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Saturday, June 1, 2019

week ending Jun 1

Q1 GDP Revised Down to 3.1% Annual Rate - From the BEA: Gross Domestic Product, 1st quarter 2019 (second estimate); Corporate Profits, 1st quarter 2019 (preliminary estimate) Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 3.1 percent in the first quarter of 2019, according to the "second" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the fourth quarter, real GDP increased 2.2 percent.The GDP estimate released today is based on more complete source data than were available for the "advance" estimate issued last month. In the advance estimate, the increase in real GDP in the first quarter was 3.2 percent. Today's estimate reflects downward revisions to nonresidential fixed investment and private inventory investment and upward revisions to exports and personal consumption expenditures (PCE). Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, were revised up; the general picture of economic growth remains the same PCE growth was revised up from 1.2% to 1.3%. Residential investment was revised down from -2.8% to -3.5%. This was close to the consensus forecast.Here is a Comparison of Second and Advance Estimates.

Q1 GDP Second Estimate: Real GDP at 3.1%, As Expected -The Second Estimate for Q1 GDP, to one decimal, came in at 3.1% (3.07% to two decimal places), an increase from 2.2% for the Q4 Third Estimate. had a consensus of 3.1%.Here is the slightly abbreviated opening text from the Bureau of Economic Analysis news release:Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 3.1 percent in the first quarter of 2019 (table 1), according to the "second" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the fourth quarter, real GDP increased 2.2 percent.The GDP estimate released today is based on more complete source data than were available for the "advance" estimate issued last month. In the advance estimate, the increase in real GDP in the first quarter was 3.2 percent. Today's estimate reflects downward revisions to nonresidential fixed investment and private inventory investment and upward revisions to exports and personal consumption expenditures (PCE). Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, were revised up; the general picture of economic growth remains the same (see "Updates to GDP" on page 2). [Full Release]Here is a look at Quarterly GDP since Q2 1947. Prior to 1947, GDP was an annual calculation. To be more precise, the chart shows is the annualized percentage change from the preceding quarter in Real (inflation-adjusted) Gross Domestic Product. We've also included recessions, which are determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). Also illustrated are the 3.22% average (arithmetic mean) and the 10-year moving average, currently at 2.25%.Here is a log-scale chart of real GDP with an exponential regression, which helps us understand growth cycles since the 1947 inception of quarterly GDP. The latest number puts us 13.4% below trend.

Q2 GDP Revised Lower To 3.1%, As Corporate Profits Tumble Most In Three Years - After Wall Street was stunned when the BEA reported a far stronger than expected first reading of Q1 GDP, which soared to 3.2%, smashing earlier expectations that it would print around 1%, moments ago the Dept of Commerce reported the first revision to the first quarter number, which was revised fractionally lower to 3.1%, which however was still just above the consensus estimate of 3.0%, and certainly better than the 2.2% recorded in Q4.The revision was due to a modest downward revision in Fixed Investment (from 0.27% to 0.18% of GDP) and Private Inventories (from 0.65% to 0.60%) as well as net exports from just above 1% to just below, offset by a small revision higher in Personal Consumption, which increased from 0.82% to 0.90%. On an annualized basis, consumer spending, which accounts for the majority of the economy, grew 1.3%, topping projections for an unrevised 1.2% though still the slowest in a year. Finally, the government contribution to GDP was virtually unchanged at 0.42%. Excluding trade and inventories, that gave a boost to GDP, final sales to domestic purchasers increased at a 1.5% pace - the slowest since 2015, though revised from 1.4%. This indicators, seen as a measure of underlying demand, suggests growth in the quarter was weaker than the headline number indicates. The combined 1.56 percentage-point boost from inventories and trade was only slightly below the originally-reported 1.68-point lift. This surge could ultimately weigh on growth in coming quarters, adding to the need for consumers to become the main growth driver again.The report may ease some investor concern that the economy is losing momentum and potentially help Trump as he starts his reelection campaign, even as sellside strategists are now expecting a 1% or lower Q2 GDP print. Indeed, as Bloomberg notes, "recent reports suggesting a dimmer outlook this quarter, along with the intensifying tariff conflict, are casting a shadow over an expansion poised to become the nation’s longest on record in July." Notably, the 3M-10Y curve dipped to session lows of -11bps after the report.Today's report also gave the first read on business earnings for the period, suggesting corporate America is facing headwinds from the trade war and the effects of Trump's tax cut is waning. Pretax corporate profits fell 2.8% from the prior quarter, the biggest drop since 2015, and were up 3.1% from a year earlier, the least since 2017.  Last, but not least, the questions over the suspiciously low GDP deflator of just 1.0% (revised from 0.9%) remains, and prompts question what happens to real GDP in Q3 when inflation prints are expected to rise due to China tariffs, and whether that could push real GDP into negative territory.Indeed, inflation was even more subdued than initially reported, which could bolster some calls for a Fed rate cut. The core PCE price index, excluding food and energy, rose at a 1% pace - the slowest in three years and revised from 1.3%; as a reminder, the Fed targets 2% annual gains for the broader PCE price index.

  Q1 Real GDP Per Capita: 2.51% Versus the 3.07% Headline Real GDP - The Second Estimate for Q1 GDP came in at 3.1% (3.07% to two decimals), up from 2.2% in Q4. With a per-capita adjustment, the headline number is lower at 2.51% to two decimal points.Here is a chart of real GDP per capita growth since 1960. For this analysis, we've chained in today's dollar for the inflation adjustment. The per-capita calculation is based on quarterly aggregates of mid-month population estimates by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which date from 1959 (hence our 1960 starting date for this chart, even though quarterly GDP has is available since 1947). The population data is available in the FRED series POPTHM. The logarithmic vertical axis ensures that the highlighted contractions have the same relative scale. The chart includes an exponential regression through the data using the Excel GROWTH function to give us a sense of the historical trend. The regression illustrates the fact that the trend since the Great Recession has a visibly lower slope than the long-term trend. In fact, the current GDP per-capita is 7.7% below the pre-recession trend.The real per-capita series gives us a better understanding of the depth and duration of GDP contractions. As we can see, since our 1960 starting point, the recession that began in December 2007 is associated with a deeper trough than previous contractions, which perhaps justifies its nickname as the Great Recession. The standard measure of GDP in the US is expressed as the compounded annual rate of change from one quarter to the next. The current real GDP is 3.07%. But with a per-capita adjustment, the data series is lower at 2.51%. The 10-year moving average illustrates that US economic growth has slowed dramatically since the last recession.

Q2 GDP Forecasts: mid-1% Range -- From Merrill Lynch: The data bumped up our 2Q GDP tracking estimate by 0.2pp to 1.8% qoq saar. [May 31 estimate]   From Goldman Sachs: We lowered our Q2 GDP tracking estimate by two tenths to +1.1% (qoq ar). [Updated: May 30 estimate]  From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report:  The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 1.5% for 2019:Q2. News from this week's data releases increased the nowcast for 2019:Q2 by 0.1 percentage point. [May 31 estimate].And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNow:  The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in thesecond quarter of 2019 is 1.2 percent on May 31, down from 1.3 percent on May 24. A slight increase in the nowcast of the contribution of personal consumption expenditures to second-quarter real GDP growth from 1.99 percentage points to 2.03 percentage points after this morning’s personal income and outlays report from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis was more than offset by a decline in the nowcast of second-quarter real nonresidential equipment investment growth from 0.7 percent to -1.4 percent after yesterday’s and today’s economic releases. [May 31 estimate]CR Note: These early estimates suggest real GDP growth will be in the 1% to 2% range annualized in Q2.

Rates Tumble After Spectacular 2Y Auction; Directs Soar To 3 Year High - If there were some concerns about a Chinese boycott in recent Treasury sales, these were all gone after today's spectacular auction of $40 billion in 2 Year paper. The yield stopped out at a yield of 2.125%, the lowest since January 2018, and stopped through the When Issued 2.135% by 1 basis point.The internals were impressive from top to bottom as well: starting with the bid to cover, which surged from 2.51 last month to 2.745, well above the 2.52 six auction average, and the highest since August 2018. The closely watched Indirects category, which traditionally captures foreign investor demand - including that of China - was virtually unchanged, dipping to 46.6% from 47.7% last month, and just below the 48.3% recent average. At the same time, Dealers tumbled to 26.2% from 36.5%. The reason: a surge in Direct demand, which nearly doubled from 15.8% last month to 27.2%, the highest since May 2016. Overall, a spectacular auction with clear foreign demand, which in turn has sent the entire curve lower, pushing the 10Y yield to new intraday lows of 2.26%, and slamming the 3M-10Y to new cycle lows.

In Today's Second Strong Auction, Treasury Sells 5Y Paper At Lowest Yield Since 2017 - While it may not be quite as strong as this morning's spectacular 2Y auction, moments ago the US Treasury sold $41 billion in 5Y notes, with the yield stopping at 2.065%, once again stopping through the 2.068% When Issued, sharply down from April's 2.315% and the lowest yield since October 2017. The internals, while not nearly as impressive as today's first auction, were also impressive, with the Bid to Cover sliding modestly from 2.44 to 2.38, just above the 6 auction average of 2.37. Indirects took down 57.5%, just below the 58.6% average, and while it was shy of the near record surge in 2 Year Direct takedown, the directs were allotted 18.4%, well above the 15.3% in April, leaving 24.1% to Dealers, which was also the highest since January. In summary, it may not have been spectacular, but it certainly was solid, and with just the 7Y coupon auction left, any speculation that China may be selling, or boycotting US paper, has been pushed to the backburner for now.

 The Economic Effects of the 2017 Tax Revision: Preliminary Observations Congressional Research Service -- The 2017 tax revision, P.L. 115-97, often referred to as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and referred to subsequently as the Act, substantially revised the U.S. tax system. The Act permanently reduced the corporate tax rate to 21%, made a number of revisions in business tax deductions (including limits on interest deductions), and provided a major revision in the international tax rules. It also substantially revised individual income taxes, including an increase in the standard deduction and child credit largely offset by eliminating personal exemptions, along with rate cuts, limits on itemized deductions (primarily a dollar cap on the state and local tax deduction), and a 20% deduction for pass-through businesses (businesses taxed under the individual rather than the corporate tax, such as partnerships). These individual provisions are temporary and are scheduled to expire after 2025. The Act also adopted temporary provisions allowing the immediate deduction for equipment investment and an increase in the exemption for estate and gift taxes. The Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) estimated that these changes would reduce tax revenue by $1.5 trillion over 10 years.  In 2018, gross domestic product (GDP) grew at 2.9%, about the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO’s) projected rate published in 2017 before the tax cut. On the whole, the growth effects tend to show a relatively small (if any) first-year effect on the economy. Although growth rates cannot indicate the tax cut’s effects on GDP, they tend to rule out very large effects particularly in the short run. Although investment grew significantly, the growth patterns for different types of assets do not appear to be consistent with the direction and size of the supply-side incentive effects one would expect from the tax changes. This potential outcome may raise questions about how much longer-run growth will result from the tax revision.  CBO, in its first baseline update post enactment, initially estimated that the Act would reduce individual income taxes by $65 billion, corporate income taxes by $94 billion, and other taxes by $3 billion, for a total reduction of $163 billion in FY2018. Corporate revenues were about $40 billion less than projected whereas individual revenues were higher, with an overall revenue reduction of about $9 billion. From 2017 to 2018, the estimated average corporate tax rate fell from 23.4% to 12.1% and individual income taxes as a percentage of personal income fell slightly from 9.6% to 9.2%. Real wages grew more slowly than GDP: at 2.0% (adjusted by the GDP deflator) compared with 2.9% for overall real GDP. Such slower growth has occurred in the past. The real wage rate for production and nonsupervisory workers grew by 1.2%.

 Trump deploys 1,500 troops to Middle East, sells weapons to Gulf allies In the latest step in US imperialism’s preparations for all-out war with Iran, President Donald Trump announced Friday the deployment of an additional 1,500 troops to the Middle East. The deployment, which includes a Patriot missile battery and a squadron of fighter jets, supplements the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group sent to the region earlier this month. It also includes the sending of additional reconnaissance and engineering support staff. In a statement, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan claimed the deployment is “a prudent defensive measure... intended to reduce the possibility of future hostilities.” Meanwhile, in remarks to reporters at the White House, Trump declared the forces were intended to be “protective.” These fraudulent statements are designed to avoid triggering popular opposition to war, as US imperialism’s massive war machine takes one provocative step after another to lay the groundwork for an aggressive military strike against Iran—a country of more than 80 million people. They come less than two weeks after Trump himself vowed to end Iran’s existence if it recommences its uranium enrichment program to produce nuclear weapons. Moreover, the Pentagon has already deployed nuclear capable B-52’s, F-16C fighter jets and Marines to the Middle East, while drawing up plans to send a further 120,000 military personnel to the region to attack Iran. The US government and media claim these wars plans are necessary to counter the manufactured threat posed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Should Iran be blamed for an attack on “US interests,” which could include anything from Saudi oil platforms to CIA-backed ISIS terrorist groups in Syria, the troops being sent to the Middle East would rapidly be thrown into a war. Underscoring that such a pretext for war could be found sooner rather than later, Rear Admiral Michael Gilday, director of the US Joint Staff, made a statement Friday blaming Iran’s Revolutionary Guards for alleged recent attacks on oil tankers in the United Arab Emirates. He cited no evidence to back this up. This provocative allegation comes hot on the heels of attempts to blame Tehran for an errant rocket fired by Iranian-backed Shia militias in Baghdad, which landed in the Green Zone near the US embassy.

 Mike Pence: West Point grads should expect to see combat — Vice President Mike Pence told the most diverse graduating class in the history of the U.S. Military Academy on Saturday that the world is “a dangerous place” and they should expect to see combat. “Some of you will join the fight against radical Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq,” he said. Pence congratulated the West Point graduates on behalf of President Donald Trump, and told them, “As you accept the mantle of leadership I promise you, your commander in chief will always have your back. President Donald Trump is the best friend the men and women of our armed forces will ever have.” More than 980 cadets became U.S. Army second lieutenants in the ceremony at West Point’s football stadium. Pence noted that Trump has proposed a $750 billion defense budget for 2020 and said the United States “is once again embracing our role as the leader of the free world.” “It is a virtual certainty that you will fight on a battlefield for America at some point in your life,” Pence said. “You will lead soldiers in combat. It will happen. Some of you may even be called upon to serve in this hemisphere.” Pence spoke as the U.S. plans to send another 1,500 troops to the Middle East to counter what the Trump administration describes as threats from Iran; as the longest war in U.S. history churns on in Afghanistan; and as Washington considers its options amid political upheaval in Venezuela. The administration is also depending more heavily on the military to deter migrants from crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

Arms Makers Tell Investors That Iran Tension Fuels Business – Defense executives from around the country crowded into Goldman Sachs’ glimmering tower in downtown Manhattan in mid-May, eager to present before a conference of bankers and financial analysts. While much of the world was on edge over simmering tension in the Middle East, as the U.S. and its allies have stoked tensions with Iran, the businessmen at the conference talked of opportunity. Eric DeMarco, the president of Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, addressed the conference, arguing that his company is “very well-aligned” for the shift in the military budget away from asymmetrical fighting toward nation-state warfare. The rising threat of war with Iran, Russia, and China, DeMarco continued, could threaten U.S. naval power, which could require ballistic missile threat upgrades, the type of systems Kratos Defense specializes in. Thomas Kennedy, the CEO of Raytheon, had recently won approval to provide missile defense systems to Saudi Arabia, as the country has ramped up defense systems in preparation for potential war. The following month, Kennedy presented at the Cowen Aerospace conference for investors, again focusing on how conflict with Iran will boost revenue. Kennedy said he had spent time on Capitol Hill discussing “all the information that we’re seeing from Russia and from China and to a certain degree even still North Korea and then what Iran is doing.” The discussions in Washington, D.C., he said, left him “pretty optimistic about the U.S. budget moving forward.” Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson also discussed the rising threat from Iran during her company’s investor call in January. The Defense Department’s National Defense Strategy, a blueprint released earlier this year for military planning, said Hewson, focused on “great power competition with China and Russia, and also the other players like Iran and North Korea.” The strategy, along with “bipartisan support for defense spending,” favored her company moving forward, Hewson said.  The statements to investors come as the U.S. has openly threatened to launch a new war.  The escalating tensions, while raising the potential for catastrophic conflict and loss of human life, could also be good for companies in the business of war.

 How the War Party Broke Trump - My bet is that an actual shooting war involving the United States and the Islamic Republic will not occur. Granted, we cannot exclude the possibility of inadvertent hostilities caused by one side misreading the intentions or actions of the other side. Nor should we ignore the possibility of bellicose subordinates exceeding their briefs and stumbling into a fight that authorities at the top may not have authorized. Posturing invites misunderstanding and miscalculation—and there has been more than a little posturing coming from both Washington and Tehran.Yet even if armed conflict is averted, the Iran War Scare of 2019 will deserve recognition as a moment of genuine strategic significance. With the current dustup involving Iran, the likelihood of President Trump ending the “forever wars” is now gone for good.Only rarely have I agreed with Trump on anything. His frequent and apparently sincere denunciations of our various wars in the Greater Middle East stand as the principal exception to that statement. As both candidate and president, Trump has repeatedly made clear his intention to extricate the United States from the vast military quagmire that his several predecessors, both Republicans and Democrats, have created in that region.Consistency has not been a strong suit of Trump’s administration. Yet terminating our interminable wars while lowering the U.S. military profile in the Islamic world does seem to be something to which the president is actually committed. Yet the national security apparatus and members of his own administration have opposed him every step of the way. Trump wanted U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. They are still there. He wanted U.S. troops out of Syria. They are still there. So, too, are 5,000 more in neighboring Iraq—more than 16 years after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Trump Says He's Not Looking to Topple Iranian Leadership  U.S. President Donald Trump said he isn’t pursuing regime change in Iran but aims to keep it from developing nuclear weapons, in an apparent effort to tamp down tensions that have led to fears of war. Iran “has a chance to be a great country with the same leadership,’’ Trump said at a joint press conference in Tokyo on Monday alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “We are not looking for regime change. I just want to make that clear.’’ Iranian officials have said that the raft of U.S. sanctions against their country, which was tightened last month, is aimed at fueling popular dissent in an effort to topple the leadership. “I’m not looking to hurt Iran at all. I’m looking to have Iran say no nuclear weapons,” Trump said. “No nuclear weapons for Iran and I think we will make a deal.’’ Trump’s remarks come amid fears that rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran could lead to miscalculations that would precipitate an armed conflict engulfing the Middle East. Frictions escalated this month after the U.S. said Tehran was planning an offensive against American interests in the region, then made a show of military force in the Gulf. Iran has responded to the American moves by threatening to abandon aspects of the 2015 multipower nuclear deal that remains in force despite Trump’s withdrawal a year ago. “The crux of the message by President Trump is that he doesn’t really want war with Iran, what he is trying to do is de-escalate the calls for war, ”

March on the Pentagon is Calling for a Revival of the Anti-War Movement —In response to the continuing march of military aggression by the United States and to put an anti-war agenda back on the table of activists, around 2,000 women and their comrades marched on the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia in October 2018. Last year, March on the Pentagon called for a revival of the antiwar/anti-imperialism movement and we are continuing that call in 2019. This year we are taking our march to the White House. We invite all those outraged by the U.S. war machine, U.S. imperialism, endless wars, the mind boggling death toll, the invisible effects like PTSD and substance abuse, the abuse of the planet and contribution to climate change, and the toll war takes on women across the globe—from rape and loss of children to raising one’s family as a refugee in a foreign land. If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.  The truth is, war and imperialism are the umbrella over virtually every other issue plaguing the world today including climate change, underfunded education, increasingly militarized police, a lack of adequate healthcare, refugee crises across the globe, and much much more. We invite you to Rage Against the War Machine with us in Washington D.C. on Friday, October 11th and attend the Anti-Imperialist Revolution Summit on Saturday, October 12th.

MIT Rocket Scientist: Leaked Document Shows Syrian Chemical Attacks Were StagedThe evidence is overwhelming that the gas attacks were staged,” Award-winning scientist and MIT professor emeritus Theodore Postol told The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté in a newly published interview. The interview with the noted MIT rocket scientist comes after Fox’s Tucker Carlson featured rare mainstream coverage of the bombshell leaked OPCW report on his show Thursday night. The “smoking gun” memo refutes key events surrounding the April 2018 alleged chemical gas attack in Douma, Syria – which resulted at the time in massive US and allied airstrikes on Damascus, including the launch of over one hundred Tomahawk cruise missiles. As we summarized previously of the leaked chemical weapons engineer report from the world’s chief international chemical weapons watchdog group:The document, whose authenticity the OPCW has confirmed, contends that the official story which was used to justify an air strike by the US, UK and France about poison gas being dropped on civilians from Syrian government helicopters is scientifically implausible, saying “In summary, observations at the scene of the two locations, together with subsequent analysis, suggest that there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being delivered from aircraft.”  Watch the interview below:

The Corporate Media is Key to Syria Deceptions — By any reckoning, the claim made this week by al-Qaeda-linked fighters that they were targeted with chemical weapons by the Syrian government in Idlib province — their final holdout in Syria — should have been treated by the western media with a high degree of scepticism. That the US and other western governments enthusiastically picked up those claims should not have made them any more credible. Scepticism was all the more warranted from the media given that no physical evidence has yet been produced to corroborate the jihadists’ claims. And the media should have been warier still given that the Syrian government was already poised to defeat these al-Qaeda groups without resort to chemical weapons—and without provoking the predictable ire (yet again) of the west.  But most of all scepticism was required because these latest claims arrive just as we have learnt that the last supposed major chemical attack — which took place in April 2018 and was, as ever, blamed by all western sources on Syria’s president, Bashar Assad—was very possibly staged, a false-flag operation by those very al-Qaeda groups now claiming the Syrian government has attacked them once again. Most astounding in this week’s coverage of the claims made by al-Qaeda groups is the fact that the western media continues to refuse to learn any lessons, develop any critical distance from the sources it relies on, even as those sources are shown to have repeatedly deceived it.This was true after the failure to find WMD in Iraq, and it has been confirmed after the the international community’s monitoring body on chemical weapons, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), was exposed this month as deeply dishonest. It is bad enough that our governments and our expert institutions deceive and lie to us. But it is even worse that we have a corporate media addicted—at the most charitable interpretation—to its own incompetence. The evidence demonstrating that grows stronger by the day.

We're Being Played - Tucker Carlson Features Leaked Syria Chemical Attack Memo  - On Thursday night Fox's "Tucker Carlson Tonight" featured rare prime time coverage of the bombshell leaked OPCW report which refuted key events surrounding the April 2018 alleged chemical gas attack in Douma, Syria which resulted in massive US and allied airstrikes on Damascus, nearly leading to a major war at the time. And now new allegations are looming which could once again lead to US airstrikes on Syria. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is the international chemical weapons watchdog group which has worked in tandem with the UN to investigation claimed Sarin and chlorine gas attack sites in Syria. The smoking gun document, Tucker said in opening remarks, vindicates his and others' past skepticism. But here we are again one year later with yet another chemical attack claim near Idlib on Sunday, which the US State Department says it is investigating, vowing to "respond quickly and appropriately" if Assad is found guilty of using the banned weapons, according to an official statement.  But crucially, as Tucker Carlson pointed out on his show Thursday evening in reference last year's Douma events, "At the time that happened this program was pretty much the only show on mainstream television to show any skepticism about the official narrative of the attack."Introducing a segment with Democratic presidential contender Tulsi Gabbard, a known longtime skeptic on Syrian regime change, Carlson reviewed the prior two American attacks on the Syrian government, noting "Justification for both attacks was an alleged aerial chemical weapons attack on anti-Assad rebels in Douma, Syria."  Congresswomen Gabbard told the Fox host during the interview that the leaked document presents major reasons to doubt the official narrative concerning both Douma and the most recent claims out of Idlib being advanced by the al-Qaeda groups Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) and the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP). She said she is reaching out to both the UN and OPCW for answers.  Referencing current and past Syria chemical attack claims, Tucker agreed that, "I'm beginning to suspect that we're being played here."

The US is paying countries not to buy Russian weapons -  It was a program designed by the State Department to help the former Warsaw Pact countries break away from dependence on the Russian economy — the United States would straight up pay the newly liberated former Soviet Union allies to buy American-made weapons instead of buying them from their former patron. That program is back, and the United States is expanding it. It's called the European Recapitalization Incentive Program and Eastern Europe is signing on for arms made in the good ol' US of A. But the US isn't stopping at limiting Russian influence through arms sales. The American government is using the program to limit arms sales from China too. It's a function of the State Department working hand-in-hand with the Pentagon in an effort to project American economic power and military goodwill. "The goal is to help our partners break away from the Russian supply chain [and] logistics chain that allows Russian contractors and service personnel, and Russian-manufactured spare parts onto either NATO allied bases or partner military bases," a State Department official told Defense One. The countries signing on to the revitalized program can't just promise not to buy Russian or Chinese weapons from now on. They will also need to get rid of their old ones as well as purchase new American replacements. So instead of gifting these countries a hodgepodge of military arms or vehicles, the countries can invest in American military power while getting rid of old systems and updating their military capabilities. Some of the partner countries are still using Soviet-built weapons.

Trump Attacks Military Industrial Complex, Urges Infrastructure Investments In Middle East -For the first time in over half a century, an American President has actually come out attacking the Military Industrial Complex. Of course, everyone knows of President Dwight D. Eisenhauer’s famous outgoing 1961 speech warning the world (and the incoming President Kennedy) what sort of monster had arisen at the heart of America’s defense institutions. After John F. Kennedy’s assassination, networks of neoconservative contaminated all branches of government in both parties bringing the USA into a frenzied military doctrine centered on regime change wars, oil-centered geopolitics and unipolarism totally uncharacteristic with the better constitutional traditions of the nation. This geopolitical doctrine nearly drove the west into a full military confrontation with Russia and China in recent years.  On May 20 speaking to Fox News, President Trump echoed Eisenhauer’s warnings. Under a coterie of Trump’s war-mongering advisors such as John Bolton, Gina Haspel, Terrence O’Shaughnessy and Mike Pompeo, America has recently been brought to the brink of war with Iran. While Trump has too often accommodated this hive of neocons, his recent statements and repeated calls for cooperation with Russia and China demonstrate a sound push back which should be taken very seriously. In that Fox interview Trump said: “With all of everything that’s going on, and I’m not one that believes—you know, I’m not somebody that wants to go in to war, because war hurts economies, war kills people, most importantly—by far most importantly.” You know, in Syria, with the caliphate, so I wipe out 100 percent of the caliphate. That doesn’t mean you’re not going to have these crazy people who run around blowing up stores and blowing up things—these are seriously ill people. I don’t want to say, ‘Oh, they’re wiped,’ you know, ISIS. But, I wiped out 100 percent of the caliphate. I say, ‘I want to bring our troops back home.’ The place went crazy. You have people here in Washington, they never want to leave.” ‘You know what I’ll do, I’ll leave a couple hundred soldiers behind,’ but if it was up to them, they’d bring thousands of soldiers in. Someday people will explain it, but you do have a group, and they call it the military-industrial complex. They never want to leave. They always want to fight.”

North Korea slams John Bolton as ‘war maniac’ amid Donald Trump’s softening — North Korea slammed US national security adviser John Bolton on Monday, calling him a “war maniac” who should be banished, just as President Donald Trump offered a positive outlook on relations with Pyongyang. Talks between Washington and Pyongyang have been deadlocked since the collapse of a summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi in February when they failed to agree a deal on denuclearisation. The North has since sought to raise the pressure and carried out two short-range missile tests earlier in May. Bolton said on Saturday there is “no doubt” they violated UN Security Council resolutions against ballistic missile launches, but insisted Washington is still ready to resume talks. A spokesperson for the North’s foreign ministry dismissed Bolton’s remarks, saying Pyongyang has never accepted the UN bans on ballistic technology, which denied its “rights as a sovereign nation”. “Bolton said our regular military drills violated UNSC resolutions, which is beyond stupid,” he said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). Without referring to the weapons as missiles, the statement read the launches did not target or threaten any neighbouring countries. “Banning launches using ballistic technology is equal to telling us to give up our right to self defence,” he added. The spokesperson went on to denounce Bolton, calling him a “war maniac” who developed various “provocative policies” against the North after designating it part of the Axis of Evil with Iran and Iraq in 2002. He accused the hawkish official as starting the Iraq war and leading efforts to scrap the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the US and Russia, “which served to guarantee peace in Europe for several decades”. “Recently, he is living up to his notoriety as a war maniac by keeping busy with efforts to start another war in the Middle East and South America,” the spokesperson added.

North Korea Calls John Bolton "Defective Human Product" , "Warmonger"  --North Korea on Monday called US National Security Adviser John Bolton a "war monger" and "defective human product" after he claimed that Pyongyang's recent short-range missile tests were a violation of UN Security Council resolutions, according to CBS News, citing an unnamed North Korean foreign ministry spokesman.  The comments come amid President Trump's visit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, during which the North Korean nuclear discussions are likely to be high on the agenda. North Korea tested short-range ballistic missiles on May 4 and 9, ending a pause in launches that began in late 2017. The tests have been seen as a way for North Korea to pressure Washington to soften its stance on easing sanctions against it without actually causing negotiations to collapse. -CBS NewsOn Saturday, Bolton told reporters in Tokyo that he had "no doubt" that North Korea's launches violated UN resolutions, which justifies keeping sanctions in place. According to Reuters, Japan shares Bolton's view on the matter.  North Korea's Central New Agency, the North Korean Spokesman, said that the North was rightfully exercising its rights of self-defense by conducting the launches. "Demanding us to ban all launches using ballistic technology regardless of range is same with asking us to relinquish our rights for self-defense," said a spokesman, who added that Bolton is an "ignorant" hard-liner who has consistently pushed provocative policies against North Korea - including pre-emptive strikes and regime change.

Trump Contradicts Bolton on North Korea’s Missile Tests, Says He’s Confident in Kim— While John Bolton continues to play up growing US hostility anywhere and everywhere, President Trump appeared to very directly contradict him on North Korea, just days after Bolton declared that Trump is determined to crack down on North Korea after recent missile tests. Trump, however, downplayed the missile tests, saying the tests “disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me.” Trump insisted that they were “small weapons” and he continues to have confidence in Kim Jong Un. Trump defended Kim, saying he has every confidence that Kim will deliver on his promises, and that he “smiled” when Kim “called Swampman Joe Bidan (sic) a low IQ individual, & worse.” Trump has tended to downplay potential roadblocks with North Korea, and reiterate his confidence that the two leaders get along so well they’ll likely be able to make a deal. At the same time, North Korea has been urging the US to take a new approach, and there is no sign that Trump is doing that, or even recognizing the urging has happened.

Trump and Japan’s Abe at odds over North Korea missile tests — President Donald Trump said Monday he is not “personally” bothered by recent short-range North Korean missile tests and doesn’t believe they violated U.N. Security Council resolutions, breaking with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is hosting the president on a four-day state visit full of pageantry and pomp. Trump also continued his attacks against former Vice President and 2020 Democratic hopeful Joe Biden, siding with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, who recently criticized Biden as having a low IQ. The visit was designed to highlight the U.S.-Japan alliance and showcase the warm relations between the leaders. Trump said he and Abe deliberated over economic issues, including trade and Iran, during hours of talks at the Akasaka Palace. But North Korea’s recent firing of short-range missiles emerged as an area of disagreement at a press conference Monday. Asked if he was bothered by the missile tests, Trump said: “No, I’m not. I am personally not.” Japan has long voiced concern about short-range missiles because of the threat they pose to the Island nation’s security. Trump also said he disagrees with the assessment of many experts — as well as his own national security adviser — that the tests violate U.N. Security Council resolutions. President Donald Trump said on Monday that he is not "bothered at all" by recent North Korean missile tests. He says North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wants economic development and knows he has to give up nuclear “My people think it could have been a violation,” Trump said. “I view it differently. I view it as a man — perhaps he wants to get attention and perhaps not. Who knows?” Standing beside Trump at a news conference held after hours of talks, Abe, who has forged a strong friendship with Trump and showered him with praise throughout the day, disagreed with the U.S. president, saying the missile tests were “of great regret.” The Republican president has sought to downplay the significance of the missile tests, even though his own national security adviser, John Bolton, said over the weekend that they violated the U.N. resolutions. Trump was invited to Japan to be the first world leader to meet with the country’s new emperor . And despite being far from Washington, he didn’t miss the chance to lob another broadside against Biden. Trump didn’t hold back at the news conference, telling the world he agreed with the authoritarian North Korean leader’s assessment of Biden and declaring himself “not a fan.”

White House asked for USS John McCain to be 'out of sight' during Trump's visit to Japan: WSJ - The White House asked the U.S. Navy to make sure a warship named for late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) would be "out of sight" ahead of President Trump's visit to Japan over the weekend, according to an email obtained by The Wall Street Journal.The email, dated May 15, included an outline of plans for the president's arrival, including instructions for the ship.“USS John McCain needs to be out of sight,” the email reportedly read. “Please confirm #3 will be satisfied."    Officials, including acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, were aware of the concern about the USS John McCain and approved measures so it would not be visible during Trump's visit, an official told the Wall Street Journal.The ship has been stationed at the Yokosuka Naval Base near the USS Wasp, where Trump delivered Memorial Day remarks and visited U.S. officers.Before Trump's address, a tarp was hung over the USS John McCain's name and sailors were reportedly directed to remove any coverings that showed the ship's name. A barge was also reportedly moved near the ship to make it harder to see its name from the USS Wasp. The Journal also reported that sailors on the ship, who normally wear caps with its name, were given the day off when Trump gave his address.

Fake Trump Quote Goes Viral After Left-Wing Journos Mindlessly Retweet --- You'd think they would have learned after the Covington fiasco...   Author and columnist Ian Bremmer fabricated a quote on Sunday morning, claiming that during his trip to Japan, President Trump said "Kim Jong Un is smarter and would make a better President than Sleepy Joe Biden.    "This Ian Bremmer guy made a quote up. He pulled something out of his ass, and alleged Trump said it.— Nick Monroe (@nickmon1112) May 26, 2019   The tweet immediately went viral, after it was retweeted by a spate of left wing journalists, politicians and pundits eager to disparage the President.  When Bremmer was challenged three hours after the tweet, he simply said "It's plausible," before deleting the fake quote. By that time, however, it was too late - as the anti-Trump media breathlessly propelled it around the internet.

Trump criticizes aircraft carrier design as 'wrong' | TheHill - President Trump criticized plans to overhaul some U.S. aircraft carriers' catapults while speaking to sailors aboard an assault ship stationed in Japan on Tuesday. During his remarks, the president once again took aim at the Navy's plans to overhaul traditional steam-based catapults used for launching aircraft with newer electric systems, calling it a "wrong" choice. "You know, they were saying — one of the folks said, 'No, the electric works faster. But, sir, we can only get the plane there every couple of minutes,' " Trump said aboard the USS Wasp, according to a White House transcript, adding: "So, really, what they did was wrong." "I think I’m going to put an order," the president continued. "When we build a new aircraft carrier, we’re going to use steam. I’m going to just put out an order: We’re going to use steam. We don’t need — we don’t need that extra speed." Trump took aim specifically at the cost overrun for the project to upgrade the catapult systems, which he said had reached $900 million. “Steam’s only worked for about 65 years perfectly,” the president added.

Where Does Donald Trump Get His Odd Ideas? - -  The reporting is pretty clear: Trump doesn't read briefings, on politics or anything else. He doesn't appear to have absorbed the basics of public policy, whether on health care or national security or even issues, like trade, that he cares about. Instead, he seems to pick up fragments of information in conversation or, more often, from cable television. Often, it's partisan talking points, which isn't surprising since much of what airs on Fox News, CNN and MSNBC consists of partisan talking points.  Trump then extracts some fact or detail he finds useful from that input, and comes up with his own way of expressing it. Usually, he pretties it up, smooths out any nuances and exaggerates significantly. Then he tests it out, on Twitter and especially at his rallies, working for the wording that gets the biggest reaction. And then? As far as I can tell, Trump winds up believing the final version of whatever it is he has produced. Once it's in there, it seems to stick, although sometimes the original "fact" winds up growing more distorted over time. This works on just about everything. For example, the facts contained in special counsel Robert Mueller's report were in fact devastating for Trump, especially on obstruction of justice. But for the president, it's simply become “No Collusion. No Obstruction." He took Attorney General William Barr's version of the report, or more likely the Fox News version of Barr's version, removed any complications or caveats, and created a new talking point. Does he really believe it? There's no way to know, but he certainly brings it up all the time as if it were accurate. Anyway, there are dozens of examples like this. Trump's insistence that the Iran deal would’ve allowed the regime to develop nuclear weapons quickly, for one. Or his odd ideas about aircraft carriers. Or his infamous contention that foreign nations – not companies, but nations – pay for the tariffs he has imposed. The last president who had a habit of believing things that were not true was Ronald Reagan; his staff would work hard to prevent him from, for example, telling stories from movies as though they were actually from his own life. And yet Reagan knew a lot about how government and world affairs worked, and certainly had strong ideological beliefs that he really understood. He also was perfectly happy to be stage-managed, understanding that it suited his long-term interests.  Trump, of course, hasn’t followed Reagan's example, in this regard and many others.

Venezuela Talks in Norway Must Only Focus on Maduro’s Removal: US — The US State Department has “noted” that the Venezuelan talks being held in Norway are ongoing, but has refused to either support or denounce them, insisting only that they must carry the precondition that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro will be removed from office. The US backed the opposition taking power in Venezuela back in January, and after that a failed coup earlier this month. Norway has gotten the government and opposition together for talks to try to resolve months of stalemate. Though the US-backed opposition has insisted that the talks are meant to end with regime change, the State Department insists there is nothing to negotiate, and that regime change is the only acceptable outcome. US officials have previously warned that they believe the Norway talks are just Maduro’s attempt to buy time and remain in power. Norway has argued that it is intended to prevent any more fighting and resolve the situation peacefully.

Lindsey Graham proposes invading Venezuela to oust Maduro -- Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a close ally of President Donald Trump, suggested the president take a tough stance in dealing with the ongoing Venezuelan crisis: A US invasion similar to the one executed by Ronald Reagan in Grenada back in 1983.“Trump said rightly, Maduro’s not the legitimate leader of Venezuela. The entire region supports the Trump approach, that Guaidó is the legitimate leader,” Graham said on Fox News Sunday. “I would do exactly what Reagan did. I would give Cuba the ultimatum to get out of Venezuela. If they don’t, I would let the Venezuelan military know, you’ve got to choose between democracy and Maduro. And if you choose Maduro and Cuba, we’re coming after you. This is in our backyard.”Venezuela is currently in the midst of a presidential crisis following a massive economic collapse. The US has recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó, the head of the National Assembly, as the country’s rightful president.Guaidó declared himself president this past January, arguing that the 2018 election that put President Nicolás Maduro in the executive’s chair was invalid, in part because members of the opposition were banned from running. As head of the National Assembly, Guaidó said he will serve as Venezuela’s president until new elections can be held. But Maduro refuses to step aside. Graham called on the United States to be ready to intervene militarily in Venezuela last week in a piece in the Wall Street Journal. There, as in his Fox interview, the senator argued Cuba is helping to prop up Maduro, and that the US should use its military to counter what Graham called the “Western Hemisphere version of Iran.”

New York Times Parrots US Propaganda on Hezbollah in Venezuela - In a recent piece headlined “Secret Venezuela Files Warn About Maduro Confidant” (5/2/19), the Times’ Andes bureau chief claimed, on the basis of a leaked Venezuelan intelligence “dossier” that only his paper has seen, that Venezuela’s Industry minister and former Vice President Tareck El Aissami has active links to Hezbollah and drug trafficking. Casey wrote: The dossier, provided to the New York Times by a former top Venezuelan intelligence official and confirmed independently by a second one, recounts testimony from informants accusing Mr. El Aissami and his father of recruiting Hezbollah members to help expand spying and drug trafficking networks in the region. Unsurprisingly, the article has been endorsed by Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, widely considered the point man for Trump’s Latin America policy, and whose zeal for regime change in Caracas appears unperturbed by elementary facts or international law. In a May 16 tweet, Rubio openly celebrated the fact that Venezuelan President Maduro “can’t access funds to rebuild electric grid,” thereby dispensing with any pretence that US sanctions are not directly aimed at the Venezuelan population.   The claims of an alleged relationship between Caracas and Hezbollah are, however, entirely unoriginal, having been repeated by corporate journalists and national security pundits without evidence for years.  “Hezbollah has a long and sordid history in Venezuela,” wrote Foreign Policy (2/2/19) earlier this year. Newsweek claimed in a 2017 article (12/8/17) that the Lebanese political party “was involved in cocaine shipments from Latin America to West Africa, as well as through Venezuela and Mexico to the United States,” while The Hill (1/13/17) labeled El Aissami a “fan of Iran and Hezbollah,” rehashing US allegations going back to 2008.

Venezuela Was Supposed to Be Easy  --The cause of saving Venezuela from the evils of Bolivarian socialism should instead have been a project that would unite Democrats and Republicans, #Resistance fighters and Trumpian courtiers, teary-eyed Obama liberals and unreconstructed post-9/11 neocons — though the last two had never been as distant from one another as some half-heartedly pretend.  By the Broadway musical logic of this motley assembly, rallying behind a soon-to-be-reborn Venezuelan democracy (so self-evident that no one need actually vote for it) should have been so obvious, so pressing, so overriding, that the only ones who could oppose such a noble design would be contrarian outliers beyond the pale — people who could and must be safely ignored. Meanwhile, within the padded cells of respectable opinion, old but never abandoned dreams of regime change stirred, made all the more feverish by the hope that this time, it could be achieved without expensive and unpopular military commitments.  The roots of such hubris were manifold. They began with a quasi-socialist state ravaged by economic crisis — the reasons for which do not, for many, bear close examination — seemingly on the brink of collapse and led by an unfashionable and belligerent premier. Add to the mix a large and increasingly desperate opposition, so eager for US support a cynic might almost suppose they could not exist without it; a national military that, the new would-be president assured his eager State-side backers, was ready to turn upon the corrupt and unreliable state apparatus that sustained it; and broad(ish) international consensus willing to share a cause with a Brazilian neofascist and a game show host in the White House. What could go wrong?  As it turned out, a great many things. Despite the self-coronation of his supposed successor, Maduro stubbornly remained, entrenched and unbowed. Furthermore, his government was evidently too smart to make a martyr of Guaidó, who remained free to travel internationally and talk to fawning media. The fact that Maduro not only remained in power, but that his government appeared little more troubled than it already was throughout the economic calamities, escalating sanctions, civil strife, hoarding of goods by private businesses, and regional diplomatic conflict that have marked recent years surprised and baffled those who sought a Venezuela more palatable to Western interests.

Trump’s ‘Easy’ Trade War Hits Snags as China Plays the Long Game -- In June 2016, presidential candidate Donald Trump made a promise on trade that wasn’t hard to keep. “If China does not stop its illegal activities, including its theft of American trade secrets, I will use every lawful -- this is very easy. This is so easy. I love saying this,” he told workers. “I will use every lawful presidential power to remedy trade disputes.” Three years later, he has clearly delivered on the pledge.   But as events this week show, winning a trade war against China -- which Trump once tweeted would also be “easy” -- looks increasingly like a more difficult and protracted endeavor than anticipated, with Beijing now showing more signs of digging in than capitulating. Trump’s hawks have been arguing ever since the president took office that the only way to get China to make meaningful changes to what some openly call a “deviant economic model” is to continue punching it in the nose until you force surrender. Yet the big question looming now is whether that belligerent approach may be backfiring with daunting consequences for the global economy. After Trump escalated his tariff war on Chinese imports earlier this month and blacklisted Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co., Chinese President Xi Jinping called on citizens to join a “new Long March,” prompting echoes of that call in Chinese state media. “All of the Chinese people are ready to embark on a new ‘Long March’ journey with greater courage and resilience and will never yield to foreign bullying and assault," state-run Xinhua News Agency said in a commentary on Friday. The hope for a respite from rising tensions now rests on a planned meeting between Trump and Xi on the sidelines of a late-June Group of 20 Summit in Japan. But it’s not clear that meeting will even take place. Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to the U.S., told Bloomberg Television on Friday that there had not yet been any official discussions about a meeting, though “the possibility is always open.”

Commerce Department Targets China With Proposed Tariffs On 'Currency Manipulators' -- Shortly after the Treasury Department delayed its biannual report on suspected currency manipulators - an ominous indication that the issue might resurface in trade talks after Beijing reportedly balked at a pledge to keep its currency stable - the Commerce Department on Thursday revealed that it's planning to propose a new rule that would allow it to impose anti-subsidy tariffs on imports from countries suspected of undervaluing their currency. The change would allow the Commerce Department to impose anti-dumping and countervailing duties on products believed to benefit from manipulated currencies. In effect, an artificially depressed currency would be treated as a government subsidy. Though China wasn't specifically named in the Department's announcement, it presence on the Treasury Department's manipulation 'watch list' - which also includes Japan, South Korea, India, Germany and Switzerland - means Chinese companies would be obvious targets. And just like that, Wilbur Ross has opened up another front in the US-China trade war - albeit one that could ensnare some of Washington's closest allies, Reuters reports."This change puts foreign exporters on notice that the Department of Commerce can countervail currency subsidies that harm U.S. industries," Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement."Foreign nations would no longer be able to use currency policies to the disadvantage of American workers and businesses," he said.

China says U.S. demand on its state-owned enterprises is ‘invasion’ on economic sovereignty (Reuters) - The United States has called on China to curb the development of its state-owned enterprises (SOEs), a demand that China sees as an “invasion” on its economic sovereignty, Chinese state news agency Xinhua said on Saturday. Trade tensions between Washington and Beijing escalated sharply earlier this month after the Trump administration accused China of having “reneged” on its previous promises to make structural changes to its economic practices. Washington later slapped additional tariffs of up to 25% on $200 billion of Chinese goods, prompting Beijing to retaliate. As trade talks stalled, both sides have appeared to be digging in. China has denied it had walked back on its promises but reiterated it would not make concessions to “matters of principles” to defend its core interests, although no full details were given. “At the negotiating table, the U.S. government presented a number of arrogant demands to China, including restricting the development of state-owned enterprises,” Xinhua said in a commentary. SOEs in China enjoy not only explicit subsidies but also hidden benefits such as implicit government guarantees for debts and lower interest for bank loans, analysts and trade groups say. “Obviously, this is beyond the scope of trade negotiations and touches on China’s fundamental economic system,” Xinhua said. “This shows that behind the United States’ trade war against China, it is trying to invade China’s economic sovereignty and force China to damage its core interests.”

China is indicating it’ll never give in to US demands to change its state-run economy - As trade talks between the U.S. and China increasingly center on Chinese treatment of foreign companies, Beijing says major American complaints about structural aspects of its economy are running up against “core interests.”The implication: Those matters are not up for negotiation. Previously, the vague “core interest” term was generally understood as referring to Beijing’s territorial claims, such as those on Taiwan. But a commentary piece published this weekend by state news agency Xinhua emphasized that China will not yield on its prerogative about how to manage its economy.The Chinese-language article published Saturday claimed there were five ways in which the U.S. is harming the growth of the global economy by launching a trade war with the Asian giant.“At the negotiating table, the U.S. government has made many arrogant requests, including restricting the development of state-owned enterprises,” the commentary said, according to a CNBC translation. “Obviously, this is beyond the field and scope of trade negotiations, (and) touches upon China’s fundamental economic system.”“This demonstrates, that behind the trade war the U.S. has launched against China, there is an attempt to violate China’s economic sovereignty, (and) compel China to damage its own core interests,“ the article said.China’s giant state-owned enterprises control strategic industries such as energy, telecommunications and defense. Since those companies benefit from favorable policies and subsidies, foreign companies complain of an unfair advantage. The escalating trade dispute between the U.S. and China has focused on allegations of the coerced surrender of proprietary technology and the trampling of intellectual property rights. Critics say China has been able to benefit economically from joining the World Trade Organization in 2001 without following through on commitments to reduce state control. For its part, Beijing has made some effort to increase the role of the market in its economy and allow foreign companies greater access — but many outside observers say it’s too little, too slowly.

China digs in for protracted trade fight with US -China is digging in for a tough period of deteriorating ties with the United States, fanning the flames of patriotism with Korean War films, a viral song on the trade war, and editorials lambasting Washington. The trade spat has turned into a war of words since President Donald Trump blacklisted Huawei last week over concerns the telecom giant's equipment could be used by Beijing for espionage. The move, which bans US companies from providing technology Huawei needs, came as the two sides have yet to resume trade negotiations after they exchanged steep increases in tariffs. A commentary on state-run Xinhua news agency Friday said China now had a "deeper understanding" of US "capriciousness" and was ready to fight with its "Long March" spirit. It echoes President Xi Jinping's tough stance when he called on cadres earlier this week to brace themselves for a "new Long March" -- recalling the legendary strategic retreat by Communist revolutionaries in the 1930s who regrouped and went on to triumph in 1949. Xi warned local officials of "complicated and long-term effects" of external influences. The world's top two economies will "go through a long period of irrational conflict," said Zhang Yansheng, chief researcher at the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, at a government organised briefing Wednesday. "And then during this process, step by step... come to understand each other, resist each other, and (finally) cooperate with each other."

 China Commits to Trade Talks Amid ‘Groundless’ Huawei Suspicions - Beijing is committed to striking a trade deal with the U.S. but it’s ready to respond with more countermeasures, said Chinese envoy Cui Tiankai, as he called the blacklisting of Huawei an “unusual” act of state power against a company. Cui said in an interview with Bloomberg TV Friday that China wants to continue working toward a trade agreement for President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping to finalize. There’s no official discussions about a meeting between the two leaders, said Cui, the Chinese ambassador to the U.S. The two sides should have cooperation and collaboration, he said, adding that “trade is about mutual benefits, war is about mutual destruction. How can you put these two very different concepts in one term?” U.S. stocks traded higher on Friday, at the end of a bruising week in which escalating trade tensions dominated the market landscape. The S&P 500 index rose 0.5% as of 9:51 a.m. in New York. Trade talks between Beijing and Washington stalled this month as Trump accused China of backing out of a deal that the U.S. said was almost completed. In response, Trump hiked the tariff rate on $200 billion in Chinese imports. The U.S. also released a list of about $300 billion in Chinese goods that could face additional tariffs, including clothing, toys and mobile phones. If Trump follows through on that threat, U.S. levies imposed since last year would cover essentially all imports from the Asian nation. There are signs the trade conflict is spilling over into other areas, especially technology. The Trump administration last week placed Huawei Technologies Co. on an export blacklist, choking off China’s biggest technology company from its U.S. suppliers. Cui said the accusations against Huawei are a “groundless suspicion” and he described the U.S. action as an “unusual” move that mobilizes “state power against a private company.” Cui’s comments underscored China’s efforts to defend its rights and a national prize like Huawei while avoiding red lines that might shatter hopes for a truce. Trump himself used a similar approach a day earlier in suggesting that Huawei could become part of an accord even as he scorned the the company as “dangerous.”

U.S. ‘Not Ready’ to Make a Trade Deal With China, Trump Says - The U.S. isn’t ready to make a trade deal with China, President Donald Trump said while on a state visit to Japan. “I think they probably wish they made the deal that they had on the table before they tried to renegotiate it,” Trump said Monday at a joint press conference in Tokyo alongside Japanese leader Shinzo Abe. “They would like to make a deal. We’re not ready to make a deal.” Trump said American tariffs on Chinese goods “could go up very, very substantially, very easily.” His comments came after trade talks between the two countries stalled earlier this month. Each side has since blamed the other, and Trump has threatened billions more in tariffs. Trump said businesses were leaving China for countries without tariffs, including the U.S. and Asian neighbors including Japan. Still, he also expressed optimism that the world’s biggest economies would eventually reach an agreement. “I think sometime in the future China and the United States will absolutely have a great trade deal, and we look forward to that,” Trump said. “Because I don’t believe that China can continue to pay these, really, hundreds of billions of dollars in tariffs. I don’t believe they can do that.”

Former Trump adviser lays out plan for all-out economic war against China -- US President Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has provided a revealing indication of the ferocity of the anti-China drive in sections of the administration, issuing a call for the Chinese telecom firm, Huawei, to be driven out of the US and Europe and for Chinese firms to be shut out of US capital markets. The call came in an interview with the South China Morning Post in the wake of Trump’s executive order against Huawei preventing sales in the US, and the decision by the Commerce Department to place it on a blacklist, cutting off supplies from the US of vital components. Bannon, who is an advocate of an economic war against China, said Huawei constituted a “massive security issue to the West.” “The executive order is ten times more important than walking away from the trade deal. It [Huawei] is a major national security threat, not just to the US but to the rest of the world. We are going to shut it down.” Underscoring his attack on Huawei, Bannon referred to the decision by Trump last year to lift similar sanctions on ZTE, another Chinese telecommunications manufacturer. “During the trade talks’ early stage, he [Trump] gave a waiver for ZTE, which I think was a mistake,” Bannon said. Bannon, who was a close adviser to Trump during his election campaign, before a falling out with the president in August 2017, said he still “talks to senior officials in the White House every day about China.” Those “senior officials” most likely include Peter Navarro, director of trade and manufacturing policy in the White House, who has denounced Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” plan to enhance its industrial and technological development as “a label for a Chinese strategy to achieve dominance in the industries of the future.” In his interview Bannon did not confine his broadside against China to Huawei. He called for Chinese companies to be excluded from American capital markets. “The next move we make is to cut off all the IPOs [Initial Public Offerings], unwind all the pension funds and insurance companies in the US that provide capital to the Chinese Communist Party,” he said. Invoking the populist rhetoric, characteristic of fascist figures in the past, Bannon railed against Wall Street “corporatists” who had been working with China’s ruling elites to preserve an “unfair system” that hurt the interests of American workers.

Trump’s feud with Huawei and China could lead to the balkanization of tech --One effect of Donald Trump’s sanctions on China’s tech giant Huawei seems to be a growing nationalistic sentiment among some Chinese consumers: sales of iPhones have fallen in recent months, while Huawei products have seen an uptick. It isn’t hard to find patriotic slogans backing the embattled company on social-media platforms such as Weibo.  It’s not surprising, but it is part of a worrying trend. It’s the latest sign of how America’s foreign policy, and tensions with China especially, are threatening to carve up the tech world along national boundaries.“We are already seeing the balkanization of technology in many domains,” says Zvika Krieger, head of technology policy at the World Economic Forum. “If this trend continues, companies will have to create different products for different markets, leading to even further divergence.”Incompatible products and platforms that replicate the same function would take things backwards, Krieger says: “This will also have a chilling effect on innovation, where digital companies can no longer assume the ability to scale globally with the same ease and speed that has defined the past decade of unprecedented innovation.”Speaking to MIT Technology Review in Boston this week, Huawei executives claimed the company would ride out the storm. But they also argued that whatever happens to Huawei, Trump’s actions risk creating an increasingly divided tech world, most immediately by eroding trust in an electronics supply chain that spans the globe.“This is the real danger,” said Vincent Peng, a senior vice president and the company’s head of corporate communications. “Different standards, different ecosystems, different technology—it will make the whole world a mess. From the short term you are damaging Huawei, but longer term you are damaging the American supply chain system and the American industry.” This trend is mostly lost amid the rhetoric and trade-war salvos. Every day seems to bring worsening news for Huawei.

Tech cold war: how Trump’s assault on Huawei is forcing the world to contemplate a digital iron curtain - Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China. This familiar line on the back of iPhones has summed up the world order for the past two decades: American innovation married with low-cost Chinese manufacturing to deliver cheap, quality products for the world. But as China pursues its own tech ambitions, a threatened US is moving to cut Chinese firms off from American scientific know-how and pushing the world into a tech divide that neither country has really prepared for. The Trump administration has targeted Huawei Technologies, one of China’s tech champions, by launching a one-two punch combination in its fight to ensure that national security is not compromised in US telecoms infrastructure, while simultaneously reining back China’s dominance in next-generation 5G wireless networks. By inking an executive order restricting US tech purchases by “foreign adversaries” that are deemed a national security risk, as well as putting Huawei on a government blacklist, the US has effectively cut off Huawei’s oxygen supply by limiting its access to critical chips and software from American companies. This is not a short-term negotiating tactic by the Trump administration designed to extract a concession – rather it is the opening salvo in a new tech cold war that could upend the global supply chain and rewrite business orders worldwide.   Two decades ago China erected a Great Firewall between itself and the rest of the world, effectively blocking US online services from Facebook to Google. Although this was primarily aimed at controlling the free flow of outside information to Chinese citizens – some of which may have been critical of the central government – it also had the effect of boosting the domestic internet industry massively and creating a separate Chinese ecosystem with its own innovations.Simultaneously, as China pursued the slow opening up of its economy, it also set a variety of thresholds for foreign companies wanting to do business in the country, partially to protect domestic incumbents. From manufacturing, technology to finance – if a foreign company wants access to China’s 1 billion consumers then it typically has to form a joint venture with a Chinese firm and share know-how to operate legally. The US has now tired of this – calling it “forced technology transfer”, unfair and accusing China of contravening WTO rules in some cases. China has refuted this assessment and as a result the US has decided to build a bigger digital wall.

Huawei Founder Says He Would Oppose Chinese Retaliation Against Apple -  Huawei Technologies' founder and Chief Executive Ren Zhengfei told Bloomberg  that retaliation by Beijing against Apple Inc was unlikely and that he would oppose any such move from China against the iPhone maker. When asked about calls from some in China to retaliate against Apple, Ren said that he would “protest” against any such step if it were to be taken by Beijing. “That (Chinese retaliation against Apple) will not happen first of all and second of all, if that happens, I’ll be the first to protest,” Ren said in the interview with Bloomberg. He conceded that export curbs from the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump will cut into a two-year lead built by Huawei over its competitors, but added that the company will either ramp up its chip supply or find alternatives to stay ahead in smartphones and 5G.

Jamie Dimon warns US-China trade fight becoming a ‘real issue’ that could deter investment - J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said that the escalating U.S.-China trade dispute is a “real issue” that could damage corporate confidence. “I think trade is a real issue,” Dimon said Tuesday in a conference in New York. “Trade has gone from being a skirmish to being far more important than that. If this goes south in a bad way, and you have other surprises, that could be part of the thing that changes confidence, changes peoples’ willingness to invest.” Dimon, the longest-tenured CEO among the U.S. megabanks, was answering a question about the risks that could end the current economic expansion. The next recession will probably be caused by a confluence of factors that catch investors off guard, like impacts from the trade war or rising interest rates, he said. While U.S. growth could be in the last legs of its growth, that period could last years, he said. “You’re already starting to see businesses starting to think about moving their supply lines,” Dimon said. “That can obviously slow down business investment and cause uncertainty of all different types.” The U.S.-China trade dispute, which has been simmering for the past year, took a turn for the worse this month after President Trump announced he was boosting tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods to 25% from 10%. The news roiled global stock markets as China responded with its own heightened tariffs. Then the U.S. announced restrictions on Chinese telecommunications manufacturer Huawei, effectively banning it from buying parts from American firms. Chinese authorities are weighing whether they will retaliate further against the U.S., and Chinese President Xi Jinping ramped up his rhetoric on the trade war by saying China is embarking on a “new Long March, and we must start all over again!” Dimon also reiterated a warning he has made before: If bad news happens during an actual economic downturn, markets might respond violently. In his mind, the stock meltdown late last year was an example of the markets’ brittle nature.

Rumors of War -- Kunstler - The race to economic collapse is an international competition sparking threats and tensions summoning the specter of war. The imploding center of this collapse is that of industrial technocracy based on fossil fuels. All the nations will go through it on differing schedules. It has been playing out slowly, painfully, and deceptively — hence, my term for it: the long emergency. Following a dumbed-down media unable to parse the delusions du jour, one might think, for instance, that the USA and China are engaged in a symbolic battle for the heavyweight championship of the world. Rather, both are freaking out at a prospective decline in activity that will make it impossible to support their current populations at even close to the levels of comfort they had lately achieved. The US is smugly and stupidly under the impression that the “shale oil miracle” has put an end to our energy worries. That comes from a foolish nexus of wishful thinking between a harried populace, a dishonest government, and the aforementioned brain-damaged news media. We want, with all our might, to believe we can keep running the interstate highways, WalMart, Agri-Business, DisneyWorld, the US Military, and suburbia just as they are, forever. So, we spin our reassuring fantasies about “energy independence” and “Saudi America.” Meanwhile, the shale oil companies can’t make a red cent pulling that stuff out of the ground. For the moment, ultra-low interest rate loans, riding on the back of all that wishful thinking, keep the racket going and sustain America’s illusions. The disappointment over that error-in-thinking will be epic. In fact, it already is, considering how many working-age people without work or sense of purpose are ending their lives by opioid OD in Flyover country. The hipsters of Brooklyn and Silicon Valley haven’t gotten to that point because so much of America’s diminishing capital productivity still flows into their bank accounts — enabling a sunny life of caramel cloud macchiatos, farm-to-table suppers, and sexual reassignment surgeries. The US and China are actually more like two passengers of a sinking ship racing to swim to a single lifebuoy — which is drifting ever-beyond the reach of both desperate parties on a powerful current of history. That current is the one telling nations quite literally to mind their own business, to prepare to go their own ways, to strive somehow to become self-sufficient, to finally face the limits to growth, to simplify and downscale all their operations.

Beijing Seriously Considering Rare-Earth Export Ban - Following what was a mostly quiet holiday weekend for trade-war-related rhetoric (other than a dollop of trade-deal optimism offer by President Trump, little was said by either side), Beijing has started the holiday-shortened week by reiterating threats to embrace what we have described as a 'nuclear' option: restricting exports of rare earth metals to the US. Global Times editor Hu Xijin, who has emerged as one of the most influential Communist Party mouthpieces since President Trump increased tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods, tweeted that China is "seriously considering restricting rare earths exports to the US."Based on what I know, China is seriously considering restricting rare earth exports to the US. China may also take other countermeasures in the future.— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) May 28, 2019 There are signs that these warnings should be taken seriously: One week ago, President Xi and Vice Premier Liu He, China's top trade negotiator, visited a rare earth metals mine in Jiangxi province. Rare earths, which are vital for the manufacture of everything from microchips to batteries, to LED displays to night-vision goggles, have been excluded from US tariffs. Though other Chinese officials have denied that export curbs were being considered, Xi's visit was widely viewed as a symbolic warning. Seven out of every 10 tons of rare earth metals mined last year were produced by Chinese mines. One analyst warned that Xi's visit was intended to send "a strong message" to the US. Beijing is limited in its ability to retaliate against Washington's tariffs by the fact that there simply aren't enough American-made goods flowing into the Chinese market. Because of these limits, it's widely suspected that Beijing will find other ways to retaliate. Though they are more plentiful than precious metals like gold and platinum, rare earths can be expensive to refine and extract.

China makes next move in trade war, reportedly halting US soy purchases - China has halted purchases of American soybeans in another chess move in the escalated trade war with the U.S., according to a Bloomberg report. Chinese buyers have stopped ordering and don’t expect to resume the purchases due to the disagreement on trade between the world’s two largest economies, the Bloomberg report said, citing people familiar with the matter. They also said China currently has no plans to cancel previous orders. U.S. soybean farmers have taken a hard hit from the trade tensions as the value of soybean exports to China fell 74% to $3.1 billion in 2018 from about $12.2 billion the previous year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Trump administration last week announced a $16 billion trade aid program for American farmers impacted by retaliatory tariffs. Soybean futures tanked to the lowest since 2009 on May 13 as the trade war heated up. The latest move from China followed a slew of tit-for-tat tactics between the two countries. China has threatened to cut off rare earth mineral supply to the U.S., a crucial material in the tech supply chain, after President Donald Trump blacklisted Chinese telecom giant Huawei. The U.S. Defense Department is now looking to reduce the country’s reliance on Chinese rare earth materials. Both sides slapped tariffs on billions of dollars worth of each other’s goods earlier this month. The tariffs on $60 billion in U.S. goods in retaliation for the higher duties on $200 billion worth of Chinese products will kick in on June 1. The stock market has been in turmoil amid the intensifying trade tensions as major U.S. indices are all on pace to post their first negative month of 2019. The S&P 500 is down 5.5% in May, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average has lost about 1,300 points this month.

‘Don’t say we didn’t warn you’: A phrase from China signals the trade war could get even worse - The biggest Chinese newspaper explicitly warned the U.S. on Wednesday that China would cut off rare earth minerals as a countermeasure in the escalated trade battle, using a history-laden expression the publication has used ahead of full-on wars. “We advise the U.S. side not to underestimate the Chinese side’s ability to safeguard its development rights and interests. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!” the People’s Daily said in a commentary titled “United States, don’t underestimate China’s ability to strike back.” The publication is the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China. The phrase “Don’t say we didn’t warn you” has been used before by the People’s Daily in 1962 before China’s border war with India and ahead of the 1979 China-Vietnam War. “Will rare earths become a counter weapon for China to hit back against the pressure the United States has put on for no reason at all? The answer is no mystery,” the paper said. The trade conflict between the world’s two largest economies escalated quickly this month with both sides slapping tariffs on billions of dollars worth of each other’s goods. China’s threat to restrict rare earth mineral sales to the U.S. came after President Donald Trump blacklisted Chinese telecom giant Huawei, which led to many chipmakers and internet companies cutting ties with the company. The speculation about China’s payback first surfaced when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited rare earth mining and processing facilities in Jiangxi province during a domestic tour last week. A Chinese official warned Tuesday that products made from the materials should not be used against China’s development, which was seen as a veiled threat aimed at the U.S. and its technology industry.

China ready to hit back at U.S. with rare earths- newspapers - (Reuters) - China is ready to use rare earths to strike back in a trade war with the United States, Chinese newspapers warned on Wednesday in strongly worded commentaries on a move that would escalate tensions between the world’s two largest economies. President Xi Jinping’s visit to a rare earths plant last week had sparked speculation that China would use its dominant position as an exporter of rare earths to the United States as leverage in the trade war. Rare earths are a group of 17 chemical elements used in everything from high-tech consumer electronics to military equipment. The prospect that their value could soar as a result of the trade war caused sharp increases in the share prices of producers, including the company visited by Xi. While China has so far not explicitly said it would restrict rare earths sales to the United States, Chinese media has strongly implied this will happen. In a commentary headlined “United States, don’t underestimate China’s ability to strike back”, the official People’s Daily noted the United States’ “uncomfortable” dependence on rare earths from China. “Will rare earths become a counter weapon for China to hit back against the pressure the United States has put on for no reason at all? The answer is no mystery,” it said. “Undoubtedly, the U.S. side wants to use the products made by China’s exported rare earths to counter and suppress China’s development. The Chinese people will never accept this!” the ruling Communist Party newspaper added. “We advise the U.S. side not to underestimate the Chinese side’s ability to safeguard its development rights and interests. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!” The expression “don’t say we didn’t warn you” is generally only used by official Chinese media to warn rivals over major areas of disagreement, for example during a border dispute with India in 2017 and in 1978 before China invaded Vietnam. In its own editorial on Wednesday, sister paper the Global Times said an export ban on rare earths “is a powerful weapon if used in the China-U.S. trade war.” “Nevertheless, China will mainly use it for defense,” it added, noting that while China might incur losses from a ban on exports, the United States would suffer more. The paper’s editor had said on Twitter late on Tuesday that Beijing was “seriously considering” restricting rare earth exports to the United States. China has used rare earth sales to exert pressure in past diplomatic disputes. Chinese trade experts say if Beijing moves forward with new restrictions on rare earth exports to the United States, it will likely follow Washington’s example and use national security as a justification. 

China’s saber-rattling on rare-earths trade has US officials looking for options  - On Wednesday, Chinese newspapers ran commentaries warning the United States that escalating trade tensions would result in China cutting off its rare-earth-minerals trade with the US. China is the dominant supplier of rare-earth minerals around the world. The minerals are used in all sorts of advanced materials and play a prominent role in the operation of electric motors, wind turbines, and military-related material.According to Reuters, China's official People's Daily ran an article saying: "Undoubtedly, the US side wants to use the products made by China's exported rare-earths to counter and suppress China's development. The Chinese people will never accept this!"The commentary continued: "We advise the US side not to underestimate the Chinese side's ability to safeguard its development rights and interests. Don't say we didn't warn you!"A similar message apparently ran as an editorial in the Global Times on Wednesday. China has thus far imposed mild tariffs on the rare-earth ore coming to it for processing. This tariff has squeezed the bottom lines of the owners of the only US rare-earth mine at Mountain Pass, Calif. Mountain Pass ships its ore to China for processing into industrial-grade metal, because there are no comparable rare-earths processing plants in the US. An Australian rare-earth minerals company announced last week that it would join with a US chemical company to build a rare-earths processing plant in Texas, but such a plant is likely years away from becoming a reality.But a group of US senators in April reintroduced the Rare Earth Element Advanced Coal Technologies Act (REEACT) to try to glean some of these rare-earth minerals from coal-mining sludge. (An earlier version of the bill died in the Senate in 2018.) REEACT would spend $23 million each year between 2020 and 2027 to "conduct R&D on the separation of rare-earth elements from coal and coal byproducts." So far, researchers at West Virginia University (WVU) have been working at a pilot facility that's funded by more than $4 million in grants from the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). They hope the plant will be able to extract certain rare-earth minerals from sludge created during acid coal-mine drainage.

Pentagon seeks funds to reduce U.S. reliance on China's rare earth metals (Reuters) - The U.S. Defense Department is seeking new federal funds to bolster domestic production of rare earth minerals and reduce dependence on China, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, amid mounting concern in Washington about Beijing’s role as a supplier. The Pentagon’s request was outlined in a report that has been sent to the White House and briefed to Congress, said Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Mike Andrews, a Pentagon spokesman. Rare earths are a group of 17 chemical elements used in both consumer products, from iPhones to electric car motors, and critical military applications including jet engines, satellites and lasers. Rising tensions between the United States and China have sparked concerns that Beijing could use its dominant position as a supplier of rare earths for leverage in the trade war between the world’s top two economic powers. Between 2004 and 2017, China accounted for 80% of U.S. rare earth imports. Few alternative suppliers have been able to compete with China, which is home to 37% of global rare earths reserves. “The department continues to work closely with the president, Congress and U.S. industry to improve U.S. competitiveness in the mineral market,” Andrews told Reuters. He gave no details but said the report was tied to a federal program designed to bolster domestic production capabilities through targeted economic incentives. While China has so far not explicitly said it would restrict rare earths sales to the United States, Chinese media has strongly implied this will happen. In a commentary headlined “United States, don’t underestimate China’s ability to strike back,” the official People’s Daily noted the United States’ “uncomfortable” dependence on rare earths from China. “Will rare earths become a counter weapon for China to hit back against the pressure the United States has put on for no reason at all? The answer is no mystery,” it said.

China Accuses US Of Naked Economic Terrorism, Will Fight Until The End -- As the trade war with China rages with no end in sight, President Trump has continued to spout optimistic rhetoric, even if it doesn't have quite the same market-moving potential as it once did. But over in Beijing, where President Xi recently warned his people to "prepare for a new Long March", the trade-related rhetoric has grown increasingly belligerent and antagonistic since Washington decided to blacklist Huawei. The commentary from senior officials appears to undermine the prospects for Trump and Xi hammering out a sweeping deal on the sidelines of the upcoming G-20 summit in Osaka.One senior Chinese diplomat lashed out at Washington on Thursday, denouncing the trade dispute as "naked economic terrorism" and "economic bullying," and asserting that Beijing isn't afraid of an enduring trade conflict.  Here's more from Reuters: Speaking to reporters in Beijing, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Hanhui said China opposed the use of "big sticks" like trade sanctions, tariffs and protectionism. "We oppose a trade war but are not afraid of a trade war. This kind of deliberately provoking trade disputes is naked economic terrorism, economic chauvinism, economic bullying," Zhang said, when asked about the trade war with the United States.During the press briefing, which was ostensibly called to answer questions about President Xi's upcoming trip to Russia, where he will appear at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, Zhang warned about the adverse impact on the global economy (perhaps a subtle clue that Beijing won't come to the rescue with a 'Shanghai Accord 2.0'). Everyone loses in a trade war, he added, addressing a briefing on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Russia next week, where he will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin and speak at a major investor forum in St Petersburg. "This trade clash will have a serious negative effect on global economic development and recovery," Zhang added. "We will definitely properly deal with all external challenges, do our own thing well, develop our economy, and continue to raise the living standards of our two peoples," he said, referring to China and Russia. "At the same time, we have the confidence, resolve and ability to safeguard our country’s sovereignty, security, respect and security and development interests."

Chinese Activists Urge War With US 'Until Pacific Ocean Splits In Two' - An inflammatory video posted on a heavily regulated Chese media platform marks yet another escalation of words between Beijing and Washington, according to the Free Beacon."China must be prepared to fight a protracted war," says a presenter on a video posted to Watermelon Video - a media sharing platform that is under strict control of Beijing's Sate Administration of Radio and Television, "the propaganda control office that regulates all online and broadcast content," according to the Beacon. "Trump's ‘outrageous and selfish' strategy might work for smaller countries, but it will never work for China," the video continues. "To quote a well-written article in the Global Times: If the Americans want to fight, we will fight them until the end! And we will fight until the Pacific Ocean splits into two!" During the voiceover, images of cargo ships, trucks and shipping containers in China, along with high-technology facilities in China, is shown. An Apple store and a Boeing jetliner also appears in the video and American fast-food companies in China. Criticism of the United States is illustrated with images of the U.S. Capitol....Broadcasts or online reports that violate official rules can result in the closing down of the outlet and the imprisonment of its editors or reporters.The inflammatory video was produced by a militant online propaganda group called Mars Phalanx, which is known for producing radical videos.Analysts of Chinese propaganda said the posting of the video urging conflict with the United States represents a shift in official Communist Party policy in favor of more hardline anti-U.S. policies. -Free Beacon

US Is Dependent On China For Almost 80% Of Its Medicine - Experts are warning that the U.S. has become way too reliant on China for all our medicine, our pain killers, antibiotics, vitamins, aspirin and many cancer treatment medicine. Fox Business reports that according to FDA estimates at least 80 percent of active ingredients found in all of America’s medicine come from abroad, primarily from China. And it’s not just the ingredients, China wants to become the world’s dominant generic drug maker. So far Chinese companies are making generic for everything from high blood pressure to chemotherapy drugs. 90 percent of America’s prescriptions are for generic drugs.  Rosemary Gibson says that this is all part of China’s plan. “In five to ten years we are at risk of losing our generic drug industry, because China will use the same playbook and undercut our own producers and drive them out of business,” says Gibson who is author of “China Rx – Exposing the risks of America’s dependence on China for medicine.”

Beijing Won't Dump Treasuries, But It Might Stop Buying Them, Reinhart Says - Ask any Wall Street pundit about the possibility that Beijing might dump its dollar reserves and, odds are, their reaction will range from casual dismissal to outright ridicule. Why would Beijing risk saddling the PBOC with losses and driving up the value of the yuan, they might argue, when they have plenty of other options for retaliating against the US?At first brush, at least, these seem like plausible reasons to dismiss Beijing's aggressive rhetoric. But with the PBOC emerging again as a net seller of Treasuries last month, contrarians are warning that investors shouldn't be so dismissive: If Washington follows through with plans to slap 25% tariffs on another $300 billion in Chinese goods, it's not outside of the realm of plausibility that Beijing could determine that the costs would be well worth the hit to American markets and the economy.Now, economists are beginning to acknowledge a middle ground. Over the weekend, Harvard Economist Carmen Reinhart, who earned notoriety after the crisis thanks to her work with Ken Rogoff, told her audience during an event organized by Nomura that although she doesn't believe China will dump Treasuries wholesale, it's certainly possible - if not likely - that Beijing will slow its purchases to diversify its assets."The scary scenario that China’s going to come in and sell U.S. Treasuries wholesale, I don’t think that’s going to happen," Reinhart said.  However, while explaining her reasoning, Reinhart repeated a canard that, for whatever reason, has been widely accepted by economists: That Beijing would brook losses if it decided to liquidate its Treasury  holdings. However, over the past ten years, the PBOC has bought the bonds at an average yield of 3.3%. That leaves room for Beijing to sell $700 billion of its $1.1 trillion pile before pushing yields to the breakeven point (note: Beijing owns roughly 5% of Treasury debt). Instead, Reinhart argued that the 'the flows are where the action is.' "I think the flow is where the action is, namely that purchases of U.S. Treasuries are going to slow." 

Pettis- China Cannot Weaponize Its US Treasury Bonds - A number of recent articles suggest that Chinese officials may reduce their purchases of U.S. government bonds. It is very unlikely that China can do so in any meaningful way because doing so would almost certainly be costly for Beijing. And even if China took this step, it would have either no impact or a positive impact on the U.S. economy. Suggestions by some Chinese officials that they may reduce their purchases of U.S. Treasury bonds show just how poorly the world understands the balance of payments. Here is what a recent Financial Times article had to say: It was an unnerving piece of data for investors last week, buried halfway down an esoteric spreadsheet released by the US government that tracks how many Treasuries foreign investors buy and sell. China, the largest foreign creditor to the US government with total Treasury holdings in excess of $1.2tn, sold $20bn of securities with a maturity exceeding one year in March, according to US government data. The sales amounted to China’s largest retreat from the market in more than two years. The article then goes on to suggest that China’s reduced holdings of U.S. Treasury bonds may reflect a strategic response to the escalating trade conflict between Beijing and Washington:  In January 2018, I explained on this blog why China cannot “weaponize” its holdings of U.S. government bonds. It is not because, as many observers seem to think, that selling off the bonds would cause havoc in the market and in doing so would undermine the value of China’s own holdings. This is very unlikely. First of all, the Federal Reserve could easily act to overcome any temporary volatility. Second, as another article in the same issue of the Financial Times points out, rising uncertainty is causing investors to increase their purchases of U.S. government bonds:  As I explained in that original entry, the real reason China cannot sell off its holdings of U.S. government bonds is because Chinese purchases were not made to accommodate U.S. needs. Rather, China made these purchases to accommodate a domestic demand deficiency in China: Chinese capital exports are simply the flip side of the country’s current account surplus, and without the former, they could not hold down the currency enough to permit the latter. To see why any Chinese threat to retaliate against U.S. trade intervention would actually undermine China’s own position in the trade negotiations, consider all the ways in which Beijing can reduce its purchases of U.S. government bonds:

  1. Beijing could buy fewer U.S. government bonds and more other U.S. assets, so that net capital flows from China to the United States would remain unchanged.
  2. Beijing could buy fewer U.S. government and other U.S. assets, but other Chinese entities could then in turn buy more U.S. assets, so that net capital flows from China to the United States would stay unchanged.
  3. Beijing and other Chinese entities could buy fewer U.S. assets and replace them with an equivalently larger amount of assets from other developed countries, so that net capital flows from China to the United States would be reduced, and net capital flows from China to other developed countries would increase by the same amount.
  4. Beijing and other Chinese entities could buy fewer U.S. assets and replace them with an equivalently larger amount of assets from other developing countries, so that net capital flows from China to the United States would be reduced, and net capital flows from China to other developing countries would increase by the same amount.
  5. Beijing and other Chinese entities could buy fewer U.S. assets and not replace them by purchasing an equivalently larger amount of assets from other countries, so that net capital flows from China to the United States and to the world would be reduced.

These five paths cover every possible way Beijing can reduce official purchases of U.S. government bonds: China can buy other U.S. assets, other developed-country assets, other developing-country assets, or domestic assets. No other option is possible.

  • The first two ways would change nothing for either China or the United States.
  • The second two ways would change nothing for China but would cause the U.S. trade deficit to decline, either in ways that would reduce U.S. unemployment or in ways that would reduce U.S. debt.
  • Finally, the fifth way would also cause the U.S. trade deficit to decline in ways that would likely either reduce U.S. unemployment or reduce U.S. debt; but this would come at the expense of causing the Chinese trade surplus to decline in ways that would either increase Chinese unemployment or increase Chinese debt.

By purchasing fewer U.S. government bonds, in other words, Beijing would leave the United States either unchanged or better off, while doing so would also leave China either unchanged or worse off. This doesn’t strike me as a policy Beijing is likely to pursue hotly, and Washington would certainly not be opposed to it. Let’s consider each possibility in turn.

