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

Saturday, June 22, 2019

week ending Jun 22

 Fed under pressure to indicate cut in interest rates -- The FOMC is not expected to cut interest rates this week, although that remains a possibility. But there are increasingly strident demands for it to signal an interest rate cut for July, and further downward moves over the rest of the year. Earlier this month, Fed chairman Jerome Powell set the financial hares running in a major speech, which the Financial Times described as a “thunderbolt,” after he referred to the impact of “trade negotiations” between the US and China on Fed policy. “We are closely monitoring the implications of these developments for the US economic outlook and, as always, we will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion,” Powell declared. In the context of US President Trump’s continual railing against the Fed for setting interest rates too high, and increased pressure from financial markets for a relaxation of monetary policy to boost share values, this was taken as a signal that the central bank is moving in the direction being demanded. In a television interview last week, Trump again claimed that, but for the policies of Fed chief Powell, the stock market would be up by an additional 10,000 points—a 38 percent increase on its present level—and gross domestic product would be 1.5 percentage points higher, “if we had somebody different in charge.” The pressure to cut rates and place even more wealth in the hands of the financial oligarchy has increased with the release of Morgan Stanley’s Business Conditions Index. It showed a record decline for June. The index fell by 32 points to 13 from a level of 45 in May—the largest drop for a single month on record—to reach its lowest level since December 2008, during the global financial crisis. Indicators, from services to manufacturing and new hiring, all fell, taking the index well below the level of 33 considered to indicate positive economic growth. A note prepared by the firm’s economists pointed to a sharp decline in the Manufacturing Index, which fell “dramatically to zero.” While this was possibly exaggerated by recent lower oil prices, it marked the “lowest level for the subindex on record.”

Beyond Ridiculous - Trader Warns The Fed Won't Do Anyone Any Good By Doing Anything - Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is nothing... and this week's FOMC decision will be among the hardest The Fed has faced in months - do they once again give stocks exactly what they are demanding, teaching the spoiled child once again that if they scream enough, they'll get their juicebox; or remain "patient", reminding stock speculators that risk is real, that uncertainty demands a premium, and that bonds might just be on to something.Former fund manager and FX trader Richard Breslow appears to be in the latter camp, suggesting that the FOMC won't do anyone any good at all by doing anything this week.  Everybody wants to be loved. Which makes distinguishing between what the FOMC is likely to do this week and what they should do unusually difficult. They will most likely hope to get away with staking out a middle ground. Promise flexibility and agility without making any firm promises. And the market will just have to live with that. But they won’t be happy. Fixed-income markets are flexing their muscles and want the Fed to bend to their will. It’s a temptation that should be resisted.Via Bloomberg, This is no environment where even short-term forecasts carry a lot of weight. And policy makers shouldn’t spend their sparse resources in order to satisfy futures traders who are trying to prove that they are the boss. Should it come to pass that a rate cut is warranted, there will be no difficulty in getting the message out and pulling the trigger. It’s beyond ludicrous that there remains a need to be constantly reassured that the Committee is watching things carefully and stands ready to act.

How The Draghi Shock Unleashed Chaos On Powell's Most Important Day -- When there was just over 24 hours left until the Fed's much anticipated, perhaps historic Wednesday FOMC meeting, which has been called "Powell's most important day", as that's when the Fed Chair may unveil his first easing cycle yet do so without starting a pre-recessionary panic, Mario Draghi confirmed that "investors could still be shocked" when early on Tuesday he announced at Sitra that unless everything worked out, the ECB would soon find itself cutting rates again.This "break back" by Draghi towards policy-easing and QE set-off a further escalation into what Nomura's Charlie McElligott called the Global Bond/Duration rally which has then fed into Risk-Asset outperformance, which then got further wind when Trump tweeted that he and China's Xi held a phone call, and the two would meet at next week's G-20 summit in Osaka, even if China was quick to point out that the phone call - and thus meeting - was at Trump's request.  So in what many saw was a "preemptive" jawboning by Draghi to frontrun the "preemptive" signal for a "preemptive" rate cut by Powell, following this morning’s said ECB escalation in which Draghi 1) communicated a sense of “urgency” on stimulus/cuts if the outlook does not improve; 2) said that more rate cuts are part of the toolkit; 3) stated QE still has considerable headroom (i.e. more asset purchases), the Nomura strategist there is a "growing-sense or even outright concern in the market that June Fed “cut” odds are in-fact too LOW as these “statements” to the market are often-times coordinated in nature." As a reminder, the market is pricing in a 20% chance of a rate cut tomorrow, and 82% for July, with another 2-3 rate cut by the end of 2020. Furthermore, as we discussed yesterday, any time the market has priced in a 50%+ probability of a rate cut the Fed has never disappointed. Meanwhile, the ECB's action has dramatic dovish consequences:

 Fed holds rates steady, but opens the door for a rate cut in the future -A divided Federal Reserve held the line on interest rates Wednesday and indicated formally that no cuts are coming in 2019. The decision came amid divisions over what is ahead and still leaves open the possibility that policy loosening could happen before the end of the year depending on how conditions unfold. The central bank predicts one or two rate cuts in its set of economic predictions, but not until 2020. Despite cautious wording in the post-meeting statement Wednesday, markets are still betting the Fed cuts, as soon as July. And Powell opened the door to that possibility in a press conference following the statement, saying, “Many participants now see the case for somewhat more accommodative policy has strengthened.” In a decision closely watched by financial market participants clamoring for multiple cuts, central bank officials on the Federal Open Market Committee voted 9-1 to keep the benchmark rate in a target range of 2.25% to 2.5%, where it has been since December’s controversial quarter-point increase. St. Louis Fed President James Bullard voted to reduce the rate. The action sets up a possible confrontation between Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and President Donald Trump, who has been pressuring the Fed to cut rates. Just Tuesday, Trump said “let’s see what he does” at the Fed meeting when asked if he still wants to demote Powell. At the post-statement news conference, Powell was asked about his future as chairman. “I think the law is clear that I have a four year term, and I fully intend to serve it,” he said. The strong majority for this month’s decision contrasted with a sharp difference of opinion on what happens next. The committee provided an important nod to those worried about slower growth: It dropped the word “patient” in describing its approach to policy. The characterization was a key part of the Fed “pivot” earlier this year that signaled to the market a more dovish approach to rates. “The Fed didn’t surprise investors with the decision to maintain rates, but the split vote tells us that a cut is on the way and it’s increasingly likely that will be in July, as bond markets have been hoping,” “This was probably the compromise decision — it wasn’t shocking and should offer some reassurance,”

US Federal Reserve signals readiness for interest rate cut - The US Federal Reserve made no change to its base interest rate at the conclusion of its two-day policy meeting yesterday, but indicated it is prepared to make cuts later this year, citing increased “uncertainties” in the economic outlook in the US and globally. The outcome was in line with financial market expectations. The major Wall Street indexes showed small rises for the day on the back of the decision and the language used in the statement of the policy-making Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) that accompanied it. In his press conference, Fed chairman Jerome Powell gave a clear indication that rate cuts were on the table later this year, pointing to what he called “significant changes” in the FOMC statement from previous months. From the beginning of the year, he said, the Fed had used the word “patient,” in assessing the need for any policy changes. That word had been removed from the latest statement. “In light of increased uncertainties and muted inflation pressures, we now emphasize that the Committee will closely monitor the implications of incoming information for the economic outlook and will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion,” he said. The Fed revised down its assessment of the state of the US economy, saying activity was rising at a “moderate rate” rather than the “solid rate” of expansion it noted in May. The FOMC statement said that while household spending appeared to have picked up from earlier in the year, “indicators of business fixed investment have been soft.” Powell said at the Fed meeting on May 1 the continued “patient stance seemed appropriate” and there was no strong case for adjusting the rate, but since then crosscurrents had re-emerged. The major development was the Trump administration’s escalation of the trade war against China. At the previous Fed meeting the general expectation was that China and the US were on course to sign a trade deal. But within five days, that scenario was overturned when Trump claimed China was backtracking on previous commitments and threatened to impose a 25 percent tariff on an additional $300 billion worth of Chinese goods. Since then negotiations have come to a virtual standstill. The new tariff hikes are expected to come into effect in July unless a last-minute change occurs as a result of the meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit meeting in Japan at the end of this month.

FOMC Statement: No Change to Policy, "Patient" Removed -- FOMC Statement: --Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in May indicates that the labor market remains strong and that economic activity is rising at a moderate rate. Job gains have been solid, on average, in recent months, and the unemployment rate has remained low. Although growth of household spending appears to have picked up from earlier in the year, indicators of business fixed investment have been soft. On a 12-month basis, overall inflation and inflation for items other than food and energy are running below 2 percent. Market-based measures of inflation compensation have declined; survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations are little changed. Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. In support of these goals, the Committee decided to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 2-1/4 to 2-1/2 percent. The Committee continues 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, but uncertainties about this outlook have increased. In light of these uncertainties and muted inflation pressures, the Committee will closely monitor the implications of incoming information for the economic outlook and will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion, with a strong labor market and inflation near its symmetric 2 percent objective.In determining the timing and size of future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate, the Committee will assess realized and expected economic conditions relative to its maximum employment objective and its symmetric 2 percent inflation objective. This assessment will take into account a wide range of information, including measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial and international developments.

White House Reportedly Explored Legality Of Demoting Fed Chair Powell, Kudlow Denies (Kinda) - Since President Trump first discussed firing Jerome Powell, out of a sense of frustration that his Fed Chair pick was not dovish enough, he has regularly expressed his displeasure at central bankers lack of willingness to do whatever it takes to keep him in office (with today's Draghi debacle top of mind) and the weekend's interview comments:“[Powell]'s my pick -- and I disagree with him entirely,” Trump said last week in an interview with ABC News.“Frankly, if we had a different person in the Federal Reserve that wouldn’t have raised interest rates so much we would have been at least a point and a half higher.” But, things reportedly got a lot more serious than some spurious tweets and off the cuff remarks, as Bloomberg reports, according to people familiar with the matter, the White House explored the legality of demoting Powell in February, soon after Trump talked about firing him. Bloomberg then reports that Trump’s team conducted the legal analysis and came to a conclusion that has remained closely held within the White House, the people said, requesting anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. It isn’t clear whether Trump directed the legal review, and the people didn’t describe the outcome. Minutes after the Bloomberg reports, White House chief economic advisors Larry Kudlow denied any considerations to demoting Fed Chair Powell, "we are not taking any action to change Powell's status."  But then, apparently by mistake, confirmed the discussions had taken place by admitting that the "Powell demotion story was a six-month-old story."

Kashkari Hoping To Replace Powell? - Says He Pushed For 50bps Rate Cut - While we already knew that St Louis Fed president and FOMC voting member James Bullard dissented with Wednesday's decision to keep rates unchanged, pushing for a 25bps cut instead, moments ago former Goldman and PIMCO employee, and current Minneapolis Fed president, Neel Kashkari - who is a non-voting FOMC member in 2019 but is voting again next year - said that he advocated for a 50bps cut this week.Yes, for those asking, this is the same former banker who three weeks ago, on May 31 that we were "not quite there yet" when discussing the need for a rate cut. Since then the Mexican trade war scare was resolved and financial conditions eased... and now, as Bloomberg uses, "he thinks we need 50?"In an essay posted both on the Minneapolis Fed website and on Medium, titled "A Strategy to Re-anchor Inflation Expectations", Kashkari writes that "In the Federal Open Market Committee meeting that concluded on Wednesday of this week, I advocated for a 50-basis-point rate cut to 1.75 percent to 2.00 percent and a commitment not to raise rates again until core inflation reaches our 2 percent target on a sustained basis." Why? "I believe an aggressive policy action such as this is required to re-anchor inflation expectations at our target" and adds that "Given that it has taken years for the markets to learn our current reaction function, I don’t believe a rate cut or two in isolation will do much to boost inflation expectations. That is why I argued we should also commit to not raising rates from the new lower level until we see core inflation sustainably reach our target"

The Growing Risk of a 2020 Recession and Crisis by Nouriel Roubini --Across the advanced economies, monetary and fiscal policymakers lack the tools needed to respond to another major downturn and financial crisis. Worse, while the world no longer needs to worry about a hawkish US Federal Reserve strangling growth, it now has an even bigger problem on its hands. Last summer, my colleague Brunello Rosa and I identifiedten potential downside risks that could trigger a US and global recession in 2020. Nine of them are still in play today.  Many involve the United States. Trade wars with China and other countries, along with restrictions on migration, foreign direct investment, and technology transfers, could have profound implications for global supply chains, raising the threat of stagflation (slowing growth alongside rising inflation). And the risk of a US growth slowdown has become more acute now that the stimulus from the 2017 tax legislation has run its course.Meanwhile, US equity markets have remained frothy since our initial commentary. And there are added risks associated with the rise of newer forms of debt, including in many emerging markets, where much borrowing is denominated in foreign currencies. With central banks’ ability to serve as lenders of last resort increasingly constrained, illiquid financial markets are vulnerable to “flash crashes” and other disruptions. One such disruption could come from US President Donald Trump, who may be tempted to create a foreign-policy crisis (“wag the dog”) with a country like Iran. That might bolster his domestic poll numbers, but it could also trigger an oil shock.Beyond the US, the fragility of growth in debt-ridden China and some other emerging markets remains a concern, as do economic, policy, financial, and political risks in Europe. Worse, across the advanced economies, the policy toolbox for responding to a crisis remains limited. The monetary and fiscal interventions and private-sector backstops used after the 2008 financial crisis simply cannot be deployed to the same effect today. The tenth factor that we considered was the US Federal Reserve’s interest-rate policy. After hiking rates in response to the Trump administration’s pro-cyclical fiscal stimulus, the Fed reversed course in January. Looking ahead, the Fed and other major central banks are more likely to cut rates to manage various shocks to the global economy.  While trade wars and potential oil spikes constitute a supply-side risk, they also threaten aggregate demand and thus consumption growth, because tariffs and higher fuel prices reduce disposable income. With so much uncertainty, companies will likely opt to reduce capital spending and investment. Under these conditions, a severe enough shock could usher in a global recession, even if central banks respond rapidly.

 Conference Board Leading Economic Index Unchanged in May - The latest Conference Board Leading Economic Index (LEI) for May remained at 111.8, unchanged from the April figure. The Conference Board LEI for the U.S. remained unchanged in May. Positive contributions from consumers’ outlook and the Leading Credit Index™ (inverted) were offset by negative contributions from stock prices, the ISM® New Orders Index, and initial claims for unemployment insurance (inverted). In the six-month period ending May 2019, the leading economic index increased 0.3 percent (about a 0.5 percent annual rate), much slower than the growth of 2.2 percent (about a 4.4 percent annual rate) during the previous six months. In addition, the strengths among the leading indicators became less widespread over this period. The Conference Board CEI for the U.S., a measure of current economic activity, increased in May. The coincident economic index rose 0.7 percent (about a 1.3 percent annual rate) between November 2018 and May 2019, which is about half of the growth of 1.3 percent (about a 2.5 percent annual rate) over the previous six months. However, the strengths among the coincident indicators have remained more widespread than weaknesses. The lagging economic index declined in the last two months, while the CEI has been improving. As a result, the coincident-tolagging ratio increased. Real GDP expanded at a 3.1 percent annually [Full notes in PDF]  Here is a log-scale chart of the LEI series with documented recessions as identified by the NBER. The use of a log scale gives us a better sense of the relative sizes of peaks and troughs than a more conventional linear scale.

Combined Russia, China Treasury Holdings Hit 9 Year Low As Foreigners Keep Dumping US Stocks - For the fifth month in a row, US total cross-border investment was an outflow (-$7.8bn) - the longest streak of outflows since 1982... Additionally, Foreign official institutions (central banks and reserve funds) sold Treasuries for 8th consecutive month, dumping $197BN in that time (they have also sold for 12 of the past 13 months). After four straight months of buying UK led the Treasury selling in April, dumping $16.3bn... Japan and Ireland also sold Treasuries, but it was China that was most notable as the resumption of selling ($7.5bn in April) took their Treasury Holdings down to lowest since May 2017... The Saudis and The French led the buying, with the former now at record highs... But, the real action was away from bonds, with foreigners selling US Stocks for a record 12th consecutive month... Since May 2018, foreigners have sold a record $214.2BN in US stocks... In conclusion, April net asset flows:

  • Total Long-Term Treasurys purchases: $16.9BN (Foreign official sales: $27.5bn, Foreign Private purchases: $44.4B)
  • Total Long-Term Agency purchases: $25.2BN
  • Total Corporate bond sales: ($4.8BN)
  • Total stock sales: ($964MM)

Finally, we thought this worth noting. Combined Russia and China Treasury holdings are at their lowest since June 2010 as China and Russia's gold holdings have soared... De-dollarization?

 The Trump economy is starting to look more and more like the Obama economy  In some key ways, the Donald Trump economy, on fire last year but slowing this year, is starting to resemble the one he inherited from his predecessor .There are the rock-bottom bond yields, plodding economic growth and, not to be understated, the Federal Reserve seemingly pulling all the strings, a role that was only exacerbated in the days since the financial crisis and Great Recession and continues to the present day.Those similarities came into even sharper focus this week, when the benchmark 10-year Treasury note yield fell below 2% for the first time since Trump became president, and the Fed’s indication, if something just short of an outright promise, that it soon will be cutting rates about half a year since its most recent hike. It wasn’t supposed to be this way: The 2017 tax cut and aggressive moves toward deregulation were supposed to pull the U.S. economy out of its glacial move higher. That happened in 2018, but policymakers and Wall Street pros are growing increasingly fearful that a slowdown if not outright recession is on the horizon, and the Fed is being asked again to ride to the rescue.The Fed may not be able to fix everything, but in Trump’s view the central bank is at the core of what’s gone wrong.Had the Fed not been so aggressive in raising rates, the president has insisted, the economy would be doing much better. Since Trump took office, the Fed has enacted seven rate hikes, including four in 2018. There were only two increases during Barack Obama’s administration, with one coming after the 2016 election.

White House, congressional leaders will try again to reach spending deal = Top congressional leaders from both parties will meet with senior White House officials this week as the Trump administration and Congress try once again to reach a deal to avoid tens of billions of dollars in automatic spending cuts this fall, according to congressional and administration officials. Yet both sides acknowledge they're not close to an agreement at this point, with even Senate Republicans and the White House unable to fully hash out a common position among themselves.The federal government's debt ceiling will also need to be increased later this year in order to avoid a catastrophic default, foreshadowing how ugly this fall may get in Washington.Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will huddle with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought sometime this week, three sources said. The bipartisan group met last month and reported surprising progress, only to see President Donald Trump — furious over a Pelosi accusation that he was involved in a "cover-up" of Russian election interference in the 2016 presidential race — angrily walk out a White House meeting May 22 with Democrats

U.S. Escalates Online Attacks on Russia’s Power Grid - NYT— The United States is stepping up digital incursions into Russia’s electric power grid in a warning to President Vladimir V. Putin and a demonstration of how the Trump administration is using new authorities to deploy cybertools more aggressively, current and former government officials said.In interviews over the past three months, the officials described the previously unreported deployment of American computer code inside Russia’s grid and other targets as a classified companion to more publicly discussed action directed at Moscow’s disinformation and hacking units around the 2018 midterm elections.Advocates of the more aggressive strategy said it was long overdue, after years of public warnings from the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. that Russia has inserted malware that could sabotage American power plants, oil and gas pipelines, or water supplies in any future conflict with the United States. But it also carries significant risk of escalating the daily digital Cold War between Washington and Moscow.The administration declined to describe specific actions it was taking under the new authorities, which were granted separately by the White House and Congress last year to United States Cyber Command, the arm of the Pentagon that runs the military’s offensive and defensive operations in the online world. But in a public appearance on Tuesday, President Trump’s national security adviser, John R. Bolton, said the United States was now taking a broader view of potential digital targets as part of an effort “to say to Russia, or anybody else that’s engaged in cyberoperations against us, ‘You will pay a price.’”Power grids have been a low-intensity battleground for years.Since at least 2012, current and former officials say, the United States has put reconnaissance probes into the control systems of the Russian electric grid.But now the American strategy has shifted more toward offense, officials say, with the placement of potentially crippling malware inside the Russian system at a depth and with an aggressiveness that had never been tried before. It is intended partly as a warning, and partly to be poised to conduct cyberstrikes if a major conflict broke out between Washington and Moscow.The commander of United States Cyber Command, Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, has been outspoken about the need to “defend forward” deep in an adversary’s networks to demonstrate that the United States will respond to the barrage of online attacks aimed at it.

 New York Times reports secret US cyberattacks on Russia - An article published on the front page of the Sunday edition of the New York Times reveals that US intelligence agencies have carried out extensive cyberattacks against targets in Russia, including the country’s electrical grid. President Trump denounced the article as “treason” but there were no credible denials of the factual content of the article, which appears to originate among sections of the intelligence apparatus concerned that the attacks on Russia’s infrastructure were in danger of escalating to full-fledged cyberwarfare, provoking a Russian response. The Times article was co-authored by Nicole Perlroth, who specializes in reporting on cyberwarfare, and David Sanger, the newspaper’s senior national security correspondent and a longstanding conduit for material that the military-intelligence apparatus wants to see in print. In a sense, the report is not so much an exposé of a US campaign of sabotage that is illegal under international law—and incredibly reckless, given that it is directed against a nuclear-armed power—as a kind of boasting by the military-intelligence apparatus of its capabilities. The article is based on interviews with current and former officials who “described the previously unreported deployment of American computer code inside Russia’s grid and other targets…” Some US “reconnaissance probes” have been inside the Russian electrical power system since 2012, the Times reported, indicating that the penetration of Russian targets was initiated under the Obama administration (if not earlier) and predated the flare-up of US-Russian tensions in 2014 over Ukraine. As opposed to passive monitoring, however, more recently “the American strategy has shifted more toward offense, officials say, with the placement of potentially crippling malware inside the Russian system at a depth and with an aggressiveness that had never been tried before. It is intended partly as a warning, and partly to be poised to conduct cyberstrikes if a major conflict broke out between Washington and Moscow.” The article suggests that the US and Russian intelligence agencies have already carried out a series of trial cyberattacks on each other’s infrastructure, mainly in the form of power outages inflicted on the population of the two countries.

US Attacks Russia’s Power Grid; Trump Kept in Dark  - The New York Times is reporting that the United States is cyber attacking Russia's electric power grid and other targets—and that President Donald Trump is being kept out of the loop."The American strategy has shifted more toward offense, officials say, with the placement of potentially crippling malware inside the Russian system at a depth and with an aggressiveness that had never been tried before." Trump has not been briefed on the operation because of “the possibility that he might countermand it or discuss it with foreign officials.” The Times wrote:“Two administration officials said they believed Mr. Trump had not been briefed in any detail about the steps to place ‘implants’ — software code that can be used for surveillance or attack — inside the Russian grid.“Pentagon and intelligence officials described broad hesitation to go into detail with Mr. Trump about operations against Russia for concern over his reaction — and the possibility that he might countermand it or discuss it with foreign officials, as he did in 2017 when he mentioned a sensitive operation in Syria to the Russian foreign minister.” New cyber laws were granted to the U.S. Cyber Command by the White House and Congress last year allowing such “clandestine military activity” in cyberspace to go ahead without the president’s approval.  Trump has lashed back at The Times, accusing the newspaper of committing a "virtual act of treason" over its reporting. More importantly, The Times article asked:  "The question now is whether placing the equivalent of land mines in a foreign power network is the right way to deter Russia. While it parallels Cold War nuclear strategy, it also enshrines power grids as a legitimate target."

Trump accuses The New York Times of ‘a virtual act of Treason’ for publishing a story saying the US is ramping up cyberattacks on Russia -President Donald Trump fired off two enraged tweets at The New York Times on Saturday evening, accusing the newspaper of committing a "virtual act of Treason" for publishing a story that said the United States is ramping up cyberattacks against Russia."Do you believe that the Failing New York Times just did a story stating that the United States is substantially increasing Cyber Attacks on Russia," Trump tweeted. "This is a virtual act of Treason by a once great paper so desperate for a story, any story, even if bad for our Country…"He continued: "…..ALSO, NOT TRUE! Anything goes without Corrupt News Media today. They will do, or say, whatever it takes, with not even the slightest thought of consequence! These are true cowards and without doubt, THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!"The Times' story reported that the Trump administration deployed new cybertools targeting Russia's electric power grid, citing unnamed current and former government officials. The newspaper quickly responded to Trump on Twitter, saying "accusing the press of treason is dangerous," and noting that national security officials had raised no concerns about the story before it was published.

The Danger of Leaving a President Out of the Loop — Caitlin Johnstone - The New York Times has published an anonymously sourced report titled “U.S. Escalates Online Attacks on Russia’s Power Grid” about the “placement of potentially crippling malware inside the Russian system at a depth and with an aggressiveness that had never been tried before” which could potentially “plunge Russia into darkness or cripple its military,” with one anonymous official reporting that “We are doing things at a scale that we never contemplated a few years ago.”Obviously this is yet another serious escalation in the continually mounting series of steps that have been taken into a new cold war between the planet’s two nuclear superpowers. Had a report been leaked to Russian media from anonymous Kremlin officials that Moscow was escalating its cyber-aggressions against America’s energy grid, this would doubtless be labeled an act of war by the political/media class of the US and its allies with demands for immediate retaliation.  To put this in perspective, The New York Times reported last year that the Pentagon was pushing for the US Nuclear Posture Review to include the strategy of retaliating against serious Russian cyberattacks on American power grids with nuclear weapons. So that’s scary enough. What’s even scarier is the information that the Times buried way down in the21st to 23rd paragraphs of its report: “Pentagon and intelligence officials described broad hesitation to go into detail with Mr. Trump about operations against Russia for concern over his reaction — and the possibility that he might countermand it or discuss it with foreign officials, as he did in 2017 when he mentioned a sensitive operation in Syria to the Russian foreign minister. In an article titled “Pentagon Keeps Trump in the Dark About its Cyber Attacks on Russia“, Rolling Stone‘s Peter Wade described this jarring revelation as follows: “New laws, enacted by Congress last year, allow such ‘clandestine military activity’ in cyberspace to go ahead without the president’s approval. So, in this case, those new laws are protecting American interests… by keeping the sitting president out of the loop. What a (scary) time to be alive.”  So Trump is in a bit of a bind now. Stephen F Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies at New York University and Princeton University and one of America’s leading experts on US-Russia relations, has been warning for years that exactly this would happen. In an April 2017 interview on Democracy Now, Cohen warned that placing political pressure on a US president to never step back from escalations during a showdown between nuclear superpowers could have potentially world-ending consequences should mounting tensions see a situation similar to the Cuban missile crisis again.

 Russia warns of “cyberwar” following report the US attacked its power grid   - The Kremlin on Monday warned that reported US digital incursions into Russia's electric power grid could trigger a "cyberwar" between the two countries.The warning came two days after The New York Times reported that the US Cyber Command, the arm of the Pentagon that runs the military's offensive and defensive operations in the online world, was aggressively stepping up its targeting of Russia's grid. Saturday's report said the command had taken steps to place "potentially crippling malware inside the Russian system at a depth and with an aggressiveness that had never been tried before." In some cases, the NYT reported, Pentagon and intelligence officials have been hesitant to brief President Trump in detail about the activities out of concern he might countermand the operations or discuss them with foreign officials. Last year, Trump gave the Cyber Command more leeway to conduct offensive online operations, the publication said. Some analysts have cast doubt on the NYT reporting that the United States has put implants inside Russia's grid, and the publication was clear it had no classified information detailing how deep into Russia's power infrastructure the US has bored. The report, however, was enough to get the attention of Kremlin officials, who pushed back in a post published Mondayby the TASS news agency, which is owned by the Russian government. "If one assumes that some government agencies do this without informing the head of state, then of course this may indicate that cyberwar against Russia might be a hypothetical possibility," Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. The spokesman went on to say that "vital areas of our economy are under continuous attacks from abroad." Russian agencies have countered the attacks to prevent damage to the country's economy. Saturday's NYT article came one day after researchers with security firm Dragos said that hackers behind at least two dangerous intrusions on industrial facilities have expanded their activities to probing dozens of power grids in the US and elsewhere. Last year, researchers with security firm FireEye said the hacker group's malware—which actively targets safety systems used to prevent explosions, fires, and other potentially fatal accidents—was developed with the help of the Central Scientific Research Institute of Chemistry and Mechanics in Moscow.

 US to Give Additional $250 Million in Lethal Aid to Ukraine’s Military -  Saying that the new package was intended to enhance democratic civilian control of the military, the Pentagon has unveiled a package of around $250 million in military aid to the Ukraine. They emphasized the US commitment to supporting Ukraine.In contrast to the aid packages a few years ago, which were emphasized as purely non-lethal aid not intended to exacerbate tensions, this new aid package seems to be chock full of lethal options for the military.Sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and a host of other weapons were included in the new package. It’s not clear what any of this would have to do with civilian control of the military. It is, however, clear that such weapons would be brought to bear against the eastern rebels in Ukraine, where a ceasefire tends to hold only tentatively at any given time, and US-provided arms might convince the military that they have another opportunity to resolve what is meant to be a negotiated settlement through military means.

Trump’s consistent criticism of Iran pushes U.S. to point of potential conflict WaPo - One constant in President Trump’s malleable foreign policy has been his fierce criticism of Iran and what he described as a weak and dangerous nuclear compact the United States and other countries negotiated with Tehran. Threats and sanctions, and lots of them, have been his go-to response, lately leavened with vague offers of future negotiations. Trump’s reaction to attacks on two commercial tankers near the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday fits the pattern, but it may also reveal the limits of his administration’s strategy of squeezing Iran’s oil-dependent economy even if it means punishing U.S. allies in the process. “Iran did do it,” Trump told Fox News on Friday, hours after the U.S. military released grainy video footage it says shows a small Iranian ship sidling up to a damaged tanker and people on the smaller vessel removing an unexploded mine from the larger ship’s hull. “You know they did it because you saw the boat. I guess one of the mines didn’t explode and it’s probably got essentially Iran written all over it,” Trump said. The tanker incident pushed already rising tensions to new heights, with fears of a deliberate or accidental armed clash between U.S. and Iranian forces as Trump and Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei exchanged barbs online.

US secretary of state declares “military response” to Iran “being considered” - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday continued the Trump administration’s belligerent threats against Iran, declaring in an interview on CBS “Face the Nation” that the US was “considering a full range of options.” Asked if that included “a military response,” he declared “of course.” Pompeo blustered his way through the interview, dismissing any suggestion that the US had no evidence to prove that Iran had attacked two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman last Thursday. He insisted that a grainy video released by the US Central Command showed a small boat of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) approached and removed an unexploded limpet mine from the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous. Last Friday, Yukata Katada, the president of the Kokuka Sangyo shipping company that owns the Kokuka Courageous tanker, rejected the claim that the ship had been damaged by limpet mines. “The crew are saying it was hit with a flying object. They saw something flying toward them, then there was an explosion, then there was a hole in the vessel. Then some crew witnessed a second shot.” Confronted with these remarks yesterday on Fox News Sunday, Pompeo simply dodged the question, declaring that “the intelligence community has lots of data, lots of evidence” and “the American people should rest assured we have high confidence with respect to who conducted the attacks.” He provided no evidence or data, however. The Secretary of State gave a similar response when asked on CBS about comments by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas that the video was “not enough.” Pompeo baldly declared that Maas had seen “a great deal more than just the video” but did not elaborate. In a not-so-subtle swipe at Germany, he added that “there are countries that just wish this should go away and they want to act in a way that is counterfactual.” Germany is not the only country to question the lack of evidence. Japan Today reported yesterday that the Japanese government had also requested further proof. “The US explanation had not helped us to go beyond speculation,” a senior government official said. Another source close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the website: “These are not definitive proof that it’s Iran. Even if it’s the United States that makes the assertion, we cannot simply say we believe it.”

 U.S. Allies Demand Proof Iran Attacked Tankers -While President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have been unequivocal in their assertion that Iran was responsible for the attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week, some of America’s closest allies are demanding more proof.  Both Japan and Germany have requested more concrete evidence to support the Trump administration’s insistence that Iran was behind the twin attacks on the Norwegian-owned Front Altar and the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous near the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday.   Following the explosions, the U.S. released a grainy video that allegedly showed an Iranian patrol boat removing an unexploded mine from the Courageous shortly after the initial blast.  The footage, Trump said Friday, was proof that “Iran did do it.”   “You know they did it because you saw the boat,” he told “Fox & Friends.”   But U.S. allies ― and the owner of the vessel itself ― have disagreed with this conclusion. The president of Kokuka said at a press conference that the Courageous appeared to be struck by something that “flew towards the ship,” and not by a mine as the Trump administration has suggested.    “I do not think there was a time bomb or an object attached to the side of the ship,” Yutaka Katada said.   A senior Japanese government official told Japan Today that “the U.S. explanation has not helped us go beyond speculation.”

Trump administration providing ‘false’ information about Gulf of Oman attack, says Japanese tanker owner - The owner of the Japanese tanker attacked on Thursday said US reports have provided “false” information about what happened in the Gulf of Oman. The ship operator said “flying objects” that may have been bullets were the cause of damage to the vessel, rather than mines used by Iranian forces, as the US has suggested. Yutaka Katada, chief executive of the Japanese company operating the ship called Kokuka Courageous, one of two vessels attacked near the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday, said the damage could not have been caused by mines or torpedos that are shot underwater, since the damage was reportedly above the ship’s waterline.   “It seems that something flew towards them. That created the hole, is the report I’ve received,” Mr Katada said at a press conference in Tokyo on Friday, the Financial Times reported. Mr Katada also described reports of a mine attack as "false" according to several outlets in attendance at the press conference.   Donald Trump’s administration has meanwhile insisted the attacks were carried out by Iran, which has denied having any involvement in either of the two incidents.

UN calls for independent inquiry after Donald Trump blames Iran for oil tanker attack - United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday called for an independent inquiry into the oil tanker attacks two days ago in the Gulf of Oman. Guterres asked for the investigation after the United States blamed Iran for the attacks, Reuters reported. The international body’s chief also said that he was willing to mediate between the two countries if both the parties agreed, adding that “at the present moment we don’t see a mechanism of dialogue possible to be in place”. Two commercial oil tankers carrying inflammable materials caught fire in suspected attacks on Thursday in the Gulf of Oman.   In view of the escalating tensions between the two countries, Guterres said that “it’s very important to know the truth”. “It’s very important that responsibilities are clarified,” Reuters quoted him as saying. “Obviously that can only be done if there is an independent entity that verifies those facts.” United States President Donald Trump on Friday declared that the attacks on the two oil tankers had “Iran written all over it. “Iran did do it,” Trump told Fox News. “You know they did it because you saw the boat. I guess one of the mines didn’t explode and it’s probably got essentially Iran written all over it.” Trump was referring to a video that the United States military released purportedly showing an Iranian patrol boat removing “an unexploded limpet mine” from one of the oil tankers. Iran has, however, refuted the allegations and said that it had nothing to do with the attacks. Iraninan Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif criticised the United States for rushing to accuse Iran without evidence. “That the US immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran – without a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence – only makes it abundantly clear that the #B_Team is moving to a #PlanB: Sabotage diplomacy – including by @AbeShinzo – and cover up its #EconomicTerrorism against Iran.”

EU warns against blaming Iran for oil tanker attacks --Top EU diplomats meeting in Luxembourg on Monday said they were still seeking information about who may have launched attacks against two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz. The gathering comes amid escalating tensions between the US and Iran. It also follows Tehran's announcement that it plans to breach a 2015 nuclear deal struck with international powers. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini urged diplomats ahead of the monthly meeting not to jump to conclusions: "The maximum restraint and wisdom should be applied," she said.German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said his country hasn't yet made up its mind yet about who was behind the alleged attacks in the Gulf."With a decision of this kind the utmost care is required and we'll take our time for this." He said US and British intelligence needed to be compared to material from allies, adding that Germany was still in the process of collecting information and the evidence provided so far "comes from one side in particular."

Will the Real Bombers Please Stand Up - Will the Real Bombers Please Stand Up? Who is attacking oil tankers in the Gulf between Oman and Iran? So far, the answer is still a mystery. The US, of course, accuses Iran. Iran says it’s the US or its local allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Magnetic mines are blamed for the damage, though there have been claims of torpedo use. Last month, four moored tankers were slightly damaged, though none seriously. This time the attacks were more damaging but apparently not lethal. A few have even suggested Israel may be behind the tanker attack in order to provoke war between Iran and the United States – a key Israeli goal. Or maybe it’s the Saudis whose goal is similar. The Gulf is an ideal venue for false flag attacks. One thing appears certain. President Donald and his coterie of neocon advisers have been pressing for a major conflict with Iran for months. The US is literally trying to strangle Iran economically and strategically. By now, Israel’s hard right wing dominates US Mideast policy and appears to often call the shots at the White House and Congress. However, this latest Iran 'crisis' is totally contrived by the Trump administration to punish the Islamic Republic for refusing to follow American tutelage, supporting the Palestinians, and menacing Saudi Arabia. Most important, the Gulf fracas is diverting public attention from Trump’s war with the lynch mob of House Democrats and personal scandals. Americans love small wars. They serve as an alternative to football. Americans cheered the invasions of Grenada, Haiti and Panama. However, supposed ‘cake-walk’ Iraq was not such a popular success.

What you need to know about CIA’s Iran Mission Center --Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was adamant – just hours after it happened – that the explosions on two Norwegian and Japanese oil tankers were the responsibility of Iran. Iran did this, he said, and Iran would have to pay the price. The United States government offered no evidence for this claim, apart from a grainy video that showed little that seemed conclusive. Pompeo took no questions.It is important to know that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Tehran at that time. Abe, who has been trying to maintain the Iran nuclear deal, made no belligerent comments, nor did he storm out of the country. The head of the Japanese shipping company said there was no evidence that this event had been conducted by Iran. In fact, he disputed the claim that a limpet mine had been attached to his ship.  The Norwegian shipping company did not make any kind of statement about the events either, certainly not anything that blamed Iran for the incident. The Norwegian government remained silent as well – no threats of any kind from Oslo. The shipping company said an investigation would be conducted in due course. No US ship was assaulted. These incidents took place in international waters – in the Strait of Hormuz, off the coasts of Iran and Oman. Not on US territory, nor on a US military base or on US government property. Yet it was the US government that made the claims and made the threats. This has become an ugly habit. In 2017, the US Central Intelligence Agency created a special unit, the Iran Mission Center, to focus attention on the US plans against Iran. The initiative for this unit came from CIA director John Brennan, who left his post as the Trump administration came into office. Brennan believed that the CIA needed to focus attention on what the United States sees as problem areas – North Korea and Iran, for instance. This predated the Trump administration. Brennan’s successor – Mike Pompeo, who was CIA director for just over a year (until he was appointed US Secretary of State) – continued this policy. The CIA’s Iran-related activity had been conducted in the Iran Operations Division (Persia House). This was a section with Iran specialists who built up knowledge about political and economic developments inside Iran and in the Iranian diaspora.

Pentagon Readies Contingency Plans For Potential Escalation Against Iran - Amid fears that the US is running headlong into yet another sure to be disastrous war in the Middle East, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters Friday that the Pentagon is prepping "contingency plans" should things quickly escalate militarily.“When you look at the situation… 15 percent of the world’s oil flows through the Strait of Hormuz,” Shanahan said as quoted in The Washington Times. “So we obviously need to make contingency plans should the situation deteriorate. We also need to broaden our support for this international situation.”The Pentagon indicated it's further implementing plans to coordinate with America's international allies in the event of military confrontation with Iran something which could prove difficult given the European Union has urged "maximum restraint" following Thursday's tanker attacks incident Washington quickly blamed on Iran. The UK has been the only exception, which immediately stood behind Pompeo and Trump's assessment. Notably, as The Washington Times reports further of Friday's press briefing, "the Pentagon is planning for the possible deployment of additional U.S. forces to the Persian Gulf region in the event the threat from Iran worsens." Weeks ago as tensions began soaring in the region following John Bolton's claimed intelligence of a "heightened threat" of Iran or its allies attacking nearby US troops, the Pentagon deployed the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group, at least 1500 extra troops, as well as B-52 bombers, drones, and patriot missile batteries.

US preparing “assault” against Iran - The Pentagon announced on Monday that the US is sending 1,000 additional troops and other military resources to the Middle East amid belligerent threats against Iran by the Trump administration. The troop movement follows the previous deployment of the USS Lincoln aircraft carrier and its battle group to the Persian Gulf, along with a bomber strike group led by nuclear capable B-52s. An article from the Israeli website Maariv Online, republished in the Jerusalem Post, reported that the Trump administration is actively preparing a “tactical assault” on Iran. The report, based on diplomatic sources at the UN in New York, stated that “since Friday, the White House has been holding incessant discussions involving senior military commanders, Pentagon representatives and advisers to President Donald Trump.”  According to Maariv Online, the unnamed officials said that “the military action under consideration would be an aerial bombardment of an Iranian facility linked to its nuclear program.” A Western diplomat commented: “The bombing will be massive but will be limited to one target.” Announcing the troop deployment, acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan stated: “The recent Iranian attacks validate the reliable, credible intelligence we have received on hostile behaviour by Iranian forces and their proxy groups that threaten United States personnel and interests across the region.” He then absurdly added: “The United States does not seek conflict with Iran.” In reality, the current explosive situation in the Persian Gulf is entirely of Washington’s manufacture. In breach of UN resolutions, the Trump administration unilaterally abrogated the 2015 deal between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany to limit its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief. The US subsequently re-imposed and strengthened its crippling sanctions on Iran aimed at cutting off all oil exports and collapsing the Iranian economy. It also threatened to take punitive economic measures against companies breaching its unilateral sanctions. Washington’s actions amount to an economic blockade of Iran and an act of war.

Report: US Planning “Massive” Airstrike on an Iranian Facility -- Caitlin Johnstone — According to a new article from English-language Israeli publication The Jerusalem Post, the Hebrew-language Israeli publication Maariv has reported that diplomatic sources in the UN are assessing a US plan to conduct a “massive” airstrike on “an Iranian facility linked to its nuclear program” in response to alleged attacks on two sea vessels in the Gulf of Oman. “The sources added that President Trump himself was not enthusiastic about a military move against Iran, but lost his patience on the matter and would grant Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is pushing for action, what he wants,” The Jerusalem Post reports. This news comes after public statements by Pompeo that the US is considering a “full range of options” against Iran. It also comes as 1,000 additional US troops are being sent to the Middle East to “address air, naval, and ground-based threats” there. It also comes amid sightings of depraved war criminal Henry Kissinger at the Pentagon. Many comparisons are being made today between the unforgivable Iraq invasion and the agendas that this administration is attempting to advance in Iran, and rightly so. But make no mistake, Iran is not Iraq. A full-scale war against Iran would be many times more deadly, costly and destabilizing than Iraq; the UK’s Admiral Lord West told The Daily Star Online last month that winning such a war would require no less than a million troops. And it’s not difficult to imagine how the Trump administration’s brinkmanship could lead to all-out war. If the US does decide to attack Iran over the highly suspicious Gulf of Oman allegations, for example, it’s not difficult to imagine a scenario in which Iran defends itself or retaliates and kills US servicemen. Once you’ve got the names and faces of US military personnel blaring on news screens all across America, you’ll see the war hawks converge and demand far more aggressive retaliations against Iran, and if the pressure works we could easily see an all-out war between the two nations. It just takes the right spark to land in the right place at the right time for the whole thing to go up in flames, and there are a lot of people trying to create sparks.

Did The 'B-Team' Overplay It's Hand On Iran? - Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has a term of endearment for Iran’s enemies, “The B-Team.” The “B-Team” consists of U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister (nee Dictator) Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and the UAE’s Mohammed bin Zayed. When we look seriously at the attacks on the oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman this week the basic question that comes to mind is, Cui bono? Who benefits? And it’s easy to see how the B-Team benefits from this attack and subsequent blaming Iran for it. With Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tehran opening up a dialogue on behalf of U.S. President Donald Trump the threat of peace was in the air.  And none of the men on the B-Team profit from peace in the Middle East with respect to Iran. Getting Trump to stop hurling lightning bolts from the mountain top the B-Team guided him up would do nothing to help oil prices, which the Saudis and UAE need/want to remain high.Bin Salman, in particular, cannot afford to see oil prices drop back into the $40’s per barrel. With the world awash in oil and supply tight, even with OPEC production cuts, Bin Salman is currently on very thin ice because of the Saudi Riyal’s peg to the U.S. dollar, which he can’t abandon or the U.S. will abandon them. Falling oil prices and a rising dollar are a recipe for the death of the Saudi government, folks. Iran knows this.Netanyahu and Bolton don’t want peace because the U.S. fighting a war with Iran serves the cause of Greater Israel and opens up the conflict in the hopes of regime change and elimination of Iran.Bolton, as well, is finally feeling the heat of his incompetence and disloyalty to Trump, according to John Kirakau at Consortium NewsTrump is concerned, like any president is near the end of his term, about his legacy. He said during the campaign that he wanted to be the president who pulled the country out of its two longest wars. He wanted to declare victory and bring the troops back from Afghanistan and Iraq. He hasn’t done that, largely at the insistence of Bolton. Here we are three years later and we’re still stuck in both of those countries. Second, my friends say that Trump wants to end U.S. involvement in the Yemen war, but that Bolton has been insistent that the only way to guarantee the closeness of the U.S. relationships with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is to keep providing those countries with weapons, aerial refueling planes, and intelligence support.

 Army Major (Ret.)- Why America's No-Fault Generals Won't Save Us From The Next War - by Danny Sjrusen Poll after poll indicates that the only public institution Americans still trust is the military. Not Congress, not the presidency, not the Supreme Court, the church, or the media. Just the American war machine.But perhaps that faith in the U.S. Armed Forces is misplaced. I got to thinking about this recently after I wrote articles calling for dissent among military leaders in order to stop what seems to be a likely forthcoming war with Iran. While I still believe that dissent in the ranks stands the best chance of galvanizing an apathetic public against an ill-advised, immoral conflict in the Persian Gulf, I also know its a pipe dream.These are company men, after all, obedient servants dedicated—no matter how much they protest otherwise—to career and promotion, as much or more than they are to the national interest. The American military, especially at the senior ranks, is apt to let you down whenever courage or moral fortitude is needed most. In nearly 18 years of post-9/11 forever war, not a single general has resigned in specific opposition to what many of them knew to be unwinnable, unethical conflicts. Writing about the not-so-long-ago Vietnam War, former national security advisor H.R. McMaster, himself a problematic war on terror general, labeled in his book title such military acquiescence Dereliction of Duty. That it was, but so is the lack of moral courage and logical reasoning among McMaster and his peers who have submissively waged these endless wars in Americans’ name.Think on it: of the some 18 general officers who have commanded the ill-fated, ongoing war in Afghanistan, each has optimistically promised not only that victory was possible, but that it was “around the corner” or a “light at the end of the tunnel.” All these generals needed, naturally, was more time and, of course, more resources. For the most part they’ve gotten it, billions in cash to throw away and thousands of American soldiers’ lives to waste. Why should any sentient citizen believe that these commanders’ former subordinates—a new crop of ambitious generals—will step forward now and oppose a disastrous future war with the Islamic Republic? Don’t believe it! Senior military leaders will salute, about-face, and execute unethical and unnecessary combat with Iran or whomever else (think Venezuela) Trump’s war hawks, such as John Bolton, decide needs a little regime changing.

How Trump may get manipulated into war with Iran - WaPo - You might have thought that the catastrophe of the Iraq War would have given even the most ardent hawk second thoughts about the wisdom of a U.S. war against Iran. But it didn’t. Now those hawks may well be trying to move events toward the military confrontation they’ve wanted for so long. And because President Trump is so impulsive, so unpredictable and so easily manipulated, they just might succeed.We are right now in a state of what’s referred to as “rising tensions,” which usually means people on both sides getting worked up over events and statements that are objectively trivial but could nonetheless produce disaster if the parties are dumb enough. Let’s consider this article in The Post:Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has privately delivered warnings intended for Iranian leaders that any attack by Tehran or its proxies resulting in the death of even one American service member will generate a military counterattack, U.S. officials said.The potential for a significant military response to even an isolated event has fueled a broader internal debate among top Trump officials about whether the administration’s policy exceeds President Trump’s specific goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, the officials said.One such message about retaliation was delivered during a hastily arranged visit to Baghdad by Pompeo in May after officials detected a spike in intelligence indicating that Iran’s militia proxies might resume assaults on U.S. forces operating in proximity to them across Iraq. While such attacks were common during the Iraq War, Pompeo told Iraqi leaders in a message he knew would be relayed to Tehran that a single American fatality would prompt the United States to hit back. That specific warning has not been previously reported. Now that this has been reported — and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Pompeo himself arranged for the leak — it means the United States has publicly committed itself to attacking Iran if even a single U.S. service member is killed by Iran or one of its proxies. That could happen at any moment in Iraq, a dangerous place where bombs often go off and there are many U.S. forces and Iranian proxies walking around. Would Trump follow through if that happened? We know that he hates nothing more than being perceived as “weak,” so he well might, even if he didn’t want to for other reasons.

How John Bolton Controls The Administration And Donald Trump - Jeff Bezos' blog, the Washington Post, has some bits on the discussion and infighting in the Trump administration about the march towards war on Iran. The piece opens with news of a new redline the Trump administration set out:Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has privately delivered warnings intended for Iranian leaders that any attack by Tehran or its proxies resulting in the death of even one American service member will generate a military counterattack, U.S. officials said....While such attacks were common during the Iraq War, Pompeo told Iraqi leaders in a message he knew would be relayed to Tehran that a single American fatality would prompt the United States to hit back. That warning was sent in May when Pompeo visited Baghdad. The issue may soon become critical. Throughout the last days there were rocket attacks in Iraq against targets where U.S. personnel are present. The AFP correspondent in Baghdad lists six of them: At least some of these attacks came from areas where Islamic State underground groups are still active. The weapons used were improvised and imprecise. That shows how stupid the red line is that Pompeo set out. He would attack Iran if an errant ISIS rocket by chance kills some U.S. soldier? That is nuts.  The U.S. violated the nuclear agreement and is waging an economic war on Iran. That was the aggression that started the conflict. Anything that follows from that was caused by the Trump administration.It has been reported several times and by different outlets that Trump is somewhat isolated from anti-war opinions in his administration. All he sees and hears is Fox News, Bibi Netanyahoo and John Bolton. The WaPo piece again confirms that: Administration officials interviewed by The Washington Post said that national security adviser John Bolton has dominated Iran policy, keeping a tight rein on information that gets to the president and sharply reducing meetings in which top officials gather in the White House’s Situation Room to discuss the policy.While State Department officials sought to achieve a “sweet spot” that would weaken Iran through sanctions but not push so hard that Iran would withdraw from the nuclear deal, others have argued that Trump’s goal is to destroy the accord at any cost and pursue a more expansive policy that seeks to cripple Iran’s proxy forces throughout the region.Pentagon and State Department officials have complained, however, about the difficulty of getting an adequate hearing for these debates under Bolton. As a result, arguments about policy frequently are not aired and do not reach the president. The process is “very exclusionary, and Bolton has very sharp elbows,” the senior administration official said.

Bolton Argues War With Iran Only Way To Avenge Americans Killed In Upcoming War With Iran —Addressing the future casualties in a somber and often-emotional press conference, John Bolton told reporters Thursday that a war with Iran was the only way to avenge Americans killed in an upcoming war with Iran. “Sadly, I believe direct military conflict with Iran is the only suitable response for the heartbreaking deaths of our troops in that upcoming military conflict,” said the national security advisor, noting that only by launching a ground invasion of the Islamic Republic could he ensure the thousands of U.S. troops who will perish in that ground invasion will not perish in vain. “It would be a dishonor to everything our brave men and women will sacrifice if we fail to send them into battle to retaliate for their eventual deaths. Then, and only then, can we truly close the book on this impending tragedy.” Bolton also announced plans to issue 15 preemptive Medals of Honor to military spouses who will be widowed after losing their husbands in the 2021 Battle of Tehran.

Chief of Naval Operations lauds return to tradition of ‘false flag’ operations — Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson applauded the Navy’s return to what he called “its storied tradition of false flag operations” in a speech on Friday, several attendees confirmed. In remarks to senior Navy leaders, Richardson noted that the American fleet has been blaming provocations at sea on outsiders since Yankee sailors dressed up like Indians at the Boston Tea Party in 1773. “Even before we had declared independence,” he noted, “we were already doing our best to pretend other people started our first war.” Richardson also noted half a dozen times that such operations would help the Navy during “great power competition” and in the “high end fight,” as official Navy guidance on speeches given by senior officers require. “False flag operations” refer to operations intended to give the impression that another actor launched the initial attack. “The term false flag literally refers to pirate ships hauling up an English or Spanish flag before they attacked,” noted Bill Roberts, a naval warfare and vexillology expert at the Center for New American Security Studies (CNASS). “It let them get close to merchant vessels, before unleashing a deadly broadside of artillery and seizing them.” Attendees of the speech say Richardson emphasized the timeliness of the Navy’s return to false flag activity. “As we face increasing maritime gray zone threats, including Chinese maritime militias, the Russians in the Black Sea, and North Korean smuggling, it is imperative that we learn how to deceive our enemies so they cannot deceive us,” he told his audience of admirals, captains and senior civilians.

Iran’s Ambassador: “Unfortunately We Are Heading Towards a Confrontation” With US — The Iranian Ambassador to the UK Hamid Baeidinejad warned that the United States and Iran are “unfortunately headed toward a confrontation which is very serious for everybody in the region.” In an interview with Christiane Amanpour, the Ambassador reacted to rapidly escalating tensions between the two countries – late on Monday the US announced it was sending another 1,000 troops to the Middle East – as the United States continues to blame Iran for an attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Ambassador Baeidinejad, a senior Iranian official within the Foreign Ministry, denied the allegations, and cautioned the White House would be “very sorry” to underestimate Iran, should a military conflict ensue. Baeidinejad stopped short of predicting the possibility of U.S. plans for a limited strike in the Persian Gulf, but argued that such plans may already be underway in a bid to spark a fight. “I’m sure this is a scenario where some people are forcefully working on it, they will drag the United States into a confrontation. I hope that the people in Washington will be very careful not to underestimate the Iranian determination,” Baeidinejad told CNN. “If they wrongly enter into a conflict, they would be very sorry about that, because we are fully prepared by our government and our forces that we would not be submitting to the United States.”

House votes to repeal Authorization for Use of Military Force, while Trump reportedly urges representatives to tone down rhetoric on Iran  -There appeared to be progress on multiple fronts to avoid a military confrontation with Iran on Wednesday, but the Trump administration's plan remains unclear.House Democrats voted to pass a $1 trillion appropriations bill, which includes a repeal of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force — Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the only member of Congress to vote against AUMF in 2001, added the repeal last month.However, no Republicans voted for the bill and it appears unlikely it will get past the Senate.The AUMF was passed days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, granting the president authority to use military force against those responsible for the attacks and those who harbored them, generally considered to be al Qaeda and Afghanistan, respectively.But lawmakers recently raised concerns that the Trump administration was potentially prepared to invoke AUMF to launch a war with Iran, after statements by officials tying Iran to al Qaeda, which raised skepticism in Congress.  On the other hand, President Trump is reportedly less hawkish on Iran than his advisers and he has privately pushed them to ease up their talk. Trump evencalled the attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, which the U.S. alleges were orchestrated by Tehran, "very minor." State Department Special Representative Brian Hook, meanwhile, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee in a hearing on Wednesday that there is "no talk of offensive action" and the priority remains putting economic pressure on Iran, The Daily Beast reports.

Is the White House Plotting an End-Run Around Congress Into Iran?  Members of Congress left a closed door meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week with a clear message: the administration believes it has the authority to enter into a conflict with Iran with or without Congress’s say-so. Conservative Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz and Democratic Representative Elissa Slotkin told reporters that Pompeo had raised the notion that the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), first used to approve the war on the Taliban and al-Qaeda after 9/11, could be used to go after Iran if necessary. “We were absolutely presented with a full formal presentation on how the 2001 AUMF might authorize war on Iran,” Slotkin said. “Secretary Pompeo said it with his own words.” After an earlier closed-door briefing on May 21 by interim defense secretary Patrick Shanahan, Congressman Ruben Gallego told reporters, “What I heard in there makes it clear that this administration feels that they do not have to come back and talk to Congress in regards to any action they do in Iran.” This makes what’s been happening on Capitol Hill today all the more urgent. This month could mark the first time a chamber of the U.S. Congress has moved to repeal the 2001 AUMF, which has been used by three presidents to keep the U.S. in a state of war for nearly 18 years.   In May, the House Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment to the annual defense spending bill from Representative Barbara Lee that would repeal the 2001 law eight months after enactment. The amendment passed through committee on a party-line vote of 30-22. It could pass, should the Democratic majority remain unified, as early as this week when it comes up for consideration. The 2001 AUMF was passed three days after September 11 to authorize the use of military force against those responsible for the attacks and those who harbored them, generally understood to be al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Yet since that time, three administrations have vastly expanded America’s wars, citing the brief—only 60 words—2001 AUMF as authority for 41 operations in 19 countries.Now we know that the Trump Administration is looking to use it for its own means as well. After a grilling by Senator Rand Paul during an April Senate hearing, Secretary Pompeo refused to concede that the 2001 AUMF would not apply to Iran. Despite President Trump’s State of the Union declaration that “great nations do not fight endless wars,” with every passing day the administration continues to inch towards conflict with Iran—and using the 2001 law to justify it.

If we’re headed for regime change in Iran, get ready for a military draft. We’ll need one. With U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, the installation of John Bolton as national security adviser, new sanctions and demands on Iran and a White House that appears committed to doing the heavy lifting for our friends and allies, regime change in Iran may well be back on the menu.Should a serious public relations campaign for regime change begin, we will assuredly hear some familiar songs: the mullahs’ theocracy is weak and will swiftly collapse; our “man in Tehran” will be embraced by the people; the war will practically pay for itself; and most important, we won’t need to put any American “boots on the ground.”All of these claims should be treated with enormous skepticism, but the last one is the most dubious.Any serious effort to end the Iranian theocracy will not only require American troops, but will also almost certainly break our vaunted All-Volunteer Force If you like the idea of regime change in Iran, you had better love the idea of a new American draft.We have seen for decades that American air power alone is insufficient to topple a government, whether it be Hitler’s Germany, Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnam or Saddam’s Iraq. (Bolton’s predecessor, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, dubbed this idea “the vampire fallacy”). Our Sunni Arab allies are stalemated in Yemen and distinctly averse to sending troops to Syria. The idea that they would invade or occupy Iran is risible. The Washington regime change crowd’s preferred Iranian proxy is a hated cult called Mujahideen-e Khalq. But if the mullahs are to be overthrown, it will be by American soldiers and Marines. Even if the Islamic Republic were to somehow collapse on its own, concerns about radiological material, the security of the Strait of Hormuz or another massive wave of refugees would probably drive the intervene with ground troops.

Averting a Disastrous War with Iran - American Conservative.  --There is a report that the Trump administration may be preparing an attack on Iran: Diplomatic sources at the UN headquarters in New York revealed to Maariv that they are assessing the United States’ plans to carry out a tactical assault on Iran in response to the tanker attack in the Persian Gulf on Thursday.According to the officials, since Friday, the White House has been holding incessant discussions involving senior military commanders, Pentagon representatives and advisers to President Donald Trump.The military action under consideration would be an aerial bombardment of an Iranian facility linked to its nuclear program, the officials further claimed. If this report is true, that would mean that the worst of the Iran hawks in the administration are prevailing once again. The report goes on to say that “Trump himself was not enthusiastic about a military move against Iran, but lost his patience on the matter and would grant Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is pushing for action, what he wants.” If that is true, that is an absurdly casual way to blunder into an unnecessary war. Trump should understand that if he takes the U.S. into a war against Iran, especially without Congressional authorization, it will consume the rest of his presidency and it should cost him his re-election. Starting an unnecessary war with Iran would go down as one of the dumbest, most reckless, illegal acts in the history of U.S. foreign policy. Congress must make absolutely clear that the president does not have the authority to initiate hostilities against Iran. Both houses should pass a resolution this week saying as much, and they should block any funds that could be used to support such an action. There is no legal justification for attacking Iran, and if Trump approves an attack he would be violating the Constitution and should be impeached for it.

China Warns- US About To Open Pandora's Box In Middle East - Just after the Pentagon announced late Monday it is sending 1,000 additional US troops to the Middle East in response to soaring tensions with Iran over last week's tanker attack incident, China has urged the world to stand down from opening "Pandora's Box" in the Middle East. A top Beijing official, Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi, specifically called on the United States to cease its “extreme pressure” campaign against Iran. Notably, this came after he met Syria’s foreign minister in the Chinese capital. “We call on all sides to remain rational and exercise restraint, and not take any escalatory actions that irritate regional tensions, and not open a Pandora’s box,” Wang said. “In particular, the U.S. side should alter its extreme pressure methods,” Wang said. “Any unilateral behavior has no basis in international law. Not only will it not resolve the problem, it will only create an even greater crisis,” the Chinese State Councillor said. Wang voiced Beijing's fear that a coming clash in the Persian Gulf would set the whole region on fire, a sentiment also recently echoed by Russian officials, and advanced the nuclear deal as the only legitimate and feasible path forward. “We understand that relevant parties may have different concerns but first of all the comprehensive nuclear deal should be properly implemented,” he continued. “We hope that Iran is cautious with its decision-making and not lightly abandon this agreement.” Wang called on Iran to exercise prudence amid the growing crisis, while also noting Tehran has "legitimate lawful rights and interests," according to Reuters.

The Drone Iran Shot Down Was a $220M Surveillance Monster - EARLY THURSDAY MORNING, Iran shot down a United States unmanned aerial vehicle over the Strait of Hormuz, which runs between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Iran identified the drone as an RQ-4A Global Hawk, a $220 million UAV that acts as a massive surveillance platform in the sky. The attack marks an escalation with tensions already running high between the US and Iran—particularly because of the value and technical sensitivity of the downed drone. Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said on Thursday that the Northrup Grumman-made Global Hawk—part of a multibillion-dollar program that dates back to 2001—had entered Iranian airspace and crashed in Iranian waters; US Central Command confirmed the time and general location of the attack, but insists that the drone was flying in international airspace.The incident comes on the heels of another situation last week in which the US accused Iran of attacking two fuel tankers in the Gulf of Oman. The US also said that Iran had attempted to shoot down a different UAV—an MQ-9 Reaper drone—but failed. The Pentagon also linked Iran to an attack on a Reaper drone in Yemen two weeks ago that caused the vehicle to crash. Thursday's attack, though, targeted a massive and much more expensive surveillance drone, and likely represents a more definite escalation.. "This is a more expensive, higher-altitude, more capable, long-range intelligence surveillance reconnaissance craft. If they’re shooting down aircraft in international airspace over international waters, that's likely to elicit some kind of measured reprisal."   Global Hawks are massive surveillance platforms, in operation since 2001, with a wingspan of more than 130 feet and a maximum takeoff weight of more than 16 tons, equivalent to roughly seven shipping containers of cocaine. They have a range of more than 12,000 nautical miles, can fly at strikingly high altitudes of 60,000 feet, and can stay aloft for 34 hours straight. They have no offensive capabilities; their value lies in their ability to combine range, vantage point, and persistence with powerful surveillance sensors to monitor ground or maritime activity in great detail. According to analysis by the Government Accountability Office, Global Hawks have at times cost the US more than $220 million to manufacture and equip.

Trump Calls Off Iran Attacks At The Last Minute - In response to Iran shooting down a U.S. drone on Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump approved a military strike against Iranian targets, but called off the operation late on Thursday, The New York Times reported on Friday, citing senior administration officials involved in or briefed on the plans.On Thursday morning, Iran shot down a U.S. drone over the vital oil shipping lane, the Strait of Hormuz, in the latest escalation of the U.S.-Iran standoff in the Middle East that increased concerns about a possible military confrontation and sent oil prices spiking. President Trump tweeted “Iran made a very big mistake!”, while Iran claims the drone was shot down because it was violating Iranian air space. Iran said invading its borders is the red line and it is ready for war, although it doesn’t intend to go into war with any country. According to The New York Times, as the tension escalated on Thursday, President Trump gave the go-ahead for attacks on Iranian targets such as radar and missile batteries. A U.S. operation against Iran was already in its initial stages with planes in the air and ships in position, when the command came to stand down, a senior administration official told the NYT.The strike was planned for just before dawn in Iran on Friday to minimize risks for civilians, but the U.S. military was told to abort, at least temporarily. It’s not clear if the planned strikes could still be held in the future, according to the NYT, which notes that is wasn’t clear why President Trump called off the strike either. Iran received overnight a message from President Trump via Oman that a strike against Iran was imminent, Iranian officials told Reuters on Friday.     “In his message, Trump said he was against any war with Iran and wanted to talk to Tehran about various issues ... he gave a short period of time to get our response but Iran’s immediate response was that it is up to Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei to decide about this issue,” one Iranian official told Reuters.  Another official said that Iran has made clear that its leader rejects any talks, but will pass on the message to the Ayatollah. “However, we told the Omani official that any attack against Iran will have regional and international consequences,” the official told Reuters.

Trump says US was 'cocked and loaded' to strike Iran before he pulled back  - President Donald Trump said Friday that he called off the attack on Iran just as the US was "cocked & loaded" to strike because he decided there would be too many deaths for a proportionate response to the downing of a US drone earlier this week. "We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights (sic) when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General," Trump tweeted. "10 minutes before the strike I stopped it." Causing so many casualties, he added, would not have been "proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone." Trump also said that he is in "no hurry," touted the US military as "by far the best in the world" and said he had imposed new sanctions against Iran "last night." It was unclear what sanctions Trump was referring to. CNN has reached out to the Treasury Department and National Security Council for comment. It's also unclear why the President only learned of the casualty estimates after he had first ordered the attack and minutes before the US strikes were to hit their targets. In an interview with NBC on Friday Trump went into more detail about his decision and said no planes were in the air at the time it was made. "I thought about it for a second and I said, you know what, they shot down an unmanned drone, plane, whatever you want to call it, and here we are sitting with a 150 dead people that would have taken place probably within a half an hour after I said go ahead, and I didn't like it, I didn't think, I didn't think it was proportionate," he said.

Trump calls Iranian shootdown of Navy drone a ‘fly in the ointment.’ Say what?  -- When Donald Trump ran for the White House in 2016, he blamed previous presidents for sending U.S. troops into endless, grinding wars and vowed to stay out of foreign conflicts. This week, he twice showed he meant it. On Monday, he dismissed explosions aboard two oil tankers that the U.S. had blamed on Iran as “very minor.” And on Thursday he shrugged off a more serious provocation, a predawn Iranian missile strike that downed a high-flying U.S. Navy surveillance drone.While he could still order retaliation, Trump initially sounded unruffled, calling the Iranian ground-to-air missile launch an inadvertent error by a rogue unit or general, someone “loose and stupid,” rather than a dramatic attack that might require a U.S. military response.“I find it hard to believe it was intentional,” Trump said, despite a boast by Iran’s foreign minister that Iranian forces had deliberately shot down the Global Hawk for, in his telling, violating Iranian airspace. The Pentagon denied that, insisting the drone was over international waters.“I imagine someone made a mistake,” Trump said. Instead of saying that Iran had gone too far, he dismissed the attack as “a new wrinkle, a new fly in the ointment.”It was the latest case of Trump giving a selectively optimistic interpretation of unsettling events and giving hostile foreign leaders the benefit of the doubt.In each case, he has used economic tools — sanctions — but avoided armed conflict. And he has dangled the possibility of one-on-one talks with adversaries that potentially offer Trump high-profile summitry and legacy-burnishing agreements. “He doesn't want to get involved in a military conflict, that's very clear,” said Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, a global risk assessment firm. “If he wanted to wag the dog, he's had a dozen opportunities and he's avoided every single one.”

Report: U.S. Launched Retaliatory Cyber Attack Against Iran - While President Trump said he called off a military strike on Iranian targets on Thursday night, the U.S. Cyber Command reportedly launched a cyber attack against a spy group tied to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Citing two former intelligence officials, Yahoo News reports the attack targeted a group with a history of tracking military and civilian vessels passing through the Strait of Hormuz. The tracking reportedly enabled attacks on ships in the area. The reported retaliatory attack comes after a $240 million U.S. military drone was shot down by Iran earlier this week, sparking fears of a military confrontation. However, Trump disclosed Friday that he called off an airstrike after he heard about the potential casualties it might cause. A number of vessels have also been attacked in the Persian Gulf in recent weeks, intensifying tensions between the U.S. and Iran. On Saturday, the Associated Press cited cyber analysts from CrowdStrike and FireEye who say Iran has stepped up cyber attacks on U.S. They said hackers thought to be employed by the Iranian government were targeting American governmental agencies and other sectors with spear-phishing emails, though it was unclear if those attacks had been successful.

 US-Iran military conflict will be a 'lose-lose situation,' analysts say - Tensions between the United States and Iran escalated rapidly after an American drone was shot down by Iranian forces in the Middle East on Thursday — but experts are not expecting it to lead to an outright military conflict. “Neither the Iranians nor the Americans can really gain anything. This is a complete lose-lose situation,” said Trita Parsi, adjunct associate professor at the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University. An Iranian surface-to-air missile downed an unmanned U.S. military surveillance drone on Thursday. Washington said the attack took place over the Strait of Hormuz — an international waterway. But Tehran said the aircraft had entered its airspace. “This is a tremendously tense situation,” Parsi said, adding that “the real trick here is to find a way to de-escalate.” Relations between the two countries deteriorated significantly after the  Trump administration’s decision last year to unilaterally withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement. Since then, Washington has restored sanctions on Iran’s vital oil sector, aimed at crippling the Islamic Republic’s economy. Just last week, Washington blamed Tehran for attacks on two oil tankers in the Persian Gulf— allegations that Iran denied. Parsi blamed U.S. President Donald Trump for the latest escalation. “This entire crisis is unnecessary, this was a resolved issue, Trump unfortunately unresolved it and I frankly don’t think he thought it would bring him to this point, ” said Parsi.  The New York Times reported late Thursday that in response to the U.S. drone attack, Trump approved military strikes against Iranian targets, but later withdrew from launching the planned attacks. “We are literally, on the verge of further escalation,” Parsi warned after the Times report.“And there are those in the White House who believe that if the U.S. strikes with some Tomahawk missiles, the Iranians will not retaliate. Mindful of everything we’ve seen so far, that seems to me as a very foolish premise,” he said. “The Iranians have made it quite clear that they will retaliate if attacked.”

Trump: "I Think I Know" Who Was Behind 9/11 Attacks - President Trump says he knows who was behind the September 11, 2001 attacks, telling ABC News's George Stephanopoulos "Iraq did not knock down the World Trade Center," adding "It were other people. And I think I know who the other people were. And you might also." Nearly 3,000 people died when 19 mostly-Saudi terrorists hijacked four passenger planes, flying them into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, while the fourth went down in a Pennsylvania field after passengers allegedly fought back. Astonishingly, the passports of three hijackers were recovered; two at the Pennsylvania crash site, and one from the World Trade Center grounds. While nobody claimed responsibility for the attacks for several months, the NSA and German intelligence reported intercepting communications pointing to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, after which investigators linked the 19 hijackers to the terrorist organization. Trump segued from his 9/11 comments into a criticism of America's military intervention in the Middle East, calling it "the worst decision made in the history of our country," and describing the region as "like quicksand." "It was a terrible decision to go into the Middle East. Terrible," said Trump, adding "We’re now up to almost $8 trillion. And when we want to build a roadway, a highway, a school, or something, everyone’s always fighting over money. It’s ridiculous. So that was a bad decision." The US, backed by allies including Britain, invaded Afghanistan, where the terror group was being sheltered. But 9/11 was also used as part of the justification for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, more than 4,000 Americans and 179 British troops, and contributed to the rise of the Isis terror group. -Independent Trump came under fire during the 2016 election when he claimed "There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey, where you have large Arab populations," adding "They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down." Defending his comments, Trump pointed to a September 18, 2001 Washington Post article which reads "In Jersey City, within hours of two jetliners' plowing into the World Trade Center, law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river."

Exclusive: Overruling his experts, Pompeo keeps Saudis off U.S. child soldiers list (Reuters) - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has blocked the inclusion of Saudi Arabia on a U.S. list of countries that recruit child soldiers, dismissing his experts’ findings that a Saudi-led coalition has been using under-age fighters in Yemen’s civil war, according to four people familiar with the matter. The decision, which drew immediate criticism from human rights activists and a top Democratic lawmaker, could prompt new accusations that U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is prioritizing security and economic interests in relations with oil-rich Saudi Arabia, a major U.S. ally and arms customer. Pompeo’s move followed unusually intense internal debate. It comes amid heightened tensions between the United States and Iran, the Saudis’ bitter regional rival. State Department experts recommended adding Saudi Arabia to the soon-to-be released list based in part on news reports and human rights groups’ assessments that the desert kingdom has hired child fighters from Sudan to fight for the U.S.-backed coalition in Yemen, the four sources said. The experts’ recommendation faced resistance from some other State Department officials who, according to three of the sources, argued that it was not clear whether the Sudanese forces were under the control of Sudanese officers or directed by the Saudi-led coalition. A New York Times report in December cited Sudanese fighters saying their Saudi and United Arab Emirates commanders directed them at a safe distance from the fighting against the coalition’s foes, Iran-aligned Houthi militias.

