungus called Candida auris, preys on people with weakened immune systems, and it is quietly spreading across the globe. Over the last five years, it has hit a neonatal unit in Venezuela, swept through a hospital in Spain, forced a prestigious British medical center to shut down its intensive care unit, and taken root in India, Pakistan and South Africa . Recently C. auris reached New York , New Jersey and Illinois, leading the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to add it to a list of germs deemed “urgent threats.” The man at Mount Sinai died after 90 days in the hospital, but C. auris did not. Tests showed it was everywhere in his room, so invasive that the hospital needed special cleaning equipment and had to rip out some of the ceiling and floor tiles to eradicate it. “Everything was positive — the walls, the bed, the doors, the curtains, the phones, the sink, the whiteboard, the poles, the pump,” said Dr. Scott Lorin, the hospital’s president. “The mattress, the bed rails, the canister holes, the window shades, the ceiling, everything in the room was positive.” C. auris is so tenacious, in part, because it is impervious to major antifungal medications, making it a new example of one of the world’s most intractable health threats: the rise of drug-resistant infections. For decades, public health experts have warned that the overuse of antibiotics was reducing the effectiveness of drugs that have lengthened life spans by curing bacterial infections once commonly fatal. But lately, there has been an explosion of resistant fungi as well, adding a new and frightening dimension to a phenomenon that is undermining a pillar of modern medicine.    C. auris, which infected the man at Mount Sinai, is one of dozens of dangerous bacteria and fungi that have developed resistance. Yet, like most of them, it is a threat that is virtually unknown to the public.

    Killed by cholera, Yemeni doctor knew he was fighting ‘disastrous’ epidemic (Reuters) - Yemeni doctor Mohammed Abdul-Mughni described the surge in cholera cases he was treating as "disastrous" in a country battered by years of war and short of medical staff. Two weeks later cholera killed him too. Yemen is suffering its third major outbreak of the water-borne bacterial infection since the conflict broke out in 2015, causing the world's most urgent humanitarian crisis that has put 10 million people on the brink of famine. The disease is spreading like "wild-fire", according to the United Nations which recorded 110,000 suspected cholera cases and 200 deaths in three months. Abdul-Mughni had been working in a temporary diarrhoea treatment centre in the grounds of a hospital in Sanaa where around 120-150 severe cases arrive every day. "We are taking in patients around the clock, constantly ... Cholera is spreading widely now," said Ismail Mansoury, a doctor who worked alongside him. "In the past two weeks we have admitted around 1,100 confirmed cholera cases." Cholera causes profuse diarrhoea and fluid loss which can kill within hours. Children, the elderly and those weakened by years of poor nutrition are most at risk. The centre outside the capital's Sabaeen hospital has tents, outdoor toilets and overworked staff. Listless women on drips take up every spot of available shade. Elderly ladies and children lie on gravel. A man helps a boy up a large step to use a latrine. Many of those arriving are in shock or have kidney failure, with veins so shrivelled by dehydration it is difficult to insert a needle to administer lifesaving fluids. The four-year-old war that pits the Iran-aligned Houthi movement against the Saudi-backed Yemeni government has crippled the healthcare system and economy, forcing people to travel long distances to seek medical care.

    The Silent Killer: Superbugs on the March in the Middle East - From Gaza to Mosul, multiple strains of superbugs resistant to antibiotics are on a rampage across the region.— It’s been described as being like a silent tsunami and at risk of putting medicine back in the Dark Ages.Strains of superbugs resistant to a wide range of antibiotics are on a rampage across the Middle East and worldwide.Karam Yaseen, formerly a nurse with Doctors Without Borders (MSF), now works as an advisor on antibiotic resistance at a post-operative care hospital set up by the charity in Mosul, northern Iraq.Soon after the hospital opened a year ago, staff began noticing a high level of antibiotic resistance among patients.The Iraqi army retook Mosul in 2017, after a nearly nine-month-long offensive against Islamic State (IS).“More than a year after the military offensive in Mosul, the consequences of antibiotic resistance are more striking and more visible than ever,” Yaseen told Middle East Eye.MSF says antibiotic resistance in Iraq and across the Middle East is alarmingly high. More than a third of the patients seen at the organisation’s Mosul hospital are resistant to a wide range of drugs.Unregulated use of antibiotics, bad hygiene and the general mayhem of war are some of the main causes of the superbug problem.Rising costs of medical care and of drugs – as in Egypt – often encourages people to self medicate. Meanwhile, the widespread use and misuse of antibiotics in the animal population is also a significant factor, with cattle often fed the drugs to increase weight.Antibiotics fed to animals enter the food chain and build up resistance to the drugs in humans. “Fifteen years ago, the use of antibiotics [in Iraq] was fairly well regulated and we had a good medical system,” says Yaseen.“But the war in 2003 changed everything. After that, some antibiotics that require a prescription became very easily accessible on the market and people started to use them more, whenever they were sick. “Now in Iraq, a pharmacist can sell you antibiotics, even the injectable ones, without a prescription.”

    USDA halts deadly experiments on kittens for food safety research -- The Agriculture Department said Tuesday that the agency will cease its controversial practice of infecting kittens with the Toxoplasma gondii parasite for laboratory research to combat foodborne illness.  Bipartisan legislation was introduced in Congress last month to end the agency's practice. The department’s Agricultural Research Service has been using this practice to study the parasite it says is the leading cause of death from foodborne illness in the U.S. NBC News reported that since 1982, the agency had also been feeding cats with dog and cat remains obtained from "Asian meat markets." The USDA said it hasn’t infected any kittens in its facilities since last September, and the cats that were never infected will be available for adoption.

    Citing 'Conscience Shocking' Conduct, Federal Judge Reinstates Former Gov. Snyder in Flint Water Lawsuit - A federal judge on Monday—who agreed that allegations of "conscience shocking" conduct claimed by plaintiffs were "plausible"—reinstated Michigan's former Governor Rick Snyder as a defendant in a class action lawsuit by the victims of the water crisis in the city of Flint that first captured national headlines in 2014. After earlier removing Snyder from the suit, brought by city residents harmed by the poisoning of the municipal water supply, U.S. District Court Judge Judith Levy reversed that decision as she noted the plaintiffs had shown the allegations against Snyder and his fellow co-defendants "plausibly describe 'conscience shocking' conduct" as the people of Flint were stripped of 14th Amendment protections from bodily harm or injury. "The citizens of Flint were both forgotten and mistreated by those involved in the Flint water disaster. To this day, residents continue to suffer because of the reckless decisions of senior state and local officials, as well as private contractors, and we hope to provide a measure of justice and some much-needed relief to those still struggling to recover."  The plaintiffs in the suit, Levy wrote in her ruling,  plausibly state that the Governor acted indifferently to the risk of harm they faced, demonstrating a callous disregard for their right to bodily integrity. This indifference manifested itself in two ways. Initially, the Governor was indifferent because instead of mitigating the risk of harm caused by the contaminated water, he covered it up. In private, he worried about the need to return Flint to DWSD water and the political implications of the crisis. But in public, he denied all knowledge, despite being aware of the developing crisis."     As a result, plaintiffs were lured into a false sense of security. They could have taken protective measures, if only they had known what the Governor knew. Instead, the Governor misled them into assuming that nothing was wrong. Governor Snyder's administration even encouraged them to continue to drink and bathe in the water.

    Toxic air will shorten children's lives by 20 months, study reveals - The life expectancy of children born today will be shortened by 20 months on average by breathing the toxic air that is widespread across the globe, with the greatest toll in south Asia, according to a major study. Air pollution contributed to nearly one in every 10 deaths in 2017, making it a bigger killer than malaria and road accidents and comparable to smoking, according to the State of Global Air (SOGA) 2019 study published on Wednesday. In south Asia, children can expect to have their lives cut short by 30 months, and in sub-Saharan Africa by 24 months, because of a combination of outdoor air pollution caused by traffic and industry, and dirty air indoors, largely from cooking fires. In east Asia, air pollution will shorten children’s lives by an estimated 23 months. However, the life expectancy burden is forecast to be less than five months for children in the developed world.  Evidence continues to mount showing a relationship between exposure to toxic air and low birthweight, reduced lung development and childhood asthma.  Although young children face particular threats, such as stunted lung development that will last throughout their lives, older adults are also at risk: nearly nine in 10 deaths attributable to air pollution were in the over-50s. Ageing populations in many parts of the world are likely to increase the death toll for years to come, said O’Keefe. Air pollution accounts for 41% of global deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 20% from type 2 diabetes, 19% from lung cancer, 16% from ischaemic heart disease, and 11% of deaths from stroke, according to the report, described as the most systematic annual study of the health effects of global air pollution.  According to the report, south Asia had the highest level of exposures to PM2.5, a size of particulate that can cause breathing difficulties and cardiovascular problems, with the rate in Nepal and India nearly twice the rate of China’s exposure to the particles. Among the countries with the lowest levels were the US, Norway, Canada, Sweden and New Zealand, though the Maldives, Brunei and Estonia also scored well on the measure.

     Stopping Human-Caused Air Pollution Would Prevent 5.6 Million Air Pollution Deaths Per Year: New Study -  If humans stopped emitting air pollution, an astonishing 5.6 million premature deaths per year due to global outdoor air pollution could be prevented, according to research published Monday. About 65% of these deaths are due to burning of fossil fuels, with the remainder due to such activities as biomass burning and agriculture. Eliminating human-caused air pollution would also significantly reduce drought in monsoon regions, but it would allow more sunlight to reach the surface, increasing Earth’s surface temperature by at least 0.36°C (0.65°F). Overall, the effects would be hugely beneficial. The study, Effects of fossil fuel and total anthropogenic emission removal on public health and climate, was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by a team headed by atmospheric researcher Jos Lelieveld of the Max Planck Institute. The study built on their previous work, published on March 12, which found that the health burden of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution is much higher than has been previously assumed. They concluded that outdoor air pollution from PM2.5 and ozone causes 8.79 million premature deaths globally each year. Of that total, natural sources of outdoor air pollution accounted for 3.24 million deaths per year, and human-caused sources were 5.55 million per year. According to air pollution scientist Susan Anenberg of The George Washington University, who was not involved in the study, “these results of the new study are in line with previous research showing that the global burden of ambient PM2.5 on mortality could be substantially larger than previously thought, indicating about a doubling of the estimates currently reported by the Global Burden of Disease study.”

    Asia’s pollution exodus: Firms struggle to woo top talent (AFP) - From smog breaks to pollution bonuses, Asia's businesses are promising increasingly inventive perks in a desperate bid to lure executives to a region where toxic air engulfs major cities for much of the year. Health concerns are putting off those initially attracted by Asia's growing economic opportunities, experts warn, so firms are struggling to recruit -- and retain -- people with the expertise they need. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, some 92 percent of people in the Asia-Pacific region are exposed to levels of air pollution that pose a significant risk to health. This means that on top of large salaries, businesses are having to offer extra incentives. These include paying for smog breaks every few months, or allowing non-traditional working arrangements so people can commute from less polluted areas, says Lee Quane, Asia director for consultancy ECA International. At "a location with a higher level of pollution, you're likely to see us recommend allowances of anywhere between 10 to 20 percent of the person's base salary," he says. This estimate, derived from a rating system his firm uses to help companies decide appropriate financial compensation for relocation, would also incorporate factors such as crime rates and access to services, he adds. Other provisions employees could expect for moving to a highly polluted area include better insulated apartments, air purifiers for home and office, breathing masks, and regular medical check-ups.

    How climate change will put billions more at risk of mosquito-borne diseases - By the end of this century almost all of the world’s population could be exposed to mosquito-borne diseases once limited to the tropics, according to a new study from PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus are two species of mosquitoes known to carry and transmit potentially deadly viruses like dengue, chikungunya,Zika and yellow fever. These bugs can thrive in urban environments, often traveling alongside humans as we ship goods and travel around the world.And, according to the study, these tropical mosquitoes are poised to expand their ranges, exposing a billion additional people to the diseases they carry in the next 50 years.Given estimates for future temperatures around the globe, the researchers created a model to determine which areas may become suitable for mosquitoes to transmit viruses. By using these models to predict temperature, a critical factor in mosquito and virus survival, the team could also predict places where dengue, yellow fever, chikungunya and Zika might be able to make the leap from person to person, causing an outbreak of disease.These models of our future world could help governments and health organizations prepare for and prevent the spread of disease by controlling standing water, providing mosquito-blocking screens or spraying pesticides. According to the researchers, developed countries have often regarded tropical diseases as out of sight and out of mind — somebody else’s problem. This kind of prediction can draw attention (and funding). “Part of the punchline with climate change is that there’s no way to keep diseases in one place,” said co-lead author Colin Carlson, a global change biologist from Georgetown University. “There’s not going to be a ‘somebody else’s problem’ 20 to 30 years from now.”

     Costco Drops Roundup Weedkiller After $80 Million Awarded In Second Cancer Case- Report -- Costco has reportedly decided to stop selling Roundup weedkiller after a federal jury in San Francisco awarded more than $80 million to 70-year-old California man, Edwin Hardeman, who was diagnosed with cancer after spraying the herbicide on his property for decades.  According to the founder of Moms Across America, Zen Honeycutt, Costco will no longer carry Roundup or other glyphosate-based herbicides in their spring shipments. Moms Across America founder Zen Honeycutt, whose petition calling for Costco to stop selling Roundup has more than 150,000 signatures on, wrote on her website: "I called the headquarters, and after two days of messages and calls, I did finally confirm with three people that Costco was not ordering Roundup or any glyphosate-based herbicides for the incoming spring shipments." Costco has yet to issue an official statement on the petition. However, in conversations with the administrative staff at various stores, Big Think has learned that the product was pulled off the floor this week per corporate orders — meaning, Costco's removal of Roundup applies to "all locations." -Big ThinkHoneycutt's group is now petitioning Home Depot and Lowe's to pull Roundup from their shelves as well. "We call on Home Depot and Lowe's today to step up as Costco has to protect us, your customers, and stop selling Roundup (and all glyphosate herbicides) now, due to its carcinogenic effects and lack of labeling," reads the petition. "Everyone deserves to know! These products should not be sold to the public!" Bayer - which acquired the Roundup brand in its $63 billion purchase of Monsanto in June of last year, plans to appeal last week's verdict, and "vigorously defend" its product, according to Bloomberg. Since the transaction, Bayer has lost over 40% of its value according to Bloomberg.

     China's pork imports to double in 2019 as swine fever hits local output: analyst (Reuters) - China’s 2019 pork imports are set to double from last year to 2 million tonnes, a Rabobank analyst said on Thursday, as African swine fever hits production of the meat in the world’s top hog market. China has reported 113 outbreaks of the contagious disease since last August, though farmers and industry insiders say several outbreaks are going unreported. African swine fever, which does not harm humans, has a high mortality rate in pigs and has no vaccine or cure. Chinese pork production will fall by up to 20 percent in 2019, Oscar Tjakra, a director of food and agribusiness research at Rabobank, told a conference in the east of the country. China typically accounts for around half the world’s output of the meat. That means local production this year of between 50 million and 51 million tonnes, Tjakra told Reuters on the sidelines of the event, down from last year’s 54 million to 55 million tonnes. The United States agriculture department’s attache in Beijing has forecast pork production at 51.4 million tonnes this year, down 5 percent from 2018, with imports seen at 2 million tonnes. China’s pig herd declined by 15 percent in 2018, according to Rabobank estimates, Tjakra said. Pork production increased in the first three quarters of 2018, but declined significantly in the fourth quarter after the disease began spreading rapidly. He cited official data issued by the statistics bureau, which shows the number of slaughtered hogs fell 1.2 percent in 2018 to 693.8 million heads. Pork output last year was 54 million tonnes, the bureau said. The disease has totally disrupted the production plans of many major companies, added Zhu, with some halting expansion because of the disease. Other speakers said the drop in output would hit feed demand hard. 

    Backyard chickens hit hard by a long-gone, extremely contagious disease - California, backyard birds are in lockdown. County fairs are canceling their poultry shows. Veterinary hospitals aren’t accepting chicken appointments. Local 4-H leaders are telling chicken owners to keep their birds sequestered. Some poultry breeders are even worried their birds will need to be euthanized. The issue? Virulent Newcastle Disease, or VND, a disease thought to be long gone from the United States—until new cases emerged in May of last year. Since then, there have been over 400 confirmed cases, with many more expected in coming months. Newcastle has sent shivers down the industry’s spine both in the state and among farmers nearby. Newcastle is a highly contagious disease that can be transmitted between poultry, wild and domestic birds, or travel on the clothing or shoes of people who have been near infected animals. For poultry owners, the only disease as serious as Newcastle is pathogenic avian influenza. There is no treatment. “If it gets a foothold and spreads to multiple states, it could be devastating,” says California’s state veterinarian Annette Jones. “The only time to stop it is right when it’s introduced.”

    Arkansas Hunters Search for Answers As Ducks Vanish. A Decline in Waterfowl Has Hunters Rethinking Environmental Policies (NBC News video) Duck hunting in Arkansas is a vital part of the state's cultural and economic fabric, but a decline in waterfowl and threatened wetlands has hunters rethinking environmental policies in the face of climate change.

    Killer fungus is wiping out world’s amphibians - An invasive fungus has led to one of the greatest documented losses of vertebrate biodiversity, according to a new global analysis. In the 1970s, frogs in remote regions of Australia and Central America began to suddenly disappear. Researchers investigated whether climate change, UV radiation, or pollution caused the disappearance, but they didn’t find a clear explanation until a small team in northern Queensland realized the population declines resembled the pattern of an extraordinary disease outbreak. In 1998, after combining disease outbreak approaches from human medical science with ecology and veterinary medicine, Lee Berger discovered chytridiomycosis, a previously unknown disease parasitic fungi cause that invades the skin of amphibians. The new study, which appears in Science, shows chytridiomycosis is responsible for the dramatic population declines in 501 species of amphibians, including 90 extinctions—mostly frogs, but also toads and salamanders. In Australia, 40 species have declined and seven have become extinct. This represents “the greatest recorded loss of biodiversity attributable to a disease,” says lead author Ben Scheele, postdoctoral fellow at the Fenner School of Environment and Society at Australian National University. “This also places Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (B. dendrobatidis), the fungus that is the most common cause of chytridiomycosis, among the most destructive invasive species we have ever seen,” Scheele says. Among the 501 amphibian species which have suffered declines, 90 are confirmed or presumed extinct in the wild and a further 124 have lost more than 90 percent of their population, disappearing from many environments where they were abundant.

     New England seeing a huge spike in beached sea turtles (AP) — The number of warm water turtles stuck on Cape Cod beaches here has risen dramatically in the past decade, according to the Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. This year, volunteers recovered 829 helpless turtles washed up on the sand — about half of them dead including some frozen solid. That’s nearly twice what they found in 2016 and 10 times more than in 2008.  Cape Cod is believed to have one of the largest annual turtle strandings in the world. There are occasional strandings in Florida, Texas and as far north as the Chesapeake Bay. But those tend to be isolated events connected to cold snaps involving a few dozen to a couple of thousand turtles.  Some experts think New England’s spike in cold-stunned turtles is a climate change story with a twist: the hook-like projection of Cape Cod into the Atlantic helps trap turtles drawn there by warming waters but weakened when the ocean cools down. Most rescued turtles suffer from compromised immune systems and pneumonia due to hypothermia. Exposed to cold water for prolonged periods, they become lethargic and can’t move or eat.   The ones that survive take months to recover. In the past decade, many turtles have been moving farther northward from the Gulf of Mexico into the warming waters of the Gulf of Maine to feed on crabs, mussels and shrimp.  A paper in the PLOS ONE journal in January concluded there were more strandings of endangered Kemp’s ridley turtles in years with warmer sea-surface temperatures.  “This is particularly alarming, considering the Gulf of Maine is predicted to continue to warm at a rapid rate in coming decades,” the authors wrote, noting the Gulf’s waters are heating up faster than most of the world’s oceans. The researcher’s projected as many as 2,349 strandings of Kemp’s ridleys —the world’s smallest sea turtles— by 2031.  Other scientists argue climate change alone can’t explain the heightened turtle strandings in New England. They say the spike is a sign that sea turtle populations have done better over the past decade due to greater protections. Sea turtles have been decimated by development, destruction of nesting sites and accidently being caught in commercial fishing nets.

    1,100 Mutilated Dolphins Have Washed Up on French Beaches Since January -- A record number of dolphins have washed up dead and mutilated on French beaches, and scientists don't know exactly why. Activists say 1,100 dolphins have washed up on France's Atlantic coast since January, but the number could be as much as 10 times higher than that, as many likely sink instead of washing ashore. Researchers at the La Rochelle marine laboratory Observatoire Pelagis said they had seen "extreme levels of mutilation" on the dolphins that did wash up, The Guardian reported."There's never been a number this high," La Rochelle University National Center for Scientific Research member Willy Daubin told The Associated Press. "Already in three months, we have beaten last year's record, which was up from 2017 and even that was the highest in 40 years."Daubin said 90 percent of the deaths could be blamed on industrial fishing generally, as dolphins are accidentally caught up in nets. However, it is not known what specifically is causing the number of deaths to rise so dramatically. "What fishing machinery or equipment is behind all these deaths?" he asked.There is speculation that trawlers fishing for sea bass may be to blame, according to The Guardian. The dolphins injure themselves trying to escape the nets, or fisherman injure them in the process of trying to free them. Activists told The Associated Press that fisherman will also cut off dolphins' body parts once they have been suffocated by the net in order not to damage the net.

    Marine Heat Waves Could Threaten Dolphin Survival, Study Suggests - Climate change could have a deadly impact on dolphins and other marine mammals.That's the saddening implication of a study published in Current Biology Monday. Researchers looked at what happened when a marine heat wave scorched waters off the coast of Western Australia in 2011. What they found was that the survival rate of dolphins in the area declined by 12 percent and that female dolphins gave birth to a smaller number of calves. The effects lasted up until 2017. "The extent of the negative influence of the heat wave surprised us," lead study author and University of Leeds PhD student Sonja Wild in a statement reported by USA Today. "It is particularly unusual that the reproductive success of females appears to have not returned to normal levels, even after six years." The researchers had been studying dolphins in an area known as Shark Bay, a World Heritage Site home to Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins. The 2011 heat wave, which raised ocean temperatures in the area as much as four degrees Celsius above average, killed off seagrass and fish in the iconic bay, a University of Bristol press release explained. The researchers wanted to know if the seagrass die-off had impacted larger animals. The researchers reviewed more than 5,000 dolphin encounters between 2007 and 2017 and found that the heat wave had indeed had a lasting impact, according to the press release. Researchers thought that the loss of food and habitat meant that fish in the area could not recover quickly. This forced dolphins to spend more time hunting, making them less aware. This in turn increased the chances that sharks would prey on calves. In addition, the researchers thought that the lack of nutrition might have made it harder for both mothers and young dolphins to get enough to eat, leading to more calf deaths.

    Pregnant Sperm Whale Found Dead With Nearly 50 Pounds of Plastic in Her Stomach -  A pregnant sperm whale washed up dead on a beach in Sardinia last week with 22 kilograms (approximately 48.5 pounds) of plastic in its stomach. This is the second whale in two weeks to be found dead with plastic in its belly: a male Cuvier's beaked whale was found in the Philippines after ingesting 88 pounds of plastic bags.  "It is the first time we have been confronted with an animal with such a huge quantity of garbage," University of Padova biologist Cinzia Centelegghe told the Turin daily La Stampa of the dead sperm whale, as theAssociated Press reported.  That garbage included "garbage bags ... fishing nets, lines, tubes, the bag of a washing machine liquid still identifiable, with brand and barcode ... and other objects no longer identifiable," SeaMe President Luca Bittau told CNN.The whale was 26 feet long and pregnant. Bittau said that she had probably aborted her fetus before she washed up on a beach in the tourist town of Porto Cervo. "The fetus was in an advanced state of composition," Bittau said. Bittau told CNN that the cause of the whale's death is still to be determined by veterinarians in Padua in the north of Italy. However, experts said that she had been unable to digest calamari because of the plastic that had filled two-thirds of her stomach, according to the Associated Press. Italian Environment Minister Sergio Costa posted a picture of the dead whale on Facebook, along with calls for action on plastic pollution.

    How American Recycling Is Changing Now that China Won’t Take It -- Eileen Kao described Montgomery County, Maryland’s recycling center on a tour. Kao, who is chief of waste reduction and recycling in the county’s Department of Environmental Protection, pointed out how machines in the facility help sort recyclables. As she described how the machines worked, a magnet separated steel and tin cans into a storage silo while a shaker table collected pieces of glass that were too small to be sorted. Dozens of workers hand-sorted at certain steps along the process. The county’s recycling center in Derwood, Maryland, processed more than 31,000 tons of commingled material and more than 45,000 tons of mixed paper last year. At this building, commingled material (bottles, cans, and containers) is sorted. Mixed paper, including cardboard, is sorted in another facility nearby. Over recent months, news coverage has depicted China’s National Sword policy as a crisis for recycling in municipalities all over the United States. Since early 2018, China has banned many scrap materials and has not accepted others unless they meet an extremely strict contamination rate of 0.5 percent. (Contamination rates of U.S. recyclables before sorting vary from place to place, but can reach 25 percentor higher.) The decision reflects China’s desire to recycle more of its domestic waste. Previously, China had been the destination for about 40 percent of the United States’ paper, plastics, and other recyclables. National Sword sent waves through the global recyclables market. The changes in China diverted many materials to Southeast Asian countries, whose ports were not prepared to receive them in such high volume. Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia have begun to enact their own restrictions. Meanwhile, many municipal recycling programs in the United States have suffered. As of January, Philadelphia was sending half of the recyclables it collects straight to the incinerator. Minneapolis stopped accepting black plastics. Marysville, Michigan, will no longer accept eight of 11 categories of items (including glass, newspaper, and mixed paper) for curbside recycling, in order to cut costs. Deltona, Florida, stopped curbside pickup altogether.

     America’s new recycling crisis, explained by an expert -  For nearly three decades American recyclables were shipped cheaply to China, where they could be sold and given new shape. That worked well enough, until China started cracking down. With dirty waste continuing to appear in imported recyclables, the rising cost of labor, and an abundance of the country’s own potentially recyclable waste, China no longer had the same financial and environmental incentives to accept the world’s waste.  Within the recycling community, there had been rumblings that China might change its policies, but the force of Operation National Sword, announced in July 2017, still came as a surprise. Going into full effect last March, it banned 24 types of scrap and implemented much stricter and more rigorous contamination standards which have been described as “impossible to reach.” As a result, local governments and the recycling industry are now facing an unprecedented recycling crisis, especially in plastics. To put the impact of this current crisis into the context of past waste crises — like the Love Canal Disaster, where a residential neighborhood was built on a toxic waste dump with disastrous consequences, leading to the formation of the EPA’s Superfund program — and to understand how the effects of this policy are being felt across the United States, The Goods spoke to Kate O’Neill, an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley. Specializing in global environmental politics and the global politics of waste, her upcoming book Waste explores the extent to which waste can be a resource, and she has written and spoken extensively about the recycling trade with China.

    Turning Earth into Golgotha – We Need an Eco-Resurrection – Patheos --I watch waves move beneath the layers of plastic trash that stretch in every direction.  You can’t even see the water, the garbage is so thick.  The ocean is like a trapped animal, shackled and smothered. It tries to heave the heavy layers of garbage onto the beach, but it falls back, exhausted by the struggle.  The beach itself is already choked with piles of detritus. The footage was filmed on the coast of the Dominican Republic after a storm.  I look closer at the individual items – a green soda bottle, an opaque milk jug, grocery bags.  Is that one mine? I turn up the volume.  There is no sound of ocean waves crashing and lapping on the shore.  Only the rippling clack of plastic against plastic.  Where did it all come from?  Where will it all go?  Nothing can live in this.  It’s a putrid undulating field of plastic garbage as far as the eye can see. On Good Friday, Christians remember the crucifixion of Jesus.  He was executed at Golgotha – “the place of the skull” – the trash dump outside the city of Jerusalem.  Today, we have turned this entire planet into a trash dump that is crucifying ecosystems, communities, oceans, animals, birds, fish, and our own bodies. Just last month, a whale carcass washed up on the shores of the Philippines with 40 kilograms of plastic in its stomach.  That’s nearly 90 pounds of undigestible bags and single-use plastics that had so calcified the creature’s innards that it died a slow death of dehydration and starvation.  And now scientists have discovered that microplastics are turning up in our water and food supplies.  We are literally eating our own waste.

    Lake Erie – yes, the body of water – asks to be let into lawsuit over bill of rights – Lake Erie is going to court. The Great Lake, known to Ohio residents as the body of water where they can boat, fish and swim, asked a federal judge on Monday to jump into a lawsuit over a law Toledoans passed to protect its ecosystem.The conceit of a non-sentient ecological body being allowed into a federal courtroom may sound strange at first. However, the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, which residents in Toledo passed during a special election in February, allows city residents to sue on the lake’s behalf.Environmental advocates Toledoans for Safe Water asked U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary to let them and the “Lake Erie Ecosystem” into a lawsuit to defend the law from a challenge by farmers in neighboring Wood County.The group says it does not think that city lawyers will do a good job of defending the Lake Erie Bill of Rights because the Toledo City Council president and others campaigned against it, according to a motion filed Monday by attorneys Terry Lodge and Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin.The lawsuit, filed one day after Toledo voters approve the law, says the bill of rights violates residents’ equal protection and freedom of speech, and is unenforceable because it is so vague.Zouhary on Wednesday issued a preliminary injunction blocking the law from going into effect while the case is litigated. Both the Toledo and farmers Mark and Tyler Drewes, who filed suit, agreed to the injunction. While having a piece of the environment participate in a lawsuit seems like a novel idea, the motion names examples of ecosystems being granted legal standing by either courts or lawmakers in Ecuador, Bolivia and New Zealand. Tish O’Dell, who works with Toledoans for Safe Water, also noted an instance where a group in Grant Township, a rural area in western Pennsylvania, asked a federal judge in 2014 to allow the Little Mahoning Creek Watershed into a lawsuit challenging that community’s bill of rights that banned disposing of waste from oil and gas extraction.

    Exclusive: More than 1 million acres of U.S. cropland ravaged by floods (Reuters) - At least 1 million acres (405,000 hectares) of U.S. farmland were flooded after the “bomb cyclone” storm left wide swaths of nine major grain producing states under water this month, satellite data analyzed by Gro Intelligence for Reuters showed. Farms from the Dakotas to Missouri and beyond have been under water for a week or more, possibly impeding planting and damaging soil. The floods, which came just weeks before planting season starts in the Midwest, will likely reduce corn, wheat and soy production this year. “There’s thousands of acres that won’t be able to be planted,” Ryan Sonderup, 36, of Fullerton, Nebraska, who has been farming for 18 years, said in a recent interview. “If we had straight sunshine now until May and June, maybe it can be done, but I don’t see how that soil gets back with expected rainfall.” Spring floods could yet impact an even bigger area of cropland. The U.S. government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has warned of what could be an “unprecedented flood season” as it forecasts heavy spring rains. Rivers may swell further as a deep snow pack in northern growing areas melts.  Fields are strewn with everything from silt and sand to tires and some may not even be farmed this year. The water has also destroyed billions of dollars of old crops that were in storage, as well as damaging roads and railways. Justin Mensik, a fifth-generation farmer, said rebuilding roads was the first priority. Then farmers would need to bring in fertilizer trucks and then test soil before seeding. The flood “left a lot of silt and sand and mud in our fields, now we’re not too sure if we’re going to be able to get a good crop this year with all the new mud and junk that’s just laying here,” Mensik told Reuters. For farmers, “the biggest concern right now is corn planting,” said Aaron Saeugling, an agriculture expert at Iowa State University. “There is just not going to be enough time to move a lot of that debris.” 

    Midwest Apocalypse- Satellite Data Show At Least 1 Million Acres Of US Farmland Devastated By Floods -  We have never seen anything like this before.  According to satellite data that was just released by Reuters, “at least 1 million acres of U.S. farmland” were covered by water for at least seven days this month.  That is an agricultural disaster without equal in modern American history, and yet the mainstream media is treating this like it is some sort of second class story.  It isn’t.  This is the biggest news story of 2019 so far, and people want to know what is going on.  A few days ago, I posted a story entitled ‘“As Many As A Million Calves Lost In Nebraska” – Beef Prices In The U.S. To Escalate Dramatically In The Coming Months’, and it has already been shared on social media more than 145,000 times.  Farming communities all over the central part of the nation now look like war zones as a result of all this flooding, but the media elites on the east and west coasts don’t want to write about it.  And with more flooding on the way for the next two months, this crisis is only going to get worse. This is the time of year when farmers are gearing up to plant wheat, corn and soybeans, and now a substantial portion of our farmland will not be able to be used at all this year.  According to Reuters, at least a million acres of farmland were covered by floodwaters for at least seven days this month, and that “will likely reduce corn, wheat and soy production this year”…At least 1 million acres (405,000 hectares) of U.S. farmland were flooded after the “bomb cyclone” storm left wide swaths of nine major grain producing states under water this month, satellite data analyzed by Gro Intelligence for Reuters showed.Farms from the Dakotas to Missouri and beyond have been under water for a week or more, possibly impeding planting and damaging soil. The floods, which came just weeks before planting season starts in the Midwest, will likely reduce corn, wheat and soy production this year.And with “as many as a million calves” lost to the flooding, a lot less food than anticipated is going to be produced in the United States for the foreseeable future. In addition to the vast agricultural devastation that we have witnessed, thousands upon thousands of homes have been destroyed as well, and now the National Ground Water Association is warning that “the safety of more than a million private water wells” could be compromised…

    In Rural America, Farmers Reap What the President Sows -- In the wake of catastrophic flooding across the Midwest, small farmers are reeling from the widespread destruction of their crops and livestock. The Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the Department of Agriculture’s 2020 budget, detailed in the spending plan released last month, would make their plight even worse. A Budget for a Better America would cut $3.6 billion from the USDA’s budget—the exact same dollar amount allocated to the department for disaster relief in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. While advocates for small farmers say that the president’s budget is unlikely to pass in a Congress that bent over backwards to pass a bipartisan farm bill last year, this latest budget certainly reflects the current administration's priorities. According to Alicia Harvie of Farm Aid, “it’s completely untenable.” “This is the worst possible time for this to hit,” argues Harvie. “At a time when the administration seems intent on providing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, it then asks federal agencies to cut back and farmers and ranchers to tighten up their purse strings.”  Not only would the USDA budget cuts affect programs that help farmers recover from natural disasters, it would also wreak havoc on the programs that help small farmers get ahead in a crowded field of subsidized mega farms. The Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance program and the Value-Added Producers program, both of which help small farmers struggling to access lending and technical assistance would see large rollbacks under Trump’s proposed budget. Trump’s budget plan is unlikely to pass intact, but his callous indifference to the plight of farmers beset on all sides by a litany of struggles is a worrying trend. In Nebraska, which has seen flood-related losses of more than $1 billion, farmers have lost entire grain bins, stockpiled with last year’s crop in a desperate attempt to ride out the administration's disastrous trade war. Since his election, Donald Trump has seen his approval rating plummet by 19 percentage points in Nebraska, raising questions about whether the president can maintain his popularity in an increasingly devastated agricultural region.

     U.S. disaster aid won't cover crops drowned by Midwest floods (Reuters) - The Black Hawk military helicopter flew over Iowa, giving a senior U.S. agriculture official and U.S. senator an eyeful of the flood damage below, where yellow corn from ruptured metal silos spilled out into the muddy water. And there’s nothing the U.S. government can do about the millions of bushels of damaged crops here under current laws or disaster-aid programs, U.S. Agriculture Under Secretary Bill Northey told a Reuters reporter who joined the flight. The USDA has no mechanism to compensate farmers for damaged crops in storage, Northey said, a problem never before seen on this scale. That’s in part because U.S. farmers have never stored so much of their harvests, after years of oversupplied markets, low prices and the latest blow of lost sales from the U.S. trade war with China - previously their biggest buyer of soybean exports. The USDA last year made $12 billion in aid available to farmers who suffered trade-war losses, without needing Congressional approval. The agency has separate programs that partially cover losses from cattle killed in natural disasters, compensate farmers who cannot plant crops due to weather, and help them remove debris left in fields after floods. But it has no program to cover the catastrophic and largely uninsured stored-crop losses from the widespread flooding, triggered by the “bomb cyclone” that hit the region in mid-March. Congress would have to pass legislation to address the harvests lost in the storm, according to Northey and a USDA statement to Reuters.

    The New Deal, the Green New Deal, and Flood Control --Lambert Strether - Last night, I saw some images from this year’s flooding in the Midwest float by, and I remembered my grade school classes on FDR, and that the New Deal actually had a significant flood control component. So I thought I would recapture a little bit of that history, and then put the Green New Deal (here; here) in that context. Spoiler alert: Problematic. First, I’ll survey the scale and scope of the flooding, then I’ll look briefly at the New Deal flood control programs, and finally I’ll look at the Green New Deal (“DRAFT TEXT FOR PROPOSED ADDENDUM TO HOUSE RULES FOR 116TH CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES“).  Here is a handy map of current flooding from the the United States Geological Survey. As you can see, there’s rather a lot of it:  And Grist describes the effects. In fact, it’s not just the Midwest: The record-breaking flooding disaster in the Midwest is just beginning. On Thursday, the National Weather Service issued its annual spring flood outlook, and it is downright biblical. By the end of May, parts of 25 states — nearly two-thirds of the country — could see flooding severe enough to cause damage.Pretty much every major body of water east of the Rockies is at elevated risk of flooding in the coming months, including the Mississippi, the Red River of the North, the Great Lakes, the eastern Missouri River, the lower Ohio, the lower Cumberland, and the Tennessee River basins. “This is shaping up to be a potentially unprecedented flood season, with more than 200 million people at risk for flooding in their communities,” said Ed Clark, director of NOAA’s National Water Center, in a press release. That represents about 60 percent of all Americans.  Now let’s turn to how FDR mobilized the United States, back in the Age of Steam, when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

    More on Flood Control: The Missouri River, the Levees, and the Gavins Point and Spencer Dams - The New York Times describes the condition of the levees: “Breaches everywhere: multiple, multiple breaches,” said Tom Bullock, the top elected official in Holt County, Mo., where crews were rushing last week to patch a leaking levee that, if it failed completely, would flood the small town of Fortescue. And with the fear of more floods in the coming years — and perhaps even the coming weeks — many people said living and farming near the water might not be viable much longer without major changes. On the river-specked Midwestern prairie, the thousands of miles of levees are an insurance policy against nature’s whims that, at their best, keep cropland and towns dry, floodwaters at bay and the agriculture-driven economy churning. But the levees are aging, subject to uneven regulation and, in many cases, never designed to withstand the river levels seen in the last decade. I’m not sure who to blame for this, except perhaps the elites who ran the country like a tear-down for the last forty years; I mean, if we can’t manage to build a new tunnel under the Hudson for the Northeast Corridor — which elites ride through every day on the Acela! — when we know, for a certainty, that the current tunnel will fail, what can we do? Probably not restore and refresh an enormous public works project. We could do that ninety years ago. Just not today. The flooding comes: But, in the last week, the Corps said we were headed for an all-time new high crest of just over 46 feet. Most of it would come from below Gavins Point, which is beyond the Corps’ control. The flood was the result of rapid snowmelt and rain. That crest would be higher than 2011 at 44.79 feet. Sandbagging would be pointless, and no one would be permitted on levees during the rise. But they also said it would be fast up and fast down because it was runoff from a single event. Most levees in good repair could possibly stand up to the brief overflow being predicted. Unfortunately, that didn’t take into account a 92-year-old earthen dam [the Spencer dam] on Nebraska’s Niobrara River, where something called a bomb cyclone ruined the dam, releasing a wall of water onto farms and pastures, washing away crops and livestock, and finding its way into Gavins Point dam at the forefront of Missouri River flood control. Gavins Point is the last line of defense against Missouri River flooding in four states. It’s designed to meter upstream water into the river, not contain it. So when big water hits Big Muddy at Gavins Point, about all the authorities at Gavins Point can do is say “look out below.” On Thursday, March 14, that’s what they did.