'Not Winning' - Collapse In Global Trade Escalates- Imports -2.7%, Exports -4.0%  --Those who claim that Trump has already won or is sure to win the trade war need to ponder actual trade results. Exports rose 1.0% in March with imports up a reported 0.9%. That progress was taken away and then some in April.The Census Bureau Advance Trade report shows the balance of trade widened by 0.3%. The details, as noted by Econoday are downright ugly.Sharp declines in exports are unwelcome headlines in April's advance data on goods trade. The monthly deficit remains very deep, at $72.1 billion with exports falling 4.2 percent year-on-year and with imports also down, 2.7 percent lower. The deficit compares unfavorably with a $71.3 billion monthly average in the first quarter that marks a weak opening for net exports in the second quarter.Capital goods are the US's largest exports and these fell 6.5 percent in the month to $44.3 billion. Compared with April last year, capital goods exports are down 3.7 percent. Auto exports are also down, 7.2 percent lower to $12.9 billion and 6.7 percent below last year. The only export component showing a gain is food & feeds which rose 0.5 percent to $11.2 billion but which is nevertheless 6.2 percent below April last year.The decline on the import side is also led by a 3.5 percent decline for capital goods ($55.4 billion) but also includes 3.1 percent and 2.3 percent monthly declines in autos ($30.9 billion) and consumer goods ($54.2 billion) as well as a 1.1 percent drop in foods ($12.8 billion).Global trade figures have been contracting and the latest US numbers are part of that picture. Today's report gets second-quarter GDP, already held down by contractions for April retail sales and industrial production, off to a slow start.Note that country balances aren't posted with the advance report but will follow with the subsequent international trade report that will also include data on services. Yesterday, I saw yet another claim that Trump is winning the trade war. Last week I saw claim that Trump "already" won the trade war.A third person claimed this is all part of 3-D outmaneuvering and that Trump has more resolve than China.  This is not winning and it will never be winning.

 Despite Trade War, US Avoids Labeling China Currency Manipulator - The US Treasury department refrained from labeling China a currency manipulator on Tuesday, avoiding even greater escalation in the trade war between the world’s two largest economies, although leaving to door open to stigmatize China at some future date.Washington hasn’t labeled a major trade partner a currency manipulator since 1994.In its semi-annual foreign-exchange report to Congress, which was originally due in mid-April but was delayed due to the changes to the criteria used to evaluate countries, the Treasury expanded the number of countries it scrutinizes for currency manipulation to 21 from 12, after Steven Mnuchin lowered the threshold for qualification.Five countries including Ireland, Italy, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia, joining China, Japan, South Korea and Germany on a watch list for manipulation, while India and Switzerland were removed. It was not immediately clear why Italy - which is part of the common currency - was singled out when together with the rest of the Eurozone its "currency" is subject to the monetary policy of the ECB. Unless of course the US Treasury still thinks Italy uses the lira.Of course, the report itself is largely useless, and mostly a political weapon as branding any nation a currency manipulator does not actually impose any penalties. Contrary to previous reports, the US avoided accusing Vietnam of manipulating its dong, with Bloomberg reporting that the label was avoided last this week when Vietnamese officials visited Washington last week.  As the report further notes, Vietnam avoided the designation after its officials "credibly conveyed" that the nation’s net purchases of foreign exchange were below 2% of its GDP in 2018, putting it below the key intervention threshold, although that number appears suspiciously low in light of the recent collapse in the dong. The Treasury, however, said that Vietnam "tightly manages the value of the dong against the dollar." While no major changes were expected to the status quo, strategists were unsure until the last moment if the US Treasury wouldn't pull out a surprise at a time when currency policy has emerged as President Trump’s latest tool "to rewrite global trade rules that he says have hurt American businesses and consumers" in the process making FX policy a key piece of trade deals with Mexico, Canada and South Korea, and should a deal with China ever be reached, the Yuan would be a core part of it.

 Treasury Yields Tumble As Pence Warns US Can More Than Double Tariffs On China - Speaking at a press conference after meeting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, US VP Mike Pence warned China that US "could more than double tariffs if needed." His words sent stocks lower modestly but tumbled yields back to yesterday's lows... And crashed the yield curve to new cycle lows... Additionally, Pence is expected to stir things even further, as CNBC reports that Pence is planning a speech around the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, according to two sources familiar with the matter. The remarks are expected to be a censure of China’s religious freedom and human rights record from one of the Trump administration’s highest ranking China hawks. They are set to come amid rising trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies. A White House official confirmed a Pence speech is in the works – potentially in mid-June, following the anniversary – but declined to comment on its contents.

 U.S. Wall Funding of $1.57 Billion Yields 1.7 Miles of Fence - U.S. Customs and Border Protection has put up just 1.7 miles of fencing with the $1.57 billion that Congress appropriated last year for President Donald Trump’s wall along the Mexican border, a federal judge was told.A lawyer for the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives provided the information Tuesday to the judge in Oakland, California, who is weighing requests from 20 state attorneys general and the the Sierra Club to block Trump from using funds not authorized by Congress to build the wall. . "Based on that updated information, it appears that CBP has now constructed 1.7 miles of fencing with its fiscal year 2018 funding." That was 3/4 of a mile more than the administration reported at the end of February, Letter said. U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam had asked for the information at a May 17 hearing.  A May 20 report by Customs and Border Protection on the status of the border wall specified that the $1.5 billion in 2018 funding is being used to update or build 80 miles of the border wall.That includes 14 miles of new and updated wall panels near San Diego, which is expected to be finished early next year, and 13 miles of new construction in the Rio Grande Valley. It’s not clear when that part will be finished. The report doesn’t state how much of the $1.5 billion has been spent to date, and doesn’t contradict Letter’s claim. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did hand out more than $800 million of the 2018 funding for new contracts, according to the report.

 Begging For Help- NM Gov Changing Her Tune On Immigration Crisis - So much for the border crisis being a charade – Gov. Grisham went to the Swamp to beg for help. The radical-leftist governor of New Mexico, who sent National Guard troops packing in February, needs federal help now, it seems. She’s in the Swamp to beg for funding as illegal immigrants overwhelm the state. After months of neglecting the border cities and towns, toeing the DC elite party line of no “crisis” here, and facing a veritable citizens’ revolt in the Land of Enchantment, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is demanding federal government assistance for the dire situation – one she exacerbated through indifference to constituents. And it comes on the heels of yet another county drawing a line in the sand and refusing any further influx of illegal immigrants seeking asylum. Sierra County, boasting a population 11,116 and a 21% poverty rate, joined Otero and Lincoln counties in passing resolutions opposing the relocation of migrants to their communities.This isn’t just happening in these three counties, either – it’s an untenable and cruel situation being thrust on an impoverished state by government officials who seem to be mere puppets for the Democratic Party. According to Deming City Administrator Aaron Sera, in Luna County, buses unload between 300 and 500 immigrants each day. As a town of a 14,183, it has been mercilessly overwhelmed by the governor’s dangerous game of partisan politics. Even larger enclaves, such as Las Cruces, have been overrun with illegal aliens, completely depleting community and local government resources as they’re  forced to house and care for 6,000 asylum seekers – and all in a matter of four short weeks.

Bipartisan disaster relief package held up by lone GOP House member over border security – Disaster-battered communities including the storm-soaked Midwest, fire-ravaged California and hurricane-pummeled Florida, who have waited for months for federal assistance, will have to sit tight a little longer. The House on Friday was unable to pass a $19.1 billion Senate bill after a lone Republican objected to its passage on the grounds that it added to the national debt and didn't include the $4.4 billion President Donald Trump wanted for the southern border. "We've had months to figure this out and to do our job to secure our border," Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, said in an almost empty House chamber. "We now are expected to let the swamp continue to mortgage the future of our children and grandchildren making it less likely they will inherit a stronger and better country with a government capable of defending the nation and responding to disasters such as these." Roy, a member of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, was single-handedly able to delay the bill's passage until at least this week because most House members had left town and gone back to their districts before the Senate passed the bill Thursday. House Democratic leaders tried to push the measure through using a procedure known as "unanimous consent," which allows passage if no one objects.

 Trump hitting Mexico with 5 percent tariff -  In a surprise announcement that could compromise a major trade deal, President Trump announced Thursday that he is slapping a 5 percent tariff on all Mexican imports to pressure the country to do more to crack down on the surge of Central American migrants trying to cross the border. He said the percentage will gradually increase "until the Illegal Immigration problem is remedied." Trump made the announcement by tweet after telling reporters earlier Thursday that he was planning "a major statement" that would be his "biggest" so far on the border. "On June 10th, the United States will impose a 5 percent Tariff on all goods coming into our Country from Mexico, until such time as illegal migrants coming through Mexico, and into our Country, STOP. The Tariff will gradually increase until the Illegal Immigration problem is remedied," he wrote, "at which time the Tariffs will be removed." Trump has accused the Mexican government of failing to do enough to crack down on the surge of Central American migrants who have been flowing to the U.S in search of asylum from countries including El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The announcement comes as the administration has been pushing for passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement that would update the North American Free Trade Agreement. The White House said Trump would be using the International Emergency Economic Powers Act to implement the tariff. "If the illegal migration crisis is alleviated through effective actions taken by Mexico, to be determined in our sole discretion and judgment, the Tariffs will be removed," the White House said in a statement.

Trump advisor Navarro: Mexico exports ‘illegal aliens’ and tariffs are linked to national emergency - President Donald Trump’s trade advisor Peter Navarro said on Friday that Trump’s threat of new tariffs on Mexico came in response to the country’s “export” of “illegal aliens” and tied the move to the president’s declaration of a national emergency at the southern border. “If you look at it from an investor’s point of view and a corporate point of view, what we have in Mexico is the export, one of their high exports, of illegal aliens. And it’s a criminal enterprise,” Navarro said. Navarro’s comments, the first public defense of the president’s move from a top trade official, came during an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street. ” The White House said Thursday that it will slap escalating tariffs on Mexican imports, starting at 5% in the second week of June, if the country does not take action to reduce unlawful immigration into the United States. The legal justification for the move, Navarro said, was premised on the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which requires a national emergency. “Clearly we have that at the border,” Navarro said. Trump declared a national emergency at the southern border in February after failing to secure funding for his proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border from Congress. Markets tanked on Friday amid worries that the threatened tariffs combined with an escalating U.S.-China trade war could send the economy into a recession. Navarro urged investors to look at the situation “calmly.” “Look at what we are trying to do. This is actually a brilliant move by the president to get Mexico’s attention, to get them to help us, because so far they have just been standing by,” Navarro said. Navarro also pushed back on the notion that the tariffs were intended to bring more manufacturing jobs to the United States from Mexico, saying that the tariffs were “not at all” related to that goal. “This is strictly about national security and threats to our economy from illegal immigration from a criminal enterprise,” Navarro said.

Trump and the Mexican tariffs: How far is this administration willing to go to achieve their protectionist, anti-humanitarian goals? Maybe farther than we thought. -- Jared Bernstein - As you know if you’ve looked at any morning paper, the Trump administration has proposed an escalating tariff on all imports from Mexico, starting at 5 percent on June 10th and rising by five percentage points each month until it reaches 25 percent. The tariffs are intended to force Mexico to take actions to reduce the flow of migrants into the U.S. Trump said the tariffs will remain in place until Mexico “substantially stops the illegal inflow of aliens coming through its territory.”  Here’s a Q&A on this proposed action. Initially, it may not look like a big deal for us (much more so for Mexico). But if it doesn’t fizzle quickly, and I don’t think it will, it could turn out to be important along various dimensions.

  1. Q: Isn’t this is an unusual use of tariffs?  A: It is. The majority of tariff cases stem from countries arguing about trade, as is the case with China. Country A objects to country B “dumping” a specific export (“rubber tires, grade c”) at below cost in order to corner market share and Country A imposes a “countervailing duty” to level the playing field.Yes, tariffs have been used as a geopolitical tactic, to protect what Hamilton called “infant industries,” and to support the buildup of domestic industries to achieve import substitution (tariffs were also the main source of government revenue in early America). But I’m not aware of a case where tariffs have been used to block immigration.
  2. Q: Ok, it’s an unusual idea. But is it a bad idea?  A: Yes, for two broad reasons. First, I have the same objection to this tariff as to any other sweeping tariff (versus the more targeted “dumping” example above): by disrupting broad trade flows and indiscriminately raising costs on swatch of industries and consumers, it is a blunt policy tool that may have been useful in Hamilton’s day but is no longer so. The WSJ reports that “about two-thirds of U.S.-Mexico trade is between factories owned by the same company.” Those are largely auto manufacturers, as we import $93 billion in cars and parts from Mexico (as a share of our imports, that’s 5x our China share), computers, food, and hundreds more goods. According to Goldman Sachs researchers, 44 percent of our air conditioners and 35 percent of our TVs are imported from Mexico. Second, it is a well-documented fact that unauthorized immigration from the Mexico has declined in recent years. What’s gone up is asylum seekers from Central American countries torn by violence and gangs. In this regard, the “crisis” at the border is of the Trump administration’s own making.
  3. Q: What about the economic costs? A: The direct costs start out too small to matter to our economy, but indirect costs could be steeper.Initially, $17 billion (5% * $350bn) is less than 0.1% of U.S. GDP. Tariffs work like a sales tax on U.S. consumers, but few would notice this initial installment. It is, however, worth pausing for a second to consider the weirdness of this aspect of the proposal: U.S. consumers are paying an anti-asylum-seeker tax. But as the Trump administration is aware, the U.S. is much more insulated from trade than those with whom we wage trade wars. We import 15 percent of GDP and export 12 percent. Those shares are much larger for our trading partners.

Surprise Mexican tariffs hurt China trade talks: ‘How can you trust Trump to honor a deal?’ - President Donald Trump’s surprise vow to slap new tariffs on Mexican goods has an unintended consequence: It further undermines the chance of a trade resolution with China. The U.S. is set to impose a 5% tariff on all Mexican imports from June 10, Trump first announced in a Twitter post Thursday night. The move came as a shock as the White House just took a formal step to kickstart approval of the United States Mexico Canada Agreement. Trump’s 180-degree turn on one of U.S.′ largest trading partners is sending a ominous message to the international community that he can’t be trusted, Wall Street policy analysts said, adding that China, already skeptical of Trump’s reliability, is now less likely to sign a trade deal with him. “We view this action as further deteriorating the U.S.-China trade fight. Chinese officials have stated their concern about the reliability of President Trump as a trading partner. These tariffs were announced the same day as significant advancement of the USMCA. If China does not believe a deal will stick, why negotiate?” Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Trump are set to meet at the G20 summit in Japan next month, but the Mexican tariffs put into further doubt that a “substantive” meeting is possible, Mills added. “Trump’s readiness to hit a trading partner with new tariff threats soon after striking a trade deal will make China still more cautious about signing up to a deal that Trump then reneges upon, humiliating its leadership,” “Beijing will remain open to talking, but this cannot help prospects for an early breakthrough at G20.” U.S. stocks plunged on the new tariff threat and Chinese stocks were hit overnight as well. “How can you trust Trump to honor a deal?” Chris Krueger, Washington strategist at Cowen said. “Mexico submitted USMCA this week for ratification...Trump’s signature trade achievement was moving downfield...and he just threatened Mexico ... with unilateral tariffs on ALL Mexican goods exports to the U.S.”

 Business Groups Plan To Sue Trump Over Mexico Tariffs- CNBC - President Trump's latest act of trade-war aggression (this time with a special immigration-policy twist) has so angered the American business community that business groups are weighing legal action against the White House, according to CNBC, which cited sources at the Chamber of Commerce. NEW: Business groups consider legal action against White House in response to New Mexico tariffs, @USChamber confirms. Source tells me discussions will continue through weekend, with groups hoping to have agreement on next steps by Monday. — Kayla Tausche (@kaylatausche) May 31, 2019Discussions will continue through the weekend, and groups hope to have an agreement on next steps by Monday.If we had to guess, we'd wager that America's automakers are deeply involved in the plan, since they're among the industries that will be most heavily impacted.  The pattern of using lawsuits to recoup losses has emerged as a popular strategy this year, with Lyft & Uber shareholders filing lawsuits after the two tech unicorn IPOs flopped. As a reminder, here's a breakdown of US imports from Mexico. (table)

Trump weighs plan to choke off asylum for Central Americans - President Donald Trump is considering sweeping restrictions on asylum that would effectively block Central American migrants from entering the U.S., according to several administration officials and advocates briefed on the plan. A draft proposal circulating among Trump’s Homeland Security advisers would prohibit migrants from seeking asylum if they have resided in a country other than their own before coming to the U.S., according to a Homeland Security Department official and an outside advocate familiar with the plan. If executed, it would deny asylum to thousands of migrants waiting just south of the border, many of whom have trekked a perilous journey through Mexico. Trump is weighing the move as he pursues other plans to crack down on migration at the southern border, including new tariffs on Mexico that he announced Thursday night. Trump said he would impose a 5 percent duty on all goods coming from Mexico starting June 10 to pressure that country to do more to stop migrants from Central Americans from entering the United States. "The Tariff will gradually increase until the Illegal Immigration problem is remedied," Trump wrote on Twitter. Earlier Thursday, Trump hinted at changes to his administration’s border policy as he departed for Colorado, telling reporters he was “going to do something very dramatic on the border” and would announce it in a “big league statement.” “It will be a statement having to do with the border and having to do with people illegally coming over the border,” he said. “And it will be my biggest statement, so far, on the border. We have brought something to the light of the people. They see now it’s a national emergency, and most people agree.”

Trump's New "Fundamentally Cruel" Policy Would Effectively Bar Central American Refugees From Seeking Asylum -- Immigrant and human rights advocates responded with alarm Thursday to a report that the Trump administration "is considering sweeping restrictions on asylum that would effectively block Central American migrants from entering the U.S.," condemning the proposed policy as both inhumane and unconstitutional."This latest policy is a disgusting example of the lengths the Trump administration will go to deny people protection," Charanya Krishnaswami of Amnesty International USA said in a statement. "To effectively close the border to Central Americans and the vast majority of people seeking asylum not only violates human rights obligations, but is also fundamentally cruel."According to PoliticoA draft proposal circulating among Trump's Homeland Security advisers would prohibit migrants from seeking asylum if they have transited through a country other than their own before coming to the U.S., according to a [Department of Homeland Security] official and an outside advocate familiar with the plan. If executed, it would deny asylum to thousands of migrants waiting just south of the border, many of whom have trekked a perilous journey through Mexico....While Trump aides believe they can make the changes through an administrative rule, they are also seeking a legislative fix that would be far less vulnerable to a court challenge. Similar language is expected to be included in Trump's new immigration bill that would boost security at the southern border and push the nation to admit more high-skilled, well-educated immigrants, rather than immigrants who enter the U.S. based on family ties, according to two people familiar with the proposal. "It's unbelievably extreme to try to inhibit anyone who comes through another country in their quest for asylum," Kerri Talbot, the federal advocacy director for the group Immigration Hub, told Politico. "It basically means it would block all Central Americans from coming to the U.S."

Trump administration to send DHS agents, investigators to Guatemala-Mexico border - Dozens of Homeland Security agents and investigators will deploy to Guatemala as part of the Trump administration’s desperate attempt to slow unauthorized migration to the United States from Central America, according to U.S. officials with knowledge of the plans. The Department of Homeland Security personnel will work as “advisers” to Guatemala’s national police and migration authorities, and they will aim to disrupt and interdict human smuggling operations, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe a plan that has not been made public. U.S. authorities hope that the effort will cut off popular routes to the United States and deter migrants from beginning their journeys north through Mexico.Plans call for at least several dozen DHS agents and investigators, and one DHS official briefed on the plans said about 80 U.S. law enforcement personnel will deploy as part of the mission. Another DHS official said Immigration and Customs Enforcement will send 18 Homeland Security Investigations agents and intelligence analysts, along with six agents from the Enforcement and Removal Operations division.Acting DHS secretary Kevin McAleenan has advocated the more muscular DHS presence and finalized the agreement with Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales and other top Guatemalan officials during meetings this week in Guatemala City.  “The U.S. and Guatemala are formalizing a number of initiatives to improve the lives and security of our respective citizens by combating human trafficking and the smuggling of illegal goods, helping to limit ‘push’ factors that encourage dangerous irregular migration to the U.S., perpetuating the ongoing crisis at our border,” McAleenan said in a statement, after signing a “Memorandum of Cooperation” with Guatemalan officials.

American Soil Is Being Globalized- Nearly 30 Million Acres Of US Farmland Now Owned By Foreigner - All across America, U.S. farmland is being gobbled up by foreign interests.  So when we refer to “the heartland of America”, the truth is that vast stretches of that “heartland” is now owned by foreigners, and most Americans have no idea that this is happening.  These days, a lot of people are warning about the “globalization” of the world economy, but in reality our own soil is rapidly being “globalized”. When farms are locally owned, the revenue that those farms take in tends to stay in local communities.  But with foreign-owned farms there is no guarantee that will happen.  And while there is plenty of food to go around this is not a major concern, but what happens when a food crisis erupts and these foreign-owned farms just keep sending their produce out of the country? There are some very serious national security concerns here, and they really aren’t being addressed. Instead, the amount of farmland owned by foreigners just continues to increase with each passing year.  Prior to seeing the headline to this article, how much U.S. farmland would you have guessed that foreigners now own?Personally, I had no idea that foreigners now own nearly 30 million acres.  The following comes from NPRAmerican soil. Those are two words that are commonly used to stir up patriotic feelings. They are also words that can’t be be taken for granted, because today nearly 30 million acres of U.S. farmland are held by foreign investors. That number has doubled in the past two decades, which is raising alarm bells in farming communities.How did we allow this to happen? And actually laws regarding land ownership vary greatly from state to state.  Some states have placed strict restrictions on foreign land ownership, while in other states it is “a free-for-all”“Texas is kind of a free-for-all, so they don’t have a limit on how much land can be owned,” say’s Ohio Farm Bureau’s Ty Higgins, “You look at Iowa and they restrict it — no land in Iowa is owned by a foreign entity.” Ohio, like Texas, also has no restrictions, and nearly half a million acres of prime farmland are held by foreign-owned entities. In the northwestern corner of the state, below Toledo, companies from the Netherlands alone have purchased 64,000 acres for wind farms. But even in states where there are restrictions, foreign entities can get around that by simply buying large corporations that own land.

 'The Road to Tyranny Is Paved With Corrupt Intentions'- Transportation Secretary Chao Still Profiting From Asphalt-Construction Giant - Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao came under fire from ethics experts and reporters after The Wall Street Journal revealed Tuesday that she still owns shares in a major construction company that provides materials for road-paving despite pledging to divest from the company in the ethics agreement she signed before her confirmation in early 2017. "The road to tyranny is paved with corrupt intentions: Elaine Chao just threw her hat into the ring for the Trump admin's worst self-enriching action—retaining shares in a construction-materials company more than a year after she promised to relinquish them," the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen tweeted in response to the report.  Shares of Vulcan Materials Co. "have risen nearly 13 percent since April 2018, the month in which Ms. Chao said she would be cashed out of the stock, netting her a more than $40,000 gain," the Journal noted. "The shares, now worth nearly $400,000, were paid out to Ms. Chao in April 2018, as deferred compensation for the roughly two years she served on Vulcan's board of directors before being confirmed as secretary of transportation." A Department of Transportation spokesperson told the Journal that the 2017 ethics agreement failed to account for Vulcan's compensation policy and the agreement's language "is being clarified to avoid confusion." The spokesperson also said DOT's top ethics official determined that Chao owning the shares does not present a conflict of interest, but the secretary will continue to recuse herself from decisions involving the company—another pledge she made in the agreement.Walter Shaub, who resigned as director of the Office of Government Ethics in mid-2017 over clashes with the Trump administration, agreed that Chao's ownership of Vulcan shares likely is not a legal conflict of interest but criticized her decision to retain the shares."If you look at her ethics agreement, it provides for a complete disentanglement of her interest from Vulcan Materials, and that's what was represented to the Senate," Shaub told the Journal. "For the head of the DOT to have a financial interest in an asphalt company, that is not sending a message to employees of DOT that she is making ethics a priority."

AOC Calls for Ban on Revolving Door as Study Shows Two-Thirds of Recently Departed Lawmakers Now K Street Lobbyists - One of Capitol Hill's most popular new Democrats on Thursday called for a total ban on the revolving door that allows lawmakers to jump from Congress into K Street lobbying firms as soon as they leave office.In a tweet, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said that former members of Congress "shouldn't be allowed to turn right around and leverage your service for a lobbyist check.""I don't think it should be legal at ALL to become a corporate lobbyist if you've served in Congress," said Ocasio-Cortez. "At minimum there should be a long wait period."  After the Democratic wave in the 2018 midterm elections, 44 federal lawmakers left office and found private sector jobs. A Public Citizen analysis, released Thursday, found that of those 44, 26 "were working for lobbying firms, consulting firms, trade groups or business groups working to influence federal government activities." Among those that made the switch are former Rep. Joe Crowley, the Democrat who Ocasio-Cortez unseated, and former Rep. Mike Capuano, a Suffolk County, Massachusetts Democrat whose progressive credentials weren't enough to stop now-Rep. Ayanna Pressley from besting him in the 2018 Democratic primary.  Former legislators like Crowley and Capuano came in for criticism from Public Citizen president Robert Weissman. In a statement, Weissman took aim at what the revolving door does to Washington politics."No lawmaker should be cashing in on their public service and selling their contacts and expertise to the highest bidder," said Weissman. "Retired or defeated lawmakers should not serve as sherpas for corporate interests who are trying to write federal policy in their favor." "We need to close the revolving door and enact fundamental and far-reaching reforms to our corrupt political system," Weissman added.

Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz strike Twitter pact to work together on lobbying legislation - Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez set aside their Twitter bickering Thursday to strike an unusual bargain: an agreement to work together on a bill to ban former members of Congress from lobbying for life. The Texas Republican and the New York Democrat made the pact on Twitter after Ocasio-Cortez tweeted a report by the watchdog group Public Citizen on the number of former lawmakers who’ve headed to K Street this year. “I don’t think it should be legal at ALL to become a corporate lobbyist if you’ve served in Congress,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. Cruz, who’s feuded with Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter before, tweeted that he agreed, suggesting it might be “a chance for some bipartisan cooperation.” Ocasio-Cortez responded by proposing a deal: “If we can agree on a bill with no partisan snuck-in clauses, no poison pills, etc - just a straight, clean ban on members of Congress becoming paid lobbyists - then I’ll co-lead the bill with you.” “You’re on,” Cruz responded. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) added that he was “IN.” Cruz and Ocasio-Cortez aren’t the first lawmakers to propose banning their former colleagues from lobbying. Sens. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) introduced a bill to do so in February, and Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R-Ind.) introduced a companion bill in the House.

As Trump rewrites public health rules, Pence sees conservative agenda born again - Reuters - In a sweeping social policy shift, the Trump administration is seeking to remake health rules at home and abroad for women, gay and transgender people, restricting access to abortion, curtailing support for contraception and narrowing the scope of civil rights in healthcare. The turnaround has its foundations in the quiet, behind-the-scenes influence of Vice President Mike Pence, who has been driven throughout his political career by his evangelical Christian beliefs to restrict abortion and prioritize the rights of religious conservatives. Pence has been in the spotlight for leading the administration’s failed effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. But other changes, affecting health policy domestically and abroad, are moving ahead with far less attention. Under the direction of two secretaries recommended by Pence, the Department of Health and Human Services has moved to slash funds from teen pregnancy-prevention programs, curb abortion both in the United States and abroad and strip civil protections for transgender patients. The administration has emphasized abstinence programs, led by appointees who believe contraception harms women, and pushed to cut government funds for Planned Parenthood – a longtime cause for Pence while he was in Congress. Planned Parenthood, a national network of healthcare providers, offers infertility services, contraception and abortions.

‘Medicare for All’ backers find biggest foe in their own backyard - Democrats who've made "Medicare for All" a top health care priority are running up against their toughest opponent yet: their own neighborhood hospitals. The multibillion-dollar industry has emerged as the most formidable foe of single-payer health care. It’s helped assemble a coalition of health care lobbies that has launched social media campaigns attacking Medicare for All and its most high-profile proponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), while fighting narrower Democratic proposals to expand federal health coverage over concerns any change would slash hospital revenue. That’s created a dilemma for Medicare for All champions who cast themselves as crusaders against a broken health care system full of greedy insurers and drug companies, yet remain wary of taking on hospitals that rank as top employers in many congressional districts and are seen by the public as life-saving institutions. “We’re not cutting out hospitals, we are keeping the existing hospital system,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a leader of Democrats’ Medicare for All caucus and fierce critic of corporate influence, adding “they’re very much going to be a partner at that table.” The bill would all but end private insurance and regulate hospitals in a vastly different way, dramatically changing operators’ business model and costing community hospitals as much as $151 billion a year, according to one estimate published in JAMA. The industry's stand against Medicare for All comes amid lobbying on separate and intensifying bipartisan efforts to address "surprise" medical bills, with hospitals fighting other parts of the health care industry to ensure they’re not the ones who have to swallow the bulk of the patient’s tab. Hospitals now drive a significant share of the nation's health care spending, though the public doesn't see it because insurers wind up paying much of the bill. And hospitals make up for the relatively lower payments they get for Medicare and Medicaid patients by shifting some of the expense to patients with private insurance, which pays more than double Medicare rates, according to a new study that’s put the hospital industry on the defensive. The calculus would change dramatically under Medicare for All, which would free millions more patients to seek no-cost medical care while slashing hospitals’ pay rates and putting up to 1.5 million jobs at stake.

Nancy Pelosi Plans To Go Easy On Big Pharma - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told Democrats on Wednesday night that she will put her weight behind a byzantine proposal aimed at lowering prescription drug prices ― a plan that progressive critics worry will ultimately have little to no effect. Pelosi’s office has been in private talks with the Trump administration about a prescription drug policy for months. Her decision to proceed with that drug plan surprised her fellow Democrats, coming the same day as a very public spat in which President Donald Trump walked out on a meeting with the speaker and refused to negotiate on an infrastructure bill unless Democrats abandoned investigations into his administration. Capitol Hill sources tell HuffPost that the prescription drug proposal, which has not been officially released to the public, would empower the secretary of health and human services to negotiate lower prices with pharmaceutical companies for drugs sold in the U.S. If the two parties failed to reach an agreement on an individual medication, the Government Accountability Office would be permitted to set a final price close to the typical amount charged for the drug in other countries. The Department of Health and Human Services would be required to negotiate on at least 25 drugs each year, and companies that refused to participate would be slapped with a tax equal to 50 percent of their prior year’s sales of the drug. Prices on all drugs covered under Medicare Parts B and D could not be increased going forward, and any company that still did so would have 100% of the price hike taxed away. A senior Democratic aide who described the plan to HuffPost cautioned that nothing had been set in stone, but said House leadership hoped to move quickly on the proposal after the Memorial Day recess.

 Satanic Temple cites religious beliefs as immunity from Supreme Court abortion ruling on fetal remains -- The Satanic Temple said it would challenge a Supreme Court ruling from Tuesday that upheld part of an Indiana law requiring the burial or cremation of fetal remains.The group is citing religious freedom in declaring immunity from the law, according to the Arkansas Times.“One of The Satanic Temple’s fundamental tenets is the inviolability of one’s body,” the international organization said in a statement.The Satanic Temple (TST) said “non-viable fetal tissue is part of the woman who carries it,” according to its statement to the news outlet.“State impositions of ceremonial requirements dictating its disposal, barring any plausible medical or sanitary concerns, is a violation of TST’s Free Exercise allowing Satanists to contextualize the termination of a pregnancy on their own terms, with deference to their own religious beliefs,” the group added.The organization, which does not worship or believe in the Satan from the Bible, is known for its vocal advocacy for separation between church and state. “To be clear, members of The Satanic Temple will not be made to pay for these punitive, superfluous, and insulting burials. We claim exemption on religious liberty grounds, and we will almost certainly prevail in the courts if we are forced to fight," the group's spokesperson Lucien Greaves told the Arkansas Times.

Justice Thomas: Supreme Court Needs to Confront Abortion Being Used as a ‘Tool of Eugenic Manipulation’ --Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas believes the nation’s top court will soon need to consider the constitutionality of laws that prohibit abortions in cases where mothers are basing their decision to abort solely on unwanted characteristics of the child, such as race, gender, or disability. Thomas penned an extensive commentary (pdf) on the link between eugenic manipulation and abortion in an opinion concurring with the court’s decision to not hear a case concerning an Indiana law that prohibited abortions in cases where mothers chose to abort on the basis of a child’s race, gender, disability, a diagnosis for Down syndrome, and other characteristics. The 7th Court of Appeals struck down the Indiana law and the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal because the 7th Circuit was the only federal appellate court to hear a case concerning such a question.

Social Media Big Data: U.S. Military to Scan 350 Billion Messages - The U.S. military plans to analyze 350 billion social-media posts from around the world to help it track how popular movements evolve. A tender for the project, based at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, calls for screening messages from at least 200 million users from more than 100 countries in more than 60 languages to better understand “collective expression.” Messages, including user names, will be examined for comments, metadata, location and hometown identifiers. While it’s part of an existing Department of Defense Analysis effort to harness big data for social research, “the scale and global reach of this program is striking,” Antoine Bousquet, a senior lecturer in international relations at Birkbeck, University of London, said by email. The study’s purpose is to look at social-media messages posted publicly between July 2014 and December 2016 on a single platform, according to a solicitation request. No private communications will be included and individual users won’t be identified in the research, according to the Navy. Facebook Inc.’s primary platform has more than 1.2 billion daily active users and Twitter Inc. has more than 300 million monthly users. Printed on letter-size paper, 350 billion individual messages would make a stack about 10,000 miles high. T. Camber Warren, the project’s principal researcher, said the data will be used for increased understanding of communication and how patterns of discourse change over time. He previously studied internal conflicts in Africa, showing how mass media such as radio broadcasts can have a pacifying effect, while social media can inflame collective violence. “Social media data allows us for the first time, to measure how colloquial expressions and slang evolve over time, across a diverse array of human societies, so that we can begin to understand how and why communities come to be formed around certain forms of discourse rather than others," Warren said by email. The data can be used to train algorithms to understand “increasingly subtle shifts in cultural context,” he said.

Samsung deepfake AI could fabricate a video of you from a single profile pic - Imagine someone creating a deepfake video of you simply by stealing your Facebook profile pic. The bad guys don't have their hands on that tech yet, but Samsung has figured out how to make it happen.  Software for creating deepfakes -- fabricated clips that make people appear to do or say things they never did -- usually requires big data sets of images in order to create a realistic forgery. Now Samsung has developed a new artificial intelligence system that can generate a fake clip by feeding it as little as one photo.  Here's the downside: These kinds of techniques and their rapid development also create risks of misinformation, election tampering and fraud, according to Hany Farid, a Dartmouth researcher who specializes in media forensics to root out deepfakes.  When even a crudely doctored video of US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi can go viral on social media, deepfakes raise worries that their sophistication would make mass deception easier, since deepfakes are harder to debunk.

Facebook defends decision to leave up fake Pelosi video, saying it has no policy that posts must be 'true' -- Facebook agrees with fact checkers that a viral video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaking is fake, selectively edited to make her appear to be drunkenly slurring her words. But despite it being posted to Facebook, where it has been viewed over 2 million times, the social media giant defended its decision to not delete the video even though it isn’t true. On Friday, Facebook’s head of global policy management, Monika Bickert, when grilled by CNN’s Anderson Cooper about why the video has not been deleted, stood by the company’s decision, which is based on the lack of “a policy that stipulates that the information you post on Facebook must be true.”Cooper asked Bickert, “In the wake of the 2016 election, obviously, Facebook has repeatedly told Congress and the American people that you’re serious about fighting disinformation and fake news, yet this doctored video that I think your own fact checkers acknowledged is doctored of Speaker Pelosi remains on your platform. Why?”“Anybody who is seeing this video in news feed, anyone who is going to share it to somebody else, anybody who has shared it in the past, they are being alerted that this video is false,” Bickert responded.“And this is part of the way that we deal with misinformation,” she continued. “We work with internationally certified fact-checking organizations that are independent from Facebook, and we think these are the right organizations to be making decisions about whether something is true or false.”Bickert added: “As soon as we get a rating from them that content is false, then we dramatically reduce the distribution of that content.”“Why keep it up though?” Cooper pressed. “We think it’s important for people to make their own informed choice about what to believe,” said Bickert, who said Facebook is actively telling users that the video is fake even though it won’t take it down. “Our job is to make sure we are getting them accurate information.”The social media platform, Bickert added, isn’t “in the news business.” “We aren’t in the news business. We’re in the social media business,” Bickert countered Cooper, who insisted that Facebook is “making money by being in the news business.”

While you’re sleeping, your iPhone stays busy — snooping on you  -- It's 3am. Do you know what your iPhone is doing?Mine has been alarmingly busy. Even though the screen is off and I'm snoring, apps are beaming out lots of information about me to companies I've never heard of. Your iPhone probably is doing the same - and Apple could be doing more to stop it.On a recent Monday night, a dozen marketing companies, research firms and other personal data guzzlers got reports from my iPhone. At 11.43pm, a company called Amplitude learned my phone number, email and exact location. At 3.58am, another called Appboy got a digital fingerprint of my phone. At 6.25am, a tracker called Demdex received a way to identify my phone and sent back a list of other trackers to pair up with.And all night long, there was some startling behaviour by a household name: Yelp. It was receiving a message that included my IP address - once every five minutes.  Our data has a secret life in many of the devices we use every day, from talking Alexa speakers to smart TVs. But we've got a giant blind spot when it comes to the data companies probing our phones.You might assume you can count on Apple to sweat all the privacy details. After all, it touted in a recent ad, "What happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone." My investigation suggests otherwise.IPhone apps I discovered tracking me by passing information to third parties - just while I was asleep - include Microsoft OneDrive, Intuit's Mint, Nike, Spotify, the Washington Post and IBM's the Weather Channel. One app, the crime-alert service Citizen, shared personally identifiable information in violation of its published privacy policy. And your iPhone doesn't feed data trackers only while you sleep. In a single week, I encountered over 5400 trackers, mostly in apps, not including the incessant Yelp traffic. According to privacy firm Disconnect, which helped test my iPhone, those unwanted trackers would have spewed out 1.5 gigabytes of data over the span of a month. That's half of an entire basic wireless service plan from US telecommunictions company AT&T.

The War on Data Continues - Three years ago I wrote The War on Data.  Unfortunately the war on data has continued unabated, as Catherine Rampell noted last week in the WaPo:The Trump administration’s war on statistics isn’t slowing down  Don’t like the numbers? Invent new numbers instead.   Or make it harder to collect trustworthy numbers next time. Or just put the squeeze on the number crunchers themselves. Slowly but surely, the Trump administration has been chipping away at the independence and integrity of our federal statistical agencies, whose data is critical to keeping our democracy functioning and our economy healthy. …  Presumably the Trump administration has calculated that doctoring statistical models, skewing survey results and trying to strong-arm statisticians will serve its near-term political interests. In the long term, however, sowing distrust in government data only reduces the ability of policymakers, businesses and voters to make informed decisions.  There are no "alternative facts", and this war on data should concern everyone - ignoring or misrepresenting data leads to irresponsible comments and poor policy decisions.

As Assange faces 170-year sentence, Trump proposes pardoning US war criminals President Trump’s announcement that he may pardon several US soldiers charged or convicted of war crimes is an appeal to the military and a signal that any restraints will be removed as American imperialism prepares more wars.On Friday, Trump confirmed an earlier New York Times report that the administration has “made expedited requests” for pardon papers. “Some of these soldiers are people that have fought hard and long,” Trump said. “We teach them how to be great fighters, and then when they fight sometimes they get really treated very unfairly. So we’re going to take a look at it.” Trump was referring to soldiers whose actions epitomize the depraved and criminal character of the US “war on terror.” They include:

  • • Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, who from 2017 to 2018 shot a young girl and an elderly man from the safety of his sniper’s perch in Iraq and murdered a young prisoner of war by stabbing him repeatedly with a hunting knife before posing with the victim’s body.
  • • Nicholas Slatten, a former Blackwater mercenary who was recently convicted of murder for his involvement in the 2007 Nisour Square massacre, during which Blackwater thugs killed dozens of Iraqi civilians.
  • • Mathew Golsteyn, who currently faces trial for murder after admitting live on Fox News that he executed an unarmed alleged Taliban member after the latter was released from detention by Afghan authorities. On March 30, Trump tweeted that Golsteyn is a “US military hero.”
  • • Clint Lorance, a soldier who is presently serving a 19-year sentence for killing three Afghan men at long distance in 2012.

Earlier in May, Trump pardoned Michael Behenna, an Army officer who was convicted and jailed for murdering an Iraqi prisoner who had been ordered released from detention, by placing a grenade under his head. Pardoning war criminals itself constitutes a war crime under the Nuremberg principles. In 1969, then-President Richard Nixon and his henchmen covered up details of the massacre of 504 civilians committed by US troops in the South Vietnamese village of My Lai in 1968. The day after Lt. William Calley was sentenced to life for perpetrating the massacre, Nixon had him transferred to house arrest. By 1974, Calley was out on bail.   Trump’s remarks regarding potential pardons came as the government announced the deployment of an additional 1,500 soldiers to confront Iran in the Middle East. Within hours of Trump’s statement, Vice President Michael Pence told West Point graduates Saturday that “it is a virtual certainty that you will fight on a battlefield for America at some point in your life.”  By signaling his willingness to pardon war criminals, Trump is establishing the authoritarian power of the executive to create a “state of exception” that shrouds the entire military apparatus in legal immunity.

 Professional Assange Smearers Finally Realize His Fate Is Tied To Theirs -- Caitlin Johnstone -- Rachel Maddow has aired a segment condemning the new indictment against Julian Assange for 17 alleged violations of the Espionage Act.  Yes, that Rachel Maddow.  MSNBC’s top host began the segment after it was introduced by Chris Hayes, agreeing with her colleague that it’s surprising that more news outlets aren’t giving this story more “wall to wall” coverage, given its immense significance. She recapped Assange’s various legal struggles up until this point, then accurately described Assange’s new Espionage Act charges for publishing secret documents. “And these new charges are not about stealing classified information or outsmarting computer systems in order to illegally obtain classified information,” Maddow said. “It’s not about that. These new charges are trying to prosecute Assange for publishing that stolen, secret material which was obtained by somebody else. And that is a whole different kettle of fish then what he was initially charged with.” “By charging Assange for publishing that stuff that was taken by Manning, by issuing these charges today, the Justice Department has just done something you might have otherwise thought was impossible,” Maddow added after explaining the unprecedented nature of this case.  “The Justice Department today, the Trump administration today, just put every journalistic institution in this country on Julian Assange’s side of the ledger. On his side of the fight. Which, I know, is unimaginable. But that is because the government is now trying to assert this brand new right to criminally prosecute people for publishing secret stuff, and newspapers and magazines and investigative journalists and all sorts of different entities publish secret stuff all the time. That is the bread and butter of what we do.”

Assange Too Sick to Appear at His Own Extradition Hearing— WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was unable to attend a court hearing in London on US attempts to extradite him, with his lawyer saying he is simply too ill to make an appearance, and has been relocated to his prison’s medical ward.. A statement from WikiLeaks reported Assange’s health had “significantly deteriorated” from his seven years inside the Ecuadorian embassy, and in his seven weeks in British prison, he has gotten worse and is losing a lot of weight. The court has adjourned the extradition hearing until June 12, and has indicated that it will be held inside Belmarsh prison at that time, which may allow Assange to attend, health permitting. Assange is facing 50 weeks in prison in Britain for hiding in the embassy. The US wants him extradited, and charges already disclosed under the Espionage Act would have him facing 170 years in prison.

 Democracy vs. The Putin-Nazis - Back in January 2018, I wrote this piece about The War on Dissent, which, in case you haven’t noticed, is going gangbusters. As predicted, the global capitalist ruling classes have been using every weapon in their arsenal to marginalize, stigmatize, delegitimize, and otherwise eliminate any and all forms of dissent from neoliberal ideology, and in particular from their new official narrative … “Democracy versus The Putin-Nazis.” For over two years, the corporate media have been pounding out an endless series of variations on this major theme, namely, that “democracy is under attack” by a conspiracy of Russians and neo-Nazis that magically materialized out of the ether during the Summer of 2016. The Western masses have been inundated with innumerable articles, editorials, television news and talk show segments, books, social media posts, and various other forms of messaging whipping up hysteria over “Russians” and “fascists.” At this point, it is no longer just propaganda. It has become the new “truth.” It has become “reality.” Becoming “reality” is, of course, the ultimate goal of every ideology. An ideology is just a system of ideas, and is thus fair game for critique and dissent. “Reality” is not fair game for dissent. It is not up for debate or challenge, not by “serious,” “legitimate” people. “Reality” is simply “the way it is.” It is axiomatic. It is apothegmatic. It’s not a belief or an interpretation. It is not subject to change or revision. It is the immortal, immutable Word of God … or whatever deity or deity-like concept the ruling classes and the masses they rule accept as the Final Arbiter of Truth. In our case, this would be Science, or Reason, rather than some supernatural being, but in terms of ideology there isn’t much difference. Every system of belief, regardless of its nature, ultimately depends on political power and power relations to enforce its beliefs, which is to say, to make them “real.”

What Mueller Found—and Didn’t Find—About Trump and Russia  - Mueller delivered to the Department of Justice a 448-page report in two volumes, a redacted version of which Attorney General William Barr made public a few weeks later. The first volume scrutinizes the evidence of a possible criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, which, the report states, interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election “in sweeping and systematic fashion,” by spreading disinformation over social media and stealing and disseminating personal e-mails belonging to senior figures in the presidential campaign of Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton. The second volume examines evidence of possible obstruction of justice by the president in relation to the investigation—that is, whether Trump violated the law by attempting to make it harder for Mueller to get to the truth. The first volume reaches a more or less straightforward conclusion. “Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts,” the report states, “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” The campaign did not break the law in its numerous interactions with Russians. But as the report makes clear, Trump and his senior advisers, including members of his family, were aware that the Kremlin was trying to help them, and, rather than sound the alarm to U.S. authorities, they were thrilled about the assistance. The second volume’s findings appear more complex. Owing to the Department of Justice’s long-standing internal opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted, Mueller decided that he did not have the legal authority to charge the president. As a result, the report does not render a traditional prosecutorial judgment regarding obstruction of justice on Trump’s part. Whether Trump committed a crime is left open to interpretation. After receiving the report, Barr and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein ruled that Trump’s conduct did not constitute obstruction of justice. Still, Mueller’s accessibly written compendium of substantiated facts delivers an unambiguous ethical indictment of Trump’s campaign and presidency.  Mueller’s chronicle of prevarication, moral turpitude, and incompetence is dispiriting, but his presentation of rigorous legal reasoning and strict adherence to statutes, case law, and procedural rules is inspiring. The text serves as an x-ray, revealing a venal politician and a corrupt political system.

Muellergate, A Report Review: Who Cooked Up the ‘Russiagate’ Conspiracy? - Black Agenda Report - Robert Mueller took two years to cook up a nothingburger, but we need to find out who conspired to wreck relations with Russia and censor the Left.We need a bipartisan Muellergate investigation to determine who cooked up the Russiagate conspiracy that has taken over US foreign policy and driven American political discourse from idiotic to imbecilic. However, in the schreechfest that our domestic politics has become, we’re no more likely to get a bipartisan Muellergate investigation than we are to get bipartisan agreement on anything but war, austerity, and the “socialist” aspersions now hurled at Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Tulsi Gabbard, and Ilhan Omar. Following Trump’s lead, Democrats have begun attacking their own left flank.  I suffered through Volume I of the Mueller Report nevertheless; it’s such a crashing bore that its authors no doubt trusted few would actually read it. Someone else will have to read and review Volume II, which worries the question of whether or not Trump and friends attempted to obstruct justice in the investigation of the “collusion,” aka “conspiracy,” that didn’t happen. At one point Mueller finally acknowledges that there’s no definition of “collusion” in US criminal law, so they were really considering charges for criminal conspiracy. (Calling it “conspiracy” in the first place might have risked allegations that the US government is engaged in “conspiracy theory,” a term invented by the CIA to patently discredit narratives about world-changing events like the Kennedy, King, and Malcolm X assassinations, and the various false flag operations staged to start wars.)

Why Mueller may be fighting a public hearing on Capitol Hill - Jonathan Turley - Mueller has yet to testify despite Attorney General William Barr stating that he has no objections to him doing so. In the past week, it was confirmed that Mueller is resisting testifying in public. At the same time, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler indicated that his committee may indeed allow Mueller to appear in private with no subpoena, no cameras, and no cries of coverup. The media is remarkably uninterested in the reason for this demand from Muelller. After all, if you have no faith in Mueller, then you are an apostate within the Beltway. So why is Mueller and his staff so worried and apprehensive about his answering questions in public? To answer that question, we must look at his report objectively, as agnostics rather than as advocates for one side or the other. Mueller has to address several glaring problems with how he carried out his responsibilities, including his reported failure to identify grand jury material, as requested by Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, which may have delayed the report. The most troubling failure, however, was Mueller refusing to reach a conclusion on obstruction. He reached a conclusion on collusion and stated that his staff could “not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” He then stated that he would not reach a conclusion on obstruction, without explaining why beyond citing past Justice Department memos stating that a sitting president cannot be indicted. His decision on this matter is incompatible with his mandate. The special counsel is mandated to find possible evidence of criminal conduct. If Mueller is going to argue that he felt constrained by Justice Department memos, he was a failure as special counsel. I have argued, going back to my testimony in the Clinton impeachment hearings, that the Justice Department was wrong on those memos. Nothing in the Constitution says that a president has immunity from criminal charges. Nevertheless, one can accept these memos and still see the illogic in reading them as a bar to reaching conclusions as a special counsel.

 Mueller Puts Democrats In Tough Spot After Wednesday Speech  --Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Wednesday remarks have put new pressure on House Democrats to launch impeachment proceedings against President Trump - an option that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly warned would be a trap going into the 2020 election due to the fact that the GOP-held Senate would "vindicate" Trump even if the House impeached.   Mueller, who officially resigned from the DOJ to return to private life - said that he wouldn't appear before Congress to discuss the findings from the Justice Department's multi-year, $25 million investigations into the 2016 election.    "I hope and expect that this will be the only time I will speak to you about this matter," Mueller told reporters in Washington, adding "the report is my testimony" and "I would not provide information beyond that which is already public."    Of note, Mueller said that he didn't question Attorney General William Barr's handling and release of the Special Counsel's report, contradicting statements by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and turncoat Republican Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) - the latter of whom said Barr "deliberately misrepresented key aspects."  By specifically pointing out that the special counsel didn't levy charges at Trump due to longstanding DOJ policy not to prosecute a sitting president, Mueller effectively laid out a path to impeachment for Democrats to follow.  Mueller's refusal to testify also puts House Democrats in a tough spot. With a growing number of Democratic lawmakers pushing for leadership to launch impeachment proceedings, Pelosi and House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York are now left to decide whether Mueller gave them enough ammunition to move forward without his testimony, which Pelosi said would have been useful.

Full transcript: Robert Mueller’s statement on the Russia investigation – POLITICO  (w/ video) Special counsel Robert Mueller's remarks to reporters on Wednesday at the Department of Justice:

Mueller to Congress: It's on You Now --After two years of Trappist-level silence, now-retiring special counsel Robert Mueller finally spoke words in public – to basically reiterate what he wrote in the report he released two months ago.   Still, the text and context of Mueller’s words were damning as to President Donald Trump’s conduct and his self-serving conspiracy theory that he is the victim of a Deep-State Witch Hunt, writes Jonathan Bernstein. Mueller’s remarks were also a call to Congress to act,  probably via impeachment, to hold Trump accountable for obstruction of justice, a charge Mueller said Justice Department policy barred him (no pun intended) from bringing. But Democrats in Congress won’t (and maybe shouldn’t, in Jonathan’s view) impeach Trump, mainly because Senate Republicans keep protecting him, and Dems fear the political blowback.   And Mueller’s own silence, and the delicate phrasing of his report and statement today, are golden gifts to Trump, writes Noah Feldman. Mueller’s principled reticence lets an unprincipled president claim vindication – as he and his handlers rushed to do today – safe in the knowledge Mueller won’t directly and emphatically rebut him.   Such flagrant denial is par for the course of Trump’s career, writes Tim O’Brien. Neither shame nor Mueller’s careful wording will make him change. That's another argument, Tim writes, for why Democrats in Congress must “decide whether they exist to win elections or to uphold the old-fashioned principle that everybody – including the president – should obey the law.”

Prelude to a Fiasco -- Kunstler - You’d think that Robert Mueller might know what any licensed attorney-at-law in the land tells a client in a tight spot with a lame alibi: better keep you mouth shut. Instead, Mr. Mueller crept Sphinx-like out of the Deep State woodwork on little cat’s paws and in a brief nine minutes blabbed out a set of whopperish riddles much more likely to get himself in trouble than the target of his hinky inquisition.The key whopper was that he could not make “a determination” on an obstruction-of-justice charge against Mr. Trump because guidance policy from the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel had said some years ago that a sitting president can’t be indicted. That is not what he told his boss, Mr. Barr, the Attorney General (and a roomful of the AG’s staffers who heard it), in person when he delivered his final report a few weeks ago.Upon receipt of that report, Mr. Barr asked the Special Counsel three times whether his inability to conclude anything on an obstruction charge was due to the OLC guidance, and three times Mr. Mueller answered “no.” Mr. Barr relayed this on-the-record in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee and, as averred above, he has plenty of witnesses. It should not be hard to reach a determination on who is telling truth here. In fact, Mr. Mueller could have declared that he found chargeable obstruction crimes were committed based on the evidence, and also demurred to press them at this time — leaving them available to federal prosecutors until after the president was out of office, one way or another. The reason he didn’t is that Mr. Mueller does not want the case to come to trial, ever, because he would lose badly and his reputation would be destroyed. Consider that in any trial, the defendant gets to call witnesses and make his own case. The evidence for gross prosecutorial misconduct on the part of Mr. Mueller and his associates is mountainous compared to the molehill of Mr. Trump’s temper tantrums over the seditious hoax he was subject to. And that matter is now moving in the direction of adjudication. So instead, Mr. Mueller has set in motion a potential political crisis as momentous as the Civil War, but completely unlike it. Knowing that congress can impeach the president on just about anything — especially this president, publicly reviled like no other before him — he served congress the platter of material to use in the form of his final report, and pretty much dared them to not go forward with it. Get this: it is a ruse. The object is solely to divert the nation’s attention with an impeachment circus, allowing Mr. Mueller to slip away harmlessly into history without sacrificing his own reputation in a courtroom.

Barr says Mueller 'could’ve reached a decision' on obstruction - Attorney General William Barr split with Robert Mueller on Thursday over Mueller’s decision to punt on whether Trump sought to obstruct his Russia investigation, saying the special counsel "could've reached a decision." The rift between Barr and Mueller publicly reemerged after Mueller broke his silence on Wednesday following the nearly two year investigation. In his first public comments, Mueller told reporters that charging Trump with anything was never “an option we could consider” due to a longstanding Department of Justice policy against charging a sitting president with a federal crime. While Mueller made clear the investigation operated under that framework, Barr told reporters last month that Mueller had not solely relied on the DOJ opinion when deciding whether Trump obstructed justice. In a letter to lawmakers summarizing Mueller’s conclusions earlier this year, Barr said that because Mueller did not make a determination on obstruction, he and then-deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made the decisions themselves. Asked whether he agreed with Mueller’s interpretation of the DOJ opinion, Barr said he felt differently. “I personally felt he could’ve reached a decision,” he told CBS’s Jan Crawford in an interview set to air Friday. “The opinion says you cannot indict a president while he is in office, but he could’ve reached a decision as to whether it was criminal activity.” Barr said he wouldn’t litigate Mueller’s reasoning for declining to make a decision one way or the other, telling Crawford the special counsel “had his reasons for not doing it, which he explained, and I’m not going to argue about those reasons.”

Five Takeaways from Barr’s new powers in ‘spying’ probe - President Trump this week gave Attorney General William Barr new authorities to examine and possibly release classified material related to the Justice Department’s inquiry into the origins of the Russia investigation. The move is widely perceived as an effort by Trump to ramp up his administration’s probe of surveillance directed at members of his 2016 campaign. The president and his allies have suggested that federal agents biased against him improperly initiated the investigation into Russia's election interference. Barr said last month he would examine the “genesis and conduct” of the Russia probe, adding that he believed the Trump campaign was “spied” on and wanted to ensure it was “adequately predicated.” Those remarks drew fire from Democrats, who accused him of advancing a conspiracy theory. Here are five things you need to know about Trump’s new direction. Sweeping powers for Barr On Thursday evening, Trump instructed top intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and CIA Director Gina Haspel, to “quickly and fully” cooperate with Barr’s investigation into “surveillance activities” during the 2016 election. Barr was also given the authority to unilaterally declassify materials related to the investigation, allowing him to “direct” intelligence officials to declassify them. Such documents usually go through an interagency process to determine what can be declassified and released publicly, and the agency where the intelligence originated has to sign off on the final declassification. The White House memo sent to intelligence agencies on Thursday said Barr should, “to the extent he deems it practicable,” consult with intelligence officials before declassifying certain materials. The move affords Barr considerable new powers to view and potentially release highly classified material gathered by the FBI and CIA in the course of the Russia investigation.

A Top House Republican On Origins Of FBI’s Russia Investigation: ‘It Could Well Be Treason’ - Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the third-ranking Republican in the House, dangerously claimed FBI officials who launched the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election could be guilty of committing treason. During an interview Sunday that likely appealed to President Donald Trump, Cheney pointed to Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, two FBI staffers who sent text messages disparaging Trump, to claim the bureau’s entire investigation was predicated on political motivations. “I think what is really crucially important to remember here is that you had Strzok and Page who were in charge of launching this investigation and they were saying things like we must stop this president, we need an insurance policy against this president,” Cheney told ABC’s “This Week.” “When you have people that are in the highest echelons of the law enforcement of this nation saying things like that, that sounds an awful lot like a coup and it could well be treason,” she added.

Mueller drew up obstruction indictment against Trump, Michael Wolff book says - A new book from Fire and Fury author Michael Wolff says special counselRobert Mueller drew up a three-count obstruction of justice indictment against Donald Trump before deciding to shelve it – an explosive claim which a spokesman for Mueller flatly denied. The stunning revelation is contained in Siege: Trump Under Fire, which will be published a week from now, on 4 June. It is the sequel to Fire and Fury, Wolff’s bestseller on the first year of the Trump presidency which was published in 2018.The Guardian obtained a copy of Siege and viewed the documents concerned.In an author’s note, Wolff states that his findings on the Mueller investigation are “based on internal documents given to me by sources close to the Office of the Special Counsel”. But Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, told the Guardian: “The documents that you’ve described do not exist.”  Questions over the provenance of the documents will only add to controversy and debate around the launch of Wolff’s eagerly awaited new book. Fire and Fury shone a harsh spotlight on dysfunction within the Trump White House and engendered huge controversy after the Guardian broke news of its contents. Many of Wolff’s assertions were confirmed by later works, among them Fear: Trump in the White House by the Watergate reporter Bob Woodward. The book prompted the banishment of the Trump adviser and Wolff source Stephen Bannon, who also lost his place at Breitbart News. It sold close to 5 million copies.

'It's all explosive': Michael Wolff on Donald Trump - “Almost all of the stuff that has been focused on seems kind of random to me,” Wolff said. “It’s all explosive because that’s the thing about Donald Trump. He’s so anomalous, so not what he’s supposed to be, that everything he does is at some level preposterous.” Is the president incapable of carrying out his duties?“I don’t know if the president is clinically off his rocker. I do know, from what I saw and what I heard from people around him, that Donald Trump is deeply unpredictable, irrational, at times bordering on incoherent, self-obsessed in a disconcerting way, and displays all those kinds of traits that anyone would reasonably say, ‘What’s going on here, is something wrong?’”This week, Trump called a bipartisan, on-camera discussion on immigration and border security. “This was clearly to establish himself as sane in reaction to the book,” Wolff said. The meeting was strange for several reasons, including Trump’s eagerness to agree with everybody there.I don’t know if the president is clinically off his rocker. I do know he is at times bordering on incoherent.“It fits another premise of the book,” Wolff said. “He doesn’t care. He just wants somebody else to do his work. He wants a win and the nature of the win doesn’t really matter. “I’ve talked to a number of Donald Trump friends and cronies. He ran on the idea of ‘I’m a negotiator’ but they all say he’s never negotiated anything. Negotiation requires detailed understanding. It’s methodical. He can’t do it.”

The Worst 2020 Election Interference Will Be Perfectly Legal - Caitlin Johnstone  --  “Russia interfered in the 2016 election,” tweeted presidential candidate Kamala Harris the other day. “If we don’t do anything to upgrade our election infrastructure, we will leave our nation vulnerable to future attacks.” We’ve been seeing many such hysterical warnings about Russian interference in the upcoming 2020 elections, and as the election gets nearer we are 100 percent guaranteed to see a lot more. Another concern people have been voicing, which has far more legitimacy, is the fear of election tampering from domestic actors. An article published the other day by Roll Call reports that experts are warning America’s 2020 elections “will be held on voting machines that are woefully outdated and that any tampering by adversaries could lead to disputed results.” An article published last month by the Guardian warns that new voting machines aren’t necessarily an improvement.“The purchases replace machines from the turn of the century that raise serious security concerns,” the Guardian reports. “But the same companies that made and sold those machines are behind the new generation of technology, and a history of distrust between election security advocates and voting machine vendors has led to a bitter debate over the viability of the new voting equipment – leaving some campaigners wondering if America’s election system in 2020 might still be just as vulnerable to attack.”Initiatives are sprouting up to bring more election security and reliability to the United States, which is currently ranked dead last in election integrity among all western democracies. Support for paper ballots is picking up steam with support from Senate Democrats and multiple presidential candidates, and rightly so; hand-counted paper ballots is considered the gold standard for election integrity, and every nation should want that for their voting systems.But neither foreign interference nor domestic vote tampering will be the most egregious form of election meddling that we will see in America’s 2020 presidential elections.

Most Americans Want Congress To Drop 'Witch Hunt' In Favor Of 'More Serious Issues': CBS Survey - A new poll from CBS found that a majority of Americans want Congress to quit investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and had heard enough after the Mueller report was published earlier this year, according to the Daily MailA poll carried out by CBS showed 53 per cent of respondents believe the Mueller Probe should be abandoned in favour of more serious issues. As many as 58 per cent also said they had heard enough about the report when it was published earlier this year. -Daily Mail  While respondents predictably replied along party lines - with 73% of Democrats saying the investigation should continue, and 74% saying Mueller should testify before Congress, the results suggest that Republicans and independents who were on the fence are satisfied with the results of the special counsel investigation.   Thirty-one percent said the report cleared him of any wrongdoing, and 33% said the report does not clear him. Thirty-two percent said it was too soon to decide if it does. -Daily Mail    Earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called on Congressional Democrats to end the investigations into Trump, saying "case closed," and calling it a "Groundhog Day spectacle."

Amash gets standing ovation at first town hall after calling for Trump’s impeachment - Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) received a standing ovation Tuesday evening at his first public event since becoming the first Republican to call for President Trump's impeachment. At a town hall in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Amash criticized House Republican leadership, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), whom he called the “so-called leader.”  “I read the Mueller report. I’m sure he didn’t read it,” Amash said of McCarthy.  “He resorted to ad hominem attacks; that’s the kind of ‘leadership’ we now have in Congress.” McCarthy has accused Amash of seeking attention with his remarks and told reporters Amash was “out of step with this conference” and “out of step with America.”  Amash reaffirmed his position that special counsel Robert Mueller’s report outlines impeachable conduct by Trump. “I’m confident that if you read volume two, you will be appalled at much of the conduct. And I was appalled by it. And that’s why I stated what I stated. That’s why I came to that conclusion,” he said. “We can’t let conduct like that go unchecked.” Amash, who has drawn a Trump-supporting primary challenger, said he was not concerned his remarks about Trump could cost him his seat. Two GOP Trump critics, former Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Bob Corker(Tenn.), retired in 2018, and another, former Rep. Mark Sanford (S.C.), was defeated in his 2018 primary. While Amash declined to rule out a Libertarian Party presidential bid, he denied he had that in mind when he made the original comments.

The Case to Impeach Trump for Bigotry - On May 16th, Representative Al Green, as he has many times since 2017, stood on the House floor to implore his colleagues to initiate impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump, this time with a copy of the Mueller report in hand and an American-flag tie on his collar. “Since [the report’s] release, we have had many persons, many of whom are members of this august body, say that they have concluded that the President has committed impeachable acts,” Green said. “Some have gone so far as to say he should be impeached. I’m one of them. We also have hundreds of lawyers, many of whom are prosecutors and former prosecutors, say that if anyone else committed the offenses outlined in this document, the Mueller report, that person would be arrested and prosecuted.” “Hence,” he continued, “one can logically conclude that since this document addresses acts by the President, and since the President is not being prosecuted—since the House of Representatives has not moved to impeach the President—one can conclude that the President is, indeed now for some twenty-nine days, above the law.” “I think the strongest case is his bigotry and policy,” Green told me in a recent conversation. “We shouldn’t allow a bigot to continue to hold the highest office in the land. We hear people daily on television who call him a racist, a bigot, who say he’s unfit—people in his own party have said he’s unfit to be the President. And the people of this country gave Democrats an overwhelming majority.” “I just don’t see how we can have this overwhelming majority understand that he is a bigot—that he has infused his bigotry into policy—and not at some point decide that there ought to be a vote to impeach him for the bigotry and policy,” Green continued. “And, by the way, you don’t need to conduct hearings on this, because the President does it in plain view! It’s out there!” 

 Senate GOP vows to quickly quash any impeachment charges - GOP senators say that if the House passes articles of impeachment against President Trump they will quickly quash them in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has broad authority to set the parameters of a trial. While McConnell is required to act on articles of impeachment, which require 67 votes — or a two-thirds majority — to convict the president, he and his Republican colleagues have the power to set the rules and ensure the briefest of trials. “I think it would be disposed of very quickly,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “If it’s based on the Mueller report, or anything like that, it would be quickly disposed of,” he added. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), an adviser to McConnell’s leadership team, said “nothing” would come of impeachment articles passed by the House. Given the Senate GOP firewall, Cornyn, who’s also a member of the Judiciary Committee, said he doubts that Democrats will commence the impeachment process. “It would be defeated. That’s why all they want to do is talk about it,” he said. “They know what the outcome would be.” Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the chamber, and Vice President Pence would cast the tie-breaking vote if necessary. Senate Republicans say that an impeachment trial would be given the bare minimum amount of floor time. “Why on earth would we give a platform to something that I judge as a purely political exercise?” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), another member of the Judiciary Committee. “We have to perform our constitutional duty, but if people think that we’re going to try and create a theater that could give you the perception that this is a matter that rises to the level of Watergate, that’s nonsense.”

 Kellyanne Conway dismisses Hatch Act violation: 'Let me know when the jail sentence starts' - White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Wednesday scoffed at a government office's findings that she violated a decades-old law barring officials from weighing in on elections in their government capacity as she railed against Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's record.Conway tore into the former vice president and senator over his vote on the 1994 crime bill, his role in overseeing the 1991 Anita Hill hearing and his record on immigration as she fielded questions from reporters outside the White House. But she insisted she was not commenting on the 2020 election and that she has a right to size up the record of her boss's potential opponent."I’m going to talk about people’s records because I have the right to," Conway said."I’m not concerned about Joe Biden," she added. "I’m concerned about the failures of the last administration to deal with the issues of the day, including North Korea."When reporters noted the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) found she violated the Hatch Act with two interviews she gave in late 2017, Conway was dismissive."Blah, blah, blah," she said as one reporter recounted the OSC's findings."If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work," Conway said. "Let me know when the jail sentence starts," she added.

The Mass Media Is Poisoning Us With Hate - Chris Hedges -  In “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media,” published in 1988, Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky exposed the techniques that the commercial media used to promote and defend the economic, social and political agendas of the ruling elites. These techniques included portraying victims as either worthy or unworthy of sympathy.  It was published on the eve of three revolutions that have dramatically transformed the news industry: the rise of right-wing radio and Fox-style TV news that abandon the media’s faux objectivity, the introduction of 24-hour cable news stations, and the creation of internet platforms—owned by a handful of corporations—that control the distribution of news and information and mine our personal data on behalf of advertisers, political campaigns and the government. The sins of the old media, bad though they were, are nothing compared with the sins of the new media. Mass media has degenerated into not only a purveyor of gossip, conspiracy theories and salacious entertainment but, most ominously, a purveyor of hate. Matt Taibbi, the author of “Hate Inc.: How, and Why, the Media Makes Us Hate One Another,” has dissected modern media platforms in much the same way that Herman and Chomsky did the old media. The new media, Taibbi points out, still manufactures consent, but it does so by setting group against group, a consumer version of what George Orwell in his novel “1984” called the “Two Minutes Hate.” Our opinions and prejudices are skillfully catered to and reinforced, with the aid of a detailed digital analysis of our proclivities and habits, and then sold back to us. The result, Taibbi writes, is “packaged anger just for you.” The public is unable to speak across the manufactured divide. It is mesmerized by the fake dissent of the culture wars and competing conspiracy theories. Politics, under the assault, has atrophied into a tawdry reality show centered on political personalities. Civic discourse is defined by invective and insulting remarks on the internet. Power, meanwhile, is left unexamined and unchallenged. The result is political impotence among the populace. The moral swamp is not only a fertile place for demagogues such as Donald Trump—a creation of this media burlesque—but channels misplaced rage, intolerance and animosity toward those defined as internal enemies.

Manafort banker charged with bribery in seeking Trump post - Chicago banker Stephen Calk was charged by federal prosecutors with bribery for seeking a post in the Trump administration in return for $16 million in loans to a senior official in the Trump 2016 presidential campaign. That official matches the description of former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who received millions of dollars in loans from Federal Savings Bank of Chicago. Manafort isn’t named in court papers unsealed on Thursday. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team has said that Calk, age 54, conspired with Manafort to defraud his own bank when he pushed approval of Manafort’s loans in the hopes of winning a senior post in the Trump administration, prosecutors said. The charge against Calk grew out of Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. As part of that probe, Mueller’s office accused Manafort of lying to three lenders, including Calk’s bank, to obtain $20 million in loans. In Manafort’s trial last August, a witness testified that Calk expedited approval of two loans to Manafort despite red flags raised by his staff about Manafort’s ability to repay. Calk wanted Manafort to help him land a job in Trump’s administration as Treasury secretary or housing secretary, according to testimony at the Manafort trial by Dennis Raico, a former senior vice president at Federal Savings Bank. Jurors were also told that Calk was also interested in becoming secretary of the Army. Manafort’s request “didn’t go through the normal process because Mr. Calk was expediting the loan and pushing it through, notwithstanding the red flags,” prosecutor Greg Andres said during Manafort’s trial. “So there was agreement between Mr. Manafort and Mr. Calk to have the loans approved, they were approved, and in turn, Mr. Manafort proposed Mr. Calk for certain positions within the administration.” Calk didn’t receive a position in the administration.

 Manafort's banker released after pleading not guilty to bribery charge— Chicago banker Stephen Calk pleaded not guilty to bribery Thursday after prosecutors alleged that he approved loans to Paul Manafort in exchange for a potential high-ranking job at the Pentagon. During his initial court appearance, Calk was ordered not to contact any employees of The Federal Savings Bank, where he previously served as chairman and CEO, with the exception of his brother John Calk, who is the bank's new chief executive. Stephen Calk's face was flush red when he arrived at the hearing at a federal court in New York 10 minutes after U.S. Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman. The 54-year-old banker was released on a $5 million bond after surrendering his passport and being ordered to restrict travel to the continental United States. In an indictment that was unsealed earlier Thursday, Calk was charged with one count of financial institution bribery. The charge, which carries a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, stems from Calk’s dealings with Manafort, the former Trump campaign chair who was later convicted of bank and tax fraud. At Manafort’s trial last summer, prosecutors laid out evidence that Federal Savings approved $16 million in mortgage loans to Manafort because of Calk’s own political ambitions.While Manafort’s application for $6.5 million in loans was pending at Federal Savings, he recommended Calk for a potential job in the incoming Trump administration. Calk did not ultimately get any such job.

Two Key Execs at New York Fed Head for the Exits – Two Business Days After Sharp Cut in GDP Estimate - by Pam Martens - Simon Potter, who runs the Federal Reserve’s open market operations at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, is stepping down at the end of this week, as is Richard Dzina, head of the New York Fed’s Financial Services Group. Wall Street is buzzing over the fact that the two are long-tenured executives at the New York Fed;  are exiting simultaneously, and with only a four-day notice to the public and the markets – suggesting that their departure may not have been voluntary. The praise lavished on the pair in the press release issued today by John Williams, President of the New York Fed, also suggests that an effort is being made to soften the blow of their surprise departure. Potter is responsible for carrying out the monetary policy mandate of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) by supervising the execution of transactions for the System Open Market Account (SOMA). This is done via the New York Fed’s Open Market Trading Desk which has speed dials to the mega banks on Wall Street. Potter is the Manager of SOMA as well as Executive Vice President of the New York Fed’s Markets Group. The minutes of the FOMC’s April 30 to May 1, 2019 meeting carries this assessment by Potter: “The manager of the SOMA reviewed developments in financial markets over the intermeeting period. In the United States, prices for equities and other risk assets reportedly were buoyed by perceptions of an accommodative stance of monetary policy, incoming economic data pointing to continued solid economic expansion, and some signs of receding downside risks to the global outlook.”  But just this past Friday, May 24, that rosy perception had cold water thrown all over it by the New York Fed’s Nowcast team which uses economic data as it is released to attempt to forecast quarterly Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in real time. The Nowcast moved from a forecast of 2.2 percent GDP growth for the second quarter on May 10 toa stunning drop to 1.41 percent on May 24 based on a spate of weak economic data in the intervening period.  It will be interesting to learn what actually happened behind the scenes to provoke today’s unusual announcement.

 Bank bailouts propped up the financial system. But we should never repeat them. Sheila Bair, Washington Post - A decade after the massive government bailouts for Wall Street, some of the financial intelligentsia in New York and Washington no longer seem to view them as a bad thing. Rather than distasteful taxpayer handouts to reckless financial institutions, a new narrative holds that the extreme moves of 2008 and 2009 were heroic measures that the government should be ready to redeploy if the financial sector implodes again. Bankers and Wall Street titans, for whom this argument carries obvious benefits, aren’t the only ones making it. Even some leading economists are expressing sympathy for this view. But the main proponents of this idea are former treasury secretaries Hank Paulson and Timothy Geithner, and former Federal Reserve Board chair Ben Bernanke, key architects of the government’s response to the financial meltdown. They recently co-authored a book to advance the point.  But let’s be candid: While these massive bailouts were intended to help the real economy, they worked primarily to the benefit of Wall Street. They may have kept the financial system sputtering along, but the rationale — that bailing out the financial sector would help everyone else — didn’t materialize. Rather than making big bailouts the norm, we should work to make sure that they never happen again. They were a terrible idea — a feat we should not repeat.  As chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation during those tumultuous years, I worked closely with these three gentlemen on stabilization measures. Those included temporary debt guarantees provided by the FDIC to many large financial institutions like Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup so they could continue to access the money they needed to operate as credit markets seized up.   During the financial panic, I went along with the extraordinary interventions because I understood them to be one-offs, unprecedented measures to address an unprecedented crisis. I thought that once we got through those dark days, we would commit to fundamental reforms of the financial system to make sure it wouldn’t run us into a ditch again. But now Geithner, Paulson and Bernanke — the architects of the bailouts — want to standardize these extraordinary measures and even repeal the modest limits Congress wisely placed on them in 2010.   Once the immediate danger was past, Congress constructed procedures for handling the orderly failure of large, sick institutions — procedures that impose accountability on management, boards and investors, while preserving latitude for regulators to limit disruptions to the real economy.

Yes, America, a Banking Cartel Exists and Here’s the Proof - Pam Martens - Wall Street is the only industry in America that is allowed, in broad daylight, to operate its own private justice system while making its employees and customers sign binding contracts to take their complaints to that venue to seek justice. That’s like sticking your arm into the mouth of an alligator that just grabbed your purse and expecting to come out whole. Endless reports by journalists on how rigged this private justice system is have done nothing to reopen the nation’s courthouse doors to claims against Wall Street. In 2016, Bloomberg reporters Greg Farrell and Keri Geiger broke the exclusive report that Wall Street’s top in-house lawyers for the mega banks had been meeting in secret for two decades with their counterparts from foreign global banks. The 2016 meeting took place at a ritzy hotel in Versailles. At the secret 2016 meeting, the following lawyers attended: Goldman Sachs General Counsel, Gregory Palm; Stephen Cutler of JPMorgan Chase (a former Director of Enforcement at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)); Gary Lynch of Bank of America (also a former Director of Enforcement at the SEC); Morgan Stanley’s Eric Grossman; Citigroup’s Rohan Weerasinghe; Markus Diethelm of UBS Group AG; Richard Walker of Deutsche Bank (again, a former Director of Enforcement at the SEC); Robert Hoyt of Barclays; Romeo Cerutti of Credit Suisse Group AG; David Fein of Standard Chartered; Stuart Levey of HSBC Holdings; and Georges Dirani of BNP Paribas SA.  Apparently, an industry that can get away with creating and operating its own private justice system with no pushback from the U.S. Department of Justice doesn’t need to worry about pesky details like secret meetings among competitors. Another area that has escaped anti-trust reforms on Wall Street for decades is what appears to be a set agreement on the underwriting fees that will be charged by the mega banks on Initial Public Offerings (IPOs). In 1998, IPO researcher Jay Ritter found that Wall Street underwriters had charged a 7 percent underwriting fee on 90 percent of IPOs that raised $20 million to $80 million. In 2012, Reuters reported that the “typical IPO that raises less than $500 million incurs a 7 percent fee — what’s known as ‘the 7 percent solution.’ But as IPOs grow in size, the fee percentage shrinks….” Then there is the derivatives cartel. According to the most recent report from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), just five Wall Street bank holding companies control 86 percent of the $232.7 trillion in notional derivatives at the more than 5,000 banks in the U.S. Those bank holding companies are: JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs Group, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America – five of the same banks whose General Counsels are meeting in secret each year at a posh getaway. Another potential cartel is the Dark Pools owned by these same mega banks. The U.S. Department of Justice and SEC are looking the other way while these admitted co-conspirators in foreign-exchange trading are trading the stock of their own bank and their bank competitors in a secret venue. (See Wall Street Banks Are Trading in Their Own Company’s Stock: How Is This Legal?)

First failed bank since 2017 will leave FDIC with hefty price tag - Regulators closed The Enloe State Bank in Texas late Friday, marking the first bank failure in 17 months and the first in the Lone Star State in over five years. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said it sold the failed bank's insured deposits to Legend Bank in Bowie, Texas. The Enloe State Bank had $36.7 million in assets and $31.3 million in deposits. The FDIC said about $500,000 of the deposits exceeded FDIC insurance limits. “This estimate is likely to change once the FDIC obtains additional information from these customers,” the agency said in a press release, referring to the uninsured deposits. Legend Bank, which had $705.6 million in assets on March 31, assumed the insured deposits at a 0.51% premium. The acquiring bank will also purchase about $5.2 million of The Enloe State Bank’s assets. The FDIC will hold the remaining assets for later disposition. The failure — the nation's first since December 2017 — is estimated to leave the FDIC with a hefty price tag relative to the size of the bank. The agency projected the failure will cost the Deposit Insurance Fund roughly $27 million, amounting to over 73% of the failed bank's asset size. The Texas Department of Banking closed the bank and appointed the FDIC as the receiver. This was the first failure since the FDIC closed Washington Federal Bank for Savings in Chicago. The last failure in the Lone Star State was Texas Community Bank in The Woodlands in December 2013. The Enloe State Bank has one branch in Cooper, Texas, that will reopen as Legend Bank on Monday.