Senate votes to block Trump's Saudi arms sale --The Senate voted to block President Trump’s Saudi arms deal on Thursday, paving the way for a veto clash with the White House. The Senate voted 53-45 on resolutions to block two of the sales, with GOP Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Mike Lee (Utah), Jerry Moran (Kansas), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Todd Young (Ind.) joining Democrats. They voted 51-45 to block the additional 20 arms sales. Murkwoski flipped to vote for the sale, while Lee did not vote. The 22 arms sales, estimated to be worth more than $8 billion, would provide weapons to Saudi Arabia, as well as the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. But it sparked widespread backlash in Congress after Trump used an “emergency” provision of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) to sidestep the 30-day notification to lawmakers about a pending sale. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who sponsored the resolution, argued that Congress needed to send a message that U.S. alliances with Saudi Arabia or the UAE are “not a blank check.” “For months upon months, this administration has failed to demonstrate how equipping the Saudis with more weapons would improve the Saudis’ respect for human rights in Yemen or advance America’s own values and national security interests,” Menendez said. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) added that if lawmakers didn’t try to block the sale they were effectively allowing this administration and future administrations to ignore Congress on arms sales. “If we don’t take a positive vote here, we are giving away this priority potentially forever, because you know, this emergency in the Middle East is not a new emergency,” he added.

Trump Planning Economy Crippling Sanctions Against Turkey Over S-400 Purchase - With Turkey's purchase of the Russia S-400 missile-defense system looking like a done deal, the Trump Administration, which claims it already made Ankara its 'best offer' on the US Patriot missile-defense system, is trading the carrot for the stick and, in a non-too-subtle message to Erdogan and his senior advisors, warned that, if Turkey goes ahead with the purchase, the US will drive Turkey's nascent defense industry into ruin with CAATSA. Just days after Turkish officials warned that the S-400 purchase was as good as done, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday that Trump is feeling 'bipartisan' pressure from Congressional leaders to impose CAATSA sanctions against Turkey, and the administration has devised three plans for retaliation. Since technically any country that buys defense equipment from Russia is eligible for American sanctions, Congressional leaders are reportedly arguing that there's no legal reason to excuse Turkey from the sanctions (which appear to be applied on an ad hoc basis, seeing as America's idle threats haven't stopped India and others). The last time Trump took an aggressive tack with Turkey, he came away with the win: everybody who insists that punitive tariffs don't work should first remember Turkey's decision to release pastor Andrew Brunson, made after Washington doubled metal tariffs on the country in August and slapped sanctions on two senior government officials. The result? Brunson was released shortly afterward. And Trump is hoping the strategy will work again, though, so far at least, Turkey has shown no indication that it plans to back down. The US has been considering possible sanctions for well over a year as it became clear Turkey wasn’t going to back down. A leading proponent was Wess Mitchell, the assistant secretary of State for European affairs who stepped down earlier this year."This has the potential to spike the punch," Mitchell said of the S-400 purchase in Senate testimony in June 2018. "We can’t be any clearer than saying that both privately and publicly, that a decision on S-400 will qualitatively change the U.S.-Turkish relationship in a way that would be very difficult to repair." Yet Turkey has so far refused to back down. Part of the country’s calculation, according to people familiar with the matter and outside experts, is that Erdogan believes he can split Trump off from the rest of his administration and persuade him that buying the S-400 isn’t a big problem.

Shanahan drama shocks Capitol Hill, leaving Pentagon rudderless - Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan abruptly withdrew from consideration Wednesday to lead the Pentagon under a cloud of allegations surrounding domestic violence within his family, leaving senators fuming and the Defense Department rudderless at a time of rising tensions with Iran. Shanahan’s downfall came hours after published reports revealed new details about physical altercations with his ex-wife nearly a decade ago and after he appeared to be working as recently as Monday night to save his nomination with a sit-down interview with The Washington Post. And it raises questions anew about how much longer the Pentagon will go without a confirmed leader during a time of turmoil with Iran many lawmakers fear could turn to war. The announcement left senators angry they had been left in the dark about many of the details from Shanahan’s past even though he had already gone through a confirmation process to be deputy Defense secretary. “I feel that there was possibly a deliberate concealment here,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I think there ought to be an investigation by the IG [inspector general] in the Department of Defense. … There ought to be a complete investigation of that whole process. …This is potentially a violation of criminal law.” Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.), the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said he was aware during Shanahan’s deputy secretary confirmation of a “contentious divorce,” but that many of Tuesday’s reported details were new.

'Frustrated' Trump Sours On Venezuela Regime Change After Bolton 'Got Played'  --  President Trump has reportedly cooled on regime change in Venezuela, and thinks national security adviser John Bolton "got played" along with the director for Latin American Policy, Mauricio Claver-Carone, following an unsuccessful attempt at a coup by opposition leader Juan Guaidó, according to the Washington Post (citing their ever-anonymous sources).  A frustrated Trump believed that national security adviser John Bolton and his director for Latin American policy, Mauricio Claver-Carone, “got played” by both the opposition and key Maduro officials, two senior administration officials said. As the president “chewed out the staff” in a meeting shortly after the April 30 failure, in the words of one former Trump official involved in Venezuela policy, he mused that he might need to get on the phone himself to get something done. -WaPoThe Post's report was vigorously disputed by National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis, who said "Not only is this patently false, but once more the Washington Post traffics in fairy tales rather than the truth."Another senior official told the Post: "The United States never said that its effort in Venezuela would be limited to one round," adding "The administration’s maximum-pressure policy relies upon consistency and discipline to achieve the ultimate goal."With sanctions strangling the Venezuelan economy, both Maduro and his opponents are becoming fatigued, which the Post suggests will "theoretically encourage negotiations over elections in which Maduro does not participate, although it may not ensure his immediate departure, as the United States has advocated."According to the former official, Trump has thought of Venezuela "as low-hanging fruit" on which he could "get a win and tout it as a major foreign policy victory." "Five or six months later . . . it’s not coming together," said the Post's alleged source.

 Why The Empire Is Failing- The Horrid Hubris Of The Albright Doctrine - Since 9/11, Washington has been extraordinarily active militarily—invading two nations, bombing and droning several others, deploying special operations forces in yet more countries, and applying sanctions against many. Tragically, the threat of Islamist violence and terrorism only have metastasized. Although Al Qaeda lost its effectiveness in directly plotting attacks, it continues to inspire national offshoots. Moreover, while losing its physical “caliphate” the Islamic State added further terrorism to its portfolio. Three successive administrations have ever more deeply ensnared the United States in the Middle East. War with Iran appears to be frighteningly possible. Ever-wealthier allies are ever-more dependent on America. Russia is actively hostile to the United States and Europe. Washington and Beijing appear to be a collision course on far more than trade. Yet the current administration appears convinced that doing more of the same will achieve different results, the best definition of insanity. Despite his sometimes abusive and incendiary rhetoric, the president has departed little from his predecessors’ policies.   U.S. foreign policy suffers from systematic flaws in the thinking of the informal policy collective which former Obama aide Ben Rhodes dismissed as “The Blob.” Perhaps no official better articulated The Blob’s defective precepts than Madeleine Albright, United Nations ambassador and Secretary of State. First is overweening hubris. In 1998 Secretary of State Albright declared that “If we have to use force, it is because we are America: we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us.”  Even then her claim was implausible. America blundered into the Korean War and barely achieved a passable outcome. The Johnson administration infused Vietnam with dramatically outsize importance. For decades, Washington foolishly refused to engage the People’s Republic of China. Washington-backed dictators in Cuba, Nicaragua, Iran, and elsewhere fell ingloriously. An economic embargo against Cuba that continues today helped turn Fidel Castro into a global folk hero. Washington veered dangerously close to nuclear war with Moscow during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and again two decades later during military exercises in Europe.

Are the U.S. and China on a war footing in space? - A top Chinese general has a warning for any U.S. leaders planning an arms race in space: Be prepared to lose. Outspending a rival power into economic exhaustion might have helped the U.S. win the Cold War, said Qiao Liang, a major general in the Chinese air force who co-wrote a book called "Unrestricted Warfare: China’s Master Plan to Destroy America." But he said it won’t work against a wealthy manufacturing powerhouse like China. “China is not the Soviet Union,” Qiao said in an interview with the South China Morning Post, a news partner of POLITICO. “If the United States thinks it can also drag China into an arms race and take down China as it did with the Soviets … in the end, probably it would not be China who is down on the ground.” Qiao’s words come as both Washington and Beijing are pouring money and resources into an increasingly militarized space race that some security specialists and former U.S. officials fear is heightening the risk of war. The aggressive maneuvers include President Donald Trump’s proposal for a standalone Space Force — which Qiao dismisses as “an unwise move” — and efforts by both countries to develop laser and cyber weapons that could take out each other's satellites. The rivalry is plainly on the minds of leaders at the Pentagon, which cites "space" 86 times in a new threat assessment of China's military. It also warns that the People's Liberation Army is working on "enabling long-range precision strikes" and developing directed-energy weapons for use in orbit. Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and a slew of U.S. military leaders have cited China's military space programs as a key rationale for proposing the Space Force, which would gather nearly all the Defense Department’s space-related programs into a new military branch — similar to one China created four years ago. Congress is considering the administration’s plan, although some defense hawks are skeptical. Pence has also expressed alarm at China’s success in landing un-crewed probes on the moon, a place U.S. astronauts last visited in 1972. “Last December, China became the first nation to land on the far side of the moon and revealed their ambition to seize the lunar strategic high ground and become the world’s preeminent spacefaring nation,” Pence said at a meeting of the National Space Council in March.

US-China rivalry makes rare earths a matter of national security, rather than economics - If there is anything truly rare about rare earths, it must surely be the number of times any one of us ever thought or talked about them, until just a few months ago. But for some, rare earths have been front of mind for decades. China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, who in 1987 visited Baotou in Inner Mongolia, noted later: “The Middle East has oil, China has rare earths.” In the United States, it seems rare earths has been a cottage industry for security strategists for decades. The more you think about national security, the more you come to think about rare earths. In broad economic terms, for those of us looking at the drivers of global growth, and the forces that lift poor people out of poverty, rare earths are rather unimportant. For example, while copper production last year amounted to over 4 million tonnes, global production of rare earths amounted to just 168,000 tonnes. Why then has the national security-obsessed team gathered in the White House around President Donald Trump suddenly brought rare earths to front of mind? Why is China’s leadership toying with the idea of restricting rare earth exports as retaliation in the US tariff war? Last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping added fuel to fire by visiting the Ganzhou rare earths factory in Jiangxi province, home to the country’s biggest manufacturer of neodymium-iron-boron magnets. First things first: there are 17 elements generally regarded as rare earths – 15 of them lanthanides, plus scandium and yttrium. A few of them are indeed very rare. Promethium, for example, was only discovered in 1945, and only 500-600g of it naturally occurs on earth. Nowadays, the tiny amounts needed for luminous paint, or for nuclear batteries inside guided missiles or heart pacemakers are created synthetically by bombarding enriched uranium. But others are surprisingly common. There is more cerium (used in flints for cigarette lighters) on earth than there is copper, more lutetium than silver, and four times more praseodymium than tin. The rarity comes from the fact that these lanthanide elements share some weird properties, rarely exist in mineable concentrations, and are terribly tangled up with each other, which makes them difficult and expensive to separate.

Fake Made In Vietnam Certificates On The Rise As China Looks To Skirt Tariffs - In addition to the already long list of aftershocks from the U.S.-China trade war, including the number one fear of global recession, or higher prices for American consumers, we’re seeing a completely different perspective on the “Made in China” label. By a sleight of hand--or labelling--the trade war has prompted “Made in China” to become “Made in Vietnam”, even when it wasn’t.  At least, that’s the accusation coming out of Vietnam right now. Vietnamese authorities are claiming that China is sidestepping Trump’s tariffs by fraudulently slapping labels on products that say “Made in Vietnam” before "certificates of origin are processed".In Beijing’s attempt to circumvent tariffs using Vietnam--which enjoys low-tariffs imports to the U.S. thanks to a 2001 Bilateral Trade Agreement--Vietnamese authorities say they have identified “dozens” of fake “Made in Vietnam” certificates. The fraudulently certified goods range from agriculture and textiles to steel. But it’s not the first time this issue has come up. The Vietnamese have been holding onto this narrative for over a year. Back in September, U.S. customs officials uncovered Chinese plywood being shipped to the U.S. via a Vietnamese company. The process would see the Chinese ship plywood to Vietnam, unpack it and then repack it at a Vietnamese factory, Control Risks’ Singapore-based  Dane Chamorro told media last year.   So why bring it up now, precisely? Likely because Vietnam is growing increasingly concerned that it’s going to end up taking the heat for this and risk some sort of punishment. The Vietnamese Foreign Minister is worried that China’s scheme could “sabotage Vietnamese brands and products”. He’s also worried that there could end up being some sort of “tariff retribution from other countries”. With that in mind, Vietnam is keen to close up this “Made in Vietnam” loophole--even if it is a belated response. The bottom line? It’s very difficult to enforce tariffs across the board in the era of globalization.

Wilbur Ross Warns Not To Expect A US-China Deal At G-20 Meeting - To anyone expecting a major breakthrough at the June 28-29 Osaka G-20 meeting, Wilbur Ross has a simple message: "Don't."Speaking to the WSJ, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross sharply played down prospects of a "major" trade deal if President Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping meet at the Group of 20 summit in Japan later this month (which they very well may not as Xi has yet to commit to a meeting which would show him at a power disadvantage to Trump), but nonetheless he said he believes the two sides will ultimately get back to negotiations."I think the most that will come out of the G-20 might be an agreement to actively resume talks,” Ross said in a phone interview Sunday. “At the presidential level they’re not going to talk about the details of how do you enforce a trade agreement."So what is the best case scenario? Well: a return to square one, such diplomatic relations are now well in negative territory:  “The most that might come is new ground rules for discussion and some sort of schedule for when detailed technical talks might resume,” said Mr. RossRoss called in from the Paris Air Show, where the US aerospace industry is grappling with the fallout of the four-month grounding of the Boeing 737 Max airliner, not to mention global trade tensions that have darkened the outlook for many businesses. The aerospace execs present are also closely watching developments in the U.S.-China trade talks, which U.S. officials said were nearing a deal before the talks reached an impasse last month.Ross' attempt to sooth over the situation, left much to be desiredL “Even real shooting wars end with negotiation, and this will ultimately end in negotiations,” Mr. Ross said. “Whether that will be in 10 minutes, 10 weeks, 10 months or longer, it’s not possible to judge.” Hopefully it won't be 10 years. Meanwhile, D-Day draws near:  seven days of hearings begin Monday in Washington during which businesses and other stakeholders will weigh in on the newest proposed tariffs, and businesses will then have an additional week—until July 2—to provide comment. After that, the U.S. can consider the feedback and act.

We Will Fight Until The End - Beijing Warns Washington Will Lose Protracted Trade War -  Just as Global Times editor Hu Xijin warned last week, China's state media has ended a period of reticence and relaunched its campaign of aggressive editorials attacking Washington - the latest sign that a deal likely won't be forthcoming in Osaka, even if Trump and President Xi agree to meet. Hu described the forthcoming editorials as a "tsunami of criticism" directed at Washington, adding that these strongly worded missives "actually work to mobilize Chinese society for a protracted trade war." Of course, a patriotic popular movement will be needed to offset the trade-war-related fallout for at least one major Chinese company: HuaweiThere's a tsunami of criticism against the US in China's state media now. Don't think it's a show of toughness, it actually works to mobilize Chinese society for a protracted trade war. Mutual hostility of public opinion has greatly increased difficultly of making compromise.— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) June 17, 2019Meanwhile, Beijing published the first of these editorials in an influential Communist Party ideological journal, according to Reuters. The US has underestimated the will of the Chinese people to fight a trade war, and Beijing is prepared for a long economic battle, the influential journal warned in an editorial published yesterday. China wouldn't give in on "major principles" in its negotiations with the US on ending the dispute, the commentary in the ideological journal Qiushi, or "Seeking Truth" read. "China will not be afraid of any threats or pressure the United States is making that may escalate economic and trade frictions. China has no choice, nor escape route, and will just have to fight it out till the end," the Qiushi commentary said. "No one, no force should underestimate and belittle the steel will of the Chinese people and its strength and tenacity to fight a war." The commentary also accused Washington of trying to suppress Chinese innovation:

Trade War Nightmare Causes Collapse In Demand For US Industrial Space, Says Cushman & Wakefield - The latest Cushman & Wakefield commercial real estate report shows demand for US industrial space collapsed 60% on year in 1Q19, reflecting the global synchronized decline and the deepening trade war.Cushman & Wakefield's economists warned President Trump's trade war is unraveling complex supply chains around the world that have led to a slump in demand for industrial space. They also said the restocking trend by importers forced by the tariffs is likely over. There is also another possibility that the slowdown could be linked to some seasonal factors, the economist said."It is possible that the trade dispute is causing disruptions to supply chains which are causing demand for industrial space to slow. Another possibility is companies may have overstocked before the implementation of tariffs in 2018. Seasonality, a general slowing in the global economy and lagging supply may also have been the main culprits," economists Kevin Thorpe and Rebecca Rockey said in the report.The report said world export volumes are expected to have no growth this year, dropping from a 5% annual expansion rate in the last two years. To best visualize the global slowdown is YoY changes in global trade as measured by the IMF's Direction of Trade Statistics, courtesy of BMO's Ian Lyngern. It shows the collapse in global exports as broken down into three categories (graph):

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

U.S. chipmakers quietly lobby to ease Huawei ban: sources (Reuters) - Huawei’s American chip suppliers, including Qualcomm and Intel, are quietly pressing the U.S. government to ease its ban on sales to the Chinese tech giant, even as Huawei itself avoids typical government lobbying, people familiar with the situation said. Executives from top U.S. chipmakers Intel and Xilinx Inc attended a meeting in late May with the Commerce Department to discuss a response to Huawei’s placement on the black list, one person said. The ban bars U.S. suppliers from selling to Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment company, without special approval, because of what the government said were national security issues. Qualcomm has also pressed the Commerce Department over the issue, four people said. Chip makers argue that Huawei units selling products such as smartphones and computer servers use commonly available parts and are unlikely to present the same security concerns as the Chinese technology firm’s 5G networking gear, according to three people. “This isn’t about helping Huawei. It’s about preventing harm to American companies,” one of the people said.

The U.S. Is Purging Chinese Cancer Researchers From Top Institutions - The dossier on cancer researcher Xifeng Wu was thick with intrigue, if hardly the stuff of a spy thriller. It contained findings that she’d improperly shared confidential information and accepted a half-dozen advisory roles at medical institutions in China. She might have weathered those allegations, but for a larger aspersion that was far more problematic: She was branded an oncological double agent. In recent decades, cancer research has become increasingly globalized, with scientists around the world pooling data and ideas to jointly study a disease that kills almost 10 million people a year. International collaborations are an intrinsic part of the U.S. National Cancer Institute’s Moonshot program, the government’s $1 billion blitz to double the pace of treatment discoveries by 2022. One of the program’s tag lines: “Cancer knows no borders.” Except, it turns out, the borders around China. In January, Wu, an award-winning epidemiologist and naturalized American citizen, quietly stepped down as director of the Center for Public Health and Translational Genomics at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center after a three-month investigation into her professional ties in China. Her resignation, and the departures in recent months of three other top Chinese American scientists from Houston-based MD Anderson, stem from a Trump administration drive to counter Chinese influence at U.S. research institutions. The aim is to stanch China’s well-documented and costly theft of U.S. innovation and know-how. The collateral effect, however, is to stymie basic science, the foundational research that underlies new medical treatments. Everything is commodified in the economic cold war with China, including the struggle to find a cure for cancer. Behind the investigation that led to Wu’s exit—and other such probes across the country—is the National Institutes of Health, in coordination with the FBI. “Even something that is in the fundamental research space, that’s absolutely not classified, has an intrinsic value,” says Lawrence Tabak, principal deputy director of the NIH, explaining his approach. “This pre-patented material is the antecedent to creating intellectual property. In essence, what you’re doing is stealing other people’s ideas.”

Hollywood becomes unlikely victim of Trump's trade war -   Washington Post - Last month, “Avengers: Endgame” became the highest-grossing American film in the history of China. It was a seminal moment, suggesting the partnership between China and Hollywood, which over the years has moved in fits and starts, was finally firing on all cylinders. But the $614 million that Disney-Marvel booked may turn out to be an outlier. As the United States ups the stakes in a trade war, there are growing signs that China is quietly retaliating against the U.S. entertainment business.Beijing is now constricting Hollywood’s ability to peddle its product in the country, say four people who conduct business in China or closely monitor its relations with Hollywood.“I don’t want to use the words ‘total freeze,’ but it’s real,” said John Penotti, the producer of “Crazy Rich Asians” and head of SK Global who specializes in Asian productions. “They’re not saying it officially, but the industry is operating as if it’s close to a total shutdown.”In contrast to many countries, distribution in China requires government approval, and according to these sources, the Chinese government is unlikely to offer distribution slots to more than a small handful of movies. The latest Spider-Man, Secret Life of Pets and Toy Story movies appear likely to get the nod, but most other summer and even fall hopefuls face being locked out of the world’s second-largest film market.Hollywood relies on China to power its foreign box office, which in turn powers its film revenue, and the standoff reflects how much of a conundrum China represents for Hollywood.The availability of so many overseas ticket-buyers at a time of intense entertainment competition at home has been a boon for U.S. studios. But at the same time, the mercurial ways of Chinese regulators and the ways that market penetration is subject to geopolitical crosswinds also make the nation a vexing place for studios to do business. If the trade war wears on and the market remains cut off, it could result in a reduction of the budgets of studio movies, since it’s Chinese yuan that make them possible.

Over 600 US Companies Sign Letter Supporting Trump Tariffs On China  - A letter from over 600 US companies businesses in support of President Trump's tariffs on approximately $300 billion of Chinese imports was scheduled to be submitted on Friday before the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), according to the Daily Caller, which reviewed the document.  It is the intention of Coalition for a Prosperous America (CPA), Chief Economist, Jeff Ferry to present the letter Friday morning during his testimony to the USTR. This letter pushes back on the letter last week that asks Trump to stop the tariffs on China. Those signers were mostly big-box retailers who manufacture their products in China. This all comes as President Donald Trump said that he is considering slapping China with more tariffs if Chinese President Xi Jinping does not meet with him during the G-20 summit in late June. Since, the warning, the two have agreed to meet. However, Trump said if Xi does not attend the event, he will immediately impose new tariffs on $300 billion in Chinese imports, including a number of consumer products. -Daily Caller In May, Trump raised tariffs on around $200 billion of Chinese goods from 10% to 25%. Three days later, China slapped around $60 billion in US goods with reciprocal tariffs. "The global integration project with China, through liberalized trade, has failed. The Communist Party of China has used its access to U.S. consumer and capital markets for a predatory economic strategy to grow its state-owned enterprises, finance its military build up, imprison its citizens in modern day concentration camps and challenge America’s geopolitical power," according to Coalition for a Prosperous America CEO Michael Stumo.  "Our American companies and workers have been weakened by this failed experiment. We want it to stop," he added.

 With US elections looming, Donald Trump’s populist but damaging trade war against China is here to stay - A full-scale trade war between the United States and China is in no one’s economic interest. The adverse impact will not be limited to those two countries, but will ripple across the global economy, producing no winners in the process. Some observers may find comfort in the idea that the trade stand-off will end before the economic damage is felt. However, the tariff drive should be seen as part of the populist uprising; one that is not going to fade any time soon. Market players need to brace for the potential for a longer stand-off as US President Donald Trump eyes the potential political gains from a protracted trade war with China, in spite of the collateral damage to the economy. The economic consequences of tariffs are clear. First, they function as a simple tax on goods. Although taxes on goods increase government revenue, they also lead to a misallocation of resources, which drives the overall economy into an inefficient equilibrium. Because tariffs raise the price of consumption, the purchasing power of households is reduced and fewer goods are bought. At the same time, households and companies try to substitute the items being targeted for others, thereby ending up consuming a basket of goods that has been distorted by the tax. This new basket represents an inferior choice for the consumer. When Trump tweets that the US will win the trade war, he assumes that US households and companies will move towards a domestically produced basket of goods and that this will indirectly create new American jobs. I am sceptical. In my view, it is more likely that US households and companies will shift their consumption to goods produced in Vietnam or Mexico – helped potentially by a new trade deal with the latter – rather than back to American‑produced goods. US jobs, which have been outsourced to China, will not be repatriated before the production process has become entirely automated. 

Trump says he and China’s Xi spoke, will have ‘extended meeting next week’ at G-20 -- President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping “will be having an extended meeting next week at the G-20 in Japan.” In a tweet, Trump said that he and Xi “had a very good telephone conversation,” and that “our respective teams will begin talks prior to our meeting.” Chinese state media reported shortly following the announcement that Xi had agreed to meet with Trump at the summit, scheduled for June 28-29 in Osaka.  Xi said he hoped that the U.S. treats Chinese companies fairly, according to Chinese media — a possible reference to Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant that faces a ban because of what the U.S. calls national security issues.China had kept mum about whether Xi would agree to a face-to-face meeting with the U.S. president at the summit while the two economic superpowers remain locked in a heated trade dispute.  Trump has said he expected that meeting to occur at the high-profile summit, but had recently downplayed the impact that it could have on forging a trade deal with Beijing. Trump told Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” last week that “it doesn’t matter ” if Xi attends the G-20 or not. “If he shows up, good, if he doesn’t — in the meantime, we’re taking in billions of dollars a month [in tariffs] from China,” Trump told Fox.

China, U.S. trade teams to hold talks –  (Reuters) - Top Chinese and U.S. officials will hold trade talks following instructions from their leaders, the Chinese commerce ministry said on Thursday, adding that Beijing hoped Washington would create the necessary conditions for dialogue. China hopes the United States will listen to its industry and stop threatening tariffs and waging a trade war, commerce ministry spokesman Gao Feng told reporters at a regular briefing. Trade talks between the world’s two largest economies collapsed last month, with U.S. President Donald Trump accusing China of watering down its commitments. Trump raised tariffs on Chinese goods and has threatened even more.

US Farmers Call For Third Farm Bailout If Trade War Intensifies- Lobby -- This year's corn crop has been absolutely decimated by constant rain and unseasonably cold weather. Trade wars have collapsed American exports of soybeans to China, as foreclosures and bankruptcies are now rippling through the Midwest's agricultural sector at disturbing speeds.The US farm lobby said Tuesday that a third farm bailout would be needed if Washington grinds to a halt during the 2020 US election cycle limits President Trump from closing trade deals and reopening top export markets, reported Reuters. American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said if Congress fails to approve the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), then other trade deals between the European Union and Japan could remain unresolved. Farmers have already felt a tremendous loss of momentum in exports to China. They're now hoping countries like Europe and Mexico can purchase additional agriculture products. "The deeper we get into this campaign season, the more difficult it might become" to get USMCA ratified or any trade deals done, Duvall said in an interview.  Democratic lawmakers seized the House of Representatives during the 2018 midterm election - as they have routinely demanded changes to the USMCA trade deal. Duvall said the Farm Bureau has indicated that key export markets have been disrupted at a time when low spot prices, high inventory levels, slowing economic outlook, and damaging weather across the Midwest, could culminate into a full-blown farm crisis on par to the 1980s.

India just hit the United States with more tariffs - CNN - - India just increased tariffs on US exports, dealing another blow to fragile global trade.The tariffs on several US products will go into effect on June 16, India's Finance Ministry said in astatement Saturday. The goods targeted include American apples — which will be hit with a 70% tariff — as well as almonds, lentils and several chemical products.India first announced plans to impose new tariffs a year ago in retaliation for increased US import duties on Indian steel and aluminum. But it repeatedly delayed imposing them while the two sides held a series of trade talks.The Indian government did not specify the value of the goods targeted in its statement, but previously told the World Trade Organization that they were worth around $241 million.  The two countries exchange goods and services worth about $142 billion a year, but the relationship has soured in recent weeks after the Trump administration ended India's participation in a preferential trade program earlier this month. The program exempted Indian goods worth more than $6 billion from US import duties in 2018. One of President Donald Trump's biggest priorities has been reducing the United States' trade deficits with countries around the world. Last month, his administration increased tariffs to 25% from 10% on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, and it's threatening to target another $300 billion of exports from the world's second largest economy.Business is warning of damage to the US economy. Tensions have been rising since the United States ended India's participation in a preferential trade program this month.India runs a small surplus in goods trade with the United States, exporting around $54 billion to the United States in 2018 and buying about $33 billion worth of American goods, according to US government data. Trump has repeatedly slammed India's tariffs on products like motorcycles and whiskey, and his decision to revoke trade privileges for India followed complaints from American dairy farmers and medical device manufacturers that tariffs imposed by New Delhi were hurting their exports.

 Exclusive: U.S. tells India it is mulling caps on H-1B visas to deter data rules - sources - (Reuters) - The United States has told India it is considering caps on H-1B work visas for nations that force foreign companies to store data locally, three sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters, widening the two countries’ row over tariffs and trade. The plan to restrict the popular H-1B visa program, under which skilled foreign workers are brought to the United States each year, comes days ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to New Delhi. India, which has upset companies such as Mastercard and irked the U.S. government with stringent new rules on data storage, is the largest recipient of these temporary visas, most of them to workers at big Indian technology firms. The warning comes as trade tensions between the United States and India have resulted in tit-for-tat tariff actions in recent weeks. From Sunday, India imposed higher tariffs on some U.S. goods, days after Washington withdrew a key trade privilege for New Delhi. Two senior Indian government officials said on Wednesday they were briefed last week on a U.S. government plan to cap H-1B visas issued each year to Indians at between 10% and 15% of the annual quota. There is no current country-specific limit on the 85,000 H-1B work visas granted each year, and an estimated 70% go to Indians. Both officials said they were told the plan was linked to the global push for “data localization”, in which a country places restrictions on data as a way to gain better control over it and potentially curb the power of international companies. U.S. firms have lobbied hard against data localization rules around the world. A Washington-based industry source aware of India-U.S. negotiations also said the United States was deliberating capping the number of H-1B visas in response to global data storage rules. The move, however, was not solely targeted at India, the source said.

Whether It’s the New NAFTA or the Old NAFTA, It Serves the 1 Percent -- Mick Mulvaney, a millionaire who is President Trump’s acting chief of staff and director of the Office of Management and Budget, awarded himself another job last week: spokesman for labor.  Referring to the proposed new NAFTA, he told the Wall Street Journal, “We know that labor supports it.”  That, right there, is the problem with NAFTA, old and new. One percenters like Mulvaney, self-dealing corporate honchos and fancy-pants corporate lobbyists negotiated the deals. Those fat cats claimed they spoke for labor. But when they opened their mouths, only the word profit emerged. They didn’t give a damn about jobs or wages or workers’ welfare. The ravages NAFTA inflicted on the non-rich prove that. The proposed new NAFTA is barely different. Mulvaney, though he tried to usurp labor’s voice, is far from labor’s mouthpiece. Labor speaks for itself. And it is railing against NAFTA, old and new.  The United Steelworkers (USW) union opposed NAFTA from the outset and even filed suit in an attempt to prevent it from taking effect. Like 1992 independent presidential candidate Ross Perot, the union knew NAFTA was a giant vacuum that would suck American and Canadian factories and jobs south of the Mexican border, where wages were, and remain, untenably low and environmental laws unenforced. In the quarter-century under NAFTA, more than 1 million American jobs were lost, U.S. wages stagnated and U.S. trade deficits with Mexico increased. That 1 million is a 2013 number and does not include untold thousands of U.S. jobs lost more recently at the likes of Carrier furnace, UTC electronics and Rexnord bearings factories, all in Indiana, and General Motors’ Lordstown assembly plant in Ohio. Rexnord told its 350 Indianapolis workers they could keep their jobs if they’d work for Mexican wages—that is, for less than U.S. minimum wage.  That’s what NAFTA did: It pitted U.S. and Canadian workers earning family-supportive wages against Mexican workers subsisting on pathetic pay and mostly denied the right to form independent labor unions that would help raise those wages. At the same time, NAFTA displaced 2 million Mexican family farmers as U.S. agricultural products, sometimes subsidized, flowed tariff-free south of the border. Workers in all three countries suffered.

 Senators reach $4.5B deal on Trump's emergency border request - The top members of the Senate Appropriations Committee have struck a deal on President Trump's request for more funding tied to the U.S.-Mexico border after weeks of stalemate, two aides confirmed to The Hill. The deal — worked out between Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the top Democrat on the panel — would provide Trump more than $4.5 billion for the border funding package. The agreement comes less than a day before the Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to mark up the border package. If senators hadn't been able to reach a deal, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had threatened to force a vote on a bill next week to pressure Democrats to go on the record on the Senate floor. The Senate's $4.5 billion package is expected to include billions in humanitarian aid for the border, including money to shore up the Department of Health and Human Services's (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement. Senators and administration officials had warned that without more money the office would run out of funding by early next month. Lawmakers are hoping to pass the supplemental border bill before they leave at the end of next week for the July 4th recess. But there are still hurdles, including winning over the Democratic-controlled House.

What Happens When a US Border Protection Contractor Gets Hacked? - (podcast) Every day, 1.1 million people travel through American points of entry, according to statistics from US Custom and Border Protection (CBP). Of those 1.1 million, almost 700,000 are people coming in by land, and of those almost 300,000 come in by privately owned vehicles.   Depending on their way in, CBP gets fingerprints, photos, biometric data, passport IDs, and the license plate numbers of all the millions of people who cross the border by car.In May, Motherboard reported that a hacker known as “Boris the bullet dodger” said he had hacked a license plate reader company called Perceptics, then posted a large cache of the stolen data on the dark web. Now, less than a month later, CBP issued a statement confirming a data breach at one of its contractors. Earlier this week, Motherboard was also able to download images of driversfrom the Perceptics hack that were posted to the dark web. On this week’s episode of CYBER, we’ve got Joseph Cox and Motherboard Editor in Chief Jason Koebler to discuss what the hack tells us about government data collection and the use of private companies to collect that data.

As promised, Trump slashes aid to Central America over migrants -(Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration on Monday cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, after Trump blasted the three countries because thousands of their citizens had sought asylum at the U.S. border with Mexico. The plan will likely encounter stiff opposition in Congress. Lawmakers, including some of Trump’s fellow Republicans as well as Democrats, have chafed against the president’s repeated decisions to disregard spending bills passed by Congress, some of which he has signed into law himself. Lawmakers who opposed the plan said it was cruel to cut off aid to countries grappling with hunger and crime and that the move would be counterproductive because it would more likely increase the number of migrants than decrease it. “As feared, a presidential tantrum will limit our nation’s ability to actually help address the challenges forcing people to flee to the U.S.,” Democratic Senator Bob Menendez said on Twitter.

Migration Is Part Of The Model - The Real Roots Of Central America's Migrant Crisis - When the average American thinks about Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, their initial impression is typically that these are destitute countries overrun by crime, poverty and malnutrition, with central governments that are, at best, only semi-functioning. The crisis at the southern border has only helped reinforce these perceptions, as the mainstream media spins a narrative about impoverished migrant families fleeing the ravages of gang violence. But if these Central American countries are so extremely impoverished  poor,then why are bond investors willing to lend to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador at interest rates on par with the preferential terms enjoyed by regional economic powerhouses like Brazil? The truth, as it turns out, is more complicated: All three countries are viewed as stable, even safe, investments because they spend almost nothing on government services. And most of what little is spent is siphoned off by graft. But if these countries can borrow so cheaply, then why aren't they? Until last week, the group of three countries had gone more than two years without issuing a bond.Fearing the type of runaway inflation presently plaguing Venezuela, fiscal austerity has become "almost like a religion" among the leaders of all three countries. Even the IMF, an institution that’s been criticized for years for pushing draconian budget cuts, has urged Guatemala to spend more."There’s an obsession with this issue," said Ricardo Castaneda, an economist with ICEFI, a Guatemala City-based think tank that focuses on fiscal policy.But with their infrastructure in shambles and their people reportedly suffering from high maternal mortality rates, why aren't these governments willing to borrow more?Well, as it turns out - and as a team of Bloomberg reporters explained in a lengthy report published on Wednesday - there's a good reason. And it's that the corrupt leaders of these countries don't want to upset the apple cart that allows the system of widespread corruption and graft to flourish.

A record number of African migrants are coming to US-Mexico border (AP) — Undaunted by a dangerous journey over thousands of miles, people fleeing economic hardship and human rights abuses in African countries are coming to the US-Mexico border in unprecedented numbers, surprising Border Patrol agents more accustomed to Spanish-speaking migrants. Officials in Texas and even Maine are scrambling to absorb the sharp increase in African migrants. They are coming to America after flying across the Atlantic Ocean to South America and then embarking on an often harrowing overland journey. In one recent week, agents in the Border Patrol's Del Rio sector stopped more than 500 African migrants found walking in separate groups along the arid land after splashing across the Rio Grande, children in tow. That is more than double the total of 211 African migrants who were detained by the Border Patrol along the entire 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) US-Mexico border in the 2018 fiscal year. "We are continuing to see a rise in apprehensions of immigrants from countries not normally encountered in our area," said Raul Ortiz, head of the USBorder Patrol's Del Rio sector. The immigrants in Texas were mostly from the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola. Cameroonians have also been traveling up through Mexico and into the US in larger numbers and seeking asylum at ports of entry. Read more: The Trump administration has admitted the lowest number of refugees the US has accepted in decades. Here's what people go through to make it to the US. On recent Saturday in Tijuana, there were 90 Cameroonians lined up to get on a waiting list to request asylum that has swelled to about 7,500 names. Also on the waiting list are Ethiopians, Eritreans, Mauritanians, Sudanese and Congolese. Cameroonians generally fly to Ecuador because no visa is required and take about four months to reach Tijuana. They walk for days in Panama through dense forest, where they are often robbed and held in government-run camps. They come from Cameroon's English-speaking south with horrifying stories of rape, murder, and torture since late 2016 by soldiers of the country's French-speaking majority

Africans Coming Across The Southern Border Have Rolls Of $100 Bills - The “poor huddled masses” coming across the southern border may not be so poor after all... Swiss journalist Urs Gehriger recently visited African migrants who breached the border and hung out on the streets of San Antonio, Texas, waiting to go elsewhere in the country, and he met hostility from people who didn’t want to share details about their experiences, conflicted each other, and had rolls of $100 bills.In a recording played on Fox News, Gehriger asks a migrant from Congo how she got to America.She refused to say.“We are here now in the United States. Why do you ask about Ecuador?” a woman said, referring to the reported country they passed through.As Gehriger continued to ask simple questions, he said they backtracked and “were not answering at all.”“They wouldn’t tell me anything about how they got here, and then they started to get aggressive and they were contradicting each other,” he told Laura Ingraham.“One said they ran through the forest, and another said no, there was no forest, and they were actually arguing among themselves,” Gehriger said.He said they started to get “aggressive” after questions about money and help.Gehriger believes the illegals were coached on giving answers to authorities. “I had the impression that somebody told them not to speak about it,” and acting like “now we’re here, you have to help us, give us money.”

Immigration enforcement is funded at a much higher rate than labor standards enforcement—and the gap is widening -  If it’s true as they say that “budgets are moral documents,” then this Congress and administration does not place much value on worker rights or working conditions. A comparative analysis of 2018 federal budget data reveals that detaining, deporting, and prosecuting migrants, and keeping them from entering the country, is the top law enforcement priority of the United States—but protecting workers in the U.S. labor market and ensuring that their workplaces are safe and that they get paid for every cent their earn is barely an afterthought.In 2013, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) made headlines with a report that highlighted the fact that appropriations for immigration enforcement agencies exceeded funding for the five main U.S. law enforcement agencies combined by 24 percent. A recent report from MPI updated the numbers, showing that after six years of skyrocketing spending, immigration enforcement agencies received $24 billion in 2018, or $4.4 billion more than they did in 2012 (in constant 2018 dollars). This amounts to “34 percent more than the $17.9 billion allocated for all other principal federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined,” which includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, Secret Service, Marshals Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.With $24 billion in federal spending and climbing, immigration enforcement has undoubtedly become the top law enforcement priority of the U.S. government and the Trump administration. Where do labor standards and worker rights fit in? My analysis of federal budget data reveals that spending on immigration enforcement in 2018 was an astonishing 11 times greater than spending to enforce labor standards—despite the mandate labor agencies have to protect 146 million workers employed at 10 million workplaces. Labor standards enforcement across the federal government received $2.2 billion in 2012, and that amount has decreased since then. In 2018, the budget for labor standards enforcement was only $2.0 billion, a $200 million decrease in real terms. (SeeFigure A.)

ICE Shackles Terminally Ill Patients, Uses Therapy Sessions Against Children - When a man in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who had metastatic cancer, was brought to a hospital in Houston, a doctor was not able to conduct a proper examination. ICE would not let the doctor remove restraints that ran across his body, and he died after a few weeks.In another case, a doctor asked ICE agents to remove shackles from a patient, who was critically ill. The agents would provide no information on why the restraints were necessary. “I couldn’t think of the rationale of chaining someone who is so sick he almost died,” the doctor recalled. The two examples represent some of the cruelty individuals are experiencing as President Donald Trump’s administration carries out and intensifies a harsh anti-immigration policy. They were highlighted in a reportfrom the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) on how attacks on immigrants are making it difficult for medical professionals to provide patient care.“Medical staff report feeling too intimidated by the armed agents to stand up to ICE or CBP enforcement actions against their patients, or to face hospital administration that is unwilling to become involved when clinicians advocate on the patient’s behalf.”Several professionals suggested the government is violating what is called the “Sensitive Locations” policy. Apparently, ICE and CBP are not supposed to conduct enforcement operations at medical facilities unless there are “exigent circumstances.”In one outrageous and well-known case, CBP officials clearly violated their policy by detaining Rosa Maria Hernandez, a 10 year-old suffering from cerebral palsy. She needed emergency gallbladder surgery, and officials ignored the advice of doctors who urged CBP to discharge her to her family. They took her to a juvenile detention facility. “Patients have the right to be treated by a physician who is free to make decisions about ethical clinical treatment without outside interference,” concluded Hampton. “We must make sure that medical facilities adopt policies that protect both physicians and patients in situations that threaten those ethical commitments.”

 ICE will begin removing 'millions' of undocumented immigrants next week, Donald Trump tweets - President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter late Monday night that Immigration and Customs Enforcement next week would begin "removing the millions of illegal aliens" from the U.S. "as fast as they come in." A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told ABC News that the deportations described by the president in Twitter aren’t imminent. ICE does not normally unveil operational details in advance. Separately, an administration official said Tuesday morning that enforcing final deportation orders "is a top priority." "Countless illegal aliens not only violate our borders but then break the law all over again by skipping their court hearings and absconding from federal proceedings. These runaway aliens lodge phony asylum claims only to be no-shows at court and are ordered removed in absentia," the official told ABC News. "There are more than 1 million illegal aliens who have been issued final deportation orders by federal judges yet remain at large in the country. These judicial removal orders were secured at great time and expense, and yet illegal aliens not only refuse to appear in court, they often obtain fraudulent identities, collect federal welfare, and illegally work in the United States. Enforcing these final judicial orders is a top priority for Immigration and Customs Enforcement — willful defiance of our laws, and the defrauding of the American People with fraudulent asylum claims, will not be tolerated,” the official said in a statement. Less than two weeks after signing a deal with Mexico to avoid another trade war, Trump said America's neighbor to the south now is "doing a very good job of stopping people long before they get to our Southern Border."

 Trump announces operation to deport “millions” of immigrants from the US - US President Donald Trump announced in a tweet Monday night that Immigration and Customs and Enforcement is preparing to launch mass raids as soon as next week to round up and deport millions of undocumented immigrants. “Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States,” Trump declared. “They will be removed as fast as they come in.” The announcement is an appeal to his fascistic base, coming just one day before he officially launched his reelection campaign at a rally in Orlando, Florida. At the rally Tuesday night, Trump blamed “mass illegal migration,” “vicious gang members” and “sanctuary cities” for threatening the well-being of American citizens. “We are doing things that few others have even tried to do, and we are making progress like nobody would believe,” Trump declared. “We believe our country should be a sanctuary for law-abiding citizens, not criminal aliens.”  “It’s real and for the optics,” an anonymous Trump election campaign official told the Los Angeles Times Tuesday about the deportation threats.  Also speaking anonymously to the Los Angeles Times, a Trump administration official confirmed that the massive assault would begin by targeting the more than one million immigrants who are subject to removal orders but have not been arrested by federal agents. The deportation orders, the official complained bitterly, “were secured at great time and expense, and yet illegal aliens not only refuse to appear in court, they often obtain fraudulent identities, collect federal welfare and illegally work in the United States.” Trump has repeatedly denounced immigrants as “invaders” and criminals in order to stoke up his far-right base and justify the detention of thousands of fathers, mothers and children. The arrest and detention of millions of immigrants in a sprawling network of concentration camps would mark a significant escalation of Trump’s war on immigrants. It would require effective martial law in every major city, sweeping up a significant portion of the working class in a domestic military-style mobilization without precedent in American history. Such an operation would dwarf the roundup and internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.

U.S. Cities Brace for Mass Deportations to Start Sunday  President Donald Trump tweeted a stern warning ahead of mass deportations of 2,000 people to be carried out by Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Sunday. “The people that Ice will apprehend have already been ordered to be deported,” he tweeted early Saturday morning. “This means that they have run from the law and run from the courts. These are people that are supposed to go back to their home country. They broke the law by coming into the country, & now by staying.” NBC reports that the I.C.E. officials will seek out families who are on deportation lists but have so far not said where the raids will take place. City leaders in Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles, which have large numbers of migrant families, issued statements protesting the plans.

DOJ Lost Track Of 62 Crime-Linked Foreigners Brought Into Country To Rat On People  - The Justice Department has lost track of 62 foreigners brought into the United States under a special program which allows otherwise inadmissible individuals into the country to assist with criminal investigations, according to an audit performed by the DOJ's inspector general.  The audit spanned the end of the Obama administration into the beginning of Trump's presidency, according to the Washington Examiner's Jerry Dunleavy. DOJ sponsors the immigration of thousands of foreign nationals who might otherwise be inadmissible to the U.S. “due to their association with criminal enterprises.” The new report, which scrutinized these DOJ immigration sponsorship programs, said these foreign nationals are useful to law enforcement because of “their access to criminal enterprises and ability to provide testimony in support of prosecution.” But there are “significant risks” involved as well, the report said, because the people in question “may be associated with criminal activity and motivated by the ability to reside temporarily in the United States.” -Washington Examiner    The DOJ also screwed up and either didn't renew or terminate their sponsorship of a foreign national correctly - allowing the witness to "fall into an illegal status while residing in the United States."   The ham-handed handling of said individuals may result in "unnecessary, unexpected, and costly deportation of foreign nationals for whom DOJ had a continued need," according to the report, which notes that there could be "serious consequences for the investigations they were assisting." Two mechanisms primarily used by the DOJ in order to use these crime-linked witnesses; 'significant public benefit parole' - which allows for said class of foreigners to remain in the country, and 'deferred action,' which delays deportation proceedings against a foreign national who isn't in the US legally. In rare cases, the DOJ uses three-year 'S Visas" as long as they cooperate on complex cases, and 'PL-110 sponsorship," giving permanent legal residency to foreign nationals.  The Drug Enforcement Agency and the FBI, which sponsored 2,380 foreign nationals and 3,059 foreign nationals during this time frame, respectively, are the DOJ agencies most heavily involved in the programs working with foreign nationals.

Trump says he will roll out new health care plan in next couple of months President Trump said he'll be rolling out a new health care plan in a couple of months, saying it will be a key focus in his 2020 reelection campaign. "We're going to produce phenomenal health care, and we already have the concept of the plan," Trump told ABC News in an interview aired Sunday night. "We'll be announcing that in two months, maybe less," he added, when prompted for specifics. Trump said "we almost had health care done," adding that ObamaCare "is a disaster," but "we've made it serviceable." Health care was also a primary focus of Trump's first presidential campaign, claiming that during his presidency he would repeal and replace ObamaCare with a plan that would insure all Americans. During his time in office, Trump and Republican lawmakers have attempted to repeal portions of ObamaCare, despite recent elections signaling public support for the program. The Trump administration even took legal action to try and overturn the Affordable Care Act through a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department claiming the bill is unconstitutional. Whichever candidate Trump faces in 2020 will likely make health care a key debate point in the race. The Democratic presidential candidates support a range of universal health care proposals.

Amgen, Merck, and Eli Lilly sue over Trump administration policy to require drug prices in TV ads — A trio of pharmaceutical manufacturers on Friday filed suit to overturn one of the most impactful drug pricing policies the Trump administration has enacted to date: a requirement that the companies include a medicine’s list price in direct-to-consumer advertising. The drug makers — Amgen, Merck, and Eli Lilly — were joined by the Association of National Advertisers on the lawsuit. In a press release, Amgen said the rule raises “freedom of speech concerns” and that it “fails to account for differences among insurance, treatments, and patients themselves.” The rule is set to go into effect this summer. “Americans deserve accurate information about the price they will pay for prescription drugs,” the lawsuit reads.  But while the rule “purports to further that objective,” the drug makers argue, it “will instead frustrate it by misleading patients about their out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs in a manner that even HHS admits may ‘confuse’ and ‘intimidate’ patients.”

 Why are reparations for slavery being made an issue in the 2020 US elections?  - A contentious hearing was held Wednesday before the US House Judiciary Committee on a bill, H.R. 40, that would establish a congressional commission to study and consider a national apology and reparations for slavery and succeeding racial and economic discrimination against African Americans. The bill, sponsored by Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee from Houston, Texas, was first introduced by the former Congressman John Conyers in 1989 and at every annual session since for nearly three decades. Wednesday, however, marked the first time that a bill relating to reparations for slavery was considered by the full committee. At a time when social inequality is driving a growing movement of workers and youth, the issue is being deliberately promoted by the Democratic Party to inject racial divisions into the heart of the 2020 election campaign. The formation of a commission has been co-sponsored by Tulsi Gabbard, Eric Swalwell and Tim Ryan, three of the four current Democratic Representatives running for the party’s presidential nomination. The bill also has the backing of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, both presidential candidates. Booker was the first person to testify at Wednesday’s hearing.The panel included a cross section of privileged, upper-middle class African Americans, from author Ta-Nehisi Coates, a strong supporter of Barack Obama who spoke out in favor of reparations, to retired American football player Burgess Owens, who used his time to oppose reparations from the far-right, delivering a screed denouncing socialism and Marxism.The call for reparations raises complex political and historical questions that are nowhere addressed by any of those taking up the demand. With no living survivors of the “peculiar institution” of chattel slavery, it is impossible to place it in the framework of legal reparations. How would such reparations be paid and by whom? By the direct descendants of slave holders? Only by those who had ancestors living in the US during the period of slavery? By all whites? Or would it be extracted from society as a whole?

 House Dems release bills to renew tax breaks, expand tax credits for workers and families - Key House Democrats on Tuesday released legislation to renew expired tax breaks and expand tax credits benefiting low- and middle-income workers and families. The House Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to vote on both bills Thursday. The bills come as Congress have wrestled with how to address a host of tax breaks that expired at the end of 2017 and 2018, known as tax "extenders." They reflect the desire of Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) to pair a renewal of the extenders with an expansion of tax credits that benefit workers and families. The bills Democrats introduced Tuesday are not expected to become law in their current form, but reflect Democrats' priorities for negotiations over fiscal-policy packages. One of the bills, introduced by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), would extend tax breaks that expired in 2017 and 2018, as well as tax breaks set to expire this year, through 2020. Provisions that would be extended include a host of tax breaks benefiting the renewable energy industry, the lower threshold for the medical-expense deduction and lower alcohol excise taxes. The bill would also provide tax relief to taxpayers who survived disasters that occurred from Jan. 1, 2018 through 30 days after the enactment of the legislation. To offset the cost of extending the expired and expiring tax breaks, the bill would have the GOP tax law's increase in estate-tax exemption amounts expire at the end of 2022. Currently, those provisions are set to expire at the end of 2025. Another bill, offered by Neal, would expand the earned income tax credit, the child tax credit and the child and dependent care tax credit for two years. It would also provide permanent funds for the earned income tax credit and child tax credit for Puerto Rico and other territories.

Still No Minimum Wage Bill – Not Because Of Trump Or McTurtle – Because Of Pelosi And Hoyer And Their Blue Dogs -- The Deseret News in Utah ran an OpEd that one wouldn’t expect to see in a right-wing Republican newspaper,America Has Gone Too Long Without Raising The Minimum Wage. “June 16 marks the longest period in history without an increase since the federal minimum wage was established in 1938. The federal minimum wage went to $7.25 an hour on July 24, 2009– nearly 10 years ago. It remains $7.25 today, amounting to just $15,080 a year for full-time work.  Our economy has grown considerably since 1968, but not the federal minimum wage, which sets the floor under worker pay.” As we saw Sunday evening, Steny Hoyer is willing to put everything on the line to get a raise— for members of Congress. Enough Democrats agreed that– at the very least– this looked out of touch with the economic realties of the country that Hoyer was reigned in by his own caucus. There’s no chance a minimum wage increase is going to be enacted with McConnell running the Senate and Trump in the White House, but Pelosi had campaigned on passing a $15 minimum wage, not in her first 100 days as speaker but in her first 100 hours. She hasn’t delivered. On January 16, Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced a great piece of legislation, the Raise the Wage Act (H.R.582). The bill would gradually raise the minimum wage to $15/hour. There are 235 Democrats in the House. 205 have signed on as co-sponsors. The last to sign on is a very conservative Blue Dog freshman from Virginia, Abigail Spanberger. The 16 other non-original co-sponsors were virtually all conservative Democrats from the Republican wing of the Democratic Party– members like Ed Case (Blue Dog-HI), Seth Moulton (New Dem-MA), Ami Bera (New Dem-CA), Stephen Lynch (New Dem-MA), Mikie Sherrill (Blue Dog-NJ), Josh Gottheimer (Blue Dog-NJ), Max Rose (Blue Dog-NY), Ann Kirkpatrick (New Dem-AZ), Jim Cooper (Blue Dog-TN) Elissa Slotkin (New Dem-MI)– but at least they signed on! There are still 30 Democrats– THIRTY– who haven’t signed on. That includes 19 freshmen who are being advised to not co-sponsor a bill that raises the minimum wage. How are they even Democrats if they’re taking that kind of advice from Hoyer and the DCCC? These are the freshmen who are notcosponsors. How do any of them deserve to be reelected?

 Why the Paper of Record Hates Cartoons - Utopias are defined as much by what they exclude as by their promises of plenitude. Plato dreamed of an ideal republic free of pestilent poets. The editors of The New York Times, more mundanely but equally tellingly, aspire to a newspaper that employs no cartoonists. In the wake of a controversy over the international edition of the Times running a cartoon of Benjamin Netanyahu that was widely condemned as anti-Semitic, the newspaper severed its relationship with the syndicate that supplied the offending image and now has let go of the services of two in-house cartoonists, Patrick Chappatte and Heng Kim Song.Speaking for many in his profession, Joel Pett, a Pulitzer Prize–winning editorial cartoonist for Kentucky’s Lexington Herald-Leader, decried the decision as “chickenshit and cowardly.” More politely, CNN’s Jake Tappertold The Daily Beast that this was “just one more nail in the coffin of what is a struggling art form, given how corporate America has taken over local newspapers and gutted the industry.” It’s undeniable that editorial cartooning, even more than journalism as a whole, is in crisis. A 2012 report by the Herblock Foundation found that there were fewer than 40 editorial cartoonists with newspaper-staff jobs in America, a steep decline from more than 2,000 such positions in the beginning of the 20th century. The situation has gotten only more dire since that report, with the high-profile firing of Rob Rogers from thePittsburgh Post-Gazette for penning anti-Trump cartoons. Newspaper editorial cartooning is well on the path to extinction, a dire end for a vital art that has been inextricable from modern political protest.

Trump claims ‘Obama had to know about’ efforts to undermine presidency - President Trump, in remarks broadcast Sunday, said former President Obama "certainly must have known about" what he characterized as high-level efforts by "FBI guys that were low-lifes" and other intelligence operatives to undermine his presidency. Speaking in a contentious interview with ABC News’ "This Week" anchor George Stephanopoulos, Trump blunted his accusation by adding, "I'm not gonna make that statement quite yet." But, as two Justice Department inquiries actively probe the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation, Trump hinted more facts would soon come out. "You clearly believe there was a group of people working against you," Stephanopoulos asked. "Do you think President Obama was behind it?" "I would say that he certainly must have known about it because it went very high up in the chain," Trump responded. "But, you're gonna find that out. I'm not gonna make that statement quite yet. But I would say that President Obama had to know about it."

US Govt's Entire Russia-DNC Hacking Narrative Based On Redacted Draft Of Crowdstrike Report -- It's been known for some time that the US Government based its conclusion that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee (DNC) on a report by cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike, which the DNC paid over a million dollars to conduct forensic analysis and other work on servers they refused to hand over to the FBI.  CrowdStrike's report made its way into a joint FBI/DHS report on an Russia's "Grizzly Steppe", which concluded Russia hacked the DNC's servers. At the time, Crowdstrike's claim drew much scrutiny from cybersecurity experts according to former Breitbart reporter Lee Stranahan. Now, thanks to a new court filing by longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone requesting the full Crowdstrike analysis, we find out that the US government was given a redacted version of the report marked "Draft," as reported by the Conservative Treehouse. What makes the whole thing even more hokey is a footnote admitting that "counsel for the DNC and DCCC informed the government that they are the last version of the report produced."   So to be clear - the entire narrative that Russia hacked the DNC is based on a redacted draft of a report which Crowdstrike appears not to have even finalized.

Why Didn't Mueller Investigate Seth Rich? - - After bungling every last aspect of Russia-gate since the day the pseudo-scandal broke, the corporate press is now seizing on the Mueller report to shut down debate on one of the key questions still outstanding from the 2016 presidential election: the murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich. No one knows who killed Rich in Washington, D.C., on July 10, 2016.  All we know is that he was found at 4:19 a.m. in the Bloomingdale neighborhood “with apparent gunshot wound(s) to the back” according to the police report.  Conscious and still breathing, he was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead at 5:57. Police have added to the confusion by releasing information only in the tiniest dribs and drabs.  Rich’s mother, Mary,told local TV news that her son struggled with his assailants: “His hands were bruised, his knees are bruised, his face is bruised, and yet he had two shots to his back, and yet they never took anything….  They took his life for literally no reason.  They didn’t finish robbing him, they just took his life.” But cops said shortly after the killing that they had no immediate indication that robbery was a motive.  Despite his mother’s report of two shots in the back, all the local medical examiner would say is that the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the torso.  According to Rich’s brother, Aaron, Seth “was very aware, very talkative,” when police found him lying on the pavement. Yet cops have refused to say if he described his assailant.  A month later, they put out a statement that “there is no indication that Seth Rich’s death is connected to his employment at the DNC,” but refused to elaborate. The result is a scattering of disconnected facts that can be used to support just about any theory from a random killing to a political assassination.  Nonetheless, Robert Mueller is dead certain that the murder had nothing to do with the emails — just as he was dead certain in 2003 that Iraq was bristling with weapons of mass destruction “pos[ing] a clear threat to our national security.

 White House says Hope Hicks 'immune' from compelled congressional testimony - The White House is arguing that former aide Hope Hicks is “absolutely immune” from being compelled by Congress to testify about her time working in the Trump administration, in an effort to limit her closed-door interview Wednesday.  White House counsel Pat Cipollone sent a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) on the eve of Hicks’s scheduled closed-door testimony, notifying the top Democrat that President Trump had instructed Hicks not to answer the panel’s questions about her time working in the White House.“Ms. Hicks is absolutely immune from being compelled to testify before Congress with respect to matters occurring during her service as a senior adviser to the President,” Cipollone wrote Tuesday. “Because of this constitutional immunity, and in order to protect the prerogatives of the Office of the President, the President has directed Ms. Hicks not to answer questions before the Committee relating to the time of her service as a senior adviser to the President,” he wrote. The committee, which is pursuing a sweeping investigation into alleged abused of power by Trump, reached a deal with Hicks to submit to a closed-door interview on Wednesday pursuant to a subpoena. Democrats are eager to question Hicks, the former White House communications director and ex-Trump campaign aide, about the campaign’s activities and the episodes of potential obstruction of justice by Trump that are detailed in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. Hicks was interviewed by Mueller and her testimony is cited frequently in Mueller’s report. The White House’s efforts to limit her testimony are likely to infuriate Democrats who have accused Trump and his administration of going to unprecedented lengths to stonewall their investigations and oversight requests.

 Hicks told House panel Trump is serious about foreign help in elections - (Reuters) - Hope Hicks, once a close aide to President Donald Trump, told the House Judiciary Committee that Trump was serious in saying there was nothing wrong in accepting derogatory information about political opponents from a foreign government, panel Chairman Jerrold Nadler said on Thursday. “Ms. Hicks made clear that she understood the president to be serious when he said that he would accept foreign interference in our elections,” Nadler said in a statement for a hearing on former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.“She also made clear that even she knew that such foreign assistance should be rejected and reported to the FBI,” he said.The committee later heard from an expert witness who said Trump’s remarks about accepting foreign  assistance, made in an ABC News interview, could violate the presidential oath of office and provide evidence for any future impeachment inquiry. “That is an invitation ... to Russian intelligence and any other intelligence service that’s out there that wants to try to find a way to influence our democratic processes,” Hicks, who was Trump’s campaign press secretary and his White House communications director, spent eight hours in a closed-door committee hearing on Wednesday. But she refused to answer questions about her 14-month White House tenure after administration attorneys said she was immune from testifying on the topic. “Ms. Hicks could not even answer whether she told the truth to the Mueller team because the president’s lawyers objected to the question,”

 Hicks tells lawmakers: 'I lived the Mueller report'  - Testimony released Thursday by the panel showed former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks told the House Judiciary Committee that she “lived” special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.Asked by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) whether she read Mueller's report, Hicks responded that she had not.“No, sir.  I lived the Mueller report,” she said.Hicks told Cicilline she could not recall any instances of President Trumpasking anyone else to lie during the campaign or during the transition.Hicks declined to answer as to whether she had ever witnessed Trump asking anyone to lie during her time at the White House, saying she was “following the guidance of the White House.Asked by Cicilline whether her refusal to answer was based on a privilege, one of Hicks’ lawyers responded that it was not.In response to further questioning from Cicilline, Hicks said she “[didn’t] know what the direct impact was” to the Trump campaign of material relating to Hillary Clinton’s campaign being hacked. Hicks also disputed the characterization that the Trump campaign was “happy” at the dissemination of such information, saying “I think ‘relief that we weren't the only campaign with issues’ is more accurate.”

 READ: Hope Hicks testimony before House Judiciary - The House Judiciary Committee on Thursday released a lengthy transcript of former longtime Trump aide Hope Hicks's testimony before the panel this week.Hicks, who served on President Trump's 2016 campaign and worked as a communications aide in the White House, testified for nearly eight hours behind closed doors Wednesday.The transcript, which stretches 273 pages long, shows White House lawyers repeatedly blocking Hicks from answering questions about her work in the Trump administration.Lawyers invoked the argument that she is immune from compelled congressional testimony on the subject, something that infuriated Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday as they entered and exited the hearing room.  Read the full transcript here:

How Many Are Not Blowing The Whistle?- Caitlin Johnstone - Given the example being made out of Chelsea Manning, silence must be spreading fast... Whistleblower Chelsea Manning is now being slammed with $500 fines for every single day that she remains imprisoned in contempt of court for refusing to testify in a secret grand jury against Julian Assange. Next month it will increase to $1,000 a day.Again, this is while Manning is also locked up in jail. It’s not enough to re-imprison a whistleblower who already served years of prison time, including nearly a year in solitary confinement, for taking a principled stand against an opaque and unjust grand jury system; they’re going to potentially ruin her life with crippling debt as well. The only way to make it more cruel and unusual would be to start waterboarding her or threatening her family members.All for refusing to participate in a corrupt and unaccountable legal performance designed to imprison a publisher to whom she leaked evidence of US war crimes in 2010.People see this. People watch this and learn from this, as sure as people watched and learned from the public town square executions of those who spoke ill of their medieval lords. And just like those medieval executions, many of the onlookers have been trained to cheer and celebrate at the fate of the accused; have a look at the power-worshipping, government-bootlicking comments under my recent tweet about Manning’s persecution for a perfect example of this. People have been taught what happens to those who blow the whistle on the powerful, and they have been taught to become quite comfortable with it.And, of course, that is the whole idea.Chelsea Manning is paying $500/day fines for not testifying, scheduled to double next month. Slamming someone with crippling debt for taking a principled stand against warmongering tyrants is in some ways just as draconian as imprisoning them.— Caitlin Johnstone ⏳ (@caitoz) June 16, 2019 Who is going to blow the whistle on US government malfeasance after watching what’s being done to Chelsea Manning? Seriously, who? Would you? Would anyone you know?

Corporate Tax Receipts Plunge Far More Than Expected As Result Of New GOP Tax Law -- Tax payments for big businesses are declining much faster than was initially anticipated due to Republican tax cuts, according to Politico. As we profiled earlier this year, this could provide significant ammunition for Democrats who are calling for corporate tax increases as a staple of many 2020 platforms.The US Treasury says that they saw a 31% drop in corporate tax revenue last year. This is almost twice the decline that official budget forecasters had estimated. Receipts were projected to rebound this year, but so far they have only continue to fall. They are down by almost 9% this year, or $11 billion.At the same time, business profits continue to rise and total corporate taxes are at the lowest level seen in more than 50 years.And overall taxes paid by individuals under the new law are up so far this year by 3%, as a result of higher wages and salaries. Last year, tax payments by individuals were up 4%.  This drop comes despite Republicans like Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin claiming that the new law would pay for itself. Democratic candidates like Elizabeth Warren have already made corporate taxes a staple of their newborn 2020 bids for president. House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal has also proposed hiking the corporate tax rate by 1% to help pay for expanded breaks for low and middle income individuals.

Libor Tumbles The Most Since May 2009- Having been headfaked by Powell in the fourth quarter of 2018 - along with every other asset class - when 3M USD Libor rose from 2.300% to 2.800%... ... Libor has staged a dramatic reversal, largely following the path taken by the effective fed funds rate after the Fed's dovish reversal, and on Thursday it was fixed lower by 4.3bps, the largest drop since May 2009, falling to 2.34313% from 2.38613% on June 19 as the short end of the fixed-income market catches up in pricing Federal Reserve rate cuts. As a result, the Libor-OIS spread, has narrowed to 17.7bps from 20.6bps prior session. The drop "is a product of the market catching up in pricing for Fed rate cuts,” said Gennadiy Goldberg, a strategist at TD Securities quoted by Bloomberg. "3m OIS also declined by 1.5bp, but you should see Libor also pricing in some cuts, given the Fed’s dovishness yesterday." Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the FOMC announcement, October fed funds futures which indicate the expected level of fed funds after the September FOMC meeting, show a rate of 1.81%; that’s 56bp below the current fed effective rate of 2.37%. Separately, the effective fed funds rate was unchanged at 2.37% on Wednesday with the Fed’s interest on excess reserves (IOER) rate now at 2.35%, that puts the fed funds rate 2bp above IOER. The effective fed funds rate has been higher than IOER since March 20, when a negative spread emerged between the two benchmark rates for the first time since 2008, and it’s stayed above almost every day since

The KPMG cheating scandal was much more widespread than originally thought Francine McKenna - A $50 million fine against KPMG LLP for its use of stolen regulatory information to cheat on audit inspections wasn’t a surprise: The Wall Street Journal warned last week that the Securities and Exchange Commission was ready to impose such a move, and the scandal had been known about for more than a year. The record fine was a solid jab but no knockout punch. But then came a left hook out of nowhere. The SEC revealed Monday a much larger scandal than was previously known: KPMG auditors, including some senior partners in charge of public company audits, cheated on internal tests related to mandatory ethics, integrity and compliance training, sharing answers with other partners and staff to help them also attain passing scores. In addition, for a period of time up to November 2015, some audit professionals, including one partner, manipulated the system for their exams to lower the scores required to pass. Twenty-eight of these auditors did so on four or more occasions. Certain audit professionals lowered the required score to the point of passing exams while answering less than 25% of the questions correctly, the SEC says. “The new test-cheating scandal suddenly seems more alarming than the ongoing PCAOB ‘steal the exam’ scandal because the unethical behavior went on longer and is potentially more widespread,” Matt Kelly, editor of the Radical Compliance newsletter and a longtime observer of corporate governance and compliance issues, told MarketWatch. “There’s plenty of evidence of chronic, widespread and intentional illegal behavior by senior partners including some leading public company audits for the firm,” Kelly said. ”And yet, prosecutors can’t really impose criminal charges against the firm.”

Feds Investigating Suspected Money Laundering Violations At Deutsche Bank - Deutsche Bank is so consistently mired in scandal that it's almost impossible to keep all of the myriad civil lawsuits and criminal investigations straight. And while Congress ramps up its scrutiny of the embroiled German lender and its ties to the Trump family, the New York Times dropped a lengthy report late Wednesday claiming that federal authorities are leading a wide-ranging money laundering probe into the bank. The NYT report, which cited a whopping seven people familiar with the investigation. And though the report was surprisingly short on details given its length, it did once again familiarize us to a new character in the Washington drama: Whistleblower Tammy McFadden, who publicly criticized the company’s AML systems. Anybody who has been following the reporting on DB since the beginning of the year is probably already familiar with the allegedly egregious compliance rule, and the fact that most of the bank's compliance staff were shunted to the Jacksonville Office, where they were treated like they were "one step above custodial staff'. From what we can tell, McFadden first attracted unwanted attention within the bank when she flagged activity involving Jared Kushner's family back in 2016. The FBI soon became involved, though federal officials reportedly expanded the probe to cover - that's right - activity involving Russian money launderers. Congress is investigating the Trump angle, and right now, it appears the Feds are looking into other alleged 'misconduct'. Ms. McFadden, a former compliance specialist at the bank, told The New York Times last month that she had flagged transactions involving Mr. Kushner’s family company in 2016, but that bank managers decided not to file the suspicious activity report she prepared. Some of her colleagues had similar experiences in 2017 involving transactions in the accounts of Mr. Trump’s legal entities, although it was not clear whether the F.B.I. was examining the bank’s handling of those transactions. The same federal agent who contacted Ms. McFadden’s lawyer also participated in interviews of the son of a deceased Deutsche Bank executive, William S. Broeksmit. Agents told the son, Val Broeksmit, that the Deutsche Bank investigation began with an inquiry into the bank’s work for Russian money launderers and had since expanded to cover a broader array of potential misconduct at the bank and at other financial institutions.

Deutsche Bank To Launch €50 Billion Bad Bank Housing Billions In Toxic Derivatives - Just last week, Jeff Gundlach - in his latest DoubleLine investor call - cracked jokes that Deutsche Bank's imploding stock, which has been hitting fresh all time lows virtually every day, has a major support area at €0.  Once again, he was on to something because now, just a few days later, the FT reports that the bank which was this close to nationalization in 2016, and failed to consummate a merger with that "other" German bank, Commerzbank, is preparing to roll out Plan Z: amid a deep overhaul of its trading operations (read: mass terminations), the biggest German lender is set to roll out a "bad bank" holding some €50 billion in toxic assets, in a plan that was quite popular in the depths of the global financial crisis. Meanwhile, as part of CEO Christian Sewing's ongoing restructuring of DB away from investment bank, "the bank's equity and rates trading businesses oustide continental Europe will be severely shrunk or closed entirely as part of the revamp", while managers are also set to unveil a new focus on transaction banking and private wealth management. Of course, it will hardly come as a surprise that the German bank best known for housing €43.5 trillion in gross derivatives notional (something we first pointed out way back in 2013)... ... will stuff its "bad bank", known internally also as "the non-core asset unit", with - drumroll - long-dated derivatives. According to the FT, the CEO will likely to announce the changes with the bank’s half-year results in late-July. While the final scale of the bad bank has not been decided and the number “continues to oscillate”, executives are reportedly discussing at least €30bn of risk-weighted assets with an eventual size of €40bn to €50bn most likely, at the high end almost exactly 4 times greater than DB's current market cap, and accounting for 14% of Deutsche’s balance sheet.

Goldman Sachs Is Quietly Trading Stocks In Its Own Dark Pools on 4 Continents -- Pam Martens -The 10-year Note yield below 2 percent suggests a serious slowdown in the U.S. economy. That’s not something corporate stocks should be cheering about. The continuing aberrations in the U.S. stock market suggest a malfunctioning stock market structure and the first place to look is Dark Pools, which are unregulated stock exchanges run by the same mega Wall Street banks that blew up the U.S. financial system in 2008 and received the largest taxpayer bailout in U.S. history.Apparently unbeknown to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), when Goldman Sachs changed the name of its big Dark Pool that trades here in the United States from Sigma X to Sigma X2, it wasn’t simply to suggest a modernized version of its old Dark Pool. It was to differentiate that Sigma X2 is Goldman’s Dark Pool brand in the United States and Sigma X is its Dark Pool brand on three other continents – Europe, Asia, and Australia. From our queries to the SEC, it also appears that the SEC doesn’t have a handle on the sprawling Dark Pool empire that exists at Goldman Sachs. According to publicly available disclosure documents, Goldman Sachs is running Dark Pools in Europe, Japan, Hong Kong and Australia under the Sigma X brand. It is also operating a Futures SIGMA X in Japan. We could not locate any U.S.-based public disclosures on the futures operations of Sigma X in Japan.According to a “Frequently Asked Questions” document from Goldman Sachs, under the question “Is SIGMA X a dark pool that only matches trades anonymously, without information leakage? Or will information regarding my orders be conveyed to potential liquidity providers,” Goldman says this: “The matching process for SIGMA X is completely internal, and SIGMA X will not disseminate any pre-trade information to internal trading desks or external counterparties. Executed trades are publicly reported where required by applicable rules.”In other words, this is an unlit market where pre-trade prices are not available to the public and trades are only reported after they have occurred in darkness, if they are reported at all.According to Goldman’s disclosures, its European Dark Pool, known as Sigma X MTF (Multilateral Trading Facility) “is operated by Goldman Sachs International Bank as an independent business with its own separate management structure.” The disclosures indicate that Goldman Sachs International is regulated not by the Securities and Exchange Commission of the U.S. but by the Bank of England’s Prudential Regulation Authority and the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority, which is already rather hard pressed to oversee the conduct of “58,000 financial services firms and financial markets in the U.K.”

