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

Saturday, May 25, 2019

week ending May 25

Fed minutes from May meeting: No rate moves are coming ‘for some time’ even if the economy improves -  Federal Reserve officials remained firmly committed to a “patient” policy stance at their meeting earlier this month, saying rates likely will remain unchanged well into the future. Minutes from the May 1-2 Federal Open Market Committee meeting also showed that members raised their expectations for full-year economic growth and said that earlier concerns they had about a slowdown had abated. Despite their general optimism, the committee held the line on interest rates, primarily citing a lack of inflation pressures that allow the central bank to watch how events unfold before making any further moves. “Members observed that a patient approach to determining future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate would likely remain appropriate for some time, especially in an environment of moderate economic growth and muted inflation pressures, even if global economic and financial conditions continued to improve,” the meeting summary stated. For the past several meetings, members had expressed concerns about slowing global growth, the messy Brexit negotiations and the U.S.-China trade impasse. However, the minutes from the most recent meeting showed a more upbeat tone. “A number of participants observed that some of the risks and uncertainties that had surrounded their outlooks earlier in the year had moderated, including those related to the global economic outlook, Brexit, and trade negotiations,” the minutes said. “That said, these and other sources of uncertainty remained. In light of global economic and financial developments as well as muted inflation pressures, participants generally agreed that a patient approach to determining future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate remained appropriate.” The meeting ended three days before President Donald Trump intensified the trade war with China by accusing Beijing of reneging on a deal. The White House later raised tariffs on China on May 10 and China announced a retaliation three days later.

FOMC Minutes: "A patient approach ... would likely remain appropriate for some time" --From the Fed: Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, April 30, 2019, and continued on Wednesday, May 1, 2019. A few excerpts: Participants discussed the potential policy implications of continued low inflation readings. Many participants viewed the recent dip in PCE inflation as likely to be transitory, and participants generally anticipated that a patient approach to policy adjustments was likely to be consistent with sustained expansion of economic activity, strong labor market conditions, and inflation near the Committee's symmetric 2 percent objective. ..  However, a few participants noted that if the economy evolved as they expected, the Committee would likely need to firm the stance of monetary policy to sustain the economic expansion and keep inflation at levels consistent with the Committee's objective, or that the Committee would need to be attentive to the possibility that inflation pressures could build quickly in an environment of tight resource utilization. In contrast, a few other participants observed that subdued inflation coupled with real wage gains roughly in line with productivity growth might indicate that resource utilization was not as high as the recent low readings of the unemployment rate by themselves would suggest. Several participants commented that if inflation did not show signs of moving up over coming quarters, there was a risk that inflation expectations could become anchored at levels below those consistent with the Committee's symmetric 2 percent objective—a development that could make it more difficult to achieve the 2 percent inflation objective on a sustainable basis over the longer run.  In their consideration of the economic outlook, members noted that financial conditions had improved since the turn of the year, and many uncertainties affecting the U.S. and global economic outlooks had receded, though some risks remained. Despite solid economic growth and a strong labor market, inflation pressures remained muted. Members continued to view sustained expansion of economic activity, strong labor market conditions, and inflation near the Committee's symmetric 2 percent objective as the most likely outcomes for the U.S. economy. In light of global economic and financial developments and muted inflation pressures, members concurred that the Committee could be patient as it determined what future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate may be appropriate to support those outcomes. ….Members observed that a patient approach to determining future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate would likely remain appropriate for some time, especially in an environment of moderate economic growth and muted inflation pressures, even if global economic and financial conditions continued to improve.

Potential Fed nominee Judy Shelton wants a change in the way interest rates are set - Potential Federal Reserve nominee Judy Shelton thinks the central bank ought to pay more attention to financial markets when setting interest rates. Already an economic advisor to President Donald Trump, Shelton has been mentioned frequently as a possible candidate for a Fed governor position. If she did get the nomination and was confirmed, Shelton said she’d bring a different perspective when it comes to how rates are set. “What bothers me most about the way the Federal Reserve currently operates is more the mechanism,” she said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “We can talk about whether rates should go up or down. I would like to see more market-determined rates.”The Fed has been criticized for using models like the Phillips curve to determine where rates should be. Trump has said rates are too high and has blamed the Fed for holding back economic growth. Markets also are pricing in a high likelihood of a rate cut before the end of the year, though central bank officials have been nearly unanimous in saying they’re comfortable with current policy.Shelton told the Journal that Trump’s economic policies have boosted growth without causing inflation and that she’s no longer uncomfortable with low rates and their potential for helping wealthy investors at the expense of retirees and Americans living on fixed incomes.“Things have changed,” she said. A White House official said there aren’t any nominations planned yet. Trump recently saw the withdrawal of two people he wanted to nominate, Stephen Moore and Herman Cain, following controversies. Read the full Journal report here.

Chicago Fed "Index Points to Slower Economic Growth in April" - From the Chicago Fed: Index Points to Slower Economic Growth in April - Led by declines in production-related indicators, the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) fell to –0.45 in April from +0.05 in March. Three of the four broad categories of indicators that make up the index decreased from March, and two of the four categories made negative contributions to the index in April. The index’s three-month moving average, CFNAI-MA3, moved down to –0.32 in April from –0.24 in March. This graph shows the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (three month moving average) since 1967.This suggests economic activity was below the historical trend in April (using the three-month average).

Chicago Fed National Activity Index Plunges To 3-Year Lows - U.S. economic activity slumped in April, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. The Chicago Fed national activity index, which draws on 85 economic indicators, was -0.45 in April versus an upwardly revised +0.05 in March (and expectations of -0.20).

  • 33 of the 85 monthly individual indicators made positive contributions
  • 52 of the 85 monthly individual indicators made negative contributions

Smoothing the somewhat noisy indicator over the last three months, this is the weakest level of national economic activity since May 2016... A reading below zero indicates below-trend-growth in the national economy and a sign of easing pressures on future inflation....more bad news is good news? More ammo for The Fed to stay lower for longer.

 Q2 GDP Forecasts: Mid 1% Range - From Merrill Lynch: We lowered 2Q GDP tracking by 0.2pp to 1.6%, while 1Q remained unchanged at 2.9% [May 24 estimate]   From Goldman Sachs:  We lowered our Q2 GDP tracking estimate by one tenth to +1.5% (qoq ar) [May 23 estimate]  From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report: The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 1.4% for 2019:Q2. News from this week's data releases decreased the nowcast for 2019:Q2 by 0.4 percentage point. Negative surprises from the Advance Durable Goods Report drove most of the decrease. [May 24 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 1.3 percent on May 24, up from 1.2 percent on May 16. [May 24 estimate]   CR Note: These early estimates suggest real GDP growth will be in the mid-1% range annualized in Q2.

GOP senator warns Trump, Mulvaney against 'draconian' budget cuts - Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) warned President Trump and White House officials on Monday that they will force "draconian" cuts to the military unless they reach a budget caps deal on defense and non-defense spending. Shelby met at the White House on Monday with Trump, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and others, where he brought up the need to avoid across-the-board cuts known as sequestration. "I brought that up to the president... and talked about how draconian it would be on defense, and a lot of other issues, but mainly national security and it would set us back in a troubled world in a lot of ways and it would be the wrong signal to the world if we had sequestration," Shelby told reporters. The meeting between Shelby, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, Trump and other administration officials comes a day before congressional leadership is set to meet with Mulvaney and Mnuchin to discuss a budget deal and raising the debt ceiling. Lawmakers are voicing growing concerns about their ability to get a budget caps deal and avoid another government shutdown starting in October, after the 35-day partial shutdown earlier this year. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced in April that he, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Trump had agreed to staff-level talks about reaching a two-year budget deal. Shelby indicated on Monday that Trump hadn't yet agreed to accept a two-year budget deal, which would cover both the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years, instead of a one-year deal.

 Trump’s Sneak Attack on Social Security -- Donald Trump’s recent budget proposal included billions of dollars in Social Security cuts. The proposed cuts were a huge betrayal of his campaign promise to protect our Social Security system. Fortunately for Social Security’s current and future beneficiaries, he has little chance of getting these cuts past the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats.So Trump and his budget director/chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who has long been hostile to Social Security, are trying another tactic to cut our earned benefits. They are pursuing a long game to reach their goal. In a divide-and-conquer move, the focus is not Social Security. At least, not yet.Last week, the Trump administration revealed that it is planning to employ the so-called chained Consumer Price Index (CPI) in a way that does not need congressional approval. “Chained CPI” might sound technical and boring, but anyone who has closely followed the Social Security debate knows better. It has long been proposed as a deceptive, hard-to-understand way to cut our earned Social Security benefits.Trump plans to switch to the chained CPI to index the federal definition of poverty. If he succeeds, the impact will be that over time, fewer people will meet the government’s definition of poverty — even though in reality, they will not be any less poor. The definition is crucial to qualify for a variety of federal benefits, including Medicaid, as well as food and housing assistance. The announcement was written blandly about considering a variety of different measures, but anyone who knows the issue well can easily read the writing on the wall. So, what does this have to do with Social Security? Like the poverty level, Social Security’s modest benefits are automatically adjusted to keep pace with inflation. If not adjusted, those benefits will erode, slowly but inexorably losing their purchasing power over time. These annual adjustments are already too low, but they are better than no adjustment at all. The chained CPI would make these adjustments even less adequate. The top line of the following chart shows what a more accurate adjustment would look like. The line below it shows what the current adjustment does to benefits, and the bottom line shows what the stingier chained CPI would do:

Four times the US has made the same mistake in the Middle East. Now Trump is making it yet again over Iran - Patrick Cockburn - In its escalating confrontation with Iran, the US is making the same mistake it has made again and again since the fall of the Shah 40 years ago: it is ignoring the danger of plugging into what is in large part a religious conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims. I have spent much of my career as a correspondent in the Middle East, since the Iranian revolution in 1979, reporting crises and wars in which the US and its allies fatally underestimated the religious motivation of their adversaries. This has meant they have come out the loser, or simply failed to win, in conflicts in which the balance of forces appeared to them to be very much in their favour. It has happened at least four times. It occurred in Lebanon after the Israeli invasion of 1982, when the turning point was the blowing up of the US Marine barracks in Beirut the following year, in which 241 US military personnel were killed. In the eight-year Iran-Iraq war during 1980-88, the west and the Sunni states of the region backed Saddam Hussein, but it ended in a stalemate. After 2003, the US-British attempt to turn post-Saddam Iraq into an anti-Iranian bastion spectacularly foundered. Similarly, after 2011, the west and states such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey tried in vain to get rid of Bashar al-Assad and his regime in Syria – the one Arab state firmly in the Iranian camp. Now the same process is under way yet again, and likely to fail for the same reasons as before: the US, along with its local allies, will be fighting not only Iran but whole Shia communities in different countries, mostly in the northern tier of the Middle East between Afghanistan and the Mediterranean.

Sanctions On Iran Are Hitting Hezbollah -  That is the top headline, upper right corner front page, of today’s Washington Post, a quite long article by Liz Sly and Suzan Haidamous.  WaPo has been much criticized by Trump and his supporters for alleged “fake news” critical of his leaving the Iran nuclear deal while Iran was compliant.  So, now maybe WaPo is rewarding Trump for saying he does not want a war with Iran (I approve of that) by headlining this story that has long been pushed by his fans as a justification for all this sanctions imposing on Iran.  It does look that indeed the heightened economic sanctions on Iran have reduced its financial support for Hezbollah, and I am not a big fan of that group.  Some longer perspective is needed here.  I have long argued that why Israel opposed the Iran nuclear pact was that it did not want the economic sanctions Obama imposed to get Iran to the table ended, and that their prime motive for this was precisely that they did not want funding support for Hezbollah increased.  I argued in many posts here from way back that in fact Iran was not involved in a nuclear weapons program after about 2003, with Supreme Jurisprudent Khamenei having issued fatwas against nuclear weapons.  Israeli military intel realized Iran was not really much of a nuclear threat, certainly not in the short run, as did US military intel.  The nuclear deal was really to put the Iranian potential for such a program into a deeper box and assure those afraid of it, but it was not accepted in some places, especially in the US where Republicans just dismissed it, partly under Israeli encouragement.  But for the Israelis the problem was the ending of sanctions and their fear of Hezbollah, which seemed much more salient than the effectively inactive Iranian nuclear weapons program.  They knew all along they hysteria over that was just that, overblown hysteria. Looking at a Wikipedia entry on “Hezbollah attacks on Israel,” this reports 16 rocket attacks between January 2007 and December 20, 2015 coming out of Lebanon into Israel.  While there has been some property damage and four injuries from these, nobody has been killed.  Furthermore, Hezbollah has denied being involved in any of these with most identified as coming from either al Qaeda related groups or various radical Palestinian groups, all of these Sunni.  Offhand this leaves me as pretty unimpressed with how wonderful this report is.  Does this justify the US withdrawing from the JCPOA and then imposing sanctions on Iran much stricter than were on before the nuclear negotiations.  I do not think so.

Saudis want Washington to launch strikes on Iran – WaPo - A state-aligned Saudi newspaper is calling for “surgical” U.S. strikes in retaliation against alleged threats from Iran. The Arab News published an editorial in English on Thursday, arguing that after incidents this week against Saudi energy targets, the next logical step “should be surgical strikes.” The editorial says U.S. airstrikes in Syria, when the government there was suspected of using chemical weapons against civilians, “set a precedent.” It added that it’s “clear that (U.S.) sanctions are not sending the right message” and that “they must be hit hard,” in reference to Iran, without elaborating on what specific targets should be struck. The newspaper’s publisher is the Saudi Research and Marketing Group, a company that had long been chaired by various sons of King Salman until 2014 and is regarded as reflecting official position.. Sky News is reporting that the U.K. has raised the threat level for British personnel in Iraq because of a heightened risk from Iran. Sky also said on Thursday that British forces and diplomats in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar have also been placed on an increased state of alert. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry has urged the United States and Iran to exercise restraint and resolve their all issues through talks to avoid conflict. Mohammad Faisal, ministry spokesman, told a news conference Thursday that recent developments in the Persian Gulf region were disturbing and that Washington’s move to “deploy aircraft carrier and bombers has added to the tensions and the existing precarious security situation in Middle East.” He said Islamabad expects all sides to show restraint “as a miscalculated move can transmute into a large-scale conflict.” Pakistan has been a key ally of the United States in its war on terror since 2001 and it also enjoys good relations with neighboring Iran. Pakistan also has close ties with Saudi Arabia and it maintains a balancing act between Riyadh and Tehran.

War With Iran Would Be a Murderous Disaster  This week, National Security Adviser and Bush administration veteran John Bolton ordered the Defense Department to draw up a new military plan for sending 120,000 troops to the Middle East “should Iran attack American forces or accelerate work on nuclear weapons.” Without the pretext for such a move yet in place, Bolton and his fellow warmongers are busy manufacturing facts as necessary.  Regarding the recent sabotage of Emirati oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, “a U.S. official in Washington, without offering any evidence, told the AP that an American military team’s initial assessment indicated Iran or Iranian allies used explosives to blow holes in the ships.” Meanwhile, American military leaders have maintained that US troops in Syria and Iraq remain on “high alert” for an imminent attack from Iranian forces, publicly rebuking a British general who denied the existence of any credible intelligence suggesting such an attack is forthcoming. Washington’s commitment to its own set of facts remains strong: on Wednesday, the State Department said it was ordering a “partial evacuation” of the embassy in Baghdad due to the purported Iranian threat.  Trump, congressional Republicans, a good chunk of Democrats, and the Beltway network of think tanks and lobbyists funded by and aligned with those three governments continue to insist that their enemies in Tehran must also be ours. One would think that the Iraq calamity would be cause for some shame, or at least second thoughts. Aside from the humanitarian catastrophe it induced — hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead, thousands more Americans killed or injured, and the groundwork for the rise of ISIS laid — we are still living through the domestic political hangover. For the last fourteen years, a majority of Americans polled have consistently said that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. In the 2008 election, Barack Obama’s opposition to the war gave him significant advantages over both Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

US-Iran Showdown Is One False-Flag Attack Away From Global Calamity - Hypocritical to the core, the execution of false-flag events spare aggressive states the ignominy of appearing in public as the warmongering psychopaths they are, lest their subjects get the wrong idea as to exactly who is governing over them. The last thing tyrannical rulers want, after all, are battles raging on two fronts, especially if one of those fronts just happens to be back in the Heartland. Psychopaths are mentally deranged, of course, but that does not mean they are necessarily stupid. Thus, once again, the United States is flying its jolly tricolors from the Mediterranean Sea into the Persian Gulf led by the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, as well as nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and a Patriot missile battery on standby. But America’s reputation as a rabble-rouser and hell raiser long preceded its entry into the Gulf, as did the frenetic rhetoric. Just as the fleet was en route, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a warning that was so far beyond the pale of reality that it sounded as though it were scripted by a Hollywood film director with a penchant for embellishing American history. “The response of the United States and our partners and allies has been clear: We do not seek war,” the statement reads. “But Iran’s forty years of killing American soldiers, attacking American facilities, and taking American hostages is a constant reminder that we must defend ourselves.” Forty years of killing Americans? Really? That comment brought to mind Pompeo’s recent display of braggadocio as he reminisced over his former CIA days. “We lied, we cheated, we stole,” he confessed with a hearty chuckle to an audience from Texas A&M University last month. “We had entire training courses. It reminds you of the glory of the American experiment.” Ah yes, the glory days. Next he’ll be shooting off about how he enjoys shaving with napalm in the morning, or some such nonsense. In any case, the prospect of America’s leading diplomat who basically admits to being a bald-faced liar, and darn proud of it, delivering a fiery shot across the bow of the Iranian Republic at the same time a large US naval group is entering the Persian Gulf and Iran is struggling under severe sanctions does very little to instill much comfort or confidence.

Trump, Europe increasingly at odds on Iran - Escalating tensions with Iran have laid bare President Trump’s split with the United States’ traditional European allies. Several times this past week, the United States appeared out-of-step with European countries on whether Iran is presenting enough of a new threat to justify a military buildup and the partial evacuation of U.S. diplomats from neighboring Iraq. Trump and European leaders have had a number of spats since the early days of his presidency on everything from trade to defense spending to climate change. But with the Iran tensions threatening to boil over into military action, critics warn that Trump’s go-it-alone approach could have serious consequences. “We’ve isolated ourselves,” said Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack Reed (D-R.I.). “There’s just a danger in terms of if something happens, we won’t have the ability to call upon them to come to our assistance and cooperate with us.” U.S. tensions with Iran have skyrocketed in recent weeks following national security advisor John Bolton’s announcement that the Trump administration was deploying a carrier strike group and bomber task force to the Middle East over unspecified “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Iran. U.S. lawmakers saw their own alarm spike after the State Department announced the ordered departure of non-emergency personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the U.S. Consulate in Erbil, with several noting that such a move was not even made when ISIS was bearing down on Baghdad in 2014. Trump sought to lower temperatures on Thursday, telling reporters who asked whether the U.S. was nearing a war with Iran, “I hope not.” Reports on Thursday also said Trump explicitly told aides, including acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, that he does not want war with Iran. But along the way, rifts with Europe over Iran were exposed.

Do Iranian ‘Threats’ Signal Organized U.S.-Israel Subterfuge? - President Donald Trump’s national security team has been leaking “intelligence” about Iranian threats for a week now in an attempt to justify escalating tensions, including moving American air attack assets to the Persian Gulf. But a closer look suggests that National Security Advisor John Bolton and other senior officials are trying to pull off an intelligence deception comparable to the fraudulent pretense for war in Iraq. There’s also credible evidence that Israel could be playing a key role in this subterfuge. This deception has served to defend not only a U.S. military buildup in the region, but an expansion of the possible contingencies that could be used to justify military confrontation. In Bolton’s White House statement on May 5, he said the deployment of assets to the Gulf would “send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.” But public claims by the White House about Iran don’t reflect “intelligence” in any technical sense of the word. No one has cited a single piece of hard evidence that justifies these claims of threats, let alone any that are “new,” as press leaks have suggested. All of them appear to be deliberate and gross distortions of actual facts. The Washington Post reported on May 15 that Pentagon and intelligence officials had cited three “Iranian actions” that had supposedly “triggered alarms”:

  • “Information suggesting an Iranian threat against U.S. diplomatic facilities in the Iraqi cities of Baghdad and Irbil.”
  • “U.S. concerns that Iran may be preparing to mount rocket or missile launchers on small ships in the Persian Gulf.”
  • “A directive from [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and regular Iranian military units that some U.S. officials have interpreted as a potential threat to U.S. military and diplomatic personnel.”

None of those three claims describes actual evidence of a threatening Iranian “action”; all merely refer to an official U.S. “concern” about a possible Iranian threat. 

Corporate Media Setting Up Iran As New Threat That Must Be Confronted - The Washington Post editorial’s headline (5/14/19)  had the US “drifting” toward war with Iran—another example, as analyst Nima Shirazi quipped, of the “world’s superpower somehow having no agency over its own imperialism.” If we can still call things “surreal,” that would describe watching corporate media do the same things they did in the run-up to the Iraq War, things they later disavowed: the credulous repetition of administration claims about the supposed threat; the reliance, for interpretation  of “intelligence,”  on officials with well known records for manipulating intelligence; the stenographic reporting of ‘troubling’ actions by the enemy state, that later have to be walked back.A May 13 New York Times piece led with the statement that Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan had “presented an updated military plan that envisions sending as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East should Iran attack American forces or accelerate work on nuclear weapons, administration officials said.” As researcher Derek Davison reminds, in a piece for LobeLog (5/14/19), there is, as the Times has acknowledged on other occasions, no evidence that Iran is working on nuclear weapons, at whatever pace.Later, the piece says: Some senior American officials said the plans, even at a very preliminary stage, show how dangerous the threat from Iran has become. Others, who are urging a diplomatic resolution to the current tensions, said it amounts to a scare tactic to warn Iran against new aggressions. So that’s both sides; Iran is a dangerous threat or it needs to be prevented from “new aggressions,” though the piece doesn’t name any previous ones. Indeed, the Times quotes and leaves unremarked the claim from a National Security Council spokesperson that “the president has been clear, the United States does not seek military conflict with Iran…. However, Iran’s default option for 40 years has been violence”—a frankly mind-boggling statement that surely warranted more than frictionless transmission. At the very end of the article, Davison reports, the Times throws in that National Security Advisor John Bolton has been pushing for war on Iran since the George W. Bush administration, and has already asked the Pentagon to plan for a military strike at least once, before these new supposed “troubling” moves from the country.  But by that point, readers may have concluded that Iran is an emboldened rogue state, threatening the US and pursuing nuclear weapons - and the revelation that Bolton is trying to drum up a war with them might sound less unreasonable.

Overwhelming Military Response Needed - Graham Urges Trump Stand Firm On Iran --Here we go again just as tensions seemed to be calming going into the weekend, with Trump distancing himself from some of the more out-front escalatory rhetoric from hawks like Bolton within his own administration last Friday, leave it to who else but Senator Lindsey Graham to ramp things up again. "We must deliver an overwhelming military response," he tweeted in reference to Iran. Following Saudi claims last week that Iran was behind a Houthi drone attack out of Yemen which targeted an ARAMCO pumping station and pipeline, and after the alleged "sabotage" attack on Saudi and other tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, Graham said early Monday it was "clear" that Iran has "attacked pipelines and ships of other nations" over the past weeks. Just received a briefing from National Security Advisor Bolton about escalating tensions with Iran.It is clear that over the last several weeks Iran has attacked pipelines and ships of other nations and created threat streams against American interests in Iraq.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) May 20, 2019  Interestingly, again we find Bolton pushing this narrative, per Graham's tweet: "Just received a briefing from National Security Advisor Bolton about escalating tensions with Iran. It is clear that over the last several weeks Iran has attacked pipelines and ships of other nations and created threat streams against American interests in Iraq."And further appearing to acknowledge President Trump's reluctance to let the hawks drag him into yet another useless and futile regime change war in the Middle East, Graham urged, "Stand firm Mr. President".So now it appears the hawks are waging a full frontal assault to goad the president into war, as even a statement from Iran's foreign minister acknowledged earlier in the day.  "The fault lies with the Iranians, not the United States or any other nation. If the Iranian threats against American personnel and interests are activated we must deliver an overwhelming military response. Stand firm Mr. President," Graham stated in a follow-up tweet.

No Talks, Only Resistance - Iran's Rouhani Slams Door On Trump's Call Me Overture - At a moment the US Navy conducted provocative military exercises in the Arabian Sea on Monday, Iran's president responded to overtures by Trump that Tehran should "call me" with a firm line of, "No talks, only resistance."US military statements highlighted the Arabian Sea drills were specifically in response to heightened unspecified threats from Iran, and were led by the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and the US Marine Corps to highlight American "lethality and agility to respond to threat” and to advance US security. Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, who oversaw the 2015 nuclear deal negotiations (JCPOA) with then president Obama, said he welcomed any US diplomatic overture but wouldn't be coerced into new negotiations under economic sanctions and threat of military action. "I favor talks and diplomacy but under current conditions, I do not accept it, as today's situation is not suitable for talks and our choice is resistance only," Rouhani said, according to Iran's IRNA news agency."If we walked away from the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the formal name of the nuclear deal] with the US provocative acts, then, in addition to the US, the UN and world would also impose sanctions on us," he said.It appears Trump has taken a "North Korea-style" approach to Iran that combines unpredictably aggressive threats and maneuvers - especially by other White House officials - with unexpected moments of reaching out a hand.  That tactic was certainly on display Monday when Trump expressed US willingness to meet any Iranian action against US interests with "great force" - yet followed it by saying it's up to Iran to initiate conciliatory dialogue: "If they call, we will certainly negotiate, but this is going to be up to them," he told reporters.

Watch CNBC's full interview with Secretary Mike Pompeo on China and the Iran conflict – CNBC -- Secretary Mike Pompeo joins "Squawk Box" to discuss the most pressing issues in geopolitical politics, specifically the trade war in China, the current U.S. conflict with Huawei, and the Trump Administration's positions on Iran.’

As Iran Tensions Rise, Congress Moves to Curb Trump’s War Powers - The House Appropriations Committee voted to advance an amendment to a defense spending package on Tuesday that would sunset the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) issued after the 9/11 attacks. The bipartisan legislation would provide Congress with new tools for containing the Trump administration as it meddles in foreign conflicts and stokes military tensions with Iran. Rep. Barbara Lee and other House Democrats are expected to announce a new push to repeal the 2001 AUMF on Wednesday. The latest effort in Congress to scrap the longstanding authorization comes as lawmakers react to the escalating tensions between Iran and the unpredictable Trump administration, which boiled over on Twitter over the weekend after President Trump warned that Iran would face its “official end” if Tehran provokes the U.S. military. The White House and Tehran spent the last week trading jabs and engaging in military posturing, although leaders in both countries have said they do not want war.On Friday, 100 House Democrats urged Trump in a letter to “resist factions” in his administration that are “leading our country down a disastrous path to war” and warned that the White House cannot declare war with Iran without approval from Congress, including under the 2001 AUMF. Administration officials are reportedly building a case to declare Iran a terrorist threat in order to circumvent Congress and launch military strikes under AUMF authority if the administration decides to engage Tehran. “Madame chair, right now we know that any president can wage war under this outdated, 2001 authorization, and of course President Trump continues down this path, as other presidents have,” Lee told the House Appropriations Committee before the vote on Tuesday. Lee has already introduced the legislation as a standalone bill. Both bills would sunset the AUMF eight months after passing, giving Congress time to review current areas of military deployment that require congressional authorization, according to Heather Brandon-Smith, the legislative director for militarism and human rights at the pro-peace Friends Committee on National Legislation.

Impeachment Should Be on the Table If Trump Bombs Iran -- We’re told that the Trump administration’s brinksmanship on Iran stems from a power grab by President Donald Trump’s undeterrable national security advisor, John Bolton. And it’s true that Bolton has never met a “preventive” war he didn’t like and that there’s every reason to suspect him of scheming to create an excuse for one. But lately it’s getting hard to distinguish President Trump from“President Bolton.” “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran,” Trump rage-tweeted Sunday. “Never threaten the United States again!”If the administration can’t be convinced to stand down, the House of Representatives should launch a preemptive strike of its own. They should credibly threaten to impeach the president if he goes to war without congressional authorization.Waging war without legal authority is an impeachable offense, if anything is. Impeachment was designed to thwart attempts to subvert the Constitution; congressional control of the war power was one of that document’s core guarantees. “In no part of the constitution is more wisdom to be found,” James Madison affirmed, “than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department.” The first federal impeachment case, brought less than a decade after the Constitution’s ratification, centered on charges of unauthorized warmaking. In 1797, the House impeached Tennessee Senator William Blount for conspiring to raise a private army for “a military hostile expedition” against Spanish-held Louisiana and Florida, “in violation of the obligations of neutrality, and against the laws of the United States.” In the Founding era, usurpation of the war power was considered serious enough to merit the ultimate constitutional remedy.

Trump Declares Fake Emergency to Sell Weapons to Saudi Arabia — In a move predicted earlier this week by members of Congress, President Trump has declared a “national emergency” for the sole reason of circumventing Congressional restrictions on arms sales, and using it to rush shipments of arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.Under the Arms Export Control Act, Congress is supposed to get a 30 day notice ahead of any sales, and can then block shipments. Concerns about war crimes in Yemen mean Saudi arms would be likely to face some effort to block them.But the law has a loophole in it, which allows the president to declare an “emergency” of any sort he wants, with no oversight on that declaration, and then send the arms over without Congressional notification. This is a notoriously cheap way to circumvent Congress on arms exports, but several Senators said they expected Trump to make such a move as soon as next week. It appears he decided to get out in front of that move with a declaration on Friday going into the holiday weekend. Officially, the “national emergency” is tensions with Iran, though several in Congress have pointed out that the US has had nonstop tensions with Iran for decades, and that’s not a reason to suddenly declare a new emergency.

Bolton Claims US Has 'Deep, Serious' Intel on 'Iran Regime Threat' – Reports -- US National Security Adviser John Bolton has said that recent attacks on oil tankers and pumping station were a "manifestation of concern" about Iran, Reuters reported Saturday. On 12 May, four oil tankers, including two Saudi vessels and a UAE-flagged ship, were targeted by a mysterious attack off the UAE’s exclusive economic zone. Even though no one has claimed responsibility for the sabotage, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed on Tuesday that it was "quite possible" that Tehran was behind it. The attack comes as tensions have further escalated between the United States and sanctions-battered Iran after the former boosted its military presence in the Gulf region earlier in May, deploying a bomber task force and an aircraft carrier to the region. Meanwhile, Pompeo confirmed in a press release on Friday that the United States had approved $8.1 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in an effort to deter the alleged threat posed by Iran. Pompeo said this move would be a "one-time event." He emphasized that these arms transfers are critical for the United States' partners in the region to be able to provide for their own self-defense and to back US forces in the region. On Friday, US President Donald Trump said that Washington would deploy some 1,500 additional troops to the Middle East. Trump, however, said earlier that Washington hoped that the situation would not come to war. 

Pentagon Declares Victory In Non-War- Iran Forced To Put Attacks On Hold - And just like that it's over war averted, apparently, as the Pentagon announced Tuesday US defense posturing and military build-up in the Persian Gulf has thwarted potential attacks an Americans. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Iran was forced to “put on hold” plans to harm American troops and their allies in the region: “I think our steps were very prudent and we’ve put on hold the potential for attacks on Americans and that is what is extremely important,” Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon, though without giving specifics.He added that Iran was ultimately forced to "recalculate" its aggression.  Since John Bolton's May 5th statements citing "credible intelligence" of a heightened Iran threat which supposedly put US troops in the cross hairs there's been next to nothing in terms of actual details.Instead the past two weeks has witnessed incessant blustering out of Washington, with daily threats that military action was looming against Iran. And now with zero evidence that Iran was readying an attack, the Pentagon is essentially declaring victory following statements by Trump that he is not willing to escalate, but instead telling Iran's leaders to "call me".  During Shanahan's press briefing he still underscored "the credibility of the intelligence" and called US deployment of a carrier strike group and B-52 bombers "very prudent". Through these measures, he claimed, "we have put on hold the potential for attacks on Americans and that’s what’s extremely important."

Pentagon Leaves War Reporters in the Dark — As Trump Administration officials continue to talk up war with Iran, one would expect the reporters assigned to the Pentagon to be working overtime to get the specifics of what is happening. But that’s not happening. The Pentagon has been increasingly opaque about everything ongoing in the military, and is no better when it comes to the potential Iran War, as there just flat out aren’t any official briefings to get information from. In fact, it’s been almost an entire year since May 31, 2018, the last time the Pentagon had an official, on-camera press briefing. Off-camera gaggles for reporters were once a weekly occurrence, but there have been none in 2019. The reporters at the Pentagon have for months called for a resumption of press briefings, and are adding to those calls with the apparent approach of a major war. It’s not clear if the Pentagon is even considering such a resumption, however, because there is no venue for them to even admit if they are.

Vicious Cycle: The Pentagon Creates Tech Giants and Then Buys their Services -The US Department of Defense’s bloated budget, along with CIA venture capital, helped to create tech giants, including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and PayPal. The government then contracts those companies to help its military and intelligence operations. In doing so, it makes the tech giants even bigger. In recent years, the traditional banking, energy and industrialFortune 500 companies have been losing ground to tech giants like Apple and Facebook. But the technology on which they rely emerged from the taxpayer-funded research and development of bygone decades. The internet started as ARPANET, an invention of Honeywell-Raytheon working under a Department of Defense (DoD) contract. The same satellites that enable modern internet communications also enable US jets to bomb their enemies, as does the GPS that enables online retailers to deliver products with pinpoint accuracy. Apple’s touchscreen technology originated as a US Air Force tool. The same drones that record breath-taking video are modified versions of Reapers and Predators. Tax-funded DoD research is the backbone of the modern, hi-tech economy. But these technologies are dual-use. The companies that many of us take for granted–including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and PayPal–are connected indirectly and sometimes very directly to the US military-intelligence complex. A recent report by Open the Government, a bipartisan advocate of transparency, reveals the extent of Amazon’s contracts with the Pentagon. Founded in 1994 by Jeff Bezos, the company is now valuedat $1 trillion, giving Bezos a personal fortune of $131 billion. Open the Government’s report notes that much of the US government “now runs on Amazon,” so much so that the tech giant is opening a branch near Washington, DC. Services provided by Amazon include cloud contracts, machine learning and biometric data systems. But more than this, Amazon is set to enjoy a lucrative Pentagon IT contract under the $10bn, Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure program, or JEDI. The Pentagon says that it hopes Amazon technology will “support lethality and enhanced operational efficiency.”

US to roll out economic part of Mideast peace plan (AP) — The Trump administration will unveil the first phase of its long-awaited blueprint for Mideast peace next month at a conference in the region designed to highlight economic benefits that could be reaped if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved, the White House said Sunday. The plan, which has been two years in the making, envisions large-scale investment and infrastructure work in the Palestinian territories. But the central political elements remain mostly unknown. And the economic workshop, June 25-26 in Bahrain, will not address the most contentious parts of the conflict: borders, the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and Israel’s security. In a joint statement with Bahrain, the White House said the workshop will give government, civil and business leaders a chance to gather support for economic initiatives that could be possible with a peace agreement. The U.S. wants to ensure security for Israel and economic opportunity to improve the lives of Palestinians. The administration hopes that Arab countries will help bankroll economic incentives, such as infrastructure and industrial projects, to get Palestinians to buy into the plan. But with details of the political aspects of the plan still under wraps, any commitments for economic development won’t be easily attained. “The Palestinian people, along with all people in the Middle East, deserve a future with dignity and the opportunity to better their lives,” President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, said in a statement Sunday. “Economic progress can only be achieved with a solid economic vision and if the core political issues are resolved.”

 Nearly 400 Lawmakers Urge Trump to Keep Troops in Syria to “Increase Pressure on Iran and Russia” — A bipartisan letter signed by nearly 400 US Congress members is calling on President Trump to remain militarily engaged within Syria, while claiming to be “deeply concerned” about extremists in the country. President Trump had announced a pullout from Syria in December, but had already disavowed it repeatedly by February. Still, lawmakers want to keep emphasizing how enthusiastic about the Syrian War they are, and push Trump into escalating it against various other parties.Once a war about ISIS, the letter urges Trump to “increase pressure on Iran and Russia with respect to their activities in Syria.” The US already treated Syria as something of a proxy war, and the letter suggests they do away with all pretext and just make it into a war against Iran and Russia over Syria.  The lead signers of the letter were top party leaders and ranking committee members in both the House and the Senate. This once again underscores that on matters of war, Democrats and Republicans within leadership positions are almost completely in-line on keeping the wars going.

Venezuela Exposes the Myth of John Bolton’s “Genius” - The fiasco of the latest obviously unsuccessful US attempt to topple twice democratically-elected President Nicolas Maduro made a laughing stock of the US government throughout the world and is now exposing new splits in the Trump administration in Washington. It is also exposing a dangerous but also ridiculous myth that Washington has credulously swallowed for generations – the idea that National Security Adviser John Bolton is actually competent. No one among the carefully trained castrated geldings of the US mainstream news media and their pseudo-liberal and libertarian outliers has ever dared to ask how able Bolton actually is. He is held in awe and even fear for his supposed brilliant intellect and for his undoubted energy and relentless determination to push the policies he supports with tunnel vision and fanatical relentlessness as hard as he can. Yet given such undeniable “qualities” what is truly astonishing is how useless Bolton has been in pursuing his own primary foreign policy goals for more than 40 years. He failed to prevent the first president to take him seriously, Ronald Reagan to conduct sweeping nuclear arms reductions with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and to push ahead with Gorbachev to dismantle the Cold War. These policies were anathema to Bolton who prophesied – falsely – that war and catastrophe would flow from them. But Reagan ignored him and pushed them through anyway. Now Bolton has destroyed Reagan’s legacy of peace by convincing current President Donald Trump to scrap one of Reagan’s greatest achievement, the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. He succeeded in helping provoke the US invasion, conquest and occupation of Iraq under President George W. Bush in 2003 but failed to persuade even Bush, Junior and his top foreign policy adviser, National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to pull out of any arms control treaties whatsoever. Then, the Iraq misadventure was so appallingly bungled that Bolton failed to get any traction whatsoever for his priority project of toppling the government of Iran, even if it took a full scale war to do it.

Washington Post, New York Times editors blast Assange indictment - Executive editors from top newspapers including The Washington Post and New York Times voiced alarm over the Trump administration charging WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange under the Espionage Act, with Post editor-in-chief Marty Baron arguing the decision "undermines the very purpose of the First Amendment." The pushback comes after the Department of Justice on Thursday announced 17 additional felony charges against Assange, accusing him of conspiring with former Army intelligence office Chelsea Manning to obtain and disclose "national defense information." Press freedom organizations widely panned the DOJ's move. “Dating as far back as the Pentagon Papers case and beyond, journalists have been receiving and reporting on information that the government deemed classified. Wrongdoing and abuse of power were exposed," Baron told The Daily Beast. "With the new indictment of Julian Assange, the government is advancing a legal argument that places such important work in jeopardy and undermines the very purpose of the First Amendment."  “The administration has gone from denigrating journalists as ‘enemies of the people’ to now criminalizing common practices in journalism that have long served the public interest," Baron argued. "Meantime, government officials continue to engage in a decades-long practice of overclassifying information, often for reasons that have nothing to do with national security and a lot to do with shielding themselves from the constitutionally protected scrutiny of the press.”New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet shared rival Baron's sentiment in calling the Assange indictment "deeply troubling." “Obtaining and publishing information that the government would prefer to keep secret is vital to journalism and democracy," Baquet said in a Thursday statement. "The new indictment is a deeply troubling step toward giving the government greater control over what Americans are allowed to know."

Trump says tariffs making companies leave China, a deal can't be '50-50' (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said his tariffs on Chinese goods are causing companies to move production out of China to Vietnam and other countries in Asia, and added that any agreement with China cannot be a “50-50” deal. In an interview with Fox News Channel recorded last week and aired on Sunday night, Trump said that the United States and China “had a very strong deal, we had a good deal, and they changed it. And I said that’s OK, we’re going to tariff their products.” No further trade talks between top Chinese and U.S. trade negotiators have been scheduled since the last round ended on May 10 - the same day Trump raised the tariff rate on $200 billion worth of Chinese products from 10 percent. Trump took the step after China soured the negotiations by seeking major changes to a deal that U.S. officials said had been largely agreed. Since then, China has struck a sterner tone in its rhetoric, suggesting that a resumption of talks aimed at ending the 10-month trade war between the world’s two largest economies was unlikely to happen soon. Trump said he would be happy to simply keep tariffs on Chinese products, because the United States would be taking in $100 billion or more in tariffs. But he added that he believed that China would eventually make a deal with the United States “because they’re getting killed with the tariffs, China’ getting totally killed.” But he said that he had told Chinese President Xi Jinping before the most recent rounds of talks that any deal could not be “50-50” between the two countries and had to be more in favor of the United States because of past trade practices by China. Trump also said that Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. vice president Joe Biden should be investigated over a conservative author’s allegation that Biden’s son Hunter Biden took advantage of his father’s position to sign a lucrative business deal with state-controlled Bank of China. The allegation was made in Peter Schweizer’s 2018 book “Secret Empires.” Asked if this should be investigated, Trump said: “100 percent. It’s a disgrace and then (Joe Biden) says China’s not a competitor of ours. China is a massive competitor of ours. They want to take over the world.”

Trump’s Huawei ban spooks allies, industry - Donald Trump's plan to isolate Huawei on the world stage is going down like a lead balloon. While a series of measures announced this week aimed to ramp up pressure on U.S. allies to shun the Chinese telecom giant, none of them are so far rushing to follow Washington's lead. Promoted by Instead, two of the U.S.'s staunchest allies — Paris and London — made it clear that they would make up their own minds about how to deal with Huawei, and that their decision might not resemble Washington's. In Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron pushed back on the idea that France should blacklist the Chinese firm, telling the VivaTech industry conference: “Our perspective is not to block Huawei or any company." Taking on the role of a spokesman for Europe, Macron added: "France and Europe are pragmatic and realistic" and would seek to balance "access to good technology and to preserve our national security" when taking steps on Chinese telecom gear. Across the Channel in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Theresa May struck a cautious note, reiterating that the U.K. has yet to take a final decision on what restrictions to apply to Huawei and other Chinese firms. “We are reviewing the right policy approach for 5G and when an announcement is ready, the culture secretary will update parliament,” May's spokesman said. The European Commission is coordinating a pan-EU review of security procedures. The standoffish tone from two of Washington's allies chimed with the message coming from Germany's largest industrial lobby group, the BDI. “Europe needs to maintain its own course," the group said in a statement. “German industry quickly needs legal and planning certainty in 5G expansion."

Wall Street gripped by fear that Donald Trump’s China tariff escalation will disrupt Apple’s tech supply chain Investors in Apple's iPhone and its supply chain are taking no chances when it comes to the next stage of the US-China trade war. Even long-time China bulls such as large investor Thornburg Investment Management are bailing out of Apple and the companies in its supply chain, worrying that new rounds of US tariffs, if imposed, could severely affect the tech ecosystem. In the wake of the last-minute collapse of a deal to end the months-long US-China trade war, the Trump administration threatened to impose 25 per cent tariffs on all US$300 billion of US imports from China. The move would raise the price of key components that go into one of the world’s most coveted smartphones, which is Apple’s biggest revenue driver. The administration’s warning came after the import tax rate increased on Friday on a portion of US$200 billion of Chinese goods. “The announced tariffs, if implemented, will be the gut punch for tech companies and its suppliers,” s. “That would cause a supply chain disruption and depress the sector throughout next year.” Recent White House actions have indicated that US President Donald Trump is more inclined to implement punitive measures against China, rather than stick to his earlier strategy of using threats to gain a negotiating edge, an approach that had spared the iPhone. Amid the growing tensions, outflows from Chinese equities have ballooned. Investors withdrew more than US$2.56 billion from Chinese shares in the week ended May 10, the biggest exodus of capital since October 2015, according to weekly data from the Institute of International Finance. As of Thursday, another US$1.95 billion had left the marketplace. IIF does not provide specific data on outflows from the tech sector.

 Google reverses decision to cut ties with Huawei after US eases trade restrictions - Alphabet Inc’s Google said Tuesday that it plans to work with China’s Huawei over the next 90 days, shortly after the U.S. temporarily eased some trade restrictions on the world’s second-largest smartphone maker. The move marks a sudden and dramatic turnabout for the U.S. tech conglomerate. On Sunday, Google said it would cut ties with Huawei in order to comply with Washington’s decision to put China’s telecom giant on the so-called Entity List. However, shortly thereafter, the U.S. Commerce Department announced it had granted a 90-day license for mobile phone companies and internet broadband providers to work with Huawei to keep existing networks online and protect users from security risks. The exemption allows Google to send software updates to Huawei phones which use its Android operating system through to August 19. “Keeping phones up to date and secure is in everyone’s best interests and this temporary license allows us to continue to provide software updates and security patches to existing models for the next 90 days,” a Google spokesperson told CNBC in an email on Tuesday. The U.S. Commerce Department said it would assess whether to extend the temporary exemptions beyond 90 days. Late last week, the Commerce Department added Huawei and 68 other entities to an export blacklist, rendering it practically impossible for the Chinese company to purchase goods made in the U.S. The companies placed on the Entity List are deemed to be engaged in activities that threaten the national security or the foreign policy interests of the U.S. Monday’s announcement explained the latest authorization had been created as a temporary general license. It allows disclosures of security vulnerabilities and for Huawei to engage in the development of standards for future 5G networks — effectively prompting the firm to become more transparent.

Will China play rare earths card in clash with US? - When US President Donald Trump’s administration ratcheted up trade tensions several weeks ago, hiking tariffs on Chinese goods and threatening to put tariffs on all imports from the country, attention quickly turned to potential responses from Beijing. As China buys far fewer goods from the US than vice versa, it has limited options for retaliating in kind with import tariffs. Beijing could retaliate, analysts warned, by encouraging a boycott of US consumer products or creating regulatory hurdles for companies that rely on the Chinese market. But focus shifted to another option on Monday, after a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to a rare-earth elements producer in the southern province of Jiangxi. Rare earths are an essential resource for manufacturing many high-tech products, and China accounts for the vast majority of US imports of the commodity. Xi’s public appearance at the company came after the state-run Global Times speculated last week that China could leverage its position as a key producer of the elements. The editorial stopped short of suggesting that Beijing might cut off exports to the US entirely, pointing out that such a move would risk escalating tensions further. But that was before the Trump administration announced on Friday that it would restrict exports of critical components to Chinese telecommunication firm Huawei. Xi used the event to invoke the spirit of the “Long March” in the context of the US-China trade war, referencing the harrowing 1930s retreat of the Red Army that began in Jiangxi province and paved the way for Mao Zedong’s rise to power. The tour was the Chinese president’s first since the trade talks with the US were derailed several weeks ago. Notably, Vice-Premier Liu He appeared by Xi’s side, a strong public display of confidence in China’s top negotiator in trade talks with the US. Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang played down the significance of Xi’s visit. “It’s only normal for the Chinese leader to pay a domestic visit and study relevant industrial policy. I hope you will not over-interpret that,” Lu said.

 As Trump escalates China trade dispute, economic ties lose stabilizing force in matters of national security - The United States for years relied on economic interdependence with China as a stabilizing force in relations with Beijing, with business between the two nations forming what former treasury secretary Hank Paulson used to call the “ballast” in U.S.-China affairs. But as President Trump escalates his trade dispute with Chinese President Xi Jinping, there is a realization that those days are gone. The result is a reduced incentive for stability and restraint in Washington when it comes to China, raising the possibility that tensions could extend beyond the trade sphere and impact other areas of contention, including Taiwan or the South China Sea. “The way a lot of people have been talking about this is that you have lost, or you’re losing, the ballast,” said Zack Cooper, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former official in the George W. Bush administration. “The challenge now is that there is not much of a constituency that wants to protect the relationship amidst trade tensions, security concerns and human rights concerns.” The U.S. military is expressing growing alarm about China’s defense buildup. Human rights advocates are crying foul over China’s use of surveillance technology and internal reeducation camps for Muslims. And some American business executives, who once prized China and advocated for a more conciliatory stance toward Beijing, say they feel stung by what they see as unfair practices, ranging from intellectual-property theft to rules that require partnerships with local Chinese entities. Underpinning the growing strain is a sense among many Americans, harnessed by Trump during the 2016 presidential election, that China is not playing fair, and the time has come for Washington to shift the balance. While Trump has focused on trade, raising the stakes in recent days by applying 25 percent tariffs to billions of dollars in Chinese goods, his administration’s tougher line has extended to national security, too. The Pentagon’s defense strategy calls for “great power competition” that aims to prevent China from achieving any substantive military advantage.

This Is Unfathomable - Nike, Adidas Pen Letter To Trump Calling Proposed Tariffs Catastrophic - Footwear companies Nike and Adidas are publicly airing their grievances and having their say about President Trump's pending decision to slap tariffs on footwear made in China. The companies are calling the policy “catastrophic for our consumers, our companies and the American economy as a whole,” according to Bloomberg and a letter released publicly by the shoe industry’s trade association, the Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America, on Monday.  The two giants have been joined by 171 additional footwear companies in asking the President to hold off on raising tariffs further. The letter was also addressed to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow. The industry estimates that the tariffs, if implemented, would add $7 billion in new costs per year that would need to be passed onto the consumer. They wrote:"On behalf of our hundreds of millions of footwear consumers and hundreds of thousands of employees, we ask that you immediately stop this action to increase their tax burden. Your proposal to add tariffs on all imports from China is asking the American consumer to foot the bill. It is time to bring this trade war to an end."

Huawei Threat Artificially Inflated by Radical US Politicians - Pundits - The United States, while urging other countries to join sanctions against Huawei, is dividing the global community. As a result, the rest of the world unwittingly has become a hostage to the situation, and many American partners find themselves in an uncomfortable position. A number of countries, including Japan and the United Kingdom, are trying to manoeuvre between their interests and their desire not to offend their main political ally. Meanwhile, South Korea is openly fighting for its rights and points out that, although the US is the instigator of this conflict, its consequences must be borne by others. Japanese mobile carriers SoftBank, NTT Docomo, and KDDI have announced that they are postponing the start of sales of new Huawei phones scheduled for 24 May and suspending pre-orders. In the UK, EE and Vodafone refused to use Huawei smartphones for 5G networks testing. However, these and other countries are in no hurry to completely sever relations with the Chinese company. Japan’s Panasonic, on its Chinese website, denied information released by several media sources that it was suspending the delivery of Huawei components. Panasonic emphasized that the Chinese company is its most important partner and deliveries of all Panasonic products and services will continue in full. The UK still does not exclude the participation of a Chinese company in the construction of 5G networks. According to the Chosun Ilbo, South Korea is trying to resist US pressure, which means it must put pressure on its IT giants and not allow the spread of Huawei equipment across Southeast Asia.

Trump says Huawei could be part of trade deal - US President Donald Trump has said Huawei could be part of a trade deal between the US and China, despite branding the telecoms firm "very dangerous". The US-China trade war has escalated in recent weeks with tariff hikes and threats of more action. Washington has also targeted Huawei by putting the firm on a trade blacklist. The US argues Huawei poses a national security risk, while Beijing accuses the US of "bullying" the company. "Huawei is something that is very dangerous," Mr Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday. "You look at what they've done from a security standpoint, a military standpoint. Very dangerous." Last week, the Trump administration added Huawei - the world's second largest smartphone maker - to its "entity list", which bans the company from acquiring technology from US firms without government approval. But Mr Trump has said it is "possible" that the company could be part of any trade agreement with Beijing. "If we made a deal, I could imagine Huawei being possibly included in some form or some part of it," he said.

China says trade talks can’t continue unless US addresses its ‘wrong actions’ - The latest U.S. actions on trade are preventing negotiations with Beijing from proceeding, China’s Commerce Ministry said Thursday. “If the U.S. would like to keep on negotiating it should, with sincerity, adjust its wrong actions. Only then can talks continue,” Ministry of Commerce spokesperson Gao Feng said Thursday in Mandarin, according to a CNBC translation. He did not mention any U.S. actions specifically, but it’s been a tense couple of weeks between the world’s two-largest economies. President Donald Trump unexpectedly accused China of reneging on a deal earlier this month and announced that tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods would increase to 25% from 10% on May 10. Beijing retaliated with raising levies on $60 billion worth of U.S. products. In the last two weeks, his administration also put Chinese telecom giant Huawei on a blacklist that prevents it from buying from American companies without U.S. government permission. Google said Sunday it would cut ties with Huawei in order to comply with the order. But after the U.S. temporarily eased some restrictions on trade for the telecom and smartphone company, Google said Tuesday it plans to work with Huawei over the next 90 days. “The U.S. ... crackdown on Chinese companies not only seriously damages the normal commercial cooperation between both countries, but it also forms a great threat to the security of the global industrial and supply chain,” Gao said. “China is firmly opposed to this. We will closely monitor developments and make adequate preparations.”  U.S Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC’s Ylan Mui on Wednesdaythat a trip to Beijing has not been planned.  Nearly three-fourths of respondents to a joint survey by the American Chambers of Commerce in Shanghai and Beijing said the latest round of U.S. tariffs and planned counter-tariffs from China are negatively affecting their businesses.

Expect A Long-Trade War- China Offers Tech Companies Five-Year Tax Break To Offset Tariffs - In the cleanest indication yet that China is hunkering down for what it now expected to be a very long trade war, the SCMP reports that China will give a "five-year tax break to its home-grown semiconductor makers and software developers in a bid to bolster the industries as the trade war shifts to an assault on Chinese technology." On Wednesday afternoon, China's finance ministry said that in an attempt to bolster the local tech industry, integrated circuit makers and software companies will be exempt from paying corporate taxes for two years, starting in 2019, and in the following three years, their tax payments will be halved from the 25 per cent universal rate levied on Chinese companies. The announcement comes one day after the White House was reprortedly considering cutting off the flow of vital American technology to as many as five Chinese video surveillance companies, including the biggest, Hikvision, and Zhejiang Dahua Technology. So far China's response has been largely muted, with China imposing retaliatory tariffs on US imports last week after President Donald Trump had earlier more than doubled duties on US$200 billion worth of Chinese goods. According to the SCMP, the decision by the US "to impose tariffs on all Chinese products and put smartphone maker Huawei on a trade blacklist that could choke off vital components has severely damaged the fragile trust between the two countries, forcing China to re-examine the entire bilateral economic relationship to protect itself, according to Chinese researchers." And while the escalation of US trade tariffs and the Huawei blacklisting have reinforced Beijing’s long-standing belief that it has to rely on itself for key technologies and resources, it appears that the opposite is happening, and as the following Deutsche Bank chart shows, it is in fact the US who has been shifting away its imports from China and toward the rest of the word.

Xi Jinping says China is embarking on a ‘new Long March,’ signaling no end to trade war soon - Chinese President Xi Jinping ramped up his rhetoric yet again on the trade war. “We are here at the starting point of the Long March to remember the time when the Red Army began its journey,” Xi said at a rally in Jiangxi province during a domestic tour. “We are now embarking on a new Long March, and we must start all over again!” according to a report from the South China Morning Post. Although he didn’t mention the U.S. or the ongoing trade war, the remarks are interpreted as a clear sign that China is not going to cave in anytime soon. Chinese Vice premier Liu He, a top trade negotiator, was with Xi during his tour, according to the report. The “Long March” refers to China’s civil war in the 1930s. Xi also visited rare earth mining and processing facilities on Monday, the report said. There has been speculation that China could ban rare earth exports to the U.S. if the trade war escalates, according to the South China Morning Post. The trade negotiations between the world’s two largest countries have hit a roadblock. President Donald Trump followed through with his threat to increase tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods from 10% to 25%. China immediately responded by upping the tariffs on $60 billion of U.S. goods to as high as 25%. Beijing is in “no rush” to resume trade talks between the U.S. and China, the newspaper reported Monday. Chinese analysts said China is prepared to suspend meeting if Trump wasn’t “prepared to be realistic,” South China Morning Post said in a Monday report. The talks between the U.S. and China appeared to have stalled as it is unclear what the two sides would negotiate, sources told CNBC’s Kayla Tausche on Friday. China has invited the U.S. delegation to Beijing, and last week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin appeared open to accepting the offer. Trump said recently he has not “made that decision yet” on whether to put tariffs on another $325 billion in Chinese goods. The two leaders are set to meet at the G-20 summit in Japan next month.

We Will Beat America Out Of Its Wits - China Trade War Song Goes Viral  - A song titled "Trade War," has gone viral on one the largest Chinese social media platforms, WeChat, generating more than 100,000 views amid a deepening trade war between the US and China.  The song begins with a chorus singing "Trade war! Trade war! Not afraid of the outrageous challenge! Not afraid of the outrageous challenge! A trade war is happening over the Pacific Ocean!"As Bloomberg reports, the song also includes lyrics such as: "if the perpetrator wants to fight, we will beat him out of his wits." The song, set appropriately to a tune of an anti-Japanese song from the 1960s, reveals the tsunami of anti-US sentiment spreading across the country. Song producer Zhao Liangtian told Bloomberg: "Since the trade war broke out, I felt the urge to do something." On Tuesday, Chinese state media continued broadcasting anti-US propaganda to millions of its citizens. "Facing the US which is going against the trend of the times, China resolutely showed the sword," said an analysis from state-owned Xinhua News Agency. "We are forced to take necessary measures and are prepared for a protracted war." Of course, the propaganda did not stop there, and an editorial in the People's Daily warned that depriving 1.4 billion Chinese of their right to economic development and prevent China from becoming a superpower would be like "a mantis trying to stop a car with its arms." Over the weekend, we reported how CCTV 6, the movie channel of China's leading state television broadcaster, aired three anti-American movies last week.  CCTV 6 has gone trending on Chinese social media today for changing its schedule and playing three anti-American movies for three days in a row, sending out a clear anti-US message while the trade war is heating up. Read:— What's on Weibo (@WhatsOnWeibo) May 18, 2019 The three movies are Korean war films: Heroic Sons and Daughters (1964), Battle on Shangganling Mountain (1954), and Surprise Attack (1960), which aired about one week after President Trump raised an existing 10% tariff on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods to 25%.

Trump-Xi trade war summit at G20 in Japan still up in the air as ‘conditions not right’, China adviser says -- A meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump at the G20 summit in Japan next month is still up in the air as the “current conditions” are not right, a Chinese state researcher said. “Given the current conditions, what can really come out of the G20?” said Zhang Yansheng, the chief research fellow at the state-backed China Centre for International Economic Exchanges think tank, at a government-arranged press briefing on Wednesday. “We in the East need to save our face whereas the Americans have complete disregard for that. I think we need to wait and see.” While Zhang’s agency is not directly involved in planning Xi’s overseas trips, his comments suggest that Beijing is not in a rush to arrange a formal sit-down summit between the two leaders as they did in Argentina in December, playing down expectations that Trump and Xi are likely to meet next month to break the impasse in the trade talks. China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Thursday that China is open to resuming the trade talks, but that the sanctions the US placed on Huawei and other Chinese firms last week are “not helping to create a conducive environment for negotiations”. China’s Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng did not answer a question at a briefing, also on Thursday, over whether Xi and Trump will meet in Osaka

Not Just A Trade War, But A Shooting War With China Seems Inevitable - Doug Casey- The Chinese came from nothing; only 40 years ago, they had nothing but a billion impoverished peasants. No money. No technology. No power. Today, they’re on par with the United States. But, if this trend continues – which it will – their economy will be triple the size of the US economy in 20 years. Not just a trade war, but a shooting war with the Chinese seems inevitable. Because when tensions build up between states they eventually fight with each other. China is the major rising power. It’s got four times the US population, it’s soon going to be more economically powerful, and it’s going to reach military parity. It’s of a different culture than the US. The US government may figure it’s best to take them out while the balance still favors them. It’s a bit like the situation was with the USSR in the ’80s. They could see they were going into decline, and some Soviet generals figured it was “now or never” for a successful war. Fortunately they collapsed first. The Chinese don’t like seeing US aircraft carriers off their coast any more than we would like to see Chinese aircraft carriers in the Gulf of Mexico or off Santa Catalina Island. The last thing that we need is a war with the Chinese. But if something that’s been called the Thucydides Trap is valid – and I think it is – then it’s highly likely. It refers to the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, at the end of 5th century BC. The Trap is sprung when a reigning power strikes out at the advancing power while they still have a chance of winning. The American military thinks that a shooting war is inevitable. And it probably is. Why? Well, 5,000 years of history teaches us that it’s better to start a war when you’re more powerful than your enemy rather than wait until they’re more powerful than you. It’s always been this way. The Golden Rule of statecraft is: Do unto others – but do it first. It’s a very dangerous situation. The wars between European powers were bad enough. But when the US fought Japan it actually turned into a race war. What happened in the Pacific was far uglier than what happened in Europe. There were basically no prisoners taken. The next big war – as opposed to a sport war, like those in the Middle East – is likely to be with China. That could make World War II look trivial by comparison.