    American Farmers On Verge Of Disaster - It’s been a tough road for the U.S. farming industry, which is seemingly beset on all sides. Agricultural commodity prices remain low, with spot corn and soybean currently fetching $3.62 and $8.99 per bushel, respectively, each roughly 22% below their respective 10-year average prices. Meanwhile, the ongoing Sino-American trade war continues to crimp overseas demand, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that soybean deliveries to China fell more than 80% year-over-year since September. That helped push soybean stocks to a record 3.7 billion bushels as of year-end 2018.  By the same token, the USDA forecast Friday that corn plantings will rise 4.1% in 2019 to 92.8 million this year, an unwelcome development considering that “American silos are already bulging with the grain,” according to Bloomberg. Adding insult to injury, devastating floods have afflicted large swaths of the Midwest during the heart of spring planting season.    The USDA estimates that net farm incomes plunged 16% year-over-year in 2018 to $63.1 billion, down from more than $120 billion as recently as 2013.  Rising operating costs play a prominent role in that shrinkage. According to the All Farms Index tabulated by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, the prices received component fell to 84.9 in January from 95.1 in June, while prices paid registered 109.3 and has remained north of 100 since 2011. The Minneapolis Fed reports that in-state farmers have seen total input costs for seed, fertilizer, pesticides, fuel and electricity rise by 50% since 2006, after adjusting for CPI-measured inflation. As a result, Minnesota farmers reported real median net income of $26,055 last year, down 8% from 2017 and the lowest figure since the early 1980’s, per an estimate from Dale Nordquist with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Farm Financial Management. Unsurprisingly, that one-two punch is leading to increasing distress. The Minneapolis Fed reports that the ninth district (encompassing Minnesota, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota and Montana) has seen farm bankruptcies rise to more than 100 in the 12 months ended in December, up from 46 in calendar 2015. As farmers struggle under the weight of low prices, bulging stockpiles and the wrath of mother nature, Grant’s asked grains expert and paid-up subscriber Keith Bronstein whether a supply disruption could augur better days ahead:

    Latest Agriculture Emissions Data Show Rise of Factory Farms -- New data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows a steady increase in agriculture-related greenhouse gas emissions, much of it linked to industrial systems of crop production and the rise offactory farm systems of animal production. The annually updated GHG data is designed to track U.S. emissions related to the Paris Climate Agreement and to inform national and state-level climate policy.The EPA's Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2017 charts GHG emissions both by type and by sector using formats and methodologies established through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Total U.S. GHG emissions have increased just 1.6 percent since 1990 (with emissions decreasing slightly in recent years), at least partially due to cuts in coal production and growth in renewable energy use. Despite these modest declines, the U.S. is off track to reach its Paris climate commitments, and according to Climate Action Tracker, a series of Trump administration regulatory rollbacks threaten to slow progress further. While emissions in many sectors are declining, those from the agriculture sector have increased more than 10 percent since 1990, according to the EPA. The agency found that agriculture accounted for 8.4 percent of U.S. emissions in 2017. That percentage does not include on-farm energy and fuel use (counted in theenergy section of the inventory), nor does it count emissions related to shifts in cropland (counted in the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry section), the production of ammonia fertilizer (included in the Industrial Processes section of the report), nor other elements of the food system related to transport, processing and waste.

    Zimbabwe has up to seven months' supply of grain, after drought damage: official (Reuters) - Zimbabwe has up to seven months’ supply of the staple maize after drought ravaged crops and it needs to start importing grain now to avert shortages, the secretary for agriculture said on Friday. Besides the El Niño-induced drought, Zimbabwe was also hit by a cyclone, which devastated the eastern parts of the country, sweeping away what remained of the crop in the area. Ringson Chitsiko said release of an official crop assessment report for 2019 had been delayed following the cyclone but authorities were aware of the damage caused by the drought. “We are not blind to what the situation is like out there. We have probably up to seven months supply of grain, including the strategic grain reserve,” Chitsiko told a meeting of the grain industry in the capital Harare. He declined to say how much of the maize was damaged by the cyclone, which has killed at least 185 people and left thousands homeless near the border with Mozambique. Zimbabwe’s annual maize consumption is 1.2 million tonnes and the country has 500,000 tonnes in strategic reserves. The southern African nation is also struggling to import wheat due to severe shortages of U.S. dollars. The country has one month’s supply of locally produced wheat, an industry official said. Last year Zimbabwe harvested 160,000 tonnes of wheat compared with annual consumption of 400,000 tonnes. 

     March was Australia's hottest on record, with temperatures 2C above average -An abnormally hot summer in Australia ended with the warmest March on record, new data from the Bureau of Meteorology shows. The latest monthly climate breakdown shows that despite two severe tropical cyclones in the northern states, temperatures across Australia were 2.13C above the average throughout last month in part due to an unusually dry summer in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. “One of the standout features of March was there was above-average temperatures just about everywhere; more than 99% of the country,” Blair Trewin, a senior climatologist at the bureau told Guardian Australia. “Really a few things came together: the overall, long-term background trend [of rising temperatures] means you’re starting from a higher base, which increases the probability of records. “Another major factor has been that the summer monsoon season in the tropics has been quite weak. Normally in the tropics in the summer you see fairly regular incursions of rainfall and moisture into the continent. That has been happening in Queensland but not really in Western Australia or the Northern Territory.” The record temperatures in March follow records in January, while February was in the top five on record. Last year was Australia’s third-warmest year on record. It beat out the previous third-place holder, 2017. The 2018 state of the climate report from the bureau and CSIRO found Australia was experiencing more extreme heat, longer fire seasons, rising oceans and more marine heatwaves consistent with a changing climate.

    Severe thunderstorm claims at least 35 lives, leaves more than 600 injured, Nepal - A severe thunderstorm swept through parts of southern Nepal on Sunday night, March 31, 2019, leaving at least 35 people dead and over 600 injured. Search and rescue operations are still in progress and the death toll could rise. The rain was accompanied with strong winds that destroyed homes, downed trees and powerlines and overturned cars. The worst affected was Bara District, near the border with India, a police official said. At least 28 people were killed there. The victims were either killed after getting buried under the rubble of houses and metal roofs while sleeping or due to coming in contact with live wires. The majority of over 600 injured were from Pheta and Bhupathi Bharwaliya areas in Bara. "The storm destroyed everything in its path. Houses have no roofs and trees are all down," one of the volunteers said. Search and rescue operations continue and police officials say the death toll could rise. 

    Highly unusual spring snowfall in Saudi Arabia -- Clouds began to form early Sunday over Jabal Al-Lawz in Tabuk Province and by sunset, snow covered all the area, Arab News reports. Authorities sent security patrols, civil defense and ambulances to the area as visitors rushed to witness the conditions. Climate researcher, Eid Al-Madhlaani, said it was highly unusual to see snow falling on the last day of March. Residents Nayef Al-Harby and Mohammad Al-Shammari said this was their first time to see the region covered in snow. "This is the first time we have seen the top of Jabal Al-Lawz blanketed in white, we’ve been waiting for this during the past days so we can come to enjoy the weather." — Turki (@Turki__2020) March 31, 2019    أجمل صباح والثلج يكسو الأرض  — Turki (@Turki__2020) April 1, 2019

    Hurricane Maria Study Warns: Climate-Driven Storms May Raze Many Tropical Forests - A new study shows that damage inflicted on trees in Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria was unprecedented in modern times, and suggests that more frequent big storms whipped up by a warming climate could permanently alter forests not only here, but across much of the Atlantic tropics. Biodiversity could suffer as result, and more carbon could be added to the atmosphere, say the authors. The study appears this week in the journal Nature Communications. Hurricane Maria not only destroyed far more trees than any previously studied storm; big, old trees thought to be especially resistant to storms suffered the worst. Lead author Maria Uriarte, a faculty member of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, said that because hurricanes are projected to intensify with warming climate, the damage probably presages more such events. “These hurricanes are going to kill more trees. They’re going to break more trees. The factors that protected many trees in the past will no longer apply,” she said. “Forests will become shorter and smaller, because they won’t have time to regrow, and they will be less diverse.”  When Maria hit Puerto Rico in October 2017, it came in as a Category 4, with winds up to 155 miles per hour and up to three feet of rain in places. Many trees were denuded of foliage, snapped in half or blown clear out of the ground. The strongest storm to hit the island since 1928, Maria killed or severely damaged an estimated 20 million to 40 million trees.

    Trees release flammable methane—here's what that means for climate - An expanding network of researchers has discovered methane flowing out of trees from the vast flooded forests of the Amazon basin to Borneo’s soggy peatlands, from temperate upland woods in Maryland and Hungary to forested mountain slopes in China.  Even as they strap $50,000 instruments to trees to record gas flows, more than a few of these researchers have been unable to resist using a lighter or match to produce the same blue flame that took Professor Bushong by surprise more than a century ago.  But the research now is driven by far more than novelty. Methane is second only to carbon dioxide in its importance as a greenhouse-gas emission linked to global warming. In a natural gas pipeline, methane is a relatively clean fossil fuel. But it is a powerful heat-trapping addition to the planet’s greenhouse effect when it accumulates in the atmosphere.  The gas builds up as long as new emissions outpace the rate at which natural chemical reactions in the air or some forest soils break it down (that generally takes about a decade, compared to centuries for carbon dioxide).  The main source is microbial activity in oxygen-deprived soggy soils and wetlands. (Increasingly, human-driven warming appears to be expanding wetlands, particularly in high latitudes, adding even more methane emissions.)   “The emissions from an individual tree are small,” Covey said. “But there are several trillion trees. At the global scale this could be huge.”   The findings are already challenging old norms. Dry upland forests were long assumed to be removing methane from the air through the action of a class of soil microbes called methanotrophs. But work by Megonigal and others isshowing tree emissions can diminish or possibly exceed that methane-scrubbing capacity. “The thing we know about forests is that they sequester carbon,” Covey said. “That’s what you learn, what’s in a third grader’s cartoon drawing of a forest.” The reality for climate is more complicated.

    The giant rodents eating Louisiana’s coast - Large, invasive, semi-aquatic rodents called nutria, have been chewing up the marshes for decades.  NATIVE TO SOUTH AMERICA, wild nutria established populations in Louisiana in the early 1940s after fur farms released the rodents intentionally, or the critters escaped. In the 1950s, the state encouraged the nutria to spread, to make up for the decline of the native muskrat population — the pelts of which were once the primary commodity of the local fur trade. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) argued nutria, “a docile and likeable rodent,” would be a “Godsend” for the state’s economy. Whether or not anyone actually came to like the large rodent, which, on average weighs around 14 pounds and has long orange buck teeth, LDWF was right about the economic boon: Between 1962 and 1982, hunters and trappers harvested an average 1.3 million nutria each year in the Louisiana wetlands. But a fur-market crash in the 1980s removed the incentives for trappers and left the nutria population unchecked. Initially, the state tried to save the marsh from the growing hordes of nutria by marketing the rodent as a culinary item, says Catherine Normand, a biologist at LDWF. The department enlisted celebrity chefs to create nutria recipes, and handed out samples at events along with stickers that read: “I ate nutria, and I liked it.” But the optics proved too great a hurdle. “It didn’t really take off,” says Normand, “because people can’t get over the fact that they have that long scaly tail that’s very, uh, very much like what a rat has.”  Following the nutria’s failed entry into the dining scene, LDWF tried another approach by replicating the conditions that had been keeping the nutria in check during the 60s and 70s. “They came up with the idea of essentially creating an artificial fur market,” says Normand. LDWF placed a $5 bounty on nutria and developed a system in which hunters and trappers sever the tails — which are distinctive from any other native mammals — and bring them to an assessor. Tails are also easier, Normand adds, to store in a freezer.

    Louisiana’s Disappearing Coast - Elizabeth Kolbert - Plaquemines Parish is where the Mississippi river meets the sea. On maps, it appears as a thick, muscular arm stretching into the Gulf of Mexico, with the Mississippi running, like a ropy blue vein, down the center. At the very end of the arm, the main channel divides into three, an arrangement that calls to mind fingers or claws, hence the area’s name—the Bird’s Foot. Seen from the air, the parish has a very different look. If it’s an arm, it’s a horribly emaciated one. For most of its length—more than sixty miles—it’s practically all vein. What little solid land there is clings to the river in two skinny strips. Plaquemines has the distinction—a dubious one, at best—of being among the fastest-disappearing places on Earth. Everyone who lives in the parish—and fewer and fewer people do—can point to some stretch of water that used to have a house or a hunting camp on it. This is true even of teen-agers. A few years ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officially retired thirty-one Plaquemines place-names, including Bay Jacquin and Dry Cypress Bayou, because there was no there there anymore. And what’s happening to Plaquemines is happening all along the coast. Since the days of Huey Long, Louisiana has shrunk by more than two thousand square miles. If Delaware or Rhode Island had lost that much territory, the U.S. would have only forty-nine states. Every hour and a half, Louisiana sheds another football field’s worth of land. Every few minutes, it drops a tennis court’s worth. On maps, the state may still resemble a boot. Really, though, the bottom of the boot is in tatters, missing not just a sole but also its heel and a good part of its instep.

    Large parts of the East Coast are one ‘perfect storm’ away from being cut off from Canada - John Atkinson stands atop an aging dike, with the rising tides of the Bay of Fundy before him and family farmland behind, imagining the storm that could turn Nova Scotia into a virtual island.“The water can go over this whole flat marsh,” said the 67-year-old landowner, gesturing to the grassy lands near Amherst. This is a potential ground zero of a Canadian climate change disaster, where sea-level communities face rising oceans and await word on a detailed plan and the funding to keep the narrow land link between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick open.The risk isn’t decades away.Rather, the event could occur at any time through a combination of stormy weather conditions, according to emergency officials and coastal geographers watching the area. “The fact is that the right storm occurring at any spring tide at any time of year would be sufficient to put water over our dikes,” explains Jeff Ollerhead, who teaches coastal geography at Mount Allison University in nearby Sackville, N.B.  Over the past 69 years, the sea level at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy has risen about 38 centimetres, even as the dikes and coastal land continue to subside.The trend will accelerate under most international climate change scenarios, adding a third of a metre to water heights by 2050, according to studies. Meanwhile, the frequency of hurricanes and tropical storms have tripled here over the past 25 years compared to the past century, according to a 2011 study.

    Lord Howe Island coral bleaching 'most severe we've ever seen', scientists say - Researchers have documented what they are describing as the most severe coral bleaching to hit the world’s southern-most reef at Lord Howe Island. Scientists from Newcastle University, James Cook University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have spent the past two weeks surveying corals around the island in the far south Pacific Ocean after they were alerted to bleaching in isolated areas. Bill Leggat, a coral biologist at Newcastle University, said the worst of the bleaching was in shallow water closer to the shoreline. “It’s quite variable but where it’s severe it is actually quite severe,” he said. “Some of the sites are looking at 80-90% bleaching going very close inshore.” Other reef sites the scientists surveyed showed bleaching levels of 50%, 30% and some areas with as little as 5% bleaching. Lord Howe Island was named a Unesco world heritage site in 1982. It is habitat for species that are found nowhere else on earth. The bleaching has occurred over the past summer, with March the peak month of the year for coral bleaching due to warmer ocean temperatures. Scientists have documented three bleaching events at Lord Howe Island in the past but it has been some years since it last occurred. 

    ‘Dead Corals Don’t Make Babies’: New Great Barrier Reef Coral Growth Declined 89% After Back-to-Back Bleaching Events The back-to-back coral bleaching events that damaged two-thirds of Australia's Great Barrier Reef in 2016 and 2017 have had a lasting impact on the health of the largest living structure on earth.A study published in Nature Wednesday found that the death of corals in 2016 and 2017 has significantly decreased the ability of new corals to grow and thrive. In 2018, there has been an 89 percent decline in the number of new corals on the reef compared to the historic record."Dead corals don't make babies," lead author and James Cook University professor Terry Hughes said, asBBC News reported. The researchers, from the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in Australia, were surprised by the extent of the decline in new corals. It was the first time they had observed such a decline on the reef."We thought the Barrier Reef was too big to fail," ARC chief investigator Andrew Baird told The New York Times, "but it's not."Baird added that the study was the first to document the collapse of the processes of an ocean ecosystem.Bleaching occurs when warm water forces corals to expel the algae that gives them color and nutrients. Reefs can recover from such events, but it takes about a decade. The Great Barrier Reef has suffered four since 1998 and, if greenhouse gas emissions continue at current levels, there could be two bleaching events every decade beginning in 2035.The extent of the most recent bleaching events — covering 900 miles of reef — also made it harder for baby corals to replenish impacted coral populations, BBC News explained. "Babies can travel over vast distances, and if one reef is knocked out, there are usually plenty of adults in another reef to provide juveniles," Baird told BBC News. "Now, the scale of mortality is such that there's nothing left to replenish the reef."

    The Ocean’s Tipping Point Has Been Reached - The ocean is the backbone of our planet, and just because much of it is unseen to us land-living humans, it does not mean that it’s not important every day. It has done an amazing job at being a sponge for human-created emissions.” The problem is the ocean is so vast, and it has done an amazing job at being a sponge for human-created emissions. But it needs to be reiterated that the ocean is in danger. The impacts of climate change and illegal, unregulated, and unreported fisheries are the main challenges that the ocean faces. Ghost fishing gear — items that have been lost, abandoned, or disposed of — continue to catch marine organisms. More recently, plastic has emerged as a visible sign of ocean pollution. Plastic is not the biggest issue facing the ocean, but it is a useful way to get people to see that there are problems. The consequences of these factors are not always obvious to the casual observer, but they are igniting long-term, chronic impacts. There’s also a tragedy of the commons because there’s not one group responsible for the ocean, beyond national boundaries. What many people fail to understand is that all of our marine areas are connected. The ocean drives many of the planet’s processes. For example, only a tiny proportion of the human population will ever get to go to Antarctica, but its cold waters positively affect the entire planet. Antarctic bottom water acts as an underwater conveyor belt that brings nutrients to the tropics in upwelling water, sustaining vast marine populations, which in turn sustain a large number of human populations.

    A glacier the size of Florida is on track to change the course of human civilization - Thwaites glacier in West Antarctica is enormous and is often referred to as the most dangerous glacier on Earth. It has also been dubbed the doomsday glacier. The glacier holds two feet of sea level but more importantly, it is the “backstop” for four other glaciers which holds an additional 10-13 feet of sea level rise. When Thwaites collapses it will take most of West Antarctica with it. According to researchers at the University of Washington in 2014, Thwaites is already collapsing. “The simulations indicate that early-stage collapse has begun,” notes their paper. What’s more, the Thwaites Glacier is a “linchpin” for the rest of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet; its rapid collapse would “probably spill over to adjacent catchments, undermining much of West Antarctica.”  NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory made news this past January by revealing that there is a massive cavity carved in the underbelly of the glacier due to warm ocean water raising alarms that the chunk of ice could collapse and disintegrate the ice shelf. It reportedly has an area the size of two-thirds of a Manhattan and, it as tall as a ten story building, at 1000 feet. The newfound hole had held fourteen billion tons of ice and, NASA observed that the horrifying melt and decay was not there just three short years ago. But that was just one of the terrors that the satellites found, it confirmed fears that “Thwaites was not attached to the bedrock”.  Many Antarctic glaciers extend for miles beyond their grounding lines, floating out over the open ocean. Just as a grounded boat can float again when the weight of its cargo is removed, a glacier that loses ice weight can float over land where it used to stick. When this happens, the grounding line retreats inland. That exposes more of a glacier’s underside to seawater, increasing the likelihood its melt rate will accelerate.

    PIOMAS April 2019 - Arctic Sea Ice by Neven - (graphics) Another month has passed and so here is the updated Arctic sea ice volume graph as calculated by the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS) at the Polar Science Center:  Look at the red line in the graph above. Do you see it essentially flatline towards the end of March? That's the primary cause for 2019 smashing the record for lowest March volume increase in the 2007-2019 period (and probably before that as well). The March average for that period was 1869 km3, the record was 1557 km3 (March 2015), and this year's March came in at 1339 km3. 2019 went from 7th to 4th place in the rankings, with 2011 just 89 km3 lower and a gap with leader 2017 that went down from 2279 km3 to 1834 km3. Here's how the differences with previous years have evolved from last month: Wipneus' version of the PIOMAS graph shows that 2019 still has some ways to go to catch up with 2017 (that went extremely low because of a horror winter, but luckily bounced up again during spring and early summer).  The anomaly trend line on the PIOMAS volume anomaly graph has gone down a bit again, leaving two standard deviation territory:  The volume flatline during the second half of March was accompanied by a steep drop in sea ice extent, so steep, in fact, that JAXA SIE is currently lowest on record. When extent goes down faster than volume during this time of year, Arctic-wide average thickness will automatically go up a bit faster, because the volume is spread over a smaller sea ice pack.This can clearly be seen on the PIJAMAS average thickness graph (crudely calculated by dividing PIOMAS volume numbers with JAXA extent), where 2019 actually creeps up above the centre pack:

    The transpolar drift is faltering—sea ice is now melting before it can leave the nursery - The dramatic loss of ice in the Arctic is influencing sea-ice transport across the Arctic Ocean. As experts from the AHelmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research report in a new study, today only 20 percent of the sea ice that forms in the shallow Russian marginal seas of the Arctic Ocean actually reaches the Central Arctic, where it joins the transpolar drift; the remaining 80 percent of the young ice melts before it has a chance to leave its "nursery." Before 2000, that number was only 50 percent. According to the researchers, this development not only takes the planet one step closer to an ice-free summer in the Arctic; as the sea ice dwindles, the Arctic Ocean stands to lose an important means of transporting nutrients, algae and sediments. The new study will be released as a freely accessible Open Access article in the online journal Scientific Reports on 2 April 2019. The shallow Russian shelf or marginal seas of the Arctic Ocean are broadly considered to be the "nursery" of Arctic sea ice: In winter, the Barents Sea, Kara Sea, Laptev Sea and East Siberian Sea constantly produce new sea ice. This is due to extremely low air temperatures down to minus 40 degrees Celsius, and a strong offshore wind that drives the young ice out to the open sea. In the course of the winter, the sea ice is eventually caught up in the transpolar drift, one of the two main currents in the Arctic Ocean. In two to three years' time, it transports the ice floes from the Siberian part of the Arctic Ocean across the Central Arctic, and into the Fram Strait, where it finally melts. Two decades ago, roughly half the ice from Russia's shelf seas made this transarctic journey. Today, only 20 percent does; the other 80 percent of the young ice melts before it can become a year old and reach the Central Arctic.

    Canada warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, report says - Canada is warming on average at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the world, a new scientific report indicates. The federal government climate report also warns that changes are already evident in many parts of the country and are projected to intensify. Canada's Arctic has seen the deepest impact and will continue to warm at more than double the global rate. The report suggests that many of the effects already seen are probably irreversible. Canada's annual average temperature has warmed by an estimated 1.7C (3F) since 1948, when nationwide temperatures were first recorded. The largest temperature increases have been seen in the North, the Prairies, and in northern British Columbia. Annual average temperature in northern Canada increased by approximately 2.3C. "While both human activities and natural variations in the climate have contributed to the observed warming in Canada, the human factor is dominant," the report states. "It is likely that more than half of the observed warming in Canada is due to the influence of human activities."

    Report on devastating Canadian climate change a far bigger issue than Jody Wilson-Raybould: Government scientists have produced a new report on climate change in Canada, and it's beyond grim. The details trigger thoughts of hoarding and maybe selling the house and moving to higher ground. To a millennial, the findings should inspire naked fear.Among other things, the report, which is scheduled to be released Tuesday, says: Canada's climate has been warming at roughly twice the rate of the rest of the world. In Northern Canada, it's even higher.And, says the report, there is simply no doubt about the cause. Climate change-skeptic conservatives will, of course, disagree, but here is what the scientists say:"Canada's climate has warmed and will warm further in the future, driven by human influence. Both past and future warming in Canada is, on average, about double the magnitude of global warming." Our climate is not warming consistently. It is most pronounced in the Prairies and British Columbia, and especially severe in northern B.C. The effects are strongest in winter. It is effectively irreversible. The antidote prescribed in the report is politically impossible, at least right now: "Scenarios with limited warming will only occur if Canada and the rest of the world reduce carbon emissions to near zero early in the second half of the century." The scientists predict an eventual increase in "annual average country-wide temperature" of about two degrees Celsius, a rate that will remain steady after mid-century. They say the increase could be as severe as six degrees. The oceans around Canada have become more acidic and less oxygenated. Future warming will be heaviest in ice-free waters of the Canadian arctic. Most Canadians can expect coastal flooding to increase during their lifetimes.

    Climate change could melt decades worth of human poop at Denali National Park in Alaska - There’s good news and bad news at Denali, North America’s tallest mountain. The bad news is that the 66 tons of frozen feces left by climbers on the Alaska summit is expected to start melting out of the glacier sometime in the coming decades and potentially as soon as this summer, a process that’s speeding up in part due to global warming. The good news is that this year, for the first time, the guide companies that lead many of the 1,200 climbers who attempt the summit each year have voluntarily decided to start packing out their human waste. This comes just a year after the National Park Service instituted a policy that all such waste below 14,000 feet must be carried off the mountain. “Climbers and particularly guide services are really embracing the new policy and are even exceeding it. It has become kind of an informal badge of merit to carry off all your waste,” said Michael Loso, a National Park Service glaciologist who’s been studying the problem of climber excrement on the mountain for close to a decade. Denali is a majestic mountain about five hours north of Anchorage, Alaska. At 20,300 feet, it's visible from the city on clear days. It's one of the Seven Summits, the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. Conquering them all is considered a major mountaineering challenge in the climbing world.

    Earth's carbon dioxide levels highest in 3 million years, study says -- Carbon dioxide – the gas scientists say is most responsible for global warming – has reached levels in our atmosphere not seen in 3 million years, scientists announced this week in a new study. At that time, sea levels were as much as 65 feet higher than they are now, Greenland was mostly green and Antarctica had trees.“It seems we’re now pushing our home planet beyond any climatic conditions experienced during the entire current geological period, the Quaternary,” said study lead author Matteo Willeit of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “A period that started almost 3 million years ago and saw human civilization beginning only 11,000 years ago. So, the modern climate change we see is big, really big; even by standards of Earth history.”Emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from human activities are the primary reason for climate change.Willeit and his colleagues used sophisticated computer simulations of Earth's past climate to reach their conclusion. He said his team compared their results with hard data from the deep sea, which matched what the computers said.Today, CO2 levels measure over 410 parts per million. While that may not sound like a huge amount, scientists have known for decades that even trace amounts in the atmosphere can raise temperatures around the world. The burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas releases greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane into Earth's atmosphere and oceans.  The extra CO2 caused temperatures to rise to levels that cannot be explained by natural factors, scientists report. In the past 20 years, the world's temperature has risen about two-thirds of a degree Fahrenheit, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

    CO2 Levels Are Now at a 3 Million-Year High -- There is likely more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than at any other time in the last three million years. That is the conclusion reinforced by a study published in Science Advances Wednesday. Researchers at thePotsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany succeeded for the first time in creating a computer simulation of the climate over the past three million years that matched data taken from sediment from the ocean floor. The model showed that carbon-dioxide levels played a major role in shaping climate during that period — but in the reverse of their impact today. Lower levels of the greenhouse gas were a major factor in the onset of ice ages. "We know from the analysis of sediments on the bottom of our seas about past ocean temperatures and ice volumes, but so far the role of CO2 changes in shaping the glacial cycles has not been fully understood," lead study author Matteo Willeit of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said in a press release. "It is a breakthrough that we can now show in computer simulations that changes in CO2 levels were a main driver of the ice ages."  During the period modeled in the simulation, global temperatures never rose above pre-industrial levels by more than two degrees Celsius. However, if humans continue to burn fossil fuels at current rates, they will shoot past that marker within 50 years, with major consequences. Willeit told CNN that the models showed that carbon dioxide levels would not be more than 280 parts per million (ppm) today if human activity had not intervened in natural climate cycles. Instead, they are at around 410 ppm. On the same day that the Science Advances study was released, scientists met at the Royal Meteorological Society in London to discuss what the earth was like the last time carbon dioxide levels were so high. That was 5.3 to 2.6 million years ago during the Pliocene epoch, when beech trees grew in Antarctica, temperatures were three to four degrees Celsius warmer and sea levels were 20 meters (approximately 65.6 feet) higher.

    How humans derailed the Earth’s climate in just 160 years -- For 11,500 years, atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations hovered around 280 ppm (the preindustrial “normal”), with an average surface temperature around 15°C. Since the Industrial Revolution, this level has been rising continuously, reaching 410 ppm in 2018. The geosciences, with their focus on timescales up to billions of years, are uniquely equipped to make extremely clear how abruptly industrial societies have changed and are changing the Earth’s climate.  The main engine of Earth’s climate is the sun. Our star delivers an average surface power of 342 W/m2 per year (roughly that of a hairdryer for each square meter of the planet). Earth absorbs about 70% of this and reflects the rest. If this were the only climate mechanism, the average temperature would be -15°C (below the freezing point of water, 0°C). Life would likely be impossible. Fortunately, some of the absorbed energy is re-emitted as infrared radiation, which, unlike visible light, interacts with the greenhouse gases (GHGs) present in the atmosphere to radiate heat back toward Earth’s surface. This greenhouse effect currently maintains our average temperature around 15°C. The primary GHGs are water vapour and the much-debated CO2. Carbon dioxide contributes up to 30% of the total greenhouse effect, water vapour provides about 70%. CO2, though, has overall warming power that water vapour doesn’t. Water vapour in the atmosphere has a very short residence time (from hours to days) and its concentration can increase only if temperature increases. CO2 lingers in the atmosphere for 100 years and its concentration is not solely controlled by temperature. CO2 is thus able to trigger warming: if CO2 concentration increases, the average temperature, regardless of its own trend, will increase.

    Fed Official: Climate Change is an ‘International Market Failure’ -- A Federal Reserve researcher warned in a report on Monday that “climate-based risk could threaten the stability of the financial system as a whole.” But possible fixes — using the Fed’s buying power to green the economy — are currently against the law.  Glenn Rudebusch, the San Francisco Fed’s executive vice president for research, ranks climate change as one of the three “key forces transforming the economy,” along with an aging population and rapid advances in technology. Climate change could soon hit the banking system “by storms, droughts, wildfires, and other extreme events” making it harder for businesses to repay loans. Rudebusch warns that crops and inundated cities have already started to hurt the economy: “Economists view these losses as the result of a fundamental market failure: carbon fuel prices do not properly account for climate change costs,” he writes. “Businesses and households that produce greenhouse gas emissions, say, by driving cars or generating electricity, do not pay for the losses and damage caused by that pollution.” A hefty carbon tax alone wouldn’t be enough to fix the problem — what he calls an “intergenerational and international market failure.” Since Congress has yet to take sufficient action, Rudebusch says that the Fed could, in theory, take matters into its own hands by encouraging a shift away from fossil fuels. The problem is, the Fed’s only official job is to keep inflation tame and unemployment low. And its tools are limited to buying and selling government debt to tweak interest rates. That means it can’t help companies make a shift to a low-carbon economy by, for instance, lending them money in the bond market. By contrast, the European Central Bank has been buying “green” bonds since 2016. An ECB research note last July found that those purchases have helped boost the market for these kind of investments, helping spur environmental improvements. Along with a report last week from the insurance industry saying that climate change could eventually make insurance unaffordable for most people, Rudebusch’s report is part of a growing body of evidence that climate change poses an existential threat to the world economy as it currently exists.

    Study Blames White American's Diet For Climate Change - A study has suggested Caucasian Americans’ diet is contributing significantly more to climate change than the diets of other demographic groups in the country. The study, published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, said white people contributed the most to greenhouse gas emissions, at 680 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent annually, but added that the Black demographic had the highest contribution to land impacts related to food. The study set out to “fill in the gaps” in research about how various dietary habits affect the environment along the whole supply chain from land resources to water and energy. It focused on three demographic groups—White, non-Hispanic Back, and Latino—since they represent 92.4 percent of the U.S. population and looked into their eating habits to glean some insight into the relation between these habits and what it calls the food-energy-water nexis. The study’s authors note that the White population, as portion of the U.S. total, was 61.3 percent, with Latinx—a term the authors of the study call intersectional and non-binary to reflect the latest term trends in social sciences—accounting for 17.8 percent and the Black population accounting for 13.3 percent. In light of these proportions it’s hardly surprising the White population’s diet was a greater contributor to climate change in terms of greenhouse emissions. However, the study also suggested that the White group’s diet was a greater contributor to climate change because of its higher consumption of what the authors call “environmentally intense” food items. “Results indicate that Whites tend to consume the highest rates of environmentally intense food items, except for the apples food item, when compared to their Black and Latinx counterparts,” the authors wrote. “Comparing Whites to Latinx, Whites consume significantly more than Latinx for five of the seven environmentally intense food items. This pattern remains the same for beef meat although the difference between Whites and Latinx beef meat is marginally significant.”

    What If "Toxic Masculinity" Is The Reason For Climate Change? -- When a person walks out of the grocery store holding an eco-friendly canvas bag instead of a plastic bag, what gender do you think they are? Most likely, your unconscious bias answers that they are female. This is the type of answer Dr. Aaron Brough of Utah State University is trying to get to the bottom of through his research. Brough co-authored a paper with professors from four other universities to understand how gender norms affect sustainable decision making. They report data from seven experiments that included over 2,000 participants from the US and China. What they found was remarkable. They found that both men and women associated doing something good for the environment with being “more feminine.” And when men’s gender identity was threatened, they tried to reassert their masculinity through environmentally damaging choices. The report states that “men may be motivated to avoid or even oppose green behaviors in order to safeguard their gender identity.” This unearths a deeply held unconscious bias that Brough and team call the “Green-Feminine Stereotype.” Once this unconscious bias is revealed, it has the potential to help society shift our increasingly precarious relationship with the environment for the better. If it remains hidden, it has the potential to greatly damage our environment permanently.

    Trump campaign seeks a list of ‘climate change victories’ to tout on 2020 trail -  The Trump campaign is seeking a list of “climate change victories” that can be attributed to Donald Trump’s presidency, reflecting a shift in strategy ahead of the 2020 election as polls show growing voter concern over global warming, two sources familiar with the campaign told McClatchy this week. Their quest comes as the Trump administration considers whether to establish a presidential committee on climate security that would include longtime skeptics of the dangers of climate change. The purpose of that panel would be to scrutinize the most recent national climate assessment, a comprehensive document vetted by 13 government agencies forecasting economic and national security perils in store for a warming Earth. The two-pronged campaign strategy – both to defend the administration’s approach to climate change while simultaneously casting doubt on the extent of the threat – is intended to address a substantial political divide within the Republican Party over the seriousness of the problem, the role of human activities and what can be done about it. White House officials have liaised with the Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of the campaign seeking a concrete list of accomplishments, according to one source. And campaign officials are encouraging the president to begin racking up visible environmental victories specific to battleground states, such as Michigan and Florida, critical to Trump’s reelection bid and where climate change has increased in importance to voters. 

    Ocasio-Cortez slams critics who would wait on climate action as having 'privileged and removed-from-reality attitude' - Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez appeared in a MSNBC town hall on Friday and forcefully defended her Green New Deal and called climate change "our greatest existential threat." "We don't have time for five years of a half-baked, watered-down position," Ocasio-Cortez said during the "All In" town hall hosted by MSNBC's Chris Hayes. "This is urgent, and to think we have time is such a privileged and removed-from-reality attitude." Ocasio-Cortez championed the Green New Deal with Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. The ambitious proposal to fight climate change came up for vote Tuesday in the GOP-controlled Senate but failed to advance. Even some Democrats in Congress have sought to distance themselves from the Green New Deal. Republicans, meantime, are trying to turn the progressive plan into a wedge issue in the 2020 elections. She said the Green New Deal was intentionally written for the American people and not necessarily for her congressional colleagues. "This is not a partisan issue, because there are Democrats who will get in the way of us saving ourselves," Ocasio-Cortez told to the town hall audience at the Albert Einstein Medical Center in the Bronx. "We encourage everyone here to look it up. I'm here not to convince my colleagues, but the electorate." According to Ocasio-Cortez, if the American voters end up making the plan a priority or show overwhelming support for it, then there's "political room to pass it." "A lot of what the Green New Deal is, is about shifting our political, economic and social paradigm on every issue," she said. "Because we don't have time to wait." The Green New Deal includes a series of goals for fighting climate change and pollution as well as calling for economic and social justice reforms. "This issue is not just about our climate," said the 29-year-old lawmaker. She said there's "runaway income equality" and the economy isn't producing and innovating like it needs to be for the American people. Also, she said it was important to transition away from fossil fuel jobs to new energy jobs as part of a shift in the economy to help fight climate change.

    Republican who wants to ban the EPA just pitched an alternative to Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal -- A freshman House Republican known for his bill to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency and allegedly intimidating former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen is seeking a new claim to fame: the party's leading voice on addressing climate change. Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida on Wednesday unveiled the framework for his Green Real Deal, a rebuttal to the Green New Deal proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat representing part of New York City.The plan outlined by Gaetz calls for tackling climate change by trimming regulation, supporting clean energy innovation and addressing alleged Chinese intellectual property theft. In pitching the plan, the lawmaker issued a challenge to the many climate-change deniers in his party and Democrats such as Ocasio-Cortez who risk alienating moderate voters with ambitious proposals.  "History will judge harshly my Republican colleagues who deny the science of climate change," Gaetz said during a press conference. "Similarly those Democrats who would use climate change as a basis to regulate out of existence the American experience will face the harsh reality that their ideas will fail." Gaetz's Green Real Deal — distinct from a plan of the same nameproposed by former Energy Department officials — includes four major platforms to spur innovation.First, it would expand efforts to protect U.S. intellectual property to prevent foreign countries, particularly China, from replicating and reproducing future American clean energy advancements.The plan also calls for modernizing the U.S. electric grid to allow more renewable power to flow through the system. The final two pillars call for opening federal lands for renewable energy research and development and aligning policies and regulations to more quickly bring to market advanced nuclear reactors, carbon capture technology and hydropower projects.Gaetz's proposal is one of several alternatives to the Green New Deal. It most closely aligns with a 10-point plan proposed by Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. Positioned as a "new Manhattan Project for clean energy," Alexander's plan calls for ramping up research and development into new technologies.

    A New Constitution for the UK Needs ‘Rights of Nature’ at Its Heart --Human rights are well established in constitutional and international law. But in the face of dangerous climate change and ecosystem collapse, do we need ‘rights of nature’?Brexit has triggered a near complete breakdown in parliamentary government as discord and chaos reign within and between parties, as well as between executive (government) and legislature (House of Commons). It has brought the legislative work of Parliament to a halt and exposed the abject failure of our uncodified constitution to protect our rights, challenge an over powerful executive, and give clear guidance in the face of political deadlock. The celebrated flexibility of our ‘unwritten constitution’ where we “make up the rules as we go along” has led us up a blind alley, with seemingly no way back.Brexit is a full blown constitutional crisis. But there is a convergence with another seemingly unrelated but greater crisis bearing down on us: dangerous climate breakdown. Climate change has moved from an abstraction presented in graphs and bar charts to the visible, anxious face of schoolchildren demanding why their parents’ generation and politicians have done nothing to protect their future and that of the planet. The School Strike for Climate and Extinction Rebellion movement have joined a well-established movement of climate change activism; and their message has been given added force by the most recent U.N. report which has warned us that we have only 12 years to avert climate catastrophe.  It is the intersection between these two crises which demands whole scale system change, not merely a change of government or incremental democratic reform. In short, a rapid transfer to a zero carbon economy must be accompanied by a constitutional revolution that entrenches ‘rights of nature’ at its heart. Is this possible?

    Naked Climate Change Protesters Gatecrash Commons Brexit Debate - Just when we thought the ongoing Brexit drama couldn't get any more undignified, a troupe of naked protesters have materialized in the Commons gallery to demand MPs act at once to fight climate change.Perhaps they haven't read the paper lately, but the Commons has been somewhat preoccupied as of late. And no, this doesn't appear to be some kind of April Fools prank.Police are reportedly removing the protesters one by one, while those who remain are pressing their bare buttcheeks against the chamber's soundproof glass, with slogans apparently written in marker or body paint spread across their backs.Speaker Bercow ordered that debate ahead of Monday's second indicative vote proceed normally, as guests in the public gallery were treated to an, um, full-frontal view. One Brexit reporter who missed the spectacle pointed out a bitter irony. I’m told there are naked people in the Commons chamber but I don’t have a jacket so I can’t go and look. #2019— Sam Coates Times (@SamCoatesTimes) April 1, 2019 The Guardian's Jessica Elgot chronicled the incident on her twitter feed as police carried the protesters out of the chamber. 12 topless climate protesters are in the public gallery - House of Commons in hysterics during Peter kyle’s speech — Jessica Elgot (@jessicaelgot) April 1, 2019 Protesters are pressing their bare buttocks against the glass in the public gallery. Speaker letting debate continue as normal. — Jessica Elgot (@jessicaelgot) April 1, 2019 Climate protesters now tentatively turning round but balance is a bit difficult — Jessica Elgot (@jessicaelgot) April 1, 2019

    If it’s Friday, here’s what young climate change activists worldwide are up to -  A rapidly growing student movement to stand up against damage connected to climate change is a direct result of the failure by older generations to protect the future, so time’s up.  Luisa Neubauer, a 22-year-old geology student in Goettingen, is the chief organizer of protests in Germany, and among the hordes of students in many countries holding weekly demonstrations each Friday to pressure government officials and businesses to do more to curtail harmful greenhouse gas emissions.“It’s the right time and the right place,” she said in an interview. “We’ve found a way to express our anger and frustration about the way people in charge now are threatening our future.” Similarly, young protesters involved with the Fridays For Future movement have touched nerves in other countries across Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and the Americas with their demonstrations — standing up and boldly taking on leading politicians, industrialists and assorted naysayers.The #FridaysForFuture website said 1.6 million students were taking part in demonstrations on March 15 at more than 2,000 locations in 125 countries.The demonstrations that caught on in Germany originated in Sweden in August with then-15-year-old Greta Thunberg, a climate activist who has been staging school strikes on Fridays in front of the parliament building in Stockholm. Thunberg, who is now 16 and expected to attend Friday’s rally in Berlin, has emerged as a global poster child for the movement with a brief but powerful speech in December bluntly shaming climate negotiators at a United Nations conference in Katowice, Poland.“You say you love your children above all else and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes,” Thunberg said. “Until you start focusing on what needs to be done instead of what is politically possible, there is no hope. We cannot solve the crisis without treating it as a crisis.” 