President Dow: A Hard Look at Trump’s Threat of an Epic Market Crash if He’s Not Reelected --Pam Martens - President Donald Trump has now tied his campaign, and himself, up in ticker tape. On June 15 the sitting President of the United States Tweeted the following message:“The Trump Economy is setting records, and has a long way up to go….However, if anyone but me takes over in 2020 (I know the competition very well), there will be a Market Crash the likes of which has not been seen before! KEEP AMERICA GREAT”First, since the stock market lost 90 percent of its value from 1929 to 1932 and the President is calling for “a Market Crash the likes of which has not been seen before,” he is effectively predicting that the stock market will lose 91 percent or more of its value. (Even for raging bears, that’s quite a stretch.)But since it’s the billionaires and multi-millionaires who own the bulk of the stock market, the President is actually predicting a re-balancing of America’s unprecedented wealth inequality. Millions of Americans see that as a good thing and something that is desperately needed to keep the billionaires from perpetually buying elections.According to a white paper released in November 2017 by the National Bureau of Economic Research and authored by economist Edward N. Wolff, this is how the ownership of the stock market stacked up at the end of 2016:“…the richest 10 percent of households controlled 84 percent of the total value of these stocks, though less than its 93 percent share of directly owned stocks and mutual funds.”  Secondly, Presidents only get to serve two terms so if the stock market is going to crash when Donald Trump leaves office (a proposition we’ll explore further in a moment) it would be better for it to crash at its inflated level in 2020 rather than risk an even greater stock market bubble bursting at the end of his second term.The Tweet from the President was widely covered in the media, meaning that he has now irretrievably tied his success to the success of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Let’s say that Trump’s trade war brings on a market crash this year instead of obediently waiting until after November 3, 2020. Trump would be toast and Republicans might even be forced to run a different candidate.

BMW Billionaire Heirs Say Their Lives Are Harder Than You Think - Dealing with the responsibility and jealousy from inheriting wealth is a misunderstood burden, according to Susanne Klatten and Stefan Quandt, the billionaire siblings who together own almost half of BMW AG.“Many believe that we are permanently sitting around on a yacht in the Mediterranean,” Klatten told Manager Magazin in a rare interview with her younger brother published Thursday. “The role as a guardian of wealth also has personal sides that aren’t so nice.” Klatten -- whose father Herbert Quandt helped rescue BMW in the late 1950s -- is Germany’s second-richest person with a fortune valued at $18.6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. She has also built up holdings in chemicals company Altana AG and carbon producer SGL Carbon SE.Quandt, who owns stakes in logistics company Logwin and homeopathic medicine company Heel, has a net worth of $15.5 billion. Both he and his sister have seats on BMW’s supervisory board.“For both of us, it’s certainly not the money that drives us,” said Quandt. “Above all, it is the responsibility of securing jobs in Germany.” The two heirs say they’re comfortable with their roles, but initially struggled with taking on high-level positions at young ages. Quandt, who was 30 when he was given his first board seat, said he might have wanted to work a few years as a “simple” product manager somewhere or study architecture. “My starting point was never: So, now I come and show everyone how it’s done,” said Quandt, who questions the rationale of inheritance tax. “Instead, it was a constant questioning, associated with self-doubt.”

Credit ratings: old risks and new challenges for financial markets --In 2019, Moody’s Corporation, the holding company of Moody’s Investors Service, is celebrating its 110th birthday. Being the first rating agency and creator of a completely new industry, Moody´s is still successful today – in 2017, it generated $1 billion net income. However, since its foundation, the financial system has dramatically changed, and important issues have been raised about credit-rating agencies (CRAs) and their business model. Even though Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s (S&P) and other CRAs have a successful past, today they face critics and the future of credit ratings has to be considered. Following the financial crisis in 2008 and the European debt crisis, criticism on CRAs rose. According to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, CRAs were “key enablers of the financial meltdown” in 2008. The sovereign downgrade of major Eurozone economies additionally “accelerated the Eurozone’s sovereign debt crisis”.Currently, CRAs are backed by the need of the financial markets because companies need to have at least one credit rating issued by a NRSRO in the case they want to issue a bond. CRAs indicate the opinion of the creditworthiness of firms, in particular of bond issuers. What happens if this would no longer be the case? In the past 20 years, alternative market instruments have provided similar information. Several researchers show that credit default swaps (CDS) spreads can be used to extract implied credit ratings. CDS data help to get more information about the issuer from a market perspective. Implied credit ratings have the advantage to be independent of analysts and are based on the opinion on the bond market participants themselves. The question is whether these market implied ratings – or other new instruments – will replace the CRA’s traditional ratings. The Big Three – Moody’s, S&P and Fitch Ratings – have already established market-based ratings, using data from the CDS market. A better integration between market data and the judgement of analysts could in the future lead to more balanced ratings.

The League of Entropy Forms To Offer Acts of Public Randomness - Cloudflare, along with a group of individual and academic partners, is forming a new coalition that will provide truly random, unpredictable numbers for a variety of applications, including election systems and lotteries. The problem of producing truly random numbers on a consistent basis has been a thorny one for cryptographers for many years. There have been plenty of efforts to establish sources of randomness, with some success, but one of the drawbacks is that any single randomness generator can be a target for abuse by privileged insiders or outside attackers. This is especially true in high-value applications that require random numbers, such as lottery or election systems. Also, if a given source of random numbers fails for any reason, the applications that rely on it can be crippled, as well.To help address this problem, Cloudflare has teamed up with the University of Chile, the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, and several individual researchers to form a consortium of randomness beacons distributed around the world. The system is based on the drand randomness beacon developed by Nicholas Gailly, a researcher at Protocol Labs, a research lab for network protocols, and the aim is to have a distributed network of beacons that will always be available. Random numbers are vital to many kinds of systems and there are plenty of hardware and software-based random number generators. But more than one RNG has been found to have a bias, whether intentional or accidental, so randomness beacons emerged. These beacons generate a random string at a regular interval and typically combine entropy from two RNGs at least. Randomness beacons are meant to be a public utility, available to any system or application that requires a regular source of randomness.

Hedge Fund CIO- I Don’t Think The Public Is Aware Of What’s Coming -“I don’t think we’re well prepared at all. And I don’t think the public is aware of what’s coming,” said the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He was discussing the rapid advance of synthesis technology. This new artificial intelligence capability allows competent programmers to create audio and video of anyone, saying absolutely anything. The creations are called “deepfakes” and however outrageous they may be, they’re virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. No sooner had we adjusted to a world where our reality seemed fake, then things that are fake became our reality. “We’re outgunned,” said a UC Berkeley digital-forensics expert, “The number of people now working on video-synthesis outnumber those working on detecting deepfakes by 100-1.” Twitter suspended 4,779 accounts it believed are associated with Iran’s theocratic leaders. It republished every tweet sent by these accounts to help researchers analyze and spot behavioral patterns. Already two-thirds of Americans say altered images and videos have become a major problem for understanding the basic facts of current events. Misinformation researchers warn of growing “reality apathy” whereby it takes so much effort to distinguish between what’s real and fake that we simply give up and rely on our base instincts, tribal biases, impulses. Immersed in our leader’s deceits, we come to believe in nothing. Two oil tankers burst into flames, billowing smoke. On cue, a suspicious Iranian Revolutionary Guard boat appeared on grainy video. Viral images flooded earth’s nine billion screens. Each side told a different story. No one quite knew who to trust. Conspiracy theories filled the void, as we each clung to what we most want to believe. And as truth slowly slipped away, we turned to market prices as our proxy for reality; oil prices fell, stocks rallied, volatility declined. But of course, it is precisely because market prices still retain some reflection of reality that our policy makers and politicians work so desperately to manipulate them. 

Facebook Introduces New Libra Digital Currency With Landmark White Paper - After weeks of anticipation, the day has finally arrived: In a dramatic push into uncharted waters for the social media behemoth that saw Mark Zuckerberg make overtures to his former arch-nemises (the Winklevii), Facebook has finally published the white paper for its long-awaited stablecoin, "Libra".  It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that Facebook's white paper was the most hotly anticipated crypto whitepaper ever - made more so by Facebook's extreme secrecy surrounding the project, which Zuck reportedly hopes will steer the company out of a morass of scandal and into a new, even more profitable, era. But Facebook will also be expanding into a major new business (payments) just as the FTC and DoJ initiate anti-trust investigations against FB and a handful of other tech giants, and regulators on both sides of the Atlantic have already expressed some concern. Per the white paper, Facebook’s global stablecoin will be dubbed "Libra." It will operate on its own "Libra" blockchain, and will be backed by a reserve of assets, which technically makes it a "stable coin" (not unlike Tether). The coin will be governed by a non-profit consortium, the "Libra Association," which will oversee development of the "Libra" ecosystem from Switzerland.  Per the FT, Facebook will spin off a unit called Calibra, which will be "totally separate" from FB, to manage the Libra digital wallet offering, which will be integrated into Facebook's family of apps. Facebook said that financial data gathered by Calibra wouldn't be shared  without users' consent. Some 28 partners, including Visa, Mastercard, PayPal and a smattering of others, have pledged to help build out the ecosystem and will kick in $10 million to kick start the "Libra Association" that will govern the coin, and its reserve assets.According to the Guardian, the coin will facilitate payments across Facebook’s various platforms (including WhatsApp and Instagram), as well as a new "Libra" payments app. The coin's software will be open source according to FB, allowing developers to build out an ecosystem around it (possibly incentivized with gifts of sensitive user data. Across the developed and developing worlds, Facebook hopes its app will help plug the "payments gap" created by 1.7 billion adults without bank accounts.

Facebook Unveils New Cryptocurrency to Rival US Dollar  — After weeks of anticipation, the day has finally arrived: In a dramatic push into uncharted waters for the social media behemoth that saw Mark Zuckerberg make overtures to his former arch-nemises (the Winklevii), Facebook has finally published the white paper for its long-awaited stablecoin, “Libra”.   It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Facebook’s white paper was the most hotly anticipated crypto whitepaper ever – made more so by Facebook’s extreme secrecy surrounding the project, which Zuck reportedly hopes will steer the company out of a morass of scandal and into a new, even more profitable, era. But Facebook will also be expanding into a major new business (payments) just as the FTC and DoJ initiate anti-trust investigations against FB and a handful of other tech giants, and regulators on both sides of the Atlantic have already expressed some concern. Per the white paper, Facebook’s global stablecoin will be dubbed “Libra.” It will operate on its own “Libra” blockchain, and will be backed by a reserve of assets, which technically makes it a “stable coin” (not unlike Tether). The coin will be governed by a non-profit consortium, the “Libra Association,” which will oversee development of the “Libra” ecosystem from Switzerland. Per the FT, Facebook will spin off a unit called Calibra, which will be “totally separate” from FB, to manage the Libra digital wallet offering, which will be integrated into Facebook’s family of apps. Facebook said that financial data gathered by Calibra wouldn’t be shared without users’ consent. Some 28 partners, including Visa, Mastercard, PayPal and a smattering of others, have pledged to help build out the ecosystem and will kick in $10 million to kick start the “Libra Association” that will govern the coin, and its reserve assets. According to the Guardian, the coin will facilitate payments across Facebook’s various platforms (including WhatsApp and Instagram), as well as a new “Libra” payments app. The coin’s software will be open source according to FB, allowing developers to build out an ecosystem around it (possibly incentivized with gifts of sensitive user data. Across the developed and developing worlds, Facebook hopes its app will help plug the “payments gap” created by 1.7 billion adults without bank accounts.

Facebook is Trying to Become a Virtual Country, Expert Warns - — Facebook has announced a plan to launch a new cryptocurrency named the Libra, adding another layer to its efforts to dominate global communications and business. Backed by huge finance and technology companies including Visa, Spotify, eBay, PayPal and Uber – plus a ready-made user base of 2 billion people around the world – Facebook is positioned to pressure countries and central banks to cooperate with its reinvention of the global financial system. In my view as a social media researcher and educator, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is clearly seeking to give his company even more political power on a global scale, despite the potential dangers to society at large. In a sense, he is declaring that he wants Facebook to become a virtual nation, populated by users, powered by a self-contained economy, and headed by a CEO – Zuckerberg himself – who is not even accountable to his shareholders. Facebook hasn’t behaved responsibly in the past, and is still wrestling with significant public concerns – and investigations – about its privacy practices, information accuracy and targeted advertising. Therefore, it’s important to see through the hype. People must consider who is reshaping the world, and whether they are doing it in the best interests of humankind – or whether they are just seeking to benefit the new class of elite technology executives. Humanity needs ethical leadership, and time to think through the potential repercussions of rapid technological change. That’s why, in my view, Facebook’s cryptocurrency should be blocked by financial regulators until its design has been proved to be safe for all of global society.

Zuckerberg: The man who would be monetary king - Facebook has just announced the full details of its Libra cryptocurrency venture, including details of the founder members of the Libra Association, among them Visa, Mastercard, Uber and Spotify. Its mission, it says, is to make payments cheaper and more accessible. Whether we can trust them about that is another matter. Libra could be a social-good venture aimed at “empowering billions of people through the creation of a simple global currency and financial infrastructure” but then again — from the details revealed — it could also be an attempt to gain control of the money supply by a corporation most people think already has more power than it should. As usual, the truth depends on how things are framed. But in this post, we're going to argue Libra is nothing more than a brazen attempt to override national monetary sovereignty by creating a global-scale Federal Reserve equivalent — within which Facebook's dominance is veiled by the cunning use of buzzwords like blockchain, DLT, decentralisation and cryptocurrency.

 Waters calls for halt to Facebook's crypto plans — Top Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Financial Services Committee called Tuesday for Facebook to appear before Congress to testify on its cryptocurrency plans. The social media giant said Tuesday it will offer its own cryptocurrency, called Project Libra, which it could use to build an alternative financial system that targets the unbanked. But members of both political parties appeared skeptical of the effort, with Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters demanding that Facebook halt its plans while Congress looks into the matter. "Given the company’s troubled past, I am requesting that Facebook agree to a moratorium on any movement forward on developing a cryptocurrency until Congress and regulators have the opportunity to examine these issues and take action," the California Democrat said in a press release. Rep. Patrick McHenry, the top GOP member of the panel, didn't go quite that far, but endorsed the call for hearings. "While there is great promise for this new technology in fostering financial inclusion and faster payments, particularly in the developing world, we know there are many open questions as to the scope and scale of the project," McHenry wrote in a letter to Waters asking for hearings. "It is incumbent upon us as policymakers to understand Project Libra."

Facebook's Actual Thought Police Getting Crushed By Life; "Unworldly" Pressure Prompts PTSD, Death --Casey Newton of The Verge is out with a new look inside the dismal lives of Facebook's PTSD-stricken content moderators - an army of contractors tasked with enforcing the company's content policies by viewing countless beheadings, suicides, rapes, murders, sexually abused children and other traumatic content. They're also the 'thought police' who have been criticized for selectively enforcing the company's definition of hate speech. Perhaps one of them is even responsible for Facebook's short-lived Zero Hedge ban, as we apparently went against the company's 'Community Standards' that day. In February, Newton reported that content moderators in  Phoenix were "trauma bonding" - having sex in stairwells or the 'lactation room,' while getting "routinely high at work" to cope with the stress and brutal demands to achieve the Facebook's 98% "accuracy" target. Employed by professional services vendor Cognizant, Newton's Wednesday exposé takes us into the company's Tampa, FL content moderation site - the worst-performing in the nation - where employees start out at less than $15 an hour. Three former content moderators have broken their 14-page nondisclosure agreements to discuss how the Tampa location's 800 or so workers face "relentless pressure" to improve their 92% rating. While many are suffering from PTSD, one moderator had a heart attack at his desk at the age of 42 last year.  "The stress they put on him — it’s unworldly," one manager said of Keith Utley - a former Coast Guard lieutenant commander who left behind a wife and two young daughters after dying at work on March 9, 2018.  On the night of March 9th, 2018, Utley slumped over at his desk. Co-workers noticed that he was in distress when he began sliding out of his chair. Two of them began to perform CPR, but no defibrillator was available in the building. A manager called for an ambulance. Paramedics raced Utley to a hospital. At Cognizant, some employees were distraught — one person told me he passed by one of the site’s designated “tranquility rooms” and found one of his co-workers, a part-time preacher, praying loudly in tongues. Utley was pronounced dead a short while later at the hospital, the victim of a heart attack. -The Verge

"Don't Be Evil" Fails Again --Dave Cohen - Yes, the title of this post contains Google's original motto. Do you remember that? Well, it's gone now.  Unfortunately, with H. sapiens, there is a rule you can nearly always count on—Power Corrupts.Google's subsidiary Alphabet runs YouTube. Alphabet's CEO is serial liar Susan Wojcicki.Susan, along with her "woke" infantile minions, has declared war on all "wrong-think" content, where "wrong-think" is defined any way YouTube wants to define it. The definition of "wrong-think" changes week-to-week. Lately, their definition seems to change daily. Videos are removed, users are banned, videos or entire channels are demonetized. No reason is given for the banning, removal or demonetization and there is no appeal. There is "shadow banning" (hiding) of videos, subscriptions to channels suddenly disappear, and notifications for new uploads don't seem to work whenever YouTube arbitrarily deems a video to be politically incorrect. YouTube has declared war on some of its best creators, the very people who made it a viable alternative to our hopelessly corrupt mainstream media (video below). Elite control of mass media (aka., "gatekeeping") is incompatible with freedom of expression. The opinions of the hoi polloi must be suppressed, their thoughts controlled. It's for their own good of course. Just ask Susan or CNN or ABC or the BBC or the New York Times or any of the other elite gatekeeping scumbags. Try hard to get your monkey brain to understand this—This is what 21st century fascism looks like. At this point you are being lied to constantly. Watch what powerful members of the elite like Susan Wojcicki do. Disregard what they say.The powerful few are completely out of touch with anything you low-rent common people might call day-to-day reality. The elites live inside a delusional bubble in which their own self-interest is indistinguishable from the Good, the Just and the Righteous. They are accountable to no one and incapable of meaningful self-reflection.

The Rise of Facial Recognition Should Scare Us All --In the last ten years, our world has been completely transformed thanks to the exponential growth of digital technology. Technological advances with computer processors and the internet have quickly advanced our world into one that resembles some of the most well known sci-fi films and novels.   Unfortunately, as technology is a tool, there are equally frightening developments taking place in the first two decades of the 21st century. Specifically, the ability for governments and private actors to monitor and spy on the activity of the average person has nearly become accepted as the norm. In fact, it has become commonplace to hear Americans respond to warnings of Orwellian futures with the timeless trope, “If you’re not doing anything wrong, there’s nothing to hide!” This is what makes it all the more surprising to see a surplus of recent reports examining the dangers and implications of a world where facial recognition technology is commonplace.  Here’s a small sample of the current headlines related to facial recognition:

Even the Washington Post published a warning titled “Don’t smile for surveillance: Why airport face scans are a privacy trap.”  Questions surrounding the emerging technology have reached enough of a tipping point that just this week, House Democrats questioned the Department of Homeland Security over the use of facial recognition tech on U.S. citizens. The Hill reported that more than 20 House Democrats sent a letter on Friday to the DHS over the Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) use of facial recognition technology at U.S. airports. The letter to DHS comes shortly after a representative with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) the House Oversight and Reform Committee said that the FBI has access to hundreds of millions of photos that are used for facial recognition searches. Gretta Goodwin, a representative with the GAO, said the FBI uses expansive databases of photos—including from driver’s licenses, passports and mugshots—to search for potential criminals. Goodwin noted that the FBI has a database of 36 million mugshots and access to more than 600 million photos, including access to 21 state driver’s license databases.

 First Amendment Constraints Don’t Apply To Private Platforms, Supreme Court Affirms - In a case closely watched for its potential implications for social media, the Supreme Courthas ruled that a nonprofit running public access channels isn’t bound by governmental constraints on speech. The case, which the conservative wing of the court decided in a split 5–4 ruling, centered around a Manhattan-based nonprofit tasked by New York City with operating public access channels in the area. The organization disciplined two producers after a film led to complaints, which the producers argued was a violation of their First Amendment speech rights. The case turned on whether the nonprofit was a “state actor” running a platform governed by First Amendment constraints.In a decision written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the conservative justices ruled that the First Amendment constraints didn’t apply to the nonprofit, which they considered a private entity. Providing a forum for speech wasn’t enough to become a government actor, the justices ruled.Nowhere is the internet or social media discussed in the ruling, but the idea that the decision could be used to penalize social media companies was raised by groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The groups argued that too broad of a decision could prevent other private entities like YouTube and Twitter from managing their platforms by imposing new constraints them. The Internet Association, a trade group, said last year that such a decision could mean the internet “will become less attractive, less safe and less welcoming to the average user.” But today’s decision seems to assuage those concerns. The liberal justices on the court, in a dissenting ruling, argued instead that the terms under which the nonprofit ran the channels for the city should have bound it to First Amendment constraints. The nonprofit, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, “stepped into the City’s shoes and thus qualifies as a state actor, subject to the First Amendment like any other.”

Mortgage fintech CEOs discuss Amazon's foray into lending -- As Amazon looms over the mortgage industry, expert views differ on the retail monolith claiming its stake in the sector. Jeff Bezos' trillion-dollar company was a popular topic of discussion during CB Insights' Future of Fintech conference in New York. Since hiring a head of mortgage lending last year, it's only a matter of time before it enters real estate finance. With the rise of digitization and younger generations coming of home buying age, asking Alexa for a mortgage seems like a realistic evolution. "They have a big reach and that's powerful," Jay Farner, CEO of Quicken Loans, said at the conference. "We have a really good understanding of how complex the space is and having great reach is one thing — you've gotta be able to reach millions of people." Amazon could easily put a ton of capital behind the initiative and a titan of industry coming into the fray presents a daunting proposition. However, the natural complexities and regulations of home lending should help mortgage executives sleep at night. "Processing, underwriting and closing loans in all 50 states, in 3,700 counties, with different rules, different traditions, real estate agents, brokers, all these different parties involved … it's complex," Farner continued. "We have made it our life's mission to be great at it. Amazon has a lot of things they're doing right now. If I was sitting in Amazon's shoes and thinking strategically about where I wanted to place my resources, I'm not certain that all that complexity would be the best place for me to do so." While the barriers to entry could prevent Amazon from becoming a traditional lender, the scenario would be a welcome development for some. "I would love Amazon to get into the mortgage planning space because we doubt that they're going to get into the space of actually making the loans themselves," Vishal Garg, CEO of, said. "What they would likely do is figure out a way that a customer can get automatically decisioned and delivered a mortgage in as little as two days." Amazon's real estate ventures thus far mostly revolve around prefabricated houses in the $25,000 to $75,000 range. Mortgage brokers working on commission wouldn't want to deal with loans of this size.

Black Knight: Another Record Low for Mortgage Delinquencies in May -- From Black Knight: Black Knight’s First Look: Continued Improvement Pushes Mortgage Delinquencies to New Record Low in May; Prepayment Activity Doubles Over Past Four Months:

• The national delinquency rate has fallen for the third consecutive month, hitting 3.36% in May, its lowest level since Black Knight began reporting the metric in January 2000
• Both early-stage and serious delinquencies fell from April, as did loans in active foreclosure, bringing total non-current inventory – all loans past due, including foreclosures – to its lowest point since early 2005
• Foreclosure starts also fell month-over-month to 39,000, the fewest of any month in more than 18 years
• Prepayment activity jumped another 24% in May, more than doubling over the past four months to reach its highest level in more than two years
According to Black Knight's First Look report for May, the percent of loans delinquent decreased 3.0% in May compared to April, and decreased 7.5% year-over-year.
The percent of loans in the foreclosure process decreased 1.6% in May and were down 17.4% 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 3.36% in May, down from 3.47% in April. The percent of loans in the foreclosure process decreased in May to 0.49% from 0.50% in April. The number of delinquent properties, but not in foreclosure, is down 107,000 properties year-over-year, and the number of properties in the foreclosure process is down 48,000 properties year-over-year.

2.2 Million Homes In America Still Have Negative Equity, Despite Record High Prices --  As the boom in mortgage applications and refinancing activity last week would suggest, the return of interest rates toward multi-year lows this year is helping to pump more froth into the already bubblicious American housing market.But while somebody will inevitably be left holding the bag when the bubble bursts, for now, at least, the inexorable rise in American home prices has bequeathed an outsize benefit on at least one group of people: American homeowners who were stuck with underwater mortgages following the last housing bust. However, even with average national home values back above their pre-crisis highs, CoreLogic's most recently quarterly survey of national homeowner equity found that there are still 2.2 million homes underwater in the US - a sign of just how bad the last bubble was, and a warning for where we might be headed.  The percentage of homes with underwater mortgages in the US has shrunk between Q4 2018 and Q1 2019 by a full percentage point to just 4% of all mortgaged properties (or just 2.2 million homes). On a YoY basis, negative equity fell 11% from 2.5 million homes, or 4.7% of all mortgaged properties.However, in terms of national aggregate value, negative equity climbed slightly to approximately $304.4 billion at the end of the first quarter of 2019, an increase of $2.5 billion, from $301.9 billion in the fourth quarter of 2018.To be sure, this represents a massive shift from the final quarter of 2009, when negative equity peaked at 26% of all mortgaged residential properties. The national aggregate value of negative equity was approximately $304.4 billion at the end of the first quarter of 2019. This is up QoQ by approximately $2.5 billion, from $301.9 billion in the fourth quarter of 2018. Over the full year, the average homeowner gained approximately $6,400 in equity. Nevada homeowners saw the highest increase, with an average of $21,000 (likely thanks to that flood of California refugees fleeing to Sun Belt states for more affordable lifestyles.

 MBA: Mortgage Applications Decreased in Latest Weekly Survey - From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey Mortgage applications decreased 3.4 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending June 14, 2019. ... The Refinance Index decreased 4 percent from the previous week. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 4 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 5 percent compared with the previous week and was 4 percent higher than the same week one year ago. ...“After seeing a six-week streak, mortgage rates for 30-year loans increased slightly, which led to a pullback in overall refinance activity,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Borrowers were sensitive to rising rates, but the refinance share of applications was still at its highest level since January 2018, and refinance activity was at its second highest level this year. Government refinances actually increased last week, led by a 17 percent in VA refinance applications, while conventional refinance applications decreased 7 percent.” Added Kan, “Purchase applications decreased more than 3 percent last week, but were still up almost 4 percent from last year. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($484,350 or less) increased to 4.14 percent from 4.12 percent, with points increasing to 0.38 from 0.33 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

NAR: Existing-Home Sales Increased to 5.34 million in May - From the NAR: Existing-Home Sales Ascend 2.5% in MayExisting-home sales rebounded in May, recording an increase in sales for the first time in two months, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Each of the four major U.S. regions saw a growth in sales, with the Northeast experiencing the biggest surge last month.Total existing-home sales, completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, jumped 2.5% from April to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.34 million in May. Total sales, however, are down 1.1% from a year ago (5.40 million in May 2018).... Total housing inventory3 at the end of May increased to 1.92 million, up from 1.83 million existing homes available for sale in April and a 2.7% increase from 1.87 million a year ago. Unsold inventory is at a 4.3-month supply at the current sales pace, up from both the 4.2 month supply in April and from 4.2 months in May 2018. This graph shows existing home sales, on a Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) basis since 1993. Sales in May (5.34 million SAAR) were up 2.5% from last month, and were 1.1% below the May 2018 sales rate. The second graph shows nationwide inventory for existing homes. Existing Home InventoryAccording to the NAR, inventory increased to 1.92 million in May from 1.83 million in April. 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. Year-over-year Inventory Inventory was up 2.7% year-over-year in May compared to May 2018. Months of supply increased to 4.3 months in May. This was above the consensus forecast. For existing home sales, a key number is inventory - and inventory is still low.

Existing Home Sales Tumble YoY For 15th Month - Worst Run Since Housing Crisis - After April's disappointing drop in all segments of the home-sales data, existing home sales were expected to rebound (again) in May and surprised modestly to the upside. Existing home sales rose 2.5% MoM to 5.34mm in May (and saw a modest upward revision in April) However, existing home sales have declined on a YoY basis for 15 straight months... Home purchases advanced across all four regions, led by a 4.7% rise in the Northeast. First time buyers accounted for 32% of sales nationally, unchanged from the prior month. Finally, we note that the recent drop in existing home sales suggests a lagged response in mortgage purchase applications... even with rates collapsing... As lower rates have apparently sparked a surge in prices as median home prices to a new record $277,700 - with a 4.8% YoY surge - the biggest spike since Aug 2018. “The purchasing power to buy a home has been bolstered by falling mortgage rates, and buyers are responding,” NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said in a statement. As Bloomberg notes, recent housing data have offered a mixed picture on the market, with housing starts falling from an April reading that was stronger than initially reported. Homebuilder sentiment deteriorated in June for the first time this year while permits gained, signaling a more robust pipeline of properties. 

Comments on May Existing Home Sales --Earlier: NAR: Existing-Home Sales Increased to 5.34 million in May.  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, but was up 2.7% year-over-year (YoY) in May. This was the tenth consecutive month with a year-over-year increase in inventory, although the YoY increase was fairly small in May.
3) Year-to-date sales are down about 3.3% compared to the same period in 2018.   On an annual basis, that would put sales around 5.15 million in 2019.  Sales slumped at the end of 2018 and in January 2019 due to higher mortgage rates, the stock market selloff, and fears of an economic slowdown.
The comparisons will be easier towards the end of the year. The second graph shows existing home sales Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA). Sales NSA in May (540,000, red column) were above sales in May 2018 (535,000, NSA), but sales were lower than in May 2017.

  CAR on California: "Lower interest rates perk up May home sales" -The CAR reported: Lower interest rates perk up May home sales as median price reaches another high California’s median home price edged higher to another peak for the second straight month as lower interest rates helped bolster home sales in May. Closed escrow sales of existing, single-family detached homes in California totaled a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 406,960 units in May, according to information collected by C.A.R. from more than 90 local REALTOR® associations and MLSs statewide. The statewide annualized sales figure represents what would be the total number of homes sold during 2019 if sales maintained the May pace throughout the year. It is adjusted to account for seasonal factors that typically influence home sales. May’s sales figure was up 2.6 percent from the 396,780 level in April and down 0.6 percent from home sales in May 2018 of 409,270. Sales rose above the 400,000 benchmark for the first time since July 2018 and reached the highest level in 11 months, while the year-to-year sales dip was the smallest in 13 months. “The lowest interest rates in nearly a year and a half, no doubt, have elevated housing demand as monthly mortgage payments have become more manageable to home buyers in general,” said C.A.R. President Jared Martin. “The state’s housing market remains soft, however, as home sales continue to lag behind last year’s level for more than a year now.” ...Active listings, which have been decelerating since December 2018, continued to climb from the prior year, increasing 7.4 percent from a year ago. It was the 14th consecutive year-over-year increase but also the first single-digit gain since last June.  The Unsold Inventory Index (UII), which is a ratio of inventory over sales, was lower than April’s level, suggesting that the typical seasonal pattern of rising home sales are beginning to play out this year. The Unsold Inventory Index was 3.2 months in May, down from 3.4 months in April but up from 3.0 months in May 2018. The index measures the number of months it would take to sell the supply of homes on the market at the current sales rate.

Healthcare Triage: Zoning Rules Can Keep People in Bad Neighborhoods - We’ve talked about how housing is important for health. We’ve talked about how we can improve access to housing through stimulation of production through the LIHTC. We’ve talked about how we can improve access through vouchers and mobility programs. There’s one more thing we’d like to discuss: Inclusionary zoning. Zoning rules are important for making neighborhoods and municipalities function smoothly, but they can also be written in ways that keep low-income residents from moving to certain neighborhoods.  David Tuller, a lecturer in UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health and Graduate School of Journalism, wrote about this recently in a policy brief at Health Affairs. It’s also the topic of this week’s HCT.

Housing Starts at 1.269 Million Annual Rate in May -- From the Census Bureau: Permits, Starts and Completions:  Privately‐owned housing starts in May were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,269,000. This is 0.9 percent below the revised April estimate of 1,281,000 and is 4.7 percent below the May 2018 rate of 1,332,000. Single‐family housing starts in May were at a rate of 820,000; this is 6.4 percent below the revised April figure of 876,000. The May rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 436,000. Privately‐owned housing units authorized by building permits in May were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,294,000. This is 0.3 percent above the revised April rate of 1,290,000, but is 0.5 percent below the May 2018 rate of 1,301,000. Single‐family authorizations in May were at a rate of 815,000; this is 3.7 percent above the revised April figure of 786,000. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 442,000 in May.The first graph shows single and multi-family housing starts for the last several years. Multi-family starts (red, 2+ units) were up in May compared to April. Multi-family starts were up 14% year-over-year in May. Multi-family is volatile month-to-month, and has been mostly moving sideways the last few years. Single-family starts (blue) decreased in May, and were down 12% year-over-year.  The second graph shows total and single unit starts since 1968. The second graph shows the huge collapse following the housing bubble, and then eventual recovery (but still historically low). Total housing starts in May were above expectations, and starts for March and April were revised up.

May housing permits and starts consistent with rising trend off bottom, but suggest layoffs to come - Although the headlines in the May report for building permits and starts were “meh,” the internals suggest that the bottom has probably already been reached. The downside remains that residential construction employment will decline. First, let’s look at the headlines for permits (red) and starts (blue). It appears that permits made their bottom 9 months ago, and starts five months ago: Since starts are much more volatile than permits, I also look at their three month moving average. This is at 1.225 million annualized, a 10 month high. Single family permits are the least volatile most forward looking measure. These rose off their April low: No change of trend obvious yet, but my strong suspicion is that April was the low.  On the negative side, housing under construction (blue in the graph below) went sideways, and housing completions (green) fell by almost 10%: Because residential construction employment (red) tends to turn after construction and contemporaneously or shortly after completions, this morning’s report adds to the evidence that there will probably be layoffs in this leading employment sector. The big economic question at the moment is whether housing will turn around quickly enough and strongly enough to overcome the negative trends that have become apparent in the first half of this year.

Comments on May Housing Starts - Earlier: Housing Starts at 1.269 Million Annual Rate in May.  Total housing starts in May were above expectations, and starts for March and April were revised up. The housing starts report showed starts were down 0.9% in May compared to April, and starts were down 4.7% year-over-year compared to May 2018.Single family starts were down 12.5% year-over-year, and multi-family starts were up 13.8%.This first graph shows the month to month comparison for total starts between 2018 (blue) and 2019 (red).  Starts were down 4.7% in May compared to May 2018.Year-to-date, starts are down 5.3% compared to the same period in 2018.  Last year, in 2018, starts were strong early in the year, and then fell off in the 2nd half - so the early comparisons this year are the most difficult. My guess was starts would be down slightly year-over-year in 2019 compared to 2018, but nothing like the YoY declines we saw in February and March. Now it looks like starts might be up slightly in 2019 compared to 2018. Below is an update to the graph comparing multi-family starts and completions. Since it usually takes over a year on average to complete a multi-family project, there is a lag between multi-family starts and completions. Completions are important because that is new supply added to the market, and starts are important because that is future new supply (units under construction is also important for employment). These graphs use a 12 month rolling total for NSA starts and completions. The blue line is for multifamily starts and the red line is for multifamily completions.The rolling 12 month total for starts (blue line) increased steadily for several years following the great recession - but turned down, and has moved sideways recently.  Completions (red line) had lagged behind - however completions and starts are at about the same level now.  As I've been noting for a few years, the significant growth in multi-family starts is behind us - multi-family starts peaked in June 2015 (at 510 thousand SAAR). The second graph shows single family starts and completions. It usually only takes about 6 months between starting a single family home and completion - so the lines are much closer. The blue line is for single family starts and the red line is for single family completions. Note the relatively low level of single family starts and completions.  The "wide bottom" was what I was forecasting following the recession, and now I expect some further increases in single family starts and completions.

Secular Trends in Residential Building Permits and Housing Starts - This morning, we reported separately on the latest residential building permits and housing starts in the government's monthly report, courtesy of the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Despite the fact that both are monthly SAAR series (seasonally adjusted annualized rate), they are exceptionally volatile and subject to extensive revisions. Thus it is unwise to assign much credibility to a single month. Over the long haul, however, the two offer a compelling study of trends in residential real estate, especially when we adjust the Permits and Starts for population growth. Here is an overlay of the two series since the 1959 inception of the Starts data and the 1960 inception of the Permits data. The monthly data points are preserved as faint dots. The trends are illustrated with 6-month moving averages of data divided by the Census Bureau's mid-month population estimates. Here is a closer look at the overlay since 1990.

AIA: "Architecture billings remain flat" in May -- Note: This index is a leading indicator primarily for new Commercial Real Estate (CRE) investment.   From the AIA: Architecture billings remain flat: Demand for design services in May remained essentially flat in comparison to the previous month, according to a new report today from The American Institute of Architects (AIA). AIA’s Architecture Billings Index (ABI) score for May showed a small increase in design services at 50.2, which is slightly down from 50.5 in April. Any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings. Both the project inquiries index and the design contracts index softened in May but remained positive. “The last four consecutive months, firm billings have either decreased or been flat, the longest period of that level of sustained softness since 2012,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, PhD, Hon. AIA. “While both inquiries into new projects and the value of new design contracts remained positive, they both softened in May, another sign the amount of pending work in the pipeline at firms may be starting to stabilize.” ...
• Regional averages: Midwest (51.6); South (51.4); West (50.0); Northeast (47.5)
• Sector index breakdown: mixed practice (55.4); commercial/industrial (53.0); institutional (48.0); multi-family residential (46.0)
This graph shows the Architecture Billings Index since 1996. The index was at 50.2 in May, down from 50.5 in April. Anything above 50 indicates expansion in demand for architects' services. Note: This includes commercial and industrial facilities like hotels and office buildings, multi-family residential, as well as schools, hospitals and other institutions.  According to the AIA, there is an "approximate nine to twelve month lag time between architecture billings and construction spending" on non-residential construction.  This index has been positive for 11 of the previous 12 months, suggesting a some further increase in CRE investment in 2019 - but this is the weakest four month stretch since 2012.

NAHB: "Builder Confidence Solid in June Amidst Growing Economic Uncertainty" ---The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported the housing market index (HMI) was at 64 in June, down from 66 in May. Any number above 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor.From NAHB: Builder Confidence Solid in June Amidst Growing Economic Uncertainty Builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes fell two points to 64 in June, according to the latest NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) released today. Sentiment levels have held at a solid range in the low- to mid-60s for the past five months.“While demand for single-family homes remains sound, builders continue to report rising development and construction costs, with some additional concerns over trade issues,” said NAHB Chairman Greg Ugalde.“Despite lower mortgage rates, home prices remain somewhat high relative to incomes, which is particularly challenging for entry-level buyers,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “And while new home sales picked up in March and April, builders continue to grapple with excessive regulations, a shortage of lots and lack of skilled labor that are hurting affordability and depressing supply.”… All the HMI indices inched lower in June. The index measuring current sales conditions fell one point to 71, the component gauging expectations in the next six months moved two points lower to 70 and the metric charting buyer traffic dropped one point to 48. Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the Northeast posted a three-point gain to 60 and the Midwest was also up three points to 57. The West held steady at 71 and the South fell a single point to 67.

Corporations Suddenly Realize That Once-Coveted Millennials Are A Screwed Generation - Right now, millennials represent the largest single consumer group in the United States: they number 83.1 million and they represent a full quarter of the US population. When it comes to corporations targeting consumers, millennials are at the top of the list for those obvious reasons, according to a new article by Adweek. But now, generational expert Alexis Abramson, who has 25 years experience in the field, is claiming that corporations aren’t getting the ROI that they anticipated from millennials.“There was a great deal of interest [in millennials], but there wasn’t as much due diligence around that group," she said. "We’ve generalized them as a certain type of person, [but] the reality is the rubber is meeting the road. Companies are starting to understand, 'Wow, we’re not getting the ROI we thought we might’.”Her analysis is part of a growing group of evidence that suggests that millennials haven’t been the consumer boon that many corporations expected them to be. Their appeal remains that they are digitally native, mobile oriented, media savvy, politically progressive and well educated. But there’s just one problem: almost none of them seem to have the inly asset corporations care about: disposable cash.This is one of the top takeaways of a brand new study from Deloitte’s Center for Consumer Insight, which surveyed over 4,000 American consumers to determine their current consuming habits. The survey found that since 1996, the average net worth of consumers under 35 has dropped by an astonishing 35%. Kasey Lobaugh, Deloitte’s chief innovation officer for retail and distribution was extremely surprised by the data, especially given that companies have been busy focusing on millennial spending habits."[If] you think about the narrative in the marketplace around the changing consumer and the millennial, there’s very little focus on the behaviors that are driven by economics. There’s a narrative driven by some kind of cultural change. One of the things that really shocked me is that the economics of the consumer are really the most singular driver of behavior." But now that millennials have been part of the labor market for over a decade, the sad reality of their buying power has hit potential sellers like a ton of bricks. Spending, per se, isn't the issue: Millennials spend about $600 billion a year and are on track to spend $1.4 trillion by 2020, according to Accenture data. The problem is that they are saddled with large and unavoidable expenses that reduce their overall purchasing  power. These expenses primarily include housing and student debt.

Americans Aren't Paying Their Credit Card Debt. What Could Go Wrong? - Student-loan debt hit an all-time high of $1.4 trillion in the first quarter of 2019, Experian claims. Considering that this is an increase of 116 percent in the last decade, it’s safe to say that young adults are starting their lives with a crushing debt burden. But student loans aren’t the only reason they are struggling: auto loans and credit cards are also hurting their pocketbook. When compared to other generations, millennials are much less likely to have credit card debt. However, that doesn’t mean they are completely immune to it. As a matter of fact, most of the debt millennials between the ages of 25 and 34 carry comes from credit card use.According to WalletHub’s latest Credit Card Debt Study, Americans of all ages repaid $38.2 billion in credit card debt during the year’s first quarter, making this the fourth-largest quarterly payoff ever. But despite this large sum, WalletHub estimates that consumer credit card debt will increase $70 billion for 2019 alone. Considering that Americans now owe more than $1 trillion, millennials are in as much trouble as their older counterparts. And as experience shows us, it is precisely as we age that we start to rely more on credit cards. Will millennials act differently?To WalletHub CEO Odysseas Papadimitriou, current trends seem to indicate that they won’t. When talking about how little of their debt Americans paid in the first quarter of 2019, Papadimitriou said that the fact that Americans are paying back less of what they owe proves that “consumers aren’t quite as healthy as some other metrics may indicate.” With “the average household currently [owing] roughly $8,390,” he added, and the first-quarter paydown being so small, it might not be far-fetched to expect millennials to lose some of their net worth over time thanks to credit card debt.

Gun influencers on Instagram are a boon to gun companies - When Kimberly Matte captions an Instagram post “suns out, guns out, buns out,” she mostly means it. The sun may be out, but she’s inside. Her buns are definitely out, because she’s wearing a lime-green thong. Technically, there’s only one gun out, but it’s an AR-10 battle rifle, so she’s still overdelivering.Matte has more than 84,000 followers on Instagram and recently founded her own social media marketing and modeling agency. She grew up in Windsor, Ontario, one of seven children — a fan of skateboarding, dirt-biking, four-wheeling, soccer, and tree forts, and not of guns. The first time she held a shotgun, she was a kid, “65 pounds soaking wet.” Her dad and brothers thought it would be funny to let her shoot it. “They didn’t tell me it was going to basically rip my shoulder off,” she says. “I was like, I’m never touching a gun again.”But then three years ago, she moved to Michigan to be with her American husband, who’d recently retired from the military. Now they shoot guns together, and arrange assault-weapon-centric lingerie photo sessions for Matte and her clients. She makes good money for her part, doing sponsored posts for brands both firearm-related and not — assault rifles one day, teeth-whitening treatments the next. For $100 and some free products, Matte will post a “selfie and shoutout” on her Instagram grid; she gets paid thousands of dollars per month for recurring endorsements.Matte’s feed is a mix of guns and rough-cut firewood and laser-cut underwear. She doesn’t let anyone shoot guns on her property because her yard is an unofficial foster home for wild deer, several of which she personally nurtured through infancy when their mother was hit by a car. She loves the president, hates the “free-for-all negativity” around him. She is extremely charming. Her platform, she tells me, is a place to preach love. And because Facebook, and by extension the Facebook-owned Instagram, forbids retailers to run ads that promote the sale or use of firearms, her platform is also a place to market guns that can’t be easily marketed online.

Target’s computer systems reportedly went down nationally, prompting long lines and confusion Target has experienced a global computer system outage, according to reports on Twitter. Customers across the country have reported that Target employees were advising them that the retailer's payment system was down, causing long lines to form in many locations. Target did not return a request for comment, but did confirm the outage in replies on social media. "We are aware of a systems issue in store and are working as quickly as possible to get this fixed," the company said on its AskTarget Twitter account.

NY Fed: Manufacturing "Business activity took a sharp turn downward in New York State" - From the NY Fed: Empire State Manufacturing Survey: Business activity took a sharp turn downward in New York State, according to firms responding to the June 2019 Empire State Manufacturing Survey. The headline general business conditions index plummeted twenty-six points, its largest monthly decline on record, to -8.6. New orders receded, while shipments increased modestly. Unfilled orders fell, and delivery times and inventories moved slightly lower. Labor market indicators pointed to small declines in employment and hours worked. The index for number of employees fell eight points to -3.5, its first negative value in over two years, pointing to a small decline in employment levels. The average workweek index also fell below zero, to -2.2, pointing to a slightly shorter workweek. This was well below the consensus forecast.

Philly Fed Mfg "Manufacturing conditions in the region weakened" in June -- From the Philly Fed: June 2019 Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey - Manufacturing conditions in the region weakened this month, according to firms responding to the June Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey. The current activity index declined to a reading just above zero this month. The survey’s indexes for new orders, shipments, and employment remained positive but also declined from their May readings. Most of the survey’s future activity indexes improved but continue to reflect muted optimism for the remainder of the year.  The diffusion index for current general activity decreased from 16.6 in May to 0.3 this month. This is the lowest reading since February, when the index fell below zero for one month. On balance, the firms continued to report increases in employment. Nearly 25 percent of the responding firms reported increases in employment, while 9 percent reported decreases this month. The employment diffusion index, however, decreased 3 points to 15.4. The average workweek index fell 4 points this month, to 7.3.

Regional Fed indexes confirm that manufacturing is flat -- Earlier this week the Empire State Manufacturing Index went negative. This morning the Philly Index just barely avoided the same, reported at up +0.3 for June:   The more leading new orders index declined to +8.3.This means the average of NY and Philly is a little below -1, while the average of all five regional Fed indexes as of their last reports is +0.8. Last week I pointed out that the average manufacturing work week had fallen to a point consistent with an oncoming recession, and based on past patterns, I expect layoffs to follow. This week’s two regional indexes show that the leading manufacturing sector, as of the most recent readings, is not in decline, but on the other hand, it is almost exactly flat.

US Manufacturing PMI Plunges To 10-Year Lows, Services 'Hope' Lowest On Record - Following (slightly) better-than-expected European PMIs, expectations for US PMIs was for some stabilization after May's collapse but they did not.Both preliminary Manufacturing and Services PMIs for June dropped further, edging closer to contraction:Flash U.S. Composite Output Index at 50.6 (50.9 in May). 40-month low.

  • Flash U.S. Services Business Activity Index at 50.7 (50.9 in May). 40-month low.
  • Flash U.S. Services PMI Business expectations fall to 57.8 - the lowest reading on record
  • Flash U.S. Manufacturing PMI at 50.1 (50.5 in May). 117-month low.
  • Flash U.S. Manufacturing Output Index at 50.2 (50.7 in May). 37-month low.

Commenting on the flash PMI data, Chris Williamson, Chief Business Economist at IHS Markit said: “Recent months have seen a manufacturing-led downturn increasingly infect the service sector. The strong services economy seen earlier in the year has buckled to show barely any expansion in June, recording the second-weakest monthly growth since the global financial crisis.“Business optimism has also become more subdued, with sentiment about the year ahead down to a new series low amid intensifying worries about tariffs, geopolitical risk and slower economic growth in the months ahead.“The labor market is also showing signs of weakening. The survey data for June indicate nonfarm payroll growth of 140k,averageing 150k in the second quarter after a 200k signal for the first three months of the year . “Prices for goods and services meanwhile rose at a slightly increased rate in June, mainly due to tariffs. To illustrate, some two-thirds of all manufacturers attributed some or all of their raw material cost increases to tariffs during the month. However, the inflationary impact of tariffs was offset by a broader softening of demand, which reduced suppliers’ pricing power. The overall rate of input cost inflation in manufacturing eased to a two-year low, while average selling prices for goods and services showed one of the smallest rises seen since late2016.”

 They're Calling It A Bloodbath For The $800 Billion Trucking Industry As US Economy Collapses - The U.S. trucking industry has not experienced a downturn of this magnitude since the last financial crisis, and this is one of the clearest signs yet that the U.S. economy is steamrolling into a severe economic downturn.   When economic activity is increasing, the trucking industry sees rising demand for their services and freight rates tend to go up.  That is precisely what we witnessed in 2018, and truckers were hoping for more of the same in 2019.  But when economic activity is on the decline, the trucking industry sees decreasing demand for their services and freight rates tend to go down.  Unfortunately, the numbers that the U.S. trucking industry is reporting right now are absolutely abysmal.  Freight rates have now fallen for six months in a row on a year-over-year basis, and according to Business Insider during the month of May loads on the spot market fell “by a chilling 62.6%” compared to last year…This year has been rocky for the $800 billion trucking industry. After a raucous 2018, 2019 has seen retailers and manufacturers moving less, according to the Cass Freight Index. Freight rates have dipped year-over-year for six months straight. Loads on the spot market, in which retailers and manufacturers buy trucking capacity as they need it rather than through a contract, have fallen by a chilling 62.6% in May year-over-year.The spot market is where we see the marginal changes in demand most clearly, and what this is telling us is that we are already in a transportation recession.Of course that is almost certainly putting it too nicely.  According to one owner-operator, what we are witnessing right now is nothing short of a “bloodbath”  According to Wolf Richter, the Cass Freight Index just suffered it’s largest drop “since November 2009″… Freight shipment volume in the US dropped 6.0% in May compared to May last year, the sixth month in a row of year-over-year declines, and the sharpest year-over-year drop since November 2009, according to the Cass Freight Index for Shipments. The index tracks shipments of goods for consumer and industrial sectors across all modes of transportation – truck, rail, air, and barge.

Boeing records zero new plane orders as Paris Air Show starts slow - Boeing knew the Paris Air Show would be slow, but this may have been worse than they expected. On day one of the show, Boeing did not announce a single new order for any of its airplanes, while Airbus recorded orders and options for 123 planes, according to the aviation consulting firm IBA.iQ. Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg admitted to CNBC that this air show would not be about orders, but instead be an opportunity for his company to reassure customers and suppliers that Boeing is making progress getting the grounded 737 Max back in the air. “We’ll get it back in the air when it’s safe — that is the most important thing here,” Muilenburg told CNBC. Boeing did announce General Electric’s aircraft leasing division, GECAS, will convert a previous order of 10 737-900 planes into freighter models. By comparison, Airbus flew into Paris expecting to grab most of the new plane orders with the introduction of a new narrow-body plane, the A321XLR. That happened early Monday morning when Air Lease Corporation, which leases hundreds of planes to airlines around the world, places an $11 billion order for 100 Airbus planes, including 27 XLR’s. Air Lease CEO John Plueger told CNBC the XLR will be “a blockbuster” when first deliveries start in 2023. “This is in our view a true 757 replacement, but on a much more fuel efficient basis,” he said.

Boeing's Newest Problem- Pilots Are Too Weak To Use The Cockpit Hand-Crank - One of the biggest flaws keeping Boeing's 737 MAX 8 grounded has nothing to do with AI and advanced flight-control software. Instead, it's an issue of whether all pilots will have enough upper body strength to turn a crank - a surprisingly low-tech hangup in a scandal that was catalyzed by malfunctioning software. Boeing has scrambled to redesign the 737 MAX and its software to eliminate the safety flaws that contributed to the crash landings of two jets in under six months from October to March. All told, 346 people died after the 737's MCAS anti-stall software misfired, driving the planes into deadly downward spirals.Now, the latest obstacle for Boeing, which hadn't been reported before WSJ published a story on Wednesday morning, appears to be convincing regulators that all pilots will possess the upper body strength to turn a crank that controls a panel in the rear of the plane. That panel, in turn, can change the angle of the plane's nose, potentially saving it from the types of malfunctions that afflicted the two planes that crashed. Apparently, during times of crisis, when the plane is moving unusually fast at an unusually steep angle, the crank can become extremely difficult to move. What's worse for Boeing, not only is this safety procedure part of the 737 MAX 8, but its also present in the 6,000+ 737s from the prior generation of planes which are also in service. The question is whether regulators will request that this issue be fixed on those planes, too. The issue, according to WSJ, has prompted a reassessment of safety conditions across all Boeing planes.

 Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims decreased to 216,000 --The DOL reported: In the week ending June 15, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 216,000, a decrease of 6,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 222,000. The 4-week moving average was 218,750, an increase of 1,000 from the previous week's unrevised average of 217,750.The previous week was unrevised.The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

25% Of Americans Are Worse Off Than They Were Before The Great Recession - For many, the economic recovery being touted by the mainstream media has not yet affected them. About 25% of Americans say that a decade after the housing bust that caused the Great Recession, they are doing worse. Almost half of Americans are not doing any better at all too. If you believe the mainstream media, the economy is robust and the unemployment rate is at a 49-year-low. But not all Americans have recovered from the Great Recession.  According to a new survey from Bankrate of about 3,000 Americans, 23% of people who were adults when the recession started in December 2007 say they are now financially worse off than they were before the recession hit. That percentage amounts to just under 50 million Americans. Another 25% say they are doing the “same.” In all, just over half believe their “overall finances” are better than before.“Americans were and continue to be in a degree of denial of the financial crisis and Great Recession,” said Mark Hamrick, Bankrate’s senior economic analyst according to a report by Yahoo Finance. “One of the constant themes that presents itself in the data is that Americans are still digging out in many ways from that experience.”“While some have managed to prosper in the decade since, there are still tens of millions who are struggling to even get back to where they were before the economy took a turn for the worse,” added Hamrick.Could that mean that the economy is not all that robust? We certainly think so. But speaking the truth is a revolutionary act in times of deceit. When asked about their salaries, less than half of the respondents said their wages were better than before, while more than a third say that it is worse. But if you’re a millennial (29-38) you’re in luck: Only 16% of this demographic who were adults during the Great Recession say their pay is worse now. That’s compared to 26% of baby boomers (aged 55-73). “If you take this data at face value — where less than half of the adult population say that their pay is better — and most indicate it is not better, that tells you enough and raises enough of a question about the true improvement that Americans have experienced,” Hamrick said.

 Youngstown’s black working-class voters are full of economic anxiety, and not for Trump. - If you’ve heard about Youngstown lately, it is probably because the city has been held up—over, and over, and over again—as the locus of white working-class drift from the Democratic Party to Donald Trump. “The epicenter of the Trump phenomenon,” the public policy theorist Justin Gest called the city. It was here, the story goes, that Trump stoked white anxiety, pitched cures to roiling crowds, and brought white union workers into the GOP’s column for the first time in decades, where they appear to be staying put. Democrats underperformed in the region during the blue wave in 2018, and Youngstown will be represented by a Republican in the Ohio state Senate for the first time in 60 years.“There’s no boom in Youngstown, but blue-collar workers are sticking with Trump,” the New York Times announced last month, in the latest of a series of Trump Country dispatches on the nation’s white working class. These heartland safaris exhibit a common media oversight: the compulsion to paint white, small-town manufacturing workers as the face of the working class, which is in reality mostly urban, racially diverse, and more likely to make burgers than automobiles. In Youngstown, these stories exhibit another oversight: Youngstown is not white. In contrast to the largely white Mahoning Valley, for which it often serves as an unthinking stand-in, the city itself is 43 percent black and majority-minority. The mayor is black. In more than a dozen interviews in Youngstown’s black community, I could not find anyone who knew a black Trump supporter, let alone was one. But not all of the people I talked to voted for Hillary Clinton, either.

Amazon responds to Ocasio-Cortez’s claim that it pays workers ‘starvation wages’ - Amazon responded Monday morning to Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s claim that it pays warehouse workers “starvation wages,” saying in a tweet that says it pays workers at least $15 per hour plus full benefits. In response to a question about Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Ocasio-Cortez said whether Bezos is a billionaire or not is less of a concern to her than how the company’s policies impact Amazon warehouse workers. Ocasio-Cortez said she was concerned that Bezos’ “being a billionaire is predicated on paying people starvation wages and stripping them of their ability to access healthcare, and also if his ability to be a billionaire is predicated on the fact that his workers are taking food stamps.” Amazon tweeted a response to Ocasio-Cortez’s comments, saying: “Amazon is a leader on pay at $15 min wage + full benefits from day one. We also lobby to raise federal min wage.” Amazon’s head of communications Jay Carney later tweeted that Ocasio-Cortez should change the minimum wage law. Ocasio-Cortez was also one of the most outspoken public critics of Amazon’s plan to move its second headquarters to Long Island City, Queens before Amazon pulled out.

 America has never gone this long without hiking the federal minimum wage America has now gone longer without an increase in the federal minimum wage than at any point in the law’s eight-decade history.In July 2009, almost 10 years ago, the federal minimum wage rose from $6.55 an hour to $7.25 an hour. Since then, Congress has not approved any additional hikes, with Republican lawmakers generally rejecting Democrats’ attempts to raise the minimum wage.Kevin Hassett, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said he and President Trump have not discussed the administration’s position on raising the federal minimum wage. Trump has backed a number of positions on the minimum wage, saying at one point during the 2016 presidential campaign that he supported significantly increasing it and at others that he would not lift it.Twenty-nine states have passed state minimum wages that are higher than the federal baseline, while in the other 21 the federal minimum prevails. Republican-controlled states are less likely to have passed minimum wage hikes, although voters in conservative-led states such as Arkansas have approved higher minimum wages through ballot initiatives.“We’ve had Congress upon Congress that can’t get it done, so we’re stuck with this shameful number,” said Judy Conti, government affairs director for the National Employment Law Project, which advocates a higher federal minimum wage. Experts say the recent strong run of U.S. economic growth over the past several years bolsters the case for raising the minimum wage, given that businesses are better positioned to survive the rise in costs than they are during a downturn. Wages have begun rising for U.S. workers as low unemployment improves their bargaining power, but some economists argue they would increase even faster with minimum wage hikes. The “effective” minimum wage — the average wage being paid to all minimum wage workers — has surged to $12 an hour, largely due to state and local governments’ hikes, according to a report in the New York Times by an economist who served in the Treasury Department under President Barack Obama. But about 700,000 minimum-wage workers, in areas that have not passed state or local increases, are still paid $7.25 an hour, the report said.

Even Teach For America Can’t Escape the Grip of the For-Profit Charter School Industry—and Walmart - Damn, ProPublica has become invaluable in a short space of time. On Tuesday, Annie Waldman dropped a story about how Teach For America, which at its birth was a kind of strange—but seemingly well-intended—policy initiative, evolved into an arm of the for-profit charter school Grift-o-Rama. All the usual suspects are involved. The first one named is good old Sam Walton, who was qualified to remake American public education because he and his family got rich selling oversized tin buckets of Cheetos to an America desperate for them. Documents obtained by ProPublica show that the foundation, a staunchsupporter of school choice and Teach For America’s largest private funder, was paying $4,000 for every teacher placed in a traditional public school — and $6,000 for every one placed in a charter school. The two-year grant was directed at nine cities where charter schools were sprouting up, including New Orleans; Memphis, Tennessee; and Los Angeles...The incentives corresponded to a shift in Teach For America’s direction. Although only 7% of students go to charter schools, Teach For America sent almost 40% of its 6,736 teachers to them in 2018 — up from 34% in 2015 and 13% in 2008. TFA started out with fairly noble intentions. In fact, it predates a lot of the corporate education "reform" efforts, including the boom in expanded and largely unregulated charter schools. It perhaps was inevitable that the two efforts would eventually run on the same railbed.  Over the years, these backers — including Greg Penner, Walmart’s board chairman and a Walton family member by marriage; Arthur Rock, a retired Silicon Valley entrepreneur; and Eli Broad, a Los Angeles philanthropist — have cycled through Teach For America’s board. Together, the three tycoons and their family foundations have doled outat least $200 million to Teach For America.

 Mural Of George Washington That Traumatizes Students To Be Covered Up - There’s plans in the works to cover a mural of George Washington from the halls of George Washington High School in San Francisco due to complaints that it’s offensive and demeaning to Native Americans and African Americans. The San Francisco school board is expected to decide next week whether to cover the image or paint over it, but there’s no plans among top officials to leave the imagery in the open for students to view, according to several Bay Area news reports.  Board members appear to agree with a working group’s determination that the mural “traumatizes students and community members.” The “Life of Washington” mural, which consists of 13 panels, was painted in 1936. One of the images involves Washington gesturing toward a group of explorers who are walking by the body of a presumably deceased Native American. Another depicts Washington next to several slaves performing various types of manual labor. At a June 18 special meeting to consider the controversial paintings, “not one school board member advocated to keep the mural,” reports SF Weekly.“Instead, Commissioners Gabriela Lopez, Alison Collins, Stevon Cook, and Mark Sanchez commented on how emotionally draining it was to hear — and have other rehash for them — the pain they know firsthand comes from violent, demeaning imagery like this.”The three options before the board are to obscure the mural with curtains, create acoustic panels to cover it up, or paint over it; each option would costs anywhere from 300,000 to $800,000 to complete, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

 Michigan teachers rally to “fund our schools” after 20 years of bipartisan cuts - Approximately 1,000 teachers rallied at Michigan’s state capitol in Lansing Tuesday to protest more than two decades of bipartisan cuts to school funding. Like their counterparts throughout the US and internationally who have been engaged in widespread strikes and protests, Michigan teachers are determined to fight for significant improvements in wages and school funding and to oppose the privatization of public schools. The militant mood of educators stood in sharp contrast to the protest sponsors, the Michigan Education Association (MEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Michigan, which sought to turn the event into an impotent lobbying campaign of the state legislature. Supporters of the WSWS Teacher Newsletter distributed a statement, titled “For a socialist policy to fully fund public education,” which calls on teachers to form rank-and-file committees independent of the unions to mobilize educators, autoworkers and all workers to fight for high-quality public education, living wages and other social rights. The rally featured Michigan’s new Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, whom union officials promoted as a champion of teachers and public education. In reality, Whitmer is calling for a paltry $526 million, or 3.5 percent increase to K-12 education. Studies have shown that Detroit schools alone would require a half a billion dollars for critical building repairs. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer speaks to the rally with Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist behind her The keynote speaker was National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García, who has spent the last 18 months crisscrossing the country trying to put out teacher rebellions and preventing them from coalescing into a nationwide strike. García made a few demagogic remarks about Trump’s education secretary Betsy DeVos, a rightly despised figure because of her billionaire family’s role in nationwide efforts to privatize public education. The NEA president called for teachers to support Democrats in the 2020 elections and deliberately concealed the role of the Obama administration and Democratic state and local officials across the US who have promoted charter schools and other corporate-backed “school reform” schemes.

2020 race brings free college back to the national stage -- After receding from the national stage, the free college movement is resurfacing as a central rallying point for Democrats as they set their sights on the White House.At least 18 of the party’s 23 presidential contenders have come out in support of some version of free college . Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts promises free tuition at public colleges and universities. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota says it should be limited to two years of community college. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York wants to provide free tuition in exchange for public service.The candidates are responding to what some say is a crisis in college affordability, an issue likely to draw attention in the first primary debates later this month. Year after year, colleges say they have to raise tuition to offset state funding cuts. Students have shouldered the cost by taking out loans, pushing the country’s student debt to nearly $1.6 trillion this year. Even for many in the middle class, experts say, college is increasingly moving out of reach.Free college, a catchall term for a range of affordability plans, is increasingly seen as a solution. Nearly 20 states now promise some version of free college, from Tennessee’s free community college program to New York’s Excelsior Scholarship, which offers up to four years of free tuition at state schools for residents with family incomes below $125,000 a year. But research on the effectiveness of state programs has been mixed. Critics say the offers are often undermined by limited funding and come with narrow eligibility rules that exclude many students.

Harvard Rescinds Parkland Survivor Kyle Kashuv’s Admission After Racist Messages - Kyle Kashuv, a pro-gun survivor of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, says Harvard College rescinded his admission after racist messages he shared among his high school peers surfaced last month. Kashuv, an 18-year-old high school senior who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School early last year, posted a photo of a purported letter from Harvard withdrawing his admission. “After careful consideration the [Admissions] Committee voted to rescind your admission to Harvard College,” the letter reads. “We are sorry about the circumstances that have led us to withdraw your admission, and we wish you success in your future academic endeavors and beyond.” The letter follows HuffPost’s report of Kashuv’s text messages, shared in a Google document for a class study guide, in which he made racist remarks. In the document, seen by classmates and obtained by HuffPost, he repeatedly uses a racist slur:

  Harvard Rescinds Admission For Conservative Parkland Survivor Who Used N-Word --Harvard has rescinded the admission of conservative Parkland shooting survivor, Kyle Kashuv, weeks after he apologized for racial slurs made several years ago in high school in a Google Doc and text messages. One screenshot claims to show Kashuv writing the n-word more than a dozen times in a shared study guide on Google Docs."like im really good at typing n---er ok like practice uhhhhhh makes perfect son??!!" Kashuv allegedly wrote in a portion of the document.In another part of the Google Doc, Kashuv allegedly wrote the same slur repeatedly, in capital letters. Kashuv also allegedly referred to black student athletes as “n---erjocks” in one text message. -Daily Beast  […] Dear Kyle Kashuv, Cursing (more like being blatantly racist) like a middle schooler on XBOX live doesn’t make me respect you — it makes you look like a joke.— ari // msdstrong (@arixali) May 17, 2019  Harvard's decision comes after Kashuv says he gave up "huge scholarships" to go to the university, and that "the deadline for accepting other college offers has ended." Hours before the racial screenshots came to light, Kashuv announced that he was parting ways with pro-Trump group Turning Point USA. Of note, Kashuv was ranked #1 in his class and had a SAT score of 1550 out of 1600. Meanwhile, liberal Parkland survivor David Hogg was also accepted to Harvard despite a 1270 SAT score and getting rejected from UCLA.

Father Who Paid $450,000 Bribe Is Last Of 14 Parents To Plead Guilty In Admission Scandal - A father who paid bribes to get his kids into USC as part of the largest ever college admissions scandal has pleaded guilty, according to Bloomberg.Toby MacFarlane admitted in court on Friday that he paid $450,000 in bribes and used phony athletic profiles to get his son into USC as a basketball recruit and his daughter into the school as a soccer recruit.  He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud before U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton in Boston.MacFarlane is the last of 14 parents to plead guilty as part of the scandal.  He admitted to the judge that he had committed fraud “by getting my children admission to USC as recruited athletes when in fact they’re not.”  He also admitted to conspiring with William Rick Singer, the mastermind behind the scheme, by paying him $200,000 in 2013 to fabricate a profile for his daughter, claiming she was a “U.S. Club Soccer All American” in high school. His daughter graduated from USC in 2018 but never wound up playing soccer for the university's team.  Then, in 2016, he paid $250,000 to gain admission for his son who only attended the school briefly before withdrawing in May 2018. $200,000 of the money was claimed by MacFarlane to be for "real estate consulting" and a $50,000 payment was claimed to be for "USC athletics".  Now, MacFarlane faces up to 15 months in prison and a fine of $95,000, in addition to restitution to be determined at a later date. In addition to the 14 parents that have pleaded guilty, 19 others are fighting the charges filed by the US Attorney’s office. In addition, prosecutors are pursuing cases against college coaches and test administrators, among other people, who took and offered bribes at some of the country's top colleges. Earlier this month we noted that Stanford's ex-sailing coach got one day in jail for his role in the scandal.

Bay Area homeless students ask community, officials to stop stigmatizing them -- As a full-time student while working more than 40 hours a week for nearly two years, Matthew Bodo also lived out of in his car — constantly in fear of being ticketed, burglarized or harassed. On Friday, Bodo organized a summit on student homelessness that drew more than 50 students, faculty, community members and elected officials. The group spent nearly four hours hearing from a panel of current and formerly homeless students and discussing possible remedies to the crisis that has left thousands of students in the Bay Area without a place to call home. Bodo, 21, said the stigma around homelessness discouraged him from speaking up and seeking out additional resources for a long time. “I refused to call myself homeless,” he said. “I had a car, and I thought that was a home.” Bodo and the other student panelists Friday emphasized that expanding the definition of homeless students to those who are generally without stable housing — those who sleep in cars, couch surf or move from one friend’s house to the next but might not consider themselves homeless — will let such students know that they can and should seek out resources as well. Daisy, 28, a student at Foothill College, said she never imagined identifying as a homeless student and living in an RV until she was forced to make the difficult decision in order to afford to stay in school. Daisy, who is also an advocate for the Mountain View Vehicle Residents, said community members and politicians often do not understand that there’s a broad spectrum of homelessness. “(Destigmatizing homelessness) is not just how you react to people, that’s how you react when someone proposes that we lower the restrictions on vehicle residents. That’s how you react when you go to the polling station,” Daisy said.

Oberlin College case shows how universities are losing their way - For many who lament the shift from academics to activism across college campuses in the United States, Oberlin College in Ohio is the equivalent of the “China syndrome” during nuclear accidents, a point where chain reactions become impossible to stop or control. Oberlin students often find new issues to protest, even on one of the most liberal campuses in the world, like objections to serving sushi as cultural appropriation. As on other campuses across the country, these protests are encouraged by an array of faculty members and ever accommodating administrators. This week, however, the bill came due for Oberlin when a jury awarded over $11 million in damages to a family bakery for being defamed as racist by its college students and officials. That motion was later followed by a whopping $33 million punitive award. It is only the latest example of how faculty members and officials are driving their institutions toward financial and intellectual bankruptcy, thanks to their advocacy or acquiescence.The latest controversy began with a shoplifting case. In 2016, an African American student named Jonathan Aladin was caught trying to steal a bottle of wine from Gibson’s Bakery, which was established in 1885 and has been closely tied to the college for over a century. When the grandson of the owner tried to stop Aladin, a fight ensued and police were called. Aladin and two other students, Cecilia Whettstone and Endia Lawrence, were arrested. Students, professors, and administrators held protests, charging that the bakery was racist and profiled the three students. Police rejected claims of a racial motive and noted that, over a period of five years, 40 adults were arrested for shoplifting at Gibson’s Bakery, but only six were African American. It also is not how the court viewed it. When prosecutors cut a plea deal to reduce the charge to attempted theft, a local judge refused. He said the plea deal appeared to be the result of a permanent “economic sanction” by the college in which the victim had little choice but to relent. Ultimately, all three students pleaded guilty. The merits of the case did not seem to bother Oberlin officials or student protesters. Dean of students Meredith Raimondo reportedly joined the massive protests and even handed out a flier denouncing the bakery as a racist business.  Oberlin barred purchases from the bakery, pending its investigation into whether this was “a pattern and not an isolated incident.” Raimondo also pressured Bon Appetit, a major contractor with the college, to cease business with the bakery. . Owner David Gibson had discussed the ruinous impact of the boycott with college president Marvin Krislov and Raimondo received little sympathy. He said the two officials demanded that the bakery not call police when students shoplifted for the first time. Gibson objected that his bakery loses a large amount of money to shoplifting and that the college was demanding the equivalent of a first time “shoplifter pass.”

U.S. College Grads Are In For An Unpleasant Surprise  - U.S. college students currently working on their degree are in for an unpleasant surprise when negotiating their first salaries That’s because, as Statista's Felix Richter details, according to a new study conducted by Clever, undergraduate students in the United States are overestimating what they’re worth by a varying degree, depending on the major. Comparing average expected salaries to median actual salaries as reported in PayScale’s College Salary Report, Clever reveals which majors are particularly prone to unrealistic expectations. “Bushy-tailed and bright-eyed, the average Generation Z undergraduate expects to make $57,964 one year out of college, while the national median salary is $47,000 for recent grads with bachelor degrees who have between zero and five years of on-the-job experience,” Clever writes, concluding that many students have “seriously unrealistic” expectations for their early career salaries. As the chart above shows, Business majors are in for the rudest awakening, overestimating their early career salary by almost $15,000 a year. At the other end of the spectrum, Computer Science majors are in for a pleasant surprise when they enter the working world: according to Clever’s findings, they are underestimating their earnings potential by nearly $10,000.

 Suicide Rates Among Young Americans Accelerates To Highest Level Since 2000 - A new study of national data on suicide rates among young Americans reveals rates have hit their highest point since 2000, reported Reuters. Rates among Americans started to increase during the financial crisis (2007), sharp accelerations were also seen on a post-crisis basis between 2014 and 2017, according to the report published in JAMA. The study, called Suicide Rates Among U.S. Adolescents, Young Adults Continue to Increase, showed teen suicides had been growing faster in girls than boys until when it flipped to boys in 2015.  "There is a surge of suicides in adolescent males," said the study's lead author Oren Miron, a research associate in the department of biomedical informatics at the Harvard Medical School. "Previous research has talked about the rise in females. Our study shows both are at much higher risk."  For a closer examination at suicides by age, Miron and his team pulled data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Underlying Cause of Death database. Researchers noted that out of 6,241 suicides in individuals aged 15 to 24 in 2017, at least 80% were males and 20% females. The rate of suicides in teens aged 15-24 in 2017 was 11.8 per 100,000, and 17.9 per 100,000 boys and 5.4 per 100,000 girls. Young adults aged 20-24 had suicide rates for 2017 at 17 per 100,000 overall and 27.1 per 100,000 young men and 6.2 per 100,000 young women. In contrast, the rate among teenagers in 2000 was 8 per 100,000, which continued unchanged until the financial crisis in 2007. The rate increased by 3% per year between 2008 to 2014 and jumps 10% per year between 2014 and 2017.In boys, the rate declined between 2000 and 2007 then troughed and moved higher: 2.6% per year between 2007 and 2014 and 14.2% per year between 2015 and 2017. In girls, the rate was below trend between 2000 and 2010 but then jumped by 8.2% per year between 2010 and 2017. Rates for young adults were rising between 2000 and 2013 but soared by 5.6% per year from 2013 to 2017. In young men, rates increased by 5.5% per year between 2013 and 2017, and in young women, they increased by 4% between 2000 and 2017.  The accuracy of the deaths was based on death certificates, which can sometimes be subjected to error.

