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

Saturday, September 14, 2019

week ending Sept 14

 Trump says Fed ‘boneheads’ should cut interest rates to zero ‘or less,’ US should refinance debt - President Donald Trump on Wednesday continued his verbal assault on the Federal Reserve, which he blames for slowing the economy, tweeting that the central bank should cut interest rates to zero or even set negative interest rates. The president also called Fed officials “boneheads” in the tweet. “The Federal Reserve should get our interest rates down to ZERO, or less, and we should then start to refinance our debt. INTEREST COST COULD BE BROUGHT WAY DOWN, while at the same time substantially lengthening the term,” he said. A Fed spokesman declined comment on the latest Trump salvos. The president also made a new suggestion not seen in some of his past attacks on the Fed, saying that the country should refinance its debt load. The U.S. has $22.5 trillion in debt, $16.7 trillion of which is held by the public. That debt load has grown $2.6 trillion, or 13% under Trump, due in part to the 2017 tax cut that the president shepherded through Congress. Taxpayers have shelled out $538.6 billion in interest costs in the 2019 fiscal year, easily a record. The idea for “refinancing” federal debt is without any modern precedent. “It’s not viable and could be a significant problem for investors, financial markets and ultimately the economy,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “The debt is not prepayable. There’s a contractual relationship the Treasury has with investors. This isn’t a mortgage, this is U.S. Treasury debt. I think it would be incredibly disruptive to financial markets, and interest rates would ultimately rise, not fall.” On Trump’s push for zero or negative rates, Zandi said he doesn’t see much benefit. “The question you have to ask yourself is, if we go down to zero and we actually experienced a recession, then what?” he said.

Trump’s call for negative rates threatens savers (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump’s push for low interest rates reached a new pitch on Wednesday, when he demanded the Federal Reserve take the extraordinary step of sending them below zero.  Outside of Washington, D.C., Fed policymakers often face the opposite complaint. Interest rates are too low already, Americans tell Fed officials when they speak at Rotary Clubs and chambers of commerce around the country. Savers, and particularly those near retirement age, are not getting enough return from their savings accounts or fixed investments. The negative rates Trump is pushing, already in place in some parts of Europe and in Japan, would effectively charge people who save their money, and reward those able and willing to borrow. They were so unpopular in Japan that they became a hot topic on talk shows and tabloids, which highlighted consumers buying safes to stash their cash at home instead of with banks. Fed policymakers have already dismissed such a move as unnecessary, given the relatively strong economy, as well as too risky and politically unpopular. U.S. savings rates are almost three times higher than they were before the Great Recession. Relatively low interest rates have helped homebuyers and businesses invest in new equipment, for instance, but they curb returns on many bank accounts and even certificates of deposit, sapping households of their savings when adjusted for inflation. “What happens when you get to retirement and you have your pile and you are trying to live off your pile?” says Alicia Munnell, Boston College’s Carroll School of Management professor. “At that point you want rates to be higher. People in the drawdown stages would unequivocally benefit from higher rates.” Wealthier investors can make up for low rates on savings by investing in stocks or other higher-risk, higher-yielding assets. Some savvy Americans have been so eager for a decent rate on their savings that they’ve been bidding directly for Treasury bills at government auctions in record numbers as rates rose along with Fed interest-rate increases. Investors with a small nest egg or less financial know-how may see few savings options beyond a standard savings account or a low-yield Treasury bond. It is impossible for them to save their way to wealth in a low-interest-rate environment.

 Bowman confirmed for 14-year term at Fed — Michelle Bowman was confirmed by the Senate to serve a full, 14-year term as the community bank representative on the Federal Reserve Board. Bowman was previously confirmed in 2018 to serve on the Fed board until 2020. The Senate approved her nomination Thursday by a 60-31 vote despite significant opposition from some Democrats.The confirmation of the fifth-generation banker was praised by the industry.“Governor Bowman’s diverse professional experience and seasoned judgment have already begun to diversify and strengthen the board," said Rebeca Romero Rainey, president and CEO of the Independent Community Bankers of America, in a press release. "Today’s Senate vote confirming her for a full term ensures that the nation’s community banks will be represented on the Fed board without disruption.” Before joining the Fed, Bowman served as the Kansas state bank commissioner and vice president of Farmers & Drovers Bank in Council Grove, Kan.

 Cleveland Fed: Key Measures Show Inflation Above 2% YoY in August, Core PCE below 2% - The Cleveland Fed released the median CPI and the trimmed-mean CPI this morning: According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, the median Consumer Price Index rose 0.2% (2.6% annualized rate) in August. The 16% trimmed-mean Consumer Price Index also rose 0.2% (2.3% annualized rate) during the month. The median CPI and 16% trimmed-mean CPI are measures of core inflation calculated by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland based on data released in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) monthly CPI report. Earlier today, the BLS reported that the seasonally adjusted CPI for all urban consumers rose 0.1% (0.7% annualized rate) in August. The CPI less food and energy rose 0.3% (3.1% annualized rate) on a seasonally adjusted basis.  Note: The Cleveland Fed released the median CPI details for August here. Motor fuel was down 34% annualized. 

Q3 GDP Forecasts: Around 1.5% to 2.0% -- From Merrill Lynch: 3Q and 2Q GDP tracking remain at 2.0% qoq saar. [Sept 13 estimate]  From Goldman Sachs: Following this morning’s data, we boosted our Q3 GDP tracking estimate by one tenth to +2.0% (qoq ar). [Sept 13 estimate] From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report  The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 1.6% for 2019:Q3 and 1.1% for 2019:Q4. [Sept 13 estimate].And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNow The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the third quarter of 2019 is 1.8 percent on September 13, down from 1.9 percent on September 11. [Sept 13 estimate]  CR Note: These early estimates suggest real GDP growth will be around 1.5% to 2.0% annualized in Q3.

 Mnuchin says the Treasury is ‘seriously considering’ issuing a 50-year bond next year - The U.S. could be issuing 50-year bonds as soon as next year as the government looks for cheaper and longer-term ways to finance its burgeoning debt load, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC on Thursday. “This is something I have talked about over the last two years, it is something we are very seriously considering,” he said on “Squawk Box.” “We’re looking at issuing a 50-year bond, what we could call an ultra-long bond. We think there is some demand for it. It is something we’ll very seriously consider for next year.” Mnunchin’s comments come a day after President Donald Trump tweeted that he thinks the U.S. should look at “refinancing” its debt load, which has recently eclipsed the $22.5 trillion mark. Government bond yields moved lower as Mnuchin spoke. Though it’s unlikely the government could engage in that process the way a homeowner would refinance a mortgage, Treasury could extend the maturity of the debt by issuing longer-term bonds. The longest duration the government has now is the 30-year bond. More than a dozen other developed countries have issued “ultra” bonds of durations from 40 to 100 years. Canada issued a 50-year bond in 2014 while Mexico, Belgium and Ireland have offered 100-year debt in recent years. Multiple companies also have issued 100-year bonds.

Budget deficit smashes $1 trillion mark, the highest in seven years -- The U.S. government’s red ink for fiscal 2019 swelled past the $1 trillion mark in August, the first time that level has been eclipsed in seven years, the Treasury Department reported Thursday. The total shortfall rose to nearly $1.07 trillion, thanks to a difference between revenue and expenses of more than $214.1 billion in August. The government last saw that large of a fiscal deficit in 2012, when the gap was nearly $1.1 trillion. During his presidential campaign, President Donald Trump promised economic growth that would easily take care of the tax cuts and new spending he planned. His 2017 tax break for corporations and individuals has helped contribute to a deficit that has grown from $584.6 billion in 2016. Revenue has accelerated slightly in 2019 to about $280 billion a month, but so have expenditures, which are averaging $377 billion a month, or about $25 billion a month more than in 2018. Last year closed with a $779 billion deficit. As the deficit has grown so has the national debt, which is now at $22.5 trillion, up 13% since Trump took office. However, the deficit as a percentage of GDP has contracted significantly over the past several years, from a peak of 9.8% in 2009 to about 5% now.

Real US debt levels could be a shocking 2,000% of GDP, a Wall Street report suggests - Total potential debt for the U.S. by one all-encompassing measure is running close to 2,000% of GDP, according to an analysis that suggests danger but also cautions against reading too much into the level. AB Bernstein came up with the calculation — 1,832%, to be exact — by including not only traditional levels of public debt like bonds but also financial debt and all its complexities as well as future obligations for so-called entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and public pensions. Putting all that together paints a daunting picture but one that requires nuance to understand. Paramount is realizing that not all of the debt obligations are set in stone, and it’s important to know where the leeway is, particularly in the government programs that can be changed either by legislation or accounting. “This conceptual difference is important to acknowledge because this lens is often used by those who wish to paint a dire picture about debt,” Philipp Carlsson-Szlezak, chief U.S. economist at AB Bernstein, said in the report. “While the picture is dire, such numbers don’t prove we are doomed or that a debt crisis is inevitable.” Crisis measures cut both ways — sometimes a seemingly smaller level of debt can cause outsized problems during times of economic stress, such as during the financial crisis. And larger levels of debt can be sustained so long as other conditions, like leverage levels, or debt to capital, are manageable. The key is not always gross dollar amount but rather ability to pay. “U.S. debt is large. And it’s growing. But if we want to think about debt problems (in any sector – sovereign, households, firms or financials) the conditions rather than the levels are more significant,” Carlsson-Szlezak said. “Debt problems could, arguably would have, already happened at lower levels of debt if the macro conditions forced it.” The warnings about potential debt hazards come as the total federal debt outstanding has surged to $22.5 trillion, or about 106% of GDP. Excluding intragovernmental obligations, debt held by the public is $16.7 trillion, or 78% of GDP.

 Treasury Department: Cyberattacks against U.S. helped fund North Korea’s weapons program - The U.S. Treasury Department said Friday that North Korean state-sponsored hacking groups attacked critical infrastructure, drawing illicit funds that ultimately funded the country’s weapons and missile programs. The groups launched ransomware campaigns among other types of attacks, according to Treasury’s announcement. The link directly to North Korea’s missile program creates further ethical hurdles for companies, insurers and municipalities that must decide whether or not to pay ransoms to criminal groups that have locked up their files. Treasury says three hacking groups are ″responsible for North Korea’s malicious cyber activity on critical infrastructure,” the Treasury said in a news release. “Treasury is taking action against North Korean hacking groups that have been perpetrating cyber attacks to support illicit weapon and missile programs,” said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, in the release. “We will continue to enforce existing U.S. and UN sanctions against North Korea and work with the international community to improve cybersecurity of financial networks,” Mandelker said. The three hacking groups — known as “Lazarus Group,” “Bluenoroff,” and “Andariel” — are controlled by North Korea through their relationship to a United Nations-designated intelligence bureau, Treasury said.

US and Iran “At Cliff’s Edge” - Jerri-Lynn here. Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani presented the EU with an ultimatum of two months to save the Iran nuclear deal. In this Real News Network interview, the Independent’s Patrick Cockburn  says  the deal is likely to continue to deteriorate.

Trump breaks off talks on end to US war in Afghanistan - In a bizarre series of tweets on Saturday night, US President Donald Trump said that he had called off secretly planned talks at the Camp David presidential retreat for the next day with both the US-backed regime in Afghanistan and the Taliban.He also announced that Washington was halting its nearly year-long negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar aimed at ending the 18-year-old American military intervention in Afghanistan, the longest war in US history.“Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday. They were coming to the United States tonight,” Trump declared on Twitter Saturday.He claimed that he had called off the talks in response to a suicide car bombing at a checkpoint near the US Embassy in Kabul last Thursday that claimed the lives of 12 people, including one US soldier and a member of the Romanian military attached to the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast, as it had for an earlier suicide bomb attack last Monday that killed at least 18 people near the so-called Green Village, a fortified enclave in Kabul housing US military contractors and NGOs.After the latest bombing, Trump claimed, “I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations. What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?” As with most of the US president’s tweets, every word is a lie. There was no immediate cancelation of the planned meeting. On Friday, a day after the bombing in Kabul, the chief US negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, and the senior US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller, flew to Doha, the Qatari capital, for another round of talks with the Taliban. Taliban negotiators themselves said that until Saturday, there appeared to be no disruption of the Doha talks, which completed their ninth round at the end of August. On September 2, Khalilzad announced that a peace agreement had been concluded “in principle,” which still had to be approved by Trump. As for “what kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position,” Trump doesn’t have to look far to find the answer.

Explainer: Donald Trump’s Decision to Cancel ‘Secret’ Talks With the Taliban - On Monday, US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad had announced that an “in principle” agreement had been arrived at between the US and the Taliban after nine rounds of talks held between their representatives in Doha, Qatar for the past year or so. Under the accord, roughly 5,000 US soldiers would be withdrawn in 135 days after the deal was signed and the remaining 9,500 US and 8,600 mainly NATO forces would be withdrawn in phases thereafter.Speaking late last month, US President Donald Trump said that he had planned to withdraw most US forces, leaving 8,600 behind.But then, abruptly on Saturday, Trump said he had called off a secret face-to-face meeting with the Taliban, scheduled to be held at the US Presidential Retreat in Camp David on Sunday. Separately, Trump was also scheduled to meet President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan. The secret talks were called off, Trump said, because the militants acknowledged their role in a recent bomb attack in Kabul that had killed a US soldier in Afghanistan. He accused the Taliban of a wanton attack  “that killed one of our great great soldiers, and 11 other people” in order to “seemingly strengthen their bargaining position”. On Thursday, the Taliban had claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing in the eastern part of Kabul that killed 12 people, including a Romanian and an American soldier, and wounded dozens. The Taliban and the Afghan delegations were, by Trump’s own account, scheduled to  arrive in the US on Saturday night. So far, the US has kept the Afghan government at arm’s length in the peace talks. Ghani, on the other hand, has been insisting that the Taliban declare a ceasefire immediately and hold talks with the Afghan government. The Taliban has refused, saying that the Kabul government is illegitimate. After being briefed about the “in principle” deal, Ghani had complained that it had no penalties for the Taliban were it to not honour its conditions. Despite signs that the US was willing to make a deal with the Taliban and the repeated rounds of talks, the Taliban refused to end their campaign of violence against the Afghan government forces and the foreign forces in the country. So far 16 US troops have been killed in Afghanistan this year. But the worst brunt has been of Afghans themselves, who have been collateral casualties in the conflict. Though the Taliban do not control any major cities, they control more territory than at any time since the US-led campaign forced them out.

Taliban talks 'dead' after Trump's surprise Camp David plan - Peace talks with the Taliban are “dead,” President Trump said Monday, following a roller-coaster weekend that saw Trump reveal and then cancel a planned Camp David summit with Taliban leaders. “They’re dead,” he said Monday of U.S. talks with the Taliban. “As far as I’m concerned, they’re dead.” The president’s comments on Monday came after some GOP lawmakers questioned the wisdom of hosting the Taliban for peace talks on U.S. soil just days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that led to the war in Afghanistan. Trump, who has been looking to shore up a peace deal in the 18-year war ahead of the 2020 election, said over the weekend that he canceled the meeting after a Taliban attack on Thursday killed 12 people, including a U.S. soldier. A summit with a peace agreement would have followed Trump’s penchant for spectacle in foreign policy as he works to achieve what has eluded the past two U.S. presidents in Afghanistan. Instead, Trump’s campaign promise to end America’s longest war appears to be fizzling out, though he has reversed course on major military decisions before. It’s unclear whether Trump will scale back the U.S. presence in Afghanistan without a Taliban deal. On Monday, he told reporters he is “looking at” whether to move forward with a drawdown, saying, “We’d like to get out, but we’ll get out at the right time.” Trump also accused the media of manufacturing drama following news reports that Vice President Pence and national security adviser John Bolton opposed the Camp David plan. “A lot of Fake News is being reported that I overruled the VP and various advisers on a potential Camp David meeting with the Taliban,” Trump tweeted. “This Story is False! I always think it is good to meet and talk, but in this case I decided not to.” The Trump administration has been negotiating with the Taliban for nearly a year in an effort to end America’s longest war.

Taliban Warn More Americans Will Die After Trump Ends Afghan Talks -- President Trump’s decision to abruptly cancel Afghan peace talks will cost more American lives, the Taliban warned on Sunday while the United States promised to keep up military pressure on the militants, in a stunning reversal of efforts to forge a deal ending nearly 20 years of war in Afghanistan. The Islamist group issued a statement after Trump announced late on Saturday that he had unexpectedly canceled secret talks planned for Sunday with the Taliban’s major leaders at the presidential compound in Camp David, Maryland, Reuters reported. He broke off the talks on Saturday after the Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack in Kabul last week that killed an American soldier and 11 others. Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, criticized Trump for calling off the dialogue and said U.S. forces have been pounding Afghanistan with attacks at the same time. "This will lead to more losses to the U.S.," he said. "Its credibility will be affected, its anti-peace stance will be exposed to the world, losses to lives and assets will increase." It wasn't initially clear who in the world would be "surprised" when the US anti-peace stance is "exposed", but we look forward to upcoming Taliban 8-K's for further information on this topic. Meanwhile, back in Washington, Secretary of State and the former head of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, said that Afghan peace talks were on hold and Washington would not reduce U.S. military support for Afghan troops until it was convinced the Taliban could follow through on significant commitments. Additionally, Pompeo said on Sunday TV news shows that the US has recalled U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad to chart the path forward. Asked on “Fox News Sunday” whether Afghan talks were dead, Pompeo said, “For the time being they are.” The development is a major setback for Trump, who has long stated his intention to end U.S. involvement in Afghanistan - since his days as a candidate - and American diplomats have been talking with Taliban representatives for months about a plan to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops in exchange for security guarantees by the Taliban. 

Is Killing Peasants Protecting America’s Interests? - Perhaps the real reason for the most recent failure of the peace negotiations between the Taliban, the Afghan client regime and the US can be found in Secretary Pompeo’s remarks on CNN’s State of the Union show this past weekend.  “You should know in the last 10 days we’ve killed over a thousand Taliban.” Pompeo told the audience. “And while this is not a war of attrition, I want the American people to know that President Trump is taking it to the Taliban in an effort to make sure that we protect America’s interests.” Sarcastically speaking, there’s nothing bloodthirsty in that statement. Sounds like a man seeking peace to me. As for the veracity of the quote, let’s take a look. To begin with, if the US and its client forces really did kill one thousand Afghans in the preceding ten days, how can they be certain the dead were Taliban? A more likely scenario is that the dead, whether it’s a few hundred or a thousand, included many Afghan civilians who happened to live in areas controlled by the Taliban who are, after all, Afghans too. Indeed, since the Trump administration took control of the White House and Washington’s wars in 2017, the number of civilians killed by so-called US-led forces has increased each year. This is largely due to the US change in strategy from counterinsurgency to a war primarily fought from the air. In other words, the US is bombing and otherwise attacking anti-occupation forces and the places that shelter them with less intimate targeting than previously. As any observer of modern warfare can tell you, this means that more civilians die—what warmakers call collateral damage. As for the idea that the US occupation and war in Afghanistan is not a war of attrition. If this statement means that the US hopes to wear down the Afghan resistance to the occupation, then Pompeo’s statement could not be truer. In fact, most reports indicate the Taliban and other resistance groups are actually more aggressive now than they were before Trump’s inauguration. Truth to tell, the only war of attrition that is being won regarding the US and Afghanistan is the war to wear down the opposition to US military adventurism among the United States’ population.  The warmakers and their media have clearly won that battle. Barely a peep emanates from any quarter regarding Washington’s war on much of the world anymore.

 The Media’s Betrayal of American Soldiers -- by Maj. Danny Sjursen, USA (ret.) - It is a rare thing, indeed, when both establishment and media "liberals" and "conservatives" agree on anything. Nevertheless, I’ll take it as a sign that I just might be on to something when the clowns at Fox News and MSNBC alike vociferously disagree with my position on an American forever war.Few in the political or press mainstream ever much liked Trump’s regularly touted plans to extract U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Even "liberal" Rachel Maddow – who once wrote a book critical of US military interventions – turned on a dime and became a born-again cheerleader for continuing the war. After all, in tribal America, if Trump proposes it, the reflexive "left" assumes it must be wrong, anathema even. That’s come to be expected.But this time, even his own party attacked the president after he let slip that he’d planned a secret peace conference with the Taliban at Camp David and might even have announced a deal to gradually end the US role in the war during the anniversary week of the 9/11 attacks. Gasp! How dare he? End a failing war, save the lives of perhaps hundreds or thousands of US troops, and do so near the 9/11 anniversary? This amounts to heresy in imperial Washington D.C. But it shouldn’t be unexpected: Trump’s own policy advisers have opposed any meaningful steps to end the Afghan War from the get go.Ever since he took office, Trump’s anti-interventionist "instincts” – though publicly popular – have been stifled by his advisers in what his base calls the "deep state" and I prefer to simply label the "national security warfare state." Whether it was, first, the ostensible, media-canonized "adults in the room” – really a troika of generals with tired, discredited ideas – or, recently, the neoconservative retreads, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, nearly every Trump national security adviser has worked tirelessly to keep America at war everywhere. Lost in all the bipartisan hysteria regarding the 9/11 anniversary and Camp David location choice, is one salient, if uncomfortable, truth: the only way these sorts of wars end, historically, is through negotiations with implacable enemies and nefarious actors. That’s real life, and ending stalemated wars is no time for dreamy delusions. Besides, what better option exists than peace talks and a phased US withdrawal? With the Taliban contesting more of the country than ever before, the Kabul regime broke and corrupt, and a record opium crop fueling Taliban finances, the war has reached – for years now – a tenuous stasis between quagmire and stalemate.

Trump fires Bolton as national security advisor - President Trump fired his national security advisor John Bolton Monday morning in an action revealing the deepening crisis of the administration and bitter conflicts within official Washington after a series of foreign policy debacles. Trump made the announcement on Twitter only minutes after the White House had announced an afternoon press conference for Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, where they were to discuss new financial sanctions on “terrorist” groups and their alleged supporters. The suddenness of the decision and the acrimonious character of Trump’s tweets—as well as Bolton’s claim that he had resigned and not been fired—testify to the intensity of the internal disputes within the White House.It is clear that longstanding differences between Trump and Bolton came to a head last week over a planned agreement with the Taliban in Afghanistan, which was to be ratified at a secret weekend meeting with Taliban representatives and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at Camp David. Trump revealed plans for the meeting only after publicly canceling it, again via Twitter, on Saturday. While the president claimed the cancellation was provoked by a Taliban car bombing that killed a US soldier last Thursday, it is now clear that it was conflict in Washington, not Kabul, that led to the meeting being called off. The Washington Post reported August 30 that Bolton was being excluded from administration councils on Afghanistan because of his opposition to any deal with the Taliban: Media reports after the firing suggested that Bolton was believed to be the source of leaks to the press about the internal divisions over Afghanistan, and that he had particularly angered Trump by suggesting that Vice President Mike Pence was also opposed to the deal with the Taliban. At least one press report last week said Bolton and Secretary of State Pompeo were no longer talking.

Democrats Somehow Frame John Bolton’s Exit as a Bad ThingCaitlin Johnstone — John Bolton is out as President Trump’s National Security Advisor. Trump says he fired Bolton, Bolton says he offered to resign first. Both suggested that the departure was due to disagreements over foreign policy, which independent reports seem to confirm. Personally, I do not care.  Trying to sort out the specifics of the drama in an administration packed with lying sociopaths is always an exercise in futility, and in this case it’s even more pointless, because all that matters is that John Bolton is gone now. It is an indisputably positive thing that the former PNAC director who is so psychopathic that he once threatened to murder the children of an OPCW official for inconveniencing his attempts to engineer the Iraq invasion is no longer in the most powerful foreign policy advisory position on planet Earth. That is clearly and obviously an intrinsically beneficial thing for all of humanity. So of course the leaders of the Democratic Party are objecting to it: “John Bolton’s sudden departure is a symbol of the disarray that has unnerved our allies since day one of the Trump Administration,” tweeted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “Steady leadership & strategic foreign policy is key to ensuring America’s national security.”“Today’s action by @RealDonaldTrump is just the latest example of his government-by-chaos approach and his rudderless national security policy,” tweeted Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “When Ambassador Bolton’s extreme views aren’t enough for you, the U.S. is headed for even more chaotic times.”“I’m legitimately shaken by the grave instability of American foreign policy today,” tweeted Democratic Senator Chris Murphy. “I’m no Bolton fan, but the world is coming apart, and the revolving door of U.S. leadership is disappearing America from the world just at the moment where a stable American hand is most needed.”These “I’m no Bolton fan, but-” comments are plastered all over Centrist Twitter today, showing just how mainstream the mass media propaganda machine has made Bolton’s demented bloodlust.  They are being enthusiastically waved on by neoconservative propagandists like Max Boot, who just published an article for The Washington Post titled “John Bolton was bad. His departure might be worse.”, as well as imperialist comedy propagandists like The Daily Show.

Trump says Bolton a ‘disaster’ on North Korea, ‘out of line’ on Venezuela (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that John Bolton, dismissed a day earlier as national security adviser, had been a “disaster” on North Korea policy, “out of line” on Venezuela, and did not get along with important administration officials. Trump said Bolton had made mistakes, including offending North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un by demanding that he follow a “Libyan model” and hand over all his nuclear weapons. “We were set back very badly when John Bolton talked about the Libyan model ... what a disaster,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “He’s using that to make a deal with North Korea? And I don’t blame Kim Jong Un for what he said after that, and he wanted nothing to do with John Bolton. And that’s not a question of being tough. That’s a question of being not smart to say something like that.” Trump also said he disagreed with Bolton on Venezuela but offered no specifics. “I thought he was way out of line and I think I’ve proven to be right,” the president said. Trump said Bolton, with his abrasive, hardline approach, “wasn’t getting along with people in the administration that I consider very important.” “John wasn’t in line with what we were doing,” he added. Trump said he got along with Bolton and hoped they parted on good terms, but added: “Maybe we have and maybe we haven’t. I have to run the country the way we’re running the country.”

Trump Says Bolton Was Holding Him Back on Venezuela and Cuba - — A day after mocking recently fired John Bolton as “Mr. Tough Guy” for his notoriously hawkish positions, President Trump on Thursday singled Bolton out for not being aggressive enough on Venezuela or Cuba, claiming he was “holding us back.”“It set us back, and frankly he wanted to do things – not necessarily tougher than me,” Trump added in comments to reporters. Trump has also assured Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) that US policy changes toward Venezuela “won’t be to make it weaker.”While assuring Rubio that he is “far stronger” than Bolton on the issue is sort of vague, it does point to Trump being a long-time advocate of regime change in Venezuela. Trump has in particular been keen to emphasize the idea of an ideological war against Cuba and Venezuela as Socialist states.  Bolton, by contrast, centered a lot of his hawkishness of picking fights with Iran and North Korea. Though Bolton argued the world needed to accept the US position on Venezuela, it does not seem he was driving that policy in any way.

 What Does Bolton’s Ouster Mean to Victims of US Imperial Aggression? - Black Agenda Report - Donald Trump, the highly unpredictable white supremacist blowhard, has unceremoniously fired John Bolton, the totally predictable white supremacist ideologue who became national security advisor 17 months ago. Every sane person on the planet should be glad to see Bolton go. As libertarian Republican Sen. Rand Paul put it: “The threat of war worldwide goes down exponentially with John Bolton out of the White House. I think his advocacy for regime change around the world is a naïve worldview, and I think that the world will be a much better place with new advisers to the president.”Bolton was a doomsday weapon with a moustache, primed to blow all of us to dust. His replacement in the Trump White House will likely not be much better, but literally no one could be worse. However, the sobering truth is that Bolton, the hired gun who specializes in warmongering for Republican presidents, has legions of soul mates among Russia-obsessed Democrats. The post-2016 Democratic Party is the true headquarters of imperial regime change and nuclear brinksmanship with Russia – the half of the electoral duopoly to which virtually all of the nation’s national security operatives fled after the hyper-impulsive Trump took over the GOP.  The Democrats chose to oppose the Orange Menace from the right, framing Trump as a dupe or agent of the Kremlin. For the past three years top Democrats and Democrat-aligned corporate media have poisoned the political environment with rabid anti-Russia propaganda masquerading as journalism and congressional oversight. They have applauded Trump’s most dangerous aggressions -- calling his bombing of Syrian military bases “presidential” and backing his murderous economic blockade of Venezuela to the hilt – while undermining Trump’s initiatives for peace on the Korean peninsula and his efforts to maintain a speaking relationship with Moscow, the other nuclear superpower. When Trump restated his campaign intentions to disentangle from Barack Obama’s war against Syria, draw down U.S. forces in Africa, and end the marathon occupation of Afghanistan, Democrats and their corporate media darkly warned that he was weakening America’s posture in the world and, wittingly or unwittingly, playing into Vladimir Putin’s hands. Minus the Russiagate nonsense, these are essentially John Bolton’s positions.

China’s exports to the US are falling sharply as Trump escalates the trade war - China’s exports unexpectedly fell in August as shipments to the United States slowed sharply, pointing to further weakness in the world’s second-largest economy and underlining a pressing need for more stimulus as the Sino-U.S. trade war escalates. Beijing is widely expected to announce more support measures in coming weeks to avert the risk of a sharper economic slowdown as the United States ratchets up trade pressure, including the first cuts in some key lending rates in four years. On Friday, the central bank cut banks’ reserve requirements for a seventh time since early 2018 to free up more funds for lending, days after a cabinet meeting signalled that more policy loosening may be imminent. August exports fell 1% from a year earlier, the biggest fall since June, when it fell 1.3%, customs data showed on Sunday. Analysts had expected a 2.0% rise in a Reuters poll after July’s 3.3% gain. That’s despite analyst expectations that a falling yuan would offset some cost pressure and looming tariffs may have prompted some Chinese exporters to bring forward or “front-load” U.S.-bound shipments into August, a trend seen earlier in the trade dispute. China let its currency slide past the key 7 per dollar level in August for the first time since the global financial crisis, and Washington labelled it a currency manipulator. “Exports are still weak even in the face of substantial yuan currency depreciation, indicating that sluggish external demand is the most important factor affecting exports this year,” said Zhang Yi, economist at Zhong Hai Sheng Rong Capital Management. Among its major trade partners, China’s August exports to the United States fell 16% year-on-year, slowing sharply from a decline of 6.5% in July. Imports from America slumped 22.4%. Many analysts expect export growth to slow further in coming months, as evidenced by worsening export orders in both official and private factory surveys. More U.S. tariff measures will take effect on Oct. 1 and Dec. 15.

The US Massively Underestimates the Trade War Blowback - Trade wars and sanctions are economic weapons against rival regimes, and like actual military warfare, often lead to unanticipated and sometimes devastating blowback from the targeted regimes. .  The trade war with China that has led to tariffs on billions of dollars in Chinese exports to the US, and as a result, Russia and China have moved even closer. It remains an absolute mystery why no one in the west had foreseen the blowback from economic warfare leading to an alliance between two of its most powerful adversaries. China’s major state-owned oil companies and its Silk Road fund each became 10% partners in Russia’s first major Arctic LNG (liquified natural gas), project in the Yamal Peninsula, undertaken with Novatek, Russia’s largest independent gas producer. The project offers great prospects for enormous expansion.  Now Russia has become China’s largest energy supplier, equaling or perhaps even surpassing its energy supplies to Europe. A similar scenario is taking place in the Persian Gulf where the US has withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal, while imposing economic sanctions on Iranian oil exports.  The French energy giant, Total, that in recent years has been a leading international oil company in that country, was forced to withdraw because of sanctions, just like Exxon in Russia’s Arctic, it left billions of dollars on the table. China and Russia rushed to aid Iran, with China replacing Total, in a 25-year deal estimated to be worth some $400 billions. With that, China inherits a bonanza, providing much needed finance and technology to a country that was and could again become one of the world’s leading energy producers. China is looking to finance $280 billion to develop Iran’s gas, oil and petrochemicals industries, along with $120 billion to improve transport and manufacturing, making it a key partner in China’s Road and Belt program. The deal also gives China the right to buy any or all Iranian oil, gas, and petrochemicals products at a minimum guaranteed 12% discount to global benchmarks, plus an additional discount of 6-8% for risk adjusted compensation. Financing will proceed using local currencies, avoiding the costs of converting to a hard currency like the US dollar or the Euro, giving the Beijing yet another 10% cost advantage. GBS further reports that the security for these projects will include up to 5,000 Chinese security personnel on the ground in Iran to protects Chinese projects and to safeguard the transit of energy products from Iran to China, including security for the very strategic Hormuz Straits.In direct defiance of US sanctions against Iran, China has stepped into the breach, increasing its oil purchases from Iran while becoming Iran’s major energy trade and finance partner. Like Russia, it seems that Iran is moving towards a military alliance with China. If the west worries about China’s expansive moves in the South China Sea, along China’s own borders, what to make then of China moving in on Hormuz, where some 30% of world oil is transited each day? If these are considered winning policies for the West, one has to ask what failure looks like.

China exempts 16 American products from additional tariffs — here’s the full list - China’s Ministry of Finance announced plans to exempt 16 types of U.S. products from additional tariffs on Wednesday, including food for livestock, cancer drugs and lubricants.The exemption, which is scheduled to go into effect from September 17, will be valid for a year through to September 16, 2020.The announcement comes as high-level trade officials from China and the U.S. prepare to meet in Washington next month. It will mark their latest attempt to resolve a protracted trade dispute. Washington and Beijing have imposed tariffs on billions of dollars’ worth of one another’s goods since the start of 2018, battering financial markets and souring business and consumer sentiment.The State Council Tariff Commission said on the Ministry of Finance’swebsite that items on two separate tariff exemption lists would not be subject to additional charges imposed by China on U.S. goods.For products on “List 1,” including fish meal for feed, shrimp and prawn seedlings and cancer drugs, tariffs already imposed will be refunded. Companies can apply to customs within six months.For products on “List 2,” including whey for feed and lubricating base oil, tariffs were said to be non-refundable.Here are the two lists in full, according to a CNBC translation:

Trump Delays China Tariff Increase as Trade Talks Approach - President Donald Trump said he was postponing the imposition of 5% extra tariffs on Chinese goods by two weeks, a move that delays the next escalation of the trade war and brightens the backdrop for upcoming negotiations. “At the request of the Vice Premier of China, Liu He, and due to the fact that the People’s Republic of China will be celebrating their 70th Anniversary on October 1st, we have agreed, as a gesture of good will, to move the increased Tariffs on 250 Billion Dollars worth of goods (25% to 30%), from October 1st to October 15th,” Trump wrote Wednesday on Twitter. S&P 500 futures climbed 0.5% and the offshore yuan strengthened 0.3% against the dollar. The yen fell. Negotiators are due to meet in Washington in coming weeks to push forward talks to end the trade war, which is causing increasing economic damage as it stretches into its second year. There’s little sign that substantive progress is being made on the two countries’ differences, while Trump still has further tariff increases lined up.“The negotiators have had a year to come to an agreement, and they remain structurally at odds on key issues,” said Andrew Polk, co-founder of research firm Trivium China in Beijing. “Another two-week reprieve doesn’t change those fundamentals.”On Wednesday, China announced a range of U.S. goods to be exemptedfrom 25% extra tariffs enacted last year. While that may create some good will in Washington, China is keeping the pressure on U.S. agricultural exports like soybeans produced in key Trump-supporting states. An editorial Wednesday in the Communist Party-controlled Global Times newspaper said the exemptions were a goodwill gesture that would benefit some Chinese and U.S. companies. The paper’s editor tweeted that he saw Trump’s decision to postpone extra tariffs as creating “good vibes” for the early-October talks.

Trump says he would consider an interim trade deal with China - President Donald Trump says he would think about an interim deal with China. However, the president says he would prefer a full agreement as the world’s two largest economies look to end a widening trade war. On Wednesday, Trump delayed planned tariff increases on $250 billion in Chinese goods. President Donald Trump signaled Thursday that he would consider an interim trade deal with China, even though he would not prefer it. The president told reporters he would like to ink a full agreement with the world’s second largest economy. However, he left the door open to striking a limited deal with Beijing. “If we’re going to do the deal, let’s get it done,” he told reporters as he left for a congressional Republican retreat in Baltimore. “A lot of people are talking about it, I see a lot of analysts are saying an interim deal — meaning we’ll do pieces of it, the easy ones first. But there’s no easy or hard. There’s a deal or there’s not a deal. But it’s something we would consider, I guess.” Trump’s statements add to confusion sparked earlier in the day about what the White House would accept in its ongoing negotiations with China. U.S. stock indexes initially climbed on a report that the Trump administration talked about crafting an interim agreement. A White House official then said the U.S. is “absolutely not” considering such a deal, causing markets to give up some of those gains. Asked to clarify if Trump’s position had changed from earlier in the day, White House spokesman Judd Deere emphasized the president’s comment that he would prefer a complete agreement. Trade negotiators from the world’s two largest economies plan to meet next week as they continue efforts to salvage a trade pact and end a widening conflict. The trade war between the U.S. and China has led to concerns about hurt for U.S. consumer and helped to fuel fears of flagging global economic growth.

China's Xi- I Can't Believe What President Trump Says - China was said to be hopeful the US can create conditions for trade talks, followed by a CCTV report according to which U.S. delegates said they hope U.S.-China trade talks can achieve progress and reach a deal as soon as possible, while China's premier Li was quoted as saying that China and US should find solutions to disputes based on consensus reached by leaders of the two nations, adding that "China treats domestic, foreign companies fairly" and "puts more focus on intellectual property protection", noting that "companies including U.S. firms are welcome to increase investment in China." This was more than enough to stabilize the drop in futures. But a bigger problem may be emerging behind the scenes, as the true feelings of China's president toward president Trump have finally emerged on the record. According to Kyodo, President Xi Jinping voiced distrust of U.S. President Donald Trump during his meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in June amid the U.S.-China trade dispute, a source close to the matter said Tuesday. "I can't believe what President Trump says" concerning trade negotiations, Xi told Abe during a meeting on the fringe of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka. And while Abe told Xi that Trump trusts the Chinese president, Xi continued to air his grievances about his U.S. counterpart, the diplomatic source told Kyodo News. The reason for Xi's distrust: despite agreeing to Xi's proposal on the phone to deal with Chinese telecommunication giant Huawei Technologies during the next working-level negotiations, "once the negotiations began, the U.S. side said that Huawei is not a trade issue but a security issue and did not deal with it," Xi told Abe, pointing out that Trump's remarks proved unreliable. According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Xi had a telephone conference with Trump on June 18, during which he expressed China's hope that "the U.S. side can treat Chinese firms in a fair manner." Xi further complained to Abe that while the Trump administration has repeatedly criticized Beijing for supporting state-owned companies with subsidies, "the U.S. is also providing Boeing with subsidies," referring to the Chicago-based U.S. airplane manufacturer.

 'We Believe Him'- Desperate Farmers Blame USDA - Not Trump - For Their Problems - Of all President Trump's critical constituencies, none have been asked to sacrifice as much as America's farmers. Many midwestern farmers were already in a difficult spot when President Trump first came on the scene, hammered by low crop prices and farms teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. But in the nearly three years since Trump's inauguration, the situation for most farmers has gone from bad to worse. In retaliation for President Trump's trade war, China has cut off imports of American soybeans. And even Trump's farm bailouts haven't quite made up for the damage to the midwestern economy that has occurred under his administration. Despite this, most farmers remain loyal to Trump, and plan to vote for him again in 2020. Instead, Reuters reports, many farmers are directing their anger not at the Trump Administration, but at the USDA and the Washington bureaucracy, which believe is working to thwart President Trump's true agenda.  Unfounded conspiracy theories have reportedly been circulating online and among farmers that the USDA is the true source of American farmers' financial malaise. This has led to farmers threatening a USDA employees during a crop study earlier this year, prompting the agency to withdraw its personnel from the field. According to a Reuters poll, Trump's approval rating in rural areas has fallen slightly to 71% from a peak of 79%. Still, many farmers are struggling to "emotionally process" their pain.  "The question I hear from farmers who voted for (Trump) is, 'We believed him when he said he would help make the farm economy better, that we could save our farms. Now, who do we blame?'" Matthews said. Of course, directing their rage at the faceless Washington bureaucracy is easier than directing it at Trump - someone they supported and voted for.

Washington Post pushes xenophobic campaign against Chinese-Americans - On Saturday, the Washington Post published an editorial giving its stamp of approval to a report by the Hoover Institution arguing that Chinese nationals and ethnically Chinese Americans potentially pose a national security threat to the United States. The Hoover Institution declares that “it should no longer be acceptable that scholars, journalists, diplomats, and public officials from the People’s Republic of China be afforded unfettered access to American society.” The Post’s endorsement of this xenophobic demand comes in the form of an editorial demanding greater restrictions on visas to Chinese journalists wishing to enter and work in the United States. The editorial declares, “For many years, U.S. policy was guided by the logic that it is best to remain open, to showcase a commitment to values and principle.” But now, the Post endorses the argument put forward by the Hoover Institution that, in response to Chinese limits on the freedom of the press, “the US State Department should respond in kind by restricting visas and access for Chinese journalists in the United States.” The report calls for “reciprocal” limitations to be put on the actions of Chinese nationals in the United States: that is, for every curtailment of democratic rights in China nominally targeted against Americans, a reciprocal measure should be taken against Chinese nationals. But given the severe restrictions on the freedom of expression in China, including massive internet censorship, this is an argument for nothing less than importing these very policies in to the United States, and targeting them on the basis of race. The report, authored by Hoover instruction fellow Larry Diamond and Orville Schell, the director of the Center on US-China Relations, declares that the Chinese government sees “the whole worldwide Chinese diaspora” as “overseas compatriots,” owing a measure of loyalty to “the Chinese Motherland,” in what the report calls “racial targeting.” The report declares, “Officials from Beijing have stated clearly that they do not view overseas Chinese as simply citizens of foreign countries,” but rather as “overseas compatriots” who have both historical connections and responsibilities as “sons and daughters of the Yellow Emperor.” In response to this supposed threat by the “sons and daughters of the Yellow Emperor,” the report calls for “tit-for-tat retaliation.” It demands that “all American institutions—governmental and nongovernmental—that deal with Chinese actors should review their oversight and governance practices and codify and exemplify best standards of practice and due diligence.”

Judge restores nationwide block of asylum ban - A San Francisco-based federal judge on Monday restored a nationwide injunction against President Donald Trump’s move to ban asylum seekers who pass through another country en route to the United States. U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar issued the order after considering new evidence presented in an ongoing lawsuit of the third-country asylum ban. The decision to block the policy nationwide for the second time comes after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in August narrowed an earlier injunction by Tigar. The 9th Circuit’s decision kept the policy blocked in California and Arizona, but allowed it to be implemented in Texas and New Mexico. The administration in July issued a new fast-track asylum regulation to prevent migrants from seeking asylum in the U.S. if they first pass through another country and don't apply for protection in that nation. The measure effectively cut off asylum protections for Central American migrants who travel to the U.S.-Mexico border from their home country, but has been hampered by the ongoing litigation. Tigar, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, initially ruled to block the ban temporarily in July after he found the regulation was likely invalid because it conflicted with federal asylum laws. Tigar had also blocked an earlier Trump asylum ban that barred asylum seekers who cross the border between ports of entry. Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan characterized Monday's order as another example of the "unprecedented judicial activism" the administration has encountered in attempting to implement its immigration agenda.White House Press Stephanie Grisham called the ruling “a gift to human smugglers and traffickers“ in a scathing written statement Monday.

 FBI targets groups opposing Trump’s concentration camps as “Extremists”  A leaked Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) intelligence report reveals that the US government is using informants and trawling social media to spy on domestic left-wing protest groups opposed to fascist border militias and the Trump administration’s attack on immigrants. The document, titled “Anarchist Extremists Very Likely Increasing Targeting of US Government Entities in Arizona, Increasing Risk of Armed Conflict,” produced by the FBI’s Phoenix office, was published on September 4 by Yahoo News.  The report exposes unconstitutional activity that parallels the crimes of the FBI under former Director J. Edgar Hoover. It is a serious warning sign: the military-intelligence apparatus is covertly creating the legal and physical framework for the criminalization of free speech and the suppression of left-wing political activity. As the fascist in the White House establishes concentration camps for immigrants and political opponents, a bipartisan group of politicians and intelligence agents are working to crush dissent. The report explains that the FBI is targeting “anarchist extremists” (which it refers to as “AEs”) because they “view US immigration policies and procedures for handling illegal immigrants—including arrests, removal, and border barriers—as violations of human rights and supporting government facilities and personnel as symbols of US tyranny.”The FBI justifies labeling groups as “extremists” based on the fact that they are “monitoring various US Border Patrol activities, right-wing militia groups, and other groups favoring the border wall, mostly to expose human rights abuses and communicate threats to humanitarian groups operating in the area.” The use of terminology is legally significant: groups opposing fascists are “extremists” while fascists are merely listed as “right-wing groups.” The FBI is effectively serving as the fascist militias’ protectors. The report explains that the FBI has gathered information from “human and open source reporting with varying access and reliability, the majority having direct access.” Translated into plain English, the FBI is trawling websites and personal social media pages for “open source” gathering while working with “human” informants or infiltrating agents with “direct access” to the targeted groups and individuals.

Border Arrests Plummet 60% Since May As Trump Immigration Crackdown Gets Results - US immigration authorities arrested 64,000 migrants at the southern border in August - approximately 22% fewer people than July, and a 60% decrease from the 130,000 apprehensions in May, according to a Monday statement by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Mark Morgan. "The president has made it very clear that he’s going to use every tool available to him and this administration to address this unprecedented crisis at the southern border," said Morgan during a White House briefing. As The Hill notes, while border crossings tend to decrease during the hot summer months, this year's precipitous drop is significant. Trump threatened in June to impose tariffs on Mexican goods if the country did not take stronger actions to curb the flow of migrants headed for the U.S. border. Trump backed off the tariffs after Mexico said it would do more to address immigration. In the months since, Trump has often praised Mexico for its enforcement measures, and Morgan said Monday that the Mexican government has apprehended roughly 134,000 people so far this year, up from 83,000 in all of 2018. "The government of Mexico has taken meaningful and unprecedented steps to help curb the flow of illegal immigration to our border," said Trump, who has made immigration a central issue to his administration - wall or not. Moreover, Trump has attempted to limit asylum claims while pressuring other countries to take in more migrants. 

ICE Fails To Properly Redact Document, Reveals Location Of Future ‘Urban Warfare’ Training Facility - The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has accidentally revealed the whereabouts of a future "urban warfare" training facility that is expected to include "hyper-realistic" simulations of homes, hotels and commercial buildings in Chicago and Arizona.On Tuesday, ICE published an acquisition form for the procurement of "hyper-realistic training devices" for a new training facility for its expanding Special Response Team (SRT) program on the Federal Business Opportunities website.The immigration agency had sought to redact the location of the new training facility, but failed to do so properly. The agency, which has made this kind of mistake previously, appears to have a systemic information-security problem.In this case, Newsweek was able to simply copy and paste the document's contents into a word processor and quickly establish that the facility would be built at the Office of Firearms and Tactical Programs' (OFTP) Tactical Operations Complex (TOC) at Fort Benning, Georgia, a U.S. Army post used to prepare soldiers for combat. In addition to revealing Fort Benning as the location of the training site, ICE also failed to properly redact information indicating that the Army post would be getting an expansion, with up to 50 buildings expected to be added to the site.

Hundreds of Bahamians told to leave evacuation ship headed to US: report - Hundreds of Bahamians attempting to flee the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian were reportedly told to leave a ship if they did not have a visa to enter the United States. Video posted Sunday on Twitter by Brian Entin, a reporter for Miami-based Fox affiliate WSVN, showed an announcement being made aboard the Balearia ferry, which was transporting evacuees from the Bahamas to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., saying visas are required for everyone on board attempting to enter the U.S. CNN reported that hundreds of Bahamian evacuees were previously allowed into the United States without visas, and the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website states visas are not required for Bahamian residents flying into the U.S. from the Bahamas if they also meet other criteria. That criteria include possessing a valid passport or travel documents, having no criminal record and carrying a police certificate issued within the past six months. Entin reported that the evacuees were told upon boarding the ship that criteria would be enough to enter the states. "CBP was notified of a vessel preparing to embark an unknown number of passengers in Freeport and requested that the operator of the vessel coordinate with U.S. and Bahamian government officials in Nassau before departing The Bahamas," CBP told The Hill in a statement.

Trump is Refusing to Grant Protected Status to Bahamian Hurricane Victims— Reports late Wednesday that the Trump administration will not offer Temporary Protected Status to Bahamians displaced by Hurricane Dorian drew outrage from lawmakers and rights advocates, who condemned the decision as an inhumane denial of secure refuge to victims of one of the most powerful and devastating storms in recorded history. “Let’s be clear: This decision is racist and cruel,” tweeted Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. “We should grant Temporary Protected Status to Bahamians fleeing Hurricane Dorian.” Granting TPS, which the Trump administration has attempted to end for other disaster victims, would allow Bahamians to live and work in the United States until it is safe for them to return home. Experts told the Washington Post that while TPS would typically be granted to victims of a storm like Hurricane Dorian—which destroyed tens of thousands of homes—the White House’s stance is not entirely surprising given President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-refugee policy agenda. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) forcefully condemned the Trump administration’s reported refusal to offer TPS to Bahamians, a decision that comes just days after Trump smeared Bahamian hurricane victims as “gang members” and “drug dealers.”  “After Hurricane Dorian struck the Bahamas, Donald Trump said we’d be there to help. Then he does this,” said Merkley. “To deny temporary protected status to a nation so close to our shores, that has experienced such devastation, is morally bankrupt and a black mark on America.”

 ‘Internment Camps for the Homeless’: Trump Pushes for “Crackdown” in California — Following reports that President Donald Trump is pushing for a “major crackdown” on homelessness in California that could include destroying existing encampments and moving homeless people into government-backed facilities, state lawmakers and progressive housing advocates said the administration’s proposed steps are cruel, politically motivated, and would do nothing to address the very real crisis Trump has exacerbated.The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Trump ordered White House officials to begin work on a “sweeping effort” to address the homelessness crisis in California. As part of the new initiative, Trump administration officials from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Justice Department visited California this week for meetings and tours.“Among the ideas under consideration are razing existing tent camps for the homeless, creating new temporary facilities, and refurbishing existing government facilities,” the Post reported, citing officials familiar with the effort. “Housing experts say homelessness in California has risen alongside housing and rental prices,” the Post noted. “That problem has been exacerbated by cuts to federal support for housing programs.” Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, saidthe early stages of Trump’s effort, as well as his past policy moves, demonstrate that the White House is “clearly not acting in good faith to end homelessness.” “The solution to homelessness is affordable homes,” Yentel added, “not further criminalization, punishing poor people for their poverty, sweeping people experiencing homelessness into increasingly unsafe areas, or warehousing people in untenable and unsustainable conditions.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal castigates Modi government for human rights violations in Kashmir— U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D.-Wash.) has once again tweeted her concern over human rights violations in Kashmir and also fired off a missive to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to press the Indian government to “immediately lift the communications blackout and adhere to international human rights standards in Jammu and Kashmir.”In her tweet on Sept. 11, Jayapal said, “I continue to be deeply concerned about credible reports of a humanitarian crisis in Jammu & Kashmir. Even in complex situations, we look to strong democratic allies like India to uphold basic human rights and due process.”Meanwhile, in her letter to Pompeo, dated Sept. 10, which was co-signed by Rep. James McGovern (D.-Mass.), Jayapal informed America’s top diplomat that “we write to raise significant concerns about the ongoing humanitarian and human rights crisis in Jammu & Kashmir.”“In particular, we are concerned about credible reports from journalists and advocates on the ground that the Indian government has detained thousands of people with no recourse, imposed de facto curfews on residents' and cut off internet and telephone access in the region,” they noted.Jayapal and McGovern noted that “we also write on behalf of our constituents and those of many of our colleagues who have informed us that they are unable to contact their loved ones on the ground.”They argued, “As the world's largest democracy, India shares a unique and important relationship with the United States,” and while acknowledging that “we have deep regard for that relationship,” informed Pompeo that “it is incumbent upon us to speak out when our shared democratic principles are being undermined.”

 Universal Basic Income + Automation + Plutocracy = Dystopia - Caitlin Johnstone - Americans are discussing the possibility of a universal basic income (UBI) more seriously than ever before, largely due to the surprisingly popular campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang. Yang has made UBI the central issue of his platform, promising a “Freedom Dividend” paid for by a Value Added Tax on businesses which would give every American over the age of 18 an unconditional $1,000 a month to help offset the looming crisis of automation replacing US jobs. “In the next 12 years, 1 out of 3 American workers are at risk of losing their jobs to new technologies—and unlike with previous waves of automation, this time new jobs will not appear quickly enough in large enough numbers to make up for it,” Yang’s campaign site argues. “To avoid an unprecedented crisis, we’re going to have to find a new solution, unlike anything we’ve done before. It all begins with the Freedom Dividend, a universal basic income for all American adults, no strings attached – a foundation on which a stable, prosperous, and just society can be built.” Yang is absolutely correct that automation is going to be replacing the jobs of many people in the very near future, and he is absolutely correct that new solutions unlike anything ever tried before are going to be necessary to help address this problem. But his plan, and indeed all the most publicized plans which involve the implementation of a universal basic income, will necessarily lead to an oppressive oligarchic dystopia unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Do you know who supports the implementation of a UBI besides Andrew Yang? Billionaires. Lots of billionaires, especially the new money tech billionaires who are positioning themselves to inherit the earth in the transition to a new paradigm dominated by automation and artificial intelligence. Billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Pierre Omidyar, Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Bill Gross, Tim Draper, and more moderately Bill Gates have all been seen advocating for a policy that is now being popularized as one which would level the economic playing field and take power away from the billionaire class.

House Judiciary Tees Up For Impeachment, But Democrats Divided On Moving Ahead - Signaling a widening gap between Democratic leadership and the House Judiciary Committee, the panel will vote this week on whether to install new procedures for its impeachment inquiry and illustrate its intensifying efforts in the probe. The move — which will culminate in a vote before the committee on Thursday — will allow staff to question witnesses for extended periods and let the panel accept evidence behind closed doors to further protect sources, among other changes. It also shows the growing divide between progressives pushing for impeachment and moderate Democrats in the House and their leadership, which is largely opposed to any formal action now. Despite House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's public comments supporting the panel's investigation, privately she has told members that the issue is a loser without strong public sentiment. On Monday, Pelosi downplayed the move, saying the committee's investigation has been ongoing for "a very long time," and expressed support. She also said other legislation is a top priority, such as approving new gun restrictions. "We are legislating. We're investigating as we have been, and we are litigating. We are taking our information to court," Pelosi said. "That's the path that we are on, and that's the path we'll continue to be on." Pelosi said she wasn't familiar with comments by the committee's chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y, that the panel was in the midst of formal impeachment proceedings. However, she said that the committee has her support and that it is executing the party's demands.

Trump probes threaten to overshadow Democrats’ agenda - House Democrats returning to the Capitol this week face a growing dilemma over how to keep focus on their legislative agenda amid an escalating series of investigations of President Trump. Caucus support for impeachment has only grown since lawmakers were last in Washington in late July, but many, particularly "majority makers" in competitive districts, want to spend more energy on policy matters such as gun reform and health care. Democrats opened a series of new investigative fronts over the six-week summer recess going beyond the scope of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian election interference and Trump’s attempts to undermine the probe — all under the specter of impeachment. Democrats on the House Judiciary and Oversight committees announced Friday that they had sent letters requesting documents about efforts to promote spending taxpayer funds at Trump’s properties. That came in response to the president’s proposal to host the next Group of Seven summit at his Doral resort in Florida and Vice President Pence's stay at Trump’s golf resort in Doonbeg, Ireland, which was nearly 200 miles away from official meetings in Dublin. “Potential violations of the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution are of grave concern to the committee as it considers whether to recommend articles of impeachment,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and panel member Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) wrote in a letter to the White House counsel and Secret Service, referring to the clauses in the Constitution meant to bar the president from receiving compensation outside a government salary. The Judiciary panel also subpoenaed the Department of Homeland Security for documents related to allegations that Trump promised pardons for officials who follow possibly illegal orders related to constructing a southern border wall.

Manager: Trump family building ‘dynasty’ for decades to come (AP) — President Donald Trump’s campaign manager predicted Saturday that the president and his family will become “a dynasty that will last for decades,” transforming the Republican Party while hewing to conservative values. Speaking to a convention of Republican Party delegates in Indian Wells, California, Brad Parscale also said the campaign’s goal is to build a national army of 2 million trained volunteers, far beyond the president’s 2016 organization, that in California could help the GOP retake a string of U.S. House seats captured by Democrats last year. “The Trumps will be a dynasty that will last for decades, propelling the Republican Party into a new party,” he said. “One that will adapt to changing cultures. One must continue to adapt while keeping the conservative values that we believe in.” Parscale later declined to elaborate on his prediction of a coming Trump “dynasty,” or whether the president’s children could become candidates for public office. He told reporters after the speech, “I just think they are a dynasty. I think they are all amazing people with ... amazing capabilities.” Parscale’s speech was a highlight of the weekend GOP conclave, in which party delegates sought to map out an election strategy in an increasingly Democratic state that Trump lost by over 4 million votes in 2016. Polls show the president remains widely unpopular outside California’s depleted GOP ranks.

Michael Flynn Tells House Intel Democrats To Pound Sand Over Testimony And Documents - Former National Security adviser Michael Flynn is refusing to cooperate with the Democrat-controlled House Intelligence Committee's demand for testimony and documents, according to Politico, citing a Monday letter by Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA).  Moreover, Flynn's new legal counsel, Sidney Powell, has been giving House Democrats the business. "Notwithstanding repeated efforts by committee staff to engage with your counsel and accommodate your adjournment requests, you have, to date, failed to comply with the committee’s subpoena or cooperate with the committee’s efforts to secure your compliance," Schiff wrote to Flynn - demanding an appearance for testimony on September 25. Of Powell, Schiff wrote that she "exhibit[ed] a troubling degree of unprofessionalism" during communications with committee staffers, which were outlined in the letter. According to Schiff, Powell “refused to accept service” of the subpoena issued by the panel in June. Schiff indicated that Powell repeatedly sought deadline extensions for Flynn’s cooperation before ultimately ignoring phone calls attempting to arrange Flynn’s testimony for late July, just ahead of Congress’ six-week summer recess.Schiff also said Powell told the committee that Flynn would invoke his Fifth Amendment rights and would not answer any questions other than confirming his name. –Politico "The Fifth Amendment privilege must be invoked in response to specific questions or topics that might tend to incriminate you if answered truthfully," wrote Schiff. "Your counsel’s blanket invocation of the Fifth Amendment … is, therefore, inadequate."

Mueller Helped Saudis Cover Up Involvement In 9/11 Attacks: Lawsuit --Robert Mueller - pitched as an incorruptible beacon of justice when he was tasked with (unsuccessfully) hunting down ties between Donald Trump and Russia - was nothing more than a hatchet man for the deep state, who participated in a coverup of Saudi Arabia's role in 9/11 according to a new report by the New York Post's Paul Sperry - citing former FBI investigators and a new lawsuit by 9/11 victims.  According to Sperry, Mueller stonewalled after FBI agents discovered evidence of "multiple, systemic efforts by the Saudi government to assist the hijackers in the lead-up to the 9/11 attacks," while the former FBI director allegedly "covered up evidence pointing back to the Saudi Embassy and Riyadh — and may have even misled Congress about what he knew.""He was the master when it came to covering up the kingdom’s role in 9/11," said Sharon Premoli, a September 11th survivor who was pulled out of the rubble of the World Trade Center, and is now suing Saudi Arabia as a plaintiff in a new lawsuit."In October of 2001, Mueller shut down the government’s investigation after only three weeks, and then took part in the Bush [administration’s] campaign to block, obfuscate and generally stop anything about Saudi Arabia from being released," she added. "Any letting the Saudis off the hook came from the White House," said former Agent Mark Rossini, adding "I can still see that photo of Bandar and Bush enjoying cigars on the balcony of the White House two days after 9/11." Speaking with multiple FBI case agents, Sperry lists a series of incidents describing Mueller 'throwing up roadblocks' in front of his own investigators - "making it easier for Saudi suspects to escape questioning." And according to the lawsuit, Mueller "deep-sixed what evidence his agents did manage to uncover."

Epstein -  Roger Gathmann - There’s a moment in that wild interview Stuart Pivar gave Mother Jones about his friend, Jeffrey Epstein. Pivar was trying to give an idea of what he found “charming” about Epstein, as well as what he found sick about him. Pivar is an art dealer, among other things, and this is the anecdote he told: Jeffrey had numerous residences. And he used to rely on me to help him furnish them with art.  Jeffrey was amused to have in his house fake art which looked like real art. Because of the fact that he was putting one over, so to speak. He thought that he was—how do you describe that? When you walked into this house, for example, there was a Max Weber or something like that, and it was a fake. And it amused him that people didn’t realize that. He was able to furnish his house with the fake paintings. Jeffrey had a collection of underage Rodins, for example, because what difference does it make if it’s real or not real? This was, to me, a very telling story, a tell, even.  It was not just a story about fakery – although the whole of the Epstein story is about fakery on one level or another. It is also a story about complicity. For think of it: you have a guest in your house and you have what you know is a fake painting. And you point it out as a real painting. On the one hand, maybe your guest doesn’t know much about Max Weber – doesn’t know much about cubists period. So they nod along. They might like the painting or not. On the other hand, say your guest does know about Max Weber. And sees something isn’t right. Well, what is guest number two going to say? You have a fake there, buddy? Guest number two knows just enough that by nodding, going along, he’s trapped. Or she’s trapped. A pact of complicity has been silently forged. This is what Epstein was all about – not just fakery, but getting beyond that, where the person being faked out becomes complicit in the whole enterprise. This was on one level what getting girls who had been raped to go out and find other girls and lie to them about massage. This is tied to the science obsession. Just as, being a drop-out schmuck, he wasn’t going to get within miles of the scientists whose names graced the covers of pop science books, so, being a drop out with supposed billions, he could make those scientists smile and smile and he said drop out-y things. His website – assuming that the posts were written or at least dictated by Jeffrey Epstein – is a mishmash of rewrites from Wikipedia articles and platitudes.

Girls who appeared to be 11 to 12 seen with Jeffrey Epstein getting off his plane in 2018 as authorities eyed his travel abroad -- An air traffic controller saw wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein getting off his private plane in the U.S. Virgin Islands with girls who appeared to be 11 to 12 years old in 2018, a year before Epstein was indicted on child sex trafficking charges, newly revealed government documents show. Epstein, who is now dead, on other occasions was seen at the St. Thomas airport in the latter half of 2018 getting “off the plane with young girls,” including at least one other time when the air traffic controller saw him with a girl who appeared to be between 16 and 18 years old, documents show.The air traffic controller told U.S. Marshals Service investigators about Epstein traveling with underage girls on July 10, 2019, a week after Epstein was arrested at a New Jersey airport on child sex trafficking charges.Those same government documents reveal that six months before Epstein was arrested, the Marshals Service began investigating whether the registered sex offender had violated federal law by failing to disclose all the countries he visited.  One document shows that Epstein not only failed to tell officials of two other countries he ended up visiting, but that he also notified them of his planned travel just four days before he planned to leave the United States — which was 17 days less than the minimum amount of notice he was required by law to give. The documents released by the Justice Department and Marshals Service were disclosed by the website MuckRock, which specializes in making public document requests and detailing their results.On Wednesday, French national police published an appeal on Twitter for victims of Epstein and witnesses to possible crimes by him, such as rape of minors, come forward to aid an investigation in that country. Three victims already have contacted French authorities, the Paris prosecutor’s office said, according to the Associated Press.

Google faces a new antitrust probe by 50 attorneys general - Fifty attorneys general are joining an investigation into Google over possible antitrust violations, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the initiative’s leader, announced Monday.The news confirms reports last week about the bipartisan investigation intoGoogle’s practices. The bipartisan probe will take place as Facebook faces its own antitrust investigation led by New York Attorney General Letitia James with attorneys general from seven states plus the District of Columbia.Paxton said the probe will focus on Google’s advertising business, “but the facts will lead where the facts lead.”Shares of Google parent company Alphabet were down about 0.8% around the time of the announcement.The state investigations put an additional layer of pressure on both companies, which are already facing antitrust scrutiny on the federal level. Facebook confirmed an antitrust probe by the Federal Trade Commission in July after the agency slapped it with a $5 billion fine over its privacy practices. And the Department of Justice will conduct its own antitrust investigation into Google, according to The Wall Street Journal.So far, regulatory action on the federal level has had a minimal impact on Big Tech. Both Google and Facebook recently received fines from the FTC over their handling of user data that would be considered large by most standards but represented just a small fraction of their quarterly revenues.But antitrust, compared to privacy and consumer protection concerns, poses a more direct threat to these companies’ business models. If the federal or state probes find evidence of anti-competitive behavior at Google, for example, it could be compelled to make its algorithms friendlier to rivals even if it eats at its own profits. It could also be forced to spin off entire business units like YouTube. The focus on Google and Facebook by the state attorneys general does mean other tech giants like Amazon and Apple will be free from scrutiny. Sources told the Journal last week that the investigations could expand to other companies.

California and Alabama are the only two states that aren’t participating in the giant antitrust investigation of Google, and neither is really saying why - Business Insider:

  • Only two states aren’t a part of the joint antitrust investigation into Google – California and Alabama.
  • The attorneys general of those two states didn’t offer much of an explanation for declining to join the inquiry, which was announced Monday.
  • California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has talked tough on tech in the past and has established a reputation for taking on powerful figures, filing dozens of suits against the Trump administration.
  • But he’s also accepted significant campaign contributions from Google, which is headquartered in his state.

The great break-up of big tech is finally beginning - Matt Stoller - Facebook and Google are basically advertising backends tied to large consumer-facing products. Google has eight products with more than a billion users, and Facebook has four products with more than a billion users. Their business models are quite complex, but the gist is that they seek to place ads in front of you while you are trying to communicate or when you are looking for something you want. So far, this doesn’t sound so bad. But Google and Facebook aren’t just getting a lot of online ad revenue growth, they are capturing practically all of it. And this is where data comes in. The most important input for an advertiser is knowing who is watching the ad. If you know who is seeing an ad slot, you can charge a lot of money to tailor it for that person’s specific interest. If you don’t know who is seeing an ad slot, you can’t charge very much at all. Google and Facebook know who is looking at ad slots everywhere and what they are interested in, so they can sell anything any marketer needs. These corporations enhance their power by getting data from nearly every publisher that exists. Google and Facebook need publishers to serve their large audiences, and publishers need Google and Facebook as distributors. But the power imbalance is stark. Google and Facebook need publishers, but they don’t need any one specific publisher. By contrast every publisher desperately needs both Google and Facebook to get their content in front of readers. For example, a few years ago Google decided to punish the Wall Street Journal for enacting a certain type of paywall by downgrading the newspaper’s search ranking, lowering the Wall Street Journal’s traffic by 44%. Google’s business was unaffected. With this imbalance, both Google and Facebook can and do entice or force, through a host of arrangements, millions of publishers to hand over data about their audiences and subject themselves to specific formatting choices. In other words, Google and Facebook both compete with publishers for ad revenue and force those publishers to hand over data about their readers and subscribers, data which is the main input that advertisers want. The net effect of this market structure is that news gatherers can produce news, but most of the advertising revenue earned from people consuming that news goes to Google and Facebook. Google and Facebook earn money from other people’s work, which is unfair and anti-competitive. And it’s why newspapers are dying. A strong set of antitrust suits, regulatory choices, and/or legislation splitting apart these companies and regulating the data used in ad markets can restore the flow of advertising to the people who do the work to earn it. Such actions will restore the strength of our democratic institutions.

48 States to Investigate Google: Anti-Trust or Politicking? - Yves here. Sadly, you can never be too cynical. Bill Black explains on The Real News why the 48 state investigation of Google may not be all it is cracked up to be.