The Great Power Game is On and China is Winning --From across the pond come two geopolitical analyses in two top-quality British publications that lay out in stark terms the looming struggle between the United States and China. It isn’t just a trade war, says The Economist in a major cover package. “Trade is not the half of it,” declares the magazine. “The United States and China are contesting every domain, from semiconductors to submarines and from blockbuster films to lunar exploration.” The days when the two superpowers sought a win-win world are gone. For its own cover, The Financial Times’ Philip Stephens produced a piece entitled, “Trade is just an opening shot in a wider US-China conflict.” The subhead: “The current standoff is part of a struggle for global pre-eminence.” Writes Stephens: “The trade narrative is now being subsumed into a much more alarming one. Economics has merged with geopolitics. China, you can hear on almost every corner in sight of the White House and Congress, is not just a dangerous economic competitor but a looming existential threat.”Stephens quotes from the so-called National Defense Strategy, entitled “Sharpening the American Military’s Competitive Edge,” released last year by President Donald Trump’s Pentagon. In the South China Sea, for example, says the strategic paper, “China has mounted a rapid military modernization campaign designed to limit U.S. access to the region and provide China a freer hand there.” The broader Chinese goal, warns the Pentagon, is “Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and displacement of the United States to achieve global pre-eminence in the future.”The Economist and Stephens are correct. The trade dispute is merely a small part of a much larger and even more intense geopolitical rivalry that could ignite what Stephens describes as “an altogether hotter war.”

Trump Wields a More Powerful Weapon Than Tariffs for Trade War- President Donald Trump’s trade war against China has so far focused on attacking imports. His new front: Weaponizing American exports. The Trump administration is seeking to choke off Beijing’s access to key technologies by limiting the sale of vital U.S. components to China’s Huawei Technologies Co. The U.S. is considering putting at least five Chinese surveillance companies on the same blacklist. The moves are part of a bigger effort by the U.S. to expand and toughen the export control regime that for decades has curbed the sale of defense-related technologies to rogue regimes and strategic rivals. It’s a process that has prompted fears from business that as Trump’s trade war grows into a broader technology-driven conflict with China the U.S. could end up damaging its own economic future. In closed-door deliberations the administration since last year has been discussing with companies and industry groups how to update and redefine the products on the Commerce Department’s export control list, a process that is expected to gel in the coming weeks. Administration hawks are pushing for broad definitions to restrict exports related to technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics and 3D printing that they call essential to competitiveness. The new regulations could also limit the ability of companies to hire foreign engineers and scientists to work in affected areas as the knowledge they gain is considered a sensitive “deemed” export. -

Big Tech: “If the USA enforces antitrust laws against us, it means China will win!”  - Mark Zuckerberg offered to let Chinese premier Xi Jinping name his firstborn (seriously), Apple purged the Chinese App Store of privacy tools at the request of the politburo; Google secretly built a censoring search-engine for use in China, but America's Big Tech companies are sounding the alarm that they will no longer be able to promote America's global dominance if any of the US Big Tech breakup plans are executed.  Which is hilarious, because breaking up monopolies makes industriesstronger, not weaker: the breakup of Standard Oil spun off companies like Exxon and Chevron, each as big or bigger than Standard was when it was split up. AT&T's breakup gave us Verizon, Qwest, and a host of other telcos. Monopolies suppress growth by clobbering companies with innovative ideas in order to preserve the status quo.By contrast, Japan encouraged and nurtured its monopolies, and lost its substantial tech lead to become an also-ran in the global tech marketplace. Sandberg made her case against breaking up Facebook explicit. In an interview Friday, CNBC asked if Facebook was prepping for a big antitrust battle. In response, Sandberg recounted recent private meetings with Democrats and Republicans in Washington. There, she said, she heard that “while people are concerned with the size and power of tech companies, there’s also a concern in the United States with the size and power of Chinese companies, and the realization that these companies are not going to be broken up.” Schmidt was less direct, but conjured the same fears of falling behind China. On Sunday, he told the The Telegraph there is no legal basis to break up tech companies, arguing that “regulatory bias” in the West against Google and other American firms hurts consumers and hands China a competitive advantage on everything from privacy to data collection. "Chinese companies are growing faster, they have higher valuations and they have more users than their non-Chinese counterparts," said Schmidt, who will step down from Alphabet’s board in June. "It’s very important to understand that there is a global competition around technology innovation and China is a significant player and likely to remain so.”

 Bannon Says Destroying Huawei More Important Than Striking Trade Deal - From a comfortable position thousands of miles away from the White House (he has reportedly been spending a lot of time in Europe lately), former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon has embraced a stance toward Beijing that's somewhere to the right of John Bolton. Bannon calls himself a China "superhawk", which helps make President Trump's tough stance look moderate by comparison, while pro-business negotiators like Steven Mnuchin look like sinophiles.Bannon used two recent interviews with CNBC to explain his hostility toward Beijing. His argument boils down to this: for too long, Washington has allowed Beijing to get away with its anticompetitive subsidies and market protections, while the MSS steals whatever technology isn't deliberately handed over by American companies hoping to enter the world's largest growth market. Instead of fighting back, Washington has sat idly by as American money and corporations helped transform the Chinese economy, giving the Chinese the tools to stand up to the US.  But now that Beijing is making serious strides toward achieving its goal of supplanting the US as the world's top military and economic power, the White House can't afford to be silent any longer, which is why Bannon believes Trump "won't back down" during the trade war. Expanding on this theme during an interview with the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based newspaper whose owner has ties to the Communist Party, Bannon explained that driving Huawei out of Europe and the US is "10 times more important" than striking a trade deal. "It is a massive national security issue to the West," Bannon said, in a phone interview on Saturday with the South China Morning Post. "The executive order is 10 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."

 Donald Trump’s Huawei ban is a more severe threat to global economy than trade war tariffs, economists say - US President Donald Trump’s ban on Chinese telecoms giant Huawei Technologies, and its implications for 5G development, poses a more serious threat to the global economy than higher tariffs, according to economists. The US-China trade war – which has become white hot in recent weeks after simmering for months – is quickly evolving into a fight over which of the world’s two largest economies will control the future of technology and telecommunications. Last week, the Trump administration blacklisted Huawei and more than five dozen of its affiliates from buying American technology and components over national security concerns, which could severely hamper the company’s ability to develop the next generation of telecommunications products. This week, the US was reported to be considering a similar ban against China’s Hikvision, one of the world’s biggest CCTV companies. The moves came as Trump continued to press China to change years of industrial and trade policies. Washington increased tariffs this month to 25 per cent on some US$200 billion of Chinese-made products and has threatened to impose duties on nearly all Chinese goods later this year. Beijing has responded with its own retaliatory tariffs.“The new sanctions [against Chinese technology firms] will be more damaging to the Chinese economy than a shrinkage of the trade surplus because of US tariffs,” said Aidan Yao, senior emerging Asia economist, AXA Investment Managers. “The US-China tech competition will be more intense and drawn out, significantly outlasting the trade tensions.”

China’s ‘nuclear option’ in Trump’s trade war, explained - China is currently the largest holder of U.S. government debt. It now owns $1.12 trillion in U.S. Treasury bonds.If China decided to sell off its U.S. government debt holdings as a form ofretaliation in the ongoing trade war with the U.S. and President Donald Trump, it could upend global financial markets and drive U.S. interest rates higher. That’s a measure some have started calling China’s “nuclear option.”China, however, has several reasons why it might not weaponize its bond holdings anytime soon. Watch the video above to learn about China’s so-called nuclear option in the ongoing trade war.

China's Largest Chipmaker De-Lists From NYSE -- Beijing repudiated President Trump's Thursday claim about a 'speedy' trade deal, saying there were no plans for a Trump-Xi meeting. US stock futures pared gains on that headline. Also, US firms ratcheted up the pressure on Huawei, with Microsoft joining the contingent of chip and tech companies that is planning to cut ties with Huawei over Washington's blacklisting. And now, the South China Morning Post is reporting that China's largest chipmaker is withdrawing its ADRs from the New York Stock Exchange, and will subsequently trade only in Hong Kong. The company said 'low trading volumes' and the 'cost of maintaining the listing' motivated its decision.China’s biggest maker of semiconductors is to withdraw from the New York Stock Exchange as the increasingly ferocious trade war with the US spills over into the technology sector. Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC) said on Friday evening it has notified NYSE of its intention to apply on June 3 to delist its so-called American depositary receipts from the bourse. In a filing to the Hong Kong stock exchange, where its shares are listed, SMIC cited low trading volumes of its ADRs and the costs of maintaining the listing and complying with reporting requirements and related laws.The delisting is expected to happen after June 13, and trading of the chip maker’s US securities will shift to the over-the-counter market, the statement said. The sudden move comes as Washington steps up efforts to cut off its technology from China, with trade negotiations between the world’s two largest economies still deadlocked.

 Huawei Executive Accused of Helping Steal Trade Secrets - A Huawei executive was involved in a plot to steal trade secrets, claims California-based electronics startup CNEX Labs. Chinese telecommunications company Huawei and CNEX — which was co-founded by a former Huawei employee — have filed dueling lawsuits over trade secret theft. Now, The Wall Street Journal reports that high-level Huawei figure Eric Xu has been accused of helping oversee an alleged conspiracy.The Journal quotes a newly released hearing transcript that offers some details in a largely locked-down trial. According to its write-up, CNEX claims that Xu — one of Huawei’s rotating chairmen — “directed a Huawei engineer to analyze Cnex’s technical information.” The engineer then allegedly posed as a potential CNEX customer to obtain details about its operations. CNEX also says that Xu was briefed on a plot to surreptitiously gather information from Xiamen University, which had obtained a computer memory board from CNEX. According to the Journal, Huawei lawyers admitted that Xu had been “in the chain of command that had requested” information about CNEX, but they denied that any trade secrets had been stolen. “The relevant reports regarding the CNEX case are misleading and contain unsubstantiated allegations,” said Huawei in a statement to The Verge. “The presiding judge has twice denied CNEX’s attempts to drag Mr. Xu into the litigation. In addition, CNEX’s legal team have such little faith in the Xiamen University conspiracy theory that they did not seek any documents or testimony from the university, its professors, or personnel.” CNEX didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

 DHS Warns That Chinese-Made Drones May Steal Data - The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a Monday warning that Chinese-made drones may be sending sensitive flight data to their manufacturers in China, according to CNN, citing the alert.  The drones are a "potential risk to an organization's information," the alert from DHS's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency states. The products "contain components that can compromise your data and share your information on a server accessed beyond the company itself."The report does not name any specific manufacturers, but nearly 80% of the drones used in the US and Canada come from DJI, which is headquartered in Shenzhen, China, according to one industry analysis. US local law enforcement organizations and infrastructure operators have grown to rely on drones in recent years. -CNN"The United States government has strong concerns about any technology product that takes American data into the territory of an authoritarian state that permits its intelligence services to have unfettered access to that data or otherwise abuses that access," reads the alert. "Those concerns apply with equal force to certain Chinese-made (unmanned aircraft systems)-connected devices capable of collecting and transferring potentially revealing data about their operations and the individuals and entities operating them, as China imposes unusually stringent obligations on its citizens to support national intelligence activities."  The warning over drones comes after President Trump signed an executive order last week effectively banning US firms from using telecom equipment made by Chinese firm Huawei, which has raised similar national security concerns over alleged spying.

China’s Biggest Airlines Demand Compensation For Boeing 737 Max Groundings --Boeing already announced that the global grounding of its 737 Max aircraft was going to cost it more than $1 billion—but things look like they could get much, much worse for the company. China’s three biggest airlines have united to demand compensation from Boeing to make up for losses caused by the grounding and delayed deliveries of 737 MAX jets. Air China, China Southern Airlines, and China Eastern Airlines laid out their demands to Boeing in statements released Wednesday. “China has grounded 96 aircraft, which is about 4 percent of its airplanes. The grounding causes huge losses for Chinese airlines,” said China aviation expert Li Xiaojin, who estimated losses are likely to be at least $14,000 per aircraft for each airline. He added: “The potential costs are huge, too.” China was the first country to ground the planes after a crash in Ethiopia killed 157 in March.

U.S. and South Korea Gear Up for Burden-Sharing Talks - “If the United States believes that it doesn’t need an alliance with the Republic of Korea, I would say it’s okay. If the United States doesn’t want the alliance, we don’t have to beg for it.”It was a stunning statement to hear in Seoul from one of South Korea’s highest-ranking officials, considering it was in regard to a nearly 70-year partnership forged by American and Korean soldiers who fought and died together during the Korean War. And it was a sign that well beyond South Korea, the United States’ system of alliances is buckling under pressure from President Donald Trump’s campaign to renegotiate the terms of America’s involvement with the world—to turn what used to be a basic tenet of U.S. grand strategy into a blunt question of financial grand totals. Seated in his ornate chambers in April, the speaker of the National Assembly, Moon Hee-sang, was answering my question about Trump’s demand for South Korea to shell out more money to keep American troops in the country, and his threatsto impose tariffs on South Korean goods. Just as striking as Moon’s comment was the context in which he said it. South Korea “was able to become what it is today thanks to the support of the United States,” he noted with appreciation in our interview, in remarks that were translated. But now, as one of the world’s top economies, it is prepared to “pay back” the international assistance it received by helping “share the burdens” of resolving global problems.

Small group of America’s big farms gets bulk of Trump bailout funds --A tenth of US farm operators have received more than half the money from a federal bailout designed to offset the costs of the Trump administration’s trade battles, data show. Some use legal loopholes to collect multiples of a $125,000 cap on payments.  The government had doled out $8.5bn ahead of last Friday’s application deadline for farmers, the US department of agriculture said. The White House launched the Market Facilitation Program in September after China, Mexico and other countries fought back against US tariffs by raising duties on American farm goods, depressing their price.  The payments reflect the farm sector’s political clout in Washington. No other US industry has received direct payments to relieve losses caused by tariffs.  The department is now working on a second direct payment scheme worth as much as $20bn after trade talks between the US and China fell apart, agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue said last week.  Between September and mid-April, $4.5bn of MFP payments went to 10 per cent of recipients, according to records the Financial Times obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act.  The government limited payments to $125,000 per person or legal entity in each of three commodity categories. Farmers were also ineligible if their adjusted gross income topped $900,000.  The records showed that more than 3,000 farm businesses got paid in excess of $125,000 within a single category, however. More than 100 received at least $500,000 and a handful collected almost $1m. Three farm businesses that share a Charleston, Missouri address — DeLine Farms Partnership, DeLine Farms North and DeLine Farms South — were collectively paid $2.8m between September and April based on their soyabean, corn and cotton production, the data showed.  Farmer Donny DeLine of Charleston was described as a “big time operator” in 2010 by Farm Journal. In 2012 another industry publication said he farmed 35,000 acres.

 Second White House 'Farm Bailout' Could Cost As Much As $20 Billion - Introduced earlier this month in a disjointed stream of tweets from President Trump, the White House is finally ready to release more details about its second bailout for American farmers.This year's package could cost as much as $20 billion, nearly double the $12 billion from last year.And at first glance, it appears that farmers will be better compensated by the new plan - a sign that the administration doesn't see an immediate resolution for the trade crisis - though it still is cold comfort for farmers in the American heartland who have been hammered not only by China's tariffs, but by record flooding in the Midwest and five years of falling agricultural commodity prices.  Rates currently under discussion include $2 per bushel for soybeans, 63 cents per bushel for wheat and 4 cents per bushel for corn growers to compensate them for their losses (whether the White House truly intends to distribute as aid to struggling countries remains to be seen). Though the final details of the plan are subject to change.Bloomberg's sources said farmers will also receive payments for other commodities, just like they did last year.In a departure from last year, the administration is reportedly considering basing payments on the acreage planted for the coming season, rather than farmer's current production levels. This has spurred questions from some economists. While the payments last year were based on farmers’ current production, the basis will be modified, the people familiar with the plan said. The administration is considering basing payments on the acreage farmers plant this year and their historic yield of crops per acre, the people said.

How Trump’s ‘America First’ Trade Strategy Is Accelerating America’s Decline - Marshall Auerback - The United States has increased tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese products to 25 percent, and Beijing has responded in kind on $60 billion worth of American goods. More tit for tat appears to be on the way: the Trump administration is now openly deliberating whether to impose additional tariffs on a further $325 billion of Chinese goods exported to the United States. National security concerns are also being increasingly invoked: Not only is Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications group, already largely shut out of selling its products in the U.S. domestic market, but Trump is also now taking steps to ban the sale of U.S.-made components to Huawei as well. What was once a mere trade skirmish, therefore, appears to be metastasizing into Cold War 2.0.  This creates a conundrum for the Trump administration: Beijing is increasingly viewed by many countries as an economic rival or a security threat to be contained, rather than a collaborative trade partner to be accommodated. But the president’s “America First” trade policy is undermining broader multilateral efforts to contain China because Trump’s incessant focus on reducing his country’s bilateral trade deficit with Beijing means diverting Chinese purchases away from other trade counterparties. That means, for example, China buying more U.S. cars made on American soil than, say, German ones, more U.S. soybeans than Brazilian, or more U.S. semiconductors than Japanese or South Korean ones, all designed to help reduce the bilateral deficit. This sort of a trade deal, however, is clearly not in the interests of the EU, Brazil, Japan, or Southeast Asia, and is making them averse to collaborating with the United States with regard to any Chinese security concerns they might share (which they do), especially when one considers that the basis for the West’s successful containment strategy against the former Soviet Union was that it was both collaborative and multilateral in scope.  Semiconductors are a perfect case in point to highlight the new contradiction. If Trump bans the export of U.S.-made semis to Huawei (he has now offered a temporary 90-day waiver), then the latter will naturally gravitate toward buying them from other countries.   Tariffs are certainly effective as an attention-getting mechanism. But if the goal is ultimately to encourage more jobs at home, they will be ineffective if unaccompanied by a national industrial policy that focuses on American re-industrialization in order to create skilled, high-paying private sector jobs capable of profitably supporting workers with solid middle-class incomes.

President Trump’s new immigration proposal would be terrible for tech - President Donald Trump’s “merit-based” immigration proposal is never going to happen. But what it does do is try and cover up the fact that his administration has systematically thwarted high-skilled immigrants and the tech companies trying to employ them. Using executive orders, the president has made it more difficult — and expensive — to hire high-skilled tech workers from other countries. The administration has throttled aprogram that encouraged entrepreneurs to come to the US. It’s also ending work permits for spouses of H-1B holders, who are often highly skilled professionals themselves,among other measures to stop immigration. One result has been a net decline in high-skilled visas, known as H-1Bs, which has been bad for tech companies in the US (but good for Canada). In a Rose Garden speech yesterday, Trump proposed a plan that sounded like it would be good for tech.He suggested replacing green cards for US citizens’ siblings, parents, and adult children — as well as permanent residents’ spouses and children, among others — with visas for workers, especially high-skilled ones. Using a merit-based point system, the proposal would favor people with “extraordinary talent,” “professional and specialized vocations,” and “exceptional academic track records.”The overall number of issuances would remain the same at 1.1 million. Of all green cards, these so-called “Build America” visas would capture 57 percent for people in the employment and skill category, plus 33 percent for immediate family, and 10 percent to humanitarian causes, according to the White House fact sheet, which is otherwise rather sparse on details.Using what information the White House did provide as well as existing immigration data, Boundless Immigration, a venture-backed company that helps people navigate the US immigration system, took an educated guess as to how the proposal would shift green card issuance: (graphic)

 House Oversight Committee requests information on reported Trump plan to send TSA employees to border - The House Oversight Committee on Monday requested information related to President Trump's reported plan to send Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees to the border. “We are deeply concerned that pulling hundreds of TSA employees away from their critical missions at our nation’s airports and sending them to the southern border will weaken aviation security and significantly increase the risks faced by the American people,” Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) wrote in a letter to the TSA. “An obvious and enormous problem with this plan is that TSA employees already have full-time jobs, and the agency needs them to fulfill their critical mission at our nation’s airports, as well as to address vulnerabilities identified by the Government Accountability Office and the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security.” Multiple outlets reported that the Department of Homeland Security had started reassigning agents from airports to the southern border in response to a surge in migrant crossings. The agency in recent months has sent Coast Guard teams and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who usually conduct criminal probes to the border. Customs and Border Protection officials detained 109,144 migrants at the southern border last month, marking the highest number in more than a decade. “Based on our work, we have grave concerns about the wisdom of any proposal to pull hundreds of TSA employees away from their critical security mission at our nation’s airports to fulfill the President’s immigration policies,” Cummings and Lynch wrote.

Trump reportedly wants to paint his border wall black so it can absorb heat and get too hot for people to climb - President Donald Trump is "micromanaging" plans for his long-desired border wall, including by instructing engineers to paint the bollards that make up the wall black so they absorb heat and to install pointed tips on the wall so people would risk injury by trying to climb it, The Washington Post reports.He wants to paint the wall's bollards "flat black" because the dark color absorbs heat and would be too hot to scale in the summer, he recently told White House aides, Department of Homeland Security officials, and military engineers, The Post reported on Thursday.The president has also called for the tips of the bollards to be pointed and not round, The Post said, adding that he had described "in graphic terms the potential injuries that border crossers might receive."Trump has also complained that the current prototype for the wall has too many gates for people to pass through and called for those openings to be narrowed, The Post reported.He also wants the structure to be "physically imposing but also aesthetically pleasing," The Post said. He is "micromanaging the project down to the smallest design details" and would even wake Kirstjen Nielsen, then the Homeland Security secretary, in the early morning to discuss his plans, The Post reported.

 Flu outbreak leads to quarantine at Texas immigrant detention center - On Tuesday, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) suspended the intake of immigrants at the McAllen Central Processing Center, one of the busiest and largest migrant detention centers in the country. This is the same facility where sixteen-year-old Guatemalan migrant Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez died on Monday after being diagnosed with the flu. “To avoid the spread of illness, the Rio Grande Valley Sector has temporarily suspended intake operations at the [Central Processing Center],” the CBP said in a statement. “Individuals apprehended in [Rio Grande Vally] Sector will be held at other locations until this situation is resolved.” After being captured on May 13, Hernandez was admitted to the McAllen facility as an unaccompanied minor showing no signs of illness. He stayed at the facility for over a week—twice as long as is allowed by US law—and first reported feeling ill on Sunday. He was never taken to the hospital and was found unresponsive the following day. He is the sixth minor to die in US custody since last September. The CBP statement did not report how many migrants are currently sick, simply stating that a “large number” of immigrants were suffering from “flu-related” symptoms. The mass quarantine of over 8,000 men, women and children in Texas is of a piece with the Trump administration’s fascistic efforts to paint asylum seekers as disease-ridden “criminals” who threaten the population with contagion. “We are seeing migrants arrive with illnesses and medical conditions in unprecedented numbers,” said Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan at a press conference in March. “We’re doing everything we can to simply avoid a tragedy in a CBP facility. But with these numbers, with the types of illnesses we’re seeing at the border, I fear it’s just a matter of time.” What hypocrisy! The CBP is itself responsible for administering the deficient food, housing and medical attention that make the spread of preventable diseases inevitable. The sickness and death of impoverished migrants whose illnesses were either contracted or exacerbated at squalid US-run detention centers are then used to ramp up authoritarian attacks on asylum seekers.

Go Greyhound- California Border Agents Dropping Illegal Migrants At Bus Station - Due to a surge in migrants filling California detention facilities to capacity, US Border Patrol agents in El Centro began dumping detained border crossers three hours north at the San Bernardino Greyhound Station last Wednesday, after the agency ran out of room to house them. "It was a decision that was made because they couldn’t take any more families and obviously we cannot keep them in custody for much longer because we are at capacity," said acting assistant chief patrol agent Miguel Garcia, according to Reuters. Apprehensions of migrant families in California’s El Centro sector rose 383 percent in the seven months through April from a year earlier as record numbers of mainly Central Americans crossed the border, Border Patrol data shows. In San Bernardino, long a transit hub for east-west travel and freight, immigrants were dropped off at the bus terminal by Customs and Border Patrol Agents to wait for family, friends or volunteers to pick them up. -Reuters "We asked them where they were going to drop us off and they said at a bus station and there you might find some people who can help you, and that’s it," said Angel Gonzalez, 34, who left Guatemala on April 25 with his 11-year-old son and traveled through Mexico before illegally crossing into the United States. The father and son stated at a CBP facility for six nights before their release in San Bernardino on Sunday, where they embarked on a ride to "join relatives in Arkansas," according to the report. Map of Greyhound bus routes Releasing detained migrants at Southwest bus stations is nothing new, as migrants are expected to return for their pending immigration court hearings to determine whether they can remain in the country legally. In December, ICE dropped off around 200 migrants at an El Paso Greyhound station without warning. The little-noticed surge across the U.S.-Mexico border: It’s Americans heading south  - President Trump regularly assails the flow of migrants crossing the Mexican border into the United States. Less noticed has been the surge of people heading in the opposite direction.Mexico’s statistics institute estimated this month that the U.S.-born population in this country has reached 799,000 — a roughly fourfold increase since 1990. And that is probably an undercount. The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City estimates the real number at 1.5 million or more. They’re a mixed group. They’re digital natives who can work just as easily from Puerto Vallarta as Palo Alto. They’re U.S.-born kids — nearly 600,000 of them — who’ve returned with their Mexican-born parents. And they’re retirees like Guzmán, who settled in this city five years ago and is now basically the pickleball king of San Miguel.

 Trump Pushes for Border Wall Deal for Fox News Guest’s Firm - President Trump has been pushing for a border wall deal to be granted to the firm of a frequent Fox News guest and GOP donor, according to four administration officials speaking anonymously to The Washington Post. The president has reportedly brought up Fisher Industries, based in North Dakota, to Department of Homeland Security officials and the commanding general of the Army Corps in meetings about the border wall, most recently in the Oval Office on Thursday. Fisher Industries is run by CEO Tommy Fisher, a GOP donor who has been a frequent voice on conservative television and radio shows, where he claims he can build a border wall quickly and cheaply. (He has promised to erect more than 200 miles of barrier on the southern border in less than a year.) The president—who is making immigration a key component of his 2020 push and who has expressed his desire for a border wall that is "painted black and topped with pointed spikes"—has apparently been entranced by Fisher's promises. "He wants to make sure we get the job done under budget and ahead of schedule," Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told the Post. Senator Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who has received thousands in campaign contributions from Fisher and his family and who has promoted Fisher Industries to Trump, noted that Fisher has "been very aggressive on TV" advocating for the wall. "You know who else watches Fox News?" Cramer told the Post.

Lawmakers reach deal on disaster aid, leaves out border money Trump demanded - The Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a $19.1 billion disaster-aid package, advancing legislation that would break a months-long impasse over federal funding for stretches of the country afflicted by natural disasters. President Trump on Thursday evening wrote the Senate had his total support in passing the deal. House lawmakers left town Thursday before the agreement was announced, leaving prospects for rapid passage there uncertain — though the chamber’s Democratic leaders hope to use a procedural move to quickly advance the measure Friday. The deal, which congressional leaders presented hours before the Senate vote, would send aid to victims of Western wildfires, Midwestern flooding and hurricanes that hit the Southeast and Puerto Rico, as well as to other disaster-affected areas across the country. The package does not include the U.S.-Mexico border funding the Trump administration requested. That demand had proved contentious, and leaving it out sidestepped a fight over immigration that had further complicated the delicate ­disaster-aid negotiations. The Senate passed the measure 85 to 8, with bipartisan backing that followed months of finger-pointing as Democrats, Republicans and President Trump fought over funding for Puerto Rico and other issues. Several hurdles remain for the bill to be signed into law. Senators said Thursday afternoon that they felt confident Trump would sign the deal, and Trump saying he backed the deal could ease fears of a last-minute rejection. Before going to Trump, the disaster package would need approval from the House, but lawmakers there left for the Memorial Day recess before the Senate voted Thursday. The House is scheduled to meet Friday for a brief “pro forma” session with few lawmakers present. House leaders hope to advance the measure then by unanimous consent, according to a senior House Democratic aide, but a single objection from a lawmaker could sink the package until the House returns.

Trump Rants About ‘Crazy’ Nancy Pelosi: ‘She’s Lost It’ -President Trump—during a Thursday press conference at the White House that was intended to announce a new $16 billion bailout for farmers—attacked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, calling her “crazy.” “Look, she’s a mess,” he said. Trump spent much of the press conference trying to convince reporters that he was, in fact, calm during a meeting with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer the day before, at one point trotting out Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, and others to testify to his “very, very calm” state of mind. Just hours earlier, Pelosi had asserted that Trump’s family should stage an “intervention for the good of the country.” The president responded by noting that Pelosi has “lost it” and that she is “by the way, a person who’s got some problems.” Minutes later, Pelosi responded with a snarky tweet: “When the ‘extremely stable genius’ starts acting more presidential, I’ll be happy to work with him on infrastructure, trade and other issues.”

Pelosi snaps at Conway after tense White House meeting: ‘I don’t talk to staff’ - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi snapped at White House counselor Kellyanne Conway after a tense, aborted meeting on infrastructure Wednesday, a senior administration official told CNBC. “I don’t talk to staff. I talk directly to the president,” Pelosi said after Conway asked the speaker a question, according to the official.  The interaction followed President Donald Trump’s abrupt exit from a meeting with Democratic congressional leaders.  Pelosi earlier in the day accused the president of engaging in a “cover-up” by blocking White House aides from providing testimony and responding to document requests from congressional investigations. The president responded by saying he doesn’t “do cover-ups” and that he could not work with Democrats on legislation until they stopped investigating him. In a last-minute press event at the Rose Garden, Trump said he “walked into the room and I told Sen. Schumer and Speaker Pelosi, ‘I want to do infrastructure’ ... but we can’t do it under these circumstances.” Democratic leaders said they were ready to make a deal on a $2 trillion plan to rebuild the country’s infrastructure, including roads, bridges and airports.

Videos Altered to Make Pelosi Seem Drunk Flood Social Media - Videos of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that have been doctored to make her appear drunk and slurring her words have flooded social media amid her growing feud with President Trump, The Washington Post reports. YouTube reportedly removed some of the videos, but they were also shared widely Thursday on Twitter and Facebook, where one video spread by conservative page Politics Watchdog gained nearly 2 million views as of Thursday afternoon. The videos, which spread like wildfire around the same time Trump began mocking Pelosi as “crazy” and a “mess,” show the House speaker’s speech Wednesday at a Center for American Progress event where she said House Democrats believe Trump is “engaged in a cover-up.” The footage has been altered, however, to make Pelosi’s speech sound slurred and confused, a trick that the Post reports can be done simply by slowing down the speed and changing the pitch. “There is no question that the video has been slowed to alter Pelosi’s voice,” Hany Farid, a digital-forensics expert at University of California, Berkeley, told the Post. Pelosi’s office has declined to comment on the matter.

Frustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' - Senators are growing increasingly frustrated as legislative activity has slowed to a crawl during the first half of the year. The Senate voted on two bills Thursday, breaking a nearly two-month drought during which Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has focused instead on judicial nominations, his top priority. The lack of floor action has left lawmakers publicly complaining, even though the high-profile feuding between President Trump and congressional Democrats makes it highly unlikely that large-scale bipartisan legislation will succeed heading into the 2020 elections. Tensions boiled over onto the Senate floor this week when Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) knocked the slow start to the new Congress, characterizing lawmakers as having done “nothing, zilch, zero, nada.” “I’m not saying we haven’t done anything. We have confirmed some very important nominees to the Trump administration, long overdue,” Kennedy said. “I’m saying we need to do more.” Asked how he felt about the pace of legislation in the Senate this year, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) shot back: “What legislation?” “So it’s pretty slow, isn’t it?” he asked. Before Thursday, when the chamber passed bills addressing robocalls and disaster relief, the Senate’s previous roll-call vote on legislation was April 1, when senators rejected disaster aid proposals. And the most recent bill passed via roll call was in mid-March, when senators voted for a resolution to nix Trump’s emergency declaration for the U.S.-Mexico border. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said the inability to get legislation through the Senate was “frustrating,” but he argued that major agenda-setting bills were difficult without unified control of Congress. “I’m not sure what we can do about it except to wait to hopefully take back the House one day,” Rubio said.

Bipartisan retirement bill clears House, moves closer to becoming law --  Lawmakers in the House of Representatives have passed a bill that aims to improve the nation’s retirement savings, moving it a step closer to becoming law. Called the Secure Act and backed by both Republicans and Democrats, the measure includes a variety of provisions intended to increase the ranks of savers and the amount they put away. Changes include: making it easier for small businesses to band together to offer 401(k) plans, requiring businesses to let long-term, part-time workers become eligible for retirement benefits and repealing the maximum age for making contributions to traditional individual retirement accounts (right now, that’s 70½). It also would raise the age when required minimum distributions, or RMDs, from certain retirement accounts must start to age 72, from 70½, along with making changes to allow more annuities to be offered in 401(k) plans. “We continue to be optimistic that we’ll move this bill over the goal line,” said Paul Richman, chief government and political affairs officer at the Insured Retirement Institute. “It’s likely that before the end of this year, there will be a retirement bill that gets sent to the president’s desk.” A provision that would have allowed money from tax-advantaged 529 education savings plans to be used for home-schooling expenses was stripped from the Secure Act during a House Rules Committee vote earlier this week. With the Secure Act’s passage, it will now head to the Senate, where a similar bill has yet to be voted out of committee. In the upper chamber, it’s known as the Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act, or RESA, and its provisions largely mirror those in the House bill. However, it does not include some of the Secure Act proposals, including an increase in the age for RMDs and the requirement that companies provide 401(k) access to part-time workers.

Medicare-for-all: Rep. Pramila Jayapal's new bill, explained - Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) is introducing the most ambitious Medicare-for-all plan yet — one that envisions a quick transition to a public health plan with a robust set of benefits. The co-chair of the Progressive Caucus is releasing a proposal Wednesday to transition the United States to a single-payer health care system, one in which a single, government-run health plan provides insurance coverage to all Americans. “We mean a complete transformation of our health care system and we mean a system where there are no private insurance companies that provide these core benefits,” Jayapal told reporters Tuesday. “We mean universal care, everybody in, nobody out.” Jayapal’s bill envisions a future where all Americans have health coverage and pay nothing out of pocket when they visit the doctor or hospital. Her plan, the Medicare for All Act of 2019, describes a benefit package that is more generous than what other single-payer countries, like England or Canada, currently offer. The benefits in Jayapal’s bill are even more generous than those included in Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) Medicare-for-all plan. But where the Jayapal plan has great detail into what is covered, it does not get into a crucial question: how the government will pay for the new health care program. The new proposal comes at a moment that Democrats are coalescing around a Medicare-for-all platform. Frontrunner candidates in the Democratic primary like Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have all signed on as co-sponsors to Sanders’s single-payer bill in the Senate. The health care industry has already begun to gird for a major health care fight should a Democrat win in 2020, recently launching a new coalition of hospitals, insurers, and drugmakers to oppose the Medicare-for-all agenda. Jayapal says she’s ready: She’s already secured a promise from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hold the first-ever House hearings on Medicare-for-all later this year. “We will be pushing it as hard as we can and as fast as we can,” Jayapal says. “Enough nibbling around the edges. We really need to transform the system.”

The US Government Is Like A Bad Dad - Caitlin Johnstone -There’s a house on the block where a large family lives, and it gets pretty abusive in there. The kids hardly ever get to see a doctor and there’s never enough money for them to afford decent clothes or go on holiday, and a disproportionately large number of them get locked in their rooms as punishment for silly, arbitrary offenses which could have been prevented with a little more care and attention. They don’t get out much and they have to spend their free time listening to scripture readings about how exceptional their family is.Looking at these disheveled, mistreated children, one can’t help wondering what’s going on with their parents. Why aren’t they providing for their kids? Why isn’t money going toward giving their children quality healthcare and education and making sure they have everything they need? Are they poor? Is there some sort of substance abuse problem?Actually, if you look at their house you can very quickly see where the problem lies. A huge, opaque fence with barbed wire surrounds the yard, and there are many expensive security cameras scanning the scene, facing both outward and inward. All the doors and windows are barred shut and rigged with fancy alarm systems, and there’s a giant stockpile of firearms in the master bedroom.Every spare moment of his free time, the man of the house is either coming home with an expensive new piece of home security equipment or adjusting and tinkering with the ones he already has. He can’t be bothered with his needy children, who he angrily shoves away whenever they dare approach him asking for things. “No time for that!” he yells while piling new redundant security systems on top of old redundant security systems. “I’ve got to protect the family from all potential intruders!”

US Navy Busts Male Sailors for Creating ‘Rape List’ to Rank Female Shipmates – The US Navy ignored concerns over a sexually explicit “rape list” of female submariners circulating aboard the USS Florida – the second Navy submarine to integrate female crew members, according to records obtained by through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.“The sexually explicit list describes various USS Florida females by appearances, characteristics and various sexual acts the creators of the list wish to perform with them,” though it is important to note that an investigation found that “the list describes aggressive sexual activity, but does not reference non-consensual acts.”According to the report, there were two lists in existence; the first ranked the 32 women onboard the sub’s 173-person crew by attractiveness using a star system. The second included sexually explicit comments next to each name which corresponded to the star rankings, according to a 74-page report detailing the misconduct. On June 3, 2018, a sailor aboard the Florida printed the first list with the names of every female Gold crewmember when the sub was at Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. The sailor gave the list to a female petty officer the following day. It included between one and four asterisks next to every woman’s name.About 10 days later, that same sailor printed the second list and again gave it to the same female petty officer. The sailor told her the lists were housed on the submarine’s computer network, where they were updated every few weeks. Male crewmembers were going to vote again on them soon, the sailor told the petty officer. – The report says female crewmembers were full of “fear, anger, and disgust,” while men said they were “horrified, appalled, outraged and less trusting.” One woman said the lists made “her question all the males on the boat.”

 9/11 families sue FBI for names of Americans who supported al Qaeda hijackers - The families of 9/11 victims are fighting to have the FBI release the names of Americans who supported Al Qaeda. The Department of Justice has refused to allow the release of FBI transcripts that include redactions in order to protect a Saudi government official, while citing national security concerns, Fox News reported Monday.The refusal has left families wondering why the U.S. is protecting a Saudi Arabian figure and their involvement in the 9/11 attacks, especially after 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals. “It’s been 18 years on. Give the American people justice,” said Brett Eagleson, who lost his father in the south tower. South tower survivor Tim Frolich said “they’re covering it up,” adding that it’s been more than 17 years and there “has never been an indictment or an arrest for the crime of murder.”Last April, Andrew Maloney, an attorney for the 9/11 families issued a subpoena to the FBI for documents relating to Omar al-Bayoumi, an alleged Saudi spy who was in the U.S. and contacting the hijackers, as well as Fahadal-Thumairy, former Los Angeles consular official and Imam at the mosque the hijackers attended, Newsweek reported last year.“There was clearly evidence that Thumairy provided assistance to [hijackers] Hazmi and Mihdhar,” Moore wrote. And “based on the proof in our investigation,” he added, “Bayoumi himself was a clandestine agent and associated with radical extremists, including Thumairy.” Although a 2004 9/11 Commission report found no evidence that the Saudi government or its officials funded Al Qaeda, a 2005 CIA inspector general’s report offered speculation that “dissident sympathizers within the government” may have lent support to terror mastermind Osama bin Laden. Other investigations found that officials from the Saudi government’s Islamic affairs were involved in helping place the hijackers in California. “Saudi intelligence has admitted that they knew who these two guys [Hazmi and Mihdhar] were,” Andrew Maloney told Newsweek last year. “They knew they were Al-Qaeda the day they arrived in Los Angeles. So any notion from the Saudi government saying, ‘Oh, we just help out all Saudis here’ is false. They knew. And the CIA knew.”

‘Unfathomable Evil Recognizing Unfathomable Evil’: Trump’s Possible Pardons of War Criminals Provoke Outrage - Progressives, human rights advocates, and journalists responded with outrage on Saturday to a New York Times report that President Donald Trump "has requested the immediate preparation of paperwork needed to pardon several American military members accused or convicted of war crimes."Unnamed U.S. government officials told the Times that on or around Memorial Day, Trump may pardon multiple servicemembers involved with "high-profile cases of murder, attempted murder, and desecration of a corpse."As the newspaper reported:The requests are for Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher of the Navy SEALs, who is scheduled to stand trial in the coming weeks on charges ofshooting unarmed civilians and killing an enemy captive with a knife while deployed in Iraq.They are also believed to include the case of a former Blackwater security contractor recently found guilty in the deadly 2007 shooting of dozens of unarmed Iraqis; the case of Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn, the Army Green Beret accused of killing an unarmed Afghan in 2010; and the case of a group of Marine Corps snipers charged with urinating on the corpse of a dead Taliban fighter."These are all extremely complicated cases that have gone through a careful system of consideration," Gary Solis, a retired military judge and armor officer who served in Vietnam, told the Times. "A freewheeling pardon undermines that whole system." Solis warned that pardoning servicemembers accused or convicted of war crimes "raises the prospect in the minds of the troops that says, 'Whatever we do, if we can get the folks back home behind us, maybe we can get let off.'"

 Howard Stern says he has inside info that Trump campaign was 'publicity stunt' -- Radio host Howard Stern, who often hosted President Trump on his show before the reality star and real estate mogul entered politics, claims Trump’s 2016 campaign was a “publicity stunt” to get NBC to give him a raise for “The Apprentice.” “This is a publicity stunt,” Stern said in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “I have no doubt because I have some inside information.” Stern said it all started with the 1987 book “The Art of the Deal,” ghostwritten by Tony Schwartz but credited to Trump. Stern said that a public relations professional suggested Trump start a "rumor" that he was planning to launch a White House bid. “So, all of a sudden, he was being interviewed — the book goes right to No. 1,” Stern said. Stern said that when Trump’s second book came out, “that’s when he started the rumor that he was running for president.” “‘The Apprentice’ ratings were not what they were, NBC was not going to give him a raise," Stern said. “And what’s a better way to get NBC’s interest? I’ll run for president and I’ll get lots of press. And I think that’s what happened.” Stern added that he doesn’t think Trump likes being president “at all.” “I think he liked winning the presidency,” he told Cooper. “He likes to win.”

McConnell campaign raises $70K through ‘Cocaine Mitch’ T-shirt sales: report Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) reelection campaign has reportedly sold more than 2,000 "Cocaine Mitch" T-shirts, raking in more than $70,000 in campaign contributions. Roughly four out of five of the purchasers of the $35 T-shirts are first-time donors to the Kentucky Republican's campaign, according to a report from the Center for Public Integrity. “One of the things we learned with this whole 'Cocaine Mitch' phenomenon is that people are really engaged,” Josh Holmes, a consultant for McConnell's reelection campaign, told the watchdog organization. “They want content. They want merchandise.” He added that the tactic is “not something we would have done in 2014” and called it a “new and unique way to capitalize on what is now a very … vibrant online democracy that is interested in participating if you give them a reason to.” The campaign began selling the garments, which depict a silhouette of McConnell surrounded by specks that appear to represent cocaine, earlier this month.They represent McConnell's decision to embrace a nickname given to him by failed Republican West Virginia Senate candidate Don Blankenship.Blankenship said in a campaign ad last year that “one of my goals as U.S. senator will be to ditch Cocaine Mitch.” He later said in a news release that he was referencing McConnell's father-in-law, "who founded and owns a large Chinese shipping company [and] has given Mitch and his wife millions of dollars over the years,” and said the shipping company had been implicated in alleged cocaine smuggling.

Tulsi Gabbard Says Boost From Putin Fans Is "Fake News" - Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) said on Sunday that reports claiming pro-putin Russophiles giving her 2020 presidential campaign a boost is "fake news," though she added that conflict with the Kremlin is not productive.  Speaking to ABC's George Stephanopoulos, Gabbard said that deteriorating relationships with nuclear-armed countries such as Russia and China "has brought us to a very dangerous point," reports The Hill. She added that, if elected, she would "end these counterproductive and wasteful regime change wars," and would "work to end this new Cold War and nuclear arms race."  Rep. Tulsi Gabbard: "As president, I will end these counterproductive and wasteful regime change wars, work to end this new Cold War and nuclear arms race … and invest those resources on serving the needs of the American people" — This Week (@ThisWeekABC) May 19, 2019 On Friday, the Daily Beast published a story claiming that Gabbard "is quickly becoming the top candidate for Democrats who think the Russian leader is misunderstood," based on people who had donated to her campaign. (We somehow missed the Daily Beast article on Hillary's alleged Saudi donors in 2016, but we digress).  Donors to her campaign in the first quarter of the year included: Stephen F. Cohen, a Russian studies professor at New York University and prominent Kremlin sympathizer; Sharon Tennison, a vocal Putin supporter who nonetheless found herself detained by Russian authorities in 2016; and an employee of the Kremlin-backed broadcaster RT, who appears to have donated under the alias “Goofy Grapes.” -Daily Beast Several of the tweets I just re-tweeted highlight the egregious errors, slimy tactics & smears here designed to imply Tulsi (who, unlike the authors, fought for the US) is a Kremlin asset. The worst is depicting anti-intervention/war positions as evidence of Russian loyalty:  — Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) May 18, 2019

 Loretta Lynch told Congress that Comey lied when he claimed she told him to downplay Clinton email probe as a ‘matter’ instead of an ‘investigation’ Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch told investigators she did not ask former FBI Director James Comey to refer to the Hillary Clinton email review as a 'matter' instead of an 'investigation,' according to a transcript released Monday night.Comey claimed in his 2017 sworn testimony that Lynch 'directed' him to call the investigation a 'matter' during a September 2015 meeting.The transcript of Lynch's December 19, 2018 interview with a joint task force of the House Oversight and Judiciary committees, which was released by Judiciary ranking member Doug Collins, clashes with what Comey testified under oath. 'I did not. I have never instructed a witness as to what to say specifically. Never have, never will,' Lynch told the congressional investigators, according to the transcript.  It is not clear if Lynch is only denying specifically directing Comey on what to say in his sworn testimony, or if she is also denying telling him how to refer to the investigation publicly or to the press. Lynch has been accused of helping stifle any investigations into Hillary Clinton’s emails in the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election.

GOP Rep. Amash becomes first Republican to say Trump 'engaged in impeachable conduct - Michigan GOP Rep. Justin Amash said Saturday he had concluded President Donald Trump committed "impeachable conduct" and accused Attorney General William Barr of intentionally misleading the public. Amash's comments recommending Congress pursue obstruction of justice charges against Trump were the first instance of a sitting Republican in Congress saying the President's conduct meets the "threshold for impeachment." Amash is a rare GOP critic of Trump and previously said Trump's conduct in pressuring then-FBI Director James Comey could merit impeachment. In a Twitter thread on Saturday, Amash said he believed "few members of Congress even read" special counsel Robert Mueller's report and that the report itself established "multiple examples" of Trump committing obstruction of justice. "Contrary to Barr's portrayal, Mueller's report reveals that President Trump engaged in specific actions and a pattern of behavior that meet the threshold for impeachment," Amash said in a string of messages on Twitter. While many Democrats have called for impeachment proceedings against Trump, many members of the GOP have agreed with Trump's assertions about the Mueller report and defended his conduct. For his part, Barr said the report established no conspiracy between Trump and Russia and that he and then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein did not believe its findings sufficient to charge Trump with obstruction of justice. Amash's comments on Saturday with regard to impeachment went further than even many members of House Democratic leadership. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last Thursday that "every day gives grounds for impeachment," while at the same time arguing that she doesn't want to impeach, though she did not rule out the possibility.

 D.C. Judge Rules Against Trump In Tax Records Tussle With Democrats -- Some potentially bad news for the President this afternoon after a federal judge ruled the Democrat-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee have the power to demand Trump's tax records from his accounting firm, Mazars USA LLP. As Bloomberg reports, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington - an Obama appointee - rejected Trump’s claim that Congress wasn’t entitled to the documents because they weren’t intended for a legitimate legislative purpose.  “It is simply not fathomable that a Constitution that grants Congress the power to remove a President....would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct..even without formally opening an impeachment inquiry” In a 41-page-long opinion, Mehta found that "President Trump cannot block the subpoena to Mazars.""Courts must presume Congress is acting in furtherance of its constitutional responsibility to legislate and must defer to congressional judgments about what Congress needs to carry out that purpose."Adding that, pointing to investigations conducted by the committee while it was under Republican control, the House Oversight panel's "broad investigative power is not new,""This court is not prepared to roll back the tide of is not for the court to question whether the Committee’s actions are truly motivated by political considerations..."  As expected, President Trump's lawyer Jay Sekulow has confirmed that they will appeal the ruling.

Judge says Deutsche Bank, Capital One can give Trump financial records to House Democrats - A federal judge in New York City on Wednesday said Deutsche Bank and Capital One can turn over financial documents related to President Donald Trump and his businesses in response to subpoenas from two Democrat-led House committees. Judge Edgardo Ramos’ ruling came after a hearing at which lawyers for Trump, his three older children, Donald Jr. Eric and Ivanka, and the Trump Organization argued that the subpoenas to the two banks should be quashed. An appeal of the decision is all but certain. Ramos, an appointee of President Barack Obama, said in U.S. District Court in Manhattan that the Trump clan’s arguments “are not sufficiently serious as it relates to Supreme Court precedent” dealing with the question of turning over documents to Congress.

Judge rules Deutsche Bank can hand over Trump financial records to Congress - A federal judge dealt a blow to President Donald Trump on Wednesday, ruling that two banks can hand over his financial documents in response to congressional subpoenas. The Trump family and company sued Deutsche Bank and Capital One last month in an effort to block them from turning over financial documents sought by Congress. The House Intelligence and Financial Services committees had issued subpoenas to several banks as part of their investigations of alleged foreign influence on U.S. elections. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos said he disagrees with the arguments from the Trump family attorneys that the subpoenas don't have a legitimate legislative purpose. Ramos described the subpoenas as "undeniably broad" but "clearly pertinent." Ramos issued his ruling after hearing arguments from lawyers representing the Trump and the Democratic-controlled congressional committees. The Trump family lawyers signaled that they will appeal the ruling, but they did not comment after the hearing. Deutsche Bank has lent Trump's real estate company millions of dollars over the years. Capitol One is among the banks that houses Trump's personal accounts. In a statement released after the ruling, Deutsche Bank said it won't fight the judge's order. "We remain committed to providing appropriate information to all authorized investigations and will abide by a court order regarding such investigations," the statement read. Recommended

WRONG! - Trump Slams NYT Over Latest Deutsche Bank Story - Reacting to a New York Times story about Deutsche Bank staff flagging 'suspicious' activity in Trump's and Kushner's accounts, President Trump again blasted the "Failing New York Times" for daring to suggest that Trump only banked with Deutsche Bank and Capital One because other banks didn't want to work with him. Repeating a prediction that the NYT will 'pass away' when he leaves office in six years, Trump insisted that this notion is "WRONG"; He didn't work with other banks because he "didn't need the money," not because they wouldn't do business with him after his infamous string of bankruptcies in the 90s.The Failing New York Times (it will pass away when I leave office in 6 years), and others of the Fake News Media, keep writing phony stories about how I didn’t use many banks because they didn’t want to do business with me. WRONG! It is because I didn’t need money. Very old  ....fashioned, but true. When you don’t need or want money, you don’t need or want banks. Banks have always been available to me, they want to make money. Fake Media only says this to disparage, and always uses unnamed sources (because their sources don’t even exist)......— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2019 Trump added that the mainstream media has never been "as corrupt and deranged" as it is today, which is why it won't cover the "real" Russia hoax (the provenance of the Steele Dossier).

 New York Passes Bill to Give Congress Access to Trump Tax Returns - As the White House continues to defy congressional Democrats’ requests for President Donald Trump’s federal tax returns, the New York state Assembly on Wednesday passed legislation that would make six years of Trump’s state tax records available to the U.S. Congress. The New York state Senate passed the legislation, titled the TRUST Act, earlier this month. The bill now heads to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk. In a statement, the advocacy group Stand Up America urged Cuomo to sign the TRUST Act as soon as possible. “Donald Trump and his administration are doing everything they can to conceal the truth about his finances and massive conflicts of interest by illegally blocking Congress from obtaining his tax returns,” said Stand Up America. “In order to circumvent this stonewalling, New York lawmakers are providing a new avenue for the House Ways and Means Committee to obtain these crucial financial documents,” the group said. “We implore Governor Cuomo to immediately sign this bill into law.”

Dems seek details on allegation Deutsche Bank blocked Trump-linked SARs — A pair of Senate Democrats are asking Deutsche Bank for details on why it reportedly failed to submit suspicious activity reports on transactions related to the families of President Trump and White House adviser Jared Kushner. In a letter to Deutsche Bank CEO Christian Sewing, Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., called on the bank to explain a New York Times report that senior officials in the bank’s private wealth management division quashed SARs prepared by compliance staff related to the Kushner Companies, the Trump Foundation and other entities. “Given Deutsche Bank’s record of recent serious violations of U.S. securities, banking, sanctions and anti-money laundering laws, if true this would seem to be another especially alarming failure of the bank’s risk management and internal controls,” the senators said in the letter, dated Monday. The senators are asking Sewing to detail how many SARs were allegedly prepared and then suppressed, and what the rationale was for not filing them with regulators. They also inquired about what role Deutsche Bank’s special investigations unit had with respect to Trump-related transactions, which leaders in the bank's private wealth management division were involved in deciding whether to file SARs, and whether the bank has undertaken an internal audit or review of the decisions. The senators also asked whether any of the transactions involved overseas entities, including “companies involving prominent Russians."  

Dems Mull Subpoena After Mueller Refuses To Testify Publicly Before Congress - Angry Democratic Congress members have turned up their rhetoric amplifier to '11' this evening, suggesting that special counsel Mueller may be subpoenaed to compel him to testify (publicly, of course, because - apparently - none of this is worth doing unless the American public gets to see the farce).“I think he will have to be subpoenaed,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told The Hill. “He’s critical. He basically made the case for obstruction of justice and we need to hear from him,” she said. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) has repeatedly said the committee would subpoena Mueller if necessary but that he hopes it wouldn’t come to that.Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) said when asked whether Mueller should be subpoenaed if he declines to testify publicly.“It’s so important for the American public.”Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), a Judiciary member, declined to say whether he supported subpoenaing Mueller and added that he’s open to hearing arguments for Mueller to testify privately.“If he can demonstrate some compelling reasons why he should be allowed to testify in private, I think we would have to consider that. And I would certainly like to hear - if that is the case - what sort of justification he’d give for wanting to testify in closed door hearings as opposed to open to the public,” Johnson told The Hill.However, as The Hill reports, the move by the Democrats could be viewed as divisive, has the potential to generate negative headlines and is a step most would like to avoid. Furthermore, as The Hill notes, if Mueller testifies, it could backfire on the Democrats as some Republicans are expected to question Mueller on the origins of the Russia counterintelligence investigation, which they allege was started by agents biased against Trump.

Attorney General Barr Puts Former Intel Bosses Clapper, Brennan On Notice -  Things seem to be moving quickly now. It has been a remarkable few weeks in American history. Momentum is building toward uncovering the distasteful possibility that the targeting of a U.S. presidential campaign was actually a political operation, fostered at the highest levels of government, masquerading as an FBI counterintelligence investigation.Attorney General William Barr has signaled that his interest in examining the origins of the investigation into the Trump campaign extends beyond whether the FBI operated “by the book,” as former FBI Director James Comey asserts. Barr also wants to understand the role that the larger intelligence community, or IC, may have played in all of this.Barr has thrown punches that have left an interesting mix of characters with a standing eight count. Certain eyes around D.C. are a little glassy right now.Barr’s words and actions are telling. First, he raised the concern that the Trump campaign was “spied” upon. His use of the word “spying” appears more calculated than casual. The wailing and gnashing of teeth that followed is also telling. “The FBI doesn’t spy” became the sputtering counter-refrain of those trying to mask their nervousness.It’s a fair point that’s beside the point. The FBI is charged with acting under strict legal restrictions and court orders. Spying is not a term traditionally associated with those activities.  But it also misses the point Barr appears to be making. The IC does spy; that’s what they do. Barr may have been referring less to the FBI and more to the IC’s possible murky involvement.This seems to be validated by Barr’s second haymaker in as many weeks: his appointment of a surrogate investigator, U.S. Attorney John Durham. Why would the attorney general add a third investigation to those under way by Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz and U.S. Attorney John Huber? Because those investigations are focused on the FBI. Durham’s assignment is not similarly constrained; his marching orders appear broader.    Through Durham, Barr can start dusting for fingerprints across the government, not just the FBI. The squirming has begun.

No Wonder Obama Intel Chiefs Panicking - Trump To Declassify Bucket 5 Russiagate Docs - As Congressional Democrats insist on conducting post-Mueller probes into President Trump and those around him, much of the recent infighting and backpedaling we've seen from former Obama intel chiefs is starting to make sense.  Appearing with Fox News's Sean Hannity Tuesday night, The Hill's John Solomon revealed that according to his sources (and Hannity's as well), President Trump will begin declassifying 'Russiagate' documents in the next 6-7 days. Among those will be the so-called "Bucket Five" - documents which were originally presented to the Gang of Eight in 2016, which included everything the FBI and DOJ used against Trump campaign aide Carter Page - including the FISA surveillance application and its underlying exculpatory intelligence documents which the FISA court may have never seen. According to John Solomon, #declas is coming in 7-8 days; looks likely after POTUS Japan visit and just before a visit to UK, or between 5/29 and 6/2.
Given all Russiagate roads lead back to London and the political climate in UK, this could get bumpy.— Shirtless Pundit (@zachhaller) May 22, 2019 And as 'Sundance' of the Conservative Treehouse notes, the release would presumably include the transcripts from FBI wiretaps of George Papadopoulos, who was listed in the Carter Page FISA. Also noted by CT is that declassification would be on target to occur between Trump's upcoming state visit to Japan (5/25 - 5/28) and his state visit with the UK (6/3 - 6/5).

Trump Orders FBI, CIA To Fully Cooperate With Barr; Grants Full And Complete Authority To Declassify -  President Trump on Thursday announced that he has directed the US intelligence community to "quickly and fully cooperate with the Attorney General's investigation into surveillance activities during the 2016 Presidential election," adding that Attorney General William Barr has been given "complete authority to declassify information pertaining to this investigation.  ....during the 2016 Presidential election. The Attorney General has also been delegated full and complete authority to declassify information pertaining to this investigation, in accordance with the long-established standards for handling classified information.... — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 24, 2019 In a third tweet, Trump added that "Today’s action will help ensure that all Americans learn the truth about the events that occurred."   The pending declassifications were announced on Tuesday night by The Hill's John Solomon and Fox News's Sean Hannity, whose inside sources told them of the wide swath of information about to hit.  Among the documents slated for release, according to their sources, will be the so-called "Bucket Five" - documents which were originally presented to the Gang of Eight in 2016, which included everything the FBI and DOJ used against Trump campaign aide Carter Page - including the FISA surveillance application and its underlying exculpatory intelligence documents which the FISA court may have never seen.

Trump declassification move unnerves Democrats - President Trump's decision giving Attorney General William Barr "full and complete authority" to declassify documents related to surveillance activities during the 2016 campaign has set off a wave of criticism in Washington. Democrats and former intelligence officials are worried that the move could politicize the intelligence community and put sources and methods at risk, describing his action as "un-American" and "dangerous." Trump on Friday defended his decision to grant Barr declassification authority in his investigation, declaring it would reveal the origins of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russia's election interference. But Democrats, dismayed with Barr's handling of the Mueller report, have raised concerns that the attorney general cannot be trusted with the task. "We still don’t have the full Mueller report, so of course the President gives sweeping declassification powers to an Attorney General who has already shown that he has no problem selectively releasing information in order to mislead the American people," Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Friday. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) called the move "un-American." John McLaughlin, the former deputy director of the CIA during the George W. Bush administration, called it "a really bad idea" to give Barr declassification authority. "The agencies can cooperate but must retain their legal responsibility for protecting sources," McLaughlin tweeted late Thursday. "Congressional intelligence committees need to stand in the door on this one." The White House issued a memo Thursday evening directing the heads of U.S. intelligence agencies and several departments that include elements of the intelligence community to cooperate with Barr's review into intelligence activities related to the 2016 presidential campaigns, which the attorney general has described as "spying." The memo also states that Barr has the authority to declassify information or intelligence relating to his probe. It instructs him to consult with the heads of intelligence agencies "to the extent he deems it practicable."