    UK Government to Announce New Energy Policies - Amidst Brexit chaos, the Prime Minister will today introduce a white paper to Parliament  detailing the Government’s new energy strategy. Stunned by criticism that she has failed to listen, the new policies will take full cognisance of the concerns recently raised by striking school children. The new policy has 4 main strands. The Downing Street press release is below the fold. [BEGINS] In view of the grave concerns raised by 5 to 17 year old children on the impact of CO2 on Earth’s climate, Her Majesty’s government will today introduce legislation that will address the most pressing issue of our times, namely CO2 emissions and the ensuing climate mayhem that they cause (Exhibit 1, Appendix 1). CO2 has risen to record levels from 0.0280% (pre-industrial) to 0.0405% today (see endnote 1). The new energy policy has four main strands:

    • 1. Adult only flights. As of 1 January 2020 juveniles below the age of 18 will no longer be allowed to fly on commercial flights within the UK and between the UK and foreign destinations. A reciprocal arrangement will apply to incoming flights that will not be allowed to land on British soil if there are juveniles on board.  What is the point in wrecking Earth’s climate to go and gaze at the Eiffel Tower or to go visit Euro Disney when an equally enjoyable time can be had at our home grown attractions of the Blackpool Tower and Center Parcs (Figures 1 and 2).
    • 2. An end to North Sea Ferries.  The government is often accused of lacking foresight and we wish to stress that we are smart enough to recognise that selfish polluting families may simply try to avoid the adult only flight policy by using car ferries instead. The government sees no way of tackling this problem other than to close down all ferry services between the UK and mainland Europe, the Island of Ireland and all other destinations.The activity of transporting a two tonne SUV on board a ship running on filthy dirty bunker fuel needs to be consigned to history. The idea of families boarding a ship to simply drive around Europe looking at stuff, while wrecking Earth’s climate, needs to be stopped.
    • 3. An end to driving to School With immediate effect, the UK Government is to introduce a ban on children being driven to school by their parents in petrol or diesel cars. We will continue to allow children of very wealthy families to be driven to school in all-electric vehicles. Hybrid plugin electric vehicles will not face an immediate ban but will be phased out over three years.
    • 4. Phasing out of gas or oil heating systems in schools. In keeping with the recently announced policy of the Dutch Government to phase out natural gas all togetherand the allied UK policy of ceasing to build homes with gas central heating, the government will bring forward a bill to phase out gas or oil heating systems in all our schools by 2022. Schools will instead by obliged to install all-electric heating that runs exclusively on in-situ, off-grid, renewable energy systems. Using the latest SMART technology it is anticipated that this should be simple and straightforward to achieve.

    ‘AOC sucks!’: Donald Trump Jr. points his father’s followers to a new villain, and a new rallying cry   - At President Trump’s first rally since the end of the 22-month Russia investigation, his supporters shouted about a woman who is guaranteed not to feature opposite him on the ballot in 2020. She’s a Democrat, elected to Congress from New York. It wasn’t only Hillary Clinton — Trump’s adversary since 2016, and the GOP’s since the 1990s — who was irking the crowd in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Thursday. Their calls to “Lock her up!” had quieted. It was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — the 29-year-old freshman congresswoman whose social-media megaphone has rallied left-wing Democrats and rocketed her to national stardom — whose name was on their lips. Or, for brevity, AOC. “AOC sucks!” they cried, breaking into the crude refrain as the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., assailed Ocasio-Cortez in warm-up remarks for his father. “Think about the fact that every mainstream, leading Democratic contender is taking the advice of a freshman congresswoman who three weeks ago didn’t know the three branches of government,” the president’s adult son said, referring to the enthusiasm with which Democratic presidential aspirants have embraced the Green New Deal, the climate plan sponsored by Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.). “I don’t know about you guys, but that’s pretty scary.” He looked down at his notes to continue, but when he heard the chant, he paused to take it in, his face breaking into a broad grin as he gazed out at the crowd and nodded. “You guys, you’re not very nice,” he said, pretending to admonish the audience. “And neither is what that policy would do to this country.” The chant reverberated at the Trump rally as a possible catchphrase for 2020, swapping out one female villain for another. It testified to the first-term congresswoman’s rapid ascent to GOP public enemy No. 1, a position that took Clinton slightly longer to reach. 

    Clean energy and climate change are helping Big Oil, Goldman Sachs says - The push towards decarbonization is creating barriers to entry in the oil industry, making major oil players – known as "Big Oils" -- more profitable, Goldman Sachs' head of EMEA Natural Resources Research, told CNBC. "The decarbonization push, the push from the market to adapt to climate change, is tightening the financial conditions in the sector so much that we're recreating the barriers to entry and we're reconsolidating the market structure we lost at the beginning of the 2000s," Michele Della Vigna told CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe" on Wednesday. "Therefore, we're recreating the high profitability that Big Oils use to enjoy and completely lost when everybody – (such as) E&Ps (exploration and production companies) and national oil companies -- were financed to do anything, anywhere in oil and gas," Della Vigna noted. The global trend toward cleaner energy is clearly seen as a long-term headwind for the oil industry but experts like Della Vigna note that demand for oil remains robust, particularly among developing economies. "We hear a lot of stories of long-term substitution of oil demand with electricity but it's going to take a long time. And in the meantime, demand remains robust, particularly in the emerging markets which continue to buy a lot of crude." Goldman Sachs released equity research on energy assets in March which it said showed "tangible evidence that decarbonization is transforming the structure of the energy market into a concentrated industry with high barriers to entry through tightening funding and rising risk premium." "Big Oils" refer to the world's largest publicly traded oil companies such as Shell, BP, Total, ENI and ExxonMobil (among others). These companies benefit from a limited amount of competition in the industry, or what Goldman characterized as "the restoration of the industry's oligopolistic market structure." "Attractive returns is happening at an even faster pace than we expected. Over the last five years, Big Oils have doubled their market share in long-cycle developments and U.S. shale oil, re-establishing the attractive returns that were lost during the oil & gas revolutions of the 2000s spawned by National Oil Companies and shale."

    Huge Global Study Just Smashed One of The Last Major Arguments Against Renewables - We just got some massive news in the ongoing drive to switch to renewable energy: scientists have identified 530,000 sites worldwide suitable for pumped-hydro energy storage, capable of storing more than enough energy to power the entire planet.Pumped-hydro is one of the best technologies we have for storing intermittent renewable energy, such as solar power, which means these sites could act as giant batteries, helping to support cheap, fully renewable power grids.As of now the sites have only been identified by an algorithm, so further on-the-ground research needs to be done. But it was previously assumed there were only limited suitable sites around the world, and that we wouldn't be able to store enough renewable energy for high-demand times – which this study shows isn't the case at all.Added together, these hundreds of thousands of sites have the potential to store around 22 million Gigawatt-hours (GWh) of energy. It's more than enough to get the entire planet running on renewables, which is where we want to get to."Only a small fraction of the 530,000 potential sites we've identified would be needed to support a 100 percent renewable global electricity system," says one of the researchers involved in the survey, Matthew Stocks from the Australian National University (ANU)."We identified so many potential sites that much less than the best 1 percent will be required. The perception has been there are limited sites for pumped hydro around the world, but we have found hundreds of thousands." The sites identified would rely mainly on solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind power to pump water uphill when the renewables are plentiful. When energy is needed, the water will be released and pulled down by gravity to drive turbines and generate electricity. No fossil fuels are released in this process.

    Trump claims wind turbine 'noise causes cancer - 'President Trump on Tuesday stepped up his attacks against wind power, claiming that the structures decrease property values and that the noise they emit causes cancer.“If you have a windmill anywhere near your house, congratulations, your house just went down 75 percent in value. And they say the noise causes cancer,” the president said while delivering remarks at the National Republican Congressional Committee's annual spring dinner. He offered no evidence to support the claim.  The president also said wind turbines are a "graveyard for birds."“If you love birds, you never want to walk under a windmill, because it’s a sad, sad sight," he said, though the Department of Energy has noted that bird deaths from the structures are rare.   Trump was making the comments while talking about his 2016 presidential opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who had proposed investing in wind power to lower carbon emissions.Trump has previously voiced his disapproval of wind power. He said at a rally in Michigan last month that wind power doesn't work because the wind doesn't always blow. "If it doesn't blow, you can forget about television for that night," Trump said.

    Trump says wind power doesn't work because 'it only blows sometimes' -  President Trump  late Wednesday repeated his opposition to wind power, pushing a misleading claim that it would not work as an energy source because the wind “only blows sometimes.”The president made the comments during a phone interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity, as part of his remarks on how his presidency has been “tougher … on Russia” than any other past presidents. “It's what we have done with energy and oil and gas. That's all competition from, for Russia,” Trump said. “You look at the Ukraine. You look at so many different levels. You look at our military.” “You look at the fact that we would have been powered by wind, which wouldn’t have worked by the way because it only blows sometimes and lots of problems come about.”

    Sen. Grassley: Trump's remarks on wind energy are 'idiotic'— Republican state leaders are brushing off President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated comments about wind energy as hot air, saying the industry has brought numerous benefits to Iowa. Trump told a crowd at the National Republican Congressional Committee’s annual spring dinner Tuesday night that he heard that noise from wind turbines causes cancer - though there’s no scientific evidence linking wind farms to cancer. A University of Iowa study shows that there is no connection between wind turbines and any health issues. The president also repeated his claim that wind turbines kill birds, which is true, but expert said power lines kill far more birds. Iowa is a national leader in wind energy, with more than 4,000 turbines, which are a part of a $16 billion renewable energy investment in the state. Gov. Kim Reynolds did not refute the president’s claim directly, but she said, “I’m focused on the benefits that (wind energy) brings.” “I’m proud to be a leader in renewable energy, and I’m proud to say that 40% of our electricity is generated from wind,” Reynolds said. She also said Iowa’s wind energy program employs about 8,000 people in the state. MidAmerican Energy, which has installed more than 2,300 wind turbines in Iowa, was a bit more emphatic about wind turbine safety. “As a company, we don’t want to weigh in on the politics here, but we are happy to weigh in on the science,” said Geoff Greenwood, a spokesperson for MidAmerican Energy. “And the science tells us there is no correlation, no cause and effect, between wind turbines and cancer.”

    ‘Get rid of ‘em,’ Lordstown says of disappointing wind-turbine experiment -- A project to use two wind turbines at Lordstown Village Hall to generate electricity is coming to a close after the village sold both turbines for $1. Mayor Arno Hill said the village sought bids to sell the turbines three times before Larry Tura of Lordstown, a member of the village’s zoning board of appeals, offered $1 to remove them. Village council approved the sale March 18. Hill said neither of the turbines have worked for about two years, and they are costly to fix, so the village secured the propellers to stop them from turning to reduce the potential for one to come loose and hurt someone. That did not work for one of the turbines, however, so it has continued to spin in recent months. “We have concerns about the blades spinning in the high wind,” Hill said. “It sounds like a helicopter is landing.” When the turbines were installed in 2011, the village was told to expect them to generate enough electricity to reduce the electric bill for village hall by $300 to $500 per month. Hill said the actual amount of savings was “about $550 per year.” “They didn’t pan out,” Hill said. “We said just get rid of ’em and get them out of there.” 

    Batteries Included- US Poised For Expansion Of Grid-Connected Power Storage - Battery energy storage deployment in the US has rapidly increased in recent years and appears set for further growth, assuming costs continue decreasing and pending market rule changes increase opportunities for storage resources to participate in wholesale power markets. But importantly, the economics, policy drivers and use cases differ widely among regions. The US currently has a little over 1 GW of installed battery storage capacity and could have more than 7 GW of utility-scale and grid-connected battery storage operating by 2022, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics’ most recent US Power Storage Outlook. Lithium-ion battery prices have sharply declined in recent years driven by steadily expanding manufacturing capacity, which has led to economies of scale and improved learning. That learning curve is expected to continue as battery companies are planning a six-fold manufacturing capacity increase by 2023. Over the medium to longer term, Platts Analytics anticipates that mass-market electric vehicle adoption will continue to drive battery costs down despite concerns around raw material prices. Lithium-ion battery prices are expected to decline 40% by 2025, making it difficult for other technologies such as flow-batteries to compete, particularly for shorter durations. One potential battery storage deployment growth metric lies in the interconnection queues maintained by each wholesale power market operator, known as independent system operators (ISO) or regional transmission organizations (RTO). Any resource that wants to connect to a regional power grid must progress through a formal interconnection process. Not every resource will ultimately connect to the grid, but the queues provide a view of the level of market participants’ interest in storage. 

    Rail Travel Is Cleaner Than Driving or Flying, but Will Americans Buy In? --Transportation represents a large portion — about 29 percent — of U.S. emissions, and the share has been rising in recent years. Rail proponents often argue that investment in trains and public transportation is a key part of making transportation cleaner, and indeed, the Green New Deal calls for greatly expanding high-speed rail. I'm a scholar of rail, and it's clear to me that the quickest way to decrease greenhouse gases from transportation is to travel by train and move goods by rail instead of on the road or by air. To explain why, it's worth comparing rail to other modes of transportation on energy consumption and emissions, and to look at some of the developments that can make rail more widely used in the U.S. and less reliant on fossil fuels.  Transportation by rail is a major part of the transportation system in most countries, including in the U.S., which has the longest freight railway system in the world with approximately 140,000 miles. Rail passenger services are essential in many areas, primarily in population centers such as New York and Chicago, and intercity rail has a significant market share in some corridors, such as the Northeast. Rail also offers long-distance routes connecting many smaller communities with each other and the large metropolitan areas in the country. Data show that rail has a significantly lower energy footprint than trucks and passenger cars. Rail transport, with hard steel wheels on steel rail, has lower resistance to motion than road transportation. And the convoy formation of individual rail cars into trains also adds to its better energy and environmental performance. Freight rail accounts for about one-third of the ton-miles and consumes only about 2 percent of the transportation energy in the U.S. The higher efficiency can be illustrated this way: On average, freight railroads move a ton of cargo for around 479 miles on a gallon of fuel, which is about 11 times more energy-efficient than trucks on a ton-mile basis. Passenger rail is around three times more efficient than a car on a passenger-mile basis at current occupancy levels. The lower energy consumption leads to lower greenhouse emissions.

    The Real Definition Of March Madness -- April 5, 2019  --For those who are concerned that if we don't do something now, we have less than twelve years to save the world, or however Occasional-Cortex put it.  It looks like things just went from bad to worse.   From a reader:Today at noon, [a Minnesota television station] reported that approximately 300 private jets would be flying into Minneapolis today for the Final Four NCAA basketball championship (March Madness).The MPLS airport only has room to park 162 aircraft so the others will be parked at nearby terminals, including St Paul, Flying Cloud, and perhaps Crystal airport. Think about all the unnecessary CO2 emissions.And a reminder that these same folks are telling me to live with less, shrink my carbon footprint. It gets tedious.And I bet the croissants / bagels at the airports cost $11 apiece. One more reason I can't take the global warming scam seriously. Not the croissants. The fact that we are being told that we can't "afford" to fly any more if we want to save the world, and yet 300 planes carrying an average of four passengers each will be flying in (and out) for a college football tournament.  March Madness? This occurs like clockwork every year, and will continue for the next twelve years. Wanna bet?

    India seeks bids for $5 billion in transmission lines to fuel renewables growth (Reuters) - India will launch $5 billion of transmission-line tenders in phases, beginning in June, to route a targeted 175 gigawatts (GW) of power from renewable sources into the country’s grid by 2022, the secretary at the ministry of renewable energy said. India, the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has pledged to cut emissions and have clean energy account for at least 40 percent of its installed capacity by 2030, up from 21.4 percent now, while looking to manage its energy appetite as its population becomes more prosperous. The renewable energy targets would require investment in feeder lines and infrastructure upgrades. India has awarded tenders for 12 GW of transmission lines since December, while bids for a further 16 GW will be launched by the end of June. Another 38 GW will be bid out before March 2020, he said. Building transmission lines for 66 GW worth projects would need an estimated investment of 430 billion rupees, the secretary for renewables, Anand Kumar, said. India, which receives twice as much sunshine as European countries, wants to make solar central to its renewable expansion as part of the fight against climate change. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has set a goal to raise solar power generation to 100 GW and wind to 60 GW by 2022. The other 15 GW would come from biomass and hydropower. Research analysts have been skeptical about India meeting its ambitious targets. Consultancy firm WoodMac and research firm CRISIL have said India would not meet its renewable energy target due to policy issues, including cancellations of auctions of tenders, rights to land use and tariffs.

    Global coal use up as greenhouse gas emissions rise -- Greenhouse gas emissions from energy production rose strongly again last year, according to new data from the International Energy Agency, with a young fleet of coal-fired power plants in Asia accounting for a large proportion of the increase. Energy demand grew at its fastest pace this decade, with a 2.3% increase globally driving rises in fossil fuel consumption. Coal use in power stations was a third of the increase in energy consumption, and together gas and coal were responsible for nearly 70% of the growth in energy consumption, and while demand for solar and wind power also increased, it was by much less overall. Gas consumption in the US leapt by 10%, or the equivalent of the UK’s entire gas consumption in a year. Fracking has been a key driver, and oil production in the US also grew, while the dismantling of government incentives intended to reduce reliance on fossil fuels has continued. Asia is now responsible for the majority of coal-fired power generation globally, and the average age of power plants there is now just 12 years, meaning they have decades to go before reaching their planned end of production in about 30 to 50 years. Heating and cooling accounted for a fifth of the increase in global energy demand – the cooling needed for many areas to cope with global warming is an increasing factor in the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, as temperatures in some regions rose to record levels as the result of climate change. Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, said last year had been a “golden” year for gas, which met nearly half of the growth in global demand for energy, but urged governments to take action that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “We have seen an extraordinary increase in global energy demand in 2018, growing at its fastest pace this decade,” he said. “Last year can also be considered another golden year for gas. But despite major growth in renewables, global emissions are still rising, demonstrating once again that more urgent action is needed on all fronts.” 

    North Carolina orders Duke Energy to excavate all coal ash --  The country's largest electric company was ordered Monday to excavate coal ash from all of its North Carolina power plant sites, slashing the risk of toxic chemicals leaking into water supplies but potentially adding billions of dollars to the costs consumers pay. Duke Energy Corp. must remove the residue left after decades of burning coal to produce electricity, North Carolina's environmental agency said. The company had proposed covering some storage pits with a waterproof cap, saying that would prevent rain from passing through and carrying chemicals through the unlined bottoms and would provide a quicker and cheaper option. Duke Energy said Monday the expanded excavation requirement could double its costs to about $10 billion. It had previously estimated the task would take up to 30 years to complete at all 14 current and former coal-burning plants in the state. Coal ash contains toxic metals like mercury, lead and arsenic. Monday's decision affects six coal-burning plants still operating in North Carolina. Pits at eight other power plants around the state had previously been ordered excavated, with the ash to be stored away from waterways. "We did a thorough analysis of the six sites and it wasn't a decision that was made by other reasons than the science," state Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan said in an interview. "We're making these decisions so that they are most protective of public health and the environment." The move means North Carolina joins Virginia and South Carolina in ordering its major electric utilities to move their coal ash out of unlined storage. 

    Coal burned to make steel and cement is still a major emissions source - Although coal continues to be phased out of electricity generation, it remains integral to producing materials for infrastructure projects like buildings, bridges and roads. Coal is the most emissions-intensive fossil fuel, and steel and cement production account for more than 20% of the world's use. While options exist to reduce or eliminate coal from those processes, many of the necessary technologies require policies, incentives and new markets to bring down the costs of commercial deployment.  In the last 15 years, global steel consumption has doubled and global cement consumption has nearly tripled. Industrial emissions — mainly from the production of steel, cement and chemicals — were the largest contributor to the growth in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions last year, according to a Rhodium Group analysis. New efforts to reduce these uses of coal are moving forward.

    • In 2017, California passed groundbreaking "Buy Clean" legislation mandating government procurement favor low-carbon materials.
    • The European Union is funding a cement plant design that integrates carbon capture and storage.
    • The Swedish government is funding a new type of clean steel plant that will eliminate coal and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 98%.

    Infrastructure investment, particularly on the scale outlined in programs like the Green New Deal, presents an opportunity to pull clean steel and cement into the market. Federal procurement standards could be put in place that reward recycling, efficient materials use and new green technologies like alternative concretes, coal-free steel and industrial carbon capture and storage.  Without such policies, big infrastructure projects could further drive up industrial emissions levels.

    China to build 6-8 reactors a year to meet 2030 goals: exec (Reuters) - China will be able to build six to eight nuclear reactors a year once the approval process gets back to normal in the near future, the chairman of the state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation told Reuters on Monday. “That should be enough to meet our country’s 2030 development plans,” he said on the sidelines of an industry conference.  China did not approve any new projects for three years until it gave the nod to two new reactor complexes in southeast China earlier this year.

    Radioactive Fukushima Particles Found in Alaska’s Bering Strait — Radioactive particles from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have drifted as far north as a remote Alaskan island in the Bering Strait, according to scientists at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. Seawater collected last year near St. Lawrence Island contained a slight elevation in levels of cesium-137, a man-made radioactive isotope formed during nuclear fission. According to Reuters, the levels of cesium found in Alaska are far too low to pose a health hazard – as humans have been “cleared” to consume levels some 3,000-times higher than those found in the Bering Sea, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.  Water was sampled for several years by Eddie Ungott, a resident of Gambell village on the northwestern tip of St. Lawrence Island. The island, though part of the state of Alaska, is physically closer to Russia than to the Alaska mainland, and residents are mostly Siberian Yupik with relatives in Russia. Fukushima-linked radionuclides have been found as far away as Pacific waters off the U.S. West Coast, British Columbia and in the Gulf of Alaska. Until the most recent St. Lawrence Island sample was tested by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the only other known sign of Fukushima radiation in the Bering Sea was detected in 2014 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. –Reuters In 2014, trace-amounts of Fukushima radiation was found in the muscle tissue of fur seals on Alaska’s St. Paul Island in the southern Bering sea, however there was no testing of the water at the time, according to Gay Sheffield, a Sea Grant marine advisory agent based in Nome, Alaska.

    TMI’s complicated, ongoing legacy: Editorial -- Those who lived in this area through the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island on March 28, 1979, when a partial meltdown of Unit 2 occurred, might find it hard to believe how the landscape has changed 40 years later. A Press & Journal poll taken in the days after the accident found that 189 respondents opposed restarting TMI, with 97 in favor. Granted, this was not a scientific poll, but those numbers seem accurate if not conservative in regard to the feeling of area residents at the time. But 40 years can change many things. We haven’t suffered through any safety scares at TMI even close to the scale of the 1979 event. Nuclear power in the United States has a relatively clean record. Despite the arguments of an ardent few, there is little evidence that radiation from the accident has caused any long-term health effects. If you are in your early 40s or younger, you don’t remember how it felt to have to leave your home for safety reasons, and being told it might be a long time before you could return. The accident is something your parents or grandparents talked about, not a tangible threat. . That hulking monstrosity that sits on a Susquehanna River island on the western edge of Londonderry Township, puffing out majestic puffs of steam … what will be its status in six months? Is it a pillar of our employment base, with 675 full-time employees and 1,500 temporary workers who descend on the area every two years during refueling, boosting our economy in the process? Or is it an accident waiting to happen, either quickly with some type of malfunction that would spread radiation, or more slowly because of all the stored nuclear waste there?

    FES and FE have created a ‘scheme’ that is an ‘abuse of the bankruptcy system’: Feds say -  -- Federal regulators have jumped into the FirstEnergy Solutions bankruptcy case with charges that FES and its parent FirstEnergy Corp., with a nod from “favored creditors," have cooked up a “scheme” that is an “abuse of the bankruptcy system.”The issue is on the court’s docket for Tuesday morning. In furious filings at the start of this past weekend, attorneys for federal and state Environmental Protection Agencies tore apart the arrangement that FE and FES made last fall in which the parent promised nearly $1 billion in cash and commitments in exchange for FES absolving FE from future environmental damages.The companies want to include the settlement in the bankruptcy case.The Ohio Consumers’ Counsel also objected, arguing that under the plan before the court that "FirstEnergy would be shielded from any claims or causes of action related in any way to the Debtors’ businesses and property, including from any liability for the costly decommissioning of its power plants.”The OCC also suggested that if the court were to approve a restructuring deal with the FE-FES settlement included the ruling would shield FirstEnergy and "leave Ohioans with too little protection.“Were funds for decommissioning to be inadequate, for example, consumers or taxpayers might be (unfairly) called upon to fund FirstEnergy and FES’s power plant decommissioning liabilities to federal and state governments." Bankruptcy Judge Alan Koschik approved that inter-company settlement in September but did not give the FirstEnergy blanket protection from all future liabilities. That’s exactly what FES is trying to obtain now in a document the court must approve before creditors can vote on the the FES restructuring plan. And court approval would make future lawsuits or enforcement against FE over coal ash or nuclear pollutions difficult if not impossible. Speaking from the bench the judge a week ago said, “I need to really decide the issue that’s been raised by the Government” before he would approve a document known as the “disclosure agreement” which, once approved, will be mailed to every creditor which FES owes.

    Ohio bill would create ‘clean air’ fund to benefit nuclear, excluding wind and solar - Legislation to subsidize two FirstEnergy Solutions nuclear power plants in Ohio is about to surface in the Ohio House. Republican majority leaders have been circulating a proposal that would add up to $300 million annually to electric bills across the state, creating a state “clean air program” with grants administered by political appointees. About $180 million would be earmarked for the FirstEnergy Solutions nuclear power plants, say analysts who have looked at the legislation. The remaining $120 million could be used to prop up other companies — though it appears those companies would not be owners of wind and solar farms. The draft legislation, obtained by the Energy News Network, would add a $2.50 per month surcharge to every residential customer’s bill, a $20 per month surcharge to every commercial customer’s bill and a $250 monthly charge to every industrial customer’s bill. The legislation would also eliminate existing surcharges that commercial and residential customers pay to support energy efficiency and peak reduction programs created by the utilities. Industrial customers can already opt out of these programs. Customers who want to continue supporting the efficiency programs — on top of the new “clean air” charges — would have to notify the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in writing. The draft legislation, now in its fifth revision according to its title page, doesn’t actually mention the word “nuclear” in its language. Instead the bill would create the Ohio Clean Air Program, echoing the carbon-free argument that FirstEnergy Solutions lobbyists have been using to describe their nuclear power plants.

    Enbridge begins full service on TEAL gas line - Midstream company Enbridge yesterday began full service on its Texas Eastern Appalachian Lease (TEAL) natural gas pipeline expansion in Ohio, which is designed to supply the new Nexus pipeline. TEAL has a full design capacity of 918mn cf/d (26mn m³/d), of which 638mn cf/d began flowing last year. Late last month the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the pipeline to begin service at the new Salineville compressor station in Columbiana County, Ohio, paving the way for Enbridge to begin full service on the project this week.TEAL includes 4.4 miles (7km) of 36-inch pipeline in Monroe County, Ohio, 1,790ft of connecting pipeline to the Nexus line in Columbiana County, the new compressor station in that county, and a new compressor unit in the Colerain compressor station. The $183mn project also modified an existing line to allow for bi-directional flows. Nexus has a design capacity of 1.5 Bcf/d and began partial service late in 2018. Both pipelines are operated by Enbridge.

    DEP investigating gas well for water supply complaint in Pittsburgh suburb - The state Department of Environmental Protection is investigating what could be the first case of water well contamination from natural gas drilling in Allegheny County since the fracking boom began in Pennsylvania. The case began shortly after a company drilled and fracked the Midas well in Plum Borough last year. It was the first unconventional shale gas well project ever in the borough. About a month after fracking at the “Midas 8M” well was completed, a neighboring landowner reported that their water well nearly dried up, its filtration system was clogged with sediment and debris, and a “foul” smell was emanating from drains inside a house, according to a complaint lodged with the DEP. Lauren Fraley, a DEP spokeswoman, said that the company is automatically assumed to be at fault under state law, if the water problems occur within 12 months of drilling and within 2,500 feet of the well. “If it’s within that timeframe and within that distance, then that that presumption automatically applies,” Fraley said. This case met those criteria, she said, so the agency ruled the gas well was “presumed to be the cause” of the pollution. DEP documents also show the agency conducted water tests at the property and found elevated levels of iron and other metals in the water, over and above “pre-drill, expected” levels. Huntley & Huntley Energy Exploration, the Monroeville-based company that owns the well, is refuting the DEP’s finding, and the agency is investigating materials the company has provided. “We’re still reviewing that and we consider it an ongoing investigation and have not made any final determinations on this water supply complaint,” Fraley said. If the agency finds against the company, it will have to provide a replacement source of water to the landowner. No timetable for the review has been set, Fraley said.

    Gas liquids pipeline owner agrees to safety study, new fine (AP) — The heavily fined owner of natural gas liquids pipelines across southern Pennsylvania is agreeing to another $200,000 fine and a study on risks to the Mariner East 1 pipeline. Lawyers for a subsidiary of Texas-based Energy Transfer LP submitted the paperwork Wednesday to the state Public Utility Commission, whose members must approve a proposed agreement with agency enforcement lawyers before it becomes final. The case stems from a 2017 leak in Berks County on a section of corroded pipeline. The study must include an analysis of corrosion, structural issues and other threats to the 1930s-era pipeline. Energy Transfer’s Mariner East 1, 2 and 2X projects are blamed for polluting waterways in dozens of places and causing sinkholes near homes. Pennsylvania’s environmental regulators halted Energy Transfer’s construction permits and prosecutors are investigating the projects. 

    What Fracking Has Wrought -  When the mining company Range Resources arrived in her hometown of Amity, Pennsylvania, and told residents that the contemporary equivalent of gold lay beneath their properties, Stacey Haney believed that she’d found a solution to her quandary. Amity sits on the Marcellus Shale, a sedimentary-rock formation that stretches about 90,000 square miles and contains natural gas. Like her neighbors, Haney signed what was meant to be a lucrative lease with Range to allow the company to build a fracking-waste pond nearby. Not only could she buy better shelter for her farm animals, but Range agreed to provide her with potable water in case the site affected the quality of her well—a point of pride for Haney, who’d grown up hauling water back to the family home. Then her animals started to die, and her children became sick. A prize goat gave birth to a kid in three pieces and then died. A neighbor’s beloved boxer puppy died from what seemed to be poison, its insides “crystallized, as if it had drunk antifreeze.” One of Haney’s children, Harley, suffered from mouth ulcers, nosebleeds, and personality changes, and a cut on Haney’s foot refused to heal. Something was clearly wrong—the air stank, and strange liquids leaked from the waste pond—but it was hard to link either the human or animal sickness to environmental contamination. And the burden of proof fell on Haney.  This grim story is at the center of Eliza Griswold’s Amity and Prosperity. There are other characters in Griswold’s book, and she expands the focus to include the neighboring town of Prosperity, but Haney’s fight against Range Resources forms the spine of her narrative. A single mother with deep roots in the area, Haney has been forced to become a detective. She tracks her veterinarian bills, her medical expenses, and the family’s lab-test results, and through her travails Griswold documents an ever-widening gap between old fantasies and new realities for many families in western Pennsylvania.

    Coast Guard warns to stay away from tar balls, oil - -- The Coast Guard is warning people in the waters off the Rockaways to stay away from any tar balls or oil sheens they might see and is investigating to see if they're related to an oil leak from a vessel a few days ago. The agency says reports came in Saturday for the waters off Coney Island and Long Island, from Norton Point to Atlantic Beach. The Coast Guard says a vessel, the Dublin Express, had a 15-inch hole in one of its tanks on Thursday and was in the Arthur Kill waterway between Staten Island and New Jersey. An investigation is still ongoing to find the cause of that leak and determine how much oil spilled.

    West Virginia Governor Vetoes Bills Pushed by Natural Gas Industry -- West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice in an unexpected move has vetoed two bills aimed at helping smaller natural gas producers in the state. Justice, a Republican, said late Friday he was forced to veto 15 bills that passed during the legislature’s  2019 regular session for “purely technical reasons,” including House Bills (HB) 2673 and 2661. HB 2673 in particular had been a high priority for the industry. It was written by the West Virginia Independent Oil and Gas Association (WVIOGA). It would exempt wells that produce 5-60 Mcf/d of natural gas or 0.5-10 b/d of oil from paying a severance tax. Instead, the previously paid tax monies would go toward maintaining or plugging the marginal wells, helping provide an additional funding source for a widespread environmental issue in the state.“I am working with the legislature to fix the technical errors and get these bills added to the special session call,” Justice said. “If this happens, and the legislature passes the bills during special session, I will have an opportunity to sign them in time to take effect on July 1.”However, Justice’s statement differed from a veto message his administration issued last week, which indicated Justice’s dissatisfaction over the tax break for marginal wells included in HB 2673. While he agreed in the veto message that more funding should be made available for well plugging, he said those funds should come from general revenue generated by the current severance tax rate, among other sources. “I believe it would be to the detriment of the state and to the many causes to which general revenues are put to allow for such an increase in the amount of natural gas and oil produced with an effective tax rate of 0%,” Justice wrote in his veto message. He also noted that the bill failed to address a potential conflict in how the proceeds from a tax cut can be allocated because a portion of severance tax funds go towards communities where drilling has occurred.

    Work continues on Mountain Valley Pipeline, despite repeated problems- Last September, torrential rains swept muddy water from a pipeline construction zone into the nearby United Methodist Church in Lindside, West Virginia, washing out the gravel parking lot and leaving a layer of muck in the basement. In other places along the 303-mile route of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, large rocks rolled off the construction right of way, tumbling more than 100 feet downhill. “This has been an ongoing issue,” regulators wrote in a July 2018 report that also documented problems with erosion control measures and mudslides. And in February, a contractor working on a Pittsylvania County stretch of the pipeline submitted paperwork stating that erosion maintenance repairs had been made, when in fact they had not. Those cases — along with scores of instances in which sediment-laden water flowed unchecked from work zones into nearby streams or onto adjacent private property — are listed in weekly environmental compliance monitoring reports filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Yet more than a year after construction of the natural gas pipeline began, FERC has not issued a single “serious violation” notice against the project. Normally, the finding of a serious violation would initiate formal enforcement action by the agency, which could include a civil penalty or a stop-work order. FERC has imposed no fines against Mountain Valley. In fact, since 2005, the agency has fined just one natural gas pipeline company for violations during construction. Pipeline opponents, who for the past year have been asking state and federal agencies to address widespread environmental damage caused by construction, said FERC’s lack of action is part of a broken system in which the regulators are too cozy with the industries they regulate. Although it did not explain in detail its reasons, FERC said the agency defines a serious violation as a compliance failure or activities that cause “substantial harm or are a serious threat to a sensitive area or species.” Such determinations are made on a case-by-case basis.

    Prices Slide As The Winter Comes To An End - Highlights of the Natural Gas Summary and Outlook for the week ending March 29, 2019 follow. The full report is available below.

    • Price Action: The May contract fell 10.5 cents (3.8%) to $2.662 on a 13.2 cent range ($2.788/$2.656).
    • Price Outlook: The market slid as temperatures moderated and the yearly storage deficit shrank. Although temperatures early this week will fall, the winter is coming to an end and the storage deficits will be contracting. Based on the storage withdrawals that occurred into April last year, the yearly storage deficit may be completely eliminated by the end of May. The storage deficit to the 5-year average is expected to persist through the summer at least.   The current weather forecast is now warmer than 5 of the last 10 years. Pipeline data indicates total flows to Cheniere’s Sabine Pass export facility were at 2.5 bcf. Cove Point is net exporting 0.8 bcf. Corpus Christi is exporting 0.804 bcf. Cameron is exporting 0.000 bcf.
    • Weekly Storage: US working gas storage for the week ending March 22 indicated a withdrawal of (36) bcf. Working gas inventories fell to 1,107 bcf. Current inventories fall (276)bcf (-20.0%) below last year and fall (553) bcf (-33.3%) below the 5-year average.
    • Supply Trends: Total supply rose 0.7 bcf/d to 82.9 bcf/d. US production rose. Canadian imports rose. LNG imports rose. LNG exports rose. Mexican exports fell. The US Baker Hughes rig count fell (10). Oil activity decreased (8). Natural gas activity decreased (2). The total US rig count now stands at 1,006 .The Canadian rig count fell (17) to 88. Thus, the total North American rig count fell (27) to 1,094 and now trails last year by (33). The higher efficiency US horizontal rig count fell (9) to 891 and rises +21 above last year.
    • Demand Trends: Total demand fell (2.2) bcf/d to +86.6 bcf/d. Power demand rose. Industrial demand fell. Res/Comm demand fell. Electricity demand fell (879) gigawatt-hrs to 69,913 which trails last year by (1,879) (-2.6%) and trails the 5- year average by (676)(-1.0%%).
    • Nuclear Generation: Nuclear generation fell (439)MW in the reference week to 82,219 MW. This is (2,060) MW lower than last year and +266 MW higher than the 5-year average. Recent output was at 80,106 MW.

    The heating season is basically over. With a forecast through April 12 the 2018/19 total cooling index is at (2,899) compared to (2,800) for 2017/18, (2,267) for 2016/17, (2,419) for 2015/16, (2,478) for 2014/15, (3,140) for 2013/14, (2,932) for 2012/13 and (2,516) for 2011/12.

    U.S. natural gas prices unmoved by colder winter, low inventories (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas prices remain mired below $3 per million British thermal units despite a relatively cold winter that has left the volume of gas in storage well below normal for the time of year. Futures prices for natural gas delivered to Henry Hub in June 2019 are just over $2.70 per million BTUs, down from $2.90 in the middle of March, and have remained well below $3 throughout the last two years. Gas prices have remained relatively low even though a much colder winter in 2018/19 than in the previous three years pushed up consumption sharply and depleted inventories. Working stocks in underground storage fell to 1,107 billion cubic feet by March 22, 21 percent below the year-earlier level and 33 percent under the prior five-year seasonal average. Stocks are now at the lowest level for the time of year since 2014, despite a 13 percent increase in consumption in the last five years (“Monthly energy review”, U.S. Energy Information Administration, March 2019). Spot prices spiked briefly in October and November, reaching more than $4.80 at one point, and again in January to $3.60, but otherwise the market has not signalled any shortage. The combination of generally low prices with occasional spikes is the result of two trends: internationalisation of the U.S. gas market and the increasingly dominant role of gas as the marginal source of electric generation. 

    Natural Gas Prices Range-Bound Ahead Of Tomorrow's EIA Release --Today proved to be a very slow day in the world of natural gas, with the May contract finishing down just seven ticks on the day, with a daily trading range under 4 cents.  The downward pressure we saw was in the front part of the natural gas curve, with the later dated winter contracts actually finishing up a few ticks on the day, but none of the contracts moved significantly.  The weight on the front of the curve has largely been a result of robust supply, as natural gas production hit record high levels this past weekend.  While this week's data shows a decline, the overall trend is back up over the last few weeks after some freeze-offs limited supply levels in early March. On the weather side, we saw little net day over day change, partially explaining the stagnant nature of prices today. Our morning GWDD forecast was very close to yesterday afternoon's forecast, with some modest mid month chill, nothing like the levels of cold seen one year ago, but enough to keep demand at levels preventing further downward price moves.  Even the afternoon models today offered little reason to expect notable changes, showing highest risks for cold from the middle of the nation into the interior West, with just passing shots of cooler air through the Northeast.

