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

Saturday, October 26, 2019

week ending Oct 26

Dollar Liquidity Turmoil Returns With First Oversubscribed Term Repo In A Month, $99.9 Billion Liquidity Injection -This was not supposed to happen. After the Fed rolled out the big artillery in response to the sharp, sudden mid-September funding squeeze (which we now know had virtually nothing to do with last month's tax payments or other one-time events such as the Treasury's cash rebuild), including the return of both overnight and term repo operations, and culminated with the Fed's relaunching of QE which would be used to permanently increase the balance sheet with $60BN in T-Bills every month in order to replenish reserves (because we live in a bizarro world where $1.4 trillion in bank cash is not enough for the smooth functioning of bank plumbing), moments ago we got the latest indication that the dollar funding shortage is again getting worse - despite the market having priced in the Fed's rollout of the "kitchen sink" to ease funding conditions - when the Fed announced that it had its first oversubscribed Term Repo operation since the funding crisis erupted in September.Specifically, while the Fed's 2-week term repo operation was capped at $35 billion as has been the case for the past week, dealers submitted $52.2BN worth of securities ($39.9BN in TSYs, $12.3BN in MBS)... ... making today's term operation 1.5x oversubscribed, which was the first overallotted operation since the second term repo at the start of the funding crisis on Sept 26. Needless to say, if the funding shortage was getting better, this operation would not be oversubscribed. The only possible explanation, is someone really needed to lock in cash for Halloween (the maturity of the op is on Nov 5) which is when a "No Deal" Brexit may go live, and as a result one or more banks are bracing for the worst. Meanwhile, tensions weren't evident only in term repo, because today's overnight G/C repo operation which concluded minutes after the term operation, also showed an increased uptake, with $64.9BN in securities submitted, up from $58.15BN yesterday, if still just over $10BN shy from hitting the operation's $75BN ceiling.

Liz Warren Wants To Know If JPMorgan Caused Repo Turmoil To Force Fed Into Launching QE - As we reported earlier today, the turmoil in the dollar funding markets has returned, with the Fed's term repo (which covers the Oct 31 "no deal" Brexit deadline) oversubscribed for the first time since the repo crisis started in mid-September... ... while the overnight repo operation saw increased usage, bringing today's total injection to $99.9 billion.And while market participants, who erroneously believed the repo flare up was a one-time event driven by some spurious tax payments in mid-September, are scratching their heads to explain why the dollar funding shortage refuses to abate, today none other than frontrunning Democratic presidential candidate, Elizabeth Warren, sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, in which she said she was "seeking clarity" on why the Fed's crisis-era actions "were necessary," while questioning the "the implications of the cause of the spikes."In her letter, Warren correctly notes that neither September's tax payment deadlines, nor the Treasury auction settlements - which so many "experts" wrongly claimed catalyzed the surge in the overnight repo rate from 2% to 10%, were a surprise; it also wasn't a surprise that the Fed's reserve shrinkage, i.e. Quantitative Tightening, which were on "autopilot" as recently as last December, surprised Wall Street professionals and were not "the type of unforeseeable circumstance that would have rattled markets so suddenly."Instead, what Warren - who very well may be president of the US in just over a year's time - indirectly suggests, and which we thoroughly agree with, is that one bank - which on October 2 we disclosed was JPMorgan - deliberately yanked cash from money markets in order to "suddenly" tighten financial conditions, in the process causing a funding crisis and and sparking the Sept 16 repocalypse (which "coincidentally" took place on the 11th anniversary of the Lehman collapse).This is what Warren said:"I am also concerned that, "Big U.S. banks are using the recent chaos in short-term funding markets as an opportunity to pressure the Federal Reserve to ease liquidity requirements they have long despised," and that the FSOC might support these efforts. These rules were designed to ensure that banks have enough cash on hand to meet their obligations in the event of another market crash."And the punchline: "Banks are reporting profits at record levels, and it would be painfully ironic if unexplained chaos in a small corner of the banking market became an excuse to further loosen rules that protect the economy from these types of risks."

Elizabeth Warren Demands Repo Loan Answers as NY Fed Repo Data Disappears – Pam & Russ Martens - From this past Friday evening through Sunday, if you clicked on any of the web pages at the New York Fed pertaining to the hundreds of billions of dollars it has been pumping out weekly to Wall Street’s securities firms since September 17, you saw the message below:  We emailed the New York Fed’s media contact and asked why all of the other web pages at the New York Fed were working just fine but only its repo operation data and announcements had up and disappeared. We received no response. The web pages have since been restored with some tweaking that seems to have the intent of making this massive money spigot to Wall Street, for the first time since the financial crisis, appear to be just your ole run of the mill open market operation from your ole reliable New York Fed.  As it turns out, on Friday, October 18, the same day that the repo info disappeared at the New York Fed, Senator Elizabeth Warren, who commands a major media pulpit as one of the leading Democratic candidates for President, sent a hard-hitting letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin demanding answers as to what necessitated the Fed to have to make these loans and why the Fed announced on October 11 that it was going to extend the loans “at least through January of next year.” (As Treasury Secretary, Mnuchin also chairs the Financial Stability Oversight Council whose job it is to anticipate and prevent financial crises from occurring and destroying the U.S. economy, as occurred in 2008.) Curiously enough, from Friday night through the weekend, when one clicked on the October 11 announcement about the money spigot staying open into January of next year, it also went to a “Site Maintenance” announcement.  Warren’s letter included footnotes that carried the url for these dead links. If the media that received copies of her letter wanted to write an article about the issue, they would have been hard-pressed to obtain the granular data from the web site of the New York Fed over the weekend.  The Fed’s announcement about extending the program into January is particularly important. After the Fed went wild during the 2007 to 2010 financial crisis and secretly pumped $29 trillion into bailing out Wall Street, with no authorization or even awareness of Congress, the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation of 2010 was supposed to place tight reins on the Fed’s money printing and bailout operations. On the matter of what the Fed is and is not allowed to do in the future, one section of Dodd-Frank mandates that “any emergency lending program or facility” must be “for the purpose of providing liquidity to the financial system, and not to aid a failing financial company and…any such program is terminated in a timely and orderly fashion.”

As Liquidity Evaporates, Fed's Third Bill POMO Is 5.5 Oversubscribed, Most Yet -  Earlier this morning, when discussing today's oversubscribed term repo and latest funding squeeze, we previewed today's T-Bill POMO saying,  "and now we await today's T-Bill Pomo result for the final proof of funding deterioration, as we expect today's operation will be the most oversubscribed yet, confirming that dealers are scrambling to convert their "safe" assets into dollars as fast as possible." Less than two hours, that's precisely what happened, when the Fed announced that in its third $7.5 Billion Treasury Bill POMO, the Fed received a whopping $41.472 billion in "liquidity" requests, i.e. Dealers submitted $41.5BN in bids for the maximum $7.5BN in Fed "Reserve Management" (note: not QE) purchases. As such, the operation was 5.5x oversubscribed, a notable increase from the first two POMOs conducted last week, when operations were 4.3x and 4.8x oversubscribed. While we already predicted the punchline earlier, here it is again: demand for the Fed's permanent liquidity injection is increasing with every operation, even as overnight repo saw a modest increase in dealer interest while term repo was oversubscribed for the first time in 4 weeks. As such the question we have been asking for the past month - and one which Elizabeth Warren should also consider asking of Steven Mnuchin - remains: why are banks still so desperate for liquidity even though the Fed has now made clear the Fed's balance sheet will expand to accommodate all reserve needs, and why do they so stubbornly refuse to approach the interbank market for their funding needs? In short, what do they know about the banking system that we don't?

Stellar Demand For 2 Year Treasuries As Dealers Buy Ahead Of Fed's QE Expansion - In a curious twist, just two hours after Dealers were falling over themselves to sell Bills to the Fed (at the highest Bid to Cover yet for the Fed's recently relaunched POMO of 5.5x), moments ago the US Treasury sold $40BN in 2Y paper to what was stellar demand for the short-end.The auction stopped at 1.594%, the second lowest yield since October 2017, with only August's 1.516% lower, and also stopped through the When Issued by a whopping 1.2 bps. This was tied with the biggest stop through since March, with only May 2016 notably greater at 2.3bps.The bid to cover of 2.695 was also a solid improvement to last month's 2.695, and was notably above the 6-auction average of 2.59. In fact, only May's 2.745 was higher going back to last August.Finally, the internals were also quite solid, with Indirects taking down 54.83%, slightly below last month's 57.01% but far above the recent average of 48.40%. And with Directs taking down 14.0%, below the six auction average of 21.4%, Dealers were left holding 31.2%, one pp above the 30.2% average. Why the dramatic spike in demand? It was not immediately clear, however with banks such as JPMorgan expecting the Fed to branch out beyond just buying Bills (or else risk more money market turmoil), it is quite likely that the Fed will have to purchase 2Y TSYs in the coming months, and so primary buyers are just arbing the upcoming selling prices, which since the Fed is perfectly price indiscriminate, would mean a guaranteed profit to anyone who buys today unless, of course, there is a burst of inflation hitting the US economy which would force the Fed to halt both QE and raise rates. And since that is very unlikely, today's buyers are merely locking in assured profits from flipping this paper back to the Fed in a few months time.

 Fed's Fourth Bill POMO Is Most Oversubscribed Yet Amid Liquidity Scramble - One day after the Fed unexpectedly saw a surge in demand for its term-repo operation, which was oversubscribed for the first time since the mid-September repo crisis erupted, the liquidity shortage in the funding market appears to be getting worse by the day, and in today's just concluded 4th consecutive T-Bill POMO, which saw the Fed monetize another batch of Bills, Dealers submitted $44.2BN in bids for the maximum $7.5BN in Fed "Reserve Management" (note: not QE) purchases. This means that today's operation was 5.9x oversubscribed, the most of any operation since the launch of "Not QE4", and clearly an increase from the first three POMOs, when operations were 4.3x, 4.8x and 5.5x oversubscribed. The results confirm that demand for the Fed's permanent liquidity injection is increasing with every operation - suggesting that not only was the September repo turmoil not a one-time liquidity event, but that that liquidity shortage is getting worse - even as usage of the Fed's latest overnight repo saw a modest decline. As such the question we have been asking for the past month - and one which Elizabeth Warren should also consider asking of Steven Mnuchin - remains: why are banks still so desperate for liquidity even though the Fed has now made clear that its balance sheet will expand to accommodate all reserve needs, and why do they so stubbornly refuse to approach the interbank market for their funding needs? In short, what do they know about the banking system that we don't?

Fed Injects $134BN In Liquidity, Term Repo Oversubscribed Amid Month-End Liquidity Panic - With stocks threatening to close in the red, late on Wednesday the Fed sparked a furious last hour rally... ... when in a a statement published at 1515ET, precisely when the S&P ramp started, the New York Fed confirmed it would dramatically increase both its overnight and term liquidity provisions beginning tomorrow through November 14th. The Desk has released an update to the schedule of repurchase agreement (repo) operations for the current monthly period.  Consistent with the most recent FOMC directive, to ensure that the supply of reserves remains ample even during periods of sharp increases in non-reserve liabilities, and to mitigate the risk of money market pressures that could adversely affect policy implementation...As we noted yesterday, that was a massive 60% increase in the overnight repo liquidity availability (from $75 billion to $120 billion) and a 28% jump in the term repo provision (from $35 billion to $45 billion). “It’s just more evidence the Fed will not back off as year-end gets closer,” said Wells Fargo's rates strategist, Mike Schumacher. "The Fed wants to take out more insurance. You had repo pick up last week. That might not have gone over too well." And now we know that there was good reason for that, because according to the latest, just concluded Term Repo operation, a whopping $62.15BN in securities were submitted to the Fed's 14-day operation, ($47.55BN in TSYs, $14.6BN in MBS), resulting in a 1.38x oversubscribed term operation, the second consecutive oversubscription following Tuesday's Term Repo, when $52.2BN in securities were submitted into the Fed's then-$35BN operation. This was the highest uptake of the Fed's term repo operation since Sept 26. But wait there's more, because while the upsized term-repo saw the biggest (oversubscribed) uptake in one month, demand for the Fed's overnight repo also soared, with dealers submitting 89.2BN in securities for the newly upsized, $120BN operation. In total, between the $45BN term repo and the $89.2BN overnight repo, the Fed just injected a whopping $134.2BN in liquidity just to make sure the US banking system is stable. That, as the Fed's balance sheet soared by $200BN in the past month rising to just shy of $4 trillion. Meanwhile, funding tensions weren't evident only in repo, but also in the Fed's T-Bill POMO, where as we noted yesterday, demand for liquidity has also been increasing with every subsequent operation, peaking with yesterday's operation. Needless to say, if the funding shortage was getting better, none of this would be happening; instead it appears that with every passing day the liquidity shortage is getting worse, even as the Fed's balance sheet is surging.

Fed Ups Its Wall Street Bailout to $690 Billion a Week as Media Snoozes - Pam Martens -Yesterday the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (New York Fed)announced that the giant money spigot it turned on for Wall Street on September 17 would be growing exponentially beginning today.The New York Fed will now be lavishing up to $120 billion a day in cheap overnight loans to Wall Street securities trading firms, a daily increase of $45 billion from its previously announced $75 billion a day. In addition, it is increasing its 14-day term loans to Wall Street, a program which also came out of the blue in September, to $45 billion. Those term loans since September have been occurring twice a week, meaning another $90 billion a week will be offered, bringing the total weekly offering to an astounding $690 billion. It should be noted that if the same Wall Street firms are getting these loans continuously rolled over, they are effectively permanent loans. (That’s exactly what happened during the 2007-2010 Wall Street collapse: some teetering Wall Street casinos received, individually, $2 trillion in cumulative loans that were rolled over for two and one-half years – without the authorization or even awareness of Congress or the American people. One bank, Citigroup, received over $2.5 trillion in Fed loans, much of them at an interest rate below 1 percent, at a time when it was insolvent and couldn’t have obtained loans in the open market at even high double-digit interest rates.)This latest announcement from the Fed comes on the heels of an October 11 announcement that it is launching a program to buy up $60 billion a month in Treasury bills and that program will last into “at least” the second quarter of next year. What the New York Fed is doing is unprecedented in U.S. history and yet you will find no mention of it on any front page of a newspaper today. This is just a partial list of what makes this action unprecedented or highly questionable:No Wall Street crisis has been announced to the public to explain these massive loans and Treasury buybacks;Not one hearing has been held by Congress on the matter; Not one official elected by the American people has authorized these loans; The loans are not being made to commercial banks (which could re-loan the money to stimulate the U.S. economy). The loans are going to the New York Fed’s primary dealers, which are stock and bond trading houses on Wall Street who count hedge funds among their largest borrowers; (See list below. There is only one bank among the 24 primary dealers.) Many of the primary dealers are units of foreign banks whose share prices have been in freefall. The Fed is making these loans at approximately 2 percent interest – an interest rate these firms could not come anywhere close to obtaining in the open market;  These same foreign banks are counterparties to mega U.S. banks’ derivative trades – raising the suggestion that this is another bailout of Wall Street’s derivatives mess as occurred in 2008;

Hemke- 'Pawn Shop' Repo-Market Signals Fed Panic-Mode - Early this year, financial writer and precious metals expert Craig Hemke predicted the Fed would be forced to return to QE, just like in the 2008 market meltdown. Looks like Hemke’s prediction has come true because the Federal Reserve is printing billions in cash in the Repo market every week. Hemke explains, “At the last Fed meeting in September, we were told that the Fed was ‘neutral’ right now, and they were just going to be ‘data dependent’ and everything is fine..." "Just three weeks later, (Fed Head) Powell is out there saying we are going to have to restart buying T-Bills, and these repo facilities we have set up are going to become a permanent thing. Wait, whoa, what happened here? Just three weeks ago, you said everything was fine. These repo facilities they have set up are basically like a Fed pawn shop where banks can come to the Fed and say here are some Treasury bonds... we are going to give you these Treasury bonds and you are going to give us some cash.We thought this was temporary back at the end of September, and now it’s a permanent deal. Every single day, banks are showing up at this Fed window demanding dollars. Powell has also said don’t you dare call this quantitative easing, and the Fed is going to start monetizing $60 billion in U.S. debt every single month through June. . . . That’s over $500 billion in debt they are going to monetize, but don’t call it QE...The point is the central bankers are moving into a panic mode. I thought this was going to be more gradual... all of a sudden, the signs are there that this is a panic.” Hemke says there are plenty of signals being put out that things are getting much worse for the global economy. Hemke points out a new financial report out this week that says, “More than half of the world’s banks may not be able to survive the next financial crisis or recession because they don’t have the liquidity reserves - more than half..." "Let me hit you with one more. Mervyn King, who used to be Head of the Bank of England . . . earlier this week, said, ‘It’s time for the Federal Reserve and other central banks to begin talks behind closed doors with politicians to make legislators aware of how vulnerable they would be in the event of another crisis. What? Talks behind closed doors?

Here Is The Real Reason The Fed Restarted QE --In the past month, a feud has erupted in the financial media and across capital markets between defenders of the Fed, who praise the return of its unprecedented easing in the form of $60BN in monthly T-Bill purchases, by refusing to call it by its real name, and instead the Fed's fanclub calls it "not QE" (just so it doesn't appear that ten years after the Fed first launched QE, we are back to square one), and those who happen to be intellectually honest, and call the largest permanent expansion in the Fed's balance sheet, meant to ease financial conditions and boost liquidity across the financial sector, for what it is: QE. It is this same "not QE" that has boosted the Fed's balance sheet by $200BN in one month, the fastest rate of increase since the financial crisis. Yet while the Fed's desire to purchase Bills instead of coupon Treasuries was dictated by its superficial desire to distinguish the current "Not QE" from previous "True QEs", even though both tends to inject the same amount of liquidity into the system, which as a reminder is what the Fed's bailout role in the past 11 years has all been about, and only true Fed sycophants are unable to call a spade a spade, the Fed's choice raises a rather thorny question of where the Fed will source those T-bills, because as JPMorgan calculates, the net supply of Bills in 4Q19 and 1Q20 is around $115-$130bn while JPM's economists estimate that at least $200-$250bn of purchases could be required to return reserves to around $1.5tr where they were in early September this year.  That means the Fed might need to source purchases from money-market funds and foreign central banks - which paradoxically would serve to further drain liquidity out of the system. As such, given the limited alternatives, JPM's Nikolas Panagirtzoglou believes that the Fed may be reluctant to do so and if they do, some may chose to leave cash in the Fed’s ON RRP facility which would represent a drain on reserves and make T-bills a less efficient vehicle for reserve creation.

Fed Chair Powell Met with a Sovereign Wealth Fund in August and Had a Call with a Central Bank Holding Tens of Billions in U.S. Stocks - Pam Martens and Russ Martens: October 21, 2019 ~ This morning the Federal Reserve pumped another $58.15 billion into Wall Street securities firms under the repo loan program it initiated on September 17. That program has been pumping out hundreds of billions of dollars each week to Wall Street with no authorization from Congress, as far as the public is aware.We decided to take a look at Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s daily appointment calendars over the past few months to see if there was any hint of what precipitated the reopening of the Fed’s money spigot to Wall Street for the first time since the financial crisis. We found a very interesting pattern of phone calls and meetings in the month of August.On Thursday, August 1, Powell had a phone call with JPMorgan Chase’s Chairman and CEO, Jamie Dimon. The call lasted 7 minutes, from 10:30 to 10:37. Just eight minutes after that phone call ended, Powell had a 15 minute phone conversation with Michael Corbat, CEO of Citigroup. The Federal Reserve has a Vice President for Supervision of the big Wall Street banks, Randal Quarles, so it is not clear why Powell was talking to the big Wall Street banks without him on the phone.On Tuesday, August 13, Powell had breakfast with Howard Adler, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Financial Stability Oversight Council (F-SOC). The meeting lasted from 8 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. F-SOC is the federal agency created under the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation of 2010 to alert the Federal regulators of Wall Street banks when there are looming risks to financial stability on the horizon – ideally in adequate time to prevent a replay of the epic financial crash of 2008 which caught regulators napping.Just 45 minutes after that meeting ended, Powell had a phone call with Thomas Jordan, the Chairman of the central bank of Switzerland, known as the Swiss National Bank or SNB. The Fed does not provide minutes or notes on what the Fed Chairman’s calls and meetings are about so all we can do is guess as to the topics covered in the phone call, which lasted one-half hour.Powell’s call with the Chair of the Swiss central bank came 11 days after it reported its stock holdings to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and that report became public.The Swiss central bank holds $92.7 billion in stocks, which are predominantly large cap U.S. corporations, according to its SEC filing on August 2 for the period ending June 30, 2019. What is particularly noteworthy is that the Swiss central bank dumped a lot of U.S. stock shares between its last report on March 31, 2019 and its current report for the quarter ending June 30, 2019. What may have raised eyebrows on Wall Street is the tens of thousands of shares the Swiss national bank sold in the components of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Christine Lagarde Criticizes Trump's Tweet Here, Or Tweet There Fed Bashing --If the stock market is down or bad economic data prints, one can always assume President Trump will make time out of his day to bash the Federal Reserve on Twitter. President Trump's Fed bashing, sometimes a daily occurrence, if not at least several times a week, has irritated incoming European Central Bank (ECB) President Christine Lagarde, who says in an upcoming 60 Minutes interview, expected to air on Sunday, Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. ET/PT on CBS, that "Market stability should not be the subject of a tweet here or a tweet there. It requires consideration, thinking, quiet and measured, and rational decisions."Lagarde told 60 Minutes correspondent John Dickerson that central banking is like "navigating a plane" with policymakers keeping a very close eye on the instrument panel, i.e., economic trends.Dickerson asks Lagarde if it's okay if a leader [refering to President Trump] was actively criticizing a central bank head in public. Dickerson pulled a quote from President Trump's Sept. 11 tweet, where he called Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell a "bonehead" for not cutting "interest rates down to ZERO."....The USA should always be paying the the lowest rate. No Inflation! It is only the naïveté of Jay Powell and the Federal Reserve that doesn’t allow us to do what other countries are already doing. A once in a lifetime opportunity that we are missing because of “Boneheads.”— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 11, 2019Lagarde responds by saying, "a central bank governor does best his job if he is independent."According to CBS, the interview took place last month at Lagarde's home in Normandy and the IMF headquarters in Washington, D.C.Lagarde also criticized President Trump's Twitter practices as a whole and his trade war with China that has sent the global economy into one of its most vulnerable periods since the last financial crisis.

Real GDP Annual and Quarterly --The following graph shows real GDP quarterly (blue, annualized), and the year-over-year change in GDP (red). The tax changes at the end of 2017 have had minimal impact on GDP. Most forecasts showed some minor boost in 2018 and 2019 followed by a minor drag starting in 2020. With the recent budget agreement, there probably will be little drag from fiscal policy next year. Also, as shown earlier, there was no investment boom following the tax changes. However, the tax changes did result in a large increase in the budget deficit (as predicted by all competent analysts). This rate of growth is about what we should expect, see: Demographics and GDP: 2% is the new 4% Note: Q3 2019 GDP estimated at 1.8% real rate annualized.

  Shiller- Recession's Not Right Around The Corner Thanks To Trump-Inspired Consumption“Consumers are hanging in there," says Nobel-prize winning economist Robert Shiller, who believes a recession may be years away due to a bullish Trump effect in the market.Speaking on CNBC’s "Trading Nation" on Friday, the Yale professor said Trump is creating an environment that’s conducive to strong consumer spending, and it’s a major force that should hold off a recession.“Consumers are hanging in there. You might wonder why that would be at this time so late into the cycle. This is the longest expansion ever.""Now, you can say the expansion was partly [President Barack] Obama... But lingering on this long needs an explanation.”Specifically, Shiller told CNBC that he believes that Americans are still opening their wallets wide based on what President Trump exemplifies: Consumption.“I think that [strong spending] has to do with the inspiration for many people provided by our motivational speaker president who models luxurious living."Finally, Shiller concludes that the next recession may not hit for another three years, and it could be mild. “Let’s not make the mistake of assuming it’s right around the corner,” Shiller said. If the economy is strong, which is what he built is case on, ‘make America great again,’ he has a good chance of getting re-elected.”

US Budget Deficit Hits $984 Billion In Fiscal 2019, Up $205 Billion In One Year - With the cumulative budget deficit for the first 11 months of fiscal 2019 already hitting $1.067 trillion as of August 31, the only question on deficit watchers' minds was whether after the final month in the fiscal year, which ends on Sept 30, the US deficit would be greater or less than $1 trillion. At 2pm today we got the answer, when the US Treasury reported that thanks to a $82.8 billion surplus in September, the full year deficit for fiscal 2019 was shy of $1 trillion, but just barely, printing at $984.4 billion, a whopping $205 billion, or 26.4% increase, to the $779 billion deficit hit in 2018.  This was $24 billion more than the CBO's own forecast in August, which predicted a 2019 deficit of $960BN. As shown below, the $83 billion monthly surplus was thanks to $374 billion in receipts, offsetting $291 billion in outlays. The biggest source of income were income taxes ($183BN), social security and retirement ($104BN), and corporate income taxes ($60BN), while the biggest outlays were Social Security ($88BN), Defense spending ($55BN), healthcare ($53BN), and Medicare ($26BN).

The CBO Just Handed Us Two Trillion Dollars - Anyone who follows the DC budget game at all knows that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is supposed to be its referee. Any proposal that involves new spending or revenue is scored by the CBO for its impact on the federal debt over the next ten years. That score normally sets the terms on which the proposal will be debated and voted on. This ritual is sufficiently established that most spending proposals are described in terms of their cost over the next ten years – the CBO’s scoring window.The CBO doesn’t only assess individual bills, it also gives a baseline, producing regular forecasts of major economic variables and the path of the debt under current policy. In a sense, these forecasts are the playing field on which budget proposals compete. So it ought to be a big deal when the CBO changes the shape of the field.In their most recent 10-year budget and economic forecast, the CBO made a big change, reducing their long-run forecast of the interest rate on government bonds by almost a full percentage point, from 3.7 to 2.9. (See Table 2.6 here.) Most directly, the new, lower interest rate reduces expected debt payments over the next decade by $2.2 trillion. It also significantly reduces the expected debt-GDP ratio. Under the assumptions the CBO was using at the start of this year, the debt ratio under existing policy would reach 120 percent by 2040. Using the new interest rate assumption, it reaches only 106 percent. With one change of assumptions, a third of the long-run rise in the federal debt just disappeared. While this downward revision is exceptionally large, it’s hardly the first time the CBO has adjusted its interest rate forecasts. In April 2018, they raised their estimate of the long-run rate on 10-year bonds from 3.1 percnet to 3.8 percent. But that upward move is an exception; for most of the past decade, the CBO has been steadily adjusting its interest rate frecasts downward, adapting — like most other macroeconomic forecasters — to the failure of the economy to return to pre-recession trends. As recently as February 2014, they were predicting a long-run rate of 5 percent. And it’s likely the interest-rate forecast will continue to decline; the current 10-year Treasury rate is less than 1.8 percent.The newest forecast was released in August, and as far as I can tell the change in the interest-rate assumption has gotten almost no attention in the two months since then. But it really should.At the very least, this means that anyone arguing that federal debt is a climate-change-level threat to humanity needs to update their talking points. The claim that federal debt “will be close to 150% of GDP by 2050” is, as of August, not even close to correct. With the new interest assumptions, the figure is less than 120 percent.

 Where Did All the Stimulus Go? - Menzie Chinn - By April 2018, the Tax Cut and Jobs Act and the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 had been put into law. The CBO projected a bump in GDP growth, relative to counterfactual. However, the actual record has been fairly plodding, as shown in the below figure.  Figure 1: Reported GDP (dark blue), Macroeconomic Advisers nowcasts of 10/22 (light blue), CBO projection of April 2018 (dark red), and Trump 4% prediction starting from 2018Q1, all in billions of Ch.2012$, SAAR, on log scale. Trump administration shaded orange. Source: BEA 2012Q2 3rd release, Macroeconomic Advisers,CBO, and author’s calculations. Note that Trump’s December 2017 prediction: I think [GDP growth] could go to 4, 5, and maybe even 6%, ultimately. Did not come to pass, as the trajectory is below the light red line of 4% (forget 5%). And in fact  realized output was below the CBO current law projection (dark red line). There are several possible explanations for this outcome: (1) the counterfactual no-stimulus trajectory was worse than projected; (2) the multipliers associated with TCJA and the BBA were smaller than anticipated, perhaps due to the fact that output was already close or above potential GDP; (3) GDP, while stimulated by tax cuts and spending increases, was depressed by economic policy uncertainty both at home and abroad; or (4) combinations of all of the above.

Trump told Mattis to ‘screw Amazon’ out of $10 billion Pentagon cloud contract - An upcoming book on James Mattis’ tenure as secretary of Defense claims President Donald Trump told Mattis to “screw Amazon” out of a $10 billion cloud contract for the Pentagon.The Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, contract was awarded to Microsoft late Friday evening, sending shares of Microsoft stock up more than 3%.Early in the process market leader Amazon was seen as the favorite, then President Trump said in July that he was looking into the contract after companies protested the bidding process.In the summer of 2018, President Trump called Mattis and directed him to “screw Amazon” out of a chance to bid on the JEDI contract, according to the forthcoming book “Holding The Line: Inside Trump’s Pentagon with Secretary Mattis.”  The account was written by Guy Snodgrass, who served as a speechwriter for Mattis.“Relaying the story to us during Small Group, Mattis said, ‘We’re not going to do that. This will be done by the book, both legally and ethically,’” Snodgrass writes. CNBC has reviewed the relevant passages of the book.The Department of Defense and the White House could not be immediately reached for comment. Neither Amazon nor Microsoft were immediately available for comment on the president’s alleged order.The contract is capped at $10 billion over the next ten years. If it ends up being worth that much, it would likely be a bigger deal to Microsoft than it would have been to Amazon. Microsoft does not disclose Azure revenue in dollar figures but it’s widely believed to have a smaller share of the market than Amazon, which received $9 billion in revenue from AWS in the third quarter.  “We’re surprised about this conclusion,” an AWS spokesperson told CNBC in an email on Friday, after the contract was awarded to Microsoft. “AWS is the clear leader in cloud computing, and a detailed assessment purely on the comparative offerings clearly lead to a different conclusion. We remain deeply committed to continuing to innovate for the new digital battlefield where security, efficiency, resiliency, and scalability of resources can be the difference between success and failure.”

Air Force finally retires 8-inch floppies from missile launch control system  - Five years ago, a CBS 60 Minutes report publicized a bit of technology trivia many in the defense community were aware of: the fact that eight-inch floppy disks were still used to store data critical to operating the Air Force's intercontinental ballistic missile command, control, and communications network. The system, once called the Strategic Air Command Digital Network (SACDIN), relied on IBM Series/1 computers installed by the Air Force at Minuteman II missile sites in the 1960s and 1970s.Those floppy disks have now been retired. Despite the contention by the Air Force at the time of the 60 Minutes report that the archaic hardware offered a cybersecurity advantage, the service has completed an upgrade to what is now known as the Strategic Automated Command and Control System (SACCS), as Defense News reports. SAACS is an upgrade that swaps the floppy disk system for what Lt. Col. Jason Rossi, commander of the Air Force’s 595th Strategic Communications Squadron, described as a “highly secure solid state digital storage solution.” The floppy drives were fully retired in June.But the IBM Series/1 computers remain, in part because of their reliability and security. And it's not clear whether other upgrades to "modernize" the system have been completed. Air Force officials have acknowledged network upgrades that have enhanced the speed and capacity of SACCS' communications systems, and a Government Accountability Office report in 2016 noted that the Air Force planned to "update its data storage solutions, port expansion processors, portable terminals, and desktop terminals by the end of fiscal year 2017." But it's not clear how much of that has been completed.  While SACCS is reliable, it is obviously expensive and difficult to maintain when it fails. There are no replacement parts available, so all components must be repaired—a task that may require hours manipulating parts under a microscope.

Military brass denounce Trump’s withdrawal of troops from Syria - The Democrats and their allies in the media are promoting dissident elements in the military command that are publicly denouncing the White House’s decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria. The extraordinary intervention of high-ranking retired generals is a breach of the core constitutional principle of the subordination of the military to civilian authority. I The open intervention by sections of the military also underscores the issues of US imperialist foreign policy that are at the heart of the Democrats’ opposition to Trump. Echoing the statements of the Democratic Party and its media mouthpieces such as the New York Times, military critics of Trump are focusing on Trump’s abandonment of Washington’s Syrian Kurdish allies and his green light for Turkey to invade Kurdish areas near the Syrian-Turkish border. They are accusing Trump of creating a security vacuum that is being filled by Russia and Iran, weakening US influence in the Middle East and undermining US credibility internationally. Last week, retired Navy Admiral William H. McRaven published an op-ed column in the New York Times under the provocative headline “Our Republic Is Under Attack From the President.” McRaven, who as a top commander of US Special Operations forces from 2006 to 2014 directed military death squads responsible for war crimes in Iraq and Syria, denounced Trump’s attacks on the intelligence agencies, the FBI, the State Department and the corporate media and called for Trump’s removal, “the sooner, the better.” On Sunday, retired US Army Gen. David Petraeus, the former commander of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and director of the CIA in 2011-2012, characterized Trump’s withdrawal of troops as a “betrayal” in an interview on the CNN News program “State of the Union.” Moderator Jake Tapper asked Petraeus, “Did the United States betray the Kurds?” to which the former commander and chief spy replied, “Well, I think we have abandoned our Syrian Kurdish partners.” He went on to warn, “Iran, Russia and Bashar Assad’s forces are coming in. We give them a victory.” When Tapper pressed him, asking, “You called it an abandonment, but is it a betrayal?” Petraeus answered, “I do think it is, yes.”

U.S. soldiers who fought alongside Kurds blast Trump's Syria retreat (Reuters) - In the summer of 2004, U.S. soldier Greg Walker drove to a checkpoint just outside of Baghdad’s Green Zone with his Kurdish bodyguard, Azaz. When he stepped out of his SUV, three Iraqi guards turned him around at gunpoint. As he walked back to the vehicle, he heard an AK-47 being racked and a hail of cursing in Arabic and Kurdish. He turned to see Azaz facing off with the Iraqis. “Let us through or I’ll kill you all,” Walker recalled his Kurdish bodyguard telling the Iraqi soldiers, who he described as “terrified.” He thought to himself: “This is the kind of ally and friend I want.” Now retired and living in Portland, Oregon, the 66-year-old former Army Special Forces soldier is among legions of U.S. servicemembers with a deep gratitude and respect for Kurdish fighters they served alongside through the Iraq war and, more recently, conflicts with the Islamic State. So he was “furious” when President Donald Trump this month abruptly decided to pull 1,000 U.S. troops from northeast Syria, clearing the way for Turkey to move in on Kurdish-controlled territory. Walker’s rage was echoed in Reuters interviews with a half dozen other current and former U.S. soldiers who have served with Kurdish forces. Mark Giaconia, a 46-year-old former U.S. Army special forces soldier, recalled similar camaraderie with the Kurds he fought with in Iraq more than a decade ago. “I trusted them with my life,” said Giaconia, who now lives in Herndon, Virginia, after retiring from the Army with 20 years of service. “I fought with these guys and watched them die for us.” The Trump administration’s decision to “leave them hanging” stirred deep emotions, Giaconia said. “It’s like a violation of trust,” he said. The White House declined to comment.

As Trump Tweets He Is ‘Bringing Soldiers Home,’ Pentagon Chief Says US Forces Leaving Syria Are Shifting to Iraq -President Donald Trump tweeted Sunday that he is "bringing soldiers home" from Syria as Turkey continues its deadly military operation there, but Pentagon chief Mark Esper undermined the president's declaration by confirming that U.S. forces are simply moving to another site of endless war—Iraq.American troops "aren't coming home and the United States isn't leaving the turbulent Middle East, according to current plans outlined by U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper before he arrived in Afghanistan on Sunday," the Associated Press reported. "The fight in Syria against [ISIS], once spearheaded by American allied Syrian Kurds who have been cast aside by Trump, will be undertaken by U.S. forces, possibly from neighboring Iraq." Esper told reporters that he has spoken to Iraqi leaders about the administration's plan to move around 1,000 American troops from Syria to Iraq, where 5,000 U.S. soldiers remain stationed 16 years after the George W. Bush administration's catastrophic and illegal invasion.

Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report --The New York Times reported Sunday that Trump is considering a plan floated by top generals that would leave a remainder force behind in Syria with a dual-purpose mission: to prevent the resurgence of ISIS following Turkey's invasion in the region and to prevent Syrian government forces and their Russian allies from seizing control of oil production facilities in the region.A senior administration official told the Times that Trump favors the plan, which he has been considering for roughly a week, and feels that it would be sufficient to prevent the reversal of U.S. gains against ISIS and allow Kurdish forces in the region to maintain control of oil fields in the area.The Department of Defense declined to comment Sunday to the Times on the senior official's comments.Trump faced sharp criticism from both Democrats and some of his closest Republican allies on Capitol Hill after his announcement last week that the U.S. would withdraw forces from northeastern Syria ahead of Turkish military actions against Kurdish forces in the region, which many lawmakers said amounted to a betrayal of a U.S. ally. The president has defended his actions in the media and on Twitter by pointing to his campaign promise to pull the U.S. out of "endless wars" in the Middle East.

U.S. Plan to Protect Kurdish-Held Syrian Oil Fields Sows Confusion - Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Monday confirmed that President Donald Trump’s administration is considering maintaining a small force of U.S. troops in northeastern Syria near Kurdish-controlled oil fields, a risky proposal that caught many officials off guard after the president spent the last two weeks insisting that all U.S. forces in the area would return home. Since Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the border with Syria on Oct. 6, paving the way for a violent Turkish incursion that has killed scores of Kurdish fighters and civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands of residents, top Pentagon officials have pushed to leave a residual force of a few hundred troops in northeastern Syria to fight the Islamic State and maintain a relationship with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a senior U.S. administration official told Foreign Policy. Under the proposal, airstrikes against the militant group in Syria would continue from Iraq, the official said.  Originally, the internal Pentagon plan did not include any stipulations about U.S. troops guarding the oil fields in Kurdish-held territory, the official noted. Framing the proposal as a way to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from controlling the oil was likely a way to make it more appealing to Trump, who has been pushing for troop withdrawals all year. “That is probably to play POTUS,” the official said. Trump late last week started tweeting about “securing the oil” in northern Syria, sowing confusion among analysts trying to sort out the consequences of the abrupt U.S. withdrawal from the country and abandonment of its former Kurdish allies.  On Monday, Esper made clearer what the president might have been referring to—even though the defense secretary said the plan was not yet finalized and he had not presented it to the president. In his comments, Esper suggested that such a mission would both help the United States keep tabs on Islamic State terrorists as they seek to regroup and help keep Kurdish oil fields out of enemy hands. But it wasn’t immediately clear if the United States was seeking to prevent the Islamic State, Assad, Russia, or even Iran from snapping up the energy resources.Experts also noted that keeping just a few hundred U.S. forces in Syria when facing a multitude of threats is “incredibly risky” and likely to be ineffective.

 Russia Says US Has 'Betrayed The Kurds'; Suggests They Scram To Avoid Turkish Death -The Kremlin has accused the United States of betraying and abandoning the Kurds, and suggests that they withdraw from the Syrian border in order to avoid a direct conflict with the Turkish military, according to Euronews.  "The United States has been the Kurds’ closest ally in recent years. (But) in the end, it abandoned the Kurds and, in essence, betrayed them," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, adding "Now they (the Americans) prefer to leave the Kurds at the border (with Turkey) and almost force them to fight the Turks."The comments by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov to Russian news agencies followed a deal agreed on Tuesday between Russia and Turkey that will see Syrian and Russian forces deploy to northeast Syria to remove Kurdish YPG fighters and their weapons from the border with Turkey. Peskov, who was reported to be reacting to comments by U.S. President Donald Trump’s special envoy for Syria James Jeffrey, complained that it appeared that the United States was encouraging the Kurds to stay close to the Syrian border and fight the Turkish army. –Euronews Peskov said that whether or not the Kurds withdraw as per the deal between Moscow and Ankara, the Russian military police would evacuate, leaving the Kurds to fight the Turkish army on their own.

It's Official- Trump Says US Keeping Syria's Oil, Secured By Small Number Of Troops - "Now we're getting out... let someone else fight over this long bloodstained sand," President Trump said during a major, unannounced speech from the White House declaring America's "big success" in Syria.  As we predicted, he confirmed the US is "getting out" but it's not quite the reality, because he also confirmed a "small number" of American troops will stay in Syria to protect oil in the region.  "We have secured the oil and, therefore, a small number of U.S. Troops will remain in the area where they have the oil," Trump said. "And we're going to be protecting it, and we'll be deciding what we're going to do with it in the future." But of course, this oil belongs to the Syrian state and its people, as even former top White House Syria and Iraq envoy Brett McGurk, stated bluntly this week: “Oil, like it or not, is owned by the Syrian state.” Trump also acknowledged during the Wednesday televised address, in a rare reference to past White House policy, that Obama embarked on a failed "regime change" bid in Syria, which morphed into a nightmarish war taking 500,000 lives.  Currently, even amid a US troop pullback in the north, American special forces and Kurdish-led SDF forces remain in control of the key oil and gas infrastructure in the Deir Ezzor region, east of the Euphrates. The major oil and gas fields in the eastern region such as al-Omar, Conoco field, and Rumeilan oil field, remain Syria's only significant domestic energy access.

Trump’s Plunder Doctrine Comes to Syria  -Part of the small residual U.S. force that the Trump administration is keeping in Syria serves no real military purpose:“Al-Tanf has no obvious military purpose,” added Sam Heller of the International Crisis Group. “The real justification is, to my knowledge, denying the Syrian government and its Iranian ally access to the neighboring al-Tanf/al-Walid border crossing with Iraq. That blocks a key trade route that would better integrate Syria with its regional surroundings and help government-held Syria get on a more stable economic footing, which some in DC believe would diminish U.S. leverage to force a political resolution to the war.”The Tanf base represents a determination to retain a mostly symbolic military presence inside Syria if only to keep a small part of the country out of the Syrian government’s control. Keeping U.S. forces there accomplishes nothing for U.S. security, it is flagrantly illegal, and it puts these soldiers at risk for no good reason. Iran hawks desperately cling to this base because it is their last foothold in Syria from which to pursue their obsession with Iran. In the latest twist, Trump has touted maintaining a military presence in Syria for the sake of “keeping the oil”:President Trump said that he is planning to keep a small number of troops in northeast Syria to protect the oil fields there and suggested that an American company might help the Syrian Kurds develop the oil for export.“I always said if you’re going in, keep the oil,” Mr. Trump said at a cabinet meeting Monday. “We’ll work something out with the Kurds so that they have some money, so that they have some cash flow. Maybe we’ll get one of our big oil companies to go in and do it properly.” One of the only consistent features of Trump’s foreign policy views is his belief that other countries’ natural resources should be ours to seize and exploit as we please. Trump’s worldview is a bizarre mash-up of crude colonialism and racketeering in which allies are expected to pay protection money and open-ended military intervention is fine as long as it gets you paid. We have previously heard him express a desire to seize oil resources in Libya, Iraq, and Venezuela, and so it was inevitable that he would want to do the same thing with Syria.

Iraq Urges UN To Kick Unauthorized US Forces From Country - The Iraqi government's efforts to expel what it increasingly considers an 'unauthorized' American occupation have just escalated dramatically, as Baghdad is now urging the United Nations to expel US troops from sovereign Iraqi territory.  As we noted previously, Baghdad officials rejected a Pentagon plan to relocate some 1,000 US troops now exiting Syria to US bases in western Iraq, saying the additional troops had "no approval to stay".    On Wednesday Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi announced he's taking “all international legal measures” over the entry of U.S. troops from neighboring Syria, again underscoring the Pentagon had no authorization for such a move, and that the troops are "not allowed" to remain in the country, but only "transition" on their way to other US bases in Kuwait and Qatar. “We have (already) issued an official statement saying that and are taking all international legal measures. We ask the international community and the United Nations to perform their roles in this matter,” Abdul Mahdi’ said. He said that any American forces coming from Syria have four weeks to leave Iraq, as reported by the AP.The firm 'red line' assertion came immediately after the prime minister met with US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who arrived earlier in the day on an unannounced visit, apparently to negotiate a compromise. Without Iraq's cooperation, the White House's Syria exit strategy and its logistics are in question. On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper in a likely attempt to placate growing Iraqi anger, said, "The aim isn't to stay in Iraq interminably. The aim is to pull our soldiers out and eventually get them back home." Currently there are more than 5,000 American forces stationed in the country as part of a prior controversial agreement with Baghdad. One senior Pentagon official noted to Reuters this week that the situation remains "fluid and plans could change". There's growing popular anger at the continued US presence largely due to a spate of Israeli drone strikes over the past few months on Iran-backed Iraqi paramilitary bases, mostly in and around Baghdad.

Democrats Have No Answer for Trump’s Anti-War Posture - Maj. Danny Sjursen -- I hate to say I told you so, but well … as predicted, in the wake of Trump’s commanded military withdrawal from northeast Syria, the once U.S.-backed Kurds cut a deal with the Assad regime. (And Vice President Mike Pence has now brokered a five-day cease-fire.) Admittedly, Trump the “dealmaker” ought to have brokered something similar before pulling out and before the Turkish Army—and its Sunni Arab Islamist proxies—invaded the region and inflicted significant civilian casualties. One must admit that a single phone call between Trump and President Erdogan of Turkey has turned the situation in Syria upside down in just over a week. The Kurds have requested protection from Assad’s army, Russian troops are now patrolling between the Kurds and invading Turks, and the U.S. is (for once) watching from the sidelines. The execution has been sloppy, of course—a Trumpian trademark—and the human cost potentially heavy. Nonetheless, the U.S. withdrawal represents a significant instance of the president actually following through on campaign promises to end an endless American war in the Mideast. The situation isn’t simple, of course, and for the Kurds it is yet another fatalistic event in that people’s tragic history.Still, while the situation in Northeast Syria constitutes a byzantine mess, it’s increasingly unclear that a continued U.S. military role there would be productive or strategic in the long term. After all, if Washington’s endgame wasn’t to establish a lasting, U.S.-guaranteed Kurdish nation-state of Rojava, and it hardly appeared that it ever was, then what exactly could America expect to accomplish through an all-risk, no-reward continued stalemate in Syria?What’s truly striking, though, and increasingly apparent, is that President Trump possesses—as a foreign policy autocrat, of sorts—the power to derail the Democrats and place 2020 hopefuls in an awkward position of defending U.S. forever wars. It’s already happening, at least among mainstream “liberal” media and political personalities who’ve flooded the networks with anti-Trump vitriol since the Syria withdrawal.

Clinton remarks on Gabbard 'shows just how deep the rot in our system goes' -- Failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton continued her debasement tour over the weekend in a stunning display of hubris and the perfect encapsulation of why she lost in the first place. Many of you by now I sure know that Hillary took a disgusting cheap shot at congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard over the weekend accusing her of being groomed by the Russian government for a third party run. Worse, her team of C-list enforcers came out of the woodwork to defend her pointing to Gabbard wanting to get out of Syria as evidence. The stupidity was best summed up by Clinton spokesperson Nick Merrill when told reporters who asked what evidence exactly Clinton had to back up her accusations quote “if the nesting doll fits.” Clinton's smear is of course classic. She is a bitter woman in Chappaqua who cannot accept that policies she championed for decades and her complete lacking as a politician is why Donald Trump is now President of the United States. Only the Russians could deny the self-anointed Queen of the United States her throne, and she’s so mad at Tulsi Gabbard for calling our DNC bias against Bernie Sanders in 2016 that she isn’t willing to stay quiet. Hillary’s bunk is once again being accepted wholesale and parroted by the paper of record. This entire episode just how deep the Russian delusions of 2016 run through our most established institutions and so-called smart people on TV. Just look at MSNBC where a supposedly very smart reporter points out that well Tulsi didn’t exactly deny being a Russian asset, I’m not joking I wish this was just a monologue making fun of Hillary Clinton’s boomer musings, but it actually shows just how deep the rot in our system goes and how far they will go to destroy the character of somebody who dares to stand up to the bipartisan consensus here in Washington.

“Russian Asset” Is A Meaningless Noise War Pigs Make With Their Face Holes - Caitlin Johnstone -  Both Tulsi Gabbard and the Green Party of the United States have issued scorching rebukes of Hillary Clinton for baseless accusations the former Secretary of State made during a recent interview claiming that both Gabbard and former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein are aligned with the Russian government.“I’m not making any predictions, but I think they’ve got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate,” Clinton said in a transparent reference to Gabbard. “She’s the favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far. And that’s assuming Jill Stein will give it up, which she might not because she’s also a Russian asset.”Clinton provided no evidence for her outlandish claims, because she does not have any. Gabbard hasrepeatedly denied centrist conspiracy theories that she intends to run as a third-party candidate, a claim which establishment pundits have been making more and more often because they know there will never be any consequences when their claims are disproven. There is no evidence of any kind connecting either Jill Stein or Tulsi Gabbard to the Russian government. Of course, this total lack of evidence hasn’t dissuaded Clintonites from falling all over themselves trying to justify Mommy’s claims anyway. “Russian ‘assets’ are not formal relationships in the USIC [US Intelligence Community] sense of the word,” CNN analyst and former FBI agent Asha Rangappa explained via Twitter. “If you are parroting Russian talking points and furthering their interests, you’re a source who is too dumb to know you’re being played to ask for money.”“It’s important to point out here that a Russian ‘asset’ is not the same thing as a Russian ‘agent’,”tweeted virulent establishment narrative manager Caroline Orr. “An asset can be witting or unwitting; it’s any person or org who can be used to advance Russia’s interests. It’s pretty clear that Tulsi satisfies that criteria.”“One doesn’t have to be on the Kremlin’s payroll to be a Russian asset. One doesn’t even have to know they are a Russian asset to be a Russian asset. Have you not heard the term ‘useful idiot’ before?” tweeted writer Kara Calavera. Isn’t it interesting how that works? Establishment loyalists get a damaging and incendiary tag that they can pin on anyone who disagrees with them, with the sole evidentiary requirement being that disagreement itself.

Everyone Is a Russian Asset - Matt Taibbi - Hillary Clinton, not long ago the nominee of the Democratic Party, had some choice words about the state of American politics Friday. “I’m not making any predictions, but I think they’ve got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate,” Clinton said on a podcast with former Barack Obama aide David Plouffe. “She’s the favorite of the Russians.” Clinton appeared to be talking about Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, a combat veteran. She wasn’t done, teeing off on former Green Party candidate Jill Stein: “[Jill Stein’s] also a Russian asset… Yeah, she’s a Russian asset — I mean, totally. They know they can’t win without a third-party candidate.” She went on to talk about Donald Trump: “I don’t know what Putin has on him, whether it’s both personal and financial … I assume it is.” Hillary Clinton is nuts. She’s also not far from the Democratic Party mainstream, which has been pushing the same line for years. Less than a week before Clinton’s outburst, the New York Times — once a symbol of stodgy, hyper-cautious reporting ran a feature called, “What, Exactly, is Tulsi Gabbard Up To?” The piece speculated about the “suspicious activity” surrounding Gabbard’s campaign, using quotes from the neoconservative think-tank, the Alliance For Securing Democracy, to speculate about Gabbard’s Russian support.This was the second such article the Times had written. An August piece, “Tulsi Gabbard thinks we’re doomed,“ hit nearly all the same talking points, quoting Clint Watts, an ex-spook from the same think-tank, calling Gabbard “the Kremlin’s preferred Democrat” and a “useful agent of influence.” The Timesarticle echoed earlier pieces by the Daily Beast and NBC.com that said many of the same things.After Clinton gave the “Russian asset” interview, it seemed for a moment like America’s commentariat might tiptoe away from the topic. Hillary Clinton has been through a lot over the course of a career, and even detractors would say she’s earned latitude to go loonybiscuits every now and then. A few of the Democratic presidential candidates, like Beto O’Rourke and Andrew Yang, gently chided Clinton for her remarks. But when Gabbard (who’s similarly been through a brutal media ordeal) snapped back and called Hillary “Queen of the warmongers,” and Donald Trump followed by calling Clinton “crazy,” most pundits doubled down on the “asset” idea. Neoconservative-turned-#Resistance hero David Frum blasted Trump for defending Stein and Gabbard, noting sarcastically, “He was supposed to pretend they were not all on the same team.” Ana Navarro on CNN said, “When both the Russians and Trump support someone, be wary.” An MSNBC panel noted, in apparent seriousness, that Gabbard “never denied being a Russian asset.” CNN media critic Brian Stelter tried to suggest Hillary only seemed wacko thanks to a trick of the red enemy, saying, “It feels like a disinformation situation where the Russians want this kind of disinformation.”

Syria, War, And Elizabeth Warren: More Notes From The Edge Of The Narrative Matrix - Caitlin Johnstone -  - It has been firmly established beyond any doubt that it is now literally impossible for an American political figure to vocally oppose US warmongering without being labeled a Russian agent.  All the faux humanitarian concerns we’ve heard from the political/media class about what’s happening in Syria are completely invalidated by their total indifference to what’s happening in Yemen.  It sure is interesting how you never, ever see bipartisan cries of humanitarian concerns across the entire US political/media class unless it benefits the globe-spanning forever war. How cool would it be if even one time the political/media class united across partisan lines to forcefully advocate for a humanitarian foreign policy involving charity, food, indigenous rights, or literally any other humanitarian agenda besides military mass murder? Whenever there’s talk of withdrawing US troops from any region anywhere, the political/media class begins shrieking that this will (A) hurt humanitarian interests, and (B) hurt US hegemony. Their real concern is B, and B has nothing to do with A. But they’re treated as one thing. America created Al Qaeda, then hated them after 9/11, then loved them in Syria, now hates them in Syria. They’re like a bad relationship that keeps breaking up and getting back together. It’s like damn America, either end it or put a ring on it.  You might think you’re a rebel, but if you truly wanted to stop being a blind follower and really stick it to the man you’d join up with centrists, right wingers, the US State Department, the CIA, and 100% of all mainstream media to cheerlead for the protesters in Hong Kong. All abusive relationships have two things in common: abuse and forgiveness. Because without forgiveness, there’d be no relationship. This is especially true of the people’s relationship with government and its controllers. Don’t let them memory hole the evil shit they’ve done. People like to feel like they support the scrappy underdog in foreign power struggles, but they often fail to account for the hugely important role alliances play. If a nation or group is allied with the US empire, then it’s always the bigger and stronger force, not the underdog. Examples: Cheerleading for US-sponsored anti-government uprisings in Venezuela, Iran etc under the mistaken belief that it’s just people vs government instead of people + empire vs government. Or cheerleading Israel because it’s “surrounded by enemies”.

'Don't be a dick, OK?' Hillary Clinton tweets parody of Trump Erdoğan letter --Donald Trump is known to many opponents as the troll in the Oval Office, but the woman he beat for the most powerful seat in the world seems to have learned something from his willingness to tweet provocative pictures andmemes. On Sunday afternoon, Hillary Clinton tweeted a mocked-up letter from John F Kennedy to Nikita Khrushchev that was meant squarely to mock a real letter from Trump to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan which was revealed to the public this week.“Found in the archives,” Clinton wrote, over an image of what purported to be a letter from the US president to the Soviet leader on 16 October 1962, during theCuban missile crisis. “Dear Premier Khrushchev,” the “letter” began. “Don’t be a dick, OK?”  Trump’s letter to Erdogan, in which he urged the authoritarian Turkish president who has invaded northern Syria “Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!”, met with widespread disbelief, not least for its strikingly unpresidential tone. “Turkish presidential sources” told the BBC Erdoğan “received the letter, thoroughly rejected it and put it in the bin”. A Russian government spokesman told reporters: “You don’t often encounter such language in correspondence between heads of state.” The letter was widely mocked and parodied – the image Clinton tweeted was included in a segment on Trump’s letter by late-night host Jimmy Kimmel. The spoof letter tweeted by Clinton continued: “Get your missiles out of Cuba. Everybody will say, ‘Yay, Khrushchev! You’re the best!’ But if you don’t everybody will be like ‘what an asshole’ and call your garbage country ‘The Soviet Bunion’. “You’re really busting my nuts here. Give you a jingle later. Hugs, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.”

 U.S. House Speaker Pelosi, Pentagon Chief Esper Make Surprise Afghan Visit - U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other senior members of Congress made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on October 20, her office said. She met with President Ashraf Ghani as well as visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and other high-level U.S. military commanders and some of their soldiers, according to a statement released after the bipartisan delegation visit ended. It was Esper’s first trip to Afghanistan since taking over as Pentagon chief in July, possibly signaling fresh U.S. efforts to end the longest war in America's history. Esper also took part in a meeting with Ghani and visited some of the 14,000 U.S. troops still in Afghanistan, where the United States has spent 18 years since leading an international coalition to punish Al-Qaeda and oust the extremist Taliban. The visit comes with peace talks seemingly at a standstill since U.S. President Donald Trump last month suspended negotiations with the Taliban amid reports that a preliminary peace deal might be at hand to help bring more than 5,000 U.S. troops home from that conflict. AP reported that Esper told reporters traveling with him on October 20 that he thought Washington could reduce troop numbers to around 8,600 without hindering counterterrorism efforts targeting Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) militants. "The aim is to still get a peace agreement at some point, that's the best way forward," Esper said, according to AP. On October 19, Afghans held funerals in eastern Afghanistan for victims of a mosque bombing a day earlier that killed at least 69 people during Friday Prayers, highlighting the uptick in attacks in recent months that Trump blamed for derailing the U.S.-Taliban talks.

China seeks $2.4 billion in sanctions against U.S. in Obama-era case: WTO  (Reuters) - China is seeking $2.4 billion in retaliatory sanctions against the United States for non-compliance with a WTO ruling in a tariffs case dating to the Obama era, a document published on Monday showed. WTO appeals judges said in July that the United States did not fully comply with a WTO ruling and could face Chinese sanctions if it does not remove certain tariffs that break the watchdog’s rules. The WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body effectively gave Beijing a green light to seek compensatory sanctions in mid-August. The United States said at the time that it did not view the WTO findings as valid and that the judges had applied “the wrong legal interpretation in this dispute”. China continued to be the “serial offender” of the WTO’s subsidies agreement, the U.S. delegation said. Contacted by Reuters on Monday, the U.S. mission in Geneva had no immediate comment. China, in its request posted by WTO, said: “In response to the United States’ continued non-compliance with the (WTO Dispute Settlement Body’s) recommendations and rulings, China requests authorization from the DSB to suspend concessions and related obligations at an annual amount of $2.4 billion.”

China asks WTO for $2.4B in retaliatory sanctions against US -China is asking the World Trade Organization (WTO) for $2.4 billion in retaliatory sanctions against the U.S. for violating a ruling about tariffs on Chinese products during former President Obama’s administration.The Dispute Settlement Body for the WTO plans to review the 2012 case on Oct. 28, according to a document published Monday and obtained by Reuters. WTO appeals judges ruled the U.S. did not comply with a WTO ruling on tariffs placed on Chinese solar panels, wind towers and steel cylinders and that China could place sanctions if the tariffs were not abolished.The U.S. has objected to the ruling and may challenge the retaliatory sanctions that the dispute body effectively approved in August, according to Reuters. U.S. officials have argued that the body found “the wrong legal interpretation in this dispute.”China filed the case with the WTO about seven years ago, after it said U.S. anti-subsidy tariffs were placed on $7.3 billion in Chinese exports. The WTO ruled China used state-owned enterprises to falsify its economy but that the U.S. needed to respect Chinese prices to calculate subsidies.The Trump administration is encouraging the WTO to adjust its rules that permit China to be designated as a “developing country,” asserting it allows China to receive easier treatment from the organization, according to Reuters. The U.S. and China have been involved in a trade war throughout the past year, with each country imposing tariffs against the other.  U.S. officials in Washington and Geneva told Reuters they had no further comment.Alan Wolff, deputy director-general of the WTO, declined to comment to Reuters on the specific case but said the organization “can’t prevent a trade war, but it can be part of the solution.” “There may be difficult times ahead, but ultimately the trading system will be survive and be improved,” Reuters reported he said.

After trade talks in U.S., China ramps up Brazilian soy purchases (Reuters) - Chinese importers have been busy booking fresh purchases of soybeans from Brazil this week, despite the White House announcement that China had agreed to buy up to $50 billion (38.6 billion pounds) of U.S. farm products annually during trade talks last week.  The purchases from Brazil, rather than the United States, show that Chinese buying has been driven more by price than policy since last week’s preliminary trade agreement that U.S. President Donald Trump hopes will be signed next month. Anticipation that Chinese buyers would return to the U.S. market to make big purchases in the wake of the deal drove benchmark U.S. soy prices Sv1 last Friday to their highest levels since the start of the trade war more than 15 months ago. The rally in U.S. prices last week, however, made Brazilian soy more of a bargain for Chinese buyers. Brazilian soy is even more appealing to commercial importers because a 25% duty on U.S. shipments remains in effect and Beijing has not awarded the non-state-owned firms any new tariff waivers. Since Monday, two traders said, China has booked at least eight boatloads, or 480,000 tonnes worth $173 million, of Brazilian soybeans. While Brazil is China’s largest soybean supplier, large purchases from South America are unusual at this time of year with the U.S. harvest coming in. Benchmark U.S. prices Sv1 posted their first weekly decline in three weeks as Chinese buying failed to materialise in the U.S. market. Trump said on Twitter on Sunday that China has already begun making U.S. agricultural purchases. But three U.S. soybean exporters said there have been no U.S. sales to China since last week’s talks in Washington, and none have been confirmed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Beijing Won't Raise US Agri Purchases Until Year Two Of Trade Deal - Thursday's big trade news isn't actually all that impressive. According to Bloomberg, Beijing has offered to buy $20 billion in American agricultural products a year if 'Phase One' of President Trump's trade deal is eventually ratified. There is just one problem: that's what China was buying in 2017 before President Trump started slapping tariffs on Chinese goods. The escalation in purchases wouldn't come until the second year after all punitive tariffs are removed (i.e. when Trump may or may notbe president): at that point, those purchases could rise to $40-$50 billion, according to BBG's sources, who didn't offer any specifics about the timing beyond that. As we have reported, Beijing has already started ramping up purchases, issuing waivers for 10 million tons of soybeans bought this week, while it considers approving another 4-5 million tons of wheat, corn, sorghum and other grains.Trump recently boasted that Beijing would buy $50 billion in American agricultural products, but he didn't offer a time frame during which these purchases would take place. In other trade news, White House trade advisor Peter Navarro appeared on Fox Business to discuss how a new Chinese law to protect foreign business and intellectual property will affect "phase one" of the trade deal. He added that if Beijing steals American IP, the US can always retaliate.

 U.S. Fears Mass Boycott as Chinese Turn to Homegrown Brands - Even before Chinese retailers stripped NBA merchandise from their shelves in retaliation for a league executive’s public support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, a yearlong trade war has stoked a surge in Chinese nationalism and anti-American sentiment that’s increasingly bleeding into marketing decisions and consumer buying habits. Companies such as Apple Inc. have seen market share in the country dwindle. And American brands including Coach and Calvin Klein have rushed to issue public apologies after some of their products ran afoul of Beijing’s political sensitivities. Even if a trade truce is reached, marketing executives say that lasting brand damage has been done.  China famously froze out American tech and financial companies for years to nurture homegrown brands. Yet Western fashion, car, beauty, food, and other consumer brands were mostly exempted from restrictions on selling on the mainland and were seen by many of China’s elite as status symbols.  That’s changing for consumers such as Ziyu Sun, a 23-year-old engineer in China’s eastern city of Qingdao. He says patriotism was a big reason behind his buying a Huawei phone,  Same goes for Yongming Su, a high school teacher in Beijing who points to his Chinese-made Vivophone as an example that, all things being equal, he would “support and buy domestic brands over foreign ones.” Such thinking could pose a major challenge for American businesses in 2020. The U.S. sold almost $120 billion in goods to China in 2018, making it the country’s third-largest export market after Canada and Mexico, according to the US-China Business Council. Many American brands such as Nike, Apple, and General Motors have staked their growth prospects on the promise of attracting shoppers in the world’s most populous country. GM, America’s oldest automaker, sells more cars in China now than in the U.S. “Consumer sentiment is something we’re obviously keeping a close eye on,” says GM China President Matt Tsien.  Some American companies now worry that a preference for buying Chinese could morph into an all-out boycott of U.S. goods, as happened when Beijing banned consumers from buying South Korea’s goods in retaliation for its government saying in 2016 it would let the U.S. build a missile defense system in the country. The results of that action: Korean companies lost an estimated $15.6 billion in revenue, hitting giants such as supermarket operator Lotte Shopping Co. andHyundai Motor Co. particularly hard, according to theHyundai Research Institute.

 China says U.S. weaponising visas after space event no show - (Reuters) - The United States is “weaponising” visas, having failed to grant visas in time or at all for Chinese space officials for an international event, China’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday, in the latest escalation of tensions between the two countries. China and the United States are locked in a bitter trade dispute, which they are currently trying to resolve, and also have deep disagreements on many other areas, including human rights, the disputed South China Sea and Chinese-claimed Taiwan. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that the Chinese delegation had wanted to take part in the ongoing International Astronautical Congress being held in Washington. China is an important participant in the congress and sends delegations every year, she added. China hosted the congress in 2013. Last year, it was held in Germany. China had applied for the visas in July, and on Oct. 12 the delegation from the China National Space Administration went for visa interviews at the U.S. embassy, but the head of delegation still did not have his visa as the congress began, Hua said. “This caused the Chinese delegation to be unable to attend the opening of the International Astronautical Congress,” Hua said. Several other Chinese delegates also did not get visas, she added.

Beijing Slams "Slandering, Arrogant" Pence Speech: "Look In The Mirror" And "Get Your Racist House In Order" - Vice President Mike Pence was called on once again to play the 'bad cop' in Washington's negotiations with China yesterday when he delivered an aggressive speech blasting Beijing's record on human rights. As noted yesterday, in a twice-delayed hawkish speech, Pence defended the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, while slamming both Nike and the NBA for kowtowing to Beijing. Predictably, Beijing struck back on Friday, blasting the US's endemic racism and other problems that have "cast aside its morality and credibility." Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry, slammed Pence's "arrogance", and insisted that nothing could halt China's development. She also accused Pence of trying to disrupt China’s "unity or internal stability" and said Hong Kong, Taiwan and the far west region of Xinjiang are "internal affairs" that are none of Washington's business, according to Bloomberg."The U.S. has already abandoned and cast aside its morality and credibility," Hua said. "We hope these Americans can look at themselves in the mirror to fix their own problems and get their own house in order." Meanwhile, the English-language Global Times tabloid, widely seen as a mouthpiece for the Communist Party, accused Pence of "slandering" Beijing and said his speech was boring and unoriginal, relying on many of the same "old gripes" that he articulated during last year's speech. The speech repeated criticisms made last year that included accusations of intellectual property theft, militarizing the South China Sea, religious persecution, and silencing freedom of speech. Pence also slandered China over Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang.

U.S., China 'close to finalizing' part of a Phase One trade deal: USTR - (Reuters) - U.S. and Chinese officials are “close to finalizing” some parts of a trade agreement after high-level telephone discussions on Friday, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said, adding that deputy-level talks would proceed “continuously.” The USTR provided no details on the areas of progress. “They made headway on specific issues and the two sides are close to finalizing some sections of the agreement. Discussions will go on continuously at the deputy level, and the principals will have another call in the near future,” a statement said. Washington and Beijing are working to agree on the text for a “Phase 1” trade agreement announced by U.S. President Donald Trump on Oct. 11. Trump has said he hopes to sign the deal with China’s President Xi Jinping next month at a summit in Chile. Beijing wants the United States to cancel some existing U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports, people briefed on the Friday call told Reuters, in return for pledging to step up its purchases of U.S. commodities like soybeans. The United States wants Beijing to commit to buying these products at a specific time and price, while Chinese buyers would like the discretion to buy based on market conditions. The world’s two largest economies are trying to calm a nearly 16-month trade war that is roiling financial markets, disrupting supply chains and slowing global economic growth. “They want to make a deal very badly,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday. “They’re going to be buying much more farm products than anybody thought possible.” Trump agreed earlier this month to cancel an Oct. 15 increase in tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods as part of a tentative agreement on agricultural purchases, increased access to China’s financial services markets, improved protections for intellectual property rights and a currency pact. White House advisers are hoping to cement a binding, enforceable agreement with Beijing, including a pledge not to force U.S. companies to transfer technology to Chinese companies to do business there.

Why isn’t Trump serious about fixing NAFTA? Lori Wallach, Sister Simone Campbell - Fixing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is one of few goals Donald Trump shares with congressional Democrats. But Trump’s if-you-investigate-I-won’t-legislate tantrum threatens enactment of a revised NAFTA. The two of us, a Catholic Sister and a consumer advocate both committed to social justice, have long advocated for NAFTA’s replacement given the pact’s ongoing damage throughout North America.But the NAFTA 2.0 deal President Trump signed last year wouldn’t raise wages in Mexico or stop race-to-the-bottom U.S. job outsourcing. And Trump added new monopoly rights for pharmaceutical corporations to NAFTA that would lock in high drug prices here and raise them in Mexicoand Canada.Immediately after a revised deal was announced, congressional Democrats began urging the administration to eliminate the Pharma giveaways and to strengthen the pact’s labor and environmental provisions and their enforcement. The latter is necessary for a new pact to counteract NAFTA’s outsourcing of jobs and pollution. They also called on Mexico to implement labor reforms so a new deal could actually deliver improvements for workers there and here.But for nine months, the administration refused to change a single word of what Trump rebranded the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Now, even as administration officials have begun to work with congressional Democrats on necessary changes, Trump could sink the process.The president alternatively threatens that he cannot work with Democrats if they investigate him and tries to blame Democrats for delays caused by the administration not making the changes needed to garner a congressional majority.Eager to shift attention from Trump’s calls for foreign interference in our elections, GOP congressional leaders have joined in. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) even claimed Democrats are too busy investigating Trump to pass USMCA. That’s rich coming from someone who has buried reams of legislation that the House passed this year.Despite these histrionics, Democrats are continuing to work with the administration to fix NAFTA, which says a lot about their zeal to stop NAFTA’s considerable damage.The U.S. Department of Labor has certified just under 1 million U.S. jobs as lost to NAFTA, with more jobs outsourced to Mexico weekly. Unless the NAFTA 2.0 labor and environmental standards and their enforcement are significantly strengthened, the race to the bottom will only continue.Why? The absence of independent labor unions in Mexico means real wages there are now lower than before NAFTA. Mexican manufacturing wages are 40 percent lower than in China.The workers in the Chevy Blazer plant that GM chose to locate in Mexico will earn less per day than their U.S. counterparts made per hour a decade ago and not enough to cover basic needs. That is not only deeply unfair to both U.S. and Mexican workers, it is immoral.

 Team Trump Admits Holding Back Billions For Puerto Rico Disaster Recovery - Trump administration officials have admitted that last summer they knowingly withheld billions of dollars Congress appropriated to help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria. House Democrats say withholding the relief money violates the law.Federal law requires that our government help Americans hit by natural disasters. But two Housing and Urban Development officials acknowledged at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Oct. 17 that HUD blocked the Puerto Rico relief funds.The HUD delay meant the island missed a deadline to apply for billions of dollars in disaster relief funds, raising doubts about when, if ever, the money will flow to the island devastated in September 2017 by a Category 5 hurricane.The federal money is part of a $19 billion supplemental disaster relief  bill that Congress passed in June. It came with stipulations requiring HUD to provide funding notices to nine states and two American territories, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The agency published the required guidance in the federal register for 9 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands on Aug. 30, 2019. But HUD intentionally left Puerto Rico out of the notices, the HUD officials admitted.Without the required guidance, the island territory could not apply for the disaster money appropriated by Congress. The guidance required the nine states and the U.S. Virgin Islands to submit detailed plans on how each jurisdiction would spend HUD Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery Program funds.Puerto Rico is supposed to be the largest recipient of these funds, with $8.3 billion for large mitigation projects to prepare for future storms and prevent a repeat of the catastrophic devastation from Hurricane Maria.In a Sept. 5 letter to HUD Secretary Ben Carson, Representative David Price, a North Carolina Democrat, who chairs the House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, and Representative Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat who chairs the Appropriations Committee, expressed concerns about delaying the funds. “If anything, Puerto Rico should [receive] a special urgency,” Price said. “The delay is not acceptable and it’s certainly not acceptable to single-out Puerto Rico. The president’s rhetoric on this raises a lot of questions about what’s going on here and where this directive is coming from.”

 Injured Honduran worker detained by US border agents after speaking out about deadly New Orleans hotel collapse -- One of the workers injured in the Hard Rock Hotel construction site collapse in New Orleans on October 12 is still under detention by Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) after appearing on Spanish language television discussing with reporters the injuries he sustained in the collapse. The Honduran national, Delmer Ramirez-Palma, fell over three stories when the top floors of the building that was under construction at the time, collapsed, killing three workers. Two bodies are still unrecovered. An ICE spokesman said they arrested the man after being notified by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents that Ramirez-Palma had been fishing without a license. He is currently being held in a processing facility awaiting deportation. Ramirez-Palma is among the five injured workers who are currently seeking damages in the Orleans Parish Civil District Court from the owners and managers of the property at Canal and Rampart, which collapsed. They charge the owners used improper and inadequate materials and supports. Personal injury attorneys representing Ramirez-Palma claim that he has yet to receive proper medical treatment since being detained by ICE as he requires surgery for his injuries and the detention facility where he is being held near Oakdale, Louisiana, cannot currently provide this. His attorneys, Jeremy Pichon, Eric Wright and Daryl Gray, will be opposing his deportation as well, coming as it did within a day of Palma talking to Spanish language reporters about the conditions that lead to his injuries and the horrific collapse of the unfinished hotel. Daryl Gray claims this kind of retaliatory arrest could be preventing other workers from coming forward with information about the construction site. “[They] fear … being deported or some other retribution by their employers,” he said at a news conference in the lobby of Civil District Court. “Just like all Americans, however, they do have the rights that are afforded to us within this courthouse.”

US military allowed to shoot at vehicles at entry ports along southern border - Pentagon documents leaked to Newsweek magazine reveal that soldiers deployed to the US-Mexico border have broad authority to fire on moving vehicles. The guidelines set by the Department of Defense (DoD) require only a “reasonable belief” that the vehicle is a threat to cause death or bodily harm, but the term “reasonable belief” is not defined, making the requirement a virtual green light for the use of deadly force. The documents were obtained by Newsweek from a leaker within the Pentagon. They were issued in July as part of a broader operations order for US Army North, the formal designation for the military force deployed to the US-Mexico border by President Trump last year. Some 5,500 soldiers are currently stationed in border areas of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. The approved guidance states: “Weapons may be fired at a moving vehicle or watercraft when DoD forces have a reasonable belief that the vehicle or watercraft poses an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm to DoD forces. Weapons may also be fired at a moving vehicle or watercraft posing an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm to non-DoD persons in the vicinity when doing so is directly related to the assigned mission.”   A Pentagon spokesman told Newsweek that despite language in the guidelines authorizing soldiers to act in defense of Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) personnel if they were attacked by migrants seeking to cross the border, they have never been “requested to do so” by CBP. One former military officer who discussed the issue with Newsweek , David Lapan, noted the similarities between the authorization given to soldiers to shoot at moving vehicles on the border, and authorization for similar actions in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, where the main threat was vehicles rigged with explosives. “Not everybody who’s deployed to the border has been in combat but there’s probably a good chance some of them have served in Iraq or Afghanistan or Syria where a vehicle-borne IED is a threat and where the escalation of force procedures have been developed and deployed and trained to over the years,” he told the magazine. “Now, you potentially have active-duty forces who have been given the authority to engage moving vehicles. Do they still have the mindset that they had when they were in Iraq or Afghanistan?”

Veterans group backs lawsuits to halt Trump's use of military funding for border wall --A prominent veterans association on Monday evening backed a pair of lawsuits against President Trump’s move to divert millions of dollars in military funding to his promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) filed an amicus brief in two cases related to the Trump’s border wall: Sierra Club v. Trump and California v. Trump. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the two lawsuits, which challenge the legal rationale Trump used in February to declare a national emergency at the southern border and reallocate funds for a wall there. “IAVA is speaking out on behalf of service members and their families,” CEO Jeremy Butler said in a statement. “Regardless whether you support or oppose the border wall, it should not come at the expense of our service members and their families.” The group, which has about 425,000 members, said it filed its brief in opposition to the $3.6 billion in moved military construction funding, “which was set aside to help military service members and their families. Instead, the funds are now being diverted to the controversial border wall.” “IAVA takes no position on the constitutionality of President Trump’s national emergency declaration or the wisdom of building a border wall. Nevertheless, IAVA strongly opposes requiring military service members and their families to pay the cost of funding the wall,” a statement accompanying the brief said. The move is one of several efforts meant to block Trump’s use of the construction funds for his wall.

Colorado governor mocks Trump for saying he's building wall there - Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) mocked President Trump after he said during a recent speech that the U.S. is building a border wall in Colorado.“Well this is awkward...Colorado doesn’t border Mexico,” Polis wrote on Facebook after the apparent misstatement by Trump.“Good thing Colorado now offers free full day kindergarten so our kids can learn basic geography,” he added. During a speech in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Trump said, "We’re building a wall in Colorado." “We’re building a beautiful wall, a big one that really works that you can’t get over, you can’t get under,” he continued, adding, “And we’re building a wall in Texas. And we’re not building a wall in Kansas, but they get the benefit of the walls we just mentioned. And Louisiana’s incredible.”

 Backlog Of U.S. Immigration Cases Reaches Record High, Tops 1 Million!   - Even though the Executive Office for Immigration Review has completed 275,000 cases for the fiscal year 2019, Statista's Niall McCarthy points out that a backlog of just over one million deportation cases still exists. Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse data shows that there are 1,007,155 pending cases compared to 223,809 a decade ago. At state level, California has the highest number of backlogged cases - 175,739. Texas comes second with 160,759 cases and New York follows with 124,000. Cases judged by the EOIR include "cases involving detained aliens, criminal aliens and aliens seeking asylum as a form of relief from removal, while ensuring the standards of due process and fair treatment for all parties involved", according to Newsweek.

 Marine Corps vet who served in Iraq deported to El Salvador -- Jose Segovia-Benitez, a 38-year-old Marine Corps combat veteran who served in Iraq, was deported to El Salvador — a country where he hasn’t lived since he was a toddler — on Wednesday.Segovia-Benitez's attorney Roy Petty told the Phoenix New Times that he didn’t find out Segovia-Benitez had been deported until after he arrived for a planned meeting with his client at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Arizona where he was being held. "Certainly, this is a surprise," he told the paper Wednesday. "ICE kept his deportation a secret. They kept it a secret from him, me, his other attorney, and they kept it a secret from his mother. It's not common practice."“Generally, what ICE will do is they will notify the person so the person can make arrangements. They woke him up and put him on a plane,” he continued.An ICE spokeswoman confirmed Segovia-Benitez’s deportation in a statement to The Hill on Wednesday. “Mr. Segovia-Benitez was removed to his home country Oct. 23 in accordance with federal law and the policies and procedures of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” she said.She also noted that shortly after an immigration judge ordered Segovia-Benitez’s removal, he “subsequently appealed his case with the Board of Immigration Appeals, which denied the appeal.”“He also filed two stay requests with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, both of which were denied,” she added.The report is the latest update in a high-profile deportation case that has garnered widespread attention in recent weeks. Segovia-Benitez served two tours in Iraq before he was honorably discharged in 2004, a year after he suffered a brain injury. The veteran also received a number of decorations for his service during his time in the military, according to NBC News.

 How Donald Trump Turned to a Comics Titan to Shape the VA - President Donald Trump personally directed administration officials to report to one of his largest donors, Marvel Entertainment chairman Ike Perlmutter, according to a new book by former Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin. Starting with Shulkin’s interview for the cabinet post, Trump routinely dialed Perlmutter into meetings and asked if the secretary was keeping Perlmutter informed and happy, Shulkin wrote. Perlmutter would call Shulkin as often as multiple times a day, and White House officials such as Stephen Miller would scold Shulkin for not being in close enough contact with Perlmutter and two of his associates at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club in Florida.“I didn't reach out to these guys — these guys had a prior relationship with the president and were advising him,” Shulkin, who was fired by tweet in March 2018, said in an interview. “There probably wasn’t too many times I met with the president when he didn’t say, ‘What’s happening with Ike?’”The unusual influence over the VA wielded by Perlmutter, along with doctor Bruce Moskowitz and lawyer Marc Sherman, was first revealed by a ProPublica investigation in August 2018, prompting ongoing investigations by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the Government Accountability Office. But Shulkin’s book provides new details on Trump’s direct role in initiating and encouraging the arrangement.“There was a ‘second track’ of VA decision-making led by the president’s alternative advisers that didn’t include me,” Shulkin wrote in the book, the first inside account by a former member of Trump’s cabinet. “Ike, Bruce and Marc had the president’s ear in ways that I did not, even as his cabinet secretary.”