 Making Wall Street Pay  - Dean Baker -  Last week Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Barbara Lee are introducing bills in the Senate and House for a financial transaction tax (FTT). Their proposed tax is similar to, albeit somewhat higher than, the FTT proposed by Senator Brian Schatz earlier this year. The Sanders-Lee proposal would impose a 0.5 percent tax on stock transactions, with lower rates on transfers of other financial assets. Senator Schatz’s bill would impose a 0.1 percent tax on trades of all financial assets. At this point, it is not worth highlighting the differences between the bills. Both would raise far more than half a trillion dollars over the next decade, almost entirely at the expense of the financial industry and hedge fund-types. In the case of the Schatz tax, the Congressional Budget Office estimated revenue of almost $80 billion a year, a bit less than 2.0 percent of the budget. The Sanders-Lee tax would likely raise in the neighborhood of $120–$150 billion a year, in the neighborhood of 3.0 percent of the federal budget.While the financial industry will make great efforts to convince people that this money is coming out of the middle-class’ 401(k)s and workers’ pensions, that’s not likely to be true. This can be seen with some simple arithmetic.Take a person with $100,000 with a 401(k). Suppose 20 percent of it turns over each year, meaning that the manager of the account sells $20,000 worth of stock and replaces it with $20,000 worth of different stocks. In this case, if we assume the entire 0.5 percent specified in the Sanders-Lee bill is passed on to investors, then this person will pay $100 a year in tax on their 401(k).While no one wants to pay more in taxes, this hardly seems like a horrible burden. After all, the financial industry typically charges fees on 401(k)s in excess of 1.0 percent annually ($1,000 a year, in this case), and often as much as 1.5 percent or even 2.0 percent. The actual financial transaction tax burden to this 401(k) holder will be considerably less than this $100 for two reasons. First, not all of the tax will be passed on to investors. The industry will have to bear part of the burden in lower fees. If they can pass on 90 percent, the burden on this 401(k) holder falls to $90 on their $100,000 in assets. If the industry can only pass on 80 percent, then the burden falls to $80, or 0.08 percent of the value of the holder’s 401(k).

Americans Should Be Gravely Concerned with this Wall Street Court Case -  Pam Martens - Financial media is buzzing this week that a Federal District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York, Jesse Furman, has ruled that the City of Providence, Rhode Island, the Plumbers and Pipefitters National Pension Fund, along with other plaintiffs, can move forward with their class action lawsuit against seven stock exchanges, including the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, for allegations that they effectively rigged the market against the small investor.That sounds like a great David versus Goliath court case is moving right along toward a triumph for justice – until one looks at the gritty details of the case. The lawsuit was launched five years ago following the publication of the book, Flash Boys, by bestselling author and Wall Street veteran, Michael Lewis. The book mapped out, with eyewitness accounts and extensive detail, how the stock market had been rigged through multiple arrangements between the nation’s stock exchanges and high frequency trading (HFT) firms. The subsequent lawsuit explained in specific detail how the stock exchanges were allowing the HFT firms to move their computers close to the stock exchanges’ own computers (co-location) to get more rapid execution of their trades than the general public; to obtain a faster price data feed than the one that is available to the public; and to use special order types to enhance the trading manipulation. To further create an unlevel playing field that benefited the high frequency trading firms, the stock exchanges charged enormous sums of money for the co-location and faster data feeds which prevented the public from gaining access. This effectively meant that the high frequency traders could front-run (trade ahead of) the public’s stock orders with advance knowledge of where the prices were headed. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had been effectively aiding and abetting the manipulation by rubber-stamping the rule changes as they were submitted by the various exchanges. As we previously reported, in December 2013, the SEC filed this rule change in the Federal Register, which announced that the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) was changing its pricing for some of its co-location services and computer cabinets for outside users. The NYSE said it would charge “a one-time Cabinet Upgrade fee of $9,200 when a User requests additional power allocation for its dedicated cabinet such that the Exchange must upgrade the dedicated cabinet’s capacity. A Cabinet Upgrade would be required when power allocation demands exceed 11 kWs. However, in order to incentivize Users to upgrade their dedicated cabinets, the Exchange proposes that the Cabinet Upgrade fee would be $4,600 for a User that submits a written order for a Cabinet Upgrade by January 31, 2014…”

The stock market would be much lower if it weren't for companies buying back their own shares –Buybacks have gotten a bad rap from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers this year. But the stock market would be trading at a much lower level without them. Data compiled by Ned Davis Research shows the S&P 500 would be 19% lower without buybacks. The firm looked at the S&P 500′s performance between the first quarter of 2011 and the first three months of 2019. Then they subtracted the amount of net monthly repurchases to arrive to that conclusion. The broad market is up more than 125% in that time while net buybacks have totaled about $3.5 trillion. “Without focusing too much on numbers, we can say that the S&P 500 index would probably be lower today if not for buybacks versus other uses of cash,” . Lawmakers on both sides are bashing buybacks and want to make it harder for companies to repurchase their own stock. They argue that buybacks inflate corporate executives’ pay and share price at the expense of a company’s workers. In a Feb. 20 Medium post, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, said companies should reinvest their capital differently. Earlier in February, Schumer and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT — a presidential hopeful — proposed in a New York Times op-ed that companies should provide living wages and health benefits to workers if a buyback program is launched. “At a time of huge income and wealth inequality, Americans should be outraged that these profitable corporations are laying off workers while spending billions of dollars to boost their stock’s value to further enrich the wealthy few, ” the senators wrote in the op-ed. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL, said in a series of tweets the U.S. does not have a “free market,” noting: “We have tax code which engineers economy in favor of inflating prices of shares at the expense of future productivity & job creation. ” But while politicians clamor for buybacks to be curtailed, the market would be trading below current levels if excess cash had been put to work in other ways. Ned Davis Research found the S&P 500 would be 10% lower if excess cash had gone towards dividends rather than buybacks. The broad index would be 2% lower if buybacks were substituted for corporate reinvestment and 5% lower if companies just sat on the excess cash.

A US Congressman is so scared of Bitcoin and Crypto he wants it banned - Bitcoin, which has roared back over the last few weeks after what many feared was a terminal decline since its peak in late 2017, has long been called a threat to the existing financial system and the central banks that run it—though these claims have in the past been largely fringe ideas.The bitcoin price, now hovering around $8,000 per bitcoin, double what it began the year at, is often closely tied to public awareness of cryptocurrencies and the latest bitcoin bull run beginning in early April re-started the public debate on bitcoin.Now, U.S. Democrat Congressman Brad Sherman has urged his colleagues to consider banning bitcoin and cryptocurrencies due to the threat they pose to U.S. international financial power, saying bitcoin needs to be "[nipped] in the bud."  U.S. Congressman Brad Sherman last week introduced a bill to ban bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. "An awful lot of our international power comes from the fact that the U.S. dollar is the standard unit of international finance and transactions," Sherman said at a meeting of the House Financial Services Committee last week."Clearing through the New York Fed is critical for major oil and other transactions. It is the announced purpose of the supporters of cryptocurrency to take that power away from us, to put us in a position where the most significant sanctions we have against Iran, for example, would become irrelevant."  Bitcoin, which allows its users to move value around the world beyond the sight and reach of governments and law enforcement, is often criticized for its ability to help terrorists, criminals, tax evaders."So whether it is to disempower our foreign policy, our tax collection enforcement or traditional law enforcement, the advantage of crypto over sovereign currency is solely to aid in the disempowerment of the United States and the rule of law," Sherman added.  Sherman, who has previously called bitcoin and cryptocurrencies "a crock", added the U.S. should prevent people from buying or mining cryptocurrencies. Following Sherman's attack on bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, Anthony Pompliano, bitcoin advocate and founder of Morgan Creek Digital Assets, hit back, saying any such laws would be "nearly impossible to enforce"—though Sherman is right to be worried and trying to ban "bitcoin will drive more adoption."

Reading between the lines of CFPB’s regulatory to-do list -The biggest news about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's rulemaking to-do list may not be the items topping the agenda — but what was left off of it. The agency's recent spring rulemaking agenda includes significant items, including a new process for collecting small-business lending data as well as plans to update underwriting rules for loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. While the rulemaking agenda suggests some significant moves by the agency in the near future, it leaves out mention of other areas of interest, such as compensation standards for loan originators, a more complete revamp of the CFPB's "Qualified Mortgage" standard and additional industry requests to water down the Dodd-Frank Act. Limiting the to-do list to areas such as addressing small-business data collection and the so-called Fannie and Freddie "patch" means the bureau may put off until fall a more comprehensive list of its future plans and priorities.  “The Bureau expects to communicate further information about future planning and priorities in the coming months,” the CFPB said in a blog post announcing the spring agenda on May 22. “In the meantime, this Spring 2019 Agenda reflects ongoing rulemaking activities, including initiatives to implement statutory requirements and to address the potential sunset of statutory and regulatory provisions.” Here are key takeaways from the rulemaking to-do list.

  • CFPB's agenda has become more targeted under Kraninger. When the Trump administration initially assumed control of the agency — appointing then-acting Director Mick Mulvaney in late 2017 to succeed former chief Richard Cordray — it signaled its intention to rapidly overhaul regulatory policy at the agency. Director Kathy Kraninger has resumed much of Mulvaney's approach. Yet on the rulemaking side, it is unclear whether the RFI process will lead to wholesale changes.
  • A rule on small-business loan data collection is a priority.  The CFPB topped its list of priorities with a small-business data collection rule, perhaps responding to a March lawsuit by the California Reinvestment Coalition and Democracy Forward that say the agency has been too slow to require such data. The data collection is similar to mortgage data collected under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, known as HMDA, that is used to identify discrimination in home loans.
  • CFPB only going part of the way on changes to QM.  Last year, Mulvaney raised the mortgage industry's hopes of a rollback of the agency's underwriting requirements, which provide a safe harbor to an ultrasafe class of loans known as qualified mortgages. But the latest rulemaking agenda appears to focus on Fannie and Freddie's "QM patch." Under a temporary policy that expires in January 2021, any loan backed by the government-sponsored enterprises has QM status.
  • Policy changes for HMDA, remittances and PACE loans also on the agency's radar. The CFPB also is working on a number of others rulemakings related to the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, remittance transfers and Property Assessed Clean Energy Loans.

 CFPB’s Kraninger digs in over halt to military lending exams - Kathy Kraninger, the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is in a standoff with Senate Democrats over the bureau’s refusal to examine financial firms for compliance with the Military Lending Act. Kraninger is said to be unwilling to reverse a policy decision made in 2018 by Mick Mulvaney, her former boss who ran the CFPB on an acting basis, according to sources who have met with the CFPB on the issue. Both leaders have stuck to the claim that the agency lacks authority to conduct MLA exams. The issue is further complicated by President Trump, who wants to be seen as standing up for the military even as Kraninger comes under pressure from military groups to protect service members from financial fraud and predatory lending. At the same time, Democrats led by Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., do not support reopening the Military Lending Act to make the CFPB's supervision authority more explicit, because doing so could lead financial firms to try to weaken the law's 36% annual percentage rate cap for military personnel. "A plain reading of the current law provides all the necessary authority for the CFPB to conduct, as it has since at least 2013, MLA examinations of payday lenders and other institutions," said Paul Kantwill, distinguished professor in residence at Loyola University Chicago School of Law and a former CFPB assistant director of the Office of Servicemember Affairs, who helped amend the MLA in 2015. Auto lenders and dealerships have already been lobbying the Defense Department and the CFPB to ease the 36% cap. For example, auto loans currently enjoy an exemption from the cap if they do not cover guaranteed asset protection, but the industry wants that exemption expanded to include auto loans with GAP insurance as well.

Agencies closer to joint policies on CRA, small-dollar loans: FDIC head — Federal bank regulators could begin drafting changes both to the Community Reinvestment Act and small-dollar lending policies in a matter of days, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Jelena McWilliams said on Wednesday. The prospect of regulators beginning to write a new CRA rule imminently is consistent with the projection by Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting that an initial proposal will be released sometime this summer. McWilliams, who fielded questions following the release of the FDIC's bank earnings report, said agency leaders hope to have a preliminary CRA document ready soon for their internal review. “We continue with our weekly meetings, at the principal level of the agencies, and we’re hoping to have a draft document for internal discussion pretty soon ... within a week or so. And then we will have internal discussions and then we can start drafting altogether from there on the CRA,” McWilliams said. McWilliams said the federal banking agencies are also discussing whether to update their policy on small-dollar lending, through either a joint rulemaking or joint guidance. The regulators have previously taken piecemeal approaches to setting ground rules for banks to compete with small-dollar lenders. “I’m actually planning to share a draft document with the other agencies in the next few days,” she said. Getting the agences to agree on a CRA reform plan will likely be a bigger haul. The 1977 law, which grades banks on lending to communities they serve, has not been significantly updated since the 1990s. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency initially went on its own last year soliciting comments on how to update that law but McWilliams said the prudential bank regulators are now jointly working on a draft. A CRA reform framework to be evaluated by agency principals would start as “a basic document and then we’re still hoping to get a notice of proposed rulemaking within a couple months after that,” McWilliams said.

 Negative Interest Rates Spread To Mortgage Bonds -  There are trillions of dollars of bonds in the world with negative yields – a fact with which future historians will find baffling. Until now those negative yields have been limited to the safest types of bonds issued by governments and major corporations. But this week a new category of negative-yielding paper joined the party: mortgage-backed bonds. Bankers Stunned as Negative Rates Sweep Across Danish Mortgages -  As mortgage-bond refinancing auctions came to a close in Denmark, it was clear that homeowners in the country were about to get negative interest rates on their loans for all maturities through to five years, representing multiple all-time lows for borrowing costs.  The record-low mortgage rates, which don’t take into account the fees that homeowners pay their banks, are the latest reflection of the global shift in the monetary environment as central banks delay plans to remove stimulus amid concerns about economic growth.  Denmark has had negative rates longer than any other country. The central bank in Copenhagen first pushed its main rate below zero in the middle of 2012, in an effort to defend the krone’s peg to the euro. The ultra-low rate environment has dragged down the entire Danish yield curve, with households in the country paying as little as 1% to borrow for 30 years. That’s considerably less than the U.S. government. The spread of negative yields to mortgage-backed bonds is both inevitable and ominous. Inevitable because the current amount of negative-yielding debt has not ignited the kind of rip-roaring boom that overindebted countries think they need, which, since interest rates are just about their only remaining stimulus tool, requires them to find other kinds of debt to push into negative territory. Ominous because, as the world discovered in the 2000s, mortgages are a cyclical instrument, doing well in good times and defaulting spectacularly in bad. Giving bonds based on this kind of paper a negative yield appears to guarantee massive losses in the next housing bust. Meanwhile, this is year ten of an expansion - which means the next recession is coming fairly soon. During recessions, the US Fed, for instance, tends to cut short-term rates by about 5 percentage points to counter the slowdown in growth.

Expect more banks to exit national mortgage lending -- It’s no secret the mortgage business has been tough lately, but bankers who have downsized in home lending say it’s no fad — they (and others) predict the slim profits are here to stay and that more banks will follow their lead in scaling back. Seattle’s HomeStreet Bank, with about $7.1 billion in assets, got its start about a century ago as a private mortgage bank. But it saw its profit margins on home loans cut in half since the 2008 financial crisis. The bank’s national mortgage business managed to break even in 2017 before HomeStreet decided to sell it earlier this year. Banks have been forced to hold higher capital reserves against mortgage assets after the housing market’s meltdown. Stricter regulations and a stubbornly low inventory of homes for sale — especially ones affordable to first-time buyers — have forced several banks to turn what once was a reliable profit generator into an afterthought service within their branch network. “We will continue to offer mortgages, but the scale of this business line will be substantially smaller, focused on our retail deposit network and regional markets, and positioned for ongoing profitability,” said HomeStreet CEO Mark Mason. Boston’s Berkshire Hills Bancorp, with more than $12 billion in assets, decided in April to sell off its national mortgage business and keep to writing new home loans within its established areas. The bank has not found a buyer yet, though there are some suitors lined up with an eye toward reaching a deal by year-end, Berkshire executives said. “What you will see is other banks have a similar conversation about the strategy of a national footprint,” said Gary Levante, senior vice president of corporate responsibility and culture at Berkshire's bank unit. Some executives within the industry privately cheered JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon when he complained in the bank’s annual shareholder letter of costly regulations and stifled reform for the mortgage market. He wrote that “odds are increasing” for the bank to change its mortgage strategy. Dimon went further on JPMorgan's earnings call in April, questioning the bank's role in that market. "We don't mind the volatility. We don't mind staying in the business," Dimon said. "But you've got to look at that and ask a lot of questions about whether banks should even be in it." Marina Walsh, the vice president of industry analysis at the Mortgage Banker Association's research arm, said that she does not believe there will be a large-scale retreat from financing home loans, but that more firms will consider making moves similar to ones from HomeStreet and Berkshire as they grapple with a bundle of challenges in housing finance.

One important piece of GSEs' transformation ready for launch — The Federal Housing Finance Agency is about to take the biggest step to date toward reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by combining the two mortgage giants' securities platforms. But questions remain about how the uniform system will work in the practice. The two companies on Monday will issue a single security through a shared vehicle, the second and final phase of a process planned since 2012. Freddie initially issued the security in 2016, but the common securitization platform will now include both of the government-sponsored enterprises. Backers say a uniform securitization structure will increase liquidity and encourage market participation, and that the new platform is a key component in preparing for future broader GSE reforms and for Fannie and Freddie's eventual release from federal conservatorships. Yet skeptics note that Fannie's securities have historically had greater appeal for investors, with more liquidity and more favorable payment schedules. They say it is a gamble to force the market to treat them the same. “It’s hard to see how a blended pool would result in anything other than Fannie essentially subsidizing Freddie,”  While the Uniform Mortgage-Backed Security likely represents a bigger change for Freddie than Fannie, FHFA argues that blending their platforms will increase competition and ease transition to a future system, in which the two companies either will no longer exist or will compete against other market participants. “This is a way for the taxpayer to realize some value from the massive investment the taxpayer had already made in Fannie and Freddie, and would need to make if we were going to build this platform, so this was really about creating a go-forward infrastructure the market could build on,” said Ed DeMarco, the president of the Housing Policy Council, at an Urban Institute event on May 28. DeMarco introduced the idea of the common securitization platform in 2012, while serving as acting FHFA director. The single security will lower barriers to entry for new competitors to Fannie and Freddie, the agency has said. The FHFA required from the outset that the tool be developed in a way that would allow future market participants to utilize the platform. “It’s a function that really makes sense for Fannie and Freddie to pool their resources in terms of that securitization infrastructure, rather than each of them investing separately,” said Mike Fratantoni, the chief economist at the Mortgage Bankers Association. “It made sense to make that investment once and build a utility that both Fannie and Freddie and potential future entrants could use rather than repeat that investment across multiple different enterprises.”

Four indicted in GSE multifamily mortgage fraud scheme - Four real estate professionals could face up to 30 years in prison and hefty fines after being indicted on charges related to allegedly defrauding Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and multifamily lenders. The 114-count superseding indictment alleges that three people associated with real estate investor Morgan Management — CEO Robert Morgan, Project Manager Todd Morgan and Director of Finance Michael Tremiti — along with loan brokerage Aurora Capital Advisors' owner Frank Giacobbe all engaged in a conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, among other things. The defendants allegedly overstated the incomes of properties owned by Morgan Management to manipulate debt service coverage ratios used in underwriting as they worked with lenders such as Berkadia Commercial Mortgage and Arbor Commercial Mortgage, as well as the government-sponsored enterprises. The indictment was based on investigations by the Federal Housing Finance Agency's Office of Inspector General and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. "The financing of multifamily loans in a significant segment of Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's portfolio. As these charges demonstrate, FHFA-OIG will work with our partners in law enforcement to investigate and hold accountable those who seek to victimize the entities regulated by the FHFA," Richard Parker, acting deputy inspector general for investigations for the FHFA-OIG, said in a Department of Justice press release. The estimated losses sustained by lenders and the government-sponsored enterprises due to the fraud is more than $25 million, according to the release. The defendants' fine could be double the loss caused by the crimes. A half-billion dollars of loans and at least 70 properties in five states were allegedly involved in the scam. All the defendants have been released from custody with conditions. Subscribe 

 Freddie Mac: Mortgage Serious Delinquency Rate Decreased in April - Freddie Mac reported that the Single-Family serious delinquency rate in April was 0.65%, down from 0.67% in March. Freddie's rate is down from 0.94% in April 2018. Freddie's serious delinquency rate peaked in February 2010 at 4.20%. This is the lowest serious delinquency rate for Freddie Mac since December 2007. These are mortgage loans that are "three monthly payments or more past due or in foreclosure".  I expect the delinquency rate to decline to a cycle bottom in the 0.4% to 0.6% range - so this is close to a bottom.

MBA: Mortgage Applications Decreased in Latest Weekly Survey - From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey Mortgage applications decreased 3.3 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending May 24, 2019. ... The Refinance Index decreased 6 percent from the previous week. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 1 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 3 percent compared with the previous week and was 7 percent higher than the same week one year ago....“Concerns over European economic growth and ongoing uncertainty about a trade war with China were some of the main factors that kept mortgage rates low last week. Even with lower rates on three of the five surveyed loan types, refinance activity fell 6 percent, essentially reversing an 8 percent increase the week before,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Purchase applications decreased for the third straight week, but remained more than 7 percent higher than a year ago. It is possible that the trade dispute is causing potential homeowners to hold off on buying, with the fear that further escalation – or the lack of resolution – may have adverse impacts on the economy and housing market.”...The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($484,350 or less) remained unchanged from 4.33 percent, with points decreasing to 0.42 from 0.43 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The first graph shows the refinance index since 1990.

Case-Shiller: National House Price Index increased 3.7% year-over-year in March --S&P/Case-Shiller released the monthly Home Price Indices for March ("March" is a 3 month average of January, February and March prices).This release includes prices for 20 individual cities, two composite indices (for 10 cities and 20 cities) and the monthly National index. From S&P: S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Index Shows Annual Home Price Gains Continue to Weaken: The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index, covering all nine U.S. census divisions, reported a 3.7% annual gain in March, down from 3.9% in the previous month. The 10-City Composite annual increase came in at 2.3%, down from 2.5% in the previous month. The 20-City Composite posted a 2.7% year-over-year gain, down from 3.0% in the previous month. Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tampa reported the highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities. In March, Las Vegas led the way with an 8.2% year-over-year price increase, followed by Phoenix with a 6.1% increase, and Tampa with a 5.3% increase. Four of the 20 cities reported greater price increases in the year ending March 2019 versus the year ending February 2019.... Before seasonal adjustment, the National Index posted a month-over-month increase of 0.6% in March. The 10-City and 20-City Composites both reported 0.7% increases for the month. After seasonal adjustment, the National Index recorded a 0.3% month-over-month increase in March. The 10-City and 20-City Composites both posted 0.1% month-over-month increases. In March, 19 of 20 cities reported increases before seasonal adjustment, while 14 of 20 cities reported increases after seasonal adjustment.  “The patterns seen in the last year or more continue: year-over-year price gains in most cities are consistently shrinking. Double-digit annual gains have vanished. The largest annual gain was 8.2% in Las Vegas; one year ago, Seattle had a 13% gain. In this report, Seattle prices are up only 1.6%. The 20-City Composite dropped from 6.7% to 2.7% annual gains over the last year as well. The shift to smaller price increases is broad-based and not limited to one or two cities where large price increases collapsed. The first graph shows the nominal seasonally adjusted Composite 10, Composite 20 and National indices (the Composite 20 was started in January 2000).

FHFA House Price Index: Up 0.1% in February, Real Index Down 0.33% -  The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has released its U.S. House Price Index (HPI) for February. Here is the opening of the report:– U.S. house prices rose 1.1 percent in the first quarter of 2019 according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) House Price Index (HPI). House prices rose 5.1 percent from the first quarter of 2018 to the first quarter of 2019. FHFA’s seasonally adjusted monthly index for March was up 0.1 percent from February.The HPI is calculated using home sales price information from mortgages sold to, or guaranteed by, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.“House prices have risen consistently over the last 31 quarters,” said Dr. William Doerner, Supervisory Economist. “Although price growth is still positive, the upward pace is softening across the country, especially among states with the largest supplies of housing.” [Read more] The chart below illustrates the monthly HPI series, which is not adjusted for inflation, along with a real (inflation-adjusted) series using the Consumer Price Index: All Items Less Shelter.In the chart above we see that the nominal HPI index has exceeded its pre-recession peak of what's generally regarded to have been a housing bubble. Adjusted for inflation, the index is now at 155.0.The next chart shows the growth of the nominal and real index since the turn of the century.

Real House Prices and Price-to-Rent Ratio in March - Here is the earlier post on Case-Shiller: Case-Shiller: National House Price Index increased 3.7% year-over-year in March  It has been over eleven years since the bubble peak. In the Case-Shiller release this morning, the seasonally adjusted National Index (SA), was reported as being 12.6% above the previous bubble peak.However, in real terms, the National index (SA) is still about 7.9% below the bubble peak (and historically there has been an upward slope to real house prices).  The composite 20, in real terms, is still 14.7% below the bubble peak.  The year-over-year increase in prices has slowed to 3.7% nationally, and I expect price growth will slow a little more. Usually people graph nominal house prices, but it is also important to look at prices in real terms (inflation adjusted).   That is why the second graph below is important - this shows "real" prices (adjusted for inflation). The first graph shows the monthly Case-Shiller National Index SA, and the monthly Case-Shiller Composite 20 SA (through March) in nominal terms as reported. In nominal terms, the Case-Shiller National index (SA)and the Case-Shiller Composite 20 Index (SA) are both at new all times highs (above the bubble peak). The second graph shows the same two indexes in real terms (adjusted for inflation using CPI less Shelter). Note: some people use other inflation measures to adjust for real prices.In real terms, the National index is back to January 2005 levels, and the Composite 20 index is back to June 2004.In real terms, house prices are at 2004/2005 levels. On a price-to-rent basis, the Case-Shiller National index is back to February 2004 levels, and the Composite 20 index is back to October 2003 levels. In real terms, prices are back to late 2004 levels, and the price-to-rent ratio is back to late 2003, early 2004.

Zillow Case-Shiller Forecast: Slower YoY Price Gains in April - The Case-Shiller house price indexes for March were released yesterday. Zillow forecasts Case-Shiller a month early, and I like to check the Zillow forecasts since they have been pretty close. From Matthew Speakman at Zillow: March Case-Shiller Results and April Forecast: Home Buyers Hitting a Breaking Point? Looking ahead, Zillow’s April Case-Shiller forecast is for continued modest slowdowns in annual home price growth across all three major indices. Annual U.S. home price growth is expected to fall to 3.6%.  The Zillow forecast is for the year-over-year change for the Case-Shiller National index to be at 3.6% in April, lower than in March.

 US Rents Climb To Fresh Record Highs Despite Slowest Price Increase In 11 Months - US existing home sales slumped for the 13th straight month in March, but the pressures on the national housing market have yet to translate into cheaper rents: To wit, average national rent climbed 3% YoY in April, and 0.3% from the prior month, according to Yardi Matrix data cited by RentCafe.The national average rent hit $1,436 in April, climbing about $42 from the prior year to $1,436 - which, though still positive, marked the slowest pace of growth in 11 months.  Across major US housing markets, rent in Wichita is the most affordable, averaging $646, followed by Tulsa, at $688. On the other end of the spectrum is the average rent in Manhattan, the world's most expensive rental market, climbed to $4,130 in April. Behind Manhattan is - of course - San Francisco, with an average rent of $3,647, then Boston ($3,357) then Brooklyn ($2,878), then San Jose ($2,720) and Los Angeles ($2,471), in sixth place. Of the largest metropolitan rental hubs, Indianapolis had the lowest average rent ($861), followed by Columbus, Ohio ($924).While rents tended to be highest in urban enclaves along the coasts, some large rental markets in the Sun Belt boasted surprisingly affordable prices, including Las Vegas ($1,061) or Phoenix ($1,046).But in another sign of just how skewed rents are across the US, of the 253 cities examined as part of the study, only 64% have average rents below the $1,436 national average, while the other 36% have average rents above.

NAR: "Pending Home Sales Trail Off 1.5% in April" --From the NAR: Pending Home Sales Trail Off 1.5% in April Pending home sales declined in April, a modest change from the growth seen a month before, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Only one of the four major regions – the Midwest – experienced growth, while the remaining three regions reported a drop in their respective contract activity.  The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, fell 1.5% to 104.3 in April, down from 105.9 in March. Year-over-year contract signings declined 2.0%, making this the 16th straight month of annual decreases. ..The PHSI in the Northeast declined 1.8% to 88.9 in April and is now 2.1% below a year ago. In the Midwest, the index grew 1.3% to 96.8 in April, 2.4% lower than April 2018. Pending home sales in the South fell 2.5% to an index of 124.0 in April, which is 1.8% lower than last April. The index in the West dropped 1.8% in April to 93.5 and fell only 1.5% below a year ago. This was below expectations of a 0.3% increase for this index. Note: Contract signings usually lead sales by about 45 to 60 days, so this would usually be for closed sales in May and June.

Three Charts Show Millennials Are Nowhere Close In Buying A Home -- To avoid an extended housing decline, millennial first-time homebuyers will be needed to shore up bids, but their student loan debt, auto loan debt, and significant credit card balances and overpriced real estate in all major cities are delaying their purchase plans for many years, reported Bloomberg.Since the Dot Com bust, first-time homebuyers of young Americans has dropped 9%, from 42% of total sales to 33%. America's declining living standards have contributed to a shrinking supply of low-priced homes.Debt loads held by millennials exceeded well over a $1 trillion at the end of last year. On top of that, 60% of them don't have $500 in savings, which is also contributing to their inability to buy a home.Financial stress among this heavily indebted generation is showing up in record debt delinquencies of student loans.Student loans "have completely broken with the business cycle," NY Fed researchers wrote in a report last week that showed student loan growth continued to increase even as other forms of debt growth slowed. With a majority of millennials holding student loans, the homeownership rate for Americans 35 or younger continues to fall.While the student loan bubble is set to implode in the next downturn, young people might not be able to buy homes until the mid-2020s, this is primarily due to their credit reports would be so devastated in a recession that lenders would have to deny young applicants on tighter lending standards.New Fed data shows young people are defaulting on their student loans much sooner than a decade ago. The poor financial health of millennials shows that in the next downturn - the housing market will have limited bidders to catch the proverbial falling knife. It could be at least a half decade (the mid-2020s) until this heavily indebted generation can purchase a home.

Federal Reserve Board issues Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households -- The Federal Reserve Board's latest Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households found that most measures of economic well-being and financial resilience in 2018 were similar to, or slightly better than, those in 2017. Overall, the financial experiences reported by the 11,000 adults surveyed in 2018 were largely positive, and many families have experienced substantial gains since the survey began in 2013, in line with the nation's ongoing economic expansion. When asked about their overall economic well-being, 75 percent of U.S. adults said they were "doing okay" or "living comfortably"—up 12 percentage points from 2013. The survey also asked how they would pay for a hypothetical unexpected expense of $400. Sixty-one percent said they would pay the expense with cash, savings, or a credit card paid off at the next statement; 27 percent would borrow or sell something; and 12 percent would not be able to cover it. In 2013, only half of adults said they would pay with cash or its equivalent. Despite the improved finances of many adults, the survey continued to detect areas of financial distress as well as persistent differences by race, education level, and, in some cases, geography. Nearly 8 in 10 whites reported doing at least okay financially, compared to two-thirds of blacks and Hispanics. A similar difference exists by education: among those with a bachelor's degree or higher, 87 percent were doing at least okay, compared with 64 percent of those with a high school degree or less. Of those who live in middle- and upper-income neighborhoods, 8 in 10 reported overall satisfaction with their community, compared to 6 in 10 of those living in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. The report draws from the Board's sixth annual Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking (SHED), which was conducted in October and November 2018 and examined the financial lives of U.S. adults and their families. Respondents described their experiences on a wide range of topics including income, employment, dealing with expenses, banking and credit, housing, education, and retirement. The responses were weighted to be nationally representative of adults, aged 18 and over, in the United States.

The richest 10% of households now represent 70% of all U.S. wealth -  The rich are getting richer. It is a refrain that has certainly been uttered before, and likely will again, as Deutsche Bank Securities’ chief economist points out that the gap between the haves and have-nots in the U.S. is, indeed, widening. Deutsche Bank’s Torsten Sløk says that the distribution of household wealth in America has become even more disproportionate over the past decade, with the richest 10% of U.S. households representing 70% of all U.S. wealth in 2018, compared with 60% in 1989, according to a recent study by researchers at the Federal Reserve. The study finds that the share of wealth among the richest 1% increased to 32% from 23% over the same period. To make a finer point, Fed researchers say the increase in wealth among the top 10% is largely a result of that cohort obtaining a larger concentration of assets: “The share of assets held by the top 10% of the wealth distribution rose from 55% to 64% since 1989, with asset shares increasing the most for the top 1% of households. These increases were mirrored by decreases for households in the 50-90th percentiles of the wealth distribution,” Fed researchers said. Sløk said the financial crisis has played a significant part in this growing gap, which resulted in the Federal Reserve stepping in to stem a massive ripple of losses through the global financial system as the housing market imploded. As a result, the Fed lowered interest rates, which had the knock-on effect of pushing easy money into the hands of the already-wealthy. “The response to the financial crisis was for the Fed to lower interest rates which in turn pushed home prices and stock prices steadily higher over the past decade,” Slok said. . Homeownership usually represents the largest share of household wealth and that was hurt in during the 2008-09 recession. The national homeownership rate for the first quarter of 2019 was 64.2%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That is below the historic average of 65.2%, which dates back to the 1960s. Here’s a graphic from the Census Bureau showing the homeownership average since 1998:

Stupid, rich people are more likely to get ahead than smart people with no money -- In the course of her career and research into workplace behavior, Nicole Jones Young has noticed that some managers recognize the work of the loudest, most confident and, sometimes, the most well-heeled person in the room. Most people have had at least one colleague with a sense of privilege who likes to speak first, she says, and that can often drown out other voices in the room. “This behavior may make it difficult for those of lower social classes to successfully interject and navigate the higher ranks within an organization,” Jones Young says.Individuals with relatively high social class are more overconfident and appear more competent to others. This helps them attain higher-earning jobs.Jones Young, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., is fascinated by how a person’s socio-economic background translates to how they are perceived at work. Often times, she says, they are perceived favorably. She is amazed at how some people act like they’re destined for the corner office.Others say they’re destined for the highest office in the land. Democratic presidential contender Beto O’Rourke, who attended Columbia University in New York, told the April 2019 issue of Vanity Fair magazine, “Man, I’m just born to be in it, and want to do everything I humanly can for this country at this moment.” (O’Rourke later said he could have chosen his words more judiciously, and clarified that he was referring to his calling to public service.)  Not everyone has the innate ability to eye an opportunity with that kind of confidence or, some might say, entitlement. That ambition and confidence is likely instilled in people at a young age. Jones Young says, in her experience, they often happen to be from privileged backgrounds, and that can create a structural and cultural imbalance in the workplace.

Personal Income Increased 0.5% in April, Real PCE declined slightly - The BEA released the Personal Income and Outlays, April 2019: Personal income increased $92.8 billion (0.5 percent) in April according to estimates released today by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Disposable personal income (DPI) increased $69.3 billion (0.4 percent) and personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased $40.8 billion (0.3 percent). Real DPI increased 0.1 percent in April and Real PCE decreased less than 0.1 percent. The PCE price index increased 0.3 percent. Excluding food and energy, the PCE price index increased 0.2 percent.The increases in personal income and spending were above expectations.   However real PCE declined slightly in April. Core PCE was up 1.6% YoY in April (compared to 1.5% in March)

Real Personal Spending Growth Slows As Fed's Favorite Inflation Gauge Heats Up - Following March's surprising surge in personal spending, April data was expected to slow (while incomes were expected to accelerate MoM) and did, but both incomes and spending beat expectations.

  • March spending was revised higher to +1.1% MoM (biggest MoM jump since Aug 2009) and April printed a better-than-expected +0.3% MoM.
  • March incomes rose a better-than-expected 0.5% MoM.

Additionally, on a year-over-year basis, income growth picked up and spending slowed... And notably, Real Personal Spending was unchanged in April, after a big surge in March... And a crucial measure of U.S. inflation watched by the Federal Reserve picked up in April for the first time this year. The Fed’s preferred core price gauge -- tied to spending and excluding food and energy -- rose 0.2% from the prior month and 1.6% from a year earlier following a downwardly revised 1.5% in March. As Bloomberg notes, the rise in core inflation toward the Fed’s 2% target may help support Chairman Jerome Powell’s view that transitory factors had temporarily restrained the gauge while bond markets bet that price gains will stay muted.

Consumer Confidence Grew in May --The latest Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index was released this morning based on data collected through May 16. The headline number of 134.1 was an increase from the final reading of 129.2 for April. Today's number was above the consensus of 130.1. “Consumer Confidence posted another gain in May and is now back to levels seen last Fall when the Index was hovering near 18-year highs,” said Lynn Franco, Senior Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. “The increase in the Present Situation Index was driven primarily by employment gains. Expectations regarding the short-term outlook for business conditions and employment improved, but consumers’ sentiment regarding their income prospects was mixed. Consumers expect the economy to continue growing at a solid pace in the short-term, and despite weak retail sales in April, these high levels of confidence suggest no significant pullback in consumer spending in the months ahead.” The chart below is another attempt to evaluate the historical context for this index as a coincident indicator of the economy. Toward this end, we have highlighted recessions and included GDP. The regression through the index data shows the long-term trend and highlights the extreme volatility of this indicator. Statisticians may assign little significance to a regression through this sort of data. But the slope resembles the regression trend for real GDP shown below, and it is a more revealing gauge of relative confidence than the 1985 level of 100 that the Conference Board cites as a point of reference.

Michigan Consumer Sentiment: Remains Favorable in May - The May Final came in at 100.0, up 2.8 from the April Final reading. had forecast 102.0.Surveys of Consumers chief economist, Richard Curtin, makes the following comments: Although consumer sentiment remained at very favorable levels, confidence significantly eroded in the last two weeks of May. The late-month decline was due to unfavorable references to tariffs, spontaneously mentioned by 35% of all consumers in the last two weeks of May, up from 16% in the first half of May and 15% in April and equal to the peak recorded last July in response to the initial imposition of tariffs. The year-ahead inflation expectations jumped to 2.9% in May up from last month’s 2.5%. Year-ahead inflation expectations among those who unfavorably mentioned tariffs was 0.5 percentage points higher than those who made no references to tariffs. Importantly, the gain in inflation expectations was recorded prior to the actual increases in consumer prices due to the most recent hike in tariffs. While higher inflation expectations modestly reduced real income expectations, the largest impact was on buying conditions for appliances and other large household durables, which fell to their lowest level in four years. The combination of higher inflation and a slower pace of spending provide conflicting signals for monetary policy. The divergence will further widen if, as is likely, the trade war escalates. Will the Fed risk higher inflation by lowering interest rates, or risk higher unemployment by raising interest rates? This delimma comes at a time when consumers have expressed the highest level of confidence since 2002 in the government’s ability to keep both inflation and unemployment at reasonably low levels (see the chart). Consumers now judge economic security more important than a faster pace of growth in their personal incomes or household wealth. [More...] See the chart below for a long-term perspective on this widely watched indicator. Recessions and real GDP are included to help us evaluate the correlation between the Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index and the broader economy.

Nearly One-Quarter Of Americans Worry About Money 'All Of The Time' - It's a question that the financial press - not to mention millions of struggling Americans - have returned to time and time again (recently, it even received its own Vox explainer): If we are truly in the middle of an economic boom, then how come so many Americans, even members of the vaunted middle class, feel like they're barely treading water? According to the Fed, roughly 40% of Americans couldn't cover an emergency $400 expense. Wage growth has been stagnant for decades. Meanwhile, our monetary policy makers point to a lack of inflation in the economy as an excuse for keeping interest rates on hold, even as the man on the street, and even a growing number of economists, contend that prices have been climbing much more quickly than the official data let on. And we're not just talking about the obvious factors like rising tuition, rent and health-care costs. It increasingly appears that the central bank is underestimating food inflation, even as the prices of many agricultural commodities remain in a slump (of course, Trump's trade war isn't helping). To the growing list of distressing data points, we can now add one more: Gallup has published a poll showing that roughly 45% of Americans would rate their financial situation as "fair" or "poor" - and that a staggering 70% expected they would be financially better off. And while two-thirds of Americans say they have enough money to live comfortably, another one-third do not. But even more concerning is the 25% of respondents who say they're constantly worried about not having enough money to cover their household expenses. Roughly the same number said they're only just making ends meet. In a ranking of Americans' financial anxieties, the overwhelming majority of respondents said they're at least a little worried about being able to afford health care costs and having enough money for retirement.

Rural America Is On The Verge Of Collapse -  The Economic Innovation Group's (EIG) Distressed Communities Index (DCI) shows a significant economic transformation (from two distinct periods: 2007-2011 and 2012-2016) that occurred since the financial crisis. The shift of human capital, job creation, and business formation to metropolitan areas reveals that rural America is teetering on the edge of collapse.Since the crisis, the number of people living in prosperous zip codes expanded by 10.2 million, to a total of 86.5 million, an increase that was much greater than any other social class. Meanwhile, the number of Americans living in distressed zip codes decreased to 3.4 million, to a total of 50 million, the smallest shift of any other social class. This indicates that the geography of economic pain is in rural America."While the overall population in distressed zip codes declined, the number of rural Americans in that category increased by nearly 1 million between the two periods. Rural zip codes exhibited the most volatility and were by far the most likely to be downwardly mobile on the index, with 30 percent dropping into a lower quintile of prosperity—nearly twice the proportion of urban zip codes that fell into a lower quintile. Meanwhile, suburban communities registered the greatest stability, with 61 percent remaining in the same quintile over both periods. Urban zip codes were the most robust—least likely to decline and more likely than their suburban counterparts to rise," the report said. Visualizing the collapse: Economic distress was mostly centered in the Southeast, Rust Belt, and South Central. In Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and West Virginia, at least one-third of the population were located in distressed zip codes. Prosperous zip codes were the top beneficiaries of the jobs recovery since the financial crisis. All zip codes saw job declines during the recession, each laying off several million jobs from 2007 to 2010. But by 2016, prosperous zip codes had 3.6 million jobs surplus over 2007 levels, which was more than the bottom 80% of distressed zip codes combined. It took five years for prosperous zip codes to replace all jobs lost from the financial crisis; meanwhile, distressed zip codes will never recover.

The CPI Is Underrepresenting Food Inflation By 40%- Here's The Proof - A little more than 20 years ago the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) introduced a number of new measurement techniques in the estimation of consumer inflation (see Boskin Commission). So the current business cycle, which started in 2009, is the second consecutive cycle in which these new procedures have been employed.Statistical changes have been made to account for product substitution, a greater degree of quality changes in products and services and faster introduction of new outlets or ways in which people shop. The introduction of new variables in the estimation of inflation alters the pattern and at various times the rate of change as well. Prior to their implementation, analysts and government statisticians estimated that the potential reduction in core inflation from all of these statistical changes would range from one-half to a full percentage point. Yet, all of those estimates were looking backwards and there is no guidance from the statistical agencies of the scale of the reduction in reported inflation after implementation. Odds are high that the impact on reported inflation varies year to year, with some years at the upper end of range of estimate and others at the lower end. Nonetheless, to overlook the impact from changes in measurement would be shortsighted, especially since changes in consumer price of a few tenths of a percent or more do matter a lot when inflation is low, and readings below the 2% target could be misconstrued as a failure of monetary policy, which in turn "forces" the Fed to maintain an unnecessarily easy monetary policy, which results in asset bubbles and wealth inequality, when in fact the only applicable consideration is that the BLS and the Dept of Labor are measuring inflation incorrectly. Second, research conducted by the Federal Reserve staff has found that the shift in the measurement of shelter costs two decades ago to only use only prices from rental market and exclude those from the owners housing market systematically removed the largest single "driver" of cyclical inflation, while it also simultaneously reduced the volatility in reported inflation.The significance of these findings has not received as much attention as they should. Removing the largest single driver of cyclical changes in inflation means that reported inflation nowadays does not exhibit the same sensitivity to economic growth and interest rates, as was the case in previous cycles. Accordingly, one of the reasons why the trade-off between changes in unemployment and reported inflation has been so benign in the last 20 years is due to changes in price measurement.

Dressbarn to close all its stores as US “retail apocalypse” exceeds 2018 closures - Last week, parent company Ascena Retail Group, which also owns Ann Taylor, Loft and Lane Bryant stores, announced the closure of all 650 of its Dressbarn retail stores. Ascena also recently sold its Maurices clothing chain for a sale price of $200 million cash to the UK-based private equity firm OpCapita, portending further closures. In a statement last Monday, Steven Taylor, the chief financial officer of Dressbarn, said that the chain had “not been operating at an acceptable level of profitability in today’s retail environment,” alluding to the increasing dominance of online marketing and retail. Although a final date how not been set for the store closures, Taylor said that the company will finish operations within the next 6 to 12 months. Competition from online giants like Amazon has fed into mass store closures, putting pressure on major retailers to shift from already low paying jobs to more labor-intensive and exploitative distribution center jobs. Approximately 6,800 workers will be thrown out of work by the liquidation of Dressbarn, all of whom the company insists will be offered timely information about their store closings and options for financial support. However, the reality for the vast majority of these workers is that the store closures mean that they will be either unemployed or forced to take even lower paying work to meet their basic needs as clothing retailers like Ascena Retail Group look for ways to compete with major corporations like Amazon and Walmart. Retail workers are already among the lowest paid workers in the United States. According to reports by employees to, associates at Dressbarn earn as little as $8.95 an hour to $12 an hour for an assistant store manager. Meanwhile Ascena CEO Gary Muto’s total compensation was nearly $6 million in 2018, including a base pay of more than $1 million. The recent wave of retail closures, dubbed the “retail apocalypse,” has intensified this year with the number of closings exceeding 7000 before Dressbarn’s announcement, surpassing the number of closures in all of 2018. According to Coresight Research, there were 5864 retail closures in 2018, which included all of the remaining Toys R Us stores, along with other major retail stores like Sears and Kmart. The record for number store closures announced in a single year was 2017 with 8,139. These closures have hit areas in the Midwest and Northeast US particularly hard. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, retail employment in these areas has fallen by more than ten percent between January 2007 and February 2019.

Americans Snap Up Imports From Vietnam at China’s Expense - Vietnam was one of the fastest-growing sources of American imports from Asia last quarter, and could potentially overtake the U.K. as a bigger supplier to the U.S. if it keeps up that pace. Imports from the Southeast Asian economy jumped 40.2% in the first three months of 2019 from a year earlier, while orders from South Korea rose 18.4%, latest U.S. Census Bureau data show. At the same time, American imports of Chinese goods plunged 13.9% as trade tensions heated up. If Vietnam’s pace of growth can be sustained for a full year -- which would be a major feat -- it could leapfrog Italy, France, the U.K., and India in the ranks of top exporters to the U.S. India would improve two spots and France by one if they keep growing at the same pace for the rest of the year. Ireland would slip by four, and the U.K. and Italy each would drop two. Vietnam has become a standout in a region where the world’s export engines largely are hurting amid trade-war tensions and a slowing electronics cycle. Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan all saw export contractions in April, while in the same month Vietnam’s exports gained 7.5% from a year earlier. Vietnam is benefiting from businesses shifting their supply chains in response to increased American tariffs on Chinese goods. The economy offers low-cost labor and an improving business climate alongside boasting one of the fastest growth rates in the world.

 Amazon Is Poised to Unleash a Long-Feared Purge of Small Suppliers - Two months ago, Inc. halted orders from thousands of suppliers with no explanation. Panic ensued -- until the orders quietly resumed weeks later, with Amazon suggesting the pause was part of a campaign to weed out counterfeit products. Suppliers breathed a sigh of relief. Now a larger, more permanent purge is coming that will upend the relationship between the world’s largest online retailer and many of its long-time vendors. In the next few months, bulk orders will dry up for thousands of mostly smaller suppliers, according to three people familiar with the plan. Amazon’s aim is to cut costs and focus wholesale purchasing on major brands like Procter & Gamble, Sony and Lego, the people said. That will ensure the company has adequate supplies of must-have merchandise and help it compete with the likes of Walmart, Target and Best Buy.The mom-and-pops that have long relied on Amazon for a steady stream of orders will have to learn a new way of doing business on the web store. Rather than selling in bulk directly to Amazon, they’ll need to win sales one shopper at a time. It’s one of the biggest shifts in Amazon’s e-commerce strategy since it opened the site to independent sellers almost 20 years ago. While the plan could be changed or cancelled, it’s currently moving forward, the people said. “This is the kind of change that will scare the living daylights out of brands selling on Amazon,” “Amazon usually doesn’t give a lot of lead time and brands will be left scrambling. If they make this change soon, brands will have until the end of the summer to get their acts together or their holiday quarter will be at risk.”

 Trade War Claims Next Victim- Port Of Los Angeles No Longer Top 'Port' - It's Laredo --With the trade war between the U.S. and China suddenly erupting earlier this month after a 5-month ceasefire, we have diligently documented the sharp decline of global trade volumes. This has caused significant stress on China to U.S. or U.S. to China shipping lanes, where 40' container rates have plunged. Now a new report from Forbes shows the latest victim of the trade war is the Port of Los Angeles, no longer the nation's top port on an MoM basis, amid fears the full implementation of tariffs on all U.S. imports from China could spark a global trade recession. The latest U.S. Census Bureau data available (March 2019) shows the Laredo World Trade Port of Entry, located at the World Trade International Bridge in Laredo, Texas, has surpassed the Port of Los Angeles, to become America's leading port in March. Port Laredo's trade was $20.09 billion while trade passing through Los Angeles was $19.66 billion. Laredo's trade jumped 9.52% MoM in March while the Port of Los Angeles' trade plunged 10.01%. Forbes noted on a YoY basis - the Port of Los Angeles continues to hold the top spot among 450 airports, seaports and border crossings across the U.S., however, the MoM data shows how President Trump's trade war is disrupting complex global supply chains and has indeed accelerated the synchronized global slowdown. The best way to visualize just how dangerous the trade war has disrupted the global economy is the chart below: YoY changes in global trade as measured by the IMF's Direction of Trade Statistics, courtesy of BMO's Ian Lyngern. It shows the collapse in global exports as broken down into three categories:

  • Exports to the world (weakest since 2009),
  • Exports to advances economies (also lowest since 2009), and
  • Exports to the European Union (challenging 2009 lows).

Trump Admin’s Latest Rail Safety Rollback Sets up Industry to Make Its Own Rules - This week, the Trump administration’s Department of Transportation (DOT) withdrew another rail safety recommendation originally proposed during the Obama administration. In the process, the agency made quite clear that it has no plans to further regulate the rail industry, especially the dangerous and continued transportation of oil and ethanol in unsafe tank cars.The latest proposed rule to be withdrawn would have required two-person crews on trains. Supporters of this rule argue that two-person crews are safer because the job of operating a train is too demanding for one person, new technologies are making the job more complex, and fatigue becomes a more serious issue with only one crew member. Since 2017, the Trump administration has already repealed a regulation requiring modern brakes for oil trains and canceled a plan requiring train operators to be tested for sleep apnea.In announcing this decision, the DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) stated it was “providing notice of its affirmative decision that no regulation of train crew staffing is necessary or appropriate for railroad operations to be conducted safely at this time.”Buried on page 21 of the 25 page document explaining the decision, the FRA spells out the broader department attitude toward rail safety:“DOT’s approach to achieving safety improvements begins with a focus on removing unnecessary barriers and issuing voluntary guidance, rather than regulations that could stifle innovation.” As we’ve documented on DeSmog before, that translates to removing existing safety requirements and allowing the rail industry to volunteer when and how to improve safety. When the head of the FRA is a former rail company CEO, corporate capture of the U.S.regulatory system should come as no surprise. The rail industry’s main opposition to this rule is that it will increase costs while claiming it will not improve safety. This is the same basic argument used to support the industry’s opposition to other safety regulations.

Trucking tops ailing rail (nerdy) (see graphs) Since the beginning of this year, weekly rail volumes have usually been negative. The full year to date volumes have also been negative YoY: Since all manufactured goods have to be transported to market, if this is something confirmed in other transportation readings, it would clearly be recessionary - as in, a recession has already started. One alternative measure of the transportation sector is the Cass Freight Index. This too has turned negative YoY: Although, interestingly, the primary reason for the downturn seems to be an anomalous surge that happened in late 2017 (due primarily to the hurricanes?) and went out of the YoY comparisons in late 2018, as shown in this next graph: Note the seasonal downturn that typically starts to happen in about October, but never happened in 2017. As a result, on a 2 year basis, the Cass Index is up 7.0%. Another issue with the Cass Index, however, is that it also measures international air and ocean shipping volumes for the U.S. So at least some of the downturn may be changes in international freight, perhaps due to Trump’s trade wars. So I have been waiting for the April American Trucking Association Index. If domestic trucking is down as well as rail, that clearly looks recessionary. But if trucking is up while rail is down, that looks like a substitution, possibly due to competing costs, and/or possibly due to changed transportation patterns as western railroads suffer due to the widened Panama Canal increasing shipments directly to East and Gulf Coast ports. And, late last week, the April trucking index was released. According to the ATA: [the] seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index surged 7.4% in April after decreasing 2% in March. In April, the index equaled 121.8 (2015=100) compared with 113.4 in March. “ Even averaging April with March, however, the trucking index remains positive. The bottom line is that the downturn in rail has not been confirmed by trucking, which continues in an uptrend. This is real time evidence that while the economy may be softening, it’s not in an outright downturn. 

Dallas Fed: "Texas Manufacturing Expansion Continues but Pace Slows"  - From the Dallas Fed: Texas Manufacturing Expansion Continues but Pace Slows -- Texas factory activity continued to expand in May, albeit at a slower pace, according to business executives responding to the Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey. The production index, a key measure of state manufacturing conditions, fell six points to 6.3, indicating output growth decelerated from April. Most other measures of manufacturing activity also suggested slower expansion in May. The survey’s demand indicators fell but remained positive: The new orders index slipped seven points to 2.4, and the growth rate of orders index moved down from 5.2 to 1.1. The capacity utilization index fell to 7.7 from a seven-month high of 15.6 in April. Meanwhile, the shipments index edged up to 7.6. Perceptions of broader business conditions exhibited some weakness in May. The general business activity index turned negative and reached a year-to-date low of -5.3. The company outlook index dipped into negative territory for the first time this year, coming in at -1.7. The index measuring uncertainty regarding companies’ outlooks jumped nine points to 16.1, its highest reading since last September. More than a quarter of firms said uncertainty increased this month.Labor market measures suggested stronger employment growth and longer workweeks in May. The employment index rebounded from its April dip, rising seven points to 11.6. This was the worst reading for the general activity index since 2016.

Richmond Fed Manufacturing: Moderate Growth in May -- Today the Richmond Fed Manufacturing Composite Index increased to 5 for the month of May, up from last month's had forecast 6. Because of the highly volatile nature of this index, we include a 3-month moving average to facilitate the identification of trends, now at 6.0, which indicates expansion. The complete data series behind today's Richmond Fed manufacturing report, which dates from November 1993, is available here.Here is a snapshot of the complete Richmond Fed Manufacturing Composite series. Here is the latest Richmond Fed manufacturing overview.Fifth District manufacturing activity was moderate in May, according to the most recent survey from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. The composite index inched up from 3 in April to 5 in May, as shipments and new orders had fairly flat reading and the third component, employment, remained positive. Firms reported growth in spending and positive overall business conditions and remained optimistic about growth in the coming months.Survey results indicated that employment and wages grew in May, while the indicator for average workweek recovered from its negative April reading. However, firms continued to struggle to find workers with the necessary skills as this index dropped from −8 in April to −20 in May. Respondents expected this struggle to continue but to see further growth in employment and wages in the next six months.The growth rates of both prices paid and prices received fell in May, as growth of prices paid continued to outpace growth of prices received. Firms expected a slight increase in both growth rates in the near future. Link to ReportHere is a somewhat closer look at the index since the turn of the century.

May Regional Fed Manufacturing Overview -  Five out of the twelve Federal Reserve Regional Districts currently publish monthly data on regional manufacturing: Dallas, Kansas City, New York, Richmond, and Philadelphia.  Regional manufacturing surveys are a measure of local economic health and are used as a representative for the larger national manufacturing health. They have been used as a signal for business uncertainty and economic activity as a whole. Manufacturing makes up 12% of the country's GDP. The other 6 Federal Reserve Districts do not publish manufacturing data. For these, the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book offers a short summary of each districts’ manufacturing health. The Chicago Fed published their Midwest Manufacturing Index from July 1996 through December of 2013. According to their website, "The Chicago Fed Midwest Manufacturing Index (CFMMI) is undergoing a process of data and methodology revision. In December 2013, the monthly release of the CFMMI was suspended pending the release of updated benchmark data from the U.S. Census Bureau and a period of model verification. Significant revisions in the history of the CFMMI are anticipated." Here is a three-month moving average overlay of each of the five indicators since 2001 (for those with data). The latest average of the five for May is 7.5, up from the previous month's 7.3. It is well below its all-time high of 25.1, set in May 2004.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims Increase to 215,000 - The DOL reported: In the week ending May 25, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 215,000, an increase of 3,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 from 211,000 to 212,000. The 4-week moving average was 216,750, a decrease of 3,750 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 250 from 220,250 to 220,500. The previous week was revised up. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

 Everything Is Under Scrutiny - 38,000 Layoffs Across Auto Industry May Only Be The Beginning - Automakers can’t help but acknowledge the global recession in their industry after a decade of growth. As a result, they are slashing payroll across the board, according to Bloomberg. Countries like China, the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada and the United States have all seen at least 38,000 job cuts over the last six months in the automotive sector. And this could just be the beginning of larger cuts to come. Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said Wednesday that "sweeping cost reductions" are ahead to prepare for what he is calling "unprecedented" industry disruption. Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst John Murphy said: “The industry is right now staring down the barrel of what we think is going to be a significant downturn. The pace of decline in China is a real surprise.” Automakers are cutting shifts and closing factories across the world but the cost cutting goes beyond that. Salaried workers are also being cut, a surefire sign that slowing sales in both China and the US are taking their toll. Additionally, the slow down is coming at a time when automakers have deployed significant capital to invest in electric vehicles.We reported about Ford's plans on Monday to cut another 7000 jobs, representing 10% of its workforce worldwide. And the recession, which was likely due to happen regardless of market conditions, comes at the worst possible time. It could be exacerbated by the ongoing trade war, which foreign carmakers have warned could put 700,000 American jobs at risk.This chart shows all of the job reductions announced and reported over the last six months.

Savior of G.M. Lordstown Plant, Hailed by Trump, Is a Corporate Cipher NYT -- For months, President Trump had been putting pressure on the chief executive of General Motors, Mary T. Barra, because she had decided to idle an Ohio factory and lay off 1,600 workers. “I am not happy that it is closed when everything else in our Country is BOOMING,” he said on Twitter. “I asked her to sell it or do something quickly.”In early May, it seemed an answer was at hand. From her spacious office on the 39th floor of the Renaissance Center in Detroit, Ms. Barra called the president on May 8 to update him. The automaker was in negotiations to sell the plant in Lordstown, Ohio, to a new company affiliated with a little-known electrical vehicle maker called Workhorse.G.M. planned to announce the talks that afternoon along with a $700 million investment elsewhere in Ohio. But Mr. Trump beat the company to the punch, posting on Twitter that the Lordstown sale was practically a done deal. It wasn’t — but that was the least of the problems with what the president said.The new venture, whose name remains secret, exists almost entirely on paper. Headed by the founder and former chief executive of Workhorse, Steve Burns, the business would have to raise at least $300 million to get Lordstown running again.In an interview, Mr. Burns would not say whether he had raised any money or secured commitments from any investors. “It’s a gargantuan task,” he said. “There is no running away from it.”Workhorse, which would have a minority stake in the entity, is barely hanging on. It had just under $3 million in cash at the end of March. Suppliers have demanded payment in advance before filling orders, and the company has repeatedly sought high-cost loans from hedge funds. The mayor of Lordstown, Arno Hill, met with Mr. Burns and Workhorse’s chief executive, Duane Hughes, on May 21 in Columbus. “I have a lot more questions than I have answers right now,” said Mr. Hill, a Republican. “Who is going to be underwriting all of this? That’s a legitimate question, and I am very wary.”

Drivers Are Turning To Sex Dolls And Mannequins To Use HOV Lanes - An increasing number of drivers are illegally using HOV carpool lanes by stuffing mannequins, skeletons, even blowup sex dolls and various other items into their cars to try and fool police into thinking that they have a passenger when they don’t. The practice has reached a fever pitch, according to the Wall Street Journal. So now, police are fighting back by shaming those who are caught committing the illegal act on social media. New York, California and Florida have all created dedicated police units to patrol HOV lanes for cars with dummy passengers. Washington state is weighing a bill to raise penalties for HOV lane abuse, while other police departments are simply shaming transgressors to discourage others. Meanwhile, drivers are evolving and getting more creative with the way that they try to cheat the rules. This has led to state troopers calling it "absolutely satisfying" when they do catch somebody breaking the law. Suffolk County Highway Patrol Deputy Inspector David Regina said: “There’s nothing to say you can’t have a mannequin in your passenger seat, but if you’re skirting the rules and breaking the law, it becomes an issue.” The California Highway Patrol recently shamed a man who was caught in Oakland with two fake passengers in his car. “Clever Carpool offender caught cheating system with TWO dummies in back seat. Clever officer checked both dummies’ pulse to make sure!” In Arizona, drivers can actually wind up with points on their license for faking passengers. State police spokesman Bart Graves said: "It happens all the time. We are perplexed as to why people would take those chances and think they can get away with it." He continued: "The dummies run the gamut. Some are fairly creative, but most are not. Most people move in a car, they talk. When someone is sitting motionless, that’s one indication. In a case in April, the trooper knew something was off with the passenger." The police in Arizona patrol carpool lanes the most during morning and afternoon rush hours. When they catch someone, they post online. “Another one Busted!” they wrote on Twitter with a photo of a female mannequin with a dark wig, sunglasses, a red hat and blue hoodie. 

 The Most Destructive Breach In History - Hackers Use NSA Code To Grind Baltimore To A Halt - The United States is no longer supplying its enemies only with conventional weapons – that list now also includes cyberweapons. While Baltimore has been struggling with an aggressive cyber-attack over the last three weeks, previously profiled here , it has now been revealed that a key component of the malware used by cyber-criminals was actually developed just a short drive from Baltimore - at the NSA, according to the New York Times. The tool used - called EternalBlue – has been used by hackers in North Korea, Russia and China to "cut a path of destruction around the world", and resulted in billions of dollars in damages.Now, it has come full circle and is back in the US, wreaking havoc just miles from Washington. In fact, security experts say that attacks using EternalBlue have soared and cyber-criminals are honing in on vulnerable towns and cities, using it to paralyze governments. The NSA's connection to the attacks had previously not been reported and the NSA hasn’t commented about it since an unidentified group leaked the weapon online in April 2017.The NSA and the FBI still don’t know whether or not it was leaked by foreign spies or US insiders. The leak has been referred to as “the most destructive and costly N.S.A. breach in history,” by Thomas Rid, a cybersecurity expert at Johns Hopkins University. He continued: “The government has refused to take responsibility, or even to answer the most basic questions. Congressional oversight appears to be failing. The American people deserve an answer.”An answer that we're sure they won't get.  Commenting on the leak in April 2017, Edward Snowden said that the "NSA just lost control of its Top Secret arsenal of digital weapons; hackers leaked it."

Warzone- 42 People Shot In Chicago Over Memorial Day Weekend - During the lengthened Memorial Day weekend, Chicago police responded to 42 people shot, seven of whom died of their injuries.The violence was slightly above average for this time of year, according to homicide data indexed by the Chicago Tribune.   Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot told reporters on Monday that the surge in violent crime over the weekend "is just an unacceptable state of affairs.""I certainly knew that before, but to see it graphically depicted is quite shocking and says that we've got a long way to go as a city," she said. "This is not a law enforcement-only challenge. It's a challenge for all of us in city government. It's a challenge for us in communities to dig down deeper and ask ourselves what we can do to step up to stem the violence."   Lightfoot stressed that gun violence is not how residents should resolve disputes. "For those who think it is, we can give them no quarter, they can have no sanctuary in our city," she said. "We've got to make sure we flood these areas with a lot more resources."Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson also told reporters a new program to crack down on illegal guns had been implemented to curb gun violence. The extended holiday weekend, combined with elevated temperatures, allowed more people to hit the streets, therefore some neighborhoods across Chicago transformed into warzones. Leading up to the weekend, Chicago police raided several trap houses and added addition shifts to patrols.

 Oregon House unanimously votes to require schools to teach about the Holocaust -The Oregon House has voted to pass legislation that would require schools in the state to teach students about the Holocaust and other genocides.  The state chamber passed the bill unanimously on Tuesday.  Under the measure, high schools in the state are mandated to incorporate “specific references to the Holocaust and genocide” into their social studies curriculum, the state House said in an announcement.State Rep. Janeen Sollman (D), one of the chief sponsors of the legislation, said in a statement that the bill “is about keeping history alive.”  “This legislation is about ensuring that our students learn about our true history, learn to appreciate and understand our survivors’ stories, and continue to tell those stories to prevent such actions again,” she continued.

My school’s lockdown drills, active shooter training are security theater. Yours are, too.   -- I sat silently in a school staff meeting recently while our faculty debriefed after last month’s active shooter training. All kinds of thoughts and emotions ran through me as I listened to colleagues brainstorming possible ways to prepare for an armed intruder roaming our building. Should we stash a hammer in our desk drawer for use as an improvised weapon? Keep a supply of feminine hygiene products on hand to stop the bleeding if someone is shot? Have students ready to throw books at the attacker? But the absurdity of the entire conversation really hit home for me when a well-meaning staff member suggested teachers be given bags of marbles to throw down in the hallway in the event of an armed prowler. Have we completely lost our marbles? Despite the relative rarity of such events, the number of schools doing lockdown drills is on the rise.  About 95% of public schools now have students and teachers practice huddling in silence, hiding from an imaginary gunman. Schools are preparing more aggressively for active shooter scenarios — in some cases even using fake bombs, weapons loaded with blanks, and students made up with realistic bloody bullet wounds.   It’s important to note that the annual occurrence of school-associated violent deaths over the past quarter century has remained relatively consistent, or even slightly declined.   But over that same period, we’ve opened our doors to police and military types telling us exactly how to prepare for an attack. By doing so, we’ve ensured the conversation will remain largely centered around reactive approaches such as how best to bunker up and fight back instead of focusing on the underlying causes of the problem.   We must also consider the psychological impact on students and staff alike of constantly calling attention to the potential for violence in our schools. Heartbreaking stories of young children in the lockdown generation who, convinced they are about to die, compose goodbye letters to their parents or even write wills to designate who can have their toys when they are gone. Experts in childhood trauma say there is the potential for children who are regularly exposed to frightening circumstances to suffer from symptoms that include depression, anxiety, poor sleep and worsening academic progression. This is not the nurturing school environment our students deserve.  On the teacher side, educators who already wear innumerable hats are now expected to endure the pressure of preparing to act as law enforcement and neutralize an armed maniac intent on murdering their students. How can that added stress not have a detrimental impact on their teaching and on their mental well-being in general?  If our lockdown and active shooter training culture were actually making us safer, then it might all be worthwhile. But it’s not.

Confronting The Myths About Arming Teachers - There is a disproportionate buzz about the newly signed Florida legislation that allows its school districts (each at its own discretion) to authorize concealed carry of firearms by teachers in their schools. Why disproportionate? Because the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, signed into law in March 2018 soon after the Parkland mass shooting, had already established the “Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program” named after the coach who gave his life attempting to shield students with his body during that shooting. That program gave school boards the option of allowing school staff members to carry firearms, excluding most classroom teachers who were not JROTC teachers, or current service members, or current or former law enforcement officers. Last year’s bill established a tough training standard, and left the decision to local school boards, both very good things. And since school staff who are not classroom teachers often comprise as high as 50% of the total, this approach was rational, if overly cautious, as school boards would still have the authority to approve or disapprove any applicant, without the no-teacher provision imposed by law. The only change with the new law is that now all classroom teachers are also eligible to volunteer for the Guardian program. Note “eligible” and “volunteer” and you will understand why so much of the near-hysterical opposition to this law is baseless. Of course, no one is actually “arming” any teachers — there is no arms room where they will line up to be issued weapons before filing into the trenches — much less “all” teachers, which is how the opposition likes to frame its strawman argument. They will arm themselves, if their school board votes to implement the Guardian program, and if they individually volunteer, pass rigorous screening and selection, and complete the legally mandated 132 hours of training. No one is guaranteed approval, and the standards they must meet are high.

San Diego Sweetwater High School District to lay off 82 educators and staff amid investigation of budgetary fraud - On Tuesday, May 28 the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) School Board will meet to approve the elimination of 82 staff and educators from the district for the 2019-2020 academic year. SUHSD, located in southwestern San Diego County, near the US-Mexico border, is the largest secondary school district in California with 29 schools—14 high, 11 middle, and four adult schools. It has more than 1,500 teachers, 42,000 students, and 32,000 adult learners. Buried deep within the board’s Tuesday evening agenda is item L-6, a vote on the terminations, which will include the layoffs of nine bus drivers, 29 office workers, 13 custodians, 11 instructional assistants, four information technical assistants, and two transportation attendants among others. In total, 68 identified and general classified employees will be eliminated in addition to 14 upper management positions with the aim of saving $6.4 million. While district and union officials have told teachers that they will not be affected by the cuts this year, the elimination of these positions will be deeply felt within the classrooms. Teachers will be provided fewer instructional assistants, asked to perform more of their own custodial work and have less administrative support, while students and their families will face more cuts to school bus programs. The 82 terminations only pertain to the upcoming academic year, with more to follow in the coming years as the district pursues increased austerity to offset a budget deficit of $20 million-$23 million.

New Haven, California teacher strike enters second week - Striking teachers in the New Haven Unified School District, 30 miles south of Oakland, California, returned to their pickets for the sixth day Tuesday. Backroom negotiations between district officials and the New Haven Teachers Association (NHTA) failed to reach any tentative contract for teachers to vote upon. Roughly 600 teachers are on strike in the district, which covers Union City and South Hayward, California, and serves roughly 12,000 students. Over the weekend, representatives from the NHTA and its parent organization, the California Teachers Association (CTA), met with district officials in what they claimed were “marathon” negotiating sessions that lasted for over 11 hours each on Friday and Sunday. According to union and district officials the only unresolved issue is teacher pay. After initially demanding a 20 percent pay raise over two years, a $1,500 retention stipend, and several other items, the NHTA quickly backpedaled to a mere 10 percent salary increase over the two school years from 2018-20. The union is raising no demands to deal with the district’s large class sizes, which are set to balloon for elementary school teachers from 25 to 30, or poor staffing ratios. Further, in previous contract negotiations the union allowed the district to shift 100 percent of medical benefit costs onto teachers, whose medical plans now run as high as $24,000 per year, and the NHTA has made no effort to shift these costs back onto the district. In response to the union’s capitulation on their initial demands, the district is offering an insulting one-time three percent bonus, a one percent pay raise for the 2019-20 school year, and an extra 0.5 percent for each additional $1 million received in state funding, capped at one percent. On Sunday night, the district sent an email to teachers threatening that any salary increase will be based on cutting $7.8 million from the budget. The district has slated 25 classified (support staff) positions for elimination, the layoff of an unspecified number of teaching positions, and the closure of a school.

New Haven, California teachers strike at a crossroads - Entering their ninth day on the picket lines, striking teachers in California’s New Haven Unified School District are at a crossroads. Having already curtailed their demands to the bare minimum of a salary increase at the rate of inflation, New Haven Teachers Association (NHTA) union officials are presently working with state Democrats to shut down the strike as soon as possible. Roughly 600 teachers are on strike in the district, which covers Union City and South Hayward, California and serves roughly 12,000 students.  The issues confronting New Haven teachers resemble those faced by educators worldwide, and the only resolution to the global assault on public education is a global counteroffensive by the international working class, and not the union’s policy of isolated, district-by-district actions and appeals to the Democratic Party. On Thursday afternoon, NHTA President Joe Ku’e Angeles gave a press conference in which he announced that Mary Nicely, the Chief of Staff of Democrat Tony Thurmond, California’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction, began mediating the contract negotiations on Thursday morning. Angeles also stated that the NHTA is calling upon members of the New Haven Board of Education to join the bargaining sessions and he praised a tweet from Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris in support of striking teachers. New Haven teachers must reject Nicely’s presence and the union’s appeals to Democrats as a grave threat to their strike. During the seven-day strike by teachers in nearby Oakland, California, the Oakland Education Association (OEA) similarly invited Thurmond to join the closed-door bargaining sessions. OEA leadership kept secret from their members that upon entering the room, Thurmond insisted that the OEA reach whatever deal was necessary to end the strike as quickly as possible.

Former public school teacher says unions are becoming 'what they used to fight' - Former public school teacher Rebecca Friedrichs said on Friday that national unions in the U.S. have gotten so corrupt that they "have become what they used to fight." "I'm pro-local union," Friedrichs, founder of For Kids and Country, told hosts Buck Sexton and Don Calloway on Hill.TV's "Rising." "I'm pro-standing together," she continued. "Of course, a lot of our government agencies — schools, in particular — have become incredibly corrupt, and people feel vulnerable if they have to stand alone." "I am anti-corruption, and state and national unions, particularly teachers unions, and other ... public sector unions have become incredibly corrupt," Friedrichs said. "They are riding on their great past when they did some wonderful things, but they literally have become what they used to fight." Friedrichs was the lead plaintiff in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which was argued before the Supreme Court in 2016. The case questioned whether unions violated public employees' First Amendment rights through agency shops, which is a form of a union security agreement. It threatened to roll back state laws requiring public sector workers to pay their “fair share” of union fees when a worker opts out of union representation. The justices were deadlocked on the decision, which resulted in a victory for unions.

Cummings accuses Education Dept of blocking probe into attempted removal of internal watchdog - House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) has reportedly accused the Department of Education of blocking an investigation from his committee into the attempted removal of the agency's acting independent watchdog. Cummings reportedly said that department officials did not turn over documents requested by his committee regarding the Trump administration’s attempt earlier this year to replace its acting inspector general (IG), according to Politico.Politico noted that the refusal to hand over documents comes after acting IG Sandra Bruce began investigating Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s decision to reinstate the federal status of an accreditor of for-profit colleges.Cummings said his committee has only received seven pages of documents in response to his request, most of them “heavily redacted.”He added in a four-page letter, written along with committee member Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.), that the Education Department is “obstructing our investigation and appears to be part of an unprecedented cover-up by the Trump administration across multiple Executive Branch agencies and departments.”Cummings’s letter gave the department until June 10 to comply with his requests for documents.  Politico reported that Cummings’s investigation began in January after President Trump chose Phil Rosenfelt, the Education Department’s deputy general counsel, to replace Bruce. The appointment was later rescinded following blowback from Democrats who said the selection was an attempt to interfere with the inspector general’s work.

College Students Aren’t Checking Out Books -- When Yale recently decided to relocate three-quarters of the books in its undergraduate library to create more study space, the students loudly protested.     Little-noticed in this minor skirmish over the future of the library was a much bigger story about the changing relationship between college students and books. Buried in a slide deck about circulation statistics from Yale’s library was an unsettling fact: There has been a 64 percent decline in the number of books checked out by undergraduates from Bass Library over the past decade. Yale’s experience is not at all unique—indeed, it is commonplace. University libraries across the country, and around the world, are seeing steady, and in many cases precipitous, declines in the use of the books on their shelves. The University of Virginia, one of our great public universities and an institution that openly shares detailed library circulation stats from the prior 20 years, is a good case study. College students at UVA checked out 238,000 books during the school year a decade ago; last year, that number had shrunk to just 60,000. Before you tsk-tsk today’s kids for their lack of bookishness, note that the trend lines are sliding southward for graduate students and faculty members, too: down 61 percent and 46 percent, respectively, at UVA. Overall, across its entire network of libraries, UVA circulated 525,000 books during the 2007–08 school year, but last year there were only 188,000 loans—nearly 1,000 fewer books checked out a day. The Association of Research Libraries’ aggregated statistics show a steady decrease of the same proportion across its membership, even as student enrollment at these universities has grown substantially. At my library at Northeastern University, undergraduate circulations declined 50 percent from 2013 to 2017—before we decided to do our own book relocation—and our logged number of books removed from shelves but not checked out also dropped by half. These stark statistics present a conundrum for those who care about libraries and books. At the same time that books increasingly lie dormant, library spaces themselves remain vibrant—Snell Library at Northeastern now receives well over 2 million visits a year—as retreats for focused study and dynamic collaboration, and as sites of an ever wider array of activities and forms of knowledge creation and expression, including, but also well beyond, the printed word. It should come as no surprise that library leadership, in moments of dispassionate assessment often augmented by hearing from students who have trouble finding seats during busy periods, would seek to rezone areas occupied by stacks for more individual and group work. Yet it often does come as an unwelcome surprise to many, especially those with a powerful emotional attachment to what libraries should look like and be.

Transgender Woman (Who Competed As A Man Last Year) Wins NCAA Track Championship --A student-athlete at Franklin Pierce University on Saturday became the first in the school’s history to collect an individual national title. That student-athlete is also transgender.“A transgender woman who competed as a man as recently as last year won an NCAA women’s track national championship on Saturday. Franklin Pierce University senior Cece Telfer beat the eight-woman field in the Division II women’s 400-meter hurdles by more than a second, with a personal collegiate-best time of 57.53,” the Tribune-Review reports. “As recently as January 2018, Telfer had been competing as an athlete for Franklin Pierce men’s team as Craig. Telfer finished eighth in a field of nine in the Men’s 400 meters at the Middlebury Winter Classic in Vermont,” the Trib reported. “The NCAA allows male athletes to compete as women if they suppress their testosterone levels for a full calendar year. Before that, they compete on mixed teams — with men and women — in the men’s division but not the women’s.”

Some Schools Shutting MBA Programs….But Don’t Cheer Yet -  Yves Smith - MBA enrollments have been falling, and one of the side effects is that some MBA programs are going the way of the dodo bird. But sadly, this does not necessarily mean that that MBA degree is in decline. Unfortunately, internet MBAs are skyrocketing.  Now it may seem hypocritical for an MBA who clearly benefitted from getting the degree, at least in pecuniary terms, to criticize the degree. But your humble blogger graduated in 1981, when there were far fewer MBA programs and the financialization of the economy hadn’t yet started. 40% of my class had worked in manufacturing, meaning not just for manufacturers but in the “make the trains run on time” part of the operations. About the same proportion of the class were engineers.  I can’t prove these points, but I know they are true:

  • Having a critical mass of engineers (and I mean real engineers, not “software engineers,” since software is shipped at performance standards that are unacceptable in other consumer goods) in MBA programs and corporate-land as a whole considerably reduced the incidence of bad managerialism that is associated with MBAs: thinking they can manage anything (that the intricacies of an industry aren’t that important) by metrics (gah!) and that lower level workers are disposable. Engineers understand that there are physical constraints, that tradeoffs matter and need to be evaluated, and that while production in theory can be made more efficient, there is often a difference between theory and practice, particularly if you keep losing people who have accumulated knowledge.
  • Financialization and the rise of PCs synergized in a pernicious way, also fueling self-serving managerial and executive behavior. Remember how the product that put the PC on the map was VisiCal? If you’ve ever done a financial forecast on green ledger paper with a calculator, it’s torture, because if you make one mistake, everything to the right is wrong. Spreadsheets made it possible to do much more modeling of M&A deals, facilitating the use of more complex financial structures, and it also made it easier to create new products like non-government-guaranteed mortgage securities. But more subtly, the proliferation of spreadsheets led to users treating the spreadsheet as reality, simply fooling with assumptions to make the model produce a needed outcome, and becoming desensitized to the fact that the model wasn’t reality.1
  • The growth in MBA programs led MBAs to colonize non-business fields, like higher education, health care, and not-for-profits, to their detriment. The result has been adminisphere bloat and a focus on fundraising at the expense of delivery on organizational goals (for instance, more and more universities have become hedge funds with educational institutions attached).

Another problem with too many MBAs, or too many highly credentialed people generally, is that over-investment in education is not good for the individual or society. Jamie Galbraith made that unpopular point in his book The Predator State. The problem with high levels of education is that they greatly narrow one’s career options, so students can wind up with a costly investment in schooling that they feel compelled (or are required to) recoup, yet the financial rewards may not be there, or their chosen career may see great changes that reduce the value of the extra education that they obtained.