Michael Avenatti Forged Stormy Daniels’ Signature to Steal $300K: Feds - Daily Beast --Embattled lawyer Michael Avenatti has been charged with fraud and aggravated identity theft for allegedly snatching a total of $300,000 from Stormy Daniels and spending it on personal expenses like airfare, hotels, and restaurant delivery, and to bankroll his law firm.Federal prosecutors in New York announced the latest charges against the Newport Beach litigator soon after ABC News reported Avenatti was expected to be charged with additional financial crimes. The 48-year-old lawyer faces a slew of charges on both coasts, including wire fraud, bank fraud, and extortion.On Wednesday, a grand jury also indicted Avenatti for trying to extort the footwear giant Nike to the tune of $25 million, and the Daniels charges are separate from that case. “Michael Avenatti abused and violated the core duty of an attorney—the duty to his client,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement. “As alleged, he used his position of trust to steal an advance on the client’s book deal. As alleged, he blatantly lied to and stole from his client to maintain his extravagant lifestyle, including to pay for, among other things, a monthly car payment on a Ferrari. Far from zealously representing his client, Avenatti, as alleged, instead engaged in outright deception and theft, victimizing rather than advocating for his client.”

Fed Chair Powell Flags Financial Stability Risks: Record Debt, High Valuations, Leverage, & CLO Liquidity  Fed Chair Jay Powell told a banking conference in Fernandina Beach, Florida, tonight that a sharp rise in corporate debt is being closely monitored and risks currently stand somewhere between "this is a rerun of the subprime mortgage crisis" and "nothing to worry about here."Powell added that a record level of concentrated, risky debt could impose severe strains on some US businesses in a downturn“Business debt does not present the kind of elevated risks to the stability of the financial system that would lead to broad harm to households and businesses should conditions deteriorate,” Powell said in prepared remarks.So don't worry, right? Oh wait... “At the same time, the level of debt certainly could stress borrowers if the economy weakens.”  So you better keep those asset prices high, because, as Powell admits... “business debt is near record levels, and recent issuance has been concentrated in the riskiest segments. As a result, some businesses may come under severe financial strain if the economy deteriorates” And again he hedges that everything is probably awesome...“Overall, vulnerabilities to financial stability from business debt and other factors do not appear elevated. We take the risks from business debt seriously but think that the financial system appears strong enough to handle potential losses”  Additionally, Powell seems to have missed the biggest trend in financial markets for the last decade - Fed-enable low-cost-debt-funded share-buybacks as the sole source of support (and creator of a leverageable asset base) for equity prices...  "Equity prices have recently reached new highs, and corporate bond and loan spreads are narrow. Both commercial and residential property prices have moved above their long-run relationship with rents, although price gains slowed substantially last year. All of these developments point to strong risk appetite—as might be expected given the strong economy. But there does not appear to be a feedback loop between borrowing and asset prices, as was the case in the run-up to the financial crisis. "    Except the record debt levels and the record share prices and the record share-buybacks? Share buybacks are expected to hit another new record by the end of 2019. Remember, Goldman recently warned that without company buybacks, demand for shares would fall dramatically. Repurchases have consistently been the largest source of US equity demand. Since 2010, corporate demand for shares has far exceeded demand from all other investor categories combined. Net buybacks for all US equities averaged $420 billion annually during the past nine years. In contrast, during this period, average annual equity demand from households, mutual funds, pension funds, and foreign investors was less than $10 billion for each category – despite the fact these categories collectively own 83% of corporate equities. Buybacks represented the largest source of equity demand in 2018.

Small changes to stress testing could have big impact on risk, Tarullo says — Former Federal Reserve Gov. Daniel Tarullo broke his silence over several of the central bank’s recent proposals to revamp regulations put in place in the wake of the financial crisis, saying incremental reductions in capital and other changes could reduce the financial system’s resiliency. Speaking at a conference sponsored by Americans for Financial Reform Tuesday, Tarullo — who is currently serving as a visiting professor at the Harvard Law School — acknowledged that the regulatory apparatus he helped establish after the financial crisis was far from perfect. But the changes that the Fed has proposed since his departure signal a reduction in regulatory constraints without any complementary changes that would ensure the banking system’s resilience in the face of stress, he said. “I don’t at all think that the state of regulation when I left the Fed ... was the best it can be,” Tarullo said. “But we had made considerable progress enhancing the resiliency of these largest banks, and at least putting a sizeable dent in the Too Big to Fail concern. Unfortunately, I feel that a good bit of that progress could be endangered by a kind of low-intensity deregulation, consisting of an accumulation of non-headline-grabbing changes and an opaque relaxation of supervisory rigor.” Tarullo limited his focus to the various changes proposed to the Fed’s stress testing regime, which he said include relatively minor adjustments that could have major ramifications for capital retention by the largest banks if implemented. One example he cited was a proposal to replace many of the Fed’s post-stress minimum capital benchmarks with a “stress capital buffer” — a concept Tarullo himself suggested in the final months of his tenure at the Fed. The Fed’s proposal differed in at least one important way, he said, and that is in the application of the enhanced supplemental leverage ratio to the post-stress minimum capital position required of the global systemically important banks, or G-SIBs. “Buried in a footnote in the explanation of the Fed’s proposal was the information that the Fed intended to exclude the enhanced supplemental leverage ratio for what was supposed to be a fully integrated set of capital requirements,” Tarullo said. “This is important, because the binding capital constraint on many G-SIBs has been the post-stress leverage ratio.”

Mnuchin vows probe of Deutsche Bank’s AML procedures — A day after a Senate hearing on anti-money-laundering policy became dominated by allegations against Deutsche Bank, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he will direct regulators to examine the bank's compliance with AML rules. Congressional Democrats have called for greater scrutiny of Deutsche following a New York Times report alleging the bank failed to submit suspicious activity reports related to companies linked to President Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. The bank became a focal point of a hearing this week before the Senate Banking Committee. Testifying before the House Financial Services Committee Wednesday, Mnuchin signaled that he takes the allegations seriously enough to justify further inspection. He told the panel banks' policies for submitting SARs should be applied equally for all actors. “I am going to have [the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network] follow up and make sure that Deutsche Bank, as anyone else, has SARs policies that are on everyone,” Mnuchin said. Fincen is a bureau of Treasury. His comments come after Fincen Director Kenneth Blanco told the Senate Banking Committee that he would not comment on whether the agency will probe the New York Times findings. The report said senior bank executives had quashed SARs prepared by compliance staff that were related to Kushner Companies, the Trump Foundation and other entities. Mnuchin added that he would report back to the House panel to ensure that Treasury has done proper oversight of the bank's SARs compliance. “I understand that we can’t comment publicly on SARs, but we will follow back with the committee to make sure that we have done a compliance oversight,” Mnuchin said. Mnuchin further criticized Deutsche Bank’s investments in response to questions by Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., about a surprise $3 billion quarterly loss that the bank had reported. "How the hell do you lose $3 billion and not see that coming?" Porter said. Mnuchin said he was "familiar with some of [Deutsche Bank's] really bad investments." "I find it hard to believe that they made them but, yes, it’s a staggering amount of money, we would agree on,” he said.

 Hearing Profiles Treasury Secretary Mnuchin as Dark Villain to Rule of Law -  Pam Martens  - U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin appeared yesterday before the House Financial Services Committee. You know it was a bad day for the Secretary when the low point was not Congressman Stephen Lynch’s request to the Chair, Maxine Waters, to have Mnuchin held in contempt for not following the statute that calls for the IRS to turn over tax returns on any American when requested by an authorized Committee of Congress. Mnuchin has said he will not turn over the tax returns of the President of the United States, which are under subpoena by Congress. (The Internal Revenue Service, which holds these tax returns, is an agency of the U.S. Treasury.) Waters said she will seek the advice of the Committee’s counsel on the contempt request. A number of Democratic members of the Committee intensely questioned Mnuchin on  his myriad deregulatory efforts that have harmed the average American and have not been widely covered by mainstream media.  Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib grilled Mnuchin on the fact that his Treasury Department had rolled back earlier this year an Obama-era rule that stopped corporations from offering lump-sum retirement benefits to retirees receiving a fixed amount of monthly income for life under a Defined Benefit Pension Plan. Tlaib told Mnuchin that Whirlpool, which is headquartered in her state of Michigan, had bragged that it could cut $39 million off its pension obligations by giving lump sums. Tlaib also told Mnuchin that Forbes estimated that retirees could receive 20 to 30 percent less under the lump sum option.  Mnuchin responded that this was “not an area that I’m up to speed on” and promised to get back to her.Congresswoman Katie Porter focused on another deregulation initiative advanced by Mnuchin’s Treasury Department to remove enhanced oversight of U.S. and foreign banks with less than $50 billion in assets. She said that last month the Federal Reserve had followed through on this recommendation. She said under this rule change, Deutsche Bank would only have to file its living will once every six years. She said this is the same Deutsche bank that had a surprise $3 billion loss (it wasn’t clear what quarter she was referring to); had failed its stress test in three of the last four years; was fined for laundering money for the Russians; manipulating Libor (the interest rate benchmark); and violating sanctions against Iran and other countries. Porter also made reference to the recent report in the New York Times where a whistleblower, Tammy McFadden, and four of her colleagues, had their efforts blocked by Deutsche Bank when they tried to file suspicious activity reports on bank accounts affiliated with Jared Kushner and Donald Trump.

The SEC Never Collects On Nearly Half Of The Fines It Levies - It used to be bad enough that the SEC wouldn’t show up to "regulate" until schemes like Madoff and Enron had already collapsed on their own. Now, the inefficiency at the agency looks to have gone one step further, as we are finding out the SEC "never collects" much of the money that it seeks in fines from wrongdoers, according to the Wall Street Journal. The SEC took in just 55% of the $20 billion in fines it sought through settlements or judgments in the five years that ended September 2018, according to agency statistics. In the five years prior to that, the SEC collected on just 60% of the $14.6 billion in fines it issued. And 2018 has been far worse. The commission took in just 28% of the almost $4 billion that it fined, marking the lowest rate in a decade, resulting from a $1.7 billion settlement with Petrobras that "may never require payment to the SEC". Instead, the settlement allows the company to give the money to Brazilian authorities and other regulators. Those who were behind ponzi schemes or those who went to prison on criminal charges are the unlikeliest to pay fines. And the main challenge for the SEC is that they don’t have the right to seize property or assets to get payment. Instead, they have to rely on filing liens against defendants or going to court to get contempt orders. Brad Bennett, a former enforcement director at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority said: “It’s difficult, and they have to be especially persistent to get the numbers up.” The Government Accountability Office criticized the SEC in 2014 for lapses in its recordkeeping that understated the amounts owed by defendants by "at least $42 million". But don't worry, according to the report, the commission has been "building a new computer system to track unpaid fines" since then. Ignoring that this was more than a half decade ago, perhaps someone could have informed the SEC that electronic spreadsheets have been around for nearly 4 decades. Instead, the agency has written off more than $10 billion in fines since 2019, including monetary penalties and disgorgement. At the end of 2018, the agency was owed about $1.5 billion but only expected to collect $228 million, according to its financial statements. John Nester, an SEC spokesman, said: “We have a committed group of attorneys and paralegals in the dedicated office of collections who work hard to collect these funds, many of which will be distributed to harmed investors.”

Bernie Sanders Wants To Make College Free By Taxing All Stock, Bond And Derivative Trades - While the debates over AOC's Green New Deal and every socialist candidate's "MMT-based" platform have mercifully faded in recent weeks, discussion how to make college affordable and debt free is only just starting, and on Wednesday, Vermont socialist and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said he'll introduce legislation that would impose a tax on trades of all stocks, bonds and derivatives in the U.S., a move he says would "help curb Wall Street speculation and help finance his campaign promise to provide tuition-free college and cut student debt." It wasn't clear how making traders earn less on their trades, and thus incentivizing them to take even greater risks and promote even more Wall Street speculation would help reduce record high tuition costs, which are only possible due to easy access to student loans, allowing colleges to demand any price, which students - relying on someone else's loan - will be happy to pay it. But we digress.  The proposal is hardly unexpected: as Bloomberg notes, Sanders has been pushing for a financial transactions tax since his run for the Democratic nomination in 2016. According to his Wednesday proposal, the US would apply a 0.5% tax rate for stock trades, a 0.1% rate for bond trades, and 0.005% for derivatives transaction.   In theory, the tax would both provide a disincentive for high-frequency trading based on algorithms and let Wall Street help middle-income Americans who helped foot the bill for the bailout of financial institutions after the 2008 market crash, according to an outline from the Vermont senator's office. In practice, however, trade will simply decline to the point where there is even less liquidity; should Bernie's proposal prove to be "overly successful", even the smallest drop in stocks will be magnified by the total collapse in liquidity, and result in a crash that wipes out trillions in value. Then again, since that "value" is fake to begin with, and only the result of central bank intervention, perhaps Bernie's plan is not one to make college free, but to actually reset the system.In which case, sign us up.... although we are skeptical that Bernie has thought this all the way through. “It is time for Wall Street to pay society back for the incredible damage it did – and continues to do – to the middle class of this country,” Bernie's statement says. Sanders plans to release further details Wednesday at a news conference outside the Capitol with Representative Barbara Lee, a California Democrat who is sponsoring the measure in the House.

House passes bill to reverse CFPB policies under Trump administration — A bill to reverse Trump administration efforts to weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau passed the House of Representatives along party lines. The House passed the Consumers First Act in a 231-191 vote, with all Democrats supporting the legislation and all Republicans opposing it. The bill would limit the number of political appointees the CFPB can hire, restore supervision and enforcement authority in the agency’s fair-lending office, and resume supervision for the Military Lending Act, among other things. House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., championed the legislation, which passed late Wednesday, as an effort to reverse actions by former acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney. Mulvaney hired roughly a dozen political appointees to lead the CFPB’s offices, attempted to rebrand the agency with a new title and pulled back on some of the bureau's enforcement activities, among other things. The agency is currently led by Kathy Kraninger, a Trump appointee who has emphasized education and preventing consumer harm, rather than the strict enforcement regime that the agency maintained under the Obama administration’s former director, Richard Cordray. But the bill is unlikely to pass the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans who were critical of the agency under Cordray. Bills have been introduced by Republicans to completely dismantle the agency, while others have suggested changing its structure to a five-member bipartisan commission rather than a single-director leadership structure. Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., the ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, said Democrats voting in favor the bill have “buyer’s remorse” for creating an agency through the Dodd-Frank Act that is unaccountable to Congress.

Democrats Need to Tame the Facebook Monster They Helped Create -  Matt Stoller - If you are thinking about Facebook or questions of political economy, an important and telling hearing took place recently in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Democratic leaders Frank Pallone and Jan Schakowsky did an oversight review of Facebook’s regulator, the Federal Trade Commission, with all five commissioners, including Chairman Joe Simons, advancing ideas on how to address privacy rules in America today. And yet, sitting in that room, you’d have no idea, except for a few people in the audience holding protest signs sharply dismissed by Schakowsky, that there is deep anger from all over the world toward Facebook. This includes calls from multiple former corporate insiders, such as co-founder Chris Hughes, to break up the company as a monopoly. FTC Chairman Joe Simons offered a self-satisfied observation about his commission’s work, its “vigorous and effective” programs, and its “significant” impact to keep markets open and free. But it wasn’t just Simons who was out of touch. The Democrats offered little criticism of the commission, and actually called for the FTC to get more money and more authority.   Pallone and Schakowsky are sophisticated policymakers who understand there are serious problems with Facebook, yet even they cannot seem to recognize that the problem is the regulators in charge of the problem aren’t doing their job. How did we get to the point where people who could actually do something about this problem don’t seem to realize their own power to address the situation in the first place?The rationale for Pallone to avoid FTC failures is clear. For one thing, Democrats want to pass a federal privacy bill which would place rules on companies that handle personal data. They need new authorities and a regulator to implement such a bill, and the regulator on hand is the FTC. So they can’t very well acknowledge that the regulator is an institutional catastrophe, and at the same time call for more of it.  The second reason Democrats have a problem pointing the finger at the FTC is because the failures at the agency largely happened under the Obama administration. And yet, recognizing that the privacy problem is really because of failures at the FTC is an essential first step to solving it. Facebook doesn’t encompass everything that’s wrong with our privacy regime, and clear rules around privacy wouldn’t address all of what people fear about Facebook. But generally speaking, Facebook and Google are the best examples of how business models based on pervasive surveillance structure our culture.

It’s Getting Way Too Easy to Create Fake Videos of People’s Faces  - Researchers at the Samsung AI Center in Moscow developed a way to create "living portraits" from a very small dataset—as few as one photograph, in some of their models.The paper, "Few-Shot Adversarial Learning of Realistic Neural Talking Head Models," was published on the preprint server arXiv on Monday.The researchers call this few- and one-shot learning, where the model can be trained using just one image to create a convincing, animated portrait. With a few more shots—as few as eight or 32 photographs—the realism improves even more. Because they only need one source image, the researchers were able to animate paintings and famous portraits, with eerie results. Fyodor Dostoevsky—who died well before motion picture cameras became commercially available—moves and talks in black and white. The Mona Lisa silently moves her mouth and eyes, a slight smile on her face. Salvador Dali rants on, mustache twitching. These "photorealistic talking head models" are created using convolutional neural networks: They trained the algorithm on a large dataset of talking head videos with a wide variety of appearances. In this case, they used the publicly available VoxCeleb databases containing more than 7,000 images of celebrities from YouTube videos.This trains the program to identify what they call "landmark" features of the faces: eyes, mouth shapes, the length and shape of a nose bridge. This, in a way, is a leap beyond what even deepfakes and other algorithms using generative adversarial networks can accomplish. Instead of teaching the algorithm to paste one face onto another using a catalogue of expressions from one person, they use the facial features that are common across most humans to then puppeteer a new face.

 Bill Black: Ocasio-Cortez & Sanders Introduce Bill to Cap Credit Card Interest Rates at 15% - (video, transcript) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders earlier this month introduced legislation to cap credit card interest at 15%, and create a Postal Savings Bank. See this earlier post by Yves on the topic: Why You Should Back the Sanders/AOC Plan to Cap Credit Card Interest Rates at 15%, Re-Launch the Postal Savings Bank for more history and context. I thought readers might enjoy this recent Real News Network interview with Bill Black,on the reasons such legislation is necessary. Bill is a white collar criminologist, frequent Naked Capitalism contributor, author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One, and teaches economics and law at the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC).Don’t expect any positive action on this issue from the Trump administration. Instead, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is currently engaged in an exercise its pay day lending rule, which imposes limited restraints on predatory lending. The AOC-Sanders proposal would merely reinstate a framework similar to one that existed in the US until 1978 – when credit card companies were effectively given carte blanche to establish operations in congenial jurisdictions that eschewed interest rates limitations. It would also establish a Postal Savings Book, to provide low-cost basic banking services to the considerable number of Americans who are un or underbanked. Whether or not the legislation is enacted, it is just one of several progressive policy initiatives that will be front and center in the 2020 presidential debate – including free college, Medicare for All, and student loan relief.

Kushner Cos. Gets $800 Million Federally-Backed Apartment Loan - Kushner Cos., the real estate firm owned by the family of President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, has received about $800 million in federally backed debt to buy apartments in Maryland and Virginia -- the company’s biggest purchase in a decade. The loan was issued by Berkadia, a lender co-owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and Jefferies Financial Group Inc., in a deal that’s backed by government-owned Freddie Mac, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be named discussing the private transaction. The arrangement increases the government’s exposure to Kushner Cos. at the same time that its former chief executive officer is one of the most powerful people in the White House. Jared Kushner divested ownership in many of the company’s assets to close family members when he joined the government. Kushner Cos. had more than $500 million in loans from Fannie and Freddie at that time. Spokespeople for Kushner Cos., Berkadia and Freddie Mac didn’t respond to requests for comment. Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Jared Kushner’s attorney Abbe Lowell, has frequently said that Kushner has no involvement in the company’s management. “As part of an ethics agreement he has and has followed, Mr. Kushner has had no role in the Kushner Companies or its activities since joining the government over two years ago,” Mirijanian said in a February email when Bloomberg first reported on the government’s potential involvement. “He is walled off from any business or investment decisions and has no idea or knowledge of these activities." Bloomberg reported in February that Kushner was purchasing 6,030 apartments across 16 properties in the two states from private equity firm Lone Star Funds in a $1.15 billion deal. The Real Deal reported earlier Thursday on the closing of the transaction. Trump appointed Joseph Otting to oversee the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which regulates Fannie and Freddie. Otting previously served as CEO of OneWest Bank, founded by now-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, an ally of Kushner’s in the West Wing.

Carson seeks to clean up testimony on protections for homeless transgender people - Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson on Thursday sought to clarify his testimony to a House committee about the Trump administration’s plans to alter protections for homeless transgender people. Lawmakers grilled Carson on Tuesday about whether his department planned to roll back an Obama-era rule ensuring homeless transgender people are allowed to stay in single-sex shelters that match their gender identity. Carson told members of the House Financial Services Committee that he is “not currently anticipating changing” the Equal Access Rule. But one day later, HUD unveiled a proposed rule that would allow federally funded shelters to consider “privacy, safety, practical concerns, religious beliefs” in deciding to admit a person, a change that critics say could result in discrimination against transgender people. In a letter to Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and ranking member Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), Carson said the department is considering changes to the 2016 final rule to address what he called “regulatory burdens for homelessness service providers.” He said the 2012 version of the rule, which contains other protections for LGBTQ individuals, “is not being revised” and offered to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to further explain the changes. “I abhor discrimination and want to assure you HUD is, and always will be, committed to protecting every person's right to access to our programs without fear or discrimination,” he wrote.

Did Ben Carson just mistake an REO for an Oreo? — Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson appeared to be unaware of a basic housing term during a hearing Tuesday, confusing "real estate owned," or REO, with an Oreo cookie. In a House Financial Services Committee hearing intended to conduct oversight of Carson’s department, Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., asked the HUD secretary to explain the disparity in REO rates between the Federal Housing Administration and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But she paused when Carson appeared unfamiliar with an REO, asking him if he knew what it was. “An Oreo?” Carson responded.   “No, not an Oreo,” said Porter. “An R-E-O.” Carson then tried to explain an REO, responding, “Real estate.” When Porter asked him what the ‘O’ in the term stood for, he replied, “Organization?” “Owned, real estate owned,” Porter said. “That’s what happens when a property goes into foreclosure. We call it an REO, and FHA loans have much higher REOs — that is, they go to foreclosure rather than to loss mitigation or to non-foreclosure alternatives like short sales than comparable loans at the GSEs. So I’d like to know why we’re having more foreclosures that end in people losing their homes with stains to their credit and disruption to their communities and their neighborhoods at FHA than we are at the GSEs.” Video of the exchange, which can be watched above, quickly went viral on social media, with Porter herself tweeting the conversation with the text: “I asked Secretary Carson about REOs — a basic term related to foreclosure — at a hearing today. He thought I was referring to a chocolate sandwich cookie. No, really.”

Black Knight: National Mortgage Delinquency Rate Decreased to Record Low in April - From Black Knight: Black Knight’s First Look: Strong April Mortgage Performance Pushes National Delinquency Rate to New Record Low; Prepayment Activity Continues to Rise

• Following a slow start to the year, the national delinquency rate fell by more than 5% month-over-month; at 3.47%, it is now at its lowest level on record dating back to 2000
• Serious delinquencies – loans 90 or more days past due, but not yet in foreclosure – fell to 474,000, marking a 124,000 year-over-year decline and a 12-year low
• While monthly foreclosure starts edged up slightly from March’s 18-year low, the number of loans in active foreclosure continued to shrink, hitting a more than 13-year low in April
• Prepayment activity continues to press upward, driven by a combination of low interest rates and seasonal increases in home sale activity
• The prepayment rate on first-lien mortgages rose 17% from March, bringing the three-month aggregate increase to 67%

According to Black Knight's First Look report for April, the percent of loans delinquent decreased 5.0% in April compared to March, and decreased 5.4% year-over-year. The percent of loans in the foreclosure process decreased 2.2% in April and were down 18.8% over the last year. Black Knight reported the U.S. mortgage delinquency rate (loans 30 or more days past due, but not in foreclosure) was 3.47% in April, down from 3.65% in March. The percent of loans in the foreclosure process decreased slightly in April to 0.50% from 0.51% in March. The number of delinquent properties, but not in foreclosure, is down 73,000 properties year-over-year, and the number of properties in the foreclosure process is down 55,000 properties year-over-year.

MBA: Mortgage Applications Increased in Latest Weekly Survey --From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest MBA Weekly Survey: Mortgage applications increased 2.4 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending May 17, 2019. .. The Refinance Index increased 8 percent from the previous week. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 2 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.  .“Mortgage rates fell for the fourth straight week, with the 30-year fixed rate mortgage hitting its lowest level since January 2018, leading to a rebound in refinances. The refinance index increased 8 percent to its highest level in over a month, and once again there was an increase in average refinance loan sizes, as borrowers with larger balances responded accordingly to lower rates,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Purchase activity declined again, but remained around 7 percent higher than a year ago. We’re keeping a close eye on whether there may be some adverse effects of the ongoing global trade disputes on overall demand. Some potential homebuyers may be delaying their home search until there’s more certainty.”   ... The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($484,350 or less) decreased to 4.33 percent from 4.40 percent, with points increasing to 0.43 from 0.40 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

"Mortgage Rates Drop Quickly as Market Panic Sets In" -- We could see a 3 handle for mortgage rates tomorrow. From Matthew Graham at Mortgage News Daily: Lowest Mortgage Rates in More Than a Month Mortgage rates dropped quickly today as global financial markets underwent a volatile shift. When money is flowing out of stocks and into bonds (as it was today) rates move lower. There are several underlying reasons for the move and it's impossible to assign a value to each of them with perfect precision.The net effect for mortgage rates hasn't been fully realized yet. Mortgage lenders set rates at the beginning of the day and they don't tend to change their offerings unless markets make a very big move. Today's very big moves came in several phases and lenders only accounted for a little more than half of the underlying change in bond markets. Nonetheless, the average lender ended the day in line with the lowest rates in more than a year. If bond markets merely hold steady by tomorrow morning, mortgage rates will be even lower. [30YR FIXED - 4.0-4.125%]  CR Note: The decline in mortgage rates - from around 5% late last year, to 4% - is a key factor in the pickup in new home sales.

NAR: Existing-Home Sales Decreased to 5.19 million in April - From the NAR: Existing-Home Sales Inch Back 0.4% in April: Existing-home sales saw a minor decline in April, continuing March’s drop in sales, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Two of the four major U.S. regions saw a slight dip in sales, while the West saw growth and the Midwest essentially bore no changes last month.Total existing-home sales, completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, fell 0.4% from March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.19 million in April. Total sales are down 4.4% from a year ago (5.43 million in April 2018). Total housing inventory at the end of April increased to 1.83 million, up from 1.67 million existing homes available for sale in March and a 1.7% increase from 1.80 million a year ago. Unsold inventory is at a 4.2-month supply at the current sales pace, up from 3.8 months in March and up from 4.0 months in April 2018. This graph shows existing home sales, on a Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) basis since 1993. Sales in April (5.19 million SAAR) were down 0.4% from last month, and were 4.4% below the April 2018 sales rate. The second graph shows nationwide inventory for existing homes. According to the NAR, inventory increased to 1.83 million in April from 1.67 million in March. Headline inventory is not seasonally adjusted, and inventory usually decreases to the seasonal lows in December and January, and peaks in mid-to-late summer. The last graph shows the year-over-year (YoY) change in reported existing home inventory and months-of-supply. Since inventory is not seasonally adjusted, it really helps to look at the YoY change. Note: Months-of-supply is based on the seasonally adjusted sales and not seasonally adjusted inventory. Inventory was up 1.7% year-over-year in April compared to April 2018. Months of supply was at 4.2 months in April. This was below the consensus forecast. For existing home sales, a key number is inventory - and inventory is still low.

Existing Home Sales Tumble YoY For 14th Month - Worst Run Since Housing Crisis - Existing home sales were the odd one out in March (falling as new- and pending-home-sales spiked) but expectations were for a catch-up rebound in April, but did not, dramatically missing the expectation of a 2.7% rise by dropping (again) by 0.4% MoM... This 0.4% decline comes after existing home sales fell 4.9% MoM in March with a tumbling mortgage rate seemingly not affecting the secondary market...Single-family units fell 1.1% MoM but Condos/Co-ops jumped 5.6% in April (erasing March's 5.3% drop). Supply increased from 3.8 to 4.2 months (the highest since Oct 2018) as median prices jumped to their highest since July 2018. Only The West saw an increase in sales (up 1.8% MoM) in April, with the Northeast worst, down 4.5% MoM.  Worse still, existing home sales are still down 4.4% year-over-year... This is the 14th month in a row of annual declines - the longest stretch since the housing crisis over a decade ago...

Comments on April Existing Home Sales - Earlier: NAR: Existing-Home Sales Decreased to 5.19 million in April.  A few key points:
1) The key for housing - and the overall economy - is new home sales, single family housing starts and overall residential investment.
Overall, this is still a somewhat reasonable level for existing home sales.  No worries.
2) Inventory is still low, and was only up 1.7% year-over-year (YoY) in April. This was the ninth consecutive month with a year-over-year increase in inventory, although the YoY increase was smaller in April than in the six previous months.

New Home Sales Down 6.9% in April - This morning's release of the April New Home Sales from the Census Bureau came in at 673K, down 6.9% month-over-month from a revised 723K in March. Here is the opening from the report: Sales of new single‐family houses in April 2019 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 673,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 6.9 percent (±14.0 percent)* below the revised March rate of 723,000, but is 7.0 percent (±12.4 percent)* above the April 2018 estimate of 629,000. The median sales price of new houses sold in April 2019 was $342,200. The average sales price was $393,700. [Full Report] For a longer-term perspective, here is a snapshot of the data series, which is produced in conjunction with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The data since January 1963 is available in the St. Louis Fed's FRED repository here. We've included a six-month moving average to highlight the trend in this highly volatile series.

New Home Sales decreased to 673,000 Annual Rate in April, March Revised up to New Cycle High - The Census Bureau reports New Home Sales in April were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 692 thousand. The previous three months were revised up. "Sales of new single‐family houses in April 2019 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 673,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 6.9 percent below the revised March rate of 723,000, but is 7.0 percent above the April 2018 estimate of 629,000." The first graph shows New Home Sales vs. recessions since 1963. The dashed line is the current sales rate. Even with the increase in sales over the last several years, new home sales are still somewhat low historically. The second graph shows New Home Months of Supply. The months of supply increased in April to 5.9 months from 5.6 months in March.The all time record was 12.1 months of supply in January 2009. This is near the top of the normal range (less than 6 months supply is normal). "The seasonally‐adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of April was 332,000. This represents a supply of 5.9 months at the current sales rate."  Starting in 1973 the Census Bureau broke inventory down into three categories: Not Started, Under Construction, and Completed. The third graph shows the three categories of inventory starting in 1973. The inventory of completed homes for sale is still somewhat low, and the combined total of completed and under construction is a little low. The last graph shows sales NSA (monthly sales, not seasonally adjusted annual rate). In April 2019 (red column), 66 thousand new homes were sold (NSA). Last year, 61 thousand homes were sold in April.The all time high for April was 116 thousand in 2005, and the all time low for April was 30 thousand in 2011. This was close to expectations of 678 thousand sales SAAR, and sales in the three previous months were revised up significantly.  And sales in March were revised up to a new cycle high.’

A few Comments on April New Home Sales --New home sales for April were reported at 673,000 on a seasonally adjusted annual rate basis (SAAR). Sales for March were revised up to 723,000, a new high for this cycle.   Sales in January and February were also revised up. My view has been that we'd see further growth in New Home sales.  Last month I wrote: "My guess is we haven't seen the peak of this cycle yet."   Didn't take long! Earlier: New Home Sales decreased to 673,000 Annual Rate in April, March Revised up to New Cycle High.  This graph shows new home sales for 2018 and 2019 by month (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate). Sales in April were up 7.0% year-over-year compared to April 2018.Year-to-date (just through April), sales are up 6.7% compared to the same period in 2018.  This comparison was the most difficult in the first half of 2018, so this is a strong start for 2019.And here is another update to the "distressing gap" graph that I first started posting a number of years ago to show the emerging gap caused by distressed sales. The "distressing gap" graph shows existing home sales (left axis) and new home sales (right axis) through April 2019. This graph starts in 1994, but the relationship had been fairly steady back to the '60s.  Following the housing bubble and bust, the "distressing gap" appeared mostly because of distressed sales.Even though distressed sales are down significantly, following the bust, new home builders focused on more expensive homes - so the gap has only closed slowly.I still expect this gap to close.   However, this assumes that the builders will offer some smaller, less expensive homes. Another way to look at this is a ratio of existing to new home sales.  This ratio was fairly stable from 1994 through 2006, and then the flood of distressed sales kept the number of existing home sales elevated and depressed new home sales. (Note: This ratio was fairly stable back to the early '70s, but I only have annual data for the earlier years).  In general the ratio has been trending down since the housing bust, and this ratio will probably continue to trend down a little more. Note: Existing home sales are counted when transactions are closed, and new home sales are counted when contracts are signed. So the timing of sales is different.

 AIA: "Slight rebound for architecture billings in April" -- Note: This index is a leading indicator primarily for new Commercial Real Estate (CRE) investment.  From the AIA: Slight rebound for architecture billings in April:  Following a sizable decrease in demand for design services in March, the April Architecture Billings Index (ABI) climbed back into positive territory according to a new report today from The American Institute of Architects (AIA).  AIA’s ABI score for April showed a small increase in design services at 50.5 in April, which is up from 47.8 in March. Any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings. Additionally, business conditions remained strong at firms located in the South. Despite this and the positive overall billings score, most regional and sector indictors continue to display decreasing demand for design services.  “In contrast to 2018, conditions throughout the construction sector recently have become more unsettled,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, PhD, Hon. AIA. “Though we may not be at a critical inflection point, the next several months of billing data will be indicative of the health of the industry going into 2020.” ...
• Regional averages: South (51.6); Midwest (49.3); West (49.0); Northeast (45.1)
• Sector index breakdown: mixed practice (53.2); institutional (49.2); multi-family residential (47.4); commercial/industrial (46.6)
This graph shows the Architecture Billings Index since 1996. The index was at 50.5 in April, up from 47.8 in March. Anything above 50 indicates expansion in demand for architects' services.

Millennials and Gen Z Are Increasingly Pessimistic About Their Lives, Survey Finds - Uneasiness and pessimism abound among the majority of the world's population. Deloitte has released its Global Millennial Survey of 13,416 Millennials (born between 1983 and 1994) spread across 42 countries and 3,009 Gen Z respondents (born between 1995 and 2002) from 10 countries. The firm has conducted the survey for the past eight years. The percentage of respondents who think that businesses are making a positive impact dropped six points from 61% in 2018 to 55%. ``I would say that for businesses, the most important takeaway is the continuously diminishing trust of Millennials and Gen Zs, " says Deloitte Global Chief Talent Officer Michele Parmelee. While the two generations have strikingly similar views of the world, Parmelee said survey data shows that their points of view differ in a few significant areas, such as life priorities and their perception of society and work. Generally, only about half of both groups aspire to purchase a home, and even fewer desire to start a family. ``Instead, travel and seeing the world was at the top of the list (57%) of aspirations,'' the report said. Only 52% of the Millennials surveyed responded that earning a high salary was a top priority while 56% of their Gen Z peers did so. And 39% of the Millennials saw starting a family as very important, while 45% of the younger cohort agreed. Because some among the Gen Z age group are still studying, they are generally more likely to expect educators to provide them with the skills they'll need in the labor market. Millennials, on the other hand, expect businesses to give them access to more skills. Gen Zs are less likely to be dissatisfied with their work situation than Millennials.

 Soaring gasoline prices peak just in time for Memorial Day weekend - The biggest U.S. gasoline price surge in years is running out of steam just in time for the start of the summer driving season.  Heading into Memorial Day, the national average gasoline price is coming off the year’s high and sitting just above $2.80 per gallon. The national average climbed 67 cents a gallon between New Year’s Day and May 4, when pump prices peaked, according to price-tracking firm GasBuddy. That’s the second biggest rise on record for the start of a year, trailing only the 93 cents per gallon surge in 2011.It’s a similar setup to last year’s holiday weekend. Gas prices surged at the start of the year, but didn’t climb high enough to keep many Americans off the road. Still, they’re well above levels in 2016 and 2017, when a depressed oil market gave motorists a big break at the pump.“While the rise in prices has been steep this spring, perhaps the most important factor is that in many places, gas prices are still well below their all-time highs and perhaps even more importantly, over 50% of the nation’s gas stations are selling at $2.99 per gallon or less,” Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis GasBuddy, said in a press release.Nearly 75% of Americans plan to take a road trip this summer, marking an increase from last year, according to a survey by GasBuddy. However, 38% of survey respondents — roughly the same as last year — said current gas prices will impact their travel decisions. The cost of gasoline shot up this year as oil prices rallied roughly 40% through last month, bolstered by tighter supply and better-than-expected demand. Oil accounts for 50% to 60% of the price at the pump.Drivers also found themselves paying more due to disruptions at the nation’s refineries, where crude oil is processed into gasoline, diesel and other products.“Part of the run-up was due to the very high prices on the West Coast due to an extraordinary number of refinery outages,” said Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates. “As those refiners have come back into service, we’ve seen prices dropping.” Oil prices have plunged nearly 8% this week as the ongoing U.S.-China trade war raises concerns about economic growth and demand for fuel. But with Middle East tensions still simmering and threatening to push up crude costs, the national average gasoline price is likely to stay stuck near $2.80 per gallon, Lipow says.

Railroad's shift to PSR model puts storage, railcar onus on shippers - For years, shippers have tapped spare capacity of railcars and tracks as a low-cost option for storing and staging bulk commodities. But the widespread adoption of the business model known as “precision scheduled railroading” means the big U.S. railroads want to be in the moving business, not the storage business. And that poses a problem for the hundreds of shippers now looking where to store their tanker cars, hoppers, and gondolas.   “The number of railcars in storage was just slightly above 311,000 at the start of May, this is a marginal increase from last years average of 300,000 cars in storage,” says Martin Lew, Chief Executive Officer of rail car storage, leasing and purchasing marketplace Commtrex.  Once you get above 300,000 idled cars, “you’re talking about roughly 20 percent of the 1.67 million railcars in the North American fleet of the available railcar capacity, which is an increase the last years average of 312,000 cars in storage.” Lew said. Storage levels continue to increase across all car types. But the largest increases are in covered hoppers, which handle grains, chemicals, non-metallic minerals, and tank cars, which handle liquid bulk. Both assets account for two-thirds of all railcars in storage, Lew said.About 18 percent of North America’s fleet of about 571,800 covered hoppers is in storage, according to Commtrex. For tank cars, about 22 percent of the North American fleet of roughly 431,200 tank cars is in storage.  Lew said the high number of railcars in storage indicates slowing activity among major commodity producers and buyers and the overall freight slowdown. Likewise, it can reflect commodity specific issues. For example, oil drillers in the Permian oil basin in West Texas have switched away from using white sand sourced in Wisconsin for hydraulic fracturing.  In its place, they are using in-basin sand from the Permian itself, which now represents nearly a quarter of the total supply of the market. That, of course, reduces demand for covered hoppers.  But the main issue facing shippers is that flexible storage policies are becoming a thing of the past due to PSR. Railroads are selling off underutilized yards and they are starting to charge shippers higher penalties for keeping railcars idle.

Durable Goods Orders Tumble in April - Durable Goods orders for April were down from the previous month, but somewhat in-line with expectations: -2.1% on the headline, -2.5% ex-Defense and -0.5% ex-Transportation. Much of these losses stem from the fortunes of one company — Boeing BA — which saw a worldwide grounding of its formerly popular 737 MAX airplane, which filled no orders in the moth. Durable Goods orders are often volatile month over month, but global news items like these always put another thumb on the scale.  Non-Defense, ex-Aircraft orders — a proxy for general business investment — tripled the amount expected: -0.9% versus -0.3% expected. This may be illustrating the strong business investment we saw in Q1 2019 GDP figures are rolling off. It would be tempting to include the ongoing trade war as another reason for a drop in durable goods, but back in April, most of the rhetoric pivoted on an imminent deal arriving soon. We don’t know yet what current developments will mean for goods order from this month.

Headline Durable Goods Orders Down 2.1% in April - The Advance Report on Manufacturers’ Shipments, Inventories, and Orders released today gives us a first look at the latest durable goods numbers. Here is the Bureau's summary on new orders: New orders for manufactured durable goods in April decreased $5.4 billion or 2.1 percent to $248.4 billion, the U.S. Census Bureau announced today. This decrease, down two of the last three months, followed a 1.7 percent March increase. Excluding transportation, new orders were virtually unchanged. Excluding defense, new orders decreased 2.5 percent. Transportation equipment, also down two of the last three months, drove the decrease, $5.4 billion or 5.9 percent to $85.4 billion. Download full PDF  The latest new orders number at -2.1% month-over-month (MoM) was slightly better than the consensus of -2.0%. The series is unchanged year-over-year (YoY).If we exclude transportation, "core" durable goods was unchanged MoM, which was worse than the consensus of 0.2%. The core measure is up 0.1% YoY.If we exclude both transportation and defense for an even more fundamental "core", the latest number is down 0.3% MoM and down 2.6% YoY.Core Capital Goods New Orders (nondefense capital goods used in the production of goods or services, excluding aircraft) is an important gauge of business spending, often referred to as Core Capex. It is down 0.9% MoM and up 1.3% YoY. For a look at the big picture and an understanding of the relative size of the major components, here is an area chart of Durable Goods New Orders minus Transportation and Defense with those two components stacked on top. We've also included a dotted line to show the relative size of Core Capex.

 Chemical Activity Barometer Increased Slightly in May --Note: This appears to be a leading indicator for industrial production. From the American Chemistry Council: Chemical Activity Barometer Shows Third Monthly Gain in May: The Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB), a leading economic indicator created by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), rose 0.4 percent in May on a three-month moving average (3MMA) basis, the third monthly gain after several weak months. On a year-over-year (Y/Y) basis, the barometer is up 0.5 percent (3MMA)...."Year-earlier comparisons have turned positive in recent months, and while trade tensions, slowing economic growth overseas, and soft economic reports in the U.S. have created uncertainty that has weighed on business investment, the CAB signals gains in U.S. commercial and industrial activity through mid-2019, albeit at a moderate pace,” said Kevin Swift, chief economist at ACC. “There is some possibility of improving activity in the closing months of the year.”...Applying the CAB back to 1912, it has been shown to provide a lead of two to fourteen months, with an average lead of eight months at cycle peaks as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The median lead was also eight months. At business cycle troughs, the CAB leads by one to seven months, with an average lead of four months. The median lead was three months. The CAB is rebased to the average lead (in months) of an average 100 in the base year (the year 2012 was used) of a reference time series. The latter is the Federal Reserve’s Industrial Production Index.This graph shows the year-over-year change in the 3-month moving average for the Chemical Activity Barometer compared to Industrial Production.  It does appear that CAB (red) generally leads Industrial Production (blue).The year-over-year increase in the CAB suggests that the YoY increase in industrial production will probably slow further.

Kansas City Fed: "Growth in Tenth District Manufacturing Activity Continued at a Modest Pace" - From the Kansas City Fed: Growth in Tenth District Manufacturing Activity Continued at a Modest Pace The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City released the May Manufacturing Survey today. According to Chad Wilkerson, vice president and economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, the survey revealed that growth in Tenth District manufacturing activity continued at a modest pace, and expectations for future activity remained generally solid.“Regional factory growth was sluggish again in May,” said Wilkerson. “Several firms noted that new tariffs were disrupting activity.”...The month-over-month composite index was 4 in May, similar to a reading of 5 in April but down from 10 in March. The composite index is an average of the production, new orders, employment, supplier delivery time, and raw materials inventory indexes. Growth continued to grow modestly at most durable and nondurable production plants, with stronger growth for food, plastics, and metals products. Most month-over-month indexes slowed slightly in May but remained positive, with production, shipments, and new orders indexes all decreasing. In contrast, the employment index rebounded from 2 to 5, and both inventory indexes also increased. Most year-over-year factory indexes showed little change, with the composite index inching higher from 22 to 23. The future composite index also edged up, moving from 11 to 12, and most future factory activity indexes remained stable or moved slightly higher. A couple of industry comments:“The increased costs of steel and plastic are crippling us.” “April was a down month but May will be worse. Tariffs will force us to reduce our workforce and increase costs to the consumer.”

US PMIs Crash As Business Confidence Collapses To 7 Year Lows - Following disappointments in Europe's PMI this morning (with Germany slumping even further, and seeing IFO hit a 4.5 year low), preliminary May data for US PMIs were expected to rebound very modestly after its recent collapse.But both Manufacturing and Services PMI slumped again in May:

  • Flash U.S. Composite Output Index at 50.9 (53.0 in April). 36-month low.
  • Flash U.S. Services Business Activity Index at 50.9 (53.0 in April). 39-month low.
  • Flash U.S. Manufacturing PMI at 50.6 (52.6 in April). 116-month low.
  • Flash U.S. Manufacturing Output Index at 50.8 (52.7 in April). 35-month low.

It's ugly!!  'Hard data' has been leading the way lower and it seems soft survey data has finally caught down (just as hard data turns up against dismal expectations). Commenting on the flash PMI data, Chris Williamson, Chief Business Economist at IHS Markit said: “Growth of business activity slowed sharply in May as trade war worries and increased uncertainty dealt a further blow to order book growth and business confidence. “A decline in the headline ‘flash’ PMI to its lowest for three years pushes the survey data down to a level historically consistent with GDP growing at an annualised rate of just 1.2% in May. Worse may be to come, as inflows of new business showed the smallest rise seen this side of the global financial crisis. Business confidence has meanwhile slumped to its lowest since at least 2012, causing firms to tighten their belts, notably in respect to hiring. Jobs growth in May was the weakest seen for over two years.“The slowdown has been led by manufacturing, but shows increasing signs of spreading to services. The survey data have been consistent with falling manufacturing output since February, but suggest that the sector’s woes intensified in May to mean factories will therefore likely act as an increasing drag on the economy in the second quarter. Trade wars remained top of the list of concerns among manufacturers, alongside signs of slower sales and weaker economic growth both at home and in key export markets. “However, an additional concern is the spreading of the malaise to the service sector, growth of which slumped in May to one of the weakest since the global financial crisis. With the service sector’s performance being a key gauge of the health of domestic demand, this broadening-out of the slowdown poses downside risks to the outlook.” This PMI print signals barely any GDP growth in Q2...

 FAA Won’t Say When Boeing 737 Max Might Fly Again; Foreign Regulators Uppity - Yves Smith -The 737 Max situation has developed not necessarily to Boeing’s advantage. A FAA news conference which presumably had restoring faith in the plane and the agency as a major goal didn’t appear to make much progress on either front. And it also appears that the FAA placing way too much trust in Boeing had led to the regulator losing its hegemony in certifications. Nicely played!Boeing’s two largest US customers, Southwest and American Airlines, had made statements that they anticipated returning the 737 Max to service in August. That timetable was almost certainly the result of expectations set by Boeing.That plan has gone up in smoke. The FAA said it wouldn’t give an idea as to when the 737 Max would be deemed airworthy again, and a year was not out of the picture, although commentators seemed to regard that long as highly unlikely.On top of that, the FAA mentioned that Boeing had missed several deadlines for submitting a software fix for the FAA to evaluate, and was set to get it in this week. Not a good look as far as the airlines with mothballed planes are concerned.Moreover, while the US press for the most part was putting a positive spin, given the givens, on the FAA’s press conference, the Financial Times reported that foreign regulators, who are set to meet with the FAA today (Thursday) are taking a tough line on the 737 Max recertification, including insisting on simulator training as a requirement. This confirms a risk we and others had raised before: that the FAA, by doggedly defending the 737 Max when other regulators were proven correct in grounding it, is no longer fully in charge of the certification process. At best, it is having to negotiate terms with key foreign regulators. Key bits from the Wall Street Journal:

Ford to cut 7,000 jobs by August, including 900 this week - Ford Motor said Monday that it is laying off about 7,000 managers and other salaried employees, about 10% of its white-collar workforce across the globe, as part of a restructuring plan designed to save the No. 2 automaker $600 million annually. The cuts, some of which were previously announced by the company, will be completed by August, Ford CEO Jim Hackett said in an email to employees Monday. Most of the reductions are overseas with roughly 2,300 of the job cuts coming from the United States. A company spokesman said 1,500 of the 2,300 U.S. job cuts were voluntary buyouts from last year. This round of layoffs won’t impact Ford’s hourly factory workers. The company had roughly 199,000 employees across the world at the end of last year, about 3,000 less than the previous year, according to a securities filing. Hackett said approximately 20% of upper-level manager jobs will also be eliminated as the company moves to reduce bureaucracy. The job cuts include voluntary buyouts and involuntary layoffs. About 900 of the 7,000 job cuts are expected to happen this week, 500 of which will be in the U.S. The remaining 300 U.S. layoffs will be complete by the end of August. The Michigan-based automaker said its restructuring in North America is almost complete and that it will continue its organizational redesign in Europe, China, South America and other international markets until the end of August.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims Decrease to 211,000 --The DOL reported: In the week ending May 18, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 211,000, a decrease of 1,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 212,000. The 4-week moving average was 220,250, a decrease of 4,750 from the previous week's unrevised average of 225,000. The previous week was unrevised. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

Initial claims, temporary staffing point to weaker May jobs report --As I’ve noted a few times recently, I’m paying additional attention to the weekly jobless claims numbers, partly because I suspected that the late Easter this year resulted in some residual seasonality (which I think has been demonstrated), and partly because if my slowdown forecast is correct, it ought to start showing up there.The initial claims report this morning covered the week during which the BLS surveyed employers for the May jobs report coming out in two weeks. In the four weeks that coincided with the April report, initial claims made new 49 year lows, averaging 201,500. In the past five weeks that will coincide with the May report, the average has been 221,500. So, while this isn’t precisely on point, here’s a graph of the four week moving average of claims (blue, left scale) vs. the unemployment rate (red, right scale): I don’t think it was a coincidence that the unemployment rate fell to a 50 year low during the four week period that initial claims made 49 year lows. And I strongly suspect that the June report will take that back, with an unemployment rate of 3.8% +/-0.1%. If that happens, it will be significant, because a 3.8% unemployment rate would be exactly what the rate was 12 months previously. And a YoY unemployment rate that has not improved has only happened once during this expansion (September 2016, right before the election). Further, at the moment initial claims are higher YoY: Even if they continue at the 210-212,000 range for the next few weeks, that’s still only about a 4% improvement from a year ago. Bottom line: unless jobless claims continue to fall in the weeks ahead, they are consistent with a slowdown. And while I’m at it, another leading sector - temporary jobs - continues to show weakness as reported in the weekly American Staffing Association’s Index: The four week average of the index is -2.9% YoY, the worst showing since the 2015-16 slowdown. I was surprised by the strong +12,000 temporary jobs number in the April jobs report. I am expecting either that to get revised downward, or a poorer comparison when May’s report comes out, or both. In short, the weekly data so far this month is consistent with an oncoming slowdown in employment gains. We’ll see in two weeks.

Which Companies Have the Highest Revenue Per Employee-- Each year, the annual Revenue Per Employee rankings for the S&P 500, the 500 largest American companies listed on the NYSE or NASDAQ are relased. Revenue Per Employee (RPE) can be a measure of how efficiently companies utilize human capital. In this report, we will examine the top performers and the worst performers and compare to our rankings from last year. Before we dive into the company rankings, we looked at the average Revenue per Employee by sector, to see from a broader perspective which industry has the highest human capital efficiency.Energy & Utilities remains the top performing sector in terms of Revenue per Employee and the only sector with an average Revenue per Employee greater than $1M. Healthcare, Mobile & Telecommunications, and Financial Services sectors are also performing well.In addition to the absolute numbers, we also analyzed the average growth rate across sectors since FY17. All sectors saw positive growth in Revenue per Employee in FY18 compared to FY17. Food & Beverage, although the lowest performer in terms of Revenue per Employee at $95K per employee, had the highest growth at 22% year-over-year. Energy & Utilities, the top performer for FY18 Revenue per Employee at an average of $1.7M per employee, also exhibited high growth at 12% year-over-year. Next, we look more closely at how specific companies are performing. The table below shows the top 25 companies by Revenue per Employee (Revenue per Employee) in 2018 in the S&P 500, along with how their Revenue per Employee compared to 2017. Energy company, Valero Energy Corporation, tops the chart at $11.4M in Revenue per Employee at the company. Energy companies, in general, dominate this ranking for their human capital efficiency, with 17 out of the top 25 companies in the Energy sector, including Phillips 66, Cabot Oil & Gas, EOG, HollyFrontier, ONEOK, and Exxon Mobil. Three Healthcare companies, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson, appear on the list, as well as two Financials companies, Everest Re Group and CBOE Holdings. The sole Technology company to appear on the list of top 25 companies by Revenue per Employee was video subscription giant, Netflix. In contrast, the table below shows the 25 companies with the lowest Revenue per Employee in 2018 in the S&P 500, along with how their Revenue per Employee compared to 2017.

Ohio’s economy no longer fully recovers after recessions -- EPI - -  I can’t tell you when or whether a recession is coming. But I can tell you what it means for a place like Ohio when one arrives and what Ohio needs from policymakers, state and federal, to be ready and to recover. After a generation of underinvestment in families, communities and sustainability, the upcoming downturn is a crucial moment to fix the economy by addressing gaping societal needs.Four points are clear for Ohio and other places. First, recessions are much harder on some economiesthan on others—this goes for states, like Ohio, that are hit harder, and for communities, like manufacturing communities, poor rural communities, and much of the black community. Second, recessions start earlier and end later in America than in the financial press, in terms of pain they visit on people. In Ohio, we no longer fully recover from recessions, so each new downturn leaves permanent setback. Third, states have insufficient capacity to take on the challenges of a recession. Federal action is essential to get the recovery we need. Finally, recessions are not only economic challenges cured the instant unemployment creeps downward or some jobs come back. In fact, recessions cause long-term damage—to savings and earnings, yes—but also to children’s development, family stability, and long-term physical and psychological well-being. First and most importantly, a recession means large scale job losses. This is often particularly severe in manufacturing states like Ohio. As many as 30 million Americans lost jobs during the great recession. In Ohio, we actually had not recovered jobs lost in the early 2000s recession by the time the Great Recession hit in 2007. More than 415,000 more jobs were slashed by February 2010 and the 2018 data revisions showed we again haven’t fully recovered — we need 16,300 jobs to reach pre-recession employment levels (reflecting population growth). In the Great Recession, national unemployment reached 9.9 percent for the year 2009. Ohio fared worse with official unemployment of 11.1 percent in January 2010. It took ten years nationally before unemployment fell to pre-recession levels. In Ohio, official unemployment levels remained above 5 percent until 2015. While unemployment is always traumatic, a month of joblessness isn’t nearly as bad as a longer spell—nationally, the Great Recession rendered twice as many people unemployed for half or a full year, compared to typical recessions. The pain is felt by the employed too. For employed Ohioans, job quality eroded during and since the last two recessions. Six of the ten most common occupations in Ohio pay too little for a family of three to escape needing (and qualifying for) food aid, up from four in ten in 2000. Only one of the most common Ohio jobs, registered nurse, pays more than 160 percent of poverty. Back in 2000, four of the most common jobs were at this more middle-class level. Of common Ohio occupations only one now pays more than $35,000 a year.

 Emails Show How Much Pull Political Bosses Had Over State Tax Breaks -- A law firm linked to New Jersey political boss George E. Norcross III enjoyed extraordinary influence over the state’s tax break program, crafting new rules and regulations in hundreds of calls, meetings and messages with top officials in Trenton, newly released emails reveal. The emails, obtained by WNYC and ProPublica through a public information request, provide a rare look at how the Norcross family machine leveraged its access to top state officials to advance the interests of clients and friends allied with the political leader. The lawyers pushed officials at the New Jersey Economic Development Authority for client concessions, pressed staffers for expedited reviews and went over their heads to appeal objections. Kevin Sheehan, an attorney with Parker McCay, where Norcross’ brother Philip is managing partner, focused on getting bigger tax breaks for the Philadelphia 76ers, Cooper Health System and nuclear services giant Holtec International, which won some of the most lucrative tax awards in state history. The companies were promising to move to downtrodden Camden as part of a renaissance pushed by George Norcross, a Democrat whose insurance brokerage was among the tax break recipients. Sheehan phoned or emailed EDA chief Tim Lizura nearly every day. He arranged dozens of meetings and conference calls with Lizura’s lieutenants and lower-level staffers, who spent hours consulting with the lawyer and working out financial projections and various development scenarios for his clients. Sheehan also communicated with top officials at former Gov. Chris Christie’s Department of the Treasury and the Attorney General’s Office, which advised him on questions raised by Parker McCay clients. At Sheehan’s request, Lizura advised Sheehan on how tax break winners could sell their credits to raise capital, passing along the names of financial contacts. Sheehan made a growing list of changes he wanted to make to a brand new law that offered tax breaks to companies willing to invest in new jobs, the emails suggest.

Why Workers Without College Degrees Are Fleeing Big Cities - NYT - Last month the Census Bureau confirmed a confounding dynamic taking hold across the American landscape: Superstar cities, the nation’s economic powerhouses, hotbeds of opportunity at the cutting edge of technological progress, are losing people to other parts of the country.   For the first time in at least a decade, 4,868 more people left King County, Wash. — Amazon’s home — than arrived from elsewhere in the country.   Santa Clara County, Calif., home to most of Silicon Valley, lost 24,645 people to domestic migration, its ninth consecutive annual loss.  The trend is becoming widespread. Eight of the 10 largest metropolitan areas in the country, including those around New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami, lost people to other places in 2018. That was up from seven in 2016, five in 2013 and four in 2010. Migration out of the New York area has gotten so intense that its total population shrank in 2018 for the second year in a row. As the chart above shows, 30 of the 44 largest counties, with populations above one million, recorded more domestic outflows than inflows of people in 2018. This growing flow of people out of the hotbeds of innovation and economic activity underscores how lopsided the distribution of opportunity has become.Places like Cupertino and Mountain View in Santa Clara County may still offer the best, most highly paid opportunities for the highly educated — lawyers and programmers seeking jobs at Apple or Google. The median family in that county makes $122,700 a year. In King County it is $105,512, way above the national median of $76,000.The problem is that workers without a four-year college degree don’t earn anywhere near that much.Consider janitors. In 1960, a janitor in the Deep South could more than double his income by  moving to Santa Clara County, even after accounting for higher housing costs. Since then, janitors’ earnings have grown much more slowly in Silicon Valley and King County than in the Deep South. And this is upending the distribution of prosperity across the country.

An entire US city is being held hostage by cybercriminals who are asking for $100,000 worth of bitcoin The city of Baltimore is under attack, but not by someone armed with guns or bombs.Two weeks ago, cybercriminals used ransomware known asRobinHood to seize control of about 10,000 of the city's computers, saying they won't relinquish access unless Baltimore hands over about US$100,000 worth of bitcoin.Baltimore is refusing the meet the ransom demand.However, it also isn't equipped to crack the ransomware, meaning it's been forced to go largely offline — another disturbing example of modern government's inability to keep up with the evolving threat of cybercrime.The attack has crippled Baltimore's government — employees can't even access email — so for now, the city is resorting to manual workarounds for operations that would typically involve computer networks. As for when Baltimore might fully recover from the attack, no one seems to know for sure. But based on a recent statement from Mayor Bernard C. 'Jack' Young, it could take awhile."Our focus is getting critical services back online, and doing so in a manner that ensures we keep security as one of our top priorities throughout this process," he wrote on Friday. "You may see partial services beginning to restore within a matter of weeks, while some of our more intricate systems may take months in the recovery process."

Baltimore ransomware nightmare could last weeks more, with big consequences  - It's been nearly two weeks since the City of Baltimore's networks were shut down in response to a ransomware attack, and there's still no end in sight to the attack's impact. It may be weeks more before the city's services return to something resembling normal—manual workarounds are being put in place to handle some services now, but the city's water billing and other payment systems remain offline, as well as most of the city's email and much of the government's phone systems.The ransomware attack came in the midst of a major transition at City Hall. Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young assumed office officially just days before the attack, after the resignation of former mayor Catherine Pugh, who is facing an ever-expanding corruption investigation. And some of the mayor's critical staff positions remained unfilled—the mayor's deputy chief of staff for operations, Sheryl Goldstein, starts work today. To top it off, unlike the City of Atlanta—whichsuffered from a Samsam ransomware attack in March of 2018—Baltimore has no insurance to cover the cost of a cyber attack. So the cost of cleaning up the RobbinHood ransomware, which will far exceed the approximately $70,000 the ransomware operators demanded, will be borne entirely by Baltimore's citizens. In a statement to press on May 17, Mayor Young said:  I am not able to provide you with an exact timeline on when all systems will be restored. Like any large enterprise, we have thousands of systems and applications. Our focus is getting critical services back online, and doing so in a manner that ensures we keep security as one of our top priorities throughout this process. You may see partial services beginning to restore within a matter of weeks, while some of our more intricate systems may take months in the recovery process… we engaged leading industry cybersecurity experts who are on-site 24-7 working with us.  Real estate purchases cannot be closed, though Mayor Young said that a paper-based workaround for handling closings would be put in place by today. Water bills and other city charges (including parking tickets and citations from the city's speed camera and red light camera network) cannot be paid.  Other tasks are idled completely or have gone back to paper-based processes the city was in the midst of trying to eliminate.