Senators propose near-total ban on worker noncompete agreements - A bipartisan pair of senators has introduced legislation to drastically limit the use of noncompete agreements across the US economy. "Noncompete agreements stifle wage growth, career advancement, innovation, and business creation," argued Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) in a Thursday press release. He said that the legislation, co-sponsored with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), would "empower our workers and entrepreneurs so they can freely apply their talents where their skills are in greatest demand." Noncompete agreements ban workers from performing similar work at competing firms for a limited period—often one or two years. These agreements have become widely used in recent decades—and not just for employees with sensitive business intelligence or client relationships. "We heard from people working at pizza parlors, yogurt shops, hairdressers, and people making sandwiches," Massachusetts state Rep. Lori Ehrlich told us in an interview last year. Ehrlich was the author of 2018 Massachusetts legislation limiting the enforcement of noncompete agreements. Several other states—including Oregon, Illinois, and Maryland—have passed bills on the subject. These state reforms focused on reining in the worst abuses of noncompete agreements. Some prohibit the use of noncompete clauses with low-wage workers. Others require employers to give employees notice of the requirement at the time they make a job offer. The Young and Murphy bill goes much further, completely banning noncompete agreements outside of a few narrow circumstances—like someone selling their own business.

A threat to democracy': William Barr's speech on religious freedom alarms liberal Catholics -Prominent liberal Catholics have warned the US attorney general’s devout Catholic faith poses a threat to the separation of church and state, after William Barr delivered a fiery speech on religious freedom in which he warned that “militant secularists” were behind a “campaign to destroy the traditional moral order”.The speech last Friday at the University of Notre Dame law school, in which Barr discussed his conservative faith and revealed how it affects his decision-making as the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer, has set off a fierce debate among Catholic intellectuals from across the political spectrum, as well as among Catholics inside the justice department.C Colt Anderson, a Roman Catholic theologian and professor of religion at Jesuit-run Fordham University, said in an interview that he was unaware until this week that Barr was a fellow Catholic. Now, after reading the speech, Anderson believes the attorney general, in revealing his devotion to an especially conservative branch of Catholicism, is a “threat to American democracy”.He described the speech as a “dog whistle” to ultra-conservative Catholics who, he says, have aligned themselves to Donald Trump in a campaign to limit the rights of LGBTQ Americans, immigrants and non-Christians, especially Muslims, and to criminalize almost all abortions. “The attorney general is taking positions that are essentially un-Democratic” because they demolish the wall between church and state, Anderson said. In the hallways of the justice department in Washington, there has been a similar furor among some Catholics employees who answer to Barr. “I was shocked by the speech and all this fire and brimstone,” said a senior department career official who considers himself a devout Catholic, speaking on condition that he not be identified for fear of losing his job.“At least it helps me understand why Barr has been so willing to put his own reputation on the line to defend Trump so fiercely in every battle,” beginning with the congressional investigation that is likely to end in the president’s impeachment, he said. “Trump is Barr’s imperfect vessel in serving a much higher cause: the gospel.

Bill Barr’s First Epistle to the Heathens  - Attorney General Bill Barr is a busy man these days. When he’s not personally traveling to Italy to investigate bizarre conspiracy theories about the 2016 election or ending the de facto moratorium on federal executions, he’s giving speeches to a variety of audiences. One of them is attracting far more attention than usual. Hisspeech on religious liberty at the University of Notre Dame earlier this month was a broadside against those he held responsible for Christianity’s decline in American life. “This is not decay; it is organized destruction,” Barr warned. “Secularists, and their allies among the ‘progressives,’ have marshaled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.” These forces, he argued, pose a fundamental threat to religious liberty and to people of faith in general—one that he pledges to fight as attorney general. Barr’s speech was not a political ploy to defend the president. It’s an honest recitation of his personal beliefs. That’s the problem. The attorney general is the nation’s top law-enforcement officer, not its top theologian. Like any civil servant, Barr is supposed to work on behalf of all Americans and not just some of them. His speech undermined that principle by articulating a vision of state power that favors those who share his particular religious beliefs over those who don’t. Reactions to Barr’s speech were unsurprising.  The New York Times’ Paul Krugman warned that Barr “is sounding remarkably like America’s most unhinged religious zealots, the kind of people who insist that we keep experiencing mass murder because schools teach the theory of evolution. Guns don’t kill people — Darwin kills people!” He argued that the speech reflects a broader effort among Trump’s closest allies in the evangelical community “to use the specter of secularism to distract people from their boss’s sins,” especially as the House’s impeachment inquiry gathers public support.

 Controversial copyright bill inches closer to becoming law as House approves - In a change of pace for the modern era, the House of Representatives yesterday agreed on a bill and passed it by an overwhelming majority. Unfortunately, the bill in question, known as the CASE Act, is a controversial measure that critics argue could penalize ordinary Americans as much as $30,000 for something as simple as photo sharing, while also emboldening copyright trolls. The House voted 410-6 on Monday to adopt the measure, fully named the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2019. The bill aims in part to create a new "small claims" Copyright Claims Board within the US Copyright Office. That, proponents argue, would give content creators and rights holders a better, more efficient way to pursue infringement claims, instead of having to spend the time and money on filing a federal court case. CASE went through committee in both the House and Senate earlier this year, and so the version of the bill the House voted to accept on Monday is ready to go to the Senate floor for a vote. CASE, if it were to become law, would create a Copyright Claims Board under which rights owners could create claims against individuals instead of pursuing a jury trial. If someone feels their copyright has been infringed, they file a case with the Claims Board and send a notice to the person being sued saying they have done so.If you're on the receiving end of a claim, the bill gives you 60 days to respond; failure to do so rewards a default judgement to the claimant. From the notice, the process works in a similar fashion to any other lawsuit, with both sides able to submit evidence, go through discovery, and sit for a hearing before "at least two" members of the Claims Board.After going through the process, the board may choose to award the claimant financial damages up to $15,000 per each work infringed, or a maximum of $30,000 per proceeding, not counting attorneys fees or other costs. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who introduced the bill in May, said at the time that establishing such a board "is critical for the creative middle class who deserve to benefit from the fruits of their labor," adding, "The CASE Act will enable creators to enforce copyright protected content in a fair, timely, and affordable manner."

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez backs internet censorship - Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, has fully embraced the demand by the US intelligence agencies that technology monopolies censor political speech on the internet. At a hearing Wednesday at the House Financial Services Committee, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to “take down lies.” “So you won’t take down lies or you will take down lies, it’s just a pretty simple yes or no?” Ocasio-Cortez demanded. In reply, the Facebook CEO attempted to explain: “In a democracy, I believe that people should be able to see for themselves what politicians, who they may or may not vote for, are saying.” The most charitable interpretation of Ocasio-Cortez’s remarks is that she is totally ignorant of the American democratic tradition of free speech. The basic assumption of the first amendment is that the government does not know what is a “fact” and what is a “lie.” It is for the electorate to decide for themselves, and not the business of the government, or corporations acting on its behalf, to force-feed ideas to the public. This is why the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of religion—that is, the government’s determination that some ideas are “facts” and others are “lies.” It is a damning condemnation of the politics of Ocasio-Cortez and the Democratic Socialists of America that it is up to a billionaire executive—who has for years carried out censorship at the behest of the government—to explain free speech to her. But whether through ignorance or malice, Ocasio-Cortez has made herself the mouthpiece of the very intelligence agencies that, having lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and illegally spied on every single American, are now trying to destroy the First Amendment.

Tulsi's Youtube, Suppressed! Zero Hedge - Yesterday, Steven Crowder very easily and quickly proved how Youtube [aka. Google] is sabotaging Tulsi Gabbard with its search results. Gabbard’s channel appeared in the first Youtube results when accessing the website with a Spanish IP. But when Crowder switched to a USA IP address, Tulsi’s channel no longer came up in the results. Crowder’s team made the discovery by carefully monitoring the popular website, after their channel got demonetized back in June.

38 people cited for violations in Clinton email probe (AP) — The State Department has completed its internal investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of private email and found violations by 38 people, some of whom may face disciplinary action. The investigation, launched more than three years ago, determined that those 38 people were “culpable” in 91 cases of sending classified information that ended up in Clinton’s personal email, according to a letter sent to Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley this week and released Friday. The 38 are current and former State Department officials but were not identified. Although the report identified violations, it said investigators had found “no persuasive evidence of systemic, deliberate mishandling of classified information.” However, it also made clear that Clinton’s use of the private email had increased the vulnerability of classified information. Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said in a tweet Saturday: “For the umpteenth time the email story is put to bed w/ a clear recognition it was a pointless crusade that took away from so many other issues we should have been discussing in ’16.” The investigation covered 33,000 emails that Clinton turned over for review after her use of the private email account became public. The department said it found a total of 588 violations involving information then or now deemed to be classified but could not assign fault in 497 cases.

Justice Department probe of Russia-Trump inquiry has become a “criminal investigation” - The Justice Department probe into the origins of the anti-Russia campaign launched by the FBI in 2016 has become a criminal investigation, the New York Times reported Thursday night. The probe is headed by John Dunham, the US Attorney in Connecticut, who was appointed by Attorney General William Barr to look into the origins of the FBI investigation into the presidential campaign of Donald Trump and its possible connections to Russia. The effect of the elevation of the probe to the status of a criminal investigation means that Dunham can convene a grand jury and compel testimony through subpoenas, rather than merely seeking voluntary cooperation of witnesses. Among those expected to be interrogated are former intelligence officials like Peter Strzok, Andrew McCabe, James Comey, John Brennan, and James Clapper, all well-known public critics of President Trump. Dunham has contacted these officials but not yet interviewed them. The timing of the report in the Times—undoubtedly based on a leak from the White House or Department of Justice—is significant. It comes at the end of a week in which the House impeachment inquiry has taken closed-door testimony regarded by both House Democrats and the White House as deeply damaging to the president, and virtually ensuring that articles of impeachment will be drafted. The stepping-up of the Dunham inquiry is an effort by Trump to strike back at his opponents, both within the military-intelligence apparatus and among the congressional Democrats, after a month of unfavorable headlines about the impeachment inquiry. The Justice Department launched the Dunham inquiry in May as a measure of political retaliation against Trump’s opponents within the national-security apparatus, who initiated the Russia-Trump investigation that ultimately was headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. This probe, begun in July 2016, became the source of the long-running fraud, peddled assiduously by the Democrats and the corporate media, that Russian “meddling” played a major role in the 2016 election and even accounted for Trump’s Electoral College victory over Hillary Clinton. The Mueller investigation ultimately failed to prove anything of the kind. Its report merely accepted the intelligence agency claims about Russian actions without question, while abiding by a Justice Department rule forbidding it to indict a sitting president (meaning that Trump could not be charged for his blatant efforts to curtail or shut down the Mueller probe itself).

 Rudy Giuliani asked the State Department to grant visa to former Ukrainian official who said he had info about Democrats - A new report from CNN alleges that Giuliani, President Donald Trump's personal attorney, asked the State Department and then the White House to grant a visa to a former Ukrainian official, diplomat George Kent told congressional investigators. Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, gave a closed-door testimony this week to congressional committees conducting an impeachment inquiry. Sources confirmed to CNN that he testified that Giuliani requested a visa in January 2019 for former Ukrainian prosecutor-general Viktor Shokin to travel to the United States. Kent told investigators that the State Department ultimately denied the request. Several Western countries, including former Vice President Joe Biden, pushed to have Shokin removed as top prosecutor amid concern that he was not pursuing corruption cases. Giuliani had previously told CNN that he wanted to talk to Shokin after the former prosecutor promised to reveal information on the Democrats. Even though Giuliani couldn't provide passage to Shokin to the US, the two still spoke over a Skype call at the end of January. The former New York mayor has emerged as a key player in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, as Congress digs into claims made in a whistleblower complaint from an intelligence official that alleges an abuse of office related to urging Ukrainian officials to pursue investigations into Biden and his son Hunter.

READ: Pelosi's 'fact sheet' on Trump impeachment --Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) office on Monday released a "fact sheet" detailing allegations against President Trump amid House Democrats' ongoing impeachment inquiry.“President Trump has betrayed his oath of office, betrayed our national security and betrayed the integrity of our elections for his own personal political gain,” the document argues.It goes on to list what Pelosi's office calls proof of a "pressure campaign" and "cover up" by Trump related to Ukraine. The sheet includes quotes from Trump and the anonymous whistleblower who filed a complaint regarding Trump's July 25 phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which he pressed for an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and Biden's son, Hunter.Pelosi launched the House impeachment inquiry last month. Read the full document provided by Pelosi's office below.

Lindsey Graham Suggests Ukraine Quid Pro Quo Might Convince Him To Back Impeachment | HuffPost Usually steadfast Donald Trump supporter Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) indicated that a convincing “quid pro quo” in the president’s dealings with Ukraine could make him reconsider his opposition to impeachment. Graham revealed the surprising crack in his impeachment armor in an “Axios on HBO” interview that aired Sunday. In another double-edged observation about Trump, Graham said that while the president can be “charming,” he was also a “handful” and an “equal opportunity abuser of people.” Check it out in the promo clip above. When asked if he would be open to impeaching Trump if enough incriminating information is developed, Graham said he would. “Sure. I mean ... show me something that ... is a crime. If you could show me that ... Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing,” Graham told Axios’ Jonathan Swan. But Graham still insisted that Trump pressing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch an investigation into political rival Joe Biden and his son was “not impeachable,” even though at the time, Trump was withholding millions in military aid to the nation. “I’ve read the transcript of the Ukrainian phone call. That’s not a quid pro quo to me,” Graham said. However, Trump asking China to investigate Biden in front of reporters on national TV was “stupid,” Graham said.

Trump Tied Ukraine Aid Directly to Probing Biden, Envoy Says - The top U.S. envoy to Ukraine testified that a senior diplomat told him in early September that President Donald Trump made U.S. security aid to Ukraine entirely dependent on a public promise to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and the 2016 election. Acting Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor also quoted senior diplomat Gordon Sondland as saying Trump wanted Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy “in a public box,” according to a prepared statement to congressional committees Tuesday that was obtained by Bloomberg.   The account offers what may be the most damaging revelations so far on the events that have spawned a House impeachment investigation. It directly contradicts Trump’s assertions that there was no “quid pro quo” behind his July 25 phone conversation with Zelenskiy. Taylor is a key witness because of his previously released text messages to colleagues expressing concern about back-channel Ukraine negotiations led by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer. Taylor’s exchanges with Sondland -- the U.S. ambassador to the European Union who gave about $1 million to Trump’s inauguration -- form a crucial part of the House inquiry. “By mid-July it was becoming clear to me that the meeting President Zelenskiy wanted was conditioned on the investigations of Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 elections,” Taylor said, referring to a company on whose board Biden’s son served. “It was also clear that this condition was driven by the irregular policy channel I had come to understand was guided by Mr. Giuliani.” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement that “President Trump has done nothing wrong -- this is a coordinated smear campaign from far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution. There was no quid pro quo.”

Trump exhorts Republicans to 'get tougher' against impeachment inquiry –  (Reuters) - Donald Trump on Monday exhorted fellow Republicans to get tougher and fight for his presidency, saying the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives wants to impeach him “as quick as possible” over his request that Ukraine investigate a political rival. Trump made his comments during a White House Cabinet meeting as Democrats sought to build public support for their fast-moving impeachment inquiry and the administration pressed its efforts to stonewall the probe. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a video and “fact sheet” that may give hints about the articles of impeachment - formal charges - Democrats may pursue against Republican Trump, accusing him of abuse of power, a “shakedown” involving Ukraine and a cover-up. Republicans in the House of Representatives tried to censure one of the inquiry’s leaders, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, but the motion was blocked by Democrats who control the chamber. Few Republican lawmakers have shown an inclination to remove Trump from office even as Democrats focus on his pushing a vulnerable foreign ally to interfere to his benefit in the November 2020 U.S. election by providing political dirt on Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination to run against Trump.

The Memo: GOP schisms deepen as Trump impeachment pressure rises - Republican schisms over President Trump are growing deeper as new details emerge about his actions on Ukraine and Democrats push hard for impeachment. Some Republicans on Capitol Hill are growing weary of defending Trump amid a blizzard of controversies — his de facto abandonment of the Kurds in northern Syria; his decision, swiftly reversed, to hold a Group of Seven (G-7) summit at his resort in Florida; and his likening of impeachment to “a lynching” in a Tuesday morning tweet. At the same time, other GOP lawmakers are keenly aware of the strong bond between Trump and Republican voters. Trump loyalists stormed a secure hearing room at the Capitol on Wednesday morning to protest impeachment. The most fervently pro-Trump members of Congress, such as Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), have vigorously attacked the impeachment process. For Trump and his allies, it is an existential battle where nothing is more important than holding the line. “He's going to get impeached,” Trump’s former chief strategist Stephen Bannon acknowledged in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. “But you have to make [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi’s vote as partisan as possible.” Bannon insisted that it was vital for Trump’s presidency that GOP votes for any impeachment resolution in the House should number “zero.” The former White House strategist, who was also chief executive of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign in its final months, said there had to be a full-court press to ensure that retiring GOP House members would not vote for impeachment “on their way out the door.”

Democrats see impeachment proceedings taking longer than some initially expected -House Democrats are facing a time crunch to quickly wrap up their investigation into allegations President Donald Trump abused his office in pushing Ukraine to probe his political rivals, prompting growing expectations that votes on impeaching Trump could slip closer to the end of the year.Some Democrats had hoped that a narrow probe -- focused on whether Trump put on ice efforts to bolster relations with Ukraine and provide US military aid to the country until it carried through with a political favor -- could conclude swiftly, with a potential vote to impeach Trump by Thanksgiving.But that has proven to be more complicated than it initially seemed, according to multiple Democratic lawmakers and sources. The reason: Each witness has so far provided more leads for investigators to chase down, including new names to potentially interview or seek documents from. Plus, Democrats have had to reschedule several witnesses, including some this week in part because of memorial services for the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, and others because they needed more time to retain lawyers.Plus, there are several more time-consuming steps as part of the probe, potentially trying to bring in big names like former national security adviser John Bolton, then holding public hearings before a report they're expected to write with recommendations — all before any votes in the House. "Every time we have a deposition, it leads us in a slightly different direction," Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat who sits on the House Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees, two of the three panels leading the investigation, said Monday. "We don't know how many additional pieces of testimony we may need. We just don't know." The challenge facing Democrats: They want to conduct a thorough investigation, but prolonging the probe will continue to consume Washington -- and risks bumping into the presidential election season if proceedings drag into the new year.

House Democrats zero in on ‘abuse of power’ in Trump impeachment inquiry — House Democrats are zeroing in on a framework for their impeachment case against President Donald Trump that will center on a simple “abuse of power” narrative involving the president's actions regarding Ukraine, according to multiple people familiar with the deliberations.As Democrats continue closed-door depositions with critical witnesses and prepare to move to the next phase of public hearings, they are wrestling over which elements and evidence to bring in, which to leave out. The goal is to explain to the public the reasoning and relevance of any eventual impeachment charges.Democratic House committee chairs and leaders are still debating the need for additional articles or charges that extend beyond the president's dealings with Ukraine, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been adamant that the case against Trump must be targeted and easy to communicate in order to build public support, according to those familiar with discussions.That’s especially true since Democrats are hoping to win the votes of at least some moderate House Republicans who will be asked to vote against a president who has demonstrated a willingness to unleash his vast campaign resources on party dissenters.“The phrase captures the central evils of what Trump did in Ukraine," Katyal said, "and keeps the story focused there, and not on distracting sideshows.”House aides stressed that no decisions have been made and that it is too early to discuss the specific legal framework before all of the evidence is collected. But one person familiar with the strategy said “abuse of power” when it comes to Ukraine is the “big point that Pelosi has been hammering home” and the umbrella under which “this all fits to connect it and help the public understand.”

Republicans storm closed-door hearing to protest impeachment inquiry --House Republicans stormed a closed-door hearing Wednesday to protest Democrats' impeachment inquiry process, breaking up the deposition of a top Defense Department official who was testifying about President Trump's dealings with Ukraine."They crashed the party," said Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Calif.), a member of the Oversight and Reform Committee, one of three House panels leading the impeachment probe.Dozens of Republicans, including some members of leadership like House Minority Whip Steve Scalise(R-La.), barged into the secure hearing room in the Capitol basement where Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, was set to provide private testimony. The deposition got underway after a five-hour delay.Several lawmakers said that, in response to the Republican protest on Wednesday morning, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) left the room with Cooper and postponed her interview. “The fact that Adam Schiff won't even let the press in — you can't even go in and see what's going on in that room," Scalise told reporters outside the hearing room. "Voting members of Congress are being denied access from being able to see what's happening behind these closed doors, where they're trying to impeach the president of the United States with a one-sided set of rules, they call the witnesses.”

GOP protest overshadows impeachment hearing - House Republicans stormed a closed-door hearing Wednesday to protest the Democrats’ swift-moving impeachment inquiry, captivating Capitol Hill and delaying the deposition of a top Pentagon official who later testified about President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.Roughly 20 GOP members charged into the secure space in the Capitol basement where three House committees were set to interview Laura Cooper, a career Defense official who oversees Ukraine, as part of the House investigation into whether Trump sought help from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to boost his own reelection in 2020.“They crashed the party,” said Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Calif.), a member of the Oversight and Reform Committee, one of three House panels leading the impeachment probe.Even for a Capitol accustomed to chaos, the protest was a remarkable escalation of the partisan battle royal surrounding the impeachment investigation, pitting Democrats accusing the president of abusing his powers against Trump’s Republican allies, who say the whole process is designed to sink Trump’s reelection chances next year. Where the Democrats sense high crimes and misdemeanors, Republicans smell naked politics. “All of us already know that this is a sham process that the Democrats are using for the 2020 elections. It’s Russian collusion 2.0, which was a total hoax,” said Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), who participated in the sit-in. “They used it to gain House seats in the 2018 elections, and they’re pulling out the same playbook in 2020.”

The Easiest Impeachment Inquiry of All Time --President Donald Trump had a pretty bad week. Multiple current and former officials defied his defiance of the House’s impeachment inquiry to give damaging testimony about his Ukraine scheme. Rudy Giuliani, his legal fixer of sorts, is reportedly under investigation by federal prosecutors for lobbying without registering as a foreign agent. And the White House had to send Vice President Mike Pence to Turkey to conduct a hasty round of damage control after Trump’s sudden withdrawal of U.S. forces from northern Syria plunged the region into chaos.  The conventional wisdom is that none of this will really matter. There’s a consensus across the political spectrum that the Republican-led Senate won’t convict Trump and remove him from office on Ukraine-related charges, or perhaps any others. It’s a relatively safe bet. GOP lawmakers fear his influence over the Republican base so much that they almost never criticize him or check his power. Utah Senator Mitt Romney, who broke with Trump on Ukraine and China this month, remains an outlier. Still, ruling out conviction and removal entirely seems hasty. As I’ve noted before, Trump and his allies have yet to offer a plausible defense of his actions. The original whistleblower’s central claims are so thoroughly corroborated at this point that their testimony almost seems unnecessary. Rather than project stability and confidence, Trump has acted more erratic than usual. His betrayal of Kurdish forces in Syria alienated key Republican allies. And public opinion continues to move in favorof his removal from office. Overall, this is one of the easiest impeachment efforts in modern history.One reason it’s so easy is that Trump has already given the House most of the evidence it needed. The memo that summarizes his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy proves that Trump asked him to investigate two things: a conspiracy theory surrounding Hillary Clinton and the 2016 election, and whether there was any wrongdoing by Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Inviting foreign governments to interfere in the American democratic process by undermining domestic political rivals is a clear abuse of power.

Judge calls Trump impeachment probe legal, says House must get Mueller grand jury information - A federal judge on Friday rejected claims that the impeachment probe of President Donald Trump is illegitimate as she ordered the Justice Department to give a House committee secret grand jury material collected in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. That material could help the House Judiciary Committee substantiate “potentially impeachable conduct” by Trump, said Chief Judge Beryl Howell of U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., in her ruling. Howell brushed aside arguments made by Trump’s supporters that the impeachment inquiry is illegitimate because the House has not held a formal vote authorizing such a probe. “Even in cases of presidential impeachment, a House resolution has never, in fact, been required to begin an impeachment inquiry,” the judge wrote. She wrote that the White House’s refusal to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry made it even more important to give the House panel the grand jury materials that it was seeking. “Congress’s need to access grand jury material relevant to potential impeachable conduct by a President is heightened when the Executive Branch willfully obstructs channels for accessing other relevant evidence,” Howell said. Earlier in October, White House counsel Pat Cipollone sent House leaders a letter that called the impeachment probe “baseless, unconstitutional efforts to overturn the democratic process.” Howell gave the Justice Department until next Wednesday to send to the Judiciary Committee the material sought, which is information collected by the grand jury that is referenced in or underlying the Mueller Report. The Justice Department told CNBC that it is reviewing the ruling. The department is almost certain to appeal Howell’s decision. Grand jury material is, by law, normally kept secret. But Howell wrote that “the need for continued secrecy is minimal and thus easily outweighed by [the Judiciary Committee’s] compelling need for the material.”

 If Donald Trump Is Impeached, All Hell Will Break Loose In America - Snyder- Most Americans don’t realize it yet, but in just a few weeks we will witness one of the most critical moments in American history.  Right now the Democrats in the House of Representatives are drafting articles of impeachment, and it is expected that there will be a vote by the end of this year.  If President Trump is impeached by the House, that will set off a chain of events that nobody is going to be able to control, and if the U.S. Senate ultimately decides to remove Trump from office, all hell will break loose in America.There are tens of millions of very loyal Trump supporters in this country, and many of them are extremely passionate.  Simply impeaching Trump would represent a “breaking point” for many of them, and if Trump is actually removed from office by a Republican-controlled Senate it is inevitable that we would see a very frightening explosion of righteous anger, and at that point there wouldn’t be much of anything that could be done to calm them down.  A large percentage of the population would instantly lose all the faith they ever had in our political system, and unfortunately there would be widespread civil unrest in the streets. In addition, the impeachment of a U.S. president would unleash havoc on Wall Street.  Trump has warned that the stock market would crash, and it is likely that he is quite correct about that.  Of course the U.S. economy is already steamrolling toward a recession, and so instability on Wall Street would only escalate our economic problems.  It is not hard to imagine the U.S. economy plunging into a deep recession or possibly even a full-blown depression pretty rapidly after Trump is removed from office.  And with utter political chaos reigning in Washington, it would be difficult to convince anyone that things would turn around any time soon.If the Democrats could have just been patient enough to get to November 2020, they would have had the opportunity to vote Trump out legally.But they didn’t want to do that, and now we are headed down a road that is going to tear this country apart.What do you think the left is going to do if Trump is not removed from office and then he goes on to win again in 2020?Needless to say, it would be a temper tantrum unlike anything we have ever seen before in American history.On the other hand, how do you think Trump supporters will react if Trump is illegally impeached and removed from office before we even get to the election?We truly are in unprecedented territory, and it is very difficult to see how this story is going to end well.

 Trump Slams Phony Emoluments Clause , Says It Cost Him $2 To $5 Billon To Be President - Two days after Trump reversed his plan to host next year's G-7 at his Doral golf resort, President Trump on Monday dismissed criticism that his plan would have led to an ethics violation. "You people with this phony Emoluments Clause," Trump said to reporters at the White House during a Cabinet meeting, referring to the constitutional clause that prohibits government officials from receiving gifts or contributions from foreign governments. While offering a lengthy defense why he picked his Doral resort near Miami to host next year's G-7 summit, Trump lashed out amid questions about the backlash to his earlier decision. Trump insisted that he would not have profited off hosting world leaders: “It would have been the best G-7 ever," Trump told reporters during a Cabinet meeting, adding that he felt the eventual location would not be as good. Trump also criticized former President Obama for his book deal and contract with Netflix (both of which, however, were agreed to after Obama had left the White House). “I would have given it for nothing," he said. "The Democrats went crazy, even though I would have done it free." It wasn't just democrats, however, and as the WSJ reported this morning, some Republicans also expressed unease with the decision, viewing it as difficult to defend during an impeachment inquiry targeting Trump and shortly after the president's withdrawal of troops from northern Syria. 

Company with ties to Trump's brother awarded $33 million government contract: report - A Virginia-based company with ties to President Trump's brother has reportedly been awarded a $33 million government contract, according to The Washington Post. The firm CertiPath received the multi-million-dollar contract with the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) earlier this year, The Post reported. CertiPath is partially owned by a company tied to the president's brother Robert Trump, according to the newspaper. The Post reported Saturday that a rival bidder anonymously filed a complaint to the Justice Department's inspector general's office following the award, accusing CertiPath of failing to disclose that “one of the President’s closest living relatives stood to benefit financially from the transaction." “The circumstances of this contract award, and what appear to be CertiPath’s efforts to obscure Mr. Robert Trump’s financial interest in the company even as it trades on the Trump name, present the appearance of preferential treatment for those who are close to the President,” the complaint reportedly said. Jeff Nigriny, the president and founder of CertiPath, told The Post in a statement that Robert Trump “is one investor in an entity which holds a minority interest in Certipath.” “[Robert Trump] is exclusively a passive investor, has no management role whatsoever, is not an officer or director, and his name has never been used or mentioned by Certipath in any solicitation for a government contract, whether state or federal,” Nigriny added. The Post also reported that a company called NMR Consulting complained about the matter to the Government Accountability Office in July.

 Meet the deep-pocketed Biden Bros: lobbyists for arms dealers, for-profit health-care, Azerbaijani oligarchs, Comcast  As Joe Biden cruises towards his latest (and final?) humiliating defeat in a Democratic primary, The Senator from MNBA is talking a big game about how he will reverse his decades-long dependence on massive cash infusions from America's richest, worst people to sustain his political career. And it's true that his (anemic, underfunded) campaign isn't directly taking money from big corporations. But since Citizens United, campaigns no longer have to climb into bed with the ultra-wealthy and their terrible corporations in order to become beholden to them: thanks to PACs and Super PACs, a literally unlimited amount of money can get behind a candidate like Tailgunner Joe in a bid to propel a corporate-friendly "centrist" to the presidency.  Enter Larry Rasky, a key figure in the creation of the Biden Super PAC, and also founder of Rasky Partners, lobbyists for Raytheon, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and the Republic of Azerbaijan (as well as former clients like the Education Finance Council). Rasky is joined by fellow lobbyist Steve Schale, whose clients include the Florida Hospital Association, JetBlue Airways, State Farm Insurance, Walt Disney Parks, AT&T, and the Associated Industries of Florida. The Biden campaign has been in bed with America's most notorious lobbyists literally since day one, when the campaign launched at a private party held at the stately mansion of Comcast's chief lobbyist. Joe Biden’s Super PAC Is Being Organized by Corporate Lobbyists [Lee Fang/The Intercept]: Biden has articulated the problem with big-money donations in the past, noting that privately financed elections allow those donors greater access to politicians than ordinary Americans.“Lobbyists aren’t bad people, special-interest groups are not bad people, but guess what? They’re corrosive,” said Biden during a 2007  campaign event.“It’s human nature. If you, Lynn, bundle $250,000 for me, all legal, and then you call me after I’m elected and say, ‘Joe, I’d like to talk to you about something. You didn’t buy me. But it’s human nature, you helped me, I’m going to say, ‘Sure, Lynn, come on in,'” he explained.

 Democrats Seek $70 Million Corporate Cash to Fund 2020 Convention - Every word a true one. Almost the very definition of corruption is trading money for favors while serving the public interest in public office. Almost, but not quite. There are other definitions, and Zephyr Teachout’s “self-serving use of public power for private ends” is still the best. But money-for-gifts-and-services is the easiest to identify and despise. For those not permanently married to the Democratic or Republican parties as tribal identities, what’s to choose between the legalized corruption of Joe Biden and his family and the international-mob–infested corruption of Donald Trump and his? Not much, except perhaps in degree.  Do we really need evidence of a quid pro quo, a smoking gun, to see a body on the floor, its money in someone else’s hands, and a room where two walked in but only one walked out, to know a bribe occurred? If you can convict a person of murder on strong circumstantial evidence — and you can — you can convict (in your mind) for bribery the same way. With that in mind — and remembering Bernie Sanders’ recent pledge to forbid corporate funding of the DNC and Democratic Party convention — let’s look at what the pre-Sanders DNC is up to: Party representatives are meeting with lobbyists about funding the $70 million event as candidates swear off corporate-connected dollars. Two top operatives planning the Democratic Party’s 2020 convention in Milwaukee went to K Street last week to pitch lobbyists on their plans for the $70 million event. Against the backdrop of the Democratic primary, it was an awkward pairing — representatives for special interests meeting with top Democrats while the party’s leading presidential candidates reject corporate PAC and lobbyist cash. But Democratic National Committee officials explained during the meeting how corporations can help foot the bill for the convention, regardless of who the nominee is, addressing some lobbyists’ worries that a crusading left-wing nominee like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren could try to reject corporate money, embarrassing convention sponsors. Two things to note about that passage: First, “representatives for special interests” is fog-talk for corporate bribe-givers. Amnesty International is also a “special interest,” but no one considers them a nest of money-laundering bribery agents. Second, did you see the inclusion of Elizabeth Warren along with Bernie Sanders in the last sentence? To my knowledge, the anti-corruption Warren hasn’t yet followed Sanders lead in forbidding corporate gifts to the DNC, its convention and her inauguration if she’s the nominee.

How Democrats Became the Party of Monopoly and Corruption -- Matt Stoller - Bill Clinton had run a populist campaign using the slogan "Putting People First." He attacked the failed economic theory of Reagan, criticized tax cuts for the rich and factory closings, and pledged to protect Americans from foreign and domestic threats.  His campaign's internal slogan was "It's the economy, stupid," and the 1992 Democratic platform used the word "revolution" 14 times.  But the platform was written by centrist Democratic Leadership Council boss Al From, and for the first time since 1880 there was no mention of antitrust or corporate power, despite a decade with the worst financial manipulation America had seen since the 1920s. This revolution would be against government, in government, around government.  Like Reagan, Clinton went after restrictions on banking. Reagan sought to free restrictions on finance by allowing banks and non-banks to enter new lines of business. Clinton continued this policy, but over the course of his eight years attacked restrictions on banks themselves. In 1994, the Clinton administration and a Democratic Congress passed the Riegle-Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Efficiency Act, which allowed banks to open up branches across state lines. Clinton appointed Robert Rubin as his treasury secretary, super-lawyer Eugene Ludwig to run the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and reappointed Alan Greenspan as the chairman of the Federal Reserve.All three men worked hard through regulatory rulemaking to allow u nfettered trading in derivatives, to break down the New Deal restrictions prohibiting commercial banks from entering the trading business, and to let banks take more risks with less of a cushion. Citigroup finally got an insurance arm, merging with financial conglomerate Travelers Group, approved by Greenspan, who granted the authority for the acquisition under the Bank Holding Company Act. In 1999, Clinton and a now-Republican Congress passed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which fully repealed the Glass-Steagall Act that had shattered the Houses of J.P. Morgan and Andrew Mellon. The very last bill Clinton signed was the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, which removed public rules limiting the use of exotic gambling instruments known as derivatives by now-enormous banks.

Corporate America freaks out over Elizabeth Warren -  Democratic-leaning executives on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley and across the corporate world are watching Elizabeth Warren's rise to frontrunner status in the Democratic primary with an increasing sense of existential panic. And they feel mostly paralyzed to do much about it — other than throwing money at other candidates and praying. Warren's grassroots fundraising prowess shows she doesn't need big corporate money. She’s got $26 million in the bank. And taking her on directly just makes her stronger with her populist base. Any attack on Warren from the tech or Wall Street worlds just turns into an immediate Warren talking point. Story Continued Below When CNBC host Jim Cramer did a piece on money managers freaking out about Warren, the candidate grabbed the clip and tweeted above it: “I’m Elizabeth Warren and I approve this message.” It’s led to fairly widespread frustration that Warren’s rise seems unstoppable. “There’s really not a damn thing you can do about Warren. There is nothing,” said one prominent Wall Street hedge fund manager and Democratic bundler who is raising money for a Warren rival. “It’s the same thing Republicans went through with Trump. You look at her and think what she is going to do is going to be horrible for the country. But if you say anything about it you just make her stronger.”This fund manager, like a half-dozen other executives interviewed for this story, declined to be identified by name for fear of being directly attacked by Warren. Some, however, are happy to ring the alarm, no matter how Warren might use their words.

GAO finds Obama-era Fed guidance should have been issued as rules — The Government Accountability Office has determined that three pieces of guidance issued by the Federal Reserve during the Obama administration qualified as regulations that should have been subject to congressional review. A group of five Republican senators asked the GAO in February to examine supervisory guidance related to the Fed's large-bank supervision framework that they said imposed “substantive requirements relating to capital, liquidity, corporate governance, and recovery and resolution planning.” Responding to the senators Tuesday, the GAO agreed that three of the four guidance letters should have all been issued as rules. They included the Fed’s 2011 supervisory guidance on model risk management, guidance from 2014 on consolidated recovery planning for large banks and guidance from 2012 on a new supervision framework for large banks. The GOP senators — Mike Crapo of Idaho, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, David Perdue of Georgia and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota — also asked the GAO to give an opinion on whether a 2015 guidance letter outlining the governance structure of the Fed's supervisory program would be legally considered a rule, but the GAO found that it was not a rule. Rules issued by federal regulators are subject to the Congressional Review Act, whereas guidance is not. The Congressional Review Act gives lawmakers the opportunity to overturn a rule if they see fit. “I applaud the GAO for holding the Federal Reserve to the same standard as all government agencies and ensuring they abide by the Administrative Procedure Act to remain transparent and accountable to Congress,” Tillis said in a statement. “Federal regulatory agencies should not be using rules improperly to place unnecessary regulations on financial institutions, and I will continue to work with my colleagues to hold regulatory agencies accountable.” Sub

Exposed! A Serial Whistleblower’s Story with Bill Black -- Regulatory agencies taking on Savings & Loan fraud may not be everyone’s idea of a swashbuckling tale, but for the nerdy types at Macro N Cheese it’s pure gold. NEP’s Bill Black appears on their latest podcast. You can listen here.

Banks Must Act Now or Risk Becoming a ‘Footnote’: McKinsey - More than half of the world’s banks are already in a weak position before any downturn that may be coming, according to a report from consultancy McKinsey & Co. A majority of banks globally may not be economically viable because their returns on equity aren’t keeping pace with costs, McKinsey said in its annual review of the industry released Monday. It urged firms to take steps such as developing technology, farming out operations and bulking up through mergers ahead of a potential economic slowdown. “We believe we’re in the late economic cycle and banks need to make bold moves now because they are not in great shape,” Kausik Rajgopal, a senior partner at McKinsey, said in an interview. “In the late cycle, nobody can afford to rest on their laurels.” The decade since the global financial crisis has seen a wave of innovation in financial services, bringing new competitors from fintech startups to giants like Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google. Banks have pondered whether to compete with, partner with or acquire some of these newcomers. Some established firms have sought to rebrand as technology companies, in part to attract hard-to-get talent. McKinsey, whose clients are some of the biggest corporations in the world, consults on topics ranging from strategy and technology to mergers and acquisitions, outsourcing and stock offerings. In its report, the firm said banks risk “becoming footnotes to history” as new entrants change consumer behavior. Most recent attempts by banks to boost efficiency have been “business-as-usual,” it said. Banks allocate just 35% of their information-technology budgets to innovation, while fintechs spend more than 70%, McKinsey said. Combined with regulatory factors lowering the barrier to entry -- like open banking and looser requirements for startups -- the environment is increasingly conducive for newer firms to take share from banks.

Quietly, U.S. and Foreign Banks Have Increased their Borrowings from U.S. Money Market Funds  --Pam Martens - Memories are apparently very short at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The SEC seems to have forgotten that a run on money market funds holding bank commercial paper set off a panic after the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy filing on September 15, 2008. The government had to step in and guarantee the funds.Despite those disastrous days, the SEC has allowed money market funds being sold in the U.S. to hold a staggering $642 billion in the instruments of foreign banks, as of September 30, 2019. It categorizes those instruments as: certificates of deposits, time deposits, sponsored asset-backed commercial paper, and repurchase agreements (repos) where the bank is the counterparty.On top of the $642 billion in the instruments of foreign banks, the money market funds are holding another $292 billion in the instruments of U.S. banks, bringing the total bank exposure within money market funds to $934 billion or just shy of $1 trillion.Just one year ago, on September 30, 2018, that exposure stood at $666 billion for U.S. and foreign banks, meaning that there has been a 29 percent increase in banks funding themselves through money market funds over the past 12 months.The data comes from the September 30, 2019 “Money Market Fund Statistics” report compiled by the SEC.Money market funds are supposed to be a safe and liquid place for investors to hold money that they can access on a moment’s notice without worry that the value will drop or withdrawals will be frozen. But this is how the official report from the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) describes what happened in 2008 because money market funds had also loaded up on instruments from banks as opposed to U.S. Treasury securities backed by the U.S. taxpayer:  “In March 2006, the [Reserve Primary Fund] had advised investors that it had ‘slightly underperformed’ its rivals, owing to a ‘more conservative and risk averse manner’ of investing— ‘for example, the Reserve Funds do not invest in commercial paper.’ But immediately after publishing this statement, it quietly but dramatically changed that strategy. Within 18 months, commercial paper grew from zero to one-half of Reserve Primary’s assets. The higher yields attracted new investors and the Reserve Primary Fund was the fastest-growing money market fund complex in the United States in 2006, 2007 and 2008 — doubling in the first eight months of 2008 alone… The Reserve Fund was eventually liquidated. Numerous other money market funds during those days in September 2008 that held Lehman Brothers paper also “broke the buck,” meaning their net asset value traded below $1. But most of the sponsors of those funds deposited their own money to keep the net asset value at $1. Another notable fund halted redemptions.

How a major U.S. farm lender left a trail of defaults, lawsuits - (Reuters) - After completing a credit review in a half-hour phone call, a BMO Harris Bank underwriter cleared $12 million in loans for Ohio corn and soybean producer Greg Kruger in 2013.  Kruger had initially asked for a $2 million loan to build a grain elevator. But the Chicago-based bank, one of the largest U.S. farm lenders, ended up selling him a $5 million loan for the elevator and another $7 million to finance crops, machinery and debt consolidation, according to documents in the Ohio foreclosure case the bank filed to seize Kruger’s farm. When Kruger offered to supply receipts of sold grain and other standard documentation, his loan officer told him not to bother. “‘Don’t worry. We’ll make the numbers work’,” Kruger, 67, recalled the officer saying. Five years later, after aggressively expanding its U.S. farm loan portfolio, the bank called in Kruger’s loans as corn and soy prices collapsed and the United States was starting a trade war with China. As the U.S. agricultural economy sours and farmers’ financial woes pile up, BMO Harris is leaving behind a trail of farmers such as Kruger who have lost nearly everything. The bank, a subsidiary of Canada’s Bank of Montreal (BMO.TO), has struggled to recoup some of its investments through a slew of bitter legal fights, according to a Reuters review of court documents and bank regulator data, as well as interviews with dozens of U.S. farmers, bankers, and former and current BMO Harris employees. “BMO Harris did push for growth, and they’ve had some of those deals blow up spectacularly in their faces,” said John Blanchfield, founder of Agricultural Banking Advisory Services, a consulting firm. The plight of BMO Harris and its customers reflects broader distress in the U.S. farm sector. Farmers are struggling to pay back their loans or obtain new ones. Shrinking cash flow is pushing some to retire early and a growing number of producers to declare bankruptcy, according to farm economists and legal experts.

Banks Stuck With Billions In Risky Leveraged Loans As Investors Flee Credit Markets - Global banks are involuntarily stocking up on risky corporate loans as a result of investors beginning to cut risk in the credit markets, according to Bloomberg. Underwriters that could once easily offload risk associated with corporate debt are finding that coming up with new suckers investors isn't as easy as it once was. As a result, banks like Barclays and Deutsche have been stuck with $1.5 billion in leveraged loans that they've struggled to sell off in recent months. It's a small sum relative to the nearly $170 billion in leveraged loans outstanding in the U.S. and Europe, but it's notable due to the "broad strength" of the credit markets of late. The strength in credit stands in contrast to late last year when a sharp selloff left the banks holding the bag on $3.6 billion in unsold debt. While the recent stalled deals don't pose a major threat to the junk bond market, an uptick could constrain underwriting and signal further risk aversion going forward. Steven Abrahams, head of strategy at Amherst Pierpont Securities said: “The mix of loans coming to market right now is very difficult to absorb. It’s a very unusual story that leveraged loans and collateralized loan obligations are showing stress, even though the rest of the market is pretty benign, if not bullish.” Continued concerns about a global slowdown are prompting investors to avoid riskiest issuers. Chunks of deals still sitting on banks' books include debt for OSG Billing Services and ACProducts: two deals that were underwritten before last year's sell-off and have still been unable to find buyers. Barclays, who acted as sole underwriter for both deals, is still holding about half of each deal. Debt deals made for Apollo's buyout of Shutterfly and HGGC's take-private deal for Monotype Imaging Holdings failed to be fully sold to investors as demand for riskier credit waned. Additionally, a group of banks - also led by Barclays and Deutsche - were left holding hundreds of millions of dollars in debt from Advent International's buyout of a unit of Evonik Industries in July. A Deutsche spokesman said: “The amounts in question are insignificant in the context of the wider market and insignificant to Deutsche Bank’s debt-financing businesses.”Banks have also struggled to sell a nearly $3 billion cross border debt deal for Bain Capital's purchase of a majority stake of research firm Kantar. Underwriters were forced to add concessions on pricing and documentation to the loan and bond deal to entice investors. The deadline for the deal was extended twice.

OCC lacks legal power to create fintech charter, court rules — A federal judge dealt a blow to the Office of the Comptroller of Currency’s special-purpose fintech charter on Monday, ruling that the agency lacked legal power to grant a bank charter to a nonbank entity that wasn't eligible for federal deposit insurance. The OCC first proposed the charter in 2015 as a possible avenue for fintech firms to access the nationwide financial system without having be licensed in all 50 states. The move was opposed by the Conference of State Bank Supervisors and the New York State Department of Financial Services, both of which filed lawsuits claiming the agency lacked the power to create a federal charter for nonbanks. On Monday, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled in favor of the state regulator. Judge Victor Marrero said in his decision that the National Bank Act’s “business of banking” clause “unambiguously requires that, absent a statutory provision to the contrary, only depository institutions are eligible to receive national bank charters from the OCC,” according to the court filing. The ruling echoed ar decision from Marrero in May, when the court rejected the OCC’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. In response to the ruling, an OCC spokesperson said Tuesday morning that the agency "disagrees with the decision and the court’s interpretation of the authority the National Bank Act grants the OCC. The agency plans to appeal the ruling to resolve this issue." 

Mnuchin blasts Libra plan ahead of Facebook CEO's testimony — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin repeated his concerns Tuesday about Facebook's plan to develop a cryptocurrency, one day before the social media giant's CEO is expected to face tough questioning from House lawmakers. "We’ve told [Facebook] that we thought that their launch was premature, that they had not addressed fundamental issues around money laundering," Bank Secrecy Act requirements and other issues, Mnuchin told members of the House Financial Services Committee. Mnuchin's comments, which echoed remarks he made in July, were just the latest example of blowback Facebook has gotten over its Libra project since the company announced in June its plan to operate the proposed cryptocurrency starting next year. Criticism of Facebook's plan will likely be front and center on Wednesday when CEO Mark Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify before the committee. Libra has already elicited strong reservations from lawmakers and regulators. The social media giant has seen payments giants such as PayPal, Visa and Mastercard withdraw from the Libra Association, which was established to oversee the project. At Tuesday's hearing, Mnuchin discussed the creation of a subcommittee of the Financial Stability Oversight Council to look into cryptocurrency-related risks, as well as talks with central bank governors and finance ministers of other countries. “This is a discussion that is going on at the G-20, the G-7 and … the FSB as well,” he said, referring to the Financial Stability Board. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., asked Mnuchin whether the FSOC working group will "assess systemic risk and apply whatever appropriate regulations are needed.” “Yes, that will be one of the issues amongst many that we will look at,” Mnuchin responded. Yet Libra is only one area of Facebook's expanding reach that has alarmed lawmakers. On Tuesday, it came to light that attorneys general from 47 states have joined an antitrust probe into the social media giant, led by the state of New York. Meanwhile, Ralph Hamers, the chief executive of ING, told the Financial Times on Tuesday that his company may not be able to maintain its ties to Facebook if the social media giant does not address AML concerns.

Banks May Cut Ties With Facebook If Libra Is Launched- ING CEO -  Banks may be bound to stop working with social media giant Facebook if the firm launches its Libra stablecoin, according to ING CEO Ralph Hamers. Financial news outlet Financial Times reported on Hamers’ remarks on Oct. 22. Per the report, he explained that institutions like ING have to guard the financial system to prevent criminal activity. Because of this, concerns over Libra’s potential for illegal use may result in a response from the banks: “We can take measures and exit the client, or not accept the client, so those are discussions you would have to have.”  The money laundering concerns are spurred by the fear that Libra may allow criminals to quickly move funds across national borders without any oversight.  Still, Facebook promised not to release the asset until the organization has not eased the regulator’s concerns. Hamers explained that banks such as his have a rather low-risk approach:“We are such a large, regulated institution that you don’t want to risk anything. [...] We’ve said we’ll take a look and see how this develops.”Other bankers are even less open to the idea of Libra. For instance, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon has said last week that Facebook’s proposed Libra stablecoin is “a neat idea that will never happen.” Hamers, on the other hand, noted that he thinks Libra is an initiative to learn from, not one that should be forbidden.  As Cointelegraph recently reported, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has said that India — like many others, in his view — is showing a high degree of caution in regard to Facebook’s Libra.

Why Have Facebook and Other Tech Giants Gotten Away With Gobbling Up Competitors? - The Big Tech companies, including Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple, have individually and collectively engaged in an unprecedented number of acquisitions. In a new paper, Big Tech Acquisitions and the Potential Competition Doctrine: The Case of Facebook we document the 90 completed acquisitions made by Facebook since 2007 and consider the applicability of the potential competition doctrine to two of their largest purchases. Tech giants like Facebook operate in markets with unique features such as strong network effects that can “tip” the market toward domination by a single firm. But these effects are a two edged sword. Creative start-up companies with innovative products can also capture network effects that allow them to scale quickly, gain a large user base, and blossom into a competitive rival of the dominant firm. This potential for start-ups to challenge market leaders reinvigorates the competitive process within the dominant firm’s core market. In this context, acquisitions of nascent competitors by dominant firms undermine both current and future competition and reinforce the incumbent’s dominance in the face of technological shifts. So why has there been so little attention by the antitrust agencies in the face of hundreds of mergers involving potential future competitors by the Big Tech companies? We argue that the potential competition doctrine that would be directly applicable to these situations was an early casualty of the Chicago School revolution that swept through the antitrust world in the 1970s and 1980s. In particular, Justice Powell’s 1974 decision in United States v. Marine Bancorporationundermined the applicability of the potential competition analysis in a manner that rendered it virtually impossible to apply to online platform markets. Following the election of Ronald Reagan, the Department of Justice followed suit with new merger guidelines hobbling the doctrine even further.

Facebook includes Breitbart in new 'high quality' news tab - Facebook’s launch of a new section on its flagship app dedicated to “deeply-reported and well-sourced” journalism sparked immediate controversy on Friday over the inclusion of Breitbart News, a publication whose former executive chairman explicitly embraced the “alt-right”. Facebook News is a separate section of the company’s mobile app that will feature articles from about 200 publishers. Friday’s launch is a test and will only be visible to some users in the US. The initiative is designed to quell criticism on two fronts: by promoting higher quality journalism over misinformation and by appeasing news publishers who have long complained that Facebook profits from journalism without paying for it. The company will pay some publishers between $1m and $3m each year to feature their articles, according to Bloomberg. Participating publications include the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, BuzzFeed, Bloomberg and ABC News, as well as local newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and Dallas Morning News. Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, paid tribute to the importance of “high quality” journalism in an op-ed published in the New York Times, which referenced “how the news has held Facebook accountable when we’ve made mistakes”. Zuckerberg also alluded to the power that Facebook will have to influence the media, stating: “If a publisher posts misinformation, it will no longer appear in the product.”   The op-ed does not reference the inclusion of Breitbart News, but the outlet is notorious for its role in promoting extreme rightwing narratives and conspiracy theories. Thousands of major advertisers have blacklisted the site over its extreme views. Founded in 2005 by conservative writer Andrew Breitbart, Breitbart News achieved greater influence and a wider audience under its executive chairman Steve Bannon, who went on to run Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016. For years, the publication used a “black crime” tag on articles and promoted anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant views.   Facebook has long faced scrutiny for its reticence to police white nationalism and far-right hate on its platform. In July 2017, the Guardian provided Facebook with a list of 175 pages and groups run by hate groups, as designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center, including neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups. The company removed just nine of them.

Why haven’t Boeing’s executives been arrested? - A leaked conversation between two Boeing employees provides further evidence that even though the aerospace giant was well aware of potentially catastrophic problems of the Boeing 737 Max 8 jet, it still decided to introduce the aircraft for commercial flights. Within two years of executives making the decision to put it into service, the deadly aircraft crashed twice—first in October 2018 and then in March of this year—killing 346 men, women and children. So why aren’t any of Boeing’s executives facing criminal charges? The exchange between Boeing pilot Mark Forkner and his colleague Patrick Gustavsson, first published by Reuters, again reveals that the company subordinates passenger safety to the drive for profit. With only six months to go before the release of the aircraft, Forkner noted “fundamental issues” with the Max 8 that other Boeing officials “claim they’re aware of.” He specifically mentioned that “MCAS” was “running rampant in the [simulator]” and that “the plane [was] trimming like crazy.” These comments by two Boeing employees dovetail with black box recordings and other data collected on the two crashes, Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, which show that a previously unknown system, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), forced the planes into an unrecoverable nosedive. The system was ostensibly installed so that pilots of previous Boeing 737s would require next to no training on the new aircraft, a major selling point the company used to push its plane onto customers over European rival Airbus’s A320neo aircraft. The real reason MCAS was developed, however, was to correct for a tendency of the Max 8 to stall. In order to shorten development time for the aircraft, Boeing essentially welded on new engines to a half-century old airframe, which meant the jet constantly had a slight pitch up. Instead of designing a new body for the engines, company executives determined it would be much quicker and cheaper to apply a software fix to faulty hardware. Moreover, Boeing did everything it could to hide this development from regulators. Forkner, who at the time was a technical pilot for the company, told Gustavsson “I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly)” because neither he nor his coworker had been informed of how much control MCAS could assume over an aircraft. Despite this incident, which was likely one among many, Boeing not only hid the dangers of the system from aviation safety officials, it kept the software out of Max 8 flight manuals. Even after the Lion Air crash, many pilots in the US and internationally were unaware of MCAS and the potential dangers it posed. There is no innocent explanation for these omissions. They indicate reckless and criminally negligent behavior on the part of Boeing executives to rush into service a flying deathtrap in order to gain market share over its corporate rivals.

‘Absolute scam’: Complaints about credit monitoring plans flood CFPB — Before Alex Biviano was hired as a server by a popular restaurant chain, his prospective employer sought details about his credit. To provide the information, Biviano paid what he thought would be just a $1 fee to TransUnion to see his credit report. But the process ended up costing him a lot more, he says. Biviano alleges he was deceived into enrolling in TransUnion's $20-per-month credit monitoring plan. He is among over 100 consumers who recently have complained to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau about being unwittingly enrolled in services offered by one of the three credit bureaus that they say they never wanted. The charges, which are public on the CFPB's complaint database, have alarmed consumer advocates. They say the data suggests the credit bureaus — most notably TransUnion — have resumed questionable disclosure practices already identified in prior enforcement actions that effectively trap unknowing consumers into expensive plans they never sought. “I felt scammed, honestly,” Biviano, a 20-year-old college student from Spokane, Wash., said in an interview. “I lost my mind.” After TransUnion refused to refund him for the first month of the monthly credit monitoring subscription service, he says, Biviano used Twitter to express his frustration. “PSA: If @TransUnion is ever suggested or required by your job DON’T SIGN UP,” he tweeted June 10. “It’s an absolute scam that preys on lower-income people when they’re applying for jobs or rental properties. They’ve just scammed me and I want to let people know before they get to anyone else.” At least 86 people this year alone have filed complaints with the CFPB saying they had been for charged a fee for TransUnion's monthly credit monitoring service but that they didn't recall signing up for the service. At least 27 made similar accusations against Experian, and four similar complaints were filed against Equifax, according to the CFPB data. Many of the complainants said they felt scammed or deceived, with some even alleging fraud.

What Supreme Court case means for CFPB’s future -- Even if the Supreme Court rules a provision regarding the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is unconstitutional, the agency's rulemakings and enforcement actions likely will not be affected, legal observers said. The high court on Friday said it will accept a case challenging the "for cause" provision, which blocks a president from firing a CFPB director without evidence of poor performance. Some detractors of the CFPB have argued that ruling the leadership structure as unconstitutional would raise doubts about the agency's existing policies. But in agreeing to hear the challenge, the Supreme Court signaled a narrower approach. The justices asked the parties to address whether the "for cause" language can be severed from the rest of the Dodd-Frank Act, which created the bureau. “Nobody really expects the Supreme Court to render eight years of enforcement and regulatory activity null and void,” said Richard Gottlieb, a partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. “There’s very little chance that the court concludes the provision can’t be severed. This case is strictly about the structure of the CFPB.” Dodd-Frank includes a “severability clause” that states if one provision of the act is found to be unconstitutional, the entire statute would still remain. Joe Lynyak, a partner at Dorsey & Whitney, said while Trump administration lawyers may believe the court could issue a broad ruling, they will be satisfied with removing the for-cause restriction. “What the government will be arguing is, yes, it’s unconstitutional, but just strike that clause and we’re OK,” Lynyak said. At issue is a California lawsuit in which a debt collection law firm argued it did not have to respond to a CFPB investigation because the bureau's single-director leadership structure was unconstitutional. But the Supreme Court did not accept a case by a Mississippi payday lender, All American Check Cashing Inc., that sought to invalidate the agency. The California case "really does address a lingering problem that keeps coming up but needs to be resolved," said Lynyak. "And it’s a pretty clear-cut way of resolving something that gives everybody, including the legislative branch, a way forward.” Yet while the Supreme Court may take a narrow path on the issue, the decision could still have far-reaching implications, affecting other independent agencies — such as the Federal Housing Finance Agency — with similar for-cause provisions. But some suggest the high court will preserve the for-cause provision by determining that Congress wanted an independent agency, and that giving the president greater authority to fire agency heads may have serious repercussions.

 Women At Ernst & Young Instructed On How To Dress, Act Nicely Around Men  --When women speak, they shouldn’t be shrill. Clothing must flatter, but short skirts are a no-no. After all, “sexuality scrambles the mind.” Women should look healthy and fit, with a “good haircut” and “manicured nails.” These were just a few pieces of advice that around 30 female executives at Ernst & Young received at a training held in the accounting giant’s gleaming new office in Hoboken, New Jersey, in June 2018.The 55-page presentation, used during the day-and-a-half seminar on leadership and empowerment, was given to HuffPost by an attendee who was appalled by its contents. Full of out-of-touch advice, the presentation focused on how women need to fix themselves to fit into a male-dominated workplace.The training, called Power-Presence-Purpose or PPP, took place during the height of the Me Too movement when sexual misconduct accusations dominated the news. In response, large businesses, including EY, shored up their sexual harassment policies and training. A few companies banned forced arbitration over allegations of sex discrimination and assault. Some men were fired.  Women’s brains absorb information like pancakes soak up syrup so it’s hard for them to focus, the attendees were told. Men’s brains are more like waffles. They’re better able to focus because the information collects in each little waffle square.

 Fisher Investment Withdrawals Soar Past $2 Billion As New Hampshire And Fidelity Flee - The bleeding at Fisher Investments is showing zero signs of stopping and has now surpassed $2 billion, according to CNBC and Bloomberg, as clients yank cash from the firm faster than we can keep updating this story. The New Hampshire Retirement system was the latest to abandon the billionaire investing with a 5-0 vote on Tuesday to pull its $239 million. The New Hampshire Retirement system said in a statement: "The recent statements made by Ken Fisher, the founder and chairman of Fisher Investments, are not only offensive and inappropriate, they are incompatible with the values of the retirement system and bring into question Mr. Fisher’s judgment."NEPC, a Boston-based investment consultant for the New Hampshire plan said: “In 2018, NEPC created an internal group called the Unfavorable News Committee to respond to non-investment negative news events connected to our investment managers. Mr. Fisher’s comments clearly fit that mandate.”Fidelity also pulled $500 million it had invested with Ken Fisher early this week and joined a chorus of investors who have spoken out against Ken Fisher's lewd comments several weeks ago at an industry conference.  Fidelity and New Hampshire join Iowa, Boston and Philadelphia, who have all yanked pension money from the firm over the last several weeks.Just days ago, we reported that Iowa had pulled out $386 million from the firm. This was days after we reported that the city of Boston had also pulled out of Fisher Investments to the tune of $248 million.

 Credit union regulator moves to quiet redlining fears -- One member of the National Credit Union Administration board is calling on the agency to do a better job of policing consumer protection and fair housing issues. The NCUA board on Thursday unveiled new proposals aimed at fighting discrimination by credit unions, measures undertaken in response to an appeals court’s concerns regarding a controversial membership regulation that some claimed could invite redlining. During the meeting, Board Member Todd Harper said the agency devotes far less attention to consumer and housing oversight than other federal banking regulators. While projections for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. were not immediately available, Harper said NCUA is on pace to conduct just 25 fair housing examinations this year. NCUA is the primary regulator for the nation’s 3,335 federal credit unions and provides deposit insurance to more than 5,300 credit unions industry-wide. “It’s time to put our money where our mouth is,” Harper said Thursday, adding that he wants the agency to devote more resources toward consumer protection and fair housing exams. In Senate confirmation testimony earlier this year, Harper suggested he would like to see increased consistency among federal regulators, and some critics have claimed credit unions don’t share a level playing field with the rest of the banking industry. Harper’s comments came a sensitive time for NCUA. Meeting at its headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, the board on Thursday proposed a new revision to its much-debated field of membership rule. It is aimed primarily at responding to Judge Robert Wilkins’ August 20 decision which upheld a 2016 overhaul of the FOM regulations, save for a provision that would allow credit unions use core-based statistical areas to define membership fields while excluding their urban cores. Writing for a three-judge panel of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, Wilkins found merit to the American Bankers Association’s argument that such a provision opened the door for potential redlining. But rather than vacating the provision altogether, he gave NCUA an opportunity to explain its position more fully. Thursday’s proposal is the agency’s attempt to do so, and the board unanimously approved it for a 30-day comment period.

FHFA's Calabria is open to wiping out Fannie, Freddie shareholders— At the second of two hearings to examine the Trump administration's housing finance reform blueprint, key officials charged with implementing the plan made clear they are abundantly focused on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's capital levels.Members of the House Financial Services Committee were mostly concerned with issues that the administration proposal did not discuss. But Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mark Calabria, and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson offered additional insight on the process to end Fannie and Freddie's conservatorships. Calabria told the committee that he is open to wiping out shareholders of the government-sponsored enterprises, but he cautioned that “no decision has yet been made on moving forward.” He also hinted at a future rulemaking intended to shrink Fannie and Freddie's footprints.The administrative blueprint the Trump administration released in September called on Congress to implement several reforms to guide the mortgage giants out of conservatorship, but said that absent legislative action, they would move ahead on their own to recapitalize Fannie and Freddie and ultimately release them from government control. Lawmakers battled over the outcome of the administration’s proposal, with Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters, D-Calif., calling the plan “disastrous" and Republicans taking issue with the Democratic majority's focus on affordable housing issues. Although there is still no clear path for a legislative solution to end the conservatorships of the GSEs in the near future, the members of the committee implored each other to act, and the hearing’s three witnesses reiterated their preference for Congress to take the lead.

Trump housing plan would make bias by algorithm 'nearly impossible to fight' -The Trump administration has proposed a shift in rules that would make it “nearly impossible” for Americans to sue for housing discrimination caused by algorithms, according to tech scholars and civil rights groups. Absolving companies of wrongdoing when algorithms are involved could have a major effect on the housing market, which often relies on automation – in the form of background checks, credit score analysis, and analyzing an applicant’s history – to decide whether to rent or sell someone a home. The new ruling would raise the bar for legal challenges against housing discrimination, making cases brought against landlords and lenders less likely to succeed. It does this through tweaking the interpretation of the “disparate-impact” standard of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which permits the use of statistical analysis to identify patterns of discrimination and prohibits discriminatory conduct, even if the conduct does not have “discriminatory intent”. Representatives from New York University, the AI Now Institute, the University of Maryland, non-profit Center on Race Inequality, and the Law and Princeton encouraged the administration to withdraw the proposed rule in the lengthy letter issued on Friday. “This change is part of a long arc of retrenching America’s promise of equality,” Rashida Richardson, the director of policy research at the AI Now Institute said. “Over the past few decades we have seen an intentional chipping away at the few civil rights protection standards we have, and you are seeing this expedited under the Trump administration.” Under the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) new rules, businesses would be shielded from liability when their algorithms are accused of bias through three different loopholes:

  • When the algorithm in question is vetted by a “neutral third party”.
  • When the algorithm itself was created by a third party.
  • If an algorithm used did not use race or a proxy for it in the computer model.

Freddie Mac: Mortgage Serious Delinquency Rate unchanged in September - Freddie Mac reported that the Single-Family serious delinquency rate in September was 0.61%, unchanged from 0.61% in August. Freddie's rate is down from 0.73% in September 2018. Freddie's serious delinquency rate peaked in February 2010 at 4.20%.This matches the last two months as the lowest serious delinquency rate for Freddie Mac since November 2007.These are mortgage loans that are "three monthly payments or more past due or in foreclosure".  I expect the delinquency rate to decline to a cycle bottom in the 0.4% to 0.6% range - so this is close to a bottom.

Black Knight's First Look: National Mortgage Delinquency Rate Increased Seasonally in September, Foreclosure Inventory Lowest Since 2005 --From Black Knight: Black Knight’s First Look: Despite Slight Seasonal Uptick, Mortgage Delinquencies Fall 11% From Last Year; Prepays More Than Double as Refi Wave Continues

• The national delinquency rate edged up seasonally in September to 3.53%, but fell 11.2% from one year prior for the largest year-over-year decline in eight months
• Both serious delinquencies and active foreclosure inventory fell in the month as well, with the latter falling to its lowest level since late 2005
• Western states – Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and California – continue to hold the nation’s lowest non-current rates (all delinquencies plus active foreclosures)
• Prepayment activity (SMM) rose by 3% from August despite facing headwinds from the typical seasonal decline in home sale-related prepayments
• Prepays are now up 121% from the same time last year as falling rates continue to spur refinance activity
According to Black Knight's First Look report for September, the percent of loans delinquent increased in September compared to August, and decreased 11.2% year-over-year.
The percent of loans in the foreclosure process decreased 0.4% in September and were down 7.7% over the last year.Black Knight reported the U.S. mortgage delinquency rate (loans 30 or more days past due, but not in foreclosure) was 3.53% in September up from 3.45% in August. The percent of loans in the foreclosure process decreased in September to 0.48% from 0.48% in August.

  Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey -Mortgage applications decreased 11.9 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending October 18, 2019. ... The Refinance Index decreased 17 percent from the previous week and was 126 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 4 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 4 percent compared with the previous week and was 6 percent higher than the same week one year ago. “Interest rates continue to be volatile, with Brexit votes and ongoing trade negotiations swinging rates higher or lower on any given day. Last week, mortgage rates jumped 10 basis points and were above 4 percent for the first time since September,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “The increase in mortgage rates caused refinance applications to drop 17 percent, and by more than 20 percent for conventional loans. Borrowers with larger loans are the most sensitive to rate changes, and with rates climbing higher last week, the average size of a refinance loan application fell to its lowest level this year.” Added Fratantoni, “Although purchase applications declined, application volume is still running about 6 percent ahead of this time last year. Low mortgage rates continue to fuel buyer interest, but supply and affordability challenges persist.” ... The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($484,350 or less) increased to 4.02 percent from 3.92 percent, with points increasing to 0.38 from 0.35 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

Refis Collapse Most In 3 Years As Mortgage Rates Tick Higher --Mortgage applications plunged 11.9% from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending October 18, 2019. But it was the Refinance Index that got really hit, crashing 17% from the previous week. All of which should make housing market enthusiasts more than a little worried, as if the marginal mortgage applicant is this sensitive to rates - near record lows - then what happens if we see an upturn in growth (which is apparently priced into homebuilder stocks) and rates really rise? “Interest rates continue to be volatile, with Brexit votes and ongoing trade negotiations swinging rates higher or lower on any given day. Last week, mortgage rates jumped 10 basis points and were above 4 percent for the first time since September,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA Senior Vice President and Chief Economist.“The increase in mortgage rates caused refinance applications to drop 17 percent, and by more than 20 percent for conventional loans. Borrowers with larger loans are the most sensitive to rate changes, and with rates climbing higher last week, the average size of a refinance loan application fell to its lowest level this year.”Fratantoni had a modest silver lining however:   “Although purchase applications declined, application volume is still running about 6 percent ahead of this time last year. Low mortgage rates continue to fuel buyer interest, but supply and affordability challenges persist.”

 FHFA House Price Index Up 0.2 Percent in August; Up 4.6 Percent from Last Year --From the FHFA: FHFA House Price Index Up 0.2 Percent in August; Up 4.6 Percent from Last Year U.S. house prices rose in August, up 0.2 percent from the previous month, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) House Price Index (HPI). House prices rose 4.6 percent from August 2018 to August 2019. The previously reported 0.4 percent increase for July 2019 remains unchanged. For the nine census divisions, seasonally adjusted monthly house price changes from July 2019 to August 2019 ranged from -0.8 percent in the East South Central division to +0.9 percent in the New England division. The 12-month changes were all positive, ranging from +3.9 percent in the Middle Atlantic and Pacific divisions to +6.5 percent in the Mountain division. This is for purchase only, and for "single-family properties whose mortgages have been purchased or securitized by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac". This is down from 5.1% Year-over-year in July.

NAR: Existing-Home Sales Decreased to 5.38 million in September - From the NAR: Existing-Home Sales Decrease 2.2% in September - Existing-home sales receded in September following two consecutive months of increases, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Each of the four major regions witnessed sales drop off last month, with the Midwest absorbing the brunt of those declines. Total existing-home sales, completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, fell 2.2% from August to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.38 million in September. Despite the decline, overall sales are up 3.9% from a year ago (5.18 million in September 2018). ... Total housing inventory at the end of September sat at 1.83 million, approximately equal to the amount of existing-homes available for sale in August, but a 2.7% decrease from 1.88 million one year ago. Unsold inventory is at a 4.1-month supply at the current sales pace, up from 4.0 months in August and down from the 4.4-month figure recorded in September 2018.This graph shows existing home sales, on a Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) basis since 1993. Sales in September (5.38 million SAAR) were down 2.2% from last month, and were 3.9% above the September 2018 sales rate. The second graph shows nationwide inventory for existing homes. Existing Home InventoryAccording to the NAR, inventory was unchanged at 1.83 million in September from 1.83 million in August. Headline inventory is not seasonally adjusted, and inventory usually decreases to the seasonal lows in December and January, and peaks in mid-to-late summer. The last graph shows the year-over-year (YoY) change in reported existing home inventory and months-of-supply. Since inventory is not seasonally adjusted, it really helps to look at the YoY change. Note: Months-of-supply is based on the seasonally adjusted sales and not seasonally adjusted inventory. Year-over-year Inventory Inventory was down 2.7% year-over-year in September compared to September 2018. Months of supply increased to 4.1 months in September. This was below the consensus forecast. For existing home sales, a key number is inventory - and inventory is still low. I'll have more later …

Existing Home Sales Tumble In September, Despite Low Mortgage Rates -- After August's rebound across the housing market - as mortgage rates tumbled - September was expected to see some slowdown but existing home sales fell significantly (dropping 2.2% MoM against expectations of a 0.7% drop). Existing Home Sales SAAR fell from 5.50mm to 5.38mm in September... Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said that despite historically low mortgage rates, sales have not commensurately increased, in part due to a low level of new housing options. “We must continue to beat the drum for more inventory,” said Yun, who has called for additional home construction for over a year.“Home prices are rising too rapidly because of the housing shortage, and this lack of inventory is preventing home sales growth potential.” Regional breakdown:

  • September existing-home sales in the Northeast fell 2.8% to an annual rate of 690,000, a 1.5% rise from a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $301,100, up 5.2% from September 2018.
  • In the Midwest, existing-home sales dropped 3.1% to an annual rate of 1.27 million, which is nearly equal to August 2018. The median price in the Midwest was $213,500, a 7.2% jump from a year ago.
  • Existing-home sales in the South decreased 2.1% to an annual rate of 2.28 million in September, up 6.0% from a year ago. The median price in the South was $237,300, up 6.3% from one year ago.
  • Existing-home sales in the West declined 0.9% to an annual rate of 1.14 million in September, 5.6% above a year ago. The median price in the West was $403,600, up 4.5% from September 2018.

More problematically, existing home sales slipped despite low mortgage rates... As price once again becomes an issue. The median existing-home price for all housing types in September was $272,100, up 5.9% from September 2018 ($256,900), as prices rose in all regions. September’s price increase marks 91 straight months of year-over-year gains. Total housing inventory at the end of September sat at 1.83 million, approximately equal to the amount of existing-homes available for sale in August, but a 2.7% decrease from 1.88 million one year ago. Unsold inventory is at a 4.1-month supply at the current sales pace, up from 4.0 months in August and down from the 4.4-month figure recorded in September 2018.

Comments on September Existing Home Sales --Earlier: NAR: Existing-Home Sales Decreased to 5.38 million in September. A few key points:
1) Existing home sales were up 3.9% year-over-year (YoY) in September.  This was the third consecutive YoY increase - following 16 consecutive months with a YoY decrease in sales
2) Inventory is still low, and was down 2.7% year-over-year (YoY) in September.
3) As usual, housing economist Tom Lawler's forecast was closer to the NAR report than the consensus. See:Lawler: Early Read on Existing Home Sales in September.   The consensus was for sales of 5.45 million SAAR.  Lawler estimated the NAR would report 5.36 million SAAR in September, and the NAR actually reported 5.38 million SAAR.
4) Year-to-date sales are down about 1.7% compared to the same period in 2018.   On an annual basis, that would put sales around 5.25 million in 2019.  Sales slumped at the end of 2018 and in January 2019 due to higher mortgage rates, the stock market selloff, and fears of an economic slowdown. The comparisons will be easier towards in Q4 of this year, and with lower mortgage rates, sales will probably finish the year unchanged or even up from 2018.  The second graph shows existing home sales Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA). Sales NSA in September (452,000, red column) were well above sales in September 2018 (421,000, NSA). However there were more selling days in September 2019 than in 2018. Overall this was a solid report.

For Boomers Reframing Aging, Age-Proofing A Home Won’t Come Cheap -  Yves here. On the one hand, this article sets forth a nascent housing trend: that of building or retro-fitting homes to be elderly-friendly. On the other, without getting the full details, this couple built a home that was wheelchair friendly. Another potential need is live-in help. And caring for the yard would eventually be entirely hired out if the couple is indeed able to age in place.The article also politely notes that not being able to drive becomes an issue, yet seems to have a “assume public transportation” as a remedy.Another issue is the ecological implications of more and more people wanting a single-story home, which all other things being equal, would be even more costly to heat and cool than two story home, since single story homes would generally have a higher surface to mass ratio. It would obviously be a lot more efficient if more of this sort of thing could be done on a collective or group basis….and that doesn’t have to mean some sort of facility (although there are some that are reportedly very good, like one near Rye, NY where the residents are connected enough that they’ve gotten Yo Yo Ma to perform there. Three libraries, lots of activities, tunnels between the buildings with golf carts to take you around if you need them… but of course not cheap). But organizing any kind of group living is fraught, not just the difficulty of finding like-minded people with decent temperaments, but their circumstances can change suddenly (health, finances, needs of relatives).Originally published at Kaiser Health NewsNMHC: Apartment Market Tightness Index indicates tighter conditions in October -The National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) released the data for the October report: NMHC Quarterly Survey of Apartment Conditions (October 2019) The Market Tightness Index decreased from 60 to 54. Any reading above 50 indicates tighter conditions from the previous quarter. This indicates tighter market conditions for the third straight quarter. This graph shows the quarterly Apartment Tightness Index. This indicates market conditions were tighter over the last quarter. This is the third consecutive reading over 50, following thirteen consecutive quarterly surveys indicating looser conditions.

New Home Sales decreased to 701,000 Annual Rate in September - The Census Bureau reports New Home Sales in September were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 701 thousand.  The previous three months were revised down slightly, combined. "Sales of new single‐family houses in September 2019 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 701,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 0.7 percent below the revised August rate of 706,000, but is 15.5 percent above the September 2018 estimate of 607,000." The first graph shows New Home Sales vs. recessions since 1963. The dashed line is the current sales rate. Even with the increase in sales over the last several years, new home sales are still somewhat low historically. The second graph shows New Home Months of Supply. The months of supply was unchanged in September at 5.5 months from 5.5 months in August. The all time record was 12.1 months of supply in January 2009. This is in the normal range (less than 6 months supply is normal). "The seasonally‐adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of September was 321,000. This represents a supply of 5.5 months at the current sales rate." Starting in 1973 the Census Bureau broke inventory down into three categories: Not Started, Under Construction, and Completed. The third graph shows the three categories of inventory starting in 1973. The inventory of completed homes for sale is still somewhat low, and the combined total of completed and under construction is close to normal.

US New Home Sales Slow In September, Prices Plunge To Lowest Since 2017 - With mortgage applications plunging (on just a modest rise in mortgage rates) and a disappointing tumble in existing home sales, new home sales were expected to slow in September (after a huge bounce in August) and they did (but less than expected thanks to a downward revision). August's 7.1% MoM spike was revised lower to a 6.2% rise which left September's 701k new home sales SAAR down 0.7% MoM. The YoY rise in new home sales slowed... The supply of homes at the current sales rate held at 5.5 months, unchanged from the prior period. The number of new homes for sale decreased for a fourth month, to 321,000. Very notably, the median home price plunged 8.8% from a year earlier to $299,400 - to its lowest since Feb 2017... Purchases of new homes declined in three of four U.S. regions, led by the West and Northeast. The Midwest rose. Let's just hope rates don't inch higher any further... 

A few Comments on September New Home Sales New home sales for September were reported at 701,000 on a seasonally adjusted annual rate basis (SAAR). Sales for the previous three months were revised down slightly, combined.  Sales were above 700 thousand SAAR in three of the last four months - the best four month stretch since 2007.  Annual sales in 2019 should be the best year for new home sales since 2007.  This graph shows new home sales for 2018 and 2019 by month (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate). Sales in September were up 15.5% year-over-year compared to September 2018. Year-to-date (through September), sales are up 7.2% compared to the same period in 2018. The comparisons for the next three months are easy, so sales should be solidly higher in 2019 than in 2018. And here is another update to the "distressing gap" graph that I first started posting a number of years ago to show the emerging gap caused by distressed sales. The "distressing gap" graph shows existing home sales (left axis) and new home sales (right axis) through September 2019. This graph starts in 1994, but the relationship had been fairly steady back to the '60s. Following the housing bubble and bust, the "distressing gap" appeared mostly because of distressed sales. Even though distressed sales are down significantly, following the bust, new home builders focused on more expensive homes - so the gap has only closed slowly. I still expect this gap to close. However, this assumes that the builders will offer some smaller, less expensive homes.

AIA: "Architecture Billings Index downturn moderates as challenging conditions continue" --Note: This index is a leading indicator primarily for new Commercial Real Estate (CRE) investment.From the AIA: Architecture Billings Index downturn moderates as challenging conditions continue While architecture billings moderated in September, design activity shows signs of remaining sluggish at U.S. architecture firms, according to a new report released today from the American Institute of Architects (AIA).The Architecture Billings Index (ABI) score in September is 49.7, which improved from the August score of 47.2. However, any score below 50 indicates a decrease in billings. During September, both the new project inquiries and design contracts scores were positive, posting scores of 59.0 and 54.4 respectively.“Though still in negative territory, the moderating billings score along with the rebound in design contracts and inquiries serve as a continued note of caution for the industry,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, PhD, Hon. AIA. “Continued weakness in the larger economy still doesn’t bode well for future design services, which will likely see continued volatility in the months ahead.”
• Regional averages: South (52.3); West (51.3); Northeast (46.3); Midwest (45.3)
• Sector index breakdown: multi-family residential (53.2); mixed practice (53.0); institutional (48.5); commercial/industrial (45.3)

Rates Tumbling Everywhere, Except Credit Cards Where They've Never Been Higher - How strong is the consumer sector? It depends on where you sit in the food chain of consumer sales and finance. Nominal growth of consumer spending in 2019 has slowed to its weakest growth rate in three years, with many traditional retailers seeing no growth in top-line sales. And yet large commercial banks indicate that their consumer finance arm shows a "healthy consumer". The difference in the direction and tone of business is very straightforward; retail is counting how much consumers are spending at their establishments, while commercial banks are counting how much consumers are paying in interest when they borrow to spend. Banks are happy (for now) as consumer interest payments at record levels are rising more than twice as fast as consumer spending. Yet, that trend can’t continue for long as rising interest expense drains consumer liquidity, weakens the consumer ability to spend, dampens growth and eventually ends up impacting retail and banks alike. Through the first 9 months of 2019, nominal consumer spending—which includes all goods and services and traditional and e-commerce retailers--- is running less than 4%, a drop-off of roughly 125 basis points from the 2018 performance. Although nominal income growth is running close to 5%, consumers still saw the need to increase consumer borrowing (i.e., personal loans and credit cards) by 5% in order to support spending. Perhaps that reflects the unevenness of income growth and lack of a liquidity buffer among various income groups. On the surface, the growth of consumer borrowing is not excessive, but what is excessive is how much it costs consumers to borrow. Personal loan rates at commercial banks stand at 10%, and average credit card rates stand at 15%. However, the actual cost of credit card borrowing is much higher, since banks charge interest not only on the daily balance but also on prior months interest rate charges, along with other fees. The Federal Reserve has estimated the true cost of credit card borrowing. The assessed interest rate charges on all credit card accounts averaged 17% in 2019 (200 basis points above published average rates), and represent the highest assessed rate since the Federal Reserve started measuring the all-in-costs of credit card borrowing in 1995.