NXIVM Sex-Cult Leader Keith Raniere Found Guilty On All Counts -- NXIVM sex-cult leader and accused pedophile Keith Raniere was found guilty on Wednesday of running the ultra-secretive organization that hot-branded and tortured women as part of an organized scheme to provide himself with a constant supply of sex slaves.  Within Nxivm, Raniere ran a secret society called DOS, in which slaves were tasked with recruiting slaves of their own. The women were starved, branded with Raniere’s initials and forced to sleep with him or perform other sex acts, according to testimony. -NY Post "Raniere, who portrayed himself as a savant and a genius, was in fact, a master manipulator, a con man and the crime boss of a cult-like organization involved in sex trafficking, child pornography, extortion, compelled abortions, branding, degradation and humiliation," said Richard Donoghue, US attorney for the eastern district of New York.  The punishments could include being forced to hold painful poses, stand barefoot in the snow, take cold showers and whip each other on the “bare butt” with the strap, Ms. Salzman said. She recalled that Mr. Raniere once called during the beatings to tell the women to make sure that they snapped their wrists in a particular way to inflict maximum pain. -New York Times The jury in Brooklyn federal court found Raniere guilty on all counts in the seven-week trial, including racketeering conspiracy, sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy, attempted sex trafficking, forced labor conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy according to the New York Post.  Raniere's co-defendants pleaded guilty earlier this year after accusations of pedophilia emerged. They include NXIVM president Nancy Salzman and her daugher Lauren, Smallville's Allison Mack and Seagram heiress Claire Bronfman - who used her inheritance to bankroll the group for years.  Bronfman, the 39-year-old daughter of late Seagram CEO Edgar Bronfman, pleaded not guilty last July to charges of racketeering, money laundering and identity theft for NXIVM. According to a 2010 Vanity Fair report, Clare and her sister Sara contributed approximately $150 million of their trust fund to NXIVM.  Smallville's Mack, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to manipulating and procuring women for Raniere - who required that prospective "slaves" upload compromising collateral into a Dropbox account. One such recruit-turned-coach was India Oxenberg - daughter of Dynasty actress Catherine Oxenberg, who met with prosecutors in New York in late 2017 to present evidence against Raniere. On Wednesady, Catherine Oxenberg sat in the back row of the courtroom, sobbing. In one recorded conversation with Mack, Raniere said he wanted the group's "hot-branding" ceremonies to resemble a "sacrifice." Former cult member Lauren Salzman said it was the "most painful thing I have ever experienced." In may, Salzman testified that she was forced to kneel and chant "Master, please brand me, it would be an honor, an honor I want to wear for the rest of my life," after which she was held down on a massage table while someone branded Raniere's initials into her pelvis. 

Why it's so hard to stop a cult -  Sex cult leader Keith Raniere, has been convicted in New York of charges including racketeering and sex trafficking.For 20 years, Raniere was the leader of Nxivm (pronounced nexium), which claimed to be a self-help group and to have thousands of followers.But during his trial, former members gave an insight into the reality of how the group was run.They described being forced to break off previous relationships and of suffering physical and sexual abuse. Some were forced to have abortions. A "slave and master" system saw women forced to hand over "collateral" - often humiliating photographs - to show their commitment.The revelations have shocked many people and made headlines around the world. But, in reality, Nxivm reveals a great deal about how cults work. This story contains an image that some readers might find disturbing. Cults are structured like the layers of an onion, with the most acceptable elements closest to the outside, followed by increasing layers of secrecy and abuse as recruits move closer to the centre.In the case of Nxivm, the outer layers saw seemingly harmless self-improvement programmes used to recruit members' friends, family and colleagues. But at its core, Raniere exerted extreme levels of control, allegedly culminating in sexual abuse, violence and the branding of his initials on female followers. The authorities were alerted to Nxivm's activities as far back as 2003, according to Forbes. But the New York Times reported early attempts to follow up complaints were rebuffed by officials, who said the women were acting consensually, or that technicalities prevented legal action. This illustrates a key problem in prosecuting the leaders of cults: members often say they are acting under their own free will. Even if current or former members want to press charges, many feel too afraid because of possible repercussions, or the stigma attached to having been a member.

The World Is Facing A $400 Trillion Retirement Shortfall By 2050 -- Though many Americans are probably more worried about an immediate financial emergency than their long-term prospects for retirement, the World Economic Forum, an organization comprising jet-setting billionaires and corporate captains of finance and industry, has published a study to remind ordinary Americans they better get used to the idea that they will be working until they die,   Put another way, millennials are going to have a hard time making sure their money lasts longer than they do.According to BBG, the size of the world's collective savings gap could be larger than $400 trillion by 2050. That's up from $70 trillion in 2015. In further bad, though not surprising, news, the US is forecast to have the biggest retirement savings gap at $137 trillion, followed by China ($119 trillion) and India ($85 trillion).Some are saying this issue now requires "action" from "policymakers, employers and individuals" before droves of the elderly find themselves in the worst financial predicament of all: broke, and too old to do much about it.   Unless something is done, older people will either need to delay retirement, or learn to get by on less. according to the data, in the US, 65-year-olds have enough savings to cover just 9.7 years of retirement income. That leaves the average American man with a gap of 8.3 years, while Women, who live longer, face a 10.9-year gap.Under their methodology, which seems fairly conservative, the forum assumed retirees would need enough income to cover 70% of their pre-retirement pay. But on the other hand, they didn't factor in Social Security or other government welfare payments, which method might overestimate the true number. Still, millennials have gotten so used to the idea that they will never retire, that they make resigned jokes about it. Unfortunately, with birth rates dropping, we could end up with a situation where there's masses of old and broke elderly without children wealthy enough to intervene, meaning that the state may inevitably step in.

California goes even bigger on Obamacare - California is beefing up Obamacare, restoring an individual mandate, expanding health insurance subsidies well into the middle class and covering some undocumented adults through Medicaid. It’s an incremental step toward universal coverage that can animate the Democrats’ party-defining debate over how best to cover everyone — through a mixed public-private system or through “Medicare for All." The Democratic-controlled state legislature on Thursday approved a budget, clearing the path for a statewide penalty for failing to purchase health insurance, which will help subsidize coverage for middle-income people earning too much to receive federal financial help from Obamacare. California will also become the first state to extend Medicaid coverage to low-income undocumented adults up to age 26, defying the Trump administration’s efforts to shrink government benefits to immigrants. The moves fall well short of a sweeping Medicare for All-style system vigorously supported by the party’s progressive wing here in California and across the country — and viewed much more cautiously by much of the Democratic establishment. The idea of expanding Obamacare subsidies could gain traction among more moderate Democrats in Washington who would rather build on the Affordable Care Act than engage in another protracted health reform battle should the party take back control in Washington. And they can sell it as a practical move toward expanding coverage immediately while the party weighs more progressive health plans.

Robocalls Are Overwhelming Hospitals and Patients, Threatening a New Kind of Health Crisis - For most Americans, robocalls represent an unavoidable digital-age nuisance, resulting in seemingly constant interruptions targeting their phones. For hospitals, though, the spam calls amount to a literal life-or-death challenge, one that increasingly is threatening doctors and patients in a setting where every second can count. At Tufts Medical Center, administrators registered more than 4,500 calls between about 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. on April 30, 2018, said Taylor Lehmann, the center’s chief information security officer. Many of the messages seemed to be the same: Speaking in Mandarin, an unknown voice threatened deportation unless the person who picked up the phone provided their personal information. Such calls are common, widely documented scams that seek to swindle vulnerable foreigners, who may surrender their private data out of fear their families and homes are at risk. But it proved especially troubling at Tufts, which is situated amid Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood, Lehmann said. Officials there couldn’t block the calls through their telecom carrier, Windstream, which provides phone and Web services to consumers and businesses. “There’s nothing we could do,” Lehmann said Windstream told them. Administrators at other hospitals, cancer centers and medical research organizations around the country share Tufts’s robocall concerns. They fret that such a seemingly obvious tech malady has worsened in recent months and that government regulators and phone companies have been too slow to help. And they fear that robocallers could eventually outmatch their best efforts to keep hospital phone lines free during emergencies, creating the conditions for a potential health crisis. This May alone, robocallers rang Americans’ smartphones an estimated 4.7 billion times, according to YouMail, a company that makes an app that helps users block suspected spam calls. That’s nearly double the amount from two years ago, reflecting the extent to which fraudsters have outwitted carriers such as AT&T and Verizon, lawmakers on Capitol Hill and the government’s chief robocall cops, including the Federal Communications Commission.

Miracle Life Support Machine ECMO Makes Heroic Rescues — And Leaves Patients In Limbo -- The latest miracle machine in modern medicine — whose use has skyrocketed in recent years — is saving people from the brink of death: adults whose lungs have been ravaged by the flu; a trucker who was trapped underwater in a crash; a man whose heart had stopped working for an astonishing seven hours. But for each adult saved by this machine — dubbed ECMO, for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation — another adult hooked up to the equipment dies in the hospital. For those patients, the intervention is a very expensive, labor-intensive and unsuccessful effort to cheat death. ECMO, the most aggressive form of life support available, pumps blood out of the body, oxygenates it and returns it to the body, keeping a person alive for days, weeks or months, even when their heart or lungs don’t work. “You have a heart that’s not working, yet the patient is not dead.” Most commonly used for newborns, ECMO use has been growing dramatically among adults. In the United States, procedures tripled from 2008 to 2014, up to an estimated 6,890, according to the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Experts caution that as ECMO becomes more available, it is also being used as a last-ditch attempt to buy more time for dying patients with poor chances of survival. ECMO is not designed to be a destination, but a bridge to somewhere — recovery, transplantation or an implanted heart device. But when patients are too sick to reach those goals, ECMO can become a “bridge to nowhere,” leaving the patient in limbo, possibly even awake and alert, but with no chance of survival outside the intensive care unit. Medical teams and families can be fiercely divided over when to pull the plug. ECMO is very expensive, mostly due to the labor involved: A person on ECMO cannot live outside the ICU and must be continuously monitored for complications, such as blood clots, bleeding, infection and loss of blood to the limbs. Median charges for ECMO in 2014 were $550,000, making it the 15th-most-costly procedure that year, according to the AHRQ.

America’s Suicide Epidemic - In 2017, 47,173 Americans killed themselves. In that single year, in other words, the suicide count was nearly seven times greater than the number of American soldiers killed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars between 2001 and 2018.A suicide occurs in the United States roughly once every 12 minutes. What’s more, after decades of decline, the rate of self-inflicted deaths per 100,000 people annually — the suicide rate — has been increasing sharply since the late 1990s. Suicides now claim two-and-a-half times as many lives in this country as do homicides, even though the murder rate gets so much more attention.In other words, we’re talking about a national epidemic of self-inflicted deaths. Anyone who has lost a close relative or friend to suicide or has worked on a suicide hotline (as I have) knows that statistics transform the individual, the personal, and indeed the mysterious aspects of that violent act — Why this person?  Why now? Why in this manner? — into depersonalized abstractions. Still, to grasp how serious the suicide epidemic has become, numbers are a necessity.According to a 2018 Centers for Disease Control study, between 1999 and 2016, the suicide rate increased in every state in the union except Nevada, which already had a remarkably high rate.  In 30 states, it jumped by 25% or more; in 17, by at least a third.  Nationally, it increased 33%.  In some states the upsurge was far higher: North Dakota (57.6%), New Hampshire (48.3%), Kansas (45%), Idaho (43%).Alas, the news only gets grimmer. Since 2008, suicide has ranked 10th among the causes of death in this country. For Americans between the ages of 10 and 34, however, it comes in second; for those between 35 and 45, fourth.  The United States also has the ninth-highest rate in the 38-country Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Suicide rates for doctors and young physicians among highest in the US population - Doctors in the United States confront a high suicide rate as a result of stressful working conditions and excessively long work hours. Director and chairman of the Southern California Permanente Medical Group, Dr. Edward Wilson, told CNBC that it is estimated that one doctor dies every day by suicide in the US due to “stress and rigorous work schedules.” Doctors and health professionals within the US, according to Ellison, are “stressed to the breaking point” due to stifling work schedules and mounting pressures that stem from patient care. Depression, the primary cause of suicidal ideation, affects an estimated 12 percent of male physicians and 19.5 percent of female physicians, but doctors are often hesitant to seek treatment due to the stigma associated with mental health problems. As a result, doctors have the highest suicide rate among any profession in the country: 28 to 40 per 100,000 persons compared to 12.3 per 100,000 for the general population. According to Ellison, recent data shows that 44 percent of physicians show signs of physical and emotional exhaustion, or “burnout,” which can lead to further mental health problems as doctors have difficulty adequately taking care for themselves, such as eating and sleeping properly.

$1 Billion Worth Of Cocaine Seized At Philadelphia Port -  Several thousand traders on Wall Street may be extra jittery tomorrow when the FOMC announcement hits at 2:00pm. The reason: shipping containers full of illegal drugs - mostly blow - were found and seized at a Philadelphia port in what authorities described as the largest seizure in the region's history. Back in March we reported by what at a time seemed like a giant haul when a ton and a half of cocaine seized at the port of New York and New Kersey, in what was described as the biggest bust of the century; in retrospect it was peanuts - the Philly seizure was about ten times greater. U.S. Attorney William McSwain said the ship contained enough cocaine to "kill millions of people"... but not before giving them a good old time, and making trading tomorrow's FOMC decision far easier.  A law enforcement official told NBC Philadelphia that more than 15,500 kilos of cocaine were found in seven containers, which were found aboard a cargo ship, the MSC Gayane, that previously stopped in Colombia, Chile, Panama and the Bahama, in other words virtually every known country exporting blow so finding the culprit may be tricky.The massive cache of drugs, which will send Wall Street blow prices through the roof, has a street value of $1 billion, the U.S. Attorney's Office also tweeted. The office characterized the seizure as the largest in the Philadelphia region's history.

Opioid Producers Face Bankruptcy As Federal Crackdown Accelerates - Opioid producers have wreaked havoc on the U.S. for years, and now lawmakers are finally taking note, with a few high-profile drugmakers coming under fire Bribery, corruption, unquenchable greed and an insatiable, egotistical thirst for power: these are all the drivers for the main characters of a good mob movie. And it wasn’t too long ago that they were synonymous with the big tobacco industry and the fines and payouts of the 1990s.  But while the mob-like story of the 1990s was big tobacco, this decade’s story is big pharma, with several major cases confirming a strong link between major drug companies and payouts to medical employees in a mafia-like setup.    One of the best recent examples concerns Insys Therapeutics, a leading U.S. drug maker whose founders and top executives have been caught bribing doctors, in some cases with fatal consequences.  According to the U.S. Attorney who prosecuted Insys, the company has shown "illegal behavior that prioritized its profits over the health of thousands of patients" and has been "fueling the opioid epidemic". In short, in dealing with Insys representatives, doctors have agreed to prescribe a highly addictive painkiller (the company's opioid spray, Subsys) to patients who did not need it. Subsys, made from fentanyl, is an opioid much stronger than morphine, according to experts, and approved for terminal cancer patients. As it turns out, though, the target group of terminal cancer patients was not enough to feed the greed of Insys, which was targeting sales to a much larger consumer base: people with non-life-threatening chronic pain. That’s a massively lucrative and mouth-watering market, considering that some 50 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. Insys has agreed to pay the federal government $225 million in penalties. It might seem a drop in the bucket compared with the profits that have clearly been made on this chronic opioid frenzy. But that is not where the pain will end for Insys. Additionally, the company’s founder, John Kapoor, has been found guilty of federal racketeering charges along with four other Insys executives. In parallel, Insys has faced huge legal bills in its fight against hundreds of lawsuits in which they (and other drug lords) are accused of fueling an epidemic that has claimed more than 400,000 lives over the past two decades. It’s a tough pill to swallow for a company that just two years ago posted $250 million in annual sales.

Trump campaigned on defeating the opioid crisis. It’s hard to tell if he’s winning. President Donald Trump’s focus on the opioid crisis may strengthen his bond with poor, disaffected voters in hard-hit places like Appalachia that are a bedrock of his base. But the administration, for all its efforts, has not yet reversed the tide of the deadly epidemic.The Trump administration’s response to the crisis of painkiller addictions and overdoses poses an unusual challenge for Democrats, who otherwise have claimed the electoral advantage on health issues during the Trump era. The White House can accurately point to signs of progress: Opioids prescriptions are down dramatically from their peak in 2012, early data suggests that overdose deaths are slowing, and the crisis is getting far more urgency and attention.“We will never stop until our job is done,” Trump declared at an opioid summit in Atlanta this spring. "We have results that are unbelievable ... We’re making tremendous progress." But some of these gains could be attributed to work started in previous administrations. Nor is it clear what yardstick measures success. For instance, the decline in fatalities may not mean that fewer people are overdosing; it may mean that the campaign to make antidotes widely available is saving their lives, though not necessarily getting people treatment to end their addiction.

Fourth Carcinogen Found In Widely Prescribed Blood Pressure Medicine - A fourth cancer-causing compound was found in widely prescribed blood pressure pills, according to a new report by Bloomberg. The solvent dimethylformamide was discovered in the drug valsartan, manufactured by several companies including Novartis, by an online pharmacy, Valisure. The solvent, also known as DMF, is classified by the World Health Organization as a probable carcinogen.This adds to the worry about valsartan, which has seen dozens of its generics recalled since July 2018, when the carcinogenic chemical N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) was detected in a version of the drug made by a Chinese company. Valsartan is a treatment for hypertension that is frequently combined with other medicines into a single pill, and has been around for decades.Online pharmacy Valisure found DMF in the drug that is still on the market in the US, including in medicines that the FDA had highlighted as alternatives to recalled drugs. These findings obviously complicate the FDA’s efforts to remove the drug from pharmacies while keeping doctors and patients abreast as to what is safe.  Novartis spokesman Eric Althoff said: “Novartis cannot currently fully exclude the possibility that traces of DMF (within acceptable limits) may have been present in materials.”The FDA is currently investigating how the recalled medications were contaminated, including the possibility that the use of DMF in the manufacturing process may have led to chemical reactions that formed the other carcinogens. The FDA is going to evaluate Valisure's study, but is telling patients that they should continue taking the blood pressure medication even if it’s recalled, until they can talk to their doctor. The findings of the online pharmacy suggested the manufacturing of generic drugs may involve more parties than commonly thought.

Healthy Living Can’t Prevent Cancer - Recent news that random bad luck plays a big role in cancer has been misinterpreted as bad news, when it's actually very useful in helping humanity understand what cancer is and what can be done to prevent it. New experiments attempt to quantify findings from 2015 and 2017 that showed random “bad luck” was a major factor in the development of cancer – along with inherited genetic predispositions and environmental carcinogens. An independent team this month showed that normal tissue is roiling with clusters of mutated cells, some of which have genetic errors common in cancer. This fits well with the current understanding that cancer starts when cells acquire a combination of genetic mutations that allows them to grow out of control. The reaction to the “bad luck” claim has been more moralistic than scientific. StatNews reported that the results might imply “that preventive efforts from smoking cessation to environmental cleanups were largely pointless.” A news story in Science Magazine said: “Many scientists took issue with the paper … because they felt it overemphasized the randomness of cancer and downplayed the value of trying to prevent it.” That defeatist view is a bit like not wearing a seat belt because driving is never 100% safe. There’s a more constructive way of thinking about randomness: not as a reason to give up on minimizing risk, but as a reason for vigilance and research. Knowing the role of randomness, maybe more of us would have a doctor look at that little lump, or spot between our toes that looks weird even though it’s on skin that never sees the sun. I don’t smoke, but because I have learned that 15% of lung cancer cases occur in people who never smoked, I am more likely to take seriously a persistent chest pain or cough, which really could be lung cancer. Recognizing the random factor might save some lives.

Horns are growing on young people's skulls. Phone use is to blame - New research in biomechanics suggests that young people are developing hornlike spikes at the back of their skulls — bone spurs caused by the forward tilt of the head, which shifts weight from the spine to the muscles at the back of the head, causing bone growth in the connecting tendons and ligaments. The weight transfer that causes the buildup can be compared to the way the skin thickens into a callus as a response to pressure or abrasion.The result is a hook or hornlike feature jutting out from the skull, just above the neck.In academic papers, a pair of researchers at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, argues that the prevalence of the bone growth in younger adults points to shifting body posture brought about by the use of modern technology. They say smartphones and other handheld devices are contorting the human form, requiring users to bend their heads forward to make sense of what’s happening on the miniature screens.The researchers said their discovery marks the first documentation of a physiological or skeletal adaptation to the penetration of advanced technology into everyday life.Health experts warn of “text neck,” and doctors have begun treating “texting thumb,” which is not a clearly defined condition but bears resemblance to carpal tunnel syndrome. But prior research has not linked phone use to bone-deep changes in the body.“An important question is what the future holds for the young adult populations in our study, when development of a degenerative process is evident in such an early stage of their lives?” ask the authors in one paper, published in Nature Research’s peer-reviewed, open-access Scientific Reports. The study came out last year but has received fresh attention following the publication last week of a BBC story that considers, “How modern life is transforming the human skeleton.”

Summer camp is newest front in battle with US measles outbreak (AP) — The battle to contain the worst US measles outbreak in 27 years has a new front: summer camp. Vaccinations have been made mandatory this summer for campers and staff in several counties north of New York City that annually fill up with kids from the ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities that have been hit hardest by measles. Ulster County took the extra step of mandating the measles vaccine or proof of immunity at all-day camps and overnight camps, becoming the latest county in the area to issue immunization requirements. Rockland County announced a similar order this month, following mandates from Sullivan and Orange counties. “We have to make sure our t’s are crossed and our i’s are dotted in making sure all these vaccination records are in and have been fine-combed through to make sure everything is in compliance,” said Rabbi Hanoch Hecht, of Ulster County’s Camp Emunah, which hosts many girls from a Chabad community in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights. “In the past where we accepted religious exemptions for certain things,” said Hecht, who is getting his own blood checked for immunity, “now we cannot.” The state of New York requires summer camps to keep immunization records for all campers, but doesn’t bar children from attending if they haven’t gotten a measles shot. Children are required to get the measles vaccine to attend schools in New York, however, and Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation Thursday eliminating an exemption for kids whose parents object to vaccinations on religious grounds.

 Nitrates in Tap Water: What Parents Need to Know - A new Environmental Working Group (EWG) study published in Environmental Research found that nitrate, one of the most common contaminants of drinking water, may cause up to 12,594 cases of cancer per year, but that's not its only danger: It can pose unique health risks to children.The good news is that there are steps you can take to keep your family safe. Most of the nitrate that ends up in public water systems comes from agricultural runoff that contains nitrogen fertilizer and manure. Although everyone may be exposed to nitrate, it poses the greatest risk to infants and pregnant women.The potential harm of nitrate may begin during pregnancy, and at levels far lower than the legal standard. EWG estimates that every year, it may cause up to 2,939 cases of very low birth weight, up to 1,725 cases of very preterm birth and up to 41 cases of neural tube defects.Infants fed formula made with water contaminated by nitrate above the federal legal standard run the riskmethemoglobinemia, also known as "blue baby syndrome" — a rare but serious condition that blocks the blood's ability to carry oxygen. The EPA's current limit for nitrate in drinking water — 10 parts per million, or ppm — was set to prevent blue baby syndrome. Current research suggests that the standard, set in 1962, is long past due for an update. Research shows that even a level of nitrate less than one-tenth of the current legal limit may cause harm to a developing fetus, but earlier this year, EPA suspended its planned reevaluation of the nitrate standard.

Diarrhea In The Dominican; Teens Fall Ill At Same Hotel Where Tourists Mysteriously Died -  A group of seven Oklahoma teens fell ill during their senior trip to the Dominican Republic after eating dinner at the beleaguered Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Punta Cana, where at least two Americans have died recently out of nine total on the island, and others have reported falling ill.  The recent graduates of Deer Creek High School arrived on the island, where they enjoyed themselves on the beach. After dining at the resort's Japanese restaurant, however, they became violently ill and had to be rushed to the ER where they received antibiotics and hydration, according to KOCO.  "I just woke up, and my stomach was cramping and I was sweating," teenager Bennett Hill told KOCO. "I was freezing.""We’ve been hooked up to IVs since we first got here with antibiotics, just getting hydrated," Hill added. Parent Liz McLaughlin said her daughter Libby was one of the seven sickened graduates, and that they have "no idea what's going on." "We just don’t know what is happening," McLaughlin told KOTV. "Is it the water? Is it the ice? Is it the food? Is it the food handling? Is it the pesticides?"  It is unclear whether whatever sickened is teens is related to a spate of Nine US tourists who have suddenly died while visiting the Dominican Republic - at least two of whom became violently ill after drinking from their hotel room minibars, according to reports. The latest victim was 55-year-old Joseph Allen of New Jersey, who was found dead in his hotel room at the Terra Linda Resort in Sousa.

$hithole Countries- 673 Million People Still Defecate Outdoors - The United Nations has released a new report focusing on water, sanitation and hygiene around the world. It has found that approximately 2.2 billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water, 4.2 billion have to go without safe sanitation services and three billion lack basic handwashing facilities. The report also examined the state of open defecation and progress in eliminating it. As Statista's Niall McCarthy reports, as recently as 2015, close to a billion people were still defecating outdoors, resulting in widespread disease and millions of deaths. That drove the UN to call for an end to the practice and some parts of the world have proven hugely successful in eradicating it.In 2000 for example, the rate of open defecation was even worse with 21 percent of the global population - 1.3 billion people - practicing it. The impact of the UN's call to action has been telling and by 2017, the global share of people practicing open defecation had fallen to just 9 percent - 673 million people. Ethiopia saw the largest fall during that period, -57 percent. Cambodia and India also experienced declines of -53 and -47 percent respectively. The latter has been particularly ambitious in installing proper toilets. Before Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power, just under 40 percent of India's population had access to a household toilet. He promised to change that and billions of dollars were invested under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan ("Clean India") campaign which kicked off in October 2014. India's Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation states that toilet coverage today stands at an impressive 99.22 percent. Altogether, 91 countries reduced open defecation by a combined total of 696 million people between 2000 and and 2017 with Central and Southern Asia accounting for three quarters of that figure.

The Scary New Math of Factory Farm Waste - It has been almost a year since Hurricane Florence slammed the Carolinas, dumping a record 30 inches of rainfall in some parts of the states. At least 52 people died, and property and economic losses reached $24 billion, with nearly $17 billion in North Carolina alone. Flood waters also killed an estimated 3.5 million chickens and 5,500 hogs. A lesser-known impact of the devastating hurricane was revealed through satellite photos released after the storm. Excessive rainfall flooded concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in low-lying areas, carrying riverbed sediment and animal waste previously stored in open-air lagoons into nearby waterways and then into the Atlantic. The difference between the photos, taken just five months apart before and after the storm, is striking.  The dark brown liquid spilling into the Atlantic captured in this image is a mix of rainwater, riverbed sediment and waste from those factory farms within the 100-year flood plain that were inundated with more than 20 inches of rain in the matter of a couple of days.  Generally, CAFOs dispose of animal waste by spraying it as fertilizer and storing the excess in massive underground pits or open-air lagoons, where sulfur-eating bacteria often turn the mixture bright pink. Given that cropland can absorb only so much, a good deal of the waste ends up in groundwater, rivers, streams and the ocean. In fact, agriculture is the leading cause of pollution in the nation's rivers and lakes, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), much of it emanating from large-scale factory farms. Floods can have even more devastating consequences for water quality. The risk is particularly pressing for North Carolina, a state regularly smacked by hurricanes, because it houses more than 2,200 hog CAFOs and 3,900 poultry CAFOs, and produces up to 10 billion gallons of animal waste a year. These estimates come from the Environmental Working Group (EWG). One problem is that they are just that — estimates.  The truth is no one really knows how much factory farm waste is escaping into our environment because no federal agency collects consistent and reliable information on the number, size and location of large-scale agricultural operations, nor the pollution they're emitting. This means there is considerable variation on how thoroughly states track and monitor CAFOs. Without this information, no one can monitor and hold CAFOS accountable for mismanaged waste and related health and environmental damage.

Largest world stock of animal-killing virus destroyed by UK lab -Scientists have destroyed the UK's laboratory stocks of a virus that once caused devastating cattle losses. These stocks accounted for most of the world's lab samples of rinderpest, which were held at The Pirbright Institute in Surrey. The rinderpest virus is responsible for one of the worst catastrophes in history. During an outbreak in the 1890s, it killed between 80% and 90% of cattle in eastern and southern Africa. This caused mass starvation in the region. Millions of people died as a result. In Ethiopia alone, one-third of the human population was wiped out. The toll in lives was on a scale matched only by the Black Death in Europe. A vaccination campaign eventually brought the disease under control until it was declared to have been eradicated in the wild in 2011. But thousands of samples of the virus remained in 40 laboratories across 36 countries. If there happened to be an accident, the disease could potentially leak out and cause devastation once again. To prevent this, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) approved a few highly secure labs and encouraged other institutes to send their rinderpest samples to these facilities. Among them is the Pirbright Institute in Surrey, which has led efforts to record the genetic information contained in each sample and then destroy it. Researchers have been reluctant to destroy lab samples of deadly viruses in case they are needed to create a vaccine should the disease ever re-emerge. But a digital record of the virus's genetic code means that this is no longer an issue.

Flesh-eating bacteria becoming more common in Delaware Bay due to climate change, study finds - A dangerous flesh-eating bacteria may be on the rise at some popular East Coast beaches due to warming water temperatures. In the past two years, five cases of Vibrio vulnificus, a flesh-eating bacterial infection that is spread by handling or eating contaminated seafood, have been linked to Delaware Bay, according to a study. Vibrio vulnificus usually occurs in high-salinity, brackish waters with surface temperatures above 13 degrees Celsius, or 55 degrees Fahrenheit, the study says. It has typically been found in the warm waters of the Gulf Coast and southern states like Louisiana and Texas, especially during the months from May to October. The most common cause of infection is eating raw or undercooked shellfish, particularly oysters. The study notes that the past three decades have seen a significant increase in sea surface temperatures in many areas of the United States, resulting in "longer summer seasons and ... alterations in the quantity, distribution, and seasonal windows of bacteria" in the coastal ecosystem, providing "more favorable conditions for Vibrio." "While the infection is still rare, it is being seen with more frequency in this region," Doktor explained. "Water and wounds do not mix. Do not enter the water if you have fresh cuts or scrapes," the Florida Department of Health warns. 

U.S. Air Quality Is Headed the Wrong Way --After four decades of improving air quality, the U.S. has started to take a step backwards, as the number of polluted days has ticked upwards over the last two years, the Associated Press reported.Federal data shows there were 15 percent more days with unhealthy air over the U.S. in 2017 and 2018 than there were on average from 2013 through 2016, according to the AP. In that four-year span, Americans had the fewest number of polluted days since 1980. President Trump has claimed that air quality is improving under his watch, saying earlier this month, "We have the cleanest air in the world, in the United States, and it's gotten better since I'm president." Yet, the facts tell a different story.World Health Organization data says otherwise. When looking at fine particulate matter, a key to air pollution, the U.S. ranks tenth in the world, well below several European countries, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, as the New York Times reported.   "We do not have the cleanest air and we have not crossed the finish line when it comes to pollution," said former Obama U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Chief Gina McCarthy, now director of the Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard School of Public Health, as the AP reported.  Fine particulate matter is especially relevant after the EPA rolled back the Obama-era Clean Power Plan Wednesday, as EcoWatch reported. Fine particulate matter is a byproduct of the burning that frequently comes from power plants, engine exhaust and wildfires. It is also hazardous to human health, leading to asthma and respiratory inflammation, and increasing the risk for lung cancer, heart attack and stroke, according to the New York Times. Furthermore, EPA data found there were significantly more polluted days each year of Mr. Trump's than in any year of President Obama's second term, according to the AP. And the worst of the bad days jumped even more than the 15 percent rise in unhealthy air. On average, there were nearly 140 times, in 2017 and 2018, when a city's air pollution reached "very unhealthy" and "hazardous" levels with the air quality index greater than 200. That's more than two-and-a-half times the average of nearly 55 from 2013 to 2016, the AP reported.

You’re Eating, Drinking and Breathing Microplastics. Now What?  - A new study led by Kieran D. Cox and researchers at the University of Victoria in British Columbia confirms a logical but cringe-worthy conclusion: humans are consuming plastic. The researchers estimate that humans are eating about 250 pieces of microplastic per day, or roughly 94,000 microplastics in a given year. The average amount consumed varies with age and gender, but the basic premise remains. Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastics, generally less than 5 mm (one-fifth of an inch) in width. Most consumed by humans are tinier still, frequently in the micrometer range and invisible to the naked eye (25,400 micrometers = one inch). These tiny plastic pieces can form from the breakdown of mismanaged plastic waste over time, or can be directly created for different commercial or industrial applications, like microbeads in facial wash and toothpaste. Synthetic fibers called microfibers can also slough off clothing during the laundry process.  These tiny fragments and fibers have garnered a surge of research attention over the past decade, buoyed by public interest and a continuing stream of viral videos and photos viscerally demonstrating the impacts of plastics on ocean creatures like turtles, whales, and seabirds. The ever-expanding body of research continues to detect plastic pollution in air, water, the deepest reaches of the ocean, and creatures of all shapes and sizes in between. It was only a matter of time before someone started quantitatively exploring plastic ingestion in our own bodies. But humans are difficult study subjects compared to other organisms.  Researchers in this study got around some of the challenges of human research by instead focusing on existing, published data. They combed through datasets detailing microplastic counts in honey, salt, alcohol, tap water, sugar, bottled water,seafood, and air, and used these figures in combination with dietary habit data, estimates of drinking water consumption, and data about how much we breathe to arrive at an estimate regarding the number of tiny plastic pieces American children and adults may be consuming via eating, drinking, and breathing.

Where does your plastic go? Global investigation reveals America’s dirty secret - What happens to your plastic after you drop it in a recycling bin? According to promotional materials from America’s plastics industry, it is whisked off to a factory where it is seamlessly transformed into something new. This is not the experience of Nguyễn Thị Hồng Thắm, a 60-year-old Vietnamese mother of seven, living amid piles of grimy American plastic on the outskirts of Hanoi. Outside her home, the sun beats down on a Cheetos bag; aisle markers from a Walmart store; and a plastic bag from ShopRite, a chain of supermarkets in New Jersey, bearing a message urging people to recycle it. Tham is paid the equivalent of $6.50 a day to strip off the non-recyclable elements and sort what remains: translucent plastic in one pile, opaque in another. A Guardian investigation has found that hundreds of thousands of tons of US plastic are being shipped every year to poorly regulated developing countries around the globe for the dirty, labor-intensive process of recycling. The consequences for public health and the environment are grim. A team of Guardian reporters in 11 countries has found:

  • Last year, the equivalent of 68,000 shipping containers of American plastic recycling were exported from the US to developing countries that mismanage more than 70% of their own plastic waste.
  • The newest hotspots for handling US plastic recycling are some of the world’s poorest countries, including Bangladesh, Laos, Ethiopia and Senegal, offering cheap labor and limited environmental regulation.
  • In some places, like Turkey, a surge in foreign waste shipments is disrupting efforts to handle locally generated plastics.
  • With these nations overwhelmed, thousands of tons of waste plastic are stranded at home in the US, as we reveal in our story later this week.

Navy Contaminates Local Groundwater and Sewer System in Maryland - The U.S. Navy has contaminated the groundwater at Maryland’s Patuxent River Naval Air Station (NAS) with 1,137.8 parts per trillion (ppt) of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), according to a report published last July by the engineering firm CH2M Hill. PFAS have been associated with a variety of cancers and are known to jeopardize human reproductive health. The contamination was not reported on the Defense Department’s March 2018 report on PFAS.  There are no restrictions currently on military or industrial PFAS discharges under either the federal Clean Water Act or the federal Clean Air Act. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a non-binding, non-regulatory advisory to states and municipalities of 70 ppt in drinking water. Neither the military nor chemical companies are currently required to report releases of PFAS through the federal Toxic Release Inventory. Some states, such as nearby New Jersey, have moved to fill the vacuum left by the EPA. However, Maryland does not regulate the carcinogens, and the Navy’s discharge of PFAS into Maryland’s groundwater is 87 times higher than what New Jersey allows.  According to the CH2M Hill report, aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) containing PFAS has been extensively used in hangars and at multiple locations on the base in fire-training exercises. Much of the contamination is associated with Site 41, an old firefighting burn pad, as well as Site 34, a drum disposal area. Site 34 is located a quarter-mile from Rt. 235 near the southwest corner of the base. The area adjacent to the base is populated with many homes served by groundwater wells. The evaluation of the sites on base that have been identified as having known or suspected releases of PFAS was limited to “existing environmental restoration sites,” according to the CH2M Hill report. These areas were found “to have no complete exposure pathway to a potential drinking water source, hence no off-base drinking water sampling was initiated.”. The study says the releases of AFFF stay within the top 100 feet of groundwater, which is separated from much deeper aquifers with clay and silt, making it impossible for the carcinogens to reach private wells outside the base.  Are we absolutely certain that private well owners just 2,000 feet from the release of these poisons are safe? Wouldn’t relatively inexpensive testing of adjacent, privately owned wells be a prudent course of action?

Trump’s order to trim science advisory panels sparks outrage - Former agency heads and environmentalists are blasting a new executive order issued late Friday evening as a stealthy means to remove scientific oversight from agency rulemaking. Previous heads of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Interior Department say President Trump’s directive last week for all agencies to cut at least a third of their advisory committees by September would weaken the science-based regulations process that the administration has pushed back against since Trump took office. “The decision is disappointing to anyone who cares about evidence-based policy making, scientific review or the truth,” said Carol Browner, the sole EPA administrator under former President Clinton, in an email to The Hill on Monday. “Engaging a range of outside advisors has served EPA well,” she said. “While probably predictable, the decision is no less alarming. The American people expect more from agencies, especially those charged with protecting our health, like the EPA.” Trump’s executive order directs all federal agencies to cut by at least one-third the number of boards and advisory committees that weigh in on government regulations and other agency decisions. That means 462 committees are potentially on the chopping block when excluding agencies that are mandated by law. At EPA and Interior, advisory committees provide scientific and technical expertise from people who are considered to be at the top of their field.

The U.S. just witnessed its 12 wettest months in 125 years, and the floods keep coming --During May, a stormy pattern, headlined by widespread flooding in the nation’s heartland and a two-week swarm of tornadoes, boosted the nationally averaged precipitation to the second-highest level on record for the month. The 4.41 inches recorded was 1.5 inches above normal, trailing only May 2015′s 4.44 inches, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.The substantial May total helped pushed the most recent 12-month output for the Lower 48 states to the highest level in 125 years of record-keeping (since 1895): 37.68 inches. It easily topped the previous record 12-month total of 36.20 inches set just last month. Over the weekend in North Carolina and parts of the adjacent region, early-season extreme heat and a rapidly developing drought was replaced by intense rainfall. The signals for flooding were seen days in advance, yet the ferocity of the rainfall was still hard to fathom. A large area saw totals as high as 10 to 12 inches, with a few spots exceeding that. Peak totals of 13.64 inches near Brookford and 13.57 inches east of Boone were reported by AccuWeather. Extreme rainfall over a short period led to many waterways overflowing their banks, washing out roads and entering homes or businesses. The worst was focused in the mountains and foothills. Mountain Island Lake, northwest of Charlotte, saw rapid rises, which led to flooded homes. The peak water level there was the second highest on record. Near Lincolnton, also northwest of Charlotte, three people died when a car accident left them submerged in floodwater. Five hundred miles to the northwest, a slower-motion flood reached its latest apex in and around the St. Louis area over the weekend. In what has become the longest cycle of Mississippi River flooding since 1927, Saturday’s crest of 46.02 feet at St. Louis was the second-highest on record for that location, behind only the 49.58 foot mark set during the Great Flood of 1993. The Weather Service office in St. Louis notes that this is the sixth major crest of the Mississippi at St. Louis since 2013, all top-10 marks at a location where records date to the 1700s.

Lake Ontario 249 Feet First Time in Recorded History - Lake Ontario has reached 249 feet for the first time in recorded history. "Unfortunately we hit 249 (feet), and we're climbing," said Jonathan Schultz, Director of Emergency Services for Niagara County. The International Joint Commission, which regulates the lake's water level, says the lake will continue rising gradually over the next several days, and likely won't peak out for another one-to-three weeks. Just days ago, the record for water height set during 2017's historic flooding was matched. That year, there were localized lake readings above 249 feet in some communities, like Olcott for instance, where there was a reading of 249.2 feet. However, the lake-wide average topped out at just 248.95 feet. On Sunset Island, in Wilson, residents are concerned about what might happen if the lake continues to rise. Sunset Island is actually a peninsula, connected to the mainland by a stone walkway which has narrowed in recent weeks. "It is quickly going to become an island again unless the water recedes," said resident Kevin Doherty. Doherty, who has had a summer home on Sunset Island for the last 11 years, is concerned the stone may wash away. If that happens, the only way to access his home would be by boat.

‘Everybody’s so down in the dumps’: Illinois farmers give up on planting after floods — and throw a party -  The Happy Spot was a little depressed. Dozens of corn farmers and those who sell them seed, chemicals and equipment gathered on Thursday at the restaurant in Deer Grove, Illinois, after heavy rains caused unprecedented delays in planting this year and contributed to record floods across the central United States.The storms have left millions of acres unseeded in the $51 billion U.S. corn market and put crops that were planted late at a greater risk for damage from severe weather during the growing season. Together, the problems heap more pain on a farm sector that has suffered from years of low crop prices and a U.S.-China trade war that is slowing agricultural exports. Forecasts for even more rain sent U.S. corn futures to a five-year high on Friday, though fewer farmers will benefit from soaring prices because of the planting disruptions. James McCune, a farmer from Mineral, Illinois, was unable to plant 85% of his intended corn acres and wanted to commiserate with his fellow farmers by hosting the “Prevent Plant Party” at The Happy Spot. “Everybody’s so down in the dumps,” McCune said.  McCune returned his unused corn seed to a local dealer for Pioneer, a part of Corteva Inc, after planting just 900 acres of corn out of the 6,000 acres he intended to put in the ground.Bureau County, Illinois, where McCune lives, has the fourth-highest risk of all U.S. counties for corn acres to go unplanted this year because of rains, behind three counties in Nebraska, according to Gro Intelligence.Nationwide, farmers are expected to harvest the smallest corn crop in four years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agency last week reduced its planting estimate by 3.2% from May and its yield estimate by 5.7%. Farmers think more cuts are likely as the late-planted crop could face damage from hot summer weather and an autumn frost. “An early frost will turn this world upside down,” Rock Katschnig, a farmer from Prophetstown, Illinois, said at the party.

Illinois Farmers Have Given Up On Planting - Farmers in Illinois whose land has been thrashed by flooding have given up on planting.  Instead of growing food, they decided to throw a party. And who could blame them? The storms that have caused major flooding in Illinois have forced farmers to give up on their crops. Forecasts for even more rain also sent corn futures to a 5-year-high, bringing the food crisis ever closer to reality. Few farmers will even see a benefit from the higher prices because they can’t even get their corn planted in the ground. Dozens of corn farmers and those who sell them seed, chemicals, and equipment gathered on Thursday at the restaurant in Deer Grove, Illinois, after heavy rains caused unprecedented delays in planting this year and contributed to record floods across the central United States, according to a report by Reuters. Rather than focus on the abysmal farming year, they decided to party instead. The storms have left millions of acres unseeded in the $51 billion U.S. corn market and put crops that were planted late at a greater risk for damage from severe weather during the growing season. Together, the problems heap more pain on a farm sectorthat has suffered from years of low crop prices and a U.S.-China trade war that is slowing agricultural exports. Regardless of the news, it isn’t looking good for farmers in America. Already dealing with the political ramifications of the trade war, bankruptcies and suicides at record levels, farmers are now devastated by destructive weather. All things considered, farmers are expected to harvest the smallest corn crop in four years nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agency last week reduced its planting estimate by 3.2% from May and its yield estimate by 5.7%. Farmers think more cuts are likely as the late-planted crop could face damage from hot summer weather and an autumn frost.

It's Going To Be A Train Wreck - Farmers Say Corn Crop Far Worse Than USDA Estimates - This year’s corn crop has been absolutely decimated by nonstop rain and unseasonably cool weather, according to a new report from Bloomberg. And while those caveats are widely known, farmers believe that already adjusted estimates for June are still going to be too optimistic.  The report checked in with corn farmer James McCune, who, when looking at the size of his diminutive corn crop this year simply said: “Corn’s not supposed to be this tall.” In fact, conditions and morale are so poor in Northwestern Illinois, that McCune organized a happy hour for about 125 farmers and others tied to the industry. They’re calling it the "Prevent Plant Part", a nod in jest to the unplanted acreage this season.“It’s going to be a train wreck,” McCune said.Corn farmers face unprecedented headwinds this year, including record rain that has flooded the midwest and stalled corn plantings. This has forced the US Department of Agriculture to cut its harvest estimates in its June report. This is only the fourth time since 2000 that the government has taken such action in the month of June. McCune says that the USDA's report won't even capture how bad this year‘s crop will be. Another farmer, Bryan Snetcher, said even though he was able to get his crop planted, it has been a huge battle.He said:"You spend a week on the land and then it rains three days and a week later you’re doing it all over again. Just tired of dealing with the mud this year."In addition to the rain, corn farmers are feeling the effects of President Trump's trade war with China. Even though these two farmers support Trump's moves, costs have risen for farmers and the administration is in the midst of preparing additional tariff-aid payments as a result.

Torrential Rain Of Biblical Proportions Is Causing Immense Devastation For Midwest Farmers - The wettest 12 months in all of U.S. history was followed by the second wettest May on record, and for some parts of the Midwest the month of June will be even worse.  Some portions of Ohio and Indiana have gotten 10 more inches of rain since Friday, and more rain is literally falling on the Midwest as I write this article.  When I describe what we have witnessed as “torrential rain of Biblical proportions”, I am not exaggerating even a little bit.  Even before we got to the month of June, farmers in the middle of the country were already dealing with a disaster unlike anything that they had ever experienced before.  And just when everyone thought that it couldn’t possibly get any worse, it did.  Since Friday, the rainfall totals in the Ohio Valley have been staggeringAs much as 10 inches of rain has fallen in the Ohio Valley since Friday, causing flooding, necessitating water rescues and creating a mudslide near Lexington, Kentucky.  Parts of southern Indiana have seen 10 inches of rain, while up to half a foot fell in parts of Ohio. Other parts of Kentucky have reported 5 inches. More rain is coming for the rest of the week, and that is exceptionally bad news for Midwest farmers.At this point, millions of acres that farmers had intended to plant with corn will go completely unused. And according to a Washington Post article that was republished by MSN, corn futures are surging because traders are anticipating “an impending shortage” of corn… Ohio trailed behind, with 68 percent of its corn planted, South Dakota had 78 percent, and Michigan and Indiana each had 84 percent of their hoped-for acres planted. Last week, the USDA lowered the projected total yield to 13.68 billion bushels (last year’s corn yield was 14.3 billion bushels). And as of Monday, in anticipation of an impending shortage, corn futures continued to trade at their highest level since June 2014.I know that the USDA is projecting that somehow we will get to 13.68 billion bushels of corn, but a lot of experts are convinced that the USDA’s reduced projection is still wildly optimistic.In some parts of the heartland, it literally looks like a hurricane just came through.  When Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Dorothy Pelanda recently toured farms in her state, she saw fields that were “filled with water and weeds instead of crops”

El Niño forecast to continue through the summer, could knock down hurricanes - El Niño is forecast to continue through the summer and possibly into the fall, federal forecasters announced Thursday, which could weaken the Atlantic hurricane season. El Niño is a periodic natural warming of seawater in the tropical Pacific. It's among the biggest influences on weather and climate in the United States and around the world. Specificially, in its monthly forecast released Thursday, the Climate Prediction Center said there's a 66% chance that El Niño conditions will persist through the summer. Beyond that, however, the forecast calls for a 50-55% percent chance it will last through the fall, including the heart of the Atlantic hurricane season. If it persists into the fall, that might be good news: "El Niño typically reduces Atlantic hurricane activity due to increased vertical wind shear," Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach tweeted Thursday morning. But with only a 50-55% chance of lasting through the fall, a calmer storm season is far from a slam dunk. On the other side of the Americas, however, warm water from El Niños tend to increase hurricane activity in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Hurricanes there seldom affect land, but they can impact Mexico, the U.S. Southwest and Hawaii. Other than its impact on hurricanes, its influence on U.S. summer weather tends to be rather weak, according to Bloomberg. Elsewhere, El Niños also raise the chances Brazil can be warmer than normal and leave India, Indonesia and eastern Australia drier, Bloomberg reported.

Debunking Media Hysterics That Seattle Heat-Waves Could Kill Hundreds -- On Friday, the front page of the Seattle Times had a terrifying story about Seattle heat waves that could kill hundreds--- in fact, over 700 per event.  And that only by rapidly cutting greenhouse gas emissions, might our fellow citizens be saved.  Their online headline deepened the angst, telling us that Seattle was "unprepared" for the "deadly heat waves" that were being stoked by global warming. This story was based on a paper in the journal Science Advances:Increasing mitigation ambition to meet the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal avoids substantial heat-related mortality in U.S. cities.      The title of this paper gives one a hint that this is an advocacy document, not an objective look at science and risk. There is supplemental information on the paper here.   As I describe in detail below, there are profound issues with that paper and with the Seattle Time article that promoted it.  And as I will discuss, such poor journalism and problematic papers have the potential to undermine progress in dealing with the actual threats accompanying global warming. There are two aspects of the paper that have substantial problems.  First, there is the estimate of how temperature will change this century under global warming.  Secondly, there is their approach for estimating the additional deaths associated with various levels of global warming. Let's start with the second... how they connect global warming with increased mortality.  For each city, they completed a statistical analysis of the death rates FROM ALL CAUSES versus mean daily temperature, with their best estimate of the relationship shown by blue and red lines, corresponding to mortality for cold and warm events  (see example for Seattle below).   According to their methodology, more folks start dying when the temperature is higher, for example at 80F (26.7C).  There are so many problems with their approach, it is hard to know where to start.   First, they ignore the deaths from cold temperatures and the fact that global warming will reduce such mortality.   As documented in local media such as the Seattle Times, there are a number of homeless deaths each year due to exposure (cold weather).  But such deaths are probably eclipsed by the toll produced from roadway deaths, due to fatal accidents on icy roads.   I know of dozens of such deaths from legal cases that I and other local meteorologists have worked on--and those are the tip of the iceberg.  These deaths will be reduced as the region warms.  Second, they assume the Seattle folks will stubbornly refuse to purchase air conditioners and the local government will fail to provide more cooling centers as the region warms.   This is ridiculous.

Heatwave kills 49 in Bihar in 24 hours - Severe heat has left dozens dead over a 24-hour period in Bihar state, as the country enters a third week of searing temperatures, officials said on Sunday. The deaths occurred in three districts of the poor northern state, where temperatures have hovered around 45 degrees Celsius in recent days, senior health official Vijay Kumar said. Forty-nine people died in three districts of the Magadh region that has been hit by drought, he said. “It was a sudden development on Saturday afternoon. People affected by heatstroke were rushed to different hospitals,” Kumar added. “Most of them died on Saturday night and some on Sunday morning during treatment.” Kumar said about 40 more people were being treated at a government-run hospital in Aurangabad. “Patients affected by heat stroke are still being brought, the death toll is likely to increase if the heatwave continues.” Most of the victims were aged above 50 and were rushed to hospitals in semi-conscious state with symptoms of high fever, diarrhoea and vomiting. Twenty-seven people died in Aurangabad district, 15 in Gaya and seven in Nawada district, officials said. Harsh Vardhan, India’s health minister, said people should not leave their homes until temperatures fall. “Intense heat affects brain and leads to various health issues,” he said.

Tens of Thousands Flee Extreme Heatwave in India as Temperatures Topping 120°F Kill Dozens Across Country - Nearly 50 people died on Saturday in one Indian state as record-breaking heatwaves across the country have caused an increasingly desperate situation.Officials in Bihar reported that as of Monday, 76 people in total had died of heat-related conditions as temperatures in the region hovered around 113 degrees Fahrenheit. Hospitals have increasingly overflowed with patients reporting heatstroke since the heatwave began in early June.Across the country in the city of Aurangabad, India Today reported, 22 died just on Saturday. The death toll that day in the northern city of Gaya was 20. About two-thirds of India is facing the heatwaves at the same time that roughly half of the country is struggling through its worst drought in six decades. Officials on Sunday asked Bihar's 100 million people to stay inside Monday as fears of more fatalities grew. In 2015, a prolonged heatwave killed more than 3,500 in India and Pakistan.More than 1,000 miles south of Bihar, The Guardian reported, residents in Tamil Nadu have also been ordered to stay indoors between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. June's heatwave is already one of the longest India has ever seen. While temperatures tend to rise in the country ahead of monsoon season, the deadly heatwaves have caused alarm among climate campaigners and Indian authorities. Thermometers registered 118 degrees in Dehli last week, while in Rajasthan, residents suffered through a 122-degree day last week.

Indian cities are running out of water - India is experiencing one of the worst droughts in its history, with soaring temperatures threatening crops, livestock and people. Thousands of villagers have abandoned their homes in a desperate search for water as the crisis has left village pumps and wells dry. The drought has also depleted four reservoirs that supply the country’s sixth largest city, Chennai, with a population of more than four million. Residents are having to queue for water that's brought into the city in trucks, while businesses are suffering. As of 10 June, around 44% of the country was affected by various degrees of drought, due to a heatwave that has seen Delhi record its highest ever June temperature of 48℃. While south of the capital, the Rajasthan city of Churu saw highs of more than 50℃, making it one of the hottest places on Earth. Around 600 million people are dealing with high-to-extreme water shortages, according to a 2018 report by NITI Aayog, a policy think tank for the Indian government.Many wealthy Indians retreat to the usually cool hills of Himachal Pradesh to avoid the summer heat, but even in this summer retreat temperatures have reached nearly 45℃.One of the worst affected regions surrounds the town of Beed, in the western state of Maharashtra. Here, villages lay deserted as drinking water has run out and there is no water to wash clothes and dishes or flush toilets, forcing residents to flee.Tanks arrive every few days with emergency supplies, but there are not enough to go round.Prolonged extreme heat has devastated the crops that form the backbone of local agricultural economies. Helpless farmers have little option but to leave maise, soya, sweet limes, and ground nuts withering in the fields. And livestock fare little better, with goats and sheep starving from lack of food and water.

Chennai water crisis: City’s reservoirs run dry BBC --The southern Indian city of Chennai (formerly Madras) is in crisis after its four main water reservoirs ran completely dry. The acute water shortage has forced the city to scramble for urgent solutions, including drilling new boreholes.Residents have had to stand in line for hours to get water from government tanks, and restaurants have closed due to the lack of water."Only rain can save Chennai from this situation," an official told BBC Tamil. The city, which, according to the 2011 census, is India's sixth largest, has been in the grip of a severe water shortage for weeks now.As the reservoirs started to run dry, many hotels and restaurants shut down temporarily. The Chennai metro has turned off air conditioning in the stations, while offices have asked staff to work from home in a bid to conserve water.Vinoth Kaligai, the general secretary of an IT workers' association, confirmed that some firms had told employees to stay at home. "But homes are also running out of water, so what are we supposed to do?" he added.The situation has also prompted clashes to break out between residents. Last week, police arrested a man for stabbing his neighbour during a fight over water-sharing in the neighbourhood.  Officials are trying to find alternative sources of water, with the city's water department starting to identify and extract water from quarries. But the big concern is the dry reservoirs and low groundwater levels.

One Small Colorado Town Ran Out Of Water. How Did It Happen? - The first problem cropped up on Valentine’s Day. A 2-million gallon tank that stores Paonia’s drinking water was dropping. The town’s utility workers were unable to locate the leak draining the tank. Water pressure throughout town started to diminish. Four days later, on President’s Day, pressure was so low, the state of Colorado instituted a boil order.  With demand outstripping supply, it was a real possibility the town could run out of water. Knight, and Paonia’s mayor, Charles Stewart, declared a local emergency, tapping into state and county emergency management resources.  A few days later they found the first leak. A pipe leading to a fire hydrant had burst near the banks of the North Fork of the Gunnison River that flows through town.  “The water was going straight through the river rock into the river. So it was not bubbling to the surface,” Knight said. Workers fixed the pipes, and officials urged residents to conserve their water use to let the storage tank refill. But the town’s water problems were just beginning. Because of 2018’s record-breaking hot, dry weather, the network of natural snow-fed springs the town uses as its raw water supply were running at about half their average flow.Knight and his public works crew monitored the storage tank, waiting for it to refill, only to see it drop further.“And when the water got to two feet I said, ‘OK, we're shutting off,’” Knight said.The rural water districts were the first to see their supplies cut. Neighborhoods in town were also cut, in order to maintain water service in the town’s downtown core, schools, a care and rehab center and an apartment complex for seniors.  The town’s decision to shut off the water led to a county emergency declaration, and an even wider response to the ongoing shortage. A state-led incident management team arrived in Paonia. The National Park Service hauled in a potable water tank for residents to fill jugs. Town officials set up a series of community meetings to brief frustrated residents on the situation. A leak detection team went into the field in search of more burst pipes. Near the elementary school they found another large leak. A pipe was spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of treated drinking water, keeping the storage tank from filling back up.

Global heating to inflict more droughts on Africa as well as floods - Global heating could bring many more bouts of severe drought as well as increased flooding to Africa than previously forecast, scientists have warned. New research says the continent will experience many extreme outbreaks of intense rainfall over the next 80 years. These could trigger devastating floods, storms and disruption of farming. In addition, these events are likely to be interspersed with more crippling droughts during the growing season and these could also damage crop and food production. “Essentially we have found that both ends of Africa’s weather extremes will get more severe,” said Elizabeth Kendon of the Met Office’s Hadley Centre in Exeter. “The wet extreme will get worse, but also the appearance of dry spells during the growing season will also get more severe.” This meteorological double whammy is blamed on the burning of fossil fuels, which is increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and causing it to heat up. Last month levels of carbon dioxide reached 415 parts per million, their highest level since Homo sapiens first appeared on Earth – and scientists warn that they are likely to continue on this upward curve for several decades. Global temperatures will be raised dangerously as a result. The new meteorology study – carried out by scientists at the Met Office in collaboration with researchers at the Institute of Climate and Atmospheric Science at Leeds University – reports on the likely impact on Africa of these temperature rises and indicates that western and central areas will suffer the worst impacts of weather disruptions. Many countries in these regions – including Niger, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo – are expected to experience substantial growth in population over that time and will be particularly vulnerable to severe floods. At the other end of the precipitation spectrum, the study revealed there would be an increase in occasions when severe drought would occur for up to 10 days in the midst of the most critical part of a region’s growing season. The result could cause severe disruption to crop production. “We have been able to model – in much finer detail than was previously possible – the manner in which rainfall patterns will change over Africa,” said Kendon. In the past it was thought intense rainfalls would occur in a region every 30 years. The new study, funded by UK foreign aid, indicates this is more likely to happen every three or four years.

Soaring temperatures will raise the risk of armed conflict - A new analysis in Nature finds that climate change has likely played a relatively small role in driving armed conflict so far. But if temperatures reach more than 2 °C above preindustrial levels, it may substantially increase violence around the globe. The paper published on Wednesday synthesized the judgments from a group of 11 highly cited climate and conflict experts at Stanford, the University of Exeter, the Peace Research Institute Oslo, and elsewhere.  Shifting climate conditions have “substantially increased” the likelihood of armed conflict breaking out in only about 5% of instances when it has in the past century, according to the mean estimate among the experts. Other factors were far more influential in raising conflict risks, including greater levels of poverty, inequality between groups, and a recent history of violent conflict.But if temperatures rise by 2 °C, there is a 13% chance of substantial increase in the risk of armed conflict, the analysis found. That rises to a 26% chance if temperatures reach 4 °C. Global surface temperatures have already risen nearly 1 °C, and current energy and emissions trajectories suggest it’s almost certain they’ll reach 2 °C.  Climate impacts such as higher temperatures, droughts, and floods can all create economic shocks by, among other things, reducing agricultural yields and driving up food prices. These shocks can, in turn, exacerbate other drivers of violence by deepening poverty or increasing inequality and tension between groups. The experts agreed that climate-related conflict risks can be reduced with investment in measures like crop insurance, training, improved food storage, conflict mediation, peacekeeping operations, and post-conflict reconstruction. But the odds of reducing those risks fall as temperature levels rise, the researchers found.

 Western rangelands threatened by intensifying wildfires - Between the town of Elko, Nevada, and the Idaho border stretches some of the most remote land in the Lower 48, rolling hills and arid basins as far as the eye can see. Last July, this section of the Owyhee Desert was scorched by a fierce, fast-moving blaze with 40-foot flames, the largest wildfire in state history. In the end, the Martin Fire burned 435,000 acres, including some of the West’s finest sagebrush habitat. Now, the raw range wind whips up the bare earth into enormous black clouds that roil on the horizon. Once rare, fires that large, hot, and destructive are now common in the Great Basin, a 200,000-square-mile region of mountains and valleys that includes all of Nevada and much of Utah, as well as parts of California, Idaho, and Oregon. But despite the rising fire risk, a general lack of attention is putting the rangeland in growing danger. The fire problem “risks permanent loss” of the ecosystem, according to Jolie Pollet, a fire ecologist and the Bureau of Land Management’s division chief for fire planning and fuels management. This is a genuine crisis, she said, and it demands greater urgency and attention than it is currently getting. “The general public, especially urban areas, doesn’t seem to have an appreciation for the impacts on these landscapes, since the areas are so sparsely populated,” she said. The new ferocity of rangeland fires has an old culprit: cheatgrass, an annual originally from Eurasia that was brought to this country in cattle feed, packing material, and ships’ ballast in the late 1800s. It has since proliferated through overgrazing and development. The grass burns easily and often, and it thrives on fire. In intense blazes, when native shrubs perish, cheatgrass simply drops its seeds and then expands into the burned areas. The areas of greatest fire risk in the Great Basin have a high correlation with the areas of highest cheatgrass incursion, and the increasingly dry and arid climate brought by climate change is encouraging its spread. The Great Basin now has the nation’s highest wildfire risk. Historically, sagebrush habitat burned about once every century or less, but now it happens around every five to 10 years. Over the past two decades, more than 15 million acres of sagebrush have been permanently lost to fire, according to the BLM, 9 million of them since 2014. Overall, since 2000, more acres of shrubland or grasssland have burned than forest. If sagebrush decline continues, the approximately 350 species that depend on it are in serious trouble. The Martin Fire burned some of the best sage grouse habitat in the country and destroyed more than 35 grouse mating grounds, or leks. The fires also harm watersheds, cause erosion and destroy wildlife corridors used by pronghorn antelope, mule deer, and elk.

National Butterfly Center: Trump’s Border Wall Threatens Pollinators and Other Wildlife - While Trump's border wall has yet to be completed, the threat it poses to pollinators is already felt, according to the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, as reported by Transmission & Distribution World. Earlier this year, EcoWatch reported that construction equipment showed up around the center, ready to bulldoze more than 70 percent of the butterfly sanctuary's 100 acres, which more than 200 species of butterflies call home. The National Butterfly Center is not only home to butterflies but also to various species of bees, including some only found around the Rio Grande in southern Texas and northern Mexico. A team of wildlife photographers and scientists documented the wild bees found in the butterfly center that will be displaced if the border wall is constructed. They photographed some species that have never been seen before in the U.S."Many of these bees range no more than a few hundred yards from their nests in a lifetime, and so the National Butterfly Center is the only home they've ever known," said Paula Sharp, a lead photographer on the project, to the Revelator. She noted that the butterfly center is safe zone for pollinators since it is ecologically pristine — that is, it is free from pesticides, erosion, invasive species and habitat destruction, which is found in nearby areas of the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Minnesota Will Pay Residents to Create Bee Friendly Lawns   It pays to pollinate in Minnesota.  Minnesota's state budget celebrated pollinators last month by crowning the endangered rusty-patched bumblebee the state bee. And, to protect the plump pollinator, the state earmarked $900,000 dollars for bee-friendly spaces, according to Atlas Obscura.  From that money, the state government will pay the gardening bill for residents who are willing to turn their lawn into bee-friendly spaces, by planting flowers known to attract bees, like creeping thyme, self-heal and dutch white clover.  "When people look at these flowers, they see a nuisance, they see a weed. I see a forage for pollinators," said James Woflin, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota's Bee Lab, as CBS Minnesota reports.  While the flowers of these plants will attract all bees, the state is particularly interested in the rusty-patched bumblebee, a fat and fuzzy bee that pollinates apples and tomatoes. The new state bee has faced years of declining populations and is on the brink of extinction while making a last stand in Upper Midwest cities, according to Atlas Obscura. The state's Board of Water and Soil Resources will reimburse homeowners 75-90 percent of the cost for converting a lawn to bee-friendly plants and to have a yard with a diverse set of flowers, shrubs and trees,Star Tribune said. It will cover up 90 percent of the cost in areas with a high potential to support rusty-patched bees.

In a Colony of 40,000, Just Two Penguin Chicks Survived This Year - Here's a cheery thought to start the week. All over the world, for the past few years, birds have been starving to death.

  • They've been starving in Alaska. From the Sydney Morning Herald:The birds, all of a species known as the common murre, appear to have starved to death, federal wildlife officials say, suggesting disruptions to the supply of herring and other fish that make up the birds' diet. A survey by wildlife officials over the weekend counted more than 8000 dead murres on the shores of one beach near Whittier, about 100 kilometres south-east of Anchorage. Local news video showed bodies of the black-and-white birds scattered on the beach and floating in the water offshore.
  • They've been starving in Antarctica. From the Guardian: The awful news that all but two penguin chicks have starved to death out of a colony of almost 40,000 birds is a grim illustration of the enormous pressure Antarctic wildlife is under. The causes of this devastating event are complex, from a changing climate to local sea-ice factors, but one thing penguins, whales and other marine life don’t need is additional strain on food supplies.
  • They've been starving in Australia. From the BBC: Seabirds are starving to death on the remote Lord Howe Island, a crew filming for the BBC One documentary Drowning in Plastic has revealed. Their stomachs were so full of plastic there was no room for food..."These birds are generalist predators," explained marine biologist Jennifer Lavers who works with the shearwater colony. "They'll eat just about anything they're given. That's what's allowed them to thrive - a lack of pickiness."  “But when you put plastic in the ocean, it means they have no ability to detect plastic from non-plastic, so they eat it."
  • They've been starving in the Netherlands. From On the line was a coast-watch volunteer calling to tell him of reports of hundreds of dead guillemots washing up along the country's shores. "The next morning, my phone rang red-hot from callers all over reporting dead birds," Leopold, based at Wageningen University's marine research department in the northern port city of Den Helder, told AFP. "Alarm bells started ringing." Since early January, more than 20,000 dead guillemots have washed up dead on Dutch beaches—from the northern Wadden Islands to southwestern Zeeland..."All the birds show signs of severe starvation and we don't know why," said Leopold.

The planet is sounding all sorts of alarms, and the effects of the climate crisis are only the loudest. Birds are starving, all over the world.

Dozens of dead seals washed up on the coast of Alaska -At least 60 dead ice seals have been found along the coast of the Bering and Chukchi seas in Alaska, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The agency said NOAA Fisheries is investigating reports of "unusually large numbers" of dead ice seals in the area. Ice seals are so named because they live in the Alaskan Arctic. The species includes bearded, ringed and spotted seals. NOAA said it received multiple reports of dead ice seals in southwest Norton Sound on Monday, including from a hunter who counted 18 seal carcasses along 11 miles of shore and dozens more on the coast of Stuart Island, Alaska. NOAA Fisheries is working with its partners in the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network to photograph and perform necropsies on the animals, NOAA said in a news release. Some of the dead seals were reported to have lost hair, NOAA said. The agency also has received reports that the seals are unusually thin this year, it said. More examination needs to be done to determine if the hair loss is part of decomposition or abnormal molting. Abnormal molting symptoms were present in the 2011-2016 Unusual Mortality Event, which impacted at least 657 ice seals in northern and western Alaska. NOAA is asking anyone who encounters a sick or dead seal to report it to regional authorities.

 Dolphins along the Gulf Coast are dying at triple the normal rate --Federal scientists are trying to determine why an extraordinary number of dolphins have turned up dead along the Gulf Coast. A vast majority of the 279 common bottlenose dolphins discovered stranded along the Gulf in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana since Feb. 1 have died, officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Friday. The number of deaths is about three times the normal stranding rate for the time period, NOAA officials said. About 78 percent of the carcasses were too decomposed for study, they said. Suspects so far include the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, which has had a lasting impact on wildlife along the Gulf shore, and spring's historic Midwest river flooding, which has sent freshwater rushing into the Gulf. Teri Rowles, coordinator for NOAA Fisheries' Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, said the stranding was taking place in "some of the exact same areas" affected by the spill. "[Dolphin] reproduction in some of the heaviest oiled areas continues to be abnormal," she said. At the same time, scientists studying dolphin carcasses have discovered "visible skin lesions consistent with freshwater exposure,"  Nearly one of four stranded dolphins examined by scientists exhibited signs of freshwater exposure, which could be related to the abnormal river flooding, the NOAA scientists said.  They said Monday that 7,829 square miles of land and Gulf coastline were forecast to be part of an annual wildlife "dead zone"this summer because of seasonal river flows that create low-oxygen conditions underwater.  The cause of what NOAA is calling an "unusual mortality event" for dolphins remains a matter for scientific inquiry, and officials said they were creating an investigation team to get to the bottom of the deaths.

261 bottlenose dolphins have washed dead up along the Gulf Coast since February, NOAA announces -- More than 200 bottlenose dolphins have become stranded on beaches along the Gulf of Mexico from Louisiana to Florida since Feb. 1, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The elevated number of strandings represents three times the average in the same time period, NOAA announced. They have mostly been occurring in the northern portions of the Gulf Coast, including Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida panhandle. "We're just starting our investigation now,” said NOAA Fisheries Southeast Dr. Erin Fougeres. Three times as many dolphin deaths in the northern gulf than historically average are being documented by St. Pete scientists. The significant die-off could be linked to wet weather and is sparking a federal investigation. "We are concerned about the very low salinity that the northern Gulf is experiencing just due to the massive flooding that's occurred over this past winter. It's the wettest winter in the Mississippi Valley in the past 124 years,” said Dr. Fougeres. Dr. Fougeres is also concerned with potential chemicals in the runoff. She says bottlenose dolphins are showing-up with skin lesions. Freshwater makes their skin cells swell and die and susceptible to infection and these same marine mammals are just recovering from the effects of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. "They do still have those health issues and any additional stressor or environmental change could potentially, you know, tip them over the edge which might be what we're seeing here,” she said.

So Many Whales Have Washed Up On US Coasts NOAA Has Run Out Of Space To Bury Them - So many gray whales have washed up on the coast of Washington state this year that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has run out of space to bury the decomposing carcasses. After an unprecedented die-off that has seen over 70 gray whales stranded along US coastlines so far this year, local organizations have struggled to dispose of the huge animals, which can grow up to 12 meters (40 feet).The government agency is now asking private landowners with waterfront properties to volunteer their land as somewhere to allow the whales to rot.2019 has seen the largest number of gray whale strandings in the US since 2000, when 100 whales washed ashore. NOAA has declared it an Unusual Mortality Event (UME), meaning this is an unusual significant die-off and requires an investigation.Washington State has seen 30 dead whales wash ashore around Puget Sound and the Salish Sea, the most in 20 years, and now most of the known locations where whale carcasses can be left to decompose naturally are full. So, to deal with the unusual number, the agency has put out a call for people with beachfront properties to volunteer their land as a final resting place for the creatures. By volunteering a site, landowners can help support the natural process of the marine environment, and the skeletons left behind will be used for educational purposes, NOAA Fisheries said.

Washington state waterfront owners asked to take dead whales (AP) — At least one Washington state waterfront landowner has said yes to a request to allow dead gray whales to decompose on their property. So many gray whale carcasses have washed up this year that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries says it has run out of places to take them. In response, the agency has asked landowners to volunteer property as a disposal site for the carcasses. By doing so, landowners can support the natural process of the marine environment, and skeletons left behind can be used for educational purposes, officials said. But the carcasses can be up to 40 feet (12 meters) long. That’s a lot to decay, and it could take months. Landowner Mario Rivera of Port Hadlock, Washington, told KING5-TV that the smell is intermittent and “isn’t that bad.” “It is really a unique opportunity to have this here on the beach and monitor it and see how fast it goes,” said his wife, Stefanie Worwag. The federal agency said that about 30 whales have stranded on Washington’s coast this year, the most in two decades.

Global warming may reduce fish and other sea life by 17% by the year 2100  The world's oceans will probably lose about one-sixth of their fish and other marine life by the end of the century if climate change continues on its current path, a new study says. Every degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) that the world's oceans warm, the total mass of sea animals is projected to drop by 5%, according to a comprehensive computer-based study by an international team of marine biologists. And that does not include effects of fishing. If the world's greenhouse gas emissions stay at the present rate, that means a 17% loss of biomass — the total weight of all the marine animal life — by the year 2100, according to Tuesday's study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But if the world reduces carbon pollution, losses can be limited to only about 5%, the study said. "We will see a large decrease in the biomass of the oceans," if the world doesn't slow climate change, said study coauthor William Cheung, a marine ecologist at the University of British Columbia. "There are already changes that have been observed."  While warmer water is the biggest factor, climate change also produces oceans that are more acidic and have less oxygen, which also harms sea life, Cheung said. Much of the world relies on the oceans for food or livelihood, scientists say. "The potential ramifications of these predicted losses are huge, not just for ocean biodiversity, but because people around the world rely on ocean resources," said University of Victoria biology professor Julia Baum, who wasn't part of the study but says it makes sense.   Scientists had already thought that climate change will likely reduce future ocean life, but past computer simulations looked at only part of the picture or used only one model. This study uses six different state-of-the-art computer models that give the best big picture look yet, he said. It is hard to separate past climate change effects from those of fishing, but past studies have shown places where observed fish loss can be attributed to human-caused climate change, Cheung added.