Google shut out Baltimore officials using Gmail after ransomware attack - On May 7th, a ransomware attack froze government systems, including email, and demanded the city hand over bitcoin to reverse the hack. Weeks later, the city is still recovering from the attack, which has also shut down systems for paying water bills and some other services. While officials deal with the problem, which could still take months to fix, some have reportedly signed up for free Gmail accounts to keep operating.Gmail distinguishes between individual users and users in businesses and other organizations, requiring the latter to pay for the service. According to the Sun, which cited the mayor’s office, Google’s systems deemed the city officials to be part of an organization, and shut down the temporary accounts. Emails to the city health department, city council aides, and the mayor’s office bounced on Thursday, according to the report from the Sun. In a statement, a Google spokesperson said it was the company’s security systems that had detected the creation of several accounts in a short period of time, and had automatically shut them down. “We have restored access to the Gmail accounts for the Baltimore city officials,” the spokesperson said. “Our automated security systems disabled the accounts due to the bulk creation of multiple consumer Gmail accounts from the same network.”

Police Are Feeding Celebrity Photos into Facial Recognition Software to Solve Crimes - Police departments across the nation are generating leads and making arrests by feeding celebrity photos, CGI renderings, and manipulated images into facial recognition software.Often unbeknownst to the public, law enforcement is identifying suspects based on “all manner of ‘probe photos,’ photos of unknown individuals submitted for search against a police or driver license database,” a study published on Thursday by the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology reported.The new research comes on the heels of a landmark privacy vote on Tuesday in San Francisco, which is now the first US city to ban the use of facial recognition technology by police and government agencies. A recent groundswell of opposition has led to the passage of legislation that aims to protect marginalized communities from spy technology.These systems “threaten to fundamentally change the nature of our public spaces,” said Clare Garvie, author of the study and senior associate at the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology.“In the absence of rules requiring agencies to publish when, how, and why they’re using this technology, we really have no sense [of how often law enforcement is relying on it],” Garvie said.The study provides several real-life examples of police using probe photos in facial recognition searches.On April 28, 2017, a suspect was caught on camera allegedly stealing beer from a CVS in New York City. When the pixelated surveillance footage produced zero hits on the New York Police Department's (NYPD) facial recognition system, a detective swapped the image for one of actor Woody Harrelson, claiming the suspect resembled the movie star, in order to generate hits.Harrelson’s photo returned a list of candidates, including a person who was identified by NYPD as the suspect and arrested for petit larceny.

  Bikers Deliver 30,000 Meals to Migrants Seeking Asylum in New Mexico  — On Friday, the rumble of 25 motorcycles signaled the start of a big surprise in Las Cruces, New Mexico. An Indiana-based nonprofit responsible for distributing easy to prepare meals in pouches was organizing a large shipment of meals for sites in Guatemala and Honduras, but after being contacted by Victoria Fisk, Pack Away Hunger decided to route some of those meals to Las Cruces instead—30,000 non-perishable meals, to be exact. The donated meals consist of rice, vegetables and textured vegetable protein.Before arriving at the former U.S. Army Reserve Center in Las Cruces, where asylum seekers are processed, the motorcycle pack delivered 5,000 meals to a nearby transitional living community by the name of Camp Hope. The bikers arrived unannounced with five or six pallets’ worth of food. Migrants lined up to help assist, unloading thousands of meals within minutes.Michale Daniels, Las Cruces Fire Department Battalion Chief, called the donation a welcome surprise.“This went so fast,” Fisk said. “We literally put it together a week ago.”After migrants legally cross the US-Mexico border while applying for political asylum, Border Patrol often transports them to facilities or drop of locations in towns and cities near the border. Local organizations have been stepping up to assist and feed the migrants, who are often given no resources during this time.According to Daniels, on Friday alone 216 migrants were present at lunchtime. Upwards of 5,000 asylum seekers have been released in Las Cruces since the 12th of April.The motorcycle clubs involved in the distribution included the Bandidos, Soldados, Squad, Riga, and Guardians of Children.

Why parents should think twice about tracking apps for their kids - The use of self-tracking and personal surveillance technologies has grown considerably over the last decade. There are now apps to monitor people’s movement, health, mindfulness, sleep, eating habits and even sexual activity.Some of the more thorny problems arise from apps designed to track others, like those made for parents to track their kids. For example, there are specific apps that allow parents to monitor their child’s GPS location, who they call, what they text, which apps they use, what they view online and the phone number of their contacts.As a bioethicist who specializes in the ethics of emerging technologies, I worry that such tracking technologies are transforming prudent parenting into surveillance parenting. Here are three reasons why.

  • 1. Companies are tracking for profit. The first reason has to do with concerns over the tech itself.  Tracking apps are not primarily designed to keep children safe or help with parenting. They are designed to make money by gathering loads of information to be sold to other companies.  A 2017 report from a marketing research firm estimates that self-monitoring technologies for health alone will reach gross revenues of US$71.9 billion by 2022. The lion’s share of the profit is not in the device itself, but in the data drawn from its users. This data is then often sold to other companies – including advertising agencies and political campaign firms. When parents track children, they help companies maximize their profits. Should a child’s information become de-anonymized and fall into the wrong hands, this could put one’s child at risk.
  • 2. Risks of leaking private data. There are also significant privacy risks.  A 2014 study by the security firm Symantec found that even devices that do not appear to be traceable can still be tracked wirelessly, as a result of insufficient privacy features.  Information related to people’s whereabouts can reveal valuable data about them. In the case of children, their tracking data could very easily be used by someone else.
  • 3. It can break trust.  Social scientists have shown that trust is central to close relationships, including healthy parent-child relationships. It is necessary for the development of commitment and feelings of security. A child’s sense of personal privacy is a crucial component of this trust. A 2019 study shows monitoring a child can undermine the sense of trust and bonding. In fact, it can become counterproductive to the point of pushing the child further towards rebellion.

Poll: 12 percent of Americans support new laws promoting Bible in public schools -- A number of states are in the process of passing new laws to require public schools to offer Bible history classes but a new poll finds that the vast majority of Americans would prefer that other religious and atheist books also be included in such courses, or that they not be taught at all. In a Hill-HarrisX survey released Friday, just 12 percent of Americans supported the idea of offering classes in Bible history that do not also teach about other religious books or atheist literature. A third of respondents, 33 percent, said states should require schools to offer new history classes on all major religions, with a little over half of that group — 17 percent of the total sample — saying the class topics should also include the history of atheism. Nineteen percent of survey participants said schools should not be allowed to teach students about any religious books, while 18 percent said that schools should be able to determine what courses to make available about religion or atheism. Seventeen percent of respondents said they were unsure what their opinion on the matter was. "Most of the time in polling, we don't see 'unsure' answers close to 20 percent like it was in this particular poll," Natalie Jackson, research director at the Public Religion Research Institute, told Hill.TV on Friday. "I just think there's no real consensus right now on the type of policy." Legislation mandating that public schools offer optional classes about the Bible have been making their way through several states. In 2017, Kentucky became the first state to make a law requiring the classes.

The Ongoing Destruction Of The Minds Of Children - Compulsory schooling is a travesty. To call it education is absurd. Real education is lifelong learning as an individual, while compulsory public schooling is the indoctrination of children as a collective exercise to bring all down to the lowest level. Prisons called schools are simply the forced means to stifle individual brilliance while promoting sameness and monotony. The result of this brainwashing is meant to teach children to obey orders, and to be satisfied spending their lives in a virtual cage of ignorance, to never become entrepreneurs and dissenters. With the recent death of the great John Taylor Gatto, the loss of a giant is evident. He was not only a pioneer in real education, but he discovered the true nature and genius that exists in so many children. The controllers who use the government school system as a way to dumb down the masses fully understand this potential genius. They are very fearful of it. So fearful in fact, that more than 100 years ago, they designed a mandatory school system as a way to control the common people. By training them to be good citizens and members of a collective society instead of individuals, the few could continue to control the many. The experiment called compulsory schooling, now referred to as “public education,” began in Massachusetts in 1852, and became widespread just after the turn of the twentieth century. By 1910 the majority of children were in public schools. Since that time “education” as administered by the state has been a horrible failure, if learning was the desired end. But learning and knowledge were never the goals of forced schooling; training the young to honor authority, discipline, and nationalism were the true goals sought. In that regard, public schooling has been completely successful. These institutions became the vehicle used to teach children to be managed instead of managing themselves. They have produced a soft society consumed by doubt and incompetence, and one that can function only as a mass.

Bernie Sanders Unveils ‘A Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education’ - Sen. Bernie Sanders on Saturday unveiled the public education plan for his 2020 presidential campaign, calling for "a transformative investment in our children, our teachers, and our schools, and a fundamental re-thinking of the unjust and inequitable funding of our public education system." The senator's "Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education" is named for the lawyer who successfully argued Brown v. Board of Education—the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that made racial segregation of public schools unconstitutional in 1954—before he joined the court as its first black justice more than a decade later. According to the campaign page that lays out Sanders's plan, his broad goal is to address "the serious crisis in our education system by reducing racial and economic segregation in our public school system, attracting the best and the brightest educational professionals to teach in our classrooms, and reestablishing a positive learning environment for students in our K-12 schools." Improving education on a national scale requires, in the senator's view, banning new for-profit charter schools. As Common Dreams reported Friday, he is the first 2020 Democratic primary candidate to call for such a ban, and his proposal comes as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is working to increase the number charter schools. The charter school moratorium is just part of the 10-point plan the senator officially put forward Saturday:

  1. Combating Racial Discrimination and School Segregation
  2. End the Unaccountable Profit-Motive of Charter Schools
  3. Equitable Funding for Public Schools
  4. Strengthen the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
  5. Give Teachers a Much-Deserved Raise and Empower them to Teach
  6. Expand After-School/Summer Education Programs
  7. Universal School Meals
  8. Community Schools
  9. School Infrastructure
  10. Make Schools a Safe and Inclusive Place for All

 She served an $8 school lunch to a teen who couldn’t pay. Then she was fired — for ‘theft’. WaPo - A cafeteria worker in Canaan, N.H., was fired after a supervisor caught her violating her employer’s policy. Her offense? Giving food worth $8 to a student with no money in his account.   Bonnie Kimball had worked for five years serving lunch to the teens at Mascoma Valley Regional High, whom she called “another family,” the Valley News reported.The contract to provide lunch to the school’s 326 students was expiring. A competitor was touring the facilities on March 28, and Kimball’s employer had extra managers on hand.Kimball saw that a student’s account was empty and let him keep his food, the New Hampshire Union Leader reported. She also asked him to have his mother add money to the account. The next day, he paid his lunch bill. But later that day, Kimball was called in by a manager who had witnessed her act of leniency and fired her, she told the paper. Students and staff are rallying behind a Mascoma Valley Regional High School lunch lady fired for allowing a boy to run up an $8 lunch debt rather than go hungy. Bonnie Kimball thought she was doing the right thing and the parent did eventually pay.— (@UnionLeader) May 15, 2019    “It was my life for five years. I went and I took care of another family,” she told the Valley News. “You don’t just lose a family member, be okay and move on.”

NYC Schools Chief Accused Of Creating Environment Hostile To White People -- The chancellor of the Big Apple’s schools stands accused of creating an atmosphere “which is hostile toward whites,” according to city Department of Education insiders. A quartet of veteran DOE white female executives is set to sue the city due to Chancellor Richard Carranza’s “sweeping reorganization” which “pushed aside” Caucasians.According to the New York Post, Carranza’s reforms allegedly favored less qualified minorities over experienced whites. A source told the Post that “There’s a toxic whiteness concept going on […] decisions are being made because DOE leadership believes that skin color plays a role in how to get equity — that white people can’t convey the message.”Sources claim that under Carranza, whites have been told “they must give up power or lose responsibilities no matter how well they have performed.” From the storyMore than a dozen high-ranking superintendents and deputies who had served under ex-Chancellor Carmen Fariña have been demoted — some with large pay cuts — or pushed into retirement, sources said. Others have lesser duties and new bosses. “Since Carranza took office, he’s brought in a lot of new people. As a result, it’s been bureaucratic chaos and backbiting, with deputies and their subordinates seeking better perches in the pecking order,” said David Bloomfield, a Brooklyn College and CUNY Grad Center education professor.“Racial tensions appear to be one manifestation of these internal battles.”Meanwhile, the DOE has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants to coach supervisors on how to “disrupt the power structure and dismantle institutional racism,” a supervisor said.

Teachers strike in New Haven School District, Northern California - On Monday, more than 600 teachers in the New Haven School District of Union City and South Hayward in Northern California went on strike demanding higher pay and increased funding for public education. The strike is part of the growing wave of teachers strikes across the United States and internationally.  The striking teachers in the New Haven district confront the exorbitant costs of living in the Bay Area. A May 4 article in Forbes found that teachers across the US can afford fewer than half of currently listed homes in 76 percent of major American cities. On the West Coast, which has among the highest costs of housing in the country, the situation is even more dire. According to the Forbes analysis, teachers in San Jose can afford less than 1 percent of available home listings, to cite only one example. Of those teachers who do own homes, however, many are forced to seek second and even third incomes to meet the cost of ownership. According to figures released by Airbnb, more than 45,000 teachers across the US act as hosts for the company. Hundreds of thousands more act as Uber or Lyft drivers or otherwise have some other sort of secondary jobs in the highly exploitative “gig economy.” The cost of teaching is also exacerbated by continually declining benefits. A recent investigation by National Public Radio found that California teachers must pay for their own substitutes when on extended sick leave. This often amounts to upwards of half a teacher’s wages or higher in a given sick leave period. As a result of this vicious policy, teachers undergoing treatments for severe and even terminal illnesses such as those undergoing cancer treatments return to the classroom early and against doctors wishes in order to pay bills. To make matters worse, many teachers, including those currently striking in the New Haven School District, are responsible for the entire cost of their health care premiums. New Haven teachers currently pay up to $20,000 per year in premiums.

New Haven teachers strike enters fourth day -  Over 600 teachers in the New Haven Unified School District, which covers Union City and South Hayward, California, continued their strike for the third day Wednesday. On the same day, union representatives from the New Haven Teachers Association (NHTA) and its parent organization, the California Teachers Association (CTA), resumed backroom negotiations with school district officials, the first meeting since the strike began on Monday. The strike is the first in the 54-year history of the school district, which serves roughly 11,000 students. While teachers face an immense crisis in public education, which has been systematically defunded at the state level by Democrats for decades, the NHTA is limiting its demands to a 10 percent salary increase to cover the two school years from 2018-20, and raising no demands to deal with the district’s unmanageable class sizes or poor staffing ratios. The school district has taken the measure of the teachers’ unions, which quickly dropped their initial demands for a 20 percent pay raise over two years, a $1,500 retention stipend, and several other items. In response to this capitulation, the district’s current offer is a pitiful 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. Teachers must reject this offer with the contempt it deserves.

Wealthy students disproportionately receive extra time on standardized tests Students in affluent school districts are more likely to be given special accommodations for extra time on tests like the SAT and ACT, according to an analysis from the Wall Street Journal.Federal data shows that at affluent public schools where no more than 10% of students are eligible for free or reduced-cost school lunches, 4.2% of students have been granted time extensions for test taking known as "504" designations — meant to level the playing field for students with anxiety or ADHD. At schools where 75% or more of the students are eligible for subsidized lunches, only 1.6% have 504 designations.

  • The number of students granted 504 designations more than tripled from 2000 to 2016, according to WSJ's analysis. White students possess 64% of the 504 designations, despite accounting for slightly more than half of school enrollment.
  • Schools make the decision for whether to grant a 504, often with input from a medical professional. But the Journal notes that wealthy parents are more likely to know the option for extra time exists, in addition to having the resources to pay for an outside medical evaluation.

Historically, standardized tests like the SAT have favored students from wealthy, more educated families who have had the opportunity to take the PSAT or pay for test prep, according to the Washington Post. WSJ's analysis of extra time accommodations adds another layer to the wealth disparity in standardized test performance.

  • The advantages affluent families hold in the college admissions process has come under fresh scrutiny thanks toOperation Varsity Blues, a massive scandal that has seen dozens of parents prosecuted for a conspiracy to pay to get their children admitted to elite schools.
  • The College Board announced last week that it's introducing an "adversity score" that evaluates socioeconomic and environmental factors so that colleges may choose from a more diverse pool of candidates.

How climate change is shaking up plans for this year's high school graduates - In the throes of final exams, graduation parties, and turning tassels, the high school class of 2019 is staring down a future full of climate challenges. The class, most born in 2001 and 2002, hasn’t experienced a year without record-breaking temperatures. According to NASA, 18 of the 19 hottest years on record have come since 2001. “It’s just like a fact of our life, right, like social media,” said Claire Burnet, a senior from Asheville, North Carolina. “It’s not something that necessarily other generations have grown up around.” Researchers have shown that climate change is on the mind of American young people. A 2019 Gallup poll found that young adults in the U.S. are more concerned about climate change than older adults. And a 2018 survey by the American Psychological Association found that 57 percent of Gen Z – respondents aged 15-21 – said they feel stressed by climate change, compared to 45 percent of adults. Having grown up in a warming climate, these teens worry about what their futures will look like, and they’re searching for solutions that will give them the chance to live happy and healthy lives. “High school has never looked for me like what it looks like in the movies,” Burnet said. “Climate change can contribute to that because I feel like, who are we to just be going to parties and gossiping about guys, when there’s so many more insane things happening in the world?” For this story, Yale Climate Connections heard from 65 high school seniors. Ten seniors and one junior took part in one-on-one phone interviews with the author. Of the 65 seniors, 61 took an online questionnaire, and three took the survey and also participated in a phone interview. All quotes in this story came from phone conversations. The 61 seniors who completed the online questionnaire were asked if they worry that climate change could affect their future. All but eight said yes. In a question that allowed each respondent multiple answers, 46 seniors said thinking about climate change makes them feel worried, 27 said it makes them feel sad, and 16 said it makes them feel angry. Four said they are indifferent or not worried and were not interested in a phone interview.

Why Students Are Fleeing The Humanities - University faculty as a whole have made a sharp ideological turn toward the far left in the past two decades - a pattern that is extensively borne out in survey data. In a very short period, professors who self-identify on the left grew from a stable plurality of around 40–45 percent of the academy to a clear majority of 60 percent. The skew, however, has played out unevenly across academic disciplines. Subjects that do not engage very heavily with political content such as the hard sciences, math, engineering, and many professional degrees still have a relatively balanced faculty. But faculty in subjects that do engage in political content — especially the humanities and social sciences — skew much further to the left than the rest of the academy.While an ideological skew is not necessarily a problem in itself provided that the faculty teach and permit discussions of a broad diversity of viewpoints, the recent leftward shift of the professoriate may actually be taking its toll on academia in another way. Students are currently fleeing the humanities and many of the social sciences in droves. Although professors in these subjects are apt to blame their woes at attracting majors on budget cuts and a weak job market, a fair amount of evidence shows that undergraduate humanities degrees are highly fungible for obtaining entry-level jobs after college (with the exception of those that require a very specific skill set). There are still substantial salary differentials depending on what major one chooses, and many of the humanities end up on the lower side of the distribution. But humanities employment data also point to a broad array of career paths beyond the specific subject area, with the largest share actually going into managerial roles.So why are humanities and closely related social science degrees in such dire straits these days? That’s a complex question that likely has many components related to rising tuition and shifts in student preferences about what they want to study. The politicization of these fields, however, may play an under-recognized role in the decline of student interest. We may see some evidence for this thesis in the chart below.

People Are Finally Fighting Back Against the College Textbook Industry’s ‘Scam’ --Cucinella is now a regional manager at Virginia Pirate Corporation, which owns textbook brokers that sell used books to students at a handful of colleges in his area. The company is also the plaintiff in a federal lawsuit filed earlier this year that gets at the core of what critics have long described as a brazenly predatory model pitting young people across the country against colleges in bed with a handful of monopolistic publishers. In the lawsuit, Trident Technical College, a two-year public school in North Charleston, South Carolina, is accused of perpetrating a "scam" by failing to give students a clear way to opt out of a deal cut between the school and Pearson—one of the country’s five textbook giants—to include the cost of required online texts in tuition fees. Pearson and other big players like McGraw-Hill have defended this increasingly common "inclusive access" model as a cost-efficient one that ensures students are ready to go on day one, and colleges, including Trident Technical, have argued the new-age approach saves studentsserious money. But when McGraw-Hill and Cengage, another major player in the textbook industry, announced plans to merge earlier this month, experts and advocatesworried even more exorbitant costs might be coming, potentially setting the stage for a new frontier of academic corruption. Just as a troubled industry seems poised to consolidate further, however, coordinated resistance against it has begun to coalesce for the first time. In fact, Cucinella's lawsuit is just part of a pattern of increasingly aggressive pushback from teachers, students, and experts against a model they say has long been corrupt—and that keeps getting worse. "It's a broken marketplace," said Kaitlyn Vitez, who heads up the Make Higher Education Affordable campaign at the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). "Normally a supplier sets cost and consumers decide if they're willing to pay it. In the textbook market, five companies—soon to be fewer—set the price and convince the professor to adopt the product, and the student who is going to be the purchaser of the materials has to pay whatever the publisher says. These publishers are abusing their place in the marketplace and taking advantage of students."

The Warren Way- College Admissions Scandal Mastermind Advised Students To Lie About Race - To say that race is a fraught issue for the American system of higher education doesn't quite capture the divisiveness that affirmative action has fostered over the years. Just look at the DoJ-backed lawsuits against Harvard and a handful of other elite colleges suspected of discrimination against Asian applicants.The College Board touched on these sensitivities when it inadvertently sparked a vicious backlash over its 'adversity scores'. These attempts to quantify whether a student came from a 'privileged' or 'oppressed' background would be shared with colleges, but not the applicants. GIven the controversies of the past week, a WSJ report on how college admissions scandal mastermind Rick Singer, the consultant charged with earning millions for bribing coaches and helping students cheat on the SATs in what the FBI called "Operation Varsity Blues", advised many of his clients to misrepresent their race couldn't have been better timed.   Apparently, it's difficult for the admissions committees to pick up on this type of deception.  One of WSJ's anonymous sources with insider knowledge of Singer's operations said that 'Native American' was a popular option, since most families could credibly claim an affiliation stretching back generations that may or may not be accurate, and it was impossible to tell if a white student was actually mixed-race just by looking at him or her. One student checked the 'Native American' box even though "there was absolutely nothing Native American about this kid." Another family charged in the scandal listed their son as "Black/Hispanic" despite having no evidence to support either claim. One source told WSJ that Singer would argue that choosing not to misrepresent their child's race would risk putting them at a serious "competitive disadvantage." A son of Marjorie Klapper, a parent scheduled to plead guilty Friday for participating in the scheme, was incorrectly listed on his Common Application as being black and Hispanic, the people said. William “Rick” Singer, the college counselor who has agreed to plead guilty in the case and is awaiting sentencing, also arranged for a proctor to cheat on the ACT admissions test for the teen, according to a Federal Bureau of Investigation affidavit filed in the case.

Billionaire Commencement Speaker Shocks Grads With Promise To Pay Off Student Loans -  A billionaire philanthropist and technology investor told the graduating class of Morehouse College that he would wipe out the student debt of the entire graduating class, estimated to be around $40 million, according to TimeRobert F. Smith, this year’s commencement speaker, made the announcement Sunday morning while addressing nearly 400 graduating seniors of the all-male historically black college in Atlanta. Smith is the Founder and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, a private equity firm that invests in software, data, and technology-driven companies. -Time"On behalf of the eight generations of my family that have been in this country, we’re gonna put a little fuel in your bus," said Smith, adding "This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans." Stunned students looked around in disbelief upon the announcement, before breaking into wild applause. Morehouse said it is the single largest give to the university. Smith - who received an honorary doctorate from Morehouse as part of the ceremony, had already announced a gift of $1.5 million to the college. He said he expected the graduates to "pay it forward," and said he hoped that "every class has the same opportunity going forward."In the weeks before graduating from Morehouse on Sunday, 22-year-old finance major Aaron Mitchum drew up a spreadsheet to calculate how long it would take him to pay back his $200,000 in student loans — 25 years at half his monthly salary, per his calculations.In an instant, that number vanished. Mitchum, sitting in the crowd, wept.“I can delete that spreadsheet,” he said in an interview after the commencement. “I don’t have to live off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I was shocked. My heart dropped. We all cried. In the moment it was like a burden had been taken off.”Time

The anti-abortion movement has stopped making exceptions for rape and incest. - When a Missouri TV station asked Republican Rep. Todd Akin in 2012 about his view on abortion in cases of rape, his answer was widely viewed as a disaster. “From what I understand from doctors, it’s really rare,” the Senate candidate said confidently. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.” Conservatives from Mitt Romney to Sean Hannity quickly said he should step aside. Akin’s campaign funds dried up. He eventually lost the election by more than 15 points.Seven years is an eternity when it comes to abortion policy in America. On Wednesday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a historically restrictive anti-abortion bill that would effectively ban the procedure from the moment of conception. Hours later, Missouri’s state Senate passed a bill effectively banning the procedure at eight weeks of pregnancy. Perhaps even more startling to many casual observers: The legislation in both states does not allow exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest. Historically, mainstream anti-abortion activists and politicians have made allowances for pregnancies conceived from rape or incest, on the grounds that it would be cruel to force trauma victims to endure pregnancy and birth. A major evangelical report on contraception and abortion in 1969 recommended allowing abortion in such cases, observing the consensus that “subjection of the innocent party to such suffering by withholding the opportunity of an abortion is unwarranted.” In a 1975 radio address, Ronald Reagan said that abortion was “the taking of a human life,” but also that having an abortion after rape was an act of self-defense, and that a woman has the right to “rid herself of a child or refuse to have a child resulting from rape.” Billy Graham openly endorsedsuch exceptions; George H.W. Bush and his son did, too. Donald Trump said during his presidential campaign in 2015 that he was “for the exceptions.”

Why Women Choose Abortion Over Adoption  -Adoption is a choice that certain women who don’t wish to keep their babies enter into happily. Some women find abortion to be anathema and rule it out among their options for an unwanted pregnancy. And for women considering abortion who ultimately settle on adoption, the process often benefits everyone involved.  Of course, adoption is not a reasonable option for all pregnant women. Some girls and women would imperil their health if they carried a baby to term. Many pro-abortion-rights people believe it is immoral to compel a woman to carry a pregnancy she does not want, especially if that pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. And some studies show that abortion is medically safer than childbirth.  But even among American women for whom carrying a child to term would be safe, adoption is a remarkably unpopular course of action. Though exact estimates for all women are hard to come by, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that among never-married women, about 9 percent chose adoption before 1973, when Roe v. Wade legalized abortion. (The figure was higher for white women: 19 percent.) By the mid-1980s, the figure had dropped to 2 percent, and it was just 1 percent by 2002, the last year the CDC data captured. In 2014, only 18,000 children under the age of 2 were placed with adoption agencies. By comparison, there are about 1 million abortions each year. The move away from adoption is part of the historical trend toward reduced societal stigma for unwed mothers. Today, women who are inclined to go through with a pregnancy are simply keeping their babies. In a 1992 story about the drop in adoption placements, Debra Kalmuss, a professor at the Columbia University School of Public Health, told The New York Times that in past decades, many unmarried women had been sequestered during their pregnancies. The babies were placed with adoption agencies, and the women returned to their normal life. “Relinquishing a baby for adoption really ceased to be a mainstream choice after abortion became legal,”

 Texas bill would allow death penalty for women who get abortions-- For the first time in state history, this week a Texas House committee held a public hearing on a bill that would allow criminal prosecution of women for their abortions.The bill currently makes all abortions a crime, with no exceptions. Prosecutors could even bring the charge of homicide for abortions, a crime that in Texas could carry a sentence of the death penalty.State Rep. Tony Tinderholt, a Republican, first introduced the bill in 2017, and again this year. The bill has many legislative hurdles to clear before becoming law, but this week's hearing marked the most progress yet by Tinderholt's proposal.The bill was still pending on Tuesday after Democrats decried the argument made by the bill's supporters as contradictory.   "I’m trying to reconcile in my head the arguments that I heard tonight about how essentially one is okay with subjecting a woman to the death penalty for the exact — to do to her the exact same thing that one is alleging she is doing to a child," Democrat state Rep. Victoria Neave said. Tinderholt told the Texas Observer the bill is meant to "force" women to be "more personally responsible with sex.""Right now, it’s real easy. Right now, they don’t make it important to be personally responsible because they know that they have a backup of ‘oh, I can just go get an abortion," Tinderholt said. Democratic state Rep. Donna Howard criticized Tinderholt's statement telling the Observer she was "baffled" he could have such a "lack of compassion and understanding." The bill makes no exceptions for individual cases involving rape or incest. Tinderholt said he's "a firm believer that God creates children in his own image, regardless of how that child is brought into the world, it’s created in his image, and how can someone want to destroy that?"

Texas anti-masturbation bill moves closer to becoming law - A bill that would see Texas men fined $100 (£82) for masturbating has taken a step closer to becoming law after it received its first reading in the state’s House of Representatives.Under section 173.010 of House Bill 4260, the Man’s Right to Know Act, Texas men would only be allowed to masturbate under supervision, inside approved health care and medical facilities.Any “unregulated masturbatory emissions outside of a woman’s vagina, or created outside of a health or medical facility, will be charged a $100 civil penalty for each emission, and will be considered an act against an unborn child, and failing to preserve the sanctity of life.” The bill, created by state representative Jessica Farrar of Houston, would also promote “fully abstinent sexual relations” and create a “Hospital Masturbatory Assistance Registry” to “provide fully-abstinent encouragement counselling, supervising physicians for masturbatory emissions, and storage for the semen.” Allowing Texas men only “occasional” masturbatory emissions inside the approved facilities, the bill would insist that the resulting semen be “stored for the purposes of conception for a current or future wife.”

FDA Allowed Medtronic to Shield Info on Heart Device Failures -- Jerri-Lynn Scofield --Kaiser Health News (KHN) reported yesterday in Hidden Reports Masked The Scope Of Widespread Harm From Faulty Heart Device that the FDA in 2007 recalled a device – the Sprint Fidelis – that 268,000 patients had embedded in their chests, to shock the heart back into rhythm in the event of abnormal heartbeats.Note that this episode of regulatory crapification occurred in 2008 – long before Trump was inaugurated.Alas, according to KHN:The Sprint Fidelis was prone to giving patients random electrical jolts — and sometimes failed to fire in genuine cardiac emergencies, according to manufacturer Medtronic’s letter to doctors.Patients who had elected to have the device installed were faced with the difficult — and potentially dangerous – choice of whether to leave the device in place, or undergo surgery to have it removed. In making that decision, patients and their doctors were kept in the dark, as:…the Food and Drug Administration quietly took steps to keep critical information out of the public light. Shortly after the recall, the FDA and Medtronic made a deal to keep reports about the widely used device’s malfunction incidents — now totaling 50,000 — shielded from public scrutiny.Incredibly, this is not a one-off, rare event. The FDA allowed exemptions for other companies and devices until KHN blew the whistle: The FDA has allowed device makers to file 1.1 million reports of injuries or malfunctions to a little-known internal FDA database since 2016, a recent Kaiser Health News investigation has found, spurring top FDA officials to pledge to open those records within weeks and shut down the “alternative summary reporting” program.

WHO 2050 Prediction: 10 Million Could Die From Mutated Superbugs And We'll Have Nothing To Fight Them -- The discovery and widespread use of antibiotics many decades ago have saved millions of lives. Infections that were once a death sentence were easily treated with the medications. Unfortunately, many antibiotics are now becoming ineffective because bacteria have become resistant to the drugs. We have overused antibiotics with reckless abandon and are now beginning to see the consequences. Some bacteria have mutated into “superbugs”.We’ve used antibiotics so freely, some bacteria have mutated into so-called “superbugs.” They’ve become resistant to the very drugs designed to kill them. A study commissioned by the British government estimates that by 2050, 10 million people worldwide could die each year from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. That’s more than currently die from cancer. (source)Infections by drug-resistant microbes may eventually be the leading cause of death. The World Health Organization predicts that worldwide death rates from drug-resistant microbes will climb from the current 700,000 per year to 10 million by 2050. At that point, they will have surpassed cancer, heart disease, and diabetes to become the main cause of death in the human race. Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest health threats of our time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Antibiotic resistance has the potential to affect people at any stage of life, as well as the healthcare, veterinary, and agriculture industries, making it one of the world’s most urgent public health problems. Each year in the U.S., at least 2 million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and at least 23,000 people die as a result. (source) “It’s probably a vast underestimate. We don’t have a good reporting system for multiresistant organisms, so we don’t really know.” Studies suggest the cost to the U.S. health care system of treating patients with these resistant infections tops $3 billion a year. Infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria are difficult (and sometimes impossible) to treat. In most cases, antibiotic-resistant infections require extended hospital stays, long-term medical care, and costly and toxic alternatives.

Panic Grips Pakistan After Children's Doctor Infected Over 500 With HIV - A horrific story has sent shock and panic through Pakistan, further entering global headlines at the end of this week: Pakistani police are holding a doctor on suspicions that he intentionally infected over 500 people, including 400 children, with the HIV virus.The investigation began after an HIV epidemic was uncovered in an urban district of Pakistan's south starting in February, and after over ten families accused a local doctor of treating their children with used syringes.  From there, attention focused on a child specialist in the small city of Ratodero named Muzaffar Ghangharo, who himself reportedly has Aids, and may have infected hundreds with HIV using contaminated needles, but he claims he didn't do it intentionally, which a police investigation is now trying to determine.  According to Al Jazeera the HIV outbreak has sparked a wave of national panic: Parents flock to screening rooms set up at a makeshift clinic to get their children examined for HIV in a village in southern Pakistan, where hundreds of people have been allegedly infected by a doctor using a contaminated syringe.At least five different screening rooms have been set up in the last month in the village of Wasayo on the outskirts of Larkana in Sindh province."They are coming by the dozens," says a doctor at the makeshift clinic, beset by a lack of equipment and personnel to treat the surging number of patients.  Historically, the Islamic conservative country has long had a low prevalence for HIV, but reports this week say it's now spreading at an "alarming rate".  Families in rural areas impacted, but with little resources and only access to hospitals with poor sanitation practices, are outraged and desperate according to reports.  The child specialist Muzaffar Ghangharo is due in court on May 21st, with Pakistani doctors telling reporters they've counted the total number of infected related to his clinic at a stunning figure of over 500 people, which includes at least 437 children. 

Pretty hurts: are chemicals in beauty products making us ill? -The US cosmetics and personal care industry – everything from makeup to shampoo, lotion and sunscreen – is largely self-regulated. Since it first came under FDA purview in the 1930s, the industry has had only nine chemicals banned from use. More than 12,000 chemicals are approved for use today.  Consumer health advocates and some researchers have for years warned that at least some of those are unsafe. And they are trying to connect the dots between these intimately used products and some worrying and unexplained disease trends – particularly in women.American women use an average of 12 products a day – nearly 200 chemicals – according to a 2004 study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit environment and health advocacy group. Another survey, conducted by a beauty retailer in 2016, found women averaged 16 products a day on their face alone.“   Cancer is on the rise, infertility is on the rise, allergies in children are on the rise, and people can’t figure out why,” said Nneka Leiba, the director of healthy living science at EWG, which has been monitoring chemicals in cosmetics for over a decade. “The increases are not just due to genetics and new diagnostic techniques.”  Leiba said known or suspected carcinogens like formaldehydefound in some keratin hair treatments, body soap and nail polish – and coal tarfound in some hair dyes and shampoo – are of top concern in beauty products. So are heavy metals, like lead found in lipsticks and clay-based products, and endocrine-disrupting chemicals like parabens and phthalates, among others. EWG has also found toxic PFAS chemicals – used in flame retardants and Teflon – in some cosmetics.EWG, along with other advocacy groups, is pushing for more transparency and regulation of the industry to ban certain ingredients, many of which are already blocked in other countries. A recent report by the organization found that more than 40 countries have banned 1,400 chemicals in cosmetic products, compared with nine in the US.

 ‘Companies Should Not Be Allowed to Use Hazardous Ingredients in Products People Use’: Michelle Pfeiffer Speaks Up for Safer Cosmetics - The beauty products we put on our skin can have important consequences for our health. Just this March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that some Claire's cosmetics had tested positive for asbestos. But the FDA could only issue a warning, not a recall, because current law does not empower the agency to do so.  Michelle Pfeiffer wants to change that.  The actress and Environmental Working Group (EWG) board member was spotted on Capitol Hill Thursday lobbying lawmakers on behalf of a bill that would increase oversight of the cosmetics industry, The Washington Post reported.Pfeiffer was there to promote the Personal Care Product Safety Act, a bi-partisan effort co-sponsored by Democratic California Senator Dianne Feinstein and Republican Maine Senator Susan Collins to update cosmetic regulations that have remained largely unchanged since 1938."Thanks to Sens. Feinstein and Collins and other congressional leaders for taking on such an important and overdue cause to clean up the cosmetics industry," Pfeiffer said in an EWG press release. "Companies should not be allowed to use hazardous ingredients in products people use and apply to their skin every day. As a parent, I am particularly concerned about the ingredients in products marketed toward infants and children. Parents and expectant parents deserve to know that the soaps, lotions and other products they put on their kids' skin is free of toxic chemicals."

 5G Danger- 100s Of Respected Scientists Sound Alarm About Health Effects As 5G Networks Go Global -  Even though many in the scientific community are loudly warning about the potential health effects that 5G technology could have on the general population, Verizon and AT&T are starting to put up their 5G networks in major cities all across the nation. 5G networks will be up to 100 times faster than the current 4G networks that we are using right now… But in order to achieve such vastly superior performance, 5G networks will use technology that is completely different from 4G networks.  5G waves are “ultra high frequency” and “ultra high intensity”, but they are also easily absorbed by objects such as buildings and trees.  So although cell towers will be much, much smaller, but they will also have to be much, much closer together than before.  According to CBS News, it is estimated that the big cell phone companies will be putting up at least 300,000 of these small towers, and it has been projected that it will cost hundreds of billions of dollars to fully set up the 5G network nationwide.  Hundreds of scientists that are engaged in research in this area have signed the “International EMF Scientist Appeal”, and this is how that document begins… We are scientists engaged in the study of biological and health effects of non-ionizing electromagnetic fields (EMF). Based upon peer-reviewed, published research, we have serious concerns regarding the ubiquitous and increasing exposure to EMF generated by electric and wireless devices. These include–but are not limited to–radiofrequency radiation (RFR) emitting devices, such as cellular and cordless phones and their base stations, Wi-Fi, broadcast antennas, smart meters, and baby monitors as well as electric devices and infra-structures used in the delivery of electricity that generate extremely-low frequency electromagnetic field (ELF EMF). Numerous recent scientific publications have shown that EMF affects living organisms at levels well below most international and national guidelines. Effects include increased cancer risk, cellular stress, increase in harmful free radicals, genetic damages, structural and functional changes of the reproductive system, learning and memory deficits, neurological disorders, and negative impacts on general well-being in humans. Damage goes well beyond the human race, as there is growing evidence of harmful effects to both plant and animal life. And remember, 5G technology is going to take all of this to an entirely new level.  Because the 5G towers are going to be so powerful and so close together, it will essentially be like living in a closed radiation chamber 24 hours a day.

 Starbucks Stores Exposed NYC Customers to Dangerous Pesticides for 3 Years, Lawsuit Claims -Several New York City Starbucks exposed customers to a potentially deadly pesticide, two lawsuits filed Tuesday allege.The first claims that the coffee chain exposed customers over the last three years to Dichlorvos, or DDVP, a toxic ingredient in Hot Shot No-Pest Strips used against recommendations in Manhattan stores. In the second, a former employee and two pest control contractors say they were retaliated against for raising concerns about the use of the strips, NBC News reported. "New Yorkers deserve to know what they are putting in their bodies and we call upon Starbucks to explain, as we allege in the complaint, its failure to take appropriate care for its customers' well-being," Douglas H. Wigdor, who filed the first complaint in New York State Supreme Court, said in a statement reported byGothamist.DDVP exposure can cause loss of bladder control, weakness, nausea, trouble breathing, paralysis, coma and death, the lawsuit states, according to NBC News. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says DDVP should only be used to control pests in enclosed spaces where people are either not present or are provided with a respirator. Hot Shot advises that its strips should not be used in restaurants or anywhere food is served. But photos included in the suit show the strips near air vents, bagels and food preparation equipment. "Starbucks stores throughout Manhattan have for many years been permeated with a toxic pesticide called Dichlorvos, which is highly poisonous and completely unfit for use in proximity to food, beverages and people," the suit said, as NBC News reported. Gothamist published photos included in the suit taken by former Pest Control Technician Paul D'Auria that show the strips were being used to fight "disgusting conditions," such as a buildup of flies, cockroaches, maggots and silverfish.

Roundup having disastrous effects on soil, study finds - Glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weed killer Roundup, is the most widely used agriculture chemical in the world. More evidence continues to turn up showing its detrimental effects on human health. Studies also indicate that glyphosate is killing the soil as well.Roundup is manufactured by Monsanto, which was acquired last year by Bayer AG. The company faces more than 11,000 lawsuits over claims that exposure to the herbicide can cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that affects the lymph system. Three cases have gone to trial. Two resulted in multimillion-dollar verdicts in favor of the plaintiffs – $279 million (which was later reduced to $78 million) and $81 million. Most recently, a California jury awarded a couple $2 billion after finding the weed killer was likely responsible for their cancer diagnoses. Monsanto has maintained that glyphosate is safe despite the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2015 classifying glyphosate as a probable carcinogen. More recently, an independent study found that people with the highest exposure to glyphosate had a 41% increased risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The authors also noted that glyphosate can alter gut microbiome and could “impact the immune system, promote chronic inflammation, and contribute to the susceptibility of invading pathogens.” Yet another study found that even low levels of glyphosate exposure can cause non-alcoholic liver disease. Roundup is so widely used because glyphosate is effective at eradicating weeds, but it is having a disastrous consequence on soil health, according to scientists at Austria’s University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna. They found that casting activity of earthworms had nearly vanished from the soil within three weeks of farmland being doused with glyphosate. Casting is when worms push fertile soil to the surface as they burrow. It is essential to the health of soil as well as plant nutrition.

Earthworms are in steep decline - If earthworms had feathers, wings or fur, or eyes that looked mournful – or eyes at all – perhaps they would fare better in the public’s affections. This is a clutch of species facing as much pressure from the ecological abuse of their habitats as any other – yet unlike, say, bees (which have their own UN day of celebration today), the decline of worms rarely makes the news. This is a shame. We need to talk more about worms. The health of our earth may depend on it. Earthworms are not doing very well at the moment. This year, a scientific study found that 42% of fields surveyed by farmers were seriously deficient in earthworms; in some fields they were missing altogether. Particularly hard-hit were deep-burrowing worms, which are valuable in helping soil collect and store rainwater, but were absent from 16% of fields in the study. The cause of these earthworm declines? The usual. An overstretched environment, creaking at its seams from the demands of modern Homo sapiens. If the needs of earthworms are met, the land becomes, as if by magic, more fertile. Though modern farming practices are contributing to worms’ decline, farmers are, encouragingly, coming to understand that worms are allies, not enemies. This is one of many reasons why we need to keep flying the flag for worms. Though we share very little with these organisms, we do share a rocky planet that is covered in a sprinkling of soil that they churn up for us, mixing up the nutrients upon which many millions of species depend.

Washington Becomes First State to Legalize Human Body Composting --Washington became the first U.S. state to legalize human composting Tuesday, offering residents a more environmentally friendly way to dispose of their remains, AFP reported.The bill, signed by Governor and climate-focused presidential candidate Jay Inslee, would allow people who die in Washington after May 2020 to forgo burial or cremation and have their bodies turned into soil through a process called recomposition. "Recomposition offers an alternative to embalming and burial or cremation that is natural, safe, sustainable, and will result in significant savings in carbon emissions and land usage," Katrina Spade, who worked to develop the process and lobbied for the bill, told AFP. Spade developed the idea through a nonprofit called the Urban Death Project and has now started a small business, Recompose. She hopes to open the country's first "organic reduction" funeral home, The Seattle Times reported. Spade and her colleagues place a body in a steel container filled with alfalfa, wood chips and straw and let it sit for around 30 days, BBC News explained. At the end of that period, the body decomposes into two wheelbarrows of soil that can be used to plant flowers or trees.

U.S. Corn Planting Is Slowest on Record for This Time of Year  -- U.S. corn planting has never been this late after storms battered the Great Plains and Midwest and kept farmers out of their fields.  As of Sunday, only 49% was in the ground, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report released Monday. That’s the slowest pace in records dating back to 1980. Last week, the most widely grown American crop was only the furthest behind in six years. Some farmers are now facing deadlines to get their crop in the ground in order to still be covered by federally backed crop insurance policies. They can still plant corn, but after certain dates based on geography, their fields no longer qualify for policies that protect against drops in crop prices or weather events that cut harvests.  Soybean plantings also have been delayed by a deluge of rainy weather so far this year -- the last 12 months were the wettest on record in 48 U.S. states, according to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. As of Sunday, only 19% of the U.S. soy crop was planted, compared with 53% at the same time in 2018. Highlights from the report:

  • Corn emerged from the ground 19% vs 10% last week, 47% a year ago
  • Soybeans planted 19% vs 9% last week, and 53% a year ago
  • Soybeans emerged 5% vs 24% a year ago
  • Spring wheat planted 70% vs 45% last week, and 76% a year ago
  • Spring wheat emerged 26% vs 10% last week, and 34% a year ago
  • Cotton planted 44% vs 26% last week, and 50% a year ago
  • Winter wheat 66% g/e vs 64% last week, and 36% a year ago
    • Kansas 60% g/e vs 56% a week ago
  • Click here to see the Bloomberg survey conducted prior to this report
  • Click here to see summary table

Hot Arctic and a Chill in the Northeast: What’s Behind the Gloomy Spring Weather? - This past weekend, Russia was the scene of record-high temperatures. A city above the Arctic circle — Arkhangelsk — recorded a high of 84 degrees Fahrenheit on May 11 at the Talagi Airport weather station. The average high temperature for Arkhangelsk this time of year is around 54 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile in the Northeast U.S., try having a conversation that doesn't loop back to the endlessly gloomy, chilly, unseasonable weather. When gloomy weather becomes such a dominant topic of conversation in a region, a form of citizen science is occurring, and it tells you something: it is unusual, it is anomalous, it is downright wacky.Many locations are not seeing the sun nearly as much as normal memory serves — and science confirms — for this time of year. The Long Island town of Islip, New York, recorded its longest streak of rainy days on record from April 20 to May 7. It rained for 21 days this April in Boston.It's not just in the Northeast: repeated rain events resulted in much of the contiguous U.S. being ranked in the99th percentile for soil moisture on May 14, including many of the Plain states (South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas) and most states eastward. This is a continuation of a high soil moisture ranking percentile pattern (see Jan – April 2019 in Figure 1). Soil moisture ranking percentile is from the 1948-2000 ClimatologyAs of this writing, there are headlines with exasperated tones wondering when winter will truly depart, including:

In that third article, Jason Samenow describes the abnormal late May forecast for snow, hail, tornadoes, flooding, and excessive heat to different parts of the contiguous US over upcoming days.

A week of relentless rain is terrorizing Oklahoma, swallowing homes and sounding flood sirens - If you’ve tuned into an evening newscast lately, odds are you’ve seen dozens of tornadoes that have been spinning up in the Great Plains and Midwest. But there’s an even greater threat terrorizing the middle of the country: life-threatening flooding. It has been more than a week with relentless rains targeting the Interstate 44 corridor. The hardest-hit area has been northeast Oklahoma into extreme southwest Missouri, particularly the 110-mile stretch from Tulsa to Joplin. The town of Talala, Okla., has seen 12.31 inches of rain in the past week, more than doubling its average May rainfall of about 5.5 inches. Talala’s rainfall since January is 31.4 inches, an inch more than what it picked up in all of 2018. Other locations in Oklahoma also have seen weekly rain totals approaching a foot. Nearby Vinita is at 11.88 inches, while Miami and Wynona have recorded 11.88 and 11.81 inches, respectively.A whopping 47 flash flood warnings have been issued by National Weather Service offices across Oklahoma since Monday. Among them was a dire “flash flood emergency” for Tulsa, hoisted at 11:44 p.m. Monday, as thunderstorms brought life-threatening inundations and a swarm of nocturnal tornadoes. The alert reported “numerous closed roadways, water rescues and homes being evacuated” after more than half a foot of rain came down. An EF-1 tornado formed near the Tulsa International Airport about 6:30 a.m. Tuesday. On Thursday, the sirens in Tulsa sounded again — every half-hour — to alert residents about the perils of flooding along the Arkansas River.Thursday was the first time the river hit a flood stage of 22 feet in downtown Tulsa since Oct. 5, 1986. Before that, it hadn’t happened since, coincidentally, Oct. 5, 1959. In 12 hours Tuesday, the river rose from 11 feet to 18 feet, and has remained at its current 22 feet since Thursday morning. According to data from the National Weather Service’s River Forecast Center, water levels look to remain at or above major flood stage through at least Tuesday.

 2019 Mississippi River Flood the Longest-Lasting Since the Great Flood of 1927 in Multiple Locations -  Mississippi River flooding has been ongoing for three months or longer in some locations, making it the longest-lasting flood there since the Great Flood of 1927, the worst flood in modern history on the lower Mississippi River. In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the river first rose above flood stage in the first week of January, and has been above that threshold ever since, a record-long stretch that could extend well into June, topping the longevity record from 1927. The Bonnet Carré Spillway, about 27 miles upriver from New Orleans, had to be used for the 13th time in its history and the first time in consecutive years. It's also the fourth time the spillway was used in a single decade – the most in its history. The spillway is located in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana. When open, the Bonnet Carré Spillway helps protect New Orleans and other downstream communities from floods by diverting waters from the Mississippi River into Lake Pontchartrain and on to the Gulf of Mexico. "Federal flood controls were erected as a result of the Flood Control Act of 1928," the New Orleans/Baton Rouge NWS office said. "Flood events prior to the Great 1927 Flood were much longer in duration, at times as long as six months." Upstream, the Mississippi River went above flood stage in Vicksburg, Mississippi, on Feb. 17, and has remained in flood ever since. The National Weather Service said this is the longest continuous stretch above flood stage since 1927 at Vicksburg. The Mississippi River at the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois observed its longest stretch above major flood stage on record. The river was in major flood stage for 51 consecutive days from March 23 through May 12. The previous record was 31 days from mid-April to mid-May 2001, according to the NWS.Records for most consecutive days above major flood stage were also set at New Boston, Illinois; Keithsburg, Illinois; and Burlington, Iowa. Where it joins the Mississippi River, the Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois, set a flood longevity record, as well, originally set during the spring 1973 flood. More than 380 river gauges were reporting levels above flood stage on Wednesday.

Mississippi Floodway May Be Opened, Unleashing 17 Million Liters Of Water Per Second - One of the major barriers that keeps the Mississippi River on its course could be opened for only the third time in its history. The opening would be the result of rising river levels and could also flood parts of Louisiana, which would affect businesses in the region, according to Bloomberg. The Army Corps of Engineers may be forced to open the Morganza Floodway, a lengthy dam-like barrier that redirects 600,000 cubic feet, or 17 million liters of water, per second to take pressure off the Mississippi. The river has been at high levels since last October as a result of massive rainfalls that have also had a negative effect on crops in the region.  The floodway is about 45 miles northwest of Baton Rouge and, when opened, sends water into the "rural area between the Atchafalaya and Mississippi Rivers in central Louisiana." The area along the river between New Orleans and Baton Rogue is littered with refineries, chemical plants and grain elevators. High water on the river has already caused delays for shipments of raw materials in and out of these businesses and, due to the high levels, traffic through Vicksburg was shut down earlier this year already.  Exacerbating things further is the fact that meteorologists are calling for a new deluge into the river as a result of thunderstorms across the Great Plains and the Midwest this week. A large amount of this water will flow into the Mississippi, coupled with water from the Arkansas river.  Jeff Graschel, service coordination hydrologist with the Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center said: "We are really close to the trigger levels." Speaking to Bloomberg, he added that while the Mississippi could dip lower in the next few days, forecasters are expecting a new deluge caused by a week’s worth of thunderstorms across the Great Plains and Midwest to send the river rising again by the end of next week.  The Bonnet Carre Spillway, about 28 miles downstream, was opened in February to help prevent flood risk in New Orleans.

Owners of Noah's Ark replica sue insurers over rain damage - The owners of a replica of Noah's Ark featured at the Ark Encounter in Williamstown, Ky., sued its insurers who refused to cover rain damage. The ark's owner said heavy rains in 2017 and 2018 caused a landslide on its property and its five insurance carriers refused to cover damages totaling nearly $1 million. The ark itself was reportedly undamaged in the rains. Ark Encounter is asking for compensatory and punitive damages and a jury trial in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court. The suit names Swiss-based Allied World Assurance Co. Holdings, its use company and three other carriers. "Subsequent to heavy rains, a significant landslide occurred along portions of the slope, which eliminated the structural support for the roadway, caused significant damage to the road surface itself and the incorporated improvements, and rendered portions of the road unsafe and unfit for use," the suit reads. The Ark Encounter unveiled its Noah's Ark replica in 2016. It says the dimensions are based on those listed in Genesis in the Bible.

April 2019: Earth's 2nd Warmest April on Record --April 2019 was the planet's second warmest April since record keeping began in 1880, said NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) on Monday. NASA also rated April 2019 as the second warmest April on record, behind 2016. Minor differences in rankings between NASA and NOAA can arise because of how they handle data-sparse regions such as the Arctic, where few surface weather stations exist. April 2019 was tied for having the 11th highest monthly temperature departure from average for any month in the NOAA record, and was the 12th warmest month in the NASA record (out of 1672 months). The top twelve hottest months on record have all occurred since 2015. April 2019 was tied for having the 11th highest monthly temperature departure from average for any month in the NOAA record, and was the 12th warmest month in the NASA record (out of 1672 months). The top twelve hottest months on record have all occurred since 2015. Global ocean temperatures during April 2019 were the second warmest on record, according to NOAA, and global land temperatures were the third warmest on record. The January through April year-to-date period was the third warmest on record. Global satellite-measured temperatures in April 2019 for the lowest 8 km of the atmosphere were the third warmest in the 41-year record, according to the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH) and RSS.Arctic sea ice extent during April 2019 was the lowest in the 41-year satellite record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), and was at record-low levels every day of the month. The previous low April extent occurred in 2016.Antarctic sea ice extent during April 2019 was the second lowest in the 41-year satellite record, behind the record-low year of 2017. Among global stations with a period of record of at least 40 years, 14 set new all-time heat records in April and 0 set all-time cold records.

Western red cedars die off as extended dry spells continue, say experts - When Nick Page started posting pictures of dead Western red cedars that had turned from verdant green to rust red he was overwhelmed by how many people chimed in or sent more disturbing images. Page, a biologist, says this has been long warned and predictions seem to be coming true in many parts of the Lower Mainland. Trees on sunny slopes with poor soil are the first to go. He points to a stands of Western red cedars planted in Vancouver's Jericho Park in the 1960s that are all drying out and losing their colour. "Look in Jericho Park you will see these dead cedars. They are 40 or 50 years old and they are not making it through these summers either. They are well established and there is decent soil," he said. B.C.'s provincial tree threatened by climate change, expert says The Western red cedar also goes by the name giant arborvitae, meaning tree of life. It was chosen as B.C.'s provincial tree in 1988 in part to honour its traditional use by First Nations. But 10 years later, in 1998, many were lost after a three-month drought in B.C. Tree experts have long expected the species to disappear from parts of the province, especially where there's shallow, well-drained soil. Lori Daniels is with the Tree-Ring Lab at the University of British Columbia. She said narrow rings exposed when a cedar is cut down indicate the dry seasons that are damaging trees. "[Western red cedar] is the canary in the coal mine at this point. It's the first well-known species that's likely to disappear from areas that it's traditionally established in because of a lack of moisture," said Stefan Zeglen, a forest pathologist based in Nanaimo. He said the species cannot withstand eight to 12 weeks stints of drought. The lack of water weakens the shallow-rooted tree over time. After a few summers of drought the finer roots are lost and the tree loses its ability to uptake moisture. "Then the tree just declines and dies," he said.

Climate change threatens 26 native species in Great Dividing Range, study finds - More than 20 native animals would disappear from the Great Dividing Range before the end of the century if global emissions continue at business as usual rates, according to new analysis by Australian researchers.The University of Queensland and Australian Conservation Foundation study,published this week in Global Ecology and Conservation, examines native fauna in a part of the country that is home to three-quarters of the population and much of Australia’s biodiversity.The scientists and policy experts used climate models from the UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change to assess how many endemic species could face extinction in the Great Dividing Range due to warming temperatures.They examined 1,062 native species, and found 26 would go extinct by 2085 if the currently high global emissions trajectory continues. In that scenario, they assumed global warming of 3.7C by 2085.Of the 26 species the researchers said would not survive, 11 are found only in the Great Dividing Range and nowhere else on earth.  Under a lower emissions pathway of 1.8C the Great Dividing Range would become climatically unsuitable for 16 species by 2085, including the 11 endemic species.“The way emissions are tracking, we will lose a raft of species found nowhere else in the world, including the blue-winged parrot, Mount Claro rock wallaby, magnificent brood frog and painted spadefoot toad,” the study’s lead author, Sean Maxwell, said. Another author, James Watson, said: “The fact is that there are 11 endemic species, which based off of this research, it appears they will be blasted off the face of the earth because there’s nowhere suitable for them to live.”

Only 80,000 koalas remain in the world, rendering them 'functionally extinct' — another victim of the 6th mass extinction  - Australia's cutest marsupial is now "functionally extinct." Experts at the Australian Koala Foundation announced on May 10that they believe no more than 80,000 koalas are left on the continent.That's not zero, of course, but functionally extinct means a species' population has declined so much that it no longer plays a significant role in the ecosystem (for example, as predators of other creatures). That's now true of koalas.Deforestation, warmer weather, and droughts have all hampered the critters' ability to survive and thrive.Koalas' severe decline is part of a larger trend: A growing body of evidence suggests the planet is amid a sixth mass extinction. A recent report from the United Nations found that up to 1 million species could disappear, many within decades, thanks to human activity.About 80% of koalas' natural habitat has disappeared, and the animals are also threatened by dogs and cars, which kill 4,000 of the marsupials every year, according to the AKF.  Pinpointing exactly how many koalas are left in Australia is a challenge for scientists because of the continent's size and the koala's nomadic nature. But the scientific evidence points to one conclusion: Koala numbers are decreasing rapidly.

Climate change is putting even resilient and adaptable animals like baboons at risk - For the baboon study, my masters student Sarah Hill and I modelled each of the six baboon species separately, starting in the present day. We then projected their potential ranges under 12 different future climate scenarios. Our models included two different time periods (2050 and 2070), two different degrees of projected climate change (2.6°C and 6°C of warming) and three different global climate models, each with subtly different perspectives on the Earth system. These two different degrees of warming were chosen because they represent expected “best case” and “worst case” scenarios, as modelled by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Our model outputs allowed us to calculate the change in the area of suitable habitat for each species under each scenario. Three of our species, the yellow, olive and hamadryas baboons, seemed resilient, as we initially expected. For yellow and olive baboons, suitable habitat expanded under all our scenarios. The hamadryas baboon’s habitat, meanwhile, remained stable.Guinea baboons (the only one IUCN-labelled as Near Threatened) showed a small loss. Under scenarios predicting warmer, wetter conditions, they might even gain a little. Unfortunately, models projecting warming and drying predicted that Guinea baboons could lose up to 41.5% of their suitable habitat.But Kinda baboons seemed sensitive to the same warmer and wetter conditions that might favour their Guinea baboon cousins. They were predicted to lose habitat under every model, though the loss ranged from a small one (0-22.7%) in warmer and dryer conditions to 70.2% under the worst warm and wet scenario.And the final baboon species, the chacma baboon from South Africa (the same species that are known for raiding tourist vehicles to steal treats) is predicted the worst habitat loss. Under our 12 scenarios, habitat loss was predicted to range from 32.4% to 83.5%.