California Governor Asks AG To Investigate High Gas Prices, But Not 'Mystery Surcharge' - California is known for ridiculously high gasoline prices - thanks in part to the state's notoriously exorbitant taxes.  And in the wake of $6.00 gasoline in some parts of the state, Governor Gavin Newsom has asked Attorney General Xavier Becerra to investigate "If oil companies are engaging in false advertising or price fixing," according to KCRA, after a new report suggests that big oil companies are overcharging customers by as much as $1 per gallon.   Name brand retailers - including 76, Chevron and Shell - often charge more because they say their gasoline is of higher quality. But a new analysis from the California Energy Commission could not explain the price difference, concluding "there is no apparent difference in the quality of gasoline at retail outlets in the state."  The commission said California drivers paid an average of 30 cents more per gallon in 2018, with the difference getting as high as $1 per gallon in April of this year. The result is California drivers paid an additional $11.6 billion at the pump over the last five years. –KCRA "There is no identifiable evidence to justify these premium prices," Newsom wrote in a letter to Becerra.  That said, according to an April report in the Orange County Register, at $4 per gallon, approximately .98c of it is due to various taxes and fees. 

  • Federal excise tax — 18 cents
  • State excise tax — 42 cents
  • State and local sales tax — 8 cents
  • State underground storage tank fee — 2 cents*
  • Additional costs for compliance under Cap & Trade, as well as the Low Carbon Fuels Standard — 28 cents
  • Total — 98 cents

* Note: The state and local sales tax is calculated at an average state sales tax rate of 2.25% percent although actual sales tax rates vary throughout California.

That said, "Severin Borenstein, a professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and faculty director of the Energy Institute at Haas, said his own tax calculations came within a penny of that total. But the mystery surcharge — an added expense that has yet to be identified — has averaged 28 per cents a gallon from January through March of this year. When added to the taxes, that brings the total to about $1.26 a gallon," according to the report. 

US durable goods orders fall 1.1% in September - (AP) — Orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket manufactured goods tumbled in September by the largest amount in four months while a closely watched category that tracks business investment fell for a second month. The declines underscored the troubles manufacturing is having in the face of a global slowdown and trade war uncertainty. The Commerce Department said Thursday that orders for durable goods dropped 1.1% in September, the biggest setback since a 2.3% decline in May. Orders in a category that serves as a proxy for business investment spending dipped 0.5% following a 0.6% decline in July. Many economists say growth would have slowed even more without two interest rate cuts from the Federal Reserve. The Fed meets again next week and financial markets are looking for a third quarter-point rate reduction as insurance against a possible recession. U.S. manufacturing has been struggling this year as a global slowdown and President Donald Trump's get-tough trade policies have hurt export sales. Auto production was also curtailed because of a strike at General Motors. The 1.1% decline in orders for durable goods, items expected to last at least three years, reflected weakness in a number of areas led by transportation, which dropped 2.7%. Demand for commercial aircraft fell 11.8% in September after a 17.2% decline in August. This category has been hurt by the troubles at Boeing, which has suspended production of the 737 Max while two deadly crashes are being investigated. Auto production fell 1.6% in September, the second monthly decline, with weakness in this area reflecting in part a strike at General Motors. The GM strike, which began on Sept. 16, led to a 4.2% decline last month in auto production. The automaker reached a tentative 4-year deal last week with workers who took to the picket lines for a month. Excluding the volatile transportation sector, durable goods orders would still have declined 0.3% in September after a 0.3% increase excluding transportation in August. Orders for machinery edged up a slight 0.2% in September while demand for computers was up 1.4% and communications equipment rose 1.5%. The overall economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, is expected to have slowed to a rate around 1.5% in the just-completed July-September quarter, lower than the 2% growth seen in the second quarter.

Durable Goods Orders Tumble In September, Business Investment Contracts Most Since Trump Elected - After a solid rebound in June and July, analysts expected September to extend August's slowdown but things were considerably worse than expected as headline durable goods orders fell 1.1% MoM (-0.7% exp) leaving orders down 4.0% year-over-year. Shipments of non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft - a measure used in GDP calculations - fell 0.7%, more than forecast, after no change the prior month. The report showed the three-month annualized gain for business-equipment shipments declined... And finally, the proxy for business investment - bookings for non-military capital goods orders excluding aircraft - fell 0.5% after a downwardly revised 0.6% drop the prior month... and down 1.8% YoY - the weakest since Trump's election... As Bloomberg reports, cracks in manufacturing have been visible in other recent reports. One in six companies in the Philadelphia region plans to reduce capital spending next year because of President Donald Trump’s trade policies, a Federal Reserve survey shows. 

Boeing Backlash Begins- Spirit Airlines Orders 100 New Airbus Planes - For a little over a year, Florida-based Spirit Airlines was evaluating if it should buy Airbus SE A320neo or Boeing 737 Max planes. Then the Boeing crisis struck late last year, with one 737 Max crashing in October 2018, and the second Max crashing in March 2019.As a result, the entire global fleet of 737 Max planes was grounded in March, and seven months and counting with no clarity on when the aircraft would return to the air, flight regulators in Indonesia are about to release a formal report on Friday that will detail how major mechanical and design problems with a flight control system were responsible for the Lion Air 737 Max crash in October.  With too many mechanical uncertainties swirling around the 737 Max, now in a full-blown crisis for Boeing, there's an even more troubling trend that could doom Boeing even further: this involves Spirit Airlines ditching a potential Boeing order for Airbus.  Spirit expects to add 100 new A320neo planes to its fleet by 2021, reported Bloomberg.  The low-cost air carrier operates only Airbus 320 family models, is expected to have a fleet of 145 planes by year-end and 193 by 4Q21. Spirit could fly as many as 300 320s in the coming years. Like Spirit, many other carriers have given the 737 Max second thoughts since the crisis began about one year ago. 

US PMIs Rebound In October But Employment, New Orders Slump -- After September's bounce, expectations for preliminary US PMIs in October are mixed (better for Services, worse for Manufacturing) as Eurozone PMIs stagnated at multi-year lows this morning. In the US, the flash October data was better than expected...

  • US Manufacturing PMI 51.5 (51.1 prior, 50.9 exp)
  • US Services PMI 51.0 (50.9 prior, 51.0 exp)

This is the 2nd month in a row of rebound... However, Employment tumbled to 47.5 vs 48.6 in September, the lowest reading since Dec. 2009 (and second consecutive month of contraction) and new business falls vs prior month (lowest reading since series began).With US macro surprise data increasingly disappointing, we wonder how long this shallow bounce can be sustained.Commenting on the flash PMI data, Chris Williamson, Chief Business Economist at IHS Markit, said: “Despite business activity lifting from recent lows, the survey data point to annualized GDP growth of just under 1.5% at the start of the fourth quarter, and a near-stalling of new order growth to the lowest for a decade suggests that risks are tilted toward growth remaining below trend in coming months. Additionally, Williamson notes...“An increased rate of job culling adds to the gloomy picture, with jobs being lost among surveyed companies at a rate not seen since 2009. At current levels, the survey’s employment gauge indicates non-farm payroll growth slipping below 100,000.“The overall subdued picture reflects a spreading of economic weakness from manufacturing to services, but encouragingly we are now seeing some signs of manufacturing pulling out of its downturn, in part driven by a return to growth for exports and improved sentiment about the year ahead, linked to hopes that trade war tensions are starting to ease.

Richmond Fed: "Manufacturing Activity Strengthened in October" -- Earlier from the Richmond Fed: Manufacturing Activity Strengthened in October Fifth District manufacturing activity strengthened in October, according to the most recent survey from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. The composite index rose from −9 in September to 8 in October, as all three components — shipments, new orders, and employment — increased. Manufacturing firms also reported an increase in backlog of orders and improved local business conditions. Respondents were optimistic that conditions would continue to improve in the next six months. Many survey respondents saw growth in employment and wages in October and expected continued growth in the near term. However, manufacturers still struggled to find workers with the necessary skills in October and expected this difficulty to persist in the coming months. This was a better report - but not strong.

Kansas City Fed: "Tenth District Manufacturing Eased Slightly in October" From the Kansas City Fed: Tenth District Manufacturing Eased Slightly in October The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City released the October Manufacturing Survey today. According to Chad Wilkerson, vice president and economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, the survey revealed that Tenth District manufacturing activity eased slightly in October, and expectations for future activity inched lower but remained slightly positive. “Overall regional factory activity declined again in October,” said Wilkerson. “This was driven by further deterioration in durable goods production, as nondurable manufacturing expanded slightly for the second straight month.” The month-over-month composite index was -3 in October, down slightly from -2 in September, but above -6 in August. The composite index is an average of the production, new orders, employment, supplier delivery time, and raw materials inventory indexes. Many of the comments are downbeat: "Trade war with China is really hurting our export business …", “Less sales to China means less manufacturing.”, “Backlog dropping like a rock in past several months." Another weak regional manufacturing report.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims decreased to 212,000 --The DOL reported: In the week ending October 19, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 212,000, a decrease of 6,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 4,000 from 214,000 to 218,000. The 4-week moving average was 215,000, a decrease of 750 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 1,000 from 214,750 to 215,750. The previous week was revised up. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

A Face-Scanning Algorithm Increasingly Decides Whether You Deserve the Job  -An artificial intelligence hiring system has become a powerful gatekeeper for some of America’s most prominent employers, reshaping how companies assess their workforce — and how prospective employees prove their worth. Designed by the recruiting-technology firm HireVue, the system uses candidates’ computer or cellphone cameras to analyze their facial movements, word choice and speaking voice before ranking them against other applicants based on an automatically generated “employability” score.HireVue’s “AI-driven assessments” have become so pervasive in some industries, including hospitality and finance, that universities make special efforts to train students on how to look and speak for best results. More than 100 employers now use the system, including Hilton, Unilever and Goldman Sachs, and more than a million job seekers have been analyzed.  But some AI researchers argue the system is digital snake oil — an unfounded blend of superficial measurements and arbitrary number-crunching that is not rooted in scientific fact. Analyzing a human being like this, they argue, could end up penalizing nonnative speakers, visibly nervous interviewees or anyone else who doesn’t fit the model for look and speech.  The system, they argue, will assume a critical role in helping decide a person’s career. But they doubt it even knows what it’s looking for: Just what does the perfect employee look and sound like, anyway? “It’s a profoundly disturbing development that we have proprietary technology that claims to differentiate between a productive worker and a worker who isn’t fit, based on their facial movements, their tone of voice, their mannerisms,” said Meredith Whittaker, a co-founder of the AI Now Institute, a research center in New York.

UAW and GM Reach a Deal, But Will Autoworkers Support It? -- Jerri-Lynn here. GM autoworkers vote this week on a deal to end the month-long GM strike.  In this Real News Network interview, two former autoworker leaders examine how the militancy of rank and file union membership carried the current strike, how it could transform unions, and how this speaks to the larger struggle with capitalism.

Tennessee GM Workers Vote Down UAW-GM Proposed Deal - UAW members of UAW Local 1853, employed at General Motors’ Spring Hill, Tennessee facility, voted down a proposed tentative agreement by a margin of 1,673 against the contract to 1,666 in favor of the deal. The vote was a contentious one with UAW Local 1853 President Tim Stannard even calling the police on UAW members protesting the proposed contract outside of the union’s hall in Spring Hill. (Watch a video of the incident here)The failure to pass the contract, deep in the heart of “right-to-work” country, could be a bellwether of the difficulty UAW may have in passing the contract elsewhere. (See Payday’s story on the mobilization effort at the plant “Tennessee GM Workers Surprised By Outpouring of Community Support”) To pass the proposed tentative agreement, the UAW is relying on large assembly shops like Spring Hill to vote for it. Auto part makers, under the General Motors Components Holding division (GMCH) and GM warehouse workers, are both expected to vote heavily against the agreement. Both groups are employed under tiered wage systems that remained at lower tiers under terms dictated during the auto bailout.  “The contract is worthless,” said UAW Local 730 committeeman David Brown, who works at GMCH plant in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “I’m not trying to sell this shit to my members… [the UAW] can kiss my ass”.

 “GM paid for this vote”: Autoworkers denounce sellout contract as opposition grows - Tensions between autoworkers and the United Auto Workers are coming to a boil this week, as the UAW continues its attempts to force through the sellout contract and end the month-long walkout.“Informational meetings” throughout the country have already seen showdowns between union executives and workers opposed to the contract, which gives the company a blank check to use temporary workers with a bogus, years-long “pathway” for temps to be hired in, and confirms the company’s shutdown of Lordstown and three other facilities.In Spring Hill, Tennessee, local leadership called the cops on autoworkers campaigning for a “no” vote outside of the union hall. The contract was defeated later in the day. In Wentzville, Missouri yesterday, officials stopped a meeting while they forced a worker to cease livestreaming and yanked the microphone from workers who spoke against the contract, according to social media accounts.Autoworkers have also written to the World Socialist Web Site Autoworker Newsletter to voice their opposition. “GM paid for this vote, and [the UAW] sold their members down the road,” said one worker. “They have no backbone. The UAW does not care about the workers, they care about their own pockets. If the UAW cared about the workers, they would have taken the strike fund [up from] $250. Not like that crook Gary Jones making $5,000.00 a week.”“It’s sad, but the cheating has been going on for a very long time,” a retiree from Local 663 in Indiana wrote. “If there is a way, they will c heat. Most local leaders have to support the contract, or they face not receiving any future help from the International. So I would bet the [local] presidents and the chairmen along with shop committees will be pushing the agreement, even. [They have probably] further packed the billfolds and pockets of local committees with lots of overtime…and God only knows what [else].”

UAW members approve labor deal to end strike with GM; union selects Ford next— The United Auto Workers gave final approval Friday for a new four-year labor contract with General Motors. The ratification brings to an end the union’s 40-day strike, which cost the automaker well over $2 billion.Some of the union’s 48,000 members with GM are expected to return to work as early as Saturday, showing the automaker is wasting no time in recouping lost production from the work stoppage, which started Sept. 16.The contract was supported by 57% of members who voted, according to final results from the union. Less than 41,000 of the UAW’s roughly 48,000 workers with GM cast ballots. GM CEO and Chairman Mary Barra, in a statement, said the deal recognizes the company’s employees for “the important contributions they make to the overall success of the company, with a strong wage and benefit package and additional investment and job growth in our U.S. operations.”GM shares were up about 1% during after-market trading following reports of the ratification. The stock closed at $36.74, up 2.57%. The union on Friday said it will negotiate with Ford next, followed by Fiat Chrysler. Both companies had agreed to contract extensions so the union could concentrate on talks with GM. The union will use the GM deal as a template for negotiations with the other Detroit automakers.

UAW rams through sellout, shuts down strike at General Motors -  After a week-long balloting process marked by intimidation, lies and dubious balloting procedures, the United Auto Workers declared on Friday that its sellout agreement with General Motors had been ratified by GM workers. The shutdown of the strike, the longest national walkout in the American auto industry in 50 years, exposes the UAW as an agent of corporate management, organically hostile to the interests of autoworkers.The sellout at General Motors is the greatest warning to workers at Ford and Fiat Chrysler, who are next in line in the UAW’s “pattern bargaining” process. The UAW announced on Friday that it had selected Ford as its next “target” company. Ford is already demanding even deeper cuts than General Motors, in particular to healthcare.The treachery of the UAW is also a warning to 3,500 workers at Mack-Volvo Truck whose strike was abruptly shut down this week by the UAW after it announced a tentative agreement. The UAW felt compelled to keep workers on strike during balloting at General Motors. At Mack Truck, it shut the strike before even releasing details of the tentative agreement, making clear it is moving even more aggressively to force through concessions at the heavy truck manufacturer.“General Motors members have spoken,” UAW-GM Vice President Terry Dittes said with consummate cynicism in an official statement. “We are all so incredibly proud of UAW-GM members who captured the hearts and minds of a nation. Their sacrifice and courageous stand addressed the two-tier wages structure and permanent temporary worker classification that has plagued working class Americans.”In fact, the contract lays the foundation for the unrestricted replacement of senior workers with temps, who will be strung out with bogus promises of a “pathway” to regular employment, while the UAW makes its bid to serve as a temp agency for the auto companies. Through the development of new labor-management bodies and the maintenance of existing ones, the UAW will be, even more than before, jointly responsible with GM for a total restructuring of the workforce towards part-time, casual work.Such was the determination of the UAW to force through the contract and end the strike that workers at Flint Truck Assembly were sent online notices by the local to return to work on Saturday even before balloting had ended nationwide. None of the vote totals can be taken at face value, given that the UAW already demonstrated its willingness to stuff the ballot in 2015 at Ford.

Workers question legitimacy of UAW’s claims on GM contract ratification - Bitterness and anger are brewing after the UAW shut down the 40-day strike by 48,000 General Motors workers and announced the ratification of a concessions contract sanctioning the closure of four facilities and opening the door to a vast expansion of super-exploited temporary workers. In a statement released Friday afternoon, the UAW claimed 23,389 members voted “yes” and 17,501 voted “no” on the contract. The massive “no” vote is a devastating verdict on the UAW, even if one accepts the authenticity of the totals. The UAW posted a statement dripping with hypocrisy from President Gary Jones. “Their sacrifice and courageous stand addressed the two-tier wages structure and permanent temporary worker classification that has plagued working class Americans,” Jones said. In fact, the contract contains no limit on the use of temporary workers while maintaining the hated two-tier wage structure and in effect creating new multiple tiers among temp workers. The 40-day strike was the longest in the US auto industry since the 67-day walkout in 1970. Unlike that struggle, the just completed strike resulted in significant concessions. Workers at a number of factories defeated the contract by wide margins, including the Lordstown Assembly Plant, (412 “no” and 60 “yes”) closed under the new contract and the Rochester, New York GM Components Holding facility, formerly Delphi (83 percent “no”). The contract was defeated by an overall 58 percent margin at the Lansing Delta Township facility. There was a close vote at the GM Spring Hill Assembly Plant, where production workers (according to UAW figures) voted by 1,527 “no” to 1,486 “yes”. The UAW Local 1853 leadership called police on workers campaigning outside the union hall for rejection of the contract. At the massive Fort Wayne Assembly Plant, Local 2209 reported a razor-thin margin (50.8% yes 49.1% no) in favor of ratification. Actual vote totals at that plant were not released. Local UAW officials claimed the contract was ratified by relatively wide margins at several plants where there was substantial opposition, including the Arlington, Texas Assembly Plant, the Wentzville, Missouri facility and the Flint Michigan Truck Assembly. Several workers at the GM Wentzville Assembly outside St. Louis, where the UAW claimed the agreement passed by 63.5 percent among production workers, said they didn’t believe the tallies were legitimate. “I really don’t believe it,” said a temporary worker who’s worked there for several years. “Other workers are saying they don’t believe it.”

‘Go back to work’: outcry over deaths on Amazon’s warehouse floor - In September, Billy Foister, a 48-year-old Amazon warehouse worker, died after a heart attack at work. According to his brother, an Amazon human resources representative informed him at the hospital that Billy had lain on the floor for 20 minutes before receiving treatment from Amazon’s internal safety responders. “How can you not see a 6ft 3in man laying on the ground and not help him within 20 minutes? A couple of days before, he put the wrong product in the wrong bin and within two minutes management saw it on camera and came down to talk to him about it,” Edward Foister said. Amazon said it had responded to Foister’s collapse “within minutes”. An Amazon worker on the same shift told the Guardian: “Bill was on the floor for quite some time and nobody knew that time until cameras were reviewed, but in 20 minutes a worker in a nearby department saw him lying on the floor and then began radio callouts for 911. It really is unbelievable how Bill was laying there for 20 minutes and nobody nearby saw until an Amnesty worker with a radio came by.” The worker, who requested to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, noted the Amnesty worker started CPR after finding Foister. Amnesty workers are Amazon floor monitors who ensure the warehouse floors are clear and reset robot units when necessary. The incident is among the latest in a series of accidents and fatalities that have led to Amazon’s inclusion on the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health’s 2019 Dirty Dozen list of the most dangerous employers in the United States. The report cited six Amazon worker deaths between November 2018 and April 2019, and several news reports over the past few years that have detailed dangerous working conditions. .

 Video shows Fresno police officer shooting unarmed 10th grade boy in the head - A video made public yesterday shows police officer Ray Villalvazo shooting 16-year-old Isiah Murrietta-Golding in the head from behind as he was running away. Described as a “small boy,” Isiah was 5 foot 4 inches tall and weighed 109 pounds. He was a good student at the Carter G. Woodson school in Fresno, where he was in the 10th grade. He liked sports and playing video games with his siblings. He was shot in the head on April 14, 2017 in Fresno, California. He died in the hospital several days later. Police chief Jerry Dyer subsequently maintained that the shooting was justified. He claimed that the unarmed boy “reached into his waistband several times,” and that the officer fired in self-defense because he was afraid for his life. The video, taken from a surveillance camera, demonstrates that the official story is a complete fabrication. The boy is shown climbing over the fence of a preschool in broad daylight and then running a few steps onto a sunny green lawn. He does not “reach into his waistband” once, let alone several times. While one police officer attempts to scale the fence in pursuit, another police officer is shown crouching and firing a single shot through the bars of the fence. The fleeing boy immediately collapses. The video then shows an officer approaching the boy’s body, jerking it up by one arm like the carcass of a slaughtered animal, kicking it over, pulling the other limp arm out from under the body, and then putting the wrists in handcuffs. It was a Saturday, so the preschool was closed. After falling clumsily over the other side of the fence, Isiah ran several steps into the yard before being shot from behind. The bullet tore through his occipital lobe, according to the lawsuit. On the video, another police officer can be heard reacting to the shooting by shouting “good shot.” The video was released by Fresno attorney Stuart Chandler, who represents the boy’s father. The boy’s parents have a pending civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit against the officer and the City of Fresno, which is scheduled to proceed to trial next year.

Trump proposal denies free school meals to half a million children - The Trump administration has provided a new analysis of how proposed changes to eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, will impact children who participate in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs. By the White House’s own admission, these changes mean that about a half-million children would become ineligible for free school meals. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has described the changes as a tightening up of “loopholes” in the SNAP system. But those affected by the changes are not corporate crooks or billionaires, but hundreds of thousands of children who stand to lose access to free meals. For many American children, free school breakfasts and lunches make up the bulk of their nutritional intake, and they stand to suffer permanent physical and psychological damage as a result of the cuts. The sheer vindictiveness of the proposed rule change is shown by the minimal savings that would result—about $90 million a year beginning in fiscal year 2021, or a mere 0.012 percent of the estimated $74 billion annual SNAP budget. Put another way, the savings would amount to two-thousandths of a percent of the $4.4 trillion federal budget. But while this $90 million might appear as small change to the oligarchs running and supporting the government, it will be directly felt as hunger in the bellies of America’s poorest children. SNAP provided benefits to roughly 40 million Americans in 2018 and is the largest nutrition program of the 15 administered by the federal Food and Nutrition Service. Along with programs such as the Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children and school breakfast and lunch programs, SNAP has been a major factor in making a dent in the hunger of working-class families. But despite these programs’ successes, the Trump administration is seeking to claw them back, with the ultimate aim of doing away with them altogether. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which administers the food stamp and school meal programs, says that the new analysis presented last week is a more precise estimate of the impact of rule changes in SNAP the USDA first announced in July. The main component of the rule change is an end to “broad-based categorical eligibility” for the food stamp program. Food stamps are cut off for households whose incomes exceed 130 percent of the federal poverty line, or $33,475 per year for a family of four, calculated after exemptions for certain expenses.

Under digital surveillance: how American schools spy on millions of kids - For Adam Jasinski, a technology director for a school district outside of St Louis, Missouri, monitoring student emails used to be a time-consuming job. Jasinski used to do keyword searches of the official school email accounts for the district’s 2,600 students, looking for words like “suicide” or “marijuana”. Then he would have to read through every message that included one of the words.  Last year Jasinski heard about a new option: following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the technology company Bark was offering schools free, automated, 24-hour-a-day surveillance of what students were writing in their school emails, shared documents and chat messages, and sending alerts to school officials any time the monitoring technology flagged concerning phrases. The automated alerts were a game-changer, said Jason Buck, the principal of the Missouri district’s middle school. One Friday evening last fall, Buck was watching television at home when Bark alerted him that one of his students had just written an email to another student talking about self-harm. The principal immediately called the first student’s mother: “Is the student with you?” he asked. “Are they safe?”  Before his school used Bark, the principal said, school officials would not know about cyberbullying or a student talking about hurting themselves unless one of their friends decided to tell an adult about it. Now, he said, “Bark has taken that piece out of it. The other student doesn’t have to feel like they’re betraying or tattling or anything like that.” Although students at his school are aware they’re being monitored, they were surprised at first at how quickly school administrators could follow up on what they had typed, Buck said. “It’s not, ‘Hey, I sent this email two days ago,’ [it’s] ‘You just sent this email three minutes ago, let’s talk.’”

The Dangerous Push For More Technology In Schools  - If there ever were a Trojan Horse of public education, it is stabled with technologists now generously giving away Virtual Reality and other fun tech toys. Verizon, Google, and others have donated hundreds of millions in educational resources with no recognition that microwave wireless radiation should not be used close to the brains of young children. Betsy Devos, the current Secretary of Education, leads national efforts to sell local school districts on the capacity of charter schools to innovate in the use of laptops for students from preschool through primary school and high school.   There’s one major problem with this preference for machines over human beings.  For younger aged pupils, there is no evidence that educational technologies actually equip students with the fundamental skills of learning how to learn.  Among master teachers, parents and even growing numbers of students and social observers, a backlash is forming against the growing production of younger and younger eZombies.  When kindergarteners are given iPads, they do indeed spend hours of screen time. But measures of student retention of information from screen use in schools shows that students simply do not absorb the information as well. Further, their vision also suffers from focusing on screens with growing numbers of children needing eyeglasses at younger ages.   Research shows that the younger brain with its thinner skull and more porous bone marrow absorbs proportionally more wireless microwave radiation—which increases the long-term chances that cancer and other ailments will arise.  Studies also find that prenatally exposed animals produce offspring with altered brains and more damage to their testicles and other reproductive organs.  The psychiatrist Victoria Dunckley reports that fast-changing vivid images flashing before young eyes from small screens elicit states of hyperarousal. Boosted by dopamine and other feel-good neurotransmitters, brains of toddlers and youngsters easily succumb to powerfully addictive feedback loops More and more middle school children are being treated for attention deficit disorder, depression, headaches, eye strain and hearing problems. Achievement test scores in schools that rely heavily on digital learning systems are substantially lower than those of other schools.  As many pediatricians and experts in neurodevelopment are urging, we need a reset on early education. While software can achieve much, it is no substitute for careful teaching of the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic at young ages through direct eye contact with papers and books and using pencils and crayons on paper. Neuropsychiatrists explain that the capacity to look a person in the eye is tied as well to the ability to make careful closed loops of script and is best learned in the first eight years of life.  The slow steady erosion of handwriting—a skill typically taught in elementary school —could impair reading, writing and memory.

Flyover Folk Fume As TX Court Okays A Seven-Year-Old's Transition - An event in Texas has the Lone Star voters and the rest of the common-sense thinking electorate foaming at the mouth to lock up a pediatrician for child abuse. Dr. Anne Georgulas, a mother of twin seven-year-old boys, apparently wants a little girl and has petitioned the court to allow a chemically medical transition on one twin, which would include puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones. One thoughtful Oklahoman asked, “If he doesn’t go through puberty how does he even know he wants to be a girl?” A good question, though a lot of folks went a bit radical on answers. No one was for allowing the mother the right to practice medicine on any other child, and many were all for removing the twins from her custody.  In Texarkana, Jimmy James was shaken.“So sick. Shouldn’t be allowed to do this. It’s a decision that this kid when an adult should make.  The mother is insane !!!”Tinna Alongi wasn’t very kind in her assessment of the situation: “Hard to fathom a jury sided with the mother, allowing her sole medical rights.  Also hard to fathom this bats**t crazy mother is a pediatrician.”

Ron Paul- Homeschoolers Are Educated, Not Indoctrinated - Schoolchildren across the country recently skipped school or walked out of class to rally for new restrictions on our economic and personal liberties in the name of fighting “climate change.” Instead of punishing students for playing hooky to promote a political cause, many teachers and administrators allowed, or even encouraged, students to skip school to attend these events. Public schools have also given students the day off to attend pro-gun control rallies. The trend toward allowing students to miss school for political protests is an example of how indoctrination in left-wing ideology and politics has replaced actual education in many government schools. Some teachers may have seen their students’ eagerness to show support for authoritarian policies like the “Green New Deal” as confirmation of the teachers’ success in convincing students that the “science is settled” regarding climate change. The truth is that science regarding the causes, extent, and effects of climate change is far from settled. But you won’t learn that in most government schools.Misleading students on climate change is far from the only, or even the worst, example of how student education is being shortchanged in order to promote socialism and its cousin, cultural Marxism. Government schools in Seattle are implementing a program called “Math Ethnic Studies.”As the title suggests, this replaces traditional mathematics with a curriculum built around the insane idea that math is not an objective truth, but a construct reflecting the interests of society’s dominant economic, social, and racial groups. Among the questions the students are supposed to ask in this new curriculum are, “how is math manipulated to allow inequality and oppression in society?” and “who’s to say what is right?” In other words, two plus two may or may not equal four depending on one’s group identity. Students who take this course may not be qualified to become scientists or engineers, but they will be qualified to agitate for expanded welfare and new limits on free speech in the name of “social justice.” The politicization and dumbing down of government education does have an upside: it is leading more parents to pull their children out of government schools and homeschool instead. Homeschooling allows parents to ensure their children receive a quality education that does not undermine their political or other values.

A 14-year-old boy shot his way in to a school before turning the gun on himself. Now his mother is facing 6 felony charges. - Mary York, 43, has been charged with five counts of neglect of a dependent, one count of dangerous control of a child, and one misdemeanor count of criminal recklessness. Court documents obtained by Indianapolis station WXIN said York withdrew her son from a mental-health treatment program after 10 days, because it wasn't covered by insurance and she couldn't afford it.  York told media that her son never expressed homicidal intentions to her and that no doctor informed her of her son's diagnosis. An Indiana mother who warned authorities that her 14-year-old son was about to shoot up a middle school is now facing six felony charges in connection with the incident. Mary York, 43, called police on December 13, 2018, telling them her son had taken her boyfriend hostage at gunpoint and was about to head for his former middle school, where he had been bullied in the past.When the child arrived, he was armed with a rifle, pistol, ammunition, Molotov cocktails, and a written plan, according to Indiana State Police. But authorities, having already been warned by the child's mother, got to the school before the boy and locked it down.The boy shot through the glass and entered the building, before police officers confronted him. After a shootout, the boy turned his gun on himself and pulled the trigger, police said. He died at the scene.No other students, staff members, or police officers were injured in the incident.

Pennsylvania School District Votes To Replace Locker Rooms With $2.4 Million Gender-Neutral Facilities -Gone are the days of boys fantasizing about sneaking into the girls locker room, at least in Eastern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  That's because the Eastern Lancaster County School District voted this past week to create non-gender specific facilities instead of traditional gender-specific locker rooms, according to Fox 29. The policy was unanimously passed on the first student day of the 2019-2020 school year.The $2.4 million plan for Garden Spot High School will include four "zones" that hold a total of 48 changing rooms and 76 private showers. The showers can also double as changing rooms, since they will be private, making a total of 124 total changing rooms. The Board commented: “This District policy states that multi-user locker rooms and restrooms will be separated based on biological sex. But the idea behind the policy is much deeper. We’ve worked hard to arrive at a solution that balances varied interests – which is why we’re systematically converting multi-user facilities into a series of single-user facilities.” Starting this year, there are also 13 single-user restrooms being made available to students. “ELANCO prides itself in not simply providing reasonable accommodations to those who need them, but going above and beyond to provide extraordinary accommodations for all its students,” the board continued.  The restrooms only mark a first step in a "much larger inclusivity initiative" that will include specified classrooms for teams to meet during competition, when they would normally meet in a locker room. We're sure those classrooms will smell terrific the next day.  The rooms "will have entry points in public areas of schools so that any student, regardless of assigned sex and gender identity can access them."

Iowa Teacher On Leave Over Greta Thunberg Facebook Comment — An Iowa high school science teacher has been placed on administrative leave after he made what appeared to be a threatening social media comment about 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg. The Waterloo Community School District said Friday in an emailed statement that the teacher, Matt Baish, has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.  Baish’s removal followed a Facebook comment he purportedly posted about Thunberg’s planned appearance Friday in Iowa City for a student-led climate strike demonstration, asking “Who’s all going?” In response, a user named Matt Baish wrote, “Dont have my sniper rifle.” West High School’s website lists Baish as a science teacher at the school. There was no answer Friday at a phone listing for Baish.

Chicago teachers’ strike in danger as CTU maneuvers to shut it down - The strike by 32,000 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) educators entered its third school day today. The tens of thousands of striking teachers and staff are fighting for smaller class sizes, increased numbers of critical support staff like librarians, nurses and social workers, and additional funding for the US’s third largest school system. CPS, a centerpiece of the Democratic Party’s corporate education “reform” policy, has slashed spending not only on teachers and staff but at every level, resulting in crumbling school buildings and practically nonexistent instructional supplies and resources in a city where social inequality has skyrocketed. The defense of public education and teachers has enormous support in the working class. However, this struggle’s success depends on a clear understanding of what teachers are up against—who are their friends and who are their enemies. First, the fight to secure the right to public education for everyone, along with a livable income and reliable benefits for themselves, places teachers in direct conflict with the entire political establishment, and in particular the Democratic Party, which dominates Chicago politics. Chicago’s newly elected mayor, Lori Lightfoot, has made clear where her administration stands in relation to the demands of the teachers. “The fact is there is no more money. Period,” she has proclaimed. This is absurd in a city and state dominated by the Pritzker family, which has a net worth of $29 billon. Additionally, Lightfoot has canceled classes each day of the strike, stating that there would be no make-up days for students. This opens the way for strike days to be effectively furloughs, days teachers would not be paid. CTU offers no strike pay. .

Lightfoot administration ratchets up pressure on Chicago teachers to end the walkout - The 32,000 teachers and staff of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) continue to strike for a fourth day on Tuesday. Fed up with overcrowded and filthy classrooms lacking basic educational necessities, stagnant wages and practically non-existent support services, CPS teachers are determined to win the resources they and their students require. The ruling class in Chicago, however, is determined to prevent any of these demands from being realized. In a joint letter to Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Jesse Sharkey, Chicago’s Democratic Party Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Janice Jackson called on the union to “end the strike” and return teachers to the classroom “while bargaining continues.” In the letter, Lightfoot and Jackson disingenuously appeal to the “hardships” faced by students and their families as they miss classes, extracurricular activities and even meals provided by the school system, completely ignoring the hardships these same students and families face as a direct result of their austerity policies. Claiming that CPS had “put it in writing” changes to class sizes and staffing issues, as teachers have demanded, the letter suggests that it is only the union’s “approval process” that is holding up the conclusion of a deal. Later, at an afternoon press conference, Lightfoot expanded on the comments in her letter, saying, “Beyond what we’ve put on the table, there is no more money.” She also lashed out at the attention placed by striking teachers on the city’s gift of over a billion dollars of public funding on the massive Lincoln Yards development. “We cannot strike a deal based on the illusion that there is Lincoln Yards money available that we can just shift somewhere else.” Dismissively, she said that teachers’ demands would cost $2.4 billion and increase the schools budget by 40 percent. Reports of the letter and Lightfoot’s press conference came just hours after Sharkey told reporters at Gray Elementary on the Northwest Side that a resolution was in sight and might take only “a day or two” following what the union characterized as productive bargaining sessions over the weekend. By evening, Sharkey’s tone shifted. Having initially said, “I don’t see any reason why it can’t happen later this week,” Sharkey stated at an evening CTU press conference, “I find my hopes [for a quick resolution] dashed.” He further said, “Unless there’s a change at the top of this city in regards to their willingness to make meaningful changes, we’re not likely seeing a quick settlement to the current strike.”

Teachers’ union calls on Elizabeth Warren in bid to strangle strike against Chicago’s Democratic machine - A rally of striking Chicago teachers and support staff on Tuesday, featuring presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, exposed the danger of betrayal facing the 32,000 workers now in the fifth day of their strike. The powerful walkout has shut down the third largest school system in the country, serving 300,000 students. The strike is in peril not because of any lack of militancy or determination on the part of the teachers, school nurses, counselors, social workers, janitors and bus aides manning the picket lines. On the contrary, Tuesday’s mass picket and rally at DePriest High School on the city’s west side, attended by hundreds of school workers, expressed the militancy and anger of the strikers and the broad support for their struggle in the working class of Chicago and the entire country.Rather, the lineup of the national AFT and local Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) leadership with the Democratic Party, in an attempt once again to channel the opposition of educators to the destruction of the public schools behind the election of Democratic politicians, repeats the same strategy that was used to isolate and sell out all of the teachers’ strikes of the past two years. In this conspiracy against the school workers, the CTU is joined by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which negotiates for a section of CPS support staff.The rally was held following an insulting and provocative public letter sent Monday by Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Janice Jackson to CTU President Jesse Sharkey. The letter declared there was “no money” to meet the teachers’ demands for more support staff and funding and for smaller class sizes. It called on the union to end the strike while contract talks continued.Only hours before the letter was published, Sharkey, who had promised a “short-term strike” on the eve of the walkout, was trumpeting substantial “progress” and predicting an early end to the strike. The letter exposed his effort to dupe the teachers and lull them into a return to work on the city’s terms.

Tens of thousands of Chicago teachers and staff rally as Lightfoot administration announces austerity budget - The strike by 32,000 teachers and school workers in Chicago is at a critical juncture. The powerful strike, which is completing its first full week today, has shut down the third-largest school district of more than 300,000 students. In the face of a protest of tens of thousands of striking teachers, workers and youth in downtown Chicago yesterday, the administration of Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot doubled down on its insistence that there is “no money” to meet teachers’ demands. On Wednesday evening, after presenting a new austerity budget in City Hall, Lightfoot arrogantly declared to the Chicago Sun-Times, “We won’t bail out CPS, pay for everything [that] teachers” want. She continued, “What we’ve been very clear about, is they’ve got to live within their means, whatever those means are and they can’t exceed that, and look to the city to bail them out. There is not an unlimited pot of money to fund everything they want.” Lightfoot’s new budget calls for an increase in regressive taxes that will hit the working class. Most significantly, it calls for an increase of funding for the police department by more than $120 million while cutting funding for the Department of Family and Support Services by over $100,000. Lightfoot also called for budgetary “sacrifices,” implementing a “zero-based budgeting” system. While the city budget is different than the budget for CPS, the money she has promised to transfer from the city’s Tax Increment Financing funds to the school district, a total of $160 million, is wholly inadequate for the needs of Chicago teachers and students. In other words, teachers will get nothing, and public education will be further undermined and privatized in one of the most unequal cities in the United States.

The End Of College Is Coming  -Forbes - Every spring, millions of American high school kids are faced with this choice. It sounds like a no-brainer. And it used to be a no-brainer... because college used to cost a reasonable amount of money. As recently as 1980, you could get a four-year bachelor’s degree at a public school for less than $10,000, on average. These days it’ll cost you at least $40,000… or upward of $140,000 for a private school... or well over $250,000 for a top school. Unless a kid has rich parents or a full ride scholarship, he must borrow a ton of money to pay for the privilege of attending college.A few weeks ago, I wrote about how America’s broken healthcare industry was bankrupting families. Well, the cost of college has jumped WAY more than the cost healthcare.The cost of a four-year degree has shot up 15X in the past 40 years, as you can see here: If car prices jumped as much as tuition, a base model Toyota Corolla would cost $90,000 today. As costs have zoomed higher, kids are burying themselves under bigger and bigger piles of debt. Student loan balances have snowballed over 400% in the past 15 years. Last month, they hit $1.5 trillion:If student debt were a stock, every Wall Street analyst would be screaming “bubble.”And get this… Americans now owe more for student debt than they owe for credit cards and auto loans... combined!In fact, the average kid takes out $35,000 in debt… a 75% jump in 10 years. That’s a deep hole to dig out of before you’re legally allowed to drink beer.And student loans are the only type of debt you can’t escape, no matter what.Declaring bankruptcy can wipe away your mortgage, your credit card debt, and even stop IRS wage garnishments. But it won’t take a penny off your student loans.Turn 65 and haven’t paid off your student loans? They’ll raid your Social Security check each month.  As you may know, the Federal government practically owns the student loan market.More than 94% of all student loans come directly from the US government. And the small 6% slice that doesn’t come from the government is still fully guaranteed by the government.If you’ve applied for a mortgage lately, you know it’s a painful process. You fill out stacks of paperwork, pay steep fees, and hand over a full accounting of your family’s finances.But thanks to Uncle Sam, trillions of dollars in student loans get handed out to 17-year-old kids like candy on Halloween. This free money has warped the whole system and pushed college costs far beyond all reason. Think about it this way: When banks were handing out no-money-down mortgages in the early 2000s to anyone with a pulse, what happened to house prices?

Trump administration official resigns, calls for student debt forgiveness - A senior government official appointed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos resigned Thursday, saying the current student loan system is “fundamentally broken” and calling for billions of dollars in debt to be forgiven. A. Wayne Johnson was hired as the chief operating officer of the Office of Federal Student Aid, which manages the country’s $1.6 trillion outstanding student loan portfolio. He later worked in a strategic role, directing how student loans are serviced for borrowers. Just last week, DeVos called Democrats’ plans to erase student debt “crazy.” “Who do they think is actually going to pay for these?” DeVos said in an interview on Fox News. Johnson told The Wall Street Journal he reached his conclusion after watching climbing defaults and realizing that a majority of student debt will never be repaid. Indeed, five years into repayment, half of student loan borrowers haven’t paid even $1 toward their debt’s principal, according to the Education Department’s own data. And 40% of student loan borrowers could default by 2023, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution. “We run through the process of putting this debt burden on somebody … but it rides on their credit files — it rides on their back — for decades,” Johnson, who wrote his dissertation at Mercer University on student debt, told the Journal. “The time has come for us to end and stop the insanity,” he added. Johnson proposes forgiving $50,000 in student debt for all borrowers, about $925 billion, according to the newspaper. For people who’ve already repaid their debt, he suggests offering them a $50,000 tax credit. The plan would be paid for with a 1% tax on corporate earnings. At the same time, Johnson announced he’d be running for an open Senate seat in Georgia.

Betsy DeVos held in contempt for violating order on student loans - President Donald Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, and the Education Department were held in civil contempt by a federal judge on Thursday for violating an order to stop collecting loan payments from now-defunct Corinthian College. The Department of Education had been ordered to stop collecting on the federal loans of students who attended the school, which closed in 2015. However, the department disclosed it had continued to garnish wages and seize tax returns of thousands of borrowers. Others had erroneously paid money toward loans. The federal judge also imposed a $100,000 fine for violating the order. The government will pay the fine, not DeVos personally, Politico reported. In a statement posted to Twitter, the Department of Education said it was "disappointed in the court's ruling." "We acknowledged that servicers made unacceptable mistakes," the department said. "Betsy DeVos directed FAFSA to take immediate action to help every impacted borrower. As of today, FAFSA has taken the actions needed to make every impacted borrower whole.”

Sallie Mae execs tan at Maui retreat while student debt crisis tops $1.6 trillion — As 1 in 5 American adults wonder how to pay off their combined $1.6 trillion in student debt, Sallie Mae executives and sales team members wrestled with a different question: Between meetings, how should they spend their time on their five-day paid trip to the luxury Fairmont resort on Wailea beach in Maui? Sallie Mae brought more than 100 of its employees to Hawaii in August to celebrate a record year — $5 billion in student loans to 374,000 borrowers. The company said it didn’t pay for employees’ families to attend, but some did tag along. “We said, ‘Hey, look, Maui is a pretty nice spot.’ And so if you wanted to stay a few days or want to bring family, that's up to you,” Ray Quinlan, CEO of Sallie Mae, told NBC News on the grounds of the Fairmont Hotel. Quinlan, in a walk-and-talk with NBC News, said the trip to Maui was not an “incentive trip.” “This is a sales get-together for all of our salespeople,” he said, adding the publicly traded company has been taking retreats like the Maui one since it was founded in the 1970s to service federal education loans. Since then, the lender's trajectory has changed, now offering private loans. But in 2014, the company split into two: Sallie Mae Bank, which offers private loans, and Navient, a newly formed offshoot which services and collects loans, including those that Sallie Mae sold. Sallie Mae’s borrowers, however, have said the company doesn’t treat them nearly as well as it does its sales team.  “We worry about private student loans,” said Ashley Harrington, senior policy counsel on student debt at the nonpartisan Center for Responsible Lending (CRL). “They don’t have the same protections for borrowers” that federal loans have, she said.Harrington said private student loans often employ subprime lending practices and give loans to people who will likely be unable to pay them back, adding the issue disproportionately affects black, Latino, Native American and female students. “Sallie Mae had a big part in creating a place where we are in the student debt crisis,” Harrington said, and student debt stalls people from buying homes and starting a small business, dragging the economy. Black undergraduate students with debt are unable to afford their loans at five times the rate of white bachelor’s degree graduates, a 2019 study in part done by the CRL found. The attorney general of Illinois sued Navient and Sallie Mae in 2017, accusing the company of deceptive subprime lending, a failure to offer proper repayment options, and faulty collection practices.

 Youth suicide rate skyrockets in the US: A symptom of a rotting social order - A report released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that the suicide rate among Americans aged 10 to 24 years old increased by 56 percent between 2007 and 2017. Within the span of a decade, suicide deaths increased from 6.8 deaths per 100,000 people to 10.6 deaths. In real numbers that means in 2017 there were 2,449 more suicides than in 2007. In the same period, suicide ideation, or thoughts of suicide, and suicide attempts doubled for adolescents and young adults.In the United States, suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth aged 12-18. These are remarkable statistics. One could hardly imagine a more chilling indication of the extreme levels of social distress pervading society. How is such a phenomenon to be explained? Perhaps more importantly, wherein lies the solution to such daily horrors? While certainly distressing, the figures are hardly incomprehensible. Working class youth today are facing social and economic conditions unparalleled since the 1930s.. Many cannot afford housing and health care, let alone embark on any of the natural milestones of life such as getting married or having kids. Working class youth today enter adulthood on the brink of economic catastrophe, often drowning in student debt. One in five millennials are living below the poverty line, and over 60 percent of Americans say that they do not have enough money to cover a $500 emergency. Many can expect to remain in this state their whole lives.   Such conditions have profound consequences for physical and mental health. The primary reason for this dire economic situation is not “laziness” or “moral degeneration” of young people as some of the cruder analysts suggest. This generation of workers are more highly educated than any other generation alive. Many are working two, three or four jobs to make ends meet. More than 40 percent of new college graduates, on average, are underemployed and about two-thirds of these graduates will remain in jobs that do not require a college degree years after graduation.  Despite vast advances in science and technology as a whole, this new generation of workers live their lives running from one job to another without any stability or social safety net. Commonplace are stories of Amazon workers, college lecturers, and students living in their cars in the parking lots outside their workplaces trying to make ends meet. Public school teachers leave the classroom at the end of the day and drive for hours a night working for Uber to afford their bills. Young auto workers are brought on as “Temporary Part-time” employees for years at a time for a fraction of the rate paid to full-time workers doing the same jobs.

To retire at 65, millennials will need to save nearly half of their paycheck - If you think the standard recommendation of putting 15% of your paycheck toward retirement is impossible to achieve, get ready for an even bigger hurdle. At least one retirement expert thinks that number should be much higher.Millennials should aim to set aside nearly half of their income for the future, according to Olivia S. Mitchell, professor of insurance/risk management and business economics & public policy, and executive director of Wharton's Pension Research Council at the University of Pennsylvania. If you want to live off even half of your final salary in retirement, you need to save 40% of your income over the next 30 years, she says.That calculation, which is based off academic research from an MIT economist, takes into account a few assumptions. The biggest is that you want to retire at 65. That's not much of a stretch: About a third of millennials say they expect to retire between the ages of 65 and 69,according to a recent T. Rowe Price survey. However, 43% of millennials say they actually expect to retire earlier.Yet about half of millennials are planning to contribute less than 6% of their income to a 401(k) this year, the T. Rowe Price survey found. Only about one in five are currently saving more than 15% of their income.The second major assumption is that investment returns over the next few decades aren't going to match the roughly 10% historical returns Americans have enjoyed previously. Most people are not told by financial advisors that their future returns will likely be much lower than in the past, and their future taxes will likely be much higher," Mitchell tells CNBC Make It.

Male-To-Female Professor Wins Women's Cycling Championship Again, Taunts Female Critics - For the second year in a row, a male professor who identifies as female has won the gold medal in the Masters Track Cycling World Championship for the women’s division, ages 35-39.  Tenured philosopher Rachel McKinnon of the College of Charleston also “set a new world best time in qualifying,” Cycling Weekly reports.McKinnon has not been shy in responding to criticism from biologically female athletes who claim the transgender professor has an unfair advantage by virtue of a male body.When tennis great Martina Navratilova called for the exclusion of biological men from women’s sports, McKinnon responded that it would be the same as excluding black women.Before the race, former Masters women’s champion Victoria Hood told Sky News that “the science is there and it says that it is unfair” for biological men to compete in women’s sports:The male body, which has been through male puberty, still retains its advantage, that doesn’t go away.I have sympathy with [transgender athletes]. They have a right to do sport but not a right to go into any category they want.McKinnon issued a press release in a pinned tweet Saturday denouncing Hood for arguing against “the rights of transgender women to full and equal treatment under British law” – the competition was held in England – “as well as international sport” and the cycling organization that runs the Masters.It said that Hood provided no evidence that she had ever raced McKinnon, as Hood claims, and noted that Hood was in a different age bracket than McKinnon, so the two would not have directly competed at Saturday’s championship. (Hood didn’t participate in any category.)“Ms. Hood has expressed an irrational fear of trans women. An irrational fear of trans women is the dictionary definition of transphobia. Transphobia has no place in sport,” the release says.

Steps to Prevent Dementia May Mean Taking Actual Steps - To ward off age-related cognitive decline, you may be tempted to turn to brain training apps. Last year, consumers spent nearly $2 billion on them, some of which claim to improve cognitive skills. Evidence suggests you’d be better off spending more time exercising and less time staring at your phone.This year the World Health Organization released evidence-based guidelines on reducing risks of cognitive decline and dementia. Although it pointed to some systematic reviews that reported positive cognitive effects of brain training, the W.H.O. judged the studies to be of low quality. Among the studies’ limitations is that they measure only short-term effects and in areas targeted by the training.There is no long-term evidence of general improvement in cognitive performance.Instead of mind games, moving your body is among the most helpful things you can do. At least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, including strength training, yields not just physical benefits but cognitive ones as well. But to be most effective, you need to do it before cognitive decline starts, according to the W.H.O.Some evidence to support this recommendation comes from short-term studies. Several randomized studies of tai chi for older adults found it yielded cognitive benefits. Likewise, randomized studies of aerobic exercise for older adults found short-term improvements in cognitive performance. A systematic review published this year in PLOS One examined 36 randomized studies of exercise programs that were as short as four weeks and as long as a year. It found cognitive benefits of activities such as bicycling, walking, jogging, swimming and weight training.

Drug Watchdog Finds $5.1 Billion in Price Gouging on 9 Drugs -- The ICER (Institute for Clinical and Economic Review) is an independent and non-partisan research organization. Its purpose is to evaluate the clinical and economic value of prescription drugs, medical tests, and health care and health care delivery innovations. ICER conducts rigorous analyses of all clinical data with key stakeholders to include patients, doctors, life science companies, private insurers, and the government and translate the evidence into policy decisions that lead to a more effective, efficient, and just health care system.As explained by their site information, ICER is known as the nation’s independent watchdog on drug pricing. Its drug assessment reports include a full analysis of how well each new drug works and the resulting “clinical value, quality of life, benefit to the health-care system and society” used to establish a price. Using the drug assessment report, a “value-based price benchmark” is established  reflecting how each drug should be priced addressing all four factors. Reports also evaluate the potential short-term budget impact of new drugs to alert policymakers to situations when short-term costs may strain health system budgets and lead to restrictions on patient access. Ensuring objectivity in its work, all ICER reports are produced with funding from non-profit foundations and other sources that are free of conflicts of interest from the life science industry or insurers.  What I have seen in the past is the ICER establishing pricing for new drugs taking into consideration these factors; “the patient’s quality of life, and the resulting benefits to the health-care system, and society.” This is the first time I am seeing the ICER looking at price increases and determining whether the value delivered substantiates a price increase. By the numbers:Here are the drugs (and manufacturers) highlighted in a recent ICER’s report, with the increase in net spending attributable to each drug’s price increase, and citing the increases could not be justified by the value delivered.

Massive marketing muscle pushes 3D mammograms, despite no evidence they save more lives, investigation shows - A KHN investigation found that manufacturers, hospitals, doctors and some patient advocates have put their marketing muscle – and millions of dollars – behind 3D mammograms. The juggernaut has left many women feeling pressured to undergo screenings, which, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, haven’t been shown to be more effective than traditional mammograms. “There’s a lot of money to be made,” said Dr. Steven Woloshin, director of the Center for Medicine and Media at The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, who published a study in January showing that the health care industry spends $30 billion a year on marketing.KHN’s investigation shows that industry money has shaped policy, public opinion and patient care around 3D by:

  • Paying influential doctors. In the past six years, 3D equipment manufacturers – including Hologic, GE Healthcare, Siemens Medical Solutions USA and Fujifilm Medical Systems USA – have paid doctors and teaching hospitals more than $240 million, including more than $9.2 million related to 3D mammograms, according to a KHN analysis of the Medicare Open Payments database. Just over half of that money was related to research; other payments covered speaking fees, consulting, travel, meals or drinks. The database shows that influential journal articles – those cited hundreds of times by other researchers – were written by doctors with financial ties to the 3D industry.
  • Marketing directly to consumers. Manufacturers have urged women to demand “the better mammogram,” using celebrity spokeswomen such as breast cancersurvivor Sheryl Crow. Manufacturers spent $14 million to market 3D screening over the past four years, not including spending on social media, according to Kantar Media, which tracks the advertising industry.
  • Lobbying state lawmakers. Private insurers in 16 states are now legally required to cover 3D screenings, along with Medicaid programs in 36 states and Washington, D.C. Officials at Hologic, the leading manufacturer, told KHN that about 95% of insured women have coverage for tomosynthesis.
  • Funding experts and advocates. Hologic has given educational grants to the American Society of Breast Surgeons, a medical association that recentlyrecommended 3D mammograms as its preferred screening method, according to the group’s website. Hologic declined to reveal amounts. Hologic also has fundedpatient advocates such as the Black Women’s Health Imperative, which lobbies for access to 3D mammograms.

Enthusiasm for 3D has sparked a medical technology arms race, with hospitals and radiology practices competing to offer the newest equipment. Patients have caught the fever, too. When rural hospitals can’t afford 3D machines, foundations often pitch in to raise money. More than 63% of mammography facilities offer 3D screenings, first approved for sale in 2011.

We Found Over 700 Doctors Who Were Paid More Than a Million Dollars by Drug and Medical Device Companies - ProPublica Back in 2013, ProPublica detailed what seemed a stunning development in the pharmaceutical industry’s drive to win the prescription pads of the nation’s doctors: In just four years, one doctor had earned $1 million giving promotional talks and consulting for drug companies; 21 others had made more than $500,000. Six years later — despite often damning scrutiny from prosecutors and academics — such high earnings have become commonplace. More than 2,500 physicians have received at least half a million dollars apiece from drugmakers and medical device companies in the past five years alone, a new ProPublica analysis of payment data shows. And that doesn’t include money for research or royalties from inventions. “Holy smokes,” said Dr. Walid Gellad, an associate professor of medicine and health policy at the University of Pittsburgh, where he leads the Center for Pharmaceutical Policy and Prescribing. It is “quite striking” how much money doctors were earning from “other activities aside from patient care,” he said. To identify the latest pharma millionaires and other spending trends, ProPublica analyzed more than 56 million payments made from 2014 to 2018 — the first five full years of the federal Open Payments initiative, which requires companies to publicly disclose the payments as part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Here are the drugs for which pharmaceutical companies spent the most money paying doctors, per year, excluding research and royalty payments. The list does not include payments to teaching hospitals. Data for 2014-2016 is from a prior release of Dollars for Docs and any subsequent updates are not reflected.

 Four Companies Settle Just Before Bellwether Opioids Trial Was to Begin Today in Ohio -- Jerri-Lynn Scofield --Four companies settled opioids claims with two Ohio counties just before a bellwether federal opioids trial was due to begin today in Ohio. This multidistrict litigation (MDL),  the largest and most complex civil case in US history, pits a myriad of plaintiffs against defendants arrayed throughout the opioids supply chain. Today’s trial brought by two Ohio counties, was slated to be the first courtroom action of the MDL. By allowing the Ohio trial to proceed, the parties would have seen how their arguments play out in court and what value this jury – and by extension, other juries – place on plaintiffs’ claims. Information previously not yet made public would have been presented – including documents and witness testimony – providing grist for other actions. Distributors AmerisourceBergen,  Cardinal Health, and McKesson, and manufacturer Teva Pharmaceutical, agreed to pay $260 million to settle this action, joining Allergen, Endo, Insys Therapeutics,  Johnson & Johnson, and Mallinckrodt, who had already entered into settlements with the counties. These pertain to this trial only, and they are still on the hook for damages in other pending litigation; opioids lawsuits are far from over. The Wall Street Journal noted in Four Drug Companies Reach Last-Minute Settlement in Opioid LitigationMcKesson, Cardinal and AmerisourceBergen collectively controlled 95% of the U.S. drug distribution market in 2018, according to Drug Channels Institute, which provides research on the drug-supply chain. As the Wall Street Journal reported in Opioid-Addiction Litigation Heads to Complex Trial: Widespread use of legal and illegal opioids has ravaged many communities in America, killing at least 400,000 people in the U.S. since 1999. That sobering reality has led virtually every state and more than 2,500 cities, counties, Native American tribes, hospitals and others to file opioid-crisis lawsuits seeking to blame drugmakers and distributors for fueling the problem. The majority of the lawsuits have been consolidated in federal court in Cleveland in front of [federal district court judge Dan] Polster.  Monday’s trial will test the claims of Ohio’s Cuyahoga and Summit counties, which were selected by Judge Polster to serve as a test case to help guide the rest of the lawsuits centralized in front of him. One major target of the lawsuits, Purdue Pharma, was also excluded from participating, as it filed for bankruptcy in September (see Purdue Files for Bankruptcy, Agrees to Settle Some Pending Opioids Litigation: Sacklers on Hook for Billions?).

 Major distributors and manufacturers of opioids avert trial by reaching $260 million wrist-slap settlement in Ohio - On Monday, three major drug distributors and Teva Pharmaceuticals, the Israel-based manufacturer, avoided a landmark federal opioid trial by reaching a wrist-slap settlement with two Ohio counties for $260 million. The agreement was reached shortly after midnight and announced in the morning. Under the agreement, the nation’s three largest distributors, AmerisourceBergen, McKesson, and Ohio-based Cardinal Health—the three distribute 90 percent of all medicines to pharmacies, hospitals, and clinics in the United States—will pay $215 million. Teva will make a cash payment of $20 million to Cuyahoga and Summit counties to be paid by 2021. They will also donate $25 million in the drug Suboxone used in the treatment of opioid addiction. Henry Schein, a smaller New York-based distributor, reached a $1.25 million settlement, while Walgreens, another defendant in the lawsuit, will have its trial delayed. The settlement is seen as a “bellwether” case for opioid lawsuits moving forward. As part of these settlements, the drug companies make no admission of guilt in the opioid overdose crisis which has ravaged the US. Avoiding trial also keeps closed internal documents that would expose the inner workings of these manufacturers and distributors. There have been more than 2,300 federal lawsuits filed against said companies over the upwards of 400,000 deaths attributable to the use of opioid drugs. Most of these cases had been filed by cities and county governments nearly two years ago, with many states filing cases only more recently. The two Ohio counties had been seeking more than $8 billion for damages sustained to recoup medical expenses and establish long-term addiction treatment facilities for individuals affected by the opioid epidemic. There were no discussions within the mainstream news outlets as to why the sum of the settlement fell so astronomically short of the original amount being demanded. Still under wraps is an ongoing negotiation between the three distributors and two manufacturers, Teva Pharmaceuticals and Johnson & Johnson, with federal and state attorneys on a global settlement worth $48 billion. What remains to be determined is how the money will be distributed to various states and county governments. It is also unclear how much of these funds will proceed to pay legal fees, sit in general funds for state legislatures or ultimately provide a modicum of relief for the numerous catastrophes created by this epidemic. Democratic Attorney Generals Josh Stein of North Carolina and Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania have been leading the negotiations for a national settlement. The proposed deal would have the three distributors and Johnson & Johnson give $22 billion in cash paid out over 18 years. Teva pharmaceuticals would give $250 million including additional drugs for the treatment of addiction valued at $23 billion. The distributors would also provide $3 billion in distributions services for over ten years.

 Common healthcare algorithm biased, reduces care for black patients by more than half, study finds -A commonly used healthcare algorithm exhibits significant racial bias and reduces the number of black patients identified for extra care by more than half, according to a study published Oct. 24 in American Association for the Advancement of Science. Researchers analyzed 2013-15 data from primary care patients with risk-based contracts at a hospital that used an algorithm sold by Optum of United Health Group, according to The Wall Street Journal.The sample consisted of 6,079 black patients and 43,539 white patients, with almost three-fourths enrolled in commercial insurance and over a quarter in Medicare.  Of the patients needing more care, as identified by the algorithm, 81.8 percent were white and about 18 percent were black. Black patients were significantly sicker than white patients, researchers say, and if the algorithm accurately reflected the proportion of sick patients, 46 percent of black patients should have been identified.Researchers believe the algorithm's use of health costs as a proxy for health needs creates the bias. Less money is spent on black patients who have the same needs as white patients, so the algorithm inaccurately concludes that black patients are healthier.The algorithm manufacturer replicated the analyses on its national dataset of nearly 3.7 million commercially insured patients and found black patients had 48,772 more chronic conditions than white patients, confirming the racial bias.  The study authors recommend a new algorithm that no longer uses cost to predict who needs extra care.

Here’s How Bad Antibiotic Resistance Has Gotten Over the Past 20 Years -Over the past decade, antibiotic resistance has emerged as one of the greatest public health threats. Antibiotics have been used to prevent and treat bacterial infections since the 1940s when doctors first discovered the powerful drugs could save people's lives.But in recent decades overuse and misuse has resulted in infectious bacteria becoming resistant to these common drugs. Today, researchers have more details on just how severe antibiotic resistance has become and found evidence that we've reached a frightening new milestone.New research published in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy today discovered that resistance to one of the last resort drugs used to treat extremely drug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa can develop a lot more quickly than we originally thought.A patient infected with Pseudomonas aeruginosa (P. aeruginosa) — a bacteria that can cause a range of infections, including urinary tract infections, bone and joint infections, and respiratory infections — developed resistance to the antibiotic ceftolozane-tazobactam in just 22 days.This discovery follows another European study, which found that resistance to antibiotics commonly used to treat a range of stomach infections has nearly doubled in 20 years In fact, resistance to commonly used antibiotics — such as clarithromycin — is increasing at 1 percent each year, according to those findings, which researchers presented Monday at UEG Week Barcelona 2019.

Kidney for sale: How organs can be bought via social media in the Philippines  -In the Philippines, advertisements for healthy kidneys are common on social media. Typing something along the lines of ‘kidney donation Philippines’ or ‘kidney for sale’ in the Facebook search bar will reveal countless posts by organ brokers, kidney patients and hopeful sellers who want to leverage social media’s reach to complete a deal. Organ trafficking is nothing new in the Southeast Asian nation. For decades, it has been known globally as a high-risk country for transplant tourism because of its great medical expertise, several transplant facilities and limited national oversight. What is new is its expansion into the world of social media. But given its clandestine nature, law enforcement officers struggle to keep up with traffickers who carry out the trade behind the anonymity of the Internet.“It has been observed that all forms of trafficking in persons, whether for sex or labour trafficking, are now being committed through the use of online platforms like social media,” said Yvette T Coronel, deputy executive of the Philippines’ Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking under the Department of Justice.“(The) kidney is the most commonly trafficked organ due to its high demand in the black market and the fact that a donor can survive with only one kidney.” Human trafficking for organs is a serious crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison under Philippine law. But when pushed into despair, the likes of Carlos tend to cave in to a pressing need for money and, in his case, the well-being of their loved ones.The tricycle driver said he was scared by the idea of selling one of his kidneys but felt he had no other option. He planned to spend the money on the hospital bills, a tricycle of his own and a small business.“If we can do that, we’ll probably have a chance to improve our lives and move away from our current living conditions,” he said.

Scientists 'may have crossed ethical line' in growing human brains - Neuroscientists may have crossed an “ethical rubicon” by growing lumps of human brain in the lab, and in some cases transplanting the tissue into animals, researchers warn. The creation of mini-brains or brain “organoids” has become one of the hottest fields in modern neuroscience. The blobs of tissue are made from stem cells and, while they are only the size of a pea, some have developed spontaneous brain waves, similar to those seen in premature babies. Many scientists believe that organoids have the potential to transform medicine by allowing them to probe the living brain like never before. But the work is controversial because it is unclear where it may cross the line into human experimentation. “If there’s even a possibility of the organoid being sentient, we could be crossing that line,” said Elan Ohayon, the director of the Green Neuroscience Laboratory in San Diego, California. “We don’t want people doing research where there is potential for something to suffer.” Because of the manifest difficulties in studying live human brains, organoids are considered a landmark development. They have been used to investigate schizophrenia and autism, and why some babies develop small brains when they are infected with Zika virus in the womb. Researchers hope to use organoids to study a raft of brain disorders, from Alzheimer’s to Parkinson’s, and eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration. But Ohayon and his colleagues Ann Lam and Paul Tsang argue that checks must be in place to ensure that brain organoids do not experience suffering. “We’re already seeing activity in organoids that is reminiscent of biological activity in developing animals,” Ohayon said. In one recent study, researchers at Harvard showed that brain organoids develop a rich diversity of tissues, from cerebral cortex neurons to retinal cells. Organoids grown for eight months developed their own neuronal networks that sparked with activity and responded when light was shone on them. In another study led by Fred Gage at the Salk Institute in San Diego, researchers transplanted human brain organoids into mouse brains and found that they connected up to the animal’s blood supply and sprouted fresh connections. Ohayon wants funding agencies to freeze all research that aims to put human brain organoids into animals, along with other work where there is an reasonable chance of organoids becoming sentient. 

Johnson & Johnson Recalls 33,000 Baby Powder Bottles After FDA Finds Asbestos -- Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson recalled 33,000 bottles of baby powder on Friday after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found trace amounts of asbestos in one of its bottles.While the recall pertains to a single lot of baby powder, it is unwelcome news for the company, which faces thousands of lawsuits claiming that its talc-based baby powder caused cancer, as CBS News reported.Anyone with a bottle of Johnson's Baby Powder from lot #22318RB, should not use it and can contact the company for a refund, according to CNNThis is the first time that Johnson & Johnson has needed to recall its baby powder over asbestos concerns. Even though the company reported nearly $82 billion in sales last year, and its products line store shelves and pharmacy counters with brands like Tylenol and Band-Aid, it is facing over 100,000 lawsuits questioning the safety of its products, according to the New York Times.  More than 15,000 of those are from litigants who say baby powder and other talc-based products caused them to develop cancer. Several plaintiffs suffer from mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that is the hallmarks of asbestos exposure, according to the New York Times."I understand today's recall may be concerning to all those individuals who may have used the affected lot of baby powder," Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Ned Sharpless said in a statement on Friday, as CNN reported. "I want to assure everyone that the agency takes these concerns seriously and that we are committed to our mandate of protecting the public health."

 Chemicals in consumer products during early pregnancy related to lower IQ - Exposure during the first trimester of pregnancy to mixtures of suspected endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in consumer products is related to lower IQ in children by age 7, according to a study by researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Karlstad University, Sweden, published inEnvironment International in October. This study is among the first to look at prenatal suspected endocrine-disrupting chemical mixtures in relation to neurodevelopment.  Scientists measured 26 chemicals in the blood and urine of 718 mothers during the first trimester of their pregnancies in the study of Swedish mothers and children, known as SELMA. These chemicals included bisphenol A (BPA), which is found in plastic food and drink containers, as well as pesticides, phthalates, and other chemicals found in consumer products. Some of the 26 are known to disrupt endocrine (hormone) activity in humans; others have been shown to do so only in animals, or are suspected of endocrine disruption because they share chemical features with known disruptors.  Researchers later followed up with the children at age 7 and found that those whose mothers had higher levels of the chemicals in their system during pregnancy had lower IQ scores--particularly boys, whose scores were lower by two points. Within the mixture, bisphenol F (BPF), a BPA-replacement compound, made the highest contribution to lowering children's IQ, suggesting that BPF is not any safer for children than BPA. The study found that other chemicals of concern in the mixture were the pesticide chloropyrifos; polyfluoroalkyl substances, which are found in cleaning products; triclosan, a chemical found in antibacterial soaps; and phthalates, which are found in soft polyvinyl chloride plastics and cosmetics. Many of the chemicals only stay in the body a short time, meaning that even a short-term exposure may be detrimental, so researchers believe this indicates that preventing exposures to pregnant women or women trying to become pregnant is critical to preventing neurological harm to children.

Scores more heart attacks and strokes on high pollution days - Scores of children and adults are being rushed to hospital for emergency treatment on days of high pollution in cities across England, figures show.Each year emergency services see more than 120 additional cardiac arrests, more than 230 additional strokes and nearly 200 more people with asthma requiring hospital treatment on days of high pollution compared with the average on days of lower pollution.The data, to be published in full next month, shows the extra strain that poor air quality is putting on already stretched NHS emergency resources.Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, said: “These new figures show air pollution is now causing thousands of strokes, cardiac arrests and asthma attacks, so it’s clear that the climate emergency is in fact also a health emergency. Since these avoidable deaths are happening now, not in 2025 or 2050, together we need to act now.” Previous studies have found spikes in hospital admissions and GP visits on days of high pollution, but the new data gives precise numbers for nine English cities and shows a clear relationship between heart attacks, strokes and respiratory illnesses and dirty air.The researchers defined high pollution days by dividing the year in two based on levels of pollution and comparing the number of cases of the relevant illness in the higher pollution half of the year with the number of similar cases on each day in the lower half.The data, collated by King’s College London (KCL), covers London, where there are 338 more emergencies a year on higher pollution days compared with low pollution days, Birmingham (65 a year), Bristol (22), Derby (16), Liverpool (28), Manchester (34), Nottingham (19), Oxford (10) and Southampton (16). Much of the recent research on air pollution has focused on the lifelong effects of chronic exposure, including cognitive decline, stunted growth in children and premature death. However, it can also bring on serious illness more immediately. Jenny Bates, an air pollution campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “Many people may not realise how dangerous air pollution at high levels can be, and that it can trigger heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks as well as having long-term health effects. These figures will be a wake-up call for city leaders to take the strongest possible action.”

More Heart Attacks and Strokes on High Pollution Days in England, Research Finds -- On days where air pollution is higher, hundreds of people across nine major cities in England are suffering from more potentially fatal cardiac arrests or heading to the hospital for strokes or severe asthma attacks, according to new research from King's College in London.  "Many people may not realize how dangerous air pollution at high levels can be, and that it can trigger heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks as well as having long-term health effects. These figures will be a wake-up call for city leaders to take the strongest possible action," Jenny Bates, an air pollution campaigner at the environmental organization Friends of the Earth, told The Guardian.  To come to their findings, researchers used air quality data from regulatory monitoring networks in Europe. Across England, higher pollution days saw 124 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests, 231 hospitalizations for stroke, 193 children and adults hospitalized for asthma. The study authors note that while pollution is associated with early death, this measurement can seem like an abstract concept too far off into the future. That is why analyzing the impacts of pollution exposure on everyday life is essential to understanding its health implications. "London's lethal air is a public health crisis —it leads to thousands of premature deaths in the capital every year, as well as stunting the development of young lungs and increasing cases of respiratory illness," said Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London.  "Since these avoidable deaths are happening now—not in 2025 or 2050—together we need to act now. For the NHS that is going to mean further comprehensive action building on the reduction of our carbon footprint of one fifth in the past decade. So our NHS energy use, supply chain, building adaptations and our transport will all need to change substantially,"  In addition to the short-term risks associated with exposure to air pollution, the BBC reports that sufferers may also experience stunted lung growth, lung cancer and low birth weight. The newly released data is part of a subset of material that will be published in an upcoming report in November ahead of next month's International Clean Air Summit.

U.S. Air Pollution Is Getting Worse Under Trump, New Study Finds -Tweeting that the U.S. has the cleanest air in the world does not make it so. Not only do we rank 10th, but anew study says that after steady improvement during the Obama-era, air pollution has gotten worse while Donald Trump has been president. The report issued by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that fine particle air pollution, known as PM2.5, dropped by 24.2 percent from 2009 to 2016. However, in the following two years, it increased an average of 5.5 percent each year. PM2.5 is particularly concerning because its microscopic size means it can easily enter the respiratory tract and be absorbed into the blood stream."The health implications of this increase in PM2.5 between 2016 and 2018 are significant," the study's abstract says. "The increase was associated with 9,700 additional premature deaths in 2018. At conventional valuations, these deaths represent damages of $89 billion." The trend toward cleaner air that has now been reversed has several causes, including deregulation of industry, loosening of the Clean Air Act and an increase in wildfires. The growth of the U.S. economy coupled with looser regulations has led to an increase in diesel powered trucks and other polluting-emitting vehicles on the roads, as well as boosted manufacturers' carbon emissions, Clay and Muller wrote, as CBS News reported."The chemical composition of particulates point to increased use of natural gas and to vehicle miles traveled as likely contributors to the increase" in pollution, the economists wrote, as CBS News reported. "We conclude that the effect is due to diesel vehicles as well as some industrial boilers." Fine particles are worrying since they easily cause lung damage, collect in the brain and send people to the emergency room, as The Washington Post reported. The data shows that airborne particles have an association with dementia and cognitive decline. These effects often occur at levels far below the current regulatory threshold. The increases in particulate matter were particularly high in the west, especially in California. The authors noted that California experienced a large increase in particulate matter since a large segment of the population was exposed to wildfires and vehicular pollution and the state represented "a large share of the increase in premature mortality," as the non-profit StreetsBlog reported. "Because of these large increases and the large exposed population in California, we find that nearly 43% of the increase in deaths nationally from 2016 to 2018 occurred in California," the study authors said, as CBS News reported.

Scientists fired by Trump warn particle pollution standards don’t protect people -- A group of scientist advisers dismissed by the Trump administration has concluded that national limits on fine particles of air pollution aren’t strong enough to protect people.The expert panel of epidemiologists and toxicologists was disbanded by the Environmental Protection Agency but decided to continue its work anyway.The members are issuing their warnings as US regulators are reconsidering a standard for particulate matter – the inhalable pollution that is 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair. The pollution can include any of hundreds of chemicals and come from power plants, cars, construction sites and fires. It is linked with breathing and heart illnesses and early deaths.“Based on full consideration of the overall body of scientific evidence, we unequivocally find that the current standards for fine particulate matter do not protect public health and must be revised,” said Chris Frey, a scientist from North Carolina State University who chaired the group. “There is no way for EPA to spin this otherwise.” Frey and the other researchers worry the Trump administration may try to ease the pollution restrictions, despite the clarity of the new science. Trump agencies are rolling back The current annual standard for exposure to fine particle pollution is set at 12 micrograms per cubic meter, and the group believes it should be tightened to between eight micrograms and 10 micrograms.The daily standard is 35 micrograms and should be strengthened to between 25 micrograms and 30 micrograms, the scientists said in findings released Tuesday. That would protect some areas of the country where people are exposed to fine particle pollution over short periods of time, for example, from burning wood in homes.

Disbanded Air Pollution Panel Finds EPA Standards Don’t Protect Public Health - Union Of Concerned Scientists - The Independent Particulate Matter Review Panel has released their consensus recommendations to the EPA administrator on the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter. The group of 20 independent experts, that were disbanded by Administrator Wheeler last October and reconvened last week, hosted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, has now made clear that the current particulate pollution standards don't protect public health and welfare.  The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) — the remaining seven-person committee that is providing science advice to the EPA on the particulate matter standards — meets this week to discuss their recommendations on whether the current standards are adequate. The letter from the Independent Panel will be the elephant in the room.  CASAC has already acknowledged that they don't have the expertise to conduct the review but you know who does? The Independent Panel. The Panel has more than double the experts of CASAC, and importantly, it has multiple experts in each of the necessary scientific disciplines critical to ensure a comprehensive, robust review of the science supporting the standards. As a result, we should watch whether or not CASAC aligns with the panel in their recommendations on the standards. If CASAC doesn't decide this week to make a similar recommendation as the Independent Panel, they'll have to explain why they disagreed with a larger, more experienced, and more diverse set of experts on the topic. In any event, the administrator will have access to both CASAC and the Independent Panel's recommendations when he ultimately makes the decision of where to set particulate pollution standards. The panel's recommendations should hold the administrator's feet to the fire. The standards of greatest interest are the primary PM2.5 standards. These are the standards for particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers (fine particulate matter) that are designed to protect public health. The panel supported the preliminary conclusions of a Draft EPA Policy Assessment that the current standards aren't requisite to protect public health. The letter cited new and consistent epidemiological findings, supported by human and animal studies and other studies with natural experiments, as providing "clear and compelling scientific evidence" for tighter standards. Since the last particulate matter review, several new large-scale epidemiological studies provide powerful evidence that particulate matter is causing adverse health outcomes (such as early death, heart attacks, and respiratory stress) at locations and during time periods with concentrations at or below the level of the current standards. Given the weight of the evidence from new studies across scientific disciplines and consistent with the decision-making process that EPA and its science advisers have used for many years, the panel recommends a particulate matter standard between 8 µg/m3 and 10 µg/m3 for the annual PM2.5 standard (compared to the current standard of 12 µg/m3) and between 25 µg/m3 and 30 µg/m3 for the 24-hour standard (compared to the current standard of 35 µg/m3) to protect public health. These ranges are tighter than those recommended in EPA's Draft Policy Assessment.

Newark and New Jersey officials continue to dissemble about statewide lead poisoning crisis - Earlier this month, the results of testing conducted in Newark, New Jersey’s public schools in August 2018 were released, showing that seven schools have lead-contaminated water. These results were released as the result of a public records request by WNYC/Gothamist; the city government of Newark did not post the results on its website, a violation of state rules. Lead is a deadly neurotoxin, which has especially harmful effects on children because it impairs neural development, which may impact learning, delay growth and cause hearing loss. There is no safe level of lead consumption, and the federal standard of 15 parts per billion, which is being used by Newark as a measure of whether water is safe to consume or not, is still a dangerously high amount, according to experts. Just last month, Newark’s Superintendent of Schools, Roger Leon, said in a local radio talk show interview that “we have information that is clearly indicating that the water sources that our students are being provided is safe for them to drink.” Kareem Adeem, the city’s Water Department Director, said in a town hall meeting earlier this month, “The schools [do] independent testing and they post that testing on their website. They don’t have lead in the schools.” This amounts to an admission that, for over a year, testing results showing that lead contamination is possibly poisoning children in their schools were suppressed by city officials. On October 2, Newark’s Democratic mayor Ras Baraka had the gall to defend the city’s management of the ongoing lead crisis, stating, “I will never concede that we allowed people to drink lead coming from the water without telling them.” He was joined on stage by health officials, including State Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe, who praised Baraka’s response, wishing that other systems were “as responsive” as Newark. If Newark is to be categorized as “responsive” to its water crisis, then this paints a bleak picture for water contamination in the rest of the state and across the US.