Facebook Knows When You're Boffing Thanks To App Used By Millions Of Women - Popular period tracking apps are sending extremely personal information to Facebook regarding women's health and their sexual practices, according to UK-based advocacy group Privacy International.  Their findings, shared with BuzzFeed News, reveal that "period-tracking apps including MIA Fem and Maya sent women’s use of contraception, the timings of their monthly periods, symptoms like swelling and cramps, and more, directly to Facebook."Notably, Maya - owned by India-based Plackal Tech, has over 5 million downloads, while MIA Fem: Ovulation Calculator owned by Cyprus-based Mobapp Development Ltd. claims to have over 2 million users worldwide. The apps share information via Facebook's Software Development Kit (SDK), which helps developers collect user data and incorporate various features so that Facebook can better target users with ads. When personal information is entered into the apps, it Privacy International says it may be sent to Facebook via the SDK. Asked about the report, Facebook told BuzzFeed News it had gotten in touch with the apps Privacy International identified to discuss possible violations of its terms of service, including sending prohibited types of sensitive information.Maya informs Facebook whenever you open the app and starts sharing some data with Facebook even before the user agrees to the app’s privacy policy, Privacy International found.“When Maya asks you to enter how you feel and offers suggestions of symptoms you might have — suggestions like blood pressure, swelling or acne — one would hope this data would be treated with extra care,” the report said. “But no, that information is shared with Facebook.The app also shares data users enter about their use of contraception, the analysis found, as well as their moods. It also asks users to enter information about when they’ve had sex and what kind of contraception they used, and also includes a diarylike section for users to write their own notes. That information is also shared with Facebook. –BuzzFeed Of note, advertisers are keenly interested in people's moods in order to strategically target them with advertisements when they're more likely to buy things. Women who are pregnant, or who want to become pregnant, are more likely to change their shopping habits, for example.

Web scraping doesn’t violate anti-hacking law, appeals court rules - Scraping a public website without the approval of the website's owner isn't a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, an appeals court ruled on Monday. The ruling comes in a legal battle that pits Microsoft-owned LinkedIn against a small data-analytics company called hiQ Labs.HiQ scrapes data from the public profiles of LinkedIn users, then uses the data to help companies better understand their own workforces. After tolerating hiQ's scraping activities for several years, LinkedIn sent the company a cease-and-desist letter in 2017 demanding that hiQ stop harvesting data from LinkedIn profiles. Among other things, LinkedIn argued that hiQ was violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, America's main anti-hacking law.  This posed an existential threat to hiQ because the LinkedIn website is hiQ's main source of data about clients' employees. So hiQ sued LinkedIn, seeking not only a declaration that its scraping activities were not hacking but also an order banning LinkedIn from interfering.A trial court sided with hiQ in 2017. On Monday, the 9th Circuit Appeals Court agreed with the lower court, holding that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act simply doesn't apply to information that's available to the general public."The CFAA was enacted to prevent intentional intrusion onto someone else's computer—specifically computer hacking," a three-judge panel wrote. T he court notes that members debating the law repeatedly drew analogies to physical crimes like breaking and entering. In the 9th Circuit's view, this implies that the CFAA only applies to information or computer systems that were private to start with—something website owners typically signal with a password requirement.

Chief executives of 145 companies urge Senate to pass gun control laws - Leaders of 145 companies wrote a letter to the Senate Thursday, urging the governmental body to take action on gun safety. The letter notes recent gun violence in Chicago, Newport News, Virginia and other places, calling it a “public health crisis.” But the leaders also say that gun violence is preventable, and lawmakers can step in to prevent tragedies. “That’s why we we urge the Senate to stand with the American public and take action on gun safety by passing a bill to require background checks on all gun sales and a strong Red Flag law that would allow courts to issue life-saving extreme risk protection orders,” they wrote in the letter. Red Flag laws, which are also known as Extreme Risk laws, allow family members or law enforcement to petition a court to prevent someone temporarily from obtaining firearms. “These proposals are common-sense, bipartisan and widely supported by the American public. It is time for the Senate to take action,” the letter concludes. Letter signers include the CEOs of well known companies Uber, Levi Strauss, Gap, Lyft and Beyond Meat. Edward Stack, the CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods, also signed the letter. The retailer stopped selling guns in 125 stores this year and stopped selling assault-style weapons after the Parkland shooting in 2018.

 Jim Cramer: Wall Street saying Elizabeth Warren must be 'stopped' - Leaders in the financial industry are really worried about the possibility of Sen. Elizabeth Warren becoming president, CNBC’s Jim Cramer said Tuesday.“When you get off the desk and talk to executives, they’re more fearful of her winning,” Cramer said on “Squawk on the Street.” Cramer said he’s hearing a “she’s got to be stopped” mantra bubbling up among executives on Wall Street and elsewhere.Warren, a champion of the left wing for her bank-bashing and wealth-taxing proposals, has been doing better at the polls in the crowded field of candidates vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.The Massachusetts senator is No. 2 in the Real Clear Politics polling average with 18% support. Former Vice President Joe Biden is first with nearly 30%, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is third with almost 18%. No other candidate is even close breaking into the top three.Warren is a “very compelling figure on the stump,” Cramer said, predicting that she’s going to win the first-in-the nation nominating contest in Iowa, set be held Feb. 3, 2020. “It would be a suboptimal situation for the banks” if Warren were to win the Democratic nomination, he added. President Donald Trump, while facing a few primary challengers, is expected to easily win the Republican presidential nomination.CNBC’s David Faber told Cramer on Tuesday’s “Squawk on the Street” that he’s hearing the same rumblings about Wall Street being fearful of a Warren presidency. “It’s another reason why companies are being implored to do things now ... because come early to mid-2020 if Elizabeth Warren is rolling along, everybody is going to be like, ‘That’s it,’” Faber said.

 The Wall Street Campaign to Stop Elizabeth Warren Officially Began on September 10, 2019 -- Pam Martens --Wall Street On Parade predicted that Senator Elizabeth Warren, now rising rapidly in her bid for President, would be targeted by Wall Street in an effort to derail her campaign. Yesterday, that Wall Street campaign officially began. CNBC’s Jim Cramer and David Faber discussed on TV how they are hearing from Wall Street bank executives that Warren must be stopped.On the same day, September 10, 2019, Bloomberg News, which is majority owned by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, whose $52.4 billion net worth derives from leasing his data terminals to thousands of Wall Street trading floors around the globe, ran this headline: “Richest Could Lose Hundreds of Billions Under Warren’s Wealth Tax.” Obviously, that wouldn’t sit too well with Michael Bloomberg, who has frequently penned his own OpEds for his financial news empire.But the most outrageous and egregious attack on Warren came yesterday from the Wall Street Journal, which ran an ethically-challenged OpEd from two former Wall Street lobbyists without ever mentioning what their real background was. (See related articles below for how the Wall Street Journal has turned this type of ethically-challenged attack into an art form.)The opinion piece was titled “Warren’s Assault on Retiree Wealth,” and was written by Phil Gramm and Mike Solon. Gramm is the former Republican Senator whose name appears on the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, the legislation that repealed the Glass-Steagall Act. It was that repeal that allowed Wall Street’s casino investment banks to merge with commercial banks holding Federally-insured deposits.  Michael Solon, the co-author of the piece in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, worked for Gramm in the U.S. Senate for 14 years. According to Solon’s current LinkedIn profile, he was a principal in the lobbying firm, Capitol Legistics (yes, that’s the correct spelling) whose corporate clients include the powerful Wall Street firm, Blackstone, and the powerful Wall Street law firm, Akin-Gump.  Solon’s name and signature appear on the lobbying reports for Goldman Sachs. One of those reports, filed for the first quarter of last year, show that Goldman paid Solon’s firm $120,000 for lobbying activities in the quarter. One piece of legislation on which Solon lobbied was H.R.4790, the Volcker Rule Regulatory Harmonization Act. Last month, the Volcker Rule, part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation of 2010, which was to prevent Wall Street banks from using depositors’ money to trade for the house, and from owning their own hedge funds and private equity funds, was gutted by Federal regulators.

Richest Americans Could Lose Hundreds Of Billions Of Dollars Under Warren Wealth Tax -- If Elizabeth Warren were to succeed in winning the Democratic nomination, then improbably go on to defeat President Trump in the general election, the wealthiest Americans could collectively lose hundreds of billions of dollars to her "wealth tax" over a span of decades. Two French economists recently published their calculations in a paper where they gamed out the impact of Warren's wealth tax on the top 15 richest Americans. They found that these families would have seen their net worth decline by more than half to $453.9 billion, had Warren's plan been in place since 1982.The paper was published by Cal Berkeley professors Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman. Though their paper relies on some assumptions, its findings raise some interesting questions ahead of Thursday's debate among Democratic Party presidential contenders, as the country debates what should be done to address yawning income and wealth inequality, according to Bloomberg.To be sure, the authors calculations also don't take into account any steps billionaires might take to reduce their exposure to the tax, including saving less or giving more money.Over the time frame explored by the study, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' $160 billion fortune (before his divorce settlement) would have been reduced to $86.8 billion. Meanwhile, Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates would have seen his $97 billion fortune shrink to just $36.4 billion.

Bernie Sanders Says in Last Night’s Debate that Richest 3 Americans Own More Wealth than Bottom 160 Million Americans. It’s Actually Worse than That. -- Pam Martens During last evening’s Democratic debate, Senator Bernie Sanders said this: “You’ve got three people in America owning more wealth than the bottom half of this country.” According to Politifact, Sanders is basing this claim on a 2017 study done by the Institute for Policy Studies which put the richest three Americans’ wealth as follows (based on the Forbes list of billionaires at that time): Bill Gates of Microsoft with $89 billion; Jeff Bezos of Amazon with $81.5 billion; and Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway with $78 billion — for a total of $248.5 billion. That wealth figure contrasts with the $245 billion owned by the bottom 50 percent of Americans according to the 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances conducted by the Federal Reserve. (The Fed’s survey is conducted every three years and the 2019 study has not yet been released.) But according to the real time Forbes’ billionaire listing as of this morning, Bill Gates’ wealth has climbed from $89 billion to $105.4 billion, an increase of 18.4 percent. Jeff Bezos’ wealth has climbed from $81.5 billion to $114.6 billion – an increase of $33.1 billion or 28.8 percent. Buffett has not done as well as his fellow billionaires, growing his wealth from $78 billion to $83.4 billion, an increase of 6.9 percent.The new tally for the three billionaires is $303.4 billion or a whopping $58.4 billion morethan the bottom 160 million Americans, which includes one in every four children who live below the Federal poverty level.  But it only takes adding two more billionaires to make the picture even more oligarchic. Those additional two rank number 4 and 5 on Forbes’ billionaire list this morning: Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook with $69.6 billion; and Larry Ellison, co-founder of Oracle, with a net worth of $65.8 billion. The top five billionaires currently have a net worth of $438.8 billion or $193.80 billion more than the bottom 160 million Americans.

Banks Seek Lower Credit Score Requirements, Targeting Over 50 Million New Subprime Borrowers -When the next bubble bursts - and it will - be sure to take a look back at this article. It might help explain some things.  Lenders, seemingly unhappy with the vast avalanche of debt they've issued over the last decade, are now looking to "move the goalposts" in order to be able to lend even more money to even less creditworthy individuals. Gone are the old days of relying on a consumer's borrowing history to determine creditworthiness, and instead lenders now look at such bizarre trivia as magazine subscriptions and phone bills to decide how much should be lent to potential borrowers. Banks like Goldman Sachs Group, Ally Financial and Discover are now experimenting with the new metrics. The changes are seismic for many large banks, who spent the last 10 years targeting only extremely credit-worthy borrowers. But, as we all know too well, when that pool runs out the show must go on by any means possible. And that is how we got to no-doc loans and subprime CDOs just before the last bubble burst.At stake is a lot of potential money: banks are targeting the estimated 53 million U.S. adults that don't have credit scores and 56 million that have subprime scores. The banks claim that many of these people don't have traditional borrowing backgrounds, often times because they pay in cash or are new to the U.S. That doesn't make them bad debt slaves prospects, however. Quite the opposite.The timing also couldn't be any better: US consumer debt is higher than ever, as Americans continue to borrow in order to finance everything from cars, college, housing and medical care. Government officials have also encouraged, at times, changes to the information in credit reports and scores so that loans could be made to "deserving borrowers" who don't fit a "traditional mold". You know, like people that have the means to pay back their debt.

House passes five bipartisan financial services bills — The House passed five bipartisan financial services bills aimed at issues ranging from rural housing assistance to the backlog of appraisals for Federal Housing Administration loans. The bills, approved by the Financial Services Committee, passed late Tuesday with overwhelming support in the full chamber. After Democrats retook the House in 2018, Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said she would pursue legislation where there was broad bipartisan support. Among the bills passed was HR 241, sponsored by Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, which requires state and federal agencies to coordinate their examinations of third-party bank service vendors and facilitates the sharing of information between state and federal agencies. It passed on a voice vote. A bill sponsored by Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo., HR 3620 — known as the Strategy and Investment in Rural Housing Act — was also passed by voice vote. The bill would extend and expand federal rental assistance programs to low-income residents in rural communities. The House also passed the Homebuyer Assistance Act, which is meant to reduce the backlog of appraisals for FHA loans. The bill would require FHA-approved appraisers to be licensed by relevant state agencies only and specifies the educational training necessary for appraisers to appraise properties for FHA loans. The bill passed 419-5. HR 1690, the CO Alerts Coordination Act, also passed on a voice vote. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., would require at least one carbon monoxide detector to be installed per floor of Section 8 housing for low-income families. The House also passed HR 281, known as the Ensuring Diverse Leadership Act, which would require Federal Reserve regional bank boards to consider at least one candidate of color when filling a vacancy for bank president. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jeanne Beatty, D-Ohio, has been a vocal advocate for increased diversity in the Federal Reserve system for many years.

Fed has two options for improving 2018 capital proposal: Quarles - The Federal Reserve should adopt one of two options to improve its stress capital proposal in order to strengthen its overall capital regime, the central bank's top bank regulatory official said. Federal Reserve Vice Chairman for Supervision Randal Quarles told a conference in Germany that either approach for improving the proposed stress capital buffer, SCB, would be equally effective. Whereas the proposal required banks to pre-fund the following four quarters of planned dividends after a stress test, Quarles said, the final plan could either raise the minimum level of the SCB or raise the Fed’s countercyclical capital buffer, or CCyB, above zero “in normal times.” “As an alternative to requiring pre-funding dividends and in furtherance of the other goals I have mentioned, I would like to suggest two co-equal options that, in my opinion, would simplify our capital requirements while limiting procyclicality,” Quarles said Thursday morning before the Program on International Financial Systems Conference in in Frankfurt. “Importantly, these two options also are consistent with our goal of maintaining overall levels of capital in the banking system." The Fed’s SCB proposal would consolidate some of the many minimum capital requirements that banks have to meet into the stress testing program, and would also replace the fixed 2.5% risk-based capital buffer that banks are required to maintain at all times with the SCB, which is based in part on each bank’s performance in the prior year’s stress test. Among the provisions in the proposal was a stress leverage buffer requirement, but Quarles said that he now thinks the inclusion of such a buffer is not suitable, because it would apply an unweighted leverage ratio into a broader risk-based capital regime. “I am concerned that explicitly assigning a stressed leverage requirement to a firm on the basis of risk-sensitive post-stress estimates is in conflict with the intellectual underpinnings of the leverage ratio,” Quarles said.  The pre-funding of dividend and stock buybacks is also now seen as an unappealing provision in the SCB proposal, he said, because failure to pass the stress tests can result in limited distributions even though the same stress test requires those distributions to be pre-funded. “I believe it is better to focus on the root cause of our concerns and take a comprehensive approach to ensuring that banks have sufficient capital, rather than focus on the individual elements of capital distributions,”

Investors want new accounting standards, FASB says. Investors disagree. - A key proponent for changing accounting rules for loan losses has a new argument: Investors have lost confidence in the existing method. Speaking to more than 1,000 accounting professionals, Hal Schroeder, who has served on the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s governing board since 2011, forcefully called the current expected credit loss model, or CECL, a "vast improvement over the status quo." Schroeder said at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants' National Conference on Banks and Savings Institutions that the incurred-loss method, which assumes all loans will be repaid until a loss or trigger event arises, is no longer relevant. “Even absent CECL, investors are, and will be, making their own estimates of expected losses,” Schroeder said. “Investors began ignoring GAAP allowances — effectively making their own, much higher loss estimates — 18 months before the beginning of the last recession.” Schroeder was even more pointed during a question-and-answer session after his remarks. The current standard is “clearly not decision-useful,” Schroeder said. “It’s being ignored. Most investors, while they may not say it clearly to you … are operating under something much closer to an expected-loss model … which is where we are with CECL today." CECL, unlike the current standard, removes any threshold for losses, calling on lenders to project a loan’s lifetime losses on the day its booked. It’s a sea change, and lenders and lawmakers have grown increasingly restive as conversion to the new standard — scheduled to start on Jan. 1 — nears. Several investors questioned Schroeder's claims. “I think the issue is considerably more complex than [his comments] would indicate,” said Joseph Gladue, research director at Alden Securities. “I believe there's a wide range of beliefs that investors are operating under when it comes to assessing credit for banks.” “It’s his opinion,” Joseph Stieven, the CEO of Stieven Capital Advisors, said of Schroeder’s comments. “Most investors very much dislike CECL. … We absolutely are looking at the totality of that, and current GAAP" — generally accepted accounting principles — "is part of that.”

Fed proposes capital requirements for insurance units — The Federal Reserve is seeking feedback on a proposed risk-based capital framework for firms supervised by the central bank that are heavily engaged in insurance activities. The Fed is proposing a “Building Block Approach” to determine a company’s enterprise-wide capital requirements. The framework would be aligned with state-based capital requirements. The proposal "looks to the well-known insurance capital standards from state regulators to establish minimum requirements," Fed Vice Chairman for Supervision Randal Quarles said in a press release. "Banks and insurance companies can face materially different risks and this proposal takes that into account." The approach constructs “building blocks,” or groupings of entities in the supervised firm, to be covered under the same capital requirements. The blocks are used to calculate combined, enterprise-level available capital and the capital requirements. The Fed's proposal accounts for risks specific to the insurance business, but the minimum standard would be comparable to banks’ minimum total capital ratio, which is set at 8%. The Fed will conduct a quantitative impact study of the “Building Block Approach” to better inform the framework. Stakeholders have 60 days to submit comments on the proposal. Subsc

After $74BN Weekly Record, Bond Boom Continues With Another $14 Billion In New Debt Borrowing - Ever since a thunderous start to September's bond calendar, which saw a record 20 companies issue $26 billion in record cheap investment grade debt in a single day, corporate America has been on a historic bond selling spree to lock in ultra-low rates and refi existing debt (making Wall Street i-bankers quite happy in the process). For the entire week, companies borrowed a total of $75 billion in investment-grade paper, the most for any comparable period since records began in 1972. Since Tuesday, corporations including Coca-Cola, Walt Disney, and Apple sold notes as yields have dropped.The frenzy isn’t letting up. According to Bloomberg and Bank of America, at least another $50 billion is projected for the rest of the month, with the activity expected to spill over to junk bonds and leveraged loans as well, and not even today's Ford downgrade to junk affecting $84 billion in debt, is expected to put a damper on the party.  The reason for the bond issuance frenzy? Rates have never been lower - according to Bloomberg Barclays index data, the average yield on bonds was 2.77% as of last week, effectively at all time lows, and almost 2% lower compared to late November, when that figure was above 4.3%. For a company selling $1 billion of debt, that amounts to $15.3 million of annual interest savings. Junk-bond yields have dropped too, with notes rated in the BB tier, the uppermost high-yield levels, paying a near record-low 4.07%."This is a great time for companies to refinance,” Christian Hoffmann, a portfolio manager at Thornburg Investment Management, told Bloomberg. "Financing costs are near all-time lows, so I would not be surprised to see better high-yield companies coming to market and treating debt capital markets like a cheap buffet." As we noted last week, borrowers are taking advantage of the recent drop in rates to refinance their outstanding bonds at lower costs. As BofA noted last week, the new issuance "use of proceeds" has shifted from supporting re-leveraging activities to refinancing in the currently low interest rate environment.

Who Is Buying Bonds With Negative Yields- JPMorgan Answers --  Crushing conventional wisdom, the yield on global debt has dropped to new 5000-year lows, and as recently as two weeks ago BofA calculated that the average non-US sovereign bond yield had turned negative for the first time ever, sliding to -0.03%. Which leads us to two key questions: i) who is buying bonds with negative yields, and ii) has the bond rally in August made bond markets more or less vulnerable, or in other words, is the risk of a bond tantrum or VaR shock higher or lower relative to last July? Conveniently, these are the two questions asked by JPMorgan's Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou in his latest Flows and Liquidity. who first addresses the recent surge in bond volatility, and the July VaR shock, noting that "when the volatility shock arrives, VaR sensitive investors cut their duration positions as the Value-at-Risk exceeded their limits and stop losses are triggered. This volatility induced position cutting becomes self-reinforcing until yields reach a level that induces the participation of VaR-insensitive investors, such aspension funds, insurance companies or households." JPM concludes there is now a lower risk of a bond tantrum relative to what we saw last July; it would also suggest that the probability of even lower rates is greater than a violent snapback higher in yields. Which brings us to the main question: who will be buying bonds at already record negative yields?  As JPM notes, with bond yields during the month of August having seen new lows after a rally triggered by the escalation of the US-China trade conflict from end-July, the universe of negatively yielding bonds expanded sharply. Indeed, negatively yielding bonds in the Bloomberg Global Agg index reached a new high of $17tr, or just over 30% of the index by market value.  Furthermore, as discussed here and elsewhere, the steady rally in yields has seen the entire yield curve of several countries trading at negative yields. This, as even JPM notes, "has again raised questions about who buys bonds with negative yields?" Here, JPM's Panigirtzoglou notes that there are in fact a number of investor groups that buy bonds with negative yields; these include:

  1. investors that fear or expect deflation;
  2. investors that speculate on currency appreciation;
  3. investors that expect capital gains resulting from central bank easing;
  4. central banks themselves, particularly when conducting asset purchase programs;
  5. indexed or passive multi-asset and bond funds;
  6. banks who seek to avoid potentially even more negative deposit rates;
  7. foreign investors who may find negatively yielding bonds attractive after FX hedging is accounted for;
  8. CTAs and other momentum-based investors who are price-based rather than yield-based investors; and
  9. some insurance companies and potentially pension funds that may be forced by regulations to de-risk or reduce duration mismatches even as yields turn negative.

Here, the JPM strategist focuses on the latter three as these have generated most discussion in recent client conversations.

Is Corporate Media Tricking the Public with Reports that the Stock Market Is Setting New Highs? -  Pam Martens - On January 26, 2018 the Dow Jones Industrial Average set a new record high of 26,616.71. Despite setting new highs multiple times thereafter, the moves were so negligible on a percentage basis that the reality is that the stock market has been a real dog over the past year and a half. This past Friday, the Dow closed at 26,797.46. That’s a meager 180.75 points, or less than a one percent move, in 19 months. That’s not exactly the stuff that retirement dreams are built on. But if you’re a typical American who has to rely on headlines or TV sound bites to tell you what’s going on in the market because you’re too busy working long hours, running the kids to dentist appointments and soccer games, doing grocery shopping and laundry on the weekends, then you may have been fooled by corporate media into thinking the stock market has been doing great. Here’s why.Every major newspaper in America has been running headlines all year touting the news that the stock market is setting new highs. Unfortunately, corporate media rarely explains what this new high means in percentage terms on an annualized basis. That means that corporate media is leaving out the most essential measure of how your money is working for you in the stock market. Here’s a sampling: On July 3, 2019, USA Today reported that “Dow, U.S. stocks hit record highs on rate cut hopes ahead of July 4th.” There is nothing in the article that gives the reader what this new high means as a percentage return year over year, year-to-date, or for any period of time. On April 23, 2019 CNN blasted the headline: “US stocks hit new record highs.” The reporting went like this: “US stocks climbed past their all-time highs on Tuesday, as stocks continued to rally from their December lows.

CFPB moves to ease fintechs’ regulatory fears - The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued three new policies to promote innovation, removing the threat of legal liability for fintech companies that test products benefiting consumers. The three policies unveiled Tuesday include the agency's final fintech sandbox framework, a revised policy for sending firms "no-action" letters and a program permitting companies to test alternative consumer disclosures. Together, the steps offer a legal safe harbor and relief from supervisory and enforcement actions for developing new products and services. Separately, the CFPB said it is partnering with seven Republican attorneys general to launch the American Consumer Financial Innovation Network, to share information and coordinate with states on “innovation-related policies and programs." The bureau also issued its first no-action letter under the changes to the Obama-era policy. It is intended to benefit 1,600 housing counseling agencies that have entered into certain fee-for-service arrangements with mortgage lenders for housing counseling services. (The letter was sent to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.) The CFPB proposed the three policies in 2018 under former acting Director Mick Mulvaney. The policies go beyond similar efforts developed by the Obama administration that were criticized for not offering enough regulatory relief. “The three policies we are announcing today are common-sense policies that will foster innovation that ultimately benefits consumers,” CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger said in a press release. "Innovation drives competition, which can lower prices and offer consumers more and better products and services. New products and services can expand financial options, especially to unbanked and underbanked households, giving more consumers access to the benefits of the financial system.” The bureau said the revamped no-action letter policy would “provide increased regulatory certainty through a statement that the Bureau will not bring a supervisory or enforcement action against a company for providing a product or service under certain facts and circumstances.”

 Why the CFPB’s payday rule is in the hands of a Texas judge - Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Kathy Kraninger is under pressure to ask a federal judge to lift a stay that has kept the agency's rule to rein in short-term lending from going into effect. Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin delayed the compliance date of the CFPB’s rule until November 2020, handing a major victory to two payday trade groups that sued the CFPB to get the rule thrown out. The judge's decision put Kraninger in a tough position. The agency was already attempting to rescind a key part of the regulation that would establish tougher underwriting standards for payday loans even while leaving in place another part that places limits on how often a lender can attempt to debit payments from a borrower's checking account. The second part of the rule was set to take effect on Aug. 19 but has been held up by the court ruling. “Right now the Texas case is significant ... because the Texas court has stayed the entire payday rule,” said Will Corbett, litigation director at the Center for Responsible Lending and a former senior counsel at the CFPB. So far, however, the CFPB has not asked the judge to lift the stay, a move that has angered consumer groups and Senate Democrats who accuse Kraninger of trying to undermine something promulgated under one of her predecessors, Richard Cordray, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama. “Every day that the CFPB lets this go, they are letting consumers continue to have withdrawals from payday lenders, so without the bureau taking steps to get the stay lifted, they are leaving consumers unprotected,” Corbett said. Sen. Sherrod Brown, the lead Democrat on the Banking Committee, has questioned why the CFPB isn't taking action, given that the agency was letting that part of the rule go forward. “The Bureau’s refusal to request to lift the stay of the compliance date for the payment provisions makes no sense and exposes consumers to continued withdrawal requests, resulting in unnecessary fees,” Brown wrote in an Aug. 14 letter. Ultimately, the CFPB's action has left the fate of the rule up to Yeakel, who is not scheduled to hear an update from the agency until Dec. 6. It's uncertain which way the judge will decide on the rule.

Enforcement actions are still a tool in CFPB arsenal, Kraninger says — The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is stepping up its enforcement actions after her predecessor had temporarily frozen the agency’s ability to use the tool, said Director Kathy Kraninger. Total enforcement actions were significantly down under the leadership of former acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney, who is now President Trump’s acting chief of staff. But Kraninger said in a speech that enforcement actions are an effective way for the CFPB to discourage violations of consumer protection laws. “Sometimes we do have to intervene with an enforcement action, and that’s something that I’ve continued to do,” Kraninger said at a National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions event. “Public decisive action against wrongdoers does send a clear message to the marketplace and hopefully continues to deter unlawful behavior and support, as I’ve said, that level playing field, so that’s something that we’ll continue to do and have done.” In her first public speech as director in April, Kraninger emphasized that the CFPB should not view "outputs," such as money returned to consumers or the volume of enforcement actions, as measures of its success. Under former Director Richard Cordray, the CFPB returned $12 billion to consumers over six years, some of which came in the form of canceled consumer debts. “We weigh many different factors to determine the precise mix of restitution, penalties, and injunctive leave that’s appropriate in each case and that frankly can be very challenging to get restitution depending on the kind of harm that consumers have suffered,” said Kraninger. Still, Kraninger remains focused on preventing harmful activity as opposed to punishing bad actors after the fact through enforcement actions, she said. “I think that’s a very effective way … of ensuring consumer access to a fair and competitive market,” she said.

Would a Democratic president fire CFPB's Kraninger? - Republicans have long tried to defang the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but a Democratic victor in the presidential race could actually be the first to mount a constitutional challenge to the agency's leadership. Some lawyers think the Supreme Court will soon hear one of three cases challenging the bureau's constitutionality, all dealing with a president's ability to fire a CFPB director. Yet even though those cases had initially targeted former Obama-appointed CFPB Director Richard Cordray, a high court ruling making it easier to unseat a CFPB chief could be used to fire current Trump-appointed Director Kathy Kraninger, whose policies are opposed by many Democrats. “The early attack by Republicans on the agency could lead to the early removal of their first director,” Republicans have claimed for years that the CFPB is unconstitutional because it has a single director who does not answer to a board and who can only be fired "for cause," not at will, restricting the president's removal powers. Many had speculated that President Trump would try to fire Cordray, who still had a year and a half on his term when Trump took office, but the for-cause provision gave the then-CFPB chief job security.The three cases essentially argue that that provision is unconstitutional. Up to now, no court ruling has eliminated the for-cause standard, and Cordray resigned of his own volition in late 2017 to run for governor in Ohio. But legal observers see signs that the high court is ready to take on the issue.

Trump administration will move on GSE plans if Congress doesn't: Mnuchin — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin signaled Monday that the Trump administration could take action on housing finance reform within just a few months if Congress does not make progress on overhauling Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Mnuchin's comments during a Fox Business television interview followed Treasury's report last week on reforming the government-sponsored enterprises, which expressed a preference for legislative action but said the administration was prepared to use existing authority if Congress continues to stall. “We’re going to work with Congress on the first part of this. I’d hope that if we’re going to get congressional support, it would be in the next three to six months," Mnuchin said. "And if we can’t do that, we’ll move on the administrative front.” Movement on a preliminary step could come even sooner. Mnuchin said the administration is set to act as early as September to revise an agreement between Treasury and the Federal Housing Finance Agency to allow Fannie and Freddie to hold on to more of their earnings. “We expect a near-term agreement to retain their earnings” in September or shortly after, Mnuchin said. The deal would allow Fannie and Freddie to rebuild some capital, which is seen as a key step before they exit their 11-year-old federal conservatorships. “Now is the time to recapitalize them, make them stronger, make sure that taxpayers aren’t at risk,” Mnuchin said. An imminent deal on retained earnings would mean a "significant increase in capital and a step in the right direction to us ultimately raising third-party capital,” he added. A new retained-earnings agreement would allow the GSEs to expand capital cushions that are now limited to $3 billion per company. Mnuchin's comments on a potential legislative timeline could draw attention from members of the Senate Banking Committee at GSE reform hearing scheduled for Tuesday. Lawmakers have stalled on several reform proposals for years, shifting emphasis to what the FHFA can do to overhaul the mortgage companies under existing authority.

A Trump plan to privatize Fannie Mae could upend mortgage market -The Trump administration has a new plan to re-privatize the mortgage groups Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — reversing one of the first actions taken to address the 2008 financial crisis and raising the prospect of a fundamental reworking of the multi-trillion-dollar market in mortgage-backed securities. The plan is on the table in part because the 2008 nationalization was a stopgap measure that few really wanted.But Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are still with us in this form 11 years and two presidents later. One reason is conservatives spent the better part of a decade pushing to get the government entirely out of the mortgage business — a step that could have meant huge changes for how American homeownership works, possibly including the death of the traditional 30-year mortgage.Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s blueprint would abandon that libertarian dream, seeking instead to take Fannie and Freddie out of public control while minimizing disruption to the mortgage market. That means formally admitting that these companies will be bailed-out again if they get into trouble, with a new regulatory structure designed to prevent those bailouts from being costly to taxpayers.This raises the big picture question of why bother to go through privatization at all if the goal is mostly to keep things the same. Hanging over that question is the struggle of a handful of hedge fund managers (several of whom are allied to President Donald Trump) to secure a huge payday for themselves. The Treasury blueprint leaves that topic — and several other crucial related ones — hazy, even while including a somewhat detailed wish list of unrelated conservative regulatory reforms. But conservative die-hards don’t share the main goal of preserving a large government role in the home mortgage business. If Trump wants real action on this front, he’s going to have to embrace bipartisan legislating, and it’s not clear he’s capable of doing that.

Treasury mulling appeal of GSE investor ruling to high court: Mnuchin — The Treasury Department is considering appealing to the Supreme Court to try to overturn a court decision that sided with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac investors, Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday. Federal appeals court judges in New Orleans on Friday appeared to back claims by investors that Treasury's "net worth sweep" is illegal. The sweep provision was implemented in 2012, requiring the government-sponsored enterprises to deliver nearly all of their profits to Treasury to repay the government for bailing them out in the financial crisis. Investors in the two companies have brought forward a number of lawsuits challenging the sweep, but Friday's ruling marked one of their clearest victories. Previously, other courts found that the Housing Economic and Recovery Act of 2008 placed restraints on judicial review. “We’re looking at it carefully and we’re considering what to do about it, including we’re going to consider appealing it to the Supreme Court,” Mnuchin said in an interview with CNBC. “There are two parts of it. One is obviously the cash-flow sweep and that’s what the Treasury is looking at.” Treasury released a presidentially directed report last week that detailed its legislative preferences and administrative plans for ending the conservatorships of the GSEs and reforming the nation’s housing finance system. The report said Treasury intended to end the sweep so Fannie and Freddie could retain earnings in an effort to build up the companies’ currently limited capital buffers. Mnuchin told Fox Business on Monday that administration is set to act as early as September to suspend the sweep. “We expect a near-term agreement to retain their earnings” in September or shortly after, he said. The federal appeals court judges also sided with the court’s determination that the structure of the Federal Housing Finance Agency is unconstitutional.

Path to a GSE bill still fraught despite Treasury plan — Senators' examination Tuesday of the Trump administration's housing finance reform plan made two things clear: Lawmakers feel urgency to move legislation, but addressing obstacles that have stalled congressional action for years still eludes them. The reports issued last week by the Treasury Department and Department of Housing and Urban Development sent a clear signal that the administration could accelerate its own reform plan to privatize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac if bipartisan legislation does not come to a vote. That ultimatum in dealing with the government-sponsored enterprises seemed to resonate with some members of the Senate Banking Committee. “Today’s hearing should also serve as a warning,” said Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D. “As we’ve all read, the Trump administration is determined to bring the GSE conservatorship to an end, and it has clearly defined ways that it can do so. Although my colleagues might object to certain parts of the administration’s plan, these objections are no justification for not attempting to at least find a path forward within this committee.” In its presidentially directed report, Treasury said it would prefer that Congress take up comprehensive reform legislation to privatize Fannie and Freddie, but that a bill is not a prerequisite for ending conservatorship. Imploring the committee to act Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reinforced that Monday when he said he hoped congressional movement on the issue would happen in the next three to six months, and “if we can’t do that, we’ll move on the administrative front.” Both Republican and Democratic senators implored Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, to hold a markup of a bill that would achieve the legislative requests both Treasury and HUD laid out in their respective reports. “I completely agree we need to get this in front of this committee and we need to hash it out, but … I think we need to go farther than just this housing issue in this committee,” said Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala. “We need to get things to the floor of the United States Senate.”

FHFA's Calabria details next steps on GSE reform — A day after Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mark Calabria testified in front of lawmakers about the administration’s plans for ending the conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, he offered new details about his timeline and vision for reform, including what options are on the table for building capital. The presidentially directed reports issued last week by the Treasury Department and Department of Housing and Urban Development sent a clear signal that the administration could accelerate its own reform plan to privatize the government-sponsored enterprises if bipartisan legislation does not pass in the foreseeable future. The first steps of that administrative action to reform the housing finance system should come before the end of the year, Calabria said Wednesday at a National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions event. The first step could be to cease an agreement among various parties that the GSEs sweep all of their profits into the Treasury. The aim is for the mortgage companies to retain earnings so they can rebuild capital. While no decision has been made regarding a risk-based capital framework for the GSEs — proposed under former FHFA Director Mel Watt — Calabria said he will have a better idea within the next month if he will re-propose the framework. A risk-based capital rule would go into effect once Fannie and Freddie are released from conservatorship. “We’re going through all the different elements of it,” he told reporters after the speech. “Capital was such a foundational element of this, that it’s so critical in my view to get it right.” If the agency goes forward with Watt's proposal, Calabria is aiming to finalize it around December, but if he decides to re-propose the rule, it would likely be completed closer to May, he said. “This may be the most important rulemaking that I will undergo in my time there … so we need to get it right and that is more important,” said Calabria.

Wisconsin Farm Loan Delinquencies Jump To Levels Not Seen Since 2001 --The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) warned Thursday that farmers across the Central and Midwest US were quickly falling behind on agriculture loans held by community banks, according to Reuters.In a quarterly report of loan delinquency data of US banks, published by the FDIC, there was no direct reference to President Trump's trade war with China. But the report noted that credit deterioration in agriculture loans, specifically in Wisconsin, were alarming."We continue to monitor risks in the agriculture sector connected to low commodity prices and farm incomes," the FDIC said in a statement. The report showed the percentage of overdue farm loans rose to 2.9% at community banks across the state as of June 30, the highest rate since 2001. The rate of delinquent farm loans nearly doubled in Wisconsin since President Trump took office and have accelerated since the trade war began early last year. President Trump was the first Republican to win Wisconsin since Ronald Reagan in 1984, defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. His promise of "Making Farmers Great Again" and revitalizing manufacturing was why he won.Wisconsinites might have a difficult time digesting the president's message in 2020 because of the trade war's damaging effects on the state's agriculture complex. A farm crisis will likely materialize before the 2020 election. New data on farm bailout payments through mid-May showed Wisconsin farmers received the short end of the stick. Their payments in the first government bailout were the smallest than any other state. This pushed many farmers into bankruptcies as incomes collapsed, some resorted to more leverage earlier this year, with hopes that the trade war would be resolved by late summer. As of September, there's no end in sight, despite the meeting next month - but even then, a no-deal scenario will likely play out as the Chinese will wait until after the 2020 election to make a deal. To make matters worse, China has halted all purchases of agriculture products from the US, which has dramatically affected Wisconsin farmers and could lead to a jump in the rate of delinquent farm loans in 2020.The farm crisis in the state could radiate outwards and trigger layoffs -- that is because one in nine jobs are tied to the state's $88 billion agriculture industry. And with incomes collapsing and bankruptcies mounting, some farmers in Wisconsin are resorting to suicide.

Black Knight Mortgage Monitor for July: National Delinquency Rate near Series Low -  Black Knight released their Mortgage Monitor report for July today. According to Black Knight, 3.46% of mortgages were delinquent in July, down slightly from 3.61% in July 2018. Black Knight also reported that 0.49% of mortgages were in the foreclosure process, down from 0.57% a year ago. This gives a total of 3.95% delinquent or in foreclosure.  Press Release: Black Knight Mortgage Monitor: Servicer Retention Rates Improve Significantly Among Rate-Driven Refinance Transactions; Cash-Out Refi Retention Still Lackluster This month’s analysis found that tappable equity – the amount of equity available to homeowners with mortgages before reaching a maximum combined loan-to-value ratio of 80% – rose for the second consecutive quarter. Gaining $335 billion in Q2 2019, tappable equity is now at an all-time high of $6.3 trillion. Approximately 45 million homeowners with mortgages have an average of $140,000 in tappable equity available to them. As mentioned above, falling 30-year rates have made cash-out refinances an affordable alternative to HELOCs as a way for these homeowners to tap equity. These falling rates have also opened up a relatively low-risk pool of potential borrowers with high credit scores. Nearly half of tappable equity holders have current first lien rates of 4.25%, while 76% have interest rates of 3.75% or higher, meaning they could potentially tap into home equity with little change to their existing 30-year rate, or perhaps even experience a slight improvement. More than half of this population has credit scores of 760 or above, making for a relatively low-risk market segment; another 16% have credit scores between 720-759.  Here is a graph from the Mortgage Monitor that shows the National delinquency rate over time.  From Black Knight:

• After June's calendar-driven spike, the national delinquency rate recovered strongly in July
• Delinquencies fell 7% from June, and are now down more than 4% from one year ago
• July 2019’s delinquency rate of 3.46% is the lowest for any July on record dating back to 2000
• The national delinquency rate is now more than 1% below the pre-recession average for the first time in 2019 after first crossing that threshold in late 2018

The second graph shows the Year-over-year change in Black Knight's House Price Index: 

• The rate of a annual home price appreciation rose in July for the first time since February 2018
• Home prices were up by 0.34% for the month, increasing the annual home price growth rate to 3.9%
• Over those 16 months, annual home price growth had fallen from a peak of 6.75% in February 2018 to 3.7% as of June
• It’s important to note that the slowdown didn’t equate to falling home prices at the national level; in fact, July marked 87 consecutive months of annual home price growth

There is much more in the mortgage monitor.

Mortgage retention rates recover from slump: Black Knight - With more rate-and-term refinancing in the mix, home lenders did a better job of retaining borrowers in the second quarter, but there's still room for improvement. "While losing the business of more than two out of every three rate-driven refinance customers is not exactly extraordinary performance, it is significantly better than the sub-20% retention rates throughout much of 2017," Ben Graboske, president of data and analytics for Black Knight, said in a press release. The mortgage industry's second-quarter recapture rate jumped to 24% from the first quarter's post-crisis low of 18% and from 19% in the second quarter of 2018. The retention rate for rate-and-term refinances during the period was 30%, but the retention rate for no cash-out refinancing was just 20%. "The not-so-good news is that — in an environment of record-high levels of tappable equity and low interest rates that make cash-out refinances an affordable option for accessing that equity — servicers are retaining just one in five cash-out borrowers," Graboske said. The volume of home equity borrowers could tap before their loans would reach a combined loan-to-value ratio of 80% increased to an all-time high of $6.3 trillion during the second quarter. Within this subset of the market, almost three-fourths of mortgage holders have rates of 3.75% or higher. This means they could withdraw home equity without necessarily having to borrow at higher interest rates, according to Black Knight. More than half of borrowers with the ability to access home equity have credit scores of 760 or higher. This suggests that the loan performance risk lenders would face if they increased these borrowers' leverage is relatively low.

"Mortgage Rates' Week Goes From Bad to Worse" --From Matthew Graham at MortgageNewsDaily: Mortgage Rates' Week Goes From Bad to Worse: Mortgage rates were already having their worst week since 2016 as of yesterday afternoon. Rather than help to heal some of the damage, today's bond market momentum only made things worse. Whether we're looking at 10yr Treasury yields a broad indicator of longer-term rates or average mortgage lender offerings, this week now ranks among the top 3 in the past decade in terms of the overall move higher. At this point, we'd have to go back to the trauma of 2013's 'taper tantrum' to see anything bigger. [Today's Most Prevalent Rates 30YR FIXED - 3.875%]  This graph from Mortgage News Daily shows mortgage rates since 2014. This graph is interactive at the Mortgage News Daily site, and you could view mortgage rates back to the mid-1980s - click here for graph.

This was the worst week for mortgage rates in 3 years – and it may be just the beginning - The average rate on the 30-year fixed is now 13 basis points higher than it was on Monday and 29 basis points higher than its last low on September 4th, according to Mortgage News Daily. That is the biggest short-term jump since the week following the election of President Trump. That is the bad news for borrowers. The good news is that rates are still incredibly low, and in the weeks before this turnaround, rates had fallen to the lowest level in three years. “These sorts of bad performances are most often seen in the wake of stellar performances,” said Matthew Graham, chief operating officer of Mortgage News Daily. “August was the best month for mortgage rates, and 2019 has been the best year since 2011. And that’s precisely why this terrible week is possible: It’s largely a technical correction to the feverish strength in August.” Analysts now wonder if this a short-term correction from those recent lows or a new shift toward rising rates. “The big risk here is that the overall rate rally—the one that began in November 2018—has run its course,” said Graham. If the market “can match 2011′s performance, there’s a chance rates will move to new all-time lows by the end of the year,” he added. But that would require “some legitimate deterioration in the global growth outlook.” Mortgage rates loosely follow the yield on the 10-year Treasury. While moves in the Federal Reserve’s rates can affect bond yields, mortgage rates are not necessarily tied to Fed rate cuts or increases. While mortgage rates are still historically low, so many borrowers have already refinanced, that the pool of those left who could benefit is extremely rate sensitive.

Bob Shiller Drops Bombshell- Wouldn't Be At All Surprised If US Home Prices Started Falling - Nobel laureate Robert Shiller sat down with Bloomberg this week to discuss narrative economics, which is how a story or a series of related economic events can drive animal spirits in an economy. Shiller talks about the trade war, consumer spending, and even drops a bombshell of why he thinks the housing market could be entering a downturn.Shiller warned that the surge in the recent recession fears, driven by economic narratives such as the trade war and inverted yield curves, could be just enough negativity in the news to weigh on the animal spirits of consumers. He suggested that the American Dream of spending money you don't have to keep up with the Joneses could be at a pivotal point due to the economic narrative of a worldwide recession. Considering the economy is 75% or so consumer-driven, any pullback in spending would likely result in a much broader slowdown, especially with an already manufacturing and transportation recession festering behind the scenes.  Around the 4:20 mark of the video, a Bloomberg anchor, asks Shiller if housing prices are due for a pullback. Shiller responds: "I wouldn't be surprised if home prices started falling, and it could be accompanied by a recession." Nobel laureate Robert Shiller said he “wouldn’t be at all surprised” if U.S. house prices start to fall— Bloomberg Economics (@economics) September 5, 2019Shiller's warning comes amidst emerging signs of a slowdown in the housing market.Last week, home sales, mortgage apps, starts, permits, buying sentiment, and home prices all missed expectations.  S&P CoreLogic (Case-Shiller) 20-City home price index rose just 0.11% MoM (half the expected 0.2% rise) and slowed to a 6.31% YoY gain - the weakest since Dec 2017

 From Cohabitation to Cohousing: Older Baby Boomers Create Living Arrangements To Suit New Needs - One of the major questions of growing older is, “where do I want to live as I age?” For many baby boomers, an important goal is staying independent as long as possible. Many in this generation desire to age in their homes and make their own choices as long as possible. Living preferences are changing, as are relationship patterns, such as greater numbers of mid- and late-life adults who are single, childless, or live at a distance from adult children. “Senior cohousing communities,” or SCCs, are a form of communal living that integrates common areas and private residences. They promote choice and independence, which are particularly important for the aging baby boom generation.  As academic social workers and gerontologists, we have studied numerous issues of later life. Professionally, we wanted to see how these communities promote health and well-being. Cohousing is a relatively new type of living arrangement. The first modern cohousing communitywas developed in Denmark in 1972. In the U.S., senior cohousing, started in the early 2000s. There are now 17 such communities, and 28 are currently in formation or under construction. Cohousing communities bring people together who choose to live cooperatively based upon shared values. Examples are the desire to promote environmental sustainability or social justice, or a shared spirituality. Common elements include a community vision statement that articulates important principles along with a hierarchical governance and decision-making structure. Residents live in individual homes but share some spaces, such a common building with a kitchen, library and exercise room. Patios and gardens are positioned in a way to promote interaction. As a result, residents engage in communal meals and other activities. These new arrangements differ from traditional over-55 residential communities, which are planned and managed by a developer. These places are often large and provide organized activities for those who live there. SCCs, however, are typically small and are planned, developed and operated by the residents themselves. The whole idea is to promote community, social engagement and active aging.

These Are America's 100 Largest Landowners... And Here Is What They Own - The 100 largest private landowners in the US own a combined 40 million acres, an area roughly the size of Florida.But who are they, exactly? In a recent interactive story, Bloomberg matches some of the largest landowning families with some of their flagship parcels of land.According to BBG, the top 100 private landowners own property in 39 states. Their parcels suit a number of purposes, from investment, conservation, tax benefits or simply the bragging rights that come with owning large chunks of the US. Below, all of the land owned by this rarefied group is highlighted in green. The top ten landowning families control an area roughly equivalent in size to the state of West Virginia. Their names are (units in acres):
John Malone: 2.20 million
Emmerson family: 1.96 million
Ted Turner: 1.92 million
Stan Kroenke: 1.38 million
Reed family: 1.33 million
Irving family: 1.25 million
Brad Kelley: 1.15 million
Singleton family: 1.10 million
King Ranch heirs: 0.93 million
Peter Buck: 0.93 million

Hotels: Occupancy Rate Decreased Year-over-year From STR: US hotel results for week ending 31 August - The U.S. hotel industry reported mostly positive year-over-year results in the three key performance metrics during the week of 25-31 August 2019, according to data from STR. In comparison with the week of 26 August through 1 September 2018, the industry recorded the following:
• Occupancy: -0.4% to 66.7%
• Average daily rate (ADR): +1.4% to US$127.26
• Revenue per available room (RevPAR): +1.0% at US$84.87
Orlando, Florida, saw the steepest declines in occupancy (-21.6% to 52.4%) and RevPAR (-24.1% to US$52.84).Miami/Hialeah, Florida, posted the largest drop in ADR (-6.6% to US$137.27) and the only other double-digit decreases in occupancy (-10.9% to 60.1%) and RevPAR (-16.8% to US$82.56).Due to the anticipation of Hurricane Dorian, the three largest hotel markets in Florida each reported significant declines in occupancy on Friday and Saturday. The following graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average.

Consumer Credit Card Debt Explodes In July Despite Rates At 18-Year Highs - Something is not quite right here. Despite The Fed signaling rate-cuts as far as the eye can see, US credit-card interest rates have soared to the highest since 2001.And despite credit card rates being at 18-year highs, US revolving debt (largely made up of credit card debt) has exploded in July to its highest on record. This was the biggest MoM jump in revolving debt since Nov 2017... Is the American consumer really that healthy? The recent exuberance over retail sales gains seems to be largely predicated on the back of an average joe who is forced to use his high-cost credit card to cover everyday expenses.

Retail Sales Shock- BofA Card Data Shows Plunge In August Spending - With the August payrolls report widely seen as disappointing, with less than 100k private payrolls added (despite accelerate wage growth), the last data point the Fed is waiting for to cement next week's 25bps rate cut is this Friday's retail sales data (assuming tomorrow's CPI report is not a shock). Luckily for the Fed, it appears that the August retail sales number is set to be the latest evidence of America's rapid slowdown, if only based on Bank of America credit and debit card data, which shows that after a strong month of spending in July, consumers aggressively tightened the strings of their wallets in August. Specifically, BAC found that retail sales ex-autos fell 0.5% month-over-month, which reversed the 0.9% gain in July, and was not only the first monthly contraction since February this year, but was also the biggest monthly drop in 2019. As BofA details, in August, spending for only 5 out of the 14 sectors increased in the month, led by strength in cruises and airlines. This was likely boosted by summer vacations, which usually take place in August. On the flip side, spending at clothing stores saw a 1.9% mom contraction accompanied by a 1.6% drop in gas stations. Luxury and department stores also posted losses. On a % yoy basis, 7 sectors posted negative growth. Excluding spending at gas stations, which is largely impacted by gas prices, spending at department stores continue to post the biggest % yoy loss, at -4.6%. According to BofA, Amazon Prime Day and other retailers' summer promotions in mid-July provided a significant boost to spending, in effect pulling forward consumer demand from the future, into July and out of August. Focusing specifically on discretionary spending categories likely impacted by the promotions, the bank's economists found that it increased 1.7% mom in July but tumbled 1.4% in August

 Retail Sales increased 0.4% in August -On a monthly basis, retail sales increased 0.4 percent from July to August (seasonally adjusted), and sales were up 4.1 percent from August 2018. From the Census Bureau report: Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for August 2019, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $526.1 billion,an increase of 0.4 percent from the previous month, and 4.1 percent above August 2018. This graph shows retail sales since 1992. This is monthly retail sales and food service, seasonally adjusted (total and ex-gasoline). Retail sales ex-gasoline were up 0.5% in August.The second graph shows the year-over-year change in retail sales and food service (ex-gasoline) since 1993.  Retail and Food service sales, ex-gasoline, increased by 4.5% on a YoY basis.The increase in August was slightly above expectations. Sales in June and July were revised up.  Overall a solid report.

August retail sales confirm healthy consumer sector -Retail sales are one of my favorite indicators, because in real terms they can tell us so much about the present, near term forecast, and longer term forecast for the economy. This morning retail sales for August were reported up +0.4%, and July, which was already very good at +0.7%,  was revised upward by another +0.1% as well. Since consumer inflation increased by +0.4% over that two month period, real retail sales have risen +0.7% in the past two months. As a result, YoY real retail sales, which had been faltering earlier this year, are  now up +2.3%. Here is what the last five years look like: As I mentioned above, although the relationship is noisy, real retail sales measured YoY tend to lead employment (red in the graphs below) by about 4 to 8 months. here is that relationship for the past 70 years, measured quarterly to cut down on noise:  Now here is the monthly close-up of the last five years. You can see that it is much noisier, but helps us pick out the turning points: The recent peak in YoY employment gains followed the recent peak in real retail sales by roughly 6 months, and the downturn in real retail sales at the end of last year has already shown up in weakness in the employment numbers this year. Similarly I expect the improvement in retail sales to show up in an improvement in the employment numbers by about next spring.   Finally, real retail sales per capita is a long leading indicator. In particular it has turned down a full year before either of the past two recessions:

Older iPhones Reported 'Breaking' After Apple Unveils iPhone 11 - Right after Apple announced the iPhone 11, numerous owners of older iPhones began to report device malfunctions reminiscent of a 2017 debacle in which the company admitted slowing the performance of older phones - 'officially' in order to extend their battery life. At the time, Apple said in a statement that it had "never - and wound never - do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product." According to USA Today, however, the coincidences are piling up. "So, of course I'm suspicious that yesterday's Apple announcement killed my current iPhone. It just stopped working. Awesome," claimed Twitter user ZarduBen.  "The new iPhone was just announced and my phone randomly stopped working," user @secondhandcurls tweeted. Swear I just said my phone has been acting up ever since they started talking about the iPhone 11 release . My 10 was working perfectly fine and then bam — Desireé Meowington (@DesireeMeoww) September 12, 2019I find it awfully convenient that the camera on my iPhone stopped working the day Apple announced new iPhones with fancier cameras— Evan (@evanbumgardner) September 11, 2019And so on. All Apple can offer on the topic is the same "As batteries age" schpiel - however the flurry of sudden issues being reported would appear unrelated. 

Vinyl Records Set To Outpace CD Sales For The First Time In 30 Years, Even Though They Suck -While streaming content has displaced all forms of physical media as the preferred medium for sonic consumption, nostalgia-driven audiophiles have driven Vinyl sales through the roof - at least compared to CDs. According to the RIAA's 2019 mid-year revenue report published by Rolling Stone, LPs are on pace to outsell CDs this year, making them the most profitable form of non-streaming music for the first time since 1986.Vinyl records earned $224.1 million (on 8.6 million units) in the first half of 2019, closing in on the $247.9 million (on 18.6 million units) generated by CD sales. Vinyl revenue grew by 12.8% in the second half of 2018 and 12.9% in the first six months of 2019, while the revenue from CDs barely budged. If these trends hold, records will soon be generating more money than compact discs. -Rolling StoneThat said, vinyl accounted for just four percent of total music revenues in the first half of 2019, while paid subscriptions to streaming services accounted for 62% of industry revenues according to the report. "We welcome [the growth in vinyl]," said Warner Records co-chairman and CEO, Tom Corson. "It’s a sexy, cool product. It represents an investment in music that’s an emotional one. [But] it is a small percentage of our business. It’s not going to make or break our year. We devote the right amount of resources to it, but it’s not something where we have a department for it." Rolling Stone notes that the resurgence in vinyl has been a boon for rock groups in particular. "The Beatles sold over 300,000 records in 2018, while Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Queen all sold over 100,000."

BLS: CPI increased 0.1% in August, Core CPI increased 0.3% - From the BLS: The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.1 percent in Auguston a seasonally adjusted basis after rising 0.3 percent in July, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 1.7 percent before seasonal adjustment. ... The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.3 percent in August, the same increase as in June and July. ... The all items index increased 1.7 percent for the 12 months ending August; the 12-month increase has remained in the range of 1.5 to 2.0 percent since the period ending December 2018. The index for all items less food and energy rose 2.4 percent over the last 12 months, its largest 12-month increase since July 2018. Core inflation was above expectations in August. I'll post a graph later today after the Cleveland Fed releases the median and trimmed-mean CPI.

August 2019 CPI Inflation --  Erdmann - Here are the monthly inflation updates.  It will be interesting to see if the Fed treats 2% as a symmetrical target or a ceiling.  There might be an argument for treating it as a ceiling at this point in the business cycle, because employment is so strong.  But employment is a lagging indicator.  At this point, I think the Fed has reduced the potential of worst case scenarios, but I don't think they will loosen up monetary policy aggressively enough to avoid a bit of a contraction.  And the depth of the contraction mostly depends on future decisions. In addition to the problem that these measures are backward looking, of course, there is the issue, which is always the focus of these posts, that the shelter component is not particularly related to monetary policy, since it mostly measures the estimated rental value of owned homes, and even in the case of rented homes, frequently is measuring the growth in economic rents from the ownership of a politically protected asset, which is really more of a political transfer of wealth than an effect of monetary policy.  All of these questions about monetary policy discretion would be unnecessary under an NGDP futures targeting regime.  Hopefully, we can continue moving in that direction. The last couple of months have seen an upward movement in non-shelter core inflation.  This puts core CPI at 2.36% and non-shelter core CPI at 1.68%.

Cheaper gas puts a cap on consumer prices in August, but inflation appears to be rising, CPI shows - Cheaper gasoline kept consumer U.S. inflation in check in August, but rising costs for staples such as health care and housing pointed to a buildup in price pressures that could complicate the Federal Reserve’s job of managing the economy.The consumer price index rose 0.1% last month, the government said Thursday, matching the MarketWatch forecast.The increase in the cost of living has risen just 1.7% over the past 12 months, government figures show, largely because of a sharp drop in the cost of oil. Yet if gas prices are set aside, inflation appears to have accelerated since the start of summer. Another closely watched measure of inflation that strips out food and energy rose 0.3% for the third month in a row. The yearly increase in the so-called core rate advanced to 2.4%, matching a 13-month high. The last time the core rate of inflation was higher was in 2008.The latest stirring of inflation is unlikely to deter the Federal Reserve from cutting interest rates next week, but the central bank could face a quandary if prices keep rising and the economy continues to slow. Gas prices fell in August more than they usually do as the summer driving season tapered off. The cost of food was also flat. Prices rose for medical care, including prescription drugs. In a bad sign, the cost of medical care has risen in the past 12 months at the fastest pace in two and a half years. The cost of rent, used vehicles, airfares and recreational goods also rose. After adjusting for inflation, hourly wages jumped 0.4%. They have risen a solid 1.5% in the past year.

U.S. Core Inflation Exceeds Forecasts as Medical-Care Costs Jump A measure of underlying U.S. inflation accelerated by more than forecast to a one-year high in August, signaling inflation was already firming ahead of fresh tariffs on Chinese goods this month that may push prices higher for Americans. The core consumer price index, which excludes food and energy, rose 0.3% from the prior month and was up 2.4% from a year earlier, a Labor Department report showed Thursday. That exceeded the median estimates in a Bloomberg survey, while the broader CPI climbed 0.1% on the month and a below-forecast 1.7% annually. The core reading reflected the biggest monthly rise in medical-care costs since 2016 and record increases in health-insurance prices. Sustained increases in inflation could give some Federal Reserve policy makers pause as they weigh additional interest-rate cuts this year, though the central bank is expected to make a second straight reduction next week as the global growth outlook dims and uncertainty over trade policy damps business investment. Inflation may pick up further this month following the latest escalation in the tariff battle, as President Donald Trump’s levies on a range of consumer goods from China took effect Sept. 1. Late Wednesday, Trump delayed the next round of tariff increases by two weeks to Oct. 15 as the U.S. and China try to resume face-to-face talks. A separate report Thursday showed filings for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level since April, a sign the broad labor market remains healthy even with signs some parts of the economy are slowing. The Labor Department’s CPI gauge tends to run faster than the Commerce Department’s personal consumption expenditures price index, the Fed’s preferred inflation measure. Trump has repeatedly cited a lack of inflation in his demands for the Fed to lower interest rates, saying Wednesday the central bank should cut rates “to zero, or less” to reduce government debt-finance costs. The medical-care index rose 0.7% from the prior month. The report reflected a 1.9% monthly rise and 18.6% annual increase in health-insurance prices -- records in data back to 2005 -- along with increases in hospital services and nonprescription drugs. Such figures may give fuel to Democratic candidates who are promoting wider access to health care in their campaigns against Trump and Republicans in 2020. Also driving the core inflation gain were used-car prices, up 1.1% for a third straight increase, while new-vehicle costs dropped for a second month. Meanwhile, shelter costs, which make up about a third of total CPI, rose 0.2% from the prior month, matching the slowest gain this year. Energy prices fell 1.9% from the prior month as gasoline dropped 3.5%. Food prices were unchanged for a third month, while apparel was up 0.2%.

Early Look at 2020 Cost-Of-Living Adjustments and Maximum Contribution Base - The BLS reported this morning:  The Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) increased 1.5 percent over the last 12 months to an index level of 250.112 (1982-84=100). For the month, the index was unchanged prior to seasonal adjustment. CPI-W is the index that is used to calculate the Cost-Of-Living Adjustments (COLA). The calculation dates have changed over time (see Cost-of-Living Adjustments), but the current calculation uses the average CPI-W for the three months in Q3 (July, August, September) and compares to the average for the highest previous average of Q3 months. Note: this is not the headline CPI-U, and is not seasonally adjusted (NSA).  In 2018, the Q3 average of CPI-W was 246.352. The 2018 Q3 average was the highest Q3 average, so we only have to compare Q3 this year to last year.This graph shows CPI-W since January 2000. The red lines are the Q3 average of CPI-W for each year.Note: The year labeled for the calculation, and the adjustment is effective for December of that year (received by beneficiaries in January of the following year).CPI-W was up 1.5% year-over-year in August, and although this is early - we need the data for July, August and September - my current guess is COLA will probably be around 1.5% this year, the smallest increase since 2016.The contribution base will be adjusted using the National Average Wage Index. This is based on a one year lag. The National Average Wage Index is not available for 2018 yet, but wages probably increased again in 2018. If wages increased the same as in 2017, then the contribution base next year will increase to around $137,600 in 2020, from the current $132,900. Remember - this is an early look. What matters is average CPI-W for all three months in Q3 (July, August and September).

Silicon Valley's 'Neoliberal Takeover Of The Human Body' To Supercharge Spending - Thanks to advances in biometric payment technologies and ultra-slick payment systems, Silicon Valley has made it incredibly convenient to shop, pay for, and consume just about anything; and it's about to get easier, according to MarketWatch's Quentin Fottrell.  In the last decade, we've gone from physical credit cards to biometric mobile wallets - allowing people to store payment data in smartphones, watches, smart glasses and other devices. Now, these 'last physical barriers' are about to be supplanted by facial recognition. "The deeper the tie between the human body and the financial networks, the fewer intimate spaces will be left unconnected to those networks," said Aram Sinnreich, associate professor of communication studies at American University and author of "The Essential Guide to Intellectual Property."Every technological necessity exists in the real world and is used commercially," he says, adding "It just hasn’t all been integrated into one biometric-payment method yet because it would creep people out.""It’s the neoliberal takeover of the human body."  After a slow start, the global mobile-payment market is expected to record a compound annual growth rate of 33%, reaching $457 billion in 2026, according to market-research firm IT Intelligence Markets. As payments move from cash to credit cards to smartphones, financial-technology companies, known as fintechs, have been honing their biometric services.Biometric technology, meanwhile, is infiltrating every other aspect of our digital lives. Juniper Research forecasts that mobile biometrics will authenticate $2 trillion in in-store and remote mobile-payments transactions in 2023, 17 times more than the estimated $124 billion in such transactions last year. -MarketWatch"Using biometrics as a method of payment is going to be pretty popular in the future," said attorney Hannah Zimmerman, who says the technology will propelled by "the globalization of commerce."  A U niversity of Illinois study found that people's purchases increased by almost 25% when mobile payment systems were used. Researchers found that the use of a mobile wallet boosted spending by 2.4% over those who don't use them. Meanwhile, Chicago-based Consumer Intelligence Research found in a survey of 2,000 American customers that Amazon Echo smart speaker users spent 66% more on average with the online retailer than other consumers.

Philosopher Warns Linking Human Brains To Computers Could Lead To Totalitarian Mind Control - Linking human consciousness to a computer cloud with the capability of reading everyone’s thoughts simultaneously could lead to “totalitarian mind control,” warns philosopher Slavoj Zizek. With fears growing that artificial intelligence will eventually dominate and maybe even exterminate humanity, Zizek, the senior researcher at the Institute for Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Ljubljana, is sounding the alarm. Zizek pointed out that MIT has already developed a “helmet” that can read your thoughts and reproduce them in writing or an artificial voice. While such technology appears harmless if it is voluntary, Zizek asks what would happen if it was deployed “without you knowing it?”“The next step in this “utopia” will be a computer that can read my thoughts and your thoughts that can connect us so that we can share our thoughts. If you and I are connected through the same computer, I can literally participate in your thinking directly without any external communication like word typing,” he writes.Zizek said he found the prospect of this mass shared consciousness “pretty horrifying” because it would totally destroy freedom of thought and individuality.  He provides two mundane examples of how such technology would ruin basic human interaction.“All flirting will be out. I meet someone and instead of all the lovely games of erotic hints she can read ‘I want to go to bed with you’ and the eroticism will disappear. Another simple example is everyday politeness. Let’s say we know each other but we are not mega-close friends. I see you on the street and say the usual polite things like: “hello, how are you? I am glad to meet you.” But if you can read my mind this is nonsense because this is politeness and I do not mean it. Usually, I do not care how you feel.”

 Class 8 Heavy Duty Truck Orders Plunge 79% In August Marking 10th Straight Month Of Declines - Every month, analysts are hopeful that Class 8 orders are on the verge of rebounding and every month so far in 2019, orders have continued to crash. Such was the case again in August, according to data supplied by Bloomberg and ACT Research. According to Buckingham analyst Neil Frohnapple, preliminary Class 8 truck orders were down 79% in August to 10,900 units. Total Class 5-7 orders were 18,800 units for the period, marking a fall of 22% Y/Y, he also noted. Frohnapple wrote in a note to clients: “Overall, Class 8 net orders were slightly below our expectations as we were anticipating net orders in the low- to mid-teen unit range for the month of August.” He also noted that August marked the tenth consecutive month of Y/Y declines after orders exceeded expectations in the seasonally weak third quarter last year. The robust demand last year was a result of fleets and dealers placing orders earlier than normal to secure build slots for 2019, he said. Continuing declines for Class 8 orders in 2019 are a result of weaker freight indicators - traditionally seen as a good gauge of the overall U.S. economy - and declining used Class 8 truck prices. Frohnapple's outlook for September is also grim. He continued: “We anticipate that Class 8 net orders will remain depressed and in the low- to mid-teen range for the month of September as the market continues to correct.” Last month, the industry booked 10,200 units, an astonishing 81% year over year fall, according to ACT Research.  July's number was also down 21% from June and marked the lowest monthly order tally since February 2010. Net trailer orders also continued to plunge, according to data released last month. Updated net trailer order data for August will be available within days, at which point we will update these figures.