 Botswana Lifts 5-Year Ban on Hunting Elephants - Botswana, home to one third of Africa's elephants, announced Wednesday that it was lifting its ban on thehunting of the large mammals."The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism wishes to inform the public that following extensive consultations with all stakeholders, the Government of Botswana has taken a decision to lift the hunting suspension," the government announced in a press release shared on social media.Botswana had banned elephant hunting in 2014 under the leadership of conservation-minded President Ian Khama, who opposed trophy hunting and also introduced a shoot-to-kill policy against poachers, The New York Times reported. But his successor, President Mokgweetsi E.K. Masisi, convened a committee to reassess the ban after winning election in 2018. The announcement prompted an outcry from conservationists and wildlife lovers around the world.  "The whole world is turning away from hunting. It is increasingly seen as an archaic practice. This is very, very damaging to the image of Botswana as a global leader in elephant conservation," Kenyan-based expert and activist Dr Paula Kahumbu said, as The Guardian reported.

To Save Slow-Breeding Giants, Biologists Recommend New Method for Defining Endangered Species  - When it comes to saving some of the planet's largest animals, a group of researchers says that old methods of conservation just won't cut it anymore.  A new study published in the Journal of Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution suggests that basing conservation decisions simply on low population counts in slow-breeding animals could cause irrevocable decline. "Critical thresholds in so-called vital rates — such as mortality and fertility rates among males and females of various ages — can signal an approaching population collapse long before numbers drop below a point of no return," said lead author Dr. Shermin de Silva, adding that conservation efforts for megafauna should be aimed at maintaining their "demographic safe space." That is, a combination of key vital rates, such as offspring survival rate and habitat loss, that support population increases rather than short-term trends in population size and distribution To come to this conclusion, de Silva and his team analyzed endangered Asian elephants as a case study, whose populations are thought to have been halved in less than a century. Today there are fewer than 50,000 wild Asian elephants, in part because they breed extremely slowly — oftentimes just one calf every six years or more. Mathematical modeling of near-optimal reproduction and high survival rates for calves determined that Asian elephant populations cannot tolerate losing more than 7.5 percent of females annually. It leads to something de Silva calls a "demographic tipping point," the combination of vital rates that helps us understand how populations are impacted by a variety of environmental and human influences.

5G networks could throw weather forecasting into chaos  - If you had a choice between a better, faster cell phone signal and an accurate weather forecast, which would you pick? That’s the question facing federal officials as they decide whether to auction off more of the wireless spectrum or heed meteorologists who say that such a move could throw U.S. weather forecasting into chaos. On Capitol Hill Thursday, NOAA’s acting chief, Neil Jacobs, said that interference from 5G wireless phones could reduce the accuracy of forecasts by 30 percent. That’s equivalent, he said, to the quality of weather predictions four decades ago. “If you look back in time to see when our forecast scale was roughly 30 percent less than today, it was 1980,” Jacobs told the House Subcommittee on the Environment.That reduction would give coastal residents two or three fewer days to prepare for a hurricane, and it could lead to incorrect predictions of the storms’ final path to land, Jacobs said. “This is really important,” he told ranking committee member Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma). In March, the FCC began auctioning off its 24-gigahertz frequency band to wireless carriers, despite the objections of scientists at NOAA, NASA, and the American Meteorological Society. This week, Senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) wrote to FCC chair Ajit Pai requesting the commission stop companies from using the 24-GHz band until a solution is found, and to delay any more of the auction.  Jordan Gerth, a research meteorologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, has been studying this issue as part of a group at the American Meteorological Society. He says that while the FCC can switch which regions of the spectrum it allocates to phone companies, forecasters are stuck. That’s because water vapor emits a faint signal in the atmosphere at a frequency (23.8 GHz) that is extremely close to the one sold for next-generation 5G wireless communications (24 GHz). “We can’t move away from 23.8 or we would,” Gerth told WIRED. “As far as 5G is concerned, the administration has a priority to put 5G on the spectrum, and they thought this was an OK place to do it. It’s just close to where we are sensing the weather.”

‘It’s Raining Plastic’: Researchers Find Microscopic Fibers in Colorado Rain Samples - When Greg Wetherbee sat in front of the microscope recently, he was looking for fragments of metals or coal, particles that might indicate the source of airborne nitrogen pollution in Rocky Mountain National Park. What caught his eye, though, were the plastics. The U.S. Geological Survey researcher had collected rain samples from eight sites along Colorado's Front Range. The sites are part of a national network for monitoring changes in the chemical composition of rain. Six of the sites are in the urban Boulder-to-Denver corridor. The other two are located in the mountains at higher elevation. The monitoring network was designed to track nitrogen trends, and Wetherbee, a chemist, wanted to trace the path of airborne nitrogen that is deposited in the national park. The presence of metals or organic materials like coal particles could point to rural or urban sources of nitrogen. He filtered the samples and then, in an inspired moment, placed the filters under a microscope, to look more closely at what else had accumulated. It was much more than he initially thought. "It was a serendipitous result," Wetherbee told Circle of Blue. "An opportune observation and finding." In 90 percent of the samples Wetherbee found a rainbow wheel of plastics, mostly fibers and mostly colored blue. Those could have been shed like crumbs from synthetic clothing. But he also found other shapes, like beads and shards. The plastics were tiny, needing magnification of 20 to 40 times to be visible and they were not dense enough to be weighed. More fibers were found in urban sites, but plastics were also spotted in samples from a site at elevation 10,300 feet in Rocky Mountain National Park. The findings are detailed in a report published online on May 14.

Waste Watch: Fashion Stumbles on Sustainability - Fashion is a notoriously dirty industry – and the problem is getting worse. As Fast Company reported in Bad news: The fashion industry is actually slowing down on sustainability: Fashion is a massively polluting industry that is accelerating the pace of the predicted climate disaster. In 2015, the sector generated 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases, which is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. (It also responsible for a fifth of the global water pollution, and a third of the microplastics in the oceans.) As more and more attention is focused on fashion’s polluting ways, an increasing number of  companies have announced sustainability initiatives. But while some sensible changes have been implemented, these lag the rate of growth of the fashion sector, as documented in the 2019 update of Pulse of the Fashion Industry, an annual assessment of the fashion industry’s environmental and social performance in terms of the Pulse Score, produced by the Global Fashion Agenda, the Boston Consulting Group, and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. That means the sustainability situation is deteriorating overall, despite the modest gains. According to Fast Company:“The industry is still improving when it comes to sustainability,” “The problem is that the pace of improvement is slowing down, while the industry as a whole is growing between 4% and 5% every year.”

California Weighs How to Lighten Its Plastic Problem - A pair of ambitious bills currently making their way through the state legislature aim to stem the flood of plastic in stores, landfills and increasingly in the environment by placing aggressive new regulations on how plastics are manufactured and recycled in California.  Senate Bill 54 and its companion Assembly Bill 1080 would require that manufacturers and retailers slash the amount of waste generated by single-use packaging and products by 75% over the next decade — and to do it by making their products recyclable or compostable, or to simply not make them in the first place. The bills target items that are typically used only once before being thrown away, like plastic forks, takeout food containers, or the packaging for everyday items like toothbrushes or toys. A lot of it can’t be recycled because of the type of plastic it’s made from or because it contains mixed materials.  An estimated 2.37 million tons of plastic material ended up in California landfills in 2017, according to the state agency CalRecycle. And the list of plastics in the dump is long and varied — cups and lids, trays for cookies or raw meat, bags for potato chips or bread, pouches for baby food or refillable soap, just to name a few. “Our mission is to send almost nothing to landfill,” said Eric Potashner, Vice President of San Francisco’s waste management company, Recology, which is backing the legislation and gave input on its drafting. After achieving a 75% reduction in single-use plastic waste by 2030, the legislation would ramp up the goal even further: after 2030, all these types of products would need to be recyclable or compostable. The goals set forth in the bills are aggressive, and they would place more responsibility on the plastics industry to help account for the total lifecycle of their products. A separate bill written by state Assemblyman Phil Ting would require that beverage bottle manufacturers buy back recycled plastic and use them in new bottles.

We're Now At A Million Plastic Bottles Per Minute - 91% Of Which Are Not Recycled - Every person reading this has used a plastic bottle, many of whom likely used one in the past day or week. Plastic, in the recent decades, has become a staple of convenience and a modern lifestyle. The surge in plastic bottle use has accompanied a desire for bottled water as Asia has modernized its lifestyle. Several recent reports indicate the dire global situation associated with the world's plastic use. Two statistics jump out immediately. One, that globally humans buy a million plastic bottles per minute. The second, 91% of all plastic is not recycled. On top of that, it is estimated that over half a trillion plastic bottles will be sold in 2020. This presents an overwhelming challenge in responding to an exponential increase in recyclable yet un-recycled products. Plastic bottles are commonly made from polyethylene terephthalate (Pet), which take 400 years to naturally decompose, yet is highly recyclable. On geologic timescales, 400 years is not significant and one may make the claim that we can just wait it out until the bottles naturally decompose. However, there are two significant issues with this. There are no signs of decreasing plastic use, hence the plastic decomposition clock will constantly be reset. Secondly, and more importantly, we must understand how this increase in plastic waste globally will impact other systems and their function. Most plastic, bottles included, ends up in either the ocean or in a landfill. Let's look at the potential impacts of storing vast amounts of plastic waste in both locations.

 Trash Wars- Duterte Orders Tons Of Garbage Shipped Back To Canada Or Dumped In Territorial Waters -- Outspoken Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered that containers carrying trash from Canada should be shipped back to the country. It is the latest chapter in a disagreement over more than 100 containers of trash that were shipped to the Philippines between 2013 and 2014, illegally, by a Canadian company.   Canada had previously agreed to take the trash back, but has been slow in making arrangements for its return. Duterte threatened to leave the trash in Canadian waters if Ottawa refuses to take it back, according to Salvador Panelo, spokesman for the President. Quoted by RT,  Panelo said Duterte was “upset” by Ottawa’s “inordinate delay” in shipping the garbage back after they missed a May 15 deadline to do so. Officials in the Philippines are now looking to hire a private shipping company to move the waste back to Canada, with Manilla bearing the expenses.  Panelo continued: “Obviously, Canada is not taking this issue nor our country seriously.” He continued, saying that the trash would be dumped in Canada's territorial waters, or 12 miles from the country's shore.  “The Philippines is an independent sovereign nation [and] must not be treated as trash by other foreign nations. We hope this message resonates well with other countries of the world,” Panelo concluded. The containers had previously been listed as containing plastics intended for recycling, however, upon delivery, the shipment was found to contain newspapers, water bottles, diapers and other trash.  Back in April, Duterte had said of the argument: "They have been sending their trash to us. Well, not this time. We will quarrel with each other. So what if we quarrel with Canada? We’ll declare war against them, we can beat them."

Why the Indian Ocean is spawning strong and deadly tropical cyclones - The Indian Ocean has made its mark on the global news cycle this year. In March, tropical cyclone Idai made headlines as one of the most severe storms to have made landfall in Mozambique. Current estimates indicate that more than 1,000 people died. This makes it the most deadly tropical cyclone ever to have made landfall on the southern African subcontinent.  Until Idai, tropical cyclone Eline, which struck in 2000, was the most devastating tropical cyclone to make landfall in Mozambique. This ranking as the strongest was soon after challenged by tropical cyclone Kenneth, a category 4 tropical cyclone that made landfall over the border of Mozambique and Tanzania six weeks after Idai. Kenneth, in many regards, took the region by surprise. The storm was the northernmost tropical cyclone to make landfall on Mozambique, and the first to make landfall on Tanzania. It occurred very late in the season. Most cyclones in the region occur from January to March. It was also unusual for the Mozambique Channel to experience two severe tropical cyclones that made landfall within one season. The third major cyclone to emerge out of the Indian Ocean came a few weeks after Kenneth, when cyclone Fani, a tropical cyclone on the border of Category 5 intensity wind speeds, hit the east coast of India. Category 5 tropical cyclones were only first recorded in the North Indian Ocean from 1989 so, again, this storm is unusually severe in the context of the longer historical records. These high intensity storms have been tied to the very warm sea surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean. Temperatures of 30°C are occurring more often and over longer periods of time. This is a result of gradual warming on a global scale, which has resulted in a net increase in ocean temperatures.Warmer ocean temperatures allow stronger storms to form. These conditions are exacerbated by global forcing mechanisms including El Niño and the Indian Ocean Dipole, which concentrates warm ocean waters in smaller geographic areas. High intensity storms have been a frequent feature along the coast of the US throughout recorded history. Their increased frequency in the Indian Ocean should be raising alarm bells because countries like the US are much better equipped to help people prepare ahead of time, and to handle the fallout.

Bangkok is sinking fast -- For the more or less 10 million people living in Thailand’s capital city of Bangkok, flooding is a common and recurring phenomenon. This is partly due to the city’s geographic location at the southern end of the Chao Phraya River Basin, as well as its low-lying terrain of around 1.5 metres average elevation above mean sea level. The city normally experiences six months of rainy season every year from May to October. However, conditions are soon expected to worsen for much of Bangkok. This is due to its vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, as well as the ongoing sinking or land subsidence that is threatening the city. The implication is that while the sea level rises, the lowering of ground level continues, leaving the city doubly vulnerable to urban flooding. The city of Bangkok was developed on a marshy stretch of land in the Chao Phraya delta to accommodate a new capital after the fall of Ayutthaya to the Burmese Empire in the 18th century. It is built on highly compressible layers of soft clay. The sinking of the city is mostly driven by the sheer weight of the built-up urbanisation, as well as uncontrolled groundwater extraction. A World Bank report entitled ‘Climate Risks and Adaptation in Asian Coastal Megacities’ identified Bangkok – as well as Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City – as having experienced nearly a two-fold increase in damage costs between 2008 and 2050 due to land subsidence. It is predicted that almost 70 percent of the increase in flooding costs in 2050 for Bangkok will be due to land subsidence. Between climate change and land subsidence, the Thai National Reform Council predicts that the city of Bangkok could be under water in less than 15 years. For an urban agglomeration such as Bangkok, where the nation’s millions build and rely on for work and life, the challenge of increasingly severe urban flooding will have untold impacts beyond its geographical boundaries.

Global sea levels could rise far more than predicted - Global sea levels could rise by two metres and displace tens of millions of people by the end of the century if greenhouse emissions remain unchecked, according to a new study. The authors of the report, released on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, said this outcome is the worst-case scenario, in which global temperatures would warm more than five degrees Celsius by 2100. The new projections, which double benchmark estimates by the United Nations, suggest the melting of the vast ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica will contribute to accelerating the rise of seas levels, adding that they contain enough frozen water to lift the world's oceans dozens of metres. The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said its 2013 Fifth Assessment Report suggested that in a "business-as-usual" scenario, sea levels would likely to rise by up to one metre by 2100. That prediction has since been viewed as conservative, as the levels of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise year on year, and satellites show accelerated rates of melt-off from massive ice sheets atop Antarctica and Greenland. In October, the IPCC released a landmark climate report that called for a drastic and immediate reduction in coal, oil and gas consumption in order to arrest the rapid rise in the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. That report, however, did not include revised estimates of sea-level rise. Researchers on the study say a sea-level rise of the suggested magnitude would have profound consequences for humanity. "The two-metre sea level rise that we project is not the most likely scenario but it is a plausible scenario. So it is one we should consider if we want to plan and adapt to future sea level rises,"

Worst Case Sea Level Rise by Century’s End Could Be Doubled, New Study Finds - A new study has more than doubled the worst-case-scenario projection for sea level rise by the end of the century, BBC News reported Monday.  In its fifth assessment report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted between 52 and 98 centimeters (approximately 1.7 to 3.2 feet) of sea level rise by 2100. But the new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Monday, put the range at 62 to 238 centimeters (approximately two to 7.8 feet). "We should not rule out a sea-level rise of over two meters (6.5 feet) if we continue along a business-as-usual emissions trajectory," study lead author of the University of Bristol Jonathan Bamber said, according to USA Today.  The upper estimate is what would happen if temperatures rose 5 degrees Celsius by the century's end and has about a 5 percent chance of occurring. But Bamber said it was still worth taking seriously.   "If I said to you that there was a one in 20 chance that if you crossed the road you would be squashed you wouldn't go near it," Bamber told BBC News. "Even a one percent probability means that a one in a hundred year flood is something that could happen in your lifetime. I think that a five percent probability, crikey — I think that's a serious risk." Such a rise in sea levels would have devastating consequences. It would swallow 1.79 million square kilometers (approximately 700,000 square miles) of land, an area roughly three times the size of California, according to USA Today. The inundation would threaten important agricultural areas like the Nile delta, parts of Bangladesh and major cities like New York, London and Shanghai, BBC News said. It would also swamp Pacific island nations and displace as many as 187 million people, Bamber told New Scientist. Bamber put it in perspective for BBC News by saying that the Syrian refugee crisis had seen only one million displaced into Europe.

 Air Methane Levels Increasing as 'Feedback Loop' Drives Greenhouse Gas Release -Atmospheric levels of methane - a powerful greenhouse gas - are rising, and scientists can’t figure out why. While scientists seem puzzled by the trend, one expert told Sputnik they shouldn’t be: present warming is driving “feedback loops” that cause natural methane sources to vent the gas. While the ability of carbon dioxide to trap heat in Earth's atmosphere has become well-known in recent decades, another culprit of climate change is methane — the stuff of cow farts, natural gas and landfills. Methane is 25 times more effective of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and it stays in the air almost twice as long. The sources of carbon dioxide are well-known, too, with the burning fossil fuels like coal and petroleum being the largest sources. However, methane is a bit more mysterious. That's what makes its steadily increasing levels since 2007 disconcerting: scientists can't seem to figure out where it's coming from.  A study published in March in the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles noted that between 2014 and 2017, the already-accelerated pace of methane release picked up even more.  "The causes of the rise are not fully understood, and may include increased emissions and perhaps a decline in the destruction of methane in the air," the scientists wrote. "Methane's increase since 2007 was not expected in future greenhouse gas scenarios compliant with the targets of the Paris Agreement, and if the increase continues at the same rates it may become very difficult to meet the Paris goals. There is now urgent need to reduce methane emissions, especially from the fossil fuel industry."  "There are so many hypotheses and high impact papers out just in the last two years that cover the whole range of explanations for why there's this renewed growth," Benjamin Poulter, a NASA researcher and contributor to the Global Carbon Project, told Undark for a May 13 article. Some of the possibilities include wetlands — which contribute 30% of global methane emissions by themselves — as well as rivers and lakes, wildfires, termites, geological seeps and thawing permafrost. Plus, Lori Bruhwiler, a research scientist with the US' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told Undark that "almost everything we humans do has an effect on the methane budget, from producing food to producing fuel to disposing of waste."

 Methane emissions flat nationwide, slight increase from oil and gas - Greenhouse gas emissions could be much lower than many scientists reported in recent years, even as the producing of natural gas in the U.S. continues to grow amid a boom in production in southeast New Mexico and West Texas’ Permian Basin. A study published May 15 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – an arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce – pointed to a 46 percent increase in natural gas production since 2006 but that methane emissions saw “no significant” increase during that same time period, and only slight growth from oil and gas. The finding was based on methane measurements collected during 10 yeas from 20 long-term sampling sites around the country included in NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network. Air samples were gathered from aircraft at 11 sites and nine tall towers in the Network. This allowed scientists to analyze concentrations at close to the ground where emissions occur and higher in the atmosphere to understand “their fate,” read the report. “The sampling sites were established in locations where sampling would capture well-mixed air masses and avoid samples dominated by local sources,” the report read. The study did not did not quantify methane emissions, oil and gas or not, but worked to identify if emissions were increasing by observing enhancements in atmospheric concentration of the gas – a primary ingredient in natural gas. “We analyzed a decade’s worth of data and while we do find some increase in methane downwind of oil and gas activity, we do not find a statistically significant trend in the U.S. for total methane emissions,” said Xin Lan, lead author of the study and a scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Services at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Scientists Expose World-Killer- Where Ozone-Destroying Chemicals Are Coming From -  It's been exactly one year since US scientists reported a mysterious surge in ozone-destroying chemicals, known as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Banned in 1987 under the globally signed Montreal Protocol, there was only one explanation: somewhere out there, in an unknown location, someone must have gone rogue, setting back progress on the ozone hole by a decade or more. After much speculation, the whereabouts and magnitude of these harmful emissions has been confirmed in scientific research. As earlier reporting in The New York Times had already suggested, they seem to be coming from the northeast coast of mainland China. Since the Montreal Protocol was declared a success in 2013, this highly industrial region has continued to emit, whether accidentally or not, CFC-11: the second most abundant chlorofluorocarbon in the atmosphere. Between the periods of 2008-2012 and 2014-2017, in fact, CFC-11 emissions increased here by roughly 110 percent. "This increase accounts for a substantial fraction (at least 40 to 60 per cent) of the global rise in CFC-11 emissions," an international team of researchers writes in a new report. "We find no evidence for a significant increase in CFC-11 emissions from any other eastern Asian countries or other regions of the world where there are available data for the detection of regional emissions." These violations are likely going unreported because even though CFC-11 is illegal, it is also one of the cheapest ways to produce new foam insulation in refrigerators and buildings.After tracking down documents and international sources, journalists at The New York Times and independent investigators discovered that in some factories in China, illegal CFC use has been slipping through the cracks for years.The examples given are based in Xingfu, a rural industrial town in China's Shandong province, and incidentally, that is the very same province that the scientists landed on too.Gathering atmospheric observations from locations in South Korea and Japan, the researchers compared global monitoring data and atmospheric chemical movements to figure out whether these emissions came from eastern Asia - the area most suspected as the source of CFC-11. Along with Shandong, the nearby province of Hebei was also implicated. Both regions are big industrial producers heavily involved in the nation's manufacturing, and while the chemical may not actually be produced here, it's certainly being emitted at alarming rates somewhere nearby.

Growing disaster threats put human survival in doubt, warns U.N. - Increasingly complex, growing and related risks, from global warming to pollution and epidemics, threaten human survival if left to escalate, the United Nations warned on Wednesday. A biennial assessment report on how the world is dealing with disasters said the past could no longer be relied on as a guide to the future, with new risks emerging "in a way that we have not anticipated". It identified a range of major threats to human life and property, including air pollution, diseases, earthquakes, drought and climate change. There is also growing potential for one type of disaster to produce or exacerbate another, as when heavy rains trigger mudslides after wildfires, warned the report launched at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Geneva. "If we continue living in this way, engaging with each other and the planet in the way we do, then our very survival is in doubt," said Mami Mizutori, special representative of the U.N. secretary-general for disaster risk reduction. Extreme weather events have doubled over the last 20 years, causing economic losses that are making it "an uphill battle" to maintain development gains in low and middle-income countries, she added in a statement. Meanwhile, the gap between how well rich and poor cope with wild weather and other threats is widening due to poorly planned urbanisation, environmental degradation and population growth. That "complex cocktail of risk" is destroying homes and displacing people, or pushing them to migrate in search of a better life, Mizutori said. A report to be published by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre on Thursday shows that about 265 million people have been uprooted by disasters since the centre began collecting data in 2008, more than three times as many as those forced from their homes by conflicts and violence. Mizutori told the disaster conference Wednesday that science carried out on climate change and the decline of ecosystems made it clear the world needed to change rapidly to stay safe. "But crisis need not defeat us - it is an opportunity to transform," she added.

Young People Are Increasingly Blaming Climate Change For Not Saving For Retirement - An increasing number of younger Americans are blaming climate change for not putting away money for their own retirement.  They say that because the world won’t exist when they retire (because of climate change) there’s no need to save any money. But if we apply that logic to everything, there is never a need to prepare for the future of anything and the liberal ideology crumbles upon itself.  Market Watch used a young professional as an example of this flawed thinking. Lori Rodriguez, a 27-year-old communications professional in New York City, is not saving for retirement, and it isn’t necessarily because she can’t afford to, but because she doesn’t expect it to matter. Like many people her age, Rodriguez has bought into the propaganda and religiously believes that climate change will have catastrophic effects on our planet. Some 88% of millennials (a higher percentage than any other age group) believe in the climate change religion and 69% say it will impact them in their lifetimes. “I want to hope for the best and plan for a future that is stable and secure, but, when I look at current events and at the world we are predicting, I do not see how things could not be chaotic in 50 years,” Rodriguez says. “The weather systems are already off, and I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to be a little apocalyptic.” The mainstream media isn’t helping either.  Using manipulation techniques, the media engulfs people in a constant barrage of depressing and hate-filled news stories. So much so, that many young people are skeptical about saving for a future they are constantly being told won’t exist.

Fossil fuel companies lobby Congress on their own solutions to curb climate change -- The planet’s concentration of heat-trapping carbon dioxide has reached its highest levels in 3 million years, rekindling the heated political debate over man-made climate change and what to do about it. Outspoken Democrats have been vocal about their plans, hyping up their Green New Deal resolution, and 2020 presidential candidates like Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have unveiled their own unique climate change plans. But fossil fuel companies have their own solutions in mind. And with federal funding and generous tax credits potentially available to fund emission-reducing technology, they’re eager to tell lawmakers about them. A new coalition of 13 Fortune 500 companies and four environmental groups, named the CEO Climate Dialogue, launched this week to call for action on climate change. Some of the prominent industry names include BP, Ford and BASF, along with environmental groups like the Nature Conservancy and the Environmental Defense Fund. The involved companies and groups have significant influence in Washington, spending a combined $55.8 million on lobbying last year. As major oil companies have publicly accepted the reality of man-made climate change amid growing investor pressure, they’re now calling for “market-based” solutions to lower emissions. Several major oil companies, including ExxonMobil, which is embroiled in lawsuits over allegations that the company hid its knowledge of climate change, have lobbied in support of increased investment toward carbon capture, one of the industry’s favored methods for reducing emissions. Carbon capture technology traps greenhouse gas as its emitted, preventing it from entering the atmosphere, then either stores it underground or uses the captured carbon dioxide as a resource. Energy giants reportedly invested more than $1 billion in the three years following the Paris Climate agreement to sell lawmakers and the general public on gradual climate policy such as an expansion of carbon capture and natural gas. Their efforts may have paid off, as increased investment in carbon capture draws bipartisan support. The USE IT Act would support and encourage carbon capture projects, opening up $25 million worth of prize money for direct air capture technology and setting aside another $50 million of federal funding for carbon capture research.

How Chase And The Big Banks Undermine Climate Action - Virtually all Democratic hopefuls have prioritized climate change in their campaigns, including several who have released detailed, costed plans for meaningfully tackling it. Several of the front runners support the Green New Deal and have pledged to not take any money from the fossil fuel industry. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s entire campaign is focused on climate.But the fact is that any progress on this front is close to impossible if billions continue to be poured into coal, oil and gas projects.And that’s exactly what big banks continue to do. Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, is uniquely culpable among the titans of finance for the simple reason that his bank is by far the world’s biggest banker of climate change. Between the signing of the Paris Agreement at the end of 2015 and the end of 2018, Chase bankrolled coal, oil and gas companies to the tune of almost $200 billion. This is a stunning 29% more than any other bank. While some major global banks, including Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, have reduced their fossil fuel finance in each of the last two years, Chase’s financing grew between 2016 and 2018. Every year Chase writes a long letter to shareholders. This year it is 51 pages long. In it he talks about “important forward-looking issues” and frets about a “near-term economic and political backdrop” which is “increasingly complex and fraught with risks — both known and unknown.” Surely climate change is a massive and very much “known” risk. Yet Dimon does not so much as mention the word “climate” in his letter. But at least he is consistent: not one of his annual shareholder letters in the last decade has mentioned the climate.   Rep. Tashida Tlaib (D-MI) asked Dimon and his fellow big bank CEOs at a hearing of the House Financial Services Committee last month whether they believe that “climate change is a serious risk to the financial system, not only the planet?” Michael Corbat, CEO of Citi, answered simply, “Yes.” Morgan Stanley’s James Gorman made the obvious point that “If we don’t have a planet, we’re not going to have a very good financial system.” But Dimon? His answer was “Not directly to the financial system.”

Plastic and Climate Change: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet - Jerri-lynn Scofield - The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) released a report last week, Plastic & Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet discussing the significant and growing threat plastic pollution poses to the earth’s climate. I’ve written extensively on the plastic crisis, concentrating largely on the waste management issues and the environmental damage plastic causes, particularly to oceans and marine life. By contrast, the CIEL report is the first report to estimate what the Guardian called “the greenhouse gas footprint of plastic from the cradle to the grave.”CIEL examined each of four stages of the plastic lifecycle to identify the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Virtually all plastic begins as a fossil fuel, and greenhouse gases are emitted at each stage of this lifecycle, beginning with fossil fuel extraction and transport, then proceeding to plastic refining and manufacture, continuing through managing plastic waste, and finally,assessing the ongoing impact of this poison once it reaches oceans, waterways, and landscape.When looked at from this perspective, what did CIEL conclude? From the executive summaryWith the petrochemical and plastic industries planning a massive expansion in production, the problem is on track to get much worse. If plastic production and use grow as currently planned, by 2030, these emissions could reach 1.34 gigatons per year—equivalent to the emissions released by more than 295 new 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants. By 2050, the cumulation of these greenhouse gas emissions from plastic could reach over 56 gigatons—10–13 percent of the entire remaining carbon budget (see also the further discussion in CIEL report, pp. 3-5). Think about that. Do we really want to continue to devote such massive greenhouse gas emissions to producing plastic?  The comprehensive study reports many worrying conclusions.  To name just one, from the press release announcing the report: Oceans absorb a significant amount of the greenhouse gases produced on the planet—as much as 40 percent of all human-produced carbon dioxide since the beginning of the industrial era. [The report]  highlights how a small but growing body of research suggests plastic discarded in the environment may be disrupting the ocean’s natural ability to absorb and sequester carbon dioxide. This means that not only do plastics cause considerable environmental damage to the oceans and their marine life, but that plastic may also be disrupting the ability of oceans to sequester CO2.

 Over 1,351 Climate Strikes in 110 Countries Planned for Friday as Global Revolt Escalates  - Two months after what was reportedly the largest international climate demonstration ever, young people around the world are expected to make history again on Friday with a second global climate strike. Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg, who began the global movement in which students around the world have walked out of their classrooms on a weekly basis since last fall to demand climate action, reported Tuesday that at least 1,351 separate strikes are now scheduled to take place all over the world on Friday.Climate justice advocates plan to walk out of their schools and workplaces on every continent on the globe and in more than 100 countries.Two strikes are planned in Antarctica, according to a map on the #FridaysForFuture website; countries including Afghanistan, Namibia, and Uzbekistan are each planning at least one strike, while hundreds of rallies have been planned across Germany, France, the U.S., and several other countries.On March 15, an estimated 1.6 million people demonstrated in 123 countries. The number of planned protests for Friday surpassed the 1,325 which took place two months ago. called on supporters to stand with the students leading the global call for an end to fossil fuel extraction in order to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius.Thunberg held the first climate strike last fall, holding a one-person protest outside Swedish Parliament and demanding that her elected officials begin a shift toward renewable energy sources to help stem the warming of the globe.Young people who have organized their own protests in recent months argue that they will still be relatively young in 2030, the year that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns the climate crisis will be irreversible unless world leaders take action now to stop the carbon emissions which are rapidly warming the planet. While government officials who refuse to act now may not have many more decades left on the planet, youth organizers argue, young people will face the consequences of that inaction.

We're Shutting Down BP Because It's a Climate Emergency - As you read this, I’m sitting in a big container outside BP HQ in London, blocking one of the main entrances to the building. Along with a team of climbers on the roof, and more people in containers like mine, we’ve shut down the building. This is one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, but I know it’s the right thingWe’re at a critical point in history. We have the science telling us that we are destroying our planet – that we’re facing a climate emergency. And one thing we know for sure is that oil and gas must become a thing of the past.But companies like BP are still exploring for new oil, getting us deeper and deeper into this crisis. They need to stop exploring for oil or wind down their business. The video below explains BP’s climate crimes in one minute. My request of you is that you watch it, then share it on social media – please get the word out however you can. Sometimes you have to take a step back and look at what we consider ‘normal’. Sometimes you realise that something you’ve always thought of as ‘normal’ is no longer acceptable, and it’s time to change how we do things. The way that companies like BP operate is no longer acceptable. BP are just motivated by their profits, regardless of the damage they’re doing. And their time has come to an end. We do have a future – but BP’s not in it.

Green New Deal: why labor unions are divided over it --As a statement of principles and goals, the Green New Deal seems to take economic justice and workers’ rights pretty seriously. It calls for a federal jobs guarantee. It says we need workforce retraining, strengthening collective bargaining rights, retirement security, and universal health care.The resolution decries “antilabor policies” and says it must be fleshed out with input from “frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, [and] worker cooperatives,” with the goal of creating “high-quality union jobs.”Which is why it was so surprising that the leader of the national AFL-CIO — the largest federation of labor unions in the United States, representing more than 12.5 million workers — recently came out against the proposal.“We weren’t part of the process, so the worker’s interest wasn’t really figured into it,” AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said last month. “We would want a whole bunch of changes made so that workers and our jobs are protected in the process.” The transition to a cleaner economy is a growing tension point for the labor movement. Some labor activists are strongly backing aggressive climate policies, and there is growing union support for clean energy in some states. Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, called the Green New Deal “the moonshot of our time.”But the fact that Trumka has been so publicly skeptical shows some unions think that an abrupt turn away from fossil fuels will leave workers behind, despite the Green New Deal’s efforts to prevent it.

Helium is a finite resource—who knew? - Almost precisely 10 years ago I wrote about the likelihood of a shortage of helium in the not-to-distant future in a piece entitled "Let's party 'til the helium's gone." Last week worries about a helium shortage appeared in my news feed. It seems that we are indeed going to party 'til the helium's gone as no steps that I know of have been taken to avert the inevitable shortage.That the shortage comes as a surprise results from a certain scientific illiteracy about the makeup of the universe and the geology of the planet. More on that later.It also results from a peculiar type of economic thinking that is pervasive today that states that when shortages occur of any commodity, prices will rise to incentivize exploitation of previously uneconomical resources and automatically solve the problem. This intellectually lazy pronouncement does not consider whether the new supplies will be affordable. (As I pointed out in another piece about helium in 2013, "Things do not have to run out to become unavailable.")The same lazy, unreflective line of thought cited above also asserts that if we "run out" of a particular commodity (or it becomes unaffordable which is the same thing and more likely), we will always find substitutes precisely when we need them in quantities we require at prices we can afford. As I pointed out in my piece 10 years ago, there are likely to be no comparable substitutes for helium because liquid helium allows for maintaining temperatures near absolute zero (−459.67 degree F). These temperatures are essential for certain industrial, medical and research processes. Magnetic resonance imaging used in medical diagnosis depends on helium. Helium is especially useful for superconductivity applications and research. Superconductivity is the ability of a substance to carry far more electric current at very cold temperatures. Helium is also critical in the manufacture of silicon wafers which are central to modern electronics including computers and cellphones. Given these and other critical uses, one would think that governments would step in to restrict the use of helium for nonessential uses such as party balloons. But that would require a repudiation of the flawed thinking guiding most of our economic policy.

The U.S. Has a Fleet of 300 Electric Buses. China Has 421,000 -- Out of almost 425,000 e-buses worldwide at the end of last year, some 421,000 were in China. The global e-bus fleet grew about 32% in 2018, according to a BloombergNEF report released Wednesday, with the vast majority hitting the road in China. Europe had only 2,250 electric buses, by BNEF’s count.”China’s municipal e-bus fleet is projected to rise to more than 600,000 by 2025, according to BNEF, at a time when the U.S. is expected to have nearly 5,000. “There’s no industrial policy in the U.S. for e-buses,” said Nick Albanese, a New York-based analyst at BNEF. “So unless the U.S. manages to become a big exporter of e-buses, China will continue to stand apart.”China takes a typically top-down approach to its manifest destiny of vehicle electrification: establish national mandates, subsidize manufacturers, and nurture policy competition among its cities. At least one U.S. presidential candidate is pushing for all new buses nationally to be zero-emission by 2030, but today the U.S. on a federal level is using none of China’s policy tools. The E.U. will require some new buses to be emissions-free by 2025;climate-conscious California, meanwhile, will require all new buses to bezero-emission starting in 2029. BNEF estimates that 18% of China’s total bus fleet was already electrified at the end of last year”  Why do buses matter? They’re big, and they’re in almost constant use compared to passenger cars—and that means hefty greenhouse-gas emissions. BNEF estimates that 500 barrels of diesel are displaced each day for every 1,000 e-buses on the road.

California Threatens Gasoline Car Ban - California might ban gasoline-powered cars if the federal government goes ahead with a plan to relax emission and fuel economy standards, Bloomberg reports, citing the chair of the California Air Resources Board.“CARB will be exploring ways to ensure communities get the reductions of air pollution they so desperately need to keep the air clean and breathable -- and continue to fight climate change,” Mary Nichols said.“That might mean, for example, tougher requirements for low-carbon fuels, looking at tighter health-protective regulations on California refineries, doubling down on our enforcement efforts on mobile and stationary sources -- and might lead to an outright ban on internal combustion engines.”The fight over fuel economy standards has been going on since the Trump administration said it planned to freeze the standard at 2020 levels and is part of a wider confrontation between the state and the federal administration that has since Trump’s inauguration seen California file as many as 49 lawsuits against the federal government. Of these, almost half, or 24, are against policies by the Environmental Protection Agency.The situation is a little ironic for California. It is the state with the strictest emission rules and also the state where most of the nation’s electric vehicles are sold. It is, however, at the same time the state with the most total car sales and its pollution levels are among the highest.In fact, the state is home to eight of the ten most polluted cities in the United States. And emissions from transport are on the rise. Banning gasoline cars in the country’s largest car market does not sound like the most rational approach to tackling this rising pollution. It sounds more like a tit for tat approach to a conflict that has been unfolding since Donald Trump entered the White House. It seems, by the way, that California is getting as good as it is giving: the federal government earlier this week pulled out funding to the tune of US$929 million for the construction of a high-speed railway claiming California had failed to make any real progress on the project since the agreement for it was inked back in 2010.

Fire danger could force SF blackout, PG&E says  --San Francisco is not at high risk of burning down in a wildfire, but if the weather gets windy and dry enough in the East Bay, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. could temporarily cut power to the city and its nearly 900,000 residents anyway. PG&E mentioned that unlikely but alarming scenario in a recent regulatory filing as the company explained how it has dramatically expanded its program for intentionally shutting down power lines so they don’t spark more dangerous wildfires. The company will consider turning off high-voltage transmission lines like the one that malfunctioned right before last year’s Camp Fire — which state investigators last week confirmed was ignited by PG&E equipment. Because those types of transmission lines are so interconnected with the rest of the electric grid, turning them off could have a “cascading effect” on places far removed from the weather that prompted the shutoff, PG&E told state regulators. It would be like closing a major interstate to prevent traffic — or, in this case, electricity — from reaching smaller streets. That means a place like San Francisco, which is “highly unlikely” to experience the kind of weather that would cause an intentional power shutdown, could end up in the dark, PG&E said. More specifically, the city could lose power if “East Bay transmission lines were to be de-energized due to extreme conditions,” PG&E said in a filing with the California Public Utilities Commission. “It is a real possibility,” said Aaron Johnson, a PG&E vice president who has overseen the company’s power shutoff program. San Francisco is still far less likely to experience an intentional PG&E power shutoff than a community in an area where wildfire risk is high, Johnson said. But power shutoffs are “possible, certainly, anywhere in our service territory,” he said.

The U.S. energy storage market will nearly double this year – - Energy storage is increasingly finding its place in the sun. As a technology, it simply offers too many advantages and meets too many needs to be overlooked: it can ramp faster than a gas plant, it can stabilize voltage and frequency, and it can carry electrons from solar generation to deliver power after dark. When you add to this the dramatic cost declines for lithium-ion batteries, the combination becomes unstoppable. Regulators, utilities and state governments are beginning to understand this, and among other policies the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Order 841 is opening wholesale markets to the participation of energy storage. Add in the tax advantages of coupling energy storage with solar under the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), and you have the perfect storm. According to IHS Markit, the U.S. grid-tied energy storage market is poised to nearly double this year to 712 MW from 376 MW last year, including both transmission-connected projects and behind the meter storage. . IHS expects nearly 5 GW of energy storage in projects connected to the transmission grid – 90% of which will be lithium-ion batteries – to be deployed in the United States from 2019 to 2023. (note: This portion of the forecast does not include behind-the-meter energy storage). The consultancy says that a big driver of the growth of energy storage deployments over the next four years will be batteries coupled with utility-scale solar, which it expects to comprise more than 40% of battery deployments for transmission-connected projects, or roughly 2 GW. This is made possible by multiple factors, including falling costs. But a main driver of the growth over this period will be the narrowing window of opportunity presented by the ITC, which drops down to 10% at the end of 2022 and can be used for paired solar + storage if the batteries are mostly charged using solar. The full 30% ITC can only be claimed if projects start construction by the end of this year, however because of this provision the completion of many large-scale solar projects is expected to be stretched over the full four years, and it is likely that solar plus storage will follow this pattern. While IHS Markit identifies the pending expiration of the ITC as the biggest single impetus for the coupling of solar and storage over the next four years, this is a supporting factor and does not drive the need for this combination. Instead, in states such as Hawaii and California with high deployment of solar, at times the supply of mid-day electricity is reaching saturation and there is still a need to provide electricity during evening hours. This is resulting not only in deflated returns on solar projects as mid-day power prices crash, but also curtailment. Adding batteries to a PV systems directly addresses this problem, and the markets in these states and others with high penetrations of solar are the farthest ahead.

Hydropower Dams Can Harm Coastal Areas Far Downstream - Thousands of hydroelectric dams are under construction around the world, mainly in developing countries. These enormous structures are one of the world's largest sources of renewable energy, but they also cause environmental problems. Hydropower dams degrade water quality along rivers. Water that flows downstream from the dams is depleted of oxygen, which harms many aquatic animals. The reservoirs above dams are susceptible to harmful algal blooms, and can leach toxic metals such as mercury from submerged soil. We wanted to know whether dams also impact river systems farther away, at the coastlines where rivers flow into the sea. So we performed a natural experiment comparing four rivers along Mexico's Pacific coast — two that are dammed and two that remain free-flowing. We found that damming rivers has measurable negative ecologic and economic effects on coastal regions more than 60 miles downstream.We studied four river outflows along the Pacific Coast of Mexico in the states of Sinaloa and Nayarit. Two of these were from the San Pedro and Acaponeta rivers, which are relatively unrestricted, with over 75% of their flow unobstructed.The other two outflows came from the nearby Santiago and Fuerte rivers, which have over 95% of their flow retained in reservoirs. In addition to restricting water flow, these reservoirs trap sediments — over 1 million tons per year along the two rivers combined.In unobstructed rivers, sediment flows downstream and is eventually deposited along the coast, helping to stabilize the shoreline and sometimes even to build it up. We found that this was happening along the free-flowing Acaponeta and San Pedro rivers.However, because the sediment from the dammed Santiago and Fuerte rivers is no longer carried downstream, wave action takes over at the coast. At the mouths of these two rivers, we found that waves were eroding up to 3 3 hectares of combined land — equivalent to about 62 football fields — each year, with widespread ecologic and economic effects on the surrounding regions.

Hydropower’s Dangerous Bid To Re-cast Itself As ‘Green’ -- This month, the 3,000 inhabitants of Hasankeyf, Turkey, await rising floodwaters that will permanently drown their 12,000-year-old village. With it will go a unique ecosystem and countless cultural artifacts from millennia of human history. Hundreds of miles downstream, the marshes thought to be the Bible’s Garden of Eden struggle with the effects of debilitating, recurring drought. The rich tapestry of plants and species that supported one of humanity’s earliest civilizations are now on life support, bolstered by recent rains but facing a deeply uncertain future.  One culprit is responsible for both the flood and the drought, and it stands in the Tigris River between them: the Ilisu Dam. But at the World Hydropower Congress, held this week in Paris, the hydropower industry, which is driving freshwater extinctions and contributing to climate change, is on a desperate quest to erase its rapacious past and recast itself as a green energy source for the future. It would be laughable if it didn’t actually run the risk of succeeding. After all, the industry enjoys a great deal of social license from its relationship with Congress co-host, UNESCO; the very agency responsible for designating World Heritage Sites.But the hydropower industry is trying to conceal what is perhaps the most troubling secret from potential investors seeking to address climate change: Hydropower’s climate impact. Studies have shown that dam reservoirs are a significant source of the world’s most potent greenhouse gas: methane. Hydroelectric dams emit a billion tons of greenhouse gases a year, representing fully 1.3% of human-caused global emissions. By way of comparison, the global aviation industry produces about 2% of all human-caused emissions. That’s a sizeable carbon footprint. The hydropower industry, however, is a master of reinvention. The Climate Bonds Initiative, an international organization working to mobilize the $100 trillion bond market for climate change solutions, writes on its website that hydropower “will play an important role in the transition to a low carbon economy.” It’s a little like saying the internal combustion engine is a winning new green technology that will combat climate change. But the hydropower industry is banking on the ignorance of their target audience. The danger is that the publicity gamble pays off, and governments and investors will sink even more money into a technology that disrupts the carbon cycle, starves existing carbon sinks, and contributes methane to our already-overheated climate. Meanwhile, the world will keep heating up.

As Coal Retires in PJM, Why Aren't Renewables Filling the Vacuum? -- Interconnection queue requests across all the major North American markets show that over 90 percent of new requests now consist of solar, wind and storage. This is the result of state-level policies and declining costs. Even in PJM, where natural gas has dominated the generation queue, new requests are now giving way to wind, solar and battery storage projects. (PJM is the country’s leader for front-of-the-meter storage, though it will likely be overtaken by California in 2020.)However, as utilities replace retiring coal assets in PJM, coal capacity has been replaced at almost a one-for-one rate with new combined-cycle natural-gas generation. Over the last several years, 29 gigawatts of retiring coal plants in PJM have been replaced with 23 gigawatts of natural gas, according to a recent Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables webinar. PJM’s natural-gas plant building boom has been centered in northeast Pennsylvania, with additional recent activity in southwest Pennsylvania, West Virginia and eastern Ohio, near natural-gas resources. Operation costs are low and gas supplies plentiful, driving the cost of electricity down.Because of this plentiful natural gas, wind and solar are not yet competing with natural gas on price in PJM when it comes to replacing coal. Wood Mackenzie’s analysts contrasted PJM with Texas' ERCOT territory, where wind and solar dominate the generation queue.In ERCOT, plenty of coal plants have been retired, including 4 gigawatts in 2018 alone. Prices in ERCOT’s energy-only market are not consistently high enough to make the market attractive for new natural-gas development. Wind and solar are picking up the slack; even small solar installations under 1 megawatt have flourished, nearly doubling capacity in just two years from 2016 to 2018.

Making industrial chemicals “green” requires a lot of renewable electricity --When we think about climate change, we most often think about emissions from two sectors: energy and transportation. But industry makes a big contribution to climate change, too. Industrial emissions come from a lot of different things, including the manufacture of common chemicals. Often, these chemicals are made by reforming fossil fuels using heat that's also provided by burning fossil fuels.Overall, the chemical industry consumes about 10 percent of global final energy, according to the International Energy Agency.  In a recent PNAS paper, researchers from universities in Germany and California tried to estimate how effectively the chemical industry could decarbonize and whether such a decarbonization is likely.The result? If we develop certain technologies, "greening" the chemical manufacture industry can reduce CO2 emissions significantly. But the transition would require so much renewable energy that it's far more efficient to focus on decarbonizing transportation and even residential heating first. What the researchers found is that there is a clear technical path to reducing the chemical industry's emissions with carbon capture, but real-world economics limited the actual deployment of these technologies.  The limiting factor? Electricity. Creating synthetic, "green" hydrocarbons from captured CO2would require enormous amounts of renewable (or nuclear) energy. Carbon capture in the chemical industry "could only reduce GHG emissions on the large scale with the joint massive expansion of electricity production capacities," the paper notes. "As a result, the carbon footprint of electricity from the technologies used to expand the electricity production capacities will determine the climate benefits" of creating a low-carbon chemical industry.

Renewable Energy: the Switch From Drill, Baby, Drill to Mine, Baby, Mine - The most penetrating criticism I’ve seen of renewable energy is that it’s being promoted at massive scale to reassure us that we can go on as before, with little if any change of lifestyle, no move beyond our comfort zones. That’s a comforting view, one that we’d all love to be true. And yet, it raises a big and uncomfortable question. Can we mine, baby, mine, to ensure no reduction of living standards, no uncomfortable change of lifestyle? Alas, the shift away from drill, baby drill has already become a shift to mine, baby, mine. Consumer demand for electric cars is a prime example. Heralded as next wave of personal transportation, electric cars will require little to no real change in personal comfort or lifestyle, but will require twice as much copper wire as today’s gasoline combustion vehicles. And building these cars will take yet a bit more mining to build the cars themselves. There will be millions upon millions of them. The mining industry sees it coming.  Then there’s the matter of batteries to make the EV lifestyle run. Consumer demand for batteries — millions of batteries — translates directly to demand for mining cobalt, and lithium or nickel. The anticipation of such grand demand is already stirring talk of soaring prices for these minerals as car-buyer demand puts pressure on thesupply side. Then the batteries have to be replaced in a few years, creating car owner demand for another round of mining. All things considered, the transition from fuel tank to battery is likely a lot less simple and significantly more damaging than many innocently assume. Add smartphones. They, too, add pressure to mine for the minerals that go into batteries. And our lifestyles include repeated demand for mining every time we buy some next new improved phone with extra bells and whistles, and then add to our carbon footprint by using it to watch videos. Even solar powered garage door openers can increase consumer demand for batteries. Solar panels themselves add their own demand to mine, baby, mine — again, think copper to build the wiring. The great, glowing promise for solar panels is, like the promise for electric cars, is a promise to maintain current lifestyles, to stay in our comfort zones. The same comfort-zone lifestyles drive demand for the mining necessary to get the raw materials for wind power.

EPA Changes Math to Allow Burning of More Coal - Jerri-lynn Scofield - The Trump administration continues to erode US regulation in many areas – especially of the environment, with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies advancing policies to benefit the fossil fuels industry.The latest depredation: changing a calculation method so as to understate the health risks of air pollution, and thereby allow states to decide how (or whether) they will regulate coal-fired power plans. As The New York Times reported yesterday in E.P.A. Plans to Get Thousands of Deaths Off the Books by Changing Its Math:The Environmental Protection Agency plans to change the way it calculates the health risks of air pollution, a shift that would make it easier to roll back a key climate change rule because it would result in far fewer predicted deaths from pollution, according to five people with knowledge of the agency’s plans.The E.P.A. had originally forecast that eliminating the Obama-era rule, the Clean Power Plan, and replacing it with a new measure would have resulted in an additional 1,400 premature deaths per year. The new analytical model would significantly reduce that number and would most likely be used by the Trump administration to defend further rollbacks of air pollution rules if it is formally adopted.The proposed shift is the latest example of the Trump administration downgrading the estimates of environmental harm from pollution in regulations. In this case, the proposed methodology would assume there is little or no health benefit to making the air any cleaner than what the law requires. Many experts said that approach was not scientifically sound and that, in the real world, there are no safe levels of the fine particulate pollution associated with the burning of fossil fuels. The Trump EPA’s final version of its Affordable Clean Energy Rule is slated to be made public in June.

Trump EPA’s Fake Math: Clean Air Doesn’t Save Lives, So Burn More Coal  -The Environmental Protection Agency plans to use a bogus method for estimating premature deaths from air pollution, dramatically lowering the death toll to help justify President Trump’s decision to roll back clean air rules and bail out the coal industry.  The New York Times reports that public health experts say the new modeling method is not sound and has never been reviewed by independent scientists. It ignores decades of research by EPA scientists, instead relying on “unfounded medical assumptions” that there is no benefit to air that is any cleaner than is required by law – even when those standards are not strictly based on protecting health but are the product of political and economic compromise.“Using fake math to hide the death toll from dirty air at the behest of the coal industry is sadly consistent with the Trump administration’s complete disregard for public health,” said Olga Naidenko, Ph.D., EWG’s senior science advisor for children’s environmental Health. “This sleight of hand means that more adults may die early and more children may become victims of asthma.”EPA’s own career scientists previously estimated that the Clean Power Plan would prevent up to 4,500 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and lead to climate and health benefits worth up to $93 billion in 2030. The Trump EPA’s replacement, the Affordable Clean Energy Rule, will leave it up to states to decide how or whether they will regulate pollution from coal-fired power plants. It is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by a paltry 1.5 percent by 2030, far below the 30 percent target under the earlier proposal.

Alabama Power fined $250,000 for coal ash violations - The Alabama Department of Environmental Management proposed a $250,000 fine on Alabama Power Company after groundwater tests near the company’s coal ash pond in Gadsden showed high levels of arsenic and radium. According to the proposed administrative order from ADEM, Alabama Power “caused or allowed the unpermitted discharge of pollutants associated with ash pond wastewater from the Plant Gadsden Ash Pond to waters of the State.” The proposed $250,000 fine is the largest available to ADEM in a single administrative order. The violations stem from groundwater test results that the company submitted to ADEM on May 2. The samples were taken from 18 wells around the now-closed coal ash pond on the Coosa River and showed elevated levels of arsenic at two locations and one incidence of elevated radium. Alabama Power said in a statement that the company proactively reported the test results to ADEM before they were required to by law and that the company “has no indication of any effect on any source of drinking water.” Alabama Power said the Gadsden Water Works also tests for water quality on the Coosa River and found no indication of problems with drinking water sources. Alabama Power is in the process of closing all of its coal ash ponds in compliance with new federal coal ash rules enacted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2015. Plant Gadsden was the first of Alabama Power’s ash ponds to close, with work being completed in September 2018. The company said it will conduct additional groundwater testing, in coordination with ADEM, “to determine whether any corrective actions are warranted.”

TVA contractor Jacobs faces another lawsuit over coal ash cleanup - A major contractor hired by the Tennessee Valley Authority to supervise cleanup of the nation's largest coal ash spill is facing another lawsuit over allegations that disaster relief workers weren't properly protected. Attorney John Dupree this week filed in Roane County Circuit Court a wrongful death lawsuit against Jacobs Engineering, a global contractor TVA put in charge of cleaning up a spill of 7.3 million tons of coal ash from its Kingston coal-fired power plant in December 2008. Dupree is one of four Knoxville attorneys who have been representing coal ash workers who say they were sickened in the spill cleanup. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 119 workers and their family members who say they were sickened by exposure to the toxins in coal ash and on behalf of the survivors of five workers who died before the latest lawsuit was filed. In at least one of those deaths, the lawsuit alleges, an autopsy has confirmed the worker — Stephen Ausburn, 47, of Harriman — died from coal workers' pneumoconiosis, or black lung, even though Ausburn had never worked in a coal mine. It is a condition caused by long-term exposure — through breathing without protective gear — to coal dust. Coal ash — the byproduct of burning coal to produce electricity — contains the same silica quartz dust as coal but in a more concentrated form. Jacobs Engineering has repeatedly said testing at the cleanup site showed the Kingston cleanup workers were not exposed to dangerous levels of silica. The lawsuit says Ausburn’s case is proof of workers’ claims Jacobs manipulated the testing process, destroyed unfavorable results and samples, and tampered with testing devices. 

Xcel Energy Fast-Forwards Minnesota Coal Plant Closures but Extends Nuclear Window - Xcel Energy plans to close its last two coal-fired power plants in Minnesota by 2030, a decade earlier than scheduled, while keeping its nuclear power plants running through at least 2040 — the latest step in the eight-state utility’s plan to reach 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050. The proposed early closures are part of its Upper Midwest Energy Plan, which Xcel expects to submit to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in July. If approved, it will allow Xcel to cut its carbon emissions in the state by 80 percent compared to 2005 levels. That’s a key metric from Xcel’s companywide zero-carbon goals announced in December, up from its previous target of 60 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2030. Monday’s announcement comes as part of a settlement agreement with environmental and labor groups, meant both to boost clean energy alternatives and help ease the job and economic losses when the Allen S. King coal power plant in Bayport, Minnesota closes by 2028 and the Sherco 3 coal-fired generator in Becker, Minnesota closes by 2030. Under the agreement, Xcel would proceed with plans to buy the Mankato Energy Center natural-gas plant. But its plans to build a new natural-gas power plant, as well as extend the operating license of its Monticello nuclear plant past its 2030 expiration until at least 2040, are being opposed by some environmental groups.At the same time, the settlement agreement calls for an “increased commitment to solar energy, energy efficiency [and] consideration of local job impacts in connection with future renewable additions.” For example, the plan calls for acquiring 3,000 megawatts of utility-scale solar by 2030, to add to the utility's current 1,100 megawatts of solar in Minnesota, and a promise to exceed its record-setting 2018 energy efficiency achievements of more than 680 gigawatt-hours saved, or about 2.35 percent of sales, every year until 2030, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists

 Former U.S. Nuclear Safety Chief: 'New Nuclear Is off the Table' -- From 2009 to 2012, Gregory Jaczko was chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which approves nuclear power plant designs and sets safety standards for plants. But he now says that nuclear power is too dangerous and expensive — and not part of the answer to the climate crisis. was supposed to save the planet," Jaczko wrote in a recent op-ed for The Washington Post.As an atomic physicist, he once endorsed that view. But his years on the NRC ­changed his mind: This tech is no longer a viable strategy for dealing with climate change, nor is it a competitive source of power. It is hazardous, expensive and unreliable, and abandoning it wouldn't bring on climate doom. The real choice now is between saving the planet and saving the dying nuclear industry. I vote for the planet.Jaczko describes how his experience revealed the pervasive political influence of the nuclear power industry in Congress and among his fellow commissioners. Their opposition derailed much of the safety measures he proposed in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. In 2011 an investigative series by theAssociated Press detailed the collusion between regulators and the industry to weaken safety standards to keep existing plants economically viable.Jaczko's efforts to protect the American public likely cost him his career at the NRC. He now leads an offshore wind power startup and is speaking out at an important juncture for the nation's energy future.Electric utilities that operate nuclear plants are boasting of being "carbon free" by mid-century. They insist that their aging nuclear plants must be part of the equation to keep costs down. But even though Japan closed most of its reactors after Fukushima, carbon emissions went down, because the Japanese ramped up energy efficiency and solar investments. "It turns out that relying on nuclear energy is actually a bad strategy for combating climate change," Jaczko wrote. "One accident wiped out Japan's carbon gains. Only a turn to renewables and conservation brought the country back on target."

House Bill 6 - clean air or multi million dollar bailout paid by energy customers? - Supporters Of House Bill 6 say it would create a fund to support Ohio Clean Air Programs such as Nuclear Energy owned by First Energy Systems. A commercial has been running asking people to call lawmakers to support the bill and jobs.However lawmakers who oppose it say call lawmakers to let them know you don't support it since it will increase utility bills for all residential and business customers in Ohio. They say the commercial is not coming clean about that the bill really does. Matt Borges the Director of Roetzel Consulting Services and former Chairman of the Republican Party said, "The Ohio Clean Air program lowers your monthly bills, it promotes clean energy, maintains Ohio's energy diversity, protects jobs, and protects us from harmful effects of doing nothing which would make Ohio's air even dirtier if the state's two nuclear power plants go off line. Ninety percent of zero emission energy that is produced in the state is produced by the two nuclear power plants and it's in everybody's best interest to make sure those plants don't close. If the plants go off line peoples options will be limited and the price of other alternative forms of energy will certainly go up, what you need are options across the landscape to keep the prices down."But lawmakers say the commercial doesn't come clean about what is really going on.If the bill passes the rate for all electricity users in Ohio would go up 50 cents a month this year, and 2.50 extra a month next year, the cost for business even more. Opponents add customers bills won't go down and emphasized that is propaganda.  State Representative Mike O'Brien, who is Chairman of the Energy Generation Committee, and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee which is discussing this bill presently. O'Brien said, "This is a bailout plain and simple. What has happened is that First Energy and First Energy Solutions, they're in bankruptcy and they need a bailout. The Ohio General Assembly which is republican controlled had decided everyone who used electricity in Ohio will pay extra on their electric bill. Everyone will pay even if their electricity is not provided by nuclear power plants, everyone in Ohio will have to pay. First Energy has been bailed out before.