Is a college degree worth owing thousands in student loans? – video - Is a college degree worth owing thousands in student loans? — Is a college degree worth the incurring thousands in student debt? Americans now owe more than 1.5 trillion dollars in student loan debt. That's more than we owe on our cars, credit cards and second only to mortgage debt. An estimated 44 million people have student loan debt, that's roughly one in four Americans. On average, they owe more than $37,000 a piece, with a monthly payment of $393. How did we get here? Going to college has gotten a lot more expensive. Factoring in inflation, average in-state tuition and fees at a public school have doubled in the past 20 years, but the median salary for college graduates has only increased 2% during that same time. A college graduate will, on average, earn 66% more than someone with only a high school diploma, but it may be a long time before it feels like you're getting ahead. Most federal student loans have a 10-year timetable to pay it off, but research suggest the average college graduate needs almost 20 years to pay off their loans. 

Baby Bust: Millennial Birth Rates Plunges To Three-Decade Low - A new report from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) shows that US birth rates continue to plunge, hitting a three-decade low in 2018, as millennials delay marriage and children due to economic uncertainty. In 2018, women ages 15 to 44 had a birth rate of 59 births per 1,000, which is 2% lower than in 2017, and the lowest on record since 1909, according to the report. About 3.8 million babies were born in 2018, which is a 2% decline in the total number born in 2017, the lowest number of births in 32-years.All birth rates for women under 35 fell. Women in their early 20s saw a 4% drop in birth rates from 2017 to 2018. However, birth rates increased for women ages 35 to 39 and 40 to 44.The birth rate among teens ages 15 to 19 also fell 7% from 2017 to 2018, to a rate of about 17 births per 1,000 teens.Dr. Jeff Chapa with the Cleveland Clinic said: "I think what we're seeing is that there is a trend towards delayed childbearing."NCHS didn't specify the reason for the overall deterioration in millennial births but indicates young adults have fewer children.The amount of Americans over 25 who have never married has doubled since 1960. Those who do tie the knot are having fewer kids. One explanation behind this troubling trend is economic uncertainty: millennials are deeper in debt than any other generation that has come before them. With mortgage and credit card debt levels aren't as high for millennials, their level of student loan debt is off the chart. Financial burdens are shaping young adults into the lost generation. Besides delaying marriage and children, millennials are also putting off the American dream of homeownership. The baby bust is another sign that America is in decline.

 These Americans fled the country to escape their giant student debt -- Chad Haag considered living in a cave to escape his student debt. He had a friend doing it. But after some plotting, he settled on what he considered a less risky plan. This year, he relocated to a jungle in India. “I’ve put America behind me,” Haag, 29, said. Today he lives in a concrete house in the village of Uchakkada for $50 a month. His backyard is filled with coconut trees and chickens. “I saw four elephants just yesterday,” he said, adding that he hopes never to set foot in aWalmart again. More than 9,000 miles away from Colorado, Haag said, his student loans don’t feel real anymore. “It’s kind of like, if a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it really exist?” he said. Some student loan borrowers are packing their bags and fleeing from the U.S. to other countries, where the cost of living is often lower and debt collectors wield less power over them. Although there is no national data on how many people have left the United States because of student debt, borrowers tell their stories of doing so in Facebook groups and Reddit channels and how-to advice is offered on personal finance websites. “It may be an issue we see an uptick in if the trends keep up,” said Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. Outstanding student debt in the U.S. has tripled over the last decade and is projected to swell to $2 trillion by 2022. Average debt at graduation is currently around $30,000, up from an inflation-adjusted $16,000 in the early 1990s. Meanwhile, salaries for new bachelor degree recipients, also accounting for inflation, have remained almost flat over the last few decades.

Debt-Laden Americans Flee Country To Escape Crushing Student Loans - Faced with crushing student loans and little ability to repay them, some Americans have taken to fleeing the country in order to escape their debt, according to CNBC's Annie Nova. "It’s kind of like, if a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it really exist?" said 29-year-old Chad Haag, who relocated from Colorado to a jungle in India to avoid paying his $20,000 loan balance. "I've put America behind me," said Haag - 9,000 miles away from home. Today he lives in a concrete house in the village of Uchakkada for $50 a month. His backyard is filled with coconut trees and chickens. “I saw four elephants just yesterday,” he said, adding that he hopes never to set foot in a Walmart again. –CNBC   That said, it hasn't all been smooth sailing - including finding acceptable loos to poo in. "Some toilets here are holes in the ground you squat over," said Hagg, who added that he recently ate spoiled goat meat at a local restaurant, landing him in the emergency room. Still, he insists "I have a higher standard of living in a Third World country than I would in America, because of my student loans."  "If you’re not making a living wage, $20,000 in debt is devastating," said Haag, who struggled to come up with the $300 a month he owed upon graduating from the University of Northern Colorado in 2011. Hagg's first postgraduate job was working on-again, off-again hours unloading trucks and constructing toy rockets on an assembly line. 

Millions of senior citizens can’t afford food — and they’re not all living in poverty - Senior citizens are struggling to afford enough food in the U.S. and the problem appears to be getting worse.  An alarming 1 in 12 seniors aged 60 and older — 5.5 million or 7.7% of the senior population — didn’t have enough food in 2017, the latest year for which data was available, according to a new study by Feeding America, a nonprofit organization that operates more than 200 food banks.Economic constraints lead some seniors to eat less or skip meals, an epidemic that will negatively affect more than 8 million food-insecure seniors in the U.S. by 2050, according to “The State of Senior Hunger in America” report.New Mexico, Louisiana and Mississippi are the three states with the highest number of seniors — more than 10% of the state’s senior population affected by the hunger crisis, followed by D.C., North Carolina, Texas, Alabama and Rhode Island, it added. Two-thirds of all hungry seniors (65.3%) have incomes above the federal poverty line ($12,140 a year, or $1,012 per month for a single person household in 2017). And younger seniors — aged 60 to 64 — are twice as likely to be food insecure as seniors who are 80 or older.  While food insecurity is associated with income, it isn’t just limited to people living in poverty, researchers found. Some seniors end up skipping meals due to the high cost of health care, housing, utilities and transportation, the study suggests.There’s a number of economic factors that could be contributing: A staggering 3 million senior citizens aged 65 and up are paying off their student loans, totalling up to $86 billion, CBS news reported. And many are having their Social Security benefits wiped out to pay off their debt. Not all seniors are all aware or able to access public-health benefits. Around 5 million households with a senior receive, on average, $125 per month in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, yet only 2 in 5 SNAP-eligible seniors are enrolled in the program. Low income and rising costs are a dangerous combination. About 40% of middle-class Americans will live close to or in poverty by the time they reach age 65, according to a study by the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at the New School.

Why are so many people dying in US prisons and jails? --  Surges in the number of Americans dying while incarcerated have occurred against a backdrop of an increase in the US prison population by 500% over the last 40 years. Based on the latest national figures available from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 4,980 prisoners in US correctional facilities died in 2014, a nearly 3% increase from 2013. In state prisons, the mortality rate was 275 for every 100,000 people, the highest since data collection began in 2001. Since 2014, a Guardian investigation has found several states, including Texas and Florida, with the first and third highest prison populations in the US, respectively, have reported either record mortality rates in prisons or jails or significant surges. Today, 2.3 million people are currently imprisoned, a proportion of the population that substantially outpaces every other nation in the world.While the majority of deaths in prison are due to natural causes from an ageing prison population, there have also been significant rises in mortality rates due to suicides, homicides, accidents, drug and alcohol-related events, and untreated medical issues. In Utah, at least 71 people died in jail over the past five years, with half those deaths a result of suicide and most within a week of an individual entering jail. The state’s jails have thehighest death rate per capita in the US.In August 2018, 16 deaths in Mississippi jails in a single month prompted an FBI investigation.In California, a US supreme court order to reduce the state’s prison population resulted in prisoners being transferred to county jails. Unequipped to handle the influx, those prisons have experienced spikes in homicides.Prisoners in Michigan are dying at the state’s highest rate in decades and 2018 saw the most prison fatalities in the state since at least 1994, though prison deaths are not consistently tracked by the state.Texas, with the highest prison population in the US, has seen a 20-year high in prison suicides and 2018 was the state’s highest number of in custody prison deaths since at least 2005.A record number of prisoners committed suicide in South Carolina in 2018 as homicides within the state prison system are on the rise. Concerns over the surges in prison deaths across the US are part of a nationwide trend.

As Suicides Rise, Insurers Find Ways to Deny Mental Health Coverage -The U.S. is in the midst of a mental health crisis. In 2017, 47,000 Americans died by suicide and 70,000 from drug overdoses. And 17.3 million adults suffered at least one major depressive episode. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, a landmark law passed more than a decade ago, requires insurers to provide comparable coverage for mental health and medical treatments. Even so, insurers are denying claims, limiting coverage, and finding other ways to avoid complying with the law.Americans are taking to the courts to address what they see as an intrinsic unfairness. DeeDee Tillitt joined one lawsuit in 2016, months after she lost her son Max. He’d been an inpatient for three weeks at a treatment center to recover from a heroin addiction and seemed to be making progress. His addiction specialist wanted him to stay. United Behavioral Health, a unit of UnitedHealth Group, the nation’s largest insurer, declined to cover a longer stay for Max. Reluctantly, his family brought him home. Ten weeks later, Max was dead of an overdose. He was 21. Tillitt soon discovered that Max’s death wasn’t an isolated tragedy. Across the country, people who need mental health and addiction treatment encounter roadblocks to care that could save their lives. United Behavioral Health was already the target of a class action alleging that it improperly denied coverage for such treatment. UnitedHealth’s headquarters is in the Minneapolis suburbs, not far from where Tillitt lived. She says she spent hours on the phone getting passed from one rep to another in her quest to find Max care the insurer would cover. “I felt like, God, could I just drive down to the lobby and scream at them?’ ” she says. Failures of the mental health system contributed to trends that have lowered U.S. life expectancy over the past three years. From 2008, when Congress passed the parity act, to 2016, the rate at which Americans died by suicide increased 16%. The rate of fatal overdoses jumped 66% in the same period. “The health insurers are not following the federal law requiring parity in the reimbursement for mental health and addiction,” President Trump’s commission on the opioid crisiswrote in its report in November 2017. “They must be held responsible.”

Video game addiction now classified as mental health disorder by World Health Organization - Addiction to video games is now considered a mental health disorder by a leading international body. The World Health Organization (WHO) added video game addiction to its International Classification of Diseases in an update Saturday, according to NBC News. The classification refers to “gaming disorder” as "a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior" that becomes so extensive it "takes precedence over other life interests.” The move comes less than a year after WHO added gaming addiction to its list of potentially harmful technology-related behaviors. Shekhar Saxena, the WHO's expert on mental health and substance abuse, told NBC News that the disorder is rare and is only diagnosed following months of extended playing. A lobbying group for the video game industry pushed back on the new classification, saying video games are "enjoyed safely and sensibly by more than 2 billion people worldwide” and noting that the "educational, therapeutic, and recreational value" is widely recognized. The updated ICD containing the new classification will be presented at the annual World Health Assembly held this month. The classification will not be adopted until 2022.

Merck Created Hit List to "Destroy," "Neutralize" or "Discredit" Dissenting Doctors --Merck made a "hit" of doctors who criticized Vioxx, according to testimony in a Vioxx class action case in Australia. The list, emailed between Merck employees, contained doctors' names with the labels "neutralise," "neutralised" or "discredit" next to them.  According to The Australian, Merck emails from 1999 showed company execs complaining about doctors who disliked using Vioxx. One email said: We may need to seek them out and destroy them where they live ...The plaintiffs' lawyer gave this assessment: It gives you the dark side of the use of key opinion leaders and thought leaders ... if (they) say things you don't like to hear, you have to neutralise them ... It does suggest a certain culture within the organisation about how to deal with your opponents and those who disagree with you.The Australian: The court was told that James Fries, professor of medicine at Stanford University, wrote to the then Merck head Ray Gilmartin in October 2000 to complain about the treatment of some of his researchers who had criticised the drug. "Even worse were allegations of Merck damage control by intimidation," he wrote, ... "This has happened to at least eight (clinical) investigators ... I suppose I was mildly threatened myself but I never have spoken or written on these issues." The allegations come on the heels of revelations that Merck created a fake medical journal -- the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine -- in which to publish studies about Vioxx; had pop songs commissioned about Vioxx to inspire its staff, and paid ghostwriters to draft articles about the drug.

Supreme Court allows Indiana abortion law governing disposal of fetal remains - The Supreme Court on Tuesday reversed an appeals court ruling striking down an Indiana abortion law governing the disposal of fetal remains but declined to revive the state’s ban on so-called “discriminatory” abortions based on the fetus’s expected race or disability status. Both laws were signed by Vice President Mike Pence when he was governor of the state. The court’s action represents an incremental move on an explosive social issue that President Donald Trump has signaled he will make an election year talking point. The announcement comes as conservative states across the country are passing laws in the hopes of prompting the top court to review its abortion precedents included the landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade. But the court did not appear to be in a hurry to review those precedents on Tuesday and avoided some of the most contentious legal areas related to reproductive rights. The court noted that its decision to permit the fetal remains law, which among other provisions bars the incineration of fetal remains alongside surgical byproducts, was not based on the “undue burden” test that has formed the crux of many challenges to restrictive abortion laws. The Supreme Court has said that state abortion regulations are permissible as long as they do not unduly burden a woman’s constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy. With regard to the discriminatory abortion ban, the justices wrote that they did not take a position on the constitutionality of the regulation. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the law. The top court wrote in the unsigned order letting the appeals court ruling stand that its decision was based on its “ordinary practice” of waiting to take a case until more than one appeals court decides on a legal question. Only the 7th circuit has decided a case involving such a law, the court said.

A conspiracy theory claiming that drinking bleach is a cure for autism was seen by millions on YouTube, and blamed for 2 deaths -- Wearing a white short-sleeved shirt and brimmed hat with green crystal adornment, an elderly man named Jim Humble explains in a YouTube video what he claims is a cure for an abscessed tooth, which uses a so-called miraculous new healing substance. "You may not have heard of MMS before, but it's pretty well known in some areas of the world and thousands of people have used it," says the self-styled archbishop. He picks up three bottles on the table and mixes the liquids to create what he describes as a miracle cure. Humble explains that his Genesis II church teaches people to treat themselves using Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS), and which he says "kills most of the diseases of mankind." In fact, the mixture is chlorine dioxide, an industrial bleach which medical authorities around the world have warned can cause nausea, vomiting and severe dehydration if ingested in high doses.  In a 2010 health warning, the US Food and Drug Administrationsaid it had received "several" reports of people suffering "life threatening low blood pressure" from dehydration after taking MMS.  Twenty-three people eventually made complaints registered in the FDA's consumer products and prescription drug adverse event reporting database. Two deaths were reported; four cases were labelled "life threatening"; and one patient was classified as "disabled."  The FDA says it is not aware of any research indicating that MMS is effective in treating the illnesses its proponents claim it can cure.  Chemist Dr Kat Day writes in her blog that the amounts of chlorine dioxide in MMS is likely to be more than 3,000 times over the recommended safe limit, causing "irritation to the mouth, oesophagus, and stomach." Some proponents urge people to take the substance up to eight times a day.

Facebook Bans CrossFit Group For Advocating Low-Carb, High-Fat Diets - As conservatives warn of the dangers of Silicon Valley's left-wing monopoly on political speech, one fitness and self-improvement company has jumped into the fray to discuss free speech on social media. Crossfit, the high-intensity gym program, released a statement this past Thursday slamming Facebook for the unexplained removal of its content as well the company's lack of self-responsibility as the "de facto authority over the public square, arbitrating a worldwide exchange of information as well as overseeing the security of the individuals and communities who entrust their ideas, work, and private data to this platform."  "CrossFit is a contrarian physiological and nutrition prescription for improving fitness and health. It is contrarian because prevailing views of fitness, health, and nutrition are wrong and have unleashed a tsunami of chronic disease upon our friends, family, and communities," the statement began. The company then says that millions who use CrossFit and share its methodology stand "against an unholy alliance of academia, government, and multinational food, beverage, and pharmaceutical companies."  The company says that it encourages and supports its adherents to "speak openly and freely about the ideas and principles that animate our views of exercise, nutrition, and health." In doing so, CrossFit has defended their beliefs "against overreaching governments, malicious competitors, and corrupt academic organizations."  But, now Facebook has threatened that freedom, CrossFit argues. It all started when Facebook removed a group of CrossFitters with more than 1.65 million members without explanation. That group advocates low-carb, high-fat diets -- something that not everybody in the health community agrees upon.Due to this unexplained censorship, the company believes that "Facebook’s action should give any serious person reason to pause, especially those of us engaged in activities contrary to prevailing opinion." The company notes the group was reinstated, but that was never explained either.Due to Facebook's prominence in the free exchange of ideas, the company says that their status "mandates a certain responsibility and assurance of good faith, transparency, and due process."  Because they failed to live up to that mandate, the company has removed itself from Facebook and its sister social media site, Instagram.

  US blood plasma industry targets poor and working class - As living conditions for workers in the United States continue to decline rapidly under the weight of decades of wage stagnation and bipartisan cuts to social spending, increasing numbers of US workers are turning to selling their blood plasma in order to cover basic necessities. Billions of dollars in profits are being made in an industry that quite literally thrives on sucking the blood from workers and the poor. The US blood plasma industry has grown significantly in recent years, from just over $5 billion in global sales in 2000 to over $21 billion in 2017. According to a Market Research Engine forecast, the industry is on track to cross $44 billion by 2024. Global demand for blood plasma has risen in part due to its irreplaceable role in many important medical therapies, including for patients with antibody deficiencies and hemophilia. Blood plasma can only be obtained from donors and cannot be artificially replicated. Roughly 70 to 80 percent of global plasma supply is provided by paid donors from the United States, which, unlike the United Kingdom and other developed nations, does not ban the practice of paying donors for their blood. The United States also has fewer restrictions on how often someone can donate plasma, with donors permitted to undergo the process twice a week, every week, all year long. Blood donation in a hospital Plasma donations in the United States have tripled from 12 million per year in 2006 to 38 million per year in 2016, according to the Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association. At the same time, the number of donation centers has doubled, from 300 sites in 2015 to more than 600 today. Blood plasma donation takes a serious toll on the health of the donor, especially for long-term, repeated donors. After a blood draw, donors can experience weakness, bruising, dehydration or fainting. A 2010 study found that frequent paid donors have lower levels of proteins in their blood, increasing their risk of infection and liver and kidney disorders.

Measles erases the immune system’s memory  -- The most iconic thing about measles is the rash — red, livid splotches that make infection painfully visible. But that rash, and even the fever, coughing and watery, sore eyes, are all distractions from the virus’s real harm — an all-out attack on the immune system.   Measles silently wipes clean the immune system’s memory of past infections. In this way, the virus can cast a long and dangerous shadow for months, or even years, scientists are finding. The resulting “immune amnesia” leaves people vulnerable to other viruses and bacteria that cause pneumonia, ear infections and diarrhea.   Those aftereffects make measles “the furthest thing from benign,” says infectious disease epidemiologist and pathologist Michael Mina of Harvard University. “It really puts you at increased susceptibility for everything else.” And that has big consequences, recent studies show. Details about which immune cells are most at risk and how long the immune system seems to suffer — gleaned from studies of lab animals, human tissue and children before and after they had measles — have created a more complete picture of how the virus mounts its sneak attack.  This new view may help explain a larger-than-expected umbrella of safety created by measles vaccination. “Wherever you introduce measles vaccination, you always reduce childhood mortality. Always,” says virologist Rik de Swart of Erasmus

Healthcare Triage: Where You Live Impacts Your Health -  Dr Aaron Carroll - Over the last year, we at Healthcare Triage have taken some deep dives into issues of health policy, especially those that touch on social determinants of health and health equity. The episodes that do so are a bit longer than usual. They look a little different. They also come to you thanks to the support of the RWJF, which has generously supported their creation. We’re excited about this opportunity to really dig in, and we hope you will be, too. For the next four weeks, we’re going to talk about housing. Framing and introducing the issue is the topic of this week’s Healthcare Triage. Where You Live Has a Huge Impact on Your Health – YouTube  @aaronecarroll

Pakistan's Latest Health Emergency: HIV/AIDS Outbreak in Sindh -- Pakistan is dealing with a new health emergency with the HIV/AIDS outbreak. Nearly 700 people, most of them children, have so far tested HIV positive in Ratodero, Sindh, according to Pakistan's health officials. Authorities allege that this HIV outbreak started when local doctor Muzaffar Ghangharo, who has AIDS, infected patients in early April. "Initial investigations reveal that used syringes are being repacked, which may not only grow significantly the number of HIV cases but also other diseases," said Federal Health Minister Zafar Mirza.A joint 11-member rapid response team of health experts from the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have just arrived in Pakistan to support the emergency response to the nation's “biggest” outbreak of HIV infections in a southern district where more than 700 people, mostly children, have been diagnosed over the past month, according to Voice of America. Minister Mirza believes that reported cases of HIV/AIDS in Pakistan are only the tip of the iceberg. He says that official estimates put the number of HIV/AIDS carriers in the country at around 163,000. “But only 25,000 of them are registered with our national and provincial HIV/AIDS treatment centers, and out of them, merely 16,000 visit the programs routinely to receive their medicine,” the minister was reported as saying. With questionable medical practices in private as well as public hospitals, Pakistan's health system is inadequate for dealing with serious health crises like the HIV/AIDS outbreak. However, the US CDC and WHO have had a lot of experience in fighting HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa where it continues to be the biggest contributor to disease burdens and premature deaths.

World’s rivers ‘awash with dangerous levels of antibiotics,’ report finds -- Hundreds of rivers around the world from the Thames to the Tigris are awash with dangerously high levels of antibiotics, the largest global study on the subject has found. Antibiotic pollution is one of the key routes by which bacteria are able develop resistance to the life-saving medicines, rendering them ineffective for human use. “A lot of the resistance genes we see in human pathogens originated from environmental bacteria,” said Prof William Gaze, a microbial ecologist at the University of Exeter who studies antimicrobial resistance but was not involved in the study. The rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a global health emergency that could kill 10 million people by 2050, the UN said last month. The drugs find their way into rivers and soil via human and animal waste and leaks from wastewater treatment plants and drug manufacturing facilities. “It’s quite scary and depressing. We could have large parts of the environment that have got antibiotics at levels high enough to affect resistance,” said Alistair Boxall, an environmental scientist at the University of York, who co-led the study. The research, presented on Monday at a conference in Helsinki, shows that some of the world’s best-known rivers, including the Thames, are contaminated with antibiotics classified as critically important for the treatment of serious infections. In many cases they were detected at unsafe levels, meaning resistance is much more likely to develop and spread. Samples taken from the Danube in Austria contained seven antibiotics including clarithromycin, used to treat respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis, at nearly four times the level considered safe. The Danube, Europe’s second-largest river, was the continent’s most polluted. Eight per cent of the sites tested in Europe were above safe limits. The Thames, generally regarded as one of Europe’s cleanest rivers, was contaminated, along with some of its tributaries, by a mixture of five antibiotics. One site on the river and three on its tributaries were polluted above safe levels. Ciprofloxacin, which treats infections of the skin and urinary tract, peaked at more than three times safe levels.

Antibiotics Found in Global Rivers Exceed 'Safe' Levels, Study Finds - Some of the world's most iconic rivers contain antibiotics that exceed safety standards, according to a global study testing hundreds of rivers across six continents. An analysis looking for more than a dozen common antibiotics in 711 rivers in one-third of the world's countries found that concentrations in some rivers were more than 300 times higher than "safe" levels in what researchers say could lead to more resilient strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria around the world. "Until now, the majority of environmental monitoring work for antibiotics has been done in Europe, N. America and China. Often on only a handful of antibiotics. We know very little about the scale of [the] problem globally," said researcher author John Wilkinson. "Our study helps to fill this key knowledge gap with data being generated for countries that had never been monitored before." Nearly 100 testing kits were flown to rivers around the world to water systems such as Thailand's murky Mekong River, the serene Sein River in Paris and London's central Thames. At each location, local scientists collected and froze samples to ship back to the University of York to compare against monitoring data with "safe" levels established by AMR Industry Alliance. These typically range between 20,000 and 32,000 nanograms per liter (ng/l). "The results are quite eye-opening and worrying, demonstrating the widespread contamination of river systems around the world with antibiotic compounds," said researcher Alistair Boxall. Concentrations represent a global concern. Safe levels were most frequently exceeded in Asia and Africa while Europe and North and South America also had levels of concern. By far the worst were levels tested in Kenya, Ghana, Pakistan, Nigeria and Bangladesh — and the discrepancy between wealthy and poverty-stricken nations is evident. For example, metronidazole, a common antibiotic treatment used to treat mouth and skin bacterial infections, clocked in at levels 300 times greater than the safety level. By comparison, tributaries of the River Thames had a maximum total of 223 ng/l of antibiotic material — 170 times less than those captured in Bangladesh. Trimethoprim, a drug mostly used to treat urinary tract infection, was most prevalent and found at almost half of the 711 sites while bacterial-treatment ciprofloxacin was documented as going over the safety threshold in 51 different tested sites.

Banned bread: why does the US allow additives that Europe says are unsafe? - Give us this day our daily foam expander. It may sound odd, but in America, your loaf of bread can contain ingredients with industrial applications – additives that also appear in things like yoga mats, pesticides, hair straighteners, explosives and petroleum products. Some of these chemicals, used as optional whiteners, dough conditioners and rising agents, may be harmful to human health. Potassium bromate, a potent oxidizer that helps bread rise, has been linked to kidney and thyroid cancers in rodents. Azodicarbonamide (ACA), a chemical that forms bubbles in foams and plastics like vinyl, is used to bleach and leaven dough – but when baked, it, too, has been linked to cancer in lab animals. Other countries, including China, Brazil and members of the European Union, have weighed the potential risks and decided to outlaw potassium bromate in food. India banned it in 2016, and the UK has forbidden it since 1990. Azodicarbonamide has been banned for consumption by the European Union for over a decade. But despite petitions from several advocacy groups – some dating back decades – the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still considers these to be Gras or “generally recognized as safe” to eat, though plenty of experts disagree. “The system for ensuring that ingredients added to food are safe is broken,” said Lisa Lefferts, senior scientist at the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest. Lefferts, who specializes in food additives, said that once a substance was in the food supply, the FDA rarely took further action, even when there was evidence that it isn’t safe. The Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the FDA to ban potassium bromate two decades ago due to cancer concerns, but the FDA’s response, according to a letter from the agency, was that it couldn’t examine the issue due to “limited availability of resources and other agency priorities”.

From chicken to tomatoes, here's why American food is hurting you - Maria Rodale -  American healthcare spending has ballooned to $3.5tn a year, and yet we are sicker than most other developed countries. Meanwhile, our food system contains thousands of chemicals that have not been proven safe and many that are banned in other countries. How did we get to this point? Unlike much of the developed world, the American regulatory system doesn’t operate on the precautionary principle. In other words, instead of potentially hazardous substances being banned from our food, as they are in, say, Europe, chemicals of concern are typically considered innocent until proven guilty. As a result, we are the guinea pigs in our own experiment. And our desire for food that is fast, cheap and abundant only compounds the speed with which we are introduced to new, untested substances. It has been a deadly race to the bottom. For decades we’ve operated on the principle that if we can selectively kill off the unwanted parts of the natural world, we can control our futures. Farmers operate that way, but also homeowners, highway crews and landscapers. We spread herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, insecticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, hormones and various other toxins which kill everything around. Even good things. We’re becoming aware of the loss of what we can see: bees, butterflies, the diverse plant life of our ecosystems. We also need to worry about the invisible microbiome and fungi in the soil that nurture life above, store carbon and absorb water. In an effort to control and kill nature, we’ve increasingly lost control of it and hurt ourselves. By trying to control crops with herbicides, antibiotics and pesticides, we’ve actually bred bugs, weeds and diseases that are resistant to our control. And our chemical onslaught will have long-term effects. Our fertilizers and pesticides leach into groundwater and streams, head out to sea and create dead zones and red tides. They also leach into our drinking water. Take Atrazine, a weedkiller made by the Swiss company Syngenta (and also banned in Switzerland), which is found in wells all across America. The list of potential health risks of Atrazine causes is too long to list in its entirety, but it includes cancer, poor birth outcomes and developmental defects.

Aporkalypse now - The Economist - While the Chinese zodiac celebrates the year of the pig, for the Earth-bound variety it is a terrible time. African swine fever, harmless to humans but fatal to porkers, has spread across the country. Hong Kong’s first case was reported on May 17th. The epidemic has affected colossal numbers of pigs, pushing up pork prices steeply. It has walloped the tens of millions of Chinese who depend on pig-rearing for their livelihood. There is no effective vaccine. Experts say that it may take years for China to control the disease. The virus spreads easily between pigs, which can also catch it from ticks, contact with contaminated surfaces or by eating infected food (cheap animal feed in China often contains pork). It causes haemorrhaging and often kills in less than a week. The death rate is at least 90%. Since 2016 outbreaks have occurred across Europe and Asia. But nowhere have they been more devastating than in China, which at least until recently was home to half of the world’s pigs. China’s first officially acknowledged case was reported in August last year in the north-eastern province of Liaoning. But many people in the industry believe that the virus began spreading, unreported, months earlier. The country (excluding Hong Kong) has a dismal record of transparency relating to animal or human epidemics. In the case of African swine fever, farmers have felt little incentive to report outbreaks.  They often reckon it is better to keep quiet and sell their infected animals or meat to unsuspecting customers. And so the disease keeps spreading. By the end of April, out of a total herd that was nearly 500m-strong before the epidemic, the government says just over 1m pigs in China had been culled to stop the disease spreading. That number is oddly low. Vietnam, which reported its first outbreak six months after China and has far fewer animals, says it has culled 1.3m. It is likely that many cullings in China are not being reported. Rabobank, a Dutch bank, reckons more than 150m animals in China may have been infected. It expects that the country will lose one-third of its pigs, roughly the number there are in the European Union. A report this month by the un’s Food and Agriculture Organisation said that the disease’s spread was “unabated” and that its speed and severity “could prove more pronounced than currently assumed.” It said cull rates higher than 20% had been reported in many provinces. It will take a long time for farmers to replace animals by breeding more of them. In March the number of sows was declining nearly twice as fast as that of pigs overall.

Indiana salmon hatchery to raise nation’s first genetically modified animal cleared for human consumption - AquaBounty Technologies, a Massachusetts-based biotechnology company, altered the genetic makeup of the Atlantic salmon to include a gene from chinook salmon and DNA sequence from an eel-like species known as an ocean pout. The result is a salmon that grows to market size about twice as fast as its natural counterpart. The company, which already breeds the salmon in Canada, received its first batch of bioengineered eggs Wednesday at its indoor facility in Albany, Indiana, , and the first salmon fillets raised there could appear in U.S. supermarkets in late 2020. AquaBounty’s decision to raise the salmon in Indiana is a landmark moment for the Midwest, a region known globally for its agricultural prowess but one where land-based fish farming operations have struggled mightily to become profitable.  AquaBounty purchased the complex about 10 miles northeast of Muncie where yellow perch and steelhead trout had previously been raised and renovated it for Atlantic salmon. Before Wednesday’s shipment, the 16-person staff, which includes factory workers who were laid off in recent years, had been overseeing 100,000 conventional Atlantic salmon from eggs until they reach market size. With around 150,000 bioengineered eggs currently inside the facility’s incubator trays, production is expected to grow. Commercially raising seafood, a process known as aquaculture, will be necessary to feed the planet’s growing population at a time when rising seafood demand is pitted against plateauing wild fisheries burdened by overfishing, pollution and climate change, according to industry experts. The U.S., which imports over 90% of its seafood, has lagged behind much of the world in aquaculture production, and proponents hope the introduction of genetically engineered fish might help promote the industry, relieve pressure on ocean fisheries and scale back the United States’ $16 billion seafood trade deficit.

After Reading This, You'll Probably Never Want To Eat Genetically-Modified Food Again -  Every single day, most Americans eagerly gobble down foods that contain ingredients that have been genetically-modified without ever considering the consequences.  Most of us simply assume that the federal government would never allow us to eat GMOs if they were not safe.  Unfortunately, it appears that the federal government has completely failed us.  The material that I am about to share with you is deeply disturbing, and after reading this article there is a very good chance that you will never want to eat genetically-modified food ever again.  But at this point it is almost impossible to completely avoid GMOs, because they are in almost everything.  Unless they are specifically designated “organic”, most corn, soy, canola and sugar beets grown in America today have been genetically modified, and almost all packaged foods contain ingredients derived from at least one of those sources.  We’ll get into some of the potential health effects of eating foods derived from GMO crops in a moment, but first I want to discuss a new trend that is potentially even more dangerous. In recent years, researchers have been pushing the boundaries of biology in order to come up with new “plant-based” alternatives to existing food products.  Essentially, “synthetic biology” is being used “to create life forms from scratch”Impossible’s “bleeding” veggie burger, shrimp made of algae, and vegan cheeses that melt are all making their way into restaurants and on to supermarket shelves, offering consumers a new generation of plant-based proteins that look, act, and taste far more like the real thing than ever before.What consumers may not realize, however, is that many of these new foods are made using synthetic biology, an emerging science that applies principles of genetic engineering to create life forms from scratch.But of course nobody really knows what the long-term health effects will be once humans start eating “synthetic proteins” on a massive scale.And once these gene-edited organisms start spreading their genetic material in the wild, it could be a complete and total environmental nightmare.  According to Rebecca Burgess, these food companies are “not considering the future of genetic pollution”…  Rebecca Burgess, the founder of Fibershed, which last fall produced a report with ETC Group on the hazards of clothing made from genetically modified or synbio-derived materials, questions the efficacy of methods to keep gene-edited material from getting into the environment. “The concern is that they’re using base life forms that grow rapidly and transfer genes rapidly and they’re not considering the future of genetic pollution.”

 Glyphosate Use Surges in Midwest, Lawsuits Mount: What Will the Supremes Say?  Farmers’ use of glyphosate is surging throughout the midwestern United States. Glyphosate is a key ingredient in Roundup, the controversial herbicide that is the subject of more than 13,000 pending lawsuits against Bayer. The first three of these to reach a verdict resulted in judgments against the company. (For further background and details, see my two previous posts this litigation, EPA Says Glyphosate Is Safe, But Lawsuits Loom and Bayer’s Woes Mount, and Second Roundup Decision: Jury Finds Weedkiller a “Substantial Cause” of Plantiff’s Cancer.) As the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting revealed in this May 26 article, Controversial pesticide use sees dramatic increase across the MidwestA review of the agency’s data by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting shows that farmers across the Midwest used an estimated 188.7 million pounds of glyphosate in 2016 – nearly 40 times more than in 1992 when they used a total of 4.6 million pounds.  The data for the year 2016 is the latest available.  Glyphosate is now the primary way farmers manage weeds that would otherwise reduce the amount of grain they can produce. The Midwest accounts for 65 percent of the nation’s use of glyphosate for crops, according to the Center’s analysis.  The Midwest Center article discusses how since the introduction of genetically modified cotton, corn, and soybean seeds that could withstand the weed killer, its use has skyrocketed – despite its environmental and health consequences: “I think growers locked on to the simplicity, and the effectiveness of using glyphosate as your primary, or in many cases your only means of weed control,” [Sarah Ward, associate professor of plant genetics at Colorado State University] said.  Meanwhile, Bayer has not been faring well in court. Earlier this month, Bayer lost its third Roundup lawsuit since it acquired Monsanto in August 2018  – against no wins – resulting in a $2 billion damage award in Pillod v. Monsanto, as reported by Successful Farming . In the first case, the jury awarded $289 million in damages, and in the second, $80 million.)  Bayer shows no sign of backing away from its position that glyphosate is safe – and does not cause cancer – and released the following statement just after the Pillod verdict, according to Successful Farming. I include it in full for interested readers  – and have highlighted key sections for those who prefer to focus on the highlights: Translated into plain English: the company is relying on the business-friendly US courts – especially federal appellate courts and the United States Supreme Court – to reverse these verdicts. Not just slice the damages awards. Reverse the verdicts and declare, game over.

Food packaging is full of toxic chemicals – here's how it could affect your health - We’re just beginning to understand some of the short- and long-term risks associated with the chemicals in packaging: obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease and other health issues. Some consumer advocates say phasing out some of the riskier substances that come into contact with our food is long overdue. “Avoiding the use of these chemicals of concern in packaging is a great step forward,” said Leonardo Trasande, pediatrician and author of Sicker, Fatter, Poorer: The Urgent Threat of Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals to Our Health and Our Future and What We Can Do About It.“The question is: what replaces these materials?”  Convenient food delivery apps, such as Seamless and Postmates, have made it easier than ever before to order food to the couch. It’s so convenient that 26% of Americans eat takeout at least once a week. But when hot products are placed in containers, chemicals from the box can leach into the food and, in turn, our bodies. There are the more obvious culprits: for example, polystyrene, commonly called Styrofoam, a known carcinogen that’s also an environmental nightmare. Cities such as New York, Washington and San Francisco have banned Styrofoam coffee cups, plates, and to-go boxes. Progressive food establishments have traded it and other hazardous packaging for safer, plant-based alternatives.But many of those seemingly safe containers may have hazardous chemicals lurking inside.  A study released last year by consumer advocacy groups Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and Toxic-Free Future found that nearlytwo-thirds of paper takeout containers from the country’s five largest grocery stores contained elevated levels of fluorine, which meant that they were probably treated with PFAS, a group of industrial chemicals no longer manufactured in the US. The same was true for 11% of bakery and deli papers tested. PFAS has been shown to cause reproductive, developmental, liver, kidneyand immunological problems in laboratory animals. It may also be associated with low birth rate and thyroid disruption, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Research on children’s health risks in doubt over EPA funds (AP) — Long-running research projects credited with pivotal discoveries about the harm that pesticides, air pollution and other hazards pose to children are in jeopardy or shutting down because the Environmental Protection Agency will not commit to their continued funding, researchers say. The projects being targeted make up a more than $300 million, federally funded program that over the past two decades has exposed dangers to fetuses and children. Those findings have often led to increased pressure on the EPA for tighter regulations. Children’s health researchers and environmental groups accuse the EPA of trying to squelch scientific studies that the agency views as running counter to the Trump administration’s mission of easing regulations and promoting business. “A lot of the centers, including mine, have identified a lot of chemicals that are associated with diseases in children,” said Catherine Metayer, an epidemiologist who directs research into children’s leukemia at University of California at Berkeley through the federal program. The EPA awarded smaller than average funding for the research grants for this year, asked Congress to cut funding for it from its budget, and has refused to commit to future funding for the program. Children’s centers at universities around the country typically get joint funding from the EPA and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in three- and five-year packages, with most packages running out in 2018 and 2019. With no word on future funding, researchers overall “have been kind of scrambling to find a way to continue that work which is so important,” said Tracey Woodruff, director of the children’s center at the University of California at San Francisco. Woodruff’s federally funded work includes looking at how flame-retardant chemicals and PFAS compounds — a kind of stain-resistant, nonstick industrial compound — affect the placenta during pregnancy. The Trump EPA has come under increasing pressure from states to regulate PFAS as it shows up in more water supplies around the country. With no news from the EPA on any more funding in the future, “we’ve been winding down for about a year” on work funded through those grants, Woodruff said. On Tuesday, a banner across a website home page for the overall children’s research declared “EPA will no longer fund children’s health research.” 

Group Demands to Know: Who at Trump's EPA Decided to Slash Funds Used to Protect Children From Toxic Poisoning? Exactly what led President Donald Trump's EPA to stop funding research centers tasked with probing environmental health threats to children?One advocacy organization, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), wants answers.EWG said in a press statement Wednesday that it filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain documents, including electronic records and minutes of meetings, about the decision.The Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Centers have existed thanks to a two-decade partnership between the EPA and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.Currently, the network includes 13 centers at institutions, including Johns Hopkins University and the University of Southern California, which are conducting long-term studies on issues including the links between pollutants and allergens with asthma-related illnesses in minority children, and potential near-roadway air pollution impacts on the risk of childhood obesity and inflammatory issues. "By combining scientific research and community engagement, the Children's Centers have developed a national network of researchers, healthcare professionals, and community-based groups," the government's website says. "This network is addressing how exposure to environmental toxicants and living in unhealthy environments may contribute to a wide range of adverse health outcomes."

Why you need to know about PFAS, the chemicals in pizza boxes and rainwear - PFAS, short for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of at least 4,700 synthetic chemicals that have been in commercial production since the 1940s to make surfaces resist stains, water and grease.

  • The most widely studied are PFOA (also known as C8) – used for decades to make Teflon non-stick – and PFOS, used to make Scotchgard water repellent.
  • They don’t break down. PFAS are highly persistent and accumulate over time in humans, animals and the environment.
  • They can also be dispersed through air and water and have been found in the environment of the Arctic (and its polar bears) and open ocean waters.
  • It can be found in non-stick cookware, fire retardants, stain and water repellents, some furniture, waterproof clothes, pizza boxes and take-out containers, food packaging, carpets and textiles, rubbers and plastics, electronics and some dental floss.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found PFOA in in the blood of 98% of Americans, as well as in breast milk and umbilical cord blood.
  • The drinking water of about 16 million Americans, including 126 military bases, where PFAS-rich firefighting foam is used for training exercises. PFAS have also been found in fish, shellfish, vegetables and other grown in contaminated soil or water. The Environmental Working Group health advocates have created a US map of detections of PFAS in water.

Health effects of the various kinds of PFAS are debated, but a growing body of evidence has linked exposure to some of them to:

  • Developmental issues, cancer, liver damage, immune system disruption, resistance to vaccines, thyroid disease, impaired fertility and high cholesterol. PFAS have been dubbed “possibly carcinogenic” to humans by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC).
  • A study funded by DuPont as part of a legal settlement with residents living near one of its Teflon facilities found that PFOA was probably linked to six disease outcomes: kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol and pregnancy-induced hypertension.
  • Numerous studies on PFOS and PFOA on both humans and animals have shown a wide range of possible health effects, including decreased fertility among women, decreased sperm count and penis size, lowered birth weight, cancer and – among animals studied – death.

Bisphenol: what to know about the chemicals in water bottles and cans - Bisphenols are a group of chemicals used to manufacture plastics, epoxy resins and other products since the 1960s. Bisphenol-A (BPA), the most infamous of the group of 40 or so chemicals, was initially investigated for pharmaceutical use as synthetic estrogen in the 1930s. Many plastic products marketed as BPA-free contain similar replacement chemicals. Though the health effects of BPA are still debated, it is thought to be an endocrine disruptor that mimics estrogen in the body, potentially causing adverse health effects.

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says it is concerned about BPA because “it is a reproductive, developmental and systemic toxicant in animal studies and is weakly estrogenic”, adding there are “questions about its potential impact, particularly on children’s health and the environment”.
  • BPA is most likely ingested through contaminated food and water and has been found in more than 90% of the population in the US over six years old. Some other bisphenols, such as BPF and halogenated bisphenol, are also suspected of having toxic effects, researchers at a Japanese university concluded in 2015.
  • Recent research has linked the chemical to a wide range of health conditions in human and animal studies. A 2007 study co-authored by EPA and university researchers concluded BPA exposure affects the male reproductive system, brain and metabolic processes. Japanese researchers found possible links between high levels of BPA and recurring miscarriages. In two studies 25 years apart, a researcher from Washington State University found links between both BPA and BPS – a widespread replacement for BPA – and genetic damage in laboratory mice. A long-awaited 2018 government report, controversial among some in the scientific community, showed no conclusive effects from BPA in animal studies.
  • BPA has been found in the urine of nearly all people tested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as in amniotic fluid and breast milk of some women. A 2015 study co-authored by the EPA and university researchers found BPA in the breast milk of about 90% of lactating women in a small survey. University of Tokyo researchers detected BPA in the amniotic fluid of full-term fetuses in 2002. Prenatal exposure to the chemical has been linked to anxiety, depression and hyperactivity among children, and increased risk of breast cancer later in life.
  • BPS, the main replacement for BPA following consumer backlash, may have similar effects to its predecessor. A 2018 study from Washington State University scientists found similar biological effects in lab mice from both BPA and BPS. A 2017 study co-authored by EPA researchers found that six BPA alternatives had as much, if not more, of an estrogen-mimicking effect on human breast cancer cells.

EPA’s Proposal for Limiting Rocket Fuel in Drinking Water Is Dangerous to Public Health --After a decade of delay, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally proposed a limit for levels of the toxic chemical perchlorate (a component of rocket fuel) in drinking water — except the newly proposed standard of 56 parts per billion is 10 to 50 times higher than what scientists recommend. "This is enough to make you sick — literally," said Erik Olson, senior director for Health and Food at NRDC, which sued the agency in early 2016 to force it to take action on perchlorate. Widely used by the military and defense industries, as well as in fireworks and explosives, perchlorate is highly soluble in water and can move quickly into ground- and surface water once it reaches soil. Even low levels of exposure to the chemical can impair hormone production critical to brain development. "Fetuses and infants are especially vulnerable to harm from perchlorate," said Olson. The chemical has been detected in drinking water systems that serve up to 16.6 million Americans — posing significant health risks for children and pregnant women.Multiple states have lower standards for perchlorate in drinking water that align with the science, like Massachusetts (2 parts per billion) and California (6 parts per billion). "This is another Trump administration gift to polluters and water utilities that have lobbied to be off the hook for cleaning up the problem," Olson said.

US cosmetics are full of chemicals banned by Europe – why? - A brief but telling piece of legislation was put forward in Connecticut in January. Just three lines in length, the bill calls for any cosmetics in the state to “meet the chemical safety standards established by the European Union”.The move, unlikely to be made law, is the latest signal of mounting anguish over the enfeebled regulation of everyday products in the US compared with European countries. Across a span of cosmetics, including makeup, toothpaste and shampoo, to items ranging from household cleaners to fruit juice to cheese, hundreds of potentially harmful ingredients banned in the EU are legally allowed in the US.“Many Americans are unaware that they are absorbing untested and unsafe chemicals in their products,” said Alex Bergstein, a state senator who put forward the Connecticut legislation. Bergstein was previously the chair of the Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental health center.“Generally, the EU has got it right. In the US we have a strong favouritism towards companies and manufacturers, to the extent that public health and the environment is being harmed. The pendulum has swung in an extreme way and it’s really going to take a general awakening by the public.” The disparity in standards between the EU and US has grown to the extent it touches almost every element of most Americans’ lives. In cosmetics alone, the EU has banned or restricted more than 1,300 chemicals while the US has outlawed or curbed just 11. It’s possible to find formaldehyde, a known carcinogen banned in EU-sold cosmetics, in US hair-straightening treatments and nail polish. Parabens, linked to reproductive problems, are ruled out in the EU but not the US, where they lurk in skin and hair products. Coal tar dyes can be found in Americans’ eyeshadow, years after they were banned in the EU and Canada. “In the US it’s really a buyer beware situation,” said Janet Nudelman, director of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. “Cosmetics companies can use any raw material that they like and there’s no way to know if they are safe before they reach the shelves. The contrast with the EU is stark and troubling.”

Skin Bleaching Is Poisoning Women — But Business Is Booming - Inna Samson was 15 when she finally gave in to the pressure to take pills to lighten her skin tone. “It’s definitely the biggest regret I have from high school,” she says. She’s been teased for most of her life for her medium complexion, and it wasn’t just coming from kids at school; her cousins, sister, and aunts all joined in, calling her names like “monkey” or making underhanded comments that still sting today.  “I was always called beautiful, but...,” Samson, now 24, recalls. “Beautiful, but dark. Beautiful, but short. There was always a ‘but.’” Samson grew up in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, where it’s estimated that nearly half of the population actively uses skin-lightening products. In high school, she joined this growing percentage by experimenting with whitening creams and soaps, then finally starting taking glutathione pills, a rarely studied skin-lightening ingredient that’s gaining popularity around the globe. For Samson, it felt like an easy fix for the one thing she felt was holding her back. Samson's story isn’t unique to the Philippines; countries like Nigeria, Jamaica, China, Malaysia, South Korea, and India are all grappling with dangerous skin-bleaching epidemics, with rates of use as high as 77% in Nigeria. Around the globe, skin-lightening procedures and products — many of which are experimental, unregulated, and extremely dangerous — are becoming popular among women hoping to gain an upward trajectory in cultures that prize lighter complexions. Skin bleaching is a rapidly growing industrythat’s estimated to reach a valuation of $24 billion in the next decade, but it’s rife with controversy. For one, there are many potential and proven health risks associated with the practice, from poisoning to organ failure. Beyond that, many argue that the skin-lightening industry is fueling discrimination based on the shade of your skin, called colorism or shadism. By perpetuating the idea that a lighter complexion will make you more desirable, Western beauty standards continue to feed a global market that profits off women’s insecurities. We travelled to Manila, which has one of the highest rates of skin-bleaching use in the world, to learn exactly why women are risking their lives for a shot at being a few shades lighter.

Why smelling good could come with a cost to health - About 4,000 chemicals are currently used to scent products, but you won’t find any of them listed on a label. Fragrance formulations are considered a “trade secret” and therefore protected from disclosure – even to regulators or manufacturers. Instead, one word, fragrance, appears on ingredients lists for countless cosmetics, personal care and cleaning products. A single scent may contain anywhere from 50 to 300 distinct chemicals.“No state, federal or global authority is regulating the safety of fragrance chemicals,” says Janet Nudelman, policy director for Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP) and co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. “No state, federal or global authority even knows which fragrance chemicals appear in which products.”Three-quarters of the toxic chemicals detected in a test of 140 products came from fragrance, reported a 2018 BCPP study of personal care and cleaning brands. The chemicals identified were linked to chronic health issues, including cancer.“When we took a harder look at beauty and personal care products we found t hat many chemicals of concern were hiding under the word ‘fragrance’,” said Nudelman. While virtually all Americans are exposed to fragrance chemicals on a daily basis, women have a greater body burden, largely from beauty and cosmetics products absorbed through the skin. The average American woman uses 12-16 products a day, many containing fragrance.Besides common reactions to fragrance – about 35% of people report migraines or respiratory problems because of fragrance – health advocates have more serious concerns. Could fragrance chemicals, combined with the other chemical cocktails found in daily life, be shaping serious disease trends? “There are chemicals in fragrances that do cause [cancer and reproductive effects], we know this from animal studies,” says Alexandra Scranton, director of Science and Research for Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE), a women’s health not-for-profit. “Do people who use a lot of fragrance get more cancer than those who don’t? No one really knows because no one has looked at that.”

Afghanistan's Air Is Deadlier Than Its War – The respiratory ward of Kabul’s Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital, built with Indian aid, is filled with children gasping for breath. Some scream as they’re treated, their cries echoing off the concrete walls. Amid the shrieks, doctors, parents, and patients struggle to heal, soothe, and breathe. The ward follows a seasonal rhythm—in the summers, it’s used to treat gastric issues, but during the winter, doctors treat Afghanistan’s vulnerable population for chronic respiratory illnesses that they attribute to pollution in the air, a mix of heating from homes and pollution from industrial sources. Air pollution is killing more Afghans than the war. According to the State of Global Air, a collaborative initiative between the Health Effects Institute and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, more than 26,000 Afghan deaths could be attributed to pollution in 2017. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan documented nearly 3,500 civilian casualties from the war for the same time period. The root cause is the burning of anything possible to get Afghans the energy and heat they need in harsh winters—including plastic, coal, and rubber. Mixed into that is the use of leaded fuels banned in the West decades ago, as well as waste energy plants and heavy industry. For the majority of Afghan families, coal and wood are the only sources of heat, despite the emissions that result from burning combustibles. Those who cannot afford wood or coal, which are sold in 15-pound bundles for about $1, go out into the snow to pick through the rubbish that wealthier Afghans have discarded to search for anything they can burn—including plastics, shoes, dung, and, if they’re lucky, the charred remains of a better-off family’s coal or wood that they can incinerate in their bukharis, or traditional Afghan heaters. On a visit this year, I counted around 70 children being treated in the Kabul hospital. That’s more than the number of beds—a common problem in a country struggling with chokingly bad air, according to Mohim, a respiratory specialist. The staff place them two to a bed or more. When the ward is particularly crowded, patients are on the floor. Family members place blankets and scarves they brought from home on the ground. The majority of the patients in the ward are young, between 6 months and 5 years old.

Sperm counts are on the decline – could plastics be to blame? - Surprising new research into dog sperm has reproductive biologists concerned about the fate of their own species. In a March study, scientists at Nottingham University found that two chemicals common in home environments damage the quality of sperm in both men and dogs. The culprits implicated are diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), used to make new plastics more pliable, and polychlorinated biphenyl 153 (PCB153), found in older plastics and electrical equipment. Companies stopped producing PCBs in the late 1970s due to their health risks – including a possible increased risk of cancer, hormone disruption, liver damage and behavioral or cognitive deficits in children exposed to the chemical in utero – but the chemical persists in the environment. The Nottingham study is just one in a mounting pile of research indicating that the quality and quantity of men’s sperm is on the decline. Research suggests that sperm counts have dropped by half in the last 50 years or so and that a higher percentage are poor swimmers – slow, ungainly or beset by genetic flaws. The exact cause of that decline is not well understood. One culprit may be increasingly unhealthy lifestyles. The same factors that affect general health – being overweight or obese, smoking, stress and alcohol or recreational drug use – also affect the quality of sperm. But many researchers suspect chemical residues in the environment may be partly to blame. To test that theory, the Nottingham researchers first removed contaminants from semen samples of men and dogs then exposed the manmade chemicals. Results showed that exposure to chemicals at levels found in the environment reduced sperm motility (ability to swim) and fragmented DNA carried in the head of the sperm.

Inside the long war to protect plastic (Center for Public Integrity) - New York’s Suffolk County had a trash problem. Facing brimming landfills and public pressure, legislators took a first-in-the-nation step: They banned plastic bags. But what the county saw as part of the solution, the plastics industry took as a threat. “We had never seen lobbyists like this before,” said Steven Englebright, the chief sponsor of the bill. “The B.S. came in by the shovel-load.” That was in 1988. Soon, Suffolk County —  on Long Island — inspired similar initiatives in municipalities across the country. As one lawyer for the industry wrote in an internal memo from the time: “Several years from now we may look back on 1988 as the opening round in a solid waste/packaging war.” The plastics industry — from the chemical giants making the building blocks of plastic to companies using the packaging to sell their products — has been waging that war for more than 30 years. It has pumped millions of dollars into pro-plastic marketing, high-profile lawsuits and lobbyists who travel the country promising that recycling, not bans, presents the best way forward. All this despite decades of repeated warnings about weak recycling markets and plastic pollution problems. Today, about a dozen states restrict local governments from regulating plastic items, while only two (with a third pending) have passed statewide plastic-bag bans. And manufacturers are profiting from a plastics boom. According to the research firm the Freedonia Group, by 2025, the plastic packaging market will be worth roughly $365 billion. “The industry has kept us from confronting plastics for decades through corporate lobbying and threats of litigation,” said Jennie Romer, a lawyer, longtime anti-plastics activist and founder of the website “Billions of single-use plastic items have made it into our environment because of this.”

Plastic waste dumped in Malaysia will be returned to UK, US and others - Malaysia will return 450 tonnes of contaminated plastic waste to the countries that shipped it, in a refusal to become a dumping ground for the world's trash.Nine shipping containers at Port Klang, west of Kuala Lumpur, on Tuesday were found to contain mislabeled plastic and non-recyclable waste, including a mixture of household and e-waste.Yeo Bee Yin, minister of energy, science, technology, environment and climate change, said that the US, UK, Canada, Japan, China, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Netherlands, and Singapore should expect waste products to be returned.  Five containers of waste were returned to Spain last month.  On April 24, Malaysia launched a joint task force to crack down on the growing problem of illegal plastic waste imports. The authorities have since carried out 10 operations. A recent Greenpeace report found that during the first seven months of 2018, plastic waste exported from the US to Malaysia more than doubled compared to the previous year. The row over plastic waste imports is also playing out in the Philippines, where Canada recently missed a May 15 deadline to take back tonnes of its garbage. That prompted a diplomatic spat with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, which saw him recall his ambassador to Ottawa. After Duterte said he was prepared to "declare war" on Canada over the issue, the Canadian government said it would cover the full cost of the return operation and pledged that the garbage will be brought back before the end of June.

Malaysia to Return 3,300 Tons of Plastic Waste Illegally Imported From Countries Including the U.S. --- Since China banned imports of plastic waste in early 2018, Malaysia has become the No. 1 importer of the world's unwanted plastic. Now, the country has had enough.Malaysia's Minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Yeo Bee Yin announced Tuesday that the country would return as much as 3,000 tonnes (approximately 3,307 U.S. tons) of plastic that had been imported illegally from countries including the U.S., Reuters reported."Malaysia will not be a dumping ground to the world ... we will fight back," Yeo said at a press conference reported by the Associated Press. "Even though we are a small country, we can't be bullied by developed countries."The waste comes in 60 containers smuggled into the country. Ten of the containers, containing some 450 tonnes (approximately 496 U.S. tons) will be shipped back within two weeks, Yeo said.Malaysia to ship back 450 metric tonnes of contaminated plastic waste to Australia, US, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Japan, China & Bangladesh, in addition to the waste sent back to Spain on Apr 29. Total of 3,000 metric tonnes expected to be shipped back once inspections are— Sumisha Naidu (@sumishanaidu) May 28, 2019  Yeo showed some of the waste to reporters at a port near Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur, the Associated Press reported. It included cables from the UK, milk cartons from Australia, compact discs from Bangladesh and household and electronic waste from the U.S., Canada, Japan, Saudi Arabia and China. Yeo said one UK company had imported more than 50,000 tonnes (approximately 55,000 U.S. tons) of waste in the past two years. Malaysia had already returned five containers of waste to Spain in late April.

Despite global push to reduce plastic use, demand impact for oil and other feedstocks remains unaffected - A movement to reduce plastic use has led to bans worldwide on shopping bags, straws and other single-use items, but no noticeable impact on demand for crude oil and other feedstocks used to make plastic. Petrochemical and plastic demand is forecast to increase at as much as four times the rate of demand for transportation fuels and petrochemicals will account for roughly 30% of global oil demand over the next five years, according to the International Energy Agency. On this week's podcast, we talk with Boston Globe reporter Janelle Nanos about her attempt to rid plastic from her life. We also talk with Rob Stier, senior lead for global petrochemicals with S&P Global Platts, about why bag and straw bans have yet to substantially impact demand. From China's recent decision to stop recycling the world's trash to food security complications, Stier talks about the hurdles the petrochemical industry faces as the global pollution crisis worsens.

Pollution cover-ups exposed in Chinese provinces - Local governments in China have been fabricating environmental reports, helping companies to conceal illegal dumping and deceiving central-government inspectors, according to a report by the country's central environment ministry. The ministry says that last year it uncovered thousands of violations of environmental regulations across ten provinces. A summary of these findings and of attempts by local governments to redress their actions was released by the ministry on 16 May. The summary also says that all ten have provinces have since made progress in cleaning up environmental messes. China has been trying to reduce its environmental damage and boost initiatives to preserve its biodiversity. But the findings show that the country has a way to go to clean up its polluted air, water and soil — a goal of President Xi Jinping. In Anhui, one of the ten provinces investigated by the ministry, artificial-diamond manufacturers allegedly dumped waste water and hazardous solid waste. But before inspectors went to investigate, officials warned the manufacturers about the inspections, according to documents that the Anhui government released earlier this month. In some cases, officials even instructed the companies to forge waste-disposal contracts, flush out a ditch contaminated with waste water and temporarily suspend production to seem compliant with regulations, say the documents.

SpaceX’s Starlink satellites spark fights between astronomy, spaceflight fans -- Just a handful of hours after SpaceX successfully placed all 60 of its first Starlink v0.9 satellites in orbit, ground observers began capturing and sharing spectacular nighttime views of the spacecraft. Soon after, fans and practitioners of astronomy and spaceflight began bickering.  The topic of concern: light pollution, not from lights on the ground but from sunlight-reflecting satellites in orbit. Immediately after launch, the ‘train’ of 60 Starlink satellites were undeniably spectacular, easily visible to the eye and as bright or brighter than the brightest stars in the sky. For the most part, reactions seemed to lean more towards awe than concern, but it didn’t take long for people to begin extrapolating from 60 satellites to Starlink’s peak of ~11,900 (an increase of 200X), and some responses began to paint SpaceX’s constellation in a more negative light.  Fans, communicators, and practitioners of astronomy quickly grew into the loudest voice in the room, as fans of SpaceX and Elon Musk started to engage, ultimately making it clear that low Earth orbit (LEO) megaconstellations could soon become a highly controversial topic for unexpected reasons. As is typical of humans in the age of social media, the gentlest hint of controversy and criticism swelled into stone-throwing between two crystallized sides unwilling to breathe and engage in civil debate. Will Starlink (alongside other constellations from Telesat, OneWeb, and LeoSat) destroy the night sky as we know it, ruining the perfectly untouched cosmos for the rest of eternity? Will Starlink immediately create a global utopia by affordably connecting every single human on Earth to the internet, all while being completely invisible and undetectable from the ground? No, no, no, and no. As with 99.99% of things, the reality will fall somewhere in the middle and its consequences and benefits will be far more grey than black and white.

After Years of Abuse, the Earth Has Sent Its Bill Collectors – Does Mother Nature have a sense of irony? To answer that question, look no further than the lone star tick. Although the tick’s traditional range in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic includes the eastern half of the Lone Star State of Texas, it gets its name from a white, star-like “splotch” on its back. But thanks to climate change, this nettlesome little critter is on the move. It’s moving into the Northeast as far as Maine. And it’s gone well past its usual bailiwick in the Ohio Valley to make its way into the upper Midwest and into Wisconsin. It’s not surprising that ticks, like half of all species, are moving with the changing climate. What is surprising is what the lone star tick brings with it. No, it’s not Lyme disease, although warming-catalyzed deer ticks are spreading that debilitating malady into new areas. Instead, the lone star tick carries another little-known disease—alpha-gal syndrome. The term “alpha-gal” comes from name of the sugar molecule that,according to the Mayo Clinic, can lead to hives, eczema, swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat, as well as wheezing, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting, headaches and even the potentially deadly interruption of normal breathing by anaphylaxis. However, these symptoms may not follow after a bite. In fact, it might take a while for an infected person to feel the full impact of a newly acquired syndrome. That’s because alpha-gal syndrome often expresses itself hours after the infected person eats a big, juicy steak. Or pork chops. Or a cheeseburger. Yup, the lone star tick is spreading a meat allergy. It’s severe, too. One unfortunate victim profiled in Mosaic cannot risk eating the “meat of mammals and everything else that comes from them: dairy products, wool and fibre, gelatine from their hooves, char from their bones.” Alpha-gal’s delayed trigger also makes it hard to diagnose. People often don’t connect their symptoms with eating a meal they’ve eaten without consequence throughout their whole lives.  Industrial agriculture — and meat production in particular — is a significant source of greenhouse gases.  But the changing climate across North America is catalyzing the expansion of tick populations. And now tick populations are spreading diseases like the alpha-gal red meat allergy to meat-gorging Americans.   How’s that for putting some irony in our diets?

France Becomes The First Country To Ban All Five Pesticides Linked To Bee Deaths - In May 2018 the EU banned three of the significant pesticides implicated in the collapse of bee populations. Clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam are now prohibited for use on crops. However France has gone a step further and set the high bar in the effort to save the bees. Given the importance of pollinators to nature and the survival of the biosphere, this could not happen too soon!Studies have reported that the neonicotinoid pesticides attack the central nervous system of insects, leading to loss of memory and homing skills, in addition to reduced fertility. Bees that cannot find their way back to the hive quickly die. However the pesticides have also been shown to affect butterflies, birds and other pollinating insects.There is a reason why France is ahead of the field in this regard: The “bee killing” pesticides were tested first on French fields in the 1990’s – and the French farmers witnessed first-hand the catastrophic effects that occurred in 1994; describing “a carpet of dead bees”. 400,000 bee colonies died within days – yet the story was buried under a layer of corruption and distorted science.Since that time, activists and manufacturers have battled to control the situation. We covered this story in full in a previous post: Overwhelming Evidence Linking Neonicotinoid Insecticides To Massive Die-off Of Bees And S ongbirdsThe new move is certain to be celebrated by ecologists and sets an example of protection of nature that the rest of the world needs to follow.

European forests could ‘live fast and die young’ in a warming climate - Climate change could cause trees to grow faster, accelerating the rate at which they absorb carbon from the atmosphere. But these trees may be likely to die sooner, a study finds. The research, conducted in high-altitude conifer forests in Spain and Russia, suggests that climate change could cause the trees to “live fast and die young”, the authors say – reducing the ability of these forests to act as a carbon sink over long timescales. The findings show that planting forests to soak up greenhouse gas emissions could have more limited potential than previously thought, the lead author tells Carbon Brief. The research is “impressive”, but may be too “bold” in its conclusions, another scientist tells Carbon Brief. When humans release CO2 into the atmosphere, around one quarter of it is absorbed by plants.Plants use CO2 during photosynthesis to create new materials, such as leaves, shoots and roots. Because of this, forests act as “carbon sinks” – storing vast amounts of carbon over long timescales.Climate change is likely to increase the rate at which trees grow. The study focuses on one reason for this, which is that warming temperatures may increase the overall length of the growing season in temperate regions, explains Prof Ulf Büntgen, a researcher of environmental systems analysis from the University of Cambridge and lead author of the study published in Nature Communications. He tells Carbon Brief: “The common belief is that in a warmer and a more CO2-enriched world, trees will uptake more carbon from the atmosphere. Based on this, people are starting political actions to plant trees. What we are adding to this debate, is to say: ‘This is correct but it’s only half of the story.’ “What is neglected is the ‘carbon residence time’ – how long the carbon taken up by terrestrial vegetation is actually captured. In our study, we show that faster growing trees and other types of vegetation will die younger. By doing that, they are going to release all of the carbon that they have sequestered.”

Heartbreaking footage of orangutan trying to fight off excavator that is destroying his home - Deforestation alongside global warming are the major causes of extinction. While humans are destroying their homes, animals are nothing but helpless witnessed. However, when saw his home is going to be erase from the Earth, this orangutan decided to fight off. At least he tried. All in a heartbreaking footage.  While the whole forest around him is being destroyed, and orangotan tries to stop it. In an desperate act, the animal wants to stop the excavator with his hands. As his first attempt ends up with him into a stack of trees, the poor animals looks like he is not about to give up. In the end he struggled to climb the machine back again.  The heartbreaking moment was captured on camera in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, as a construction crew demolished a section of the Sungai Putri Forest, a habitat of critically endangered Bornean orangutans. At least, the orangutan was saved an relocated, thanks to International Animal Rescue (IAR). However, it can’t pass unnoticed how far these animals have been pressured by the humans’ actions.

Rats Are Taking Over New York City – NYTimes -- So many rats regularly lurk on a sidewalk in Brooklyn that it is the humans who avoid the rats, not the other way around. Not even cars are safe: Rats have chewed clean through engine wires. A Manhattan avenue lined with trendy restaurants has become a destination for foodies — and rats who help themselves to their leftovers. Tenants at a public housing complex in the South Bronx worry about tripping over rats that routinely run over their feet. New York has always been forced to coexist with the four-legged vermin, but the infestation has expanded exponentially in recent years, spreading to just about every corner of the city. “I’m a former Marine so I’m not going to be squeamish, but this is bad,” said Pablo Herrera, a 58-year-old mechanic who has counted up to 30 rats while walking on his block in Prospect Heights, just around the corner from the stately Brooklyn Museum. Rat sightings reported to the city’s 311 hotline have soared nearly 38 percent, to 17,353 last year from 12,617 in 2014, according to an analysis of city data by, a nonprofit watchdog group, and The New York Times. In the same period, the number of times that city health inspections found active signs of rats nearly doubled. Mayor Bill de Blasio, like mayors before him, has declared war on rats, but so far the city is still losing. “There is no doubt that rats have a major impact on New Yorkers’ quality of life and this administration takes seriously our responsibility to control and mitigate their population,” said Laura Anglin, deputy mayor of operations. “No New Yorker likes having rats in their community and we are committed to continuing the work of controlling rats in all of our neighborhoods.” One key reason rats seem to be everywhere? Gentrification. The city’s construction boom is digging up burrows, forcing more rats out into the open, scientists and pest control experts say. Milder winters — the result of climate change — make it easier for rats to survive and reproduce. And New York’s growing population and thriving tourism have brought more trash for rats to feed on. 

Animals will ‘downsize’ over the next century, new study says. Here’s why. --In the animal kingdom, it seems big is out and little is in. New research suggests that large long-lived birds and land mammals will face extinction over the next century as small insect-eating animals that reproduce quickly and die young will predominate. Among the likely losers in the emerging world will be rhinos, hippos, gorillas, giraffes and caribou as well as large birds like eagles, condors and vultures. The likely winners? Rodents and songbirds.The research, described in a paper published May 23 in the journal Nature Communications, points to several causes of the looming shift in the world's fauna, including climate change, deforestation, hunting and increasing urbanization and agriculture. As their world changes, large birds and land mammals — which are known to be less adaptable to changing conditions than their smaller peers — will seemingly have a hard time surviving. "By far the biggest threat to birds and animals is humankind — with habitats being destroyed due to our impact on our planet," Rob Cooke, a postgraduate researcher at the University of Southampton in England and the leader of the research, said in a statement.

More fishing vessels chasing fewer fish, new study finds - A new analysis of global fishing data has found the world's fishing fleet doubled in size over the 65-years to 2015 but for the amount of effort expended the catch fell more than 80 per cent. Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study by researchers from the University of Tasmania and CSIRO found the global fishing fleet grew from 1.7 million vessels in 1950 to 3.7 million in 2015. However, despite better technology and increased motorisation, modern fishing vessels take only one fifth of the catch per unit of effort (CPUE) that the 1950s fishing fleet achieved. IMAS and CMS Ph.D. student Yannick Rousseau, who led the study, said the findings reflect growing pressure on marine resources and a fall in the abundance of fish. "What we have seen over the last 65 years is more and more fishing vessels chasing fewer fish," Mr Rousseau said. "Since 1950 a dramatic increase in the size of the fishing fleet in Asia has more than off-setting small declines in North America and Western Europe. "Most of the increase in vessel numbers has been in motorised fishing boats, a change from the unpowered 'artisanal' fishing vessels that once characterised Asian and African fishing fleets. "But, despite its advanced technology and increased numbers, the modern motorised fleet is having to work much harder to catch fewer fish," he said. Mr Rousseau said fisheries scientists use a measure of catch per unit of effort (CPUE) to assess fisheries management and the well-being of fish stocks. "CPUE reflects how many fish are caught for the amount of effort expended, such as during a day's fishing, and this measure paints a dark picture of the state of the ocean's resources. "In recent years a sharp drop in CPUE in Southeast Asia, Latin America and the Southern Mediterranean indicates their fisheries expanded at a much faster rate than fish stocks could support." The study found that in developed countries such as Australia more effective fisheries management and a sharp fall in the size of the fishing fleet over the last decade has led to a recent stabilisation of CPUE. "However, on current worldwide trends we can expect to see a further one-million vessels on the water by mid-century and the average engine power of the global fleet continues to increase," Mr Rousseau said.

Ocean Acidification Causing Coral Reefs to Be Less Resilient to Climate Change - Ocean acidification (OA) occurs when carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is absorbed by seawater, resulting in a chemical reaction that reduces pH and calcium carbonate levels vital for the growth and repair of calcifying organisms like coral, explains the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. Publishing their work in Nature Climate Change, researchers examined four species of coral and two types of calcifying algae over the course of the year in order to determine how they might bounce back from stressful conditions."We found that corals and coralline algae weren't able to acclimatize to ocean acidification," said study author Malcolm McCulloch, adding that that the effects were rapid and persistent.At least one-quarter of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from coal, oil and gas dissolves in the ocean, according to the Smithsonian Institute. Changes in the ocean's chemistry since the Industrial Revolution have been recorded at an unprecedented rate. In the last two centuries alone, ocean water has become 30 percent more acidic — not even natural buffering can keep up.Because seawater contains high levels of dissolved substances, Woods Hole Oceanic Institute notes that ocean waters have a slightly alkaline, or basic, pH of around 8.2. As more carbon builds up in the atmosphere, we see higher levels being absorbed in seawater to form carbonic acid, which breaks down to become more acidic as the pH level drops. Calcifying organisms like coral grow by adding calcium carbonate from the seawater to their shells or skeletons, but the researchers note that some species are disproportionately affected in their ability to repair or grow as these levels drop."The results also confirm that Ocean acidification could have repercussions on the competition between species which could, in turn, affect the ecological function of reefs," said lead author Steeve Comeau.   Coral respond to bleaching events caused by stress from pollution, overexposure to sunlight, extreme low tides, and changes in ocean temperatures by repairing via this calcification process. However, a 2018 studyfound that OA impedes the thickening or growing process of coral and decreases skeleton density, making them more vulnerable to breaking. Climate change and the advent of the Anthropocene are only expected to worsen these effects. Oceana notes that before the Industrial Revolution, about 98 percent of coral reefs were surrounded by waters with ideal levels of aragonite, but today the proportion is less than half.

411 North Atlantic Right Whales Remain: This Solution Could Help --Many fish, marine mammals and seabirds that inhabit the world's oceans are critically endangered, but few are as close to the brink as the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis). Only about 411 of these whales exist today, and at their current rate of decline, they could become extinct within our lifetimes.From 1980 through about 2010, conservation efforts focused mainly on protecting whales from being struck by ships. Federal regulations helped reduce vessel collisions and supported a slight rebound in right whale numbers.But at the same time, growing numbers of right whales died after becoming entangled in lobster and crab fishing gear. This may have happened because fishing ropes became stronger, and both whales and fishermen shifted their ranges so that areas of overlap increased. Entanglement has caused 80 percent of diagnosed mortalities since 2010, and the population has taken a significant downward turn.This comes after a millennium of whaling that decimated the right whale population, reducing it from perhaps between 10,000 to 20,000 to a few hundred animals today. And entanglement deaths are much more inhumane than harpoons. A whaler's explosive harpoon kills quickly, compared to months of drawn-out pain and debilitation caused by seemingly harmless fishing lines. We believe these deaths can be prevented by working with the trap fishing industries to adopt ropeless fishing gear – but North Atlantic right whales are running out of time.

Coral bleaching event underway in French Polynesia despite no El Nino Widespread coral bleaching has been reported in the French Polynesian islands of Tahiti and Moorea, even though there was no El Nino event this year. The reefs are among the most regularly bleached in the world, thanks to their position in the path of warm waters that spread west from South America during El Nino years. This year, however, without the presence of an El Nino and the warmer water it brings, the reefs should have been spared. But in the last few days, it's been estimated that 50 to 60 per cent of corals on reefs around Tahiti and Moorea have been bleached, according to marine biologist Luiz Rocha from the Californian Academy of Sciences. "I've seen the reports of the Great Barrier Reef bleaching, but this is the first time I've seen [bleaching] myself, and it hits you a lot harder," Dr Rocha said. "We have seen bleaching all the way down to 100 metres. But it's worst on the shallow, sheltered reefs." Coral bleaching occurs when high water temperatures cause the coral to expel its symbiotic algae, revealing the white skeleton beneath.

Why The U.S. Just Had Its Wettest 12-Month Stretch On Record - The U.S. experiencing its wettest 12-month stretch on record (in this case 1895 to 2019). Deke Arndt, a climatologist at NOAA's National Center for Environmental Information (NCEI), tweeted: In case you missed it, the last 12 months (May '18 through Apr '19) is the wettest 12-month stretch on record for the US. A warmer world turns up the hydrology dial. When we are sent the bill for climate change, it comes in the context of our water. Here are the meteorological and climatological reasons why this likely happened as well as further explanation of the last sentence of Arndt's Tweet. The graphic above shows how abnormally wet it was in the U.S. from May 2018 to April 2019, particularly in the upper Midwest and the eastern U.S. By the way, if you live in the region shaded orange-brown, resist the urge to say "but it was drier where I live" so climate change is a hoax. Your local experience doesn't define the global experience. Before I discuss climate connections, it is important to discuss meteorological connections first. The inevitable "it has always rained" or "climate changes naturally" is lurking in someone's head right now. My placeholder response is that grass on your lawn grows naturally too, but it you put fertilizer on the soil, it grows differently. I will provide a more robust discussion later in the article. Several places, including Washington, D.C, broke records for wettest 12-month stretch. Jason Samenow wrote an outstanding article in the Washington Post Capital Weather Gang explaining the meteorological context for the period. I summarize Samenow's key points:

  • A persistently high-pressure pattern east of the U.S. transported Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico moisture into the eastern half of the country.
  • Another persistently high-pressure pattern near Alaska allowed storm-tracks to be directed into the upper Midwest and East by the jet stream
  • Possible jet stream modifications due to the emerging El Nino (warm central Pacific sea surface temperatures).

Experts like NOAA's Greg Carbin argued that El Nino had not really established itself. NOAA only announced the arrival of El Nino on February 14th, 2019. However, SUNY-Albany's Paul Roundy, an expert on tropical weather-climate connections, argues that global impacts are possible even in the incipient phases El Nino. The reality is that all of these factors likely played a role and reflects weather-climate variability inherent to the atmosphere.

For the Midwest, Epic Flooding Is the Face of Climate Change -- FIERCE STORMS LASHED across the central US this week, unleashing hundreds of powerful tornadoes that carved a path of destruction through parts of Missouri and Oklahoma Wednesday night, and left at least three dead. While the worst of the violent winds has passed, the region is now bracing for massive flooding, following record amounts of rain brought by the severe weather system and with more expected over the weekend. And it’s coming on the heels of the wettest 12 months the US has seen since record-keeping began in 1895. That’s according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which earlier this year predicted that two-thirds of the states in the lower 48 would risk major or moderate flooding between March and May. “This is shaping up to be a potentially unprecedented flood season, with more than 200 million people at risk for flooding in their communities,” Ed Clark, director of NOAA’s National Water Center said in the agency’s spring outlook report.So far, it’s proven prescient—with rivers from North Dakota east to Ohio and south to Louisiana all overflowing their banks in recent weeks. The damage to homes, businesses, and farms is likely to rise into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Scientists say it’s too early to tell to what degree this particularly relentless spring storm season is the result of human-induced climate change. But they agree that rising temperatures allow the atmosphere to hold more moisture—about 7 percent more for every 1 degree rise in Celsius—which produces more precipitation and has been fueling a pattern of more extreme weather events across the US. And perhaps more than any other part of the country, the Midwest has had its capacity to store excess water crippled by human enterprise. In 2015, researchers at the University of Iowa parsed historical records of peak discharges from more than 700 stream gauge stations across the Midwest. Their analysis, reported in Nature, found that between 1962 and 2011, the magnitude of flood events hadn’t changed much. At a third of the locations, however, the number of floods was trending upward significantly. More recent work, published in February by scientists at the University of Notre Dame, shows that floods aren't just getting more frequent—they'll also get more powerful in the future. Using a statistical method to blend data from global climate models with local information, the researchers predicted that the severity of extreme hydrologic events, so-called 100-year floods, hitting 20 watersheds in the Midwest and Great Lakes region will increase by as much as 30 percent by the end of the century. The approach, called “downscaling,” has been used to look at hydrological dynamics in other parts of the country before, but it was never applied to the Midwest. “What we’re seeing is that the past really is not a good predictor of the future,” says the study’s lead author, Kyuhyun Byun. “Especially when it comes to extreme weather events.”