U.S. import, export prices down in August - (Xinhua) -- U.S. import and export prices decreased in August, the U.S. Department of Labor reported on Friday. The price index for U.S. imports decreased 0.5 percent in August, after rising 0.1 percent in the previous month. With the exception of the August and June decreases, U.S. import prices advanced in each month of 2019. Despite the increases, the price index for U.S. imports declined 2.0 percent from August 2018 to August 2019. Prices for import fuel decreased 4.3 percent in August after rising 0.7 percent the previous month. Prices for import fuel fell 11.1 percent over the past 3 months. In August, lower petroleum prices more than offset higher prices for natural gas. The price index for import petroleum declined 4.8 percent, after increasing 0.9 percent the previous month. Fuel prices decreased 8.7 percent over the past 12 months. Prices for import petroleum fell 9.6 percent over the same period. Prices for nonfuel imports were unchanged for the second consecutive month in August following 0.3-percent decreases in both June and May. In August, lower prices for foods, feeds, and beverages and nonfuel industrial supplies and materials were offset by price increases for automotive vehicles and consumer goods.

Port of Los Angeles: Imports increased, Exports decreased in August - From the Port of Los Angeles: August Cargo Another Record Breaker at Port of Los Angeles For the fifth consecutive month, the Port of Los Angeles has set a new single-month cargo record. In August, the Port moved 861,081 Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs), the busiest August in the Port’s 112-year history and a 4.2% increase over the same period last year.Eight months into 2019 overall volumes have increased 5.7% compared to 2018, when the Port set an all-time cargo record.…“The final months of 2018 ended with an extraordinary influx of imports to beat expected tariffs on China-origin goods,” Seroka added. “We don’t expect to see those kind of volumes in the months ahead. We need a negotiated settlement of the U.S.-China trade war to restore global trade stability.” August 2019 imports increased 4.1% to 437,613 TEUs compared to the previous year.Exports decreased 10% to 146,284 TEUs, the 10th consecutive monthly decline of exports.

LA area Port Traffic Down Year-over-year in August - Special note: The expansion to the Panama Canal was completed in 2016 (As I noted a few years ago), and some of the traffic that used the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is probably going through the canal. This might be impacting TEUs on the West Coast. Container traffic gives us an idea about the volume of goods being exported and imported - and usually some hints about the trade report since LA area ports handle about 40% of the nation's container port traffic. The following graphs are for inbound and outbound traffic at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in TEUs (TEUs: 20-foot equivalent units or 20-foot-long cargo container). To remove the strong seasonal component for inbound traffic, the first graph shows the rolling 12 month average.On a rolling 12 month basis, inbound traffic was down slightly in August compared to the rolling 12 months ending in July.   Outbound traffic was down 0.3% compared to the rolling 12 months ending the previous month. The 2nd graph is the monthly data (with a strong seasonal pattern for imports).  Usually imports peak in the July to October period as retailers import goods for the Christmas holiday, and then decline sharply and bottom in February or March depending on the timing of the Chinese New Year (February 5th in 2019). In general imports have been increasing (although down slightly this year), and exports have mostly moved sideways over the last 8 years.

AAR: August Rail Carloads down 4.6% YoY, Intermodal Down 5.4% YoY --From the Association of American Railroads (AAR) Rail Time Indicators. U.S. railroads are facing a freight recession. Total originated U.S. rail carloads fell 4.6% in August 2019 from August 2018, their seventh straight year-over-year decline. The average decline over those seven months was 4.2%, a not-insignificant amount. Meanwhile, U.S. intermodal volume fell 5.4% in August, also the seventh straight monthly decline. … Why? The parts of the economy that generate much of the freight that railroads carry — manufacturing and goods trading — have weakened significantly over the past several months.This graph from the Rail Time Indicators report shows the year-over-year changes in U.S. Carloads.U.S. railroads originated 1.06 million total carloads in August 2019, down 4.6%, or 50,672 carloads, from August 2018. August was the seventh straight year-over-year decline. For the first eight months of 2019, total U.S. carloads were down 3.4%, or 310,246 carloads, compared with 2018. Our U.S. data begin in 1988. Since then, only 2016 had fewer year-to-date total carloads than this year.The second graph is the year-over-year change for intermodal traffic (using intermodal or shipping containers): For intermodal, August was no prize either: originations were down 5.4% from August 2018. That too was the seventh straight decline. In 2019 through August, intermodal originations were down 3.9%, or 375,964 containers and trailers, from last year. It’s some consolation, though, that 2018 was a record year for intermodal, and this year’s January-August total is the second best ever (behind 2018).So far, U.S. rail traffic appears to be mirroring what happened in late 2015 and 2016, when it fell for 13 out of 14 months. Back then, there was a freight recession, but not an economywide recession. We appear to be in another freight recession now. Whether the same thing happens this time around — the overall economy wobbles but doesn’t fall down1 — remains to be seen, but railroads are already suffering. One reason why is that the ongoing trade war and accompanying uncertainty has had the most direct impact on manufacturing and commodity-related industries that are heavily served by railroads but that comprise only a moderate share of the overall economy

 U.S. wholesale inventories climb 0.2% in July, sales flat - Wholesale inventories in the U.S. rose 0.2% in July to rebound from a small decline in the prior month. Sales in the month were flat, however. The ratio of inventories to sales was also unchanged at 1.36. That's how many months it would take to sell all the inventory on hand. One year ago, the inventory-to-sales ratio was much lower at 1.27, suggesting that companies are either producing too much now or not selling good as fast as they were last year. Still, an increase in inventories adds to gross domestic product.

 August Producer Price Index: Core Final Demand Up 0.3% MoM --Today's release of the August Producer Price Index (PPI) for Final Demand came in at 0.1% month-over-month seasonally adjusted, down from 0.2% last month. It is at 1.8% year-over-year, up from 1.7% last month, on a non-seasonally adjusted basis. Core Final Demand (less food and energy) came in at 0.3% MoM, up from -0.1% the previous month and is up 2.3% YoY NSA. MoM consensus forecasts were for 0.1% headline and 0.2% core.Here is the summary of the news release on Final Demand:The Producer Price Index for final demand rose 0.1 percent in August, seasonally adjusted, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Final demand prices moved up 0.2 percent in July and 0.1 percent in June. (See table A.) On an unadjusted basis, the final demand index rose 1.8 percent for the 12 months ended in August.In August, the advance in final demand prices is attributable to a 0.3-percent increase in the index for final demand services. In contrast, prices for final demand goods fell 0.5 percent.The index for final demand less foods, energy, and trade services rose 0.4 percent in August following a 0.1-percent decline in July. For the 12 months ended in August, prices for final demand less foods, energy, and trade services moved up 1.9 percent. More… The BLS shifted its focus to its new "Final Demand" series in 2014, a shift we support. However, the data for these series are only constructed back to November 2009 for Headline and April 2010 for Core. Since our focus is on longer-term trends, we continue to track the legacy Producer Price Index for Finished Goods, which the BLS also includes in their monthly updates. As this (older) overlay illustrates, the Final Demand and Finished Goods indexes are highly correlated.

US producer prices unexpectedly rise in August - U.S. producer prices unexpectedly rose in August and underlying producer prices rebounded, but that data will not change financial market expectations that the Federal Reserve will cut interest rates again next week to support a slowing economy. The Labor Department said its producer price index for final demand edged up 0.1% last month as a jump in the cost of services offset the largest drop in the price of goods in seven months. That followed a 0.2% gain in July. In the 12 months through August the PPI advanced 1.8% after increasing 1.7% in July. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the PPI would be unchanged in August and rise 1.7% on a year-on-year basis. Excluding the volatile food, energy and trade services components, producer prices jumped 0.4% last month after dipping 0.1% in July, the first decline since October 2015. The so-called core PPI climbed 1.9% in the 12 months through August after increasing 1.7% in July. The Fed, which has a 2% annual inflation target, tracks the core personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index for monetary policy. The core PCE price index increased 1.6% on a year-on-year basis in July and has undershot its target this year. Financial markets have fully priced in a rate cut at the U.S. central bank’s Sept. 17-18 policy meeting against the backdrop of simmering trade tensions between the United States and China that have soured business confidence and tipped both U.S. and global manufacturing into recession. U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods were this month broadened to include an array of consumer goods. There are fears the manufacturing downturn could spill over into the broader economy and derail the longest economic expansion in history, now in its 11th year. The economy is being supported by robust consumer spending via a strong labor market. The Fed cut rates in July for the first time since 2008. In August, wholesale energy prices fell 2.5% after rebounding 2.3% in the prior month. They were weighed down by a 6.6% drop in gasoline prices, which followed a 5.2% percent jump in July. Goods prices declined 0.5% last month, the most since January, after rising 0.4% in July. Energy prices accounted for more than 80% of the drop in the cost of goods in August. Wholesale food prices fell 0.6% in August after gaining 0.2% in the prior month. Core goods prices were unchanged last month. They edged up 0.1% in July. The cost of services increased 0.3% after decreasing 0.1% in July. Services were boosted by a 6.4% surge in the cost of guestroom accommodation, the largest gain since April 2009.

Small Business Optimism Index Decreased in August --CR Note: Most of this survey is noise, but there is some information, especially on the labor market and the "Single Most Important Problem".  From the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB): August 2019 Report: Small Business Optimism Index The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index fell 1.6 points to 103.1, remaining within the top 15 percent of readings. Overall, August was a good month for small business. However, optimism slipped because fewer owners said they expect better business conditions and real sales volumes in the coming months...Job creation picked up in August, with an average addition of 0.19 workers per firm compared to 0.12 in July. Finding qualified workers is becoming more and more difficult with a record 27 percent reporting finding qualified workers as their number one problem (up 1 point).

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims decreased to 204,000 --The DOL reported: In the week ending September 7, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 204,000, a decrease of 15,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 2,000 from 217,000 to 219,000. The 4-week moving average was 212,500, a decrease of 4,250 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 500 from 216,250 to 216,750. The previous week was revised up. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

Scenes from the August jobs report – 11 graphs, table - The August jobs report was the mirror image of most earlier reports this year: a lackluster Establishment report but a strong Household report. Let’s take a look. By now the fact that there has been a jobs slowdown is pretty well established. In the last 7 months, only 964,000 jobs have been added, an average of 138,000 per month. If we subtract this month’s temporary census hiring of 25,000, those numbers drop to 939,000 and 134,000, respectively: And keep in mind that the number of jobs added between March 2018 and March 2019 is going to be reduced from roughly 210,000 to 167,000 per month. Since last December, of the leading employment sectors, only residential construction has continued to increase significantly. Manufacturing has added only 19,000 jobs in the last 6 months, and temporary jobs have actually declined since the end of last year: Here’s what the month to month breakdown of all three leading sectors looks like compared with 2018, showing the slowdown this year - except, so far, for this past month: Further, because even with August’s increase, the average manufacturing workweek is down almost 1 full hour per week YoY (blue in the graph below), we should expect actual losses in manufacturing jobs going forward: Before 1980, manufacturing jobs’ growth or decline typically followed hours by roughly 2 months. Since then, the time period has lengthened to more like 6 months. That being said, if a similar pattern is followed to what happened in 2016, by the end of next spring, we should expect *no* net YoY in manufacturing jobs, which means a decline of at least -25,000 jobs during roughly the next 9 months. On a similarly granular level, it seems that each month in my jobs report write-up, I comment on a surprising *increase* in temp jobs, despite the worsening YoY decline in the American Staffing Association’s temporary jobs Index: And yet, as you can see from the graphs above, temporary jobs have indeed declined this year. So I went back and compared the original numbers for temporary jobs in each jobs report this year (1st column) with the final number (2nd column), and as I suspected, the revisions have been very asymmetrical: As originally reported, every single month this year except for March was positive. But as finally revised, only two months have been positive so far. Given the worsening comparisons in the Staffing Association’s Index in August, I would be very surprised if the initial rosy number for temporary jobs in August’s jobs report holds up.

4,500 US Truckers Lose Their Jobs In August Amid Freight Recession -The US trucking industry had a blockbuster year in 2018, as high demand for freight allowed transportation companies to expand fleets. But since freight demand was artificial, sparked by importers pulling forward to get ahead of tariffs, the good times were destined to end and end rather sharply.According to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the boom in trucking jobs could be over. More than 4,500 truckers lost their jobs in July and August as the freight industry continued trending lower.  This was the first time the BLS slashed trucking jobs since March when about 1,200 were laid off. The latest cut was the biggest since April 2018, when about 5,500 truckers lost their jobs. Donald Broughton, principal and managing partner of research firm Broughton Capital, told FOX Business that in 1H19 nearly 640 trucking firms failed. That equates to 20,000 trucks have been pulled off the road. In 2018, only 310 trucking companies failed, which points to an accelerating trend that could transform into a major bust cycle for the industry in 2020."This has to do with the spot market," American Trucking Associations chief economist Bob Costello told FOX Business. "Those fleets that are primarily in the spot market are facing volumes that are down nearly 50% and rates that are down nearly 20%."As previously reported, we've detailed how a freight recession continues to gain momentum through the end of summer, likely to continue through fall into 1H20.

BLS: Job Openings "Little Changed" at 7.2 Million in July --Notes: In July there were 7.217 million job openings, and, according to the July Employment report, there were 6,063 million unemployed. So, for the seventeenth consecutive month, there were more job openings than people unemployed. Also note that the number of job openings has exceeded the number of hires since January 2015 (4+ years). From the BLS: Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary The number of job openings was little changed at 7.2 million on the last business day of July, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the month, hires edged up to 6.0 million and separations increased to 5.8 million. Within separations, the quits rate and the layoffs and discharges rate were little changed at 2.4 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively. ... The number of quits edged up to a series high in July of 3.6 million (+130,000). The quits rate was 2.4 percent. The quits level edged up for total private (+127,000) and was little changed for government. Quits increased in health care and social assistance (+54,000) and in federal government (+3,000).  The following graph shows job openings (yellow line), hires (dark blue), Layoff, Discharges and other (red column), and Quits (light blue column) from the JOLTS.  Note: The difference between JOLTS hires and separations is similar to the CES (payroll survey) net jobs headline numbers. This report is for July, the most recent employment report was for August.Note that hires (dark blue) and total separations (red and light blue columns stacked) are pretty close each month. This is a measure of labor market turnover.  When the blue line is above the two stacked columns, the economy is adding net jobs - when it is below the columns, the economy is losing jobs.Jobs openings decreased in July to 7.217 million from 7.248 million in June.The number of job openings (yellow) are down 3% year-over-year.Quits are up 3% year-over-year to a new series high. These are voluntary separations. (see light blue columns at bottom of graph for trend for "quits"). Job openings remain at a high level, and quits are still increasing year-over-year. This was a solid report.

Job Openings Drop To 5 Month Low Even As Hires, Quits Surge - Just in case the last few disappointing payrolls reports weren't sufficient to warn the general public that the US economy is slowing, moments ago we got the latest JOLTS which confirmed that the US labor market is going through a rough patch, as the total number of job openings dropped again, sliding to 7.217 million, below the 7.331 million expected, and not only below the downward revised June print of 7.248 million, but was the lowest since February. That said, even with the slowing number of job openings, there was still more than 1.2 million more job opening than unemployed workers; in fact there have now been more US job openings than unemployed workers for a record 17 consecutive months. It wasn't all bad news though: after last month's sharp drop in the rate of hiring, total hires surged by 237K to 5.953 million, just shy of the record set in April with 5.991 million, and now modestly above where the payrolls implied number suggests: The spike in hiring meant that from an annual contraction, hiring once again rebounded into the green, rising by 2.1% in July, up from a -2.0% drop in June. Finally, in another bullish reversal, we saw the so-called "take this job and shove it" indicator - the total level of "quits" which shows worker confidence that they can leave their current job and find a better paying job elsewhere - reverse from last month's disappointing drop, and in July, the number of quits surged by 130K from a 2019 low of 3.462MM to 3.592MM, just shy of the record set last August with 3.648MM. Overall, a decidedly better JOLTS report than one would expect in light of last week's poor payrolls number. Then again, recall that JOLTS is 2 months delayed, so we wouldn't be surprised if next month's JOLTs is where the real ugliness lies. 

Slowdown in household income growth continues in 2018 - EPI Blog - Today’s report from the Census Bureau shows a marked slowdown in median household income growth relative to previous years. Median household incomes rose only 0.9%, after rising 1.8% in 2017 and following impressive gains in the two years prior: a 5.1% gain in 2015 and a 3.1% gain in 2016. Median nonelderly household income saw a similar rise of 1.0% this year after gaining 2.5%, 4.6%, and 3.6% in the prior three years, respectively.After falling for both men and women by 1.1% each in 2017, inflation-adjusted full-time annual earnings for both men and women rose in 2018, by 3.4% and 3.3%, respectively. Men’s earnings are finally above both their 2007 and 2000 levels.While the gains in household income are markedly slower than in previous years, they nonetheless represent another small step toward reclaiming the lost decade of income growth caused by the Great Recession. Part of the slowdown in income growth in 2017 and 2018 relative to 2015 and 2016 is driven by increases in the pace of inflation. However, as discussed below, this year’s report reminds us that the vast majority of household incomes (when corrected for a break in the data series in 2013) have still not fully recovered from the deep losses suffered in the Great Recession. The Census data show that from 2017 to 2018, inflation-adjusted median household income for nonelderly households (those with a householder, or head of household, younger than 65 years old) increased 1.0%, from $70,944 to $71,659, as shown in Figure A. Median nonelderly household income is an important measure of an improving economy, as those households depend on labor market income for the vast majority of their income. This continued, albeit much slower, increase after larger gains in the prior three years is better than nothing. Median household income for nonelderly households, which finally recovered to its pre-recession level in 2017, was 1.2%, or $876 above its 2007 level in 2018. It’s important to note that the Great Recession and its aftermath came on the heels of a weak labor market from 2000 to 2007, during which the median income of nonelderly households fell significantly, from $73,322 to $70,783—the first time in the post–World War II period that incomes failed to grow over a business cycle. Altogether, from 2000 to 2018, the median income for nonelderly households fell from $73,322 to $71,659, a decline of $1,663, or 2.3%. In short, the last four years should not make us forget that incomes for the majority of Americans have experienced a lost 18 years of growth.

 The 2018 Poverty, Income, and health coverage results: a tale of three forces. -- Jared Bernstein -This morning, the Census Bureau released new data on health insurance coverage, poverty, and middle-class incomes. While the data are for last year, they shine an important light on key aspects of families’ living standards that we don’t get from the more up-to-date macro-indicators, like GDP and unemployment. As the economic recovery that began over a decade ago persisted through 2018, poverty once again fell, by half-a-percentage point, from 12.3 percent to 11.8 percent. Other results from the report show that anti-poverty and income support programs lifted millions of people out of poverty, including 27 million through Social Security alone. Though the real median household income—the income of the household right in the middle of the income scale—increased slightly less than 1 percent last year, the increase was not statistically significant. Median earnings of full-time men and women workers both rose significantly, by over 3 percent for each (for reasons discussed below, sometimes earnings rise significantly but income does not).Health coverage, however, significantly deteriorated last year, as the share of the uninsured rose for the first time since 2009, from 7.9 percent to 8.5 percent. In total, 27.5 million lacked coverage in 2018, an increase of 1.9 million over 2017. This result is partially driven by actions of the Trump administration to undermine the Affordable Care Act (note that Medicaid coverage was down by 0.7 percentage points), and in this regard, it should be taken as a powerful signal of the impact of conservative policy on U.S. health coverage.Taken together, the poverty, income, and health coverage results tell a tale of three powerful forces: the strong economy, effective anti-poverty programs, and the Trump administration’s ongoing attack on affordable health coverage. A strong labor market is an essential asset for working-age families, and the data are clear that poor people respond to the opportunities associated with a labor market closing in on full employment. Anti-poverty programs are lifting millions of economically vulnerable persons, including seniors and children, out of poverty. But while a strong labor market and a responsive safety net help to solve a lot of problems, the history of both U.S. and other countries shows that it takes national health care policy to ensure families have access to affordable coverage. The ACA was and is playing that role, but efforts to undermine its effectiveness are evident in the Census data.

 How Detroit Democrats handed Fiat-Chrysler $400 million for a new assembly plant -- When Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) announced last February that it planned to invest $4.5 billion in Southeast Michigan—including the construction of the first new auto assembly plant in Detroit in decades—the corporate media, local Democratic Party politicians and the United Auto Workers (UAW) celebrated the auto company’s decision as “transformative” for the city. In reality, six years after the Chapter 9 bankruptcy of the City of Detroit, in which the city’s resources were looted to pay off its wealthy creditors, the ruling class the is once again pilfering the city treasury. The focus of the promotion of FCA’s investment plan has been the creation of 6,500 new auto jobs in the Detroit Metro area. Speaking at a press conference at the time next to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said, “This is the way the city of Detroit fights unemployment and poverty.” UAW Vice President for FCA Cindy Estrada also hailed the announcement, saying, “This is especially exciting given that these are good union jobs with union wages and benefits that have been collectively bargained for with the company.” By “good union jobs,” Estrada—who has been implicated in the widening federal bribery investigation into the UAW—is referring to second-tier workers earning a starting wage of $17 per hour who will reportedly constitute the vast majority of new hires. This new low-paid, highly exploited workforce will nonetheless be a boondoggle for the union, which will pump as much as $5 million per year in union dues from the new hires while enforcing the dictates of management. In reality, FCA is making a commitment to Detroit because it believes that it can find lower labor costs in the economically devastated former Motor City. Instead of selecting other candidate cities in Illinois and Mexico, FCA picked Detroit because it is confident that it will earn many multiples of its investment through the increased exploitation of the city’s working-class population.

California Lawmakers Vote to Undo N.C.A.A. Amateurism — There were two guests of honor at the monthly meeting of the Oakland Rotary club in November 2015: the University of California marching band and a sports economics expert railing about the N.C.A.A.’s rules barring college athletes from collecting compensation for their play. Termed out of the State Assembly in 2014 and considering a run for the State Senate, Nancy Skinner had spent much of her adult life championing causes that one might expect from a Berkeley activist: organizing graduate assistant teachers, banning Styrofoam from fast-food businesses and raising taxes on the rich. “All of a sudden the light bulb was going off,” Skinner said of the discussion at the Rotary meeting. “Rather than being the bystander going, ‘Gosh, this is so unfair, how do these people get away with this?’, I’m like, ‘Hey, if I’m in the Senate, can the state do something about it?’” Skinner, who was elected to the State Senate three years ago, produced a bill that would allow college athletes in California to be paid for the use of their name, image and likeness — be they basketball stars signing their own marketing deals or water polo players advertising offers of swim lessons.The Fair Pay to Play Act, which Skinner wrote with Steven Bradford, a fellow Democrat in the State Senate, cleared the State Assembly on Monday by a vote of 72 to 0, with support from civil rights advocates and free-market proponents. A version of the bill had already cleared the Senate. Once the chambers work out any differences, which is expected to be a formality, the legislation will be headed for one more significant hurdle — Gov. Gavin Newsom will have 30 days to sign it.The measure, S.B. 206, would go into effect Jan. 1, 2023, and it has provoked the expected opposition from the N.C.A.A., the University of California and California State University systems and prominent private colleges like Stanford and the University of Southern California. But Skinner’s bill recently gained some very high-profile support. LeBron James, a frequent critic of the N.C.A.A., took to Twitter last week to urge California residents to contact their state representatives and tell them to support the bill.

 NRA sues San Francisco over city declaring it a domestic terrorist organization -The National Rifle Association on Monday sued the city of San Francisco over a declaration deeming the lobbying group a “domestic terrorist organization,” according to The Associated Press.The city Board of Supervisors passed the resolution last week, with Supervisor Catherine Stefani saying she was moved to draft it following August’s shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival.In the lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of California, the NRA accused the city of maintaining a blacklist, asking the court to “instruct elected officials that freedom of speech means you cannot silence or punish those with whom you disagree.”“This action is an assault on all advocacy organizations across the country,” said William A. Brewer III, the NRA’s attorney. “There can be no place in our society for this manner of behavior by government officials. Fortunately, the NRA, like all U.S. citizens, is protected by the First Amendment.”CEO Wayne LaPierre said the lawsuit “comes with a message to those who attack the NRA: We will never stop fighting for our law-abiding members and their constitutional freedoms,” according to the AP.Stefani called the lawsuit “a desperate move by a very desperate organization,” noting recent turmoil within the organization over LaPierre’s alleged use of organizational funds for expensive clothing and housing.The organization has also been the target of several legal challenges and investigations, including a probe by New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) and another by Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine (D) into whether it has violated its nonprofit status.

California Privacy Law Looms -  Jerri-lynn Scofield -  As the Trump administration seeks to upend the influence California has in setting national fuel emissions policy for the auto industry, the new California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA is scheduled to come into effect on 1st January. The state passed the CCPA in July 2018, the first legislation of its kind in the US. In the absence of any federal initiative, this  bellwether may become the de facto model or even floor for other state efforts, just as has occurred in the area of auto emissions.The CCPA forestalled a more expansive ballot initiative, which was pending at the time of passage (see California Passes Online Privacy Law). More than 500,000 businesses meet the criteria that makes them subject to its terms, not all of them based in California.The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday in Businesses Across the Board Scramble to Comply With California Data-Privacy Law: Starting next year, all California residents will have the right to ask retailers, restaurants, airlines, banks and many other companies to provide them with any personal information they may have, including individual contact information, purchases and loyalty-program history. Consumers also can ask that businesses delete their information, or opt out of letting it be sold.But the law, which passed last year and goes into effect Jan. 1, applies to any for-profit business that does business in California and collects data on California residents, as long as its annual revenue tops $25 million, or it holds personal information on at least 50,000 consumers, or it generates at least 50% of its annual revenue from selling user data. Even companies with no physical presence in California but a website that serves Californians are preparing to comply.

California Bans Public Schools From Suspending Troublemakers -- Not content to let problem-students hold the entire class back until they're sent home, California governor Gavin Newsom on Monday signed into law Senate Bill 419, prohibiting the suspension of disruptive kids by both public and charter schools. The new law (SB 419) which goes into effect July 1, 2020 will permanently prohibit 'willful defiance' suspensions in grades four and five, and will ban such suspensions in grades six through eight for five years, according to the Sacramento Bee. So that shitty, unparented, future inmate blowing spitballs at the chalkboard all day can't get sent home no matter how disruptive they are. Why? Because it's 'discriminatory' to suspend troublemakers, of course! "I strongly believe that SB 419 will bring justice to California youth by eliminating suspensions for disruption and defiance, putting an end to discriminatory discipline policies and instituting restorative justice practices," said civil rights activist Dolores Huerta.  Opposed to the bill was the Charter School Development Center, whose executive director said that SB419 is a "one size fits all" measure that is "a fix in search of a problem."

Gov. Newsom Signs SB 419, Ending Willful Defiance Suspensions - Gov. Newsom signed Senate Bill 419 by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley. SB 419 is designed to keep kids in school by eliminating willful defiance suspensions in grades 4-5 and banning them in grades 6-8 for five years.  “Ending willful defiance suspensions will keep kids in school where they belong and where teachers and counselors can help them thrive.” SB 419 received bipartisan support in the California Legislature, winning approval in the state Senate on a 31-8 vote, and garnering a 58-17 vote in the state Assembly. It takes effect on July 1, 2020. Willful defiance suspensions are a highly subjective category of suspensions that include a student not removing a hat or hoodie in class. Research has shown that willful defiance suspensions have been disproportionately used to discipline students of color, LGBTQ students, and students with disabilities. According to the 2018 report, “Get Out: Black Male Suspensions in California Public Schools,” by professors at UCLA and San Diego State University, among black male students, willful defiance suspensions represent 15% of all suspensions in grades 4-6 and 21% in grades 7-8. Overall, the suspension rate for black males in California schools is nearly four times the student average. But research shows no evidence that African-American over-representation in school suspensions is due to higher rates of misbehavior. In fact, according to a comprehensive 2018 report and a review of research by the U.S. Government Accounting Office, “implicit bias on the part of teachers and staff may cause them to judge students’ behaviors differently based on the students’ race and sex.” Several California school districts have already eliminated willful defiance suspensions, including Oakland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento. In 2013, the Legislature passed AB 420, which prohibited willful defiance suspensions statewide for grades K-3 until July 2018, the ban on K-3 suspensions was made permanent in a 2018-19 budget trailer bill. SB 419 now extends the existing ban on willful defiance suspensions to grades 4 and 5 statewide, with the prohibition on such suspensions for grades 6 through 8, sunsetting in five years. “Ending willful defiance suspensions may be the one of the best ways to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline,” Skinner added. 

Chicago teachers union sets September 26 date for strike authorization vote - As classes began this week for more than 20,000 Chicago teachers and paraprofessionals in the third largest US city, teachers continue working for the second week without a contract. In the face of mounting opposition by educators the Chicago Teachers Union has set a strike authorization vote for September 26 following a meeting of the CTU House of Delegates. According to state law September 26 is the first day teachers could legally walk out. However, the delay in holding a strike vote now means that teachers cannot legally walk out until October 7, even if the strike is authorized by the required 75 percent of CTU members. The previous agreement between the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the school district expired on June 30. The Democratic Party establishment led by Democratic mayor Lori Lightfoot wants teachers to accept wage increases that barely rise above the rate of inflation and accept more cuts to school services, including libraries and nursing staff. In addition, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials want teachers to accept a five-year, instead of a three-year, contract with a 14 percent pay increase. This amounts to less than a 3 percent increase annually, or about 1.4 percent in real wages when inflation is accounted for. In addition, the district is seeking to further shift the health care burden onto educators with a 0.5 percent cost increase each year for three years. Chicago educators, like their counterparts across the US and internationally who have engaged in the largest wave of teachers strikes in decades, are determined to fight for substantial increases in wages and for funding to fix and repair decaying school buildings, improve staffing levels and lower class sizes. Since the 2016 contract, overseen by then Democratic Party Mayor Rahm Emanuel, classroom spending has been frozen and teachers have paid more out-of-pocket for their health care. As teachers press for improvements they are facing opposition to their fight from the Democratic Party establishment and its newspaper, the Chicago Sun-Times, which is owned in part by the Chicago Labor Federation of which CTU is a leading component.

Why Angry Librarians Are Going to War With Publishers Over E-Books -If I wanted to borrow A Better Man by Louise Penny—the country’s current No. 1 fiction bestseller—from my local library in my preferred format, e-book, I’d be looking at about a 10-week waitlist. And soon, if the book’s publisher, a division of Macmillan, has its way, that already-lengthy wait time could get significantly longer.In July, Macmillan announced that come November, the company will only allow libraries to purchase a single copy of its new titles for the first eight weeks of their release—and that’s one copy whether it’s the New York Public Library or a small-town operation that’s barely moved on from its card catalog. This has sparked an appropriately quiet revolt. Librarians and their allies quickly denounced the decision when it came down, and now the American Library Association is escalating the protest by enlisting the public to stand with libraries by signing an online petition with a populist call against such restrictive practices. (The association announced the petition Wednesday at Digital Book World, an industry conference in Nashville, Tennessee.) What’s unclear is whether the association can get the public to understand a byzantine-seeming dispute over electronic files and the right to download them.In a July memo addressed to Macmillan authors, illustrators, and agents, the company’s CEO John Sargent cited the “growing fears that library lending was cannibalizing sales” as a reason for embargoing libraries from purchasing more than one copy of new books during their first eight weeks on sale. “It seems that given a choice between a purchase of an ebook for $12.99 or a frictionless lend for free, the American ebook reader is starting to lean heavily toward free,” he claimed.Many individual library systems and companies that work with libraries swiftly responded with objections. “Public libraries are engaged in one of the most valuable series of community services for all ages, for all audiences,” said Steve Potash, the CEO and founder of OverDrive, a company that supplies libraries with e-books. “The public library is just something that is underappreciated. It certainly is so by Macmillan.”

Felicity Huffman’s fear of being a bad mother got in the way of common sense, William H. Macy tells college cheating scandal judge – and they’re in therapy to fix her relationship with daughters which ‘exploded’ after her arrest - William H. Macy admits his wife has always been frightened by the responsibility that comes with being a mother, so much so that it has influenced her ability to use her 'common sense' with their children. The 'Shameless' star wrote one of 27 letters in Huffman's sentencing memorandum – with some others penned by the 'Desperate Housewives' actress herself, the show's creator and her former co-star Eva Longoria – ahead of her sentencing in the college admissions scandal next Friday.Macy shared that the couple and their daughters Sophia, 19, and Georgia, 17, have been seeing a counselor after it was revealed Huffman paid $15,000 for her eldest child's SAT test to be corrected so she would get into college.'To be sure Felicity's relationship with her daughters exploded on March 12 and rebuilding that relationship will be a long process. But I also want you to know Felicity has raised two amazing young women,' Macy wrote to Boston Judge Indira Talwani.  'After her arrest Felicity found a wonderful family therapist and we've all been going (in various combinations) for the last few months. There is much to be done, and some of the hurt and anger will take years to work through, but we are making progress.'

"Manifestly Criminal" College-Scam Parents Must Go To Prison: DOJ --Wealthy parents who admitted to taking part in the biggest college admissions scandal in U.S. history must go to prison, if only for a matter of months, the Justice Department said, rejecting their proposals for alternative punishments a week before the first sentencing. The actor Felicity Huffman, among the most prominent parents caught in the government’s sting, should serve one month behind bars and pay a $20,000 fine for hiring the scam’s leader to boost her older daughter’s SAT score, federal prosecutors said in a court filing yesterday. Huffman will face a judge on Friday.Home confinement for the parents “would be a penological joke conjuring images of defendants padding around impressive homes,” and community service is “too easily co-opted for its ‘PR’ value,” according to the sentencing recommendations from the U.S. attorney’s office in Massachusetts.“For wrongdoing that is predicated on wealth and rationalized by a sense of privilege, incarceration is the only leveler: in prison everyone is treated the same, dressed the same, and intermingled regardless of affluence, position or fame,” prosecutors told the court in the memo. The government “got what they wanted with Felicity Huffman,” said Brad Simon, a former federal prosecutor in New York who is now a partner at Phillips Nizer LLP and isn’t involved in the case. “They got an early guilty plea from a high-profile celebrity, and now they’re going to claim a big victory if she gets a sentence of one month in jail or less.” Huffman, who won an Emmy for her work in the ABC hit “Desperate Housewives” and a Golden Globe for the movie “Transamerica,” was “deliberate and manifestly criminal” in her dealings with the corrupt college counselor and ringleader William “Rick” Singer, prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani in the filing. Huffman’s daughter got a 1420 out of 1600 on the SAT, an improvement of about 400 points over the preliminary SAT she took on her own a year earlier.

Felicity Huffman gets 14 days in prison for college admissions scandal - (UPI) -- A federal judge in Boston sentenced actor Felicity Huffman to 14 days in prison and community service Friday for paying thousands to get her daughter admitted to college.In addition to the prison time, she must pay a $30,000 fine, and serve 250 hours of community service and one year of supervised release, U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani said."She knew it was a fraud," the judge said. "It was not an impulsive act."Talwani ordered Huffman to appear to the Bureau of Prisons on Oct. 25 to begin her prison sentence. "I think you take your sentence and you move forward," Talwani told Huffman. "You can rebuild your life after this. You've paid your dues."Huffman is the first parent to be sentenced in the college admissions scandal, which engulfed several wealthy, high-profile parents. The Desperate Housewives star admitted to paying the ringleader of the scandal, Rick Singer, $15,000 to correct wrong answers on her oldest daughter's SAT. The cheating improved her daughter's score 400 points from the PSAT she'd taken the previous year.  "As warped as this sounds now, I honestly began to feel that maybe I would be a bad mother if I didn't do what Mr. Singer was suggesting," Huffman said before her sentencing. "In my desperation to be a good mother I talked myself into believing that all I was doing was giving my daughter a fair shot. I see the irony of that statement now because what I have done is the opposite of fair. I have broken the law, deceived the education community, betrayed my daughter and failed my family."

 End Legacy College Admissions - By The New York Times Editorial Board - A country struggling with deeply rooted inequality need not continue an affirmative action program for successful families.  A federal trial last year over the admission practices at Harvard University focused on how the school’s affirmative action policies may have affected Asian-American applicants. That case is still being considered by a judge. But in the course of the trial some eye-popping numbers came to light. Between 2010 and 2015, the admission rate for legacy applicants at Harvard was higher than 33 percent. It was 6 percent for non-legacies. More than 20 percent of the white applicants admitted to the school during that period were legacy students. Backers of legacy preference point out that at Harvard and other schools across the country, the student body — and with it the pool of alumni — has gotten more diverse over time. That means that the composition of the legacy population is also diversifying. At Harvard, evidence from the trial showed, some 80 percent of legacy admissions for the class of 2014 were white, while only 60 percent of legacies in the class of 2019 were white. Would ending legacy preference equate to pulling up the ladder ahead of a more diverse group of students who could leverage their legacy status? Not in the least. Consideration of race in admissions can be defended not only as a remedy for past injustices but also as an imperative for schools seeking to represent the population at large. But continuing to give applicants an advantage simply because of where their parents went to school is, as one critic called it, “a form of property transfer from one generation to another.”Colleges counter that the children of alumni — partly by virtue of the education their parents received — are well qualified for admission into their schools. That raises the question: If the value of a degree is indeed generational (research shows that it very likely is), why do the progeny and grandprogeny of graduates deserve yet another thumb on the scale? Like many policies of past eras, legacy admissions get uglier the closer you look at them. A few decades ago, the percentage of legacy students at top schools was sometimes higher than it is today. But admission rates at those institutions have fallen much faster than the percentage of legacy students. “If you take a typical Ivy League school, maybe 20 or 30 years ago, they might admit two-thirds of legacy applicants. Now they might admit one-third of legacy applicants. But, at the same time, their overall acceptance rate has probably gone down from between 20 and 25 percent to between 5 and 10 percent. So, proportionally, being a legacy is even more of an advantage,” Dan Golden, an investigative journalist, told The New Yorker.

How to Major in Unicorn Many of the freshmen now arriving in Palo Alto came to raise capital and drop out. A cynic’s guide to killing it at Stanford.  _ Google was founded by two Stanford graduate students, Instagram by two Stanford alumni, Snapchat by a Stanford dropout. WhatsApp, Netflix, LinkedIn, Yahoo, and Hewlett-Packard were all founded by onetime Stanford students; the earliest investors in Facebook and Amazon were Stanford graduates. Even Elizabeth Holmes, symbol of Silicon Valley self-delusion and fraud, was a student at Stanford when she dropped out to found Theranos. About the only two famous tech founders with no immediately apparent Stanford connection are Steve Jobs and Bill Gates — though is it a coincidence that each had a daughter attend the school? Stanford, nestled south of Facebook and west of Google, is more than a kind of finishing school to the burgeoning independent commonwealth of tech. It’s already to the 21st century what Harvard, or maybe the University of Chicago, was to the 20th: the institution that grooms an elite class for power and imbues it with the reigning ideology. And for the students destined to rule over megaplatforms and other digital fiefdoms, Stanford can be less a college than a kind of incubator or accelerator — a four-year networking opportunity for the next Systrom, Spiegel, or Thiel, as everyone who goes there knows. “I don’t remember there being that much emphasis on serving others or what is the broad philosophical points of a Stanford education,” a political-science major from the class of 2017 told us. “It really always felt like it’s that gold mine, like you’re just there to find that random idea and hop on that train and have $100 million by the time you’re 30.” No wonder, in that case, that Stanford has been the “dream school” of both parents and high-school students nearly every year for a decade, according to Princeton Review surveys, or that it boasts the lowest acceptance rate among major universities.

"Proactive Education" - Penis-Ring Toss, Lube Taste-Test Featured At Public University's Sex-Ed Carnival -- A penis ring toss, vagina bean bag toss, and lubricant taste tests were just a few of the activities students at George Mason University took part in Tuesday night at a “Consent Carnival” hosted by the Student Support and Advocacy Center.  The vagina bean bag toss boasted giant inflatable lips that served to mimic a “vagina,” and students could throw large pink bean bags into it. The game doubled as an educational display, informing students on flyers that “not all people with vaginas are women.”“Genitalia is not an indicator of gender and it can be harmful to assume so,” the display added. Other information provided included the number of nerve endings on the clitoris (8,000), how the labia comes in different colors (“light pink to dark brown”), and the fact that the vagina is self cleaning.As for the penis ring toss, the educational component to that game was that the eight or so three-foot-high penis inflatables were surrounded by signs on how to correctly use a condom, among other information. Meanwhile there was popcorn and candy for students to nibble on. They were also offered tastings of various lubricants. The flavors included cupcake, watermelon and green apple.Additional stations at the carnival included the “gender unicorn” booth, which helped teach students how to properly react to friends coming out as LGBTQ. There was also an “affirmative consent kissing booth” and a “you mustache for consent” table that sought to teach students how to get verbal consent before and as they engage in sexual activity.“Condom balloon pop” and “don’t touch my hair” booths were also offered to the crowd, but many students flocked to the face painter and snowcone machine, which appeared to be the biggest hits at the event. (The face painter told The Fix students were not asking for sexually explicit images.) And no carnival would be complete without a balloon artist. Several students could be seen walking around holding giant, flesh-colored penis-shaped balloons.

Alabama Tracking Students’ Locations To Penalize Them For Leaving Games Early - Coach Nick Saban gets peeved at students leaving routs early. An app ties sticking around to playoff tickets, but also prompts concern from students and privacy watchdogs. Saban, the Alabama football coach, has long been peeved that the student section at Bryant-Denny Stadium empties early. So this season, the university is rewarding students who attend games — and stay until the fourth quarter — with an alluring prize: improved access to tickets to the SEC championship game and to the College Football Playoff semifinals and championship game, which Alabama is trying to reach for the fifth consecutive season. But to do this, Alabama is taking an extraordinary, Orwellian step: using location-tracking technology from students’ phones to see who skips out and who stays.“It’s kind of like Big Brother,” said Allison Isidore, a graduate student in religious studies from Montclair, N.J. It also seems inevitable in an age when tech behemoths like Facebook, Google and Amazon harvest data from phones, knowing where users walk, what they watch and how they shop. Alabama isn’t the only college tapping into student data; the University of North Carolina uses location-tracking technology to see whether its football players and other athletes are in class.

Tennessee state GOP lawmaker says getting rid of higher education would 'save America' - A Tennessee state GOP lawmaker has called for getting rid of the entire higher education system, asserting that such a move would “save America.”State Sen. Kerry Roberts made the remarks while speaking on his conservative talk radio show. He addressed his problems with the higher education system while discussing a recent legislative hearing focused on abortion legislation.Roberts argued that an activist's public testimony in favor of abortion rights was a "product of higher education," adding that abolishing the system would "save America." The Associated Press first reported on the lawmaker's remarks.He also claimed that the removal of higher education would cut off a "liberal breeding ground" and questioned why public colleges were funded by tax dollars. Roberts did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.  Roberts approved a Tennessee budget earlier this year that included money for colleges and universities, the AP noted. He is a 1983 graduate of Lipscomb University, according to his Tennessee Senate profile

How an Élite University Research Center Concealed Its Relationship with Jeffrey Epstein - The M.I.T. Media Lab, which has been embroiled in a scandal over accepting donations from the financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, had a deeper fund-raising relationship with Epstein than it has previously acknowledged, and it attempted to conceal the extent of its contacts with him. Dozens of pages of e-mails and other documents obtained by The New Yorker reveal that, although Epstein was listed as “disqualified” in M.I.T.’s official donor database, the Media Lab continued to accept gifts from him, consulted him about the use of the funds, and, by marking his contributions as anonymous, avoided disclosing their full extent, both publicly and within the university. Perhaps most notably, Epstein appeared to serve as an intermediary between the lab and other wealthy donors, soliciting millions of dollars in donations from individuals and organizations, including the technologist and philanthropist Bill Gates and the investor Leon Black. According to the records obtained by The New Yorker and accounts from current and former faculty and staff of the media lab, Epstein was credited with securing at least $7.5 million in donations for the lab, including two million dollars from Gates and $5.5 million from Black, gifts the e-mails describe as “directed” by Epstein or made at his behest. The effort to conceal the lab’s contact with Epstein was so widely known that some staff in the office of the lab’s director, Joi Ito, referred to Epstein as Voldemort or “he who must not be named.” The financial entanglement revealed in the documents goes well beyond what has been described in public statements by M.I.T. and by Ito. The University has said that it received eight hundred thousand dollars from Epstein’s foundations, in the course of twenty years, and has apologized for accepting that amount.  Ito disclosed that he had separately received $1.2 million from Epstein for investment funds under his control, in addition to five hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars that he acknowledged Epstein had donated to the lab. The documents and sources suggest that there was more to the story. They show that the lab was aware of Epstein’s history—in 2008, Epstein pleaded guilty to state charges of solicitation of prostitution and procurement of minors for prostitution—and of his disqualified status as a donor. They also show that Ito and other lab employees took numerous steps to keep Epstein’s name from being associated with the donations he made or solicited. On Ito’s calendar, which typically listed the full names of participants in meetings, Epstein was identified only by his initials. Epstein’s direct contributions to the lab were recorded as anonymous.

MIT President: Oh Yeah, We DID Cover Up Epstein’s Donations-- The president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is admitting that not only did the school hide donations from Jeffrey Epstein—he wrote the accused sex trafficker a thank-you letter.“It is now clear that senior members of the administration were aware of gifts the Media Lab received between 2013 and 2017 from Jeffrey Epstein’s foundations,”MIT President L. Rafael Reif said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “Because the members of my team involved believed it was important that Epstein not use gifts to MIT for publicity or to enhance his own reputation, they asked [MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito] to agree to make clear to Epstein that he could not put his name on them publicly.”  Reif said he also was present at a meeting of his senior team where attendees discussed Epstein’s crimes and donations.The disclosure is the latest to rock the elite research institution, which has been roiled by a slow drip of revelations about close ties between the MIT Media Lab and Epstein, a registered sex-offender.Reif’s Thursday statement summarized the preliminary findings of an investigation by outside law firm Goodwin Procter into Epstein’s connections to the Media Lab—an institute that exercised broad influence over the technology industry—and to Ito and the university writ large. Reif noted that the law firm’s probe revealed that he had signed an acknowledgment letter thanking Epstein—listed as a “disqualified donor” in MIT’s own records—for a donation after he had pleaded guilty to a prostitution charge stemming from a sex-trafficking investigation.“I apparently signed this letter on August 16, 2012, about six weeks into my presidency,” Reif wrote. “Although I do not recall it, it does bear my signature.”

Harvard Admits To $9 Million Donation From Jeffrey Epstein - Harvard University on Thursday night acknowledged that it had taken in approximately $9 million in donations from pedophile and alleged child sex-trafficker Jeffrey Epstein over the course of a decade ending in 2007, according to the Boston Globe.   that it did not take money from Epstein after 2007 - just one year before he pleaded guilty to soliciting a minor for prostitution and was sentenced to 13 months in jail with partial 'work' release.  "Jeffrey Epstein’s crimes were repulsive and reprehensible. I profoundly regret Harvard’s past association with him," Bacow continued.  "Epstein’s behavior, not just at Harvard, but elsewhere, raises significant questions about how institutions like ours review and vet donors," said Harvard president Larry Bacow in a letter to the community - while announcing that the university would expand an ongoing probe of the pedophile's donations to determine whether Epstein served as a conduit for other donors, as he did for Bill Gates and others at MIT. 

Taking the credit: can universities tackle academic fraud? FT - In July 2017, Allison Harbin, an art history PhD graduate from New Jersey’s Rutgers University, uploaded several posts to her blog, titled “Why I left Academia”. In them, Ms Harbin claimed that an academic supervisor had used parts of her work, without acknowledgment, in their own paper. Ms Harbin raised the case with the university, which rejected her claims, calling them “unfounded” and defending the supervisor, who was not identified in the blog. But in her posts, Ms Harbin said the response was “Orwellian”, claiming that some professors urged her not to say anything, and when she did, clubbed together to cover up what she said was academic fraud. While the dispute continued, Ms Harbin’s blogs went viral. Within hours she was inundated with hundreds of emails from people sharing allegations about academic exploitation by their superiors, the institutional structures which make this behaviour permissible and a lack of support for those subjected to it. To date, Ms Harbin has received over 400 testimonies from current and former graduate students at 300 different universities around the world, revealing what she calls a “systemic crisis in academia” which “can best be described as an abuse of power”. Over the past two decades, many universities have adopted a more commercial business model, where employment is offered to academics on a temporary basis and where the pressure to raise new funds leads to a “publish or perish” research culture. Some observers believe that this way of running universities will lead to even more exploitation of graduate students. “There is a pressure on the secure academic to publish or be damned, because of the level of performance management and the focus on research money,” says Jane Thompson, an official at the UK’s university and college union. In the UK critics highlight the Research Excellence Framework introduced in 2014, whereby academics are ranked by and awarded funding according to their published output. “There is also the inability of people on insecure contracts, whether PhD or early career researchers, to actually challenge inappropriate or unethical behaviour because of the precariousness of their employment,” Ms Thompson says. “When people at the top are being squeezed it’s the people at the bottom who get the dregs of that.” Ms Harbin says the situation is the same in the US, where universities and departments are also ranked by their published research. Institutions have also cut back on tenured positions and the jobs available for younger academics tend to have much weaker employment protections.

Student-loan behemoth tightens its ties to Trump and DeVos - The company that rejected all but 1 percent of applicants for a popular federal student-loan forgiveness plan — and that manages nearly a third of the nation’s $1.6 trillion of student loan debt — is beefing up its already close ties to President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as it competes for a new contract. The company, FedLoan Servicing, an arm of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, has been at the center of the growing dispute over why tens of thousands of teachers, public-sector employees and nonprofit charity workers who expected to have their loans wiped out are being denied the benefit. The company has drawn the ire of government watchdogs, state attorneys general and congressional Democrats. And a trove of documents obtained by POLITICO show that Education Department officials, too, have raised serious questions about its performance over the years. Nonetheless, as its $1.3 billion, 10-year contract expires in December, the loan servicing behemoth will be able to draw on unusually close ties to the administration as it seeks more government business — a fact that has its critics crying foul and citing it as a symbol of revolving-door abuses in the federal government. “It’s been very clear from day one that Secretary DeVos is only interested in stacking the Department with industry lobbyists and offering a free pass to companies that are ripping off students and families all over this country,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who has sued the company for allegedly mistreating student loan borrowers in the public-service forgiveness program and others. FedLoan and its parent firm’s ties to Trump’s political organization and DeVos’ Education Department are significant. A company now led by one of Trump’s most trusted supporters, David Urban, who oversaw his victorious campaign in Pennsylvania, has been its Washington lobbying firm since at least 1999, and Urban was personally listed as its lobbyist until last year, according to federal lobbying disclosure records.

Wall Street Journal decries “The Great Student-Loan Scam”: But the flimflam is even worse than WSJ describes  - Last month, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial titled "The Great Student-Loan Scam," in which the newspaper excoriated the Obama administration for the way it handled the federal student loan program. According to WSJ, Democrats "nationalized" the student-loan market in 2010 to help pay for Obamacare.  Eliminating private lenders, Democrats said, would save taxpayers money. Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office treated the federal student-loan program as a profit center during the Obama years by projecting that it would actually make money. Remember when Senator Elizabeth Warren accused the program of raking in "obscene" profits? But of course, the student-loan program is not a profit center. It's been bleeding red ink for years.   As one Obama-era advisor recently admitted, "There will be substantial amounts of student debt that will never be repaid." Oh, yeah. Most of it will never be repaid. In fact, the student-loan crisis is worse than the Wall Street Journal characterized it. A Brookings Institution report, issued several years ago, projected that almost half of all student loans taken out to attend for-profit colleges would be in default within five years after entering repayment. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, of all people, candidly acknowledged how bad the situation is last November.  "[O]nly 24 percent of FSA borrowers--one in four--are currently paying down both principal and interest," DeVos said in a speech. Almost 20 percent of borrowers are delinquent on their loans or in default. And, by DeVos's calculations, 43 percent of all outstanding loans "are in distress" (whatever that means).  Unfortunately, although DeVos is honest about the scope of the student-loan crisis, she is doing all the wrong things. DeVos's DOE bungled the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, rejecting 99 percent of the initial applications for debt relief. And just a few days ago, the Education Department issued new regulations that make it more difficult for student borrowers to bring fraud claims against for-profit colleges. About 45 million Americans hold a combined total of $1.6 trillion in federal student loans, and at least half of those people will carry their student-loan debt to their graves. Yes, the federal student-loan program is more than a giant scam, it's a national catastrophe.

 What student lenders think about Warren, Sanders reform plans -- With Democratic presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders proposing broad overhauls of how Americans pay for college, investors have started to wrestle with the implications for private-sector education lenders. At an industry conference in New York this week, industry executives spoke about how the Democratic candidates’ plans could affect their businesses. They were generally dismissive of the threat, though their optimism seemed to stem largely from a belief that the sweeping proposals are unlikely to become law in their current form. Sens. Warren and Sanders want to cover all tuition and fees at U.S. public universities, and they also have plans to cancel hundreds of billions of dollars in existing student debt. Sanders, from Vermont, would go further than his colleague from Massachusetts by canceling all outstanding loans regardless of the borrowers’ income level. Private student loans make up an estimated 8% of total U.S. education debt, with federal loans accounting for the lion’s share of the $1.6 trillion market. Sallie Mae and Discover Financial Services are among the largest private student lenders in the country, along with Wells Fargo and Citizens Financial Group. Back in May, a Sallie Mae executive said at an industry conference that free college could “really hurt” the Newark, Del.-based company’s business model, though he also suggested that the final version of such a plan would likely have strings attached that would ensure that many borrowers still turn to private student lenders. On Wednesday, Sallie Mae CEO Raymond Quinlan expanded on the argument that free college, if it gets enacted, would likely come with some big caveats. He pointed to the company’s experience in New York state, which has launched a scholarship program to make public colleges tuition-free. The New York program does not cover the cost of room, board, books or computers. And it is only open to students who have lived in the Empire State for at least 12 months, who come from families with annual incomes of $125,000 or less, and who agree to live in New York for a specified number of years after graduation. “Those people deserve to go to college. They’re young, they’re ambitious, they come from economically challenged households. They are not our customers,” Quinlan said.

Majority in US Back Free College Tuition and Student Debt Cancellation, New Poll Finds -A majority of voters support the bold proposals for free college tuition and the wiping out of student debt put forward by Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the 2020 Democratic primary, according to a new Hill-HarrisX poll out Friday.   The survey found that out of more than 1,000 respondents, 58 percent of people said they support government-funded public college tuition and the cancellation of student debt for the more than 44 million Americans who currently hold it.  The student debt crisis has left young Americans as a group owing more than 1.5 trillion for their college and graduate educations, and is largely blamed for keeping millennials from being able to buy homes and start families. At the Democratic debate on Thursday night, Sanders restated his support for wiping out student debt and allowing all Americans to attend two- and four-year state colleges tuition-free. “What we will also do is not only have universal pre-K, we will make public colleges and universities and HBCUs debt-free,” the Vermont independent senator said. “And what we will always also do, because this is an incredible burden on millions and millions of young people who did nothing wrong except try to get the education they need, we are going to cancel all student debt in this country.”  According to the Hill-HarrisX poll, 72 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of independent voters support free college tuition and student debt cancellation, while 40 percent of Republicans back the plans.  While both Sanders and Warren have proposed offering free public college to all Americans, Warren’s debt cancellation program would only be offered to families who earn under $250,000 per year—the bottom 95 percent of earners. Sanders has proposed wiping out student debt for all those who carry it. Sanders would fund his plan by imposing a speculation tax on stock trades, raising an estimated $2.4 trillion over 10 years, while Warren’s Ultra-Millionaires Tax would fund her proposal.

Your Social Security checks could get bigger next year. Here’s how much -- When it comes to the forecast for your Social Security benefits in 2020, there’s good news and bad news. Your Social Security checks are poised to grow next year; however, the annual increase likely won’t be as much as you got in 2019. That’s according to The Senior Citizens League, which on Thursday released its latest estimate for the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment for 2020. The nonpartisan group estimates that beneficiaries will get a 1.6% boost in 2020, down from a 2.8% increase in 2019. That would raise the average retiree benefit of $1,460 by about $23.40 per month, compared with $40.90 this year. The Social Security Administration is expected to announce the cost-of-living adjustment for 2020 in October. The adjustment is calculated based on data from the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, or CPI-W, through the third quarter. The Senior Citizens League bases its estimate on data through August, and has a record of accurate predictions. A 1.6% increase would be the lowest since 2017, the organization said. Social Security cost-of-living adjustments have averaged 1.4% in the past decade. What’s worse, Social Security benefits have lost one-third of their buying power since 2000, according to The Senior Citizens League’s calculations.

Why Are There More Uninsured Kids? - Ms. Seema Verma is the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. She is the over seer of Trump’s attempts to repeal the ACA. She is smiling now as there has been a reduction in the numbers of people enrolled in public healthcare such as Medicaid and CHIPS. Why did this occur? States having work requirements for Medicaid, adding more red tape to the application process, cutbacks in in outreach and enrollment funds by the Administration, and instill fear, a chilling purposeful effect, to cause immigrant and mixed-status families to not enroll and even withdraw their children from Medicaid/CHIP. The fear of being deported or given a lower status because you are dependent upon Medicaid and other government programs does much to keep them away and in hiding. Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, Center for Children and Families sorts through the data provided by the Census Bureau in one of its Current Population Surveys. The Bureau actually released a mini-special report focusing on children, “Uninsured Rate for Children Increases To 5.5% in 2018.” The percentage represents a loss of  ~425,000 insured by these programs or 0.6 percentage points decrease from the previous year. A job well done by Administrator Verma. What do we know about the kids who have higher uninsured rates?

  • Hispanic children saw a large jump of 1 percentage point from 7.7% to 8.7%. White children were the other racial category to see a statistically significant increase, clear evidence of impact of the Administration’s ongoing campaign of hostility and intimidation directed at immigrant families and the recent issuance of the public charge rule will only make this worse. Many of the children are born in America citizens who have immigrant parents.
  • Young children (age 0-5) saw a large increase as well with their uninsured rate jumping from 4.5% to 5.3%. Without healthcare, a young child’s health care needs are less likely to be met and this is especially troubling when they are in this critical time period when a child’s brain develops rapidly and is building a foundation for future educational and economic success.  Regular visits to a pediatrician for checkups helps children in being healthy and disease and disorders are caught early on in the development.
  • Children in the South are the worst off regionally and saw the highest increases in uninsured jumping from 6.5% as a region to 7.7%. As can be expected, southern states such as Texas, Florida, and Georgia have some of the highest rates of uninsured children in the country already.

More data on the impact of the new polices will be available month end when more American Community Survey looks at the state specific changes for children.

Affordable Health Care is a Mirage - Health insurance is supposed to help us pay for expensive medical care, but what if the insurance itself becomes too expensive? What happens to our health? Private health insurance premiums are ever increasing. Premiums for a family plan grew 25% nationwide between 2012 and 2018, increasing much faster than wages. Higher premiums mean more people forgo insurance altogether. When individuals are uninsured, they use less health care—including preventative care—and even have higher chances of dying. It is possible to make progress on taming health care cost growth, which often makes its way into insurance premiums. In Massachusetts, employer-sponsored insurance premiums are the highest in the country, and they keep growing. Yet, compared to the rest of the nation, the state has done a good job improving access to care and addressing spending growth. Two major laws are responsible. Chapter 58—sometimes called RomneyCare—was passed in 2006 to expand access to affordable health insurance through state and federal subsidies. To address health care costs, Chapter 224 was passed six years later. Among other things, it established the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission, which sets health care cost growth goals and monitors the state’s progress.Both laws were successful; the state boasts the lowest uninsured rate in the country and an annual health care spending growth rate below the national average for most of this decade. Still, health insurance costs—especially for private plans—are persistently high.Premiums are only part of it. Out-of-pocket spending for private plans—deductibles, coinsurance, and copays—has also increased considerably nationwide.  The individuals hit hardest by this cost growth are those stuck in a coverage gap, with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid but too low to comfortably afford a private plan. Massachusetts residents below 300% of the federal poverty level and enrolled in employer sponsored insurance spend nearly a third of their entire income on health care.  They are underinsured—they have insurance, but also deal with unaffordable out-of-pocket costs. In 2018, nearly 30% of insured adults in the United States were underinsured. Of that 30%, four in 10 admitted to delaying care because of cost.  People who have to pay more out-of-pocket tend to delay or skip care because of the added cost. A study in JAMA Pediatrics found that some parents of children with asthma rationed their children’s medications and even delayed appointments when out-of-pocket costs were high. Without change, health insurance will become even less affordable for more people over time, increasing the number who forgo coverage or care altogether. What could we do to fix this?

How Greedy Hospitals Fleece the Poor  - The pundit class collapsed back in its chair last week, exhausted and spent, from a furious wonk-off session over Bernie Sanders’s rhetoric on medical bankruptcies.The Washington Post’s in-house political fact-checking apparatus assigned a devastating three Pinnocchios to Sanders for saying 500,000 people a year go bankrupt from medical bills. The Sanders camp complained, and the Post’s Grand Factmaster Glenn Kessler pushed back. Wonks stranded on the periphery of the action, like Megan McArdle, joined the fray, arguing that medical bankruptcies are actually much less common than Sanders asserts, because how can you tell whether medical debt was the precipitating event in a bankruptcy if sometimes people get unnecessary cosmetic dermatology? Checkmate.   The episode was a good reminder of the dangers of Wonk Brain, which leads sufferers to fight viciously over questionable methodology and imprecise rhetoric while ignoring the bleeding obvious and the obvious bleeding. Americans face rapidly ballooning health-care costs; get pursued into financial ruin for the crime of getting sick; and get sicker and die because the price of health care is too high to pursue it at all. The precise number of people who go bankrupt because of a medical bill matters far less than the fact that medical bankruptcy is a real danger in the United States in a way that it simply isn’t in other developed countries. You don’t have to have a degree in economics to figure that out; you just have to have ever looked at a hospital bill. Or read the newspaper, because lately, they are filled with tales of chicanery from those same hospitals. On Monday, a Kaiser Health News reportdetailed the University of Virginia hospital system’s heartless pursuit of poor patients who owe them money. The hospital has sued its patients 36,000 times over six years, for as little as $13.91, with devastating consequences. The hospital has garnished wages and put liens on houses, levying high interest on delinquent patients. It sued its own employees for unpaid bills around 100 times a year. . Last week,The New York Times reported on Carlsbad Medical Center in New Mexico, which has sued many more of its patients for unpaid medical bills than nearby hospitals; even the county judge who hears the cases was sued. In June, ProPublica published a story on Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare Hospital in Memphis, which filed 8,300 lawsuits against patients in five years.

Obesity is the leading cause of death in America. When will we talk about it? --As the NY Times recently reported, obesity is the leading cause of mortality in the United States. Obesity costs the nation $1.72 trillion every year. As Bill Maher pointed out last week, 53 people were killed in mass shootings in August. By comparison, in the same month 40,000 Americans died because of diseases associated with obesity, causing him to call liberals "the NRA of mayonnaise" for their unwillingness to openly discuss this mass killer. I grew up overweight and was bullied for it (a topic I discuss in more detailin this article about male body dysmorphia.) Add to the fact that I have large ears and there's a recipe for a lonely childhood. I spent many of my formative years being taunted as Dumbo. There's nothing fun about it. Those experiences destroyed my confidence and created plenty of self-doubt later in life. Still, I was able to use that shaming as motivation to transform.I would never advocate bullying as the proper course of action, yet bullying is not shaming. This is where the PC crowd gets tripped up. As Jennifer Jacquet writes in her book, Is Shame Necessary?, frivolous shaming distracts our attention from what matters, and right now healthcare in America really matters.

Suicide Rates In Rural America Jump, Nearly Half A Million Dead - A new study published last week sounds the alarm on a suicide crisis that is crushing rural America.  From 1999 to 2016, the suicide rate of Americans ages 25 to 64 jumped 41%, researchers noted in JAMA Network Open. The study found Americans living in rural communities had a 25% higher probability of taking their own life than those in cities.  The study, Contextual Factors Associated With County-Level Suicide Rates in the United States, 1999 to 2016, was led by Danielle Steelesmith, a postdoctoral fellow at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center, said suicide rates have been increasing in rural America thanks to increasing poverty, low incomes, farming bust, deindustrialization, and vast amounts of underemployment. "Those factors are really bad in rural areas," said Steelesmith.Steelesmith said from 1999 to 2016, there were 453,577 suicides among Americans ages 25 to 64, with the most significant amount occurring after 2010 through 2016. About 350,000 of the deaths were male, and many were middle-aged adults. The highest observed suicide rates were in the West, including in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming; Appalachia, including counties in Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia; and the Ozarks, including counties in Arkansas and Missouri. "Long-term and persistent poverty appears to be more entrenched and economic opportunities more constrained in rural areas. Greater social isolation, challenges related to transportation and interpersonal communication, and associated difficulties accessing health and mental health services likely contribute to the disproportionate association of deprivation with suicide in rural counties," Steelesmith said.The study's social fragmentation index includes levels of single-person households, unmarried residents, and resident impermanence. High social fragmentation was associated with counties with higher suicide rates. With the availability of guns at Walmart and the proliferation of gun shops across the Central and Midwest states over the last two decades, access to firearms in rural communities has notably driven up suicides.

The epidemic of nurse suicides and the US healthcare crisis - There are 3.9 million registered and licensed practical nurses in the United States. A 2014 study of 3,300 nurses found that many were stressed and overworked—a majority reported eating poorly and rarely getting a decent night’s rest. New studies show that nurse suicides are reaching epidemic proportions, as the mental health strain on these health care workers is driving increasing numbers of them to take their own lives. These and other workplace conditions—including violence, management bullying and the emotional burden of patient care—are leading to a growing epidemic of nurse suicides. Researchers at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine have conducted the first national investigation of nurse suicides in more than 20 years, and the results are alarming. The UCSD researchers found that the suicide incidence among nurses was significantly higher than in the general population. For female nurses, the incidence of suicide was 11.97 per 100,000; for male nurses it was more than three times that rate, at 39.8 per 100,000. What accounts for this tragic toll? How is it that a sizeable number of individuals who have trained and chosen a field in healthcare are suffering from physical and mental healthcare crises to the extent that they are taking their own lives? The World Socialist Web Site’s recent article on nurse suicides has been one of our most widely read articles. This topic has struck a nerve with healthcare workers as well as our broader readership. A follow-up interview with nurse scientist Judy Davidson, RN, DNP, one of the UCSD researchers, prompted a stream of comments, including the following from two nurses:

Purdue Pharma Expected To File Bankruptcy Amid Settlement Negotiations Hitting An Impasse - The makers of Oxycontin, Purdue Pharma, are now expected to file for bankruptcy after settlement talks regarding the nation's opioid crisis have "hit an impasse", according to ABC News.  This impasse puts Purdue's federal trial over the opioid epidemic on track to start next month and sets the stage for significant legal drama involving state and local governments. Purdue had been working for months to try and avoid trial by determining the company's responsibility for the crisis, which has cost over 400,000 Americans their lives. But an email from the attorneys general of Tennessee and North Carolina revealed that Purdue and the Sackler family had rejected two offers from the states over how payments would be handled as a result of a settlement. Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery and North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein wrote in their message: "As a result, the negotiations are at an impasse, and we expect Purdue to file for bankruptcy protection imminently."