 Public comment sought on Wayne National Forest pipeline project - The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Forest Service are seeking public input on the proposed Buckeye Xpress Project.This project, proposed by Columbia Gas, involves 66.1 miles in Southeast Ohio, including approximately 12.6 miles of pipeline construction and 10.2 miles of pipeline decommissioning in the Wayne National Forest Ironton Ranger District.Columbia Gas's proposed project is to construct 66.1 mies of new 36-inch diameter natural gas pipeline, along with replacing and expanding existing pipelines and related facilities in parts of Vinton, Jackson, Lawrence and Gallia counties.More details about the project can be found online. Comments on the proposed Buckeye Xpress Project may be submitted online at under the Documents and Filings link, or be submitted by mail to Kimberly D. Bose, secretary of the Federal Energy Regulation Commission, at 888 First St. NE, Room 1A, Washington, DC 20426. Comments must reference docket number CP18-137-000 in the submission and must be filed or postmarked within the 30-day comment period, which ends on June 18, 2019.

This Town Didn't Want to Be a Radioactive Waste Dump. The Government Is Giving Them No Choice. —David and Pam Mills have grown tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and okra on their secluded Appalachian property for about 18 years now. This will be the first year the retired couple doesn’t. They just can’t trust their soil anymore. Past the shed and through the gray, bare trees that grow in the backyard, bulldozers and dump trucks are busy scooping tan-colored dirt atop an overlooking hill on a brisk January afternoon. They’re constructing a 100-acre landfill for radioactive waste.  On a short metal fence marking where the Mills property ends, a sign reads, “U.S. PROPERTY, NO TRESPASSING,” in big, bold letters with red, white, and blue borders. The Department of Energy (DOE) owns what sits on the other side: the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant. The DOE built the 1,200-acre facility, located just outside town of Piketon about an hour’s drive south of Columbus in southcentral Ohio, in 1954, as one of three plants it was using to enrich uranium and develop the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal. Now, the agency is trying to clean it up. The landfill—or “on-site waste disposal cell,” as the department calls it—would extend about 60-feet down and house 2 million tons of low-level radioactive waste comprised of soil, asbestos, concrete, and debris. It’ll be outfitted with a clay liner, a plastic cover layer, and a treatment system for any water that leaches through it. When finished, it will be one of the largest nuclear waste dumps east of the Mississippi. Waste could begin entering it as soon as this fall. The Mills have never taken issue with the DOE facility, but they don’t want this landfill.  “It’s gonna contaminate everything,” David says, after he shows me how close the landfill sits to his property. “It’s just a matter of time.” The couple is far from alone in their fears. The 2,000-strong Village of Piketon passed a resolution in August 2017 opposing the landfill. So did thelocal school district and the Pike County General Health District, where Piketon resides. The rural, low income, and largely white county is home to more than 28,000 people across a number of small towns and cities, some of which have passed their own resolutions against this project. Driving through neighborhoods behind Piketon’s main highway, lawn signs covered in red stating “NO RADIOACTIVE WASTE DUMP in Pike County” can be seen everywhere.

Ohio on receiving end of fracking waste  — Residents working to fend off a proposal to place a wastewater injection well along Hubbard Masury Road said this fight is about more than just their community. One trustee thinks it sends the wrong message about the entire state of Ohio. “We’ve absolutely become a dumping ground,” said Rick Hernandez. Data from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources shows from 2012 to so far in 2018, more than 91 million barrels of brine from the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, industry in Ohio have been injected into class II injection wells in Ohio. That equates to more than 3.8 billion gallons of brine — a salt / water mix used to extract natural gas from below ground shale formations. ODNR numbers also show that more than 85 million barrels — 3.5 billion gallons — of brine produced outside the state have been injected into Ohio’s injection wells between 2012 and so far this year. Steve Irwin, ODNR spokesman, said the regulatory environments in Ohio and Pennsylvania may lead drilling companies to choose to inject their waste in Ohio. Irwin said ODNR has “primacy” to regulate the state’s oil and gas industry, meaning companies that want to establish injection wells in Ohio can apply for permits directly from ODNR. On the other hand, Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry is regulated by both the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which increases the permit application time and expense because a prospective injection company needs a permit from both agencies. State law allows Ohio to benefit financially from accepting fracking waste from other states. The state charges a 5-cent fee for the injection of each barrel of brine that is produced in Ohio. Conversely, the fee for the injection of each barrel of out-of-state brine is 20 cents.’

Belle Vernon sewage plant to stop accepting contaminated landfill runoff - The Belle Vernon sewage treatment plant in Fayette County will no longer accept highly contaminated liquid runoff from a nearby landfill in Rostraver that takes in large amounts of shale gas drilling and fracking waste. The five-member Belle Vernon Municipal Authority board voted unanimously Wednesday evening to stop accepting the landfill’s runoff or “leachate” because its excessive volume and toxic chemical components are damaging the sewage plant’s ability to treat the wastewater before it is discharged into the Monongahela River. By doing so, the board defied the state Department of Environmental Protection, which in January proposed allowing illegal sewage plant discharges into the river to continue and have the landfill pay any fines for the violations. That proposal was contained in a Jan. 4 email from the DEP to Belle Vernon’s engineering firm that says DEP’s “waste management folks have talked to the landfill about entering into a COA (Consent Order and Agreement) where the landfill will agree to pay penalties for effluent violations at the Belle Vernon plant under the COA.” The email continued, saying, “What this does is remove liability from Belle Vernon for current and past violations. In turn, Belle Vernon would need to let the landfill stay connected to their system.” Instead, the board followed the recommendations contained in a seven-page letter, written by private attorneys John and Kendra Smith, that details the yearlong problems that caused the sewage plant to repeatedly violate its state discharge permit and the DEP’s position. “We now have a workable solution to the DEP and this problem,” said Belle Vernon Mayor Gerald Jackson, who is also a member of the municipal board. “Before we didn’t have a workable solution. We want to make sure everyone knows the problem is with the landfill, not the sewage treatment plant.” Walter Ziemba, a board member, said he’s concerned with what the sewage plant’s discharges into the Monongahela River are doing to public drinking water intakes downriver in Charleroi, Monongahela and Elizabeth. “The leachate is killing the bugs that digest our sewage, and the testing we did shows contaminants indicative of the landfill accepting drilling and fracking waste,” said Guy Kruppa, the sewage plant superintendent. “Every month, we report the effluent violations. We want to do what’s right, what’s ethical, and ethically correct. But we’re put in a position to be the landfill’s permit to pollute and that’s not right.

Injunction to stop fracking waste from getting into Monongahela River -- A Fayette County judge signed a joint request by the district attorneys for Fayette and Washington County to stop leachate from getting to the Monogahela River. According to District Attorneys Richard Bower and Gene Vittone, the Westmoreland sanitary landfill was pumping 100,000 to 300,000 gallons of contaminated waste water from fracking to the Belle Vernon sewage plant daily. The plant can only treat 50,000 gallons a day.The contaminated waste water was ending up in the Monongahela and the communities downstream. A spokesperson for the landfill says they "decided to shut off the pipe even though we are not in violation of any water quality standards. We do have approved alternatives for disposal of the waste water which will begin immediately."

Air-quality study finds no health risks from natural gas development - An air-monitoring study aimed at determining any health risks from a natural gas well site near the Fort Cherry School District campus found gas development there does not pose acute or chronic health concerns, and showed no air-quality impacts that would cause potential health concerns. The two-year study by Gradient Corp., a Massachusetts environmental and risk science consulting firm, was based on continuous sampling from an unconventional Marcellus Shale well site near the high school and elementary school campus. The project monitored air quality through the development cycle of a six-well pad, from pad construction through each phase of operation and more than a year of production of natural gas and natural gas liquids. Gradient collected data from December 2016 to October 2018 at three sites near the Yonker well pad in Mt. Pleasant Township, using practices recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The firm monitored for particulate matter and volatile organic compounds, and results showed PM2.5 and VOC concentrations were consistently below health-based air comparison values. According to Gradient’s data, measured PM2.5 and VOC concentrations do not provide evidence of elevated long-term average concentrations compared to other DEP regional data in Washington County that are farther from natural gas development. Range Resources commissioned the study – which, it believes, is the first of its kind – and the report is posted on the company’s website. 

EdgeMarc files for bankruptcy and blames Energy Transfer explosion; Energy Transfer says it was 'an act of God' - The early morning fireball that burst from the seams of Energy Transfer’s Revolution pipeline in September has surfaced as the central character in the bankruptcy of EdgeMarc Energy. The Canonsburg oil and gas firm claimed in a Chapter 11 filing in Delaware on Tuesday that the rupture of the pipeline stranded gas from dozens of its Butler County shale wells and cut off a large chunk of the company’s revenue source. The company’s assets include 45,000 acres in Butler County and in Monroe and Washington counties in Ohio and about 60 producing wells, including 48 shut-in wells in Pennsylvania. But court filings reveal more than EdgeMarc’s financial woes. The Canonsburg oil and gas driller and Texas-based pipeline operator Energy Transfer have been engaged in a legal fight since February over culpability in the Beaver County landslide that broke apart the pipeline. That legal dispute hinges on a concept called force majeure, a legal phrase that means, broadly, “an act of God.” In this case, Energy Transfer said the landslide that caused the Revolution pipeline to rupture was out of its control. But, since early this year, EdgeMarc has been attempting to demonstrate in a court of law that Energy Transfer was directly responsible for the pipeline explosion. That explosion burned down a house at the end of a suburban street in Beaver County. The Revolution pipeline — a 40.5-mile natural gas line that runs through Washington, Allegheny, Beaver and Butler counties — had been activated just prior to the burst. Initially, Energy Transfer thought it could have the pipeline up and running within two months. It remains out of service and is unlikely to become operational this year.

Millions of abandoned wells spark climate, safety fears - A couple of years ago, Charlie Brethauer started to smell gas in the backyard of his home. It turned out to be an abandoned natural gas well, 1,800 feet deep and probably drilled in the early 1900s. The company that owned it is long gone. Pennsylvania, where the first American oil was drilled in 1859, is home to between 200,000 and 750,000 so-called orphan wells that have been abandoned and that have no apparent owner.  "It's pretty daunting to look down the road and say, as these things age, they're going to get worse," Brethauer said. "Where's that money going to come from?" Nationwide, there are as many as 3 million orphan wells, with the biggest concentration in the Appalachian states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.As pressure builds to address greenhouse gas emissions from the energy industry, several researchers have delved into the climate change aspects of orphan wells. Pennsylvania's abandoned wells emit 40,000 to 70,000 metric tons of methane a year, between 5% and 8% of the state's human-caused methane emissions, according to a 2016 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.The bulk of those emissions comes from a relative handful of high-emitting wells, said Mary Kang, a professor at McGill University who was the paper's lead author."It's a story more positive than negative," she said. "You just have to remediate the top high emitters, and you can have a big impact."The wells also can create a safety hazard by increasing the risk of explosions or oozing oil into buildings.Plugging the wells often comes down to money. For the most part, the states are in charge of preventing pollution from those wells. Most of them don't have enough funds to clean up the legacy wells left from the oil industry's first century, and most aren't ready to clean up the tens of thousands of wells drilled during the first decades of the shale drilling boom. Pennsylvania, for example, only has enough money to plug a dozen or so each year. The wells are an issue on public lands, as well. The Bureau of Land Management, which manages drilling on federal and Indian land across the West, doesn't have an effective system to track the number of orphan wells on its territory, according to a 2018 report from the Government Accountability Office.

Governors join Murphy in support of full fracking ban in Delaware River basin - During a meeting with Gov. Phil Murphy, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Delaware Gov. John Carney said they now support a full ban on hydraulic fracturing in the watershed, as well as a ban on any water transfers associated with drilling operations, a stance Murphy previously said he also supports.Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Delaware Gov. John Carney on Thursday joined Gov. Phil Murphy in support of a full ban on fracking activities in the Delaware River basin, a position long sought by environmental activists in the region.Wolf and Carney, both Democrats, previously supported a ban on using hydraulic fracturing — a drilling technique being used to extract large bounties of natural gas in Pennsylvania — in the basin. Together with Murphy, the governors represent three of five voting members of the Delaware River Basin Commission, an interstate regulatory agency that also includes the governor of New York, along with a representative of the federal government.In 2017, Wolf and Carney joined New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in pushing through a 3-1-1 vote on draft DRBC regulations that would ban fracking activities in the basin, which stretches 13,539 miles across the four states. But the draft regulations did not ban the importation of wastewater from drilling operations outside the basin, nor the withdrawal of raw water from the basin to be used for drilling operations elsewhere. Officials with the DRBC have said the draft regulations would actually strengthen importation and exportation protections from a current lack of regulation, but environmental groups have loudly demanded a full ban.

There are 3 active oil spills on Newtown Creek - Three properties along Newtown Creek are actively discharging oil into the waterway, further polluting the already toxic federal Superfund site and possibly undoing years of mitigation efforts. Two of the sites, Manhattan Polybag and Morgan Oil, were former oil storage facilities in Greenpoint. The third, Pratt Oil, was a refinery in Queens. Ian Beilby, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation project manager for the creek, confirmed that he has witnessed some form of petroleum entering the water from all three sites at a Newtown Creek Community Advisory Group meeting on Wednesday. The state is addressing the problem, he said. “It’s an area with a long industrial history,” Beilby told the Brooklyn Eagle. “A lot of that history led to legacy contamination that the state is actively involved in cleaning up through various programs such as the state Superfund, the brownfield cleanup program and the Emergency Response Spills program.” Willis Elkins, executive director of Newtown Creek Alliance, said that he doesn’t believe locals are fully aware of the number of contaminated sites that surround the creek and the impact these spills have on the waterway. “Each site is different, but overall we feel like there is not enough information available as there should be,” Elkins told the Eagle. “We’d like to see more attention paid to it and also resources for the state to do more thorough investigations.” A few precautions have been put in place along the shoreline to contain the oil, such as hard and soft booms.The hard boom — or containment boom — creates a physical division that keeps toxins secluded on one side of the wall, preventing them from entering the main body of the creek. The soft boom — or absorbent boom — works like a sponge, soaking up oil from the surface of the water. The Queens location employs both a hard and a soft boom, while the two Brooklyn sites use only soft ones. While they are preventative, they are not entirely secure, according to Elkins, who said that contaminated water still goes into the creek from tidal flow and the wake of boats.

President Trump aims to open natural gas pipelines with two executive orders - In a victory for the Marcellus Shale re­gion, President Donald Trump signed two executive orders last month aimed at get­ting natural gas into more homes around the country. Spurred on by states that invoked the Clean Water Act and other environmental protections to block construction of natu­ral gas pipelines, President Trump signed the executive orders to speed up construc­tion. “Too often, badly needed energy infra­structure is being held back by special in­terest groups, entrenched bureaucracies and radical activists,” Trump told a crowd at the International Union of Operating Engineers training center in Crosby, Texas, when signing the executive orders. “This obstruction does not just hurt families and workers like you. It undermines our inde­pendence and national security.” New York raised the ire of the Trump Ad­ministration and the fossil fuel industry in 2016 when it denied a water quality per­mit for the Constitution Pipeline, which would bring natural gas to the northeast from Susquehanna County. New York said it was protecting streams and wetlands, even though the Federal Energy Regulato­ry Commission signed off on the pipeline in 2014. In 2017, Washington prevented the construction of export terminals nec­essary for coal production, citing air pol­lution as one of the reasons. Those moves and other actions to delay pipeline con­structions prompted Marcellus shale in­dustry groups to complain, resulting in the executive orders. The Northeast has been dealing with shortages of natural gas for years, even though it’s cheaper and cleaner than oil and plentiful in the United States. Opposi­tion to building new pipelines or expand­ing existing ones by states and environ­mentalists have created huge delivery issues in the Northeast. These issues were on full display in March when Con Edison took the extreme step to place a moratori­um on new natural gas hookups in parts of Westchester County. The region’s biggest utility said it didn’t have enough pipelines to meet the need.

Con Edison limits natural gas service due to pipeline constraints into New York City area - EIA -  In January 2019, Consolidated Edison, Inc., (Con Edison)—the largest utility provider in the New York City area, serving 10 million customers—announced a moratorium on new natural gas connections in most of Westchester County, effective March 16. Demand for natural gas in the New York City area has increased in recent years, leading to concerns about reliability of service. Con Edison claimed it cannot guarantee uninterrupted service to new natural gas connections. Between the announcement of the moratorium and its start on March 16, Con Edison received 1,600 applications for firm natural gas service in the moratorium area. Customers on firm natural gas service contracts have delivery priority above those on interruptible contracts. Despite an increase in natural gas production in the Northeast, regional demand for natural gas—driven both by population growth and switching from heating oil—has grown even faster, causing concern about the ability to provide service to new customers. During recent winters, natural gas utilities in the Northeast have been using most, if not all, available pipeline capacity to transport natural gas to demand centers. Con Edison is also actively pursuing strategies to further alleviate interstate natural gas pipeline constraints, such as using electricity for heating and cooking, providing energy efficiency rebates, and creating demand response programs. Over the last two months, Con Edison announced two agreements with existing pipeline companies to add capacity by upgrading compression facilities. Instead of constructing new pipelines, these projects would provide incremental capacity increases to alleviate constraints. In April 2019, Con Edison reached an agreement with Kinder Morgan’s Tennessee Gas Pipeline to bring additional capacity into Westchester County. In May 2019, Con Edison announced a second agreement, with Iroquois Gas Transmission System, L.P., to provide incremental natural gas capacity to the Bronx and parts of Manhattan and Queens through the Iroquois pipeline. According to Con Edison, both projects could enter service by November 2023.

US natural gas storage volume rises 100 Bcf to 1.753 Tcf- EIA - US natural gas in storage rose 100 Bcf to 1.753 Tcf for the week that ended Friday, the Energy Information Administration reported Thursday. The injection was less than an S&P Global Platts’ survey of analysts calling for a 103 Bcf injection. It was more than the 93 Bcf build reported during the corresponding week in 2018 as well as the five-year average injection of 88 Bcf, according to EIA data.  It was also the third triple-digit build of the year and the 10th straight bearish injection. mAs a result, stocks were 137 Bcf, or 8.5%, more than the year-ago level of 1.616 Tcf and 274 Bcf, or 13.5%, less than the five-year average of 2.027 Tcf. NYMEX Henry Hub June contract added 1.5 cents to $2.559/MMBtu in the moments following the announcement.  The EIA reported a 23 Bcf build in the East to 353 Bcf, compared with 296 Bcf a year ago; a 28 Bcf injection in the Midwest to 364 Bcf, compared with 285 Bcf a year ago; a 7 Bcf build in the Mountain region to 89 Bcf, compared with 106 Bcf a year ago; a 12 Bcf addition in the Pacific to 186 Bcf, compared to 212 Bcf a year ago; and a 31 Bcf injection in the South Central region to 762 Bcf, compared to 718 Bcf a year ago.Total inventories are now 16 Bcf below the five-year average of 369 Bcf in the East, 52 Bcf below the five-year average of 416 Bcf in the Midwest, 42 Bcf below the five-year average of 131 Bcf in the Mountain region, 59 Bcf below the five-year average of 245 Bcf in the Pacific and 105 Bcf below the five-year average of 867 Bcf in the South Central region.

Gas company sues Maryland seeking to resurrect pipeline through Western Maryland - A gas company has filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Maryland after state officials unanimously rejected plans for a pipeline that would carry fracked natural gas through three miles of Western Maryland. Columbia Gas Transmission, which is owned by TransCanada Corp., filed the lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. It seeks a preliminary injunction to give the company the immediate access to property that Maryland’s Board of Public Works denied in January. It also seeks the “award of just compensation and damages.” “This is very unfortunate, but we have exhausted all other reasonable options and are committed to completing this project in a timely fashion to deliver for Mountaineer Gas Company and their customers,” TransCanada spokesman Scott Castleman said in an email. “This project is critical to the continued development and economic prosperity of West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle and the surrounding region.” Republican Gov. Larry Hogan joined Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, both Democrats, in voting against a needed easement for the pipeline, citing concern for the environment. The pipeline would carry natural gas produced by both traditional and hydraulic fracturing methods. Hogan’s spokesman said Friday the governor remains concerned about the pipeline. “Governor Hogan continues to have great reservations about this project's impact on the Potomac River and the state's waterways — natural assets he is committed to protecting and preserving,” said Mike Ricci, the spokesman. And environmental groups quickly objected to the suit.

Oil, gas permits for seismic testing in Atlantic move ahead - Despite a recent announcement that plans to permit seismic testing off the East Coast were “indefinitely postponed,” the feds are still processing nine permits to test for offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic, the Interior Secretary said recently.“There’s no legal impediment to developing a leasing plan,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said, according to a video of a National Resources Committee meeting shared by South Carolina Congressman Joe Cunningham.“I think we have up to nine permits in various stages of processing,” Bernhardt told the committee.“I have until 2022 to get a new plan in place. I have some time, so I’m going to figure out what I’m going to do and then I’ll do it,” he said. Last month, Trump administration officials said they were backing away “indefinitely” from plans that could lead to oil and gas drilling off the East Coast, the Wall Street Journal reported. They made that decision after a court ruling in March blocked drilling in the Arctic, the newspaper reported.In the recent congressional committee meeting, Cunningham told the interior secretary, “Here’s what I’m worried about — you have the next step of the plan which has South Carolina and Florida directly in its crosshairs.”“I think that this Administration and your office recognizes that this is electoral poison to put those on the map before the 2020 election. The court case in the Arctic is a convenient excuse to wait until that election passes, but the people of South Carolina are not going to be fooled by this,” he said.

A massive Gulf oil spill is finally being contained after more than 14 years - The U.S. Coast Guard said Thursday that it is finally containing and collecting oil from a massive 14-year spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the longest offshore disaster in U.S. history. More than 30,000 gallons of oil have been collected over several weeks since a containment system was installed about 12 miles off the coast of Louisiana, the Coast Guard said. Capt. Kristi Luttrell, who is overseeing work performed by a contractor, the Couvillion Group, called the containment a major milestone that could significantly reduce the impact of the spill, which will enter its 15th year in September. Luttrell entered into a contract with Couvillion last year after the company responsible for the spill, Taylor Energy, failed to follow her orders to do so on its own. The system’s success could be a serious setback to Taylor Energy’s efforts to stop the containment effort. The company filed a federal lawsuit in December, claiming that Couvillion lacked the expertise to install a system to capture oil leaking from its wells. They broke open when Hurricane Ivan caused the walls of a deep sea canyon to collapse and sink an oil platform. The analysis by Oscar Garcia-Pineda, a geoscience consultant who specializes in impacts from oil spills, estimated that 1.5 million to 3.5 million barrels spilled into the gulf from the Taylor Energy site over more than 14 years. Acting on that finding, as well as other scientific reports, the Coast Guard issued Taylor Energy an ultimatum to hire a company to build a device to contain the oil or face a fine of up to $40,000 per day. Weeks of monitoring by the Coast Guard shows that Couvillion’s containment system is working, Luttrell said Thursday. The system was completed and fully operational April 29, but Couvillion started collecting oil 12 days before that. The oil is pumped from deep-water storage tanks to a ship that brings it to shore to separate it from water. Oil that can be salvaged is sent to a licensed receiving facility, and the rest is recycled or disposed.

 Oil sheen 'barely visible' at site of 14-year-old Gulf leak - A chronic sheen has become “barely visible” since government contractors installed a new underwater system for capturing and collecting crude at a site in the Gulf of Mexico where oil has been leaking for 14 years, a Coast Guard official said Thursday. A Coast Guard statement describes the installation of the subsea containment system as a “major milestone” in long-running efforts by the federal government to contain the leak. More than 30,000 gallons of oil has been recovered since the system began operating, government attorneys said in a court filing Tuesday. “After monitoring the system for several weeks we have determined that the system is meeting federal containment standards,” Capt. Kristi Luttrell said in the Coast Guard’s statement. “At this time the system is working and the once (predominantly) large surface sheen has been reduced to barely visible.” Taylor Energy Co. ultimately is responsible for ending the leak at the site 11 miles off Louisiana’s coast where one of its oil platforms toppled during a 2004 hurricane. The New Orleans-based company sued Luttrell in December, attempting to challenge her order in November to design and install a new system to capture and remove the crude before it forms slicks that often have stretched for miles. Taylor Energy “looks forward to receiving the information needed to confirm the Coast Guard’s statement, which, if accurate, is encouraging,” said a statement released Thursday by a company spokesman. Justice Department attorneys, who represent Luttrell in Taylor Energy’s federal suit, said in Tuesday’s court filing that the containment system’s collection tanks have been pumped three times and the recovered oil has been transported to shore. “Based on the amount of oil captured to date, the Coast Guard is preparing a standard operating procedure for containment operations and maintenance,” they wrote.

 Exxon's GOM Sale Is Said to Draw Repsol, Ineos Interest - Exxon Mobil Corp. has drawn from Repsol SA and closely held U.K. petrochemical company Ineos Group Holdings in a package of oil fields it's selling in the Gulf of Mexico, according to people familiar with the matter. The assets could be worth as much as $1.5 billion, said one of the people, who asked not to be named because the talks are private. A sale to Spain’s Repsol would expand its existing position in the prolific offshore region, while for Ineos it would mark its debut as an oil and gas producer in the Gulf. The U.K. company already has petrochemical plants in the southern U.S. A sale agreement could be signed in as soon as month, the people said, although no deal has been agreed upon so far and the talks could still fall apart. Exxon, Ineos and Repsol declined to comment on the talks. Oil majors regularly shed assets as they become older and less material to their large balance sheets. Exxon said in October that it was "testing market interest" in a number of operated and non-operated producing assets in the Gulf.

U.S. Gasoline Traders Would Rather Export Than Ship to New York -- The busiest U.S. fuel pipeline is running below capacity, as Gulf Coast refiners get fatter margins exporting to Latin America than shipping to New York. Colonial Pipeline Co.’s Line 1, which carries as much as 1.37 million barrels a day of gasoline from the Houston area to North Carolina, has been full less than half the time this year, and not since March, according to shipper notices. The line, which feeds into another pipe running to New York Harbor, has been overfilled in April and May the past three years, Colonial data show. Demand from Latin American countries whose refineries aren’t able to meet domestic fuel demand, such as Mexico, has pulled supply from the Gulf Coast that would otherwise end up in Colonial. At the same time, readily available cargoes from eastern Canada and Europe have kept New York prices in check, even with stockpiles below normal. The arbitrage -- or profitability of buying fuel in the Gulf Coast and selling it in New York -- has been closed for most grades for long enough that less fuel is being shipped on the line, according to traders. Reformulated gasoline, or RBOB, in New York on Thursday was the weakest seasonally relative to the Gulf Coast in six years, data compiled by Bloomberg show. East Coast gasoline markets have been adequately served by refineries from Philadelphia north that were running near full capacity before the last few weeks, said Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates LLC in Houston. More Gulf Coast and Midwest barrels are finding a path onto ships, he said. Twelve of 25 five-day cycles so far this year were allocated, which occurs when shippers want to move more fuel on the line than it can hold. When space is rationed, shippers can only move a percentage of what they want to. From 2013 to 2018, space on Colonial was rationed across several months, with traders paying hefty premiums to buy space from other shippers.  Shippers are paying their counterparts as much as 1.5 cents a gallon to take over their line space, according to a broker. That allows sellers to maintain their shipper histories with Colonial, which factors into how much they can transport when the line is overfilled and space is rationed. U.S. government data suggests East Coast gasoline prices should be higher. Stocks of RBOB were at an eight-month low last week, Energy Information Administration data showed. They would be lower, except that the region has been importing at least 12 cargoes a week. Ship-tracking and fixture data show interest remains high in cross-Atlantic shipments.

Crude Exporters Navigate Gulf Coast Terminal Constraints - U.S. crude exports out of the Gulf Coast averaged more than 2.4 MMb/d in the first four months of 2019 — using infrastructure that is increasingly constrained by a lack of deepwater ports. U.S. crude is reaching destinations worldwide, with large volumes traveling long distances to Asia on gargantuan 2-MMbbl vessels — Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) — loaded offshore by ship-to-ship transfer. Shipments to Europe are primarily on smaller Suezmax and Aframax vessels. Overall, the increased marine activity is testing the limits of existing infrastructure. Today, we analyze the past 16 months of crude export vessel movements and their impacts on Gulf Coast ports. (We’ll also be discussing this and other critical trends related to U.S. export markets live and in person tomorrow at xPortcon in Houston.)  We’ve covered the development of U.S. crude exports extensively in the blogosphere since the ban on most overseas shipments was lifted in December 2015. Exports from the Gulf Coast are growing and expected to increase further as new pipelines from the Permian and Eagle Ford come online over the next two and a half years (see Hard Hat and a Hammer). In the less than four years since wide-open exporting began, the rapidly developing export market has overcome a number of challenges, like poor price transparency (see The Race is On) and the lack of deepwater terminals to load exports (see Rock The Boat). Actual shipments still require considerable logistical juggling as crude is loaded from smaller tankers onto long-distance VLCCs for voyages to Asia, as detailed in Berth In Reverse. And, as we’ve been discussing in our Slow Ride series, ports like the Houston Ship Channel are contending with increased congestion and the resulting difficulties in scheduling. Plans to expand the onshore ports — and build new deepwater terminals offshore — are in the works, but funding and executing on these projects is not easy and can take many years.

Russian Oil Sales to US on Steroids -- Petroleum exports from Russia to the U.S. are growing rapidly as the supplier takes advantage of lost deliveries from sanctions-hit Venezuela and supply cuts by OPEC members. In the first half of May, 13 ships from Russia delivered almost 5 million barrels of crude and oil products, according to a report by Caracas Capital Markets managing partner Russ Dallen. More supplies are en route, with American refiners set to triple their monthly intake of Russian crude, the largest foreign producer outside of OPEC. "Lately, Russian shipments coming to the U.S. seem to be on steroids." Through February, U.S. buyers received over 16 million barrels of crude and products, compared about 20 million for the same period last year. For all of 2018, shipments were about 137 million, according to EIA data.

Sanctions Are A Bitch – US Refiners Importing Russian Oil Like Mad - Luongo- It’s a headline so funny I literally ruined a keyboard spitting out my coffee yesterday. Working off a stub from Bloomberg, Sputnik took a lot of joy in amping up the irony. The market needs to be fed. And refiners will buy whoever has the best cargo at the best price. It is only politicians who don’t understand that you can’t dictate to the markets. Now refiners in the U.S. have been under pressure with rising oil prices but Russian oil isn’t brought in to supply the tight gasoline market. Russian Urals grade is considered heavy-sour which is better for refining into diesel and other heavier grades. And it is being sent right to the refineries that normally process Venezuela’s very heavy crude (PADD 3 – Gulf Coast). Don’t think for a second that this is some kind of Trumpian quid pro quo or anything. That he promised Putin a few ducats to look the other way in Venezuela. I know stupid libs of the Young Turk variety will think this. So will the Q-tards in the MAGA crowd.But, no. This is simply normal market action that a bunch of clueless morons in D.C. can’t control. Refiners need feedstock to refine or they go out of business. Russian Urals regularly trades at a discount to Brent crude because there is no good benchmark for it. Remember, both West Texas Intermediate and Brent are light-sweet grades.  Only the Dubai and Shanghai oil futures exchanges list contracts for deliveries of heavy sour. So, it’s no surprise to me to see it being a direct substitute for Venezuelan crude while the U.S. embargoes it.  If the Russians gain the market share lost by Venezuela while, at the same time, providing the financial infrastructure — payment clearing, insurance, etc. — for Venezuela to sell their oil to other markets, like India, what, in the end is the net effect of all this sanctioning and war-mongering?  Nothing, of course. But you can’t tell that to insane authoritarians like John Bolton. These are men who can only think in terms of primary effects and overly-discount the market’s ability to overcome obstacles. And so, they get frustrated by secondary effects, like the simple substitution of Russian oil for Venezuelan oil by domestic refiners.Wait a couple more months and you’ll see Ted Cruz (R – Exxon/Mobil) introduce new sanctions via CAATSA against the Russian shipping companies bringing the oil to the Gulf Coast as a matter of ‘national security.’He’ll be joined by Lindsay Graham and the rest of the braying Repuglican jackals and it’ll be used to force Trump to cave on some other issue of the day. You can’t reason with insane people. And the longer they are in power the more they force sane people to act stupidly to do rational business. We’ll see more stories like this as Trump’s war on markets continues until he either breaks them or they break him.

Louisiana Project's Price Tag Rises Again  | Rigzone - For the second time this year, Sasol Ltd. has raised the projected total capital cost of the world-scale ethane cracker and derivatives complex it is developing in Lake Charles, La.The overall cost estimate for Sasol’s Lake Charles Chemical Project (LCCP) now ranges from $12.6 to $12.9 billion, the South Africa-based company reported in a written statement emailed Wednesday to Rigzone. The estimate, which includes a $300 million contingency, represents an8.6- to 9.3-percent increase from the $11.6 to $11.8 billion revised cost range that Sasol reported in February of this year.“This increase in the anticipated LCCP capital costs is extremely disappointing,” Sasol said in its written statement. “Executive management has implemented several changes since February 2019 to further strengthen the oversight, leadership for the project and frequency of reporting.”  The firm noted that specific actions management has taken in recent months have included segregating duties between project controls and finance functions and assigning a senior vice president to oversee LCCP project controls. It added that it is implementing initiatives to improve decision-making, transparency and documentation within the project management team.“The new project leadership has been instrumental in identifying and remediating these issues,” stated Sasol. “The reviews and investigations initiated by management to date indicate that the underlying control weaknesses are limited to LCCP.” Despite the rising cost projection, Sasol also noted Wednesday that it still expects operating costs for LCCP – other than “slightly elevated during start-up” – to align with previous assumptions. Moreover, the company stated that the complex’s first derivative unit – linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE) – achieved beneficial operation on Feb. 13 of this year and that the plant is ramping up as expected. Other key project parameters the company reported Wednesday include:

  • 96 percent overall project completion at the end of March 2019, with 89 percent of construction completed and $11.4 billion spent on the project up to that point
  • Beneficial operation achieved for LCCP’s ethylene glycol (EG) unit, with the ethylene oxide (EO) unit expected to go online “in the coming days”
  • Beneficial operation expected in July 2019 for the ethane cracker
  • A one-month delay in beneficial operation for the last derivative plant (Guerbet unit) to February 2020.

Freeport LNG Clears FERC Hurdle - The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) reported Thursday that it has approved the construction of the Train 4 expansion at the Freeport LNG export facility, located on Quintana Island near Freeport, Texas. As Rigzone reported earlier this week, the fourth train would boast 5 million tons per annum (mtpa) of liquefaction capacity and boost the LNG terminal’s export capacity to 20 mtpa. Freeport LNG has already named KBR, Inc. its preferred bidder for the Train 4 engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning contract. According to FERC, Thursday’s action represents the fourth LNG export project the commission has approved this year. In February, FERC authorized Venture Global LNG’s Calcasieu Pass project in Cameron Parish, La. Last month, it approved the Driftwood and Port Arthur projects in Louisiana and Texas, respectively. “I’m proud of the efforts by the commission and its staff to process today’s and our previous LNG orders,” FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee said in a written statement. “Exporting LNG from the United States can help increase the availability of inexpensive, clean-burning fuel to our global allies who are looking for an efficient, affordable and environmentally friendly source of generation.” Following the FERC decision, Freeport LNG stated Thursday that it still needs to secure approval from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to export Train 4 LNG volumes to non-Free Trade Agreement countries. The company added that it anticipates clearing that regulatory step later this quarter. Freeport LNG stated that it expects commercial startup of Train 1 to occur during the third quarter this year, with operations from the two subsequent trains by mid-2020. Train 4 is slated to begin operations in 2023, the company added. Customers that have signed 20-year tolling agreements for LNG from the Freeport facility include Osaka Gas Trading & Export, LLC, JERA Energy America, LLC, BP Energy Co., Toshiba America LNG Corp. and SK E&S LNG, LLC. In addition, Trafigura PTE Ltd. has signed a three-year sale and purchase agreement with Freeport LNG. 

Trade War Leaves LNG Mega Projects Vulnerable - The escalation of the trade war between the United States and China could jeopardize several LNG mega projects awaiting final approval. That’s according to Rystad Energy, which said increased tariffs will create additional headwinds for U.S. LNG projects currently awaiting final investment decisions. “Rystad Energy expects China to be one of the biggest contributors in sponsoring new LNG projects over the coming years, and there will be a reluctance to signing new deals with U.S. projects as long as this trade war persists,” Sindre Knutsson, senior analyst at Rystad Energy’s gas markets team, said in a company statement. “For example, Cheniere and Sinopec agreed late last year on a 20-year deal that would supply 2 million tons per annum of LNG to China starting in 2023. This deal could have been signed once the trade tensions were resolved, but due to the heightened tensions this has not happened,” Knutsson added. According to Rystad Energy, China’s decision to impose tariffs on U.S. LNG will make LNG projects outside the United States more attractive. On Monday, China’s ministry of finance revealed that the country would impose a 25 percent tariff on U.S. LNG from June 1. On May 10, the office of the United States trade representative revealed that the United States had increased the level of tariffs from 10 percent to 25 percent on approximately $200 billion worth of Chinese imports. According to a report published by DNV GL last month, the majority of LNG-focused oil and gas professionals believe several new LNG infrastructure projects will need to be initiated this year to ensure supply can meet demand after 2025.

LNG Players Weigh Ship Storage Gambit-- With so much cheap liquefied natural gas around, traders are again looking at tankers to store the fuel in the hope of better prices. A long-established practice in oil trading, the complexity and cost of keeping natural gas in liquid form on ships for extended periods meant it wasn’t widely used until last fall, in anticipation of a surge in Chinese demand and prices. That bet backfired when a mild winter damped requirements for the fuel, forcing traders to discharge LNG and release the vessels, which caused a crash in spot charter rates. While it’s a gamble as weather-driven demand is unpredictable, price signals indicate the option to store LNG in vessels later this year is again becoming attractive, not only in Asia, but also in Europe. The price premium for later contracts, or contango, is building up for both spot Asian LNG prices and the U.K. benchmark, leaving traders weighing how to profit should they choose to store gas at sea. “We could see a lot of floating LNG storage from September and this could also tighten shipping rates before winter,” Nick Boyes, a senior gas and LNG analyst at Swiss utility and trader Axpo Group, said by email. Given the price gap, and with an estimated cost of storing LNG of 60-75 U.S. cents a million British thermal units a month, “current freight rates allow for floating storage opportunities in September, October and November this year in both northeast Asia and Atlantic,” Boyes said. JKM futures for December are about $2.30 per million Btu higher than September contracts, or a premium of $7.6 million for a 3.3 trillion Btu cargo. How much profit can actually be made is strongly dependent on the cost of renting a tanker and of keeping the fuel in liquid form at minus 162 degrees Celsius (minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit).

Saudi oil giant Aramco strikes deal to buy US natural gas from Sempra Energy -Saudi Aramco has signed an agreement to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas from San Diego-based utility Sempra Energy, advancing the state-owned oil giant’s goal of becoming a player in the growing international gas market. Subsidiaries of the two companies, Sempra LNG and Aramco Services Company, announced on Wednesday that they’ve signed a heads of agreement, which sets up a deal that would see Sempra sell Aramco 5 million tons per year of LNG for the next 20 years. The agreement is subject to negotiation and finalization. “If converted to a sales and purchase agreement (SPA), this will be one of the largest LNG deals ever signed and the largest deal signed since 2013,” said Giles Farrer, research director at energy and minerals consultancy Wood Mackenzie. The supplies would come from the first phase of Sempra’s Port Arthur LNG facility in Texas, which is currently under development. The agreement will see Aramco make a 25% equity investment in the facility. The agreement is a major boost for Sempra, one of several companies trying to develop U.S. facilities to export LNG, or natural gas chilled to liquid form for transport. LNG developers need to line up customers in order to finance the multi-billion dollar export terminals, so the agreement with Aramco makes it more likely that Sempra will green light the Port Arthur facility. Sempra previously struck a 20-year deal to sell 2 million tons per year from Port Arthur to the Polish Oil and Gas Company. Once the Aramco deal is finalized, Sempra will have locked in buyers for 7 million tons of Port Arthur’s 11 million tons per year of capacity.

Dallas Fed: Shale gains bring U.S. oil breakeven price down to $50 a barrel - The cost of profitably drilling a shale oil well in the U.S. has fallen to a modern low of $50 per barrel, likely ensuring the growth of the onshore shale industry for years to come, according to the latest survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Led by surging production and efficiency gains in West Texas' booming Permian Basin, the average breakeven price of oil has fallen 4 percent - or $2 per barrel - during the past year down to the $50 threshold, the Dallas Fed said.The rising production from increasing shale plays and cost reductions should also stop crude oil prices from rising too high, keeping crude oil prices trading in a narrow range for the foreseeable future.The U.S. oil benchmark is currently hovering near $63 per barrel.Anything above $60 is considered relatively healthy for the industry, although most energy companies would still prefer higher pricing.That same breakeven price was closer to $75 a barrel back in 2014 when oil prices last exceeded $100 per barrel.There are only about half of the oil drilling rigs in service from the fall 2014 peak - just before the most recent oil crash. However, rigs today are able to drill more wells from single sites than before and to deeper depths to produce more oil and gas. That's largely why the U.S. is producing record volumes of crude oil and natural gas."Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have made accessible significant amounts of oil reserves previously considered uneconomical to develop," the Dallas Fed report contended. "Moreover, production costs for those reserves have declined dramatically over the past 10 years."  "As a result, larger quantities of oil are economical to produce at much lower prices than would have been possible before," the report concluded.

 Don't look to Texas on energy deregulation -- If President Trump wants to know what a deregulated energy future looks like, he doesn’t have to look any further than Texas. The president believes ending protections for workers and the environment will help big business thrive. Not surprisingly, this view looks pretty good to the billionaires he surrounds himself with.   But in the Houston area this spring, our own view has been obscured by plumes of dark smoke rising from three major industrial fires. We’re seeing up close how a lack of industrial regulation damages communities and ecosystems. It is short-sighted and, in the long run, hurts everyone. On March 16, a fire ignited at the ExxonMobil Refinery in Baytown, Texas, worrying the local community. A day later, on March 17, another fire broke out at the Intercontinental Terminal facility near Deer Park, Texas. It raged for days, casting a massive plume of toxic smoke over the region. Dark soot and firefighting foam fell from the sky onto nearby communities. A dike breach sent toxic chemicals and foam into the Tucker Bayou and the Houston Ship Channel, killing fish, birds, opossums and turtles. Houston Ship Channel traffic stopped for nearly a week, causing an estimated $1 billion in economic losses. As if that weren’t bad enough, on April 2 — less than two weeks after the ITC fire — a chemical tank at the KMCO plant in Crosby ignited, once again sending a toxic plume of smoke into the air. Tragically, this blaze killed one KMCO plant worker and injured 10 others.   One might think that Texas closely regulates these dangerous plants in Houston’s petrochemical corridor. That is not the case. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality refers to the industry it regulates as its “customers,” and it spends more time writing permits for those customers than it does conducting inspections or issuing violations. This is why the fertilizer plant in West, Texas that exploded in 2013, killing 15 people, hadn’t been inspected in years. It’s why the ITC site in Deer Park is still unsafe for the public weeks later. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality does not have authority to regulate above ground storage tanks. Local fire marshals typically don’t write performance standards for petroleum storage tanks into fire codes. This could explain why a fire in one tank at the ITC facility ultimately spread to 13 tanks.  This hands-off approach by state regulators is why the KMCO plant in Crosby continued to operate, and eventually erupted into a deadly fire, despite a long list of environmental violations, including being criminally convicted of two counts of knowingly violating the Clean Air Act in 2016. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has fined the company about $150,000 for multiple violations since 2009, but that amounts to a light slap on the wrist for a multi-million dollar energy company.

Texas Bill Would Make Protesting Pipelines a Felony on Par With Attempted Murder -A bill making its way through the Texas legislature would make protesting pipelines a third-degree felony, the same as attempted murder.  H.B. 3557, which is under consideration in the state Senate after passing the state House earlier this month, ups penalties for interfering in energy infrastructure construction by making the protests a felony. Sentences would range from two to 10 years. The legislation was authored by Republican state Rep. Chris Paddie. It passed the state House May 7 on a 99 to 45 vote, with two abstentions. The bill is being cosponsored in the state Senate by Republican state Sen. Pat Fallon. In remarks on the state House floor during the bill's passage, Paddie sought to assuage the fears of those who believe the legislation will target non-violent protest. "This bill does not affect those who choose to peacefully protest for any reason," said Paddie. "It attaches liability to those who potentially damage or destroy critical infrastructure facilities." But opponents of the measure don't agree, pointing to the bill's language. "It's an anti-protest bill, favoring the fossil fuel industry, favoring corporations over people," Frankie Orona, executive director of the Society of Native Nations, told the Austin American-Statesman. The legislation is "is criminalizing conscientious, caring people who are the canaries for their communities," activist Lori Glover told the Texas Observer.  The Texas bill is just the latest piece of legislation at the state level to target pipeline protests. In the wake of a spike in anti-pipeline actions over the past few years, Grist reported Tuesday, a number of states have come down on environmental activists.

Outrage as Texas Senate Passes ‘Unconstitutional’ Bill That Would Hit Pipeline Protestors With Up to 10 Years in Prison - Sparking outcry from indigenous tribes and environmental groups, the Texas state Senate on Monday passed industry-backed Republican legislation that would hit pipeline protestors with a third-degree felony and up to ten years in prison."Here in Texas, members of the legislative body are looking to pass laws that harshly criminalize free speech and the right to protest," Juan Mancias, Tribal Elder with the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas, said in a statement. As the Associated Press reported, the bill "would classify pipelines as critical infrastructure, putting them in the same category as power plants and water treatment facilities."According to the AP, the "amended bill would still subject those who trespass and damage the facility to a third degree felony with up to 10 years in prison," a sentence on par with the punishment for attempted murder."But people impairing or interrupting operations would now face a misdemeanor with a fine up to $10,000 and potentially up to one year in jail," the AP reported.As Common Dreams reported, the Texas House passed the legislation earlier this month.Republican state Rep. Chris Paddie, the author of the bill, insisted that his legislation would not punish peaceful demonstrators, but indigenous leaders at the front of the fight against climate-destroying pipelines in Texas weren't buying it."We are at a tipping point as our ecosystems decline at accelerated rates and instead of protecting our environment, we are protecting big oil and pipelines," Jennifer K. Falcon, campaign manager with Society of Native Nations, said in a statement. "Across the country, we have seen these bill challenged for stripping us of our constitutional rights." Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network vowed to fight the Texas bill and other similar Republican legislation across the country. "Big oil is hijacking our legislative system," Goldtooth said. "Our Network is suing the state of South Dakota for passing a bill similar to the one being debated in Texas. Both are unconstitutional attempts to suppress public protest and are nothing but fear tactics. We will continue to support and fight beside the indigenous communities in Texas to make sure these unconstitutional laws do not stand."

States Crack Down on Environmental Activists | Sierra Club - On May 7, Texas state legislators approved legislation that imposes harsh criminal penalties for protest around critical infrastructure projects. Under the rule, actual damage or intent to damage critical infrastructure now includes peaceful process, so long as the protest interrupts operations.  This legislation is among a raft of new and pending legislation that, environmental and civil liberties groups say, are designed to discourage people from opposing controversial infrastructure projects. In Oklahoma, individuals who protest pipelines can now be smacked with a $100,000 fine and 10 years in prison. In Louisiana, activists who make “unauthorized entry of a critical infrastructure” such as oil pipelines face a punishment of up to five years' imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. And legislators in North Dakota last March passed a law under which interfering with pipeline construction becomes a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine; groups “conspiring” with such protest could be criminally liable for 10 times that fine.   Thirty five states have considered or enacted legislation restricting the right to protest. At least eight of those bills were introduced this year, with 12 laws now on the books Iowa, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. Illinois, Indiana, Idaho, and Texas have pending legislation that would make protest near “crucial infrastructure” punishable by fines and prison time. (A full accounting of such laws can be found at Protest Law Tracker.)  While the severity of the new protest penalties ranges on a spectrum, one common thread in many is punishment for interference in fossil fuel infrastructure. Two particularly far-reaching rules signed into law in Oklahoma and South Dakota earlier this year make it illegal to engage in what’s called “riot boosting”—an amorphous term that includes not only protesters themselves but also anyone who “directs, advises, encourages, or solicits other persons participating,” in the words of the Oklahoma law. Groups or individuals found to be breaking the law would be liable for three times the cost of any damages incurred to corporate or government property. In 2017, South Dakota leaders established a law that curtailed protests on public lands and restricted protests that obstruct traffic. In March 2019, state legislators went further, expanding punitive measures for “riot boosting.” Under the new law, organizations or persons not directly involved in a protest but found to act “through any employee, agent, or subsidiary” can also be held liable. Proposed bills in North Carolina, North Dakota, Florida, Texas, and Tennessee would make it legal to hit protestors with a car, as long as the driver didn’t do so intentionally.

 U.S. crude inventories jump surprising 4.7 Mmbbl - U.S. commercial crude oil inventories (excluding those in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve) rose by 4.7 million barrels during the week ended May 17, vs. expectations for a 600,000-barrel drop, the Energy Information Administration said Wednesday.In the week ended May 10, crude inventories rose by 5.4 Mmbbl. The second-straight weekly build of roughly 5 Mmbbl seemed largely due to weak refining activity, an unusual occurrence this time of year, as gasoline makers typically are pushing out as much of the motor fuel as possible in anticipation of the start of the summer driving season, Kallanish Energy learns.Refineries operated at 89.9% of their operable capacity last week, EIA said. The average for this time of year would be at least 90%.  EIA also said total motor gasoline stockpiles increased by 3.7 Mmbbl during the week ended May 17, vs. forecasts for a drop of nearly 816,000 Bbls. In the May 10 data, gasoline inventories fell by 1.1 Mmbbl.Distillate fuel inventories rose by 800,000 Bbls last week vs. expectations for a drop of 48,000 Bbls. In the previous week, distillate stockpiles rose by 84,000 Bbls. Gasoline production decreased last week, averaging 9.9 million barrels per day (Mmbpd), EIA said. Distillate fuel production also fell last week, averaging 5.2 Mmbpd.

US shale on track to 16% oil growth in 2019 -- US shale operators are on course to increase oil production significantly in 2019. The growth in US onshore production from the first quarter through the fourth quarter could come in at around 1.1-1.2 million barrels per day (bpd), or 16% for the full year, according to Rystad Energy. After a paltry first quarter, depressed by weather effects, US shale players have over the past weeks assured investors that they will achieve previously communicated production targets, as well as demonstrate excellent capital discipline and cost control. “Despite temporary challenges faced in the beginning of the year, E&P companies are set to deliver on their original production and capital targets, with some being well positioned to perform above initial expectations. US shale players can still be expected to deliver around 16% oil growth in 2019. Several operators have in fact raised their production guidance for the remainder of the year,” says Veronika Akulinitseva, senior analyst at Rystad Energy. Rystad Energy has analyzed the first quarter results of around 50 US shale operators. The results indicate that US producers, on average, saw a slowdown in oil production growth in the first quarter. Output grew by 0.1% relative to the fourth quarter of 2018. “The slow first quarter implies an even steeper expected growth curve for the remainder of the year. In fact, acceleration of oil production for many operators is already underway and oil additions are thus likely to increase notably already in the second quarter of 2019,” Akulinitseva remarked. The Canadian operator Enerplus was the player that raised its oil guidance the most, expecting 10% higher volumes than originally guided. It said growth is already underway and the company is aiming to generate a double-digit rise in production already in the second quarter. Likewise, SRC Energy, an independent operator in the Denver-Julesburg basin, raised its oil target by 7%, attributing the adjustment to overly conservative original guiding. 

Midwest Flooding Exposes Another Oil Pipeline Risk — on Keystone XL’s Route - — Standing on the banks of the Keya Paha River where it cuts through his farm, Bob Allpress points across a flat expanse of sand to where a critical shut-off valve is supposed to rise from the Keystone XL pipeline once it's buried in his land. The Keya Paha flooded several weeks ago, and when it did, the rush of newly melted water drove debris, sand and huge chunks of ice deep inland, mowing down trees and depositing a long wall of ice 6 feet high and 30 feet wide across Allpress's property.  "It would've taken out their shut-off valve," Allpress said of the river flooding. "Right where they propose to put it at. And it wouldn't have been a good thing." If the Trump administration and the state of Nebraska have their way, the Keystone XLoil pipeline will be built, and about a mile of it will slice through Allpress's 900-acre farm, where he and his brothers raise corn, alfalfa and cattle.   A former oil-field worker and avowed Republican, Allpress, like many local landowners, has long opposed the pipeline, which would pass through floodplains and erosion-prone land. Now, the catastrophic spring flooding that devastated parts of Nebraska has swept that threat into the spotlight, as the Trump administration works to fast-track construction by overriding environmental reviews. Opponents of Keystone XL have successfully stymied the project's completion for years with legal challenges over threats to regional drinking-water aquifers, streams, wildlife habitat and the global climate. The pipeline would carry tar sands crude 1,200 miles from Hardisty, Canada, to Steele City, Nebraska, where it would connect to other pipelines to Gulf Coast refineries. Without adequate environmental review, grave risks such as flooding and erosion "haven't been analyzed and the pipeline is going to go forward without agencies fully understanding risks and threats to the project," said Doug Hayes, a lawyer for the Sierra Club, which is a plaintiff in the suits.

Regulators Could Delay Dozens of Fracking Projects as Rule Making Begins  -Dozens of proposed fracking projects in north metro Denver and beyond could be put on hold for a year or more while regulators implement the state’s new oil and gas law.The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission announced today, May 16, that it has finalized its “Objective Criteria” identifying which drilling permits will be subject to additional review by agency director Jeff Robbins during what is expected to be a lengthy rule-making process.The final list gives Robbins and his staff broad authority to delay the approval of permits that meet any one of sixteen criteria, including applications to drill within any municipality, within 1,500 feet of an occupied building, and within floodplains and protected wildlife areas.,While many proposed drilling sites across the state, particularly those in rural Weld County, won't run afoul of the criteria, the agency's decision could further delay or block the approval of controversial projects in dense residential areas along the Front Range, including in Aurora, Broomfield, Commerce City and elsewhere.It’s the first major — albeit temporary — policy shift in the new era of Colorado oil and gas law that has dawned following the passage of Senate Bill 181, the sweeping package of reforms signed into law by Governor Jared Polis last month.  “The finalization of the criteria is an important first step in implementing the new law and incorporating its public health, safety, welfare, environmental, and wildlife considerations,” Robbins said in a statement.SB 181 gives Robbins the authority to delay the consideration of certain permit applications that "require additional analysis" to protect health and safety until a new, permanent set of protections required by the bill are put in place by COGCC regulators.

Colorado Oil and Gas Regulators Reject Calls for Full Drilling Moratorium Environmental activists are urging a newly appointed board of Colorado oil and gas regulators to increase health and safety protections following the passage of a landmark bill to reform state drilling laws. But this new era of Colorado energy policy has kicked off with familiar results — with state officials rejecting calls to halt or substantially slow fossil-fuel development.The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission won't impose a moratorium on permitting while it conducts rule-making required by the newly enacted Senate Bill 181, agency director Jeff Robbins said at a hearing today, May 21.“Numerous members of the public have asked this commission to immediately put in place a moratorium on any and all new permits until all of the rules have been adopted,” Robbins said as the hearing began. “That, I believe, is contrary to the intent of Senate Bill 181.”The hearing was the first regularly scheduled COGCC hearing since SB 181 was signed into law last month, and the first under a new commission appointed by Governor Jared Polis to comply with the law's requirements, which altered the commission's makeup to increase representation from health and environmental experts.For months, activists have called on Polis’s administration to “pause the permits” while new regulations are developed, and they’ve renewed those demands in the weeks following SB 181’s passage. The new law directs the COGCC to conduct rule-making relating to at least twelve different areas of oil and gas policy, a process that is expected to take well over a year to complete.“How can they proceed with any permitting at all?” asks Micah Parkin, executive director of 350 Colorado. “Whether or not [SB 181] calls for a moratorium, it obligates them to regulate in a manner that protects public health, safety, welfare, the environment and wildlife. How can they continue to move forward with any permitting until that’s been shown?”

 California gasoline prices increase following refinery outages and declining inventories -  In early May, the California retail gasoline price averaged $4.01 per gallon (gal), surpassing the $4/gal mark for the first time since 2014. By comparison, the U.S. retail gasoline price averaged $2.90/gal. Much of the recent increase in California’s gasoline prices is attributable to refinery outages—both planned and unplanned—and falling gasoline inventories in the region. Since the beginning of 2019, the price of gasoline in California has increased by $0.75/gal. During the same period, the price of Brent crude oil, the primary driver of U.S. gasoline prices, has only increased by $0.52/gal, implying that other factors specific to California and the West Coast region have contributed to price increases. Beginning in March 2019, gross refinery inputs in the West Coast (the Petroleum Administration for Defense District (PADD) that includes California) began to rapidly decline. By mid-April, the four-week average of regional refinery runs reached 2.37 million barrels per day (b/d), a rate 9% lower than the previous five-year average. Weekly refinery runs have increased slightly since mid-April, possibly indicating that some refineries in the region are returning to operation.  Planned refinery outages typically do not drive large price increases, but unplanned outages can, especially in tightly balanced markets such as the West Coast. According to trade press reports, unplanned outages in the West Coast region include a shutdown in March as a result of emissions issues at a Valero refinery in Benicia, California, and shutdowns in March and in May as a result of two separate fires at a Phillips 66 refinery in Carson, California. Withdrawals from regional inventories of gasoline are being used to compensate for lower refinery production of gasoline. West Coast gasoline inventories fell to 26.4 million barrels, or 8% lower than the five-year average for the week ending May 10. West Coast gasoline inventories typically decline in the spring, but this year’s decline was greater than normal. As of May 15, 2019, West Coast gasoline inventories were within about 600,000 barrels of their lowest point in the previous five years. Inventories increased by 1.3 million barrels in the following week.

 Fracking suspension remains following Sylvan Lake-area earthquake --More than two months after an earthquake near Sylvan Lake, a ban on so-called fracking remains in place as authorities seek to determine if the tremors were caused by oilfield drilling. On March 4, residents in the area were shaken by a 4.6-magnitude quake near where Vesta Energy had been conducting hydraulic fracturing, a process that involves pumping liquids into geological formations to free oil and gas deposits. In locales in that region deemed low risk for seismic, the company has been given a green light to resume limited operations, as long as it provides a hazard-assessment plan, said Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) spokeswoman Natalie Brodych. “All other fracturing sites remain suspended,” she added in an email. Vesta, she said, has yet to provide a risk assessment and mitigation plan that would permit it to resume operations in the low-risk zones, Brodych said. “Vesta is only permitted to perform surface construction, not resume operations, at their suspended sites,” she said. In the meantime, the AER and Alberta Geological Survey (AGS) are still conducting a review of the March 4 incident to determine if it was caused by fracking. “We have to compare passive seismic data, which is regular land movement, to the earthquake that happened,” said Brodych. The AER couldn’t say how long the suspension would last or when its review of the earthquake would be completed.

Montney Play Output to Hit 20Bcfe Per Day - Total production in Canada's Montney play will likely reach 10 billion cubic feet equivalent per day this year, according to Wood Mackenzie. Total production in Canada’s Montney play will likely reach 10 billion cubic feet equivalent per day (Bcfe/d) this year, according to Wood Mackenzie (WoodMac). WoodMac, which highlighted that the figure would mark an increase of 16 percent from 2018, added that output from the play is forecasted to rise to 20 Bcfe/d by 2030. Much of the forecasted growth is being driven by the rising liquids yield across various sub-plays within Montney, according to WoodMac, which said liquids production is expected to increase by 26 percent in 2019. "Montney specialists have made major headway on improving completion design and are being rewarded with operational performance. Liquids is driving the story,” Nathan Nemeth, senior analyst at WoodMac, said in a company statement. WoodMac highlighted that drilling activity from 2010-2014 was led by operators with LNG export aspirations. The company added that from 2015, activity has been led by operators targeting natural gas liquids, specifically condensate. The remaining value of the play is estimated to be over $48.3 billion (C$65 billion). The Montney formation is roughly located in northeast British Columbia, south of Fort Nelson and spread into northwest Alberta past Grande Prairie. The potential for unconventional petroleum in the Montney formation is estimated to be “very large” with expected volumes of 449 trillion cubic feet of marketable natural gas, 14.5 billion barrels of marketable natural gas liquids and 1.1 billion barrels of marketable oil, according to Canada’s National Energy Board.