A new pesticide is all the buzz - Bees’ fuzzy yellow bodies and hairy legs are custom-built for picking up pollen. Nothing can distribute the yellow powder more efficiently—something farmers that shell out for commercial beehives every growing season know all too well. And starting with this fall’s growing season, bees may be given some cargo to carry on their outbound journey to the blossoms: pesticides. On August 28, the EPA approved the first-ever bee-distributed organic pesticide for the US market—a fungus-fighting powder called Vectorite that contains the spores of a naturally occurring fungus called Clonostachys rosea (CR-7). CR-7 is completely harmless to its host plant and acts as a hostile competitor to other, less innocuous fungi. It has been approved for commercial growers of flowering crops like blueberries, strawberries, almonds, and tomatoes.   Before bees buzz off to work, they trundle through a tray of powder placed by the hive exit. Then the bee just needs to do what it does best. Each time the bee lands on a flower, a little bit of the pesticide is knocked loose. Both bumblebees and honeybees are capable of spreading Vectorite up to 400 yards from their hive. Once it’s delivered by the bees, CR-7 quickly embeds itself within the plant, establishing a natural defense system against common fungal diseases including Botrytis cinereal (grey mold) and Sclerotinia sclerotiorum (white mold). If the spores of these or a number of other pathogens land on the plant, CR-7 blocks their development. Since bees are always on the lookout for newly blossomed flowers, they are more likely to deliver the fungicide earlier than traditional periodic spray methods, boosting its effectiveness.

 Sorry—organic farming is actually worse for climate change - Organic practices can reduce climate pollution produced directly from farming – which would be fantastic if they didn’t also require more land to produce the same amount of food.Clearing additional grasslands or forests to grow enough food to make up for that difference would release far more greenhouse gas than the practices initially reduce, a new study in Nature Communications finds.Other recent research has also concluded that organic farming produces more climate pollution than conventional practices when the additional land required is taken into account. In the new paper, researchers at the UK’s Cranfield University took a broad look at the question by analyzing what would happen if all of England and Wales shifted entirely to these practices. The good news is it would cut the direct greenhouse-gas emissions from livestock by 5% and from growing crops by 20% per unit of production. The bad news: it would slash yields by around 40%, forcing hungry Britons to import more food from overseas. If half the land used to meet that spike in demand was converted from grasslands, which store carbon in plant tissues, roots, and soil, it would boost overall greenhouse-gas emissions by 21%. Among other things, organic farming avoids the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and genetically modified organisms, all of which can boost the amount of crops produced per acre. Instead, organic farmers rely on things like animal manure and compost, and practices such as crop rotation, which involves growing different plants throughout the year to improve soil health.

Is Eating Meat Worse Than Burning Oil?-   Bad news for meat worshipers. Eating healthy isn't just good for your body--it’s good for the environment, too, according to a series of new studies, suggesting that only vegetarians can save the planet.  The fight against climate change is already polarizing enough without adding the meat-plant divide. But new studies insist that what we eat has quite a lot to do with climate change. It’s not just about food security or species extinction, either. Today’s food supply chain creates around 13.7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents and 26 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A further 2.8 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (5 percent) are caused by nonfood agriculture and other drivers of deforestation.  A study from 2017 found that if citizens in 28 high-income nations like the United States, Germany, and Japan actually followed the dietary recommendations of their respective governments, greenhouse gases related to the production of the food they eat would fall by 13 percent to 25 percent. But giving up meat is hard to do.According to the not-for-profit environmental research group World Resources Institute, humanity is not on track to meet Mission 2020, the parameters laid out to prevent catastrophic global warming and irreversible environmental damage.With the global population growing from 7 billion in 2010 to a projected ~10 billion in 2050, and income growth across the developing world, overall food demand is set to increase by more than 50 percent. Meanwhile, demand for delicious animal-based foods is set to increase by nearly 70 percent. With agriculture already using almost half of the world’s vegetated land, and agriculture and related land-use change generating one-quarter of our annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, what we eat has, perhaps, growing implications for topsoil, pollution, greenhouse gases, and deforestation.Deleting meat and animal products from the menu might be unthinkable for many people but sparing cows would significantly reduce negative effects on the environment. Meat, sadly enough, are apparently the worst type of food, because of the scale of resources that go into their production. Yes, meat may be a great source of protein, but its production is extremely energy-intensive.

America’s Pile of Uneaten Bacon Is the Biggest in 48 Years -America is sitting on a mountain of uneaten bacon. More than 40 million pounds (18,000 metric tons) of pork bellies, the cut used for bacon making, were sitting in refrigerated warehouses as of Sept. 30, according to U.S. government data released Tuesday. That’s the most for the month since 1971.The overhang came after a build up in the American hog herd. Pork output surged over the summer months and through September, said Dennis Smith, senior account executive at Archer Financial Services Inc. Bellies have seen a magnified inventory increase because demand is mostly domestic, unlike cuts such as ham, for which overseas buying can help reduce reserves.Hog producers started building up their herds in anticipation of more demand for meat imports from China, where African swine fever has killed millions of pigs. The U.S. herd swelled to 77.7 million head. as of Sept. 1, a record for the month and the highest since 1943 considering all periods, the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture data show. So far, that’s mostly led to an excess for U.S. supplies. But the glut could be short-lived if recent Chinese buying is any indication. Export sales of American pork have soared to weekly records, buoyed by purchases from the Asian country.

Trump agriculture secretary says during Wisconsin visit that family-run dairy farms may not survive (AP) — President Donald Trump’s agriculture secretary said during a stop in Wisconsin that he doesn’t know if the family dairy farm can survive as the industry moves toward a factory farm model. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told reporters Tuesday following an appearance at the World Dairy Expo in Madison that it’s getting harder for farmers to get by on milking smaller herds. “In America, the big get bigger and the small go out,” Perdue said. “I don’t think in America we, for any small business, we have a guaranteed income or guaranteed profitability.” Perdue’s visit comes as Wisconsin dairy farmers are wrestling with a host of problems, including declining milk prices, rising suicide rates, the transition to larger farms with hundreds or thousands of animals and Trump’s international trade wars. Wisconsin, which has long touted itself as America’s Dairyland, has lost 551 dairy farms in 2019 after losing 638 in 2018 and 465 in 2017, according to data from the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. The legislature’s finance committee voted unanimously last month to spend an additional $200,000 to help struggling farmers deal with depression and mental-health problems. Jerry Volenec, a fifth generation Wisconsin dairy farmer with 330 cows, left the Perdue event feeling discouraged about his future. “What I heard today from the secretary of agriculture is there’s no place for me,” Volenec told reporters. “Can I get some support from my state and federal government? I feel like we’re a benefit to society.” Getting bigger at the expense of smaller operations like his is “not a good way to go,” said Darin Von Ruden, president of Wisconsin Farmers Union and a third-generation dairy farmer who runs a 50-cow organic farm. “Do we want one corporation owning all the food in our country?” he said to reporters.

American Farming Runs on Exploitation - On Tuesday, Politico published a feature on the Department of Agriculture’s failure to prepare the nation’s farmers for climate change. Of the USDA’s $144 billion budget,Politico reported, just 0.3 percent is dedicated to helping farmers adapt to the increasingly volatile climate conditions.The devastating truth that permeated the piece—that the most powerful government in the world is actively turning a blind eye to those situated on the economic front lines of the encroaching disaster—prompts a number of questions. How has pervasive top-down climate denial persisted in the USDA for this long? Could Democrats in 2020 capitalize on this moment to retake the agriculture vote they so painfully bled over the last half-century? But there are other urgent questions one could also ask about modern American agriculture. While Politico’s piece offered an insightful analysis of the future of farmers, it focused on business owners. The viewpoint was that of the employers charged with balancing and capitalizing on their annual budgets, who are now worried because their politicians of choice continue to refuse to take proactive measures. As is typical in mainstream coverage of agriculture, there was not a single line about the effects on the workers and laborers that fill the fields, or how climate change will affect the places they hail from.  As farming in the U.S. continues its decades-long descent into an industrialized system rife with inequality, Americans are still focusing on the American farmer of old. Here’s another question one could ask: When are conversations about American farming going to start worrying about the exploitative house of cards the entire agricultural industry currently teeters on?

House Unanimously Approves ‘Watershed’ Bill Making Animal Cruelty a Federal Crime - Republican and Democratic lawmakers have found something they can agree on: The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill Tuesday to make animal cruelty a federal felony, CNN reported.Most animal cruelty laws in the U.S. are currently state laws, The New York Times explained. Federal laws only prohibit animal fighting and the creation and selling of videos depicting animal cruelty, according to CNN. But the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act, or PACT Act, would criminalize the crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, impaling or sexual abuse of animals at the federal level. Perpetrators could face felony convictions, fines and prison terms of up to seven years.The bill was introduced by a pair of aisle-crossing Florida Congressmen in January: Democrat Ted Deutch and Republican Vern Buchanan, CBS News reported."Today's vote is a significant milestone in the bipartisan quest to end animal abuse and protect our pets," Deutch said in a written statement reported by CBS News. "This bill sends a clear message that our society does not accept cruelty against animals. We've received support from so many Americans from across the country and across the political spectrum. Animal rights activists have stood up for living things that do not have a voice."  Animal welfare groups celebrated the bill's passage. "The watershed vote takes us one step closer to a federal anti-cruelty statute that would allow the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies to arrest and prosecute those who commit such unspeakable crimes against innocent animals," Humane Society Legislative Fund President Sara Amundson and Humane Society Chief Executive Kitty Block wrote in a joint statement.

Chicago Ranked Most Rat-Infested City In America For Fifth Consecutive Time - Chicago is 'officially' the "Rattiest City" in the U.S., according to pest control service Orkin. For the fifth consecutive time, the pest control services provider places the Windy City at the top of its most rat-infested cities, with New York and Los Angeles taking second and third place, and San Francisco-Oakland, Washington D.C., and Philadelphia rounding out the top five Rattiest Cities. (see list of top 50 cities) The metro regions were ranked by the number of new rodent treatments performed from September 2018-2019.“Beyond structural damage, there are multiple health issues associated with rodents including food poisoning, rat-bite fever, hantavirus and even the bubonic plague. Rodents can easily spread diseases in a home or commercial site in a short period of time,” Chelle Hartzer, an Orkin entomologist added. Orkin isn’t the first to notice the city’s rodent problem, either. Last year, Chicago was dubbed the “rat capital of the U.S.” by apartment search service RentHop. It reportedly received more rat complaints than any other city last year - nearly 51,000 total. According to RentHop’s analysis, New York City came in second place, followed by Washington, D.C. and Boston.

Owl killings spur moral questions about human intervention (AP)— As he stood amid the thick old-growth forests in the coastal range of Oregon, Dave Wiens was nervous. Before he trained to shoot his first barred owl, he had never fired a gun. He eyed the big female owl, her feathers streaked brown and white, perched on a branch at just the right distance. Then he squeezed the trigger and the owl fell to the forest floor, adding to a running tally of more than 2,400 barred owls killed so far in a controversial experiment by the U.S. government to test whether the northern spotted owl’s rapid decline in the Pacific Northwest can be stopped by killing its aggressive East Coast cousin.  “It’s a little distasteful, I think, to go out killing owls to save another owl species,” said Wiens, a biologist who still views each shooting as “gut-wrenching” as the first. “Nonetheless, I also feel like from a conservation standpoint, our back was up against the wall. We knew that barred owls were outcompeting spotted owls and their populations were going haywire.” The federal government has been trying for decades to save the northern spotted owl, a native bird that sparked an intense battle over logging across Washington, Oregon and California decades ago. After the owl was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1990, earning it a cover on Time Magazine, federal officials halted logging on millions of acres of old-growth forests on federal lands to protect the bird’s habitat. But the birds’ population continued to decline.Meanwhile, researchers, including Wiens, began documenting another threat — larger, more aggressive barred owls competing with spotted owls for food and space and displacing them in some areas.In almost all ways, the barred owl is the spotted owl’s worst enemy: They reproduce more often, have more babies per year and eat the same prey, like squirrels and wood rats. And they now outnumber spotted owls in many areas of the native bird’s historic range.

55 Elephants Have Died in 2 Months From Unprecedented Zimbabwe Drought, Wildlife Agency Says - The unprecedented drought that has caused a water crisis in Zimbabwe has now claimed the life of at least 55 elephants since September, according to a wildlife spokesman, as CNN reported. The deaths occurred in Zimbabwe's largest national park, Hwange National Park, a game park. Some died while searching for water, others by residents of nearby communities where the elephants strayed in search of food, said Tinashe Farawo, spokesman for Zimbabwe's Parks and Wild Life Management Authority said, asCNN reported.  The game reserve has the country's largest population of elephants with nearly 50,000. Investigations showed that at least 55 died from food and water shortages in the park, according to Reuters. Several of the deceased elephants were found within 50 meters of water pans, which suggests that traveled long distances and died just before reaching the water, according to the BBC.  "The problem is real, the situation is dire," said Farawo, as the AP reported. Farawo said that the park, which does not receive funding from the government, has been trying to drill watering holes, but it has run out of money to continue, as the BBC reported.The BBC also reported that the water shortage is not the only problem. The park has too many elephants, which has caused fierce competition for limited resources, massive destruction to the park's vegetation and forced many elephants to stray into nearby communities. Officials say that elephants have killed more than 200 people in the last five years and 22 local villagers this year."Hwange was meant for 15,000 elephants but at the moment we are talking of more than 50,000," Farawo said, as the AFP reported.Hwange's overpopulation problem stands in stark contrast to the rest of Africa where the ivory trade has decimated the number of elephants on the continent. Africa's elephant numbers have fallen from near 415,000 to 111,000 in just the past decade, according to according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as the AFP reported.  Farawo said an elephant mauled a man to death after the villager tried to chase the animal, which stepped into his garden to drink water.  "That's why we are saying allow us to trade in these animals, and we can raise funds for their security and food. But the so-called conservationists condemn us," said Farawo as CNN reported. However, that often shadowy practice, received criticism from wildlife experts who say young elephants have been torn from their families, traumatized and sent to unsuitable Chinese zoos, as the BBC reported.Critics have blamed the government for exacerbating the water crisis in the park. "The government has over the years been allowing mines to develop in Hwange and that's reducing grazing land, and those operations have impact on water. Even polluting the water. So the government is squarely to blame for all this,"

Study Reveals 30% of All Species Swap for Other Species Every 10 Years - Life is reshuffling itself at an unsettling clip across Earth's surface and in its oceans, a new study has found. The research, published Oct. 18 in the journal Science, drills into data from 239 studies that looked at changes in biodiversity over time. It reveals that almost 30 percent of all species are being swapped out for other species every 10 years. The sweeping hemorrhage of species across the planet continues to rattle scientists and conservationists. A recent report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services revealed that a million species or more could go extinct.But squaring that global trend with what's happening at local levels has been difficult. At this level, research shows that the sheer number of species in many spots are holding steady or even going up. That's led some scientists to believe that species richness, an oft-used measure of biodiversity that tabulates the number of species living in a given area, provides an incomplete understanding of how life on Earth is changing. "It is increasingly recognized that species richness alone cannot fully describe how biodiversity is changing," Shane Blowes, the paper's co-lead author and a postdoctoral researcher at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research in Halle-Jena-Leipzig, said in an email. "Species richness will continue to play an important role in our understanding of taxonomic diversity, but a more complete, nuanced picture of biodiversity change emerges when it is combined with other metrics."

 Ghost forests are visceral examples of the advance of climate change - As Matt Kirwan walks through Maryland’s Blackwater National Refuge, his rubber boots begin to squish. With each step the land beneath him turns from dry ground to increasingly soggy mud. The trees around him go from tall and full of leaves or needles to short, bare and pale white. Partway out, ankle deep in water, Kirwan stops. “At this point we’ve transitioned from being in the forest, to actually being in a full-fledged marsh,” explains the Virginia Institute of Marine Science ecologist. “This ground is now too salty and too wet to support living trees.”Kirwan is standing in the midst of what is known as a “ghost forest.” These swaths of dead, white, trees are created when salty water moves into forested areas, first slowing, and eventually halting, the growth of new trees. That means that when old trees die, there aren’t replacements.  The first descriptions of ghost forests date back to about 1910. The phenomenon can now be seen all along the Atlantic seaboard of North America, from Louisiana up to southern Canada.Kirwan likens ghost forests to other drastic markers of environmental change. Similar to how a receding glacier leaves signs of where ice used to be, ghost forests represent where dry land used to be. “You can touch it and see it,” he says. “It’s just as real as a melting glacier.” And, according to Kirwan’s latest research, ghost forests are forming faster than ever. Rates of forest retreat, he found, are an average of about three times higher than before the Industrial Revolution—when human activity started generating the vast amounts of greenhouse-gas emissions that scientists link with the current climate crisis. One of the primary mechanisms for ghost-forest creation is sea-level rise, says Keryn Gedan, a professor at George Washington University in D.C., and Kirwan’s co-author on a recent article about the phenomena in the journalNature Climate Change. Higher waters reduce the elevation between land and sea, making it easier for salt-water to seep in to shoreline soils. And, trees, she says, “don’t like salt,” which ultimately leads to ghost-forests.

Amazon rainforest 'close to irreversible tipping point' - Soaring deforestation coupled with the destructive policies of Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, could push the Amazon rainforest dangerously to an irreversible “tipping point” within two years, a prominent economist has said.After this point the rainforest would stop producing enough rain to sustain itself and start slowly degrading into a drier savannah, releasing billions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, which would exacerbate global heating and disrupt weather across South America. The warning came in a policy brief published this week by Monica de Bolle, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington DC. The report sparked controversy among climate scientists. Some believe the tipping point is still 15 to 20 years away, while others say the warning accurately reflects the danger that Bolsonaro and global heating pose to the Amazon’s survival. “It’s a stock, so like any stock you run it down, run it down – then suddenly you don’t have any more of it,” said de Bolle, whose brief also recommended solutions to the current crisis.Bolsonaro has vowed to develop the Amazon, and his government plans toallow mining on protected indigenous reserves. Amazon farmers support his attacks on environmental protection agencies. His business-friendly environment minister, Ricardo Salles, has met loggers and wildcat miners, while deforestation and Amazon fireshave soared since he assumed office in January.The policy brief noted that Brazil’s space research institute, INPE, reported that deforestation in August was 222% higher than in August 2018. Maintaining the current rate of increase INPE reported between January and August this year would bring the Amazon “dangerously close to the estimated tipping point as soon as 2021 … beyond which the rainforest can no longer generate enough rain to sustain itself”, de Bolle wrote. De Bolle is also head of the Latin American studies programme at Johns Hopkins University and last month addressed a US Congress committee on preserving the Amazon. She called her prediction a “provocation”.“If Bolsonaro is serious about developing the Amazon without paying any attention to sustainability or maintaining the forest’s standing, these rates would happen within his mandate,” she said.

How the Trump admin plans to fast-track Tongass logging -The Trump administration's proposal to ease logging restrictions in Alaska's Tongass National Forest would use a fast-track process to make thousands of acres of old-growth forest newly available for clear-cutting. That approach would declare 165,000 acres of old-growth forest, as well as 20,000 acres of young growth, suitable for timber through an "administrative change" that provides limited opportunity for public comment. The Forest Service included the process in a proposed rule exempting the 16.9-million-acre Tongass from the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Opponents from conservation and environmental groups say it raises questions about the legality of the proposal. But proponents of opening the Tongass to more timber production say the Forest Service is just reversing an earlier administrative move that went with the roadless rule. Removing the roadless rule, by extension, suggests areas previously considered unsuitable for timber should be dubbed suitable again, they said. Any timber harvest project would still go through the usual case-by-case Forest Service process, which includes environmental reviews and opportunities for public opinion. According to the roadless proposal, the Tongass forest supervisor would be directed to make an administrative change converting the "unsuitable" acres to "suitable" if they were made off-limits solely because of the roadless rule. That provision was also included in other roadless-rule alternatives the Forest Service considered.

 Trump Admin Moves to End Protections for Endangered Fish Threatened by California’s Water Wars - The Trump administration is rolling back protections for endangered California fish species, a move long sought by a group of wealthy farmers that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt continued to lobby for months before he began working for the administration, The New York Times reported Tuesday. The new policy, released early this week by the Commerce and Interior Departments, would allow more water to be pumped from the San Francisco Bay Delta to irrigate farms. Scientists in the past have found this would harm the delta smelt and West Coast salmon species that swim in the delta, as well as the killer whales that feed on them. But the new "biological opinion" ruled that the fish would not be harmed by diverting more water to agriculture."The servile Interior Department has hijacked and subverted the scientific process," Noah Oppenheim, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, said in a statement reported by NPR.  Bernhardt lobbied on behalf of Westlands Water District, a group representing around 1,000 large farmers in Central California, from 2011 to 2016, including pressing Congress to weaken Endangered Species Actprotections for the delta smelt, according to The New York Times. Four months after he was confirmed as Deputy Interior Secretary, he phoned the Interior official in charge of delta smelt protections and asked him to conduct a new biological opinion.President Donald Trump also signed a memo in 2018 asking for protections to be rolled back, The Los Angeles Times reported. But in July of 2019, scientists with the National Marine Fisheries Service found that pumping more water to farms would put endangered winter-run Chinook salmon, threatened spring-run Chinook salmon, threatened Central Valley Steelhead and endangered Southern Resident killer whales at risk for extinction.Instead of heeding this warning, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pacific Southwest regional director Paul Souza, who was coordinating the reviews of salmon and smelt protections, discarded the document and put a new team together to write a new report. Two documents released this week then found that the increased pumping would not harm the salmon or the delta smelt.

 FPL customers could be stuck paying $274 million for Hurricane Dorian - Florida Power & Light Co. could file for recovery of about $274 million in its expenses for restoring power related to early September’s Hurricane Dorian, which threatened South Florida over Labor Day weekend.How much of that customers could have to pay on their monthly electric bills was unclear Tuesday, as FPL didn’t respond to questions about the estimated surcharge. “This seems like an extraordinary amount when the hurricane did not even hit Florida,” said J.R. Kelly, Florida’s Public Counsel, the state’s consumer watchdog who has challenged FPL on storm recovery expenses in the past. Kelly noted that FPL hasn’t yet filed the storm expenses with the Florida Public Service Commission for review.Rebecca Kujawa, chief financial officer of FPL’s parent company NextEra Energy, noted on Tuesday’s third-quarter earnings conference call that FPL is authorized to recover storm restoration costs on an interim basis from customers through a surcharge. She said FPL was still in the accounting p rocess, but the current estimate was $274 million.

California governor vetos recycled content mandate  --Gov. Gavin Newsom has vetoed AB 792, citing concerns about administrative burden for state regulators and a lack of accountability for plastics manufacturers.“While I support strong minimum recycled content standards, late amendments to this bill would result in a costly, burdensome process that undermines the worthy intent of this legislation," Newsom wrote in aOct. 12 veto message. Newsom pledged to revisit the concept as part of broader changes to the struggling California Beverage Container Recycling Program. He did sign AB 54, a law intended to provide short-term relief to participating recyclers. This concludes an especially busy legislative session for California recycling issues. Dive Brief:

  • The Circular Economy and Pollution Reduction Act (SB 54/AB 1080) never made it to a vote before California's state legislature concluded its 2019 session early Saturday morning. The bills would have required manufacturers to reduce waste from single-use packaging by 75%, and also required such packaging to be recyclable or compostable, by 2030.
  • Ongoing opposition by trade associations representing the manufacturing and materials sector were among the roadblocks, perCalMatters and the Los Angeles Times. Lead sponsors Sen. Ben Allen and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez are expected to revive the legislation in January 2020.
  • Lawmakers did send at least one high-profile recycling bill (AB 792, sponsored by Assemblyman Phil Ting) to Gov. Gavin Newsom before adjourning. If signed into law, this will require beverage containers to be made with 50% recycled content by 2030.

Leaked Audio Reveals How Coca-Cola Undermines Plastic Recycling Efforts - Intercept - FOR DECADES, COCA-COLA has burnished its public image as an environmentally caring company with donations to recycling nonprofits. Meanwhile, as one of the world’s most polluting brands, Coke has quietly fought efforts to hold the company accountable for plastic waste. Audio from a meeting of recycling leaders obtained by The Intercept reveals how the soda giant’s “green” philanthropy helped squelch what could have been an important tool in fighting the plastic crisis — and shines a light on the behind-the-scenes tactics beverage and plastics companies have quietly used for decades to evade responsibility for their waste. The meeting of the coalition group known as Atlanta Recycles took place in January at the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials in Atlanta’s south side. Among the topics on the agenda for the recycling experts was a grant coming to Atlanta as part of a multimillion-dollar campaign Coke was launching “to boost recycling rates and help inspire a grassroots movement.” But it quickly became clear that one possible avenue for boosting recycling rates — a bottle bill — was off the table.  If they were truly interested in increasing the recycling rate, a bottle bill or container deposit law, which requires beverage companies to tack a charge onto the price of their drink to be refunded after it’s returned, would be well worth looking at. People are far more likely to return their bottles if there’s a financial incentive. States with bottle bills recycle about 60 percent of their bottles and cans, as opposed to 24 percent in other states. And states that have bottle bills also have an average of 40 percent less beverage container litter on their coasts, according to a 2018 study of the U.S. and Australia published in the journal Marine Policy.

Coca-Cola Named Most Polluting Brand in Plastic Waste Audit - The Intercept - COCA-COLA WAS found for the second year in a row to be the most polluting brand in a global audit of plastic trash conducted by the Break Free From Plastic global movement. The giant soda company was responsible for more plastic litter than the next top three polluters combined.More than 72,000 volunteers fanned out onto beaches, paddled along waterways, and walked along streets near their offices and homes picking up plastic bottles, cups, wrappers, bags, and scraps for the one-day cleanup in September that was the basis for the audit. Sorting through the mounds of garbage, they found that the plastic represented 50 different types and could be traced back to almost 8,000 brands. Coke was responsible for 11,732 pieces of plastic litter found in 37 countries on four continents. After Coca-Cola, the next biggest contributors to the plastic pollution in the audit were Nestle, PepsiCo, Mondelez International — purveyor of snack brands like Oreo, Ritz, Nabisco, and Nutter Butter — and Unilever. More than half of the plastic had eroded to the point where it was impossible to discern who had produced it.Coke was the top source of plastic in Africa and Europe and the second largest source in Asia and South America. In North America, the company responsible for the most plastic found in the cleanups was Nestle, followed by the Solo Cup Company, owned by the Dart Container corporation, and Starbucks. Coca-Cola ranked fifth among the companies responsible for plastic waste in North America.Coca-Cola responded to questions about the brand audit with an emailed statement: “Any time our packaging ends up in our oceans — or anywhere that it doesn’t belong — is unacceptable to us.  In partnership with others, we are working to address this critical global issue, both to help turn off the tap in terms of plastic waste entering our oceans and to help clean up the existing pollution.”

 PG&E, under siege after mass power shut-offs, stands its ground  - PG&E Corp. admits it made big mistakes while cutting power to parts of more than 30 counties across California this month. But the perennially embattled San Francisco company does not regret shutting off hundreds of thousands of customer accounts. In fact, despite deepening public resentment and mounting scrutiny from politicians and regulators, PG&E has remained firm in its conviction that its most extreme wildfire-prevention measure to date was necessary.PG&E acknowledges that it communicated badly, most critically when its main website kept crashing, leaving customers scrambling for information about how they would be affected. The company has pledged to make a range of improvements to its power shut-off program, which is designed to prevent the kind of fires PG&E equipment started in 2017 and 2018.

PG&E says more potential power cuts could hit about 209,000 customers (Reuters) - PG&E Corp said on Monday about 209,000 customers could be hit by potential power cutoffs this week, less than two weeks after its most recent unprecedented shut-offs hit more than 730,000 homes and workplaces in northern California.The bankrupt Californian power producer said the latest cuts were intended to avoid its equipment sparking wildfires in hot weather.“This afternoon, the company began its 48-hour advance notifications to customers that it may be proactively turning power off for safety and conducting a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) on late Wednesday evening,” it said.The power cutoffs may affect 15 California counties and are likely to be much smaller in scope than the Oct. 9-12 PSPS event, the company said.It activated its emergency operations on Sunday night because of a possible strong and dry offshore wind.The primary phase of weather risk was expected to last about 18 to 24 hours from Wednesday evening through the middle of Thursday, PG&E had said on Sunday.The company’s handling of recent power outages has been criticized for being too widespread, with insufficient communication with customers.The outages are the latest in a string of events for which PG&E has been widely criticized. The utility filed for bankruptcy in January, citing potential civil liabilities in excess of $30 billion from major wildfires linked to its transmission wires and other equipment.

Three men at PG&E decide when Californians go dark to stop fires - Since an unprecedented blackout plunged millions of Californians into darkness last week, residents and state officials have questioned how utility giant PG&E Corp. came to the decision to cut the lights. Now they have some answers. In a report filed with California utility regulators on Thursday, the San Francisco-based company said three vice presidents are responsible for deciding whether the power goes out to keep electrical lines from igniting blazes: Michael Lewis, senior vice president of electric operations; Sumeet Singh, vice president of asset and risk management; and Ahmad Ababneh, vice president of electric operations on major projects and programs. Two more vice presidents will join the bunch in 2020. PG&E said the utility has already provided the factors these officials take into account in deciding. In a September 2018 document, the company said it uses national fire danger ratings, National Weather Service warnings, humidity levels, temperature, terrain and local climate to weigh shutoffs. The utility said at the time that it expected to cut service once or twice a year. So far in 2019, it has shut power at least thrice. PG&E has been taking more extreme measures to keep its lines from sparking blazes since a series of catastrophic wildfires in 2017 and 2018 saddled the company with an estimated $30 billion in liabilities and forced it into bankruptcy. Last week's blackout -- the largest one the utility has ever orchestrated -- has drawn outrage from politicians who said the outage was too extensive and that the company did a poor job of communicating it to customers. "There are crucial lessons to learn from this event, and we are committed to learning and doing a better job across the board," PG&E Chief Executive Officer Bill Johnson said in a letter accompanying the report. PG&E also said in the filing that the company's board of directors doesn't directly influence shutoff decisions. But it noted that a board committee oversees the company's wildfire safety plan -- which includes shutoffs.

 'There are lives at stake': PG&E criticized over blackouts to prevent California wildfires - California’s largest utility is under severe scrutiny by state regulators and customers overs its rolling blackouts that have left millions of people without power. Just two weeks after a massive power shut-off that the company acknowledged it mishandled, Pacific Gas & Electric announced on Wednesday that it will cut electricity to 179,000 customers in California in the face of a new wildfire threat. Southern California Edison, the state’s second-largest investor-owned utility, also warned on Wednesday of power outages to 308,000 customers. Utility equipment has been blamed in the last several years for some of California’s most destructive wildfires, and now the companies are using rolling blackouts to protect dry landscapes from power lines that could overheat and spark deadly fires. But the preemptive outages, or Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS), have come under deep criticism by those who argue that the blackouts threaten lives and local response efforts to fire emergencies, and shift responsibility away from PG&E. “This is a utility owned by shareholders that is shifting risk from its own corporate entity to the public,” said Peter Gleick, a climate scientist and founder of the Pacific Institute in Berkeley, California. “It’s shifting risk to individual homes and businesses that lose power and then can’t operate,” he said. “Are we now living in a society where fundamental basic services are cut off regularly to protect corporate interests? They can’t impose this burden on people.” The company says that customers can now expect rolling power outages for another 10 years as it upgrades its electrical systems in response to more extreme weather conditions in California, which are driven in part by climate change. PG&E has defended the outages as critical for the safety of its customers, but apologized for its handling of the blackout on Oct. 9-12, which shut off electricity for millions of people, some without warning.

 PG&E Would Be Bought And Converted To Public-Owned Utility Under California Mayor’s Plan - San Jose, California is proposing that PG&E should be bought and converted into the country's largest customer-owned utility amid mass-blackouts and heightened tempers over their role in the state's wildfires, according to the Wall Street Journal. San Jose is the third largest city in California and PG&E's largest customer. According to the Journal, Mayor Sam Liccardo hopes in the coming weeks to convince other cities to join the buyout proposal, which would change the utility's investor-owned status to a nonprofit electric-and-gas cooperative.  The buyout proposal amounts to a revolt by some of PG&E’s roughly 16 million customers as the company struggles to keep the lights on and provide basic services while preventing its aging electric equipment from sparking wildfires.San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said in an interview that the time has come for the people dependent on PG&E for essential services to propose a new direction. A cooperative, he said, would create a utility better able to meet customers’ needs because it would be owned by customers—and answerable to them. -Wall Street Journal    In other words, Liccardo thinks a coalition of California officials can do it better.   "This is a crisis begging for a better solution than what PG&E customers see being considered today," Liccardo told the Journal, saying of the recent Venezuela-tier power shut-offs, "I've seen better organized riots."

 Over 1 Million Californians May Be Affected By Imminent Fire-Prevention Blackout - Californians will once again get to 'enjoy' a pre-industrial lifestyle this week as state utilities gear up for another round of intentional blackouts aimed at reducing the risk of fires, according to Bloomberg, while PG&E claims that over to 1 million residents may be impacted by the shutoffs.  On Wednesday, PG&E will begin cutting power to approximately 179,000 California households in 17 fire-prone areas, beginning at 2pm. The outage includes Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Kern, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, San Mateo Sierra, Sonoma, Tehama and Yuba counties.  Every time the wind blows California will become Venezuela— zerohedge (@zerohedge) October 22, 2019Further south, Edison International's Southern California utility announced that 162,276 customers may be affected by a similar blackout, while Sempra Energy may cut power to 24,000.  The potential for an outage comes at a time of year when the landscape is dry and fires spark and spread easily. Northerly winds are expected to pick up Wednesday evening into Thursday morning in the hills of the East Bay and North Bay, delivering critical fire risk. Winds between 35 and 45 mph with some 55 mph gusts in localized areas are forecast for Sonoma and Napa counties. The National Weather Service has a Red Flag Warning in effect for the North Bay mountains, valleys and coast, noon Wednesday through 4 p.m. Thursday; the East Bay mountains and valleys, 3 p.m. Wednesday through 4 p.m. Thursday; and the Santa Cruz Mountains, 7 p.m. Wednesday through 4 p.m. Thursday. –SFgate PG&E had originally planned on cutting power to more than 209,000 households before dialing back the figure. They have provided the following website for those who may be impacted. Hopefully it doesn't go down this time.

California’s Electric Vehicle Dream Is Turning Into A Nightmare  -- California might be blazing a trail with getting a large number of electric vehicles on the road, but the only trail California is currently blazing is the wildfire/PG&E fiasco that could once again plunge millions of Californians into the dark in the next wave of blackouts, expected today, the likes of which could sour investor confidence in purchasing a vehicle that relies on sketchy power sources. It’s windy in dry California, and apparently that’s enough to trigger another preemptive blackout for PG&E customers. For starters, PG&E will cut power to 179,000 residents on Wednesday.But it’s not just PG&E. Other utilities, too, such as Edison International and Sempra, are also expected to cut off power to hundreds of thousands of Californians who are in an area that is notoriously dry, with winds expected to combine with those dry conditions to create too much of a fire risk.The result? A blackout akin to the Venezuela 2019 blackouts that kept millions in the dark.The blackouts—which one might expect from a third-world or mismanaged nation such as Venezuela or even Pakistan, which leads the world in the number of annual blackouts—are life and death for some California residents, and the problem isn’t expected to be resolved anytime soon. But it also may mean life and death for California’s plan to encourage residents to adopt EVs. Unlike third-world blackouts, critical California operations such as medical facilities are all equipped with backup generators for times of outage. But residents who rely on electricity to power medical devices are at great risk. And EV owners may find themselves stranded.The PG&E purposeful blackouts are part of a wildfire safety program that the state-mandated after the wine country fires that overtook $9.4 billion in property.  As for those electric vehicles that various California state agencies have earmarked $2.46 billion in public funds for—the state might do better to spend that money on some plan to keep the lights on. If that thought is not palatable enough for Californians, the state could earmark those funds as a way to keep those EVs charged. 

California’s wildfire blackouts are a mess. Here are 3 key solutions. - Seemingly overnight, California has been forced to confront a grim new reality: Hundreds of thousands of its residents are regularly going to have their power cut off for days at a time so that their electric utilities can avoid starting wildfires.The problem — which I described in detail last week — is intrinsic to what the state is trying to do, namely deliver electricity to millions of residents in often mountainous, forested areas growing hotter and dryer every year. There is probably no way for utilities to do that without starting some fires and/or cutting off the power to avoid them. (Southern California Edison isthinking of cutting off power this week.)But California is doing just about everything to make the problem worse and handle it poorly. There are ways to make the grid less fire-prone, but they are expensive and slow California’s SB 901, passed late last year, requires all state utilities to submit wildfire mitigation plans. The overwhelming focus of those plans is on reducing wildfire risks around existing grid infrastructure. One strategy is grid hardening: replacing old transmission towers and power poles with new, stronger, more fire-resistant ones; replacing worn-out parts; updating power lines withsynchrophasors and other tech that can help grid operators detect and limit faults more quickly; insulating lines; and using remote and drone sensing to identify far-off problems quickly.Alongside grid hardening is fire safety. In 2007, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) was blamed for wildfires in San Diego County; investigators found it hadn’t done proper vegetation management. It ultimately paid $2.4 billion to settle lawsuits related to those fires.  As I explained in the last post, some of the factors that have increased wildfire risk are out of the hands of power utilities. Most notably, the risk is increased when Californians move to fire-prone areas, receive subsidized insurance, settle in communities with insufficient fire readiness and evacuation plans, build houses from materials vulnerable to fire, and surround those houses with flammable shrubs and trees. Most of those choices are now incentivized by state law and regulation; none are particularly discouraged. Unless it wants to become a perpetual rolling disaster, California will eventually have to address all parts of its land-use and housing crisis.

Sonoma County Wildfire Spreads 7,000 Acres in Less Than Five Hours -- A fast-spreading wildfire erupted in California's Sonoma County Wednesday night, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. It had grown to 7,000 acres as of 2:12 a.m. Thursday, according to the Sonoma Lake Napa Unit of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE).  As of Wednesday evening, around 276 people were under a mandatory evacuation order, and around 1,700 people were under an evacuation warning, The Press Democrat reported.  "The fire is moving at a dangerous rate," Geyserville Fire Protection District Capt. Joe Stewart said in a Facebook video reported by the Los Angeles Times. "If you are woken by emergency alerts, please heed those warnings and evacuate." The so-called Kincade Fire ignited at around 9:30 p.m. near Burned Mountain and Kincade roads, The Mercury News reported. By 12:45 a.m. Thursday, it had spread to 400 acres. As of 2:12 a.m., it was still zero percent contained, according to CAL FIRE.  The fire broke out a little more than six hours after utility Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) shut off power to around 27,830 customers in Sonoma County as part of an attempt to prevent its power lines from starting fires, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.  The Kincade Fire is burning "near the (shut-off) footprint and we are working to gather additional information," PG&E spokeswoman Karly Hernandez told the San Francisco Chronicle. All told, the utility shut off power to 178,000 customers in 15 counties Wednesday after the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a red-flag warning for the windy, dry conditions that increase fire risk. This is thesecond time this month that PG&E has preemptively shut off power because of red-flag conditions. Those conditions were also expected to make the fire harder to fight. The NWS recorded a gust of 76 miles per hour near the blaze, The Press Democrat reported, and fire crews could not attack the fire from the air because of turbulence.

California Governor Declares Emergency In Counties Hit By Kincade And Tick Wildfires : NPR - California Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency in Sonoma and Los Angeles counties due to two large wildfires. The Kincade fire in the Bay Area has burned nearly 22,000 acres since it started Wednesday night; the Tick fire has burned 4,300 acres northwest of Los Angeles. Both fires were only 5 percent contained as of Friday morning local time, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The Kincade fire isn't expected to be fully contained until next Thursday. It has already caused the Air Quality Index in San Francisco to shift from "good" to "moderate." The National Weather Service is warning other Bay Area cities that air quality will continue to drop as smoke continues to move south. The fire has been aided by dry conditions and gusty winds — and firefighters say the narrow roads and steep terrain of northern Sonoma County have impeded their efforts to combat the blaze. The power utility Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. told regulators that part of a transmission tower broke near the area of the Kincade fire shortly before it began. The company shut down power to distribution lines in the area because of potential fire danger posed by those lines. PG&E says weather predictions didn't reach the level that would have triggered a shutdown of the transmission lines. 

Kincade Fire: PG&E transmission tower had broken wire near wildfire - Pacific Gas & Electric, California's biggest utility, says a broken jumper wire was found on a transmission tower near where the raging Kincade Fire broke out two days ago in northern California. The utility said in a filing with state regulators that it registered an outage at the tower at 9:20 p.m. PT on Wednesday, only seven minutes before the fire erupted near the Sonoma County wine country town of Geyserville. The blaze, only 5% contained on Friday, quickly swelled to 34 square miles, burned 290 buildings and forced the evacuation of 2,000 people. Although PG&E had cut power on some lines in the area Wednesday afternoon because of concern over threatening weather, the utility said had kept the power flowing on that particular stretch of high-voltage transmission lines, which carry electricity from the power plant to various substations, because winds there had not triggered shutdown protocols. The power shutoffs were imposed after PG&E electrical equipment was blamed for several blazes in recent years that killed scores of people and burned thousands of homes.In its filing on the Kincade Fire, PG&E said a worker noted that a CAL FIRE team battling the blaze had taped off the area around one transmission tower. Fire workers directed PG&E to what appeared to be a broken jumper wire on the same tower. A jumper is the wire that carries the electrical current. PG&E CEO Bill Johnson said it was too soon to know if the faulty equipment ignited the fire. He said the tower had been inspected four times in the past two years and appeared to have been in excellent condition.

Biggest PG&E Shutoff Yet May Black Out 2.5 Million Californians -  PG&E Corp. is preparing to cut power to an estimated 2.5 million Californians in what would be the state’s largest -- and potentially longest -- deliberate blackout ever. The bankrupt utility giant is warning the lights may go off in about 850,000 homes and businesses across Northern California -- including parts of Oakland, Berkeley and other San Francisco Bay Area cities -- as it tries to keep power lines from igniting wildfires during a wind storm. The shutoff would hit almost one-tenth of California’s population and spread to nearly 20% of the utility’s total customers, spanning 36 counties. The city of San Francisco is expected to be spared.Large swaths of Northern California may go dark for days amid strong winds that threaten to knock down power lines and ignite fires. The weekend wind storm “has the potential to be one of the strongest in the last several years,” PG&E meteorologist Scott Strenfel said. “We absolutely must be prepared for it.”It will be the third time this month that PG&E has resorted to mass blackouts to avoid wildfires. The San Francisco-based company has been taking more extreme measures since its equipment sparked blazes in 2017 and 2018, saddling it with an estimated $30 billion in liabilities and forcing it into bankruptcy. The recent widespread shutoffs, however, have led to a debate over how far California is willing to go to prevent fires during windstorms. Despite the power cuts, fires continue to burn.In Southern California, Edison International is warning that it may cut service to more than 132,000 customers. Further south in the San Diego area, Sempra Energy said it’s monitoring weather forecasts.  PG&E said it expects to make a final call on the shutoffs at around 8 a.m. local time Saturday and lights would start going out at around 3 p.m. the same day. The blackout would begin in communities near Sacramento and spread within hours. Gusts were forecast to reach 80 miles (130 kilometers) an hour through Monday, meaning much of the region may be powerless for two days, if not longer.

California Blackout: Turning the Lights Off -- Yves Smith - The adaptations to the “new normal” of elective and large-scala PG&E blackouts in California has only begun. The utility has warned it may impose its biggest blackout so far over this weekend due to high winds and continued bone-dry conditions. The first blackout hit about 2 million people; the one earlier this week, about 450,000, and this weekend’s could affect as many as the first but be of longer duration.  It’s not just PG&E; SoCalEd turned out the lights for about 26,000 customers. NBC reports that a good rule of thumb is that a customer represents about 2.5 people, so call it 65,000. But the PG&E blackouts have been far and away the largest, and the utility has been in its customers’ faces by telling them to expect this sort of thing for as much as a decade. Given how well PG&E is managed, if the execs and shareholders don’t lose their spots in the bankruptcy, expect the “hardening” to take even longer.Hardware stores report that batteries and backup generators are sold out. And the rush to install backup generators is a climate change negative, since most run on diesel fuel.It is hard to see how individuals who rely on equipment, such as the injured or handicapped not being able to use elevators in their buildings, or homeowners with electrical septic tanks, get by. New York City had a dose of that in the aftermath of Sandy in the blackout areas. Some people were bringing food to the elderly and other mobility-restricted individuals. But that sort of ad hoc charity too often has gaps. People would walk uptown to get a coffee and charge their phones. That is going to look like a luxury in a long-lived blackout in California.The Wall Street Journal describes how businesses in blackout area have been hard hit. The ones that suffer the most are small grocers that don’t have generators. And for them, the cost of buying a generator ($100,000) or renting one ($20,000 per day) is prohibitive. Most small businesses are precarious. How long before they start folding? How long before that starts affecting employment, at least in local communities?Governor Gavin Newsom is looking mighty ineffective. Of course, he inherited a mess very long in the making, but he is still nominally the guy in charge. He proposed that PG&E pay small businesses $250 each for the outage. The gesture went over badly since $250 is bupkis compared to the losses. And PG&E gave the passive aggressive blowoff of saying that it appreciated the feedback.  And PG&E is seen as positioning itself to oust Newsom.

Unprecedented movement detected on California earthquake fault capable of 8.0 temblor - A major California fault capable of producing a magnitude 8 earthquake has begun moving for the first time on record, a result of this year’s Ridgecrest earthquake sequence destabilizing nearby faults, Caltech scientists say in a new study released in the journal Science on Thursday.In the modern historical record, the 160-mile-long Garlock fault on the northern edge of the Mojave Desert has never been observed to produce either a strong earthquake or even to creep. But new satellite radar images now show that the fault has started to move, causing a bulging of land that can be viewed from space.“This is surprising, because we’ve never seen the Garlock fault do anything. Here, all of a sudden, it changed its behavior,” said the lead author of the study, Zachary Ross, assistant professor of geophysics at Caltech. “We don’t know what it means.” The creeping illustrates how the Ridgecrest quakes — the largest in Southern California in two decades — have destabilized this remote desert region of California between the state’s greatest mountain range, the Sierra Nevada, and its lowest point, Death Valley. It also punctures a persistent myth that circulates in California and beyond — that quakes like the Ridgecrest temblors are somehow a good thing that makes future quakes less likely. In fact, earthquakes make future earthquakes more likely. Most of the time, the follow-up quakes are smaller. But occasionally, they’re bigger.Not only has the Garlock fault begun to creep in one section, but there’s also been a substantial swarm of small earthquakes in another section of the fault, and two additional clusters of earthquakes elsewhere — one south of Owens Lake and the other in the Panamint Valley just west of Death Valley. Whether the destabilization will result in a major quake soon cannot be predicted.  large quake on the Garlock fault has the potential to send strong shaking to the San Fernando Valley, Santa Clarita, Lancaster, Palmdale, Ventura, Oxnard, Bakersfield and Kern County, one of the nation’s most productive regions for agriculture and oil. Important military installations could also get strong shaking, such as Edwards Air Force Base, Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake and Fort Irwin National Training Center. The fault is crossed by two of Southern California’s most important supplies of imported water — the California and Los Angeles aqueducts — and critical roads like Interstate 5, state routes 14 and 58 and U.S. 395. A major quake on the Garlock fault could then, in turn, destabilize the San Andreas.

Illegal forest fires send another lethal haze over parts of Indonesia - After three weeks of improved air quality, the thick haze of smoke from deliberately lit forest fires, which began to spread across Indonesia in July, has returned to the province of South Sumatra. On October 14, the haze descended on the provincial capital of Palembang, causing the city’s Air Pollutant Index (API) to soar to an all-time high of 921. The return of the smog forced the closure of Palembang’s airport and most of its schools. The Sumatran provinces of Jambi and Riau continue to be severely affected by the deadly haze. The air quality in Jambi, where the blanket of toxic smoke has taken on an ominous orange glow in the sky, has been described by the Air Quality Monitoring System as “unhealthy” and “hazardous.” Indonesia’s Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) issued a warning on October 15 to Sumatran residents about more smoke on the way from revived forest fires. Spokesman Agus Wibowo said the agency has used weather satellites to detect 1,547 hotspots in a total of six provinces. The fires, intensified by the El Niño weather pattern, have so far destroyed more than 320,000 hectares of forest. The haze began in July this year when vast stretches of land on Sumatra and Borneo islands were burned. By August the haze had spread to Singapore and Malaysia, where the API reading registered in places at 223, or “very unhealthy.” The Malaysian government closed over 400 schools across the country and a heated diplomatic dispute with Indonesia ensued. Over the past two months, the widespread haze has engulfed Brunei, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines. This year’s fires are the worst on Indonesia’s record since the catastrophic haze of 2015. The Southeast Asian haze is a yearly occurrence which has steadily grown in intensity throughout the last two decades. The air pollution crisis is caused every dry season (from July to October) in the region by the industrial-scale slash-and-burn practices of palm oil companies in Indonesia. Every year the fires are lit in the provinces of South Sumatra, Riau, and West Kalimantan, the country’s central locations for palm oil and pulpwood plantations. Companies resort to these land clearing methods as a cheaper and faster alternative to the typical use of heavy construction equipment. Clearing land through the use of machinery and chemicals can cost up to $US200 per hectare, but fire costs only $US5 per hectare. Then, as the clearing takes place on the swampy peat forests of Sumatra and Borneo, the peat soil, which is acidic, deficient in nutrients, and often ridden with plant diseases, has to be made suitable for agriculture. With chemicals and fertilisers, the cost per hectare is $US2,800, but with fire, only $US140. Burned land can also be sold illegally at a higher price.

NOAA: Last Month Tied as Warmest September on Record Globally -- In its global State of the Climate report issued Wednesday, NOAA reported that last month was tied with September 2015 as the warmest September on record in data going back to 1880. Other agencies agreed that last month was near the top, although their placements varied slightly. Minor differences in rankings can arise because of how the various agencies handle data-sparse regions such as the Arctic, where few surface weather stations exist.

  • —NASA ranked last month as the second warmest September on record, just behind 2016 and ahead of 2015.
  • —The Japan Meteorological Agency found last month to be slightly cooler than 2015 and warmer than 2016, making it the second warmest September on record globally.
  • —The European Union’s Copernicus EU program placed last month as the warmest September on record in data extending back to 1979.

The bottom line is that last month was among the three warmest Septembers globally in 140 years of recordkeeping. As NOAA pointed out in a news release, “The 10 warmest Septembers have all occurred since 2005, with the last five years (2015-2019) being the five warmest Septembers on record.” Last month’s global warmth is especially noteworthy given the absence of an El Niño event, which normally acts to boost global temperatures by transferring large amounts of heat from ocean to atmosphere. One of the strongest El Niño events ever observed pushed global temperatures to record levels in 2015-16. For the year to date (January-September), NOAA ranks 2019 as the second warmest year on record, behind only the first nine months of 2016—which, again, were heavily influenced by the intense El Niño of 2015-16. The most likely outcome by year's end is that 2019 will be the second warmest full year on record, going back to 1880 (see embedded tweet below). The current warmth is right in line with ongoing long-term warming related to human-produced greenhouse gases. According to NOAA, the year-to-date global temperature is 1.69°F (0.94°C) above the 20th-century average of 57.5°F (14.2°C). Global temperatures are now running more than 1°C above the levels observed in preindustrial times of the 19th century—a flashing warning sign, given the IPCC’s special 2018 report on the myriad risks to the stability of global climate and ecosystems if sustained warming exceeds 1.5°C above preindustrial values.

 Climate change making stronger El Ninos, study finds - Climate change is making stronger El Ninos, which change weather worldwide and heat up an already warming planet, a new study finds. Scientists examined 33 El Ninos — natural warming of equatorial Pacific that triggers weather extremes across the globe — since 1901. They found since the 1970s, El Ninos have been forming farther to the west in warmer waters, leading to stronger El Ninos in some cases.A powerful El Nino can trigger drought in some places, like Australia and India. And it can cause flooding in other areas like California. The Pacific gets more hurricanes during an El Nino and the Atlantic gets fewer. El Nino makes winters milder and wetter in the United States, which generally benefits from strong El Ninos. They're devastating elsewhere. The 1997-98 event caused thousands of deaths from severe storms, heat waves, floods and drought, costing between $32 billion and $96 billion, according to a United Nations study . The shift for the origin of El Nino by hundreds of miles from the east of the International Dateline to the west of that point is important because the water to the west is naturally warmer, said study lead author Bin Wang, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Hawaii.Before 1978, 12 of the 14 El Ninos formed in the east. After 1978, all 11 were more central or western, according a study in Monday's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences . Researchers did not study La Ninas, the cooler flip side to El Nino.

Ocean acidification can cause mass extinctions, fossils reveal --Ocean acidification can cause the mass extinction of marine life, fossil evidence from 66m years ago has revealed.A key impact of today’s climate crisis is that seas are again getting more acidic, as they absorb carbon emissions from the burning of coal, oil and gas. Scientists said the latest research is a warning that humanity is risking potential “ecological collapse” in the oceans, which produce half the oxygen we breathe.The researchers analysed small seashells in sediment laid down shortly after a giant meteorite hit the Earth, wiping out the dinosaurs and three-quarters of marine species. Chemical analysis of the shells showed a sharp drop in the pH of the ocean in the century to the millennium after the strike. The researchers found that the pH dropped by 0.25 pH units in the 100-1,000 years after the strike. It is possible that there was an even bigger drop in pH in the decade or two after the strike and the scientists are examining other sediments in even finer detail.Henehan said: “If 0.25 was enough to precipitate a mass extinction, we should be worried.” Researchers estimate that the pH of the ocean will drop by 0.4 pH units by the end of this century if carbon emissions are not stopped, or by 0.15 units if global temperature rise is limited to 2C. Henehan said: “We may think of [acidification] as something to worry about for our grandchildren. But if it truly does get to the same acidification as at the [meteorite strike] boundary, then you are talking about effects that will last for the lifetime of our species. It was hundreds of thousands of years before carbon cycling returned to normal.”

Melting Permafrost Imperils Arctic Residents - Der Spiegel -- Kim Holmén reaches the end of the road, gets out of his car and walks the rest of the way. He trudges over rivulets of snowmelt that have turned the earth into mud that sticks to his boots. His companion shoulders a rifle that he's brought along in case they run into any polar bears. Climate change has deprived the creatures of food, but that's not what Holmén is most afraid of. He's the director of the Norwegian Polar Institute on Svalbard, an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean off Norway's northern coast. The danger Holmén is most concerned about lies directly beneath his feet. Holmén is an eccentric scientist who is deeply concerned about the Arctic climate. "It changes first, the most and the fastest, and that affects the entire world," he says. Due to global warming, temperatures up here are rising twice as fast as the global average. Since 1971, the average temperature in Svalbard has jumped by 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit). In winter, it's risen by as much as 7 degrees Celsius. For reference, if winter temperatures in Berlin were to rise that significantly, the German capital wouldn't be 2 degrees Celsius in January, but 9. In other words, winter would suddenly feel more like spring. Svalbard is a group of rough, lonely islands located about halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, its landscape dominated by rugged mountains and millennia-old glaciers. Fewer than 2,500 people live here. It has a hospital, a science center and a few bars. When Holmén first arrived here some 30 years ago, the ground thawed to a maximum depth of 1 meter in the summer. Now the measurements show thaws of up to 1.7 meters. Similar things are happening in other parts of the Arctic as well.Holmén has studied polar climates his entire life -- in Siberia, in Greenland and in far-off Antarctica and is well-versed in the problem presented by the thaw. Twenty-four percent of the land mass in the northern hemisphere has a more or less frozen soil, an area larger than all of Russia. That permafrost stores up to 1.6 billion tons of carbon in the form of dead trees, dead animals or withered grass -- about twice as much carbon as is currently found in the atmosphere today. If this soil thaws, this matter will begin to decompose, releasing greenhouse gases. And if that happens on a large scale, climate change will take on a life of its own. The additional gases will accelerate the rise in global temperatures, which will further exacerbate thawing, which will release more gases. Scientists call such processes "feedbacks." Holmén knows the ground is thawing. What he doesn't know is whether this phenomenon has already reached its tipping point. There are indications that this could, in fact, be the case.

 Soil in the Arctic Is Now Releasing More Carbon Dioxide Than 189 Countries -The Arctic is now releasing more carbon dioxide in the winter than it can absorb in the summer, according to a new report.Now that heat waves are occurring in the winter, and the Arctic is warming three times faster than the global average because of human activity, greenhouse gases that would have normally remained frozen in the ground are being released into the atmosphere, according to a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.The study indicates that more than 1.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide are being released from Arctic soil annually because of warming temperatures — but plant growth in the region can only draw around 1.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the soil during warmer months. That means that an additional 600 million tons of CO2 are being released annually, which exceeds the CO2 levels of 189 countries.  Globally, countries release around 42 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually, with China, the United States, India, Russia, Japan, and Germany accounting for nearly half of this total. The United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change estimates that no more than 420 billion tons of carbon dioxide can be released into the atmosphere in the years ahead if goals set under the Paris climate agreement are to be achieved.  The global pact aims to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, otherwise catastrophic environmental changes could occur.

From Antarctica to the Oceans, Climate Change Damage Is About to Get a Lot Worse, IPCC Warns - As the planet warms, diverse ecosystems—from mountain glaciers to the icy Arctic to the oceans—are already seeing dangerous effects fromclimate change. Future warming will threaten food supplies, force the migration of countless species and dramatically change the icy regions of the world. The changes are coming. How much is up to us, scientists warn in a new report released Wednesday by the United Nations.The changes are happening faster than many scientists expected to see, and they're often intricately connected, with cascading effects that can ripple through ecosystems.As global temperatures rise, time is running out. The cryosphere—areas of the planet that are frozen—is shrinking as glaciers and sea ice melt, snowpack declines and permafrost thaws. At the same time, oceans have absorbed 90 percent of the excess heat and about a quarter of the carbon dioxide from human activities, leading to greater acidification that harms shellfish and corals and lowers oxygen levels in the water.  "The world's oceans and cryosphere have been taking the heat for climate change for decades," said Ko Barrett, vice chair of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which produced the report on climate change's impact on the oceans and cryosphere. "The consequences for nature and humanity are sweeping and severe."Just how severe the impacts will become—whether sea level rise stops at 1 to 2 feet by 2100 or continues to rise as high as 3.5 feet; whether the planet sees 20 times more marine heat waves or 50 times more—depends on how, and how quickly, humanity responds to the crisis, the report found. The report brought together 104 scientists from 36 countries with a variety of expertise. As they reviewed the existing research, the diverse group found interconnections and a magnitude of change that hadn't been as clear before.

Scientists Show How Fossil Fuel Industry Deceived the Public About the Climate Crisis -- An international group of scientists released a report today detailing how the fossil fuel industry actively campaigned to sow doubt about the climate crisis and what steps need to be taken to undo the damage, as the Los Angeles Times reported. The report may be particularly damaging for oil and gas giant ExxonMobil, which will head to court on Wednesday to defend itself against New York State's allegations that it defrauded shareholders by downplaying the expected risks of climate change to its business.  Scientistd from Harvard, George Mason University and the University of Bristol in the UK collaborated on the paper, America Misled: How the fossil fuel industry deliberately misled Americans about climate change. The researchers looked at more than a decade of peer-reviewed research to reach their findings. They issued the paper to inform policymakers, journalists and the public about "what the fossil fuel industry knew versus what they did, the arguments they used to seed doubt in the public, the techniques they used to create those arguments, and some strategies for combating them," according to a University of Bristol statement. One of the examples that the study pins on ExxonMobil is a 2004 New York Times advertisement that read like an editorial. In the advertisement, the company used disinformation techniques, including questioning scientific consensus and calling for a "balanced" scientific approach to climate change, which gives undeserved credibility to skeptics of scientific consensus, according to the Los Angeles Times. The paper has five key takeaways, according to its press release:

  • 1. Internal corporate documents show that the fossil fuel industry has known about human-caused climate change for decades. Its response was to actively arrange and fund denial and disinformation to suppress action and protect its status quo business operations.
  • 2. As the scientific consensus on climate change emerged and strengthened, the industry and its political allies attacked the consensus and exaggerated the uncertainties.
  • 3. The fossil fuel industry offered no consistent alternative explanation for why the climate was changing — the goal was merely to undermine support for action.
  • 4. The strategy, tactics, infrastructure and rhetorical arguments and techniques used by fossil fuel interests to challenge the scientific evidence of climate change — including cherry picking, fake experts and conspiracy theories — come straight out of the tobacco industry's playbook for delaying tobacco control.
  • 5. Informing the public about how these arguments are deceptive not only begins to correct the misconceptions, but also will make it harder for future campaigns to use these misleading tactics to confuse the public.

ExxonMobil Is Still Bankrolling Climate Science Deniers - ExxonMobil says it believes “the risk of climate change is real,” and it is “committed to being part of the solution.” The largest investor-owned oil company in the world also says it supports a federal carbon tax and the Paris climate agreement.Then why, after all these years, is the company still financing advocacy groups, think tanks, and business associations that reject the reality and seriousness of the climate crisis, as well as members of Congress who deny the science and oppose efforts to rein in carbon emissions? According to the company’s latest grantmaking report, it gave $772,500to 10 such groups in 2018, which does not include its annual dues to trade groups such as the American Petroleum Institute, which opposes a carbon tax. In addition, ExxonMobil continued to promote gridlock directly on Capitol Hill. Two-thirds of the $1.65 million it spent on congressional election campaigns during the 2017-18 election cycle went to climate science deniers. Nearly half of ExxonMobil’s 2018 donations to nonprofit denier groups went to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Another 30 percent went to the American Enterprise Institute and the Manhattan Institute, which have been ExxonMobil grantees for 20 years. All told, the company has spent some $37 million since 1998 on a network of denier organizations — a sorry record of support that ranks second only to Charles Koch and his brother, the late David Koch, owners of the coal, oil and gas conglomerate Koch Industries.

The new science fossil fuel companies fear -Like most analysts, Richard Heede started his work on climate change focused on what individual consumers could do to reduce their emissions. After all, it was the consumer who was “consuming” the product and actually releasing the emissions from the oil, gas or coal. But over time, he recognized there was a flaw in that approach: Individual consumers can make choices only among what’s already on the market — but who decided what was on the market? Other, larger forces had shaped an economy dependent on fossil fuels, he realized — companies who developed the markets for fossil fuels and influenced decisions to build the infrastructure that supported them. He asked himself: Shouldn’t the companies who profited from those decisions play a role in mitigating them? With world governments making little progress toward reducing emissions, perhaps pressuring the companies whose products were causing the harm might have more effect? By 2013, roughly a decade after Heede began his search, he had his answer: Just 90 companies had contributed nearly two-thirds of the world’s industrial emissions. He could even pinpoint the share of those emissions for which companies existing today are responsible. In effect, Heede had established a pillar of a new field of research, now known as attribution science. But it wasn’t just an academic exercise: It’s a weapon that climate campaigners are starting to wield to put fossil fuel companies on the hook for billions of dollars in damages. It’s a kind of end run around a political system they see as forced into gridlock by fossil fuel industry influence.

 Supreme Court allows climate case targeting Big Oil to proceed  -The city of Baltimore's lawsuit against a group of 26 major oil companies over their role in climate change will proceed after the Supreme Court rejected the energy giants' request for a stay on Tuesday. The oil companies had asked for the Supreme Court to intervene after a federal judge ruled that Baltimore's lawsuit could proceed in state court. The companies had sought to move the litigation to federal court in order to avoid potentially expensive litigation. The group of companies includes BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell. Baltimore sued the energy giants last year, arguing that the companies are responsible for contributing to climate change and that the city is especially vulnerable to the resulting rise in sea level. The companies tried to get the case moved out of Maryland's state court system and into federal district court. The district court denied the motion and the oil giants appealed to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Citing multiple similar cases playing out in other states, the energy companies said that without a stay from the Supreme Court, they "would be unable to recover the cost and burdens of duplicative litigation." The 4th Circuit will hear oral arguments in the appeal in December.

Investors detail Exxon's misleading climate reports in New York trial - The second day of Exxon’s climate fraud trial kicked off with two witnesses for the attorney general’s office testifying Wednesday that the oil giant has been anything but clear about the way it assesses the risk posed to its business by climate change. Exxon failed to disclose that it used two different numbers to calculate climate risk, according to testimony by Natasha Lamb, director of research and shareholder engagement for Arjuna Capital and Michael Garland, assistant comptroller for corporate governance and responsible investment for the city of New York. Their testimony supports claims made by Attorney General Leticia James, who alleges that Exxon violated theMartin Act, her state’s powerful anti-fraud statute. James alleges Exxon committed fraud, deceiving investors by using one set of numbers to calculate climate risk to shareholders while it used different numbers to privately plan how to invest the company’s own funds. Exxon doesn’t deny it used different numbers, but says it used what it refers to as a proxy cost of carbon assumption to determine future energy demand and a separate number it refers to as a greenhouse gas cost to evaluate investments. It said it considers that normal business practice.The oil giant maintains it has made accurate disclosures about the two numbers to investors and says the AG’s office is “twisting the content of those disclosures” to make it appear as though it misled the public.Lamb and Garland both testified that during meetings held with Exxon between 2013 and 2016, company representatives misled them to believe that the oil giant used only one proxy cost of carbon when assessing how climate change would impact the future of its business. Like other companies, Exxon uses a proxy cost of carbon, or number to represent its best estimate, to determine what the cost of climate change could be in the future. In order to be useful, that number must be consistently applied and communicated to shareholders, something James’ office alleges Exxon failed to do.

Trump’s SEC ‘determined to leave public in the dark’ on climate change, Sierra Club alleges in lawsuit - The Sierra Club has filed a lawsuit challenging the Securities and Exchange Commission for its failure to respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and disclose documents regarding what the environmental group called the agency’s “unprecedented rejections, on behalf of corporate polluters, of climate-related shareholder resolutions aimed at reducing harmful pollution, or adopting corporate sustainability and climate goals.” Climate resolutions introduced by shareholders for annual meetings of companies have risen in recent years, but the SEC’s rejection of these proposals using what is called no-action letter relief have also increased under Trump administration. The agency has allowed companies not to hold votes on at least 12 climate-related shareholder resolutions in the last 18 months, including one that, if passed, would have compelled Exxon Mobil to disclose emissions targets in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. Before that, a 2018 shareholder resolution planned at EOG Resources was blocked by company with the SEC’s approval, and the agency saying in its no-action letter that the resolution “seeks to micromanage the Company by probing too deeply into matters of a complex nature which shareholders, as a group, would not be a in a position to make an informed judgment.” The lawsuit states that was the first time the SEC issued a no-action letter on the issue of greenhouse gas emission targets. The details of that claim are important to understand, according to Heidi Welsh, executive director of the Sustainable Investments Institute. Walsh explained that a few earlier proposals that asked for “net-zero” climate goals had been blocked by the SEC on the grounds that they were too specific and would “micromanage” a company and therefore constitute “ordinary business”, which is the most commonly cited reason companies cite and use to block proposals. But Welsh said the EOG proposal was the first to be blocked which asked for greenhouse goals generally. “This proposal or very similar iterations of it had gone to votes more than 100 times previously, earning increasing levels of support from investors. What made the EOG no-action letter notable was that it marked a clear shift in the SEC staff’s interpretation of greenhouse gas goals proposals. The SEC staff now appears to think that if a proposal mentions goals and any sort of timeframe, it is too specific and may be excluded. This is definitely new.”

Dire Climate Change Warning in Report for Pentagon: US Military Could Collapse in 20 Years; Lack of Water, Domestic Disasters, Disease, Mass Migrations as Threats to Operations -- Yves Smith - The Pentagon has long been concerned about the threats climate change pose to stability and how it will lead to conflicts due to mass migration and even more intense competition for scarce resources. In the early 2000s, the military warned that climate change could induce large-scale deaths and migrations out of low-lying areas such as Bangladesh due to storms and flooding. A recent look at the dangers climate change poses to US military operations, released over the summer by the Army War College, went virtually unnoticed despite offering “Apocalypse Near” scenarios a mere 20 years out.  And it isn’t  just that very bad things are in the offing; the report finds that “the Department of Defense (DoD) is precariously unprepared for the national security implications of climate change-induced global security challenges.” We found out about this document only as a result of an article in Vice flagged by resilc. We’ve embedded the document at the end of the post and strongly urge you to read it in full. Or if you want Cliff Notes versions, see The Center for Climate and Security or the Vice piece The report sees the lack of potable water as a serious limitation on US military operations, which it anticipates will be overtaxed due to destabilizing climate-change induced mass migrations abroad, combined with domestic Jackpot-level threats of an overtaxed, decrepit electrical grid; diseases; and drought and potential crop failures. Vice gives a good high-level recap: The report paints a frightening portrait of a country falling apart over the next 20 years due to the impacts of climate change on “natural systems such as oceans, lakes, rivers, ground water, reefs, and forests.” Current infrastructure in the US, the report says, is woefully underprepared: “Most of the critical infrastructures identified by the Department of Homeland Security are not built to withstand these altered conditions.” Some 80 percent of US agricultural exports and 78 percent of imports are water-borne. This means that episodes of flooding due to climate change could leave lasting damage to shipping infrastructure, posing “a major threat to US lives and communities, the US economy and global food security,” the report notes. 

We cannot allow FERC to ignore our climate crisis | TheHill - As the agency responsible for permitting interstate natural gas pipelines and electric transmission, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is the gatekeeper of America’s transition to a carbon-free future — a future desperately needed, given the dire warnings the global scientific community has issued concerning climate change. Which is why it is so astonishing that the agency does not even consider the climate impacts of the projects that it approves. Right now, FERC has two unfilled seats, following the passing of former Chairman Kevin McIntyre and the departure of Obama nominee Cheryl LaFleur. But the Trump administration appears determined to transform the historically bipartisan commission into a partisan vehicle to serve the interests of fossil fuel companies. With the nomination of James Danly, FERC will be made up of three Republican appointees and an intentionally empty seat, bucking a decades-long trend of appointing Republican and Democratic commissioners together.Given this partisan reality, it is perhaps no surprise that FERC has begun to refuse to abide by binding judicial decrees requiring the agency to adequately assess the climate impacts of its permitting before approval. It goes without saying that the next FERC commissioner must be someone who will comply with these judicial directives.The courts are very clear. In its 2017 decision, Sierra Club v. FERC (Sabal Trail), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit stated that since downstream emissions are indirect effects of permitting, the commission must assess all reasonably foreseeable emissions and climate impacts resulting from its approval of expanded natural gas pipeline infrastructure. By refusing to review the effects of these emissions, FERC failed to adequately balance “the public benefits against the adverse effects” of natural gas pipelines — effectively putting a finger on the scale in favor of locking America into decades of fossil fuel dependence. Despite this, FERC continues to turn a blind eye to the looming climate crisis. This disregard was on display in recent litigation, dismissed on procedural grounds by the D.C. Circuit, brought about because FERC, in an order on a single project, introduced a sweeping new policy that would no longer evaluate greenhouse gas emissions upstream (that is, methane emissions from increased fracking facilitated by expanded pipeline capacity) or downstream (the combustion of natural gas for electric generation) from pipeline projects. That lawsuit explained thatFERC violated several federal laws by shirking its responsibility to consider emissions facilitated by expanded pipeline capacity during its environmental review, and that the agency decreed that its entire environmental review policy has changed — an action in clear violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires such significant policies to be changed through a transparent notice and comment rulemaking that includes public participation.

A UN Treaty Guarantees Youth Rights Everywhere on Earth—Except the U.S. -- Fifteen kids from a dozen countries, including Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, recently brought a formal complaint to the United Nations. They're arguing that climate change violates children's rights as guaranteed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a global agreement. By petitioning the UN on behalf of the world's children, their action made history. But it's not the first time that kids have turned to this international accord in pursuit of social change.As I explain in my book The Kids Are in Charge the Convention on the Rights of the Child isn't just a legal document. It also sends kids an important message: that they matter, that their voices are important and that they deserve to be heard. When countries join this agreement, which took effect in 1990, they pledge to work toward aligning their own laws with its principles.The convention formally recognizes children as people with universal human rights and specific rights because of their age. It reflects a shift away from seeing children entirely as the possessions of their parents to treating them as individuals with equal rights and their own interests.Many countries have taken action to promote children's rights and well-being based in part on its mandate. For example, South Africa recently became the 57th country to prohibit corporal punishment — any act intended to cause pain or discomfort, such as paddling and spanking — in all settings, including schools and homes.Corporal punishment remains legal in public schools in 19 American states and no state has outlawed the practice for parents.In Ireland, a 2012 constitutional amendment gave kids the right to be heard in custody hearings and other court proceedings. And in Nigeria, the federal government created a children's parliament and incorporated the perspectives of minors when drafting that country's Children's Rights Act.President Bill Clinton signed this convention in 1995. But the U.S. Congress has never ratified this accord. In fact, the U.S. is the only country that has refused to embrace the world's most-ratified human rights agreement. It has 196 signatories including all of the UN member states except the U.S. plus some UN observers and non-members, such as Palestine, the Holy See and the South Pacific territories of Cook Islands and Niue.

Miami Beach Declares Climate Emergency Inspired by Youth Action - Youth activists rallying in front of Miami Beach's City Hall successfully campaigned for the coastal city to declare a climate emergency, the Miami Herald reported. The youth activists who demonstrated in front of Miami Beach's City Hall last month as part of September's global climate strike handed a climate emergency resolution to Chief Resilience Officer, Susy Torriente. Rather than see the declaration fall into the abyss, Torreinte handed it into the mayor's office, which led to the resolution being introduced and passed unanimously, according to the Miami Herald. The resolution calls on Miami Beach to push the state and the rest of the country to issue an "emergency mobilization effort to restore a safe climate." It makes Miami Beach the latest of the 1,143 jurisdictions in 22 countries to declare a climate emergency, including the United Kingdom, New York City, and even Pope Francis. While the climate emergency declaration does not offer specific policies, environmental activists say the language is important. "This is more of a first step and gives us a lot of leverage," said John Paul Mejia, a 17-year-old Miami Beach Senior High School student and member of several Miami-based climate action groups, to the Miami Herald. "We need to shift the narrative to understand this as a crisis because that's what it really is."The city of Miami Beach will send copies of the declaration to the U.S. House of Representatives; the majority leader of the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell; Florida Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott; all Florida U.S. representatives; Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and all the commissioners; and every city and town in the county, according to the Miami Herald.

Massachusetts city considers requiring climate warnings on gasoline pumps - The city of Cambridge is aiming to become the first in Massachusetts — and perhaps the country — to require gas pumps to display warning labels describing the contribution fossil fuels make to climate change. The goal is to make consumers confront the impact of their choices, one fill-up at a time. “It’s just a reminder to consumers that small actions have larger consequences,” said Cambridge Vice Mayor Jan Devereux, who introduced the proposal to the City Council. Any such rule, however, is almost sure to attract lawsuits from oil interests citing First Amendment concerns about being forced to express city policy on private property, said Jamie Brooks, campaign manager for Think Beyond the Pump, the U.S.-based affiliate of Our Horizon, a Canadian nonprofit pushing for these warnings. The proposed labels would be akin to the warnings that appear on cigarette packages or wine bottles: They would state facts but let the consumer decide what action to take. Efforts to require these warnings first emerged five years ago in California. In 2014, the city of Berkeley approved plans for the labels; the governments of San Francisco and Santa Monica, as well as Seattle, Washington, also considered the idea.

Shippers shine torch in every corner as pressure to cut CO2 grows - (Reuters) - From higher-quality paint to state-of-the-art propellers: shipping companies are looking in every corner to reduce their carbon footprint as investor and activist pressure increases.  The move comes as aviation and shipping firms face demands to slash emissions due to their reliance on oil. The two sectors are expected to account for 40% of global CO2 output by 2050 unless action is taken, the European Environment Agency says. International shipping accounts for 2.2% of global carbon dioxide emissions, according to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), more than aviation’s 2% share. The IMO, a United Nations agency, has said it aims to halve greenhouse gas emissions from 2008 levels by 2050. “Ships are long-life assets, typically up to 25 years, and if the industry is to meet the IMO target ... then we need to accelerate the pace of change to greener vessels,” Stephen Fewster, Dutch bank ING’s global head of shipping, told Reuters. A private initiative launched this year also means leading banks will change how they look at financing modern, more fuel-efficient ships at a time when the sector faces a capital shortfall estimated to be at least $20 billion. While questions loom over whether shipping can meet its 2050 target without an overhaul of the types of cleaner fuel available and infrastructure, shipping firms are making individual efforts to change in a shake-up seen costing billions.

 U.S. EPA chief hints vehicle CO2 limits will tighten - (Reuters) - The Trump administration’s chief environmental regulator said on Tuesday final U.S. vehicle carbon dioxide standards due out later this year could be more restrictive than current rules enacted by the Obama administration because they will eliminate certain loopholes. “In some of the out years, we’re actually more restrictive on CO2 emissions than the Obama proposal was” because the proposed Trump administration rules will eliminate “off ramps” that make it easier for automakers to comply, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler told reporters after a speech to the Detroit Economic Club. Wheeler said the final proposal will not be look “exactly like” the original one announced in August 2018 to freeze fuel efficiency standards at 2020 levels through 2026. He declined to offer more details. Work is continuing on revisions to the vehicle efficiency and emissions standards, which are overseen by EPA and the Department of Transportation, he said. On a separate point, Wheeler said the EPA is prepared to enact new regulations to curtail smog, and plans to set new standards next year for nitrogen oxide emissions from heavy trucks. The Trump administration is embroiled in a legal battle over automotive tailpipe emissions with the State of California and other states that want to keep Obama administration standards, which call for pushing the average fuel efficiency of new vehicles to 46.7 miles per gallon by 2026.

Air miles should be axed to deter frequent fliers, advises report Air miles schemes should be axed as they encourage jet-setters to take extra flights in a bid to maintain “privileged traveller status”, according to a report commissioned by the government’s climate change advisers. An “escalating Air Miles Levy” should also be introduced to rein in the number of trips taken by frequent flyers without penalising those taking an annual holiday, with the income raised to be invested into low-carbon aviation technology. The recommendations, contained in a report commissioned by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), are aimed at restricting the 15% of the UK population it said were responsible for taking 70% of flights.. By comparison, half the country does not fly at all in a given year. “The norm of unlimited flying being acceptable needs to be challenged and, as a very highly polluting luxury, it is suitable to taxation,” the report read. It adds that those who pollute most “could easily afford to pay more”. It is estimated there are hundreds of frequent flyer schemes operating worldwide and so the ban would likely affect millions of customers. “Introducing restrictions to ‘all-you-can-fly’ passes and loyalty schemes which offer air miles would remove incentives to excessive or stimulated flying,” the report states. Another policy suggestion calls on aviation companies to advertise their emissions in an easy-to-understand manner, for example as a proportion of an average annual household’s output, so that customers could make informed decisions. The report, by Dr Richard Carmichael of Imperial College London, goes beyond aviation policies to consider a range of other lifestyle changes the public must make to tackle the climate crisis. These include reduce meat and diary consumption, trading cars for bikes, and swapping gas boilers at home for electric alternatives. Surface transport accounts for the biggest proportion of a household’s carbon footprint at 34%, followed by diet (30%), home heating (21%) and aviation (12%). Regulations should be introduced to require all schools to offer pupils at least one plant-based meal option and food packaging should display a “traffic light” system indicating its carbon footprint. Domestic travel recommendations include dropping prices on intercity rail services to reduce demand for cars and planes, and re-opening disused rail lines. The report also recommends VAT on the installation of insulation and low-carbon heating systems be removed.

Trying to Plant a Trillion Trees Won’t Solve Anything  - Only a monster would say no to this pitch: The best way to beat climate change—the warming of Earth caused by gases like carbon dioxide emitted by human industry, leading to rising sea levels, worsening fires and storms, drought, and disease—is simple. Plant a trillion trees. It’d be “one of the most effective carbon drawdowns to date,” said an article on the idea in the journal Science this past summer. And who doesn’t love trees, right? Except the math turned out to be a little shady. Last month a bunch of climate scientists and ecologists piled onto that tree research in the same journal, calling out numerous errors in the first team’s calculations. At about the same time, a whole other bunch of ecologists started pushing back on the agriculture-tech startup Indigo for pitching a similar land-based carbon sequestration strategy, the “Terraton Initiative,” paying farmers to use new methods that could suck down a trillion metric tons (a teraton) of carbon. These goals are critical and the ideals are noble—who doesn’t want to stop climate change? Pretty much everyone except the US government agrees on that. It’s the numbers that are the problem. Take the trees thing. The scientists who proposed it made careful maps of where trees grow today, all over the planet. They had a census of how many were there, combined with satellite data, all used to estimate how many potential trees could grow—and how much carbon those trees would slurp out of the atmosphere, a nontrivial calculation. There’s room for 0.9 billion hectares of new trees, they said—2.2 billion acres of tree cover, which draws down 205 metric gigatons of carbon, or 225 billion tons in US non-metric. That’s in line with the goal of keeping warming at or below 1.5 degrees, per the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. World: saved! But the team forgot that 55 percent of all historically emitted carbon got absorbed by the oceans, not the land, and so underestimated the total amount of carbon by about one half. They overestimated carbon uptake by trees, and suggested putting trees where they’ve never been, or where they’d actually make the planet hotter (by darkening planetary albedo over icy, more reflective terrain). They didn’t take into account that the ecosystems where they wanted to plant trees already sequestered carbon. And so on. “We’re not talking about small errors here. We’re talking about a huge difference in the total amount of carbon you could sequester,” says Carla Staver, an ecologist at Yale University.