NY AG uncovers $1 billion in Sackler family wire transfers amid opioid probe: report  -- The New York Attorney General's Office has allegedly uncovered $1 billion in wire transfers by the Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharma, which could suggest attempts to hide its wealth as it faces litigation over its role in the opioid crisis. The transfers include some done through Swiss bank accounts, The New York Times reported. State Attorney General Letitia James (D) reportedly issued subpoenas last month to 33 financial institutions and investment advisers in an attempt to fully discover the family's wealth. "While the Sacklers continue to lowball victims and skirt a responsible settlement, we refuse to allow the family to misuse the courts in an effort to shield their financial misconduct," James told the Times in a statement. "Records from one financial institution alone have shown approximately $1 billion in wire transfers between the Sacklers, entities they control, and different financial institutions, including those that have funneled funds into Swiss bank accounts." Court documents filed by James's office on Friday reportedly show initial findings from one unnamed financial institution. The filing reportedly shows a series of transfers by former Purdue board member Mortimer D.A. Sackler. “Already, these records have allowed the state to identify previously unknown shell companies that one of the Sackler defendants used to shift Purdue money through accounts around the world and then conceal it in at least two separate multimillion-dollar real estate investments back here in New York, sanitized [until now] of any readily detectable connections to the Sackler family," wrote lawyer David E. Nachman from James's office in a letter to the court, according to the Times. 

Carcinogen in Zantac and Generics Triggers FDA, EU Probes  -- Global health regulators sounded a coordinated alarm about the possibility that a stomach drug taken by millions of people could be tainted with the same cancer-causing agent that has sparked a worldwide recall of blood-pressure pills. Drug-safety officials in the U.S. and Europe said Friday that they were looking into whether Sanofi heartburn medication Zantac and generic versions made by numerous manufacturers contain levels of the probable carcinogen NDMA that could pose a danger to patients.  Ranitidine, as the drug is known in generic form, is an antacid and antihistamine used to treat and prevent a range of gastrointestinal disorders. The chemical NDMA, or N-Nitrosodimethylamine, is a likely human carcinogen found in cooked or cured meats such as bacon, and is a common industrial byproduct.  The discovery further underscores the challenge pharmaceutical-industry regulators face in overseeing a vast global supply chain of drugs, drug ingredients and factory processes. Dozens of versions of the hypertension treatment valsartan have been recalled since last year out of concern they could be contaminated with NDMA. Many of those drugs were made in China or India, raising questions about the quality of generic manufacturing in far-flung factories around the globe. Bloomberg News has reported on how poor quality controls and efforts to conceal manufacturing problems from the FDA have complicated oversight of overseas drug producers. The review of ranitidine comes after Valisure, a New Haven, Connecticut-based online pharmacy that tests all the medications it dispenses, alerted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that it had detected high levels of NDMA in both generic and brand versions of Zantac sold at major pharmacies run by companies including Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., CVS Health Corp. and Walmart Inc.

Mouthwash Cancels Out Key Benefits of Exercise, Study Finds -  Your mouthwash could have a bizarre effect on how exercise affects your body, a new study this week suggests. The study found that swigging mouthwash can prevent exercise from lowering your blood pressure as it normally does. Strange as that sounds, the results highlight just how important the bacteria living in our mouths really are to us. It’s been long known that exercise opens up and dilates our blood vessels, in part by getting our bodies to produce more nitric oxide. But even after we’re done jogging and stop producing excess nitric oxide, our circulation is still affected, with our blood pressure remaining lower than it was for hours—a phenomenon known as post-exercise hypotension. There are various theoriesfor why this happens, but no one’s completely figured it out. One theory Bescos and his team had, based on other research, involves the natural microbial environment, or microbiome, of our mouths. A byproduct of nitric oxide, called nitrate, is often gobbled up by certain mouth bacteria. These bacteria then process nitrate into another chemical called nitrite, which is absorbed into the body when we swallow saliva, and some of it is again turned back into nitric oxide. They theorized that this process gets enough nitric oxide back into our bloodstream where it helps keep our blood pressure low. Mouthwash was simply a way for them to test out their theory. They used antibacterial mouthwash containing chlorhexidine, a potent antiseptic used in many prescription strength and some over-the-counter mouthwashes. They had the volunteers run on a treadmill for a half-hour on two separate occasions, then they were kept under close watch and had their blood pressure monitored for two hours. During those two hours, they were randomly assigned to periodically swig either mouthwash or a placebo; on the second trip, they took whichever liquid they hadn’t the first time around. When people took mouthwash as opposed to placebo, the team found, their blood pressure wasn’t lowered by as much. And by the two-hour mark, the post-exercise effect had disappeared completely. The mouthwash didn’t likely kill off bacteria en masse in the mouth since the diversity of the microbiome was left unchanged. But it did seem to drastically reduce their ability to produce nitrite, and that led to lower levels of nitrite in people’s saliva and blood. The team’s findings were published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine.

U.S. Could Lose Measles Elimination Status by October -- The United States was declared to have eliminated the measles virus in 2000, meaning it was no longer endemic to the country. But now ongoing outbreaks of the measles virus threaten that elimination status. There have been 1,241 cases of the measles in the United States since January. The last time there was well over a thousand cases of measles was 27 years ago, in 1992. At least 2,200 people reported having the measles that year, and, while that may seem steep, it was a 77 percent drop in the number of measles cases the United States saw the year prior.After 1992, the measles finally started to lose steam — all the way until 2000, when a vaccination program was declared successful. Health officials were able to officially declare the United States to have eliminated measles. This year, as measles cases continue to climb, the country may lose its elimination status by early October if the disease continues to appear."That loss would be a huge blow for the nation and erase the hard work done by all levels of public health," Kristen Nordlund, a spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told Healthline. According to Nordlund, the measles elimination goal — which was first announced in 1996 — was a monumental task.  Before the vaccine came around, which successfully wiped out measles, about 3 to 4 million people contracted the virus each year, with nearly 48,000 of them being hospitalized and around 500 dying.

Is a Dark Ages disease the new American plague threat? - Diseases are reemerging in some parts of America, including Los Angeles County, that we haven’t commonly seen since the Middle Ages. One of those is typhus, a disease carried by fleas that feed on rats, which in turn feed on the garbage and sewage that is prominent in people-packed “typhus zones.” Although typhus can be treated with antibiotics, the challenge is to identify and treat the disease in resistant, hard-to-access populations, such as the homeless or the extremely poor in developing countries.I also believe that homeless areas are at risk for the reemergence of another deadly ancient disease — leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease. Leprosy involves a mycobacteria (tuberculosis is another mycobacteria) that is very difficult to transmit and very easy to treat with a cocktail of three antibiotics. Yet according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are more than 200,000 new cases of leprosy reported in the world every year, with two-thirds of them in India, home to one-third of the world’s poor. The poor are disproportionately affected by this disease because close quarters, poor sanitation, and lack of prompt diagnosis or treatment easily can convert a disease that should be rare to one that is more common. Untreated, Hansen’s disease causes disabilities over time, with the peripheral nerves affected and the fingers and toes becoming numb. Multibacillary Hansen's disease, the more serious version, also causes skin lesions, nodules, plaques and nasal congestion. With eye involvement, corneal ulcers and sometimes blindness can occur. According to the CDC, there are between 100 and 200 new cases of leprosy reported in the U.S. every year. A study just released from the Keck Medical Center at the University of Southern California looked at 187 leprosy patients treated at its clinic from 1973 to 2018 and found that most were Latino, originating from Mexico, where the disease is somewhat more common, and that there was on average a three-year delay in diagnosis, during which time the side effects of the disease — usually irreversible, even with treatment — began to occur. Leprosy is still more prevalent in Central America and South America, with more than 20,000 new cases per year. Given that,  it seems only a matter of time before leprosy could take hold among the homeless population in an area such as Los Angeles County, with close to 60,000 homeless people and 75 percent of those lacking even temporary shelter or adequate hygiene and medical treatment. All of those factors make a perfect cauldron for a contagious disease that is transmitted by nasal droplets and respiratory secretions with close repeated contact.

'It can kill you in seconds': the deadly algae on Brittany's beaches -- Activists say stinking sludge is linked to nitrates in fertilisers from intensive farming… André Ollivro stepped carefully down the grassy banks of an estuary in the bay of Saint-Brieuc, Brittany, not far from his beachfront cabin. The pungent smell of rotting eggs wafting from decomposing seaweed made him stop and put on his gas mask. It was a strange sight in what is usually a tourist hotspot. “You can’t be too careful,” said the 74-year-old former gas technician, who is leading the fight against what has come to be known as France’s coastal “killer slime”. For decades, potentially lethal green algae have amassed in shallow bays on Brittany’s beautiful north-western coast. Environmentalists say the blossoming of unusually large amounts of green algae are linked to nitrates in fertilisers and waste from the region’s intensive pig, poultry and dairy farming flowing into the river system and entering the sea. When the algae decompose, pockets of toxic gas get trapped under its crust — potentially fatal to humans if they step on it.“It could kill you in seconds,” Ollivro said, as he took out a gas reader to monitor levels for his environmental campaign group. This summer, six Brittany beaches were closed because of a mass of dangerous seaweed. The bay of Saint-Brieuc was the focus, with bulldozers piling so much algae into dumper trucks on the beach that an inland treatment centre, where seaweed is dried out and disposed of, briefly closed due to an unbearable stench. The centre blamed the foul odour on the method used to collect the algae, which had mixed in mud and sand. Local residents complained the smell was so bad it woke them up at night. The row over algae intensified in July when the family of a man who died in the putrid seaweed sludge of the Gouessant estuary in 2016 sued the state and local authorities. The family said not enough was done to prevent the spread of seaweed and the public was not properly warned of the fatal danger. The area where he was found had already seen over 30 wild boar die in sludge five years before, with a likely link to rotting seaweed. But Auffray’s body was not immediately tested or autopsied until weeks later, too late to accurately measure the role of toxic gas.

Concerns grow over tainted sewage sludge spread on croplands -For more than 20 years, the eastern Michigan town of Lapeer sent leftover sludge from its sewage treatment plant to area farms, supplying them with high-quality, free fertilizer while avoiding the expense of disposal elsewhere.But state inspectors ordered a halt to the practice in 2017 after learning the material was laced with one of the potentially harmful chemicals known collectively as PFAS, which are turning up in drinking water and some foods across the U.S.Now, the city of 8,800 expects to pay about $3 million to have the waste treated at another facility and the leftover solids shipped to a landfill. Testing has found elevated PFAS levels in just one field where the sludge was spread, but farmers have lost an economical fertilizer source and hope more contamination doesn't turn up."I feel bad for them,"  "The city didn't do anything malicious. We had no clue this was going on." Lapeer isn't alone. For decades, sewage sludge from thousands of wastewater treatment plants has been used nationwide as cropland fertilizer. It's also applied to sports fields, golf courses and backyard gardens. About half of the 7 million tons generated annually in the U.S. is applied to farm fields and other lands, the Environmental Protection Agency says. While the sludge offers farmers a cheap source of fertilizer, there long have been concerns about contaminants in the material—and attention of late has turned to perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. The city of Marinette, Wisconsin, has stopped distributing sewage waste, also called "biosolids," to farms after getting high PFAS readings. In Maine, a dairy farm was forced to shut down after sludge spread on the land was linked to high levels of PFAS in the milk. "It's been devastating. We kind of get treated like we are criminals,"

US agency warns of lung illness epidemic among young people, attributed to e-cigarettes - The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a public warning of a rapidly developing epidemic of severe lung illnesses associated with the smoking of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), also known as “vaping.” In just a few weeks, 450 cases have been confirmed spanning 33 states. As of this writing the death toll has increased to five. The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) issued an urgent preliminary report on September 6, 2019, “Pulmonary Illness Related to E-cigarette Use in Illinois and Wisconsin,” describing their findings on a cluster of 53 cases recently afflicting the two states. In July, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (WDHS) and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) received multiple reports from physicians and hospitals of several severe cases of pulmonary sickness not associated with any infectious etiology. All have in common the recent use of e-cigarettes and its associated products. Concern over a growing epidemic prompted a coordinated effort by the two states along with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many of those affected are otherwise young and healthy without any prior medical conditions. They present with severe “air hunger,” or shortness of breath. They also experience fevers, nausea and vomiting, as well as intense fatigue. The median age of these patients was 19. They were predominately white males. Almost all required admission to the hospital, with many admitted to the intensive care units. Eighty-seven percent required supplemental oxygen, and one third were intubated and received mechanical ventilation. One patient in this cluster has died. Nearly all the patients received intravenous or oral steroids, with improvement once therapy was initiated. This would suggest an inflammatory mediated immune response has triggered the disease. Universally, chest x-rays or CT scans of these patients showed both lungs were affected. All these patients had reported a history of having vaped within 90 days before their symptoms started, with most reporting heavy daily e-cigarette use. A significant number used both nicotine and THC or CBD products. The CDC is warning consumers to stop buying bootleg products and mixing street cannabis with e-cigarette products. They also strongly urge them to stop modifying the devices to vape adulterated substances.

Trump administration seeks ban on flavored e-cigarettes to combat youth addiction -- (Reuters) - The Trump administration announced plans on Wednesday to remove all flavored e-cigarettes from store shelves in a widening crackdown on vaping, as officials warned that sweet flavors had drawn millions of children into nicotine addiction. President Donald Trump and top U.S. officials expressed concern about surging teenage use of e-cigarettes, and the move comes as health officials are investigating a handful of deaths and potentially hundreds of lung illnesses tied to vaping.Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that, with Trump’s blessing, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was working on a “guidance document” that would lead to a ban of all e-cigarette flavors aside from tobacco flavoring.“Once the FDA would finalize this guidance, we would begin enforcement actions to remove all such products from the marketplace,” Azar told reporters during a meeting with the president and first lady Melania Trump in the Oval Office.The ban would include mint and menthol flavoring as well as bubble gum, candy, fruit, alcohol and other flavors, he said.Tobacco flavoring would be allowed to remain, subject to companies’ filing for approval from the FDA. Even that would be at risk if the government determined children were attracted to it or that it was being marketed to them, Azar said.

What’s Causing Vaping’s Mystery Illnesses? New Study Might Offer Some Answers - Over the past few weeks, the tone of the discussion over the health issues raised by vaping has evolved from quiet concern to full-blown nationwide panic. With hundreds of cases of mysterious, vaping-related lung ailments reported in more than 33 states, and more than six vaping-related deaths reported in the United States, the potential health issues that may arise from vaping are now impossible to ignore, to the degree that even President Trump has declared it a health crisis. Yet we don’t actually have the answer to one extremely important question: What is actually causing these health issues linked to vaping? While some theories have been put forth, including that vitamin E in bootleg THC cartridges may be playing a role, a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine sheds further light on some potential answers. According to the study, which examined six vaping-related cases at University Hospital in Salt Lake City, the illnesses caused by vaping may be linked to a certain type of white blood cells called macrophages, which help protect your immune system by essentially trapping potentially dangerous viruses and bacteria and digesting them. In people with healthy immune systems, macrophages are able to distinguish between “good” and “bad” cells; in people with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s, it is believed that the macrophages in the intestinal system are unable to make this distinction, and end up attacking the wrong types of cells.  This is ultimately what University of Utah researchers believe is happening with these vaping cases, except with macrophages in the lungs. When researchers examined samples from the patients’ lungs, they found in the patients’ cells the presence of lipid-laden macrophages, or macrophages that contain fat particles. Lipid-laden macrophages are extremely unusual and have a distinctive appearance, Scott Aberegg, lead author and U of U Health critical care pulmonologist, said in a press release. Notably, the presence of lipid-laden macrophages in a person’s lungs is also used to diagnose lipoid pneumonia, a rare type of lung condition caused by inhaling these fat particles. Lipoid pneumonia is marked by such symptoms as shortness of breath, coughing, and chest pain, all of which have been reported by those presenting at hospitals with vaping-related lung ailments. 

Lawmakers Take Manufacturing Companies to Task Over Toxic PFAS Chemicals in Drinking Water - Representatives from the 3M Company, the Chemours Company and DuPont appeared before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Sept. 10 as Congress explores several bills to regulate dangerous "forever chemicals" called PFAS, which do not break down in the environment and have been linked to a number of diseases.None Democrats on the committee suggested the companies had long known about the health hazards of dangerous "forever chemicals" called PFAS in their products and should shoulder some of the responsibility for addressing their spread."You have played a part in this national emergency. You have sickened our first responders and members of the military, and I don't know how you sleep at night," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of Florida, The Hill reported.California Rep. Harley Rouda, who chairs the Oversight and Reform Committee's Subcommittee on Environment, said the companies' misrepresentation of the science around PFAS "shakes the foundation of democratic capitalism" by "violating the trust of the American people," The Guardian reported.According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, PFAS are synthetic chemicals used since the 1940's in food packaging, non-stick pans, cosmetics, firefighting foam and water- and grease-repellent products. PFAS contamination is often found in water sources near industrial sites, military bases and airports in nearly every U.S. state. In addition to persisting in the environment, they have been shown to accumulate in the human body, and PFAS exposure has been linked with infertility, cancer, thyroid disease, developmental problems in children, liver damage and a host of other health issues, according to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Plastic Apocalypse- Dangerous Microplastics Now Turning Up In Human Stool - Last month we revealed how high levels of dangerous microplastics had been detected in some of the most remote regions of the world. Now there are new reports that microplastics are turning up in human stool, a new study suggests. The study, Detection of Various Microplastics in Human Stool: A Prospective Case Series, examined human stool from eight people around the world and found all had microplastics.  "This small prospective case series showed that various microplastics were present in human stool, and no sample was free of microplastics," wrote the team of scientists, led by Dr. Philipp Schwabl of the Medical University of Vienna. "Larger studies are needed to validate these findings. Moreover, research on the origins of microplastics ingested by humans, potential intestinal absorption, and effects on human health is urgently needed."Schwabl said volunteers came from Japan, Russia, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Italy, Poland, Finland, and Austria. Their daily food intake was the likely entry point for microplastic exposure.  The study didn't rule out that microplastic exposure could be coming from food wrappers and bottles. None of the volunteers were vegetarians, while six out of the eight had consumed ocean-going fish.

Study Finds Microplastics Stunt Earthworms’ Growth and Could Harm Soil Ecosystems - A first-of-its-kind study published Wednesday in Environmental Science and Technology found that particles from the kind of plastic commonly used in bags and bottles stunt the growth of earthworms, a finding with major implications for soil health, The Independent reported.The researchers from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) found that rosy-tipped earthworms (Aporrectodea rosea) exposed to soil filled with high-density polyethylene (HDPE) for 30 days lost 3.1 percent of their weight on average, according to a university press release published by EurekAlert! The worms kept in soil without microplastics, in contrast, increased their weight by 5.1 percent.Study co-author and ARU graduate Connor Russell explained why this matters: Earthworms can be called 'ecosystem engineers' as they help maintain a healthy soil. They do this through ingesting dead organic matter, therefore contributing to the availability of nutrients. Their burrowing activity improves soil structure, helping with drainage and preventing erosion. It's therefore highly likely that any pollution that impacts the health of soil fauna, such as earthworms, may have cascading effects on other aspects of the soil ecosystem, such as plant growth.If plastics inhibit earthworms' growth, they could therefore impact agriculture, since earthworms play an important role in farming soil, The Guardian explained. The study is the first to look at the impact of microplastics on worms that live in the topsoil. Lead Author and ARU Biology Lecturer Dr. Bas Boots said in the press release that it was not yet clear why the microplastics caused the worms to lose weight. The researchers also tested two other kinds of plastic: biodegradable PLA and synthetic clothing fibers. Both caused the rye grass growing on top of the soil to germinate fewer seeds, and the biodegradable plastic reduced the height of the grass shoots. The HDPE also decreased the soil's pH. It isn't yet known how much plastic actually ends up in the soil, but the amount is likely to be high, The Guardian reported, since it could easily be transported there from sewage, water or air. Some European studies have found between 700 and 4,000 plastic particles per kilogram of soil in certain farmlands.

 The EPA Will End Mammal Testing by 2035 -- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pledged Tuesday to "aggressively reduce animal testing" and to end funding for mammal tests by 2035. The move makes the EPA the first federal agency to set a timeline for ending animal tests, according to Science Magazine.  EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler also promised $4.25 million towards the development of alternative methods for testing the safety of chemicals.  The announcement saw animal rights and environmental groups come down on opposite sides.Representatives from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the White Coat Waste Project and the Humane Society of the United States all attended the press conference, according to Science Magazine."PETA is celebrating the EPA's decision to protect animals certainly—but also humans and the environment—by switching from cruel and scientifically flawed animal tests in favor of modern, non-animal testing methods," Dr. Amy Clippinger, director of PETA's Regulatory Testing Department, said in an EPA press release. "PETA will be helping regulatory agencies and companies switch to efficient and effective, non-animal testing approaches and working toward a day when all animal tests are only found in history books."But the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) opposed the move and questioned Wheeler's motives, suggesting that the decision was more about saving chemical companies money than protecting animals."Phasing out foundational scientific testing methods can make it much harder to identify toxic chemicals — and protect human health," Jennifer Sass, senior scientist for the NRDC's ealthy People and Thriving Communities program, said in a statement reported by The Washington Post. "Once again, the Trump administration appears to be working on behalf of the chemical industry and not the public. Congress should bar the agency from blindfolding itself."

Cubed wombat poop, why your left nut runs hot, among Ig Nobel winners - Over the years, curious intrepid scientists have gleaned insight into why the wombat's poo is cube-shaped, explored the magnetic properties of living and dead cockroaches, and determined that a man's left testicle really does run hotter than the right. These and other unusual research topics were honored tonight in a ceremony at Harvard University's Sanders Theater to announce the 2019 recipients of the annual Ig Nobel Prizes.Established in 1991, the Ig Nobels are a good-natured parody of the Nobel Prizes and honor "achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think." The unapologetically campy award ceremony features mini-operas, scientific demos, and the 24/7 lectures, whereby experts must explain their work twice: once in 24 seconds, and the second in just seven words. Acceptance speeches are limited to 60 seconds. And as the motto implies, the research being honored might seem ridiculous at first glance, but that doesn't mean it is devoid of scientific merit. The winners receive eternal Ig Nobel fame and a ten-trillion dollar bill from Zimbabwe. It's a long-running Ig Nobel gag. Zimbabwe stopped using its native currency in 2009 because of skyrocketing inflation and hyperinflation; at its nadir, the 100-trillion dollar bill was roughly the equivalent of 40 cents.

'Hopeful' Scientists Create Nearly Extinct Northern White Rhino Embryo --Scientists are hoping to impregnate the closely-related southern white rhino — the most abundant rhino sub-species in the world — using harvested eggs from the last two northern white rhino cows and frozen sperm collected from four rhino bulls before their deaths, an international science consortium said on Wednesday. Two northern white rhino in-vitro embryos were successfully created at Avantea Laboratories in Cremona, Italy."These are early embryos that have a very high potential to develop into a baby. [They] have now been put in liquid nitrogen. We have achieved a new life, a new hope for this species," Thomas Hildebrandt, project head at the Leibnitz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, a consortium partner in the project, told DW.Researchers from Kenya, Italy, the Czech Republic, and Germany are still fine-tuning the implantation procedure before the embryos are transferred into a surrogate mother, but are hopeful a northern white rhino calf can be born via surrogacy within the next three years.  The remaining two cows, mother Najin and daughter Fatu, live in a Kenyan sanctuary. The last bull, Fatu's father, Sudan, died in March, 2018. Genetic reasons mean neither cow can breed.

 Trump Admin Grants First Lion Trophy Import Permit Since Listed as Threatened -A Florida man has been allowed to import a Tanzanian lion's skin, skull, claws and teeth, a first since the animal was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, according to US Fish and Wildlife Service records uncovered by the Center for Biological Diversity through the Freedom of Information Act.The documents show that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a permit in May for hunter, Carl Atkinson, to bring home the lion trophy which was taken from a game preserve in July or August, according toCourthouse News. The hunter's attorney, John Jackson III, is a member of the Interior Department's own International Wildlife Conservation Council, which Ryan Zinke created as Secretary of the Interior to highlight the "economic benefits that result from US citizens traveling to foreign nations to engage in hunting," as CNN reported. "This is tragic news for lion conservation, and it suggests that the Trump administration may soon open the floodgates to trophy imports from Tanzania," said Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. "Tanzania is a lion stronghold, but it's been criticized by scientists for corruption and inadequate wildlife protections. Opening the U.S. market to these imports doesn't bode well for the lion kings of Tanzania." Tanzania is thought to be home to 40 percent of Africa's lions, though exact populations are difficult to count. It has a history of mismanaging populations of lions, elephants and other threatened animals. By allowing hunters to bring their trophies back to the U.S. there are ripple effects. Hunters often seek out mature male lions, which make desirable trophies. Yet, killing one lion often leads to the death of many more. Since those mature male lions are usually pack leaders, a new pack leader will move in and assert dominance by killing the hunted lion's offspring, resulting in the loss of many lions, as the Center for Biological Diversity noted.

9/11 Tribute in Light Endangers 160,000 Birds Each Year -The Tribute in Light beams shine brightly on Sept. 11 every year as a memorial of the two towers that are no longer part of the New York City skyline. The lights are dramatic and mesmerizing, not only for people but also for birds — endangering nearly 160,000 of them every year, according to a study published in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.The bright lights attract various migratory birds during their annual pass through New York City. However, the intensity of the lights draws the birds in and they seem unable to veer away from the lights, which puts them at risk of injury, starvation, and exhaustion. Scientists say circling the lights also stresses the birds greatly. As the night marches on, their calls to one another get louder, increasing in line with their confusion, according to the Independent.None"When the installation was illuminated, birds aggregated in high densities, decreased flight speeds, followed circular flight paths, and vocalized frequently," the study authors wrote. "Simulations revealed a high probability of disorientation and subsequent attraction for nearby birds." Meaning, larger birds are swooping in to feast on the confused ones.New York City sits in the middle of a major migration corridor, used for millennia by birds flying south for the winter. As summer wanes, thousands of birds pass directly above the city, a passage generally unnoticed by its human inhabitants. Some of these include small songbirds like warblers and redstarts, according to the New York Times. They are joined by haws and bats and peregrine falcons, which swoop in to feed on the smaller birds.To navigate their migration, the birds rely on an internal compass that relies on the Earth's magnetic field, sunlight, starlight, and moonlight. Light pollution from the city already conceals most of the night sky. The Tribute in Light beams then add to the problem by outshining the stars and the moon, according to Wired. The birds circling the Tribute of Light use up too much energy flying in circles, leaving them vulnerable to starvation or exhaustion before they reach a place to rest.

U.S. aquariums try to save Florida corals as disease spreads - (UPI) -- Aquariums around the United States are helping to preserve coral species from the Florida Reef, saving them from a deadly disease that is killing major portions of the undersea ecosystem. At stake is the survival of species on the third-longest barrier reef in the world, which the U.S. Geological Survey says not only is dying, but also eroding. Scientists in 2014 found a new affliction, stony coral tissue loss disease, was ravaging the reef.  The 200-mile-long barrier helps protect Florida and the Keys from waves at a time when climate change is believed to be causing more frequent and more severe hurricanes. The federal government estimates the reef's value at $8.5 billion in terms of shoreline protection, tourism and fishing impact.  About 100 Florida coral colonies are now living in a display tank at Moody Gardens aquarium in Galveston, Texas, one of a dozen new homes for the invertebrate animal colonies. At first, it was envisioned that aquariums in Florida would take the corals, but that grew quickly this year to include a dozen others around the nation. Other aquariums that have Florida corals include the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa; Adventure Aquarium in Camden, N.J.; and Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Omaha, Neb.

Strange life forms found deep in a mine point to vast 'underground Galapagos' -Something odd is stirring in the depths of Canada's Kidd Mine. The zinc and copper mine, 350 miles northwest of Toronto, is the deepest spot ever explored on land and the reservoir of the oldest known water. And yet 7,900 feet below the surface, in perpetual darkness and in waters that have remained undisturbed for up to two billion years, the mine is teeming with life.Many scientists had doubted that anything could live under such extreme conditions. But in July, a team led by University of Toronto geologist Barbara Sherwood Lollar reported that the mine’s dark, deep water harbors a population of remarkable microbes.The single-celled organisms don’t need oxygen because they breathe sulfur compounds. Nor do they need sunlight. Instead, they live off chemicals in the surrounding rock — in particular, the glittery mineral pyrite, commonly known as fool’s gold.“It's a fascinating system where the organisms are literally eating fool's gold to survive,” Sherwood Lollar said. “What we are finding is so exciting — like ‘being a kid again’ level exciting.”  Sherwood Lollar is excited not only because of the peculiar the mine’s rock-eating life seems, but also because of the growing realization that strange forms of life might not be so peculiar after all. Scientists are starting to find similar microbes in other deep spots, including boreholes, volcanic vents on the bottom of the ocean and buried sediments far beneath the seafloor.“The deep microbial realm reveals a biosphere that’s more extensive, resilient, varied and strange than we had realized,” said Robert Hazen, a mineralogist at the Carnegie Institution’s Geophysical Laboratory in Washington, and co-founder of Deep Carbon Observatory, a global project to study the deep biosphere. Cut off from light, air, and any connection to the surface, this shadowy realm seems more like an alien world than part of Earth. Hazen said exploring it could help us understand how life might have begun on other planets as well as on our own. We might even find alien-like creatures living undetected right beneath our feet.

Dorian One of Strongest, Longest-Lasting Hurricanes on Record in the Atlantic - Dorian made landfall again Saturday night near Halifax, Nova Scotia, with 100 mph sustained winds. Hurricane Dorian spun away from North Carolina's Outer Banks on Friday as one of the longest-lasting named storms and the most powerful on record to hit the Bahamas, and it wasn't finished yet—a hurricane warning had been posted for Nova Scotia, Canada.Compared to the path of devastation Dorian left across the northern Bahamas, the U.S. coast had largely been spared.Dorian had struck the northern Bahamas' Great Abaco and Grand Bahama islands as one of the strongest Category 5 storms on record in the Atlantic, making landfall on Sept. 1 with 185 mile-per-hour winds and even higher gusts. It stalled there for more than 36 hours, its wind, rain and storm surge overwhelming the two low-lying islands and damaging or destroying more than 13,000 houses, nearly half the islands' dwellings, according to the American Red Cross.With no electricity or running water in many areas after the storm, many island residents were trying to get out, and the deaths were only beginning to be counted as the water subsided."What has happened in the Bahamas is like nothing I have ever seen in my career, and I have been doing this for more than 30 years," said Rob Young, a professor of geosciences and natural resources and director of the Western Carolina University Program for the Study of Developed  Shorelines.Stephen P. Leatherman, a professor in the Florida International University Department of Earth and Environment, and an expert on hurricanes, likened the destruction to a bombing. "The sheer devastation in the northern Bahamas is pretty much unprecedented," he said.

 Hurricane Dorian: Tens of thousands homeless in the Bahamas as damage assessed on Canadian coast - As the remnants of Hurricane Dorian slammed Canada’s Atlantic coast over the weekend, the devastation wrought by the storm has only begun to be assessed. The Bahama islands of Grand Bahama and Great Abaco are in a state of ruin. While the death count from Dorian has reached an official total of 43 people, authorities predict the final amount to be much greater as bodies are found amid the wreckage and additional deaths from lack of clean water, food and medicine occur as humanitarian crises set in following the storm’s passage. “There’s a horrible amount of disease that can develop after an event like this,” said Darren Tosh, director of aid group Samaritan’s Purse, to the BBC. In addition to the loss of life and infrastructure, many residents of the most heavily impacted areas lack the means to rebuild after the continuous wave of devastating storms in recent years. “Dorian will go down in history as the worst catastrophe in this region, not only due to the highest recorded wind speed in the North Atlantic but also because the storm stalled over Abaco and Grand Bahama Island for over 24 hours,” risk modeler Karen Clark told Bloomberg . The Bahamian government, led by the conservative Free National Movement party of Prime Minister Hubert Minnis, has done little to coordinate relief and rescue efforts for the tens of thousands stranded. As is typical in such conditions, while the wealthy are able to provide their own means of travel, the islands’ poor are left to fend for themselves. According to Bloomberg, early estimates of the storm’s damage in the Bahamas surpass $7 billion. Over 70,000 persons have been reported homeless and in need of aid in the northern Bahamas, which were directly hit by the then-category 5 storm. “There’s nothing left here. There are no jobs,” said 19-year-old Avery Parotti to the Associated Press as she waited to be evacuated from Great Abaco.  The Bahamian economy, which derives nearly 50 percent of its gross domestic product from the islands’ tourist industry, or $4.3 billion, is also expected to be set back, as both Grand Bahama and Great Abaco constitute major tourist destinations. “A lot of persons think all of the Bahamas is gone, the entire thing … when people see devastation like this they tend to hold back ... on what they plan on doing,” said a Nassau-based vendor to theOrlando Sentinel of the storm’s impact. The New York Times notes that the clearing of debris and efforts to lead rescue attempts have been conducted by private citizens as well as various charity groups. “This is a catastrophe, and they [the government] should be here in numbers,” said Marsh Harbour resident Martin McCafferty to theTimes. “The government hasn’t sent one plane!” the Times quotes another saying.

 Bahamas struggles to cope with decomposing bodies, emotional trauma after Dorian - The smell of death hung over parts of Great Abaco Island in the northern Bahamas on Friday, as relief workers sifted through the debris of shattered homes and buildings in a search expected to dramatically drive up the death toll from Hurricane Dorian. Dorian, the most powerful hurricane to ever hit the Bahamas, swept through the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama Island earlier this week, leveling entire neighborhoods and knocking out key infrastructure, including airport landing strips and a hospital. Hundreds, if not thousands, are still missing in the country of about 400,000 people, and officials say the death toll, which stands at 30, is likely to shoot up as more bodies are discovered in the ruins and floodwaters left behind by the storm. “You smell the decomposing bodies as you walk through Marsh Harbour,” said Sandra Sweeting, 37, in an interview amid the wreckage on Great Abaco. “It’s everywhere. There are a lot of people who aren’t going to make it off this island.” Some locals called the government’s initial official death toll a tragic underestimate. “I work part-time in a funeral home. I know what death smells like,” said Anthony Thompson, 27. “There must be hundreds. Hundreds.” Chaotic conditions around the islands were interfering with flights and boats, hampering relief efforts. The medical chief of staff of Bahamas’ only functioning public hospital said the death toll would be “staggering,” and two refrigerated, 40-foot trucks would be needed to hold the bodies that were expected to be found. “Weve ordered lots of body bags,” Dr. Caroline Burnett-Garraway said in an interview at Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau, the country’s capital. Processing all the dead will take weeks, she added. Those injured by the storm, which was a Category 5 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity, were being treated for fractures, head injuries, deep lacerations, skin rashes and dehydration. Survivors are also dealing with the emotional trauma triggered by the horrors of the preceding days. Near an area called The Mudd at Marsh Harbour, the commercial hub of Great Abaco, a Reuters photographer described a devastating scene, with most houses leveled, a man lying dead near a main street and dead dogs in water. Some residents were leaving the area with meager possessions, while others were determined to remain.

Thousands of Dorian survivors desperate to evacuate wrecked Bahamas as death toll climbs to 44 - ABC As hundreds of people waited anxiously to be evacuated at the port in Marsh Harbour, a Bahamian island community wrecked by Hurricane Dorian, Senior Lt. William Sturrup of the Royal Bahamian Defense Force pleaded for patience and cooperation. A cargo ship that just dropped off supplies became a lifeboat for many who lost everything but their lives and were desperate to board the vessel and escape the devastation. "This boat is here to take you to Nassau," Sturrup told the crowd of distressed evacuees on Saturday, many holding backpacks and garbage bags stuffed with the few belongings they have left. Bahamian Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands told ABC News on Sunday that the death toll in the Bahamas is now up to 44 and that it is possible some victims were washed out to sea and may never be found while many other bodies are feared buried in the rubble.There are about 76,000 people left homeless and in need of assistance in the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama Island, the U.N. said Friday.Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis is scheduled to address the nation on Monday night.On Sunday, Dorian was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone, after lashing the Eastern seaboard of the United States and making landfall one last time nearly 1,600 miles north of the Bahamas in Nova Scotia, Canada.Dorian slammed Nova Scotia on Saturday night as a Category 2 hurricane, packing torrential rain and maximum sustained winds of 100 mph that stripped roofs off homes, uprooted trees and toppled a large construction crane in Halifax. The deadly storm struck North Carolina's Outer Banks on Friday as a Category 1 storm with sustained winds of 90 mph, battering the barrier islands with torrential rain, ferocious winds and dangerous floodwaters.

Counting bodies ‘not the priority’: Bahamas not lying about Dorian deaths, health chief says -On Sunday, white-clad body recovery crews were working their way through a field of rubble on the island of Abaco on the hunt for the hidden victims of Hurricane Dorian, following the smell of rotting flesh through the rubble. It didn’t take them long. Lying on the foundations of what was once a house was the body of a middle-aged man, his rigid arms outstretched. He was wearing an orange shirt. As those who survived Dorian are continuing to flee the area of Marsh Harbour by boat and plane, search and recovery crews are finally punching deeper into the mountains of debris, going house to house looking for the dead. The slow pace of such work — and a death toll that stands at just 44, despite photographs of massive devastation — has led to wide speculation that the true number of dead is far higher. With many Bahamians still unaccounted for, people on social media say they have personally counted scores of dead bodies. Others question whether the government is telling the truth about the number of people who died in the Abacos and on Grand Bahama Island during Dorian’s catastrophic Category 5 winds and rains.  But Duane Sands, the Bahamas’ minister of health, says the government is not suppressing Hurricane Dorian’s death toll and is simply tallying confirmed deaths as the bodies arrive at the morgue. In an interview with the Miami Herald Sunday, Sands called information suggesting a cover-up “false” and “unfortunate.” The body count “is not the priority,” he said. “The priority is find those people for their loved ones who are missing them; to take care, provide comfort to those people who are hurt, who are suffering, that’s the priority. To put food in people’s bellies, water in their throat.” The public, he added, should have a better appreciation for the task facing the Bahamas. Cadaver dogs, U.S. Coast Guard helicopters and U.S. search and rescue teams, including a six-man team of firefighters from Gainesville, combed the devastation in search of the missing.

With dogs and spray paint, crews in grim search for Dorian's dead in Bahamas (Reuters) - For the searchers sifting through the enormous pile of wreckage that Hurricane Dorian left after smashing the Bahamian town of Marsh Harbor, the only way to get past the stench of hidden corpses is to think about the families of the dead.   “There’s chaos everywhere, you just have to pick a spot and move out from there, said Chad Belger, a lieutenant in Gainesville, Florida’s fire department and part of the aid crew that responded to the northern Bahamas in the wake of the worst hurricane in its history. The official death toll on the islands stands at 45, but evacuees, rescue workers and officials say they expect it to climb substantially as searchers find more bodies. That task is underway in the Marsh Harbor shanty towns the Mudd and the Peas. A Reuters journalist on Sunday saw government workers, wearing disposable hazmat suits, rubber boots and masks, remove one body from a rubble-filled teal building. Nearby, nearly a dozen workers creeping across the surrounding hellscape found and marked three more corpses that need to be removed before heavy machinery, slated to arrive from Nassau on Monday, begins clearing out the wobbly mountains of plywood riddled with rusted nails that once housed thousands. Some 70,000 people on the Bahamas need food and shelter a week after Dorian hit the islands as a top-of-scale Category 5 hurricane with wind gusts topping 200 miles per hour (320 kph), according to a U.N. World Food Programme estimate.For Belger, a muscular 38-year-old retired U.S. Army specialist who helped lead search, rescue and recovery efforts after a Category 5 Hurricane Michael struck the Florida panhandle last year, the scope of the damage has been startling.Despite the sense of urgency that brought Belger and his team of six here with little more than their recovery gear, sleeping bags and ready-to-eat meals, searching the rubble proved to be a slow task. Many in the group carried tools that resembled heavy, hooked fireplace pokers, which they poke into tall piles of matted down grass and dead palm fronds and lift up cracked metal boards. They have little to follow other than their noses in the slow hunt for human remains.

Local reports claim thousands dead in the Bahamas from Hurricane Dorian - As the official death count from Hurricane Dorian rose to 50 on Tuesday, local Bahamian press reports are estimating thousands killed from the Category 5 storm over the past week. A “shocking report by agencies on the ground” published in the Bahamas Press calculates as many as 3,000 dead could be counted on the island of Great Abaco alone. “The numbers are ‘staggering’ just as the Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands suggested last week,” the report states, noting, “sources inside [National Emergency Management Agency] tell us the guidelines left in place for the management of a Natural Disaster were never followed,” resulting in “the worst and most chaotic management of a natural disaster ever in the history of the Bahamas.” The Nassau Punch published a similar figure Monday. The UN World Food Program has estimated as many as 90 percent of all structures in Marsh Harbour, the largest city on Abaco, have been reduced to rubble by Dorian. “There is the smell of death in that area,” said Dr. Rudy Moise to the Tampa Bay Times. Moise has led humanitarian efforts to assist the afflicted Haitian population on Abaco. According to the Washington Post, a brief search of “less than one-tenth” of the impoverished shantytowns of the Mudd and Pigeon Peas “yielded five bodies.” Citing comments from the islands’ health minister, CNN reported “body bags, additional morticians and refrigerated coolers to properly store bodies are being transported to Abaco and other affected areas … Four morticians in Abaco are embalming remains because officials have run out of coolers.” has had thousands of names entered into its database, as worried members of the population seek to find their loved ones. “Given the storm surge and significant flooding from the hurricane, it is likely that some bodies may have washed out to sea … The exact death count may never be known,” said the World Health Organization’s Esther Mary de Gourville to the Post . Additional reports note at least seven others killed in the southeast United States and Puerto Rico.

Aerial Photos Show Dorian's Utter Devastation in Bahamas | The Weather Channel - (63 aerial photos, 494 at ground level) Nightmarish photos shot from the air show the scale of catastrophic damage residents are dealing with in Great Abaco, Bahamas, after Hurricane Dorian spent more than 36 hours pummelling the islands.Homes reduced to piles of wood, flooded neighborhoods and damaged cars and even airplanes can be seen in the aerial photos. The storm, which struck the Bahamas as a Category 5 storm, killed at least 23 in the location, but the death toll is expected to climb as rescue and recovery teams continue their work.A humanitarian crisis is unfolding as more than 13,000 houses, or about 45% of the homes in Grand Bahama and Abaco, were likely severely damaged or destroyed, The Red Cross said according to the Associated Press. About 62,000 people on the hard-hit islands are without clean drinking water, The Red Cross reported, and U.N. officials said more than 60,000 are in need of food. Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest said that rebuilding the infrastructure could take hundreds of millions to billions of dollars.

2,500 Now Missing in the Bahamas After Hurricane Dorian and Trump Admin Won’t Let Survivors Live and Work in the U.S. - The Trump administration will not grant temporary protected status to people evacuating the Bahamas afterHurricane Dorian, the White House announced Wednesday. On the same day, Bahamian authorities said that around 2,500 people are listed as missing after the strongest storm to ever hit the country.Temporary protected status would have allowed Bahamians displaced by the hurricane to live and work in the U.S. until it is safe for them to return home, NBC News explained. Currently, more than 300,000 people from 10 countries are living in the U.S. with this status, including evacuees from the 2010 Haitian earthquake. Bahamians can still travel to the U.S. with the right documents, but will not be able to work. The Bahamians impacted by Hurricane Dorian are facing a humanitarian crisis, and the American government, international partners and private organizations continue to support them with aid and services. At this time, we do not plan to invoke Temporary Protected Status for those currently in the United States," a White House official said, as Reuters reported. Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan said Monday it would be "appropriate" to extend the status to Dorian evacuees, but President Donald Trump appeared to oppose the idea later, asCNN reported. "I don't want to allow people that weren't supposed to be in the Bahamas to go to the United States, including some very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers. So we are going to be very, very strong on that," Trump said.The news also comes days after Dorian evacuees were ordered off a ferry from Freeport in the Bahamas to Florida if they did not have visas. Bahamians are typically allowed to enter the U.S. with just a passport and clean criminal record, but the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced Monday that Bahamians traveling by sea now need a visa, Reuters reported.

Record 7 Million People Displaced by Extreme Weather Events in First Half of 2019- In another sign of the climate crisis, a record seven million people were displaced from their homes byextreme weather events during the first half of 2019, The New York Times reported Thursday.The number comes from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), which has been using data from governments, UN humanitarian agencies and news accounts to publish annual reports since 2003. Their mid-year figures for 2019, published Thursday, marked the highest number of disaster displacements the organization has ever recorded by this point in the year. The number was nearly double the number displaced by conflict and violence during the same period this year, The Independent pointed out."In today's changing climate, mass displacement triggered by extreme weather events is becoming the norm," the report authors wrote.The numbers were tallied before Hurricane Dorian struck the Bahamas, and the organization predicted it could soar to 22 million by the end of the year, making 2019 one of the worst years for disaster-caused displacement on record. That's because the worst disasters usually occur between June and September, which is when most storms inundate the tropics, The New York Times explained.The extreme weather events covered by the report included

  1. Cyclone Fani, which displaced 3.4 million people in India and Bangladesh in May
  2. Cyclone Idai, which displaced 617,000 in Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Madagascar in March
  3. Spring flooding in Iran, which displaced 500,000

Cyclone Vayu also displaced 289,000 in India in June, while flooding displaced 405,000 in the Philippines, 190,000 in Ethiopia and 75,000 in Bolivia. However, not all disaster displacements are equal. The 3.4 million displaced by Fani were evacuated ahead of time, an act that saved lives and showed that India and Bangladesh had learned from past disasters.

NOAA Directed Staffers Not to Contradict Trump on Misleading Dorian Claims --Can the U.S. under President Donald Trump still trust government-issued weather reports?That's the question at the heart of a Saturday report from The Washington Post that leadership at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) directed staff not to contradict Trump's claims thatHurricane Dorian would impact Alabama.The controversy began Sept. 1 when Trump sent a tweet listing Alabama among the states that what would "likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated" by the approaching hurricane, as HuffPost reported.But Alabama was not in the National Hurricane Center's "cone of uncertainty," which meteorologists use to predict a storm's likely path, The Washington Post explained. Trump's tweet prompted concerned residents to call the Birmingham, Alabama office of the National Weather Service (NWS), which is operated by NOAA. In response, the Birmingham NWS tweeted that Alabama would "NOT see any impacts" from the hurricane.After both tweets were posted, NOAA sent an email to NWS staff instructing them to "only stick with official National Hurricane Center forecasts if questions arise from some national level social media posts which hit the news this afternoon."They were also told not to "provide any opinion," according to the email obtained by The Washington Post. NWS staff received a similar email on Sept. 4, after Trump displayed an Aug. 29 forecast map during a White House briefing that had been altered with a black marker to include Alabama in the cone of uncertainty. The Washington Post report came a day after NOAA issued an unsigned statement supporting the President's claims that Dorian would impact Alabama, as NPR reported.

National Weather Service workers are ‘disgusted’ at their NOAA bosses for ‘throwing them under the bus’ and backing Trump’s claim that Hurricane Dorian WAS headed for Alabama as ‘Sharpiegate’ rumbles on --Workers in the National Weather Service are 'shocked, stunned and irate' at their bosses in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for backing Trump up and claiming that he was right to say Hurricane Dorian was headed for Alabama.   In a string of baffling developments now known as 'Sharpiegate', the row centers on the president's September 1 tweet that the brutal storm was likely to hit Alabama 'harder' than expected.  The NWS Birmingham office quickly issued a tweet to insist the state was not in the storm's path.  Trump then defended his statement and insist it was based on early information that had been given to him by scientists. At an Oval Office press conference on September 4, he held up an August 29 map of the storm's path to prove his point. That map showed the storm's path as heading towards northern Florida and parts of Georgia. The original one, which had been issued by the NOAA, did not show Alabama being but but the one Trump held up had the state circled in black sharpie. Reporters picked up on the difference and called the 'doctoring' of the map 'Sharpiegate'. On Friday night - as Dorian rattled along Northeast Coast , setting its sights on New England after savaging the Bahamas and the Carolinas - the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is the umbrella agency of which the NWS is a part, issued a statement saying Trump was right and the NWS Birmingham office was wrong to admonish him. Its support of the president has now infuriated workers within the NWS who say they have been 'thrown under the bus'.

Ross threatened to fire top NOAA staff after office contradicted Trump on Dorian: report -- Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross threatened to fire top employees at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) after officials contradicted President Trump’s claim that Alabama could be affected by Hurricane Dorian, according to a report by The New York Times. The Commerce Department later denied the story in a statement to The Hill. "The New York Times story is false. Secretary Ross did not threaten to fire any NOAA staff over forecasting and public statements about Hurricane Dorian," the spokesperson told The Hill. Trump faced pushback from meteorologists last week after stating that Alabama would potentially feel the effects of Dorian. The warning, which came via tweet, prompted the National Weather Service's Birmingham branch to emphasize on Twitter that the state would not be affected by the storm. Trump adamantly defended his position throughout the week and at one point displayed a map in the Oval Office that appeared to show a marker-drawn addition to indicate Dorian would hit Alabama. Ross contacted acting NOAA Administrator Neil Jacobs two days later and asked him to fix issues related to the perception that the agency had contradicted Trump, the Times reported Monday, citing three people familiar with the discussion. The newspaper said that Jacobs initially objected. He was then told that political staff at NOAA would be dismissed if the situation wasn't resolved. On Friday, an unsigned NOAA statement was issued that affirmed Trump's claims and disavowing the tweet from the National Weather Service in Birmingham about the hurricane. The White House and the Commerce Department declined to comment to the Times, the story said.Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), a member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, called for Ross to step down in the wake of Monday's report. "His direct attacks on the scientists and federal employees, whom he threatened to fire for doing their jobs by accurately reporting the weather, are an embarrassing new low for a member of this Cabinet which has been historically venal and incompetent," Beyer said in a statement.

 Tokyo's Typhoon Faxai: 3 Dead, 40 Injured, 900K Homes Without Power - Nearly one million homes were without power, three people were killed, nearly 40 were injured, while thousands of people were stranded at Tokyo's Narita International Airport after a powerful typhoon made landfall near the Japanese capital earlier today, as Kyodo News reported. Typhoon Faxai made landfall with sustained winds near 130 miles per hour, according to the BBC. It was the most powerful typhoon to hit Tokyo in nearly a decade. At one point, the entire city of Kanagawa lost power and authorities warned against going outside. "I've never seen a situation like this, where the entire city lost power," a city official told NHK, as the Guardianreported. The storm hit the coastal city of Chiba early Monday morning, forcing the above ground East Japan Railway Co. to suspend all lines in the greater Tokyo area, stranding millions of commuters. Millions more were unable to get to work after subway service was suspended as well. However, most of the services resumed by noon after the storm passed though on a delayed schedule. "We need to inspect tracks and check if there is any damage," a train company spokesman told Agence France Presse.The entire islands of Shikinejima and Oshima off the country's south coast lost power, according to the Tokyo Disaster Prevention Department, as CNN reported.Security camera footage captured a woman in her fifties being blown head first into a building wall by the force of the wind. She was found unconscious on a street in Setagaya City, a residential area near central Tokyo, and later died in hospital, NHK reported, according to the BBC.Police also reported that an 87-year-old man died after a tree toppled over him while he was removing fallen trees on a mountain in Otaki, Chiba Prefecture, according to Kyodo News.More than 100 flights to and from airports in the Tokyo area were canceled on Monday, according to the airport website, as CNN reported. By Monday afternoon, 6,800 passengers were still stranded at Narita International Airport, according to an airport spokesperson, as CNN reported. Flights were still arriving, but blocked highways and suspended rail service left weary travelers with no way to leave the airport.  "They let planes land ... and thousands of passengers were disgorged into an airport that was cut off - no buses, no JR trains," one traveler told Reuters.

Floods wreaking havoc on Great Lakes region fueled by climate crisis -  This summer, as rain relentlessly poured down on the Great Lakes region, Detroit declared a rare state of emergency. The swollen Detroit River had spilled into the low-lying Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood – an event not seen near this scale since 1986. Volunteers sandbagged the area as the city’s overwhelmed sewer system spilled raw sewage into the river, which connects Lake Huron and Lake Erie. Across the channel from Jefferson Chalmers, water damaged the historic boathouse on Belle Isle, a 982-acre island park that remains partly shut down because of flooding. Meanwhile, in Duluth, Minnesota, the city is rebuilding after a powerful storm over Lake Superior damaged a popular pedestrian path, eroded acres of lakefront property and ravaged infrastructure along the shore.About 800 miles to the east, floods hit Buffalo, New York, on Lake Erie in two of the last three years, while Lake Michigan’s historically high watersinundated parts of Chicago throughout the spring and summer months.The havoc wreaked on communities bordering the Great Lakes is a result of their water level steadily rising over the last five years and spiking to record levels this spring and summer. In 2019, the lakes’ depths ranged from 14in to nearly 3ft above long-term averages, according to data from the US army corps of engineers. In June, water in the Lakes St Clair, Ontario, Superior and Erie set records for monthly mean levels, while Lake Michigan-Huron rose to 1in from its recorded peak.That is leading to widespread damage in coastal cities, eroded shorelines and beaches and many other issues. The record levels come just five years after the lakes experienced historically low levels in 2014, and climate scientists say it is clear what’s fueling the drastic swing: the Earth’s rising temperatures. Climate scientists say a confluence of climate crisis-related issues resulted in this year’s levels. Warmer air over the Gulf of Mexico caused more evaporation, and that moisture pushed into the region during the spring and summer. Higher temperatures give the atmosphere more capacity to hold evaporated water, Rood said, which is why storms are dumping more rain than 50 years ago.

Canada Tells Flood Victims It’s Time to Move -- The city of Gatineau, just across the river from Canada's capital city of Ottawa was inundated by a 100-year flood in 2017. Then, this past April, the flooding was worse, which has prompted the government to tell people who lost more than 50 percent of the value of their home to just leave.  Canada has decided that the best thing for many people to do in the face of escalating costs from the climate crisis by limiting funds for rebuilding and telling people to move. It has caused entire neighborhoods to be removed, house-by-house, as the New York Times reported. "Canadians are stubbornly beginning to reconsider the wisdom of building near flood-prone areas," said Jason Thistlethwaite, a professor of environment and business at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, to theNew York Times. "It's taking government action to obligate people to make better decisions."   After two floods in three years, many residents will not be able to sell their home and the government won't let them rebuild.  Under a provincial program in Quebec, the government will offer up to $100,000 to homeowners for flood damage compensation or a $200,000 buyout for them to move outside flood areas. If people take the money to rebuild, they will not be eligible for future compensation if their home floods again, according to CBC.  The attempt to mitigate future losses has precedent in Canada. In 2005, Quebec prohibited new constructions in the areas most likely to flood. Then in 2013, after the most expensive flooding in Canada's history hit Alberta, residents in two neighborhoods of High River, south of Calgary, were issued mandatory buyouts. In 2015, the federal government made it harder for local governments to get money after floods. And British Columbia said people without flood insurance would be ineligible for government aid, as the New York Times reported. This year, Canada warned that it would not pay for people who rebuild in danger zones. "[T]hey are going to have to assume their own responsibility for the cost burden," Public Security Minister Ralph Goodale told reporters in April, according to the New York Times. "You can't repeatedly go back to the taxpayer and say, 'Oh, it happened again.'"

India isn’t getting more rainfall, but it is experiencing more floods - After the hottest summer in recorded history, India endured a delayed monsoon and widespread floods. Assam in the North East was one of the earliest states to be ravaged by floods, followed by Maharashtra and Kerala. By mid-August, states in central India began to flood. Extreme rain events over central India tripled between 1950 and 2015, according to a 2017 study led by researchers at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, affecting about 825 million people, leaving 17 million homeless and killing about 69,000. The probability of similar flooding in the years to come is high, driven by a global rise in temperatures – 1 degree Celsius since systematic record-keeping began in 1850 – according to an October 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations body formed to assess science on climate change. “The total rainfall has not changed much but extreme rainfall has increased and this will lead to more floods,” said J Srinivasan, founder chairman and distinguished professor at the Divecha Centre for Climate Change under the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. Even as India is likely to end with an excess of 1% rainfall in 2019, large parts of the country face a rainfall deficit. India’s per capita availability of water is 1,544 cubic metres, water resources minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat told parliament’s upper house, the Rajya Sabha, in July, compared to 1,816 cubic metres in 2001. The average for lower-middle-income countries, the group that India is a part of, based on its per capita income, is 3,013 cubic metres. For high-income countries, this number is 8,822 cubic metres.

Plastic makes its way into oceans – and 2020 climate forum -  According to a new report from the Ocean Conservancy, an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic waste wind up in the ocean each year. More than 23 million pounds were collected in one day during its 2018 International Coastal Cleanup (ICC). Approximately one million volunteers across 122 countries participated in the cleanup, confirming the continuation of a trend from 2017: all of the top 10 most commonly found items during the ICC were made of plastic. Cigarette butts (which contain plastic filters) topped the list, followed by food wrappers; straws and stirrers; forks, knives and spoons; and plastic bottles. "[W]hat strikes me is that the vast majority are not recyclable," George Leonard, the Ocean Conservancy's chief scientist, told National Geographic. "To the extent we talk about recycling as a solution to ocean plastic problems, it would have to get to 50 or 90%, which is a huge lift and gets complicated very quickly." Congressional Democrats released a proposal last month for sweeping plastic waste legislation, while a growing number of states and municipalities have passed plastics bans – most often targeting plastic bags and straws.  The latter movement has made its way into the Democratic debates. Sen. Kamala Harris declared during Wednesday's CNN-hosted climate forum that, as president, she would incentivize reusable shopping bags and ban plastic straws (even as she acknowledged the "droopy" tendency of paper straws), while Mayor Pete Buttigieg referred to those who use plastic straws – including himself – as "part of the problem." Sen. Elizabeth Warren, however, expressed far less willingness to indulge the plastic straw debate, dismissing it as a calculated attempt by corporate behemoths to shift the burden of responsibility onto consumers. "This is exactly what the fossil fuel industry wants us to talk about," she said in response to a moderator question on regulating plastic straw use, meat consumption and lightbulb efficiency. "They want to be able to stir up a lot of controversy around your lightbulbs, around your straw, and around your cheeseburgers, when 70% of the pollution, of the carbon that we're throwing into the air, comes from [the building industry, the electric power industry and the oil industry]." Warren isn't alone in her disdain. Public fixation on straws has sparked criticism from many environmentalists, who point out that the conversation – in addition to excluding those with disabilities – distracts from more critical sources of environmental degradation and plastic pollution. On the other side of the aisle, President Trump's reelection campaign has cast "liberal paper straws" as a linchpin in the culture wars, selling Trump-branded plastic straws for $15 per pack. According to the Guardian, the straws had raised approximately $460,000 for the campaign as of late July.

 The Toxic Trash That Is Poisoning the West Bank - Maysoon Sweity , a 54-year-old schoolteacher and mother of six, stood on the roof, watching a column of dark smoke spiral into the sky. Less than a mile away, tires and scraps from discarded refrigerators burned at the base of the concrete wall separating her Palestinian village from Israel. “When I see that, I see death,” she said. “Everyone is sick, and I know that one day I’ll be sick too.” In the early 2000s Israel built a wall in the West Bank in response to the violence of the second intifada, and sharply limited the ability of Palestinians to enter Israel from the territories. This left many Palestinians who had been working in Israel without jobs.  An estimated 20 percent of the world’s 50 million tons of e-waste isrecycled. The rest is burned or traded by the world’s poorest. In the Hebron region of the West Bank, processing Israeli electronic wastehas become a lucrative, if illegal, industry. Every morning, Palestinians driving flatbed trucks leave villages like Beit Awwa, Deir Sammit and Idna for Israeli towns and cities, and return with broken computers, appliances, and obsolete medical equipment, among other things. Other Palestinian traders buy high-value items like electrical cables pulled from demolished buildings and smuggle them, along with other bulk e-waste, into the territory. Israeli trash becomes Palestinian treasure. The majority arrives in scrapyards, where workers wield hammers, saws and blowtorches to dismantle the items and extract every ounce of metal for local and international resale. Self-taught technicians refurbish consumer electronics to sell at a nearby market. In front yards and living rooms, villagers pick apart scraps for a few shekels worth of copper. Then there are the “burners,” workers who specialize in burning insulated cables, often the hardest items to recycle because of their small size and abundance. While burning has provided crucial income for some, it has also upended the lives of Palestinians already struggling with the difficulties of living under the occupation. On the villages’ outskirts and along the separation wall — where Israeli and Palestinian security is largely absent — the burning of cables, useless e-waste scraps and trash have blackened the soil and saturated once fertile pastures with what Dr. Garb calls a “witches’ brew” of contaminants.

Massive, rotting soybean pile still burns after catching fire in July - (UPI) -- A mountain of rotting soybeans in Missouri caught fire in July -- and continues to burn. The huge pile started to rot after being soaked during historic spring flooding that hit northern Missouri, western Iowa and Nebraska, said Patrick Burke, a spokesman for Gavilon, a Nebraska-based company that owns a grain elevator on the property near Rock Port."With all that pressure on the decaying beans, it started to heat up," Burke said. "Then, we had a week straight of 100- to 110-degree days. So, essentially, it just combusted."It is common for grain elevators to store soybeans -- and other grains -- in large outdoor piles, Burke said. This pile caught fire in mid-July, and crews have been unable to extinguish the blaze for a number of reasons, Burke said.When the fire started, much of the surrounding area still was underwater, and the roads were impassable, making it impossible for fire crews to reach the site, Burke said."Our only access to the facility for a while was by air boat," he said.Also working against firefighters was the pile itself."It's a ground pile, and what happens with ground piles is a crust forms over the top," Burke said. "That crust is basically waterproof. We had one day where it rained a ton -- we basically had 6 inches of rain in 24 hours. It didn't even slow the fire down." Moreover, because the pile essentially is burning from the inside out, any attempt to extinguish the fire risks exposing more oxygen to the inferno. That could create a much bigger blaze, firefighters said.  On Aug. 8, the fire spread from the outdoor pile into the grain bins. Fire crews from the West Atchison Fire Department, Rock Port Fire Department and five other area departments responded, according to the Atchison County Mail. While the fire crews sprayed water over the bin, salvage crews cut holes in it to remove the unburnt grain, which brought the fire in the bin under control.Meanwhile, the outdoor pile continues to burn. The company doesn't know how long it will take for the fire to burn out. "It's a large pile," Burke said. "There's a lot of fuel for the fire to burn through." Gavilon will not say how many bushels of grain the pile contains, but neighbors report the affected area is about the size of a football field, about 35 feet high, glowing bright orange.

PG&E reaches $11 billion settlement relating to wildfire claims -  PG&E said it has reached an $11 billion settlement agreement with entities representing about 85% of insurance subrogation claims relating to 2017 and 2018 wildfires.The California power provider said these claims were based on payments made by insurance companies to individuals and businesses with insurance coverage for wildfire damage.In January, PG&E filed for bankruptcy protection and faced up to $30 billion in fire liabilities shortly after its power lines sparked what became California's deadliest wildfire yet last fall. The Camp Fire, which burned in Paradise, California, last November, killed at least 86 people.Equipment owned and maintained by the company also started at least 17 of the 21 major wildfires that burned in California in 2017, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The company expects billions of dollars in losses, primarily from lawsuits filed by fire victims, businesses and insurance companies. Shares of PG&E were up 7% in late-morning trading after surging 10% earlier in the day. "Today's settlement is another step in doing what's right for the communities, businesses and individuals affected by the devastating wildfires," said Bill Johnson, president and CEO of PG&E.The $11 billion settlement is the utility's second major resolution of wildfire claims. PG&E and 18 other entities said they reached a $1 billion settlement in June.The company on Monday also unveiled the outlines of a reorganization plan that will pay $17.9 billion for claims stemming from the wildfires. That preliminary plan was immediately criticized by victims, who said that less than half of that is intended for them. The plan has payments capped at $8.4 billion for victims, payments capped at $8.5 billion for reimbursing insurers and a $1 billion settlement with local governments.

 7 Amazon Rainforest Countries Sign Pact to Come Together in Response to Wildfires -Seven Amazon countries signed a pact Friday to protect the world's largest tropical rainforest in response to the record-breaking number of wildfires that have blazed through the Amazon rainforest this summer, Reuters reported.  Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru and Suriname agreed to create a network to coordinate their responses to disasters like this summer's fires. They also promised to increase the satellite monitoring of deforestation, share information on threats to the forest like illegal mining, develop reforestation and education initiatives and increase the participation of Indigenous communities."This meeting will live on as a coordination mechanism for the presidents that share this treasure―the Amazon," Colombian President Ivan Duque said, as Reuters reported.Fires in Brazil, which contains 60 percent of the Amazon within its borders, are up 83 percent this year compared to last, according to Reuters. Fires are also raging in Bolivia on its border with Brazil and Paraguay, BBC News reported.  Right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, whose pro-industry policies and rhetoric have been blamed for the increase in fires, did not attend the conference in person because he was preparing for surgery.Instead, he attended via video. Bolsonaro, who rejected $22 million in aid from the G7 countries in August, urged the South American countries to manage the region without international interference."We must take a strong position of defense of sovereignty so that each country can develop the best policy for the Amazon region, and not leave it in the hands of other countries," Bolsonaro said, as AFP reported.

Amazon fires: Deforestation in Brazil triples in August, pointing to more blazes to come - Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest rose for the fourth straight month in August from a year earlier, according to preliminary government data released on Friday, adding to concerns over fires already ravaging the region. The Brazilian Amazon is facing its worst spate of forest fires since 2010, with news of the destruction of the world's largest rainforest last month prompting global outcry and worries that it could hurt demand for the country's exports. In the eight months through August, Amazon deforestation rose 92 per cent to 6404 square kilometres, an area roughly half the area of Sydney, according to preliminary data from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE). In August alone, deforestation more than tripled to 1700 square kilometres. Deforestation is often followed by burning to clear land for farming, so the destruction in August could signal more fires to come in the Amazon, according Ana Paula Aguiar, an INPE land use researcher now on leave at Stockholm University. "They cut trees and then later they start fires, so possibly [the spike in fires] will continue," Aguiar said. "If they have already deforested in the previous month, we'll see fire this month."

Fires consume more than 4.2 million acres of Bolivia’s forests - Massive fires in the eastern region of Bolivia continue to expand, threatening to destroy thousands of hectares of crops and pollute the air breathed by villagers with smoke and ash. While the word’s attention has been focused on the catastrophic destruction being wrought by fires in Brazil’s Amazon rain forest, Bolivia, across Brazil’s southwestern border, is also on fire. As with the Amazon blazes, the sharp increase in fires in Bolivia has been caused by dry summer heat exacerbated by climate change. They are also the result of deliberate burnings and expanded deforestation that flow from right-wing policies pursued by the government of President Evo Morales that are quite similar to those of Brazil’s fascistic President Jair Bolsonaro. With a month and a half left to Bolivia’s presidential election, Morales is facing a series of crises on several fronts. In addition to the spreading fires, there has been an upsurge in the class struggle, with strikes by health care workers, teachers, miners, students and factory workers that have paralyzed the transit in Bolivia’s capital and largest city, La Paz. Some of the strikes are led by Morales supporters, while others are being promoted by his adversaries, aiming to bring him down as one of the last links in what became known as Latin America’s “Pink Tide” of bourgeois nationalist and populist governments. A decree signed by Morales on July 9, authorized “controlled burns” to increase deforestation—expanding areas for raising livestock and opening up land for exploitation by the agribusiness sector. The decree, reflecting the growing pressure of the world economic slowdown on Bolivia’s exports, was a betrayal of the campaign promises he and his MAS ruling party made in the last election to reduce biofuel production. The international press has not let Bolivian events go without notice. According to the Economist, “Whatever reforms Morales pushed at the beginning of his long tenure as president, these are now being challenged by the world economic downturn. A report of the Center of Studies for Labor and Agrarian Development (CEDLA) said that what prevails today in Bolivia is ‘more subcontracting, and temporary jobs without social security’.” Online newspapers point out that the most affected area is Chiquitania—a region of tropical savannas in Santa Cruz, a Bolivian department with 3.32 million inhabitants. Also hard hit is the department of Beni, with a population of 420,000. So far, two people have been killed by the fires, a policeman and a volunteer fire fighter. Bolivian officials reported this week that the fires have devastated more than 1.7 million hectares (4.2 million acres) of land, more than double the destruction from just two weeks ago.

