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

Saturday, October 19, 2019

week ending Oct 19


The Fed Is Buying Treasurys Again. Just Don’t Call It Quantitative Easing. – WSJ --The Federal Reserve began buying short-term Treasury debt Tuesday at an initial pace of $60 billion a month, but officials say these purchases are nothing like the bond-buying stimulus campaigns unleashed by the central bank between 2008 and 2014 to support the economy. Here are answers to six commonly asked questions about what is happening:

 POMO Is Back- Here's What Treasury Bills The Fed Will Buy -- As it pre-announced last Friday, the Fed will resume QE by purchasing $60billion/month in bills at least until 2Q 2020 starting on October 17. As has been widely discussed, and mocked, already, the Fed highlighted that these purchases were for reserve management only and have "no material implications for the stance of monetary policy", although how a restoration of financial conditions hit during the greater monetary policy experiment in history is not seen as, well, monetary policy is ludicrous."QE or Not QE" debate aside (here is Bloomberg opining on which is which), the Fed stated that by the time purchases conclude the level of reserves should be in line with early September levels. In addition, overnight and term repo operations will continue at least through January of next year and are specifically intended to manage funding pressures on a daily basis. As Bank of America noted overnight, this action represents a necessary step that serves "to fix the reserve hole the Fed dug itself into by continuing QT for too long", because apparently shrinking the balance sheet by $600BN after it was blown out by $4 trillion nearly crashed the banking system. This will also place the Fed back into an "abundant reserve regime", and represents a rapid shift away from repo operations to permanent balance sheet growth. Finally, it is also a confirmation that the Fed shares the prevailing view that funding pressures were driven by "reserve scarcity" vs "reserve distribution" issues (which were first suggested by the NY Fed's clueless president, John Williams).As BofA's Marc Cabana writes, Fed purchases could total more than $400bn by mid-2020, and bring the level of reserves in the system close to $1.7tn, something we noted last week. This will allow the Fed to convert all existing repo operations into permanent balance sheet growth while also allowing them to build a reserve "buffer" to move comfortably away from the upward sloping part of the reserve demand curve.  As a reminder, reserves were at $1.45tn in the week before funding pressures spiked and the Fed could potentially flex the amount of purchases higher or lower (spoiler alert: higher) over time depending on prevailing market conditions. This substantial reserve increase reduces the need for a standing repo facility in the near term, and provides the Fed time to work out details of that facility which BofA believes will be announced by end-2020, which will eventually act as an "automatic stabilizer" to increase reserves whenever they become too low and prevent another large jump up the upward sloping part of the reserve demand curve.Which brings us to the main question: what will the Fed buy? BofA anticipates purchases will be distributed in proportion to bills outstanding, as shown below.

Not Transitory - Fed Liquidity Handout Surges To Near $90 Billion  --- So much for the 'transitory' liquidity shortage arguments put forth by commission-takers and asset-gatherers, The NYFed accepted $87.7 billion (in o/n and term) repo today - the highest level yet. The Fed accepted $20.1 billion in 14-day term repo... And $67.7 billion in overnight repo...   The biggest overnight repo (liquidity bailout) since September. Having stabilized in the $30-40 billion range, liquidity needs have surged once again as it seems the big banks just cannot wait for The Fed's NotQE in November.As Curvature Securities' Scott E.D. Skyrm, one of the world's most-respected repo market participants and experts, noted last week We’ve seen the old pictures or films of people lining up outside of a bank to collect their deposits. Think of the Depression in the 1930s. Knowing that a bank can’t make good on all of their customers’ deposits means the first people to get their money are more likely to get their money. Period. Banks never keep all of their customers’ deposits as cash on hand. They invest those customers’ deposits by making loans - like a mortgage loan to a family to buy a home or loan to a business to help start a new venture. Banks invest in loans and borrow money through deposits. That also means they loan long-term and borrow short-term. Don’t worry, this is important later on. Though banks still have the same problem today - lending long-term and borrowing short-term, increased regulation and stronger risk management has forced them to narrow the tenure mismatch. These days banks have a larger percentage of their funding borrowed in the term markets by issuing CDs, medium-term notes, and even bonds. Since banks manage their tenure mismatch much better, they are not as susceptible to the classic “run on the bank.”  However, in recent years, new categories of financial institutions have popped-up that are more susceptible to “bank runs.”

  • Bank Reserves – The decline in bank reserves didn’t cause the Repo panic, but the dwindling supply of reserves could have created a smaller cushion of extra liquidity ready to enter the Repo market. In other words, the amount of excess reserves coming out of the Fed account and into the Repo market is possibly maxed out. Perhaps the bank reserves that are rate sensitive already moved out of the Fed as the IOER rate was cut. What’s left are the reserves that are not rate sensitive and therefore a one-day Repo rate spike is not enough incentive to move that liquidity out
  • Declining excess bank reserves might be the result of Repo market funding pressure and not the cause. Over the past year as Repo rates moved relatively higher and the Fed lowered the IOER, perhaps funds moved out of reserves into Repo just for that reason
  • Modern Day Bank Run – The collateral sellers (shadow banks) need funding. And they need it between 7:00 AM and 8:30 AM. The panic was a classic “run on the bank.” Cash investors did not pull cash out of the market, but they made borrowing cash more expensive. The leverage market participants had no choice but to accept prevailing rates
  • Price Not Credit – At no point during the Repo market panic did credit break down. The market didn’t seize up. Counterparties continued to trade. Just interest rates went higher and higher. In other words, there was never a time when there was no bid for collateral. There was always a bid. The bids just kept moving higher

QE4 Officially Begins: Fed's First T-Bill Purchase Is 4x Oversubscribed Amid Massive Liquidity Demand - As previewed yesterday, moments ago the Fed concluded the first POMO - as in Permanent Open Market Operation, not to be confused with Temporary - from previously announced T-Bill purchases ($60 billion per month, $7.5 billion per operation), and what it showed is a confirmation of message sent by today's repo operation: there is an unprecedented demand for liquidity. Specifically, the Fed purchased $7.501 billion in Treasury Bills out of $32.569 billion in T-Bills submitted. In other words, the operation was 4.3x oversubscribed, and when combined with the oversubscribed repo operation announced earlier today, confirms that there is a dramatic need for liquidity among the Primary Dealer community. Also worth noting, the scramble to sell Bills to the Fed directly refutes what the FT reported earlier today that "money market funds that are among the largest holders of U.S. Treasury bills say they are reluctant to sell them to the Federal Reserve." “We are not going to sell them,” said Pia McCusker, global head of cash management at State Street Global Advisors, which holds more than $22bn of T-bills in its $350bn of money market funds. “It’s a short-term gain and then I would have to replace it with something else at a much lower rate.” Clearly someone was more than happy to sell them today in a furious scramble to convert Bills to cold, hard cash. Separately, as previewed yesterday, the Fed did not purchase securities with less than 4 weeks to maturity or cash management bills, and sure enough, the "nearest" maturity purchased today was Bills maturing on Nov 26, for some $20 million. The most aggressive purchases were for CUSIPs TB5 and TN9, for the amount $3.37BN and $1.465BN, respectively, and which mature on Jan 16, 2020 and Oct 8, 2020. The sub-1 month Bills were all excluded from today's operation. 

Something Snaps: Repo Freezes Again As Overnight Fed Operation Oversubscribed, Repo Rate Jumps -First it was supposed to be just a mid-month tax payment issue coupled with an accelerated cash rebuild by the US Treasury. Then, it was supposed to be just quarter-end pressure. Then, once the Fed rolled out QE4 while keeping both its overnight and term repo operations, the mid-September repo rate fireworks which sent the overnight G/C repo rate as high as 10% was supposed to go away for good as Powell admitted the level of reserves was too low and the Fed launched a $60BN/month Bill POMO to boost the Fed's balance sheet.Bottom line: the ongoing repo market pressure - which indicated that one or more banks were severely liquidity constrained - was supposed to be a non-event.Alas, as of this morning when the Fed's latest repo operation was once again oversubscribed, it appears that the repo turmoil is not only not going away, but is in fact (to paraphrase Joe Biden) getting worse, because even with both term and overnight repos in play and with the market now expecting the Fed to start injecting copious liquidity tomorrow with the first Bill POMO, banks are still cash starved. To wit: in its latest overnight operation, the Fed indicated that $80.35BN in collateral ($74.7BN in TSYs, $5.65BN in MBS) had been submitted into an operation that maxed out at $75BN, with a weighted average rate on both TSY and MBS rising to 1.823% and 1.828% respectively. While it was clear that the repo market was tightening in the past week, with each incremental overnight repo operation rising, today was the first oversubscribed repo operation since September 25, and follows yesterday's $67.6BN repo and $20.1BN term repo.  But the clearest sign that the repo market is freezing up again came from the overnight general collateral rate itself, which after posting in the 1.80%-1.90% range for much of the past two weeks, spiked as high as 2.275% overnight and was last seen at 2.15%, well above the fed funds upper range...

Fed Injects $104.2BN Via Overnight, Term Repos One Day After Start Of "Not A QE" --One day after the repo market appeared to lock up again, when the Fed's overnight repo operation was unexpectedly oversubscribed again, for the first time since September 25, moments ago - and one day after the Fed's first "NOT A QE" Pomo in which the Fed bought $7.5BN in a 4.3x oversubscribed open-market liquidity injecting operation - the Fed announced it had accepted over $104 billion in collateral as part of today's overnight and term repo operations. Specifically, the Fed accepted $67.7BN and $5.7BN in Treasury and MBS securities as part of today's overnight repo operation, which however topped out at $73.5BN, just shy of the maximum allotment of $75BN, sparing the Fed the humiliation of explaining why liquidity conditions remains beyond strained. Yet coming one day after the Fed's O/N repo operation was oversubscribed (at $80.35BN), the drop was hardly as substantial as one would expect at a time when the Fed is now permanently expanding its balance sheet, having started to monetize T-Bills yesterday. Indeed, as shown below this was only the second most securities pledged at the Fed since Sept 25. Perhaps a reason for the slightly reduced liquidity need is that just minutes before the overnight Fed operation, the Fed also accepted $30.65BN in a 15-day term repo, which consisted of $18.15BN in TSYs and $12.5BN in MBS.  Yet the clearest indication that something remains ominously broken with the repo market, came earlier today when ICAP reported that the day's first overnight general collateral repo traded at 2.04%/2.01%, both above the upper end of the Fed Fund rate corridor, and confirming that the liquidity shortage is persisting, which prompted us to note that

1) one day after an oversubscribed repo
2) one day after "Not A QE4" started
3) one day after a Fed president hinted strongly that a standing repo facility is coming

... the repo rate was still abnormally above fed funds as repo market remains broken and banks refuse to lend to each other. What is most concerning is that this is taking place as the Fed is now permanently increasing reserves again, which then begs the question: just why are banks so scared of lending money to each other - now that JPM's previously discussed reticence is also spreading to smaller banks - and choose to park their money with the Fed instead?  What do they know that we don't?

Fed's Second Not QE T-Bill POMO Is 4.8 Oversubscribed - - Just hours after the Fed announce that it accepted $56.65BN in collateral in its latest overnight repo operation ($47.95BN in TSYs, $8.2BN in MBS), which was a modest decline from Thursday's operation, which as we noted at the time was on the verge of being oversubscribed... ... the Fed announced the results of its second "NOT A QE" Treasury-Bill POMO, which showed that Dealers submitted $36BN in bids for the maximum $7.5BN in purchases. As such, the operation was 4.8x oversubscribed, a notable increase from the first POMO conducted on Wednesday when Dealers indicated they wanted to purchase $32.6BN in Treasuries, or "only" 4.3x oversubscribed. And while the Fed kept all Bills that mature in less than a month on the exclusions list as expected, it is perhaps notable that unlike the Wednesday POMO, the number of CUSIPs that were purchased in today's operation was decided greater than the first POMO, with CUSIP TR0 the most active, with $2.04BN of this Bill tendered back to the Fed, while TB5 was the second most active, at $1.035BN. Composition of today's purchases aside - and expect these to vary substantially as the Fed's POMO lasts well into 2020 - what was most notable is that demand for the Fed's permanent liquidity injection increased notably in its second operation, and that even though the overnight repo saw a modest dip in dealer interest, this was made up by the $3.5BN increase in POMO demand as demand for $28.5 billion in liquidity remained unmet. As such the question we have been asking for the past month 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?

Fed’s Balance Sheet Spikes by $253 Billion, Now Topping $4 Trillion -- Pam Martens -  Don’t tell Congress that the Federal Reserve is back to electronically creating money out of thin air to throw at a liquidity problem (of an, as yet, undetermined origin) on Wall Street. And be sure not to mention that the Fed’s balance sheet has shot up in a period of just 42 days by $253 billion. And, of course, don’t remind Congress that before the last Wall Street crisis was over the Fed had secretly, with no oversight from Congress, piled up a $29 trillion tab to bail out Wall Street — a fact it fought years in court to keep under wraps. On September 4, 2019, the Fed’s assets on its balance sheet stood at $3.761 trillion. As of October 16, that figure is $4.014 trillion, edging closer to the $4.5 trillion peak it reached in 2015 following the worst Wall Street crash since the Great Depression.Here’s the simple and accurate way to look at this: the Federal Reserve Bank of New York is the regulator of the Wall Street bank holding companies which have never stopped functioning as casinos since the crash of 2008 because Congress did not have the guts to write legislation that would genuinely reform Wall Street. The Fed was a failed regulator in 2008 and it’s an even bigger failed regulator in 2019. To compensate for its own hubris, the Fed simply pumps out electronically created money to prop up a banking structure that is as doomed today as it was in 2008. Corporate media is part of this hubris by failing to put on the front pages of newspapers the fact that the Federal Reserve is back to bailing out Wall Street – which is the only way to get the attention of the public and Congress. Just take a look at the hearings calendar at the U.S. Senate Banking Committee for the month of October. One would never suspect that there is a liquidity crisis on Wall Street judging from the hearings that this august body has scheduled. Please also note that the Fed’s pump priming operations began on September 17 and in a month’s time neither the House Financial Services Committee nor the Senate Banking Committee has seen fit to hold a hearing and ask the Fed and the mega Wall Street bank CEOs why they are drinking at the Fed’s money trough again.  Nomi Prins’ brilliant book, Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World, that was released in May of 2018 presciently saw this day coming. Prins wrote “Eight years after the crisis began, the Big Six US banks – JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley – collectively held 43 percent more deposits, 84 percent more assets, and triple the amount of cash they held before. The Fed has allowed the biggest banks on Wall Street to essentially double the risk that devastated the system in 2008.”

 US Money Supply Suddenly Surges - Bouncing From A 12-Year Low - In August 2019 year-on-year growth of the broad true US money supply (TMS-2) fell to a fresh 12-year low of 1.87%. The 12-month moving average of the growth rate hit a new low for the move as well. The main driver of the slowdown in money supply growth over the past year was the Fed’s decision to decrease its holdings of MBS and treasuries purchased in previous “QE” operations. This was partly offset by bank credit growth in recent months, which has moved to 6.6% y/y after being stuck below 4% y/y throughout 2018.  US broad true money supply TMS-2, year-on-year growth w. 12-month moving average. After establishing a new 12-year low at  1.87% in August, TMS-2 growth has rebounded to 3.09% in September. In 2000, the low in y/y growth coincided almost precisely with the peak in the S&P 500 index. The next major low was established in 2006, about one year before the stock market peak. It is worth noting that in both cases, money supply growth actually soared during the subsequent bear markets and recessions. This illustrates the fact that slowing and/or accelerating money supply growth exerts its effects with a considerable lag. One factor in the jump in TMS-2 growth in September was the US Treasury’s General Account at the Fed. The Treasury is evidently rebuilding its deposits at the Fed since the most recent “debt ceiling” was removed. Normally one would expect this to be neutral in terms of TMS-2 growth, as demand deposits of buyers of treasury debt should decrease commensurately.  However, after bottoming at minus 1.0% y/y in March, system-wide demand deposit growth has actually accelerated to 6.6% y/y in September. The US Treasury’s general account at the Fed: after reaching a low of ~$125 billion in mid August, it has grown to ~$330 billion by the end of September. Rebuilding the Treasury’s cash hoard will usually lead to a temporary liquidity drought. As we have previously discussed, the cash build-up beginning in August was quite likely one of the factors contributing to the recent repo market inconvenience.  Nevertheless, as the recent pace of demand deposit growth indicates, the effect is mitigated by accelerating bank credit growth and the fact that the Fed is expanding its balance sheet again.

  Economists Puzzled By Surge In US Money Supply -With this special Daily Feather opening on this Columbus Day that celebrates another famous Italian, we must say it was more the speed of Ferraris that drew us to the theme. As you can see in the spike in the smaller inset chart, MZM, for money supply, it has galloped away of late. In the last 23 weeks, the surge has been almost entirely accounted for by:Savings deposits at commercial banks ($336.0bn), Institutional money funds ($270.0bn), Retail money funds ($111.3bn), and Demand deposits ($74.6bn).Add it all up and the last 23 weeks add up to $887.4 billion.  We would add that the race into cash has picked up speed. The $158.1 billion, two-week surge ended September 30 was only eclipsed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.So why is MZM para-scaling a wall of worry? If you’ll forgive the deeply dissatisfying honesty, we can’t say for sure. There are simply too many divergent messages coming from households. We refer to the preliminary October read of the University of Michigan (UMich) Consumer Sentiment report.Here’s one side of the story being told. Quickly declining inflation expectations in the year ahead have collided with consumers anticipating larger income gains. The result: the proportion of those who expect net real (read: inflation-adjusted) income gains was the highest since this question was first posed in the UMich in 1974 (blue line above).And here’s where things get confusing, with the relaying of the other side of the story. Expecting good tidings inside their own checking accounts did less than nothing when it comes to the prospects for the overall economy. Growth is still expected to slow alongside a rising unemployment rate, at least according to a third of those queried, (orange line above) which is plenty higher than the 20% who expect the unemployment rate to fall. As for all the hoopla surrounding the Chinese “acquiescing” to buying the same agricultural products they did two years ago but desperately need more today, spontaneous negative references to tariffs were cited by 29% in early October, down from 36% last month. (A QI aside, we humbly classify truly good news on the trade war front as cancelled tariffs in place, but what do we know?)And in what can only be seen as a refutation of the story mainstream media would like to paint, the GM strike was negatively mentioned by 5% compared to the 3% who expressed angst about the impeachment inquiry.As for that unquantifiable, impossible to articulate fear, that of the unknown captured in the UMich data we featured a few Feathers back, it keeps blazing a trail to the 20%-line that was last hit when the economy was entering recession. Recall that this fear gauge is a good predictor of credit spreads which have stubbornly refused to follow stocks’ lead by coming in. Credit investors and households are united in their fearing something they can’t put their fingers on.

Japan Buys Most Treasuries Since 2013 In August, China Dump Continues -- Overall, US foreign net transactions saw a $41 billion outflow - the biggest monthly outflow since Dec 2018...

  • Foreign net selling of Treasuries at $30.5b
  • Foreign net selling of equities at $21b
  • Foreign net selling of corporate debt at $21b
  • Foreign net buying of agency debt at $30.6b

That outflow is despite a huge buy from Japan... which bought almost $44 billion in US treasuries in August - the most since July 2013...  But China dumped Treasuries for the fifth month in the last six to its lowest level of holdings since May 2017... However, Belgium (often considered a proxy for hiding China's buying) saw Treasury holdings soar $11.8billion to its highest level since April 2015... Additionally, Cayman Islands (proxy for hedge funds) holdings of US Treasuries soared by an almost record $17.9 billion in August

Fed Beige Book Downgrades US Economic Outlook, Blames It On Sharks And Tornados –-- Seven months after the Fed first downgraded its outlook on the US economy from "modest-to-moderate" to "slight-to- moderate" before then upgrading it again, it has done so again, and in its just released October beige book, the Fed concluded that the US economy again expanded at a "slight to modest pace" in recent weeks, the latest downgrade by the central bank of the country's economic health. The report followed disappointing data released earlier on Wednesday showing retail sales declined in September for the first time in seven months."The U.S. economy expanded at a slight to modest pace since the prior report as business activity varied across the country" the Fed said, noting that "reports from Districts representing states in the southern and western U.S. generally were more upbeat than Districts representing the Midwest and Great Plains."And while "contacts in some Districts suggested that persistent trade tensions and slower global growth weighed on activity" respondents said that "the early impact of a recent auto strike was limited", and may soon be completely gone should GM and the UAW find a solution to the strike now approaching its 30th day, the outlook was optimistic as "business contacts mostly expect the economic expansion to continue" even as "many lowered their outlooks for growth in the coming 6 to 12 months."Some other big picture observations from the latest report:

  • "Household spending was solid on balance: non-auto retail sales increased modestly, while light vehicle sales were generally robust. Tourism and travel-related spending was up modestly. Housing market conditions changed little."
  • "On  the business spending side, nonresidential construction increased at a slightly slower yet still modest pace, while leasing activity advanced at a slow but steady rate"  while "Manufacturing activity continued to edge lower."
  • "Freight shipments stabilized after falling during the previous reporting period."
  • "Bankers in many Districts reported moderately rising loan volumes, while activity in nonfinancial services increased solidly. Agricultural conditions deteriorated further due to the ongoing impacts of adverse weather, weak commodity prices, and trade disruptions."

McMaster calls Trump's Syria decision 'unfortunate' - -- Retired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who previously served as President Trump’s national security adviser, said Thursday that Trump's decision to pull back U.S. troops from northeast Syria, allowing Turkey to move forward with its long-planned anti-Kurdish offensive, was "unfortunate." McMaster, who parted ways with the Trump administration in April 2018 over policy differences, said Trump and others who oppose an ongoing U.S. troop presence in Syria are “missing” a “more full understanding” of its importance. “I believe that the troop commitment in northeastern Syria was immensely helpful to U.S. security and U.S. interests in a number of ways,” McMaster said at an event at Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where he now serves as chairman of its Center on Military and Political Power. “So what’s unfortunate, I think, about the decision is I think a lot of people who may have been talking to the president or the president himself may not have focused maybe on the importance of that force in connection with defeating the terrorist organization, but also having the influence necessary to ultimately help end this catastrophe across the greater Middle East,” McMaster added.

 Trump to impose sanctions on Turkey for military offensive in Syria - President Trump on Monday said he would implement sanctions on Turkey following bipartisan backlash over his decision to greenlight the country's incursion into northern Syria. The president said in a statement that the U.S. will target government officials in Ankara and “any persons contributing to Turkey’s destabilizing actions in northeast Syria.” The sanctions include an increase on steel tariffs from 25 percent to 50 percent and a halt in trade negotiations with Ankara. The Treasury Department unveiled the sanctions later Monday. They targeted the Turkish Ministry of National Defense and Ministry of Energy and National Resources, as well as the leaders of those two agencies and the head of the Ministry of the Interior. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters at the White House that the U.S. was prepared to issue licenses so that the sanctions do not deprive the Turkish people of their energy needs. “As we’ve warned all along, our desire is not to shut down the Turkish economy. Our desire is to see an appropriate response,” Mnuchin said. “These sanctions will be very severe on the Turkish economy. We can continue to ramp up these sanctions.” The order leaves open the possibility of the Trump administration imposing additional sanctions on Turkey depending on its actions in Syria moving forward. “Turkey’s military offensive is endangering civilians and threatening peace, security, and stability in the region,” Trump said in a statement. “I have been perfectly clear with President Erdogan: Turkey’s action is precipitating a humanitarian crisis and setting conditions for possible war crimes.” Turkey must commit to keeping ISIS at bay and prioritize the protection of civilians and religious minorities in northern Syria, Trump said.

 Sanctions on Turkey- Trump imposes new sanctions on Turkey over Syria offensive— The U.S. has imposed new sanctions against Turkish officials and institutions over the country's incursion into northern Syria, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Vice President Mike Pence announced outside the White House on Monday. Specifically, Mnuchin said the U.S. has sanctioned three Turkish ministers along with their department of defense and ministry of energy. Pence told reporters Mr. Trump spoke to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Monday and called for an immediate ceasefire as Turkish troops move further into Syria. "The president of the United States called on the president of Turkey to stop the invasion," Pence said on the driveway outside the Oval Office after meeting with the president. Pence said Mr. Trump signed an executive order authorizing the sanctions and directed him to lead a delegation to Turkey to begin negotiating a resolution between the Turks and Kurds. The president also ordered a hike on steel tariffs and immediately canceled negotiations over a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey. The executive order authorizes the treasury secretary to sanction Turkish officials for "actions or policies that further threaten the peace, security, stability, or territorial integrity of Syria." In an earlier statement, the president said he was "fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey's economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path." The move represents the administration's first concrete effort to punish Turkey, a NATO ally, for its incursion into areas held by Kurdish allies of the U.S. after the president ordered a hasty removal of troops from northern Syria last week. "If Turkey's operation continues, it will exacerbate a growing and daunting humanitarian crisis, with potentially disastrous consequences," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. "To avoid suffering further sanctions imposed under this new executive order, Turkey must immediately cease its unilateral offensive in northeast Syria and return to a dialogue with the United States on security in northeast Syria." 

The Sanctions Addicts Look For Their Next Fix -- The Trump administration is preparing to wage yet another economic war. This time they intend to impose sanctions on Turkey in response to its government’s invasion of northern Syria:  After Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Friday that Trump had authorized “very powerful” new sanctions targeting Turkey, the administration appeared ready to start making good on Trump’s threat to obliterate Turkey’s economy.  On Sunday, Trump said he was listening to Congress, where Republicans and Democrats are pushing aggressively for sanctions action.  “Dealing with @LindseyGrahamSC and many members of Congress, including Democrats, about imposing powerful Sanctions on Turkey,” Trump said on Twitter, referring to the loyal Trump ally and U.S. senator who lambasted the president last week.  Imposing sanctions on other states has become a reflexive response for U.S. politicians and policymakers, and the U.S. increasingly sanctions the economies of entire countries when we know that the punitive measures won’t affect the targeted government’s behavior for the better. Sanctions advocates want to do it anyway to prove a point or to show that they are “doing something.” There should be consequences for the Turkish invasion, but broad economic sanctions shouldn’t be among them. The U.S. should certainly suspend arms sales to Turkey, and it should remove the nuclear weapons that our government keeps at Incirlik. Those would be appropriate responses to signal U.S. opposition to the invasion, and it would secure the nuclear weapons that should have been taken out of Turkey years ago. Launching an economic war means resorting to collective punishment of the civilian population of Turkey. It would mainly hurt the poorest and most vulnerable people in Turkey, and it wouldn’t compel the Turkish government to halt its attack. The Turkish government isn’t going to compromise on something that it sees as being very important to its security. Sanctions will predictably inflame resentment against the U.S. and provide a convenient foil for the government.

 Erdoğan confirms he will meet with Pence after initial confusion - A spokesperson for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Wednesday confirmed that the president would meet with Vice President Mike Pence during their trip to Ankara, amid bipartisan backlash in the U.S. over President Trump's decision to withdraw troops from Syria. The announcement came after initial confusion following an interview Erdoğan gave to Sky News, in which he appeared to say he would only talk to Trump. A spokesperson later clarified Erdoğan's statement, confirming that the Turkish president does plan to meet with Pence and Pompeo on Thursday. A senior administration official told USA Today that Pence and Pompeo plan to threaten more sanctions against Turkey to convince Erdoğan to call a cease-fire in Turkey's offensive against the Kurds in Syria. "We need them to stand down, we need a cease-fire, at which point we can begin to put this all back together again," Pompeo told Fox Business Wednesday. But Trump told reporters Wednesday that Turkey's offensive "has nothing to do with us" and is "not our problem." Turkey's offensive began after President Trump announced the removal of U.S. troops from Syria last week. Turkey has wanted to launch the offensive against the Kurds, a U.S. ally that helped fight ISIS that Turkey associates with a domestic terrorist group. In a phone call with Trump Tuesday, Erdoğan said he would "never declare a cease-fire."

ABC Used Footage from Kentucky Gun Range for Report on Turkey Bombing Syria --ABC News apologized Monday for mistakenly running a video that apparently was taken at a gun range in Kentucky with a report about Turkish attacks in northern Syria. “We’ve taken down video that aired on ‘World News Tonight Sunday’ and ‘Good Morning America’ this morning that appeared to be from the Syrian border immediately after questions were raised about its accuracy,” the network said in a statement on Monday. “ABC News regrets the error.” A representative for ABC News declined to comment on how the mix-up had happened. The clip that accompanied the reports on the bombings showed explosions and smoke dominating the dark horizon and was titled “Slaughter in Syria”. Tom Llamas, an anchor with ABC News’s “World News Tonight” spoke over the footage, which someone reposted on YouTube. “This video, right here, appearing to show Turkey’s military bombing Kurd civilians in a Syrian border town,” Mr. Llamas said. A number of people on social media noted on Monday that the clip strongly resembled a video uploaded to YouTube in April 2017. The title “Knob Creek night shoot 2017” referred to an evening machine gun event held by the Knob Creek Gun Range in Kentucky. An employee who answered the phone at the gun range on Monday but would not give his name, said that he was not sure who had shot the video. But he said he recognized it as having been taken at the facility. ABC’s mistake came one week after President Trump vowed toclear the way for a Turkish military operation in northern Syria, leaving America’s longtime Kurdish allies feeling betrayed and unleashing chaos.

 House passes resolution rebuking Trump over Syria pullout -- The House on Wednesday approved a resolution formally rebuking President Trump over his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria. The measure passed in a 354-60 vote, with four lawmakers voting present. All 60 votes against the resolution came from Republicans, with the present votes coming from three GOP lawmakers and Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.). The top three House Republicans supported the motion in a rare split from the president. The resolution — which was sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and the panel’s top Republican, Rep. Michael McCaul (Texas) — "opposes the decision to end certain United States efforts to prevent Turkish military operations against Syrian Kurdish forces in Northeast Syria." The measure also calls on Turkey to end its military action, calls on the United States to protect the Kurds and calls on the White House "to present a clear and specific plan for the enduring defeat of ISIS." “The measure we’re considering today will send an unambiguous bipartisan, hopefully bicameral rejection of Trump’s policy in Syria,” Engel said ahead of the vote. Trump has ordered all U.S. troops in northern Syria to pull back, paving the way for Turkey to launch an offensive against Kurdish forces that were instrumental in the U.S.-led fight against the ISIS. The decision was swiftly condemned by lawmakers in both parties as abandoning the Kurds, signaling to future partners the United States is untrustworthy and enabling ISIS to resurge in the chaos. The House’s resolution came to the floor under suspension of the rules, meaning it needed two-thirds approval to pass. The measure garnered support from all Democrats and 129 Republicans.

Trump says Turkish offensive has 'nothing to do with us' - President Trump said Wednesday that Turkey’s offensive against U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in northern Syria has “has nothing to do with us,” defending his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the region amid criticism. “It’s not our land,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office during a meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella. “If Turkey goes into Syria that’s between Turkey and Syria," he added. "That’s not between Turkey and the United States, like a lot of stupid people would like you to believe.” Trump reiterated his plan to withdraw the United States from “endless wars.” “Our soldiers are not in harm’s way, as they shouldn’t be, as two countries fight over land,” Trump told reporters. “That has nothing to do with us." Trump also downplayed the U.S. alliance with the Kurds, calling them “no angels” and saying the U.S. “paid a lot of money” for the Syrian Kurdish forces to fight alongside U.S. troops against ISIS. Trump’s remarks came as a U.S. delegation led by Vice President Pence prepared to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara in an attempt to broker a cease-fire in the region. “The Kurds are much safer right now, but the Kurds know how to fight, and as I said, they’re not angels. They’re not angels. You take a look … but they fought with us. We paid a lot of money for them to fight with us, and that’s OK,” Trump said Wednesday in the Oval Office. "If Russia wants to get involved with Syria, that’s really up to them. They have a problem with Turkey. They have a problem at a border. It’s not our border, we shouldn’t be losing lives over it,” Trump said. The president again described the Kurds as “no angels” during a later press conference and asserted that the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) is likely “more of a terrorist threat” than ISIS – a remark that prompted criticism. Trump has faced tremendous blowback over his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria as Turkey prepared to launch a military operation at the border, including harsh criticism from some of his Republican allies. His remarks Wednesday drew immediate and fierce criticism from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of his closest Capitol Hill allies. “I firmly believe that if President Trump continues to make such statements this will be a disaster worse than President Obama’s decision to leave Iraq,” Graham tweeted.

 Trump defends US pullback in Syria - As Turkey’s offensive against the Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria entered its second week, US President Donald Trump delivered a belligerent defense of his decision to pull back US military forces from the Turkish-Syrian border. Speaking at a press conference together with visiting Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Trump insisted that Turkey’s invasion of Syria had “nothing to do with us,” while referring dismissively to the YPG, which served as the Pentagon’s proxy ground troops during the so-called war on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), suffering an estimated 11,000 casualties. “If Turkey goes into Syria it is between Turkey and Syria. It’s not our problem,” Trump said, adding, “There’s a lot of sand that they can play with.” The Kurds are “no angels,” Trump stated repeatedly, adding that they were “paid a lot of money” to fight for the US. Meanwhile, he denounced the PKK, the Kurdish separatist organization in Turkey against which Ankara has waged a bloody decades-long counterinsurgency campaign, as “worse at terror and more of a terrorist threat in many ways than ISIS.” The statements echoed the justifications given by the Turkish government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for its invasion of Syria. It has described it as an anti-terrorist campaign, classifying the Syrian Kurdish YPG as a branch of the Turkish Kurdish PKK. Trump brushed aside a question about his having given Erdogan a “green light” for the invasion during a phone conversation last week, taunting ABC’s White House correspondent over the network’s mistaken airing of a video taken at a Kentucky gun range, claiming that it showed Turkish assault on a Syrian Kurdish village. The US president delivered his populist and nationalist defense of his actions, which he insisted were in keeping with his campaign pledge to end Washington’s “forever wars” in the Middle East and Central Asia, even as Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were set to arrive in Ankara today for talks aimed at securing a cease-fire agreement.

Democrats say they left White House meeting on Syria after Trump ‘meltdown’ - Democratic congressional leaders said they walked out of a White House meeting Wednesday on Syria after what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called a “meltdown.” After top Democrats left the bipartisan meeting with Trump, Pelosi told reporters that the president appeared “shaken up” by a House vote condemning his decision to remove U.S. forces from northern Syria. The House approved the resolution in an overwhelming 354-60 vote, as even a majority of Trump’s Republican Party supported it. “That’s why we couldn’t continue in the meeting because he was just not relating to the reality of it,” Pelosi said outside the White House, in only the latest instance of a gathering between the president and Democrats blowing up. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., described the meeting as more of a “nasty diatribe” than a “dialogue.” He said Trump called Pelosi a “third-rate politician” — though Pelosi later clarified the president used the term “third grade politician.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., added that he had “never” seen a president “treat so disrespectfully a coequal branch” of government. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican who voted for the House measure to oppose pulling troops out of northern Syria, told reporters that Pelosi “stormed out” of the meeting. He called her behavior “unbecoming” and argued Pelosi tried to make the gathering unproductive. The White House declined to comment on whether Trump called Pelosi a “third-rate politician.”

 Kremlin questions language of 'unusual' Trump letter to Erdogan - (Reuters) - The Kremlin on Thursday questioned the tone of a letter sent by U.S. President Donald Trump to his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan, which it called highly unusual for correspondence between heads of state. The White House on Wednesday released the Oct. 9 letter, in which Trump urged Erdogan: “Don’t be a tough guy” and “Don’t be a fool!” “You don’t often encounter such language in correspondence between heads of state. It’s a highly unusual letter,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

Trump’s Syria letter reportedly made Erdogan so angry, he threw it in the trash - A head-turning letter President Donald Trump wrote to his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan apparently ended up in the trash, according to a senior Turkish official. Images of the letter from Trump attempting to pressure Erdogan not to attack U.S.-allied Kurds in Syria became public on Wednesday and drew ridicule from critics in Washington. But it apparently angered no one more than the recipient himself, according to the official, who recounted the incident to a Turkish newspaper on Thursday. “The letter was written on 9 October. Erdogan rejected the offer of mediation and it was thrown into the trash. The clearest answer to this letter was the reply given at 4pm on 9 October. This is was the start of Operation Peace Spring,” the official told local newspaper Yeni Safak.  Trump, in the letter, threatened Erdogan with economic destruction if Turkey went forward with “slaughtering thousands of people,” telling him, “Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!” He also wrote: “History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way. It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen,” before concluding the letter with “I will call you later.” Several Democratic lawmakers and former government officials took to Twitter to call the letter “an embarrassment.” The Turkish foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment when contacted by CNBC. Turkey is now nine days into a military offensive that’s so far produced harrowing reports of civilian casualties, ISIS jailbreaks and human rights atrocities, according to activists and aid groups. The U.N. says more than 130,000 people have already been displaced.

 Kurdish group PKK pens open letter rebuking Trump's comparison to ISIS - The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is designated as a terrorist group by both the U.S. and Turkey, penned an open letter in English rebuking President Trump's comparison of the group to ISIS amid a fight between Kurds and Turkish forces in northern Syria. The PKK said in Friday's letter that it “refused comparisons” to ISIS after Trump said at a press conference on Wednesday that the Kurds were “no angels” and that the PKK is likely “more of a terrorist threat” than ISIS. “We refuse comparisons being made between our movement and the inhumane thugs of ISIS,” the PKK’s Foreign Relations Committee wrote in the letter. “We are not guilty of terrorism; we are victims of state terrorism. But we are guilty of defending our people. We believe that the American people will be able to judge for themselves who the dangerous terrorists of this world are,” the group added. The PKK has been in armed conflict with Ankara for decades as part of an anti-Turkish insurgency to establish an independent Kurdish state. Turkey has accused the PKK and People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is fighting against Ankara in Syria and allied with the U.S. against ISIS, of being linked. The letter comes amid a fragile five-day cease-fire in northeastern Syria that calls for Turkey to cease its military operations for 120 hours to allow Kurds in the area to withdraw from a designated safe zone along the Turkish and Syrian border. The deal, brokered by Vice President Pence and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was panned by critics who said the ceasefire essentially allows Turkey to continue its offensive after five days while forcing Kurds to retreat. Reports have already emerged of fighting in the border region of Syria. Trump, who drew criticism that he greenlighted Turkey’s offensive by withdrawing U.S. troops from northeastern Syria, sparked rebukes for his comments about the PKK, with former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice on Wednesday calling him a “total sell-out.” The PKK suggested it did not deserve the criticism, arguing it is committed to human rights.

 Democratic debate shows cross-party support for imperialist intervention in Syria - The Democratic presidential debate Tuesday had the largest field of candidates in history, but displayed the narrowest range of political differences, particularly on the central questions of foreign policy and the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. Twelve candidates were on the debate stage, two more than any previous such encounter, but there were virtually no divisions on foreign policy. All twelve declared their opposition to President Trump’s order for US troops to withdraw from Syria, breaking a five-year military alliance with the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia. And they all declared their support for the impeachment of Trump on the narrow, CIA-dictated “national security” terms laid down by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, barring any consideration of Trump’s real crimes against immigrants, against democratic rights more generally, and against the working class. Significantly, after an initial question that forced those on the stage to state their attitude to the House impeachment inquiry, the candidates stayed away from any discussion of impeachment, Trump’s defiance of Congress, or his efforts to mobilize ultra-right forces in an extra-legal campaign against being removed from office. In the entire three-hour-long event, not one candidate made mention of fascists, neo-Nazis, white supremacists or even bigots, and there was only one reference to Trump’s appeals to racism. On the question of the US role in Syria, every one of the 12 candidates denounced Trump for his “betrayal” of the Kurds, although they expressed tactical differences over how best to recoup the US position in Syria that Trump had supposedly abandoned. Former Vice President Joe Biden openly defended a continued and even strengthened US troop presence in Syria. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a military intelligence veteran of the Afghanistan war, hailed the role of US Special Forces, i.e., highly trained death squads, in Syria. But the defense of American imperialism was just as pronounced by the two “left” candidates, Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren, as by the more conventionally “moderate,” i.e., openly right-wing, politicians. Sanders said, “The crisis here, as I think Joe said and Pete said, is when you begin to betray people, in terms of the Kurds, 11,000 of them died fighting ISIS, 20,000 were wounded. And the United States said, ‘We’re with you, we’re standing with you.’ And then suddenly, one day after a phone call with Erdogan, announced by tweet, Trump reverses that policy. Now, you tell me what country in the world will trust the word of the president of the United States? In other words, what he has done is wreck our ability to do foreign policy, to do military policy, because nobody in the world will believe this pathological liar.”

Rand Paul Blocks Senate Democrats' Rebuke Of Trump's Syria Pullout - Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) shut down an effort by Democrat Chuck Schumer (NY) to rebuke President Trump over his decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria.  Schumer attempted to get consent on Thursday to bring up the House-passed resolution, arguing that "we're in real trouble," according to The Hill. On Tuesday, the house voted 354-60 "opposes the decision to end certain United States efforts to prevent Turkish military operations against Syrian Kurdish forces in Northeast Syria."  Paul blasted Schumer, saying "He should come to the floor and say that we are ready to declare war. We are ready to authorize force, and we are going to stick our troops in the middle of this messy, messy, five-sided civil war where we would be ostensibly opposed to the Turkish government that has made an incursion."   The Kentucky Republican added that the House-passed resolution would do "nothing to fix the problem." On Wednesday, Paul told CNN's Jake Tapper that pulling US troops from Northern Syria "may be the best thing that ever happened to the Kurds," adding "This was [President Donald Trump’s] decision … It was the best thing not only for our troops, but it’s also the best way to adhere to the Constitution." "The Constitution says you don’t declare a war unless Congress votes on it, and who are we going to declare a war against — our ally, Turkey, the Free Syrian Army that used to be our ally, [Syrian President Bashar] Assad?"

Erdogan Holding 50 US Tactical Nukes 'Hostage' As Trump Authorizes Sanctions - Amid all the media and pundit outrage since Turkey's President Erdogan launched his so-called 'Operation Peace Spring' into northeast Syria last week, vowing to wipe out Syrian Kurdish forces who've long held the border areas, what's been largely missing is acknowledgement of the uncomfortable fact that NATO ally Turkey has long hosted a major portion of America's nuclear Cold War-era arsenal stored across Europe.  And as Erdogan threatens to "open the doors and send 3.6 million migrants" to Europe while under increased international criticism for the rapidly rising civilian death toll in Syria, The New York Times reports the following bombshell Monday: some 50 US tactical nukes are "now essentially Erdogan’s hostages". The Times cites growing alarm by top State and Energy Dept. officials over what the publication likens as a "disastrous" and confusing break from US policy in northern Syria, given not only further expected destabilization in the region, but worsening and unpredictable ties with Erdogan's Turkey, given Trump is now preparing to sign into effect severe sanctions with the aim of attempting to "limit" his military incursion.  According to the report: And over the weekend, State and Energy Department officials were quietly reviewing plans for evacuating roughly 50 tactical nuclear weapons that the United States had long stored, under American control, at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, about 250 miles from the Syrian border, according to two American officials. Turkey is among a handful of European NATO allies which play host to the extensive US nuclear arsenal on European soil a remnant and continuation of the historic Cold War build-up when Washington was locked in battle to deter Soviet expansion in Europe, which also allowed US allies to not have to pursue their own nukes.  The further irony in all this is that Incirlik Air Base is precisely where during the opening years of the war in Syria, US intelligence and military officials teamed up with their Turkish counterparts to wage proxy war against Assad, which involved fueling the jihadist insurgency which birthed the very groups now slaughtering Syrian Kurds and Christians in the country's northeast.