North Sea Oil Production Struggling - North Sea oil production is struggling, according to independent energy research and intelligence business Rystad Energy. The company’s North Sea oil output forecast - which looks at crude and lease condensate production, including onshore, for Norway, the United Kingdom, Denmark and the Netherlands – projects that 185,000 barrels per day (bpd) of outages will be seen in May. Rystad Energy’s forecast also shows that 462,000 bpd of outages will be seen in June and reveals that further outages are set for July, August and September. Production is set to hit 2.526 million bpd in May, 2.275 million bpd in June, 2.660 million bpd in July, 2.457 million bpd in August and 2.453 million bpd in September, according to the forecast. “Currently we see unplanned outages at Oseberg and Flotta with combined impact of 160,000 bpd,” Rystad Energy said in a company statement posted on its website. “Furthermore, the North Sea is heading into maintenance season. We forecast North Sea oil production to drop next month to the lowest level since August 2014 as Ekofisk goes into maintenance,” Rystad Energy added. “Turnaround activity at Ekofisk feeding fields is the primary driver accounting for 230,000 bpd of the total outage for June 2019,” the company continued. Back in March, Rystad Energy revealed that oil production in the North Sea would drop by 330,000 bpd month-on-month in June as Ekofisk closed for planned work. Ekofisk was Norway's first producing field, according to operator ConocoPhillips Norway. The field was discovered in 1969 and production started in 1971.

 US energy secretary: Sanctions bill on Nord Stream 2 coming soon - United States Energy Secretary Rick Perry said on Tuesday that a sanctions bill putting onerous restrictions on companies involved in the Nord Stream 2 project would come in the “not too distant future”. The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project has come under fire from the United States and several eastern European, Nordic and Baltic Sea countries which fear it will increase the European Union’s reliance on Russian gas. “The opposition to Nord Stream 2 is still very much alive and well in the United States,” Perry told a briefing on a visit to Kiev for the inauguration of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. “The United States Senate is going to pass a bill, the House is going to approve it, and it’s going to go to the President and he’s going to sign it, that is going to put sanctions on Nord Stream 2.”

Nord Stream 2 explained: What it is and why it's proving controversial - Depending on who you ask, Nord Stream 2 is either a sustainable way to ensure European energy security or a proxy for Russian hybrid warfare.With construction underway and as Germany attempts to downplay criticism of the project, concerns over security and geopolitics remain.United States Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Tuesday that a sanctions bill putting restrictions on companies involved in the project would come in the “not too distant future.” Nord Stream 2 is a pipeline currently under construction from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea. The new pipeline will run alongside the already constructed Nord Stream and will double the amount of gas being funneled through the Baltics to 110 billion cubic meters per year.Estimated to become operational in early 2020, the pipeline is intended to provide Europe with a sustainable gas supply while providing Russia with more direct access to the European gas market. But as tensions between Russia and the West reach their highest in decades, many are skeptical of the purely economic reasoning attributed to the project.  Germany finds itself in a precarious position. Oil and gas are the lifeblood of Germany’s manufacturing economy, but the country produces very little energy domestically and is dependent on imports for 98% of its oil and 92% of its gas supply. As of 2015, Russia already supplied the plurality of its oil and gas (40% and 35% respectively), so it was with no great surprise that plans to increase Russia’s presence were met with hostility on both sides of the Atlantic. The core concern centers around Germany’s dependence on Russian energy which could make it susceptible to exploitation and more vulnerable to interference.  In fact, U.S. Congress and the European Parliament passed resolutions calling for an end to construction of the pipeline, citing Russian dependence as a threat to the common market and the EU’s strategic interests. Germany, Europe’s biggest natural gas consumer, has made efforts to downplay the relevance of Russian energy on the nation’s security. German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has previously told CNBC that the country is not too concerned over security risks, arguing that it will sufficiently diversify their imports.

 Oil Traders Start Work of Cleaning Russian Cargoes-- Oil traders are starting the slow process of cleaning up cargoes of Russian crude that were loaded onto tankers at a port in the Baltic Sea during a contamination crisis. Doing so will involve cargo transfers on the high seas, shipping barrels thousands of miles, and -- finally -- careful dilution to avoid damaging oil refineries. Almost 10 million barrels of crude were loaded at Ust-Luga around the time the contamination crisis came to light late last month. Much of the supply, most of which would normally be delivered locally, has been sitting on ships in northwest Europe ever since, while the companies that bought the cargoes -- including Glencore Plc and Vitol Group -- figured out what to do. Now, several of those same vessels have begun heading to dedicated cargo-transfer sites off the coasts of Denmark and the U.K. to discharge their consignments onto bigger supertankers more suited to long-haul trades. From there, traders and industry officials anticipate the barrels flowing to Asian destinations including China, where the cargoes will be carefully drip-fed into the refining system. The voyage, roughly 12,500 nautical miles, will take about 45 days. Refinery officials in Asia say that the barrels in question are likely to be diluted with 10 to 12 times more uncontaminated crude to avoid the plants becoming damaged. Some traders have speculated that some cargoes might even be used by power plants in Saudi Arabia, a move that would free up more of the kingdom’s crude for export this summer.

 Venezuelan crude oil production falls to lowest level since January 2003 – EIA - In April 2019, Venezuela's crude oil production averaged 830,000 barrels per day (b/d), down from 1.2 million b/d at the beginning of the year, according to EIA’s May 2019 Short-Term Energy Outlook. This average is the lowest level since January 2003, when a nationwide strike and civil unrest largely brought the operations of Venezuela's state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA), to a halt. Widespread power outages, mismanagementof the country's oil industry, and U.S. sanctions directed at Venezuela's energy sector and PdVSA have all contributed to the recent declines. Venezuela’s oil production has decreased significantly over the last three years. Production declines accelerated in 2018, decreasing by an average of 33,000 b/d each month in 2018, and the rate of decline increased to an average of over 135,000 b/d per month in the first quarter of 2019. The number of active oil rigs—an indicator of future oil production—also fell from nearly 70 rigs in the first quarter of 2016 to 24 rigs in the first quarter of 2019. The declines in Venezuelan crude oil production will have limited effects on the United States, as U.S. imports of Venezuelan crude oil have decreased over the last several years. EIA estimates that U.S. crude oil imports from Venezuela in 2018 averaged 505,000 b/d and were the lowest since 1989.EIA expects Venezuela's crude oil production to continue decreasing in 2019, and declines may accelerate as sanctions-related deadlines pass. These deadlines include provisions that third-party entities using the U.S. financial system stop transactions with PdVSA by April 28 and that U.S. companies, including oil service companies, involved in the oil sector must cease operations in Venezuela by July 27. Venezuela's chronic shortage of workers across the industry and the departure of U.S. oilfield service companies, among other factors, will contribute to a further decrease in production.Additionally, U.S. sanctions, as outlined in the January 25, 2019 Executive Order 13857, immediately banned U.S. exports of petroleum products—including unfinished oils that are blended with Venezuela's heavy crude oil for processing—to Venezuela. The Executive Order also required payments for PdVSA-owned petroleum and petroleum products to be placed into an escrow account inaccessible by the company. Preliminary weekly estimates indicate a significant decline in U.S. crude oil imports from Venezuela in February and March, as without direct access to cash payments, PdVSA had little reason to export crude oil to the United States. India, China, and some European countries continued to receive Venezuela's crude oil, according to data published by ClipperData Inc. Venezuela is likely keeping some crude oil cargoes intended for exports in floating storageuntil it finds buyers for the cargoes.

Farmers show their determination against shale gas – Agri SA - The Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein heard arguments last week by Agri SA's provincial affiliate, Agri Eastern Cape, regarding the legality of technical regulations for fracking previously promulgated by the Minister of Mineral Resources. “In the absence of satisfactory information about the availability and treatment of water to sustain a fracking and shale gas industry in South Africa, Agri SA cannot support government’s apparent appetite for a full-scale gas industry in this country” says Janse Rabie, Agri SA’s Head of Natural Resources. The Department of Mineral Resources has approached the Appeal Court after Agri Eastern Cape, together with a group of interested landowners, were victorious in the Grahamstown High Court in Makhanda in October 2017 when Judge Gerald Bloem found that only the Minister of Environmental Affairs had the powers to make such regulations. Agri Eastern Cape opposes the Department's appeal. "Farmers and landowners in the Karoo have been fighting against planned shale gas developments in the Karoo and elsewhere in the country since January 2009. The case is proof of farmers' determination to remain resolute against fracking after more than a decade." "One must have stamina to withstand these international oil companies," said attorney Derek Light, who acts on behalf of Agri Eastern Cape. "I have the greatest respect for farmers and their representative bodies for their decision to protect agriculture, workers and food security." The Appeal Court has reserved judgment in the matter. 

 Red Flag For Oil Markets- Asian Refining Margins Plunge To 16-Year Low --Persistent pressure on profit margins has forced Asian refiners to start considering a reduction in their run rates, Reuters reports, citing unnamed sources from the industry. According to the sources, higher international oil prices are behind the unfavorable development, which has seen refiners’ margins drop to the lowest since the spring of 2003, according to Reuters data.Among the refiners considering run rate cuts are South Korea’s SK Energy, the Singapore Refinery Company, and at least one refiner in Thailand. Some Chinese independent refiners are already running at less than 50 percent of capacity because of the pressure on margins, one Chinese analyst told Reuters.International oil prices have risen since the start of the year on the back of OPEC+ production cuts, which has combined with U.S. sanctions on Venezuela and Iran to shrink supply. The recent spike in U.S.-Iran tensions has also been bullish for prices. Interestingly enough, even so, over the past month both Brent and West Texas Intermediate have generally trended lower despite several spikes. However, this decline has not been enough to push Asian refiners’ margins higher. There may be another reason for this, too: a fuel glut coming from China. An increase in refining capacity, particularly from the independent refiners, also called teapots, and another increase in oil product export quotas have seen a substantial increase in the availability of Chinese oil products in the region, and this increase has added its own pressure to refining margins. Despite the glut and despite their run rate cuts, Chinese refiners will be processing even more crude this year: earlier this week Beijing allocated a new round of oil product export quotas and they were higher than the respective quotas last year. Since the start of the year, total oil product export quotas have hit 50 million tons.

China's CNPC breaks into Myanmar fuel retailing with Singapore brand (Reuters) - China National Petroleum Corp is planning to open dozens of petrol stations in Myanmar, the first major foreign investor to enter the fast-growing Southeast Asian fuel market, as the state giant expands its retail oil business, company officials said.Singapore Petroleum Company Ltd a petrol station owned by PetroChina, China's top energy group which became the first major foreign investor in Yangon, Myanmar, May 9, 2019. REUTERS/Ann WangThe investment, which could eventually reach tens of millions of dollars, follows a new strategy to tap overseas retail margins as China’s domestic fuel market is saturated. The move follows a similar but larger investment in Brazil, where CNPC’s global trading and refining unit bought 30% of a leading Brazilian fuel dealer last year.CNPC’s external retailing push came after Tian Jinghui, a veteran fuel marketing executive took the helm at the global unit, PetroChina International, which is also handling the Myanmar investment.CNPC sees Myanmar as a prime frontier market for fuel retailing, where foreign participation is minimal but demand is growing at about 10% annually on a fast-expanding vehicle fleet and barely existent local refining industry. “Myanmar is one of the few markets in this region that’s open to outside investment and where demand is growing fast,” said a Beijing-based PetroChina executive with direct knowledge of the investment. Officials declined to be named because they are not authorized to speak to press.

Why China’s Fracking Hopes Will Hit the Rocks – Could China’s oil and gas industry be on the brink of a revolution?   That’s one interpretation of the government’s shakeup of regulations on petroleum production this month. The introduction of drill-it-or-lose-it rules and a possible extension of subsidies for unconventional gas output could end up dismembering sprawling industry leader PetroChina Co. and creating a new sector of independent upstream producers like those that have transformed the U.S. energy industry over the past decade, according to Laban Yu, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Jefferies LLC.   That would be great news for Beijing. China overtook the U.S. as the world’s largest importer of crude last year, a headache for a country that’s long fretted about its dependence on imported raw materials. It’s hard to believe that would have happened had oil production roughly doubled over the past decade (as it did in the U.S.) instead of standing still.The question is whether radical change is a realistic prospect. After all, China’s oil and gas companies have hardly been sitting passively on their land holdings. About 64 percent of PetroChina’s net acreage was under development at the end of 2017, making it look more like an entrepreneurial wildcatter than the likes of Total SA, BP Plc and Exxon Mobil Corp., which typically have wells drilled on 10 percent or less of their leases. Nor has it been left behind by the revolution in unconventional oil and gas. Indeed, almost half the wells that PetroChina drills each year are in the Changqing field, an area near the Mongolian border characterized by impermeable rock, horizontal bore holes and all the usual features of the fracking revolution. Why, then, has production failed to take off? The best explanation isn’t that the country’s big three oil companies are an oligopoly — though they are — but that China’s geology is fundamentally more difficult than that of North America. Many prospective fields are buried deep below the surface. To make matters worse, they’re often riven with seismic faults from the slow collision of continental plates that have built the Himalayas and the Japanese and Philippine island chains. It’s in many ways a miracle that China produces any unconventional petroleum at all, and even a prized asset like Changqing can’t always count on making a profit. PetroChina’s agreement this week to buy 3.4 million metric tons a year of liquefied natural gas from Qatargas Operating Co. is in many ways an admission of defeat: If it can’t meet the government’s output targets on its own, it can at least buy the requisite molecules from a third party.

Saudi's Falih says sees no oil shortage, but OPEC to act if needed (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said on Saturday that he saw no oil supply shortage as global oil inventories are still rising, particularly from the United States, but OPEC will be responsive to the oil market’s needs. Speaking in Jeddah ahead of a ministerial panel gathering on Sunday of top OPEC and non-OPEC producers, including Saudi Arabia and Russia, Falih told Reuters OPEC will not decide on output until late June when the group is due to meet next. “I am not sure there is a supply shortage, but we will look at the (market) analysis. We will definitely be responsive and the market will be supplied,” Falih said, when asked whether an increase in output was on the table due to oil shortage concerns. “But all indications are that inventories are still rising. We saw the data from the U.S. week after week, and they are massive increases, so there is obviously supply abundance.” 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. “We will be flexible. We are going to do the right thing as we always do,” Falih said of any decision at the meeting in June on continuing the reductions. Falih said OPEC was guided by two main principles: “One to keep the market in its direction towards balancing, and inventories (are) back to normal level. And two to be responsive to market needs. We will strike the right balance I am sure.” Saudi Arabia does not see a need to quickly boost production now with oil prices around the $70 a barrel level, as it fears a crash in prices and a build-up in inventories, OPEC sources said. But Russia wants to increase supply after June when the current OPEC+ pact is due to expire, the sources said. The United States on the other hand, which is not a member of the OPEC+ but is a close ally of Saudi Arabia, wants the group to boost output to bring oil prices down. Falih has to find a delicate balance between keeping the oil market well supplied and prices high enough for Riyadh’s budget needs, while pleasing Moscow to ensure Russia remains in the OPEC+ pact, and being responsive to the concerns of the United States and the rest of the OPEC+, the sources said.

Russia energy minister sees options for OPEC deal, including production rise  -- Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said there were different options available for OPEC and its oil-producing allies in the second half of 2019, including a possible raising of output. The OPEC+ alliance held a ministerial monitoring committee meeting, known as the JMMC, on Sunday in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah. The producers agreed to continue monitoring the oil market and are set to meet again in late June to review their oil supply cut agreement. “As far as our joint plan of action for the second half of the year. We are supportive of continuing our cooperation with our colleagues from other countries,” Novak told CNBC’s Dan Murphy in Jeddah, according to a translation. “But this continuation could depend to various extents on how the situation unfolds by this time and what the forecasts for supply and demand will be on the market. If it turns out that there will be a shortfall in the market then we will be prepared to examine options linked with a possible increase in production,” he said Sunday. His comments come five months into a fresh round of production cuts from OPEC+. The deal is designed to stop inventories building up and weakening prices. Russia has been vocal about raising production while OPEC’s de-facto leader, Saudi Arabia, has been wary of a possible price crash that an output increase could cause. The output cuts have helped oil prices to rise more than 30% so far this year.

Trade war and Iran tensions creating a 'very unstable' oil market, Russia minister says - Current geopolitical tensions are making it harder and harder for oil-producing nations to make decisions that will help stabilize crude prices, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak told CNBC Sunday. Asked about tensions in the Middle East, Novak said that problems in the region were becoming “greater and greater,” but added that the U.S.-China trade conflict was also having a destabilizing effect. “We have seen in the last few days an exchange of the imposition of customs duties. In addition, we have seen risks of a geopolitical nature with regards to this region,” Novak told CNBC’s Dan Murphy in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, according to a translation. “This all tells us that the market is very unstable. And there are many factors that have become bigger and it’s more complicated to take longer-term decisions that are fundamental to the market,” he added. The comments come amid escalating tensions between Tehran and Washington and just days after drone attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure carried out by Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels from Yemen. Asked whether Russia could do more to promote security and stability in the region as a friend of Iran, Novak said: “We need to fine tune our relationships as fully as possible so that the issue of energy security is at the forefront.” He caveated that it was hard to comment on this week’s incidents in the Middle East without adequate detail, but said they demonstrate how “fragile the question of achieving and providing energy security is.”

OPEC has two main options for June meeting, both foresee output rise - sources (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia and Russia are discussing two main scenarios for a meeting of OPEC and its oil-producer allies in June and both frameworks propose increased crude output from the second half of 2019, two sources familiar with the matter said. Russia wants to ease the cuts of 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) being carried out by the so-called OPEC+ alliance, the sources said. The United States has also urged the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to boost supply. The sources said OPEC’s first scenario was to eliminate over-compliance with agreed cuts, which would mean increasing output by around 0.8 million bpd. Over-compliance arose from lower exports and output from Iran and Venezuela because of U.S. sanctions, and Saudi output reductions that have been more than called for by the OPEC+ pact. OPEC and its allies are effectively curtailing production by close to 2 million bpd. Another option is to ease the agreed cuts from 1.2 million bpd to 0.9 million bpd, which would mean raising output by some 0.3 million bpd, one source said. OPEC meets on June 25-26 in Vienna. 

Saudi Arabia says oil producers want to reduce inventories (Reuters) - Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said on Sunday there was consensus among OPEC and allied oil producers to drive down crude inventories “gently” but his country would remain responsive to the needs of what he called a fragile market. Falih said a possible rollover in the second half of 2019 of output curbs agreed by OPEC and non-members was the main option discussed at a ministerial panel meeting during the day but “things can change by June”. “This second half, our preference is to maintain production management to keep inventories on their way declining gradually, softly but certainly declining towards normal levels,” he told a news conference after the panel meeting. OPEC, Russia and other non-member producers, an alliance 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. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak earlier said an easing of cuts had been discussed and the supply situation would be clearer in a month, including from countries under sanctions. Two sources said Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s de facto leader, and Russia were discussing two main scenarios for June’s OPEC+ meeting and that both frameworks proposed higher output from the second half. One scenario was to eliminate over-compliance with agreed cuts, which would increase output by some 0.8 million bpd, while the other option was to ease the agreed cuts to 0.9 million bpd. Falih told reporters the market was “very fragile” with conflicting data due to concerns about supply disruptions while inventories rise, but that a “comfortable supply situation” should be seen in weeks and months to come. He said high compliance with the agreed cuts was not sustainable and that over-conformity by some countries “can be reversed in June”. price

OPEC Signals Intention to Limit Supply All Year- Saudi Arabia and other key producers in OPEC signaled their intention to keep oil supplies constrained for the rest of the year, while pledging to prevent any genuine shortages. It was less clear how far Russia, their main partner in the wider OPEC+ producers’ coalition, shared that view. While most nations at a meeting in the kingdom on Sunday supported extending production cuts to the end of the year, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak talked about potentially relaxing the curbs and wanted to wait and see what happens in the next month. “We need to stay the course, and do that for the weeks and months to come,” Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih told reporters after the meeting in Jeddah. The kingdom “isn’t fooled” by crude prices, currently above $70 a barrel in London, and believes the market is still fragile. The contrasting messages underscore the uncertainty in the global market. If ministers don’t agree to an extension next month, the production cuts that ended the worst oil-industry downturn in a generation will expire. Yet their decision is clouded by the impact of U.S. sanctions on Iran and the risk to demand from President Donald Trump’s trade war with China. In a market where the preponderance of risks are on the supply side -- with Venezuela and Libya also facing disruptions -- what Saudi Arabia chooses to do with its ample spare production capacity may be the market’s deciding factor in the coming months. The kingdom has so far been trying to strike a balance between its own need for higher revenues to fund government spending, and pleasing Trump by filling any supply gap created by his moves against Iran. On Sunday, Al-Falih gave a strong indication that prices were the priority and he wasn’t about to open the taps.  “My recommendation to my colleagues will be to drive inventories down gently” by extending the current cuts into the second half, Al-Falih said. He acknowledged consumers’ concerns about potential supply disruptions and promised to make sure “no refinery, no customer is left without their requirement of crude oil.”  Regardless of what OPEC+ decides next month, output in July won’t exceed the kingdom’s limit in the deal of 10.3 million barrels a day, he said. It’s unclear how much Iran is exporting, and so far demand for replacement crude from Tehran’s customers has been lower than expected, Al-Falih said.

OPEC is poised to defy Trump once again by keeping a lid on oil output -Major oil-producing nations are leaning toward keeping a lid on production throughout 2019, defying President Donald Trump’s calls to open the taps and cut the cost of crude. OPEC and a group of allies led by Russia are trying to keep supply and demand in balance and stabilize prices by pumping less oil. Over the weekend, a committee representing the so-called OPEC+ alliance strongly signaled the group will extend the policy, which has helped to boost oil prices by about $20 a barrel this year. If OPEC+ follows that course when producers meet in June, it would be the second time in six months the group ignored Trump, who lobbied against the current production cuts last fall. So long as the production caps remain in place, oil prices are likely to remain anchored near six-month highs around $63 a barrel. That would keep a thorn in Trump’s side. The economy-focused president wants to lower prices at the pump, but his foreign policy is putting upward pressure on oil futures, which in turn increases gasoline costs. Washington has restricted global oil supplies by slapping sanctions on OPEC members Iran and Venezuela. Trump wants his allies in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two of OPEC’s biggest producers, to offset those losses by pumping more oil. But the Saudis and Emiratis have not committed to hiking output. On Sunday, Saudi Arabia’s influential oil minister, Khalid al-Falih, warned that global crude stockpiles are rising, threatening to swamp the world in oil and cause prices to collapse. “Overall, the market is in a delicate situation,” Falih told reporters at the committee meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. “On the one hand, there is a lot of concern — and we acknowledge it — about disruptions and sanctions and supply interruptions,” he said. “But on the other hand, we see inventories rising. We see plentiful supply around the world ... which means we think, all in all, we should be in a comfortable situation in the weeks and months to come.”

Political risks may be supporting oil prices, but that's likely just short term, JP Morgan says -- Oil prices jumped on Monday after Saudi Arabia indicated a possible rollover of output curbs amid political supply risks, but that support is likely to be short-lived due to fundamental changes in the energy industry, an expert said on Monday. “It’s alright to talk about supply-side risks, but that’s sort of near-term ... I don’t think expectations for oil prices have actually gone up,” said Scott Darling, J.P. Morgan’s head of Asia Pacific oil and gas research. That’s because of the rise of U.S. shale energy and slowing demand due to global economic uncertainties, Darling told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” J.P. Morgan expects OPEC to extend its oil output cuts to 2020. Oil prices jumped on Monday after Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih indicated there was a consensus among OPEC and allied oil producers to continue limiting supply. Falih said the main option discussed at a ministerial panel meeting during the day was for a rollover of the output curbs agreed by OPEC and non-members in the second half of 2019. Still, he said, “things can change by June.” OPEC, Russia and other non-member producers, an alliance known as OPEC+, agreed to reduce output by 1.2 million barrels per day from Jan. 1 for six months, a deal designed to stop inventories building up and weakening prices. Brent crude futures were at $73.23 a barrel at 12:06 p.m. HK/SIN, up $1.02, or 1.4%, from their last close. Brent closed down 0.6% on Friday. J.P. Morgan’s forecast for Brent crude is $75 per barrel by the end of the second quarter of 2019. For the full year, however, Brent crude will average $71 a barrel for 2019 and will weaken to $60 a barrel from 2021, said Darling. Darling’s comments come as the market expects Iranian oil exports to drop further in May and Venezuelan shipments could fall again in coming weeks due to U.S. sanctions.

Funds sell oil as economic fears trump supply threats- Kemp (Reuters) - Hedge funds continued to liquidate some of their bullish position in oil last week as concerns about the economy and the outlook for consumption outweighed escalating tensions and the threat to supplies in the Middle East. Hedge funds and other money managers cut their combined net long position in the six major petroleum futures and options contracts by 19 million barrels in the week to May 14. Fund managers have now cut their net long position for three weeks running, by a total of 61 million barrels, after raising it 609 million barrels over the previous 15 weeks since Jan. 8 ( Selling was concentrated in crude (-22 million barrels) and for the first time spread to Brent (-9 million) as well as NYMEX and ICE WTI (-13 million), according to position records published by regulators and exchanges. By contrast, funds made only small changes in fuels: net purchases of U.S. gasoline (+1 million barrels), sales of U.S. heating oil (-2 million barrels) and purchases of European gasoil (+4 million barrels). Portfolio managers are likely to be liquidating some of their bullish crude positions after the market appeared to become overextended and amid concern about the deteriorating economic outlook. The concentration of long positions had become a major source of downside price risk, if and when managers attempted to realise some of their profits after the rally since the start of the year. Fund managers have now reduced their ratio of long to short positions in crude to 7:1, down from a recent peak of more than 10:1 on April 23 (and to 4:1 from 8:1 in the case of WTI). In fuels, however, the relatively low level of inventories has encouraged funds to remain very bullish, at least in the case of U.S. gasoline and European gasoil. 

 Oil edges higher as OPEC signals it will cap output, Iran tension rises Oil edged higher on Monday after hitting multi-week highs overnight, as OPEC indicated over the weekend that it was likely to maintain production cuts that have helped boost crude prices this year. Escalating Middle East tensions provided further support. Brent crude oil was up 15 cents at $72.36 a barrel around 12:10 p.m. ET (1610 GMT). The international benchmark for oil prices earlier touched $73.40, the highest since April 26. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures were up 24 cents at $63 a barrel. WTI reached $63.81 earlier, the highest since May 1. Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said on Sunday there was consensus among OPEC and allied oil producers to drive down crude inventories “gently” but he would remain responsive to the needs of a “fragile market.” United Arab Emirates Energy Minister Suhail al-Mazrouei earlier told reporters that producers were capable of filling any market gap and that relaxing supply cuts was not the right decision. OPEC data indicates oil inventories in the developed world rose by 3.3 million barrels month-on-month in March, and were 22.8 million barrels above their five year average. A gathering of the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee in Saudi Arabia over the weekend did not make any solid recommendations in a closely watched statement, leaving a decision on policy for a meeting of OPEC and its allies next month in Vienna. “While not explicitly mentioned in the statement, uncertainty on how many Iranian and Venezuelan oil barrels will be lost due to U.S. sanctions was probably the main reason the group kicked the can down the road,” UBS analyst Giovanni Staunovo said. OPEC, Russia and other non-OPEC producers, an alliance known as OPEC+, agreed to cut output by 1.2 million barrels per day from Jan. 1 for six months to try to prevent inventories from increasing and weakening prices.

Oil Prices Rise As Trump Warns Of The 'end Of Iran' – RTTNews  Oil prices rose on Monday after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to destroy Iran in a tweet on Sunday.  Benchmark Brent crude rose about 0.4 percent to $72.53 while WTI crude futures were up 0.3 percent at $63.12 per barrel. "If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!," Trump tweeted Sunday afternoon after reports emerged that a rocket was fired into Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone less than a mile away from the U.S. Embassy. Meanwhile, a Saudi Arabian diplomat said his country doesn't want to go to war with Iran but would defend itself after two Saudi oil tankers were targeted by acts of sabotage off the coast of the United Arab Emirates last week. Crude oil futures pared early gains and settled modestly lower on Friday, but still closed the week with solid gains, amid prospects of supply disruptions due to escalation in tensions in the Middle East.

Oil up on escalating US-Iran tensions, but trade war worries cap gains - Oil prices rose on Tuesday on escalating U.S.-Iran tensions and amid expectations that producer club OPEC will continue to withhold supply this year. But gains were checked by concerns that a prolonged trade war between Washington and Beijing could lead to a global economic slowdown. Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil prices, were at $72.18 per barrel at 0651 GMT, up 21 cents, or 0.3 percent, from their last close. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were up 31 cents, or 0.5 percent, at $63.41 per barrel. “Escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran, in addition to signs that OPEC will continue its production cut, drove oil higher,” said Jasper Lawler, head of research at futures brokerage London Capital Group. U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday threatened Iran with “great force” if it attacked U.S. interests in the Middle East. This came after a rocket attack in Iraq’s capital Baghdad, which Washington suspects to have been organised by militia with ties to Iran. Iran said on Tuesday that it would resist U.S. pressure, declining further talks under current circumstances. The tension comes amid an already tight market as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Russia and other producers have been withholding supply since the start of the year to prop up prices. A meeting has been scheduled for June 25-26 to discuss the policy, but the group is now considering moving the event to July 3-4, according to OPEC sources on Monday, with its de-facto leader Saudi Arabia signalling a willingness to continue withholding output. Price gains were constrained by pressure on financial markets, which have this week been weighed down by worries that the United States and China are digging in for a long, costly trade war that could result in a broad global slowdown.

Oil Markets In Limbo After OPEC+ Meeting - Oil was flat at the start of trading on Tuesday, still caught between U.S.-Iran tensions on the one hand, and the downside risk of the U.S.-China trade war. OPEC+ reportedly discussed two options for increasing production in the second half of the year. According to Reuters, the group weighed a plan that would end over-compliance with the cuts, which could add 0.8 mb/d of supply back onto the market. Or, the group could agree to trim the cuts from 1.2 to 0.9 mb/d. However, the group will wait until the June meeting in Vienna to make a decision, and many members are inclined to extend the cuts. ExxonMobil evacuated staff from southern Iraq, following the U.S. decision to withdraw embassy personnel from Baghdad. The West Qurna 1 project has not seen production affected. Iraqi officials said the withdrawal of oil workers was unwarranted.  President Trump said that any trade deal with China must skew in favor of the U.S. because of past trade actions by China. The message seems to lower odds of a breakthrough in the weeks ahead. Meanwhile, the Trump administration lifted steel tariffs on Mexico and Canada. U.S. capital spending rose 3 percent in the first quarter year-on-year, down from a 20 percent jump in spending in the first quarter of 2018. The data raised the prospect that the U.S. economy could slow in the second half of this year.. Bankruptcies in the U.S. energy sector are “trailing only those in the discretionary consumer goods sector,” Bloomberg News reported. Oilfield services giant Weatherford International PLC, recently delisted from the New York Stock Exchange, may need to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company lost $2.8 billion last year. Other signs of stress are emerging in the shale patch with Halcon Resources also a financial wreck. The SEC is investigating Alta Mesa for potential fraud in financial reporting. “A lot of people see the $60 or $70 and assume everything is great,” said Spencer Cutter, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. “I think 2019 is going to be a bigger year for bankruptcies than 2018.”

WTI Slides Below $63 After Surprise Crude & Gasoline Builds -WTI traded lower today (finding support around $63) as anxiety over the ongoing US-China trade deal weighed on global growth (demand) sentiment (after yesterday's gains on OPEC/Saudi supply comments). “Given the fact that the macro environment isn’t looking spectacular, oil is doing relatively well," said Bart Melek, head of commodity strategy at Toronto’s TD Securities. “It’s very much marching to its own drumbeat here, with the supply side being supportive in the face of less risk appetite."Product draws have been shrinking and crude builds increasing recently, dragging investors' eyes back to the 'gluttiness' of energy markets... API:

  • Crude +2.4mm (-1.3mm exp)
  • Cushing +871k
  • Gasoline +350k (-662k exp)
  • Distillates -237k (-158k exp)

API reported a surprise inventory build in crude and gasoline... WTI traded back down to Sunday night futures opening levels today, hovering around $63 ahead of the API print and kneejerking lower after the data hit...

Oil sinks 2.7% as US crude stockpiles surge, demand worries flare - Oil futures sank on Wednesday as an unexpected build in U.S. crude stockpiles compounded investor worries that a prolonged trade war between Washington and Beijing could dent crude demand. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures settled $1.71 lower at $61.39, tumbling 2.7 percent to the lowest closing level in more than a week. Brent crude futures fell $1.19, or 1.7%, at $70.99 at barrel. U.S. crude inventories swelled by 4.7 million barrels in the latest week to their highest since July 2017, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported. Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast a decrease of 599,000 barrels as refineries cut output. “It’s at the extreme end of the range of possibilities for a bearish report,” said Bob Yawger, director of futures at Mizuho in New York. “It’s about as bad as it could have been considering the fact that driving season is so close.” Gasoline stocks posted a surprise build as well, rising by 3.7 million barrels compared with analysts’ expectations for an 816,000-barrel drop. The prospect of a long-term tariff fight between China and the United States also pressured prices. No further talks between top officials have been scheduled since the last round ended in a stalemate on May 10. The conflict is weighing on economic growth forecasts and oil demand predictions. The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) on Tuesday revised down its global growth forecast for the year.

EIA Weekly Petroleum Report -- May 22, 2019 --WTI: down 1.5%; down almost a buck; now trading at $62.22/bbl. Gee, I wonder why?

The EIA numbers for week ending May 17, 2019:
  • US crude oil inventory: increased by 4.7 million bbls
  • US crude oil inventory: stands at 476.8 million bbls, about 4% above the 5-year average (last week, total inventories were said to be about 2% above the 5-year average)
  • refinery operating capacity: operating at 89.9% -- very low -- and it's down slightly from last week
  • both gasoline and distillate fuel production decreased last week
  • US crude oil imports have dropped considerably, now down close to 10% compared to same four-year period last year
  • gasoline imports average 1.4 million bpd; it would be interesting to see how much of this was "California"
  • gasoline inventories increased by 3.7 million bbls (significantly exceeded forecast; see above)
  • distillate fuel inventories increased by about 1 million bbls (in line)
  • but look at this: propane/propylene inventories are about 22% above the 5-year average; increased by 3 million bbls last week
  • jet fuel supplied was up again; up 2.5% compared to same four-week period last year

 Secretary of State Pompeo says he's confident the oil market is well supplied despite Iran tensions - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNBC on Thursday that the Trump administration has taken measures to prevent oil prices from spiking while it attempts to drive Iran’s crude exports to zero. The administration has tried to assure Americans that U.S. allies in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere will fill the gap left by falling Iranian supply. “We are confident that we’ve done the hard work to make sure that the market is well supplied, and I hope that we can continue to maintain that, and I think that we can,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Thursday. Supplies from Iran, one of the world’s top oil producers, are expected to fall by hundreds of thousands of barrels per day in the coming weeks after Washington tightened sanctions on the Islamic Republic this month. While Saudi Arabia has signaled that it will pump more oil, it has also indicated that OPEC and its oil market allies are not ready to lift price-boosting output caps. Led by Saudi Arabia, the producers have been trying to keep 1.2 million barrels per day off the market since January. They appear poised to continue limiting supply in the second half of 2019. The U.S. expedited the deployment of military assets to the Persian Gulf and withdrew diplomatic staff from Iraq, claiming threats by Iran against U.S. positions in the region. Meanwhile, Iran has ramped up production of nuclear materials, four vessels were sabotaged off the coast of UAE and Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen attacked oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia. Pompeo said the administration is not overhyping the threat from Iran, following reports that some members of the administration believe recent U.S. maneuvering in the region represents an overreaction to intelligence. “We briefed Congress extensively on Tuesday,” Pompeo said. “I think almost every member, Democrats and Republicans alike, walked out of that room understanding that the threats that we were discussing and the decision that President Trump made to take a posture to deter those threats and protect our forces were wholly justified and reasonable.” Despite the tension, Pompeo argued that the U.S. policy against Iran is not impacting oil prices much. He noted that Brent crude oil prices now at $69 a barrel are lower than a year ago, when the U.S. pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal and began restoring sanctions on the Iranian economy.

 Oil plunges 5.7% to $57.91 as US-China trade war raises fuel demand worries - Oil prices tumbled nearly 6% on Thursday, extending steep losses in the previous sessions, as the market braced for a prolonged U.S.-China trade war and digested disappointing manufacturing data. Some analysts also pointed to signs that Middle East tensions are moderating. Brent crude futures sank $3.35, or 4.7%, to $67.64 per barrel around 2:20 p.m. ET (1820 GMT). The international benchmark for oil prices hit a nearly two-month low earlier in the session and is on pace for its worst week since December. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures settled $3.51 lower at $57.91 per barrel, tumbling 5.7% to the lowest closing price since March 12. WTI is on track to end the week 7.7% lower and post the worst weekly performance in five months. “The $60 level is a critical support point,” said John Kilduff, founding partner at energy hedge fund Again Capital. “After $60, really it’s right down around $58 or so. Theoretically, if this thing really becomes a washout, $52 is the downside objective,” he said, cautioning that the move would not happen overnight. Crude futures fell with the stock market as the ongoing U.S.-China trade dispute entered a new phase. A wave of companies is suspending business with Huawei after the U.S. blacklisted the Chinese telecom giant. Washington and Beijing are set to increase tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of one another’s goods, raising concerns about a global economic slowdown and weaker demand for oil. U.S. manufacturing activity grew at its slowest pace since September 2009 this month, according to IHS Markit. Meanwhile, data released overnight showed Japanese manufacturing activity fell into contraction in May. Manufacturing activity for the European Union and Germany also came in below expectations.

Oil's Worst Day Of 2019- The Silence Before The Storm In Energy Markets - WTI just hit a $57 handle for the first time in over two months, with the biggest drop of the year, as extreme positioning is accelerating anxiety over both the demand and supply side of the energy markets. But, with oil production plunging in Venezuela and Iran, tension in the Middle East at its highest point in years, and the threat of further outages in Libya, why are oil prices not trading higher?'s Nick Cunningham explains:Even price volatility has been rather low, a surprising feature of a tight market rife with geopolitical risk.  Brent crude has been stuck between a relatively narrow range of $70 to $75 per barrel for more than a month, despite all the turmoil.Furthermore, even the back end of the futures curve has barely budged, trading between $60 and $65 per barrel. At the same time, the front end of the curve has moved into steep backwardation – when near-term contracts trade at a premium to longer-dated futures. Backwardation is typically associated with a tight oil market – essentially, traders are willing to pay a premium for oil today relative to deliveries six or twelve months out.What does all of this mean? “The recent movements in the oil price complex indicate some deep dislocations between the physical and futures markets and in market expectations about current and future oil market fundamentals,” the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies (OIES) wrote in a new reportThe big question is how and when Saudi Arabia will respond. Riyadh is very reluctant to see a repeat of 2018 when prices crashed following production increases. This time around Saudi Arabia will err on the side of letting the overly tighten, although the OPEC+ group has adopted a “wait-and-see” approach, putting off a decision until the June meeting (which may even get pushed into July). That way, OPEC+ officials will have more data on how U.S. sanctions are affecting production in Iran and Venezuela, and events surrounding the U.S.-China trade war will also become clearer.

US oil rises 1.2% to $58.63 per barrel, but posts worst week of 2019 -- Oil prices rose Friday ahead of long U.S. and UK holiday weekends, but posted their biggest weekly drop of the year, pressured by rising inventories and concern over an economic slowdown. Brent crude rose 93 cents, or 1.4% to $67.69 a barrel but the global benchmark still posted a weekly loss of more than 4.5%. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude rose 1.2% to $58.63, yet it recorded a one-week loss of more than 6%, its biggest of 2019. U.S. crude inventories have risen to their highest since July 2017, suggesting ample supplies in the world’s top consumer, with prices also hit by worries that the U.S.-China trade conflict is developing into a more entrenched dispute. U.S. inventories also rose due to more sluggish refinery rates than normal for this time of year. In particular, refining usage in the Midwest region plunged to its lowest levels in May since 2013. Stockpiles at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub for U.S. crude futures were at the highest since December 2017, government data showed this week.  8 “U.S. businesses affected by the increased tariffs will be making decisions regarding purchases, inventories, etc., that are apt to force some downshifts in the U.S. economic growth path that could have implications for U.S. oil demand,”  “A decline below our expected next support level of $56 (for WTI) will likely associate with a further plunge in equities that would be heavily related to unresolved trade issues between the U.S. and China ... volatility across all markets will be heightened until some significant trade progress is seen.”  Concerns over the health of the world economy linked to trade tensions have hit global markets this week, with the MSCI All Country index in line for a more than 1% fall in its third week in the red.

Saudi-UAE coalition carries out deadly air raids on Yemen's Sanaa - At least six civilians, including women and children, were killed and dozens wounded in Saudi-UAE-led coalition air raids on residential areas and Houthi rebel military targets in Yemen's capital, Sanaa.  The coalition carried out 11 attacks on the capital in all, out of a total of 19 across rebel-held territory on Thursday, the Houthi-run Masirah TV channel reported. It blamed "aircraft of the [Saudi-led] aggression".  The air strikes came after the Iran-aligned rebels claimed drone attacks that temporarily shut a key oil pipeline in neighbouring Saudi Arabia.Rubble filled a populated street lined by mud-brick houses, a Reuters journalist on the scene said. A crowd of men lifted the body of a women, wrapped in a white shroud, into an ambulance. Saudi-owned broadcaster Al Arabiya quoted a coalition statement as saying it launched an operation aimed at "neutralising the ability of the Houthi militia to carry out acts of aggression"."The sorties achieved its goals with full precision," it said, adding civilians had been warned to avoid those targets. Masirah quoted the Houthi health ministry as saying six civilians, including four children, had been killed and 52 wounded, including two Russian women working in the health sector.

Saudis Claim Intercept Of Iran-backed Houthi Missiles Headed For Mecca - Saudi Arabia has claimed that its air defenses shot down two ballistic missiles over the city of Taif, just 65 kilometers east of Mecca, in the early hours of Monday morning. Saudi officials claim that another missile was intercepted over the Haddah in western Saudi Arabia. The Saudi newspaper Okaz reported the missiles were intercepted as residents were breaking their day-long Ramadan fast. The paper claimed that the attempted attack was evidence that Yemen's Houthis had no regard for the safety and security of Muslim pilgrims visiting Mecca during the nights of Ramadan. The Houthis have unequivocally denied any involvement in the attacks. Mohammed AbdulSalam, a spokesman for the Houthi political wing Ansar Allah, said in a statement, “We avoid targeting civilians as well as holy places, and this [accusation] is Saudi bankruptcy,” adding “Saudi Arabia fabricated the Houthi threat [to Meccia] in order to mobilize official and popular support.”The Yemeni army, which is allied with the Houthis, said in a statement in the wake of Saudi accusation: “This isn’t the first time the Saudi regime has accused us of targeting Mecca. The objective of these accusations is to gain support and approval for their monstrous aggression.” An army spokesperson noted that the Houthis have never denied previous military maneuvers, saying “We do not hesitate to announce our military operations.”The Houthis did claim responsibility for last week’s attack on two Saudi oil pumping stations in the provinces of Dawadmi and Afif near the Saudi capital, Riyadh. High-ranking officials in the Yemeni army, as well as the Houthi Political Council, told MintPress that the pumping station attack was not part of a regional effort to stir up tension between Iran and the United States, and was planned before those tensions came about.

Houthi drone attack 'hits arms depot' at Saudi airport in Najran - Yemen's Houthi rebels said they launched a bomb-laden drone into Saudi Arabia targeting an airport with a military base - an attack acknowledged by the kingdom. It was not clear if there were any injuries or what the extent of damage was. The Houthis' Almasirah satellite news channel said early on Tuesday the attack hit the airport in Najran with a Qasef-2K drone, striking an "arms depot". Najran, 840km southwest of Riyadh, lies on the Saudi-Yemen border and has repeatedly been targeted by the Houthis. A statement earlier on the state-run Saudi Press Agency quoted Saudi-led coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Maliki as saying the Houthis "had tried to target" a civilian site in Najran, without elaborating. Al-Maliki warned there would be a "strong deterrent" to such attacks and described the Houthis as the "terrorist militias of Iran". Houthi drone attacks in Saudi 'show new level of sophistication'Similar Houthi attacks in the past have prompted rounds of Saudi-led air raids on Yemen, which have been widely criticised internationally for killing civilians. Civilian airports throughout the Middle East often host military bases. 

Saudi Arabia, Gulf states agree to deploy US forces to deter Iran: report - Saudi Arabia and a number of Gulf states have agreed to let the United States deploy its forces at sea and on land to deter Iran from a possible attack, Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported on Saturday. An unnamed Saudi official told Al-Awsat that the "agreement was aimed at deterring Iran from a military escalation, including attacking American targets... and not with the aim of entering into a war with it." While both Washington and Tehran have said recently that neither is interested in a war, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) said on Saturday that his country is in a intelligence war with the US and “enemies of the Islamic Republic”. “We are in a full intelligence war with the United States and the enemies of the Islamic Republic. This war is a combination of psychological warfare, cyber operations, military operations, diplomacy, fear, and intimidation,” Major General Hossein Salami said. Unlike Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, the IRGC has warned that the Islamic Republic is on the verge of a "full-scale confrontation with the enemy." "This moment in history, because the enemy has stepped into the field of confrontation with us with all the possible capacity, is the most decisive moment of the Islamic revolution," Salami said on Thursday according to Fars News Agency.

FM Javad Zarif: We don’t want war, and no one can confront Iran -Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says he does not believe a war will break out in the region as Tehran does not want a conflict and no country has the "illusion it could confront Iran", state news agency IRNA reports. Concerns about a possible conflict have flared since the White House ordered warships and bombers to the Middle East to counter an alleged, unexplained threat from Iran. Earlier this week the US also pulled some diplomatic staff from its embassy in Baghdad following weekend attacks on four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE)."There will be no war because neither we want a war, nor has anyone the idea or illusion that it can confront Iran in the region," Zarif told IRNA before ending his visit to Beijing. Meanwhile, Saudi media reported that the kingdom and a number of Gulf states have agreed to a request by the US to redeploy its military forces in Gulf waters and territories.  The motive for redeployment, according to the Saudi reports, was to deter Iran from any attempt to escalate the situation militarily, not to engage in a war with it.  This all takes root in US President Donald Trump's decision last year to withdraw the US from the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers and impose wide-reaching sanctions.  The move came even as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has verified that Tehran has upheld its obligations under the deal. Last week, Time magazine quoted Pentagon officials as saying there was no military plan to confront Iran.On the Iranian side, the Guardian newspaper reported in an exclusive report on Thursday that Tehran had ordered its militias in the Middle East to prepare for a proxy war.The deputy commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Mohammad Saleh Jokar, said on Friday that his country's missiles could easily reach US warships anchored in the Gulf and the rest of the region in case of war. On the other hand, a senior Iranian legislator, Hashmatullah Falahat Pishe, called for an Iranian-American dialogue in Iraq or Qatar, to de-escalate tensions with Washington.

Top Iran Commander Invokes 9/11 To Say US Is "Frail"; A "Full Intelligence War" Is On - lran is currently in "a full intelligence war" with the United States, according to statements by the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Major General Hossein Salami on Saturday. “We are in a full intelligence war with the United States and the enemies of the Islamic Republic. This war is a combination of psychological warfare, cyber operations, military operations, diplomacy, fear, and intimidation,” Salami, who became head of Iran's elite military force last moth, was quoted as saying by Fars news agency. He further noted Americans in the region face "great risks" at this point. “America has lost its power, and even though they look powerful, they are frail,” he said. But what's most likely to capture the West's attention is his invoking the 9/11 terror attacks: “In reality America’s story is the same as the story of the World Trade Center that collapsed suddenly with one strike,” he said, using the example both as a threat and to claim the mighty US empire can be brought to its knees with one strategic blow.   His combative statements came days after he said provocatively that the IRGC stood on the “cusp of a full-scale confrontation with the enemy.” In that prior address , Salami notified his forces, "This moment in history, because the enemy has stepped into the field of confrontation with us with all the possible capacity, is the most decisive moment of the Islamic revolution," according to Fars. Washington has already deployed the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and new Patriot missiles, along with a B-52 bomber group to the Persian Gulf region, but Saudi Arabia and other gulf states this weekend have reportedly agreed to host American forces "at sea and on land to deter Iran" according to a new report in Israeli media, citing Arabic sources: Saudi Arabia and a number of Gulf states have agreed to let the United States deploy its forces at sea and on land to deter Iran from a possible attack, Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported on Saturday. 

Persian Gulf tensions rise as Trump threatens “end” of Iran - A tweet by President Donald Trump threatening to put an “end” to Iran sharply escalated the war crisis in the Persian Gulf, even as US warships launched a series of provocative military exercises in close proximity to Iranian shores. “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran,” Trump tweeted. “Never threaten the United States again!” It is by no means clear what “threat” Trump had in mind. The tweet came just hours after a Katyusha rocket fell in Baghdad's Green Zone near the statue of the Unknown Soldier, approximately a third of a mile north of the US Embassy, causing no injuries. While National Security Adviser John Bolton, who has long called for the bombing of Iran and regime change, went to the White House to brief the president on the incident, there were indications that Trump was responding not to this event but rather to commentary on Fox News, having tweeted just before in apparent response to a segment on immigration and then tweeting his threat to put and “end” to Iran following a Fox News segment on Iran. The errant rocket fired into the Green Zone, one of the most heavily fortified enclaves on the planet, was immediately attributed by the US media to Iran or its “proxies,” even though no one has claimed responsibility for the incident and there are a multitude of factions and people in the country who have every reason to want to lob a missile at the US embassy, or for that matter, at the seat of Iraq’s corrupt bourgeois government. Earlier “threats” from Iran have emanated from the leadership of the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which has warned Washington that it is not intimidated by the massive military deployment in the Persian Gulf, and that US warships constitute as much of a target as they do a threat. Washington earlier this month fast-tracked the deployment of a carrier battle group, led by the USS Abraham Lincoln, to the region, and sent in a bomber task force, including nuclear-capable B-52s, to conduct over-flights off the Iranian coast. This has been followed by the dispatch to the region of amphibious assault warships carrying US Marines, warplanes and landing craft, as well a Patriot missile battery. The Pentagon, meanwhile, has drawn up war plans calling for the shipping of as many as 120,000 US troops to the region—a similar number to the force deployed to the region prior to the invasion of Iraq—in apparent preparation for an all-out war with Iran.

Trump’s ‘genocidal taunts’ will not end Iran – Zarif  -- Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has dismissed US President Donald Trump's "genocidal taunts" and warned him not to threaten the country. Amid rising tensions, Mr Trump tweeted on Sunday: "If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran." Mr Zarif said the US president should look to history. "Iranians have stood tall for millennia while aggressors all gone... Try respect - it works!" The US has deployed additional warships and planes to the Gulf in recent days. But Mr Trump's tweet marked a shift in tone after recent attempts by him to downplay the possibility of a military conflict with Iran. When asked by reporters on Thursday if the US was going to war, he said: "I hope not." Iranian state media reported on Monday that the country had increased by fourfold its production of low-enriched uranium, which was limited to a 300kg stockpile by the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. "If they want us to maintain this limit, it would be better for European countries to take the measures they want to implement as soon as possible." Mr Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the nuclear deal last year, but the European parties say they remain committed to it.

Iran’s Zarif: US playing ‘dangerous game’ in Gulf showdown - Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif warned the United States is "playing a dangerous game" by boosting its military might in the Gulf as the fiery rhetoric between Washington and Tehran continues.Zarif criticised the US move to deploy an aircraft carrier strike group and bomber task force earlier this month in response to an unspecified threat, cautioning that "having all these military assets in a small area is in of itself prone to accidents"."Extreme prudence is required and the United States is playing a very, very dangerous game," he told CNN in an interview broadcast on Tuesday.Friction between Tehran and Washington has steadily ratcheted up this month, a year after US President Donald Trump pulled out of a landmark 2015 nuclear accord brokered between the Islamic Republic and several other world powers. Under the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief. Since then, the Trump administration has pursued a "maximum pressure" campaign against Tehran, which it accuses of being a destabilising actor in the Middle East. On Tuesday, Zarif said Tehran had "acted in good faith" over the JCPOA and accused the US of waging "economic warfare" on Iran by reimposing sanctions and moving to reduce Iranian oil exports to zero."Iran never negotiates with coercion. You cannot threaten any Iranian and expect them to engage. The way to do it is through respect, not through threats," Zarif said, adding there would b e "painful consequences" if current tensions escalate further.

Iran ramps up uranium production, throwing 'a brick on the accelerator' to nuclear threshold - Iran is ramping up its uranium output, a provocative step that threatens to further inflame simmering tensions with the United States and deepen regional conflict following a series of dangerous escalations in the Middle East.Iranian production of low-enriched uranium has recently increased fourfold, putting the nation on a path to exceed limits on nuclear materials set out in a 2015 agreement with world powers, a spokesperson for Iran’s atomic energy agency told Iranian news outlets on Monday.The supplies in question are not enriched to a level suitable for weapons development. Still, the increased output threatens to further erode the Iran nuclear deal and destabilize a region that provides much of the world’s energy supply.The comparison here is they were already going 55 miles per hour and heading towards a busted bridge. And so what the [Atomic Energy Organization of Iran] is saying is that they threw a brick on the accelerator. The stockpiling also raises concerns about the proliferation of nuclear materials,   President Donald Trump announced he would pull the U.S. out of the nuclear accord and restore wide-ranging economic sanctions against Iran just over a year ago. The other parties to the deal — China, Russia and the European Union — condemned the U.S. withdrawal and have attempted to preserve the agreement, which put limits on Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for sanctions relief. Iran continued to abide by the terms of the deal until Washington sharply escalated tensions last month. In April, the Trump administration designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization and announced it would tighten sanctions in a bid to drive Iran’s oil exports to zero. Shortly after the new U.S. sanctions policy took effect this month, Iran said it would stop complying with key parts of the nuclear deal.

Iran Says Uranium Enrichment Quadrupled, On Pace For Weapons-Grade Levels - It appears Iran is following through on its prior warnings issued to European leaders that it's ready to surpass enriched uranium production limits previously agreed to under the 2015 nuclear deal (JCPOA). News that Iran has "quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium" comes as rhetoric between Tehran and Washington has reached new belligerent heights, with President Trump tweeting Sunday that US attack would be the "end" of Iran.  Crucially, on Monday both the semi-official Fars and Tasnim news agencies cited Iran's nuclear agency spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi to say the country would reach the 300-kilogram limit set by the nuclear deal merely “in weeks” in what appears counter-threat signalling to Washington. Iran has also for months complained the EU is failing to hold up to its end of the bargain under the JCPOA to provide sanctions relief.   The AP notes of the Iranian media statements that "While the reports said the production is of uranium enriched only to the 3.67% limit set by the 2015 nuclear deal that Tehran reached with world powers, it means that Iran soon will go beyond the stockpile limitations established by the accord" if it continues on this pace.  Kamalvandi's statement made clear this didn't mean Iran increased the number centrifuges in use a key requirement of the deal however, The Wall Street Journal cited European diplomats two weeks ago who said they were informed by the Iranians of thier intent to ramp up research efforts into centrifuges that could produce highly enriched uranium faster. Amid renewed US pressures and military build-up in the Persian Gulf of late, Tehran has little confidence that the EU is capable of facing US sanctions, and despite some meager past efforts, such as the attempt to establish a 'SWIFT alternative,' EU initiatives to salvage the deal have been too little too late. Assuming war is not triggered by then, the Iranians have issued Europe an ultimatum to come up with new terms by July 7th or else weapons-grade levels of uranium will be enriched, per the AP:

Iran won't be alone if war breaks out with US - Hezbollah - Should a war with the United States break out Iran "will not be alone", a militant group has warned. That message was delivered by the leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah to a mass rally in Beirut in February marking the 40th anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution. "If America launches war on Iran, it will not be alone in the confrontation, because the fate of our region is tied to the Islamic Republic," Hassan Nasrallah said. Yesterday President Donald Trump said he hoped the US is not on a path to war amid fears that his two most hawkish advisers could be angling for conflict. Asked if the United States was going to war with Iran, the president replied, "I hope not" - a day after he repeated a desire for dialogue, tweeting: "I'm sure that Iran will want to talk soon." The tone contrasted with a series of moves by the US and Iran that have sharply escalated tensions in the Middle East in recent days. For the past year, National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have been the public face of the administration's "maximum pressure" campaign against Tehran. 

 US Might Send 10,000 More Troops to the Middle East Amid Rising Tensions With Iran— — Citing ongoing US-Iran tensions and the secret intelligence on Iranian “threats” officials keep mentioning, CENTCOM is requesting that the Pentagon approve substantial numbers of additional US ground troops to be deployed somewhere in the Middle East.Though initial reports claimed that CENTCOM was only requesting “about 5,000” ground troops, subsequent reports said that the Pentagon are preparing a plan to present to President Trump seeking 10,000 troops. It’s not clear where these troops could be stationed, though officials emphasized they would be purely defensive. It is unlikely Iraq would welcome a large influx of US troops, however, especially when it is presented as being directed against neighboring Iran.  CENTCOM is also being very vague about what the troops are really need for, saying that they don’t generally get into public disclosure of that sort of thing. That’s putting it mildly, given how little they, and the rest of the US military, are willing to even talk to the press anymore.

On The Cusp Of War: Why Iran Won’t Fold -- Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, on May 14, 2019 — a week after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had visited Baghdad and reportedly met with a senior Iranian official — determined the course of his country’s current crisis involving the US and issued directives to the pertinent authorities. Khamenei convened a closed meeting with “the heads of power branches”, key senior officers and officials, jurists and Majlis members. He discussed and analyzed the current situation, and then outlined Tehran’s next moves. Iran would do its utmost to avoid war with the US while relentlessly pursuing its ascent as a prominent regional power. Throughout, he said, there would be no further negotiations with the US. “Iran’s refusal to negotiate with the US,” Khamenei explained, stemmed from the realization that “negotiating with current US Government is toxic”. It was through negotiations that “the US seeks to take Iran’s strengths away”; meaning to have Iran unilaterally “surrender its defensive power” and “its strategic regional influence”. Khamenei described a US offer to discuss the range of Iran’s ballistic missiles. “Reduce the range so you would not be able to hit our bases,” the US demanded, according to Khamenei. He emphasized that “talks on Iran’s strengths, including the missile power and regional influence [are] foolish”. Khamenei was confident that “there was not going to be any war” between the US and Iran, and thus the confrontation would not be “a military one”. Khamenei stressed that “there will not be a military confrontation as neither Iran nor the US seeks war because the Americans know that the war will not be beneficial for them”. Under these circumstances, Iran would continue its surge relying on proxies — “the resistance” — as the main instrument for confronting all foes. “The resistance is Iran’s only absolute choice,” he emphasized. “The Iranian nation’s definite option will be resistance in the face of the US, and in this confrontation, the US would be forced into a retreat,” Khamenei explained. “Neither we nor they, who know war will not be in their interest, are after war.” The Iranian nation was, he said, mobilized behind Tehran. Khamenei observed that “as a result of the US threats, hatred towards the US among the Iranians has increased by more than 10 times”. Khamenei concluded by stating that “the Iranian military forces are more prepared and vigilant than ever.” He repeated that in pursuing its “policy of confrontation with the Islamic Republic too, the US will definitely suffer defeat, and [the outcome] will end up to our benefit.”

 Ex-NATO commander- US in 'dangerous place' with Iran -- Former Supreme Allied Commander at NATO James Stavridis said in an interview that aired Sunday that the U.S. is in a "dangerous place" with Iran, as tensions escalate. "We’re in a kind of dangerous place right now, because of escalation on both sides. It starts with Iran, of course," he told radio host John Catsimatidis on AM 970 in New York, criticizing what he believes to be Iran's "bad behavior throughout the region." "Their escalation has now been matched by the United States," Stavridis added. "Let’s be hopeful that the Iranians will see this show of force, the way intends it, and will back down." He said he believes Tehran will back down because "Iran cannot afford to go to war with us." The White House has put forth mixed messaging on Iran in recent days. President Trump has denied a report that his administration was working on a plan to deploy 120,000 troops to the Middle East, but said he would send more than that if it were necessary. He said several times that he does not want war with Iran. The Washington Post reported Thursday that Trump was frustrated with advisers such as national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, because of their their hardline stances with Iran and wanted to speak to the country's leaders himself. An Iranian military official this week said that the U.S. was "holding a gun" at Tehran while calling for talks. Stavridis served as NATO's supreme allied commander from 2009 to 2013.