 Climate Change: Saving Coral Reefs -  Jerri-Lynn Scofield - About half of the world’s coral reefs have disappeared since 1980. These ecosystems may collapse entirely as early as 2050 – absent significant progress in mitigating climate change, independently protecting reefs, or a combination of both. Coral reefs have been stressed in several ways: e.g.  habitat destruction – some caused by coastal development; overfishing – including destructive practices such as dynamite fishing; and pollution – including plastics (see my previous post,Plastics Sicken Coral Reefs). More recently, climate change has posed the most acute threat to coral reefs. Increasing ocean temperatures have caused coral bleaching, when heat-stressed coral polyps expel their symbiotic algae and turn white. Corals can recover from a mild bleaching event. But the stress from bleaching, makes them vulnerable to disease, and amplifies their risk of dying (see this National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration summary,What is coral bleaching?).  Several of the world’s major reef systems have suffered major bleaching events between 2014 and 2017 – and did not recover. In fact, the Great Barrier Reef lost at least half its corals to bleaching in 2016 and 2017 (see my previous post, Cumulative Stress Impairs Great Barrier Reef Recovery). And a further problem is that the dissolution of more carbon dioxide in the oceans lowers the pH of seawater, making it more difficult for corals to grow or maintain their skeletons via calcification. Last Wednesday, a 12-member committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, issued a comprehensive report, A Decision Framework for Interventions to Increase the Persistence and Resilience of Coral Reefs, which assessed possible interventions to increase the resilience of coals reefs. As Grist reports in Scientists create a new guide for saving corals in a warming world: Solving the climate crisis is “the only way the corals are going to be able to thrive into the far future,” Stephen Palumbi, the committee’s chair and a marine biology professor at Stanford University, said at a public briefing Wednesday in Washington, D.C. The report is detailed and comprehensive, and I’ll admit trying to understand – let alone assess – the strategies outlined is very heavy going for those without a marine biology background.  As Science Daily reports in Protecting coral reefs in a deteriorating environment: “Maintaining the stability of coral reefs in the face of local and climate stressors is a key goal for supporting human well-being around the world,” said [Palumbi]. “Many new interventions have promise for these efforts, but they differ widely in their readiness levels, and implementing them will require careful attention to regional contexts.”

With More Storms and Rising Seas, Which U.S. Cities Should Be Saved First? - NYT  — As disaster costs keep rising nationwide, a troubling new debate has become urgent: If there’s not enough money to protect every coastal community from the effects of human-caused global warming, how should we decide which ones to save first? After three years of brutal flooding and hurricanes in the United States, there is growing consensus among policymakers and scientists that coastal areas will require significant spending to ride out future storms and rising sea levels — not in decades, but now and in the very near future. There is also a growing realization that some communities, even sizable ones, will be left behind. Want climate news in your inbox? Sign up here for Climate Fwd:, our email newsletter. New research offers one way to look at the enormity of the cost as policymakers consider how to choose winners and losers in the race to adapt to climate change. By 2040, simply providing basic storm-surge protection in the form of sea walls for all coastal cities with more than 25,000 residents will require at least $42 billion, according to new estimates from the Center for Climate Integrity, an environmental advocacy group. Expanding the list to include communities smaller than 25,000 people would increase that cost to more than $400 billion. “Once you get into it, you realize we’re just not going to protect a lot of these places,” said Richard Wiles, executive director of the group, which wants oil and gas companies to pay some of the cost of climate adaptation. “This is the next wave of climate denial — denying the costs that we’re all facing.” The research is limited in that it considers only sea walls, and not other methods for minimizing flood risk that may be more practical in some places, such as moving homes and shops away from the most flood-prone areas. The figures also don’t include the additional and costlier steps that will be required even with sea walls, such as revamping sewers, storm water and drinking water infrastructure. Still, the data provides a powerful financial measuring stick for the tough decisions that countless communities — large and small — are starting to confront.

 Greenland lost 2 billion tons of ice this week, which is very unusual  -- Over 40% of Greenland experienced melting Thursday, with total ice loss estimated to be more than 2 gigatons (equal to 2 billion tons) on just that day alone. While Greenland is a big island filled with lots of ice, it is highly unusual for that much ice to be lost in the middle of June. The average "melt season" for Greenland runs from June to August, with the bulk of the melting occurring in July. To visualize how much ice that is, imagine filling the National Mall in Washington with enough ice to reach a point in the sky eight times higher than the Washington Monument. The sudden spike in melting "is unusual, but not unprecedented," according to Thomas Mote, a research scientist at the University of Georgia who studies Greenland's climate. "It is comparable to some spikes we saw in June of 2012," Mote told CNN, referring to the record-setting melt year of 2012 that saw almost the entire ice sheet experience melting for the first time in recorded history. This much melting this early in the summer could be a bad sign, indicating 2019 could once again set records for the amount of Greenland ice loss. Mote explained how snow and ice melt off the Greenland ice sheet, especially early in the season, makes it easier to for additional melt to occur later in the summer. White snow and ice, which is bright and reflects the sun's rays back into space, reduces the amount of heat that is absorbed and helps to keep the ice sheet cold, a process known as "albedo." "These melt events result in a changed surface albedo," according to Mote, which will allow more of the mid-summer sun's heat to be absorbed into the ice and melt it. 

Major Greenland Glacier Is Growing – NASA - Jakobshavn Glacier in western Greenland is notorious for being the world’s fastest-moving glacier. It is also one of the most active, discharging a tremendous amount of ice from the Greenland Ice Sheet into Ilulissat Icefjord and adjacent Disko Bay—with implications forsea level rise. The image above, acquired on June 6, 2019, by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8, shows a natural-color view of the glacier.Jakobshavn has spent decades in retreat—that is, until scientists observed an unexpected advance between 2016 and 2017. In addition to growing toward the ocean, the glacier was found to be slowing and thickening. New data collected in March 2019 confirm that the glacier has grown for the third year in a row, and scientists attribute the change to cool ocean waters.“The third straight year of thickening of Greenland’s biggest glacier supports our conclusion that the ocean is the culprit,” said Josh Willis, an ocean scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and principal investigator of the Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) mission.The maps above show how the glacier’s height changed between March 2016 and 2017 (top); March 2017 and 2018 (middle); and March 2018 and 2019 (bottom). The elevation data come from a radar altimeter that has been flown on research airplanes each spring as part of OMG. Blue areas represent where the glacier’s height has increased, in some areas by as much as 30 meters per year.The change is particularly striking at the glacier’s front (solid blue area on the left) between 2016 and 2017. That’s when the glacier advanced the most, replacing open water and sea ice with towering glacial ice. The glacier has not advanced as much since then, but it continues to slow and thicken. Willis compared the glacier’s behavior to silly putty. “Pull it from one end and it stretches and gets thinner, or squash it together and it gets thicker,” he said. The latter scenario is what is happening now as the glacier slows down: Notice that by the third year, thickening is occurring across an increasingly wide area.

Greenland Temps Soar 40 Degrees Above Normal, Record Melting of Ice Sheet - The annual Arctic thaw has kicked off with record-setting ice melt and sea ice loss that is several weeks ahead of schedule, scientists said, as the New York Times reported.Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, there is open water in areas north of Alaska where it is rarely, if ever, seen, the Washington Post reported. The accelerated ice melt in Greenland was caused by an usual weather pattern, where high-pressure air lingered, bringing warm air up from the south, which pushed the mercury 40 degrees Fahrenheit above normal temperatures. Add to that continuously cloudless skies and snowfall that is well below normal, and the conditions were ripe for melting across most of the ice sheet. Last week, Greenland lost 2 billion tons of ice or about 45 percent of the surface in just one day. Measuring about 275,000 square miles, the ice melt was slightly larger than Texas, said Marco Tedesco, a geophysicist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, according to the New York Times. While the high temperatures set a record early date for such widespread melting, there was slightly greater melting in 2012, but a bit later in June. That year, high pressure returned during the summer months, which caused record ice-sheet melt. Greenland lost 200 billion tons of ice that summer, the New York Times reported. But, so much melting this early in summer could be ominous, putting 2019 on pace to set a new record for ice loss, according to CNN."The melting is big and early," said Jason Box, a climatologist at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, as the Washington Post reported. In May, Box predicted that 2019 would be a big melt year for Greenland, as CNN reported. His prediction was based on the lower than average snow cover in Western Greenland and the melt days that began in April, which is unusually early. The thin snow cover that fell this winter melts quickly, which exposes old snow and ice. The older snow absorbs more sunlight and, therefore, accelerates melting, according to the New York Times.

 ‘The Changes Are Really Accelerating’: Alaska at Record Warm While Greenland Sees Major Ice Melt - The climate crisis is rapidly warming the Arctic, and the effects are being felt from Alaska to Greenland. The northernmost point on the planet is heating up more quickly than any other region in the world. The reason for this warming is ice–albedo feedback: as ice melts it opens up land and sea to the sun, which then absorb more heat that would have been bounced off by the ice, leading to more warming. It's a vicious circle of warmth that's changing the environment at the north pole. In Alaska, the crisis led this year to the warmest spring on record for the state; one city, Akiak, may turn into an island due to swelling riverbanks and erosion exacerbated by thawing permafrost and ice melt. Research scientist Susan Natali told The Guardian that what's happening in Akiak is just an indicator of the danger posed to Alaska by the climate crisis. "The changes are really accelerating in Alaska," said Natali. Thawing will result in people losing their homes—in cities like Akiak, it already has—and, Natali warned, eventually the scope of the problem will be beyond the capabilities of the U.S. government to handle. "It's a real challenge because in the U.S. there isn't the precedence to deal with this and there isn't the political framework to deal with it either," Natali told The Guardian. "The numbers needing relocation will grow, the costs are going up, and people's lives and cultural practices will be impacted." Meanwhile, in Greenland, 45 percent of the island's massive ice sheet is melting—much higher than the 10 percent that is normally melting at this point in the year. While much of the melt is expected to refreeze once temperatures stabilize, the integrity of the ice after the early melt makes it more likely to accelerate later in the year. That means the unprecedented June melt will likely combine with the ice–albedo feedback for record melting, Xavier Fettweis, a Greenland researcher at Belgium's University of Liege, told science hub Earther. "Due to a lower winter accumulation than normal, the bare ice area has been exposed very early in this area enhancing the melt due to the melt-albedo feedback," said Fettweis. "Therefore, at the beginning of the melt season, the snowpack along the west coast is now preconditioned to break records of melt."

 Alaska is melting and it’s likely to accelerate global heating - Residents of the small city of Akiak in western Alaska were alarmed to find the Kuskokwim River suddenly much closer to housing after about 75-100ft of riverbank disappeared over the course of just a few hours. The erosion, which occurred late last month, stripped away the riverbank for the entire length of Akiak, which has a population of around 340. “We got about three houses in imminent danger, and the rest of them will be coming along pretty quickly,” said David Gilila, Akiak’s city administrator. Gilila said he was appealing for funding to relocate some homes, warning that the water could soon surround the city. “We’ll still be here, but we’ll probably become an island,” he said. What happened to winter? Vanishing ice convulses Alaskans' way of life Read more The drastic reshaping of Akiak is probably down to thawing permafrost, the frozen organic matter held within soils. Alaska is heating up twice as quickly as the rest of the US as a result of human-driven climate breakdown, increasingly causing this permafrost to thaw and destabilize buildings and cause roads to buckle. “The changes are really accelerating in Alaska,” said Susan Natali, a scientist and Arctic expert at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. “It’s pretty likely this riverbank in Akiak was lost because of thawing permafrost, given where it’s situated and the warm winter and spring they’ve had. It’s not a problem that’s going to go away.” Alaska has just experienced its warmest spring on record, breaking a record only set in 2016. Since the 1970s, springtime in the state has heated up by around 2.2C (4F), double the global temperature rise of the past century.

Scientists shocked by Arctic permafrost thawing 70 years sooner than predicted - Permafrost at outposts in the Canadian Arctic is thawing 70 years earlier than predicted, an expedition has discovered, in the latest sign that the global climate crisis is accelerating even faster than scientists had feared.A team from the University of Alaska Fairbanks said they were astounded by how quickly a succession of unusually hot summers had destabilised the upper layers of giant subterranean ice blocks that had been frozen solid for millennia. “What we saw was amazing,” Vladimir Romanovsky, a professor of geophysics at the university, told Reuters. “It’s an indication that the climate is now warmer than at any time in the last 5,000 or more years.“ With governments meeting in Bonn this week to try to ratchet up ambitions in United Nations climate negotiations, the team’s findings, published on 10 June in Geophysical Research Letters, offered a further sign of a growing climate emergency. The paper was based on data Romanovsky and his colleagues had been analysing since their last expedition to the area in 2016. The team used a modified propeller plane to visit exceptionally remote sites, including an abandoned cold war-era radar base more than 300km from the nearest human settlement.   Romanovsky and his colleagues said they were confronted with a landscape that was unrecognisable from the pristine Arctic terrain they had encountered during initial visits a decade or so earlier. The vista had dissolved into an undulating sea of hummocks – waist-high depressions and ponds known as thermokarst. Vegetation, once sparse, had begun to flourish in the shelter provided from the constant wind.

The Melting Arctic Is Releasing Poison, Disease and Nuclear Waste - As rising temperatures cause Arctic ice to melt, it’s freeing many things that we would be better off keeping trapped.Alongside the ancient fossils now peeking up from the disappearing permafrost lie frozen toxins, nuclear waste, and enough sequestered carbon to double the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere today, according to BBC News.It’s a dire situation — failing to address global climate change has turned the Arctic into a ticking time bomb. Based on current fossil fuel usage, 70 percent of Arctic ice will be gone by 2100, but there will be more immediate effects as it thaws, according to the BBC story.Swedish Nuclear Waste Management, which stores nuclear waste for Sweden, Finland, and Canada, depends on permafrost to safely trap its spent fuel. The Doomsday Vault, a giant repository for plant seeds, also relies on a frozen Arctic.Dangerous diseases such as the Spanish flu, smallpox, and even the bubonic plague also lie dormant in the permafrost ready to spring back to life as temperatures rise. The solutions to the melting Arctic problem are the same as for the rest of climate change — decarbonize and cut emissions as quickly as possible.“The actions taken by the international community will have a substantial impact on just how much carbon will be released and how much of the permafrost will thaw,” Woods Hole Research Center scientist Sue Natali told the BBC. “We need to keep as much of the permafrost as we can frozen. And we do have some control of that.”

Arctic sea ice extent just hit a record low for early June; worse may come - The lowest Arctic sea ice extent in the 40-year satellite record for this time of year was set on June 10 with just 10.901 million square kilometers of ice remaining, dipping just below the previous record set in 2016 of 10.919 million square kilometers. This year’s record is likely to deepen at least for the coming days. Some scientists theorize that declining Arctic summer sea ice extent, which has fallen by roughly half since 1979, could be generating a cascade of harmful effects: as the Arctic melts, the heat differential between the Far North and temperate zone lessens, causing the jet stream (high altitude Northern Hemisphere winds), to falter. As the polar jet stream loses energy, it can fail to hug the Arctic Circle. Instead it starts to dip deeply into the temperate zone forming great waves which can block and stall weather patterns there, bringing long punishing bouts of rain and floods like those seen in the Midwest this spring, or extended heatwaves and drought. Arctic weather variations are too complex to predict in advance, but 2019 has made a strong start toward possibly beating 2012 for the lowest annual ice extent record. Records aside, the Arctic sea ice death spiral and the extreme weather it can trigger are adversely impacting agriculture, infrastructure, economics and human lives.

Atmospheric carbon levels are leaping. We can't afford more years like this - One of the many ironies of the climate crisis is that as temperatures change and extreme weather becomes more common, we need more energy to maintain comfort. Hotter summers have driven an increase in power-hungry air conditioning and cooler temperatures in some places – which may be driven by the melting Arctic – raise demand for heating.BP’s report that carbon emissions from energy use have risen at the fastest rate in nearly a decade reflects those forces, as well as continuing demand from a rising global population and expanding industries.The effect is already discernible in the atmosphere. Last week, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography reported that carbon dioxide levels in the air leapt this year by the second highest amount in their records, to 414.8 parts per million, at the famous observatory in Mauna Loa where CO2 has been measured continuously since 1958.  We cannot afford many more years like this. Every year of high emissions adds to the stock of carbon in the air, bringing us closer to the 450ppm of carbon dioxide that scientists warn could tip us into catastrophe. The IPCC’s stark warnings last year showed how dangerous a rise of 1.5C would be, and on current terms we are headed for an even bigger rise. A decade ago, when emissions were last rising this fast, the financial crisis and global recession led to an unexpected pause in carbon emissions. Fatih Birol, of the International Energy Agency, urged governments and businesses to take advantage of this to reset their economies. Lord Stern, author of the 2006 landmark Stern Review of the economics of climate change, also noted that governments had a choice about how to pull out of the slump and could choose to favour low-carbon methods. The warnings went largely unheeded and the pause turned out brief: by 2011, Birol was shocked by a record rise in emissions. The world carried on burning fossil fuels and building infrastructure that depended on them, even while alternatives were falling rapidly in price. As a result, high emissions were and still are being locked into our future: buildings, transport networks, power stations and other industrial plants constructed now will still be operating five decades hence. By that time, our future will have been long decided.

Scientists Warn Geoengineering Could Start WW3 - Scientists are warning that plans to “hack the Earth’s weather” could result in a third world war. If some countries take to the destruction of the Earth in the name of “climate change,” war could break out. Although most elitists are in favor of geoengineering, which involves manipulating the atmosphere by blocking sunlight or isolating excess carbon, weather hacking in one region could have negative impacts in another and lead to global conflict,according to scientists. However, the United States has been using geoengineering unbeknownst to the masses for quite some time.Scientists are now more concerned about “solar” geoengineering than the damages already done.  Solar geoengineering refers to the attempts to block the sunlight with chemicals in order to try to cool down the globe. Solar geoengineering would involve spraying chemicals and/or heavy metals into the air that would block some of the sunlight. When speaking on the sun blocking topic, geoengineering researcher Juan Moreno-Cruz told Business Insider: “The threat of war never is out of the question.”Andrea Flossmann, a scientist at the World Meteorological Organization, explained in a WMO report: “The atmosphere has no walls. What you add may not have the desired effect in your vicinity, but by being transported along might have undesired effects elsewhere.” According to Fox News, Earth’s temperatures are set to soar to dangerous levels so a lot of scientists think the unknown consequences of geoengineering are worth the risk. The worst-case scenario is that Earth’s atmospheric chemistry is irreversibly altered and causes freak weather conditions like monsoons, hurricanes, and heat waves that could kill thousands and increase global tensions. Of course, we are already living through that now thanks to the unnatural geoengineering going on already.

The Microbiologists’ Warning - The Microbiologists’ Warning aims to raise awareness of the microbial world and make a call to action for microbiologists to become increasingly engaged in, and microbial research to become increasingly infused into the frameworks for addressing climate change. The motivation for the Microbiologists’ Warning comes from the Alliance of World Scientists and the Scientists’ Warning Movement that was initiated by Bill Ripple (Oregon State University) to alert humanity to the impacts of human activities on global climate and the environment. In 1992, 1,700 scientists signed the first Warning. Twenty-five years later (2017) more than 15,000 scientists signed the Second Warning; currently 21,000+ scientists have signed, and the web-site is still taking signatures. At the heart of the Warning is a call to governments and institutions to shift policy away from economic growth and towards a conservation economy that will stop environmental destruction and enable human activities to achieve a sustainable future. A film, The Second Warning, is currently being made that aims to document scientists’ advocacy for humanity to replace ‘business as usual’ and take action to achieve the survival of all species by averting the continuing environmental and climate change crisis. Linked to the Second Warning is also a series of focused Scientists’ Warning articles (currently 36), including the Microbiologists’ Warning. To grow the Microbiologists’ Warning, signatories are encouraged to work with their professional societies to write additional article(s) addressing specific aspects of microorganisms and climate change related to members’ expertise, and particularly to emphasize issues of national relevance.  The ability of science and society to address climate change will be considerably empowered by microbiologists, by agencies demonstrably incorporating microorganisms into their ‘thinking’, and by society gaining an enhanced appreciation for microbes through improved education in microbial literacy.

Pope Francis Declares Climate Emergency in Meeting With Big Oil Leaders --  Pope Francis declared a climate emergency Friday as he met with oil industry executives and some of their biggest investors to urge them to act on the climate crisis.  "Future generations stand to inherit a greatly spoiled world. Our children and grandchildren should not have to pay the cost of our generation's irresponsibility," he said, as The Guardian reported. "Indeed, as is becoming increasingly clear, young people are calling for a change."   The Pope argued that warming should be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, following the release of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report last year that warned of catastrophic consequences for vulnerable populations and ecosystems if global temperatures surpass that limit. The report also said that greenhouse gas emissions must fall to 45 percent of 2010 levels by 2030 to achieve that goal. He further called on the oil companies to embrace a "radical energy transition" that would also reduce inequality, create jobs and help communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis. "Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization," he said, as BBC News reported.

Only Trump can pack this much ignorance into a few words - It is not unfair to point out that President Trump, on many important subjects, is just an ignoramus.A vivid illustration of this unfortunate fact came this week in London, when it was revealed that Prince Charles, a knowledgeable environmentalist, had tried to educate the president on climate change — and utterly failed.“I believe that there’s a change in weather, and I think it changes both ways,” Trump told “Good Morning Britain” host Piers Morgan in an interview broadcast Wednesday. “Don’t forget it used to be called global warming. That wasn’t working. Then it was called climate change. Now it’s actually called extreme weather, because with extreme weather, you can’t miss.”Good Lord, it’s breathtaking that anyone could pack so much ignorance into so few words. The correct answer for what human-generated emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are doing to the planet is, of course, all of the above . There is indeed global warming — the past five years have been the hottest since record-keeping began, and so much sea ice has melted that shipping lanes are being charted across the Arctic Ocean. There is indeed climate change — this March, temperatures in northern Alaska were 30 to 40 degrees above normal, or what used to be normal. There is indeed extreme weather — scientists have long predicted that deadly weather anomalies, such as the widespread outbreak of tornadoes last month, would become more common as the temperature continues to rise.

Greenpeace Gives Joe Biden a D- on Climate Change Report Card - Joe Biden got a D-minus on a climate change report card ranking Democratic presidential candidates released Thursday by the liberal environmental group Greenpeace.Biden, the Democratic front runner, has yet to release a detailed plan on how he will combat climate change. But the scorecard evaluated 19 candidates on their commitments to ending the use of fossil fuels and support for environmental policies based on statements, legislative records and published plans. Some candidates also responded to a 29-question survey from the environmental group.“If he wants to translate his front-runner status in the polls to actual leadership on climate, we need him to come out with a bold, concrete plan in line with the scale of the crisis we’re facing,” said Janet Redman, climate campaign director for Greenpeace USA. The Biden campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. During a campaign swing in New Hampshire earlier this month, the candidate called for an “environmental revolution,” though he has yet join many of his Democratic campaign opponents in signing onto the Green New Deal.

The Sunrise Movement Actually Changed the Democratic Conversation. So What Do You Do For a Sequel? — “When we were taught about the civil rights movement as kids, it was told to us as if a few big marches just happened and then the laws changed,” Emily LaShelle told me last weekend.  “But there was so much more work and effort by activists behind the scenes,” she said. “And that’s the kind of work we’re teaching people to be involved in for this movement.”  LaShelle is 21, with short-cropped blond hair and a nose piercing. Her movement is the Sunrise Movement, an organization of mostly twenty-something climate activists who are best known for seemingly instantly and improbably injecting the idea of a “Green New Deal” into the national conversation. This past week, more than 70 Sunrise activists, including LaShelle, traveled to a rural, multifaith retreat center along the Hudson River, about 50 miles north of New York City, to take part in a weeklong boot camp that’s intended to transform them into the next generation of climate activists—who, in turn, are supposed to transform American politics.  Sunrise has already moved shockingly swiftly on that front. Last November, Sunrise activists joined newly elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a splashy protest at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office that catapulted the group to national relevance. The resulting publicity added thousands of people to the group’s ranks of supporters and active volunteers. Less than a year later, Sunrise’s proposal for a Green New Deal has gone from being widely mocked as an overly ambitious socialist fantasy (or the “Green Dream,” in Pelosi’s words) to being endorsed by 16 of the Democrats running for president—most recently by none other than Joe Biden. Four years after it was founded by several activists in the fossil-fuel divestment movement on college campuses and a climate policy researcher supported by the Sierra Club, Sunrise has become an influential force not just in climate activism but in Democratic politics. And its oldest staff member is only 33.

State Republican Senators Flee Oregon To Avoid Vote On Climate Bill - Republican lawmakers at the Oregon State Senate fled the state on Thursday to avoid being forced to vote on a climate bill that the Oregon House passed earlier this week in one of the strictest U.S. emission-capping efforts to tackle climate change.  On Monday, the Oregon House voted in favor of passing the so-called cap-and-trade bill, under which emission-intensive industries—including transportation, utilities, and manufacturing—would have caps on their greenhouse gas emissions and the major polluters would have to buy credits for every ton of their own greenhouse gas emissions. Oregon will be looking to lower its emissions to 80 percent below the 1990 level by 2050.After clearing the Oregon House, the bill is now one vote away from becoming law. But this vote is in the Oregon Senate, where Republican Senators threatened walkouts to prevent the vote from taking place.Oregon Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat, issued a statement on Wednesday, saying, “I’m disappointed in the Senate Republicans’ indications of a walkout, which would silence their constituents while stifling democracy.” Governor Brown vowed to use all resources available as governor to ensure that a vote would take place, including by sending police to round up Republican lawmakers.   “I am prepared to use all resources and tools available to me as Governor to ensure that Oregonians are being served by their leaders. I am in close communication with Oregon State Police and my office is making preparations for a special session to be held on July 2, 2019, in the event that the business of this state does not conclude by Sine Die. We will stay in Salem to work until our job is done,” Governor Brown said.

Oregon governor authorizes state police to bring GOP lawmakers back to capital for climate vote -- Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) authorized the state police to bring Republican lawmakers back to Salem after several left the state to avoid a vote on a climate bill. GOP state senators walked out this week after voicing concerns over the bill’s impacts on a number of “energy intensive, trade-exposed” businesses in rural communities. Though the bill has already passed the House and Democrats hold a supermajority in the state Senate, Republicans have the numbers to deny a quorum in the upper chamber. “The Senate Republicans have decided to abandon their duty to serve their constituents and walk out. The Senate Democrats have requested the assistance of the Oregon State Police to bring back their colleagues to finish the work they committed to push forward for Oregonians. As the executive of the agency, I am authorizing the State Police to fulfill the Senate Democrats’ request,” Brown said in a press release. “It is absolutely unacceptable that the Senate Republicans would turn their back on their constituents who they are honor-bound to represent here in this building. They need to return and do the jobs they were elected to do.” The climate bill seeks to create a cap-and-trade system to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in several public sectors. It would be the second state to enact such legislation, after California.

Arrests after climate activists block Edinburgh roads - BBC News - Climate change campaigners have been arrested after closing off several major roads in Edinburgh city centre as part of a week-long protest. Police said "a small number of arrests" were made on Lothian Road, where six people were staging a road block. The activists have blocked several roads in a "direct action" campaign. Extinction Rebellion Scotland are camped outside the Scottish Parliament ahead of MSPs discussing the Climate Change Bill on Tuesday. North Bridge and George IV Bridge were also affected, with city bus services delayed and diverted. Officers are urging motorists to avoid the area. The group say their "Holyrood Rebel Camp" was their "biggest ever gathering" and would remain on the site for the next five days. They are calling on the Scottish government to do more in response to what they call a "climate crisis and ecological breakdown".  Earlier this year, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon declared a "climate emergency", following weeks of strikes by school pupils and protests by Extinction Rebellion in London and Edinburgh. A recent report by the Committee on Climate Change recommended the UK should aim to be net-zero by 2050, with Scotland proposing a target for doing so five years earlier. Extinction Rebellion say taking this long to reach net-zero would be "ecocide", and want this to be added to the Climate Change Bill at Holyrood during this week's committee-level debate. The group blocked a number of roads in Edinburgh city centre at the beginning of rush hour on Tuesday, causing major disruption to traffic. Lothian Buses said there were "long delays throughout the city" after activists lay down on Lothian Road with their arms chained together.

United States Spend Ten Times More On Fossil Fuel Subsidies Than Education  - A new International Monetary Fund (IMF) study shows that USD$5.2 trillion was spent globally on fossil fuel subsidies in 2017. The equivalent of over 6.5% of global GDP of that year, it also represented a half-trillion dollar increase since 2015 when China ($1.4 trillion), the United States ($649 billion) and Russia ($551 billion) were the largest subsidizers. Despite nations worldwide committing to a reduction in carbon emissions and implementing renewable energy through the Paris Agreement, the IMF’s findings expose how fossil fuels continue to receive huge amounts of taxpayer funding. The report explains that fossil fuels account for 85% of all global subsidies and that they remain largely attached to domestic policy. Had nations reduced subsidies in a way to create efficient fossil fuel pricing in 2015, the International Monetary Fund believes that it “would have lowered global carbon emissions by 28 percent and fossil fuel air pollution deaths by 46 percent, and increased government revenue by 3.8 percent of GDP.” The study includes the negative externalities caused by fossil fuels that society has to pay for, not reflected in their actual costs. In addition to direct transfers of government money to fossil fuel companies, this includes the indirect costs of pollution, such as healthcare costs and climate change adaptation. By including these numbers, the true cost of fossil fuel use to society is reflected. 

Congress pushes for storage, renewables to have same private investment incentives as fossil fuels  - A bipartisan and bicameral group of lawmakers has introduced a bill to allow clean energy technology companies to form master limited partnerships (MLP), a move aimed at boosting private investment. Currently, only investors in fossil fuel-based technologies can access the tax advantages of the MLP structure. Lawmakers supporting the Financing Our Energy Future Act say a "straightforward, powerful modification of the federal tax code" could expand that structure to include solar, wind, combined heat and power, energy storage and others. A separate bipartisan measure introduced last week, the Carbon Capture Improvement Act of 2019, would authorize the use of tax-exempt private activity bonds (PAB) to finance the purchase of carbon capture equipment at power plants and industrial facilities.  Both bills take a similar approach to growing a range of technologies: changing the tax code.The Financing Our Energy Future Act, which has been considered before, was re-introduced on Friday by Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Reps. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., and Ron Estes, R-Kan. It would allow companies focused on a wide range of clean energy technologies to create MLPs."Clean energy technologies have made tremendous progress in the last several decades, and they deserve the same shot at success in the market as traditional energy projects have experienced through the federal tax code," Coons said in a statement.Updating the tax code "levels the playing field" for a wide array of energy sources, said Coons. "Clean and traditional alike."The bill is cosponsored by 10 senators including Sens. Angus King, I-Maine, Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Cory Gardner, R-Colo.   Additionally, about two dozen groups have endorsed the bill, including the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the American Council on Renewable Energy, Amazon, the Carbon Capture Coalition (CCC), Ceres, Energy Storage Association, (ESA) the National Association of State Energy Officials, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Cheddar To The Rescue? UK Company Uses Cheese To Power 4,000 Homes - A UK dairy in Yorkshire has signed an agreement with a local biogas plant to supply it with a by-product of cheese-making that would be turned into thermal power to heat homes in the area.The Wensleydale Creamery, which produces the Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese, makes 4,000 tons of cheese every year at its dairy in Hawes in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales. The company has struck a deal with specialist environment fund manager Iona Capital, under which an Iona biogas plant will produce more than 10,000 MWh of energy per year from whey—a by-product of cheese making, Wensleydale Creamery said on Monday.Under the deal, Wensleydale Creamery will provide Iona Capital’s Leeming Biogas plant in North Yorkshire with leftover whey from the process of cheese making. The plant will process and turn the whey into “green gas” via anaerobic digestion that will produce thermal power sufficient to heat 800 homes a year.  Iona Capital already has nine such renewable energy plants in Yorkshire, which save the equivalent of 37,300 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) each year.  “Once we have converted the cheese by-product supplied by Wensleydale into sustainable green gas, we can feed what’s left at the end of the process onto neighbouring farmland to improve local topsoil quality. This shows the real impact of the circular economy and the part intelligent investment can play in reducing our CO2 emissions,” Mike Dunn, co-founder of Iona, said in a statement.

‘Avian incident’ causes fire at California solar farm - The Washington Post — An energy company says a so-called “avian incident” is responsible for a fire that cut 84% of the overall generating capacity at one of the largest solar farms in California. A regulatory filing Wednesday by Clearway Energy says the blaze caused up to $9 million worth of damage on about 1,200 acres (485 hectares) of the California Valley Solar Ranch in San Luis Obispo County. The filing says distribution poles and cabling will need to be repaired, but no solar panels were damaged. The report didn’t specify how the June 5 incident occurred or say what exactly an “avian incident” is. An email to the company seeking comment wasn’t immediately returned Thursday. Clearway says full operations are expected to resume July 1 at the 4,700-acre (1,902-hectare) solar farm on California’s central coast.

California’s Solar Energy Problem -  Yves Smith --I’m sticking out my neck a bit in commenting on this detailed analysis of California’s current and likely future energy mix, and why its heavy emphasis on solar is not a good idea. The video is short and information-rich, making good use of graphics, and a lot of the data displays would be lost in a transcript, so it’s worth watching.  However, because it is so data driven, it buries its conclusions. The video shows that over-reliance on solar undermines its economic attractiveness because it requires too much in the way of storage, both to shift supply to peak demand times during the day, as well as over the course of the year. A second issue is that the lack of enough in the way of a steady base supply. That results from the planned phase-out of nuclear, which currently supplies about 15% of California’s power, and antipathy for the environmental costs of large-scale hydro. That means that solar capacity will be overbuilt, due to the need to provide sufficient supply in the winter and to allow for long stretches of cloudy days. That means at times where there is a lot of sun, the panels won’t be collecting energy anywhere near their capacity (the video also stresses that batteries can’t store energy over long periods of time and this is a critically important area for further development).Comments on YouTube pointed out an error at 2:20. Per David Hermes:556 MW is NOT a storage capacity. It’s the power the facility is able to provide. Rated at four hours, the total capacity is 2,27 GWh. That means the cost of storage would be much higher than the $3 trillion estimated. It would be over four times as costly.

Massive blackout hits tens of millions in South America (AP) — A massive blackout left tens of millions of people without electricity in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay on Sunday in what the Argentine president called an “unprecedented” failure in the countries’ power grid. Authorities were working frantically to restore power, and by the evening electricity had returned to 98 percent of Argentina, according to state news agency Telam. Power also had been restored to most of Uruguay’s 3 million people as well as to people in neighboring Paraguay. On Sunday morning, Argentine voters were forced to cast ballots by the light of cellphones in gubernatorial elections. Public transportation was halted, shops closed and patients dependent on home medical equipment were urged to go to hospitals with generators. “This is an unprecedented case that will be investigated thoroughly,” Argentine President Mauricio Macri said on Twitter. Argentina’s power grid is generally known for being in a state of disrepair, with substations and cables that were insufficiently upgraded as power rates remained largely frozen for years. The country’s energy secretary said the blackout occurred at about 7 a.m. local time when a key Argentine interconnection system collapsed. By mid-afternoon nearly half of Argentina’s 44 million people were still in the dark.

Hackers behind the world’s deadliest code are probing US power firms - MIT Technology Review - A group called Xenotime, which began by targeting oil and gas facilities in the Middle East, now has electrical utilities in the US and Asia in its sights. Industrial cybersecurity firm Dragos says it has uncovered evidencethat Xenotime has been laying the early groundwork for potential attacks on power companies in the US and elsewhere. The hackers have been testing password defenses and trying to steal login credentials from employees since the end of 2018. Xenotime is the group behind Triton—code that can disable safety systems that are the last line of defense against serious industrial accidents. The malware was discovered in a Saudi petrochemical plant in 2017 before it could cause any damage. Cybersecurity experts say it can be used to attack safety controls in everything from dams to nuclear power plants.  Dragos believes the probing of US and Asian targets is still at a very early stage, and the firm hasn’t found any sign—so far—that the Xenotime group has been able to penetrate systems and introduce the Triton malware.  The hackers, who some security experts suspect may be linked to the Russian government, are patient and persistent. They spent more than a year worming their way into the Saudi plant’s systems and putting the Triton malware in place.

Utilities are 'the new cyber battlefield,' as US ramps up pressure on Russia's electric grid - The United States has increased efforts to insert malicious code into Russia's electric grid, a development the The New York Times warned "enshrines power grids as a legitimate target" in the nations' cold war of cyber one-upmanship. While President Trump denied the story on Twitter, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said it meant a cyberwar between the two countries is a "hypothetical possibility." With utilities in the cross-hairs of malicious actors, experts say there are health, safety and economic risks for those who rely on the grid, particularly if escalation continues. Critical infrastructure in the U.S., including the electric grid, is "increasingly under attack by foreign adversaries," the head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Chairman Neil Chatterje, told lawmakers last week. Russia and the U.S. have been probing one another's electric grids for years now, but The New York Times report indicates a serious escalation. One anonymous intelligence community source for the Times described U.S. actions as having become "far, far more aggressive over the past year." Experts in the utility sector say this is likely the new norm, as power grids become more interconnected and growing numbers of devices are generating and consuming power. For customers, the impacts could be deadly. Utilities "have been at the forefront of the new cyber battlefield for years," Jason Haward-Grau, chief information security officer at cybersecurity firm PAS Global, told Utility Dive in an email. In 2015, Ukraine's electric grid was hit by a cyberattack, which led to a lengthy blackout for almost 250,000 people. After that, "nation states started awakening to the significant impact [that] loss of the grid can have at a country level," said Haward-Grau. "The number of national security level cyber incidents is roughly doubling every year." Jason Haward-Grai PAS Global So far, hackers probing the U.S. grid have not caused power disruptions, but the threat landscape is changing and cybersecurity is a major focus for the industry. "The number of national security level cyber incidents is roughly doubling every year," Haward-Grau said.

Russia's Power Grid Is an Easy Target for U.S. Hacking - A report in the New York Times that the U.S. Cyber Command has intensified secret efforts to hack the Russian power grid is less interesting for its content than because of U.S. officials’ apparent cooperation in publicizing the activity. Like any power grid undergoing a digital transformation, the Russian one is quite hackable – but why would the U.S. want public discussion of the matter?The New York Times story talks about “implants” – the placement of malware in networks involved in managing the Russian power grid that could be activated  in case of a major conflict. It’s careful to avoid any detail, but Russians know better than many others how vulnerable power grids are to attack.  Kaspersky Lab JSC, the cybersecurity firm, has been running grid equipment hacking contests for years. In 2016, a hacking group from Yekaterinburg described in a blog post how it won points in the competition by taking over a substation and causing a short circuit on a power transmission line, without any prior knowledge of the specific industrial system or even much general understanding about how substations work. Russian researchers have identified numerous vulnerabilities in so-called smart grid equipment, which constantly analyzes consumption data and helps manage systems flexibly and efficiently. Many elements of electrical grids are accessible from the internet. A relatively successful, and likely Russian, attack that shut down 27 substations in Ukraine in 2015 showed that primitive methods like sending spear-phishing emails to employees of regional energy companies are effective in getting hackers into parts of national grids. The Russian grid is particularly vulnerable for several reasons. First, it’s vast. Russian Grids PJSC runs 2.35 million kilometers of transmission lines and 507,000 substations. Second, it’s in the process of an ambitious digital transformation. The state-controlled company’s digitization plan, adopted last year, is meant to achieve major cuts in transmission losses and breakdown numbers by 2030. The plan talks about creating a cybersecurity unit, but that’s  a work in progress. As my colleague David Fickling has pointed out, making a grid “smart” creates new avenues of attack, and big technology rollouts can be messy and increase the risks. In the case of Russia, the problem is exacerbated by the Western origin of three quarters of all the equipment and pretty much all of the software. If U.S. intelligence puts in the implants before the equipment is supplied or en route, there’s no guarantee they can be detected.

Kremlin Thwarts US Cyber Attacks on Russia’s Power Grid — Expanding on weekend reports that the US had been carrying out cyberattacks against Russia’s electricity grid and other infrastructure, Russian news agencies are quoting unnamed security sources who say that the US attacks were thwarted.Kremlin officials said they consider the reports “worrying,” and that a major cyber war was possible. Security officials said that so far they remain able to neutralize all of the US attempts to infiltrate and plant malware in the systems. President Trump reacted furiously to the New York Times reporting on the attacks, calling them “treasonous,” and going on a tirade about the newspapers being the enemy of the people. Trump’s denial of the report may not have been dishonesty on his part. Rather, Pentagon and intelligence officials involved in the attack said there was “broad hesitation” to brief Trump in detail about specific cyber attacks. They expressed concern over his reaction, and whether he might either countermand it, or disclose it in conversations with foreign officials. Between Congress and the administration, Cyber Command has been given broad leeway to carry out attacks without presidential approval. Though it had generally been assumed that hadn’t meant carrying out overt attacks without even telling the president, that appears as if it may not be the case, which may in the end be the most worrying part of the entire story.

COLUMN-Massive blackouts and the risk of cyberwarfare: Kemp - (Reuters) - Electricity supplies across Argentina, Uruguay and parts of Paraguay were blacked out for several hours on Sunday when the regional power grid suffered a cascading failure. There is no suggestion that anything malicious caused the blackout; most likely it was an equipment failure. But earlier at the weekend, the New York Times revealed the United States had hacked into Russia’s grid and was ready to carry out an offensive cyberattack (“U.S. escalates online attacks on Russia’s power grid”, NYT, June 15). And before the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, the United States had developed a plan, codenamed Nitro Zeus, to collapse Iran’s electricity system in the event of conflict, according to the New York Times. The three stories illustrate the growing risks to power networks posed by control failures, solar storms and now hacking, whether by criminals, terrorists or state spying agencies. Nearly every aspect of the modern economy depends on electricity from the grid, including space and water heating, lighting, water supplies, transportation and industrial processes. Amory and L Hunter Lovins warned about the resulting economic and national security vulnerability almost 40 years ago (“Brittle power: energy strategy for national security”, 1982). “Complex energy devices were built and linked together one by one without considering how vulnerable a system this process was creating,” they wrote. “A few people could probably black out most of the country.” Even a small problem has the potential to trigger a cascading power failure that cuts electricity supply to millions of customers in minutes.

Column: United States aims to reshape the critical minerals world - Andy Home (Reuters) - The United States has laid out its strategy to rebuild collapsed domestic supply chains for metals and minerals deemed “critical” to its defence and manufacturing sectors.   “A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals”, released earlier this month by the Department of Commerce, includes 61 recommendations, ranging from revamping mine permitting rules to stimulating recycling activities to forging alliances with “friendly” suppliers such as Canada and Australia. This is very much work in progress. It’s only last year that the United States decided on what exactly constitutes a “critical” mineral. But added urgency has come from China’s veiled threats to use its dominance of rare earths production as a weapon in the broader trade stand-off with the Trump Administration. China’s growing control of metals at the heart of the electric transport revolution such as lithium and cobalt represents a second front in the looming raw materials war. In essence, the United States is looking to reshape global supply chains currently dependent on countries such as China or Russia towards what is starting to look like a metallic version of the NATO military alliance.

 It’s A Horrible Idea To Privatize The Tennessee Valley Authority And Other Public Energy Assets-  Forbes - Some utility industry officials are lobbying lawmakers on privatizing federally-owned power projects like the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Bonneville Power Administration. This is a horrible idea. Almost 20 million electricity customers served by BPA in the Pacific Northwest and TVA in the Southeast get the nation’s cheapest and most reliable power from these not-for-profit government agencies that get no government funding but exist solely on their sales. Privatizing them would be a huge mistake, although it might make a few new American oligarchs.In fact, privatization of government entities has never worked. It has only made a handful of businessmen very rich and has cost taxpayers a lot more money. Whether it’s prisons or the military, privatization has always increased costs, decreased quality and services, andencouraged corruption.There is a myth that private companies are better than governments at building and operating things like power companies, roads or prisons. But William Lazonick, an economist at the University of Massachusetts, points out that the public, most economists and politicians misunderstand the true history of how the United States built the largest economy in the world. The visionary entrepreneur and the courageous industrialist are not the originators of our economic system, but rather it is the product of the collective efforts of the people through their government. Our present situation demonstrates that running government is not like running a business.

N.C. regulators ignore calls for more hearings on Duke’s long-range plans - The North Carolina Utilities Commission declined last week to hold additional hearings on Duke Energy’s long-range power generation strategy.The move was a blow to clean energy groups and more than a dozen Democratic state legislators who wanted more public meetings and an expert witness hearing over Duke’s plan, which calls for deriving 8% of electricity from renewable sources while building a raft of new fossil gas plants and keeping many of its coal plants running past 2033.“NC WARN is deeply disappointed that the commission chose to proceed without allowing open scrutiny of Duke Energy’s plans for this state,” the nonprofit’s director, Jim Warren, said in a written statement.While the commission didn’t explicitly deny the groups’ requests, the panel’s call for “proposed orders” in the proceeding indicated it was ready to move toward a decision on Duke’s blueprint rather than gather more evidence.NC WARN and other advocates had argued that Duke’s plans undervalued solar and battery storage and ignored the economic downsides of operating coal plants through the end of their book lives. They’d hoped a cross-examination under oath would help expose flaws in the company’s plans.But the commission’s decision to forego such a trial-type hearing and limit expert testimony to written documents could work in advocates’ favor. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has named three new commissioners thought to be more favorable to renewables than their predecessors; they await confirmation by the Republican-controlled General Assembly. If lawmakers confirm the nominees — Kimberly Duffley, Jeff Hughes, and Durham Democrat Sen. Floyd McKissick — in the next two months, they could conceivably participate in the ruling on Duke’s plan by reviewing a written record.

 Unreported releases from coal ash ponds may be more widespread in US than previously known - Researchers from Duke and Appalachian State Universities have discovered previously unreported spills of coal ash in a recreational lake near the coastal city of Wilmington, North Carolina. The spills in Sutton Lake are associated with the now-closed Sutton Steam Plant, operated by Duke Energy. When it was operational, the lake was formerly used as a cooling reservoir for the facility. These spills are in addition to the known incident which occurred last September during Hurricane Florence, after a dam breach flooded the area, spilling tens of thousands of tons of coal ash. Coal ash is known to contain metals such as arsenic, selenium, copper, antimony, nickel, cadmium, vanadium, radium and thallium, which have known ecological and health impacts. Exposure can affect the kidneys, liver, skin, lung, breast, bladder and cause bone cancers, leukemia and nervous system and brain damage. Coal ash has a distinctive strontium isotopic fingerprint and an elevated magnetic susceptibility resulting from combustion of iron pyrite-containing coals. Therefore, the positive identification of coal ash-contaminated sediment layers in lakes and rivers is possible through chemical, isotopic and magnetic analyses. Multiple layers of such enrichments were found in 9 sediment cores taken by the Duke/ASU research team in 2015 and 2018 throughout Sutton Lake, which is adjacent to three coal ash ponds and the Cape Fear River upstream of Wilmington. The Sutton Lake samples exceeded EPA ecological screening standards for sediments. These sediments showed similarly high heavy metals content, indicating mobilization and release to the environment via the overlying water column. The concentration of toxic metals in the affected Sutton Lake sediments was similar to those in stream sediments impacted by the 2008 Tennessee Valley Authority spill in Kingston, Tennessee (the largest in US history, which released 4.1 million cubic meters of ash), and the 2014 Duke Energy Dan River, North Carolina coal ash spill, the third largest in US history, which coated 70 miles of the river bed in toxic residues. These results indicate that the dispersion of toxic, heavy-metal laden coal ash residues may be far more widespread and frequent than previously realized, putting nearby communities, which are often low-income, and their drinking water supplies in jeopardy. Leakage from unlined ponds (95 percent are unlined), permitted or unpermitted intentional discharge from ponds, and runoff from surrounding coal-waste piles are thus continual sources of pollution in addition to episodic waste pond failures.

U.S. Scraps Prison Plan for Abandoned Coal Mine -- Eastern Kentucky's hills are interrupted by jarring flats of bare rock: the aftermath of mountaintop removal mining, which uses explosives to destroy and harvest coal-rich peaks.These hills are also home to four federal prisons — and until this week, an abandoned mountaintop mine in Letcher County, Kentucky, was expected to house a fifth.This week, 21 federal prisoners who had sued the bureau over the site's alleged health hazards won a surprise victory when the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) abruptly pulled out of the proposed 1,200-bed penitentiary. The plaintiffs — who are serving sentences ranging from one year to life imprisonment, and are incarcerated across the U.S. on charges including firearm and drug possession — argued in the suit that the site had been inadequately tested, that it was likely unsafe, and that the BOP had violated federal environmental laws by failing to notify them before making its decision. Mountaintop removal is associated with a wide range of illnesses, including pneumonia, bronchitis, leukemia and tumors of the lung and trachea.

AEP wants customers to fund "clean coal" group that attacks renewables - American Electric Power says it is working to meet strong customer demand for renewable energy, but the major utility wants to use customer money to fund a “clean coal” group involved in misleading attacks on wind and solar power. “AEP is focused on bringing more renewable energy resources into our generation mix throughout our 11 state territory for the last several years,” Tom Froehle, AEP’s vice president of external affairs, said last week while testifying before the Ohio Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee. “Furthermore, all sectors of AEP Ohio customers are increasingly seeking renewable energy sources for their electricity supply,” Froehle said. Froehle testified in support of a bill, HB 6, that would kill Ohio’s current renewable energy and energy efficiency standards and force Ohio consumers to bail out uncompetitive nuclear and coal-fired power plants. The bill would allow AEP Ohio to collect around $207 million in additional subsidies from customers for the coal plants by 2030, according to the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund. Froehle’s testimony came a week after the AEP-backed American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) released a misleading new study exaggerating the costs of solar and wind power, and presented its findings at a meeting of the Southeastern Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (SEARUC). It also came after the collapse of the Utility Air Regulatory Group (UARG), an industry group that fought Clean Air Act limits on power plant pollution for over 40 years. During an investigation into UARG by members of Congress, AEP admitted to using its customers’ money to fund the group. Earlier this year, before UARG disbanded, ACCCE hired Hunton Andrews Kurth – the same firm that ran UARG – to do federal lobbying. AEP wants its customers to pay for its membership in the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity An earlier report by the Energy & Policy Institute (EPI) found that subsidiaries of AEP in West Virginia sought to recover $177,476 of the utility’s 2013 ACCCE membership dues from customers. Last week, EPI asked AEP if its customers pay for any portion of its payments to ACCCE. Here is how AEP responded: ACCCE dues are treated similarly to other expenses for membership dues that are incurred as part of our business. Generally, membership dues would be included in rates unless otherwise determined by a commission. We have reduced our membership level in the organization as we have retired significant amounts of coal-fueled generation and added cleaner energy resources. In other words, AEP will use customer money to fund industry groups like ACCCE, unless state utility commissioners stop it from doing so. AEP and Southern Company are the only major investor-owned electric utilities that remain members of ACCCE, whose membership is comprised of coal producers, electric cooperatives, railroad companies that carry coal, and other companies that sell equipment to the coal industry.

E.P.A. Finalizes Its Plan to Replace Obama-Era Climate Rules – NYTimes — The Trump administration on Wednesday replaced former President Barack Obama’s effort to reduce planet-warming pollution from coal plants with a new rule that would keep plants open longer and undercut progress on reducing carbon emissions. The rule represents the Trump administration’s most direct effort to protect the coal industry. It is also another significant step in dismantling measures aimed at combating global warming,including the rollback of tailpipe emissions standards and the planned withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.The move largely gives states the authority to decide how far to scale back emissions, or not to do it all, and significantly reduces the federal government’s role in setting standards. The Obama plan would have set national emissions limits and required the reconstruction of power grids to move utilities away from coal. The new regulation, known as the Affordable Clean Energy rule, immediately drew a flurry of challenges, with attorneys general in California, Oregon, Washington State, Iowa, Colorado and New York saying they intended to sue to block the measure. Those cases could have far-reaching implications for global warming. If the Supreme Court ultimately upholds the administration’s approach to pollution regulation, it would shut down a key avenue that future presidents could use to address climate change. At issue is whether the Environmental Protection Agency has authority to set national restrictions on carbon emissions and force states to move away from coal, as assumed under Mr. Obama’s rule.Under the Trump administration’s interpretation, the agency only has authority over environmental infractions at individual plants, like chemical spills and improper handling of hazardous materials. Andrew Wheeler, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, argued that the Obama administration had overreached its authority with its rule. That regulation, known as the Clean Power Plan, was suspended by the Supreme Court after challenges from 28 states and hundreds of companies.Jody Freeman, a professor of environmental law at Harvard University and a former legal counsel in the Obama administration, said it would be “a blockbuster” if the Trump rule reached the Supreme Court and justices endorsed the administration approach.“It could foreclose a new administration from doing something more ambitious,” she said.

Amid urgent climate warnings, EPA gives coal a reprieve - (AP) — Amid scientists’ increasingly urgent warnings, the Trump administration ordered a sweeping about-face Wednesday on Obama-era efforts to fight climate change, easing restrictions on coal-fired power plants in a move it predicted would revitalize America’s sagging coal industry. As miners in hard hats and coal-country lawmakers applauded, Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler signed a measure that scraps one of President Barack Obama’s key initiatives to rein in fossil fuel emissions. The replacement rule gives states more leeway in deciding whether to require plants to make limited efficiency upgrades. Wheeler said he expects more coal plants to open as a result. But one state, New York, immediately said it would go to court to challenge the action, and more lawsuits are likely. The EPA move follows pledges by candidate and then President Donald Trump to rescue the U.S. coal industry, which saw near-record numbers of plant closings last year in the face of competition from cheaper natural gas and renewables. It’s the latest and one of the biggest of dozens of environmental regulatory rollbacks by his administration. It came despite scientists’ cautions that the world must cut fossil fuel emissions to stave off the worst of global warming and the EPA’s own analysis that the new rule would result in the deaths of an extra 300 to 1,500 people each year by 2030 compared to the never fully enacted Clean Power Plan, owing to additional air pollution from the power grid. “Americans want reliable energy that they can afford,” Wheeler declared at the signing ceremony, with White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney alongside to underscore Trump’s approval. There’s no denying “fossil fuels will continue to be an important part of the mix,” Wheeler said.

Trump's Plan to Save Coal Country Will Actually Hurt It –  The Trump administration has replaced President Obama’s signature climate effort with new rules for power plants that are widely seen as a lifeboat for the nation’s struggling coal industry. Environmentalists have promised to challenge the rollback in court, arguing that Andrew Wheeler, the former coal lobbyist President Trump installed at the helm of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is ignoring the growing climate crisis along with the deadly health impacts of burning coal for electricity. Analysts are already debating whether President Trump’s replacement will be enough to rescue the coal industry, because market forces and the public’s desire for cleaner energy are already pushing the energy sector away from coal at a rapid pace. Coal continues to be the largestsource of greenhouse gases in the electricity sector. Thanks to the controversial fracking boom, coal is already struggling to compete with a glut of cheap natural gas — which the Trump administration has fully embraced, along with domestic oil. Renewable energy technology continues to improve and become more affordable nationwide, and with climate crisis looming, many observers see renewables as the future of energy. This explains why environmentalists and energy industry analysts — not to mention most Democratic presidential hopefuls — say Trump’s attempt to extend the life of the coal power industry with regulatory maneuvers is not only bad for the environment and public health, but also bad for workers and the economy. Trump has built a strong following in coal country, but his policies could actually hurt the same workers he claims to be helping.

Scientists warn of threat to ancient Queensland oasis from Adani mine (video) New concerns about the future of the ancient Doongmabulla springs in central Queensland have been raised as the deadline for approval of Adani's Carmichael mine draws closer. A group of seven leading groundwater experts from across Australia are warning the mine could mean the end of the springs complex, which is one of the only undeveloped oases in the world and is home to several unique species.Professor Adrian Werner of Flinders University is one of the report's authors, and he tells Drive's Alex Easton why the springs are so important and why he thinks the Queensland Government is "playing Russian roulette" with them.

Adani is Cleared to Start Digging its Coal Mine – Six Key Questions Answered - Jerri-Lynn here. Last week Queensland gave approval to Indian mining company Adani’s controversial Carmichael coal mine – reminding us that it’s not just in the United States where fossil fuels interests hold sway. Make sure you click on the interactive graphic, which includes considerably more detail than the text of this short post. There is now nothing standing between Indian mining giant Adani and the coal buried in Queensland’s Galilee Basin.By approving the Adani’s groundwater management plan on June 13, the Queensland government has given the final green light to the company’s controversial Carmichael coal mine. The Queensland Department of Environment and Science (DES) approved the project’s Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem Management Plan, which had previously won federal government approval. This plan outlines Adani’s proposed strategies to protect ecosystems that depend on groundwater, such as the Doongmabulla Springs wetland, which some experts have warned could be destroyed by the project. The plan’s approval at a state level removes the final legislative hurdle standing in the mine’s way.  On June 12, in response to a legal challenge by the Australian Conservation Foundation, the federal government conceded in the federal court that it failed to properly consider public submissions in passing judgement on Adani’s North Galilee Water Scheme. This scheme concerns Adani’s plans for taking water from the Suttor River to the east of the mine, which will be required for mining operations. The federal government will now need to reappraise this proposal. But the approval to take river water does not impact Adani’s ability to start mine construction. CSIRO and Geoscience Australia advised the Queensland government that they did not consider Adani’s groundwater plan adequate for assessing the risk to local springs. They recommended more research drilling, monitoring and analysis, to better understand the source aquifer for the springs. Adani has made some changes to the investigations it is required to complete within one to two years. But there appears to be no new scientific work or findings in the most recent version of the groundwater plan to address scientific uncertainties or flaws in the modelling, as pointed out by CSIRO, Geoscience Australia and others.

America Has Enough Uranium To Power Country For 100 Years -- - There is a large and growing contingency of pundits, politicians, and constituents in the United States who believe that leaning in to nuclear power is the nation’s best bet at meeting the carbon emissions reduction goals set by the Paris Agreement. Although the Trump administration withdrew from the agreement in June of 2017, polling shows that the majority of United States citizens still want the country to honor its Obama-era commitment to the Paris Agreement to combat global climate change.  Despite 30 years of building next to zero new nuclear reactors, the United States is already the world’s largest producer of nuclear power, generating about 30 percent of nuclear power production globally. There are currently 98 nuclear reactors in the United States alone, and another 450 across the world, but if there is any hope of meeting the clean-energy targets set by the Paris Agreement, it’s not only necessary to phase out coal entirely and significantly increase usage of renewable resources, the United States would need to double its nuclear power production levels. If the United States is to adopt nuclear as a more significant part of its energy makeup, much less double it, an important question arises: where will the uranium be coming from? This month, the United States’ Uranium Committee of the Energy Minerals Division, a group responsible for monitoring the actions and movements of the uranium industry and the nuclear power industry, released their 2019 Annual Report at the annual meeting of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists in San Antonio. The report assessed that the U.S. has more uranium than we would need to fuel hundreds of years of nuclear power generation, even if nuclear power was being relied on as a much more significant source of energy in the U.S. This is great news for nuclear supporters in the United States, though historically the country has not mined its own uranium but imported the radioactive metal from other countries--and there’s a reason for that.

Department of Energy grant to develop area's nuclear workforce - Five area institutions are getting $5 million to better develop the area’s nuclear workforce and help meet a goal of producing 80 plutonium pits per year by 2030. Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration in the U.S. Department of Energy, was surrounded by the heads of the five institutions – Augusta and Aiken technical colleges, Augusta University and the University of South Carolina’s Aiken and Salkehatchie campuses – along with two U.S. congressmen and numerous other officials when she made the announcement Monday at Aiken Tech. “As many of you know, our mission at Savannah River Site will be growing, not decreasing,” Gordon-Hagerty said. “The Department of Energy and NNSA are committed to this partnership and helping sustain the great work being done.” The grant doubles the current annual funding for a regional nuclear careers program administered by the Savannah River Site Community Reuse Organization, which since 2016 has received $1 million per year to coordinate programs across the institutions, the NNSA said in a news release. Workforce development is vital to the area’s mission, including the planned repurposing of the former Mixed-Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility into a plutonium pit production facility, Gordon-Hagerty said. “The plutonium pit mission, and congressmen (Joe) Wilson and (Rick) Allen have been instrumental in all this, given the president’s 2018 nuclear posture review, the United States determined that we needed to have a resilient monitoring structure for our nuclear deterrent,” Gordon-Hagerty said. “We need to prepare to produce up to 80 pits per year by 2030, producing not less than 30 per year at Los Alamos (N.M.) and producing not less than 50 pits per year at Savannah River Site,” she said.

NRC finds no safety concerns for TVA's Clinch River SMR nuclear site - The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has found no safety concerns that would prevent the Tennessee Valley Authority from locating its proposed Clinch River Nuclear Site near Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The NRC’s final safety evaluation report was completed for the TVA’s early site permit application, according to Tuesday’s news release. The 600-page report reviewed site seismology, geology, hydrology and accident risks, among other things.“The staff will provide the report on the application to the commission for a mandatory hearing on the permit later this year,” the NRC release reads. “The commission will conduct the hearing to determine whether the staff’s review supports the findings necessary to issue the permit.”In April the NRC completed its environmental impact evaluation and found nothing that would preclude issuing a permit to the TVA, which submitted its application three years ago.The Clinch River site  is considered to be a next-generation nuclear technology project by the TVA. The 1,200-acre site would house small modular reactors  in a facility which would be less expensive to build and offer a shorter construction period. The U.S. Department of Energy is supporting the TVA project through an agreement which can reimburse the utility for up to 50 percent of eligible costs.

Nuclear power: As Oyster Creek closes in NJ, decommissioning speeds up - Three miles of pine forest separate Paul Berkowicz’s ranch-style home from a cluster of towering canisters on a concrete pad containing one of mankind's most dangerous substances. For decades, the 68-year-old retired educator has lived and worked near the Oyster Creek Generating Station, the nation’s oldest operating commercial nuclear power plant until it stopped energy production in September. Since the plant's opening a half-century ago, residents of Lacey Township relished the high-paying jobs and the low taxes the plant helped provide. With decommissioning, nuclear jobs will dry up. Property taxes are expected to spike. And, for the foreseeable future, the town's 30,000 residents will be left with the plant's dangerous legacy — the stored canisters, or casks, containing radioactive waste. It’s not what Berkowicz expected when he purchased his home here in the 1970s. He believed the plant's radioactive waste, which can sicken and kill, would be removed from Lacey. In reality, towns across the United States, Lacey included, will likely be stuck with the waste for decades to come. Across the nation, residents of communities where nuclear plants are closing face similar concerns. At least 15 nuclear power plants are scheduled to close, or are being taken apart, across the United States. The company looking to dismantle Oyster Creek, Holtec International, is also applying to purchase and decommission Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, New York, the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and the Palisades Power Plant in Covert, Michigan. As the nuclear industry shrinks, its spent radioactive fuel — waste totaling more than 80,000 metric tons, or enough to fill a football field about 20 meters deep — will be left behind in towns like Lacey. "I’m not anti-power plant or anti-nuclear power,” said Berkowicz as he sat as his dining room table. "I’m anti- having hundreds of places where you're storing this thing that will be poisonous for 1,000 years. "Nobody would have agreed to have a power plant anywhere, in any community, if they were going to have the next generations live with the waste," he added.

Maine Yankee nuclear plant stuck with spent fuel - The 11-acre site on a peninsula off the coast of Wiscasset, Maine, is home to what may be the nation’s most expensive storage facility. At a cost of $10 million a year, the owners of the shuttered Maine Yankee nuclear power plant pay armed guards to watch 60 cement and steel canisters loaded with decades’ worth of spent nuclear fuel, each weighing 150 tons. When Maine Yankee stopped producing power in 1996, folks in Wiscasset figured it would be a few years before that spent fuel would be shipped to Yucca Mountain in the Nevada desert, where the federal government was preparing an underground repository for the nation’s nuclear waste.That never happened. Twenty-three years later, Wiscasset is still waiting. "For 20 years we’ve heard, 'Oh, it’s all going to Yucca Mountain, don’t worry about it,'" said Benjamin Rines Jr., a longtime Wiscasset selectman who was around when Maine Yankee was built in 1972. “Well, you know what happened to all of that, and here we are.”Maine Yankee wrapped up its decommissioning in 2005, one of the first at a nuclear power plant in the U.S.Early on, the company faced major hurdles. Maine Yankee was forced to take on the job of removing fuel from the reactor and dismantling buildings itself after the contractor it hired could not finish the $250 million job.But the effort is still considered an achievement in a nuclear power industry that once saw decommissioning as a 60-year job. Techniques used at Maine Yankee are now being applied by a new generation of decommissioning companies that have promised to match the eight years it took Maine Yankee to tear down its plant.  A hot-spot removal program used radiation detection equipment to identify for removal any pipes and valves with high levels of radiation, so workers would be spared exposure to dangerous doses of radiation.  And in 2004, explosives were used to demolish the plant’s 150-foot containment dome, the first time that was done at a nuclear power plant, according to Maine Yankee. It created 25 million pounds of rubble.

I traveled to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone — here’s what it was like  (pictures) Thirty-three years after reactor No. 4 melted down at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near Pripyat, Ukraine — permanently evacuating entire towns, killing thousands and creating a massive Exclusion Zone — the disaster is back in the news thanks to HBO’s hit miniseries, “Chernobyl” and its accompanying podcast. With a cumulative series viewership of 8 million and counting, the buzz has even caused controversy, spurring tourists to visit the overgrown corner of Ukraine, posing for selfies in front of the now-dormant shuttered nuclear plant, and at the ruins of Pripyat. There is debate as to whether the Exclusion Zone is becoming too commercialized. But as a long-time travel journalist, I myself have been to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, though I went in 2017, before the HBO series. I traveled to Pripyat inside the Exclusion Zone, about three hours north of Kiev, in a group of a dozen people with a local tour company, though many Western operators offer day trips there, too, for about $100. The meltdown released radiation that scorched the surrounding forests red and sent a poisonous cloud across Europe. Now, decades later, experts say it’s dissipated to the point of being safe for visitors, and the tours avoid highly contaminated areas. Nobody lives in Pripyat, save for some dogs, wolves in the forest and a handful of “pioneers,” people willing to eke out a living with no electricity or running water in the abandoned buildings.The landmarks have become warn and hollow.The former community pool in the center of town has long since been drained and has collected a bit of graffiti on the sides, but its diving board still loomed over the deep end. The nearby gym, once a hub of sporting activity, was in shambles. The town’s soccer stadium was so overgrown, I couldn’t even see the grandstands.Then there was the Ferris wheel, rusted and in suspended animation, every crack choked with weeds. It has become an icon of Chernobyl. Perhaps most disturbing was the primary school, built for younger grades. The floor of one room, for some reason, was completely covered with discarded gas masks and had a single desk in the middle of it all, holding a doll’s head — perhaps posed by a past visitor, though it was unclear.

Fracking in Ohio series: How Ohio compares to Pennsylvania for oversight of gas industry | StateImpact Pennsylvania – (audio & transcript) In reporting a special series looking at how Ohio agencies are handling complaints about fracking, The Allegheny Front found some differences between how Ohio and Pennsylvania are regulating oil and gas development. The Allegheny Front’s Kara Holsopple spoke with Heidi Robertson, the Steven W. Percy distinguished professor of law at Cleveland Marshall College of Law and a professor of environmental studies at Cleveland State University.

 Fracking linked to higher radon levels in Ohio homes --A new study at The University of Toledo connects the proximity of fracking to higher household concentrations of radon gas, the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. Measuring and geocoding data from 118,421 homes across all 88 counties in Ohio between 2007 and 2014, scientists found that closer distance to the 1,162 fracking wells is linked to higher indoor radon concentrations. "The shorter the distance a home is from a fracking well, the higher the radon concentration. The larger the distance, the lower the radon concentration," Dr. Ashok Kumar, Distinguished University Professor and chair of the UToledo Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said. The study also found the average radon concentrations among all tested homes across the state are higher than safe levels outlined by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and World Health Organization standards. The average is 5.76 pCi/l, while the EPA threshold is 4.0 pCi/l. The postal code 43557 in the city of Stryker has the highest radon concentration at 141.85 pCi/l for this data set. "We care about air quality," Dr. Yanqing Xu, assistant professor in the UToledo Department of Geography and Planning, said. "Our motivation is to save the lives of Ohioans. I hope this eye-opening research inspires families across the state to take action and have their homes tested for radon and, if needed, install mitigation systems to protect their loved ones." The results of the study were recently published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health. The research is a collaboration between UToledo's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Department of Geography and Planning. The radon data collection was supported by grants from the Ohio Department of Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Radon, which cannot be smelled or seen, begins as uranium found naturally in soil, water and rocks, but transforms into gas as it decays. Most fracking wells are located in eastern Ohio, while Athens County has the highest number of fracking wells with 108. Fulton County is the only county with more than 20 fracking wells in western Ohio. .

PTT Global Chemical taps Bechtel for possible Utica Shale ethane cracker - — Appalachian gas producers, under pressure from prices below $3/Mcf, got a boost Thursday with engineering giant Bechtel's announcement that Thailand's PTT Global Chemical had awarded it a contract to build an ethane cracker in Belmont County, Ohio, in the heart of the Utica Shale. The project still needs a final investment decision. But selecting Bechtel as the contractor of the project is a major step toward that decision. Bechtel Oil, Gas & Chemicals Senior Project Manager of Pennsylvania Chemicals Paul Marsden, already working as the manager of Bechtel's work on Royal Dutch Shell subsidiary Shell Chemical Appalachia's multibillion-dollar ethane cracker in Monaca, Pennsylvania, made the announcement at the Northeast Petrochemical Conference in Pittsburgh. Another new cracker would give producers a new outlet for ethane, a natural gas liquid that they blend in the gas stream when it cannot be sold. The project is expected to be capable of producing 1.5 million metric tons per year of ethylene and its derivatives. Shell's plant will produce up to 1.6 million mt/year of polyethylene. Analysts speculated full capex for the project could reach $6 billion. Charlie Schliebs, managing director of private equity funds at Stones Pier Capital, said the lack of a final investment decision announcement at this stage is to be expected. "These things [FIDs] take a long time, but that project is happening," Schliebs said. The US Department of Energy has estimated that the Marcellus and Utica shales can support up to four more crackers, besides PTT's and Shell's. Observers expected a final investment on PTT Global's project more than a year ago. PTT Global could have been watching to see if costs on Shell's project spiraled out of control. Asked whether Bechtel would face challenges getting enough labor to work on both the Shell project and the PTT, Marsden said it would be "a challenge. We will have to manage that." But he noted that the timing of the projects could actually work in the builder's favor, as having sequential projects lined up could encourage welders and other key workers to relocate to the region instead of simply coming in for one project at a time.

 House Votes to Block Trump from Using Clean Energy Funds to Back Fossil Fuels Project -- Democrats mounted a challenge in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday against what they call a raid by the natural gas and plastics industries on a pot of federal money created to help finance innovations that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.The fight is over a proposed $1.9 billion government-backed loan guarantee from a program that has primarily been used to back wind power, solar and other types of clean energy. The Energy Department is now considering using that program to support a large-scale underground storage project for ethane, a fossil fuel byproduct used to make plastics.If the loan guarantee goes through, that government backing could help spur funding for a major new petrochemical and plastics industry in the upper Ohio River Valley, spanning West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio.Opponents forced a vote on an amendment to a big spending bill this week to try to stop it, and the House approved it.    Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) called it "incredibly worrisome that this administration would try to use a program designed for renewable energy to line the pockets of polluters. Grants that are designed for renewable energy projects should go toward renewable energy. Period." She co-sponsored the amendment, which expressly bans the use of loan guarantees from the program except for "clean energy projects that avoid, reduce, or sequester air pollutants or human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases." This kind of amendment is often used to tie an agency's hands or to bolster eventual challenges in court.That amendment, bundled with eight others, passed the House on a vote of 233 to 200, largely along party lines. The win for Omar was just one step in a legislative process, however. The Senate has yet to consider the spending bill.Grassroots opponents of fossil fuel expansion echoed Omar's concerns. "It's clear to us that this project is in violation of what the law was intended to fund," said Mitch Jones, who has been tracking the ethane storage project for Food and Water Watch, an environmental group that helped to coordinate a letter opposing the loan guarantee from nearly 150 organizations.

 Pennsylvania Bill Aims to Shift Water Clean-Up Costs From Residents to Polluters - In response to chemical contamination from a naval station in his district, Representative Todd Stephens, a Pennsylvania House Representative from Montgomery County, is pushing for legislation that would remove the financial pressure on citizens to clean their own drinking water. This push from Rep. Stephens is indicative of a larger problem — figuring out how to pay to clean drinking water from the confirmed 21 sites throughout Pennsylvania contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The chemicals are used in products such as stain- and water-resistant clothing, nonstick pots and pans, firefighting foam, carpets, and furniture, and have been linked to various cancers, thyroid problems, low birth weights, and other problems. They’re increasingly showing up in water throughout the U.S. The PFAS class of chemicals includes more than 5,000 individual chemicals with similar properties. PFAS don’t readily break down once they’re in the environment, and they can accumulate in animal and human tissues. PA House Bill 1410 would fund cleanup efforts using some state tax revenue generated by development on and around the original pollution site, Republican Rep. Stephens told EHN, and would also require the state to develop a statewide program to address PFAS contamination in drinking water. In Stephens’ district, the federal government discovered widespread PFAS contamination in drinking water after closing the Willow Grove Naval Air Station in Montgomery County in 2006. They notified local communities, which began filtering the chemicals from drinking water, but had to charge residents new surcharges to cover the costs. The federal government “polluted drinking water, and local residents are paying to clean it up,” Stephens said, calling it “unconscionable.” House Bill 1410 would redirect some of the state tax revenue from the former military site to a newly created municipal authority. The funds would then be used to pay for infrastructure projects aimed at encouraging redevelopment of the vacant former military site, and use some of the state tax revenue generated by future development to clean up lingering contamination in drinking water sources and eliminate those surcharges. The bill also would require the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PennVEST), which invests in sewer, stormwater, and drinking water projects throughout the state, to develop a statewide funding program to address PFAS water contamination.