    U.S. storage of working natural gas rises last week: EIA - Xinhua | English -- Working natural gas storage in the contiguous United States was 1,130 billion cubic feet (about 31,998 million cubic meters) in the week ending March 29, a net increase of 23 billion cubic feet from the previous week, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said in a report on Thursday. At 1,130 billion cubic feet, total working gas storage decreased by 16.8 percent from this time last year, or 30.9 percent below the five-year average, but still within the five-year historical range, according to EIA's Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report. The storage of working natural gas usually turns to increase in late April and will continue to grow into early November when heating season starts in the country, according to previous data. Working natural gas is defined as the amount of natural gas stored underground that can be withdrawn for use.

    Weekly Gas Storage- First Build of 2019 - Oil & Gas 360 -- The EIA released its weekly Natural Gas Storage Report today, outlining how national natural gas stocks have changed in the last week. In total, the EIA reports natural gas stocks rose by 23 Bcf last week, increasing to 1,130 Bcf from 1,107 Bcf. This is 16.8% below the 1,358 Bcf that was in storage at this point last year and is 30.9% below the five-year average of 1,635 Bcf. This week’s storage build surpassed expectations, as analysts predicted a build of 8 Bcf.  Most regions saw a build this week, with the largest in the South Central region, where stocks increased by 35 Bcf. The only draws were seen in the Midwest and East regions, where stocks fell by 7 Bcf and 15 Bcf.

     Trump to sign order seeking to clear gas pipeline hurdles: Kudlow (Reuters) - White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow on Wednesday said the Trump administration would soon issue an executive order that would open the door for more natural gas pipelines and exports of liquefied natural gas, or LNG. The administration, which is pushing a policy it calls energy dominance, has been considering an order that would push back against states, including New York, that have blocked interstate natural gas pipelines. Kudlow said the executive order would open the way for pipelines and LNG at an event hosted by the Christian Science Monitor news outlet. New York has blocked pipelines that would take natural gas from Pennsylvania to New England, which means the region sometimes needs imports of LNG. Early last year, a tanker carrying LNG from a project in Russia’s Arctic arrived in Boston Harbor to satisfy demand during a cold snap. It was unclear how the order would overrule the authority of states to rule on pipelines. Several politicians in New York, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, have said they want energy companies to focus more on renewable power sources and energy efficiency, instead of building more gas and other fossil fuel-fired power plants and infrastructure. New York State in recent years blocked the construction of several pipelines that would transport fracked natural gas from the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania to New England, including Williams Cos Inc’s Constitution and Northeast Supply Enhancement and National Fuel Gas Co’s (NFG) Northern Access. In those cases, New York regulators denied the pipelines on environmental grounds.

    White House planning executive order that aims to boost pipeline construction, lower energy prices -The White House is planning to roll out an executive order next week that aims to cut regulations, spur interstate pipeline construction and lower energy costs, according to two senior administration officials.The effort was spurred by the blockage of the construction of the 125-mile Constitution Pipeline from Pennsylvania to New York. A protracted legal battle over the project has been underway since the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, gave a greenlight in 2014 and 2016, because the state of New York has refused to issue a water permit.According to four current and former administration officials, the order directs the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency to clarify Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, the law that gives states authority over permits where water quality is concerned.Backlash from states and governors is expected, especially in New York, where regulators warned of further legal action if FERC throws out its water safety review in the Constitution case.And Wall Street likely won't see this as a big breakthrough."We don't think this manifestly changes the state of play," said ClearView energy analyst Christine Tezak. "An executive order can't change the statutory discretion of a state to approve, deny or waive, so a state could still say no."But officials vow the administration's broader goal is to lower energy prices by accelerating the transport of natural gas and to reaffirm U.S. energy "dominance," a word that appeared multiple times in an early draft of the order. Energy executives are optimistic about the prospects for more pipeline construction.

    More than 24 hours after leak reported, repairs continue on pipeline in Clayton — Crews were working to repair a leak along the Colonial Pipeline in Clayton on Tuesday morning, more than 24 hours after residents reported the leak. Jennifer Drive is closed while crews work on the pipeline, which carries millions of gallons of gasoline, home heating oil and aviation fuel between Texas and New York. The affected part of the line is a mixed products stub line that goes to Selma, Colonial Pipeline said. Pipeline crews responded to reports of a leak around 8:20 p.m. Sunday. The pipeline was then shut down. Crews were working with Wilson’s Mills Fire & Rescue and Johnston County Emergency Services. Crews were monitoring the air quality in the area and said there were no issues. Residents were not required to leave.

    Court Rules Feds Erred in Approving Spill Response Plan for Oil Pipeline under Great Lakes – The federal agency charged with overseeing oil pipeline safety should not have approved a spill response plan for an oil pipeline under the Great Lakes, according to a court decision issued Friday, in a case brought by the National Wildlife Federation. Judge Mark Goldsmith of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan affirmed the National Wildlife Federation’s position that the approval of Enbridge Energy’s oil spill response plans for its oil pipeline that runs through Michigan and Wisconsin and under the Straits of Mackinac—known as Line 5—was faulty and inadequate. “The court could not be more clear: The failure to account for potential impacts to wildlife and the environment violated the law,” said Oday Salim, staff attorney for the National Wildlife Federation Great Lakes Regional Center. “The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration erred by not conducting an environmental assessment, nor consulting with agencies about impacts to protected species. Without these steps, there is simply no way for the government or the public to know whether there are sufficient protections for the Great Lakes and the communities which rely on them. Given Enbridge Energy’s poor track record and the fact that this pipeline travels directly through the heart of the Great Lakes, this assessment is particularly important.” The decision requires the federal agency charged with overseeing oil pipelines – the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) – to prepare an environmental assessment, account for endangered species, and be more specific in considering whether Enbridge Energy has an adequate oil spill response plan for Line 5. The ruling exposes the weaknesses in federal regulations intended to protect rivers, lakes, and streams from oil spills.  “This ruling confirms what we’ve known for years – Enbridge is not prepared for an oil spill, and the federal government is not doing enough to protect the Great Lakes,”

    Halting Line 5 tunnel is ‘shameful.’ Prepare for a lawsuit, GOP leader says -— A political clash over Enbridge Energy’s plan to build a tunnel around its Line 5 oil pipeline could result in the state suing itself, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey told Bridge Magazine. The Clarklake Republican said the GOP-controlled Senate will make sure the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority, the board that approved Enbridge Energy’s plan to build a tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac, has the resources to make the case for its existence in court if necessary. Shirkey’s comments Friday came one day after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered state agencies to halt action on the tunnel project. Whitmer’s order followed a legal opinion from Attorney General Dana Nesssel, a fellow Democrat, calling the 2018 law creating the Corridor Authority unconstitutional. Speaking to Bridge, Shirkey called Nessel’s move “shameful,” and he defended Republicans’ lightning-quick approval of the tunnel plan in December, which critics have called poorly vetted. Shirkey also lamented former Gov. Rick Snyder’s veto of legislation to allow lawmakers to intervene in some state lawsuits. Shirkey suggested such power would be useful if the Line 5 tunnel issue goes to court. Enbridge, backed by Republican leaders, wants to encase the 66-year-old pipeline in a $350 million to $500 million tunnel below 100 feet of bedrock. Proponents say that’s the best bet for protecting the Straits from an unlikely spill without disrupting the path of light crude oil from Superior, Wisc., to Sarnia, Ont. Environmentalists call the plan too risky, and the pipeline unnecessary. They want it shut down. The following is a condensed transcript of Shirkey’s conversation with Bridge, lightly edited for clarity.

    Residents wary of Superior, Wis., oil refinery rebuild - A demolition crew started removing the charred metal and broken equipment at the Husky Energy oil refinery in Superior, Wis., a key first step to reopening the facility after an explosion and fire there nearly one year ago.  But what many local residents want to know is whether work will include removing tanks of hydrofluoric acid, a highly toxic chemical that prompted a large-scale evacuation of the city as the plant burned.  For now, Husky isn’t saying. A company spokesman last week said rebuilding plans are still coming together, and that the plant won’t fully reopen until next year.A recent phone survey of 1,595 Superior residents found 37 percent in favor of a hydrofluoric acid ban for the city, while 35 percent said they were unsure and 27 percent said a ban isn’t necessary.   Hydrofluoric acid, which is hydrogen fluoride dissolved in water, is used in the refining process.A worst-case scenario report on file with the Environmental Protection Agency says some 180,000 people, essentially the entire Twin Ports population, could be at risk if a fully loaded tank of hydrofluoric acid at the refinery emptied in 10 minutes or less. The chemical causes burns and can kill. The United Steelworkers union, which represents workers at some refineries, has urged companies nationwide to stop using the chemical.

    Husky Energy to stick with hydrogen fluoride at rebuilt Superior plant - Chemical prompted fears that '18 blast could have been worse. -- Husky Energy will continue using hydrogen fluoride, a highly toxic chemical, at the Superior, Wis., refinery that exploded and burned a year ago. The Calgary-based company announced Tuesday it will spend more than $400 million to rebuild the refinery but said that ditching hydrogen fluoride would not be economically practical. Some Twin Ports residents and public officials have urged Husky to retool its refining process to eliminate the chemical. Tanks of hydrogen fluoride were never breached during the conflagration, which was caused by an eroded valve. But large parts of Superior, a city of about 27,000, were evacuated because of fears of its release. Hydrofluoric acid, which is hydrogen fluoride dissolved in water, is used as a catalyst to boost octane in gasoline at about half of the nation's refineries. Accidents involving the chemical are rare. But a hydrofluoric acid release can cause severe burns and — in a worse-case scenario — a deadly gas cloud. "The largest risk to the public at the Husky refinery is undoubtedly hydrogen fluoride," said Ginger Juel, co-founder of the Twin Ports Action Alliance, which has campaigned against the chemical's use. "Is public safety less important than the investors' bottom line?" 

    U.S. refinery runs hit fifth consecutive annual record high in 2018 - Gross inputs to U.S. petroleum refineries, also referred to as refinery runs, averaged 17.3 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2018, the highest annual average on record and the fifth consecutive year of record-high refinery runs. Refinery runs peaked in June at an average of 18.0 million b/d, with average weekly runs exceeding 18.0 million b/d during six weeks in 2018. High refinery diesel margins—the difference between the acquisition price of crude oil and the wholesale price of diesel fuel—have provided an incentive for refiners to maintain high runs despite low gasoline refinery margins. The record-high U.S. gross refinery input levels are driven in large part by refinery operations in the Gulf Coast and Midwest regions (Petroleum Administration for Defense Districts, or PADDs, 3 and 2, respectively). In the Gulf Coast, which is home to more than half of all U.S. refinery capacity, refinery runs averaged more than 9.2 million b/d in 2018, 8% higher than the previous five-year average for that region and the first time the annual average surpassed 9.0 million b/d. The Midwest has the second-highest refinery capacity, and refinery runs averaged 3.8 million b/d in 2018, or 6% higher than the previous five-year average.  Refinery utilization as a percentage of operable capacity averaged 93.2% in 2018, an increase of about 2.1% from 2017. Despite record-high inputs, utilization rates have not surpassed the record of 95.6% set in 1998. Rather than running at higher utilization rates, refineries have increased their capacity: U.S. refinery capacity increased by 783,000 barrels per calendar day between December 2013 and December 2018.  In the March update of its Short-Term Energy Outlook, EIA expects U.S. refinery runs in 2019 to be relatively flat compared with the record-high 2018 levels, partially as a result of expected high levels of refinery maintenance in 2019. Refinery runs are then expected to increase and reach a new record of 17.8 million b/d in 2020.

     Citing climate differences, Shell walks away from U.S. refining lobby (Reuters) - Royal Dutch Shell Plc on Tuesday became the first major oil and gas company to announce plans to leave a leading U.S. refining lobby due to disagreement on climate policies, citing its support for the goals of the Paris climate agreement. In its first review of its association with 19 key industry groups, Shell said it had found “material misalignment” over climate policy with the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) and would quit the body in 2020. The review is part of Shell’s drive to increase transparency and show investors it is in line with the 2015 Paris climate agreement’s goals to limit global warming by reducing carbon emissions to a net zero by the end of the century. It is the latest sign of how investor pressure on oil companies, particularly in Europe, is leading to changes in their behavior around climate. Last year, Shell caved in to investor pressure over climate change, setting out plans to introduce industry-leading carbon emissions targets linked to executive pay. Its chief executive, Ben van Beurden, has since repeatedly urged oil and gas producers to take action over climate and pollution, staking out a more radical position than the heads of other major oil companies. “AFPM has not stated support for the goal of the Paris Agreement. Shell supports the goal of the Paris Agreement,” the Anglo-Dutch company said in its decision. “The need for urgent action in response to climate change has become ever more obvious since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015. As a result, society’s expectations in this area have changed, and Shell’s views have also evolved,” van Beurden said in the report. 

    Court examines oil and gas wastewater dumping - Green groups yesterday asked a federal appellate court to review a permit for waste disposal from hydraulic fracturing operations in the Gulf of Mexico. EPA fell short of its duties under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act to study the impact of wastewater discharges on sea turtles, whales and other ocean species, Center for Biological Diversity attorney Kristen Monsell argued before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals."I think the judges were a bit skeptical of our position, but we think it's absolutely the right one under the law here," she said after oral arguments in Houston yesterday. "The agency is allowing oil companies to dump massive amounts of wastewater and fracking chemicals into the Gulf without studying impacts on marine life."Plaintiffs in the case, which also include the Gulf Restoration Network and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, filed their lawsuit last year (Energywire, Feb. 14, 2018).Judge Edith Jones, a Reagan appointee, led the questioning, Monsell said. The panel, which also comprised Trump picks James Ho and Andy Oldham, seemed curious about plaintiffs' arguments that EPA should not have relied on an environmental analysis that predated the widespread use of fracking about a decade ago, she said.The oil and gas extraction technique carries different risks than conventional approaches, Monsell said.  "There's been a whole host of new information indicating that the impacts of fracking may be quite significant and cause harm to the marine environment," she said. "EPA just dismissed those entirely."

    Chemical that EPA allows to help clean up oil spills sickens people and fish, lawsuit claims - Kindra Arnesen’s family was driven out of Venice, La. by the toxic odor from a chemical dispersant sprayed in the Gulf of Mexico to break up oil from the massive 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon spill. Before they fled, her husband experienced respiratory problems. Her daughter broke out in rashes. Arnesen, 41, had headaches and other skin problems. “We live in the middle of an oil field,” she said, referring to the thousands of oil platforms in the gulf. Oil continues to seep a few miles off Venice from a Taylor Energy operation destroyed during a hurricane nearly 15 years ago. “People don’t realize how many spills we have here.” Fearing the next spill, Arnesen joined a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency, claiming that the agency has allowed 25 years to go by without updating the National Contingency Plan to respond to oil spills. On Monday, the University of California at Berkeley Environmental Law Center issued the agency a 60-day intent to sue notice on behalf of several groups and individuals “for failure to perform a non-discretionary duty” under the Clean Water Act. In the absence of an update, the EPA has continued to allow emergency responders to use a chemical mixture called Corexit to disperse oil into droplets that allow microbes to further break it down, the groups say. About 20 percent of nearly 5,000 Coast Guard personnel who responded to the BP spill and were exposed to the toxin reported persistent coughing. Others experienced wheezing and trouble breathing, according to a 2018 study commissioned by the National Institutes of Health. “The combination of both oil and oil dispersants presented associations that were much greater in magnitude than oil alone for coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing,” the report said. A Louisiana State University study two years prior reported a similar finding: that symptoms from exposure resulted in “burning in nose, throat or lungs, sore throat, dizziness and wheezing." That was evident during the Deepwater Horizon cleanup efforts, when “dispersants and oil combined to form droplets of chemical enhanced oil that is more deadly than oil alone to people,” said Riki Ott, the marine toxicology director for Alert, a project of Earth Island Institute, one of five plaintiffs in the suit. The other plaintiffs come from Alaska, where the Trump administration is pushing to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil leasing for the first time. They include an activist inletkeeper, a community group and an Inuit woman.

    Massive clean-up operation continues in Houston ship channel  -- The U.S. Coast Guard has deployed as many as 90 vessels to contain, clean and control an oil spill in the ship channel. The oil leaked after a fire damaged or destroyed several storage tanks at the ITC facility in Deer Park. The Coast Guard gave the media a tour of the area to show how clean-up operations are going. "Understand how challenging it is, but at the same time how complex and dynamic the waterway is, the deep draft shifts, the barge traffic, but at the same time, all the response operations that are happening, all at the same time, all on a very tight and confined waterway," said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Kevin Oditt. There are 33 skimmers and 20 vacuum vessels working in several areas around the ship channel, according to the Coast Guard. "You may see some areas where there's a light sheen but the bulk of the oil, right now the weather, it shifted to the north and east side of the Houston ship channel," said Oditt. The Coast Guard is also inspecting outgoing ship traffic to make sure no ship spreads the oil beyond the containment area. Ship channel traffic is also improving. The Coast Guard said vessel traffic is now at 50 percent up from 30 percent Thursday. 

    Houston Chemical Disaster Zone Remains No-Go Two Weeks After Blaze - Two weeks after a chemical storage complex near Houston erupted in flames and menaced tens of thousands of people with dangerous fumes, the site remains too hazardous for investigators to approach. Intercontinental Terminal Co. is still trying to drain millions of gallons of volatile oil byproducts from tanks damaged in the four-day blaze that began on March 17. The ground around the tanks is also saturated in dangerous fluids, severely restricting access to the facility 20 miles (32 kilometers) east of downtown Houston. On Friday, the company said they may be able to allow some access early this week. ITC and its top executive, Bernt Netland, have been chastised by elected officials for their handling of the unfolding disaster that cast a mile-high plume of black smoke over the fourth-largest American city for days, paralyzed its eastern suburbs and severed Houston’s waterborne access to the Gulf of Mexico. Harris County Fire Marshal Laurie Christensen’s probe of the event has so far been restricted to off-site interviews.“We haven’t been able to gain access to the site yet,” said Rachel Moreno, a spokeswoman for the fire marshal. “They’re still doing emergency operations and we need to wait until it’s safe for the investigators to go in.” Christensen’s investigators won’t enter the site until the remaining tanks are emptied and other hazards have been mitigated, Moreno said. Clouds of cancer-causing benzene have continued to waft over the disaster site as well as nearby factories and suburbs, including one early Friday, according to ITC.  Oil tankers and other ships headed for the manufacturing nexus along the Houston Ship Channel have been backing up in Galveston Bay and the Gulf because of runoff from ITC’s facility that polluted the waterway. The U.S. Coast Guard commander for the region said he doesn’t know when things may return to normal. Almost 20 miles of rubber barriers have been deployed to halt the spread of the oily sheen and protect oyster beds. Ferry service in the area remains shut down and the annual re-enactment of the 1836 Battle of San Jacinto that won Texas independence from Mexico has been canceled.

     At least 1 dead, 2 injured in Houston area chemical plant fire- At least one person is dead and two injured in a chemical plant fire on the outskirts of Houston, officials said. The blaze at the KMCO plant was caused by a fire in a tank of colorless flammable gas isobutylene and broke out around 11 a.m. Tuesday, according to the Harris County Sheriff's Office. The Harris County Fire Marshals Office lifted a shelter in place order for those within a mile radius of the plant a little after 3 p.m. local time. The order included closing any windows or doors as well as turning off air-conditioning units. The county emergency management agency announced a 1-mile "no-fly" zone above the plant. And, students at all nearby Sheldon Independent School District campuses were initially not permitted to leave school buildings, according to the district. Later, during a midafternoon press conference, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said authorities were working with the school districts right now "to make sure that we can get those children into their parents’ arms and get them back home as quickly as possible." Gonzalez wrote on Twitter that a transfer line ignited in the area of the tank of isobutylene "and the tank caught on fire. An adjacent storage building with solid goods also caught fire." Among the victims, one died at the scene of the fire and the two injured were airlifted for treatment, the sheriff said. The KMCO plant has had several compliance violations with the EPA in recent years. An EPA report from last year listed some violations over the last several years of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which dictates the management of hazardous materials and non-hazardous solid waste.

    One worker killed, two injured in chemical plant explosion in Houston, Texas --An explosion at a chemical plant in the Houston, Texas suburb of Crosby killed one worker and critically injured two others on Tuesday.Workers fled from the KMCO plant in a panicked scrum after a tank of isobutylene ignited at about 10:45 a.m.; about 30,000 students in nearby schools were forced to lock down, and residents were ordered to shelter in place. The fire was fully extinguished after 4:00 p.m. James “Bubba” Mangum, 27, was apparently trying to stop the explosion when he was killed. According to his family Mangum had just been promoted two weeks prior to the incident and had worked at KMCO for several years.“Bubba was definitely one of the good guys. If I called him at 10 o’clock at night and needed help with something, he would be there. He was just the biggest-hearted, most generous 27-year-old kid you could ever meet,” friend and neighbor Kelvin Burks told Bluebonnet News. “He would go out of his way for his family and friends.”Workers were given little warning before Tuesday’s explosion, and some have described the communications from operators as “panicked.” Justin Trahan, who had been working within 100 feet of the tank that exploded, recounted to KHOU reporters that an operator initially instructed him and his colleagues to leave the building because of a “chemical release.” Trahan stated that he heard “some panic on the radio” as he and his workers moved towards the doors. “We didn’t think anything of it — we didn’t think it was anything severe,” he told reporters. There were no alarms before the tank caught fire.

    Magellan scraps plans for Permian Gulf Coast Pipeline amid talks to combine it with another project - Oklahoma-based Magellan Midstream Partners is scraping plans for its proposed Permian Gulf Coast Pipeline amid ongoing discussions to combine the project with another crude oil pipeline.   The 600-mile Permian Basin to Gulf Coast pipeline project is unlikely to proceed as originally announced, Magellan Vice President Suzanne Costin reported in a Monday afternoon filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Magellan announced the pipeline project in September as a joint venture with Energy Transfer LP, Delek US and MPLX LP. The proposed 30-inch pipeline would have moved 1 million barrels of crude oil per day from the West Texas shale play to Magellan's terminal in Houston and Energy Transfer's terminal in Nederland."There were conditions that needed to be met in order to proceed with the project that weren't satisfied," Magellan Vice President Bruce Heine said in a statement. In her SEC filing, Costin reported that Magellan is decreasing its 2019 capital expenditure budget accordingly. The company now estimates that it will spend $1.1 billion on active expansion projects in 2019 and another $150 million in 2020."The partnership continues to actively develop a crude oil pipeline project in the Permian Basin, but the probability of success is unknown at this time," Costin said in her filing. However, the company remains in discussions to combine the project with another proposed Permian Basin to Gulf Coast crude oil pipeline, recent filings and earnings calls show.  During a Jan. 31 investors call, Magellan CEO Mike Mears said the company was in the process of acquiring right of way for the Permian Gulf Coast Pipeline but was also interesting in combining the project with another crude oil pipeline proposed by Exxon Mobil, Plains All American Pipeline and Lotus Midstream. The three companies formed a joint venture named Wink to Webster Pipeline LLC in January to move 1 million barrels of crude oil per day from along a 650-mile pipeline to the Houston area. basically had similar capabilities and followed a similar route," Chief Financial Officer Aaron Milford said. "If we can find a way to put them together, we think that that's really a very efficient solution for everybody. But those conversations are occurring, as we speak. So, I really don't want to say much further."

     Texas is on fire with polluting flares from fracking -– Euronews - In a time when much of the world is concerned by a changing climate, all the while making promises to cut global usage of fossil fuels, the US is doing the opposite. Instead, the US is rapidly developing its projects in the oil and gas industry. Almost half the active fracking rigs in the US are situated in the Permian Basin of West Texas, a former ocean-turned-oil-rich seabed. While this oil-booming location has shown positive drives on the population figures in surrounding communities, it hasn't come without its setbacks. Huge levels of wasted natural gas, which is burned or flared off on rigs, is causing major setbacks in industry, the climate, and for the health of residents in the local community. "This poison gas well to the east of us, it comes under our house, and basically we sleep in it," one resident told NBC Left Field.  "It's nauseating smells all the time." You can find out more about the effects of the fracking business in West Texas by clicking the player above.

    They can't give it away: Texas natural gas at all-time negative lows (Reuters) - Next-day natural gas prices for Wednesday at the Waha hub in West Texas plunged to record negative levels - meaning some drillers are paying those with spare pipeline capacity to take the unwanted gas and are getting nothing for it. The drop in prices has been caused by weak demand and recent equipment problems on a key pipeline in New Mexico, analysts said. But pipeline constraints in the Permian basin in West Texas have squeezed gas prices there for some time. The Permian is the nation’s largest oil field, but it also produces large volumes of gas, and the region lacks pipelines to move it. Spot prices at the Waha hub fell to minus $3.38 per million British thermal units for Wednesday from minus 2 cents for Tuesday, according to Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) data. That beat the prior all-time next-day low of minus $1.99 for March 29. Prices have been negative in the real-time or next-day market since March 22. The fall in prices started after El Paso Natural Gas Pipeline declared force majeure on March 18 because of equipment problems at two compressor stations in New Mexico, which cut the amount of gas that could flow west from the Permian. Waha prices remained negative even after El Paso, a unit of Kinder Morgan Inc, returned one compressor to service by March 31; the other is expected to be back on April 5. In addition to the ongoing New Mexico pipeline constraint, Reza Haidari, director of natural gas research at Refinitiv, said the latest price drop was also due to declining heating demand and an increase in power from wind farms that is displacing gas-fired generation in the U.S. Southwest. Production of both oil and gas has more than doubled to record highs over the past five years, but Permian pipeline infrastructure has not kept up with output growth. That has forced some producers to burn or flare off some of the gas associated with oil production. Those constraints have depressed Waha prices, widening its discount to the U.S. Henry Hub benchmark in Louisiana to a record. That spread reached $6.14/mmBtu on Wednesday, topping the prior all-time high of $5.85 in February 1996, according to ICE and Refinitiv Eikon data. Several new pipelines are in the works, but those projects will not enter service until late 2019 and later.

    US Adds 19 Oil, Gas Rigs  - The U.S. added 15 oil rigs and four gas rigs for a net gain of 19 rigs this week, BHGE reports. After six consecutive weeks of declines, the U.S. finally saw a reprieve this week in its rig count. The U.S. added a total of 19 oil and gas rigs, according to weekly data from Baker Hughes, a GE Company.The nation added 15 oil rigs and four gas rigs. This brings the week’s total rig count to 1,025 – up 22 rigs from one year ago. Oklahoma and Pennsylvania were the only states to see a decline, losing one rig apiece. The following states added rigs:

    • Texas (8)
    • West Virginia (4)
    • New Mexico (3)
    • Alaska (2)
    • Colorado (2)
    • North Dakota (1)

    Among the major basins, the Permian saw the most gains as it added eight rigs. The Marcellus added another three rigs, while the following basins added one rig apiece:

    • Cana Woodford
    • DJ-Niobrara
    • Haynesville
    • Williston

    The Permian – which lost a total of 10 rigs during the past two weeks – currently has 462 active rigs. This accounts for almost half of the nation’s total rig count and more than half of its oil rigs.

    News From the Oil Patch, April 1 - Kansas crude-oil production last year dipped to its lowest level since 2005. Kansas producers pumped 2.75 million barrels in December for a yearly total of just 34.7 million barrels, according to the latest numbers from the Kansas Geological Survey. That’s down 1.1 million barrels from last year’s total, marking the third consecutive annual decline. A stark price plunge two years ago led to production declines across the country. Kansas has been slower than some other states in resuming the large production totals reported during times of higher prices. Ellis County was the top crude oil producing county in Kansas last year with just over 2.6 million barrels. That’s the lowest total in the county in nearly twenty years. The 2018 total for Barton County was just shy of 1.7 million barrels. You have to go back to 2006 to find a lower annual total. We’ve seen steady production declines over the last several years in Russell and Stafford counties. Both counties dipped to the lowest annual total to be found in records published by the KGS dating back to 1970. Russell County operators produced just over 1.5 million barrels last year, while Stafford County added just over one million. Baker Hughes reports a big drop in its weekly rotary rig count. The total nationwide was 1,006, which is down eight oil rigs and two seeking natural gas. The count in Texas was down one, Colorado was down four, Alaska dropped by three and California was down two rigs. Canada reported 88 active rigs, which is down 17. Independent Oil & Gas Service reported a slight dip in the rig count in Kansas. The total east of Wichita was unchanged at four. There were 24 rigs in Western Kansas that were relocating, moving in, rigging up or drilling. That’s down two for the week. Independent reported 134 stacked rigs, up three from the week before. Operators filed 24 permits for drilling at new locations across Kansas last week, 195 so far this year. There were 12 in eastern Kansas and 12 west of Wichita. Independent Oil & Gas Service reports 19 newly-completed wells for the week across the state, including one in Russell County and one in Stafford County. Out of 15 completions west of Wichita last week, five were dry holes. There were six completions in eastern Kansas.

    Trump issues new permit for stalled Keystone XL pipeline --  (AP) — Moving defiantly to kick-start the long-stalled Keystone XL oil pipeline, President Donald Trump on Friday issued a new presidential permit for the project — two years after he first approved it and more than a decade after it was first proposed. Trump said the permit issued Friday replaces one granted in March 2017. The order is intended to speed up development of the controversial pipeline, which would ship crude oil from tar sands in western Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast. A federal judge blocked the project in November, saying the Trump administration had not fully considered potential oil spills and other impacts. U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ordered a new environmental review. A White House spokesman said the new permit issued by Trump “dispels any uncertainty” about the project. “Specifically, this permit reinforces, as should have been clear all along, that the presidential permit is indeed an exercise of presidential authority that is not subject to judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act,” the spokesman said. But a lawyer for environmentalists who sued to stop the project called Trump’s action illegal. The lawyer, Stephan Volker, vowed to seek a court order blocking project developer TransCanada from moving forward with construction. “By his action today in purporting to authorize construction” of the pipeline despite court rulings blocking it, “President Trump has launched a direct assault on our system of governance,” Volker said Friday in an email. Trump’s attempt to “overturn our system of checks and balances is nothing less than an attack on our Constitution. It must be defeated,” Volker said. 

    Will Trump's pipeline permit hold up in court? -- President Trump last week attempted to take the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline into his own hands.His Friday executive order swapped out a key March 2017 State Department permit — currently under review in federal appellate court — with a fresh presidential approval (E&E News PM, March 29).It's unclear whether Trump's efforts to override the State Department's delegated authority will survive judicial scrutiny."It has been convention that agencies [with delegated presidential powers] have to follow the National Environmental Policy Act and all the federal laws that apply to agency action," said Alexandra Klass, an energy law professor at the University of Minnesota. "When the president acts, those rules don't apply." Following orders from newly inaugurated Trump, the State Department in 2017 issued a permit allowing the pipeline, which would connect Albertan oil fields to the Gulf of Mexico, to cross the border between the United States and Canada. The agency had considered the border crossing under the previous administration, but President Obama blocked the project in 2015.Keystone XL developer TransCanada Corp. sued in 2016, arguing that President Obama overstepped the limits of executive authority. The company dropped its challenge in April 2017.This time around, the company could be in the position of defending presidential power over cross-border projects.Trump's revocation of the 2017 permit appears to derail proceedings initiated in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana disputing the State Department's authorization.As part of that lawsuit, Judge Brian Morris last year issued a preliminary injunction blocking TransCanada from working on the pipeline until the agency revisits its review of climate, market and other impacts (Energywire, Nov. 9, 2018).After a month of legal wrangling, Morris, an Obama appointee, said he would not accommodate TransCanada's request to conduct certain preconstruction field activities, such as preparing work camps and off-site storage. The case is now before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which declined to thaw the construction freeze.

    Landowners hit with $1 million in liens during Keystone XL road dispute - When Rod Ingalls opened his letter, he “just about fainted.” When Lyle Weiss opened his, he “couldn’t believe it.” JT Vig got “fuming mad.” “It’s a good thing they weren’t standing there,” Vig said of the letter’s senders, “because I might’ve clocked them.” The letters arrived earlier this month. They said mechanic’s liens had been filed against each rancher’s land by Brandenburg Drainage, of Maquoketa, Iowa. Additional landowners, all of them in rural Meade County, also got the letters. In all, Brandenburg Drainage filed 23 liens totaling $1.01 million against Meade County landowners in mid-March. The lien amounts ranged from $3,580.57 to $243,478.76. Seven of the liens were released Wednesday, without any public explanation, after a flurry of communications during preceding days among landowners, lawyers and the three companies involved in the situation. The three companies are Brandenburg Drainage; Diamond Willow Energy in New Town, North Dakota; and TransCanada in Alberta. TransCanada has an agreement with Meade County to improve and maintain county roads that would be subjected to truck and equipment traffic during the construction of TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL crude-oil pipeline. The controversial pipeline, which has been in pre-construction limbo because of litigation brought by its opponents, would pass through western South Dakota en route from Canada to Nebraska. TransCanada hired Diamond Willow Energy to improve segments of gravel roads near the western South Dakota map dots of Opal and Marcus, both in Meade County about 30-40 miles southwest of Faith. The roads — Maurine Road, Opal Road and Avance Road — are in the vicinity of a planned Keystone XL pump station, workforce camp and pipe yards. Diamond Willow subcontracted the work to Brandenburg Drainage, which performed some of the work last fall before a dispute arose between the two companies. Brandenburg Drainage claimed it was owed money by Diamond Willow. To recover the money, Brandenburg Drainage filed mechanic’s liens against the owners of the land abutting the roads.

    Democrats want to end policy where oil and gas regulators promote drilling - The Colorado Independent - On April 17, 2017, Erin Martinez’s home exploded. Her husband and brother, who were working on a hot water heater in the basement of the Firestone home, were killed. Martinez, who has since recovered and moved into a new home, came to the state Capitol on Thursday to support legislation that would dramatically change how Colorado regulates oil and gas development across the state.   Her speech capped off an announcement that Democrats will soon introduce a bill overhauling the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s oversight of the $31-billion industry, among other reforms.  Under the proposed legislation, which will be introduced as soon as Friday, lawmakers say the COGCC will no longer be allowed to promote the industry, a statutory mandate dating back to 1951 that drilling opponents say conflicts with the commission’s other regulatory obligations. When issuing drilling permits, the commission must make protecting public health, safety and the environment a top priority, lawmakers say. If enacted, it would mark a subtle but significant shift in the agency’s decision-making that for years has been contested in the state courts. Another key provision would allow local communities to regulate drilling themselves, which could effectively prohibit drilling in certain communities. Oil and gas companies have long feared such a patchwork of regulations across the state, especially as Boulder, Erie, Lafayette, Superior and other Front Range cities pursue moratoriums on drilling. Supporters of the legislation say it’s about updating antiquated regulations that have not kept pace with growth in the industry.

    A network of pipeline is spreading in Wyoming as energy companies prepare for the next boom -- Smith had been working on this and two other pipeline projects since September, one of the hundreds of pipeliners out in the Powder River Basin this spring, laying down the network of line necessary to carry Wyoming crude and natural gas to market. As the price of crude fell, they worked through the bitter Wyoming winter and are now trudging through a wet spring to finish projects. Across the state, citizen lawmakers are concerning themselves with how to regulate the industry while watching the low price of oil. The governor’s office is still trying to figure out how to address the multimillion dollar gap in Wyoming’s school funding from the oil and coal bust of a few years back. But in the oil field, talk is of the boom to come, the increase in traffic and the pipe going in the ground. The only thing holding back the Powder is the price of crude. That, and maybe the amount of pipe in the ground.There are 30,000 applications for permits to drill wells awaiting review in the state of Wyoming. Most are permit requests for horizontal wells in the Powder. Though not all of the wells will be drilled, the number represents a record level of interest, revealing companies’ desire to control drilling in the basin. The Casper oilman said lack of pipe to move crude out of Wyoming could be a problem in the near term, and it could dampen the basin’s development, which has otherwise seen modest-to-steady growth in the last 18 months.Lack of takeaway can slap an unfavorable discount on the value of a barrel of oil and cut into a driller’s opportunity to make money off of his investment, True said.“When a boom comes and you have nowhere to put your product ... you get significant price discounts,” he said.

    Pacific Northwest sees highest daily natural gas spot prices in the U.S. since 2014 - Natural gas spot prices at the Sumas trading point on the Canada-Washington border averaged $161.33 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) on Friday, March 1, the highest daily spot price recorded by Natural Gas Intelligence anywhere in the United States in at least five years. The price spike was caused by regional supply constraints and unseasonably cold temperatures. Limited supply coincided with unusually high demand when part of the polar vortex moved into the region during the beginning of March. Temperatures in Washington state averaged 33 degrees Fahrenheit (°F) from March 1 through March 4, 10°F lower than normal. These temperatures led to high heating demand in the Pacific Northwest and neighboring areas of the Rockies and Western Canada, regions that supply the Pacific Northwest with natural gas.  The October 2018 explosion on Enbridge’s BC Pipeline—which transports natural gas through British Columbia, Canada, into the United States at Sumas, Washington—led to reduced flows and higher prices at the Sumas trading point throughout the 2018–2019 winter. From November through February, Genscape data show daily flow through Sumas onto Williams’s Northwest Pipeline in Washington averaged about 610 million cubic feet per day (MMcf/d), about one-third lower than the same period in the previous year. Sumas prices averaged $10.56/MMBtu during that period compared with $2.62/MMBtu a year earlier.  Throughout the winter, natural gas supply shortfalls in the Pacific Northwest were met by withdrawing natural gas from the Jackson Prairie storage facility in southwest Washington and by changing regional pipeline flows to bring additional natural gas into Washington and Oregon. However, around February 9, compression problems at the Jackson Prairie facility reduced the rate that natural gas could be withdrawn from the storage facility from 690 MMcf/d to 460 MMcf/d. Natural gas storage withdrawal rates decrease as natural gas is withdrawn from storage caverns, reducing the internal pressure and consequently the rate of withdrawal. As a result, the maximum withdrawal rate from Jackson Prairie would have been even lower than 460 MMcf/d by the beginning of March.

    E&P Cash Surge Could Mean Return to Super Profits - A healthy amount of free cash flow among the world's public E&P companies could signal the return to super profits, according to Rystad Energy. The world’s public E&P companies saw their free cash flow (FCF) surge to nearly $300 billion last year and 2019 may be just as promising, according to analysis by Rystad Energy. “The fact that E&P companies are able to deliver the same shareholder returns despite much lower oil prices points to an impressive increase in profitability,” Rystad’s head of upstream research Espen Erlingsen said. Rystad looked at estimated global FCF for all public E&P companies since 2010. Their analysis shows that FCF peaked in 2011 but declined between 2012 and 2014 due to increased budget investments and more commitments. The FCF was reduced considerably in 2015 as the oil price collapsed. However, since 2015, FCF has had a gradual recovery to the all-time highs of today. “Our analysis of the latest annual reports from the majors clearly indicates that ‘super profits’ are back for large E&P companies,” said Erlingsen. “Free cash flow before financing activities was at a record high in 2018, and the mega profits were typically used to pay down debt and increase payments to shareholders.” And thanks to higher oil prices, lower development costs and lower investment activity, Rystad believes 2019 could be another “blockbuster year.” So who really benefits? According to Rystad – who analyzed recent cash flow statements from all the majors plus Norway’s Equinor – there’s a clear winner. “…almost 70 cents for every dollar in profits generated last year for these companies ended up in shareholders’ pockets,” Erlingsen said.

    Cash flow still weak at U.S. shale firms, stock prices underperform (Reuters) - U.S. shale producers last year again spent more money than they collected, extending a years-long streak of putting oil output above cash flow and investor returns, according to a Reuters analysis of top independent producers. All but seven of 29 of these producers last year spent more on drilling and shareholder payouts than they generated through operations, according to securities filings. Total overspending by the group was $6.69 billion in 2018, according to Morningstar data provided to Reuters by the Sightline Institute and the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. While total overspending was down slightly from a year earlier, stock prices in the sector have slid at a time when U.S. share prices in general have posted strong gains. Shale firms are pushing U.S. oil output to record-shattering levels, but companies have prioritized spending on acreage and drilling. The data showed few producers generated solid returns, even as U.S. crude prices rose 28 percent in 2018 to an average $65.06 a barrel, from $50.79 in 2017. Stock prices of all 29 shale producers fell in 2018, pressured by volatile crude prices and stronger returns in other sectors. Only one of the 29, Cabot Oil & Gas Corp, traded higher at the end of 2018 than it did two years earlier. For too many shale firms, generating more cash than they spend is “aspirational,” said Lee Tillman, chief executive officer of Marathon Oil Corp. “We’ve got to develop the trust and credibility that we are going to prioritize the shareholder going forward, that this really is a maturing of the shale business over time,” Tillman said. An investor who put $100 into the S&P 500 Oil & Gas Exploration & Production Index in 2013 would have had $58.99 at the end of 2018. Similar $100 investments were worth just $9 in Whiting Petroleum Corp, $33.51 in Apache and $38.88 in Devon, according to financial filings. By contrast, $100 in the S&P 500 grew to $150.33 over the same period. 