US and Turkey reach agreement to suspend military operation in Syria - US Vice President Mike Pence and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reached a deal to suspend Ankara's operation in northern Syria within the next five days to allow Kurdish forces to withdraw from a designated area along the border, a Turkish official told Middle East Eye. Following a long meeting between top Turkish and American officials on Thursday, the two sides came to an agreement amid growing international and US opposition to the Turkish incursion into Syria. Pence confirmed the agreement after the meeting ended. "Today the United States and Turkey have agreed to a ceasefire in Syria," he said. The demarcation line of the so-called "safe zone" is to run roughly 20 miles south of the Turkish border, Pence said. On Friday morning, despite the deal, the sound of shelling and gunfire could be heard coming from the town of Ras al-Ain, across the border from Turkey. Trump welcomed the agreement on Thursday, writing on Twitter: "Great news out of Turkey… Millions of lives will be saved." Great news out of Turkey. News Conference shortly with @VP and @SecPompeo. Thank you to @RTErdogan. Millions of lives will be saved!  Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 17, 2019    Later on Thursday, Trump told reporters in Washington that he was "very happy" with the deal, saying that the agreement will prevent the loss of "millions and millions of lives", adding: "This is an amazing outcome." The safe zone is to be primarily enforced by the Turkish military, and the two sides will increase their cooperation to implement the deal. Once the military operation is suspended, Trump will lift the sanctions that he imposed on Turkey earlier this week.

Pence announces Syria ceasefire that appears to give Turkey everything it wants -- US Vice President Mike Pence announced in Turkey Thursday that he and Turkish President Erdogan agreed to a ceasefire halting Turkey's incursion into northern Syria, which was launched after President Donald Trump effectively gave Turkey the go ahead on a phone call with Erdogan earlier this month. The deal appears to secure Turkey most of its military objectives, forcing America's one-time allies in the fight against ISIS -- Kurdish forces -- to cede a vast swath of territory, with one senior US official very familiar with operations in Syria telling CNN that the deal meant the US was "validating what Turkey did and allowing them to annex a portion of Syria and displace the Kurdish population." The Turkish government is insisting that the agreement is not a ceasefire, but only a "pause" on operations in the region, reflecting Ankara's views of the status of the Syrian Kurds. As part of the deal, Pence said Turkey "will pause Operation Peace Spring in order to allow for the withdrawal of (Kurdish) YPG forces from the safe zone for 120 hours," referring to Ankara's official name for the unilateral military offensive. "All military operations will be paused, and Operation Peace Spring will be halted entirely on completion of the withdrawal," Pence said. "This also includes an agreement by Turkey to engage in no military action against the community of Kobani," he continued, referring to the Kurdish-held city on the border of Syria. Pence said the Turkish operation would end when the YPG forces complete their withdrawal. Pence said during a press conference announcing the agreement that the US is "going to be using all the leverage that we have of having fought ralongside Syrian Democratic Forces in the battle against ISIS to facilitate their safe withdrawal," adding that the negotiated "outcome will greatly serve the interests of the Kurdish population in Syria."

Trump Claims European Nations Will Take Back ISIS Prisoners -Following reports that several high-value ISIS prisoners and their families had escaped Kurdish detention facilities during the chaos that has dominated northeastern Syria over the past week, President Trump tweeted Friday afternoon that he had convinced several of his European partners to accept responsibility for ISIS members in the custody of Syria's Kurds. In a string of tweets sent Friday afternoon, President Trump shared more details from a Friday conversation with Turkish President Erdogan. Setting aside the issue of whether or not it actually happened for now, Trump insisted that there is "good will on both sides" and that "the ISIS Fighters are double secured by Kurds & Turkey." Just spoke to President @RTErdogan of Turkey. He told me there was minor sniper and mortar fire that was quickly eliminated. He very much wants the ceasefire, or pause, to work. Likewise, the Kurds want it, and the ultimate solution, to happen. Too bad there wasn’t.........this thinking years ago. Instead, it was always held together with very weak bandaids, & in an artificial manner. There is good will on both sides & a really good chance for success. The U.S. has secured the Oil, & the ISIS Fighters are double secured by Kurds & Turkey.... — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 18, 2019

 Donald Trump: xenophobe in public, international mobster in private | Robert Reich - Trump withdrew American troops from the Syrian-Turkish border, leaving our Kurdish allies to be slaughtered and opening the way for a resurgent Islamic State. Trump’s rationale? He promised to bring our soldiers home.There could be another reason. Trump never divested from his real estate business, and the Trump Towers Istanbul is the Trump Organization’s first and only office and residential building in Europe. Businesses linked to the Turkish government are also major patrons of the Trump Organization. Which may be why Trump has repeatedly sided with the Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been intent on eliminating the Kurds. Back home, Trump has separated families at the border, locked migrant children in cages and tried to ban Muslims from entering the country. He says he wants to protect America’s borders. Trump justifies his trade war with China as protecting America from Chinese predation. But he asked China to start an investigation of Biden, and last week his adviser on China conceded he spoke with Chinese officials about the former vice-president.  During the 2016 election, Trump publicly called on Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s missing emails. Within hours, Russian agents sought to do just that by trying to break into her computer servers.Special counsel Robert Mueller found that Russia sought to help Trump get elected, and Trump’s campaign welcomed the help.Now Trump is playing at being a double foreign agent – pushing the prime minister of Australia, among others, to gather information to discredit Mueller.  Rudy Giuliani is Trump’s international thug, arranging deals with foreign powers. On Wednesday, two of Giuliani’s business associates were arrested in connection with a criminal scheme to funnel foreign money to candidates for office, including donations to a Super Pac formed to support Trump. Under Trump, thuggery has replaced diplomacy. On Friday, in an opening statement for congressional impeachment investigators, Marie Yovanovitch, former US ambassador to Ukraine, said people associated with Giuliani “may well have believed that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine”. Meanwhile, even as Trump spews conspiracy theories about the Biden family, his own children are openly profiting from foreign deals. Eric and Don Jr have projects in the works in Ireland, India, Indonesia, Uruguay, Turkey and the Philippines. Trump is pocketing money from foreign governments eager to curry favor by staying at his hotels. The practice has become so routine that during Trump’s 25 July phone call, the Ukrainian president assured him that the “last time I traveled to the United States, I stayed in New York near Central Park and I stayed at the Trump Tower”.

Democrats Still Can’t Level With Voters About the U.S. Empire - IN THE PAST few years, the Democratic Party has started dealing with reality on domestic policy. Largely thanks to leadership from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, actual solutions to actual problems are now on the agenda: Medicare for All, a big minimum wage hike, a Green New Deal, and the most radical, important idea — changes in who runs corporations.Unfortunately, the presidential debate in Ohio on Tuesday night showed that Democrats are still a million miles away from reality on foreign policy.Thanks to President Donald Trump’s recent green light to Turkey to invade northern Syria and assault the Kurds there, the debate contained an unusual amount of discussion about foreign policy.That was the upside. The downside was that almost all of the discussion was totally specious, because no one on stage wanted to tell Americans the awful truth. That truth is, first, that the grim reality in Syria available for viewing via Twitter videos is the climax of decades of bipartisan foreign policy. And second, by this point the only choices available are either wretched or horrible or both. The worst offenders were South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, and former Vice President Joe Biden. But even Sanders and Warren came nowhere near the honesty of their domestic policies.Sanders said little about Syria, mostly just echoing Buttigieg’s concern about the rest of the world losing trust in America. By contrast, Warren and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard dipped their toes into the complicated truth before scurrying away.Warren said, “I don’t think we should have troops in the Middle East. But we have to do it the right way, the smart way.” This sounds great, but what is this right, smart way? When even Noam Chomsky wants U.S. troops to stay in Syria, it’s a little tricky.Gabbard did aggressively challenge standard U.S. foreign policy blather. She decried “this regime change war” in Syria and mentioned the unfortunate facts about “the U.S. actually providing arms in support to terrorist groups in Syria, like Al Qaida, HTS, al-Nusra and others.”  What Gabbard didn’t say is that, by this point, any plausible exit by the U.S. will be extraordinarily ugly, with the Assad regime brutally reestablishing control over Syria.

America sold over $55 billion in weapons in FY19  - The U.S. sold $55.4 billion worth of weapons to allies and partners around the globe in fiscal 2019, a nearly flat change from the previous fiscal year.Of that total, $48.25 billion came in payments from partner nations, $3.67 billion from grant assistance programs such as Foreign Military Financing and the Global Peacekeeping Operations Initiative, and $3.47 billion for cases funded under Department of Defense Title 10 grant assistance programs, such as train and equip programs or the Afghan Security Forces Fund.In FY17, the U.S. sold $41.93 billion in Foreign Military Sales, or FMS, deals. That number jumped a dramatic 33 percent in FY18 to $55.6 billion in deals.While another major jump did not happen in FY19, Lt. Gen. Charles Hooper, the head of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, expressed confidence that the various efforts to reform his agency would continue to pay off.“We, the United States, will continue to embody what makes us great; transparency in our business practices, responsiveness to our partners needs, integrity in all that we do and commitment to not only advance our national security objectives but those of our partners as well," Hooper said at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference Tuesday. Sales totals can look volatile year over year, as large procurements like fighter jets can have an outsized impact on the top line. In FY16, sales totaled $33.6 billion; FY15 totaled just more than $47 billion; and FY14 totaled $34.2 billion.But three years of strong numbers represent a trend, benefiting both from reforms to t he FMS process begun during the Obama administration and a prioritization on arms salesby the Trump administration, which views them as an economic driver.

Hold the ‘champagne’: What Chinese state media are saying about the trade talks --Chinese state media warned the U.S. over the weekend to “avoid backpedaling” on the partial trade agreement, and expressed caution about the initial phase of the deal which President Donald Trump called “very substantial.” On Friday, the Trump administration announced it was suspending a tariff increase to 30% from 25% on at least $250 billion in Chinese goods which were set to take effect on Tuesday. However, a tariff hike implemented in September was not rolled back and plans for another hike just before the the Christmas holiday on Dec. 15 remain in place.“While the negotiations do appear to have produced a fundamental understanding on the key issues and the broader benefits of friendly relations, the Champagne should probably be kept on ice, at least until the two presidents put pen to paper,” said China Daily on Sunday.As based on its past practice, there is always the possibility that Washington may decide to cancel the deal if it thinks that doing so will better serve its interests. In an opinion piece entitled “Let’s nail down ‘phase one’ before moving to the next,” the official Chinese state-owned English newspaper pointed fingers at the Trump administration’s unpredictability when it comes to foreign policy.“As based on its past practice, there is always the possibility that Washington may decide to cancel the deal if it thinks that doing so will better serve its interests,” China Daily said. “The US should avoid backpedaling, as it has in the past, and instead cherish what has been achieved as a manifestation of a healthy and steady China-US relationship that serves the interests of both countries and the world,” it said. Separately, People’s Daily — owned by the Chinese Communist Party — reiterated in an editorial on Saturday: “There are no winners in a trade war, and both parties must not fall into a lose-lose trap.”

Commentary: Resolving China-U.S. trade disputes requires patience, composure - People's Daily Online -- China and the United States concluded here Friday a much-anticipated new round of high-level economic and trade consultations. The two countries' negotiating teams achieved substantial progress in areas including agriculture, intellectual property rights protection, exchange rate, financial services, expansion of trade cooperation, technology transfer and dispute settlement. They also discussed arrangements for future consultations, and agreed to make joint efforts toward eventually reaching an agreement. In handling the protracted disputes, which have dragged on for over a year, China has developed a peaceful mind towards the ups and downs in its economic and trade relationship with the United States. The progress achieved in the just-concluded round of talks accords with the aspirations of the people of both nations as well as the international community, and has prevented the disputes from further escalating and spreading. However, uncertainty hovers over many issues, which requires China to stay patient and hold on to its strategic composure. China's patience and composure stem from the steadiness and resilience of its economy, which has not "collapsed" under maximum-pressure measures but maintained a growth rate of 6.3 percent in the first half of this year, topping all other major economies.

Trump said he made the ‘biggest deal ever’ with China for farmers, but a written resolution to the trade war is still a long way off  - iPresident Donald Trump on Saturday took to Twitter to tout victory in an initial trade agreement the US and China reached the day before, calling it the "greatest and biggest deal ever made for our Great Patriot Farmers in the history of our Country." But both sides acknowledge a full resolution to the long-running trade dispute between the world's largest superpowers remains a long ways off. The two countries reached an accord Friday that will nix a new round of tariffs Trump had planned to unleash on Tuesday in exchange for trade concessions from China. Precise details were scant, but the agreement reportedly included China's purchase of as much as $50 billion in US agriculture products — one of the hardest-hit US industries in the trade-war crossfire. Trump sought to pump air into the accomplishment of the first-phase agreement Saturday, revealing that the deal also includes billions in Boeing plane sales and saying that farmers "really hit pay dirt!" "The deal I just made with China is, by far, the greatest and biggest deal ever made for our Great Patriot Farmers in the history of our Country. In fact, there is a question as to whether or not this much product can be produced? Our farmers will figure it out. Thank you China!" Trump wrote. The two sides have held on-again, off-again efforts to mitigate the conflict for months with little to show for it until this point beyond increasingly escalating tariff threats. It's a significant step, but the deal could still fall through The agreement reached Friday marks a significant step toward ending the dispute, though both sides acknowledged a long road ahead to ending the tariff war that has been roiling global markets since March of 2018. A written pact has yet to be signed and is still weeks away, and the deal could still fall through in the meantime. Trump told reporters he didn't believe that would happen. 

China Ties Agriculture Binge to Trump Reducing U.S. Tariffs - Beijing wants a rollback in tariffs in its trade war with the U.S. before China can feasibly agree to buy as much as $50 billion of American agriculture products that President Donald Trump claims are part of an initial deal, people familiar with the matter said. Chinese officials are willing to start purchasing more U.S. agricultural products as part of the “phase one” trade deal, but it is not likely to reach the $40 billion to $50 billion touted by Trump under current circumstances, the people said. The people asked not to be identified discussing the private negotiations. The condition highlights how far apart Washington and Beijing remain, even after reaching the handshake accord touted by the U.S. last week. Washington had said China, which imported about $20 billion of U.S. farm goods in 2017, agreed to make large agricultural purchases in exchange for relief on upcoming tariffs. Beijing’s position makes a deal more complex than initially described. U.S. equity futures pared gains on the news and the yen extended an advance, as investor optimism waned about prospects for a trade deal between the world’s two largest economies. Under the terms of the partial trade arrangement, Chinese spending on U.S. farm goods will scale to an annual figure of $40 billion to $50 billion over two years, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said earlier. Beijing has in the past granted waivers so that its companies can buy U.S. farm goods without paying Chinese tariffs. It could do that again to get purchases started, the people said. However, waivers are seen as being impractical for volumes as large as $50 billion a year, one of the people said.  Chinese firms have bought U.S. agricultural products including 20 million tons of soybeans and 700,000 tons of pork so far this year and will accelerate its purchases, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters on Tuesday. Asked about the “phase one” trade deal, he said that what the U.S. said is “accurate” and that the U.S. and China have the same understanding of the situation. The two sides are working toward a deal that can be signed at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit next month in Chile. China wants further talks as soon as the end of October to hammer out the details,

 Lawmakers hit Trump administration for including tech legal shield in trade negotiations - Bipartisan lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday hit the Trump administration for including language from legal liability protections for internet companies in trade negotiations. The protections from Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which gives platforms legal immunity for content posted by third-party users while also giving them legal cover to take good-faith efforts to moderate their platforms, have been included in some way in both the U.S-Mexico-Canada trade agreement and pact with Japan signed earlier this month. “I want to talk a bit about injecting 230 intro trade agreements,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said during a hearing Wednesday. “It seems to me that we’ve already seen that now in the Japan trade agreement and there is a real push to include that now in the [USMCA]. There is no place for that.” “I think that laws in these other countries don’t really accommodate what the United States has done about 230 ... it is just inappropriate right now to insert this liability protection into trade agreements, and as a member of the working group that is helping to negotiate that agreement, I am pushing hard to make sure that it just isn’t there,” she added. Committee chairman Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said he was “disappointed” U.S. trade representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer refused to participate in Wednesday’s hearing.

Beijing Wants Tariffs Removed Before Committing To $50BN In Agri Purchases - Yesterday, we learned that our suspicions were correct, and that the US-China "Phase One" deal purportedly hashed out between the two sides last week appears to be more of the same disingenuous stalling, and that, fundamentally, the situation hasn't really changed. And on Tuesday, with the US back from the long holiday weekend, Chinese officials have essentially confirmed that they are back to their old tricks, and that the progress on the 'Phase One' deal that was touted last week is a sham. Beijing can make good on the $50 billion of annual agricultural goods purchases that it has promised - but only if Washington agrees to remove all of the trade war tariffs. Of course, as President Trump has repeatedly made clear, the tariffs must remain in place until a deal has been implemented and Beijing has proven that it has been abiding by the rules. According to Bloomberg, China will struggle to buy $50 billion of US farm goods unless the tariffs are removed. Unsurprisingly, futures slumped on the news... ...but they've since rebounded somewhat as renewed Brexit-deal optimism has helped lift risk broadly across the world. Meanwhile, Treasuries have climbed and the curve has steepened, with the 10-year yield falling 5 bps to 1.68% On Friday, Trump heralded China's promise of more agriculture purchases as a victory for American farmers. Now, it's looking like Beijing is going to press him on that. The message is clear: No more farm goods will be purchased until some or all of the tariffs are removed.

China says it hopes to reach phased trade pact with U.S. as soon as possible -  (Reuters) - China hopes to reach a phased agreement in a protracted trade dispute with the United States and cancel tariffs as soon as possible, the Commerce Ministry said on Thursday, adding that trade wars had no winners. A phased agreement would help restore market confidence and reduce uncertainty, ministry spokesman Gao Feng told reporters, adding that both sides were maintaining close communication. “The final goal of both sides’ negotiations is to end the trade war and cancel all additional tariffs,” Gao said. “This would benefit China, the U.S. and the whole world. We hope that both sides will continue to work together, advance negotiations, and reach a phased agreement as soon as possible.” Chinese premier Li Keqiang said both China and the United States need to resolve the issues through dialogue. He made the comments on Thursday when he met delegates led by Evan Greenberg, chairman of the U.S.-China Business Council. “China will create an internationalized business environment ruled by law where domestic and foreign firms are treated equally,” Li said. “Property and intellectual property rights will be strictly protected.”

 The American crackdown on Chinese intelligence - After decades of all but ignoring large-scale Chinese intelligence operations targeting the United States, the US government is engaged in a major crackdown on Beijing spying and technology theft. Almost on a monthly basis, the US Department of Justice announces the arrest of people facing various charges related to the theft of American secrets or similar intelligence activities. Last month, the FBI arrested Chinese government official Zhongsan Liu on visa fraud charges that masked his role in directing a major Chinese government operation to obtain American technology by recruiting experts at high-technology universities. Liu headed a Beijing front group in New Jersey called the China Association for International Exchange of Personnel (CAIEP). According to court papers in the case, Lui since 2017 worked to fraudulently obtain US visas for Chinese officials with the help of at least six universities in Massachusetts, Georgia, New Jersey and elsewhere that were not identified by name. The real purpose of the front was to recruit Americans engaged in high-tech research to support the Chinese government’s program to develop high-technology. The scheme was part of China’s Thousand Talents Program to recruit Chinese-Americans and others to support research in China. It has been linked to the China Ministry of Science and Technology. The Pentagon’s latest annual report on the Chinese military stated the Thousand Talents Program is not limited to commercial efforts, but supports the large-scale military buildup by the People’s Liberation Army. Thousand Talents is used for strategic programs and to fill technical knowledge gaps, the report said. The program “prioritizes recruiting people of Chinese descent or recent Chinese emigrants whose recruitment the Chinese government views as necessary to Chinese scientific and technical modernization, especially with regard to defense technology,” the report said. Assistant Attorney General John C Demers, head of the National Security Section, said of Liu’s arrest: “We will continue to confront Chinese government attempts to subvert American law to advance its own interests in diverting US research and know-how to China.”

  'We too love money more than freedom and democracy': Creators of 'South Park brutally mock NBA's China apology  BEIJING – The creators of “South Park” have issued a mock apology to China after censors scrubbed their popular animation from the Chinese web.The tongue-in-cheek statement, skewering Beijing’s demands that Western brands conform to its world view, came with officials apparently annoyed about an episode that crossed several of the Communist Party’s red lines.The episode — called “Band in China” — depicted forced labor at a Chinese prison and parodied companies that cave in to censorship for commercial gain.“I can’t sell my soul like this,” says one character, who was under pressure from Chinese censors to rewrite his music.“It’s not worth living in a world where China controls my country’s art,” he added.The incident comes as the NBA and its Houston Rockets franchise are facing fierce criticism and financial punishment in China over a tweet supporting Hong Kong’s democracy protesters.Both the league and the team have scrambled to apologize over the tweet by Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey, as calls for a boycott gather steam in one of the NBA’s most lucrative markets.But the apologies have sparked derision in the United States, where critics said the league is sacrificing morals for money.Writing on Twitter, “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone offered spoof contrition over any offense they had caused in China with their satirical show.“Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts,” they wrote.“We too love money more than freedom and democracy. Xi doesn’t look just like Winnie the Pooh at all,” the statement added, a reference to banned memes comparing Chinese President Xi Jinping with the portly bear. “Long live the Great Communist Party of China! May this autumn’s sorghum harvest be bountiful! We good now China?” the statement read.

US Imposes A Record $7.5 Billion In Tariffs On European Goods; Europe Vows Retaliation -  A “phase-1” trade deal between the US and China is in the making, the US just agreed with Turkey on a ceasefire in Syria, and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson struck a last-minute deal with the EU yesterday. And the world’s just become a better place, right? Well, not so fast! Remember that the US-China trade deal is just “progress” in the eyes of China and it remains to be seen whether this leads to a signing ceremony at the APEC meeting in Chile next month, especially as the Trump administration doesn’t seem willing to roll back current tariffs, a key demand by China. Meanwhile, the US tariffs on USD7.5bn of European goods have just kicked in, and Cheese, wine, olives and many other European goods will be subject to a price hike; the French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said on the sidelines of the IMF annual meetings that “Europe is ready to retaliate, in the framework of course of the WTO." "We, Europeans, will take similar sanctions in a few months, maybe even harsher ones — within the framework of the WTO — to retaliate to these US sanctions," Le Maire said in a radio interview earlier this week. The ceasefire in Turkey appears to be just a pause in hostilities and has met with as much criticism as it has received hails. With the situation in that region of the world becoming more complicated by the day, it’s no surprise that financial markets are having a hard time in assessing whether this is good or bad, or really just doesn’t matter at all. Oil prices did move higher yesterday around the close of European business (nearest future for Brent +$1/bbl), whilst the Turkish lira rose sharply as the agreement between the US and Turkey took to the airwaves. TRY gained almost 2.5% against the dollar. Meanwhile, European markets had to assess what is going on with “Brexit”. Both the Labour opposition, the SNP as well as the DUP were remarkably quick to describe the deal, announced by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Prime Minister Johnson, as “worse” than the previous deal struck between the EU and Theresa May. With reports showing that Johnson will lack the required votes to sail this deal through parliament on Saturday we are still up for a 48-hour roller coaster. Logic reasoning suggests Saturday’s vote will fail, but sentiment and Brexit fatigue may still play into the hands of Johnson, swaying sufficient MP’s to his side.

 Trump’s Border Wall is a Multi-Billion Dollar Corporate Handout -- Donald Trump is a master of distraction, but he is also an illusionist and there are few illusions bigger than his favourite obsession – the US border wall. On 1 October the New York Times reported that Trump told aides he would like to electrify his proposed wall and add to it a water-filled trench, stocked with snakes or alligators. Much of the wall that Trump fantasises about already exists – 654 miles of physical barriers – built long before he came to office. The existing border is also far more deadly in effect than even Trump’s own disturbed imaginings. A physical wall can be easily cut through, climbed over or burrowed beneath, but it’s more difficult to escape the violence of the US border regime already in place. Trump’s wall is a clever sleight of hand. For his supporters, the wall has become a powerful symbol of hostility to outsiders, suppressing national pathologies, history and injustices. But it also distracts attention from those who have most to benefit from its construction – a small number of multinational corporations. Since 2006, the Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP), has issued 64,000 contracts to corporations worth a total of $27 billion. If you include the agencies, like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the US Coast Guard, the total figure is even larger – $80.5 billion. A new report by Transnational Institute and No More Deaths, has identified 14 corporations that are the most significant players in border security: Accenture, Boeing, Elbit, Flir Systems, G4S, General Atomics, General Dynamics, IBM, L3 Technologies, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, PAE, Raytheon and UNISYS. The list includes several of the world’s largest arms manufacturers as well as IT firms and the global consulting firm Accenture. Together, they have cashed in on border contracts that boomed long before Trump came to office. In the last 15 years, budgets for CBP and ICE have more than doubled. In 2009, Lockheed Martin landed a contract potentially worth more than $945 million for maintenance and upkeep of 16 P-3 surveillance planes equipped with airborne and surface-to-radar systems. This single contract was equal to the total entire border and immigration enforcement budgets from 1975 to 1978 (around $923 million).

After ICE Raids in Mississippi, Community Is Still Reeling -  For 14 years, Migdalia had been slicing chicken breasts and pulling entrails at the chicken processing plant at Koch Foods Inc. in Morton, Mississippi. She was arrested there in August, as ICE targeted seven factories owned by five different chicken companies around Mississippi, taking with them 687 workers, almost all of whom were undocumented Hispanics. It was the largest immigration raid in history in a single state. Two months later, some 300 people who were arrested in that raid remain detained at two ICE centers in Louisiana. The majority have not yet had the opportunity to defend themselves in front of an immigration judge. Among them, about 90 people have been charged in criminal courts with a count of identity theft, for working with Social Security numbers that were not theirs. None of the companies targeted in the raid have been charged with immigration or labor law violations. Chicken companies began bringing workers from Mexico and Guatemala to Mississippi in the 1960s. At first, most were Mexicans, who eventually moved on to better jobs in Jackson, the state’s capital. In the last 15 years, more Guatemalans have arrived, especially from the San Marcos and Huehuetenango departments, which border Mexico. This immigrant community has been established for four generations, and many of the families had mixed legal status, living always in fear of being separated by deportation. That fear had grown sharper since Trump took office, and the raid confirmed it.  The Pew Research Center estimates that about 20,000 undocumented immigrants live in Mississippi — making them 0.7 percent of the state’s total population and 35 percent of the immigrant population in 2016. According to Pew, 21 percent of undocumented adults in Mississippi have been in the country for five or more years, and their children represent 1.8 percent of elementary and high school students in the state’s public schools. “These people are afraid to talk, to go out, they don’t want to be seen. I am running the risk of talking because I want people to hear us, to realize that we are all going through a very difficult time. Many people may think that now things are calm, but that’s not true,” Elena said in recent interview. “As things stand, the future is very uncertain for us Hispanics.”

Trump officials say aid to Puerto Rico was knowingly stalled after Hurricane Maria - Two officials with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) acknowledged during a hearing this week that the agency knowingly stalled sending hurricane relief funding to Puerto Rico after missing a legally required deadline to do so. HUD’s chief financial officer, Irv Dennis, and David Woll, the department's principal deputy assistant secretary for community planning and development, appeared before a House Appropriations subcommittee for a hearing on Thursday.The officials said that the agency missed a deadline issued by Congress to start a process to help Puerto Rico receive billions in federal housing funds that Congress had allocated after Hurricane Maria hit the island in 2017.“At HUD we are committed to the recovery of all Americans whose homes and communities were devastated by natural disasters, and we are steadfast in our stewardship of the funding and trust in us by you in your colleagues in Congress.”However, the officials’ defense did little to placate Democrats.“HUD did fail to comply with the law,” said Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) said at the hearing. HUD was supposed to deliver funding notices to 18 states hit by natural disasters by Sept. 4. It successfully published all the notices except for the one for Puerto Rico. The notice’s publication would have allowed the territory to begin crafting a plan to help manage the disaster relief funds.  Puerto Rico has received a third of the roughly $43 billion Congress allocated toward hurricane recovery efforts two years after Maria ravaged the island.

California governor signs ban on private prisons, setting up fight with Trump -- California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, signed into law on Friday a statewide ban on private prisons, in a move likely to set off another legal battle between the Trump administration and California.The new law prohibits California’s prison authority from contracting with private companies to jail criminal detainees and requires the state to phase out existing contracts by 2028. The ban also applies to companies that hold immigrant detainees for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.A Geo Group spokesperson said that the company, which operates four private prisons and two immigration detention centers in California, has been in talks with Ice and the US Marshals Service, and that they believe the new law will be struck down by the courts.“In particular, we believe the restrictions to force a phase-out of federal detention facilities under private management run afoul of the US constitution’s supremacy clause,” the company’s spokesperson said. “States cannot lawfully pass legislation mandating the closure of federal facilities that displease them on the basis of ideological differences.” California lawmakers disagree and say the ban is part of a broader criminal justice reform push that will protect prisoners serving criminal sentences and immigrants in civil detention from dangerous conditions inside privately run jails.  Grisel Ruiz, the supervising attorney for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, predicted the law would withstand any legal challenge by the Trump administration or private prison companies.

Researchers Detail How Slashing Pentagon Budget Could Pay for Medicare for All While Creating Progressive Foreign Policy Americans Want - The Institute for Policy Studies on Thursday shared the results of extensive research into how the $750 billion U.S. military budget could be significantly slashed, freeing up annual funding to cover the cost of Medicare for All—calling into question the notion that the program needs to create any tax burden whatsoever for working families.Lindsay Koshgarian, director of the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), took aim in a New York Timesop-ed at a “chorus of scolds” from both sides of the aisle who say that raising middle class taxes is the only way to pay for Medicare for All. The pervasive claim was a primary focus of Tuesday night’s debate, while Medicare for All proponents Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) attempted to focus on the dire need for a universal healthcare program.At the Democratic presidential primary debate onCNNTuesday night, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was criticized by some opponents for saying that “costs will go down for hardworking, middle-class families” under Medicare for All, without using the word “taxes.” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), on the other hand, clearly stated that taxes may go up for some middle class families but pointed out that the increase would be more than offset by the fact that they’ll no longer have to pay monthly premiums, deductibles, and other medical costs.“All these ambitious policies of course will come with a hefty price tag,” wrote Koshgarian. “Proposals to fund Medicare for All have focused on raising taxes. But what if we could imagine another way entirely?”“Over 18 years, the United States has spent $4.9 trillion on wars, with only more intractable violence in the Middle East and beyond to show for it,” she added. “That’s nearly the $300 billion per year over the current system that is estimated to cover Medicare for All (though estimates vary).”“While we can’t un-spend that $4.9 trillion,” Koshgarian continued, “imagine if we could make different choices for the next 20 years.”  Koshgarian outlined a multitude of areas in which the U.S. government could shift more than $300 billion per year, currently used for military spending, to pay for a government-run healthcare program. Closing just half of U.S. military bases, for example, would immediately free up $90 billion.

 After 184 years, Cherokees seek House delegate seat promised in treaty - Kim Teehee was an intern combing through dusty archives when she first learned of a largely forgotten agreement between her Cherokee tribe and the federal government.  More than 25 years later, that document has placed Teehee at the center of a historic reckoning of the way Congress treats Native Americans, while raising questions about what representation in Washington really means. It was a treaty, ratified by the Senate and signed by President Andrew Jackson in 1835, granting the Cherokee Nation a delegate to Congress. Teehee was named to that post in September by the tribe’s chief, Chuck Hoskin Jr. The move set off a series of technical and moral questions for leaders in Congress, who are now tasked with determining whether — and how — to allow her to take her seat. “I think we are ready for this,” Teehee says. “I have not had a conversation with anyone who said, ‘We don’t want to do this.’ It’s, ‘How do we get it done, and how do we do it right?’ ” A generation ago, congressional leaders might have ignored or flat out rejected claims from the Cherokee Nation to a delegate, adding to the federal government’s long history of breaking agreements with Native Americans. But decades of activism has increased Native American political clout. It paid off in the 2018 election of Democratic Reps. Deb Haaland of New Mexico and Sharice Davids of Kansas, the first Native American women in Congress. And in August, 11 presidential candidates appeared in Iowa for the first-ever Native American presidential forum, a courting of indigenous votes that was unheard of decades ago. Teehee and political leaders from other tribes say the response to the Cherokee Nation will be an important indication of how serious tribal rights are to elected officials.

Update: We Found a “Staggering” 281 Lobbyists Who’ve Worked in the Trump Administration - At the halfway mark of President Donald Trump’s first term, his administration has hired a lobbyist for every 14 political appointments made, welcoming a total of 281 lobbyists on board, a ProPublica and Columbia Journalism Investigations analysis shows. With a combination of weakened rules and loose enforcement easing the transition to government and back to K Street, Trump’s swamp is anything but drained. The number of lobbyists who have served in government jobs is four times more than the Obama administration had six years into office. And former lobbyists serving Trump are often involved in regulating the industries they worked for. Even government watchdogs who’ve long monitored the revolving door say that its current scale is a major shift from previous administrations. It’s a “staggering figure,” according to Virginia Canter, ethics chief counsel for the D.C.-based legal nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “It suggests that lobbyists see themselves as more effective in furthering their clients’ special interests from inside the government rather than from outside.” We tracked the lobbyists as part of an update to Trump Town, our database of political appointees. We’ve added the names of 639 new staffers with the administration and the financial disclosures of 351 political appointees who have filled different positions over the past year, and we tracked the careers of 338 who departed government during the same period. The full extent of the lobbying industry’s influence is hard to measure because federal agencies decline to share details of recusals granted to officials who disclose potential conflicts with their new government roles.

  Elizabeth Warren Buys Facebook Ads Claiming Mark Zuckerberg Backs Trump - Elizabeth Warren's campaign is buying ads on Facebook which falsely claim that CEO Mark Zuckerberg has endorsed President Trump - before quickly admitting it's not true. The message? Facebook needs to fact-check ads by politicians. The Democratic presidential candidate’s campaign sponsored the posts that were blasted into the feeds of U.S. users of the social network, pushing back against Facebook’s policy to exempt politicians’ ads from its third-party fact-checking program. The ad begins with a lie: Facebook’s chief executive officer “just endorsed” Trump for re-election. It quickly backtracks to the truth. -Bloomberg"You’re probably shocked. And you might be thinking, ‘how could this possibly be true?" the ad says. "Well, it’s not.""What Zuckerberg ‘has’ done is given Donald Trump free rein to lie on his platform -- and then to pay Facebook gobs of money to push out their lies to American voters," reads Warren's ad.  Hilariously, Bloomberg's example of an 'untrue' Trump ad revolves around video evidence of former Vice President Joe Biden threatening to withhold $1 billion in US loan guarantees from Ukraine if they didn't fire a prosecutor investigating a gas company paying his son $600,000 per year.  The Biden campaign has asked both Twitter and Facebook to remove the Trump ads, however both platforms have refused according to The Verge. "The ad you cited is not currently in violation of our policies," said one Twitter spokesman.  Facebook’s decision to allow Trump’s ad contrasts with CNN, which rejected a request by the president’s campaign to run what the network called two “demonstrably false” claims. “If Senator Warren wants to say things she knows to be untrue, we believe Facebook should not be in the position of censoring that speech,” Andy Stone, a spokesman for Facebook, said in a statement to CNN on the ads. –Bloomberg   Warren, meanwhile, is also guilty of false advertising - such as an Instagram video which suggests she might be fun to share a beer with.

Nadler Slams "Brazen Corruption" As Trump Picks Doral Resort To Host 2020 G-7 Summit -- Donald Trump’s Doral golf resort in Miami will be the site of next year’s G-7 summit, according to a statement by the White House.  As Bloomberg reports, the president pitched hosting the 2020 G-7 summit at Trump National Doral at this year’s August gathering of leaders in Biarritz, France, saying that the luxury property is “very big” and that each country could “have their own villa, or their own bungalow.” The United States last hosted the then-Group of Eight summit in 2012 at Camp David in Maryland. The announcement by Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney: "...of the 12 places that we looked at... this was by far and away the best choice." He said the president “will not be profiting here.” And cue the outrage...  Update (1415ET): Well that didn't take long. While the House is busy with various other inquiries and probes, House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) has released the following statement in response to President Donald Trump's decision to hold the 2020 G7 Summit at Trump National Doral Miami, claiming it is a potential violation of the Constitution's Emoluments Clauses:"The Administration's announcement that President Trump's Doral Miami resort will be the site of the next G7 summit is among the most brazen examples yet of the President's corruption. He is exploiting his office and making official U.S. government decisions for his personal financial gain. The Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution exist to prevent exactly this kind of corruption. The Committee will continue investigating, litigating and legislating regarding these matters including pressing for answers to our prior requests about the G7 selection process - but we will not allow this latest abuse of power to distract from Congress' efforts to get to the bottom of the President's interference in the 2020 election."Elizabeth Warren was also quick to jump on the bandwagon...This is corruption, plain and simple.— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) October 17, 2019 

The Cambridge Analytica whistleblower explains how the firm used Facebook data to sway electionsChristopher Wylie, a former Cambridge Analytica employee, is known for leaking documents to journalists that showed how Cambridge Analytica harvest the data of millions of Facebook users without their consent, using it to inform targeted political advertising. The campaigns of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz paid over $5 million each to the firm, Wylie wrote.  Wylie's newest book, "Mindf*ck: Cambridge Analytica and the Plot to Break America," details more about the firm's operations.In an excerpt published in New York Magazine, Wylie says the firm used focus groups and qualitative observation to learn what Facebook users are interested in, including term limits, "draining the swamp," guns, and building walls to keep out immigrants. Wylie says that the firm was already exploring these ideas in 2014, before Trump's campaign. Cambridge Analytica came up with ideas for how to best sway users' opinions, testing them out by targeting different groups of people on Facebook. It also analyzed Facebook profiles for patterns to build an algorithm to predict how to best target users."Cambridge Analytica needed to infect only a narrow sliver of the population, and then it could watch the narrative spread," Wylie wrote.Based on this data, Cambridge Analytica chose to target users that were  "more prone to impulsive anger or conspiratorial thinking than average citizens." It used various methods, such as Facebook group posts, ads, sharing articles to provoke or even creating fake Facebook pages like "I Love My Country" to provoke these users."When users joined CA's fake groups, it would post videos and articles that would further provoke and inflame them," Wylie wrote. "Conversations would rage on the group page, with people commiserating about how terrible or unfair something was. CA broke down social barriers, cultivating relationships across groups. And all the while it was testing and refining messages, to achieve maximum engagement."

Hillary Clinton Pitches Conspiracy Theory That Tulsi Gabbard, Jill Stein Are Russian Assets - Hillary Clinton is still peddling election-related conspiracy theories, this time hinting that 2020 Democratic contender Tulsi Gabbard is being 'groomed' to split the Democratic vote as a third party candidate, thus handing the election to President Trump.  Speaking with former Obama 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe on his podcast, "Campaign HQ with David Plouffe," Clinton said - without mentioning Gabbard by name: "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. She's the favorite of the Russians."  Of course, that's "assuming Jill Stein will give it up - because she's also a Russian asset," Clinton continued.  Earlier in the interview, Clinton hinted that the Trump 2020 campaign is still in "contact with the Russians," and that "we have to assume that since it worked for them, why would they quit?"  "Donald Trump is Vladimir Putin's dream," Clinton added. "I don't know what Putin has on him - whether its both personal and financial, I assume it is. But more than that, there's this bizarre adulation Trump has for dictators."  Clinton also insisted that Russia "did affect the outcome of the election" in 2016, despite the DOJ concluding otherwise.

Amash: Clinton's attack on Gabbard will 'drive many people into the arms' of Trump --- Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) knocked Hillary Clinton for suggesting that 2020 Democratic hopeful Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) was being groomed by Russia to run as a third-party candidate, arguing the attack only helps President Trump's reelection efforts.“The thing we know for sure is that Hillary Clinton is a Donald Trump asset,” Amash, a vocal Trump critic, tweeted late Friday. “Hillary does — and did — drive many people into the arms of Donald Trump. Her attack on Tulsi does likewise.” Clinton on Friday warned during a podcast interview that Russia was poised to meddle in the next U.S. presidential election through online disinformation efforts, and she said Moscow could attempt to sow chaos by encouraging a third-party candidate.“She’s the favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far,” Clinton said in an apparent reference to Gabbard, who has faced unfounded speculation that her campaign is being amplified by bots and online trolls.Gabbard later Friday unleashed an attack on the former secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, calling her the “queen of warmongers” and the “personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party.” "From the day I announced my candidacy, there has been a concerted campaign to destroy my reputation. We wondered who was behind it and why. Now we know — it was always you," she said, challenging Clinton to join the primary instead of "cowardly hid[ing] behind your proxies."

National Security Council Gutted As Establishment Loyalists Undermine Trump -- One week after President Trump ordered a serious reduction in staff at the National Security Council, National security adviser Robert O'Brien has announced the size and scope of the cuts, promotions, and other organizational matters following the departure of John Bolton.  Speaking at a late Thursday town hall event, O'Brien said he's aiming to eliminate approximately half of the 178 staff members at the NSC over the next 15 monts, according to PBS  -while Politico has the details on promotions. The latest changes include two promotions and one departure, a senior Trump administration official confirmed on Friday. Kevin Harrington, who had been senior director for strategic planning, will now serve as strategic counselor to O’Brien. Also moving up is Victoria Coates, a former adviser to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz who has been serving as the NSC’s senior director for the Middle East. Harrington is one of the longest-serving officials to serve at the NSC under President Donald Trump. He’s a former investment-fund manager and longtime associate of venture capitalist Peter Thiel. The senior administration official said Harrington’s directorate will be eliminated, but that he and his team will serve as a mini-think tank for O’Brien. -PoliticoO'Brien, John Bolton's successor, framed the cuts as a return to prior staffing levels after the headcount grew from around 100 people under President George W. Bush to over 200 during the Obama administration. "It just ballooned into a massive, you know, bureaucracy … under the last administration," O'Brien told the Fox Business Network's Lou Dobbs. News of the NSC headcount reduction comes amid a national whistleblower scandal in which a CIA officer working at the NSC, who used to work with former Vice President Joe Biden, approached the House Intelligence Committee to lodge a complaint against President Trump for 'pressuring' Ukraine into investigating alleged corruption by Biden and his son Hunter. An actual reading of the transcript unexpectedly released by Trump revealed no such pressure - just a simple request. Of course, a senior administration official insisted on Friday "that the cuts were not related to the leaks," and that the staff reduction would be accomplished through attrition by not replacing people as they finish their assignments at the White House," PBS reports.

17 Former Watergate Special Prosecutors Pen Op-Ed On Why Trump Should Be Impeached -- Seventeen Watergate special prosecutors have together for one purpose; to tell the American people why President Trump should be impeached.   The authors are mostly Democrats, and include a CNN Legal Analyst, former officials in the Clinton and Carter administrations (one of whom got the Illinois Attorney General to assign a special prosecutor to investigate her veterinarian after her Dalmatian died), a DNC donor, aDianne Feinstein donor, a Mitt Romney donor who had lots of misguided thoughts on the Mueller investigation, and others whose politics arequite clear.Their argument?  Trump has "demonstrated serious and persistent abuses of power that, in our view, satisfy the constitutional standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”"  In largely unsupported broad brush strokes, they offer a polished version of several Democrat talking points - many of which are incorrect or have been debunked by a simple reading of the underlying evidence. For example, the authors write that Trump "appears to have demanded that Ukraine investigate a potential 2020 political opponent and pursue the conspiracy theory that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 presidential election, despite the unanimous conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community that it was Russia that had interfered."  Apparently they didn't read the Trump-Zelensky transcript which makes crystal clear nothing was "demanded." Zelensky himself has said as much multiple times, including a Thursday statement that there  was "no blackmail" which occurred during the call with Trump. Moreover, Zelensky says he had no idea the United States withheld nearly $400 million in military aid while the Trump administration investigated Ukrainian corruption. The authors, all 17 of them, fail to mention this.