Who’s Responsible for the Ecocide in the Amazon? - There’s a cause for alarm as the world witnesses how the Amazon forests in Brazil, the Bolivian Chiquitanía and the Paraguayan swamps are being ravaged by uncontrolled fires. Approximately one million hectares of high biodiversity forests have been damaged so far by these fires, which are impressive, recurring, and quite obviously intentional.We are facing a catastrophe greater than anything previously seen, the consequences of which are unpredictable. The only apparent certainty that experts are willing to share is that regenerating these forests to their prior condition would take some 200 years. Noam Chomskyhas defined what is happening as a “crime against humanity.”The president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, appears today as the main culprit because, ever since his presidential campaign, he has been delivering hate speeches against indigenous peoples and their territories, calling them a “hindrance to development”. He has also attacked NGO-supported conservationist policies and current legislation limiting the expansion of agriculture and stockbreeding, as well as mining and oil drilling.Bolsonaro, who has the support of big investors and entrepreneurs, is championing a systematic plan to exploit and plunder the Amazon and any other resource-rich territory, arguing that the “the Amazon belongs to Brazilians.”Data confirming that the looting has already begun can be found in the latest National Institute for Space Research (INPE) reportswhich show that in the first seven months of this year, the rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has increased by 278%; and that the Amazonian territories ravaged by fire during this period are estimated at some 18.600 square kilometres (a 62% increase from last year) – to which should be added the fires that are still burning to this day. What we are facing here is nothing more and nothing less than a planned, systematic ecocide that ought to be judged by the whole mankind, and those responsible for it held to account. But over and above Brazil’s president, it is crucial to consider the role of and the pressure by the Brazilian business sectors behind the progress of the industries which are deforesting the Amazon – and to claim their liability.

Brazil worker who protected indigenous tribes killed in Amazon - Police in Brazil are investigating the murder of an official who had worked to protect indigenous people from farmers and loggers attempting to seize land. Maxciel Pereira dos Santos was reportedly shot twice in the head in the city of Tabatinga, near Brazil's borders with Colombia and Peru. Union officials said Mr Santos was shot in front of members of his family. The killing comes amid international outrage over the rate of destruction of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. At least 80,000 fires were recorded there between January and August this year - more than double the number in the same period last year. Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro has drawn intense domestic and international criticism for failing to protect the region. He has often stated support for farmers and loggers working in the region, while criticising environmental campaigners and slashing the budget of the country's environmental agency. The union which represents staff at Brazil's indigenous protection agency, Funai, said Mr Santos had been shot twice in the head as he drove his motorcycle down a busy street. INA officials said he was killed in retaliation for his work at the Vale do Javari reserve, where for years he helped prevent hunters, farmers and loggers illegally entering the area. The reserve is said to be home to the world's highest concentration of uncontacted indigenous tribes.

The air above Antarctica is suddenly getting warmer – here’s what it means for Australia - Record warm temperatures above Antarctica over the coming weeks are likely to bring above-average spring temperatures and below-average rainfall across large parts of New South Wales and southern Queensland. The warming began in the last week of August, when temperatures in the stratosphere high above the South Pole began rapidly heating in a phenomenon called “sudden stratospheric warming”. In the coming weeks the warming is forecast to intensify, and its effects will extend downward to Earth’s surface, affecting much of eastern Australia over the coming months. The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting the strongest Antarctic warming on record, likely to exceed the previous record of September 2002. Although we have seen plenty of weak or moderate variations in the polar vortex over the past 60 years, the only other true sudden stratospheric warming event in the Southern Hemisphere was in September 2002. In contrast, their northern counterpart occurs every other year or so during late winter of the Northern Hemisphere because of stronger and more variable tropospheric wave activity.Impacts from this stratospheric warming are likely to reach Earth’s surface in the next month and possibly extend through to January.Apart from warming the Antarctic region, the most notable effect will be a shift of the Southern Ocean westerly winds towards the Equator.For regions directly in the path of the strongest westerlies, which includes western Tasmania, New Zealand’s South Island, and Patagonia in South America, this generally results in more storminess and rainfall, and colder temperatures.But for subtropical Australia, which largely sits north of the main belt of westerlies, the shift results in reduced rainfall, clearer skies, and warmer temperatures.Past stratospheric warming events and associated wind changes have had their strongest effects in NSW and southern Queensland, where springtime temperatures increased, rainfall decreased and heatwaves and fire risk rose. The influence of the stratospheric warming has been captured by the Bureau’s climate outlooks, along with the influence of other major climate drivers such as the current positive Indian Ocean Dipole, leading to a hot and dry outlook for spring.

Democratic Presidential Candidates Face 7 Hours of Tough Questions on Climate Change, From Fracking to Fossil Fuels --CNN’s Wolf Blitzer kicked off a seven-hour long town hall on climate change with an unambiguous message of urgency on climate change. Many of the candidates offered multi-trillion dollar plans to address the crisis — as economists warn that the price of failing to act could be $69 trillion worldwide by the end of the century.  But the highlight of the evening wasn’t the economics nor was it the candidates. It was the questions — a mix of queries from CNN reporters, video-taped messages, and those attending the town hall in person. The questions were often nuanced and detailed — and drew on understandings shaped by both personal experience and professional expertise. They rolled in from a wide array of Americans: from homeowners concerned that long-loved homes in floodplains face a future of repeat flooding and worried about whether insurance programs will offer support or make their decisions more difficult; from members of the Sunrise Movement, who’d successfully pushed for a broadcast town hall on climate and who confronted candidates directly on their track records; from doctors and nurses asking about how to protect communities from the worst impacts of climate change and — with memories of the government’s inadequate response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico still so fresh — how politicians would ensure that communities of color would not be left out of those plans.There were survivors of climate-linked disasters like the Camp fire that incinerated much of Paradise, California; folks hailing from the fracked gas fields of Pennsylvania; a restaurant worker and a retiree; environmental lawyers; multiple Columbia University students; and Chantel Comardelle, executive secretary of the Isle de Jean Charles Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Tribe in Louisiana, which is not only contending with the long legacy of Indian Removal Act policies but also rising seas.

 World ‘gravely’ unprepared for effects of climate crisis – report -- The world’s readiness for the inevitable effects of the climate crisis is “gravely insufficient”, according to a report from global leaders.This lack of preparedness will result in poverty, water shortages and levels of migration soaring, with an “irrefutable toll on human life”, the report warns.Trillion-dollar investment is needed to avert “climate apartheid”, where the rich escape the effects and the poor do not, but this investment is far smaller than the eventual cost of doing nothing. The study says the greatest obstacle is not money but a lack of “political leadership that shakes people out of their collective slumber”. A “revolution” is needed in how the dangers of global heating are understood and planned for, and solutions are funded. The report has been produced by the Global Commission on Adaptation (GCA), convened by 18 nations including the UK. It has contributions from the former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, the Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, environment ministers from China, India and Canada, the heads of the World Bank and the UN climate and environment divisions, and others.Among the most urgent actions recommended are early-warning systems of impending disasters, developing crops that can withstand droughts and restoring mangrove swamps to protect coastlines, while other measures include painting roofs of homes white to reduce heatwave temperatures.In the foreword to the report, Ban, Gates and Kristalina Georgieva, the World Bank chief executive, write: “The climate crisis is here, now: massive wildfires ravage fragile habitats, city taps run dry, droughts scorch the land and massive floods destroy people’s homes and livelihoods. So far the response has been gravely insufficient.” Ban said: “I am really concerned about the lack of vision of political leaders. They are much more interested in getting elected and re-elected, and climate issues are not in their priorities.

What’s the Actual Cost of Not Addressing Climate Change? --The amount of carbon tax — a neoliberal solution — required to achieve just a modest reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 (graph, source). Bernie Sanders wants to reach 100 percent renewableenergy for electricity and transportation by no later than 2030 and complete decarbonization no later than 2050. One of those two ideas just might solve the problem, and the other has not a prayer of working. Every report on the release of Bernie Sanders’ Green New Deal plancontains at least one quote in which someone is shocked, dismayed or dismissive about the cost — $16 trillion in total — even though the plan will, as the proposal itself says, “pay for itself” in a number of ways:

  • This plan will pay for itself over 15 years. Experts have scored the plan and its economic effects. We will pay for the massive investment we need to reverse the climate crisis by:
  • Making the fossil fuel industry pay for their pollution, through litigation, fees, and taxes, and eliminating federal fossil fuel subsidies.
  • Generating revenue from the wholesale of energy produced by the regional Power Marketing Authorities. Revenues will be collected from 2023-2035, and after 2035 electricity will be virtually free, aside from operations and maintenance costs.
  • Scaling back military spending on maintaining global oil dependence.
  • Collecting new income tax revenue from the 20 million new jobs created by the plan.
  • Reduced need for federal and state safety net spending due to the creation of millions of good-paying, unionized jobs.
  • Making the wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share.

The proposal goes on to note (emphasis mine):The cost of inaction is unacceptable. Economists estimate that if we do not take action,we will lose $34.5 trillion in economic activity by the end of the century. And the benefits are enormous: by taking bold and decisive action, we will save $2.9 trillion over 10 years, $21 trillion over 30 years, and $70.4 trillion over 80 years.When it comes to number this big, the mind shuts down. Spending $16 to save $34 is easily understood. Spending $16,000 to save $34,000 is not beyond most imaginations. But spending $16 trillion to save $34 trillion? Those are scary numbers, no matter which side of the cost-benefit equation they’re on. The mind shuts down contemplating them, and Sanders’ opponents are hoping voters will be so frightened of of either one, they won’t begin to consider the importance of the moon-shot-type project he’s proposing.

Greta Thunberg Responds to Cost of Climate Action Critics: 'If We Can Save the Banks, We Can Save the World' -- During an event in New York City Monday night with author and environmentalist Naomi Klein, 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg had a simple message for those who claim it is "too expensive" to boldly confront the climate crisis with sweeping policies like a Green New Deal."If we can save the banks," said Thunberg, "we can save the world." "If there is something we are not lacking in this world, it's money," she added. "Of course, many people do lack money, but governments and these people in power, they do not lack money. And also we need to have the polluters... actually pay for the damage they have caused. So, to that argument, I would not even respond to that argument, because it has been said so many times, the money is there. What we lack now is political will and social will to do it."Watch Thunberg speaking on the right to a future at an event Hosted by Naomi Klein: The Right to a Future, with Naomi Klein and Greta Thunberg – YouTube   Thunberg arrived in New York late last month after nearly two weeks of sailing across the Atlantic. The young environmentalist made the journey ahead of the Sept. 20 global climate strikes, which she helped inspire through persistent activism that has included directly confronting world leaders and elites over their role in the planetary emergency.The strikes, which are expected to bring millions to the streets in over 150 countries, will coincide with the United Nations Summit on Climate Change on Sept. 23 in New York. "I want September 20 to be a tipping point," Thunberg said Monday night. "I want world leaders to feel like they have too many people watching them."

World Meteorological Organization Chief Castigates Climate Alarmists- It's Not The End Of The World -  The head of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) issued an unprecedented rebuke to climate alarmists in an interview published by a Finnish magazine on Sept. 6. Petteri Taalas, the secretary-general of the WMO, told Talouselämä magazine that he called for a calm and rational approach to the climate debate, and disagreed with those who are promoting end-of-the-world scenarios.“Now we should stay calm and ponder what is really the solution to this problem,” Taalas told Talouselämä magazine.“It is not going to be the end of the world. The world is just becoming more challenging. In parts of the globe, living conditions are becoming worse, but people have survived in harsh conditions.”The WMO and the United Nations Environment Programme created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988. Since then, the IPCC has become the leading institution worldwide to promote the theory that human activity contributes to global warming. Taalas said that while skepticism of the human-activity theory has abated in recent years, climate scientists are under increasing assault from radical climate extremists. “While climate skepticism has become less of an issue, now we are being challenged from the other side. Climate experts have been attacked by these people and they claim that we should be much more radical. They are doomsters and extremists; they make threats,” Taalas said. The head of the WMO noted that the media in his country are creating additional anxiety.

Climate change: Electrical industry’s ‘dirty secret’ boosts warming - It's the most powerful greenhouse gas known to humanity, and emissions have risen rapidly in recent years, the BBC has learned. Sulphur hexafluoride, or SF6, is widely used in the electrical industry to prevent short circuits and accidents. But leaks of the little-known gas in the UK and the rest of the EU in 2017 were the equivalent of putting an extra 1.3 million cars on the road. Levels are rising as an unintended consequence of the green energy boom. Cheap and non-flammable, SF6 is a colourless, odourless, synthetic gas. It makes a hugely effective insulating material for medium and high-voltage electrical installations. It is widely used across the industry, from large power stations to wind turbines to electrical sub-stations in towns and cities. It prevents electrical accidents and fires.   However, the significant downside to using the gas is that it has the highest global warming potential of any known substance. It is 23,500 times more warming than carbon dioxide (CO2). Just one kilogram of SF6 warms the Earth to the same extent as 24 people flying London to New York return. It also persists in the atmosphere for a long time, warming the Earth for at least 1,000 years.

Bill Gates Is Funding a Chemical Cloud That Could Put an End to Global Warming - Now you might be scratching your head a bit as solar geoengineering sounds like a plot point from a disaster movie. However, it is both a radical but potentially effective means of stopping global warming. For the uninitiated, this technology would go on to mimic the effects of a massive volcanic eruption. Andy Parker, project director at the Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative, told CNBC, “Modeling studies have found that it could reduce the intensity of heatwaves, for instance, apparently it could reduce the rate of sea-level rise. It could reduce the intensity of tropical storms.”Basically, planes would fly at high altitudes, spraying millions of tons of particles around the planet to create a massive chemical cloud that would cool the surface. However, do not get too excited yet. The technology is not officially ready but is coming close. Even more so, the process could go on to affect regional weather patterns. Even more so, it could potentially eradicate the blue sky.  However, the good news is that this process is affordable. Stephen Gardiner, author of “A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change shared his opinions about the technology stating, “These consequences might be horrific. They might involve things like mass famine, mass flooding, drought of kinds that will affect very large populations.” It will be interesting to see if this becomes a viable solution as the potential side effects to the process could be very bad. Nevertheless, it seems the benefits could outweigh the overall side effects.

Biofuel plan faces fresh backlash from U.S. agricultural trade groups -(Reuters) - U.S. agricultural trade groups on Friday told the Trump administration a proposed biofuel reform package falls short of expectations, four sources familiar with discussions said, complicating plans the administration had for presenting the proposal to President Donald Trump. Trump was expected to meet with Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Agriculture officials on Friday afternoon to discuss the proposal meant to assuage farmers angry about biofuel blending exemptions given to oil refineries, a separate source said. Trump has found himself in a political bind as he looks to appease two of his most prized constituencies – Big Oil and Big Corn - to again propel him into the presidency next year. The proposed plan would include an increase to biofuels requirements for 2020 of 1 billion gallons (3.8 billion liters), sources said. The plan already faced backlash during a conference call the USDA held early Friday with biofuels advocates to detail plans, sources said. The agricultural industry wants the administration to force larger refineries to make up for the exempted gallons through a process called “reallocation,” but it has not committed to that yet, the sources said. “Plants are closing now. Farmers are going bankrupt now. The biofuel industry made it clear that restoring the exempted gallons by 2020 is the only way to stop the bleeding,” said a biofuel source familiar with the call. “Anything short of that is going to face united opposition, which means the president won’t want to show his face in Iowa.”

Sen. Brown Says EPA Rule Waivers Hurt Ohio Farmers -Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is criticizing the Trump administration for EPA rule waivers that he says are hurting Ohio farmers. The rules had required large oil companies to produce a certain amount of biofuel like ethanol. By waiving the requirements of the Renewable Fuel Standard, Brown says it takes a market away from Ohio farmers who sell corn to be turned into ethanol. “It means that instead of corn farmers selling more corn, ethanol to the oil companies, to these refineries, it means the oil companies win again and corn farmers in Ohio and elsewhere lose again," he says. Since Trump took office, Brown says the administration has issued 85 waivers, reducing the demand for biofuels by 1.4 billion gallons. This week, Brown, along with Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tina Smith (D-MN) and other Senate colleagues, sent a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, calling on the EPA to stop the abuse of these waivers causing harm to rural communities across the country. "This pattern of demand destruction is wreaking havoc on our nation's rural economy. ... At a time when farmers are already struggling after years of low prices and a chaotic trade agenda, this Administration chose to destroy more markets for farmers," the letter says.

Refining CEOs met with Trump, seeking concessions on U.S. biofuels policy -sources - (Reuters) - The chief executives of two of the largest U.S. refining companies met with President Trump and other officials on Wednesday, seeking concessions in ongoing negotiations over biofuels laws, according to two sources familiar with discussions.Valero Energy CEO Joe Gorder and Marathon Petroleum CEO Gary Heminger were at the White House on Wednesday, the sources said, amid ongoing wrangling by the administration to try to find ways to satisfy warring agricultural and oil interests over biofuels. The White House is expected to meet with U.S. Senators from key farm states later on Thursday and senators representing oil-producing states on Friday, the sources said.

Big Ag Is Sabotaging Progress on Climate Change -  The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report, on “Climate Change and Land,” warns that meeting the challenges of our climate crisis requires urgent changes in our food systems.  The IPCC identifies a range of impacts on land, water, and other natural resources, and offers a set of welcome if unsurprising recommendations to both reduce the contributions of our food systems to climate change and adapt to feed a global population expected to grow to nearly 10 billion by 2050. They include: Stop draining wetlands to grow biofuels; reduce demand for beef and strengthen regulations to prevent deforestation in critical areas like the Amazon; cut food waste, which now squanders one-third of consumable food; reduce excessive fertilizer use; and improve cropping systems to turn croplands from heavy greenhouse-gas emitters to carbon sinks.  But agribusiness, under the banner of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, lobbies governments to subsidize expanding fossil-fuel-based fertilizers and commercial seeds. In Malawi, for example, 40 to 60 percent of the government’s agricultural budget funds these subsidies for farmers to purchase commercial products they otherwise couldn’t afford. They don’t end up getting enough of a yield increase to pay for the inputs, and their land becomes more acidic, less fertile, with the repeated corn crops fed by these fertilizers. At best, this wastes scarce government resources. At worst, this perpetuates the kind of unsustainable, fossil-fuel-intensive agriculture the IPCC is warning us about. But it’s good for Monsanto. The agrochemical giant sells 50 percent of Malawi’s commercial corn seeds, and their sales would plummet if the subsidies were eliminated or redirected to more productive uses. The company is actively trying to expand markets by preventing farmers from saving seeds from their last harvests, which the majority of farmers still do. I discovered that a former Monsanto executive had even drafted Malawi’s national seed policy, which threatened to outlaw farmers’ rights to save, exchange, and sell their seeds. Farm groups successfully removed some of the worst provisions, but the bill still threatens the sale of farm-saved seed. Monsanto and fellow agro behemoths have also campaigned to open Mexico to the cultivation of genetically modified corn.  Citizens and farmers have complained that the release of such corn, which pollinates through the wind, would threaten the integrity of Mexico’s remarkable repository of some 23,000 varieties of native corn that have evolved over millennia.

Trump defends lightbulb efficiency rollback: 'I look better under an incandescent light' - President Trump quipped at a Monday evening rally that his administration’s rollback of energy efficiency standards for lightbulbs was due to the fact that he looked better under less efficient bulbs. "I'm not a vain person. ... But I look better under an incandescent light than these crazy lights that are beaming down," Trump told a crowd in Fayetteville, N.C., on Monday.The administration finalized the reversal of Obama-era efficiency standards last week, rolling back the rules for about half of lightbulbs. Critics of the move say it will hasten climate change by requiring the U.S. to produce more energy to power the less efficient bulbs. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), whose home state is one of several that have passed state laws to keep the Obama-era standards in place, pledged to restore them at the federal level as president last week at a climate change town hall hosted by CNN. “If you can get electricity from a lightbulb that utilizes one-tenth of the power that an old incandescent lightbulb uses, of course you're going to do that. Of course, you're going to encourage that technology,” Sanders said.

Should there be a tax on short, cheap flights? -- We go on about Why cheap mass air travel must be stopped, because it it is crazy. In Europe, where there are wonderful fast trains, it's so much cheaper to fly. Now a former German transport minister, Alexander Dobrindt, is proposing that a floor price be set on air tickets.Writing in Bloomberg, Leonid Bershidsky notes that airlines get a break that nobody else gets: their fuel isn't taxed, thanks to a 1944 international agreement. Tickets are taxed, but lightly and weirdly, depending on whether it is intra-EU or extra-EU (Britons, prepare to pay more after Brexit), which has nothing to do with its carbon footprint. A tax scale that goes up with the distance traveled is plainly a mistake, too. Of course, the longer the flight, the higher the absolute amount of carbon emitted per passenger. But the idea of a smart environmental levy on airfares shouldn’t be to discourage long-distance travel, because it’s rather pointless. For people planning an intercontinental trip, or even one across Europe, there’s no reasonable alternative to flying. All the flying people do in Europe is crazy, because people really do have alternatives. Bershidsky tells us that "there’s no justification for flying, say, from Brussels to London, from Barcelona to Madrid, or from Rome to Milan – it’s faster by train when airport waiting times are taken into consideration." But the price of flying is so low that people do it instead. Former Minister Dobrindt wants a tax on all flights under 50 Euros, because they are the worst for carbon emitted per mile traveled, and they are the ones for which there could be alternatives.

The next target in the climate-change debate: your gas stove (Reuters) - Dozens of cities in liberal-leaning states such as California, Washington, and Massachusetts are studying proposals to ban or limit the use of natural gas in commercial and residential buildings. The movement opens a new front in the fight against climate change that could affect everything from heating systems in skyscrapers to stoves in suburban homes. Berkeley, California, in July became the first U.S. city to pass an ordinance banning gas systems in new buildings, and it may soon be followed by many others, according to interviews with local officials, activists and industry groups. Los Angeles and Seattle are among those considering laws that could drastically reduce natural gas consumption. “Berkeley is the opening salvo,” said Bruce Nilles, managing director of think tank Rocky Mountain Institute’s building electrification program. Local officials and environmentalists cite mounting evidence that unburned gas leaking from pipes and compressor stations harms the climate more than carbon dioxide, the byproduct of burned fossil fuels. Many environmentalists until recently considered natural gas a “bridge fuel” to a future of renewable energy because gas burns cleaner than oil or coal. Now local officials are stepping into what they call a federal regulatory void under the administration of President Donald Trump, who argues fossil-fuel restrictions needlessly damage the economy.

Wind Energy Has A Waste Problem: Disposing Of The Turbines - While most of a turbine can be recycled or find a second life on another wind farm, researchers estimate the U.S. will have more than 720,000 tons of blade material to dispose of over the next 20 years, a figure that doesn't include newer, taller higher-capacity versions. There aren't many options to recycle or trash turbine blades, and what options do exist are expensive, partly because the U.S. wind industry is so young. It's a waste problem that runs counter to what the industry is held up to be: a perfect solution for environmentalists looking to combat climate change, an attractive investment for companies such as Budweiser and Hormel Foods, and a job creator across the Midwest and Great Plains. At the end of a long gravel road on the southwest Nebraska prairie, the turbine scrap area looks more like a sci-fi drama set. Rob Van Vleet climbed atop a 127-foot-long turbine blade and walked the length like a plank. "These towers may be supporting as much as 150,000 pounds, 250 feet in the air," Van Vleet said. "The stands are an inch and a half thick steel ... so they're very strong." Ninety percent of a turbine's parts can be recycled or sold, according to Van Vleet, but the blades, made of a tough but pliable mix of resin and fiberglass — similar to what spaceship parts are made from — are a different story. "The blades are kind of a dud because they have no value," he said. Decommissioned blades are also notoriously difficult and expensive to transport. They can be anywhere from 100 to 300 feet long and need to be cut up onsite before getting trucked away on specialized equipment — which costs money — to the landfill.   Cindy Langstrom manages the turbine blade disposal project for the municipal landfill in Casper, Wyo. Though her landfill is one of the only ones in the state — not to mention the entire U.S. — with enough space to take wind farm waste, she said the blades' durability initially posed a financial hurdle. "Our crushing equipment is not big enough to crush them," she said. Langstrom's team eventually settled on cutting up the blades into three pieces and stuffing the two smaller sections into the third, which was cheaper than renting stronger crushing machines that are usually made for mining.

GE Investigates new wind turbine collapse in Brazil - (Reuters) - General Electric Co is investigating the cause of another accident involving wind power equipment it built and installed on a wind farm in Brazil operated by power company Omega, the two companies said on Thursday. On Tuesday, a GE wind turbine fell to the ground from its tower at the Delta 6 wind farm in Brazil’s northern Maranhao state. A worker is being treated for injuries. Two months ago another turbine made by GE collapsed in Brazil when its tower broke in half. There have been three such collapses of GE wind turbines in the United States this year. “We are working to contain and solve these problems as soon as possible to guarantee the safety and reliability of our equipment,” GE’s Brazilian unit said in reply to a request for comment by Reuters. “We are working to find the causes behind the accident,” GE said, adding that it was giving assistance to the worker injured in the accident and his family. Omega said it was working with GE to discover the cause of the accident. RDS Energia, a Brazilian consultancy that develops wind farm projects, said this type of accident was unusual, since towers and turbines are designed to resist winds of up to 300 km (186 miles) per hour.

 California solar/storage deal beats natural gas on price -  For a long time, there were two big knocks against solar power: It’s expensive, and it can’t keep the lights on after sundown.A contract approved Tuesday by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power shows how much that reality has changed.Under the 25-year deal with developer 8minute Solar Energy, the city would buy electricity from a sprawling complex of solar panels and lithium-ion batteries in the Mojave Desert of eastern Kern County, about two hours north of Los Angeles. The Eland project would meet 6% to 7% of L.A.'s annual electricity needs and would be capable of pumping clean energy into the grid for four hours each night.The combined solar power and energy storage is priced at 3.3 cents per kilowatt-hour — a record low for this type of contract, city officials and independent experts say, and cheaper than electricity from natural gas. The Eland deal’s approval was delayed last month after DWP staff said concerns had been raised by the union representing employees of the city-run utility. It wasn’t clear whether the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 had specific objections to the Eland project. But the union has been on the attack against L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti since his decision in February to shut down three natural-gas-fired power plants along the coast, which could force hundreds of union workers to transition to new jobs.

Asia's growing coal use could negate global climate change progress, UN says (Reuters) - Asia's heavy and expanding reliance on coal power risks cancelling out global progress towards preventing catastrophic climate change, a top United Nations official warned on Wednesday. While developing economies such as India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam increasingly turn to cheap coal to meet fast-growing demand for electricity, some nations are ramping up use of renewable energy, although its share of the total fuel mix for power generation is still small. Asian countries must set more ambitious goals to contribute to global efforts to curb climate change, said Ovais Sarmad, the deputy executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. "There are certain countries in this region still relying heavily on coal and fossil fuels as sources of energy, and in some areas that is growing," he told Reuters in an interview. "That's a very, very serious problem because ... all those gains that had been made in other parts of the world would be completely negated." Further warming could push the climate system closer to irreversible tipping points, scientists warn, raising the risk of harvest failures, forced migration, mass extinction of species, ecosystem collapse and societal breakdown. Some major Asian cities, such as Bangkok, Jakarta and Manila, are also at risk of submersion, as sea levels rise.

 Oil and gas companies undermining climate goals, says report - Major oil and gas companies have invested $50bn (£40.6bn) in fossil fuel projects that undermine global efforts to avert a runaway climate crisis, according to a report. Since the start of last year, fossil fuel companies have spent billions on high-cost plans to extract oil and gas from tar sands, deepwater fields and the Arctic despite the risks to the climate and shareholder returns. Carbon Tracker, a financial thinktank, found that ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and BP each spent at least 30% of their investment in 2018 on projects that are inconsistent with climate targets, and would be “deep out of the money in a low-carbon world”. Andrew Grant, the author of the report, said: “Every oil major is betting heavily against a 1.5C world and investing in projects that are contrary to the Paris goals.” The study is the first to analyse individual projects to test whether they are compliant with a 1.5C world, and whether they would be financially sustainable in a low-carbon world. It found that none of the largest listed oil and gas companies are making investment decisions that are in line with global climate goals, and risk wasting $2.2tn (£1.8tn) by 2030 if governments take a tougher stance on carbon emissions.

Conservation groups declare victory over TVA, withdraw Supreme Court petition - Two conservation groups have withdrawn their U.S. Supreme Court petition to force the Tennessee Valley Authority to remove 50 years’ worth of coal ash from unlined disposal ponds along the Cumberland River, saying a consent decree in a state-court regulatory action has made their federal litigation unnecessary. In a motion to dismiss filed Wednesday, the Tennessee Clean Water Network and the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association say they have “achieved the principal goals they sought through this Clean Water Act suit” by intervening in the state-court enforcement action by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. To read the full story on Westlaw Practitioner Insights, click here:

As Duke Energy updates Belews plant, concerns remain over coal ash  It’s been five months since state regulators ordered Duke Energy to excavate coal ash at six remaining sites across North Carolina, including Belews Creek in Stokes County. The power company is appealing that decision as not supported by scientific evidence, but in the meantime, it’s taking steps to modernize its equipment and find ways to limit the impact of coal ash. Company spokesman Bill Norton points to a buoy floating on a waste pond where 12 million tons of coal ash sits underneath. “If you take a look at the ash basin, you see how far down that water level is,” says Norton. “We’ve been removing the water from the ash basin since March. And regardless of how the basin is ultimately closed, the single biggest step is de-watering the basin, removing the ponded water.” State law requires Duke Energy to close all of its basins by 2030, but where the coal ash stored in this pond will end up isn’t clear. Once the water is out, the country’s largest electric company plans to partially excavate the basin and cover it with a waterproof top, a method known as cap-in-place. It’s one of two primary methods the Environmental Protection Agency says can be used to safely close these basins. “It makes a lot more sense to close it where it is rather than dig it all up, have emissions from trucks, have a lot of noise and have that go on for more than a decade just to move it to the other side of the road,” says Norton.

Coal Miners Doubt Promises of an Inclusive Energy Transition --As coal mines shutter across the country and the prevalence of black lung increases, American coal workers say they are running out of hope for a political fix. “We’re starting to think that the government is just waiting for us all to die and go away,” Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, said at a media briefing this week.After years of fighting for health care and pension plan protection with limited success, the union leader said coal miners are skeptical of campaign promises to support their flagging industry as coal is phased out of the power system.“People are talking about us needing a transition,” said Roberts. “Well, our transition unfortunately has been at the bankruptcy courts, and what you get out of a bankruptcy court is whatever your union can win for you.” Roberts spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, ahead of CNN’s televised climate town hall with leading Democratic primary candidates. The union leader said the Green New Deal and other progressive climate proposals would eliminate coal-mining jobs and threaten the middle-class lifestyle coal workers and their families currently enjoy.At current salary levels, Roberts argued that miners would need two solar installation jobs in order to earn what they make now. He cautioned that building trade and utility jobs would also be at risk. “I don’t think a good starting point for Democrats is to eliminate union jobs,” Roberts said.

Mitch McConnell Blocked Millions for Coal Miners, Steered Funds to Russian-Backed Plant --Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last month blocked a measure that would have used Treasury Department funds marked for Appalachian development to help pay for coal miners’ health care and pensions in his home state of Kentucky. But just a few months earlier, McConnell successfully steered near-identical Treasury funds for Appalachia to bankroll a Kentucky aluminum plant connected to an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Democrats on Capitol Hill have raised concerns for months about McConnell’s connection to the aluminum plant. It’s one of several reasons why McConnell’s political opponents have tried to stick him with the nickname “Moscow Mitch.” But what’s gone largely unnoticed as the sobriquet has become a social media trending topic is how McConnell worked to keep money out of coal miners’ hands—even as he maneuvered to steer federal funds to the Russian-linked plant.The scrutiny started in January, when McConnell voted to lift sanctions on Rusal, a Russian aluminum company formerly headed by Putin ally Oleg Deripaska, despite several of his Republican colleagues defecting and voting no. Rusal’s de-listing caused an uproar among Democrats on Capitol Hill who viewed the deal the Treasury Department put together with Rusal as too lenient.  Then, in April, the focus turned to McConnell. Just days after the Treasury Department announced the official de-listing of Rusal, the company announced a $200 million investment in the Braidy Industries aluminum plant in the northeastern part of Kentucky. Democrats raised questions about how much McConnell knew about Rusal’s investment plan before he voted for sanctions relief. Rusal is the only outside investor in the plant.

 Key waste-processing facility at Savannah River Site approaching start up, operations  — The Salt Waste Processing Facility at the Savannah River Site is nearing operational status, a feat that once achieved will greatly influence, and likely hasten, nuclear waste cleanup at the site. The processing facility, right now undergoing testing and commissioning ahead of radioactive use, could start up by the end of the year (ahead of a 2021 deadline), according to a presentation slide shown Wednesday during a speech by Todd Shrader, the principal deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management. Shrader, though, was less committed to that timeline in his actual remarks. Environmental Management, this year celebrating its 30th birthday, is the Savannah River Site landlord. Shrader is now the No. 2 official at the remediation office. Earlier this year, Savannah River Site manager Michael Budney said the processing facility was moving forward and toward full-on operations. The Energy Department's fiscal year 2020 budget justification documents corroborated that outlook. SWPF is designed to be a liquid-waste workhorse; the multibillion-dollar facility is set to, once online, process millions of gallons of radioactive waste each year, much more than what is currently being done. The more than 30 million gallons of waste stored in aging, underground tanks at the site has previously been described as South Carolina's single largest environmental concern.

Japan may have to dump radioactive water into the sea, minister says - (Reuters) - Japan’s Tokyo Electric Power will have to dump radioactive water from its destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean as it runs out of room to store it, the environment minister said on Tuesday. Tokyo Electric, or Tepco, has collected more than 1 million tonnes of contaminated water from the cooling pipes used to keep fuel cores from melting since the plant was crippled by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011. “The only option will be to drain it into the sea and dilute it,” the minister, Yoshiaki Harada, told a news briefing in Tokyo. “The whole of the government will discuss this, but I would like to offer my simple opinion.” The government is awaiting a report from an expert panel before making a final decision on how to dispose of the radioactive water. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, in a separate press briefing, described Harada’s comments as “his personal opinion”.

Japan May Dump Radioactive Fukushima Water Into the Pacific in 'Only Option' of Disposal - The operator of the ruined Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant may have to dump huge amounts of contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean. The company no longer has room to store it, said Yoshiaki Harada, Japan's environment minister, today, as Japan Today reported.Eight years after an earthquake and tsunami triggered Japan's worst nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which is 160 miles north of Tokyo, Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) has continued to pump water in to cool fuel cores. Once it is used and contaminated, the water is put into storage, according toCNN.TEPCO has collected more than 1 million metric tons of contaminated water used to cool the nuclear reactor. "The only option will be to drain it into the sea and dilute it," said Harada at a news briefing in Tokyo, asJapan Today. "The whole of the government will discuss this, but I would like to offer my simple opinion."Harada did not say how much water would need to be released into the ocean.However, in a separate press briefing, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, said Harada's comments were "his personal opinion.""There is no fact that the method of disposal of contaminated water has been decided," said Suga, as CNNreported. "The government would like to make a decision after making thorough discussion," he said.TEPCO is not able to say what will be done with the contaminated water, but will have to wait for a government decision, a spokesperson said, as Japan Today reported. Dumping the waste into the ocean will anger local fisherman and Japan's neighbors.Last month, South Korea's government minister for environmental affairs, Kwon Se-jung, summoned Tomofumi Nishinaga, head of economic affairs at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, how the Fukushima water would be handled, according to CNN. "The South Korean government is well aware of the impact of the treatment of the contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant on the health and safety of the people of both countries, and to the entire nation," said a South Korean ministry press release.

Japan to Release Radioactive Fukushima Wastewater Into Pacific Ocean — The far-reaching dangers of nuclear power were on full display Tuesday as Japan’s environmental minister recommended releasing more than one million tons of radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi plant into the Pacific Ocean nearly a decade after a tsunami caused a meltdown at the coastal facility.“There are no other options” other than dumping the water into the ocean and diluting it, Yoshiaki Harada said at a news conference in Tokyo.Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga disputed Harada’s claim, saying the government has not settled on a method of disposing of the wastewater. Other options include vaporizing the water and storing it on land. But critics on social media said the suggestion of pouring contaminated water into the Pacific is more than enough evidence that the risks associated with nuclear power are too great to continue running plants like Fukushima. The wastewater has been stored in tanks at Fukushima since the 2011 tsunami, when a meltdown at the plant forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. For years since the disaster, the plant has pumped tens of thousands of tons of water to help cool its damaged reactor cores and keep them from melting. After the water is used and contaminated with radionuclides and radioactive isotopes, it is stored in the tanks, but the plant expects to run out of room in 2022. The Atomic Energy Society of Japan said recently that it could take 17 years for water to meet safety standards after it is diluted.Greenpeace, which has long called on the Japanese government to invest in technology to remove radioactivity from the water, said the environmental minister’s proposal is unacceptable.“The government must commit to the only environmentally acceptable option for managing this water crisis which is long-term storage and processing to remove radioactivity, including tritium,” Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist the group’s German office, told France 24. The government of neighboring South Korea expressed grave concerns over the potential plan to dump the water into the Pacific, saying it planned to work closely with Japan to come up with an alternative.

Japan's New Environmental Minister Calls for Closing Down All Nuclear Reactors to Prevent Another Disaster Like Fukushima -  Japan's new environmental minister, Shinjiro Koizumi, called Wednesday for permanently shutting down the nation's nuclear reactors to prevent a repeat of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, comments that came just a day after Koizumi's predecessor recommended dumping more than one million tons of radioactive wastewater from the power plant into the Pacific Ocean.  Koizumi was appointed to his position Wednesday as part of a broader shake-up of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet. He is the 38-year-old son of former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, a vocal critic of nuclear energy.  "I would like to study how we will scrap them, not how to retain them," the younger Koizumi, whose ministry oversees Japan's nuclear regulator, said during his first news conference late Wednesday. "We will be doomed if we allow another nuclear accident to occur. We never know when we'll have an earthquake." In March of 2011, a powerful earthquake triggered a tsunami that caused the meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant on Japan's northeastern coast, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee radiation around the plant.   After the disaster, all 54 of Japan's nuclear reactors were shut down. Reuters reported Wednesday that "about 40 percent of the pre-Fukushima fleet is being decommissioned" and only six reactors are currently operating. Amid drawn out legal battles over the impacts of the meltdown, campaigners have ramped up opposition to nuclear power generation in the country. However, some Japanese politicians, including the current prime minister, have argued that nuclear energy is necessary to meet national climate goals. According to The Guardian:Japan's government wants nuclear power to comprise 20 percent to 22 percent of the overall energy mix by 2030, drawing criticism from campaigners who say nuclear plants will always pose a danger given the country's vulnerability to large earthquakes and tsunamis. Abe, however, has called for reactors to be restarted, arguing that nuclear energy will help Japan achieve its carbon dioxide emissions targets and reduce its dependence on imported gas and oil.

Planned Lake Erie wind farm back on track after fee paid - - The review process has resumed for a planned Lake Erie wind farm after the non-profit developer behind the project paid an outstanding bill from state regulators on Thursday.  Officials with the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation filed a document saying they’d paid $150,000 to the Ohio Power Siting Board, the state agency responsible for reviewing and approving wind-turbine projects. Agency review for the project, referred to by LEEDCo as “Icebreaker,” was frozen last week after the Aug. 12 bill went unpaid for weeks.  The filing doesn’t say why LeedCo delayed in paying the bill. An administrative law judge later Thursday ordered the review process to resume, with filings due in October and November.  LEEDCo previously paid a $50,000 application fee when the project review started in 2017, but the agency’s review costs have exceeded that as the approval process has dragged on due to its complexity and controversy, according to agency staff. The Icebreaker project envisions building six wind turbines roughly eight miles off the coast of Cleveland, with construction beginning as soon as 2021. When it was launched, the project was budgeted to cost $126 million and provide 20.7 megawatts of electricity. It would be the first freshwater renewable energy project in North America.  The project, which has been discussed for years, has been going through a lengthy review process involving multiple state and federal agencies. It cleared a major regulatory hurdle in May, when developers agreed to a list of 33 project stipulations sought by state regulators that attempt to address environmental and other concerns.

In Measure Overhauling Energy Policy, Ohio Pivots Away From Green Energy -NPR Morning Edition – audio - While most states are embracing green energy plans, Ohio appears to be doing the opposite. A new law props up struggling coal plants and trims support for renewable energy forms.

Ads claim voter referendum would allow 'China to control Ohio’s power' | Toledo Blade — Inspired by national headlines, a group seeking to derail a proposed voter referendum on a new law rescuing Ohio’s two nuclear power plants has put the Chinese government front and center in what has so far been a nearly $2.3 million ad blitz. “They took our manufacturing jobs. They shuttered our factories. Now they’re coming for our energy jobs,” a TV ad states amid images of the Chinese flag and uniformed soldiers’ in high-kick marching mode. These images are interspersed with the faces of apparent employees at the Davis-Besse plant in Oak Harbor and Perry plant east of Cleveland. Some are familiar to viewers from ads that aired earlier this year to build support for passage of House Bill 6, which surcharge consumers’ monthly electric bills to send $150 million a year to the plants’ owner, FirstEnergy Solutions, or its post-bankruptcy successor. Davis-Besse and Perry, directly employing about 1,400 people, were targeted for decommissioning in 2020 and 2021, respectively, absent the consumer subsidies. “That ad is powerful,” said Ian James, a former ballot issue campaign professional who is currently involved in the legal hemp and cannabis arenas. “It will almost certainly have a chilling effect on signature gathering, depending on the reach and volume of its air time,” he said. All of this comes before opponents of the law have even filed the signatures to put the question on the November, 2020 ballot. The law will take effect on Oct. 21 unless opponents file at least 265,774 valid signatures of registered voters to put it on hold pending the vote. Columbus-based Medium Buying has tracked the ad buy. Ohioans for Energy Security, the group supporting the law’s preservation, has purchased nearly $1.5 million in TV time to air through Tuesday, including $118,000 in the Toledo market. It has also purchased $607,857 in ads for cable and $228,499 for radio. “Don’t sign your name to a plan that kills Ohio…,” the TV ad states. “China turned off the power on Ohio manufacturing. Don’t let them do it to you. Don’t sign the petition allowing China to control Ohio’s power.”

Ohio nuclear bailout defenders deploy ground troops to thwart repeal effort’s signature collection -— They’ve already hit Ohio’s airwaves and mailboxes. Now, the political defenders of a new Ohio law propping up two Ohio nuclear plants are hitting the streets.Generation Now, a pro-House Bill 6 political group, has hired on-the-ground workers to try to prevent voters from signing petitions from a different group seeking to place an HB6 repeal on the November 2020 ballot.Political professionals generally refer to this category of campaign workers as “blockers,” who are tasked with interfering with the signature collection process. But Generation Now spokesman Curt Steiner called them “educators.”“They’re going to be going to places where there’s a likelihood that there will be activity to gather signatures,” Steiner said. “They’ve also been asked, where they see people, to be polite, give them information and don’t interfere with anyone trying to sign a petition.”Gene Pierce, a spokesman for Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, the group collecting the signatures, said the blockers’ early tactics have been aggressive.“Nobody wants to step into a tense situation,” he said. “So if someone’s coming out of a library and there’s a heated conversation, or someone’s acting aggressive toward another person, the natural inclination is to walk away.”“We are still getting our signatures our numbers are going up, but this is coming close to the edge of intimidating and harassment,” he said. The blockers are being recruited, trained and organized by FieldWorks, a Washington, D.C. firm that specializes in both sides of ballot issues — the collection of petition signatures and what the firm calls “defensive strategies” to prevent them.“What we know is that the petitioners will be out there telling people all sorts of things trying to get them to sign petitions,” Steiner said. “They’ll say anything because it’s a bounty hunt. And we’re trying to make sure people understand that there’s more than one side to the story.”

NATURAL GAS: Judges: FERC 'failed' on pipeline approval -- Monday, September 9, 2019 -- E&E News --Opponents of the Nexus natural gas pipeline are celebrating a partial win after a federal appeals court decision Friday that could have ripple effects for U.S. energy exports.

 Court orders federal agency to explain pipeline decision— The nation’s top appeals court has ruled that a federal agency must explain why it approved a pipeline sending substantial quantities of natural gas to Canada and allowed the energy companies to force U.S. citizens to sell property so construction could begin. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia agreed with Oberlin, Ohio, and other plaintiffs Friday that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission failed to justify giving owners of the NEXUS Gas Transmission pipeline credit for gas shipped to Canada to prove the project’s need. FERC officials declined to comment Tuesday about the ruling. Opponents long argued it was unlawful for the pipeline owners, Canada’s Enbridge Inc. and Detroit’s DTE Energy, to force U.S. citizens to sell property under legal threat so the 255-mile-long (412-kilometer-long) pipeline stretching across northern Ohio and into Michigan could be built. Plaintiff attorney Carolyn Elefant told a three-judge panel during oral arguments in May that about one-third of the pipeline’s daily capacity of 1.5 billion cubic feet (40 million cubic meters) per day was being shipped to a massive trading and storage hub in Ontario. The decision dismissed the remaining claims made by Oberlin and other opponents and allowed the pipeline, which began transporting gas from Appalachian shale fields in October, to remain in service. FERC attorney Carol Banta told the court in May that 93 percent of the pipeline was built without using eminent domain. Judge Robert Wilkins responded: “Even if it’s 1% of eminent domain needed, that’s someone’s property being taken, and that raises constitutional issues.” Attorney David Mucklow said the decision is a “great victory for enforcing people’s property rights in the United States.” “It’s going to force FERC to handle these types of cases differently,” Mucklow said, adding that people who sold property after being sued by NEXUS were forced to negotiate “with a gun to their heads.”

Court rules federal agency must revisit NEXUS pipeline approval - The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will have to reexamine its rationale for approving a controversial natural gas pipeline that cuts across the state and into Michigan. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit ruled FERC failed to adequately justify its approval of the NEXUS Gas Transmission pipeline when the company has contracts with Canadian shippers. The 256-mile-long NEXUS Gas Transmission pipeline, which crosses through Oberlin, carries gas to markets in northern Ohio, southeastern Michigan and Ontario, Canada. It begins and ends in the United States, but two of the companies it is contracted with are Canadian companies serving customers in Canada. The city of Oberlin petitioned the court to take up the case last year, receiving the latest judgement Friday. Eminent domain, the act of taking private property with compensation for public use, was used to construct the pipeline. Oberlin's petition argued a private pipeline selling gas to foreign shippers did not qualify as a "public use." Oberlin's attorney, Carolyn Elefant, argued nearly a third of the pipeline's daily capacity is headed to Canada. FERC's attorney countered that most of the gas shipped through the pipeline will be used in the United States and some of what is sent to Canada could be sold back to the U.S. The court opinion notes the FERC did not consider if the public benefits of the pipeline outweigh its disadvantages, and did not explain why it was lawful to issue the certificate that allowed for the pipeline's construction as an interstate pipeline. The court rejected Oberlin's other arguments, including two arguments on the pipeline's safety. The court's decision did not overturn FERC's original approval of the pipeline — allowing NEXUS to continue to operate — but could impact similar projects going forward.

Sale of Ohio pipeline to NEXUS to come with FTC conditions - Sierra Leone Times - Joint venture NEXUS Gas Transmission, LLC, and its member companies, DTE Energy Company and Enbridge Inc., will settle Federal Trade Commission charges that the joint venture's acquisition of an Ohio pipeline would likely harm competition to provide natural gas pipeline transportation in a three-county area that includes Toledo, Ohio.According to the FTC's complaint, NEXUS, which is owned in equal shares by DTE and Enbridge, agreed in January to pay $160 million for Generation Pipeline LLC. Generation owns and operates a 23-mile pipeline in the Toledo, Ohio area.The complaint alleges that NEXUS's purchase of Generation from North Coast Gas Transmission LLC ("North Coast") and several other owners is anticompetitive due to a non-compete clause that keeps North Coast from competing to provide natural gas pipeline transportation, for three years after the acquisition closes, in parts of the Ohio counties of Lucas, Ottawa, and Wood.North Coast's primary asset is a 280-mile natural gas transmission pipeline system that spans 13 Ohio counties, including Lucas, Ottawa, and Wood. The complaint alleges that the sale agreement's clause prohibiting North Coast from competing in parts of Lucas, Ottawa, and Wood counties violates federal antitrust law. According to the complaint, the non-compete clause eliminates actual and potential competition for three years between North Coast and any other pipeline. It also is not reasonably limited in scope to protect a legitimate business interest, according to the complaint. The Generation pipeline and the North Coast pipeline may be the best alternatives for some large industrial customers in the Toledo area who are located reasonably close to both pipelines. By prohibiting North Coast from competing with the Generation pipeline, the non-compete clause would harm customers who otherwise would benefit from that competition.

Ascent Resources loves its Utica Shale - The Utica is “really a phenomenal reservoir,” according to Jeff A. Fisher, CEO of Ascent Resources. The Utica play, primarily in eastern Ohio, is “still a bit misunderstood” and often overlooked, Fisher told an audience of roughly 600 Wednesday at Hart Energy’s 11th annual DUG East Conference and Exhibition in this Pennsylvania city. Kallanish Energy was in attendance. “This play really shines. The rock really performs,” he said. It produces dry natural gas, wet natural gas, natural gas liquids and condensate, depending on where in the Utica Shale you are drilling, Fisher said. His company has drilled 400 Utica wells and is the eighth-largest natural gas producer in the U.S. It is the No. 1 oil and natural gas producer in Ohio – with most of that activity in the last three years, Fisher said. Ascent expects to produce in excess of 2 billion cubic feet-equivalent per day (Bcfe/d) in 2019, up from 377 million cubic feet-equivalent per day (mMcfe/d) in 2016, and 1.36 Bcfe/d in 2018. His company has 10 Utica wells that have each produced 8 billion cubic feet of natural gas in 12 months, he said. Ascent has 274,000 acres, mostly in the southern Utica play, plus an additional 76,000 of royalty mineral rights. It has been operating six rigs since 2016, and intends to maintain that level of drilling, Fisher said. Ascent has been shipping about one-third of its natural gas to the Midwest, another third to the Gulf Coast, and the final one-third to the East Coast. It is also shipping 350 Mmcf/d to an unnamed LNG export facility. Oklahoma-based Ascent expects to begin producing free cash flow by the end of 2019, he said. The privately-held company is highly hedged for natural gas sales from 2019 through 2021. In other news from DUG East, Encino Resources is still settling into its $2 billion acquisition of 900,000 acres previously owned by Chesapeake Energy in eastern Ohio, said chief operating officer Ray Walker. “There’s a lot in the sandbox that we have,” he said of the company’s Utica drilling options. “Things are looking really good. … We have a lot of running room.” Encino flowing 70% of its gas to the Gulf The privately held company is sending 70% of its natural gas to the Gulf Coast with up to 25% going to Dawn, Ontario, and the rest being sold locally, he said. It is well-hedged for many years out. It is looking at possible acquisitions in the Utica and in other plays in the coming years, he said. The company intends to operate two rigs in the Utica and two crews for hydraulic fracturing in 2019, although that could grow slightly in 2020, he said.

Europe's Biggest Gas Pipeline Operator Looks To Get Hands On US Assets -- Europe’s biggest gas pipeline operator, Italy-based Snam is crafting a bid for a piece of Energy Transfer Partner’s $6 billion natural gas pipeline, Reuters sources said on Friday. If successful, it would not only be Snam’s first US project, but it also be its first project outside Europe, as the US natural gas industry is going gangbusters. Snam is now conducting due diligence on buying a 33% stake, sold by ETP for the Rover pipeline, according to Reuters. Despite all the controversy surrounding oil and gas pipelines in North America—both in the United States and Canada, they remain an attractive investment. The Rover Pipeline travels a distance of 713 miles, starting in Southeastern Ohio, Western West Virginia, and Southwestern Pennsylvania, and then continues west through Ohio and then north into Michigan The pipeline has the capacity to move 3.25 billion cubic feet per day, transporting gas from the Marcellus and Utica. Rumors first surfaced that ETP was considering a sale of its 33% stake in the pipeline project in mid-July. At the time, it was thought that such a sale would net ETP $2.5 billion, according to Bloomberg. ETP has already ditched a 32% stake in Rover to Blackstone for $1.57 billion at a time when the pipeline, then just under construction, faced possible delays over environmental scrutiny and even some environmental-related work stoppages and lawsuits. The pipeline has done much to relieve the bottlenecks in the Utica and Marcellus regions, and has increased natural gas production in the area through the relief of some of these bottlenecks. Also relieving the transportation bottlenecks in the area are the NEXUS and Williams’ Atlantic Sunrise pipelines.

How did fracking contaminants end up in the Monongahela River? A loophole in the law might be to blame - About a year and a half ago, Guy Kruppa realized something was wrong with his bugs.  Kruppa is the superintendent of the Belle Vernon Municipal Authority, and runs the town’s small sewage treatment plant on the banks of the Monongahela River, south of Pittsburgh. The plant uses micro-organisms — bugs — to break down raw sewage before it’s treated and released into the river.  But in 2018, those bugs stopped doing their job. Levels of bacteria and ammonia in the plant’s discharge to the river started going up. The plant began flunking water quality tests for its state pollution discharge permit.  “We thought, was it something we were doing internally? Were we not processing enough sludge, maybe we aren’t pumping enough?” Kruppa said. “We went through the whole gamut of things.”   Kruppa thought about all the places that send waste to the plant.  “We take in a neighboring community — Washington Township, we take in Belle Vernon, North Belle Vernon … but we also take in a landfill.” That would be Westmoreland Sanitary Landfill, about a mile away in the town of Rostraver. For years, the landfill sent Belle Vernon its leachate — liquid waste that collects at the landfill when rainwater trickles through its piles of garbage. Kruppa began looking at test samples of the leachate. He sent it to an engineer he used to work with. “He goes, you have some very high numbers and as far as chlorides, conductivity, barium,” Kruppa said. “He said these are all indicators of frack waste.” Kruppa discovered the landfill was sending more leachate than the treatment plant was allowed to accept. And he found out about 40 percent of the landfill’s waste since 2010 had been solid oil and gas waste. That included drill cuttings — dirt and rocks that companies dig up to get to the region’s gas-rich shale beds. Those beds are naturally rich in salts and metals.   “They were killing off our bugs. Our bugs are what treats the water,” Kruppa said. “And that’s why we weren’t making our permit levels, because we had nothing to work with.”

PA Pushback on EPA Plan to Eliminate Methane Regulations | BCTV – Environmental groups say the latest deregulation proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency would be devastating for the health of Pennsylvanians and the future of the planet. Late last week, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler released a proposal to eliminate direct regulation of methane emissions from new and modified oil and gas facilities.According to Mollie Michel, Southeast Pennsylvania field consultant with Moms Clean Air Force, that would endanger the health of vulnerable populations, like children and older adults, as more ozone-forming compounds escape into the air.“The EPA has become almost an arm of the oil and gas industry, protecting them over public health and the environment,” Michel sailThe EPA said the proposal is in line with President Donald Trump’s directive to eliminate rules that unduly burden energy development beyond what is necessary to protect the public.Experts estimate methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, accounts for 25% of the global climate change happening now. Michel pointed out that as the second-largest methane-producing state, Pennsylvania needs to step in where the EPA is backing off.“We’re looking toward Gov. Wolf to show his leadership on the state level and enact strong methane controls from existing sources of this dangerous pollution across the Commonwealth,” she said. In April, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection released draft rules for controlling emissions from existing oil and gas facilities – but critics say they don’t go far enough.

Pennsylvania permitting plummets as natural gas producers pull back - Still under pressure from investors to throttle back spending in the face of low natural gas prices, Pennsylvania shale gas drillers pulled 23% fewer permits for new wells in August compared with 2018 and 14% fewer permits compared with July. The single biggest drop-off in activity occurred in Greene County in the gas- and liquids-rich portion of the Marcellus Shale south of Pittsburgh. Neighboring Westmoreland County saw an uptick in activity-driven super major Chevron's 11 permits in the county southeast of Pittsburgh. Another global oil and gas producer, Spain's Repsol, joined with National Fuel Gas drilling unit Seneca Resources to almost triple the number of August permits year over year in northeastern Tioga County, presumably to take advantage of the increase in outbound pipeline capacity spurred by Williams. The decline in permitting activity statewide is directly reflected in the falling rig count in the Appalachian shales and low nationwide gas prices from huge supplies of gas coming onto the market, analysts said. Activity is expected to slacken throughout the second half of this year. "The real problem is that the SW Marcellus and Haynesville have continued to grow rapidly, even at a lower price than we anticipated," S . "The Marcellus/Utica added 5.3 Bcf/d year over year and the Haynesville an astounding 2.7 Bcf/d. We believe that price must force these two basins to not just stop growing, but decline from today to their beginning-of-year level and keep them there going forward to make storage balance." "Low gas prices are clearly having an impact on the rig count, with gas rigs at the lowest level since April 2017, though supply has yet to be affected,".

Pennsylvania royalty owners share the pain of low natural gas prices - Stubbornly low natural gas prices are leaving Pennsylvania property owners, big and small, with diminished royalty checks even as record amounts of gas are pulled from the commonwealth’s shales.The price slump has left shareholders angry and companies promising to slow new development. Royalty owners — those who have leases with drilling companies and share a stake in the gas sold from their property — have few options but to hope for prices to rebound.“You don’t control the well so you can’t turn off your production. You don’t get to say, we’ll hold it until next month, if prices go up,” said Robert Sher, president of the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Landowner Alliance.Lower natural gas prices, driven in large part by a supply that has outpaced demand, make a dent in state and local budgets as well.The commonwealth is one of the largest royalty owners in Pennsylvania, with more than 260,000 acres of state forests, parks and waterways leased for oil and gas development.Similar amounts of gas were produced from state lands managed by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in fiscal years 2018 and 2014 — roughly 430 billion cubic feet — but the state's royalty revenue was cut in half last year, dropping from $135 million in 2014 to $67 million in 2018.Gas price fluctuations explain most of that drop, DCNR press secretary Terry Brady said. In 2014, gas produced from commonwealth land sold at an average of $4 per thousand cubic feet. In 2018, gas sales averaged $2.80/Mcf.

EQT reduces workforce by 23 percent as part of organizational streamlining — Oil and natural gas producer EQT will be letting go of approximately 23% of its workforce, according to news release from the company. The company plans to eliminate around 196 positions, saving it around $50 million annually in “general and administrative costs.” The decision, which the company calls “organizational streamlining,” will see the company reorganized, decreasing its current 58 departments to just 15.“Today’s action represents another significant milestone as we transform EQT into a modern, technology-driven and efficient natural gas producer,” said CEO Toby Rice. “Following the addition of proven leadership and the establishment of our digital work environment, we evaluated the business and determined the appropriate ‘future state’ organizational structure.” Rice and his brother Derek both serve on EQT’s board, having led a slate of seven new members elected on July 10. The Rice brothers, whose company, Rice Energy was acquired by EQT for more than $6 billion in 2017, now control the majority of board seats.Michael Laffin, vice president of communications for EQT, said the reduction went into effect Tuesday, the same day impacted employees were informed.The reduction applies to all of EQT’s operations, including West Virginia, Laffin said. Anne Blankenship, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, declined to comment on the matter,

Study says renewable energy power plants will overtake natural-gas plants by 2035 -- According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas is the top form of energy consumption in Pennsylvania, and about 40 percent of electricity in the state is generated from natural gas, just behind nuclear energy. Nationwide, natural gas is the single largest share of electricity production.  But a new study indicates natural gas may not be on top forever and that nationwide, renewable energy will overtake natural-gas power plants within 16 years.According to the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), it will be more expensive to run 90 percent of natural-gas fired power plants compared to the costs to build wind and solar farms with storage systems by 2035. The institute analyzed the construction costs, fuel prices, and operation costs of 68 proposed natural-gas power plants across the U.S.“We find that the natural gas bridge is likely already behind us,” reads the RMI report, “and that continued investment in announced gas projects risks creating tens of billions of dollars in stranded costs by the mid-2030s, when new gas plants and pipelines will rapidly become uneconomic as clean energy costs continue to fall.” This report comes at a time when the jobs in the solar industry are on the rise in Pennsylvania, even though natural-gas jobs are also rising and make up a much larger percentage of the energy job sector. A large number of those proposed gas-fired generation projects are planned for Pennsylvania and the nearby Ohio River Valley. A cracker plant that will refine natural gas into plastics is currently under construction in Beaver County. The RMI report says rapidly falling prices and improved technologies of renewables are leading to an increasing cost advantage against natural-gas power plants.

State senator doesn’t have legal standing to block Sunoco’s Mariner East construction, Pa. court says - A state senator from Chester County lacks legal standing to challenge the construction and operation of Sunoco’s contentious Mariner East pipeline system, a Commonwealth Court panel ruled Monday.The court ordered the Public Utility Commission to dismiss a complaint filed by Sen. Andrew E. Dinniman, a Democrat who has battled Sunoco Pipeline LP over its 350-mile pipeline project, which weaves its way through densely developed parts of his district. In an opinion by President Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt, the three-judge panel ruled that Dinniman lacked both personal and legislative standing to challenge the project, and ordered the PUC to dissolve an interim emergency injunction blocking construction of parts of the pipeline. Dinniman filed the complaint in April 2018, contending that Sunoco’s construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline caused sinkholes to develop in West Whiteland Township, undermining the integrity of the older Mariner East 1 pipeline. The pipelines are part of a system that Sunoco Pipeline is building to transport natural gas liquids, such as propane, from the Marcellus and Utica Shale regions to an export terminal in Marcus Hook, Delaware County.  The court’s ruling will allow Sunoco to complete construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline in several parts of Chester and Delaware Counties, which was blocked by the PUC’s decision. Sunoco was able to work around the incomplete sections by routing fuel flows through a 24-mile section of smaller pipeline that it repurposed for gas liquids.

Mariner East 1 pipeline shut down for upgrades at processing plant  -- A big natural gas liquids pipeline that crosses Pennsylvania and begins in Washington County is out of service for planned upgrades at the terminal at the other end of the state. The Mariner East 1 pipeline has been shut down temporarily due to an upgrade at the Marcus Hook industrial complex outside Philadelphia, according to a spokeswoman for the pipeline's owner, the Sunoco Logistics subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners (NYSE: ETP). One of the anchor customers of the pipeline, Range Resources Corp. (NYSE: RRC), also confirmed the shutdown. "We expect to put the pipeline back on line in the coming weeks," said Energy Transfer Partners spokeswoman Lisa Coleman. Range estimated the pipeline could be back online in early October. The pipeline, along with a newer pipeline called the Mariner East 2, have been the subject of regulatory action by multiple state agencies over the course of the last several years. But they have been operational and are critical for Range and other natural gas producers to take natural gas liquids from the Marcellus and Utica shales in southwestern Pennsylvania and bring them to markets overseas. Range said that through the month of September, it will put more ethane into the natural gas stream instead of shipping it separately via Mariner East 1, and it will ship the propane it would have sent via Mariner East 1 on Mariner East 2. Unlike previous stoppages, it won't impact cash flow at Range, the company said. But keeping the ethane in the natural gas stream instead of isolating it as a separate product could cut down some of Range's production in the third quarter. It said it would produce between 2.22 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day to 2.23 billion cubic feet, instead of the previously expected 2.25 billion cubic feet to 2.26 billion cubic feet.

Pennsylvania DEP to Sunoco: Your pipelines are showing - The state Department of Environmental Protection is ordering Sunoco Pipeline LP to cover up portions of its pipeline network that have become exposed over time. The order follows the discovery of an exposed pipeline in June by the state Public Utility Commission, which then requested that Sunoco report any additional exposed pipelines to DEP and PUC. In total, portions of Sunoco’s pipeline network located throughout the state are exposed at 43 locations, DEP said. Forty-two are used for transporting refined petroleum products, and one is used for transporting natural gas liquids. None are located at ongoing construction areas. DEP spokeswoman Elizabeth Rementer said the locations cannot be disclosed for security reasons. Of the 43 locations, 10 do not require a permit because of their location, 14 are undergoing or about to undergo remediation, 10 are awaiting permit approval from DEP and nine still require the submission of permit applications, DEP said. Energy Transfer spokeswoman Lisa Coleman said DEP’s order “took us by surprise” because “we have been working cooperatively with the DEP to address these areas.” Sunoco Pipeline is a subsidiary of Energy Transfer. Coleman said it’s not unusual for pipelines to become exposed during the normal course of operations — a point acknowledged by DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell in a statement. “Pipelines can become exposed over time due to erosion in stream channels or due to their position in the ground, since many were constructed before there were standards on how deep they should be buried,” McDonnell said. “These identified pipelines are now exposed to weather, flooding and vandalism, which can result in a failure of the pipeline and subsequent impacts to our waterways, so it’s critical that Sunoco addresses them immediately.” According to the order, Sunoco has 30 days to apply for all needed permits on remaining sites. Once permits and approvals are obtained, Sunoco will have 60 days to bury all exposed pipelines to the appropriate amount of cover and then “fully stabilize and restore the site,” DEP said.

Was there a different regulatory path for the ruptured Revolution pipeline? - Two years before a natural gas pipeline slid down a slippery Beaver County hillside, bursting into flames and leaving a large scar that remains a year later, a smaller mark was made that might have changed the course of the Revolution pipeline. It was a check mark on Energy Transfer’s application for an erosion and sediment control permit. The permit would guide how the company kept the ground from sliding into streams as it dug a trench for its 40-mile pipeline and how the soil would remain stable once completed. When asked what kind of pipeline it was building, Texas-based Energy Transfer checked “transmission facility.” The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection now says the company “misrepresented” its project. That ensured that its application for erosion management — the very thing that failed in the landslide on Sept. 10, 2018 — would be reviewed by a county conservation district instead of by state regulators. Although conservation districts act as delegates of the DEP in reviewing and issuing permits, the difference in resources and expertise between the local and state agencies came into stark relief recently when a recent state audit of the Beaver County Conservation District resulted in the first-ever revocation of its permit issuing powers. The DEP took the conservation district to task for missing required inspections, insufficient scrutiny of permit applications and a “lack of sound judgment.” An example of the latter, the DEP said, was the Beaver County Conservation District taking it upon itself to review the voluminous application for the Revolution pipeline instead of kicking that responsibility up to the state as it would any other gas gathering line. Except that no one, at the time, was calling it a gathering line. At least not to the DEP nor to the Beaver County Conservation District. Even though the new pipeline was intended to collect gas from wells in Beaver County on its way to Energy Transfer’s Revolution gas processing plant in Washington County, the word “gathering” was nowhere in the company’s lengthy narrative of the project. Yet when Energy Transfer registered the same pipeline with the federal Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, it checked a different box — gathering line — emphasizing the pipeline’s function in a short description. Gathering lines receive different, and less stringent, treatment from federal safety regulators than transmission lines. The registration document was dated one day after the erosion permit application.

Bankrupt Philadelphia refiner paid executives millions in bonuses just after fire: documents - (Reuters) - Executives of the Philadelphia Energy Solutions oil refinery were paid roughly $4.5 million in retention bonuses after a summer fire that led to the plant’s closure and before the company filed for bankruptcy a few weeks later, court documents show. PES announced plans to permanently shut its refinery following the June 21 explosive blaze and immediately began laying off many of its 1,100 employees without severance pay or health insurance coverage. The payments were made on July 5, about two weeks before PES filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and while it was in the process of closing its 335,000 barrel-per-day refinery. Attorneys for the owners of PES were not immediately available for comment. Reuters could not immediately reach officials from PES. Chief Executive Officer Mark Smith received a $1.545 million retention bonus, the largest sum handed out to company executives, according to documents filed on Friday with the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. Attorney John McShane received $875,500, Chief Financial Officer Rachel Celiberti was given $721,000 and deputy staff attorney Anthony Lagreca made $450,000. Refinery manager Daniel Statile, who had been on the job since March, was paid $325,000. Additional spot bonuses, including a $75,000 payout for Celiberti and $50,000 for Lagreca, were made on the day of the June blaze. The company’s board of directors was not awarded bonuses, but there were other payouts, including a $772,5000 initial payment for annual consulting duties to Director Mark Cox on July 2.