Pennsylvania regulators launch broad effort to rethink pipeline safety | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - At a time when the state has seen numerous problems with pipeline construction crisscrossing its lands, Pennsylvania regulators are moving to get a better grip on safety involving the often massive projects. “The time is ripe to move forward with specific proposals to enhance pipeline safety in Pennsylvania,” the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission said as it set the stage for what is likely to be a hotly contested review of the topic. “We must proceed expeditiously, but cautiously.” In a pair of rulemaking proposals introduced Thursday, the commission kept it generic. But all over the documents were echoes of Mariner East — a trio of Energy Transfer pipelines that have suffered spills, slides, environmental damage, court-mandated shutdowns, criminal probes, and a public rebuke from Gov. Tom Wolf. The PUC is seeking comments on pipeline construction, materials and inspection, and the disclosure of financial information, among dozens of other topics. The invitation is broad, even if the target of the agency’s proposed rulemaking is specific: public utility hazardous liquid pipelines. Today, that includes three pipeline systems, all in various stages of controversy. They are the Mariner East system; Buckeye Partners’ Laurel Pipe Line, which is seeking federal approval to periodically reverse the direction of flow on part of the line so it can ship petroleum from the Midwest into Central Pennsylvania; and an 84-mile oil pipeline in Eastern Pennsylvania seeking to be reborn as a natural gas line.

Gov. Tom Wolf asked to investigate possible link between Pa. fracking, childhood cancers | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - More than 100 organizations and 800 individuals have signed a public letter to Gov. Tom Wolf calling on him to direct the state Department of Health to investigate potential links between shale gas development and a proliferation of childhood cancers. The letter, which environmental groups plan to deliver to the governor and state Health Department Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine via email Monday, and hand deliver during a demonstration in Harrisburg Wednesday, also requests that all new shale gas permitting be suspended until the health investigation can demonstrate the cancers are not linked to shale gas drilling and fracking operations. “This is a public health crisis that requires immediate and significant action,” according to the text of the four-page letter. Emily Wurth helped lead the letter-writing effort and said the broad-based support for examination of health impacts of shale gas development was prompted by the ongoing Pittsburgh Post-Gazette series “Human toll: Risk and exposure in the gas lands.” Stories in the Post-Gazette series document up to 67 cases of childhood and young adult cancers in Washington, Greene, Fayette and Westmoreland counties where shale gas operations are active. The total includes 27 cases of Ewing sarcoma, a rare bone cancer. “The letter references the investigative reporting and scientific evidence that strongly suggests a link between childhood cancers and shale gas operations,” said Ms. Wurth, who is organizing co-director of Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Action. “We organized this strong response in just a couple of weeks from the about 125 organizations and even more individuals who are concerned about what they’ve read.” A state health department review of 12 Ewing sarcoma cases in Westmoreland County and six in Canon-McMillan School District in Washington County failed to conclude that either met the criteria for designation as a “cancer cluster.” The study only included three of the six Canon-McMillan area cases in the cluster assessment.

Gov. Wolf wants more data about how gas drilling impacts citizens' health | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette --Gov. Tom Wolf has asked the state Department of Health to determine how best to spur additional academic and science-based studies of the potential public health impacts caused by shale gas development in the state.“Pennsylvania’s natural gas development is providing economic benefits to the commonwealth. But these benefits should not require a choice between them and public health or safety,” the governor said in a release Wednesday afternoon. “It is essential that as we realize economic benefits, we ensure the public is protected, especially our children, and take the necessary steps to aggressively regulate resource development.”The governor’s directive comes in response to calls Monday by environmental activists, doctors and more than 100 organizations for him to order an investigation into the potential link between high numbers of childhood cancers in southwestern Pennsylvania.The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has documented up to 67 cases of childhood and young adult cancers in Washington, Greene, Fayette and Westmoreland counties in its ongoing series, “Human toll: Risk and exposure in the gas lands.” Among those cancers during the past decade are 27 cases of Ewing sarcoma, a rare bone cancer affecting mostly children and teens. Twelve of those cases occurred in Westmoreland County and another six within the Canon-McMillan School District in Washington County.The governor said a multi-state environmental health review recently completed by Department of Health epidemiologists was “inconclusive, and suggested that further in-depth research is warranted.” The governor released his statement shortly after receiving a lengthy compendium of scientific and medical studies released in Harrisburg Wednesday by the Concerned Health Professionals of New York and Physicians for Social Responsibility that focuses on topics related to the public health and safety impacts of unconventional shale gas and oil development.

Report: EPA Still Doesn't Protect Environment From Toxic Oil And Gas Waste – In a follow-up report, Earthworks once again warns the Environmental Protection Agency is failing to protect the environment from hazardous waste from oil and gas drilling.“Still Wasting Away” builds on a report from 2015 that called attention to exemptions or loopholes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has permitted for around two decades. And, four years later, the “volume of waste is increasing per well and per unit of energy.”There are 1.3 million oil and gas facilities in the United States. An oil and gas “threat map” indicates about 12.6 million people live within a half mile of these facilities.The U.S. leads the world in producing toxic oil and gas waste, and from now until 2030, the country is expected to “unleash 60 percent of all new oil and gas production globally.” That is four times more than any other country.  President Donald Trump’s administration has granted much more influence to fossil fuel industry interests to deregulate and expand loopholes throughout the U.S. in ways that exacerbate the public health and environmental hazards for communities. Yet, the regulatory capture the industry enjoys is not entirely a product of Trump. The EPA under President Barack Obama had an opportunity to end an exemption carved out of a regulation in 1988 but chose to maintain that loophole. According to Earthworks, before the “shale boom,” the EPA submitted a report to Congress that acknowledged that oil and gas waste contained a “wide variety of hazardous constituents.” However, under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the waste was granted an exemption from the regulation’s definition of “hazardous.”Officials made this decision despite the fact that they found contaminant levels higher than “one hundred times the EPA’s health-based standards.”

Even If All US Drilling and Fracking Halts Today, Warns New Report, 'Flood of Toxic Waste Streams' Will Grow for Decades - - For more than three decades, the U.S. government has mismanaged toxic oil and gas waste containing carcinogens, heavy metals, and radioactive materials, according to a new Earthworks report—and with the country on track to continue drilling and fracking for fossil fuels, the advocacy group warns of growing threats to the planet and public health. "Even if we stop all new drilling and fracking immediately, the flood of toxic waste streams will continue to grow for decades," Melissa Troutman, the report's lead author, said in a statement Tuesday. "In spite of industry claims of innovation, the risks from oil and gas waste are getting worse, not better."Building on a 2015 Earthworks analysis, Still Wasting Away (pdf) details congressional and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) actions as well as industry lobbying related to the federal rules for liquid and solid waste from fossil fuel development."Despite over 30 years of research about the toxic impacts of the industry's waste, it is far from being handled properly," the report says. "There is little consistency in tracking, testing, and monitoring requirements for oil and gas waste in the United States." "At all stages of the oil and gas waste management process," the report explains, "toxins can enter the environment accidentally (spills, leaks, waste truck rollovers, and illegal dumping) or legally under current state and federal law (road spreading, discharge to rivers, landfill leaching)." Demonstrating the scope of the threat that such waste poses to human health, the report notes that "an estimated 17.6 million Americans live within a mile of oil and gas development, including half of the population in West Virginia and almost a quarter of the population in Ohio."

Total Ban on Fracking Urged by Health Experts: 1,500 Studies Showed 'Damning' Evidence of Threats to Public Health, Climate A comprehensive analysis of nearly 1,500 scientific studies, government reports, and media stories on the consequences of fracking released Wednesday found that the evidence overwhelmingly shows the drilling method poses a profound threat to public health and the climate. The sixth edition of the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (the Compendium), published by Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of New York, found that "90.3 percent of all original research studies published from 2016-2018 on the health impacts of fracking found a positive association with harm or potential harm."The analysis also found that:

  • 69 percent of original research studies on water quality found potential for, or actual evidence of, fracking-associated water contamination;
  • 87 percent of original research studies on air quality found significant air pollutant emissions; and
  • 84 percent of original research studies on human health risks found signs of harm or indication of potential harm.

"There is no evidence that fracking can operate without threatening public health directly and without imperiling climate stability upon which public health depends," the Compendium states.  Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D., co-founder of Concerned Health Professionals of New York, said in a statement that "the case against fracking becomes more damning" with the publication of each edition of the Compendium."As the science continues to come in, early inklings of harm have converged into a wide river of corroborating evidence," said Steingraber. "All together, the data show that fracking impairs the health of people who live nearby, especially pregnant women, and swings a wrecking ball at the climate. We urgently call on political leaders to act on the knowledge we've compiled."

"No evidence" that fracking can done without threatening human health: Report - A group of doctors and scientists have released a report highlighting that 84 percent of studies published from 2009-2015 on the health impacts of fracking conclude the industry causes harm to human health.The report, published by two groups, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of New York, sites an earlier literature review that found 69 percent of studies on water quality during the same time period found evidence of or potential for fracking-associated water contamination, and 87 percent of studies on air quality found "significant air pollutant emissions" associated with the industry.The new report looks at 1,778 articles from peer-reviewed medical or scientific journals, investigative reports by journalists, and reports from government agencies on fracking. Fracking is another name for hydraulic fracturing, which is a process of extracting natural oil and gas from the Earth by drilling deep wells and injecting liquid at high pressure. "When we first started issuing this report in 2014, we predicted we'd eventually see health impacts based on what we saw happening to air and water," Sandra Steingraber, a professor of Environmental Studies and Sciences at Ithaca College and one of the lead authors of the study, told EHN. "Now we're beginning to see actual evidence of human harm."Other recent literature reviews have also found links between fracking and a range of health effects including preterm births, high-risk pregnancies, asthma, migraine headaches, fatigue, nasal and sinus symptoms, and skin disorders.The new report also examines studies on the natural gas industry's impact on climate change, and finds that due to methane leaks, natural gas extraction could be contributing to global warming even more than coal. "It's now clear that swapping out coal plants for natural gas is at best a lateral move," Steinraber said. "And it's beginning to look like it might even be more like getting out of the frying pan and into the fire."

Massive explosion at refinery in Philadelphia: reports - A massive fireball lit up the night sky in South Philadelphia early Friday in what was apparently an explosion at a local refinery. Early reports gave the location as 31st Street and Passyunk Avenue, not far from the city’s sports complex. Officials in Philadelphia confirmed that the early morning fire started at the 150-year-old Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining Complex.Shortly after 5 a.m. Friday, Philadelphia's FOX 29 reported that the fire had been contained with no reports of injuries or evacuations.Reports of the fire began spreading on social media shortly after 4 a.m. Friday. KYW-TV reported that the refinery has its own fire brigade. The cause of the fire was still unclear. Road closures as a result of the blast included a stretch of Interstate 76 from University Avenue to the Walt Whitman Bridge as well as Penrose Avenue and 26th Street, Philadelphia's FOX 29 reported.The Platt Bridge was temporarily closed, but WPVI-TV reported that it had reopened.Interstate 95 remained open between Center City Philadelphia and the airport, FOX 29 reported.Four SEPTA transit routes have been diverted because of the fire.The complex produced 335,000 barrels of oil daily. Philadelphia Energy Solutions says the oil refining complex is the largest on th e U.S. Eastern Seaboard.

Giant explosion rocks largest refinery complex on the East Coast, sends gasoline prices higher - A series of explosions early Friday tore through a Philadelphia gasoline refinery, the East Coast’s largest, sending shock waves for miles and raining debris on nearby neighborhoods, just as the busy summer driving season was beginning. Four minor injuries were reported, according to the Philadelphia Fire Department. The three-alarm fire at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery was contained but not under control, the fire department said. About 120 firefighters worked to cool off the areas around the fire to keep it from spreading. The fire turned the sky bright orange and shook the homes of startled residents. Some neighbors in South Philadelphia said debris rained from the sky into their neighborhoods after the explosions, according to NBC Philadelphia. The outage occurred as the U.S. summer driving season kicks into high gear.Gasoline futures jumped 3.5% Friday morning. Because RBOB futures reflect New York harbor prices, they are especially impacted by an outage in a refinery in Philadelphia, an important regional refining hub. In addition to the average $2.66 per gallon, pump prices on the East Coast could rise 3 cents to 5 cents per gallon as a result of the explosion, Wells Fargo said in a note to clients Friday. Natural gas prices also rose 1%. “It’s a serious outage that’s going to greatly affect the East Coast in particular,” said John Kilduff of Again Capital. “There’s a cushion for drivers because we’re well supplied, but if there’s major damage, it’s going to change that dynamic dramatically.” Gasoline demand in the U.S. reached a record high last week, according to government data released Wednesday. U.S. drivers consumed a record 9.9928 million barrels a day last week. That is up from the 9.3 million barrels a day used a year ago. It was also up from 9.877 million barrels a day the week earlier.

It Could Burn All Day - Gasoline Futures Soar As Philadelphia Refinery Burns - Gasoline futures for July delivery were up more than 4% on the NY Mercantile Exchange, overtaking an increase in WTI, as an inferno continues to burn through the Philadelphia Energy Solutions oil refinery in South Philadelphia on Friday. The Philadelphia refinery is "the largest such plant on the U.S. East Coast and the main supplier to the local gasoline market" according to Bloomberg. As of 10AM, the fire was still not under control, according to the Philadelphia Fire Department.The PES complex handles up to 335,000 barrels of crude per day and is the main supplier of fuel to the New York Harbor market, where inventory is already below average seasonal levels. The complex has plants at Point Breeze and Girard Point in Philadelphia.  After a leak in an alkylation unit, an explosion sent the complex ablaze, forcing the Girard Point section to shut down. The Point Breeze section had already been under repair due to a fire earlier this month. Due to the fact that it is a chemical fire, officials are saying it could burn all day. Joe Brusuelas, Chief Economist at RSM US LLP said: “Any shortage ahead of the peak of the summer driving season does not bode well for U.S. consumer pocketbooks. The video of the early morning explosion is horrific.”Gasoline demand nationwide was already at a record last week, nearing 10 million barrels per day. There was a shelter-in-place for parts of South Philadelphia due to the smoke plume from the fire, but it has since been lifted. The site has been home to refining operations for more than 150 years. Prior to PES, the site was owned by Chevron and Sunoco.

W.Va.-based company to build coal to liquid plant in Mason County -  Easy access to coal, natural gas and the river are a few of the reasons a company has decided to build a coal to liquids facility in Mason County. "Domestic Synthetic Fuels" is a West Virginia-based company. The plant will turn coal and natural gas into fuel that burns cleaner than petroleum-based fuel. The plant will be the first of its kind in the United States. According to a news release, there is already one in China. One hundred thirty jobs are expected at the plant, while 100 coal mining jobs are expected at the location where coal will come from in Kanawha County, along with "thousands" of construction jobs, according to the news release. The Department of Environmental Protection has approved the draft plans. The company said there will be community meetings to keep everyone informed.

$1.2 billion project proposed for Mason County — A major, economic development announcement for the area was made on Monday from a company that wishes to place a coal to liquids facility, a reported first of its kind in the United States, in Mason County, W.Va. According to a press release from Domestic Synthetic Fuels (DS Fuels), a West Virginia-owned company, it has plans to convert the state’s “abundant coal and natural gas” to gasoline and other fuels, and will soon break ground on a coal to liquids facility in Mason County. The overall project cost, according to DS Fuel, is $1.2 billion, with 130-plus direct jobs, 130-plus new indirect coal jobs, thousands of indirect jobs, an annual payroll of approximately $11.5 million including employee benefits and $300 million annual estimated gross revenue. The proposed facility will go on 200 acres secured from the Mason County Development Authority in the Mason County Industrial Park. The park is approximately five miles north of Point Pleasant, along W.Va. 62, across from the Mason County Airport and along the Ohio River. Construction is estimated to begin October 2019 with a project completion date of 2022 or early 2023. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently approved the draft construction permit for the project. Company officials plan a series of community meetings to explain the project and its benefits to the community. 

West Virginia is still waiting on an $84 billion investment from China that was promised in 2017 - Beijing billed President Donald Trump’s 2017 trip as a “state visit-plus” — rolling out the red carpet for an unprecedented private dinner in the Forbidden City, marching a military parade through Tiananmen Square, and hosting a signing ceremony in the colossal Great Hall of the People to unveil business deals totaling more than $250 billion.One-third of that value was supposed to flow to West Virginia, an energy-rich but high-poverty state whose manufacturing and energy workers handed Trump his widest margin of victory in 2016. He captured more than more than 67% of the vote.Under the deal, China’s largest state-owned energy giant would spend nearly $84 billion over 20 years to build facilities that extract natural gas and turn it into byproducts that generate power and make consumer goods.In celebrating the announcement, West Virginia officials said projects would be underway within a year.“This time next year, you will see construction activity taking place,” the state’s former Commerce secretary, Woody Thrasher, told reporters on Nov. 13, 2017.A month later, Gov. Jim Justice confirmed that timeline. “It would not surprise me, within my 10-month window of today, to see shovels in the ground,” Justice told a town hall on WSAZ television. But skepticism about the deal surfaced almost immediately. Officials referenced the general areas where China Energy would invest, but didn’t provide a detailed list of projects or an accompanying timeline. The memorandum of understanding outlining the deal was never made public and remains sealed by judicial order. CNBC interviewed dozens of local executives, state officials and federal lawmakers about where the deal stands. What emerges is a picture of a proposal hastily assembled for the deadline of Trump’s trip to China without assessments of national security or geopolitical risks – and a cautionary tale as the U.S. tries to hold China to its promises at the federal level.

Mountain Valley Pipeline has Contaminated Public Waters in Eleven WV Counties - The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), is a 303-mile project that extends across 11 counties in West Virginia – Wetzel, Harrison, Doddridge, Lewis, Braxton, Webster, Nicholas, Greenbrier, Fayette, Summers, and Monroe Counties. MVP was recently fined approximately $266,000 by the WVDEP for repeated water quality violations. The proposed agreement for the fine is now open for public comment. Comments are due by June 20.  The fine accounts for 26 of the 28 violations WVDEP has issued the company to date. The water quality violations are the result of Mountain Valley Pipeline’s failure to implement and maintain sediment controls, which allowed muddy water to impact 33 streams and wetlands. The picture above depicts sediment flowing into Indian Creek in Monroe County. Learn more here and here. “As issues continue to occur along the Mountain Valley Pipeline route, we as ‘stakeholders’ are objecting to inadequate construction practices and obvious environmental violations. We are objecting to the lack of oversight both the federal and state governments are giving to a project that they approved. We have been left as citizens to defend ourselves, our mountains, our waters,” he said. “We are here to remind not just the MVP that we are stakeholders, but also the politicians who lied to us about it being the most scrutinized project ever.”“A lot of folks are not aware that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has a single inspector for the entire southern region. That means he is not only responsible for the Mountain Valley Pipeline project, he’s also responsible for the MXP (Mountaineer Xpress Pipeline). He’s also responsible for the ACP (Atlantic Coast Pipeline.) There is no way — no physical way — for that inspector to be able to cover that much ground and properly ensure that this project is being done in a viable manner.”

EQM raises cost, delays timing of Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline - EQM Midstream Partners LP said on Monday it had raised the estimated cost of its Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to Virginia to $4.8-$5.0 billion and delayed the projected completion to mid-2020 due to ongoing legal and regulatory challenges.That is up from the company’s last estimate of $4.6 billion and a target to complete the project in the fourth quarter of 2019.EQM made the comments in a federal regulatory filing in which the company said it had submitted a land exchange proposal to the federal government in an effort to enable the pipe to cross the Appalachian Trail.Crossing the trail became an issue after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in December said the U.S. Forest Service lacked authority to issue a permit for another gas pipe, Dominion Energy Inc’s $7.0-7.5 billion Atlantic Coast, to cross the Appalachian Trail on federal land. That case is on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.EQM’s land exchange proposal would grant the federal government full ownership of private lands crossed by the Appalachian Trail, including certain private land located adjacent to the Jefferson National Forest. In exchange, the government would grant Mountain Valley a right-of-way to cross the trail using the pipeline’s previously planned underground method at an existing crossing location approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2017.

Mountain Valley Pipeline will take longer and cost more to complete, company says --Builders of the Mountain Valley Pipeline may have found a way to cross the Appalachian Trail, but it will delay the project’s completion until the middle of next year and increase its cost to as much as $5 billion. The disclosure was made Monday in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission by EQM Midstream, the lead partner in the joint venture. Previously, Mountain Valley had said it would spend $4.6 billion and have the natural gas pipeline finished by the end of this year. The latest plan involves a proposed land swap in which the U.S. Department of the Interior would allow the company to keep its current crossing of the Appalachian Trail — at the top of Peters Mountain along the West Virginia-Virginia line — in exchange for a piece of private property that Mountain Valley owns adjacent to the Jefferson National Forest, according to the filing. Giving the land to the government would “protect one of the last segments of the trail that is currently not under federal ownership or control,” Mountain Valley said. As part of the deal, the company would be allowed to proceed with plans to tunnel under the trail to bury its 42-inch diameter pipe at the mountaintop. The boring plan was cast in doubt in December, when a federal appeals court ruled that the Forest Service had improperly allowed a similar project, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, to cross the scenic footpath farther to the east, in the George Washington National Forest. But if the land swap is approved, “the applicable federal agencies would grant the MVP venture an easement and right-of-way” to cross the trail at its originally planned location, which was approved in 2017 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, EQM wrote in the SEC filing. “This exchange would effectively privatize MVP’s right-of-way across the trail, potentially avoiding the legal peril of crossing the trail on federal land” that was created by the 4th Circuit’s ruling in the Atlantic Coast case, according to a report from Height Capital Markets, an investment banking firm that has been following the project.

Delays raise new questions for the Mountain Valley Pipeline — As Anne and Steve Bernard recently stood near the pipeway’s path — which passes about 150 feet from their Franklin County home and a studio behind it where the two artists work — Anne recalled what happened the last week of July 2018. “They came in with a storm of machinery and they dug the trench in two days and then they dropped the pipe in it,” she said. “They were in such a hurry.” The next day, the Bernards saw where the buried 42-inch diameter pipe extended to a part of the trench that had filled with water in a low-lying pasture, before work crews had a chance to cover the pipe with dirt. “I called MVP and said, ‘Your pipe is floating here,’” Anne Bernard said. Nearly a year later, the section of pipe remains suspended — as do key parts of a $4.6 billion project to build a 303-mile pipeline to transport newly drilled natural gas from northern West Virginia, through the New River and Roanoke valleys, to connect with an existing pipeline near the North Carolina line. A Mountain Valley spokeswoman said June 6 that the company still hopes to finish the project by the end of the year. But delays in construction, caused in large part by legal challenges from environmental groups opposed to plowing such a large pipeline across rugged mountain slopes and through clear-running streams, have raised questions that were not anticipated when the project was announced five years ago. The welded joints that link the 40-foot pipe sections could weaken over time, especially when the unburied part of the line tips upward in standing water the way it does on the Bernard property, opponents say. That could increase the chance of a rupture and explosion once the line is shipping natural gas under high pressure. And the longer that sections of the pipe remain stored above the ground, exposed to the elements before they are buried, the greater the chance that a protective coating could be degraded to the point that it contaminates the surrounding water, critics fear.

Williams submits new permits for pipeline, compressor station in NJ - Williams has filed new permit applications with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to build its proposed Northeast Supply Enhancement Project, which includes a natural gas pipeline under Raritan Bay to New York and a new compressor station in Franklin Township. Williams filed the new applications on June 10, five days after the DEP denied the company's initial application. "We strongly believe the discrete technical issues raised by the DEP on June 5 were addressed in our previous application and, in this application, we have provided additional information showing that these issues have been addressed," Christopher Stockton, a Williams spokesperson, said in a statement. The company's action has already come under fire by an environmental group. “The speed in which the company reapplied for permits first in New York and now in New Jersey is an insult," Peter Blair, policy attorney for Clean Ocean Action, said in a statement. "New Jersey’s denial outlined the serious violations of laws and regulations, in particular the lack of need, the impact from toxic contaminated sediments, and the failure to prove that this project is in the public interest. It is clear that as long as the door is left open they will continue to try and push this pipeline through." 

NextEra-Backed Venture Trucks LNG to Northeast  -- A venture backed by NextEra Energy Inc. is trucking natural gas from the Marcellus Shale to New England, where pipeline bottlenecks have helped send prices for the fuel soaring in the winter. Closely held Edge Gathering Virtual Pipelines 2 LLC is using tractor trailers to treat gas, chill it and truck it from northeastern Pennsylvania to Rhode Island, Chief Executive Officer Mark Casaday said in a telephone interview. NextEra Energy Marketing LLC, a subsidiary of the biggest North American utility owner, is a shareholder in the company and the exclusive sales and marketing partner for the fuel. Gas explorers are looking for new ways to get their supply to market as multibillion-dollar pipeline projects to transport shale gas to consumers in the Northeast stall amid opposition. The Trump administration has sought to speed up approval of gas lines, which have faced legal and regulatory roadblocks amid concern about fossil fuels’ contribution to climate change. “By next year this time we will probably have increased our production five or 10 times” as more Marcellus producers sign on, Casaday said. “It’s pipeline constraints, but it’s also the connectability of pipelines. A lot of wells are in no man’s land.” New Fortress Energy LLC, founded by billionaire Wes Edens, is also considering trucking Marcellus LNG north. Casaday said Edge Gathering is in discussions to haul supply from the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico and the Bakken formation in North Dakota and Montana, where gas is a byproduct of oil drilling and is often burned off in a process known as flaring.

Worcester residents demand gas leak repairs near schools - - Residents and advocates filed into City Hall Monday demanding that public utility Eversource fix five natural gas leaks near five schools in the city, citing health concerns surrounding asthma. Councilors on the Standing Committee on Public Health and Human Services filed an order asking the full council to require Eversource to fix the leaks and kept the matter on the agenda for future meetings. Massachusetts law dictates that gas companies prioritize repairing leaks within a school zone, or within 50 feet of a public or private school, preschool or Head Start. District 4 Councilor Sarai Rivera expressed confidence that the city can work with Eversource to fix the “public health crisis.” Ms. Rivera said next steps include reaching out to the gas company and including the effects of gas leaks on the public in future community health improvement plans. “You’re talking about five schools, you know, we can do it,” she told reporters after the meeting. “I’m concerned at the fact that we’re still having the summer schools, we have these amazing recreations in Worcester where we have hundreds of kids throughout the city - sometimes over 100 kids in one area.” Mothers Out Front, a national advocacy organization composed of mothers promoting a livable climate for children, petitioned for the topic to be discussed at the meeting. Patricia Kirkpatrick, the Worcester chapter’s volunteer coordinator, said the issue of gas leaks is correlated with poor air quality and pulmonary issues such as asthma. The Boston chapter originally alerted team members in Worcester about unrepaired gas leaks. Mrs. Kirkpatrick noticed that some leaks were on public grounds, such as schools, playgrounds, hospitals, and day care centers, after looking at a map created by the Home Energy Efficiency Team. “Asthma, in particular, is what we’re concerned about because Worcester has very high rates when compared to the rest of the country and to the rest of Massachusetts,” 

Maryland seeks dismissal of federal lawsuit by company blocked from building natural gas pipeline - Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh has asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a company that wants to build a natural gas pipeline in Washington County that the state’s top officials have rejected. Columbia Gas Transmission, which is owned by TransCanada Corp., filed the lawsuit last month in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. It seeks a preliminary injunction to give the company immediate access to property to drill a pipeline under the Western Maryland Rail Trail. It also seeks the “award of just compensation and damages.” The lawsuit was filed not long after the Maryland Board of Public Works in January rejected a request to grant an easement for a segment of the pipeline that would carry fracked natural gas through three miles of western Maryland, after years of environmentalists and neighbors fighting the project. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and the three-member board’s Democrats — Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp — agreed the project would be bad for the environment. In addition, over 60 members of the Maryland General Assembly signed a letter opposing the grant of an easement. Gas company sues Maryland seeking to resurrect pipeline through Western Maryland The pipeline would transport fracked gas from Pennsylvania to a new plant in West Virginia. Its length in Maryland would be 3 miles. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted Columbia Gas a “certificate of public convenience and necessity,” which “nominally gives it the power to condemn property,” Frosh said in a statement. But the Democratic attorney general argued in the motion to dismiss that the “11th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prevents a federal court from ordering the state to grant the easement.” “We are vigorously defending Maryland’s right to refuse a pipeline company’s efforts to drill under state land,” Frosh said in a statement.

Natural gas production rises from June to July: Dpr -Natural gas production in the seven most prolific basins/plays in the Lower 48 U.S. states is projected to grow by 798 million cubic feet per day (Mmcf/d) from June to July, the Energy Information Administration projects, Kallanish Energy reports. In the just-released June Drilling Productivity Report (Dpr), total gas production is expected to reach 81.36 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) from the seven regions, according to EIA.Five of the seven basins/plays will see a month-to-month increase in gas production, while two will see production slightly slip.  Three of the seven basins/plays should see a triple-digit jump in production, led by Appalachia, the combination of the Marcellus and Utica Shale plays. The Dpr expects gas production from June to July in Appalachia to jump by 347 Mmcf/d, to 32.44 Bcf/d, from 32.10 Bcf/d. (All numbers are rounded.)The Permian Basin’s gas production, due to its huge crude oil production, will jump 230 Mmcf/d, to 14.69 Bcf/d, from 14.46 Bcf/d in June.Close behind in third place is the Haynesville Shale, projected to see gas production increase from June to July by 218 Mmcf/d, to 11.52 Bcf/d, from 11.30 Bcf/d, the June Dpr reveals.The Niobrara is expected to see natural gas production rise by 50 Mmcf/d from June to July, to 5.55 Bcf/d, while the Bakken will see gas production increase by 20 Mmcf/d, to 2.98 Bcf/d in July, from 2.96 Bcf/d in June.The Anadarko and Eagle Ford Shale each are projected to see gas production fall from June to July, by 50 Mmcf/d and 17 Mmcf/d, respectively.The Anadarko’s total production will fall to 7.39 Bcf/d, while the Eagle Ford’s production will drop to 36.80 Bcf/d.

Natural Gas Remains Near The Low As Inventories Build -    The price of natural gas declined steadily since March and is now trading at a multiyear low. The price action in the natural gas market has been ugly, and the sharp rally last November has faded into the market's rear view mirror. After trading to the highest price since 2014 at $4.929 per MMBtu last November, the price recently fell to its lowest level since 2016 at $2.3050 per MMBtu this montAs the monthly chart highlights, the price of nearby NYMEX natural gas futures fell to the lowest level since 2016 and posted losses over the past seven consecutive months. Nearby natural gas futures were just under the $2.40 per MMBtu level on Friday, June 14. Price momentum and relative strength metrics were in oversold territory, but monthly historical volatility at 65% reflects the wide price range of $2.624 per MMBtu since November. The price range over the past seven months was higher than the price as of last Friday. As the daily chart illustrates, natural gas is building a wall of resistance around the $2.40 level, but that could give way quickly if weather forecasts turn warmer than average which would increase the demand for natural gas for cooling as it replaced a large percentage of coal-fired power generation. Meanwhile, the technical state of the market could be telling us that a recovery may be on the horizon as price momentum and relative strength display oversold conditions.  Another factor that could spark a rally is that open interest, the total number of open long and short positions in the natural gas futures market has increased from 1.264 million contracts in late May to 1.332 million as of the end of last week. As the chart highlights, stocks now stand at 2.088 trillion cubic feet, 10% above last year's level, but still 9.9% below the five-year average. The injection season began with 1.107 tcf in storage, and at the current rate of injections, we could see them peak at the four trillion cubic feet level by November when the peak season begins to draw down the inventories. Last year, the high in November was at 3.79 tcf, and it is looking likely that we will see a higher number later this year which is another reason why the price is floundering below the $2.40 per MMBtu level. As stocks build at over 100 bcf each week, the market could continue to experience price pressure.

The Nation's Natural Gas Fill Rate -- This May Be A Record-Setting Year -- -- This is quite incredible: spend some time on this one, from a reader, regarding the nation's natural gas fill rate:  "The 981 billion cubic feet of natural gas that have been added to storage over the past 11 weeks has been the largest injection of gas into storage on record for any similar period this early in the injection season, probably about double the average 11 week build of the past decade, as the 712 billion cubic feet that were added during the same 11 weeks of 2014 was the only year that even appeared close... "  We've become accustomed to triple digit injections, but scanning the recent decade's spreadsheet, I find that in most years we only had one triple digit inventory build all summer, most often in the fall. The only exceptions were 2014 and 2015, and the June curve in 2014 was the only one as steep as the May curve this year ... so we may be on our way to a record year...   This came in as a comment to the post this past week regarding the NG fill rate.

Weekly storage of natural gas in U.S. increases by 5.5 pct: EIA -    (Xinhua) -- Working gas storage in the contiguous United States was 2,203 billion cubic feet (about 62.38 billion cubic meters) in the week ending June 14, a net increase of 115 billion cubic feet, or 5.5 percent, from the previous week, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said in a report on Thursday. The total working gas storage increased by 10.5 percent from this time last year, or 8.3 percent below the five-year average, but still within the five-year historical range, according to the EIA's Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report. The storage of working gas usually turns to increase in late April and will continue to grow in early November when heating season starts in the country, according to previous data. Working gas is defined as the amount of natural gas stored underground that can be withdrawn for use. 

US natural gas in storage expands by 115 Bcf to 2.203 Tcf- EIA - — US natural gas added 115 Bcf last week to storage, much larger than the market expected, and the NYMEX Henry Hub summer strip collapsed to less than $2.20/MMBtu following the Thursday morning announcement. US natural gas in storage increased to 2.203 Tcf for the week ended June 14, the US Energy Information Administration reported. The injection was much more than an S&P Global Platts' survey of analysts calling for a 104 Bcf injection. It was just within the survey range as responses spanned 89 Bcf to 117 Bcf. It was also more than the 95 Bcf build reported during the corresponding week in 2018 and the five-year average injection of 92 Bcf, according to EIA data. It was also the seventh triple-digit build. Only two weekly injections have measured more than 100 Bcf over the prior two years. Power demand in the South Central, East and Midwest regions fell by a combined 1.9 Bcf/d, while warmer temperatures across the west drove Pacific and Mountain power demand higher by about 1.3 Bcf/d, paring overall demand declines, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. Total US supplies were down 0.4 Bcf/d on the week to average 91.2 Bcf/d, with a 0.3 Bcf/d fall in offshore production and a 0.2 Bcf/d fall in Canadian imports countered with a 0.1 Bcf/d increase in US onshore production. Overall, total production came in at an average 86.7 Bcf/d. As a result, stocks were 209 Bcf, or 10.5%, more than the year-ago level of 1.994 Tcf and 199 Bcf, or 8%, less than the five-year average of 2.402 Tcf. The deficit to the five-year average is the smallest it's been since December 2017 while the surplus to the year prior is the largest since September 2016. The NYMEX Henry Hub July contract sank 9 cents to $2.186/MMBtu following the announcement. The remainder of the summer strip, August through October, fell 9.9 cents to average $2.165/MMBtu by Thursday afternoon trading. Ahead of the storage release, NYMEX Henry Hub July contract was trading about 2 cents higher. At this point, the highest-valued contract over the next year, January 2020, is barely trading above $2.60, a far cry from the $3 it was trading at only a month ago.

More new natural gas combined-cycle power plants are using advanced designs --Lower natural gas prices in recent years have spurred the construction of new natural gas-fired power plants in the United States. Of the new U.S. natural gas capacity added since 2016, 31% use advanced natural gas-fired combined-cycle (ANGCC) units. Greater use of the new, larger ANGCC designs has led to efficiency gains and economies of scale, which have resulted in reduced capital construction costs. These lower costs are likely to substantially increase ANGCC’s share of new U.S. natural gas capacity additions in future years.Natural gas-fired combined-cycle generating technology has evolved over the past few decades. Generators have large, heavy-duty natural gas turbines that are defined by their firing temperatures and unit capacity ratings. Beginning in the early 1960s, 20-megawatt (MW) natural gas-fired turbines became available. By the mid-1980s, the highest natural gas-fired turbine rating reached 100 MW, and it had increased to 200 MW by the late 1990s. With firing temperatures that are more efficient, today’s ANGCC units are rated at 320 MW.The increased output of ANGCC units has resulted in improved economies of scale. The latest generation of largerFrame H natural gas-fired turbines was first installed in 2015 and was incorporated into the design for 45% of the combined-cycle units installed in 2017. Based on EIA’s survey of announced capacity additions, Frame H turbines are expected to be incorporated in 33% of future natural gas combined-cycle power plants through 2020 and in close to 40% of those installed in 2021 and 2022. According to an April 2018 PJM report, the cost per unit of ANGCC installed capacity at PJM’s next capacity auction will be 25% to 30% lower compared with older, conventional natural gas-fired combined-cycle (NGCC) units. With that rate of cost decline, ANGCC generators will cost slightly more than combustion turbines.

US Poised to Approve Shipping LNG by Rail for Export With No New Safety Rules - On June 6, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) announced that the company Energy Transport Solutions LLC had applied for a special permit to transport liquefied natural gas (LNG) in unit trains 100 cars long and for the express purpose of moving LNG to export facilities. The notice in the Federal Register starts a comment period, ending July 8, for the public to weigh in on the proposal, which represents a new mode for transporting LNG and includes no new safety precautions.The permit documentation and environmental assessment from PHMSA suggest that federal regulators — instead of learning from the deadly mistakes of the essentially unregulated oil-by-rail boom — are poised to allow the fossil fuel and rail industries to repeat the same business model with LNG, with potentially even higher consequences for public health and safety.For years, the rail industry has been seeking approval for LNG-by-rail, and in April President Trump issued an allowing LNG-by-rail by 2020.The justification for allowing unit trains of LNG is the same as for unit trains of volatile crude oil. (Unit trains haul primarily a single commodity in trains that can stretch a mile long.) Just like the oil-by-rail industry sprung up to move a glut of North Dakota fracked oil, promoters of LNG-by-rail tout it as necessary due to the flood of fracked natural gas — something PHMSA notes is expected to increase for “decades to come,” according to the Department of Energy.PHMSA asserts that transportation of LNG by rail, compared to currently moving it by tanker truck, would be more cost efficient and reduce its environmental impacts. In addition, the agency claims that “the existing regulatory requirements that govern the movement of cryogenic flammable materials similar to LNG are expected to provide adequate safety measures for LNG shipped in DOT-113C120W tank cars.”Cryogenic materials are “liquefied gases that are kept in their liquid state at very low temperatures,” typically below -238 degrees Fahrenheit, and those which are flammable “produce a gas that can burn in air.” PHMSA’s environmental assessment for the permit is the document currently open for review. It notes several (but not all) of the risks of moving a flammable material in the heaviest train cars in unit trains of 100 cars or more. It then dismisses all of those concerns. Under Trump, deregulation is the rule, and safety measures are voluntary. If past is prologue and the federal government approves unit trains of LNG, expect the same scenes as with oil trains: flames, explosions, and deaths.

Marathon Petroleum MLP MPLX considers NGL project near Houston --A subsidiary of Ohio-based MLPX is considering a project to build an asset worth nearly half a billion dollars south of Houston. The MPLX project would spend $460 million on a new natural gas liquids fractionation plant in Brazoria County, according to an application for tax incentives published by the Texas Comptroller on May 31. MPLX is the midstream master limited partnership under Ohio-based Marathon Petroleum Corp. The project would employ 500 people during peak construction and then 10 full-time jobs after the fractionator enters service, according to the application. Each of the full-time employees would be paid at least $66,000 annually. If the project moves forward as described in the incentive application, it would start construction in the fourth quarter of 2020 and commence operations in April 2022. The company is seeking Chapter 313 incentives, under which school districts can make deals with companies building certain kinds of infrastructure abating some of the property value of the new project for taxation purposes. In this case, the MPLX subsidiary responsible for the project — MarkWest Energy West Texas Gas Co. LLC — is asking Angleton Independent School District to tax the project as though it were worth only $30 million for the 10-year duration of the incentive.

Is Big Oil’s Plastic Bet Going Sour? - OilPrice --While Greenpeace activists were busy planning their occupation of a BP drilling rig, Exxon and Sabic sealed a US$10-billion deal for what is going to be one of the world’s largest petrochemical plants. The deal comes amid increasingly loud opposition to plastics use as the planet’s plastic pollution problem worsens and calls for urgent measures to deal with it intensify.  Bans on some single-use plastic products have been a popular way of trying to deal with the problem but it won’t be enough: plastics demand is rising and will continue to rise through the next ten years at least, Axios reported recently, noting that demand for ethane—the largest feedstock for plastics—will hit 1.7 million bpd this year in the US alone, up by 83 percent from 2012. It is this prospect of rising plastics demand that is spurring a lot more investment in petrochemicals in the Big Oil group. Big Oil goes where the profits are and the environmentalist offensive against internal combustion engines will eventually lead to a decline in oil demand from the transportation sector. Plastics, however, will endure. Petrochemicals will come to account for more than 33 percent of oil demand growth globally in the period to 2030. By 2050, they will drive half of the global oil demand growth, raising this demand by 7 million bpd by that year, the International Energy Agency said in a report last October. The problem seems to be recycling. The global average for 2015 was below 20 percent, with the U.S. performing even worse, with a 9-percent rate of recycling. Now, this problem is getting worse after last year China stopped importing plastic waste. Until then, it was the world’s dumping ground, but now large plastic waste producers such as the United States are searching for new destinations for this waste.

Q&A: What happens if state shuts down Line 5 oil pipeline --A permanent shutdown of Enbridge Energy Co.'s Line 5 oil pipeline could have a major downstream impact on trade with Canada, energy supplies for multiple states and the price of jet fuel for airplanes at Detroit Metro Airport and residential propane in the Lower Peninsula.Attorney General Dana Nessel has indicated she may go to court as soon as the end of this month to try to stop the flow of oil through Enbridge's 66-year-old underwater pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.Enbridge has separately sought a court order enforcing its deal with former Gov. Rick Snyder to build a tunnel under the environmentally sensitive waterway to house Line 5.The Calgary, Alberta-based company took action after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wanted to shut down Line 5 within two years — three years before Enbridge says a tunnel sitting 100 feet below the bottom of Lake Michigan could be completed."The enormous risk (of an oil spill) that we bear alone as the state of Michigan and the Great Lakes is one that I take very seriously, and it was important to me that have a date certain for shutdown," Whitmer said last week.The increasingly heated rhetoric has set up a showdown between the Canadian oil pipeline giant and two Democratic statewide officeholders who made campaign promises a year ago to their party's eco-conscious base that they would shut down the underwater pipeline.Here are five questions and answers about Line 5 and the potential impact of permanently shutting down the pipeline.

Enbridge continues $40M in pre-construction work on Line 5 tunnel -- Enbridge Energy will continue rock and soil sampling in the Straits of Mackinac this week, moving its previously land-based boring operation onto the actual waterway where the company will drill for the samples from a barge. The start of drilling from the waterway, Enbridge said, “preserves the schedule to complete the tunnel at the earliest possible date,” which is expected to be five years from now in 2024. The geotechnical work is part of the $40 million the Canadian company plans to spend this year in the beginning phases of its construction of a $500 million utility corridor project, an investment made even as the state challenges the agreement to build the tunnel. Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel in March opined that Enbridge’s agreement with the state to build the tunnel, established under Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder, was unconstitutional. That same month, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer halted state work on the project and began discussions about a new plan with a shorter timeline for completion. In early June, Enbridge filed legal action in the Michigan Court of Claims asking the court to rule its agreement is valid and enforceable. The company, which has said it could complete its project in five years, said it could not meet the two-year Line 5 decommissioning deadline Whitmer wanted. The governor criticized the decision to choose litigation rather than “negotiate in good faith” and claimed the company was “only interested in protecting its bottom line.” Nessel has said she will take her own legal action to shut down the line if the governor and Enbridge don't reach a new deal by the end of this month.

Enbridge pipeline project hits another Minnesota obstacle— Enbridge Energy’s plan to replace an aging crude oil pipeline that runs through northern Minnesota hit another obstacle Tuesday when two state agencies said they would hold up approval of the project’s permits until problems with its environmental review are resolved. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday that they can’t take final action on the permits for the Line 3 project until the independent Public Utilities Commission addresses the deficiencies cited in a state appeals court ruling this month, including that the project’s environmental impact statement failed to address the possibility of a spill into the Lake Superior watershed. That means the two state agencies won’t release the draft permits as scheduled July 1, though they said they will continue reviewing the applications. Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge said in a statement that the PUC will have to determine how to address the court’s objections. The commission has not yet laid out a process or timetable for doing that. Procedural delays and other court rulings have pushed back the project schedule several times. “We believe the actions required to address the spill modeling in the Lake Superior watershed can be completed efficiently,” the company said. Winona LaDuke, executive director of the indigenous environmental group Honor the Earth, which is an official party to the case, praised the MPCA and DNR for making “a prudent decision to suspend their permitting process for a new pipeline that was never needed in the first place.” The $2.6 billion replacement pipeline would carry Canadian crude from Alberta across northern Minnesota to Enbridge’s terminal in Superior, Wisconsin, which sits near the westernmost tip of Lake Superior. Enbridge wants to replace the current Line 3, which was built in the 1960s, because it is increasingly subject to corrosion and cracking, and runs at only about half its original capacity for safety reasons. Environmental and tribal groups fighting the project argue that it risks oil spills in pristine areas of the Mississippi River headwaters region where Native Americans gather wild rice, and that the Canadian tar sands oil that the line would carry accelerates climate change. The Court of Appeals actually rejected most of the plaintiffs’ objections to the environmental review, but they have until July 3 to seek further review from the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Exclusive: Enterprise Products explores sale of Texas oil terminal stake - document -(Reuters) - U.S. pipeline operator Enterprise Products Partners LP is looking to sell its 50% stake in a recently-completed South Texas crude export terminal, according to a marketing document viewed by Reuters. Enterprise is weighing an exit from the joint venture with terminal operator Plains All American Pipeline LP after proposing to build its own offshore port near Houston. There are at least eight proposed deepwater oil ports on the U.S. Gulf Coast seeking to handle rising shale exports. The Houston-based pipeline operator has hired RBC Capital Markets LLC to advise on a sale, according to the document, which did not indicate a price. Enterprise declined to comment, referring queries to Plains, which did not respond to requests. RBC Capital Markets declined to comment. The joint venture, Eagle Ford Terminals Corpus Christi, is connected to the two companies’ 660,000 barrels per day (bpd) Eagle Ford JV Pipeline. The pipeline brings crude from the Permian Basin and Eagle Ford shale fields to the U.S. Gulf Coast. The potential sale comes as three new crude pipelines will by mid-2020 begin carrying some 2 million bpd from Texas shale fields to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Enterprise in January filed to build its own deepwater export terminal, Sea Port of Texas (SPOT), at a site 40 miles (64 km) off the coast of Houston.

EPA issues guidance critics say would limit state's authorities over pipeline projects -  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a guidance Friday that critics say seeks to limit states’ influence over controversial pipeline projects.Federal law through the Clean Water Act essentially gives states veto power over large projects that cut through their rivers and streams if they believe those projects would negatively impact their water quality.Spurred by an April executive order from President Trump, the EPA’s guidance encourages states to more quickly process project applications, even if they don’t have all the information yet.“This seems to be another attempt by the Trump Administration to limit states, and by extension local communities, ability to protect their own waterways and to give pipeline developers or other project proponents an ability to skip over one of the steps in the process that had been there to protect local waterways,” said Nathan Matthews, a senior attorney with the Sierra Club, one of the environmental groups weighing action against the EPA.The Clean Water Act gives states a year to weigh permits and determine how projects would impact their water, but some feel states have used the process to block major projects. “I welcome this announcement and hope EPA’s new guidance will reduce abuse of the Clean Water Act to block infrastructure needed to provide reliable and affordable energy,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said of the guidance in a press release. “EPA’s updated guidance will maintain vital protections for our water resources while promoting responsible development of our energy resources.”

Mess with a Texas pipeline now and you could end up a felon - Texas now has one of the harshest laws in the country to protect its oil and gas operations from protesters. Damaging a pipeline in the Lone Star State could get you a decade in prison and $10,000 in fines starting in September. Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act into law on Friday, further criminalizing protests of pipelines, oil tanks, and drilling sites. It makes knowingly damaging them a third-degree felony, on par with indecent exposure to a child. Trespassing with the “intent to damage” or “impairing or interrupting operations” will be punishable with up to two years in prison. Texas is the latest state to pass legislation that criminalizes civil disobedience since protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline caught national attention in 2016. Seven other states — Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota, Louisiana, Tennessee, Iowa and Indiana — have adopted similar laws in recent years. They all share a striking resemblance to model legislation proposed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative think tank that receives funding from oil and gas corporations. Similar bills are pending in some states such as Ohio and Idaho. One recently failed in Illinois. In a statement, Jennifer Falcon, a campaign manager for the Society of Native Nations, said the Texas law “is a fear tactic to dissuade environmental justice movements like Standing Rock from challenging the continued use of fossil fuels.”“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,” she said. When the bill was first introduced in the House in March, penalties for protesting included a second-degree felony with a jail term of up to 20 years. But when the bill reached the Senate, an amendment filed by State Senator Juan Hinojosa downgraded the penalties for interfering with pipeline operations from a third-degree felony to a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison. Lawmakers from both chambers then met in conference to reconcile the differences and landed on a version that was harsher than the one passed in the Senate.

 Permian Oil Output Set to Keep Growing - The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has forecasted that Permian oil production will hit 4.226 million barrels per day (MMbpd) next month in its latest drilling productivity report. This marks the first time the EIA has projected oil output in the region to surpass the 4.2MMbpd mark in a drilling productivity report. Permian oil production in June was forecasted to come in at 4.171MMbpd in the EIA’s latest report. Back in May, the EIA anticipated that Permian oil output would be 4.173MMbpd in June. The EIA’s monthly drilling productivity report focuses on the Anadarko, Appalachia, Bakken, Eagle Ford, Haynesville, Niobrara and Permian regions. According to the EIA’s latest report, the Permian is set to see the largest oil output increase from June to July. Permian oil production has more than quadrupled in the last decade, according to EIA data, which indicates that oil output from the region stood at less than 1MMbpd in 2010. According to the EIA, the organization’s drilling productivity report uses recent data on the total number of drilling rigs in operation, along with estimates of drilling productivity and estimated changes in production from existing oil and natural gas wells, to provide estimated changes in oil and natural gas production. The EIA is the statistical and analytical agency within the U.S. Department of Energy. It collects, analyzes, and disseminates independent and impartial energy information to promote sound policymaking, efficient markets and public understanding of energy and its interaction with the economy and the environment, according to the EIA’s website.

US oil, gas rig count drops 13 to 1040 on week: S&P Global Platts Analytics - The US oil and gas rig count dropped 13 to 1,040 week on week, S&P Global Platts Analytics said Thursday, continuing a seesaw behavior that has characterized domestic unconventional activity since oil prices plummeted late last year. Oil-directed activity was the was the hardest hit, down 10 rigs to 832, while gas rigs slid by two to 204. Also, a one-rig decline was seen for rigs not classified as oil or gas, Platts Analytics data showed.In the US' largest plays, the Permian Basin of West Texas/New Mexico posted the week's biggest loss -- down 14 rigs to 434. All other basins either remained steady or were up or down a rig or two each versus last week.  "The rig count continues to grind lower as the horizontal rig count is back to March 2018 levels," investment bank Evercore ISI said in its annual Mid-Year Spending Outlook last week. "While the declines are shallower than earlier in the year, we are already in June and the rig count has not been able to find a bottom yet." Click here for full-size graphic  "In general, it has been a challenging year for North America, which we best characterize as grinding along," the bank said.  The rig count hit a recent peak in mid-November of 1,233, according to Platts Analytics data, but has since slid. Since February has stayed below 1,100. In recent weeks it has swung between modest gains and losses each week, generally trending south. This month the rig count has reversed course every week, falling 12 the first week, up four the next week, and now down 13. "We're forecasting the rig count to increase in the Permian, but the remainder of the top oil plays are set to remain flat to declining the rest of the year," Platts Analytics analyst Taylor Cavey said. In other named basins, rig counts in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas, Haynesville Shale in East Texas/Northwest Louisiana, the Wet Marcellus largely in Pennsylvania, and Utica Shale mostly in Ohio stayed the same this week versus last week.  Rigs in the Eagle Ford totaled 85; in the Haynesville, 58; in the Wet Marcellus, 22; and in the Utica, 19. In addition, the Williston Basin in North Dakota/Montana rose two rigs to 62, while the Denver-Julesburg basin in Colorado and SCOOP-STACK play in Oklahoma each rose one rig to total 32 and 81, respectively.  But the Dry Marcellus, also largely in Pennsylvania, fell by one rig, leaving 29. And the "Other Basins" category, containing rigs outside the other eight named areas, fell by two rigs to 218.

  Why The Oklahoma Shale Boom Isn’t Taking Off - Just three years ago it was the new hot spot in U.S. shale, the “Permian Jr.”, and the place where many pinned their hopes for the next oil boom. Now, oil and gas companies are curbing their operations in the STACK/SCOOP plays in Oklahoma, some are selling, and there is little evidence of the enthusiasm from three years ago.The low cost of production and high yields were among the factors that drove the rush to the STACK (Sooner Trend, Anadarko, Canadian, and Kingfisher) and SCOOP (South Central Oklahoma Oil Province) plays. Devon, Continental, and Marathon Oil were among the biggest players present there with the most ambitious plans. Now, Devon has cut its capex for the STACK/SCOOP area, and Continental and Marathon Oil have limited their operations to producing wells only with no exploration in their immediate plans, Reuters’ David French writes.   The rock formations have turned out to be a lot more complex than those in the Permian, making productive drilling a lot more challenging in some parts of the STACK/SCOOP.. “As it’s so complex, the hydrocarbon mix changes across the play, and the oil window is limited.”It seems there is a lot more gas than some oil drillers expected in the STACK/SCOOP and times are not too good for investing more in gas: the U.S. market is pretty well supplied and prices are low as the LNG boom has not yet taken off in full, providing an outlet for all the gas produced.  Another problem, Reuters’ French notes is the so-called “parent/child” well problem: when secondary wells produce less oil and gas than the primary ones. In light of this problem, it’s no wonder production prices are higher: the average breakeven in the STACK and the SCOOP formations since the start of 2018 has been US$53.15 for the STACK and US$54.53 for the SCOOP. To compare, last year, breakeven prices for horizontal wells of between 4,500 and 10,500 ft in the Permian ranged between US$48 and as little as US$21 per barrel, according toGlobalData.

Is Bakken Oil Production Set For An Unexpected Drop?   - North Dakota set an oil production record in January this year, and crude output in the state home to the Bakken shale play held close to that record level in the three months that followed. But is this sustainable in the current oil price environment?  The recent oil price slide in May and June is clouding the outlook for oil drillers in North Dakota, who are additionally challenged by diminishing available pipeline takeaway capacity to ship their oil and natural gas to markets.  North Dakota’s crude currently trades at around US$40 a barrel, dangerously close to the breakeven price for new wells, according to Lynn Helms, Director at North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources. North Dakota’s Bakken play is expected to keep robust output and stable rig count going forward, but production would depend on the price of oil, infrastructure constraints, and workforce availability, Helms said in a press release last week, discussing the April production and future prospects. North Dakota’s oil production in April was 1.3911million bpd, essentially flat on the March output of 1.3917 million bpd, and slightly off the all-time high production of 1.4038 million bpd reached in January this year, data from the Department of Mineral Resources showed. A total of 96 percent of North Dakota’s crude oil production for April came from the Bakken and Three Forks formations, while just 4 percent came from legacy conventional pools.  The Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicted in its latest Drilling Productivity Report that Bakken oil production will rise by 11,000 bpd in July from an expected production of 1.428 million bpd in June. In recent months, North Dakota’s rig count has become very stable in the mid-60s, the Department of Mineral Resources’ Helms says, noting that “Operators have shifted from running the minimum number of rigs to incremental increases and decreases based on gas capture, completion crew availability, and oil price. Current operator plans are to hold the rig count steady or perhaps 2-5 fewer rigs second half of 2019 depending on oil price, workforce, and infrastructure constraints.” The drilling rig count continues to be limited by the price of oil, gas capture, workforce, and competition for capital from the Permian and Anadarko basins, according to Helms. Yet, operators continue to keep a drilling permit inventory that will accommodate varying oil prices for the next twelve months, he said. Infrastructure constraints, however, could limit the drilling activity in North Dakota going forward. The pipeline shortage in the Bakken weighs particularly heavily on natural gas.

Dakota Access Pipeline operator plans large capacity expansion - The operator of the Dakota Access Pipeline is planning to nearly double its capacity, to a point where it could transport nearly all of the daily oil production of the nation’s No. 2 producer. The plans include new pumping stations in three states. Energy Transfer Partners informed North Dakota regulators that it plans to expand the pipeline capacity from more than 500,000 barrels per day to as much as 1.1 million barrels. An increase “will allow Dakota Access to meet the growing demand from shippers by optimizing and fully utilizing the existing pipeline infrastructure, without the need to install new pipelines, and without the need for shippers to use less safe and efficient means of transportation, such as rail," Energy Transfer attorney Lawrence Bender said in a letter to the Public Service Commission dated Wednesday.North Dakota produced 1.39 million barrels of oil per day in April. The record was 1.4 million barrels per day in January. The $3.8 billion pipeline takes oil from the Bakken through South Dakota and Iowa to a connection with the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Pipeline, which transports oil from Illinois to Nederland, Texas. It began operating in June 2017 after years of construction marred by large-scale and prolonged protests in North Dakota by opponents. Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren said last August in Bismarck that the company was working to expand the pipeline’s capacity. At the time, it was carrying about 500,000 barrels per day. It's now carrying 570,000 barrels daily, according to Energy Transfer spokeswoman Lisa Dillinger. Conditions of the permit through the North Dakota Public Service Commission allow Dakota Access to ship up to 600,000 barrels per day in North Dakota. Companies can expand the capacity of a pipeline by adding additional pumping horsepower or using drag-reducing agents that allow more oil to flow. Energy Transfer plans to use additional horsepower. . 

More than 8,400 gallons of oil and gas by-product spilled in Stark County - A pipeline in Stark County, operated by Scout Energy Management, LLC., suffered a leak on Monday, June 17, resulting in more than 8,400 gallons of oil and gas by-product being spilled near the Interstate 94 on-ramp at mile marker 57 near Dickinson. The North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality was notified of the spill and have been on site to monitor the investigation since receiving the report. "In that volume it's always a little bit of a concern, but due to its location and incident type we wouldn't say this event is at the top of the list," Brian O'Gorman, spill investigation program member with the NDDEQ, said about the significance of the incident. "It's something that is manageable and they should be able to handle the cleanup pretty easily." According to O'Gorman, initial estimates by the NDDEQ indicate that the produced water impacted a small drainageway on private property and that Scout Energy Management has contained the spill in the drainageway and have recovered approximately 200 barrels of produced water. "The information that I have is that they put up diking in the drainageway and even if it rains that diking should be able to hold it there," O'Gorman said. "They're bringing in vac-trucks and are vacuuming that out and disposing of that water. They dug holes so they could get the vac-truck hoses in there and basically remove any water that's coming into that area." O'Gorman was unable to provide a status of the cleanup, but did say that Scout Energy is assessing it and will determine what they will do with the produced water.Speaking to the public health concern, O'Gorman said that the threat was minimal. "Until we get the full assessment of what all occurred, it's really hard to tell if there is any danger to the public on that part of it," he said. "Unless the public venture onto the private property and roll around in it, and I'm not trying to be funny, there's probably not going to be any health concerns associated with this spill."

North Dakota: Feds should stop Washington state’s rail rules (AP) — North Dakota plans to ask the Trump administration to intervene in a dispute over Washington state’s new safety restrictions on oil shipped by rail. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem told The Bismarck Tribune he plans to petition the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to tell Washington state that it doesn’t have the authority to require crude shipped by rail through Washington to have more of its volatile gases removed than North Dakota requires. Washington passed the requirement to reduce the chances of massive explosions during derailments. North Dakota officials say the Washington state requirement essentially bans crude-by-rail traffic to refineries throughout the Pacific Northwest and is a potential blow to North Dakota’s energy industry. Stenehjem’s office is also working on a federal lawsuit against Washington alleging that the requirement violates interstate commerce law. Tara Lee, a spokeswoman for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, says the issue should be settled in court, “not via press release.”

US gasoline demand reaches record high: EIA - US gasoline demand reached a record high last week, US Energy Information Administration data showed Wednesday. In the week ended June 14, implied US gasoline demand -- which the EIA measures as product supplied -- reached 9.928 million b/d, the highest that figure has ever been in data going as far back as February 1991. The prior record was set in the week ended August 24, 2018, when product supplied reached 9.899 million b/d. US gasoline demand has found support from weaker retail pump prices in June, which have helped encourage drivers to spend more time in their cars and trucks. The EIA says that the average US gasoline pump price fell 6.2 cents/gal from June 10 to June 17. With the national average price now at $2.67/gal, the EIA says pump prices are now 20.9 cents/gal below their levels from one year ago. Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates, said weaker prices for crude oil and gasoline are important for explaining stronger US demand and added that the expanding US economy is another key factor. "Economic growth is steady and US unemployment is very low," he said. Lipow also said it is important to take the weekly EIA implied demand data with a grain of salt. "I have seen the weekly demand statistic fluctuate 10% or more from week to week," he said. "So I am waiting to see this elevated demand continue in the data for the coming weeks before drawing any conclusions." After the release of Wednesday's EIA data, the USGC gasoline cash market rallied higher.

U.S. shale oil output to rise to record 8.52 million barrels per day in July: EIA – The largest change is forecast in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico, where output is expected to climb by 55,000 bpd to a fresh peak at 4.23 million bpd in July. Production in North Dakota and Montana’s Bakken shale basin is also expected to climb by 11,000 bpd to a record 1.44 million bpd, the data showed. Output from the nearby Niobrara basin is expected to rise by 10,000 bpd to a record high of nearly 730,000 bpd. A shale revolution and production increases particularly from the Permian basin and the Bakken have helped make the United States the biggest crude oil producer in the world, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia. However, the EIA has revised lower its total U.S. crude oil production growth forecast. It said last week in a monthly report that output will rise 1.36 million bpd to 12.32 million bpd in 2019, 140,000 bpd less than previously forecast. That will top the current all-time high of 10.96 million bpd set in 2018. The rig count, an early indicator of future output, has declined over the past six months as independent exploration and production companies cut spending on new drilling as they focus more on earnings growth instead of increased output. More than half the total U.S. oil rigs are in the Permian basin, the biggest U.S. shale oil play, where active units decreased by five last week to 441, the lowest since March 2018, according to data from General Electric Co’s Baker Hughes energy services firm. The EIA said in Monday’s report that producers drilled 1,318 oil and gas wells, the least since April 2018, and completed 1,395 in the biggest shale basins in May, leaving total drilled but uncompleted wells down 77 at 8,283, according to data going back to December 2013. That was the biggest decline in drilled but uncompleted wells since March 2018 when they fell by 107. Separately, U.S. natural gas output was projected to increase to a record 81.4 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) in July, the EIA said.

US oil imports from OPEC plunge to 30-year lows. China's are surging – CNN - America's long-addiction to oil from OPEC is fading -- even as China's own reliance on the cartel's crude has soared. US oil imports from OPEC plunged to a 30-year low in March, according to a report published on Thursday by the US Energy Information Administration. The imports, totaling 1.5 million barrels per day, have tumbled by about 75% over the past decade.The declines have been driven by three major factors:blockbuster American oil production, tough US sanctions on Venezuela and Saudi Arabia's sharp supply cuts."The broader trend reflects the US shale revolution and Arabian Gulf producers' desire to shift sales to fast-growing Asian markets," Bob McNally, president of consulting firm Rapidan Energy Group, said in an email.The United States has long sought to reduce its dependency on foreign oil. Many Americans still recall the long lines at gas stations and skyrocketing prices caused by the OPEC oil embargo in the early 1970s.The news comes as the world's attention has refocused on the Strait of Hormuz, the critical chokepoint carrying oil produced by Gulf nations to the rest of the world. A pair of tankers were attacked on Thursday near the Strait of Hormuz, briefly sending oil prices rallying. "We've reduced our dependency, but we haven't completely eliminated it," said Ryan Fitzmaurice, energy strategist at Rabobank. On the other hand, China's exposure to OPEC has never been higher. The world's No. 2 economy has imported a record amount of oil from OPEC, according to S&P Global Platts. The cartel has been happy to shift sales to China and other fast-growing Asian economies. China's oil demand jumped by 3% in 2018, doubling the world's increase, according to an OPEC report released on Thursday. And it's expected to rise nearly as much this year, despite the trade tensions and increased usage of electric vehicles.

Energy minister says 'responsible' fracking will help transition to green economy - New Brunswick's minister of energy and resource development suggested the government's passing of regulatory changes that would allow a partial lifting of the moratorium on fracking is a "responsible" path toward facilitating a transition to a greener economy.Mike Holland said the decision is not irresponsible "if it's going to be done in a way that gets us to where we need to go and it's part of an overall plan that is solid toward to the reduction of overall emissions."The Higgs government quietly passed regulatory changes in May to allow shale gas development to resume in the Sussex area. Holland said the government is putting steps in place to responsibly lift the moratorium in the area.

Canada set to approve hotly-debated pipeline expansion, Trudeau unlikely to benefit (Reuters) - Canada looks set to approve a hotly-debated plan to expand an oil pipeline this week, people familiar with the process told Reuters, but the move is unlikely to help Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rebuild flagging support ahead of an October election. The Liberal government last year took the unprecedented step of buying the Trans Mountain pipeline from Kinder Morgan Canada for C$4.5 billion ($3.4 billion) to ensure the expansion went ahead to help solve crude transportation bottlenecks. If completed, the expansion would nearly triple capacity on the pipeline that runs from the western crude-rich province of Alberta to British Columbia’s Pacific coast. But it has faced increasing protests from environmental activists and aboriginal groups. Trudeau - who came to power promising to improve Canada’s environmental record - faces a difficult decision. If he approves it, he could anger environmentalists and local residents who fear the impact of the project. If he rejects it, he risks further alienating an energy lobby that has accused him of wanting to wreck their industry as he has pressed ahead with plans to strengthen the environmental assessments of major new energy projects at a time of low prices. Two federal government insiders with knowledge of the situation said there was little doubt Ottawa would give the green light.

Canada approves contentious oil pipeline expansion, expects legal challenges - (Reuters) - Canada on Tuesday approved as expected a hotly contested proposal to expand the western Canadian crude oil pipeline it bought last year, providing hope for a depressed energy industry but angering environmental groups. Construction on the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline is scheduled to resume this year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a news conference. A senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said earlier that Ottawa expected legal challenges to the approval. The project would triple Trans Mountain’s capacity to carry 890,000 barrels per day from Alberta’s oil sands to British Columbia’s Pacific coast, alleviate congestion on existing pipelines and diversify exports away from the United States. Trudeau, who faces a tough fight in a national election scheduled for October, has been under pressure both from western Canadian politicians who accuse him of doing too little for the oil industry, and from environmental groups, which see the oil sands as a highly polluting source of crude production. “This isn’t an either/or proposition. It is in Canada’s national interest to protect our environment and invest in tomorrow, while making sure people can feed their families today,” he said, adding he knew some people would be disappointed. The Liberal government previously approved the expansion in 2016 but that decision was overturned last year after a court ruled the government had not adequately consulted indigenous groups.

Canada Approves Job Creating TMX Project - The Government of Canada has approved the Trans Mountain Expansion project. The Government of Canada has approved the Trans Mountain Expansion (TMX) project, which will twin the existing Trans Mountain oil pipeline and expand the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, British Columbia. The project will create thousands of jobs, enable increased production from western producers and generate approximately $12 billion in additional crude oil sales each year, according to the Canadian government. The TMX project will also benefit indigenous communities and groups and the clean economy, the government notes. “We have a responsibility to ensure that the decisions we make today move us toward a cleaner, sustainable economy,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a government statement. “Major resource projects can move forward, but only if we do so in a way that protects the environment and respects indigenous rights,” he added. “The TMX project is a significant investment in Canadians and in Canada’s future that will create thousands of good, middle class jobs, maintain the highest environmental standards and fund the clean energy solutions that Canada needs to stay competitive on the global stage,” Trudeau continued. In August 2018, a decision by the Federal Court of Appeal quashed the government’s original approval of the project and provided it with guidance on how it could move forward with the development. This included reconsidering project-related environmental effects and engaging in new consultations with indigenous groups.

On Monday, Canada declared a 'climate emergency.' On Tuesday, it approved a pipeline expansion. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is an icon of progressive politics who has promised to “put a price on pollution.” Last week, to much applause, he proposed a ban on single-use plastics. On Monday night, his government declared a national “climate emergency.” He is also now the public face of a Canadian plan to expand a pipeline that would triple the amount of crude oil that moves from the Alberta tar sands to the Pacific Coast for shipment around the world. Such is his dilemma — and Canada’s. Trudeau’s Liberal government announced Tuesday it will push ahead with the stalled Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion, $5.5 billion project that has long pitted the country’s energy sector against the concerns of environmental and some indigenous groups. Trudeau, announcing the decision at a news conference in Ottawa, pledged that every dollar earned from the pipeline will be used to fund projects to power Canada’s transition to clean energy.“We need to create wealth today so we can invest in the future,” he said. “We need resources to invest in Canadians so they can take advantage of the opportunities generated by a rapidly changing economy, here at home and around the world.” The move will be welcomed by the country’s struggling oil sector and the many Canadians whose fortunes are tied to it. Landlocked Alberta produces four-fifths of Canadian crude but struggles to get it abroad, and so must settle for selling at steep discounts against global benchmarks — hitting the province hard. But many Canadians have protested the expansion proposal out of concern for oil spills and the continuing promotion of climate-changing fossil fuels. They question whether this is the moment to increase Canadian shipments of oil.

Greenpeace ends North Sea rig protest after 12 days - Greenpeace has ended a 12-day protest involving a drilling rig. Campaigners boarded the Transocean rig in the Cromarty Firth on 9 June, which had been bound for the Vorlich oil field east of Aberdeen. BP, which contracted the rig, had described the actions of the climate change campaigners as "reckless". However, Greenpeace said the protest showed what people could achieve, and called on the oil giant to end drilling for new wells. The Transocean rig has been heading for BP's Vorlich field, 150 miles (241km) east of Aberdeen, after protesters occupied it, delaying its departure from the Cromarty Firth for five days. The Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise then shadowed the rig into the North Sea, and the group said the rig was forced to turn back towards land. 'Dedicated activists' A swimmer with a banner also entered the water as part of attempts to block the rig's path. The 12-day protest resulted in numerous arrests. John Sauven, executive director at Greenpeace UK, said: "For the past 12 days we've seen what one Greenpeace ship and a handful of dedicated activists can achieve.

Anti-fracking protester claimed disability payments - BBC News - A woman who chained herself to equipment during anti-fracking protests while claiming disability payments has been given a suspended sentence. Catherine Jackson, 51, pleaded guilty at Blackpool Magistrates Court to dishonestly claiming £5,392 of personal independence payments (PIP). The court she took part in "strenuous demonstrations" in Lancashire after saying she was in constant pain. She was sentenced to 23 weeks in jail, suspended for two years. In her claim for PIP, she had said she could "barely stand up" and slept most of the day because of extreme pain in her shoulder from arthritis, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said in a statement. She also said she suffered from anxiety and depression and could not leave the house. She was photographed at the fracking site in Little Plumpton shackled to equipment and was only released when police used angle grinders to break through the chains, the CPS said. Part of her defence was that the activity had helped her mental health condition, but the CPS said that was "unconvincing".

North Sea Decommissioning Costs on the Rise - The discovery and production of 44 billion barrels of oil and gas in the UK’s North Sea since the 1960s has left the industry with the need to decommission 320 fixed installations, 3,000 pipelines and 5,000 wells at a cost, estimated by the UK’s Oil and Gas Authority, of between £ 45 and £77 billion. Taking the mid-way estimate of £ 58.3 billion, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report, March 2019 accepts HMRC’s calculation that £ 24 billion (USD 30.1 billion) would fall to the tax payer through tax reliefs. There remains significant uncertainty as to the potential cost to taxpayers, since new fields are still being commissioned and there is a higher degree of financial risk from default, because the majority of “late-life” and “new-entrant” operators will be smaller enterprises, likely unable to support the scale of liabilities carried by the majors. In such cases the tax payer will pay the full cost. Another consideration to be taken into account is the method of decommissioning. Full decommissioning, with plugging and abandoning wells and removing platforms to return the sea-bed to its natural state is the most expensive and environmentally challenging. Leaving the legs or partial decommissioning is less costly and leaving things in place and making installations safe is the cheapest. A case in point is the dismantling of Shell’s giant Brent Delta 3 storey rig platform, weighing 24,500 tons, in a single-lift operation using the heavy lift catamaran Pioneering Spirit. The operation left behind the three supporting 170 metre concrete legs in place in April 2017. In May 2017 The Daily Mail newspaper reported that the decommissioning of Brent Spar cost an estimated £500 million (USD 628 million). Whereas, the removal of 13,000 tons of steel from MCP-01, a concrete-based platform in the North Sea and its transport to Lerwick in Shetland and Stord in Norway for dismantling and recycling cost £250 million (USD 314 million), reports Lerwick Harbour Today in May 2019. It would have cost just £11.7 million to make safe and leave in place according to Jonathan Hughes, CEO of the Scottish Wildlife Trust. Such costs, allied to the environmental benefits, support the recent trend towards turning rigs into permanent artificial reefs for the benefit of marine life.