The Cipollone Letter: Trouble in the White House Counsel’s Office - LawFare - White House Counsel Pat Cipollone’s letter to the House leadership, declaring that the president will not cooperate in any impeachment inquiry, is an extraordinary document in more than one respect. As Keith Whittington and Frank Bowman have shown, the letter’s constitutional and “legal” arguments are baseless. It misrepresents the constitutional law and precedent that it is pleading on the president’s behalf. On the merits, it is an exceptionally weak performance. Add to this another deficiency: its glaring failure to effectively represent the institutional interests of the presidency. Cipollone argues that Congress has denied the president constitutionally mandated procedural protections and that the inquiry is “constitutionally invalid and a violation of due process.” Assume for present purposes that Cipollone concurs with the president that the House is running amok with this impeachment inquiry. In other words, assume that he genuinely believes that for the impeachment process to be at all fair and the record to be complete before the House votes on articles, the president should be afforded certain procedural safeguards. What should he advise the president about the appropriate engagement with the House, and what considerations should inform that advice? In these circumstances, a White House counsel would make the affirmative, institutional case for the adoption of fair procedures—not simply posit that the House has rejected them or is certain to do so. Cipollone does not simply assume that the House has definitively rejected any procedural accommodations for the president’s self-defense. He asserts as the settled fact of the matter that all further discussion is futile because the House leadership is acting in bad faith. His description of the House’s position on these issues is not even internally consistent: He argues not only that the House has “abandoned” or “denied” basic rights and protections but also that the House committees “have not established them.” His letter is a puzzle: How can House leadership have abandoned something that it never established to begin with? What’s more, the Cipollone letter offers no articulation of principles that should properly guide a House impeachment process in establishing procedures with due regard for the institutional presidency. Instead, it makes a sweeping due process claim that the House should recognize the president’s right to see all evidence, to present evidence, to call witnesses, to have counsel present at all hearings, to cross examine all witnesses, to make objections relating to the examination of witnesses or the admissibility of testimony and evidence, and to respond to evidence and testimony. Likewise, the Committees must provide for the disclosure of all evidence favorable to the President and all evidence bearing on the credibility of witnesses called to testify in the inquiry.

Ukraine’s president says there was ‘no blackmail’ in Trump call - There was “no blackmail” in the phone call with Donald Trump that sparked animpeachment inquiry, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Thursday. Speaking during a day-long “media marathon” held in a food court in Kyiv, Zelenskiy played down suggestions that Trump pressured him to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden in exchange for military aid to help in the fight against Russian-backed separatists, the Associated Press reported.Zelenskiy said he only learned that the U.S. had blocked hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine after his phone call with Trump on July 25.“We didn’t speak about this," Zelenskiy said. “There was no blackmail.”During the call, Trump asked Zelenskiy to “look into” Biden and his son Hunter, according to a rough White House transcript of the discussion. Democrats believe Trump was withholding the military aid to use as leverage to pressure Ukraine into investigating Biden.But Zelenskiy on Thursday said the call “wasn’t linked to weapons or the story with [Ukrainian gas company] Burisma,” where Hunter Biden served on the board. Asked what Ukraine did to persuade the U.S. to release the aid, Zelenskiy said: “We have many diplomatic contacts. And in case we need to find a solution to questions of this level, questions about our country’s security, we use all our powerful possibilities.”

Adam Schiff has 2 aides who worked with whistleblower at White House - House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff recruited two former National Security Council aides who worked alongside the CIA whistleblower at the NSC during the Obama and Trump administrations, the Washington Examiner has learned.Abigail Grace, who worked at the NSC until 2018, was hired in February, while Sean Misko, an NSC aide until 2017, joined Schiff's committee staff in August, the same month the whistleblower submitted his complaint.The whistleblower was an NSC official who worked with former Vice President Joe Biden and who has expertise in Ukraine, the Washington Examiner has reported.A career CIA analyst with Ukraine expertise, the whistleblower aired his concerns about a phone conversation between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to a House Intelligence Committee aide on Schiff’s staff. He had previously informed the CIA’s legal counsel's office.Schiff initially denied he knew anything about the complaint before it was filed, stating on Sep. 17: “We have not spoken directly with the whistleblower. We would like to."But it later emerged that a member of his staff had spoken to the whistleblower before his complaint was submitted on Aug. 12. The Washington Post concluded that Schiff "clearly made a statement that was false." Grace, 36, was hired to help Schiff’s committee investigate the Trump White House. That month, Trump accused Schiff of "stealing people who work at White House." Grace worked at the NSCfrom 2016 to 2018 in U.S.-China relations and then briefly at the Center for a New American Security think tank, which was founded by two former senior Obama administration officials.

Schiff Staffer Flew To Ukraine 2 Months Ago, Met With Impeachment Witness -A staffer for Rep. Adam Schiff's House Intelligence Committee flew to Ukraine in late August on a trip organized and sponsored by the Atlantic Council, where he met with a key witness for the Democrats' ongoing impeachment efforts.  The witness, acting US Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor, is scheduled to provide a deposition next week as part of Schiff's inquiry into President Trump's phone call with Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky, according to Breitbart News.Trump, among other things, asked Zelensky to renew an investigation into Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who were both paid handsomely by gas giant Burisma Holdings while Biden was Vice President, according to prior reports and a new allegation by Ukrainian MP Andriy Derkach, who says he has proof that $900,000 was funneled from Burisma to the elder Biden. Ambassador Taylor, meanwhile, has a "close relationship" with the Atlantic Council, "writing analysis pieces published on the Council’s website and serving as a featured speaker for the organization’s events," according to the report, which adds that "He also served for nine years as senior advisor to the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council, which has co-hosted scores of events with the Atlantic Council. The Schiff staffer, Thomas Eager, meanwhile, partook in the Ukraine trip as a member of the Atlantic Council Eurasia Congressional Fellowship - directly sponsored by Burisma via a 2017 "cooperative agreement

Exclusive: Trump lawyer Giuliani was paid $500,000 to consult on indicted associate's firm (Reuters) - President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was paid $500,000 for work he did for a company co-founded by the Ukrainian-American businessman arrested last week on campaign finance charges, Giuliani told Reuters on Monday.The businessman, Lev Parnas, is a close associate of Giuliani and was involved in his effort to investigate Trump’s political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, who is a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic Party nomination.Giuliani said Parnas’ company, Boca Raton-based Fraud Guarantee, whose website says it aims to help clients “reduce and mitigate fraud”, engaged Giuliani Partners, a management and security consulting firm, around August 2018. Giuliani said he was hired to consult on Fraud Guarantee’s technologies and provide legal advice on regulatory issues.Federal prosecutors are “examining Giuliani’s interactions” with Parnas and another Giuliani associate, Igor Fruman, who was also indicted on campaign finance charges, a law enforcement source told Reuters on Sunday. The New York Times reported last week that Parnas had told associates he paid Giuliani hundreds of thousands of dollars for what Giuliani said was business and legal advice. Giuliani said for the first time on Monday that the total amount was $500,000.

Fourth man held in campaign fraud case involving Rudy Giuliani associates -- A Florida man wanted in a campaign finance case involving associates of Rudy Giuliani is in federal custody after flying Wednesday to Kennedy airport in New York City to turn himself in, federal authorities said. David Correia, 44, was named in an indictment with two Giuliani associates and another man arrested last week on charges they made illegal contributions to politicians and a political action committee supporting Donald Trump. Giuliani, the former New York mayor, is Trump’s personal lawyer. All the other defendants in the case were already in custody. Prosecutors said Correia, who owns a home with his wife in West Palm Beach, was part of efforts by co-defendants Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman to leverage outsized political donations to Republican candidates and committees as part of an effort to advance their business interests. Both Parnas and Fruman have a history of business dealings with Giuliani. Prosecutors said that, among other things, the pair made campaign contributions with the intent of lobbying US politicians to oust the country’s ambassador to Ukraine. At the time, Giuliani was trying to get Ukrainian officials to investigate the son of Trump’s potential Democratic challenger, Joe Biden. Correia is accused of conspiring with the other defendants, including Ukrainian-born US citizen Andrey Kukushkin, to make political donations to local and federal politicians in New York, Nevada and other states with the aim of trying to get support for a new recreational marijuana business. All four defendants were expected to appear on Thursday in federal court in Manhattan. Separately, the investigation into Giuliani’s Ukrainian business dealings are reported to have triggered a broader set of counterintelligence concerns within the FBI than previously known, CNN has reported.

Trump ex-Russia adviser Fiona Hill testifies in impeachment inquiry - (Reuters) - Donald Trump’s former Russia adviser testified for more than nine hours on Monday behind closed doors, the latest witness summoned in the impeachment inquiry against the U.S. president over his request that Ukraine investigate a political rival.The Democrats’ rapidly progressing inquiry could prompt the House of Representatives to approve articles of impeachment - formal charges - leading to a trial in the Senate on whether to remove Trump from office.Fiona Hill, former senior director for European and Russian Affairs on Trump’s National Security Council, recounted a July 10 meeting in Washington that she attended with senior Ukrainian and U.S. officials, including U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, according to a person familiar with her testimony.Hill said Sondland raised the matter of investigations, which she and others took as a reference to a  probe into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who had served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Alarmed at what she heard, Hill said she left the meeting and was advised to see National Security Council lawyer John Eisenberg, the person said.

Secret testimony aimed at keeping Trump in the dark, says Adam Schiff – House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff defended holding testimony behind closed doors in the impeachment inquiry he’s heading up against President Donald Trump, likening this phase of the investigation to a “grand jury.” “We want to make sure that we meet the needs of the investigation and not give the president or his legal minions the opportunity to tailor their testimony and in some cases fabricate testimony to suit their interests,” the California Democrat said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” Schiff said they may call some or all of the witnesses to return to testify in public later, though that might not include the whistle-blower who triggered the impeachment fight in the first place. While Trump and some of his Republican allies have hoped to unmask the official and question him or her, Schiff said his priority now is to protect the whistleblower and said they don’t need the person’s testimony to find out what happened on the phone call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. “We’re keeping our focus right now on the president’s coercion of an ally, that is Ukraine, to create these sham investigations into his political opponent,” Schiff said. Schiff said investigators have already seen strong evidence that Trump abused his office by conditioning a meeting Zelenskiy wanted with Trump on Ukraine “digging up dirt on the Bidens.”

Testimony highlights key role of Bolton in impeachment inquiry against Trump - In closed-door testimony Monday before the House Intelligence Committee, former national security adviser on Russian and European affairs Fiona Hill described the bitter opposition of departed National Security Adviser John Bolton to the efforts of Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to force Ukraine to launch a corruption investigation into Trump’s potential opponent in the 2020 elections, former Vice President Joe Biden. Hill is the first ex-White House aide to testify in the impeachment inquiry launched last month by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. She resigned her post on the National Security Council (NSC) shortly after a meeting last July 10, which she described as a tense confrontation between Bolton and Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who, along with acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Giuliani, was heading up the White House Ukraine operation. According to multiple press reports, Hill testified that after the July 10 meeting, Bolton instructed her to raise their joint concerns over the shadow Ukraine diplomacy with the chief lawyer for the NSC. She said Bolton told her to tell the White House lawyer, “I [Bolton] am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up.” Hill also quoted Bolton as saying in a previous conversation, “Giuliani’s a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up.” Bolton’s angry response to Trump’s maneuvers with Ukraine were of a piece with his hard-line stance on foreign policy. He and others in the administration, including Hill and Marie Yovanovitch, whom Trump removed as ambassador to Kiev last May and who testified in the impeachment inquiry on Friday, considered Trump’s suspension of military aid to Ukraine and refusal to grant President Volodymyr Zelensky a White House meeting to be a political gift to Russia and part of Trump’s supposed softness toward Vladimir Putin.

Trump impeachment inquiry gathers pace as more officials testify | US news - Democrats continued their whirlwind investigation of Donald Trump on Tuesday as another witness testified before Congress, building momentum towards a likely impeachment of the president.  Trump sought to fight back by drawing attention to a TV interview in which Hunter Biden, the son of the former vice-president Joe Biden, acknowledged “poor judgment” in his business dealings in Ukraine but denied any wrongdoing. George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state, became the latest official to appear in private before three House committees. In emails supplied to Congress by the state department inspector general, Kent expressed concerns about White House efforts to remove the then ambassador to Ukraine. The impeachment inquiry is moving at dizzying speed. The Axios website noted that if everyone agrees to appear, Democrats will have interviewed 11 administration officials by the end of next week. Every witness has “bolstered the case against Trump”, Axios added, leaving White House officials demoralised or panicked. The hearings have been held behind closed doors but Democrats may yet decide to publish transcripts. Trump, who has been leading his own defence,tweeted on Tuesday: “Democrats are allowing no transparency at the Witch Hunt hearings. If Republicans ever did this they would be excoriated by the Fake News. Let the facts come out from the charade of people, most of whom I do not know, they are interviewing for nine hours each, not selective leaks.”The torrent of damaging revelations continued on Monday when Fiona Hill, a British-born former senior director for Europe and Russia on the White House National Security Council (NSC), spoke to the House committees for 10 hours.According to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, Hill described a sharp exchange on 10 July between the then national security adviser, John Bolton, and the US ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland. It concerned the role played by Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor commonly described as Trump’s lawyer, in trying to persuade the Ukrainian government to open investigations into Democrats including Biden.Hill said Bolton instructed her to tell the NSC’s attorney that Giuliani was acting in concert with White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, in a rogue operation with legal implications. “I am not part of whatever drug deal Rudy and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Bolton instructed Hill to tell the NSC lawyer, according to her testimony.

House Democrats will not hold a vote authorizing impeachment probe, which White House sought - House Democrats will not hold a vote to authorize an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump as of now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday, defying calls from the White House and Republicans to do so. The decision to hold off on a formal vote comes amid growing pressure from Republican lawmakers and White House officials who have criticized House Democrats’ efforts as an illegitimate attempt to undermine Trump’s presidency. But many members of Pelosi’s caucus want to avoid the perception that the White House is dictating how the House, as part of a separate and equal branch of government, conducts itself, a congressional aide familiar with Democrats’ discussions told CNBC. Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., pushed back on critics who have accused Democrats of conducting the proceedings without transparency. “We’re not here to call bluffs,” Pelosi said at a press conference Tuesday evening. “This is not a game to us. This is deadly serious,” she said.

Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe - White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said Thursday that the flow of security assistance to Ukraine was not conditioned on Kiev investigating a theory related to 2016 election interference, walking back statements he made earlier in the day.Mulvaney issued a statement Thursday afternoon accusing the media of “misconstruing” his earlier remarks to the press at the White House “to advance a biased and political witch hunt against President Trump.” “Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election,” Mulvaney said. “The president never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainians did anything related to the server.” Mulvaney insisted the only reason security aid was held up was because the administration was reviewing whether other nations were contributing enough and out of concerns over corruption. Mulvaney indicated earlier Thursday that the Trump administration had held up almost $400 million in military assistance to Ukraine in part because Trump wanted Kiev to investigate an unproven conspiracy theory about Ukraine’s involvement in the hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) server in 2016. The theory diminishes Russia's involvement in the DNC hack. Trump's former homeland security adviser recently called the theory "completely debunked." “Did [Trump] also mention to me in the past that the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely, no question about that. But that was it. That’s why we held up the money,” Mulvaney told reporters at the earlier afternoon briefing. “The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the things that he was worried about in corruption with that nation. And that is absolutely appropriate,” Mulvaney continued, suggesting Trump wanted assistance with an ongoing investigation by the Justice Department.Attorney General William Barr has ordered an inquiry into the FBI's original probe of 2016 Russian interference. Trump's critics view the investigation as an effort by the president to undermine the intelligence community's original finding that Moscow intervened to help him win. Mulvaney also told reporters that there would be “political influence in foreign policy” and that they needed to “get over it.”

Mulvaney Revises His Statement, Says There Was Never Any Quid Pro Quo For Ukraine Aid -After earlier on Thursday, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney set off a media firestorm when in a press briefing he said that the the Trump administration held up military assistance to Ukraine in part because Trump wanted Kiev to investigate allegations about Ukraine’s involvement in the hack of the Democratic National Committee server in 2016, later on Thursday Mulvaney revised his remarks, maintaining that there had never been any quid pro quo between the hold the administration put on aid to Ukraine and Ukraine’s cooperation on an investigation into allegations surrounding the DNC server.In a statement late on Thursday afternoon, Mulvaney accused the media of “misconstruing” his earlier remarks to the press at the White House "to advance a biased and political witch hunt against President Trump", and explained that the aid was held over concerns about a lack of financial support from other nations, especially in Europe, for Ukraine: the “only reasons we were holding the money was because of concern about lack of support from other nations and concerns over corruption." He had cited that rationale in the earlier briefing before adding that the server was an issue that the president wanted investigated before aid was forthcoming.“Multiple times during the more-than 30 minute briefing where I took over 25 questions, I referred to President Trump’s interest in rooting out corruption in Ukraine, and ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly and appropriately,” Mulvaney said in the statement. “There was never any condition on the flow of aid related to the matter of the DNC server,” Mulvaney said in the later statement, which is reposted below:

McConnell leans into impeachment fight - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is leaning into the fight against the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry into President Trump. McConnell on Wednesday, for the second time in two days, lashed out at House Democrats from the Senate floor, painting them as too focused on the inquiry to work on legislation. "All their energy is going into this all-consuming impeachment parade that has been rolling on for three years now," McConnell said. "Speaker Pelosi's efforts to hold back her left-wing caucus have officially crumbled and the House has thrown itself into impeachment." Democrats are at the start of inquiry focused on whether Trump held up Ukraine aid as part of an effort to pressure the government to open up an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. Trump and his allies have lashed out at Democrats for not holding a formal vote to open the impeachment inquiry. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said that a vote isn't required under the rules and doubled down on Tuesday reiterating that they would not hold a vote. But McConnell knocked Democrats on Wednesday, suggesting they were ignoring "fairness and due process." “The Democrats’ process already speaks for itself. For the first time ever, Speaker Pelosi has simply ordered the House to conduct an inquiry into impeaching a President without a full vote of the House. Just yesterday, the Speaker doubled down on this unprecedented and undemocratic process by once again refusing to hold a vote on an impeachment inquiry," he said.

McConnell- Get Ready For Senate Impeachment Trial 'As Soon As Thanksgiving' - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told Republican Senators on Wednesday to prepare for an impeachment trial of President Trump as soon as Thanksgiving, according to the Boston Globe.   The announcement comes as House Democrats roll the dice on a second-hand claim from a CIA 'whistleblower' that President Trump pressured Ukraine's president to investigate former VP Joe Biden - who the whistleblower worked for - and Biden's son Hunter, who made $50,000 per month sitting on the board of a Ukrainian gas company his father helped when he pressured Ukraine's president to fire the prosecutor investigating its owner.   During a July 25 phone call, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky to investigate a claim that a wealthy Ukrainian individual was involved in the alleged DNC server hack - and that Ukraine 'has the server', as well as corruption claims against the Bidens. While the Democrats are pointing to the request as inviting a foreign country to meddle in the 2020 election, the White House says they want to know what happened in 2016 - and is now claiming that the decision to withhold nearly $400 million in US military aid was linked to the request to investigate election meddling - not the Bidens.  Democrats are also investigating efforts by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and the US ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, to investigate Ukraine.   And while Trump will almost certainly be impeached by the Democrat-controlled House, the GOP-controlled Senate will be able to pick apart the entire affair.

The Impeachment Loophole No One’s Talking About  - A nugget of political arithmetic is suddenly everywhere: “Two-thirds majority.” This is the share of votes required to convict President Trump in an impeachment trial in the United States Senate. That’s 67 senators, if you’re counting—or, in the glass-half-empty variation, the number of Republican senators required to jump ship is 20.Mostly, these numbers are used to cast doubtful sentiments on the prospect of impeachment. As CNN correspondent Manu Raju reports, convicting Trump “would require support from a two-thirds majority of the Senate—a highly unlikely proposition.” The same numbers, and the same conclusion, have been popularized by Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, and Chris Hayes; presidential candidates andmembers of Congress; USA Today and Reuters, CNBC and Vox’s Matthew Yglesias.This is especially true among the President’s champions, who cheerfully assure the GOP faithful that Trump’s fortunes are sealed by math. Hans von Spakovsky did that on Fox News this week, when he argued that “67 votes are needed in the 100-member Senate to remove the president…a very high hurdle that’s probably impossible to leap over in the case of President Trump.” If Fox News is to believed, the 67 figure is ironclad. Airtight. Right?Not so fast.The Constitution doesn’t indicate that removal from office requires two-thirds of the Senate. It requires two-thirds of senators present for the proceedings. The inclusion of this single word in the Constitution’s impeachment clauses shifts the mathematical ledger of how impeachment, however unlikely, could go down. It allows for the all-important two-thirds threshold to exist along a sliding scale—far from the full attendance of the 100-member Senate. In theory, a vote to convict the President (or anyone else) would count as legal with as few as 34 members, not 67, assuming the absolute minimum (51) participated.

Trump conference video incites violence against opponents - A conference of ultra-right supporters of President Trump, held at the Trump National Doral resort in Miami, with his son Don Jr. as featured speaker, included the showing of a gruesome video that portrays Trump slaughtering his critics in the media and the Democratic (and Republican) parties with an assortment of weapons. The video was created in 2018, using a scene from the graphically violent 2014 movie Kingsman: The Secret Service, directed by Matthew Vaughn and based on a British comic book series. It starred Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson. Trump’s face is crudely superimposed over the Firth character as he walks down the pews of a church, labeled the Church of Fake News, attacking and killing people.  Among those shot, stabbed, disemboweled, strangled, set ablaze, thrown out of windows or otherwise disposed of in the nearly three-minute video are Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, John McCain, Mitt Romney and Representative Maxine Waters, a black congresswoman who has been a frequent Trump target on Twitter. Another victim is simply labelled “Black Lives Matter.” Other slaughtered characters are identified with a wide range of media outlets (with corporate logos superimposed over the faces). These include CNN, MSNBC, PBS, National Public Radio, the BBC, the Washington Post,Vice News, Huffington Post and BuzzFeed. After the bloodbath, the Trump character grins with glee at his handiwork. The creator of the site that first posted the video in 2018, known by his internet handle Carpe Donktum, met with Trump this past July in the Oval Office. The president called his guest a “genius.” Donktum had already posted an altered “spaghetti western” video that showed Trump slapping and shooting CNN reporter Jim Acosta.

Think Nothing Else in Trump World Can Shock You? Read This - - On Friday, October 11, Attorney General William Barr addressed the students and faculty of Notre Dame University’s law school. The topic of his speech was “religious freedom.” Here are a few excerpts from that speech: "We see the growing ascendancy of secularism and the doctrine of moral relativism. Basically, every measure of this social pathology continues to gain ground." Barr described what he saw as the consequences of this "moral upheaval." "Along with the wreckage of the family, we are seeing record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of angry and alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence and a deadly drug epidemic. “Among the militant secularists are many so-called progressives. But where is the progress? We are told we are living in a post-Christian era. But what has replaced the Judeo-Christian moral system? What is it that can fill the spiritual void in the hearts of the individual person and what is the system of values than can sustain social life? The fact is, that no secular creed has emerged capable of replacing the role of religion. "This is not decay. This is organized destruction. Secularists and their allies have marshaled all the forces of mass communication, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values." Let’s state the obvious here. For the attorney general of the United States to reveal that he sees the entertainment industry, academia, and “all other forces of mass communication” conspiring to bring down religion and traditional values is not only appalling, it’s frightening. This is War on Christmas thinking. The kind of bilge we used to associate only with the radical right fringe. Glenn Beck. Rush Limbaugh. Ann Coulter. But this is the chief law enforcement officer of the United States talking, legitimizing these views to the faculty and students of one of the nation’s most respected law schools. This isn’t an evangelical minister arguing that Christianity is in peril. This isn’t a media commentator trying to build his or her audience. Barr nominates and supervises all the nation’s U.S. attorneys. He has a lot to say about who gets nominated as federal judges. And he has proven himself all too willing to use the massive power of the Justice Department to protect and defend Donald Trump. No matter what.

Finding a Vaccine for the Impeachment Derangement Virus  - Once intelligent people are talking about actual civil war in America. This began after Trump retweeted a pastor saying impeachment would cause a “civil war-like fracture in this Nation.” Never mind that it was a retweet, and never mind that the original statement used “like” to make a comparison. The next headline was set: Trump Threatens Civil War If He’s Impeached. Newsweek quoted a Harvard Law professor saying that the “threat” alone made Trump impeachable. Anotherheadline asked: “If Trump’s Rage Brings Civil War, Where Will the Military Stand?” Blowing up some online nonsense into a declaration of war tracks with the meme that Trump will refuse to leave office if defeated in 2020, or will declare himself the winner even if he loses, sending coded messages to armed minions. “Trump Is Going to Burn Down Everything and Everyone,” reads the headline from a NASDAQ-listed media outlet. “Before Trump will allow himself to be chased from the temple, he’ll bring it down,” wrote The New York Times.That’s just what the MSM is saying; it gets worse the further off the road youdrive. “Trump is going to try everything, Fox is going to try everything, and they’re going to both further the injuring of societal reality and inspire dangerous individuals to kill and maim,” Jared Yates Sexton, a well-known academic,tweeted on September 28. “There’s a vast number of people in this, people who have been taught their whole lives that they might need to kill in case of a coup or corrupt takeover,” he continued. “Trump and Republicans signal to them constantly. They’re more than ready to see this as the occasion.” The idea that Americans are steps away from squaring off across the field at Gettysburg is something that should only exist in satire. It would be hilarious, except that such fantasizing is influencing the actual future of our country. We have crossed a line where rationality is in the rearview mirror.

Hunter Biden resigns from Chinese firm following Trump attacks - Hunter Biden is stepping down from the board of a Chinese-backed private equity company and committing to not working for a foreign-owned company if his father, former Vice President Joe Biden, is elected president in 2020. Hunter’s vows to forgo any foreign work follow a slew of unsubstantiated attacks by President Donald Trump accusing him of corruption. In a statement released from his lawyer George Mesires, Biden vowed to step down by the end of the month from a management company of a private equity fund backed by Chinese state-owned entities, and said he hasn’t discussed his own business activities with his father. Trump in a July phone call encouraged the leader of Ukraine to investigate Hunter and his father, which led to the launch of an impeachment inquiry by Democrats last month. Shortly after the revelations of the Ukraine call, Trump publicly called on China to investigate the Bidens. “Hunter always understood that his father would be guided, entirely and unequivocally, by established U.S. policy, irrespective of its effects on Hunter’s professional interests,” the statement read. “When Hunter engaged in his business pursuits, he believed that he was acting appropriately and in good faith. He never anticipated the barrage of false charges against both him and his father by the president of the United States.” “Under a Biden Administration, Hunter will readily comply with any and all guidelines or standards a President Biden may issue to address purported conflicts of interest, or the appearance of such conflicts, including any restrictions related to overseas business interests,” the statement continues. “In any event, Hunter will agree not to serve on boards of, or work on behalf of, foreign owned companies.” The White House and Biden did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment. 

He who must not be named: How Hunter Biden became a conversation-stopper Hunter Biden: The mere mention of his name seemingly triggers the vapors among cable TV hosts and their guests. When President Trump turned to the Bidens and Ukraine in a speech, MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace cut off the coverage, declaring she had to protect the listeners: “We hate to do this, really, but the president isn't telling the truth.” When Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) tried to answer a question about the Ukraine scandal by referencing the Bidens, “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd angrily told him not to “gaslight” the nation. The Bidens, simply, are not what well-bred people discuss in polite company, apparently. Indeed, many journalists seem to be channeling not Edward R. Murrow, the fabled CBS newscaster, but Florence Hartley, the author of “The Ladies' Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness” in 1872. Hartley warned her readers to “avoid, at all times, mentioning subjects or incidents that can in any way disgust your hearers.” For news shows on MSNBC, CNN and other cable networks, nothing is more disgusting than the mention of what Hunter Biden actually was doing in Ukraine. For those brave enough to read on, I wish to dispense with one threshold issue: I was critical of claims over the last three years of “proven” crimes and impeachable offenses in the Russia investigation. However, the first day that Trump’s Ukraine call was disclosed, I stated that — if a quid pro quo were proved — the alleged self-dealing with military aid would be an impeachable offense. My point: Raising concerns over Hunter Biden does not mean you are excusing Trump’s actions.

WaPo Admits State Department Official Raised Alarms In 2015 Over Hunter Biden's Ukraine Business, But Was Ignored - A State Department official in charge of Ukraine policy told House investigators this week that in early 2015 he raised concerns with then-VP Joe Biden's office over Hunter Biden's dealings in the country, but was rebuffed and told that the Vice President didn't have the "bandwidth" to deal with the issue as his other son, Beau, was battling cancer.  According to the Washington Post, "George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state, testified Tuesday that he worried that Hunter Biden’s position at the firm Burisma Holdings would complicate efforts by U.S. diplomats to convey to Ukrainian officials the importance of avoiding conflicts of interest, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality rules surrounding the deposition." Kent told congressional investigators he was concerned that Ukrainian officials would see Hunter Biden as a means to curry influence with his father.  Kent, who also testified about how Trump’s associates raised unfounded allegations about the former ambassador to Ukraine, is the first known example of a career diplomat who raised concerns internally in the Obama administration about Hunter Biden’s board position. The Washington Post has previously reported that there had been discussions among Biden’s advisers about whether his son’s Ukraine work would be perceived as a conflict of interest, and that one former adviser had been concerned enough to mention it to Biden, though the conversation was brief. –WaPo   Joe Biden has faced tough questions over why he didn't anticipate his son's Ukraine work would raise rad flags over conflicts of interest at the same time he was in a leading role in carrying out US policy toward Ukraine.

What Hunter Biden did on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma -  (Reuters) - During his time on the board of one of Ukraine’s largest natural gas companies, Hunter Biden, the son of former U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, was regarded as a helpful non-executive director with a powerful name, according to people familiar with Biden’s role at the company. Biden’s role at Burisma Holdings Ltd has come under intense scrutiny following unsupported accusations by U.S. President Donald Trump that Joe Biden improperly tried to help his son’s business interests in Ukraine. Interviews with more than a dozen people, including executives and former prosecutors in Ukraine, paint a picture of a director who provided advice on legal issues, corporate finance and strategy during a five-year term on the board, which ended in April of this year. Biden never visited Ukraine for company business during that time, according to three of the people. They also said that his presence on the board didn’t protect the company from its most serious challenge: a series of criminal investigations launched by Ukrainian authorities against its owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, a multimillionaire former minister of ecology and natural resources. The allegations concern tax violations, money-laundering and licences given to Burisma during the period where Zlochevsky was a minister. Revelations in a whistleblower complaint that Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, pressed the Ukrainians to pursue investigations into Burisma and the role of Hunter Biden have sparked an impeachment inquiry by Democrats in the House of Representatives. Trump faces allegations that he withheld U.S. military assistance for Ukraine to place pressure on Kiev to investigate his potential Democratic rival in next year’s U.S. presidential election.

 Report: President Trump's Foreign Business Holdings Present Conflicts of Interest, Possible Corruption - Corruption, it increasingly appears, is inseparable from authoritarianism. It's not just that people who run or are willing to join would-be autocratic regimes lack any kind of ethical principle. It's that the money greases the wheels of the machine. Vladimir Putin's Russia is a prime example, where the leader essentially serves as a mob boss, with various vassals—the oligarchs and mafia barons—making money hand over fist in exchange for unflinching loyalty. That increasingly appears to be the model the United States is pursuing, as Donald Trump, American president, oversees The Great American Heist. After all, it's not just that the Cabinet is full of folks living high on the hog on the taxpayer dime, or ex-lobbyists who are basically gutting the agencies they run in ways that just happen to line up with the interests of the industries they're nominally tasked with regulating. It's that Trump himself has set about monetizing the nation's highest office at every turn, treating the Executive Branch like every other organization he's ever run.Don't forget: the Trump Foundation and Trump University have already shuttered amid allegations of fraud. The Trump Organization, the Trump campaign, and the Trump inaugural committee are all under investigation by various state and federal prosecutors. The New York Times found the president participated in suspect tax-avoidance schemes over decades which at some points rose to the level of outright fraud. He infamously took work from contractors, then shorted them by as much as 80 percent when it came time to pay the bill. When they fought back, he bled them to death in court. It only makes sense Donald Trump would bring this business model to his administration when he became president. There is, of course, the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., which has become the beacon of the New Swamp. It's a haven for lobbyists and foreign actors who are looking to shape U.S. policy in their interests by putting money in the president's pocket. (Trump engaged in a sham divestment from his holdings. And the idea Trump handed over the business to his sons, who would run it entirely separately as Trump the Elder ran the country, took another hit when the whole gang went over to meet the Queen this week.) There are multiple active lawsuits alleging Trump is in violation of the Constitution's Emoluments Clause, which forbids the president from accepting payments from foreign leaders or governments.

Tax and loan documents for Trump properties showed inconsistencies: report - Tax and loan documents for two of President Trump's New York City properties showed discrepancies in how some occupancy figures, expenses and profits were reported, ProPublica reported Wednesday. Real estate experts told the news outlet that there can be legitimate reasons for figures to differ between tax and loan documents, but that they didn't see obvious explanations for some of the discrepancies with Trump's properties. ProPublica said that the Trump Organization didn't comment on the record to the news outlet's detailed questions. ProPublica obtained property tax documents for four of Trump's New York properties that were public because Trump appealed the tax bills. The news outlet then compared the tax documents with loan records that became public when Trump's lender sold debt on the properties. ProPublica said there were noticeable discrepancies between the tax records and the loan records for two of the properties: 40 Wall Street and Trump International Hotel and Tower. Both of these properties were refinanced while Trump was running for president. With 40 Wall Street, Trump's representatives had reported to his lender, Ladder Capital, that the building was 58.9 percent occupied on Dec. 31, 2012, but then increased to 95 percent occupied a few years later. However, Trump's representatives reported to New York City property tax officials that the building was 81 percent leased as of Jan. 5, 2013, according to ProPublica. The news outlet said that a depiction of rising occupancy, and an explanation from Trump's representatives that rising income would follow the increase in occupancy, was helpful in Trump securing a loan refinancing. Ladder Capital's underwriters predicted that the building's profits would more than double after 2015. The tax and loan documents for 40 Wall Street also had significant discrepancies in how they reported certain costs, such as insurance.

Never-Before-Seen Trump Tax Documents Show Major Inconsistencies -  Documents obtained by ProPublica show stark differences in how Donald Trump’s businesses reported some expenses, profits and occupancy figures for two Manhattan buildings, giving a lender different figures than they provided to New York City tax authorities. The discrepancies made the buildings appear more profitable to the lender — and less profitable to the officials who set the buildings’ property tax.For instance, Trump told the lender that he took in twice as much rent from one building as he reported to tax authorities during the same year, 2017. He also gave conflicting occupancy figures for one of his signature skyscrapers, located at 40 Wall Street. Lenders like to see a rising occupancy level as a sign of what they call “leasing momentum.” Sure enough, the company told a lender that 40 Wall Street had been 58.9% leased on Dec. 31, 2012, and then rose to 95% a few years later. The company told tax officials the building was 81% rented as of Jan. 5, 2013. A dozen real estate professionals told ProPublica they saw no clear explanation for multiple inconsistencies in the documents. The discrepancies are “versions of fraud,” said Nancy Wallace, a professor of finance and real estate at the Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley. “This kind of stuff is not OK.”  New York City’s property tax forms state that the person signing them “affirms the truth of the statements made” and that “false filings are subject to all applicable civil and criminal penalties.” The punishments for lying to tax officials, or to lenders, can be significant, ranging from fines to criminal fraud charges. Two former Trump associates, Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, are serving prison time for offenses that include falsifying tax and bank records, some of them related to real estate.“Certainly, if I were sitting in a prosecutor’s office, I would want to ask a lot more questions,” said Anne Milgram, a former attorney general for New Jersey who is now a professor at New York University School of Law. Trump has previously been accused of manipulating numbers on his tax and loan documents, including by his former lawyer, Cohen. But Trump’s business is notoriously opaque, with records rarely surfacing, and up till now there’s been little documentary evidence supporting those claims.

 "Holy f**k": Ex-Deutsche Bank exec says bank may have "destroyed" copies of Trump’s tax returns | A former Deutsche Bank executive suggested that the financial firm may have “destroyed” physical copies of President Trump’s tax returns after the bank told a court that it no longer had them.Trump relied on Deutsche Bank for loans for years after other financial institutions balked at doing business with his company after a series of defaults and bankruptcies. Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen told Congress that Trump had provided the bank with false documents inflating his net worth in an attempt to get a loan in 2014. Two House committees subpoenaed Deutsche Bank after Cohen’s testimony for financial documents related to the president, his three eldest children and his company. Deutsche Bank indicated in April that it had the tax returns of at least some of those individuals, prompting media outlets to file a motion to unseal the names of those individuals.The Second Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday rejected the outlets’ motion, revealing that the bank had informed the court that "the only tax returns it has for individuals and entities named in the subpoenas are not those of the president." But current and former bank officials told The New York Times that Deutsche Bank had portions of Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns. Some of those records were obtained from Trump in 2011 when its private banking arm took on Trump as a client. A number of former bank executives reviewed the tax returns, bank officials told the outlet.  Deutsche Bank relied on information contained in the tax returns when it approved a series of loans to Trump in 2012, according to the Times.  . Trump still owed the bank $300 million when he took office in 2017. David Enrich, the New York Times’ finance editor who spoke with the current and former bank officials, wrote that the bank “apparently got rid of” Trump’s tax returns even though officials say that it was “normal procedure at the bank to retain such records.” When Enrich reached out to a former Deutsche Bank executive who had reviewed Trump’s tax returns about the bank’s claim that it no longer had the documents, the executive replied, “Holy f**k,” according to a screenshot of a text message exchange posted to Twitter.

News Articles on the Fed’s Secret Trillions in Loans to Wall Street During the Last Crisis Have Been Purged from Bloomberg News -  Pam Martens -Mark Pittman was the Bloomberg News reporter responsible for the Bloomberg lawsuit against the Federal Reserve seeking the names of the banks and their share of the trillions of dollars that the Fed was secretly funneling to them during the financial crisis. Pittman had already shared in a Gerald Loeb award for Bloomberg’s five-part series, “Wall Street’s Faustian Bargain,” and many felt he was a lock for a Pulitzer. But one week before Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was to sit for his Senate Confirmation hearing on his reappointment to another term as Fed Chairman, Pittman died of a heart attack at age 52 on November 25, 2009.At the time of Pittman’s death, the Fed was still refusing to release the details of its secret loans, despite losing its court battle at the Federal District Court. The appellate court decision against the Fed would not come until March 19, 2010, four months after Pittman’s death. Even then, the Fed did not release the data. First it asked for a rehearing by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. When that was rejected, a Wall Street consortium of banks, that were the recipients of the trillions of dollars in secret loans, appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. That appeal failed as well and the Fed was forced to release its data in 2011. When all of its bailout programs were tallied up, the tab came to a staggering, cumulative $29 trillion – all transacted without the involvement or awareness of anyone elected to office by the American people. Congress remained in the dark throughout this period as trillions of dollars were sluiced to Wall Street, foreign banks, insolvent banks, even hedge funds that were shorting (betting against) the market.Now the Fed has turned on its unaccountable money spigot to Wall Street once again and is attempting to pass it off as part of its normal open market operations –  keeping Congress and the American people in the dark. To date, the Fed has refused to name which Wall Street firms are taking the hundreds of billions of dollars in revolving loans and how much each is receiving. We thought it would be helpful to our readers to see the similarities between what the Fed is now doing and what it was doing when Mark Pittman tried to follow its trail of secrecy. To our shock and dismay, many of Pittman’s articles that we found referenced in academic journals about the Fed have been purged from Bloomberg News. (We asked Bloomberg via email to explain its removal of these articles but have yet to hear back. We’ll update this article should we receive a response.)

 Two Admitted Felons, UBS and Citigroup, Are Now Gaming Wall Street’s Private Justice System - Pam Martens --Yesterday, the Public Investors Advocate Bar Association (PIABA) Foundation releaseda research study showing that Wall Street’s banks and brokerage firms are back to their old tricks again in gaming the private justice system that its crony self-regulator, FINRA, has carved out for the benefit of Wall Street to the detriment of Main Street. PIABA previously exposed how FINRA, when it was called NASD, rigged the selection process for picking arbitrators so that the croniest ones kept getting selected. PIABA released this statement on July 20, 2000:“In direct and flagrant violation of federal law, the NASD systematically evaded the Securities and Exchange Commission approved ‘Neutral List Selection System’ arbitration rule requiring arbitrators to be selected on a rotating basis. Instead, the NASD secretly programmed its computers to select some arbitrators on a seniority basis – just what the rule was designed to prevent. This time around, brokerage units of big Wall Street banks like UBS and Citigroup are gaming the system by getting legitimate customer claims against their brokers purged from the public record known as BrokerCheck, a website where customers go to determine if they can trust a potential broker by looking at past charges against him or her.Both UBS and Citigroup have not yet been able to purge their own criminal history. Both Wall Street firms were charged with one felony count each by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2015, to which they both pled guilty. Citigroup was charged with rigging the foreign exchange market while UBS was charged for its role in rigging the interest rate benchmark known as Libor.The PIABA Foundation’s research report characterizes what has happened to BrokerCheck as follows: “It is being systematically gamed, exploited and abused with one-sided hearings, manipulation of arbitrator selection, deletion of significant customer complaints, and abusive (and possibly fraudulent) conduct to such an extent that it must be frozen immediately until the system can be fully vetted and repaired. Until such a time, BrokerCheck cannot be considered a reliable tool for investors to use when researching the background of brokers.”

Regional banks sound alarm over new interest rate benchmark — Executives from 10 regional banks sent a letter to the federal banking regulators last month expressing concern that a new interest rate benchmark set to replace the London interbank offered rate will limit credit availability. Libor, which has been found to have been subject to manipulation in recent years, will be phased out as early as 2021 and will be replaced with the secured overnight financing rate. But SOFR on a standalone basis “is not well suited to be a benchmark for lending products,” top executives from BBVA USA, Capital One, Citizens Bank, Comerica, Fifth Third, M&T, MUFG, PNC, Regions and Zions wrote in a Sept. 23 letter obtained by Politico. “During times of economic stress, SOFR (unlike LIBOR) will likely decrease disproportionately relative to other market rates as investors seek the safe haven of U.S. Treasury securities,” the executives said in the letter, addressed to Federal Reserve Vice Chair for Supervision Randal Quarles, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chair Jelena McWilliams and Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting. That could lead to a “mismatch” between bank assets and liabilities, the banks warned. “The natural consequence of these forces will either be a reduction in the willingness of lenders to provide credit in a SOFR-only environment, particularly during periods of economic stress, and/or an increase in credit pricing through the cycle,” the letter said, noting that this could increase procyclicality. Instead, the banks suggested creating a SOFR-based lending framework that would include a credit risk premium. This structure would be based on a “dynamic spread that reflects changes in banks’ cost of funds over forward-looking term periods.” “With more closely aligned borrowing and lending rates, banks will be more willing and able to extend credit during both good times and bad,” the banks said. “Including credit sensitivity as part of the framework is the most straight forward approach to achieve this alignment, as it enjoys the benefits of using SOFR as a robust underlying rate and does not require complex hedging strategies which are ill-suited for smaller Main Street lenders and community banks with less complex balance sheets.” The letter comes at a time when concern is mounting that financial institutions are ill-prepared for the transition away from Libor. In June, Quarles urged the private sector to transition to SOFR immediately, or abandon Libor altogether.

Fed, FDIC will explore changes to Camels rating system — The Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. are seeking public input on the rating system used to score banks' overall health, which financial institutions have criticized as misleading and unreliable. As part of their exams, banks receive total combined scores and individual scores in five areas: capital adequacy, assets, management capability, earnings, liquidity and sensitivity to market risk. A bank is rated on a scale from one to five, and those ratings are not disclosed to the public. The Fed and FDIC on Friday issued a request for comment "on the consistency of ratings assigned under the CAMELS system," they said in a joint press release. "The agencies are also interested in comments concerning how they use CAMELS ratings in enforcement actions and in reviewing bank applications." FDIC Chairwoman Jelena McWilliams has said re-examining Camels is one of her top priorities as chair, noting that the system has not been open for public discussion since the mid-1990s. In her first speech last year after taking the agency's reins, McWilliams suggested the regulators need to determine if the Fed, FDIC and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency use the rating system consistently. (The OCC was not included on Friday's issuance.) “I am going to take a look anew at the Camels rating. It guides so much what a bank can and cannot do,” McWilliams said. “I actually wonder whether the three agencies apply the Camels rating uniformly. And to the extent that they don’t, why not and what does it mean?” The FDIC and the Fed's request for information asked whether the agencies are assigning ratings in a manner that is consistent with the Camels system, how the agencies communicate a Camels rating after on-site examinations and if the use of the Camels system varies from one examination cycle to another. The regulators also asked what practices they should consider changing “to enhance the consistent assignment of Camels ratings,” what elements of a Camels rating should receive more or less emphasis, how a rating impacts what enforcement actions are issued and how a rating might affect a bank’s business activities. The public can comment on the questions the agencies posed for 60 days after the request for information is published in the Federal Register. 