Bonuses paid to PES refinery executives infuriate ex-workers and environmentalists - Infuriating. Unfair. Repulsive. Those are some of the printable words used by former employees of Philadelphia Energy Solutions to describe their thoughts about the news that company executives got about $4.5 million in bonuses before PES filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. A group of the workers gathered at a Philadelphia Refinery Advisory Group meeting on Monday night. They are among the more than 1,000 employees who were laid off with no severance pay or extended medical benefits by the end of August, after working at the refinery complex for years. Some have not been able to access their pensions, according to their union. Meanwhile, PES chief executive officer Mark Smith, in the job since August 2018, received a $1.545 million retention bonus, according to documents filed with U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, as first reported by Reuters. “They stuffed their pockets while they walked — and had already walked — people out the gate, and intended to walk the others out the gate, without any compensation for a life’s time of work. It’s infuriating.” “These corporations, they feather their own beds all the time.” But union members are shocked about the amount, he said. “It’s a tough amount to swallow,” said Robert Campbell, who worked at the South Philadelphia refinery for more than 20 years. “I wish they would have shared their bonuses more fairly with everybody who worked there. A lot of guys put their blood, sweat and tears to that place, and they were crushed that they lost their jobs.” The bonuses were paid on July 5, exactly two weeks after the explosion and fire that ultimately shut the facility down, and just weeks before the company filed for Chapter 11, according to documents filed with the bankruptcy court. Others receiving bonuses of over $300,000 include executive vice president John McShane; chief financial officer Rachel Celiberti, who also received an extra $75,000 spot bonus; deputy staff attorney Anthony Lagreca, who also got a $50,000 spot bonus; and refinery manager Daniel Statile. Among other payments that bothered former refinery workers: those to Billy Goodhart, a human resources consultant who received $363,340 in 10 months working for the refinery while living in Texas — $295,646 for professional services, $56,651 for travel expenses, and $10,043 for other expenses. “It’s upsetting he was a self-proclaimed union breaker and earned so much for it,”

PennEast to resubmit application after latest pipeline permit deemed incomplete - PennEast was notified Wednesday by the state Department of Environmental Protection that its resubmitted application for a Freshwater Wetlands Permit was incomplete.The PennEast Pipeline is a proposed 120-mile, 36-inch diameter underground natural gas pipeline that would traverse from Pennsylvania through western Hunterdon County before ending in Mercer County.According to a letter issued by the DEP, PennEast is required to address a number of deficiencies and submit a number of missing and incomplete materials within 30 days. Failure to meet this deadline could result in the closing of its application.PennEast spokesperson Patricia Kornick said the company intends to resubmit an application meeting the requirements stipulated by the DEP.“PennEast is reviewing the department of environmental protection’s letter, and will move swiftly to provide any additional data the department believes it needs to begin its thorough review of the 24,000-page application,” Kornick said. “PennEast also is committed to working with the department as this process moves forward."She added the proposed route for the pipeline was shaped by feedback from the DEP to minimize environmental impacts.In the letter, the DEP outlines six regards in which the application was deficient or incomplete. For one, PennEast did not submit an associated right of way agreement or order of condemnation with the deeds of seven properties that are located along the proposed new alignment for the pipeline.

Another Rebuff for PennEast: Court Halts Bid to Seize State Lands - Federal appeals court reverses lower court’s decision that allowed company to exercise eminent domain over properties along pipeline route In another legal setback for the PennEast pipeline, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has blocked the company’s bid to condemn state-owned lands to build its hotly contested 120-mile project. The ruling by the federal court reverses an earlier decision by a district court that allowed PennEast to exercise eminent domain to condemn 131 properties, including over 40 owned by the state that had been previously preserved for agricultural, recreational or conservation purposes. The properties are along the route in Hunterdon and Mercer counties where the pipeline would run. It is unclear whether the company could continue the project without rerouting the pipeline without those properties. The Third Circuit agreed with arguments made by the New Jersey attorney general that a private company lacked legal authority to seize or condemn state lands in federal court under the 11th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Under the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity, a state cannot be sued by a private company without its consent. While opponents of the project hailed the decision as a victory, it most likely means the much-litigated project will face new delays in what has been a five-year quest by PennEast to build a $1 billion pipeline that would move cheap natural gas from Pennsylvania into New Jersey and the metropolitan markets. “I look it as a big speed bump for PennEast and the rest of the other pipeline projects pending in the state and region,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “It’s a long way from a final win.’’ Pat Kornick, a spokeswoman for the PennEast Pipeline Company, said it is committed to moving ahead with the project. “While the decision is disappointing, PennEast will review the Third Circuit’s opinion in detail and determine its next steps,’’ she said. A court appeal is likely — given that even the Third Circuit acknowledged its ruling may disrupt how the natural gas industry operates. Cheap gas from the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania and other states has driven down natural gas prices, lowering costs for consumers who use the fuel to heat homes and manufacturers for whom the fuel is a big building block in their operations.

Cuomo on Constitution Pipeline: 'Any way we can challenge it, we will' – Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday said New York will continue its fight against the Constitution Pipeline after federal regulators ruled last week the state waived its right to deny the project a key water permit.  Cuomo called a decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission"disrespectful of states' rights" and criticized the Trump administration for overstepping its bounds before vowing to fight the ruling."We're looking at our legal rights now, but any way that we can challenge it, we will," Cuomo said during an interview with WAMC, a public-radio station based in Albany.  The controversial 124-mile long pipeline would bring natural gas from Pennsylvania into the Southern Tier before stopping just outside Albany. But the battle to build the project has been in the courts since 2016 after New York's Department of Environmental Conservation denied the project a necessary water permit needed to advance the project.

Columbia Gas facing up to $1 million fines for abandoned gas service lines following Merrimack Valley explosions - On the eve of the one-year anniversary of the Merrimack Valley gas explosions, Massachusetts safety officials raised concerns regarding the state of Columbia Gas service lines. On Sept. 13, 2018, an over-pressurized natural gas line set off a series of fires and explosions in three Merrimack Valley communities. The explosions and fires damaged 131 structures, killed one person, drove thousands from their homes in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, and sent to the hospital at least 21 people, including two firefighters. More than 2,000 families lived in temporary housing - some for weeks, others months - in the aftermath. Columbia Gas restored service to nearly 7,500 residential and business properties, installed more than 18,000 appliances in homes and replaced nearly 44 miles of gas main lines following the explosions. As part of the recovery efforts, the company disconnected 4,900 gas lines in the Merrimack Valley out of service and installed over 5,000 new lines. The state Department of Public Utilities raised concerns about the status of the old lines Wednesday in a letter to the president of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts. “While the abandoned services are not active and do not affect customers’ current service lines or heat, the issues identified regarding the two abandoned services concern the Department and indicate violations of Department regulations,” the letter from DPU Chairman Matthew H. Nelson reads. The disconnected lines require inspections and potentially additional work to properly cap the lines, Nelson said. State safety officials set a deadline for the initial phase of quality control work on the lines to be done by Nov. 16.

Still happening: Gas disasters take toll elsewhere - The gas disaster of Sept. 13, 2018 did not put an end to similar catastrophes taking place around the United States. Only a few weeks ago, a natural gas pipeline in Moreland, Kentucky ruptured and exploded, killing a woman and injuring five other people. Flames shot up 300 feet into the air and it took firefighters several hours to extinguish the inferno. The pipeline exploded at around 1 a.m. Aug. 1. The previous day, an explosion believed to have been caused by a gas leak leveled a house in Washington, Pennsylvania, just outside Pittsburgh. The homeowner, a neighbor and three firefighters were injured. Columbia Gas, the same company whose overpressurized lines caused explosions and fires in Lawrence, North Andover and Andover a year ago, took responsibility for this debacle. The Kentucky pipeline that exploded is owned and operated by Enbridge, a major transporter of oil and natural gas. Another Enbridge pipeline exploded in Noble County, Ohio on Jan. 21. Two people were hospitalized. A gas explosion in downtown Durham, North Carolina, the home of Duke University, killed two people, injured another 25, destroyed several buildings and damaged many others April 10. On March 4, a gas pipeline explosion in Martin County, Texas killed two workers in an oilfield at the Sayles Ranch. Green America, a nonprofit organization that promotes ethical consumerism, reported in June 2017 that “natural gas pipelines explode with alarming frequency in the U.S., killing and injuring people, and causing millions of dollars in damage. Interstate pipelines are permitted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which has approved all but one pipeline over the past 30 years, and routinely rejects legitimate concerns raised by impacted communities.”

  Community frustrated with overwhelming noise from fracking - — Neighbors are outraged with the effects they say fracking is having in Bethany, W.Va. "This is absurd. This is the United States, but no, it’s still West Virginia, so we’re the lowest of the low and our voice is never heard,” said one community member. “When’s it going to end? When is there going to be the next pad? Are you just going to destroy all the hilltops?” While the room packed with citizens presented many concerns and questions, one reoccurring theme was the noise that the community members call unbearable to live with. "I kept thinking to myself, 'Is this anything close to freeway noise I had to deal with in LA?' And, I’m here to tell you there is no comparison. This is worse than anything I’ve experienced,” said another community member. And the impact it is having on their physical and mental health: “The first days we were doing outside activities and I couldn’t hear them because of the drill, and I am like; when are they all going to all start going crazy?” Representatives from Southwestern Energy that were present at Wednesday night’s meeting told the community that tonight was a way to hear their concern. But, citizens want solutions and they want them soon. “At least have the common courtesy of shutting the drills off or turning the drills down between the hours of 10 at night and 5 in the morning,” began one citizen. The representatives said they will take these discussions and have a meeting Thursday, and then solutions and ideas will be communicated to the mayor, Shirley Kemp, who says she will continue following up as well. Noise wasn’t the only concern. They also discussed health, transportation, and other stressors that the fracking is having on the community.

Atlantic Coast Pipeline remains halted as developers wait on court decisions — The developers of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline remain at a standstill as they wait for court rulings that could impact the future of the project.There are currently two federal permits under review — one issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and one issued by the U.S. Forest Service — that are needed if construction is to continue.Developers hope the U.S. Supreme Court will decide to hear an appeal of a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit not to reconsider a ruling that denied the permit issued by the Forest Service allowing the pipeline’s route to go through two national forests and across the Appalachian Trail.Dominion Energy, the lead company in the consortium of energy partners backing the project, voluntarily halted all major construction activities on the pipeline in December following the 4th Circuit’s decision, which resulted in layoffs for much of the project’s workforce.  Samantha Norris, communications specialist with Dominion, said the company is confident in its case for both permits.  The company expects a resolution of the Fish and Wildlife Service permit “later this year” and of the Forest Service permit by “next summer,” Norris said. However, the resolution of the Forest Service permit will depend on the Supreme Court deciding to hear the case, Norris said.“We’ll find out in October if the Supreme Court will hear the case,” she said. “We believe that there’s a strong likelihood that it will. Then oral arguments will take place in February. If we receive a favorable outcome, which we feel very favorably that we will, then construction would resume next summer.”

  Editorial: Can the Appalachian Trail block pipelines? Who owns the Appalachian Trail?  Sometime this fall, the U.S. Supreme Court will have something to say on that, even if only indirectly.  Here’s why that matters: One possible answer could make it difficult, if not impossible, to build either the Atlantic Coast Pipeline or the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Do we have your attention now? The case certainly has the attention of those who care about the pipelines, both pro and con. Sometimes little things matter and here a simple footpath could complicate the desire of those who want to market the natural gas in the Appalachian shale fields. The American Prospect magazine recently published an excellent summary of the case with the very direct headline: “Can the Appalachian Trail Block a Natural Gas Pipeline?” The Prospect is a left-leaning publication, but the story seems an even-handed account of why this case matters.  While we’re focused on the Mountain Valley Pipeline, we sometimes miss that there are two natural gas pipelines in the works. The other is the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, backed mostly by Dominion Energy. In January 2018, the U.S. Forest Service granted the ACP the permits necessary to cross the Appalachian Trail near the Augusta-Nelson county line. Soon thereafter, the Charlottesville-based Southern Environmental Law Center filed suit against the forest service, contending it didn’t have the power to do so (for reasons we’ll elaborate on below). In December 2018, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled in favor of the environmentalists. The ruling, written by Judge Stephanie Thacker, came with a literary flourish: She quoted from “The Lorax,” the children’s book by Dr. Suess: “We trust the United States Forest Service to ‘speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongue.’”  If the National Park Service owns the Appalachian Trail — which is what the appeals court ruled — then it’s hard to see how any pipelines get built. As writer Noah Sachs puts it: “The lawsuit over this section of the Appalachian Trail could determine the fate of some of the largest natural gas deposits in North America. In a landmark decision last December, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond axed the project — for now. That court found that the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine is part of the national park system, blocking federal agencies from authorizing a pipeline crossing. The astonishing decision upended the U.S. natural gas industry and also jeopardizes other pipeline projects with proposed routes across the trail.”

US natgas production sets new record despite low prices - U.S. natural gas production set a new daily production record of 92.8 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) on Aug. 19, according to estimates from IHS Markit, the Energy Information Administration reports. Natural gas production also set a new monthly record in August, averaging more than 91 Bcf/d for the first time, Kallanish Energy reports. The records were set despite gas prices declining. EIA forecasts dry natural gas production to average 93.4 Bcf/d from September through the end of the year. U.S. natural gas production increased by 7.1 Bcf/d (8%) between August 2018, and August 2019, led by production gains primarily in the Northeast, ie., the Marcellus and Utica Shale plays. U.S. natural gas production has increased, even as natural gas prices have declined. Natural gas spot prices at the national price benchmark Henry Hub have been on a downward trend since early spring. Spot prices at other natural gas hubs across the country have continued to sell at discounts to Henry Hub. Record growth in U.S. natural gas production continues to put downward pressure on prices. This summer, prices have continued to fall despite high levels of natural gas exports and increased consumption in power generation. Henry Hub prices averaged $2.40 per million British thermal units (Mmbtu) in June and $2.37/Mmbtu in July — the lowest monthly averages for June and July since 1999 — as growth in natural gas production continued to offset growth in consumption.

Late-Summer Sizzler Boosts Natural Gas Demand -- While the official start of Autumn lies just around the corner, Summer refuses to go away without a fight, as an unseasonably strong upper level ridge sets up in the eastern half of the nation, making it feel like the change in seasons is still far away. Our forecast is about as hot as you will see it at this time of the year. This is resulting in quite the boost for natural gas demand, with multiple days of 10 or more Gas-Weighted Degree Days (GWDDs). The hottest days over the next week will actually be challenging daily GWDD records, and this is pushing our projected GWDD total for the month of September up the charts, not quite to last years level, but among the hottest Septembers recorded in our dataset. Looking at the numbers for key cities across the nation, something new here at Bespoke, we find plenty of 80s and 90s from the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic and down into the South. While certainly not the only factor that has led natural gas prices higher over the last 2-3 weeks, it has, at the least, provided some tailwinds for the bulls, with prompt month prices around 50 cents off their early August lows. Once to late September, it starts to get a little late for heat to move the needle, as we begin to patiently wait for that first colder outbreak in October than brings in our initial ramp up in HDDs. This typically puts weather on the back burner, so to speak, at least temporarily, allowing other forces, such as supply / demand balances to have control of market movement.

US working gas in underground storage rises 78 Bcf to 3.019 Tcf: EIA — US working natural gas volumes in underground storage added 78 Bcf last week, less than most of the market expected, as the Pacific region posted a shoulder-season draw.US storage increased to 3.019 Tcf for the week ended September 6, the US Energy Information Administration reported Thursday morning.The injection was much less than an S&P Global Platts' survey of analysts calling for an 87 Bcf build. Survey responses ranged from 73 to 101 Bcf. The build was more than the 68 Bcf injection reported during the corresponding week in 2018 as well as the five-year average of 73 Bcf, according to EIA data. As a result, stocks were 393 Bcf, or 15%, more than the year-ago level of 2.626 Tcf and 77 Bcf, or 2.5%, less than the five-year average of 3.096 Tcf.The October NYMEX Henry Hub contract ticked up 2 cents to $2.57/MMBtu following the less-than-expected storage injection. The winter strip was down less than a cent at $2.73, during late Thursday afternoon trading. The EIA's Pacific region posted a 1 Bcf net draw for the second straight week as injections along the Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Gas storage systems have slowed. PG&E injected a total of 3 Bcf during the past month, while SoCal Gas inventories have remained flat since August 10, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. Pipeline maintenance work has limited each system's ability to fully utilize key receipt points. In addition, demand increased, adding tightness to the already restricted systems. SoCal Gas also faces significant maintenance beginning in two weeks.Total SoCal Gas working stocks sit at 69 Bcf, 7 Bcf below last year. Receipt capacity will continue to limit injection rates through November and likely place upward pressure on the SoCal Gas city-gate winter strip. Although injections have slowed on PG&E, inventories remain 24 Bcf above last year, leaving little worry for winter reliability. But the market should expect a build in the Pacific for the week ending September 13 as a week-over-week 5-degree temperature drop flipped the region from a net draw of 1 Bcf to a 5 Bcf injection, according to Platts Analytics.The week in progress on a national level has experienced small declines in supply and demand, resulting in a modest 0.5 Bcf/d tightening in overall US balances. Supplies are down 0.7 Bcf/d week over week on drops split between the Northeast, Rockies and Midwest. Downstream, total demand is down by 0.2 Bcf/d this week, with declines in gas-fired generation and LNG feedgas demand offset by a 0.4 Bcf/d rise in residential and commercial sector demand. Platts Anaytics' supply and demand model calls for a 71 Bcf build for the week in progress, which would grow the deficit to the five-year average by 11 Bcf. The final injection of the season occurs on average on November 8, allowing for nine more net builds before the flip to heating season if the average holds.

EIA Build Lower Than Expected as Natural Gas Futures Rise - Natural gas bulls regained some of their lost momentum Thursday after last week’s heat helped produce a smaller-than-expected inventory build in the latest government storage data. After slipping during the previous two sessions, the October Nymex contract gained 2.2 cents to settle at $2.574/MMBtu; November added 1.6 cents to $2.605.In the spot market, cooler temperatures drove Northeast discounts, while heat had Southern California prices rising; the NGI Spot Gas National Avg. slid 2.0 cents to $2.320.  The Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Thursday reported a leaner-than-expected 78 Bcf build into U.S. natural gas stocks, injecting a little upward movement into a futures market that had sold off in recent sessions. The 78 Bcf injection for the week ended Sept. 6 tops both the 68 Bcf build recorded for the year-ago period and the five-year average 73 Bcf injection. Predictions had ranged from around 75 Bcf up to 94 Bcf, with major surveys centering around 81-82 Bcf. Total Lower 48 working gas in underground storage stood at 3,019 Bcf as of Sept. 6, 393 Bcf (15.0%) more than year-ago levels but 77 Bcf (minus 2.5%) shy of the five-year average, according to EIA.By region, EIA reported a 37 Bcf weekly build in the Midwest, with a 25 Bcf injection in the East. The Pacific withdrew 1 Bcf on the week, while 6 Bcf was refilled in the Mountain region. In the South Central, EIA recorded a net 2 Bcf injection into salt stocks for the week, with a 10 Bcf build in nonsalt. Bespoke Weather Services viewed the 78 Bcf build as “basically neutral, as holiday weeks are always difficult, and it was still quite hot in key areas of the South last week.”  The outlook trended cooler overnight heading into Thursday’s trading, and given the potential for Friday’s forecasts to show additional cooler trends along the East Coast, “we don’t see much reason for prices to continue advancing higher from here...with risk, in our view, more skewed toward a move back near the $2.50 level,” Bespoke said. “...Demand will continue falling off after Sept. 20 to even lower levels, possibly allowing cash prices to weaken as well, as salts can more freely refill with less demand in place.” Cooling temperatures to close out the week prompted double-digit spot price declines throughout the Northeast Thursday. Algonquin Citygate fell 17.0 cents to $2.210, whileTransco Zone 6 NY slid 19.5 cents to $2.100.Maxar’s Weather Desk was calling for near- to below-normal temperatures for major cities along the Interstate 95 corridor for Friday, including highs in the mid-60s in Boston, and in the low 70s in New York City and Philadelphia.Elsewhere, prices were generally steady from the Gulf Coast to the Southeast as hot temperatures were expected to persist across the southern United States. Houston Ship Channel added 1.0 cent to $2.525, while Texas Eastern S. TX gave up 1.5 cents to $2.535. Meanwhile, a hot finish to the work week sent Southern California prices soaring Thursday. Maxar predicted above-normal temperatures for Burbank for Friday, including highs reaching 97 degrees.SoCal Citygate rallied 70.0 cents to average $4.015.

Recapping This Week In Natural Gas - For the third week in a row, natural gas prices posted a notable gain, closing nearly 12 cents higher on the week, with the prompt month October contract settling over the 2.60 level for the first time since late May. - As we have pointed out previously, this is the time of year that prices often do move in favor of the bulls. - This year's rally, percentage wise, has been quite large, however, partially due to such a low starting point, having been at multi-year lows for a prolonged period, but also due to a very large number of shorts in the market. - As prices move up, some of the short are forced to cover, sending prices even higher. The catalyst that sparked the move was a large run up in daily cash prices, although those appear to have peaked earlier this week. - We did see a pullback of more than 10 cents earlier in the week, before prices shot back higher after yesterday's EIA report showed a smaller-than-expected build for last week, and then again today toward the close, the latter of which may have simply been additional short covering as traders de-risk into the weekend. Looking ahead, trends in cash prices may still hold the key to the movement of futures. We still have some heat in the forecast, mid-September style, enough for well above normal natural gas demand in the near term. You will notice, however, by week two, that demand drops off considerably, and even the forecast for the upcoming week, while still impressive from a demand standpoint, is not as hot as models had forecast a couple of days ago, as seen by the large 2-day GWDD change in last night's modeling. Time will tell is this is enough to take the "heat" off cash prices, and in turn, provide at least a temporary halt in the strong rally of the last three weeks. Of course, all of the factors involved are fluid in nature, subject to change as new data rolls in.

As climate change threatens Earth, US to open nearly 200 power plants - Powerful hurricanes. Record-breaking heatwaves. Droughts that bring ruin to farmers. Raging forest fires. The mass die-off of the world's coral reefs. Food scarcity. To avoid a climate change apocalypse, carbon dioxide emissions need to fall by as much as 45% from 2010 levels by 2030,  according to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  Instead, utilities and energy companies are continuing to invest heavily in carbon-polluting natural gas. An exclusive analysis by USA TODAY finds that across the United States there are as many as 177 natural gas power plants currently planned, under construction or announced. There are close to 2,000 now in service.  All that natural gas is “a ticking time bomb for our planet,” says Michael Brune, president of the Sierra Club. “If we are to prevent runaway climate change, these new plants can’t be built."  It also doesn't make financial sense, according to an analysis by the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Colorado-based think tank that focuses on energy and resource efficiency. By the time most of these power plants are slated to open their doors, the electricity they’ll provide will cost more to produce than clean energy alternatives.By 2023, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates the average cost of producing a megawatt hour of electricity will be $40.20 for a large-scale natural gas plants. Solar installations will be $2.60 cheaper and wind turbines will be $3.60 cheaper. The world needs to reduce its carbon emissions rapidly – by 50% within the next decade – or face the prospect of a global temperature rise of more than 2.7 degrees within decades, said Michael Mann, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Pennsylvania State University. That’s enough warming to kill off the coral reefs, melt large parts of the ice sheets, inundate coastal cities and to yield what Mann calls “nearly perpetual extreme weather events.”

Gas Plants Will Get Crushed by Wind, Solar by 2035, Study Says - Natural gas-fired power plants, which have crushed the economics of coal, are on the path to being undercut themselves by renewable power and big batteries, a study found. By 2035, it will be more expensive to run 90% of gas plants being proposed in the U.S. than it will be to build new wind and solar farms equipped with storage systems, according to the report Monday from the Rocky Mountain Institute. It will happen so quickly that gas plants now on the drawing boards will become uneconomical before their owners finish paying for them, the study said. The development would be a dramatic reversal of fortune for gas plants, which 20 years ago supplied less than 20% of electricity in the U.S. Today that share has jumped to 35% as hydraulic fracturing has made natural gas cheap and plentiful, forcing scores of coal plants to close nationwide.The authors of the study say they analyzed the costs of construction, fuel and anticipated operations for 68 gigawatts of gas plants proposed across the U.S. They compared those costs to building a combination of solar farms, wind plants and battery systems that, together with conservation efforts, could supply the same amount of electricity and keep the grid stable.As gas plants lose their edge in power markets, the economics of pipelines will suffer, too, RMI said in a separate study Monday. Even lines now in the planning stages could soon be out of the money, the report found. “Our story for gas plants is, if you build it, they won’t run -- they won’t run at their expected capacity factors,” said Mark Dyson, who co-wrote both reports. “And that filters down to pipelines, too.”

Misunderstanding Gas Storage - Years of waning interest in natural gas simplified the public discussion of gas price to a single factor: gas in storage compared to five-year average. This spring and summer as storage trended up toward while still below the five-year average, prices swooned to levels only touched briefly since the early 2000s. The idea of gas storage as the keystone indicator worked in a previous incarnation of the gas market, but it fails to understand the market’s ongoing metamorphosis. When natural gas was last fashionable, production hovered just over 60 Bcf/d for years on end. Today the supply is growing past 108 Bcf/d. Remarkably, prices trended downward during the transition, even as demand grew as ravenously as 8% per year. Supply stepped up to match demand in an elegant choreography of production, pipelines, and plants with only minor missteps along the way, sparing the market of shortages for many years.  If demand were as stable as in those times past, then the current change in storage trajectory could portend a glut. However, neither storage nor demand is what it used to be. While the seasonal swings in gas demand for heating have not grown, the overall demand has. Storage crucially if less visibly also buffers the multi-year choreography of growth. Storage volumes, though, have not grown with production volumes.  The standard frame of reference —five year range of storage—has been deformed by the extreme demands of 2014’s “polar vortex” and the chronic gas shortage, obscuring reality. For a better frame of reference, the chart below shows nearly 20 years of volumes in storage normalized to dry gas production. It shows how for the better part of the last three years storage trended down as demand chronically exceeded supply. On a longer time frame, normalized storage volumes have trended downward for nearly 10 years as storage did not expand with production. These overlaying trends caused last heating season to end with only 12 days of supply in storage.  During the few times that normalized storage previously reached the nadir seen this spring, the drop caused headline-grabbing leaps in price. This time prices hardly moved. When the depletion trend finally reversed, the market did not see the change as partial abatement of a critical shortage but instead as evidence of a glut. Even with months of higher-than-average injections, last week’s storage ranks as the second lowest in two decades for the same week: 31 days of storage compared to a normal average of 47 days. Hardly a bearish signal. What is more, the market seems not to understand that gas demand will continue to grow aggressively this year and into next. Seven large trains and two clusters of smaller trains of LNG export totaling 5.3 Bcf/d of new demand were scheduled to come online between the first of 2019 and mid-2020. In addition EIA projects generally long-lead industrial demand to grow by 2 Bcf/d in 2019 and into 2020 and forecasts additional growth of NGL fractionation and export.

Bill Pre-Filed In Ky. Legislature Would Make Pipeline Protests A Felony - Acts of civil disobedience against pipeline operations in Kentucky would be considered a felony under legislation filed ahead of the 2020 regular session.    The measure comes less than a month after one person was killed and six more were injured in a large pipeline explosion south of Danville, Kentucky. It also comes shortly after Louisville Gas & Electric began pursuing eminent domain actions to build a natural gas pipeline in northern Bullitt County. Republican Rep. Jim Gooch, chair of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, pre-filed the bill in late August after a similar attempt failed earlier this year. Gooch did not immediately return requests for comment.The bill makes trespassing on “key infrastructure assets” including pipelines a second degree felony punishable by up to five years imprisonment. Advocates for the measure say the bill is designed to protect critical infrastructure; opponents including indigenous groups and the American Civil Liberties Union say the legislation is an attempt to curtail free speech.“The concern we have is that it is being done as a way to chill free speech and target protesters who are engaged in protected speech,” said ACLU of Kentucky legal director Corey Shapiro. The bill is part of a national initiative to increase penalties for activists who attempt to block fossil fuel infrastructure projects, similar to the Standing Rock protests that impeded construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Shapiro said the ACLU currently has lawsuits filed to block similar legislation in Texas and South Dakota. Oklahoma first passed the anti-pipeline protest legislation in 2017. It has since become model legislation on the website for The American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative legislative nonprofit.

ACLU: Kentucky Bill Could Muzzle Pipeline Protests | WUKY -- The Kentucky chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is warning a bill pre-filed in late August would stifle protests surrounding pipeline controversies in the state.  The bill, filed by Western Kentucky House Representative Jim Gooch, would reclassify natural gas or petroleum pipelines as “key infrastructure assets” and making tampering with, impeding, or otherwise inhibiting the operations of the lines an act of “criminal mischief in the first degree” – a Class D felony in Kentucky.The proposed legislation comes on the heels of a deadly natural gas pipeline explosion near Danville, Ky. that killed one and injured six. The accident is not the first along the 700-mile pipeline that stretches from the Mexican border in Teax to New York City. Six people in Kentucky and nine people in total have died in explosions along the Texas Eastern Transmission Co. pipeline since 1985, according to the Louisville Courier Journal. Meanwhile, Louisville Gas & Electric Co. is taking Bullitt County landowners to court in an effort to obtain sections of lands needed for a $39 million natural gas pipeline. The ACLU tweeted that the bill would “silence free speech," making offenses punishable by up to five years in prison. The civil rights organization also cautions the legislation "penalize people who help protestors, including providing water or first aid," adding that the bill "mirrors one promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is funded by fossil fuel companies, incl. one tied to the Danville pipeline."

Damaged barge spills oil in Tennessee - An oil spill has occurred from a damaged barge in the Jamie Whitten Lock at mile marker 412 on the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway.Watchstanders at U.S. Coast Guard Sector Ohio Valley received a report at 6:46 a.m. on Sunday from the National Response Center that an unknown amount of crude oil was discharged from a damaged crude oil barge owned by Savage Inland Marine. The source of the spill has not been secured. The crude oil is contained within the lock and dam, and within the 35 feet of boom placed around the dam.Sector Ohio Valley Captain of the Port closed the waterway from mile marker 410 to mile marker 414 on the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway. Coast Guard Sector Ohio Valley, Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment Nashville and Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality are responding to the incident.  The cause of the incident is under investigation.

Oil spill forces Jamie Whitten Lock and Dam to shut down (WCBI) – An oil spill has forced the Jamie Whitten Lock and Dam to shut down. Mitch Mays with the Tenn-Tom Waterway said that an incident involving a barge caused crude oil to spill into the lock chamber. The U.S. Army Corps. Of Engineers in the Mobile district said Sunday, a merchant vessel loaded with two barges of crude oil was locking southbound through the lock and dam when a collision happened.The Jamie Whitten Lock and Dam is a part of the Tenn-Tom Waterway.It’s located in Prentiss County at Bay Springs Lake.The Jamie Whitten Lock and Dam will be closed until further notice.The U.S. Coast Guard, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are all assessing the spill.

How A County-By-County Push Is Boosting Line 5— Enbridge, the company that owns the Line 5 oil pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac, was a top sponsor last month of a gathering of county officials from across Michigan.In the weeks before the event, the Michigan Association of Counties described Enbridge as a “partner” in putting on the association's annual conference. At the conference, the company’s pipeline became part of the proceedings.County officials voted to adopt a pro-Line 5 amendment to the Michigan Association of Counties’ policy platform. The amendment supported a much-debated proposal to construct a tunnel in order to keep the pipeline in the Straits. Enbridge’s recent work with the Michigan Association of Counties comes amid a larger push to benefit the pipeline, a pipeline environmentalists see as a threat to the Great Lakes but others see as crucial to Michigan’s access to energy. The push has included a bevy of full-page newspaper advertisements, increased lobbying and a county-by-county effort to gather support for a pipeline Michigan’s attorney general is trying to shut down.Dickinson County Commissioner Joe Stevens was one of the county officials who backed the amendment to the Michigan Association of Counties' policy platform last month. Association members approved the proposal in a voice vote. Asked if he was concerned about the appearance of county officials backing a measure that benefits Enbridge at a conference sponsored in part by Enbridge, Stevens said no.  “If there was a problem, there would have been some objections,” Stevens argued. He added, at another point during an interview, “This is an issue that would catastrophically affect the U.P. (Upper Peninsula) if Line 5 closed down.” According to Enbridge, Line 5 delivers 65 percent of the propane used in the U.P.

Enbridge looks to conduct surveys to move pipeline (AP) — Enbridge Energy is seeking permission to conduct land surveys in northern Wisconsin as it considers re-routing a pipeline out of an American Indian reservation. The company wants to conduct environmental surveys along a 40-mile stretch in Ashland and Iron counties to replace an existing 20-mile segment of Line 5 that runs through the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s reservation, Wisconsin Public Radio reported. Paul Halverson, an Enbridge contractor and land agent, told the Mellen City Council on Thursday that the company would like to access four parcels of city-owned property. Several area residents who attended the meeting said Enbridge agents had approached them over the last week seeking access to their property. The council didn’t take any action on the requests but the company got a prickly reception. Peter Turney, of Mellen, said he was worried about Enbridge using eminent domain to acquire land for a potential re-route and impacts to the city’s aquifer. Mayor Joe Barabe said he doubted whether firefighters and emergency medical responders could handle pipeline-related problems. Jennifer Smith, Enbridge’s community engagement manager for the upper Midwest, told the radio network by phone on Friday that the company wants to reach agreements with landowners and to avoid eminent domain. She said Enbridge only wants access to land for surveys at this point to see which routes may be feasible. Line 5 carries Canadian crude and propane to eastern Michigan. Members of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa sued Enbridge in July in hopes of forcing the company to remove sections of the pipeline that run across their swampy reservation just south of Lake Superior. They argue it’s increasingly likely the 66-year-old line will rupture and cause catastrophic damage. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has recorded 33 spills on Line 5 since 1968.

Minnesota oil pipeline fight highlights Democratic dilemmas (AP) — A divisive fight over the future of a crude-oil pipeline across Minnesota is pinning presidential candidates between environmentalists and trade unions in a 2020 battleground state, testing their campaign promises to ease away from fossil fuels. Progressive candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have condemned a Canadian company’s plan to replace its old and deteriorating Line 3 pipeline, which carries Canadian crude across the forests and wetlands of northern Minnesota and into northern Wisconsin. They’ve sided with environmental and tribal groups that have been trying to stop the project for years, arguing that the oil should stay in the ground. Other candidates — including home-state Sen. Amy Klobuchar and front-runner Joe Biden — have remained largely silent, mindful that such projects are viewed as job creators for some of the working-class voters they may need to win the state next year. The fight illustrates a hard reality behind the Democratic candidates’ rhetoric on climate change. For months, Democrats vying for the White House have sounded strikingly progressive on the issue, endorsing ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions and putting forward sweeping proposals for investing in the green jobs of the future. But the debate often glosses over the harder, more immediate choices between union jobs and phasing out fossil fuels. Those fights often divide Democrats and may create an opening for President Donald Trump. Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 project has generated opposition on two main grounds: that the oil it would carry would aggravate climate change and that it would risk spills in pristine areas of the Mississippi River headwaters where Native Americans harvest wild rice. Enbridge says replacing the 1960s-era pipeline, which is increasingly prone to corrosion and cracking, will be safer for the environment while allowing it to restore the line’s original capacity and ensure reliable deliveries to refineries. Labor unions, once the bedrock of Democrats’ support in northern Minnesota, backed the plan on the promise it will create scores of new jobs.

IUB needs amendment to approve increase flow in pipeline - — The Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) issued an order Friday requiring Dakota Access to file a petition for an amendment to the pipeline permit to seek increase flow from a half-million barrels a day, to as many as 1.1 million per day. The original permit issued by the IUB to Dakota Access was file on April 8, 2016. The new request follows a June 12 informational notice filed by Dakota Access regarding improvements the company intends to make to the Dakota Access pipeline pumping station in Cambridge and plans to increase the capacity. IUB said the increase in flow of oil through the pipeline requires an amendment and then IUB will review the filing and make a ruling. Anyone wishing to file comments or objections in the docket must submit them in writing and may use the IUB’s online comment form or email to

Equinor to clean up onshore post-hurricane Bahamas oil spill - Equinor will clean up the onshore oil spill discovered this week at its Bahamas storage terminal in the aftermath of hurricane Dorian, the Norwegian energy company said on Sunday.In preparation for the hurricane, Equinor shut down operations at the South Riding Point terminal on Aug. 31 and none of its staff were at the site during the storm.“Based on current visual assessments, there are no indications of continued oil leakage from the tanks or of oil spills from the terminal to sea or beaches,” Equinor’s statement said. “Further examination is ongoing to assess the full impact of the spill.”

 Equinor sends two vessels to clean up Bahamas oil spill  (Reuters) - Two vessels with clean-up equipment and personnel will arrive in the Bahamas within a few days to deal with an oil spill at the South Riding Point terminal damaged by hurricane Dorian, operator Equinor said on Monday. Equinor shut down operations at the oil storage and transshipment terminal on Grand Bahama on Aug. 31 in preparation for the hurricane, and none of its staff were at the site during the storm. The company has not yet provided an official assessment of the oil spill, but a picture published on its website showed a damaged onshore tank, with oil on the ground. Equinor reiterated on Monday that there were no indications of ongoing leaks from tanks, or that the oil spill had reached nearby beaches or the ocean. The company said additional oil spill personnel and equipment were being mobilized in Florida and could arrive at the Bahamas within two days.

Equinor says oil spotted near Bahamas crude terminal (Reuters) - Oil spotted off the coast of the Bahamas may not have come from a nearby crude storage terminal owned by Norwegian oil company Equinor that was damaged by Hurricane Dorian, the company said on Wednesday. "There are no indications that there has been a spill to the ocean from our terminal," said Equinor spokesman Erik Haaland. "We are investigating now and analyzing the situation and evaluating any mitigating actions, but we don't have any information on the source of the product." Oil or fuel has been spotted about 70 to 80 km (43 to 49 miles) northeast of the South Riding Point terminal on Grand Bahama Island, but the company said the source of the product was unknown. The company said earlier in the week that it had seen oil spilled on the ground at the terminal site and in neighboring areas. Equinor said it was closing the harbor at the terminal as a precautionary measure to "reduce the risk of oil spill to sea." South Riding Point terminal has a capacity of 6.75 million barrels. At the time the hurricane hit, 1.8 million barrels were being stored at the terminal. 

 House Votes to Block Offshore Oil Drilling Along U.S. Coasts - The U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday to block new offshore drilling in U.S. Atlantic and Pacific waters as well as territory near Florida’s Gulf Coast that is prized by oil companies. The bills passed by the House Wednesday are doomed in the Republican-controlled Senate, but their approval underscored significant bipartisan opposition to the Trump administration’s plans to expand coastal oil and gas development. The votes were part of a broader Democratic effort to challenge the administration’s oil drilling plans. The House is set to vote Thursday on legislation that would block oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, effectively reversing Congress’ decision to require leasing in its coastal plain as part of the 2017 tax overhaul. One of the bills (H.R. 205) voted on Wednesday, which passed 248-180, would permanently extend an existing ban on oil and gas leasing in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The measure, which drew support from 22 Republicans, would effectively bar drilling in federal waters up to 125 miles off Florida’s west coast -- including territory oil companies consider attractive because of a series of promising nearby discoveries. The existing moratorium is otherwise set to expire June 30, 2022. Florida lawmakers and drilling foes said the protection is necessary to safeguard some $37.4 billion in economic activity and more than 600,000 jobs tied to fishing, tourism and recreation in the state. Representative Francis Rooney, a Republican from Florida, said offshore drilling poses an “existential threat” to the state’s west coast -- even when spills don’t touch its shores. After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, Florida vacations and fishing ventures were canceled “despite the fact that there was no impact to our coastline,” Rooney said. “Perception became reality.” The other measure (H.R. 1941), which passed 238-189, would put a permanent moratorium on oil and gas leasing in U.S. Atlantic and Pacific waters, effectively restoring prohibitions that existed before a spike in crude prices helped prompt their withdrawal in 2008. 

House passes two bills blocking oil and gas drilling off both coasts - The House of Representatives on Wednesday passed two bills banning new offshore oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and the Gulf Coast of Florida. It was set to vote on a third bill banning drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The legislation could hamper President Donald Trump's push to expand offshore oil and gas development. The first bill, Protecting and Securing Florida's Coastline Act of 2019, would ban oil and gas leasing in eastern areas of the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast. The measure passed 248-180, with the support of about 20 Republicans. Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla., the bill's sponsor, said a series of spills from oil and gas operations in the Gulf have threatened jobs in marine recreation and fishing. The House also passed a measure, 238-189, sponsored by Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-S.C., to permanently ban oil and gas leasing off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. "This bill acknowledges that if we don't act, drilling rigs could soon appear off of our beaches," said Cunningham, whose state's beaches are a major tourist draw. The bills were not expected to gain traction in the Republican-led Senate. But the votes in the Democratic-led House were meant to send a signal to Republicans who have supported rollbacks of environmental regulations on oil and gas. Oil and gas interests opposed the bills, saying bans only increase U.S. dependence on foreign oil. "Congress should reject these bills, which would only outsource energy production to countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia, and instead stand up American energy produced with American values,"

Elizabeth Warren's call to ban fracking 'everywhere' fuels alarm over economy, energy imports - - Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, said Friday she would immediately ban fracking if elected president, drawing pushback from critics who said the move would cripple the U.S. oil-and-gas industry and force the nation to import fossil fuels. “On my first day as president, I will sign an executive order that puts a total moratorium on all new fossil fuel leases for drilling offshore and on public lands. And I will ban fracking—everywhere,” tweeted Ms. Warren. Her announcement came with environmentalists urging her to join Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who issued a statement Wednesday calling for a “full fracking ban on public and private lands,” putting the two progressives at the anti-fracking forefront of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary field. Environmental groups have decried hydraulic fracturing as a threat to public safety and the climate, while critics warned that a nationwide ban would deal a devastating blow to the economy. Most U.S. oil-and-gas extraction involves fracking. University of Colorado professor Roger A. Pielke Jr. said that Ms. Warren’s plan would force the nation to rely on foreign fossil-fuel imports. “This is a big promise, both to ban fracking and to do it everywhere on day 1 of a Warren administration,” tweeted Mr. Pielke. “Banning fracking would kill off the ~entire US oil and gas extraction industry and turn the US into a major importer of fossil fuels. It would not reduce FF consumption.”

Elizabeth Warren's fracking ban would be bad news for the US, IEA chief says - Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA (International Energy Agency), told CNBC that a ban on fracking as proposed by some Democratic presidential contenders would have “major implications” for the U.S. energy industry.  “Just banning this would not be good news, not only for Americans but for Europeans,” Birol told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” during the World Energy Conference on Monday.  Democratic presidential contenders Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris have all advocated plans to ban the fossil fuel extraction process that has catapulted the U.S. to becoming the world’s largest producer of oil. “This would have major implications on the market for the U.S. economy, for jobs growth and everything, and not good news for energy security, because for example U.S. natural gas provides a lot of security to the markets,” Birol said.  “Up to recently, before the U.S. shale gas revolution, Russia was the country which was dominating alone the gas markets. With the U.S. coming into the picture, there is a choice, there are options for the consumers, better for energy security, for diversification.”  Fracking advocates say it vastly increases natural gas supply — a cleaner fuel than crude oil — and cuts costs for consumers.  Natural gas mining and extraction employs more than 162,000 workers in the U.S., according to 2019 figures from the Energy Futures Initiative and the National Association of State Energy Officials. More than 625,000 Americans work in the wider natural gas industry. The Turkish energy expert and economist maintained, however, that climate change is a real concern and warrants commitment to finding solutions that involve the oil and gas industry, rather than exclude it. Climate and environmental scientists also point to the polluting effects of fracking, which has led to earth tremors and contaminants leaking into groundwater. “I think climate change is serious issue — the oil industry, gas industry have to be part of the solution rather than being the problem or a barrier,” he said. “But stopping oil and gas production is something that I wouldn’t advise to the U.S. government or another government. But they have to produce oil and gas in a sustainable manner, and of course technologies and projects are already there to make sustainable oil and gas production.”

Elizabeth Warren’s Daft Fracking Scheme - National Review Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts promises that if she is elected president, she will issue an immediate unilateral prohibition — based on some presidential power that she’ll invent as soon as she gets around to it — on the method of natural-gas production known colloquially as “fracking.” Other Democratic contenders, including Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris of California, have made similar promises. Another way of saying this is that the Democrats promise to induce artificial scarcity in the energy market. Yet another way of saying this is that the Democrats promise to create effective subsidies for such relatively high-pollution energy sources as coal and diesel at the expense of a relatively low-pollution energy source in the form of natural gas. And yet another way of saying this is that the Democrats propose to subsidize petroleum producers from Russia to Iran at the expense of small to midsize businesses in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Mexico, Texas, and other energy-producing states. Why? What we call “fracking” has revolutionized energy production in the United States — and that gets up the noses of certain people, prominent among them so-called environmentalists who are categorically opposed to all new development of conventional energy sources — even when that development comes with important environmental benefits. Their opposition is ideological and quasi-religious. It is based only very loosely on genuine environmental concerns.

Why A Ban On Fracking Will Never Happen - It's primary season, which generally means Democratic candidates for President are trying to see who can swing farthest Left. This is especially true when it comes to punishing the oil and gas industry that supplies most of the country's energy. The latest test of party purity involves promises to ban fracking if elected. Senator Elizabeth Warren is but one of many to make such a promise, tweeting:  The resurgence of U.S. oil and gas production over the past dozen years is directly attributable to fracking. While fracking has been going on in the U.S. since the late 1940s, it wasn't until just after the turn of the century that it began to be increasingly used in conjunction with horizontal drilling. That marriage of technologies ushered in the fracking boom and resulted in a renaissance of oil and gas production. The resurgence of natural gas production followed years of decline and corresponding natural gas price spikes. But as production rose, natural gas prices collapsed. This price collapse was a major factor for utilities switching from coal to natural gas, which in turn resulted in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions declining by more than any other nation. The U.S. became the top natural gas producer in the world, and began to export liquefied natural gas (LNG). With respect to oil, in 2005 net imports of oil and finished products like gasoline had reached 13 million barrels per day (BPD). But fracking sent U.S. oil production soaring, and that has been the single biggest factor in seeing these net imports drop to less than 1 million BPD. How do proponents of a ban envision that it would work? They foresee modest and controlled production declines, offset by other policies that would reduce oil demand. In other words, they don't believe a ban would lead to a steady increase in oil imports.However, if we look to California, a different picture emerges. California's main supplies of oil 20 years ago were its own production and Alaskan production. Neither California nor Alaska engage in fracking to any appreciable extent. Both states have missed out on the fracking-enabled shale oil boom. Instead, oil production in Alaska and California have steadily declined. Meanwhile, even though California has the nation's most aggressive policies to reduce oil demand, that demand hasn't going down appreciably. As a result, California's dependence on foreign oil has skyrocketed as its two main sources of domestic production have declined.

Multi-well natural gas fires continue to burn in Coushatta  - The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality said there are no air quality concerns although multiple natural gas wells continue to burn on a single pad north of Coushatta In Red River Parish. The site is off of U.S. Highway 71 about a mile north of state Highway 515. Neighbors are upset the company responsible, GEP Haynesville, LLC, hasn't sent representatives by to speak to them. One neighbor, Glen Williams, said he still feels his house rattling. He said it's not as bad as last Friday, but he's still concerned. The fire creates a glow in the nighttime sky that can be seen 30 miles away. During the day, white smoke towers above the site. Louisiana State Police Emergency Services are helping monitor the fire. GEP Haynesville, LLC said in a statement the fire started during flow-back operations, but the exact cause is still under investigation. Haynesville Shale operators often maximize natural gas development by drilling more than one well per pad. The wells funnel natural gas from thousands of feet underground. It’s uncertain how many wells are on this site but most have at least four. Last week’s explosion ignited all of wells on the pad. DEQ spokesman Greg Langley said GEP Haynesville, LLC hired an environmental response firm. That group set up four monitors around the wells to test air quality. Williams only lives about a mile from the site of the wells. He said the rattling gets louder at night.

Fracked Gas Well Blowout in Louisiana Likely to Burn for the Next Month -- A fracked natural gas well in northwest Louisiana has been burning for two weeks after suffering a blowout. A state official said the fire will likely burn for the next month before the flames can be brought under control by drilling a relief well. DeSmog obtained drone video footage shot 13 days after the blowout, which occurred early in the morning on August 30, the day after the well was hydraulically fractured. A tower of flames reportedly shot into the air that could be seen from more than 30 miles away. While the flames are no longer as intense, the fire is still visible from a distance of more than a mile. GEP Haynesville, LLC, the well’s operator, told local ABC affiliate KPVI that the fire started during flow-back operations, but the exact cause has not been determined yet. Experts have voiced concerns over the pollution being released, especially given the length of time this fossil fuel well has been leaking and burning.“Blowouts are (unintended) large, uncontrolled pollutant sources with potentially significant health and environmental consequences,” Gunnar W. Schade, an atmospheric scientist at Texas A&M University, told me via email after viewing the drone video obtained by DeSmog. “Blowouts need to be shut down as soon as possible.”Sharon Wilson, Texas coordinator of environmental advocacy group Earthworks, outlined what happens during well blowouts like this. “The gas is under pressure so if they lose control, the gas, frack fluid, produced water, and oil/condensate all blast out of the hole,” Wilson said during a call after viewing the video. “They have to get specialized teams to come shut the well in.”

Climate protesters arrested at Texas port during U.S. presidential debate - (Reuters) - Police have arrested the Greenpeace climate protesters who closed part of a key oil export waterway for 18 hours by tying themselves to a bridge and dangling over the water.   The closure of one portion of the Houston Ship Channel, which stretches 53 miles (85 km) from its entrance in the Gulf of Mexico to the Port of Houston, blocked tanker ship traffic to and from five major oil refineries as well as chemical and oil-export terminals. Twelve people were taken into police custody shortly after 5 p.m., Thursday, according to spokesmen for Greenpeace and the Harris County Sheriff’s office. The other 11 who were dangling by ropes and attached to one another were arrested late on Thursday and early Friday, police said. Sheriff’s deputies rappelled down to the 11, cut the ropes tying them to one another and lowered each individually to police boats, spokesman Jason Spencer said. The protesters timed the event to coincide with the nationally televised debate in Houston by 10 Democratic White House contenders, one member said. Mike Herbert, 36, a protester reached by phone while he dangled about 100 feet from the bridge, said the group wanted to “force the hand of the political hopefuls to address the elephant in the room: climate change.” The east Texas native who now lives in Maryland said members of the group were experienced climbers and had planned to continue the protest until Friday morning. They risked arrest because political leaders “aren’t taking climate change seriously,” he said. Greenpeace spokesman Ryan Schleeter said that the protesters did not resist arrest and were prepared to face whatever charges were be leveled.

Permian basin natural gas prices up as a new pipeline nears completion – The EIA reports that natural gas spot prices at the Waha hub in western Texas, located near Permian basin production, settled at $1.55/million British thermal units (MMBtu) on August 15, the highest price since March 2019. This price increase coincides with the 2 Bcfd Gulf Coast Express Pipeline (GCX) preparing to enter service. GCX will provide much-needed additional natural gas takeaway pipeline capacity from the Permian region of western Texas and southeastern New Mexico. Limited natural gas pipeline takeaway capacity from the region has kept prices very low, or even negative, in recent months. During the first eight months of 2019 (through August 19), the Waha spot price averaged just $0.65/MMBtu. The Waha spot price has been consistently lower than the Henry Hub spot price—the national benchmark price for natural gas. However, in recent days, that differential has significantly decreased, and Waha spot prices posted $0.65/MMBtu lower than the Henry Hub spot price last Thursday, which was the lowest daily differential since January. In comparison, this differential averaged between $2/MMBtu and $3/MMBtu between March and June of this year. This recent uptick in the Waha natural gas price coincides with flows on the GCX. Deliveries into the pipeline began on August 8. S&P Global Platts reported that deliveries at El Paso Natural Gas Pipeline’s interconnection with GCX reached nearly 0.26 Bcfd on August 14. Industry reports suggest that this level means that GCX is packing its lines in anticipation of entering service late next month, ahead of its announced in-service date of October 1. Once fully operational, the pipeline will be capable of sending about 2.0 Bcfd of natural gas eastward to the Agua Dulce receipt point near the Texas Gulf Coast.

He paid $1.50 an acre for barren Texas land now worth $7 billion - So much of the Permian Basin is under production that the lights glowing at night, on well pads and rigs and double-wide trailers, make the place look in NASA satellite photos like a giant Lite Brite. But there’s a spot where the Permian dims. It’s a big one, covering more than 250 square miles and loaded with enough oil and gas that it could, by some estimates, fetch $7 billion. In an era where everything in the basin seems to be for sale, though, the Fasken ranch isn’t. The owners have no interest. They don’t even want to drill very much. That’s heresy in the busiest U.S. oil patch, and almost as much of a curiosity as the lack of enthusiasm for cashing in. Back in 1913, when Toronto attorney David Fasken paid $1.50 an acre for plains outside Midland, the plan, according to lore, was to make a fortune raising cattle. There was too little water for that to happen. Fasken died 16 years later, unaware of the riches below the surface. Now his heirs are among the 100 families that are the biggest private landowners in the U.S.—No. 40 on the list in terms of acreage, and nearer the top in value. Their holdings include three ranches in South Texas and commercial, industrial and residential real estate scattered around the Lone Star State and California.  Choice in the Fasken portfolio are the 165,000 acres in the Permian, a sedimentary basin of oil-steeped rock in West Texas and southeast New Mexico that produces more crude than every OPEC member except Saudi Arabia and Iraq.  Companies have been taking over acreage and operations that had been in private hands for generations. Two years ago, Exxon Mobil Corp. bought the land of the Bass family of Dallas for $6 billion. The next to go may be Endeavor Energy Resources LP, owned by Autry Stephens and his relations, which has been in talks to sell to Royal Dutch Shell Plc for more than $10 billion. Then there’s the holdout, Fasken Oil & Ranch Ltd., still seemingly bound by the fading West Texas ethic that ruled in the days when ranches were handed from generation to generation, with the dictum of “Never sell the minerals” as guidance. “They’re one of the very rare owners that never severed their minerals and surface rights,” Wurtz said. The company is owned by descendants of Barbara Fasken, who wed a grandson of David Fasken and brought children from a previous marriage into the family. . Family members didn’t respond to requests for comment.. This reluctance fits with the strange way, by local standards, the heirs do things. Instead of shipping in fresh water for the drilling process, the company uses mostly recycled or nonpotable H2O.   While the recent boom in Permian production has come from drilling mile-long horizontal wells, Fasken instead mostly sticks with the old-school vertical version. Much of America’s shale boom of the past decade has been financed with debt; the company has none. What’s more, the Fasken acreage is lightly drilled because, as Davis explained, the family wants to go slow and preserve the mineral base. What’s the rush?

The Shale Boom Has Turned To Bust- Producers Slashing Budgets, Staff, & Production Goals - The collapse in the shale industry is continuing with no signs of stopping or even slowing down.No sooner did we highlight how shale is doomed no matter what the industry does and how recent price movements have triggered chaos across the industry, than we find out that oil producers and their suppliers are now cutting budgets, staffs and production goals, according to Reuters. The U.S. now has 904 working rigs, which is down 14% from a year ago. Harold Hamm, chief executive of shale producer Continental Resources, still thinks this could be too many. Additionally, bankruptcy filings by U.S. energy producers through mid-August of this year have matched the total for all of 2018 already. Earl Reynolds, CEO of Chaparral Energy said:"You’re going to see activity drop across the industry."His firm has slashed its workforce by about 25% and cut spending by about 5%. It has also agreed to sell its headquarters and use some of the proceeds to pay off debt.  Cowen & Co. estimated last month that oil and gas producers deployed 56% of their total budgets through June and the firm expects total spending to fall 11% over last year.And one slowdown begets another: as drilling slows, oilfield services companies are also making staff and budget cuts. Some, like Schlumberger and Halliburton Co., are considering restructurings. For example, Schlumberger is planning a writedown this quarter and has said that its North American results have been "under significant pressure". Halliburton, on the other hand, is reducing its North American workforce by 8% due to customer spending cuts.  Superior Drilling Services CEO Troy Meier said: “The service sector I think is going to be flat.” His firm recently cancelled plans to add new machinery.

Even if Injection of Fracking Wastewater Stops, Quakes Won't - Jacob Walter likes to remind people that what has transpired in Oklahoma over the past decade is unprecedented in human history. Walter is Oklahoma’s state seismologist, and he is talking about the surge of earthquakes that has plagued his state since its most recent oil-and-gas boom. Production techniques—including hydraulic fracturing, or fracking—led to large-scale underground wastewater disposal, which scientists have tied to the state’s 900-fold increase in quakes since 2008. After 2015, when oil demand fell as prices dropped and Oklahoma instituted new wastewater-disposal rules, earthquake rates fell sharply. Still, the state continued to see rare but damaging tremors triggered by the fluids that had already been shunted underground. “I don’t think people fully appreciate the scale, the amount of water that was injected over the years,” Walter says, adding that humans have now caused four of the five largest earthquakes in Oklahoma’s recorded history. Since the surge began, scientists have grappled with how to manage the quakes without crippling one of the state’s most lucrative industries. Two new studies show how the continuing movements of injected wastewater can trigger earthquake activity—knowledge that sheds light on how to forecast and mitigate tremors. The findings suggest the effects of wastewater disposal can persist for years after injection rates slow or stop, as pressure from the wastewater continues to spread belowground and rupture ancient faults.

US seeks dismissal of tribes' lawsuit over Keystone pipeline (AP) — Attorneys for the Trump administration want a U.S. judge to throw out a lawsuit from Native American tribes trying to block the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to Nebraska. Tribes in Montana and South Dakota say President Donald Trump approved the pipeline without considering potential damage to cultural sites from spills and construction. The administration counters that Trump’s approval applies only to a 1-mile (1.6-kilometer) section of pipeline along the U.S.-Canada border and not the rest of the line. U.S. District Judge Brian Morris will preside over a Thursday hearing on the government’s attempt to dismiss the case. The judge blocked the line in November, saying more environmental studies were needed. But Trump circumvented that ruling in March by issuing a new permit for the $8 billion, 1,184-mile (1,900-kilometer) project. The Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in Montana and South Dakota’s Rosebud Sioux tribe say Trump’s action violated their rights under treaties from the mid-1800s. “They’re saying we can’t sue the president, and the tribes’ treaties essentially mean nothing. We completely disagree,” said Matthew Campbell, a Native American Rights Fund attorney representing the tribes. “The treaties were agreed to by the president of the United States and ratified by the Senate, so the treaties clearly apply.”

 DNA from cigarette leads to Dakota Access arrest warrant 3 years later - North Dakota authorities relying on DNA collected from a cigarette butt have charged a man with engaging in a riot for his involvement in a Dakota Access pipeline protest three years ago. Morton County prosecutors also charged 23-year-old Lawrence Malcolm Jr. with felony conspiracy to commit criminal mischief. The charges relate to a Sept. 6, 2016, protest on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. An affidavit says more than 100 demonstrators, many with their faces covered, halted construction and vandalized equipment. North Dakota crime lab officials notified investigators last month that DNA from a cigarette butt found at the scene was a match for Malcolm, of Sisseton, South Dakota, whose DNA profile was on file from an earlier arrest.

 50 barrels of oil spill in Orcutt- Cleanup operations continue at the scene of a reported oil spill south of Orcutt in northern Santa Barbara County. The Santa Barbara County Fire Department responded to the spill of about 50 barrels of light crude early Thursday evening from a pipe at 7275 Graciosa Road. County Fire says the spill was in a riparian area at the oil lease location west of Highway 135. The pipe was clamped off and shut down Thursday night and no further oil was reported to be spilling, according to the Santa Barbara County Fire Dept. California Fish and Wildlife representatives were called in to supervise the cleanup. 50 barrels of light crude is equivalent to about 2,000 gallons. No official word on who owns and operates the pipe involved in the oil spill. There is a Greka Energy sign on the gate at the entrance to the oil lease location a 7275 Graciosa Road.

A last-ditch bid to keep Big Oil out of Arctic Wildlife Refuge - Democrats in the House and U.S. Senate are launching an 11th hour effort to spare the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, America's greatest wilderness, from a hurry-up Trump Administrations bid to sell oil and gas leases. A back-door provision in Congress' 2017 tax cut opened the coastal plain of the 19-million acre Refuge to oil drilling. Oil development would take place in what is the calving ground for 100,000-plus animals of the Porcupine Caribou herd. It is a land of prey -- the caribou -- and such predators as wolves and barren ground grizzly bears. Offshore ice flows in the Beaufort Sea are prime polar bear habitat.  Along with five other Senate Democrats, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., will introduce legislation on Wednesday that would designate the coastal plain a wilderness are off-limits to haul roads, pipelines and drilling platforms. RELATED: Saying it's 'Moving Forward,' SDOT axes $52 million Seattle streetcar contract The cause is dear to Cantwell, who has trekked and rafted in the Refuge. She tried to block the tax bill from green-lighting oil development, but lost in a 52-47 Senate vote. The Democratic-controlled House will vote this week on a bill called the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act, which would repeal the tax bill provision opening the Refuge to drillers. The action in Congress comes as the Trump Administration seeks to rush completion of a draft environmental impact statement. The administration seeks to hold a lease sale in 2020, before the presidential election. The Senate legislation, and the House bill if it passes, will likely be blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. But growing public concern about global warming -- most acutely felt in the Arctic -- makes Refuge drilling unpopular in the "lower 48" States.

'Expect some volatility' in oil price as US output flows back, IHS Markit's Yergin says --A rise in U.S. shale oil output and lackluster global demand will create volatility for oil markets, according to Dan Yergin, IHS Markit’s vice chairman.“The pipeline bottlenecks are in the process of being resolved, so a lot more oil is going to come onto the market by the end of the year. We expect the U.S. (crude oil output) to be up to 13 million barrels a day. And at least we’re looking right now at fairly weak demand,” he told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble in Abu Dhabi Tuesday.“We’re in one of the weakest periods since 2008 and we think demand growth this year is under a million barrels per day. So you have that factor at the same time as you have more oil coming to the market. So expect some volatility.”Yergin projected that benchmark Brent crude, currently trading at $62.86 Tuesday, could stay within the $55 to $65 range.Yergin said IHS Markit came to its conclusion about lower oil demand growth having looked at weaker manufacturing data. “We see a strong consumer economy in the U.S. but worry about the weakness in the economy.” The direction of the oil price, which is largely dictated by supply and demand dynamics, is uncertain.On the one hand, an alliance of OPEC producers and non-OPEC producers (including Russia) decided in late 2016 to curb their daily oil output in order to balance markets following a glut in supply and slumping prices. The U.S., which is now the biggest oil producer in the world, is not a part of that agreement, however, and has seen its oil production surge.The U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) estimates that U.S. crude oil production averaged 11.7 million barrels a day (b/d) in July; it will release August data later on Tuesday. The EIA forecasts U.S. crude oil production will average 12.3 million b/d in 2019 and 13.3 million b/d in 2020, “both of which would be record levels,” it noted in its last monthly outlook. President Donald Trump’s trade dispute with China, and the mutual import tariffs both country’s have applied, are widely seen as a dampener on global economic growth and the demand outlook for oil. Combine the factors of rising oil supply and lower global demand growth, and the oil price declines.

Shale Slowdown Could Trigger Major New Oil Price Rally - Two weeks ago, published my notes which supported my belief that U.S. oil production has “hit a wall”. Last week, EIA confirmed my conclusion. The EIA’s 941 report shows that after U.S. crude oil production peaked in April at 12,123,000 barrels of oil per day (“BOPD”) production declined 8,000 BOPD in May and another 33,000 BOPD in June. Preliminary estimates say that when actuals are available for July, they will show an even larger decline. These are not big declines, but with the active drilling rig count continuing to fall, I feel confident in telling you that U.S. oil production over the second half of this year is not going higher. When EIA reports actual production figures for July at the end of this month, they are surely going to be lower because of the well shut-ins due to Hurricane Berry in the Gulf of Mexico. Barring another GoM hurricane, oil production should rebound a bit in August and September. However, I don’t see anything that will return U.S. oil production to the peak set in April.Note that EIA’s weekly U.S. oil production “guestimates” have been around 12.3 to 12.5 million barrels per day recently, but most of you should know by now that EIA’s weekly numbers are based on flawed formulas. The Department of Energy has a long history of missing the change in trends of supply and demand. We need much higher oil prices soon or the global market will soon be undersupplied. On September 3rd Raymond James published an Energy Industry Brief that contained a statement that all of you should read carefully: “We believe the single most important longer-term driver of oil prices and the energy market over the next five years will be the change in U.S. well productivity.” I agree with this statement 100%.  So, what has happened to dash the “expert opinions”? The simple answer is that lower oil prices as a result of the shale production surge has caused upstream oil & gas companies to slash drilling & completion budgets. That’s true, but it is only half of the reason for lower U.S. oil productivity. We are completing a lot fewer wells and the newer wells are declining faster. Part of the reason for the faster decline rate (60% to 70% during the first year for the average horizonal well) is because upstream companies drill their best leasehold first. All oilfields go on decline after the Tier One drilling locations are fully developed. The Tier Two wells cannot offset the declines of the Tier One wells.

 US is closing in on Saudi Arabia to become the world's top oil exporter, IEA says - The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects the U.S. to challenge Saudi Arabia’s position as the world’s leading oil exporter, after briefly overtaking the OPEC kingpin to claim the number one spot earlier this year.“Booming shale production has allowed the U.S. to close in on, and briefly overtake, Saudi Arabia as the world’s top oil exporter,” the IEA said in its closely-watched monthly report on Thursday.“The installation of the necessary pipelines and terminals is continuing apace, which will ensure that the trend continues.”The U.S. momentarily surpassed Saudi Arabia as the leading oil exporter in June, after crude exports surged above 3 million barrels per day (b/d), the IEA said Thursday. That lifted total exports of crude and products to nearly 9 million b/d.At the same time, Saudi Arabia cut back on both crude and refined product exports.The oil-rich kingdom reclaimed the top spot in July and August, as the U.S. was affected by hurricane disruptions. The ongoing trade dispute also made it difficult for U.S. shale shipments to find markets in recent months, the IEA said.The Paris-based energy agency’s monthly report comes at a time when the U.S. is actively pursuing “energy dominance,” regardless of what happens to oil prices.Speaking to CNBC in Abu Dhabi earlier this week, the U.S. deputy energy secretary said President Donald Trump “often talks about energy dominance.”“The world often asks: what does that mean? It just simply means that we are going to produce as much energy as we can, as cleanly as we can and as affordably as we can.” “And whatever happens to the world price of oil, whatever happens to the world price of whatever, electricity, it doesn’t really matter, then so be it,” Dan Brouillette said.