Ireland To Ban New Petrol, Diesel Vehicles By 2030 The Irish government plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030, as part of a major strategy to protect the environment. The aim is to ensure that all new cars and vans on Irish roads in 11 years' time are electric vehicles. The proposed legislation was among 180 measures in the government's Climate Action Plan, published on Monday. The document also includes a target to implement an EU-wide ban on non-recyclable plastic by 2030. The Climate Action Plan states that the Republic of Ireland is "way off course" in its attempts to achieve its emissions targets. Unveiling the plan on Monday, the Environment Minister ​Richard Bruton said Ireland was "currently 85% dependent on fossil fuels". He said that at a time when the state's carbon footprint should be reducing, Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions "have been rising rapidly" and that trend had to be reversed. He arrived at the launch in Grangegorman, north Dublin, on a hybrid electric bus, accompanied by Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar and several other members of the cabinet. Mr Bruton said the plan was a roadmap to achieving existing 2030 emissions targets and would put Ireland "on a trajectory to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050". The hope is that by the time the petrol and diesel vehicle ban is introduced in 2030 there will be 950,000 electric vehicles on Irish roads. The government is set to invest in a "nationwide" charging network to power the new vehicles. By 2025, at least one recharging point will be required at new non-residential buildings with more than 10 parking spaces.

EU May Crack Down on Turkey for Drilling in Mediterranean -- The European Union will examine retaliatory measures against Turkey over its drilling activities in the southeastern Mediterranean, in a move that risks pushing relations between Ankara and Brussels to a new low. At a meeting in Luxembourg on Tuesday, EU ministers invited the bloc’s executive and foreign policy arms “to submit options for appropriate measures without delay,” according to a joint communique by the bloc’s 28 governments. The move could pave the way for targeted sanctions against companies and individuals involved in the drilling activities. Governments also reiterated that talks on upgrading an EU-Turkey customs deal and on the Turkish accession to the bloc are frozen, according to the decision. Drilling off the coast of Cyprus will have “serious immediate negative impact that such illegal actions have across the range of EU-Turkey relations,” the ministers said. Turkey and Cyprus are at loggerheads over offshore gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean, as Ankara disputes Nicosia’s claims that the area is its exclusive economic zone. Turkey has sent exploration vessels into the area, with Cyprus protesting the move as a violation of its sovereignty and threatening to issue arrest warrants against those involved. The dispute adds to a series of disagreements between Western governments and Turkey in areas ranging from democratic standards to Ankara’s decision to purchase Russian defense missiles, which could allegedly compromise NATO systems. In Tuesday’s decision, EU governments said that “Turkey continues to move further away from the European Union.” Cypriot foreign minister Nicos Christodoulides said he expects the communique to be translated into economic and diplomatic sanction proposals. “We are now waiting verbal solidarity to turn into concrete decisions,” Christodoulides told Bloomberg.

Reuters is now a unit of us info-war command, reporters and investors revolt  Stephen Adler (lead image), the American chief executive of Reuters news agency, has ordered into publication three US Government-directed stories targeting the Russian oil company Rosneft —  the first in mid-April, and two published over the past week. Adler’s operations  support US coup plans in Venezuela and US sanctions against Rosneft and its chief executive, Igor Sechin.The three publications — the first already corrected by the news agency; the second commissioned from a writer outside the company; the latest missing its byline or author’s name — have triggered dismay among Reuters’ reporters worldwide. A New York source claims Adler’s promotion of US Government-sourced propaganda violates the Reuters Trust Principles  which have regulated the international news agency since 1941.The first two Reuters principles Adler is accused of breaking are that “Reuters shall at no time pass into the hands of any one interest, group, or faction; [and] that the integrity, independence, and freedom from bias of Thomson Reuters shall at all times be fully preserved.”Bloomberg sources, commenting privately, say they are delighted at the damage to their rival’s  reputation. A Bloomberg reporter, briefed by the same sources as Adler’s,repeated one of the Reuters stories against Rosneft last week.  On June 14 Reuters published a lengthy report on the use of Rosneft corporate jets to fly Chief Executive Sechin to seaside holiday locations over the past four years. “Using publicly available data, Reuters tracked 290 Rosneft flights between January, 2015 and May, 2019. Of those round trips, 96 took place during Russian public holidays or between Friday lunchtime in Moscow and Monday morning. Since the start of 2015, Rosneft corporate jets traveled eight times to Sardinia’s Olbia airport, 15 times to the Maldives and seven times to Spain’s Palma de Mallorca, according to the flight tracking data from,, and” Reuters headlined the report “exclusive”. No reporter’s name was identified.

Large oil spill found near Finnish shore in Baltic Sea - A large oil spill has been discovered Thursday southwest of the Finnish island of Uto in the Baltic Sea, the Finnish Coast Guard said in a statement. "A considerable oil spillage was found in the Finnish territorial waters 40 kilometers [25 miles] southwest from Uto," the statement read.The spill stretches for 9 miles and is 1,640 feet wide. The oil film is 0.4 inches thick in some places. Coast Guard ships have been sent to the area to investigate the incident. They took oil samples and will check fuel of vessels that have recently passed through the area for matches.

Coast guard fights oil spill in Turku archipelago --The coast guard detected the spill on Thursday evening some 46 kilometres southwest of the island of Utö. The oil slick, which the coast guard said leaked from a passing vessel, spans over ten kilometres in length. Current estimates put the extent of the spill between 9 and 39 cubic metres. “During the night we managed to collect floating oil from the sea and cleanup efforts will continue on Friday,” said Mikko Hirvi, chief of operations at the West Finland Coast Guard.To combat further environmental damage, officials are using aerial oil spill surveillance to pinpoint smaller oil slicks as the spill breaks up.Investigators plan to analyse samples from the spill with those taken from fuel tanks of vessels travelling near the accident site.“We’ll compare spill samples with those taken from ships in the area to determine the source,” Hirvi explained. The coast guard said it seemed unlikely that any oil would reach the shoreline thanks to removal efforts.

The Polar Silk Road Could Be A Gamechanger For Natural Gas --It’s been well over a year since the then-United States Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis accused Russia and China of being “revisionist powers” each working its way toward making a power grab on the world stage and announced that the U.S. would be shifting its international relations focus away from fighting terrorism and instead prioritize what Mattis referred to as a "great power competition." Now, 17 months later, it looks like Mattis’ nightmares are coming true as Russia and China have increasingly worked together in defiance of the Trump administration in a kind of diplomatic ‘marriage of convenience’. Just this month, Chinese President Xi Jinping made his eighth official visit to Russia in a trip highly publicized in both Russian and Chinese media. “This year marks the 70th anniversary of our diplomatic ties and China’s ties with Russia are deepening at a time of profound change in the global geopolitical landscape,” remarked former Chinese ambassador to Britain Ma Zhengang, as quoted by the South China Morning Post. One of the most current examples of this newly strengthened relationship between Beijing and Moscow is a new joint venture between state-owned shipping corporations in Russia and China to create a “Polar Silk Road” in the Arctic Sea. a year ago, officials in Beijing announced that China would be pursuing investment across the Arctic Route to encourage commercial shipping through the northern passage as a part of the country’s Belt and Road Initiative. Belt and Road is a massive undertaking involving investments programs worth trillions of dollars, which will go toward connecting Asia and Europe by sea, rail, and road to promote more trade between the continents. This week, reporting by the Wall Street Journal this week tells us that “China is breaking into Arctic transport through a joint venture between the country’s biggest ocean carrier, Cosco Shipping Holdings Co., and its Russian counterpart PAO Sovcomflot to move natural gas from Siberia to Western and Asian markets.” Both China and Russia are members of the Arctic Council, which the Wall Street Journal describes as “an intergovernment forum [...] which considers development issues and sailing rights as the polar ice recedes” before going on to say that China, in particular, has “made investment [in Arctic shipping lanes] a priority to advance its energy and shipping interests”.

Indonesians seek $140 mln over Montara spill - Indonesian seaweed farmers were set to seek more than A$200 million ($137 million) from Thailand's PTT Exploration and Production in a trial starting on Monday, to cover damage they say they suffered after Australia's worst oil spill. The class action represents more than 15,000 seaweed farmers who claim to have lost their livelihoods in the years after oil gushed into the Timor Sea for more than 74 days following an explosion at the Montara oil rig in August 2009. "We are now 10 years on from this environmental disaster and the oil company responsible and its wealthy Thai parent continue to deny the devastating impact their oil spewing out uncontrollably for months on end had on Indonesian seaweed farmers," Ben Slade, a lawyer at Maurice Blackburn, which is running the case, said in a statement. The lead plaintiff in the case is Daniel Sanda, who claims that the seaweed industry in Rote Ndao and Kupang, more than 200 km (124 miles) away from the Montara rig were destroyed by PTTEP's failure to safely operate it. More than 30 witnesses from Indonesia, including seaweed farmers and oil spill, chemistry and environmental experts will give evidence at the 10-week trial in Sydney, Maurice Blackburn said. PTTEP Australia declined to comment on the case as it is currently before the Australian courts.

Decaying oil tanker off Yemen coast threatens massive oil spill, says UN - The United Nations has warned that a "decaying" oil tanker moored 60 km north of Yemen's port city of Hodeidah threatens to spill more than one million barrels of oil into the Red Sea. UN aid chief Mark Lowcock told the UN Security Council on Monday that he was working with the Houthi rebel forces to access the deteriorating tanker and take steps to avert a crisis that could be worse than the Exxon Valdez oil spill of the late 1980s. "If the tanker ruptures or explodes, we could see the coastline polluted all along the Red Sea," Lowcock, the under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said. "Depending on the time of year and water currents, the spill could reach from Bab el Mandeb to the Suez Canal, and potentially as far as the Strait of Hormuz," he added. The oil tanker, named Safer, was constructed in 1976 and has been moored off Yemen's coastline near Hodeidah since 1988, acting as a floating storage and offloading (FSO) terminal to receive Yemeni export crude and load it onto vessels. Safer has not been in use since the Houthis took control of Hodeidah in 2015, but it is estimated to hold 1.1 million barrels of oil. Because of its age, a lack of maintenance, and the breakdown of the crude inside, it has led to a growing risk of a chemical explosion. "I leave it to you to imagine the effect of such a disaster on the environment, shipping lanes and the global economy," Lowcock said. "If a major spill occurs, the world will surely demand answers from anyone who could have prevented the catastrophe but chose not to." Lowcock did not provide a timeframe on when a leak or explosion may happen, but experts said the risk of such a disaster increases as flammable gases build up. In April, the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank, said the Safer had effectively become a "massive bomb" thanks to the flammable gas that was building up inside and could be ignited at any moment by a spark or stray bullet.

Russia's Budget Can Work With $40 Oil - Representing 11 percent of global supply, Russia produces 11.3 million b/d of oil. In a coordinated effort with OPEC and others to increase prices, Russia has promised to keep 230,000 b/d of its output (as compared to October levels) off the market. The deal that started on January 1 has worked: up over 40 percent, crude prices are having their best quarter ever, even though Russia’s March production was only 190,000 b/d below October’s amount. With 8-9 million b/d leftover after meeting domestic demand, Russia sits with Saudi Arabia as the leading exporter. And the surplus will remain strong since Russia is rather rare in having a declining population. More diversified, Russia’s budget can work with oil priced as low as $40 per barrel, compared to at least $75 for Saudi Arabia. Oil and gas account for 40 percent of Russia’s budget. Oil as a Strategic ResourceOil is the world’s most important source of energy, at nearly 35 percent of global supply. Oil currently has no significant substitute whatsoever. Annual global demand has therefore continued to rise by an average of 1.3 million b/d. Russia therefore realizes that oil will remain a vital strategic asset for decades to come, which is why it has strongly sought to control the pipelines in the energy-rich former Soviet republics and other surrounding areas. President Vladimir Putin is KGB-hardened, and his 1997 PhD dissertation was over 200 pages on how to exploit Russia's vast natural resources for political gain. Moscow deploys a global grand strategy to leverage its national oil champions to partner with key rogue suppliers, such as joint ventures with Iran and Venezuela, while also seeking to supply China, India, Turkey, and the other developing countries with huge incremental demand.

Global economic slowdown hits oil consumption- Kemp (Reuters) - Global oil consumption rose last year at the slowest rate since 2014, as higher prices and broad deceleration in manufacturing activity and freight movements took their toll on fuel use and petrochemicals. Consumption is likely to rise even more slowly in 2019, given the further weakening of most manufacturing and freight indicators since the start of the year. World consumption increased by just 1.44 million barrels per day (1.46%) in 2018, according to the latest edition of the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, published on June 11. Consumption growth slowed from 1.67 million bpd (1.72%) in 2017, 1.69 million bpd (1.78%) in 2016, and 1.85 million bpd (1.99%) in 2015 ( If the global economy experiences a mid-cycle slowdown this year similar to those in 2014/15 or 2011/12, consumption growth could decelerate to as little as 1.0 or 1.2% in 2019. Given current consumption of almost exactly 100 million barrels per day, that would imply an increase of just 1.0 to 1.2 million bpd in 2019. A full-blown global recession would obviously reduce growth even further, potentially well below 1.0 million bpd, and leave the market severely oversupplied. For the moment, all three major statistical agencies predict growth of around 1.2 million bpd in 2019, implying a mid-cycle slowdown but no recession. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) puts consumption growth at 1.22 million bpd, the International Energy Agency at 1.20 million and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries at 1.14 million. But such sluggish growth in consumption poses a problem for OPEC because U.S. shale producers will capture all the increase in oil use this year, just as they did in 2018 and 2017. 

 COLUMN-OPEC's market share is in long-term decline- Kemp - (Reuters) - The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries' share of the global oil market is progressively eroding as it attempts to keep prices artificially high by restricting its own production. OPEC's share of global production fell to just 41.5% last year, the lowest since 2003, according to figures contained in the latest edition of the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, published on June 11. OPEC's share will almost certainly shrink even further this year, to the lowest level since 2002, and before that the early 1990s, given the organisation's output cuts and U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela. The organisation's members progressively increased their market share between 2002 and 2008, but since then, their share has been on a downward trend, which shows no sign of reversing ( ). OPEC's combined production was up by just 2 million barrels per day (5%) in 2018 compared with 2008, while non-OPEC output climbed by 9.6 million bpd (29%) in the same period. Saudi Arabia, OPEC's de facto leader, increased production by 1.6 million bpd (15%), while Iraq boosted output by 2.2 million bpd (90%). Outside OPEC, however, Canada raised output by 2 million bpd (62%), and the United States boosted output by 8.5 million bpd (126%), mostly as a result of increased flows from onshore shale fields. Saudi Arabia's share of global output has remained stable since the 1990s, but many of the organisation's other members have seen their share erode as a result of war, sanctions, unrest and mismanagement.

Hedge funds sell more oil, but balance of risks is shifting - Kemp (Reuters) - Hedge fund managers sold yet more oil last week as a weaker outlook for the global economy and expectations of a hit to consumption more than offset concerns about sanctions on Iran and Venezuela and other production problems. Hedge funds and other money managers were net sellers of another 96 million barrels of petroleum-related futures and options contracts in the week to June 11, exchange and regulatory data shows. Fund managers have now sold 396 million barrels in the six most important petroleum contracts over the last seven weeks - substantially reversing net purchases of 609 million barrels in the 15 previous weeks. Portfolio managers last week sold Brent (12 million barrels), NYMEX and ICE West Texas Intermediate (52 million), U.S. gasoline (8 million), U.S. heating oil (6 million) and European gasoil (18 million). The heaviest selling was concentrated in WTI, reflecting concerns about local overproduction of crude in the United States, and middle distillates, reflecting concerns about a global slowdown hitting freight and manufacturing. Hedge funds now hold just three bullish long petroleum contracts for every bearish short one, down from a ratio of almost 9:1 on April 23 ( ). From a fundamental perspective, the market is still delicately poised between bearish risks arising from a global slowdown and bullish risks from supply interruptions in the Middle East and elsewhere. From a positioning perspective, however, the balance of risks had swung from strongly bearish at the end of April to neutral or even slightly bullish by the middle of June. The shift is most evident in middle distillates, where funds are now running the biggest net short position in U.S. heating oil for almost two years. Fund managers have rarely held such a large short position except during a recession or an extended global slowdown such as that of 2015/16. Similarly, hedge funds are now running one of the most bearish positions in NYMEX and ICE WTI since the end of the oil market slump in early 2016. If the global economy slows further in the second half of the year, as most traders expect, and seems the most likely outcome, it will validate these bearish positions as prices come under further pressure. But if the economy avoids recession and re-accelerates, which remains possible, the race to close short positions and re-establish new longs would produce a ferocious short squeeze.

Oil prices slip as economic worries outweigh tanker tensions - Oil prices slipped on Monday as signs of an economic slowdown amid international trade disputes began to outweigh supply fears stoked by attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week. Brent futures fell 42 cents, or 0.7%, to $61.59 a barrel, having gained 1.1% on Friday. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 52 cents, or 1%, at $51.99, having firmed by 0.4% in the previous session. “China’s industrial output growth (is) falling to the lowest level in 17 years amid trade tensions with the U.S. Today, oil markets will have to digest more demand concerns as India implemented retaliatory tariffs on a number of U.S. goods yesterday,” consultancy JBC Energy said in a note. Also sapping prices was the dim outlook for oil demand growth in 2019 projected by the International Energy Agency (IEA) on Friday, citing worsening prospects for global trade. Market expectations of a price rise had been shrinking consistently in the period leading up to the attacks. “Seven consecutive weeks of selling has now reduced the combined long in Brent and WTI crude oil by 41% to 421,000 lots, a near-four-month low,” said Saxo Bank commodity strategist Ole Hansen “This is before the tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman briefly boosted prices before being capped again by demand fears and another counter-seasonal rise in US crude oil stocks.” Though danger of an immediate confrontation over last week’s tanker attacks - which the United States blamed on Iran but Tehran denied - appeared to recede, tensions over the strategic route remain high. A fifth of the world’s oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday said that Washington does not want to go to war with Iran but will take every action necessary, including diplomacy, to guarantee safe navigation in the Middle East. Prices received no boost from comments by Saudi energy minister Khalid al-Falih on Monday reiterating that OPEC was moving was towards a consensus on extending a production cut agreement in a meeting he predicted would convene in the first week of July.

Oil prices fall 1% as economic worries outweigh tanker tensions (Reuters) - Oil prices fell more than 1% on Monday after more poor Chinese economic figures fanned fears of lower worldwide oil demand. Brent crude futures lost $1.07 to settle at $60.94 a barrel, a 1.73 percent loss. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell 58 cents to settle at $51.93 a barrel, a 1.10 percent loss. Prices have fallen around 20% since a 2019 high reached in April, in part due to concerns about the U.S.-China trade war and disappointing economic data. China's industrial output growth unexpectedly slowed to a more than 17-year low, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed on Friday. It grew 5.0% in May from a year earlier, missing analysts' expectations of 5.5% and well below April's 5.4%. U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping could meet at the G20 summit in Japan later this month. Trump has said he would meet with Xi at the summit, although China has not confirmed the meeting. "All the major reporting agencies are reporting that demand is going to be weaker," said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago. "That has played into the market malaise. Things we would normally rally off of, we’re not." Bank of America Merrill Lynch lowered its Brent price forecast to $63 per barrel from $68 a barrel for the second half of 2019 on faltering demand. Worries remained about increased tensions in the Middle East following last week's attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. The United States blamed the attacks on Iran but Tehran denied involvement. Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said on Monday that countries need to cooperate on keeping shipping lanes open for oil and other energy supplies to ensure stable supplies.

Oil traders have bigger worries than a new Hormuz tanker war - Platts Insight - Oil tankers ablaze in the Gulf of Oman and the US pointing the finger at Iran should be enough to send the price of the world’s most vital commodity skyrocketing.Instead, oil prices have barely budged. Traders are not buying into the theory that Tehran wants a war, but they are worried about demand.Dated Brent assessed by S&P Global Platts – the world’s most important oil benchmark – spiked by over 4% following the attacks on June 13 and traded briefly just above $62/b. On the face of it, this modest rise doesn’t reflect the risk to almost a fifth of the world’s oil shipped through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow 21-mile-wide channel separating Iran from the Arabian Peninsula.“I see the limited reaction in the crude oil market as an indication of traders saying ‘hang on a minute’,” said Ole Hansen, head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank. “If Iran did this it would be an open invitation to the US to step up its involvement and that should have sent the price much higher.”Supporting Hansen’s point, crude had futures tumbled earlier in the week, with Brent falling below $60/b for the first time since late January, after data showed a larger-than-expected increase in US crude oil inventories. The combination of rising stockpiles, tepid demand growth and fears of a slowing global economy has been enough to wipe $13 off the value of a barrel of Brent crude since May, despite the recent attacks on oil shipping and infrastructure in the Middle East. Last week’s attacks were described by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as “an unacceptable campaign of escalating tension by Iran”. The Islamic Republic has already been blamed for orchestrating clandestine attacks last month on tankers moored off the coast of Fujairah in the UAE. Tehran denies responsibility despite Iranian officials threatening to close down Hormuz, in response to US sanctions preventing the regime from exporting oil. “While many market participants see the recent security incidents as business as usual for the region, we see an abundance of escalation risks in large part because the US sanctions are subjecting Iran to almost unprecedented economic pain.” Instead of fretting about what could happen, traders have continued to focus their minds on the fundamentals of supply and demand. US crude inventories climbed 2.21 million barrels at the beginning of June to 485.47 million barrels. America’s stockpiles of crude – excluding its strategic reserves – have added almost 50 million barrels to their tanks since the end of the first quarter.

Oil prices fall as OPEC struggles to set date for meeting – Oil prices fell on Tuesday in Asia as OPEC and its allies struggled to set a date for a meeting to discuss output policy. US Crude Oil WTI Futures were down 0.2% to $51.87 by 12:13 AM ET (04:13 GMT). International Brent Oil Futures slipped 0.1% to $60.89. Concerns on reports that OPEC and its allies continued to struggle to set a date to discuss an extension to supply cuts were cited as headwind to prices today. Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih indicated at the weekend that the June 25 OPEC meeting and the June 26 conference of the cartel with its non-member allies called OPEC+ was more or less off because Russia wasn’t agreeable to those dates. Meanwhile, Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said he was willing to holds talks in July, according to a Reuters report. It was previously expected the meeting would be held in late June. Oil prices received a boost since last week amid attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Traders are also paying close attention to developments in Sino-U.S. trade talks. US President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping could meet at the G20 summit in Japan later this month to discuss trade-related issues. Trump has said he would meet Xi at the event, although China has not confirmed the meeting.

Oil prices hold steady amid Middle East tensions, weak economic data - Oil prices steadied on Tuesday, caught between rising tensions in the Middle East and signs that economic growth is being hit by trade tensions between the United States and China. Brent crude futures were up 4 cents at $60.98 a barrel by 0055 GMT. They fell 1.7% in the previous session on concerns about slowing global growth. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were 1 cent lower at $51.92. They dropped 1.1% on Monday. The New York Federal Reserve said on Monday its gauge of business growth in New York state posted a record fall this month to its weakest level in more than 2-1/2 years, suggesting an abrupt contraction in regional activity. U.S. business sentiment has sagged as tensions over trade have escalated between China and the United States and on signs of softness in the labor market. “The market is in a rut and desperately in need of some robust economic data to get it out of this funk,” said Stephen Innes, managing partner at Vanguard Markets in Bangkok. Oil prices have fallen around 20% since 2019 highs reached in April, in part due to concerns about the U.S.-China trade war and disappointing economic data. U.S. President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping could meet at the G20 summit in Japan later this month. Trump has said he would meet Xi at the summit, although China has not confirmed the meeting. Putting further pressure on oil, the U.S. energy department said on Monday that shale oil output is expected to reach a record in July. But tensions in the Middle East are likely to keep prices supported, analysts said.

OilPrice Intelligence Report: Are Oil Markets At A Turning Point? - Oil prices started down on Tuesday but jumped quickly on hopes of a U.S.-China trade deal. President Trump said that he will have an “extended meeting” with Xi Jingping next week in Japan on the sidelines of the G-20. The Dow Jones Industrial Average surged by more than 300 points on the news. Pompeo says U.S. doesn’t want war but keeps option on the table. “We don’t want war. We’ve done what we can to deter this,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday. While the U.S. says Iran was behind the tanker attacks, some experts say there isn’t enough evidence. Meanwhile, Iran said its uranium enrichment would breach the limits of the 2015 nuclear deal within 10 days if Europe did not help it circumvent U.S. sanctions. President Trump seemed to downplay the conflict, calling the tanker attacks “very minor,” indicating a disagreement within his administration.   Saudi Arabia is pushing for an extension of the OPEC+ production cuts and also plans on pressing participating countries to abide by their limits rather than overproducing, a Saudi oil adviser told the Wall Street Journal. That could take 300,000 to 400,000 bpd off of the market.. Oil production at Iraq’s massive West Qurna 1 field in the south has hit 465,000 bpd, up from 440,000 bpd.  For the first time, a group of top banks will include greenhouse gas emissions in their decision-making when they provide loans to shipping company, according to Reuters. A group of 11 banks, making up a fifth of global shipping finance, will establish carbon intensity metrics.  Demand for naptha is a leading indicator of the health of the global economy because it is used in gasoline as well as in a range of petrochemicals. As Bloomberg reports, naptha demand right now is really weak, with refining margins at their weakest in years. “Naphtha demand is simply very sensitive to economic sentiment and growth,” Jan-Jacob Verschoor, London-based director of Oil Analytics Ltd., told Bloomberg. “The trade war with escalating tariffs, has killed manufacturing sentiment in the East, thereby weakening margins of petrochemical plants.”

WTI Holds Best Gains In 5 Months After API Reports Modest Crude Draw -- Oil spiked almost $3 intraday (biggest jump in 5 months), surging higher after trading with a $51 handle all the way up to above $54 after OPEC and its allies moved closer to agreeing on a meeting date to extend supply cuts and Mario Draghi raised hope for even more stimulus to pump up demand. Prices got a further boost after Trump and Xi confirmed they will meet in Japan next week to relaunch trade talks after a month-long stalemate. “Tomorrow’s Fed announcement after a two-day meeting may set the stage for oil for the rest of the month," said Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at Price Futures Group. “If they come off very dovish than oil should rally hard."  API

  • Crude -812k (-1.75mm exp)
  • Cushing +520k (+30k exp)
  • Gasoline +1.46mm (+900k exp)
  • Distillates -50k (+700k exp)

After the two previous weeks surprised traders with notable builds (in crude and products), traders once again expect a draw in the latest week and API confirmed a modest 812k drop in crude inventories. 5th weekly build in gasoline inventories however. After its biggest day in 5 months, WTI hovered around $54.20 ahead of the API data and barely budged on the print.

Oil Prices Inch Up as OPEC Edges Closer to Agreeing on Meeting - - Oil prices edged up on Wednesday in Asia following reports that OPEC and its allies are close to agreeing on a date for their next meeting.U.S. Crude Oil WTI Futures gained 0.3% to $54.28 by 12:57 AM ET (04:57 GMT). International Brent Oil Futures rose 0.2% to $62.23.Citing Venezuela’s oil minister, Bloomberg said the OPEC+ group would likely meet in Vienna on July 1-2 to discuss production policy for the latter half of this year.Meanwhile, reports that China and the U.S. would resume trade talks after a stalemate were also cited as supportive for the oil markets.In a tweet overnight, U.S. President Donald Trump said he would meet China’s Xi Jinping at the G-20 summit next week, adding that he had a “very good” phone conversation with Xi.His tweets boosted investor sentiment, as some were skeptical if the two leaders would meet this month. Looking ahead, traders’ attention will turn to the weekly crude inventories report from the government's Energy Information Administration, which is due later in the day.

WTI Spikes After Bigger Than Expected Crude Draw - WTI is modestly lower overnight, back below $54, after a 'meh' inventory report from API following the oil market's best day in 5 months. This slide comes despite Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and the U.A.E. all agreeing they want to keep restraining production in a bid to buttress crude amid signs of faltering demand.As Bloomberg notes, however, investors will focus on refinery consumption and imports for their impact on total supply.  “Historical data indicates another rise in utilization; shipping data indicates imports at best remaining unchanged,” says Thomas Finlon, director of Energy Analytics Group Ltd in Wellington, Florida. “This should result in a drawdown in crude inventories" DOE

  • Crude -3.106mm (-1.75mm exp)
  • Cushing +642k (+30k exp)
  • Gasoline -1.692mm (+900k exp)
  • Distillates -551k (+700k exp)

After two weeks of surprisingly large crude builds, expectations (and API confirmed) were for a modest draw but DOE data surprised with the largest crude draw in six weeks... With the ongoing slide in rig counts, expectations continue to view production levels declining over the next few months and they did for the second week in a row...

Oil Slips Below $54 -- Oil slipped below $54 a barrel after a short-lived spike as anxieties about global trade and a supply glut overshadowed record gasoline consumption in the U.S. Futures in New York closed 0.3% lower on Wednesday after earlier rising by almost 1%. The U.S. Energy Information Administration said domestic oil inventories fell by 3.1 million barrels last week, more than any of the 12 analysts in a Bloomberg survey expected. Demand for gasoline hit a record 9.93 million barrels a day and stockpiles of the motor fuel unexpectedly declined. The report came hours after OPEC and its allies officially proposed an early July date to discuss new supply cuts, ending weeks of speculation about whether the group of major producers could overcome divisions. Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates -- OPEC’s three biggest members -- all want to keep restraining production amid signs of faltering economic growth, according to statements in recent days. That and the bullish EIA report “all begin to reduce the uncertainties for an oil market that has a whole bunch of them, maybe the biggest of which is where demand is going to go,” said Rob Thummel, managing director at Tortoise, a Kansas-based money manager that oversees $21 billion in assets. West Texas Intermediate for July delivery fell 14 cents to $53.76 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The U.S. benchmark price notched its best one-day advance in five months on Tuesday as OPEC and its partners discussed an extension while the U.S. and China said they would revive stalled trade talks. Brent for August settlement fell 32 cents, or 0.5%, to $61.82 a barrel on London’s ICE Futures Europe Exchange, after closing 2% higher on Tuesday. Oil has slipped about 19% since late April as the prolonged trade spat dented investor confidence. Tensions in the Middle East, including the latest rocket attack near an Exxon Mobil Corp. workers’ camp in southern Iraq, are heightening market uncertainty.

Oil slips below $54 as trade fears outweigh US gasoline demand - Oil slipped below $54 a barrel after a short-lived spike as anxieties about global trade and a supply glut overshadowed record gasoline consumption in the U.S. Futures in New York closed 0.3% lower on Wednesday after earlier rising by almost 1%. The U.S. Energy Information Administration said domestic oil inventories fell by 3.1 million barrels last week, more than any of the 12 analysts in a Bloomberg survey expected. Demand for gasoline hit a record 9.93 million barrels a day and stockpiles of the motor fuel unexpectedly declined. The report came hours after OPEC and its allies officially proposed an early July date to discuss new supply cuts, ending weeks of speculation about whether the group of major producers could overcome divisions. Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates—OPEC’s three biggest members—all want to keep restraining production amid signs of faltering economic growth, according to statements in recent days. That and the bullish EIA report “all begin to reduce the uncertainties for an oil market that has a whole bunch of them, maybe the biggest of which is where demand is going to go,” said Rob Thummel, managing director at Tortoise, a Kansas-based money manager that oversees $21 billion in assets. West Texas Intermediate for July delivery fell 14 cents to $53.76 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The U.S. benchmark price notched its best one-day advance in five months on Tuesday as OPEC and its partners discussed an extension while the U.S. and China said they would revive stalled trade talks. Brent for August settlement fell 32 cents, or 0.5%, to $61.82 a barrel on London’s ICE Futures Europe Exchange, after closing 2% higher on Tuesday. Oil has slipped about 19% since late April as the prolonged trade spat dented investor confidence. Tensions in the Middle East, including the latest rocket attack near an Exxon Mobil Corp. workers’ camp in southern Iraq, are heightening market uncertainty.

Oil Dips as Trade War Fears Pip U.S. Crude Draw, Potential Rate Cut - Even a crude drawdown and potential U.S. rate cut down the road couldn’t help oil bulls. Crude prices settled down on Wednesday after the Energy Information Administration reported the first U.S. crude stockpile draw in three weeks. The market also bucked expectations for a late rebound by remaining down after the Federal Reserve indicated it was open to an interest rate cut if needed. Monetary easing basically weakens the U.S. dollar and stimulates investments in dollar-denominated alternatives like oil, gold and other commodities. New York-traded West Texas Intermediate crude settled down 14 cents, or 0.3%, at $53.76 a barrel. The U.S. crude benchmark rallied almost 4% on Tuesday, its biggest one-day gain in five months, after President Donald Trump tweeted that he would be meeting his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping next week at the G-20 to resume trade talks. The president’s tweet raised hopes that the two leaders would find a way to resolve the escalation of tariffs in both countries, which businesses fear could spark a global recession. London-traded Brent crude, the benchmark for oil outside of the U.S., closed the official trading session down 29 cents, or 0.5%, at $61.85 per barrel. Crude oil inventories decreased by 3.11 million barrels in the week to June 14, according to the EIA. That easily beat the 1.08-million-barrel draw analysts had expected for last week, though it was nowhere close to offsetting the combined build of nearly 9 million barrels in two previous weeks. Gasoline inventories unexpectedly decreased by 1.69 million barrels, compared to expectations for a gain of 0.94 million barrels. Stockpiles of distillates, which include heating oil, diesel and other premium transport fuels such as jet and rail fuel, dropped by 0.55 million barrels, compared to forecasts for a build of 0.71 million.

Oil prices rise as US stockpiles drop, OPEC agrees meeting date - Oil prices rose over 1 percent on Thursday as official data showed U.S. crude stocks fell more than expected and as OPEC and other producers finally agreed a date for a meeting to discuss output cuts. Brent crude futures had risen 82 cents, or 1.3%, to $62.64 by 0026 GMT. They dropped 0.5% on Wednesday. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were up 79 cents, or 1.5%, at $54.55 a barrel. WTI fell 0.26% in the previous session. After swelling to near two-year highs, U.S. crude stocks fell by 3.1 million barrels last week, compared with analyst expectations for a draw of 1.1 million barrels, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said. Refined products also posted surprise drawdowns due to a rise in refining and crude exports, as well as a drop in crude production. Members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed to meet on July 1, followed by a meeting with non-OPEC allies on July 2, after weeks of wrangling over dates. OPEC and its allies will discuss whether to extend a deal on cutting 1.2 million barrels per day of production that runs out this month. Momentum for an agreement appeared to be building as the United Arab Emirates’ energy minister told Al-Bayan newspaper that an extension is “logical and reasonable”. “Oil price volatility is likely to persist, but the upcoming OPEC meeting should serve to provide the markets with a reasonable backstop and will offer some much-needed respite for prices,” said Stephen Innes, managing partner at Vanguard Markets in Bangkok. Expectations the U.S. Federal Reserve could cut interest rates at its next meeting and confirmation that the chief U.S. trade negotiator will meet his Chinese counterpart before a meeting between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping next week are also supporting markets.

Crude Leaps as OPEC+ Eyes Meeting Date - Oil surged to its biggest gain in five months as OPEC and its allies moved closer to a meeting to extend supply cuts while the European Central Bank raised hope of a new stimulus to pump up demand. Futures in New York rose as much as 4.6%, taking off on word that OPEC had proposed a mid-July gathering with Russia and other partners after weeks of uncertainty over their plans. Speaking at a forum in Portugal, ECB President Mario Draghi said “additional stimulus will be required” if the economic outlook doesn’t improve. The OPEC+ coalition, which pumps more than half the world’s crude, has been bickering for a month over the timing of their meeting, even as output curbs that helped resurrect prices earlier this year near expiration. A meeting by the U.S. Federal Reserve on Wednesday could further improve the market’s outlook, if it follows Europe’s lead. “Tomorrow’s Fed announcement after a two-day meeting may set the stage for oil for the rest of the month," said Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at Price Futures Group. “If they come off very dovish than oil should rally hard." Prices got a further boost after the U.S. and China said their presidents will meet in Japan next week to relaunch trade talks after a month-long stalemate. They gave back some of the gains after a report that the White House explored the legality of demoting Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, raising worries about political interference with the central bank. Also see: An Obscure Hydrocarbon Contains Bad News for the Global Economy West Texas Intermediate for July delivery rose $1.97 to settle at $53.90 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after earlier jumping by the most since Jan. 9. Brent for August settlement gained $1.20 to settle at $62.14 a barrel on London’s ICE Futures Europe Exchange. The global benchmark crude traded at a $8.77 premium to WTI for the same month.

Oil rises on fears of US attack on Iran - Oil prices rallied rose on fears of a U.S. military attack on Iran that would disrupt flows from the Middle East, which provides more than 20% of the world’s oil output. Brent crude was up 85 cents, or 1.3%, at $65.30 a barrel. The global benchmark jumped 4.3% on Thursday and was up more than 5% for the week, in its first weekly gain in five weeks. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was up 39 cents, or 0.7%, at $57.45 a barrel. The U.S. benchmark surged 5.4% on Thursday and was on track for a 9% increase this week. “Crude prices are spiking on increased Middle East tensions after Iran shot down a U.S. drone in what the U.S. claims is international airspace,” said Jason Gammel from Jefferies. Iran said it had shot the drone over its territory. Iranian officials told Reuters on Friday that Tehran had received a message from U.S. President Donald Trump through Oman overnight warning that a U.S. attack on Iran was imminent. The officials said they had responded by saying that any attack would have regional and international consequences. They also said Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was against talks but said they would convey the U.S. message to him. The New York Times reported on Friday, citing sources, that Trump had approved military strikes against Iran but pulled back from launching the attacks. Tensions have been on the rise because U.S. sanctions on Iran have severely reduced oil exports from OPEC’s third largest producer and Washington has blamed Tehran, which denies any role, for a series of attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf. “There is no doubt that a severe disruption to the transit of oil through this vulnerable route would be extremely serious,” said consultancy FGE Energy in a note.

Oil prices spike after Iran shoots down US drone in Gulf - - Oil rose more than 5% Thursday after Iran shot down a U.S. military drone, raising fears of a military confrontation between Tehran and Washington. Expectations that the U.S. Federal Reserve could cut interest rates at its next meeting, stimulating growth in the world's largest oil-consuming country, and a drop in U.S. crude inventories also supported prices. West Texas Intermediate crude settled up $2.89, or 5.4%, to $56.65 a barrel after surging as much as 6% around 10 a.m. ET. Brent crude, the global benchmark, was up $2.79, a 4.5% increase, at $64.61 a barrel. "The risk of a military conflict in the Middle East has risen because of a ratcheting up of tensions between the United States and Iran," said Abhishek Kumar of Interfax Energy in London. "Elsewhere, the U.S. Federal Reserve has signaled its willingness to loosen monetary policy over the coming months, which is being perceived as favorable to oil demand." The drone was downed in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz by an Iranian surface-to-air missile, a U.S. official said. Iran's Revolutionary Guards said the drone was flying over southern Iran. Tension has been rising in the Middle East, home to over 20% of the world's oil output, after attacks on two tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, a chokepoint for oil supplies. Washington blamed Tehran for the tanker attacks. Iran denied any role. Concern about slowing economic growth and a U.S.-China trade dispute has pulled oil lower in recent weeks. Brent reached a 2019 high of $75 in April. The prospect of further rate cuts could prove the more significant factor for oil, said Petromatrix analyst Olivier Jakob, should Iran-U.S. tension not escalate. "The Fed and the cutting of rates is something that will provide more substantial support," he said. Also propelling oil higher on Thursday was a decline in U.S. crude inventories and the prospect of prolonged supply restraint by producer group OPEC and its allies. 

US oil surges to $56.65 after Trump says Iran made a 'mistake' -U.S. oil jumped on Thursday after Iran shot down a U.S. military drone, prompting President Donald Trump to blast Tehran on Twitter and fueling concerns of a conflict between the two countries. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude settled up $2.89, or 5.4%, to $56.65 a barrel after surging as much as 6% around 10 a.m. ET. Brent crude, the global benchmark, was up $2.79 — a 4.5% increase — at $64.61 a barrel.Trump took to Twitter Thursday morning to criticize what U.S. officials say was Iran’s attack on a U.S. surveillance drone earlier in the day, saying that Tehran made a “very big mistake.”Trump said later Thursday that the public will “find out” about whether the U.S. plans to retaliate with a military strike, but said he finds it “hard to believe it was intentional.”The drone downing came amid a standoff between Washington and Tehran, stemming from the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement. Prior to the drone attack over the Strait of Hormuz, the U.S. accused Iran of recent attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf region.The strained relationship has sent crude prices soaring since more than 20% of the world’s oil output comes from the Middle East. Any threats to the free flow of oil through key chokepoint the Strait of Hormuz could dampen crude supplies.Also supporting oil were expectations that the U.S. Federal Reserve could cut interest rates at its next meeting, stimulating growth in the world’s largest oil-consuming country.“If we didn’t have the U.S. resource endowment, oil would absolutely be over $100. Pre-Permania, oil would be above $100” says RBC head of global commodities strategy, Helima Croft. “We have a drone shot down, we have President Trump now tweeting Iran made a big mistake. I think the market may be waking up to the degree of risk entailed by these incidents,” Croft said.

Oil Posts Best Week Since 2016 as Trump Calls Off Iran Raids - Oil rocketed to its biggest weekly gain in more than two years as U.S. President Donald Trump’s aborted air strikes against Iran left Middle East tensions simmering with the endgame uncertain.  Crude futures rose in New York on Friday to complete a 9.4% rally for the week. Trump tweeted that he called off raids because of concern the death toll wouldn’t have been “proportionate” to Iran’s downing of an American spy drone earlier this week. Trump said he was in “no hurry” to respond, despite a series of provocations in the oil-rich region.The canceled attack sent a “very confusing” message, Daniel Yergin, an oil historian and vice-chairman at IHS Markit Ltd., said in a Bloomberg TVinterview. “The fear is that this could pretty quickly escalate. There’s plenty of room for accident, misunderstanding, future incidents. The Iranians are in a corner.”  West Texas Intermediate for August delivery closed 36 cents higher onFriday at $57.43 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The U.S. benchmark notched its biggest weekly increase since December 2016. Brent for August settlement rose 75 cents to $65.20 on London’s ICE Futures Europe Exchange. Gasoline futures, meanwhile, jumped 3.9% as a fire raged at the biggest refinery on the U.S. East Coast.  Hostilities have been mounting in the Persian Gulf region, source of one third of the world’s oil, with the drone incident, missile strikes on Saudi Arabia and an attack on tankers near the Strait of Hormuz. On Thursday, arocket exploded near an Exxon Mobil Corp. workers’ camp in Iraq.

Oil logs 9% weekly rise — biggest since late 2016; refinery fire jolts gasoline futures - Oil futures gained on Friday, with U.S. prices tallying a rise of nearly 9% for the week and highest settlement this month, lifted by expectations for economy-boosting central bank policy and continued Middle East tensions that could disrupt oil markets. Gasoline led the climb among energy futures, up almost 4% for the session, amid reports that a fire at a 150-year-old refinery complex in Philadelphia startled residents with explosions. Any permanent damage to the facility, the largest on the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, was as yet unclear. On Friday, the new front-month contract, August West Texas Intermediate crude CLQ19, +0.30% rise 36 cents, or 0.6%, to settle at $57.43 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Based on front-month prices, WTI finished at its highest since May 29. It rose 8.8% for the week, the biggest such percentage climb since the week ended Dec. 2, 2016, according to Dow Jones Market Data. Also on Nymex, July gasoline shot up by about 7 cents, or 3.9% to $1.856 a gallon, reacting to the refinery news. Futures prices for the fuel marked their highest settlement since late May and logged a weekly rise of 7.1%. July heating oil HON19, +0.31% rose 3.2 cents, or 1.7%, to $1.916 a gallon, ending 4.7% higher for the week. The fire broke out at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining Complex around 4 a.m. Eastern, spokeswoman Cherice Corley said, according to the Associated Press. Philadelphia Energy Solutions says the oil refining complex is the largest on the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, processing 335,000 barrels of crude oil daily. This has the potential to have a big impact on gasoline, Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, told MarketWatch, with the refinery accounting for 27% of the region’s refining capacity. However, the “devil is going to be in the details”—if there was “extensive damage that leads to months of downtime in the middle of driving season,” he said.

U.S. oil prices soar 10% in the week on fears of U.S.-Iran conflict (Reuters) - Oil futures rose about 1% on Friday, with U.S. crude up 10% and global benchmark Brent gaining 5% in the week, on fears the United States could attack Iran and disrupt flows from the Middle East, which provides more than a fifth of the world’s oil output.   U.S. gasoline futures, meanwhile, jumped 4% following a massive fire at Philadelphia Energy Solutions’ refinery in Philadelphia, the largest on the U.S. East Coast. “The heightening of tensions between the United States and Iran has evolved as primary price motivator in spiking oil values,” Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates said in a note. While the rise in U.S.-Iranian tensions has largely driven the crude price gains, analysts said an early July meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies to reassess production targets, a potential softening of trade tensions between the United States and China and the refinery fire were also supporting prices. Brent futures rose 75 cents, or 1.2%, to settle at $65.20 a barrel, while the most active U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude contract ended the session up 36 cents, or 0.6%, at $57.43. Brent notched a gain of about 5% for the week, its first weekly gain in five weeks, and WTI jumped about 10%, its biggest weekly percentage gain since December 2016. The U.S. benchmark surged 5.4% and Brent jumped 4.3% on Thursday after Iran shot down a drone that the United States claimed was in international airspace and Iran said was over its territory. U.S. President Donald Trump said he had aborted a military strike on Iran because such a response to Tehran’s downing of the unmanned U.S. surveillance drone would have caused a disproportionate loss of life. Iranian officials told Reuters that Tehran had received a message from Trump through Oman overnight warning that a U.S. attack on Iran was imminent. The officials said they had responded by saying that any attack would have regional and international consequences. They also said Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was against talks but that they would convey the U.S. message to him.

The Strait of Hormuz is the world's most important oil transit chokepoint – EIA - The Strait of Hormuz, located between Oman and Iran, connects the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. The Strait of Hormuz is the world's most important oil chokepoint because of the large volumes of oil that flow through the strait. In 2018, its daily oil flow averaged 21 million barrels per day (b/d), or the equivalent of about 21% of global petroleum liquids consumption. Chokepoints are narrow channels along widely used global sea routes that are critical to global energy security. The inability of oil to transit a major chokepoint, even temporarily, can lead to substantial supply delays and higher shipping costs, resulting in higher world energy prices. Although most chokepoints can be circumvented by using other routes that add significantly to transit time, some chokepoints have no practical alternatives. Volumes of crude oil, condensate, and petroleum products transiting the Strait of Hormuz have been fairly stable since 2016, when international sanctions on Iran were lifted and Iran’s oil production and exports returned to pre-sanctions levels. Flows through the Strait of Hormuz in 2018 made up about one-third of total global seaborne traded oil. More than one-quarter of global liquefied natural gas trade also transited the Strait of Hormuz in 2018. There are limited options to bypass the Strait of Hormuz. Only Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have pipelines that can ship crude oil outside the Persian Gulf and have the additional pipeline capacity to circumvent the Strait of Hormuz. At the end of 2018, the total available crude oil pipeline capacity from the two countries combined was estimated at 6.5 million b/d. In that year, 2.7 million b/d of crude oil moved through the pipelines, leaving about 3.8 million b/d of unused capacity that could have bypassed the strait. Based on tanker tracking data published by ClipperData, Saudi Arabia moves the most crude oil and condensate through the Strait of Hormuz, most of which is exported to other countries (less than 0.5 million b/d transited the strait in 2018 from Saudi ports in the Persian Gulf to Saudi ports in the Red Sea). EIA estimates that 76% of the crude oil and condensate that moved through the Strait of Hormuz went to Asian markets in 2018.

Saudi Crown Prince Blames Iran for Oil Tanker Attacks — Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has blamed Iran for recent attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf and called on the international community to take a “decisive stance” against Tehran, Anadolu Agency reports.In an interview with the Saudi-funded newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat on Sunday, bin Salman unleashed criticism against Iran and its proxies for triggering violence in the region.On Thursday, two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman near the Strait of Hormuz while setting off from oil-rich Arab Gulf countries en route to the far east. The attacks came one month after four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

EU unconvinced by US claim Iran is behind tanker attack - There was strong support among EU countries for an independent UN investigation and calls for more evidence, Independent reported on Monday. Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister, said the EU states “continue to gather information”. “We know the findings of the American and the British intelligence services, which assume that you can be almost certain. We are comparing this with our information. I think you have to proceed very, very carefully on this,” Maas said. Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s foreign minister, said: “I believe that the main task of foreign ministers is to avoid war. We have to do that today.” Pekka Haavisto, the Finnish foreign minister, said it was important that EU states have “the full evidence” before reaching any conclusion. “I support very much the line of the UN Secretary General Mr. Guterres, that a proper investigation [to put] all the facts on the table and then we can look what really has happened, who is behind this,” he said.

War On Tankers To Exact A High Price For White House & Global Economy - Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo conveyed a message from US President Donald Trump to the Iranian leadership, asking the release of 5 US prisoners and inviting Iran to sit around a negotiation table, adding “he [Donald Trump] would be ready to suspend all sanctions only during the negotiations”. No guarantee was offered to freeze or revoke the sanctions. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei rejected the message and any dialogue with the US President and told his guest that he considers Trump unworthy to “to exchange a message with”. Informed sources close to Iranian decision makers repeated the words of President Hassan Rouhani and the Iranian advisor to Sayyed Khamenei for international affairs, Ali Akbar Velayati, namely that “if Iran can’t export oil through the Persian Gulf, no-one in the Middle East will be able do this.”The source “expects further attacks in the future, given the US decision to stop the flow of oil by all means at all costs. Thus, oil will stop being delivered to the world if Iran can’t export its two million barrels per day”.Two tankers  – Kokuka Courageous and Font Altair – were attacked in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday, putting at risk the supply of oil to the West and making oil tanker navigation in the Middle East very unsafe. “One more attack and insurance companies are expected to increase their fees. More attacks and no insurance company will agree to cover any oil tanker navigating in Gulf waters, putting Iran and other oil-exporters at the same level. Moreover, let us see what justifications Trump and Europe will offer their people when the price of oil becomes unaffordable,” said the source.“Tensions in the Gulf can be eased only when sanctions are lifted on Iran. Otherwise, more objectives may be targeted and the level of tension will gradually increase. The US is selling weapons which are inadequate to protect oil tankers or to protect oil pipelines delivering oil to harbors. If Iran is in pain, the rest of the world will suffer equally,” said the source. Today, the Gulf of Oman has become the operational stage to attack oil tankers. The oil tankers suffered multiple attacks. Had the attackers aimed to sink the oil tankers, this would have created an ecological disaster in the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean. Iran wants everybody to sit around the negotiation table, including the Gulf countries, but only once the sanctions are lifted.

Trump calls alleged Iranian tanker attacks 'very minor' -President Donald Trump downplayed the seriousness of suspected attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week, essentially dismissing the idea that the recent events would trigger a war with Iran. In an interview with Time magazine published Tuesday, Trump called the June 13 attacks, which his administration has blamed on Iran and which crippled two vessels and forced their crews to abandon ship, “very minor.” “So far, it’s been very minor,” Trump told Time Magazine. While he endorsed the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Iran was the likely culprit in last week’s events, he seemed to suggest that energy interests in the region — including the Strait of Hormuz, near the site of the attacks and the conduit for 30% of the world’s seaborne oil exports — were not worth starting a war over. “Other places get such vast amounts of oil there,” Trump told Time, referring to major importers of Middle East crude like China and Japan. “We get very little. We have made tremendous progress in the last two and a half years in energy … So we’re not in the position that we used to be in in the Middle East where … some people would say we were there for the oil.” The president’s comments are markedly less hawkish than those coming from the Pentagon and State Department, where national security leaders have insisted that all options are on the table, including military action, in order to defend U.S. interests. Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan has announced a fresh deployment of 1,000 additional troops to the region on top of the 1,500 announced last month as tensions climb between the two adversaries one year after Trump withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Nobody Believes US Claims That Iran Attacked Those Oil Tankers - — While Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was quick to rush to the conclusion that Iran was the key actor behind alleged attacks on oil tankers in one of the world’s most strategically important oil routes—the Strait of Hormuz—the world has grown increasingly weary of the tall tales spun from Washington in its pursuit of conflict in the Middle East.Indeed, many figures across the globe have greeted the accusations with extreme skepticism, largely agreeing with Tehran’s argument that the U.S. is solely interested in promoting an “Iranophobic” campaign on a potential path to war. Even the Japanese owner of one of the attacked tankers, the Kokuka Sangyo Company, has insisted that no possibility exists that a torpedo was fired at the ship, which contained 25,000 tons of methanol headed to Japan. “The crew told us something came flying at the ship, and they found a hole. Then some crew witnessed the second shot.”The skepticism has extended to Europe. On Monday, a meeting of 28 European Union foreign ministers vocally called for an independent United Nations investigation of the attack on two Gulf tankers, with the U.K. largely isolated in its lonesome support of the Trump administration’s certainty that the attacks were carried out by Iran. Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s foreign minister, said: “I believe that the main task of foreign ministers is to avoid war. We have to do that today.”Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister, also stressed that despite the certainty of U.S. and U.K. intelligence agencies, Germany would continue “comparing this with our information.” Maas added that“you have to proceed very, very carefully on this.”Indeed, no hard proof that Iran was behind the attacks has yet emerged, although Washington has released a video claiming to show an Iranian patrol boat removing an unexploded mine from the side of a tanker.Yet the video, if it is to be accepted as clear proof of an Iranian hand in the attacks, raises questions as to why Tehran would pull such a daring maneuver prior to trying to remove the evidence of their role in the attacks, all in broad daylight.

An Iranian boat reportedly fired a missile at a US drone right before the tanker attack - Just a few hours before Thursday's attack on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, the crew of an Iranian boat reportedly fired a missile at a US drone. The surface-to-air missile missed the MQ-9 Reaper drone, CNN reported Friday, citing a US official who revealed that before the Iranians opened fire the unmanned aerial vehicle spotted Iranian ships closing in on the two tankers.This report, which INSIDER was not able to immediately verify, adds to the body of evidence produced by the US that Iranian forces were involved in the attack on the tankers.The US pinned the blame for Thursday's attack on Iran. "It is the assessment of the U.S. government that Iran is responsible for today's attacks in the Gulf of Oman," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. "These attacks are a threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation, and an unacceptable escalation of tension by Iran." US Central Command later released photos of a suspected unexploded limpet mine attached to the hull one of the targeted tankers. The combatant command also released a video showing the crew of an Iranian patrol boat sailing out and taking the mine. President Donald Trump doubled down Friday morning, telling Fox & Friends that the attack "has Iran written all over it." The US also blamed an attack on four tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates last month on Iran, with an investigation into the incident concluding that it was highly likely that limpet mines were used against the four vessels. Tehran has repeatedly denied all allegations, which come amid heightened tensions with the US.

Gulf of Oman: US sends more troops amid tanker tension with Iran - The US military will send an additional 1,000 troops to the Middle East as tensions build with Iran. Acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan said the deployment was in response to "hostile behaviour" by Iranian forces. The US Navy also shared new images it says link Iran to attacks last week on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Washington has accused Iran of blowing holes in the vessels with mines. Iran has denied the allegations. Tensions were further fuelled on Monday when Iran said its stockpile of low-enriched uranium would next week exceed levels set under the 2015 nuclear agreement.  The 2015 deal, from which the US has withdrawn, curbed Iran's nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said his country did not seek to wage war with any nation and had remained "loyal" to its international obligations.

British Royal Marines Heading to Gulf of Oman to Protect Warships — According to reports out of the Sunday Times, Britain is set to deploy approximately 100 Royal Marines to the Gulf of Oman in the days to come, with an eye toward protecting British warships in the area.Officials cited “concern” about mounting tensions with Iran, and noted that Iran had summoned the British Ambassador to protest Britain blaming them for last week’s tanker attacks.Yet this deployment is, if officials are to be believed, unrelated to those attacks. Rather, they say the deployments had been planned for several weeks, as part of the general escalation toward Iran, and just happen to coincide with the tanker attacks. Iran has denied attacking the tankers, though both the US and Britain have declared Iran the guilty party. So far, there has been no sign of any incidents in the region threatening anyone’s warships, and with the ongoing US escalation, there are a lot more warships in the region than there normally are.

Pompeo To Present Military "Options" To Trump As Iran Threatens Carriers With "Precision" Ballistic Missiles -  Echoing prior comments from Tehran's leaders that a US aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf would set the stage for a “shooting gallery,” the commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) warned Tuesday that its ballistic missiles are capable of hitting "carriers in the sea" with great precision.  "These missiles can hit with great precision carriers in the sea... These missiles are domestically produced and are difficult to intercept and hit with other missiles," Brigadier General Hossein Salami said in a televised speech, per Reuters. He also asserted that Iran's ballistic missile technology had tipped the balance of power in the Middle East in Tehran's favor, even with an increasing build-up of American forces in the region, including the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group deployed last month. As we previously analyzed, it appears Tehran is now waging its own "maximum counter-pressure" campaign against the White House, given its been largely blocked from exporting its vital two million barrels per day, and the US economic blockade sending its economy into a tailspin. Tehran could force Trump to choose among two bad options: see global oil squeezed with soaring prices due to a "tanker war" and military threats in the Strait of Hormuz, or commit US forces to yet another disastrous regime change war in the Middle East.  Iran appears ready to match threat for threat, as we mentioned: a real war is fast unfolding in the Middle East today, a war where oil tankers and oil delivery to the world (30% of world oil supply goes through the Gulf) are the targets.

Jerusalem Post: U.S. Bombing Of Iran "Will Be Massive But Will Be Limited To A Specific Target" - According to the Jerusalem Post, a bombing campaign is being planned that “will be massive but will be limited to a specific target"... According to the officials, since Friday, the White House has been holding incessant discussions involving senior military commanders, Pentagon representatives and advisers to President Donald Trump.The military action under consideration would be an aerial bombardment of an Iranian facility linked to its nuclear program, the officials further claimed.“The bombing will be massive but will be limited to a specific target,” said a Western diplomat.If this happens, it will start a war.Iran is home to more than 81 million people, it is armed to the teeth, and it is the global central hub for Shia Islam.It would be the biggest war that the United States has fought since World War II, and the Iranians would fight to the death and they would throw everything that they have at us.  That would include unleashing all Iranian and Hezbollah operatives in North America to conduct widespread terror operations.  Blood would be spilled on a massive scale, and there would be great chaos inside our own nation.Are we sure that we really want that? Unfortunately, events are beginning to spin out of control very rapidly now.  On Monday, Iran announced that it will surpass the uranium stockpile limit that was established by Obama’s nuclear deal in just 10 days

Iran To Exceed Some Nuclear Deal Limits - The conflict U.S. President Donald Trump ignited by leaving the nuclear deal with Iran is escalating at multiple fronts. U.S. sanctions on Iranian im- and exports are devastating its economy. A new tanker war is brewing. Iran will soon exceed limits set under the nuclear agreement. While this is not a legal breach of the deal, the Trump administration will loudly denounce it as such.  Iran is also pushing European countries to fulfill their commitment as signatories of the nuclear deal. It today announced what steps it might take should the EU be unwilling to do its part. The deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, acknowledged Iran's right to enrich uranium for nuclear fuel and to produce heavy water, a moderator needed for certain types of nuclear reactors. The deal limits the amounts of these products Iran is allowed to stockpile.As Iran wanted to continue the production it was clear that the stockpiles for both products would grow above the limit. It was therefore agreed that Iran would export everything above the set limits as well as all newly produced enriched Uranium and heavy water.Part of Iran's stockpile of heavy water, which is also used in other industrial processes, was sold to the United States. Additionally produced heavy water was regularly either sold or sent to Oman to be stockpiled there until the conversion of Iran's nuclear reactor in Arak, which will use that heavy water, is completed.The excess enriched uranium was exported to Russia. In exchange Iran received natural Uranium for future enrichment. When the Trump administration left the nuclear agreement a year ago it renewed sanctions on Iran's nuclear program. But it also issued waivers for the export of heavy water and enriched uranium. Iran continued to sell these products or to stockpile them outside of the country. On May 3 2019 the State Department announced that it would no longer issue these waivers:

 Iran threatens to increase enriched uranium stockpile beyond limits set by nuclear deal in 10 days WaPo — Iran said Monday it would boost its stockpile of enriched uranium to exceed limits set by a 2015 nuclear pact with world powers, in what appeared to be the latest salvo in an escalating standoff with the United States.A spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said Monday that Iran’s enrichment rate would bypass the nuclear deal’s 300-kilogram limit in 10 days. Speaking to reporters at Iran’s Arak heavy-water nuclear reactor, Behrouz Kamalvandi said that the organization already had accelerated production of low-enriched uranium, based on needs at two reactors in the port of Bushehr and the capital, Tehran.  Britain, reacting to the announcement, said it would “look at all options” if Iran breached its obligations under the agreement. Other European leaders, meeting in Luxembourg, urged Iran to adhere to the deal.“As of today, Iran is still compliant. And we strongly hope, encourage, expect that Iran continues to comply with its commitments," said European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, adding that the bloc and other signatories would base their response on whether Iran was violating the agreement. The pact curbed Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for major sanctions relief but has come under threat since the United States abandoned the accord and reimposed a near-total embargo on the Iranian economy in the fall. Some European diplomats saw that 10-day deadline less as a firm plan to violate enrichment limits and more as an urgent call to Europe from Iran to deliver fresh concessions.  One European diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said that if Iran does violate the deal, Europe probably would trigger the pact’s mechanisms for arbitration and impose new sanctions. Such a response, however, would probably not be coordinated with the United States, the diplomat said, since most Europeans blame the Trump administration for the recent spike in tensions.

Iran shoots down US surveillance drone, heightening tensions (AP) — Iran’s Revolutionary Guard shot down a U.S. surveillance drone Thursday in the Strait of Hormuz, marking the first time the Islamic Republic directly attacked the American military amid tensions over Tehran’s unraveling nuclear deal with world powers. The two countries disputed the circumstances leading up to an Iranian surface-to-air missile bringing down the U.S. Navy RQ-4A Global Hawk, an unmanned aircraft with a wingspan larger than a Boeing 737 jetliner and costing over $100 million. Iran said the drone “violated” its territorial airspace, while the U.S. called the missile fire “an unprovoked attack” in international airspace over the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf and President Donald Trump tweeted that “Iran made a very big mistake!”

US military drone shot down by missile in international airspace, US official says - — An Iranian surface-to-air missile shot down a U.S. military surveillance drone Thursday in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz in an “unprovoked attack,” U.S. officials said, disputing Iranian reports that the aircraft was over its territory. The downing came amid rising tensions between Washington and Tehran since the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement last year. The U.S. has accused Iran of recent attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf region, allegations the Iranians deny. “U.S. Central Command can confirm that a U.S. Navy Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (or BAMS-D) ISR aircraft was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile system while operating in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz at approximately 11:35 p.m. GMT on June 19, 2019,” Navy Capt. Bill Urban, U.S. Central Command spokesman, said in a statement. Brent crude jumped on the news in early morning trading, up 2.86%, or $1.77, at $63.59 a barrel at 7:50 a.m. ET. The U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate was up 3.55%. The Strait of Hormuz is a critical conduit for 30% of the world’s seaborne oil. The downing was first announced by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards on its website, Sepah News. The Iranian outlet claimed the Revolutionary Guards had shot down a U.S. “spy drone” over the southern province of Hormozgan. “The downing of the American drone was a clear message to America. ... Our borders are Iran’s red line and we will react strongly against any aggression,” Major Gen. Hossein Salami, the recently appointed chief of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, told Iranian state TV. “Iran is not seeking war with any country, but we are fully prepared to defend Iran.”

FAA prohibits operators from flying over some Iran-controlled airspace (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday issued an emergency order prohibiting U.S. operators from flying in an overwater area of Tehran-controlled airspace over the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman due to heightened tensions.In a separate advisory to operators, FAA said according to flight tracking applications, the nearest civil aircraft was operating within around 45 nautical miles of a U.S. Global Hawk drone when it was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile this week.“There were numerous civil aviation aircraft operating in the area at the time of the intercept,” FAA said.The agency said it remained concerned about the escalation of tension and military activity within close proximity to high volume civil aircraft routes as well as Iran’s willingness to use long-range missiles in international airspace with little or no warning.

India Deploys Multiple Warships To Gulf For Maritime Security Amid Tensions The international military build-up in the Gulf begins, apparently, at a moment the White House is mulling various military "options" in response to the Thursday morning shoot-down of a high altitude US military drone over the Strait of Hormuz, which Iran has acknowledged responsibility for.  After earlier this week Britain announced it would be deploying UK special forces to the Gulf to protect UK assets in the region due to last week's tanker attack incident, also blamed on Iran, India is now initiating a major naval deployment there.  The Indian Navy announced via official statements that it is executing "Operation Sankalp" in order to "re-assure Indian Flagged Vessels operating/ transiting through Persian Gulf & Gulf of Oman following the maritime security incidents in the region," according the Indian Navy spokesperson.  The multiple vessel deployment, including the military ships Chennai and INS Sunayna sent to the Gulf of Oman, is to provide “security” for Indian-flagged ships traversing the area following recent mine attacks on merchant ships and amid a tense US-Iran military standoff.

Putin Warns Attack On Iran Would Be Catastrophic As US Navy Deploys To Drone Crash Site -Following China's warning this week that the United States is poised to open "Pandora's Box" in the Middle East should it escalate military action against Iran, Russia's President Vladimir Putin has weighed in, on Thursday saying any American military strike would have "catastrophic" consequences.  Putin warned further that US attack "would trigger a surge in violence and a possible refugee exodus," according to Reuters. During an annual televised question and answer session hosted by the Russian leader, he reiterated Moscow's position that Tehran is in full compliance with its nuclear commitments under the 2015 JCPOA. He also slammed the US-imposed sanctions now choking the Iranian economy as "groundless"."I want to say at once that this would be a catastrophe for the region" — Putin said. Meanwhile, President Trump has been briefed on Thursday morning's dramatic escalation of an already tense stand-off in the Strait of Hormuz which involved Iran's alleged shoot down of a US drone near entrance to Persian Gulf.Reports say it was US Navy high-altitude drone taken out by an Iranian surface-to-air missile directly over Strait of Hormuz in what the US says was international airspace, but which Iran claimed was over its sovereign airspace. US Central Command (CENTCOM) identified the drone as one of its RQ-4 Global Hawk aircraft, condemning it as an “unprovoked attack”."Iranian reports that the aircraft was over Iran are false. This was an unprovoked attack on a U.S. surveillance asset in international airspace," CENTCOM spokesman Navy Capt. Bill Urban said following the confirmed drone downing. And now, in a pattern suggesting significant US military build-up will continue in the Persian Gulf following last week's tanker attack incident, also blamed on Iran, US naval assets have been dispatched to the "drone debris field in international waters" according to a breaking Reuters report.  Meanwhile, war drums beating, here we go...

Trump says Iran may have shot down U.S. drone by mistake – (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump played down Iran’s downing of a U.S. military drone on Thursday, saying he suspected it was shot by mistake and that “it would have made a big difference” to him if the remotely-controlled aircraft had been piloted. While the comments appeared to suggest Trump was not eager to escalate the latest in a series of incidents with Iran, he also warned that: “This country will not stand for it.” Tehran said the unarmed Global Hawk surveillance drone was on a spy mission over its territory but Washington said it was shot down over international airspace. “I think probably Iran made a mistake - I would imagine it was a general or somebody that made a mistake in shooting that drone down,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

U.S. blames Iran for helping Houthi rebels shoot down drone in Yemen - (Reuters) - Houthi rebels in Yemen recently shot down a U.S. government-operated drone with assistance from Iran, the U.S. military said in a statement on Sunday. Lt. Col. Earl Brown, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, said the altitude at which the MQ-9 drone was shot down on June 6 marked “an improvement over previous Houthi capability,” a fact that led the military to conclude the rebel group had help from Iran. Brown also noted that on June 13, Iran separately tried to shoot down yet another U.S. drone over the Gulf of Oman in an effort to disrupt surveillance of Iran’s attack on Kokuka Courageous, one of two oil tankers attacked on Thursday. U.S. officials have blamed Tehran for those attacks, raising fears about a potential confrontation between the United States and Iran..

Russia Will Help Iran With Oil, Banking If Europe's SPV Payment Channel Not Launched - With Iran increasingly isolated by the West, even by Europe which last year so vocally opposed the US withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal and vowed to create a mechanism that circumvents SWIFT, only to reduce its opposition to zero after Trump threatened to impose sanctions on Europe if it proceeds with its experiment to bypass the dollar, Russia on Friday announced it was ready to help Iran export its crude and ease restrictions on its banking system if Europe fails to launch its dollar-evading SPV, Instex (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges) with Tehran, according to Interfax and PressTV.The three European signatories to the 2015 nuclear agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), unveiled late in January the direct non-dollar payment mechanism meant to safeguard their trade ties with Tehran following the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal and in the face of the "toughest ever" sanctions imposed by the United States against the Islamic Republic. In its initial stage, INSTEX would facilitate trade of humanitarian goods such as medicine, food and medical devices, but it will later be expanded to cover other areas of trade, including Iran’s oil sales.However, it has not resulted in any trade deals so far. In late May, the US threatened Europe with "loss of access to the US financial system" if it rolled out the SWIFT-evading SPV, which appears to have crushed Europe's enthusiasm to pursue alternative financial transactions with Tehran, forcing it to conceded to Washington (again). Earlier this month, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Moussavi said European governments have failed to meet their expectations in implementing INSTEX to protect the JCPOA, criticizing their "lack of will" to deal with America's pressure against Tehran."What the Europeans need to do and what they have done so far have failed to win our satisfaction," the Iranian spokesperson said.His remarks came after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in April once again complained about a d elay by European partners in the nuclear deal to make operational the payment channel with Tehran, saying they now have "no excuse" for further postponement of the project.

UN Finds “Credible Evidence” MbS Ordered Khashoggi Murder; Shocking Audio Detailed— A United Nations expert and special rapporteur has submitted a 101-page report calling on UN secretary-general António Guterres to initiate a “follow-up criminal investigation” after finding “sufficient credible evidence” that the grisly Oct. 2 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul was on the direct orders of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) and other high level officials. Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, described in her report that Khashoggi was the“victim of a deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible under international human rights law.” The report, the culmination of a six month investigation, said further: “Indeed, this human rights inquiry has shown that there is sufficient credible evidence regarding the responsibility of the crown prince demanding further investigation,” according to FT. Callamard was granted rare access to a number of the recordings of conversations inside the consulate – during and surrounding the murder – which involved Khashoggi’s body likely being hacked up, according to prior reports.“The Turkish authorities undoubtedly have more information and intelligence about events in the Saudi Consulate than they were willing or able to share with the inquiry,” the report said.However, the new UN report contains more shocking details from the recordings concerning the gruesome manner of Kashoggi’s death. According to a CNN summary of this section of the report: According to the report — which cites evidence from Turkish and other intelligence agencies — after entering the consulate, Khashoggi was injected with a sedative and then his head put inside a plastic bag and suffocated.

Saudi Arabia Buys $300 Million Spyware From Israel — Saudi Arabia has bought $300 million worth of spy software from Israel as part of a large scale military deal.Senior Arab sources told Al Khaleej Online that the deal was struck without a mediator, despite the fact that the two countries do not maintain formal diplomatic relations. The sources stressed that the Saudi intelligence services have sought to obtain advanced spyware in order to trace the Kingdom’s citizens – both in the country and abroad – amidst increasing criticism of the Saudi royal family.Saudi Arabia therefore reached out to the Israeli market and struck a deal worth $300 million with representatives of Israeli firms, the sources said, adding that both sides met and reached the deal in UK capital London. According to the sources, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) know about the deal, which includes 1,000 small yet sophisticated tracking devices that can be placed in the target’s mobile phone.

Russia Slams CBS News for Cooperating With Syrian Al-Qaeda — The Russian embassy in Syria has slammed CBS News for sending its reporters into Idlib province, which is controlled by the al-Qaeda group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), at a moment of a stepped up joint Russian-Syrian aerial assault campaign over the northwestern territory. Over the weekend the embassy tweeted of the CBS team’s reporting from Idlib: CBS News crew + a “white helmet” (not wearing one, apparently) = another act of media warfare in the making.   Both Moscow and Damascus have long accused US and western media correspondents of essentially giving terror groups operating inside Syria a major platform to air their propaganda, including claims of chemical weapons attacks. Russia as well as some western commentators have also described the White Helmets as essentially “the rescue wing of al-Qaeda.” As some Middle East analysts were quick to point out, the CBS crew would have had to receive permission from HTS/al-Qaeda to be in Idlib in the first place. The Russian embassy accusation that CBS is engaged in “an act of media warfare” seems geared toward that fact.  A number of American journalists, including the Washington Post’s Liz Sly were outraged, noting that the CBS crew was  “on the ground” to report “on the Russian-Syrian offensive there.” However, it remains that HTS and thus Idlib province itself, is under the military control of none other Syrian al-Qaeda leader Abu Muhammad al-Jolani.