The next Elizabeth Warren? How Katie Porter is shaking up House banking panel — Rep. Katie Porter is less recognizable nationally than other progressive Democrats elected to the House in 2018. But among watchers of the Financial Services Committee, she has become perhaps the fiercest disruptor in Congress since Elizabeth Warren. The California Democrat has quickly found the spotlight in her first year on the panel, winning admirers who see her as a champion for the consumer as well as critics who view her more as a troublemaker. Porter's trademark is her sharp, critical questioning of Trump-appointed regulators and big-bank CEOs, often accompanied with visual aids and other media. Her combative style is applauded by other progressives who are new to Congress, but it has also ruffled the feathers of Republicans and even some Democrats. “There is no one that fights harder for consumer protection in my estimation than Katie Porter,” said Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., who along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., sits on the banking panel and is part of "The Squad," a high-profile group of four progressives (not including Porter) elected in 2018. “She’s been a tremendous partner on the committee, but also she’s a leader," Pressley said. "She’s someone we look to and someone that I see as a litmus test on these issues.” But to some, Porter's approach at hearings — particularly her use of poster board, academic textbooks and other aids to make her point — is off-putting and even runs afoul of House rules. Some financial services insiders also privately claim Porter mischaracterizes industry practices. The congresswoman says she is trying to draw attention to an issue that is non-partisan: the plight of consumers dealing with financial services providers that do not face adequate regulation. “I would just point out that in all my years as a consumer advocate, and in two and a half years of running and representing a majority Republican district, I have never had an American — Republican, Democrat, Independent, voter, nonvoter, young, old, any race, any religion — I have never had anybody say that they like to be cheated,” Porter, a former law student of Warren's at Harvard and the first Democrat ever elected in her Orange County district, said in an interview. “So I would just tell them that I think the American people understand that they when they go out to buy a car, or they’re going to purchase their first home, or they’re struggling to pay off their credit card debt, they want to know that there are rules and they expect those rules to be followed.”

Reg concerns about Libra ‘should be no surprise’: Fed’s Brainard — With policymakers casting doubt on Facebook's cryptocurrency and some of the social media giant's partners pulling out of the project, a Federal Reserve governor continued the drumbeat of criticism against the plan. Fed Gov. Lael Brainard said in a speech Wednesday that with Facebook's user network exceeding a third of the world population, "it should be no surprise that Facebook's Libra is attracting a high level of scrutiny from lawmakers and authorities." She argued that Facebook’s size and breadth would make it difficult for the stablecoin to comply with anti-money-laundering and know-your-customer laws. “Libra's business model is inherently cross-border, and, as such, each participant in the system deemed to be a financial institution would need to ensure compliance with each national jurisdictions' anti-money-laundering laws,” Brainard said in prepared remarks for an event sponsored by the Peterson Institute for International Economics and Princeton University. “Libra's intended global reach would likely necessitate a consistent global anti-money-laundering framework in order to reduce the risk of illicit transactions.” The remarks come as Facebook has faced a series of woes in trying to advance the cryptocurrency plan. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and lawmakers immediately cast doubt on Libra after Facebook announced over the summer that it planned to launch the new digital currency in a year. More recently, high-profile partners involved in the project — Mastercard, Visa, Stripe and PayPal announced — announced they were withdrawing from the Libra Association. Brainard also sounded apprehensive about the Fed attempting to issue its own digital currency, and expressed concerns generally about unintended consequences of a stablecoin with worldwide reach. “In the extreme, widespread migration to one or more global stablecoin networks could disintermediate the role of banks in payments,” she said. “If consumers and businesses reduce their deposits at commercial banks in favor of stablecoins held in digital wallets, this could shrink banks' sources of stable funding, as well as their visibility into transactions data, and thereby hinder banks' ability to provide credit to businesses and households,” she continued. As policymakers await additional details on Libra, Brainard argued that it was critical that customers know exactly what protections would be in place for them in the event of a data breach or fraudulent activity.

 Facebook’s Libra Faceplant: Beware of CEO Bright Ideas -  Yves Smith -The Wall Street Journal tonight, in Inside Facebook’s Botched Attempt to Start a New Cryptocurrency, offers some additional details on how Facebook came up with the barmy idea of Libra, which it set forth in a short document that mouthed a whole bunch of finance and business gimmick-speak without showing much understanding of banking or a clear idea of why customers would change behavior and adopt what would amount to a foreign currency on a large scale. Before we go much further, one of the obvious flaws in the Libra project is that Facebook (and too many members of the press) don’t understand the difference between a cryptocurrency and a payment system. Facebook seems to have naively believed if it could just launch a really big cryptocurrency, with its big customer base, they would easily be persuaded to trade it among themselves.Ahem, aside from not having considered “Who want to have to trade a volatile foreign currency into what I need to use to pay my bills and incur FX transaction costs and tax issues every time I do so,” payment systems have to do a hell of a lot more things that just create a pile of something people might if you are lucky buy and sell. You need to provide recordkeeping and anti-fraud protections, adhere to Know Your Customer and anti-money laundering rules (unless you want to be a financial outlaw), and provide information to the tax man. That’s only a partial list; Clive can fill in the many points I skipped over.One of the reason Facebook’s buzzword heavy concept document was treated far more seriously that it should have been was that the social media giant had signed up 27 partners, including, critically, payments systems heavyweights like Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, as well as Famous Big Companies You Heard of like eBay, Uber. Paypal was first to depart, followed shortly by Visa, Mastercard, eBay, fintech startup Stripe, payments player Mercado Pago, and Booking Holdings. That means more than 1/4 of the original backers have dropped out. More important, virtually all the partners who knew anything about payments are gone (the only one left is European payments processor PayU, which has 1,500 employees versus Visa’s 20,000).

 High-cost lenders already seeking ways around crackdown in California -- California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law last week meant to squash high-cost consumer loans that total billions of dollars each year. But cracks in the measure are already showing. The new law subjects installment loans of between $2,500 and $9,999 to a rate cap of 36% plus the federal funds rate. It is the product of a compromise between consumer advocates and certain lower-cost lenders, and it passed despite the opposition of lenders that charge triple-digit annual percentage rates. But to the chagrin of the law’s supporters, high-cost lenders have been signaling that they plan to make an end run around the California law by partnering with out-of-state banks. Banks generally have the ability to apply their home states’ interest rate rules across the country, though federal regulators have often looked askance at efforts by payday lenders to avoid state restrictions by partnering with banks. “The attorney general, the Department of Business Oversight and private litigators need to let the payday lenders know that they will fight to stop this evasion and uphold the law that protects Californians from predatory lending,” said Lauren Saunders, associate director of the National Consumer Law Center. Top executives at Enova International, Elevate Credit and Curo Group Holdings — three companies that last year accounted for roughly one-quarter of all loans that would be covered by the new law and had APRs of at least 100% — have indicated that bank partnerships will allow them to continue charging high rates in California. Their comments came during the companies’ earnings calls in late July. “There’s no reason why we wouldn’t be able to replace our California business with a bank program,” said Enova CEO David Fisher. Chicago-based Enova operates in the nation’s largest state under the CashNetUSA brand. Executives at Curo, which operates the Speedy Cash brand, also spoke about bank partnership opportunities in California. CEO Don Gayhardt said that the Wichita, Kan., firm has had a lot of practice in adapting to state regulatory changes. Elevate’s then-chief operating officer, Jason Harvison, who has since become the firm’s interim CEO, said that the Fort Worth, Texas, company expects to continue to serve California consumers through bank sponsors. Elevate, which operates the Rise Credit brand, will provide an update on its plans during its upcoming third-quarter earnings call, according to a company spokeswoman.

Bill Gates, who said he had no relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, reportedly met with the disgraced financier multiple times, including a 2011 meeting with billionaire Eva Dubin and her teenage daughter- New details and documents obtained by The New York Times reveal a much closer connection between Bill Gates and the late Jeffrey Epstein than what the Microsoft founder had previously admitted. The Times reported that the billionaire met with the disgraced financier at least three times. Epstein also hatched a plan with JPMorgan, which never came to fruition, to use Gates' foundation money for a charitable fund. Gates spokeswoman Bridgitt Arnold told Business Insider in a statement that the men met "multiple times" to discuss philanthropy, but they did not socialize or attend parties together. She also said it appears that "Epstein misrepresented the nature of his meetings with Gates while also working to insert himself behind-the-scenes without Gates's knowledge." She did not say say how many times Gates and Epstein met. "Bill Gates regrets ever meeting with Epstein and recognizes it was an error in judgment to do so," Arnold said. "Gates recognizes that entertaining Epstein's ideas related to philanthropy gave Epstein an undeserved platform that was at odds with Gates' personal values and the values of his foundation." She told Business Insider in August that, while Epstein aggressively pursued a relationship with Gates, "any account of a business partnership or personal relationship between the two is categorically false." The disgraced financier went to jail for 13 months starting in 2008 after he pled guilty to two counts of soliciting prostitution from underage girls in Palm Beach, Florida. The Times reports that the two first met face-to-face in January 2011 at Epstein's Manhattan residence, and that Gates visited the townhouse at least two more times, meeting him as late as 2013. During that first meeting on the Upper East Side in 2011, the two wealthy men were joined by Dr. Eva Andersson-Dubin and her 15-year-old daughter. Dubin, who once dated Epstein, and her billionaire hedge fund manager husband Glenn Dubin maintained close social, financial and philanthropic ties with Epstein, including after he went to jail. Six sources told Business Insider that Epstein was a godfather to their oldest daughter, which the family denies.

The ‘Glass Floor’ Is Keeping America’s Richest Idiots At The Top - America has a social mobility problem. Children born in 1940 had a 90% chance of earning more than their parents. For children born in 1984, the odds were 50-50. Most accounts of this trend focus on the breakdown of upward mobility: It’s getting harder for the poor to become rich. But equally important is the decline of downward mobility: The rich, regardless of their intelligence, are becoming more likely to stay that way.  “There’s a lot of talent being wasted because it’s not able to rise, but there’s also a lot of relatively untalented people who aren’t falling and end up occupying positions they shouldn’t,” said Richard Reeves, a Brookings Institution researcher and the author of “Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It.″   According to research carried out by Reeves and others, the likelihood of the rich passing their status down to their children — “stickiness,” in economist-speak — has surpassed the likelihood of poor children remaining poor. “If we were becoming less of a class-bound society, stickiness at the top should have gone down,” Reeves said. “But the evidence shows that it’s gone up.”This phenomenon — Reeves calls it “the glass floor” — has taken on a new political urgency. Over the last two years, Donald Trump has put his family members in charge of child care policy and Middle East peace. Hunter Biden’s Ukrainian board membership has highlighted how corporations and foreign governments seek to influence elected officials through their children. And who can forget Koch nephew Wyatt and his line of $79 floral button-ups? But billionaire heirs are only a tiny part of the problem. Over the last 30 years, nearly every institution of social mobility, from education to work to government spending, has been systematically tilted toward the wealthy. Rather than sending our most brilliant minds up the income ladder, America is ensuring that the wealthy, no matter their mediocrity, retain their grip on the highest rung.

IRS Admits Targeting The Poor Because It's "Easier And Cheaper" Than Auditing The Wealthy - As if the struggling working class in this country doesn’t have enough to deal with, watch out for Big Brother! Because lower-income families have fewer resources to guard their finances, the IRS finds it a “better use of their resources” to target the poor instead of the wealthy. Because the wealthy have the means to fight back against government intrusion aka well-paid attorneys and accountants, the IRS has decided that any effort to monitor the “haves” is not worth their time. They will instead focus on the “have nots,” or the poor working and middle class. It’s easier and cheaper to go after the poor and audit them. Those who make less money have fewer defenses to combat the IRS and their returns are simpler. It requires less expense and effort from the IRS to go after a much more fragile portion of our economy – the working poor.  The industrious working poor who struggle to pay their bills, even on two incomes, turn to the side-hustle to make it. Over 50% of Americans have a side-hustle. What was once the oddity of the entrepreneur is now mainstream. There are a lot of factors that may have contributed to this, including stagnant income growth nationwide and the rising cost of living. But the fact is, most Americans are now using a side hustle to cover household bills because their day job is just not enough.The side hustle has exploded in the American economy over the last decade, and the IRS has taken note and put us in their sights. Because apparently hard-working people are “bad” for the economy.Not all side-hustles are part of the Shadow Economy, but many are. A side-hustle becomes part of The Shadow Economy when it’s paid for in cash under the table. The side-hustle is the growing movement in the United States of the freelance worker and gig economy. Sometimes it’s on the books, but oftentimes, it is not. And here is where the “side hustle” meets “The Shadow Economy” and becomes a means for those who are pinched in our struggling economy to get by.The Wall Street Journal spouts doom and gloom with its definition of The Shadow Economy saying that because those who operate their business under the table with cash-only can potentially hurt the overall economy. But it’s also a larger issue of governmental control. Think for second who would be driven to this kind of enterprise. If you can’t find a job or you’ve already got one, but it doesn’t pay the bills, what are you going to do? Get a side-hustle.

 Ken Fisher’s sexist comments have cost his company nearly $1 billion in assets - The City of Boston is ending its relationship with Fisher Investments, pulling $248 million in pension assets from the firm. Mayor Martin Walsh announced on Wednesday that the city would stop working with the company in light of sexist comments Ken Fisher had made at an investment conference last week. “The statements made by Ken Fisher implicate not only his own judgment, but potentially that of the company as a whole,” Walsh wrote in a letter to the Boston Retirement Board. The board today voted 5-0 to end its relationship with Fisher Investments “While there are no doubt employees of the firm that are just as disturbed by these comments as I, there remains a risk that such thinking runs deeper than this specific commentary, and this is not a risk to which I believe the Retirement System should expose itself,” wrote Walsh.Boston is the latest pension plan to pull its assets from Camas, Washington-based Fisher. The state of Michigan is withdrawing $600 million of its pension fund from the firm, as well as Philadelphia’s board of pensions, which yanked $54 million. Fidelity Investments said on Tuesday that it was reviewing a $500 million relationship with the firm. “We are very concerned about the highly inappropriate comments by Kenneth Fisher,” said Fidelity spokesman Vincent Loporchio. “The views he expressed do not align in any way with our company’s values.” CNBC obtained an audio recording last week of Fisher’s comments at the Tiburon CEO Summit, as well as audio of him speaking at a previous conference. Clips from both were featured on CNBC Power Lunch last Friday. Combined, they show that the money manager made flippant remarks about sex.

  Google exec says Nest owners should probably warn their guests that their conversations are being recorded - Google's Nest smart devices are always listening — their microphones detect loud noises and cameras track sudden movements in a home, and can start automatically recording at any time.Because of that, Nest owners should probably warn their house guests that they're on camera, according to Google devices chief Rick Osterloh.When asked by a BBC reporter whether homeowners with Nest have such an obligation, Osterloh first said he hadn't considered it."Gosh, I haven't thought about this before in quite this way," Osterloh said. "It's quite important for all these technologies to think about all users... we have to consider all stakeholders that might be in proximity."  Osterloh then acceded that warning houseguests about Nest devices' recording capabilities is proper etiquette, stating that he already does so. "Does the owner of a home need to disclose to a guest? I would and do when someone enters into my home, and it's probably something that the products themselves should try to indicate," he said. Nest devices are fitted with an LED light that turns on whenever they're in recording mode. These recordings can't be overridden in the moment, but users can reconfigure their Nest settings to disable all recordings (or simply unplug the devices). A Google spokesperson was not immediately available to respond to Business Insider's request for comment.

Dems unload on CFPB’s Kraninger: ‘You are absolutely worthless’ -  Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Kathy Kraninger faced a barrage of questions Wednesday from lawmakers on the House Financial Services Committee covering everything from the agency's constitutionality to why it has not demanded refunds for consumers in recent settlements. The Democrats came to the hearing with proverbial guns blazing, issuing a 333-page report that accused the CFPB under Kraninger of leaving "consumers high and dry" because of its failure to require remediation in several recent settlements. “If the consumer bureau can’t get relief for consumers who have been harmed — and you admit they’ve been harmed — then what are you doing?” asked Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., early in the hearing. “If you’re not following direction from your staff to help consumers that are harmed, then you are absolutely worthless.” Her remark sparked an immediate backlash from Republicans, who said her comments violated decorum rules. Though Maloney later apologized, the hearing in many ways was the mirror image of the days when former CFPB Director Richard Cordray was berated and harshly questioned by GOP members during his tenure. For their part, Republicans continued to argue — as they have since the agency's creation in 2010 — that the CFPB's structure is deeply flawed. Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., called the CFPB “an unaccountable directorship,” and asked Kraninger to explain why she wanted the Supreme Court to take a case challenging the agency's constitutionality. The high court is expected to decide by Monday.  “I believe fundamentally the Supreme Court and Congress need to decide and settle once and for all so that the bureau can move forward and actually engage in its mission proactively,” Kraninger said. “I took the position that the director's removal provision in the Dodd-Frank Act was something that needed review by the Supreme Court to settle this question and that, in my view, was unconstitutional.”

Another day, another Capitol Hill grilling for CFPB's Kraninger - The head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Thursday took more heat from congressional Democrats over her reversing her position on the bureau's constitutionality, the agency's failure to investigate student loan servicers and the level of monetary penalties for lawbreakers. Kathy Kraninger's testimony before the Senate Banking Committee, one day after she testified in the House, came as the Supreme Court may be close to accepting a case challenging the CFPB's leadership structure. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, accused Kraninger of flip-flopping over the key constitutional question about the agency: whether a president should be able to fire a CFPB director without a finding of cause. “A few weeks ago you sent a letter to Congress stating, ‘I have decided that the bureau should adopt the Department of Justice’s view that the for-cause removal provision is unconstitutional,’ “ said Brown, who added that he questioned her “credibility as a public official” for changing her position. “So, if someone comes to Congress, commits to do one thing and then does anther, is that just lying to Congress?” Yet Democratic members of the committee seemed the most frustrated over what they see as insufficient monetary penalties for companies' consumer protection violations. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., questioned why in a recent CFPB enforcement action involving a Chicago-area debt collector, which allegedly threatened to garnish the wages of consumers and place liens against their homes, the company got off with a mere $200,000 fine and $36,800 in restitution to borrowers. In 2012, Cortez Masto had barred the company, Asset Recovery Associates in Lombard, Ill., from doing business in Nevada when she was that state’s attorney general. “They are just the worst of the worst,” said Cortez Masto. "The amount ... that case in particular, I believe, represents the number of consumers who complained and the ... funds associated with that," Kraninger said in response. But Cortez Masto criticized the methodology of using complaints that come through the company to determine that marker. “You allowed the company itself to be the one that is the arbiter of who decides the information that is being shared?” she asked. When Kraninger responded that the penalty was “mitigated by what the entity can pay,” Cortez Masto cut her off. “That has nothing to do with it. I mean, clearly this is egregious and your role is to enforce — not only to hold them accountable in violation of existing laws, but at the same time to protect consumers and provide restitution,” the senator said. Only 10 senators on the 25-member Senate Banking Committee, including just four Republicans, attended the hearing Thursday. Notably absent was presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who was the architect behind the CFPB and oversaw its formation in 2011 before she ran for Congress.

Supreme Court will hear CFPB constitutionality case The Supreme Court agreed Friday to take a case challenging the constitutionality of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in a move that will determine how much latitude a president has to fire the director of an independent agency. In agreeing to take the case, the high court identified a narrow path forward, asking the parties to address whether a provision in the Dodd-Frank Act that only allows a president to oust the CFPB director “for cause” is unconstitutional. Ramifications of the case could reach far beyond the CFPB. A ruling against the CFPB could impact other regulators which also are run by a single director, including the Federal Housing Finance Agency. It's already clear where at least one Supreme Court justice stands on the issue. Before joining the high court, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was part of a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that ruled the CFPB's single-director structure was unconstitutional. Rather than declaring the entire agency null and void as a result, the ruling written by Kavanaugh said the proper fix was to strike the “for cause” language in Dodd-Frank. Doing so would allow the president to fire the CFPB director — and arguably the FHFA's as well — at will. The lawsuit was filed by a California law firm, Seila Law, that claimed it was not required to respond to a CFPB civil investigative demand because the bureau's structure is unconstitutional. The court agreed to hear a motion of the House of Representatives, which filed a brief supporting the CFPB’s constitutionality. The court also said it will read a brief and set aside oral argument for Alan B. Morrison, a professor and associate dean at George Washington University School of Law, who has argued 20 cases before the Supreme Court. Morrison said the law firm in the case “doesn’t have standing to raise the issue.” Morrison also said he has volunteered to defend the CFPB’s constitutionality. The CFPB has recently flipped sides in the case. While it initially defended its structure under Richard Cordray, who was appointed as CFPB director by President Barack Obama, Kathy Kraninger, who was appointed to the post by President Trump, said last month that the president should have more flexibility to fire a sitting CFPB director. Republicans have long wanted a case to reach the high court, arguing the CFPB has too much executive power.

Joint CRA plan is no sure thing, FDIC's McWilliams says — Officials at the three federal bank regulatory agencies often say they want to work together on a joint plan to reform their Community Reinvestment Act procedures. But once again, a senior official has raised the possibility of agencies moving separately on CRA. FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams said in remarks Wednesday that her "goal is to move together." But a scenario in which the agencies do not move forward at the same time is also on the table, she said. "My hope again is to move together on the the proposal, but we’re willing to go as three agencies, two agencies, one agency, whatever the end outcome is," McWilliams said in a Q&A during a lunch event of the Exchequer Club, a Washington group that meets regularly to discuss banking policy. Signs of disagreement over CRA have emerged before as the FDIC, Federal Reserve and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency have tried to craft a joint reform proposal. Comptroller Joseph Otting has tried to move aggressively on CRA reform, even suggesting that his agency could move forward on its own. Without the participation of the Fed and FDIC, the OCC on its own sought public comment about CRA reform through the issuance last year of an advance notice of proposed rulemaking. That move was rare among federal regulators that usually work in lockstep. But officials expressed hope that they would come together in drafting an actual proposal. McWilliams signaled that that hope is still there, but speaking to reporters after the speech, she said, "I have to leave the door open" to agencies acting on their own. She noted the difference in the agencies' internal processes, with Otting being the sole leader of his agency while both the FDIC and Fed are governed by board. “I can’t control what happens at the other agencies but know from years of rulemaking and dealing with rulemaking that it’s always better to have three agencies go together,” McWilliams said to reporters. “We’ll work until the last day, when we publish, for a compromise that all three agencies can move together on. But in the end I can't control the Federal Reserve’s votes, the [comptroller] can go by himself, I have votes."

Bank of America shifts away from home equity as first mortgages surge - Bank of America's total first-mortgage originations rose while its home equity production decreased in the third quarter. At $20.6 billion, total first-mortgage production jumped 77% from the same quarter a year ago. It also was up 13% compared to the second quarter of this year. BofA Thirty-four percent of total first-mortgage production came in through the global wealth and investment management division during the quarter, up from 32% during the same period a year ago, and up from 29% during the second quarter of this year. The balance came from the consumer banking division. Forty percent of all first-mortgage applications during the quarter came through the digital channel. That's up from 20% when the bank first started tracking this metric for mortgages in the fourth quarter of last year. Home equity production was 25% lower than the same quarter a year ago and down 8% on a consecutive-quarter basis at $2.5 billion. About 13% of home equity production came through the wealth management division as it did during the previous quarter. During the third quarter a year ago, the global wealth and investment management share of home equity production was 10%. Overall, Bank of America's net income, at $5.8 billion, was down 19% from a year ago and down by 21% on a consecutive-quarter basis. However, when adjusted for an impairment charge, the bank's net income of $7.5 billion was slightly higher on a both a year-to-year and consecutive-quarter basis. The impairment charge included an increase in legacy mortgage-related litigation expense as well as the termination of a merchant services joint venture.

  NCB plans to buy delinquent FHA mortgages and get them back on track -- National Cooperative Bank is starting a conduit to purchase Federal Housing Administration-insured mortgages that are at least 60 days' delinquent with the aim of turning them back into performing loans. The conduit will purchase owner-occupied single-family residential loans from mortgage bankers on a servicing-released basis. None of the loans are secured by co-operative properties, but the program is in line with NCB's mission of providing affordable housing and keeping homeowners in their houses, according to the bank. The new conduit will be an outlet for mortgage bankers who are seeking to transfer delinquent FHA loans out of their portfolio or off their warehouse lines in order to reduce delinquency servicing costs and claims processing. NCB hired Tim Bolger and Bob Bodell to lead the conduit, which they said was designed to respond a liquidity need many FHA lenders and nonbank issuers at Ginnie Mae have. "We expect that many of [the loans] are in Ginnie Mae pools. Ginnie Mae already allows for delinquent loans to be repurchased when they're 90 days' delinquent," Bolger said. The NCB conduit would be part of the defaulted loan repurchase process. "The expectation is the current Ginnie Mae issuer would come to us for bids. And then if they like the bids, they would accept the bid and then make the repurchase. We're expecting that they're going to want to have an outlet for the loan and not just put it on their balance sheet," Bolger said. NCB plans to make more of an outreach effort, and provide more communication and counseling with mortgagors than other parties typically do. "We expect we're going to expend more time and effort on the servicing than they would traditionally get from a larger servicer," added Bodell

Trump’s Trillion-Dollar Hit to Homeowners In recent weeks, President Donald Trump has been talking about plans for, as he put it, a “very substantial tax cut for middle income folks who work so hard.” But before Congress embarks on a new tax measure, people should consider one of the largely unexamined effects of the last tax bill, which Trump promised would help the middle class: Would you believe it has inflicted a trillion dollars of damage on homeowners — many of them middle class — throughout the country? That massive number is the reduction in home values caused by the 2017 tax law that capped federal deductions for state and local real estate and income taxes at $10,000 a year and also eliminated some mortgage interest deductions. The impact varies widely across different areas. Counties with high home prices and high real estate taxes and where homeowners have big mortgages are suffering the biggest hit, as you’d expect, given the larger value of the lost tax deductions. But as we’ll see, homeowners all over the country are feeling the effects. I’m basing my analysis on numbers from two well-respected people: Mark Zandi, the chief economist of Moody’s Analytics; and Hugh Lamle, the retired president of M.D. Sass, a Wall Street investment management company.  Lamle starts with the premise that homebuyers have typically figured out how much house they can afford by calculating how much they can spend on a down payment and monthly mortgage payment, adjusting the latter by the amount they’d save via the tax deduction for mortgage interest and real estate taxes. His model figures out how much prices would have to drop for the same monthly payment to cover a given house now that this notional buyer can’t take advantage of the real estate tax deduction and might not be able to take full advantage of the mortgage interest deduction. After I showed Lamle’s model to my ProPublica research partner, Doris Burke, she steered me to Zandi’s research, which I realized could be used to calculate national value-loss numbers. Zandi says that because of the 2017 tax law, U.S. house prices overall are about 4% lower than they’d otherwise be. The Federal Reserve Board says that as of March 31, U.S. home values totaled about $26.1 trillion. Apply Zandi’s 4% number to that, and you end up with a $1.04 trillion setback for the nation’s home owners. That’s right — a trillion, with a T.

 California Governor vetoes $2 billion affordable housing bill - On Sunday October 13, California’s Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have shifted up to $2 billion in property taxes to build affordable housing across the state. Under the terms of the vetoed Senate Bill 5, an Affordable Housing and Community Development Investment Committee would be required to approve “$200,000,000 per year from July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2026, and $250,000,000 per year from July 1, 2026, to June 30, 2030,” in transfers from that portion of county property taxes currently earmarked for education to provide affordable housing. “The one thing that concerns me and should concern everybody is our ability to balance the books,” Newsom declared as he nixed the bill. Coming from the Democratic governor of one of the wealthiest regions in the planet, Newsom’s words expose him as a fiscal austerity conservative in the mold of many Republican governors. Furthermore, his veto, as well as the character of the bill itself, taking from education funding to possibly pay for housing, is an indictment of the capitalist system, which has been exposed as incapable of providing for the needs of the working poor. While estimates vary, there is currently a shortage of at least 1.5 million affordable housing units across the state. The proponents of the measure argued that the law would provide an economic stimulus for local economies, in the form of construction jobs, helping to protect the near homeless and poor families in crisis. The measure was supported by most of California’s mayors, county officials, and trade union bureaucrats. The framers of the bill were careful not to impose additional taxes on the wealthy to increase state revenues, but merely to shift existing tax funds from education to housing. “Though we are disappointed, we are not giving up,” Carolyn Coleman, Executive Director of the League of California Cities declared after Newsom’s veto. “We will continue to work with Governor Newsom, the Legislature, and the broad coalition of labor, local government, business, housing and other advocates on a bill next year that will provide sustainable funding to increase the supply of affordable housing.”

  Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest MBA Weekly Survey -Mortgage applications increased 0.5 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending October 11, 2019. ... The Refinance Index increased 4 percent from the previous week and was 199 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 12 percent higher than the same week one year ago. ... “The ongoing interest rate volatility is impacting a borrowers’ ability to lock in the lowest rate possible. Despite a slight rise in mortgage rates last week, refinance applications increased 4 percent and were 199 percent higher than a year ago,” said Joel Kan, Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Purchase applications slowed for the second week in a row. While near term economic uncertainty is still a factor, other fundamental issues, such as a lack of housing inventory in many markets, is preventing purchase activity from meaningfully rising. However, purchase applications were still much higher than a year ago. This is a reminder that the purchase environment in 2019 continues to be stronger than in 2018”.... The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($484,350 or less) increased to 3.92 percent from 3.90 percent, with points decreasing to 0.35 from 0.37 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

Cash Out Refi Fever- Which Places In America Are Taking On The Most Mortgage Debt? - As the trauma from the Great Recession fades from memory, are Americans increasingly embracing one of the financial maneuvers that caused a great amount of pain a decade ago – cash-out refinancing?  For those of you that are unfamiliar with types of mortgage refinancing, a bit of context might be in order. People typically refinance their existing mortgages for two reasons: to take advantage of falling interest rates, or to “cash-out” a bit of the home equity they’ve built up, typically because their home has increased in value. There’s nothing wrong with accessing this cash, but it means taking out a bigger mortgage and increasing your monthly payments. During the last recession, these cash-out refinancing caused havoc on people’s budgets when home prices ended up falling and many people lost their jobs. The lower home prices meant that equity had actually been wiped out and the lost jobs meant people couldn’t afford their new, higher mortgages and defaulted. And the cash from the refinancing? It was usually long gone spent on something like a car or home renovation.A decade later, we’re starting to see signs that people are using mortgage refinancing as a way to generate cash.  Along with Priceonomics customer, in this article we’ll show the data for the typical person refinancing their mortgage, the amount being “cashed out” is approaching Great Recession levels. And while the overall amount of money being cashed out is still substantially less than prior to the last recession, it’s rising very rapidly. Lastly, in this article, we’ll show that the regions and states where refinancing activity is starting to surge.  Cash-out refinancing now makes up 76.6% of refinances in America, with it being the highest in the South and lowest in the Northeast. Moreover, some states like Alaska and Nevada are seeing a surge of refinancing in this most recent quarter. While not necessarily a harbinger of doom, these are likely to be places that could face troubles in a future economics contraction.

Housing Starts decreased to 1.256 Million Annual Rate in September -- From the Census Bureau: Permits, Starts and Completions: Privately‐owned housing starts in September were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,256,000. This is 9.4 percent below the revised August estimate of 1,386,000, but is 1.6 percent above the September 2018 rate of 1,236,000. Single‐family housing starts in September were at a rate of 918,000; this is 0.3 percent above the revised August figure of 915,000. The September rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 327,000. Privately‐owned housing units authorized by building permits in September were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,387,000. This is 2.7 percent below the revised August rate of 1,425,000, but is 7.7 percent above the September 2018 rate of 1,288,000. Single‐family authorizations in September were at a rate of 882,000; this is 0.8 percent above the revised August figure of 875,000. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 470,000 in September. The first graph shows single and multi-family housing starts for the last several years.Multi-family starts (red, 2+ units) were down in September compared to August.   Multi-family starts were down 5.1% year-over-year in September.Multi-family is volatile month-to-month, and  has been mostly moving sideways the last several years.Single-family starts (blue) increased in September, and were up 4.3% year-over-year.The second graph shows total and single unit starts since 1968.The second graph shows the huge collapse following the housing bubble, and then eventual recovery (but still historically low).Total housing starts in September were below expectations - mostly due to a decline in the volatile multi-family sector - however starts for July and August were revised up combined.

Comments on September Housing Starts --Earlier: Housing Starts decreased to 1.256 Million Annual Rate in SeptemberTotal housing starts in September were below expectations, however starts for July and August were revised up combined.The housing starts report showed starts were down 9.4% in September compared to August, and starts were up 1.6% year-over-year compared to September 2018.Single family starts were up 4.3% year-over-year, and multi-family starts were down 5.8% YoY.   Much of the weakness this month was in the volatile multi-family sector, still - overall - this was a decent report. This first graph shows the month to month comparison for total starts between 2018 (blue) and 2019 (red).Starts were up 1.6% in September compared to September 2018. Year-to-date, starts are down 1.3% compared to the same period in 2018. Last year, in 2018, starts were strong early in the year, and then fell off in the 2nd half - so the Q4 comparisons will be easier. My guess was starts would be down slightly year-over-year in 2019 compared to 2018, but nothing like the YoY declines we saw in February and March. Now it seems likely starts will be up in 2019 compared to 2018. Below is an update to the graph comparing multi-family starts and completions. Since it usually takes over a year on average to complete a multi-family project, there is a lag between multi-family starts and completions. Completions are important because that is new supply added to the market, and starts are important because that is future new supply (units under construction is also important for employment). These graphs use a 12 month rolling total for NSA starts and completions. Multifamily Starts and completionsThe blue line is for multifamily starts and the red line is for multifamily completions. The rolling 12 month total for starts (blue line) increased steadily for several years following the great recession - but turned down, and has moved sideways recently. Completions (red line) had lagged behind - then completions caught up with starts. As I've been noting for several years, the significant growth in multi-family starts is behind us - multi-family starts peaked in June 2015 (at 510 thousand SAAR). Single family Starts and completionsThe second graph shows single family starts and completions. It usually only takes about 6 months between starting a single family home and completion - so the lines are much closer. The blue line is for single family starts and the red line is for single family completions. Note the relatively low level of single family starts and completions. The "wide bottom" was what I was forecasting following the recession, and now I expect some further increases in single family starts and completions.

 NAHB: "Builder Confidence Hits 20-Month High " -- The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported the housing market index (HMI) was at 71 in October, up from 68 in September. Any number above 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor. From NAHB: Builder Confidence Hits 20-Month High Builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes rose three points to 71 in October, according to the latest National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) released today. Sentiment levels are at their highest point since February 2018. “The housing rebound that began in the spring continues, supported by low mortgage rates, solid job growth and a reduction in new home inventory,” said NAHB Chairman Greg Ugalde, a home builder and developer from Torrington, Conn. “The second half of 2019 has seen steady gains in single-family construction, and this is mirrored by the gradual uptick in builder sentiment over the past few months,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “However, builders continue to remain cautious due to ongoing supply side constraints and concerns about a slowing economy.” … All the HMI indices posted gains in October. The HMI index gauging current sales conditions increased three points to 78, the component measuring sales expectations in the next six months jumped six points to 76 and the measure charting traffic of prospective buyers rose four points to 54. Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the Northeast posted a one-point gain to 60, the Midwest was up a single point to 58, the South registered a three-point increase to 73 and the West was also up three points to 78.

 Morgan Stanley Makes A Stunning Observation: 28% Of The US Population Has FICO Score Below 650 - The strength of the US consumer has been the bedrock of the current economic expansion. Just a few weeks ago, in a CNBC interview, Fed Vice Chair Clarida said that “I cannot think of a time where in the aggregate the consumer has been in better shape.” With unemployment at 3.5%, the household savings rate ticking up to 8%, the aggregate debt-to-income ratio hovering around 40-year lows and consumer delinquencies at or near post-crisis lows, policy-makers’ comfort with the strength of the US consumer seems well grounded. As our US economics team has shown, Fed easing has lent support to consumer spending and home buying while sparking a mortgage refinancing wave that should add to disposable income over time. Annualized real consumer spending growth is tracking at 2.9% in 3Q19, and residential investment has turned upward after six straight quarters of declines. So focusing on aggregate metrics, the strength in the US consumer seems patently obvious. But could this top-down analysis be overlooking potential sources of weakness? Since the household experience is quite different across income groups, we take a bottom-up approach to see where cracks may be appearing.Let’s start by delving into the low aggregate consumer debt-to-income ratios and delinquency rates. Mortgages constitute about 70% of consumer debt. It’s worth noting that, post-crisis, mortgage debt has been highly constrained, producing an upward shift in mortgage credit quality – the current median FICO score of mortgage originations is over 750 versus ~700 pre-crisis. Unsurprisingly, delinquencies are low when lending in the largest segment of consumer debt is limited to high-quality borrowers. Furthermore, as homeownership rates plummeted from a pre-crisis high of 69.2% to 64.1% currently, the share of households with mortgage debt has declined. Add in sustained low interest rates, and it’s no wonder that debt-servicing rates relative to median incomes sit at multi-decade lows. But the New York Fed’s financial obligations ratio tells a different story, as our residential credit strategists have recently demonstrated. With the decline in homeownership, the share of rental households has risen, as have rents, which are not included in aggregate debt-servicing costs. In addition to standard debt payments, the financial obligations ratio includes payments towards rent, auto leases, homeowners' insurance and property tax payments, with rents representing the bulk of these non-standard obligations. Looking at this ratio together with debt-to-income, we can tease out the impact that increasing numbers of rental households paying progressively higher rent is having on the health of the consumer. The spread between these two ratios stands at the widest level since 1980. Renters generally tend to be younger, and at the lower end of the income spectrum versus homeowners. Aggregate consumer metrics fail to capture the growing stress on rental households.

Millennials are about to trigger a major ‘changeover point’ for the US economy, asset manager says - A fundamental shift in the spending habits of U.S. millennials will have an incredible impact on the world’s largest economy, according to the CEO of Smead Capital Management. U.S. adults aged between 21 and 38 years old will prioritize “necessity spending” over the next decade, Bill Smead told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Monday. It comes after a 10-year period in which the same age group has “lived off discretionary spending.” He said this will mean young adults will soon start to move away from buying “Apple devices, craft beer and Chipotle burritos” and instead spend their savings on big-ticket items such as houses and cars. “That will be a whole different ball game” for the U.S. economy, Smead said. His comments come at a time when millennials are thought to be on the cusp of surpassing Baby Boomers as the largest living adult generation in the U.S. A report published by Pew Research in March 2018, which cites the latest available data from the U.S. Census Bureau, said it expected millennials to overtake Boomers in population in 2019. Meanwhile, Generation X was projected to pass the Boomers in population in 2028. The Pew Research report defined millennials as aged 20 to 35 in 2016, with Boomers aged 52 to 70 and Generation X aged between 36 to 51. “We just love this circumstance because it is very possibly the changeover point now for what we have been waiting for a long time,” Smead said. “So, we have got 89 million people in between 21 and 38 years old that are about to start their lives, form households, do incredibly economically impactful things and we don’t need anybody from outside the United States to cause that to happen.” “And we are giving them the lowest interest rates in the history of the United States of America to form their lives. We are practically giving them the money to buy houses and buy cars etc,” he added.

 Retail Sales decreased 0.3% in September -- On a monthly basis, retail sales decreased 0.3 percent from August to September (seasonally adjusted), and sales were up 4.1 percent from September 2018.  From the Census Bureau report: Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for September 2019, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $525.6 billion, a decrease of 0.3 percent from the previous month, but 4.1 percent above September 2018. This graph shows retail sales since 1992. This is monthly retail sales and food service, seasonally adjusted (total and ex-gasoline). Retail sales ex-gasoline were down 0.2% in September. The second graph shows the year-over-year change in retail sales and food service (ex-gasoline) since 1993. Year-over-year change in Retail Sales Retail and Food service sales, ex-gasoline, increased by 4.7% on a YoY basis. The increase in September was below expectations, however sales in August were revised up.

Real retail sales decline slightly in September, but the consumer is still alright --Retail sales are one of my favorite indicators, because in real terms they can tell us so much about the present, near term forecast, and longer term forecast for the economy.  This morning retail sales for September were reported down -0.3%, while August, which was initially reported at +0.4%, was revised upward by another +0.2%, so the net decline was -0.1%. Since consumer inflation increased by only +0.1% over that two month period, real retail sales have risen +0.2% in the past two months. As a result, YoY real retail sales, which had been faltering earlier this year, are  still up +2.3%.  Here is what the absolute trend looks like. Notice that this month’s decline barely registers and is well within the range of noise: Others may use other deflators. In terms of the short term forecast, although the relationship is noisy, real retail sales measured YoY tend to lead employment (red in the graphs below) by about 4 to 8 months. Here is that relationship, measured quarterly to cut down on noise, over the past 25 years: Now here is the monthly close-up of the last five years. You can see that it is much noisier, but helps us pick out the turning points: The recent peak in YoY employment gains followed the recent peak in real retail sales by roughly 6 months, and the downturn in real retail sales at the end of last year has already shown up in weakness in the employment numbers this year. Similarly I expect the improvement in retail sales to show up in an improvement in the employment numbers by about next spring.  Finally, real retail sales per capita is a long leading indicator. In particular it has turned down a full year before either of the past two recessions:  In the last 70 years, this measure has always turned negative YoY at least shortly before a recession has begun. That time lag increased to a full year as the US economy has become less centered on manufacturing. Although there have been some false positives, there are no false negatives. In other words, this is a very reliable positive indicator.  In short, it will take several more months of negative numbers for me to become concerned. As I wrote yesterday, the US consumer is still alright.

US Consumer Stumbles As Retail Sales Unexpectedly Tumbles In September - After a mixed picture in August (core retail sales disappointed modestly, headline beat), expectations were just as mixed for September but September retail sales drastically disappointed: The value of overall sales fell 0.3% in September from the prior month after an upwardly revised 0.6% increase in August... Sales in the closely watched “control group” subset - which some analysts view as a more reliable gauge of underlying consumer demand - were little changed, missing projections for a 0.3% increase. The measure excludes food services, car dealers, building-materials stores and gasoline stations.  Where business increased...

  • Furniture and Home Furnishings: 0.6%
  • Health and Personal Care: 0.6%
  • Clothing and Accessory stores: 1.3%
  • Miscellaneous Store Retailers: 0.5%
  • Food service and Drinking places: 0.2%

Where business slowed...  

  • Motor vehicles and part retailers: -0.9%
  • Building Materials and Garden Equipment: -1.0%
  • Gasoline Stations -0.7%
  • Sporting Goods, Hobby, Musical and Book stores: -0.1%
  • General Merchandise Stores: -0.3%
  • Nonstore retailers: -0.3%

And the antithesis of that, Department Stores continue their string of weakness (only had a positive YoY print just twice in the past 8 years) and Electronics & Appliances sales are down YoY for 11 straight months On a YoY basis, while growth is still strong, retail sales growth slowed notably in September..  The surprise drop in retail sales is the first decline since February and may indicate cracks are forming in the consumer spending that's propped up economic growth in recent months (after household consumption grew in the April-June period at the fastest pace since 2014).

Sears Will Close Another 100 Stores Amid Failed Turnaround  -- A new report by The Wall Street Journal indicates about 100 of the 425 Sears and Kmart stores that financier Edward Lampert acquired out of bankruptcy are set to close by year-end.  Lampert, who was chairman and chief executive of parent Sears Holdings Corp., decided in late 2018 to file for bankruptcy protection.  Lampert provided the parent company with numerous financing deals, one was upwards of $2.4 billion, to save the sinking retailer.   Earlier this year, he acquired 223 Sears and 202 Kmart stores, the Kenmore and DieHard brands, for approximately $5.2 billion.  The newly acquired assets were put into a new company called Transform Holdco LLC, which didn't have $4 billion in debt and pension obligations that the parent company had. About 50% of the stores in the new company were profitable, according to one of The Journal's sources.The sources said by late summer, the profitability of at least 100 of the 425 stores owned by Transform Holdco saw rapid deterioration by late summer. Sources said the decision to cut 100 stores by year-end isn't public knowledge yet, there are no filings that detail the plan.