    US Imported Oil From Saudi Arabia -- Latest Data Just Posted -- January, 2019, Data --We keep hearing that Saudi Arabia continues to ship less oil to the US, resulting in higher gasoline prices (since oil itself hasn't inflated a whole lot), and irritating President Trump.The most recent figures have just been released. The data lags by two months. So, as of the first of April we have the January, 2019, data.The US actually imported slightly more oil from Saudi Arabia in January, 2019, compared to one year earlier, January, 2018: 711,000 bopd vs 710,000 bod.   It's hard to believe that "we" will see numbers too much lower. And to think, at around 500,000 bopd had President Obama not killed the Keystone XL the "Saudi Arabia shortfall" would have easily been made up by Canada.   From the EIA, most recent data, US imported crude oil from Saudi Arabia, in thousands of bbls daily:

     Judge throws out Trump order that overturned Obama offshore drilling ban in Arctic - President Donald Trump exceeded his authority when he reversed bans on offshore drilling in vast parts of the Arctic Ocean and dozens of canyons in the Atlantic Ocean, a U.S. judge said in a ruling that restored the Obama-era restrictions.Judge Sharon Gleason in a decision late Friday threw out Trump's executive order that overturned the bans that comprised a key part of Obama's environmental legacy.Presidents have the power under a federal law to remove certain lands from development but cannot revoke those removals, Gleason said."The wording of President Obama's 2015 and 2016 withdrawals indicates that he intended them to extend indefinitely, and therefore be revocable only by an act of Congress," said Gleason, who was nominated to the bench by Obama.A message left Saturday for the Department of Justice was not immediately returned.The American Petroleum Institute, a defendant in the case, disagreed with the ruling."In addition to bringing supplies of affordable energy to consumers for decades to come, developing our abundant offshore resources can provide billions in government revenue, create thousands of jobs and will also strengthen our national security," it said in a statement.Eric Grafe, an attorney with Earthjustice, welcomed the ruling, saying it "shows that the president cannot just trample on the Constitution to do the bidding of his cronies in the fossil fuel industry at the expense of our oceans, wildlife and climate."Earthjustice represented numerous environmental groups that sued the Trump administration over the April 2017 executive order reversing the drilling bans. At issue in the case was the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.Acting Assistant U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Wood said during a hearing before Gleason in November that environmental groups were misinterpreting the intent of the law written in 1953. He said it is meant to be flexible and sensible and not intended to bind one president with decisions made by another when determining offshore stewardship as needs and realities change over time.In 2015, Obama halted exploration in coastal areas of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas and the Hanna Shoal, an important area for walrus. In late 2016, he withdrew most other potential Arctic Ocean lease areas — about 98 percent of the Arctic outer continental shelf. The bans were intended to protect polar bears, walruses, ice seals and Alaska Native villages that depend on the animals.

    Federal judge declares Trump’s push to open up Arctic and Atlantic oceans to oil and gas drilling illegal - A federal judge in Alaska declared late Friday that President Trump’s order revoking a sweeping ban on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans is illegal, putting 128 million acres of federal waters off limits to energy exploration. The decision by U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason is the third legal setback this week to Trump’s energy and environmental policies. The judge, who was appointed to the federal bench by President Barack Obama in 2012, also blocked on Friday a land swap the Interior Department arranged that would pave the way for constructing a road through wilderness in a major National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Earlier this week, U.S. District Judge Lewis T. Babcock, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan, ruled that Interior’s Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service illegally approved two gas drilling plans in western Colorado. The judge said officials did not adequately analyze wildlife and climate impacts in their plans — which were challenged by a coalition of environmental groups — to drill 171 wells in North Fork Valley, which provides key habitat for elk and mule deer. Trump’s rollbacks of Obama-era conservation policies have suffered nearly two dozen setbacks in federal court, largely on procedural grounds. While the administration is appealing many of these decisions and holds an advantage if the cases reach the Supreme Court, the rulings have slowed the president’s drive to expand fossil fuel production in the United States.

     Misson Springs- Fracking protesters 'locked in concrete' - BBC News - Two anti-fracking protesters have each locked an arm in a concrete "barrel" in a bid to disrupt work at an exploratory drilling site. Tests for shale gas at Springs Road, near Misson, Nottinghamshire, by Island Gas Limited (IGas), began in January. Campaigners are concerned over pollution, but IGas said its test drilling had been completed safely. Three women, aged 29, 41 and 69, and a 50-year-old man were arrested on suspicion of obstructing the highway. About 50 campaigners from anti-fracking group FrAcktion have been trying to disrupt operations as part of its "Fossil Fools' Day" action. The BBC has been told two women who locked their arms in barrel constructions at the entrance to the site are among those who have been arrested.Ruth Smart, from the group, said: "The industry's persistence on fracking, despite its devastating environmental impacts, is laughable. "Not only does fracking waste huge amounts of water, but it also leads to water pollution, air pollution, and has been known to cause earthquakes." In February, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust said owl breeding could be affected at its nature reserve, a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), which is about 120m (393ft) from the plant. IGas said initial drilling had finished and was "completed safely and environmentally responsible". "We have worked closely with our regulators, the Environment Agency, and with the local mineral planning authority to operate within our planning conditions and environmental permits, which includes continuous noise, air and water monitoring at the SSSI," it said. Nottinghamshire County Council approved tests for shale gas in 2016, and drilling officially started on 22 January. 

    Victory for fracking protesters against energy giant Ineos -Environmentalists are celebrating a major victory over the energy company founded by Britain’s richest man. Ineos had been granted a ‘draconian’ injunction preventing people from trespassing on or obstructing access to its fracking sites. Anti-fracking campaigners said the ruling had a ‘very serious chilling effect on lawful protests.’ Fracking protesters have had a victory in the High Court (Picture: Getty) They appealed against the decision and today the High Court agreed that parts of Ineos’ anti-protest ban was unlawful. Campaigners are now allowed to stand on public rights of way to peacefully protest about the controversial practice of fracking. Head of political affairs at Friends of the Earth, Dave Timms said Ineos had attempted to use the law to silence free speech. He told ‘This is a fantastic victory for the rights of ordinary local people to stand up to one of the nation’s most powerful firms, led by the UK’s richest man. ‘We’re delighted the court agrees the law can’t be used to block peaceful protest and free speech. ‘This has important implications for all the injunctions currently in force around the country against protest to oil and gas.’

    Fracking ban under consideration in Labour plans for Climate Change Bill -  Labour plans to amend new climate change legislation at the Scottish Parliament, including looking at writing in a fracking ban. The Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill will face its first parliamentary hurdle at a Stage 1 debate at Holyrood on Tuesday. The Bill would update laws to increase the greenhouse gas reduction target from the current 80% to 90% by 2050. It would also introduce tougher interim targets of 56% for 2020 and 66% for 2030. Labour plan to lodge several amendments to the Bill, including looking at whether a fracking ban can be written into the legislation. The move follows the Scottish Government recently announcing its third public consultation on the use of the unconventional oil and gas extraction technique. Ministers announced an “effective ban” on fracking in 2017 but a Court of Session ruling last year found no prohibition against fracking in Scotland. Labour will also lodge amendments calling for a target of net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest and a target of a 77% reduction by 2030. The party also wants a statutory, long-term Just Transition Commission to ensure the changes do not cost jobs or disproportionately hit the poor. 

    Venezuela’s Oil Production Plummets in February Due to New US Sanctions ― Venezuela’s crude oil production plummeted by 142,000 barrels per day in February, according to OPEC data, after the Trump administration recognized a parallel government in Venezuela on January 23 and imposed new sanctions on the country. For the six months prior to February, Venezuela’s crude oil production had fallen by an average of 20,500 barrels per day (see below). “This shows that the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration in January had an immediate, very harsh impact on Venezuela’s economy, and on the general population, which depends on the export revenue from oil for essential imports including medicine, food, medical equipment, and other life-saving necessities,” said Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.The loss of this oil production would be expected to cost Venezuela more than $2.5 billion in oil revenues if it remained unchanged over the next year; however, the decline is expected to get much worse over the year, due to the US sanctions. Total imports of food and medicine last year were about $2.6 billion.Weisbrot noted that US sanctions since President Trump’s executive order of August 2017 imposing a financial embargo had already rapidly accelerated the decline of oil production, wiping out many billions of dollars of foreign exchange, in addition to other negative impacts on the economy.On the demand side, imports of Venezuelan oil by the United States fell to zero for the first time, in the week of March 15, according to the US Energy Information Administration. This was down from 112,000 the previous week.

    Venezuela oil exports stable in March despite sanctions, blackouts (Reuters) - Venezuela’s state-run energy company, PDVSA, kept oil exports near 1 million barrels per day in March despite U.S. sanctions and power outages that crippled its main export terminal, according to PDVSA documents and Refinitiv Eikon data. The OPEC member stabilized exports in March after shipments fell about 40 percent in February from the prior months, in the immediate aftermath of the United States announcing it would impose sanctions on oil sales to choke off the main source of revenue for socialist President Nicolas Maduro. The United States and many Western governments have recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s rightful leader. Guaido in January invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency on the grounds that Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate. March’s exports of 980,355 barrels per day (bpd) of crude and fuel were only slightly below February’s shipments of 990,215 bpd, according to the documents seen by Reuters and the Refinitiv Eikon data. U.S. restrictions on Venezuelan exports will tighten further in May, when the grace period for winding down purchases expires for importers of Venezuelan oil who use U.S. subsidiaries or the U.S. financial system for transactions.   U.S. President Donald Trump is considering imposing sanctions on companies from other countries that do business with Venezuela, White House national security adviser John Bolton told Reuters TV on Friday. Most oil shipments in February and March were destined for Asia. Until the sanctions, the United States was Venezuela’s largest crude buyer.  Exports dipped below 650,000 bpd during the blackouts, TankerTrackers estimates. Two massive power outages in March caused Jose port, the country’s largest crude terminal, to shut for at least six full days, according to the Eikon data. 

    US to Add 34 of Venezuelan State Oil Firm’s Vessels to Sanctions List – Pence - Addressing the issue of the Venezuelan crisis in his speech at Houston’s Rice University on Friday, US Vice President Mike Pence stated that Washington would hit Caracas’ energy sector with additional sanctions. As the US vice president announced, Washington's new move against Maduro's government would include sanctions on 34 vessels owned or operated by Venezuelan state-run oil company PDVSA and two firms that transport Venezuelan crude oil to Cuba. "Today we are taking action against a vital source of the [Nicolas] Maduro regime's wealth," Pence said. "At the direction of President Donald Trump, the United States of America will sanction 34 vessels owned or operated by PDVSA as well as two additional companies that transport Venezuelan crude oil to Cuba," he said. He has also noted that Washington was considering more sanctions."We are considering more sanctions on the financial sector in the days ahead," Pence said. The United States has already slapped Venezuela's state oil producer PDVSA with punitive measures, blocking the company's assets worth $7 billion remaining under the US jurisdiction. According to the White House's forecast, the company might lose another $11 billion in oil supplies. In addition, the US introduced a ban on making deals with the company. Recently, commenting on the outcome of these restrictions, US Special Representative Elliott Abrams stated that Washington "had a fair amount of success" in persuading companies to reduce the amount of oil they purchase from PDVSA.

    Rennell oil spill an inevitable outcome of broken system, says academic - An Australian academic and environmental management expert says the oil spill in Rennell was not just an accident but an inevitable outcome of a broken system. MV Solomon Trader oil spill on Rennell Island, Solomon Islands. Photo: The Australian High Commission Solomon Islands In February, a cargo ship loading bauxite from a mine on the island, during bad weather, ran aground on a reef in Lughu Bay, eventually spilling more than a hundred tonnes of heavy fuel oil into the ocean. After weeks of delays International salvage crews have now contained the spill but a massive clean-up operation is still underway with the assistance of Australia and New Zealand. Questions of liability, inadequate legislation and corporate responsibility have been pored over again and again with the maritime incident being described by the country's prime minister as the worst man-made environmental disaster in recent times. 

    Shell sees rise in Nigeria oil spills in 2018 (Reuters) - Royal Dutch Shell last year experienced a sharp rise in the number of oil spills caused by pipeline theft in Nigeria, which the company said were the result of larger output and higher oil prices. The number of spills caused by sabotage and theft in the Niger delta rose last year to 111 from 62 in 2017, the Anglo-Dutch company said in its annual sustainability report. The volume of oil spilt as a result rose to 1,600 tonnes, or roughly 12,000 barrels, from 1,400 tonnes the previous year. “The increase can be partly explained by increased availability of our production facilities following the repair of a major export line in 2017 and the price of crude oil and refined products, which is seen as an opportunity for more illegal refining,” Shell said. Shell, the largest foreign investor in Nigeria, has for decades struggled with oil spills, a result of theft as well as poor maintenance, in the Nigeria delta where it controls a web of oilfields and pipelines. 

    Queries as Sh48b pipe spills diesel - The country’s new oil pipeline, which is barely one-year-old, has registered its first breakage at Kiboko near Emali town.  A site visit by The Standard yesterday established that hundreds of litres of diesel had spilled before technicians moved to the site and repaired the ruptured pipe. The Sh48 billion pipeline project was commissioned in August last year after a protracted battle between the contractor and Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) over construction delays and additional payment demands. The spillage involved diesel, which is a less flammable fuel compared to petrol. Various petroleum products are pumped intermittently through the pipeline on a pre-determined schedule to ensure they do not mix.  Villagers confirmed seeing an excavator drive to the site where the pipeline is buried at least one metre into the ground. It was not clear from a visual inspection what could have compromised the pipeline.  KPC was also yet to provide the amount of fuel lost in the spillage that left about 50 metres of ground along the pipeline still soaked.  Treating the affected ground would typically involve applying chemicals such as phosphate fertiliser to help break down the hydrocarbons that make up petroleum, to safeguard the environment. An engineer who spoke to The Standard on condition of anonymity said weakness as exhibited by the Kiboko breakage could typically be arrested when the pipeline was subjected to mechanical stress tests and electrical signal examination.   Electrical signal examination typically checks the integrity of the welded joints using either laser testing or sending ultrasonic waves to detect any weaknesses, especially those resulting from corrosion. “We are staring at a calamity in the case of a rupture while petrol is being moved. Imagine what would happen if we scaled up pumping pressure to capacity? It would be deadly,” he said. In the worst case scenarios, the engineer added, the entire pipeline might need to be redone.

    Tokyo Gas, Shell sign LNG deal linked to coal pricing in rare move (Reuters) - Japan’s Tokyo Gas said on Friday it has signed a deal with Royal Dutch Shell for the long-term supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG), partly using a coal-linked pricing formula in an unusual move for an Asian LNG buyer. This is believed to be the first time a Japanese buyer is using a coal-based pricing index in an LNG contract, industry observers said. The companies signed a heads of agreement for Tokyo Gas to buy 500,000 tonnes a year of LNG for 10 years from April 2020. Japan’s second-biggest LNG buyer is stepping up its efforts to diversify its supply sources and reduce costs. “As far as Tokyo Gas and Shell know, this is the first time a pricing formula linked with a coal index has been used with LNG contracts,” a Tokyo Gas spokesman said. A pricing formula based on coal indexation will be used for part of the supply, the spokesman said, while the rest will be priced off conventional gas- and oil-linked indexes. Tokyo Gas did not give the volumes to be done under each pricing method. “With our long-term relationship and joint consideration, we were able to achieve an innovative agreement that would enhance further diversification of price indexation pursued by Tokyo Gas,” Tokyo Gas Managing Executive Officer Kentaro Kimoto said in a statement. In Asia, most long-term LNG contracts are linked to oil prices, while supply from the United States is typically priced off the Henry Hub Index for natural gas.

    Global LNG demand to grow 2 pct a year for next 15 years -Qatar Petroleum CEO (Reuters) - Global demand for liquefied natural gas will grow at 2 percent a year for the next 15 years, the chief executive of Qatar Petroleum said at the LNG2019 conference in Shanghai on Tuesday. Growth in developed markets such as Japan and South Korea will be moderate, while there will be some growth in Europe after years of stagnation, said Saad Al-Kaabi, Qatar’s minister of state for energy affairs as well as president and chief executive of Qatar Petroleum. “China, along with India, will continue to lead Asia as the main drivers behind the growth of global LNG demand,” Al-Kaabi said at the conference, according to a press release later issued by Qatar Petroleum. Qatar has shipped more than 50 million tonnes of LNG to China, more than 22 percent of China’s imports of the fuel over the past ten years, he said. Al-Kaabi said demand for gas will continue to rise due to the growing concerns over the environment and climate change, and widespread moves towards using cleaner and more cost-effective fuels. “While some see natural gas as a transition fuel, we believe it is a destination fuel. It is the cleanest of all fossil fuels. It is reliable, affordable, and the fuel of the future,” he said. Qatar Petroleum also said in the press statement that it has awarded a number of contracts related to its LNG expansion project aimed at increasing LNG production capacity from 77 million tonnes a year to 110 million tonnes a year by 2024.

    South Korea tests U.S. super light oil as Iran waiver uncertainty grows - sources (Reuters) - South Korea has begun testing super-light U.S. oil sold by Anadarko Petroleum Corp as a substitute for Iranian crude while it awaits word from Washington on whether it can keep buying oil from the Middle Eastern nation, sources said. South Korea is one of Iran’s biggest Asian customers and was one of eight importers that received waivers to keep buying Iranian oil when the United States re-imposed sanctions in November. Washington is expected to reduce those waivers in May, disrupting South Korea’s supply of Iranian condensate, an ultra-light crude oil that is used in its large refining and chemical industry. West Texas Light (WTL) is seen as a potential substitute for Iranian condensate because, when refined, WTL yields a large volume of the refined product naphtha, which can be used to produce petrochemicals. Most WTL is produced in the western part of the Permian Basin in Texas. Anadarko spokesman John Christiansen confirmed the company is exporting WTL grade with the first cargo having sailed in February. The current point of sale is at the Houston Ship Channel and from there the barrels are exported primarily to markets in Europe and Asia, Christiansen said, although he did not confirm whether South Korea was testing this grade. South Korea’s top refiner SK Energy and the country’s smallest refiner, Hyundai Oilbank, are studying the crude’s assay and testing samples, the sources said. “The crude’s API seems to be 48 degrees so in a way it’s possible (to replace Iranian condensate) but again we need to check the oil’s quality,” one of the sources said. The source is referring to the so-called API gravity of the crude, which measures its density and indicates the type of fuels an oil yields when refined.

    The US 'will probably fail' to cut off Iranian oil exports — but that could be good news for Trump --The U.S. is overwhelmingly likely to fail in its attempt to completely halt Iran's oil exports, analysts told CNBC, with President Donald Trump eager to avoid rising gasoline prices ahead of presidential elections next year.As the first anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal from a 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and several world powers approaches, energy market participants are waiting to see whether the Trump administration will extend sanctions waivers on eight countries importing Iranian oil. Trump has until May 2 to decide whether to issue new waivers to eight governments — China, India, Japan, Turkey, Italy, Greece, South Korea and Taiwan — that were allowed in November to keep buying Iranian oil without facing penalties. "The U.S. will probably fail to reduce Iranian exports to zero, despite renewed talk from the White House about letting all oil import waivers expire in early May," analysts at Eurasia Group said in a research note published Tuesday. Given OPEC and non-OPEC production cuts and conditions in Venezuela, "the oil market probably cannot absorb the loss of 1.3 million barrels per day (bpd) of Iranian crude without a significant effect on domestic gasoline prices — a red line for U.S. President Donald Trump," they added. Trump withdrew from a nuclear accord with Iran in May last year and restored sanctions on the country's energy industry in November. The administration wants Iran to stop testing ballistic missiles, end its support for militant groups and accept tougher limits on its nuclear program.  On Tuesday, the Trump administration's special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, told reporters that "there are better market conditions for us to accelerate our path to zero." Therefore, the U.S. is "not looking to grant any waivers or exceptions to our sanctions regime," he added.

    Earthquakes linked to fracking in China - (UPI) -- Two damage-causing earthquakes have been linked to fracking operations in China's Sichuan Province.The two earthquakes, which originated in the South Sichuan Basin, registered magnitudes of 5.7 and 5.3. Though no one was killed, 17 people were hurt. Farmhouses, barns and local infrastructure suffered $7.5 million in damages.When scientists analyzed the seismic data, they traced the earthquakes to shallow origins, between one and six miles beneath the surface. Human activities, including oil and gas extraction, are often responsible for shallow earthquakes.Hydraulic fracturing involves the injection of high-pressure fluids deep into rock, most commonly shale, in order to trigger the release of oil and gas trapped between the rock layers. Often, wastewater left over from the activity is treated and then injected back into the ground.Fracking operations are plentiful in the South Sichuan Basin, home to the Changning shale gas block. Gas companies first moved into the region beginning in 2010, and, in 2014, several new wells were constructed. Since the increase in fracking activity, the region's earthquake rate has risen dramatically.Studies have previously linked fracking with earthquakes in Oklahoma, Kansas, Ohio and Western Canada. Fracking-caused earthquakes tend to be shallow, and they also tend to feature few aftershocks. The seismic patterns registered by the two Sichuan earthquakes showed most of the shaking occurred during the initial shock.

    Damaging Sichuan earthquakes linked to fracking operations - Two moderate-sized earthquakes that struck the southern Sichuan Province of China last December and January were probably caused by nearby fracking operations, according to a new study published in Seismological Research Letters.The December 2018 magnitude 5.7 and the January 2019 magnitude 5.3 earthquakes in the South Sichuan Basin caused extensive damage to farmhouses and other structures in the area. The December earthquake was especially destructive, injuring 17 people and resulting in a direct economic loss of about 50 million Chinese Yuan Renminbi (roughly $US 7.5 million).The Changning shale gas block in the South Sichuan Basin has been the site of fracking operations since 2010, with extensive horizontal fracking injection wells becoming more common since 2014. The earthquake rate in the Changning block rose dramatically at the same time that systematic fracking began.In the United States, wastewater disposal from oil and gas operations, where water produced during hydrocarbon extraction is injected back into rock layers, is thought to be the primary cause of induced earthquakes, especially in Oklahoma. However, there is growing evidence that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which uses injected water to break apart rock layers during hydrocarbon extraction, may have caused moderate-size earthquakes at some sites in Ohio, Oklahoma and western Canada. Both wastewater disposal and fracking have induced earthquakes in the south Sichuan basin, say Xinglin Lei of the Geological Survey of Japan and colleagues. In their new study in SRL, the researchers present "a full chain of evidence" to show that the December and January earthquakes were induced by fracking operations.

    China's Sinopec dials back oil-purchase strategy after record Q4 loss -sources (Reuters) - China’s Sinopec Corp has ended a five-year crude oil purchasing strategy to rein in the speculative derivatives activity of its trading arm Unipec after a record trading loss late last year, four people with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters. Sinopec, Asia’s largest crude oil buyer and its largest refiner, in January abandoned a buying formula used since 2014 to establish performance targets for Unipec and aimed at driving down its crude feedstock costs to a pre-set discount to global oil benchmarks. Under the strategy, Unipec had raked in a total 16.6 billion yuan ($2.5 billion) in net profit between 2014 and 2017, including a record year in 2016 at 6.17 billion yuan, according to Sinopec’s annual reports. The formula-based cost target, though, was blamed by two of the sources for driving speculative trades that led to a nearly $700 million loss for Unipec in the final quarter of 2018. “The headquarters believes that the purchasing scheme may be accountable for the trading debacle,” said one of the sources, “They are struggling to find a better way to manage (Sinopec’s) buying, but chose to drop it for now.” The changes are expected to make the state trader a less active player than in recent years in both physical and derivatives markets, the sources said, although it is not possible to quantify the exact impact on volumes. Unipec cut back its over-the-counter (OTC) paper activities shortly after news of the fourth-quarter loss broke, said a trader active in derivatives.  Ending the purchase strategy will see Unipec - which last year bought some 4.2 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil for Sinopec refineries - reduce its activities in both paper and physical markets, said the sources.

    Hedge funds bullish on slowing oil output growth- Kemp (Reuters) - Hedge funds are becoming increasingly bullish on oil prices amid signs of slowing production growth as a result of output cuts by Saudi Arabia and a reduction in U.S. shale drilling. Hedge funds and other money managers bought 37 million barrels of futures and options in the six most important contracts linked to petroleum prices in the week to March 26. Funds have boosted their bullish position in the six major contracts by a total of 421 million barrels over the last 11 weeks, according to position reports published by regulators and exchanges. The fund community's net long position has climbed to 723 million barrels, up from just 302 million barrels on Jan. 8, though still well below the recent high of 1.099 billion barrels on Sept. 25. In the week to March 26, portfolio managers bought 29 million barrels of WTI-linked futures and options, taking total purchases to 158 million barrels since Jan. 8. Hedge funds also bought 13 million barrels of Brent contracts in the most recent week and have purchased a total of 186 million since Dec. 11 ( On the products side, investors were net buyers of 6 million barrels of U.S. gasoline contracts, taking total purchases to 51 million barrels since the end of January. But there was less enthusiasm for middle distillates such as U.S. heating oil and European gasoil, notwithstanding the introduction of new ship fuel regulations at the start of next year which should boost consumption. Fund managers were net sellers of both heating oil (-5 million barrels) and gasoil (-7 million barrels) last week. 

    Why oil and gasoline prices are rising faster than expected this year -- Oil prices are rising faster this year than many energy analysts expected, leaving many consumers to wonder how much further their gasoline bills will jump. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude oil prices have rallied 37 percent this year, hitting a five-month high near $63 a barrel on Wednesday. Brent crude, the international benchmark for oil prices, is up 28 percent and almost breached $70 a barrel for the first time since November. The oil prices rally has contributed to seven straight weeks of higher U.S. gasoline prices. The national average for a gallon of regular gasoline is now sitting around $2.70."There's no fooling motorists, gas prices have continued to surge," said Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis for"The run-up this spring has felt worse than prior years, and thus far, the national average is up nearly 50 cents per gallon from our 2019 low. Unfortunately, this [is] a rut we'll be stuck in yet for at least a few more weeks," DeHaan said in an email briefing on Monday.One reason oil prices have surprised analysts this year: Demand for crude has been stronger than gloomy forecasts suggested last fall. Those projections said growth in oil consumption would slow significantly, but the world's appetite is growing at a healthy pace so far this year."Everybody came into the year with a very negative view and actually demand has been resilient," Michele della Vigna, co-head of European equity research at Goldman Sachs said on Wednesday."Demand remains robust particularly in the emerging markets, which continue to buy a lot of crude," he told CNBC's "Squawk Box" in Europe.

    Oil prices rise, adding to biggest quarterly gain in 10 years - Oil prices rose on Monday, adding to gains in the first quarter when the major benchmarks posted their biggest increases in nearly a decade, as concerns about supplies outweigh fears of a slowing global economy. Brent crude for June delivery was up by 43 cents, or 0.6 percent, at $68.01 a barrel by 0214 GMT, having risen 27 percent in the first quarter. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures rose 32 cents, or 0.5 percent, to $60.46 barrel, after posting a rise of 32 percent in the January-March period. U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela along with supply cuts by members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other major producers have helped support prices this year, overshadowing concerns about global growth and the U.S.-China trade war. However, future gains will be limited by potential softness in the global economy as well as the ability of U.S. oil producers to ramp up production when prices spike, "It's tough to see a really big rally from here," Still, analysts have turned cautiously optimistic on crude oil prices this year, a Reuters poll showed on Friday. U.S. production has also steadied, with the U.S. government reporting on Friday that domestic output in the world's top crude producer edged lower in January to 11.9 million bpd. U.S. energy firms last week reduced the number of oil rigs operating to the lowest level in nearly a year, cutting the most rigs in a quarter in three years, Baker Hughes energy services firm said.

     Oil rises to 2019 highs as demand outlook improves (Reuters) - Oil climbed about 2 percent to new 2019 highs on Monday, with Brent crude touching $69 a barrel, after positive signs for the global economy and tighter supplies drove both benchmarks’ largest first-quarter gains in nearly a decade. Brent crude ended the session up $1.43, or 2.1 percent, at $69.01 a barrel after rising to $69.19, its highest since November. The global benchmark rose 27 percent in the January-March period. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures settled up $1.45, or 2.4 percent, at $61.59 per barrel, after reaching their highest in nearly five months at $61.72. WTI gained 32 percent in the first quarter. “It was the 1-2 punch in terms of positive manufacturing PMI data from China and the U.S., two big economies, and that has emboldened the bulls in the market,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital Management in New York. “The big headwind was the string of weak economic data and that has been relieved today, so the bullish narrative is not being held back.” U.S. stocks rallied after upbeat manufacturing numbers from the United States and China eased worries about slowing global growth. China’s manufacturing sector unexpectedly returned to growth for the first time in four months in March. U.S. manufacturing numbers also came in better-than-expected in March, helping investors overlook soft retail sales data for February. The United States and China said they made progress in trade talks that concluded on Friday in Beijing, with Washington saying the negotiations were “candid and constructive” as the world’s two largest economies try to resolve their trade war. China’s State Council said on Sunday that the country would continue to suspend additional tariffs on U.S. vehicles and auto parts after April 1, in a goodwill gesture following a U.S. decision to delay tariff hikes on Chinese imports. “This bull market in energy that has entered its fourth month in duration appears capable of continuing,” said Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates. Production cuts from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries helped push the group’s supply to a four-year low in March, a Reuters survey found, as top exporter Saudi Arabia over-delivered on the group’s supply-cutting pact while Venezuelan output fell further due to U.S. sanctions and power outages. Analysts have turned cautiously optimistic on the oil market, a monthly Reuters poll showed on Friday, lifting their forecast for the average Brent price in 2019 for the first time in five months to $67.12. Hedge funds and money managers raised bullish wagers on U.S. crude to the highest in more than five months, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) said on Friday. Brent crude speculators also raised net long positions by 13,429 contracts to 322,035 in the week to March 26, data from the Intercontinental Exchange showed. That was the highest level since late October. 

    Oil rises on Iran sanctions threat, Venezuela shutdown -- Oil hit a 2019 high above $69 a barrel on Tuesday on the prospect that more sanctions against Iran and further Venezuelan disruptions could deepen an OPEC-led supply cut, and as the market became less worried that demand may slow. The United States is considering more sanctions against Iran, whose oil exports have been halved by existing measures, an official said. A key crude terminal in Venezuela, also under U.S. sanctions, has halted operations again. Brent crude touched $69.50, the highest since mid-November, and at was down 2 cents at $68.99 a barrel. U.S. crude was up 43 cents at $62.02, rising above $62 for the first time since early November. "The supply cuts have been there for a while but Venezuela is not improving," said Olivier Jakob, analyst at Petromatrix. "That is taking a lot of oil away from the market." Further supply losses from Iran and Venezuela could widen an OPEC-led production cut that took effect in January, designed to prevent a price-sapping rise in inventories. Supply from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries hit a four-year low in March, a Reuters survey found, because top exporter Saudi Arabia cut more than it had agreed to and due to the involuntary declines. This week's reports on U.S. supplies are expected to show crude inventories fell, a sign that the OPEC curbs are having the impact producers intended. Six analysts polled by Reuters estimated, on average, that crude stocks fell by 1.2 million barrels in the week to March 29. The first of this week's supply reports, from the American Petroleum Institute, is due at 2030 GMT. Oil's pattern on the price charts could lead to further gains. Brent is trading just below the 200-day moving average and a move above this mark would provide additional technical support, Jakob said. Healthy data on the world's biggest economies, the United States and China, also bolstered prices.

    Oil Hits 2019 High On Shale Slowdown - Crude oil hit fresh 2019 highs this week, pushed up by tightening supplies globally, a slowdown in U.S. output, and fewer concerns about the global economy. WTI bounced above $62 per barrel in early trading on Tuesday with Brent closing in on the $70-per-barrel mark.  The EIA reported that U.S. oil production fell in January by 90,000 bpd, offering more evidence that suggests the shale industry slammed on the brakes at the end of last year when oil prices collapsed.  Colorado’s House approved the new legislation that will overhaul regulation of the oil and gas industry in the state. The bill grants much more authority to local governments to regulate drilling operations, while also beefing up environmental oversight. The measure was already approved by the Senate. The oil and gas industry has sounded the alarm about the bill, warning that it could disrupt development, while local communities and environmental groups praised the move.. The natural gas prices in Western Texas fell into negative territory last week, plunging to a record low of -$2.50/MMBtu (yes, negative $2.50/MMBtu). There has been a shortage of takeaway capacity in the region, leading to a glut of gas. But equipment failures and maintenance have added to the midstream problems.  The wave of new LNG export capacity that is hitting the market this year is leading to a meltdown in prices. “The gas market obviously is undergoing a winter hangover” Francisco Blanch, head of global commodities and derivatives research at Bank of America Corp. in New York, told Bloomberg. “We are getting a glut across the board and we don’t see that changing all that much.” Spot prices for LNG in Asia – the JKM marker – fell as low as $4.375/MMBtu at the end of March. . Data from a new prospectus for Saudi Aramco’s upcoming dollar-denominated bond reveals that the Saudi oil company can produce oil at a cost as low as $2.80 per barrel. Aramco’s profits of $111 billion last year makes it the world’s most profitable company, even as its obligations to prop up the state are enormous.

      Oil prices jump on OPEC Cuts - Crude advanced for a third day after a further reduction in supply from OPEC signaled that global markets are tightening.  Futures added as much as 1.3 percent to the highest level since November in New York on Tuesday. Declines in OPEC production are stoking optimism among investors as Saudi Arabia pressed on with output curbs and as power blackouts in Venezuela further squeezed supplies. Meanwhile, U.S. crude stockpiles probably declined by 900,000 barrels last week, according to a Bloomberg survey ahead of a government report on Wednesday. “The fundamentals that drove us yesterday – the OPEC production numbers falling, Venezuelan production issues, strong manufacturing numbers and lower U.S. production – all of that is conspiring to take prices higher,” Oil has rallied about 37 percent this year as Saudi-led production cuts, together with receding fears over the global economic growth outlook, appear to be easing investor concerns.  West Texas Intermediate for May delivery climbed 64 cents to $62.23 a barrel at 10:18 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The WTI prompt spread traded at a discount of eight cents, signaling a narrowing contango, a market structure where contracts in the near term are cheaper than those further out.  Brent for June settlement added 18 cents to $69.19 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. Brent’s prompt spread traded at 42 cents in backwardation, a market structure where prices in the near term are stronger than those further out. The global benchmark crude’s premium over WTI traded at $6.87 a barrel. A chemical storage complex fire near Houston caught on fire last month, partially shutting the local ship channel and causing local refiners in need to crude to dial back production. That will likely cause some uncertainty ahead of supply data from the industry-funded American Petroleum Institute later Tuesday.

    WTI Dips To Key Technical Support After Surprise Crude Build - WTI extended its recent run today, breaking above its 200DMA... While technicals dominated today, "The fundamentals that drove us yesterday -- the OPEC production numbers falling, Venezuelan production issues, strong manufacturing numbers and lower U.S. production -- all of that is conspiring to take prices higher," said Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at Price Futures Group Inc. in Chicago. But once again all eyes will be on inventories...  API:

    • Crude +3.00mm (-900k exp)
    • Cushing +18k
    • Gasoline -2.6mm
    • Distillates -1.9mm

    EIA printed a surprise crude build in the prior week and expectations were for a return to draws this week but API reported a second weekly surprise crude build (+3mm vs -900k exp)... The WTI 200DMA level is $62.40 - which is exactly where it traded ahead of the API data. After a quick kneejerk higher, WTI slipped lower but remained above the key technical level...

    Oil hits 2019 high as supply squeeze looms; Brent nears $70 per barrel - (Reuters) - Oil prices on Tuesday hit their highest level so far in 2019, with Brent crude approaching $70 a barrel, on the prospect that more sanctions against Iran and further Venezuelan disruptions could deepen an OPEC-led supply cut. Brent futures reached a session peak at $69.52 a barrel, the highest since Nov. 13. The global benchmark rose 36 cents, or 0.52 percent, to settle at $69.37 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude rose 99 cents, or 1.61 percent, to settle at $62.58 a barrel, after touching $62.75, its highest level since Nov. 7. The United States is considering more sanctions against Iran, the fourth-largest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), an official said. Three of the eight countries to which Washington granted waivers to import Iranian oil have now cut their shipments from Iran to zero, a U.S. special representative said on Tuesday. Meanwhile, a crude terminal in Venezuela, also under U.S. sanctions, halted operations again due to power problems. However, Venezuela stabilized exports in March after shipments fell about 40 percent in February from January. But further supply losses from Iran and Venezuela could widen an OPEC-led production cut. OPEC supply hit a four-year low in March, a Reuters survey found, due to the involuntary declines and as top exporter Saudi Arabia cut more than agreed. Russia, the biggest non-OPEC producer in the so-called OPEC+ group, has yet to reach its production-cutting target.  While the country’s output was down by around 112,000 bpd from the October 2018 level, Russia has pledged to cut output by 228,000 bpd from that level. In the United States, crude inventories rose by 3 million barrels in the week to March 29 to 451.7 million, industry group the American Petroleum Institute said on Tuesday. Analysts had expected a decrease of 425,000 barrels.

    WTI Breaks Below Key Support After Crude Inventories Showed Large Surprise Build -  With WTI battling to hold its 200DMA after a surprise crude build from API overnight as the global crude market is warming to the thought that OPEC-Russia cuts and Venezuelan declines are keeping global supply in check, and as Bloomberg notes, U.S. production may need move up at a faster pace to keep equivocators from going long as well.  DOE

    • Crude +7.23mm (-800k exp, +699k whisper) - biggest build since Jan 2019
    • Cushing +201k
    • Gasoline -1.781mm
    • Distillates -1.998mm

    Confirming API's data, DOE reported a major surprise crude build (+7.23mm vs -800k exp). This is the biggest build since the first week of January and sent WTI prices lower... American refiners took no Venezuelan crude for the third week in a row, while the Saudis raised their weekly crude deliveries to the U.S. by about 20%. If the trend in oil rig counts is anything to go by, US Crude production is set to slow but it rose to a new record high last week... WTI tumbled below the 200DMA on the print but bounced pretty quick...

    Oil prices slip as US crude stockpiles surge by 7.2 million barrels - Oil prices slipped on Wednesday after Brent pushed towards a nearly five-month high of $70 a barrel on OPEC-led supply cuts and U.S. sanctions, with gains capped by a surprise increase in U.S. crude stockpiles. U.S. commercial crude inventories surged by 7.2 million barrels in the week through March 29, the Energy Information Administration reported on Wednesday. Analysts in a Reuters poll expected stockpiles to fall by 425,000 barrels. Meanwhile, U.S. gasoline stocks fell by 1.8 million barrels, and distillate fuel inventories, which include diesel and home heating fuel, dropped by 2 million barrels. Brent futures fell 5 cents to $69.32 around 10:30 a.m. ET (1430 GMT). They earlier reached $69.96 — the highest since Nov. 12, when they last traded above $70. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude fell 26 cents to $62.32, having hit $62.99, the highest since Nov. 7. "The psychologically important $70 a barrel threshold has proved a tough nut to crack for the Brent benchmark over the past few weeks," PVM oil broker Stephen Brennock said. "Underpinning this latest bout of upward pricing pressures is the positive afterglow from surveys pointing to another sizeable fall last month in OPEC output. Reduced supplies from the producer group will go a long way to cementing the tighter fundamental backdrop." Oil prices have been supported for much of 2019 by efforts by OPEC and allies such as Russia, who have pledged to withhold around 1.2 million barrels per day of supply this year. Supply from OPEC countries hit a four-year low in March, a Reuters survey found this week. Oil production from Russia fell to 11.3 million bpd last month, but missed the country's target under the supply deal. "We assume that OPEC crude oil production will average 30.1 million bpd in 2019 ... down from 31.9 million bpd in 2018," BNP Paribas said in a note, reducing an earlier forecast for this year by 200,000 bpd.