 Put a price on carbon and watch emissions fall, BP's Bob Dudley says - BP chief executive Bob Dudley has called for a “united effort to put a price on carbon,” claiming it would act faster at cutting CO2 emissions than any warning from politicians. Speaking at the One Young World conference in London on Wednesday, Dudley told an audience that “unless you put a price on something,” you can’t control how it’s consumed. “One of the things we talk most about doesn’t have a price,” he said. “There’s got to be a united effort to put a price on carbon, so when you click a switch on the wall for electricity you’re going to pay a higher price.” “Get a price on carbon and boy, the market will respond,” Dudley added. “That’s going to change the (emissions) situation more than 18-month or four-year outlooks from politicians.” The outgoing BP boss noted that while emissions were stagnating in Europe and North America, other parts of the world were falling behind in addressing the climate crisis. “There are big coal-fired power plants opening in other parts of the world and that’s the epicenter of the problem,” he said.According to researchers at the London School of Economics, a carbon price can be implemented in one of two ways. Governments can either add a levy to the distribution, sale or use of fossil fuels based on their carbon content, or use a quota system called cap-and-trade, which sets regional emissions allowances in advance and lets companies bid for “permits to pollute.”

These U.N. Climate Scientists Think They Can Halt Global Warming for $300 Billion. Here’s How -$300 billion. That’s the money needed to stop the rise in greenhouse gases and buy up to 20 years of time to fix global warming, according to United Nations climate scientists. It’s the gross domestic product of Chile, or the world’s military spending every 60 days.The sum is not to fund green technologies or finance a moonshot solution to emissions, but to use simple, age-old practices to lock millions of tons of carbon back into an overlooked and over-exploited resource: the soil.“We have lost the biological function of soils. We have got to reverse that,” said Barron J. Orr, lead scientist for the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. “If we do it, we are turning the land into the big part of the solution for climate change.”Rene Castro Salazar, an assistant director general at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, said that of the 2 billion hectares (almost 5 billion acres) of land around the world that has been degraded by misuse, overgrazing, deforestation and other largely human factors, 900 million hectares could be restored.Returning that land to pasture, food crops or trees would convert enough carbon into biomass to stabilize emissions of CO2, the biggest greenhouse gas, for 15-20 years, giving the world time to adopt carbon-neutral technologies.“With political will and investment of about $300 billion, it is doable,” Castro Salazar said. We would be “using the least-cost options we have, while waiting for the technologies in energy and transportation to mature and be fully available in the market. It will stabilize the atmospheric changes, the fight against climate change, for 15-20 years. We very much need that.” The heart of the idea is to tackle the growing problem of desertification — thedegradation of dry land to the point where it can support little life. At least a third of the world’s land has been degraded to some extent, directly affecting the lives of 2 billion people, said Eduardo Mansur, director of the land and water division at the FAO.

Siouxland ethanol industry reeling from oil refinery exemptions, trade wars - A scheduled maintenance shutdown of the Quad-County Corn Processors plant went on two weeks longer than originally planned during the first half of October. The reason? The margins for operating the corn-based ethanol plant were so tight that it didn't make financial sense to restart it right away, said Quad-County CEO Delayne Johnson. What's more, the plant had difficulty getting corn "at a price that makes sense for us to crush at full capacity," he said. The farmers-owned plant on the outskirts of the small town of Galva is now in the process of rebooting. But some other biofuel plants in corn-rich Northwest Iowa have been less fortunate. In the face of challenging market conditions, two area plants -- Siouxland Energy Cooperative in Sioux Center and Plymouth Energy in Merrill, Iowa -- have temporarily shut down, while some others have cut production. Johnson said plants are making "smart decisions for their assets" by slashing or idling production. Like their counterparts across the country, ethanol producers throughout Siouxland are feeling the pinch of federal Renewable Fuel Standard waivers to oil refineries and trade policies that critics say have shut them out of international markets. "It's been a tough 18 months for us," Johnson said. In some cases, idling a plant is the only option left in a market where supply capacity outstrips demand, a situation ag officials blame largely on the Trump administration's loose interpretation of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard and on continued trade hostilities with other countries. "The ethanol industry is able to produce about 17 billion gallons of ethanol per year; the domestic market, based on the way the EPA has been wrongly interpreting the Renewable Fuels Standard, is locking the domestic market down to, just a little over 14 billion gallons," Johnson said. "And the trade tariffs with China and Brazil, at 70 percent and 40 percent, respectively, are locking us out of many of the large export markets. Iowa ethanol production is thought to have been cut by 40 to 50 percent in recent months in response to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency granting "small refinery exemptions" to oil refineries that claim a financial hardship caused by having to comply with the RFS.

Reynolds says Trump's trying to please both oil and ethanol industries - Bloomberg is reporting the U.S.D.A. warned that the EPA’s draft proposal for how much ethanol and biodiesel is to be blended into fuel next year did not fulfill President Donald Trump’s deal with the biofuels industry, but the White House signed off on the plan anyway. Governor Kim Reynolds told reporters today that she’ll lobby the EPA to change rather than ask Trump to intervene. “I’m going to have to take him at his word. He told us that, you know, we had a deal and so ultimately, that’s part of his cabinet, but we’re also going to continue to put the pressure on EPA because right now they’re the ones doing the rule-making,” Reynolds said. “We’re working with industry and that’s the way that we’ll be able to hold them accountable.” On Monday, President Trump mentioned the biofuels deal during a cabinet meeting, saying “it is going to be terrific for small (oil) refiners.” Reynolds told reporters Trump is trying to please both the oil industry and farmers. “The president is trying to walk a fine line between the small refinery waivers and his commitment to Iowa farmers and to a robust Renewable Fuels Standard,” Reynolds said. “…He made a commitment to both.” Reynolds, though, said the EPA’s draft does not meet the terms of the deal Trump made to ensure the oil industry blends 15 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel into motor fuel to make up for the waivers granted over the past two years.

White House sides with EPA over USDA objections on biofuel - Administration officials warned that an Environmental Protection Agency plan for boosting biofuel-blending requirements violated the spirit of a deal brokered by President Donald Trump. The White House blessed it anyway. The back-and-forth is revealed in newly released documents from a White House review of the EPA’s biofuel proposal before it was publicly released Oct. 15. The documents, uploaded to a government regulatory docket late Monday, show the U.S. Department of Agriculture initially warned the plan was inconsistent with an earlier White House promise to ensure “more than 15 billion gallons” of conventional biofuel, such as corn-based ethanol, are required to be blended into the nation’s fuel supply beginning in 2020. The documents shed light on a last-minute fight between the EPA and the USDA that briefly delayed the proposal’s release. Ultimately, the EPA prevailed in the skirmish, and the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs signed off on the agency’s approach. Despite that White House intervention, Republican Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said at a weekly news conference Wednesday she’d continue to push for the rule to be changed and may appear at an Oct. 30 public hearing about the proposal set by the EPA in Ypsilanti, Mich. “We will file written comments and we’re still looking at the schedule to see if we can get there. I think I’ve made it pretty clear to the EPA what the agreement was and that will be reflected in the comments that we submit,” she said. “If I can, I will because I think it’s important. But I think they also understand where I stand on the issue.”

BIOFUELS: Advocates file suit over EPA refinery exemptions -- A coalition of biofuel industry groups today challenged EPA's decision to exempt 31 small refineries from renewable fuel blending requirements.

Chuck Schumer Proposes $454 Billion Plan to Swap Gas Guzzlers for Electric Vehicles - The Senate's top Democrat, Charles Schumer of New York, proposed on Thursday a $454 billion 10-year plan to boost the sale of electric vehicles and reduce the number of gasoline-powered cars. His plan would offer cash vouchers to entice Americans to trade in their internal combustion engine car for a car that runs on hybrid, electric or hydrogen fuel cells, according to Reuters.Schumer said in a statement that his plan would offer rebates of $3,000 or more to individual buyers, to help transition nearly one-fourth of the U.S. car and light-truck fleet, or 63 million vehicles, to cleaner technology over the next decade, as Reuters reported.In an opinion piece in The New York Times, Schumer touted his plan for "its ability to unite the American environmental movement, the American labor movement and large automakers. It has already earned the support of climate groups like the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the League of Conservation Voters; labor unions like the United Automobile Workers and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; and car manufacturers like Ford and General Motors.""We need to act urgently and ambitiously, which will require building diverse coalitions of political support," Schumer said.His plan, if ever enacted, would take a significant chunk of carbon emissions out of the atmosphere. Automobiles are America's largest producer of planet-warming emissions, according to The New York Times. To reduce vehicular emissions, the U.S. car fleet will need to be overhauled. In the U.S., nearly half of all car sales are SUVs, which over the last decade have emitted more greenhouse gases than planes and ships combined, according to recent research from International Energy Agency (IEA), as CBS News reported.

Surging SUV demand is canceling out the environmental benefit from electric cars - If worldwide demand for SUVs continues to grow at its current pace, the carbon emissions from these larger vehicles will outweigh the benefits from electric vehicles, a new study from the International Energy Agency found. The number of SUVs on the road around the world grew from 35 million in 2010 to over 200 million last year, representing 60% of the increase in the global car fleet over the 8-year period. The surge in popularity is having a big impact on the environment since SUVs are less fuel-efficient than their smaller counterparts. From 2010 - 2018, SUVs were the second-largest contributor to the global increase in carbon emissions behind the power sector, the study found. This places SUVs ahead of trucks and aviation in terms of carbon footprint. The study also found that 100% of the increase in demand for oil for passenger cars was driven by the popularity of larger vehicles. “If consumers’ appetite for SUVs continues to grow at a similar pace seen in the last decade, SUVs would add nearly 2 million barrels a day in global oil demand by 2040, offsetting the savings from nearly 150 million electric cars,” the researchers found. 48% of car sales in the United States last year were SUVs, which was the highest percentage worldwide, but other countries are catching up. Large cars can be seen as a status symbol, and sales are rising in countries like China and India where the middle class is growing. The shift towards bigger, less fuel-efficient cars is somewhat at odds with the auto market generally, where heavy R&D spending is fueling developments in energy-efficient vehicles. Given the advances in electric vehicles, as well as the knowledge that SUVs are less fuel-efficient, the researchers called the growing number of larger cars and the impact on global emissions “nothing short of surprising.”

Smithfield, Dominion Energy double investment in RNG venture - Smithfield Foods, Inc. and Dominion Energy are doubling their investment in renewable natural gas projects across the U.S. to $500 million through 2028. The additional investment will expand their Align Renewable Natural Gas joint venture beyond its initial projects in North Carolina, Virginia and Utah, to pursue new projects across the country, including in Arizona and California. Smithfield Foods and Dominion Energy formed Align RNG in November 2018, committing $250 million over 10 years to capture methane from Smithfield’s company-owned and contract hog farms and convert it into clean RNG. With the additional $250 million investment announced, the companies will produce enough RNG to power more than 70,000 homes and businesses by 2029. Align RNG’s first project in Milford, Utah, will be operational this year and will produce enough RNG to power more than 3,000 local homes and businesses at full capacity. “After researching ways to transform manure into renewable energy for nearly two decades, Smithfield, together with our partners, has developed a proven business model that can be expanded at scale across the country,” says Kenneth M. Sullivan, president and chief executive officer of Smithfield Foods.  “Last year, we joined forces with Dominion Energy in a historic initiative to transform the future of sustainable energy and agriculture. This substantial extension of our ‘manure-to-energy’ efforts will help us achieve our ambitious goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25% by 2025 across our entire supply chain, while creating additional value for local family farmers and providing communities with clean energy.” Methane is produced from a variety of natural sources, including hog manure, food waste and wastewater. When released into the atmosphere, methane emits approximately 25 times more greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. By capturing methane from farms, the development of RNG significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural operations. When fully implemented, the expanded partnership will prevent more than 2.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere, the same as taking more than 500,000 cars off the road or planting more than 40 million new trees.

Manure, trash and wastewater: U.S. utilities get dirty in climate fight - (Reuters) - Joey Airoso has always been proud of his cows, whose milk goes into the butter sold by national dairy company Land O’Lakes. Now he has something new to brag about: the vast amounts of gas produced by his 2,900-head herd is powering truck fleets, homes and factories across the state of California.  “It’s pretty incredible if you think about it,” Airoso said during a recent tour of his 1,500-acre (607-hectare) farm, as a stream of watered-down manure flowed from cow sheds into a nearby pit. There the slurry releases methane that is captured and eventually piped into fueling stations and buildings. Airoso is tapping into a growing market among U.S. utilities for so-called renewable natural gas, or biomethane, that is being driven by the fight against climate change. For farmers, it is a way to get ahead of a wave of greenhouse gas regulation and make a bit of cash at the same time. And for utilities that buy or transport the gas, it is a way to respond to the increasing demands of customers and lawmakers to cut their reliance on fossil fuels. Renewable natural gas can come from manure, landfills or wastewater and is interchangeable with gas drilled out of the ground. It cuts greenhouse gas emissions by ensuring significant volumes of methane, that would have been produced anyway, never reach the atmosphere. Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide when it escapes into the air unburned. Nationwide, more than a dozen utilities have started developing renewable natural gas production through partnerships with farmers, wastewater treatment plants and landfill operators, while nine have proposed price premiums for customers who choose it as a fuel, according to the American Gas Association. Renewable natural gas is currently between four and seven times more expensive to produce than fossil gas, a gap that its proponents hope will narrow as the fuel becomes more widely used.

Column: Sustainability the new battleground for aluminium producers - Alcoa has just announced a five-year review of around 4.0 million tonnes of alumina capacity and 1.5 million tonnes of smelter capacity. Assets will be improved, curtailed, closed or sold. It’s not quite an annual event but Alcoa shareholders have been here many times before as the company keeps trying to move down the cost curve in the face of chronically depressed prices. On the London Metal Exchange (LME) three-month aluminium has ground steadily lower over the course of 2019 and at a current $1,720 per tonne is close to the near three-year low of $1,705 recorded earlier this month. This time around, however, Alcoa is throwing an extra ingredient into the cost-cutting mix - sustainability. The company “expects to be the lowest emitter of carbon dioxide among all global aluminum companies”. Going green is the new differentiator in the cut-throat business of making aluminium.

Global energy consumption driven by more electricity in residential, commercial buildings --Energy used in the buildings sector—which includes residential and commercial structures—accounted for 20% of global delivered energy consumption in 2018. In its International Energy Outlook 2019 (IEO2019) Reference case, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that global energy consumption in buildings will grow by 1.3% per year on average from 2018 to 2050. In countries that are not part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (non-OECD countries), EIA projects that energy consumed in buildings will grow by more than 2% per year, or about five times the rate of OECD countries. Electricity—the main energy source for lighting, space cooling, appliances, and equipment—is the fastest-growing energy source in residential and commercial buildings. EIA expects that rising population and standards of living in non-OECD countries will lead to an increase in the demand for electricity-consuming appliances and personal equipment. EIA expects that in the early 2020s, total electricity use in buildings in non-OECD countries will surpass electricity use in OECD countries. By 2050, buildings in non-OECD countries will collectively use about twice as much electricity as buildings in OECD countries. In the IEO2019 Reference case, electricity use by buildings in China is projected to increase more than any other country in absolute terms, but India will experience the fastest growth rate in buildings electricity use from 2018 to 2050. EIA expects that use of electricity by buildings in China will surpass that of the United States by 2030. By 2050, EIA expects China’s buildings will account for more than one-fifth of the electricity consumption in buildings worldwide. As the quality of life in emerging economies improves with urbanization, rising income, and access to electricity, EIA projects that electricity’s share of the total use of energy in buildings will nearly double in non-OECD countries, from 21% in 2018 to 38% in 2050. By contrast, electricity’s share of delivered energy consumption in OECD countries’ buildings will decrease from 24% to 21%.

Renewable capacity set for 50% growth over next few years, IEA says  --Renewable power capacity is forecast to increase by 50% between 2019 and 2024, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said Monday.According to its “Renewables 2019” market report, the increase will amount to 1,200 gigawatts (GW) and be driven by drops in cost and what the IEA described as “concerted government policy efforts.” In 2018, renewable capacity hit just over 2,500 GW. If the IEA’s forecast plays out, it would bring total renewable capacity to approximately 3,700 GW by 2024.Capacity refers to the maximum amount that installations can produce, not what they are currently generating.Solar photovoltaics (PV) are due to make up nearly 60% of the expected rise, with the onshore wind sector accounting for 25% and offshore wind responsible for 4%. Photovoltaic refers to a way of directly converting light from the sun into electricity.The IEA said that distributed solar PV – systems installed on commercial buildings, homes and in industry – would make up nearly half of the increase in the solar PV market.Overall, renewables’ share in worldwide power generation is seen growing from 26% now to 30% in 2024.“Renewables are already the world’s second largest source of electricity, but their deployment still needs to accelerate if we are to achieve long-term climate, air quality and energy access goals,” Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director, said in a statement issued Monday.

More Than Half of NextEra's New Solar Projects Include Storage - New renewables projects continued to fuel growth at NextEra Energy in the third quarter of 2019. The company’s pipeline of renewables and storage projects has ballooned past 12 gigawatts, executives said during Tuesday's earnings call. That capacity is up from 11.7 gigawatts in Q2 in part due to the addition of 747 megawatts of solar and 341 megawatts of storage. So far in 2019, more than half of the solar projects added will be paired with storage “as customers are increasingly interested in a near-firm low-cost renewable product," CFO Rebecca Kujawa said. NextEra has long been the largest owner of U.S. wind farms, but its solar business has grown rapidly, and according to Wood Mackenzie it is now the world's largest owner of solar capacity outside China. Meanwhile, NextEra continues to invest in natural gas — on Monday the company announced the signing of an agreement for the 50-mile Lowman pipeline in Alabama and discussed plans to acquire the Meade Pipeline Company. Though the renewable business is growing, Kujawa said the company feels “natural gas will play an important role in the country’s clean energy future."

FERC OKs PJM, SPP storage plans, sets separate proceedings for minimum run-time requirements | Utility Dive

  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Thursday gave its first two approvals to grid operator plans to implement its energy storage order.
  • PJM Interconnection will implement most of its plan by Dec. 3, while participating in a separate proceeding to evaluate the fairness of its 10-hour duration requirements for storage to participate in its market. Southwest Power Pool (SPP) will implement its plan in nine months, as FERC regulators approved extra time for the grid operator to implement a new settlement management system.
  • While the PJM and SPP plans largely complied with FERC's Order 841, federal regulators created proceedings under section 206 of the Federal Power Act to address their minimum run-time requirement. In PJM's 206 proceeding, regulators will investigate whether the 10-hour "run-time rules and procedures are unjust, unreasonable, unduly discriminatory or preferential as applied to capacity storage resources," according to FERC staff.

FERC found the proposals from SPP and PJM would largely enable energy storage resources to provide their full range of services and be fairly compensated given their unique abilities. But questions remain about potential limits on the ability of storage resources to participate in those markets. Energy storage advocates have long criticized storage duration requirements made by grid operators, saying high-duration requirements were prohibitive of a lot of battery energy storage systems."ESA is pleased to see FERC open a new proceeding on PJM’s proposed 10-hour duration requirement for qualifying energy storage capacity - which ESA has consistently stated is unjust and unreasonable," Kelly Speakes-Backman, CEO of the Energy Storage Association, said in a statement. While regulators did not raise concerns with SPP's minimum run-time requirements, FERC directed SPP and PJM to include such requirements in their tariffs. The market operators will have 45 days from the publication of the draft orders in the Federal Register to submit tariff provisions, as "such requirements affect rates, terms and conditions of service," FERC staff said during the commission's open meeting on Thursday.

October: Offshore wind to become a $1 trillion industry – IEA – Offshore wind power will expand impressively over the next two decades, boosting efforts to decarbonise energy systems and reduce air pollution as it becomes a growing part of electricity supply, according to an International Energy Agency report published today.Offshore Wind Outlook 2019 is the most comprehensive global study on the subject to date, combining the latest technology and market developments with a specially commissioned new geospatial analysis that maps out wind speed and quality along hundreds of thousands of kilometres of coastline around the world. The report is an excerpt from the flagship World Energy Outlook 2019, which will be published in full on 13 November.The IEA finds that global offshore wind capacity may increase 15-fold and attract around $1 trillion of cumulative investment by 2040. This is driven by falling costs, supportive government policies and some remarkable technological progress, such as larger turbines and floating foundations. That’s just the start – the IEA report finds that offshore wind technology has the potential to grow far more strongly with stepped-up support from policy makers.Europe has pioneered offshore wind technology, and the region is positioned to be the powerhouse of its future development. Today, offshore wind capacity in the European Union stands at almost 20 gigawatts. Under current policy settings, that is set to rise to nearly 130 gigawatts by 2040. However, if the European Union reaches its carbon-neutrality aims, offshore wind capacity would jump to around 180 gigawatts by 2040 and become the region’s largest single source of electricity.

IEA: Offshore Wind Outlook 2019: World Energy Outlook Special Report - Offshore wind is a rapidly maturing renewable energy technology that is poised to play an important role in future energy systems. In 2018, offshore wind provided a tiny fraction of global electricity supply, but it is set to expand strongly in the coming decades into a $1 trillion business. Turbines are growing in size and in terms of the power capacity they can provide, which in turn is delivering major performance and cost improvements for offshore wind farms.This new World Energy Outlook special report provides the most comprehensive analysis to date of the global outlook for offshore wind, its contributions to electricity systems and its role in clean energy transitions. The report is a deep dive into offshore wind, giving a snapshot of where the market, technology and policies stand today – and mapping out how they may develop over the next two decades. It draws on a state-of-the-art geospatial analysis of the world’s offshore wind resources and explores the implications of the technology’s growth for global environmental goals and energy security.  See also press release.   Read key findings.

 Small Adjustments to Wind Turbines Can Reduce Impacts on Birds, New Study Finds - Yale E360 - About 150,000 birds are affected by wind turbines every year in the United States, from collisions with equipment to changes in bird habitats due to wind disturbance, construction, and other factors, according to a recent study published in the journal Energy Science. But simple changes, such as building taller turbines with shorter blades, can help significantly reduce these impacts, the study found. The research analyzed data from 1,670 wind turbines and 86 bird observation routes across 36 states between 2008 to 2014. “We found that there was a negative impact of three birds lost for every turbine within 400 meters of a bird habitat,” Madhu Khanna, professor of agricultural and consumer economics at the University of Illinois and co-author of the new study, said in a statement. “The impact faded away as the distance increased.” Khanna and her colleagues suggested that turbines be placed outside a one-mile buffer zone around high-density bird habitats. Taller turbines with shorter blades also resulted in fewer bird deaths and other negative impacts. “No single technology is such that it is only beneficial and has no negative consequences,” Khanna said. “You can minimize the effect by making the recommended adjustments.” Previous studies have estimated that turbines affect as many as 573,000 birds in the U.S. every year. But the new research, using a larger data set over a longer period of time, resulted in a more conservative estimate of birds affected by wind turbines.

Should countries and cities generate energy by burning trash? -   Garbage from homes, schools and businesses around the globe amounted to some 2 billion metric tons (2.2 billion tons) in 2016, disproportionately discarded by people in North America, Europe and Central Asia. Some projections say that number will reach 3.4 billion metric tons (3.7 billion tons) in 2050. Meanwhile, global energy demand climbed 2.3% last year, the quickest pace in a decade. In that context, many countries see an alluring solution in technologies that turn trash into fuel.  Worldwide, waste-to-energy plants comprise nearly six out of every 10 facilities processing garbage from homes, schools and businesses. Some 44% of the operating and soon-to-be-built facilities that process this stream of trash — called municipal solid waste (MSW) — are incinerators that burn the waste to make energy, according to the most recent United Nations report on the issue, published in 2015. About 11% use a process called gasification, with a much smaller chunk of facilities employing other methods such as pyrolysis and anaerobic digestion.  For MSW, incineration is the most common form of waste-to-energy. Unlike old-fashioned incinerators, which simply burned waste to get rid of it, waste-to-energy facilities can produce electricity. Combined heat and power generation plants, more viable in colder climates, can also make heat, which insulated pipes then carry to warm buildings directly.  Opponents of incineration argue that it’s far from a benign alternative to landfilling. Some claim that the practice can discourage recycling. The Zero Waste Hierarchy, created by the California-based Zero Waste International Alliance, considers incineration to be “unacceptable.”  Other critics say that incinerators spew harmful pollutants including dioxins, furans and heavy metals, a process one observer likened to “creating landfills in the sky.” Modern incinerators can employ filtering and scrubbing technologies to limit pollution, and in the U.S. and Europe, some studies show that strict regulations have cut these pollutants. Regulations — and so emissions — vary from country to country, however. In China, for example, caps on incinerators’ dioxin emissions are similar to European benchmarks, even as fewer guidelinesregulate pollutants like hydrochloric acid and nitrogen oxide, Jiang Jianguo, an expert on waste disposal technology at the Tsinghua University School of Environment, told Yale Environment 360 in 2017. Incinerators also hold the potential to be a source of toxic ash.

Deposed regent accused of Ponzi scheme in Augusta waste-to-energy plan - Investors who sank $4.5 million into a waste-to-energy project in Augusta and $1.5 million in a solar project have filed a federal lawsuit accusing former University System of Georgia Regent Dean Alford of stealing their money in a racketeering scheme they contend is on par with organized crime. The lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia – where several of the plaintiffs live – named Alford and his wife, Debbie Dlugolenski Alford, a former CEO of the Georgia Lottery; Allied Energy Services; and Augusta Waste to Energy. Also named are several Allied senior vice presidents, the investment advisers who help Alford pitch his investment plans, and Evans physician Jitendra Gandhi, who allegedly recruited within the plaintiffs’ community to invest in Allied projects. Alford was arrested and charged Oct. 3 with racketeering and criminal attempt to commit theft. He is accused of using fraudulent documents to sell business accounts receivable to a third party, Versant Funding, for $1.8 million. Versant is also named in the civil suit. Alford’s arrest warrant on the criminal charges said he sent Versant fictitious purchase agreements between Allied Energy and the University of Georgia, Georgia Military College, Synovus Financial Services and Inman Solar, a firm he worked with on several Augusta solar projects.

Facebook and Google: Utilities Must Take Lead on Grid Decarbonization — Utilities, not green-minded corporations, need to lead on decarbonizing the grid, said executives at Google and Facebook. Corporate procurement now ranks among the top drivers of large-scale U.S. renewables purchases. But it's not the long-term answer to clean energy deployment, the technology executives said Thursday, speaking at an event hosted by the American Council on Renewable Energy. They'd rather see large market shifts than an emphasis on voluntary corporate renewables goals.  Google and Facebook are currently the nation's largest corporate buyers of renewable power in 2019 and also rank among the largest in the world. Facebook has announced seven U.S. deals so far in 2019, according to reporting by the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA), a group that helps companies buy clean energy. In September, Google unveiled plans for 1.6 gigawatts in global renewables procurements — which it claimed was the single-largest corporate renewables purchase ever — plus a $500,000 investment in REBA.  But the technology companies admitted those types of commitments aren’t enough to fully decarbonize the grid or to encourage more of their peers to join up with their efforts.  

Trump to nominate Dan Brouillette as Energy secretary – POLITICO - President Donald Trump said on Friday he will nominate Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette to replace Rick Perry in the agency's top job. Brouillette's appointment follows the same model that put Andrew Wheeler at the helm of the Environmental Protection Agency and David Bernhardt atop the Interior Department: All held the No. 2 positions at their agencies, had years of experience in Washington and advanced with the departures of more flamboyant predecessors. Brouillette, who led policy teams at financial services company USAA and Ford Motor Co., also served on the Louisiana State Mineral and Energy Board and worked as chief of staff for then-Energy and Commerce Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) after a stint at the Energy Department. “There has been a consistent nomination of deputies who are deeply substantive and very well seasoned and respected in the processes of Washington and interagency processes, and lots of skills and awareness on the international scene, and regardless off policy differences," said Jim Connaughton, who ran the White House's Council on Environmental Quality under former President George W. Bush and met Brouillette at that time. [That's] certainly true of David Bernhardt and Andy Wheeler. Dan Brouillette is in that same mold.“ As Perry's deputy, Brouillette has been one of the administration’s point people in promoting U.S. LNG exports as a way for European countries to reduce their dependence on Russian gas. Brouillette has criticized the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, and at a gas conference in Germany earlier this year, he referred to reliance on Russian gas as "a strategic liability.”

New Energy Secretary Fits Trend: Cabinet Dominated by Lobbyists -  New York Times — President Trump likes to say that people in his political orbit come straight out of central casting, “tough hombres” from far beyond the Capital Beltway ready to roil the swamp.Increasingly, though, his cabinet is full of lobbyists.On Friday came the latest lobbyist elevation. Out went Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the genial former governor of Texas and onetime Dancing with the Stars contestant. In came his deputy, Dan Brouillette, who spent much of his career as a senior vice president of the United Services Automobile Association, a financial services company, and at the Ford Motor Company.Mr. Trump called him “a total professional,” in a staff change by Tweet: “Dan’s experience in the sector is unparalleled,” the president said. The pattern holds throughout the agencies trusted to provide for the common defense, promote clean air and water, care for public lands and waters, and safeguard energy supplies and nuclear weapons. Mr. Trump, who campaigned for president on the oft-repeated pledge to “drain the swamp,” initially favored charismatic former politicians with a flair for the dramatic, like Mr. Perry; or former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a former member of the Navy SEALs who arrived to work on horseback; his first Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, a bellicose Oklahoma attorney general; or his first defense secretary, Jim Mattis, a former Marine Corps general whom Mr. Trump introduced as “Mad Dog.” All are gone, replaced by lobbyists — less camera-ready but more familiar with the inner workings of their agencies, if only because they spent years trying to influence them.  “Trump’s rhetoric about draining the swamp, I don’t think anyone really took seriously,” A ProPublica and Columbia Journalism Investigations analysis this week found Mr. Trump brought in 281 former lobbyists since the start of the administration. His cabinet now includes a former coal lobbyist running the Environmental Protection Agency, a former oil and gas lobbyist in charge of the Department of Interior,a top lobbyist for the defense contractor Raytheon leading the Defense Department — and, if he is confirmed, an automobile lobbyist at the Energy Department.

Inefficient coal plant scheduling cost ratepayers $3.5B from 2015 to 2017, report says --Regulated utilities cost ratepayers over $3.5 billion from 2015 to 2017 through uneconomic coal practices, according to a report released Tuesday from the Sierra Club.Vertically-integrated utilities consistently operated coal units based on their own scheduling rather than relying on market signals to determine when running that plant would be most economic, the report found. The practice, known as self-scheduling, became common when there were fewer cost-effective alternative resources, but now hinders the ability of other resources, wind and solar, to compete in power markets, research has previously found.Without self-scheduling, coal-powered generation would have dropped 10% and the median market price would have risen 30% or $7.70/MWh in the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) from 2015 to 2017, according to modeling scenarios run for the report by Synapse Energy Economics. Money is lost under self-scheduling when market prices drop below the cost of operations — meaning the cost to produce coal power is more expensive than the revenue the generated electricity would make. But self-scheduling is sometimes necessary to minimize the cost of completely powering off a facility.Price fluctuations often happen seasonally. For example, Duke Energy's Gibson 5 unit in Indiana was operating just below market prices in the latter half of 2016, generating $8.6 million in net energy revenue over that time period. But in January through March as well as in May, market prices dropped below production prices and the unit lost an estimated $5.3 million in net energy revenue over those months, according to the report. For other units, the practice is much more severe. Wisconsin Power and Light's Edgewater Unit 5 lost $8.3 million in net energy market revenues in 2016, according to the report, after its $26.2/MWh production costs remained above median market prices every month of that year. Wisconsin Power and Light was not immediately able to respond to Utility Dive's request for comment.

Ky. Utility Regulators Weigh In On Trump Energy Plan At Behest Of Coal Lobby -Coal lobbyists have enlisted the help of Kentucky state utility regulators in asking federal officials to weigh in on a Trump administration plan to bail out coal-fired power plants.The Kentucky Public Service Commission has joined five other states in writing letters to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as part of a campaign orchestrated by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. The letters were first reported by Bloomberg.The Kentucky letter sent last month asks federal authorities to make a decision on the Trump administration’s plan, but doesn’t take a firm stance on the plan itself. A commission spokesman said the timing of the letter may have been influenced by the coal industry lobby, but the content of the letter was drafted in-house.“What that letter simply states is: make a decision because it’s important to have some sort of regulatory certainty,” said Andrew Melnykovych, Kentucky PSC spokesman.Consumer advocates with the Energy and Policy Institute, a utility watchdog group, say the letters call the impartiality of regulators into question. They say the letters from state regulators are an effort to pass off the coal industry’s words as the regulators’ own without disclosing where the ideas originated. Letters signed by utility regulators in Montana, Tennessee and Alabama used the exact same language as suggested by the coal lobbying group, according to records obtained by Joe Smyth, a spokesman for the Energy and Policy Institute. Other states, including West Virginia and Wyoming sent similar letters.

Blackjewel Miners Get More Of Their Pay As Labor Dept. Acts Against Bankrupt Company - Coal miners who went without pay when mining company Blackjewel declared bankruptcy this June are one step closer to receiving lost wages. The checks come weeks after some of the miners ended a long-running protest, and months after the federal Department of Labor first intervened to allege the company violated labor laws in the month before it folded. Rumors of a deal circulated early this month, and in consent orders filed in U.S. district courts in Kentucky and Virginia, Blackjewel committed to pay more than $5 million to miners. The bankruptcy drew widespread attention this summer when a group of Blackjewel miners blocked a train full of coal to protest unpaid wages. The protest lasted 59 days and ended after the last remaining miners found work or had to return to other obligations According to a press release from Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, more than 600 coal miners from Kentucky’s Black Mountain and Lone Mountain mines will receive pay following agreements between the coal company and the Department of Labor. “Getting this check, it’s going to pay off some of the bills we owe, and it’s going to get us started when we start driving.”

Coal ash found in mystery dust samples in Anderson County - Testing by the Tennessee Valley Authority and a state regulatory agency reveals at least some of the mystery dust that had been falling from the sky in neighborhoods in Anderson County for weeks in late summer and early fall is a mixture of dirt and small amounts of coal ash. Eight of 13 samples of the mystery dust collected by TVA tested positive for coal ash. One of six samples tested at the behest of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation also tested positive for the toxic substance. An analysis of the report submitted to TDEC by Microtrace, which conducts tests on substances, reveals samples from the dust polluting the air — and winding up on cars, driveways, mailboxes and homes — was mostly sandy soil typical of construction or industrial sites, but also contained small amounts of coal ash. Coal ash is a broad term for the waste products produced by coal-fired power plants. It is a toxic stew of chemicals, heavy metals and radioactive materials that can be hazardous when inhaled or ingested, according to the EPA and TVA’s own internal records. TVA produces 1,500 tons of coal ash daily at its Bull Run Fossil Plant in the Claxton community and stores millions of tons of it — both wet and dry — at the plant. TDEC is tasked with regulating TVA’s handling of coal ash. When dozens of residents within a mile of the plant began in early September to complain of a mysterious dust in the air, TVA denied in a statement to Knox News that Bull Run was the source. But when residents asked TDEC to investigate, the regulatory agency turned to TVA to take samples and test them. Leo York was among the residents who cried foul. TDEC reversed course and took its own samples, including some from his property in mid-September. “They said it would be two weeks (for results),” York told Knox News. “It’s been four.”

Report: Closing Coal Plants Would Save Indiana Customers Money, Reduce Pollution --The faster Indiana can transition from coal to renewable energy sources, the better for Indiana customers. That’s the takeaway from a new report prepared for the 21st Century Energy Policy Development Task Force charged with creating a statewide energy plan. Applied Economics Clinic researcher Bryndis Woods says more than half of Indiana's coal plants are 40 years old or more and will need expensive repairs in the next 30 years.“Many of these costs of repairs and updates of these coal plants, those get passed through to customers,” she says.Some utilities around the country are replacing coal with natural gas until renewable technologies improve. But the report shows that would cost Indiana customers $12 billion more in the next 30 years than just switching to renewables and it would put out an extra billion tons of carbon dioxide. “Using gas as a transition or a bridge, it doesn’t bear out what the benefit of that would be,” Woods says. Though the report didn’t look into the reliability of renewable energy, she says several utilities — like NIPSCO in northern Indiana — plan to rely on battery storage. AEC’s analysis shows that moving to all renewables in a decade, instead of waiting until 2040, could save Indiana customers up to $10 billion.

The Best Thing About The Death Of Coal -- This isn’t another tired story about how kicking the coal habit will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That would be like kicking a dead horse.Instead, there is a massive new benefit to ditching the dirty: Doing so will free up billions of gallons of water.If all coal-fired power plants in the U.S. were converted to natural gas, the annual water savings could reach 12,250 billion gallons, or 260 percent of current annual U.S. industrial water use, according to a new study from Duke University.  Arguably, ditching coal could make up for all the water that fracking is sucking down in the shale patch, so it could take the pressure off that controversial method of extracting oil.At the same time, coal can largely blame its own demise on this hydraulic fracking boom that has led to abundant natural gas supplies.   Natural gas has surpassed coal as the top power generation source as of 2015.In 2018, natural gas accounted for 35.1 percent of the U.S. electricity generation mix, while coal had a 27.4 percent share.Renewables, especially wind and utility-scale solar, have also gained traction in recent years, grabbing additional share from coal in U.S. electricity generation. If these trends hold until 2030, the U.S. would save some 483 billion cubic meters of water each year by 2030, which may help take some of the heat off of fracking, where water use has soared over the past decade.

We Need a Just Transition—Because We Should Abandon Coal, Not Coal Workers -- The coal industry is dying. But we can't allow the communities that have been dependent on coal to die along with it. Even if clean energy champions, environmentalists, and climate activists weren't working together to end the burning of coal, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels would still be on its way out. The free market is seeing to that. As the cost of renewables continues to fall and the production of cheap natural gas continues to rise, coal has lost whatever competitive advantage it once enjoyed over other energy sources. By next year, coal consumption in our country's power sector is expected to drop to its lowest level since 1978. That would represent a decline of 27 percent since 2016.  The nation's older, smaller coal plants have been disappearing for more than a decade; now, even the newer, larger ones are being retired at a rapid clip. On the one hand, that's to be celebrated: Every coal-fired power plant that goes offline, be it large or small, means fewer pollutants poisoning our lungs and water and fewer greenhouse gases warming the planet. But on the other hand, there is cause for real concern. Whenever a coal-fired power plant or a coal mine shuts down, jobs are lost and workers, their families, and their entire communities suffer.  To address these unfortunate consequences, organizations and governments pushing for a coal phaseout have begun to emphasize the importance of establishing a "just transition" for those who have been, or will be, most affected by these closures. The still-young concept is deliberately amorphous, since each community's needs will differ from the next. But however the transition manifests, the goal is the same: ensuring that no one gets left behind as we shift from one energy economy to another, and that everybody who wants one has a role to play in what's to come. 

Bob Murray bashes FERC, natural gas at Chatterjee's forum -- — Coal magnate Bob Murray took aim yesterday at the natural gas industry for providing what he said was false hope to evolving energy markets as the nation's coal-fired power plant fleet continues to shrink.

Ex-coal executive and ex-prisoner Don Blankenship making presidential bid (AP) - Former coal executive and ex-federal prisoner Don Blankenship says he'll seek the Constitution Party's presidential nomination next year. West Virginia Constitution Party chairman Jeffrey-Frank Jarrell says Blankenship made the announcement Saturday during the party's national committee meeting in Pittsburgh. Blankenship finished third in the 2018 Republican primary for a U.S. Senate seat held by West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin. Blankenship's general election bid to run as the Constitution Party's nominee was then blocked. The secretary of state cited the state's "sore loser" law prohibiting major-party primary candidates who lose from switching to a minor party. Blankenship is the ex-CEO of Massey Energy, which owned a West Virginia mine where a 2010 explosion killed 29 workers. He spent a year in federal prison for misdemeanor safety violations related to the explosion.

This Governor Still Guides His Billion-Dollar Business Empire, Even Though He Said He Wouldn’t — ProPublica - Last fall, Gov. Jim Justice called reporters to his office in the West Virginia Capitol for a hastily arranged news conference. Sitting behind a table and flanked by GOP lawmakers, the governor touted the latest budget surplus and announced a proposed pay raise for teachers and a plan to fix the state’s underfunded public employee health care plan. But within minutes, he ended the event and dismissed the lawmakers, saying they had pressing state business. “Nobody else? Great,” he said, banging his palms on the desk. “Let’s go.”Justice had somewhere else to be. Across town, one of his energy companies, Bluestone Coal Corp., was due in federal court. The firm had sued a competitor for $80 million after a drilling accident had flooded a mine. And as Bluestone’s owner, Justice was playing a key role in the settlement talks. The parties spent two days negotiating a deal, and he was there when they gathered in a courtroom to present their agreement to the judge.“May I say something?” the governor asked at one point, according to atranscript of the hearing.“Certainly,” U.S. District Judge Thomas E. Johnston responded.Surrounded by nearly two dozen lawyers, the governor proceeded to explain the finer points of the agreement. Justice’s involvement in his company’s legal matters is a far cry from what he pledged more than two and a half years ago when he took office as West Virginia’s governor. Back then, the billionaire promised to put his business empire aside and focus on public service. In an arrangement that echoed that of President Donald Trump, Justice said his adult children, Jay and Jill, would run his family’s coal mines, resorts and farms.  But as his courtroom appearance makes clear, Justice remains deeply enmeshed in his businesses. In fact, he has frequently used official public appearances, and the trappings of his office, to promote them.

Firms tied to WV Gov. Justice face $35 million ruling in KY - Companies tied to West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice have been ordered to pay $35 million in damages over a coal deal in Eastern Kentucky that went sour. That amount includes $16.9 million to cover unpaid royalties for not making good on a mining contract, plus interest on that amount since 2012, which would add millions more. It also includes $17 million to punish the companies for abuses such as failing to turn over information as required during the lawsuit. The Justice companies “obstructed the search for truth in this case by withholding information ordered to be produced,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Hanly A. Ingram said in one ruling. U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove also ordered the Justice companies to pay attorney fees and costs of the companies that won the lawsuit. The attorneys filed a request this week for a total of a little more than $1 million, on top of the judgment for damages that Van Tatenhove issued Sept. 23. The order on damages may not be the final word in the court fight, which has been going on for more than seven years. Attorneys for the Justice companies filed a motion this week asking Van Tatenhove to reconsider how much they’ll have to pay, arguing that the figure for lost royalties was based on an unreliable assessment and that $17 million in punitive damages was excessive. The motion argued that little of the coal at issue could be mined.Richard A. Getty, a Lexington attorney who represents the Justice companies, said they will appeal if the motion for reconsideration is not successful. John A. Lucas of Knoxville and Scott Webster M. Webster of London, attorneys for New London Tobacco Market and Fivemile Energy, have argued in court documents that the appraisal supporting the damage award was sound.

Glaciers In Antarctica Are Still Releasing Radioactive Element From 1950s Nuclear Weapons Tests  -Antarctic ice sheets are still releasing a radioactive element as a result of nuclear weapons tests conducted by the US 70 years ago, according to new research published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres.Chlorine-36 is a naturally occurring radioactive isotope that can form when argon gas reacts with cosmic rays in the atmosphere. It can also form during nuclear explosions over the ocean when neutrons react with chlorine found in seawater, which can evaporate to the stratosphere, travel around the globe, and ultimately become deposited on Antarctic ice and snow where it can become permanently stored.“There is no more nuclear chlorine-36 in the global atmosphere. That is… why we should observe natural chlorine-36 levels everywhere,” said study author and geoscientist Mélanie Baroni in a statement.The US conducted multiple nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific Ocean in the 1950s and 1960s. In less than 20 years, a total of 19  operational test series were conducted, resulting in more than 230 detonations. Similar findings of chlorine-36 have been found in ice core samples from a US glacier located in the Wind River Mountain Range of Wyoming.

Santee Cooper pays off some debt issued for failed nuclear project - Carolina Print Reprint South Carolina-owned Santee Cooper has paid off $360 million of long-term debt, a move the utility said is designed to stabilize customers’ electricity rates for at least five years. The payment is part of a $925 million, two-year plan to reduce the utility’s debt issued to fund its 45% ownership share in the failed construction of two nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station near Jenkinsville, South Carolina.   The two-year debt reduction plan is part of a business forecast and strategic generation plan Santee Cooper’s board of directors approved in September. The plan calls for introducing greener generating initiatives, such as solar, and closing four coal-fired generating units over four years. Santee Cooper, formally known as the South Carolina Public Service Authority, said it closed on paying off bonds issued in 2009 through 2013, 2015 and 2016, as well as certain mini-bonds on Oct. 16. The deal included $147.67 million of taxable bonds issued in 2016 that were redeemed, according to a notice posted on the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board’s EMMA filing system Oct. 15. The South Carolina Department of Administration approved the redemptions, Bonsall said. The SCDOA is overseeing a confidential competitive procurement process to get bids for the potential sale or management of Santee Cooper, which has been ordered by the Legislature. As part of the process, Santee Cooper will also submit its own reform and restructuring plan to remain a state-owned asset.

NorthStar: Vermont Yankee demolition ahead of schedule  - Nine months into the demolition of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, NorthStar CEO Scott State says the project is already about six months ahead of schedule. He said the company has been able to make progress by "doing things differently." State said the project was divided up into three, two-year segments, and that the company will complete the project ahead of the 2030 deadline easily and on budget. NorthStar's partner for the first segment of the project, Orano USA, is already cutting up the nuclear reactor's internals and getting them ready for shipment to another partner's waste site in western Texas. State said he originally expected the job would be completed by 2026. "I think we'll be done well before 2026," he said Thursday during a tour of the Vernon site with reporters, giving an update of the $500-plus million project. "We are months ahead of schedule."

Peach Bottom nuclear plant has equipment malfunction during refueling In a routine procedure to shut down operations of its Unit 3 reactor for refueling, Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station had an equipment malfunction, triggering an emergency declaration. The type of emergency was classified as an “unusual event,” which is the least severe on the scale set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said Megan Lewatowski, communications manager for the plant. It happened at 12:50 a.m. Monday, Oct. 21, according to a report from the NRC, and operator Exelon went through the protocols of alerting Maryland and Pennsylvania state agencies, local governments and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “While removing Unit 3 from service, a degraded piece of equipment was identified during the shutdown sequence, requiring operators to use an alternate method for shutdown,” a news release from Exelon stated. A manual toggle switch didn’t perform as expected, and operators used a backup push-button system to insert the control rods to shut down the reactor, Lewatowski explained.Those who have been vocal against Peach Bottom getting a second license extension see this as evidence that the plant might have a problem with aging management. Peach Bottom is one of only four plants in the nation planning for a second license extension, which would push operations from 60 to 80 years. “This was their primary safety-related shutdown system that failed to operate as intended,” said Paul Gunther, executive director for anti-nuclear group Beyond Nuclear.When a primary system doesn’t work, it could be indicative of larger concerns, such as inadequate age management or mechanical failure and not something you want to see routinely, Gunther said.

Southwest tribes oppose spent nuclear fuel storage plans (AP) — Native American leaders from New Mexico are opposing plans that call for storing in the desert Southwest tons of spent nuclear fuel from power plants around the U.S.The All Pueblo Council of Governors in a resolution adopted late last week affirmed its commitment to protecting tribal natural and cultural resources.The council — representing 20 sovereign pueblo nations — is worried about risks associated with transporting the waste from dozens of commercial reactors in numerous states to the planned storage facilities in New Mexico and West Texas. Council Chairman E. Paul Torres said in a statement Monday that the projects lack meaningful consultation with tribes and would subject “our communities, environment and sacred sites to unimaginable risk over many decades.”New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, members of the congressional delegation and environmentalists already have come out against the plans, arguing that the state could become a permanent dump for the waste since the federal government has yet to develop any long-term solutions for handling the fuel. About 80,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel generated by commercial reactors is stored around the nation, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. That number will grow as nuclear power plants keep operating.

'It's a very big issue': Kamala Harris says nuclear waste policy demands local input  - Local consent and decision-making is critical for successful nuclear waste storage and related policy, according to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat. "Communities have to be given the power to consent to what they want, meaning communities should have the authority to make the decisions about what happens to their communities," Harris said, speaking to the Aiken Standard after her Aiken County town hall Saturday night. "And what happens in those communities includes whether or not there's going to be a nuclear site there." Harris' comments line up with the Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act, which she co-sponsored in April. The bill – introduced by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat who objects to Yucca Mountain and has blasted the U.S. Department of Energy for moving weapons-grade plutonium from South Carolina to her state – requires the DOE to secure approval from a state's governor, local-level governments and nearby tribes before a nuclear waste repository could be constructed. "It's an issue that is present here, it's an issue that is present in Nevada, and it's a real issue for those communities," Harris said of waste storage, making reference to the Savannah River Site, a 310-square-mile nuclear reserve south of Aiken. Roughly 35 million gallons of nuclear waste is currently stored at the Savannah River Site in aging, underground tanks and is awaiting processing and long-term disposal. Metric tons of plutonium are kept at the site in a retrofitted reactor facility known as K-Area. SRS is under the purview of the Energy Department's remediation wing, the Office of Environmental Management.

House Bill 6 inadvertently bans coal plant subsidies, groups say - cleveland.com —House Bill 6 has been in the news lately because of its $1 billion bailout for two nuclear plants, but there’s another part of the bill that’s now drawing scrutiny: new ratepayer-funded subsidies for coal-fired power plants in Ohio and Indiana.A number of environmental groups claim that because of the way HB6 was written, the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation – which owns the coal plants – isn’t eligible to get any of the subsidy money that lawmakers intended to give it.Under the new law, starting next January, ratepayers around the state have to chip in up to $1.50 monthly (and up to $1,500 per month for commercial and industrial users) to subsidize OVEC’s Kyger Creek and Clifty Creek coal plants, which often have to sell electricity at a loss since the military uranium enrichment plant they were built to power closed in 2001.But in written comments to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, the environmental groups point to language in the bill that only allows the subsidies to be set up to cover costs of power agreements “approved by the federal energy regulatory commission.” The FERC, they assert, has never approved any contract associated with OVEC.“Because there are no costs subject to a FERC ‘approved’ contract, the Commission must not accept the Staff’s proposed mechanism which assumes the existence of such costs,” according to the comments submitted by the Ohio Environmental Council, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and Environmental Law & Policy Center.State Rep. Jamie Callender, the Lake County Republican who sponsored HB6, said Wednesday that he didn’t want to comment on the groups’ argument until the PUCO rules on the matter. But he said that if the PUCO finds a problem, state lawmakers will seek to correct it.

Deadline nears for HB6 referendum petition drive as complaints against foes mount - cleveland.com —During the past three months, an unprecedented fight over a proposed referendum on overturning Ohio’s $1 billion nuclear bailout law has involved controversial multi-million-dollar ad campaigns, lawsuits on both sides, and even arrests for physical altercations.But on Monday, we could see if there will even be an anti-House Bill 6 referendum on the November 2020 ballot.That’s the deadline for Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts to meet the requirement for the measure to make the ballot: submitting at least 265,774 valid signatures from registered Ohio voters in at least 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties.“It’s going to be tight,” Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts spokesman Gene Pierce said in an interview. “The opposition has really tilted the playing field. We’ve got to keep working.”The referendum’s opposition includes the group Ohioans For Energy Security, which has spent millions on provocative and misleading TV ads and mailers that include suggestions (without evidence) that the Chinese government is behind the repeal effort. The group has also been circulating its own, unofficial petition in what critics say is an attempt to confuse voters and corner the market on professional petition gatherers.Another anti-referendum group, Generation Now, has hired “blockers” to follow petition gatherers and urge passers-by not to sign.Pierce said the anti-referendum side’s tactics have made an impact. “They’ve done some damage, obviously,” he said. “You can just tell when you’re out in the field and you see one of our people [collecting signatures] and five of theirs.”

House Bill 6 referendum signatures not filed, leaving its fate to judge - News - The fate of a petition effort to repeal the House Bill 6 bailout of a pair of nuclear power plants rests with a federal judge.Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts announced this afternoon it will not file the referendum petition signatures it has been gathering for weeks amid a hard-fought, multi-million-dollar campaign replete with allegations of dirty tricks.The group, which faced a midnight deadline to submit signatures, is arguing it should be granted more time for its petition drive in a lawsuit filed before U.S. District Court Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr. The lawsuit contends a state law requiring the attorney general to certify summary language for the petition unconstitutionally consumed 38 of the 90 days it had to gather signatures following the passage of House Bill 6 by the Republican-dominated legislature and its signing by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine. A hearing on the motion for a preliminary injunction is scheduled before Sargus on Tuesday afternoon. “Nuclear bailout supporters of House Bill 6 have stooped to unprecedented and deceitful depths to stop Ohioans from exercising their Constitutional rights to put a bailout question on the ballot for voters to decide,” said Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts spokesman Gene Pierce. “The fight to put House Bill 6 on the ballot in 2020 isn’t over yet though,” said Pierce. “Our lawsuit challenging the ‘blackout period’ on petitioning, which consumed 38 of the 90 days we had to collect signatures, remains under review in U.S. District Court.”

Judge denies more time to nuclear referendum effort -A federal judge late Wednesday night refused to grant more time to a petition effort to give Ohio voters a chance to second-guess a new law bailing out two struggling nuclear power plants.That means House Bill 6 will remain in effect to have consumers statewide subsidize the operations of FirstEnergy Solutions’ Davis-Besse plant near Oak Harbor and Perry plant east of Cleveland to the tune of $150 million a year.U.S. District Court Judge Edmund Sargus, Jr. punted the dispute to the Ohio Supreme Court, determining that the challenges to the petition process raised by Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts are state constitutional questions, not federal.He denied the group's request for a preliminary injunction, finding that it was unlikely to succeed in its argument that the restrictions on the petition process violated its constitutional right of free political speech.The group admitted falling roughly 40,000 signatures short of the initial threshold of 265,774 valid signatures of registered voters required by Monday’s deadline to keep the law from going into effect while it asked voters to repeal it.It claimed state law requiring it to first get the attorney general to sign off on petition summary language to be shown to potential signers created a 38-day “blackout” period when it couldn’t gather any signatures."At the heart of plaintiffs' claims is proposition that the Ohio Constitution affords them 90 days to circulate a referendum petition, and that their First Amendment rights are violated by the statute because of the blackout period," Judge Sargus wrote. "But Ohio courts have not held whether the 90-day period is guaranteed for circulating or whether the required review of the attorney violates the Ohio Constitution. "Moreover, the Ohio Supreme Court could afford plaintiffs the remedy they seek — a stay of H.B. 6 and additional time to circulate their petitions," he wrote.

Editorial: Utilities’ powerful allies keep Ohio moving backward on energy -  The Columbus Dispatch - Ohio has an energy problem, and it stems from the backward approach of those in power at the Statehouse.Lawmakers serve the interests of powerful utilities above those of consumers, the environment and the future. That translates to subsidies for electric companies — out of ratepayers’ pockets — and not just neglect, but outright hostility toward efforts to develop clean and renewable alternatives to coal and gas.The result is electricity bills higher than necessary, carbon emissions higher than necessary and the strangulation of what should be a growing Ohio industry.Recent weeks and months have provided ample and depressing proof of Ohio’s energy folly.Exhibit A is House Bill 6, the new law that will force electricity customers statewide to pay extra on their bills to bail out FirstEnergy Solutions. It will raise more than $1 billion over 10 years — money FirstEnergy says it has to have to keep its two nuclear plants operating.The bill’s worst feature is its wholesale assault on clean energy development. Technically, the nuke plant bailout comes in the form of credits for producing carbon-free energy. But equally carbon-free solar and wind projects, with a few token exceptions, aren’t eligible for the same credits. Moreover, the law actually bails out two coal plants, too. Lawmakers also tucked in language that guts the state’s requirement that utilities increase their use of renewable energy sources. This comes as prospects for wind-energy development in Ohio already were severely stunted by unreasonable windmill-setback requirements, enacted in 2014 by renewable energy foes. More bad news for clean energy came last week when the Ohio Power Siting Board unexpectedly derailed approval of an 80-megawatt solar project proposed for Brown and Clermont counties. The distinct departure from standard practice raised alarm and eyebrows among renewable energy supporters because Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chairman Sam Randazzo, who also heads the siting board, has had a long career prior to his PUCO appointment advocating for fossil fuel companies and opposing clean energy initiatives. That same PUCO has tended to favor utilities and disfavor clean energy since long before Randazzo’s appointment as chairman earlier this year. In 2017, it allowed Akron-based FirstEnergy to begin collecting $168 million to $204 million per year in extra charges from customers. The Ohio Supreme Court struck down the surcharges earlier this year but allowed FirstEnergy to keep the $400 million-plus it already had collected, without undertaking any distribution-system improvements. As other states embrace the jobs and carbon savings that can come from a clean energy industry, Ohio continues to march backward, propping up bankrupt nuclear plants and dirty coal plants at the expense of a nascent industry with unlimited potential. Voters should demand better.

  Environmentalists question use of radioactive brine waste to treat roads - - As temperatures continue to dip, it will only be a matter of time before road crews across the state head out in the wee hours to pre-treat roads for snow and ice. Many will use processed brine waste from an oil and gas drilling practice known as fracking. That concerns environmentalists, who say the practice could raise levels of radium, a radioactive metallic element found in the brine, in soil and groundwater. “This is just not something that should be spread around our communities haphazardly. It needs to be stopped, period. If you can’t find something better to do with this waste, then stop producing it,” said Teresa Mills, a member of the Buckeye Environmental Network, a nonprofit environmental-justice group. Radium-226 and radium-228, both found in brine waste, are known human carcinogens and can lead to bone, liver, and breast cancer if levels are high enough, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ohio law allows only brine produced from vertical wells, or conventional wells, to be spread as a de-icer. “The (Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Oil & Gas Resources Management) has collected brine samples from both brine hauler trucks and wells. These samples are helping the division to establish baseline radiological data on naturally occurring radioactive material in produced brine from different geological formations.” said ODNR spokesman Adam Schroeder. Data from state testing shows that in at least one case there were 9,602 picocuries per liter for combined amounts of radium-226 and radium-228. The lowest level was 66. Ohio law allows no more than 0.005 picocuries of radium per liter of oil and gas waste placed in landfills. Yet the law allows for processed brine waste to be spread on Ohio’s roadways, and because it is a naturally occurring byproduct of drilling the state does not cap radiation levels. Despite the high radiation levels in some cases, state agencies and others don’t see a problem with its use. “Recent models from both the Ohio Department of Health and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection show that controlled application of brine containing naturally occurring radioactive material offers a negligible risk to human health,” Schroeder said.

Heaven Sensky: How many more of my friends have to die before Pa. takes action? - Nearly 2,000 deep shale gas wells have been drilled and fracked in Washington County. Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania Department of Health held a public meeting at Canon-McMillan High School to defend its claim that there is no cancer cluster in our region. Twelve children and young adults have been diagnosed with rare Ewing sarcoma cancers between 2011 and 2018, and many affected parents have expressed grave concern over the impacts of oil and gas development.  As a 2015 graduate of Canon-McMillan, this issue is close to my heart. I have watched my friends and classmates suffer. I have had to deal with more cancer diagnoses than anyone should have to. I feel so wholeheartedly that what is happening in our backyards is the issue of our time here in southwestern Pennsylvania that I changed my career path and sought work in environmental justice. Parents whose children have been affected by the high occurrence of rare tumors want the state to take a closer look to see if the natural gas industry or other environmental causes could be to blame. Residents across the community have been tirelessly making the case to our elected officials that it’s their duty and responsibility to seek answers.For centuries, we have systematically been swallowed up and spit back out by fossil-fuel companies extracting oil and gas from our land. The industry takes and takes from us until there is nothing left but death and destruction. When we are no longer deemed “profitable,” it’s on us to clean up the mess industry has made. We suffer the consequences of the predictable economic bust. All the while, our elected officials serve the industry in the name of “economic prosperity,” aiding hedge-fund companies that always have and always will prioritize profits over people. And now, the mess the industry is leaving us includes dying children. What Department of Health representatives didn’t say is that not all of the cases present in Canon-McMillan were considered in its study. What they didn’t say is that the two state representatives who commissioned the study are supported financially by the oil and gas industry. The natural gas industry continues to expand — now with even fewer regulations — right in our backyards. Chemicals and radium are being spewed into our drinking water sources and into our air. We do not have time for 20 more years of research before we acknowledge that something is wrong. How many more families have to suffer before we take this impact seriously? How many more of my friends have to die before Gov. Tom Wolf stops trading political deals to protect the natural gas industry at the expense of my community?

Third Sink Hole Discovered on Mariner East Pipeline 4 Feet Wide & 30 Feet Deep—A third “sinkhole” has opened up along the Mariner East pipeline construction route in Middletown Township in Sleighton Park. A Middletown Township release reads that at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, township staff was contacted by Delaware County emergency services staff regarding a potential “subsidence” at Sleighton Park. It is believed that an 18-inch hole developed at the site, which was quickly filled in by workers with concrete. It marks the second sinkhole at Sleighton Park, with a third which developed near the state police barracks on US Route 1. Township staff responded within 15-minutes to discover an 18-inch diameter hole formed north of Forge Road, south of the existing sound barriers, that “may have been from previous potholing completed by Sunoco for the 16-inich pipeline,” reads a township release. The void was filled with flowable fill by the time township staff who arrived on scene; it was reported that 48 yards of material was used to fill the void. Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, of the Public Utility Commission, said the uncovered pipeline was active at the time of the repairs but was not necessarily moving product. The 18-inch hole was the opening of a subsidence that fanned out to approximately 4 feet in width and 30 feet in depth, as it was reported to the township. The PA-PUC was on site prior to the subsidence being filled to confirm its condition, reads the township report. “The PUC viewed the situation as not an immediate threat, but it is an open and ongoing investigation.” The PA-DEP was also on site and determined the situation was not an immediate threat. A 12-inch pipe that was likely active was partially exposed within the subsidence or “sinkhole;” It was reported that approximately 18-36 inches of the pipe was exposed and unsupported. County emergency services staff completed air monitoring for gas at the location of the subsidence and within the immediate surrounding area. Results were negative, reads the township report. Township staff departed the site as the respective agencies did not find any breach in the pipeline(s), no immediate threat was present, the void was filled, and restoration completed at this time.

In court, seven people who live near Mariner East pipelines will urge a regulator to stop the project for good. It might be their last chance | StateImpact Pennsylvania - Almost a year after Sunoco started pumping natural gas liquids through the controversial and still unfinished Mariner East pipelines, and less than two months after Gov. Tom Wolf publicly ruled out stopping the lines, seven residents of Chester and Delaware counties are preparing to argue in court that the Public Utility Commission should halt the project. The plaintiffs will appear before Elizabeth Barnes, a PUC administrative law judge, in a West Chester courtroom on Oct. 23 and 24 to try to convince her that the pipeline project remains a danger to public safety, and that Sunoco has failed to help the public understand how to ensure their safety if there is a leak or explosion. It could be the last chance for pipeline opponents to stop the project, which has been plagued with technical, environmental and legal problems since it started construction in February 2017. It was temporarily shut down once by Pennsylvania’s Environmental Hearing Board and twice by the PUC — including once by Barnes, following the appearance of sinkholes in West Whiteland, Chester County in May 2018. But it has always been allowed to restart. Sunoco admitted in February 2019 that it made mistakes during construction, and pledged to put them right, but has insisted throughout that the project meets all state and federal regulatory requirements. The plaintiffs’ attorney, Michael Bomstein, said his clients believe that their safety, and that of their neighbors, is being put at risk in part by the eight-inch Mariner East 1 line, a 1930s-era pipe that once carried gasoline across Pennsylvania from east to west, and was repurposed in 2014 to carry highly volatile natural gas liquids in the opposite direction. They are also worried by Sunoco’s use of a repurposed 12-inch line as part of the Mariner East network until its new 16- and 20-inch lines are complete, Bomstein said. Both of the repurposed lines are “dangerously corroded and should be shut down,” he said. The PUC’s Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement concluded that a leak of natural gas liquids from Mariner East 1 at Morgantown, Berks County in April 2017 was caused by corrosion in the 1930s-era pipe. In September 2018, the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said that the 12-inch line leaked 33,000 gallons of gasoline into a creek near Philadelphia. The line, installed in 1937, had leaked at least twice before, records show.

Several Chester, Delaware county residents urge PUC judge to shut down Mariner East pipelines, citing fears of leak or explosion --Seven residents of Chester and Delaware counties took their long-running fight against the Mariner East pipelines to a West Chester court on Wednesday, saying the Public Utility Commission should shut down the lines on the grounds that they are a danger to public safety. They are urging a PUC administrative law judge to halt the operation and remaining construction of Sunoco’s still-unfinished pipeline project, on the grounds that any leak or explosion of natural gas liquids from the pipelines in densely populated suburbs like the two counties could result in mass casualties. The plaintiffs are also seeking a court order that would require Sunoco to clarify its instructions on how residents should protect themselves in the event of a pipeline accident. The hearing, taking place almost a year after Sunoco started operating a hybrid version of the new line, was the latest opportunity for the plaintiffs to argue their case in a judicial setting, and may represent their last chance to halt the project. During 3 1/2 hours of hearing on Wednesday morning, Judge Elizabeth Barnes rejected a request by Sunoco attorneys to limit the testimony of lay witnesses on the grounds that they were not qualified to offer expert opinions on issues like the impacts of a pipeline explosion. “In general, my ruling is a lay person can testify on their opinion,” the judge said. But she said those witnesses would not be allowed to use hearsay reports on matters that they are not experts on. Lawyers for Sunoco repeatedly accused Eric Friedman, a witness for the plaintiffs, of offering expert evidence that he was not qualified to give, but Barnes overruled several of their objections. Under questioning from the plaintiffs’ attorney, Michael Bomstein, Friedman said a consultant’s projection on the impact of an explosion of NGLs showed that there would be fatalities within a radius of 800 feet. Under that scenario, all 39 houses in his Andover subdivision in Delaware County would be affected by any leak of natural gas liquids, Friedman said. Using proprietary software, the consultant, Quest, showed that there would be fatalities caused by a shock wave and thermal radiation, Friedman said. Robert Fox, an attorney for Sunoco, argued unsuccessfully that Friedman’s comments on the modeling amounted to expert testimony. “We’ve been clear from the beginning, this is lay witness testimony.

Will the Public End up Paying to Clean up the Fracking Boom? -Increasingly, U.S. shale firms appear unable to pay back investors for the money borrowed to fuel the last decade of the fracking boom. In a similar vein, those companies also seem poised to stiff the public on cleanup costs for abandoned oil and gas wells once the producers have moved on.“It’s starting to become out of control, and we want to rein this in,” Bruce Hicks, Assistant Director of the North Dakota Oil and Gas Division, said in August about companies abandoning oil and gas wells. If North Dakota’s regulators, some of the most industry-friendly in the country, are sounding the alarm, then that doesn’t bode well for the rest of the nation.In fact, officials in North Dakota are using Pennsylvania as an example of what they want to avoid when it comes to abandoned wells, and with good reason.The first oil well drilled in America was in Pennsylvania in 1859, and the oil and gas industry has been drilling — and abandoning — wells there ever since. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) says that while it only has documentation of 8,000 orphaned and abandoned wells, it estimates the state actually has over a half million.“We anticipate as many as 560,000 are in existence that we just don’t know of yet,” DEP spokesperson Laura Fraley told StateImpact Pennsylvania. “There’s no responsible party and so it’s on state government to pay to have those potential environmental and public health hazards remediated.” According to StateImpact, “The state considers any well that doesn’t produce oil and gas for a calendar year to be an abandoned well.” The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report this September about the risks from insufficient bonds to reclaim wells on public lands. It said, “the bonds operators provide as insurance are often not enough to cover the costs of this cleanup.” The report cited a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) official’s estimate of $10 a foot for well cleanup costs. StateImpact Pennsylvania noted that costs to reclaim a well could add up to $20,000, and DEPspokesperson Fraley said they could be “much, much higher.” The GAO report noted that “low-cost wells typically cost about $20,000 to reclaim, and high-cost wells typically cost about $145,000 to reclaim.”

Pa. Health department has collected just 160 complaints on oil and gas production in nearly a decade - Despite a natural gas boom and health concerns over drilling from environmentalists, the state Department of Health has received just 160 complaints related to drilling over the last decade. On Thursday, Stephanie Hasanali, of the department’s Bureau of Epidemiology, briefed a state oversight committee charged with approving environmental regulations on the data the agency has collected since 2011. The state Department of Environmental Protection, meanwhile, received 9,000 complaints about environmental issues between 2004 and 2016, Hasanali told the Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee, which is part of DEP.  At least early on, the Department of Health wasn’t responding to complaints, according to StateImpact, an NPR project covering natural gas development.  The outlet found in June 2014 that department managers under former Gov. Tom Corbett advised employees not to talk to anyone who called and mentioned fracking-related keywords.The process was updated soon afterwards to send return letters to complainants acknowledging their call. Hasanali added Thursday that next steps for the department could include outreach to increase awareness of the complaint process.

Viewpoints: The natural gas pipeline approval sham – The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in 2017 granted National Fuel Gas Supply Corp. Section 7, National Gas Act, certificate of public convenience and necessity to build a new, 99-mile long, natural gas pipeline – the Northern Access Project – linking the company’s western Pennsylvania gas fields and existing pipelines in the Buffalo area. Since then, landowners and public officials in New York communities located along the proposed pipeline’s route have charged that the Northern Access pipeline is neither a public convenience nor a public necessity; that National Fuel, not the American public, desperately needs the added pipeline capacity for export purposes. Necessity for whom? They ask, how can FERC declare this pipeline in America’s public interest when National Fuel has contracted to sell 72% of the gas to Canadian customers? Environmental, wildlife and property risks during construction of a 75-foot wide right-of-way from Pennsylvania to Buffalo, and burying a 24-inch pipeline, will be borne here at home while the gas will benefit foreign customers. Directing its attention to this very issue, a Sept. 6, 2019, opinion issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, involving a pipeline-for-export case in Ohio, The court pointed out that Section 7 of the Natural Gas Act grants FERC authority to issue certificates of public convenience and necessity for “the transportation in interstate commerce” and that the courts have not interpreted interstate commerce to include foreign commerce. Federal and state governments, according to the eminent domain “taking clause” of the U.S. Constitution, may only condemn private property for public purposes, like building public schools and roads. FERC’s certificate, however, conveys to National Fuel the federal eminent domain powers to use condemnation courts for corporate purposes. Landowners along the pipeline’s route argue that giving the power to seize land to a private company for the purpose of profiting from the sale of American natural gas to foreign customers is not in the public’s interest.

Trump promotes 'pro-energy' policies in Pittsburgh— President Donald Trump took credit for Pennsylvania’s booming oil and gas industry on Wednesday.Speaking to a crowd of industry professionals and political supporters at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, Trump applauded his administration’s support for domestic energy production at the Shale Insight Conference. A fervid supporter of deregulation, Trump took responsibility for a thriving fossil fuels industry and historically low unemployment in the region. By rolling back “job-killing” climate policies and greenhouse gas emission standards, he said his administration has restored energy dominance in the United States.“I promised that, as president, I’d unleash American energy like never before, because our natural resources do not belong to the government,” he said. “They belong to the people of this country. And I am proud to declare that I have delivered on every single promise I made.” During his time in office, Trump has revoked former-President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan and Stream Protection Rule, approved the controversial Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines and pledged to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord. On Wednesday, he renewed his commitment to leaving the climate agreement. “My job is to represent the people of Pittsburgh, not the people of Paris,” he said. It was the president’s second appearance at the conference since 2016 and his second visit to western Pennsylvania since August, when he toured Shell Chemicals’ ethane cracker plant in Potter Township. “Shell’s gigantic new petrochemical plant is one of the biggest in the world,” he said. “It will create more than 600 new Pennsylvania jobs, thousands of construction jobs and provide a tremendous boost to the local economy.” The complex will produce more than a million tons of plastic annually using ethane from nearby Marcellus and Utica shale reservoirs. The Marcellus Shale is the country’s largest natural gas field, stretching from New York to West Virginia and parts of Ohio. More than 70 percent of all Marcellus-related jobs are filled by Pennsylvanians, Marcellus Shale Coalition representatives said.

 Pennsylvania's gas politics churn as Trump embraces industry - Star Tribune— President Donald Trump promoted his support for the natural gas industry Wednesday, making clear on his second visit to Pennsylvania in the past three months that he sees his pro-industry policies as a boost to his chances of winning the battleground state in 2020. As some of his leading Democratic opponents call for a fracking ban, Trump has been eager to cut a contrast, touting his support for a sector he says brings economic benefits to rural pockets and jobs to construction union workers. But pipeline politics might not be so clear-cut. In the suburbs that might be key to his path to victory, Pennsylvania voters have shown a growing opposition to the drilling and massive pipelines required to move its product across the state. Candidates in state and local races are increasingly hardening their stances on the industry. National polling shows growing skepticism of fracking, the process used in extraction. While the issue is unlikely to be the one that turns a race already dominated by Trump's strong personality, a looming impeachment fight and accusations of racism, Trump's eagerness to promote the industry underscores his tight focus on shoring up his base of rural voters, even at the risk of alienating others. "Today, I'm proud to declare that I've delivered on every single promise I made to this conference three years ago and much, much more," Trump said at an energy conference in Pittsburgh, a corporate hub of activity in the Marcellus Shale, the nation's most prolific natural gas reservoir. Trump reminded the audience that he overturned the Clean Power Plan, put forward by his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, to fight climate change. "Sounds nice but it wasn't nice," Trump, a climate change skeptic, said of the plan. "It was a disaster." The president also highlighted his decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement, a multinational pact designed to reduce the emission of gases that contribute to global warming. Trump has argued that the agreement entered into during the Obama years would have restricted the U.S. but allowed foreign producers to "pollute with impunity." "My job is to represent the people of Pittsburgh, not the people of Paris," the president said as the audience cheered.

 'Unleash American energy': Trump touts administration's moves during Pittsburgh stop  The Star Beacon – Speaking to a mixed crowd of natural gas industry representatives and rank-and-file western Pennsylvania supporters on Wednesday, President Donald Trump said he is bringing an end to “the war on American energy.”He made the comment during the annual Shale Insight convention inside Pittsburgh's David L. Lawrence Convention Center.Trump, a Republican, recalled when he addressed the same conference during his 2016 campaign. Since then, Trump's administration has issued permits for the Keystone XL Pipeline and Dakota Access Pipeline, rolled back the Clean Power Plan, opposed participation in the Paris Agreement, repealed the Stream Protection Rule, revoked Waters of the United States, and opened offshore federal lands and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas exploration.“Today, I'm proud to declare that I delivered on every single promise I made to this conference three years ago and much, much more,” Trump said.He called 2016 a time when “American energy was under relentless assault from the previous administration.”Trump continued: “Federal regulations and bureaucrats were working around the clock to shut down vital infrastructure projects, bankrupt producers and keep America's vast energies and treasures buried deep under ground. They didn't want to let you go get them. So, good for the American people in so many ways. I promised that as president I'd unleash American energy like never before because our natural resources do not belong to the government, they belong to the people of this country.”He focused on several specific issues, including the 2015 Paris Agreement – a plan, adopted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to deal with greenhouse gas emissions – that has the support of more than 180 nations. President Barack Obama, a Democrat, backed the accord.Trump opposed what he considered to be a “terrible, one-sided” plan. The administration can submit notice on Nov. 4 to begin the one-year clock to formally withdraw from the climate pact. “What we won't do is punish the American people, while enriching foreign polluters,” Trump said. “Because, I can say it, right now, and I'm proud to say it, it's called 'America first' – finally. My job is to represent the people of Pittsburgh, not the people of Paris.”

Remarks by President Trump at 9th Annual Shale Insight Conference | Pittsburgh, PA - Whitehouse.gov (speech transcript)

Trump hails U.S. oil and gas industry, blasts Democrats as 'anti-energy zealots' - President Trump promoted his record on U.S. energy production Wednesday during a trip to Pittsburgh that sounded more like a campaign rally than a policy discussion.Speaking at the annual Shale Insight Conference, Mr. Trump told oil and gas industry workers that Democrats “want to ban shale energy.”“Anti-energy zealots are blinded by ideology,” Mr. Trump said, referring to liberals’ proposed Green New Deal. “The radical policies of Democrats in Congress would result in massive layoffs.”Pennsylvania has experienced an energy boom in recent years through the production of natural gas from shale fracking, a process of hydraulic drilling. Mr. Trump won the state narrowly in 2016, but is trailing Democratic front-runner Joseph R. Biden by about 10 percentage points in polls of head-to-head matchups.At a campaign appearance in his native Scranton Wednesday, Mr. Biden accused the president of having forgotten America’s “forgotten people.” The president said his plans will bring even more jobs to the energy-rich landscape of Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.  “Our goal is to bring 100,000 energy jobs to Appalachia and to rebuild this magnificent region … which was forgotten too long by the Democrats,” Mr. Trump said.

Marcellus Fracking Means Farewell to Dems in 2020 - With Quid Pro Joe Biden's confession to using U.S. resources to pressure a foreign government to benefit his son, maybe in the next Democrat debate, one of the questions will be why, if fossil fuels are evil, the Democrats are committed to ending their use, and we have a decade or so to live before we freeze our hoohahs to death, it was okay for Hunter Biden to sit on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian natural gas holding company.  Seems Hunter had his very own greenback new deal.As President Trump's speech at the Shale Insight Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Wednesday noted, Joe Biden's mythical claim that Trump inherited a booming economy from President Obama falls flat in the face of the reality that this is Trump's economy, fueled by deregulation, tax cuts, cutting of EPA shackles, and a booming energy industry allowed to use the latest technology to free a seemingly endless supply of oil and natural gas from the earth under our feet.  The conference was staged by some very appreciative energy groups such as the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, and the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association.This energy abundance has put downward pressure on energy costs for consumers and industry and made us energy independent and immune from Middle East instability, quite possibly preventing a global oil recession or major war with the likes of a belligerent and aggressive Iran.While noting that he has opened up ANWR in Alaska for exploration and development, exited the job-killing and economy-choking Paris Climate Accord, and green-lighted the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, Trump pointed out the economic benefits shale development in general and the Marcellus shale formation stretching beneath Pennsylvania in particular as most significant, noting that the Dems have promised to ban fracking of shale rock to release the vast quantities of oil and natural gas within.  Trump warned that the Democrats want to take away our energy as well as our guns and that the current prosperity spawned by shale and facking could end.

Trump administration pushing LNG rail shipments » The Trump administration wants to allow the transportation of liquefied natural gas (LNG) by rail tank cars, Kallanish Energy reports. The U.S. Department of Transportation and its Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is proposing LNG rail shipments be allowed in DOT-113 specification refrigerated tank cars.PHMSA is working with the Federal Railroad Administration. The two agencies last Friday filed a 55-page notice of proposed rulemaking. They called such rail shipments a “potentially viable alternative to pipelines.”The plan is supported by the railraod trade grtoup Association of American Railroads.The proposed rule to allow such shipments will be the subject of a 60-day public comment period on changes to the Hazardous Materials Regulations to allow such shipments, after the notice appears in the Federal Register. The notice is available at www.phmsa.dot.gov/sites/phmsa.dot.gov/files/docs/news/72636/lng-rail-nprm-2137-af40.pdf. The notice is a result of President Trump’s April 2019 executive order on LNG and rail, mandating a federal rule by 2020.The proposal has come under fire from critics who say such shipments pose a major safety risk to local communities.Currently, LNG may only be transported via rail in a portable tank with approval from the federal rail agency. However, federal rules do allow the DOT-113 tank car to be allowed to carry other flammable cryogenic liquids.  “This major rule will establish a safe, reliable and durable mode of transportation for LNG while substantially increasing economic benefits and our nation’s energy competitiveness in the global market,” said agency administrator Skip Elliott, in a statement.  One company, New Fortress Energy unit Energy Transport Solutions, is seeking a special federal permit to run 100-car unit trains filled with LNG to a proposed LNG export facility on the Delaware River in New Jersey. That request was filed last summer with PHMSA.  The LNG would be moved from liquefaction facilities in the Marcellus Shale of northeast Pennsylvania. The U.S. House of Representatives last summer approved an appropriations bill amendment that blocked such a permit.