LA area Port Traffic Down Year-over-year in September --Container traffic gives us an idea about the volume of goods being exported and imported - and usually some hints about the trade report since LA area ports handle about 40% of the nation's container port traffic. The following graphs are for inbound and outbound traffic at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in TEUs (TEUs: 20-foot equivalent units or 20-foot-long cargo container). To remove the strong seasonal component for inbound traffic, the first graph shows the rolling 12 month average.On a rolling 12 month basis, inbound traffic was down 0.2% in September compared to the rolling 12 months ending in August.   Outbound traffic was down 0.4% compared to the rolling 12 months ending the previous month.The 2nd graph is the monthly data (with a strong seasonal pattern for imports). Usually imports peak in the July to October period as retailers import goods for the Christmas holiday, and then decline sharply and bottom in February or March depending on the timing of the Chinese New Year (February 5th in 2019). In general imports have been increasing (although down slightly this year), and exports have mostly moved sideways over the last 8 years - and also have moved down recently.

U.S. Heavy Truck Sales down 5% Year-over-year in September --The following graph shows heavy truck sales since 1967 using data from the BEA. The dashed line is the September 2019 seasonally adjusted annual sales rate (SAAR).  Heavy truck sales really collapsed during the great recession, falling to a low of 180 thousand in May 2009, on a seasonally adjusted annual rate basis (SAAR). Then sales increased more than 2 1/2 times, and hit 479 thousand SAAR in June 2015. Heavy truck sales declined again - mostly due to the weakness in the oil sector - and bottomed at 366 thousand SAAR in October 2016.Following the low in 2016, heavy truck sales increased to a new all time high in July 2019, but have declined over the last couple months. Heavy truck sales were at 501 thousand SAAR in September, down from 538 thousand SAAR in August, and down from 526 thousand SAAR in September 2018.

“More Signs of Contraction – When Will the GDP Turn Negative?”  Menzie Chinn - From Cass Freight Index Report – September 2019: With the -3.4% drop in September, following the -3.0% drop in August, -5.9% drop in July, -5.3% drop in June, and the -6.0% drop in May, we repeat our message from the previous four months:the shipments index has gone from “warning of a potential slowdown” to “signaling an economic contraction.”  The report continues: The weakness in spot market pricing for many transportation services, especially trucking, is consistent with the negative Cass Shipments Index and, along with airfreight and railroad volume data, strengthens our concerns about the economy and the risk of ongoing trade policy disputes. Weakness in commodity prices, and the ongoing decline in interest rates, have all joined the chorus of signals calling for an economic contraction. Here is year-on-year growth in the index: Figure 1: Cass Freight Index – Shipments, year-on-year growth calculated as log-differences (blue). NBER defined recession dates shaded gray. Source: Cass Freight Index Report via FRED, NBER, and author’s calculations.

 Used Cars Cost Almost Double What They Did Nine Years Ago - The last time I bought a used car it set me back $9,000, which, according to new data from Edmunds, is just over average for a used car in 2019. That number is almost 75 percent higher than it was in 2010.The data says that thanks in part to the Great Recession when automakers slashed production, there’s now a “relative rarity” of 10-year-old cars out there in the wild, leaving most used cars to be more recent ones—and thus more expensive too.Via Reuters: According to data provided to Reuters by industry consultant and car shopping website Edmunds, the average price of that vintage of vehicle is $8,657, still nearly 75% higher than in 2010 despite some softening in prices over the last year. The average new car, in contrast, has seen a price rise of 25% in that same time period.“This is pinching people at the worst point possible,” said Ivan Drury, Edmunds’ senior manager of industry analysis. “If you need basic A to B transportation, you have to get an older car that needs more repairs and has more wear-and-tear issues.”“Nearly 75 percent” is a massive jump, and some of that has to do with the fact that there are more trucks and SUVs on the road than ever, and thus surely more used trucks and SUVs on the market, which attract higher prices. But there is also the fact, according to Reuters, that the cars Americans are driving are older than ever. And so people are just hanging on to cars on the lowest ends of the used-car range, which would drive the average used-car price up. They’re doing that, I imagine, because cars simply last longer than they did a generation ago. But also probably in part because a lot of people think we’re due for an economic downturn.

Industrial Production Decreased in September - From the Fed: Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization: Industrial production fell back 0.4 percent in September after advancing 0.8 percent in August. For the third quarter, industrial production rose at an annual rate of 1.2 percent following declines of about 2 percent in both the first and the second quarters. Manufacturing production decreased 0.5 percent in September, with output reduced by a strike at a major manufacturer of motor vehicles. Excluding motor vehicles and parts, the overall index and the manufacturing index each moved down 0.2 percent. Mining production fell 1.3 percent, while utilities output rose 1.4 percent. At 109.5 percent of its 2012 average, total industrial production was 0.1 percent lower in September than it was a year earlier. Capacity utilization for the industrial sector decreased 0.4 percentage point in September to 77.5 percent, a rate that is 2.3 percentage points below its long-run (1972–2018) average. This graph shows Capacity Utilization. This series is up 10.8 percentage points from the record low set in June 2009 (the series starts in 1967).Capacity utilization at 77.5% is 2.3% below the average from 1972 to 2017 and below the pre-recession level of 80.8% in December 2007. The second graph shows industrial production since 1967.Industrial production decreased in September to  109.5. This is 26% above the recession low, and 3.9% above the pre-recession peak. The change in industrial production and increase in capacity utilization were below consensus expectations.

US Industrial Production Shrinks YoY For First Time Since Trump Elected (graphs) Following August's surprise surge in industrial production, September saw a big disappointment with headline output dropping 0.4% MoM (twice as bad as the 0.2% drop expected). And worse still, on a year-over-year basis, industrial production has shrunk for the first time since Trump's election in Nov 2016 Additionally, US manufacturing output contracted 0.5% MoM in September (worse than the 0.3% decline expected), likely depressed by an autoworkers’ strike at GM, sluggish global demand, and the trade war. A 4.2% decline in output of vehicles and parts was the largest since January, the Fed said. Production of primary metals, machinery and plastics also fell in September. But as the chart above shows, the trend was already weak ahead of the GM strike. And finally, the Dow INDUSTRIAL average remains entirely decoupled from the economy's INDUSTRIAL output... The data corroborate other reports showing a fragile manufacturing sector. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s factory gauge remained subdued in October and the Institute for Supply Management’s index dropped to the lowest level since 2016. 

NY Fed: Manufacturing "Business activity grew slightly in New York State" - From the NY Fed: Empire State Manufacturing Survey Business activity grew slightly in New York State, according to firms responding to the October 2019 Empire State Manufacturing Survey. The headline general business conditions index edged up two points to 4.0. There was only a small increase in new orders, but shipments picked up. Delivery times decreased slightly, while inventories were little changed. Employment levels and hours worked both increased modestly.... The index for number of employees came in at 7.6, pointing to ongoing modest employment gains, and the average workweek index rose seven points to 8.3, indicating that hours worked also increased.…Indexes assessing the six-month outlook suggested that optimism about future conditions improved somewhat but remained subdued. The index for future business conditions edged up three points to 17.1 but remained well below the levels seen for much of the past few years. This was higher than the consensus forecast.

Philly Fed Manufacturing shows slow Growth in October - From the Philly Fed: Current Manufacturing Indexes Suggest Growth in October Manufacturing activity in the region continued to grow, according to results from the October Manufacturing Business Outlook Survey. The survey's broad indicators remained positive, although their movements were mixed this month: The general activity and shipments indicators decreased from their readings last month, but the indicators for new orders and employment increased. The survey’s future activity indexes remained positive, suggesting continued optimism about growth for the next six months. The diffusion index for current general activity fell 6 points this month to 5.6, after decreasing 5 points in September. This was at the consensus forecast. Here is a graph comparing the regional Fed surveys and the ISM manufacturing index:

Positive housing, initial claims, and Philly Fed outweigh negative industrial production -- So, after a nearly empty week until now, there were four economic reports this morning. Three of them were good. First, although overall housing starts and permits declined, single family permits, the most forward looking and least volatile of the metrics, were only 3000 off a new  expansion high (red in the graph below, vs. multi-family permits):  Housing’s rebound is the biggest single argument against a recession later next year. Second, initial jobless claims continued at only 6.6% off their lowest level of the expansion: The one significant fly in the ointment is that the 4 week average of continuing claims, which is less volatile if less leading, was unchanged YoY: This has happened 15 times in the past 50+ years. Seven times it was a prelude to a recession; eight times it was a false positive, but signaled a slowdown.Third, the Philadelphia region’s production continued to expand, and the new orders index actually improved further to +26.2. That’s *really* good, with the caveat that this series has been very volatile in the past.Finally, industrial production declined, but the special factor here was the GM strike: Still, both measures (overall and manufacturing) are significantly below their December peaks - but above their lows from earlier this year. It is safe to say that in 2019 the US has been having another shallow industrial recession, but the consumer continues to power through.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims increased to 214,000 - The DOL reported: In the week ending October 12, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 214,000, an increase of 4,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 210,000. The 4-week moving average was 214,750, an increase of 1,000 from the previous week's unrevised average of 213,750. The previous week was unrevised. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

Reporters’ Memo: Data Show Trade Had Greater Impact Than Automation on Manufacturing Job Loss - Public Citizen - The Ohio Democratic debate launched the latest wave of stories wrongly telling people that automation – not trade – caused the loss of millions of U.S. manufacturing jobs in recent years. Jobs are lost for many reasons. But the “automation rather than trade story” is not supported by the data. Indeed, researchers increasingly are concluding that trade was the predominant cause of  manufacturing job loss in the past two decades. That bad news has a silver lining: Trade policy, unlike technological change, is subject to democratic decision-making. New trade policies can achieve improved outcomes. Investment in automation slowed during the post-2000 period of mass manufacturing job loss, but during that period, the U.S. trade deficit exploded. Researchers have found that job displacement from technology is at its lowest level in decades.

  • Nearly five million U.S. manufacturing jobs have been lost since 2000 and one in five U.S. factories have closed.1
  • Yet, business investment rates in new equipment (eg. robotics) dropped from 5.1 percent during 1995-2002 to 1.7 percent between 2007-2016. The growth in business investment in IT equipment and software between 2007 and 2016 was less than one-third the rate between 1995 and 2002.2
  • Productivity growth (i.e., automation requiring fewer workers to produce each unit of output) actually dropped during the period of greatest manufacturing job loss – from 4.4% during the 1995-2000 IT-driven productivity boom to 2.2%3 between 2000 and 2018. 4 Workers were not replaced by robots, but lost jobs to imports and outsourcing. The extraordinary plunge in manufacturing jobs was due to the China-trade-related explosion of our trade deficit. It peaked at just under 6% of GDP ($1.2 trillion in today’s dollars in 2005 and 2006.) The Congressional Budget Office estimates that annual productivity growth over the next decade will be at 1.8%,  about the same as current levels and nowhere near the 1995 to 2000 rate from before the mass manufacturing job loss.5

Claims that automation caused manufacturing jobs loss are premised on misinterpretation of the data. The value of what is being produced in the U.S. manufacturing sector has grown even as millions of manufacturing jobs were lost. The popular view is that each manufacturing worker is producing more because factories were automated.6 Labor economist Susan Houseman at the Upjohn Institute showed that this story is based on the mistaken assumption that productivity growth reflects the rise of automation.7

High-Income Millennials Say They'll Need To Work Forever Due To Lack Of Savings - The economy isn't even in a full-blown recession yet, but nearing one, and high-income millennials are already saying they'll need to work "forever" because they don't have enough savings, stated a new study via Spectrem Group, a wealth advisory company, first reported by Bloomberg. It certainly seems that after the financial crash of 2008/09, the economic environment for millennials ages 30 to 34 changed for the worst.  High-income millennials as a whole are maxed out on credit cards, student loans, auto loans, and if they're fortunate enough, have insurmountable mortgage debts. Their debt servicing payments have left many of them without savings, but it depends on which millennials you ask.  The study says 50% of high-income millennials ages 30 to 34 feel that they will work forever because their savings are depleted. Meanwhile, younger millennials, 29 or less, ones who graduated college after the financial crash, so the economy was already in an upswing, are more optimistic in retiring. Only 25% of them say they will need to work forever because of savings issues.  And when the next recession strikes, millennials as a whole, one of the most highly leveraged generations at the moment, could collectively feel the financial distress and draw from whatever little savings they have as they lose their jobs and their investments in technology unicorns implode. The next bear market for millennials could be one for the record books.

America 2020 Through 2040...The Era Of The 80+ Year-Old – Summary:

  • 2020 through 2040, the US 20+yr/old population is estimated to grow by 15 million fewer than during past 20 years.
  • Of that growth, 48% will be among 80+ year olds, 28% among 70 to 80 year olds, and just 28% among those aged 20-70 years old.
  • The implication for future employment is a drastic 70% deceleration of potential employment growth over the next two decades.

In a nation with twin trade deficits and budget deficits, the simplest of means to gauge potential growth, is to gauge the growth of the consuming population.  The chart below details the changing demographic picture in the United States.  According to UN and Census estimates, from 2020 to 2040, there will be little to no growth among the population of young (0-20yr/olds, green line) as I recently detailed How Low Will US Births Go?, likewise for the child-bearing population (20-40yr/olds, blue line).  Meanwhile the post childbearing but still working 40-70yr/olds (grey line) will rise but the largest population increases will be among the 70-80yr/olds (yellow line), and particularly among the 80+yr/olds (red line).  So what? Breaking the above growth into twenty year periods by age segments and folding the 20 to 70 year-olds into one grouping, below, you can see how the next twenty years are nothing like the US has ever seen before.  The 70+ year old population will rise by 24 million versus just an increase of 9 million among the 20 to 70 year-old working age population. However, even among the elderly, the bulk of the growth will be among the ultra-elderly 80+ year olds, representing nearly 50% of all total population growth over the next two decades. Why do I mention this?  I just happen to catch this CLOWN on CNBC yesterday talking absolute nonsense.  The headline read, "Millennials are about to trigger a major ‘changeover point’ for the US economy, asset manager says".  Mr. Smead suggested if you "just do the math"...millennials are about to rock the US economy and...“In 20 years, there is going to be way more payers into the social security system and there is going to be way fewer taker-outers — and that problem will solve itself through demographics.”  Apparently, Mr. Smead had not done the math.  However, CNBC appeared to have no problem allowing his ignorant statements and hawking his services based on entirely erroneous statements.

UAW strike has now cost $2 billion, could ‘bring GM to its knees,’ Bank of America saysThe strike by General Motors workers has cost about $2 billion through the first four weeks, Bank of America estimates, saying that the beginning of week five means “everyone hurts.” “A prolonged strike could burn significant cash and bring GM to its knees, but investors likely will also react negatively if management is perceived to have caved into labor’s demands and GM’s long-term competitiveness is threatened,” Bank of America analyst John Murphy said in a note to investors on Tuesday. The strike by the United Automobile Workers union is costing GM about $100 million in lost earnings before interest and taxes per day, Bank of America estimated. The firm also noted that the total lost profit has cost each GM worker as much as $4,000 in net take-home pay. Negotiations are continuing. The union summoned local leaders to Detroit to meet Thursday for an update on the negotiations. The union has traditionally done this when a tentative agreement has been reached or, as was the case a month ago, to discuss and vote on other actions such as a strike.

GM labor union talks could be ‘in the home stretch’ as CEO Mary Barra joins negotiations– Shares of General Motors bounced higher Tuesday as GM CEO and Chairwoman Mary Barra joined negotiations with the United Auto Workers as the two sides try to bring to a close the union’s 30-day strike. Barra and GM President Mark Reuss joined the negotiations Tuesday morning, according to a person briefed on the meeting in Detroit. He asked not to be named because the negotiations aren’t public. One person said a deal is not locked in yet, but the talks could be “in the home stretch.” Shares were up more than 2% after opening at $35.47. GM’s stock is down by about 7% since Sept.13, the last trading day before the strike. This is the second time Barra has met with the union in the past week, however the previous meeting on Oct. 9 was separate from the main negotiating table. The meeting comes a day after the UAW has summoned local union leaders to Detroit on Thursday for an update on its negotiations with GM. The UAW summoned local union leaders to Detroit on Thursday for an update on negotiations with GM. The union has traditionally done this when a tentative agreement has been reached or, as was the case a month ago, to discuss and vote on other actions such as a strike. A letter to local union leaders Monday night said the agenda for the meeting included a “contract update and any other agenda items to be determined,” leaving the door open for talks to continue to potentially reach a tentative agreement ahead of the meeting. UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg declined to comment on the letter. GM spokesman David Barnas confirmed talks are “ongoing,” but declined to comment on details of the discussions. Negotiations between the two sides ended Monday evening and are expected to resume Tuesday morning.

  General Motors workers, union reach deal that could end strike - General Motors employees and the United Auto Workers union have come to a tentative deal that could end a monthlong strike, The Associated Press reported on Wednesday.. The particulars of the deal have yet to be released, though the four-year contract hammered out by bargainers for both sides is expected to include pay raises, lump sum payments to employees and a stated obligation that GM manufactures new vehicles in U.S. factories, according to the AP. The strike is unlikely to end until union committees vote, which is expected to take a few days. Workers have been striking since Sept. 16, demanding more revenue sharing, job security and a path to permanent jobs for temporary workers. In total, more than 49,000 auto workers are on strike.

GM deal with UAW includes closing three US plants, $11,000 ‘ratification’ bonuses– The United Auto Workers’ proposed tentative deal with General Motors includes the closure of three U.S. plants, including a large assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio, according to the union. The plants had been earmarked in November to end production this year, but the Detroit automaker had to negotiate the closures as part of contract negotiations with the union. A fourth plant in Detroit that was also slated for closure, as previously reported by CNBC, will be spared to build a new all-electric pickup for the automaker, if the deal is ratified. The agreement would also pay most union members an $11,000 “ratification” bonus once the contract is signed. Temporary workers, who have a shortened path to become permanent employees as part of the deal, would receive $4,500 ratification bonuses. Local union leaders and UAW members still must approve the deal, which could end the union’s 32-day strike against the company. About 200 local union leaders are meeting in Detroit on Thursday to vote on the proposed deal as well as decide whether workers will return to work during an expected weeks-long voting process for members. Shares of GM were trading slightly down Thursday after opening at $36.81. The stock, which had fallen by double digits during the strike, is currently down by about 4% since Sept.13 — the last trading day before workers started picketing. Other details of the deal, according to a summary from the union, include 3% wage increases in the second and fourth years and 4% lump sum bonuses in the first and third years for eligible permanent manufacturing employees. The deal also includes all workers achieving top pay of more than $32 an hour within the next four years, down from an eight-year period as part of a previous deal in 2015. UAW members also would maintain their health insurance, which is considered “gold standard” and requires employees to cover roughly 3% of the total costs, according to one person familiar with the talks.

UAW announces tentative agreement with GM, keeping strikers in the dark on contract terms - The United Auto Workers union announced this morning that it had reached a tentative agreement with General Motors that could end the month-long strike by 48,000 GM workers, the longest national auto strike since 1970. The UAW’s national GM Council, a 175-member body of local union officials, will meet tomorrow morning in Detroit to back the deal and send it to the membership for ratification. GM workers and all autoworkers must be warned: This agreement can be nothing other than a historic betrayal that will, if imposed on the rank-and-file, open the way for a major expansion of temporary labor and the transformation of the workforce into low-paid contingent laborers at the disposal of the auto bosses and their Wall Street creditors. The sure sign of a sellout is the continued silence from the union on the content of the negotiations and the deal that has been reached. Workers must organize now to oppose and defeat any contract that fails to abolish the tier system, transform all temps into full-time workers with full pay and benefits, raise pay and benefits to recoup the losses from four decades of concessions, and reject company demands for higher out-of-pocket health care costs. There must be no return to work without a ratification vote, and workers must be given a week to study the full contract proposal, including all side agreements, before voting on the deal. Rank-and-file monitors must be present to oversee the voting to prevent ballot-stuffing or other forms of vote-rigging. The first step is to establish rank-and-file committees independent of the union in all plants to take the conduct of the strike out of the hands of the bribed company stooges who run the UAW. There is little doubt that the GM Council will rubber stamp the deal, but the question remains whether the UAW feels workers have been sufficiently worn down and economically impacted to send them back to work before they have had a chance to vote on it. Either way, the local union presidents, shop chairs and other officers at tomorrow’s meeting will be given their marching orders to push through the deal with the kind of lying and bullying tactics that were employed to override rank-and-file opposition in 2015 and in previous contracts. The UAW claims it has “achieved major wins for UAW-GM members,” just as it has claimed in every contract betrayal of the past 40 years. UAW Vice President Terry Dittes issued a statement saying: “[W]e will refrain from commenting on the details until the UAW GM leaders gather together and receive all details.” Demonstrating his contempt for the intelligence of the workers, he added that the union tops were concealing the content of the deal “out of respect for our members.” A major factor in the UAW’s rush to shut down the walkout is the growing strike wave across the country, which threatens to break the union’s isolation of the GM workers.

 UAW isolates Mack Truck strike as it moves towards sellout at GM - The strike by 3,500 Mack Truck workers at plants along the Atlantic coast is part of the largest upsurge in the class struggle in the United States in more than three decades. When they walked off the job on Saturday, workers at Mack joined more than 46,000 General Motors workers engaged in the first extended nationwide strike at the auto giant in nearly 50 years. The following day, they were joined by 2,000 copper miners in Texas and Arizona. Today, they will be joined by over 30,000 teachers and school support staff in Chicago. But the United Auto Workers union is working to isolate the strikes at Mack and GM and sabotage them at the earliest opportunity. The UAW kept Mack workers on the job well after the expiration of their contract on October 1, in spite of an overwhelming strike authorization vote by workers. Even before the Saturday strike deadline at Mack, the UAW was moving to end the walkout at GM on the company’s terms. The UAW-GM tentative agreement announced Wednesday reportedly has only two 3 percent wage increases, which work out to less than the rate of inflation over the life of the contract. It will leave closed all but one of the five plants the company tabbed for closure last December. It will almost certainly include a sharp rise in the use of temps, with a “pathway” for full-time status as a fig-leaf. By the UAW’s own admission, the issues facing Mack Truck workers are almost identical. Outstanding issues in the negotiations include “wage increases, job security, COLA, wage progression, skilled trades, shift premium, holiday schedules, work schedules, health and safety, seniority, pension, 401(k), health care and prescription drug coverage, overtime, subcontracting and temporary and supplemental workers,” according to a statement by UAW Secretary-Treasurer Ray Curry, who heads the union’s Heavy Trucks Department. In other words, Mack is demanding wholesale concessions in wages, benefits and working conditions, confident that it will have the assistance of the UAW in enforcing them. The UAW’s actions at General Motors are a warning to Mack Truck workers. The corrupt union bureaucrats are following the same playbook – after trying to avoid a strike at all costs, they are now seeking to wear down workers on the picket line to pave the way for a concessions deal, subjecting them to starvation rations from the UAW strike fund and enforcing a total information blackout.

Autoworkers denounce UAW deal with GM - Autoworkers on the General Motors picket lines, at Ford and Fiat Chrysler factories and on social media are denouncing the tentative agreement the United Auto Workers has reached with GM. The UAW released its self-serving “highlights” of the four-year agreement during Thursday’s meeting of the GM Council, the body of local union officials who voted to back the deal and are now tasked with pushing it past a resistant membership. Based on the UAW’s summary alone, it is clear the contract is a betrayal of the month-long strike. It accepts the closure of factories, maintains the hated two-tier wage system, and expands the number of low-paid temps GM intends to use as the model for its future workforce. The opposition of rank-and-file workers was first seen by the group of dozens of Lordstown, Ohio workers who showed up outside of the GM Council meeting to demand a “no” vote because the deal sanctions the closure of the massive assembly plant, which once employed 4,500 workers. “This is a bad deal and that’s why we’re saying to reject it,” one Lordstown worker said. The working class, he added, was “being torn apart in the Lordstown area by shutting the plant down. It’s a repeat of the ‘70s when they shut down the steel mills in Youngstown.” “We will vote this contract down and fight to get it voted down because it is Lordstown today and it may be another plant tomorrow. When are we going to say, ‘enough is enough’ not just for this corporation but for every corporation? I will stand with the Ford and Fiat Chrysler workers on their picket lines too. We have to stand strong and unite.” Striking workers on the picket line at Warren Tech reacted with skepticism about the tentative agreement, with one commenting, “Until the contract is read and ratified by the membership, we should not go back into the plant.” Two women who work at Aramark said they had absolutely no confidence in the UAW and said it is hard to be part of an organization that you could not even trust. They pointed to the corruption scandals and explained that they paid dues to the union while having no representation at all and have not had a contract for two years.

Two dead, one missing after hotel worksite collapses in New Orleans - Two workers have died, one is still missing, and dozens have been hospitalized after the under-construction Hard Rock Hotel collapsed Saturday morning in New Orleans. The disaster occurred on Canal Street in the heart of the city’s downtown, adjacent to the heavily trafficked French Quarter entertainment district. The streets were immediately evacuated as the upper levels of the construction site came crashing down in a scene of chaos and pandemonium. More than 100 workers were on site at the time of the collapse, at least 30 of whom were sent to local hospitals, though with non-life-threatening injuries. Construction worker Angel Oyuela described the scene to the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper. “I thought it was an earthquake that was taking us. All I thought about was death.” No official reason has been given for why the upper levels of the structure fell down in on themselves at approximately 9am. The New Orleans Fire Department Superintendent told reporters on Sunday that his team is “still in rescue mode” in regard to the worker still missing, adding “hopefully we get a rescue today.” Search and rescue efforts are expected to continue into the night as the section of the collapsed building. At least three special engineers have been brought in, including one from Europe. As of Sunday, search and rescue teams were still unable to locate the one remaining missing worker, though rescue officials claim to know where on site the person is likely located. A precariously leaning crane forced searchers to retreat until an additional crane could be brought in to prevent it from falling. Officials stressed the possibility of further collapses, as the structure remains unstable. Several photos and videos appeared on social media Saturday showing the panic and confusion during the collapse as dust and debris covered the street below. Police still have the area under lockdown as the cause of the accident is being investigated. Officials could not give a timeline on Sunday of just when the rescue and search efforts will be complete, or when nearby residents could return home and the streets surrounding could be reopened.

Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans collapse: What we know, don’t know day after tragedy - After the collapse of the under-construction Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Cantrell and other city leaders revealed some new details about the deadly disaster late Saturday night. Here is a rundown of what we know — and don't know — based on information provided by officials and reporting done by The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate. Two workers were killed after upper floors of the Hard Rock Hotel being built at the corner of Canal and North Rampart streets in New Orleans’ Central Business District collapsed about 9:10 a.m. Saturday. Their bodies remained in the building as of late Saturday. One worker remained unaccounted for, though officials said they believe they know where that person may be on the site.  Of the 18 injured workers whom New Orleans EMS paramedics took to the hospital following the collapse, 17 had been discharged as of Saturday night. One remained hospitalized and was expecting to undergo surgery. Cantrell said she was planning to visit that person following the late-night media briefing.There were 112 workers at the construction site when the collapse occurred, New Orleans Fire Department Superintendent Tim McConnell said. Many of them were hurt as well and later showed up on their own to hospitals throughout New Orleans and adjacent Jefferson Parish to receive medical treatment. One of the biggest concerns Saturday was a 270-foot crane on the accident site that was precariously leaning. Late in the day, another crane arrived under escort by Louisiana State Police troopers. Crews were hoping to use that crane to secure the one which was leaning and prevent it from falling.  Besides preventing additional damage and injuries, securing the leaning crane by Sunday morning would allow search-and-rescue crews to resume looking for the three workers who remained in the partially collapsed building. In addition to search dogs, those crews count on sophisticated infrared and hearing equipment that lets them look for and listen for people trapped in rubble, McConnell said. Crews did not get the chance to use that equipment for as long as they would have liked Saturday before they retreated for the night, in part over concerns about the stability of the leaning crane.

  Locked Up- How The Modern Prison-Industrial Complex Puts So Many Americans In Jail -- There’s no two ways about it: The United States of America and its 50 state governments love putting people in prison.  The U.S. has both the highest number of prisoners and the highest per capita incarceration rate in the modern world at 655 adults per 100,000. (It’s worth noting that China’s incarceration statistics are dubious, and they execute far more people than the United States. Indeed, the so-called People’s Republic executes more people annually than the rest of the world combined.)  Still, that’s more than 2.2 million Americans in state and federal prisons as well as county jails.On top of those currently serving time, 4.7 million Americans were on parole in 2016, or about one in 56. These numbers do not include people on probation, which raises the number to one in 35. Nor does it include all of the Americans who have been arrested at one time or another, which is over 70 million – more than the population of France.For firearm owners in particular, the growth in this “prison-industrial complex” is troubling because felons are forbidden from owning firearms and ammunition under the 1968 Gun Control Act. As the number of laws has grown and the cultural shift for police has gone from a focus on keeping the peace to enforcing the law, more and more Americans are being stripped of their 2nd Amendment rights (not to mention other civil rights like voting – as of 2017, 6.1 million Americans cannot vote because of their criminal records). All told, eight percent of all Americans cannot own firearms because of a felony conviction.For American society as a whole, the prison-industrial complex has created a perverse incentive structure. Bad laws drive out respect for good laws because there are just so many laws (not to mention rules, regulations, and other prohibitions used by federal prosecutors to pin crimes on just about anyone). How did we get here?

The Business of Homelessness: NYC’s Biggest Shelter Contractor Makes Millions, Offers Shoddy Facilities - Acacia is the largest provider of homeless housing in New York’s metropolitan area, but it is not just a shelter operator. Over the decades, Acacia has built a small empire with connections running up the ladder of city government. It has amassed a web of interconnected nonprofits and for-profits that offer shelter, affordable housing, addiction and medical services, and security. According to the city’s Department of Homeless Services website, Acacia manages “750 individual family units and four buildings for approximately 550 homeless adults.”   Annie, whose name has been changed for this article, has been living in one of these for the last several years. But right away, she knew things were askew—and it wasn’t just that another resident had threatened to murder her. She would soon come to realize that the problem was multi-tiered: a pattern of mismanagement that left the shelter understaffed, undersupplied, and dangerous for its residents. “No nurse practitioner is ever there to give out the medication. The staff has to give out the medication,” Annie tells Sludge, noting that this leaves residents frequently out of sync with their individual treatment regimens with some dire consequences. Every other day, she sighs, “the ambulance seems to be there for one reason or another.” Compounding the issue, she says, is a lack of adequate security—something online reviews of the establishment have touched on. One reviewer says they never “felt safe” while living there.“They’re supposed to have a guard on every floor,” Annie explains. “That rarely happens because people are always calling out. So one guard usually has to do two floors or sometimes three.” On one occasion, Annie tells us someone at the shelter was hit over the head with a lead pipe smuggled in from a nearby construction site. Another time, she says, someone got hot water thrown on them in the dining room.   This past summer, she explains, there was a string of toilet backups due to people flushing entire rolls and other objects. Frustrated, Annie notes that the shelter tends to respond to these incidents in ways that hurt residents. After the hot water attack, for example, management removed hot water for tea and coffee from the dining room altogether. To address the toilet problems, the shelter’s cleaning staff stopped stocking rooms with toilet paper as soon as the facility’s annual “Callahan” inspection—named for the 1981 court case that established the “right to shelter” in New York City—had completed.

Some food stamp enrollees are collecting benefits in multiple states — USDA can put an end to it --If you move to Oklahoma from New Mexico, should you be allowed to receive food stamp benefits from both states? Most Americans would have the same answer to that: no. This is common sense, and yet billions of dollars are spent on food stamp fraud each year—not because there are no laws to prevent this, but because they often go unenforced. The good news is that there is one key way the Trump administration can start correcting this problem right now. Food stamp program audits reveal that enrollees across the country keep collecting benefits in one state after years of living in a different state—or worse, they collect food stamp benefits in multiple states at the same time. In Missouri, thousands of recipients were using their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards for out-of-state purchases in every state in America. This wasn’t a one-time mistake: The length of fraud ranged from three months up to almost two years. In Ohio, more than 900,000 out-of-state purchases were made in the first half of 2015 alone. One scammer received benefits from New Mexico and Texas at the same time by using a relative’s address. If you used a relative’s address to evade paying a state income tax, you would likely get slapped with a fraud charge. Fail to report an out-of-state change of address to the DMV and you could get hit with a fee for not having an up-to-date state license. But using false pretenses to collect taxpayer-funded food stamps in a place you do not even live too often goes unchecked—even when it results in billions of wasted dollars

Florida is scooping up huge amounts of data on schoolchildren, including security camera footage and discipline records, and researchers are worried -- Researchers from the Aspen Institute are raising concerns about a Florida initiative meant to collect and collate huge amounts of data on schoolchildren in the state, according to a report released Thursday.   Florida schools are now required to collect, store and crunch data on students in the name of predicting school shootings. The Florida Schools Safety Portal, or FSSP, executive order was issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year in response to the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The initiative comes at a time when large social media companies and app developers have encountered withering criticism and regulatory scrutiny over their collection of children’s data and possible violations of students’ privacyin using that data improperly. “No evidence-based research has demonstrated that a data-driven surveillance system such as the FSSP will be effective in preventing school violence. In addition, no information is publicly available about how the database was designed, developed, or tested,” according to preliminary findings by researchers. The Florida Department of Education did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The law requires Florida school districts to store huge amounts of data in one database, including thousands of hours of video footage, grade cards, student disciplinary records and teacher memos. It also includes information on children collected through “social media monitoring, local law enforcement agencies, the Florida Department of Children and Families, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Baker Act admissions, and the School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting System, which aggregates data on crime, violence, and disruptive behaviors,” researchers wrote.

How Photos of Your Kids Are Powering Surveillance Technology - One day in 2005, a mother in Evanston, Ill., joined Flickr. She uploaded some pictures of her children, Chloe and Jasper. Then she more or less forgot her account existed. Years later, their faces are in a database that’s used to test and train some of the most sophisticated artificial intelligence systems in the world. The pictures of Chloe and Jasper Papa as kids are typically goofy fare: grinning with their parents; sticking their tongues out; costumed for Halloween. Their mother, Dominique Allman Papa, uploaded them to Flickr after joining the photo-sharing site in 2005. None of them could have foreseen that 14 years later, those images would reside in an unprecedentedly huge facial-recognition database called MegaFace. Containing the likenesses of nearly 700,000 individuals, it has been downloaded by dozens of companies to train a new generation of face-identification algorithms, used to track protesters, surveil terrorists, spot problem gamblers and spy on the public at large. “It’s gross and uncomfortable,” said Mx. Papa, who is now 19 and attending college in Oregon. “I wish they would have asked me first if I wanted to be part of it. I think artificial intelligence is cool and I want it to be smarter, but generally you ask people to participate in research. I learned that in high school biology.” By law, most Americans in the database don’t need to be asked for their permission — but the Papas should have been. As residents of Illinois, they are protected by one of the strictest state privacy laws on the books: the Biometric Information Privacy Act, a 2008 measure that imposes financial penalties for using an Illinoisan’s fingerprints or face scans without consent. Those who used the database — companies including Google, Amazon, Mitsubishi Electric, Tencent and SenseTime — appear to have been unaware of the law, and as a result may have huge financial liability, according to several lawyers and law professors familiar with the legislation.

School-To-Prison-Pipeline Exposed As 30,000 Kids Under Age 10 Arrested Since 2013 - Arrests of children have skyrocketed over the last decade according to the latest statistics published by the FBI. Gone are the days of sending children to the principal’s office for a paddling. Now children as young as 6 are getting arrested in Police State USA. he statistics, complied from 2013 to 2018, revealed more than 30,000 children under the age of 10 have been arrested, averaging more than six thousand kids per year. Equally disturbing is students 10-12 years of age topped 266,000.In the past, students and children were disciplined with consequences such as time out and paddling. As more and more schools replace handling things internally with external police state options like school resource officers, children are ending up with arrest records and their fingerprints stored in databases.Often referred to as the “school to prison pipeline”, the principal players in the funneling of kids from school to jail are the school resource officers (SROs), and it’s got parents at their wits end.Fortunately, the number of students arrested year to year are on the decline from 2014 until now. ABC News writes: While the FBI’s latest crime report released on Monday shows the numbers of children arrested under the age of 10 have continue to gradually declining in the past five years from a high in 2014 of 6,458 to 3,501 in 2018, experts say it is still too many.What may seem like routine policing or modern-day policing methods to some, others see as a human-rights violation, a slippery slope leading to a criminal life, and a poor use of school resources. Standing in the gap for children, some would say, a re advocates of Restorative Justice (RJ). For example, instead of calling a school resource officer when a fight breaks out on campus at a K-12 facility, security officers (often teachers) will bring the kids and teens into a community of concerned advocates for keeping kids out of the school to prison pipeline.

Kansas Girl, 13, Charged With Felony For Making Gun-Like Hand Gesture Toward Classmates --- A 13-year-old girl in Overland Park, Kansas, was arrested last month and charged with a felony after police say her classmates claim she made a “gun-like hand gesture” at multiple students. The girl, who is a student at Westridge Middle School, flashed the “finger gun” at four fellow students and then toward herself on September 18 after her classmates asked her which five people in the classroom she would kill, said Overland Park Police Chief Frank Donchez. The student, who remains unidentified due to laws protecting her privacy, was arrested and charged the day following the incident for threatening a mass shooting, according to the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office. The girl admitted to threatening others, the police have said. Donchez told USA Today: “Overnight, some of those students contacted the school administration and expressed their fear of this individual, that based on this incident, they were in genuine fear of this individual.”  The context of the conversation remains unclear but the girl is now living in California, according to the Kansas City Star. The girl’s grandfather, Jon Cavanaugh, says that she was simply mouthing off. He told the Star: “I think that this is something that probably could have been handled in the principal’s office and got completely out of hand.”  Dave Smith, a spokesman for the Shawnee Mission School District, told KSHB 41: “I want to be very clear: The arrest of this student was wholly unrelated to any district policy. It was a municipal police department decision, and our policies don’t impact police department decisions.”   In a statement, police said: “Ensuring the safety of everyone in a school, or community, is a top priority and requires constant vigilance, parents reminding their children of proper behavior in school and an understanding by the public that each case is thoroughly investigated before any arrest is made and a charge filed.”

Your Neighbor’s Christian Education, Courtesy of Your Tax Dollars -- This term, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, an important case about state-voucher funding for private religious schools. If the petitioners win, this case could empower activists such as the current secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, who want more government money to flow to private education, and who believe states are in serious need of a course correction on the way they view religious schools. But according to their progressive opponents, Espinoza could blur the separation of Church and state, locking taxpayers into funding religious education even when they don’t want to. While it won’t be as flashy as a presidential declaration on religious liberty, this case’s effects on religious schools and families will likely be far more lasting.Espinoza is the inevitable next step in an important string of Supreme Court decisions about religious discrimination and the U.S. Constitution. The case will add intensity to an already fierce fight about the way religion and politics mix in this country, and whether the imperatives of religious freedom outweigh all other concerns. The Supreme Court has to decide whether the kind of no-aid provision found in Montana’s state constitution runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution. For nearly two decades, the Court has held that state voucher programs can include religious schools if a particular state wants the inclusion. Should justices rule in favor of Espinoza and the other parents in this case, they would be taking that principle a step further: If states want to have a voucher program, they can’t exclude religious schools from participating.

Rotten STEM: How Technology Corrupts Education - The U.S. education system spent more than $26 billion on tech­nology in 2018. That’s larger than the entire Israeli military budget. By one estimate, annual global spending on technology in schools will soon total $252 billion. To hear presidents and prime ministers tell it, this spending is laudable and even necessary to reduce inequality and prepare a workforce ready to compete in the global economy.1 But the technology pushed into schools today is a threat to child development and an unredeemable waste. In the first place, technology exacerbates the greatest problem of all in schools: confusion about their purpose. Education is the cultivation of a person, not the manufacture of a worker. But in many public school districts we have already traded our collective birthright, the promise of human flourishing, for a mess of utilitarian pottage called “job skills.” The more recent, panicked, money-lobbing fetish for STEM is a late realization that even those dim promises will go unmet.Second, it harms students even in the narrow sense of training workers: the use of technology in schools actually lowers test scores in reading, math, and science, damages long-term memory, and induces addiction. Both advanced hardware and the latest software have proven counterproductive. The only app or device found to meaningfully improve results with any consistency is an overhead projector in the hands of a competent human teacher. Finally, educational technology is a regressive political weapon, never just a neutral tool: it increases economic inequality, decreases school accountability, takes control away from teachers, and makes poorer students more vulnerable to threats from automation and globalization.

 Suicide rates and suicidal behavior rise sharply among American youth - According to a report released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates among those Americans aged 10 to 24 years old sharply increased by 56 percent between 2007 and 2017. Within the same period, suicide ideation, or thoughts of suicide, and suicide attempts have doubled for adolescents and young adults. The rate of homicide deaths for this age group also saw an increase of 18 percent between 2014 and 2017, after an initial decrease of 23 percent from 2007 to 2014. The CDC report shows that while the increase is particularly acute amongst young people, there had been a general increase in suicide rates across all ages and ethnicities by 30 percent from 1999 to 2016. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth aged 12 to 18 in the United States, behind unintentional injuries such as car accidents and drug overdoses. In 2017, suicides accounted for more than 2,200 deaths in the age group. Researchers suggest a number of risk factors that are associated with the rising epidemic, including childhood maltreatment, mental and neurological illnesses and poverty. Within the span of a decade, suicide deaths increased from 6.8 deaths per 100,000 people to 10.6 deaths, with 2,449 more suicides in 2017 than in 2007. Previously, 10-to-14-year-olds had the lowest rates of suicide, but that rate tripled between 2007 and 2017. Daniel Webster, the co-director for the Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence, told the Wall Street Journal that homicide deaths among youth in the US has decreased dramatically since the 1990s and were mostly in decline and stable through 2014 before the recent increase. Webster noted the growth in homicide death rates in 2015 and 2016 was largely concentrated in a limited number of cities, including St. Louis and Chicago. Experts say the increased homicide rate is most likely related to the illicit drug trade, poverty, and police violence but are unable to point to a specific influence on the national shift. According to the CDC, school-related shootings account for less than 2 percent of all youth homicide deaths in the US and likely don’t influence the trend. However, data from the FBI suggests a slight decrease in the youth homicide rate in 2018. A separate study released last week in the medical journal Pediatricsexamined trends of suicidal behavior across groupings by ethnicities and sex of teenage high school students. The study found that self-reported suicide attempts among African American teenagers in high school rose by 73 percent between 1991 and 2017.

Suicide rate among young Americans soars by more than 50% over 10 years -The suicide rate among young Americans aged 10 to 24 years old soared by 56% between 2007 and 2017, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The homicide rate for that age group fell by 23% from 2007 to 2014, but rose by 18% in 2017. This reflects overall suicide rates. They’ve risen nearly 30% between 1999 and 2016, the CDC also said last year, citing mental-health issues as one major factor. Between 1999 and 2016, suicide rates increased significantly in 44 states, with 25 states experiencing increases of more than 30%. Aside from mental-health conditions, relationship problems/loss, life stressors, and recent and/or impending crises were common across all age groups. “Suicides and self-harm injuries cost the nation approximately $70 billion per year in direct medical and work loss costs,” the CDC added.  Anxiety and depression are on the rise among American teenagers. Over 70% of teenagers say they see these mental-health issues as major problems among their peers, according to a report released last February by the Pew Research Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. The group surveyed 10,683 teenagers aged 13 to 17 in September 2018 and October 2018 .A substantial share of teenagers still say bullying, drug addiction and alcohol consumption is a “major problem” rather than a “minor problem” or “not a problem.” “Concern about mental-health cuts across gender, racial and socioeconomic lines, with roughly equal shares of teens across demographic groups saying it is a significant issue in their community,” the Pew Research Center said in the report. Here’s what that report found: 6 in 10 teens say they feel a lot of pressure to get good grades, 7 in 10 said both anxiety and depression are a “major problem,” more than 50% said alcohol and drug addiction is a “major problem” and 3 in 10 teens are under pressure to look good and fit in socially. Young people who spend more than 2 hours a day on social media are more likely to report poor mental health and psychological distress, symptoms of which include anxiety and depression, a 2015 study in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking found. There were 115,856 visits to hospitals by children who attempted suicide or had suicidal thoughts between 2008 and 2015, according to a separate report published last year in Pediatrics, the official journal from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The annual percentage of hospital visits by children for those two reasons — attempting suicide or having suicidal thoughts — almost tripled, from 0.66% in 2008 to 1.82% in 2015. More teens than younger children arrived at hospitals with such feelings of despair. The rise coincided with the spring and fall semesters of school, and dipped during the summer, suggesting that issues are compounded in school. Younger children who died by suicide more often experienced relationship problems with family members and friends and less often had boyfriend/girlfriend problems or left a suicide note, a separate study published last year in Pediatrics found.