Mississippi River’s Morganza Spillway Expected to Open For 3rd Time in History - After the wettest winter in U.S. history took the Mississippi River in March to its 2nd highest flood on record in Louisiana, renewed heavy rains that fell over the past week in the Central Plains and Midwest are expected to cause an even higher crest on the river in early June, forcing the Army Corps of Engineers to open the Morganza Spillway for just the 3rd time in history. Unrelenting severe weather and flooding rains have plagued the central U.S. since May 17, with widespread 7-day rainfall totals in excess of three inches recorded over much of the Mississippi River watershed. As of midday Friday, an impressive 346 of the 9054 contiguous U.S. NWS/AHPS river gauges were in flood stage. Despite the broad extent of the flooding, most of the crests fell short of all-time record levels, though Bird Creek at Avant, KS, hit 36.52' on Tuesday, beating the record of 32.03' from March 11, 1974. The most noteworthy crest over Memorial Day weekend is likely to be on the Arkansas River at Fort Smith/Van Buren, Arkansas (metro pop. 300,000), where the river is projected to crest at 41', nineteen feet above flood stage, and well above the prior record of 38.1' from April 16, 1945. The NWS warns that a flood level of 37’--four feet below the forecast flood level--“near catastrophic flooding occurs along the Arkansas River. The port of Fort Smith and nearby businesses are severely flooded. Several residential subdivisions around Fort Smith are flooded. Backwater flooding occurs in the trailer parks next to Lee Creek. This is an extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation.”   Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a news conference that the Morganza Spillway was expected open in early June, potentially as early as June 2. The Mississippi River near the spillway is expected to crest on June 5 at 62.1’, its second highest flood on record. At that height, the river will overtop the gates of the structure and cascade down the other side, potentially creating scour holes that could undermine the structure and cause its permanent failure. The Morganza Spillway is a 3,906-foot long structure with 125 gated openings, set back about a half-mile west of the west bank of the Mississippi River near Morganza, Louisiana. When the gates of the structure are opened, water flows westward through farmland between two guide levees into the Atchafalaya River. Valuable farmland and several hundred structures lie in the floodway, and up to $2 billion worth of property is at risk of flooding if the spillway is opened to its full capacity (which has never happened).

Tornadoes carve a path through Ohio and Indiana; 1 killed - (AP) — A swarm of apparent tornadoes so tightly packed that one may have crossed the path carved by another tore across Indiana and Ohio overnight, smashing homes and blowing out windows. One person was killed and dozens were injured. The storms were among 53 twisters that forecasters said may have touched down Monday across eight states stretching eastward from Idaho and Colorado. The winds knocked homes off their foundations, toppled trees and hurled so much debris that it could be seen on radar and highway crews had to use snowplows to clear an Ohio interstate.Some of the heaviest damage was reported just outside Dayton, Ohio.   Francis Dutmers with his wife headed for the basement of their home in Vandalia, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) outside Dayton, when the storm hit with a "very loud roar" Monday night. The winds blew out windows around his house, filled rooms with debris and took down most of his trees. In Celina, Ohio, 81-year-old Melvin Dale Hannah was killed when winds blew a parked car into his house, Mayor Jeffrey Hazel said Tuesday."There's areas that truly look like a war zone," Hazel said.Storm reports posted online by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Storm Prediction Center showed that 14 suspected tornadoes touched down in Indiana, 11 in Colorado and nine in Ohio. Six suspected tornadoes were reported in Iowa, five in Nebraska, four in Illinois, three in Minnesota and one in Idaho.Thunderstorms that spun off the Colorado tornadoes dropped hail as large as tennis balls, with pea-size hail reported in the Denver area.  A large tornado struck near Trotwood, Ohio, eight miles (12 kilometers) from Dayton, and Mayor Mary McDonald reported "catastrophic damage" in the community of 24,500 people. Several apartment buildings were damaged or destroyed, including one complex where the entire roof was torn away, and at least three dozen people were treated at emergency rooms for cuts, bumps and bruises.

Widespread damage in Dayton, Ohio area after series of tornadoes - A series of tornadoes late Monday night caused widespread damage in the Dayton, Ohio, area; at least one death and 130 injuries have been reported. Eighty-one-year-old Melvin Dale Hanna in the city of Celina, an hour’s drive northwest of Dayton, died after the storm picked up a vehicle and hurled it into his house. At least seven people were injured, three of them seriously, and 40 homes destroyed or seriously damaged in the city of 10,000. In Dayton itself several tornadoes hit heavily populated parts of the city, causing extensive damage, but fortunately no deaths have been reported at this point. Injured residents had to be pulled out of heavily damaged buildings after the storm. Images published after the winds hit show heavily damaged neighborhoods littered with debris and rooftops torn clear off apartments.  There were stories of narrow escapes, with residents taking shelter in basements only seconds before their homes were destroyed. The roof of a high school in the Dayton suburb of Brookville was ripped off and a 30,000 square foot sports complex in Dayton was destroyed. Drone video of the city showed swathes of homes and businesses completely flattened or heavily damaged with debris strewn over wide areas. Some 55,000 residents lost power in Dayton and city officials issued a boil water advisory after the winds knocked out power to water plants and pump stations. Public schools were closed Tuesday. The National Weather Service Office in Wilmington, Ohio, estimated that at the height of the storms 5 million people were without power. The town of Pendleton, Indiana, about 100 miles west of Dayton, also sustained heavy damage. The Ohio tornadoes are the latest in an unusual string of severe weather events. According to federal weather officials, a preliminary assessment shows there were 500 tornadoes in a 30-day period, causing at least seven deaths and scores of injuries. According to the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center, Monday was the eleventh consecutive day with at least eight tornado reports, tying a record.

Extreme weather spans coast-to-coast with multiple tornadoes and severe storms plaguing the country -  Severe storms stretched across the nation Tuesday, including tornadoes in Kansas and Pennsylvania, while catastrophic flooding puts other states at risk. It's only the latest outbreak of extreme weather that's been plaguing the U.S. for nearly two weeks. Tuesday's violent weather marks the 13th consecutive day of such severe storms, coming a day after a series of devastating tornadoes hit western Ohio late Monday. That dangerous streak included an average of 27.5 tornadoes occurring each day. Storms capable of producing hail, damaging wings and tornadoes have hit from the Central Plains into the mid-Atlantic, according to the National Weather Service. Police confirmed Tuesday evening that a tornado hit southwest of Lawrence, Kansas, in the eastern part of the state. The National Weather Service issued a tornado emergency for the areas around Kansas City and urged residents to take shelter, advising them to seek the lowest level in the most interior room.  The agency had also predicted that tornadoes may strike across the Upper Ohio Valley and Northeast States into Tuesday evening. Extreme weather warnings were issued across the state of Pennsylvania on Tuesday, including tornado warnings for Scranton, Dunmore, Wilkes-Barre and the Poconos. Leavenworth County, Kansas, Undersheriff Jim Sherley said 24 to 30 homes suffered extensive damage in storms there, but all reported injuries were minor. The storm ran through the communities of Linwood and Bonner Springs, and numerous power lines and trees were down in the path of the storm, he said. Tornado warnings were issued for Staten Island in New York City as well as Newark and Elizabeth, New Jersey, late Tuesday evening. An emergency management official in Stanhope, New Jersey, reported storm damage to the outside of Lenape Valley Regional High School, but there was no damage to the interior of the school and the 50 to 100 people inside the building for an athletic banquet were safely evacuated.  It won’t be clear if there was an actual tornado until an assessment is done Wednesday, officials said.  A tornado did touch down near Morgantown in Berks County, Pennsylvania, the weather service said, based on video showing the tornado on the ground, but an assessment still needs to be completed.

Tornadoes Hit Unusually Wide Swaths of U.S., Alarming Climate Scientists - As the death toll in Oklahoma rose to six Monday amid an outbreak of nearly 200 tornadoes across the Midwest in recent days — as well as in areas far less accustomed to them — climate scientists said such patterns may carry warnings about the climate crisis and its many implications for extreme weather events. In Oklahoma, tornadoes touched down in at least two cities, including El Reno and Sapulpa, over the weekend, injuring dozens and leveling a number of homes. The tornado that hit El Reno, a suburb of Oklahoma City, was given an EF3 rating, with wind speeds up to 165 miles per hour. Only about five percent of tornadoes are given an EF3 rating or higher. The tornadoes hit after much of the state endured severe flooding last week, following powerful storms that overflowed the Arkansas River and damaged about 1,000 homes. Outside the Midwest, at least one twister touched down near Washington, DC, with reports of tornadoes in Texas and Colorado, and Chicago facing a tornado watch on Monday. While tornadoes have long been a fixture in the Midwest, meteorologist Eric Holthaus tweeted last week that there is "reason to believe major outbreak days ... are getting worse," while climate scientists are examining links between the storms and the climate crisis. The so-called "Tornado Alley," which covers parts of Texas and Kansas as well as Oklahoma, appears to be growing, according to a study published in Nature last year — making tornadoes more frequent in states that rarely saw them previously including Arkansas, Mississippi and eastern Missouri. "What all the studies have shown is that this particular part of the U.S. has been having more tornado activity and more tornado outbreaks than it has had in decades before," Mike Tippett, a mathematician who studies the climate at Columbia University told PBS Newshour earlier this year.  The increase in destructive tornadoes across wider swaths of the country than in previous decades "may be suggestive of climate change effects," Purdue University researcher Ernest Agee told the Star. And the unusual occurrence of tornadoes in far more densely-populated areas than those that frequently see such weather events has led to concerns that tornadoes will become more deadly and destructive than they've been in the past. "We get caught up on the climate aspect, but the real issue going forward with tornadoes — and hail storms and hurricanes and insert your favorite natural disaster — is the fact that we have more human exposure," Victor Gensini, lead author of the study that appeared in Nature, told Pacific Standard in March.

This Is Not Normal - US Suffers More Than 500 Tornadoes In The Last 30 Days - The mainstream media has been using the term “uncharted territory” to describe the unusual tornado outbreaks that have been happening in the middle of the country, but I don’t think that truly captures the historic nature of what we are witnessing.  Over the last 30 days, there have been more than 500 tornadoes in the United States.  That is not normal.  In fact, Tuesday was the 12th day in a row when at least eight tornadoes were spawned, and that is a new all-time record.  Community after community in the Midwest now looks like a “war zone”, and billions upon billions of dollars of damage has already been done.  But this crisis is far from over, because forecasters are telling us that more powerful storms will roar through the middle of the country on Wednesday. Since 1998, there has been an average of 279 tornadoes during the month of May.  So the fact that we have had more than 500 over the last 30 days means that we are running way, way above normal…  In the last week alone, the authorities have linked tornadoes to at least seven deaths and scores of injuries. Federal government weather forecasters logged preliminary reports of more than 500 tornadoes in a 30-day period — a rare figure, if the reports are ultimately verified — after the start of the year proved mercifully quiet. According to the National Weather Service, there were more than 50 tornadoes over Memorial Day weekend alone, and at this point there have been at least 8 tornadoes in the U.S. for 12 consecutive daysTuesday was the 12th consecutive day with at least eight tornado reports, breaking the record, according to Dr. Marsh. The storms have drawn their fuel from two sources: a high-pressure area that pulled the Gulf of Mexico’s warm, moist air into the central United States, where it combined with the effects of a trough trapped over the Rockies, which included strong winds.The devastation that has been left behind by these storms has been immense.  When Dayton assistant fire chief Nicholas Hosford appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America”, he told viewers that in his city there are “homes flattened, entire apartment complexes destroyed, businesses throughout our community where walls have collapsed”. Countless numbers of Americans have had their lives completely turned upside down, and of course the Midwest has already been reeling from unprecedented flooding in recent months.

Historic Flooding on the Arkansas River in Oklahoma and Arkansas - Torrential rains in Oklahoma over the past two weeks have brought the Arkansas River in western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma to its highest water level ever recorded. Near the Oklahoma borderat Fort Smith, Arkansas (population 300,000), the river rose to two feet above its previous all-time high on Tuesday morning, and was predicted to rise at least another two feet before cresting on Wednesday. The river also hit a record high on Friday at Ponca City, Oklahoma, about 70 miles upriver from Tulsa. Between those two locations, at Muskogee, Oklahoma, the river crested on Sunday at its second highest level on record. All-time record crests are predicted over the next week along a 100-mile stretch of the river extending from Fort Smith to just upstream from Little Rock, Arkansas. At Little Rock, the crest is predicted to be the sixth highest on record, and the highest since 1990. On Tuesday afternoon, two levees along the Arkansas River in Arkansas were overtopped, flooding farmlands, according to Arkansas River flooding has already triggered the evacuation of hundreds of people in Oklahoma, including areas just west of Tulsa. More people are expected to be flooded as water is released from the Keystone Dam in Tulsa, the Tulsa World reported. Engineers are trying to prevent catastrophic flooding that could come if the lake overflows its floodgates. The flood's longevity has also triggered concerns about Tulsa County's 70-year-old levee system, which is undergoing far more prolonged stress than it did during the record-setting floods of 1986.  In the Fort Smith area, the State Highway 59 Bridge was the only crossing on the Arkansas River left open after officials closed the Interstate 540 bridge and the Midland bridge. Schools in Fort Smith will be closed at least through Thursday, the district announced.

Every Oklahoma County Under State of Emergency as Historically Wet Spring Continues - This has been a historically wet spring for the South and Central U.S. The National Weather Service said that Mississippi River flooding in at least eight states has lasted its longest since the "Great Flood" of 1927, USA Today reported Wednesday. And now, following two weeks of storms in Oklahoma and Kansas, the Arkansas River in eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas has swollen to record levels, Axios reported Wednesday. Authorities in Tulsa, Oklahoma are hoping 70-year-old levees will hold, according to Axios, and every county in the state has declared an emergency over flooding, CNN reported Tuesday. As many as six people have died in the state over the past few days because of extreme weather, including floods and tornadoes."We still have water still rising in the east," Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said Monday. "We are not out of the woods yet."Thunderstorms are predicted through Tuesday night from Iowa to Oklahoma and then again Wednesday and Wednesday night from Texas into Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri, The Weather Channel reported. This could threaten new flash floods and add to existing flooding.The Army Corps of Engineers increased the water flow from the Keystone Dam in Oklahoma to 275,000 cubic feet per second to try and prevent water from overflowing the spillway, The New York Times reported. Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said authorities were monitoring water levels."We are planning for and preparing for the flood of record, and we think everybody along the Arkansas River corridor ought to be doing the same," Bynum told reporters Tuesday, according to The New York Times. "While it's high risk, there is not an emergency behind the levees right now. It's a high-risk situation when you're talking about infrastructure that's being tested in such a strong way."Meanwhile, flood waters have turned the town of Braggs, Oklahoma into an island since late last week, and residents have organized boat runs for gas, medicine and food for livestock and people."We're just blocked off from civilization,"  Record flooding is also expected in Ozark, Dardanelle, Morrilton and Toad Suck Reservoir, Arkansas this week, and could top levees in Conway and Faulkner Counties, The Weather Channel said Tuesday.

Large areas of the central US are under water -- and the threat isn't going away – CNN - How bad is the flooding across the central United States? A total of 70 river gauges along the Mississippi River and its tributaries are experiencing major flooding, and another 104 are seeing moderate flooding, as of Wednesday's latest data. In all, cities across the region, from Minneapolis down to New Orleans, have been slammed by heavy rain and flooding.And it's not over yet. More heavy rain is in the forecast for today, and over 10 million remain under flood warnings from Oklahoma into Kansas, Missouri and Illinois. The greatest flash flood potential will be from Texas into Arkansas, where 2 to 4 inches of rainfall will be common.Here's a look at the extent of this flooding across the region. The hardest hit areas will likely be along the Arkansas River, with a crest today in Tulsa near the record for the river. Floodwaters from the Arkansas River have inundated homes outside Tulsa, such as in these photos from May 23 in Sand Springs.  US Rep. Kevin Hern, who represents parts of Tulsa County and Sand Springs, said he was extremely concerned about the aging levees in his district."The devastation from the Arkansas River flooding is real, and the continued risk to citizens and businesses is equally as real," he said.  The Arkansas River, already rising, will reach near-record or record levels -- above 40 feet in some areas -- Thursday afternoon, officials said."This is looking to be record-breaking all along the Arkansas River, and this is something we have never seen before," state emergency management spokeswoman Melody Daniel said. "This is a flood of historic magnitude, it surpasses all Arkansas flooding in our recorded history. That should be enough to get everyone's attention." Just in Missouri, 52 river gauges are in major flooding, and another 40 river gauges are experiencing moderate flooding. The flooding is particularly prevalent around St. Louis and its border with Illinois.Mississippi River gauges in Scott County, which includes Davenport, were in a major flooding zone on Wednesday.The flooding in Iowa was so bad that a Scott County flood assistance event scheduled for Wednesday was postponed because of rising waters. Continued rainfall and saturated ground conditions have affected the Iowa county for most of the year, according to the Scott County website. Earlier in May, several city blocks in Davenport were flooded after the swollen Mississippi River broke through a temporary barrier and sent water into the city's downtown.

Arkansas River bursts through levee north of Little Rock, triggering evacuations – The swollen Arkansas River ripped through a 40-foot section of a levee about 75 miles northwest of Little Rock, Arkansas, early Friday morning, prompting flash-flood warnings and evacuations in rural areas around Dardanelle and Holla Bend. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning in the area, warning that some 5,700 people, four schools and a hospital were potentially exposed to the flooding. The NWS urged people to move to higher ground. “Water is going to do what it wants to do,” Yell County Judge Mark Thone told reporters at a news conference. “We’re just trying to head this off.” Jimmy Witt, mayor of Dardanelle, called on the 4,500 residents of his town to begin immediate sandbagging operations. He said he expected water to encroach the town "from the bayou side."  "I ask you to please not panic, we have time to prepare for this," Witt said on his Facebook page. The weather service noted a slight dip in the water level for the levee at Dardanelle, likely due to the breach.   "An historic flood event is expected along the Arkansas River in the coming days," warned the weather service in Little Rock. "Some long-time record crests could be surpassed by five feet above the record set in 1945."  This is the same river that's flooded hundreds of homes in the Tulsa area, and the high water is rolling downstream as the Arkansas River makes its way to its confluence with the Mississippi River and then down into the Gulf of Mexico. Authorities say flooding danger will rise through at least the weekend along the river.Arkansas authorities urged residents to evacuate the area, which is largely rural with dirt roads crisscrossing farm fields.

Record floods breach Arkansas levee, overtop 2 in Missouri - (AP) — Relentless flooding in the central U.S. on Friday inundated communities and damaged or spilled over levees on three major rivers in two states, and authorities discovered the body of a drowning victim at a Missouri lake. The fast-flowing Arkansas River smashed a 40-foot (12-meter) hole in a levee in rural western Arkansas, causing water to spill into a nearby community. In northeast Missouri, a levee was overtopped on the Mississippi River, and another levee was topped on the Missouri River in the central part of the state. The flooding has been building for days because of heavy rainfall upstream. In Arkansas, officials were warning of more potential problems on an already strained levee system. “These levees were not built to sustain this high a flow for this long, and we are seeing problems and there more than likely will be more,” said Laurie Driver, spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Little Rock District. In eastern Missouri, the state Highway Patrol’s Water Division reported that the body of 57-year-old Lane Panasuk, of Butte, Montana, was recovered Thursday evening from Harry S. Truman Lake in Henry County, but the patrol said it did not know why he was in the water. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had warned visitors about high water levels that had closed most of the campgrounds around the lake and a road over its dam. In Arkansas, the levee breached at Dardanelle, about 60 miles (95 kilometers) northwest of Little Rock. Yell County officials had anticipated the breach and urged residents in the nearby Holla Bend area to evacuate Thursday. The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management said crews went door to door to recommend evacuation for about 160 homes. Yell County Emergency Manager Jeff Gilkey told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that rapid currents from the river ripped a 40-foot (12-meter) section from the levee. Aerial video posted by the sheriff’s office Friday showed water pouring through the hole.

Planting Troubles Worsen, Progress Lowest on Record for Corn (see maps, graphics) Unrelenting rainfall continues to cause headaches for Corn Belt farmers. Record-breaking precipitation this year has lead to flooding and historic delays in the pace of U.S. corn planting. Soybean planting has also fallen significantly behind the five year average. Today’s update recaps recent news articles and government reports that discuss these issues in more detail. USA Today writer Doyle Rice reported on Wednesday that, “Flooding in at least 8 states along portions of the Mississippi River – due to relentless, record-breaking spring rainfall – is the longest-lasting since the ‘Great Flood’ of 1927, the National Weather Service said.” Mr. Rice explained that, “The Mississippi River at the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois saw its longest stretch above major flood stage ever recorded, even surpassing that of 1927.” All of this year’s flooding is due to both early spring snowmelt and seemingly endless rain: Since the start of 2019, much of the lower Ohio and lower Mississippi River Valleys have picked up more than 2 feet of rain. A few spots have even received over 40 inches of rain, the Weather Channel said. Shelby Fleig reported in Wednesday’s Des Moines Register that, “A jet-stream pattern stuck over the Midwest has pummeled Iowa with tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, hail and heavy rainfall in recent days. More of the same is expected this week, forecasters say, increasing chances for flash floods in parts of the state.” The article noted that, “‘The ground really can’t hold any more water,’  With this background in mind, Bloomberg News reported Wednesday that, “U.S. farmers, which grow a third of the world’s corn and soybeans, have faced weeks of sluggish spring fieldwork as precipitation continues across the grain belt. Just 58% of the nation’s corn crop was planted as of May 26, the lowest on record for this time of year, and the rate of soybean seedings is the least since 1990, government data released [Tuesday] showed. “The risk of shrinking production has sent crop prices climbing, and the storms have yet to abate. Parts of Iowa, Illinois and Missouri are under warnings for flash floods, according to the National Weather Service. Some farmers are running up against deadlines to plant crops and still be covered under insurance policies to protect against losses in yield and price.”  The Bloomberg article added that, “The past 12 months have marked the U.S.’s wettest stretch on record. The U.S. corn planting pace released [Tuesday] trailed all analyst estimates in a Bloomberg survey and compared with 90% a year earlier. Prospects may improve in early June as the wet weather pushes farther south, though Midwest storms are set to resume afterward, according to Maxar.” Financial Times writer Emiko Terazono reported on Wednesday that, “Corn prices popped to a 3-year high after a severe delay in plantings in the US midwest due to extreme wet weather.

Record Cold, Snow, Flooding and Tornadoes: Why the Midwest and Plains Have Been Most Extreme Weather Regions in 2019 -The Plains and Midwest have been the most extreme, record-breaking weather regions so far this year. Since January, those regions have set records for cold, snow and flooding. May has added hundreds of reports of tornadoes to the list. The general jet stream pattern which has brought heavy snow, flooding rain and tornadoes to the central US. so far in 2019.A persistent weather pattern is the culprit for the storminess.  Strong upper-level winds from the jet stream have often carved a path southward over the West. When that happens, it puts the Plains and Midwest in the crosshairs of a repetitive track of storms. Moisture from the Gulf of Mexico feeds into those systems and allows them to dump copious amounts of precipitation.Here's a look at the extreme weather we've seen so far in 2019, from May's severe weather and flooding to January's polar-vortex induced record cold.  Fresh on our minds is the nearly two-week-long siege of severe weather and flooding.There have been more than 350 reports of tornadoes across the United States from May 17-early May 29, and most of those have been in the Midwest or Plains. The month as a whole has had 442 reports of tornadoes through May 27, according to NOAA's Storm Prediction Center.The actual number of tornadoes confirmed from those reports has yet to be determined, pending NWS damage surveys, but it's likely the final tornado count for May 2019 will be well above the month's 20-year average of 279.Heavy rainfall has also triggered historic flooding in the central states. Record crests have occurred on the Arkansas River in Oklahoma and Arkansas and on Bird Creek in Avant, Oklahoma.May has been record wet in Kansas City and Bartlesville, Oklahoma. A few other spots in Kansas and Oklahoma are also closing in on May rainfall records. Several locations along the Mississippi River clinched records for their longest-lasting floods since the Great Flood of 1927. Flooding has been ongoing for months along parts of the river, including in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where flooding began in January.

Wildfires Force 10,000 to Flee as Alberta Repeals Carbon Tax - More than 10,000 people have been forced to evacuate as wildfires spread in northern Alberta, Canada'sCBC News reported Thursday. Smoke from the fires has choked skies across the province, raising the Air Quality Health Index in its capital city of Edmonton to a 10+ Thursday, the Edmonton Journal reported.  In an ironic turn, the fires prompted Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to cancel a celebration of the repeal of the province's carbon tax, Canada's National Observer reported. *This event has been cancelled so the premier can receive an internal, real-time briefing on the status of Alberta's wildfires," the government said in a statement reported by Canada's National Observer.  Kenney had promised to repeal the carbon tax and roll back other climate change policies in the April 16 general election. A bill to repeal the tax was the first his government introduced after gaining power. While the bill has not yet passed, fuel sellers were expected to stop collecting the tax at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, the Edmonton Journal reported."Just hours later, the skies of Edmonton darkened with smoke from wildfires in the north of the province," the paper wrote.Canada's Environment Minister Catherine McKenna criticized the repeal and said she was working on a national tax. "We know we're feeling the impacts of climate change. In Alberta, you have forest fires this year that have started earlier than before, major concerns about the impacts of these fires this year," McKenna said, as the Edmonton Journal reported. "We're going to work as quickly as possible to make sure it's no longer free to pollute."

Fire-driven weather is 'new reality' for Canada and elsewhere, expert cautions - CBC Radio – Transcript - Springtime has become synonymous with wildfire season in many parts of Canada, and it's time the preparation and damage control reflected this, says Ed Struzik. Our changing climate is directly impacting the frequency and intensity of wildfires, and it's important that Canada's approach to combating these blazes — and their resulting weather systems — is re-visited, he told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti. "Our traditional response to wildfire is not going to be good enough in the future," the author ofFirestorm: How Wildfire Will Shape Our Future said. Struzik, who is also a fellow at the Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy at Queen's University, spoke with Tremonti about the devastating wildfire south of High Level, Alta., that has led to the evacuation of about 5,000 people, and what the future of wildfires looks like. Here is part of their conversation.

Chile's Southern Patagonia Ice Field ruptured by climate change - scientists (Reuters) - Chile's 12,000 square kilometer (4,633 square mile) Southern Patagonia Ice Field split in two and is likely to continue to fracture amid climate change, according to a team of Chilean scientists who were in the region in March. Gino Casassa, chief of the Snow and Glacier Division of Chile's DGA water authority, told Reuters increasing temperatures along the Andes Mountains in southern Chile and Argentina have meant less snow and ice to replenish the region's abundant glaciers. "What occurred is a fracture as the ice has retreated," Casassa said. The chunk of ice that split off from the main glacier was estimated at 208 square kilometers (80.3 square miles), a relatively small part of the ice field. But Casassa said it may be a sign of things to come. The ice field, he said, is now "split in two, and we'll likely discover further divisions to the south," he said. Two icebergs broke off the Grey Glacier in southern Chile's Torres del Paine National Park earlier this year, adding to fears that such ruptures are becoming more frequent.

 ‘Walking over bodies’: mountaineers describe carnage on Everest - An experienced mountaineer has described the “death, carnage and chaos” at the top of Mount Everest as climbers pushed past bodies to reach the world’s highest summit.The death toll on the mountain grew to 11 in the past day after an American doctor was killed while descending from the peak. It emerged also that an Australian climber was discovered unconscious but had survived after being transported downhill on the back of a yak.  Elia Saikaly, a film-maker, reached Hillary Step, the final stage before the summit, on the morning of 23 May, where he said the sunrise revealed the lifeless body of another climber. With little choice at that altitude but to keep moving, his team – including Joyce Azzam, the first Lebanese woman to climb the world’s “Seven Summits” – made it to the peak a short time later.“I cannot believe what I saw up there,” Saikaly said of the last hours of his climb in a post on Instagram. “Death. Carnage. Chaos. Lineups. Dead bodies on the route and in tents at camp 4. People who I tried to turn back who ended up dying. People being dragged down. Walking over bodies. Everything you read in the sensational headlines all played out on our summit night.”   This year’s Everest climbing season is so far the fourth deadliest on record, with mountaineers blaming poor weather, inexperienced climbers and a record number of permits issued by the Nepalese government, which, along with a rule that every climber has to be accompanied by a sherpa, led to there being more than 820 people trying to reach the summit. “There were 200-plus climbers making there way to the summit,” Saikaly told the Guardian of his ascent. “I came across a deceased climber … that person’s body was fixed to an anchor point between two safety lines and every single person that was climbing towards the summit had to step over that human being.

The Western Hemisphere’s portion of the Arctic looks set for a record low - (see maps) Given Donald Trump’s view that global warming is a hoax, I am surprised that almost 2 1/2 years into his Presidency NOAA’s “Arctic Sea Ice” page is still with us. And since I am a nerd, during the spring and summer it is something I check. In past years, sea ice melted much more in the Eurasian arctic at the extremities of the Gulf Stream than on the North American side. In contrast, the decline in ice cover in the North American sector of the Arctic is particularly advanced this year. Here’s what it looks like as of yesterday: With the exception of Hudson’s Bay, it looks much more like the end of June for the past decade in that sector of the Arctic. In order, here are June 2018, 2017, and 2012 And for the Canadian Arctic (again aside for Hudson’s Bay), it isn’t even far behind mid-July of last year: Of course, this pattern might not continue for the next several months. But if it does, we are probably going to set another record low for ice, at least for the Western Hemisphere’s portion of the Arctic.

Putin’s Arctic Plans Are a Climate Change Bet - Last weekend, Russia launched the last of a new crew of atomic icebreakers meant to consolidate the country’s dominance of commercial traffic in the Arctic. As much of the rest of the world recognizes climate change as an emergency, Russia is working hard to capitalize on it — and the U.S. appears to be far behind. The icebreaker Ural, launched at the Baltic Shipyard in St. Petersburg, is the third and last ship, at least for now, of Project 22220. The other two, the Arktika and the Sibir, were launched in 2016 and 2017; the Arktika is expected to enter service this year. These powerful ships, capable of crashing through 3-meter-thick ice for clearing shipping routes, are the first nuclear-powered icebreakers designed in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union and fully built in post-Soviet times.  The Russian government aims to replace current nuclear icebreaker fleet with the new giant ships in order to make what Russia calls the Northern Sea Route navigable year-round, not just a few months a year. The Northern Sea Route tracks Russia’s Arctic coastline from the Barents Sea in the west to the Bering Strait in the east. It cuts cargo delivery times between Europe and Asia by 10 to 15 days compared to shipping via the Suez Canal. The Russian government claims the right to regulate the whole of the route, even though not all of it passes through the country’s territorial waters, defined as 200 nautical miles from its shores. The Russian insistence that all Arctic traffic requires Moscow’s permission long has been an irritant to the U.S. Russia, meanwhile, has invested in opening and reopening military bases along its Arctic coast. Ten disused military airfields have been reopened, and 13 more are being built. By now, the bases cover almost the entire coastline and are, if required, ready to protect or disrupt any traffic along the North Sea Route. In a classic case of great power competition — who’s got more hardware? — the U.S. faces an “icebreaker gap” compared with Russia.The reason for this gap may well lie in the two countries’ different approaches to climate change. The U.S. oscillates between recognizing it as an emergency and, most recently under President Donald Trump, full-on skepticism. Russian President Vladimir Putin, for his part, has expressed doubt that human activity is causing climate change, but he doesn’t deny that it’s taking place. Putin’s attitude is that people can’t do much to stop climate change, and that makes adapting to it a long game. While he recognizes that the frequent droughts and floods that come with climate change can hurt Russian agriculture, he also sees the opportunities that come with a warmer climate, including a more navigable Arctic Ocean. 

CO2 emissions: The trend is not your friend -- When the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported in late March that energy consumption in 2018 rose at the fastest rate in a decade, it confirmed something that most of those who truly understand the climate crisis already know: Collectively, humanity is making almost no progress in doing anything significant about climate change. So, it's not surprising that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration has hit yet another record high. While the dominate public narrative has been that we are making great leaps toward a low-carbon economy through the rapid deployment of renewable energy, the IEA report showed a civilization moving inexorably toward climate catastrophe. Of the growth in energy demand—the extra energy needed to power the world economy in 2018 versus 2017—70 percent was supplied by fossil fuels. When we hear, as the IEA tells us, that solar energy generation increased by 31 percent last year without appropriate context, we fail to understand that this is off a very small base relative to fossil fuel energy. Coal burning accounted for about one-third of all emissions in 2018. Coal consumption continues to increase. This, we are told, is despite the rising use of natural gas for electricity generation. But, natural gas, though it contains less carbon, is still a carbon fuel. Perhaps the most important statement in the release was this:  Almost a fifth of the increase in global energy demand came from higher demand for heating and cooling as average winter and summer temperatures in some regions approached or exceeded historical records. Cold snaps drove demand for heating and, more significantly, hotter summer temperatures pushed up demand for cooling. Climate change is creating a vicious cycle in which that change creates greater extremes in weather which create more demand for energy which is still largely generated using fossil fuels—which then release more greenhouse gases creating even more extreme climate.  The IEA does make a strong statement that the world is moving in the opposite direction it needs to. But, of course, the IEA's role is to make such statements. It cannot force any of its member governments to do anything. The problem is not lack of information or understanding. When even staid multilateral organizations such as the IEA state baldly that we are in terrible trouble, you can be assured that the message has become acceptable at the highest levels of government.

Big Pharma Emits More Greenhouse Gases Than the Automotive Industry  --Rarely does mention of the pharmaceutical industry conjure up images of smoke stacks, pollution and environmental damage.Yet our recent study found the global pharmaceutical industry is not only a significant contributor to global warming, but it is also dirtier than the global automotive production sector. It was a surprise to find how little attention researchers have paid to the industry's greenhouse gas emissions. Only two other studies had some relevance: one looked at the environmental impact of the U.S. healthcare system and the other at the pollution (mostly water) discharged by drug manufacturers. Our study was the first to assess the carbon footprint of the pharma sector. More than 200 companies represent the global pharmaceutical market, yet only 25 consistently reported their direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions in the past five years. Of those, only 15 reported their emissions since 2012.  We assessed the sector's emissions for each one million dollars of revenue in 2015.  We found it was 48.55 tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) per million dollars. That's about 55 percent greater than the automotive sector at 31.4 tonnes of CO2e/$M for that same year. We restricted our analysis to the direct emissions generated by the companies' operations and to the indirect emissions generated by the electricity purchased by these companies from their respective utilities companies.The total global emissions of the pharma sector amounts to about 52 megatonnes of CO2e in 2015, more than the 46.4 megatonnes of CO2e generated by the automotive sector in the same year. The value of the pharma market, however, is smaller than the automotive market. By our calculations, the pharma market is 28 percent smaller yet 13 percent more polluting than the automotive sector.We also found emissions intensity varied greatly within the pharmaceutical sector. For example, the emissions intensity of Eli Lilly (77.3 tonnes of CO2e/$M) was 5.5 times greater than Roche (14 tonnes CO2e/$M) in 2015, and Procter & Gamble's CO2 emissions were five times greater than Johnson & Johnson even though the two companies generated the same level of revenues and sell similar lines of products. We found outliers too. The German company Bayer AG reported emissions of 9.7 megatonnes of CO2e and revenues of US$51.4 billion, yielding an emission intensity of 189 tonnes CO2e/$M. This intensity level is more than four times greater than the overall pharmaceutical sector.

Trump climate adviser compared ‘demonization’ of carbon dioxide to Jews’ treatment under Hitler -An aide to President Donald Trump once compared the treatment of the Jewish people under the Nazis to what he said was the “demonization” of carbon dioxide, in an attack on the science of man-made climate change.‘The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler.’William Happer.   William Happer, who serves on the National Security Council as Trump's deputy assistant for emerging technologies, made the argument in a 2014 CNBC interview. The comment resurfaced in the New York Times on Monday, in a story about how the administration is hardening an attack on climate science.The Times piece says Happer is leading a new climate-review panel that will question the conclusions of the National Climate Assessment. A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency defended proposed changes to the assessment, saying among other things it used “inaccurate modeling.”In the CNBC interview, Happer said “carbon dioxide is actually a benefit to the world, and so were the Jews.” Happer is a physicist who was a professor at Princeton University. (In an email from 2017, Happer not only repeated that analogy but added two others, likening the so-called demonization of carbon dioxide to “the Soviet extermination of class enemies or ISIL slaughter of infidels.”)

 ABC News spent more time on royal baby in one week than on climate crisis in one year - Here's media misconduct in a nutshell: ABC’s World News Tonight spent more than seven minutes reporting on the birth of royal baby Archie in the week after he was born -- more time than the program spent covering climate change during the entire year of 2018. Other major TV news outlets in the U.S. have also severely under-reported on climate change and yet found plenty of time to note the arrival of Archie, son of Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex. Archie is now seventh in line to the British throne, which means he'll be a permanent tabloid fixture but is unlikely to ever be a king. On May 6, the day Archie was born, the United Nations released a summary of a major new report warning that human destruction of the natural world, including through climate change, now threatens up to a million species with extinction. That's dire news for our species too, as it also threatens our water supplies, food security, and health. The destruction of ecosystems and species “means grave impacts on people around the world are now likely,” the reportwarned. Robert Watson, head of the group of scientists that produced the report, laid it on the line: “What’s at stake here is a liveable world.”   Yes, this extinction crisis is grim news, and many people like a little light fare mixed in with their headlines -- a report on a royal baby, if you’re into that kind of thing, or a sports recap, or a segment on disgruntled Game of Thrones fans. But when the light fare takes over and the real news is shut out, that’s beyond lopsided. We’ve got a problem. Media Matters tracked broadcast news coverage on May 6 and found that ABC and NBC's nightly news programs failed to even mention the U.N. biodiversity report. They did, however, air two segments each on Archie. CBS was the only national broadcast network that ran a segment on the biodiversity report that night, and of course it ran one on the baby, too. The perverse priorities of TV newscasters became even more obvious in the following days. Archie stayed in the news. Biodiversity and climate change stayed out of it.

Voters across Europe seek action over climate change - The devastating impact humans are having on the natural world have been the focus of heavy-hitting, sobering reports on the consequences of climate change recently. A recent study predicted that one million animal and plant species face extinction, many within decades.  Scientists have repeatedly warned that the world must ramp up action to cut emissions to prevent global temperatures rising beyond dangerous thresholds to, in short, save the planet. Those stark warnings about the future of the world seem to have hit home. Projections in the Local and European elections have become a sounding board for the electorate’s green priorities.  By yesterday evening, seven Green Party candidates had taken seats on Dublin City Council while the RED C exit poll for RTÉ and TG4 sent shock waves through the political system showing a surge of support for the Green Partywith it on course to top the European Parliament elections poll in Dublin.   The party may also be on the way to win seats in the South and Midlands-North-West constituencies.  Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has got the "very clear" message from the electorate.   "We are acting on climate, but they want us to act faster - we have got that message," he said from the Citywest count centre.

School strike for climate: Protests staged around the world -- School students around the world have gone on strike to demand action on climate change. Organisers said more than a million people were expected to join the action in at least 110 countries on Friday. They are calling on politicians and businesses to take urgent action to slow global warming. The strikes are inspired by student Greta Thunberg, who has become a global figurehead since protesting outside Sweden's parliament in 2018. Carrying a "school strike for climate change" sign, the then 15-year-old said she was refusing to attend classes until Swedish politicians took action. The solo protest led to various movements across Europe, the US and Australia, known as Fridays for Future or School Strike for Climate. The last co-ordinated international protest took place on 15 March, with an estimated 1.6 million students from 125 countries walking out of school.

'Our political leaders have failed us:' Teen activist slams world leaders on climate change - Youth climate activist Greta Thunberg, 16, criticized world leaders and “older generations” Tuesday for their inaction on climate change. In a speech at the R20 Austrian World Summit in Vienna, Thunberg cited devastating findings from a report released last year by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report found that the world needs to decrease emissions by 45 percent by 2030, or the atmosphere will rise to 1.5 degrees of warming. This could cause multiple feet of sea level rise and endanger tropical coral reefs. “It is we children and future generations that are going to suffer the most from these consequences if we fail. It should not be up to us to take responsibility, but since most world leaders are behaving like children, we have no other choice. The older generations have failed us. Our political leaders have failed us,” Thunberg said. “Our political leaders can’t seem to think beyond the next election, and that must come to an end. This ongoing inaction of people in power and the companies responsible will, in the future, no doubt be remembered as a crime against humanity,” she added. Thunberg called on the audience to take action and consider how they will be remembered by their grandchildren and future generations. “If people really knew the full consequences of the climate crisis, they would join us on the streets, striking from their work, moving on from words to action,” Thunberg said. “Because the biosphere doesn’t care about empty words. The biosphere doesn’t care about what we say. It only cares about what we actually do.”

Dr Jane Goodall urges climate change protesters to follow up marches with proactive action - Famed chimpanzee expert Dr Jane Goodall says people are too focussed on themselves, and not thinking about the next generation. In an exclusive interview with The Project, she praised the younger generation for taking action against climate change. She also shared her frustration at US President Donald Trump. Dr Goodall told The Project's Jesse Mulligan Trump had done so much damage to the environment, due to his treatment of climate issues. "But he's not alone - when you think that in the olden days the indigenous people, they used to make decisions in their lives, asking 'how will this affect future generations?' "Today, it's 'how will it affect me now; the next political campaign, or the next shareholder meeting?' "CEO's and Government leaders who have children say 'I love my children', but do you realise what you're doing to them?" While she praised the younger generation for taking action against climate change, Dr Goodall hoped protesters would go a step further. "I hope they do more than just march and take a day off school," she told The Project. "It needs to be followed by taking action themselves. You can't point at a Government official and say 'you've got to do something' unless you too are doing something."

 Top GOP pollster finds overwhelming support for carbon tax by millennial Republicans A new survey finds Republicans under 40 support a carbon tax 7-to-1. And a remarkable 85% of Republican millennials are concerned that “the current Republican position on climate change is hurting the party with younger voters.” But what makes this result so striking is that the survey was conducted by Frank Luntz, a top GOP strategist and pollster. Luntz wrote an infamous memo in 2002 detailing the exact words conservatives should use if they want to sound like they care about climate change without actually doing anything about it. Luntz, for instance, is the one who urged Republicans to use the phrase “climate change,” arguing that it is “less frightening” than “global warming.” Significantly, Luntz’s firm, which has been polling this issue for decades, reported this week that a Carbon Dividend Plan — which charges fossil fuel companies for their carbon emissions and rebates the money directly back to the public — is uniquely popular.

Senate hearing on agriculture and climate change featured industry speakers, no climate scientists -- A Tuesday Senate hearing reviewing the impact of climate change on agriculture featured a strong defense of industry, at a time when the role of the sector in contributing to global warming is under growing scrutiny. The morning panel, hosted by the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, indicated that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are growing more willing to engage with the connection between agriculture and climate change. But the hearing also outlined the resistance climate advocates are likely to face from members of the sector, along with Republicans in the upper legislative chamber. Opening the hearing, Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) struck a conciliatory note, acknowledging climate change and calling for solutions. But he also argued that “no single silver bullet solution” exists for addressing the crisis and offered a pre-emptive defense of farmers and ranchers. “If farmers are hindered from using existing technologies and research…we can expect an economic result that is, at the least, more costly, and at the worst, unsustainable for our farmers,” Roberts said.

Climate Proposals Fail at Exxon, Chevron Shareholder Meetings - Exxon and Chevron shareholders rejected a series of climate change-related proposals at the companies’ annual investors meetings on Wednesday. At Chevron’s meeting, one investor proposal asked the company to report on its strategy for reducing its carbon footprint, putting the business in alignment with the Paris Agreement. Exxon shareholders asked the company to create a report assessing the public health risk of its Gulf Coast facilities, which are located in areas that are increasingly prone to climate change-induced storms, flooding and sea level rise. They also called on Exxon to disclose its lobbying expenses and political contributions. Both companies received climate-related proposals calling for the creation of a special board committee on climate risks and for the establishment of an independent board chairman. The closest any proposal came to success was the 41 percent of Exxon investors who voted against management and in favor of requiring the chair of the board of directors to be an independent member of the board. Currently, Darren Woods serves as both chief executive officer and chairman of the board, which critics say creates a conflict of interest, since one of the board’s functions is oversight of the chief executive.While the proposal did not pass, supporters still called the vote a success. “Company and investors have been in open conflict about climate strategy and disclosure,” said Edward Mason, head of responsible investment for the Church of England. Mason presented the proposal, which was filed by the Kestrel Foundation of Maine. The conflict heightened when Exxon obtained permission from the Securities and Exchange Commission last month to block voting on a separate proposal by the New York State Common Retirement Fund and the Church of England requesting it set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That prompted the two funds to publicly declare their support for the proposal to separate the board chair and the chief executive and both vowed to vote against Exxon’s entire board. Mason called the vote a “warning shot to management.”.

Florida appoints first chief science officer to take on climate crisis - To say Dr Tom Frazer faces a daunting workload as he begins his new job as Florida’s first chief science officer would be an underestimation. From the increasing risk of ever stronger Atlantic hurricanes, toxic algae blooms that have inundated the state’s beaches and inland waterways, and rising sea levels that threaten to leave Florida underwater by the end of the century, the challenges appear immense. But where many see a five-alarm climate emergency laying siege to his state, Frazer, with a measured approach honed from more than three decades’ experience of working in environmental science, sees only opportunity. “It’s a very exciting time in the state of Florida,” he said in an interview with the Guardian and several local reporters as he assumed the role created by the new Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, soon after he took office in January. “There’s a clear focus in this state right now on water quality issues, so that is my priority moving forward. Rising sea levels are [also] a priority issue and factor prominently in how we’re looking at some of the other issues we’re dealing with. I don’t know how to say it any clearer than that.” While Frazer and his new boss, Noah Valenstein, Florida’s secretary for environmental protection, were reluctant to characterize it as such, the appointment of a chief science officer – the first such state-level position in the nation – is a literal sea change from the approach taken by DeSantis’s predecessor, Rick Scott.As governor, Scott was widely seen as a disaster for the environment,slashing $700m from the water management budget, rolling back crucial water quality safeguards and pursuing pro-industry policies that critics said turned a blind eye to pollution and polluters. Florida’s recent tourism and wildlife-killing red tides, they insist, were far worse as a result.

 Turn Methane into CO2 to Reduce Warming, Experts Propose - Most plans to tackle climate change revolve around cutting down on carbon dioxide, usually by reducing human emissions. But an unconventional new idea could actually slow the progress of global warming by putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere—while removing a more potent planet-warming gas in the process. In a comment published Monday in the journal Nature Sustainability, a group of climate and chemistry experts said methane should be focused on more in the fight against climate change. Methane persists for a much shorter time in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide but is a much more powerful climate-warming gas while it lasts. Capturing atmospheric methane and converting it into less potent carbon dioxide, using special materials and chemical catalysts, may be one way to reduce the warming potential of greenhouse gases in the air, the authors say. The idea is not intended to be a replacement for cutting emissions, noted the comment’s lead author Rob Jackson, a climate and environmental scientist at Stanford University. “The smartest thing to do is to keep methane and carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere,” he said. “It’s just that emissions are still rising, and we need to think about other tools and approaches to fight climate change.” Taking greenhouse gases back out of the atmosphere, in addition to reducing the emissions going into it, is a long-discussed idea among climate scientists and activists. But it has mostly centered on carbon dioxide up to this point. The idea has typically focused on ways to suck CO2 out of the air and then store it away so it doesn’t leak back into the atmosphere—a process broadly known as “negative emissions.” The net result would be a lower total concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.Scientists have proposed a variety of ways to pull it off, from huge forests full of carbon-guzzling trees, which naturally soak up carbon dioxide, to special machines that would suck CO2 directly out of the air. In the latter scenario, the captured carbon dioxide would then have to be permanently stored away somewhere, likely by injecting it deep into the Earth. There’s been much less focus on capturing methane, likely in part because the process is more technically difficult than capturing carbon dioxide. But scientists have some ideas about how it could be done. The new comment proposes a promising method that involves the use of porous minerals called zeolites. Scientists already use zeolites to capture methane and convert it into methanol, an alcohol that can be used in chemical feedstocks or other industrial applications.

How Shortening the Work Week Can Help Reduce Carbon Emissions - A new study by Philipp Frey of Autonomy, a UK think tank, “The Ecological Limits of Work: on carbon emissions, carbon budgets and working time,” has garnered significant press coverage, but the headlines (“Much shorter working weeks needed to tackle climate crisis – study“, or “Climate crisis: UK should dramatically cut working hours to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, study says“, or “PAY DAY Working a NINE-HOUR WEEK could be the key to saving us all, experts say“) have tended to frame the study as recommending management innovations like the four-day week — here the Sun, correctly (!), busts the frame with “NINE-HOUR” — rather than working through the more radical thinking behind Frey’s study. First, I will consider shorter working days and weeks as a managment technique, and show that such reforms do have beneficial effects for the cllimate crisis, and then I’ll look at what I think Frey’s study is really showing. Considering the four-day week as a management technique, here’s a successful case study.Perpetual Guardian of New Zealand:

Are carbon offsets a scam?' - Some carbon-offset projects – which are supposed to compensate for the heat-trapping gases you release to the atmosphere by taking a plane trip, for example – are scams. In one notorious case, the Vatican was presented with offset certificates for millions of trees that were never planted. Even if a project actually exists, offsets have the potential to go wrong in other ways. Say you’re promised that your purchase will help pay for a new wind farm, but then you learn that the wind farm was going to be built even without the help of offsets. You’d feel cheated, and rightly so. To truly compensate for your pollution, any offset project must be in addition to the normal course of business. For more on this problem and related complexities, see this NRDC overview. To protect your wallet, you can buy offsets that have been authenticated by third-party certification programs, such as Verified Carbon Standard, Gold Standard, and Green-e Climate Standard. Those programs help confirm that projects actually exist and that you’re not wasting your money. Some critics argue that offsets are the modern equivalent of “indulgences,” the practice of reducing punishment for sin that was commercialized and much-abused in the Middle Ages. I don’t buy that argument: The goal is to reduce the total amount of heat-trapping gases, and legitimate offset projects do that. A more compelling criticism is that offsets often don’t address the root of the problem: the lack of cleaner transportation options. So far, the U.S. has largely chosen to build gas stations and airports rather than electric vehicle charging infrastructure and train stations. That makes it tough for most people to lighten their footprints. So if third-party certification programs don’t alleviate your fear of getting scammed, there’s another ethical option. The next time you take a trip, you could skip the offsets and donate an equivalent amount of money to a civic leader or organization working to make cleaner transportation options available to more people.

 Visualizing How Much Oil Is In An Electric Vehicle- When most people think about oil and natural gas, the first thing that comes to mind is the gas in the tank of their car. But, as Visual Capitalist's Nicholas LePan notes, there is actually much more to oil’s role, than meets the eye...Oil, along with natural gas, has hundreds of different uses in a modern vehicle through petrochemicals.Today’s infographic comes to us from American Fuel & Petrochemicals Manufacturers, and covers why oil is a critical material in making the EV revolution possible. It turns out the many everyday materials we rely on from synthetic rubber to plastics to lubricants all come from petrochemicals. The use of various polymers and plastics has several advantages for manufacturers and consumers:

  • Lightweight
  • Inexpensive
  • Plentiful
  • Easy to Shape
  • Durable
  • Flame Retardant

Today, plastics can make up to 50% of a vehicle’s volume but only 10% of its weight. These plastics can be as strong as steel, but light enough to save on fuel and still maintain structural integrity.This was not always the case, as oil’s use has evolved and grown over time. Plastics were not always a critical material in auto manufacturing industry, but over time plastics such as polypropylene and polyurethane became indispensable in the production of cars.Rolls Royce was one of the first car manufacturers to boast about the use of plastics in its car interior. Over time, plastics have evolved into a critical material for reducing the overall weight of vehicles, allowing for more power and conveniences.

 The Electric Vehicle Revolution Will Come from China — not the US -- The electric vehicle revolution is coming, but it won’t be driven by the U.S. Instead, China will be at the forefront.My research on EVs, dating back a decade, convinces me that this global transformation in mobility, from petroleum-fueled vehicles to electric ones, will come sooner than later. The shift is already happening in China, which is the world’s largest automobile market, with 23 million cars sold in 2018. As Western countries approach peak car ownership, there are still hundreds of millions of Chinese families that don’t own a car at all – much less two or more. Many of them are buying electric cars. By 2015, electric vehicle sales in China had surpassed U.S. levels. In 2018, Chinese sales topped 1.1 million cars, more than 55% of all electric vehicles sold in the world, and more than three times as many as Chinese customers had bought two years earlier. U.S. electric vehicle sales that year were just 358,000. A key element of an electric vehicle’s price is the cost of its batteries – and China already makes more than half of the world’s electric vehicle batteries. Battery prices continue to fall; industry analysts now suggest that within five years it will be cheaper to buy an electric car than a gas- or diesel-powered one.Forecasts predict the Chinese producing as much as 70% of the world’s electric vehicle batteriesby 2021, even as the demand for electric car batteries grows.

The plastic industry is on track to produce as many emissions as 600 coal-fired power plants  - A new report shows it’s high time to think more about the fossil fuels that go into making those plastic products. The global plastic industry is on track to produce enough emissions to put the world on track for a catastrophic warming scenario, according to the Center for International Environmental Law analysis. In other words, straws aren’t just bad for unsuspecting turtles; plastic is a major contributor to climate change. If the plastic industry is allowed to expand production unimpeded, here’s what we’re looking at: By 2030, global emissions from that sector could produce the emissions equivalent of more than 295 (500-megawatt) coal plants. By 2050, emissions could exceed the equivalent of 615 coal plants.That year, the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions from production of single-use plastics like bags and straws could compose between 10 and 13 percent of the whole remainder of our carbon budget. That is, the amount of CO2 we’re allowed to emit if we want to keep emissions below the threshold scientists say is necessary to ensure a liveable planet. By 2100, even conservative estimates pin emissions from plastics composing more than half of the carbon budget.  Here are a few more takeaways from the report, which looked at the emissions produced by the plastics industry starting in 2015 and projected what emissions from that sector could look like through the end of the century:

  • Of the three ways to get rid of plastics — recycling, landfilling, or incinerating — incinerating is the most energy intensive. In 2015, emissions from incinerating plastic in the United States were estimated to be around 5.9 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent.
  • This year, production and incineration of plastic products will make as many emissions as 189 coal power plants — 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases.
  • Plastics that wind up in the ocean could even fuck with the ocean’s ability to do what it has historically done a superb job at: sequestering carbon. That’s because the phytoplankton and lil ocean critters that help capture the CO2 at the surface of the ocean and drag it under are being compromised by — you guessed it — microplastic.

Burning the Gas ‘Bridge Fuel’ Myth: Why Gas Is Not Clean, Cheap, or Necessary - This new report released by Oil Change International makes the case that gas is not a ‘bridge fuel’ to a safe climate. As the global climate crisis intensifies and gas production and consumption soars, it is clearer than ever that gas is not a climate solution. Leaking methane along the gas supply chain has been at the center of the debate around the climate impact of gas, but it’s far from the only issue at stake. There are five additional reasons why gas cannot form a bridge to a clean energy future, even if methane leakage is addressed. These five points make clear that gas is not clean, not cheap, and not necessary:

  1. Gas Breaks the Carbon Budget: The economically recoverable oil, gas, and coal in the world’s currently producing and under-construction extraction projects would take the world far beyond safe climate limits. Further development of untapped gas reserves is inconsistent with the climate goals in the Paris Agreement.
  2. Coal-to-Gas Switching Doesn’t Cut It: Climate goals require the energy sector to be decarbonized by mid-century. This means that both coal and gas must be phased out. Replacing coal plants with new gas plants will not cut emissions by nearly enough, even if methane leakage is kept to a minimum.
  3. Low-Cost Renewables Can Displace Coal and Gas: The dramatic and ongoing cost declines for wind and solar disrupt the business model for gas in the power sector. Wind and solar will play an increasing role in replacing retiring fossil fuel capacity.
  4. Gas Is Not Essential for Grid Reliability: Wind and solar require balancing, but gas is not the only, nor the best, resource available for doing so. Battery storage is fast becoming competitive with gas plants designed for this purpose. Managing high levels of wind and solar on the grid requires optimizing a wide range of technologies and solutions, including battery storage, demand response, and transmission. There is no reason to favor gas as the primary solution.
  5. New Gas Infrastructure Locks In Emissions: Multibillion-dollar gas infrastructure built today is designed to operate for decades to come. Given the barriers to closing down infrastructure ahead of its expected economic lifespan, it is critical to stop building new infrastructure, the full lifetime emissions of which will not fit within Paris-aligned carbon budgets.

The myth of gas as a “bridge” to a stable climate does not stand up to scrutiny. While much of the debate to date has focused on methane leakage, the data shows that the greenhouse gas emissions just from burning the gas itself are enough to overshoot climate goals.

Natural Gas Now Beats Coal, Even in West Virginia -- The famously coal-centric state is in the midst of a gas-drilling boom but seems ambivalent about it. Wouldn’t you be? We appear to have quietly passed another landmark in the transformation of U.S. energy production. For the first time ever, the famously coal-centric state of West Virginia last year produced more natural gas, as measured by energy content, than coal.  West Virginia hasn’t been the biggest coal-producing state for a while; Wyoming, which passed it back in the 1980s, now mines more than three times as much of the stuff each year. But Wyoming gets almost all its coal from surface mines, while most of West Virginia’s comes from more-labor-intensive underground mines, so it remains the biggest coal-employing state by a wide margin. And despite its recent fracking- and horizontal-drilling-enabled natural gas boom, which has pushed it up to seventh place among the states in gas production, don’t expect West Virginians to embrace the shift to a natural-gas-fueled economy just yet. As Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, told the weekly State Journal late last year, we do not think is true at all because when you have a coal-burning plant you’ve got a coal mine — at least one, probably more than one — that’s got 200 to 250 coal miners that are making $80,000-$90,000 a year. When you have a gas plant you have a gas well behind it and there’s no one there. Actually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were more people working in oil- and gas-related jobs in the state last fall than in coal mining, and a lot of them were making $100,000 a year. But that was only because of a presumably temporary spike (to 15,543 jobs in September 2018 from 1,802 a year earlier) in oil and gas pipeline construction work. Apart from that, there were 14,236 people employed in coal mining and support activities in West Virginia in September, compared to 5,778 in oil and gas extraction and support activities, and average pay was about 16% higher in the former than in the latter. 1 The new pipelines being built will make it possible to transport more West Virginia gas to other states, where most of it will be burned to produce electricity. West Virginia, though, still generated 92% of its electricity from coal in 2018, the highest share of any state. A court ruling late last year did clear the way for the state’s first major natural-gas-burning power plant (to be built on the site of a former coal mine, of course), but the state’s leaders clearly have mixed feelings about the natural gas transition, given how slowly they’ve been going about it.

New Coal-Mining Methods Seen Driving Black Lung Increase -- Rising prevalence of the most deadly form of black lung disease among U.S. miners appears largely due to shifting mining methods resulting in increased inhalation of crystalline silica, according to research presented here at the American Thoracic Society's annual meeting. A review of mortality data from 1991 through 1996 from NIOSH's National Coal Workers' Autopsy Study (NCWAS) showed little evidence of a transition to silica predominant disease. Apparently, more recent shifts in exposures are driving the resurgence in the rapidly progressing form of black lung known as progressive massive fibrosis (PMF). Another analysis of PMF cases recorded in the NCWAS data before and after 1990 suggested a historical shift in the disease, with silicotic PMF accounting for a greater percentage of cases in the latter period. And a third analysis showed a proportional increase in mortality from non-malignant respiratory diseases among younger miners (<65 years) in more recent birth cohorts compared to miners born earlier. The three studies examining the changing pathology and demographics of black lung disease were all led by Robert Cohen, MD, of the University of Illinois at Chicago's Black Lung Center of Excellence. Cohen told MedPage Today that the increase in the silicotic form of black lung underscores the need for tougher federal standards regulating respiratory exposures associated with modern mining practices. "Existing regulations don't address this very well," he said. He added that animal and toxicology studies show that dust from modern mining which contains very small particle silica from rock is up to 20 times more toxic than the dust derived from coal alone. Silica is also a recognized carcinogen, whereas the evidence linking coal dust to lung cancer remains weak. Radiographic and pathologic evidence suggests a strong link between the increase in pulmonary massive fibrosis and increased exposure to respirable crystalline silica.

Residents concerned about groundwater pollution from coal ash ponds — She wasn’t intimidated when the pig’s head showed up in her driveway. She wasn’t afraid when she found “LEO PIG” spray-painted in red on the back of her black Honda Accord. She didn’t back down when the security cameras around her home slowly disappeared. Patricia Schuba has been fighting for environmental justice for the past decade as president of the Labadie Environmental Organization, and she hasn’t let harassment and intimidation stop her. Schuba’s nemesis is visible from any point in the town: The smokestacks of Ameren’s Labadie Energy Center, the largest coal-fired power plant in the state, rise above the Missouri River flood plain and the small town of Labadie in eastern Missouri.Schuba’s main concern, though, is what lies below the surface. Since 1970, the Labadie plant has been dumping coal ash, the leftover waste from burning coal to create energy, in massive pits in the ground called coal ash ponds. Coal ash contains a long list of chemicals such as arsenic, boron and molybdenum, which can lead to cancer, neurological damage and child developmental problems, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. As the ash mixes with water in ponds that average 20 feet deep, it can seep into groundwater that spreads underground for miles through natural water tables and aquifers. A recent report by environmental nonprofits found that 91 percent of coal-fired power plants have contaminated the groundwater beneath them. Schuba is among many who have been demanding that utility companies remove all the ash to prevent it from seeping further into important water resources. “These sites need to be cleaned up once and for all because nobody should have to live next to this,” Schuba said. “And even if you don’t, what in 50 years of that material will be down in St. Louis? And then you know, you may be consuming it at a low dose over a whole lifetime.” 

Osceola County landfill takes in coal ash from Puerto Rico, triggering public backlash - Osceola County leaders sought Monday to ease public outcry over landfill disposal of thousands of tons of ash from a Puerto Rican power plant that burns coal.The county approved a contract earlier this year, charging the privately owned JED Landfill $2 for each ton of ash it receives. A unit of Waste Connections, the landfill is southeast of St. Cloud in rural area. Commissioner Fred Hawkins sought to deflect speculation that he backed the deal because he worked as a waste manager at the landfill years before it was bought by the current owner.  “There are a lot of untruths out there,” Hawkins said of social-media comments.  JED representatives who spoke to reporters also stressed that the 15-year-old facility is of a modern design approved for ash. They described efforts to test ash for hazardous ingredients, to prevent dust from escaping and to capture water leaching through the landfill. Some Osceola residents weren’t convinced they are safe. “My concern is hurricane season,” said Douglas Lowe, a resident of the Harmony community east of St. Cloud and about 10 miles north of the J.E.D. Landfill. “I'm afraid if we have another hurricane hit Central Florida we would have this ash disperse across the local area. Harmony and Holopaw would be in the direct impact zone.”  “I don’t think adding other people’s toxic waste to our state is in any of our best interests.” The ash is coming from the AES power plant near Guayama, Puerto Rico. The company has struggled with water pollution issues from its coal ash in Puerto Rico and in the Dominican Republic. Three shipments of a combined 100,000 tons of coal ash have arrived at Port Manatee in Tampa Bay. The waste material was then trucked to the landfill. Osceola’s contract with JED Landfill expires at the end of the year.The opposition to Osceola County receiving coal ash underscores the increasingly contentious challenge of disposing of the byproduct that contains a wide variety of metals and chemicals. In 2001, officials at the Environmental Protection Agency sought to label coal ash as a “contingent” hazardous waste, meaning the agency would deem properly managed ash dumps as nonhazardous, and improperly stored ash as hazardous.

China, Japan and South Korea, while vowing to go green at home, promote coal abroad - In the last-ditch global battle against climate change, China, Japan and South Korea have joined other industrialized nations in promising to reduce their use of fossil fuels.Yet even as they take steps to promote renewable energy at home, these three countries are facing growing scrutiny for financing dozens of new coal-fired power plants in foreign countries. Most of the plants are being built in Southeast Asia and Africa, in emerging economies where the growing demand for cheap, reliable electricity is most easily met by coal, the single largest source of the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for warming the planet. Environmental groups accuse the three Asian giants of climate hypocrisy, arguing that their investments in effect export pollution, undermine their commitments under the 2015 Paris climate accord and continue to drive up carbon emissions. Analysts say that as global markets shift toward renewable sources such as solar and wind power, whose prices are falling, governments in these countries are looking abroad to protect domestic companies that manufacture coal plants and supply equipment like steam turbines and boilers. “The Chinese, Japanese and Koreans have a lot of coal-fired power equipment that will not have a great deal of international value in another three to five years,” said Melissa Brown, energy finance consultant at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. “So they’re looking to partner with countries that can move forward quickly to put new coal-fired power capacity in place.”They have found willing buyers in countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam, South Africa and Bangladesh, where governments for now appear more concerned with building their economies and expanding access to electricity than with the environmental impact of burning more coal.   While demand for coal has flattened in China and declined in industrialized Western nations, its rise in the rest of Asia helped push carbon emissions up last year by 2% to the highest level ever recorded, according to the International Energy Agency. Of about 67 gigawatts of new coal plants worldwide that are slated to receive foreign funding, more than 80% are being financed by China, Japan and South Korea, according to the advocacy group

Australia plans coalfield the size of Britain in climate change U-turn --Climate change was supposed to have won the Labor Party the Australian election. But yesterday, after having been routed by voters, its panicked leaders backed the mining of a coalfield bigger than the UK. Fearing a wipeout in state elections next year amid a rise in pro-coal workers and a rebellion against its plans to halve Australia’s carbon emissions, the Labor state government in Queensland accelerated its decision on 105,000 square miles of coal-rich outback land known as the Galilee Basin.It came days after the party lost what was dubbed the “climate election” to the incumbent centre-right, pro-coal government of Scott Morrison, suffering the most damage — with swings of up to 20 per cent — in the coal country of central Queensland and the Hunter Valley of New South Wales.Annastacia Palaszczuk, Queensland’s premier, announced that she was overturning all attempts to block mining and all outstanding approvals would be resolved within three weeks. She said that she was “fed up” with her own government’s processes, and that the election had been a “wake-up call” on mining the basin. The move was welcomed by Matt Canavan, the federal resources minister, who said yesterday that the Galilee Basin represented a victory for the “hi-vis workers’ revolution” — a reference to the armies of mine workers in high-visibility shirts who make Australia the world’s biggest coal exporter, and seemingly a reference to the yellow-vest movement in France that has challenged President Macron on his climate policies. The international climate action movement argues that if the Galilee Basin’s estimated 27 billion tons of coal were extracted, exported and burnt, the extra carbon dioxide released each year would be far more than Australia’s total emissions and would set back the world’s chances of keeping the increase in global warming under 2C.

As Pilgrim shuts down, danger still lurks - Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station will shut down its reactor on May 31 after 47 years of operation. Built in 1972 for Boston Edison, it’s the only operational nuclear power plant in Massachusetts, and has been since Yankee-Rowe ceased operation in 1992. Louisiana-based Entergy bought Pilgrim from Boston Edison in 1998. By 2014, the station languished as one of the poorest performers on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission rating system, the last straw before the federal government enforces a mandatory shutdown in the interests of public safety. In March this year, citing better inspection findings, the NRC boosted Pilgrim to a top-notch performer, a status that requires the least federal oversight. The switch flummoxed local watchdog groups. In 2017, Pilgrim made a business decision to permanently shut down. While the potential dangers posed by Pilgrim in the event of a calamity have long haunted Cape Cod and Plymouth County, the six towns of Martha’s Vineyard are roughly 33 to 43 miles away from the station, well outside the Pilgrim 10-mile Emergency Planning Zone where people would be expected to evacuate in the event of a radioactive plume. However, independent modeling based on NRC data shows the spread of fallout from at least one type of station disaster could reach the Vineyard not just from Pilgrim, but from a similar station hundreds of miles away. Speaking for the Vineyard’s emergency managers, Edgartown Fire Chief Alex Schaeffer said Island planners and first responders look to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for assistance and direction in the event of a radiological incident. MEMA declined to answer specific questions posed by The Times, and declined make its director available for an interview.

Nuke Retirements Could Lead To 4 Billion Metric Tons of Extra CO2 Emissions, Says IEA --A report released today by the International Energy Agency (IEA) warns world leaders that—without support for new nuclear power or lifetime extensions for existing nuclear power plants—the world's climate goals are at risk. "The lack of further lifetime extensions of existing nuclear plants and new projects could result in an additional four billion tonnes of CO2 emissions," apress release from the IEA noted.The report is the IEA's first report on nuclear power in two decades, and it paints a picture of low-carbon power being lost through attrition (due to the retirement of aging plants) or due to economics (extremely cheap natural gas as well as wind and solar undercutting more expensive nuclear power for years in some regions).Around the world, 452 nuclear reactors provided 2,700 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity in 2018. This makes nuclear a significant source of low-carbon energy on a global level. While 11.2 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear power were connected to the grid last year, all of the new capacity was located in China or Russia. But in advanced economies, the nuclear fleet is much older. Reactors are 35 years old on average, and they are at risk of retirement. "Given their age, plants are beginning to close, with 25 percent of existing nuclear capacity in advanced economies expected to be shut down by 2025."

Under the dome: Fears Pacific nuclear ‘coffin’ is leaking - As nuclear explosions go, the US "Cactus" bomb test in May 1958 was relatively small—but it has left a lasting legacy for the Marshall Islands in a dome-shaped radioactive dump. The dome—described by a UN chief Antonio Guterres as "a kind of coffin"—was built two decades after the blast in the Pacific ocean region. The US military filled the bomb crater on Runit island with radioactive waste, capped it with concrete, and told displaced residents of the Pacific's remote Enewetak atoll they could safely return home. But Runit's 45-centimetre (18-inch) thick concrete dome has now developed cracks. And because the 115-metre wide crater was never lined, there are fears radioactive contaminants are leaching through the island's porous coral rock into the ocean. The concerns have intensified amid climate change. Rising seas, encroaching on the low-lying nation, are threatening to undermine the dome's structural integrity. Jack Ading, who represents the area in the Marshalls' parliament, calls the dome a "monstrosity". "It is stuffed with radioactive contaminants that include plutonium-239, one of the most toxic substances known to man," he told AFP. "The coffin is leaking its poison into the surrounding environment. And to make matters even worse, we're told not to worry about this leakage because the radioactivity outside of the dome is at least as bad as the radioactivity inside of it." Cold War-era nuclear dome in the Pacific  The dome has become a symbol of the mess left by the US nuclear test programme in the Marshall islands when 67 bombs were detonated between 1947-58 at Enewetak and Bikini atolls. Numerous islanders were forcibly evacuated from ancestral lands and resettled, including Enewetak's residents. Thousands more islanders were exposed toradioactive fallout and suffered health problems.

High radiation levels found in giant clams near U.S. nuclear dump in Marshall Islands - Researchers have found high levels of radiation in giant clams near the Central Pacific site where the United States entombed waste from nuclear testing almost four decades ago, raising concerns the contamination is spreading from the dump site’s tainted groundwater into the ocean and the food chain.The findings from the Marshall Islands suggest that radiation is either leaking from the waste site — which U.S. officials reject — or that authorities did not adequately clean up radiation left behind from past weapons testing, as some in the Marshall Islands claim. The radioactive shellfish were found near Runit Dome — a concrete-capped waste site known by locals as “The Tomb” — according to a presentation made by a U.S. Department of Energy scientist this month in Majuro, the island nation’s capital. The clams are a popular delicacy in the Marshall Islands and in other nations, including China, which has aggressively harvested them from vast swaths of the Pacific.According to Terry Hamilton, a veteran nuclear physicist at the Energy Department’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Runit Dome is vulnerable to leakage by storm surge and sea level rise, and its groundwater, which is leaking into the lagoon and ocean, is severely contaminated.But the radiation in the shellfish and surrounding lagoon is not coming from the 40-year-old dome, said Hamilton in a slide he presented May 15 to an audience assembled in a hotel conference room in Majuro.  He said isotopic analyses indicated the lagoon contamination was from residue from the initial nuclear weapons testing.

Nuclear Missile Alert Base Operators Caught Boozing In Second Major Breach - One of the country's most sensitive nuclear missile launch facilities has admitted that Air Force personnel responsible for overseeing the base were caught boozing, in violation of strict regulations governing nuclear sites.F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming said in a media statement last week two maintainers of a launch control center part of the US 90th Missile Wing, responsible for some 150 nuclear LGM-30G Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles across three states, were investigated and are being disciplined after it was confirmed they consumed alcohol at the missile alert facility earlier this month.  The personnel were only identified as a staff sergeant and a senior airmen who belong to the 90th Missile Wing their names withheld for security reasons. The pair admitted to consuming alcohol at the facility while off-duty; however, Air Force Global Strike Command regulations prohibit “processing or consuming alcoholic beverages … within the confines of any missile alert facility … while en route to or from duty in the missile complex,” as cited in The Air Force Times. Obviously the rationale for this strict zero tolerance standard, whether on or off duty, is that a mere single error or series of errors - whether in ignorance or from violation of protocol - could potentially trigger apocalyptic nuclear strikes and the end of humanity as we known it. “This is an unacceptable breach of standards and the Air Force held the airmen accountable for their actions,” an Air Force statement said. Apparently, the news was first made public via an unofficial social media page maintained by Air Force personnel which mocked the whole incident, per the military analysis site Task & Purpose:On Thursday, a Facebook post from the popular Air Force amn/nco/snco group claimed that three airmen assigned to the 90th Maintenance Group were discovered consuming Pabst Blue Ribbon in the F.E. Warren cardio room during a regular nuclear code change.

UN Arms Chief Warns- Nuclear War Is Closer Than Its Ever Been Since WW2 -  A United Nations arms official has declared nuclear war to be closer than it has ever been since World War II. The geopolitical climate is so divisive and disturbing right now, that globalists are actually telling us a nuclear war could be coming. The head of the United Nations’ Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) Director Renata Dwan said in an interview that the use of nuclear weapons is more likely today than any time since the U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in 1945, adding that the use of such weapons today carried a greater risk than ever, according to Reuters. “I think that it’s genuinely a call to recognize - and this has been somewhat missing in the media coverage of the issues - that the risks of nuclear war are particularly high now, and the risks of the use of nuclear weapons, for some of the factors I pointed out, are higher now than at any time since World War II,” she told the news service, speaking about a call from 122 nations to ban such weapons entirely. Dawn says that the UN should be doing more to ban nuclear weapons. “How we think about that, and how we act on that risk and the management of that risk, seems to me a pretty significant and urgent question that isn’t reflected fully in the (U.N.) Security Council,” she told Reuters according to The Hill. Of course, a ban only works if countries are going to obey. Should nations defy a UN nuclear weapons ban, there is literally nothing the UN can do about it. Even if it “takes effect,” large players such as the United States, Russia, and China could defy the ban and still start a nuclear war.

This Might Be Where The Very First Total Nuclear War Starts - Undoubtedly, for nearly two decades the most dangerous place on Earth has been the Indian-Pakistani border in Kashmir. It’s possible that a small spark from artillery and rocket exchanges across that border might - given the known military doctrines of the two nuclear-armed neighbors - lead inexorably to an all-out nuclear conflagration. In that case the result would be catastrophic. Besides causing the deaths of millions of Indians and Pakistanis, such a war might bring on “nuclear winter” on a planetary scale, leading to levels of suffering and death that would be beyond our comprehension. Alarmingly, the nuclear competition between India and Pakistan has now entered a spine-chilling phase. That danger stems from Islamabad’s decision to deploy low-yield tactical nuclear arms at its forward operating military bases along its entire frontier with India to deter possible aggression by tank-led invading forces. Most ominously, the decision to fire such a nuclear-armed missile with a range of 35 to 60 miles is to rest with local commanders. This is a perilous departure from the universal practice of investing such authority in the highest official of the nation. Such a situation has no parallel in the Washington-Moscow nuclear arms race of the Cold War era. When it comes to Pakistan’s strategic nuclear weapons, their parts are stored in different locations to be assembled only upon an order from the country’s leader. By contrast, tactical nukes are pre-assembled at a nuclear facility and shipped to a forward base for instant use. In addition to the perils inherent in this policy, such weapons would be vulnerable to misuse by a rogue base commander or theft by one of the many militant groups in the country. In the nuclear standoff between the two neighbors, the stakes are constantly rising as Aizaz Chaudhry, the highest bureaucrat in Pakistan’s foreign ministry, recently made clear. The deployment of tactical nukes, he explained, was meant to act as a form of “deterrence,” given India’s “Cold Start” military doctrine — a reputed contingency plan aimed at punishing Pakistan in a major way for any unacceptable provocations like a mass-casualty terrorist strike against India. New Delhi refuses to acknowledge the existence of Cold Start. Its denials are hollow.

The Atomic Soldiers: U.S. Veterans, Used as Guinea Pigs, Break the Silence - In addition to the hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, an estimated 400,000 American soldiers and sailors also observed nuclear explosions—many just a mile or two from ground zero. From 1946 to 1992, the U.S. government conducted more than1,000 nuclear tests, during which unwitting troops were exposed to vast amounts of ionizing radiation. For protection, they wore utility jackets, helmets, and gas masks. They were told to cover their face with their arms.After the tests, the soldiers, many of whom were traumatized, were sworn to an oath of secrecy. Breaking it even to talk among themselves was considered treason, punishable by a $10,000 fine and 10 or more years in prison.In Knibbe’s film, some of these atomic veterans break the forced silence to tell their story for the very first time. They describe how the blast knocked them to the ground; how they could see the bones and blood vessels in their hands, like viewing an X-ray. They recount the terror in their officers’ faces and the tears and panic that followed the blasts. They talk about how they’ve been haunted—by nightmares, PTSD, and various health afflictions, including cancer. Knibbe’s spare filmmaking approach foregrounds details and emotion. There’s no need for archival footage; the story is writ large in the faces of the veterans, who struggle to find the right words to express the horror of what they saw during the tests and what they struggled with in the decades after. Knibbe told me that he has long been fascinated with the self-destructive tendencies of mankind. When he found declassified U.S. civil-defense footage of soldiers maneuvering in the glare of the mushroom cloud of an atomic bomb, he was “absolutely amazed and wanted to learn more about their stories.” His efforts to dig deeper were curtailed by the fact that most of the information about the nuclear tests was classified—including reports on the illnesses the veterans suffered and the radioactive pollution that was released into the environment around the test sites. “I was baffled by the lack of recorded testimonies available,” he said.

Ohio energy: No money for wind or solar, just nuclear plants - Ohio Republicans' energy overhaul started as a thinly veiled attempt to rescue two northern Ohio nuclear plants with new fees on everyone's electric bills. Now, the veil is off. Changes made to House Bill 6 last week would direct most of the $197.6 million collected from new fees on Ohioans' electric bills to Akron-based FirstEnergy Solutions, which operates two nuclear plants outside Toledo and Cleveland. Renewable energy companies from wind to solar would not get a cut of this "Ohio Clean Air Program." In a double blow, lawmakers also axed current programs that encourage electricity providers to purchase renewable energy and help customers become more energy efficient. And lawmakers ensured utilities could charge customers a fee for two coal plants operated by Piketon-based Ohio Valley Electric Corporation through 2030. The plants are located in Gallipolis and Madison, Indiana. Wednesday's changes likely jettisoned any hope of widespread Democratic support. "It's now just straight-up corporate welfare," said Rep. Kristin Boggs, the Ohio House's No. 2 Democrat. "I don't know how else to describe it." That means Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford in Perry County, must rely on fellow Republicans to pass the energy bill – a divergence from his recent bipartisan strategy. And it's not clear he has the votes yet. 

Anti-wind activist who backed nuclear bailout bill tied to FirstEnergy - An anti-wind power activist who testified in support of a bill to bail out FirstEnergy Solutions’ nuclear power plants in Ohio did not disclose that he’s worked for the same bankrupt utility at one of the plants.  Dennis W. Schreiner testified in favor of HB 6 last Thursday at a hearing held by the Ohio House Energy and Natural Resources Committee.  In his testimony, Schreiner supported the bill for providing financial support to Ohio’s nuclear power plants, and railed against the current process for the “siting of industrial wind and solar power plants in rural areas” of the state. He accused wind and solar developers of operating “under a cloak of secrecy” to secure leases from landowners.“Would your children want to return home to a place where the horizon has been obliterated and the night sky can no longer be seen – replaced by dozens of flashing lights?” Schreiner asked lawmakers. Schreiner did not disclose in his written and oral testimony that he’s worked as a senior consulting engineer for FirstEnergy, as confirmed by his LinkedIn profile, which lists his employment by the utility from “1988 to present.” His name appears among the claims listed in FirstEnergy Solutions’ bankruptcy case.