Natural gas usage climbs as distributors replace lines — Natural gas usage for one local distribution company operating in Pennsylvania and Maryland said Wednesday has increased 17% in the last two years, primarily in the commercial and industrial sectors. Michael Huwar of Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania and Maryland said his company has been replacing old cast iron gas lines with new plastic lines. It has been changing roughly 100 miles per year at a cost of $300 million, he said. Huwar made his remarks at the 9th Annual Shale Insight conference, in Pittsburgh. Pipeline leakage has also been reduced 86% in the last 10 years, he said. Justin Macken of Equitrans Midstream defended the again-stalled Mountain Valley Pipeline from West Virginia to the Virginia-North Carolina border. The company is already eying several expansion projects along the line that runs 300 miles to deliver Marcellus and Utica Shale natural gas to markets. Those projects include expanding capacity on the pipeline by 500 million cubic feet per day from the current 2 billion cubic feet per day, he said. In other comments, Pennsylvania Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Turzai hailed the natural gas success in the Appalachian Basin. Pennsylvania is the No. 2 gas producer in the U.S. behind only Texas. Ohio is No. 5. If Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia were a foreign country, it would be No. 3 for natural gas production in the world. Turzai said Pennsylvania intends to stay away from bad policy decisions and actions that would hurt shale drilling and damage Pennsylvania’s booming economy. Pennsylvania could have been like New York state and blocked drilling, but that has not happened, he said.

EQT to grow Appalachian Basin natural gas with combo drilling — EQT will rely heavily on combo drilling in the Appalachian Basin as it moves forward, Kallanish Energy reports. The Pittsburgh-based company, the No. 1 natural gas producer in the U.S., expects to begin drilling in perhaps a dozen new areas, said president and CEO Toby Rice Wednesday, at the 9th annual Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh. The conference drew about 1,450 attendees and was staged presented by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the Ohio Oil and Gas Association and the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association. Much of EQT’s planned drilling will occur at multiple levels from the same well pads with longer laterals, Rice told the audience. That could include Marcellus, Utica or Upper Devonian play drilling. He did not identify the areas of new drilling, but said such drilling is more complicated and complex and requires additional corporate planning. The company has lots of underground options in western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, Rice said. And there are plenty of ways the company can improve. Technology is being added to drive efficiencies and to change the way that the company operates, Rice said. He said he's working to create a connected organization with digital technology and a digital workplace. EQT has also cut the number of complaints filed via its hotline telephone call in half in the 100 days since Rice took over. There were 1,100 complaints when he took over. Rice said his company will likely be able to produce free cash flow in the near future because of its high-quality inventory. Low natural gas prices hurt, but those prices are building demand for natural gas and are being relied on by customers, he said. Rice said natural gas production growth is expected to jump by 10 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in the next 10 years, with 7 Bcf/d going to LNG exports. There are sufficient pipelines at least for the next few years to get Appalachian Basin natural gas to markets, Rice said. He noted the stalled Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines would boost such shipments. Natural gas is having a big impact in Pennsylvania where natural gas bills have dropped 70% in the last 10 years and where $13 billion is being spent on gas-fired power plants, Rice said. Natural gas will complement renewables such as wind and solar in the future, he added..

Equitrans files for approval to connect Rover pipeline to West Virginia power plant -- Equitrans recently filed an official request with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for approval to construct an approximately 17-mile pipeline from southwest Pennsylvania to West Virginia. If approved, the Tri-State Corridor Project will include a line connected to the Rover pipeline to provide natural gas liquids to West Virginia’s first natural-gas-fired electric power plant. The project would connect the Rover Pipeline along with two “non-jurisdictional” pipelines at the Trinity Interconnect site. The majority of the line would be a 16-inch pipe carrying shale gas to ESC Brooke County I, which is being built by Energy Solutions Consortium. The project would be the sole source of fuel for the plant. Equitrans, LP, a subsidiary of EQM Midstream Partners based in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, would operate the pipeline. “Energy infrastructure in Pennsylvania is crucial for the state’s economic,” the Pennsylvania Energy Infrastructure Alliance said in a blog post. “Pennsylvania is now the second-largest natural gas producer in the country and the industry has generated countless benefits for the commonwealth through jobs and increased access to energy resources for consumers – both have produced great economic benefit. Sustained investment in projects like the Tri-State Corridor Project will continue to provide the citizens of Pennsylvania with jobs to support Pennsylvania’s working families, lower energy costs, and economic stability.”

Longview Power expansion project in Maidsville, WV, to be built by union labor — The planned expansion at Longview Power, which will add solar and gas energy generation capabilities to one of the nation’s most efficient coal-fired power plants, will be built by union labor, according to officials. The project will directly and indirectly support around 5,000 construction jobs throughout the 36-month construction process, said Longview Power COO Steve Nelson. Longview officials invited representatives of local construction unions to the facility on Wednesday for a presentation on the expansion project and a guided tour of the existing operation. Natalie Stone, executive secretary for the North Central Building Trades, said the decision to use union labor is welcome news for her organization’s members and for West Virginia as a whole. “It’s a huge boost for us,” she said. “We built the original plant when it was first brought online. They met with us several months and expressed interest in having us build their new plant. We’re very excited. It’s going to be huge for our members and their families...great wages, great benefits for everybody. It’s a great boost for the economy.” The proposed facility, called the Longview Power Clean Energy Center, will house a pair of new power plants, one gas-fired and one solar. The proposed combined cycle gas-fired power plant will incorporate advanced turbine technology and existing infrastructure to produce low-cost electricity, Nelson said. The utility-grade solar facility will use over 185,000 solar panels on 300 acres in both West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Once fully operational, the Clean Energy Center is anticipated to produce over 2,000 MW of electricity, serving nearly 2 million homes in Northern West Virginia and Southwest Pennsylvania.

Work on Mountain Valley Pipeline is winding down -  Winter is coming early for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Although construction is winding down for the season, it’s not just because of the coming freezing temperatures that will make it difficult to dig trenches along mountain slopes for the buried natural gas pipeline. Even if it was being built in the tropics, this project would be stalled. Mountain Valley has lost three sets of key permits — all suspended because of the pipeline’s impact on the environment — that have fallen like slow-motion dominoes for a project that was supposed to be done by now. The most recent blow came last week, when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered the company to “cease immediately” all work on the interstate pipeline, at least until questions raised by the latest legal challenge are resolved. While the courts consider that case, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is likely months away from making a decision on whether to re-issue permits that allowed the pipeline to cross more than 1,000 streams and wetlands in Virginia and West Virginia. Those permits were revoked or suspended a year ago, and Mountain Valley had hoped to have them restored by now — until a legal challenge, filed in August, took issue with a determination from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the pipeline would not jeopardize endangered species of fish and bats. And a decision on a third set of permits for the pipeline to pass through the Jefferson National Forest, thrown out in July 2018, remains in limbo while the U.S. Supreme Court considers a case that could impact the pipeline’s crossing of the Appalachian Trail. With three federal agencies — the Army Corps, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service — all back at the drawing board to redo their respective permits, there’s not a lot of work that can be done along the pipeline’s 303-mile route from northern West Virginia to Chatham.

EQM delays WV-VA Mountain Valley natgas pipe, boosts costs again (Reuters) - EQM Midstream Partners LP said on Tuesday it pushed back to late 2020 the expected completion of its long-delayed Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to Virginia, and boosted the estimated cost to $5.3-$5.5 billion. Previously, the company had targeted a mid 2020 full in service date at a cost of $4.8-$5.0 billion. When EQM started construction in February 2018, it estimated Mountain Valley would cost about $3.5 billion and be completed by the end of 2018. But successful legal challenges by environmental and other groups to federal permits have resulted in lengthy delays and higher costs for Mountain Valley and another gas pipeline under construction in the Mid Atlantic region: Dominion Energy Inc’s Atlantic Coast from West Virginia to North Carolina. “While the temporary setbacks have caused schedule delays and cost overages, completion of the project is critical to serving the growing demand for domestic natural gas in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions of the United States,” Diana Charletta, EQM president and chief operating officer, said in a release. 

Another delay, cost increase for Mountain Valley Pipeline - The projected cost of building the Mountain Valley Pipeline has gone up by another half a billion dollars. And the expected completion date, most recently slated for mid-2020, has been pushed back to the end of that year. In an announcement Tuesday, Mountain Valley attributed the latest delay and revised cost estimate — now at between $5.3 billion and $5.5 billion — to “various legal and regulatory challenges.” The Pittsburgh-based company has lost three sets of federal permits, following legal challenges by environmental groups that argued the buried natural gas pipeline would pose risks to the water, land and wildlife along its 303-mile route. “We have encountered unforeseen development challenges; however, we continue to make progress towards ultimate completion,” Diana Charletta, president and chief operating officer of EQM Midstream, the lead partner in the project, said in a statement. “While the temporary setbacks have caused schedule delays and cost overages, completion of the MVP project is critical to serving the growing demand for domestic natural gas in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions of the United States,” Charletta said. When work began in February 2018, Mountain Valley said it would be done by the end of that year at a cost of $3.7 billion. Several delays and cost increases have been announced since then. As costs have risen steadily, some opponents have voiced hopes that investors will pull out of the joint venture, made up of five energy companies. But considering the amount of work that has already been completed on the pipeline’s route through West Virginia and Southwest Virginia, one financial analyst who has followed the project closely saw a “very low probability” of that happening.

Investigators plan Atlantic Coast Pipeline questioning in November :: WRAL.com — The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will take center stage again at the statehouse next month when private investigators plan a public questioning of key Cooper administration officials about the pipeline permitting process. It's been a back-and-forth political fight to get here, with Gov. Roy Cooper and his leadership team accusing the Republican-controlled legislature of dragging out a sham investigation to score political points. Republicans say they want to know what the administration promised Duke Energy and other pipeline partners before announcing, on the same day, the pipeline's key state permit and a $58 million fund the governor would have controlled. Cooper Chief of Staff Kristi Jones sent the legislature an open records request Thursday, seeking communications between lawmakers and the private investigators they hired to dig into the administration. She asked for the records by next Friday, which would be a surprisingly quick turnaround for a large cache of records from the Cooper administration itself. She also said lawmakers should set aside legislative privilege, which is a large, but not fully defined, carve out in the state's open records law allowing lawmakers to avoid releasing documents. "A legislative inquisition should not be allowed to hide behind a self-serving exception to the state's public records laws that protects legislators and their activities from public scrutiny while requiring every other governmental body and public official in North Carolina to make their records and communications public," Jones wrote.

Report finds that users saved $1.1T due to natural gas production in Shale Crescent USA region - Shale Crescent USA (SCUSA) and the Ohio Oil & Gas Energy Education Program (OOGEEP) recently released an economic analysis that highlights users’ energy savings due to increased natural gas production in the Shale Crescent USA region. According to the report, end-users of natural gas, which include households, businesses, manufacturers, and electric power generators, have seen $1.1 trillion in energy savings since 2008 due to the significant natural gas production in the region, which includes Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.According to the report, U.S. households saved an average of $4,000 over 10 years, and the energy savings amounted to approximately a 2.7 percent increase in income for low-income families. The savings included over $90 billion for all natural gas users in the Shale Crescent Region. The report found that Shale Crescent region manufacturers and industrial users saved approximately $25 billion, and consumers in the Shale Crescent region realized savings approximately 30 percent higher than the national average.

'The Empowerment Alliance' and Other New Dark Money Groups Sound a Lot Like the Natural Gas Industry – DeSmog - Amid the crescendo of calls for climate action and rising rage directed at the fossil fuel industry, petroleum producers and their allies are engaging in an aggressive promotional push focused on natural gas. The same month that the American Petroleum Institute (API) started running ads emphasizing gas’s role in reducing carbon emissions, a new dark money group has launched under the patriotic guise of promoting “America’s energy independence” by promoting, you guessed it, natural gas.   That group, called The Empowerment Alliance (TEA), is a registered 501(c)4 that does not disclose its donors (and is not required to under law). TEA launched on September 30 with a news release filled with natural gas industry talking points and attacks on the Green New Deal. The organization describes natural gas as “essential to our shared prosperity” in terms of jobs, national security, energy costs, and even air quality, while the Green New Deal is labeled as “radical and unachievable” and a “risky tax scheme.”  This anonymously funded organization, from its leaders to its messaging, is part of a broader chorus of misleading talking points that goes beyond the “natural gas and oil” industry (as the API ads say) to conservative media pundits and top strategists and officials within the Trump administration and the GOP.  The Empowerment Alliance is known to be run by two top figures and lobbyists for the Republican Party.  James Nathanson, the executive director, is a longtime Republican operative and apparent dark money extraordinaire. Nathanson’s business consulting firm in Dayton, Ohio, James S. Nathanson & Associates, has funded various conservative candidates and Republican Party groups and SuperPACs. But while these donations are transparent, Nathanson has also headed a group called Freedom Vote, Inc. — another 501(c)(4) dark money organization. Freedom Vote (FV) has been accused of failing to report more than $1.1 million spent on political attack ads during the 2016 U.S. Senate race in Ohio.  Watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed official complaints against Freedom Vote to the IRS and Federal Election Commission (FEC), and even filed a lawsuit in June seeking to compel the FEC to take enforcement action against the organization. Nathanson was also a central subject to a 2004 complaint to the FEC for violating campaign finance law in Ohio election campaigns.

Natural gas inventories surpass five-year average for the first time in two years -Working natural gas inventories in the Lower 48 states totaled 3,519 billion cubic feet (Bcf) for the week ending October 11, 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report (WNGSR). This is the first week that Lower 48 states’ working gas inventories have exceeded the previous five-year average since September 22, 2017. Weekly injections in three of the past four weeks each surpassed 100 Bcf, or about 27% more than typical injections for that time of year.Working natural gas capacity at underground storage facilities helps market participants balance the supply and consumption of natural gas. Inventories in each of the five regions are based on varying commercial, risk management, and reliability goals.When determining whether natural gas inventories are relatively high or low, EIA uses the average inventories for that same week in each of the previous five years. Relatively low inventories heading into winter months can put upward pressure on natural gas prices. Conversely, relatively high inventories can put downward pressure on natural gas prices.This week’s inventory level ends a 106-week streak of lower-than-normal natural gas inventories. Natural gas inventories in the Lower 48 states entered the winter of 2017–18 lower than the previous average. Episodes of relatively cold temperatures in the winter of 2017–18—including a bomb cyclone—resulted in record withdrawals from storage, increasing the deficit to the five-year average.In the subsequent refill season (typically April through October), sustained warmer-than-normal temperatures increased electricity demand for natural gas. Increased demand slowed natural gas storage injection activity through the summer and fall of 2018. By November 30, 2018, the deficit to the five-year average had grown to 725 Bcf. Inventories in that week were 20% lower than the previous five-year average for that time of year. Throughout the 2019 refill season, record levels of U.S. natural gas production led to relatively high injections of natural gas into storage and reduced the deficit to the previous five-year average. The deficit was also decreased as last year’s low inventory levels are rolled into the previous five-year average. For this week in 2019, the preceding five-year average is about 124 Bcf lower than it was for the same week last year. Consequently, the gap has closed in part based on a lower five-year average.

BOOM: Natural gas reserves, output defying previous estimates nationwide -  Oil and gas production in several regions of the country continue to defy previous estimates, in some cases tripling them, according to new estimates released by the U.S. Geological Survey.This month, the USGS reported that the Marcellus Shale and Point Pleasant-Utica Shale formations of the Appalachian Basin contain an estimated mean of 214 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) “of undiscovered, technically recoverable continuous resources of natural gas.”The Marcellus Shale and Point Pleasant-Utica Shale estimates represent a significant increase from the previous USGS assessments of both formations. In 2011, the USGS estimated a mean of 84 Tcf of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, and in 2012, 38 Tcf of natural gas in the Utica Shale.The Marcellus, Point Pleasant and Utica formations cover parts of Kentucky, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.  Last month, the USGS released a new assessment of the Alaska North Slope, which is estimated to contain 53.8 Tcf of natural gas hydrate resources, according to 3D seismic mapping and “a greater understanding of gas hydrate reservoir properties.” The estimate pertains to undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas resources stored within gas hydrate formations. The 2008 report estimated 85 Tcf, which was the first-ever estimate of technically recoverable gas resources within gas hydrate, according to the report.In North Dakota, the Bakken shale now produces annually an amount that is more than three times what the USGS estimated 25 years ago it could ever produce in total. In West Texas and New Mexico, the Permian Basin is the largest continuous oil field and second largest gas field in the U.S.The Wolfcamp Shale and overlying Bone Spring Formation in the Delaware Basin portion of Texas and New Mexico’s Permian Basin region contain an estimated mean of 46.3 billion barrels of oil, 281 Tcf of natural gas, and 20 billion barrels of natural gas liquids, the USGS reports.

Natural Gas Glut Drags Down Prices -- Natural gas prices have sunk this year, falling due to record production and swelling stockpiles. Low prices are putting a strain on shale gas drillers, with Appalachia in particular feeling the effects. Globally, the market for gas is also suffering from a bout of oversupply that could take several years to clear up. At the same time, some industry executives are starting to exhibit concern regarding the growing public pressure to place restrictions on gas due to its impact on climate change. Last year, the U.S. market for natural gas tightened up, squeezed by swings in temperatures, rising exports and structural increases in demand due to more gas-fired power plants. Henry Hub prices topped $4/MMMBtu in November 2018, just ahead of the peak winter demand season as the market grew concerned about supply. But the price spike was temporary, and the gas industry continued to break production records. Both the Marcellus and Utica shales in Appalachia, and the Permian basin in West Texas, exhibited blistering growth. As winter came to an end, depleted inventories were quickly restored.In fact, Henry Hub prices entered a steep slide this past summer, as gas output continued to rise. Producers in the Permian and the Bakken are flaring at record rates, and regulators have done little to rein them in.  But drillers in Texas, New Mexico and North Dakota are mainly focused on producing oil, and the gas comes out of the ground as a byproduct. Low prices do not necessarily alter their drilling calculations. Meanwhile, in Appalachia, where E&Ps are mainly focused just on producing gas, low prices are causing deeper problems. Pittsburgh-based EQT, the largest natural gas producer in the country,announced that it would lay off 23 percent of its workforce as part of a corporate restructuring.

Natural Gas Prices Reverse Most Of Last Week's Rally - Last week felt a little more promising for natural gas bulls, as prices rose to around $2.35 at the end of electronic trading back on Friday, flirting with key resistance levels that seemed at risk to be broken thanks to colder weather from the end of this month into the start of November. It was not to be, however, as prices were crushed in today's session. The prompt month November contract settled down more than 8 cents on the day, reversing most of last week's entire rally with a closing price of $2.238. Why such a sharp decline? There are a couple of reasons. One is that the amount of cold forecast by the weather models weakened over the weekend. Notice how cold the GEFS was, for example, when we woke up Friday morning in the 11-15 day time frame: Checking what it showed this morning valid the same dates, the change is quite obvious to the warmer side in the key eastern half of the U.S. Yes, there is still plenty of cold on the map, but it is focused in areas where there are fewer people, resulting in lower demand for natural gas consumption. But weather was not the only driver of today's price action, and arguably not even the most important one, despite being near the time of year when we often look to the weather forecasts as the primary driver of natural gas price volatility. We saw a rather large jump up in natural gas production in the weekend data. The data shows that Friday and Saturday's production total was around 95.1 bcf, blowing away the previous high mark of 94.2 bcf in our dataset. At a time when supply demand balances are already running loose despite low prices, more supply is definitely not something that is friendly to the bulls, what few that still exist, given the market's already extreme short position. The length in the market is at its lowest level in years, but until the aforementioned supply / demand balances can tighten, it is difficult to put together a rally unless strong cold hits and is able to have some durability. This week's EIA report seems unlikely to change the landscape much, as it will take quite a miss vs our expectation in order to avoid again reflecting loose S/D balances. For now, it is up to weather to deliver enough of a punch to turn this market around, and we cannot rule that out. Even with the warmer change, the medium range guidance still projects a pattern that often brings cold into the U.S, with upper level ridging around Greenland (negative NAO), and another upper level ridge along the west coast of North America, poking up toward Alaska (negative EPO).

US natural gas storage volume rises by 87 Bcf to 3.606 Tcf: EIA — US working natural gas volumes in underground storage added 87 Bcf last week, increasing by more than the five-year average for the 13th consecutive week, as the NYMEX Henry Hub winter strip trades near two-month lows. Storage inventories increased to 3.606 Tcf for the week ended October 18, the US Energy Information Administration reported Thursday morning. The injection was less than an S&P Global Platts' survey of analysts calling for a 92 Bcf addition. Survey responses ranged for an injection of 80 Bcf to 101 Bcf. The build was more than the 62 Bcf injection reported during the corresponding week in 2018 as well as the five-year average addition of 73 Bcf, according to EIA data. As a result, stocks were 519 Bcf, or 16.8%, more than the year-ago level of 3.087 Tcf and 28 Bcf, or 0.8%, more than the five-year average of 3.578 Tcf. The NYMEX Henry Hub November contract added 1.7 cents to $2.299/MMBtu following the announcement. The winter strip, November through March, gained less than 1 cent to average $2.434/MMBtu, down 8 cents from the week prior. The $2.43/MMBtu price marker has proved to be a low-side support level. Prices bottomed out there on three previous occasions in the last two months following higher trading. US balances are trending tighter by about 0.8 Bcf/d for the week in progress, as notable gains in onshore production still fall short of a boost in demand driven by higher home heating loads, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. A forecast by Platts Analytics' supply and demand model has storage volumes increasing by 83 Bcf for the week ending October 25, which would increase the surplus to the five-year average to 46 Bcf with at least two more net injections remaining before withdrawal season begins. Forecasts for the end-of-season peak before the flip to net withdrawals have continued to increase throughout the injection season as supply continued to outpace demand. The most recent estimate by Platts Analytics now has storage peaking at 3.749 Tcf.

PA Chamber calls New Jersey’s denial of PennEast pipeline permits “troubling news” - Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry President and CEO Gene Barr issued a statement Wednesday criticizing New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration’s denial of permits for the proposed Penn East pipeline project. “New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s announcement last week that his administration will refuse to issue permits to the Penn East pipeline project is troubling news for the region’s economy and its environment and is, at best, legally questionable,” Barr said. “The project would have served to deliver gas to thousands of homes and businesses in Pennsylvania and New Jersey helped keep energy prices low for the entire region and would have supported energy, manufacturing, and supply chain jobs throughout Pennsylvania.” Murphy said in a tweet on Friday that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) denied a permit that PennEast Pipeline Co needed to build the proposed natural gas pipeline from Pennsylvania to New Jersey. In September, a U.S. appeals court issued a ruling that prevented PennEast from using federal law to gain access to properties along the route in New Jersey. “My Administration fought and won in court to stop the proposed 116-mile Penn East natural gas pipeline,” Murphy said in the tweet. “This week, @NewJerseyDEP denied and closed the application. We are committed to transitioning New Jersey to 100% clean energy by 2050.”

Three State Agencies Challenge PennEast’s Effort to Overturn Adverse Court Ruling on Pipeline  New Jersey is opposing efforts by the PennEast Pipeline Company to have a federal agency reverse a court ruling blocking the developer’s $1 billion, 116-mile natural gas pipeline project through parts of the state and Pennsylvania. In protest petitions filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Friday, a trio of state agencies and the Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission challenged PennEast’s decision to ask the agency to overturn a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Essentially, the state is characterizing PennEast’s request as an attempt to relitigate an issue decided authoritatively by a federal court, a course of action two state agencies (the Department of Environmental Protection and Board of Public Utilities) described as unprecedented. The federal court last month blocked the company’s bid to condemn state-owned properties as part of its plan to build a pipeline from Luzerne County, Pa., across the Delaware River, and ending in Mercer County. The court found that a private company lacked legal authority to seize or condemn state lands under the 11th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. “PennEast, by its own terms, is pursuing an action that is wholly inappropriate after losing a question of statutory interpretation before the Third Circuit (a loss informed by the court’s view of the relevant constitutional law), the company has come to FERC for a do-over,’’ the state argued in its brief. Legal doctrine of sovereign immunity New Jersey’s Division of Rate Counsel agreed, calling PennEast’s petition both procedurally unsound and substantively meritless. “The determination PennEast seeks is squarely contrary to the Third Circuit’s decision, which held that the National Gas Act had not abrogated states’ sovereign immunity,’’ according to Rate Counsel. Under the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity, a state cannot be sued by a private company without its consent.

Environmental Group Appeals ‘Arbitrary’ DEP Permit for South Jersey LNG Terminal - The Delaware Riverkeeper Network said Monday it appealed a permit issued by New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection for construction of the state’s first liquefied natural-gas export terminal at Gibbstown on the Delaware River. The DRN said officials had failed to consider all the ways the project would impact people and the environment.The environmental group called DEP’s approval “arbitrary, unreasonable, and contrary to law.” It said officials didn’t have enough evidence to determine whether the project would hurt water quality and did not require a stormwater permit or an investigation by the developer into contamination on the 370-acre Superfund site that was used by DuPont for making explosives and chemicals.The appeal says the DEP’s waterfront development permit violates regulations on coastal zone management that are intended to protect coastal and water resources. In an appeal filed with the New Jersey Superior Court on Oct. 18, the DRN said the potentially explosive LNG that would be trans-shipped at the terminal could do “catastrophic harm” to people and that dredging and riverfront development for the new port would harm the natural environment.It said the permit represented “an egregious failure by NJDEP to implement required protections.”   The LNG plan by Delaware River Partners, a developer, would expand an original proposal for a dock and one berth for ships that carry cars and dry and perishable cargo, creating a facility called Gibbstown Logistics Center. In addition, bulk liquids such as propane and butane would be stored on site using a cavern built by DuPont. The expanded project would load LNG onto oceangoing tankers after trucking it from a planned liquefaction plant in Bradford County, PA, one of the “sweet spots” of the state’s natural gas-rich Marcellus Shale. Delaware River Partners is affiliated with New Fortress Energy, which plans to build the liquefaction plant. The plan has drawn strong opposition from DRN and other environmental groups who argue that it would endanger people living in Gibbstown and along a 175-mile route from Wyalusing in northeastern Pennsylvania to the new terminal. The critics also say the project will boost fossil-fuel production as states including New Jersey and Pennsylvania set aggressive goals for cutting carbon emissions.

Williams CEO Says Its Gas Pipe Can Help Cuomo’s N.Y. Green Goals -  A natural gas pipeline that has been held up by New York could help Governor Andrew Cuomo meet his ambitious clean energy goals if he approves it, according to the developer behind the $1 billion project. “It really does align well with Governor Cuomo’s efforts to both continue to grow the economy as well as reduce emissions pretty dramatically,” Alan Armstrong, chief executive officer of Williams Cos., said about the Northeast Supply Enhancement project. Earlier in 2019, New York rejected the company’s application for a key permit, setting off a clash between Cuomo and National Grid Plc, which froze new gas hookups in some communities. The utility said the pipeline needed to be approved and encouraged customers to write to the governor’s office in support of the project. Cuomo fired back this month and ordered it to immediately resume connections to some customers. While environmentalists argue such projects only serve to increase reliance on fossil fuels, Armstrong said the pipeline would reduce emissions to the equivalent of taking half a million cars off the road because the majority of the gas would go to displace heating oil. The end result of such projects being rejected would mean that gas supplies will have to be transported in by truck or heating oil use will rise -- both at the expense of higher emissions, the CEO said in an interview at an energy conference in Kentucky on Monday. Cuomo in July signed the most stringent clean energy goal in the U.S., seeking to get all of New York’s electricity from emission-free sources by 2040, and an 85% reduction in economy-wide carbon emissions by 2050 from a 1990 baseline.

Cuomo threatens to pull plug on National Grid as he rails against utility company’s power - — Gov. Cuomo wants to know why National Grid has so much power. The governor threatened Thursday to pull the plug on the energy giant if it doesn’t cooperate with state officials seeking answers about its recent moratorium on natural gas hook-ups and its battle over a natural gas pipeline. “National Grid has a gun to the head of the people of the State of New York,” Cuomo said during an appearance on Long Island News Radio with Jay Oliver. For months, National Grid denied service to new and returning customers as the state Department of Environmental Conservation rejected a permit for a controversial pipeline slated to run across New York Harbor. New Jersey also denied a permit for the project. The governor came to the rescue of shut-out customers last week when he vowed to impose millions of dollars in fines unless the company provided natural gas to more than 1,100 customers who were denied service re-connections. The governor came to the rescue of shut-out customers last week when he vowed to impose millions of dollars in fines unless the company provided natural gas to more than 1,100 customers who were denied service Cuomo also turned the heat up on the Public Service Commission, which regulates the state’s utility companies, with a letter Thursday asking why the agency and National Grid failed to explore alternatives to the pipeline and as a contingency to a stalled pipeline. The scathing missive is addressed to John Rhodes, the PSC chairman, a Cuomo appointee and the former CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. “The fact that National Grid has consumers in a position whereby National Grid gets what it wants or consumers are punished is unconscionable,” the governor wrote. “A utility does not have license to harm customers because it believes it has an irrevocable franchise and is immune from effective regulatory oversight. I will not allow that situation to continue.”

Planned natural gas release angers compressor station opponents - — A planned release of natural gas in Weymouth and Braintree this week has raised the ire of neighbors who have been fighting the construction of a proposed natural gas compressor station in the Fore River Basin. Algonquin Gas Transmission, a subsidiary of Enbridge, sent a letter to some residents this week stating the company will “intermittently” release odorized natural gas from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday and Friday at its valve site at the Fore River Power Generation site off of Bridge Street, and at the Potter Meter Station site off of Potter Drive in Braintree. A spokesman for Enbridge told The Patriot Ledger the release is part of “planned, routine maintenance.” “There is no cause for alarm and there will be no danger whatsoever to persons or property in the area,” the letter to residents reads. “Portable deodorizing equipment and monitors that constantly measure the levels of natural gas will be used and Algonquin will make every effort to minimize the volume of gas released.” Algonquin Gas Transmission has proposed building a 7,700-horsepower compressor station on the banks of the Fore River. The proposal is part of Spectra’s Atlantic Bridge project, which would expand the Houston company’s pipelines from New Jersey into Canada. Alice Arena, of the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, said fracked gas has volatile compounds and heavy metals that are toxic and carcinogenic. Residents don’t believe that Enbridge has evaluated the health risks posed by blowdowns, or plan to test for harmful substances. “There are people in the basin with heart disease, COPD, asthma and cancer, and these people are already compromised,” Arena said. “But Enbridge is so cavalier and basically pat you on the head and says, ‘it’s fine.’” Max Bergeron, a spokesman for Enbridge, would not say how much natural gas would be released during the blowdown.

DTE Energy's natural gas midstream unit to buy Louisiana gathering pipeline, system in $2.65 billion deal --DTE Energy Co. unit DTE Midstream agreed to buy a natural gas gathering system and gathering pipeline in the Haynesville Shale rock formation in Louisiana for $2.25 billion in cash, plus another $400 million at a 2020 milestone. Detroit-based DTE will take on all assets from Momentum Midstream and Indigo Natural Resources, the main natural gas producer supplying the system, including a 150-mile, under-construction pipeline and an existing gathering system.  DTE made the announcement in a news release Friday morning. It gives DTE access to growing markets around the Gulf Coast, the release said.DTE Midstream is the utility company's natural gas storage, pipeline and gathering provider in the Midwest, Appalachian area, the Northeast and in Ontario. It said in May it would acquire an additional 30 percent of Stonewall Gas Gathering in West Virginia for $275.3 million. DTE wants to spend $4 billion-$5 billion in its midstream business between this year and 2023.

After Vowing to Cut Carbon, Utility Makes $2 Billion Gas Bet - DTE Energy Co. vowed last month to eliminate all its emissions from generating electricity. Now it’s betting big on natural gas. The Detroit-based utility agreed to buy a gas-gathering system and pipeline in Louisiana for $2.25 billion in cash, according to a statement Friday. The acquisition, from Momentum Midstream and Indigo Natural Resources, will deepen DTE’s existing gas network and boost its capacity to supply the Gulf Coast. Closely-held Indigo Natural Resources is the primary supplier of gas to the assets being sold to DTE. The fact that DTE is pushing to cut emissions on one side of its business while doubling down on fossil fuel with the other underscores how utilities continue to see gas as core to their business even as they pledge to fight climate change. While wind and solar have become cheap enough to compete with fossil fuels, utilities say they will need gas to heat homes and keep power grids stable for years to come. “The U.S. is undergoing a fundamental shift toward clean energy, and natural gas will play a large role in that,” DTE President and Chief Executive Officer Jerry Norcia said on a conference call. “Large investments in renewable resources and natural gas infrastructure enable the shift to a cleaner energy future.” Investors were less than enthusiastic about the acquisition, with shares falling as much as 2.9%, the most since February on an intraday basis. The deal raised concerns about DTE’s exposure to Indigo, a primary supplier of natural gas on the system, and investors are taking a cautious approach, Fitch Ratings placed DTE’s credit rating on watch negative due to the Indigo exposure..

ENERGY TRANSITIONS: World's biggest wind, solar developer bets on gas pipeline -- Wednesday, October 23, 2019 -- A unit of NextEra Energy Inc. has agreed to build a 50-mile pipeline into Alabama to supply a natural gas plant set to stand where a coal plant once did.

6 Years After Exxon's Oil Pipeline Burst in an Arkansas Town, a Final Accounting -  It was March 29, 2013. Few in Mayflower will ever forget it. As Hays ran her errands, ExxonMobil's Pegasus pipeline, which ran beneath this small town, burst without warning along a defective 22-foot seam, spewing 210,000 gallons of heavy Canadian crude oil diluted with large quantities of harmful solvents onto quiet residential streets. Hundreds of people in this working class community of about 2,000 near Little Rock reported being sickened by an odor that was almost thick enough to feel. Residents soon began to complain about grinding headaches, diarrhea, swollen eyes, dry heaves and burning lungs. "I started feeling kind of sick," Hays said later in a deposition as one of the lead plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against Exxon alleging negligence in its maintenance of the 69-year-old oil artery. "And I just couldn't tolerate the smell." The smell got into her house, she said, and for a year she couldn't shake a malaise triggered by coughing, congestion and migraines. "I was just constantly sick," she said. Hays is among more than two dozen Mayflower residents who described their symptoms and their anxiety in depositions that were sealed as part of a 2017 settlement with Exxon but obtained by InsideClimate News. The depositions, along with other court documents, provide the most complete account to date of the health impacts of the oil spill, which in some respects has remained shrouded in secrecy because the federal agency in charge of pipeline oversight restricted the public's access to the information, and because of the confidentiality agreements Exxon demanded in exchange for the settlements. An environmental consultant hired by the plaintiffs' lawyers, whose report is part of the court file, concluded that those nearby residents faced "significant risks" after being exposed to a cocktail of chemicals, including benzene, a known carcinogen; cyclohexane; naphthalene; and toluene. His findings have not previously been reported. The chemicals he cited had been used to dilute the heavy crude extracted from the tar sands fields of Alberta that leaked from the ruptured Pegasus pipeline, according to court documents. The consultant faulted Exxon for limited air sampling after the spill and for using the wrong health risk standard for assessing potential damage. Despite the confidentiality agreements, several plaintiffs said that compensation ranged from $2,000 to $15,000, depending on the proximity of the residents to the oil spill.

Oil company settlement over environmental suit could be first of many - An oil company accused of polluting and destroying parts of Louisiana’s quickly-dissolving coastline has agreed to a multi-million dollar settlement, a potential watershed moment that could help the state combat land loss and lead similarly accused energy titans to follow suit. Freeport-McMoRan is one of 98 oil and gas companies named in 42 lawsuits seeking reparations for environmental damage. Six years after the first suits were filed by several coastal Louisiana parishes, Freeport-McMoRan is the first to settle. "I’m pleased that other oil companies are calling, talking resolution," said John Carmouche, the attorney representing the parishes. "I’ve been very vocal that the first companies to come, get the better deal. I think Freeport started something I think can be very great for Louisiana." Freeport-McMoRan did not admit liability but has agreed to pay up to $100 million, much of which could be reimbursed by environmental credits, said Linda Hayes, the company’s vice president of communications. “While we believe the plaintiffs’ theories of liability are unfounded, we recognize the importance of coastal restoration regardless of its cause,” Hayes said via email. “As a result, we decided to make an early investment in a creative solution rather than continue to engage in years of litigation.”The deal could take decades to be paid in full and still requires approval from 12 parishes that will receive the funds. Carmouche and environmental law experts believe Freeport’s decision will set off an avalanche of similar agreements by companies who want to keep details of their operations out of the courtroom and off public record.

Cameron LNG natural gas facility officially opens today - The $10 billion Cameron LNG natural gas liquefaction and export facility was officially dedicated today. Gov. John Bel Edwards and CEO Farhad Ahrabi of Cameron LNG dedicated the facility. Cameron LNG became the second Louisiana company to export LNG to international destinations earlier this year. Also participating in the event with several hundred attendees were Japanese Ambassador Shinsuke Sugiyama and Masafumi Nakada, president of Nippon Export and Investment Insurance, the export credit agency of Japan also known as NEXI. The company is creating more than 200 permanent direct jobs, and Louisiana Economic Development estimates the project will result in an additional 657 new indirect jobs in Southwest Louisiana. One of the largest industrial construction projects in Louisiana’s booming Southwest Region, the Cameron LNG project employed over 11,000 construction workers during the peak year of construction as the facility took shape at Hackberry.  Cameron LNG’s first production unit, or train, was completed earlier this year and shipped its first LNG cargo in May. The plant’s second and third trains are expected to begin producing LNG in the first quarter and second quarter of 2020, respectively. At full production, the company estimates its LNG exports could create an annual trade balance surplus of $8.6 billion, by commodity value, with foreign markets, and Cameron LNG is considering adding two more trains at the Hackberry site in the future.

 Gulf Oil Production to Set Records Through 2020 - Annual oil production in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to jump to 1.9 million bpd in 2019. Oil production in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) hit a new annual record of about 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2018, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) anticipates additional production records in 2019 and in 2020 from the region. This is despite the shut-ins tied to Hurricane Barry in July and includes adjustments for hurricane-related shut-ins for the rest of this year and 2020. Annual oil production in the GOM is expected to jump to 1.9 million bpd in 2019 and reach 2 million bpd the following year, the agency reported. Despite the growth projections, GOM crude oil production will account for a smaller portion—just 15 percent—of the total in the U.S. This figure was 23 percent back in 2011, but since then onshore production growth has been outpacing offshore. Eight new deepwater projects are expected to come online this year while four should come online in 2020. Majority operators for the 2019 starts include LLOG, Shell, Oxy, Murphy Oil and W&T Offshore. Talos Energy, BP, Murphy Oil and Fieldwood Energy are majority operators for the 2020 starts. The agency expects these projects in total to add around 44,000 bpd this year and approximately 190,000 bpd in 2020 as their production ramps up. In 2019, oil production in the GOM slipped from 1.9 million bpd in June to 1.6 million bpd the following month because of Hurricane Barry-related platform evacuations. However, production recovered fairly quickly, as GOM oil production hit 2 million bpd in August 2019. Oil price spikes in 2017 and 2018 (compared to the lows in 2015 and 2016) haven’t yet had a marked effect on operations in the GOM, but they have the potential to contribute to higher rig counts and field discoveries in the coming years, according to the EIA.

Deepwater Transformation Sparking New Interest - Changes have revived interest in deepwater projects and enabled new ones in regions including the North Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and China Seas. Traditionally, deep-water exploration and production projects are not known for being small scale, fast or budget-friendly. The price crash of 2014 forced big oil to become cost conscious and make changes that are detailed in Wood Mackenzie’s report,The Deepwater Cost Curve: revisited in November 2018. Notable reforms include adopting an industrial approach to field development, in which standardization and modularization replaced customization, and automation introduced additional speed in the deepwater sector. Design changes, including greater use of subsea tiebacks, and reformed work practices have reinvented this sector by sharply reducing costs, increasing productivity and field development speed. In the process the closer collaboration between operators and field service contractors has generated environmentally-friendly technology solutions. These major reforms have revived interest in deepwater projects and enabled new projects in high cost oil-producing regions including the North Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and China Seas. The return to deep waters is characterized by projects that are simpler, have lower upfront costs and operating expenses, higher productivity and allow projects to come in within budget and on schedule. To illustrate this, Wood Mackenzie’s report shows that compared with 2013, 2018s deepwater cost curve is lower and longer and unit costs are down by over 50 percent. Consequently, a growing number of what were previously considered uneconomic projects are now considered viable at $50 a barrel, including new low-breakeven developments in Angola, West Africa, the Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea. As remarkable as these developments are deepwater still trails shale in the time it takes investors to recover their initial investment: offshore is down from 10 years to seven while shale is now under two. Financial recovery times perhaps explain the dominance of big oil in deepwater projects. The report shows that 74 percent of the projected US$250 billion of pre-FID spend sits on the books of just eight companies: Petrobras, Shell, Exxon, Chevron, BP, Eni, Total, Equinor, Anadarko and Woodside. However, there are some smaller players in the mix including LLOG in the Gulf of Mexico, Cairn Energy off Senegal and Tower Resources off Cameroon.

Government Loophole Gave Oil Companies $18 Billion Windfall -  New York Times - The United States government has lost billions of dollars of oil and gas revenue to fossil-fuel companies because of a loophole in a decades-old law, a federal watchdog agency said Thursday, offering the first detailed accounting of the consequences of a misstep by lawmakers that is expected to continue costing taxpayers for decades to come. The loophole dates from an effort in 1995 to encourage drilling in the Gulf of Mexico by offering oil companies a temporary break from paying royalties on the oil produced. However, the rule was poorly written, the very politicians who originally championed it have acknowledged, and the temporary reprieve was accidentally made permanent on some wells. As a result, some of the biggest oil companies in the world, including Chevron, Shell, BP, Exxon Mobil and others, have avoided paying at least $18 billion in royalties on oil and gas drilled since 1996, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan agency that works for Congress. The companies, which hold government leases to drill in the Gulf, continue to extract oil and gas from those wells while not being required to pay royalties, a right the industry has gone to court to defend. The National Ocean Industries Association, which represents the offshore industry, defended the arrangement. “There was no mistake in the law,” said Nicolette Nye, vice president at the association. If not for the law, she said, “we likely would not be producing U.S. oil offshore in record amounts today.” But in an interview, the program’s original architect said he was surprised by the outcome. “That wasn’t our intent,” said J. Bennett Johnston, a former Democratic senator from Louisiana who had pushed for the original reprieve on royalties. “There should have been a provision that said it didn’t apply above a certain threshold” for oil prices, he said. You have 4 free articles remaining. Subscribe to The Times The loophole continues to cut into federal coffers. Royalties from offshore oil and gas are a significant source of revenue, bringing in almost $90 billion from 2006 through 2018, according to the agency. Frank Rusco, a director of the G.A.O.’s Natural Resources and Environment team and the report’s author, said the findings are an extreme example of the Department of Interior failing to ensure that American taxpayers received a fair market value for the oil and gas extracted from public property. “These leases sold 20 years ago might keep producing for decades. The amount of forgone royalties is going to continue to increase,” Mr. Rusco said in an interview. “It’s a strong case for Interior to review how it collects revenues on oil and gas.”

BPL- 10,000 gallons spilled from ruptured pipeline— Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) lost 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel when a contractor ruptured a major pipeline last week. BPL Communications # Quincy Parker said approximately 235 gallons of clean diesel fuel was recovered from the damaged pipeline, and 21,660 gallons of oil/water mixture was recovered from the ground. He told Eyewitness News Online repairs on the pipe are expected to be completed today amid ongoing clean-up efforts to address outstanding contamination. The clean diesel fuel has been added to the storage diesel at Clifton for generation use. Parker said the oil/water mixture is also currently being stored at Clifton Pier, but will ultimately be disposed of. According to BPL, the spill was reported at 12.30pm after the contractor’s equipment made contact with a fuel line that runs from BHPS to Clifton Pier Power Station (CPPS). Parker said the pipe was immediately shut off, adding the damaged sections have been isolated and removed. “The line was shut down subsequent to the spill,” read a statement last week. It continued: “A BPL Security Supervisor received a call from the security guards posted at BHPS. Those officers reported that a trucking and excavation contractor had come to the security booth and reported that while excavating a property on Carmichael just west of Carmichael Primary School, his equipment came into contact with a BPL fuel line, which resulted in an oil spill.” In the initial statement, the company stated it has filed a police report over the incident. .

The U.S. Smashes Another Oil Export Record - Growing U.S. crude oil production and exports have resulted in America selling oil to more destinations around the world than the number of countries from which it imports crude oil, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Tuesday. A decade ago, the United States was importing crude oil from as many as 37 foreign sources per month, and its exports were restricted almost exclusively to Canada. After the lifting of those restrictions at the end of 2015, U.S. crude oil exports have been on the rise and reaching more destinations. Between January and July 2019, the largest number of sources of America’s oil imports fell to 27 in any of those months, the EIA has estimated. On the other hand, the number of destinations for U.S. crude oil exports rose, with exports to as many as 31 destinations per month in the first seven months this year. Thanks to its growing domestic production—which increased by 2.6 million bpd between January 2016 and July 2019—the U.S. has been importing crude from fewer sources. The domestic production increase has been mostly light sweet crude, which U.S. refiners have accommodated by displacing imports of light and medium crude from countries other than Canada and by raising refinery utilization rates, EIA says. On the other hand, expanding export terminals in the U.S. and global demand for light sweet crude have allowed the U.S. to export oil to more destinations.  U.S. crude oil exports jumped by nearly 1 million bpd in the first half of 2019 from the same period in 2018 to average 2.9 million bpd between January and June this year, the EIA said earlier this month. Average U.S. exports of crude oil rose by 966,000 bpd in the first half of 2019, compared to the first half of 2018. In June this year, the U.S. set a monthly average record of 3.2 million bpd of crude oil exports, EIA data showed.

The United States now exports crude oil to more destinations than it imports from -- As U.S. crude oil export volumes have increased to an average of 2.8 million barrels per day (b/d) in the first seven months of 2019, the number of destinations (which includes countries, territories, autonomous regions, and other administrative regions) that receive U.S. exports has also increased. Earlier this year, the number of U.S. crude oil export destinations surpassed the number of sources of U.S. crude oil imports that EIA tracks. In 2009, the United States imported crude oil from as many as of 37 sources per month. In the first seven months of 2019, the largest number of sources in any month fell to 27. As the number of sources fell, the number of destinations for U.S. crude oil exports rose. In the first seven months of 2019, the United States exported crude oil to as many as 31 destinations per month. This rise in U.S. export destinations coincides with the late 2015 lifting of restrictions on exporting domestic crude oil. Before the restrictions were lifted, U.S. crude oil exports almost exclusively went to Canada. Between January 2016 (the first full month of unrestricted U.S. crude oil exports) and July 2019, U.S. crude oil production increased by 2.6 million b/d, and export volumes increased by 2.2 million b/d.  The United States has also been importing crude oil from fewer of these sources largely because of the increase in domestic crude oil production. Most of this increase has been relatively light-sweet crude oil, but most U.S. refineries are configured to process medium- to heavy-sour crude oil. U.S. refineries have accommodated this increase in production by displacing imports of light and medium crude oils from countries other than Canada and by increasing refinery utilization rates.  Conversely, the United States has exported crude oil to more destinations because of growing demand for light-sweet crude oil abroad. Several infrastructure changes have allowed the United States to export this crude oil. New, expanded, or reversed pipelines have been delivering crude oil from production centers to export terminals. Export terminals have been expanded to accommodate greater crude oil tanker traffic, larger crude oil tankers, and larger cargo sizes.

U.S. petroleum product exports rose slightly in the first half of 2019 --In the first half of 2019, the United States exported an average of 5.47 million barrels per day (b/d) of petroleum products, an increase of 19,000 b/d (0.3%) from the first half of 2018 and the slowest year-over-year growth rate for any half year in 13 years. Two factors that likely contributed to lower exports were lower U.S. refinery runs in the first half of 2019 compared with the first half of 2018 and slowing global economic growth, which is limiting demand for petroleum products. In the first half of 2019, increased exports of propane and distillate offset decreased exports of all other petroleum products.Distillate remained the largest U.S. petroleum product export in the first half of 2019, averaging 1.3 million b/d, an increase of 60,000 b/d (5%) compared with the first half of 2018. Distillate has many uses, including transportation, manufacturing, agriculture, residential, and commercial activities.Mexico was the largest destination for U.S. distillate exports during the first half of 2019, receiving 290,000 b/d, or 22% of total U.S. distillate exports. Aside from Mexico, U.S. distillate exports go mostly to Central and South America, including Brazil (13%), Chile (7%), and Peru (5%). U.S. distillate exports also go to Europe, mostly to the Netherlands (4%), which is a transshipment country for some of the U.S. distillate volumes.Propane was the second-largest U.S. petroleum product export in the first half of 2019, at 1.03 million b/d, an increase of 142,000 b/d (16%) from the first half of 2018. Propane is used as a space heating and transportation fuel and as a petrochemical feedstock. Most U.S. exports of propane are destined for use as a petrochemical feedstock, mainly at facilities in Asia and Europe. U.S. residual fuel exports declined the most between the first half of 2019 and the first half of 2018, falling by 74,000 b/d to average 258,000 b/d. In the first half of 2018, Singapore was the top destination for U.S. residual fuel exports, most likely to supply Singapore’s marine bunkering market. However, in the first half of 2019, trade press reported that Singapore’s bunker market was preparing for new international regulations that limit the sulfur content of marine fuels by drawing down higher sulfur residual inventories to make room for inventories that are lower in sulfur. As a result, average U.S. exports of residual fuel oil to Singapore decreased 68,000 b/d (80%) in the first half of 2019 compared with the first half of 2018.

Carlyle Group quits $1 billion U.S. oil export project - (Reuters) - Carlyle Group (CG.O) said on Friday it had dropped out as a stakeholder in Lone Star Ports LLC, which proposed a $1 billion crude oil export terminal near Corpus Christi, Texas. Sean Strawbridge, chief executive of the Port of Corpus Christi, said Carlyle notified the port on Oct. 8 it would no longer proceed with its investment. That left construction company Berry Group as the sole backer. Carlyle said in a statement Berry Group was “now the sole owner of Lone Star,” but did not comment on why it dropped out of the project, which it said continues to be actively developed. Lone Star in September filed a lawsuit against Carlyle in a Texas state court, alleging the private equity firm breached its contract to jointly pursue the project and asking the court to award it full ownership. The lawsuit also sought unspecified damages. The project was one of at least nine crude oil export terminals proposed for the U.S. Gulf Coast to load U.S. shale oil onto supertankers that carry around 2 million barrels apiece. Carlyle was competing with projects in the same area proposed by commodities trader Trafigura AG and refiner Phillips 66.

Natural gas exports to Mexico swell, but is a tidal wave coming? - For some time now, natural gas producers in the Permian and the Eagle Ford have been counting on rising pipeline exports to Mexico to help absorb a lot of the incremental production in their plays. Their hopes have been bolstered in the past couple of years by the build-out of a number of new pipelines from the Waha and Agua Dulce gas hubs to the U.S.-Mexico border. Gas pipeline development south of the border hasn’t kept pace, though, mostly due to regulatory and construction delays. Also, a recent dispute over tariffs on a newly completed large-diameter pipeline, extending from the southern tip of Texas to key points along Mexico’s Gulf Coast, had left the pipe sitting empty this summer. That tiff has since been resolved and gas is flowing on the new pipeline, allowing those piped southbound exports to hit a daily record high near 5.9 Bcf/d earlier this month and average above 5.5 Bcf/d this month to date. Plus, progress is being made on other planned Mexican pipes too. This all leads us to ask, is the long-promised surge in U.S. gas exports to Mexico just around the corner? Today, we look at the latest developments regarding Mexico’s natural gas pipeline infrastructure additions. We’ve covered the natural gas pipeline infrastructure build-out in Mexico from almost every angle, from initial planning to pipeline-by-pipeline reviews, to a look at Mexico’s increasingly open gas market. Today, we’ll provide an overdue update, including a discussion about what’s been happening with one of the biggest long-haul pipeline additions: TC Energy and IEnova’s 2.6-Bcf/d Sur de Texas-Tuxpan Pipeline (STP), whose in-earnest start-up was set back for months by a stand-off between the Mexican government’s then-new administration and the project’s developers over the pipeline’s rates — the government said they were too high, and TC Energy and IEnova said a deal’s a deal. (More on this in a moment.) First, let’s take a big-picture look at the current status of gas pipeline development down Mexico way.

Unlikely alliance fighting pipeline in Texas Hill Country (AP) — One of the longest proposed new natural gas pipelines in the U.S. is set to run through Heath Frantzen’s property in the Texas Hill Country, where more than 600 white-tailed and trophy axis deer graze on a hunting ranch his family has owned for three generations. Fearing financial ruin and conservation risks, Frantzen and dozens of other landowners in central Texas have banded together with environmental groups and conservative-leaning city governments in opposing the route of pipeline giant Kinder Morgan’s 430-mile (690-kilometer), $2 billion natural gas expressway. “We know a lot more today about the aquifers, we know a lot more today about the endangered species, we know a lot more today about the sensitivity of the environment,” Frantzen said. “And putting a pipeline project through an area such as this, especially when you can compare it to some of the other places where they could put it even less expensively and with much greater ease — this is an idiotic idea.” But Kinder Morgan has defended its proposal, stating it’s looking to ease a pipeline shortage and help drillers transport gas trapped in West Texas’ thriving Permian Basin to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Now, the company is exercising eminent domain as a nasty legal battle over the path of the pipeline threatens to jeopardize future projects passing through central Texas. Opponents of the route are also challenging state regulators at the Texas Railroad Commission who gave Kinder Morgan the green light while accepting millions of dollars from the oil and gas industry.

Landowners Got One Hill Country Oil Pipeline Moved. But Can They Do It Again? - The Texas Observer A month after news surfaced that a pipeline proposed by a Texas-based petroleum juggernaut would run across the Edwards Aquifer, the primary source of water for San Antonio and other cities, the company said it would shift the pipeline’s path. It was a difference of only four miles, but Hill Country residents opposing the project cheered the change—a major victory given that the oil and gas industry typically doesn’t kowtow to landowners’ concerns.So why the monumental move by Enterprise Product Partners, a $5 billion oil and natural gas company headquartered in Houston?The controversy started last month, when Bandera County landowners began receiving letters from the company informing them that they were in the path of the pipeline stretching from Midland to just southeast of San Antonio. The Rivard Report, which broke the news, pointed out that the pipeline would also cut through the Edwards Aquifer’s recharge zone—and that a spill in the area could taint a crucial Texas drinking water supply. “This is extremely troubling news to all of us in the Bandera Canyonlands, especially the affected landowners,” one resident told reporter Brendan Gibbons.Landowners implored Enterprise executives to listen to their concerns, and in an unlikely twist, the execs raced down to the Hill Country to listen. The company capitulated; it would move the pipeline out of the recharge zone. Don’t chalk the about-face up to the company’s benevolence, though. It might have helped that among the contingent of rankled landowners was Dan Hord III, a Midland oil and gas executive whose family owns ranchland in the county. Hord is a partner at HEDLOC Investment Co. LLC, a petroleum investment firm; he also sits on Baylor University’s board of regents. His wife, Jenni Hord, operates a property development and leasing firm and wasappointed by Governor Greg Abbott to the board of Humanities Texas in 2015. It’s impossible to know exactly how much sway the Hords held in the meeting, but after the path had been shifted, Dan Hord was clearly appreciative, telling the Rivard Report, “Enterprise has done a great job of evaluating it and doing the right thing.” He did not respond to an Observerrequest for comment. Enterprise’s proposal is not the only hotly contested pipeline project scheduled to bisect the Hill Country in coming years: Kinder Morgan’sPermian Highway Pipeline will carry natural gas from West Texas to the Gulf of Mexico, slicing through water supplies and the habitats of endangered species on its way. The damage, both to property values and wildlife, could be astronomical, which is why treehuggers and private property types are banding together against the project. Thus far, Kinder Morgan hasn’t budged. So what are the chances that the relative success against one pipeline project could translate into success against another?

Texas Supreme Court to decide epic legal battle between Enterprise, Energy Transfer - — For one side it was a partnership; for the other, it was simply "a feasibility study." Now, two of the state’s biggest pipeline companies are near the culmination of an eight-year court battle that legal experts say is one of the most important business disputes to be decided by the Texas Supreme Court since the epic fight between Pennzoil and Texaco in the 1980s. That case, which turned on the question of whether a handshake agreement constituted a binding contract, ended with Pennzoil winning a jury award of nearly $10.4 billion award and Texaco in bankruptcy. This case pits the Dallas company Energy Transfer Partners against Enterprise Products Partners of Houston and revolves around the issue of whether they legally formed a joint venture to develop $1 billion pipeline to transport oil from the storage hub in Cushing, Okla. to Houston. Enterprise ulitmately bolted the arrangement and teamed up with the Canadian pipeline company Enbridge to build a similar project, which was completed in 2014.Energy Transfer sued in 2011 and won a verdict of $535 million three years later when a Dallas jury found that Enterprise breached its fidcuiary duty. The verdict, however, was overturned on appeal. Earlier this month, the Texas Supreme heard arguments in the case. A decision is expected over the next several months. The dispute has similarities to the Pennzoil case in that both center on what constitutes a binding agreement between businesses. In the earlier case, Pennzoil reached agreement to acquire Getty Oil, shook hands on it and put out a press release announcing the deal. Texaco then swept in with more money to snatch Getty from Pennzoil, which sued Texaco, claiming it had intentionally interfered with a contract. Texaco argued that no contract was signed, so claims of interference didn’t hold. The jury and appellate courts sided with Pennzoil. No contract was signed in the Energy Transfer v. Enterprise Products case, either. But Energy Transfer argues that after months of working together, the companies, under Texas business law, had entered into what was essentially a common law marriage, as binding as formal one. Enterprise, however, says the companies never finalized the joint venture and neither company’s board of directors approved such a venture.The dispute dates back to the spring of 2011, when demand for transporting oil and natural gas from Cushing to Houston was strong. Executives at Energy Transfer and Enterprise entered into a non-binding agreement to build a pipeline, which they called the “Double E.” Both companies started marketing the pipeline and even reached a tentative deal in August 2011 with Chesapeake Energy to transport 100,000 barrels a day to Gulf Coast refineries A month later, however, Enterprise announced it was breaking up with Energy Transfer to do a separate pipeline deal with Enbridge. Energy Transfer sued Enterprise, claiming the two competitors illegally conspired to cut it out of a profitable project. Enterprise responded that it never formed a legally binding partnerhship.

Texas Municipal League adopts resolution seeking state legislation on pipeline routing -  The Texas Municipal League has adopted a resolution that formally asks the state of Texas to pass legislation that would mandate greater oversight of oil and gas pipeline routing.The vote took place Oct. 10 at the annual TML conference.Resolutions that share some similar themes have been passed by local jurisdictions—including the cities ofSan Marcos, Buda, Kyle and Austin as well as Hays County and Hays CISD—over the course of 2019 in the face of the Permian Highway Pipeline, a 430-mile natural gas pipeline that Kinder Morgan plans to build through the Hill Country.The TML resolution asks for a state regulatory process that would require public input during routing, enable negotiation on the routes, and mandate compliance with economic and environmental study standards, among other items.Lack of transparency in the exercise of eminent domain by private pipeline companies as well as thepotential environmental impact of pipelines on sensitive regions have both been the topic of legal challenges to Kinder Morgan and federal and state agencies over the Permian Highway project.

Layoffs Hit Stevens Tanker, Amazon Contractors - Closures and layoffs continue to vex the trucking industry in 2019, but three recent downsizings were attributed by the companies involved more to the vicissitudes of the energy, retail and final-mile industries than to a slowdown in the overall freight market. Stevens Transport of Dallas notified employees on Sept. 25 that it is shuttering its tanker division due to weakened demand from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, activity in the Southwest. The carrier will lay off 586 employees as a result, according to records filed with the Texas Workforce Commission. The company said in a letter that it would cease all tanker business on Oct. 15.Clay Aaron, president of Stevens Transport, confirmed the closure in an email to Transport Topics.“The decision to close Stevens Tanker Division came only after a careful analysis of the volatility in the oil and gas sector combined with the near-and-long-term forecasts regarding return on invested capital,” Aaron said. “We believe this course of action allows us to focus on our legacy refrigerated service business in the truckload, intermodal, dedicated, regional and logistics segments.”Stevens established its tanker division in 2011 to serve oil and gas drilling operations in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Louisiana.

US oil, gas rig count rises by two amid market uncertainty: Enverus— The US oil and gas rig count inched up by two to 902 this week, rig data provider Enverus said Thursday, amid what is shaping up as a dispirited earnings season characterized by uncertainty on several fronts. Oil-directed rigs rose by four to 728, while gas-chasing rigs were down two to 169. The rig count is currently at 2017 levels, although at the time it was rising. It reached 1,233 in mid-November 2018 before heading back down. The most notable change for the week came from the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas, which rose five rigs to total 75. The Eagle Ford basin has enjoyed renewed activity in the past year or so, although the gorilla among US plays is the nearby Permian Basin of West Texas/New Mexico where the rig count this week dropped by two to 407. Also rising this week was the gas-prone Haynesville Shale in Northwest Louisiana/East Texas, which was up two to 57. Otherwise, both the Williston Basin of North Dakota/Montana and the Denver-Julesburg Basin, mostly in Colorado, held steady this week at 55 and 24 rigs, respectively. But the SCOOP-STACK play in Oklahoma fell by four rigs, leaving 46. The Dry and Wet Marcellus shales, both mostly in Pennsylvania, each lost rigs. "Dry" fell by three to total 20, while "Wet" fell by one, leaving 16. The Utica Shale, mostly in Ohio, also declined by two rigs, to 15. Tamped-down North American activity characterized initial third-quarter earnings of large oil service giants Schlumberger and Halliburton to kick off the earnings reporting season this past week, setting a glum mood as larger oil-focused exploration-and-production companies prepare to report in the next few weeks. Jeff Miller, CEO of oil service giant Halliburton, said earlier this week in his company's Q3 call that the US land rig count declined 11% from Q2 to Q3 for the first time in a decade. And Q3, historically the busiest quarter of the year for US hydraulic fracturing, saw stage counts -- that is, fractured intervals -- decline every month in Q3. Drilling and completions are not only softening, but "the cadence of activity will likely remain the same over the near term," Miller said. Analysts say operators are widely basing their budgets on $50/b oil or lower, based on recent oil price volatility and macro uncertainty. Meanwhile, the buzz words of the big E&Ps during upcoming calls will be capital discipline, liquidity, and free cash flow. "We see a number of E&Ps walking down 2020 expectations this earnings season,"

US Rig Count Plummets by 21  | Rigzone - The U.S. has seen its rig count decline for the second week consecutive week, after snapping an almost two-month streak of declines. The nation dropped 17 oil rigs and four gas rigs for a net loss of 21 rigs, according to weekly data from Baker Hughes Co. Twenty of them were land rigs and one was an offshore rig. This brings the U.S.’ total number of active rigs to 830, down 238 from the count of 1,068 one year ago. Oklahoma led all states in losses with a drop of six rigs. The following states also idled rigs this week: Texas (-5) North Dakota (-2) Wyoming (-2) Louisiana (-1) New Mexico (-1) Pennsylvania (-1) Utah (-1) and West Virginia (-1).  Colorado added one rig. Among the major basins, the Permian dropped five rigs. The Permian’s number of active rigs now sits at 417, which accounts for more than half of the nation’s total. The Cana Woodford, Marcellus and Williston dropped two rigs each and the Ardmore Woodford and Granite Wash dropped one rig apiece. The Eagle Ford and the Mississippian gained three rigs and one rig, respectively.

Fracking Operations Moving Forward Near El Reno School Despite Opposition From Parents, Neighbors   - Operations are moving forward at a fracking site near the Banner School in Canadian County. That's despite the adamant and vocal opposition by both parents and neighbors. Parents and neighbors currently have a protest pending in front of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. In general, the commission does not have authority on well locations, but parents are trying every avenue they can to stop the drilling. Still, students and administrators came back from fall break to find the rig erected about 200 feet from the back fence of the school property. “When we came back on Monday, we saw what you see right now,” said Superintendent Michael Prior. Prior and parents said they are concerned about the possibility of an accident or explosion, the noise, traffic, dust and chemicals a fracking operation emits into the air. “It’s an elementary school, there’s dozens of kids here, so I don’t know why they didn’t just go down the road a little bit,” said Kelsey Bell. Chaparral Energy said it has gone to considerable expense to be a good neighbor. The company has erected sound barriers, is spraying the site to keep dust down, and is instructing trucks to avoid the road in front of the school.

What We Know About the Health Impacts of Colorado's Fracking Boom  -- Wading through the 380-page report on the health risks of oil and gas drilling released by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Thursday, October 17, requires parsing a lot of highly technical, carefully phrased findings. “Benzene and 2-ethyltoluene were of primary concern, showing acute HQs above 10 at the selected receptors 500-ft downwind during development activities,” wrote the study’s authors, air-quality scientists with the consulting firm ICF International. “Maximum HQs were between 1 and 10 at the selected 2,000-ft receptor for benzene at all three sites (HQ=1.8–5.3; during all activities except for flowback at the Garfield County valley site and fracking at the NFR site, where HQs were below 1).” In an article summarizing their findings in the peer-reviewed Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association, researchers distilled their conclusions into slightly more readable language: “Acute exposures were of greatest concern, primarily during O&G development and for a limited set of VOCs and critical-effect groups, sometimes at distances out to 2,000 feet from the well pad.” Or, simplest of all, in the words of Colorado health officials: “The study found that there is a possibility of negative health impacts at distances from 300 feet out to 2,000 feet.” The study released Tuesday analyzed more than 5,000 air samples collected by researchers from Colorado State University in a pair of emissions studies completed in 2016. At the time, researchers and state health officials hailed the CSU data as one of the comprehensive sets of oil and gas emissions measurements ever recorded. Using modeling tools developed by the Environmental Protection Agency, the CDPHE’s new study extrapolated the measured data into millions of potential exposure scenarios — “many more than can be reasonably observed with monitoring,” its authors note.  The result is one of the most robust assessments of the health effects of oil and gas drilling yet completed — and specifically, one that raises the possibility that current "setback” distances mandated by the state aren’t enough to protect many Coloradans from short-term health risks. But while the study is a major development — it’s been the object of a lot of anticipation and speculation since it was first announced three years ago — it’s far from the first attempt to settle the question of whether fracking threatens public health and the environment. These latest findings are best understood in the full context of what we knew long before Thursday’s announcement. Here are three of the most important things to recognize about the impacts of fracking in Colorado and beyond.

  • 1. Modern drilling technologies have led to much greater impacts.
  • 2. Residents near Colorado drilling sites have reported health impacts for years.
  • 3. Hundreds of studies have found links between oil and gas development and health and environmental risks.

Thousands of 'orphan wells' spark safety, cleanup fears - Across the West, thousands of oil and gas wells sit idle on federal lands.  Some are on hold for better pricing. Others have been left to sit for so long that the risk of abandonment is high. And many are orphaned, the companies that drilled them now defunct.  How many of these abandoned wells are out there is unclear. They pose environmental and safety hazards, but, as critics note, the Bureau of Land Management doesn't have a good way of tracking them.  Yet there's not nearly enough money set aside to plug the ones that are known. Years after a gas price bust in the early 2000s forced oil and gas companies to shutter, federal officials have yet to remove the nonproducing wells from perpetual limbo. "It does pose a risk," said Frank Rusco, natural resources and environment director at the Government Accountability Office. "Will they be able to reclaim all those wells?" The abandonment challenge continues to expand. The federal government counted 89 wells in the last two years that were newly orphaned on public lands. Each represents a cost to the taxpayer and a risk of hydrocarbons migrating into groundwater resources from decaying infrastructure.  BLM, which oversees federal oil and gas leasing and drilling, has been scolded by oversight bodies for not keeping better track of orphans. The agency notes wells that aren't producing, but critics say it's slow to affirm that nonproducing wells have just been abandoned. Data revealing the number of orphan wells that should be plugged by BLM doesn't precisely exist, said Rusco."They don't keep the right records to be able to answer that question," he said of the Interior Department. GAO included the federal oil and gas program on its 2011 "high risk" list of programs that are vulnerable to fraud, abuse and mismanagement in part because the office said it didn't have a robust system for tracking wells — or demanding money to clean up after an oil firm's collapse.Earlier this year, GAO reported that 84% of bonds for federal oil and gas development were likely insufficient to cover cleanup costs.

Developer of proposed 'Bridger Expansion' pipelines releases new project info - The proposed Bridger Expansion project will entail building two separate oil pipelines: one that straddles North Dakota and Montana, and another in Wyoming. Developer Bridger Pipeline LLC revealed more details about the project this week, launching a website at www.bridgerexpansion.com with information for landowners and others. The 16-inch North Dakota-Montana line will be called “South Bend” and will carry up to 150,000 barrels of oil per day from Johnsons Corner in McKenzie County to Baker, Mont. It will extend for 137 miles across the two states. The Wyoming line will be known as “Equality” and will transport up to 200,000 barrels of oil per day from Hulett, Wyo., to Guernsey, Wyo. From there, oil will be taken to market on other pipelines, including the proposed Liberty line, which is a separate project by Bridger and Philips 66 that’s slated to run to Cushing, Okla. Cushing is a major oil hub. It offers storage space for crude and serves as a starting or ending point for many pipelines. Some of those lines carry oil to Gulf Coast refineries or ports, where American oil is then shipped overseas. “It’s all about access to national and international markets,” Bridger spokesman Bill Salvin said. Bridger operates several gathering and transmission pipeline systems in North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. The company already has lines that run between Montana and Wyoming to connect the two new lines it’s proposing as part of its expansion. “Those are adequate for us to carry existing barrels and the new barrels we’re going to carry,” Salvin said. Bridger has not disclosed the cost of the expansion project. Salvin said the new lines will help increase the value of oil produced in North Dakota, as they will add more pipeline capacity to carry the state’s oil to market. Some Bakken oil still travels on train, which tends to be a more expensive method of transportation. 

South Dakota Backs Off Harsh New Protest Law and Its ‘Riot-Boosting’ Penalties -  South Dakota officials have agreed to walk back parts of the state's new anti-protest laws that opponents say were meant to target Native American and environmental advocates who speak out against the proposed Keystone XL crude oil pipeline.Gov. Kristi Noem and state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg agreed in a settlement Thursday with Native American and environmental advocates that the state would never enforce portions of the recently passed laws that criminalize "riot boosting"—which it applied, not just to protesters, but to supporters who encourage but never take part in acts of "force or violence" themselves. The settlement, which makes permanent a temporary ruling issued by a federal judge in September, has immediate implications for opponents of the Keystone pipeline in South Dakota and could challenge the validity of similar laws targeting pipeline and environmental protestors in other states. "People can continue to organize and show up in public places and speak out against these projects without any fear of retribution or being identified as rioters and face potential felonies," said Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network and a plaintiff in the lawsuit that challenged the rules.   "I think it's immense," he said. "We have legal precedent that is shooting down these anti-protest laws that are being replicated across the country." At least seven other states have passed harsh penalties for protesting near oil or gas pipelines or interfering with the infrastructure since the start of the Trump administration, according to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, which tracks the legislation. Several of those laws were based on a model bill promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, an industry-backed group.  In September, a group of Greenpeace activists in Texas who shut down the Houston Ship Channel by dangling from a bridge became the first group charged under any of the new protest laws.  The joint settlement agreement in South Dakota does not repeal the state's anti-riot laws. Instead, the governor and attorney general agree never to enforce sections of the laws focusing on speech. For example, the state will no longer enforce part of an existing law that says a person who does not personally participate in a protest "but directs, advises, encourages, or solicits other persons to acts of force or violence" can be found liable for riot boosting.

The connection between pipelines and sexual violence  - In 2017, 5,646 Native women were reported missing in the United States. Nationwide, the murder rate for Native women is ten times that of the average American; in Montana, Native citizens are 6.7 percent of the population, yet between 2016-2018, they made up 26 percent of the state’s missing persons reports. Some of the factors are easy to identify: jurisdictional confusion between local state-run police, the FBI, and tribal or Bureau of Indian Affairs police departments routinely leads to slow response times; slow response times allow for bodies, and thus the perpetrator’s DNA, to decompose and disappear; and slow response times lead to cold trails and dead-end cases, which make local law enforcement hesitant to undertake new cases. In 2017, U.S. attorneys declined to prosecute 37 percent of Indian Country cases, citing lack of evidence in 70 percent of the cases they dropped. But who, exactly, is responsible for these Native women disappearing? That answer is much more complex. Sometimes, as in the case of Northern Cheyenne woman Hanna Harris, it’s a pair of non-tribal citizen transients; other times, it’s a member of the tribal community; and still other times, it’s a trucker or a passerby temporarily stopping through the reservation, dipping in and out of up to three different law enforcement jurisdictions before the community can even realize someone is missing. Man camps, also described as “work-camp modular housing,” are temporary housing communities set up for the well-paid, typically male laborers that are tasked with constructing pipelines snaking their way above, across, and below our nation’s waterways and lands. More often than not, these routes, and as a result the man camps, find themselves cutting through or just outside of rural tribal nation lands and other marginalized communities. A number of studies, reports, and congressional hearings now connect man camps—which can be used in mines and other extractive efforts as well—with increased rates of sexual violence and sex trafficking. The most well-documented cases thus far have occurred in the Tar Sands region of Alberta, Canada, as well as in western North Dakota and eastern Montana—an area known otherwise as the Bakken oil fields—though such activity is in no way exclusive to the region. Because pipelines are typically routed through rural communities, local law enforcement, often times already stretched thin, are left trying to police a sudden, months-long influx of hundreds of outsiders. This was among the many points underscored in June, when Canada’s federal government released its MMIWG report, a years-long study undertaken by the federal government that declared the missing and murdered indigenous women epidemic a state-induced genocide. Among the findings presented in the 1,200-page document, the Canadian government pinpointed extractive industries and man camps as hotbeds of violence.

 Oil pipeline fuels fears in Native American reservations -  It’s been three years since thousands of protesters, environmentalists and more than 95 Native American nations gathered in a field-turned-campsite on the fringes of Standing Rock reservation, attempting to stop the Dakota access pipeline from being built a short distance from the reservation’s land. Their efforts mostly proved in vain. Since June 2017, the pipeline – known as DAPL – has been carrying about 570,000 barrels of crude oil from the Bakken Formation in northwest North Dakota to Illinois every day. And although Standing Rock’s remote expanses across North and South Dakota have since turned quiet, local residents find themselves facing a new dilemma. Not only is the pipeline now set firmly underground, its parent company, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), in June announced plans to double DAPL’s capacity. Currently the pipeline carries crude oil on a route running within a mile of Standing Rock and under the nearby Missouri river, an important water source for communities and businesses across the reservation. The proposed increase would result in the equivalent of more than 70 Olympic-sized swimming pools of oil pass through the pipeline every day.  Tribal leaders fear the heightened capacity could further increase the possibility of a major oil leak or spill, with the pipeline section buried deep under the Missouri river of particular concern. “That’s greatly increasing the risk, and the harm from a potential release,” says Elliott Ward, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s emergency manager. “They [the operating company] say they have [leak] detectors, but we know their spill detection track record is grossly inefficient. If there’s a spill that’s less than one per cent, it won’t detect it at all. That’s still 6,000 gallons [a day] that could be leaking that their sensors won’t detect.” A judge in North Dakota has granted the tribe a request to intervene in the increased capacity plan, and it will take part in a public hearing scheduled for November 13th.

Corps: No more Dakota Access Pipeline study needed (AP) — An attorney for the Army Corps of Engineers is asking a judge to sign off on the Corps’ conclusion that the Dakota Access oil pipeline doesn’t harm American Indian tribes. The Corps wants U.S. District Judge James Boasberg to rule in favor of its August 2018 finding that no more environmental study is needed on the $3.8 billion pipeline. The pipeline has been moving North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois for more than two years. The Standing Rock Sioux want the pipeline shut down and more study done. The tribe fears an oil spill could contaminate the Missouri River. The Bismarck Tribune reports that a Justice Department attorney argues that the Corps “carefully and reasonably considered the environmental impacts” before it permitted the pipeline. Pipeline developer Texas-based Energy Transfer says the line is safe.

 Living In The Plastic Age - More Propane-Consuming PDH Plants Are On The Way -- The ready availability of low-cost propane, the expectation of renewed growth in global propylene demand and other factors are spurring development of another round of propane dehydrogenation plants in North America. Three PDH plants — two in Alberta and one in Texas — already are under construction and scheduled to come online in the 2021-23 period. Now, Enterprise Products Partners has committed to building a second PDH plant at its NGL/petchem complex in Mont Belvieu, TX, and PetroLogistics — which completed the U.S.’s first PDH plant in 2010 — has selected the technology it will use for a new facility it now plans to build along the Gulf Coast. Today, we discuss planned PDH capacity additions in the U.S. and Canada and what’s driving their development. As we said in our On Purpose blog a few months ago, propylene is a particularly useful chemical building block. About two-thirds of the propylene produced is used to make polypropylene (PP) — one of the best-selling plastics, second only to polyethylene — which is used to make (among other things) automotive parts, reusable shopping bags and plastic storage containers. Most of the rest is used to produce acrylonitrile, propylene oxide, oxo alcohols, cumene and isopropyl alcohol, which are used to make polyurethanes, polycarbonates and other materials that are part and parcel of a myriad of everyday products. Global demand for propylene has been increasing at an average of about 5.2 million metric tons per annum (MMtpa) — a 3.6% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) — while North American demand is growing at a more modest average of 390,000 metric tons per year (Mtpa), for a CAGR of 2.2%. The problem is that the traditional “co-product” sources of propylene supply (steam crackers and refineries) have not kept up with demand. This is largely due to two Shale Era-related changes. First, refineries have been shifting their crude slates to lighter oils. And second, the steam-cracker sector has been shifting from old-standby feedstocks like propane, normal butane and naphtha, each of which produce 40 pounds or more of propylene for every 100 pounds of ethylene (the primary product of steam crackers), to ethane, which typically produces only 4 pounds of propylene for every 100 pounds of ethylene.

US Leads World in Oil Production—But for How Long? - The United States now leads the world in oil production and is, to a large extent, energy independent. The United States still imports 11 percent of its oil, the lowest percentage since 1957.  But how long will the United States’ top position in oil and natural production last? It’s not as clear cut at it may appear to be at the moment. Much of the United States’ new oil and natural gas production comes from a controversial extraction process known as hydraulic fracking. Hydraulic fracking was first widely used in the 1960s, and yet had been invented a century earlier. Unlike traditional oil production, which involves drilling holes into the earth until reaching enormous underground oceans of oil (the Middle East), fracking extracts oil from shale rock by forcing high-pressure liquid into layers of the shale deep underground. But hydraulic fracking is controversial for several reasons.Critics say fracking depletes local drinking water supplies, pollutes the air, has toxic impacts on people in the area, and contributes to greenhouse gases. But perhaps most well-known is the suspicion that fracking is causing earthquakes where they haven’t historically occurred. Scores of tremors have been felt in places such as Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Ohio, West Virginia, and other locations that scientists attribute to the fracking process.But there’s another, lesser-known controversy about fracking that’s alarming oil and gas industry experts. Fracking wells are drying up much faster than traditional wells. According to industry analyst Alex Beeker, “In the first years of production, there is a rush of oil and gas that declines rapidly.” In order to keep up with demand, more fracking wells have to be drilled quicker because they run dry quicker. Some analysts think hydraulic fracking may not be the long-term foundation for the United States’ energy independence. Scott Forbes, an industry analyst and vice president of the Lower 48 for Wood Mackenzie, believes the current fracking model is unsustainable and, therefore, may be a short-lived phenomenon. Paradoxically, the fracking industry could actually become a victim of its own success. The political and economic need to keep fuel prices low could actually result in hydraulic fracking companies crashing and burning, at least under the current operating model. Rapid and continuous drilling is expensive and often doesn’t deliver positive results, which is why Wall Street isn’t investing in the industry the way it used to. But without sufficient profit margins, those costs may eventually outpace the revenues.

 Elizabeth Warren's policies could drive oil prices higher and help Exxon - Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has sent chills through the oil sector with her comments about banning fracking and off shore drilling, but her policies could drive oil prices higher if she were elected, according to Strategas Research.As the prospects of a Warren nomination have grown, so has fear that the Massachusetts Senator would take action to curb the U.S. oil industry which has turned the U.S. into the world’s largest oil producer over the last decade. The U.S. now produces about 12.6 million barrels a day, more than either Saudi Arabia or Russia.In a Sept. 6 tweet, Warren said on her first day as president, she would sign an executive order putting a total moratorium on all new fossil fuel leases for drilling offshore and on public lands. She also said she would ban fracking everywhere.“What we’re arguing is if there is a tax placed on carbon production, or there are limits on drilling, it increases the price of the commodity,” said Dan Clifton, head of policy research at Strategas. “What’s happening here is the beneficiaries are going to be large, integrated oil companies, like Exxon Mobil, which pays a very large dividend and can withstand regulation.” If U.S. drilling were to slow, so would U.S. exports which were first permitted during the end of the Obama administration. The U.S. exported about 3.2 million barrels of oil two weeks ago, according to the latest U.S. government data. The loss of U.S. oil both at home and abroad would mean higher prices, something OPEC and Russia have been trying to achieve through production cuts.