 Chicago Teachers Union announces “path” to block strike and impose austerity settlement - In the latest act of political theater in the months-long negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Public Schools board and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, CTU president Jesse Sharkey announced, “a path to a settlement” that would block a strike set for Thursday. More than 20,000 Chicago teachers and staff have been without a contract since July 1. CTU set a strike date of October 17 to coincide the walkout of roughly 2,500 Chicago Parks District workers and about 7,500 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) staff members, covered by the Service Employees International Union. Both the CTU and the Democratic establishment are working around the clock to prevent a strike and impose a settlement on terms that meet the demands of the financial aristocracy. Lightfoot wants teachers to accept wage increases that barely rise above the inflation rate, along with increased healthcare costs and more cuts to school services. Large class sizes, understaffing among classroom aides, librarians, nurses and social workers, and the routine layoff of senior, higher-paid teachers are major issues confronting CPS teachers. On Friday, Lightfoot’s team made a proposal asking for a tentative agreement no later than October 14 on a five-year contract. The proposal includes a cost of living raise of 3 percent each year from 2020–23 and 3.5 percent for years 2024–25. Throughout the negotiations, CTU officials claimed they would not budge from their demands for the hiring of more support staff and a reduction of class sizes. By Saturday afternoon, however, Sharkey announced that the CTU had “modified some of our proposals” and would accept the district’s proposals to “phase in” new support staff. “While our proposed outline does not solve all outstanding issues, we believe it does provide the mayor a path. Not just a path to a settlement, which we at the CTU also want, but a path to a contract which will provide wraparound services, basic education supports, equity and support for neighborhood schools,” Sharkey declared in his typical double-talk. “The CTU initially asked for a whole number of things we believe we need in our schools. We talked about a nurse in every school, every day. We talked about counselors, case managers, special education case managers, and other issues. The district has said those are hard to provide right away. Let us phase them in.

Chicago teachers expected to strike Thursday, as union pledges to limit it to a “short term” walkout -- Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey announced Tuesday night that he was “overwhelmingly certain” CTU delegates will vote today for over 20,000 teachers and support staff to strike on Thursday. “We are going to tell them that we cannot recommend postponing a strike. We cannot recommend it,” he said. Sharkey immediately conditioned this statement by pledging that any strike will be “short-term.” Teachers voted last month by 94 percent to authorize a strike, an expression of their determination to beat back the decades-long attack on public education and teachers’ living and working conditions. This is part of a wave of teachers’ strikes over the past two years, involving nearly a quarter million educators in Los Angeles, Oakland, Denver, West Virginia, Arizona, the Carolinas, Kentucky and other locations. The CTU has been working aggressively behind the scenes to prevent a walkout and reach an agreement with the school district. However, it evidently decided that it would not be able to push through the contract demanded by the Democratic administration of Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Feeling that it had no choice but to call a strike, the CTU will try to shut it down as soon as possible. It is also possible that the CTU will announce a last-minute agreement in advance of the strike deadline. At a late-night press conference Tuesday, Sharkey said the CTU had to get an agreement by Tuesday in order to hold a quick vote at a CTU House of Delegates meeting on Wednesday. This followed Sharkey’s statement on Saturday that the CTU had found a “path to settlement” with the school board. As part of the “path” to a settlement, Sharkey announced that the CTU had agreed to modify its demands for the hiring of library, social worker, nursing and other support staff. On Monday, the CTU held a rally of about 1,000 people tha was addressed by Randi Weingarten, the millionaire president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT); Nina Turner, spokesperson for Democratic Party candidate Bernie Sanders; and Melissa Conyears-Ervin, city of Chicago treasurer. The rally was a united front of the Democratic Party and the teachers’ unions against educators. “We’re about to teach the new mayor a lesson,” Weingarten declared. In fact, the AFT along, with the National Education Association (NEA), has played the central role in isolating and shutting down the series of teacher strikes over the past two years and imposing the austerity demands of both big business parties.

Thousands of Chicago teachers vote to strike -CBS --The Chicago Teachers Union confirmed Wednesday night that its 25,000 members will not return to their classrooms Thursday, after months of negotiation with Chicago Public Schools failed to resolve disputes over pay, benefits, class size and teacher preparation time.  The union's delegates voted unanimously in favor of the walkout, according to CBS Chicago. Meanwhile, Chicago parents and community groups scrambled to prepare, and the city preemptively canceled classes in the nation's third-largest school district. The strike is Chicago's first major walkout by teachers since 2012. Early Wednesday, before the strike was announced, city officials  canceled all classes for Thursday in hopes of giving more planning time to 300,000 students' families. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city has not only offered a 16% pay raise over the five-year contract, but has also agreed to put language in the contract that addresses "enforceable targets" on class size, and increases staffing levels for positions such as nurses, librarians and social workers — items the union said were critical. "Without question, the deal we put on the table is the best in the Chicago Teachers Union history," Lightfoot said. "Despite all this, the Chicago Teachers Union intends to forge ahead with a strike." Lightfoot said the city agreed to make substantial changes on some of the union's top priorities, but its negotiators responded by issuing additional demands, including some she deemed unacceptable. "The union is still demanding to shorten instructional time by 30 minutes in the morning," she said. "We won't do that. We will not cheat our children out of instructional time." Union leaders dispute Lightfoot's characterization of the city's willingness to concede to their demands on several issues, including class sizes."CPS' current class size offer falls far short of what's needed to address the sweeping scale of the problem," they said in a statement. Before heading into a downtown law firm for bargaining talks Wednesday morning, union vice president Stacy Davis Gates said there is a "gross disconnect" between Lightfoot's comments and what negotiators have put in writing.

 24,000 Chicago Public Schools teachers and staff strike - Some 32,000 Chicago teachers and school staff are striking on Thursday for smaller class sizes and more nurses, librarians, social workers and other support staff, along with increased spending to improve conditions in all schools. After many decades of Democratic Party attacks on public education, the crisis in the nation’s third largest school district has reached a breaking point. Today’s walkout is the second since the fall of 2012 and part of a global wave of teachers’ struggles over the past two years. Since the beginning of the year, nearly a quarter million educators have struck in Los Angeles, Oakland and Denver, and participated in statewide walkouts in West Virginia, Arizona, the Carolinas, Kentucky and other states. In Croatia, 70,000 teachers are on strike over low pay and exploitative conditions and university workers may join them. In Jordan, 100,000 teachers recently concluded a one-month strike over low pay and on Tuesday, Algerian teachers walked out. Chicago Public Schools teachers expressed their determination to beat back the decades-long attack on public education and teachers’ living and working conditions in a 94 percent strike vote taken in September, three months after their previous contract expired. On Wednesday evening, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) House of Delegates voted to reject the city’s last offer and to launch the strike. Anticipating the decision, Mayor Lori Lightfoot canceled school beginning Thursday and until a tentative agreement is reached. On Tuesday, CTU President Jesse Sharkey pledged that any strike will be “short-term,” a promise he reaffirmed at the CTU delegates meeting Wednesday evening. Last weekend, Sharkey announced the union had found a “path to settlement” with the school board. As part of the “path”, the CTU had agreed to modify its demands for the needed library, social worker, nursing and other support staff. Parks district and school staff workers were set to walk out with the teachers October 17, but the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) struck a last-minute bargain with Democratic Mayor Lightfoot to keep the 2,300 parks department workers on the job and help isolate the teachers. About 7,000 school staff on strike today are also under that union.

Teachers in rural Colorado strike over low pay - Teacher’s working in Colorado’s Park County School District RE-2 began to strike on Monday, October 14, following a breakdown in negotiations between school officials and the South Park Education Association (SPEA), the local teachers union. The action by educators in Park County, which is about a two-hour drive southwest of Denver, follows three recent teacher strikes in Colorado and mass walkouts in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, California, and elsewhere over the past two years. Teachers in Chicago began a strike yesterday. Park County teachers’ previous contract expired in August. Despite this, the SPEA kept teachers on the job for another two months. Low wages and the school district’s refusal to include salary in collective bargaining agreements are at the heart of the strike. As has occurred in the past, the district is insisting that pay bands be kept separate from the contract, thereby creating a second level of negotiations over the most important aspect of teacher compensation. Furthermore, whatever pay scale is agreed to is then subject to “local control,” which grants each school system within the district wide latitude in determining individual teachers’ salaries. The pay bands, agreed to separately from the contract, are abysmally low. A new teacher with limited experience would be expected to begin at level one, about $30,770 a year. And a teacher coming into the district with 12-years’ experience would start at level 10, around $37,070. Renting a one-bedroom residence in the area costs approximately $1,200 a month, and prices are rising as people from the Denver area move to rural locales to find relatively cheaper housing.

The US needs 307,000 more teachers than it currently has — but few are taking the job due to low pay -A new report found that since the Great Recession of 2008, the country lost 60,000 jobs in education. Not only that, but 247,000 more teaching jobs should have been created to keep up with growing student enrollment as the population increases.  This has resulted in a shortfall of 307,000 teaching jobs — meaning there are over 300,000 educators currently needed right now. The data sheds light on an ongoing national teacher shortage. Back in 2008, teaching jobs increased at the same pace as student enrollment. Since the Great Recession, or after 60,000 jobs were lost, job creation in education never kept pace with the growing student enrollment.Other data centers have similarly staggering estimates of the teacher shortage crisis. The independent research group Learning Policy Institute estimated a 112,000 teacher shortage in 2018.The study uses data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics analyzed by the liberal think-tank Economic Policy Institute. Educator jobs include mostly K-12 public school teachers, but also administrators, guidance counselors, and paraeducator. Elise Gould, senior economist at EPI and author of the report, attributed the shortfall to dwindling wages and decreased funding for public education. Teachers are paid an average of $60,000, though the rate varies depending on which state they work or the type of school. For context, that's the average salary of a personal trainer or event planner, as Business Insider's Melanie Weir points out.

Confession: I fixed my kids’ admission into top colleges - Greg Palast - Actress Felicity Huffman could be reading this from prison.  Huffman got 14 days for paying some smart dude to take her daughter’s SAT.There are others facing prison for paying backhanders to soccer coaches and hiring SAT shills to get their kids into Ivy.  One Chinese family paid $6.5 million to a fixer to get their scion into Stanford.Foolish parents, That’s not how you do it. Bribes and fraud are risky business.Here’s how you do it. How you put in the fix legally. How I did it. We (my twins’ mom and I) started early. Since age 11, my daughter wanted to be filmmaker.  Problem:  she was illiterate.  “Dyslexic” was the diagnosis.So we sent her to a private school, the best; De Niro sent his kid there too. The tuition–$50,000+ a year.  I didn’t have $50K, but I had $5K to pay for expert doctors and a lawyer.  Armed with the expensive doctor’s report, our lawyer successfully sued the City of New York to pay the total tuition for the swish private academy.And along the way to her preferred film school, besides the private school, there were the private media classes at a local university; time editing with her filmmaker father; then a summer workshop at the university film school where she hoped for admission.The expensive summer program got her noticed, and she was offered early admission and a scholarship.  Then her mom and I hired the SAT tutors so my daughter could make the minimum score to collect the scholarship.Maybe you’re thinking, but that’s what parents do.  Parents who love their kids, want the best, want to help them.  That’s what parents do — for kids that have parents. And parents who know how the system works, know how to build the SAT scores, how to help them fill out the college applications. There are a million students in the New York school system.  Thousands have learning disabilities. But only a few parents know the law and lawyers to get their kids into private schools with public money; know to test their kid for dyslexia. Others, whose daddies don’t have the income, if they have a daddy, are S.O.L.

Sallie Mae execs flew over 100 employees to Hawaii to celebrate record $5 billion in student loans Student loan company Sallie Mae flew more than 100 sales team employees to Hawaii earlier this year to celebrate $5 billion in student loans, as the student debt crisis has reached $1.6 trillion. In August, Sallie Mae brought the employees to Maui’s luxury Fairmont resort on Wailea beach as it celebrated a record-high year in sales, NBC News reports. The $5 billion in student loans went to 374,000 borrowers, totaling nearly $13,400 per person. “We said, ‘Hey, look, Maui is a pretty nice spot.’ And so if you wanted to stay a few days or want to bring your family, that’s up to you,” Sallie Mae CEO Ray Quinlan told NBC News. He added that the venture was not an “incentive trip” but instead a “sales get-together for all of our salespeople.” The company has taken similar retreats since it was founded in the 1970s, NBC News reports. When it was founded, Sallie Mae offered federal education loans, but it has since split into two parts, with Sallie Mae Bank servicing private loans. These private loans often give money to people who probably can’t pay it back — an issue that mostly affects minority students and students of color. Social media users blasted the news, with one person tweeting that Sallie Mae’s borrowers were being “exploited by the terms of student loans.” Another knocked the company, tweeting, “this bitch, sallie mae, needs to get slapped.” 2020 Democrats, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), have pushed for proposals that would allow for tuition-free college. In a recent poll, a majority of voters reported that they support the idea of free state college and canceling student debt.

Stop Columbus Day- 'Big Ten' Student Govt Demands Indigenous People's Day - The Association of Big Ten Schools, a student government spanning 500,000 students at schools across the nation, lists as current priorities several resolutions to establish Indigenous People’s Day, a bias response team, as well as declare a climate emergency. Sponsored by the University of Iowa’s student government, the resolution “in Support of the Declaration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day” proposes the second Monday of October be changed from Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day at each of the Big Ten schools. ABTS cites the holiday as vital to the country and Native students.“All Native students... merit their recognition: of their higher education accomplishments, of their existence as students, of their presence at predominantly white institutions, of their value as students, of their acknowledgment of being more than an asterisk,” the resolution says.Columbus Day is a federally recognized holiday, and in the State of Iowa, the governor is expected to issue a proclamation each year recognizing the holiday. However, the University of Iowa, according to the resolution, does not officially recognize the holiday, “nor promote[s it] through social media or programming,” an action the University of Iowa student government calls “a complacent notion to the needs and support of Native students.”“The utmost solidarity and support is fundamental for the success of Native American students,” the resolution claims. Citing the increased impact on “people of color, immigrants, indigenous communities… as temperatures increase, oceans rise, and disasters worsen,” ABTS also passed a resolution declaring a climate emergency. In another resolution authored by the University of Iowa student government, ABTS further targets “the United States Federal Government, and all governments and peoples worldwide, to initiate an immediate social and economic mobilization to reverse global warming and ecological overshoot.”

Intolerance In Academia - In a USA Today op-ed, Emily Walton, a sociology professor at Dartmouth University, said that all college students should take a mandatory course on black history and white privilege. She says that by taking her class, white students “come to understand that being a good person does not make them innocent but rather they, too, are implicated in a system of racial dominance.” Walton adds, “After spending their young lives in a condition of ‘white blindness,’ that is, the inability to see their own racial privilege, they begin to awaken to the notion that racism has systematically kept others down while benefiting them and other white people.” This is inculcating guilt based on skin color. These young white kids had nothing to do with slavery, Jim Crow or other horrible racial discriminatory acts. If one believes in individual responsibility, he should find the indoctrination by Walton offensive. To top it off, she equates the meritocratic system of hard work with white discrimination against minorities. If you thought integration was in, check out the University of Nevada. Based on a report in the College Fix, John Leo describes how integration on that campus is actively discouraged — and at taxpayer expense. The university provides separate dorms for different identities including Howell Town for black students, Stonewall Suites for LGBTQ students, the women-only housing of Tonopah community, the Healthy Living Floor for tofu and kale lovers and study-intensive floors for those who want to graduate.  According to a New York Post report, New York City school administrators have been taught that pillars of Western Civilization such as objectivity, individualism and belief in the written word all are examples of white supremacy. All school principals, district office administrators and superintendent teams were required to attend the anti-white supremacy training put on by the city Department of Education’s Office of Equity and Access. They learn that a belief in an “ultimate truth” (objectivity) leads to a dismissal of “alternate viewpoints or emotions” as “bad” and that an emphasis on the written word overlooks the “ability to relate to others” and leads to “teaching that there is only ‘one right way’ to do something.” Administrators learn that other “hallmarks” of white supremacy include a “sense of urgency,” “quantity over quality” and “perfectionism.” Richard Carranza, New York City school superintendent, says the workshops are just about “what are our biases and how we work with them.”

Plugging In: Colleges seek partners to help reach energy goals - Dartmouth College has big energy goals for a small institution that still relies on heating oil to stave off the winter chill. To warm its campus more efficiently, the college wants to change how it generates and distributes that heat. It's a complex topic — and a far cry from designing and delivering academic curriculum. But it's also central to the college's sustainability priorities, which include getting half of its energy from renewable sources by 2025 and all of it by 2050. To address those needs, Dartmouth is looking off-campus for help build and run a new system. In doing so, it joins a growing number of colleges and universities to tap the private sector for help optimizing their utilities. The idea of partnering with an organization that specializes in a single piece of campus operations isn't a new one. Colleges have long done so for services such as dining, laundry and the bookstore. But the relationship has taken a novel turn, leading to more recent deals in domains that sit just beyond colleges' core academic missions, such as managing online learning programs and building and running energy infrastructure. "A lot of universities are asking themselves, 'Why are we in the business of owning and running our own power plants? That's not our bread and butter,”

Income-Based Repayment Becoming a Costly Solution to Student Loan Debt -When Congress established the income-driven repayment for federal student loans back in 2007, it was touted as a way to help student loan borrowers save money by capping monthly payments at a certain percentage of a borrower’s income.Since then, student loan debt has risen from US$500 billion to where it is now approaching the $1.5 trillion threshold. The federal government expects to forgive over $100 billion of the $350 billion in loans under income-driven repayment as of 2015. That means taxpayers are picking up the bill.This has put the entire income-driven repayment system in jeopardy as there have been proposals by  congressional Republicans and the Trump administration to reduce the amount of loans forgiven and end the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which is a special repayment option for people in public service fields. So far, these proposals have failed to become law, but expect to see them put forth again in the future as concerns about program costs continue to grow.As a researcher who specializes in higher education policy and financial aid, here are some of my insights on how income-driven repayment works, why its future is now in jeopardy and some potential options that can protect the most vulnerable borrowers while also helping taxpayers.

Hill staffers worried about expenses turn to student loan - Kendra Horn was a recent law school graduate in 2004 when she took a job as press secretary to fellow Oklahoma Democrat Brad Carson. With a pile of student loans and a low starting salary, she tried to keep her expenses to a minimum. She kept her food costs low, scoping out the cheaper places to eat, and paid for groceries on her credit card. But with all of her budgeting, she wasn’t making enough to make payments on her student loans. “My additional loan payments, based on how much I was making, still qualified me for [forbearance],” she said, referring to an income-based temporary stop to federal loan payments. Horn’s story is not uncommon among Hill staffers today. With flat wages, rising living costs in D.C. and escalating tuition fees, low-paying staffer jobs have been cost-prohibitive for a workforce made of recent graduates with higher education debt. And staffers and members alike fear that financial burden shuts out otherwise eager talent.A cross section of Capitol Hill staffers say the congressional-sponsored student loan repayment program can help mitigate costs for those with large educational loans, while spurring recruitment, retention and diversity in the labor pool. Staffers who commit to serving at least a year on the Hill are eligible for student loan repayment programs offered by the House Chief Administrative Office and the Secretary of the Senate. Members are ineligible for this benefit, but Horn was among the first participants in the program when she was a staffer.

 The Sanders/Omar Student Debt Plan Would Create A Million More Jobs Than Elizabeth Warren’s - Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren both have proposals to cancel student debt, a nearly $1.6 trillion burden on borrowers and a major drag on the economy. There is a major difference between the two plans: the Sanders plan, which is spearheaded in the House by Rep. Ilhan Omar, is likely to create at least one million more jobs than Warren’s, since it cancels roughly $1 trillion more in outstanding debt. Warren’s plan, unlike Sanders’, caps the amount to be cancelled at $50,000 per person. That figure is progressively reduced for income above $100,000 per year per household until it reaches $250,000, at which point no cancellation is offered. But households making $100,000 year aren’t necessarily prosperous. Because of its limits, Warren’s plan would have a significantly smaller stimulus effect and would therefore help all workers somewhat less.   A 2018 report from the Levy Economics Institute at Bard College used widely-accepted economic models to project the macroeconomic effect of cancelling all student debt, using a start date in 2017 for its hypothetical cancellation. As the graph below shows, these models show that several million jobs are created by the cancellation of all student debt (the exact amount varies, depending on the economic model used):  Averaging these figures, the report shows that roughly 4.4 million jobs would be created by full cancellation in the first five years.

California’s New Transparency Law Reveals Steep Rise In Wholesale Drug Prices - Drugmakers fought hard against California’s groundbreaking drug price transparency law, passed in 2017. Now, state health officials have released their first report on the price hikes those drug companies sought to shield. Generic drugs saw the largest median increase of 37.6% during that time. By comparison, the annual inflation rate during the period was 2%.Several drugs stood out for far heftier price increases: The cost of a generic liquid version of Prozac, for example, rose from $9 to $69 in just the first quarter of 2019, an increase of 667%. Guanfacine, a generic medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), on the market since 2010, rose more than 200% in the first quarter of 2019 to $87 for 100 2-milligram pills. Amneal Pharmaceuticals, which makes Guanfacine, cited “manufacturing costs” and “market conditions” as reasons for the price hike. The national debate over exorbitant prescription drug prices — and how to relieve them — was supposed to take center stage in recent weeks, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released a plan to negotiate prices for as many as 250 name-brand drugs, including high-priced insulin, for Medicare beneficiaries. Another plan under consideration in the Senate would set a maximum out-of-pocket cost for prescription drugs for Medicare patients and penalize drug companies if prices rose faster than inflation.President Donald Trump has highlighted drug prices as an issue in his reelection campaign. But lawmakers’ efforts to hammer out legislation are likely to be overshadowed, for now, by presidential impeachment proceedings. In Nevada, health officials in early October fined companies $17 million for failing to comply with the state’s two-year-old transparency law requiring diabetes drug manufacturers to disclose detailed financial and pricing information. California’s new drug law requires companies to report drug price increases quarterly. Only companies that met certain standards — they raised the price of a drug within the first quarter and the price had risen by at least 16% since January 2017 — had to submit data. The companies that met the standards were required to provide pricing data for the previous five years. In its initial report, the state focused its analysis on drug-pricing trends for about 1,000 products from January 2017 through March 2019.

 The peculiar bathroom habits of Westerners - BBC Future -“As Arabs we have to make sure we have three things when we pack: our passports, a bunch of cash, and a handheld portable bidet,” joked Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef during his debut UK performance in June. He waved around a portable spray hose, also known as a shattaf or “bum gun”, as a prop. “I don’t get it: you guys are one of the most advanced countries in the world. But when it comes to the behind, you’re behind.”   Plenty of people would agree with Youssef. The penchant in many Western countries for wiping after using the toilet – rather than rinsing off – is a source of puzzlement around the world. Water cleans more neatly than paper: at the risk of inspiring an “ew!”, imagine trying to remove chocolate pudding from your skin with tissue alone. Plus, while toilet tissue may not be as harsh as pieces of ceramic (used by ancient Greeks) or corn cobs (used by colonial Americans), we can all agree that water is less abrasive than even the softest five-ply.Residents of many nations have long been ending a toilet visit with water. And that isn’t just true of the non-Western world. The French of course gave the world the word bidet, and even though the devices are fading away from France, they remain standard in Italy, Argentina, and many other places. Meanwhile, Youssef’s beloved “bum gun” is commonly found in Finland. Still, much of the West relies on toilet tissue – including the UK and US. And compared to anywhere else in the world, these two nations have had the greatest influence on modern bathroom culture, notes architectural historian Barbara Penner in her book Bathroom. In fact, Anglo-American bathroom trends became so widespread that, in the 1920s, they were even dubbed “sanitary imperialism”.

In the rush to harvest body parts, death investigations have been upended - Los Angeles Times - When 69-year-old Marietta Jinde died in September 2016, police had already been called to her home several times because of reports of possible abuse. .She was so emaciated and frail that the hospital asked Los Angeles County adult protective services officials to look into her death. Yet by the time a coroner’s investigator was able to examine Jinde’s 70-pound body, the bones from her legs and arms were gone. Also missing were large patches of skin from her back. With permission from county officials and saying they did not know of the abuse allegations, employees from OneLegacy, a Southern California human tissue procurement company, had gained access to the body, taking parts that could have provided crucial evidence. “This could have been a manslaughter case.” The case is one of dozens of death investigations across the country, including more than two dozen in Los Angeles and San Diego counties, that The Times found were complicated or upended when transplantable body parts were taken before a coroner’s autopsy was performed. In multiple cases, coroners have had to guess at the cause of death. Wrongful-death and medical malpractice lawsuits have been thwarted by early tissue harvesting. A death after a fight with police remains unsettled. The procurement process caused changes to bodies that medical examiners mistook as injuries or abuse. In at least one case, a murder charge was dropped. Organ procurement before an investigation has long been legal, provided the coroner agreed. The motivation was to increase the number of hearts, kidneys and other vital organs needed to extend the lives of Americans waiting for transplants. To raise those numbers, California and other states over the last decade passed laws requiring coroners and medical examiners to “cooperate” with the companies to “maximize” the number of organs and tissues taken for transplant. Procurement companies’ lobbyists helped to write the legislation and push it into law. In a handful of states the laws go even further, giving the companies the power to force coroners to delay autopsies until they have harvested the body parts.

 Feds to Investigate Hospital Alleged to Have Kept Vegetative Patient Alive to Game Transplant Survival Rates -- The federal agency that oversees transplant programs said it would investigate Newark Beth Israel Medical Center after ProPublica reported that the hospital was keeping a vegetative patient on life support for the sake of boosting its survival rate. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services “takes allegations of abuse and mistreatment seriously,” spokeswoman Maria LoPiccolo said in an email on Monday. “CMS is actively monitoring the situation and is in close communication with” New Jersey’s Department of Health, she added. The department said Friday that it was reviewing the allegations.  CMS works with state health departments to review transplant programs and determine if they are eligible for Medicare reimbursement.  ProPublica’s investigation found that Newark Beth Israel’s transplant team was worried about the possibility of being disciplined by CMS after six out of 38 patients who received heart transplants in 2018 died before their one-year anniversary. That translated to an 84.2% survival rate, considerably worse than the 91.5% national probability of surviving a year for heart transplant patients, according to the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients, which tracks and analyzes outcomes for the government. The team appeared to tailor medical decisions for at least four patients because of these concerns. In the case of Darryl Young, a heart transplant recipient, members of the medical staff didn’t offer options like hospice care to his family because they wanted to make sure Young lived at least a year after his surgery, according to current and former employees familiar with his care. In an audio recording obtained by ProPublica, Dr. Mark Zucker, the director of the heart and lung transplant programs, told the team at an April meeting, “I’m not sure that this is ethical, moral or right,” but it’s “for the global good of the future transplant recipients.”

American STD Cases Rise To Record High -- Health officals are voicing serious concern after it emerged that the U.S. is experiencing a significant spike in sexually transmitted diseases.As Statista's Niall McCarthy notes, 2.4 million cases of gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis combined were recorded in 2018, an all-time high. The data was part of the Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report which was published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday. The scale of the problem can be seen by the pace of new infections documented since 2014. Chlamydia went up 19 percent, gonorrhea rose 63 percent, primary and secondary syphilis grew 71 percent while congenital syphilis soared 185 percent.Numerous factors are being blamed for the increase, particularly funding cuts for local health departments that have caused staff shortages and clinic closures, as well as a decrease in condom usage. Reuters quoted the CDC's directer of STD Prevention, Gail Bohan, who sad that "the resurgence of syphilis, and particularly congenital syphilis, is not an arbitrary event, but rather a symptom of a deteriorating public health infrastructure and lack of access to health care.”That is resulting in less people going to get screened despite the fact that antibiotics can cure chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis.Cases are highest among adolescents and young adults with over half occurring among young people aged between 15 and 24.The CDC called for urgent action to curb the problem, with the report stating that "it is imperative that federal, state and local programs employ strategies that maximize long-term population impact by reducing STD incidence and promoting sexual, reproductive, maternal, and infant health".

Continued rise in STDs highlights bipartisan attack on American healthcare system - The incidence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) increased sharply in 2018, according to an annual report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The increase continues a trend that has persisted for at least a decade and is the result of a conscious, bipartisan attack on the health of the working class. The CDC report “is a cause for deep concern about dangerous gaps in our public health infrastructure,” according to a press release from the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the HIV Medicine Association. The data indicate “neglect of critical public health investments” that has “damaging impacts to public, as well as individual, health,” the groups said. The transmission STDs is entirely avoidable if individuals have knowledge of and access to the appropriate preventive measures. If an infected person goes without treatment, however, STDs can cause infertility, facilitate HIV transmission, and create stigma. The CDC report mainly focuses on three STDs: chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. Chlamydia was the most common of the three in 2018, when 1,758,668 cases were reported to the CDC.  Chlamydia incidence is highest among teenagers and young adults. In 2018, the overall rate of reported cases among females between ages 15 and 24 increased 1.0 percent over the 2017 level and 11.8 percent over the 2014 level. Similarly, rates among men increased 37.8 percent from 2014 to 2018. Reports of chlamydial infection have been increasing since at least 2000. “During 2000–2011, the rate of reported chlamydial infection increased from 251.4 to 453.4 cases per 100,000 population,” according to the report. This represents a staggering 80 percent increase during this period. Gonorrhea was the second most common STD in 2018. “Rates of reported gonorrhea have increased 82.6 percent since the historic low in 2009,” the report notes. From 2017 to 2018 alone, the rate of infection increased 5.0 percent (6.0 percent among men and 3.6 percent among women). The increase in gonorrhea infection is particularly alarming, since N. gonorrhoeae, the bacterium that causes it, can develop resistance to antibiotics quickly.  In its investigation of syphilis, the report examines all stages of the disease, including primary and secondary syphilis (i.e., the most infectious stages) and congenital syphilis (i.e., infection transmitted to a baby from its mother). In 2018, the total case count of reported syphilis in all stages was the highest recorded since 1991. The number of reported cases increased 13.3 percent from 2017 to 2018. Furthermore, incidence has increased almost every year since its historic low in 2001, when the disease had been on the brink of eradication.

Diseases are spreading with climate change. Panic doesn’t have to. - When the first locally acquired case of Valley fever was diagnosed in Washington in 2010, health officials were stunned. The disease had only appeared in the state in patients who had recently traveled to the warm and dry corners of the Southwest. But since that time, the disease has been found east of the Cascade Mountains, where an active agricultural industry, and hot, dry summers provide conditions for the disease to thrive. “It’s probably salted all across eastern Washington,” Hill said.  Now, new research suggests that Valley fever will continue to spread as the climate changes. This growth is a reflection of a greater trend across the nation as mosquito-borne West Nile virus and tick-borne Lyme disease also expand their range.As more Western communities come into contact with new diseases, public health officials are grappling with how to report risks without generating unnecessary fear. Recent history has shown that poor communication only aggravates the problem, leading to public panic and a loss of trust in the government’s ability to handle outbreaks.  Valley fever, or coccidioidomycosis, is caused by the soil-dwelling fungusCoccidioides. It’s most common in hot, dry places like California’s San Joaquin Valley and Arizona. When activities like construction or plowing disturb the soil, the fungus can become airborne, releasing invisible spores that can lodge inside the lungs of humans and other animals. Over half of those infected will catch a mild illness that mimics the flu. But in rare cases — less than 1% — the infection spreads from the lungs to the rest of the body, with consequences that can be deadly. With climate change, more states are becoming hotter and more arid, creating the perfect environment for the fungus to grow, said Morgan Gorris of the University of California Irvine. Gorris and her colleagues published a study this August predicting that by 2100,the fungus’ range could grow from 12 to 17 states, including Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. The number of people who contract the disease may also increase from around 10,000 to 15,000 cases a year.

 Johnson & Johnson recalls baby powder due to asbestos concerns -- Johnson & Johnson announced on Friday that it's initiating a voluntary recall in the United States of its popular Johnson's Baby Powder due to low levels of asbestos contamination. Johnson & Johnson shares plunge on reports of asbestos in baby powder 01:10 The recall, which is limited to one lot of baby powder bottles produced and shipped in the United States last year, comes in response to a US Food and Drug Administration test that found levels of chrysotile asbestos contamination in samples from a bottle purchased online, according to the company. "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. "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." "The FDA continues to test cosmetic products that contain talc for the presence of asbestos to protect Americans from potential health risks," Sharpless said.

Toxic Metals Found in 95 Percent of Baby Foods - Heavy metals that may damage a developing brain are present in 95 percent of baby foods on the market, according to new research from the advocacy organization Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), which bills itself as an alliance of scientists, nonprofit organizations and donors trying to reduce e xposures to neurotoxic chemicals during the first three years of development. Researchers commissioned by HBBF looked at 168 different baby foods that spanned 61 brands commonly found on grocery store shelves. From that large sample, 95 percent were contaminated with one or more of four toxic heavy metals — arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury.The high prevalence of the toxic metals meant that 26 percent of the foods tested had all four of the heavy metals."Arsenic, lead and other heavy metals are known causes of neurodevelopmental harm," said Dr. Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician and director of the Program in Global Public Health and the Common Good in the Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society at Boston College, in an HBBF issued statement. "Low level exposures add up, and exposures in early life are especially dangerous. The cumulative impact of exposures is what makes this a significant concern that demands action."Foods with the highest concentration of neurotoxins tended to be rice-based products, sweet potatoes and fruit juices, according to the report."Even in the trace amounts found in food, these contaminants can alter the developing brain and erode a child's IQ. The impacts add up with each meal or snack a baby eats," said the analysis, as CNN reported.Four of seven infant rice cereals had a toxic form of arsenic in excess of the FDA's threshold of 100 parts per billion (ppb)."These popular baby foods are not only high in inorganic arsenic, the most toxic form of arsenic, but also are nearly always contaminated with all four toxic metals," the analysis said, as CNN reported. The report also found that 83 percent of baby foods tested had more lead than the 1-ppb limit endorsed by public health advocates, and one of every five foods tested had over 10 times that amount. "Even very low exposure levels cause lower academic achievement, attention deficits and behavior problems. No safe level of exposure has been identified," the report said.The results are not far off from an FDA study that found one of the four toxic metals present in 33 of 39 baby foods, according to CNN.. However, this new report looks at a much broader range of products and brands than previous studies have.

 Study finds topsoil is key harbinger of lead exposure risks for children - Tracking lead levels in soil over time is critical for cities to determine lead contamination risks for their youngest and most vulnerable residents, according to a new Tulane University study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Lead dust is invisible and it's tragic that lead-contaminated outdoor areas are unwittingly provided for children as places to play," says lead study author Howard Mielke, a pharmacology research professor at Tulane University School of Medicine. "Young children are extremely vulnerable to lead poisoning because of their normal crawling, hand-to-mouth, exploratory behavior." Exposure to lead is often irreversible, particularly for children, and includes behavioral or learning problems, decreased IQ, hyperactivity, delayed growth, hearing problems, anemia, kidney disease and cancer. In rare cases, exposure can lead to seizures, coma, or death. In metropolitan New Orleans, children living in communities with more lead in the soil and higher blood lead levels have the lowest school performance scores. Lead was recently cited as a top risk factor for premature death in the United States, particularly from cardiovascular disease, and is responsible for 412,000 premature deaths each year. The research team began tracking the amount of lead in New Orleans soil in 2001, collecting about 5,500 samples in neighborhoods, along busy streets, close to houses and in open spaces including parks. The team from Mielke's Lead Lab collected another round of soil sampling 16 years later.  Researchers then compared the soil lead with children's blood lead data maintained by the Louisiana Healthy Homes and Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program from 2000-2005 and 2011-2016. Researchers found that lead in blood samples decreased by 64% from 2000-2005 to the 2011-2016 time period and that decreasing lead in topsoil played a key factor in the declining children's blood lead levels.  The team found black children were three times more likely than white children to have higher blood lead levels, which could be explained bysocioeconomic status and education, the type and age of housing and proximity to major roads and industry. "While the metabolism of the city could theoretically affect all residents equally, in reality social formations produce inequitable outcomes in which vulnerable populations tend to bear greater burdens of contaminant exposure," Mielke says.

E-Cig Vaping Led to Lung Cancer in Mice: What Does This Mean for Humans? - A new study found that long-term exposure to nicotine-containing e-cigarette vapor increases the risk of cancer in mice.This study adds to a growing body of research highlighting the potential negative health effects of vaping.The researchers caution in a statement that, because this is a mouse study, the results are not meant to show directly what happens in people who vape. But they argue that the results are concerning enough that, "E-cigarette smoke must be more thoroughly studied before it is deemed safe or marketed that way."   And it comes as the number of vaping-related lung injuries in the U.S. has grown to 1,299 cases, with 26 confirmed deaths. In those cases, federal officials believe cartridges containing THC may be to blame. In the new study, one group of mice were exposed to nicotine-containing e-cigarette vapor for 20 hours per week for 54 weeks.After this time, 22.5 percent of the mice developed a type of lung cancer called an adenocarcinoma.Also, 57.5 percent of these mice developed a rapid growth of cells in the bladder, known as urothelial hyperplasia. This is a type of abnormal tissue growth seen in cancer.Another group of mice breathed nicotine-free e-cigarette vapor for the same duration. None of these mice developed lung cancer, while 6.3 percent (one mouse) developed bladder hyperplasia. The researchers also had a control group of mice who breathed only filtered air. One of these mice (5.6 percent of the total) developed a lung tumor after 54 weeks. None showed signs of abnormal cell growth in the bladder. Dr. Margarita Oks, a pulmonologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said this study shows that e-cigarettes may also carry some of the same health risks as combustible cigarettes."The reason that the vaping industry has been so successful is because of the claim that vaping is safer than smoking cigarettes," said Oks, who was not involved in the new research. "This study is showing otherwise, albeit in a mouse model."

Congress Blames 'Russian Bot Armies' For Spread Of Vaping 'Health Crisis' - Fearmongering pertaining to the influence of 'bot armies' swarming social media platforms has returned to the American discourse - but this time, it's not about politics. Instead, Congressional investigators are looking into whether e-cigarette companies, the public-health boogeymen of the moment, have been marshaling armies of fake "bot" accounts to carry out an illicit marketing campaign intended to make e-cigarettes seem like a totally benign alternative to smoking and chewing tobacco. Of course, that's not what the science dictates. The official position of government health officials is that they don't yet know the extent of the deleterious health effects from vaping, and that, while vaping is likely a healthier alternative compared to smoking, it probably isn't benign - though it will likely be years until we know for sure. According to a WSJ report, the House Energy and Commerce Committee along with the Attorney General of Massachusetts, is interested in learning whether the major vape companies - including Juul labs and Reynolds American - sought to use 'bots' to spread false information. Once again, bots are being used as a 'boogeyman', but this time they're being blamed by the government for helping instigate the vaping 'health crisis'. However, just like the furor over Russian 'bots' on Twitter, it appears investigators are - by leaking the story to WSJ - blowing the influence of bots pitching vaping products out of proportion. As one industry lobbyist accurately explained, bot campaigns are a cheap and ineffective way to get a message out (you get what you pay for). Robert Mueller's indictment of a Russian troll farm appears to dramatically inflate the influence of 'bot armies' and these types of social-media based tactics. 

WeWork Removes Thousands Of Phone Booths Due To Elevated Formaldehyde - It isn't just WeWork's now-pulled IPO that's toxic at the company: according to a Business Insider report, the company emailed its tenants on Monday telling them that there was "potentially elevated levels of formaldehyde" in phone booths throughout WeWork offices in the U.S. and Canada. Why they used the word potential is unclear - according to the report, the company admitted that "tests for high levels of formaldehyde came back positive late last week."The email stated that the company was removing 1,600 phone booth from locations that "may be impacted" in addition to 700 other booths that have yet to be tested for formaldehyde. At some WeWork spaces on Monday, there were taped signs reading: “CAUTION: DO NOT USE” over the phone booths.  The company stated in its email that it had received complaints of "odor and eye irritation". The EPA says that formaldehyde can cause respiratory symptoms and eye, nose and throat irritation.  Colleen Wong, a tenant at WeWork's Rosslyn location in Arlington, Virginia said: "I always noticed, from the first time I entered a phone booth, a strong chemical odor. I assumed it was a new building / equipment type smell. Kind of like glue or a new car." “They had a chemical smell, like when you get something new in the mail," a WeWork member from Minneapolis told Bloomberg.

 Air Pollution Caused 400,000 Early EU Deaths in 2016, Study Finds - Air pollution in Europe led to more than 400,000 early deaths in 2016, according to the most recent air quality report published by the European Environment Agency (EEA). The report, released Wednesday, found that almost every European who lives in a city is exposed to unhealthy air, Reuters reported.  "It is simply unacceptable that any of us should need to worry about whether the simple act of breathing is safe or not," EEA air quality expert Alberto González Ortiz, who authored the report, told Reuters that, while European air quality was improving, it was not improving fast enough.  In fact, the reduction in particulate matter (PM2.5) — the dangerous small particles that enter the lungs and bloodstream and have been linked to a growing list of both physical and mental health problems — has largely stalled since 2014, The Guardian reported.  "We do not see any big improvement, or worsening, year on year," Ortiz told The Guardian. "It is PM2.5 that we should worry most about, and it is coming from domestic heating, industry and transport."   Particulate matter alone was to blame for the around 412,000 air pollution deaths recorded in 2016, the most recent year for which accurate data exists. However, that number is decreasing over time. It was down by about 17,000 from 2015, the report found. Overall, yearly particulate matter deaths have fallen by about half a million since 1990.On a country by country basis, particulate matter levels were the highest in Italy, Poland and the Balkans countries, The Brussels Times reported. However, concentrations were too high on a long-term basis at 69 percent of EU monitoring stations in 2017, the report found. Only Estonia, Finland and Norway did not record any unsafe levels. Levels of nitrogen dioxide — a dangerous gas found in car exhaust — have decreased more steadily than PM2.5, but around 10 percent of EU monitoring stations still recorded unhealthy levels in 2017, according to The Guardian. Also in 2017, 16 out of 28 EU member nations reported at least one case of nitrogen dioxide levels spiking past the EU's legal mean annual concentration limit of 40 micrograms per cubic meter of air,Reuters said. In London, some stations recorded more than 50 micrograms.

Air Pollution Linked to Risk of 'Silent' Miscarriage -- A typical adult takes around 20,000 breaths per day. If you live in a megacity like Beijing, with many of those lungfuls you're likely to inhale a noxious mixture of chemicals and pollutants. According to BreatheLife, the air in the Chinese capital is 7.2 times above safe pollution levels, based on guidelines set out by the World Health Organization.For expectant mothers, that means an increase in the risk of "silent" miscarriages, suggests a new large-scale study published in Nature Sustainability.Air pollution is already known to raise the risk of premature birth, low birth weight and life-threatening health complications for pregnant women, like preeclampsia, which is marked by high blood pressure, or gestational hypertension.But its impact on "silent" or missed miscarriages — where the fetus died or did not develop, but has not been physically miscarried — has been more difficult to establish. A collaborative effort from 16 different authors at several universities in China, the study retrospectively examined the records of more than a quarter million pregnant women in Beijing from 2009 to 2017 in light of the womens' exposure to air pollution.  Among the women whose clinical records were studied, 17,497 — which is 6.8% — were found to have experienced these types of miscarriages.  The researchers found the probability of missed miscarriages increased with higher concentrations of air pollutants, taking into consideration different ages, occupations and air temperature.