Ohio House passes bill to bail out nuclear plants, gut green-energy mandates - -- Legislation to gut Ohio’s green-energy mandates and set up customer-funded subsidies to nuclear and coal power plants passed the Ohio House on Wednesday, thanks to key support from several House Democrats.The 53-43 vote on House Bill 6 came after yet another series of last-minute changes to the controversial bill that would allow subsidies to already-approved solar plants, limit property tax devaluation on the nuclear plants, and cap nuclear subsidies if electricity prices increase.The bill, which now heads to the Ohio Senate, would scrap the state’s clean-energy requirements for utilities that legislators passed in 2008. Those requirements mandate that by 2027, utilities must obtain 12.5 percent of their power from renewable sources such as wind and solar, as well as reduce demand through energy-efficiency programs. If HB6 passes as written, the $4.39 average monthly surcharge paid by Ohio residential electricity customers for these mandates would be eliminated.Instead, every residential ratepayer in Ohio would be charged up to $1 per month to create a “clean-air” fund that would raise about $190 million per year, most – if not all – of which would bail out the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear power plants in Northern Ohio. Both are slated to close soon unless owner FirstEnergy Solutions gets outside financial help. Those subsidies would end after 2026, under the bill. In addition, HB6 would enshrine in state law an Ohio Supreme Court rulingthat the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation could charge its customers up to $2.50 per month – pending approval of state regulators -- to subsidize two OVEC coal-fired power plants -- one in Ohio, the other in Indiana. House Republicans from southern and southeast Ohio have been pushing for years for the Piketon-based company (which is jointly owned by several electrical utilities) to receive such subsidies.

Ohio advances coal, nuclear subsidies after pressure from Trump campaign official - The Ohio House approved a bill Wednesday to gut clean energy standards and subsidize at-risk nuclear and coal plants after a last-minute push from a Trump reelection official to secure its passage.Bob Paduchik, a senior adviser to the Trump reelection campaign, made calls Tuesday night to at least five members of the Ohio House of Representatives, pressuring them to vote ‘yes’ on the bill, five people familiar with the outreach told POLITICO. Sources said Paduchik emphasized preserving jobs at the Perry and Davis-Besse nuclear plants, both located in northeastern Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie. Backers of the bill say the plants support a total of 4,000 jobs once contractors and suppliers are added to the mix."The message is that if we have these plants shut down we can’t get Trump reelected," said one senior legislative source with knowledge of the conversations. "We’re going into an election year, we can’t lose the jobs."Paduchik did not return requests for comment, but confirmed to a local reporter that he called lawmakers to support the bill, saying he did so as a personal matter.“People ask me for my advice and opinion on things on politics, but they also ask me for my advice and opinion on electricity and power issues,” Paduchik “Honestly, I think diversity in electricity generation is a strength in this nation, and I’m concerned that we lose that in Ohio if we shut down these two plants.”

Ohio's Utica Shale oil and gas production dips in first quarter — During the first quarter of 2019, Ohio’s horizontal shale wells produced 5,073,536 barrels of oil and 609,452,391 Mcf (609 billion cubic feet) of natural gas, according to figures released June 1 by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management. (Scroll down to see lists of the top 10 producing wells.)  Natural gas production from the first quarter of 2019 was down 8.8% from the final quarter of 2018, but showed a 14.57% increase over the first quarter of 2018.  Oil production from Ohio’s horizontal wells in the first quarter of 2019 was also down from the previous quarter, dropping 12% from the fourth quarter of 2018. Compared to the first quarter of 2018, however, oil production increased 28.69%. The ODNR quarterly report lists 2,277 horizontal shale wells, 2,228 of which reported oil and natural gas production during the quarter. There were 2,241 wells with reported oil and natural gas production during the fourth quarter of 2018. Of the wells reporting oil and natural gas results:

  • The average amount of oil produced was 2,277 barrels.
  • The average amount of natural gas produced was 273,542 Mcf.
  • The average number of fourth quarter days in production was 86.

All horizontal production reports can be accessed at Oil and gas reporting totals listed on the report include Natural Gas Liquids (NGLs) and condensate.

 EPA Declines to Regulate Waste as Ohio Valley Fracking Booms –  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week said it will not strengthen regulations on waste created by oil and gas production, a move that could affect communities across the Ohio Valley where the oil and gas industry is booming in the Appalachian Basin.  No federal agency fully regulates oil and gas drilling byproducts — which include brine, or salty water laced with chemicals and metals, as well as similarly-contaminated sludge, rock and mud — leaving tracking and handling to states. EPA’s decision released last week stems from a 2016 lawsuit filed by environmental groups, who had petitioned the agency to make new rules for how it regulates oil and gas waste. When the agency failed to respond, a federal judge required EPA to formally respond by this spring. The decision reaffirms that states are in charge of regulating the disposal of chemical-laced and often radioactive liquids and solids created by the oil and gas industry. Environmental advocates decried the move. They argue regulations for both onsite storage of waste and offsite disposal vary widely from state to state. A 2016 report from the Center for Public Integrity calls the radioactive waste stream from horizontal oil and gas operations “orphan waste” because no single government agency is fully managing it. Each state is left to figure out its own plan. Advocates say EPA rules would create a baseline for how millions of tons of liquid and solid waste should be disposed.  “In a word or a sentence, the Trump administration hung out to dry communities that host oil and gas development,” said Aaron Mintzes with Earthworks, one of the group’s that pursued this issue in court.  Mintzes said a loophole in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, a federal law that governs how solid waste should be disposed, allowed EPA in 1988 to classify waste from oil and gas operations as “non-hazardous.” This gives operators wide latitude in how to dispose of it.

Ewing Sarcoma — What’s Causing These Occurrences? - Rare cancers have been striking children and young adults in some of the rural areas outside of Pittsburgh in alarming numbers, sometimes fatally, in Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties. So far, health authorities have provided little insight into what is happening. They should be developing a plan for getting to the bottom of this health scare.  Carrie Simkovic, a Greene County resident who founded a foundation to help young cancer patients after her own son’s diagnosis, had it right when she told the Post-Gazette: “When you have a little town like ours and have so many cancers, you have to ask, ‘What’s going on here?’” Ewing sarcoma — a cancer of the bone and tissue — is so rare that the nation sees only 200 to 250 cases a year. But there have been at least 27 cases in Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties since 2008.  The Post-Gazette also has documented other rare cancers among dozens of children and young adults in those counties — 10 in Washington County’s Canon-McMillan School District alone. The PG has documented 13 childhood and young adult cancer deaths in these counties since 2011, including three since 2015 in the West Greene School District.  Because the counties are a center of natural gas production, residents worry about environmental pollution as the source of the cancers. The Marcellus Shale Coalition, a trade group, has said there is no known link between fracking and childhood cancer. The operative word is “known.” The fracking process involves carcinogenic chemicals, and some academic studies have linked low birth weights, birth defects and asthma to fracking. But that’s surprisingly little information given the high stakes. Much more needs to be learned about rare childhood cancers and the possible role that environmental factors play in them. Southwestern Pennsylvania — home to a robust shale gas extraction industry, various sources of pollution and a frightening number of childhood cancers — is the right place to carry out that research.  Cheryl Potter, a Fayette County resident whose son Joshua died of Ewing sarcoma in 2016, put it this way: “You never get solid answers, and that’s the worst part.”

Appalachian gas storage hub seeks federal clean energy loan guarantee - Several environmental groups are considering legal options if the Trump administration approves $1.9 billion taxpayer-backed guarantee.A development corporation is seeking a $1.9 billion federal loan guarantee to help build an Appalachian storage hub for natural gas liquids.The financing guarantee would come from a U.S. Department of Energy program meant to support projects that “avoid, reduce, or sequester” air pollutants or greenhouse gas emissions and feature “new or significantly improved technologies.”The Title XVII program has never been used to finance a fossil fuel storage project, but environmental groups fear the Trump administration will bend criteria to approve the project.“It just does not fit the legal criteria” of the federal law, said Alison Grass, research director at Washington, D.C.-based Food & Water Watch, one of several environmental groups that is considering legal options.The proposal from Appalachia Development Group, LLC, calls for an underground storage facility to hold natural gas liquids from “wet gas,” such as ethane, which are used to make plastics and other products.  The storage facility’s site in Ohio, West Virginia or Pennsylvania hasn’t been finalized. The hub would have a web of pipelines and other infrastructure to collect and distribute feedstocks from all three states, plus possibly Kentucky. Steve Hedrick, CEO of Appalachia Development Group, said the project would “significantly” reduce emissions by minimizing the distances the liquids are transported before they are turned into plastic products. “With over half of the North American plastics converter market within 500 miles of Appalachia, the need for redundant transport is minimized while maximizing the value creation from the American resource,” Hedrick said via email. “In other words, we can significantly avoid or reduce anthropogenic emission of greenhouse gases merely through conversion of these raw materials closer to their production locations.” He did not offer a source or calculations of the amount of presumed emissions cuts resulting from transporting materials over fewer miles.

 AG investigating wastewater case from landfill that accepts fracking waste --The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office is investigating the disposal of contaminated water from a landfill that accepts fracking waste to a sewage treatment plant in Fayette County.The investigation comes a week after a judge barred the Westmoreland Sanitary Landfill in Rostraver Township from sending its wastewater to the nearby Belle Vernon Municipal Authority waste treatment plant for 90 days.The issue involves the landfill’s leachate — water that percolates through the landfill and gets collected for disposal. The landfill is permitted to send 50,000 gallons of the leachate per day to the treatment plant. But, according to a complaint filed by district attorneys in Washington and Fayette counties, the landfill had been sending 100,000 to 300,000 gallons of leachate per day. Beginning last spring, the treatment plant started seeing levels of pollution in its discharge to the Monongahela River go up and exceed state and federal limits. The treatment plant determined the contamination was coming from the landfill, which accepts fracking waste like drill cuttings. “That water was contaminated with diesel fuels, it’s alleged, carcinogens and other pollutants,” said Rich Bower, Fayette County District Attorney. Bower and Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone petitioned Fayette County Court of Common Pleas Judge Steve P. Leskinen for a 90-day injunction against the landfill. The judge agreed and issued the injunction on May 17.  “We saw a serious problem with all of this because of the fact that the Monongahela River is a great source for drinking water around for all downstream,” Bower said.   According to court documents filed with the case, the municipal authority’s supervisor, Guy Kruppa, notified the Department of Environmental Protection about the problems with the landfill’s leachate. The DEP responded by giving the landfill a permit to operate a “pretreatment” system to deal with contaminants in its waste.  Under the arrangement, the landfill would “pay any penalties for effluent violations at the Belle Vernon plant” while the landfill came up with a better way to clean up its waste. “In turn Belle Vernon would need to let the landfill stay connected to their system.” This arrangement stuck out to the two local prosecutors. “It was troubling that the DEP had indicated (to the authority) to keep on discharging contaminated water and that the municipal authority should work out a deal for the landfill to pay the fines,” Bower said.  The landfill accepted 4,600 tons drilling waste in March, the latest month for which data are available, according to the DEP. This waste is mostly drill cuttings, which can contain naturally occurring radioactive materials, salts, and metals.

GOP counters Wolf's capital plan with drilling (AP) — Republicans who control the Pennsylvania Senate are preparing an alternative to Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposal for a multibillion-dollar capital plan, funding it by removing restrictions on natural-gas drilling underneath state-owned forest land rather than taxing natural-gas production. The chief sponsors, state Sens. Camera Bartolotta and Pat Stefano of southwestern Pennsylvania, said Tuesday that they expect the legislation to be unveiled this week, ahead of June’s budget negotiations between the Republican-controlled legislature and Wolf, a second-term Democrat, in the country’s No. 2 gas-producing state. The GOP plan could open up more potentially lucrative state-forest acreage that has been off-limits to exploration companies since Wolf took office. It would allow the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to decide whether to enter into new gas leases, but not require it to add acreage. The plan envisions allowing exploration companies to reach below tracts of state-forest land using underground horizontal laterals from wells drilled on privately owned acreage adjacent to it, Bartolotta said. She said it doesn’t envision allowing new well sites on newly leased tracts of state-forest land. Drilling under another 781 square miles of state-forest land could yield $1 billion or more in upfront payments to finance a range of community projects, Stefano said. The Senate GOP plan is about one-fourth the size of Wolf’s “Restore Pennsylvania” program, and has another key difference: It doesn’t envision borrowing. Wolf proposed a $4.5 billion bond in January to be repaid over perhaps 20 years, including interest, by a new severance tax based on volume and floats with the price of natural gas. The goal, he said, is to fix critical infrastructure and revitalize communities. Using estimates of 2018 production and a price of less than $3, the tax would yield about $550 million in a year. At a price of more than $6, the tax would yield about $940 million. It would not change a 7-year-old per-well “impact fee” that Pennsylvania imposes on exploration firms.

Newspaper seeks to intervene in natural gas impoundment case - Attorneys for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the natural gas industry tangled Tuesday afternoon in Washington County Court over the newspaper’s attempt to intervene in a long-standing legal dispute over the effects of an Amwell Township impoundment that was settled and made confidential in 2018. Newspaper attorney Frederick N. Frank said the Post-Gazette was acting as the public’s representative in seeking access to the sealed court case. “In most cases when the records are sealed, there’s no public notice,” Frank told President Judge Katherine B. Emery. “We always learn after the fact. A reporter would have to scour, on a daily basis, every docket to make sure the right to access was not being violated.” Kimberly A. Brown, an attorney representing Range Resources Appalachia Inc., used several arguments to attack the Post-Gazette’s request to intervene, one of which was that the Post-Gazette is not a legal entity registered with the Pennsylvania Department of State. A search of the web’s database of business entities within the state lists Post-Gazette Co. as “withdrawn and inactive.” Frank told the judge the Post-Gazette is “one of the oldest newspapers in the nation. Your honor, if that’s an issue, we can amend” court documents to Block Communications. The newspaper, which traces its origins to 1786 – long before business entities were required to register with the state – publishes a print edition five days a week and seven days online. Brown contends it’s too late to do that, and she also claimed the newspaper is tardy in its petition to intervene, citing news articles published in the Post-Gazette that referred to a settlement and non-disclosure that were published last year. Frank also argued that the Post-Gazette does not have to present a motive for wanting access to the settlement with Stacey Haney of a 2012 case which she brought on her own behalf and that of her children.

Produced Water Management: Is EPA Laying the Foundation for More Options or More Regulation? - In mid-May 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released for public comment its draft Study of Oil and Gas Extraction Wastewater Management under the Clean Water Act. The purpose of the study was to document EPA’s interactions since the spring of 2018 with various stakeholder groups as EPA sought to determine whether existing waste water management approaches permitted under the Clean Water Act for the onshore oil and gas extraction industry adequately meet current and future state and tribal requirements and policies. In particular, EPA sought input regarding whether support existed for potential federal regulations that would permit a broader discharge of treated produced water to surface waters. EPA is accepting public comment until July 1, 2019, and intends to finalize the study and announce future actions regarding the subject matter later in 2019.  The oil and gas production industry uses large amounts of water, particularly in unconventional drilling, with much of the water coming from existing or potential useable water sources. Similarly, the industry generates significant wastewater volumes that are expected only to increase over time. Most produced water is currently managed by disposal in underground injection wells, where the water is disposed at depths below geologic units containing useable groundwater, thus, at least in part, removing water what was once a potential resource from the available water cycle. With water scarcity representing a growing concern for dozens of states, EPA is asking whether current wastewater management options sufficiently meet states’ and tribes’ policy needs, and whether produced water should be viewed more as a potential resource and not only as a waste requiring disposal.

Analysis: Pipeline project slowdown may challenge Northeast production growth — The Appalachian basin has effectively become "de-bottlenecked" following a wave of pipeline project start-ups. But with virtually no new production-takeaway capacity expected to come online in the next year, the Northeast could be on a path to becoming "re-bottlenecked" as rising production fills existing capacity. In 2018 roughly 8 Bcf/d of producer-backed pipeline capacity was added to the Northeast region as a handful of high-volume expansion projects that had been years in the making finally came online. Last year saw the full start-up of the greenfield Rover Pipeline and Nexus Gas Transmission systems, as well as expansions on existing pipelines including the Atlantic Sunrise project on Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line, and the WB XPress and Leach XPress projects on Columbia Gas Transmission. This wave of new capacity installations in 2018 helped drive the largest single year-over-year Northeast production gain on record, with output rising by 21% year on year to an average 28.6 Bcf/d. And this mis-match between capacity added (8 Bcf/d) and production grown (4.9 Bcf/d) is the underlying driver behind huge improvements in basis prices across Appalachia, which went from being valued at a significant discount to Henry Hub to now trading, at times, within variable costs of transport to the Gulf. But the pipeline buildout has already slowed dramatically, and the next several years combined are expected to see less new capacity enter service than came online in 2018 alone. The two main projects under construction, the 2 Bcf/d Mountain Valley Pipeline and the 1.5 Bcf/d Atlantic Coast Pipeline, have faced significant construction delays and cost increases, and their in-service dates remain uncertain. Besides those, there are very few new expansion proposals before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that would support higher production and outflows in the years ahead. Furthermore, new pipeline projects can take anywhere from three to five years to go from open season to commercial service. In short, the pipeline that's in the ground now is essentially all the Northeast region has to work with, capacity-wise, for the foreseeable future.

Delaware Riverkeeper Network Claims LNG Cover Up – In a scathing letter sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps), US Coast Guard, and state environmental regulatory agencies, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network asserts there has been a failure to disclose to the public a proposal, currently being reviewed and approved by multiple agencies, to export Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from the Gibbstown Logistics Center located in Gibbstown, Greenwich Township, New Jersey. According to the letter the Delaware Riverkeeper Network learned of the LNG export proposal by communicating with various agency staff, but that no documents or permit applications discussing development of the site since 2016 mentions the site is intended to be used for LNG export, including recent permit applications dated March 2019 that have been submitted to the state of New Jersey and the DRBC. Original proposals and documents propose a multi-use Marine Terminal, including for exporting Natural Gas Liquids (NGLs) but none discussing the export of Liquefied Natural Gas. The letter describes multiple efforts to learn about, and comment upon, the proposed site uses; including outreach to FERC that has no information on the LNG export proposal. “This looks to us like a deliberate cover-up. LNG export facilities are under increasing scrutiny because of the significant environmental and safety concerns they generate. There would be no reason not to disclose this critical body of information other than to evade full and fair review by agencies and the public and to avoid the public outcry of opposition that such news would be sure to generate,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper and leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. “Delaware Riverkeeper Network has participated in the public review process for this facility in good faith since 2016 only to find out that apparently there was a hidden purpose for the Gibbstown terminal. New Fortress Energy and Delaware River Partners may have thought they could avoid public scrutiny by sneaking in their intended use but they are dead wrong; we are demanding the comprehensive and public process this exceedingly dangerous proposal requires,”

The Trump administration is calling natural gas “molecules of freedom” now - It seems the US Department of Energy has made a linguistic decision to rebrand natural gas as “freedom gas,” and refer to its chemistry as “molecules of freedom.”In an agency press release touting the approval of a plan to increase exports of US natural gas shipped out of Texas, two Department of Energy officials offered quotes that included those zany monikers.“Increasing export capacity from the Freeport LNG project is critical to spreading freedom gas throughout the world,” US Under Secretary of Energy Mark W. Menezes said in the release. Menezes had a long career in the energy industry before joining the Trump administration.Just below him, Steven Winberg, also a longtime energy industry professional whose title with the Trump administration is listed as the “assistant secretary for fossil energy,” echoed his rhetoric:“I am pleased that the Department of Energy is doing what it can to promote an efficient regulatory system that allows for molecules of US freedom to be exported to the world,” Winberg said in the release. On Monday, meanwhile, the New York Times reported that the Trump administration had moved to stop its own scientists from modeling the long-term effects of climate change.

Nessel vows to move on shutting down Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline in 30 days — Attorney General Dana Nessel said is vowing to take legal action to shut down Enbridge Energy's controversial Line 5 within 30 days if Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is unable to reach a deal with the company to decommission the 66-year-old oil pipeline. "If there is a not a resolution sometime very soon, then I have every intention of moving forward on this. ... In the next month," Nessel said Tuesday in a podcast interview with Crain's at the Detroit Regional Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference. Whitmer, a fellow Democrat, has been trying to negotiate a faster timeline for Enbridge to shut down the twin 20-inch oil pipelines laying on the bed of Lake Michigan west of the Mackinac Bridge, just a short distance from the Grand Hotel where business, political and nonprofit leaders are gathered for this week's annual confab. On Wednesday, the governor told Crain's she is on board with the one month deadline. "I've been keeping the attorney general very close and up to speed on where that is headed and I don't think that's an unreasonable thing for her to suggest that we need to have a strategy that's public within the next month or so," Whitmer said in a podcast interview at the Mackinac Island conference. "We're moving forward and if we don't have a resolution, it's going to play out, I think, in court. I don't think that's a good thing. But, ultimately, that might be where it's headed." The governor has said she's still open to allowing Enbridge to build a utility tunnel in the bedrock of Lake Michigan to house a new pipeline, but wanted to get the oil transportation giant to complete the project and decommission the existing pipeline faster than the projected seven- to 10-year timeline.

Update: Gas Storage Tank Fire That Prompted State Assistance Is Out -- A massive natural gas storage tank fire in West Virginia is out. News outlets report the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management said in a statement that the blaze was extinguished around 5 a.m. Sunday after all-night efforts by local fire departments and state agencies. The tank is owned by Dominion Resources and is near the town of Friendly in Tyler County. No injuries were reported and Dominion Energy says there's no threat to public safety. Justice's office says the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection will assist with cleanup.   Previous Story: West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has ordered that all necessary state resources be used to battle a natural gas storage tank fire. In a news release, Justice's office said the fire began Saturday afternoon when lightning struck a storage tank that holds 1 million gallons of natural gas condensate. The tank is owned by Dominion Resources and is near the town of Friendly in Tyler County. Although the tank is on fire, the natural gas product had not been released as of Saturday evening. Fire departments have been working to extinguish the flames. Justice ordered the West Virginia National Guard and West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to assist. No injuries have been reported and Dominion Energy says there's no threat to public safety.

US Supreme Court declines to take case on eminent domain practice for gas pipelines— Landowners' arguments that pipeline companies improperly gain quick access to properties well ahead of compensating owners will not get a hearing before the US Supreme Court.  The high court on Tuesday declined to take up a case brought by landowners whose properties were condemned to allow for construction of Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line's 1.7 Bcf/d Atlantic Sunrise Project. At issue is one of a series of cases that challenged implementation of eminent domain powers under the Natural Gas Act and which, if successful, could have affected pipeline projects' ability to meet in-service schedules. Federal appeals court rulings thus far generally have favored current practices, but another appeal arising from the Mountain Valley Pipeline project is expected.In Lynda Like, et al., v. Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line (18-1206), landowners asked the high court to overturn a 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that upheld a district court's preliminary injunction that allowed the pipeline company to take immediate possession of property before a final judgment on the NGA condemnation. The landowners argued the case had important implications because "over the past 20 years, district courts have entered hundreds of preliminary injunctions granting private companies immediate possession of thousands of acres of private land." In this case, they argued that 18 months after the preliminary injunction, the petitioners had yet to receive compensation. District courts have created a system that is "far harsher and far more burdensome to property owners than any process actually authorized by Congress," they argued. Injunctions rearrange who can do what with the property and when, they said. Transco, in a brief to the Supreme Court, emphasized that the process it followed has been approved by courts of appeals in the 3rd, 4th, 6th, 8th, 9th and 11th circuits. It pointed to the 3rd Circuit finding that the NGA does not preclude federal courts from granting equitable relief in the form of a preliminary judgment when the gas companies have obtained a substantive right to condemn and otherwise qualify for equitable relief.  Only after the district court granted summary judgment in Transco's favor did it grant injunctive relief, it said. It countered argument that the practice amounted to a "quick take," citing the 3rd Circuit finding that the preliminary injunction merely hastened the enforcement of an existing substantive right.

How eminent domain is blighting farmers in path of gas pipeline - Under eminent domain, private property is seized from owners for public use. But for many landowners along the Mountain Valley pipeline route the forced loss of some of their land was not the end of their woes. Many suffered damages to the rest of their property after agreeing to land easements or fighting the pipeline’s invocation of the eminent domain law.   On 7 September 2018, Neal Laferriere was out on his farm harvesting ginseng and planting seeds with two of his children when they noticed a helicopter flying low over the property. “A few seconds later we started getting pelted by these little blue pellets. Two of my children sustained lacerations to the face,” he said.   He was informed the pellets were a product called EarthGuard Edge, meant for erosion control, and there was nothing to be done to clean up the product on the farm for which he had only recently obtained organic certification. “The land agent said they were sorry and they would make sure it wouldn’t happen again. The next two days, a helicopter flies over again and covers the rest of my property with these pellets,” added Laferriere. “We’ve lost a ton of business because of this. I can’t sell that product as certified organic, and I can’t sell it at all because I don’t feel like I can offer a product that is pure. I’m afraid of having somebody get sick,” explained Laferriere. “Our business, our life, our farm, is utterly ruined right now because of these people. Our livelihood has been shot. What we worked so hard for on the farm to get certified organic and start a profitable business, it’s not there any more.” In Rocky Mount, Virginia, part of Dave and Betty Werner’s property was taken via eminent domain for the pipeline route and it has devastated their farm. On the Werners’ 58-acre farm, their best pasture, where they raise cows, chickens, pigs and turkeys, was seized for the pipeline.  “As a result of the Mountain Valley pipeline taking over that lower pasture, it put us out of business. We can’t live and operate without that pasture and the water sources down there,” said Dave Werner. Construction began on their property in May 2018, which included blasting rock to clear trenches for the pipeline. “If they could either go away or finish this job, we could put our farm up for sale because we don’t want it any more in this condition, but we can’t even do that because of the mess.”

Lawyers for Mountain Valley Pipeline urge judge to remove tree-sitters by Friday - After staying up in the trees for nearly nine months, blockers of the Mountain Valley Pipeline are facing an attempt to bring them down. Lawyers for the company said in a recent court filing that it needs to have two tree-sitters removed by Friday so workers can finish clearing a path for the massive natural gas pipeline. On Sept. 5, 2018, two protesters took up residence in a white pine and a chestnut oak that stand in a construction easement for the pipeline in eastern Montgomery County. While the tree stands have switched occupants a number of times, they remain standing — in what is now the longest active blockade of a pipeline on the East Coast, according to Appalachians Against Pipelines. In December, lawyers for Mountain Valley asked federal Judge Elizabeth Dillon to issue a preliminary injunction against the tree-sitters, which would allow their removal by U.S. Marshals. Dillon had yet to rule on the request by 6 p.m. Wednesday. Mountain Valley said in mid-May it would like to have the tree-sitters removed by the end of the month “in order to avoid additional costs.” Lawyers for the company filed a notice in U.S. District Court in Roanoke, including an affidavit from Jeffrey Klinefelter, director of construction engineering for Mountain Valley. Klinefelter said that later in the month, Mountain Valley would have a crew of tree-cutters near the protest off Yellow Finch Lane in the Elliston area. The company asked that the two occupied trees be cleared of protesters so they could then be timbered “from an efficiency standpoint,” Klinefelter said. If Mountain Valley is forced to wait, it would cost an additional $22,000, he said. 

Federal pipeline safety regulators issue warning on floods and subsidence - Citing a number of recent incidents, including one in Pennsylvania, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, sent a warning to natural gas and hazardous liquids pipeline operators earlier this month detailing the dangers of flooding and heavy rain events. The advisory points to “land movement, severe flooding, river scour, and river channel migration” as causes of the type of damage that can lead to leaks and explosions. It outlines current regulations, and details requirements for insuring safe pipeline construction and continued monitoring once a pipeline is in operation. The agency issues these types of advisories if it sees a trend, they do not necessarily lead to further rulemaking. In this case PHMSA says earth moving incidents have increased across the country, particularly in the east. Lynda Farrell, director of the Pipeline Safety Coalition, says it’s an indication that PHMSA officials are worried about recent events that have led to spills. “They’re saying ‘it’s a bad idea to put pipelines in areas where damage to the pipeline could be caused by earth movement,’” she said. “If you know there’s potential damage, don’t put them there.” The advisory does not have the weight of a regulation, it simply sounds an alarm and reiterates regulations associated with pipeline safety. PHMSA lists seven incidents that have occurred in the past several years, including the release of more than 1,238 barrels of gasoline into the Loyalsock Creek from a Sunoco/Energy Transfer pipeline in Lycoming County in October, 2016. Although not listed in the PHMSA bulletin, officials also suspect that heavy rains and landslides caused the explosion of Energy Transfer’s natural gas liquids Revolution Pipeline in Beaver County last September. The explosion destroyed a house and knocked down power lines.  Following the explosion, DEP inspectors also discovered Energy Transfer illegally eliminated 23 streams and 17 wetlands, and shortened the length of 120 streams while altering 70 wetlands during construction.

Protest planned at jobs fair for Robeson County gas facility - Piedmont Natural Gas has scheduled a job fair for Thursday afternoon as it plans to hire 150 people to begin building a $250 million natural gas storage plant in northwest Robeson County — and at the same time, activists plan to hold a protest and rally against it just outside. The conflict is set to happen from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Oxendine Elementary School at 5599 Oxendine School Road, which is a Maxton address even though Maxton is miles away. The school is in Robeson County’s Wakulla community about 5 miles west of Red Springs. The project is to be built close by on 65 acres of a 685-acre tract on N.C. 71 at Rev. Bill Road. The project will be a property tax boon and economic driver for Robeson County, said Channing Jones, the county economic development director. The plant will endanger the community and damage the environment, said Mac Legerton, a long-time community activist Legerton is leading opposition to the gas storage plant and a separate project, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which is supposed to pipe natural gas from West Virginia to eastern North Carolina, terminating about 6 miles away in the Prospect area. But the Atlantic Coast Pipeline doesn’t yet exist. The new storage plant is set to get its gas from the Transcontinental Pipeline, which has 10,000 miles of pipe that carries gas from Texas and Louisiana on the Gulf Coast to the East Coast and Northeast. Piedmont Natural Gas intends to use the Wakulla storage plant to help the company keep sufficient gas supplies on hand to handle demand spikes during cold weather, spokeswoman Tammie McGee said. 

Editorial: Keep offshore drilling away from Georgia's coast - Opinion - Savannah Morning News - Many Georgians don’t like the idea of oil rigs dotting the horizon along their share of the South Atlantic Bight, that sinuous, concave coastline running from Cape Fear, North Carolina, to Cape Canaveral, Florida. Many in Carolina and Florida have also rejected this vision of the future.Governors of these states — and all other states along the Eastern seaboard — have loudly stated their opposition to lifting the Obama-era ban on drilling in U.S. coastal waters. Coastal, or territorial, waters extend out 12 nautical or 13.8 standard miles from the low tide line.Despite the outcry, the Trump administration was set to expand offshore drilling along the coast. A draft of a plan to do so was released last year and a final plan that would outline how oil lease sales would proceed was expected to be released this month. But a court decision got in the way.  So where does all this leave offshore drilling in coastal waters? That is perhaps as difficult to predict as it is to say how much oil is in those waters and what having it on hand would mean. With more than 40 million acres along the outer continental shelf already available for oil exploration, opening near shore waters would be a terrible idea, putting the coastal Georgia ecosystem at risk. The Energy Information Administration estimates that the current off-limits coastal waters in the lower 48 states might hold about 18 billion barrels of recoverable crude oil. However, up-to-date, comprehensive assessments have not been made in many years.Since the U.S. consumes about 7.5 billion barrels of oil each year, the untapped nearshore sea floor might supply the country’s energy needs for a little more than two years, if the estimates are correct.It’s simply not worth the risks, which can potentially include environmental damage, destruction of fishing economies and devastation of tourism in oil-soaked coastal areas. Meanwhile, other sources of energy like natural gas, wind and solar power continue to come online, reducing the nation’s overall dependence on oil.

 2,100-gallon oil spill reported in marsh near Galliano - The U.S. Coast Guard, state and federal agencies are responding to an oil spill into marshland near Galliano, Louisiana, according to a news release. Authorities were alerted that approximately 2,100 gallons of crude oil poured into the area due to a mechanical failure at the Bowley Cap Facility in Lake Bully Bonds Sunday (May 26), the release stated. The leak has since been secured. A pollution response team, including the Coast Guard Houma’s Marine Safety Unit, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator’s Office and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, responded to the spill with hard boom and sorbents, the Coast Guard said. Three drum skimmers were also used. The cause of the mechanical failure is still under investigation, the release stated. Clean-up efforts will continue until sunset Saturday and resume Monday morning.

Oil spill in Galliano caused by mechanical failure -   On Sunday, the Coast Guard responded to a crude oil discharge from the Bowley Cap Facility in Lake Bully Bonds near Galliano.  Watchstanders at Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Houma received a National Response Center report of approximately 2,100 gallons of crude oil going into a marshy area near the Bowley Cap Facility due to a mechanical failure at the facility.A pollution response team from Marine Safety Unit Houma and a Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator’s Office representative deployed to the facility to work with other responding agencies to coordinate clean-up operations.The source of the discharge has been secured and clean-up operations are underway to recover the spilled product.Containment boom, lined with sorbent boom, has been deployed to contain the spill.Three drum skimmers are engaged in skimming operations.Recovery operations are scheduled to finish on Tuesday morning.

Federal judge sends Plaquemines oil and gas damage suit back to state court - -  A lawsuit charging six oil and gas firms with damaging wetlands and land within the Potash Oil & Gas Field in Plaquemines Parish in violation of Louisiana’s coastal zone management laws should be heard in state 25th Judicial District Court in Plaquemines, a federal judge ruled Tuesday (May 28).The order is the first to return to a state court of 42 lawsuits charging that the historic operation of oil and gas companies in six parishes along Louisiana’s coastline -- including the construction of service canals, the improper disposal of hazardous wastes and saltwater, and other operations -- caused damage to wetlands that state law requires the companies to either pay compensation for or repair. There’s a good chance that the opinion issued by U.S. District Judge Martin L.C. Feldman of New Orleans will be followed in returning other suits to state courts that are under consideration by other federal judges in New Orleans. A similar ruling might also follow for the suits that were removed to the federal court in Lafayette.  "The governor is pleased that the judge approved the Department of Natural Resources’ motion, which is also supported by Attorney General Jeff Landry and simply says that these Louisiana claims should be heard in a Louisiana court,” said a statement issued by the office of Gov. John Bel Edwards. Edwards, Landry and the state Department of Natural Resources have intervened in all the suits in an effort to assure that any restoration or money coming from an ultimate ruling on behalf of the parishes will be used in compliance with the state’s coastal Master Plan.

$1.3B Pledged for Louisiana LNG Project - Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners will exclusively provide a $1.3-billion equity investment in Venture Global LNG, Inc.’s Calcasieu Pass LNG export facility in Cameron Parish, La., the companies reported Tuesday in a joint statement emailed to Rigzone. According to the companies, total committed capital to fund the construction of Calcasieu Pass – along with ongoing development of Venture Global’s Plaquemines LNG and Delta LNG projects – now totals $2.2 billion. More than $250 million has already been spent on Calcasieu Pass’ site preparation work, final engineering and equipment purchases and fabrication, the firms noted. “We are happy to announcement this important milestone for Calcasieu Pass and very proud to partner with a world-class investor like Stonepeak,” Mike Sabel, co-CEO of Venture Global, stated. “Their team brings a great depth of LNG knowledge and a track record of investing in exceptional infrastructure projects throughout North America.” Venture Global Co-CEO Bob Pender added that $855 million had previously been raised for the 10-million tonne per annum (mtpa) Calcasieu Pass project, which he said is “already significantly advanced” in regard to site construction as well as module manufacturing. “We are finalizing the balance of our Calcasieu Pass financing with our consortium of project finance lenders, and we look forward to providing LNG to our global customers – Shell, BP, Edison S.p.A., Galp, Repsol and PGNiG – in 2022,” Pender noted. Calcasieu Pass will use mid-scale, modularly, factory-fabricated liquefaction trains from Baker Hughes, a GE company, Venture Global and Stonepeak stated. Also, they noted that Kiewit is designing, engineering, constructing, commissioning and guaranteeing the facility, which has secured all necessary permits.

US Refiners Face Summer Snags  | Rigzone -- A global shortage of heavy crude will create hurdles for America’s key refining belts just as they ramp up gasoline production for summer driving season.In the Gulf Coast, dwindling heavy oil supplies have suppressed refining margins, while Midwest refiners may not reach the high run rates seen last summer. Gulf Coast profits from coking -- a process where heavy crude is broken down into fuels such as gasoline and diesel -- are already at their lowest levels in nearly a decade, according to data from Oil Analytics Ltd.The decline comes as a loss of crude supply from sanctions-hit Venezuela and Iran, as well as production cuts by Canada and OPEC, have driven up the price of fuel oil, which is used to make gasoline through the coking process. Gulf Coast fuel oil, a byproduct of heavy crude, reached a six-month high in late April.Gulf gasoline prices in the run-up to summer are also below the five-year average. Still, slimmer profits won’t necessarily mean less production. Margins are weak, but "we don’t expect any run cuts," said Jan-Jacob Verschoor, director of Oil Analytics Ltd., which studies refinery economics.For June through August, runs are expected to be around 9.3 million barrels a day, similar to utilization to last year, Chris Barber, head of refining biofuels analysis for ESAI Energy, said by phone.In the Midwest, it’s a different story. Refineries in the region rely on Western Canadian Select, a heavy crude that’s recently gotten cheaper after Alberta’s government eased some production limits. The inexpensive oil supply has driven up coking margins for area refiners -- but supply remains tight as Alberta won’t lift its mandatory output curbs until the end of the year. The supply crunch will likely push Midwest refinery runs to about 3.85 million barrels a day during June-August, lower than 3.95 million last year, Barber said.

Texas eminent domain reform died this session - Texas state lawmakers looking to reform the eminent domain process were unable to find common ground this session, despite hundreds of hours of negotiation. State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst's Senate Bill 421 sought to better protect property owners when private companies condemn their land — a nod to landowners in Texas who've grown accustomed to encroaching oil and gas pipelines. The bill would've required public meetings between property owners and industry groups and instituted measures to prevent low-ball offers to property owners, among other reforms. But after the bill was markedly watered down in a House committee and approved in that chamber — a charge led by state Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland — the legislation couldn't make it out of a joint House-Senate conference committee. The House version of the bill removed too many of the provisions Kolkhorst believed were critical, including measures aimed at restoring condemned land to as close to its original condition as possible. “The language of the House version would have turned back the clock for landowners and greatly harmed them,” Kolkhorst, a Brenham Republican, said in a statement Sunday. “I cannot agree to the Craddick proposal, which would do the opposite of what we set to do: help level the playing field for landowners in the taking of their property.” Th

Exxon, Others Leading High-Impact Drilling Rebound  | Rigzone - Large oil and gas companies are commanding a greater role in high-impact exploration, but a lack of depth in the quality of global drilling opportunities diminished their performance in 2018, Westwood Global Energy Group reported Friday.“The competitive landscape is changing with the largest companies like Total, Equinor and Exxon now leading the way on conventional high-impact drilling, which is forecast to increase by 20 percent this year,” Keith Myers, president for research with Westwood Global Energy Group, said in a written statement emailed to Rigzone. “At the same time, mature regions such as North West Europe are seeing a renaissance, as explorers focus on trying to find more hidden gems.”Westwood’s findings stem from the research, data analytics and consulting services firm’s latest“State of Exploration” report, which examined global conventional exploration over the past five years and previews prospects for 2019. According to Westwood, a “twin track strategy” driving the industry comprises:

  • Increasing short-cycle exploration over the period in mature basins with existing infrastructure
  • Continuing to hunt for new petroleum provinces, particularly in deep water.

Also, Westwood noted that companies are moving away from sub-Saharan Africa and other onshore frontier drilling opportunities that can take considerable time – in some cases upward of 16 years – to commercialize. Challenges above-ground include lack of infrastructure and political/regulatory hurdles, the consultancy added. Other report findings include:

  • Compared to the previous year, exploration drilling in 2018 was up nearly 30 percent but yielded poorer performance with fewer big discoveries and a lower commercial success rate.
  • From 2014 to 2018, high-impact drilling discovered volumes were down 50 percent overall against results from the preceding five-year period.
  • High-impact drilling should increase 20 percent in 2019 to approximately 80 wells, with more wells planned in maturing and mature plays such as North West Europe and Mexico.
  • More than 50 percent of high-impact wells for 2018 and more than 70 percent for 2019 involve supermajors; in contrast, the supermajor participation rate for 2015 was 34 percent.

Frac sand expected to remain cheap as supplies outpace demand - Sand prices for oil and gas fracking and for the valuations of sanding mining companies are expected to remain depressed as growing supplies continue to outpace rising demand, research reports say. Even as more sand mines shutter up North that produce the highest qualities of sand, they're more than outpaced by the growth of new mines in West Texas and even in South Texas' Eagle Ford shale that offer sand at more modest qualities, but at cheaper prices and much nearer to the oil and gas production. Even some Central Texas sand mines have closed in recent months. Energy companies have used increasingly larger supplies of sand and water per well in the hydraulic fracturing process to help crack open the shale rock and release greater volumes of oil and gas. A report in Moody's Investor Services said "frac sand castles may crumble" as prices stay low. Sand prices have plunged 20 percent in the last 12 months, Moody's said. Just this week, Houston sand mining firm Hi-Crush Partners LP said it is converting from a partnership structure to a traditional corporation under the name Hi-Crush Inc. to potentially help stabilize its finances. Hi-Crush's stock has plunged from more than $20 per unit in early 2017 down to just more than $2 t0day. Likewise, Fort Worth-based Emerge Energy Services, which is trading below $1, said it received a delisting warning from the New York Stock Exchange. Emerge said back in April it is considering filing for bankruptcy under a pre-structured plan with many of its creditors. In an already over-supplied sand market, the Norwegian research firm Rystad Energy said U.S. oil and gas sand demand will grow by 10 percent this year and by 17 percent in 2020. However, frat sand supplies also will grow by 10 percent this year.

Permian Cash Gains; Big Bearish Miss for EIA Sees Natural Gas Futures Slide - A large bearish miss in the latest U.S. government inventory data and forecasts showing underwhelming levels of June cooling demand had natural gas futures bulls in retreat Thursday. In the spot market, Midcontinent and West Texas prices clawed their way higher as much of the eastern two thirds of the Lower 48 saw modest declines; the NGI Spot GasNational Avg. added 2.0 cents to $2.080/MMBtu. The Nymex July futures contract settled at $2.547, down 7.7 cents after venturing as low as $2.534. Selling was of a similar magnitude further along the strip. August dropped 7.5 cents to settle at $2.557, while September settled at $2.549, off 7.4 cents. The bears may have been waiting for the June contract’s expiration Wednesday, as they “quickly pounced right at expiration time and haven’t looked back,” observed NatGasWeather. Adding to the bearish momentum that had developed in the market overnight, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Thursday reported a much larger-than-expected 114 Bcf injection into U.S. natural gas stocks. The 114 Bcf build, reported for the week ended May 24, overshot estimates by a wide margin, and the number easily tops both the 95 Bcf build recorded in the year-ago period and the five-year average 97 Bcf injection. Prior to the EIA report, consensus had formed around a build in the high 90s to low 100s Bcf. A Bloomberg survey had pointed to a median prediction of 98 Bcf, based on estimates ranging from 94 Bcf to 104 Bcf. The 114 Bcf figure topped even the highest estimate submitted to this week’s Reuters survey, which had called for a 101 Bcf injection based on a range from 91 Bcf to 110 Bcf. Intercontinental Exchange EIA Financial Weekly Index futures settled Wednesday at 100 Bcf, while NGI’s model predicted a 98 Bcf build.  Shah pointed to the Midwest and South Central regions as the areas where estimates missed the mark this week. “I think it’s the timing of the heat that threw off the number,” Shah wrote. “This late-May heat resembled something we’d see in late June.” Total Lower 48 working gas in underground storage stood at 1,867 Bcf as of May 24, 156 Bcf (9.1%) higher than year-ago levels but 257 Bcf (minus 12.1%) below the five-year average, according to EIA. By region, EIA recorded a 35 Bcf build in the Midwest and a 30 Bcf injection in the East. Further west, the Mountain region refilled 4 Bcf for the week, while 12 Bcf was injected in the Pacific. The South Central region posted a 31 Bcf weekly build, including 27 Bcf injected into nonsalt and 4 Bcf into salt stocks, according to EIA.

Industry celebrates Trump's limits on states' regulation rights - Obama-era regulations that put the brakes on oil and gas development continue to fall by the wayside under the current administration. Two executive orders signed April 10 by President Donald Trump sought to limit the power of states to delay natural gas, coal and oil projects. The announcements were applauded by those in the Louisiana and Texas oil and gas industry, where an abundance of supply and increasing consumption are fueling heightened demand for pipelines. The orders essentially make it harder for states to block new pipeline development on environmental grounds, calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to review a section of the Clean Water Act requiring applicants to get certification from affected states.  Absent the edicts, economist Loren Scott, of Loren C. Scott & Associates in Baton Rouge, says future pipelines coming out of the oil- and gas-rich Permian Basin could have run the risk of local interference as projects neared metropolitan areas in Texas on the way to the Gulf Coast. Nonetheless, laying pipeline has traditionally met minimal local resistance in the oil- and gas-friendly Southern states—with the notable exception of the recently completed Bayou Bridge Pipeline running from Nederland, Texas, to St. James Parish. “You’re going across two states,” says Scott, “that are not generally afraid of pipelines.” Gifford Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, says Trump is simply continuing his administration’s policy of gradually removing the regulatory hurdles to progress. “He has also taken some actions at FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) to speed up the approval process for Liquefied Natural Gas projects, so it’s not surprising that he’s doing the same thing with pipelines.” Briggs hopes the recent orders will facilitate the extraction of oil and gas out of the shale plays, adding that the cheap and abundant supply is the primary reason for the surge of industrial and LNG projects along the Gulf Coast. In southwest Louisiana’s LNG market, demand for natural gas is expected to reach 14 billion cubic feet a day by 2025.

Bechtel Bags Rio Grande LNG Deals Worth $9.5B+ - NextDecade Corporation revealed Tuesday that it has awarded two contracts worth more than $9.5 billion to Bechtel Oil, Gas and Chemicals for the engineering, procurement and construction of its Rio Grande LNG project in Brownsville, Texas. The contracts are for the first phase of the project, which consists of three liquefaction trains, two 180,000 cubic meter storage tanks and two marine berths. Each liquefaction train is expected to have up to 5.87 million tons per annum of LNG capacity. NextDecade said it anticipates making a “positive final investment decision” on up to three trains of the Rio Grande LNG project as early as the end of the third quarter of 2019 and commencing operations in 2023.    According to NextDecade’s website, Rio Grande LNG is located in an uncongested deepwater port with access to a skilled labor force and in close proximity to abundant, low-cost recoverable gas resources in the Permian Basin and Eagle Ford Shale. NextDecade, which is headquartered in Houston, Texas, is an LNG development company focused on LNG export projects and associated pipelines in Texas

Hearings Begin in Lawsuit to Stop Permian Highway Pipeline -- A lawsuit to stop construction of the Permian Highway Pipeline began with hearings Tuesday. Hays County, the city of Kyle and property owners affected by the pipeline signed onto the lawsuit against energy infrastructure company Kinder Morgan and the Texas Railroad Commission. The pipeline would stretch 430 miles from West Texas to Houston. More than 1,000 land owners would be affected. Plaintiffs of the lawsuit claim that Kinder Morgan cannot claim eminent domain over their property without following Texas Railroad Commission rules for project approval. Under the rules of the commission, private companies aren't required to follow the same rules as government entities for these types of projects, but classifying the pipeline as a "gas utility" gives the company condemnation and eminent domain rights. Andrew Sansom said those rules aren't fair to landowners like him. He's the owner of the Hershey Ranch, a privately owned ranch dedicated to conserving wildlife. The property received a conservation easement to protect it from certain government projects. "Private land owners affected by this pipeline have not been given due process. If you look at Article 5 of the U.S. Constitution it says that the government cannot take private property without due process." Kinder Morgan held five public meetings to discuss the pipeline with affected communities, despite not being required to do so. Kinder Morgan Vice President Allen Fore said they readjusted the pipelines route in over 150 personal cases with land owners along the route. He said his company is only following the rules as they're written and land owners are disputing rules that can only change through legislation.

In court, opponents to pipeline through Hays county call for more oversight— A judge finished hearing arguments Wednesday in a case brought forth by local governments and property owners who oppose the intended route of a natural gas pipeline through the Hill Country. Now she says she will spend several weeks working to make a decision about whether there should have been more regulation or oversight for the process. The judge expects to have a decision ready in two to three weeks and an attorney for Kinder Morgan stated that the company would hold off from making any foreclosure proceedings against the plaintiffs until she makes her decision. Is this case goes to trial, the attorneys involved would want a trial in July or August. It is likely that no matter the outcome of this case, the outcome will be appealed. In a Travis County Courtroom Wednesday, Judge Lora J. Livingston heard two more witnesses brought forward by the defendants in this case: the pipeline company Kinder Morgan and the Texas Railroad Commission. The plaintiffs — the City of Kyle, Hays County and three landowners — brought forward all their witnesses at a hearing Tuesday. These parties have expressed concerns about the safety, environmental and economic repercussions of the Permian Highway Pipeline project. They object to the way Kinder Morgan set the route for the pipeline before seeking public input. They are hoping the judge will agree with them that the Railroad Commission has not carried out the public oversight with Kinder Morgan required by the Texas constitution These Hays County plaintiffs are hoping the judge establishes a temporary injunction that prohibits any exercise of eminent domain on this pipeline --at least in Gillespie, Blanco, and Hays Counties -- until a final "trial of merit" happens or guideline standards for gas pipeline oversight are established by the Railroad Commission. Such a ruling would call into question the ways that pipelines have been setting routes in Texas or more than a century. Kinder Morgan and the Texas Railroad Commission are trying to dismiss this lawsuit related to the state's eminent domain process. The Texas Railroad Commission is asking to be dismissed from this lawsuit entirely. 

EIA’s new liquids pipeline projects database shows new U.S. crude oil pipeline capacity - EIA recently launched a new liquids pipeline projects database that tracks more than 200 crude oil, hydrocarbon gas liquids (HGL), and petroleum products pipeline projects. Rising domestic crude oil production has led to several changes in Gulf Coast crude oil supply and demand patterns, creating a need for more pipeline capacity. Crude oil pipeline capacity additions originating in the Gulf Coast region represent most of the scheduled pipeline capacity growth over the next few years. EIA’s new database provides an improved capability to track this growth. The database contains project information such as project type, start dates, capacity, mileage, and geographic information for historical pipeline projects (completed since 2010) and future pipeline projects. The information in the database is based on the latest public information from company documents, government filings, and trade press, and it does not reflect EIA’s assumptions on the likelihood or timing of project completion. U.S. crude oil production doubled between 2010 and 2018, with about 70% of that growth coming from the Gulf Coast region. U.S. Gulf Coast crude oil production grew from 5.2 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2014 to 7.1 million b/d in 2018, driven by production in the Permian Basin in western Texas and southeastern New Mexico. As U.S. crude oil production increased, imports dropped off significantly. Previously, Gulf Coast crude imports were shipped to refineries in the region, and they also moved north by pipeline to refineries in the Midwest. But as import volumes declined, less pipeline capacity was needed from the Gulf Coast to the Midwest. New pipelines and reversals of existing pipelines originating in the Midwest are increasingly moving crude oil south from the Bakken region in Montana and North Dakota, as well as from Canada, to the Gulf Coast. As a result, the Gulf Coast transitioned from being a net shipper to a net recipient of crude oil from elsewhere in the country in 2015.  More recently, increasing Permian crude production has outpaced pipeline takeaway capacity to bring the crude oil to market. The increasing crude oil production and need for more pipeline transportation capacity prompted a large expansion of crude oil pipeline infrastructure. In the region, nine intrastate crude oil pipeline projects have been announced or are under construction with in-service dates between 2019–2021. These projects are planned to move crude oil throughout Texas and Louisiana to further alleviate regional constraints.

Pipeline Security Systems Market is Projected to Grow at a CAGR of 8.59% - The global pipeline security systems market was valued at USD 6.1 billion in 2017, and is expected to reach a value of USD 10.07 billion by 2023, at a CAGR of 8.59 %, during the forecast period (2018 – 2023).  Pipeline systems have evolved to become the primary solution for the commercial activities. The market for the pipeline security has been boosted by the demand for sustainable use of resources and the rising frequency of breaches and theft of small quantities of the product being transported. The pipeline established for transport of commodities is estimated to span across 3.5 million kilometers across 120 countries across the world. Oil & gas, natural gas has been estimated to be the most vulnerable to attacks, and hence, the increased spending by the oil and gas corporation to install robust security infrastructure to ensure security to the pipelines has been the primary reason for the growth of the market globally. Oil & gas industry is estimated to be the largest to commit to the use of existing pipeline networks for transport across the world. According to a study conducted by IT security firm Tripwire, more than 80% of the oil & gas companies have registered an increase in the number of cyber-attacks on their respective firms. The survey further reveals the lack of confidence in the present and existing security framework installed within the organization. The need for integrated and exhaustive security solutions has been emphasized by leading industry experts.The number of cyber-attack incidents has been growing continuously for the last few years, with the industry (along with BFSI) quoted to be the most vulnerable sector. The sector has also been found to be the most impacted by the robust state-sponsored cyber-espionage campaigns, which can affect the physical infrastructure as well. These vulnerabilities have forced the industry players to divert significant amounts of funds for security. The implementation of holistic security solutions to provide comprehensive security and to protect the system by reducing the number of threat actors or points of entry to the infiltrators is the need of the hour in this industry. The rising number of illegal connections to petroleum and oil products pipeline is a major factor affecting the market for crude oil in the global pipeline security market. This trend is particularly very severe in several regions in Eastern Europe. Due to lack of an effective system for monitoring and compliance to design specifications, there have been several major hazardous accidents in the past. Pipelines are major target for extremist groups, as even a simple explosion can lead to a blackout, affecting supply for several weeks in some cases. Hence, crude oil companies are increasingly looking for robust security systems to enhance their existing mechanism. Particularly, the use of supersensitive seismic monitoring devices, could provide early warnings if saboteurs were to approach a protected area.

Newly Added Shale Plays -- May 26, 2019 - EIA added new shale plays to their database earlier this year. For now they will be linked at the sidebar as "Emerging Shale Plays." EIA recently updated its methodology and production volume estimates for U.S. shale gas and tight oil plays to include seven additional plays, increasing the share of shale gas by about 9% and tight oil by 8% compared with previously estimated shale production volumes. The update captures increasing production from new, emerging plays as well as from older plays that had been in decline but are rebounding because of advancements in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. The selected plays are identified by examining the reservoir names reported by operators to state agencies. EIA uses the third party data source, Drillinginfo, which collects and distributes well level data gathered by the states. The most productive of the newly added plays is the Mississippian formation, which is located mainly in Oklahoma within the Anadarko Basin. The mainly carbonate rock type lies above the Woodford play and has produced liquids and natural gas for some time, but newer completion techniques have driven recent production gains.
The remaining six plays are smaller and are included in the rest of U.S. tight oil and shale gas categories.

  • The Burket and Geneseo formations in the Appalachian Basin of Pennsylvania and West Virginia increased production in recent years. These dry shale gas formations lie above the Marcellus Shale but are thinner and do not cover as large an area as the Marcellus.
  • The Uteland Butte member of the Green River Formation in the Uinta Basin of Utah is composed primarily of limestone, dolostone, and organic rich mudstones and siltstones.
  • The Turner, Frontier, Sussex-Shannon, and Teapot-Parkman formations are located in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and lie below and above the Niobrara formation, the basin’s primary hydrocarbon-bearing formation. They are mainly fine-grained sandstone with interbedded silt and shale

Only 10% Of US Shale Drillers Have A Positive Cash Flow - Nine in ten US shale oil companies are burning cash, according to Rystad Energy. Rystad has studied the financial performance of 40 dedicated US shale oil companies, focusing on cash flow from operating activities (CFO). This is the cash that is available to expand the business (via capital expenditure, capex), reduce debt, or return to shareholders.Only four companies in our peer group reported a positive cash flow balance in the first quarter of 2019, bringing down the share of companies with a positive cash flow balance from the recent norm of around 20% to just 10%. Total CFO fell from $14 billion in the fourth quarter of 2018 to $9.9 billion in the first quarter of 2019.“That is the lowest CFO we have seen since the fourth quarter of 2017,” says Alisa Lukash, Senior Analyst on Rystad Energy’s North American Shale team.“The gap between capex and CFO has reached a staggering $4.7 billion. This implies tremendous overspend, the likes of which have not been seen since the third quarter of 2017.”With negative cash flows, shale companies have historically relied on bond markets to finance their operations. Without additional funding and any debt refinancing, capex would have to be cut.However, no US shale company has made a public offering since the sharp fall in oil prices – and subsequent share price slide – late last year, marking the longest gap in public capital issuance since 2014.March and April 2019 saw a few of the more indebted operators issue bonds, intended to partly cover outstanding obligations for the coming year. However, pricing for this type of issuance has risen substantially due to the increased Fed Rate and the overall increased risk associated with US oil companies from a market perspective. “Recently released data, which confirmed dismal first quarter earnings, only served to cement negative market sentiment,” Lukash said. “While shale operators continue to focus on improving capital efficiency, investors are putting the industry under extreme pressure, leaving no room for undisciplined spending in 2019.” Many operators are building production momentum now after a seasonal dip during the winter months. As oil prices improve Rystad Energy expects the second quarter will see a significant increase in CFO while capex remains stable.The majority of US shale oil producers have slightly reduced their long-term debt by paying down obligations which will soon reach maturity.

Pioneer CEO says the natural gas company avoided a downturn in prices by shipping out to California - Windmills are bringing some of the cheapest electricity to the Permian Basin, pushing natural gas prices into the negative, Pioneer Natural Resources CEO Scott Sheffield told CNBC Thursday. “Pioneer has taken our gas to California, so we’re not seeing any of the negative prices,” he said in a one-on-one with “Mad Money’s” Jim Cramer. “But a lot of the independents are seeing negative.”In order to address challenges in natural gas, Sheffield said the company will need to add as many as five additional natural gas lines to its operations in the southwestern basin.Pioneer has about six crude oil lines that run from the Permian to the Gulf Coast, he said. The company only has one pipeline for natural gas there, he added.“What’s gonna solve our natural gas industry is get more [liquefied natural gas] projects,” said Sheffield, who returned to lead the company after Tim Dove retired in February. “We need to ship it out, just like we are crude oil; just like we are propane, butane [and] ethane end products.” Liquefied natural gas, or LNG, is natural gas that has been cooled for shipping and storage purposes.

 Midwest Flooding Disrupts Crude, Fuel Cash Markets —Unexpected pipeline outages and refinery shutdowns over the past week—in part caused by bad weather in the U.S. Midwest—has roiled cash markets for both crude oil and refined products, traders said on May 28.Volatile trading was seen both in crude markets in the Cushing, Okla., hub and for gasoline and diesel traded in the Tulsa, Okla., region.The Ozark pipeline, which flows up to about 360,000 barrels per day (bbl/d) of crude oil, was shut, market intelligence firm Genscape said in a notice on May 28. It was not immediately clear whether flooding had caused the outage on Ozark, though the rains have caused other pipelines in the region to shut in recent days.The Ozark line flows northeast from Cushing to the Phillips 66 Wood River refinery in Roxana, Ill., according to Genscape. The outage had an immediate effect on the U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude cash roll—the three-day period after the front-month futures contract expires, when traders rebalance their positions. The roll trade is closely tied to supply and demand at Cushing, the delivery point for U.S. crude futures.The WTI June/July cash roll traded on May 28 at minus 40 cents per barrel, the weakest in more than two years, traders said. The cash roll traded at minus 20 cents per barrel on Friday ahead of the long holiday weekend.  Flooded areas of Arkansas and Oklahoma were bracing for more rain that will feed the already swollen Arkansas River, forecasters said on May 28. Up to 19 inches of rain has fallen in parts of Oklahoma over the month of May, the National Weather Service said, with more on the way. Tallgrass Energy on May 24 issued a notice of temporary embargo of deliveries for its Tallgrass Iron Horse Pipeline due to flooding on the Cimarron River in Oklahoma. That came a day after a similar notice for its Pony Express Pipeline, which runs from Guernsey, Wyo., to Cushing.The 200,000-bbl/d Diamond pipeline, which runs from Cushing across Arkansas to Valero Energy Corp’s Memphis refinery was also shut, traders and Genscape said on May 28.Flows on that line were already limited due to planned maintenance work at the gasoline-producing and alkylation units at the Memphis refinery, traders said. HollyFrontier’s 155,300 bbl/d Tulsa refinery shut operations as a precaution due to high water. Worries about reduced supply have boosted cash prices for gasoline in the Midwest. Group Three gasoline RUV-DIFF-G3 traded near the highest for this time of year since at least 2013, the earliest Refinitiv Eikon data available, at 3.75 cents per gallon above futures.

As North Dakota oil soars, so does waste of natural gas (AP) — North Dakota oil drillers are falling far short of the state’s goals to limit the burning of excess natural gas at well heads, five years after the state adopted the rules to reduce the wasteful and environmentally harmful practice. The industry has spent billions of dollars on infrastructure but is at least two years from catching up, and regulators are projecting that the state’s increasing gas production will still outstrip that new capacity. Environmentalists and even a key Republican say the problem will persist as long as the state doesn’t take a tougher approach with the industry, which has largely avoided financial penalties. “We need to find an excess flared gas solution immediately,” said Republican Rep. Vicky Steiner, whose hometown of Dickinson is in the heart of the state’s oil patch. “It’s a shame. I’d like to see us find a use for this.” “Compliance with the state’s flaring policy is not working,” added Wayde Schafer, spokesman for the state’s Sierra Club chapter. “We need to revisit the policy.” In 2014, when more than one-third of that gas was being burned off, North Dakota began requiring oil companies to limit flaring to no more than 15 percent by 2016, and to 10 percent by 2020. The national average for flaring is less than 1 percent. Oil companies endorsed the rules but struggled to meet them from the start. Most have often missed them. In March, drillers produced a record 2.8 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, but about 20 percent of it went up in flames. That was well above the current limit of 12 percent — and was enough to heat all North Dakota homes for a month 10 times over, according to an analysis by the Legislature’s research agency.

Electricity needs projected to increase up to 70 percent (AP) — A new analysis says North Dakota will need significantly more power generation in the next 20 years because electricity consumption is projected to increase by up to 70 percent. The analysis reviewed by North Dakota Industrial Commission members Tuesday says the need for more power is driven largely by continued expansion of oil and gas activity in the western region of the state. That includes more drilling rigs, pipelines, refineries and other related facilities needed to produce and move oil and gas to market. The analysis by Barr Engineering also considered the additional population needed to staff those activities and associated services. The commission oversees the North Dakota Transmission Authority, which commissioned Barr Engineering to develop the forecast.

Will a new Washington State law hurt Bakken crude oil producers? - Refineries in Washington state have been reliable buyers of Bakken-sourced crude oil during the Shale Era, receiving an average of about 145 Mb/d — all of it by rail — over the past two-plus years. But a newly approved Washington law slashing the allowable vapor pressure limit for crude being unloaded from rail tank cars could hinder future growth in crude-by-rail shipments from North Dakota to the Evergreen State, or force Bakken producers to remove more butane and other “light ends” from the crude oil they rail west. It’s such a big deal that the state of North Dakota has indicated it will file suit to kill the new law. Today, we discuss Washington’s new law and its potential effects on Bakken crude oil producers. Besides long borders with Canada, the states of Washington and North Dakota don’t have a heck of a lot in common. Washington is known for its high technology (Boeing, Microsoft and Amazon) and coffee (Starbucks, and Seattle has one of the highest coffee-shops-per-capita ratios of any city), while North Dakota’s claims to fame are its wheat fields, “Fargo” (the movie, not the city) and, yes, the Bakken — one of the nation’s largest oil and gas producing areas. Still, there’s been a consistent link between the two states in recent years: Since the mid-2010s, Washington’s refining industry (combined capacity, about 660 Mb/d) has been counting on Bakken crude for more than one-quarter of its needs. As we said in The End of the Line, until the Shale Era, Washington’s five refineries (red dots in Figure 1) relied primarily on Alaska North Slope (ANS) crude oil shipped down from Valdez, AK, as well as waterborne imports, and piped-in crude from Western Canada. The Western Canadian crude is sent from Edmonton, AB, via the Trans Mountain Pipeline (hot-pink line) and the connecting Puget Sound Pipeline (green line) to four refineries in the Puget Sound area.

Estimated 80-125 gallons of oil spill on Haskell beach - On Tuesday evening, May 28, 2019, the City of Goleta became aware of an oil spill at Haskell’s Beach. As part of the ongoing response, cleanup and environmental assessment, teams are accessing the beach from Santa Barbara Shores Drive. The Mayor of Goleta has issued a statement: “Goleta is fully committed to protecting and preserving public safety and access to our beach and ocean. While oil spills are always of great concern, I am impressed by the way local, state, and federal agencies work together to contain the situation. We continue to monitor the situation and assess it for impacts,“ said Mayor Paula Perotte. Goleta – A Unified Command has been established to respond to a crude oil release that occurred at Pier 421 at Haskell’s Beach. The incident occurred while crews were working to plug an abandoned well, releasing an estimated 80 to 125 gallons of crude oil. Multiple assessments have not detected any sheen on the water, but ground crews have discovered oil and oily debris along the shoreline in the vicinity of Pier 421 and points east. A team of cleanup contractors are working to remove this material. Scientists continue to assess sensitive environmental sites in the area including snowy plover nesting sites near Coal Oil Point. No impacts to those areas have been observed. Crews from the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) have also been activated and will be out assessing the area again tomorrow. At this time, three birds have been collected. The public is asked to avoid any potentially-oiled wildlife, as approaching or trying to help them can do more harm than good. Anyone seeing oiled wildlife is asked to call the OWCN at 1-877-823-6926.

Cleanup Continues for Haskell's Beach Oil Spill - The Office of Spill Prevention Response (OSPR) remains engaged in Goleta's crude oil spill that occurred during well plugging and abandonment operations at Pier 421 on Haskell's Beach in Goleta on Tuesday. Multiple assessments have not detected any sheen on the water, but ground crews have discovered oil and oily debris along the shoreline in the vicinity of Pier 421 and points east. A team of cleanup contractors is working to remove this material. Scientists continue to assess sensitive environmental sites in the area including snowy plover nesting sites near Coal Oil Point. No impacts to those areas have been observed. Crews from the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) have collected ten birds, six of which are alive. OSPR reports some birds had injuries that appear unrelated to the oil response. The public is asked to avoid any potentially-oiled wildlife, as approaching or trying to help them can do more harm than good. Anyone seeing oiled wildlife is asked to call the OWCN at 1-877-823-6926. All beaches will remain open throughout the cleanup process and there are no impacts to public health, safety or recreational fishing. However, the public is asked to refrain from entering areas where crews are working or cleanup efforts are taking place.

Hundreds bash Trump’s oil fracking plan in SLO: ‘This battle does not end tonight’ - The movement against fossil fuel development on the Central Coast is alive and kicking. A public meeting erupted into an impassioned rally in San Luis Obispo Wednesday night as activists and local residents took turns bashing a federal plan to resume leasing public land in Central California to new oil and gas drilling, including fracking. More than 200 people gathered in a banquet room at Embassy Suites to raise alarms about the potential impacts to local groundwater, air quality and the climate. They called for the Bureau of Land Management to abandon plans to issue oil and gas leases in California for the first time in five years, including in the Central Valley and on the Central Coast. “Oil drilling, production and transport present a clear and ever-present danger to the health and safety of residents and businesses in our local economy,” said San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon, who led the city in passing an ordinance opposing new oil and gas development and made a city-wide commitment to be carbon neutral by 2035. Representatives of the BLM’s Bakersfield office heard hours of testimony, chants, and jeers against the agency’s proposed plan to lift an unofficial moratorium on issuing oil and gas leases and allow fracking within the district. The office manages 400,000 acres of public land and 1.2 million acres of federal mineral estate in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura counties. Agency officials said about 800,000 acres across those counties are available to new oil and gas leases.

Oregon Lawmakers Approve Fracking Moratorium – Oregon legislators have voted to place a moratorium on the oil and gas extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.  The state Senate voted to place a five-year ban on the practice. That is only half the timespan the House approved in March, but the House is expected to approve the Senate's revisions and send the bill to Gov. Kate Brown's desk. The measure, House Bill 2623, is garnering praise not only from environmental organizations, but health and safety groups as well.Thomas Meyer, regional organizing manager for Food & Water Watch describes fracking, which involves injecting a mix of chemicals into shale rock underground, as a dangerous process."In states where fracking has happened across the country, we see an increase in water contamination, in health problems, in air pollution," said Meyer. "And really, there's now been hundreds of peer-reviewed, scientific studies, particularly on the health impacts of fracking."Proponents of fracking claim there isn't enough evidence that the practice is harmful, and cite an economic stimulus to local communities. There currently are no fracking wells in Oregon, although the U.S. Geological Survey has identified coal-bed methane fracturing potential in the Willamette Valley. Meyer said it's also of concern that the federal government has been rolling back safeguards against fracking since 2017. His organization sees an urgent need to reconsider oil and gas development with the growing threat from climate change, although the Trump administration has been moving in a different direction.

Producing More with Less Cash and a Flat Rig Count - How can oil and gas companies spend less money, keeping the rig count relatively flat all while growing production?  Jesse Thompson, senior business economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, answered this question earlier this week at the Mergermarket Energy Forum in Houston. He said there’s three pieces to the puzzle on how companies can do this.

  1. Growth in Productivity. “Petroleum engineers are really good at their jobs and they’ve beaten everyone’s expectations for productivity growth for the past 10 years. That’s how companies are going to get more oil out of the money they do spend.”
  2. Oilfield Services. “They have very little pricing power, if any, their margins are razor thin and they have an oversupply of capacity,” said Thompson. He said equipment ordered last year is just now being delivered. “New orders aren’t really there. Companies aren’t going to buy equipment because they’ve got some in inventory … they’re going to wear out existing inventory and then next year hopefully demand for services will go up and they’ll get their returns. But this year’s oilfield services costs are expected to be down year-over-year.”
  3. Sand. “We’ve got more than enough sand … companies I talk to say sand costs are down year-over-year anywhere from 20-35 percent,” said Thompson. “That comes from in-basin sand being so much cheaper due to new supply and, in some cases, integrating the logistics of sand into the company itself and not paying an oilfield services company to do it for them.”

US Shale Companies are Burning through Cash - About nine in 10 U.S. shale companies are tremendously overspending, according to new analysis by Rystad Energy. Just about 10 percent of U.S. shale companies had a positive cash flow in the first quarter of 2019, meaning the majority of companies are burning through cash, according to energy research firm Rystad Energy. After studying the financial performance of 40 U.S. shale companies, Rystad found just four reported a positive cash flow balance in 1Q 2019. This is down from the recent norm of 20 percent. Total S.A. saw its cash flow from operating activities (CFO) fall from $14 billion in 4Q 2018 to $9.9 billion in 1Q 2019. “That is the lowest CFO we have seen since the fourth quarter of 2017,” said Alisa Lukash, senior analyst on Rystad Energy’s North American Shale team. “The gap between CAPEX and CFO has reached a staggering $4.7 billion. This implies tremendous overspend, the likes of which have not been seen since the third quarter of 2017.” Shale companies will be forced to cut CAPEX if they receive no additional funding or debt refinancing. But, according to Rystad, no U.S. shale company has made a public offering since the steep decline in oil prices late last year, marking the longest gap in public capital issuance since 2014. “Recently released data, which confirmed dismal first quarter earnings, only served to cement negative market sentiment,” Lukash said. “While shale operators continue to focus on improving capital efficiency, investors are putting the industry under extreme pressure, leaving no room for undisciplined spending in 2019.” But with shale operators ramping up production, Rystad expects a significant increase in CFO in second quarter as oil prices improve. “Larger diversified operators, which have multiple cash generating engines and are more resistant to volatile commodity prices, will be especially poised to open up to acquisition of new acreage,” Lukash added.

Fracking firms' cash flow drops off -  Cash flow at U.S oil and gas companies focused on the nation's booming shale fields is falling off despite criticism from Wall Street investors. Just 10 percent of shale-focused companies reported a positive cash flow over the first three months of 2019, the Norwegian research firm Rystad Energy reported Wednesday."That is the lowest (cash flow from operating activities) we have seen since the fourth quarter of 2017," Alisa Lukash, an analyst at Rystad said in a statement. "The gap between (capitol spending) and (cash flow from operating expenses) has reached a staggering $4.7 billion. This implies tremendous overspend." During the decade-long shale boom, oil companies have consistently spent more than they're taking in from oil and gas sales in a strategy designed to boost future production. But the practice has come under increasing scrutiny from investors like David Einhorn, who in a 2015 speech dubbed them "frack addicts." Rystad analysts said they were expecting cash flow to increase when companies report second-quarter earnings, as production typically increases following a "seasonal dip" during the winter months. "While shale operators continue to focus on improving capital efficiency, investors are putting the industry under extreme pressure, leaving no room for undisciplined spending in 2019," Lukash said. 

 Schlumberger Suffers Credit Hit-- Schlumberger Ltd. had its debt rating lowered by S&P Global Inc. as belt-tightening in the U.S. shale patch translates into less drilling and fracking work for the world’s top oilfield services provider. The rating was cut a notch to A+, the fifth-highest invest grade, from AA-, S&P said on Friday. Its biggest rival, Halliburton Co., had its outlook revised to negative from stable by the ratings firm. Under pressure from shareholders, exploration and production companies are keeping spending in check, which is reducing demand for oilfield services, S&P said. "Oilfield services companies will no longer be able to generate the high operating margins they did in 2014," Carin Dehne-Kiley, an analyst at S&P, wrote Friday in a report to investors. "The oilfield services industry has fundamentally changed due to permanent efficiency and productivity gains realized by E&P companies as well as investor sentiment calling for E&P companies to live within cash flow and limit production growth." Oil services were hit hard by the steep sell-off in the oil market that started in 2014. North American customers cut back in response and now face an urge to return more cash to investors. A separate report from oil servicer Baker Hughes on Friday showed the number of rigs drilling for crude in the U.S. fell to the lowest in more than a year. Representatives for Schlumberger and Halliburton declined to comment.

Trace metal exposure among pregnant women living near fracking wells in Canada – -- The Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology last week revealed the findings of a 2016 pilot study that measured pregnant women's exposure to environmental contaminants in northeastern British Columbia, an area of intensive natural-gas production through hydraulic fracturing (fracking). The study, directed by Marc-André Verner, a professor at the School of Public Health (ESPUM) of Université de Montréal (UdeM), showed that the women had higher concentrations of some metals, especially barium, aluminium, strontium and manganese, in their hair and urine compared to the general population. "These results are of concern because a previous study showed that relatively high concentrations of barium, aluminium, strontium and manganese are found in rock samples from B.C.'s Montney Formation, where natural gas is extracted via fracking," said Élyse Caron-Beaudoin, a post-doctoral researcher at EPSUM and the study's lead author. "In addition, recent studies analyzing wastewater from fracking generally have shown higher concentrations of the same metals." "It's impossible to say with certainty whether fracking caused the women's exposure to these metals," she added, "but our study does provide further evidence that this could be the case."  The researchers found that concentrations of manganese in the women's urine were 10 times higher than in the reference populations. As well, the women's hair had greater concentrations of aluminium (16 times higher), barium (three times higher) and strontium (six times higher) than in the reference populations in France. Furthermore, barium and strontium concentrations were higher in hair samples from indigenous participants than in those from non-indigenous participants.

Court rules B.C. can't limit oil shipments in major blow for pipeline fight ...- British Columbia lost the largest tool in its toolbox to halt the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion with a court decision Friday that concluded it can't restrict oil shipments through its borders. The unanimous ruling from the B.C. Court of Appeal represented a major win for the project, which the federal government and Alberta see as crucial to getting more oilsands crude to overseas markets. B.C.'s minority NDP government, which took power on a promise to use every tool available to stop the expansion, swiftly announced plans to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. "Our government said from the outset that we would stand up for British Columbia's environment, our economy and our coast," said Attorney General David Eby. "Thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity would be put at risk by a diluted bitumen spill." The province filed a constitutional reference question to the Appeal Court that asked whether it had the authority to create a permitting regime for companies that wished to increase their flow of diluted bitumen. A five-judge panel agreed that the amendments to B.C.'s Environmental Management Act were not constitutional because they would interfere with the federal government's exclusive jurisdiction over interprovincial pipelines. Justice Mary Newbury wrote on behalf of the panel that the overall aim of the proposed amendments was to place conditions on and, if necessary, prohibit the movement of heavy oil through a federal undertaking. Newbury also wrote that the legislation is not just a general environmental law, but is targeted at one substance in one interprovincial pipeline: the Trans Mountain expansion project. 

Five takeaways from the Court of Appeal ruling on B.C.'s pipeline law  -- The British Columbia Court of Appeal ruled Friday (May 24) that the province did not have the authority to restrict shipments of diluted bitumen through its borders. Here are five takeaways from the decision and its impacts:

  • 1. Provinces cannot bring in legislation that interferes with the federal government's exclusive jurisdiction over interprovincial pipelines. While the B.C. government did not dispute that the federal government was responsible for cross-boundary infrastructure projects, it argued that it should also be allowed to bring in legislation to protect its lands and waters from the environmental risks. The court disagreed, ruling the proposed legislation interfered with federal government's powers and that the National Energy Board is the body entrusted with regulating the flow of resources across Canada.
  • 2. The court found B.C.'s legislation was aimed directly at the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.   B.C. argued that its proposed legislative amendments were meant to protect its environment, while the federal government and Alberta argued the goal was to block or delay the Trans Mountain project. Justice Mary Newbury wrote on behalf of a five-judge panel that the proposed amendments were targeted at one substance, heavy oil, in one interprovincial project: the Trans Mountain expansion.
  • 3. B.C. still wants to take its chances before the Supreme Court of Canada.  Although the panel unanimously agreed that the proposed legislation was unconstitutional, B.C. still plans to appeal to the highest court.
  • 4. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and former premier, Rachel Notley, are celebrating the decision as a win for the province. Kenney said he hopes the B.C. government will respect the rule of law and end its "campaign of obstruction," adding that the project would be a "win-win" for both B.C. and Alberta in creating jobs and increasing the flow of natural resources. Notley, now leader of the NDP Opposition, said she used a ban on B.C. wines last year to "force" the province to take the reference case to court. "Turns out B.C.'s toolbox was more Fisher Price than DeWalt," she said, referring to B.C. Premier John Horgan's statement that the government would use every tool in the toolbox to protect the coast from a potential spill.
  • 5. It's unclear how many tools are left in B.C.'s toolbox to fight the project.

 Alberta regulator restricts fracking near Brazeau Reservoir after earthquake - The Alberta Energy Regulator is moving to restrict oilfield fracking activity near the Brazeau Reservoir in west central Alberta as a precaution following a 4.4 magnitude earthquake in the area in March. The AER says hydraulic fracturing operations targeting the Duvernay underground formation or deeper are prohibited within five kilometres of the Brazeau dam infrastructure. Hydraulic fracturing is also banned for shallower operations within three kilometres. Oilfield firms that engage in hydraulic fracturing within five kilometres of the dam must report any seismic events greater than 1.0 magnitude and operations must cease if any event of 2.5 magnitude or greater is detected, the AER says. The epicentre of the earthquake in March was estimated to be about 32 kilometres northwest of Rocky Mountain House but it was not immediately linked to fracking activity. It was strong enough to be felt by local residents but no damage was initially reported. A 4.6 magnitude earthquake a week earlier was felt in Red Deer and Sylvan Lake in central Alberta and prompted the AER to order producer Vesta Energy Ltd. to suspend fracking at its well site, report all previous seismic activity and file a plan to eliminate or reduce future seismic activity from fracking. 