    Oil prices dip but still near 5-month high after US crude storage build - (Reuters) - Oil prices edged lower on Wednesday after U.S. government data showed a surprise build in crude inventories, but futures hovered near five-month highs as OPEC-led output cuts and U.S. sanctions kept the supply outlook tight. Crude stocks in the United States rose 7.2 million barrels in the latest week, the Energy Information Administration said. Analysts had forecast a decrease of 425,000 barrels. Brent futures fell 36 cents to $69.01 a barrel by 1:10 p.m. EST (1700 GMT). Their session high was $69.96, the strongest since Nov. 12, when they traded above $70. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude fell 19 cents to $62.39 a barrel, having briefly hit $62.99, the highest since Nov. 7. Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub rose by 201,000 barrels, EIA said. "The report was bearish due to the large crude oil inventory build," said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital Management in New York. "It appears to be a function of diminished exports for a second week in a row, and a low refinery utilization rate." Despite the large build in U.S. crude stocks, market participants said prices were positioned to move up on tightening global supply and signs of demand picking up. "Those are the issues that have supported the market here," said Bob Yawger, director of futures at Mizuho in New York. "At the end of the day, this market is really bulled up and it wants to trade higher." Crude oil futures were supported by ongoing efforts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies such as Russia to reduce oil output by about 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) this year. Supply from OPEC countries hit a four-year low in March, a Reuters survey found this week. Oil production from Russia fell to 11.3 million bpd last month, but missed the country's target under the supply deal. In a signal that supply may tighten more, a U.S. official said on Tuesday that three of eight countries granted waivers by Washington to import oil from Iran had cut such purchases to zero, adding that improved oil market conditions would help reduce Iranian crude exports further.

    Oil Rally Halts After Another Big Build in U.S. Crude Stockpiles - A second-straight week of large crude builds in a market expecting a draw messed up, to some extent, the bullish narrative in oil on Wednesday. That prevented West Texas Intermediate crude from cracking the $63-a-barrel resistance and Brent oil from getting past the Saudis' first-aspired-to target of $70. New York-traded WTI settled down 12 cents, or 0.2%, at $62.46 a barrel after the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported a crude inventory rise of 7.24 million barrels for the week to March 29, versus market expectations for a stockpile drop of 425,000 barrels. London-traded Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, was down 4 cents, or 0.1%, at $69.33 per barrel by 2:46 PM ET (18:46 GMT). Both benchmarks hit five-month highs earlier in the session, with WTI reaching $62.98 and Brent $69.96. The crude inventory build reported by the EIA came on top of the previous week's rise of 2.8 million barrels. Offsetting some of the negative sentiment from the crude build, the EIA also said gasoline inventories fell by 1.78 million barrels, compared to expectations for a draw of 1.54 million barrels. Distillate stockpiles dropped by 2.0 million barrels, compared to forecasts for a decline of 506,000. Those declines, which came on the back of refinery output running steadily at just under 86.5%, helped boost prices of gasoline and heating oil, which acts as a proxy for distillates and diesel. Gasoline has, so far, been the star of this year's energy rally, gaining 47%, while heating oil has risen 19%. (AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report shows pump prices nationally rising, too: up 19.3% this year to an average $2.703 a gallon.) The inventory build reported by the EIA also did not unduly affect Wednesday's market as many took it to be the result of distortions caused by the recent closure of the Houston Ship Channel. A fire late last month at a chemical storage facility led to the shutdown of the important hub for crude oil imports and refinery runs. U.S. crude exports have also slid due to the outage, reaching just 2.72 million barrels per day last week after record highs of 3.6 million earlier in March. WTI remains up 37.6% for the year and Brent 28.8% from four months of stiff output cuts by global oil producers led by Saudi Arabia.

     Oil prices edge lower after US inventories build -- Oil prices steadied in back-and-forth trade on Thursday as expectations of tight global supply offset pressure from rising U.S. inventories and production.Brent futures were down 5 cents at $69.26 a barrel around 10:50 a.m. ET (1450 GMT). Brent fell 6 cents on Wednesday, after touching $69.96, highest since Nov. 12, when it last traded above $70. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude were down 19 cents at $62.27 a barrel. The contract dropped 12 cents in the previous session after briefly hitting $62.99, also the highest since November. Global benchmark Brent has gained nearly 29 percent this year, while WTI has gained 37 percent. Prices have been underpinned by tightening global supplies and signs of demand picking up. "There is a clear bias to the upside with the supply restrictions," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney, pointing to supply cuts by OPEC and others, along with sanctions on Iran. "And there's a much-better-than-expected demand picture after the recent China and U.S. PMI numbers, along with a potential kicker from any U.S.-China trade agreement," he said. The Caixin/Markit services purchasing managers' index rose to 54.4, the highest since January 2018 and up from February's 51.1, a fourth-month low, a private business survey of China's service sector showed on Wednesday. Trade talks between the United States and China made "good headway" last week in Beijing and the two sides aim to bridge differences during further talks, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Wednesday. Crude oil is also supported by an agreement between OPEC and allies such as Russia, a group known as OPEC+, to reduce oil output by about 1.2 million bpd this year.

    Oil Hits $70 On Libya Unrest, Crisis In Venezuela - Oil prices rose in early trading on Friday on risks in Libya and positive trade news from the U.S.-China negotiations. “The geopolitics around Libya and Venezuela, alongside the possible reflation of risk appetite on positive U.S.-China trade talks may well pull the market out of its morning doldrums,” Harry Tchilinguirian, global oil strategist at BNP Paribas, told the Reuters Global Oil Forum. On Thursday, Brent briefly topped $70 per barrel for the first time this year, although it fell back again. On Friday, Brent was hovering just below that threshold.  The head of the Libyan National Army, Khalifa Haftar, ordered his troops to march on Tripoli on Thursday, dramatically escalating the risk of turmoil in the country. If oil production in the country is disrupted, it would “noticeably increase the pressure on Saudi Arabia to open up the oil tap again, as it did in the autumn”, Commerzbank said in a note.  President Donald Trump met with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He at the White House on Thursday as the two sides inch closer to a landmark deal that could end the trade war. The agreement reportedly would give China until 2025 to meet commitments on commodity purchases from the U.S. and for the concession of allowing 100 percent foreign ownership for American companies operating in China. Expectations are rising that a breakthrough is close and could be announced in the next few weeks.  The seven nations in the Arabian Gulf are set to produce a combined 26 mb/d by 2025, according to Rystad Energy, up from 24 mb/d in 2018. Rystad expects output in the region to grow by 300,000 bpd per year, with Iraq, Kuwait and the UAE adding the most.  The NOPEC bill that has gained momentum in the U.S. Congress could spark antitrust action against OPEC. In response, Saudi Arabia has is reportedly threatening to sell its oil in currencies other than the U.S. dollar should the bill pass, according to Reuters. “The Saudis know they have the dollar as the nuclear option,” a source told Reuters.

    Oil prices rise 1.5 pct as strong U.S. economic data eases demand concerns (Reuters) - Oil prices gained 1.5 percent on Friday as strong U.S. employment data tempered fears about weakening global crude oil demand, and on expectations that an escalating conflict in Libya could tighten oil supplies. Optimism that Washington and Beijing are approaching a trade deal also boosted crude prices. Brent crude futures settled at $70.34 a barrel, up 94 cents, or 1.35 percent. The session high of $70.46 was the strongest since Nov. 12. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude settled at $63.08 a barrel, up 98 cents, or 1.58 percent. Earlier in the session, WTI hit $63.24, the highest since Nov. 6. Brent recorded its second straight week of gains, while WTI saw its fifth consecutive weekly rise. The U.S. Labor Department report showed employment growth accelerated from a 17-month low in March. “This data is going to be enough to keep us above the $60 level for a least a couple of weeks,” said Josh Graves, senior commodities strategist at RJO Futures in Chicago. Military action in Libya, which could disrupt supply from the OPEC member, also aided prices. On Thursday, Eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar ordered his troops to march on Tripoli, escalating a conflict with the internationally recognized government. “The developing situation in Libya is also supportive, but, for now the oil is continuing to flow and will likely continue to do so,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC in New York. Crude futures also received a boost from news of a potential slowdown in crude production out of Venezuela, as U.S. sanctions and energy blackouts hit the OPEC nation’s oil industry. Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA expects its crude upgraders to operate well below capacity this month, according to industry sources and documents seen by Reuters. Venezuela depends on the upgraders to convert the extra-heavy crude oil produced in the Orinoco Belt into exportable grades usable in overseas refineries

     Oil Prices Up More Than Four Percent for Week =West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil for May delivery added 98 cents Friday to settle at $63.08 per barrel. The WTI, which traded within a range from $61.82 to $63.26, is up 4.9 percent against last Friday’s settlement price.June Brent futures added 94 cents to settle at $70.34 – a psychologically important level. Having cleared that threshold, the Brent is up 4.1 percent for the week.“Oil continued its four-week rally this week and crossed over a key technical price once again, on strong fundamentals with a little help from technical indicators,” said Tom Seng, Assistant Professor of Energy Business with the University of Tulsa’s Collins College of Business. “Both WTI and Brent are trading above key resistance price levels of $60 and $70, respectively. In addition, both contracts are now trading above their one-year moving averages.”Seng pointed out that both benchmarks are up 32 percent for the first quarter of 2019 and up nearly 40 percent so far this year. In addition, he noted that OPEC production for March hit a four-year low – thanks in part to falling Venezuela output. Also, he observed that the latest Weekly Petroleum Status Report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed:

    • An unexpectedly large 7.2 million-barrel increase in domestic commercial crude inventories – well above the 500,000-barrel stocks at the key hub in Cushing, Okla.
    • A roughly 200,000-barrel increase in crude
    • Falling refinery utilization to 86.4 percent and a 1.8 million-barrel and 2 million-barrel declines in motor gasoline and distillate inventories, respectively
    • Crude imports 12 percent lower than the corresponding period in 2018
    • Steady U.S. oil production week-on-week at 12.1 million barrels per day (bpd)

    Seng also noted that the U.S. oil rig count from Baker Hughes, a GE company (BHGE) rose by 15 last week – the first such increase in seven weeks. “On the economic news front, the stock market rose throughout the week on positive economic reports,” continued Seng. “In the ‘up-and-down’ U.S.-China trade talks, this week was deemed to be an optimistic one with President Trump indicating an agreement would be forthcoming in four weeks.”

    Saudi Arabia is reportedly mulling 'nuclear option' of stripping the US dollar from oil trade -- The U.S. dollar is the dominant currency in oil trading, but Saudi Arabia is reportedly considering selling its crude in other currencies if American lawmakers pass an anti-OPEC bill. The discussions, reported by Reuters, suggest that Riyadh is preparing a strategy to deal with potential passage of the No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act, known as NOPEC. The legislation is widely viewed as a longshot, which means the Saudi move to marginalize the dollar is unlikely to come to pass.Still, the kingdom has discussed the proposal with other OPEC members, two sources told Reuters. Another source said Riyadh has broached the subject with U.S. energy officials.If the Saudis followed through, it would chip away at U.S. influence over global financial markets and Washington's ability to enforce sanctions on foreign entities. Efforts to diminish the greenback's role in oil trading have been fairly limited to date, but the Saudi plan would lend significant momentum to those efforts — and represent a coup for countries like Russia and China.Saudi Arabia is the world's largest oil exporter, and its total crude output is surpassed only by U.S. and Russian production. It pumps enough oil to meet about 10 percent of global demand, while OPEC fulfills about a third of global consumption.The NOPEC legislation would amend existing U.S. law, allowing the Justice Department to sue foreign countries for working together to limit oil supplies and influence prices. That represents an existential threat to OPEC. The 14-nation producer group regulates global oil supply by setting output limits for each member during times of oversupply.

     Aramco's $10 billion-plus bond plan shows profits put top earner Apple in shade (Reuters) - Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil producer, made core earnings of $224 billion last year, almost three times as much as Apple, figures from the state-owned company showed on Monday ahead of its debut international bond issue. Previously reluctant to disclose its financials, Aramco had to reveal them in order to obtain a public rating and start issuing international bonds. Despite the huge profit, the state-owned oil giant was rated by credit agencies at par with Saudi Arabia, meaning the kingdom’s sluggish economy will weigh on Aramco’s cost of borrowing as it prepares its bond market debut. Aramco’s core earnings surpass those of Apple, ranked by Forbes as the world’s top company in terms of profits last year, which had normalized core earnings, or EBITDA, of $81.8 billion. Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said earlier this year Aramco’s planned bond sale would raise around $10 billion, but banking sources said the transaction could be larger. Rating agencies Fitch and Moody’s rated Aramco A+ and A1 respectively, but both said that without sovereign rating constraints it would be in the same league as oil companies like Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Shell. “Saudi Aramco’s rating is constrained by that of Saudi Arabia (A+/Stable),” Fitch said. “This reflects the influence the state exerts on the company through taxation and dividends, as well as regulating the level of production in line with its OPEC commitments.” However, Aramco’s bond prospectus said the kingdom would not guarantee Aramco’s notes and was under no obligation to extend financial support to the company. Fitch put Aramco’s standalone credit profile at “AA+”. Credit ratings allow investors to compare and assess the credit quality of bond issuers and their debt securities, and are important in determining how much borrowers have to pay. The planned bond deal is Aramco’s inaugural transaction in international markets. It still plans to launch an initial public stock offering or IPO in 2021, expected to generate $100 billion, having postponed its flotation from 2018. “Saudi Aramco has many characteristics of a Aaa-rated corporate, with minimal debt relative to cash flows, large scale of production, market leadership and access in Saudi Arabia to one of the world’s largest hydrocarbon reserves,” said Rehan Akbar, senior credit officer at Moody’s. 

    For The First Time Ever Aramco Opens Its Books: Reveals Higher Profit Than Apple, Google And Exxon Combined - Long the subject of guesswork and speculation, Saudi Aramco, the state-controlled oil giant that's responsible for roughly 10% of the world's oil production, has for the first time ever opened its book to investors as it prepares to launch a $10 billion bond offering.And the three years' of financials confirmed what many have long suspected: Aramco's profits beat out tech giants like Apple and publicly-traded rivals in the energy space like Exxon-Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell, establishing the energy behemoth as by far the world's most profitable company. In 2018 alone, Aramco's profits exceeded $110 billion on $360 billion in revenue. That's nearly double Apple's $60 billion profit, and five times Shell's ($23.9 billion). Thanks to the surge in oil prices last year, Aramco's net income climbed by 50% from $75.9 billion in 2017.Last year, the company earned more than Alphabet, Apple and Exxon combined. The revelations come courtesy of Moody's Investors Service and other ratings firms, which released the results as part of its credit rating analysis for the upcoming bond offering. Moody's attributed Aramco's profitability to its sheer size and access to some of the world's largest oil and gas reserves, per WSJ. Furthermore, the prospectus for the bond offering, which included three years' worth of financials, showed the company's operating profit, before interest and tax, was $212 billion."Aramco’s scale of production in combination with its vast hydrocarbon resources is a very strong competitive advantage," Moody's said. Aramco produced, on average, 13.6 million barrels a day in 2018, three times Exxon Mobil's 3.8 million barrels.

    How the mysteries of Khashoggi’s murder have rocked the U.S.-Saudi partnership - It has been nearly six months since Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, but the aftershocks continue. Saudi Arabia still hasn’t explained officially how and why the Post Global Opinions columnist was killed.  The basic questions remain much the same as they did in October, when Khashoggi died: How was the Istanbul strike team that carried out the operation trained and controlled? What exact roles did Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his close aides play in the killing? What new controls can be implemented, in Riyadh and Washington, to make sure that such a grisly murder of a journalist never happens again? And most important, will anyone be held accountable? Saudi Arabia’s initial lies about the killing collapsed soon after Khashoggi disappeared on Oct. 2. But MBS, as the crown prince is known, still hasn’t taken responsibility for the killers’ actions, which were done on his behalf and perhaps his orders. Until he provides real answers, the U.S.-Saudi military and intelligence partnership, important for both countries’ security, is likely to remain in limbo. This case is personal for us at The Post. Khashoggi was our colleague, and my friend for 15 years. To understand how his gruesome murder happened and whether it’s possible to rebuild the U.S.-Saudi relationship, I’ve interviewed more than a dozen knowledgeable American and Saudi sources, who revealed some previously secret details because they hope to establish new rules and accountability that might preserve the relationship. The sources requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information. The bottom line is that unless the crown prince takes ownership of this issue and accepts blame for murderous deeds done in his name, his relationship with the United States will remain broken. Saudi officials claim that MBS has made changes, firing Saud al-Qahtani, his former covert-operations coordinator. But the Saudi machine of repression remains intact, run by many of the same people who worked for Qahtani. U.S. officials worry that the young crown prince has become a Saudi version of Saddam Hussein, an authoritarian “modernizer.”

    Khashoggi's Kids Have Received Multi-Million Dollar Homes, Massive Payouts From Saudi Government --Apparently, despite the Saudis alleged leaking of Jeff Bezos' intimate texts as retribution for his newspaper's aggressive coverage of the Khashoggi murder, the Amazon founder has remained unfazed, and on Tuesday, the Washington Post  published its latest scoop in the ongoing saga of murder and deception.As the international outcry over Khashoggi's killing, and the suspected involvement of Saudi Crown Prince MbS, continues to fade, WaPo reports that the kingdom has provided generous financial settlements to Khashoggi's children, including multi-million dollar homes and five-figure monthly payouts, in what the paper describes as an arrangement to keep them from speaking out against the Kingdom.  In addition, the two sons and two daughters of the slain former government insider-turned-dissident - whom the kingdom has said was accidentally murdered during a botched rendition attempt inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul (though WaPo's reporting has established that US intelligence believes MbS personally ordered the hit) - could receive a payout worth tens of millions of dollars in a "blood money" settlement - that is, if they're willing to forgive their father's alleged killers. If the men are convicted and sentenced to death, the Saudi system of justice could allow the Khashoggi family members to grant their father’s killers clemency as part of a "blood money" arrangement in which they might then be entitled to tens of millions of dollars.It is unclear whether Khashoggi’s children would be required to forgive or absolve the killers to collect the payments. Former Saudi officials and experts said that the royal court and government have incentives to seek such an agreement and avoid a situation in which only low-level operatives are executed for their role in a plot that was developed and orchestrated from high levels of government.

    Saudi Arabia arrests more activists, including 2 U.S. citizens - Saudi Arabia detained eight people, including two dual U.S.-Saudi citizens, in a new round of arrests in the kingdom targeting individuals supportive of women's rights and those with ties to jailed activists, a person with knowledge of the apprehensions said Friday.It marks the first sweep of arrests to target individuals perceived as critics of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman since the killing of writer Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October. The arrests come despite global outcry over Khashoggi's grisly killing by Saudi agents in an operation directed by former top aides to the crown prince. The arrested individuals, nearly all of whom were detained Thursday, are not seen as front-line activists. They are writers and advocates who quietly supported greater social reforms and most had ties to the group of women's rights activists currently on trial.Those detained include a pregnant woman and seven men, among them two U.S.-Saudi nationals: Badr Ibrahim, a writer and physician, and Salah Haidar, whose mother is prominent women's rights activist Aziza Yousef, who was recently temporarily released from prison.Haidar has a family home in Vienna, Va., and lives with his wife and child in Saudi Arabia. A third U.S.-Saudi national, Walid Fitaihi, remains imprisoned in Saudi Arabia since late 2017, when the crown prince detained more than 100 businessmen, princes and officials in a purported anti-corruption sweep. Fitaihi, whose family alleges that he's been tortured in prison, worked as a physician in the Boston area before he returned in 2006 to his native Saudi Arabia, where he helped found a hospital built by his family.

    Germany extends ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia - Germany has extended its current ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia for six more months, ending on September 30, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Thursday. During that period, no new contracts will be approved, Seibert said. The decision came after Merkel met with members of her cabinet to review the policy. The German government had placed a temporary ban on weapons sales to Saudi Arabia in October 2018, following the controversial killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Istanbul. At the time, Merkel said that no new exports to the country would be allowed until the circumstances of Khashoggi's death had been established. But more recently, the chancellor indicated that Germany needed to be more flexible.The ban has divided Merkel's governing coalition, but it has also drawn criticism from France and Britain. Both countries have decried the fact that the Saudi weapons freeze also bars sales of arms manufactured in different countries that happen to have German components in them. France's Ambassador to Germany, Anne-Marie Descotes, said this week that Germany's arms export policy and cumbersome licensing rules threatened future bilateral defense projects.  Descotes warned that this debate would leave companies preferring "German-free arms products" — in other words, weapons systems that did not include German components. She also admonished Germans for treating the debate as if weapons exports were a domestic policy matter, when in fact "it has serious consequences for our bilateral cooperation in the field of defense, and for the strengthening of European sovereignty."

    Saudi Arabia Went On Arms Buying Rampage Over Past 2 Years- Study -- Despite Saudi Arabia coming under intensified international scrutiny after last year's brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, a new study shows Riyadh has been on a record-setting weapons buying spree over the past two years.  And who supplies most of these arms? Of course the United States, which has by all indicators done nothing to curtail its perpetual arms pipeline to the Saudis; instead it has grown. According to a new 2019 study published in March from arms transfer monitoring group, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), 70 percent of the Saudi arsenal now comes from the United States. Furthermore, the Saudis have hands down led the world in global weapons purchases for the past two years, and there's little sign this trend will let up as Riyadh keeps up its merciless bombing campaign over neighboring Yemen, and as its regional ambitions have grown in competition with perceived "Iranian influence" also given Syria's Assad emerging victorious in the long-running proxy war in Syria, and as Hezbollah is now considered stronger than ever. Senior researcher and Middle East specialist with SIPRI, Pieter Wezeman, told PRI the US-Saudi arms trade has continued to grow: "There's been a very significant growth in arms supplies to Saudi Arabia by the US," he said.He detailed the bulk constitutes major weapons systems as followsTo Saudi Arabia, the US supplies a very wide range of arms. The most important types of arms include combat aircraft, tanks and missiles. It includes very advanced sensors and intelligence gathering equipment, often on planes. In the coming years, it will also include frigates and other ships. So, really, the whole package of weapons which Saudi Arabia wants to have is what the US is willing to supply and already has supplied.  Wezeman also suggested the Saudis are worried about Iranian escalation in Yemen. Saudi officials have long accused Tehran of transferring ballistic missiles to Shia Houthi rebels, in order to strike at targets deep inside Saudi Arabia. 

    Saudi Nuclear Facility Near Completion According To Satellite Photos - Saudi Arabia has nearly completed its first nuclear reactor according to satellite photos of the facility published by GoogleEarth, which reveal a "columnar vessel that will contain atomic fuel," according to Bloomberg.  Located in the southwest corner of the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology in Riyadh, the new facility has raised concerns in the West - as the Saudis have yet to sign up to the international framework of rules adhered to by other nuclear powers in order to prevent civilian atomic programs aren't used to develop weapons. Nuclear fuel providers, meanwhile, cannot legally supply the new reactor until modern surveillance arrangements have been reached with the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.  "There’s a very high probability these images show the country’s first nuclear facility," said former IAEA director Robert Kelley, who also directed the US Department of Energy's remote sensing laboratory. "It means that Saudi Arabia has to get its safeguards in order."Saudi Arabia’s energy ministry said in a statement the facility’s purpose is to ``engage in strictly peaceful scientific, research, educational and training activities in full compliance with international agreements.’’ The reactor is being built with transparency, and the kingdom has signed all international non-proliferation treaties, the ministry said, adding that the facility is open to visitors.While Saudi Arabia has been open about its ambitions to acquire a nuclear plant, less is known about the kinds of monitoring the kingdom intends to put in place. More arms-control experts are scrutinizing Saudi Arabia’s nuclear work because of official statements that the kingdom could try to acquire nuclear weapons. -BloombergLast year, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman threatened to develop a nuclear bomb if regional rival Iran does first. "The much louder debate in Washington is about whether Saudi Arabia acquires nuclear weapons," said researcher and former diplomat on non-proliferation Sharon Squassoni of George Washington University. "The fuel isn’t going to be supplied until it has a strong safeguards agreement in place," Squassoni added. "Once they cross that threshold of needing fuel, it has to be in place."

    Nuclear regulators were unaware of transfer of sensitive technical information to Saudi Arabia - When the Trump administration on seven occasions authorized companies to share sensitive nuclear energy information with Saudi Arabia, it was supposed to consult with several agencies, including the independent Nuclear Regulatory Commission. But NRC Chairman Kristine L. Svinicki testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Tuesday that she did not know whether the agency had been consulted, and if so whether it had raised any concerns. At one point Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) asked four questions in a row about the agency’s participation, pausing after each one, and Svinicki and her four fellow commissioners remained silent. “I know you don’t have sign-off authority, but none of you at this table know whether the NRC raised any concerns about entering in these 810 authorizations?” he asked. “I do not,” Svinicki replied. The term “Part 810 authorizations” refers to permission given to share technological information but not pieces of equipment. For that, companies need a different approval under a 123 Agreement, which the United States and Saudi Arabia have not agreed on. The exchange between Van Hollen and Svinicki illustrates growing concern in Congress over the Energy Department’s authorization of Part 810 information — nonclassified but sensitive details about nuclear energy reactors U.S. companies are trying to sell to Saudi Arabia. Last week, the administration divulged that it had kept secret from Congress as well as the public seven authorizations for nuclear energy companies to use in wooing Saudi Arabia, a potential customer interested in building two nuclear reactors for civilian purposes. The information kept under wraps includes the identity of the companies and the type of information. In the past, that information has been placed in the Energy Department’s reading room. But Energy Secretary Rick Perry said the companies had asked for confidentiality because of proprietary information.

    UAE Hired US Hackers to Spy on Al Jazeera Chief, BBC Journalist  – Former US intelligence operatives helped the United Arab Emirates spy on the chairman of Al Jazeera and other prominent Arab media figures with alleged ties to Qatar, a Reuters investigation has revealed.The phone-hacking operation dates back to June 2017, the same week that four Arab countries, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia, broke diplomatic ties and imposed a blockade on Qatar.The hacking was part of Project Raven, Reuters reported, a clandestine Emirati intelligence operation that spied on opponents of the UAE monarchy, including a British activist and several US journalists.Former Raven operatives told the news agency that they were tasked with finding material showing that Qatar’s royal family had influenced the coverage of Al Jazeera, the influential, Doha-based media network, and other outlets. The operatives also said they were asked to uncover any ties between Al Jazeera and the Muslim Brotherhood. The blockading countries have accused Qatar of meddling in their internal affairs, supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, and working to build stronger ties to Iran, charges that Doha has repeatedly denied. The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment about the alleged hacking operation, Reuters said in its report.

    Forces advance on Libyan capital, threatening to tip key OPEC oil producer into war - Members of a brigade headed by field commander Salah Bogheib and loyal to Khalifa Haftar -a retired general and former chief of staff for Moamer Kadhafi- hold up their guns as they fight alongside Libyan army troops against Islamist gunmen in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. Libya's eastern military leader has ordered his forces to march on Tripoli, sparking concerns that open war could soon break out between the main political factions in a key oil-producing nation. The OPEC member state has been riven by conflict since the fall of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. For much of that time, General Khalifa Haftar has held the country's east, drawing support from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates and serving as a foil to the United Nations-recognized government in the capital of Tripoli. The two sides have been engaged in UN-sponsored power-sharing talks. But on Wednesday, Haftar's Libyan National Army unexpectedly advanced towards Tripoli. Skirmishes between the LNA and forces loyal to Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj have since been reported, including in the city of Gharyan south of Tripoli. Earlier, it remained unclear whether Haftar intended to bring the west under his grip or merely increase his leverage ahead of a national conference later this month. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who is in Libya to meet with leaders, called for calm and restraint. Tweet But the order to enter Tripoli came in the early evening in Libya in a voice recording from Haftar posted online, the Associated Press reported. The general told his troops only to raise their weapons "in the face of those who seek injustice and prefer confrontation and fighting," according to AP. "Those who lay down their weapons are safe, and those who raise the white banner are safe," he said. This year, Haftar's LNA forces have already sought to bring order to the restive southern oil-producing region. But a campaign to take Tripoli could be even more grueling

    This Is the Algerian End Game That Has Oil Investors Worried -  Protests that erupted six weeks ago in Algeria have now transformed into a million-strong force against aging Algerian strongman President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, with Exxon having already called the political unrest endgame when it stalled talks over a major Algerian shale deal just over a week ago. For investors in this oil- and gas-rich venue that is critical most immediately to Europe, the uncertainty is high enough to put everything on hold.Mass protests across Algeria erupted when Bouteflika announced he would run for a fifth term as president. Those protest forced him to rescind that decision, but the momentum against him failed to subside. Instead, it has increased and intends to do so until he steps down entirely.On Friday, news wires around the world reported that a million had gathered to protest against the president’s rule, with fighting a losing battle using tear gas.But what signals Bouteflika’s doom more than anything is the fact that the million-strong protests were covered live on three state TV channels. Traditionally, there would have been a local media blackout.In other words, Bouteflika is losing support—quickly—and now everyone is watching the military kingmakers to see where this ends.In large part, the kingmakers have already spoken, which has given further impetus to the protests. Earlier this week, the army chief called for a constitutional process to declare the aging and ill Bouteflika unfit for office.But for investors, what happens next is a tricky transition process, for which opposition leaders have agreed to a roadmap, but for which uncertainty is the ruling element.The current presidential appointment ends on April 28, and the opposition is suggesting the creation of a presidential authority body that would be in power for less than six months and whose representatives would not be allowed to run for office or back any ca ndidates after the transition period.

    Algeria protests: President Bouteflika to quit before 28 April - Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will step down before his mandate expires on 28 April, Algerian state media reports. The 82-year-old, who has been in power for 20 years, will ensure "continuity of the state's institutions" before he quits, a presidential statement carried by APS news agency said. The news comes after weeks of mass protests demanding his resignation. As a result, he had dropped plans to seek re-election for a fifth term. The elections have been postponed and the government has promised to organise a national conference which would discuss reforms to address the discontent. Up until now, it had been unclear when or if he would step down, observers say. The BBC's Ahmed Rouaba says that many Algerians believe the octogenarian's health has declined to such an extent that he is now being used as a front by a group of businessmen, politicians and military officials known as "le pouvoir" (the power), who do not want to give up their influence. This group dominates the National Liberation Front (FLN), which has governed Algeria since independence from France in 1962.

    Algeria's Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigns after mass protests - Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has resigned with immediate effect, according to state media, ceding power in the face of massive street protests against his 20-year rule. The ailing, 82-year-old leader announced he was stepping down in a letter published by APS news agency on Tuesday, just hours after the army chief demanded immediate action to remove him from office. "My intention ... is to contribute to calming down the souls and minds of the citizens so that they can collectively take Algeria to the better future they aspire to," Bouteflika said in the letter to the president of the Constitutional Council. "I have made this decision to avoid and prevent the arguments which distort, unfortunately, the current situation, and avoid its turning into serious skirmishes, to ensure the protection of persons and property," he added. The announcement prompted celebrations in Algeria's capital, Algiers, with hundreds of people singing songs and waving flags in front of the city's central post office. "This is a victory for my country," said 25-year-old Kamel, who only gave his first name. "We now want the rest of the old guard to leave, we also want the corrupt businessmen to be judged. We have won one political battle, not yet the war."

    Iran To Establish First Ever Mediterranean Port On Syrian Coast --It's a neocon nightmare come true: for the first time in modern history Iran is set establish a Mediterranean port on the Syrian coast. In a breaking exclusive, Asia Times reports that Iran has leased a section of the port of Latakia, on the northwest Syrian coast in close vicinity to the Russian Navy, which will end the Kremlin's exclusive foreign presence on the coastal district. The Asia Times report provides the following details: ...from next October the Russians will no longer have the neighborhood to themselves – as Iran has leased parts of the port of Latakia... The Syrian move comes in response to an official Iranian request, presented to Damascus last February. Realizing that they were unable to establish a permanent military presence like that of the Russians, or to illegally grab territory like the Turks, the Iranians settled for long-term economic influence in Syria in order to maintain a foothold in a crucial part of the region.  Both counties are currently under crippling US sanctions, with Washington recently announcing that it would seek to enforce a total ban on all Iranian and Syrian oil shipping activity, even in international waters. Iran, as a longtime ally of Syria's Assad, has given front line assistance to the Syrian army and allied militias like Hezbollah since near the start of the war that engulfed the country which began in 2011 and exploded into nation-wide fighting and chaos by 2012.Tehran has consistently helped Damascus weather the storm of both the externally fueled regime change war and collapsed economy that followed in its wake.  The Iranian lease of the port of Latakia is set to take effect next October, according to the Asia Times.   Meanwhile, the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia on the other side of the proxy war have long feared the so-called "Shia land bridge" connecting Tehran with pro-Shia forces from neighboring Baghdad to Damascus to Beirut. An Iranian port on the Syrian coastline would bring this scenario to ultimate fulfillment, perhaps beyond what Washington defense planners had ever imagined in the first place. ‘

    New Middle East Alliance Shakes World Powers - A new bloc is emerging in the greater Middle East with the declared objectives of dominating the entire Arab world, confronting and containing the US and its allies; and controlling and benefiting from the entire hydro-carbon economy, from production to transportation.The leading members of the new bloc are Turkey, Iran, and Qatar; with Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan submitting to the new bloc.Russian experts call the new bloc “the Middle Eastern Entente”. The key to the success of the bloc is the emerging correlation of influence of the great powers in the aftermath of the wars in Syria and Iraq. Russia and the People’s Republic of China are ready to compromise with the regional powers in order to secure their vital and global interests, while the US, Saudi Arabia and, to a lesser extent, Israel, are the nemeses of the bloc.The roots of “the Middle Eastern Entente” are in Doha. Qatar in Summer 2017 initiated a myriad of bilat-eral and trilateral discussions with Iran and Turkey after Saudi Arabia and the GCC allies imposed the siege on Qatar in June of that year. However, it was not until the second half of 2018, with the initial impact of the siege largely ameliorated, that the long-term post-war posture of the greater Middle East became a major priority.It was then that Doha, Tehran, and Ankara started talking about forming a coherent strategic bloc.According to Iman Zayat, the Managing Editor of The Arab Weekly, in late November 2018, the three coun-tries struck a deal in Tehran to create a “joint working group to facilitate the transit of goods between the three countries”. This was the beginning of a profound realignment of the three regional powers. “Qatar has irrevocably joined with Ankara and Tehran against its former Arab allies. It has conclusively positioned itself in a regional alliance that pursues geopolitical dominance by driving instability,” Zayat noted. It did not take long for the three powers to realize that for such a bloc to succeed it must focus on security issues and not just economic issues.

    Stunning setbacks in Turkey's elections dent Erdogan's aura of invincibility - — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan faced the prospect Monday of a stinging electoral defeat in Istanbul, the city whose politics he dominated for a quarter of a century, with vote results showing what appeared to be an opposition victory in the race for the city’s mayor. Members of Erdogan’s ruling party vowed to challenge the outcome. Victories by candidates from Turkey’s main opposition party in several of the country’s largest cities, including Ankara, the capital, were a significant symbolic defeat for Erdogan — denting his aura of invincibility and providing a surge of confidence to an opposition party that Erdogan for decades has easily outflanked. The local elections Sunday across Turkey were widely seen as a referendum on Erdogan’s policies and produced mixed results. His ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, led all other parties in the elections and, along with a coalition partner, captured a majority of the vote. But the loss of Istanbul, if confirmed, would be an especially harsh blow to the president. Erdogan rose to national prominence as the city’s mayor from 1994 to 1998. The city has served since then as a source of wealth and prestige for his party and a showcase — with its sprinting construction, megaprojects and multiplying mosques — for his broader ideological vision. “Psychologically, it is a big loss.”

    Erdogan Disputes Election Results After AKP Stunning Loss Of 3 Largest Cities - It's official, or maybe not quite as perhaps predictably the AK party plans to challenge the stunning defeat: Erdogan’s party has lost Turkey's three largest cities, Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, to the opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP. Ballots in the crucial local election were completely tallied on Tuesday, and the upset represents a huge setback for the president and his party amid a continued bleak and worsening economic situation. The final results now with 100% of the ballots counted as reported by the semiofficial Anadolu news agency put opposition candidate for mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, at 48.79%, barely inching out rival AKP candidate Binali Yildrim's 48.51%. And in the capital of Ankara, CHP's Mansur Yavas won with 50.93% of the vote, compared to AKP's Mehmet Ozhaseki's 47.12%. Shooting back against critics who point out the local races were clear and biting indictments of Erdogan's leadership amid an ailing and troubled economy, and further amid worsening relations with the United States and the West, a representative of the Turkish presidency tweeted: “They will never learn. AK Party won 44.3% and the coalition won 51.6% of the votes.” Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin lashed out further as part of the statement: “Erdogan has his mandate until 2023. Stop presenting your wishful thinking as fact and analysis.”Some are servicing the ‘beginning of the end for Erdogan’ story again.They will never learn.AK Party won 44.3 % and the coalition won 51.6 % of the votes. Erdoğan has his mandate until 2023. No elections till then.Stop presenting your wishful thinking as fact and analysis.Ibrahim Kalin (@ikalin1) April 2, 2019The AKP spokesman, Omer Celik, claimed early on Tuesday that there were significant voting tally discrepancies between polling and the actual vote enough to cause AKP to lodge objections.

    Israeli military kills four Palestinians in Gaza protest - Israeli forces opened fire on Palestinian protestors in Gaza on Saturday, killing four young Palestinians, three of them children, and sending more than 300 other people to hospital. Five of the 60 wounded by live fire are in a critical condition, while nine are in a serious condition.Tens of thousands joined the demonstration to mark one year since the start of weekly protests at the Gaza-Israel border under the slogan of the Great March of Return. Originally scheduled to conclude on May 15 of 2018, the 70th anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence, which Palestinians mark as Nakba (Catastrophe) Day, the rallies have demanded the right of Palestinians to return to the homes from which their families were driven in the wars of 1948-49 and 1967.They have also called for the lifting of Israel’s blockade of Gaza, which has turned the tiny enclave into an open-air prison for its two million inhabitants and deprived them of the most basic essentials of everyday life, including clean water, sanitation and electricity.Those killed included three 17-year-old boys, Tamer Abu el-Khair, Bilal Al-Najar and Adham. It brings the total of children killed by Israeli forces in Gaza since the Great March of Return began to 52. The fourth person killed was Mohammed Jihad Saad, a 21-year-old Palestinian who was hit late Friday night by live fire east of Gaza City. He died of his wounds during a protest near the border fence.

     Israel occupies Golan Heights with some 250K new settlers – In defiance of massive international criticism over the U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the Israeli government hopes to settle some 250,000 Israelis in the occupied Syrian Golan heights over the next 30 years, the Israeli Broadcasting Authority (IBA) reported on Monday.Israel plans to construct two new Jewish-only settlements in the Golan, along with thousands of new settlement units and a raft of planned transport and tourism projects in the region, according to IBA. The population of the Golan Heights currently stands at around 50,000, including 22,000 Israeli settlers, according to Israeli figures.U.S. President Donald Trump signed a decree on Monday at the start of a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying the U.S. now recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, territory that Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 war. The decree formalized Trump's statement on March 21 saying it was time for the U.S. "to fully recognize" Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The move appeared to give Netanyahu a boost ahead of the closely contested April 9 Israeli elections. The illegal settlement projects in the occupied territories have been seen as a pillar of the electoral campaign launched by Netanyahu's government.However, according to the U.N., the Golan's legal status will remain unchanged and still be considered "occupied territory" under international law. Since the decision first made by the U.S., Turkey, along with other countries, has strongly criticized the unilateral move. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan condemned the move, saying the decision has brought the region to the brink of a new crisis.

    UK Condemns Trump's Recognition Of Golan Heights As Israeli Territory - Speaking Tuesday in the House of Commons, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt issued a critique of US policy and stern rebuke to President Trump's recent controversial move to bestow formal US recognition on the Golan Heights as sovereign Israeli territory.Hunt's words, which he said represents long-standing UK policy, came during a question and answer session in reaction to a fellow Conservative MP member, who raised the “matter of the greatest regret that our allies, the United States, are in clear contravention of UN Resolution 497.” Hunt condemned Trump’s actions “with a heavy heart” because Israel was also “an ally and a shining example of democracy in a part of the world where that is not common… We want Israel is to a success and we consider them to be a great friend but on this we do not agree,” according to The Times of Israel.Hunt agreed with Tory Grandee Nicholas Soames' perspective that the White House's signing into US law formal recognition of the disputed region previously wrested from Syria was "illegal".Soames said that “annexation of territory is prohibited under international law” and asked Hunt to “condemn unreservedly this breach of the rules-based order”. Without hesitation Hunt declared he was “absolutely happy to do that,” and added: “We should never recognize the annexation of territory by force… that has been one of the great achievements since the founding of the United Nations.” Israel fully annexed the Golan Heights in 1981 after capturing it from Syria during the Six-Day War of 1967. The United Nations has never recognized Israeli annexation and settlement there, but has repeatedly condemned it.