America’s Dairyland May Have a PFAS Problem -- First there was Fred Stone, the third-generation dairy farmer in Maine who discovered that the milk from his cows contained harmful chemicals. Then came Art Schaap, a second-generation dairy farmer in New Mexico, who had to dump 15,000 gallons of contaminated milk a day. While the pollutants in these cases were different, they both belong to the same class of chemicals: per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS for short. Numbering in the thousands, the chemicals are used to make a variety of products such as nonstick pans, stain-resistant rugs, water-repellent clothing and food packaging. Industries have been manufacturing most PFAS since the 1940s, but the effects these chemicals have on human health started surfacing only in the past decade or so. Exposure has been linked to serious conditions, including testicular and kidney cancer, colitis, thyroid disorders and suppressed immune systems in children. Many states are just beginning to look for PFAS contamination in drinking water and elsewhere, andplaces like Michigan, where state officials are actively testing for (and finding) these chemicals, are starting to look like contamination hot spots. In reality, the PFAS problem is much more widespread. While Teflon plants and military bases that use firefighting foams are common PFAS sources, another culprit is emerging: sludge produced by sewage treatment plants. Farmers all over the country use such sludge to fertilize their land, potentially contaminating the crops and livestock they produce. And it could be happening in the Midwest, too. Just 30 feet below Marinette, Wisconsin, levels of PFAS were as high as 33,000 parts per trillion (ppt), more than 470 times the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's health advisory level for drinking water of 70 ppt — a concentration many experts and states still consider a threat to human health.    Tyco Fire Technology Center run by Johnson Controls International knew back in 2013 of its PFAS problem, according to records it submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), but it wasn't until 2016 that the company documented the chemicals on its property and in the groundwater nearby. The public found out about it only in 2017, four years after Tyco's original admission, when the company acknowledged to the DNR that its pollution could be spreading. Doug Oitzinger, the former mayor of Marinette knocked on a neighbor's door to see if anyone had told her about the pollution pooling below her home. She said she hadn't heard a thing. "We foolishly thought that we had institutions that would protect us from this sort of thing, that this couldn't happen anymore," said Oitzinger. "What we've discovered is that those institutions didn't protect us."

The smell will knock you off your feet’: mass mussel die-offs baffle scientists - Each fall since 2016, wildlife biologist Jordan Richard has returned to the same portion of the Clinch River in Tennessee, braced for the worst – tens of thousands of newly dead mussel shells gleaming from the surface of the water.The mass die-off isn’t recognizable at first. But once Richard sees the first freshwater mussel, which look quite different to their marine cousins of moules frite fame, he scans the river and finds another every five to 10 seconds.“The smell will knock you off your feet,” Richard said. “You see what was a healthy looking river, but now there’s just dead bodies scattered everywhere.”  Mussels are the backbone of the river ecosystem because they control silt levels and filter water. And they are facing a mysterious affliction in hotspots in the US and abroad.Richard, who works for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, is part of a team investigating the bizarre declines in Tennessee and Virginia, as well as Oregon and Washington. The group includes biologists, pathologists and epidemiologists from the University of Wisconsin and the US Geological Survey. They say others are researching similar episodes in Spain.Of the roughly 300 freshwater mussel species in North America, 71% are considered endangered, threatened or of concern, largely because of human degradation of rivers. They are also vulnerable to the climate crisis, because ofheat and changes to precipitation. In the southeast US alone, nearly two dozen species of mussels are thought to have gone extinct.

African Swine Fever Devastates China's Pig Herd In September - In August, we reported that at least half of China's breeding pigs have died from African swine fever or been slaughtered to contain the spreading of the disease.  New figures published Monday from the Ministry of Agriculture of the People's Republic of China showed the pig-apocalypse continues to get worse. The country's herd in Sept. collapsed 41.1% YoY. China is losing millions of pigs to an outbreak of African swine fever — Inkstone (@InkstoneNews) October 4, 2019 While government estimates are more conservative, the recent plunge in pig herds across the country could be around 50% to 55% by late 4Q19, Rabobank told Reuters.The supply of the country's favorite meat has collapsed by 40% to 50% this year, depending on what statistics you read. This has already devastated rural communities and pushed up food prices to crisis levels. "Something like 50% of sows are dead," Edgar Wayne Johnson, a veterinarian who has spent 14 years in China, told Reuters in June.As the chart below shows, the Pork Index Guangdong Daily priced in dollars per kilogram has soared to record highs in Oct., adding pressure on Beijing to contain food-price inflation during the trade war with the US. Pork prices are likely to remain elevated for some time, said Betty Wang, a senior economist at ANZ. She said farmers had culled so many pigs that it would take a while for supplies to build up again. "If people feel that food inflation is going up, it may spur policy actions," she added, although it wasn't clear just how Beijing can find a quick and easy substitute to domestic farms.

Kim Jong Un May Be Hiding a Hog Apocalypse From the World --By official accounts, the pig contagion wreaking havoc across Eastern Asia has virtually skipped over North Korea, with a single outbreak reported there in May. But wayward feral pigs have stoked concern that Kim Jong Un’s reclusive state is hiding an African swine fever disaster. Five wild boars were found dead in or near border areas separating the two countries this month before being tested positive for the viral hemorrhagic disease, officials in South Korea said. The finding reflects the freedom with which animals roam the 4-kilometer (2.5 mile) wide buffer zone that divides the nations and creates an involuntary park and refuge for fauna. It also hints at a spillover of the deadly virus from North Korea, where unofficial reports indicate the disease is spreading out of control. South Korea has deployed helicopters to disinfect parts of the 250-kilometer-long border-barrier, near which more than a dozen outbreaks have occurred on farms since the virus was first reported there a month ago.African swine fever has spread to almost all areas of North Korea, and pigs in the western province of North Pyongan have been “wiped out,” said Lee Hye-hoon, who chairs the National Assembly’s intelligence committee, citing South Korea’s National Intelligence Service. The virus killed 22 hogs in May on a cooperative farm about 260 kilometers north of Pyongyang, near the border with China, North Korea’s agriculture ministry said in a May 30 report to the World Organization for Animal Health, or OIE. But since then, there have been no follow-up reports to the Paris-based veterinary body, and scant coverage of the event in state media.

South Korea to Deploy Snipers to Hunt Down North’s Sick Pigs - South Korea will send military snipers and civilian hunters to its northern border Tuesday to eliminate wayward, contagion-carrying pigs from Kim Jong Un’s reclusive neighboring state. The government will also use thermal vision drones to search for hogs infected with African swine fever near the civilian control line, a buffer region near the strip of land dividing the Korean Peninsula, the agriculture ministry said Sunday. The intensified measures aim to exterminate feral pigs in areas including Incheon, Seoul, Goseong and Bukhan River.Five wild boars were found dead in or near border areas this month before being tested positive for the viral hemorrhagic disease, officials in South Korea said. The finding reflects the freedom with which animals roam the area, and hints at a spillover of the deadly virus from North Korea, where unofficial reports indicate the disease is spreading out of control.  African swine fever has reached almost all areas of North Korea, and pigs in the western province of North Pyongan have been “wiped out,” said Lee Hye-hoon, who chairs the National Assembly’s intelligence committee, citing South Korea’s National Intelligence Service.

A terrible pandemic is killing pigs around the world, and U.S. pork producers fear they could be hit next - WaPo - U.S. authorities have started active preparations in response to the rising threat of an outbreak of African swine fever, the deadly disease that has decimated the Chinese pig population and is spreading across Asia.The Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service led several functional exercises and drills late last month, working off a scenario of an outbreak of the virus in Mississippi that traveled across state lines before it was discovered. Fourteen states participated in the drill. “We got everyone involved in terms of state troopers, diagnostic labs, private veterinarians and state officials, trying to figure out where the virus was,” said Dave Pyburn, the senior vice president of science and technology for the National Pork Board. “As far as controlling it here, the closer we can get to that index case [the first identified case in an outbreak], the better we can control it.”  Experts say the most likely vector for the disease arriving in North America is tainted animal feed. According to the World Organization of Animal Health, the disease has spread to more than 50 countries. As many as half of China’s pigs, an estimated 300 million, have died of the virus or been exterminated since the disease took hold 13 months ago. In the past months it has advanced to Vietnam, Laos and South Korea. At the beginning of September, the Philippines confirmed African swine fever in at least seven villages near Manila, requiring 7,000 pigs to be euthanized. And at the end of September, East Timor reported more than 100 cases to the World Organization for Animal Health. With these developments, the American pork industry has begun mobilizing. Experts say the risk of a domestic outbreak of African swine fever is increasing. “It’s a higher probability, that’s for sure,” Pyburn said. “What are the odds? I don’t have a precise number I can give. But take a look at what this virus is doing around the globe today. And then look at the way goods and people travel. This would have a devastating effect on our industry. It’s the nastiest disease we have on the planet.”

Climate change threatens hundreds of North American bird species with extinction, study says - Nearly two-thirds of North American birds studied will go extinct if global warming hits 3 degrees Celsius (5.4˚F), a new report from the National Audubon Society finds. Orioles, eagles, grouse and gulls are among 389 types of bird -- 64% of 604 species assessed on this continent -- that are highly or moderately vulnerable to climate change, the study says. The stark warning follows research published last month that showed the US and Canada had lost 2.9 billion birds in about the last 50 years. The Baltimore Oriole is one of the species of birds that could be severely hit by all the impacts of climate change. The existential threat to birds also impacts humanity. As canaries warned coalminers of invisible death in the industrial era, now birds of every shape and size can be life-or-death alerts in the age of global warming.But if humanity can somehow escape the proverbial coal mine in time and hold warming to the Paris Accord target of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7˚F), 76% of the most vulnerable species should survive, the Audubon study states."Our findings in this report are the fifth alarm in a five-alarm fire," says David O'Neill, Audubon's Chief Conservation Officer, in the study called Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink. Golden eagles are among the 389 types of bird that may not be able to survive in North America, the report says. He called for immediate action to slow the warming of the planet to save birds and much more.  "It's a combination of changes in temperature, precipitation and vegetation," says Brooke Bateman, Audubon's Senior Climate Scientist. "And birds are going to have to move and shift to keep up with these changes. And then on top of the range shifts, we also have the pressure of changes in sea level rise, urbanization, extreme weather events that are going to affect these species no matter where they go."

 Two-thirds of U.S. birds face extinction due to climate-linked 'emergency': Audubon (Reuters) - Two-thirds of bird species in North America, already disappearing at an alarming rate, face extinction unless immediate action is taken to slow the rate of climate change, the National Audubon Society said on Thursday. “We are in the midst of a bird emergency,” Audubon’s Chief Executive David Yarnold said at a news briefing. “This is as much about the future that we face and our children face as the birds face.” If the emission of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming isn’t slowed, 389 out of 604 species in North America will face extinction, a report by the conservation group said. As the climate warms, birds would be forced to relocate to find a more favorable habitat, and they may not survive this journey, the report said. But if the expected rise in temperatures of 3 degrees Celsius by 2080 is slowed to 1.5 degrees Celsius, nearly 40% of those species would no longer be considered vulnerable, researchers said. Most threatened are species that live in the cold Arctic zone and those living in coastal areas. “More than 50% of coastal birds will have to adjust their ranges,” said Audubon senior scientist Brooke Bateman. Birds imperiled by the Earth’s predicted temperature rise include such widely recognized and beloved species as the piping plover, Baltimore oriole and golden eagle, Audubon said. While some species are predicted to die due to rising temperatures, other birds that thrive in warmer, southern climates will relocate to northern locales, a move already underway, Bateman said. Her father now regularly sees Carolina wrens, the state bird of South Carolina, near his home on New York’s Long Island, she said. American robins, once recognized in northern U.S. states as a harbinger of spring when they return from their southern migration to avoid winter’s chill, instead are staying put during increasingly warm North American winters, she said. Audubon’s report sounds the alarm just weeks after a similar one about threats to the avian population drew widespread attention.

To stop an insect die-out, the world needs pollinator-friendly policies, scientist warns (interview transcript) Insects are among the most successful creatures on the planet.  Some estimates date their origins to 400 million years ago. Of the 7-8 million species documented on Earth, around three quarters are likely bugs. Insects like bees, butterflies and even certain species of beetle and ant incidentally pollinate our crops when they collect protein-rich pollen and sugary nectar, ensuring we have enough to eat.  But they're in decline and that would have serious consequences for the world.  DW spoke to Josef Settele, a professor and entomologist at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in the eastern German city of Halle, about whether we need to worry about our food and how politics and business could intervene to halt the insect decline. Settele was in the global spotlight in May 2019 when the United Nations IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services was published. In the report, the entomologist and his colleagues determined that around 1 million plant and animal species are threatened with extinction. Insects are being hit particularly hard. The scientists estimate that around 10% of all insect species are threatened with dying out over the next few decades — and that's a conservative calculation.

Officials Warn: If You See This Fish That Breathes Air On Land, "Kill It Immediately" -Wildlife officials in Georgia are issuing a blunt message to anglers: if you come in contact with a certain invasive fish species that has suddenly appeared in the state, be sure to kill it immediately. The fish in question is the northern snakehead fish, which can breathe on air and survive for days on dry land.The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is sounding the alarm on the fish after an angler reportedly caught one in a private pond in Gwinnett County. The Wildlife Resources Division of the agency is confused as to how the snakehead, which has never before been seen in the state, has suddenly come to exist in Georgian waters, NBC reports. If you find a northern snakehead in Georgia, kill it immediately and contact a DNR Regional Office. — Georgia DNR Wildlife (@GeorgiaWild) October 10, 2019In a press release, the department describes the snakehead as a long, thin fish with a long dorsal fin along its back and a brown, blotchy appearance. The fish can grow to up to three feet in length and is capable of living on land, breathing air, and surviving in low oxygenated systems. They are usually found in  freshwater.The non-native invasive species is native to the Yangtze River basin in China, but has also been reported in 14 states throughout the United States. For some time, snakeheads were sold in pet stores and live food fish markets, as well as in restaurants, in various major U.S. cities. In 2002, they were added to the list of injurious wildlife under the Lacey Act in 2002. The Lacey Act lists at least 726 species as “injurious,” including zebra mussels, Burmese python, and numerous species of salmon and salamander. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), injurious species “have been determined to be injurious to the health and welfare of humans, the interests of agriculture, horticulture or forestry, and the welfare and survival of wildlife resources of the U.S.” The United States Geological Survey also said that some snakeheads were even released by hobbyists or religious groups who practice “prayer animal release,” an activity whereby individuals purchase animals and then release them “to earn merits with a deity.”

The men fighting Florida’s python epidemic - Dusty “Wildman” Crum and Mike “Cowboy” Kimmel are participants in the Python Elimination Programme of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD). They work as bounty hunters in the Everglades, a sultry wilderness that covers the southernmost reaches of the Sunshine State, and are paid to catch and kill as many Burmese pythons as they can find. But laying their hands on fast-moving, highly dangerous, camouflaged reptiles in a swamp that extends for thousands of square miles is about as easy as it sounds.The pair don’t always work together. When they hunt alone, they get to keep all the bounty for themselves. But you never know when you might find yourself facing a giant python. And Wildman’s mother worries about him when he ventures out alone.  No one knows precisely how many pythons inhabit the Everglades. The authorities estimate that there are around 100,000, but there could be more. And no one can offer a clear explanation of how they got there. As their name suggests, Burmese pythons are not native to Florida. They come from South-East Asia, where they are endangered. Most experts point towards the destruction of a ramshackle breeding facility by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, during which many pythons escaped. The population has grown thanks to the addition of a large number of pet snakes released by their owners over the course of many years.Pythons are not the most obvious choice of animal sidekick. They are not soppily affectionate. They do not sing, perform tricks or tumble around with balls of string. You can’t take them for a walk in a park. Nevertheless, many people appreciate their company. According to the American Pet Products Association, in 2016 just under 1% of American households – which still amounts to nearly a million – kept at least one snake as a pet. Having fallen for an adorable baby snake, however, many pet-owners are unable to cope with a fully grown one. Pythons can reach lengths of up to 23ft (seven metres). They become dangerous long before that. In 2011 in Florida, an 8ft python was found coiled around a dead toddler in her cot, its fangs embedded in her forehead. This is how a python dines: it bites first, then coils around its victim, squeezing hard to cause suffocation. Finally it dislocates its jaw to swallow the meal whole. Using its tail, it can cram more than its own body weight down its throat.

Trump Advisory Panel Suggests Bringing More Private Business Into National Parks -  An advisory panel appointed by Trump's first Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, has recommended privatizing National Parks campgrounds, allowing food trucks in and setting up WiFi at campgrounds while also reducing benefits to seniors, according to the panel's memo.The advisory committee, the Subcommittee on Recreation Enhancement Through Reorganization, passed its recommendations along to Interior Sec. David Bernhardt. It is part of the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee, which Zinke to "advise the Secretary of the Interior on public-private partnerships across all public lands," according to The Hill.The draftees suggest that the Senior Pass, which is an $80 lifetime pass to people 62 and over and entitles them to a 50 percent discount on campgrounds, have some blackout dates that would void their discounts. The memo also suggests generating revenue by renting out cabins and having vendors rent out tents and other camping equipment within the national parks.The memo lists food trucks and mobile vendors as part of its innovative management strategy and it suggests offering mobile connectivity throughout parks, not just at campgrounds.The Federal government has a long history of not providing adequate funding to the National Parks System, which has created a $12 billion maintenance backlog, according to The Hill. Drafters of the plan say their suggestions are a roadmap to a much-needed upgrade of deteriorating infrastructure that will attract a younger, more diverse audience.

Early Blizzard Wallops Vulnerable Crops – WSJ - Farmers who delayed planting in waterlogged fields this spring face a new threat as they race to harvest their crops: snow. Heavy snowfall and high winds in the past several days buffeted northern Farm Belt states where many farmers delayed historic planting last spring. The early blizzard bookended a trying year for U.S. farmers. Crop prices generally remain under pressure because of high supplies and slackened demand as a result of the U.S.-China trade war. And many crops now threatened by a freeze are immature because they were planted late...

Historic Midwest Blizzard Has Farmers Seeing "Massive Crop Losses...As Devastating As We've Ever Seen" --An unprecedented October blizzard that hit just before harvest time has absolutely devastated farms all across the U.S. heartland.    As you will see below, one state lawmaker in North Dakota is saying that the crop losses will be “as devastating as we’ve ever seen”. .  Due to endless rain and horrific flooding early in the year, many farmers in the middle of the country faced very serious delays in getting their crops planted.  So we really needed good weather at the end of the season so that the crops could mature and be harvested in time, and that did not happen.  Instead, the historic blizzard that we just witnessed dumped up to 2 feet of snow from Colorado to Minnesota.  In fact, one city in North Dakota actually got 30 inches of snow.  In the end, this is going to go down as one of the worst crop disasters that the Midwest has ever seen, and ultimately this crisis is going to affect all of us.  According to the USDA, only 15 percent of all U.S. corn and only 14 percent of all U.S. soybeans had been harvested as of October 6thOnly 58% of U.S. corn was mature as of Oct. 6 and just 15% was harvested, according to the latest data from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). North Dakota’s crop was furthest behind, with just 22% of corn mature and none harvested as of Sunday, while South Dakota’s corn was 36% mature with 2% harvested.  U.S. soybeans were only 14% harvested as of Sunday, 20 percentage points behind the average pace, USDA data showed. North Dakota and Minnesota beans were just 8% gathered while Iowa’s and South Dakota’s crop was only 5% harvested. So that means that the vast majority of our corn and the vast majority of our soybeans were exposed to this giant storm, and the losses are going to be off the charts.  According to North Dakota state lawmaker Jon Nelson, we should expect “massive crop losses – as devastating as we’ve ever seen”… Unharvested wheat in the region probably will be a total loss, he told the Associated Press.

Indigenous farming practices failing as climate change disrupts seasons - THE HOPI TRIBESMEN of northern Arizona are born meteorologists. When snake weed blooms in the spring, they know they’re in for bumper summer rains. When the desert stays largely barren, they prepare for drought. As far back as tribal lore goes, Hopi farmers have sustained themselves and their crops by diligently reading their arid mesa surroundings. This summer, however, their millennia-old forecasting techniques failed them, and not for the first time in recent years. The weeds sprouted in great numbers in April. The usual rains in August did not come at all. Were it not for local grocery stores and the seed stockpiles they maintain in anticipation of the occasional bad year, many Hopi might well have gone hungry. “These indicators have always been dang reliable. We have over 2000 years of replication. We know our fields, like many indigenous people,” says Michael Kotutwa Johnson, a Hopi farmer who grows corn, beans, squash, and melons on the tribal reservation several hundred miles north of Phoenix. “But when I talk to my people, they say our winters are getting longer, so people plant a little later, and that can wreak havoc. Now we’re kind of in a bad situation.” They’re not alone. Climate change is upending millions of people’s lives, yet few communities are seeing their crops and worldviews crumble quite like those that rely on indigenous weather forecasting. Dependent in many cases on millennia-old trial and error, as well as analyses of the landscape to gauge planting cycles, their fields are withering as the conditions on which the calendars are predicated change. Without that accumulated wisdom to fall back on—bird migrations, wind direction, stars, and more—farmers are feeling particularly defenseless just as other consequences of climate change complicate their lives.

Great Lakes Flooding: The Warning Signs That Homes Must Be Moved - Every fall, I take my environmental studies class camping at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan. Some years the beach extends more than three meters to the water. This year, in many spots, there was no beach at all.  The story is the same throughout the Great Lakes. During my summer research trip to Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, I lost track of the number of submerged docks and buildings; swimming near the shore of Lake Huron was a bad idea because of the high risk of electrocution from inundated boathouses that still had the juice flowing.Water levels in the Great Lakes have always fluctuated. But climate change is throwing past patterns out of whack. Almost every Great Lake reached record levels in 2019. And the latest studies predict that levels might reach even higher in 2020.But instead of engineered solutions, we should be concentrating on getting out of the way.  My research looks at the ways that Canada and the U.S., along with the bilateral International Joint Commission, have tried to understand and control water in the Great-Lakes St. Lawrence River Basin for well more than a century. Both countries have made large diversions in and out of the Great Lakes, such as the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, as well as numerous smaller diversions and canals.  In the 1950s, dams along the St. Lawrence transformed this gigantic river into a hydropower pool and navigation channel and, controversially, to help regulate water levels in Lake Ontario. Control works in the St. Marys River partially regulate Lake Superior. Niagara Falls is treated like a tap to generate both hydropower and beauty. Then there is the 100-plus years of perpetually dredging channels and harbours for navigation.  Meanwhile, communities have steadily encroached on the water. We turned seasonal sandbars into subdivisions. Metropolises like Toronto and Chicago extended their footprints hundreds of meters into the lake.  And it's not only large dams, diversions and cities that have impacts. Thousands of small individual actions add up, such as the breakwalls, retaining walls and the rip-rap (graded stone or crushed rock) property owners erect to protect boathouses, cottages and other structures.  These engineered interventions have myriad ecological impacts and unintended consequences, such as invasive species and impaired water quality. They've also instilled a societal hubris that we can — and should — control water on a large scale in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence system.However, natural forces — rain, snow, ice cover, temperature, evaporation — are the biggest determinant of water levels in the Great Lakes. Water needs breathing space. We need to move out of the way, rather than try to move water out of our way.

 Trump Admin Moves Closer to Slashing Protections for World’s Largest Temperate Rainforest -- The Trump administration has moved one step closer to opening Earth's largest intact temperate rainforest to logging. On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service announced it would draft an environmental impact statement exempting Alaska's Tongass National Forest from the 2001 Roadless Rule, which prohibits road construction and timber harvesting on 58.5 million acres of National Forest land. The administration's proposal would open more than half of the Tongass National Forest's 16.7 million acres to logging, The Washington Post reported. Environmental advocates immediately raised the alarm about the proposal. The Tongass is an important habitat for wildlife, including salmon, and an important tool for fighting the climate crisis. It stores around 8 percent of all the carbon sequestered in U.S. national forests in the lower 48 states, Earthjustice pointed out. "The world's largest remaining intact temperate rainforest containing vital old-growth trees is under attack because of efforts to undo the Roadless Rule," Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director of Women's Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN), told Earthjustice.  The Washington Post first reported that the Trump administration would seek to open the forest to development in August, and President Donald Trump himself has asked Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to exempt the forest from logging limits. In doing so, he acted in accordance with the wishes of Alaska's Republican congressional delegation, who has asked him to open up the forest. "As Alaskans know well, the Roadless Rule hinders our ability to responsibly harvest timber, develop minerals, connect communities, or build energy projects to lower costs — including renewable energy projects like hydropower, all of which severely impedes the economy of Southeast," Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said in a statement reported by The Washington Post. However, the Post noted that timber provides less than one percent of southeast Alaska's jobs. Seafood processing, on the other hand, provides eight percent and tourism 17 percent. Around 40 percent of West Coast wild salmon spawn in the Tongass. "The push for an Alaska-specific roadless rule has always been just pretext for continuing to subsidize Southeast Alaska's old-growth timber industry, and it will do so at the expense of recreation and fishing, Native communities, and wildlife," Andy Moderow, Alaska director at Alaska Wilderness League, said in the Earthjustice press release.

Trump administration proposes expanding logging in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest --The Trump administration Tuesday proposed allowing logging on more than half of Alaska’s 16.7 million-acre Tongass National Forest, the largest intact temperate rainforest in North America. President Trump instructed federal officials to reverse long-standing limits on tree cutting at the request of Alaska’s top elected officials, on the grounds that it will boost the local economy. But critics say that protections under the “roadless rule,” finalized just before President Bill Clinton left office in 2001, are critical to protecting the region’s lucrative salmon fishery and tourism operations. The U.S. Forest Service said it would publish a draft environmental impact statement this week that, if enacted, would exempt the Tongass from the 2001 roadless rule. The Washington Post first reported the president’s plan to expand logging in the Tongass in August. The Forest Service had initially planned to make more-modest changes to nearly 9.5 million acres where roads are prohibited. Under the administration’s “preferred alternative,” that entire area would be open for development. Congress has designated another 5.7 million acres of the forest as wilderness, which must remain off limits to such activities under any circumstances. Tongass, which lies in southeast Alaska, is home to massive old-growth stands and provides habitat for a range of wildlife. Roughly 40 percent of wild salmon that swim along the West Coast spawn in the Tongass, generating a fishery that the Forest Service estimates is worth $986 million a year. The agency said in a statement that the Tongass — which ranks as the single largest holding in the federal forest system — covers 80 percent of the land along the 500-mile Southeast Alaska Panhandle. “It is rich in natural resources and cultural heritage,” the statement said. While President George W. Bush sought to reverse Clinton’s roadless policy in the Tongass in 2003, a federal judge reinstated it in 2011, and the decision was upheld on appeal. In a statement, Forest Service officials said the new plan — which lists five alternatives including greater restrictions on logging — will be subject to public comment for 60 days. Those comments “will inform the department” as Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue “moves toward a final decision,” an official added. But Trump, who has spoken with Alaska Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy (R) multiple times on the subject, has asked Perdue to exempt the Tongass from logging limits, according to several federal officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations. On Tuesday, Dunleavy hailed the decision as “further proof that Alaska’s economic outlook is looking brighter every day.” 

'A problem in every national forest'- tree thieves were behind Washington wildfire - When two men discovered a rare and valuable towering bigleaf maple tree in Washington state’s Olympic national forest last year, they allegedly set about trying to steal it. But there was a problem – the tree was home to a bee hive. The men reportedly tried to use a wasp killer to get rid of it. When that didn’t work, one allegedly poured gasoline on it, and lit it on fire. The result, according to a federal indictment unsealed this week, was an August wildfire that raged across the eastern half of the ancient forest, setting 3,300 acres of public land ablaze and costing $4.5m to fight. Known as the Maple fire, the smoke from the blaze also served to exacerbate an already bad summer for the region’s air quality. There were fires raging in Canada and eastern Washington, and as smoke from these blazes struck Seattle, at some points the city reportedly had the worst air quality in the world. Justin Andrew Wilke and Shawn Edward Williams have been charged with multiple federal felonies related to timber theft and could face years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines if convicted. The bigleaf maple’s wood was covered in a distinct pattern, which if harvested is extremely popular for woodworking and potentially worth thousands of dollars. Before the fire, the pair had allegedly spent months illegally harvesting these high-value maple trees and selling the wood, which is used to make furniture and musical instruments. Wilke was also specifically charged with “setting timber afire” and “using fire in furtherance of a felony” – the latter comes with a mandatory 10-year sentence, according to Seth Wilkinson, the lead prosecutor on the case. “Timber theft, which involves destruction of a public resource, is in itself a really serious crime in this area,” said Wilkinson. “But this one is magnified many many times because of the consequences here, which involved the destruction of thousands of acres of national forest.”

Deadly Southern California Wildfires Destroy Mobile Homes, Force 100,000 to Flee - Three people have died in incidents related to two major wildfires in Southern California, The Los Angeles Times Reported Sunday.  A man in his late 50s died of a heart attack Friday while talking with firefighters as the Saddleridge Fire raged in the Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley foothills. And two people died when the Sandalwood Fire burned through a mobile home park in Calimesa. Both blazes ignited Thursday, CNN reported.  The Saddleridge Fire forced 100,000 people to flee their homes in Los Angeles. and closed several freeways,according to Reuters. It also led to poor air quality over northern Los Angeles, prompting dozens of public schools in the San Fernando Valley to close.The man who died was one who chose to ignore the evacuation order and attempt to fight the fire himself. The fire grew to 7,500 acres Friday, but is now 42 percent contained and all evacuation orders have been lifted, according to the latest update from the Los Angeles Fire Department. Forty structures have been damaged or destroyed.  The Sandalwood Fire ignited when a garbage truck dumped burning trash that spread onto vegetation, Reuters reported. It burned 76 homes in Calimesa in Riverside County. Among those homes were dozens at a mobile park, where the fire's two victims died. The Los Angeles Times shared the fate of one of them:Family members of Lois Arvickson confirmed the 89-year-old died in the fire. Don Turner, Arvickson's son, and his wife, Kimberly, spent Thursday night at an evacuation center, desperate to hear news of his mother, who lived alone at the Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park. She was on the phone with her son when the blaze, dubbed the Sandalwood fire, reached the park. Kimberly Turner said neighbors reported seeing Arvickson get in her car to leave, but they don't know what happened next. The Turners saw TV news coverage that showed Arvickson's home destroyed by fire and the car still in the driveway. The second victim, whose remains were found in the park, has not yet been identified, NBC Los Angeles reported. That fire is now 86 percent contained, according to the most recent update from The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE).

Wildfires and forced blackouts lead to multiple deaths in California --Over the weekend, wildfires continued to rage across California following a severe statewide windstorm, with three deaths reported so far from the blazes. At the same time, at least one death has been reported that is attributable to the utility monopoly Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), which forcibly cut power to over two million residents across the state last week in a desperate effort to mitigate the outbreak of wildfires. Twelve minutes after power was cut in Pollock Pines, near Sacramento, 67-year-old Robert Mardis Sr. died of a cardiac arrest after his continuous positive airway pressure machine lost power. While the coroner’s autopsy report does not attribute the death to the blackout, Mardis’s daughter Marie Aldea told the Los Angeles Times, “The power had just gone off, so he was going to his portable oxygen machine. We weren’t even able to get to the generator, it happened so quick.” The wildfires that hit the state after months of dry weather were fanned by the high winds, conditions that have become increasingly common and severe due to climate change. In the past decade—and over the last two years in particular—California’s wildfire season, which has long plagued the state to varying degrees, has reached nightmare proportions. As of this writing, six fires have broken out across California since Thursday. The largest is the Saddleridge Fire in northern Los Angeles, which has burned 7,965 acres and is only 41 percent contained. The fire has forced 100,000 people to evacuate, in the process killing one man who suffered from cardiac arrest. The Sandalwood Fire in Riverside, also in Southern California, has burned 1,011 acres and is 71 percent contained, killing two people from unspecified causes, including 89-year-old Lois Arvikson. The other four fires are all less than 500 acres and nearly fully contained. The exact cause of the different fires is yet to be determined, but the Los Angeles Fire Department has revealed that arson investigators cite one witness reportedly seeing sparks or flames from a power line near one of the fires, likely yet again implicating the utility monopoly Southern California Edison (SCE), which covers the Los Angeles metropolitan and southern Central Valley regions.

The Latest: PG&E says system had 100 incidents of damage -- Pacific Gas & Electric says inspections have found more than 100 places where its system was damaged by recent strong winds that prompted last week’s deliberate power cut to northern and central California. PG&E says the damage included downed power lines and trees that hit lines. The utility says any one of those problems could potentially have sparked a wildfire — the issue that prompted the precautionary shutdown. It also says wind gusts hit 77 mph in Sonoma County and 50 mph or more in many other counties. The shutdown that began last Wednesday lasted two days and affected an estimated 2.1 million people. The disruption prompted anger and accusations that PG&E hadn’t done enough to weather-proof its system. Gov. Gavin Newsom is asking Pacific Gas & Electric Co., to pay the customers who lost power last week when the state’s largest utility cut electricity to prevent wildfires. The Democratic governor sent a letter Monday asking PG&E chief executive Bill Johnson to provide a bill credit or rebate worth $100 for residential customers and $250 for small businesses. Newsom says the shutoffs affected too many customers for too long, and it’s clear PG&E implemented them “with astounding neglect and lack of preparation.” He says that before the shutoff PG&E executives rejected offers of help from state and local emergency managers.   The shutoff affected about 2 million people in 35 counties. Millions of Californians spent part of the week in the dark in an unprecedented effort by the state’s large electrical utilities to prevent another devastating wildfire. It was the fifth time Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has pre-emptively cut the power but by far the largest to date in the utility’s effort to prevent a deadly wildfire sparked by its power lines.

This Did Not Go Well - PG&E's Rolling Blackout Sparked Chaos In Bay Area -  Pacific Gas and Electric's (PG&E) historic blackout plunging hundreds of thousands of customers into darkness last week was a massive communication breakdown that sparked criticism over the two-day blackout that was designed to avoid wildfires, reported The New York Times. PG&E officials said over the weekend that most of the power had been restored to everyone except for 2,500 customers across several Bay Area counties and promised to fix communication channels with customers. "We'll get better in the next month and better in the next year," PG&E CEO Bill Johnson said Saturday."Communication to customers, coordination with state agencies, website availability, call center staff, that's where you will see short-term improvements."Last Wednesday, PG&E triggered rolling blackouts for nearly 735,000 homes and or businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area amid the threat of strong winds and dry conditions that would've damaged transmission wires and sparked d angerous wildfires, similar to what was seen last year. Most of the residents were restored by Friday afternoon, but 99.5% of its customers saw full power by Saturday.  The shutdown caused widespread confusion about the planned power outage, and according to some experts, billions of dollars in economic losses were sustained by local businesses during the two-day blackout. PG&E's website and communication network that relayed essential data about the blackouts crashed, leaving many without details about what was happening.  "There were definitely missteps," said Elizaveta Malashenko, a spokesperson for the state Public Utilities Commission who was in the PG&E control center. "It's pretty much safe in saying, this did not go well." PG&E's approach to shutdown various grids during a powerful windstorm that hit the Bay Area was never tried before, nor such failure in attempting to manage a controlled blackout and effectively communicate what was happening customers.

Pacific Gas and Electric utility confronts mass outrage a week after Northern California power shutoffs - Outrage continues to mount a week after the Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) energy monopoly cut power to millions of residents throughout Northern California.After reports of high winds and low humidity last Wednesday possibly leading to more wildfires caused by outdated and poorly maintained electrical lines, PG&E cut off electrical power without advanced warning to more than 800,000 customers, leaving nearly two million residents in the dark. Service wasn’t fully restored until four days later on Saturday.During last week’s outage, traffic signals went dark, water was not pumped from ground wells, food spoiled, and medical devices failed to operate. The PG&E website frequently crashed leaving residents completely in the dark about the nature and extent of the outages aside from a few Twitter postings released by the company.PG&E is California’s largest utility, serving 4 out of every 10 people in the most populous state in the country.The Washington Post reported last week that anger against the utility—which has been responsible for a series of public disasters including the 2018 Camp Fire in which 85 people lost their lives and the 2010 San Bruno gas explosions which left 10 dead—boiled over into threatening letters and at least one office being pelted by eggs.The company also reported that a PG&E truck was shot at from a pickup truck driving alongside it. Local police began patrolling PG&E offices after these incidents with employees at the company’s San Francisco headquarters constructing makeshift barricades in front of the entrances as well.The deliberate outages last week likely led to at least one death, that of 67-year-old Robert Mardis Sr. whose positive airway pressure machine ceased operation while he slept.

Los Angeles fire began under power lines, cause not known — A destructive fire that exploded on the edge of Los Angeles began beneath a high-voltage transmission tower owned by Southern California Edison, fire officials said Monday. Los Angeles Fire Department arson investigators determined the origin of the Saddle Ridge Fire was beneath power lines on a dry, steep hillside above the city’s Sylmar neighborhood, Capt. Erik Scott told The Associated Press. The cause remained under investigation. The fire that started Thursday night burned nearly 8, 400 acres (13.1 square miles or 34 square kilometers), destroyed 17 structures and damaged dozens more. One man died of a heart attack during the fire in the Porter Ranch neighborhood, officials said. The fire department had said Friday that a witness saw sparks or flames coming from a power line near where the fire was believed to have started. At least two people told LA TV stations that they saw fire near power lines above Saddle Ridge Road around the time the blaze broke out. After several deadly blazes in the past two years have been blamed on trees and vegetation hitting power lines and other causes involving electrical equipment, utilities have been given authority to shut off power when fire risk is extremely high. Just two days before the Los Angeles fire broke out, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. had cut power to nearly 2 million people in Northern California to prevent a repeat of catastrophic fires in that part of the state, including a blaze that destroyed the town of Paradise and killed 85 people. SoCal Edison had warned it might cut power to close to 200,000 customers in communities throughout the region to prevent its equipment from sparking a wildfire. But it wasn’t clear Monday if the fire originated in an area that could have had the power shut off pre-emptively.

104 Fires In 24 Hours, Lebanon Is Burning - - Massive wildfires have erupted in Lebanon, swallowing everything in their way. Forests, homes, schools, universities, roads, and more have been completely engulfed in the flames, leaving little behind. People are being evacuated from their homes, not knowing whether they'll find a way back. The fires, which originally started in Mechref, have thus far spread across neighboring areas like Debbieh, Na'ameh, Damour, Aramoun, and more. Meanwhile, more fires broke out in Akkar overnight and in the early hours of the morning. Civil defense teams alone are incapable of putting out the fires, thus Lebanon has resorted to Cypriot help. In any other nation, the president would declare state of emergency for fighting wildfires. Only in #Lebanon do people burn alive while leaders remain asleep. This is a nightmare. Pray for Lebanon.

460 Wild Fires Erupted In Lebanon, Some Of The Worst In History - After what can only be deemed as a "hellish" night, Lebanese people awoke this morning to acres of burned land - a painful sight to see. Forests, homes, cars, belongings, schools, universities, roads, and more had been destroyed in the aftermath of the raging fires that had erupted in Lebanon, swallowing everything in their way. For two nights, Lebanese people had been subject to some of the worst wildfires in history, which amounted to a total of 460, according to sources from the operation room at the Grand Serail. They gradually subsided on Tuesday night with the heavy rainfall that showered over Lebanon. It all started when a massive fire erupted in Mechref, a village in Chouf, on Sunday at around 1 AM. Unconstrained, the flames spread to nearby homes and resident areas, eventually reaching a mine field and resulting in multiple explosions. Despite the combined efforts of civil defense teams and locals in the area, the fires spread to neighboring villages, ignited by the sudden rise in temperatures and high winds. They reached Debbieh, Na'ameh, Damour, and Aramoun. Meanwhile, more fires broke out in several other areas in Lebanon, including Akkar, Ghazir, Hammana, Aley, Kfarhbab, Nabatieh, Bnachii, Miziara, Jeita, Cornet El Hamra, Kfarmatta, Zaatari, Jounieh, and Mansourieh, to name a few. According to Director-general of the Civil Defense, Raymond Khattar, these wildfires were "some of the worst in decades." Choppers were sent over from Cyprus, Jordan, Italy, and Greece to help combat the fires, which complemented the undeniable efforts of Lebanese and Palestinian Civil Defense, the Lebanese Army, Lebanese Security Forces, and brave citizens. 

Haunting Photos Of The Devastating Fires In Lebanon :: - Our hearts are aching as we watch these devastating fires continue to spread in the country. The footage circulating on social media is absolutely horrifying, here are some of them:

 Typhoon Hagibis: Japan suffers deadly floods and landslides from storm - At least nine people are reported dead as Japan recovers from its biggest storm in decades.Typhoon Hagibis triggered floods and landslides as it battered the country with wind speeds of 225km/h (140mph). Rivers have breached their banks in at least 14 different places, inundating residential neighbourhoods.The storm led to some Rugby World Cup matches being cancelled but a key fixture between Japan and Scotland will go ahead on Sunday. Hagibis is heading north and is expected to move back into the North Pacific later on Sunday. It made landfall on Saturday shortly before 19:00 local time (10:00 GMT), in Izu Peninsula, south-west of Tokyo and moved up the east coast. Almost half a million homes were left without power. In the town of Hakone near Mount Fuji more than 1m (3ft) of rain fell on Friday and Saturday, the highest total ever recorded in Japan over 48 hours. Further north in Nagano prefecture, levees along the Chikuma river gave way sending water rushing through residential areas, inundating houses. Flood defences around Tokyo have held and river levels are now falling, reports the BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Japan. Officials said some of those killed were swept away by landslides while others were trapped in their cars as floodwaters rose. Another 15 people are listed as missing and dozens are reported injured. More than seven million people were urged to leave their homes as the huge storm approached, but it is thought only 50,000 stayed in shelters. Many residents stocked up on provisions before the typhoon's arrival, leaving supermarkets with empty shelves. "Unprecedented heavy rain has been seen in cities, towns and villages for which the emergency warning was issued," Japan's Meteorological Agency (JMA) forecaster Yasushi Kajiwara told a press briefing.Many bullet train services were halted, and several lines on the Tokyo metro were suspended for most of Saturday. All flights to and from Tokyo's Haneda airport and Narita airport in Chiba have been cancelled - more than 1,000 in total.

 Japan sends in thousands of troops after massive typhoon hammers Tokyo (Reuters) - Japan sent tens of thousands of troops and rescue workers on Sunday to save stranded residents and fight floods caused by one of the worst typhoons to hit the country in recent history. At least 30 people were killed in the typhoon that left vast sections of towns under water, public broadcaster NHK said. Another 15 were missing and 177 injured by Typhoon Hagibis, which paralyzed Tokyo on Saturday and dumped record levels of rain around Japan. About 100,000 homes were left without power. Rescue efforts were hindered after more than 20 rivers in central and northeastern Japan burst their banks and dozens more overflowed although their banks were still in tact, NHK said, adding that flooding rivers could cause more damage. Evacuation centers filled with residents, while some people perished as they sought shelter, NHK said, adding a 77-year-old woman fell about 40 meters to her death during an airlift. Some of the worst damage hit the central Japanese city of Nagano, where the Chikuma River inundated swaths of land and forced military helicopters to airlift people from homes. Kiyokazu Shimokawa, 71, speaking at an evacuation center, said he had waited all night with his wife and mother until they were finally rescued around 3 p.m. (0600 GMT) on Sunday. “I made the mistake of figuring that as long as we were on the second floor of the house, we’d be fine,” he told Reuters. “When we realized that maybe we should evacuate, it was too late – the water rose very quickly.” Typhoon Hagibis, which means “speed” in the Philippine language Tagalog, made landfall on Japan’s main island of Honshu on Saturday evening and headed out to sea early on Sunday. The storm sank a Panama-registered cargo ship that had anchored near Tokyo. The sunken ship was located early on Sunday. A newspaper reported that at least five of the 12 crew were dead and three were missing.In Fukushima, north of the capital, Tokyo Electric Power Co reported irregular readings from sensors monitoring water in its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant overnight. The plant was crippled by a 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

At Least 42 Dead After Japan’s Worst Typhoon in Decades -At least 42 people have died and 15 are missing after Typhoon Hagibis swamped Japan Saturday, bringing record rainfall that flooded more than 1,000 homes, The Washington Post reported. It was the worst storm to hit the country in decades, BBC News reported, and more than 110,000 people are now assisting with the rescue efforts.Kenichi Nakajima, a 58-year-old farmer from Sakado-shi- Akao, told The New York Times that the extent of the damage was "abnormal.""Recently, a girl made a speech about global warming, and as she was crying she said, 'We have no future,'" he said, in reference to Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg's speech at the UN Climate Action Summit in September. "She is absolutely right." The climate crisis is making hurricanes and typhoons both wetter and more intense, since warmer ocean temperatures provide more fuel and warmer air can hold more moisture. Hagibis was classified as a "super-typhoon," the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane, when it was 900 miles from Japan. When it made landfall at 7 p.m. Saturday in Ito, the winds had fallen to 130 miles per hour, according to The New York Times. But the rain was intense. In the town of Hakone, more than 3 feet fell in 48 hours, a record for Japan, according to BBC News. All that rain caused at least 142 rivers to flood across the country, NHK said, according to The New York Times. Levees on 21 rivers collapsed, including one on the Chikuma River that caused massive flooding in Nagano City.