Cleanup underway after 400,000-litre produced water leak at Obsidian Energy well near Drayton Valley - The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) says cleanup efforts are underway after 400,000 litres of produced water leaked from an Obsidian Energy well near Drayton Valley this week. On its website, the AER says the incident was the result of a mechanical failure. “[The mechanical failure] caused release to private land and impacted a nearby wetland,” the AER website says. “No impacts to wildlife [have been] reported.” The AER was unable to confirm if the well was for oil or gas or if it involved fracking. A statement on the spill, sent to Global News by Obsidian Energy, also did not provide that information. On its website, Obsidian Energy says it “is an intermediate-sized oil and gas producer with a well-balanced portfolio of high-quality assets producing roughly 30,000 boe (barrel of oil equivalent) per day.” “This would be what would be considered a very large spill,” said Greg Goss, a biology professor at the University of Alberta, who added that “any type of produced water leak is probably something to worry about.” In its statement, Obisidian Energy said it “discovered a sweet produced water spill at an operating site outside of Drayton Valley” on Wednesday afternoon. “Obsidian Energy takes responsibility for this event and is committed to minimizing our impact to the environment in all areas in which we operate,” the company said. “The spill was isolated at the source of the release. “It was immediately contained and cleanup is underway. There has been no impact to residents or wildlife in the area. Obsidian Energy is working closely with the Alberta Energy Regulator, including providing daily updates. Investigation is underway to determine the exact cause of the spill.” Goss said while the company or AER would have to confirm it, given the location and size of the leak, he believes it could likely be liquid related to hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

Texas Money Hits Canada Oil Patch Corner -- Texas money is flowing into a small corner of Canada’s oil sands at a time when big international companies are pulling out. Rangeland Energy, based in the Houston suburb of Sugar Land, is building a 50,000-barrel-a-day, 85 kilometer (53-mile) pipeline in the Marten Hills area of the Athabasca oil sands in northern Alberta to transport heavy crude from one of Canada’s newest oil plays. The conduit would link the remote location north of Fawcett Lake to the Plains Midstream Canada LP Rainbow Pipeline. The investment plan is a rare reversal of fortune for Canadian oil producers, beset by pipeline bottlenecks and mandatory production curtailments. In the past two years, companies including Royal Dutch Shell Plc and ConocoPhillips have sold oil sands facilities, often reallocating funds into U.S. booming shale plays. While Marten Hills is located in an oil sands region, producers including Cenovus Energy Inc., Deltastream Energy Corp. and Spur Petroleum Ltd. are employing multilateral drilling techniques used in shale to tap the Clearwater rock formation more than 1,600 feet (490 meters) underground, well below the oil sands that have traditionally drawn companies to the region. Backed by San Antonio, Texas-based private equity firm EnCap Flatrock Midstream, a unit of Houston-based EnCap Investments LP, Rangeland first entered the Canadian market about three years ago. The company won the contract to build a pipeline after responding to a request for proposals from three area producers, John Millar, Rangeland’s chief commercial officer, said by phone. “Our financial backer in Texas has always been interested in establishing a footprint in Canada,” he said. “Our observation is that the political climate is changing and people are feeling that things need to change.”

CNR Buys Devon's Canada Unit for $2.8B-- Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. agreed to buy the Canadian business of Devon Energy Corp. for C$3.8 billion ($2.8 billion), gaining heavy-oil assets in the province of Alberta. Devon’s Canadian land and facilities are within Canadian Natural’s core production areas, allowing the Calgary-based company to curb costs while boosting output. For Oklahoma-based Devon, the deal allows an increased focus on U.S. growth. The Canadian asset portfolio had net production averaging 113,000 oil-equivalent barrels in the first quarter, Devon said Wednesday in a statement. At the end of last year, proved reserves associated with the properties amounted to about 409 million barrels of oil. “These high-quality assets complement our existing asset base and provide further balance to our production profile,” Canadian Natural President Tim McKay said in a separate statement. Synergies are expected to provide benefits of C$135 million on an annualized basis, he said. The transaction is due to close by the end of the second quarter, with Devon using the proceeds for debt reduction. As the company focuses more on “high-return U.S. oil growth,” it’s also divesting its Barnett Shale gas assets in Texas. Data rooms for the Barnett will open shortly and Devon expects to exit the assets by the end of the year.

Police intimidation and violence used against UK fracking protestors - Lancashire police in north west England have revealed that they have been passing on the details of disabled anti-fracking protestors who are claiming benefits to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). Planning permission for the shale gas company Cuadrilla to drill at the Preston New Road site near Blackpool had initially been refused by Lancashire County Council. It was later approved by the secretary of state on appeal, allowing work to go ahead in October 2016. Police have defended their actions, claiming that they have a duty to alert the DWP if officers receive information that clearly suggests fraud maybe being committed. In a statement the police said, “The DWP are a partner agency and where we have information to suggest that fraud may be being committed we have a duty to pass that on, including video footage if we have it. They are the appropriate agency and it is their decision what, if any, action should be taken.” The Independent newspaper reported that at least two activists who attended anti-fracking protests at the Preston New Road site Blackpool had to attend interviews with the DWP. Both were questioned as to the validity of their claim to disability benefits. One of the protestors, Neil Sheldrick, who has a spinal disability, told the newspaper that this had “all got on top of me… It is making me feel very low. I’m being targeted for something I believe in.” Two months after starting to protest at the Preston New Road site, he was called in to be interviewed by the DWP. Neil said that his own GP could not understand why he had been sent in for a reassessment of his benefits. “The doctor wrote on his notes that I shouldn’t need to be assessed again because spinal cord injuries do not repair themselves.” Another protestor at the site, a disabled woman, who has a fluctuating condition, had her benefit claim suspended and her Motability car removed. Motability cars are provided via the disabled person’s benefit, enabling that person to get around and maintain independence.

Cuadrilla warned over release of up to 6.8 tonnes of unburned greenhouse gas from fracking site - Anti-frackers say they are concerned after Cuadrilla was warned after gas was vented from its Preston New Road drill site. The release of unburned methane, a greenhouse gas, occurred when Cuadrilla was flow testing gas released from shale rocks after it fracked late last year. The EA estimated between 2.7 and 6.8 tonnes of methane were sent unburned through the flare stacks at the site but said that although it breached its permit it was no risk to people and had “minimal to no impact on the environment”. But a spokesman from Frack Free Lancashire said: “Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road ‘flagship’ site was peddled as the most monitored site in the UK. Cold-venting methane is another in the history of breaches against their key environmental permits. “The community has been given repeated assurances about the “gold-standard, robust regulations” but this clearly shows that Cuadrilla cannot be trusted to operate safely and within the rules. It’s very concerning.” Nick Mace from Cuadrilla said: “We are fully committed to delivering our shale exploration operations in a safe and environmentally responsible way as a top priority and have amply demonstrated how we do this on a day to day basis. "The impact of the non-compliance is considered minor, with minimal to no impact on the environment. Cuadrilla will work will the Environment Agency to proceduralise this approach for future operations. Local people can be reassured that Preston New Road is the most monitored site in Europe and we continue to work closely with a range of regulators each and every day.”

Ithaca to Buy Chevron North Sea for $2B - Ithaca Energy Limited revealed Thursday that it will acquire Chevron North Sea Limited for $2 billion. The transaction has an effective date of January 1 and is expected to complete around the end of the third quarter of this year following approval by the UK Oil and Gas Authority. The deal, which will establish Ithaca as the second largest independent oil and gas producer in the UK North Sea, will add a further ten producing field interests to the existing Ithaca portfolio, four of which relate to assets operated by the company. As part of the transaction, approximately 500 employees will transfer to Ithaca, of which around 200 work offshore on Ithaca operated assets. “The acquisition of Chevron North Sea Limited is a significant step forward in the long-term development of Ithaca Energy and underlines our belief in the North Sea, particular in the UK Central North Sea where the enlarged business will own a range of interests in a number of key producing assets,” Les Thomas, Ithaca Energy CEO, said in a company statement. Asi Bartfeld, the CEO of Delek Group, which wholly owns Ithaca, said, “the acquisition is a key part of the Delek group’s strategic focus on building a world class exploration and production business”. Commenting on the deal, Tom Ellacott, senior vice president of corporate analysis at Wood Mackenzie (WoodMac), said the sale has been on the table for some time. “Delek confirmed last month it had made a bid,” Ellacott said in a statement sent to Rigzone. Greig Aitken, WoodMac’s director of corporate analysis, said the company recently identified the UK as one of nine countries that it considered “peripheral” to Chevron, “due to lack of scale and growth potential”. “Chevron will be left with 19 percent stake in the Clair field once the deal closes and a complete exit from the UK is looking increasingly likely,” Aitken added

 Russia’s Dirty Oil Crisis Is Worse Than Almost Anyone Predicted -  For almost four weeks, the tanker Mendeleev Prospect has been anchored idly off the Polish port of Gdansk unable to discharge a $50 million cargo of crude oil. After any normal voyage the tanker would quickly deliver its 700,000 barrels of Russian crude into a refinery for processing into gasoline, diesel and other petroleum products. But the Mendeleev Prospect is in limbo, the victim of Russia’s unprecedented contaminated crude crisis that’s been spreading chaos though the European oil market for a month. Back in April, unusually high levels of the chemicals known as organic chlorides were discovered in Russian crude flowing through the giant Druzhba pipeline, built in the 1960s to carry crude from the U.S.S.R. to allied countries in Eastern Europe. The chlorides can severely damage oil refineries and on April 24 Russia’s state pipeline operator, Transneft PJSC, halted shipments. Moscow pledged to resolve the issue right away; four weeks later, the flow of Russian oil into Europe is little more than a trickle. Druzhba usually supplies as much as 1.5 million barrels a day of Russia’s benchmark Urals blend to central Europe — more than the total production of OPEC member Libya. The crude goes directly to refineries through two separate pipeline spurs and via tankers from the Ust-Luga export terminal in the Baltic. Despite repeated pledges from Russian authorities to resume shipments in days, the crisis is proving bigger, longer and costlier than almost anyone expected and a solution could still be weeks away. In Germany, one of the continent’s biggest refineries — the Leuna plant owned by French oil giant Total SA — was shut down. Poland has been forced to tap the emergency petroleum reserves. And as far west as Rotterdam, Europe’s petroleum hub, some refineries have been forced to run at lower rates. The technical challenge of handling millions of barrels of tainted crude has been compounded by fights over who will pay the cost of the crisis. An emergency summit in Warsaw on Thursday made some progress, but didn’t nail down a solution. Then there’s the mystery of what’s happening to Russia’s crude oil while Druzhba is shut. According to official data, output has barely dropped over the last four weeks, falling from 11.23 million barrels a day in April to 11.15 million barrels a day so far in May. But the country is shipping roughly 1 million barrels a day less than normal, about a tenth of its output. That’s led oil traders to puzzle on how Russia’s been able to maintain production, asking whether it has the millions of barrels of empty storage needed to hoard the crude that hasn’t flowed through Druzhba for four weeks.

Tainted Russian oil threatens to pollute politics of gas FT - When it comes to Russian exports, the saying goes, gas is the power and oil is the money. While Moscow has in the past used Gazprom’s pipelines to make mischief and play politics in Europe and transit countries in between, the black stuff is pure business: a serious export, and critical fuel for the country’s budget. That distinction is now at risk of becoming blurred, thanks to an energy supply crisis of Russia’s own making. Five weeks ago Polish buyers of Russian oil suspended shipments along the Druzhba pipeline, one of the world’s largest, complaining of contaminated crude. In the days that followed, Moscow admitted its most important crude export artery had been polluted with organic chloride. Panic spread across the European oil market as refineries scrambled to find out how far the contamination had got, and searched for replacement supplies. For EU energy companies that buy Russian oil and gas, particularly the five gas companies that have partnered with Gazprom to build the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline under the Baltic, the crisis has undermined the notion that Moscow is a reliable and dependable supplier — their key argument in favour of increasing Russian imports. Royal Dutch Shell, Uniper, Wintershall, Engie and OMV, prominent cheerleaders for Gazprom’s gas — and long-term buyers — have argued that it makes sense to increase options to buy Russian gas, giving Europe a long-term and trustworthy supply of cheap and easily accessible energy. 35m Amount of barrels of oil that has been tainted Those five companies are under increasing pressure from the US and some European capitals to pull their financial support for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which critics say is designed to hurt Kiev by reducing the amount of gas passing through Ukraine and will increase Moscow’s clout in Europe. Last week Rick Perry, US President Donald Trump’s energy secretary, said he believed sanctions against the pipeline were coming soon. While Mr Perry is known for outspoken statements, Mr Trump has railed against the project. While the Druzhba pipeline, with a capacity of up to 1.3m barrels a day of crude, is completely separate from Gazprom’s gas pipes, the oil crisis has highlighted two key arguments against Russia as an energy supplier. First, critics argue that EU companies should build pipelines to other suppliers and import terminals for gas ships to diversify away from Russia, arguing that Moscow’s 40 per cent share in European gas supplies is dangerously high. At the same time, opponents say Moscow’s habit of cutting shipments or concocting supply crises means it cannot be trusted.

Maduro Says Inbound Gas Tankers Sabotaged As Part Of US Imperial Aggression - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has pointed the finger at the United States and allies in "imperial aggression" for waging a "sabotage" campaign against vital fuel shipments as well as humanitarian aid being sent to the country after multiple tankers and shipments were reportedly damaged.  Maduro is reported to have told a meeting with the political leadership of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in Caracas this week that vessels carrying food “were sabotaged and did not leave the ports where they were going to leave.”  "Last week, sabotage was committed against ten tankers [with gasoline] to prevent them from reaching the Venezuelan coast. In any case, this problem is being dealt with and we are stabilizing the situation," Maduro said late on Monday. He also called the alleged acts of sabotage “torture to the economic body of the country” - however, didn't offer proof, and said further that problems with the fuel and food ships are “in the process of being resolved”. He described that the US and allied nations currently imposing aggressive sanctions on Venezuela were trying to prevent aid from reaching their destination.  “During the last 5 months of imperial aggression, we have endured financial persecutions, sabotage and coup skirmishes,” Maduro had tweeted Monday from his English-language account.

 About 50 kg of oil spill filth collected at Malpe beach - Release of oil spill into the marine ecosystem in Malpe beach area has been cleaned by Udupi district administration and Malpe development committee together on Wednesday. They collected hazardous materials on Malpe beach which weighed approximately 50 kg. Residues found near Malpe beach and St Mary’s Island shore has worried the stakeholders in the tourism sector. As such filth tarnishes the image of this beautiful beach, it may impact the footfall also. Sudesh Shetty, the leaseholder for developing Malpe beach told TNIE that a ship may have released the oil into the water in the deep sea which is now reaching the shore. It is liquid petroleum hydrocarbon that causes severe damage to the marine ecosystem, he said. The oil spill has reached the shoreline in Yermal, Hejamady, Malpe, Kodi Kanyana and Beejadi in the past four-five days. Sudesh Shetty also pointed out that Malpe is the best beach in this temple city. ‘’So, we are worried as oil spill may wash further down and it is difficult to dispose.” Local shopkeepers are worried about the impact of the oil spill on tourism development. Prasad S, a shopkeeper near Malpe beach area told TNIE that last year too, Malpe beach had witnessed oil spill and it had reduced the beauty of the beach. About 10 volunteers cleaned the Malpe beach on Wednesday and cleaning of St Mary’s Island shore continued on Thursday. Meanwhile, Pollution Control Board officials reviewed the cleanup drive conducted at the Malpe beach.

Is India’s Oil Demand Being Underestimated-  Huge jumps of 8.2% and 9.5% in Indian oil demand in 2015 and 2016 led to growing expectations that India had reached a critical developmental ‘take off’ point. Rising incomes, motorisation, road building and a drive to expand manufacturing in a country of more than 1 billion people would replicate China’s multi-year boom with profound implications for global oil demand.In the end, Indian oil demand proved relatively disappointing, growing by only 2.9% in 2017 and 4.1% in 2018, and the forecast exuberance was reigned in.Nonetheless, the evolution of Indian oil demand remains a critical component of future oil demand growth. In its 2018 World Energy Outlook (WEO), the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecast that for the period 2017-2040, Indian oil demand will more than double from 4.4 million b/d to 9.1 million b/d, an increase of 4.7 million b/d. This represents 41% of global demand growth over the period. In comparison, China, which accounted for 43% of world oil demand growth from 2000-2017, will see much more modest growth of 3.5 million b/d from 2017-2040.In the IEA forecast, India would take over as the engine of oil demand, but wouldn’t have quite such a profound impact as China did from 2000-2017.However, China’s expansion was widely and wildly underestimated. The IEA’s 2002 WEO took an in-depth look at Chinese energy demand and forecast that Chinese oil consumption would rise from 5.0 million b/d to 12 million b/d in 2030, a point reached in 2016, 14 years early. The landslide victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party in India’s general election in May came despite low farm gate prices threatening to undermine the government’s rural support. The BJP won 303 seats in the lower house of parliament, up from 282 in 2014, giving it an enlarged outright majority and ensuring another five-year term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi’s pro-business economic policies and preparedness to spend on infrastructure bodes well for further gains in Indian oil demand. The economy appears to have rebounded from the impact of the removal of high denomination bank notes in 2016. The introduction of the Goods and Services Tax from July 1, 2017, despite its complexities, removes many barriers to interstate trade. Modi’s ‘Make in India’ programme should boost the manufacturing sector.

'It's time to tell our story': Australia's LNG industry finally fights - Russell (Reuters) - It’s taken a while but Australia’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry is putting on the gloves and stepping into the ring against the activists who want to condemn it and all fossil fuels to history’s dustbin. The central theme of virtually every speech on the opening day of the annual Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) conference was that the industry has to fight its corner and not allow environmentalists all the space in the fight for the hearts and minds of the populace. Australia’s LNG industry is now the largest in the world by capacity, having overtaken Qatar as the last of eight new projects prepares to start up, taking the country’s annual export capacity to more than 80 million tonnes of the super-chilled fuel. But the LNG industry, for all its success in building plants and discovering natural gas reserves to feed them has been largely silent when it comes to tackling the increasing focus of green activists, who view natural gas as the next enemy to tackle after coal. It has also suffered a public relations setback by being labeled as partly responsible for the sharp rise in domestic natural gas prices in Australia’s populated east coast, which coincided with the start-up of three LNG plants in eastern Queensland state. While it’s way too simplistic to conclude that the LNG plants were behind the price rise, the industry has struggled to communicate that it was a range of factors, including the depletion of traditional gas supplies, policy confusion and the restriction of exploration in some states that combined to cause the current price crisis.

Britain hands over £87,000 to support China's fracking industry - Britain has given thousands of pounds in foreign aid to support fracking in China, the Government has confirmed.Since 2016 the Foreign Office has spent £87,000 on projects to help the country’s ‘environmental regulation of shale gas development’.Meanwhile the fracking process – which involves breaking open rock layers to release underground gas – remains hugely controversial in the UK.  It often triggers minor earthquakes and campaigners claim it causes water contamination and traffic pollution.The Foreign Office argued that working with China was a national security priority and an opportunity to influence its future. But Alex Norris, Labour’s spokesman for international development, said: ‘The Tories are hypocritically spending UK aid to support fracking in China, while also announcing the climate crisis will be a top priority of their international development agenda.  'Fracking by the Chinese government has already been suspected of causing three earthquakes this year in Sichuan province.’

Could fracking with carbon dioxide instead of water be greener? -- Could a greenhouse gas be the answer to making fracking less controversial? Counterintuitive as the idea might seem, Chinese researchers claim that using carbon dioxide instead of water for fracturing rocks could be a greener way of extracting fossil fuels.  Traditional hydraulic fracturing, as the name suggests, involves pumping large volumes of water underground to create cracks in shale rock to release oil and gas. Carbon dioxide has been proposed before as an alternative that could address the fracking industry’s significant water demand in dry areas. It could also tackle problems associated with polluted water flowing back to the surface after the process.  To test how effective the gas might be, a Chinese research team drilled and fracked five wells with CO2 at Jilin oil field in north-east China, as well as conducting lab tests on rock samples from south-west China. They were “delighted” to find the wells produced up to 20 times as much oil after the fracking.  Carbon dioxide could be a useful way of addressing fracking’s water consumption in arid areas of the USand even the UK, where water companies have said the fracking industry could put pressure on some local water supplies. It also holds the prospect of opening up more of China’s shale gas resource, which is the world’s largest but has not been exploited as rapidly as that in the US.  “Reservoirs in China may be more suitable to be fractured by CO2,” says Nannan Sun of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. But he added it was too early to say if it could change the speed at which China’s fracking industry develops. While using the gas could be greener by reducing water use and potential water pollution, the research does not show CO2 fracturing is environmentally better overall. While some of the CO2 could be stored within the rocks, Nannan says it could also potentially leak out after fracking, which would add to global warming. If CO2 fracturing makes more oil and gas economically recoverable, that would add to the stock of fossil fuels we can burn too.

US Warns Hong Kong to Avoid Oil Tanker - (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. warned Hong Kong that it could face penalties if it does business with an oil tanker headed for the city that allegedly violated sanctions on Iran. Washington wants to put China and the autonomous city on notice that it will aggressively and consistently enforce its Iran sanctions, a senior U.S. official said on Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official said China would be informed that any entity doing business with the ship would expose it to U.S. sanctions. The attention levied on this single vessel, the Pacific Bravo, underscores Washington’s desire to stymie Iran’s oil exports. Relations between the two sides have deteriorated sharply in recent weeks, following President Donald Trump’s pledge to force Iran’s vital oil exports down to zero and a revocation of key sanctions waivers. The Pacific Bravo is owned by China’s Bank of Kunlun, according to the senior U.S. official. Reuters reported in October that the bank -- once Beijing’s major channel for transactions with Iran -- would stop handling such payments due to sanctions pressure. Next StopWhile the U.S. official said the tanker is heading to Hong Kong, ship-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg shows a vessel called the Pacific Bravo off the coast of Sri Lanka and signaling Indonesia as its next stop. The senior U.S. official said it was imperative that Hong Kong authorities prevent the vessel from docking or allowing local entities from providing services to ships that might misrepresent themselves in order to avoid exposing themselves to sanctions violations. Washington wants to make clear that anyone doing business with Iran, won’t be doing business with the U.S., the official said, adding that there would be more sanctions to come. Hong Kong’s Marine Department said in an email Wednesday that at present, it “has no information showing if the respective vessel will enter or pass by Hong Kong waters.”

Iran’s Oil Exports Plunge To 400,000 Bpd In May --After the U.S. ended all sanction waivers for Iranian oil customers on May 2, Iran’s crude oil exports have been significantly down this month compared to April and more than 2 million bpd off their 2.5-million-bpd peak in April 2018, just before the U.S. withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and moved to re-impose sanctions on Iran’s oil industry. According to industry sources and tanker-tracking data cited by Reuters on Wednesday, Iran’s oil exports this month have plummeted to 400,000 bpd, which is less than half of Iranian oil exports last month.The United States had given eight countries six-month waivers to continue buying oil from Iran after the U.S. re-imposed sanctions on the Iranian oil industry in November. The United States, however, pursued a maximum pressure campaign against Iran last month and put an end to all sanction waivers for all Iranian oil buyers, beginning in May.Most of the Iranian oil shipments are going this month to Asia, according to tanker tracking data from Refinitiv Eikon and to two industry sources. One of the sources told Reuters they expected Iran’s average oil shipments this month to be around 400,000 bpd, but the other source noted that exports could hit 500,000 bpd. Some of Iran’s oil exports are believed to have been already under the radar as Iran is said to have increased the use of the ‘switch-off-the-transponder’ tactic, which makes tracking its exports via the AIS systems increasingly difficult and opaque.Earlier this month, Iran was spotted resuming illicit shipping of oil to Syria, with a million barrels of oil arriving in early May, for a first such delivery since the start of this year. Experts believe that Iran will be re-opening and using more of its illicit oil channels to keep oil trade and continue getting some revenues from its most precious export commodity. The inability to fully track Iran’s oil supply is making OPEC and allies’ task to asses global supply to the market increasingly difficult, as opaque data about Iran adds to mounting uncertainty over oil supply disruptions elsewhere, clouding OPEC’s outlook on global supply for the rest of this year.

Kuwait oil minister sees balanced oil market toward end 2019 (Reuters) - The oil market is expected to be in balance toward the end of 2019, as global inventories fall and demand remains strong, but OPEC’s job is not done yet, Kuwait’s oil minister told Reuters. There are still uncertainties around oil demand growth due to concerns about the impact of the U.S./China trade dispute on global economy, while U.S. shale oil production is still rising, Khaled al-Fadhel said on Monday. This uncertain outlook is making it tough for OPEC and its allies to have a clear oil supply plan for the second half of the year. Fadhel said it was too early to say now if the oil producers will extend their current output targets after June. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Russia and other non-OPEC producers, known as OPEC+, agreed to reduce output by 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) from Jan. 1 for six months, a deal designed to stop inventories building up and weakening prices. “There is great anxiety in the market today mainly related to supply concerns. For example, the impact of the U.S government decision announced recently not to extend the waivers to major buyers of Iranian crude has yet to be felt,” Fadhel said in written answers to questions from Reuters. He also cited the possibility of further U.S. sanctions on Venezuela, political tensions in Libya, U.S. shale oil production growth and trade dispute between Washington and Beijing as reasons why the global supply and demand outlook remains unclear. “If we are to look at the OECD commercial inventories, I think we are on the right track. OECD Inventories are falling toward the last 5 year average, and the record level of conformity reached in April by OPEC and its non-OPEC partners have played a significant role,” he said.

Hedge funds bang defensive drum on oil- Kemp – (Reuters) - Hedge funds liquidated more of their bullish petroleum positions as concerns about the health of the global economy and oil usage outweighed European and Middle Eastern supply disruptions. But selling in the most recent week was notably lighter than in the three previous, suggesting at least some managers think prices have pulled back enough for the time being. Positions were reported at the close on May 21, before oil prices slumped on May 23 amid fears about the economic impact of a prolonged trade conflict between China and the United States. Hedge funds and other money managers cut their combined net long position in the six most important petroleum futures and options contracts by 4 million barrels, exchange and regulatory data showed. Portfolio managers have now reduced their net long position by a total of 64 million barrels over the last four weeks, after raising it by 609 million barrels over the previous 15 weeks. Funds trimmed total long positions by 14 million barrels, but in a sign the liquidation cycle was expected to slow, also cut short positions by 10 million ( Liquidation was again concentrated in crude and U.S. gasoline while funds bought U.S. heating oil and European gasoil, probably anticipating an IMO-driven consumption rise. Fund managers sold 13 million barrels of NYMEX and ICE WTI, 4 million barrels of Brent, and 5 million barrels of gasoline, but purchased 6 million barrels of heating oil and 12 million barrels of gasoil. Middle distillates such as heating oil and gasoil are normally the most exposed to the economic cycle since their use is concentrated in freight, manufacturing, mining, and oil and gas production, as well as farming. But the prospective increase in consumption as a result of new marine fuel regulations at the end of the year is likely supporting interest from fund managers despite the deteriorating economic outlook. Overall, fund managers are still bullish on the outlook for oil prices, though that optimism has been dented by the stream of worse-than-expected economic indicators in recent weeks.  :

Oil steadies as trade fears balance Mideast tension and supply cuts -- Oil steadied on Monday, trading below $69 a barrel, as concern over the U.S.-China trade dispute and global economic outlook offset support from Middle East tensions and supply cuts. Figures on Monday showed that profits for Chinese industrial companies shrank in April while new orders for U.S.-made capital goods fell more than expected in a further sign that the economy is slowing. The main factor preventing crude prices from rising on the geopolitical news is the concern about the global economy, said Petromatrix oil analyst Olivier Jakob. “The macroeconomic outlook does not look good,” Jakob said. Brent crude, the global benchmark, was up 5 cents at $68.74 a barrel by 0839 GMT, having fallen by about 4.5% last week. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was down 36 cents at $58.27. Both crude contracts registered their biggest weekly price declines of the year last week. Public holidays in the United States and Britain on Monday limited participation, keeping volumes low. Rising tension between the United States and Iran, with Washington’s announcement on Friday that it would deploy more troops to the Middle East, has had little impact on the market so far.. Money managers cut their net long U.S. crude futures and options positions - bets on rising prices - in the week to May 21, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) said on Friday. Oil supply cuts - both voluntary and those resulting from U.S. sanctions - have boosted prices this year and are still keeping a floor under prices. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies including Russia, an alliance known as OPEC+, has been cutting supply to tighten the market. U.S. sanctions on OPEC members Iran and Venezuela have curbed their crude exports, reducing supplies further. Brent’s price structure remains in backwardation, with prices for prompt delivery higher than those for future dispatch, suggesting a tight balance between supply and demand.

Brent oil consolidates near $70 after two-day rally - Brent oil is currently trading just above $70 per barrel, representing little change on the day. Prices rallied 1.11% on Monday as escalating tensions between US and Iran triggered fears of supply disruptions. On Friday, Washington announced that it will deploy more troops in the middle east, sending the black gold higher vey 1.84%. The bid tone also strengthened on reports that Russia’s oil production dropped in May as shipments via the Druzhba pipeline to Europe were found to be contaminated in April. The two-day rally, however, seems to have stalled near $70. Supply reductions by OPEC, escalating US-Iran tensions and drop in Russia’s oil output indicate the path of least resistance for Brent is to the higher side. Even so, oil may remain under pressure if other riskier assets post losses on trade tensions.

Déjà Vu: Oil Prices Stuck Once Again – Oil started the day mixed, with WTI up but Brent flat. The market seems to be once again stuck between supply outages on the one hand, and fears of a softening economy on the other. That was the same dynamic for much of May, although prices have now stabilized at a lower level, with WTI right around $60 and Brent under $70. “Oil prices lack direction because the oil market currently finds itself caught between supply risks and concerns about demand,” Commerzbank said.   The shale boom in North Dakota has led to a spike in flaring, despite the state setting out flaring rules intended to cut down on the practice. In 2014, the state adopted targets, aiming for no more than 15 percent of production flared by 2016, a level that would lower to 10 percent by 2020. In March of this year, the industry flared 20 percent. “We need to find an excess flared gas solution immediately,”said Republican Rep. Vicky Steiner. “It's a shame. I'd like to see us find a use for this.”   President Trump said that he is not seeking regime change in Iran, and only wants to contain their nuclear weapons, a comment that seems to contradict the rising drumbeat for war. “We are not looking for regime change. I just want to make that clear,” Trump said during a visit to Japan. “I’m not looking to hurt Iran at all. I’m looking to have Iran say no nuclear weapons,” Trump said. “No nuclear weapons for Iran and I think we will make a deal.” . The increasingly important role of U.S. shale in the global energy mix is a deflationary force in the medium-term, Morgan Stanley argues. Unlike conventional production, shale resources are abundant and the real cost determinant is the industrial process following extraction, which means that costs can be driven down over time.  Traders say that buyers of Iranian oil have disappeared following U.S. sanctions. In March, the countries that had exemptions on U.S. sanctions purchased 1.6 million barrels per day from Iran, and evidence suggests that they are all mostly abiding by U.S. demands to cease purchasing. “China has enough problems with the U.S. They don’t want to give them a pretext,” an Iranian oil executive told the WSJ.

 Oil mixed as trade fears weigh despite tight supply - Oil prices were mixed on Tuesday as prices were caught between concerns over global supply and fears that the U.S.-Chinese trade conflict will hurt demand. Brent crude fell by 15 cents, or 0.2%, to $$69.96 a barrel, with prices repeatedly veering above and below $70 in choppy trading. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) was up 34 cents, or 0.6%, at $58.94. U.S. crude futures were trading for the first time since Friday after a long holiday weekend. Investors, however, are concerned that the trade war between the United States and China could hit the global economy and dent fuel consumption. Brent futures last week registered a decline of 4.5% and WTI was slid by 6.4% for its biggest weekly loss since December. “Oil prices lack direction because the oil market currently finds itself caught between supply risks and concerns about demand,” Commerzbank said in a note. “A whole host of poor economic data from the major economic areas of the U.S., China and Europe, plus the entrenched situation in the trade talks, are not good news for the demand outlook.” On the flip-side, crude has gained support from supply cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies since the start of the year, with political tensions in the Middle East another bullish influence. No political solution appears forthcoming to end U.S. sanctions that have largely taken Iranian and Venezuelan crude out of global markets. “Brent is likely to resume its upward trend in line with its fundamentals, which are tight,”

Oil prices drop as trade war worries outweigh supply disruptions - Oil prices fell by around 1% on Wednesday on concerns the Sino-U.S. trade war could trigger a global economic downturn, but relatively tight supply amid OPEC output cuts and political tensions in the Middle East offered some support. Front-month Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil prices, were at $69.53 a barrel at 0641 GMT, down 58 cents, or 0.8%, from last session’s close. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $58.46 per barrel, down 70 cents, or 1.2%, from their last settlement. “Investors are concerned from a macro perspective about worldwide demand, particularly in the face of the growing trade dispute between the U.S. and China,” he said. Another concern was that “falls in emerging market currencies (are) making dollar-priced crude oil dearer to purchase in those nations” and that crude prices could pull back. Despite the economic concerns, global oil demand is so far holding up well, likely averaging over 100 million barrels per day (bpd) this year for the first time, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). But analysts are concerned that tightening credit amid the economic slowdown will hamper trading in commodities. “We remain cautious regarding the short-term macroeconomic environment,” commodity brokerage Marex Spectron said in a note. “Credit availability on the physical commodity markets is of particular concern.” Eastport, a Singapore-based tanker brokerage, had similar concerns. “An increase in caution and risk aversion could weigh on economic growth,” it said in a note on Wednesday. Despite these concerns dragging on oil markets, crude prices remain relatively tight.

Prices of oil slide more than 2% — Oil prices fell more than 2% on Wednesday as China signalled it would use the rare-earths card in its trade war with the US, stoking concerns that an ongoing standoff could hurt crude demand. Supply constraints linked to Opec output cuts and political tension in the Middle East offered some support, however. Front-month Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil prices, were at $68.55 a barrel at 9.33am GMT, down $1.56 from last session's close, having hit a session low of $68.44. US West Texas Intermediate crude futures were at $57.71 per barrel, down $1.43, after hitting a low of $57.66. Both contracts are set for their first monthly decline in five. In a sign of escalating tensions between the world's two biggest economies, China signalled it was ready to use its dominant position in rare earths to strike back in a trade war with the US, Chinese newspapers warned on Wednesday. While China has so far not explicitly said it would restrict rare earths sales to the US, Chinese media has strongly implied this will happen. "China is the world's biggest producer of these highly-prized raw materials and is poised to use them as leverage in its trade spat with Washington," Despite these concerns dragging on oil markets, crude prices remain relatively well-supported. "Supply risks remain at elevated levels with continued geopolitical uncertainty in the Middle East, as well as Venezuela's well-known struggles," July Brent crude futures were trading at about $1.50 a barrel above the August contract, a structure known as backwardation, which points to a tight market. "The last time it was any higher in this segment was in September 2013," Commerzbank said. "That market participants are prepared to pay such a premium for oil that can be delivered at short notice points to tight oil supply."

WTI Extends Gains After Bigger Than Expected Crude Draw - WTI bounced hard after testing $57 today as a pipeline that drains crude from the key Cushing, Oklahoma, supply hub was said to be ready to restart Thursday.  OPEC's “wishy-washy" stance on simply setting a new date is adding to uncertainty, said Michael Loewen, a commodities strategist at Scotiabank in Toronto.“The macroeconomic overlay is affecting everything,” he said.“If China starts restricting that flow of rare earths, that will materially restrict economic growth.”But inventory concerns remain high on the agenda... API:

  • Crude -5.265mm (-500k exp)
  • Cushing -176k
  • Gasoline +2.711mm
  • Distillates -2.144mm

Crude inventories were expected to draw modestly in the last week after 4 builds in the last 5 weeks but surprised with a big draw, just as gasoline surprised with a big build... WTI hovered just shy of $59 ahead of the API print, after ramping off the lows (below $57) intraday on MPLX reopening rumors, but the machines could not make up their minds after the data showed a bigger than expected crude draw which limped WTI back to $59...

Crude Inventory Draw Perks Up Oil Prices - The American Petroleum Institute (API) reported a large draw in crude oil inventory of 5.265 million barrels for the week ending May 24, coming in over analyst expectations of a 857,000-barrel drawdown in inventories. Last week, the API reported the latest in a string of surprise builds in crude oil inventories, the last of which was 2.4 million barrels. A day later, the EIA estimated that US inventories had increased by 4.7 million barrels.Even with this week’s draw, the net build is still a significant 26.65 million barrels for the 22-week reporting period so far this year, using API data.  To compare, this is what the graph looked this this same week in 2017: Oil prices rose briefly on Wednesday as news that flooding might impact oil flowing near Cushing, Oklahoma. But news of the escalating China/US trade dispute pushed prices lower, with WTI falling $0.31 (-0.52%) to $58.83, with Brent falling $0.80 (-1.16%) to $67.87 by 2:58pm EST. Prices continue to remain volatile in the wake of mounting tensions in the Middle East, supply disruptions in Venezuela and Iran, and the US/China trade dispute.Both benchmarks are trading significantly down on the week.The API this week reported a build in gasoline inventories for week ending May 24 in the amount of 2.711 million barrels. Analysts estimated a draw in gasoline inventories of 528,000 barrels for the week.Distillate inventories fell by 2.144 million barrels for the week, while inventories at Cushing fell by 176,000 barrels.US crude oil production as estimated by the Energy Information Administration showed that production for the week ending May 17 rose slightly to 12.2 million bpd from the all-time high of 12.3 million bpd achieved during the week of April 26.The U.S. Energy Information Administration report on crude oil inventories is due to be released on Thursday at 11:00a.m. EST due to the Memorial holiday. By 4:45pm EST, WTI was trading down at $59.07 and Brent was trading down $68.07.

Oil prices fall as trade war worries outweigh supply disruptions - (Reuters) - Oil prices fell in volatile trade on Wednesday, weighed down by equity markets as China signaled readiness to escalate the trade war with the United States, stoking concerns that an ongoing stand-off could hurt demand. Supply constraints linked to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ output cuts and political tensions in the Middle East offered some support, however. Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil prices, ended the session at $69.45 a barrel, down 66 cents, or 0.9%, having hit a session low of $68.08. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell 33 cents, or 0.6%, to settle at $58.81 per barrel, after hitting a low of $56.88, the lowest since March 12. Both contracts were set for a monthly decline. In the United States, cash crude markets in Cushing, Oklahoma and fuel markets in the area have been roiled this week by pipeline outages and disruptions due to flooding in the Midwest after heavy rains. But U.S. crude futures and the front-month spread between July and August U.S. crude futures pared some losses in part due to news of the Ozark pipeline from Cushing to Illinois restarting on Thursday, traders and brokers said. Trading in the front-month spread is closely tied to supply and demand at Cushing, the delivery point for U.S. crude futures. In a sign of escalating tensions between the world’s two biggest economies, China signaled it was ready to use its dominant position in rare earths to strike back in a trade war with the United States, Chinese newspapers warned on Wednesday. Rare earths are a group of 17 chemical elements used in products ranging from high-tech consumer electronics to military equipment. Trade worries and slowdown fears have pressured investors to dump so-called “risk assets” such as equities and oil globally and seek safety in German and U.S. government debt. Wall Street’s main indexes hit more than two-month lows on Wednesday. While China has so far not explicitly said it would restrict rare earths sales to the United States, Chinese media have strongly implied this would happen.

Midwest flooding disrupts U.S. crude, fuel cash markets (Reuters) - Unexpected pipeline outages and refinery shutdowns over the past week - in part caused by bad weather in the U.S. Midwest - has roiled cash markets for both crude oil and refined products, traders said on Tuesday. Volatile trading was seen both in crude markets in the Cushing, Oklahoma hub and for gasoline and diesel traded in the Tulsa, Oklahoma region. The Ozark pipeline, which flows up to about 360,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil, was shut, market intelligence firm Genscape said in a notice on Tuesday. It was not immediately clear whether flooding had caused the outage on Ozark, though the rains have caused other pipelines in the region to shut in recent days. The Ozark line flows northeast from Cushing to the Phillips 66 Wood River refinery in Roxana, Illinois, according to Genscape. The outage had an immediate effect on the U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude cash roll - the three-day period after the front-month futures contract expires, when traders rebalance their positions. The roll trade is closely tied to supply and demand at Cushing, the delivery point for U.S. crude futures. The WTI June/July cash roll traded on Tuesday at minus 40 cents per barrel, the weakest in more than two years, traders said. The cash roll traded at minus 20 cents per barrel on Friday ahead of the long holiday weekend. Flooded areas of Arkansas and Oklahoma were bracing for more rain that will feed the already swollen Arkansas River, forecasters said on Tuesday. Up to 19 inches (48 cm) of rain has fallen in parts of Oklahoma over the month of May, the National Weather Service said, with more on the way. Tallgrass Energy LP on Friday issued a notice of temporary embargo of deliveries for its Tallgrass Iron Horse Pipeline due to flooding on the Cimarron River in Oklahoma. That came a day after a similar notice for its Pony Express Pipeline, which runs from Guernsey, Wyoming to Cushing. The 200,000-bpd Diamond pipeline, which runs from Cushing across Arkansas to Valero Energy Corp’s Memphis, Tennessee, refinery was also shut, traders and Genscape said on Tuesday. HollyFrontier’s 155,300 bpd Tulsa, Oklahoma, refinery, shut operations as a precaution due to high water. Worries about reduced supply have boosted cash prices for gasoline in the Midwest. 

Global economic slowdown hits diesel consumption – Kemp (Reuters) - Global manufacturing and trade volumes have been decelerating since the third quarter of 2018 and the slowdown is starting to show up in sluggish consumption of middle distillates such as gasoil and diesel. Global manufacturers have reported falling export orders for eight months since September, according to the new export orders component of the JP Morgan global purchasing managers’ index. World trade volumes peaked in October and have since been contracting at the fastest rate since 2009, according to the Netherlands Bureau of Economic Policy Analysis. Every real-time measure of manufacturing and trade flows points to a very sharp slowdown over the last nine months ( Container shipments are falling. Air cargo is down. Rail freight is shrinking. And shipping lines are cancelling voyages owing to lack of demand. Distillates are the most heavily exposed to the business cycle since most gasoil and diesel is used in freight transportation, manufacturing, mining, oil and gas extraction and farming. OECD stocks of gasoil and diesel were down by less than 2 percent in March compared with the same month a year earlier, and by less than 4 percent in the first quarter compared with the same period in 2018. Year-on-year stock draws have slowed from more than 12 percent for single-month and three-month periods in the second quarter of 2018, according to statistics from the Joint Organisations Data Initiative. Global distillate stocks may now actually be rising. By the middle of May, distillate stocks in the United States were more than 12 million barrels (11%) higher than at the same point last year. 

Why Bears Will Win The Oil Price War - The most recent jump in prices through mid-May came largely as a result of geopolitical risk and supply outages. Rising tensions in the Middle East and disruptions in places like Venezuela and Iran are showing no signs of going away anytime soon. These geopolitical factors will keep some upward pressure on oil prices for the next few quarters. However, in the background, there are several variables that could exert deflationary pressure on the oil market. Morgan Stanley has noted that U.S. shale is slowing, “but with 200 [billion] barrels of resource with breakevens in the $40-45/bbl range, there is an increasingly credible scenario that shale could grow >1 mb/d per year out to 2025.” Moreover, oil producers are turning to a variety of digital technologies, robotics and automation that could keep costs in check. That’s good for individual oil companies, the investment bank argues, but in the aggregate, it puts a lid on crude prices.Morgan Stanley drew parallels to copper and aluminum markets. In the past, oil was like copper in that producing the next project became more and more expensive. Scarcity meant higher prices and the tendency for companies to venture into ever riskier frontiers. On the other hand, shale is more like aluminum, the bank says – the resource itself is abundant, so costs are more determined by the industrial process that comes after extraction. As a result, as technology improves, costs fall. Aluminum prices have steadily declined over the last century while copper has been more volatile and cyclical.   Because of shale’s increasingly important role in the global market for crude oil, the entire oil market may begin to resemble what has occurred with aluminum. In other words, there is a cap on oil prices in the medium-term, Morgan Stanley argues. That leaves little room for OPEC+ to add production; the group may have to maintain its output curtailments for years to come.Depressed prices mean that investment outside of North America could dwindle. That’s bad news for companies working outside of the U.S. and Canada and also negative for oilfield service companies. “For the majors and the E&Ps, their place on the cost curves would be more critical than ever,” Morgan Stanley warned. “Ongoing focus on cost and capital efficiency would remain a key priority.” On top of this, as other governments try to compete for capital with North America, tax rates on the energy industry could fall, Morgan Stanley said. That also could act as yet another deflationary force.

Brent falls on trade war worries, tight oil market supports - Oil prices fell on Thursday on fears of a global economic slowdown due to a U.S.-China trade war but losses were capped by a tightening crude market and rising political tensions in the Middle East. Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil prices, were at $68.89 per barrel at 9:20 a.m., down 59 cents, or 0.9%, from their last close. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were up 18 cents, or 0.31%, at $58.99 a barrel, supported by expectations of a fall in U.S. crude inventories. “An escalating U.S.-China trade war represents a risk to oil markets,” Bernstein Energy said in a note on Thursday. A senior Chinese diplomat ramped up the rhetoric against the United States on Thursday by comparing actions from Washington to “naked economic terrorism” Bernstein said that under “a full-blown trade war scenario” global oil demand would grow by 0.7 percent this year versus 2018, only half of current estimates. Because of weakening demand, Bernstein said any upside for oil markets was capped despite relatively tight supply. Oil prices have been supported in recent months by output cuts from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other major producers as well as falling supplies from Iran. Iranian May crude exports dropped to less than half of April levels at around 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) after the United States tightened sanctions on Tehran’s main source of income. Iran needs to export at least 1.5-2.0 million bpd of crude to balance its books.

WTI Extends Losses After Smaller Than Expected Crude Draw - Oil prices have slipped lower this morning after popping following API's reported bigger-than-expected crude inventory draw  U.S. crude inventories were expected to fall for the first time in three weeks, with investors will focus on refinery consumption, which dropped unexpectedly in last EIA report. “As those refiners come back in, we’re probably going to see demand really rip higher in the U.S.,” says Michael Loewen, a commodities strategist at Scotiabank in Toronto.  As Bloomberg also notes, heavy rains and flooding in the Midwest and Great Plains last week meant that a number of refiners had to pull back from their typical summer demand pick-up plans. DOE:

  • Crude -282k (-1.4mm exp)
  • Cushing -16k
  • Gasoline +2.204mm
  • Distillates -1.615mm

Following last night's solid crude draw, EIA reported a tiny 282k draw (well below expectations) and at the same time gasoline stocks rose notably for the 2nd week in a row...  US Crude production continues to hover near record highs, rebounding modestly last week...

Oil falls to 2-mth lows on small U.S. crude stock draw, trade war worries (Reuters) - Oil prices fell almost 4% to their lowest in over two months on a smaller-than-expected decline in U.S. crude inventories and fears of a global economic slowdown due to the U.S.-China trade war. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) said U.S. crude stockpiles fell nearly 300,000 barrels last week, less than the 900,000-barrel decline analysts forecast in a Reuters poll and well below the 5.3 million-barrel drawdown the American Petroleum Institute (API) reported late Wednesday. The decline last week reduced crude stocks from their highest since July 2017 seen the previous week, but at 476.5 million barrels, they were still about 5% above the five-year average for this time of year. "The oil inventories report has added to the bearish sentiment prevailing in today's trading session,"   "Demand-side concerns emerging from the ongoing U.S.-China trade war are expected to remain the key driver weighing on oil prices." Brent futures fell $2.58, or 3.7%, to settle at $66.87 a barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude dropped $2.22, or 3.8%, to close at $56.59. Those were the lowest closes for Brent since March 12 and WTI since March 8. For the month, Brent is on track to fall about 8% and WTI around 11%, which would be the first monthly decline for both contracts in five months. The premium of Brent over WTI , meanwhile, fell to around $10 per barrel, down from a more than four-year high of $11.59 on Wednesday. "An escalating U.S.-China trade war represents a risk to oil markets," Bernstein Energy said in a note. A senior Chinese diplomat compared trade actions from Washington to "naked economic terrorism." Bernstein Energy said under "a full-blown trade war scenario," global oil demand would grow by just 0.7% this year, half of current estimates. Because of weakening demand, Bernstein said any upside for oil markets was capped despite relatively tight supply. Oil prices have been supported this year by output cuts from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other major producers, as well as by falling supplies from OPEC members Iran and Venezuela due to U.S. sanctions. Iranian May crude exports dropped to less than half of April levels at around 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) after the United States tightened sanctions on Tehran's main source of income. Iran needs to export at least 1.5-2.0 million bpd of crude to balance its books.

Trade wars tip oil towards biggest monthly drop in 6 months - Oil was on track for its biggest monthly drop in six months on Friday as U.S. President Donald Trump ramped up trade tensions, weighing on the demand outlook. Brent futures are heading for an 11% slide in May and WTI for a 14% drop, their biggest monthly losses since November. “No notice was taken of data that were positive for prices, whereas mildly disappointing figures put prices under considerable pressure,” Commerzbank analysts said. “This selective reaction is typical of a climate of severe pessimism, as is the fact that market players are currently focusing only on demand worries while ignoring the fact that supply remains limited.” Front-month Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil prices, were at $64.80, down $2.07 from last session’s close. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $54.93 per barrel, down $1.66 from their last settlement. Both grades earlier hit their lowest since March 8. U.S. President Donald Trump vowed on Thursday to slap tariffs on all goods from Mexico unless it stops illegal immigration, firing up fears over economic growth and appetite for oil. “U.S. refiners import roughly 680,000 barrels per day of Mexican crude. The 5% tariff adds an extra $2 million to the cost of their daily purchases,” PVM analysts said. The Mexico trade dispute adds to a trade war between the United States and China, which many analysts expect to trigger a recession.. China’s factory activity shrank more than expected in May, an official survey showed on Friday. Crude prices have also been under pressure from a return in U.S. oil production to a record 12.3 million barrels per day, and a much smaller than expected decline in U.S. stockpiles. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said crude stocks fell by around 300,000 barrels last week. That was much less than the 900,000-barrel decline analysts had forecast in a Reuters poll, and well below the 5.3 million-barrel drawdown seen by the API industry body. Giving a floor to prices, top oil exporter Saudi Arabia’s increased output in May was not enough to compensate for lower Iranian exports, a Reuters survey found. Washington will sanction any country that buys oil from Iran after the expiration of waivers on May 2, U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said on Thursday.

Oil falls over 3% on fresh trade worries, posts biggest monthly drop in six months (Reuters) - Oil slumped over 3% on Friday and posted its biggest monthly drop in six months, after U.S. President Donald Trump stoked global trade tensions by threatening tariffs on Mexico, a key U.S. trade partner and major supplier of crude oil. Brent crude futures fell $2.38, or 3.6%, to settle at $64.49 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell $3.09 to $53.50 a barrel, a 5.5% loss. Brent touched a session low of $64.37 a barrel, lowest since March 8. WTI hit $53.41 a barrel, weakest since Feb. 14. Brent futures posted an 11% slide in May and WTI a 16% drop, their biggest monthly losses since November. Trump vowed on Thursday to ratchet up tariffs unless Mexico stopped people from illegally crossing into the United States. The plan would impose a 5% tariff on Mexican imports starting on June 10 and increase monthly, up to 25% on Oct. 1. That could hit the lucrative cross-border energy trade. “U.S. refiners import roughly 680,000 barrels per day of Mexican crude. The 5% tariff adds an extra $2 million to the cost of their daily purchases,” PVM analysts said. The United States also exports more fuels to Mexico than any other country, according to the U.S. Energy Department. So far Mexico has not said whether it would retaliate. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Friday urged Trump to back down from the threats. Investors were already worried that the U.S.-China trade war increased the danger of a recession. Additional levies by Beijing on the majority of U.S. imports on a $60 billion target list are due to take effect on Saturday, in response to Washington’s move this month to slap further tariffs of up to 25% on $200 billion of Chinese goods. A Reuters survey showed Brent crude prices are likely to hold near $70 a barrel for the rest of the year as elevated supply risks in the Middle East offset risks to demand. 

Peace And Oil: Trump’s Endgame In Saudi Arabia -  By now, after two-and-a-half years in office, it’s obvious that President Trump’s relations with Riyadh are dictating his foreign policy, even at the expense of further enraging a Democratic-controlled Congress intent on removing him from office. Trump’s last pro-Saudi move came on Friday week the fire-brand president declared a national emergency because of tensions with Iran and swept aside objections from lawmakers to complete the sale of over $8 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Jordan. The Trump administration informed congressional committees that it would push ahead with 22 military sales to the three Middle Eastern countries, drawing rebuke from both sides of the aisle for circumventing a long-standing precedent for congressional review of major military weapons sales. Not only has the move infuriated Congress over what they see as presidential abuse of power, but it comes as Congress grows increasingly agitated over human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. Riyadh has been implicated in the controversial killing of Saudi dissident journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October. The paper trail for the crime was traced all the way back to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Even then, Trump stood by his Saudi allies and the Royal family though it created a considerable backlash from both Democrats and Republicans and even internationally. The Trump administration is also being called on the carpet for continued U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s military actions in neighboring Yemen which has resulted in a large number of civilian casualties. The Royal family has also strengthened its grip domestically with a top-down authoritative rule over any hint of dissent. Last month, Saudi Arabia put to death 37 so-called terrorists, most of them Saudi citizens, for what they said were terror-related crimes. CNN reported that one was even crucified - a troubling prospect from Western and U.S. lawmakers that tie any kind of political and military support to a country’s human rights record. All of these developments have led to Congressional angst over Saudi Arabia and the president’s incessant support for the kingdom. However, Trump’s playbook sees Saudi Arabia not only as a key ally in the Middle East but as internal in helping keep global oil prices in check. Perhaps more importantly, Riyadh is key in Trump’s policy to drive Iran to its knees economically and force it to the bargaining table over its nuclear, ballistic missile and Middle Eastern hegemony purists. Yet, looking at the past 40-year record from Iran, it’s a gambit that could backfire and lead to a U.S.-Saudi military confrontation with Iran - a prospect that would roil global oil markets and hit economic growth at the same time it’s slowing due to ongoing U.S.-China trade tensions.

Iran's Leadership At Highest Level Ordered Attacks On Pipeline, Tankers- Pentagon -- The Pentagon says "the leadership of Iran at the highest level" ordered a spate of disruptive attacks over the past two weeks including attacks on an Aramco Saudi oil pipeline and pumping facilities, the recent sabotage of four tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, as well as a May 19 lone rocket attack on the US embassy in Baghdad's protected Green Zone. However, the Pentagon statements issued by Adm. Michael Gilday, director of the Joint Staff, on Friday offered absolutely nothing in terms of hard proof. That still didn't stop the war rhetoric from continuing: "Even more troubling: We have had multiple credible reports that Iranian proxy groups intend to attack U.S. personnel in the Middle East," Gilday said. The military analysis site, Task & Purpose in a follow-up pressed the Pentagon to cite some level of evidence that Iran did indeed order attacks "at the highest levels." The response was issued as follows: "The Iranians said they were going to close the Strait of Hormuz," Gilday said. "The Iranians struck those tankers. The Iranians struck the pipeline facility in Saudi Arabia through their proxies in Yemen. We know they're tied directly to those proxies. We know they're tied directly to the proxies in Iraq that launched the rocket."The Pentagon statements came on the heels of a Washington Post report saying the White House has agreed to send "roughly 2,000" additional troops to the Middle East to help protect American forces in the region and "monitor Iran" as prior reports suggested in the days leading to Trump's Thursday meeting with Defense Department l  eaders. Follow-up statements have put the number at 1,500.

 US To Send 900 Troops To Middle East To Counter Iran The Trump administration is sending about 900 additional troops to the Middle East in what senior defense officials insisted Friday is a “narrowly-focused defensive posture” intended to protect U.S. troops from Iran without provoking a wider conflict. “We think that through a combination of a very measured deployment of assets as well as public messaging, we are again trying to underscore that we are not seeking hostilities with Iran,” said Joint Staff Director Rear Adm. Michael Gilday. “In the military dimension, that is the best we can do — because they are reacting in the military dimension.” “We just want to be clear that based on our posture and the assets we are flowing to theater, [U.S. posture] is not in any way designed to be provocative.” The deployment will include 900 fresh troops, including an Air Force fighter squadron, to allow the Pentagon to respond to any attacks, gather intelligence on Iran and its proxies, and harden its existing defenses. One Patriot missile defense battalion — which includes about 600 troops — already in the region will also be extended. Pentagon officials declined to say where the troops would be sent. Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Katie Wheelbarger told reporters Friday only that they would not go to Iraq or Syria. The U.S. currently has about 70,000 troops across all domains in the Middle East.

Iran Touts Secret Weapons Able To Sink US Warships In Reaction To Troop Deployment - Iranian leaders have reacted to Friday's US announcement for a planned new deployment of 1,500 troops to the Middle East to monitor threats from Iran after the Pentagon specifically blamed Tehran for ordering attacks on a Saudi oil pipeline and four tankers near the Strait of Hormuz — an order which US officials said came from "the highest level".Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Saturday slammed the new deployment as “extremely dangerous... for international peace,” according to state news agency IRNA . Increased U.S. presence in our region is extremely dangerous and it threatens international peace and security, and this should be addressed,” Zarif said.   And separately a top Iranian military general touted "secret weapons" that are capable of sinking US warships in the Persian Gulf.According to Reuters, citing the semi-official news agency Mizan, General Morteza Qorbani, an adviser to Iran’s military command, issued the following threat:America... is sending two warships to the region. If they commit the slightest stupidity, we will send these ships to the bottom of the sea along with their crew and planes using two missiles or two new secret weapons.Currently the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group is operational in the region, along with B-52 bombers out of Qatar, and patriot missile batteries. Other than Iran's arsenal of long-range ballistic missiles, underwater drone capabilities, and most notably recent claims of a domestic built stealth destroyer and a fleet of small stealth submarines, it is unclear what these "new secret weapons" could be, if they exist at all.  Last December Iran unveiled its first stealth destroyer in a televised ceremony wherein the warship was launched into operation in the Persian Gulf at a moment when tensions with the US were ratcheting up over new rounds of sanctions. 

Khamenei Denounces Rouhani For Negotiating Nuclear Deal - This has been reported by Juan Cole.  Apparently Supreme Jurisprudent, Ali Khamenei of Iran in a speech to a large number of university students has seriously denounced President Rouhani for having negotiated the JCPOA nuclear agreement with the United States and other powers.  During the negotiations Khamenei played a mixed role, raising doubts about the negotiations, but allowing them to continue and for the agreement to be adopted and implemented.  As all know, Iran has until now kept its part of the agreement, whereas President Trump withdrew the US from it and has imposed even more serious economic sanctions on Iran than were there before the agreement, with other powers unable to substantially offset the US actions, even as their governments have continued to nominally support the agreement.  Thus, Khamenei has now fully and openly declared that his doubts were correct and that Rouhani was foolish to make the agreement. This follows the announcement that Iran will begin nominally breaching the agreement by expanding its enrichment of uranium.  The violation remains relatively minor at this point, but it is a significant step in any case. With the US raising military pressure, even as Trump says he does not want a war, it seems that this situation is just getting worse with almost nobody making any effort to halt this slide into rising conflict.  As it is, Khamenei seems to be preparing his nation for the worst.

Iran’s hardliners are losing the youth - "It's time to kiss your lips, it's time to sexy dance": USA-based Iranian pop singer Sasy is currently making waves in Iranian elementary schools with his song "Gentleman". Clearly having a great time, headscarf-wearing girls and boys in school uniforms jump and shriek to the fast rhythms. Sometimes there are even teachers present. They co-ordinate the kids and then proceed to film the whole thing using their mobile phones. Yet they must surely all be aware that they are crossing a major red line – after all dancing and public celebrations have been forbidden in Iran for 40 years. It is not clear whether this trend constitutes an organised campaign, or whether it is merely coincidence that several schools have been using the song to entertain their pupils. The videos have been making the rounds on the Internet since 5 May and have triggered an avalanche of comments, both for and against. Ali Motahari, vice-president of the Iranian parliament, known for his misogynistic remarks and whose father was one of the architects of the Islamic Republic, condemned dancing in schools and demanded the dismissal of "irresponsible" teachers and a statement from the Minister of Education. Parliamentarians also condemned the "un-Islamic" behaviour. Education Minister Mohammad Bathai has since set up a three-member information committee. "To protect the children from such harmful influences, common prayers should be held in the schools. Close links to the Koran and a way of life as preached by the imams should mean children grow up optimally in an Iranian-Islamic culture," Bathai is quoted by Tasnim, a news agency close to the Revolutionary Guard. The new regulations introduced by the Ministry of Education re-inforce the old ones: that girls and women are not allowed to sing solo, that any participation of male teachers in the leisure activities of girls' schools is forbidden, and that in all schools exclusively "age-appropriate" songs may be played that refer to "the cultural and historical values and customs of Iran".

New Satellite Photos Reveal Iran's Land Bridge Linking Tehran To The Mediterranean - Both Washington and Tel Aviv's past decade of Syria policy has been driven largely by fears of a so-called "Shia crescent" or Iranian land bridge which would conceivably connect Tehran with the Mediterranean via pro-Shia Baghdad and Damascus in a continuous arch of influence. A 2007 article in The New Yorker by famed investigative journalist Seymour Hersh even predicted that a major proxy war fueled by the West and Saudi Arabia, and centered in Syria would soon erupt in order to prevent this so-called Iranian and pro-Shia expansion to the Mediterranean. Hersh presciently wrote at the time:To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda. Fast-forward more than a decade after Hersh's predictions, and a bloody proxy war for Syria that has tragically taken half-a-million lives out of which Assad and his Hezbollah and Iranian allies have emerged victorious, the Washington neocons' worst nightmare has come true. A literal new land bridge establishing an international highway that runs all the way from Tehran to Beirut is now under construction, just released satellite images reveal. At the end of a month that's nearly witnessed directly military confrontation between the US and Iran, with a continuous war of words and American military build-up in the Persian Gulf, the White House has ordered a fresh deployment of 1,500 troops to the Middle East to monitor Iran's actions, according to Pentagon statements. No doubt these new ground forces will take note of any potential Iranian troop or proxy militia movements through Iran into Syria. Beirut-based Al-Masdar News provides the following details of the newly released satellite images as follows:

Iraq Stands With Iran Against US Sanctions on Tehran - Alhakim held talks in Baghdad with his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif, who arrived in the Iraqi capital for discussions with Iraqi officials. The top Iraqi diplomat said bilateral relations between Baghdad and Tehran were the focus of Zarif’s visit to Iraq.  “We are against the US sanctions against Iran,” Alhakim said.  Tensions between Washington and Tehran have mounted steadily since US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from a landmark nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group of nations (the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany). The Trump administration has also re-imposed sanctions on Iran’s banking and energy sectors, while Iran has threatened to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz to US oil shipments.

Russia Unlikely to Stay Neutral if U.S. and Iran Go to War – Moscow Times -  Russia's Middle East policy is marked with balancing acts that secure the country's role as an agile and effective balancing power. The fall of the Islamic Republic could undermine Moscow's capacity for balancing in the Middle Eastern region. It has the potential to cripple Russia's policy in Syria by giving more freedom of action to U.S.-allied groups, further weakening the recovering Assad government.At the same time, Russia and Iran have created a major security convergence for responding to shared threats and adapting strategies to gain required international recognitions by revising the U.S.-led order. Issues that Russia rarely shares with other Middle Eastern powers.And most significantly, a U.S.-led attack on Iran would pave the way for U.S.-led security architecture in the Middle East, providing Washington with major leverage. All these developments provide ground for speculation about the degree of Moscow’s involvement in a possible military confrontation between Iran and the United States.Although Moscow could financially gain from a politically isolated and less economically competitive Iran, the geopolitical fallout from a regime change in Teheran will significantly outweigh the potential economic benefits.Particularly, a direct confrontation between Tehran and Washington that could bring back major U.S. military build-up is a geopolitical challenge that threatens Russia's interests in the Middle East. Moscow has already blamed the U.S. for provoking Iran and has shown its opposition to the U.S. tightening pressure on Tehran's defense program by recognizing Iran's legitimate defense interests.Moreover, Russia’s active involvement in the global politics that has been demonstrated in recent years is a far cry from the relative passivism that marked Moscow’s reaction to the Yugoslav War or the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Therefore, it will not come as a surprise if Russia decides to make a step beyond mere diplomatic support to protect her interests in the Middle East, including militarily assisting Iran.

Saudi king blasts Iran for ‘naked aggression’ in the Gulf - Saudi Arabia's king has accused the kingdom's key rival, Iran, of developing nuclear and ballistic missiles which threaten regional and global stability, telling regional leaders that action is needed to stop Iranian "escalations" following a series of attacks on oil assets in the Gulf. The comments by King Salman Abdul Aziz came as Saudi Arabia on Thursday hosted in Mecca emergency meetings of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League to counter what it said was Iran's growing influence. A Gulf-Arab statement and a separate communique issued after the wider summit both supported the right of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to defend their interests after the attacks on oil pumping stations in the kingdom and tankers off the UAE. But in a sign of regional tensions, Iraq, which has good ties with neighbouring Iran and the United States, said it objected to the Arab communique, which stated that any cooperation with Tehran should be based on "non-interference in other countries". Addressing Arab and Muslim leaders earlier, King Salman pressed the international community to "use all means to stop Iran from interfering in other countries' affairs". "This is naked aggression against our stability and international security," the Saudi ruler told the gathered officials.

US Troops To Be Based In Saudi Arabia, Qatar Against Iran Threat -  Just hours after US National Security Advisor John Bolton formally accused Tehran of conducing the May 12 tanker "sabotage" attacks near the Strait of Hormuz, Iran's foreign ministry has responded that "we are ready for war" amid fears that Washington could still be on a war footing in the Persian Gulf. “We hope that we can start a dialogue, but we are ready for war,” Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told RIA Novosti. Bolton had told a press conference earlier in the day in Dubai, “The point is to make it very clear to Iran and its surrogates that these kinds of actions risk a very strong response from the United States.” Bolton is in Abu Dhabi attending an emergency summit of gulf leaders to consider the implications of both the "sabotage" tanker attacks near Fujairah emiriate in the UAE and the drone strikes two days following on a Saudi Aramco pipeline and oil pumping station. Meanwhile acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters while in Asia for a major policy speech on the region, "nobody wants war" with Iran. However, he added that the US is ready and willing to "defend ships in the Strait of Hormuz" if necessary. Also of note is that Shanahan for the first time identified that 900 American troops newly deployed to the Middle East in response to the heightened Iran threat are headed to Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Tension Intensifies in Persian Gulf – The US and its Arab allies are edging towards a confrontation with Iran in a contested waterway through which 20% of the world’s tradeable oil passes daily. In synchronization with its Arab allies, notably Saudi Arabia, and with Israel, the US is intensifying pressure on Iran to wind back its support for what it terms “bad actors” in the region. This includes Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, radical groups in the Palestinian territories, including Hamas, the Houthis in Yemen, and disaffected anti-regime elements in the Gulf. While the US denies it is seeking to bring about regime change in Iran, this clearly is its hope.Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan stated their objective is to deter Iran and prevent further intensification. According to the Associated Press, Shanahan stated, “Our biggest focus at this point is to prevent Iranian miscalculation. We do not want the situation to escalate.“ Aside from an aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers being moved to the region. A Patriot missile defense system has also been moved into the region in an undisclosed location. Non-essential personnel have been removed from neighboring Iraq, and U.S. allied countries with military training personnel have also scaled back those individuals in the region. The U.S. actions in the region have been the result of “credible threats” to U.S. forces and interests in the Middle East, according to Shanahan. Iran has been connected to the recent cyberattack by Hamas in Gaza against Israel and an escalation in the civil war in Yemen. Iran is also believed to be behind the sabotage of four oil tankers in United Arab Emirates directly across the gulf from Iran. Bombings ascribed to ISIS in Iraq have also recently escalated as the U.S. Navy forces have entered the region. If a ground assault is waged, forces may mass in Iraq and Afghanistan, which border Iran on the west and east respectively. The U.S. also has air forces stationed in Turkey, located to the northwest of Iran. Iran is surrounded on all sides by U.S. allies, but with uncertainty over relations with Pakistan — also to the east of Iran. However, Iran has a history of conducting naval exercises with Russia in the Caspian Sea located between the two countries to the north. The Caspian Sea is also considered a major shipping route for Iranian oil. With Russia’s naval power, there is concern they may become involved if there are military actions between Iran and the U.S.

Iraq Sentences French ISIS Fighters To Death -Three French citizens who joined ISIS and have been sentenced to death in Iraq, after being found guilty of joining the Islamic militant group.  The men, Kevin Gonot, Leonard Lopez and Salim Machou were three of 14 French nationals belonging to the Islamic State arrested in Syria and turned over to Iraq by Syrian Kurdish forces. According to the BBC, here is what is known about the three men - who will be the first French IS suspects to receive the death penalty.  Gonot, 32, is from south-eastern France. He is believed to have entered Syria through Turkey to join the al-Nusra Front, a branch of al-Qaeda, before pledging allegiance to IS.He was arrested in Syria with his mother, his wife, and his half-brother in December 2017. A French court has also sentenced him in absentia to nine years in prison.Machou, 41, belonged to an IS cell composed of European fighters that has carried out attacks in Iraq and Syria and planned others in Paris and Brussels, according to the Centre d'Analyse du Terrorisme (CAT), a French think tank. Lopez, a 32-year-old from Paris, also travelled with his wife and two children to IS-held Mosul in northern Iraq before entering Syria, CAT quotes French investigators as saying. –BBC   Human rights organizations have been critical of trials of suspected Islamic State militants in Iraq, saying that they often rely on circumstantial evidence or forced confessions.

 Six Explosions Rip Through Iraq's Oil City Of Kirkuk In Terror Attack - A series of explosions have rocked the oil-rich northern Iraq city of Kirkuk, which lies 150 miles north of Baghdad in a disputed region which Iraqi Kurdistan leaders have jostled with the national government for control over.  On Thursday evening half a dozen or more explosions ripped across a central avenue, leaving at least five people dead and a dozen or more wounded, according to unconfirmed early conflicting reports. Some reports have cited as many as six or more among the dead what may have numbered eight total explosions.  Dramatic footage captured the moment of one of the bombs being detonated on a busy street during the heart of the evening in an area known as a popular commercial hub filled with cafes and malls.  The moment of one of the explosions in Quds street in #Kirkuk. At least 6 killed 12 wounded. — Baxtiyar Goran (@BaxtiyarGoran) May 30, 2019    According to regional Kurdistan 24 media:  According to initial reports, five explosions were heard in the center of the province near the Peace Mall on Jerusalem Street. A source in the area told Kurdistan 24 the incident left many killed and injured. The attack is believed to have involved improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and possibly car bombs in what was clearly a terror attack on the ethnically diverse northern Iraqi city.  There have been early reports that suicide bombers may have been involved. No group has claimed responsibility, however, the city has seen a remnant ISIS insurgency wreak havoc on the area of late, for which Kurdish Peshmerga forces have reportedly been deployed to root out.  Regional gulf media outlet Al-Arabiya reports the death toll may be rising as hospitals take in more casualties:

Russian Jets Unleash Hell On Idlib After Ceasefire Talks With Turkey Collapse - On Thursday over five Russian fighter jets began launching airstrikes over the Idlib Governorate following the collapse of ceasefire talks with Turkey. According to a military source in northwestern Syria, the ceasefire talks collapsed after Turkey demanded that the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) withdraw from all the areas they captured in northwestern Hama. The Russian military reportedly rejected Turkey’s demands and restarted their aerial campaign over the Idlib province. The Syrian Air Force had already launched airstrikes over the Idlib Governorate on Thursday, but the Russian military had only carried out limited attacks due to their ceasefire talks with Turkey. The source added that the Syrian Army has yet to receive the green light to resume their ground offensive against the jihadist forces in northwestern Hama. The Turkish regime had been pushing for a new ceasefire deal around the Idlib deescalation zone after their rebel allies lost a great deal of territory in northwestern Hama. Speaking to Al-Masdar from Damascus, a Syrian Arab Army (SAA) officer said that Ankara is pushing Moscow for an open-ended ceasefire in northwestern Syria. The officer said Turkey wants to prevent any more Syrian Army advances in northwestern Syria, while also demanding that the latter withdraw from the areas they recently captured. Syria is trying to retake its province Idlib—which is controlled by rebranded al-Qaeda—with help from Russia & Iran. So the US gave the "greenlight" to NATO member Turkey to send more weapons, including anti-tank TOW missiles, to AQ-allied "rebel" proxies  — Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) May 30, 2019   He added that Russia is resisting Turkey’s pleas because they have made similar requests in the past and they have repeatedly failed to deliver on their promises.

US Remains in Denial About How Many Civilians They Killed in Iraq and Syria — The U.S.-led coalition that launched airstrikes against Iraq and Syria against ISIS admitted Friday that those attacks killed civilians, but the number they reported—1,302 deaths in a nearly five-year period—was immediately dismissed as too low by the human rights organization Amnesty International.“While all admissions of responsibility by the U.S.-led coalition for civilian casualties are welcome, the coalition remains deeply in denial about the devastating scale of the civilian casualties caused by their operations in both Iraq and Syria,” the group’s senior crisis response advisor, Donatella Rovera, said in a statement.The coalition, in a statement announcing the findings of its internal review, said that of the “34,502 strikes between August 2014 and the end of April 2019” it found that “at least 1,302 civilians have been unintentionally killed by coalition strikes.” That number, while 1,302 people too many, is still far below projections from other organizations over the past. “Even in cases where the coalition has admitted responsibility this has only happened after civilian deaths were investigated and brought to its attention by organizations such as Amnesty International and Airwars,” said Rovera. In April, a study by Amnesty and Airwars projected that 1,600 civilians died in coalition airstrikes in the Syrian city of Raqqa alone from June to October 2017, a number that, in four months, is higher than the coalition’s total findings for over four years across two countries.

The hangman of the Middle East: US-backed regime in Egypt hands down nearly 2,500 death sentences - Egypt’s US-backed dictatorship of Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has sentenced 2,443 people to death since coming to power in a bloody coup in 2013, according to a report issued this week by the UK-based human rights group Reprieve.Of those sentenced to die by hanging, 2,008, or 82 percent of the total, were convicted of political offenses.A death penalty index tracking the use of the death penalty in Egypt and identifying those faced with execution recorded cases up until September 23, 2018, when 77 of those on the country’s teeming death row faced imminent execution as a result of convictions in criminal trials. Since then, at least six of them have been put to death. In total, 144 people have been executed by the Egyptian regime over the past five years. This compares to a single execution carried out between the 2011 revolution that overthrew the 30-year-long US-backed dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak and the July 3, 2013, coup led by General Sisi against the elected government of President Mohammed Morsi. During this same interval, a total of 152 death sentences were recommended by the Egyptian courts, compared to the nearly 2,500 issued since. The death sentences have, in many cases, been handed down in mass trials in which defendants are brought before drumhead military tribunals in which they are denied all of the elementary rights to a fair trial including the right to present an individual defense, representation by legal counsel and the ability to call or examine witnesses. The assembly line of state murder in Egypt begins with arbitrary arrest followed by a period of “enforced disappearance” in which prisoners are held incommunicado without charges and subjected to hideous torture until submitting to signing a confession. They are then brought into cages in military courts alongside dozens if not hundreds of others.

Heavy Fighting Rips Through Tripoli As Libya's Gen. Haftar Renews Offensive  - After few week lull in Gen. Khalifa Haftar's Libya National Army (LNA) advance on Tripoli, fighting has once again ripped through the Libyan capital city, in an ongoing renewed civil war between parallel governments in east and west of the country which has now killed over 500 and pushed 75,000 out of their homes, and has again ramped up the migrant crisis in Europe.  Reuters reports, "Heavy fighting raged in the Libyan capital on Saturday as eastern forces made a new push to advance inside the city controlled by the internationally recognized government." The LNA's new push began Saturday morning in a southern suburb, and continues the siege which began in early April, and has involved tanks, mortars, heavy urban fighting, and warplanes.  Gen. Haftar who solidified control of Eastern Libya over the past two years and swept through the south in January, is seeking full control over Tripoli which would secure his hold of the entire country and its vital oil resources, of which he already controls a major chunk of in the east and south.  He's long been described by many analysts as "the CIA's man in Libya" given he spent a couple decades living in exile a mere few minutes from CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia during Gaddafi's rule. Last month, the White House went from a position of nominal support for the UN-backed government in Tripoli (now under attack by Haftar), to openly backing Haftar for the first time. A White House statement said Trump “recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources" during a phone call with the "renegade" general.  Other countries like France and the UAE are also significant backers of Haftar, with the latter coming under fire for shipping banned weapons to the Libyan warlord. However, awkwardly these and other countries stand against the majority UN recognition of the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli as the legitimate authority over Libya and its prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj.

 Turkey Invades Northern Iraq In Operation Against Kurdish Militants --Turkey has launched a cross-border operation into neighboring Iraq against Kurdish militants in a mountainous northern region of the country.  The Turkish defense ministry confirmed its military unleashed a barrage of artillery fire and air strikes on Monday afternoon before ground forces entered northern Iraq to “demolish the caves and shelters that are being used by terrorist groups and to eliminate terrorists” a reference to the outlawed PKK.  “The operation, with the support of our attack helicopters, is continuing as planned,” the statement said further. While cross-border shelling has happened somewhat frequently in the past, Turkey has rarely sent ground troops.Back in December 2015 when Turkey, claiming to be engaged in counter-ISIS and general counter-insurgency operations, crossed into Iraq with a large ground force then Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Abadi demanded Turkey cease violating Iraqi sovereignty, in a standoff which proved a major embarrassment for Baghdad. Turkish state media released video footage of its operation inside Iraq: Not only has Turkey not been bashful about routinely violating the sovereignty of both Iraq and Syria ostensibly to "fight terrorists", it has often positively boasted about it and published video footage of the incursions.  Citing the defense ministry, Reuters reports the following of the ongoing, controversial operation:It said the operation targeted Iraq’s Hakurk region, just across the border from Turkey’s southeastern tip, which also borders Iran. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group is based in northern Iraq, notably in the Qandil region to the south of Hakurk.

 Netanyahu—unable to form a government—threatens new Israeli elections - Just six weeks after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing electoral alliance won a majority in the 120-seat Knesset (parliament) in the April 9 elections, Netanyahu’s Likud party has introduced legislation to dissolve the Knesset and call a second election at the end of August. Two more votes are needed before the resolution becomes law. This unprecedented move brings to the fore the vicious factional infighting among Israel’s far right parties that dominate its political system, long touted as the only democracy in the Middle East. These developments portend the implosion of Israel’s political system and mirror the almost universal collapse of traditional bourgeois rule within ruling elites throughout the world. The possibility of new elections follows Netanyahu’s failure to bring Avigdor Lieberman’s right-wing, secular Yisrael Beytenu (Israel is our Home) party into his coalition, which is dominated by far-right nationalists and religious zealots, leaving his prospective government with just 60 seats. Lieberman was insistent that the new government support a law forcing ultra-Orthodox Israelis to serve in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), an anathema to Netanyahu’s religious party partners. He refused to accept any of their attempts to soften it, saying, "I won't be party to a Halachic government," referring to religious Jewish law. Lieberman added, "We will go to elections again, and the people will determine whether they want a right-wing government or a Haredi [religious] government." He claims that there are between 20 and 25 legislators who support a state run on the principles of Jewish law. The Likud Party in turn accuse him of trying to turn the escalating row over the draft conscription law into a war over religion.