Halliburton stacks more frack crews amid weak third quarter demand -- Declining activity in U.S. shale fields continued to sting Houston oilfield service company Halliburton during the third quarter where the company stacked more hydraulic fracturing crews and deployed other cost-cutting measures. The company reported a $295 million profit on nearly $5.6 billion revenue during the third quarter. The figures were down compared to the $435 million profit on $6.2 billion revenue during the third quarter of 2018. Halliburton’s third quarter profit translated into earnings per share of 34 cents, down compared to earnings per share of 50 cents during the same time period last year. The company’s third quarter earnings were down compared to Wall Street expectations of $5.8 billion in revenue and earnings per share of 34 cents. Service Sector: Schlumberger posts $11.4 billion loss amid hefty pretax charges Although revenue grew in Latin America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia, Halliburton’s third quarter revenue from North America declined by $790 million when compared to the same period last year. During a Monday morning investors call, Halliburton CEO Jeff Miller said the company has stacked hydraulic fracturing crews and deploying cost-cutting technology. “In the third quarter, we stacked more equipment than the previous six months combined,” Miller said. “While this impacts our revenue, we would rather err on the side of stacking than work for insufficient margins and wear out our equipment." Looking ahead, Halliburton expects demand from North America to remain weak. Alongside the holidays and colder weather, the company anticipates current crude oil prices – which are in the low $50 per barrel range – will continue to result in decreased customer spending. Deploying cost-cutting measures that will save the company $300 million of savings over the next three quarters, Miller believes the company will be able to weather the storm. “Regardless of the cuts and idling of equipment, our size and scale of our business North America gives us the ability to drive a sustainable model without sacrificing our leadership position,” Miller said.

Halliburton vows more cost cuts as shale demand dwindles, shares rise - (Reuters) - Halliburton Co on Monday promised more cost cuts after reporting a bigger-than-expected drop in quarterly revenue as the oilfield services looks to counter weak demand from North American shale producers, sending its shares up about 7%.  The biggest hydraulic fracking services provider, which earlier this month cut 650 jobs in North America, said it would take steps over the next few quarters that will lead to $300 million in annualized cost savings. Oilfield service providers are struggling with reduced spending by oil and gas producers as investors push for higher buybacks and dividends rather than growth in a weak oil price environment. Larger rival Schlumberger NV said on Friday it had recorded a $1.58 billion goodwill impairment charge related to its pressure pumping business in North America. “HAL is taking costs out more aggressively than the Street forecast, which it expects to lead to strong Q4 operating margin improvement in the Drilling & Evaluation segments despite falling revenue,” said Anish Kapadia, founder of London-based oil and gas consultancy firm AKap Energy. Halliburton warned of further activity declines in North America, with fourth-quarter revenue for its hydraulic fracturing business declining by low double digits and margins by 125 basis points to 175 basis points.

Schlumberger takes $12 billion charge as CEO charts new course -  Schlumberger’s new chief executive wielded an axe to the company’s asset-heavy businesses, taking a $12.7 billion charge in the face of weaker shale drilling and sliding profits. The move, by Olivier Le Peuch, writes down his predecessors’ big investments that took the world’s largest oilfield services company deeper into shale and oilfield operations and shows that he intends to shift the company toward more asset-light software and services-driven businesses. The charge, amounting to nearly 18% of value of the company’s assets, drove an $11.4 billion loss, the largest in the company’s history. However, shares rose 2% to $32.53 in mid-day trading as investors looked past the writedowns and focused on improved international operations and adjusted profits that topped Wall Street estimates. Excluding the charges, Schlumberger earned 43 cents a share, above the 40 cents estimated by analysts. While revenue, at $8.5 billion, was flat compared with the same period a year earlier, sales rose in all regions except for North America.

 Schlumberger Rips Off Band-Aid With $12.7B Writedown -- Wall Street guessed that writedowns from Schlumberger Ltd. were coming, but some analysts were taken aback by the sheer size of the $12.7 billion in pretax charges reported by the oil services company on Friday. The company’s earnings report was its first since Chief Executive Officer Olivier Le Peuch took the reins in August. The writedowns led the company to post its largest net quarterly loss in at least a decade. Schlumberger said on its earnings conference call that the writedowns were part of the new CEO’s strategy. The size of the charges was “eyebrow-raising,” analysts at Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. said in a note after the report was released. “Better to rip Band-Aid off sooner vs. later.” Most of the charges -- $8.8 billion -- comprised writedowns on goodwill, the intangible asset on a corporate balance sheet that typically arises after the acquisition of another company. Schlumberger cited its 2010 purchase of Smith International Inc. and its takeover of Cameron International Corp. in 2016, and the subsequent deterioration in market conditions. Schlumberger Sees Foreign Revival as U.S. Oil Drilling Slows Schlumberger also reported a $1.58 billion charge related to its pressure-pumping business in North America, where the fracking industry is slowing. Citing “ongoing economic challenges in Argentina,” it recorded $127 million of charges due to its activities in the country. It also had $62 million of severance costs in the quarter.

UBS, Simmons Energy pare bankers as shale M&A slows: sources - (Reuters) - UBS Group AG and the energy arm of Piper Jaffray Companies have cut staff in their oil and gas investment banking teams, three people familiar with the matter said on Monday, as U.S. dealmaking continues to dry up. Mergers and acquisitions activity within the shale business is at its lowest level in a decade, excluding Occidental Petroleum Corp’s purchase of Anadarko Petroleum Corp, as shareholders squeeze producers to focus on returns and develop existing acreage rather than expansion. The decline has left investment bankers that advise on such transactions without enough work. UBS declined to comment. Simmons Energy, which is a division of Piper Jaffray, did not reply to requests for comment. Those departing UBS and Simmons Energy were focused on sales of acreage and smaller assets, known in the industry as the acquisitions and divestitures (A&D), and left in the last couple of weeks, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity as the information is not public. Among those departing the Swiss bank are Managing Directors David Edwards and Miles Redfield, among the most senior names in the unit. Around half of the A&D team at UBS was dismissed, which previously consisted of around a dozen bankers, according to one of the sources. A second source said the number who left was fewer than 10.

  Investors starve US shale drillers of capital - The money pipeline is running dry for large portions of the US shale oil sector, tipping drillers into bankruptcy and threatening the industry’s breathtaking growth in oil production. Spooked by lower oil prices, equity and bond investors are now shunning the smaller, independent shale explorers that lifted the US to the top rank of global oil producers. Meanwhile, say analysts, banks have pulled in their horns, and are likely to further restrict companies’ capacity to borrow when they begin their twice-annual reviews of loans secured by oil and gas reserves. Market-watchers expect this financing squeeze to trigger a wave of mergers among smaller companies in the Permian Basin and other shale-oil regions. Public investors believe the sector has “five to 10 too many” companies and want to see a consolidated industry with greater scale, less debt and better control of capital spending, said Matt Portillo, managing director for upstream research at investment bank Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. The financial reckoning has been a long time coming. In the aftermath of the 2014-15 oil price crash, US oil and gas producers managed to raise $56.6bn from equity and debt capital markets in 2016, according to Dealogic. This year they have raised just $19.4bn, even though US oil production has grown by more than a third in the past three years. As funding becomes scarce, bankruptcy filings are on the rise this year. Haynes and Boone, a law firm, counted 33 by the end of September, 27 of them since May, which is almost as many as in the whole of 2018. This month EP Energy filed for bankruptcy with $4.6bn in debt, citing “challenging dynamics as a result of depressed commodity prices.” Bankruptcies have turned off fund managers. Among 240 high-yield mutual funds tracked by data provider Morningstar, about three-quarters have less than 10 per cent of their assets invested in energy — much less than a neutral weighting of 14 per cent. “It feels like the beginnings of high-yield throwing in the towel on energy companies,” said John McClain, a portfolio manager at Diamond Hill Capital Management in Columbus, Ohio. Banks are currently reappraising the value of oil and gas reserves underpinning loans to producers. As the twice-annual review gets under way, they are using more conservative assumptions for future oil and gas prices. Mr Portillo at Tudor, Pickering, Holt estimates this shift will lead to a 10-25 per cent reduction in loan facilities extended to weaker producers in 2020.

Frackers Float ‘Shale Bonds’ as Traditional Investors Flee – WSJ --Desperate for cash, shale companies are trying to court investors with a new and potentially risky financial instrument that resembles mortgage bonds.  The companies are floating a type of asset-backed security that involves existing oil and gas wells. Producers transfer ownership interests in the wells to special entities that then issue bonds to be paid off by the output from the wells over time.

UK government 'uncertain' on shale gas decom costs - The UK’s shale struggling gas industry faces a challenge of defining who is liable for decommissioning costs, with the government unable to provide answers at present, according to a report.The report, "Fracking for shale gas in England", by the UK’s Comptroller & Auditor General and published by the National Audit Office (NAO) on Wednesday, also highlights the rise in opposition to shale gas hydraulic fracturing in England in recent years.The report, which is not intended to examine the merits of government’s support for fracking, acknowledged that “progress in establishing a shale gas industry in England has been slower than government planned”. A core thrust of the report is laying out the costs associated with the government’s backing for shale gas extraction to date, while looking at potential future costs.“Fracking has already placed financial pressures on local bodies, including local authorities and police forces, and other costs have been borne by a range of government departments and regulators,” a statement accompanying the report read.  “The full costs of supporting fracking to date are not known by the Department [for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy], but the NAO estimates that at least £32.7 million [$42.3 million] has been spent by public bodies since 2011.” Although the costs are relatively miniscule, the report raises the issue of decommissioning costs, pointing out that the UK’s onshore shale sector does not have the same level of regulation in place for such costs as its mature offshore sector.  “The Department recognises its responsibility for decommissioning offshore oil and gas infrastructure, but not for onshore wells, including shale gas wells,” the statement continued. The report points out that some landowners may take out insurance as part of their lease negotiations with operators, although there is an acknowledgement from the Department that landowners may not fully understand the liability they are taking on.

Fracking farce: Industry fails to live up to its promise with just three of 20 wells drilled, says spending watchdog -- Hopes that fracking would rival North Sea gas have failed to materialise, according to the National Audit Office. David Cameron’s government had predicted the development of a £33billion industry with 64,500 jobs. The Cabinet Office said in 2016 that 20 wells would be in operation by mid-2020. But the NAO reported that only three had been drilled. All three wells have been made by Cuadrilla at Preston New Road in Lancashire. Fracking has ceased there however after drilling triggered an earthquake that breached environmental regulations. Operators have complained that UK rules are stricter than in other countries, which would permit larger tremors than the 2.9 magnitude tremor at the Cuadrilla site. The NAO report said ministers do not expect fracking to lead to lower energy prices. Instead the emphasis is on ‘energy security’ with less reliance on foreign states and gas imports expected to rise as North Sea reserves run down. The NAO said fracking has proved costly for local authorities and police forces, which manage protests at the sites. The report estimated that at least £32.7million has been spent by public bodies since 2011, although the full costs are not known. A combined bill of £13.4million has been picked up by Lancashire Constabulary, North Yorkshire Police and Nottinghamshire Police. The NAO said public support for fracking was lower than for other energy sources and has fallen over time. The Government attributes the slow progress of fracking to low public acceptance. Concern about fracking operations centres around greenhouse gas emissions, groundwater pollution and fracking-induced earthquakes. The report says landowners may be liable for the decommissioning costs of sites should an operator be unable to cover them – but arrangements are ‘unclear and untested’.

UK to use £1bn meant for green energy to support fracking in Argentina - The UK is planning to invest in Argentina’s controversial oil shale industry using a £1bn export finance deal intended to support green energy, according to government documents seen by the Guardian. UK Export Finance, the government’s foreign credit agency, promised in 2017 to offer loans totalling £1bn to help UK companies export their expertise in “infrastructure, green energy and healthcare” to invest in Argentina’s economy. Instead official records, released through a freedom of information request, have revealed the government’s plan to prioritise support for major oil companies, including Shell and BP, which are fracking in Argentina’s vast Vaca Muerta shale heartlands. One government memo, uncovered by Friends of the Earth, said that while Argentina’s clean energy sector was growing, it was “Argentina’s huge shale resources that offer the greatest potential” for the UK. The briefing note was prepared before a key meeting between the UK government’s trade envoy to Latin America, the UK ambassador to Argentina and Argentina’s energy minister in February this year. Tony Bosworth, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “With the world hurtling towards catastrophic climate change, and parliament declaring a climate emergency, it’s outrageous that the UK government is continuing to back huge fossil fuel developments abroad.”

Gas Demand in Europe - Is There a Place for LNG? - In 2018, the European market(s) represented almost 16 per cent of the global LNG market (GIIGNL 2019 Report). Volumes imported to the region vary greatly from one year to another. This is because Europe is acting as the swing market for LNG. As a result, the region is expected to help balance the market at times of high Asian demand, as seen after 2011 following the Fukushima disaster, but also help to absorb any LNG surplus coming on to the market, as expected in the 2020s. With regasification terminals only being used at about 28 per cent of their capacity, Europe could import a lot more LNG relying only on its existing infrastructure. But is there a place for LNG in Europe, especially up to 2030? Europe is not an LNG market per se—it is a market with a demand for gas, which can come in the form of indigenous production, imports via pipelines, or LNG. After a continuous decline between 2010 and 2014, natural gas demand in Europe started to rise again in 2015–17. This was due to a combination of colder than average months in winter (higher energy consumed for heating), economic recovery, and increasing gas deliveries to the power sector because of coal-to-gas switching.The future place of natural gas in Europe’s energy system will determine the need for imports, including of LNG. But this future faces major uncertainties as a result of climate change policies.The decarbonization of energy systems is a major part of the European Union’s (EU’s) policy agenda; it is committed to reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 80–95 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050. The decarbonization of the electricity sector through the integration of renewables has been regarded as the first step in a wider strategy. Between 2007 and 2017, the share of renewables grew from 5 to 18 per cent (excluding hydro), with the largest increase in the form of onshore wind and solar. Both are intermittent sources of power generation, and one of the key challenges posed by this rapid evolution was how to integrate a large and growing share of intermittent generation into the power system.  This approach has catalysed disruptions in the traditional structure of the electricity sector, and by extension the role of gas in the electricity mix. While in the past, combined cycle gas turbines (CCGTs) were traditionally run on baseload power, they are increasingly required to provide backup for variable renewable resources.

Rosneft switches contracts to euros from dollars due to U.S. sanctions - (Reuters) - Russia’s largest oil company Rosneft has fully switched the currency of its contracts to euros from U.S. dollars in a move to shield its transactions from U.S. sanctions, its Chief Executive Igor Sechin said on Thursday.  Photo Rosneft’s switch to the euro is seen as part of Russia’s wider-scale drive to reduce dependence on the dollar, but it is unlikely to quickly boost the euro’s role for Russia given the negative interest rates it carries. “All our export contracts are already being implemented in euros and the potential for working with the European currency is very high,” Sechin told an economic forum in Italy’s Verona. “For now, this is a forced measure in order to limit the company from the impact of the U.S. sanctions.” Reuters reported earlier this month that state-controlled Rosneft set the euro as the default currency for all its new export contracts.

U.S. allows Chevron to drill for oil in Venezuela for three more months - (Reuters) - The U.S. Treasury Department on Monday renewed a license allowing Chevron, the last U.S. operating energy company in Venezuela, to continue drilling in the country for another three months through Jan. 22.  The license has been a subject of intense debate within the Trump administration as it pursues a campaign to oust socialist President Nicolas Maduro. Its renewal represented a win by some in the administration, such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who see keeping a U.S. company in Venezuela as an asset that could lead to a speedy recovery after any ouster of Maduro. Other Trump administration officials believe allowing Chevron to stay results in oil output that helps keep Maduro in power by allowing him to pay down debts. Several administration officials favor allowing the license to expire even after Trump’s hawkish former national security adviser John Bolton, who had been an opponent of the license, stepped down last month. Chevron executives “remain focused on our base business operations and supporting the more than 8,800 people who work with us and their families,” said spokesman Ray Fohr. The company is reviewing terms of the latest license.The renewal effectively adds no new restrictions, according to a review of past licenses. Chevron (CVX.N) has been in Venezuela for nearly 100 years and has about 300 direct employees there. Its joint ventures with state oil company PDVSA support about 8,800 people. The ventures produce the equivalent of about 200,000 barrels per day of oil, and Chevron’s stake in them recently averaged about 34,000 bpd, the company said.

Oil spill could be an act of sabotage- Brazil president- Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro questioned on Friday whether a far-reaching oil spill on the nation's northeastern shore may have been a criminal act designed to harm a major oil auction scheduled for November. “Coincidence or not, we have the transfer-of-rights auction,” said Bolsonaro in a Facebook Live video, referring to an oil bidding scheduled for 6 November, in which an array of major oil players will compete for $26 billion worth of production rights in large offshore oil areas of Brazil. An oil spill is seen on Carneiros beach in Tamandare, Pernambuco state, Brazil on 18 October 2019. Photo: Reuters“I wonder, we have to be very responsible about what we say - could it have been a criminal act to harm this auction? It's a question that's out there.” Bolsonaro offered no evidence for his statements. Oil has been washing up on the shore of northeastern Brazil for two months, but its origin has remained a mystery so far. On Wednesday, Brazilian state-run oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro SA said it had cleaned up some 200 million tonnes of the oil from Brazil's beaches. On Thursday, the head of Brazil's environmental regulator said tests had proved the oil was Venezuelan. He said that the cause of the spill was criminal in nature, as it would otherwise have been reported. He added, however, that Venezuela may not be responsible for the spill, even if the oil originated there.

Oil collected from Brazils northeastern coast rises to 600 tonnes (Reuters) - (video) Brazil has collected more 600 tonnes of oil from its northeastern beaches since Sept. 12, the government said on Monday, more than double an estimate of oil and sand collected by state-run oil company Petrobras. Oil has been washing up on the shores of northeastern Brazil for two months, but its origin has remained a mystery so far. More than 200 locations along the coast have been affected, threatening marine life, authorities said. Earlier on Monday, Petrobras said it had collected 280 tonnes of oil and sand from the beaches. Brazil’s government has said the oil spill is Venezuelan in origin, but has mostly stopped short of blaming their socialist government for the incident. Venezuela has denied it is to blame.

Thousands of barrels of oil are contaminating Brazil’s pristine coastline. Authorities don’t know where it’s coming from. — It washed ashore in early September, thick globs of oil that appeared from out of nowhere and defied explanation. In the weeks since, the mysterious sludge, the largest spill in Brazil’s history, has tarred more than 1,000 miles of shoreline, polluted some of the country’s most beautiful beaches and killed all sorts of marine life. But despite the time that has passed — and the damage done — the most important questions remain unanswered. Where is the oil coming from? And how can it be stopped?The Brazilian government’s apparent inability to answer even these fundamental questions has drawn more scrutiny to the environmental policies of President Jair Bolsonaro, who struggled this summer to contain the fires raging in the Amazon and the international outrage they sparked.Now, fury is mounting again. Municipalities have resorted to imploring volunteers to help with the cleanup. Videos of the rudimentary efforts — volunteers simply rolling up oil slicks and plopping them into trash bags — are going viral. And the environmental minister, Ricardo Salles, is picking fights online with a prominent nongovernmental organization. “Greenpeace ‘explained’ why it can’t help clean up the beaches in the northeast,” he said. “Ahhh, okay.” On Monday, Vice President Hamilton Mourão said the government had recovered 600 tons of oil — nearly 4,300 barrels. Mourão, a retired army general, said he would send 5,000 troops to northeastern Brazil to give “more visibility” to government efforts to control the situation. “This oil that is arriving now,” he said, “is the second wave of attack … This accident is unprecedented in the world.” Analysts say the most essential piece of the response remains missing: determining the source of the oil. “Think about in your life, if you spill a gallon of paint while painting, the first thing you do is pick up the can of paint before it empties and ends up on the carpet,” said Doug Helton, an official with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who has studied mysterious oil spills. “So if we don’t know the source, you’re picking up oil on the shore but don’t know how much more is out there.”

Brazilians rally to clean beaches amid outrage at Bolsonaro's oil spill inaction - On Monday evening, Sport Club Bahia – one of the biggest football teams in Brazil’s north-east – faced its rivals Ceará with black oil stains on their red, white and blue shirts. It was the latest sign of the growing outrage over a mystery oil spill that since early September has blighted a 2,200km stretch of some of the country’s most beautiful beaches – and the failure of President Jair Bolsonaro’s far-right government to handle the crisis. Nobody knows where the oil is from or why it keeps washing up on Brazilian beaches. Yet while social media has been bombarded by videos of volunteers rolling up thick globs of oil in sand and putting them into plastic sacks, Bolsonaro sought to blame first Venezuela, then a “criminal action” to scupper a major oil tender. He has repeatedly attacked environmental protection agencies as a “fines industry” and has yet to visit affected areas. “There is clear revulsion over the government’s inaction,” said Marcus Melo, a professor of political science at the Federal University of Pernambuco in the north-east. “The government has a certain myopia in understanding how serious this is.” On Monday, Bolsonaro’s vice-president Hamilton Mourão announced that 5,000 more troops will be dispatched to help clean up the spill, but for many Brazilians the response was too little, too late. Joel de Oliveira Filho, 57, proprietor of a guesthouse on Carneiras beach – one of the most famous beaches in the north-east state of Pernambuco – joined other local residents who started cleaning up oil with help from city hall employees. Nobody from federal government was there, he said. “People in the north-east are cleaning the oil from the coast with their own hands while the federal government is immobile,” he said. In nearby Bahia, volunteers organised the group Coast Guardians to clean beaches. It has 19,000 followers on its Instagram and has raised $4,800 online for protective gloves, boots and masks. “This is civil society getting organised. Our movement does not support any political party, we support nature,” said Miguel Sehbe Neto, 37, a company administrator from Salvador who runs one of its 20 beach teams. “What we want is an explanation and effective action.” Their team had help from naval personnel and environment agency staff when cleaning up two local beaches. But the government has not been able to map the slicks or stop them reaching the coast, he said – and many other beaches still need help. “We don’t know the size of the enemy,” he said.

Oil spill clean-up on Brazilian beaches making volunteers sick (Reuters) - Volunteers flocking to the Brazilian shore to clean up the mysterious oil polluting more than 100 northeastern beaches are getting ill from collecting the toxic sludge without the proper equipment, health authorities said on Friday. After oil slicks washed up beaches along more than 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) of tropical coastline, hundreds of people have turned out to clean the beaches, many using their bare hands and feet for lack of gloves, boots or even masks to block the fumes. “I had nausea and diarrhea the next day, and a splitting headache,” said Vera Lucia Silva, a local government clerk who said she and a friend collected 80 kg (176 lbs) oil with their hands into plastic bags on the Itapuama beach south of Recife. Silva, who ended up on a drip in the local infirmary, said local authorities provided no equipment and after two days several charity groups appeared and handed out masks and boots. The thick sludge has been washing up for nearly two months, and authorities and experts have been baffled by its origin. It is believed to be Venezuelan crude but there is no evidence of how it entered the open ocean.

Brazil says it will call on OAS to demand answer (Reuters) - Brazil’s environment minister said on Wednesday that the government will call on the Organization of American States (OAS) to demand an answer from Venezuela over a mysterious oil spill that has affected a large part of Brazil’s northeastern coast. Speaking in an official message broadcast on TV, minister Ricardo Salles insisted that the oil is Venezuelan in origin, a claim the Brazilian government has maintained for over a week. Hundreds of tonnes of oil have washed up on shore in many of Brazil’s northeastern beaches and its origins have not yet been fully explained.

Major pre-salt oilfields auction could raise some US$ 50 billion for Brazil -- Winners at the Nov. 6 auction are expected to pay US$ 25 billion in licensing fees, plus share a portion of their production with the government An auction next month of oilfields in Brazil may be the priciest ever held, raising at least US$ 50 billion in licensing fees and compensation. Exxon Mobil Corp., Royal Dutch Shell Plc and other energy giants are set to vie for deep-sea deposits that could hold 15 billion barrels of oil, almost twice as much as Norway’s reserves.Winners at the Nov. 6 auction are expected to pay US$ 25 billion in licensing fees, plus share a portion of their production with the government. In addition, bidders will need to negotiate payments to state-controlled Petrobras for investments it has already made in the area. Those payments could add another US$25 billion to US$45 billion in costs, according to reports in the Sao Paulo media.The auction is unique in part because one of the four areas being offered is already gushing more than half of the daily output from Venezuela. It’s a rare opportunity for an industry more accustomed to exploring riskier offshore prospects that can take a decade or more to develop.The offerings are at the heart of the pre-salt, a giant expanse of oil deposits about the size of Ohio trapped beneath a layer of salt under the Atlantic seabed. The four prospects -- Buzios, Itapu, Sepia and Atapu -- are estimated to hold as much as 15 Bbbl of recoverable crude, according to a study by Houston-based consultancy Gaffney, Cline & Associates.Buzios is already Brazil’s second-largest field by production, with output of about 425,000 bpd -- at a time when Venezuelan production is running at 700,000. It has four platforms that are tapping about a dozen wells, with room for other wells to be drilled and the current ones to be ramped up further.Brazil’s federal audit court estimates the compensation to Brazil’s oil company could reach US$ 45 billion under proposed guidelines. It has recommended the government lower certain parameters like the estimated price of Brent crude to make the deals more attractive. However the court’s estimates and recommendations for the sale are confidential.The Brazilian Petroleum Institute, an industry group that represents some of the bidders, estimates the payments to Petrobras will be worth between 120 billion and 130 billion reais (US$29 billion-US$31 billion). A study by Wood Mackenzie Ltd. released Monday estimates US$24 billion.  As for the licensing payments, the largest chunk of the US$ 25 billion will be due this year and the remainder in 2020, all in cash.

Brazilian Oil Giant Braces For Strikes Ahead Of $50 Billion Auction - Brazil’s state-run oil company, Petrobras, is about to get hit with a general strike action from a group representing no fewer than 12 oil worker unions, according to the group’s statement on Wednesday, with another 5 oil worker unions represented by another group also set to join in the strike, Reuters reported on Wednesday.The strike will go into effect on Saturday over Petrobras’ proposed annual wage hikes, which the group contends is lower than what the annual inflation rate is expected to be.The annual inflation rate fell to 2.89% in September, from 3.43% in August. The forecast for the annual inflation rate was 2.97%, according to Trading Economics.Labor unions in Brazil have been active this year, threatening to wage an all-out war that began in February against right-leaning President Jair Bolsonaro, whichlowered the minimum wage and closed Brazil’s Ministry of Labor arguing that in Brazil there was “an excess of rights” when it comes to labor.“You have to do away with unions in Brazil,” Bolsonaro told reporters in February. The strike comes not even a month before Brazil is set to hold what is expected to be its biggest oil auction yet, with as much as $50 billion expected in auction proceeds. The areas up for auction are blocks Petrobras have previously explored and held rights for taking up to 5 billion barrels from those pre salt fields. As much as 15 billion barrels could still remain, and winning bidders will have to make some sort of payment arrangement to compensate Petrobras for exploration it has already done in this area. These payments, which the winning bidders have 18 months to agree on, could net Petrobras anywhere from $25 billion to $45 billion.

Government summons fuel marketers over oil spillages - TO ensure that a safe petroleum transport system is sustained nationwide, the federal government through the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) is to meet with all relevant stakeholders in the oil and gas product distribution system in the country. The meeting it was gathered will give the relevant stakeholders ample opportunity to proffer solutions on the challenges and causes of poor petroleum haulage system in the country. Speaking in Lagos ahead of the 2019 Stakeholders’ Annual General Meeting (AGM), DPR Zonal Operations Controller, Lagos Zonal Office, Oluwole Akinyosoye, said all stakeholders including the Petroleum Tanker Drivers (PTD), Depot and Petroleum Product Marketers Association of Nigeria (DAPMAN) and Independent Petroleum Product Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) are expected at the forum. Others are Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN) and Lubricant Producers Association of Nigeria (LUPAN). According to Akinyosoye, other issues on the AGM agenda include discussion on the root causes of tanker incident and other things to be done in DPR to further strengthen its processes, especially for the Lagos zone and Nigeria in general.

US-India energy trade: India's energy trade with US to jump 40% to $10 bn in FY20: Pradhan, Auto News, ET Auto - India's energy trade with the US is likely to jump by over 40 per cent to USD 10 billion in 2019-20, as the world's third-largest oil consumer seeks to move away from its traditional suppliers in the Middle East, Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said on Monday.Mounting geopolitical uncertainties, rising US oil and gas production, and India's insatiable energy appetite has created both the need and the opportunity for the two nations to lift bilateral energy ties to a new level. India in October 2017 began importing crude oil from the US and in March 2018 it got the first shipment of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from there. In the last one year, the import of US crude oil has doubled and New Delhi is now closing on the biggest long-term LNG import deal. "In 2018-19, total import of crude oil, LNG and cooking coal stood at USD 7.2 billion. In the current fiscal year 2019-20, this may go up to USD 10 billion," Pradhan said at US-India Strategic Partnership Forum's Annual Leadership Summit here. In a short period, the US has become one of the top 10 sources of crude oil for India and also an important source for LNG. For the US, India is now the fourth-largest importer of crude oil and the third-largest for LNG. "Indian companies already invested in oil and gas assets in the US, and I see a growing interest among our companies to invest in gas assets in the US. In fact, the energy pillar has become an important component of the bilateral strategic partnership," he said. While India sources about 65 per cent of its crude oil needs from the volatile the Middle East region, imports from the US have doubled to over 13 million tonnes this year. Pradhan said the rising US shale oil and gas production has had a calming effect on global energy prices.

China adds incentives for domestic natural gas production as imports increase - Rapid growth in China’s natural gas consumption has outpaced growth in its domestic natural gas production in recent years. China’s natural gas imports, both by pipeline and as liquefied natural gas (LNG), accounted for nearly half (45%) of China’s natural gas supply in 2018, an increase from 15% in 2010. To increase domestic production of natural gas, the Chinese government has introduced incentives for several forms of natural gas production.Natural gas production has recently grown in China largely because of increased development in low-permeability formations in the form of tight gas, shale gas, and to a lesser extent, coalbed methane. In September 2018, the Chinese State Council set a target of 19.4 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) for domestic natural gas production in 2020. In 2018, China’s domestic natural gas production averaged 15.0 Bcf/d. In June 2019, the Chinese government introduced a subsidy program that established new incentives for production of natural gas from tight formations and extended existing subsidies for production from shale and coalbed methane resources. This subsidy is scheduled to be in effect through 2023. In addition to the changes in the subsidy program, the government allowed foreign companies to operate independently in the country’s oil and natural gas upstream sector.Production of tight gas, shale gas, and coalbed methane collectively accounted for 41% of China’s total domestic natural gas production in 2018. China has been developing tight gas from low-permeability formations since the 1970s, especially in the Ordos and Sichuan Basins. Tight gas production was negligible until 2010, when companies initiated an active drilling program that helped lower the drilling cost per vertical well and improve well productivity. Shale gas development in China has focused on the Sichuan Basin: China National Petroleum Corporation’s (CNPC) subsidiary PetroChina operates two fields in the southern part of the basin and the China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (Sinopec) operates one field in the eastern part of the basin. PetroChina and Sinopec have respectively committed to produce 1.16 Bcf/d and 0.97 Bcf/d of shale gas by 2020, which, if realized, would collectively double the country’s 2018 shale gas production level.

Marine fuel floating storage builds in Asia ahead of new shipping rules -(Reuters) - Stockpiles of low-sulphur marine fuels held in floating storage around the Singapore trading and pricing hub are steadily growing ahead of a 2020 global deadline for rules that have shaken the global oil refining and shipping industries. A total of 32 ships, mostly supertankers capable of carrying 300,000 tonnes or more of oil, are currently anchored in Malaysian waters near Singapore accumulating stores of IMO-compliant fuels on board, according to data released by intelligence firm Kpler on Thursday. Kpler estimates total fuel oil floating storage at 5.765 million tonnes and a total 4.455 million tonnes of compliant fuel oil in floating storage. A mandate by the International Maritime Organization requires ships globally to reduce the sulphur content in their bunker fuel to 0.5% from January from the current 3.5%, stirring up the global bunkering industry that consumes some 4 million barrels per day. To comply, most ships are widely expected to switch to burning low-sulphur fuel oil (LSFO) or to more expensive marine gasoil. Shipownes can also install costly exhaust gas cleaning kits called “scrubbers” that allows them to continue burning cheaper high-sulphur fuels.

Water company cuts supply to parts of Hanoi after oil contamination - After initially asserting that its water supply was safe, Viwasupco cut service to parts of Hanoi on Tuesday, affecting more than 250,000 families in the capital city.The Vinaconex Water Supply Joint Stock Company (Viwasupco) said that it has to clean its pipes and reservoirs after its water source was contaminated by used oil recently. It has not set a date for recommencement of water supply, according to Wednesday statements from water companies that receive supply from Viwasupco to redistribute it to households in Hanoi.A representative of the Ha Dong Water One-Member Limited Liability Company (Hadowa) said it would put its stations in full throttle to compensate for about 40,000 cubic meters of water now no longer available from Viwasupco every day.The Viwaco Joint Stock Company, which buys about 200,000 cubic meters of water per day from Viwasupco, said it would use water from reserved sources and send tankers to houses in the affected areas.Viwasupco provides 300,000 cubic meters per day for the entire southwestern part of Hanoi, including Thanh Xuan, Hoang Mai, Cau Giay, Ha Dong and several downtown districts.Around half of the capital city's residents depend on it for their clean water demand.But for a week now, their daily life has been badly disrupted by a burned and pungent smell coming from their tap water.   A truck with a loading capacity of 2.5 tons was seen dumping used oil into a mountain creek in Phu Minh Commune, Ky Son District of Hoa Binh Province, a northwestern neighbor of Hanoi on Tuesday last week, the Vietnam Environment Administration under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment said Monday.The creek is on an upstream section of the Da River, the biggest branch of the Red River, which supplies water to Viwasupco's water tanks.Tests of the polluted water found high levels of styrene, a substance that is probably carcinogenic. Hanoi authorities have said that people can use the water for other purposes like washing clothes and bathing, but should not drink or use it for cooking.

Kuwait Sees Neutral Zone Oil Pact With Saudis Within 45 Days - Kuwait expects to sign an agreement with Saudi Arabia to restart oil production from the neutral zone along their border within 30 to 45 days, according to a person familiar with the matter. The pact, reached after months of intensive negotiations, won’t be final until it’s signed, the person said, asking not to be identified as the talks are private. Khafji, one of two fields in the zone, can start production immediately, while the Wafra field will need three to six months, the person said. The neutral zone, which has been shuttered for at least four years, can produce as much as 500,000 barrels a day. Negotiations continue with the Kuwaiti authorities, but even if production resumes, the area would not add oil to global markets because both countries adhere to output limits that OPEC has extended into early 2020, according to a person familiar with Saudi thinking.   Talks with Saudi Arabia continue and are “very positive,” Kuwait’s Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid al-Jarallah was cited as saying by the Kuwait News Agency late Saturday. When an agreement is reached, the countries will start talks on resuming production, he said. Officials from Kuwait Petroleum Corp. couldn’t be reached for comment.  The neutral zone hasn’t produced anything since the fields were shut after spats between the two countries in 2014 and 2015. The barren strip of desert straddling the Saudi-Kuwaiti border -- a relic of the time when European powers drew implausible ruler-straight borders across the Middle East -- can pump about as much as OPEC member Ecuador.

Iran’s $280 Billion Sanction Skirting Scheme  - Given that China has put its expansion into Iran on hold for the time being due to the backlash in Iran on the extent of such plans, Tehran is now looking at ways in which it can plug the initial US$280 billion that had been expected from China to develop its oil, gas, and petrochemicals sectors. As U.S. sanctions make direct investment by foreigners extremely difficult and also act as a brake on international investment flowing into the Tehran Stock Exchange, the bond market looks like the only fund-raising game in town for Tehran. The chief executive officer of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), Masoud Karbasian, said last week that Iran is looking at a range of such offerings and, following extensive talks with various senior figures in Iran connected to the Petroleum Ministry,OilPrice.com can now confirm to know what these options are. Although Iran is in no position to raise capital through a Western-oriented traditional bond denominated in a mainstream currency, its prospects in the global sukuk (Sharia-compliant) market are actually very good. This type of bond has often been used by Middle Eastern countries in the past when they have been uncertain of how a more traditional bond issue would be received by international investors for whatever reason and this is clearly the case with Iran. Targeting such a specialized investor base has the advantage that the pricing for sukuk is generally lower than for a traditional bond issued by the same country. “The appeal of sukuk is determined by its spread - nominal value – not against the usual benchmarks but rather against sukuk alternatives as well as high-yield bonds issued by Iraq, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and even Pakistan,” a London-based risk analyst told OilPrice.com. “However, U.S. sanctions have inserted a significant additional discount in the computation of yield, spread and spot pricing,” he said.Related: The U.S. Smashes Another Oil Export Record Part of Iran’s appeal to the sukuk investment community – which ranges from the U.K. (the first Western country to issue a sukuk), through Germany and Turkey (key European hubs for sukuk) to Malaysia (the biggest sukuk centre in the world) - is that it is a truly Islamic issuer. The investment universe of sukuk became a lot more skeptical of purported Sharia-compliant offerings during the financial crisis of 2008. The Accounting Auditing Organisation for Islamic Financial Institutions – the Islamic finance standards watchdog – said as long ago as February 2008 that the repurchase undertakings found in around 85% of apparently Sharia-compliant bond- and equity- fund structures that were based on ‘mudaraba’ and ‘musharaka’ principles violated the Islamic duty to share risk.

Hedge funds hold fire after two weeks of heavy selling in oil- Kemp (Reuters) - Hedge funds stuck with their existing bearish view on oil prices last week - leaving positions in petroleum broadly unchanged after two weeks of heavy selling at the end of September and the start of October. Hedge funds and other money managers sold the equivalent of just 4 million barrels in the six major petroleum futures and options contracts in the week to Oct. 15 (https://tmsnrt.rs/33IESn8).  The pause came after sales totalling 190 million barrels over the two previous weeks, according to records published by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission and ICE Futures Europe. Portfolio managers were small sellers last week of NYMEX and ICE WTI (-11 million barrels), Brent (-3 million), and European gasoil (-0.5 million), but small buyers of U.S. gasoline (+9 million) and U.S. diesel (+1 million). Hedge funds now hold just 2.5 long positions for every short position, down from a recent high of almost 9:1 in April and the most bearish position since the middle of January. Moreover, if passive structural long positions, which rarely change, are excluded, fund managers were running a dynamic net short position of 58 million barrels, also the most bearish since mid-January. The hedge fund community has become very pessimistic about the outlook for prices amid increasing concern about the state of the global economy and prospects for oil consumption in 2019/20. But with so much bearish sentiment already incorporated into the market, fresh selling dried up, which should ease some of the downward pressure on prices, at least temporarily. The large number of short positions that have been established has created the potential for a sharp rally if they have to be covered, but that depends on an improvement in the economic outlook. 

 Goldman Sachs says oil prices are going nowhere next year - International benchmark Brent crude is likely to continue trading at around $60 a barrel next year, Goldman Sachs said on Wednesday, in the absence of any “meaningful” energy market shocks. The U.S. investment bank said Brent crude futures had been caught between “worsening growth expectations and rising Middle East tensions” in recent weeks. But, despite apparent apathy in energy markets, the bank anticipated improving fundamentals would lead to higher prices over the coming months. Analysts at Goldman Sachs predicted some upside risk to its year-end forecast of $62 a barrel, as headwinds from U.S. producer hedging and higher recent freight rates fade. “Nevertheless, absent growth or geopolitical tensions escalating into meaningful shocks, we expect that Brent oil prices are likely to continue trading in 2020 around our $60 (a barrel) forecast,” Goldman Sachs said in a research note published Tuesday. “The ongoing OPEC cuts and slowing shale activity will offset rising other non-OPEC supply and moderate demand growth next year.” Brent crude traded at around $59.24 a barrel on Wednesday morning, down around 0.75%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at around $53.96, down almost 1%. In July, OPEC, alongside allied non-OPEC members, agreed to extend a 1.2 million barrel a day production cut for nine months. Ahead of a meeting in early December, the Middle East-dominated group is considering whether to deepen production cuts amid concerns of weak demand growth next year. Goldman Sachs lowered its oil demand growth forecast to 950,000 barrels per day (b/d) in 2019, down from a previous forecast of 1.25 million bpd. It also reduced its forecast for demand growth in 2020 to 1.25 million b/d, down from 1.45 million b/d.

Oil prices fall 1% as global demand concerns grow - (Reuters) - Oil prices fell nearly 1% on Monday after comments from a U.S. official fed concerns surrounding the U.S.-China trade war, adding to worries that a slowing global economy would reduce demand for oil.  Brent crude futures fell 46 cents, or 0.8%, to settle at $58.96 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell 47 cents, or 0.9%, to settle at $53.31 a barrel.Although President Donald Trump has said he would like to sign a deal when he meets his Chinese counterpart at November’s APEC summit, the U.S. commerce secretary said an initial trade deal does not need to be finalized next month.“The key thing is to get everything right that we do sign. That’s the important element. That’s what the president is wedded to,” Wilbur Ross said, after being asked if he would mind skipping an APEC signing. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told reporters that the administration’s target is still to finish phase one by the time the APEC meetings take place in Chile on Nov. 16 and 17. He added there are outstanding issues to resolve.

Oil futures end near a 2-week low as investors fret about crude demand - Oil futures settled at a nearly two-week low Monday, as investors failed to shake worries that growing signs of economic weakness will eventually hurt demand for crude oil. West Texas Intermediate crude for November delivery fell 47 cents, or 0.9%, to end at $53.31 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after the U.S. benchmark contract posted a 1.7% weekly decline. The November contract, expires at Tuesday’s settlement. Global benchmark Brent crude for December lost 46 cents, or 0.8%, to finish at $58.96 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe exchange, following a weekly skid of 1.8%. Both benchmark crude contracts finished at their lowest since Oct. 8, according to FactSet data. Markets participants have been digesting evidence that some of the biggest economies in the world are weakening, which could deliver a hit to overall crude uptake in the near term. On Friday, China’s National Bureau of Statistics released data showed slower-than-expected growth from the second-largest economy. Gross domestic product expanded at a 6% pace in the third quarter, the slowest in 27 years.  On top of that, signs that some major producers aren’t adhering to production agreements are also weighing on sentiment. Russia on Sunday said that it failed to comply to its commitments in September to curb production, citing increases in natural-gas condensate production ahead of winter, Reuters reported. The current output pact between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies to cut 1.2 million barrels a day runs through March 2020. Meanwhile, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia were having discussions to restart production in oil fields that they manage jointly, which could deliver some 500,000 barrels a day in crude, pressuring prices, according to Reuters.  Back on Nymex, November gasoline settled at $1.6072 a gallon, down 1%, while November heating oil edged down by 0.3% to $1.9406 a gallon. November natural gas lost 3.5% to finish at $2.238 per million British thermal units. “A continuation of rising production levels along with storage levels reaching a surplus to the five-year average last week are factors likely helping to keep pressure on prices,” 

Oil Rebounds On Rare Market Optimism -Oil prices edged up on Tuesday on reduced concerns surrounding both Brexit and the U.S.-China trade war. As with both issues, sentiment seems to shift by the hour, but at the start of the week, there were some small signs of progress on both.  Earnings reports from Schlumberger and Halliburton show a hit to profits by the slowdown in U.S. shale drilling. Both oilfield services giants reported downbeat figures on the contraction in drilling in North America, while striking a more optimistic note on international activity. . Royal Dutch Shell decided to abandon two oil projects in Kazakhstan after determining that they were unprofitable. The move is a testament to the struggles of high-cost areas in the Caspian as well as the increased scrutiny by the oil majors on project economics due to investor pressure.   Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won reelection, emerging with the largest vote share, but with a diminished block and short of a majority. That means he will likely form a minority government with another party, with the NDP the obvious partner. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has said that long distance pipelines should not be built through provinces that don’t want them, which may mean that the Trans Mountain Expansion faces new hurdles. “It’s pretty negative outcome from an energy-sector perspective,“ Tim Pickering, founder and chief investment officer of Auspice Capital Advisors in Calgary, told Bloomberg. “This is a very, very bad outcome for Alberta.”  U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Monday that a trade deal with China does not need to be finalized in November, as was suggested by the “partial deal” agreed to earlier this month. The comment cut into hopes of a deal, dragging down oil prices on Monday. But President Trump contradicted that, saying the talks were on track for a November signing. Markets seesawed on the news.

Oil prices log first gain in 3 sessions after report OPEC will weigh deeper output cuts -- Oil futures finished higher Tuesday and logged their first gain in three sessions, buoyed by a report that major oil producers will consider deeper production cuts when they meet in December.Members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and their allies will consider making further reductions to crude output when they meet in December because of growing concerns about a slowdown in growth for oil demand, Reuters reported Tuesday, citing sources from the oil-producing club.“It looks like OPEC is confirming that they are going to do whatever it takes to support oil,” The report also said OPEC member Saudi Arabia wants to first lift adherence to the agreement, as Iraq and Nigeria are among the countries that haven't fully complied with the reductions, the report said. Under the output-cut pact, which began at the start of this year and runs through March 2020, OPEC and its allies, known as OPEC+, agreed to cut production by 1.2 million barrels a day. West Texas Intermediate crude for November delivery gained 85 cents, or 1.6%, to settle at $54.16 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after falling 0.9% on Monday. The November contract, expired at Tuesday’s settlement. December WTI crude, the new front-month contract, settled at $54.48 a barrel, up 97 cents, or 1.8%.Global benchmark Brent crude for December BRNZ19, -0.17%, meanwhile, added 74 cents, or 1.3%, to settle at $59.70 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe exchange, following a 0.8% skid on a day earlier.Crude-oil has been under pressure amid worries about global appetite for the commodity as economies inside and outside of the U.S. show signs of a slowdown. However, hope that the U.S. and China may strike a trade agreement soon has provided a tepid lift for crude prices. President Trump on Monday said Sino-American trade negotiations were progressing well, and his top trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, suggested that a draft agreement could be forged at the Nov, 11-17 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Santiago, Chile.

WTI Dips After Bigger Than Expected Crude Inventory Build -- Oil prices surged higher today on headlines that OPEC+ might discuss extending or deepening production cuts during their meeting in December. “The biggest piece of news is that OPEC is considering deeper cuts,” said Josh Graves, senior market strategist at RJ O’Brien & Associates in Chicago.“I think that’s something that needs to be done.” But all the algos will care about tonight is inventories... API:

  • Crude +4.45mm (+2.2mm exp)
  • Cushing +1.988mm
  • Gasoline -702k (-2.3mm exp)
  • Distillates -3.491mm (-2.8mm exp)

Even after last week's huge build, analysts expected another build as refiners remain in maintenance season, and for the sixth week in a row, crude inventories rose (+4.45mm vs +2.75mm exp) WTI hovered around $54.40 ahead of the API print, and dipped on the bigger than expected build...

OPEC, allies to mull deeper oil cut amid worries over demand growth - (Reuters) - OPEC and its allies will consider whether to deepen cuts to crude supply when they next meet in December due to worries about weak demand growth in 2020, sources from the oil-producing club said. Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s de facto leader, wants to focus first on boosting adherence to the group’s production-reduction pact with Russia and other non-members, an alliance known as OPEC+, before committing to more cuts, the sources said. OPEC members Iraq and Nigeria are among the countries that have failed to comply properly with pledged output reductions. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf producers in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries have been delivering more than their share of promised cuts to stabilize the market and prevent prices from falling. Riyadh has been pumping some 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) below its output target, taking the lion’s share of the curbs. “The Saudis want to prevent oil prices from falling. But now they want to make sure that countries like Nigeria and Iraq reach 100% compliance first as they have promised,” one OPEC source said. “In December we will consider whether we need more cuts for next year. But it is early now, things will be clearer in November.” A second OPEC source said: “Of course deeper cuts are an option, but some things should happen before that. The rest of the OPEC+ countries will not cut deeply if Iraq and Nigeria don’t comply 100%.”

EIA reports a surprise decline in U.S. crude-oil supplies, the first in 6 weeks -The Energy Information Administration on Wednesday reported that U.S. crude supplies fell for the first time in six weeks, down 1.7 million barrels for the week ended Oct. 18. Crude supplies were forecast to increase by 4.7 million barrels, according to analysts polled by S&P Global Platts. The American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday reported a rise of 4.45 million barrels, according to sources. The EIA data showed supply declines of 3.1 million barrels for gasoline and 2.7 million barrels for distillates. The S&P Global Platts survey showed expectations for supply decreases of 2 million barrels for gasoline and 3 million barrels for distillates. December West Texas Intermediate crude added 53 cents, or 1%, to $55.01 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, up from $54.55 before the supply data.

 WTI Surges Back Above $55 After Surprise Crude Inventory Draw - After sliding overnight on the heels of a significant crude build reported by API, oil prices have surged since the US equity market open soaring back to pre-API levels (some have suggested the gains are driven by Kuwait, OPEC’s fourth-biggest member, considering cuts to its oil production capacity targets.)“We are waiting to see when refineries come out of maintenance. As they come out, it should start to increase demand for crude,” says Gene McGillian, manager of market research at Tradition EnergyBut, while refinery maintenance is starting to wind down, lots of capacity was still offline during the reporting period. DOE:

  • Crude -1.70mm (+2.2mm exp)
  • Cushing +1.506mm
  • Gasoline -3.107mm (-2.3mm exp)
  • Distillates -2.715mm (-2.8mm exp)

Analysts continued to expect crude inventories to rise even after last week's massive build, but unlike API, DOE reported a surprise 1.7mm draw - ending the 5-week streak of builds. Additionally, major draws in products were bigger than expected...

Oil surges 2.7% on surprise US inventory decline - Oil rose 2.7% on Wednesday after government data showed a surprise draw in U.S. crude stocks and as the prospect of deeper output cuts by OPEC and its allies offered support. U.S. crude stocks fell 1.7 million barrels last week as refineries hiked crude runs by 429,000 barrels per day (bpd) and oil imports fell, the Energy Information Administration said. Analysts had expected an increase of 2.2 million barrels. Brent crude futures gained $1.39, or 2.3%. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures gained $1.49, or 2.7%, to settle at $55.97 per barrel. Oil prices had fallen earlier in the session on data on Tuesday from industry group the American Petroleum Institute showing U.S. crude stocks rising more than analysts had expected, by 4.5 million barrels to 437 million barrels. The EIA’s report “has put some buyers in the market, but it will be interesting to see if it lasts. While this will distract from demand destruction, the market will eventually come back to it,” said Gene McGillian, vice president of market research at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut. The draw in U.S. oil stocks appeared to have been caused by temporary market factors including higher refinery runs, rather than a fundamental firming of oil demand, and investors are still concerned about the global economy following reports of slowing growth in China and Europe, McGillian added. A larger-than-expected decline in U.S. gasoline stocks and lower net oil imports also supported prices, analysts said. Gasoline stocks fell by 3.1 million barrels, compared with analysts expectations of a 2.3 million-barrel drop.

 Oil Prices Surge on Unexpected Bullish Data  - West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and Brent oil futures surged Wednesday after the U.S. government released bullish week-on-week commercial crude inventory figures. “Petroleum markets had a somewhat muted response to the weekly American Petroleum Institute (API) report on Tuesday afternoon and stayed that way until the weekly U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) report was released showing an overall draw in crude stocks rather than the build that API had shown,” said Steve Blair, senior account executive with the RCG Divison of Marex Spectron.As a Bloomberg article posted to Rigzone earlier Wednesday notes, API figures show that U.S. oil inventories increased by 4.45 million barrels last week. Meanwhile, the DOE's Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported a 1.7-million-barrel draw for the period.“The markets showed immediate reaction to the upside and continued that reaction as the session continued into the afternoon,” noted Blair. “A closer look at the (EIA) report showed exports of crude at a new record 3.683 million barrels per day (bpd) and crude imports falling below the 6 million-bpd mark at 5.857 million bpd. Gasoline demand continues to be quite high for this time of year at 9.59 million bpd.”The December WTI contract gained $1.49 Wednesday, settling at $55.97 per barrel. It traded within a range from $54.30 to $56.07.“December WTI, with the upside movement today, broke out of the congestion range that it had been in since the market declined back to the original levels that they were at prior to the attack on the Saudi facilities back in September,” said Blair, citing a daily WTI price chart. Brent crude for December delivery returned above the psychologically important $60-mark, gaining $1.47 to end the day at $61.17 per barrel. Blair noted the Brent, like the WTI, broke out of its congestion range; the right end of the daily Brent chart illustrates the price movement. Also rising Wednesday was reformulated gasoline (RBOB). November RBOB added four cents to settle at $1.65 per gallon. Blair pointed out crack spreads continue to lead the petroleum complex despite declining since last week, referencing a chart showing the differential between RBOB and the WTI.

Oil posts 3rd straight day of gains - Oil prices extended their gains on Thursday, with Brent rising above $61 a barrel as a surprise drop in U.S. crude inventories and the prospect of further market-supporting action by OPEC and its allies offset some concern over the outlook for demand. Brent crude gained 55 cents to settle at $61.74 per barrel, having risen 2.5% on Wednesday. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude rose 26 cents to settle at $56.23, adding to the previous session’s 2.8% gain after data showed that U.S. inventories dropped by 1.7 million barrels last week. “We feel that even minor supportive headlines on the trade front or geopolitical developments could prompt an exaggerated price response in a market in which net speculative WTI length had dropped into the red zone,” Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates, said in a note. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday accused China of curtailing “rights and liberties” in Hong Kong in a wide-ranging critique of Beijing’s behavior but also insisted that the United States does not seek confrontation or to “de-couple” from its main economic rival. Pence delivered his second major policy address on China in just over a year, this one just ahead of a new round of talks aimed at resolving a bitter trade war between the world’s two biggest economies. The recent truce in the U.S.-China trade war is not an economic turning point and has done nothing to reduce the risk that the United States could slip into recession in the next two years, a Reuters poll of economists found.

Oil prices clock strong weekly gains on trade hopes, crude supply - (Reuters) - Oil prices rose on Friday, registering the strongest weekly gains in more than a month as support from optimism over a U.S.-China trade deal, falling U.S. crude stocks and possible action from OPEC to extend output cuts outweighed broader economic concerns. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures settled 43 cents, or 0.8%, higher at $56.66 a barrel, clocking a weekly rise of more than 5%, its strongest since June 21. Brent crude ended 35 cents, or 0.6%, higher at $62.02 a barrel, logging a weekly gain of more than 4%, its best since Sept. 20. Oil got a boost from signs of progress in talks on resolving the U.S.-China trade dispute that has weighed on crude demand. Washington officials on Friday said the United States and China were close to finalizing the first part of a trade deal after months of a tariff war. “Some of the vibes out of the U.S.-China talks are positive again and that’s certainly what’s fuelling the stock market, so oil is benefiting from it,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC in New York. Wall Street, which oil prices often follow, approached a record high after the trade comments from Washington. The weekly performance was underpinned by the surprise drop in U.S. inventories, with crude stocks falling by about 1.7 million barrels last week.

Saudi Aramco to Delay IPO Launch-- Saudi Aramco has postponed the launch of the world’s largest initial public offering, according to a person briefed on the situation. That may put the oil giant’s planned November listing in jeopardy. The decision to delay the listing was abrupt. Aramco was preparing for an official launch of the share sale on Oct. 20. The Saudi government had seemed determined to press on in the face of potential headwinds that include weak oil prices, a slowing world economy and last month’s attack on the company’s biggest processing plant. While details of the offer haven’t been made public, people involved in the transaction said earlier this month that about 2% of Aramco might be sold at a price that would value the entire company at $2 trillion, raising $40 billion and easily exceeding the $25 billion raised in 2014 by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. The shares were set to trade only on Riyadh’s stock exchange, the Tadawul. The Sept. 14 attack disrupted output and sent shock waves through energy markets, triggering the biggest one-day jump in Brent crude prices on record and stoking security concerrns Investors are already demanding a premium to hold the country’s debt, downgraded this month by Fitch Ratings Ltd. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s desire to get a $2 trillion valuation for the energy giant comes as analysts slash their earnings-per-share estimates for Saudi companies for the coming 12 months. They have cut them by 13% this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Aramco wants to delay the IPO’s launch until it can give investors more clarity on its quarterly earnings following the attack, the Financial Times reported earlier.

Saudi's Aramco IPO Is Mission Impossible - Once again reports are out that Saudi Aramco is said to be pushing its mammoth IPO top completed by the end of this year (reportedly relying more on Saudi and MidEast regional investors). The kickoff, originally scheduled for Oct. 20, was delayed after Aramco got mixed feedback from international investors. Bloomberg reports that Aramco now plans to press on with the listing plans by relying more on investors from Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Middle East to buy its shares, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. But, as S&P Global Platts Insight blog notes, Saudi Aramco’s IPO looks doomed to failure as it targets a $2 trillion flotation. Tepid oil prices, the fraught politics of the Middle East and the demonization of fossil fuel producers in response to climate change fears have all made the initial public offering (IPO) a mission impossible.The kingdom had looked poised to list up to 2% of its shares on its domestic market within weeks. But the long-delayed partial privatization of the world’s largest state-owned oil company now faces another indefinite postponement after the devastating attacks last month on some of its most important facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.Overnight, the attacks shut down 5.7 million barrels per day of Saudi Arabia’s oil production, roughly equivalent to 6% of global supply. A catastrophic spike in oil prices was only narrowly avoided because of the kingdom’s own emergency stockpiles, and its swift response in patching up the damage and restoring output in record time. But this has come at a high price to Aramco, which potential investors will want to see accounted for before paying any kind of premium for its shares in an IPO. It is a level of detail which the normally secretive Aramco is probably uncomfortable to reveal. In August, Aramco for the first time gave potential investors a glimpse of its first-half earnings. Net income of almost $50 billion made it comfortably the world’s most profitable company. However, the cost of repairs at Abqaiq and the inconvenience caused by the attacks will be an ugly blemish on its otherwise pristine balance sheet.

Aramco IPO Hangs on Same Old Question: Is It Worth $2 Trillion? – Bloomberg - The trouble with Saudi Aramco’s off-again, on-again initial public offering has always been the valuation. Ever since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman insisted the world’s largest oil producer was worth $2 trillion in 2016, he’s been determined to prove the skeptics wrong. His optimism met the reality of the global capital markets on Thursday, when the latest plan to float the state-owned company was delayed by at least a few weeks. At a meeting to give a green light for a deal, bankers made clear that international investors had little appetite to buy at a $2 trillion valuation, according to people familiar with the matter. To draw widespread interest Aramco’s value would need to be closer to $1.5 trillion, one of the people said, asking not to named discussing private conversations. What happens now will depend on how keen the crown prince is to attract foreign money to the Aramco offering and whether he’s finally willing to compromise on the valuation to get it. The outlook for what could be the largest IPO ever is likely to dominate Future Investment Initiative at the end of the month, Saudi Arabia’s annual showcase for the crown prince’s economic agenda that’s been dubbed Davos in the Desert. Many of the Wall Street banks hired to work on the IPO will send senior executives to Riyadh, where they’ll rub shoulders with the crown prince and the rest of the Saudi leadership as well as some of the world’s largest investors. Aramco said in a statement that the timing of the IPO will depend on market conditions and that it continues to engage with shareholders on activities related to the listing.

Aramco listing was delayed to rope in anchor investors: sources - (Reuters) - Oil giant Saudi Aramco’s much-vaunted stock market listing was delayed after deal advisers said they need more time to lock in cornerstone investors, three sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters. After a false start last year, preparations gathered momentum this summer with approaches to sovereign wealth funds, rich Saudis and large foreign fund managers as potential cornerstone investors only for plans to unravel for a second time. The world’s biggest oil company had been expected last week to launch the domestic sale of a 1-2% stake, but the signing up of marquee backers has been hampered by continuing valuation concerns exacerbated by recent attacks on Aramco’s Abqaiq and Khurais plants. Aramco was unable to answer valuation questions fully during initial talks with investors, said one Gulf institutional investor who has been involved in the discussions. Sovereign funds in the oil-rich Gulf region typically shy away from energy exposure, he added, looking to diversify their investment portfolio. Two of the sources said that a Saudi government committee overseeing the planned Aramco flotation had therefore recommended to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last Wednesday that the launch of an initial public offering (IPO) scheduled for Oct. 20 be postponed.

Saudi Offering Smashes Expectations Despite Oil Attacks - Saudi Arabia’s US$2.5-billion Islamic bond issued on Tuesday attracted orders worth more than US$13 billion in the first international debt issue since the attacks on vital Saudi oil facilities in the middle of September.On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia sold US$2.5 billion worth of Islamic bonds, or sukuk,returning to the bond market to take advantage of the low borrowing costs in hopes of replenishing its government coffers as persistently low oil prices depress revenues.The ten-year bond was priced at 127 basis points over the benchmark midswaps, down from a guidance of 145-150 basis points over the midswap rate, due to the strong demand, Bloomberg reports.Investor demand for Saudi Arabia’s Islamic bond was high, even after the September 14 attacks on critical oil infrastructure that knocked more than half of Saudi oil supply offline.  In recent years, the Kingdom has borrowed a lot of money on the international bond markets to offset the lower government oil revenues, on the back of low oil prices.In July this year, the Saudis issued a debut Eurobond of US$3.3 billion (3 billion euro). Since its first foray into international bond markets at the end of 2016, the Kingdom has raised as much as US$60 billion in international bond issues, according to Reuters estimates. The latest bond issue comes as Saudi Arabia last week delayed, yet again, the much-hyped listing of its oil giant Aramco by at least several weeks.The main stumbling block has been that international investors are not really buying the Saudi insistence that the biggest oil company in the world is worth US$2 trillion. At a meeting to endorse the initial public offering (IPO) last week, the banks Aramco has hired for the listing made clear that foreign investors are not rushing to invest in the Saudi state oil company at a valuation of US$2 trillion. According to Bloomberg sources, the valuation should be closer to US$1.5 trillion if Aramco wants to stir real interest among international investors.

Abu Dhabi's Massive New Snow Park Has Almost Been Completed  - Today in "when you have more oil money than you know what to do with" news, Abu Dhabi's massive 11,612 square meter "Snow Park" is reportedly "well on its way to completion", according to The National.   The park, called Snow Abu Dhabi, will be home to the world's largest "snow play area" and will be located in the upcoming Reem Mall on Reem Island. It is set to be finished by the end of 2020. Reem Island is a natural island 600 metres off the coast of Abu Dhabi island that is being jointly built out by property developers and real estate companies.The entrance to the park will house an area called Snowflake Garden (make your millennial jokes here), which is described as an open-play area with attractions like ice labyrinths.  The park will also host a Crystal Carousel, which is "centred around a twinkling winter forest and all the magical creatures found within."  ...whatever the hell that means.  The park will maintain an indoor temperature of -2°C (always an easy task in the middle of the desert) and a snow depth of 20 inches. It will also include a retail outlet that will set hats and cold weather clothing. Which, of course, you can then promptly throw out when exiting the park into the 100 degree desert heat. The park will also include an attraction called Flurries' Mountain that leads to the park's Enchanted Tree. The tree will soar above the park and will have "creative ornamentation" on each of its branches. Employees will be dressed as "winter wonderland-style characters" and, in sum, the park will host 13 different rides and games. Chalk this one up as another high quality use of resources in the middle east...

Major Blaze At Iran Oil Refinery Raises Suspicions Of Saudi Revenge Attack - A section of Iran’s sprawling Abadan oil refinery in the southwest of the country went up in flames Saturday, and state media sources reported the emergency was under control as of Sunday morning. State media is describing it as "a fire in a canal carrying waste from Iran’s Abadan oil refinery," with Iranian official broadcaster IRIB saying, “The refinery’s fire department contained the fire and prevented it from spreading to other units.” A fire in a canal carrying waste from #Iran’s #Abadan oil refinery was brought under control on Sunday: State Media pic.twitter.com/zTHwrVHMVc— Tasnim News Agency (@Tasnimnews_EN) October 20, 2019   However, given the extent of the blaze captured in social media circulating videos, and especially given it comes after a tense summer of attacks on tanker and refineries notably the Sept. 14 Saudi Aramco drone and missile attack the newest Iran facility fire raises serious question. Could the clearly massive Abadan blaze, which Iranian state sources appear ready to downplay, be the result of a Saudi revenge attack?  Though unverified and unconfirmed, Iranian opposition sources are pointing to a potential cyber attack as a possible cause for the fire. #BREAKING: It is now confirmed that a Cyber attack resulted fire in #Abadan's Oil Refinery in Southwest of #Iran. Probably a Cyber attack in response to #IRGC's cruise missile attack at #Aramco's oil facilities in #Abqaiq & #Khurais, #SaudiArabia on 14 September 2019. pic.twitter.com/mkgs5LZXnq   Again, local authorities say it's the result of an accident, and though yes the occasional oil refinery blaze does happen, it's the fact that it comes after months of unprecedented Saudi-Iran (and allies) tit-for-tat targeting of tankers and energy resources that should raise some eyebrows.  The blaze is currently subject of intense speculation online after early reports cited an initial "explosion" at the facility.

Japan To Send Its Own Military Force To Strait Of Hormuz -Ever since the new round of 'tanker wars' began in Strait of Hormuz in mid-June with a mysterious mine attack on multiple tankers, one involving a Japanese-owned ship, Tokyo has reportedly mulled sending a Japanese defense force to the area to help protect vital shipping lanes.  In a rare move, the pacifist nation appears ready to pull the trigger, as FT reports, citing chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, who indicated that "the government was planning to deploy forces in a region where a Japanese tanker, the Kokuka Courageous, was recently attacked with a limpet mine."Japan's Asahi newspaper also reported that the self-defense troop deployment to the vital Persian Gulf passage way comes "instead of joining the U.S.-coalition".Japan had been among many US allies urged to assist in forming a US-led maritime security patrol — a plan which many feared would only exacerbate tensions with Iran, only leading to war. In not joining the US-led security mission, Tokyo is ensuring it won't damage important economic ties with Iran.FT describes what such a Japanese expedition will likely involve:A Japanese expedition would probably involve ships and aircraft from the Maritime Self-Defense Force. [Chief Cabinet Secretary] Mr Suga said its operations would be limited to international waters in the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea and the Bab al-Mandab strait.He said the dispatch would take place under provisions of Japanese law allowing for military information gathering and research. The pacifist constitution tightly proscribes how Japan can deploy its military and any ships it sends would use force only in self-defense.Suga said further, “At present, there is no direct need for the protection of Japanese vessels by Self-Defense Force assets, but in any event, we’ll consider what further measures are necessary for the security of ships linked to our country.”

Trump Claims To Have Taken Control Of Middle East Oil - “We’ve taken control of the oil in the Middle East,” President Trump claimed on Friday afternoon, in response to criticism over his handling of US troop movements out of Syria. “We’ve taken control of the oil in the Middle East, the oil that we’re talking about, the oil that everybody was worried about. We have the U.S. control of that,” Trump said, adding that America’s actions in Syria should have been made years ago under the Obama administration. The words echoed Trump’s earlier tweet, with similar oil-based claims. “The U.S. has secured the Oil, & the ISIS Fighters are double secured by Kurds & Turkey,” Trump’s tweet read in part. The President did not elaborate on what he meant by “securing the oil,” but speculations about the President’s statement assume he is referring to US special forces that have been—and will continue to be—in control of oil and gas fields in Deir Ezzor. The Syrian state has long argued that the oil and gas assets should be returned to it. Trump added that the Kurds are very happy with the deal the US has secured. If President Trump adheres strictly and completely with his promise to exit Syria, the question remains exactly how the US will continue securing this oil. 

'Secured the oil': US troops stay behind to guard oilfields  - The United States is weighing whether to retain a military presence near oilfields in northeastern Syria in order to prevent the sites falling under the control of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or ISIS) armed group. US defence chief Mark Esper's comments on Monday came as American troops crossed into Iraq as part of a withdrawal from northeastern Syria ordered by President Donald Trump, a decision that cleared the way for Turkey to launch a cross-border offensive on October 9 against Kurdish fighters in the region. The Reuters news agency reported more than 100 vehicles crossed the border into Iraq early on Monday from the northeast tip of Syria, where Turkey agreed to pause its offensive for five days under a ceasefire deal with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) brokered by Washington. Speaking to reporters during a trip to Afghanistan, Esper said while the US withdrawal was under way, some troops were still with partner SDF fighters - Washington's main ground allies in the fight against ISIL- near oilfields and there had been discussions about keeping forces there. Esper said that was just one option and no decision had been made "with regard to numbers or anything like that". The Pentagon's job was to look at different options, he added. "We presently have troops in a couple of cities that [are] located right near that area," Esper said. "The purpose is to deny access, specifically revenue to ISIS and any other groups that may want to seek that revenue to enable their own malign activities." Trump later told a cabinet meeting in Washington, DC, a "small number" of troops who remained were located in the southeast of the country, while a separate group staying behind had "secured the oil".

China's $3.6 Billion Bailout Insulates Turkey From US - Beijing’s biggest support package ever for President Erdogan arrives at a critical time... Despite the US threat to “obliterate and destroy” Turkey’s economy, the Turkish lira and Turkish interest rates barely have budged in the past week (Turkish stocks, especially banks, are down sharply, in part due to the US criminal charges against Halkbank for aiding Iran sanctions violations). That is remarkable given the fragility of Turkey’s currency earlier in 2019. Between February and May, the Turkish lira fell from 5.2 to the US dollar to 6.2 in response to US sanctions, before recovering to 5.88 to the dollar today. The Turkish central bank leaned on Turkish banks to refrain from offering liquidity to short-sellers, but Turkish money markets remained orderly.What changed is China. Turkish President Erdogan’s insolence in the face of American threats brings to mind B’rer Rabbit’s imprecation to B’rer Fox: “Please don’t throw me in the briar patch.” The relevant foliage in this case is bamboo. Bloomberg News reported Aug. 9, “China’s central bank transferred $1 billion worth of funds to Turkey in June, Beijing’s biggest support package ever for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered at a critical time in an election month. The inflow marks the first time Turkey received such a substantial amount under the lira-yuan swap agreement with Beijing that dates back to 2012, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter who asked not to be named because the information isn’t public.”China’s direct investment in Turkey also has surged this year, as Nikkei reported Aug. 22: China is coming to Turkey’s aid during its economic crisis with $3.6 billion in funding for infrastructure projects, leveraging Ankara’s conflict with Washington to expand its Belt and Road Initiative in the key country that links Asia with Europe.

The US airstrike on its former headquarters is a terrible symbol of American failure in Syria - Patrick Cockburn --I was driving a year ago past a giant cement factory in northeast Syria which was then the military headquarters of the US forces fighting alongside the Kurds to defeat Isis.   It was this same Lafargue cement plant, close to the Euphrates, that was bombed by two US F-I5 jets last week after being hastily abandoned by US forces, to destroy stores of ammunition that had been left behind. The airstrike on the former US headquarters is a symbol of the US failure in Syria, just as a helicopter crammed with terrified Vietnamese lifting off from the roof of the American embassy in Saigon in 1975 became a symbol of the US defeat in Vietnam. People across the Middle East are asking how far the US pull-out from Syria changes the balance of power in the region, as Russia, Turkey, Iranand Syrian president Bashar al-Assad all, in their different ways, move to fill the vacuum left by the US. Does it mean, for instance, that Donald Trump’s policy of confronting Iran, which was already in trouble, is close to being capsized entirely? The crisis is bizarre and unprecedented because it did not have to happen this way: in the course of a few weeks, Trump has managed to convert a limited US reverse into a full-scale self-inflicted disaster. A good argument could always be made for the US pulling out of Syria, where it was a weak and vulnerable player, but it was Trump’s impulsive tweet that provoked a US scuttle and a Turkish invasion. The blatancy of Washington’s betrayal of the Syrian Kurds, the essential ground troops in the elimination of the Isis caliphate, ensured that this not-unexpected drawdown of US forces has done maximum damage to America’s credibility. Trump’s efforts to escape a mess of his own making keep making it worse. On Thursday night in Ankara, US vice president Mike Pence announced that after tough negotiating with Erdogan, he had persuaded the Turks to agree to a five-day truce in Syria. It turns out that he had achieved this negotiating masterpiece by giving the Turks everything they wanted, such as a permanent Turkish occupation of a 300-mile long and 20-mile wide swathe of Kurdish-inhabited northeast Syria.

U.S. once stopped ethnic cleansing, now it excuses it in Syria - – In the 1990s the US was adamantly opposed to ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, leading efforts to prevent it. In the wake of US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from parts of Syria it increasingly looks like Washington will sign off on the population transfer of Kurds from areas that Turkey has demanded. Already 200,000 people have been displaced, mostly Kurds, because of the US decision and Turkey’s invasion. On Sunday Trump tweeted that the ceasefire the US helped broker was “holding up very nicely. There are some minor skirmishes that have ended quickly. New areas being resettled with Kurds.” These “new areas” are areas that Kurds have been forced to flee to by the fighting and Turkish-backed jihadists who have indiscriminately shelled. One unarmed female politician, a victim of what Turkish media called a “successful neutralization” was dragged by her hair by jihadists and shot to death. Trump says the new US plan is to “secure the oil.” In the process the US sent Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Ankara to negotiate a pause in Turkey’s offensive. In that pause the civilians of Sere Kaniye were removed in a convoy of ambulances, the end process in ethnic cleansing of civilians from areas that Ankara calls a “safe zone.” Into that area Turkey says it will settle millions of Arab refugees from other parts of Syria, a plan Ankara showed to the UN in September. In the 1990s these kinds of efforts were called ethnic cleansing. The US helped broker the Dayton Accords in 1995 with the leader of the Republic of Serbia Slobodan Milosevic, president of Croatia Franjo Tudjman and President of Bosnia and Herzegovina Alija Izetbegovic. The agreement tried to lay down the areas of control in Bosnia between Serbs and Bosnians and Croats after years of war and allegations of ethnic cleansing. The US attempted to stop the violence, not give a stamp of approval for the removal of minorities, the way it has done in Syria.

The US has backed 21 of the 28 ‘crazy’ militias leading Turkey’s brutal invasion of northern Syria --Footage showing members of Turkey’s mercenary “national army”executing Kurdish captives as they led the Turkish invasion of northern Syria touched off a national outrage, provoking US government officials, pundits and major politicians to rage against their brutality.In the Washington Post, a US official condemned the militias as a “crazy and unreliable.” Another official called them “thugs and bandits and pirates that should be wiped off the face of the earth.” Meanwhile, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the scene as a “sickening horror,” blaming President Donald Trump exclusively for the atrocities.But the fighters involved in the atrocities in northern Syria were not just random tribesmen assembled into an ad hoc army. In fact, many were former members of the Free Syrian Army, the force once armed by the CIA and Pentagon and branded as “moderate rebels.” This disturbing context was conveniently omitted from the breathless denunciations of US officials and Western pundits.According to a research paper published this October by the pro-government Turkish think tank SETA, “Out of the 28 factions [in the Turkish mercenary force], 21 were previously supported by the United States, three of them via the Pentagon’s program to combat DAESH. Eighteen of these factions were supplied by the CIA via the MOM Operations Room in Turkey, a joint intelligence operation room of the ‘Friends of Syria’ to support the armed opposition. Fourteen factions of the 28 were also recipients of the U.S.-supplied TOW anti-tank guided missiles.” (A graph by SETA naming the various militias and the type of US support they received is at the end of this article).In other words, virtually the entire apparatus of anti-Assad insurgents armed and equipped under the Obama administration has been repurposed by the Turkish military to serve as the spearhead of its brutal invasion of northern Syria. The leader of this force is Salim Idriss, now the “Defense Minister” of Syria’s Turkish-backed “interim government.” He’s the same figure who hosted John McCain when the late senator made his infamous 2013 incursion into Syria.

Winners & Losers In The Failed American Project For A 'New Middle East' - In the Levant, the US has dramatically failed to reach its objectives, but it has succeeded in waking Russia from its long hibernation, to challenge the US unilateral hegemony of the world and to develop new forms of alliance. Iran has also challenged the US hegemony incrementally since the 1979 “Islamic Revolution”. Iran has planned meticulously, and patiently built a chain of allies connecting different parts of the Middle East. Now, after 37 years, Iran can boast a necklace of robust allies in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan- who are all ready, if necessary, to take up arms to defend Iran. Iran, in fact, has greatly benefited from US mistakes. Through its lack of understanding of populations and leaders around the world, it has universally failed to win “hearts and minds” in every Middle Eastern country where it imposed itself as a potential ally. The arrival of President Donald Trump to power helped US allies and the anti-US camp to discover, together, the limits and reach of US sanctions. Russia and China took the lead in offering a new, softer model of an alliance, which apparently does not aim to impose another kind of hegemony. The offer of an economic alliance and partnership is especially attractive to those who have tasted US hegemony and wish to liberate themselves from it by means of a more balanced alternative. During this period of Trump’s ruling, the Middle East became a huge warehouse of advanced weapons from varied sources. Every single country (and some non-state actors) has armed drones- and some even have precision and cruise missiles. But superiority in armaments by itself counts for very little, and its very balance is not enough to shift the weight to one side or another. Even the poorest country, Yemen, has done significant damage to oil-rich Saudi Arabia, a country highly equipped, militarily, and with the most modern US hardware in the Middle East. US President Trump was informed about the evident failure to change the régime in Syria and the equal impossibility of dislodging Iran from the Levant. He most probably aimed to avoid the loss of lives and therefore decided to abandon the country that his forces have occupied for the past few years. Nonetheless, his sudden withdrawal, even if so far it is partial (because he says, a small unit will remain behind at al-Tanf, to no strategic benefit since al-Qaem border crossing is now operational) – came as a shock to his Kurdish and Israeli allies. Trump proved his readiness to abandon his closest friends & enemies overnight.

Is ISIS Back? -  The American political leadership may not have been able to connect the dots on a withdrawal in Syria, but it’s really quite simple:

  • 1) Americans step aside
  • 2) Turks swarm across the border and attack Kurds
  • 3) Kurds cut a deal with Assad and the Russians for protection
  • 4) Assad gets his oil back, because it’s all in Kurdish-controlled territory in the northeast

It renders sanctions rather null and void. It empowers Assad exponentially because if there’s one thing he’s desperate for its oil. It gives the last remaining chunk of territory back to Assad, with the exception of Idlib.Now, conflicting reports are emerging about whether the Americans are actually going to leave Syria. It’s occurred to Trump, no doubt with some prompting, that an abrupt exit will simply give Assad all of his oil back. On Thursday, reports citing an anonymous “military official in Damascus” began to circulate to the effect that the Americans would stick by the key oil area of Dier Ezzor (Dier al Zor), home of the Omar oilfields. This report originated with AMN, out of the Middle East. And despite the fact that the source is both unnamed and clearly not an American military source, Western media have also picked up the story in the fashion of the day.  As of late Thursday, there has been no confirmation whatsoever that the Americans have been ordered to reverse their decision and stick by the oilfields.

US troops withdraw across Syrian border into Iraq - Hundreds of US troops crossed the Syrian border into Iraq Monday, the first large-scale sign of the pullout ordered by President Donald Trump that has provoked a political firestorm in Washington. The troops traveled in armored cars and other military vehicles, which came under occasional “fire” from Kurdish youth armed with stones, potatoes and tomatoes. At one point, according to a video circulated by the Kurdish ruling party in northeast Syria, a group of demonstrators stopped a US convoy briefly, while displaying hand-made signs, in English, including one which read: “To the US Army who are leaving northeast Syria now tell your children that the children of the Kurds were killed by the Turks and we did nothing to protect them.” There is intense hostility to the US withdrawal in Kurdish towns and villages, where the population now fears occupation by the Turkish army, or even worse, by Turkey’s allies in the “Syrian National Army,” a criminal militia consisting largely of former members of al Qaeda and other Islamist groups recruited by the CIA and Saudi Arabia to fight in Syria against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. These forces have been linked to atrocities, particularly against the many non-Sunni minorities in Syria: Alawites (a variant of Shiism), Kurds, and Christians. After being abandoned by their American patrons, the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia has sought aid from the Assad regime, Russia and Iran against the invasion by Turkish armed forces, which began two weeks ago. Direct fighting between Turkish and Kurdish forces was halted Friday under a 120-hour “pause” agreed between Turkish President Recip Tayyep Erdogan and US Vice President Mike Pence on October 17. The “pause” ends this morning and a resumption of violence is widely expected. While Trump has sought to strike a phony antiwar posture with his pullout order, the US troops leaving Syria will not actually return to the United States. The Pentagon confirmed over the weekend that all 1,000 US troops ordered to leave northeast Syria would move into western Iraq, mainly in Anbar province. It is not clear whether the Iraqi government has yet given approval to this deployment, since the 5,000 American troops now in that country is the maximum level under the current agreement between Baghdad and Washington. Since May, Trump has sent 14,000 more American troops to the Middle East, mainly as part of his campaign of threats against Iran. Earlier this month, he ordered another 3,000 US troops deployed to Saudi Arabia to protect Saudi oil fields from an alleged Iranian threat. Monday saw the latest twist in White House policy, with reports that 200 US Special Forces operatives will remain in Syria, mainly to protect the country’s oil fields, which are in territory the Kurdish forces seized from ISIS during the bloody struggle of 2014-2018. Trump hinted at the decision in a tweet in which he boasted, “We have secured the Oil.”