    $7 Billion in Equipment Looted From Former US Base in Afghanistan  — The US handed over the Camp Kearney base in Paktika Province to the Afghan government in 2014, with an estimated $8 billion in equipment still inside. Today, the estimation is that about $1 billion worth of equipment is left. So what happened between then and now that cost the site about $7 billion? Mass looting. The provincial governor says that former governors, local mayors, MPs, and commanders have all had a go at the site, and everyone has been entering the base and taking anything that isn’t nailed down. Though he didn’t name names, pretty much everything was considered fair game, with military equipment stripped, vehicles stolen and sold off, and even locked containers full of weapons broken open and looted. While the looting apparently was not legal or authorized, it’s not at all clear the government intends to do anything about it either. Despite having a fairly good idea that the looting was mostly done by officials in positions to get access, it’s not clear how much is left or who has it.

    Hollywood Boycotts Brunei-Owned Hotels In Response To Sharia Death Penalty For Gay Sex - Hollywood starts have launched a boycott of nine Brunei-owned hotels after the tiny Islamic nation on the island of Borneo announced that they would be enforcing the death penalty for gay sex and adultery. While the new laws were announced five years ago with the nation's adoption of Sharia law, the death penalty for homsexual sex and adultery will begin on April 3, according to CNN.  Spearheaded by actor George Clooney, the boycott has been joined by the likes of Sharon Stone, Elton John, Jamie Lee Curtis, George Takei and others, who refuse to patronize the Brunei-owned establishments: "I commend my friend, George Clooney, for taking a stand against the anti-gay discrimination and bigotry taking place in the nation of Brunei – a place where gay people are brutalised, or worse – by boycotting the sultan’s hotels," tweeted Elton John on Saturday. The 72-year-old, a veteran gay rights campaigner, said his “heart went out” to staff at the hotels, but that “we must send a message, however we can, that such treatment is unacceptable”. -The Guardian    Last week Clooney called for the boycott, saying "Every single time we stay at or take meetings at or dine at any of these nine hotels, we are putting money directly into the pockets of men who choose to stone and whip to death their own citizens for being gay or accused of adultery." Brunei has been ruled for 51 years by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah as an absolute monarchy. While homosexuality is already illegal there, it will now become a capital offense.

    Inflection Point- Chinese Mfg PMI Jumps Back Into Expansion After 5 Months In Contraction -  In previewing the "green shoots" catalysts to watch for the second quarter after a dismal, for the economy Q1, BofA's Michael Hartnett listed five key data points which will set the quarterly mood early, and which included US retail sales and manufacturing ISM, South Korean export orders, February German factory orders and, last but not least, China's manufacturing new orders PMI Well, overnight we got the last one when China confirmed prior speculation of a rebound in the economy, when the National Bureau of Statistics reported that China's manufacturing PMI rebounded strongly from a contractionary 49.2, and printing at 50.5, its first expansion since September 2018, and beating estimates of a 49.6 reading. The non-manufacturing PMI continued its recent improvement, rising to 54.8, also the best reading since last September, as both the services and construction PMIs strengthened, and resulted in the composite PMI rising to 54.0 from 52.4. Almost all major sub-indexes imply better growth momentum.

    • While the production index was 3.2% higher at 52.7, the new orders sub-index was 1.0% higher at 51.6, just why of Hartnett's 52.0 bullish "green shoot" cutoff. The employment sub-index edged up 0.1% to 47.6 from 47.5.
    • More importantly, trade indicators also strengthened – the imports sub-index rose to 48.7 from 44.8, and the new export order went up to 47.1, vs. 45.1 in February. Both trade-related indexes have recovered from the bottom seen in late 2018 and early 2019, but are still below the levels in 2017/early 2018.
    • Inventory indicators also rose with the raw material inventories index 2.1% higher at 48.4, and the finished goods inventory index increased by 0.6pp in March to 47.0 (both indicators remain below their long-term averages).
    • Price indicators continued to climb – the input price index rose by 1.6% to 53.5, and the output price index was 2.9% higher at 51.4. By enterprise type, data suggest manufacturing PMI went up for medium and small-sized manufacturing enterprises in March and declined for large manufacturing enterprises.

    Curiously, the improvement in trade indicators took place even as China's record trade surplus with the US faded in recent months: The official non-manufacturing PMI (which according to Goldman Sachs estimates is comprised of the service and construction sectors at roughly 80%/20% weightings) also increased to 54.8 in March vs 54.3 in February. Both services and construction PMIs strengthened. The services PMI edged up by 0.1% to 53.6, and the construction PMI increased 2.5% to 61.7.

    China’s Belt and Road: A Reality Check  -- Chinese President Xi Jinping will host the second Belt and Road Forum in April, with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and dozens of other heads of state in attendance. Now is a good time to look at the reality of Xi’s signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Announced in 2013 and enshrined in the Chinese Communist Party’s constitution in 2017, the initiative gets a lot of attention and hype. Some see a plot to challenge the liberal world order, a new Marshall Plan, or a scheme to enslave developing nations; others the world’s biggest development initiative and the New Silk Road. What’s the reality? The Belt and Road constitutes a marginal increase in infrastructure development and improves Chinese access to supplies and markets, but the real action in infrastructure these days flows from private finance, not Chinese projects. China has grown its economy for the past 10 or more years by building infrastructure: roads, high-speed rail, ports. Many well-connected Chinese enterprises made huge money from these projects. As the infrastructure in China produces declining returns, the Belt and Road gives China’s infrastructure firms a way of going abroad. The big names at home — the Gezhouba Group, the China Railway Group, and the China Communications Construction Company, for example — become the big names in the Belt and Road, using government capital and projects abroad to fuel business growth. In the end, the Belt and Road is an outlet for too much investment capital and Chinese firms desperate to keep the economic engines of China revved up.

    Japan and Taiwan both scramble jets to confront China over weekend - Taiwan has accused China of "reckless and provocative" action, after two Chinese air force jets crossed a maritime border separating the island from the mainland. The island's military scrambled fighter planes after it said two Chinese J-11 fighter jets crossed the border within the waters of the Taiwan Strait, known as the median line, at about 11 a.m. on Sunday. "Two PLAAF J-11 jets violated the long-held tacit agreement by crossing the median line of the Taiwan Strait. It was an intentional, reckless and provocative action. We've informed regional partners and condemn China for such behavior," the Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.  If confirmed as intentional, the Chinese incursion would be the first of its kind in years,  "Chinese jets flew across the center line frequently in 1999," Glaser said. "Since then, there have been occasions when PRC jets flew toward the center line and then veered off. They haven't crossed it in a long time. By some accounts 20 years."  According to local Taiwan media, the Sunday incident triggered a 10-minute standoff between jets from the two sides.China and Taiwan have been separately governed since the end of a brutal civil war in 1949. Beijing views the self-governed island as part of its territory. On Saturday, the Japanese Self-Defense Force announced it had also scrambled fighters after the Chinese air force flew between Japan's islands of Okinawa and Miyako. Japan's Self Defense Forces said in a statement the Chinese air force had sent four Xian H-6K long range bombers, one Shaanxi Y-8 electronic countermeasures aircraft, one Tupolev Tu-154 MD electronic intelligence plane and at least two fighter jets through international airspace between Japanese islands on Saturday. It isn't the first time China has flown planes over the Miyako Strait -- in March 2018, it conducted drills with bombers and fighter jets in the same area

    Beijing Orders 200 Ships To Spratly Islands, Provoking Panic In Manila - What appears to be Beijing's latest military flex in the South China Sea - the contested collection of shoals and reefs that plays a crucial role in global trade and also contains vast untapped gas reserves - has reportedly set off "alarm bells" in Manila, just as the Philippines and the US were preparing to begin a round of military drills. According to Bloomberg, Philippines personnel have lodged a complaint with a joint Chinese-Flippino commission created to resolve disputes in the region, after authorities counted a mass of 200 Chinese ships around the Thitu, the second-largest island in the Spratly Islands. With a trade deal still in limbo, military tensions in the South China Sea have intensified as the US Navy has stepped up the pace of its "freedom of navigation" operations, while Beijing has stepped up its threatening rhetoric toward Taiwan and carried out more military drills. A Philippines official said the ships appeared to be part of China's sea militia. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo said he would meet China’s ambassador and ask for an explanation for the bolstered presence, after the Philippine Foreign Affairs Department lodged its protest with the committee. Per BBG:Philippine soldiers will continue their patrols in the disputed area, military chief General Benjamin Madrigal Jr. told reporters separately, adding that Chinese fishing vessels have repeatedly been spotted near the island. He urged a panel with representatives from both nations tasked with resolving South China Sea disputes to address Chinese presence in the area."This is a concern not only for the military, but for other agencies as well, including the Coast Guard. We are looking for ways to address this," Madrigal told reporters on the sidelines of opening ceremonies for annual joint military drills between the Philippines and the U.S.  Before Duterte came to power and opted for warmer ties with Beijing, Manila won a case in the ICC validating its claim to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea. However, Beijing has ignored this ruling (and faced zero repercussions for doing so).

    Russia Offers Stealth Fighters To China As War Preparations Continue - – The Beijing controlled Global Times reports China will purchase Russia’s Su-57 fifth-generation fighters in a move that will expand strategic relations between both countries. Viktor Kladov, director for international cooperation and regional policy at Rostec, announced at the 2019 Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA) in Malaysia, an export version of the Su-57, dubbed Su-57E, will receive export approval from Russian President Vladimir Putin in a few weeks. Kladov said, “China has recently taken delivery of 24 Su-35 aircraft, and in the next two years [China] will make a decision to either procure additional Su-35s, build the Su-35 in China, or buy a fifth-generation fighter aircraft, which could be another opportunity for the Su-57E.” Global Times said, “China [was] to be offered Russia’s best warplane.” However, citing an interview with Wang Yongqing, chief designer at Shenyang Aircraft Corporation, Global Times said, integrating another stealth fighter into the fleet could raise challenges for China’s J-20 stealth fighter program. Yongqing said the Su-57E could be helpful for a “technical study” on stealth technologies. As per Jane’s Defence Weekly, Kladov said Middle Eastern customers have been interested in the Su-57E as a cheap alternative to the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. The plane is expected to be unveiled at the Dubai Air Show later this year. Kladov said India and China are expected to be the first customers in the Asia-Pacific region.

    China Is Advancing Artificial Intelligence Technology to Fool US Satellites - China is advancing a type of artificial intelligence that can fool U.S. satellites into seeing things that aren’t there. The emerging technique is known as generative adversarial networks (GANs), which involves a computer network creating fake images to trick analytical computers into believing that the images are real. This has military repercussions since the U.S. military relies on automated image analysis to screen large volumes of satellite images. The analysis systems could be fooled by intentionally doctored images generated by Chinese computer networks, according to a U.S. intelligence official. “The Chinese have already designed; they’re already doing it right now, using GANs—which are generative adversarial networks—to manipulate scenes and pixels to create things for nefarious reasons,” said Todd Myers, automation lead and chief information officer at the Pentagon’s National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, at the Genius Machines summit on artificial intelligence, held on March 28. As an example, Myers stated that an image analysis might wrongly conclude from a doctored image that there is a bridge across a river, when there isn’t one in real life.

    Satellite Photos Reveal Chinese Anti-Satellite Laser Base, Other 'Exotic Weapons' --A well-known satellite imagery analyst and China specialist has provided photos which reveal what appears a sophisticated anti-satellite laser base located in western China. The satellite images were published by Indian Army Col. Vinayak Bhat, whose expertise is often widely cited in western media reports, and show a base with advanced satellite tracking capabilities and facilities which house large-scale lasers located about 145 miles south of the Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. A full report featuring the satellite imagery was published by the Washington Free Beacon which concluded alarmingly, "China likely is pursuing laser weapons to disrupt, degrade or damage sat­ellites and their sensors and possibly already has a limited capability to employ laser systems against satellite sensors." According to the analysis:The Xinjiang base is one of those laser bases that include four main buildings with sliding roofs that Bhat assesses contain high-powered chemical lasers powered by neodymium.Bhat estimates that the smaller shed with the sliding roof is a laser tracker. Taken together, the Chinese can fire one to three of the lasers against an orbiting satellite that China is seeking to disrupt. Giving credence to the claim, the report cites the US Defense Intelligence Agency which said in its own assessment published in February that China is set to deploy a ground based laser cannon at some point next year.

     NASA says satellite that India shot down may threaten the ISS - NASA chief Jim Bridenstine called India's destruction of one of its satellites a "terrible, terrible thing" that could endanger astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Addressing employees, he said a missile that shot down a satellite created at least 400 pieces of orbital debris, including 60 larger than 6 inches in size. While the satellite was well below the ISS, 24 of the pieces were blasted above its apogee, creating a potential risk. "It's unacceptable and NASA needs to be very clear about what its impact to us is," Bridenstine said.In the middle of an election on March 27, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the success of "Mission Shakti," a missile test that destroyed one of the nation's satellites. It's the fourth country to have completed such a mission, after the US, Russia and China. India's government wrote that the test was carried out low enough to ensure that any debris generated would fall back to Earth within weeks.However, a simulation (above) shows the impressive destruction and debris field created by the test. NASA, along with the US Strategic Command's Combined Space Operations Center, estimated that the risk to the ISS has increased by 44 percent over the last ten days. Bridenstine later said that the astronauts are still safe, and that the ISS could be maneuvered if need be to avoid the debris. "The good thing is, it's low enough in Earth orbit that over time this will all dissipate," he said.China conducted probably the most infamous missile test in 2007, destroying a satellite at a much higher orbit of 537 miles. Debris from that test still circles the Earth, threatening other satellites and missions. Several nations, including China and the US, are working on various schemes to remove space junk by using lasers, harpoons and nets.The biggest fear of space junk is "Kessler Syndrome," a cascade of collisions that could destroy much of the infrastructure in space. That's the disaster behind the movie Gravity that forced astronauts to evacuate the space shuttle and escape in a Chinese capsule. "At the end of the day we have to be clear also that these activities are not sustainable or compatible with human spaceflight," said Bridenstine.

     Brink Of War- Pakistan On High Alert, Indian Military Ready To Strike -- The situation at the LoC (Line of Control) between India and Pakistan remains critical, as both countries are ready for an all-out conflict, reported Sputnik. "There is a difficult situation with India. We wish for de-escalation and are taking steps for this. The situation like the prime minister [Imran Khan] said remains on alert", Pakistan's Foreign Office spokesman Dr. Muhammad Faisal said in a television report earlier this month. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday held meetings with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and military commanders, over its "readiness to initiate war against Pakistan," India TV News reported. The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) discussed war planning strategies against Pakistan, wherein Doval told PM Modi that the Army, Air Force, and Navy are now ready for battle against the neighboring country PM Modi reportedly told military chiefs to minimize collateral damage, and only use surgical strikes in the upcoming fight.   Here are the four critical takeaways from the meeting:

    • The attacks will be target-specific
    • No non-military targets
    • Not only Pak-occupied Kashmir, the targets can also be inside Pakistan
    • The attacks will be pro-active, not reactive

    Sputnik said besides India TV News, there was no direct confirmation of the war planning by the Modi government. Tensions between the two countries soared when a deadly suicide bomb attack allegedly claimed by Pakistan-based Jaish-e Mohammad struck a convoy of Indian troops in Pulwama on February 14.  Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, however, maintained that Jaish is not associated with Islamabad.  In retaliation to the Pulwama attack, India launched an airstrike on Pakistan's Balakot on February 26. Pakistan retaliated by bombing Indian military installations. The Indian Air Force thwarted the attempt.

    Pakistan State Bank Targets Digital Currency by 2025 and Fully Digital Economy by 2030 - A top official of the State Bank of Pakistan, the nation's central bank, announced that the institution aims to issue a digital currency (Central Bank Digital Currency or CBDC) by 2025, according to media reports.   Speaking at the launch of regulations of Electronic Money Institutions (EMIs), central bank officials said that EMIs will be non-bank entities to be licensed by the central bank to issue e-money for the purpose of digital payments.  Pakistan's finance minister Asad Umar and the central bankers said they are targeting Pakistan's economy to go fully digital by 2030.  “As we move towards digital economy, it is absolutely important to ensure cybersecurity,” said the finance minister, according to Dawn newspaper.  Mr. Umar added that even a single high profile incident could cause irreparable loss of confidence to the economy and the banking system. Deputy Governor Jameel Ahmad of the State Bank of Pakistan told the audience at the EMI launch that the central bank is working on a concept of issuing digital currency by year 2025 to promote financial inclusion and reduce inefficiency and corruption. Moreover, he said, the central bank would adopt evolving-realities of time and would be fully digitized and technology equipped by year 2030. Peer-to-peer cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin were often explicitly aiming to disrupt the existing monetary order – central banks will aim for an evolutionary approach. In many ways, central bank digital currencies (CBDC) would simply be the latest in a long line of technological upgrades that central banks have been through over the years, according to ING Bank.

    In Papua New Guinea, witch hunts, torture and murder are reactions to the modern world  - On February 6, 2013, Jackson Kapo was one of about 100 witnesses to the lynching of Kepari Leniata. The 20-year-old mother was burned to death on a pyre made of tyres, wood and rubbish in Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea (PNG). “They tied her up and got tyres from a big truck,” recalls Kapo, who stood by helplessly as Leniata, who had been tortured with a hot iron rod, was bound and gagged, then dumped onto the rubbish pile along with the tyres, which were set ablaze. He looks slightly ill, then says in a small voice. “She didn’t die quickly. It took about 30 minutes.” He pauses. “Some people were horrified,” says the 26-year-old, who, along with his parents, sells betel nuts on the same busy street, Warakum Junction Road, where Leniata met her ghastly end.   As Kapo reveals, not all the witnesses responded with horror as flames engulfed Leniata’s body. Some felt her fate was deserved. Her crime? She was blamed for the death of a six-year-old neighbourhood boy who had succumbed to a diarrhoeal condition after several days of illness. PNG, which has more than 800 living languages, each representing a unique cultural group, has ancient tribal belief systems that incorporate animism and ancestor worship with 20th-century missionary-imported Christianity. According to this complex system, an untimely death is caused not by something, such as an accident or disease, but by someone. The individual unfortunate enough to be accused is regarded as being an evil practitioner of sanguma. Allegations of sanguma – accompanied by acts of violence and, sometimes, murder – have become more commonplace in the past decade in some areas of PNG. Rapid social change is behind the phenomenon, says Douglas Young, 69, archbishop of Mount Hagen, in the cemetery adjacent to who’s church, the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Leniata is buried, with a boulder marking her grave in lieu of a headstone. That change is being driven by a number of causes, says Young, not least of which are high HIV-Aids rates (PNG has the highest incidence and prevalence of HIV in the Pacific, UNAids reported in 2016), drug and alcohol abuse and life­style illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease. A lack of health care does not help, and dislocation and family break­down are forcing migration between provinces, facilitating the spread of sanguma.

    Illiterate Nigerians Selling Their Young Daughters Over Facebook -  Debt-laden parents in the south Nigerian region of Obanliku have been selling their daughters to older men since long before the internet even existed. Now, with the help of their tech-savvy sons, often-illiterate tribesmen have been listing their young daughters on Facebook to be sold into de facto slavery in what is known as "money marriage."  As the Daily Beast's Philip Obaji Jr. reports, girls as young as 10 years old (and by other accounts, age five) in the 17-village-strong Becheve community are often referred to as "money wives," or "money women," and are sold in exchange for food, livestock, cash, or to settle debts.  Like hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of girls from the Becheve clan who are victims of money marriages, Monica and her sister were sold without their consent. Their father wanted to clear the debt he owed to a distant relative. The two sisters got married a month apart to men whom they did not know at all and who were old enough to be their grandfathers. Their respective husbands got in touch with their father after seeing the Facebook page where he posted photos of his six daughters to draw the attention of his tribesmen. The men of the clan have found the new technology helps to extend and expand their old, exploitative traditions. -Daily Beast"  My father knew nothing about Facebook until my elder brother bought him a smartphone and convinced him to join Facebook and post our photographs whenever he likes," said 16-year-old Monica, one of two sisters who were sold to men over the social media platform. "He'll buy new clothes and force me and my sisters to put them on before taking photographs of us." "It is young people who convince old men to look for wives on Facebook," said Monica - a former child bride who ran away from her husband to live with friends less than a year after getting married. "The man I married said his oldest son showed him my photo on Facebook and directed him to my father."

     Russia Establishes Attack Helicopter School In Venezuela - A military helicopter training facility, constructed by Russia’s Rosoboronexport, was revealed in Venezuela Friday, several days after Moscow deployed troops and equipment to the crisis-stricken South American country, reported TASS News. "A modern helicopter training center was built under Rosoboronexport’s contract with Venezuelan state-owned defense manufacturer (CAVIM). Its opening ceremony took place on March 29," Rosoboronexport said. The statement added that the training facility had opened earlier in the week "with Russian and Venezuelan specialists participating." “At present, Russian helicopters supplied to Venezuela not only take part in operations against smugglers, but also successfully perform aerial survey of wildfires, take part in rescue and evacuation missions in areas hit by natural disasters and deliver humanitarian cargo to remote regions of the country,” Rosoboronexport added. A source within Venezuela’s Army Aviation told TASS that the facility would make the training process more efficient for future helicopter pilots and crews. Rosoboronexport will supply Russian-made Mi-35M multi-role combat attack helicopters for missions related to targeting illicit drug production facilities, the source said. "One Mi-35M2 helicopter is capable of delivering a special group of five or six officers, providing fire support if necessary and evacuating the team after the task is fulfilled," the source said.

    Venezuela- Juan Guaidó stripped of parliamentary immunity - Venezuela’s opposition figurehead, Juan Guaidó, has vowed to continue fighting Nicolás Maduro’s “cowardly, miserable and murderous” regime after he was stripped of his parliamentary immunity – a move that potentially opens the door to Guaidó’s arrest. More than 50 countries have recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader since he launched his campaign to force Maduro from office in late January, including the United States, Britain and most Latin American governments. But recent weeks have seen a growing crackdown from Maduro’s beleaguered administration, beginning with the arrest of Guaidó’s chief of staff, who has been accused of leading a terrorist cell that had plotted a wave of political assassinations. That crackdown escalated dramatically on Tuesday evening as Maduro’s all-powerful constituent assembly voted to strip Guaidó of the legal protections he enjoys as a member of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled parliament. “The time for justice is coming,” said Tania Díaz, the assembly’s vice president. As the move to strip Guaidó of his immunity was confirmed, members of the Chavista assembly took to their feet and shouted: “This is justice! Popular justice!” Guaidó hit back, branding the move a “cowardly” attempt to stifle a popular uprising against a dictatorial government incapable of providing water, electricity and jobs to its people. Venezuela has been rocked by weeks of crippling nationwide power cuts that Maduro blames on imperialist saboteurs in league with Guaidó but most experts believe are the result of incompetence and corruption. “They think that by attacking me and attacking those around me … they will halt the hope of change in Venzeuela,” Guaidó told reporters outside his home in the capital, Caracas. “[But] the transition is underway … nothing will stop us.” Guaidó urged supporters to respond to Maduro’s “brute force” with intelligence, audacity, hope and more street protests and said Venezuela’s armed forces now had a decision to make about how they responded to Maduro’s move. He said he had already spoken to “a dozen” foreign ministers and leaders about the development. 

    Venezuela begins Criminal Proceedings against Guaidó - Venezuelan justice has initiated criminal proceedings against Venezuelan self-proclaimed interim president, opposition leader Juan Guaidó, Julio García Serpa, head of the Constitutional Assembly Legislation Committee, announced. According to him, the process will be conducted by the Supreme Court and the attorney general. On Tuesday, the Constituent Assembly approved the continuation of the investigation process against Guaidó. On Wednesday, the president of the Constituent Assembly, Diosdado Cabello explained that this means withdrawing the parliamentary immunity of the opposition leader. “Everything is done within the framework of the Constitution and the law,” said Diosdado Cabello. “Justice will decide based on relevant evidence, he will have a defense lawyer, and justice will be enforced,” said Garcia Serpa. “He will have to pay for everything he has done. He will have to pay for the treason,” he said. The Venezuelan Supreme Court (STJ) has previously called the Constituent Assembly to suspend the parliamentary immunity of the self-proclaimed interim Venezuelan president, Juan Guaidó. In January, Guaidó declared himself interim president of Venezuela after contesting the electoral victory of Maduro. The US and 54 countries recognized Guaidó as president and asked Maduro to resign. Maduro, in turn, called Guaidó an American marionette and accused the United States of trying to orchestrate a coup. Russia, China, Turkey, Cuba, Bolivia and several other countries consider Maduro as the only legitimate president of Venezuela. Meanwhile, US President Trump’s advisor to Economic Policy and director of the US National Economic Council, Larry Kudlow, said Washington was considering injecting cash dollars into Venezuela if Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s regime fell. During an event held Wednesday in Washington, Larry said that the United States has met with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó to develop a rescue and economic restructuring plan in the country so that it can be initiated immediately if Maduro resigns or is ousted, Bloomberg said. 

    Thousands of Venezuelans break barricades, cross Colombia border (Reuters) - Thousands of Venezuelans broke through barricades along the international border with Colombia on Tuesday, according to the migration office in Bogota, which warned Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro that he would be held responsible for any problems that may occur. Maduro in February blocked bridges joining the two nations in a bid to prevent a U.S.-backed effort to distribute hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid to the crisis-wracked nation. With bridges blocked by containers and trucks, Venezuelans have been wading through the Tachira River to reach the city of Cucuta, on Colombia’s northern border, to find food, medicines and work. But torrential rains in recent days has made that impossible. “The usurper Maduro is responsible for anything that may happen to the population that is transiting between the two countries,” said Christian Kruger, head of Colombia’s migration agency, highlighting the risk to the Simon Bolivar bridge being weakened. Millions of Venezuelans have fled to Colombia to escape widespread shortages of food and medicine in their homeland, seeking jobs locally and passage into other Latin American countries. Venezuela plunged into a deep political crisis in January, when Juan Guaido, head of the opposition-controlled congress, invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency, arguing Nicolas Maduro’s 2018 re-election was not legitimate. U.S. President Donald Trump has taken steps to ratchet up pressure on Maduro and bolster Guaido, who has been recognized as president by the United States and more than 50 other countries, including Colombia. Colombia’s government says providing Venezuelan migrants access to basic services and expanding healthcare, education and public utilities costs it a half percentage point of annual gross domestic product. Colombia’s GDP in 2018 was some $312 billion. 

    Mexico’s López Obrador attacks teachers through right-wing education reform - Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (popularly known as “AMLO”) has proposed education legislation that preserves the framework of compulsory teachers’ evaluations and school privatizations introduced under the previous right-wing government of Enrique Peña Nieto.During last year’s presidential campaign, AMLO explicitly campaigned on the promise of repealing the 2013 education legislation. These “reforms” attempt to scapegoat teachers for the lack of basic school infrastructure and students’ social and economic conditions that make it challenging—and sometimes nearly impossible—to teach in a classroom.The proposal by AMLO’s party, the Movement for National Regeneration (Morena), retains the main features of the previous legislation. Teachers will still be subject to standardized testing that will determine whether they are hired or promoted. Meanwhile, the country’s crumbling schools and the entrenched poverty that plagues half of the population will remain intact. While teachers will supposedly no longer be fired for low test scores, this can be reversed either by AMLO or by future administrations.Right-wing politicians and commentators have celebrated Morena’s proposal because it facilitates mass layoffs, weakens job security for teachers and opens the door of the lucrative education “market” to private investors. During the past five years, teachers have been at the forefront of the class struggle in Mexico. In opposition to the right-wing “Pact for Mexico” reforms, teachers have organized numerous strikes and demonstrations, including a national march by 100,000 teachers last June, railroad blockages in January over unpaid salaries and benefits, and a highway blockade in Nochixtlán, Oaxaca that was violently assaulted by federal police in 2016.For the past two weeks, teachers have blocked access to the lower house of Congress in Mexico City, effectively preventing deputies from discussing the legislation. Concerned that an open confrontation with the teachers would irreparably damage the party’s “left” facade, the leader of Morena in the House has postponed discussion on the education bill. These capitalist politicians, with the assistance of the unions, hope to bide their time and work behind the backs of teachers to present the same proposal with a few superficial changes.

    EU risks 'trade war' with Malaysia over palm oil  (Reuters) - The European Union risks opening up a trade war with Malaysia over its “grossly unfair” policies aimed at reducing the use of palm oil, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Thursday. This month, the European Commission concluded that palm oil cultivation results in excessive deforestation and its use in transport fuel should be phased out by 2030. Malaysia, the world’s second biggest palm oil producer after Indonesia, relies on the crop for billions of dollars in foreign exchange earnings and hundreds of thousands of jobs. Mahathir, 93, said the EU’s increasingly hostile attitude towards palm oil, a commodity used in everything from chocolate spread to lipstick, was an attempt to protect alternatives that Europe produced itself, like rape seed oil. “To do that kind of thing to win a trade war is unfair,” Mahathir told Reuters in an interview on Langkawi, a tropical resort island 30 km off Malaysia’s mainland. “Trade wars are not something we like to promote but on the other hand it is grossly unfair for rich people to try and impoverish poor people.” Mahathir, an architect of modern Malaysia and a trained physician, swept to power in a stunning election victory last year on a promise to revive a flagging economy and end the corruption that plagued the tenure of former leader Najib Razak. Najib is facing numerous corruption charges over the alleged misuse of billions of dollars from Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), some of which was raised by U.S. investment bank Goldman Sachs through bond sales. Najib is due in court next week in the first trial relating to 1MDB. He has pleaded not guilty and denies wrongdoing. Goldman Sachs is facing charges in Kuala Lumpur over its role in helping raise $6.5 billion for 1MDB. Goldman denies wrongdoing and says officials under Najib’s administration lied to mislead its staff. 

    Global Trade Takes Sharp Turn With Biggest Drop Since 2009 - According to the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB), world trade plunged to its weakest levels not seen since the financial crisis. The report published last week shows world trade expanded by 2.3% in January after the index tumbled in 4Q18. The recent rebound was broad-based with the strongest seen in emerging markets Asia (+6.2%), which followed a decline of -6.5% in December.The three-month global trade momentum shows a downward trend of -1.8%, indicating economic growth across the world continues to slide into 2Q. Bloomberg said, "that's the biggest drop since May 2009." On a y/y basis, global trade posted its first decline in nearly nine years in the three months. The global 1H19 outlook remains in a cyclical downturn, which could hinder world trade further. The epicenter of the slowdown originates in China, which is partly due to a combination of China's growth supercycle coming to an end, developed world economies slowing, Federal Reserve tightening monetary policy, and the US-China trade war that disrupted supply chains in Asia. This has global consequences:" For example, eurozone manufacturing PMI weakened to 47.6 in March according to Markit, marking the second consecutive month this year that manufacturing activity and export orders declined in the eurozone. The indices for January and February indicate contracting manufacturing activity in most of the east-Asian economies as well," said ING.Transitioning into the 2Q, significant downside dangers are developing. Trade negotiations between Washington and Beijing have been a no deal trade situation at every meeting. With a no deal expected at the upcoming meeting this week, trade talks could go into several more rounds before an agreement is hammered out.If a no deal scenario plays out in 2Q, a further escalation in tariffs or just the lack of removing the duties could spark another growth fear and a repricing event of financial assets, similar to late last year.Another concern is the standoff between President Donald Trump and Europe on auto tariffs. If Washington and Brussels cannot come to a resolution in the next several months, U.S. tariffs on European automobile imports would crush global trade further.Uncertainties around NAFTA  countries remain, Canada and Mexico are still unsure if they are exempt from these tariffs.

     Global Trade Growth Slashed Again As Trade Tensions Persist - The World Trade Organization published a new report that shows world trade is projected to "face strong headwinds" into 2020. WTO economists expect merchandise trade volume growth to drop to 2.6% in 2019, down from 3% last year. The report said a rebound in global trade is possible if trade tensions dramatically ease. The bearish forecast for 2019/2020 marks the second consecutive year that WTO economists revised their outlook and also follows similar warnings from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. "With trade tensions running high, no one should be surprised by this outlook. Trade cannot play its full role in driving growth when we see such high levels of uncertainty," WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo said in a statement in Geneva. "It is increasingly urgent that we resolve tensions and focus on charting a positive path forward for global trade which responds to the real challenges in today's economy – such as the technological revolution and the imperative of creating jobs and boosting development. WTO members are working to do this and are discussing ways to strengthen and safeguard the trading system. This is vital. If we forget the fundamental importance of the rules-based trading system we would risk weakening it, which would be a historic mistake with repercussions for jobs, growth and stability around the world," Azevedo said. The report said current forecasts reflect downgraded GDP projections for North America, Europe, and Asia -- mostly due to waning effects of fiscal stimulus by the Trump administration.

     Governments could save $1 trillion in taxes by curbing corruption, new IMF research says - Cracking down on corruption would reap big economic rewards for governments around the world, according to new analysis by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In a chapter published Thursday as part of the IMF's April 2019 Fiscal Monitor report, researchers found reducing corruption across all countries would increase total tax revenues by $1 trillion, or roughly 1.25 percent of global GDP (gross domestic product). "The gains would be greater considering that lower corruption would raise economic growth, further boosting revenues," the report added. Among advanced economies, countries with the lowest levels of corruption collected nearly 5 percent of GDP more in tax revenues on average than countries with the highest levels of corruption, the IMF found. For a country the size of the U.K., for example, that math could translate into hundreds of millions of dollars in additional government incomes per year. What's the cost of corruption? What's the cost of corruption? 6:11 AM ET Tue, 19 Feb 2019 | 06:43 The IMF defines corruption as "the abuse of public office for private gain" which can transpire in various ways like payments of bribes, embezzlement, nepotism and conflicts of interest. In the report, the Washington-based funddid not rank the most corrupt countries but described corruption as a "global problem demanding greater international cooperation to tackle it." Measuring the economic costs of corruption is tough since it can occur at various levels of government, from tax collection to the negotiation of contracts between private companies and the public sector. The IMF, along with other international organizations like the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), have prioritized studying global corruption and giving policy recommendations for curbing behavior like bribery and money laundering.

    The markets are not in charge, sovereign currency-issuing governments are - The IMF warns this week that the world has run out of ‘fiscal fire power’ to fight the next recession because the balance sheets of central banks are so bloated that it leaves little room for manoeuvre. Christine Lagarde also adds her voice to the growing demands for reviewing outdated global corporate tax rules because ‘it denies exchequers vital funds for public services and welfare’. And Oliver Letwin, the former UK cabinet minister, claims in a debate in the Commons that if it hadn’t been for the Coalition in 2010 there would have been a ‘melt-down’ as a result of investors being unwilling to lend to the government. These reoccurring tropes of damaging public debt and the need to rein it in, spending on public services being constrained by tax collection and investors being unwilling to lend to governments which are fiscally imprudent are all indicative of how firmly entrenched the ‘household budget’ narrative of the money system is in the public consciousness. Few of us challenge them, let alone politicians who make and deliver policies, or journalists who report on them. It’s a record stuck in the same old groove. Such narratives have allowed governments across the world from the US to the UK and Europe (which has the added complication of a dysfunctional Eurozone) to pursue ideologically driven austerity policies to cut spending on public services and infrastructure and privatise public assets. This has had devastating consequences for those economies; rising unemployment, precarity, poverty and inequality. For many decades now the International Monetary Fund has been part and parcel of this deception and caused huge economic damage to some of the poorest countries in the world; from South America to Africa and much closer to home Europe, where in Greece the infamous Troika, of which the IMF formed a part, laid waste to its economy and has caused unforgivable human suffering. 

     German Manufacturing Collapse- Awful Industrial Orders Plunge Most Since Financial Crisis -  --One day after Germany’s leading economic institutes slashed their forecasts for 2019 growth by more than half on Thursday (and warned that the economy could slow much more if Britain quits the European Union without an agreement), Germany again confirmed just how bad the manufacturing recession at the heart of the Eurozone is, when it reported that Industrial orders fell by the biggest margin sequentially in more than two years in February, slumping 4.2%, badly missing consensus expectations of a 0.3% rebound, and worse than last monght's -2.1% drop, highlighting the extent of the slowdown amid ongoing global trade disputes.On an annual basis, the collapse was almost unprecedented, with the 8.2% drop matching the worst since the global financial crisis. The drop in orders in February was marked by a slump in foreign demand, data from the Economy Ministry showed. Across sectors, orders of capital goods fell by 6.0%, compared with a decrease of 0.9% and 3.5% for intermediate and consumer goods orders, respectively. As Goldman recaps, the February weakness was "broad-based across regions and sectors. Foreign orders declined the most (by 7.9%mom, of which -2.9% from the Euro area countries) against a decrease of 1.6% for domestic orders." Digging between the numbers, the IIF's Robin Brooks noted that contrary to consensus, it wasn't collapsing Chinese trade that was the culprit for the drop, but rather the GDP contraction in Turkey that disproportionately hit German manufacturing: while German exports to Turkey are only 1.4% of total, they were down 22% in the year to Jan. 2019. Long the Eurozone’s economic powerhouse, Germany barely avoided a technical recession at the end of last year and posted its weakest growth in five years in 2018 as its export-orientated economy is slowed by the trade and Brexit headwinds. As Reuters notes, Germany’s slower-than-previously-expected growth means Finance Minister Olaf Scholz’s fiscal room for maneuver is getting tighter as tax revenues are likely to come in lower than expected this year. Last month, the cabinet passed a draft budget for 2020 that calls for a 1.7% spending increase and relies on ministries to cut costs to avoid incurring new debt in light of the slowdown.

    The ‘Erin Brockovich of Slovakia’ Is Elected The Country’s First Female President -Zuzana Caputova, a liberal environmental activist and a political newcomer, was elected Slovakia's first female president Saturday, riding to victory on a wave of public outrage against corruption in government.  With 58 percent of the vote, Caputova edged out European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic, a diplomat backed by the county's governing Smer-Social Democracy party.  In her acceptance speech, Caputova framed her win as a rebuke to the nationalist rhetoric on the rise in central Europe in recent years. Since 2015, nationalist parties have won victories in Hungary, Poland and Austria. "I am happy not just for the result, but mainly that it is possible not to succumb to populism, to tell the truth, to raise interest without aggressive vocabulary," she told supporters. Voters had been outspoken about their disgust with political corruption. After a journalist reporting on political corruption and his fiance were shot and killed last February, tens of thousands of Slovaks took to the street in protest, chanting "Enough with Smer." The protests would eventually prompt the resignation of the country's prime minister at the time, Robert Fico.  Ján Orlovský, who heads Slovakia's Open Society Foundations, told NPR at the time, "We have lots of these skeletons in the closet, which we need to address and one of the skeletons is corruption."  Caputova, a vocal participant in the protests that rocked the country, has promised to tackle corruption head-on. Casting herself as the anti-corruption candidate with the campaign slogan "stand up to evil," she vowed to shake-up the political establishment, which she says is currently run "by people pulling strings from behind."

    Far-right party wins most votes in Dutch provincial elections --On March 20, provincial councils were elected in all of the 12 provinces of the Netherlands. The most significant outcome of the election was the entrance into the Senate of the Forum for Democracy (FvD), led by Thierry Baudet. The far-right, near-fascist party won 12 out of 75 seats.The FvD was elected into the House of Representatives for the first time in 2017, when it won two out of 150 seats. In a statement made after the provincial elections Baudet issued a message to prime minister Mark Rutte: “You can no longer ignore the FvD.”It was the first time that the FvD was running in the provincial elections, and it was among the top three parties in all the provinces. It is the strongest party in Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland, where the capital Amsterdam, the Harbor of Rotterdam and the political center in The Hague are situated. The FvD’s political agenda includes a call for closing the borders. It has been able to capitalize on the xenophobia stoked up by the rightwing-liberal VVD of prime minister Rutte and the far-right Freedom Party (PVV) of Geert Wilders.On the same nationalistic grounds, the FvD proposes to leave the European Union. Furthermore, FvD’s leader Thierry Baudet is a so-called “climate change denier.” He was able to gain some working-class support by criticizing government spending on renewable energy rather than on healthcare.Voter turnout was higher, at 56 percent, than in the previous provincial elections in 2015 when 48 percent of those eligible voted. The media concentrated their attention on a major consequence of the provincial elections: the composition of the Senate, the First Chamber of Parliament, that is elected by the provincial councils. While the Senate is to be elected in the coming three weeks, it is already clear the government coalition has lost its small majority. The coalition parties, the right-liberal VVD, the liberal D66 and the Christian democratic CDA, with the exception of the latter, have lost seats. The far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) and the Socialist Party (SP) have lost half of their senators, the social-democratic labour party PvdA has lost one seat. The pseudo-left greens of GroenLinks have doubled their seats in the Senate. But this is not, as the media claim, a “turn to the left.” While the transition from a fossil-fueled energy supply to renewable forms is popular, a lot of money can be made by some of the VVD’s closest allies, like the large energy and technology corporations.