Israel on Verge of Fresh Elections as Lieberman Deals Blow to Netanyahu – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chances of forming a new government became significantly slimmer on Monday, as his former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman ruled out serving with ultra-Orthodox parties. Hours later, a bill to dissolve Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, passed a preliminary reading – the first step towards it dismissing itself. In a news conference earlier in the day, Lieberman called for fresh elections, nearly two months after the last. “We will support the dissolution of the Knesset,” Lieberman announced at a news conference, adding that his party would suggest no other candidate for prime minister to President Reuven Rivlin. In response, Netanyahu’s Likud party struck a conciliatory tone. “We invite Lieberman to join us today and not contribute to the toppling of a right-wing government,” the party said in a statement. The five seats won by Lieberman’s ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party in the 9 April parliamentary election would see Netanyahu pass the 60-seat threshold to form a government in the 120-strong Knesset. Lieberman’s party has been at odds with ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, who won eight seats each, over a military conscription bill that would make it mandatory for Haredi men studying the Torah, who are currently exempt from service, to join Israel’s armed forces. Lieberman has long said that all Israeli men must equally share the burden of mandatory military service. Ultra-Orthodox parties say seminary students should remain exempt from conscription, as they have been since Israel’s founding in 1948. “We have made our position clear since 2018: We will not agree to any change in the draft bill,” Lieberman said at the news conference, adding that he did not want to be part of a “halakah [Jewish law] government”. While some parties backed Lieberman’s call for another election, opposition leader Benny Gantz railed against the prospect of another poll, arguing that Rivlin should give his Blue and White party the chance to form a government. Gantz said his party, which was tied with Likud on 35 seats in April’s election but had less obvious partners to form a majority with, “would oppose the dissolving of the Knesset”. “Netanyahu prefers elections that will silence the Israeli nation for many months, waste a lot of money, and all this for a single principle: Netanyahu above all,” Gantz added.

Does Iran’s Economic Fate Depend on a Lifeline From China? - It’s hard to predict what will happen in the oil market as the U.S. sanctions on Iran tighten. For now, it looks like India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey will hold off from buying Iranian oil. These countries—with China—had been the main sources of Iran’s foreign exchange. It is unlikely—at the present time—that India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey will break the U.S. siege on Iran. They have made it clear that they do not want to rattle the U.S. cage. Request for new waivers from the U.S. came to naught. India’s government had said that it would reassess the purchases of cheap Iranian oil after the elections. It is likely that India will restart some buys, but certainly not enough to prevent economic collapse in Iran. As the May deadline for the U.S. sanctions loomed, these countries bought vast amounts of oil from Iran to create their own buffer stocks. Revenues from the export of oil reached $50 billion for the Iranian financial year of 2018-19 (ending March 20). The oil sector contributed to 70 percent of Iran’s exports. This income is essential for running Iran’s government and paying its 4.6 million employees. The cost of the government is roughly $24 billion. With the collapse of sales to India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey, Iran will have a very difficult time raising revenues to maintain its economy. The National Development Fund and the hard currency reserves have already begun to be depleted, with dollar holdings now in the tens of billions. Tehran has long been hoped that China would continue to buy Iranian oil and prevent the meltdown of Iran’s economy and its government. There are two reasons why China would want to ignore U.S. sanctions and continue to buy Iranian oil. The first has to do with the fact that Iran’s oil is cheap and of a quality that Chinese refiners prefer. The second has to do with Iran’s crucial location along the line of China’s Belt and Road as well as its String of Pearls initiatives. Chaos in Iran or a government in Tehran that is pliant to the United States would be unacceptable to Beijing. Roads, trains and pipelines—the infrastructure of the Belt and Road Initiative—are to run from the Chinese territory through Central Asia into Iran and then outward toward West Asia and—via Turkey—into Europe. Iran’s centrality to this project should not be underestimated. In the first few months of 2019, China bought about half of Iran’s crude oil exports. It has become a crucial pillar for Iran, whose diplomats say quite openly that if China no longer buys Iran’s oil or invests in Iran, the problems for the country will be grave. Massive oil buys from China in the weeks leading to the end of the U.S. waivers are, however, no indication of the continuation of this relationship. Chinese oil companies put in large orders to stockpile oil in anticipation of the cuts. Oil analysts suggest that the two major Chinese oil importers—China Petrochemical Corporation (Sinopec) and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) have not put in any buys since the U.S. waivers expired.

US Universities And Retirees Are Funding The Technology Behind China’s Surveillance State — Princeton University and the US’s largest public pension plan are among a number of stateside organizations funding technology behind the Chinese government’s unprecedented surveillance of some 11 million people of Muslim ethnic minorities.Since 2017, Chinese authorities have detained more than a million Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in political reeducation camps in the country’s northwest region of Xinjiang, identifying them, in part, with facial recognition software created by two companies: SenseTime, based in Hong Kong, and Beijing’s Megvii. A BuzzFeed News investigation has found that US universities, private foundations, and retirement funds entrusted their money to investors that, in turn, plowed hundreds of millions of dollars into these two startups over the last three years. Using that capital, SenseTime and Megvii have grown into billion-dollar industry leaders, partnering with government agencies and other private companies to develop tools for the Communist Party’s social control of its citizens. Also among the diverse group of institutions helping to finance China’s surveillance state: the Alaska Retirement Management Board, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Rockefeller Foundation all of which are “limited partners” in private equity funds that invested in SenseTime or Megvii. And even as congressional leaders, such as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, have championed a bill to condemn human rights abuses in Xinjiang, their own states’ public employee pension funds are invested in companies building out the Chinese government’s system for tracking Uighurs.

This map shows a trillion-dollar reason why China is oppressing more than a million Muslims - The Uighurs, a mostly-Muslim ethnic minority in Xinjiang, western China, are living in one of the most heavily-policed and oppressive states in the world. This map helps explain why. People in Xinjiang are watched by tens of thousands of facial recognition cameras, and surveillance apps on their phones. An estimated 2 million of them are locked in internment camps where people are physically and psychologically abused. China's government has for years blamed the Uighurs for a terror, and say they saying the group is importing Islamic extremism in Central Asia. But there's another reason why Beijing wants to clamp down on Uighurs in Xinjiang: The region is home to some of the most important elements of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China's flagship trade project. The BRI, which went into effect in 2013, aims to link Beijing with some 70 countries around the world via railroads, gas pipelines, shipping lanes, and other infrastructure projects. It is considered President Xi Jinping's pet project, and an important part of his political legacy. The map above shows Xinjiang's position along various BRI infrastructure projects.It is divided between six land routes, collectively named the Silk Road Economic Belt, and one maritime route, the Maritime Silk Road. Xinjiang is home to many projects along the Silk Road Economic Belt, as the map indicates.  China is estimated to have invested between $1 trillion and $8 trillion into the project, the Center for Strategic and International Studies said.Trade in goods between China and other countries along the BRI totalled $1.3 trillion in 2018 alone, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported, citing China's Ministry of Commerce.

As trade war heats up, China threatens clampdown on rare earths - As trade tensions between Washington and Beijing intensify, China's state media on Wednesday suggested it may play a new card -- restricting U.S. access to "rare earths," the chemical elements that are widely used in everything from mobile phones and other consumer electronics to wind turbines, MRI machines and military hardware. China dominates global exports of the 17 elements that constitute rare earths, accounting for almost 80 percent of America's imports last year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts. Other countries that supply rare earths to the U.S. include Australia, Estonia, France and Japan. The 17 elements defined as rare earths aren't as rare as their moniker suggests -- gold, copper and platinum are more abundant and easier to mine, for instance. By contrast, rare earths are ubiquitous in modern life, and their use is likely to spread as technology advances. Cerium, used in compounds for catalytic converters in automobiles, is the most abundant and is more common in the earth's crust than copper or lead, according to the USGS. The glass industry is the largest consumer of rare earths, which are used for polishing, additives for color and other special optical properties. One rare earth element, lanthanum, makes up as much as 50 percent of digital camera lenses, including cell phone cameras. Rare earths don't get their name because of their scarcity; rather, they got that label in the 18th and 19th centuries because of their relative imperviousness to heat compared with other mined materials. Rare earths are found in such low concentrations around the world that they are harder to extract and refine, and not always found in commercially mineable quantities. As a result, a handful of countries account for the bulk of extraction, including China, Australia, Japan and Malaysia. China, which has roughly 40 percent of the global reserves of rare earths, accounted for almost 80 percent of U.S. imports of the elements last year, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. One reason China is the global leader -- it's been pulling rare earths out of the ground for a long time. The country spent a century perfecting the refining method for extracting and refining rare earths in large enough quantities to keep costs manageable.

China’s industrial profits fall in first 4 months (Xinhua) -- Profits of China's major industrial firms fell 3.4 percent year on year in the January-April period, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said Monday. Combined profits of industrial firms with annual revenue of more than 20 million yuan (about 2.9 million U.S. dollars) stood at 1.81 trillion yuan in the first four months of 2019. Major industrial firms' operating revenue reached 32.84 trillion yuan in the period, up 5.1 percent year on year, the NBS data showed. Zhu Hong, an NBS senior statistician, attributed the decline to lower value-added tax rate which was implemented since April 1, resulting in the earlier unleash of the demands for industrial products in March. In the four months, state-owned industrial firms' profits dropped 9.7 percent year on year, while private firms' profits went up 4.1 percent. Companies in mining and manufacturing posted profit declines of 0.7 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively. Among the 41 sub-sectors, 27 saw higher profits and 14 reported lower earnings.

 Trade War Bites As China Manufacturing PMI Tumbles Back Into Contraction - China's Official May Composite PMI printed modestly lower than April's at 53.3, with Services at 54.3 (in line with last month and goal-seeked expectations), while Manufacturing (expected to decline into contraction at 49.9) was considerably worse than expected, printing 49.4. This was below the lowest analyst estimate of 49.5, and close to the lowest level in about a decade. Under the hood of the manufacturing data, Output growth slowed, New Orders tumbled into contraction (with export orders plunging), inventories rose, employment slipped, and input & output prices contracted. The most affected were Small Enterprises. The Services data also showed weaker new orders and employment with selling prices slumping into contraction The drop clearly reflects pressure on the production side of the economy from the escalating trade war (following some pre-tariff stocking-up). None of this should be a big surprise as much of Asia's flash PMIs were weak and after spiking on record credit injections in the early part of the year, China's macro data has collapsed against renewed optimistic expectations... Looks like we are "gonna need a bigger boat" of cash to keep this red ponzi afloat, which is a problem as the signal from China’s April credit data was also negative. The unexpectedly large fallback in credit raised fresh doubts about whether the economy has found a bottom.

Pig Ebola Epidemic Threatens To Unleash Stagflation Across China -- With Chinese pigs getting slaughtering left and right to contain the breakout of African swine fever, also known as "Pig Ebola", so are pork shorts as meat processors around the world scramble to sell more pork to China to make up for sharp shortages of China's most popular protein. The consequence is tighter supplies in the U.S. and Europe, which is pushing up prices. And as the disease continues to spread throughout China - the world’s largest producer and consumer - the trend will only get worse.  Case in point: US retail prices for boneless hams hit $4.31 per pound in March, the highest since 2015. But none of this compares to what is about to hit China, where consumers are bracing for a shock as pork prices may surge more than 70% in the second half of this year an agriculture ministry official said last month, as the country's pork output has plunged as much as 30% this year, according to Rabobank, and could spike Chinese CPI in the coming months, sharply limiting the PBOC's efforts to stimulate and boost liquidity in the world's (credit-driven) growth dynamo and curbing China's latest attempt to reflate the world and boost global economic growth. “Some meat that used to go to the U.S. is now going to China because it pays more,” Jens Munk Ebbesen, director of food safety and veterinary issues at the Danish Agriculture & Food Council recently told Bloomberg.Seeking to frontrun some of the price surge, China recently made its biggest-ever weekly purchase of US pork: "African swine fever has sparked a rally across global protein stocks, but it’s not too late to buy in,” Morgan Stanley analysts led by Rafael Shin said in an April report to clients this week. “We think the rally has only begun and that the long-term impacts of ASF are still not understood."

China’s Aging Migrant Workers Are Facing a Return to Poverty  - China’s first-generation migrant workers are edging closer to retirement age, defined as 60 for men and 50 for most women. (Female civil servants retire at 55.) Government statistics show that the number of migrant workers over 50 is growing rapidly, from around 40 million in 2012 to more than 61 million last year. However, less than a quarter of Chinese migrant workers pay into so-called social insurance schemes — Chinese pension plans — and few have enough in private savings to live comfortably after retirement. As a result, millions of migrants face futures that seem unnervingly similar to their impoverished pasts. Of the 10 long-term migrant workers Sixth Tone interviewed for this story, only one plans to stay in Shenzhen after retirement, because his children have acquired permanent residency in the city. None say that Shenzhen feels like home. A common refrain is the feeling that the city is giving hardworking long-term migrants the cold shoulder as they approach the tail end of their careers. “Shenzhen didn’t just grow naturally into what it is now,” Tan says. “It was built with the blood and sweat of people like me.”

‘If I disappear’: Chinese students make farewell messages amid crackdowns over labor activism WaPo - — The video opens with the 21-year-old sociology student facing the camera. His voice quivers as he recounts his interrogation — his humiliation — for days at the hands of Beijing police. The officials pressured him to quit labor activism and drop out of Peking University, he says. They slapped him until blood streamed from his nose. They jammed headphones into his ears and played hours of propaganda at full volume. On the last day, he alleges, they had him bend over a table naked and spread his buttocks, joking darkly that they would teach him how to insert a listening device. “This all happened on campus,” Qiu Zhanxuan seethes in the video he recorded in February after he said the police released him, temporarily, after a four-day ordeal. “If I disappear,” he adds, “it’ll be because of them.” Qiu disappeared April 29. State security agents seized him that day from Beijing’s outskirts, his classmates say. Qiu’s offense? He was the leader of the Marxist student association at the elite Peking University, a communist of conscience who defied the Communist Party of China. Over the past eight months, China’s ruling party has gone to extraordinary lengths to shut down the small club of students at the country’s top university. Peking University’s young Marxists drew the government’s ire after they campaigned for workers’ rights and openly criticized social inequality and corruption in China. That alone was provocative. In recent years, China’s leaders have been highly sensitive to rumblings of labor unrest as the sputtering economy lays bare the divides between rich and poor — fissures that were formed, and mostly overlooked, during decades of white-hot growth. But the source of the dissent carried an extra sting for the government. Peking University, after all, educates China’s best and brightest, the top 0.1 percent of the country’s high school graduates. And its rebellious young Marxists were doing something particularly embarrassing: They were standing up for disenfranchised workers against the state. They were, in other words, emulating the early Communist Party itself.

Human Rights Watch Reverse-Engineers Mass Surveillance App Used by Police in Xinjiang- Electronic Frontier Foundation - For years, Xinjiang has been a testbed for the Chinese government’s novel digital and physical surveillance tactics, as well as human rights abuses. But there is still a lot that the international human rights community doesn’t know, especially when it comes to post-2016 Xinjiang.Last Wednesday, Human Rights Watch released a report detailing the inner workings of a mass surveillance app used by police and other officials. The application is used by officials to communicate with the larger Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP), the umbrella system for collecting mass surveillance data in Xinjiang.This report uncovers what a modern surveillance state looks like, and can inform our work to end them. First, the report demonstrates IJOP’s system of pervasive surveillance targets just about anyone who deviates from an algorithmically-determined norm. Second, as a result, IJOP requires a massive amount of manual labor, all focused towards data entry and translating the physical world into digital relationships. We stand by Human Rights Watch in calling for the end to violations of human rights within Xinjiang, and within China.

President Xi Invites World To Join China In Building New Internet --Along with the cookouts and beautiful Memorial Day Weekend weather, President Trump offered plenty of distractions for any Americans still tuned into their news feeds - from photos of his golf outing with Shinzo Abe to his presentation of the 'first-ever' US President's Cup. 令和初の国賓としてお迎えしたトランプ大統領と千葉でゴルフです。新しい令和の時代も日米同盟をさらに揺るぎないものとしていきたいと考えています。 — 安倍晋三 (@AbeShinzo) May 26, 2019   Tonight in Tokyo, Japan at the Ryōgoku Kokugikan Stadium, it was my great honor to present the first-ever U.S. President’s Cup to Sumo Grand Champion Asanoyama. Congratulations! A great time had by all, thank you @AbeShinzo!! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 26, 2019 Meanwhile, in China, President Xi was busy exhorting the rest of the world (presumably excluding the US) to cooperate with Beijing in developing new Internet, big data and artificial intelligence resources in a letter to the China International Big Data Industry Expo, which kicked off Sunday in the southwestern city of Guiyang, according to state-run business newswire Xinhua.

Carriers Blank More Sailings as Transpacific Box Rates Continue to Slide– A blanked sailing from the 2M+HMM grouping on the transpacific this week failed to halt the further erosion of freight rates to both the Asia-US west coast and Asia-US east coast destinations. The departure of the 8,500 teu Hyundai Faith, scheduled for this week, was cancelled “to rationalise capacity supply from Asia to the US west coast”, according to vessel-sharing agreement partner MSC. The blanking was on the MSC Yulan service connecting Shanghai, Gwangyang and Busan with Los Angeles. However, the capacity cut failed to push up rates, which this week saw further declines on the transpacific, according to multiple indices. The Shanghai Containerised Freight Index (SCFI) recorded a 3.4% on the Shanghai-US west coast leg to $1,294 per 40ft, while the Shanghai-US east coast leg saw rates drop 2.2% to $2,450 per 40ft. The Freightos Baltic Index broadly concurred with the SCFI assessment. Yesterday, it put the China-US west coast rate at $1,315 per 40ft, and noted that rates had jumped 24% at the beginning of April following a general rate increase (GRI) to $1,555 per 40ft, but “they’ve been dropping ever since”, it reported. “A 10% drop from last week has prices almost back to where they were before the April 1 GRI. They are currently only 7% higher than this time last year, down from being 50% higher in January.” The index recorded the China-US east coast rate at $ 2,776 per 40ft, which is 16% higher than the beginning of April, which it said was “largely due to ongoing Panama Canal capacity reduction”. Freightos chief marketing officer Eytan Buchman added: “While overall ocean prices are still some 5% stronger than this time last year, the gap is shrinking as ocean prices fell this week, led by a 7% drop on transpacific routes. “President Trump’s warning earlier this month that untaxed products might shortly get a 25% trade tariff slapped on them may be sufficient to trigger importers to front-load shipments, especially those who were burnt on duties from May 10’s increase.”

China’s Slowdown Is Global Economy’s Nightmare, Reinhart Says - Beyond trade-war risks and an uncertain monetary policy outlook, looming large for the global economy is the threat that China’s slowdown could be worse than currently seen, said Harvard University economist Carmen Reinhart. “If you were to ask me what would be really bad global news, it’s that the slowdown in China is deeper and longer-lasting, because that carries over to so many things,” Reinhart, who specializes in international finance, said on the sidelines of an Asia investment conference hosted by Nomura Holdings Inc. in Singapore on Tuesday. The U.S.-China trade war shows no signs of letting up, with the global economy in for a $600 billion hit if the conflict worsens. Even before the latest escalation, China’s economy was losing momentum, as reflected by weaker-than-expected data in April.Reinhart, who’s particularly well-known for her work with Harvard colleague Kenneth Rogoff on the last financial crisis, said central banks like the Federal Reserve and European Central Bank are likely to be “patient,” as signs point to a possible U.S. slowdown in the second half, yet still robust labor markets.She said it’s “premature to say that central banks’ attitudes toward inflation have shifted in any dramatic way.” While much of the trade-war focus has been on supply chain shifts, how uncertainty will impact investment, and the modest price effects of the tariffs, “the trade shock is like an adverse supply shock,” and “it could mean there’s more upside risk on the inflation side that’s been really dismissed.”Here are more excerpts from the interview:

The Standoff At Sandy Cay In The South China Sea – Analysis - When I began researching South China Sea issues, the topic was often the butt of deprecating jokes from ‘global strategic thinkers’ because they thought the issues were   ‘inconsequential’.  A common comment was ‘sea level rise will solve all the problems there, ‘ implying that the sea will cover all the contested features and thus make the disputes over ownership irrelevant. Such banality woefully underestimated the significance and complexity of these territorial and jurisdictional conundrums. We now know that these disputes could spark serious kinetic conflict. And instead of disputed features in the Spratlys becoming submerged, the reverse has now happened.  A new natural feature –Sandy Cay–has appeared, and become the focus of a dangerous standoff over its ownership. Sandy Cay is actually three coalescing sand bars situated between Philippines -occupied Thitu (Pag-asa) and China-occupied Subi. They are now above water at high tide. Thus they are legal ‘rocks’ which according to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) entitles them to a 12 nautical mile (nm) territorial sea. A territorial sea is the sovereign territory of a state and this sovereignty extends to the airspace above and the seabed below and of course the associated resources. Given the sweeping claims to parts of the South China Sea, ordinarily a dispute over the ownership of a sandbar would not be a big deal. But it so happens that the sovereign of these sandbars would significantly enhance its strategic and legal position in the area. This probably underlies the recent tiff between the Philippines and China. China appears to be trying to protect its sovereignty claim over Sandy Cay. Indeed, according to the Philippines Ambassador to China, Chito Sta. Romano, China is “watching Sandy Cay”.   The current contretemps arose in January 2019 when a swarm of about 275 Chinese vessels appeared near Thitu beginning in January 2019. The Philippines declared that the presence of the vessels violated its “sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction”. Many thought this swarm was a response to the Philippines construction on Thitu. It may have started out that way, but the focus is now on Sandy Cay and the issue has become much more complicated.

The conflict to come in the South China Sea - As the United States and China volley round after round in an escalating trade war, a second front of conflict is brewing in the contested South China Sea, one that could soon force smaller regional states to take geopolitical sides. This week, a US Navy guided-missile destroyer was deployed near the Scarborough Shoal, a sea feature occupied by China since 2012 but claimed by the Philippines as part of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The deployment was the destroyer’s second freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) near the shoal this month, maneuvers which pointedly challenge China’s recent militarization of the features it controls in the waterway. The sea maneuver came against the backdrop of joint US-Philippine coast guard exercises held earlier this month near the Scarborough Shoal, the two sides’ first ever search-and-rescue exercise near the feature. Chinese coast guard ships closely monitored the exercise, coming within five kilometers of a Philippine ship participating in the drill. Beijing has cause for concern: US and Philippine forces held a joint drill in April that simulated re-taking a remote occupied island. Some believe the exercises signal a bigger future role for the US Coast Guard in the area. This year, China has doubled down on its military and para-military deployments in the South China Sea, prompting concerns about potential clashes with smaller claimant states. China has territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan in the broad maritime area. Beijing claims as much as 90% of the sea in a so-called “nine-dash line” map. In response, US President Donald Trump’s administration has announced it will unveil a new strategy to combat China’s maritime ambitions at the forthcoming Shangri-La Dialogue (May 31-June 2) in Singapore. US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan is scheduled to make an address at the conference. There are already signs of growing naval coordination among US-aligned nations.

Kim Jong-Un Executes Four Officials Over Failed Trump Summit - North Korea's president Kim Jong Un reportedly executed several top officials in March after they failed to reach an agreement with President Trump during a second summit between the two leaders, Bloomberg reports, citing South Korean newspaper Chosun. The officials were reportedly killed by a firing squad in Pyongyang, according to the Mirror. North Korea's special envoy to the U.S., Kim Hyok Chol, was executed along with four additional foreign ministry officials involved in the Hanoi, Vietnam, summit. Chol had been in charge of working-level negotiations for the attempted Hanoi summit in February and had been negotiating with U.S. special representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun. Kim Yong Chol, one of Kim Jong Un's top deputies, was sentenced to hard labor. Chol was best known as being the official who delivered the "big beautiful letter" to President Trump. Kim Sung-hye, another negotiator at the talks and Shin Hye-yong, who worked as an interpreter in Hanoi, were also sent to political prison camps. Hye-yong is accused of "undermining the authority of North Korea's leader" by making a mistake while translating. Kim Jong Un also reportedly told his sister Kim Yo Jong, who also participated in the summit, "to keep a low profile".

Trump becomes first foreign leader to meet Japan’s new emperor - Emperor Naruhito greeted U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday as his first state guest since ascending the throne on May 1, with Trump hailing the meeting as “a great honor” and praising the two countries’ close ties. At the Imperial Palace in central Tokyo, the emperor and Empress Masako received the U.S. president and first lady Melania Trump amid the festive mood following the recent start of the Reiwa Era. The Japanese government chose Trump to be the first state guest of the new era in hopes of showcasing the depth of the bilateral alliance. When Trump visited Japan in 2017 as an official guest he met then-Emperor Akihito, who on April 30 became the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in about two centuries. On Monday morning the imperial couple and the Trumps shook hands and exchanged greetings without using interpreters, before walking together along a red carpet in the courtyard of the palace to attend a welcome ceremony.

Modi’s Message Was Simple: Hindus First - On May 23, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won India’s general elections by a shockingly large margin. Out of 543 seats in parliament, sitting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party won 303, far exceeding the 272 needed to form a government, while the largest opposition party won just 52. Even some of the BJP’s own politicians weren’t sure of a majority until last week’s exit polls. Few were expecting this result. Most analysts had predicted the party’s 2014 tally of 282 seats would be much diminished, and not without reason. Over the last five years, Modi’s government has been roundly and repeatedly criticized. The economy was hit, jobs were lost, farm distress rose, national security was breached, corruption charges were made, and communal violence peaked. The enduring images of India under Modi’s rule were damning: farmers marching in the streets, people crying in endless ATM lines after the prime minister withdrew cash from the economy, Muslims asking Hindu mobs for mercy, widows of paramilitary soldiers crying over their corpses. The party would have to pay—or, at least, that was the common wisdom in New Delhi. But instead, the BJP came back stronger than ever. Why did hundreds of millions of Indians give five more years to a man whose government arguably left the country worse than it was in 2014? For one, Narendra Modi remains personally very popular despite his government’s missteps. He continues to be seen as efficient, incorruptible, and visionary even by many who bemoan the state of the economy or the lack of jobs. His admirers go to any length to defend him against criticism: They argue his party members don’t listen to him, that he is up against “70 years of misrule,” and that his ideas will bear rich fruit in the distant future. Modi’s grip over the country’s massive youth vote has become tighter even though their prospects dipped under his governance. Nearly 18 million Indians between the ages of 18 and 23 voted for the first time in this election. I spoke to first-time voters in at least six states. Many of them were attracted to Modi’s strongman image—his ability to take bold risks, to attack his opponents, and to crush dissent.   The BJP’s cyberwarriors also create and spread fake news and vile propaganda. Most of this false information is meant to mobilize Hindus against Muslims, with imagined revelations about the Muslim roots of the main opposition leader, Rahul Gandhi, and supposed news reports about Congress’s endorsement of Pakistan-aided terrorism in Kashmir. All these techniques hammer home a simple message—and it works. Religious polarization was at the core of the BJP’s election campaign, online and offline. It showed up in the speeches made by the party’s biggest leaders. The party president, Amit Shah, said if his party were voted back into power it would amend citizenship laws to favor refugees who are “Hindus, Buddhist, and Sikhs,” and called Muslim immigrants living in India illegally termites.” The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, said that his non-BJP predecessor had tried to “curb people’s emotions.” He was referring to 2015’s lynching of a Muslim man suspected of eating beef by a Hindu mob and suggesting that the previous government shouldn’t have tried to police such incidents.

Modi’s Win: It Wasn’t the Economy, Stupid! - Narendra Modi’s stunning victory in the parliamentary elections speaks volumes about the transformed India and an India keen to be transformed further. He defied the incumbency handicap to be crowned as India’s Prime Minister for a second term. He got the most impressive mandate despite his Government’s dismal economic record, his unkept promises, mendacity, an unprecedented rise in bigotry and sustained low-level communal violence during the past five years.  Modi’s poll campaign in 2014 was about hope: this time it was about fear. In an atmosphere of fear, lynch mobs fear the other and the victims fear the perpetrators. There was no angry public response to the acts of commission by the Hindu vigilante groups and acts of omission by the state police. This neutralised warnings by intellectuals and opposition parties that Modi’s India was heading towards Fascism. The people accepted electoral authoritarianism for their security.  Sustained propaganda by Modi and his party created religious polarisation. The fear that “Muslims are coming” led to the consolidation of the Hindu votes. The religious card of the Hindu nationalist party worked wonderfully well this time. An allied strand of this electoral strategy was the focus on Islamic Pakistan. Once an Indian Muslim terrorist killed para-military troops in Kashmir, the Modi campaign of toxic nationalism took off furiously. The voters were warned that they live in a nation threatened by enemies within and without.  The Modi Government failed to prevent the killing of the para-military personnel in Kashmir by a terrorist. But Modi’s media management ensured that its criticism was not amplified. Such a killing during the Congress regime would have damned that Prime Minister. Modi in the opposition would have gone to town demanding his resignation for the Government’s huge intelligence failure! Modi ordered a surgical strike into Pakistani territory, publicised it on a massive scale, highlighting his nationalistic credentials and macho image. His followers sang praises of the Modi army! Modi prevented any political harm resulting from his dismal performance on the economic front by distracting the voters’ attention from their economic woes. He harnessed their support for the greater cause of helping him to protect the nation! He avoided any reference to his 2014 promise of “Good Days” that never arrived. No new promise of economic nirvana was made.

How Hinduism Became a Political Weapon in India —The seven pandits draped in cloth of gold are clearly competing against the five in saffron. In front of thousands of assembled pilgrims, each bevy of priests furiously recites Sanskrit chants, deftly swinging pyramids of flaming oil lamps, banging on bells and blowing on conch shells, wafting thick clouds of incense over the moonlit waters of the limpid, unlistening Ganges. The celebration of Ganga Aarti has taken place daily at this spot for hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of years. This is Hinduism. But it is not Hindutva, the creed of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). And the difference between them—between the practices of faith and politics—may determine the future of what will soon be the largest nation on Earth. Religions change—that’s as timeless as time. But the transformation currently under way in Hinduism is among the most significant in modern history. It has much in common with similar changes taking place in Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity: Why are so many radical Islamists poorly versed in the Koran? How can Buddhist monks sworn to nonviolence lead pogroms in Myanmar and Sri Lanka? Why do evangelical Christians care so much about issues never mentioned by Jesus, such as abortion and homosexuality? The answer is not always hypocrisy. For many today, religion is less a matter of what you believe, or even what you do, than of who you are. The term Hindutva can be (sort of) translated as “Hindu-ness,” and that gets (sort of) at what it’s all about: Hinduism not a theology, but an identity. The movement’s intellectual father, Veer Savarkar, wrote its foundational text (helpfully titled Hindutva) a century ago. At the time, the notion of a unified faith or doctrine, let alone a shared identity, would have left most Hindus simply confused: Identity was determined by a person’s family, village, caste. The very term Hindu is merely a loanword (most likely from Persian), referring to “the people who live across the Indus River.” Until the 20th century, most Hindus had never felt the need to describe themselves in any comprehensive way. It was the colonial experience that created Hindutva: Why, Savarkar and his comrades wondered, had India been dominated for centuries by a relatively small number of Muslim Mughals and Christian British? Was monotheism simply better suited for ruling? If so, what did that mean for a faith with more deities than days in the year? During the founding decades of the Hindutva movement, much effort revolved around making Hinduism more like its rivals: building a single shared identity to unite everyone for whom India was, in Savarkar’s words, “his Fatherland as well as his Holy-land.” This definition conveniently roped in Sikhs (a disproportionate number of whom served in the army), Buddhists (whose spiritual cachet helped give the movement credibility), and Jains (who tended, then and now, to be quite rich).

Indian PM Narendra Modi’s Reelection Spells More Frustration For US Tech Giants-- Amazon and Walmart’s problems in India look set to continue after Narendra Modi, the biggest force to embrace the country’s politics in decades, led his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party to a historic landslide re-election on Thursday, reaffirming his popularity in the eyes of the world’s largest democracy. The re-election, which gives Modi’s government another five years in power, will in many ways chart the path of India’s burgeoning startup ecosystem, as well as the local play of Silicon Valley companies that have grown increasingly wary of recent policy changes. At stake is also the future of India’s internet, the second largest in the world. With more than 550 million internet users, the nation has emerged as one of the last great growth markets for Silicon Valley companies. Google, Facebook, and Amazon count India as one of their largest and fastest growing markets. And until late 2016, they enjoyed great dynamics with the Indian government. But in recent years, New Delhi has ordered more internet shutdowns than ever before and puzzled many over crackdowns on sometimes legitimate websites. To top that, the government recently proposed a law that would require any intermediary — telecom operators, messaging apps, and social media services among others — with more than 5 million users to introduce a number of changes to how they operate in the nation.

China Hails Modi Victory - This Is Why - The first Chinese commentaries have appeared on the outcome of the general elections in India. The timing is important, since the counting of votes is yet to take place in India. Yet, Chinese commentaries have presumed that the result cannot be contrary to the trend that the exit polls have indicated - that PM Modi is securing a renewed mandate to head another government. This presumption is broadly in line with the estimations by Chinese  commentators in the recent weeks and months. The Chinese commentators have not hidden their acclamation of the Modi government. Contrary to the common opinion among Indians that the Modi government showed a pro-US tilt in foreign policies, the Chinese (and Russian) opinion has been generally positive about Indian policies through the past 5 years. China was not particularly perturbed that India has a deepening engagement with the US or that India’s non-alignment is in any great danger. This opinion was reinforced following Modi’s informal summit with the Chinese President Xi Jinping last year in April in Wuhan and with Russian President Vladimir Putin a month later in Sochi. It stands to reason that both Xi and Putin have sized up Modi from very close, intimate quarters and decided that they could do business with him even in new Cold War conditions. In fact, in an extraordinary gesture of camaraderie, the Kremlin announced the decision to confer Russia’s most prestigious national award to Modi after the Indian election got under way. A commentary by the “Observer” in the Chinese communist party newspaper Global Times on May 20 is self-revealing in its display of a sense of relief that Modi will be at the helm of affairs in Delhi at a critical juncture in the geopolitics of the region. The following excerpts will  be of interest:

  • 1. “Modi’s reelection will further stabilise and improve China-India relations. During Modi’s term of office, India’s relations with China show the trend of steady development. The meeting between President Xi Jinping and Modi in 2018 opened a new chapter for the two countries’ bilateral ties and laid the foundation for future relations.”
  • 2. Admittedly, Modi’s actions have also triggered controversy in China — such as his initial bonhomie with the Tibetan leadership based in Dharamsala, his three visits to Arunachal Pradesh or the rising trend of Hindu nationalism (which “somewhat contained Modi’s policies towards China.) But these were actions with an eye of India’s domestic politics with the aim to “drum up support” for the Bharatiya Janata Party, while “generally speaking, Modi’s policies have been sound.”
  • 3. “Modi separated political conflicts from economic cooperation, a wise move that brings reciprocal results to both countries (India and China). Modi knows that tense relations with China are not in line with India’s interests.”
  • 4. “India joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank although the US and Japan strongly opposed… India has stuck to its policy of non-alignment and did not adjust its policies toward China according to Washington’s strategy for Beijing. These are all positive diplomatic achievements of the Modi administration.”
  • 5. Looking ahead, “these policies will continue if Modi is successfully re-elected… Modi’s reelection benefits the continuity of his policies toward China and the two countries’ mutual trust.”
  • 6. “India’s dispute with Pakistan is an important factor that influences China-India relations. China always encourages the two countries to build mutual trust through cooperation in trade, economies, anti-terrorism and other areas. As Pakistan and India are both members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, they will have more cooperation within the framework.”

52,000 teachers strike in New Zealand - More than 52,000 teachers and principals went on strike yesterday across New Zealand. It was one of the country’s biggest-ever strikes. In fact, the one-day walkout was an historic event, marking a major escalation in the struggles of the working class, which is coming into direct conflict with the Labour Party-led coalition government. It was the first time primary and secondary teachers have carried out strike action together. Their separate unions, the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) and the Post-Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA), were forced to call the strike because of the growing anger of teachers to their deteriorating conditions. The unions, however, will be working desperately behind the scenes to negotiate a sellout deal to avoid any further strikes and wind down the teachers’ movement. The vast majority of public schools were completely closed, with nearly 800,000 students affected. In Auckland, 15,000 teachers and supporters marched down Queen Street. In Wellington, approximately 5,000 marched to parliament. Thousands protested in Christchurch, Dunedin, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Whangarei, Invercargill, New Plymouth, Rotorua and Nelson. Pickets were organised in many smaller towns throughout the country. Thousands of parents, workers and students joined the protests.The action occurred on the eve of the government’s second annual budget, fraudulently promoted as a “wellbeing budget.” The Labour-NZ First-Greens coalition is actually deepening the previous National Party government’s austerity measures, severely underfunding healthcare, education and other basic services, while giving billions to the military and police.The working class is seeking to fight back against these conditions. There has been a wave of stoppages over the past two years, including a nationwide strike last year by 30,000 nurses and healthcare assistants, and several strikes by 3,000 doctors in response to the crisis in public hospitals. Midwives, ambulance workers, public transport workers and fast food workers have taken industrial action also.

As Trump Slaps Tariffs On China, Africa Creates World's Largest Free-Trade Zone - As global trade falls off a cliff to levels last seen during the recession, stoking fears about the potential re-run of a period most investors would probably rather forget, a free-trade savior has emerged in an often overlooked corner of the world: The African Union, which has just ratified what will purportedly become the largest free-trade zone by population that the world has ever seen. According to RT, it could boost trade in Africa by as much as 50%.  While the US ratchets up trade tensions with Europe and Japan and threatens to ratchet up tariffs on Chinese imports, the African Continental Free Trade Area, or AfCFTA, will become the largest free trade deal since 1995 when it takes effect on Thursday.  The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said over the weekend that the remaining 22 ratifications had been received. The last two were from Sierra Leone and the Sahrawi Republic, and were received by the African Union on April 29. All but three countries - Benin, Eritrea and Nigeria - of the 55 countries in Africa have signed on to the deal. According to the UN, if Nigeria joins the AfCFTA, then intra-African trade could grow by more than 50% in the next five years.  The African Union’s trade commissioner Albert Muchanga told Fortune: "When you look at the African economies right now, their basic problem is fragmentation.""They’re very small economies in relation to the rest of the world. Investors find it very difficult to come up with large-scale investments in those small markets," he said, adding: "We’re moving away from fragmentation, to attract long-term and large-scale investment."AfCFTA has been a flagship project of the African Union’s "Agenda 2063" development vision for roughly half a decade. The initial proposal was approved by the African Union in 2012 and member states started working on a draft in 2015.In March 2018, the leaders of 44 African countries endorsed the agreement during a summit in Rwanda. Participants in the agreement are even considering the possibility that they might use a common currency.Of course, aside from the members themselves, one of the biggest beneficiaries of this deal will be Beijing, which has longstanding bilateral trade deals with dozens of countries in Africa, from which it imports raw materials. Africa is also home to one of the greatest concentrations of BRI-related projects.And given Washington's protectionist bent under the Trump Administration, the timing couldn't be better.

Venezuela economy shrank 22.5% in Q3 2018 -central bank (Reuters) - Venezuela’s economy shrank 22.5% percent in the third quarter of 2018 with respect to the same period a year earlier, the central bank reported on its website, in the first update of economic indicators in more than three years.The OPEC nation’s oil export earnings dropped to $29.8 billion in 2018 from $31.5 billion in 2017, according to figures posted on the website. Monthly inflation in April was 33.8%, while 2018 full-year inflation reached 130,060%, according to the figures.

The human cost of America’s “economic war” in Venezuela  - When Juan Guaidó stood before crowds in Caracas in January todeclare himself the president of Venezuela, it ushered in a new era in the country. The United States, Canada and their allies in the regionswiftly recognised Guaidó’s parallel government over that of president Nicolas Maduro’s. The Trump administration then set out to do more: impose new sanctions on an embittered, polarised nation, sanctions that continue to be deeply punitive towards everyday Venezuelans.The latest assessment of these sanctions can be found in a new report by US think tank Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), by economists Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs. Among their many findings, the researchers conclude that sanctions from 2017 to 2018 resulted in the deaths of 40,000 Venezuelans, while sanctions since January 2019 have led to a 36.4 percent plunge in oil production. The report’s authors predict thousands more deaths this year should the measures continue, with the civilian population, not government officials, bearing the brunt of their impact.“Venezuela’s economic crisis is routinely blamed all on Venezuela,” Sachs said of the findings. “American sanctions are deliberately aiming to wreck Venezuela’s economy and thereby lead to regime change. It’s a fruitless, heartless, illegal, and failed policy, causing grave harm to the Venezuelan people.”It was reported just this week that the United States is preparing new sanctions targeting the country’s food aid program, known by its Spanish acronym, CLAP – which many Venezuelans rely on. It was with this backdrop that a global coalition called End Venezuela Sanctions organised a ten-day fact-finding delegation to Venezuela from March 26 to April 7, 2019 to assess the impact of foreign sanctions there.

Video: US Sanctions Leave Millions of Venezuelans Without Water - The Real News Network video & transcript

Facebook's Zuckerberg ignores subpoena from Canadian parliament, risks being held in contempt - Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg did not attend a hearing in Ottawa on Tuesday, despite receiving summonses from the Canadian parliament.The decision could result in the executives being held in contempt of parliament, the senior Canadian politician who sent the summons told CNN. The last time a member of the public was held in contempt by the parliament was 1913, according to the legislature's records.Facebook instead sent two representatives from its public policy team to the hearing, which was tied to a gathering of an international committee examining Silicon Valley's impact on privacy and democracy.Multiple lawmakers pointed out that Zuckerberg's failure to show up contradicted what he wrote in an op-ed in March when he wrote he was "looking forward to discussing them [online issues] with lawmakers around the world." Bob Zimmer MP, the chair of the committee, slammed the executives for not attending."Shame on Mark Zuckerberg and shame on Sheryl Sandberg for not showing up today," he said toward the end of the meeting.In a contentious exchange, British MP Damian Collins asked why Facebook had not removed amanipulated video of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that went viral last week. Collins suggested that Facebook's refusal to remove the video was "irresponsible" and gave a "green light" to anyone to make false videos about politicians. YouTube removed the video. Neil Potts, Facebook's director of public policy, said the company had downranked the video, meaning it will show up in fewer people's News Feeds.

Facebook still can't control the far-right political propaganda monster it built -  News about Facebook in the week leading up to the European Union Parliamentary elections reinforced the image of a company unable to control a platform that has been hijacked by right-wing extremists.In the U.S., pundits, politicians, and journalists were shocked — shocked! — that Facebook refused to remove a doctored video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.While the video gained millions of views, a Facebook spokesperson offered a non-explanation for the decision, saying: “We think it’s important for people to make their own informed choice for what to believe.” But in Europe the picture was even grimmer. A study dubbed “Fakewatch” released by global citizens’ movement Avaaz, which monitors election freedom and disinformation, found what the group identified as 500 suspicious pages and groups linked to right-wing and anti-EU organizations that were spreading massive disinformation.“Far-right and anti-EU groups are weaponizing social media at scale to spread false and hateful content,” the study says. “Our findings were shared with Facebook and resulted in an unprecedented shutdown of Facebook pages just before voters head to the polls.”Indeed, Facebook subsequently took down 77 of the pages and groups reported by Avaaz. Overall, those 500 pages and groups were followed by 32 million people and had more than 67 million “interactions”  (comments, likes, shares) over the past three months. This has become a standard cycle in Europe. Facebook says it is cracking down on such content, but it is often Avaaz reporting the malfeasance and abuse that prompts action. Last month, Avaaz reported widespread abuses of Facebook and WhatsApp ahead of Spanish elections, after which Facebook belatedly removed some pages and groups.

 Why the Global Billionaire Population Is Declining -The global billionaire population and their wealth both declined in 2018, against the backdrop of U.S.-China trade tensions, heightened market volatility, and a slowdown in economic growth, according to Wealth-X, a global wealth intelligence and insight provider.The number of billionaires dropped 5.4% to 2,604 last year, a decrease from 2017’s record 2,754, according to Wealth-X’s Billionaire Census released Thursday.This was only the second time the global billionaire population shrunk on a yearly basis since the financial crisis a decade ago, the report said.The combined wealth of the global billionaires was estimated at US$8.562 trillion in 2018, falling 7% from a year ago.“In contrast to the buoyant wealth gains enjoyed in 2017, when almost every major asset class delivered strong returns, the year 2018 proved more challenging for the global billionaire class,” said Wealth-X.The decline was led by Asia, where the billionaire population fell 13.6% to 677 in 2018, and the total billionaires’ wealth decreased 8.5% to US$2.163 trillion. The main factor contributing to Asia’s fall was China’s tariff conflict with the U.S., which weighed on demand, sentiment, and returns across Asia. This was compounded by a cyclical slowdown in growth, capital outflows, a lending clampdown in China’s banking sector, and currency weakness against the U.S. dollar, according to the report.

Bankers Stunned as Negative Rates Sweep Across Danish Mortgages -  At the biggest mortgage bank in the world’s largest covered-bond market, a banker took a few steps away from his desk this week to make sure his eyes weren’t deceiving him. As mortgage-bond refinancing auctions came to a close in Denmark, it was clear that homeowners in the country were about to get negative interest rates on their loans for all maturities through to five years, representing multiple all-time lows for borrowing costs. “During this week’s auctions, there were three times when I had to stand back a little from the screen and raise my eyebrows somewhat,” said Jeppe Borre, who analyzes the mortgage-bond market from a unit of the Nykredit group that dominates Denmark’s $450 billion home-loan industry.For one-year adjustable-rate mortgage bonds, Nykredit’s refinancing auctions resulted in a negative rate of 0.23%. The three-year rate was minus 0.28%, while the five-year rate was minus 0.04%. The record-low mortgage rates, which don’t take into account the fees that homeowners pay their banks, are the latest reflection of the global shift in the monetary environment as central banks delay plans to remove stimulus amid concerns about economic growth.  Denmark has had negative rates longer than any other country. The central bank in Copenhagen first pushed its main rate below zero in the middle of 2012, in an effort to defend the krone’s peg to the euro. The ultra-low rate environment has dragged down the entire Danish yield curve, with households in the country paying as little as 1% to borrow for 30 years. That’s considerably less than the U.S. government.

EU election: Surge for Greens and euroskeptics, losses for centrist blocs -s of voters across the EU cast their ballots on the final day of voting for the European Parliament elections, in a poll that will shape the continent's politics for the next five years. Preliminary results early Monday morning showed the grand coalition between the center-right European People's Party (EPP) and the center-left Socialist and Democrats (S&D) blocs will lose their majority in 751-seat legislature. The results indicate the European Parliament will have a new balance of power, with the centrist Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), far-right euroskeptic parties and the Greens/European Free Alliance all making gains. The parliamentary arithmetic will make for complex jostling for the EU's top five posts when the 28 national European leaders meet in Brussels on Tuesday. Provisional results have put the EPP in first place with 179 seats, down sharply from 216 seats in the 2014 election. The conservative bloc was followed by the S&D with 150 seats, a drop from 185 seats in the last election. ALDE and its allies came in third with 107 seats, a huge jump from 69 seats in the last election. They were followed by the Greens/European Free Alliance with 70 seats, up from 52 spots in the last parliament. The European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) won 58 seats. Read more: What does the European Parliament actually do? The two euroskeptic blocs, Europe of Nations and Freedom Group (ENF) and Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD), won 58 and 56 seats, respectively. Combined, the euroskeptic parties picked up 33 seats compared to the last election. The European United Left-Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) secured 38 seats, down 14, while Others/Non-attached won the remaining 35 seats.

European election’s winners and losers This European election was not a contest with an overarching continental narrative, but a series of national and regional battles. For the two main party groupings in the European Parliament (each losing seats and with less than a quarter of the vote), there will be relief that the results were not worse than they turned out. Here's POLITICO's guide to the biggest winners and losers: Voter turnout rose dramatically, making the voting process the biggest winner, after 40 years of declining participation. Champagne corks will be popping in Brussels if national election authorities confirm Monday that the magic 50 percent turnout figure was reached (currently it is projected to hit 50.95 percent). The center-right European People’s Party fell below 25 percent of the vote for the first time since 1989, and the Socialists are hovering at about 20 percent. That's their worst performance since European Parliament direct elections began in 1979. The bright spots for the big parties came in Italy, where the Democratic Party pushed past the 5Star Movement to take second place and 19 seats. In Spain too, the Socialist party won a clear victory and grew to 18 seats. In Greece, the EPP-aligned New Democracy will win nine seats. By convincingly beating the far-left governing party Syriza, it has prompted Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to call a national election in June. Of the parties that grew, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini’s alliance is doing best — essentially doubling in size to 70-75 seats, but getting nowhere close to dominance in Parliament. His League colleagues will be lucky to lead the fourth-biggest group in Parliament. The liberal ALDE alliance also gained about 35 seats, thanks mostly to Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche movement, to hit 100-105 seats and take a clear third place. The EU's "Green wave" is both real and geographically limited. Green parties finished second and third in countries including Germany, France, Finland and Luxembourg. Yet Green parties have won no seats in Southern and Eastern Europe. They won only two seats in Central Europe, from Austria, itself a decline on the 2014 Austrian result. Even so, a surge in support for the Greens in the U.K. means the group is likely to beat Salvini's alliance. Euroskeptic parties had their best showing in Hungary where Viktor Orbán's ruling Fidesz party scored 53 percent, enough for 13 seats. Euroskeptics won 62 percent overall there. Fidesz will now need to decide whether to moderate and stay within the EPP, or to branch out and join a Euroskeptic party group. The outcome may affect the EPP’s bargaining power for top jobs like European Commission president. In Poland, Euroskeptics captured 53 percent of the vote. And across the Parliament, Euroskeptic parties look set to end the night with 235 seats.

Centrist bloc loses majority in EU vote as Greens and euroskeptics gain - The EU Parliament will be much more fragmented over the next five years with the established centrist bloc set to fall short of securing a majority at this week’s election, early results show. The current projection from the European parliament is that center-right and center-left blocks will end up with a total of 329 seats out of 751.The lack of a majority for the centrist bloc — the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the center-left Socialist and Democrats (S&D) which has held power in Brussels for several decades — could further complicate decision-making at the European Union. Pro-EU parties will hold onto two-thirds of the seats at the EU Parliament, but their nationalist opponents have also produced solid results.Italy’s anti-immigration Lega party has reportedly secured 28 seats, essentially doubling its level of national support. Euroskeptic groups in France and the U.K. look to have held the gains they saw in 2014 but that said, the results on Monday morning suggested a strong showing for Liberal and Green parties. Voter turnout has typically been one of the EU election’s biggest challenges. Indications show that figure has hit 51% this year, up from 43% in the 2014 election. This year’s vote was particularly relevant due to the surge of anti-EU and nationalist parties across the region. However, the pro-EU parties look to have largely held their ground in many countries and the euro rose slightly in early trading Monday.

The European Left in Disarray - Despite its pretensions to the contrary, the European Union is not a particularly democratic institution. Most of its powerful posts are filled by appointment from above rather than elected by the population. Especially since the fiscal reforms enacted after the 2008 financial crisis, it often functions as a mere straitjacket, preventing individual member-states from breaking with the austerity imposed by budget control measures like the European Semester program.From the outset, the structures that eventually became the EU were characterized by agreements brokered between elites, beginning with the European Coal and Steel Community drawn up by the political classes of West Germany, France, and a smattering of other states in the wake of World War II. Rather than a coherent federal entity with interlocking levels of authority, the EU has tended to grow and develop as circumstances allow, a product of improvisation and responses to external shocks. For all these reasons, voters rightly see national politics as much more immediately relevant to their lives, and most write off what happens in Brussels as little more than wasteful tinkering by out-of-touch bureaucrats. This attitude is stronger than ever following the fallout of the 2008 crisis and the ongoing economic stagnation across most of the Union. Politicians of the center speak in passionate tones about “our Europe,” but everybody knows that, for better or worse, most voters aren’t particularly interested.  The political fallout of this turmoil has been a classic “crisis of representation,”whereby the traditional parties of government grow increasingly unpopular and are no longer able to command stable parliamentary majorities. In recent years, the crisis has largely favored the populist right. Its comparatively simple, often demagogic proposals appear comparatively plausible given the EU’s perceived dysfunctionality and authoritarian tendencies. It poses as offering the most direct solutions. Nationalists have proven particularly successful in the EU’s new eastern outposts. But the revival of the far right is a continent-wide phenomenon that cannot be written off as a by-product of culture or economic frustration.

Macron Humbled in France as Exit Polls Show Le Pen Win --President Emmanuel Macron is set to suffer a blow in Sunday’s European parliamentary elections with French voters handing victory to Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, according to exit polls. Macron’s Republic on The Move will have 22.5% of the vote compared with 24% for the nationalist and anti-European Le Pen, according to pollsters Ifop. The Greens were third with 13%, the conservative Republicans got 8% and the Socialists 6.5%. This is Le Pen’s second straight victory in the EU vote. In 2014 she beat the conservatives by 4 percentage points with Macron’s Socialist predecessor Francois Hollande trailing in third. The result is a setback for the 41-year-old Macron who played a more prominent role in the campaign than any other European leader as he sought to mobilize voters. The president is fighting for legitimacy as he tries to persuade the rest of the European Union to pursue tighter integration. Polls in Germany showed Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats came first, although with fewer seats than last time. “For Macron this was a defining election and it’s him who made it like that,” said Bernard Sananes, president of Elabe polling institute. “Finishing second would mean a sense of isolation in Europe.” The ballot follows months of protests which have seen looting and vandalism in Paris. Macron responded with a raft of new spending plans and tax cuts to appease the Yellow Vest movement but the measures failed to convince voters. Turnout was up around 10 percentage points from 2014 and the increase was particularly marked in regions where Le Pen’s party has gained ground in the past years.

Le Pen’s far-right National Rally wins European election vote in France - The results of Sunday’s European election vote in France point to an extraordinary degree of hostility toward and alienation from the entire capitalist political establishment among workers and young people. However, such is the rottenness of the official “left” and pseudo-left of the Socialist Party and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Unsubmissive France that the far-right National Rally (RN) of Marine Le Pen was able to secure a narrow victory. She did so by exploiting anger over conditions of social misery, posturing as an anti-establishment tribune of “le peuple” against the elites, and demagogically blaming immigrants for the social crisis caused by capitalism. The party of President Emmanuel Macron, which for six months has responded to “yellow vest” protests with mass arrests, tear gas, rubber bullets and the deployment of the military, came in second with 22.41 percent of the vote, against the National Rally’s 23.3 percent. The largest portion of the electorate—48.7 percent, according to Ipsos polling—refused to vote for anyone at all. Among those earning less than 1,200 euros per month, the abstention rate was 58 percent. It was 52 percent for those earning between 1,200 and 2,000 euros. A significant majority of the youth, more than 60 percent of those under 34, did not vote. Relatively large numbers of workers voted for Le Pen’s party not out of support for its policies, but as a protest against the policies of the government and the “president of the rich,” who printed tens of thousands of leaflets displaying only his own face, despite not being a candidate. The RN received the ballots of 26 percent of voters who said they did not subscribe to any party, by far the largest percentage of any candidate slate. The two traditional capitalist parties that together have ruled France since the Algerian War of Independence in the 1950s and early 1960s, the Socialist Party (PS) and the Republicans, were decimated, receiving a combined 14 percent.

Macron Suffers Huge Blow With Defeat To Le Pen - In what may be the biggest shock from today's European parliamentary elections, President Emmanuel Macron suffered a major blow with French voters set to hand a victory to Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, picking the vocal Eurosceptic and nationalist over the former Rothschild banker. Macron’s En Marche (Republic on The Move) will have just 22.5% of the vote compared with 24% for Le Pen, according to pollsters Ifop. With Macron and Le Pen neck and neck ahead of the elections, the outcome will be a humiliation for the liberal politician who said before the elections that everything less than 1st place would be a defeat. Rounding out the The Greens were third with 13%, the conservative Republicans got 8%, while the implosion of the Socialists continues, coming in dead last with just 6.5% of the vote.  Macron's default took place even as turnout was up around 10% points from 2014, however the increase was particularly marked in regions where Le Pen’s party has gained ground in the past years. In other words, as establishment apathy gets entrenched, the populist vote is increasingly demanding to be heard.It gets worse: to the shock of globalists and statists everywhere, this is Le Pen’s second straight victory in the EU vote. In 2014 she beat the conservatives by 4 percentage points with Macron’s Socialist predecessor Francois Hollande trailing in third.As Bloomberg notes, the result is a setback for the 41-year-old Macron who played a more prominent role in the campaign than any other European leader as he sought to mobilize voters.

Salvini- I Want A Trump-Style Revolution In Italy - Matteo Salvini, the deputy prime minister of Italy and leader of the nationalist League Movement, called for a “Trump-style” revolution in his cash-strapped country.  As The Express notes, Salvini has clashed with Brussels over Italy’s budget proposals and has also enraged European Union bosses with his hardline stance on immigration. And his proposals for tax reforms inspired by those passed introduced in the US by Mr Trump’s White House administration are sure to ruffle more feathers in Europe.“I want a Trump-style revolution for Italy.The only way to reduce public debt is by growing and cutting taxes.That’s why a Trump-like revolution is dear to my heart.I won’t compromise on taxes. The whole government team must believe in this."Salvini dismissed reports of rifts within the coalition government.“I have absolute trust in Conte and the government.I carry forward decrees, I do not listen to background noise.No one likes rows. I close my mouth and my ears and I look forward.Today I hope to bring home the security decree, it’s my job.”Additionally, the deputy Italian PM took credit for a clampdown on migrants trying to enter Italy illegally via the Mediterranean.“I reduced the landings by 90 percent. There were 11,000 last year, today they are 1,100.I don’t need to do anything else, the landings have been reduced and the expulsions are twice the amount of arrivals.I don’t need new ideas and what I’m doing I’m doing it without Europe, alone and with this government.” Italy goes to the polls on Sunday in the European elections but Mr Salvini would not be drawn on predictions.

EU Confirms Italy Risks Massive Fine Over Debt, Sending Euro To Session Lows -Following an unconfirmed report on Monday that Italy faces a €3.5 billion fine from the European Commission unless Europe's largest sovereign debtor curbs its debt levels, moments ago Bloomberg confirmed that the Commission has indeed put Italy's debt once again in its sights, sending a letter to the Italian finance minister in which it warned Italy that it has not made sufficient progress towards compliance with its debt-reduction obligations, and is at risk of disciplinary measures in accordance with EU law. The Commission specifically asked Italy to provide explanations about 2018 debt by May 31, which the Commission will take into account in its final report on the matter. In response, an Italian Finance Ministry spokesman said minister Giovanni Tria "received as expected" a letter sent by the European Commission on the nation’s debt and “stands ready to reply." And while the European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Moscovici, noted yesterday that he is not in favor of sanctioning Italy, the market is having flashbacks to the controversial Italian deficit negotiations of 2018 which sent Italian bond yields soaring, and the result was an immediate drop in the Euro to session lows... ... while Italian 10Y bond yields bounced. The European warning comes at a time when Italy's resurgent de facto leader, and Deputy Prime Minister, Matteo Salvini, fresh off a rousing electoral victory, said he’ll now devote all his energy to changing the European Union’s “old and obsolete rules” and hammered the bloc over the prospect of penalties against Italy. He went so far as to demand for the ECB to fund Italian deficit spending. It also comes at a time when the future of Italy's coalition government is at stake, with tensions between 5-Star and Salvini's League threatening to collapse the current regime, leading to elections that could see Salvini take unilateral control. In fact, overnight, Italy's prime minister Conte said he plans to ask Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini for an expression of confidence in order to continue in his position, according to La Stampa. 

Fiat-Chrysler announces merger, threatens jobs bloodbath - Italian-American auto conglomerate Fiat-Chrysler (FCA) announced a merger proposal with French automaker Renault in a press release yesterday. If accepted by Renault’s board, the merger would create the world’s third-largest automaker by unit sales. The proposed deal would create a combined entity with 50 percent ownership by each company’s shareholders. The deal is effectively a merger of equals, although FCA’s announcement declined to use that term, perhaps wary that Chrysler’s unsuccessful “merger of equals” with German automaker Daimler in 1998 would spook investors. FCA shareholders would rake in cash immediately from a $2.8 billion equalizing dividend to offset the larger market capitalization of FCA, with a potential $280 million dividend to follow. The deal would save the new company $5.6 billion worth of “estimated annual run rate synergies,” according to the press release, primarily from “the convergence of platforms, the consolidation of powertrain and electrification investment and the benefits of scale,” the latter including a reduction of number of vehicle and engine types offered by the combined company. The deal has not yet been accepted by the Renault board of directors and must also pass regulatory and governmental hurdles, including the support of the French government, whose 15 percent stake in Renault carries double voting rights (which would not carry over under the terms of the merger). However, early indications from the Macron administration were positive. A government spokeswoman declared the deal would be “good for Europe” by creating a “European industrial ‘giant,’” suggesting the government sees merger as a possible means of bolstering the European auto industry against its North American and Asian rivals. The press release claims that cost savings will be realized without any plant closures. These assurances are simply not credible. The touted “synergies” from the merger cannot be realized except through a job bloodbath. One of the most likely areas to face the chopping block would be FCA’s operations in Europe, which account for a small fraction of its global profits but one-third of its workforce. Many of its European plants are operating at below 50 percent capacity, and its workforce at the Mirafiori plant in Turin, Italy is currently down to an average of 7 workdays per month, according to Automotive News.

Filling Europe’s top jobs just got trickier The dust has barely settled on the European elections but already attention is focused on what the new results will mean for the top jobs in Europe and the legislative priorities of the fresh five year cycle. Under the EU treaties, EU leaders nominate the new President of the European Commission "taking account" of the results of the European elections, and then the parliament accepts the nomination - or not - by an absolute majority.  That usually meant the political family with the biggest number of seats would get first dibs on the Commission job, with the other jobs being shared out according to a Rubik’s Cube of variables, taking in geography, politics, precedent, gender and so on. In 2014 the European Parliament took a novel interpretation of that: political groups would select a lead candidate (Spitzenkandidat) in advance of the elections so voters would feel they had a say in who got to become Commission president.  This time round the process has been made murkier by a more fragmented parliament, and the fact that both mainstream parties - the EPP and Socialists (S&D) - have lost around 40 seats each. Amid signs that there was going to be a constitutionally prickly stand-off between the parliament and the European Council - ie, heads of government - whose right it was to make the appointment, Donald Tusk, the Council President, some weeks ago announced a dinner of leaders for tomorrow night, less than two days after the votes started to come in.  This was seen as a way to steal a march on the Parliament, which - it was thought - would still be trying to find its feet so soon after the results.

Austrian Government Collapses After Youngest-Ever Chancellor Loses Confidence Vote --Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has been removed from office in a stunning culmination of a scandal wherein a political ally was caught red-handed on tape discussing bribes from a woman he thought was the niece of a Russian oligarch. .The so-called "Ibiza-gate" scandal, named after the Spanish island where the video was secretly filmed in 2017, resulted in far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) leader and Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache resigning his posts.On Monday opposition leaders in parliament went further and held a no-confidence vote, ousting the country's leader Chancellor Kurz from office, in a first in Austria's post-war history.Social Democrat (SPÖ) leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner, who had initially proposed the no confidence vote, slammed Kurz during the proceeding, saying, “You have said a lot, but have not yet said that your government has failed. You alone are responsible for it.” The video had previously forced Kurz to end his coalition with the FPOe and call for early elections, but parliament has insisted the now former chancellor take full responsibility for the corruption scandal, in spite of the 32-year old leader's conservative People's Party (OeVP) doing well in EU parliament elections, expected to gain 34.9% of the vote and pick up two extra seats.

EU election: AfD surge in eastern Germany sets up clash of cultures - DW --In Sunday's European Parliament elections, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) won 11% of the vote in Germany — almost 2 percentage points less than the right-wing populists scored in federal elections in 2017.Although the party finished in fourth place nationally, it fared far better in Germany's formerly communist eastern states. In Saxony and Brandenburg, the AfD beat Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) into second place. In Thuringia, it was only 2 points behind.Worryingly for Merkel, all three states go to the polls once more in regional elections in autumn.Despite huge investments since German reunification in 1990, former East German states still suffer from higher unemployment, lower living standards and lower wages than the rest of the country.The AfD tapped into voter frustration by branding mass migration to Germany and the nation's transition to renewable energies as clear economic threats in a region where coal is king and the vast majority of citizens are ethnically German. "Eastern Germans are wired differently, first and foremost because the classic social setup of the [former] West is nonexistent in the [former] East," Alexander Gauland, co-leader of the AfD, told reporters on Monday. 

Merkel Decides Her Chosen Successor Isn't Up to the Job-- Angela Merkel has given up hope on her heir apparent and is hunkering down in office in the face of growing turmoil in Germany’s ruling party. Merkel has decided that Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who took over as leader of the Christian Democratic Union in December, is not up to the country’s top job, according to two officials with knowledge of her thinking. As a result, the chancellor has become more determined than ever to stay in power until her term ends in 2021, the officials said. Asked about Bloomberg’s report at a news conference in Brussels late on Tuesday, Merkel dismissed it as “nonsense” and said she was “not willing to comment on this any further.” She was attending a summit of European Union leaders. In recent months AKK, as Kramp-Karrenbauer is known, slid in opinion polls, roiled the party with a failed effort to accelerate Merkel’s exit, and on Sunday oversaw the CDU’s worst ever result in a national election. AKK’s failure to grasp the baton leaves Germany’s governing party flailing as the leadership prepares to meet June 2 and 3 to pore over the losses in the European Union election. It’s likely to be an awkward encounter between the chancellor and her one-time protegee: AKK convened the session without warning Merkel and the officials say it was designed to put pressure on the chancellor to move aside. AKK has also alienated the chancellor by reaching out to her conservative enemies within the CDU. Merkel has resolved to spend no more political capital helping AKK, the officials said. But her ability to change the party’s direction is limited now that she has handed over control of the machinery. The chancellor is expecting to come under more pressure to step aside as AKK’s political problems mount, they added. The direction of the party is completely open again, one official said, and what happens after 2021 is entirely uncertain.

German Unemployment Explodes Most Since Financial Crisis, Sending Bund Yields Near Record Lows - With China failing to spark a global reflationary wave, prompting fears that Beijing's record credit injection to start 2019 was for nothing and a repeat of the Shanghai Accord won't take place, coupled with collapsing global trade, which we noted earlier this month... on Wednesday Germany reported that its economy appears to have finally hit major pothole as German unemployment unexpectedly surged for the first time in almost two years as the economic slowdown finally started to take a toll on the labor market, according to Bloomberg. Specifically, in May the number of people out of work climbed by 60,000 compared with economists’ forecasts for a decline of 8,000, while the jobless rate also increased to 5% from a record-low 4.9%. According to Germany's Federal Labor Agency about two-thirds of the increase was due to reclassification of some people in the statistics, however it also blamed a slowdown in Europe’s largest economy. “We are seeing the first signs of a weakening economy on unemployment,” it said on Wednesday. It added that demand for new employees is still at a high level, but is softening. This provided further impetus to buy German bunds, pushing the yield on the benchmark paper further below zero, to a near-record -0.167%. Until recently, continued strength in Germany’s labor market helped boost consumer spending and support the economy. However, a turnaround in fortunes could be very damaging for Europe's largest economy, given ongoing weakness in manufacturing and the auto industry, as well as trade tensions that threaten to hit exports. Business confidence plunged this month to the weakest in more than four years. Naturally, should German growth suddenly hit a brick wall it would have dramatic consequences for the entire Eurozone. As Bloomberg notes, "a turnaround in fortunes could be very damaging, given ongoing weakness in manufacturing and the auto industry, as well as trade tensions that threaten to hit exports."

Israel Shocked After Germany Warns Jews Not To Wear Skullcaps - Germany's top official on anti-Semitism has caused a stir by saying that he would not advise Jews wear skullcaps in certain parts of the country, according to AP.  Felix Klein said in an interview published Saturday that his "opinion has unfortunately changed compared with what it used to be" and that he couldn't "recommend to Jews that they wear the skullcap at all times everywhere in Germany." He also said German police were not familiar with how to deal with anti-Semitic crimes: "Many of them don’t know what's allowed and what's not. There is a clear definition of anti-Semitism and cops should be taught it during their training."He didn't elaborate further on details of what he meant, including what times and places he was referring to. Germany is home to about 100,000 Jewish citizens, according to Haaretz.  Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said on Sunday that he was "shocked" by the comment: "The statement of the German government's anti-Semitism commissioner that it would be preferable for Jews not wear a kippa in Germany out of fear for their safety, shocked me deeply."He continued: "We will never submit, will never lower our gaze and will never react to anti-Semitism with defeatism — and expect and demand our allies act in the same way."

Brexit Party set to win most UK seats in EU elections - Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is set to claim the most U.K. seats in the European Union’s parliament following last week’s European elections, according to early tallies, CNBC reports. Farage, the former leader of the U.K. Independence Party and a major backer of efforts to leave the EU before and after the 2016 Brexit referendum, formed the new party in April. Initial results show the party with 31.7 percent of the vote, compared to 18.7 percent for the Liberal Democrats, 14.1 percent for the Labour Party and 8.7 percent for the Conservative Party. The party is projected to gain 29 seats. Farage made frustration over the U.K.’s failure to pass a deal to exit the European Union by the initial March deadline a centerpiece of the party’s campaign. Prime Minister Theresa May announced on Friday she would resign after failing to get a deal through the U.K.’s Parliament on three occasions. Supporters of Brexit had hoped that Great Britain would have been out of the European Union before the parliamentary elections were held, and that they would not have been necessary. The Brexit Party's success is likely to effect the debate over who should lead the Conservative Party following May's departure, and will raise questions about whether the conservatives are poised to lose support to a party on the right in future elections in Great Britain. Farage said if both the Labor and Conservative parties do not change their behavior, his party will win a general election in Great Britain. “The Labour and Conservative parties could learn a big lesson from tonight but I don’t suppose that they actually will,” Farage said as election returns came in. “I have to say this, if we don’t leave on October 31, then the scores you’ve seen for the Brexit Party today will be repeated in a general election and we are getting ready for it.” Returns indicated voter turnout increased significantly in the EU from the 2014 elections, climbing from 43 percent to between 49 and 51 percent.

European Election 2019: UK results in maps and charts BBC - It's been another tough night for both Labour and the Conservatives. The Brexit Party has swept across Britain and the Liberal Democrats and Green Party have also made gains. The Conservatives are the fifth placed party with less than 10% of the vote. The Brexit Party and Lib Dems have made gains With just Northern Ireland left to fully declare, the Brexit Party have topped polls in every country or region apart from London, which was won by the Liberal Democrats, and Scotland, which was won by the SNP.

Our map by council results shows that the Brexit Party topped polls almost everywhere in England and Wales. The Conservatives have not come top in any council areas. Nigel Farage's party secured a resounding victory in its own right, but grouped by their positions on Brexit, parties opposed to the UK's exit from the EU secured more votes than those advocating a hard Brexit. How pro-Brexit (34.9%) and anti-Brexit parties have done (40.4%)

Brexit: much effort for little result -"Vote like it matters! Every vote counts", said Mr Juncker when he cast his vote yesterday in the European elections. But, of course, it doesn't matter. The whole damn process is a charade. There is one interesting irony though. With 371 of 373 counts completed (at the time of writing) the Tories who, in 1999, took 36 seats, are down to three – exactly the same number that Ukip gained in 1999 when they first won some seats. But the tables aren't exactly reversed. The Farage Party gets 28 MEPs, taking votes from the Tories and Labour. From its peak of 23 seats in 2014, Ukip is down to zero, their seats effectively having been transferred to the Farage Party. But, despite the collapse of the Tory vote and savage trimming of Labour, which collectively have lost 23 seats compared with 2014, Farage has only picked up five seats. Interestingly, the 18 gains making up the balance have gone to the Lib-Dems (up 14 from one) and the Greens (up four from three), which means that the unequivocally "remain" parties have made more gains than Farage. Moreover, while the Farage Party took 5,244,893 votes, the combined votes of the Lib-Dems and Greens were 5,377,001. With Ukip polling 549,159 while Change UK gained 571,716 (without either getting any MEPs), that puts the remainers ahead of the leavers. No doubt, there are endless ways of playing with the figures and there will be differing interpretations from the rival factions. Suffice it to say, though, that the great Farage "victory" seems to owe more to the voting system than it does the overall number of votes.

Corbyn backs referendum on Brexit deal after voter exodus Jeremy Corbyn has pledged to support a second referendum on any Brexit deal after the Labour leadership came under overwhelming pressure to halt the exodus of its remain voters who backed pro-EU parties at the European elections. The Labour leader said he was “listening very carefully” to both sides of the debate after the party fell behind the Liberal Democrats and also lost ground to the Greens. Labour’s preference would be a general election but any Brexit deal “has to be put to a public vote”, he said. Several Labour sources noted this was a shift from his previous position that a second referendum was being kept as an option on the table to stop a damaging Tory Brexit. He later wrote to MPs: “It is clear that the deadlock in parliament can now only be broken by the issue going back to the people through a general election or a public vote. We are ready to support a public vote on any deal.” Corbyn’s statement, after a day of frantic lobbying from senior party figures in response to disappointing European election results and recrimination against his senior advisers, moves the party closer to backing a people’s vote. But it does not go quite far enough to satisfy the demands of those in the party who want full backing for a second referendum to be held without delay – and a commitment that the party will campaign on the remain side. John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, was among the Corbyn allies who hardened their position, saying on Monday that a second referendum was inevitable because Tory MPs would not back an election. Asked whether it was time to support a second referendum in any circumstances, McDonnell said: “I think it is, yes.” He added: “Our only option now is to go back to the people in a referendum and that is the position we’re in now.”

Britain’s Great Brexit Divide Gets Deeper  - It's tempting to conclude that because pro-Remain parties did better in the U.K.'s European parliamentary elections than those pushing for a no-deal Brexit, the country has made up its mind to reverse the result of the 2016 referendum. If only it were that simple. The vote showed the public is, if anything, more polarized. The Liberal Democrats, once the third party in Britain but destroyed after a period in coalition government with the Conservatives, rose from the ashes to overtake the Labour Party. They won just over 20% of the vote with an avowedly remain campaign. Add the Lib Dems’ results to those for the other firmly remain parties – the Greens (12%), the new Change UK Party (3.4%) and the pro-Remain Scottish National Party (3.6%) – and nearly 40% of the vote was in favor of staying in the EU. That’s more than the 35% combined vote of Nigel Farage's Brexit Party (32%) and his former UKIP grouping, both of which pushed for a no-deal exit. This shows that there is no center in British politics when it comes to Brexit. Instead of the old left-right distinctions that allowed the two big parties to dominate, voters increasingly identify with groups that share their view on whether and how Britain should leave the EU. This is dangerous territory for leaders who seek to unify, or obfuscate. Prime Minister Theresa May sought the middle ground and it swallowed her up last week. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tried to be all things to all voters. He too is facing serious questions. The opposition party has now performed abysmally in two elections in which it would be expected to do well. However fragmenting the result of the European Parliamentary election was, the fact is that national elections aren’t decided by proportional representation but by a first-past-the-post system that accords undeniable advantage to the largest parties. Even so, the euro election poses a central question to Conservatives and Labour: What Brexit, if any, do they want? For the Tories, it is likely that members will see May's failures (to which a dire 9% showing in these elections must be added) and the Brexit Party's success as proof they need to make a quick exit from the EU. That increases the chances the party's new leader will support leaving without a deal if that is the only way to exit by Oct. 31, when the current extension period ends. Boris Johnson, the front-runner, has already described the result as a “ crushing rebuke” to the party and called for a “proper” Brexit.

Tory bosses DEMAND contenders face public grilling if they want Theresa May’s job - Leading Tories who want Mrs May’s top job following her departure on June 7 will be forced to perform to avoid another “Maybot” scenario. Rounds of public grillings will take place, including one possible televised appearance, The Sun reports, which will test the abilities of frontrunners such as Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt, Andrea Leadsom and Matt Hancock. The request has come from grassroots Tories from the party’s headquarters who have demanded final candidates do two events in front of them in regions across the UK.  Andrew Sharpe, chairman of the National Conservative Convention - the party’s voluntary wing - said: “It’s important the membership all get a chance to hear from the candidates themselves wherever they are, in whatever geographical region. “The membership would be extremely unimpressed if the process was truncated.”Mr Sharpe added non-party members are set to be allowed to attend debates - a first for the Conservatives. Mrs May did not attend some TV debates during the snap General Election she triggered in 2017, which ended badly for the Tories. The Conservatives lost so many seats up against Labour that they had to get the Northern Irish DUP to prop the government up.Amber Rudd stepped in for her, but the appearances Mrs May did make saw the public call her ‘Maybot’ for her repetitive saying such as “Brexit means Brexit” and “strong and stable”, in reference to the party’s mantra.On Friday, Mrs May gave an impassioned speech outside No10 that saw her break down in tears before announcing June 7 will be her last day as Conservative Party leader - triggering a race for the top job in Number 10. Mrs May insisted she had "done my best" to deliver a Brexit deal as she was watched by husband Philip and her closest aides.

Brexit: John Bercow says MPs will get a say over no deal John Bercow has insisted MPs will have their say over whether the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 31 October. The Speaker dismissed claims from some Brexiteers that because a no-deal exit is the default position in law, it will "inevitably" happen if no agreement is reached by then with Brussels. Instead, he said there was "much debate to be had" and it was "unimaginable" that Parliament would be sidelined. The October deadline was set after MPs repeatedly rejected Theresa May's plan. The Commons has already voted to block a no-deal exit, but that vote was non-binding. Mr Bercow's comments come as candidates for the Conservative leadership have been laying out their Brexit positions. Several of them, including Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab, have said they would be willing to leave the EU on a no-deal basis. Others, though, like Jeremy Hunt and Rory Stewart, say that would be unacceptable. The winner of the contest - not yet formally under way - is expected to be confirmed in July and will also become the UK's next prime minister.

Jean-Claude Juncker again rules out Brexit renegotiation Jean-Claude Juncker said he was "crystal clear" there will be no renegotiation of the Brexit deal, despite claims from several candidates in the U.K. Conservative leadership race that they will reopen talks with Brussels. The European Commission president will meet Theresa May, who will be replaced as prime minister when a new Tory leader is elected this summer, ahead of an EU summit in Brussels on Tuesday evening. Arriving at the summit, where leaders, including May, will discuss the European election results and begin the process of choosing the next European Council and Commission presidents, Juncker said his view on Brexit and the Withdrawal Agreement was unchanged: "There will be no renegotiation." Meanwhile Luxembourg's prime minister Xavier Bettel told the BBC that a renegotiation under a new British prime minister was "not how it's going to work." Several contenders to succeed May have indicated they will seek to renegotiate. Brexiteer figurehead Boris Johnson has written in the Telegraph about striking "a good bargain" with Brussels, while keeping the option of no-deal on the table, while Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, told BBC Radio 4's Today program on Tuesday that he wanted to form a new negotiating team including Brexiteer MPs, and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party to renegotiate the Irish backstop plan. Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, who is also planning to run for the leadership, has said he will "fight for a fairer deal in Brussels with negotiations to change the backstop arrangements." Arriving in Brussels, May herself said that Brexit was now "a matter for my successor" but warned that the next prime minister would have to "find a way of addressing the very strongly held views on both sides of this issue, and to do that and get a majority in parliament." The task, she said would require “compromise,” reiterating her view that the government should strive for a deal with the EU.

British Consumers Have Started To Dump Huawei Phones - British consumers have begun trading in smartphones from Huawei Technologies Co. in growing numbers since the Chinese tech giant was hit by a U.S. supply blacklist.Trade-in and price-tracking companies report a surge in U.K. consumers trading in devices from the Shenzhen-based manufacturer, while interest from buyers fizzles. The numbers show that concerns around the company have extended beyond trade talks and corporate procurement and turned into backlash at retail, where Huawei makes most of its sales.Gadget trade-in website WeBuyTek, which buys and resells about 36,000 handsets a year, has seen a 540% increase in the number of Huawei devices booked this week versus last. That’s the biggest jump it’s ever seen, the company’s director, Paul Walsh, said by email.‘’We have temporarily stopped accepting any new trade-ins, as we expect the value of these devices to plummet,” he said.The rush follows the decision by BT Group and Vodafone Group to pull the Huawei Mate 20 X phone from their launches of fifth-generation wireless products. The British carriers joined others from around the world, citing uncertainty after Huawei was cut off from U.S. companies by new trade restrictions and barred from receiving software support for the Android operating system from Alphabet Inc.’s Google.Although existing phones aren’t yet affected by the U.S. action, news of Google’s move spooked consumers about the capabilities of their devices, said Canalys analyst Ben Stanton.“Google and Huawei have offered some explanation, but it’s been very short and coy,” he said. “I know from speaking to people within those organizations — they’re still trying to work out exactly how they can work within this framework, and they’re not exactly sure how this will develop.”Clicks on Huawei devices declined 46% this week in the U.K. from the previous week, said PriceSpy, which tracks consumers who are comparing product prices. Over the same period, interest in handsets from rivals Xiaomi Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co. rose.

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