Narrative Management = Reality Management –-- Caitlin Johnstone - The Grayzone’s Max Blumenthal has published the first part of an investigative series on how so-called non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are being used to manipulate the narrative about what’s going on in Syria by posing as impartial investigative bodies and circulating pro-imperialist disinformation to the western political/media class as objective fact.  Part one is titled “Behind the Syrian Network for Human Rights: How an opposition front group became Western media’s go-to monitor”, and it documents a mountain of evidence that one of these “NGOs” is in fact very much state-funded and highly biased in favor of anti-Assad forces, yet still gets cited as an independent source by western mass media outlets in a way that just so happens to help make the case for western interventionism in Syria. “Citing the Syrian Network for Human Rights as an independent and credible source is the journalistic equivalent of sourcing statistics on head trauma to a research front created by the National Football League, or turning to tobacco industry lobbyists for information on the connection between smoking and lung cancer. And yet this has been standard practice among correspondents covering the Syrian conflict,” Blumenthal writes. “Indeed, Western press has engaged for years in an insidious sleight of hand, basing reams of shock journalism around claims by a single, highly suspect source that is deeply embedded within the Syrian opposition - and hoped that no one would notice.” I’ve taken to calling such things “narrative management operations” lately, because that’s a much clearer illustration of their function than simply labeling them propaganda constructs and psyops (though those labels are certainly accurate as well). Countless operations have been set up both inside and outside of Syria to control the narrative about what’s happening there, and now if a casual observer decides to find out more about the Syrian conflict they’ll almost certainly be consuming information that has been filtered through narrative management ops that have been funded by governments within the US-centralized power alliance. It’s like trying to figure out what’s going on at the other end of a large room that’s been filled with smoke and mirrors.  But narrative management is in no way limited to Syria. You see all sorts of organizations used to manipulate public narratives all the time, like the cybersecurity company Crowdstrike for example, whose highly suspicious analysis of the DNC’s servers formed the foundation of the official Russian hacking narrative, and whose CEO is now a billionaire. Whether it’s longstanding foreign policy agendas like shoving Russia off the world stage, or longstanding domestic agendas like preserving the dominance of the plutocratic class and expanding surveillance and police militarization, our understanding of what’s going on in the world is constantly being messed with.

Erdogan sees Russian S-400s delivery starting in July: NTV - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he expected Russian S-400 missile defence systems to start arriving in Turkey in the first half of July, broadcaster NTV reported on Sunday - a development set to fuel tensions with NATO ally Washington. The S-400s are not compatible with NATO's systems and have been a growing source of discord between Turkey and the United States in recent months. "We discussed the S-400 subject with Russia. Indeed the S-400 issue is settled," Erdogan was cited as telling reporters on his plane returning from a visit to Tajikistan, where he attended a summit and met Russian President Vladimir Putin. "I think they will start to come in the first half of July," he added, giving a more specific forecast than he has in the past. US acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan this month outlined how Turkey would be pulled out of the F-35 fighter jet programme unless Ankara changed course on its plans to buy the missile systems. Erdogan said he would discuss the issue with US President Donald Trump when they meet at this month's G-20 summit. "When someone lower down says different things, then we immediately make contact with Mr Trump and try to solve issues with telephone diplomacy. Matters don't take long there," he said.

Israel announces new Golan Heights settlement named 'Trump Heights' – CNN - Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced a new settlement in theGolan Heights named after his "great friend" Donald Trump.Netanyahu unveiled a sign at the proposed site of the settlement on Sunday bearing the name "Trump Heights," and thanked the US President for breaking with the international community torecognize Israeli sovereignty over the region."We are proud that we have the opportunity to establish a new settlement and to give thanks to a great friend," Netanyahu told a celebratory cabinet meeting at the site. "We will continue to grow and develop the Golan for all of our citizens -- Jews and non-Jews together."The Golan Heights, which was seized by Israel from Syria during the Six-Day War in 1967 and annexed in 1981, is regarded as illegally occupied territory by the global community. The UN Security Council has deemed Israel's administration of the area "null and void and without legal effect," and the UN special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, recently reiterated that position.But Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty in the region in March, two weeks before that country's elections, in what was seen as a major political gift to Netanyahu. The US is the only country in the world to recognize Israeli sovereignty in the occupied territory.

Israel wounds 92 Palestinian civilians at weekly protest, including 28 children, 4 paramedics – - On Friday, 14 June 2019, in excessive use of force against peaceful protesters on the 61st Friday of the Great March of Return and Breaking the Siege, Israeli forces wounded 92 Palestinian civilians; 28 of them were children and four were paramedics, including a female paramedic, in the eastern Gaza Strip. One of the wounded was a child, who was hit with a live bullet to the chest and sustained a serious wound. According to observations by PCHR’s fieldworkers, the Israeli forces who were stationed in prone positions and in military jeeps along the fence with Israel continued to use excessive force against the protesters by firing bullets and tear gas canisters at them.  As a result, dozens of the protesters were hit with bullets and teargas canisters without posing any imminent threat or danger to the life of soldiers. During this week, Israeli forces have escalated their attacks against the medical personnel in the field, wounding 4 members of them with rubber bullets and direct tear gas canisters in eastern Rafah. This indicates that there is an Israeli systematic policy to target the medical personnel and obstruct their humanitarian work that is guaranteed under the rules of the international humanitarian law.  The Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) has confirmed that a medic, identified as Mohammad Sobhi al-Jodeili, 36, died from serious wounds he suffered, on May 3, 2019, when Israeli soldiers shot him with a rubber-coated steel bullet in the face in the Gaza Strip. The PRCS stated that the medic, from the al-Boreij refugee camp in central Gaza, suffered fractures in his nose, face and skull. The soldiers shot him in Abu Safiyya area, in Jabalia, in the northern part of the coastal region, while he was providing medical care to wounded Palestinians during the Great Return March processions. He received treatment at one of the makeshift hospitals before he was moved to a medical center in Gaza, and later was moved to the al-Ahli hospital in Hebron, in the southern part of the West Bank, due to the seriousness of his wounds.

The Two-State Solution Is Dead. Bloodbath Next? - The part of the Middle East formerly known as Palestine is lost as a two-state region. The Israelis are “systematically” driving toward a single regional state: the State of Israel. Below is a map showing Israel proper, the West Bank region, Palestinian population centers and the growing incursion of Israeli settlements which are “eating” the West Bank. “A State Department map shows Palestinian population centers in the West Bank. Obama was surprised to see how ‘systematic’ the Israelis had been at cutting them off from one another.” (source, click to enlarge) The outcome of this long process of territorial integration, barring any implementation of an alternative to the “two-state solution,” will be as Mike Gravel says, “horrendous war, the Jordan foaming with blood.” The monomaniacal drive by Israel’s leaders to recover the western part of their Iron Age kingdom has now made peace impossible, sansintervention. If the two-state idea is dead, what alternatives are left? Just one. Below I list the main points of presidential candidate Mike Gravel’s proposal, offered as the only non-military, non-ethnic-cleansing way forward. Is this solution “practical”? No, it’s not, in the sense that the current leaders of the U.S., Israel and Palestine will not accept it. But yes, it is practical, in the sense that a bloodbath in the region — and it will come to that — a bloodbath that will wash over all of the Middle East, is the only other alternative. If a war of this magnitude is itself “impractical” in the extreme, Gravel’s solution is imminently practical. I, like Gravel, see this as the only way out. Here are Gravel’s main points, as offered in a recent Mondoweiss piece:

  • • Move toward creating a secular, democratic binational state — “Most American diplomats will, in their more candid hours, admit that the two-state idea is long dead. Prudence dictates that America acknowledge that on the world stage and begin the search for other solutions. The most obvious and humane path forward is the creation of a secular, democratic, binational state with equal rights for all. That is the model the U.S. government, with its partners in the region, should work toward and publicly highlight as the ideal outcome.”
  • • Force AIPAC and similar pro-Israel groups to register as foreign lobbies — “The first step should be mandating that AIPAC register as a foreign lobby under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). AIPAC manages to skirt American laws about foreign lobbying by claiming that it represents Americans who happen to support Israel. But the shockingly close ties between the governing Likud Party and AIPAC give a lie to this legal fiction; AIPAC will always stand closer to Israeli interests than American ones. Such an arrangement would prevent AIPAC from influencing American elections, and would require it to report all of its contacts with Congress, along with details of its spending, to the Department of Justice.”
  • • End military support for Israel — “Next, the U.S. should end military aid to Israel, citing the Israeli military’s complicity in crimes against the Palestinian people. It should call for a gradual demilitarization of Israel and Palestine, and should be clear with the Israeli government that the days of Israel-right-or-wrong are over. Future outrages by either side will receive an even-handed response without bias. Accordingly, it should demand that Israel bring itself into compliance with international law and end the harassment of dissidents…”
  • • Finally, end U.S. attempts to stifle BDS, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement — “the U.S. should refuse to take unconstitutional steps to stifle BDS. Whatever one’s personal thoughts on BDS, an individual or group’s decision not to associate with another group or country is a legitimate exercise of the freedoms of speech and association guaranteed by the Constitution, and using the power of the government to influence those decisions is wrong.Senators Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker should be ashamed of themselves for supporting federal laws to restrict BDS. (It is perhaps no coincidence that Booker and the president of AIPAC ‘text message back and forth like teenagers,’ by Booker’s own admission.)”

China and Russia to close ranks in united front against American pressure following Xi Jinping’s meeting with Vladimir Putin - China and Russia have elevated their already close partnership to a new level, Chinese state media said, as Beijing and Moscow seek to offset pressure from the US. The decision to upgrade bilateral ties to “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination in new era” was announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin following their summit in Moscow on Wednesday, state-owned Xinhua said in a brief report. After the meeting at the Kremlin, Putin told reporters that he and Xi had discussed a wide range of global topics. “We confirmed that Russia’s and China’s stances on key global issues are similar or coincide, as diplomats say,” Putin was quoted by Russian news agency Tass as saying. “We stated that they had reached a very high - and without any exaggeration - an unprecedentedly high level,” the Russian leader said. The commitments came during Xi’s three-day visit to Russia to mark the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries. As well as the talks with Putin, a formal reception and a taking in a performance at the Bolshoi Theatre, Xi’s itinerary also includes a visit to St Petersburg for an international economic forum. Prior to the two leaders’ summit, Xi told Putin that relations between China and Russia “have stood the test of time in the context of the changing situation in the world”, according to Tass. “Step by step, we have managed to bring our relations to a new level, the highest in history."

China and Russia Want to Control the ‘World Island’ --   As the U.S. and its allies watch the continuing rapprochement between Russia and China, they would do well to heed that advice: each rival is dangerous, but as they converge they become a true global threat.One concrete indication of this growing risk is the escalating boldness of the Russian Navy, which has been confronting U.S. warships around the world. Most recently, and dangerously, was the near-collision of the U.S. cruiser Chancellorsville and a Russian destroyer that made a reckless approach to within 100 feet in the western Pacific, waters that the Chinese are increasingly looking at as their own.During the Cold War, for the most part, China and the Soviet Union kept a wary distance from each other. Over the past several years, however, under Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, they are drawing closer and closer. This coalescing, possibly resulting in a unified block that dominates the Eurasian continent, may be the most important geopolitical trend of the 21st century.Last fall, Vostok 2018, the largest military exercise the world has seen since the end of the Cold War, was conducted on the Siberian border between Russia and China. Hundreds of thousands of Russian troops were joined by Chinese soldiers; photos show Russian and Chinese officers hugging each other. Joint Russian-Chinese naval exercises are occurring with increasing frequency – not just in the Pacific, but also in the Baltic Sea and the Arctic Ocean. Last week, Xi and Putin spent days together in Russia, proclaiming themselves “best friends.” Economic and diplomatic alignments mirror the military marriage unfolding before our eyes. The pairing has a certain logic. China is rising as a global power and has a vast population, yet lacks many vital natural resources. Russia is failing economically and has a falling population, but is loaded with timber, water, minerals, gold, oil and natural gas. They share a long border. And both are resolutely authoritarian states with effectively single-party and single-person rule. Above all, they share an antipathy for the West in general – with its pesky efforts to spread democracy and support human rights - and disdain for the U.S. in particular. That is enough in common for an increasing level of cooperation, if not (yet) a formal military alliance.

Huawei Says US Ban Hurting More Than Expected, To Wipe $30 Billion Off Revenue(Reuters) - China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd has taken a harder-than-expected hit from a U.S. ban, the company’s founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei said, and slashed revenue expectations for the year. Ren’s downbeat assessment that the ban will hit revenue by $30 billion, the first time Huawei has quantified the impact of the U.S. action, comes as a surprise after weeks of defiant comments from company executives who maintained Huawei was technologically self-sufficient. The United States has put Huawei on an export blacklist citing national security issues, barring U.S. suppliers from selling to the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker and No.2 maker of smartphones, without special approval. The firm has denied its products pose a security threat. The ban has forced companies, including Alphabet Inc’s Google and British chip designer ARM to limit or cease their relationships with the Chinese company. Huawei had not expected that U.S. determination to “crack” the company would be “so strong and so pervasive”, Ren said, speaking at the company’s Shenzhen headquarters on Monday. Two U.S. tech experts, George Gilder and Nicholas Negroponte, also joined the session. “We did not expect they would attack us on so many aspects,” Ren said, adding he expects a revival in business in 2021.

Trump’s Trade War Is Pushing China Even Deeper Into Debt - China state television has branded the U.S.-China trade war “no big deal” for the country. The IMF disagrees, opining that it may cost China 1.6 percentage points in GDP growth this year. Who is right? China is renowned for hitting its government’s targets through state intervention, so the IMF’s pessimism may be justified even if the country does another bull’s eye on GDP. The data coming from China do, in fact, show the trade war having a worrying impact on economic activity. As shown in the left-hand graphic above, growth in the value added by foreign-owned firms in China has plunged since the trade war began one year ago, with trade fears pushingcompanies to shift production abroad. In consequence, private spending is contracting.Beijing, however, is counteracting the fall through its favored tool—pushing more domestic borrowing, while restricting foreign lending. As the top right graphic shows, China’s outstanding corporate loans surged last quarter byover three percent of GDP—the largest jump since 2015. Meanwhile, as the bottom right graphic shows, outward foreign direct investment from Chinese financial institutions plunged by 59 percent—to its lowest level since 2013.Given China’s massive debt levels—equivalent to 254 percent of GDP, among the highest in the world—and the fact that most new corporate lending has been going to the country’s least-profitable state-owned companies, the country is edging closer to debt crisis. How it manifests itself—mass defaults, recession, soaring inflation, extended stagnation—depends on which poison the government decides to drink when. But there can be no doubt that, for Beijing, the trade war is a “big deal.”

Trade war drags down Asian factory employment  - U.S.-China trade tensions are weighing on manufacturing employment in Asia's export-reliant economies amid slackening demand.According to statistics released last week by Singapore's Ministry of Manpower, total retrenchments in the city-state rose to 3,230 people in the January-March quarter from 2,510 a quarter earlier.Of those 3,230, 1,040 were in manufacturing. That is close to triple the 380 manufacturing workers retrenched the previous quarter. Electronic and optical product makers accounted for most of these dismissals."The top reason cited for retrenchments was business restructuring and reorganization," the ministry said.Following the latest cuts, Singapore's manufacturing work force was down to 484,000 people, the lowest level reported since the end of 2005.Irvin Seah, an economist at Singapore's DBS Group Holdings, said the decline "is an ongoing phenomenon for many years mainly because of automation on the back of economic restructuring and the rising importance of the services sector." But he added, "The recent trade war has exacerbated the situation given [its] adverse impact on export demand."Singapore, as a trade-reliant small economy, has taken a significant hit from the U.S.-China trade war. Non-oil domestic exports declined 15.9% in May from a year before, with electronics products declining 31.4%. The government last month lowered the top end of its projected economic growth rate range to 2.5% from 3.5%. The bottom end of the range remains 1.5%. Even as the manufacturing work force contracted, services employment continues to grow, reaching 2.771 million in March from 2.755 million in December. Howie Lee, economist at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp., called the factory employment decline "a natural outcome of an economy that is evolving into a smart hub."

Chinese dissidents are being executed for their organs, former hospital worker says - Zheng Qiaozhi — we will call him George — still has nightmares. He was interning at China’s Shenyang Army General Hospital when he was drafted to be part of an organ-harvesting team. The prisoner was brought in, tied hand and foot, but very much alive. The army doctor in charge sliced him open from chest to belly button and exposed his two kidneys. “Cut the veins and arteries,” he told his shocked intern. George did as he was told. Blood spurted everywhere. The kidneys were placed in an organ-transplant container. Then the doctor ordered George to remove the man’s eyeballs. Hearing that, the dying prisoner gave him a look of sheer terror, and George froze. “I can’t do it,” he told the doctor, who then quickly scooped out the man’s eyeballs himself. George was so unnerved by what he had seen that he soon quit his job at the hospital and returned home. Later, afraid that he might be the next victim of China’s forced organ-transplant business, he fled to Canada and assumed a new identity. First-person accounts like George’s are understandably rare. The “transplant tourists” who come to China are naturally told nothing about the “donors” of their new heart, liver or kidney. And those who are executed for their organs tell no tales. Experts estimate that between 60,000 and 100,000 organs are transplanted annually in China. Multiply that number times the cost of a liver transplant ($170,000) or a kidney transplant ($130,000), and the result is an eye-popping $10 billion to 20 billion.

 China is harvesting organs from detainees, tribunal concludes - An independent tribunal sitting in London has concluded that the killing of detainees in China for organ transplants is continuing, and victims include imprisoned followers of the Falun Gong movement.The China Tribunal, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, who was a prosecutor at the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, said in a unanimous determination at the end of its hearings it was “certain that Falun Gong as a source - probably the principal source - of organs for forced organ harvesting”.“The conclusion shows that very many people have died indescribably hideous deaths for no reason, that more may suffer in similar ways and that all of us live on a planet where extreme wickedness may be found in the power of those, for the time being, running a country with one of the oldest civilisations known to modern man.”He added: “There is no evidence of the practice having been stopped and the tribunal is satisfied that it is continuing.”The tribunal has been taking evidence from medical experts, human rights investigators and others. Among those killed, it has been alleged, are members of religious minorities such as Falun Gong. Persecution of the group began in 1999 after it had attracted tens of millions of followers and came to be seen as a threat to the communist party. There is less evidence about the treatment of Tibetans, Uighur Muslims and some Christian sects.

 China's Xi visits N Korea to boost ties with Kim -- China's President Xi Jinping is heading to North Korea for a meeting with Kim Jong-un, in the first Chinese state visit to the North since 2005. The two, who have met in China four times, are expected to discuss the stalled talks over the North's nuclear programme as well as economic issues. China is hugely important to North Korea, as its main trading partner. Mr Xi's visit comes a week before the G20 summit in Japan, where he is set to meet US President Donald Trump. It will also be his first meeting with Mr Kim since the Trump-Kim meeting in Hanoi in February ended without any agreement on North Korean denuclearisation. Why is the visit happening now? Mr Xi's two-day visit will be the first by any Chinese leader to North Korea in 14 years and Mr Xi's first since taking power in 2012. It is being seen as a boost for Mr Kim, who has been struggling to maintain momentum after a flurry of diplomatic activity over the past year. The two leaders will inevitably discuss the stalled nuclear negotiations and the collapse of the Hanoi summit. Analysts say Mr Xi will want to know what happened and whether any way can be found to move things forward, information he could then share if he meets Mr Trump in Japan.

North Korea's Kim meets China's Xi, says awaiting US actions— North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, meeting in Pyongyang with Chinese President Xi Jinping, said Thursday that his country is waiting for a desired response in stalled nuclear talks with the United States. “North Korea would like to remain patient, but it hopes the relevant party will meet halfway with North Korea to explore resolution plans that accommodate each other’s reasonable concerns,” he said, according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV. Xi’s trip to North Korea, the first by a Chinese president in 14 years, raises the possibility that China could help break a monthslong impasse in talks between the U.S. and North Korea over the North’s nuclear weapons. Describing the issue as “highly complex and sensitive,” Xi said his government is willing to play a constructive role in the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. “The international community expects the U.S. and North Korea to continue to talk and achieve results,” he said, according to CCTV. The summit comes as both countries are locked in separate disputes with the United States — China over trade and North Korea over its nuclear weapons. With Xi due to meet President Donald Trump next week in Japan, analysts say Kim may ask the Chinese leader to pass on a message that could revive the talks with the U.S.

Splintering Global Supply Chains: Asia’s Worst Nightmare? - Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan was speaking for the rest of Asia when he told a Washington, DC, audience in May that protracted US-China trade tensions would have a profound impact on the region.  “While we need to hope for the best, we need to also prepare for a period of increased volatility, potential slowing down of growth rates, and in the worst-case scenario, a major reordering of global supply chains” he warned. Balakrishnan also said he was worried that the US-China standoff would have ripple effects elsewhere, particularly in a failure to frame global rules of the road for the digital economy. “If this is not achieved, then you will end up with bifurcated supply chains, a bifurcated Internet. It will be a much less efficient world” he said.  The fact is that Asia’s global supply chains, the heartbeat of the region’s economy, are splintering. One data point which grabbed my attention is the surge in Vietnam’s trade surplus with America, which on the face of it should be unexceptional given the country’s rapid trade integration and emergence as a low-cost manufacturing hub. In January, Vietnam became the seventh of the 11 members of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP, to put into force the new free trade agreement, yielding immediate dividends from tariff reductions. Vietnam is emerging as the favored final assembly point in the Asian supply chain, a position held by China for the past three decades. One reason for this repositioning is labor costs – China’s are becoming prohibitively expensive for many companies and the diversion was inevitable. Another reason is toxic geopolitics, with many companies taking precautions and not wanting to be caught up in a protracted battle as Washington accuses Beijing over mercantilist trade policies and technology theft. The global supply chain in Asia was a purely private-sector effort with little interference from politicians. The fact that companies are actively rearranging or diversifying their product assembly for blatantly political reasons is worrying. During the actual Cold War between the West and the Soviet Union, both sides traded very little (besides contentious grain shipments) and there was no American-led supply chain behind the Iron Curtain.

China is courting trouble in Hong Kong - The world has been riveted by the protests raging in Hong Kong against the city government's proposed law to allow the extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China. About one million people -- roughly one-seventh of the former British colony's population -- took to the streets on June 9 to denounce the draft law, and another large protest on June 12 resulted in violent clashes between demonstrators and police. Yet, despite the massive protests, the Chinese government is determined to get its way. Instead of withdrawing the proposed law, Hong Kong's Beijing-controlled leaders have fast-tracked the bill and scheduled it for a vote in the city's Legislative Council at the end of this month. Its adoption would be a calamity not only for Hong Kong, but also for China. The proposed extradition law would violate China's pledge to adhere to the model of "one country, two systems" in Hong Kong. And by giving the authorities in Beijing a convenient legal tool to grab individuals deemed to be "enemies" of the Chinese state, the legislation would imperil the liberty of Hong Kong's citizens -- and that of foreigners residing there. Although the draft law does not formally apply to political offenses, this will offer no protection in practice. Under the Chinese legal system -- which is controlled by the Communist Party of China -- the distinction between political offenses and conventional crimes is hopelessly blurred. Increasingly, in fact, the Chinese party-state persecutes human-rights activists by accusing them of criminal, not political, offenses. Common charges include "running an illegal business" and "picking quarrels and provoking trouble." If the proposed law is adopted, the mainland authorities will be able to arrest anyone in Hong Kong easily, by charging the target with an extraditable crime. Given the low threshold of proof -- prosecutors would not need to provide evidence beyond probable cause -- the protection against politically-motivated extradition requests is frighteningly slim. At the same time, however, China's leaders should be aware that the outside world is watching current developments with great alarm. Unless the Chinese government backs down, the United States, in particular, will most likely take steps to make it pay dearly. In 1992, the U.S. Congress passed the U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act, to continue treating the city as a separate entity from mainland China. The law grants Hong Kong economic and trading privileges, such as continued access to sensitive technologies and the free exchange of the U.S. dollar with the Hong Kong dollar. But such benefits are contingent upon China fulfilling its commitments under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong, which set out the terms of the city's future handover.

While Lam relents, Hong Kong calls massively for her ouster - Hong Kong’s embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam issued a public apology Sunday evening (June 16) as hundreds of thousands of protestors dressed in black clogged the city’s streets in another massive protest demanding her resignation and the scrapping of a contentious bill that would allow for the extradition of suspects to mainland China. A day after Lam announced a surprise decision to indefinitely postpone the bill in a press conference on Saturday, the city’s leader vowed to “sincerely and humbly accept all criticism and to improve and serve the public” in a statement released at 8:30 pm as chanting crowds stood outside the gates of her office calling for her to step down. “Carrie Lam’s press conference yesterday just made Hong Kong people angrier. We don’t think she will step down, but we must force her out,” said 27-year-old Chiew minutes before demonstrators began marching from Victoria Park in the scorching afternoon heat with the aim of forcing the government to rescind, rather than postpone, the controversial bill. Gripped by a surge of mass dissent, the Asian financial hub has been thrust into political crisis amid the largest political demonstrations and some of the worst scenes of violence since Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule in 1997. Organizers from the Civil Human Rights Front said almost two million people took part in Sunday’s march. Police estimates put the figure at 338,000, higher than the 240,00 estimated by authorities at the previous Sunday’s (June 9) march, which organizers said were attended by 1.03 million people. The sheer volume of people present on Sunday saw the march spill over from its designated route into smaller neighboring roads, bringing many of them to a complete standstill.

Leaderless and livid: The youngsters on Hong Kong front lines - Young Hong Kongers who marshalled the fight against a police force that was armed with tear gas and rubber bullets have spoken of how they were pushed into embracing more confrontational tactics by the failure of years of peaceful protests. In a series of interviews with AFP, the young men and women -- most of them university students on leafy campuses -- said they had become disillusioned with marches and civil disobedience failing to sway the city's largely unelected pro-Beijing leadership. And with key leaders of earlier pro-democracy movements now languishing in jail, they have switched to small, leaderless cells in a bid to evade capture. Hong Kong witnessed unprecedented scenes on Wednesday as youngsters clashed with riot police outside parliament to stop lawmakers debating a hugely unpopular bill that would allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland. One of those on the front lines, 18-year-old student Sharon, said the moment she felt peaceful rallies no longer worked came three days earlier. That day a record crowd -- organisers say more than a million -- marched peacefully through the streets of the international finance hub calling for the bill to be scrapped. "I suddenly had this realisation that even though one million people marched, there wouldn't be an impact," she said, asking -- like the other students -- not to be identified. "This time people realised peaceful protests don't really work," she added. For people like Sharon, it was time to switch tactics in a city where democracy activists have held huge annual marches since 2003 but made limited progress.

Tens of thousands dressed in black rally to demand Hong Kong leader steps down (Reuters) - Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam apologised to its people on Sunday as an estimated 1 million-plus black-clad protesters insisted that she resign over her handling of a bill that would allow citizens to be sent to mainland China for trial. Organisers said almost 2 million turned out on Sunday to demand that chief executive Lam step down in what is becoming the most significant challenge to China’s relationship with the territory since it was handed back by Britain 22 years ago. Sunday’s demonstration came in spite of Lam indefinitely delaying - though not withdrawing - the bill on Saturday in a dramatic climbdown that threw into question her ability to continue to lead the city. On Sunday, she apologised for the way the government had handled the draft law, which had been scheduled for debate last Wednesday, but gave no further insight into its fate. Organisers pressed ahead with the protest to demand the bill’s full withdrawal, as well as to mark their anger at the way police handled a demonstration against it on Wednesday, when more than 70 people were injured by rubber bullets and tear gas. Some of Sunday’s marchers held signs saying, “Do not shoot, we are HongKonger.” Police said the demonstration reached 338,000 at its peak. Organisers and police have routinely produced vastly different estimates at recent demonstrations. Organisers estimated a protest the week before drew 1 million while police said 240,000. “It’s much bigger today. Many more people,” said one protester who gave her name as Ms Wong. “I came today because of what happened on Wednesday, with the police violence.” Loud cheers rang out when activists called through loud hailers for Lam’s resignation and the cry “step down” echoed through the streets.

Watch: Hong Kong protesters sing Les Miserables' 'Do you hear the people sing’ --"Do you hear the people sing", a number from the record-breaking musical Les Miserables, could be heard across Hong Kong on Sunday as two million people marched to demand the city's top official resign over a controversial extradition bill.The song has become a protest anthem since it was released in 1980 as part of the Les Miserables musical written by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, based on Victor Hugo's novel of the same name. Considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century, Hugo's Les Miserables depicts the life and struggles of working-class French people culminating in a student uprising which ends tragically. Sung twice during the musical, "Do you hear the people sing" is a call to revolution. The chorus goes:  "Do you hear the people sing?  Singing the songs of angry men?   It is the music of a people   Who will not be slaves again!"   The English lyrics were penned by Herbert Kretzmer.Protesters in the US state of Wisconsin sung it in 2011, as did activists during Ukraine's Euromaidan movement and Istanbul's Gezi Park protests, both in 2013.The song also became the unofficial anthem during the Occupy Hong Kong movement of 2014. Recent protests in the semi-autonomous Chinese city over the controversial proposal to extradite people, including foreigners, to the mainland, have seen it sung again with footage widely shared on social media.The video in the player above was filmed on Sunday when two million Hongkongers flocked to the street to demand the resignation of Carrie Lam, the city's chief executive, despite the official having caved to protesters the day before and shelved the contentious bill. The Economist magazine reported that the protest song has been censored on the Chinese mainland, with QQ Music, one of the country's most popular streaming service, removing it from its platform.

Hong Kong officials bid to ease tensions in city as students and activist groups vow to escalate action with another protest if demands are not met - Top government officials and advisers on Wednesday were going all out to ease lingering tensions over Hong Kong’s now-suspended extradition bill, even as students, activist groups and opposition politicians threatened to stage another major protest on Friday if their demands were not met.On the diplomatic front in Beijing, State Councillor Wang Yi accused unnamed forces of seeking to undermine stability in Hong Kong by opposing the bill, which he said was fully in line with the interests of the city but probably needed further discussion.Foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang, responding to US President Donald Trump’s description of Hong Kong protestersas “very effective”, noted the American leader had also said what was happening in the city was China’s affair.  “This is the right attitude,” Lu said.  A day after Hong Kong’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, offered a personal apology to the public over her mishandling of the bill and the conflicts it had caused, the government revealed it was delaying another politically sensitive piece of legislation, this time on making it a criminal offence to disrespect the national anthem.  But in a reflection of the challenge facing Lam’s administration, two prominent religious leaders issued a rare joint statement joining the chorus of calls for her to completely withdraw, rather than suspend, the extradition bill, which would allow the transfer of suspects to mainland China and other jurisdictions with which the city has no relevant agreement.Cardinal John Tong Hon, leader of the city’s Catholic Church, and Hong Kong Christian Council chairman Reverend Eric So Shing-yit, alsocalled for an independent inquiry into allegations of police brutality against protesters.

India may trade places with US to ship items to China  - India has identified 151 products that it can export to China instead of the US and benefit from the price advantage thrown up by the retaliatory higher duties slapped by the Xi Jinping government on US products amid the intensifying trade war between the two countries. These include diesel engines, X-ray tubes, antibiotics, copper ores, granite, xylene, inverter and ketones, said people with knowledge of the matter.This comes in the wake of the US terminating  preferential benefits to $6.35 billion of Indian exports and India deciding to raise import tariffs on 28 goods originating in the US. “There are more than a hundred lines in which India has the potential to replace the US exports to China as it has market access and is a competitor of the US,” said an official aware of an internal study by the Department of Commerce to identify such products.The government has also identified 531 product lines in which US imports from China and India’s exports to the world are significant. Out of these, India has the potential to replace Chinese exports to the US as it has market access and is a competitor of China in 203 lines.China has slapped a higher duty of 5-25% on most chemicals coming from the US compared with the tariff of 2-7% levied on  Indian chemicals.  Copper concentrates, granite, xylene and inverters are the key American products on which China has levied 25% duty while products of reclaimed rubber and parts of taps are in the 20% tariff category since June 1.The 151 products identified by India are part of a list of 774 such items where the country sees scope for higher exports. These 774 product lines are those in which China’s imports from the US are substantial and so are India’s exports to the world.

Free speech under fire in India - In India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, police arrested four journalists over a tweet and a story, underlining what news organizations and other critics see as an increasing threat to freedom of speech in India. While free speech is a constitutional right, reports from across the country show growing official intolerance for dissent and contrary opinions. The UP police on June 8 arrested freelance journalist Prashant Kanojia; Ishika Singh, head of Noida-based news channel Nation Live; and Anuj Shukla, one of the editors of the channel. On June 10, police arrested Anshul Kaushik, another editor of the news channel. All four were booked for publishing “objectionable content” related to a controversial video of a woman who claimed she had sent a marriage proposal to the state’s chief minister, Ajay Singh Bisht, who is also known as Yogi Adityanath. While a local court denied bail to Singh and Shukla, the Supreme Court on Tuesday directed Uttar Pradesh police to release Kanojia and called his arrest a ‘“glaring case of deprivation of liberty” and “excessive” action by the police. “We might not approve of the nature of his posts,” said Justice Indira Banerjee, who headed the two-judge bench., but we are concerned about his arrest. This is a nation that has a constitution. Liberty cannot be infringed like this.” The Editor’s Guild of India condemned the arrests of media persons in the Bisht case, saying the intent was “to intimidate the press and stifle freedom of expression.” “Whatever the accuracy of the woman’s claims, to register a case of criminal defamation against the journalists for sharing it on the social media and airing it on a television channel is a brazen misuse of law,” the guild’s statement read.

Time for the G-20 to act on girls' education - Malala - Educated women start companies and run countries. They research vaccines and build machines and much more. But only a fraction of women in the world are working and earning at their full potential. To create a more equal workforce we need to educate all girls. Group of 20 leaders represent the world's strongest economies. They promote global growth and stability, discuss challenges and take collective action to solve them. At the G-20 summit in Osaka on June 28-29, the best investment leaders can make in building stable and prosperous economies is in girls' education. Education enables girls to live out their most ambitious dreams. When millions more girls can learn the skills they need to thrive, millions more women can help drive industries and countries forward. Research by the Malala Fund and the World Bank revealed that if all girls completed secondary school, they could add up to $30 trillion to the global economy. Investing in girls' education also promotes peace, improves public health and helps countries reduce the effects of climate change. Yet more than 130 million girls aged between six and 17 are out of school. And as technology changes the way we live, learn and earn, almost one billion girls and young women lack the skills they need to participate in the modern workforce. Without support, girls in developing countries will have an even tougher time than they do today finding secure work. Global unemployment will rise and labor gaps will widen -- with millions of jobs open and not enough educated workers to fill them. To avoid a global skills crisis, the G-20 must direct new funding and technical support toward education and ensure that girls can help close predicted workforce shortages. At the Buenos Aires summit last year, G-20 leaders officially recognized -- for the first time -- the crucial link between girls' education and global prosperity. This year, we need action.

Pew: World population expected to virtually stop growing by 2100 - - The world's population is expected to virtually stop growing by 2100, according to research released by Pew Research Center on Monday. Pew analyzed data from the United Nations indicating falling global fertility rates will lead to a population of about 10.9 billion people at the end of the century, with what analysts said is annual growth of less than 0.1 percent. It's a steep decline from past patterns, Pew notes. The world population grew by about 1 to 2 percent between 1950 and today, increasing the number of people by about 5.2 billion. Global fertility rates are expected to drop from an average of 2.5 births per woman today to 1.9 births per woman by 2100, according to the research. But the pattern is not consistent across all world regions. Africa is the only region to show signs of "strong population growth," while the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are expected to see growth throughout the end of the century to lesser degrees, Pew reports. In North America, especially the United States, the primary driver of continued population growth is expected to be migration, according to the report. Data indicates the immigrant population of the United States will see a net increase of 85 million between 2020 and 2100, which is expected to be roughly equal to the combined total of the next nine highest countries. Reported data suggests Europe and Latin America are expected to have declining populations by 2100, and Asia is expected to increase around 2055 and then begin to decline. Half of babies born worldwide are expected to be born in Africa, with the region projected to have five of the 10 most populated countries by 2100, according to the analysis. Pew also noted data indicates India will surpass China as the most populous country by 2027.

WATCH: Glenn Greenwald Explains the Political Earthquake in Brazil Caused by Our Ongoing Exposés -- Last Sunday, the Intercept and the Intercept Brasil published a series of exposés that has created a major political earthquake in Brazil that has only grown and intensified throughout the week. In less than a week, the once-revered Justice Minister of President Bolsonaro’s government, Sergio Moro, now faces widespread calls to resign from the same large Brazilian media outlets that spent years transforming him into an untouchable icon of integrity and uncritically applauding his every move. Even more grave, the improprieties revealed by our reporting have cast serious doubt on the validity of numerous guilty verdicts issued by Judge Moro and the anti-corruption task force, beginning – most importantly – with the conviction and imprisonment of former President Lula da Silva last year at exactly the time that he was the overwhelming front-runner to win the presidency in 2018. That conviction by Judge Moro, which we now know was the by-product of highly improper and unethical conduct, is now scheduled to be reviewed by the Supreme Court as early as next week. The archive we received from our source is vast, and contains many more explosive stories yet to be reported. Just last night, we published another story exposing even more serious improprieties by Judge Moro, widely regarded as the anchor of legitimacy for the Bolsonaro government, that has led for more calls for him to resign. Because of the importance but also complexity of these issues for those outside of Brazil, we created a video explaining what this archive is about, what these revelations mean, and why the consequences of our reporting are so significant not only for Brazil but for the entire democratic world.

Solidarity With Glenn Greenwald - Journalist Glenn Greenwald is once again rocking international politics by exposing state violations of civil liberties. This time, his reporting targets the highest levels of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s cabinet. In the United States, Greenwald is best knownfor publishing whistleblower Edward Snowden’s disclosure of illegal National Security Administration surveillance programs in the Guardian in 2013. At the time, several Republican Congressmen called for Greenwald’s prosecution, including Mike Rogers, then chair of the House Intelligence Committee. This time around, political hacks in Brazil, where Greenwald has lived for years, are calling for his head. This has resulted in “grotesque” threats against not just Greenwald’s life, but those of his husband, the leftist congressman David Miranda, and their adopted children.Why? On June 9, Greenwald and a team of reporters — Andrew Fishman, Rafael Moro Martins, Leandro Demori, and Alexandre de Santi — at the Interceptpublished two blockbuster articles based on leaked communications between lead prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol and then-presiding Judge Sergio Moro in a sweeping anti-corruption campaign named Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash). While Lava Jato filed charges against powerful politicians across the political spectrum, the conviction and ten-year sentence handed down to former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was Moro’s crown jewel. Lula is by far the most popular leader of the Workers Party (PT), who rose up from the ranks of the metal workers union to rally millions in the late 1970s and early 1980s against the generals who ran Brazil. He was elected to two terms as president between 2003 and 2010, during which he promoted programs that reduced extreme poverty and expanded education opportunities for working-class students.

From coup leaders to con artistry: Juan Guaidó’s gang exposed for massive humanitarian aid fraud  - A new investigation has exposed members of Venezuelan coup leader Juan Guaidó’s inner circle for embezzling tens of thousands of dollars designated for humanitarian aid and spending it on luxury goods and lavish accommodations for themselves. Guaidó had been aware of the fraud for weeks and stubbornly defended his cohorts until a leak from Colombian intelligence forced him to acknowledge the scandal.The scandal unfolded this February, when Venezuelan opposition figures and their supporters descended upon the border town of Cúcuta, Colombia for what was billed as a Live Aid concert to raise millions of dollars for humanitarian aid for Venezuelans suffering the effects of an economic crisis.The operation was supposed to have climaxed with a Live Aid concert hosted by billionaire Virgin Group founder Richard Branson while trucks full of US aid blasted across the Venezuelan border. Instead, as Branson gathered his performers on stage for a cringeworthy rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” opposition hooligans set fire to the truckloads of aid with molotov cocktails as they failed to reach the border.Now, a report by the staunchly anti-Maduro PanAm Post editor-in-chief Orlando Avendaño has revealed a shocking scheme of fraud and embezzlement behind the aid imbroglio. According to Avendaño, Guaidó’s lieutenants embezzled huge sums of money that had been promised to Venezuelan soldiers who deserted their positions and snuck across to the Colombian side at Guaidó’s urging. The cash that was used to entice desperate soldiers and would-be mercenaries to defect became a slush fund for the US-backed coup leader and his gaggle, who spent it lavishly on hotels, expensive dinners, nightclubs and designer clothes. As Guaidó’s gang lived the high life, he covered for their fraud, keeping his lips sealed until it was exposed through a leak by the Colombian intelligence services.

Massive Embezzlement Scandal Threatens Juan Guaido's Political Future - The political party of Juan Guaido - Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) - was never all that popular to begin with. The sixth largest political party in Venezuela, Popular Will is heavily financed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Now, a recently exposed embezzlement scandal in Colombia risks to further alienate the party from the Venezuelan people. What was supposed to be Guaido’s watershed moment has instead turned out to be a public-relations failure far worse than his quickly quelled attempted military coup, which MintPress News reported caused even the New York Times to describe Guaido as “deflated.” What happened in Colombia appears to be so damning that not only is the Colombian intelligence service leaking documents exposing wrongdoing by Popular Will representatives appointed by Guaido, but the Organization of American States (OAS) — which is typically just as pro-opposition as the Colombian government — has called for an investigation. In a tweet issued June 14 at 10:47 p.m. Venezuela time, Guaido called on his ambassador to Colombia — whom he had shut out of the aid event — to formally request an investigation by Colombian authorities, whose already-existing investigation is the reason the story came out in the first place. That was more than four hours after Secretary General of the OAS Luis Almagro called for an investigation that would clarify the “serious charges,” identify those responsible and effectuate accountability. But Guaido had already been well aware of the charges, having dismissed his appointees who appear to be ringleaders of the embezzlement scheme. According to the report, he was contacted by the journalist who exposed the scandal 30 days before the story was published.  There’s barely a peep about the scandal in the Western press. A Google News search for “Juan Guaido scandal” and “Popular Will scandal” turned up nothing of relevance at the time of this article’s writing. But on Latin America social media, everyone is buzzing about it. American journalist Dan Cohen appears to be the first to highlight the scandal to an English-speaking audience. It started with a request from Juan Guaido to billionaire investor and regime-change enthusiast Richard Branson.  Associates of Venezuelan coup frontman Juan Guaidó embezzled funds raised in Cúcuta, Colombia for humanitarian aid and lavishly spent it on hotels, nightclubs and expensive clothes. This is a monumental scandal!

 Poll Finds Maduro's Domestic Support Stronger After Coup Attempt & US Pressures - A new poll has found that after emerging victorious in Venezuela's recent US-backed failed coup attempt led by opposition leader Juan Gaido, socialist leader Nicolas Maduro commands a popular majority of Venezuelans' recognition as the legal head of the country, even after over 50 countries rejected his January reelection as invalid. The five-month political stalemate appears to be "subtly helping" Maduro, according to a Miami Herald report of a new Datincorp poll conducted over the weekend, even after dozens of countries have followed America's lead in recognizing only Guaido as the "interim present". The poll found that a majority 41% of Venezuelans consider Maduro the country’s “constitutional president” against 36% who recognize Guaido. These numbers were significantly up from February, when 49% at the time said Guaido was the true leader, versus 34% that backed Maduro. The latest poll further suggests that though the country is still deeply divided, with a cash-poor economy and smashed infrastructure - including electricity rationing and fuel shortages to boot - the aggressive US rhetoric and pressures demanding Maduro relinquish power has only served to hurt the opposition's domestic standing. It should be no secret that citizens would react negatively to a foreign power attempting to control political outcomes in their country no matter how bad or dire the situation had become. However, the poll still found that Maduro is deeply unpopular even if the legal status of his leadership is not in question for most Venezuelans.

Loonie Spikes After Canadian Core Inflation Soars To 10-Year Highs - Canadian inflation rose faster than expected in May across all eight major components, spiking the Loonie as it supports the BoC's view that 'the North' is emerging from its growth slowdown (and Poloz argument that rates will need to go higher).The headline consumer price index jumped 2.4% from a year earlier, compared with 2% in April and versus a median economist forecast of 2.1%, Statistics Canada said Wednesday from Ottawa. It was the highest annual rate since October, boosted by increases in food and durable goods prices.Core inflation, closely watched by policy makers, surged, with the average of the three key measures rising to 2.07%, the highest since February 2012.The largest upside contributor to CPI on an annual basis was shelter costs, which rose 2.7%. Food and transportation were also major drivers. And the Trimmed Mean inflation print jumped 2.3% YoY - the highest since March 2009...

Bookstore politics - When in Russia, I like to take a look at the shelves of the politics section in major bookstores, in order to get some flavour of what politically-interested Russians are reading. The assumption is that what’s on sale reflects what people buy, and that what people buy tells us something about political preferences. It’s perhaps not the most sophisticated method of assessing educated opinion, but I find it interesting nonetheless. On Sunday, therefore, I popped into the big bookstore in the Singer building on Nevsky Prospekt in St Petersburg, and took a look at what what was on the shelves of the politics section there. This photo shows the main finding: What you see here is an entire shelf of books authored or co-authored by Nikolai Starikov. We’ve discussed Starikov before on this blog, in the context of his attempts (in the face of the documentary evidence) to deny that the Soviets murdered several thousand Polish officers at Katyn during World War Two. Starikov peddles a sort of anti-Western Russian nationalism allied with apologies for the Soviet Union. He takes the line that the history of the Soviet regime, particularly under Josef Stalin, is used by the West to discredit the USSR and through that undermine modern Russia. From this it follows that the Soviet Union must be defended, and the costs of Stalin’s policies downplayed, in order to defend Russia against the West today. Historical truth thus has to be interpreted in the light of the role it can play in contemporary geopolitics. It’s a little disturbing, therefore, to see how popular Starikov’s books seem to be. In fact the situation is even worse than it seems, as above the shelf of Starikov books I found another shelf full of works listed as ‘Nikolai Starikov Recommends’, like these:

US, NATO Consumed By Black Sea Madness -  The Black Sea was far outside NATO’s traditional theater of operations for most of the Alliance’s history. However, Brussels and Washington have been piling up their military assets and visibility in the region like bees at a honey pot – or like a rogue herd of elephants charging off the edge of a cliff. Yet NATO’s “In Your Face” presence in the Black Sea protects no one. On the contrary, it puts America’s allies in the region at grave risk by escalating tensions and increasing the danger that full scale war could break out by deliberately manufactured incident (Just think the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964) and or through a random error or clash that escalates out of control.The US/NATO forward presence in the Black Sea is strategic madness. And it replicates parallel incendiary US exercises in fake macho stupidity against Beijing in the South China Sea: A region from which the Chinese people suffered invasion and societal collapse on a genocidal scale following defeats by Britain and France in the First Opium War (1839-42) and by Imperial Japan in its terrible invasion of summer 1937.Washington seems equally intent on opening up a third front against Iran with its parallel forward policy in the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean.Three simultaneous wars against three major nations, two of which are the largest, most populous in the world and formidably nuclear armed? US grand strategy –insofar as there is one – seems to have national suicide as its only goal.This is especially bizarre in the Black Sea: Washington’s strongest and most important ally in the region, Turkey is now on the brink of being expelled from NATO because of the Turkish government’s determination to buy Russia’s excellent S-400 air defense system, the best of its kind in the world.Expelling Ankara makes no rational sense whatsoever for the US and NATO. Turkey has proven vital to Washington’s demented 21st “strategy” of stirring up trouble throughout the region, especially in Iraq and Syria. If Turkey is driven out of NATO, the US will lose its restraining leverage to prevent Ankara from cracking down hard on the quasi-independent Kurdish enclaves – a move that Iran, Iraq and Syria would all enthusiastically welcome.

If Morgan Stanley Is Right, The World Is Now In A Recession -  It's Monday, which means a new dose of gloom has been released by Morgan Stanley's "prophet of doom", chief US equity strategist Michael Wilson, who writes this morning that he "sees an increasingly risky environment as deteriorating data and a dovish Fed stand off." As a reminder, last Friday we reported that the Morgan Stanley Business Conditions Index just suffered its biggest one month drop in history. Predictably, this was sufficient ammo for Wilson to launch on what may be his most bearish tirade so far this year, and as the strategist writes, "data points and analyst sentiment are falling and we think PMIs and earnings revisions are next." That's just the beginning: Decelerations and disappointments are mounting: •Cass Freight Index •Retailer earnings •Durable goods orders •Capital spending •PMIs •May payrolls •Semiconductor inventories •Oil demand •Restaurant performance indices... and our own Morgan Stanley Business Conditions Index (MSBCI). Looking at the MSBCI in particular, the headline metric showed the biggest one-month drop in its history going back to 2002 and very close to its lowest absolute reading since December 2008. This index has a tight relationship with ISM new orders and analyst earnings revisions breadth. Our analysis shows downside risk to ISM new orders (25% y/y), S&P earnings revisions breadth (6-13%) and the S&P 500 y/y (8%) if historical links hold. While we showed the MS BCI last week, here it is again in the context of PMI Headline and New Orders. As Wilson warns, "be prepared for a sharp fall in PMIs" as the MSBCI suggests the Mfg PMI New Orders component will fall to 40 over the next few months, which would be down approximately 25% on a y/y basis. Another way of putting it - if Morgan Stanley's indicator is right, the world is already in a recession. As Wilson explains, the reason he takes this MSBCI so seriously is due to the very tight relationship it has with the ISM Manufacturing purchasing manager index and new orders (shown above) and the ISM's relationship with y/y changes in the S&P. Speaking of the latter, Morgan Stanley cautions that based on the historical relationship between the y/y change in the Mfg PMI New Orders and S&P500, "we now expect a fall of approximately 10% for the major indices with wide dispersion between stocks and sectors." As the next chart illustrates, the implied -25% y/y plunge in the Mfg PMI New Orders translates into an 8% decline in the S&P 500. "Assuming this occurs in the next few months, that would give us downside to 2450 at the low end and 2650 on the high end, depending on when and if the PMIs fall and the market prices it. We think 2600-2650 is a good range to think about adding risk broadly", Wilson writes.

Global Negative Yielding Debt Soars By $700 Billion In One Day To Record $13 Trillion - The "deflationary ice age" predicted by SocGen's Albert Edwards some 25 years ago is upon us. The one-two punch of a dovish Draghi and Powell unleashing the "deflationary spirits" has resulted not only in the S&P hitting a new all time high, but in an unprecedneted flight to safety as investors freak out that a recession may be imminent (judging by the forceful jawboning by central bankers hinting of imminent easing), pushing gold above $1,400 - its highest price since 2013 - and global yields to new all time lows. As a result, the total notional amount of global debt trading with negative yields soared by $700 billion in just one day, and a whopping $1.2 trillion this week, the biggest weekly increase in at least three years. This has pushed the amount of negative yielding debt to a new all time high of $13 trillion. Europe in particular is, for lack of a better word, a disaster. We won't paraphrase everything else we said in the context of this very troubling observation (see our latest post from yesterday discussing the surge in (-) yielding debt), we'll just repeat the big picture summary: such a collapse in yields is not bullish, or indicative of a new golden age for the global economy. Quite the contrary - it signifies that debt investors are more confident than ever that the global growth rate is collapsing and only central bank intervention may possibly delay (not prevent) the world sliding into recession. Worse, rates are set to only drop, because as Rabobank's Michael Every wrote yesterday "if the Fed do cut ahead then yields fall, more so at the shorter end; but if they don’t cut then yields still fall, but more so at the longer end (now around 2.02%)." His conclusion: "Either way US (and global) yields are going to fall – which tells its own sad story."

Uncertainty over output gap and structural-balance estimates remains elevated  - The European fiscal framework involves a complex set of rules and indicators. An important indicator is the so-called structural balance of the general government, which aims to measure the underlying position of the budget balance. Its estimation tries to exclude the impact of the economic cycle (e.g. tax revenues are smaller than usual in an economic downturn) and one-off measures (like bank recapitalisation costs). EU countries have to meet a certain Medium Term Objective (MTO), which is set in terms of the estimated structural balance. If the estimated structural balance has not yet reached the MTO, the annual fiscal adjustment should be a 0.5% of GDP increase in the estimated structural balance in the benchmark case. (Larger than 0.5% adjustment is required in ‘good times’ or in ‘normal times’ if the public debt is over 60% of GDP, while in ‘bad times’ lower adjustment is required; see page 38 here.) Structural balances are not observed, but estimated. A major input to the estimation is the estimated output gap, which is the difference between actual output (as published by statistical offices) and potential output (which is estimated). Potential output is the hypothetical level of output that would be produced if all resources (like labour, capital and productivity) were employed at their long-term sustainable rate. In some blog posts published between 2013-2016 (see here, here and here) I highlighted the major uncertainties in output-gap and structural-balance estimates. Have estimates became more reliable in recent years, well after the euro-area crisis? In this post I conclude that the answer is no. Output-gap and structural-balance estimates continue to be subject to major uncertainties. Here, I not only update my earlier calculations but also look at the range of estimates from three institutions – the European Commission, the IMF and the OECD – and national estimates as reflected in national Stability and Convergence Programmes, whenever available. I also check the revisions in national estimates. All these new calculations reinforce the finding of elevated uncertainty about output gaps and structural balances.

Bad Loans Still Too High at Eurozone Banks, ECB Warns - naked capitalism - Yves here. This post describes how efforts to tackle the bad loan problem at Eurozone banks have made a dent, but still leave banks in countries that had a high level of non-performing loans at considerable risk. That matters because the EU implemented banking “reforms” which became effective in 2016 called the Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive. However, it was notably lacking in features that would prevent a future bank crisis. It was instead preoccupied with having investors take losses instead of having governments, as in Germany, on the hook. The wee problem is that approach is more likely to create bank runs and failures than the current regime. like having adequately-funded EU or Eurozone-wide deposit insurance and implementing measures to resolve sick banks (which really needs to include firing top managers and the board as a common course of action, as well as clawbacks). Thomas Fazi gave a high-level overview back then: On 1 January 2016 the EU’s banking union – an EU-level banking supervision and resolution system – officially came into force….In its original intention, the banking union was supposed to ‘break the vicious circle between banks and sovereigns’ by mutualising the fiscal costs of bank resolution…. In the course of constructing the banking union, however, something remarkable happened: ‘the centralization of supervision was carried out decisively; but in the meantime its actual premise (that is, the centralization of the fiscal backstop for bank resolution) was all but abandoned’, Christos Hadjiemmanuil writes. Within a year, Germany and its allies had obtained:

  1. the exclusion from the banking union of any common deposit insurance scheme;
  2. the retention of an effective national veto over the use of common financial resources;
  3. the likely exclusion of so-called ‘legacy assets’ – that is, debts incurred prior to the effective establishment of the banking union – from any recapitalisation scheme, on the basis that this would amount to an ex post facto mutualisation of the costs from past national supervisory failures (though the issue remains open);
  4. critically, a very strict and inflexible burden-sharing hierarchy aimed at ensuring that (i) the use of public funds in bank resolution would be avoided under all but the most pressing circumstances, and even then kept to a minimum, through a strict bail-in approach; and that (ii) the primary fiscal responsibility for resolution would remain at the national level, with the mutualised fiscal backstop serving as an absolutely last resort.

In short, when a bank runs into trouble, existing stakeholders – shareholders, junior creditors and, depending on the circumstances, even senior creditors and depositors with deposits in excess of the guaranteed amount of €100,000 – are required to contribute to the absorption of losses and recapitalisation of the bank through a write-down of their equity and debt claims and/or the conversion of debt claims into equity.

Banks accused of ‘systematic’ gouging of small customers on FX - Banks across Europe earn hundreds of millions of euros a year from overcharging small corporate customers for foreign exchange services, according to a new paper from the European Central Bank. The new research is the first data-driven study of the traditionally opaque world of forex derivatives pricing, and gives support to anecdotal evidence that smaller corporate clients tend to pay higher rates for protection against swings in exchange rates. In some cases those rates can be 25 times higher than for bigger, more sophisticated customers, the researchers found. “The elephant in the room is that dealers systematically and consistently overcharge clients who don’t have currency trading expertise,” said Harald Hau, a professor at the Geneva School of Economics and Management and lead author of the soon-to-be-released paper. The study analysed half a million “forward” derivatives contracts, which lock in an exchange rate to be paid in the future, for the euro/dollar currency pair. The deals were arranged privately between more than 200 banks and more than 10,000 clients, ranging from large multinationals to small import-export companies. The findings were stark: banks collect an extra €638m a year on average as a result of discriminatory pricing in euro/dollar contracts. The majority of corporate clients pay about 50 basis points — or 0.5 per cent — on contracts on which the largest companies pay just 2bp. “It’s the equivalent of walking into a used-car dealership and paying €50,000 for a car that others can buy for €5,000,” said Mr Hau. “The price discrimination occurs systematically against the less sophisticated market participants, namely small export and import companies.” Measuring how currency dealers price services had been difficult until new European regulations in 2016 mandated banks and their counterparties to report more details of their trades to regulators. The paper is based on the new data and is an updated version of initial findings published in 2017. Banks have long argued that their charges are related to clients’ individual needs and circumstances. But the research indicated that there was little difference in pricing for the length of contracts. Rates instead tended to be determined by the bank’s perception of the client’s expertise in currency transactions, it found.

How Italy Could Save the Euro  Marshall Auerback --Italy is now experiencing its third recession in a decade, its economy’s downward trajectory increasingly resembling Dante’s descent into his Inferno’s nine circles of hell (minus the prospects of ultimate redemption). Following the EU rule book to which it promised compliance has “asphyxiated Italy’s domestic demand and exports—and resulted not just in economic stagnation and a generalized productivity slowdown, but in relative and absolute decline in many major dimensions of economic activity,” writeseconomist Servaas Storm.The sovereign bond buying program initiated by the European Central Bank (ECB) president, Mario Draghi, likely prevented the destruction of Europe’s capital and credit markets and therefore saved the monetary union. As the monopoly issuer, the ECB was the only institution that could credibly make the pledge to do “whatever it takes to preserve the euro.” But Draghi’s monetary gymnastics have been singularly ineffective in restoring his native country’s economic growth, because the ECB’s “aid” is tied to the continued embrace of fiscal austerity by the recipient national governments. This condition was introduced to allay Berlin’s concerns that “profligates” such as Italy would otherwise get a free ride on prevailing low German interest rates, which (in theory) would enable their governments to spend away without consequence, thereby creating a potential Weimar 2.0 within the Eurozone as a whole. Far from creating hyperinflation, however, the arbitrary fiscal rules governing the European Monetary Union (EMU) are actually exacerbating existing disparities by locking countries like Italy into further deflationary impoverishment. The obvious solution would be to model the EU on a true federal fiscal union such as the United States, Canada, or Australia and therefore better align the political institutional arrangements with economic needs. That was a step too far when the Treaty on European Union (aka the Maastricht Treaty) was ratified to further European integration in 1992. Given intensifying strains between the EU’s historically closest allies today, the political conditions to create a viable supranational fiscal union are even more problematic. There are, however, other ways to resolve Italy’s economic stagnation that rationally get us beyond this mindless adherence to the EMU rulebook.

BMW Billionaire Heirs Say Their Lives Are Harder Than You Think - Dealing with the responsibility and jealousy from inheriting wealth is a misunderstood burden, according to Susanne Klatten and Stefan Quandt, the billionaire siblings who together own almost half of BMW AG.“Many believe that we are permanently sitting around on a yacht in the Mediterranean,” Klatten told Manager Magazin in a rare interview with her younger brother published Thursday. “The role as a guardian of wealth also has personal sides that aren’t so nice.” Klatten -- whose father Herbert Quandt helped rescue BMW in the late 1950s -- is Germany’s second-richest person with a fortune valued at $18.6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. She has also built up holdings in chemicals company Altana AG and carbon producer SGL Carbon SE.Quandt, who owns stakes in logistics company Logwin and homeopathic medicine company Heel, has a net worth of $15.5 billion. Both he and his sister have seats on BMW’s supervisory board.“For both of us, it’s certainly not the money that drives us,” said Quandt. “Above all, it is the responsibility of securing jobs in Germany.” The two heirs say they’re comfortable with their roles, but initially struggled with taking on high-level positions at young ages. Quandt, who was 30 when he was given his first board seat, said he might have wanted to work a few years as a “simple” product manager somewhere or study architecture. “My starting point was never: So, now I come and show everyone how it’s done,” said Quandt, who questions the rationale of inheritance tax. “Instead, it was a constant questioning, associated with self-doubt.”

Punk band files lawsuit against surveillance by German intelligence agency - Last week, the German punk band Dr. Ulrich Undeutsch filed a lawsuit against the Saxony State Office for the Protection of the Constitution (the German domestic intelligence agency at the state level, LfV). The injunction seeks to ensure that the 2018 intelligence agency report, which lists the band in the category “left-wing extremist music scene,” “can no longer be published in this form.”The band, based in the eastern German state of Saxony, justified its lawsuit by arguing that it was not clear “how our music infringed on the freedom of art and made us enemies of democracy.” The band also states in its press release: “What is obvious, however, is that this classification criminalises us and will be used by the authorities to make it harder for us to obtain venues, hosts and concert promoters.”The press release refers to the disproportionate deployment of police at the band’s concerts and the fact that organisers are pressured on a regular basis to cancel concerts by Dr. Ulrich Undeutsch, or concerts are cancelled for no good reason. This took place most recently in Leubsdorf, near where the band is based in Grünhainichen, when the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) mayor canceled an entire Alternative Rock Night concert.The LfV has included the “left-wing extremist music scene” in its reports since 2015. In the current report, eleven bands are named. Dr. Ulrich Undeutsch was first mentioned in 2017. The LfV in Bavaria also listed the band for the first time in its 2017 report, although it has only played two concerts in the south German state.

Double Whammy: A no-deal Brexit and Northern Ireland  - The Tory leadership race has brought a no-deal Brexit closer. Most candidates have either elevated No Deal to a heightened form of Brexit - a "clean" Brexit - or have insisted it is preferable to an extension beyond the current Article 50 deadline of 31 October. Brussels has remained largely silent on the Tory contest, but unease in Brussels and Dublin is growing. "They’ve redefined Brexit," says one senior EU official. "They’ve turned Brexit into No Deal." What those candidates have not explored is what No Deal would mean for Northern Ireland. Concern has been deepening within the North’s civil service and export sector. Senior officials in Belfast have been writing increasingly frantic letters to Whitehall to raise the alarm and to educate key elements of the British political and administrative systems. "The education has been going on for three years," says one source familiar with the situation. "It’s been tortuous. It’s ramped up very significantly in the past six months. We’re frantically trying to get as much material out in the public domain as quickly as possible." What would No Deal mean for Northern Ireland in basic terms? If Boris Johnson, presuming he is the new prime minister, makes good on his promise to leave with or without a deal on 1 November, the UK will become a third country. In theory, tariffs and restrictions will apply on Northern Ireland goods entering the EU across the land border. Boris Johnson The UK has said, however, that it would temporarily not apply tariffs on goods coming in from the Republic. Given the peculiar make up of the North’s economy, structured as it is around the SME and agri-food sector, and the very tight supply chains that embrace not just the Irish Republic but Great Britain as well, the effects could be devastating..

Dominic Raab warns Conservatives will be ‘toast’ in next election if it fails to secure Brexit by October 31st - Tory leadership contender Dominic Raab has warned his party will be "toast" and unable to win a general election if it fails to secure Brexit by the end of October.The ex-Brexit secretary said the party's woeful performance in the European elections and Peterborough by-election underlined the damage already inflicted on the Conservatives.The stark warning from Mr Raab came as he prepared to participate in a televised debate with four of his rivals to replace Theresa May in Downing Street on Sunday evening.  Clear favourite to succeed the prime minister, Boris Johnson, has refused to attend the Channel 4 debate, and the broadcaster plans to present viewers with an empty podium. "When people voted, they vote to Leave. We haven't left yet and that's why we're seeing not just the uncertainty for the economy – but also this corrosion of public trust," Mr Raab told Sky News' Sophy Ridge on Sunday.

Brexit: no-deal, big deal  -A few days ago, the European Commission published a report on the state of play "on preparations of contingency measures for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union". As regards the UK's position, the Commission tells us it has consistently stressed that contingency measures can only mitigate the most significant disruptions of a withdrawal without an agreement. Refusing to speculate on the possible economic implications of different scenarios, the Commission nevertheless asserts that the UK's withdrawal without an agreement, trading on WTO terms, "would have a serious negative economic impact" and that this impact "would be proportionally much greater" in the UK than in the EU-27 Member States.  To back its assertion, the Commission relies on a number of "external studies" that include both trade and non-trade channels, which suggest a short-term reduction in UK GDP. One of those is the IMF World Economic Outlook for 2019, which estimates a reduction between 3.7 and 4.9 percent, while the Bank of England (November 2018) estimates a reduction of between 4.75 and 7.75 percent over five years. By contrast, the IMF estimates the average short-term impact on the EU-27 Member States as well below one percent. As to the long-term impact, the "external studies" on which the Commission relies suggest a long-term negative impact of around 3 to 8 percent on UK GDP. The IMF (2019) estimates almost 3 percent; and the UK Government (2018) 7.7 percent. As regards the average long-term impact on the EU-27, the IMF (2019) estimate is well below one percent, in line with most other studies.

Sterling Slides After BOE Keeps Rates Unchanged, Sees Rising No-Deal Brexit RiskIn a break from the global easing tsunami that has swept the world in the past 48 hours, moments ago the Bank of England did not cut rates - as expected - in a unanimous 9-0 decision. MPC voted unanimously to keep #BankRate at 0.75%— Bank of England (@bankofengland) June 20, 2019The MPC noted that near-term data has been broadly in-line with projections made in the May report, however, downside risks to growth have increased; the bank also said that global trade tensions and especially the increasing risk of a no deal Brexit:  “Domestically, the perceived likelihood of no-deal Brexit has risen,” the bank said in a summary of monetary policy.Today's announcement follow a May report in which the BOE indicated that more rate hikes would be needed over the next few years to keep inflation under control, and said the market curve doesn’t reflect that. Since then investors have increased bets in the other direction, with the market showing a greater likelihood of a cut rather than an increase as the next move.The market moves “highlighted the ongoing tension between the MPC’s forecast conditioning assumption of a smooth Brexit and the assumptions about alternative Brexit scenarios that were priced into the financial market variables,” the minutes said. While Mark Carney's central bank said it still sees the need for interest-rate hikes in coming years if the forecasts bear out, they also said that investors are taking a different view than the bank’s assumption of a smooth Brexit. That pressured the pound and market expectations for future interest rates, the Monetary Policy Committee said in the minutes of its June meeting. The pound declined after the report while UK equities jumped.

 UK Labour’s Corbyn backs second referendum on any Brexit deal (Reuters) - British opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn backed a second referendum on any Brexit deal on Wednesday, his strongest support yet for a vote he said must offer “real choices” for those who want to leave or stay in the EU. Corbyn, an instinctive critic of the European Union, has been under growing pressure to back unequivocally a second referendum to satisfy many members and lawmakers in his party who say it is the only way to break the Brexit deadlock. He has previously showed his preference for a new national election, almost three years since Britain voted to leave the EU which left both his party and the governing Conservatives deeply split over how, when and whether Brexit should happen. Corbyn has come under fire for trying to keep both the so-called “Leave” and “Remain” sides of the debate happy by not siding with either camp. His latest shift may ease strains for some, but for others it will be too little, too late. Addressing his top policy team, Corbyn set out his position more clearly than before: “I have already made the case ... that it is now right to demand that any deal is put to a public vote. That is in line with our conference policy which agreed a public vote would be an option.”

Jeremy Hunt narrowly finishes second, as Boris Johnson storms to victory in final ballot -- Jeremy Hunt narrowly beat Michael Gove into second place in the fifth and final ballot, with the support of 77 MPs, against Gove, who received 75. Well ahead in first place was Boris Johnson, with the support of 160 MPs. Johnson and Hunt will now go forward to a vote of all Conservative party members, in which Johnson starts as the heavy favourite.The outcome of the result is unsurprising, but the margin is unexpectedly tight. Supporters of Sajid Javid, a Cabinet minister who wooed MPs by emphasising how both his backstory and his approach would make for a constructive final round of the contest, were always expected to split in favour of Jeremy Hunt, who is considered unlikely to fight a particularly pugnacious campaign against Boris Johnson; as opposed to Michael Gove, who was thought more likely to fight a more damaging campaign against Johnson.  In the end, Hunt only just saw off Gove. Johnson picked up just three votes between the two ballots, while Hunt went up by 16, and Gove by 14:  evidence, as far some are concerned, that Johnsonites voted tactically to secure their preferred opponent. True or not, it is an indicator that while Johnson has achieved an absolute majority of Conservative MPs, doubts about his fitness for office have not vanished from the parliamentary party. Either a hard core of MPs still opted not to back him or a large number of his opponents went for the candidate most likely to give him a rough ride.  For Team Johnson, that is a minor worry for now. They have their dream opponent: a former Remainer and a Theresa May loyalist who will be unlikely to make the final stage of the race uncomfortable for them.

Boris Johnson poised to replace May as UK prime minister The Conservative leadership contest to replace UK Prime Minister Theresa May will be decided between the hard Brexiteer and favourite Boris Johnson and the soft-Brexit-supporting Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.Thursday saw the contest whittled down to the two after Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Environment Secretary Michael Gove fell after the last two rounds of voting by the party’s 313 MPs.In the fifth and final round, Johnson won 160 votes—more than half of all Tory MPs—Hunt won 77 and Gove 75.The contest will now be decided by the Tories’ 160,000 members, who will vote in a postal ballot to be held July 6-8, with the winner to be announced in the week of July 22. Former foreign secretary Johnson won each of the five rounds of voting after May stepped down as leader on June 7 and is the clear favourite among the membership. One recent poll by YouGov, when six candidates were left in the race, had 77 percent of Tory members supporting Johnson.Given that whoever replaces May will be faced with an intensifying crisis over Brexit, with Britain’s new exit date from the European Union (EU) set for October 31, the various candidates made their pitches on the basis that they could resolve it.On Wednesday, Rory Stewart, the only Remain-supporting candidate to make it to the latter stages of the contest, departed the race. Backed by pro-Remain forces, including the Guardian, Stewart was a supporter of the deal that May agreed with the EU, but which she failed to get through Parliament. He was opposed to the UK leaving the EU in a “no deal” Brexit if the next prime minister fails to reach a new deal in the months ahead.  Johnson was understood to rather face off with Hunt in the final round as he was a Remainer in the 2016 EU referendum, whereas Gove is a hard-Brexit supporter. According to numerous sources, Hunt’s vote would have been smaller without tactical voting against Gove encouraged by Johnson.

Brexit: Sleepwalking -- Yves Smith - As UK-based readers know all too well, the odds of a no deal Brexit have risen, to the degree that the measured Sir Ivan Rogers in a speech earlier this week deemed it to be the most likely outcome.The effect of the Brexit extension has been to give a new shot of life to the Ultras. Even though leaving without a deal is still a minority position, the success of Nigel Farage’s Brexit party in the European Parliament elections and the threat it represents to the Conservatives has radicalized the Brexit debate.But a critical element has been the departure of Theresa May, which has finally led to a leadership contest that was delayed in large measure due to the antipathy for all the pretenders to the throne, most of all Boris Johnson. But even the fabulously tenacious May finally ran out of runway.As UK based readers know well, the Conservative leadership battle is determined by party members, as in paid up party members, who number about 160,000. They are far more hard core about Brexit than Conservative voters generally, much the less the public at large. We ran this tweet in Links but it bears repeating: Chris Grey described last week how the debate was playing out: One notable feature of the current Brexit debate is the extent to which no-deal Brexit….has come to occupy centre stage, whereas it scarcely featured at all during the referendum campaign and is completely different to what leave voters were promised.That shift has been underway for a long while, of course, but it has become pivotal to the Tory leadership contest where being willing to countenance, if not actually advocate, no deal has become the crucial test of viable candidacy….The reasons for this shift are many, including the way the Brexit Ultras have consistently pushed to ever more extreme positions – soft Brexit became redefined as no Brexit, hard Brexit as soft Brexit and, eventually, no-deal Brexit as true Brexit. In this way, no deal became normalised and even mainstream. Beneath that is the central lie of Brexit itself – far deeper than the £350M, although that was one manifestation of it. It is the proposition that it would be possible to leave the EU and yet largely continue to act as if still a member…. With respect to business and trade, this was encapsulated in the nonsense term ‘market access’, suggesting – or at least readable as meaning – something the same as now but without EU membership…. That was always a logical and practical impossibility, and it did not survive contact with the reality of the negotiations.  Needless to say, with the Tories refusing to budge from their fundamental delusion, we’ve seen a parade of familiar unicorns: the “managed no deal,” the techno-magical Irish border fix, the “don’t worry, we can trade on WTO rules,” the “don’t worry, we can stitch up trade deals quickly.”

All over the country ethnic minorities are victims of more violence than ever – and it’s all because of Brexit - Patrick Cockburn - Pictures of Daniel Ezzedine show him to be a fresh-faced 17-year-old with a warm cheerful smile. His parents are Lebanese but he was brought up in Germany where he had just left school. His teachers brought him to celebrate his graduation on a trip to Canterbury, where he was assaulted and beaten half to death by a gang of youths in what local people are convinced was a racist attack. It took place at 6pm on 6 June in Rose Lane in the centre of the city about 250 yards from Canterbury Cathedral. Daniel received a merciless beating from his numerous attackers, which left him close to death. Rushed to hospital in London by helicopter, he is still in a coma and doctors initially gave him only a 30 per cent chance of surviving. Seven people were arrested – six of them teenagers – but none have been charged.  The family had difficulty at first in getting visas to enter Britain to see their son because they are not German citizens, though they have lived in Germany for 30 years.  I live in Canterbury and often pass the spot near Tesco, Marks and Spencer and HSBC where Daniel was set upon. Details of what happened are sparse because the police are not saying what they know and Daniel remains in a coma. But it is telling that the gang chose a Lebanese Muslim to target out of all the passers-by in this well-frequented part of Canterbury.  The fate of Daniel Ezzedine is evidence that Britain is becoming a more racist country since the Brexit referendum. Pro-Brexit politicians like Michael Gove deny this, but a poll by Opinium found that overt ethnic abuse and discrimination reported by ethnic minorities has risen from 64 per cent at the beginning of 2016 to 76 per cent today.

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