 Exiting U.S. troops scorned; Syrian Kurds lob potatoes, jeer at force -- Heckled by Kurds who feel betrayed, a long convoy of U.S. troops crossed into Iraq early Monday, accelerating a withdrawal of American forces from northern Syria that set the stage for the Turkish invasion of Kurdish-controlled land.Residents threw rocks and potatoes at the convoy as it drove through Qamishli, a major city in Kurdish-held territory. In video posted online by a local Kurdish news outlet, ANHA Hawar, men hurling potatoes at an armored vehicle shouted "No America" and "America liar" in English. Another group tried to block the convoy's progress by standing in its path and holding placards of protest."The Americans are running away like rats," one man could be heard shouting.President Donald Trump's withdrawal of American troops from the region, which cleared the way for Turkey to attack Kurdish forces, has prompted Republicans and Democrats alike to accuse him of abandoning a U.S. ally. A coalition of Syrian Kurdish fighters, Americans and other foreign troops had fought the Islamic State in northeastern Syria since 2014.Defense Secretary Mark Esper confirmed Monday that the United States was considering keeping a small force in northeastern Syria, alongside the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, to prevent oil fields there from falling into the hands of the Islamic State. About 1,000 American troops were in Syria before the withdrawal began this month. The New York Times reported that Trump was leaning toward leaving about 200 troops there.

Iraq says U.S. forces withdrawing from Syria have no approval to stay - (Reuters) - U.S. forces that crossed into Iraq as part of a pull-out from Syria do not have permission to stay and can only be there in transit, the Iraqi military said on Tuesday.  U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said, however, that Washington aimed eventually to bring the troops withdrawing from Syria back to the United States. The Iraqi military statement contradicted the Pentagon’s announcement that all of the nearly 1,000 troops withdrawing from northern Syria are expected to move to western Iraq to continue the campaign against Islamic State militants and to help defend Iraq. “All U.S. forces that withdrew from Syria received approval to enter the Kurdistan Region so that they may be transported outside Iraq. There is no permission granted for these forces to stay inside Iraq,” the Iraqi military said. Esper said the details had not yet been worked out on how long the U.S. troops would stay in Iraq and he would be having discussions with his Iraqi counterpart on Wednesday. It is unclear whether the U.S. troops will use Iraq as a base to launch ground raids into Syria and carry out air strikes against Islamic State militants.

The Weapons America Is Leaving Behind in Syria -- Less than a week after President Donald Trump formally ordered the U.S. military to withdraw the majority of its forces from Syria, the Pentagon carried out an unusual mission in the northeastern part of the country. A pair of F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jets delivered a precision airstrike, not to protect a joint U.S.-Turkish patrol on the border or bomb an ISIS haven back to the Stone Age, but to destroy a major U.S. ammo cache housed in a former cement factory that had been converted into a U.S. special operations base and Kurdish training camp. The stated reason: to “reduce the facility’s military usefulness.”  This unusual mission underscores the logistical nightmares wrought by a hasty U.S. military withdrawal from the country. Military sources have told reporters that the sortie, which costroughly $23,000 per hour per aircraft, was ordered “because the cargo trucks required to safely remove the ammo are needed elsewhere to support the withdrawal.” Army Colonel Myles Caggins, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Syria and Iraq, tried to play the incident off as routine, saying that “blowing the ammo was part of the plan,” but Brett McGurk, aformer U.S. envoy to the multinational alliance, tweeted that the mission constituted an “emergency ‘break glass’ evacuation procedure reserved for an extreme worst-case scenario.”McGurk isn’t wrong. “Trying to destroy munitions from the sky like this does not work as well as air planners think,” John Ismay, a New York Timesreporter and former Navy explosive ordnance disposal officer, tweeted. “Some of the weapons you hit will detonate sympathetically, sure. For the rest, you’ve blown open secure storage and made it available to anyone with a pickup truck.”It’s that latter prospect that should be concerning. In 2017, Trump shuttered a CIA program to arm and equip Syrian rebels, and the weapons and ammo left behind may have helped spur what one researcher on the ground has called an “industrial revolution in terrorism”—and in the midst of Trump’s hasty about-face in northern Syria, even more powerful U.S. munitions stand poised to fall into enemy hands.

Iran rejects Turkey's establishing of military posts in Syria: TV – Reuters - Iran rejects Turkey’s establishing of military posts inside Syria, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Monday, adding that the integrity of Tehran’s key regional ally should be respected. “We are against Ankara’s establishing of military posts in Syria ... The issues should be resolved by diplomatic means ... Syria’s integrity should be respected,” Mousavi told a weekly news conference, broadcast live on state TV. On Thursday, Turkey agreed in talks with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence to a five-day pause in an offensive into northeastern Syria, to allow time for the Kurdish fighters to withdraw from a “safe zone” Ankara aims to establish near its border with Syria. Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that Ankara would press on with its offensive into northeastern Syria and “crush the heads of terrorists” if a deal with Washington on the withdrawal of Kurdish fighters from the area was not fully implemented. A close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Iran has offered to engage Syrian Kurds, Syria’s government and Turkey in talks to establish security along the Turkish-Syrian border following Turkey’s military incursion into northern Syria to fight Kurdish forces.

"We Have Hours Left": Turkish Ceasefire On Edge Of Collapse As Erdogan Gives Kurds Hours To Flee Territory - The Turkish lira has started to slide again... .. as last week's ceasefire between Turkey, northern Syria and its Kurdish inhabitants - which has just over 24 hours to go - now appears in jeopardy. On Monday, Turkey gave Kurdish fighters until Tuesday night to leave a narrow strip of territory in northeastern Syria or face becoming targets, setting aside its demand for the militia to withdraw from a much larger “safe zone.” "We have hours left," Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a forum organized by state-run TRTWorld television in Istanbul on Monday. "If they don’t withdraw, our operation will start. This is our agreement with the U.S." As Bloomberg notes, citing a senior Turkish military official said, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces must exit the 120-kilometer (75-mile) area between the Syrian border towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn by 10 p.m. local time on Tuesday. While Turkey still wants the Kurds to withdraw from a swath of frontier territory more than 440 km long and 32 km deep, it recognizes that won’t happen before the expiry of a 120-hour truce negotiated by the U.S. last week, said the official who also ruled out any extension of the deadline for withdrawal from a 120-kilometer long frontier. The clarification over the parameters of the truce on Monday followed threats by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to restart the offensive if the militants do not pull back from the area. Turkey’s immediate goal is to clear the 120-kilometer strip and so far 125 vehicles have left the area and that the effort to implement the deal was closely coordinated with the U.S., the official said, adding that Turkey plans to set up observation points, including combat units, in the area; he also said that control over the 120- kilometer strip would belong to the Turkish Air Force but that it would take time to fully make sure that the area is cleared from the militants.

Evidence found of war crimes during Turkish offensive in Syria, says U.S. official (Reuters) - President Donald Trump’s special envoy for Syria said on Wednesday that U.S. forces had seen evidence of war crimes during Turkey’s offensive against the Kurds in Syria, and had demanded an explanation from Ankara. “We haven’t seen widespread evidence of ethnic cleansing,” said James Jeffrey, special representative for Syria, at a House of Representatives hearing.“Many people fled because they’re very concerned about these Turkish-supported Syrian opposition forces, as we are. We’ve seen several incidents which we consider war crimes,” Jeffrey said. He said U.S. officials were looking into those reports and at “a high-level” had demanded an explanation from Turkey’s government. He also said U.S. officials were investigating a report that the restricted burning white phosphorus had been used during the Turkish offensive.Jeffrey and Matthew Palmer, a deputy assistant secretary of state who handles issues including relations with Turkey, spent a second straight day testifying in the U.S. Congress.

Iraqi Kurds turn to Zoroastrianism as faith, identity entwine - In a ceremony at an ancient, ruined temple in northern Iraq, Faiza Fuad joined a growing number of Kurds who are leaving Islam to embrace the faith of their ancestors -- Zoroastrianism. Years of violence by the Islamic State jihadist group have left many disillusioned with Islam, while a much longer history of state oppression has pushed some in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region to see the millennia-old religion as a way of reasserting their identity. "After Kurds witnessed the brutality of IS, many started to rethink their faith," said Asrawan Qadrok, the faith's top priest in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region. During Fuad's conversion ritual in Darbandikhan, near the Iranian border, a high priest and his assistants wore white clothes representing purity and recited verses from the Zoroastrian holy book, the Avesta. They knotted a cord three times around Fuad's waist to symbolise the faith's core values of good words, good thoughts and good deeds. The newcomer raised her hand and swore to abide by those three values and to protect nature, respecting water, air, fire, earth, animals and humans. "I feel very happy and refreshed," Fuad said, adorned with her Farawahar necklace, a powerful spiritual symbol given to her by the high priest. She said she had been studying Zoroastrianism for a long time and was drawn to its philosophy, which "makes life easy". "It is all about wisdom and philosophy. It serves mankind and nature," she said.

Assad Is Now Syria’s Best-Case Scenario - President Donald Trump is taking considerable flak for his impulsive decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria. He deserves it because it is hard to imagine a more inept or ill-considered response to the imbroglio he inherited there. But let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture: U.S. policy toward Syria has been a failure for years, and the American strategy—if that word is even appropriate—was rife with contradictions and unlikely to produce a significantly better outcome no matter how long the United States stayed. (For a good brief summary of “how we got here,” see Max Fisher’s piece in the New York Times.) As depressing as it is to write this sentence, the best course of action today is for President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to regain control over northern Syria. Assad is a war criminal whose forces killed more than half a million of his compatriots and produced several million refugees. In a perfect world, he would be on trial at The Hague instead of ruling in Damascus. But we do not live in a perfect world, and the question we face today is how to make the best of a horrible situation. A serious diplomatic effort would require the United States to work with each of the other interested parties, but Washington far too high-minded for that. It won’t work with Russia because it’s angry about Ukraine; it won’t talk to Assad because he’s a war criminal; and it won’t deal with Iran because it’s still hoping “maximum pressure” will cause the clerical regime to collapse or convince it to say “uncle” on the nuclear issue and its regional conduct. In the meantime, it has to send more troops to Saudi Arabia because Trump’s maximum pressure campaign has increased the risk of war, belying the president’s pledge to draw down the U.S. military presence in the region. The bottom line: The solution to the situation in Syria is to acknowledge Assad’s victory and work with the other interested parties to stabilize the situation there. Unfortunately, that sensible if unsavory approach is anathema to the foreign-policy “Blob”—Democrats and Republicans alike—and its members are marshaling the usual tired arguments to explain why it’s all Trump’s fault and the United States should never have withdrawn a single soldier.

How Much Oil Is At Stake In Syria? - Trump is mulling keeping a small US troop contingency in Syria in order to "secure the oil".   The president said at a cabinet meeting Monday: “I always said if you’re going in, keep the oil,” the WSJ reported. “We’ll work something out with the Kurds so that they have some money, so that they have some cash flow. Maybe we’ll get one of our big oil companies to go in and do it properly.” In response, former special presidential anti-ISIL envoy Brett McGurk, who served under both the Obama and Trump administrations, stated the obvious: “Oil, like it or not, is owned by the Syrian state,” he said Monday. “Maybe there are new lawyers, but it was just illegal for an American company to go and seize and exploit these assets." Obviously the US doesn't "need" Syrian oil, but would utilize seized oil and gas fields as part of its continued campaign of economic strangulation against Damascus and Tehran. But the question remains: how much oil is actually at stake in Syria?  Total reserves are estimated at 2.5 Billion barrels and at least 75% of these reserves are in the fields surrounding Deir Al Zor. Current revenue from oil sales goes to the [US-backed] SDF, currently estimated at $10 million a month. These revenues are expected to rise should U.S. help in modernizing current fields. SDF can then sell the oil to Damascus and/or Kurdistan in Iraq which will in turn sell to Turkey. Turkey's current oil consumption is about 1 million barrels a day. Syria's reserves are 2.5 billion barrels and daily production can be quickly increased to approximately 300K barrels a day.  The SDF can therefore look to supply at least one-fifth of Turkey’s needs via Iraq. Turkey will also look to obtain direct access to Syria's Rumeilan oil field in the northeast should it complete its seizing of the North-East zone. Between them, Ankara and the SDF (with protection of U.S military) can soon control up to 90 percent of Syria's 2.5 billion oil reserves. Syria's 2.5 billion barrels in oil reserves are rather “negligible” compared to say Saudi Arabia, with oil reserves at around 268 billion barrels (over 100 times that of Syria). Note that the SDF is currently selling Syria’s oil at around $30 per barrel.

Putin, Erdogan Strike Deal on Joint Patrols of the Syria Border - Russia and Turkey struck a deal on an operation to secure a buffer zone in northern Syria, including joint patrols and coordinated action with Syrian forces to remove Kurdish fighters from the area. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan emerged from more than six hours of talks on Tuesday to announce the agreement, which they said would begin at noon on Wednesday. “We’ve signed a historic memorandum with Putin for the territorial and political integrity of Syria and the return of refugees,” Erdogan said at a joint news conference in Russia’s Sochi. They reached “crucial” decisions that will help “resolve the rather acute situation that has developed on the Syrian-Turkish border,” Putin said. The announcement came hours before the expiration of a five-day cease-fire that the U.S. arranged between Turkey and Kurdish forces known as the YPG. While Erdogan brands the group terrorists, the Kurdish soldiers fought alongside American troops against the Islamic State in Syria. “The Sochi agreement includes articles upholding Turkey’s border security and withdrawal of YPG terrorist elements 30 kilometers away from our border,” Turkey’s Defense Ministry said in a statement early Wednesday. “At this stage, there is no further need to conduct a new operation outside the present operation area.” Turkey has warned it would target any remaining Kurdish YPG militants at the expiration of the pause in the “Peace Spring Operation” between the border towns of Ras al-Ayn and Tal Abyad. Erdogan said the U.S. hasn’t kept all its promises and Turkey would take necessary steps, CNNTurk television reported. U.S. officials said the cease-fire mostly held and that they hoped it would become permanent. Vice President Mike Pence’s office said in a statement that the leader of the Kurdish YPG militia sent him a letter confirming his forces met their obligations and “have withdrawn from the relevant area of operations.”

Turkey and Russia Agree to Create ‘Safe Zone’ in Syria — Turkey and Russia have reached an agreement that will see the withdrawal of Syrian-Kurdish forces from areas along the Turkish border, a move that comes after thousands were displaced in a Turkish offensive in northern Syria. In a joint statement released on Tuesday, the countries said that fighters belonging to the predominantly Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia would pull back about 30km from the Turkish border.  Speaking after a meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said joint Russian-Turkish patrols are also expected to take place in northern Syrian within 10km of the border. Those patrols, which are set to begin at noon local time (09.00 GMT) on Wednesday, aim “to facilitate the removal of YPG elements and their weapons”, the statement said. Last week, Turkey agreed to pause its offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria at Washington’s behest, giving time for the YPG to clear out of the Turkish-Syrian border region. Ankara launched its assault there two weeks ago after Washington announced it would withdraw its forces from the area, a move widely seen as an abandonment of its Syrian-Kurdish allies who had previously led the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group. Ankara views the YPG an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state and is designated as a terrorist group by several countries. “The main aim of the operation is to take out PKK/YPG terror organisations from the area and to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees,” Erdogan said on Tuesday at a joint news conference with Putin.Erdogan also said that YPG forces will leave the towns of Tel Rifaat and Manbij.   “This operation also guarantees Syria’s territorial integrity and political unity… We never had any interest in Syria’s land and sovereignty,” the Turkish president added.

Russian Forces Deploy at Syrian Border, Threaten Kurdish Fighters With Being 'Streamrolled' by Turkey — Russian military police began patrols on part of the Syrian border Wednesday, quickly moving to implement an accord with Turkey that divvies up control of northeastern Syria. The Kremlin told Kurdish fighters to pull back from the entire frontier or else face being “steamrolled” by Turkish forces. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan echoed those warnings, saying his military would resume its offensive against Kurdish fighters if the new arrangements are not carried out. Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin reached an agreement Tuesday that would transform the map of northeast Syria, installing their forces along the border and filling the void left by the abrupt withdrawal of American troops. The Kurdish fighters, who once relied on the U.S. forces as protection from Turkey, were given a deadline of next Tuesday evening to pull back from border areas they have not already left. Iraq, meanwhile, closed the door on the U.S. military’s attempt to keep the troops leaving Syria on its soil. Iraqi Defense Minister Najah al-Shammari told The Associated Press that those troops were only “transiting” Iraq and would leave within four weeks, heading either to Kuwait, Qatar or the United States. Al-Shammari spoke after meeting U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who earlier this week had said the American forces from Syria would remain in Iraq to fight the Islamic State group. Iraqi’s military quickly said they did not have permission to do so. The clumsy reversal underscored the blow to U.S. influence on the ground in the wake of President Donald Trump’s order for U.S. troops to leave Syria. Those forces were allied to the Kurdish-led fighters for five years in the long and bloody campaign that brought down the Islamic State group in Syria. Now a significant swath of the territory they captured is being handed over to U.S. rivals, and the Kurds have been stung at being abandoned by their allies to face the Turkish invasion launched on Oct. 9.

Russian police deploy in Syria's Kobani, Trump calls ceasefire 'permanent' - (Reuters) - Russian military police started to deploy on Syria’s northeast border on Wednesday under a deal with Turkey to drive out Kurdish fighters, marking Moscow’s deepening influence in the region two weeks after the United States pulled out forces. Turkey announced that its offensive against the Kurdish forces was over, and U.S. President Donald Trump said the ceasefire brokered last week was now permanent and that he was lifting all sanctions imposed on Ankara. The balance of power in Syria’s eight year-long bloody civil war has shifted significantly in dizzying twists and turns since Trump withdrew U.S. special forces on Oct. 6, allowing Turkish troops to sweep in to attack Washington’s former Kurdish allies. Turkey ‘paused’ its offensive last week under a U.S.-brokered deal which called for Kurdish YPG fighters to withdraw, and then secured Russian support this week for a wider deal requiring the YPG’s removal from the whole northeast border. The police arrival in Kobani on Wednesday marked the start of a mission by Russian and Syrian security forces to push the YPG at least 30 km (19 miles) into Syria under an accord reached on Tuesday by Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan. It also seals the return of Russia’s ally President Bashar al-Assad’s forces along the northeastern border for the first time in years. In an address from the White House, Trump said on Wednesday the United States was immediately lifting the sanctions it had imposed on Turkish officials and ministries in response to the cross-border assault.

Exclusive: U.S. Has Plan to Send Tanks and Troops to ‘Secure’ Syria Oil Fields Amid Withdrawal - The United States has drawn up a plan to send troops and tanks to guard Syria's eastern oil fields amid a withdrawal from the country's north, Newsweek has learned. A senior Pentagon official told Newsweek Wednesday that the United States is seeking—pending White House approval—to deploy half of an Army armored brigade combat team battalion that includes as many as 30 Abrams tanks alongside personnel to eastern Syria, where lucrative oil fields are under the control of a mostly Kurdish force involved in the U.S.-led fight against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). The Pentagon-backed militia, called the Syrian Democratic Forces and dominated by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), will continue to be involved in securing these oil fields, the official said. The news comes as other U.S. troops exited territories elsewhere under Syrian Democratic Forces control, where NATO ally Turkey sought to neutralize YPG influence using allied Syrian insurgents. The Turkish operation was halted, however, by a U.S. deal limiting the incursion to a roughly 20-mile "safe zone"—a move President Donald Trump credited with saving "thousands" as he fulfilled his desire to remove U.S. soldiers from the war-torn country at the same time. The president did, however, suggest Wednesday he would keep troops in the small southwestern garrison of Al-Tanf, as well as across crucial oil fields once seized by Syrian insurgents and, later ISIS, before being claimed by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. "We've secured the oil and, therefore, a small number of U.S. troops will remain in the area, where they have the oil," Trump said at the White House. "And we're going to be protecting it, and we'll be deciding what we're going to do with it in the future." The U.S. initially joined Turkey in backing the rebels and jihadis trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but later switched its support to the Syrian Democratic Forces as defeating ISIS became a priority. With ISIS largely defeated and Assad empowered by Iran and Russia, the U.S. expanded its mission to limiting its adversaries' influence in the country. The official told Newsweek that the new tank deployment would have a combined purpose of keeping ISIS, as well as the Syrian government, Iran and their allied militias away from the eastern oil fields.

Syria Says Turkish-Led Forces Attacked and Killed Its Troops — Turkish forces and their allies attacked Syrian government troops in northeastern Syria on Thursday, killing some of them, and they also clashed with Kurdish-led fighters, the state news agency in Damascus and a war monitoring group said. The fighting underscored the risks of violence as multiple and often opposing armed forces jostle for new positions in the tight quarters of the northeastern border zone. Most worrisome has been the prospect of a collision between forces of the Syrian government’ and those backed by Turkey, which include Syrian rebel fighters and Islamic extremists opposed to President Bashar Assad. All sides have said they are abiding by a cease-fire as they implement a Russian-Turkish agreement that divides up the border region. But frictions could undermine the effort for a resolution on the border, which U.S. forces were abruptly ordered to leave earlier this month, allowing Turkey to launch its invasion against Kurdish fighters. Syria’s state-run SANA news agency said Turkish troops and its allied fighters attacked Syrian army positions outside the town of Tal Tamr. The Syrian troops fought back and suffered “martyrs and wounded,” without elaborating.

Car Bombs Rock Northern Syria After Hundreds Of ISIS Prisoners Escape -  On Thursday a car bomb detonated in the town of Tal Abyad, wounding several Turkish-backed Syrian fighters outside their militia headquarters, following at least three other similar blasts this week, which targeted various groups fighting in northeast Syria.The AP reports "There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing" and confirmed that "Similar bombings have taken place in the past in another enclave held for several years by Turkey and its Syrian allies on the northwest part of the border." Multiple civilian casualties have been reported in each case. This sudden spate of mystery bomb attacks in heavily trafficked civilian areas suggests a resurgent ISIS could already be at work, after this month's Turkish invasion of Syrian Kurdish areas has resulted in mass ISIS prison breaks in the region.  On Wednesday President Trump’s Special Representative for Syria Engagement, James Jeffrey, revealed in Congressional testimony that over 100 Islamic State terrorists previously held in Kurdish prisons are now on the loose. Defense Secretary Mark Esper also confirmed the number in a CNN interview, but tried to downplay it as less than expected.  Exclusive: U.S. Defense Secretary @EsperDoD says that "of the 11,000 or so detainees that were in prisons in northeast Syria, we’ve only had reports of a little bit more than a hundred that have escaped... So right now we have not seen this big prison break that we all expected." pic.twitter.com/N4wcr3FJXv

Russia to present own Persian Gulf security doctrine till yearend – Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov has said that Moscow is trying to offer its Persian Gulf security doctrine within the framework of a completely internationally-accepted document till the end of 2019, the Persian language service of the Sputnik news agency reported on Wednesday. “Then, entire officials from related countries including Arab states, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, India and other beneficiary countries should reach an agreement over the Moscow-offered document.” He further said, “In case of reaching an agreement over the document, the entire nations in the very important region (of the Persian Gulf) will have peace of mind for exporting their crude to Japan, the Far East and China.” Bogdanov stated that the Russian Foreign Ministry embarked on preparing the country’s security doctrine for the Persian Gulf in June, adding, “One of the suggested policies stipulated in the document will be preventing establishment of any trans-regional military base in the region.” Bogdanov went on to say that the draft document has been handed over to representatives of Arab countries, Iran, Turkey, the five permanent members of the UNSC, the European Union, the Arab League and BRICS nations.

The Putin-Erdogan Deal Poses a Challenge to the West - Vladimir Putin is in the brokerage business. The deal on northern Syria that Russian President Vladimir Putin hammered out with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday serves as a perfect advertisement for the service Putin is offering authoritarians around the world, but primarily in the Middle East and Africa. Ever since Putin intervened on President Bashar Al-Assad’s side in 2015, he has used the Syrian conflict as the shop window for the new international role he sees for Russia. Based on Russia’s behavior in Syria, a situation that defies the very idea of long-term alliances and adversarial relationships, these principles are:

  • Incumbents should hold on to power. No regime change from the outside.
  • Every party with a legitimate interest should get something. There are no permanent red lines.
  • Russia will work with anyone who wants to work with Russia.
  • Russia will only get involved when it can get something out of the situation.
  • Russia won’t get involved when threatened with overwhelming force or heavy losses.

. A player who intervenes on these terms may not appear valuable to anyone except threatened rulers such as Assad. But a big outside power without any lasting commitments is often a necessary element in talks between parties that hate and distrust each other. It can be a calming influence even if it provides few implicit guarantees.The Russian commitment, meanwhile, is minimal. Russian military police will take part in the various patrols, but that doesn’t represent a major change. These forces have been present in Syria all along, guarding the Russian naval and air force bases, helping Assad maintain order in recaptured territories and providing security for various humanitarian corridors and convoys. Take the Putin-Erdogan deal. It gives Turkey de facto control of the territory it already has invaded in Syria, despite previous Russian statements that Turkey’s invasion violates the country’s territorial integrity. Turkey also gets an opportunity to resettle some of its more than 3.5 million unwanted Syrian refugees back on Syrian territory. But Assad, who has called Erdogan a “thief” for his incursion, gets something too: His border guards get to patrol the rest of the Syrian-Turkish border, which the Kurds earlier prevented them from doing. The Kurds aren’t forgotten, either. While the deal requires them to pull back their armed forces 30 kilometers from the Turkish border, Russia and Turkey will jointly patrol only a 10 kilometer-wide strip. As long as they can coexist with the Assad regime, Russia won’t help Assad crush them, and the Kurds will have bought safety from further Turkish attacks and keep most of the territory currently under their control

Dozens killed as fierce anti-government protests sweep Iraq - Renewed anti-government demonstrations in Iraq have gripped the capital, Baghdad, and swept through several other cities in the country's south, leaving at least 30 people dead, according to the country's human rights commission and a monitor. The protests on Friday came three weeks after an earlier bout of rallies erupted as a result of widespread anger at official corruption, mass unemployment and failing public services. More than 150 people were killed during those demonstrations amid a crackdown by security forces. Iraqi police fired rubber bullets and volleys of tear gas canisters in response to the fresh protests, with at least 30 deaths recorded in Baghdad and the southern provinces of Basra, Maysan, Dhi Qar and Muthanna, according to the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights. Iraq's semi-official Human Rights Commission also put the death toll at 30, and said more than 2,000 protesters had been wounded. Al Jazeera's Natasha Ghoneim, reporting from Baghdad, described the bloody unrest as "a continuation" of the events of early October, saying officials had failed to address the exasperation fuelling Iraq's unfolding political crisis. "Though the government has in the intervening weeks said it will implement reforms and said the people responsible for killing protesters would be held accountable, that has done nothing to tamp down the anger that people feel," Ghoneim said. "People here are living under a crushing amount of poverty ... [and] protesters say they want the government gone," she added.

40 Killed, 1,000 Wounded In One Day As Violent Protests Sweep Across Iraq - A surge in violent clashes with police marked another deadly week of protests in Iraq, after two weeks ago over 150 were killed and over 6,000 wounded nationwide when the large-scale demonstrations began. On Friday over 40 protesters were killed in clashes with police, and according to security sources cited in Reuters, an "Iranian-backed militia opened fire to try to quell renewed demonstrations."Iraq's human rights commission (IHCHR) further noted that nearly 1,000 people were wounded in Friday's clashes, the majority of them protesters angry at widespread corruption, economic hardship, and failing public services. IHCHR also said over 2,000 people were injured nationwide, which also saw police using tear gas and rubber bullets, with widespread reports of security forces possibly continuing to use live fire.Officials in Baghdad have admitted since the outbreak of protests two weeks ago that security forces used a "heavy-handed" response when they initially tried to disperse the crowds which had taken over a number of major cities. At least 40 protesters were killed in Iraq on Friday when security forces used tear gas and an Iranian-backed militia opened fire to try to quell demonstrations against corruption and economic hardship https://t.co/z0PW8tHLs6 pic.twitter.com/GVRKK4t0ew  — Reuters (@Reuters) October 26, 2019Western media has also pointed to "Iran-backed militias" and even snipers responsible for the high death toll amid the protests. Concerning this latest round of clashes, Reuters reports as follows of the pro-Iran factions:In the south, at least nine protesters were killed when members of the Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) militia opened fire on protesters who tried to set fire to the group’s office in the city of Nasiriya, according to security sources.  Eight people were killed in Amara city, including six protesters, one AAH member and one intelligence officer, police sources said. Three protesters were killed in oil-rich Basra, one in Hilla, and one in Samawa, security sources said.Starting in early October police admitted they had "lost control" of the situation and large-scale demonstrations escalated

US Eases Regulations On Iran Food & Medicine Sales To Help The Iranian People -- Is a humane softening of US sanctions on Iran currently in the works? A new US Treasury announcement suggests this is the case, as it is "taking steps to ease sales of food and medicine to Iran amid stringent sanctions imposed on the country by the Trump administration," according to the AP. Critics of Trump's far reaching sanctions after the May 2018 US pullout of the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), which especially hit the energy, banking, aviation, and auto sectors, have long argued the economic punitive measures have only served to make life miserable for the common populace, depriving people of outside food and medicine shipments, as well as safety-related technology, similar to the humanitarian crisis that unfolded in sanctioned Iraq under Saddam in the 1990's.  A new "humanitarian mechanism" will seek to ensure crucial aid can still get inside the country. An official statement on the treasury website announced Friday morning:This mechanism will help the international community perform enhanced due diligence on humanitarian trade to ensure that funds associated with permissible trade in support of the Iranian people are not diverted by the Iranian regime to develop ballistic missiles, support terrorism, or finance other malign activities.    It will seek to only allow "permissible trade" to support "the Iranian people" even while continuing to isolate the regime's political and military leadership.

Pompeo Tells Israel It Has Fundamental Right To Attack Iranian Targets In The Region - “Our administration’s been very clear,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive Friday interview, published on Sunday. “Israel has the fundamental right to engage in activity that ensures the security of its people. It’s at the very core of what nation-states not only have the right to do, but an obligation to do.”Immediately after assisting Vice President Mike Pence in negotiating a Syria ceasefire with Turkey in Ankara on Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo headed to Israel. He told the Israeli newspaper in the interview that the ceasefire deal with Erdogan "saved lives". However, with American troops now exiting Syria, the question of potential Iranian expansion and Israel's security was focus of his statements.“We know this is a corner where Iran has attempted to move weapon systems across into Syria, into Lebanon, that threatens Israel, and we are going to do everything we can to make sure we have the capacity to identify those so that we can, collectively, respond appropriately,” Pompeo explained in the interview. The interview followed a two hour meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mossad chief Yossi Cohen on Friday morning. Netanyahu has long urged Washington to stay the course in Syria, rather than allow Assad and the Syrian Army to retake the country.“I think the Israeli people should stare at the probably starkest change this administration has made in foreign policy vis-a-vis what the previous administration has done – the toughest sanctions we’ve ever put,” Pompeo continued to The Jerusalem Post.“Sanctions that will be sufficient to decrease the scope and size of the Iranian economy by over 12% this next year. That’s serious stuff. We do this because this denies resources from Iran to do assassination campaigns in Europe, missile systems and infrastructure technology advancement, underwriting Hezbollah, Shia militias around the word. We have materially reduced their capacity to engage in those behaviors.”However, it appears what he calls th e "serious stuff" of sanctions is not going to satisfy the Israelis, given Tel Aviv will lobby the Pentagon to keep a troop contingent inside Iran-ally Syria, likely at al-Tanf on the Iraq-Syria border.

Israel and Gulf States Are Going Public With Their Relationship The Arab states of the Persian Gulf still don’t formally recognize Israel, and most have nominally maintained an economic boycott against it since before it was even a country. Even so, the business ties and warming diplomatic relations between the Jewish state and its neighbors in the Gulf have been an open secret for years. Those ties will be unveiled with fanfare next October when Israel opens its pavilion at the World Expo in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates’ largest city. Participating is like setting up an embassy that will last only six months: Close coordination between Israel and its host will be required on myriad and mundane tasks, including hiring builders and planning ancillary events. It may seem like a substance-free event, but Israel’s presence among the more than 190 other countries is a clear sign of the Middle East’s changing geopolitical picture. Israel’s participation in the expo has been made possible in part by shifting regional priorities, namely the emphasis on confronting Iran for countries such as the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia. Those states also want the enhanced international standing that hosting global events brings, as well as access to Israeli technology. Meanwhile, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, long one of the region’s most pressing issues, has fallen from the top of leaders’ agendas. The promised release of the White House’s “Deal of the Century” peace plan could crystallize the changing dynamics. That said, Israel remains a sensitive issue across the Arab world. While the international body that coordinates the World Expo said it’s up to host nations to invite other countries, the U.A.E. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation referred questions about Israel’s participation to event organizers. Expo 2020 Dubai spokesman David Bishop says it’s an “apolitical event” and “the real significance is not about the participation of any single country, it’s about the U.A.E. living up to its obligations when hosting global mega-events.” The Palestinians will also have a pavilion at the expo; for them, Israel’s participation is a similarly thorny issue. They’re vigilant for any sign of distance between them and their Arab allies, but also haven’t vocally criticized Israel’s participation, dependent as they are on aid and goodwill from the Gulf states.

Lebanon protests: All the latest updates -Al Jazeera - A nationwide general strike has been called acrossLebanon for Monday as protests, demanding an end to economic woes and perceived government corruption, are set to continue for a fifth day.Protests have grown steadily across the country since people took to the streets on Thursday in response to a proposed tax on WhatsApp calls and other messaging services. The call for a strike has come despite pledges of reforms by Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the resignation of government ministers on Sunday. Lama Fakih, the director of the Crisis and Conflict Division at Human Rights Watch, warned on Monday that there is a "trust and accountability deficit" in Lebanon due to "the government’s perennial failure to hold officials and other perpetrators to account despite credible allegations of abuse and misconduct".Fakih, citing a history of alleged human rights abuses, added that protesters are right to doubt the government's promised reforms unless there is a "genuine commitment to accountability for abuses". Banks in Lebanon will remain closed on Tuesday, according to a statement from the Lebanese banking association, circulated on the National News Agency.The statement said the association was waiting for calm to be restored. On Monday, banks, schools and local businesses were shuttered as protests entered their fifth day.  Protesters gathered in the main Martyr's Square and throughout Beirut listened to Prime Minister Hariri's announcement on loud speakers."Revolution, revolution," chanted many of those gathered when he finished, according to the AFP news agency. "We want the fall of the regime," they continued. Maya Mhana, a teacher, listened to the speech in central Beirut with other protesters."We are remaining in the streets, we don't believe a single word he said," Mhana told the Associated Press news agency. Read more here.

I don’t blame the Lebanese rioters setting Beirut alight – they are hungry, poor and furious  Robert Fisk - For the most part, the men lighting these fires belonged to theAmal Movement, the Shia group controlled by Nabih Berri, the speaker of the Lebanese parliament. Or so they told me, and I did not argue about it.This tells it own story. Some were very poor, and looked it, and I don’t really blame them for their actions. Lebanon has never been a very rich nation – save for their Sunni merchants and Christian bankers – and these were the people who did not have enough to eat. For days, they had been protesting their fate. The Lebanese pound had fallen, the price of food had rocketed – all true, I promise you – and they protested.I was not surprised, yet there was something new and surprising about this. All this week, the mountains of Lebanon have burnt. Their great glory of pine trees and wonderful mountainsides have blossomed with flames. The government’s three anti-fire helicopters lay rotting at Beirut international airport – the government did not maintain them – and it needed Greece, Cyprus and Jordan to send its aircraft to quench the burning hills. My own apartment on the Beirut seafront stank of smoke. On Wednesday night, God visited Lebanon – he does come here occasionally, I have decided – and drenched the country in rain and tempest. On Thursday morning, my balcony was covered in sand and ash. But there is something far more serious going on here. The physical rage of Lebanese people is not just a militia outburst. It’s not because ordinary people are hungry – and they are – but because an unjust system (ever more taxes, ever higher prices) is making it impossible to work to bring home money and food.Let me ask just one small question. On the corniche seafront where I live – the Avenue de Paris, as the French mandate decided it should be called in the 1920s – almost every apartment block is empty. Save for those who share the small bloc where I live, there is nothing but darkness. You can drive downtown from here, for miles to the centre of Beirut, and you will not find a light. These buildings are owned as investments – by Iraqis, for the most part, but also by Syrians and Saudis – and no one lives there. In a country where the poor of the Beqaa Valley and the refugees from Syria and the Palestinian refugees (of whom of course we no longer speak, since they are the wreckage of the Israeli state) exist in shacks, these mighty sentinels of cash stand triumphant: empty, rich and shameful. So I fear we shall have more burning tyres on the road.

'WhatsApp Revolution' Protests In Lebanon Turn Violent With Fires, Road Blocks; Multiple Dead & Wounded - Lebanon erupted in large-scale 'Arab Spring' style protests starting Thursday night into Friday, marked by number of massive fires and makeshift roadblocks which could be seen going up in Beirut, in what international reports are calling the biggest cross-sectarian anti-government uprising in years. At least two bystanders have died, one protester killed, and over 60 police wounded. The protests were reportedly triggered based on the announcement of a legislative bill to tax people $6 a month for using the popular WhatApp messaging platform, but have grown into broader demands that political leaders step aside over the country's worsening economic crisis and lack of jobs. For this reason Lebanese daily al-Akhbar dubbed the protests "the WhatsApp revolution" and with others calling it "a tax intifada". Chants could be heard in Arabic of "the people want the downfall of the regime" from crowds described as containing a broad cross-section of Lebanese society, whether Christian, Sunni or Shia. Police clashed with thousands of demonstrators in Beirut throughout Friday who lit tires on fire and in some cases charged government buildings and damaged shop-fronts."We're not here over WhatsApp - we're here over everything, fuel, food, bread, everything."Thousands have taken to the streets in Lebanon as anger grows over gov't tax plans amid an economic crisis in the country #اجا_وقت_نحاسب pic.twitter.com/JzMfLp9pom— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) October 18, 2019Multiple reports have put Lebanese unemployment among those aged under 35 at a staggering 3 7%.

Egypt building secret tunnels to take water out of country, says Mohamed Ali - The Egyptian government has laid secret tunnels under the Suez Canal to transport water to destinations almost certainly outside of Egypt despite the country’s crippling shortage, whistleblower Mohamed Ali told Middle East Eye.“Engineers who worked on these tunnels told me about them and said they had cost billions of dollars,” Ali told MEE from a secret location in Spain.Ali, who for years worked as a contractor for the Egyptian military and government, said his contacts in the construction business told him that there was a lack of infrastructure built around the tunnels, raising questions about the intended destination of the waters.“If this water is going to the Sinai, then why have they not begun establishing water treatment plants?” Ali asked.“That means the water is not going to Sinai, it is going to another place.”Population growth, mismanagement of resources and a lack of investment in water infrastructure have made Egypt one of the world’s most “water-stressed” countries, according to the United Nations.Egypt could run dry by 2025, the UN predicts.Once an insider who saw the military and government’s inner workings first-hand, Ali now lives in hiding and has become one of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s most prominent critics.Since early September, he has been firing off a volley of videos, alleging widespread graft at the hands of Sisi and other top officials. They have sparked furious anger against Sisi and in late September prompted the first major protests against his rule in years.

China doubles infrastructure approvals to stave off economic slowdown - The Chinese government has doubled the value of large-scale infrastructure projects it has approved so far this year compared with last year, as it steps up efforts to steady the flagging economy amid a bruising trade war with the United States. The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) has approved 21 projects, worth at least 764.3 billion yuan (US$107.8 billion), according to South China Morning Post calculations based on the state planner’s approval statements released between January and October this year.The amount is more than double the size of last year’s 374.3 billion yuan (US$52.8 billion) in approvals recorded over the same period, which included 11 projects such as railways, roads and airports.Three of the infrastructure projects approved by the NDRC have price tags over 100 billion yuan (US$14 billion), including the most expensive on the list – a new high-speed in southwest China, worth a total of 141.6 billion yuan (US$19.9 billion). Sichuan province has been given the green light to spend 131.8 billion yuan (US$18.4 billion) to build a new airport, while Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, will be allowed to spend 113.9 billion yuan (US$16 billion) to continue with the third phase of its urban rail transit network.

US trade war could impact China’s ability to build its first passenger jet - China’s efforts to build its first commercial passenger jet to compete with Airbus and Boeing could be adversely affected by the trade war with the United States as American suppliers of key components could be prevented from doing business in the mainland, one of the designers of the flagship C919 aircraft has warned.Yang Zhigang, who works for the state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac), also strongly denied a report published last week that it used widespread hacking and spying to steal technologies to develop the C919, calling the allegations “ridiculous” and “impossible”.“If the trade war continues and China puts our suppliers on an unreliable entity list [prohibiting them from doing business in China], it will surely affect us. For instance, we are using GE [Aviation] engines, and I don’t think China is able to produce engines that can replace GE ones,” Yang told the South China Morning Post. One potential casualty is Honeywell International,which supplies a number of components for the C919, including the electrical system and landing gear. Chinese official press suggested in July that the company could be banned because its components are used in some of the weapons systems included in the US government’s US$2 billion arms sale to Taiwan, a deal which Beijing strongly opposed.“A chosen supplier has often made modifications [to their product] according to our requirements, and if a chosen supplier [in the US] needs to be replaced by a European one or even a Chinese one, it will take a period of time,” Yang added.“For our suppliers, they have risks as well. [A trade ban] could force Comac to cultivate potential competitors to them.” The twin-engined single-aisle C919 can seat up to 168 passengers and is intended to compete against the Boeing 737 MAX and the Airbus A320neo, with the first commercial delivery scheduled in 2021 to China Eastern Airlines.

Rich Chinese outnumber wealthy Americans for first time, Credit Suisse says - The number of rich Chinese has surpassed the count of wealthy Americans for the first time as both countries keep churning out millionaires, a study by Credit Suisse showed. The Swiss bank's annual wealth survey released on Monday found 100 million Chinese ranked in the global top 10% as of the middle of this year versus 99 million in the United States. "Despite the trade tension between the United States and China over the past 12 months, both countries have fared strongly in wealth creation, contributing $3.8 trillion and $1.9 trillion respectively," The United States added more than half of this number -675,000 new millionaires - to its sizeable stock. A decline in average wealth in Australia -- largely due to exchange rates -- resulted in 124,000 fewer millionaires there, while Britain lost 27,000 and Turkey 24,000. The report estimates that 55,920 adults are worth at least $100 million and 4,830 have net assets above $500 million. It forecast global wealth -- which increased 2.6% over the past year -- would rise by 27% over the next five years to $459 trillion by 2024. The number of millionaires would also grow over this period to almost 63 million. The share of the world's bottom 90% accounts for 18% of global wealth, compared to 11% in the 2000. "While it is too early to say wealth inequality is now in a downward phase, the prevailing evidence suggests that 2016 may have been the peak for the near future," it said.

NO laughing matter! Hong Kong activists wear Joker and Winnie-the-Pooh masks as they form human chains in defiance of ban on face coverings Hong Kong demonstrators donned cartoon masks on Friday as they formed human chains around the city in defiance of a ban on face coverings at rallies. Gathering along the city's subway lines hand-in-hand, pro-democracy protesters masqueraded as characters including Winnie-the-Pooh, the Joker and Guy Fawkes. They held up their phone lights and chanted slogans calling for a 'revolution of our times' - a battle cry of the five-month-long movement which has shaken the Chinese city with violent confrontations between protesters and police. Hong Kong's protests began in June in opposition to a now-abandoned extradition bill, which would have allowed the transfer of accused criminals to mainland China.Over four months, the demonstrations evolved into a pro-democracy movement and an outlet for anger at social inequality in the Asian financial hub. Chinese internet users have joked that Chinese president Xi Jinping resembles AA Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh - leading the country's censors to scrub online references to it. Many protesters have been seen wearing masks of the character in an apparent effort to mock the leader. Fawkes masks have come to represent anti-government protests around the world.The protests were in opposition to the government's decision this month to invoke colonial-era emergency regulations banning face masks at rallies as it struggles to contain demonstrations.

As it happened: Hong Kong arson spree on stores such as Xiaomi, Best Mart 360 and Tong Ren Tang amid protests - An illegal march in Hong Kong has turned into another night of violence and wanton destruction in the city as protesters course down the major thoroughfare of Nathan Road, smashing up and burning MTR stations and shops with mainland Chinese links. A huge blaze engulfed a Xiaomi store in Mong Kok, while earlier petrol bombs were thrown into the exits of at least two MTR stations. Several other shops and restaurants, including branches of Best Mart 360 and Yoshinoya have been targeted. In response, police have deployed water cannon firing blue dye, a bomb disposal robot and rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets. Our blog below captured events as they unfolded.

Lawmakers express “deep concern” over Blizzard’s Hong Kong protest response  - A bipartisan group of Senate and House lawmakers has signed a letter expressing "deep concern" over Activision Blizzard's recent decision to punish Ng "Blitzchung" Wai Chung after the pro Hearthstone player expressed support for continuing Hong Kong protests last week. "This decision is particularly concerning in light of the Chinese government's growing appetite for pressuring American businesses to help stifle free speech," the letter reads, in part. Blizzard reinstates Hong Kong protestor’s prize, says “China had no influence”Blizzard originally banned the Hong Kong-based player for a year and withheld his prize money after he said "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!" in Chinese during the livestreamed event. That penalty was later reduced to a six-month suspension, and Chung's prize money was reinstated.But the letter, addressed to Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, urges Blizzard "in the strongest terms to reconsider your decision with respect to Mr. Chung. You have the opportunity to reverse course. We urge you to take it."The letter is signed by an unlikely group of legislators who often spar publicly on major legislative issues: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), and Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.).Elsewhere in the letter, the legislators cite an employee walkout in protest of Blizzard's decision and calls for boycotts of the company among "gamers around the world" as additional reasons for Blizzard to reverse itself. The letter also makes reference to similar decisions by Apple and the NBA to shut down apps and public discussion of the Hong Kong protests under Chinese pressure (decisions that have drawn their own congressional letters in turn).

Hong Kong legislature formally withdraws extradition bill that sparked mass protests - Hong Kong authorities today withdrew an unpopular extradition bill that sparked months of chaotic protests that have since morphed into a campaign for greater democratic change. The long-expected scrapping of the bill was overshadowed by the drama surrounding the release of Chan Tong-Kai from a Hong Kong prison. Kai is accused of murdering his girlfriend and told reporters he was willing to surrender to authorities in Taiwan. Kai was released after serving a separate sentence for money laundering offences. He could not be sent to Taiwan because the semi-autonomous Chinese city of Hong Kong has no extradition agreement with self-ruled Taiwan. Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam had offered extradition legislation earlier this year to close what she called a "loophole" but the bill sparked widespread protests over concerns it put residents at risk of being sent into mainland China's murky judicial system. 

Brink Of Collapse - Hong Kong Businesses Struggle To Survive Amid Violent Protests - Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said earlier this month, the city's economy had slipped into a "technical recession" after many months of violent protests.Bloomberg's new report, comprised of several interviews and retail data points of the city, offers a leading view of economic turmoil in the city that could lead to a severe financial crisis. Kirio Zhou, a resident of mainland China, spoke with Bloomberg and said the retail business in Hong Kong is on the brink of collapse. Rooms at the most high-end hotels, like Marco Polo Hongkong in Tsim Sha Tsui, are going for $72 per night, a 75% discount versus last year. "I thought it was a per-person price at first," said the 23-year-old lawyer, who saw Hong Kong's small but expensive accommodations as a big pain point. "But now really cool places are offered at a low price. I hope this will continue."Paul Luciw, an internet entrepreneur, said the hotel traffic in Hong Kong has dropped. He was able, according to Bloomberg, barter a hotel room at a luxury hotel in the city for ad space on his website. Hong Kong's Aug. retail sales were awful, the worst on record., and the accounts from Zhou and Luciw -- indicate just how desperate Hong Kong businesses are to survive. Retail sales in Aug. plunged 23% Y/Y, worse than the 21.48% drop in Sept. 1998, as violent protests continue to cause mini-economic shocks in shopping districts and malls.

Contagion Runs The Risk Of Spreading In India's Financial Sector, Rating Agency - India, one of the largest emerging markets in the world, is at serious risk of widespread contagion ripping through its banking sector as many large financial companies have already seen their equity value halved over the last 12 months, S&P Global Ratings said in a report on Wednesday, also reported by Bloomberg.  India's shadow lenders, also called non-banking finance companies, have been under severe pressure since the collapse of Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL&FS) last Sept., which was on the 10th anniversary of the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers."India's finance companies are among the country's largest borrowers. A substantial part of this funding comes from banks. The failure of any large non-banking financial company or housing finance company may deliver a solvency shock to lenders," said S&P Global Ratings credit analyst Geeta Chugh. According to the report, the next big banking failure in India could run the risk of disrupting local credit markets, interbank markets, payments, and even damage economic growth. "This contagion runs the risk of spreading to real estate companies too. Finance companies are the largest lenders to this segment and any failure among such institutions could jeopardize credit flows to developers," Chugh said.  "The credit profile of a bank could deteriorate sharply due to outsized exposure to weak entities, huge market or operational losses, or significant deposit withdrawals if the depositors lost confidence in the bank," Chugh added. "A governance deficit could also quickly turn to a trust deficit, hurting the stability of a bank." It's likely that if one Indian bank fell, "the contagion could spread to other banks perceived to be struggling with the same problems as the failing bank," S&P warned.

How Kashmiris are adapting to everyday life without the internet  -- A lot of terrible things have happened due to the blackout, such as people not receiving medical care. However, I was more curious to know, from my friend, how it impacts everyday life. The Valley has seen the violent conflict for 30 years now and, as in any restive zone, people get accustomed to guns and curfews. “Kashmiris adapt really fast,” my friend said.It took a few days, he added, to stop looking at the phone. “After 10 days I forgot where it was.” That is how long it takes for motor memory to forget.He is part of a small minority in Kashmir with a landline phone, but even those were hit by the curfew for a month. He was supposed to get married in this period. The party was cancelled, but he got married anyway. “I’ll throw a party when things get better,” he said, promising to invite me for the famous Kashmiri wedding feast.  He had to go from house to house to fetch relatives for the wedding ceremony. The culture of people visiting un-announced was the first major change he noticed.A relative also died in the period, and someone from their house went across Srinagar, door to door, informing people of the final rites. His furniture business had been doing well for some years, especially since he started advertising in local papers. One day he tried Facebook advertising, and the response was beyond his imagination. His business grew four-fold. He started getting orders from across the Valley. He wasn’t able to keep up with the demand. However, as the phones and internet died on Aug. 5, his business came to a halt. Some customers started visiting his home to place orders. “My business is barely 10-20% of what it used to be. I’ll now have to build retailer networks and stop relying completely on direct sales through the phone and internet.”

Oil, Military, And Nuclear Tech- Russia's Influence In Africa  - Virtually all great powers have set their eyes on Africa as the continent’s global importance grows. Its population is set to double by 2050 and its economy is expected to expand significantly alongside its energy consumption. It is these projections that have driven Russia to invest heavily in strong relations in the region for when the continent’s explosive growth takes off. The Kremlin’s goal is to emulate China’s success in fostering economic, diplomatic, and military links with Africa. To become an important partner, Moscow is organizing the first-ever Russia-Africa summit on 23-24 October. Sochi, Russia’s de facto capital after Moscow, will host the summit where Egypt’s President Sisi is invited as co-chair. The event is a major test for Russia’s corps diplomatique and the country’s rise as a global power. To showcase the ineffectiveness of Western sanctions and their failure in isolating Moscow, 50 heads of state are invited to the summit. Russia planned its version of Washington’s ‘pivot to Asia’ after the conflict in Ukraine in 2014 and its relative isolation from Western institutions such as the G7. In spite of Moscow’s wishes, the relationship with China is skewed in favor of Beijing where the former is regarded as a ‘junior partner’ due to the latter’s overwhelming economic power. Therefore, the Kremlin is investing in relations with relatively weaker countries on the African continent. Moscow’s ‘base of conduct’ with these states is cooperation in its areas of expertise such as energy, security, and diplomacy. Although trade with Africa has grown from $5.7 billion in 2009 to $20.4 billion in 2018, these numbers are dwarfed by China’s $2 trillion in investments and construction in the region since 2005. Moscow, however, has some advantages in its dealings with African countries. First, Russia acts as an alternative partner for diplomatic support in the UN security council. Second, it has an experienced state-run energy sector which, besides oil and gas investments, is providing nuclear knowhow to technologically deprived states. Third, Moscow offers military cooperation and relatively cheap arms to countries with small purses but big security issues. According to Jacob Hedenskog, a researcher at the Swedish Defence Research Agency, “Russia’s interest, like those of other major powers in Africa involves arms exports, import of natural resources, and the projection of power.” During the Cold War, Moscow maintained strong relations with countries embroiled in anti-colonial conflicts such as Angola, Mozambique, and Algeria. Russia's strategy in regaining its position vis-á-vis Africa partly revolves in reinvigorating these existing relations. Moscow nuclear technology is also put on sale: Egypt has ordered a $29 billion power plant, Nigeria has a deal with Rosatom for a nuclear reactor, and several other countries have signed an MoU regarding nuclear cooperation such as Uganda, South Africa, and Ghana. Russia stands to benefit financially from long-term payback periods for its investments and dependence on Russian technology due to refueling and technical assistance necessities. In many cases, mineral and fossil fuel deposits are agreed as collateral for financial risks.

 Chile extends state of emergency as protest death toll hits seven - Chile is "at war", President Sebastian Pinera said Sunday, as the country reels from three days of violent demonstrations and looting that have left seven dead and almost 1,500 detained in the worst outbreak of social unrest in decades. "We are at war against a powerful, implacable enemy, who does not respect anything or anyone and is willing to use violence and crime without any limits," Pinera told reporters after an emergency meeting with army general Javier Iturriaga, who has been placed in charge of order and security in the capital. Santiago and nine other of Chile's 16 regions were under a state of emergency, Pinera confirmed late Sunday, with troops deployed onto the streets for the first time since Augusto Pinochet's military dictatorship between 1973-1990. The clashes, which have seen some 9,500 police and military fire tear gas and water cannon against protesters who have set fire to buses, smashed up metro stations and ransacked shops, were sparked by anger over price hikes and social inequality. Despite a growth rate that should reach 2.5 percent of GDP this year, several social indicators -- such as health, education and pensions -- show very high inequalities.

El Chapo's son led dramatic rescue of his half brother in Mexico battle - (Reuters) - Ivan Archivaldo Guzman, the leader of Los Chapitos wing of the Sinaloa Cartel, was behind the assault on security forces that prompted the release of his half-brother from a house in the city of Culiacan last week, a top Mexican official said. The men’s father is Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Mexico’s most infamous drug kingpin, who himself slipped away from authorities on multiple occasions before being sentenced to life imprisonment in the United States this year.Younger brother Ovidio Guzman was briefly captured by Mexican security forces on Oct. 17 in an upscale neighborhood of Culiacan, until hundreds of heavily-armed Sinaloa Cartel gunmen forced his release.  The botched raid has called into question Mexico’s security strategy and put pressure on President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has insisted that the release was necessary to protect the lives of civilians and security personnel. Questions have circulated about the role of the older Guzman brother in launching the fierce counterattack led by gunmen in armored vehicles armed with mounted weapons that left parts of the city smoldering.

World economy “sleepwalking” to another financial crisis, warns former Bank of England chief - A stark warning was made by the former Bank of England (BoE) governor, Mervyn King, who was BoE governor during the 2008 crisis, that the global financial system was heading for a devastating financial crisis. In a lecture delivered during the semi-annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund last week, he said there had been no fundamental questioning of the ideas that had led to the collapse a decade ago. “Another economic and financial crisis would be devastating to the legitimacy of a democratic market system,” King said. “By sticking to the new orthodoxy of monetary policy and pretending that we have made the banking system safe, we are sleepwalking towards that crisis.” King warned that the US would suffer a “financial Armageddon” if the Federal Reserve were not able to combat another crisis, given that the world was in a low growth trap. Recovery from the crisis of 2008-9, he declared, was weaker than that following the Great Depression. At its meeting, the IMF said the world was experiencing a synchronised growth slowdown, concentrated in the major economies. That warning was underscored even before the discussions were over. On Friday, it was announced that China’s economy had grown by 6 percent in the third quarter of this year, its slowest pace in 30 years. The main factors were the trade war with the US, slowing manufacturing and shrinking investment opportunities. Releasing the latest figures, which came in below analysts’ expectations, the National Statistics Bureau said that, generally speaking, the national economy “maintained overall stability” in the first three quarters. “However, we must be aware that given the complicated and severe economic conditions both at home and abroad, the slowing global economic growth, and increasing external instabilities and uncertainties, the economy is under mounting downward pressure.” The impact of the US trade war was reflected in a 3.2 percent fall in Chinese exports for the year. But trade tensions are by no means the only problem. Investment is also weakening, with growth in construction activity—a key driver of the economy—down to 4.7 percent year-on-year in the third quarter, from a rate of 5.5 percent in the second quarter.

Half The World's Banks Won't Survive The Next Crisis, McKinsey Finds - More than half of the world's banks are at risk of collapse in the next global downturn if they don't start preparing for late-cycle shocks, McKinsey & Company warned in its latest global banking outlook. The consultancy firm warned on Monday, in a 55-page report titled The last pit stop? Time for bold late-cycle moves, that 35% of banks globally are "subscale" and will have to merge or sell to larger firms if they want to survive the next crisis.  "A decade on from the global financial crisis, signs that the banking industry has entered the late phase of the economic cycle are clear: growth in volumes and top-line revenues is slowing, with loan growth of just 4% in 2018—the lowest in the past five years and a good 150 basis points (bps) below nominal GDP growth. Yield curves are also flattening. And, although valuations fluctuate, investor confidence in banks is weakening once again," McKinsey said. Kausik Rajgopal, a senior partner at McKinsey, told Bloomberg that "we believe we're in the late economic cycle and banks need to make bold moves now because they are not in great shape," adding that, "in the late cycle, nobody can afford to rest on their laurels." The report warned that 60% of global banks are experiencing "returns below the cost of equity." And even warned that when the next recession strikes, "negative interest rates could wreak further havoc." McKinsey said fin-tech startups are rapidly evolving the industry, and legacy banks risk "becoming footnotes to history" if they don't immediately invest in technology. For instance, the report said, Amazon and Ping An are two technology firms that are quickly acquiring market share from the traditional banking sector. Fin-tech firms allocate at least 70% of their budgets to technological advancements, while legacy banks only invest 35%.Rajgopal also told Bloomberg that legacy banks "need to get much more comfortable with external partnerships and being able to leverage talent externally." Mergers and acquisitions will be the only way these at-risk legacy banks survive.  McKinsey called for global banks to make "bold late-cycle moves" to avoid collapse before the next recession strikes.

Central Banks Are Out Of Ammo - UN Head Demands Immediate Fiscal Stimulus To Save World From Crisis -More and more global leaders sound the alarm that the world economy is headed for a difficult period in 2020. Unlike several years ago, leaders across the world are now calling for immediate deployment of fiscal stimulus, but not monetary stimulus, a sign that central banks are out of ammunition to combat the next economic crisis. UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the global economic outlook is facing severe headwinds, and the international community must quickly act to "do everything possible" to prevent the world from "fracturing," mostly due to the US and China trade war. He said that "during tense and testing times," he "fears the possibility of a Great Fracture – with the two largest economies splitting the globe in two – each with its own dominant currency, trade and financial rules, its own internet and artificial intelligence capacities and its own zero-sum geopolitical and military strategies."  He told international bankers that "it is not too late to avoid" this fracturing of the world, but "we must do everything possible to avert this...and maintain a universal economy with universal respect for international law; a multipolar world with strong multilateral institutions, such as the World Bank and IMF."  At the #WBGMeetings, @antonioguterres stressed we must do everything possible to maintain a universal economy with respect for international law; a multipolar world with strong multilateral institutions, such as the @WorldBank & @IMFNews. His remarks: https://t.co/VJRmkiUGjW Guterres told government officials and bankers they must conduct three fiscal policies in the 2020s to save the world economy:

  • First, modernize their tax systems that are "smarter, greener, and more aligned behind the sustainable development and climate action agendas," he said. 
  • Second, he said global financial markets must incentivizing longterm investing in programs that address poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice.
  • And third, he said, "it is time to break the cycle of excessive debt build-up followed by painful debt crises."

 The Verdict Is In - “Negative Rates Are A Huge Negative For Savers, Low-Income People, And Investors”  - With the IMF's annual meeting now concluded, few topics discussed during the past week which saw the IMF downgrade its outlook for the global economy to the lowest GDP since the global financial crisis... ... evinced as powerful a response as negative interest rates, and for good reason: long seen as the last "red line" of central banks before they are forced to admit defeat, some $15 trillion in debt now trades with a negative yield, making a farce of conventional finance which operates on the simple premise of "time value of money", which has been flipped on its head, as negative rates mean that the value of money is now negative. Meanwhile, with the ECB recently cutting rates further into negative territory, and the BOJ likewise set for even more negative rates, a rare public debate among establishment economists has erupted as a growing number of policymakers question the value of its deep foray into unconventional monetary policy. Just one month ago, Dutch Central Bank chief, a frequent critic of the bank’s ultra-easy monetary policy, unloaded on ECB outgoing president Mario Draghi: "This broad package of measures, in particular restarting the asset purchase program, is disproportionate to the present economic conditions, and there are sound reasons to doubt its effectiveness. There are increasing signs of scarcity of low-risk assets, distorted pricing in financial markets and excessive risk-seeking behaviur in the housing markets."And yet, despite the growing chorus of opposition, the far bigger problem faced by central bankers is that they really have nothing else up their sleeve, and should negative rates be denied by the establishment, it may well mean game over for the financial system as we know it.Which explains why everyone - certainly the world's most powerful and important executives and policymakers - has an opinion on NIRP Below we summarize some of the key quotes from last week's IMF conference on the topic of negative rates, courtesy of Reuters:

No inflation? Tell that to my landlord  -- Comments on our articles about central banks’ attempts to fix the global economy through printing trillions in whatever currency tend to be a bloodbath. The prime swipe being that policymakers are wrong to carry on unleashing more and more stimulus on the grounds that they are falling short of their inflation targets because, actually, there is loads of inflation if you look at asset prices. The voice of our dear readers mirrors the broader public debate, not least because rampant inflation in asset prices has a knock-on effect on a lot of people’s housing costs, even if they are not buying a property. We’d recommend this article, from Bloomberg, for a sense of the debate: In the trendy Malasaña neighborhood of Madrid, Ramon G. del Pomar’s rent tripled to 3,500 euros ($3,900) per month when his contract came up for renewal. It was the kind of bumper increase that’s become a scourge of up-and-coming areas across Spain in recent years -- all while official inflation averages about 1%. Madrid isn’t the only city where people have seen a big disconnect between surging property prices and wage growth. In Amsterdam, which is Europe’s most extreme example, house prices rose 64 per cent in the five years to September 2018, but real disposable household income grew just 4.4 per cent in that time, despite ultra-low unemployment. Without a bigger pick-up in wages, it is unsurprising that inflation for everyday goods and services is still so low.  Still most central banks target a measure of inflation that is made up of a basket of prices for goods we consume. The Bank of England targets CPI and the European Central Bank HICP, to name two examples. A common reason for not including housing is that methodological disputes between statisticians (which we want to return to later) means that there is no consensus on what would be the right measure of housing costs to use. Another is that buying a house represents something you invest in, rather than something you consume. We think, however, that you can make a strong case to see housing as something that people both invest in and, at least until the mortgage is gone, pay for as they consume it. It also makes up a massive chunk of most people’s spending, meaning that we would expect big changes in their economic behaviour — including how they consume other goods — should the price of housing shift. Indeed if we take the US experience, we can also see that a closer examination of property prices in the run-up to 2007 might have suggested that interest rates were way too low. So why are central bankers still choosing to target measures of inflation that do not include house prices post-crisis?

 Spanish PM announces trip to Barcelona after weekend violence - Spain’s caretaker prime minister, Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Party (PSOE), this morning announced that he is traveling to Catalonia today “to visit the police officers who were injured in the violent disturbances” of this past weekend. Sánchez, who is reportedly not planning to meet with the leader of the Catalan government, the separatist Quim Torra, has instead sent him a letter reminding him of the obligations of the office that he holds, such as condemning violence, protecting law enforcement officers and avoiding civil unrest. “The duty of any public official is to ensure the safety of all citizens [...] preserve the social harmony. [...] In recent days, your behavior has been moving precisely in the opposite direction,” reads the letter. Shortly after 9.30am, Sánchez said in a Twitter message that he had spoken with Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau to show his support. The mayor reportedly called for dialogue between the Spanish and Catalan governments: “If two sides want to talk, they find a way, either through third parties or however.”   On Saturday, following particularly aggressive attacks on the police by groups of demonstrators in Barcelona the night before, Torra only went as far as to call for “responsibility,” and to request a meeting with Pedro Sánchez to begin “the dialogue” that the independence movement has been demanding for months. Torra also telephoned Sánchez, who refused to take the call until the former “unequivocally condemns the violent behavior that has taken place in several parts of Catalonia, sometimes even not far from his own office,” according to the letter.

Spain's Catalonia Crisis Just Got a Lot Worse   - “Now that the verdict’s out, it’s time to start getting along,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said at a press conference on October 18, repeating the rhyme—“después de la sentencia, convivencia”—as if it were a magic spell. Around the same time, half a million Catalans were converging on Barcelona, which for the previous four days had seen its airport occupied and highways blocked while violent clashes between protesters and riot police were increasing in intensity each night. Sánchez insisted on framing these clashes as an internal Catalan problem. “What’s at stake is not the territorial makeup of our country, but the Catalans’ ability to get along with each other,” he’d said a few days earlier. One week of major protests, it appears, did not shake his government’s unwillingness to face reality: The Catalan crisis is something that affects the entire country, and it is far from over. On October 14, the Spanish Supreme Court announced its much-anticipated ruling on the case against 12 Catalan leaders for their role in the 2017 referendum on Catalan independence. Nine were sentenced to between 13 and 9 years in prison; three more were sentenced to 18 months. The charges included sedition, misappropriation of government funds, and civil disobedience. Oriol Junqueras, the former vice president of Catalonia, received the longest sentence, 13 years, while eight other former Catalan ministers received sentences of 10-12 years and two civil society leaders, known as “the Jordis,” received nine years—all close to the maximum permitted by law. (For perspective, earlier this year the Supreme Court sentenced each of five men found guilty of a violent gang-rape—the “wolf pack” case—to 15 years in prison.) The verdict was the culmination of a two-year process initiated in October 2017, when Spain’s attorney general brought charges for rebellion, sedition, and misappropriation that prompted a judicial investigation and a public trial involving hundreds of witnesses. Had the court found Junqueras and the other leaders guilty of the charge of rebellion, the sentences could have been as high as 24 years, among the most severe first-time prison sentences allowable in Spain (the 12 Catalan leaders have been in preventive custody since the charges were announced nearly two years ago). Seven other leaders, including former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, escaped that fate by going into exile elsewhere in Europe. Yet to the disappointment of some Spanish conservatives, the court concluded in its ruling that Catalonia’s 2017 bid for independence - which included acts of nonviolent protest, a vote to “disconnect” Catalonia from Spain that violated parliamentary procedure, an illegal referendum, and a declaration of independence that was immediately “suspended” - did not rise to the level of rebellion.

Spanish state repression in Catalonia may be shocking – but it's nothing new - The Spanish supreme court’s deeply unjust verdict, handing out harsh prison sentences to nine Catalan government and civil society leaders for organising a peaceful referendum on self-determination in Catalonia, is for many the sign of a country slipping towards authoritarianism and away from western European-style democracy. But truth be told, for us Basques, this kind of behaviour is nothing new.For years Spain was able to disguise its undemocratic essence under the cloak of the “fight against Basque terrorism”. Denial and rejection of the political nature of the armed conflict in the Basque country became quite easy for them, especially after 9/11. The line was that there was not a political problem in Spain, just a criminal one. “Spain is a democracy,” they used to tell us. “Everything is possible without violence” was the repeated mantra. We still remember the words of Spanish home secretary Alfredo P Rubalcaba: “They must decide: bombs or votes.” Yet when some of us in the pro-independence Basque movement began to convince those who still believed in violence to continue our struggle for self-determination by peaceful and democratic means, we were arrested and sentenced to lengthy jail terms.The truth is that Basque violence ended –not thanks to Spanish government efforts – but in spite of its persistent obstructions. (It is probably important here to clarify my position: many wrongs were done by the Basque side, many things happened that should not have done. We have acknowledged our share of the blame for the violence that was committed by both sides during years of conflict). My arrest – along with others – happened 10 years before the Catalan politicians were convicted of sedition, and it was only after we had served our prison term that the European court of human rights ruled our trial had been unfair (the second time the ECHR had ruled against Spain). The same could easily happen to the Catalans. The fact that the Spanish state still holds more than 240 Basque political prisoners in jail despite ETA ending its armed campaign in 2011 shows its lack of interest in a lasting peace. The verdict against the Catalan pro-independence leadership for organising a democratic and peaceful referendum, and the subsequent violence the Spanish police used against peaceful Catalan demonstrations, shows us what we always knew: the Spanish state is not interested in democracy and will use violence to conceal its undemocratic nature.

 Germany Slides Into Recessionary Abyss As Employment Falls For First Time In Six Years - The latest Markit servey data released on Thursday confirmed that Germany's manufacturing recession continues to broaden. The worst fears are now being realized as loose ECB monetary policy is failing to contain the economic slowdown as it successfully transmits weakness from manufacturing into the services and jobs market.IHS Markit's Flash Germany Manufacturing PMI remained little changed at 41.9 in October, a slight increase from September's ten-year low of 41.7, however red alerts flashed below the surface as employment in Germany's factory industry fell the most in almost 10 years.What is just as concerning is that the weakness in manufacturing has clearly infected Germany's relatively immune - until now - service sector, as Germany's Service PMI fell to 51.2 from 51.4 in Sept, down sharply from 54.7 a year ago, and the lowest reading since Sept. 2016. Notably, New Business orders dropped to 47.6 vs 48.6 in Sept, the lowest reading since June 2013.The Composite Index, registered 48.6 in October, little-changed from September’s near seven-year low of 48.5 and below the 50 unchanged level for the second month in a row. However, most ominously, the survey showed employment falling for the first time in six years. The rapid deceleration of manufacturing in Europe's largest industrial hub has severely weighed on employment, now falling for the first time in six years according to Markit: "October saw employment across the German private sector fall, albeit only slightly, for the first time in six years. Job losses were largely centered on manufacturing, where staffing numbers fell to the greatest extent for nearly ten years amid the widespread paring of temporary and contract workers. That said, a slowdown in service sector job creation to a three-and-a-half-year low was also recorded.The drop in overall employment in October was in line with signs of easing capacity pressures and a deterioration in business confidence towards the future activity. Firms reduced backlogs of work for the twelfth month in a row and at the quickest rate for nearly seven years," IHS wrote.

Merkel Admits German Multiculturalism Has Utterly Failed - German Chancellor Angela Merkel says her attempt to create a multicultural society has "utterly failed," and that too little had been required of immigrants who refuse to integrate into German culture.  Merkel told an audience of young members of her Christian Democrats (CDU) that allowing people of differing cultural backgrounds to live side by side without such integration was a huge mistake, according to Reuters, which notes that approximately four million Muslims live in the country."This (multicultural) approach has failed, utterly failed," said Merkel during the meeting in Potsdam, south of Berlin.  Merkel faces pressure from within her CDU to take a tougher line on immigrants who don’t show a willingness to adapt to German society and her comments appeared intended to pacify her critics. She said too little had been required of immigrants in the past and repeated her usual line that they should learn German in order to get by in school and have opportunities on the labor market. -ReutersThe stunning admission comes weeks after the former director of Germany's foreign intelligence service, Dr August Hanning, suggested Merkel had created a "security crisis" in Germany due to her open-border policy. (Summit News)“We have seen the consequences of this decision in terms of German public opinion and internal security – we experience problems very day,” he said.“We have criminals, terrorist suspects and people who use multiple identities. Those who carried out the Berlin attacks used 12 different identities,” added Hanning. “While things are tighter today, we still have 300,000 people in Germany of whose identities we cannot be sure. That’s a massive security risk,” he warned.

Boris Johnson sends unsigned letter asking for delay, and second arguing against it - Boris Johnson has sent an unsigned letter to European council president Donald Tusk requesting a further Brexit delay beyond 31 October – accompanied by a signed one arguing against it. The prime minister sent a total of three letters: an unsigned photocopy of the request he was obliged to send under the Benn Act, an explanatory letter from the UK’s ambassador to the EU and a personal letter explaining why Downing Street did not want an extension. In the signed message, he warned of the “corrosive impact” of a long delay, and that “a further extension would damage the interests of the UK and our EU partners, and the relationship between us”. He said Parliament had “missed the opportunity to inject momentum into the ratification process” yet remained confident Brexit legislation would be passed by 31 October. The move sparked concerns the prime minister could face fresh court action. One former Tory cabinet minister said: “This is clearly against the spirit of the Benn Act and is not consistent with the assurances that were given by Downing Street to the Scottish courts about applying for an extension. It will also put government law officers in a very uncomfortable position.”The late-night letters followed another bruising day in the Commons for Johnson, where MPs voted by 322 to 306 to withhold approval of his EU exit deal, forcing him to write to Brussels by 11pm on Saturday to request an extension until 31 January 2020. Despite the prime minister’s insistence that he would not “negotiate” a further extension of the UK’s membership of the EU, he confirmed on Saturday evening that he had sought such a prolongation. Shortly after 10pm London time, Tusk tweeted: “The extension request has just arrived. I will now start consulting EU leaders on how to react.” An EU source said Tusk’s deliberations with European leaders “may take a few days”.

Brexit: the limit of tolerance - Continuing his almost continuous run of bad luck in the House of Commons, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson managed to let the Letwin amendment get away from him, with the ayes voting 322 against the noes coming in with 306 votes.If the DUP had voted the other way, the amendment would have been defeated and the government motion could have been tabled, allowing the swamp dwellers to vote on whether they approved Johnson's deal. As it was, this served as a savage reminder to the prime minister in office that you can only shaft so many people before some start biting back. The amended motion then was agreed without a division, thereby leaving Johnson technically in breach of the Benn Act (even though he already was, before the Letwin amendment was voted on), but unwilling to admit to MPs that he was going to send an extension request to Brussels. Nevertheless, it was to be Donald Tusk who kept us informed, with him confirming that the request for an extension had arrived at around 10pm our time. Tusk says he is to start consulting "EU leaders" on how to react, while Johnson is also planning to talk to Merkel and Macron. In the meantime, the government has intimated that it will again seek a vote on the new Withdrawal Agreement on Monday, before the debates start on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill which, if passed, will turn Johnson's deal into law and have the effect of ratifying it. However, predictably, the speaker may block this new vote, on the basis that it is a repeat of Saturday's proceedings, in which case Johnson will be reliant on the passage of the Bill into law to give him the formal agreement of parliament, notice of which he must send to Brussels.But now it gets really interesting. Alongside his request for an extension, Johnson has sent a signed letter (and here) which makes it perfectly clear that he considers that "a further extension would damage the interests of the UK and our EU partners, and the relationship between us". Despite this, in the actual extension request (which is unsigned) he does ask for the extension to last until 11.00pm GMT on 31 January 2020 but he also suggests that, "If the parties are able to ratify before this date, the government proposes that the period should be terminated early". If that latter provision was included, that could effectively square the circle. If all the "necessary internal procedures" had been completed and notified before or by 31 October, the UK could leave as planned, without the extension ever coming into effect.

Brexit will happen on Oct. 31 despite PM's unsigned delay request, UK says (Reuters) - The British government insisted on Sunday the country will leave the European Union on Oct. 31 despite a letter that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced by parliament to send to the bloc requesting a Brexit delay. The Brexit maelstrom has spun wildly in the past week between the possibility of an orderly exit on Oct. 31 with a deal that Johnson struck on Thursday and a delay after he was forced to ask for an extension late on Saturday. Johnson’s defeat in the British parliament over the sequencing of the ratification of his deal exposed the prime minister to a law passed by those opposed to a no deal departure, demanding he request a delay until Jan. 31. Johnson sent the request note as required, but unsigned, and added another signed letter arguing against what he cast as a deeply corrosive delay. One of his most senior ministers said Britain would still leave the bloc on Oct. 31. “We are going to leave by October 31. We have the means and the ability to do so,” Michael Gove, the minister in charge of no-deal Brexit preparations, told Sky News. “That letter was sent because parliament required it to be sent ... but parliament can’t change the prime minister’s mind, parliament can’t change the government’s policy or determination.” In yet another twist to the running Brexit drama, Johnson sent three letters to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council. First, a brief cover note from Britain’s EU envoy explaining that the government was simply complying with the law; second, an unsigned copy of the text that the law, known as the Benn Act, forced him to write; and a third letter in which Johnson said he did not want an extension.

Brexit: Time Is of the Essence - Yves Smith -Boris Johnson’s plan to meet his promise of getting Brexit done by October 31, had been going vastly better than it should have until his “Super Saturday” special Parliament session went pear shaped.As pretty much all of you know well by now, his effort to cinch approval of his Withdrawal Agreement fell apart when a Tory-Labour alliance backed the so-called Letwin Amendment, name for Tory grandee Oliver Letwin, to require that legislation enabling the Withdrawal Agreement (most importantly, the so-called Withdrawal Agreement Bill) be passed before the Withdrawal Agreement itself. There were multiple motives for voting for the amendment, aside from opposition to the underlying bill. One was to not be rushed by Johnson into accepting a pig in the poke. Another was that due to ERG treachery or other complications, all the steps needed to make Brexit effective might not take place by October 31. You also likely know that by virtue of that gambit, Johnson has sent in the required Benn Act letter asking for an extension to January 31…unsigned, and then a note saying this was Parliament’s letter, not his, and then his own letter saying why he thought the EU shouldn’t give the UK an extension.1The press reporting has been less crisp than it should be on where the state of play is. We’ll unpack this further below, but if you have been following the UK, Irish, or business press, you will have seen that the Government intends to have the Meaningful Vote tomorrow, and it says it has the votes. In other words, it is acting as if the Letwin Amendment is not operative because the actual vote on the main motion didn’t take place.There is a procedural interpretation that we’ll discuss that suggests that the Meaningful Vote did take place despite the lack of a formal division. And the desire to avoid a division may explain the bizarre spectacle of Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Government’s official point minister, walking out while the debate was still on.Regardless, in the not-hugely-likely event that Speaker John Bercow rules in favor of the Government on whether it is putting the same question twice in the same session (which is verboten), Letwin or someone alert presumably would propose his amendment which would presumably pass again.

Lord King: Brexit is no big deal -- Mervyn King, the former governor of the Bank of England, has a lot of big opinions which he’s not been afraid to share. Lord King once described bankers as “incompetent and greedy”, before joining Citigroup, we assume on a whopping salary, in 2016. He’s also got some choice views on Brexit, which has left him at odds with much of the economics profession in the UK, and beyond. Which is why when Lord King stood up at the IMF’s annual meeting last week, Alphaville was keen to hear what the former governor had to say about the state of the global economy.  To our surprise, much of it made sense, via the Guardian: “Another economic and financial crisis would be devastating to the legitimacy of a democratic market system,” he said. “By sticking to the new orthodoxy of monetary policy and pretending that we have made the banking system safe, we are sleepwalking towards that crisis.” OK, it’s dramatic stuff. But that wasn’t quite what caught our eye. Rather it was his comments on what could exacerbate another downturn: The former Bank governor said the economic and political climate had rarely been so fraught, citing the US-China trade war, riots in Hong Kong, problems in key emerging countries such as Argentina and Turkey, the growing tensions between France and Germany over the future direction of the euro, and the increasingly bitter political conflict in the US at a time when the willingness of the US to act as the world’s policeman was disappearing.“Ripples on the surface of our politics have become breaking waves as the winds of change have gained force,” he said. Hmmm. Notice what’s missing? That’s right. Brexit.  Indeed Alphaville, who was in attendance, found his warning that we were operating in an era of “radical uncertainty” in which policymakers risked sleepwalking into disaster somewhat difficult to square with Lord King’s backing of the UK's decision to quit the EU via a Hard Brexit. So did some of our fellow audience members in Washington. In the Q&A following the talk, he was asked about this contradiction between sounding the alarm bells on the current era of economic, and political, uncertainty and advocating what many view as one cause of said uncertainty and he got, well, a bit haughty. (You can watch the roasting here, at 52.04).  Rather than say that the questioner had a point, he claimed