US Warns Assad Of Quick Response After New Chemical Attack Allegation -Here we go again with a claim that seems to surface every Spring: the US says it is looking into allegations the Syrian government has used chemical weapons as it continues an offensive against jihadists in northwest Syria.Just as in prior incidents, it appears the sole originator of the claim is al-Qaeda in Syria, currently battling it out with pro-Assad forces near Idlib. And like with prior chemical attack allegations, it comes at a moment the jihadists are fast losing ground in the area.  According to Reuters, citing US State Department remarksUS State Department says it sees signs Syrian government may be renewing use of chemical weapons, including alleged chlorine attack on May 19.  The State Department spokesman said in a written statement the US is closely monitoring Assad military operations in northwest Syria after an alleged chlorine attack on Sunday. "We are still gathering information on this incident, but we repeat our warning that if the Assad regime uses chemical weapons, the United States and our allies will respond quickly and appropriately," the statement reads. The May 19 claimed incident has received little to no media coverage since it allegedly happened Sunday, with nothing in the way of any kind of photographs or footage yet to surface, unlike prior highly publicized chemical attack claims. It allegedly occurred near Idlib or possibly in northeast Latakia province, a government stronghold southwest of Idlib, and it appears the initial claim was made by none other that Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham before being picked up by Syrian opposition media groups and among some western Middle East think tanks analysts.  According to prior United States government statements Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) is synonymous with al-Qaeda in Syria (as it rebranded from Nusrah Front). Thus it once again it appears the United States is blindly parroting the claims al-Qaeda terrorists.

Washington revives Syria chemical weapons propaganda as pretext for war -Washington is once again threatening a military attack against Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons by the government of President Bashar al-Assad. If executed, this attack would be the third in as many years by the Trump administration, which rained missiles down upon the war-ravaged country in April 2017 and April 2018 using unsubstantiated allegations of chemical weapons use as a pretext. The latest threat was issued in the form of a statement from recently appointed State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus—like her predecessor recruited from the stable of right-wing Fox News commentators. “We repeat our warning that if the Assad regime uses chemical weapons, the United States and our allies will respond quickly and appropriately,” the statement said. The latest incident is alleged to have taken place in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib in territory that is dominated by the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham militia, the latest incarnation of the Al Nusra Front, the Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda. Syrian troops and allied militias backed by Russian air power have been waging a battle against the Islamist forces in recent weeks. Washington’s concern is that if Damascus reasserts government control over the province it will signal an end to the nearly eight-year war for regime change backed by the US and both its NATO and regional allies, in particular Saudi Arabia and Israel, which has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands and turned millions into refugees.

Syrian Rebels Attack Russian Air Base In Major Offensive - Some 500 Nusra-front militants, accompanied by seven tanks and about 30 pickup trucks armed with mounted heavy machine guns launched three major offensives against government troops in Idlib province on Wednesday, the Russian Defense Ministry said. The counterattack focused on the town of Kafr Nabudah, which was recently captured by the Syrian government. Militants also launched a missile attack on Russia's Hmeymim air base on Wednesday, but nine of the missiles were shot down, and another 8 didn't reach their target, the ministry added. Northwest Syria, which runs along Syria's border with Turkey, is home to the last remaining rebel strongholds, including a swath of land dominated by the Al Qaeda-linekd Nusra Front, which has adopted a new name, Tahrir al-Sham, Haaretz reports. The increase in shelling in the region has led to the displacement of 180,000 people, while the increase in shelling marked the most intense period of fighting between Bashar al-Assad and the rebels. According to RT, more than 150 rebels were killed during the morning offensive. Three tanks were destroyed, while 24 trucks mounted with heavy guns were also destroyed in the fighting.

Video Shows Israeli Settlers Starting West Bank Fires, Contradicting Army Statement -  — Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem has released a video showing illegal Israeli settlers setting fire to fields in the occupied West Bank, contradicting the Israeli army’s claim that the blaze was started by Palestinians. The Spokesperson’s Unit of the Israeli army was yesterday forced to change its original statement, in which it claimed to have extinguished “a fire set by Palestinians”. The fires were started last Friday near the occupied West Bank villages of Burin, Urif and Asira Al-Qibliya, all located off Route 60 south of Nablus. Illegal Israeli settlers from the nearby settlement of Yitzhar had attacked Palestinians from these villages, with both groups subsequently blaming the other for causing the fires which followed. Contradicting the Israeli army’s claim of Palestinian culpability, video footage released by B’Tselem showed “two Israeli [settlers] — one of them armed with a Tavor assault rifle — entering grasslands, crouching down and walking away. Moments later, flames can be seen in the area where they’d been standing,” the Times of Israel reported. B’Tselem added that “[Israeli] soldiers who were standing next to [the settlers] did not arrest them and prevent[ed] the Palestinians from reaching their burning lands”. In a separate video, settlers can also be seen throwing rocks at nearby Palestinian homes while four Israeli soldiers stand idly by. B’Tselem stressed that the Israeli army had granted “almost total immunity” to the settlers involved in the attacks, noting that none were interrogated or arrested following the incident. Although the Israeli army today issued a new statement saying “several fires were set and quickly spread” and that, “in addition to the fires, some 20 settlers went down to the outskirts of Asirah Al-Qibliyah and began throwing rocks,” it did not admit its attempts to cover up the settlers’ attacks.

Head of Reporters Without Borders Says Israel Shot Journalists Intentionally -- The director-general of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said yesterday that the Israeli army had deliberately targeted journalists in the occupied Gaza Strip.Christophe Deloire was speaking to the Jerusalem Post, having received the Dan David Prize in Tel Aviv on behalf of the international press freedoms watchdog.“It is a war crime to target journalists because they are journalists,” Deloire told the paper. “When Israel shot those journalists [during the Great Return March protests], it was intentional.”“The journalists could be clearly identified as journalists, with cameras and jackets and it could not be just by chance,” he added. Referring to the United Nations’ Commission of Inquiry into the Gaza protests, Deloire pointed out that the report “confirmed what we already considered a fact”. According to the Jerusalem Post, last week RSF formally asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate suspected war crimes by the Israeli military against Palestinian journalists covering protests in Gaza since 30 March 2018.

 Israel Launches Massive Recruitment Drive for Social Media Keyboard Warriors -  — Israel has embarked on a massive recruitment drive to support the country’s online propaganda campaign one day after its companies were exposed for spreading disinformation and meddling in the elections of several African, Asian and Latin American countries.The new initiative, which would see the government funding pro-Israel groups overseas, was unveiled by Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, a government arm set up to combat the global rise of pro-Palestinian activism and Israel’s poor global image.Launching the initiative, Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, who is also the public security minister, was quoted by the Times of Israel saying: “I’m proud to launch the first [government] program to support pro-Israel organizations and activists around the world.” The plan will “encourage grassroots events and online initiatives against the BDS [boycott] movement and in support of Israel. I’m certain that this program will give a significant boost to all our supporters around the world who are battling this anti-Semitism and the boycott activists,” added Erdan.Details of the tendering process for recruiting pro-Israeli activists was published in the Jewish Chronicle on 17 May a day after Israeli firms were kicked out by social media giant, Facebook, for spreading disinformation by posing as local journalists and influencers working in several African, Asian and Latin American countries.“The Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy has announced the opening of submission process for application for grants in 2019 in relation to the topics listed below,” an ad in the Jewish Chronicle said. The two areas in which the Israeli government was seeking new recruits were in “support for pro-Israeli activities abroad” and “support for pro-Israeli activities on the internet aimed at target audiences abroad.”

Rocket attack near U.S. embassy in Baghdad - — A rocket was fired into the Iraqi capital’s heavily fortified Green Zone on Sunday night, landing less than a mile from the sprawling U.S. Embassy, an Iraqi military spokesman said. The apparent attack, which Iraq’s state-run news agency said did not cause any casualties, came amid heightened tensions across the Persian Gulf, after the White House ordered warships and bombers to the region earlier this month to counter an alleged, unexplained threat from Iran. The U.S. also has ordered nonessential staff out of its diplomatic posts in Iraq. It was the first such attack since September, when three mortar shells landed in an abandoned lot inside the Green Zone. There was no immediate comment from the State Department or the U.S. Embassy in Iraq on Sunday’s attack. No one claimed responsibility for the attack that took place after sunset when many Baghdad residents were indoors breaking their fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Iraqi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasoul told The Associated Press that a Katyusha rocket fell near the statue of the Unknown Soldier, less than a mile from the U.S. Embassy. He said the military is investigating the cause but that the rocket was believed to have been fired from east Baghdad. The area is home to Iran-backed Shiite militias. Shortly afterward the rocket launcher was discovered by security forces in the eastern neighborhood of Wihda, according to a security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

US Alerts Airliners To Misidentification Risk If They Fly Over Persian Gulf - The United States has issued a formal warning to commercial airliners operating over the broader Gulf region of the risk of being "misidentified" as heightened US-Iran tensions and American warships are positioned in the Persian Gulf.  Embassies in the region reportedly relayed the message issued from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) highlighting the risk of travel in and over the region after a week that's witnessed an alleged "sabotage" attack against four vessels near the vital Strait of Hormuz and threats and counter-threats hurled between Tehran and Washington. Lloyd's of London has also issued an alert over the increased risk to maritime shipping in the Persian Gulf area. The FAA's warning specifically said commercial airliners flying over the Persian Gulf could be targeted by "miscalculation or misidentification" even as the White House appeared to soften its tone late in the week. "Although Iran likely has no intention to target civil aircraft, the presence of multiple long-range, advanced anti-aircraft-capable weapons in a tense environment poses a possible risk of miscalculation or misidentification, especially during periods of heightened political tension and rhetoric," the warning said.It also suggested the possibility than an aircraft's navigation, communications, and electronic systems could be jammed "with little to no warning." According to ABC News:

Exxon Evacuates All Foreign Staff From Iraqi Oilfield On Security Concerns - At the end of a week that's witnessed a dangerous US military build-up in the Persian Gulf amid anti-Iran war rhetoric, Exxon Mobil has evacuated all of its foreign staff from Iraq's West Qurna 1 oilfield, flying them to Dubai until "the situation is secure," according to a company statement. Total staff evacuated is about 60, cites Reuters, and comes days after the US ordered all non-emergency personnel to leave the US embassy in Baghdad in an extremely rare security move, claiming intelligence that shows Americans are under immediate threat from Shia milias backed by Iran. Iraq’s state-owned South Oil Company, which owns the oil field from which the Exxon Mobil employees have been evacuated, announced Saturday that production is continuing without disruption at 440,000 barrels per day (bpd) under the operation of Iraqi engineers. “Exxon Mobil’s evacuation is a precautionary and temporary measure. We have no indication over any dangers, the situation is secure and very stable at the oilfield which is running at full capacity and producing 440,000 bpd,” a South Oil spokesman said. And Exxon Mobile in a separate company press release said, “ExxonMobil has programs and measures in place to provide security to protect its people, operations and facilities. We are committed to ensuring the safety of our employees and contractors at all of our facilities around the world.”

 Iraq Dubs Exxon Staff Evacuation Unacceptable - The evacuation of some Exxon Mobil Corp. workers is “unacceptable and unwarranted” because it has nothing to do with the security situation in southern Iraq, according the country’s energy minister. “This withdrawal may send the wrong message about the situation in Iraq, and that’s something we reject,” Iraq’s Oil Minister Thamir Ghadhban said in a statement on Saturday. The minister sent a letter to Exxon officials seeking clarification about the decision and asking that the workers return to Iraq. Ghadhban said in an interview on Saturday that Exxon pulled about 80 people from Iraq. Oil and gas output continues unabated from all fields in the country. “No single personnel from other foreign companies withdrew,” he said. Exxon’s decision to pull staff is “precautionary and temporary,” said Abdul Jabbar Abbas Mohammed, who heads the operations committee of West Qurna-1 field which is a partnership with the U.S. company. The field is producing between 450,000 to 480,000 barrels a day and its daily functions are managed by Iraqi engineers, he said. Exxon didn’t provide specifics about its staffing in Iraq. “ExxonMobil has programs and measures in place to provide security to protect its people, operations and facilities,” the company said in an emailed statement. The U.S. ordered its non-emergency government staff to leave Iraq this week amid increasing Middle East tensions that American officials are blaming on Iran. Attacks on energy facilities, including a Saudi Arabian pipeline and several vessels including Saudi oil tankers, as well as a U.S. military buildup, are raising fears that the region may be heading toward another conflict. “For us, there is no reason calling them to withdraw,” Ghadhban said in the interview, referring to Exxon. Lukoil PJSC, BP Plc and Italy’s Eni SpA work in nearby fields including West Qurna-2, Rumaila and Zubair. “The region, south of Iraq, is all secured and peaceful. Work is going on without any halt.” Basrah Gas Co., which operates a major gas field in southern Iraq in partnership with Royal Dutch Shell Plc, also hasn’t made staff changes due to the regional tensions. “So far there is no intention for Shell to withdraw,” Shaalan Al-Darraji, spokesman for state-run Basrah Gas, said in an interview.

Rise Of Terror Chemical & Biological Attack Drones- Russian FSB Chief Says Jihadists Have Them -  The head of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) has warned that dangerous non-state actors now possess the capability of equipping drones with chemical weapons and biological weapons in order to maximize mass casualty events. Speaking at a major conference hosting the security agencies of Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) on Tuesday, FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov highlighted the ever growing sophisticated and high-tech arsenal of global terrorists, including that The criminals have materials, technology and infrastructure for the production of chemical weapons and biotoxins,according to one Russian English language report.   He specifically highlighted the jihadist threat from the war-torn Middle East in places like Syria and Iraq, where Russia intervened starting in 2015 at the request of Damascus. "Although international terrorist organizations suffered great losses in Syria and Iraq, they still have enough resources, particularly provided by their foreign sponsors, to carry out attacks around the world," Bortnikov said, according to TASS.The longtime FSB chief said further that, "large jihadist units have been defeated but now they are trying either to regroup in areas not controlled by the Syrian government or to take shelter in refugee camps."He also sounded an alarm which has now for years been a familiar worry for Europe - the return of foreign fighters who had previously traveled illegally to Europe. “We know about intentions of the leaders of international terrorist organisations to use widows, wives and children of militants who come back en mass,” he said.

UK suffers crushing defeat in UN vote on Chagos Islands -The United Nations general assembly has overwhelmingly backed a motion condemning Britain’s occupation of the remote Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean.The 116-6 vote left the UK diplomatically isolated and was also a measure of severely diminished US clout on the world stage. Washington had campaigned vigorously at the UN and directly in talks with national capitals around the world in defence of the UK’s continued control of the archipelago, where there is a US military base at Diego Garcia.The vote was in support of a motion setting a six-month deadline for Britain to withdraw from the Chagos island chain and for the islands to be reunified with neighbouring Mauritius. It endorsed an advisory opinion issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in February, calling on the UK to relinquish its hold on the territory in order to complete the process of decolonisation.The US, Hungary, Israel, Australia and the Maldives backed the UK in the vote and 56 countries abstained, including France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Poland and Romania. Other European allies including Austria, Greece, Ireland, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland voted for the UK to relinquish sovereignty.The scale of the defeat for the UK and US came as a surprise even to Mauritius, in view of the concerted campaign pursued by London and Washington. 

US Accidentally Kills 17 Afghan Police After 'Miscommunication During Airstrike - US airstrikes killed 17 Afghan police officers and wounded 14 others due to a "miscommunication" while fighting with Taliban forces, according to Stars and Stripes, citing Afghan officials.  The "friendly fire" incident, which took place in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province Thursday evening, occurred after Afghan security forces called in US air support amid heavy fire from Taliban fighters just outside the province's capital, Lashkar Gah. The incident began after a police officer and two of his men decided to take down a Taliban flag from a nearby water tower on Thursday night, within walking distance from a police training center. When they arrived to remove the flag, police tripped a mine, which exploded and alerted the Taliban to their presence. The guerrillas began firing on them. Police at the nearby training center arrived to assist the first three officers but were unable to drive the Taliban back, he said. The police unit then requested air support. Residents of Lashkar Gah heard a very loud explosion around 8:30 p.m. Thursday, they said. -Stars and Stripes.  The US military says they were told that the area was clear of allied units.

China Enraged After US Sails Two Destroyers Through Taiwan Strait - Just in case the "world tech and trade war I" was not enough to send US-China relations back decades, on Wednesday the US military sent two Navy destroyers through the Taiwan Strait in its latest transit through the sensitive waterway, "angering China" at a time of tense relations between the world’s two biggest economies. While trade war between the two superpowers is raging, so far at least there have been no shooting incidents, and yet the US seems eager to provide just the right "excuse" for a trade war to become a "kinetic" one, as Taiwan is one of a growing number of flashpoints in the U.S.-China relationship, where in addition to the increasingly bitter trade war, China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea has prompted the United States to conducts frequent freedom-of-navigation patrols. Meanwhile, the voyage will be viewed by self-ruled Taiwan as a sign of support from the Trump administration amid growing friction between Taipei and Beijing, which views the island as a breakaway province and has vowed it will never let it become fully independent. The transit was carried out by the destroyer Preble and the Navy oil tanker Walter S. Diehl, a U.S. military spokesman told Reuters. “The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Commander Clay Doss, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, said in a statement. And while Doss said all interactions were safe and professional, China was less enthusiastic, and its Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Beijing had lodged “stern representations” with the United States. “The Taiwan issue is the most sensitive in China-U.S. relations,” he told a daily news briefing in Beijing. Separately, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said the two U.S. ships had sailed north through the Taiwan Strait and that they had monitored the mission. Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said there was no cause for alarm.

Xi: Another Long March begins- Chinese President Xi Jinping said that "we are on a new Long March now" during his inspection tour of Jiangxi Province this week and encouraged people to gain strength from the spirit of the Long March to overcome difficulties and obstacles, China's state media outlets reported on Thursday. Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, made the remarks during his inspection tour of East China's Jiangxi Province from Monday to Wednesday. People's Daily, China Central Television and the Xinhua News Agency all reported on Xi's inspection tour, and his remarks about the new Long March were highlighted. Experts said that mentioning the historic march amid the escalating trade war with the US shows that the Party wants to remind the people: The Party has experienced a much worse situation before, the Party has experienced long-term struggle, and progress in the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation won't be stopped. Noting that China was on "a new Long March," he said in Yudu that the country will depend on the firm faith and the strong will of the whole Party and all people to overcome major challenges at home and abroad and secure new victories in building socialism with Chinese characteristics. China must be clear-headed about the long-term, complex nature of unfavorable domestic and international factors and well prepared for any difficult circumstances, Xi emphasized, adding that the most important thing for China is to do its own job well.

China State Run Media Broadcasts Anti-American Movies To Millions Amid Deepening Trade War -  With the trade war between the US and China suddenly erupting after a 5-month ceasefire, CCTV 6, the movie channel of China's leading state television broadcaster, aired three anti-American movies last week, reported What's On Weibo.The three movies are Korean war films: Heroic Sons and Daughters (1964), Battle on Shangganling Mountain (1954), and Surprise Attack (1960), which aired about one week after President Trump raised an existing 10% tariff on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods to 25%.All last week, anti-American propaganda flourished across the country, with the slogan "Wanna talk? Let's talk. Wanna fight? Let's do it. Wanna bully us? Dream on!" going viral on Chinese social media platforms. CCTV 6 broadcasted the movies to 500 million people in 23 provinces. The films fall under a category called "Resist America, Help North Korea," first debuting at the end of the Korean War (1950-1953). The first movie is Battle on Shangganling Mountain, also translated as Battle of Shangganling. It depicts a group of Chinese soldiers who are fighting against American soldiers on Triangle Hill.  The second movie is Heroic Sons and Daughters tells the story of a political commissar in China's Army runs into his lost son and daughter in North Korea during the Korean War. The movie shows how China and North Korea were battle buddies against the Americans. The third movie is Surprise Attack revolves around a special operation by Chinese soldiers to blow up Kangping Bridge, severing American weapon supply chains and allowing the Chinese to attack.

Over 80% Indians now have bank accounts. How many are actually using them? - Mukhne and her husband make Rs 200-Rs 250 a day, just enough to feed their three children. A bank account seemed useless until then. “I opened this account because it was free and we would get Rs 5,000 with it,” she said one afternoon in April 2019, referring to the overdraft facility provided with such accounts. This was telling of misinformation surrounding the scheme. Mukhne’s is one of 356 million no-frills accounts (as of May 1, 2019) opened under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana. Yet, four years since that July morning, she does not know how to use her account and keeps her savings at home. She is not alone. As many as 52% of respondents in the All India Rural Financial Inclusion Survey, 2016-’17, conducted by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, said they prefer to keep their savings at home. Mukhne has not deposited any money after two initial transactions – she was told to deposit Rs 100 at the time of opening and another Rs 500 a few months later. “Why did I have to give Rs 600 if it was zero balance?” she asked, expressing her mistrust of banking services. Further, only 11% respondents had “good” financial literacy, defined as a combination of sound financial knowledge, positive financial attitude and behaviour, as per the NABARD study conducted between January and June 2017.

Indonesia riots: police draw Islamic-State links to deadly Jakarta protests that killed seven - Indonesian police on Thursday said members of an Islamic State-affiliated group had infiltrated into the mobs involved in violent protests that broke out in Jakarta this week.National Police Spokesman Muhammad Iqbal told a press conference on Thursday that among 442 detained protesters, two were members of the radical Islamic Reform Movement (Garis), that had pledged loyalty to IS, and sent almost 200 Indonesians to Syria.“They intended to carry out jihad during May 21 and 22 protests,” Iqbal said, adding that several hundred rioters had been arrested.Seven deaths were confirmed, he said, stressing that police had not used live rounds, and “only rubber bullets, tear gas, shields and sticks” when facing the protesters. Tens of thousands of Indonesian troops were deployed to the streets of Jakarta early on Thursday, after two nights of rioting triggered by the announcement of incumbent leader Joko Widodo’s election win.By Thursday evening, calm had returned to the Indonesian capital, police said. Jokowi’s challenger, former general Prabowo Subianto, has refused to accept the result and instead declared himself the winner.Prabowo and his campaign have alleged massive election fraud but not provided any credible evidence. They did not file a constitutional court challenge to the election result on Thursday as expected, but have until Friday to do so.

Trade weakness to extend into second quarter, WTO indicator suggests - World trade growth is likely to remain weak into the second quarter of 2019 according to the WTO’s latest World Trade Outlook Indicator (WTOI), released on 20 May. The new WTOI reading is 96.3, exactly as it was in the previous release in February this year, maintaining the weakest level since 2010.The latest WTOI remains well below the baseline value of 100 for the index, signalling continued falling trade growth in the first half of 2019. It should be noted that the WTOI does not reflect some major trade measures announced in recent days. The outlook for trade could worsen further if heightened trade tensions are not resolved or if macroeconomic policy fails to adjust to changing circumstances.The latest result of the WTOI was driven by declines in all but two component indices. Indices for international air freight (92.3), automobile production and sales (92.2), and agricultural raw materials (92.4) fell further below trend. The index for container port throughput (101.0) also declined but remained above 100, suggesting growth in line with recent trends. Indices for export orders (96.6) and electronic components (96.7) appear to have bottomed out, even as both remained firmly below-trend.In their April trade forecast, WTO economists estimated that   merchandise trade volume growth would fall to 2.6% in 2019, down from 3.0% in 2018, before rebounding to 3.0% in 2020. As stated above, there are significant downside risks to the 2019 forecast. Any rebound in 2020 would depend on reduced trade tensions and/or improved macroeconomic performance.

Russia Announces Delivery Of More Supplies To Venezuela's Military - Even after repeat threats issued to Moscow from President Trump himself including recently saying bluntly "Russia has to get out" the Russian military now appears so unconcerned by such warnings that it's simply announcing its Maduro support actions ahead of time via state media.  Russian news agency TASS said Friday, citing a military-diplomatic source, that Russia plans to supply Venezuela’s army with more than 16,000 field rations. This after a large Russian state-run arms exporter published a contract related to the re-supply deal.  No doubt the very open publication of the supply deal is aimed at showing Washington that the Kremlin is not going anywhere in terms of its longtime military alliance with Caracas, which was controversially on full display last December when Russian two nuclear-capable “Blackjack” strategic bombers flew to Caracas, and departed soon after amid White House threats and demands. Russia also likely now feels emboldened given the embarrassing Guaido opposition led failed coup attempt launched but just as quickly fizzling out at the end of April. The White House, especially through statements of John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave the full backing of the United States to the called for military uprising. Thus Moscow realizes the US simply doesn't have leverage on the ground in Venezuela, and boldly announced the following late this week: On Thursday, Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state-run arms exporter, placed information about purchases of 16,500 field rations to be supplied to Venezuela. The initial cost of the contract is 14.38 million rubles (222,091 US dollars).“The rations will be supplied in the interests of the  Venezuelan army,” the source said.

Angry Erdogan Defies Trump- May Accelerate S-400 Delivery, Slams Western Meddling In Turkish Economy -  Following several weeks of speculation (including what in retrospect was fake news from Bloomberg that "Turkey Weighs New U.S. Call to Delay Buying Russian Missiles"), in a televised speech in Istanbul late on Saturday, Bloomberg reported that Turkey's executive president Erdogan invited yet another sharp gap down in the lira when trading resumes in a few hours, after he not only ruled out US demands that Turkey delay the purchase of an advanced Russian missile-defense system, but - assuring that Trump and NATO will be furious at Turkey's regime - said he may bring forward the delivery date from July."It is definitely out of the question for us to step back on the issue of S-400s, it is a done deal,” Erdogan said “Our deal was to have the S-400s delivered to us by July; they will probably bring that forward." Erdogan's defiance has not gone unnoticed and on Thursday, the lira slumped after Trump terminated a preferential trade agreement with Turkey in retaliation for Ankara's stubborn support of the Russian deal; the latest escalation took place after the Trump admin last week asked Ankara to delay taking the system to 2020 although it is now clear that won't happen. In many ways Erdogan's decision on whether to proceed with the Russian S-400 deal over a competitive deal offered by the US, involving Patriot missiles, is seen as a barometer of US superpower "standing" among frontier nations, those where there is a clash between Moscow and DC for future influence. And even though pushing ahead with the deal carries the risk that renewed US sanctions that could plunge Turkey into renewed economic turmoil, slam the lira and accelerate the country's surging inflation, the accord with Putin also highlights Turkey’s aspirations for an increasingly independent role in regional policies and, obviously, the mutual erosion of trust with Washington.

Amid Soaring Inflation, Turkey Bizarrely Cuts Rates; Lira Tumbles - What do you do if you have borderline hyperinflation coupled with accelerating capital flight and a collapse of international confidence in your country's institutions? In Turkey, the answer is apparently to cut rates. That's what the Turkish central bank did early on Tuesday when it effectively rolled back a limited tightening of monetary policy which it delivered just days prior in the latest policy flip-flop by an increasingly chaotic monetary authority, hammering the lira - which is desperate for higher rates - just weeks before President Erdogan’s party seeks to regain control of Istanbul in a bizarre and controversial rerun of local elections. Two weeks after the Turkish central bank tightened monetary policy, a move which did nothing to boost confidence in the lira, the regulator went for broke and on Tuesday said that it will offer funds at its cheapest rate of 24% through the repo auction, 150 basis points lower than the overnight rate of 25.5% it used for almost two weeks. Today's announcement came less than a week after Turkey re-introduced a 0.1% tax on most large foreign-currency transactions, a sign the authorities are trying to stem the dollarization of the economy before municipal elections in Istanbul in June. The panicked decision follows a slew of failed measures meant to prop up the currency before next month’s elections. As Bloomberg note, "some of these steps have raised concern that the government is taking on a larger role in managing the market", which is a polite way of saying Turkey is preparing to implement capital controls next. Officials have repeatedly said Turkey would adhere to free-market policies. The implicit easing comes even though Nomura's economist Inan Demir said that Turkey had no need for monetary loosening at this stage, although clearly Erdogan disagrees. "The pace of domestic economic activity may argue for easier monetary conditions but clearly the FX market stress is too big to allow that,” Demir told Bloomberg. The problem is that Turkey is now in all-out currency defense mode and has tried everything, including both tightening and easing monetary conditions, with the erratic moves now prompting nothing but more selling of the currency.

 Lira Tumbles, Turkish Stocks Enter Bear Market After US Issues Ultimatum; Russia Furious - The Turkish Lira tumbled as much as 1% against the dollar, leading a decline across emerging markets... ... while Turkish stock market losses accelerated as the Borsa Istanbul 100 Index falls 1.5%, declining for a 6th day and 13 of the past 14, to touch the lowest level since January 2017, effectively entering a bear market, having tumbled 20% from the March highs. While there wasn't a specific event behind today's mauling of Turkey, which to many investors has become the canary in the emerging markets coalmine, the selling picked up after Turkey said soldiers had been dispatched for training in Russia ahead of the delivery of the S-400 missile-defense system. As Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said additionally, as the deadline of S-400 system delivery looms, Turkey will send more personnel for training in the coming months. Meanwhile, the Kremlin on Wednesday condemned as unacceptable a US ultimatum delivered to Turkey meant to force Erdogan to cancel a deal to buy Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems and purchase U.S. Patriot missile systems instead. According to Reuters, Moscow was responding to a CNBC report which said Washington had given Turkey just over two weeks to scrap the Russian deal and do an arms deal with the United States instead or "risk severe penalties." More from CNBC:Turkey has a little more than two weeks to decide whether to complete a complex arms deal with the U.S. or risk severe penalties by going through with an agreement to buy a missile system from Russia, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.By the end of the first week of June, Turkey must cancel a multibillion-dollar deal with Russia and instead buy Raytheon’s U.S.-made Patriot missile defense system — or face removal from Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program, forfeiture of 100 promised F-35 jets, imposition of U.S. sanctions and potential blowback from NATO.As extensively reported here previously, Ankara (which recently flipped away from Erdogan's ruling AKP party in local elections) and Washington have been at odds on several fronts, including Ankara’s decision to buy the S-400s, which cannot be integrated into NATO systems. Washington alleges that the Russian deal, if it goes ahead, would jeopardize Turkey’s role in building Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets.When asked about the CNBC report by reporters on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We regard this extremely negatively. We consider such ultimatums to be unacceptable, and we are going on the many statements made by representatives of Turkey’s leadership headed by President (Tayyip) Erdogan that the S-400 deal is already complete and will be implemented.”

German Foreign Ministry: Most of refugees joining their families Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians -- The German Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that most of the refugees who succeeded between 2017 and 2019 in joining their families in Germany are Syrians, Iraqis and Iranians. This came in a ministry briefing to the Left Party, which today presented the new data to reporters. According to the data, 5,000 Syrians between 2017 and 2019 were able to join their families, while Iraqi refugees came second followed by refugees from Iran, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia and Yemen, respectively. According to the figures, the first quarter of 2019 saw that some 7,400 refugees were only granted needed papers to join their families whereas while the same quarter of 2017 some 17,300 refugees were granted the right to join their families in Germany.(end).

Spain Sees Surge In Migrant Crime Because Of Political Cowardice - Six African migrants gang-raped a 12-year-old girl in a small town near Madrid, but Spanish authorities kept information about the crime hidden from the public for more than a year, apparently to avoid fueling anti-immigration sentiments.On March 15, 2018, the 12-year-old girl was playing in a park in Azuqueca de Henares with several other girls when, at around one o'clock in the afternoon, six migrants — five Moroccans and one Nigerian — approached the playground. They carried two of the girls off to a nearby abandoned building, but then let one of them go after discovering that she was a Muslim. The migrants, aged between 15 and 20, grabbed the 12-year-old by her arms and legs and took turns raping her, first anally and then vaginally, for nearly an hour.The public was not informed about the crime until March 20, 2019, when the newspaper El Mundo published the results of an investigation. According to the report, Spanish prosecutors and judges secretly decided that three of the minors will be held in a young offender institution for three years and then be "reinserted" into Spanish society rather than be deported. One of the adults is being held in preventive detention; the other adults were released.The gang rape has cast a spotlight on spiraling migrant criminality in Spain, where "progressive" immigration policies — promoted by all the mainstream political parties and opposed only by the populist party Vox — are fueling an influx of illegal migration from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The gang rape has also cast a spotlight on a lenient justice system that routinely releases migrant criminals back onto the streets.

The Yellow Vests Of France- Six Months Of Struggle -- I am writing you from Montpellier, France, where I am a participant-observer in the Yellow Vest movement, which is still going strong after six months, despite a dearth of information in the international media. The Yellow Vests have already succeeded in shattering the capitalist myth of “representative democracy” in the age of neo-liberalism. Their uprising has unmasked the lies and violence of republican government, as well as the duplicity of representative institutions like political parties, bureaucratic unions and the mainstream media. Moreover, the Yellow Vests represent the first time in history that a spontaneous, self-organized social movement has ever held out for half a year in spite of repression while retaining its autonomy, resisting cooptation, bureaucratization and sectarian splits. All the while, standing up to full-scale government repression and targeted propaganda, it poses a real, human alternative to the dehumanization of society under the rule of the capitalist “market.” Six months ago on Nov. 17, 2018, Yellow Vests burst literally “out of nowhere,” with autonomous local units springing up all over France like mushrooms, demonstrating on traffic circles (roundabouts) and toll-gates, marching every Saturday in cities, including Paris. But unlike all previous revolts, it was not Paris-centered. The humid November soil from which these mushrooms sprouted was the near-universal frustration of French people at the abject failure of the CGT and other unions to effectively oppose Macron’s steam-roller imposition last Spring of his historic Thatcherite “reforms”: an inflexible neo-liberal program of cutting benefits, workplace rights, and privatizing or cutting public services, while eliminating the so-called Wealth Tax designed to benefit the poor. The immediate cause of this spontaneous mass rising was to protest an unfair tax on fuel  (fiscal justice) but the Yellow Vests’ demands quickly expanded to include restoration of public services (transport, hospitals, schools); higher wages, retirement benefits, healthcare for the poor, peasant agriculture, media free of billionaire and government control, and, most remarkably, participatory democracy. Despite their disruptive tactics, the Yellow Vests were from the beginning wildly popular with average French people (73% approval), and they are still more popular than the Macron government after six months of exhausting, dangerous occupations of public space, violent weekly protests and slanderous propaganda against them.

Hundreds Of "Black Vest" Migrants Seize Paris Airport Terminal: "France Does Not Belong To The French!" -Yesterday, hundreds of undocumented migrants took control of Terminal 2 of the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris France. Approximately 500 migrants seized the terminal.“France does not belong to the French! Everyone has a right to be here!” one person can be heard yelling into a loudspeaker.The protest was organized by the migrant support group “La Chapelle Debout,” which said their members call themselves “Black Vests.”The group comes amid the country’s months-long “Yellow Vests movement” over tax reforms; French citizens are required to carry yellow vests in their vehicles for emergencies. (source) A quick-thinking person took video, which has been widely shared across Twitter.  #Update: Just in - Video of the moment these 400 African illegal immigrants stormed in the terminal of the Charles de Gaulle Airport in #Paris. #France   Here’s some follow-up video.  #Breaking: Just in - Reports that undocumented immigrants are protesting in the Charles de Gaulle Airport in #Paris right now and won't let people board their flights until they meet and talk with with the prime minister Édouard Philippe of #France, Riot CRS police on the scene. — Sotiri Dimpinoudis ❁‏ (@sotiridi) May 19, 2019   In an official statement, the group asked to meet with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe over the country’s asylum policy and the leaders of Air France. They demanded that the airline “stop any financial, material, logistical or political participation in deportations.”

France Threatens Journalists With Jail Time For Exposing Government Lies About Yemen -- France has threatened three French journalists with potential jail time for using secret documents to reveal the country's involvement in the Yemen civil war. In a series of reports published in April, investigative journalists from Disclose and Radio France revealed the number of French arms sold to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The documents, authored by France's Directorate of Military Intelligence (DSGI), showed that senior French officials had lied about the role of French weapons in the Yemen War. Following the publication of the reports in April, Disclose's co-founders Geoffrey Livolsi and Mathias Destal and Radio France journalist Benoît Collombat were asked to attend a hearing at the DSGI headquarters in Paris. The three journalists refused to reveal their sources after being questioned by the DSGI on the origin of the document, their work and posts on Facebook and Twitter. The journalists used the hearing to defend press freedom and how it was in the public interest to publish details from the leaked DSGI document. Press Freedom has been protected for more than 130 years under the Press Law of 1881, which gives journalists the right to keep sources confidential. But the law, however, does not cover national security and the journalists could be sentenced under a 2009 French law that considers as an offence the handling of a classified document without clearance or proper authorisation. If convicted, the journalists could face five years in prison and a $83,000 fine. The case could be closed by the DSGI or be handed to a judge who could take the case to trial. 

China's tech transfer problem is growing, EU business group says (Reuters) - Cases of European firms forced to transfer technology in China are increasing despite Beijing saying the problem does not exist, a European business lobby said, adding that its outlook on the country’s regulatory environment is “bleak”. China’s trading partners have long complained that their companies are often compelled to hand over prized technology in exchange for access to the world’s second-largest economy. Demands by the United States that China address the problem are central to the two countries’ ongoing trade war, which has seen both sides pile tariffs on billions of dollars of each other’s goods. The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China said on Monday that results from its annual survey showed 20% of members reported being compelled to transfer technology for market access, up from 10% two years ago. Nearly a quarter of those who reported such transfers said the practice was currently ongoing, while another 39% said the transfers had occurred less than two years ago. “Unfortunately, our members have reported that compelled technology transfers not only persist, but that they happen at double the rate of two years ago,” European Chamber Vice President Charlotte Roule said at a news briefing on the survey. “It might be due to a number of reasons... Either way, it is unacceptable that this practice continues in a market as mature and innovative as China,” Roule said. In certain “cutting edge” industries the incidence of reported transfers was higher, such as 30% in chemicals and petroleum, 28% in medical devices, and 27% in pharmaceuticals, she added. China’s top Communist Party newspaper, the People’s Daily, said on Saturday that Washington’s complaints on the issue were “fabricated from thin air”. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a daily news briefing that the government did not have any policy forcing foreign enterprises to give up technology, and that if any company came forward with facts proving otherwise China would be able to “resolve” it in a cooperative manner. “But we very much oppose fabrications under any situation in which a factual basis cannot be provided,” Lu said. Nonetheless, companies have long feared retribution for speaking up about abuses by government administrators or state-backed local partners, particularly without true recourse in China’s Communist Party-controlled courts. 

 I’m running in the EU elections because the left refuses to get its act together in the face of neofascism -Yanis Varoufakis -More than three years ago, on 9 February 2016, around a thousand of us gathered at a magnificent theatre in Berlin’s city centre, built originally by workers to stage progressive theatrical productions. On that night, we founded a pan-European, transnational, progressive, democratic movement that we namedDiem25, or Democracy in Europe Movement 2025.This week Diem25, along with many other movements that joined us to form the European Spring list, is seeking the vote of European citizens across the continent in the context of the European parliament elections. Many ask: “Why?”The motivation was implicit in the reason we came together back in February 2016. Speaking to The Independent on the day of Diem25’s inauguration, I explained our purpose by pointing out that “Europe is sliding into a post-modern 1930s”, suggesting that those in authority colossally mishandled our generation’s 1929, which of course hit the financial markets in 2008 before triggering the eurozone crisis in 2010. Following the banks’ collapse, European leaders cynically transferred the bankers’ losses onto the shoulders of the weakest taxpayers, beginning with the Greeks but soon after spreading the pain across Europe, including in Germany. It took very little foresight to predict that it was only a matter of time before racist, authoritarian right-wing populists would make a bid for power. As I said in that same interview, “the authorities don’t know what they’re doing. They’re making it up as they go along, just like in the 1920s and 1930s”.

European elections 2019: EU citizens turned away from UK polls - EU citizens living in the UK have told of their anger after they were unable to vote in the European elections. The Electoral Commission said the "very short notice" from the government about the UK's participation in the elections had an impact on the process. EU citizens can vote in the country they live in by registering to vote and completing a UC1 form. But many complained of receiving the form late and of it not being processed by their local authority in time. A campaign group said thousands of people have been affected by the issue. The prime minister's spokesman recognised that there was "frustration". The government announced on 7 May that the UK would be taking part in the European elections, having previously hoped that a Brexit deal would have been agreed by then. In order to take part in the European elections in the UK, EU citizens needed to have returned a UC1 form by 7 May to their local authority, declaring they would not vote in another EU member state. Citizens of Ireland, Malta or Cyprus are eligible to vote in the UK for European elections without having to make this written declaration. Many people took to Twitter to say they were not sent the form by their local authority or had received it just days before the deadline - and that councils then failed to process the forms in time. Some others said they were unaware of the UC1 process that would have allowed them the right to a vote. Within hours of the polling booths opening, the hashtag #deniedmyvote was trending on Twitter, with EU citizens saying they had been turned away from polling stations. 

 Looming collapse of British Steel threatens 25,000 jobs - The UK’s second largest steelmaker, British Steel, went into administration today, with the loss of nearly 5,000 jobs, mainly at its Scunthorpe plant but also at its site in Teesside. A further 20,000 jobs could go in its supply chain. The closure will have a devastating impact on the local area. Talks with the government yesterday over securing financial support failed. Although the company is named British Steel, a historic reference to the former nationalised entity, it is owned by the “vulture fund” Greybull capital. Greybull purchased the crisis-ridden Scunthorpe plant for £1 in 2016 from Tata Steel Europe. It branded its operations, centred on what was Tata’s Long Products division in the UK, as British Steel. Just weeks ago, Greybull was granted a £120 million loan from the government to be paid back on favourable commercial terms to help it meet a European Union (EU) environmental bill over carbon emissions. The payments were necessitated due to the UK’s delayed departure from the EU, originally set for March 29. The £120 million meant British Steel would not face EU non-compliance fines, on top of existing liabilities, which would have equated to an additional £600 million in bills. Greybull initially demanded a further £75 million loan from the government as a prerequisite to staying in business due to the adverse impact of “Brexit-related issues”, a fall in orders and an ultra-competitive global steel market, but has lowered this to £30 million. The parasitism involved is staggering. Greybull was demanding a bailout despite putting together a £400 million package, mostly from bank loans—supposedly to invest in British Steel—when it took over the company. A further loan of £90 million was obtained last year. The Financial Times reported this week, “Greybull’s initial contribution into British Steel from its own funds was less than £20m, according to several people who spoke on condition of anonymity.” Yet in the two years since, “Greybull took £6m in management fees from British Steel. It also charged £17m a year in interest on loans it provided via a Jersey-based parent company, Olympus Steel, at a rate of 9 per cent…” Accounting records show that Greybull Capital partners, Marc Meyohas, Nathaniel Meyohas, and Richard Perlhagen, charged British Steel £3 million a year during 2017 and 2018.

Brexit: big and bold - Just to keep us on our toes, the prime minister has promised a "new bold offer" in a bid to persuade MPs to back her deal. This, she says, will be an "improved", washes whiter "package of measures", which she believes can win new support in parliament. Mrs May's initiative is something of a contrast to her lacklustre launch of the Tory Euro-election campaign – a speech without an audience attended by a single pool journalist (pictured). We will now see some "sweeteners" included in the forthcoming Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB), with the aim of securing cross-party support. These, if we are to believe what we are told, will include the bones of the May/Corbyn deal, including new measures on protecting worker rights. There may also be provisions for a future "customs arrangement" with the EU and on Northern Ireland – whatever that means. Supposedly, this will include the use of technology, although this will fall short of removing the backstop. Nothing immediate is proposed but its inclusion is supposed to give confidence that the "alternative arrangements" will be deployed in due course. At the moment, the promise is accompanied only by a series of anodyne statements from the prime minister, who says: "I still believe there is a majority in parliament to be won for leaving with a deal". She adds: "When the Withdrawal Agreement Bill comes before MPs, it will represent a new, bold offer to MPs across the House of Commons, with an improved package of measures that I believe can win new support". Whatever the outcome of any votes, she says, "I will not be simply asking MPs to think again. Instead I will ask them to look at a new and improved deal with fresh pairs of eyes - and to give it their support". We will get more of this from the prime minister in a major speech before the end of the month, presumably as part of the damage limitation after the Euro-election results are in.

Brexit: PM says MPs have 'one last chance' to back her deal - Theresa May has said MPs have "one last chance" to deliver Brexit, urging them to back what she said was a "new deal". MPs will get a vote on whether to hold another referendum if they back the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill, she said. The bill also contains new guarantees on workers' rights, environmental protections and the Northern Irish border, as well a customs "compromise". Labour said it was a "rehash" of existing plans and Tory Brexiteers took to social media to vent their anger. Jacob Rees-Mogg said what was on offer was "worse than before", while Zac Goldsmith said the bill was a "convoluted mess" and the prime minister - who has offered to quit once a Brexit agreement is approved by Parliament - should leave now. MPs have rejected the withdrawal agreement negotiated with the EU three times and attempts to find a formal compromise with Labour also failed. In what is seen as a last roll of the dice, Mrs May is now bringing the Withdrawal Agreement Bill - legislation required to bring the agreement into UK law - to Parliament in early June. The key points of the PM's revised plan are:

  • A guarantee of a Commons vote on whether to hold another referendum on the government's Brexit deal, with a promise to honour the outcome
  • A vote on different customs options, including a government proposal for a temporary customs union for goods - what Mrs May called a "customs compromise"
  • A legal obligation for the UK to come up with an alternative to the Northern Ireland backstop by the end of 2020
  • If the backstop does come into force, the bill would guarantee Northern Ireland remains aligned with the rest of the UK and remains in same customs territory
  • Legislation to ensure workers rights are "every bit as good if not better" after Brexit and guarantees of no dilution in environmental standards
  • A legal duty to seek changes to the political declaration on future relations with the EU

Boris Johnson woos centre-ground Tories in bid to widen appeal -Boris Johnson is launching a bid to court One Nation Conservative MPs in the group of centrist liberals run by Amber Rudd, as he tries to pitch himself as a candidate who can appeal beyond rightwing Brexit supporters.The former foreign secretary, who is favourite to be the next Conservative leader, is backed by Brexit hardliner Jacob Rees-Mogg but infuriated many Tory colleagues by backing Theresa May’s deal after months of campaigning against it.Some Conservative MPs have privately threatened to quit the party if Johnson becomes prime minister, with particular anger over his use of populist rhetoric suggesting that Muslim women wearing burqas resemble bank robbers and “choose to go around looking like letterboxes”.However, Johnson has been making an effort to reach out to the more centrist wing of the party in recent days, endorsing a mini-manifesto released by Rudd’s group of 60 One Nation MPs, which promotes human rights and social responsibility.  His change of tack has provoked fresh speculation that Rudd could back Johnson, even though she has campaigned against a hard Brexit.  Friends of the work and pensions secretary say she privately dismisses the idea that she will end up supporting Johnson’s leadership bid when asked about it. However, one MP in the One Nation group said it was very plausible that she will be tempted by the possibility of a big job from Johnson and his potential to save her seat at a general election, since she is MP for the marginal constituency of Hastings and Rye – where her 4,796 majority from 2015 was cut to just 346 in 2017.Rudd has not ruled out running for the leadership herself but is thought likely to end up backing one of the other candidates and bringing her supporters with her.Another One Nation source said it was certainly possible that Rudd could end up backing a first choice candidate and then pivoting to back Johnson in the last round if he were to be in a runoff with Dominic Raab or Esther McVey, themost rightwing pro-Brexit leadership candidates. “It’s really not a Stop Boris vehicle, if anything it is more Stop Raab,” the One Nation source said. “But it is not about the person; it is about the policies. There is no chance that all 60 MPs in the group will back the same person but there is a chance all 60 won’t back a certain person and it is far more likely that person will be Raab rather than Boris.

Tory party will split if Boris Johnson becomes leader and pursues no-deal Brexit, warn MPs - Electing Boris Johnson leader on a no-deal Brexit ticket would risk a permanent split in the Conservative Party, a former minister has warned. The former foreign secretary has established himself as firm favourite to succeed Theresa May as prime minister in a contest many in Westminster expect to be triggered within weeks. It comes as the prime minister prepares to deliver a speech on Brexit this week, in what a government source billed as a "bold offer" to MPs in a last-ditch attempt to build support for her beleaguered Brexit bill in the Commons.Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt is currently thought to be leading in the race to sign up MP supporters, with Mr Johnson, Mr Raab and Michael Gove grouped together some way behind, and a wide range of other potential candidates yet to make real inroads. But Phillip Lee, who quit Ms May’s government last year over her EU withdrawal policy, told The Independent that Mr Johnson would risk the Conservatives’ hold on power and the future of the party if he took it down a no-deal route.

Theresa May prepares to quit after Cabinet mutiny - Theresa May has abandoned her plans to force MPs to vote on her “new Brexit deal” in the latest sign that she is preparing to quit Downing Street. Tory MPs were told yesterday that the Withdrawal Agreement Bill would be put to a Commons vote on June 7. That plan was abandoned today, however, following a mutiny within Mrs May’s cabinet over her offer to facilitate a second referendum in a last-ditch bid to win cross-party support. Andrea Leadsom quit as leader of the House last night rather than press ahead with the introduction of the Bill she said included elements that were “not Brexit”. Her stand-in, Mark Spencer, admitted that the government had not been able to bring in the legislation, although he claimed that it could yet be introduced the week after next. In fact the retreat signals the end for Mrs May. Allies admit that she has “run out of road” after the cabinet refused to sign off a new compromise offer, including the highly controversial promise to legislate for another Brexit referendum if MPs voted for that. She is expected to announce her departure from No 10 tomorrow. Last night she defied an attempt to force her from office, insisting that she would spend today campaigning in the European elections. Her allies believe, however, that she will declare that she is leaving after a meeting with Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee.

May sparks fury by killing off Cabinet No Deal debate - THERESA May incensed Brexit-backing Ministers by killing off a Cabinet debate on No Deal despite calls for a “step change” in preparation, The Sun can reveal. Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay made an impassioned plea for the Government to increase contingency planning – arguing that a cliff-edge exit on October 31 would be “far worse” for business than March 29. He warned warehousing shortages would be acute in the run up to Christmas. But the PM stunned Brexiteers in Tuesday’s Cabinet by cutting him and postponing a vote on No Deal work until after the Whitsun break. The PM went on to stun Eurosceptics yesterday by arguing a No Deal Brexit could threaten the future of the Union – and leave Britain more vulnerable to terrorists. Critics said she sounded like Philip Hammond – who enraged Brexiteers on Tuesday by saying no preparation in the world would be enough for Britain to cope with No Deal. Speaking to the Commons, Mrs May agreed with ally Richard Graham who said there were enormous dangers about Nigel Farage’s “superficially seductive” line about leaving on WTO terms.

Is Theresa May Finally Over? -  Yves Smith The political demise of the UK’s prime minister has been so overpredicted that it’s hard to believe that she might finally be leaving. But the resignation of Andrea Leadsom, May’s minister who managed the Commons, may be the fatal blow. The Times (which has gotten a great deal wrong on Brexit) reports that May’s supporters anticipate she’ll announce her departure after a meeting with Graham Brady, who heads the 1922 Committee. Recall that May managed to get them to hold off on plans to defenestrate her by turning on the tears.Leadsom is a staunch but not rabid Brexiter. She deemed some new features May added to the withdrawal bill, in particular to let Parliament vote again on holding a second referendum, to come too close to reneging on Brexit. From the Financial Times:In a fresh blow to Mrs May’s fragile leadership, Andrea Leadsom, leader of the House of Commons and a prominent Leave campaigner, resigned from the government on Wednesday evening saying she could no longer accept Mrs May’s Brexit deal.She said the possibility of a second EU referendum raised this week by the prime minister would be “dangerously divisive” and made clear her opposition to the revamped EU withdrawal agreement bill that Mrs May plans to put to parliament.I must say I feel sorry for May. Even though she did a terrible job, it’s hard to imagine any of the serious contenders for prime minister would have done anything other than a different type of terrible job. And we may be about to see that proven out if as is widely expected, Boris Johnson becomes prime minister. As we are seeing now, both of the major parties are too fundamentally split on Brexit for anything other than an inspired and energetic leader to have steered a path through the problem, and even then, it may not have been possible. Recall that for better part of two years after the Brexit vote, Fleet Street was braying with virtually one voice about how simple Brexit would be, how the EU was terrified of the loss of exports to the UK and of a crashout. And even if the Government had been able to hear otherwise, there was no one left in the civil service with the expertise and credibility to say otherwise.

U.K.'s Theresa May Resigns Acknowledging Failure To Deliver Brexit - U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May acknowledged defeat Friday and announced her resignation as leader of Britain's Conservative Party. "It is and will always remain a matter of deep regret to me that I have not been able to deliver Brexit," said May, standing at a podium in the sunlight outside No. 10 Downing St. in London. Intentionally or otherwise, May was summing up her legacy as most here see it today. She is the prime minister who spent nearly three years trying to honor the result of the landmark 2016 Brexit referendum and, despite a relentless effort, failed. In the summer of 2016, May thought she was the right person at the right moment. British voters had stunned the world and voted to take the U.K. out of the European Union. Then-Prime Minister David Cameron, who had called the vote for political reasons — never thinking it would actually pass — resigned. Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London, emerged as the front-runner to replace Cameron, but Johnson's own campaign manager publicly torpedoed his efforts, leaving May the only viable candidate left standing. Many believe running for prime minister was May's first big mistake. "It was entirely a poisoned chalice," says Nicholas Allen, who teaches politics at Royal Holloway, University of London. "The odds were always stacked against her. No prime minister, certainly since 1945, has faced such a large set of challenges with simultaneously such a hugely divided, unleadable party." May's task was mind-boggling. She had to contend with Scottish National Party leaders who were angry about Brexit and threatening to hold a second independence referendum that could split the United Kingdom. Brexit also threatened the future of the Irish border because it would create two separate economies on the island of Ireland where there has been just one.

Race to be new UK prime minister begins - BBC News - The race to become the next Conservative Party leader has begun, following Theresa May's announcement that she will step down next month.The contest will not only result in a new party leader, but also in the next prime minister of the UK.Party bosses expect a new leader to be chosen by the end of July.Mrs May confirmed on Friday that she will resign as party leader on 7 June, but will continue as PM while the leadership contest takes place.She agreed with chairman of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, that the process to choose a new leader should begin the week after she stands down.Four candidates have confirmed their intention to stand:

  • Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt
  • International Development Secretary Rory Stewart
  • Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson
  • Former Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey

However, more than a dozen more are believed to be seriously considering running - including Sir Graham, who has resigned as chair of the 1922 Committee.Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd has ruled herself out, telling the Daily Telegraph: "I don't think it is my time at the moment." She also hinted that she could work with Mr Johnson in the future, saying: "I have worked with him before... we were able to work together."

A new prime minister intent on no deal Brexit can’t be stopped by MPs  Several Conservative leadership candidates are clear that they prefer leaving the EU without a deal to leaving with Theresa May’s deal – or not leaving at all. If one were to become Prime Minister, then MPs who oppose a no deal Brexit will need a way to block or delay such an outcome.But unless the Speaker chooses to be even more flexible in his interpretation of parliamentary convention, MPs have limited options.

  • Pass backbench or Opposition Day motions opposing no deal. Although these wouldn’t have legal teeth, they would be politically important. But these are scheduled by the Government – between November and April the Government didn’t schedule any Opposition Days at all – and a new prime minister could just avoid giving any time to the Opposition ahead of the Article 50 deadline.
  • Apply to the Speaker for emergency debates under Standing Order 24. These are motions which say that the House has ‘considered’ an issue. The Speaker could grant such a debate, but these motions are in neutral terms (which means they are unamendable) and are not legally binding.
  • Amend the Queen’s Speech at the start of the next session. A new Conservative leader would be expected to to prorogue Parliament and set out their plans for the next session in a Queen’s Speech – and this would give MPs an opportunity to table amendments which could try and block no deal. But a new prime minister has no obligation to prorogue Parliament and could choose to drag this ‘zombie’ session past the 31 October deadline.
  • Vote against the Government’s programme. MPs can express their opposition to the Government by opposing all government business. But if the Government isn’t bringing any major new bills before the House then a new prime minister may not be overly concerned by the prospect of inconsequential legislative defeats.
  • Vote of ‘no confidence’ in the Government. A vote of ‘no confidence’ would trigger a 14-day period where someone else – including Jeremy Corbyn – could try and form a government which wins the support of the Commons. If that cannot be achieved, then the UK would face a general election. But there would need to be a new prime minister in place who is prepared to go to the EU to ask for a further extension before the 31 October deadline is reached.

This prime minister was destroyed by Brexit. And the next one will be too. Her options narrowed to zero. One by one, every course of action fell away until Theresa May looked like the most solitary and pointless figure on earth, with no allies, no course of action, and no purpose to doing anything in the first place. Why even stay prime minister? The withdrawal bill was not going to get through, that much was obvious. Her initial dreams of insisting her administration would be about more than Brexit were long forgotten. She would never even be able to claim that she had at least delivered it. There was simply no reason to carry on. She'd lost everything: Her Cabinet, her parliamentary party, her grassroots. Last night, Andrea Leadsom resigned - the 36th minister in a three year administration. It had a curious kind of symmetry to it: the last corpse May trod over to get into Downing Street was the final one out when her own time came to an end. It is now clear that May will soon be gone, maybe tomorrow, maybe next week. She'll have a chance to resign. If she doesn't, the 1922 committee will probably move against her. Brexit broke this prime minister, just like it broke the last one. But it won't end there. It'll break the next one too. And it'll keep on breaking them, until we admit what it is. It is a beast. That's the honest truth of it. You can ignore it. You can write pieces about how we should all pretend the beast is not in the room and come back together as a country. You can urge people to look at how the beast has attractive ears, if you look at them in the right light, and try not to notice the claws or the great big slavering canines. You can stubbornly insist that people voted for the beast and refuse to pay attention to how it is ominously peering down at you. It doesn't matter. The beast remains a beast and eventually it'll eat you alive. The next Tory leader will find themselves in precisely this place, but much sooner. During the campaign, they will probably have to commit to renegotiations, which will not happen, and then no-deal. At that point, there are three potential outcomes. The first, and most likely, is that they will decide not to do it. They will get the same top-level briefings May received on the short-term economic shock and the long term economic damage, on the security implications, on the likelihood of the eventual break-up of the UK. And there is a good chance, if they are rational, that at that point they will balk, just as she did. If they balk, they will have to accept the existing divorce deal, with the backstop. Then we'll be back where we are now. The inane cries of betrayal and frustrated destiny will destroy them, as they did her. The second is that they do not balk, but that parliament stops them. There are problems here. Without the European Union Withdrawal Act, there is no obvious way to take control of the parliamentary agenda again. But it is highly likely that John Bercow will provide one to stop a decision of this severity being inflicted on the country without parliamentary approval, probably through making neutral motions amendable. And then we'll be flung back into the same constitutional impasse we were in this winter. And all the inane cries of Remainer parliaments and a conspiracy in the establishment will return. The third is that they succeed and execute no-deal. Then there will be short term chaos - massive traffic jams at the border, essential equipment and medical substances not getting in, an aggressive decline in sterling - followed by long-term stagnation and national decline. Suddenly all the people cheering on a no-deal prime minister will vanish. The one-third of the public who back it will forget they ever did so the moment they find the supermarket shelves empty. People only support extreme political ideas if they are confident they will not experience their consequences. Once they are actually inconvenienced, they will look for someone to blame. No-deal will destroy whoever is in charge at the time. That's the outlook. Every outcome leads to doom. Brexit is a beast. It will trundle over political careers like they were ants beneath its talons.

The World Is Getting Increasingly Dumber, Study Finds - Western Europe is home to a cluster of developed economies that boost some of the highest standards of living in the world. But that could soon change. Because as Evan Horowitz writes on NBC News's new "Think" vertical, IQ scores in France, Scandinavia, Britain, Germany and even Australia are beginning to decline. The trend has been well-documented across Western Europe, and could soon carry over to the US as well. Which means the data have confirmed what millions of Americans who have watched cable news or logged on to twitter over the past three years probably already suspected: The world is getting dumber. And just like that, another sign of the 'Idiocracy' apocalypse has emerged. Though, unlike the movie, which posits that the population of Earth will become steadily dumber as stupid people outbreed their more intelligent compatriots, the cause of the trend in Europe has yet to be determined, because even the children of relatively intelligent Europeans are getting dumber. Details vary from study to study and from place to place given the available data. IQ shortfalls in Norway and Denmark appear in longstanding tests of military conscripts, whereas information about France is based on a smaller sample and a different test. But the broad pattern has become clearer: Beginning around the turn of the 21st century, many of the most economically advanced nations began experiencing some kind of decline in IQ. One potential explanation was quasi-eugenic. As in the movie "Idiocracy," it was suggested that average intelligence is being pulled down because lower-IQ families are having more children ("dysgenic fertility" is the technical term). Alternatively, widening immigration might be bringing less-intelligent newcomers to societies with otherwise higher IQs. However, a 2018 study of Norway has punctured these theories by showing that IQs are dropping not just across societies but within families. In other words, the issue is not that educated Norwegians are increasingly outnumbered by lower-IQ immigrants or the children of less-educated citizens. Even children born to high-IQ parents are slipping down the IQ ladder.

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