    Europe and the new imperialism -- Imperialism, Lenin wrote a century ago, is defined by five key features: the concentration of production; the merging of financial and industrial capital; exports of capital; transnational cartels; and the territorial division of the world among capitalist powers.  Lenin’s characterisation seems increasingly accurate.  A few years ago, globalisation was assumed to dilute market power and stimulate competition. And it was hoped that greater economic interdependence would prevent international conflict. If there were early-twentieth-century authors to refer to, they were Joseph Schumpeter, the economist who identified “creative destruction” as a driving force of progress, and the British statesman Norman Angell, who argued that economic interdependence had made militarism obsolete. Yet we have entered a world of economic monopolies and geopolitical rivalry. The first problem is epitomised by the US tech giants, but it is in fact widespread. According to the OECD, market concentration has increased across a range of sectors, in the US as well as in Europe; and China is creating ever-larger state-backed national champions. As for geopolitics, the US seems to have abandoned the hope that China’s integration into the global economy would lead to its political convergence with the established liberal Western order. As US Vice President Mike Pence crudely put it in an October 2018 speech, America now regards China as a strategic rival in a new age of “great-power competition.”  Economic concentration and geopolitical rivalry are in fact inseparable. Whereas the Internet was once seen as an open, universal, and competitive domain, it is being broken up into an archipelago of separate sub-systems, some of which are administered by governments. There are growing fears that the Chinese tech giant Huawei’s dominance in 5G hardware could be used for geopolitical gain. And the German industry association BDI is now warning that China has entered into “systemic competition with liberal market economies,” and is “pooling capacities for political and economic goals with high efficiency.”

    EU would delay Brexit again to let UK hold a second referendum EU leaders are prepared to let Britain delay Brexit again to allow time for a second referendum, The Independent understands. After parliament rejected Theresa May’s deal for a third time, the bloc called a summit on 10 April – two days before the UK is on course to leave without a deal. And senior Brussels officials familiar with leaders’ thinking say that barring a credible plan to get a majority for the withdrawal agreement, the UK would be given more time only if it was for another clear option such as a general election or a referendum.The EU has already warned that a further extension, which could run until at least the end of the year, would also require the UK to take part in European parliament elections scheduled for the end of May. As reported by The Independent, the prime minister is considering a general election as a way out of the Brexit chaos in Westminster, where MPs have rejected all options – including a no-deal Brexit. Senior officials in Brussels have made clear that an extension would also be justified if it was to make time for a referendum. Indicative votes in the Commons this week showed relatively strong support for a confirmatory referendum among MPs, with numbers such that only around a dozen more would need to be convinced to back one to pass it. One senior EU official said there were “three possible justifications” for a long extension emerging in member states’ thinking following their summit last week.

    Brexit: Home truths – no deal and the Irish border The defeat of the Withdrawal Agreement has heightened the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, and intensified the focus on how that will impact the Irish border. A general election might now happen, the House of Commons might find consensus on something like a permanent customs union, but both will require a longer extension of Article 50, and that will require the UK to contest the European Elections. For that reason a no-deal Brexit cannot be discounted in just 13 days time. For Dublin, what that means for the border has long been the great taboo. But at the European Council on 21 March EU leaders began asking questions – politely, but questions nonetheless – about how the border would be managed. Member states have promised to avoid a hard border even if there’s no deal; they have also promised to uphold the integrity of the single market and customs union. These are founded on a web of rules to ensure that any goods coming in from outside are safe for consumers, and that any duties that arise under the EU’s common external tariff are collected. So, at any EU-third country frontier up to 63 checks and controls are potentially applicable.

    Mervyn King calls for no-deal Brexit after six months of preparation - A former governor of the Bank of England has said that Britain should leave the European Union without a deal.Mervyn King, now Lord King of Lothbury, dismissed the “wild, exaggerated” warnings of politicians who argue that a no-deal Brexit would damage the economy and rejected the idea that it would trigger nationwide job losses.“My own personal preference would be to go back to Europe and say we have a clear strategy, which is we want to leave without a deal but we’d like to take six months to complete the preparations to avoid the dislocation,” he told theToday programme on BBC Radio 4.  There would be “short-run dislocation costs” if the UK left without a deal, Lord King said, but he added that predictions about the effect of Brexit on the economy had been proved to be wrong. “I don’t believe that with adequate preparation, or in the long term, that the economic cost of leaving would be very different from staying in the European Union,” he said, adding that it was matters of “politics and identity” that motivated voters above economics. The Bank has said that all forms of Brexit would produce slower economic growth than staying in the EU and that a disorderly departure with no deal could cause more damage than the global financial crisis of 2008. Lord King, 71, who was governor during the crisis and retired in 2013 after ten years at the helm, has been critical of the Bank’s decision to provide such projections. In an article for Bloomberg he wrote last year: “It saddens me to see the Bank of England unnecessarily drawn into this project [to scare the country].” Yesterday he pointed out that the economy had grown slightly faster than Germany’s and that the average value of sterling against a basket of currencies was at the same level as when he left the Bank.

    Furious Tories turn on ERG in Brexit crisis as rival factions trade insults over Britain’s failure to leave the EU on March 29 - FURIOUS Tories turned on each other last night as tempers frayed over the Brexit deadlock. Rival factions traded insults over who was to blame for failing to take Britain out of the EU on time. Many pointed the finger at 28 hardline members of the European Research Group who sided with Remainers to block Theresa May’s departure deal. One senior Brexiteer said: “They have lost the plot. They are no longer behaving rationally. Their passion for a perfect Brexit has now turned into a kamikaze mission and they are in danger of killing off the whole project — and the Conservative Party with it.” But ERG zealots hit back at their accusers, branding them “traitors” and “cowards”. The blue-on-blue warfare erupted yesterday on what should have been Britain’s first day outside the EU. The PM’s deal was sunk hours before the two-year deadline expired, triggering a wave of bitter recriminations. Senior Brexiteers — including Jacob Rees-Mogg, David Davis, Iain Duncan Smith and Dominic Raab — swung behind the deal as it dawned it was better than losing Brexit altogether.

    The Brexit Bar - Yves Smith - As the potential Brexit crash-out date of April 12 approaches, UK politicians are making a good show of trying to avoid it. Yet the lack of understanding of the basics of what it means to be in the European Union means the process bears an awfully strong resemblance to classic comedy scenes of workers in a factory desperately turning off and on switches to shut down a process, a mechanized version of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. And in those episodes, the remediation efforts inevitably make things worse. Maybe the UK will be luckier. But the signs so far are not promising.One is that even though the EU has given the UK a deadline of April 10 for presenting any “way forward” that would justify a long extension, Parliament hasn’t gone into a weekend session. As Richard Smith noted, “Looks as if the Tory Party’s decided the best thing to do with the weekend is not to think about indicative votes, but to jack up the internal strife levels a few notches instead”: Dominic Grieve is a not just a fine MP, he's a national treasure. If it wasn't for him, the meaningful vote process wouldn't be happening at all. He is a tireless campaigner for pragmatism, reason, and scrutiny of power.— Ian Dunt (@IanDunt) March 30, 2019 MPs are still chasing their tails, even if they don’t recognize that. The current plan, according to the Financial Times, is to hold another set of indicative votes on Monday, and if no winner emerges then, another set on Wednesday. Assuming Parliament finally settles on something, the House then plans to pass legislation on Thursday. Theresa May has made it clear that she may not agree with what Parliament cooks up, hence the perceived need to force her to carry their message. That timing seems optimistic, particularly when you factor in how clueless the officialdom continues to be about the options they are debating.  As troubling is the incomprehension about the idea that having the UK stay in a customs union with the EU is tantamount to a softer Brexit than Theresa May’s unpopular Withdrawal Agreement. You can see how ITV’s Robert Peston does not begin to grasp that his sources have this backwards. From a story on Sunday: Some allies of the prime minister are desperate for a majority of MPs to back Ken Clarke’s motion to keep the UK in the customs union…. To be clear, these are not ministers and officials who themselves are keen for the UK to agree a deal with the EU that would remove the requirement for customs checks to be reintroduced after Brexit… But they hope if it becomes the revealed will of the Commons to negotiate that kind of so-called soft Brexit – one which would keep the UK under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and would prohibit the negotiation of trade deals with non-EU countries – that would be the perfect platform for the prime minister to put her own Brexit deal back to the Commons for a record-breaking fourth time – on Tuesday. Recall that the motion last week calling for a customs union failed by the smallest margin, a mere eight votes, so there’s good reason to think it will win approval this week. But as Richard North explained at considerable length over a series of posts, a customs union does not, as Peston incorrectly states, end the need for “customs checks” (also an imprecise term). A customs union is a trading area subject to common tariffs, so no duties are collected when goods move across borders. But a customs union does not provide for common regulations and legal oversight. Turkey and the EU are in a customs union, and they have a hard border. As North tartly observed today:

    Brexit creates power vacuum at heart of Britain’s government (AP) — Britain’s Parliament is deadlocked over plans to leave the European Union. The country’s ruling Conservative Party is fractured by an undeclared leadership contest. Opposition parties are baying for an early general election. A power vacuum has paralyzed the heart of Britain’s government, dismaying both the European Union and the British public. In the next two weeks, British Prime Minister Theresa May will lead the U.K. through domestic and international negotiations that will decide the fate of Brexit and determine the future of generations. Her task, as it’s been for almost three years, is to bridge the increasingly bitter divide that separates those who want to sever links with the EU and those who want to keep the ties that have bound Britain to the bloc for almost 50 years. “In any other circumstance, they would have rolled her by now, either formally or informally,” said Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London. “She’s the default because no one else wants the job.” The power vacuum means May has almost no leverage as she tries to engineer a compromise with U.K. lawmakers who last week took control of the parliamentary agenda to debate alternatives to her Brexit deal, which has already been rejected by Parliament three times. The House of Commons is scheduled to vote Monday on a variety of Brexit options, with two ideas — staying in the EU customs union and holding a second referendum on Brexit — emerging as the most likely alternatives. While Justice Secretary David Gauke said Sunday the government would have to “very carefully consider” the wishes of Parliament, he also said May’s EU divorce deal is still the best alternative. Gauke said the prime minister was “reflecting” on the possibility of bringing it back to Parliament for a fourth vote. If the government can’t bridge the gap by April 12, Britain will crash out of the EU without a plan for future relations, damaging its economy, undermining the country’s unity and diminishing its stature in the world.

    Jeremy Corbyn could be poised for Downing Street if May calls an election after shock poll reveals Labour have taken a FIVE-point lead over Tories… while Boris is still favourite to succeed the PM Jeremy Corbyn would be poised on the threshold of Downing Street if Theresa May called a General Election, an exclusive Mail on Sunday poll has found. After weeks of conflict in the Conservative Party, public support for Labour stands at 41 per cent, five points clear of the Tories on 36. If repeated at an Election, Labour would be on course to win 307 seats, while the Conservatives would claim just 264. Although Mr Corbyn would be 19 seats short of a majority, it would leave him in pole position to enter No 10 if he could strike an deal with the Scottish Nationalists. When the 11-strong Independent Group of Labour and Tory MPs is included in the poll choices, Labour is still ahead, on 35 per cent, with the Tories on 32 per cent and the new group – now called Change UK – on nine per cent.

    British MPs again fail to reach agreement on alternative Brexit motions - None of the four non-binding “indicative votes” on an alternative to Prime Minister Theresa May’s negotiated withdrawal agreement for Brexit secured a majority vote by MPs Monday night.  The motion put forward by pro-European Union (EU) Conservative Ken Clarke, calling for an EU withdrawal agreement to have as a minimum a new customs union with the bloc, came closest to winning, with 273 votes for and 276 against.  Just 37 Tory MPs backed Clarke’s amendment and only 33 voted for a motion “Common Market 2.0” tabled by Tory Remainer Nick Boles. This proposes that the UK remain within the EU’s single market, have a customs union with the bloc and become a member of the European Free Trade Association alongside the small economies of Norway, Iceland, Lichtenstein and Switzerland.  Given how small the pro-EU faction of the Tory party is, Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May is highly unlikely to make a concession to secure a soft-Brexit compromise. It is more probable that she will bring her current deal with the EU back for a fourth “meaningful vote” this week. Today, May will hold a five-hour Cabinet meeting to finalise her next moves. She may decide to put up her deal in a run-off against parliament’s most favoured option. On its last vote, May’s EU Withdrawal Agreement lost by a majority of 58. While viewed as a compromise that could mobilise cross-party support, Boles refused to accede to demands that a “people’s vote” be attached to his solution. His motion was defeated with a majority of 21. He immediately resigned from the Tory party, which he condemned for refusing to compromise, and will sit as an independent.  Boles’s motion won Labour and SNP backing, but the 11 Liberal Democrat MPs and the pro-Remain The Independent Group’s 11 MPs both refused to back what was described as the “softest Brexit” motion on the basis that they do not support any plan to leave the EU.  Motion G called for a revocation of the Article 50 legislation governing the UK’s withdrawal if a deal is not agreed with the EU. Tabled by the Scottish National Party’s Joanna Cherry, it secured 191 votes with 292 against after Labour refused to whip in its favour.  Motion E, tabled by Labour MP Peter Kyle, called for a version of a second referendum by preventing any withdrawal agreement from being ratified without a “confirmatory” public vote. It received 280 votes, but lost narrowly by a majority of 12, with 15 Labour MPs abstaining.  Cabinet ministers were once again instructed to abstain on all indicative votes. But the strength of the pro-Brexit Tory faction was made evident by the small number of soft-Brexit votes by Tory MPs and a letter signed by 174 MPs and ministers, handed to May on Sunday, opposing any form of soft Brexit and insisting she pursue a no-deal departure from the EU if her deal is rejected.

    House of Commons rejects all Brexit options — again — Just when you thought the House of Commons couldn’t get more dysfunctional — it does. On the night MPs were thought to be close to coalescing, at a second time of asking, around a Brexit compromise, they defied expectations to yet again reject all options on the table. The result of the second round of so-called indicative votes means that with just 11 days until Brexit day, the country still has no plan to present to EU27 leaders next week that could form the basis of a further extension to the Article 50 negotiating period. The alternative is to leave with no deal, with all the economic disruption that entails. On a night of high emotion in the Commons chamber, Speaker John Bercow captured the mood of uncertainty bordering on nervous anxiety. “We have to await, as [former PM Harold] Macmillan used to say, events and see what transpires tomorrow … but I can’t say with any confidence what will happen and in that respect, I think I’m, frankly, not in a minority.” Admittedly, the votes were close. A proposal for the U.K. to pursue a customs union with the EU, backed by the opposition Labour Party, lost by just three votes — 276 to 273. It was rejected by most Conservatives and the Democratic Unionist Party, but also by some supporters of a second referendum. Its sponsor, veteran Conservative MP Ken Clarke, hit out at those MPs on the anti-Brexit side of the argument who voted against it, begging “People’s Vote” supporters to accept they would struggle to win a majority, and to compromise. “We cannot go on with everybody voting against every proposition,” he said. But supporters of a second public vote will feel emboldened that a motion proposing a confirmatory referendum on any Brexit deal that passes the Commons lost out by just 12 votes (292 to 280). They will probably struggle to win more support though. Despite Labour whipping for the motion, 24 of its MPs refused to back it. The bulk of them are concerned about the response in their Leave-voting constituencies to an outcome that could lead to no Brexit at all. A third motion, for a so-called Common Market 2.0 — leaving the U.K. in the single market and in a de-facto customs union — was rejected by 282 to 261 votes. Its chief architect MP Nick Boles resigned from the Conservative Party in the House of Commons chamber minutes after the vote. “I’ve given everything to an attempt to find a compromise that can take this country out of the European Union while maintaining our economic strength and our political cohesion,” he said, his voice heavy with emotion. “I accept I have failed. I have failed chiefly because my party refuses to compromise.”

    Brexit Brief -  Yves Smith - As you have almost certainly heard by now, Parliament again voted down all four of the motions that Speaker John Bercow allowed to be considered.  The one that came closet to being approved was Ken Clarke’s “customs union” handwave, which lost by only 3 votes. Oh, and Tory whip Nick Boles resigned the party due to its second refusal to support his soft Brexit plan. That’s because a “no deal” faction is at war with the EU friendly types. The Telegraph claims today that 14 of May’s ministers favor a crash out.Not that Labour is doing much better on the party discipline front. Labour whipped in favor of “Common Market 2.0” (Boles’ plan) but only 185 members backed it and 25 even voted against it. The big reason for the split was that backing that plan meant repudiating Labour’s promise to halt the free movement of EU citizens.It’s hard to see how EU leaders can watch what is happening in the UK and not conclude that the UK is a tar baby. That would seem to strengthen the case for not giving the UK a long extension, since the UK looks to be incapable of understanding what its options are, let alone choosing among them. How is another year of faffig about going to change anything? Some examples:How does a super hard Brexit become a soft Brexit? The motion that may finally pass Wednesday is the customs union scheme. That’s being pitched to MPs as a soft Brexit even though it’s just about as hard as a crash-out. The fudge is that the customs union will be a component along with other things that will get to a soft Brexit. Why should EU pols have any confidence that Parliament can accept what those yet to be named pieces will be? They already rejected Theresa May’s deal, and for many, it was because it was too soft, as in still tied the UK too much to the EU. Why should the EU have any confidence that the UK is prepared to live with a non-unicorn Brexit?  How can the EU negotiate a deal with a party that won’t live up to even short term plain English agreements? Remember, Theresa May is still trying to get her Withdrawal Agreement passed even though the EU Council made clear the last day for that was March 29. Richard Smith sent along a short legal analysis by Prieskel & Co. on the messiness of re-setting the exit date if the UK needed to do that as of April 11 or 12. But its set-up was a reminder that Theresa May is poking a stick in the eye of the EU by trying again to get her Withdrawal Agreement passed…..and the press doesn’t even take notice. The exchange below also illustrates the lack of professionalism of the UK side, yet another obstacle to coming to an agreement:  […] The point here is that the Government has demonstrated yet again that it isn’t agreement capable. Recall that it repudiated the backstop that it had committed to in the Joint Agreement of December 2017, and reversed itself only after the EU applied a lot of fudge (for which it has not been given credit). And as dreadful as May has been to deal with, it’s not clear there is anyone better in the offing…charitably assuming she leaves before the next general election, which is now set for 2022. Remember, she has committed to depart only if her Withdrawal Act is approved, as well as to not lead the party in the next GE. So I would not assume May is leaving any time soon.

    The legal choreography of the United Kingdom’s Article 50 extension – and a serious problem ahead -  This post sets out how the United Kingdom went about extending the Article 50 period from 29 March 2019. This post also sets out a problem for the United Kingdom in the event that a further extension is required beyond the new departure date of 12 April 2019. The starting point is the “international plane” of the extension, here Article 50 of the Treaty of European Union.Article 50(3) provides that:“The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned unanimously decides to extend this period.”As the United Kingdom notified its departure on 29 March 2017, this meant that the set departure date was to be on 29 March 2019.This was to be the date on which, by automatic operation of law, the “treaties would cease to apply”.The United Kingdom would have left the European Union as a matter of public international law (the law which covers treaties and the relationships between a nation and other nations and international bodies).As it happens the United Kingdom decided to seek an extension of the Article 50 period.This request was made to the European Council on 20 March 2019 and the full letter is here.  You will see the letter is wordy and rhetorical, and it gets to its point only at the end:“I am therefore writing to inform the European Council that the UK is seeking an extension to the Article 50 period under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union, including as applied by Article 106a of the Euratom Treaty, until 30 June 2019.” The European Council, in turn, regarded this letter as little more than an invitation to treat.  On 22 March 2019 the European Council made a reasoned and unanimous decision (here), which offered the UK two possible extensions:“In the event that the Withdrawal Agreement is approved by the House of Commons by 29 March 2019 at the latest, the period provided for in Article 50(3) TEU is extended until  22 May 2019.   “In the event that the Withdrawal Agreement is not approved by the House of Commons by 29 March 2019 at the latest, the period provided for in Article 50(3) TEU is extended until  12 April 2019. In that event, the United Kingdom will indicate a way forward before 12 April 2019, for consideration by the European Council.” The United Kingdom accepted this offer the same day, in a letter far less wordy and political than before (here): “I refer to the draft European Council Decision taken in agreement with the United Kingdom extending the period under Article 50(3) TEU, as attached to this letter. I am writing to confirm the agreement of the Government of the United Kingdom to the extension of the period under Article 50(3) and to this decision.” Offer and acceptance; the extension took legal effect.

     Brexit Rebel Leader Now 90% Sure We Will Drop Out With 'No Deal' - After months of trying, a cross-party group of backbenchers finally succeeded late last month in wresting control of the Commons agenda from the government in an unprecedented move. But in an indication of just how dysfunctional the Brexit process has become, the group's hopes for formulating a consensus around an alternative to Theresa May's now thrice-rejected withdrawal agreement have been dashed, as the Commons has rejected every alternative proposal raised during two separate indicative votes over the past week.  Now, with Speaker Bercow reportedly contemplating stopping May from bringing her deal back for a fourth vote, and different factions in the Commons demanding the prime minister push for a "managed" no deal exit (a possibility that the EU has already rejected) while another pushes May to ask for a lengthy Article 50 extension, and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier warning that a no-deal exit for Britain is looking "more likely by the day" and that extending Article 50 would pose "significant risks." Another group of Brexiteer cabinet ministers is reportedly urging May to issue a "final ultimatum" for the EU to change the Irish Backstop, while Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond is reportedly planning to admonish the Commons for failing to deliver Brexit, and urge them to now consider calling another referendum. Amid the chaos, Sir Oliver Letwin, the leader of the backbenchers group, told Sky News on Tuesday that he has no plans to call for another indicative vote on Wednesday, though his group will once again control the agenda thanks to a business motion passed yesterday. Furthermore, in perhaps the clearest sign that Letwin, the would-be Brexit savior, has thrown in the towel, he reportedly said he's now "90% sure we'll drop out with No Deal." His ally Nick Boles, who sponsored a proposal in Monday's indicative vote that would have called for a softer Brexit, resigned the Tory whip and left the conservative party last night after blaming the party for failing to get its shit together.

    Brexit: PM asks Corbyn to help break deadlock - Theresa May will ask the EU for an extension to the Brexit deadline to "break the logjam" in Parliament. The PM says she wants to meet Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to agree a plan on the future relationship with the EU. But she insisted her withdrawal agreement - which was voted down last week - would remain part of the deal. Mr Corbyn said he was "very happy" to meet Mrs May, and would ensure plans for a customs union and protection of workers' rights were on the table. The cross-party talks offer has angered Tory Brexiteers, with Boris Johnson accusing ministers of "entrusting the final handling of Brexit to Labour". The former foreign secretary said Brexit was "becoming soft to the point of disintegration" and he could never agree with staying in a customs union. BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said it probably means the prime minister is likely to adopt a closer relationship with the EU - a softer Brexit - than she had agreed so far. The UK has until 12 April to propose a plan to the EU - which must be accepted by them - or it will leave without a deal. Mrs May agreed a deal with the EU in November 2018, but it has been voted down twice in Parliament by huge margins, and a separate deal just on the withdrawal agreement section lost by 58 votes on Friday. MPs have also twice held indicative votes to try to find a consensus, but none of the proposals won a majority.

    May offers Corbyn “national unity” Brexit agreement talks -- Prime Minister Theresa May emerged from a fractious seven-hour cabinet meeting of her Conservative Party with an unprecedented offer to collaborate with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to secure an agreement on Brexit they could jointly recommend to parliament. If agreed, this would then be put to the European Union.  May faced the threat of 20 cabinet members supporting a no-confidence motion against her government if she agreed to a “soft Brexit,” i.e., maintaining access to the Single European Market and a customs union, combined with a letter signed by half the Parliamentary Tory Party urging a no-deal exit. Yet she eventually secured Cabinet agreement for an appeal to Corbyn for “national unity to deliver the national interest.” May said she would use any agreement reached to seek, at an emergency summit of the EU on Friday April 10, an extension to Article 50 enabling withdrawal from the EU beyond the current April 12 date. This was reportedly agreed by Cabinet only after Brexiteer Michael Gove shifted some colleagues from an initial 14-10 votes against. May stressed, however, that any delay should extend no longer than to May 22, so as to avoid the UK having to take part in elections to the European parliament. She said that “we need to be clear what such an extension is for: to ensure we leave in a timely and orderly way.” Any negotiations with Corbyn would be about future relations with the EU post-Brexit, based on the precondition of accepting the Withdrawal Agreement she has negotiated with the EU’s 27 member states and which could not be “swiftly renegotiated.” If no joint agreement that “both could put to the house” is possible, May would offer up another round of votes in parliament on various options agreed on with Corbyn. This time, the votes, currently scheduled for next Monday, would not be merely “indicative.” The government would agree to accept as binding whatever proposed arrangement secured a majority and put it to the EU, providing that Labour did the same. May risks alienating a large swathe of her party, given that any discussion would be on a softer Brexit than her own deal, which has already proven unacceptable to a core of 30 Tory “hard-Brexiteers,” who call themselves the “Spartans,” and the 10 Democratic Unionist Party MPs on which she has relied for a majority.  Corbyn responded to May’s appeal within less than an hour, telling the Press Association he was “very happy” to “meet the prime minister.” He continued: “We recognise that she has made a move, I recognise my responsibility to represent the people that supported Labour in the last election and the people who didn’t support Labour but nevertheless want certainty and security for their own future, and that’s the basis on which we will meet her and we will have those discussions.” Rather than seeking to mobilise the millions of workers who embraced his call for an end to the pro-business austerity regimes of Blair, Brown, Cameron and May, he has appeased Labour’s right wing, adopted its policies, and allowed his supporters to be witch-hunted out of the party.  Collusion with May is the logical outcome of this political betrayal.

    Corbyn tells PM: You’d better start giving ground on Brexit - The prime minister will have to give significant ground on her Brexit proposals if she wants to secure Labour’s support, Jeremy Corbyn indicated last night. Accepting Mrs May’s offer of talks, the Labour leader said that he did not “want to set any limits, one way or the other, ahead of those meetings”, but he said that “so far [she] hasn’t shown much sign of compromise”. Mr Corbyn expected a customs union and protection of workers’ and consumer rights to be “on the table”. He also told Mrs May that regardless of how people had voted in the 2016 referendum they “didn’t vote for lower living standards or to lose their jobs”. It is understood that Mr Corbyn found out about Mrs May’s proposal of talks only when she announced it on television. He was “very happy” to take up the offer, but said that a post-Brexit Tory trade deal with the US could see lead in lipstick and chlorinated chickens on sale here. “If we don’t secure a customs union and keep high-quality trading standards then we risk major industries and companies abandoning Britain altogether,” he said. “Some Conservative politicians want to see a new trade deal with the US that would lower our most prized social, environmental and health standards, allowing in things like chlorinated chicken, hormone-fed beef and even lead in lipstick. It would open up our NHS to American corporations and wreck our steel industry,” he told The Martin Lewis Money Show on ITV. Earlier Mr Corbyn was tackled by members of his shadow cabinet over the party’s failure to discipline frontbenchers who helped to defeat a push for a second Brexit referendum during Monday evening’s indicative votes. Labour MPs had been ordered to support a motion for another public poll. Ian Lavery, the party chairman, and Jon Trickett, shadow cabinet office minister, abstained, along with nine shadow ministers. In all 40 Labour MPs abstained or voted against a “confirmatory” referendum on any deal. The amendment was defeated by 12 votes. Labour MPs had accused Mr Corbyn of encouraging the rebels by failing to discipline Mr Lavery and Mr Trickett when they also defied the whip to abstain on an amendment on a second referendum last week.

    Brexit: Pandemonium -  Yves Smith - Theresa May appeared to make a major change in course yesterday by starting the process of striking a cross-party deal with Labour on a softer Brexit. However, May also said she wanted to petition the EU to have an extension to May 22… approve her Withdrawal Agreement. As we’ll discuss shortly, it’s inconceivable that the EU would agree to that.  For those of you who are not deep into Brexit details, May is giving a big raised middle finger to the EU with this proposal. The UK came as a petitioner to the EU seeking an extension, which the EU was in no way obligated to give. The EU rejected May’s request for an extension to June 30 and instead gave her two alternatives: if she got her Withdrawal Agreement approved by March 29, the Government could have an extension to May 22 to pass enabling legislation. If not, it had until April 12 to “indicate a way forward” with Brexit [that is acceptable the EU] and take the steps necessary to participate in the European Parliament elections. May’s new bright idea was not on offer, and for good reason. Without belaboring the details, having the UK in the EU after April 12 risks having UK citizens claim the right to vote in European Parliament elections. Not acting accordingly has the potential to throw the legality of the new Parliament in question. Even if that risk is arguably remote, the consequences would be dire. An even more pressing reason is they don’t want to risk a “no deal” dominating the election:Hasn't taken EU diplomats long to spot this whacking great bear trap. They're already telling us no way will they grant UK an extension to May 22 without it taking part in EP elections. To do so would create a legally unavoidable cliff edge the day before voters go to the polls.   So an open question is whether this is May being dragging around her Withdrawal Agreement corpse because she’s incapable of coming up with another approach, or is this one of her idiot-savant displays, where she is steering the UK to a no deal Brexit if she can’t get her way with the Withdrawal Agreement, and trying to make Labour own that outcome too? The rumors are that 14 of her 27 Cabinet ministers were opposed to her plan. Richard North provides more scuttlebutt: She had, she said, just come from chairing seven hours of Cabinet meetings where, if we are to believe what we are told, acrimonious ministers were split between wanting a no-deal Brexit and opting for a customs union, with the no-dealers holding the majority. Mind you, May’s statement came after a round of panic and confusion. May had her ministers surrender their phones during a seven hour session. The House entertained scheduling something called the Cooper-Letwin bill for Wednesday in place of the previously planned indicative votes. Most observers thought meant the UK was on a just-about certain path to crash-out….but then the indicative votes were back on! So Brexit-watchers were already overstimulated when the Prime Minister made her announcement of her seeming change in direction. But my take is that May’s move is a variant of her standard “run the clock out” play, which hasn’t worked for her so far (save for keeping her in No. 10). If nothing else, talking to Labour creates more moving parts, more complexity, and therefore more opportunity for failure.

    Brexit: Shambles - Yves Smith - May’s and Parliament’s desperate moves to obtain a long extension from the EU next week ignore two options the EU said it would accept, a general election and a second referendum.Parliament abandoned its “indicative votes” process. The vote was 310-310, with Speaker John Bercow, by custom, breaking the tie by opposing the motion.Juncker threw cold water on May’s idea of getting an extension till May 22 to get her Withdrawal Agreement passed or otherwise faff around.Parliament is trying to change the constitutional order by making itself a part of negotiations with the EU over an extension. The vehicle for this attempt is the Cooper-Letwin bill, which is up to be passed by the House today. However, this effort is so misguided that it is likely to fall apart or otherwise prove irrelevant, likely vitiating the attempted seizure of Government authority.The Cooper-Letwin bill is a unicorn by virtue of trying to both negotiate with the EU over an extension, including changing the shape of the table. Na ga happen. Even at this late hour, it is remarkable to see how few people who ought to know better think the UK has leverage over the EU. The UK is a penitent seeking mercy from the EU, and the EU will dispose of the Brexit extension matter as it sees fit.The bill is poorly drafted, but in vey short form, tells May to go to the EU to get a Brexit extensions, without specifying how long it should be or what her basis for seeking it is (aside from “no ‘no deal,’ which the EU does not deem to be a reason). If the EU makes a counterproposal or a demand, like “We said you needed to participate in European Parliament elections. We can say yes only if you’ve done what you need to do,” the Government has to go back to Parliament, get their approval for what to do next, and only then return to Brussels. That is an impossible timetable given that the Council meets April 10 and the drop dead time is April 12. The Daily Mail’s title and subheads do a decent job of skewering the bill: Brexit minister warns that vote by MPs last night to kill off No Deal has actually INCREASED the risk of it ‘accidentally’ happening because new timetable does not allow enough time to sign it off

    • MPs backed a bill forcing PM to seek delay if she cannot strike a deal with the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
    • It passed by just one vote, 313 to 312, after it was hurried through the Commons in a series of votes last night
    • But as it was debated, the Brexit minister warned the backbench bill could lead to an ‘accidental No Deal’ 
    • Robin Walker said there might not be time to complete the extra paperwork needed for a delay before April 12 
    • Hardline eurosceptic Tory Mark Francois branded bill a ‘constitutional outrage’  in fiery scenes after it passed

    Brexit- MPs back delay bill by one vote - MPs have voted by a majority of one to force the prime minister to ask for an extension to the Brexit process, in a bid to avoid a no-deal scenario. Labour's Yvette Cooper led the move, which the Commons passed in one day. The bill is due to be considered by the Lords later and will need its approval to become law, but it is the EU which decides whether to grant an extension. It comes as talks between Conservative and Labour teams to end the Brexit deadlock continue. Discussions between Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Wednesday were described as "constructive", but were criticised by MPs in both parties. Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay told MPs he would hope the Lords would "scrutinise this bill passed in haste with its constitutional flaws". He added that there was "no guarantee" that the UK will not take part in the European elections in May and to participate would be a "betrayal" and "inflict untold damage". Meanwhile, Chancellor Philip Hammond has suggested that he expects Brussels to insist on a lengthy delay to Brexit. He also described a public vote to approve any final deal as "a perfectly credible proposition". But Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC Radio 4 Today he was "very strongly against" a public vote and he would not want to see a long extension to the Brexit process.

    Today in Brexit: Looks Like Theresa and Jeremy Might Not Be Able to Work This Out on Their Own In the U.K., the party controlling Parliament also controls the executive, and can usually rely on its own votes, sometimes with a coalition partner, to pass legislation. So the prime minister sitting in a room haggling with the leader of the opposition to pass her bill—as Theresa May did with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn this week—is not how things are supposed to work. It’s even weirder when the governing party’s official position for the past four years has been that the leader of the opposition is an anti-Semitic Stalinist who poses a grave threat to national security. But with the prime minister’s party terminally split over Brexit, that’s where we are.  Corbyn and May wrapped up a second day of talks after four and half hours Thursday. May is now hoping to forge an agreement with Corbyn that the two of them can present jointly to Parliament, meaning she’s hoping that she can get enough votes from the opposition to overcome resistance from the hard-liners in her own party and her coalition partners, who have continuously opposed the withdrawal agreement she negotiated with the EU. No concrete deal came out of the talks, but they plan to meet again and May’s side described the session as “constructive.” That’s also what they said about Wednesday’s meeting, but there have been reports suggesting it was a little frostier than that:   The Labour Party is split on whether Corbyn should demand a new public referendum on whatever deal is passed. Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign minister, issued a statement Wednesday calling on the party to insist that “any deal agreed by Parliament must be subject to a confirmatory public vote, and yes, the other option on the ballot must be Remain.” But Thursday, 25 Labour MPs wrote an open letter to Corbyn warning him against calling for a new referendum, insisting on the importance of “respecting the 2016 vote.” The shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, who participated in the May-Corbyn talks, said a new vote would be discussed, but it’s not clear how strongly Labour will push for it. This whole debate will be academic if Corbyn and May can’t reach an agreement at all.  Wednesday night, the House of Commons passed a bill, by one vote, that attempts to prevent a no-deal Brexit by requiring May to ask the EU for an extension on the current Brexit deadline, which is April 12. (Coming up soon!) It would also give Parliament the power to determine the length of the extension she asked for. The government opposes the bill, arguing that it would actually increase the risk of an “accidental” no-deal Brexit: EU leaders are meeting on Wednesday where they will likely consider the U.K.’s request for a delay. If they approve a different date than the one proposed by Parliament, May would then have to bring it back for approval by Parliament the next day, which is April 11, one day before the deadline. That’s cutting it pretty close.

     Brexit- UK asks EU for further extension until 30 June - BBC - Theresa May has written to the European Union to request a further delay to Brexit until 30 June. The UK is currently due to leave the EU on 12 April and, as yet, no withdrawal deal has been approved by MPs. The government has been in talks with the Labour Party to try and find a compromise to put to the Commons. But shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the Tory negotiating team had offered no changes to Mrs May's original deal. The PM said from the outset she wanted to keep her withdrawal agreement as part of any plan, but was willing to discuss the UK's future relationship with the EU - addressed in the deal's political declaration. Sir Keir said the government was "not countenancing any change to the actual wording of the political declaration", adding: "Compromise requires change." The prime minister has proposed that if UK MPs approve a deal in time, the UK should be able to leave before European Parliamentary elections on 23 May. But she said the UK would prepare to field candidates in those elections in case no agreement is reached. It is up to the EU whether to grant an extension to Article 50, the legal process through which the UK is leaving the EU, after MPs repeatedly rejected the withdrawal agreement reached between the UK and the bloc. The BBC's Europe editor Katya Adler has been told by a senior EU source that European Council President Donald Tusk will propose a 12-month "flexible" extension to Brexit, with the option of cutting it short, if the UK Parliament ratifies a deal. But French President Emmanuel Macron's office said on Friday that it was "premature" to consider another delay while French diplomatic sources described Mr Tusk's suggestion as a "clumsy test balloon". The prime minister wrote to Mr Tusk to request the extension ahead of an EU summit on 10 April, where EU leaders would have to unanimously agree on any plan to delay the UK's departure. Mrs May has already requested an extension to the end of June but this was rejected at a summit last month. Instead, she was offered a short delay to 12 April - the date by which the UK must say whether it intends to take part in the European Parliamentary elections - or until 22 May, if UK MPs had approved the withdrawal deal negotiated with the EU. They voted it down for a third time last week. A Downing Street spokesman said there were "different circumstances now" and the prime minister "has been clear she is seeking a short extension".

    Brexit: EU’s Donald Tusk ‘suggests 12-month flexible delay’ -  European Council President Donald Tusk is proposing to offer the UK a 12-month "flexible" extension to its Brexit date, according to a senior EU source. His plan, which would need to be agreed by EU leaders at a summit next week, would allow the UK to leave sooner if Parliament ratifies a deal. The UK's Conservatives and Labour Party are set to continue Brexit talks later. Theresa May has written to Mr Tusk with the UK's request for a further delay to Brexit until 30 June. The UK is due to leave the EU on 12 April and, as yet, no withdrawal deal has been approved by MPs. Downing Street said "technical" talks between Labour and the Conservatives on Thursday had been "productive" and would continue on Friday. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has told the BBC that if they fail, the delay is "likely to be a long one". Prime Minister Theresa May has said a further postponement to the Brexit date is needed if the UK is to avoid leaving the EU without a deal, a scenario both EU leaders and many British MPs believe would create problems for businesses and cause difficulties at ports. On Wednesday, MPs voted - by a majority of one - in favour of a backbench bill which would force Mrs May to ask the EU for a further extension. However, the PM wants to keep any delay as short as possible. To do that, she and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn would need to agree a proposal for MPs to vote on before 10 April, when EU leaders are expected to consider any extension request at an emergency summit.

    EU Warns of Immediate Checks on UK Exports if No Brexit Deal by Deadline —The European Union has warned it will immediately start carrying out full checks on goods entering from Britain—prompting long queues on both sides of the Chunnel linking the UK to the continent—if there is a no-deal Brexit next week.Senior officials in Brussels said the bloc will have to apply its customs and food safety rules immediately in the event that the two sides don’t sign off on an agreement or extension of the UK’s membership by the extended deadline, April 12.They stressed that this will mean all live animals, from livestock to racing horses, and animal-derived products, including meat, dairy, and honey, will be subject to controls at the EU’s borders with Britain in such a scenario.In a series of briefings April 4, the European Commission warned a no-deal exit of the UK from the bloc is now “highly likely,” due to the ongoing political crisis in Westminster.Officials have warned such a schism would entail a “brutal” overnight change that would see the entire network of laws that underpins the relationship between the two sides fall away overnight.

    Outrage Over UK Soldiers Using Jeremy Corbyn Photo for Target Practice --  British soldiers in Kabul, Afghanistan, used an image of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn as target practice, drawing criticism from United Kingdom progressives and triggering an internal investigation.Video of the soldiers firing weapons at a large picture of Corbyn went viral early Wednesday morning. Video has emerged of soldiers on a shooting range in Kabul firing at a target of Jeremy Corbyn. MOD confirms it as legit:— Alistair Bunkall (@AliBunkallSKY) April 3, 2019  The video was propelled into the mainstream after journalist Ash Sarkar, in a thread on Twitter, cited images from the video posted by far-right British writer Trevor Coult celebrating the behavior. In her comments on the video’s reception, Sarkar drew a line between Coult’s fascist rhetoric and the coverage of Corbyn in the British press.A tweet from an account which approvingly reposted the video of soldiers using an image of Jeremy Corbyn for target practice.The establishment press whipping up of nationalist hysteria about Corbyn is leading to some deeply disturbing stuff from supposedly respectable figures.— Ash Sarkar (@AyoCaesar) April 3, 2019   British media jumped on the story shortly thereafter, and the images have since spreadacross the world.  The British military has begun an investigation of the soldiers’ behavior.

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