US wants energy dominance regardless of what happens to oil prices, dep. energy secretary says - The U.S. deputy energy secretary told CNBC Monday that America wants to achieve energy dominance regardless of what happens to oil prices. OPEC has struggled to shore up crude futures this year, amid a deteriorating outlook for global growth and a protracted trade dispute between the U.S. and China. It has once again raised questions about whether the Middle East-dominated group really wields that much influence over world crude markets. “Our energy policy is not designed to affect price, that’s not we do for a living. And yet it does because of our production numbers,” Dan Brouillette told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble at the World Energy Congress in Abu Dhabi. “The president has an ‘all of the above’ strategy. He talks often about energy dominance and the world often asks: what does that mean? It just simply means that we are going to produce as much energy as we can, as cleanly as we can and as affordably as we can.” “And whatever happens to the world price of oil, whatever happens to the world price of whatever, electricity, it doesn’t really matter, then so be it,” Brouillette said. In the last decade, the U.S. has more than doubled oil production to 12.3 million barrels a day, making it the world’s largest producer. It now appears set to flood the oil market with even more crude, putting downward pressure on prices at a time when it is already struggling to cope with too much supply. International benchmark Brent crude traded at $62.12 Monday morning, up around 0.9%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $57.17, up more than 1.1%.

Extinction Rebellion blocks UK fracking site in climate protest  --- Extinction Rebellion has blocked the entrance to the UK’s only active fracking site in a demonstration against what it called the “burgeoning catastrophe” of global warming.Protesters from the environmental group gathered outside the shale gas site on Preston New Road, near Blackpool, on Tuesday morning alongside a yellow boat bearing the words: “Planet before profit”.The energy firm Cuadrilla said its operations were not affected by the protest. The action comes 15 days after the UK’s biggest fracking-related earthquake to date was triggered at the site, causing houses to shake for miles around.A spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion said its latest action was to highlight “the conscious, cynical inaction of the government in response to a climate and ecological emergency”.They added in a statement: “We will stand with those communities which have tenaciously and peacefully resisted this for years. They have sought to defend against the threat fracking poses to their air and water, their health, their land, including their homes, as demonstrated by the recent tremors. “There is a yawning chasm between words and deeds. The science is clear: the world must move urgently away from a system of ever-increasing consumption and destruction, totally founded and dependent on fossil fuels.”

 BP hit with £400k fine after oil spill in Shetland - BP Exploration Operating Company has been fined £400,000 after pleading guilty yesterday for an oil spill in Shetland nearly seven years ago.The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said Lerwick Sheriff Court heard the oil spill took place at Sullom Voe Terminal during maintenance work to drain a surge relief pipeline in December 2012.Around 3.8 tonnes of “extremely flammable, unstabilised crude oil” spilled on to the ground, it added. BP said while there was no injury to people or impact on the environment, the incident “should never have happened”.An investigation by HSE found between 12th November and 13th December 2012, BP Exploration Operating Company had “failed to take all measures necessary” to prevent major accidents and to limit their consequences to people and the environment.It also failed to identify and assess the hazards and risks arising from the undertaking of a “non-routine job”, namely the task of draining water from a drain valve on a surge relief line.HSE Principal Inspector Greg Haywood said: “This incident could so easily have been avoided by simply carrying out correct control measures and safe working practices. “Companies should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.”

Fire breaks out on oil tanker at Sture oil terminal in Norway - (Reuters) - A fire has broken out in the engine room of an oil tanker during loading at Equinor's Sture oil terminal on Norway's west coast, local police and the oil firm said on Friday.  The crew of the oil tanker, named by police as Dubai Harmony, is still onboard and assisting the fire service. The Sture oil terminal is being evacuated, the police said.

Colombia court maintains moratorium on fracking -(Reuters) - Colombia’s top administrative court maintained a temporary moratorium on the use of fracking on Tuesday, stymieing potential pilot projects amid ongoing arguments in a wider case regarding the use of the technique to extract oil and gas. A wall with the carved phrase that reads "Superior Council of the Judiciary, Council of State" is seen on the facade of the Palace of Justice in Bogota, Colombia September 10, 2019. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez The decision by three magistrates from the Council of State, which is tasked with ruling on administrative matters, comes amid a larger case about the use of hydraulic fracturing, which breaks up rock formations with pressurized liquid. Regulations for development of non-conventional oil deposits were suspended in the Andean country late last year as part of the ongoing lawsuit filed against the energy ministry by an environmental lawyer. While there is no law against fracking, which is not yet widely used in Colombia, the government says regulations are needed. Fracking’s possible use has sparked vitriolic debate among lawmakers, activists, officials and regular citizens. “The measure that proposed giving an open road to the exercise of fracking has been defeated while it is decided whether its regulation is legal or not,” the court said in a statement about its decision. The statement outlined the arguments submitted in favor of lifting of the moratorium but did not say why the magistrates decided to maintain it.

EPA undertaking oil spill assessment for national response plan - With oil production estimated to begin in approximately six months, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is moving to prepare an assessment that will identify the possible risks to Guyana should an oil spill occur and it is expected to take several months.The risk assessment will help to form part of government’s National Oil Spill Response Contingency Plan, which Director-General of the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) Lieutenant-Colonel Kester Craig says is about 90% done and “will be in place before first oil.” “There is need for a more detailed risk assessment and we have outlined it with the EPA and they are working on having the assessment done. This is because we want to be able to say ‘This area range here and here, this is what will be affected. If it involves mangroves, sea turtles, fishes, farms… whatever it is, we want to know and to plan accordingly,” Craig told Sunday Stabroek in an interview last week.

The World's Oil Glut Is Much Worse Than It Looks - A meeting of ministers from OPEC states and their oil-producing allies will take place in Abu Dhabi this week. It will probably be a subdued affair. Oil prices remain stubbornly low despite big output cuts by the so-called OPEC+ group and geopolitical factors such as the U.S. sanctions on Iran.The meeting of the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee, a body set up by OPEC+ to oversee its production-cutting strategy, won’t reset the group’s approach but it might provide some clearer guidance on its goals. The ministers insist that they don’t have a target for how far they want the price of crude to rise, and say instead that their aim is to reduce excess stockpiles.But for market-watchers it’s tough to even get a sense of how big that stockpile is, and hence when the output-cutting exercise may be seen to have done its job.The original target of the output cuts back in November 2016 was to get stockpiles back to their five-year average level. That was never going to be enough, though. The problem is that this average has been inflated by the very excess stockpile that OPEC+ is trying to drain (as the chart below shows).As such, it’s been relatively easy to cut the inventory to close to this inflated figure but that has still left a huge amount of unwanted crude sloshing around. Not a very useful outcome when you’re trying to boost prices.Khalid Al-Falih, the departing Saudi oil minister, has acknowledged that the group needs a new target. The OPEC+ ministerial group concluded at its last meeting in July that the moving five-year average wasn’t working and it has been considering using a new benchmark from the more “normal” period (in global oil inventory terms) of 2010-2014. That leaves the producers with a lot more excess crude to drain. OPEC assessed that commercial oil stockpiles in the industrialized countries of the OECD totaled 2.955 billion barrels at the end of June. That’s 258 million barrels more than the 2010-2014 average for the same month.Using this figure would certainly be a step in the right direction in terms of truly managing the market’s excess inventory. Better still would be having a target that takes into account the growth in oil demand every year, by measuring stockpiles in terms of the number of days’ worth of demand they represent rather than in simple volumes.Measuring the number of barrels held in storage is all well and good, but with demand rising year after year (even if the rate of increase is slowing) the world now needs a bigger stockpile to provide the same amount of forward cover.Still, whether you measure them as simple volumes or in terms of cover for future demand, OECD stockpiles are rising. Admittedly, much of the recent increase comes from natural gas liquids (light oils produced in large quantities from U.S. shale) which are used widely as petrochemical feedstocks. When you strip these out of the numbers, OECD inventories of crude oil plus the major fuel products – gasoline, middle distillates (diesel, heating oil and jet fuel) and fuel oil – are below their five-year average level.

Russia Considers Possibility Of $25 Oil Next Year - Russia is considering the notion that oil prices may be as low as $25 per barrel in 2020, the country’s central bank said in its new forecast published on Monday, as cited by Reuters.Russia’s Central Bank has forecast in its macroeconomic forecast that oil could possibly hit that low due to falling demand for oil and oil products worldwide, as well as from disappointed global economic growth.The doom and gloom scenario was just one proposed by the bank. If that risk scenario actually materializes, Russia’s inflation could increase to 7% or 8% next year, on the back of falling gross domestic product to 1.5%– 2%.Russia is perhaps uniquely positioned to withstand low oil prices, although $25 per barrel is pretty bleak.One of the reasons why Russia is more impervious to low oil prices compared to its competition is that its currency weakens when oil prices fall. This provides some type of a cushion—at least to some extent—for its lower oil revenues. Russian oil companies can pay their expenses in this weaker ruble, but still rakes in US dollars for its oil exports. Further allowing it to withstand lower prices, are that Russia’s oil company’s taxes are designed to be less as oil prices fall.So much so is Russia’s ability to adapt to lower oil prices, that it actually struggles with higher oil prices, which dent demand for its oil. Russia’s budget for 2019 was based on $40 oil. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia needs $80—some say even $85—per barrel. In August, Russia said its 2019 budget breakeven was at a Urals price of $49.20—the lowest breakeven in more than a decade.  This has Russia and Saudi Arabia—colleagues in the current production quotas designed to rebalance the market—at odds, and likely working toward perhaps different goals.

Russian energy minister looks to long term factors, not Trump tweets, for oil price forecasts - Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak has his focus on longer-term market factors rather than President Donald Trump’s tweets, he said Thursday. Asked about his reactions to the U.S. president’s social media missives, which often target OPEC policies and are known to move markets without warning, Novak told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble: “You know, we are looking at all the factors that one way or another effect the prices. But in particular for us, it’s the balance between supply and demand.” “With regards to (Trump’s) statement, we see that at the time of the statement the price goes up or down but after a while returns to where it was,” he added in the exclusive interview. “Therefore, in my view, these are not fundamental factors. Fundamental factors do not lie in words but actions.” His comments come shortly after the conclusion of the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee (JMMC) in Abu Dhabi, with OPEC allies agreeing to ask over-producing members to bring production back in line with their targets.The full coalition of OPEC and non-OPEC partners — sometimes referred to as “OPEC+” — will next meet in Vienna in early December to decide whether any further action to stabilize oil markets is required for 2020.The group has struggled to shore up oil prices this year, amid booming U.S. production and a slowing global economy.It has called into question whether OPEC+ really wields that much influence over oil markets.

Russia says it wants a relationship with US on energy but 'ball not in our court'— Russia is always open to a relationship with the U.S. on oil, its Energy Minister Alexander Novak told CNBC in Abu Dhabi on Thursday. "With regard to the possibility developing relations with the minister of energy for the United States, I am in contact with him, we are always ready to develop a dialogue on energy between our countries," Novak told CNBC's Hadley Gamble in an exclusive interview. "But the ball isn't in our court." When asked to elaborate on what kind of relationship, the minister replied, "That's not a question for me." Many major oil producers have struggled to bring in oil revenue to meet their budget needs as prices remain depressed in a low demand environment. The U.S.-China trade war and increased supply coming in from America's shale fields have kept a lid on crude futures, despite production cuts orchestrated by OPEC and its non-OPEC partners, the latter of which have been led by Russia. Still, Novak seemed confident that the U.S. shale boom's days could end once the easily accessible resources were plundered. "First of all, I'd like to say that sooner or later any boom ends," he said. "And that's just a historic truth. Then we will see what happens with shale oil, it's fairly difficult to extract from the mineral deposits." Earlier in the day, Novak told reporters that U.S. shale output growth will slow as it struggles to attract finances for investment and raise its output. The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects the U.S. to challenge Saudi Arabia's position as the world's leading oil exporter, after briefly overtaking the OPEC kingpin to claim the number one spot earlier this year. The minister's comments come shortly after the conclusion of the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee (JMMC) in Abu Dhabi, with OPEC allies agreeing to ask over-producing members to bring production back in line with their targets.

President Trump can tweet 'anything he wants,' Saudi energy minister says — Saudi Arabia’s recently appointed Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman is unfazed by President Donald Trump’s tweets about OPEC and the oil market, he indicated Thursday during a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee (JMMC) in Abu Dhabi.When asked how OPEC planned to navigate President Donald Trump’s social media missives on the oil market, Abdulaziz replied: “The president is the president. He is entitled to tweet anything he wants.”The American president has taken to Twitter scores of times to express his disdain for the 14-member organization’s output cutting plans that have aimed to boost prices amid a high supply and low demand environment. In mid-June, after OPEC and its non-OPEC allies agreed to extend their output cuts into 2020, Trump tweeted: “Oil prices are too high, OPEC is at it again. Not good!”Lower oil prices translate to more affordable gas prices for American consumers, something the president wants to ensure ahead of an election year.Abdulaziz said Thursday that OPEC and non-OPEC partners would consider deeper production cuts at its next full meeting.A seasoned veteran of the kingdom’s delegation to OPEC with years of experience in the industry, Abdulaziz is the first member of the ruling Al Saud family to hold a position in the massive energy ministry. He told reporters on Monday during the World Energy Congress that there would be no changes to the oil policy of Saudi Arabia, which has taken on the brunt of the OPEC cuts, pumping well below its 10 million barrel per day (bpd) target.Pushing oil prices higher does not seem feasible at this point, even with production cuts, many analysts agree — the International Energy Agency recently announced its lowest growth forecasts for oil demand in a decade,with demand growth for the first half of 2019 at a paltry 500,000 bpd. Most see Brent crude hovering in the $50 to $60 per barrel range.

New Saudi energy minister faces unpalatable crude market choices: Russell (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s new Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman faces a series of fairly bleak options as the world’s largest exporter of crude oil tries to engineer higher prices amid a faltering global economy beset with geopolitical risks. So far the word from the Saudis is that the appointment of one of the king’s sons doesn’t imply a reset of the current policies being pursued. This means that, for now at least, the Saudis will stick to their output cutting agreement with the rest of OPEC and allied producers such as Russia. But Salman will know as a highly experienced energy leader that the current policies aren’t exactly working, and worse than that, have very little chance of delivering the higher prices his country needs. Saudi Arabia needs crude prices around $80 a barrel, some $20 above current levels, to balance the government budget, while higher prices will also help boost the valuation of state oil company Saudi Aramco ahead of a possible initial public offering next year. OPEC and its allies agreed in November 2017 to restrict output in a bid to arrest falling prices, and have extended that deal, but the problem for the exporters’ club is that their efforts have largely been in vain.

Saudi Arabia says deeper OPEC cuts will be considered in December - Saudi Arabia’s newly appointed energy minister said Thursday that OPEC and non-OPEC partners would consider deeper production cuts at its next full meeting. Speaking shortly after the conclusion of the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee (JMMC) in Abu Dhabi, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said the Middle East-dominated group had a clear readiness to be responsive. His comments come at a time when OPEC and non-OPEC partners, sometimes referred to as OPEC+, have struggled to shore up crude futures this year. It has once again raised questions about whether the group, which consists of some of the world’s most powerful oil-producing nations, really wields that much influence over oil markets. The full coalition will next meet in Vienna, Austria in early December to decide whether any further action to stabilize oil markets is required for 2020. ‘A new reality’ Abdulaziz, who replaced Khalid al-Falih as Saudi Arabia’s energy minister on Sunday, described Thursday’s JMMC meeting as “productive,” “fruitful” and “transparent.” Sitting alongside his Russian counterpart, Abdulaziz said the talks had “awakened” Riyadh and Moscow to a “new reality.” He explained the two countries had not been “inclusive” enough to other OPEC members in previous meetings, promising that this would change over the coming months. “I think our colleagues have welcomed this change,” he added.

OPEC Needs A Miracle To Push Prices Higher - It’s not a secret: OPEC has painted itself into a corner by relying exclusively on supply control to be able to manipulate international oil prices in a way that is favorable for its members. Right now, prices are depressed and that has nothing to do with supply. Could OPEC’s grip on oil prices be slipping irreparably? When OPEC first announced that its members had agreed to put a cap on their production to reverse a steep drop in prices, it worked. Prices had been pushed to lows last seen more than a decade ago by the U.S. shale boom and OPEC’s own attempt to halt it by turning the taps on to maximum flow. When OPEC said it would reduce this flow, prices rebounded, providing much-needed relief to oil-reliant economies in the Gulf—it also provided relief to oil producers around the world, including the U.S. shale patch.The shale patch recovered so well that now U.S. oil production is at an all-time high with the country last year becoming the world’s largest producer. Meanwhile, OPEC and its partners led by Russia decided to cut again. This time, however, the cuts didn’t work. Prices remained subdued save the occasional short-lived rally. While it’s true Brent and WTI are both higher than they were before the second round of cuts was announced, the international benchmark is much lower than OPEC’s largest producers, notably Saudi Arabia, need it to be.The reason these cuts aren’t working is that market movers are not watching them. They are watching the tariff match between Washington and Beijing—a match that could hurt global oil demand. According to forecasters, it is already hurting it and as a result, it is hurting prices. “OPEC’s burden is to show that it still has the appropriate tools to arrest price declines driven in no small part by White House policy,” RBC’s head of commodity strategy, Helima Croft, said in a note to clients as quoted by CNBC this week. “It may prove easier to clean up the physical market than to overcome skepticism about the ultimate efficacy of its strategy in the age of Trump,” Croft added.

Iraq will cut oil production, comply with OPEC cuts 'this month,' minister says  — Iraq will immediately comply with OPEC production cuts after months of overproduction, its oil minister told CNBC on Tuesday. The second-largest crude producer in the 14-member organization is often labeled OPEC’s ‘problem child’ for chronically overproducing even as the group tries to curb output during a time of low oil prices. In August, Baghdad reported its highest oil production on record at 4.6 million barrels per day (bpd), a volume that has increased steadily over the past few years despite nearly two decades of war and a bloody three-year battle to drive out the so-called Islamic State (IS). “We are trying to adhere to our commitment that we have agreed on the third of December last year with our colleagues in OPEC and outside OPEC, but with difficulties, of course,” Iraqi Oil Minister Thamer Ghadhban told CNBC at the 24th annual World Energy Congress in Abu Dhabi. Among those difficulties are disputes with the semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), which holds roughly 30% of Iraq’s proven oil reserves, as well as the country’s high domestic power demand during Iraq’s hot summer months. “Right away from now, from this month, we will go back to normal and... crude oil for power generation will be down to about 80,000, 85,000 (bpd) instead of 205,000,” the minister said. In recent weeks, Iraq has had to refine some 200,000 bpd for local power generation, Ghadhban explained, compared to the domestic demand in winter of about 75,000 bpd. This production came in addition to the increase in production and export capacity from the KRG, he said. “That is why our numbers look higher or inflated,” Ghadhban added. “So this, and also I ordered the deduction in the refining capacity, and there would be a drop in our exports.”

OPEC+ deal can last 'until death do us part,' Saudi energy minister says - OPEC’s deal to curb oil production with non-OPEC allies, including Russia, can last the test of time, Saudi Arabia’s new energy minister said Monday.“Now we have a bigger family, which is OPEC plus,” Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Saudi’s new energy minister, told an audience of delegates at the 24th World Energy Congress in Abu Dhabi.“And very soon we will celebrate the charter that will continue putting us together, so until death do us part,” he said.It was announced on Sunday that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman had replaced Energy Minister Khalid al Falih with Prince Abdulaziz, a former deputy minister with decades of experience in Saudi’s OPEC delegation.Abdulaziz was part of the OPEC team that negotiated the current deal with non-OPEC producers (collectively known as OPEC+) to curb production which was struck in late 2016. The deal was extended in July to March 2020. The Kremlin said Monday that it sees no impact on the so-called “OPEC+” deal following the change of leadership at Saudi Arabia’s energy ministry and that it expected “business as usual,” Reuters reported.An expectation that Saudi’s approach to the so-called “OPEC+” deal will continue as before has buoyed oil prices Monday. Benchmark Brent crude was trading at $61.99 per barrel while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) was trading at $56.99 per barrel.The OPEC+ alliance’s policy to curb production has had to confront ample supply from U.S. shale oil producers and a potential fall in demand amid U.S.-Sino trade tariffs seen as subduing global growth. Prince Abdulaziz said he was “by nature an optimist” and that the “jury is out” when it comes to the outlook for oil demand, adding that if he took IEA (International Energy Agency) projections forecasting slowing demand to heart, he would “probably be on Prozac all the time.”

Oil gets boost as new Saudi minister commits to output cuts - Oil prices rose on Monday after the new Saudi energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, confirmed expectations that there would be no radical change in his country’s oil policy. Prince Abdulaziz, son of Saudi King Salman and a long-time member of the Saudi delegation to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, replaced Khalid al-Falih on Sunday. Global benchmark Brent crude futures were up 63 cents at $62.17 a barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate gained 89 cents to $57.41. Speaking on Monday, Prince Abdulaziz said the pillars of Saudi Arabia’s policy would not change and that a global deal to cut oil production by 1.2 million barrels per day would survive. He added that the so-called OPEC+ alliance between OPEC and non-member countries including Russia, a partnership he helped cement, was staying for the long term. He declined to comment on oil prices. Russia’s oil output in August exceeded its quota under the OPEC+ agreements. OPEC oil output in August rose for the first month this year as higher supply from Iraq and Nigeria outweighed restraint by Saudi Arabia and losses caused by U.S. sanctions on Iran. Abdulaziz also said the kingdom’s aim was for an Initial Public Offering of Saudi Aramco to happen “as soon as possible”. “I expect no deviation from Saudi policy. If anything, maybe more of a push in the direction of getting inventories down and getting the market into shape for the (Aramco) IPO,” said Robert Ryan, Chief Energy Strategist at BCA research. The United Arab Emirates’ energy minister, Suhail bin Mohammed al-Mazroui, said on Sunday that OPEC and non-OPEC producers were “committed” to achieving oil market balance. The OPEC+ deal’s joint ministerial monitoring committee meets on Thursday in Abu Dhabi. Trade and geopolitical tensions are affecting the market, Mazrouei said, but he was quick to rule out hasty steps influenced by the trade war between the United States and China. “The fear of slower (oil) demand is only going to happen if that tension is escalating and I am personally hopeful that is not the case,” Mazrouei told Reuters. Prices on Monday were also supported by a rise in oil imports in China in August, with shipments to the world’s biggest importer up 3% from July and nearly 10% higher in the first eight months of 2019 from a year earlier.

Oil Hits Near 6-Week Highs on New Saudi Oil Minister Appointment - - The oil rally has got an unexpected shot in the arm from Saudi Arabia’s surprise replacement of its oil minister. Crude prices jumped about 2% Monday after Saudi King Salman appointed one of his own sons, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, to take over from Khalid al-Falih to run the most important ministry in the country that leads OPEC. Known as ABS by his initials, Abdulaziz is a long-time Saudi delegate to OPEC and brother to Mohamad bin Salman, or MBS, another of King Salman’s sons and arguably the most powerful man in Saudi Arabia after the monarch. New York-traded West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark blend, settled up $1.33, or 2.4%, at $57.85 per barrel. Last week, WTI rose 2.6%, its biggest weekly advance since July. London-traded Brent crude, the international benchmark blend, extended its perch further above the key $60 level, rising $1.05, or 1.7%, to $62.59. “Oil bulls are greeting ABS’ appointment as a sign that Saudi Arabia is going to get better in its game of pushing up crude prices, something that Khalid al-Falih, unfortunately, never got to achieve in his time,” “Then, there’s also the question of the pending listing of Saudi Aramco, which has suffered for a host of reasons, some beyond Falih’s control. There’s renewed hope that ABS will be better at sorting out all these.” Aramco, the kingdom’s state oil company, is preparing to sell up to a 5% stake by 2020-2021, in what could be the world’s biggest IPO, Reuters reported on Monday. The OPEC+ joint ministerial monitoring committee, known as JMMC, will meet on Thursday in Abu Dhabi to review the cartel’s commitment to reduce 1.2 million barrels per day of supply since December. ABS helped negotiate the OPEC+ agreement between the established producer cartel and non-members led by Russia to cut global crude supply in order to support prices and balance the market.

Energy's recent rally is just a head fake, say options traders --Oil’s three-month-long roller-coaster ride still isn’t over. On Tuesday, it looked like crude was on its way to its first five-day winning streak since July, but then President Donald Trump fired national security advisor John Bolton – a well-known Iran hawk – and black gold immediately fell into the red. Oil looks like it’s on the road to recovery Wednesday, but if options traders are to be believed, energy stocks might not share in the comeback. Optimize Advisors President Michael Khouw stopped by “Fast Money” to explain why Tuesday evening. “Looking at XLE, the energy sector ETF, we saw about two times the average daily put volume today,” Khouw said. With many of those puts being bought to open, it’s no surprise that the largest trade of the day was a bearish bet. “One of the trades that I was looking at was the Oct. 11 weekly 60.5-strike puts. Somebody spent about $1.30 for those,” noted Khouw. The XLE closed Tuesday at $60.92, meaning that this trader expects the ETF to drop at least 3%, or below $59.20, during the next month. “Energy stocks tend to track oil, and oil often has a tendency to move further, farther along, than you normally would expect,” said Khouw, “But in this case, we’re still trading well within the band of its 52-week highs and lows.

 Oil drops after Trump says he fired national security advisor Bolton - Oil futures fell on Tuesday, losing early gains, after President Donald Trump announced that he fired national security advisor John Bolton.  U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures settled 45 cents lower, or 0.8%, at $57.40 a barrel. Brent futures dropped 34 cents, or 0.5%, to $62.25 a barrel. Trump said Tuesday he fired national security advisor John Bolton, saying on Twitter he had “disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions.” “I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House. I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration, and therefore I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning,” Trump said in a tweet.But minutes later, Bolton in his own tweet said that he “offered to resign” Monday night, and that Trump told him, “Let’s talk about it tomorrow.While Bolton’s exit stunned Washington, it also weighed on markets as his removal “dials back fears of an attack on Iran,” John Kilduff of Again Capital told CNBC.Before Trump’s announcement, oil markets were headed higher on Tuesday toward its longest run of gains since late July.The commodity had been rising on the updated outlook from Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s new energy minister and a long-time member of the Saudi delegation to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Prince Abdulaziz said the kingdom’s policy would not change and a global deal to cut oil production by 1.2 million barrels per day would be maintained. He added that the so-called OPEC+ alliance, made up of OPEC and non-OPEC producers including Russia, would be in place for the long term.

WTI Rebounds From Bolton-Drop After API Reports Big Crude/Gasoline Draw -- WTI tumbled today thanks to neocon warmonger John Bolton being fired (and removing some hawkish premium from the market):“The Bolton news is bearish as Bolton is a known hawk on Iran and the market is assuming that opens the door for talks with Iran,” said Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at Price Futures Group Inc. But all eyes are likely to pivot back to fundamentals and supply tonight and tomorrow.  API:

  • Crude -7.23mm (-2.8mm exp)
  • Cushing -1.4mm (-980k exp)
  • Gasoline -4.5mm (-800k exp) - largest draw since April
  • Distillates +600k (+100k exp)

Another week, another larger than expected crude draw reported by API (and big gasoline inventory drop)  WTI tumbled on the Bolton headlines early on but bounced very modestly on the bigger-than-expected API-reported crude draw. Finally, while hope remains high for more OPEC action, Bloomberg reports that oil prices would have to fall to $40-$45 a barrel for OPEC to make deeper production cuts, Equatorial Guinea’s Minister of Mines and Hydrocarbons Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima said in an interview, while attending the World Energy Congress in Abu Dhabi.

What Bolton's exit means for the oil market - The exit of National Security Advisor John Bolton from the White House makes it less likely the situation between the U.S. and Iran will escalate to a military conflict, analysts said. Oil prices traded lower after President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday that he asked Bolton to resign. Seen as the most hawkish member of the president’s cabinet, Bolton told NBC News that he was resigning on his own volition and that Trump had not asked him to leave. The White House said there were several reasons for Bolton’s departure and said it was not due to the recent leaks about disagreement within the administration about a failed idea to hold talks with the Taliban at Camp David.  “This dials back fears of an attack on Iran,” said John Kilduff, partner of Again Capital. “His desire to attack Iran goes back to George W. Bush. The oil market was always on tenter hooks with him on the scene.”

Sluggish Oil Demand To Keep A Lid On Oil Prices Amid Global Recession Fears - John Kemp, senior market analyst of commodities at Reuters, cites a new report via B.P.'s finance chief that indicates global oil consumption will be less than 1 million barrels per day this year, an ominous sign that the global economy is quickly deteriorating.Kemp said growth is expected to be less than one million barrels per day (bpd) would represent an increase of less than 1% in global oil consumption and the lowest level of growth since 2014 and before that 2012.Back then, declining demand was due to elevated oil prices averaging above $100 per barrel in real terms. Now prices trend in the $50-$60 range for WTI, confirming that even with low oil prices, demand is nowhere to be seen.B.P.'s global oil consumption is the most bearish among other predictions from the International Energy Agency (+1.1 million bpd), OPEC (+1.1 million) and the U.S. Energy Information Administration (+1.0 million).Waning demand for oil across the world is the result of a global manufacturing recession festering underneath the surface. The global synchronized decline is structural and started in 4Q17, several months later, the trade war between the U.S. and China erupted in 1Q18. Since global GDP drives oil consumption. Kemp shows that the World Bank ("Global economic prospects," June 2019) data is indicating world growth will be in a slump this year. Estimates show global GDP has been revised lower from 3.0% in 2018 to just 2.6% in 2019.Global GDP growth is at the same level as 2014 and before that 2012. So it makes sense why oil consumption has dropped to a five year low, it's because the global economy has lost tremendous amounts of momentum, now reversing into a vicious downturn. Kemp notes that the World Bank data is three months old, and since, numerous global indicators have shown a rapid deceleration in global data into late summer, especially coming out of Europe, the U.S., and Asia.

Strong Crude Inventory Draw Sends Oil Higher - Oil prices jumped higher after the Energy Information Administration reported a draw in crude oil inventories of 6.9 million barrels for the week to September 6. A day earlier, the American Petroleum Institute estimated inventories had shed 7.23 million barrels in the reporting period.A week earlier, the EIA said inventories had fallen by 4.8 million barrels.As the market prepares for the next OPEC meeting later this week and many expect an extension and possibly a deepening of production cuts, prices continued to be depressed by the global economic growth fears plaguing the market and the continued rise in U.S. oil production.The relief granted Brent and WTI by bullish reports about OPEC considering deeper cuts while industry insiders expect healthy demand has been temporary and likely to continue this way until either the trade conflict between the United States and China is resolved or a production outage in any of the less politically stable producing countries makes a dent in global supply.In the meantime, the weekly EIA reports continue to draw the attention of traders every Wednesday, not jut in crude oil but in gasoline and distillate fuels as well.Last week, the EIA said, gasoline inventories shed 700,000 barrels, which compared with a 2.4-million-barrel draw a week earlier. Production averaged 10.4 million bpd, versus 10.3 million bpd a week earlier.Distillate fuel inventories increased by 2.7 million barrels last week, which compared with a decline of 2.5 million barrels a week earlier. Distillate fuel production rose to 5.3 million barrels daily, from 5.2 million bpd in the previous week.Refineries processed 17.5 million barrels daily, compared with 17.4 million barrels daily in the last week of August. At the time of writing, Brent crude was trading at $62.83 a barrel and West Texas Intermediate was changing hands at $57.51 a barrel, both modestly up from yesterday’s close.

WTI Tumbles Below Bolton's Bottom After Mixed Inventory Data -  Oil prices have erased the overnight gains sparked by API's bigger-than-expected crude and gasoline builds as ministers from OPEC+ are gathering in Abu Dhabi with deeper production cuts off the agenda for now."The market is expecting a gasoline draw as Dorian made its way up the East Coast affecting gasoline imports, while accelerating demand during the report period," according to Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates  DOE:

  • Crude -6.91mm (-2.8mm exp)
  • Cushing -798k (-980k exp)
  • Gasoline -682k (-800k exp)
  • Distillates +2.704mm (+100k exp)

For the third week in a row Crude, Cushing, and Gasoline saw inventories decline but distillates saw a significant build in the last week. Bloomberg Intelligence's Energy Analyst Fernando Valle explains that another large drop in crude should be supportive of prices, although the disappointing refined products numbers may take some of the optimism away. Gasoline disappointed slightly as refiners continued to clear out summer grade. Distillate had a large build as refinery utilization ramped and exports fell. Crude production was flat in the last week, holding near record highs as oil rig counts stumble lower...

US oil prices fall after EIA data shows larger-than-expected drop in crude inventories - U.S. oil prices fell on Wednesday after a reported sharp drop in U.S. crude stocks and OPEC member Iraq said the producer group would discuss deepening output cuts amid ongoing demand concerns. Brent crude gained 0.38% to $62.62 a barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate dropped 0.17% to $57.32 a barrel. Oil prices have risen more than 7% this month, supported by declines in global inventories and signs of an easing in trade tensions between the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies and energy consumers. Prices rose this week after Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s new energy minister, said oil policy would not change and said an OPEC deal with Russia and other producers to cut output by 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) would be maintained. Iraqi Oil Minister Thamer Ghadhban said the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries would discuss whether to deepen cuts, when ministers meet on Thursday. He said OPEC had discussed cuts of 1.6 million to 1.8 million bpd, when considering output curbs last year. Russia’s Energy Minister Alexander Novak said the alliance of OPEC and other producers, known as OPEC+, would discuss global oil demand, but added that there were no fresh proposals to change production cut volumes. Crude inventories fell by 6.9 million barrels from the previous week, according to the Energy Information Administration. This is compared with analysts’ expectations for an decrease of 2.7 million barrels.

Oil Tumbles On Report Trump Discussed Easing Iran Sanctions, Leading To Bolton Eruption And Subsequent Termination - WTI crude was sliding after mixed inventory data, but accelerated the losses, breaking below yesterday's lows, after headlines suggesting Bolton was fired after disagreeing with Trump's desire to ease Iran sanctions to get a meeting with Rouhani.As Bloomberg reports, President Trump discussed easing sanctions on Iran to help secure a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani later this month, prompting now former National Security Advisor John Bolton to erupt, and "argue forcefully" against such a step, according to the report.More notably, there already was support for de-escalation of sanctions with Iran, because during the Monday Oval Office meeting, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin voiced his support for the move as a way to restart negotiations with Iran, the Bloomberg sources said. At this point, Bolton exploded.“Bolton made sure to block any and all avenues for diplomacy w/ Iran, including a plan being brokered by Macron,” Suzanne DiMaggio, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said on Twitter.“The French are offering Trump a facing-saving way out of a mess of his creation. He should grab it.”The reaction in crude (more supply) was instant...As Bloomberg further notes, the White House has started preparations for Trump to meet with Rouhani this month in New York on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly the week of Sept. 23, according to the people. It’s far from clear if the Iranians would agree to talks while tough American sanctions remain in place.According to sources, one floated scenario would be that Trump joins a meeting between Rouhani and French  President Emmanuel Macron. The people said they had no indication it would actually happen.Whether or not Iran and the US e nd up meeting this month, or next, is irrelevant: the implicit signal for an olive branch is now in the open. More importantly, we now know how Bolton's attempt to scuttle the de-escalation ended: one day later, Trump announced Bolton's termination.

Oil ends with a loss as OPEC+ puts talk of deeper output cuts on hold until December - Oil futures finished with a loss on Thursday as OPEC and its allies reiterated their commitment to current output cuts, but failed to announce bigger production cuts as some had expected in the wake of easing tensions between the U.S. and Iran.In a press release, the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee, or JMMC, which monitors compliance with output reductions set by an OPEC+ agreement that began at the start of this year, “underscored the critical need for continued commitment” to the pledged cuts. It said compliance with the cuts stood at 136% in August.Oman’s oil minister Mohammed bin Hamad al-Rumhy said OPEC+ would discuss the possibility of deepening the existing output cut deal when the group meets in December, according to a news report from Argus. The JMMC will hold its next meeting in Vienna on Dec. 4, ahead of the OPEC and non-OPEC meetings on Dec. 5-6.West Texas Intermediate crude for October delivery 66 cents, or 1.2%, to settle at $55.09 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after falling nearly 3% on Wednesday, marking the lowest close for a front-month contract since Sept. 3, according to Dow Jones Market Data. November Brent crude lost 43 cents, or 0.7%, to $60.38 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe, after shedding 2.5% a day ago. Market participants had raised the likelihood that OPEC+, a group of OPEC members that includes Russia, would act to stem recent bearish developments for crude prices, amid reports by Bloomberg News that President Donald Trump discussed easing sanctions on Iran in a move to ensure a meeting with Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, later this month.“The challenges for OPEC are now more daunting as the cartel and its playing hard to get counter partner Russia is now having to face the reality that stored Iranian oil could flood the market,” Flynn said that compliance to the OPEC production limit has been starting to slip. “To date, support for the agreement rate has been high,” but before Thursday’s meeting, data for August showed the compliance rate slipping to 116%, he wrote. “In August, three major countries Russia, Nigeria and Iraq, produced 0.6 mb/d more than their allocations. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, produced 0.6 mb/d less than allowed, and it is clearly the lynchpin of the whole deal,” he said.

  Oil declines on global demand worries despite hopes on trade talks - Oil futures fell on Friday as concerns about global growth and slowing demand lingered despite hints of progress on U.S.-China trade talks, setting up prices for weekly losses after days of swinging back and forth. Brent crude was down 18 cents, or 0.3%, at $60.20 a barrel by 0442 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) was off by 14 cents, or 0.3%, at $54.95. Brent has traded in a range of nearly $5 this week and is heading for its first weekly loss in five. U.S. crude has traded similarly and is heading for its first loss in three weeks. Gloom over the economic impact of the trade dispute between Washington and Beijing has left investors shrugging off a strong commitment from Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) producers to trim output. “Again it is a battle between the forces of OPEC and those of slowing global growth and thus demand,” said Greg McKenna, strategist at McKenna Macro. The weak confidence in the markets was reflected by economists in a Reuters poll who predicted the U.S.-China trade spat will worsen or at best stay the same over the coming year. Nearly 80% of more than 60 economists said U.S.-China trade relations would either worsen or stay the same by the end of next year. The median probability of a U.S. recession in the next two years held at a high of 45%, and the chance of one in the next 12 months held at 30%. Still, President Donald Trump said on Thursday he would not rule out an interim deal with China on trade, though he prefers a comprehensive agreement. Asian stocks advanced on Friday on the signs of progress in U.S.-China trade talks, while aggressive stimulus from the European Central Bank also helped counter worries about a global economic slowdown. In oil markets, however, concern over whether Trump can achieve progress on the trade dispute has overshadowed OPEC’s Thursday agreement to trim output by asking members Iraq and Nigeria to bring their production back in line with targets.

Oil dips as demand concerns counter U.S.-China trade hopes – (Reuters) - Oil prices edged lower on Friday and posted weekly losses, as concerns about slower global economic growth outweighed hints of progress in the U.S.-China trade dispute. Brent crude LCOc1 futures fell 16 cents to settle at $60.22 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 futures delivery fell 24 cents to end at $54.85 a barrel. Brent fell 2.1% for the week, its first decrease in five weeks. WTI lost about 3% loss for the week, its first decrease in three weeks. The world’s two largest economies have been making conciliatory gestures as they prepare for new talks. China will exempt some U.S. agricultural products from additional tariffs, China’s official Xinhua News Agency said. Oil prices, however, remained under pressure by concern about a weaker demand outlook. “Oil appears to be suggesting that global economic growth has already been impacted by the tariffs while other markets such as the equities appear more focused on future progress,” Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates, said in a note. Both the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and the International Energy Agency (IEA) this week said oil markets could end up in surplus next year, despite a pact by OPEC and its allies to limit supplies that is largely being offset by growing U.S. production. U.S. energy firms this week reduced the number of oil rigs operating for a fourth week in a row, cutting five rigs this week and bringing the total down to 733, the lowest since November 2017, General Electric Co’s (GE.N) Baker Hughes energy services firm said. Brent prices have risen about 12% so far in 2019, helped by the deal between OPEC and allies, known as OPEC+, to cut output by 1.2 million barrels per day. An OPEC+ monitoring committee this week secured pledges from OPEC members Nigeria and Iraq to deliver their share of the cut, something they have failed to do so far, but so far the group has not decided to deepen the curbs.

Oil posts biggest weekly drop since July amid supply concerns - Oil fell to a two-week low as the International Energy Agency warned of a looming supply glut.  Futures in New York ended the week 3 per cent lower after four straight days of declines. Sentiment continues to be dominated by an International Energy Agency report highlighting the challenge facing Opec and its allies in balancing the market as production surges from their competitors. US crude production is set to grow 1.3 million barrels a day next year at current prices, IEA’s executive director Fatih Birol said at an event in Washington DC Friday.West Texas Intermediate crude for October delivery declined 24 cents, or 0.4 per cent, to settle at $54.85 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.Brent for November fell 16 cents to $60.22 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe Exchange, and traded at a $5.42 premium to WTI for the same month. The contract declined 2 per cent for the week. Also fuelling oversupply concerns, US President Donald Trump was said to weigh easing sanctions on Iran, a move that RBC Capital Markets estimated could bring back around 700,000 barrels a day to the market. Meanwhile, the US and China showed signs of rapprochement in their trade war and Saudi Arabia’s new energy minister downplayed oil-demand concerns, leaving any talk of deeper output cuts to OPEC’s next ministerial meeting in December.   Lacklustre investor positioning, potential thawing of the trade war and concerns of an Iran deal have clouded both investor appetite as well as the fundamental market outlook,” said Michael Tran, a commodity strategist at RBC Capital Markets. “Oil prices are caught in a cycle of trendless volatility.”

MbS Consolidates Immediate Family Control Of Saudi Oil Industry -- Saudi Oil Minister al Falih, who also ran ARAMCO, has been replaced by Abdulaziz bin Salman bin Abdulaziz  al Sa’ud, half brother of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al Sa’ud, (MbS),who was Ambassodor to the US untile the Khahoggi murder got hot between USA and KSA. The New York Times claims that this is part of an effort by MbS to modernize the Saudi economy, an ongoing line of th Saudi PR machine.  However more specifically how al Falih got in trouble with MbS is that oil prices are too low and there has not yet been an IPO for ARAMCO.  These probably are issues for MbS, although I think at this point the Saudi Oil Minister’s ability to make oil prices go up has become limited.  But the lack of an ARAMCO IPO clearly has cost variouis members of the Saudi royal family money.  But the problem has been that to issue an IPO ARAMCO will have to make public information that apparently it does not want to.  Whether MbS and his brother are really ready to do that is unclear. Anyway, I think all this talk about modernizing is just baloney.  This is just a further move to consolidate power and also make money for the Salmans, the king and his sons.

Saudi Aramco pursues IPO with local listing plan as lines up banks: sources (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia plans a gradual listing of Aramco on its domestic market, sources familiar with the matter said on Monday, as it finalizes the roles banks will play in the initial public offering (IPO) of the world’s biggest oil company. The kingdom intends to list 1% of the state oil giant on the Riyadh stock exchange before the end of this year and another 1% in 2020, the sources said, as initial steps ahead of a public sale of around 5% of Aramco. Based on the indicated $2 trillion valuation that Saudi Aramco had hoped to achieve, a 1% float would be worth $20 billion, a huge milestone for the local stock market. Aramco’s flotation, which could be the world’s biggest IPO, is crucial to raise money for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plans to diversify the Saudi economy away from oil revenues and has rapidly regained momentum over the past few days. Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said on Monday Saudi Arabia was aiming for the Aramco IPO “as soon as possible”, speaking on the issue for the first time since replacing Khalid al-Falih at the ministry.

Saudi Aramco CEO confirms IPO will list locally 'very soon' — Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company, is prepared for a listing on the Riyadh stock exchange and it will take place “very soon,” its CEO said Tuesday. “What we have always said is that Aramco is ready for listing whenever the shareholders make a decision to list,” Aramco President and CEO Amin Nasser told reporters at the World Energy Conference in Abu Dhabi. “And as you heard from His Royal Highness Prince Abdulaziz yesterday, it is going to be very soon. So, we are ready — that is the bottom line.” Nasser also confirmed the state oil giant’s aims to list internationally in addition to Saudi Arabia, though did not specify which other locations are under consideration. “The primary listing is to list locally but we are ready also for listing outside in other districts,” Nasser said. When asked whether he would prefer to see Aramco list in Tokyo, Japan, he replied: “We are ready to list wherever shareholders decide.” Reuters reported on Monday that the kingdom plans to list 1% of Aramco on its local stock exchange before the end of this year and another 1% in 2020, citing sources, as first steps ahead of a public sale of roughly 5% of the company. The oil giant has delayed its IPO, originally scheduled for 2018, reportedly over Saudi concerns about public scrutiny over its finances and because of the complexity of its corporate structure. The listing would be the largest public offering in history.

Saudi Shakedown 2.0- Kingdom Asks Country's Billionaires To Be Anchor Investors In Aramco IPO -  On an otherwise silent Saturday night, Saudi Arabia shocked the energy world when it announced that the country's energy minister, Khalid al-Falih was suddenly and unceremoniously replaced by Abdulaziz bin Salman (or AbS), half-brother to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (or MbS), and since the last time the Saudi energy minister was replaced marked the dramatic change in Saudi energy strategy (see here for our take on the last days of Ali al-Naimi), we were wondering just what major evnrt was hiding up Saudi Arabia's sleeve this time. We didn't have long to wait for the answer, because less than two years after the historic Saudi purge and arrest of the country's billionaires in November 2017, most notably Prince Bin Talal, in an unprecedented shakedown meant to refill the kingdom's rapidly emptying coffers, moments ago Bloomberg reported that MbS was preparing for shakedown #2, as "Saudi Arabia held discussions with some of the kingdom’s wealthiest families about becoming anchor investors in Aramco’s mammoth stake sale." And by "discussions", they mean King Salman's administration made them an offer they simply couldn't refuse.In retrospect, with Softbank in dire straits after the WeWork fiasco, and few oligarchs outside of Saudi Arabia willing to stake their wealth on higher oil prices at a time when the world is headed for recession, Chinese oil demand is slumping and shale is set to flood the world with excess oil, Riyadh had few other options. And so, as Bloomberg reports, Saudi officials made initial contact with some top business families on behalf of the oil giant.Why the shakedown? According to the report, the kingdom is aiming to raise at least 1% to 2% of Aramco from these investors, and the amount each family invests will likely hinge on the company’s valuation, another person said.

Saudi Energy Minister Confirms Plan To Enrich Uranium -  Among the most underreported but explosive stories of the past six months has been growing signs of Saudi Arabia's nuclear ambitions. But now there are new questions over whether the kingdom's future planned two nuclear power reactors will be limited to purely energy-related and peaceful purposes.  On Monday the kingdom's nuclear energy minister said Saudi Arabia wants to enrich uranium for its nuclear power program, Reuters reports an announcement likely to hinder talks with Washington over American companies' potential help in establishing its atomic energy program.  "The world’s top oil exporter says it wants to use nuclear power to diversify its energy mix, but enrichment also opens up the possibility of military uses of uranium," Reuters noted. “We are proceeding with it cautiously... we are experimenting with two nuclear reactors,” Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said in reference to a proposed plan to issue a tender for the country's first nuclear reactors, preliminary talks of which are underway for the multi-billion-dollar project.Reactors even for peaceful energy purposes require that uranium be enriched to around 5% purity, but once the technology is in place, it becomes ease to go beyond that. As Reuters describes:Reuters has reported that progress on the discussions has been difficult because Saudi Arabia does not want to sign a deal that would rule out the possibility of enriching uranium or reprocessing spent fuel - both potential paths to a bomb. International concerns about the dual technology helped lead to the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and global powers. Under the deal Iran can enrich uranium to around the normal level needed for commercial power production.In April, American lawmakers voiced alarm over the kingdom's possibly secretly pursuing nuclear weapons and questioned the US Department of Energy over the degree to which they've already received any level of assistance from the United States. This after in November of last year crown prince Mohammed bin Salman said, “if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”

Yemeni medics say 130 bodies pulled after deadly airstrike - Yemeni medics said Saturday they have pulled at least 130 bodies from the rubble of a rebel-run detention center that was hit earlier this month by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in the country's southwest. The attack was one of the deadliest in more than four years of war in Yemen that have claimed tens of thousands of lives, thrust millions to the brink of famine and spawned the world's worst humanitarian crisis. The Saudi-led coalition, which has fought the Iran-backed Houthis since 2015, has faced international criticism for airstrikes that have hit schools, hospitals and wedding parties, killing thousands of civilians. Bashir al-Dawrani, a spokesman for the Yemeni Red Crescent, told The Associated Press that the death toll has yet to be confirmed as search efforts are ongoing for more bodies at the site in the Dhamar province. The complex of buildings was part of the local community college before Iran-backed Houthi rebels turned it into a detention center, one of dozens in areas under their control. Families have begun to take the bodies from a hospital in Dhamar, al-Dawrani said. The Saudi-led coalition said it had bombed a "legitimate military target," and blamed the Houthis for using the former college as a detention center for forcibly disappeared Yemenis. Houthi and medical officials have said the detention center was holding at least 170 people when it was hit. The detainees were captured forces loyal to Yemen's internationally recognized government as well as civilians who had been arrested for criticizing the Houthis in recent years.

Saudi Oil Output Cut in Half After Drones Strike Aramco Site -Saudi Arabia’s oil production was cut by half after a swarm of explosive drones struck at the heart of the kingdom’s oil industry and set the world’s biggest crude-processing plant ablaze. Saudi Aramco has had to cut production by as much as 5 million barrels a day after the attack on the Abqaiq plant, according to a person familiar with the matter. Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have launched several drone attacks on Saudi targets, claimed responsibility. The biggest attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure since Iraq’s Saddam Hussein fired scud missiles into the kingdom during the first Gulf war, the drone strike highlights the vulnerability of the network of fields, pipeline and ports that supply 10 percent of the world’s crude oil. An prolonged outage at Abqaiq, where crude from several of the country’s largest oil fields is processed before being shipped to export terminals, would jolt global energy markets. “Abqaiq is the heart of the system and they just had a heart attack,” said Roger Diwan, a veteran OPEC watcher at consultant IHS Markit. “We just don’t know the severity.” Facilities at Abqaiq and the nearby Khurais oil field were attacked at 4 a.m. local time, state-run Saudi Press Agency reported, citing an unidentified interior ministry spokesman. It didn’t give further details and no further updates have been released.  The attacks were carried out with 10 drones and came after intelligence cooperation from people inside Saudi Arabia, rebel-run Saba news agency reported, citing Houthi spokesman Yahya Saree. “Our upcoming operations will expand and would be more painful as long as the Saudi regime continues its aggression and blockade” on Yemen, he said.  Yemen’s Houthi rebels have been battling a Saudi-led coalition since 2015, when mainly Gulf forces intervened to restore the rule of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and his government after the Houthis captured the capital, Sana’a. The conflict has killed thousands of people and caused one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

Huge fires at Saudi Aramco oil facilities after alleged drone attacks (VIDEOS) RT - Houthi rebels in Yemen say they deployed 10 armed drones which hit two large Saudi Aramco oil facilities on Saturday morning, causing massive fires and huge clouds of smoke on the sites.The attack was carried out by the Houthi Air Force, the spokesperson for the Yemeni rebel group, Brigadier Yahya Serai, said on Al Masirah TV, vowing to “expand the operations against the Saudi regime in the future.”The drones targeted a refinery in the city of Abqaiq in the kingdom’s oil-rich Eastern Province, which state-run giant Aramco describes as the world’s largest oil processing plant, and a refinery at the vast Khurais oil field, around 150km from Riyadh. Multiple videos posted on social media show an Aramco compound engulfed in flames and thick black smoke billowing from the site. In some footage, loud bangs resembling the sound of explosions can be heard in the background, along with apparent sounds of gunfire.

UK condemns Houthi drone attack on Saudi oil facilities - (Reuters) - Britain condemned a drone attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities on Saturday, and said that Yemen’s Houthi rebel group should stop targeting Saudi civilian and commercial infrastructure. Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group attacked two plants at the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry, including the world’s biggest petroleum processing facility, in a pre-dawn strike that several sources said had disrupted output and exports. “Totally unacceptable attack on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia this morning,” Andrew Murrison, the British foreign affairs minister responsible for the Middle East and North Africa said on Twitter. “The Houthis must stop undermining Saudi Arabia’s security by threatening civilian areas and commercial infrastructure,” Murrison added.

$100 Oil? Drone Strikes Halt Half Of Saudi Crude Production - Half of Saudi Arabia's oil production has gone offline following a surprise drone strike.Drones attacked Abqaiq facility in Saudi Arabia and the Khurais oil field run by Saudi Aramco early Saturday morning, the kingdom's interior ministry said, sparking a massive fire at a crude processing plant essential to global oil supplies.The closure will impact nearly 5 million barrels of crude processing per day, affecting 5 percent of the world's daily oil production. And while Aramco is confident that it can recover quickly, if it can't, however, the world could face a production shortage of as much 150MM barrels per month. An outcome which could send oil prices into the triple digits.Houthi rebels-- who are backed by Iran in a yearlong Saudi-led battle in Yemen-- have apparently asserted responsibility for the strikes and pledged that more assaults can be expected in the future.A Houthi spokesperson explained, “We promise the Saudi regime that our future operations will expand and be more painful as long as its aggression and siege continue," adding that the attack involved ten drones. The Iran-backed Houthis have recently been behind a number of assaults on Saudi pipelines, vessels and other energy infrastructure as tensions grow in the region. There have been no details on the severity of the damage but Agence France-Presse quoted interior ministry spokesperson Mansour al-Turki as saying that there were no human casualties as a result of the attack.This latest strike highlights the risk posed by the Houthis to Saudi Arabia's oil infrastructure as tensions between the groups continues to escalate. The growing power of the Houthis' drone operations is likely to reignite the debate on where the militant group is securing these weapons. It could very well be that the group has weaponized noncombatant drones, or in a darker scenario, they are receiving the militarized drones from Iran.

Iran Will Be A Full Nuclear Power By End Of 2020- Report - French President Emmanuel Macron failed to promote successfully his Iranian initiative with the US administration despite the initial blessing of his US counterpart. This failure led Iran to make a third gradual withdrawal from its JCPOA nuclear deal commitment, raising two main issues.Iran has become a regional power to be reckoned with, so we can now scrap from reactions to its policies the words “submit,” or “bow to the international community”. Moreover, since Europe is apparently no longer in a position to fulfill its commitments, Iran will now be headed towards a total pull-out following further gradual withdrawal steps. Just before the US elections due in November 2020, Iran is expected to become a nuclear country with the full capability of producing uranium enriched to more than 20% uranium-235, weapons-usable and therefore in a position to manufacture dozens of nuclear bombs (for which uranium must be enriched to about 90%). However, this does not necessarily mean that this is Iran’s ultimate objective.Industry data shows that half of the effort goes into enriching from 0.7% to 4%. If Iran reaches the level of 20%, the journey towards 90% is almost done. A few thousand centrifuges are needed to reach 20% enrichment while a few hundred are enough to cross from 20% to the 90% needed for a nuclear bomb.When Iran announces it is reaching a level which is considered critical by the west, there is the possibility that Israel might act militarily against Iran’s capability as it did in Iraq in 1981, in Syria in 2009, and in assassinating nuclear scientists. If this happens, the Middle East will be exposed to a mega earthquake whose outcome is unpredictable. But if Israel and the US are not in a position to react against Iran’s total withdrawal from the JCPOA (nuclear deal), Iran will no longer accept a return to the 2015 deal. Its position will become much stronger and any deal would be difficult to reach. Sources within the decision-making circle have said “Iran will become a state with full nuclear capability. It is also aiming for self-sufficiency and is planning to move away from counting solely on its oil exports for its annual budget. It is starting to generate and manufacture in many sectors and it will certainly increase its missile development and production. Missile technology has proved to be the most efficient and cheapest deterrent weapon for Iran and its allies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and the Yemen.”

Our maximum pressure campaign on Iran is working: US Treasury -  video - Sigal Mandelker says there is “no question” that America’s maximum pressure campaign has resulted in “massively decreasing” the amount of oil that Iran has been able to sell.

Iran says tanker last seen off coast of Syria has reached its destination, and oil has been sold - Iran has announced that oil from the once-detained tanker Adrian Darya-1 “has been sold” after the ship was photographed by satellite off the coast of Syria in recent days. A US official said America would continue to impose sanctions on whoever purchases oil from Iran, or does business with the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guards. “We will continue to put pressure on Iran and as President [Trump] said there will be no waivers of any kind for Iran’s oil,” said Sigal Mandelker, US treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. The Adrian Darya 1, which went dark off the coast of Syria earlier this week, was photographed by satellite very close to the Syrian port of Tartus. The ship appeared to have turned off its transponder in the Mediterranean Sea west of Syria, Refinitiv ship-tracking data showed on Tuesday. The vessel, formerly named Grace 1, was detained by British Royal Marine commandos off Gibraltar on 4 July as it was suspected to be en route to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions. In retaliation, Iran seized a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz two weeks later. Gibraltar released the Iranian vessel on 15 August after receiving formal written assurances from Tehran the ship would not discharge its 2.1 million barrels of oil in Syria. 

Iran Confirms Adrian Darya Has Offloaded All Its Oil, Likely To Syria - It's official: Iran says its Adrian Darya tanker has finally offloaded its 2.1 million barrels of Iranian oil Sunday after it was days ago spotted off the Syrian port of Tartus, bringing a lengthy standoff with the US and UK which sought to capture the vessel's valuable cargo to an end.   "The Adrian Darya oil tanker finally docked on the Mediterranean coast... and unloaded its cargo," Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said according to state-run IRNA. He didn't name the country which purchased the oil, but satellite images reveal the IRGC-controlled vessel hasn't left Syria's coast.  Part of the US case for pressing UK/Gibraltar authorities to not release the vessel from detention last month was that it would ultimately attempt an 'illegal' delivery of its Iranian crude worth about $130 million to Syria.Gibraltar's Aug. 15th release of the vessel came only after Iran issued a written assurance it would not deliver the Iranian oil to Syria, in violation of EU sanctions.At the start of this weekend after the Iranian tanker was observed within a few nautical miles of Syria's coast, John Bolton issued an 'I told ya so' type tweet, saying, "Anyone who said the Adrian Darya-1 wasn't headed to Syria is in denial."  Washington has done everything short of military action to thwart and detain the vessel, including issuing a seizure warrant and bribing the ship's captain with millions of dollars to steer it into a US-allied port.

Britain Furious Iran Tanker Broke 'Promise' Not To Sell Its Oil To Syria -- Britain has slammed Iran for what it says is a breach in assurances regarding the previously detained Grace 1/Adrian Darya 1 tanker. Specifically a condition of the vessel's release from UK/Gibraltar captivity last month was that it would not offload its 2.1 million barrels of Iranian oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions. But the UK can do little beyond merely issuing a formal complaint to the United Nations, which it plans to do next month, according to Reuters. London was also reported to have summoned Iran's ambassador on Tuesday to condemn the move. “Iran has shown complete disregard for its own assurances over Adrian Darya 1,” foreign minister Dominic Raab said in a statement. “This sale of oil to (Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s) brutal regime is part of a pattern of behavior by the Government of Iran designed to disrupt regional security.” The diplomatic row comes days after over the weekend Iran's foreign ministry confirmed the tanker had unloaded its valuable cargo, estimated at $130 million in crude, "on the Mediterranean coast," according to state media. Just prior the Iranian tanker was observed within a few nautical miles of Syria's coast via satellite images. “Iran’s actions represent an unacceptable violation of international norms,” the UK statement said. However, we should point out it's also not within "international norms" - indeed it's unprecedented - for Royal Marines to raid a foreign vessel in international waters at the bidding of Washington, which is precisely what happen when the tanker was detained in the first place. Currently, Tehran is rumored to be preparing the release the British-flagged Stena Impero, captured in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19 in retaliation for Britain's prior capture of the Grace 1 off Gibraltar on July 4.

Iran seizes ship with Filipino crew for alleged fuel smuggling in Gulf-  Iran seized a tugboat and arrested 12 Filipino crewmen as it busted a suspected fuel-smuggling ring in the Strait of Hormuz on Saturday, state media reported. State television aired footage of an orange-and-white tugboat docked at Bandar Abbas port, with at least three armed guards on board, AFP reported. "Coast guards successfully seized a foreign ship in the Strait of Hormuz," said Major Hossein Dehaki, the coast guard chief in the southern province of Hormozgan. Reports said the tugboat was carrying almost 284,000 litres of diesel, Reuters said. They did not say what national flag the vessel was flying. Iran, which has some of the world's cheapest fuel because of state subsidies, has been fighting rampant fuel smuggling overland to neighbouring countries and by sea to Gulf Arab states. It has frequently seized boats it says are being used for smuggling fuel in the Gulf. The incident comes at a time of tensions between Iran and the West in the Gulf that have been rising since the United States exited a 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Tehran last year and reimposed sanctions. The escalation has seen ships mysteriously attacked, drones downed and oil tankers seized in the Strait of Hormuz - a chokepoint for a third of the world's seaborne oil. While Iranian media reports say about 10 million litres of fuel are smuggled per day, Tehran has been promoting legal gasoline exports through its energy bourse.

The Meaning Of The Iran-China Deal - Reports that China has signed a long term agreement to buy large quantities of Iranian oil in defiance of US sanctions will weigh on global crude prices and further complicate US-China talks, reducing the chances of a deal before the 2020 US election. In effect, the world is now facing a four-way tug of war over the oil price. .  Iran’s position is relatively straightforward: it desperately needs to sell its oil. Since the US withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018, and following the tightening of US sanctions in May this year, Opec data shows Iranian oil production has slumped from 3.8mn bpd to 2.2mn bpd in July. Assuming domestic consumption has remained constant, this implies Iran’s exports have fallen from 2.3mn bpd to roughly 700,000 bpd.Much of this oil is being shipped to China. Customs data shows that China imported some 220,000 bpd in July. However, the actual size of shipments is likely to be greater, given that some Iranian oil will have been transshipped at sea, likely disguising its origin, while more will have been held in bonded storage, without passing through Chinese customs. Hence the significance of reports last week that Tehran has fleshed out its 2016 “comprehensive strategic partnership” with Beijing. Under a 25-year deal reportedly sealed in August, Iran will agree to sell its oil and gas to China at a guaranteed discount to prevailing market prices of at least 12%, plus an additional discount of up to 8% to reflect risk. In addition, to bypass the US dollar-denominated international financial system, China will pay for its purchases in renminbi.In return, China will invest some US$80bn over the next five years to upgrade Iran’s energy production facilities and infrastructure (and possibly much more over the following 20 years). And to safeguard its investments, Beijing will deploy “up to 5,000 Chinese security personnel on the ground in Iran,” as well as protecting shipments of Iranian oil from the Persian Gulf to China.The benefits of such a deal to Tehran are manifold. It gets much-needed inward investment. It secures a market for its oil and gas. It breaks its dependence on the US dollar. It gets a deterrent against possible US or Israeli military strikes against its energy industry. And it reduces its economic dependence on powers that would otherwise insist it curtail its nuclear program. In short, it gets to thumb its nose at the West, and at Washington in particular. This leaves China’s position. Discounted energy imports are always enticing, but in this case they come at a cost. A deal to buy Iranian oil in defiance of US sanctions is only likely to antagonize Washington, further complicating already knotty trade talks and reducing any chance of a resolution to the tariff war. On the other hand, China’s leaders may well have already concluded that the probability of an advantageous deal with the US is small, and that they are better off making the best of a bad job.

US Warplanes Drop 40 Tons of Bombs on ‘ISIS-Infested Island’ in Iraq - — US warplanes attacked and virtually destroyed the tiny island of Qanus in the Iraqi Salahuddin Province on Tuesday, with officials bragging that they’d dropped nearly 80,000 pounds of explosives on the island.US officials presented Qanus Island as a hiding place for ISIS forces, and said that the massive attacks would “bring stability to the region” as well as disrupting ISIS’s ability to hide in vegetation by destroying pretty much all of the vegetation.The Iraqi military participated in the attack as well, parking what officials termed “water boats” around the Tigris River near the island with an eye for shooting anything on the island that was still alive after the US bombings. Locals reported firing continued late into the day. There simply must have been casualties, though how many seems to be anyone’s guess. Officials aren’t saying, and it seems to depend largely on how many ISIS were managing to hide on a small, largely inconsequential island in the middle of a river.

Hundreds Of Russian Troops Deploy To Idlib In Case Ceasefire Collapses- Report - Hundreds of Russian troops are being sent to the Idlib Governorate in northern Syria, the Russian publication Lenta.Ru reported this weekend. According to the publication, hundreds of Russian troops belonging to the Yevgeny Prigoshin private military contractors were deployed to the Idlib Governorate, despite a pause in offensive operations. “The plan is for groups of 50 people each, with the support of Russian aviation, to take part in street battles necessary to clear the populated city from thousands of militants associated with Al-Qaeda (banned in Russia),” Lenta.Ru reported. “Today, Idlib is being kept under control only by the presence in the region of hundreds of thousands of civilians. Having evacuated them, the military operation against the militants can be continued, and in a completely different way,” they added. As of now, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has paused all offensive operations in the Idlib Governorate as they adhere to a ceasefire that was proposed by the Russian Armed Forces. However, this new ceasefire in the Idlib Governorate is contingent on Turkey dissolving the jihadist group Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham. While the Syrian Army has paused their ground offensive, they have not let up their artillery strikes on Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham’s positions in southern and western Idlib. The Syrian Army is likely to resume their offensive if Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham remains at the front-lines in the Idlib Governorate, as they have refused all previous ceasefire deals.

 Erdogan Breaks Silence- Says The US Sent 30,000 Truckloads Of Weapons To Syria -  Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has called out the US for delivering more than 30,000 weapon-laden trucks to Syria to support the PKK-linked People's Protection Units (YPG) terrorist group, reported Press Tv.  Speaking at the Justice and Development Party's meeting in Eskişehir, a city in northwestern Turkey, Erdogan said he wouldn't sit back in the shadows anymore about a superhighway of weapons supplied by the US, amounting to more than 30,000 truckloads of weapons, equipment, and ammunition to northern Syria to support YPG terrorists. Erdogan further criticized the Trump administration for its "lack of commitment" to construct a safe zone in Syria along the Turkish border. He added that he would "sort out" the issue with President Trump at a meeting later this month. Washington and Ankara have been at odds with one another of who should control northeast Syria, where YPG terrorist and other Kurdish militias have had the luxury of receiving American weapons. Ankara has viewed the YPG as an extension of its own Kurdish militancy, insisting the US needs to cut ties with the terrorist organization. Erdogan also criticized the European Union for the lack of support regarding the millions of Syrian refugees.He said Ankara has already spent $40 billion hosting four million Syrian refugees, adding that a new project could be announced momentarily to resettle one million refugees in northern Syria."Our goal is to settle at least one million Syrian brothers and sisters in our country in this safe zone," said Erdogan. "If needed, with support from our friends, we can build new cities there and make it habitable for our Syrian siblings."The European Union has given Turkey $7 billion since 2015 to restrict the flow of migrants. But with Turkey granting millions of refugees asylum status, the migrant problem is worsening through 2019.

Israel approves 2300 new homes for settlers in West Bank: NGO - Israel has advanced plans for more than 2,300 illegal settlement homes in the occupied West Bank, the latest in a surge of such approvals since US President Donald Trump took office in 2017, according to an NGO. Israel's Higher Planning Committee issued the approvals while meeting over the past couple of days, Peace Now said in a statement on Monday. The 2,304 housing units are at various stages in the approval process, according to Peace Now, an Israeli group closely monitoring settlement building. "The approval of settlement plans is part of a disastrous government policy designed to prevent the possibility of peace and a two-state solution, and to annex part or all of the West Bank," the group said. Israel's illegal separation wall 'imprisons' Palestinians (2:22) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged before April elections to annex settlements in the West Bank, a move long supported by nearly all legislators in his alliance of right-wing and religious parties. Annexing settlements on a large-scale in the West Bank could prove to be a death knell for the two-state solution, long the focus of international efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Issa Amro, a Palestinian rights activist who is based in Hebron, a West Bank city at the heart of Israeli settler seizure of Palestinian land, said that since Trump took office, Israel has been expanding its settlement project "even faster". It has also been demolishing Palestinian homes at a faster rate, he added. "Israel and the settlers feel they have full impunity to work more and more towards annexation," Amro told Al Jazeera.

Netanyahu announces post-election plan to annex Jordan Valley- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank if he wins next week's general election, drawing sharp criticism from Middle Eastern countries including Saudi Arabia. "Today, I announce my intention, after the establishment of a new government, to apply Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea," Netanyahu said in a speech broadcast live on Israeli TV on Tuesday. That step, he said, could be taken "immediately after the election if I receive a clear mandate to do so from you, the citizens of Israel". Netanyahu plays race card: Israel is 'Jewish nation' (2:23) The Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea constitute almost 30 percent of the West Bank. Some 65,000 Palestinians and about 11,000 illegal Israeli settlers live in the area - most of which is under Israeli military control in what is referred to as Area C. Netanyahu - who is fighting for his political life in a closely contested election - reaffirmed the pledge to annex all Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank, but said such a move would not be made before publication of a long-awaited United States peace plan and consultations with President Donald Trump. "There is no change in United States policy at this time," a US official said when asked whether the White House supported Netanyahu's move.

Netanyahu vows to annex large parts of occupied West Bank - Benjamin Netanyahu has announced he will annex large swathes of occupied Palestinian territories if he is re-elected, a decision that for decades has been considered an endgame scenario for Palestinians’ aspirations of statehood. The Israeli prime minister said on Tuesday that he planned to make the move, which would permanently seize up to one-third of the West Bank, after the election next week and hinted it may have been approved by Washington. “I am waiting to do this in maximum coordination with [Donald] Trump,” he said in a speech broadcast live on Israeli television. Netanyahu said the US president was likely to release his long-touted Middle East peace plan soon. US officials have suggested the plan will not include a Palestinian state, something Netanyahu has promised to never let happen. A White House official said there had been no change in its policy and would not comment further. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, is battling for his political survival and the announcement was interpreted as a rallying cry to his hardline rightwing base. The prime minister stood in front of a large map on an easel that showed Israeli sovereignty extended over the vast majority of the Jordan Valley. It appeared to display Israeli territory completely encircling the West Bank, slicing off the eastern border with Jordan. Jericho, a Palestinian city, and smaller Palestinian villages were displayed as enclaves that would not be annexed.

 Lebanon's Hezbollah shoots down Israeli drone - Iran-backed Hezbollah said it downed an Israeli drone in southern Lebanon early on Monday, a week after the group’s leader said it would shoot down Israeli drones in Lebanese airspace. The drone is now in Hezbollah’s possession, the group said in a statement. An Israeli military statement said one of its drones “fell inside southern Lebanon during routine operations.” It did not say why the drone crashed, but said “there is no concern information could be taken from it.” An Israeli military spokeswoman said it was a “simple drone” without elaborating. Hezbollah said its fighters had used “appropriate weapons” to bring down the drone on the edge of the southern Lebanese town of Ramyah. A correspondent for Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television reporting from the border said the drone had not sustained much damage, and had been in Lebanese airspace for around five minutes. A week ago, after a drone attack in a Hezbollah-controlled Beirut suburb, Hezbollah and the Israeli army exchanged cross-border fire that marked their fiercest shelling exchange since the 2006 Lebanon war. Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, as well as Lebanon’s government, blamed Israel for the drone attack and had vowed to target Israeli drones entering Lebanon’s airspace. Nasrallah said while last Sunday’s flare-up with Israel at the border was over, the episode had launched a “new phase” in which the Iran-backed group no longer had red lines it would not cross. In that brief exchange of fire, Hezbollah said it destroyed an Israeli armored vehicle, killing and wounding those inside, and broadcast what it said was footage of two missiles hitting a moving vehicle.

Netanyahu: Israel Will Probably Launch Full-Scale War in Gaza Soon — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears ready to risk launching a major Middle East war rather than see his chances of re-election to a record fifth term dwindle.Desperately trying to shore up more votes ahead of Tuesday’s election by trying to “out-hawk” his opponents in the center-right Blue and White Party, he said Thursday Israel will probably launch a full-scale war on Gaza “before the elections.”In his comments, which came just after returning from Sochi, Russia where he met with President Vladimir Putin, Netanyahu asserted, “An operation in Gaza could happen at any moment, including four days before the elections.” He immediately followed with the dubious assertion, “The date of the elections does not factor [into a decision to go to war].”And the day before he said similarly during an Israeli radio interview that Israel will be left with no choice but to “topple the Hamas regime” should such a military campaign begin.As part of a media blitz five days before the elections, he said, “There probably won’t be a choice but to topple the Hamas regime. Hamas doesn’t exert its sovereignty in the Strip and doesn’t prevent attacks.”  However, so far it doesn’t appear his hawkish rhetoric is substantially moving the polls unlike past successful appeals to far-right and nationalist sectors.Starting Tuesday Hamas militants and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) engaged in a small scale exchange of fire after multiple rockets were launched from Gaza, which briefly interrupted a Netanyahu campaign speech in the southern city of Ashdod, where he was rushed off the stage amid inbound rocket siren warnings. More broadly, the IDF has over the past weeks struck targets in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon to disrupt what it says are “Iran-backed” operations, in a dangerous gambit that has brought Israel on the brink of war with Hezbollah.

Facebook Suspends Netanyahu Page Function For Hate Speech - As Benjamin Netanyahu fights for his political survival, seeking a record 5th term as prime minister during the upcoming Sept. 17 elections, he and his Likud party have suffered a huge public embarrassment while attempting to out-hawk their political rivals.In an unprecedented move Facebook said Thursday it suspended a key function of Netanyahu's official Facebook page due to "a violation of the company’s hate speech policy." The sanction will be in effect for 24 hours, according to a company statement.  The offending campaign message urged voters to avoid bringing into power a government composed of“Arabs who want to destroy us all — women, children and men.”   The page is considered a crucial part of his election campaign, given it has over 2.4 million followers and is his team's prime social media outreach tool.  The xenophobic post identifying "Arabs" as seeking to "destroy" all Israelis resulted in an immediate uproar and backlash among opposition politicians and supporters. The message also said Netanyahu's opponents in the center-right Blue and White Party will "allow a nuclearized Iran that will annihilate us" if they win the crucial election.  Facebook ultimately agreed a chatbot operated by the official account of the Israeli prime minister had produced hate speech. The Hebrew language post appeared, ironically enough, on September 11.  "After careful review of the Likud campaign’s bot activities, we found a violation of our hate speech policy," the company said in a statement. "We also found that the bot was misusing the platform by contacting people outside the time period allowed. As a result, we temporarily suspended the bot for 24 hours. Should there be any additional violations, we will continue to take appropriate action."

 Al-Qaeda Chief Issues 9/11 Video Urging New Attacks On US, Europe, Russia, & Israel  -  Perhaps trying to stay relevant and feared after eighteen years in hiding following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, 68-year old Egyptian cleric and al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahri has released a new video message urging his followers to attack the US, Europe, Russia and Israel. Multiple jihad monitoring and analysis sites, including SITE Intelligence Group, reported Wednesday the new video was released as al-Qaeda's own "positive" commemoration of the 9/11 anniversary wherein the terror leader touted and celebrated "severe blows dealt to America". Zawahri, who alongside ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi remains one of the two most wanted terrorists in the world, and has a bounty of up to $25 million offered by US authorities for information leading to his capture. The al-Qaeda chief, who took up the mantle of the group's leadership after the 2011 death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, further condemned 'backsliding' and 'backtracker' jihadists who had softened in their stance on jihad. He also addressed and decried supposed statements by some jihadists voicing regret for all the civilians killed on 9/11, saying they should keep up the fight against the "crusaders". The video message entitled, "And They Shall Continue to Fight You," also details how the terror group hopes to first use attacks on Israel as a launchpad for further offensive operations against American, French, British, and other western allies. He also repeated the usual jihadist line that the US military was still waging "a global crusader campaign against Muslims everywhere" and further that America only "understands the language of force." 

The US Embassy in Afghanistan was hit by a rocket just after the clock struck midnight on the anniversary of 9/11 - A rocket narrowly missed the US Embassy compound in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Wednesday during the first few minutes of the 18th anniversary of 9/11. Loudspeakers inside the office broadcast a warning that "an explosion caused by a rocket has occurred on compound," The Associated Press reported.A US State Department official told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: "We can confirm there was an explosion near the US Embassy in Kabul. US mission personnel were not directly impacted by this explosion." Nosrat Rahimi, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of the Interior,told Gulf News that the rocket hit a wall at the defense ministry and that no one was hurt.

 Chinese Auto Sales Crash For The 14th Time In 15 Months, Falling 9.9% - Chinese auto sales continue to plunge deeper into recession, with the country's China Passenger Car Association releasing preliminary data for August that in no way indicates that the trend could be slowing. Instead, it has been a "historically prolonged slump" for the world's largest car market, according to Bloomberg. The CPCA reported on Monday that sales of sedans, SUVs, minivans and multipurpose vehicles in August fell 9.9% to 1.59 million units. It has been the industry's largest downturn in three decades and automakers are still facing headwinds as trade tensions with the U.S. continue. China has tried to roll out several stimulus measures to help the industry, including loosening car purchase restrictions, but they have done little to encourage consumption thus far. Preliminary data from MarkLines on Japanese automakers selling in China shows Nissan and Honda posting 2.0% and 5.9% gains, respectively, while Toyota sales fell 3.8% and Mazda sales suffered the largest blow, down 20.7%. We will revisit this data toward the middle of the month, when it is updated to include additional manufacturers from around the globe. Top Chinese SUV maker Great Wall Motor Co. saw its first half profit lower by an astounding 59% and SAIC Motor Corp., China's biggest automaker, also cut its sales forecast recently and predicted its first annual sales decline in at least 14 years. Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd. saw sales fall 19% in August.

China Accuses Apple, Foxconn Of Breaking Chinese Labor Laws -- If the US-China trade war is supposed to be in a ceasefire phase following last week's main news that trade talks will resume in October, Beijing may not have gotten the memo, because late on Sunday futures slipped and Treasury futures jumped after a Bloomberg report that Apple, and its Taiwanese manufacturing partner, Foxconn, had violated a Chinese labor rule by using too many temporary staff in the world’s largest iPhone factory; the Chinese report also alleged - wait for it - harsh working conditions. For all those whose heads are shaking, stunning if what they read is true, let us help you - yes, China - that global paragon of equitable labor laws - is accusing the US and Taiwan of substandard labor practices. The claims came from China Labor Watch, which picked a great time to issued its report: just ahead of Apple's upcoming iPhone reveal slated for Tuesday. The non-profit advocacy group investigates conditions in Chinese factories, and says it has uncovered other alleged labor rights violations by Apple partners in the past. "Our recent findings on working conditions at Zhengzhou Foxconn highlights several issues which are in violation of Apple’s own code of conduct,” CLW wrote in its report. “Apple has the responsibility and capacity to make fundamental improvements to the working conditions along its supply chain, however, Apple is now transferring costs from the trade war through their suppliers to workers and profiting from the exploitation of Chinese workers." CLW said undercover investigators worked in Foxconn’s Zhengzhou plant in China, including one who was employed there for four years. One of the main findings: Temporary staff, known as dispatch workers, made up about 50% the workforce in August. Chinese labor law stipulates a maximum of 10%, CLW noted according to Bloomberg. The biggest surprise, however, is that China appears to be right. When contacted by Bloomberg, Apple said that, after conducting an investigation, it found the “percentage of dispatch workers exceeded our standards” and that it is “working closely with Foxconn to resolve this issue.” It added that when it finds issues, it works with suppliers to “take immediate corrective action.” Foxconn Technology Group also confirmed the dispatch worker violation following an operational review. 

Hong Kong protests: peaceful pleas for United States’ support quickly descend into usual mayhem as tear gas fired and MTR station trashed and burned Thousands of protesters joined a peaceful march to the US consulate in Hong Kong on Sunday, urging American officials and politicians to support their cause by taking diplomatic action against the city’s government, while radicals broke away from the main rally to unleash chaos once again. Smaller groups of protesters forced some MTR stations to close as they vandalised entrances and set fire to one, while police responded with tear gas, baton charges and arrests. All four stations – Central, Wan Chai, Mong Kok and Prince Edward – were reopened for service on Monday morning. Separately, youth leader and anti-government activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung was arrested at the city’s international airport as he was leaving for Germany and the US. Wong said he was wrongly accused of violating bail conditions, which allowed him to travel overseas after he was arrested in August on charges of organising, inciting and taking part in an illegal assembly during a siege of police headquarters in Wan Chai in June. While thousands rallied at Chater Garden and marched up to the American consulate in the Central business district, appealing for help from US President Donald Trump, others were out looking for a fight. Protesters set fire to an entrance of Central MTR Station as Sunday’s demonstrations turn ugly. Photo: Edmond SoProtesters set fire to an entrance of Central MTR Station as Sunday’s demonstrations turn ugly. Photo: Edmond So Protesters set fire to an entrance of Central MTR Station as Sunday’s demonstrations turn ugly.  So Thousands of protesters joined a peaceful march to the US consulate in Hong Kong on Sunday, urging American officials and politicians to support their cause by taking diplomatic action against the city’s government, while radicals broke away from the main rally to unleash chaos once again. Smaller groups of protesters forced some MTR stations to close as they vandalised entrances and set fire to one, while police responded with tear gas, baton charges and arrests. All four stations – Central, Wan Chai, Mong Kok and Prince Edward – were reopened for service on Monday morning. Separately, youth leader and anti-government activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung was arrested at the city’s international airport as he was leaving for Germany and the US. Wong said he was wrongly accused of violating bail conditions, which allowed him to travel overseas after he was arrested in August on charges of organising, inciting and taking part in an illegal assembly during a siege of police headquarters in Wan Chai in June.

Central Hong Kong Beset With Violence After Lam’s Big Concession Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s biggest concession yet to protesters did little to stem scenes of violence that have become the norm on weekends in the Asian financial hub. Small pockets of demonstrators on Sunday set fires, vandalized subway stations and set up barricades downtown after tens of thousands marched peacefully to the U.S. consulate to appeal for help from President Donald Trump. Riot police cleared roads and subway stations, fired tear gas near the Sogo department store in the Causeway Bay shopping district and made arrests of black-clad protesters wearing masks and hardhats.By Monday morning, Hong Kong was operating largely as normal, even as hundreds of students joined hands and formed human chains in protest in parts of the city. Authorities had reopened the main subway stations downtown and in Kowloon, which saw busy tourist and residential areas hit by similar clashes on Saturday. The dramatic images in the heart of Hong Kong served as the latest reminder that three months of demonstrations against China’s grip over the city are unlikely to end soon. They are having an increasing impact on the economy, with visitor arrivals to Hong Kong falling nearly 40% from the same period last year and occupancy rates of hotels in some districts falling by more than half. “The most worrying thing is that the situation is not likely to turnaround in the near future,” Financial Secretary Paul Chan said in a Sunday blog post in which he disclosed the figures. Lam last week said she would formally withdraw a bill allowing extraditions to the mainland, which triggered the unrest in early June. But demonstrators now have a host of other demands, and Beijing has ruled out the biggest one: the right to elect a leader of their choosing. China’s strategy now is to root out the peaceful demonstrators from those participating in violence. So far, they have left the job to Hong Kong’s police. Any use of China’s military threatens to undermine the autonomy that underpins the city’s special trading status with the U.S. -- a policy crucial to its economy.

Clashes after peaceful crowd takes Hong Kong message to US consulate Pro-democracy activists jammed Hong Kong streets in a march to the United States consulate on Sunday in a bid to ramp up international pressure on Beijing, but hardcore protesters later clashed with riot police across the city's core. Millions have demonstrated over the last 14 weeks in the biggest challenge to China's rule since the city's handover from Britain in 1997. The protests were lit by a now-scrapped plan to allow extraditions to the authoritarian mainland, seen by opponents as the latest move by China to chip away at the international finance hub's unique freedoms. But after Beijing and city leaders took a hard line the movement snowballed into a broader campaign calling for greater democracy, police accountability and an amnesty for those arrested. Sunday's protest featured another massive turnout for a movement that has gripped the semi-autonomous territory and plunged it into a political crisis. Dense crowds of protesters spent hours slowly filing past Washington's consulate in the thick tropical heat. Many waved US flags, some sang the Star Spangled Banner, and others held signs calling on President Donald Trump to "liberate" Hong Kong. In chants and speeches they called on the US to pressure Beijing to meet their demands and for Congress to pass a recently proposed bill that expresses support for the protest. "More than 1,000 protesters have been arrested. We can't do anything but come out onto the streets. I feel hopeless," 30-year-old protester Jenny Chan, told AFP. "I think aside from foreign countries, no one can really help us," she added. In what has become a now familiar pattern, the main daytime rally passed off peacefully. But as evening set in, riot police chased groups of hardcore protesters who blocked roads, vandalised nearby subway stations and set makeshift barricades on fire. One fire burned at an entrance to the subway in the corporate district of Central, where a protester also smashed the station's exterior glass. In the shopping area of Causeway Bay, officers fired tear gas outside another subway station. Paramedics took away on a stretcher a man who collapsed after inhaling the gas, and police detained suspected protesters inside that station.

China will not tolerate attempts to separate Hong Kong from China: state media  (Reuters) - Hong Kong is an inseparable part of China and any form of secessionism “will be crushed”, state media said on Monday, a day after demonstrators rallied at the U.S. consulate to ask for help in bringing democracy to city. The China Daily newspaper said Sunday’s rally in Hong Kong was proof that foreign forces were behind the protests, which began in mid-June, and warned that demonstrators should “stop trying the patience of the central government”. Chinese officials have accused foreign forces of trying to hurt Beijing by creating chaos in Hong Kong over a hugely unpopular extradition bill that would have allowed suspects to be tried in Communist Party-controlled courts. Anger over the bill grew into sometimes violent protests calling for more freedoms for Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam formally scrapped the bill last week as part of concessions aimed at ending the protests. “Hong Kong is an inseparable part of China — and that is the bottom line no one should challenge, not the demonstrators, not the foreign forces playing their dirty games,” the China Daily said in an editorial.

  South Korea and Japan: A Mutual Loathing the U.S. Can’t Fix - Diplomatic hostilities have exploded, with Washington’s two closest allies in East Asia sanctioning each other. Most recently, Seoul has said it plans to withdraw from a bilateral intelligence sharing pact, the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), which comes up for renewal in November. The Trump administration has criticized both sides, urging them to “get along.” Alas, these efforts have gone nowhere. So now Washington is being blamed. Complains Slate’s Fred Kaplan, “no U.S. official, certainly not Donald Trump, has intervened to hold [Tokyo and Seoul] together.” Stanford’s Daniel Sneider tells Kaplan that “what’s happening is a consequence of the vacuum of leadership in Washington.” But this is no small brush fire that anyone can put out. In 1965, Japan and South Korea normalized relations. Today, Tokyo argues that the resulting agreement barred private claims growing out of the occupation, in this instance, forced laborers used by Japanese companies. (A separate yet equally emotional issue involves the “comfort women” forced into prostitution by the Imperial Japanese Army.) South Korean judges have long blocked such cases, but the ROK’s Constitutional Court recently reversed course. That could result in large damage awards against Japanese concerns, perhaps totaling in excess of $20 billion. (As part of the 1965 process, Tokyo provided aid worth roughly $8 billion in today’s dollars.) Japan’s government, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, responded with the economic equivalent of a nuclear weapon: trade restrictions that threatened large South Korean firms. Both nations are acting irresponsibly. Both are market-friendly democracies and American allies potentially threatened by North Korea and China. They should work together to promote regional stability and security. Instead they are treating each other as enemies. The basic problem is that Japanese and Koreans are highly nationalistic. And nationalists don’t always like each other. In this case, residents of South Korea have better historical reason to be angry. Japanese traditionally viewed Koreans as inferior, having seized control of their peninsula after defeating China in 1895 and Russia in 1905. Five years later, Tokyo formally colonized the Korean Peninsula, during which it attempted to suppress Korean culture, even pressing Koreans to change their names and religion. The first presidents of South and North Korea, political activist Syngman Rhee and military guerrilla Kim Il-sung, respectively, worked for independence.

Indian spacecraft may have crashed on moon - India’s low-cost spacecraft may have crashed on the Moon. Scientists overseeing the project in the southern city of Bangalore lost contact with the unmanned spacecraft just before it was due to land on Saturday. Indian officials tried to put a positive spin on the venture, but it is not known if the landing craft survived its final descent to a southern part of the planet. India had hoped to become just the fourth country after the United States, Russia and China to successfully land on the Moon. But it appears that the drama is a setback to the country’s ambitious lunar program. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was at Mission Control in Bangalore (also known as Bengaluru) looking on when the mood deteriorated as it became clear that everything had not gone according to plan. After several tense minutes as the expected landing time came and went, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman Kailasavadivoo Sivan announced that communication with the lander had been lost. “The ‘Vikram’ lander descent was [going] as planned and normal performance was observed,” until the craft had descended to 2.1 kilometers [1.3 miles] above the South Pole region, Sivan said. “Subsequently the communication from the lander to the ground station was lost. The data is being analyzed,” he said, surrounded by grim-faced engineers and technicians in the control room.

'Electric shocks, beatings': Kashmiris allege abuse by India army - The Indian soldiers descended on Bashir Ahmed Dar's house in southern Kashmir on August 10, a few days after the government in New Delhi stripped the disputed Himalayan region of its autonomy and launched a crackdown. Over the next 48 hours, the 50-year-old plumber said he was subjected to two separate rounds of beatings by soldiers. They demanded that he find his younger brother, who had joined rebels opposing India's presence in the Muslim-majority region, and persuaded him to surrender or else "face the music". In a second beating at a military camp, Dar said he was struck with sticks by three soldiers until he was unconscious. He woke up at home, "unable to sit on my bruised and bloodied buttocks and aching back", he said. But it was not over. On August 14, soldiers returned to his house in the village of Heff Shirmal and destroyed his family's supply of rice and other foodstuffs by mixing it with fertiliser and kerosene. Dar's account of violence and intimidation by Indian soldiers was not unusual. In more than 50 interviews, residents in a dozen villages in Kashmir told The Associated Press that the military had raided their homes since India's government imposed a security crackdown in the region on August 5. They said the soldiers inflicted beatings and electric shocks, forced them to eat dirt or drink filthy water, poisoned their food supplies or killed livestock, and threatened to take away and marry their female relatives. Thousands of young men have been arrested.

Amid Communication Blockade, Kashmiris Robbed of the Right to Mourn Their Dead - Azee Begum’s younger daughter, Mahjabeen learnt of her mother’s death three days after it happened when a relative arrived at her home in Pattan – a township 30 kms north of Srinagar – to inform her of it. “On the fourth day, she (Mahjabeen) came here wailing and beating her chest,” said Mahjabeen’s nephew Riyaz Ahmad at Azee’s home in Aanchar locality, on the outskirts of Srinagar. “She banged the doors and hit the walls. We all watched in helplessness until she fell unconscious.” Forty-five-year-old Mahjabeen’s is one of many such heart-wrenching tales from Kashmir, where relatives did not get to know of the death of their loved ones in time due to the unprecedented communication blockade.Kashmir’s residents have been without internet and mobile services – two main sources of communication – for the past 34 days.The communication gag was imposed after the India government read down Article 370 on August 5, a move that stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its special status. New Delhi also bifurcated the state into two union territories. The prevailing scenario has cut off Kashmiris living in different districts. They have hardly any information about each other’s well-being. Though the government said last week that it restored landlines in most parts of the Valley, only a small portion of the population owns that facility.  According to Indian Express, there are a total of around 50,000 active landline connections across ten districts of the Valley, meaning that mobile services remain the most widely used means of communication. There have also been complaints about the landline service being erratic.“Nobody in Kashmir would have imagined these times. Authorities are depriving us of the right to mourn our dead by blocking phone services and making Kashmir incommunicado,” said Gulzar Ahmad Baba, a mourner at Azee’s house.According to him, many relatives of the bereaved Aanchar family still do not know of Azee’s death.“In the prevailing situation when everything is shut and strict curbs are in place, how can one go out to inform relatives about the tragedy?” Baba said.

Modi’s Kashmir Power Grab Was Decades in the Making - Since 5 August, the people of Kashmir have been living under lockdown after the Indian government voted to revoke the state’s semi-sovereign status. The unilateral termination of Kashmir’s autonomy, has been a long-held goal of Prime Minister Narendi Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But while the scale of the crackdown – which has seen tens of thousands of troops deployed – is unprecedented, a historical account reveals that Kashmir’s sovereignty has been steadily undermined for decades. After the Partition of India in 1947, Jammu and Kashmir was left as an independent state. However, that same year, Kashmir’s ruler signed an Instrument of Accession to India in return for military aid to quell tribal invasion from the northwest. In response to the agreement, Lord Mountbatten, the then governor-general of India, noted that “the question of the State’s accession should be settled by a reference to the people.”The United Nations resolutions calling for this independent referendum to determine the future of Kashmir have never come to pass, but “still remain the collective expression of the voice of the international community” Instead, two-thirds of the state was occupied by India, one-third by Pakistan, and parts of the glacial regions claimed by China.The BJP has always been open about its aims vis-à-vis Kashmir, seeking to settle the Kashmir dispute outright by altering the state’s demography. By removing Article 35(a), they have opened the way for non-Kashmiris to settle permanently in Kashmir or buy land there. The outcome of any future referenda in the state will be significantly impacted by any demographic changes caused as a result of non-Kashmiri settlers. Efforts to diminish Kashmir’s autonomy have largely focused on undermining these articles. Previous attacks on the permanent residency protections of Article 35(a) have been framed by purported concern for gender equality in Kashmir. Despite the relevant regulation making no distinction between men and women, administrative practice had been to deprive women who married non-permanent residents of their own residency rights, which enabled them to buy and sell property in Kashmir. This discriminatory practice was brought before the Jammu and Kashmir High Court in 2002, which ruled that it was illegal under the Indian constitution. Jammu and Kashmir’s own constitution mandates equality for women in “social… political and legal” matters, and the court could have relied on this provision to strike down the practice.The existential anxiety produced by this decision and the controversies that followed demonstrated that the rights articulated in the Indian constitution do not hold moral authority in Kashmir, where Kashmiris are routinely subject to state-sanctioned violence, including torture and rape. Indian law enables violations of human rights and agents of violence, even if nominally condemned, in fact enjoy widespread impunity for their actions. In this context, the ruling was not interpreted as a constitutional protection for women as a marginalised group, but instead as a strategic move for perpetuating Indian government domination and further undercutting aspirations of Kashmiri self-determination.

 SA xenophobic attacks: 'Fake' videos stoke tension - BBC News Video --This week saw a wave of looting and violence mostly targeting nationals of other African countries in South Africa. But some videos and images that have been shared on social media about the attacks are not all they seem. BBC Africa debunks some of the videos that went viral, which are old or even from other countries, but are being used as evidence of current events in South Africa.

These Incidents Raise New Questions about the Security & Operability of the Banking System in Mexico - Wolf Street - For seven hours on Friday, three of Mexico’s four biggest banks, BBVA, Citibanamex and Banorte, suffered payment system failures at exactly the same time, leaving millions of consumers unable to withdraw money from ATMs, make payments with their credit or debit cards, or access their online and mobile accounts.From noon, many of the banks’ customers vented their anger on social media, complaining that they could not carry out transactions of any kind, whether in physical cash (because there was no way of withdrawing money), with their cards or on mobile platforms. While the mayhem caused by the outage may have been short lived, the timing could not have been worse, coming on the Friday of the second quinzena (fortnight) of the month, when most of the country’s workers get paid and huge amounts of money are spent.Rumors quickly spread that the outage was the result of problems with the Bank of Mexico’s SPEI interbank transfer system, an iteration of the SWIFT global payment system that already suffered a series of cyber attacks last year. BBVA, Mexico’s biggest bank, even said that its system had been disconnected from SPEI for 33 minutes, resulting in a massive pile up of interbank transfers.The Bank of Mexico — Banxico for short — was quick to quash the rumors, insisting that SPEI was in perfect working order and that any problems that had occurred processing bank payments and transfers were the result of internal issues within the three banks. It was a bizarre claim, given that the chances of Mexico’s three biggest banks suffering virtually identical payment outages at virtually exactly the same time are minuscule.Stranger still is the fact that this was not the first time in the month of August that Mexico’s financial system had suffered a widespread payment outage. On Saturday August 10, a systems failure at one of the main data centers run by Prosa, Latin America’s largest electronic payments company, left millions of bank customers stranded, unable to make payments or withdraw cash with their debit or credit cards. Many banks’ online payment systems also crashed. These two incidents, less than three weeks apart, raise fresh questions about the operability and security of Mexico’s banking system — something WOLF STREET has been warning about since April last year when a number of financial institutions reported suffering a massive cyber attack via Bank of Mexico’s SPEI system.

The world shuts its doors - The world hasn’t seen such staggering numbers of people fleeing violence, persecution and desperation since World War II — and countries that had offered safe harbor are beginning to turn them away.  The U.S. has declined to offer Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Bahamians in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, a particularly stark manifestation of the Trump administration’s efforts to close America’s borders to nearly all refugees and asylum-seekers. At an Axios event this morning, acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services chief Ken Cuccinelli said he opposed offering TPS to any additional countries until courts allow Trump to end protections for other groups, like Salvadorans.  The administration is also expected to soon cut the number of refugees the U.S. accepts for the fourth time.  The vast majority of displaced people flee not to wealthy Western countries, but to their neighbors. It’s there that efforts to curb protections are most acutely felt.

  • Turkey hosts more refugees than any other country. As the Syrian civil war raged, the country took “extraordinary” steps to facilitate the arrival of more than 3 million Syrians, says Hardin Lang of Refugees International. “Now, as the Turkish economy is beginning to do quite poorly, you see anti-Syrian sentiment on the rise, and you see [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan pivoting in that direction,” he says.  Some Syrians have already been sent back into an active war zone in Idlib, Lang says. Others are being forced to move out of cities like Istanbul and into rural areas. Some have been intimidated by officials or fined for working without permits.
  • Bangladesh was praised for taking in nearly 1 million Rohingya people who fled ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. Two years later, patience is growing thin. “Limits on Internet and cellphone service imposed this month, along with curbs on aid agencies, offer some of the clearest signs that Bangladesh is growing tired of the camps in its impoverished southeast and is looking for ways to nudge the Rohingya back to Myanmar without resorting to force,” the Washington Post reports.
  • Colombia has taken in about 1.4 million Venezuelans fleeing a deepening political and economic crisis, a number that continues to grow.  “The real danger here is that Colombia gets to a tipping point at some point and decides to change their policy. And if they do that, the Venezuelans will have nowhere to go,” he says.

 Europe's Full-Blown 'Stockholm Syndrome' In Face Of US Bullying - The psychological condition known as Stockholm Syndrome, in which hostages irrationally sympathize with their captors, could well be applied to European leaders when it comes to US bullying. The US has always been the dominant –and domineering– party in the transatlantic relationship. But past administrations in Washington have been careful to indulge European states as “partners” in a seemingly mutual alliance. Under President Donald Trump, the Europeans are pushed around and hectored in a way that shows their true status as mere vassals to Washington. Take the Nord Stream 2 project. The 1,220-kilometer-long undersea pipeline, which will significantly increase delivery of gas to Europe, is due to be completed by year’s end. The new supply stands to benefit the European Union’s economy, in particular Germany’s, by providing cheaper energy fuel to drive businesses and heat homes. Yet last week, US Senator Ted Cruz threatened that his country “has the ability to halt” the entire project being completed. Cruz is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee which in July passed a bill that will impose sanctions on companies involved in the construction of the pipeline. Germany, Austria, France and Britain are part of the building consortium, along with Russia’s Gazprom. Ironically, the Senate bill is called ‘Protecting Europe’s Energy Security’. It’s a curious form of ‘protection’ when US-threatened sanctions will deprive European businesses and consumers of affordable gas. Cruz, as with President Trump, has accused Russia of trying to tighten its economic grip on Europe. Closer to the truth, and more cynically, Washington wants Europe to buy its more expensive liquefied natural gas. Texas, the biggest source of US gas, is Cruz’s home state. Maybe his bill should be renamed ‘Protecting American Energy Exports.’

French company liable after employee dies during sex on business trip - A French company has been found liable for the death of an employee who had a cardiac arrest while having sex with a stranger on a business trip.  A Paris court ruled that his death was an industrial accident and that the family was entitled to compensation.The firm had argued the man was not carrying out professional duties when he joined a guest in her hotel room.But under French law an employer is responsible for any accident occurring during a business trip, judges said.The man, named as Xavier X, was working as an engineer for TSO, a railway services company based near Paris.He died at a hotel during a trip to central France in 2013, as a result of what the employer called "an extramarital relationship with a perfect stranger".The company challenged a decision by the state health insurance provider to regard the death as a workplace accident.The provider defended its position by insisting that sexual activity was normal, "like taking a shower or a meal".In its ruling, the Paris appeals court upheld this view.

France says EU won’t approve Brexit delay as things stand (Reuters) - France’s foreign minister said on Sunday that, as things stand, the European Union would not grant Britain an extension beyond Oct. 31 to negotiate its exit from the bloc. “It’s very worrying. The British must tell us what they want,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told Europe 1 radio. Asked if an extension beyond Oct. 31 was possible, Le Drian said not under current conditions. “We are not going to do (extend) this every three months,” he said.

French minister says 'no' to more Brexit delays   -France's foreign minister has said that, as things stand, the European Union would not grant the UK an extension beyond 31 October to negotiate its exit from the bloc.Jean-Yves Le Drian told Europe 1 Radio that it was very worrying and the British must say what they want."In the current circumstances, it's no! ... We are not going to go through this every three months."He said: "The (British) say that they want to put forward other solutions, alternative arrangements so that they can leave," he said, referring to Prime Minister Boris Johnson's efforts to find a way out of the backstop, the main sticking point."But we have not seen them and so it is 'no'... let the British authorities tell us the way forward," he said."Let them take responsibility for their situation... They have to tell us what they want."Britain was originally meant to leave the European Union on 29 March but with parliament deadlocked the British government ended up negotiating a delay to 31 October.Two of Boris Johnson's ministers today said the British Prime Minister was sticking to his Brexit plan and will not seek a delay to Britain's departure from the EU at a summit next month.They made the comments following a resignation from the UK government. After work and pensions minister Amber Rudd's shock resignation late yesterday over Mr Johnson's Brexit policy, two ministers said the prime minister was determined to "keep to the plan" to leave the European Union by 31 October with or without an agreement.

Brexit: leaving it too late? One of the comments which grabbed my attention this weekend was in the Observer article reporting on an opinion poll which showed that the Tories had extended their lead over Labour to ten percent, despite a "chaotic week".The money quote came from Adam Drummond, the head of political polling at Opinium, the organisation that had produced the poll result. Reviewing the fragility of the data contributing to the poll, he concluded that: "We're facing unprecedented times in Westminster, and it's very difficult to predict what will happen in the next few days, let alone further beyond". That is not only true now. It's been true for a while, making intelligent commentary on this blog increasingly difficult to deliver. The noise level is so high that it is swamping whatever coherent signals there might be, while the conflicting viewpoints and events create such extremes that one can scarcely reconcile the opposing arguments. There is simply no common ground. It is tempting under these circumstances to stand back and let the noise-makers do their worst, holding off until coherent signals re-emerge and it becomes possible to offer a sensible commentary. But the danger here is that if one takes time out and lets the roller coaster thunder down, it is too easy to lose the thread altogether, never to pick it up again. Then there is the question of loyalty to a growing readership. After the summer dip, which happens every year, hit rate is reaching new records, occasionally touching a daily level close to 75,000. This makes us a serious player, even if most of the legacy media want to pretend we don't exist, but it brings with it a responsibility to deliver. For all that, while one accepts that this torture must eventually end, there is no obvious end point, or even a scenario which could be taken as a consensus position that would give a sense of closure. As a result, there are those who would like to press the reset button, taking us back to pre-23 June 2016, whence we could revert to "normal" and pretend nothing had happened.

Amber Rudd quits cabinet and attacks PM for ‘political vandalism’ Boris Johnson’s government was in danger of imploding on Saturday night as the work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd, quit the cabinet and resigned the Conservative whip, saying she could not stand by while “loyal, moderate MPs” were purged from the party. In a devastating resignation letter, she accused the prime minister of “an assault on decency and democracy” and “an act of political vandalism” for sacking 21 of her Tory colleagues for backing a parliamentary bill to stop a no-deal Brexit. Rudd told Johnson she had joined his cabinet “in good faith accepting that no deal had to be on the table”. She added: “However, I no longer believe leaving with a deal is the government’s main objective.” While she could see the government was “expending a lot of energy” preparing for no deal, she had not seen “the same level of intensity go into our talks with the European Union” and updates from his office had “not, regretfully, provided me with the reassurances I sought”. Referring to Johnson’s decision to withdraw the whip from rebel MPs, she said: “This short-sighted culling of my colleagues has stripped the party of broad-minded and dedicated Conservative MPs. I cannot support this act of political vandalism.” Rudd’s decision follows the resignation from the cabinet of Johnson’s own brother, Jo Johnson, on Thursday and will place intense pressure on other cabinet members who are also against a no-deal Brexit, including Nicky Morgan, to follow suit. Labour’s party chairman, Ian Lavery, said: “The prime minister has run out of authority in record time and his Brexit plan has been exposed as a sham. No one trusts Boris Johnson. Not his cabinet, not his MPs, not even his own brother.” David Gauke, the pro-remain ­former secretary of state for justice and lord chancellor, tweeted of Rudd’s resignation: “I’m sure this has not been an easy decision. But it is brave and principled and is all about putting the national interest first.”

UK Cabinet on resignation watch as Prime Minister Boris Johnson set to take war with MPs to Supreme Court Westminster is on resignation watch after reports that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is setting himself up for an explosive Supreme Court battle over a no-deal Brexit. A law drafted by Opposition figures demanding the Brexit deadline is extended to January 2020 to avoid Britain leaving the European Union without a deal is expected to receive Royal Assent this week. But the Prime Minister is threatening to disobey the terms and push ahead with his plan to keep no-deal on the table when he meets fellow leaders at the European Council summit on October 17. Mr Johnson has said he would rather be "dead in a ditch" than ask the EU for an extension beyond Halloween. The Conservative Party leader further emphasised his position when speaking to the Mail On Sunday. "I refuse to accept (Jeremy) Corbyn's pointless delay," he said. His stance has led to speculation that more front bench ministers could walk out on the Government. Amber Rudd sensationally quit the Cabinet and the Tory Party on Saturday, citing concerns over Mr Johnson's approach to the Brexit negotiations. She told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show that "not enough work is going into actually getting a deal". The former work and pension secretary's resignation set off alarm bells that more ministers could follow. ––

Boris Johnson draws up plan to legally stop Brexit extension if MPs vote against general election - Boris Johnson has drawn up plans to “sabotage” any Brexit extension without breaking the law, the Telegraph has learnt. It means Monday’s vote on a general election is the “last chance” for MPs to block a no-deal Brexit, the Government believes. The Prime Minister’s key advisers held a meeting on Sunday to thrash out a strategy to scupper Parliament’s efforts to force a three-month Brexit extension if no new deal is agreed. One plan under serious consideration would see the Prime Minister send an accompanying letter alongside the request to extend Article 50 setting out that the Government does not want any delay after Oct 31. On Sunday night, a Cabinet source told The Telegraph: “There is a prescribed letter that has to be sent... Does that stop the Prime Minister sending other documents to the EU? I don’t think it does. “A political explainer perhaps, as to where the Government’s policy is. It has to make clear that the Government is asking for an extension, but let’s not forget what the next step is. “Once that is done, the Europeans are going to ask: ‘Why? What is the reason?’ [What] if the Government said: ‘We don’t have any reasons for an extension’? “There is a clear path now: the Europeans need to refuse an extension.”

Queen approves Brexit delay law: House of Lords - Queen Elizabeth II has given her formal approval to a law that would force the government to delay Brexit if it is not able to strike a divorce deal with Brussels, the House of Lords said on Monday. "EUWithdrawal6Bill receives Royal Assent," the upper chamber said on Twitter, referring to the newly-passed law.

Ireland warns PM Johnson: no-backstop equals no-deal Brexit (Reuters) - Prime Minister Boris Johnson lost influence over Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union on Monday when a law came into force demanding he delay Brexit until 2020 unless he can strike a divorce deal at an EU summit next month. It was unclear what Johnson’s next move in the Brexit crisis would be: while the law will oblige him to seek a delay unless he can strike a new deal, EU leaders have repeatedly said they have received no specific proposals. As Johnson tries to break the deadlock in London, he will ask parliament a second time for an early national election but is likely to be defeated in a vote at around 2230 GMT on Monday. He will then suspend parliament until Oct. 14.Brexit, the United Kingdom’s most significant geopolitical move in decades, remains in question more than three years since the 2016 referendum, with possible outcomes ranging from an exit on Oct. 31 without a withdrawal agreement to smooth the transition, to abandoning the whole endeavor. The bill seeking to block a no-deal exit, passed into law on Monday when it received assent from Queen Elizabeth, will force Johnson to seek a three-month extension to the Oct. 31 deadline unless parliament has either approved a deal or consented by Oct. 19 to leave without one. “I’m absolutely undaunted by whatever may take place in parliament,” Johnson said in Dublin ahead of talks with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.“We must get Brexit done because the UK must come out on October 31, or else I fear that permanent damage will be done to confidence in our democracy in the UK,” Johnson said.

UK parliament speaker says stepping down - UK House of Commons Speaker John Bercow says he will step down by the end of next month after a decade in the job. Bercow told lawmakers that if Parliament votes Monday in favor of an early election, he will quit before the campaign. If they don't he will quit Oct. 31 - the day Britain is due to leave the European Union. He says he will quit both as speaker and as a member of Parliament.  Bercow has angered the Conservative government by repeatedly allowing lawmakers to seize control of Parliament's agenda to steer the course of Brexit. He says he is simply fulfilling his role of letting Parliament have its say. The Conservatives had said they would run against Bercow in the next national election, breaking a convention that the speaker be elected unopposed.

Brexit: Ultra FracasYves Smith -Needless to say, last week was an exceptional one for UK politics. It looked like car crashing into a wall and flying into pieces. And the audience wonders…will the gas tank explode next? Boris Johnson managed to unify a heretofore hopelessly divided opposition against him, and made his bad situation worse by conducting a jihad against his own party. And day-to-day developments that don’t make the headlines are just as unflattering. For instance, Johnson appears to have no idea what Brexit negotiations would amount to (he seems to be sincere when he talks about getting a deal done at the October EU Council meeting). And unlike Trump, he doesn’t have the excuse of not knowing the job description. PlutoniumKun summarized the events up to the weekend:

  • 1. Johnson (or should this be Dom and Dommer?) has revealed the real strategy. Provoke an election for mid-October running aggressively on a Brexit platform in order to try to get a majority and split the opposition. Brexit is almost a side issue to Johnson’s personal ambitions. He (and D&D) are prepared to destroy the Tory Party if necessary.
  • 2. Johnson’s team completely botched the plan. They didn’t expect Corbyn to call their bluff on an election and they didn’t expect so many internal Tory defections. Essentially, they overplayed their hand and now find they’ve run out of cards and lost their majority. They need a new plan quickly, the question is if they can do it.
  • 3. There now seems a much better than before chance of a 2 month extension being requested (probably as a condition of Johnson getting his election if necessary). I can’t see the EU turn this down unless Macron or a wild card leader objects.
  • 4. Johnson seems all at sea and suddenly seems to have realised that being PM isn’t anywhere near as much fun as he hoped. He is very rapidly running out of goodwill on his own side, and soon this could be reflected in the polls. This could make him reconsider the quick election he claims not to want but is desperately trying to provoke. This could mean the UK just crawling over the no-deal cliff with a deeply wounded minority government in charge, let by a buffoon who has realised nobody is laughing with him anymore.
  • 5. This week’s loser: Johnson blew his big moment. This week’s winner: Corbyn – he successfully called Johnson’s bluff and has made himself the undisputed leader of the opposition. The LibDems now will have little choice but to back him in almost anything he chooses to do. This week’s other winner: The SNP. Never interrupt your enemy….

This being an overly dynamic situation, new shoes dropped over the weekend. Work and Pensions minister Amber Rudd resigned, and then took to the airways to excoriate Johnson for not negotiating. Huh? The EU has said negotiations are over, save regarding the non-binding statement of the future relationship (although that is not totally true; the EU likely would consider swapping out the backstop for the so-called “sea border” option). Nevertheless, her beef seemed to be that Johnson wasn’t even making a credible pretense of trying to get a new deal.

Boris Johnson loses sixth vote in six days as election bid fails - Boris Johnson shut down parliament amid chaotic scenes in the early hours of Tuesday following his sixth parliamentary defeat in six days, as MPs voted to block a snap election and to force the publication of No 10’s secret preparations for a no-deal Brexit. MPs on the opposition benches shouted: “Shame on you” at Conservative MPs as they filed out behind the Speaker, John Bercow, during the start of proceedings to prorogue parliament until 14 October, while others held up signs saying “silenced”. Renditions of Red Flag, Jerusalem, Flower of Scotland and Bread of Heaven were also sung. Bercow told the Commons “this is not a standard or normal prorogation” and that the move represented “an act of executive fiat”. Opposition MPs tried to physically stop Bercow from leaving his chair to go to the House of Lords to finish the prorogation formalities. Earlier, Johnson moved to stop parliament sitting for five weeks and repeatedly refused to countenance any delay to leaving the EU, even though the bill to prevent a no-deal Brexit on 31 October passed into law on Monday and MPs refused him a general election before that date. Johnson was also defiant about parliament’s vote, by 311 to 302, for him to publish Operation Yellowhammer documents detailing the government’s no-deal Brexit plans, after a leaked version from early August warned of possible food and medicine shortages. The motion, brought by former Tory MP Dominic Grieve, also directed Johnson to disclose messages relating to the suspension of parliament sent by his senior adviser, Dominic Cummings and various other aides on WhatsApp, Facebook, other social media and both their personal and professional phones. Grieve said he had information from public officials that such correspondence contained a “scandal”. But Downing Street sources suggested Johnson’s advisers would resort to legal action rather than hand over their communications. Any refusal to comply could put them and the government in contempt of parliament. .

MPs stop Johnson from calling October election - The next general election will not take place before the Brexit deadline of October 31 after Boris Johnson pushed ahead with his historic suspension of parliament yesterday. The longest parliamentary session in modern history closed at the end of the sitting early today, removing any possibility that voters would be called to the polls next month. Opposition MPs and Tory rebels rejected for a second time the prime minister’s call for an October 15 election, insisting that a law blocking a no-deal Brexit must take effect first. Amid mass abstentions, 293 MPs backed the prime minister’s motion for a snap election and 46 opposed it. Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, Mr Johnson needed to secure votes from two thirds of MPs or at least 434. The prime minister said: “I earlier urged the House to trust the people — but once again the opposition think they know better. They want to delay Brexit yet again . . . and most egregiously of all, not only have they failed to choose the way ahead, they have now twice denied the British people their say.” He added that the outcome would leave him having to go “to a vital negotiation without the power to walk away”. Mr Johnson also suffered a defeat when MPs instructed him to publish the government’s no-deal contingency plans and internal correspondence on his decision to prorogue parliament. The votes came at the conclusion of a dramatic day during which John Bercow announced his resignation as Commons Speaker. At the close of the session, when Black Rod entered the chamber to begin the prorogation ceremony, a group of opposition MPs advanced to the Speaker’s chair in protest. Some held signs with “silenced” written on them.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson prorogues Parliament - Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson prorogued Parliament Monday evening after opposition MPs voted to oppose, for a second time, his attempt to force a general election before the current Brexit deadline of October 31. Although Johnson won the vote by 293 to 46, a motion to hold a general election requires the support of two thirds of all the more than 600 MPs and the prime minister was far short of that as opposition MPs abstained. Johnson’s anti-democratic suspension of Parliament was carried out to prevent opposition MPs from taking control of Parliament’s order paper over the next five weeks and derailing his plans to withdraw the UK from the European Union (EU), without a deal if necessary. The vote to oppose an early election took place after a Bill, put forward by Labour Blairite MP Hilary Benn, and designed to prevent Johnson imposing a no-deal Brexit, received royal assent to become an act of law. It compels Johnson to request from the EU an extension to the Brexit deadline until January 2020 if there is no deal agreed by October 19. The bill was rushed through both Houses of Parliament last week after cross-party MPs deemed it the best way to stymie Johnson’s plans. Despite being unable to prevent Benn’s Bill passing, the government insists that it will not request an extension from the EU beyond October 31. At a press conference last week at a police training college Johnson stated that he would rather “die in a ditch” than agree an extension. As this would mean the executive were refusing to accept an act of law, speculation mounted over the weekend that this could result in legal action taken against Johnson by MPs. According to pro-Brexit Tory MP Nigel Evans the government is war-gaming “about 20” different ways it can get around having to seek an extension. One option being considered was for Johnson to write to the EU to formally seek a Brexit extension and then also send another letter stating that the UK does not want an extension. Another was to exploit the sentiments of one of the EU members not in favour of granting the UK an extension. France is reportedly poised to reject an extension with foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, stating at the weekend, “We are not going to do this [extend the Brexit deadline] every three months.” Other plans being considered were Johnson calling a vote of confidence in his own government, a provision usually reserved for the leader of the main opposition party under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act (FTPA) or for Johnson to resign, with another figure making the request in his place as a temporary prime minister.

Johnson tells Leo Varadkar that a no-deal Brexit ‘would be a failure’ - A no-deal Brexit would be a failure that both the British and Irish governments would be responsible for, Boris Johnson has said. The prime minister was in Dublin for his first meeting with Irish PM Leo Varadkar since he entered Number 10. The government has confirmed Parliament will be suspended later after a vote on holding an early general election. Opposition parties will not back the vote, meaning there will be no election in October as the PM had hoped. Mr Johnson said he believed a Brexit deal was still possible by the EU summit in October, but Taoiseach Varadkar said there was no such thing as a "clean break" between the UK and the EU. Mr Johnson has ruled out asking the EU to delay the Brexit deadline of 31 October, although the Irish government has said it would support another extension. But Mr Johnson told reporters in Dublin he was "absolutely undaunted" about what might happen in Parliament. The prime minister also said he had looked at the consequences of a no-deal Brexit, and "wanted to find a deal".

Could Johnson take the initiative and solve the Irish backstop today? - Boris Johnson has been like a wrecking ball in the last week. His premiership is in tatters. His party is torn asunder. His majority has long gone. It looks as if his days are numbered. And still he has to get a deal if he is to avoid breaking the law, as he has long said he will do. Bizarrely the complete mess he has made of things so far gives him that chance. Without any hope of a majority the DUP have no control over Johnson any more: their power base was entirely dependent upon providing the government with the votes it needs. Their votes now count for nothing when Johnson is so far from a majority any more. But, that means Johnson could suggest the obvious solution, long favoured by the EU, to the Irish backstop question. That is to have a border down the Irish Sea. I know it divides Northern Ireland form the UK. But it is already. And not just physically. It has a separate legal system. And the differences are not just semantic: in some cases they have been fundamental, as the abortion issue proved. There are ample other examples. Such a move will, of course, inflame the DUP. I am not unaware of the risks: they are real. But then, so too is the risk of an Irish border real, and maybe more so. There is no non-risky solution here. There is nothing about Brexit, anywhere, that does not require unnecessary and inappropriate risk to be taken. But of all the risks that it involves this one seems one of the more logical to take: that's the best that can be said for it.

Brexit Disaster Capitalism: £8 Billion Bet on No Deal Crash-Out by Boris Johnson’s Leave Backers -Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign backers in the City stand to make billions of pounds from his ‘do or die’ pledge to take Britain out the of the EU by the end of October, Byline Times can reveal. On the day Johnson was announced as Prime Minister by his party on 23 July, it was reported that “more than half of the donations received by Boris Johnson originated from donors with ties to the City”. However, this newspaper has discovered that this figure is actually much higher – and that many of the hedge funds involved are set to make a killing from his hard-line approach to Brexit. According to the records of both the elections watchdog, the Electoral Commission and the Register of Financial Interests, between 10 May and 23 July, Johnson received £655,500 in donations. Of these, two thirds – £432,500 (65%) – came from hedge funds, City traders or the very wealthy. Under the 1922 Committee’s rules governing the Conservative Party leadership election, spending is capped at £150,000 per candidate, so that all contenders have an equal chance of competing. However, these limits only apply to the short campaign, which began on 7 July and excluded the period in May when Johnson announced his long-anticipated leadership bid. £318,000 of the donations were submitted late, after the leadership election result had been announced. These late filings conceal a significant trend. Many of these late donations were from hedge funds and people that Johnson worked with on the Vote Leave campaign during the EU Referendum, which was run by his current Chief of Staff in No.10, Dominic Cummings. Crispin Odey, Paul Marshall, Peter Cruddas, Jon Moynihan, Jon Wood, Robin Birley, David Lilley, Philip Harris, JCB and The Bristol Port Company all donated (directly or indirectly through companies they and their co-directors are involved with) to Johnson’s leadership campaign and also contributed more than £2 million to the Vote Leave campaign.

Fury as Tory Cabinet minister claims ‘many people’ believe judges are biased over Brexit after prorogation ruling - A cabinet minister has ignited a fresh row after suggesting "many people" believe the courts are biased in relation to Brexit. Kwasi Kwarteng - a business minister - made the incendiary remarks after judges in Scotland's highest civil court branded Boris Johnson's suspension of parliament as "unlawful". The comments also came just hours after Downing Street was forced to defend the impartiality of judges, following accusations of political bias from Number 10 sources. Asked about the Scottish court's judgement, Mr Kwarteng told the BBC: "Many people are saying - I'm not saying this - but, many people... are saying the judges are biased. The judges are getting involved in politics. "I think that they are impartial, but I'm saying that many people, many Leave voters, many people up and down the country, are beginning to question the partiality of judges. That's just a fact."Mr Kwarteng, a supporter of Brexit who was promoted to cabinet level when Mr Johnson formed his new government, added: "The extent to which lawyers and judges are interfering in politics is something that concerns many people." The comments were seized upon by the ex-justice secretary David Gauke, who said: "I like Kwasi a great deal but he's got this badly wrong. This is not how government ministers should speak about the judiciary." He later added on the BBC that questioning the impartiality of judiciary was "not acceptable" and "not responsible". David Lidington, another former justice secretary, who was most recently Theresa May's deputy, also responded to the cabinet ministers comments.

Has the DUP offered Boris Johnson a Brexit lifeline? Party ‘drops its objections to some border checks across the Irish Sea’ in dramatic shift of the red lines that sank Theresa May  -Boris Johnson could have been handed a Brexit lifeline by the DUP who may be willing to accept Northern Ireland abiding by some European Union rules after Brexit, as part of a deal to replace the Irish backstop, it has been reported. There is speculation the PM is trying to find a way through the Brexit quagmire by proposing a Northern Ireland-only backstop, in an attempt to find a compromise with Brussels. In at tweet this evening, DUP leader Arlene Foster poured cold water on the notion they will support any deal that 'divides the internal market of the UK' - but this will do little to quell speculation talks are taking place to help unlock a Brexit deal.The Irish border backstop was central to the collapse of Theresa May's deal - it called for customs checks on goods travelling between the island of Ireland and Great Britain if the UK and EU had not reached a trade deal by the end of the two-year transition period after Brexit. DUP MPs refused to support this part of the deal because it would have distanced Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK by creating border checks in the Irish Sea, but not between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. But according to the latest report in The Times, the DUP could now accept Northern Ireland abiding by some European Union rules after Brexit. And crucially, the party that props up Mr Johnson's government could also be willing to drop its red line objections to regulatory checks in the Irish Sea.In return, the report claims, the EU would drop its demands that Northern Ireland remain in the bloc's customs union and agree to fast-track technological solutions to the border problem championed by Brexiteers. Such an agreement would represent a breakthrough in the EU negotiations. Boris Johnson is asking the EU to drop its demand to keep the entire UK in a backstop if future trade negotiations fail in the two-year transition period after Brexit. Persuading the DUP to compromise and accept terms that could tie Northern Ireland to the EU but not Great Britain could be one way around this impasse. 

John Bercow says Boris Johnson disobeying law over Brexit would be like ‘robbing a bank’John Bercow has warned Boris Johnson against disobeying the law by not asking for a Brexitdelay, saying he would be prepared to ripped up the existing parliamentary rule book to ensure the prime minister does not act illegally to force through a no-deal exit.The outgoing Commons Speaker said that the only form of EU departure possible is one backed by MPs, comparing any attempt to shun the law over the extension with a bank robber excusing their crime by giving their loot to charity.In a speech in London on Thursday, the former Tory said that the so-called Benn Act aiming to prevent no-deal by forcing the PM to ask for a delay, means the only possible Brexit outcome was one approved by Parliament.He warned that it is “astonishing” that anyone has entertained the idea that the PM could disobey the law.“It would be the most terrible example to set to the rest of society,” he said.Play Video“One should no more refuse to request an extension of Article 50 because of what one might regard as the noble end of departing from the EU as soon as possible, than one could possibly excuse robbing a bank on the basis that the cash stolen would be donated to a charitable cause immediately afterwards.”If the Government comes close to disobeying the Act, the MP said that Parliament “would want to cut off such a possibility and do so forcefully”.“If that demands additional procedural creativity in order to come to pass, it is a racing certainty that this will happen, and that neither the limitations of the existing rule book nor the ticking of the clock will stop it doing so,” he added.The Benn Act was pushed through Parliament by opposition MPs and Tory rebels in a series of devastating defeats during Mr Johnson’s early days as leader.Earlier on Thursday, Mr Johnsondenied he lied to the Queen when he advised her to prorogue Parliament, insisting such claims were "absolutely not" true.Scotland's highest civil court said prorogation was "motivated by the improper purpose of stymying Parliament" and therefore advice to the Queen to suspend it was "unlawful".Will Johnson goad MPs to impeach him by refusing to ask EU for Brexit delay?Government will 'test to the limit' law designed to stop no-deal BrexitParliament recall urged after Operation Yellowhammer documents warn of shortagesIt says that the PM must ask Brussels for an extension to the Brexit deadline to the end of January if he cannot get a new deal, or no-deal backed by MPs, by October 19.But there have been fears Mr Johnson may try to wriggle out of the request, after he said he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than ask for a delay to the Halloween deadline.Mr Bercow, during a speech for the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, said the Brexit chaos has opened him up to the idea that the UK may need a written constitution.He announced on Monday that he will stand aside as Speaker on October 31 and would step down as MP for Buckingham.

Johnson denies lying to Queen over Parliament suspension Boris Johnson has denied lying to the Queen over the advice he gave her over the five-week suspension of Parliament. The prime minister was speaking after Scotland's highest civil court ruled on Wednesday the shutdown was unlawful. Asked whether he had lied to the monarch about his reasons for the suspension, he replied: "Absolutely not." He added: "The High Court in England plainly agrees with us, but the Supreme Court will have to decide." The power to suspend - or prorogue - Parliament lies with the Queen, who conventionally acts on the advice of the prime minister. The current five-week suspension began in the early hours of Tuesday, and MPs are not scheduled to return until 14 October. Labour has said it is "more important than ever" that Parliament is recalled after the government published the Yellowhammer document, an assessment of a reasonable worst-case scenario in the event of a no-deal Brexit.Meanwhile, the EU has said it is willing to revisit the proposal of a Northern Ireland-only backstop to break the Brexit deadlock, despite Mr Johnson ruling this out. The President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, said there would be no agreement without a backstop - which aims to avoid a hard Irish border after Brexit - in some form. But the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier told MEPs that the "situation in the UK remains serious and uncertain", saying: "We do not have reasons to be optimistic". He also warned the UK could still leave without a deal, despite Parliament introducing a law to avoid the scenario.

Boris Johnson faces new legal challenge which could see judges sign letter asking for Brexit extension, lawyers say Boris Johnson faces a fresh legal challenge to his Brexit plans inthe same Scottish court that ruled he had acted unlawfully by proroguing Parliament.A group of 78 opposition MPs and peers which successfully challenged the Government earlier this week now wants the court to rule that it will ask Brussels for a Brexit extension if Mr Johnson refuses to do so.The Prime Minister has said he would rather be "dead in a ditch" than ask for a Brexit extension beyond Oct 31, even though an Act of Parliament now requires him to do so if he fails to agree a new deal with the EU next month.The anti-no deal campaigners believe judges in Scotland have the power to send a letter to Brussels asking for...

The Impossibility of Immigrants Refusing to Integrate into British Society (guest post by Hasko Von Kriegstein) Brexit continues to make international headlines. The desire to leave the EU appears to be, in large part, driven by a desire to limit immigration. This brings many questions about immigration to the forefront, among them the question whether immigrants have a duty to integrate into the receiving society. Many in Britain seem to think that there is. In 2016, for example, then communities secretary Sajid Javid stated: “for too long, too many people in this country have been living parallel lives, refusing to integrate failing to embrace the shared values that make Britain great.” 2.5 years later, former prime minister Tony Blair concurred: “ [Government] has to be a passionate advocate and, where necessary, an enforcer of the duty to integrate while protecting the proper space for diversity. Integration is not a choice; it is a necessity.”I do not hold strong views, one way or the other, on the question whether there is a duty to integrate. What I argue here is that, in the case of Britain, the question is moot. That is because it is impossible for immigrants to Britain to refuse to integrate into British society. Consider the following argument.

  • (1)   Any immigrant into British society either does, or does not, make an effort to adopt the local lifestyle.
  • (2)   An immigrant who makes an active effort to adopt the local lifestyle is not refusing to integrate.
  • (3)   An immigrant who adopts an essential characteristic of the receiving society is not refusing to integrate.
  • (4)   Moving to a foreign country without making any effort to adopt the local lifestyle is an essential British characteristic.
  • (5)   An immigrant to Britain who makes no effort to adopt the local lifestyle is not refusing to integrate. (from (3) and (4))
  • (6)   Any immigrant to Britain is not refusing to integrate. (from (1), (2), and (5)).

The argument is valid. Is it sound? Claim 1 is a logical truth. Claim 2 strikes me as uncontroversial. Claim 4 is strongly supported by the history of British colonialism. Claims 5 and 6 follow from the other claims. That leaves claim 3. One might be tempted to think that an immigrant’s adopting a single essential characteristic of the receiving society is not sufficient to rule out the possibility that they are refusing to integrate. This objection may come in two forms.

Nearly All British Airways Flights Canceled As Pilots Union Goes On Strike- British Airways has been forced to cancel nearly all of its flights for Monday and Tuesday after the British pilots union went on strike, promising more turmoil ahead for the British aviation industry, CNN reports. The strike was called by the British Airline Pilots Association amid a heated dispute with the airline over pay. BALPA said Sunday that it had delivered a proposal to the carrier's management Wednesday, but had yet to receive a reply. We put forward a proposal to BA management last Wednesday that would have enabled us to call off the strikes for Monday and Tuesday. BA didn't reply.#BAstrike  One day of strike action will cost BA, on their own figures, £40m. The difference between us now is £5m. Why won't they work with us to end this dispute?#BAstrike (2/2) — BALPA (@BALPApilots) September 8, 2019   British Airways said in a statement on Monday that it remains "ready and willing to return to talks with BALPA." The airline said it was forced to cancel so many flights because "with no detail from BALPA on which pilots would strike, we had no way of predicting how many would come to work or which aircraft they are qualified to fly." Customers who had flights booked for Monday and Tuesday will likely "not be able to travel as planned," British Airways said. It advised travelers not to travel to the airport. Members of the pilots' union voted 93% in favor of a strike in July. BALPA said last week that it would be willing to call it off if British Airways returned to the negotiating table. BALPA represents more than 10,000 pilots in the UK, more than 85% of all commercial pilots who fly there.

Students Prevented From Attending UK School Because They Refuse To Wear "Gender Neutral" Uniforms - Female students at a school in the UK were prevented by officials and police from attending class because they refused to comply with a new “gender neutral” uniform policy. Around 100 students protested outside the gates of Priory School in Lewes in response to a letter sent at the end of the summer advising they would be mandated to wear trousers at all times. The school claimed that the policy change was put in place to “address inequality,” and be “inclusive,” but students and parents were outraged. Students carrying signs that read “choice” were turned away at the gate, with police officers aiding school officials in the dispute. “A gender neutral uniform would allow boys to wear skirts and girls to wear skirts and both to wear trousers,” said parent Sheila Cullen. Others complained that they were being made to pay out over £100 for another uniform that would last just 9 months. Maria Caulfield MP for Lewes asserted it was “ridiculous” to tells girls they couldn’t wear skirts. “It is political correctness gone mad,” she said. 

Fire destroys another residential tower block in London - Another inferno has torn through a large block of London residential flats. Just over two years after the Grenfell Tower inferno, the raging fire completely destroyed an entire structure—this time in Worcester Park in the borough of Sutton, in the southwest of the capital. Residents of the four-storey building’s 23 apartments in Sherbrooke Way—in what is known as the Hamptons estate—were forced to evacuate in the early hours of Monday morning, as 125 firefighters and 20 fire engines worked till dawn to tackle the blaze. Fortunately, no one was killed or injured. But as the building was completely wrecked, the homes and possessions of all its occupants were incinerated. Fire investigators are currently working to determine the exact cause of the blaze and the reasons for its rapid spread across the building. However, there are already serious questions raised about the safety of other buildings in the Worcester Park development and nationwide of a similar type. The fire alarms in the building failed to warn sleeping families of the danger. Darren Nicholson was alerted by the sound of “crackling” and, opening his curtains, saw the flames. Nicholson said the fire may have begun on the wooden balconies of the building. Dean Fowler, who lived on the top floor of the building, had to be woken by somebody banging on his door: “I then heard someone screaming ‘there’s a fire, get out,’ and I just got my boys and went.” Stephen Nobrega, another resident, said, “I was woken up by my missus at about 1:20 a.m., screaming and shouting, ‘Fire! Fire!’ “I heard a lot of residents outside and by that point somebody was already banging on my window and pressing my buzzer, so I knew it was quite serious. “I got out of bed, got what you see me wearing on, got the kids with something on and managed to get us all out safely... “But everything we had in there—from simple things like clothes to sentimental stuff which you’ll never get back—I’ve got photos of the kids on family holidays, sentimental bits and pieces, gone forever… it’s heart-breaking.”

Hong Kong Exchange Offers To Buy LSE For $40 Billion -- Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing, the third-largest stock-exchange group in Asia, has offered to buy the London Stock Exchange for £20.45 a share in cash and 2.495 newly issued HKEX shares in a deal that would spoil LSE's planned merger with data provider Refinitiv, according to the Financial Times.  HKEX's offer values LSE at £83.61 a share, a 23% premium to LSE’s closing price on Tuesday. LSE shares climbed as much as 16% before paring gains to trade 5.9% higher after HKEX made its surprise $36.6 billion bid for the UK-based exchange group. LSE later said in a statement that it "remains committed to" its proposed acquisition of Refinitiv.    If the deal were to be completed, it would be by far the largest in the history of HKEX, which previously bought the London Metal Exchange for £1.4 billion in 2012.  "Bringing HKEX and the London Stock Exchange together will redefine global capital markets for decades to come," said Charles Li, chief executive of HKEX. “Both businesses have great brands, financial strength and proven growth track records. Together, we will connect East and West, be more diversified and we will be able to offer customers greater innovation, risk management and trading opportunities."  Per the FT, Li is trying to make HKEX into a "department store" for investors looking to increase their exposure to China just as Beijing is trying to open its markets to more foreign investment.

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