IN PICTURES: The chaotic aftermath of Typhoon Hagibis – Japan Times - Typhoon Hagibis, the most powerful tropical storm to hit Tokyo in decades, plowed a large portion of Japan’s main island on Saturday evening and early Sunday, bring torrential rains and high-speed winds that paralyzed the capital and neighboring prefectures.  Millions of residents in a dozen prefectures were affected by the highest level of emergency evacuation notices on Saturday night and early Sunday.Unlike last month’s Typhoon Faxai, whose high-speed winds caused extensive structural damage, flooding Flooding from storm surges and overflowing rivers appears to account for a large part of damage from Hagibis, the 19th typhoon of the season in Japan.Emergency workers around the country are currently working to rescue people still stranded in flood-inundated areas. Here are but a few scenes of the destruction from Typhoon Hagibis.

Latest tally puts death toll in wake of Typhoon Hagibis at 56   - The death toll from Typhoon Hagibis rose to 56 on Monday as search-and-rescue teams continued to operate in flood- and landslide-hit areas of central and eastern Japan.Another 16 people are missing and at least 100 sustained injuries as the typhoon raked parts of eastern Japan on Saturday and Sunday, according to the latest Kyodo News tally.Self-Defense Forces (SDF) personnel, police and firefighters carried out operations in various localities.At a disaster task force meeting, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the government will do its utmost to support those affected by the typhoon and its aftereffects, adding it will set up an interagency team to improve shelters and help evacuees find places to live. About 38,000 people across 17 prefectures had evacuated their homes by midday Monday, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency, adding that a total of 3,700 homes had been flooded across the country. He instructed Cabinet ministers to ensure infrastructure such as electricity and water systems is quickly restored and to supply food, water and other materials without awaiting requests from local authorities.The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said more than 138,000 households were without water as of 5 p.m. Monday while utility companies said that about 53,000 households were still without power as of 9 p.m.In a separate meeting, Defense Minister Taro Kono told senior officials to ensure the SDF makes its best efforts in responding to the disaster.The season’s 19th typhoon dumped record rainfall, which led to rivers bursting their banks, flooding residential districts and triggering landslides in 19 prefectures. Evacuees who could not return home continued to shelter in sites such as local schools. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism said 37 rivers in Nagano, Fukushima, Ibaraki and four other prefectures burst their banks.  In the central city of Nagano, workers used more than 20 pumping vehicles to help assess damage to the drainage system caused when the Chikuma River’s embankment collapsed.The typhoon also affected transportation systems. Although flood waters receded from a Hokuriku Shinkansen bullet train yard in the city of Nagano, where 10 bullet trains were affected, East Japan Railway Co. said it will take “substantial time” to resume full-scale operations on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line connecting Tokyo and Kanazawa, in Ishikawa Prefecture.

Scientists Discover ‘Stormquakes,’ Small Earthquakes Triggered by Hurricanes and Other Major Storms - Powerful hurricanes and other storms can actually cause small earthquakes in the ocean, scientists have found. "We're calling them 'stormquakes,'" study lead author and Florida State University (FSU) assistant professor Wenyuan Fan told Florida State University News. "During a storm season, hurricanes or nor'easters transfer energy into the ocean as strong ocean waves, and the waves interact with the solid earth producing intense seismic source activity," Fan explained. The study, published Monday in Geophysical Research Letters, documented more than 10,000 stormquakes off of Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, New England, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and British Columbia between 2006 and 2019. The quakes can reach a magnitude of 3.5, but no one has noticed them up until now."This is the last thing you need to worry about," Fan told USA Today. The researchers themselves weren't setting out to document them when they began their work. "It was actually discovered by accident," Fan told the Tampa Bay Times. Instead, Fan and his colleagues at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the U.S. Geological Survey were looking to trace low frequency earthquakes, according to National Geographic. They developed a method to track them by piecing together data from different regions, which is when they discovered some unusual seismic events. National Geographic explained why they were so strange: Surprisingly, the events were seasonal, never occurring between May and August. Earthquakes that release energy from Earth's shifting crust, however, are usually indifferent to the changing seasons. What's more, the curious quakes radiated from both the east and west coasts of North America. Earthquakes are common out west, rumbling as the earth shifts along a spidery network of fractures in the surface, but the eastern coast largely lacks these quake-generating features. Eventually, the researchers realized the small earthquakes took place at the same time as major storms.  But not every major storm produces stormquakes. Hurricane Sandy, one of the most expensive storms in U.S. history, did not. The quakes seem to rely on distinct geological features, National Geographic explained. They occur in regions with broad continental shelves off the coast, which allow the waves from the stormquakes time to build on each other. They also occur in regions with ocean banks, flat underwater hills that channel the waves' energy towards the ground.

Study: California’s big July quakes strain major fault (AP) — The earthquakes that hammered the Southern California desert near the town of Ridgecrest last summer involved ruptures on a web of interconnected faults and increased strain on a major nearby fault that has begun to slowly move, according to a new study. Ruptures in the Ridgecrest earthquake sequence ended a few miles from the Garlock Fault, which runs east-west for 185 miles (300 kilometers) from the San Andreas Fault to Death Valley. The Garlock Fault has been relatively quiet for 500 years. It now has begun a process called fault creep and has slipped 0.8 inch (2 centimeters) since July, the research found. The study by geophysicists from the California Institute of Technology and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory was published in the journal Science on Thursday, coinciding with the implementation of a statewide earthquake early warning system for the general public. Southern California’s largest earthquake sequence in two decades began July 4 in the Mojave Desert about 120 miles (190 kilometers) north of Los Angeles. A magnitude 6.4 foreshock was followed the next day by a magnitude 7.1 mainshock and then more than 100,000 aftershocks. Zachary Ross, assistant professor of geophysics at Caltech and lead author of the paper, said in a statement that it was one of the most well-documented earthquake sequences in history. Ross developed automated computer analysis of seismometer data to detect the huge number of aftershocks with precise location information, Caltech and JPL said in a press release. The JPL scientists mapped surface ruptures of the faults with data from Japanese and European Space Agency radar satellites. About 20 previously unknown crisscrossing faults were involved. Ross said the 6.4 quake simultaneously broke faults at right angles to each other, which he characterized as surprising. It was a commonly held idea that major earthquakes are caused by rupture of single long fault, but that has been reconsidered since a 1992 quake in the desert near Landers, California, ruptured several faults.

New study pinpoints the places most at risk on a warming planet - As many as five billion people will face hunger and a lack of clean water by 2050 as the warming climate disrupts pollination, freshwater, and coastal habitats, according to new research published last week in Science. People living in South Asia and Africa will bear the worst of it.Climate activists have been telling us for a while now that global warming isn’t just about the polar bears, so it’s hardly breaking news that humans are going to suffer because nature is suffering. But what is new about this model is the degree of geographic specificity. It pinpoints the places where projected environmental losses overlap with human populations who depend on those resources and maps them with a nifty interactive viewer.This model identifies not just the general ways climate change harms the environment and how people will feel those changes, but also where these changes will likely occur, and how significant they’ll be. It’s an unprecedented degree of detail for a global biodiversity model.Patricia Balvanera, a professor of biodiversity at National University of Mexico who wasn’t involved in the study, said the new model “provides an extremely important tool to inform policy decisions and shape responses.” The model looks at three specific natural systems that humans benefit from: pollination (which enables crops to grow), freshwater systems (which provide drinking water), and coastal ecosystems (which provide a buffer from storm surges and prevent erosion). Using fine-scale satellite imagery, the team of scientists mapped predicted losses to these natural systems onto human population maps. The resulting map allows you to see how many people could be impacted by environmental changes, and where.

PIOMAS October 2019 - Arctic Sea Ice by Neven - (see graphics) Another month has passed and so here is the updated Arctic sea ice volume graph as calculated by the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS) at the Polar Science Center: As usual, the minimum was reached during September, and as with other data sets (extent and area), this year's minimum was second lowest on record. PIOMAS bottomed out at 4058 km3 on 14 September, which is 244 km3 lower than 2011 and 385 km3 higher than 2012. In total, 18,432 km3 of sea ice volume was lost, which is the fourth highest amount in the 2007-2019 period. What is interesting to note, is that the three years that lost more volume all started out with a lot more ice than 2019: PIOMAS SIV total meltAs can be seen on the PIOMAS Daily Arctic Ice Volume graph, the trend line quickly shot up after the minimum was reached, though 2019 is still second. Overall, September saw an increase of 398 km3, which is the highest increase in the 2007-2019 period (the average is 1 km3). This means that 2012 increased its lead over 2019, and all the other years crept closer. Here's how the differences with previous years have evolved from last month: Wipneus' version of the PIOMAS graph shows how this year deviated from 2012 quite quickly: Piomas-trnd4 Given these developments it is only logical that the anomaly trend line on the PIOMAS volume anomaly graph has shot up some more, almost reaching the linear trend: This is where things get interesting. We've seen that PIOMAS has gone up steeply since the maximum. JAXA extent, however, has done so more slowly. This means that the volume is spread out over a relatively smaller ice pack, and so average thickness goes up. When you divide PIOMAS volume by JAXA extent (a crude method to calculate average thickness), this is how it looks: PIJAMAS 201909302019 average thickness was among the lowest for a while, but shot up recently. Interestingly, the Polar Science Centre average thickness graph shows a different picture, with 2019 actually going lowest, but that's probably because the trend line stops mid-month:

If warming exceeds 2°C, Antarctica’s melting ice sheets could raise seas 20 metres in coming centuries - Our research, published today, shows that up to one third of Antarctica’s ice sheet melted during the Pliocene geological epoch around three million years ago, causing sea levels to rise by as much as 20 metres above present levels in coming centuries. We were able to measure past changes in sea level by drilling cores at a site in New Zealand, known as the Whanganui Basin, which contains shallow marine sediments of arguably the highest resolution in the world. Using a new method we developed to predict the water level from the size of sand particle moved by waves, we constructed a record of global sea-level change with significantly more precision than previously possible.  The Pliocene was the last time atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations were above 400 parts per million and Earth’s temperature was 2°C warmer than pre-industrial times. We show that warming of more than 2°C could set off widespread melting in Antarctica once again and our planet could be hurtling back to the future, towards a climate that existed three million years ago.

Solar Storms Can Devastate Entire Civilizations --Climate has inarguably become a hot topic of discussion in developed economies over the last decade, and it is getting hotter by the day as study after study warn we are close to doomed if we don’t change our ways urgently. Yet climate on Earth is not the only problem that humankind faces. There is another climate we need to pay attention to, and there is nothing we can do to change that.Solar storms, whose more scientific name is coronal mass ejections, were until recently believed to be a rare occurrence—only happening once every couple of centuries or so. However, there is reason to believe they may be a lot more frequent than that. In a world increasingly dependent on electricity, this is, to put it mildly, a problem.In 1859 the Sun spewed concentrated plasma that broke through its magnetic fields in the direction of the Earth. Commonly referred to as the Carrington Event, that coronal mass ejection hit the Earth’s magnetic field, which warped it and caused telegraphs around the world to fail. For a long time, the scientific consensus was that solar storms of this magnitude were a rarity.That was in the 19th century where telegraphs were cutting-edge tech. Now, we have power grids, airplanes, satellites, and computers, and all of them are potentially susceptible to the effects of another solar storm. We also know that solar storms of the magnitude of the Carrington Event or even worse occur more frequently. “The Carrington Event was considered to be the worst-case scenario for space weather events against the modern civilization… but if it comes several times a century, we have to reconsider how to prepare against and mitigate that kind of space weather hazard,” the lead research in a study that reached that conclusion, Hisashi Hayakawa, said after the release of the study earlier this month.

The world needs a massive carbon tax in just 10 years to limit climate change, IMF says --A global agreement to make fossil fuel burning more expensive is urgent and the most efficient way of fighting climate change, an International Monetary Fund study found on Thursday. The group found that a global tax of $75 per ton by the year 2030 could limit the planet’s warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), or roughly double what it is now. That would greatly increase the price of fossil-fuel-based energy — especially from the burning of coal — but the economic disruption could be offset by routing the money raised straight back to citizens. “If you compare the average level of the carbon tax today, which is $2 [a ton], to where we need to be, it’s a quantum leap,” said Paolo Mauro, deputy director of the fiscal affairs department at the IMF.  The IMF report comes out as financial institutions increasingly grapple with the risks associated with climate change, including damage from sea-level rise, extreme weather events and billions in fossil fuel reserves that might be in excess of what can be burned while also limiting warming. The Federal Reserve, for example, is takinga closer look at how climate change may pose a risk to economic stability.In the United States, a $75 tax would cut emissions by nearly 30 percent but would cause on average a 53 percent increase in electricity costs and a 20 percent rise for gasoline at projected 2030 prices, the analysis in the IMF’s Fiscal Monitor found.But it would also generate revenue equivalent to 1 percent of gross domestic product, an enormous amount of money that could be redistributed and, if spread equally, would end up being a fiscally progressive policy, rather than one disproportionately targeting the poor.The impact of a $75-per-ton tax would also hit countries differently depending on burning or exporting coal, which produces the most carbon emissions per unit of energy generated when it is burned. In developing nations such as China, India and South Africa, a $75 carbon tax reduces emissions even more — by as much as 45 percent — and generates proportionately more revenue, as high as 3.5 percent of GDP in South Africa’s case, the IMF found.

Elizabeth Warren Wants Green Trade Deals. What Does That Mean? At the third Democratic primary debate last month, Senator Elizabeth Warren said that if she were elected president, she’d negotiate international trade deals “with environmentalists at the table.” Former Vice President Biden echoed her a few minutes later. The idea isn’t new: Departed climate candidate Jay Inslee also wrote provisions about getting environmentalists involved in trade into his climate plans.There has never been meaningful environmental language baked into a U.S. trade deal. This includes the “NAFTA 2.0” deal that Trump negotiated with Canada and Mexico and that is currently pending in Congress, which, by design, doesn’t include the words “climate change” at all.Warren is promising to change that. “America should lead global efforts to combat climate change, and trade policy is a crucial tool for promoting international cooperation,” Warren’s campaign told Grist via email. “In my administration, representatives from environmental groups will serve on key advisory committees so that they participate in negotiations and help shape trade agreements.” So what are environmentalists’ priorities for a trade deal? Some demands from environmentalists make intuitive sense: They want to use trade deals to protect and enforce climate-friendly regulations and legislation, stop offshoring pollution to countries with lower regulations, and support a clean energy economy. But some of environmentalists’ biggest demands have less to do with policy itself and more to do with the process by which trade deals get made.  Sierra Club trade program director Ben Beachy pointed out that during negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP (formed by Obama but scrapped by President Trump), the energy committee had representatives from Chevron, Haliburton, and the National Mining Association, but not one environmentalist. “When you say bring us to the table, we don’t want to be tokens,” said Charlie Cray, a political and business strategist at Greenpeace U.S. “It’s not enough to have environmentalists alongside lobbyists.”

 Scientists endorse mass civil disobedience to force climate action - (Reuters) - Almost 400 scientists have endorsed a civil disobedience campaign aimed at forcing governments to take rapid action to tackle climate change, warning that failure could inflict “incalculable human suffering.” In a joint declaration, climate scientists, physicists, biologists, engineers and others from at least 20 countries broke with the caution traditionally associated with academia to side with peaceful protesters courting arrest from Amsterdam to Melbourne. Wearing white laboratory coats to symbolize their research credentials, a group of about 20 of the signatories gathered on Saturday to read out the text outside London’s century-old Science Museum in the city’s upmarket Kensington district. “We believe that the continued governmental inaction over the climate and ecological crisis now justifies peaceful and non-violent protest and direct action, even if this goes beyond the bounds of the current law,” said Emily Grossman, a science broadcaster with a PhD in molecular biology. She read the declaration on behalf of the group. “We therefore support those who are rising up peacefully against governments around the world that are failing to act proportionately to the scale of the crisis,” she said. The declaration was coordinated by a group of scientists who support Extinction Rebellion, a civil disobedience campaign that formed in Britain a year ago and has since sparked offshoots in dozens of countries. The group launched a fresh wave of international actions on Monday, aiming to get governments to address an ecological crisis caused by climate change and accelerating extinctions of plant and animal species. A total of 1,307 volunteers had since been arrested at various protests in London by 2030 GMT on Saturday, Extinction Rebellion said. A further 1,463 volunteers have been arrested in the past week in another 20 cities, including Brussels, Amsterdam, New York, Sydney and Toronto, according to the group’s tally. More protests in this latest wave are due in the coming days.

Jane Fonda Arrested During Climate Protest on U.S. Capitol Hill Steps -- Oscar-award winning actress and long-time political activist Jane Fonda was arrested on the steps of Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Friday for peacefully protesting the U.S. government's inaction in combating the climate crisis, according to the AP. Fonda, 81, was one of 16 people arrested for protesting and charged with "crowding, obstructing or incommoding" for demonstrating on the East Front of the Capitol, a misdemeanor under Washington, DC law. The city prohibits protestors from obstructing public building entrances, Capitol Police said, as The New York Times reported. Video of Fonda's arrest appeared on social media.The protest was part of Fire Drill Fridays, a movement Fonda launched, inspired by Greta Thunberg's Friday for Future strikes and named for the teenage activist's quote, "We have to act like our house is on fire, because it is," as Fire Drill Fridays wrote on Twitter. On her website, Fonda said she announced that she had moved to DC and that she planned to protest every Friday until the new year."Inspired by Greta and the youth climate strikes as well as Reverend Barber's Moral Mondays and Randall Robinson's often daily anti-apartheid protests, I've moved to Washington, DC to be closer to the epicenter of the fight for our climate," she wrote on "Every Friday through January, I will be leading weekly demonstrations on Capitol Hill to demand that action by our political leaders be taken to address the climate emergency we are in. We can't afford to wait." Fonda's recently shared with the Los Angeles Times how Thunberg's commitment had inspired her into action. "She read the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report and she realized that the crisis was barreling straight at us, like a train, and looked around and people weren't behaving appropriately," she said to the Los Angeles Times. "It so traumatized her that she stopped eating.” Fonda said that every Thursday, on the eve of her protest, she will convene a panel of experts in a live stream to explain the climate crisis to interested viewers, according to the BBC. She has invited members of the Sunrise Movement — a group of young people who want to stop the climate crisis while creating millions of new jobs in a greener economy that does not rely on fossil fuels — as The Washington Post reported.

Extinction Rebellion Banned in London - One week into Extinction Rebellion's planned two weeks of International Rebellion to demand action on theclimate crisis, the London police have banned the group from the city. The Metropolitan Police made the announcement Monday evening, and immediately began to clear the protest encampments from Trafalgar Square, which had previously been designated as a legitimate protest area, according to The Guardian."Any assembly linked to the Extinction Rebellion 'Autumn Uprising'…must now cease their protest(s) within London (Metropolitan Police Service, and City of London areas) by 2100hrs [on Monday] 14th October 2019," the police announcement said. Protestors were given 30 minutes warning to leave Trafalgar Square Monday night, 71-year-old demonstrator Pam Williams told BBC News.Extinction Rebellion said they would "let Trafalgar Square go," but a few activists like Williams decided to glue themselves to the ground and face arrest."I feel possibly that they've been approached by people we've upset today, maybe the finance sector or the banking sector," Williams said, referring to a protest earlier Monday that blocked the crosswalk outside the Bank of England. "I'm refusing to leave and I've glued myself to the ground.  Among those arrested in Trafalgar Square Monday night was Green Party Member of European Parliament Ellie Chowns. "The rules have been changed," Chowns said, according to BBC News. "No longer is any space in London allowable for peaceful democratic protest. This is intolerable." The police issued the ban under Section 14 of the Public Order Act of 1986, which gives police the authority to impose restrictions such as place, duration and number of participants on any assembly that "may result in serious public disorder," property damage or intimidation. But Network for Police Monitoring coordinator Kevin Blowe told The Guardian that the ban did not follow due process, because such bans are supposed to be made by the home secretary. He also explained why he thought the ban could face a challenge in court:  "Our reading of it is that the section 14 powers are supposed to be used with caution because people still have a right to protest and potentially this is unlawful, and there is no other way to put it. Take a look at what section 14 says: it's about restricting a number of people for a particular duration of time. My feeling is that this has to be open to some form of potential legal challenge." As of Monday, London police had arrested 1,445 people and charged 76 in relation to the ongoing extinction rebellion protests. The demonstrators are demanding that the UK government declare a climate emergency, halt biodiversity loss and achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and convene a Citizens' Assembly to oversee these changes.

 Climate Change Activists Target BlackRock Headquarters In London As Hundreds Occupy Financial District   -- New reports are emerging Monday morning that climate change activists are targeting BlackRock Investment Management offices in London.  The report, shared by a Reuters field journalist, says activists are "gluing themselves to the front of the building and blocking the entrances." Twitter account Matthew Jones, tweeted an image of the mob in front of what appears to be BlackRock's headquarters in London, located at Drapers Gardens, 12 Throgmorton Avenue. #ExtinctionRebelion Mob rocking up outside Blackrock Offices. Looks like a lost Drama School Trip.— Matthew Jones (@the_mjones) October 14, 2019   Matthew Jones labeled the tweet with the hashtag #ExtinctionRebelion. Reuters confirmed Extinction Rebellion is behind Monday's BlackRock protest. "XR is targeting BlackRock because it's the world's biggest backer of climate and rainforest destruction," the Extinction Rebellion group said in a statement. "BlackRock stokes the fires that are destroying our planet. It invests in companies that use deforestation to produce beef, soy, palm oil, rubber, and timber." Last week, we said Extinction Rebellion protests are scheduled across 200 sites in London during October. These protests could bring the city to a standstill as protestors demand government officials, now mega-corporations, to take immediate action to combat climate change. The climate change activists aren't just attempting to shut down major parts of London's infrastructure, like roads, bridges, highways, rail, airports, and ports, but it now seems they're now targeting investment firms.  BlackRock is the top three shareholders in 25 of the world's biggest publicly traded deforestation-risk companies; these companies are known for producing soya, beef, palm oil, pulp and paper, rubber and timber, but also have a long track record in burning down forests to clear land for agriculture purposes. Climate change activists in London are already causing severe economic and social disruptions.  Another breaking tweet reportedly shows Extinction Rebellion protesters "occupying" the London financial district, according to Twitter handle Neil Gordon.

 Green Globalization, A Temporary Measure to Buy Time -- As the climate crisis, mass extinction and general ecological collapse proceed, the political faction which pretends to want to do something about them will gain the upper hand with its “Green New Deal”, its promises of green capitalism, green metastatic cancer (AKA “growth”), green prodcutionism and consumerism, industrial-fake-renewables to continue to provide extreme energy consumption, and the rest of “the American way of life”. This will be sold as both the ecological and social panacea. The fact that it’s all a lie, that you can’t save the Earth by continuing to destroy it, that you can’t fix the socioeconomic evils of capitalism by doubling down on capitalism, won’t matter. The whole thing will be primarily a propaganda campaign, coupled with some temporary meager scraps thrown to the precariat and lumpenproles. The real purpose of this Green New Deal and any companion programs will be to buy time and perpetuate the global capitalist regime as long as possible while the elites consolidate their position for their plan to continue to rule as the rockslide of collapse gathers force and chaos. Just as the purpose of the original New Deal was to save capitalism, so today’s mainstream “green” proposals have only the purpose of saving capitalism and perpetuating the ecocidal binge. Big Green groups and progressive politicians are usually explicit about this. And then the Green New Deal program also is sold within the framework of anti-human globalization, and as a way to preserve and intensify globalization. The globalization cadres and mechanisms such as the World Bank already have long been deeply immersed in the scam-mongering of “offset” regimes, the Clean Development Mechanism (“sustainable development” is just one of the many oxymorons we encounter), the REDD greenwash of ecocide, and others. The mainstream climate-industrial movement will play a leading gatekeeper role here, doing all it can to ensure that the rising concern and fear and willingness among the people to take action for the Earth will remain kettled and controlled by astroturfs, will remain in the position of supplicating to the state (which is what all such “demands” on inherently ecocidal-genocidal governments boil down to), and will not break free of this domesticated reform mentality philosophically and in action in order directly to do what is necessary to assist Gaia’s Kinesis against these destroyers of the Earth while there’s still time and an ecological basis to sustain something of humanity as well as the more-than-human species now being driven extinct at an estimated rate of 200 a day.

The Story of Plastic: A New Movie About Plastic Waste - One Green Planet - The Story of Plastic is a new movie all about plastic waste, from production to pollution. The movie is directed by Deia Schlosberg and is presented by The Story of Stuff Project.The Story of Stuff is known for its digital shorts on topics like plastic waste and consumption. The film includes scenes from around the globe and shows howcompanies contribute to the plastic problem.The film made its world premiere at the Mill Valley Film Festival on October 6. The film tells a true “story” of plastic, going through the supply chain. It starts with how plastic is made and then shows it in landfills and other sites of plastic waste. The Story of Plastic shows how plastic recycling is essentially a myth better suited for glass and metals.  Statistics like plastic’s 14% recycling rate are shown in the film. The film shows the impact plastic has on third world countries and where it’s being shipped to once it’s thrown into a trash can in the United States. Much of plastic is only seen as trash or as marine pollution. The film hopes to show plastic through all stages in order to put pressure on plastic production and stop it at the source. Watch The Story of Plastic teaser trailer:

Plastic bottles vs aluminum cans - who'll win the global water fight? -  (Reuters) - Global bottled water giants are ramping up trials of easily recyclable aluminium cans to replace plastic that pollutes the world’s seas. Sound like a slam-dunk for the environment? Not entirely. Aluminium cans might indeed mean less ocean waste, but they come with their own eco-price: the production of each can pumps about twice as much carbon into the atmosphere as each plastic bottle. French group Danone has become the latest company to make a move, telling Reuters it had started to replace some plastic bottles with aluminium cans for local water brands in Britain, Poland and Denmark. The shift, previously unannounced, comes as multinational rivals like Coca-Cola Co, PepsiCo and Nestle are also launching some canned versions of water brands. The beverage industry has been scrambling to react to public anger over scenes of huge piles of plastic waste contaminating oceans, pledging to step up recycling efforts. However it’s not black and white on the green front. By increasing recycling via cans, companies could fall back in efforts to reduce their carbon footprints, illustrating the tough juggling act they can face to keep environmentally conscious investors, campaigners and consumers on-side. “That’s the dilemma you’re going to have to choose between,” said Ruben Griffioen, sustainability manager of packaging materials at Heineken, adding the company was trying to reduce both plastic waste and emissions. Recycling plastic is more complex, leads to degradation and has lower reuse rates than aluminium - so the metal has been heralded as a greener alternative. Cans have on average 68% recycled content compared to just 3% for plastic in the United States, Environmental Protection Agency data shows.

Electric cars could be just another ecological disaster - As sea levels rise and climate-change protests grow ever louder around the world, the owners of electric cars may feel they are doing their bit to avert a global-warming crisis. If so, they may be deluding themselves. Electric vehicles currently account for less than 0.5% of the world’s cars. That will change soon. A tipping point will come when there are sufficient charging points and drivers realize that a car that runs on fossil fuel has no resale value. And when that happens, whether the electric car is going to save us or destroy us will depend on what type of power we use to charge its batteries.When the UK announced in 2017 that the sale of new gasoline and diesel vehicles would be banned from 2040, there was a sharp intake of breath from the national grid. With 9 million vehicles being charged daily, the current maximum peak-time demand for electricity could increase by as much as 50%, which is beyond current capacity. As this scenario will be replayed wherever millions of electric cars are plugged in, the most pressing question will be: Where will we get the electricity to charge them? If it comes from renewable sources, all well and good. Some countries are already gradually increasing the share of renewables in their power mix. But the overall, global picture looks very different. According to oil company BP’s 2019 Statistical Review of World Energy, the contribution of solar and wind power to global electricity production in 2018 was just 9.3%. Coal is still king at 38% and coal usage is actually increasing, mainly in the rapidly expanding economies of India and China. This is despite a 25% increase in the use of renewables in both those countries last year, which BP warns is not enough to keep pace with rising demand for electricity. A sudden escalation in the production and use of electric cars will only compound this reality. Elsewhere, natural gas is becoming more important in electricity generation. In the Middle East, about 73% of electricity comes from natural gas. In Saudi Arabia, the mix is 60-40 between gas and oil, while the United Arab Emirates is almost entirely reliant on gas. But that doesn’t necessarily mean natural gas can help to limit global warming.

This climate problem is bigger than cars and much harder to solve - Truly defeating climate change will mean getting to net-zero carbon emissions and eventually negative emissions. That means decarbonizing everything. Every economic sector. Every use of fossil fuels.  And actually, there are some sectors, some uses of fossil fuels, that we do not yet know how to decarbonize.Take, for instance, industrial heat: the extremely high-temperature heat used to make steel and cement. It’s not sexy, but it matters.Heavy industry is responsible for around 22 percent of global CO2 emissions. Forty-two percent of that — about 10 percent of global emissions — comes from combustion to produce large amounts of high-temperature heat for industrial products like cement, steel, and petrochemicals.To put that in perspective, industrial heat’s 10 percent is greater than the CO2 emissions of all the world’s cars (6 percent) and planes (2 percent) combined. Yet, consider how much you hear about electric vehicles. Consider how much you hear about flying shame. Now consider how much you hear about ... industrial heat.  Not much, I’m guessing. But the fact is, today, virtually all of that combustion is fossil-fueled, and there are very few viable low-carbon alternatives. For all kinds of reasons, industrial heat is going to be one of the toughest nuts to crack, carbon-wise. And we haven’t even gotten started.

Fridays for Horsepower: German Motorists Oppose Fridays for Future - Der Spiegel --Motorists in Germany are banding together to oppose climate activists' calls to limit the use of cars. Politicians are taking them seriously because, unlike the Fridays for Future movement and its leader Greta Thunberg, most members of the Fridays for Horsepower group can vote.  Christopher Grau is a self-described "gearhead" and "technician," but he still has a thing or two to learn about being an influencer. His performance wasn't particularly good in his latest video -- the picture was shaky and the sound terrible -- but that didn't stop more than 150,000 people from watching his hour-long diatribe against Germany's current climate protection policy. Unlike many critics of Germany's planned tax on CO2 emissions, though, he wasn't railing against it because he found it halfhearted or weak. He was indignant that any such scheme exists at all.   A friend then created a Facebook group called Fridays for Hubraum (Fridays for Horsepower) and made Grau an administrator. According to the group's description, they intend to "counter the rampant climate mania with some fun." And they wrote: "There are more of us."The response has been overwhelming. The closed Facebook group already boasts more than 540,000 members. Grau appears to have unintentionally launched a collective movement for concerned motorists -- and all it took to unite this new online resistance was a slogan.Wait, resistance? What exactly are they resisting? "Paternalism," they say. Also the "pretension" and "holier-than-thou terror" embodied by Greta Thunbergand her followers. Grau's group is a sign of the growing dismay felt by many German voters. It shows just how polarized German society is over the climate issue.

Growing preference for SUVs challenges emissions reductions in passenger car market - IEA - With major automakers announcing new electric car models at a regular pace, there has been growing interest in recent years about the impact of electric vehicles on the overall car market, as well as global oil demand, carbon emissions, and air pollution.Carmakers plan more than 350 electric models by 2025, mostly small-to-medium variants. Plans from the top 20 car manufacturers suggest a tenfold increase in annual electric car sales, to 20 million vehicles a year by 2030, from 2 million in 2018. Starting from a low base, less than 0.5% of the total car stock, this growth in electric vehicles means that nearly 7% of the car fleet will be electric by 2030.Meanwhile, the conventional car market has been showing signs of fatigue, with sales declining in 2018 and 2019, due to slowing economies. Global sales of internal combustion engine (ICE) cars fell by around 2% to under 87 million in 2018, the first drop since the 2008 recession. Data for 2019 points to a continuation of this trend, led by China, where sales in the first half of the year fell nearly 14%, and India where they declined by 10%.These trends have created a narrative of an imminent peak in passenger car oil demand, and related CO2emissions, and the beginning of the end for the “ICE age.” As passenger cars consume nearly one-quarter of global oil demand today, does this signal the approaching erosion of a pillar of global oil consumption?A more silent structural change may put this conclusion into question: consumers are buying ever larger and less fuel-efficient cars, known as Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs).  This dramatic shift towards bigger and heavier cars has led to a doubling of the share of SUVs over the last decade. As a result, there are now over 200 million SUVs around the world, up from about 35 million in 2010, accounting for 60% of the increase in the global car fleet since 2010. Around 40% of annual car sales today are SUVs, compared with less than 20% a decade ago.

Russia Scraps Climate Change Plan After Uproar From Businesses --The Russian government has abandoned key provisions of a new "climate change" legislation package after the country's leading businesses - most operating in the "not quite" ESG arena - mounted a significant protest, according to Russian daily Kommersant (via the Moscow Times). The abandoned legislation included quotas on carbon emissions at Russia's largest companies, along with a national carbon trading system and strict penalties for the country's worst polluters. All that remains of the proposals are a plan to measure and collect emissions data as part of a so-called 'green audit' lasting five years. The campaign against a stricter package of measures was led by the influential Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) — one of the main lobbying groups for Russia’s largest businesses. The new laws were set to be introduced as part of Russia’s ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement. Originally, the Russian government proposed introducing new climate legislation in two phases. The first would be a five-year stock-taking exercise to measure company-level emissions and set appropriate quotas for reducing emissions. After that, Russia would then introduce a carbon cap on the country’s biggest polluters and penalties for those that exceed their quotas. Earlier plans also envisaged the creation of a national fund to support emissions reduction and a system of nation-wide carbon trading. -Moscow TimesAfter the RSPP's lobbying efforts, the entire second phase was killed off, as the group successfully argued that the government should wait for the results of the climate audit before new laws and regulations affect various companies."The idea of putting a price on carbon dioxide in Russia has fallen victim to the industrial lobby," noted VTB Capital analysts in a Thursday research note, despite that "the Paris Climate Agreement envisages a greenhouse gas emission target which is higher than Russia’s current emissions. So introducing the quota system is unlikely to be punitive for businesses." The gutted climate package effectively puts "any actively managed efforts by the government to reduce emissions on ice," they added.

Revealed: Google made large contributions to climate change deniers - Google has made “substantial” contributions to some of the most notorious climate deniers in Washington despite its insistence that it supports political action on the climate crisis. Among hundreds of groups the company has listed on its website as beneficiaries of its political giving are more than a dozen organisations that have campaigned against climate legislation, questioned the need for action, or actively sought to roll back Obama-era environmental protections. The list includes the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a conservative policy group that was instrumental in convincing the Trump administration to abandon the Paris agreement and has criticised the White House for not dismantling more environmental rules.  Google is also listed as a sponsor for an upcoming annual meeting of the State Policy Network (SPN), an umbrella organisation that supports conservative groups including theHeartland Institute, a radical anti-science group that has chided the teenage activist Greta Thunberg for “climate delusion hysterics”. SPN members recently created a “climate pledge” website that falsely states “our natural environment is getting better” and “there is no climate crisis”. Google has defended its contributions, saying that its “collaboration” with organisations such as CEI “does not mean we endorse the organisations’ entire agenda” It donates to such groups, people close to the company say, to try to influence conservative lawmakers, and – most importantly – to help finance the deregulatory agenda the groups espouse.

BLM head: ‘What I thought, what I wrote, what I did in the past is irrelevant.’   -William Perry Pendley, the controversial acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, told a room full of journalists on Friday that his opinions on climate change and immigrants are “irrelevant” to his job overseeing 245 million acres of public land. Speaking on a panel at the Society of Environmental Journalists’ annual conference, Pendley, a conservative lawyer who has spent his career fighting federal land protections and environmental regulation, sparred repeatedly with reporters.  He refused to comment about his past statements that cast doubt over basic climate science and compared immigrants to a “cancer.” He also repeatedly responded to questions by saying, “I disagree with your premise.” As recently as February, Pendley compared the climate crisis to a “unicorn” because “neither exists.” Asked to clarify his position on Friday, he deferred to his boss, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist who has said he hasn’t lost sleep over soaring atmospheric carbon dioxide and blamed Congress for his own inaction on climate. Bernhardt had been scheduled to appear at the conference but canceled.   “I’m not a scientist, I’m a lawyer,” Pendley said. “I defer to the secretary. He’s been very clear on this subject. He believes that climate change is real, that mankind has an impact, that we’re unable to project future climate conditions, but that we need to understand the consequences.” Asked again about his own views, Pendley balked: “Nope, I’m not going to clarify. Those are my personal opinions,” he said. “I’m a Marine. I follow orders.”  In 2007, Pendley referred to undocumented immigrants as “spreading like a cancer” in a fundraising mailer for his legal fund resurfaced by CNN this week. When pressed on Friday about the statement, Pendley brushed off the question entirely.  “My personal opinions are irrelevant,” he said. “I have a new job now. I’m a zealous advocate for my client. My client is the American people and my bosses are the president of the United States and Secretary Bernhardt. What I thought, what I wrote, what I did in the past is irrelevant. I have orders, I have laws to obey, and I intend to do that.”

US 'green economy' generates $1.3 trillion and employs millions, new study finds - The green economy is driving growth and job creation in the United States, but as the rest of the world catches up, the U.S. will have to enact new and supportive policies to remain competitive, a new study from University College London found. The green economy generates $1.3 trillion in annual sales revenue in the United States, while creating 9.5 million full-time jobs, climatologist Mark Maslin and researcher Lucien Georgeson said in their study published in the online journal Palgrave Communications. This growing part of the economy is increasingly important since the United States has a greater proportion of the working-age population employed by the green economy. It also has a higher sales revenue per capita generated by the green economy than China or any country in the OECD or G-20, the study said. But other nations are catching up and looking to capitalize on the potential. To remain competitive, the United States will have to develop energy, environment and education policies that support growth in areas like renewable energy. To arrive at their conclusions, Maslin and Georgeson focused on low carbon industries such as electric vehicles and energy management in buildings. They complied public and private data — often at a granular level — and then used data triangulation to synthesize the different data sets and samples. To put the numbers from the study in context, the 9.5 million jobs represents over 4% of the working age population in the United States, while $1.3 trillion is a little under 7% of annual GDP.

The Great Biomass Boondoggle - The urgency of the climate crisis is inspiring some extreme and unproven ideas for how to hide carbon and cool the planet, such as ocean fertilization, turning CO2 into rocks, and seeding the atmosphere to dim the sun. Arguably one of the most reckless ideas, though, is already well underway: burning “forest biomass”—that is, trees—in power plants as a replacement for coal. The problem with this so-called green energy source is that instead of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, it increases the amount of CO2 coming out of the smokestack compared to fossil fuels, and the climate “benefit” is claimed by simply not counting the emissions.While policymakers in developed countries (the European Union, the United States, Canada, Japan, and Korea, among others) seem perfectly happy with this solution, scientists and activists are reacting with bewilderment and fury as entire forests are vaporized into the atmosphere in the name of renewable energy. Meanwhile, the burgeoning biomass and wood-pellet industries are dancing away with billions in renewable energy subsidies. To counter this atrocious trend, I founded an organization in 2010, the Partnership for Policy Integrity, to provide reliable science and policymaking clarity on the forest and climate impacts of burning forests for fuel. Since then, many environmental groups have joined the fight, but we still haven’t ended this parade of stupidity, because the forces are powerful and the pool of money is deep. Like many damaging forms of economic activity, the biomass industry started out small and at first flew under the radar. For decades, sawmills and pulp and paper manufacturers have burned sawdust, wood scraps, and black liquor (the condensed chemical slurry left over from wood pulping) to produce heat and power. Environmental groups were content to call this green energy considering that the alternative had been incineration or dumping black liquor into streams. And since these other outcomes would generate CO2 anyway, burning such materials was considered to provide carbon-neutral energy. Few people questioned why even the filthiest, most polluting biomass boilers at paper mills—some producing sulfur dioxide emissions to rival those of coal plants—were getting renewable energy subsidies, and over time these subsidies (along with federal renewable energy tax credits) became an important source of revenue for wood-consuming industries.

Praised just days ago, biofuels deal now panned - In an effort to mend fences with the powerful corn lobby, the Trump administration unveiled the draft of a new formula Tuesday to boost biofuels demand — but the proposal instead provoked only more consternation from the industry. Corn and soybean farmers are angry that Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency has greatly expanded the number of waivers it gives to small refineries to exempt them from complying with the nation’s renewable fuel policy. Moreover, some of the waivers have gone to refineries operated by oil industry giants Exxon Mobil and Chevron, raising questions about whether they truly had financial hardships in complying with the rule. In response to arguments from the renewable fuel industry that these waivers reduce demand, Trump said less than two weeks ago a new rule on blending biofuels into the nation’s gas and diesel supply would make up for it. But when that proposed rule came out Tuesday, renewable fuel interests didn’t see that promise in there. “Only 11 days after President Trump’s landmark announcement, the EPA proposal reneges on the core principle of the deal,” Iowa Renewable Fuels Association Executive Director Monte Shaw said in a statement. “Instead of standing by President Trump’s transparent and accountable deal, EPA is proposing to use heretofore secret (Department of Energy) recommendations that EPA doesn’t have to follow.” The new rule bases the biofuels volumes that will be required for blending only on estimates from the U.S. Energy Department — rather than the actual exemptions themselves.

Private Utility Companies Keep Merging and Merging - The power seems to go out every so often in our largest cities these days. New York City experienced two blackouts over the summer during heat waves, and the Bay Area saw random, lengthy power outages to 2.5 million residents as a precaution against wildfires just last week. The commonality between these crises is that investor-owned utilities were behind them. These monopolies, driven by short-term financial pressures, resist equipment upgrades and maintenance, leading to a lack of preparedness during climate-fueled disasters like fires, hurricanes, and extreme heat. The Wall Street mentality of cutting corners has made our power systems dangerously unstable. While spurned ratepayers, blackout victims, and environmental activists have joined a chorus of discontent on privately held utilities—flanked by presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, both of whom have featured public ownership of utilities as a plank of their Green New Deal proposals—private utilities themselves are charging ahead with even more corporate consolidation. The year 2019 has seen a spate of mergers within the industry, none larger than the proposed $67 billion merger between Connecticut-based Avangrid and Pennsylvania’s PPL, reported on last Friday by the Financial Times.The proposed merger between PPL and Avangrid, which is still being discussed by the two firms, would form one of the largest investor-owned utilities in the country. Avangrid, a multibillion-dollar firm based in Connecticut, provides gas or electricity to more than three million customers across New York and New England. The company is also a major player in the renewable-energy sector. It’s the third-largest wind power provider in the country, and owns wind and solar farms across 22 U.S. states.PPL, itself the product of the merger of eight electric companies across the state in 1920, was formerly known as Pennsylvania Power and Light. It’s worth roughly $23 billion, with operations across Pennsylvania and Kentucky, as well as an electric distribution company in the U.K. It serves roughly ten million customers in total.

 ‘Utter hypocrisy’: Government refuses to stop spending billions on fossil fuel projects across world - The government has been accused of “utter hypocrisy” after rejecting calls from MPs to stop spending billions on overseas fossil fuel projects while claiming to be a leader in the fight against global warming.Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee had warned that Britain is sabotaging its climate credentials by paying out “unacceptably high” oil and gas subsidies in developing nations.But international trade secretary Liz Truss shunned the cross-party group’s recommendation that investment in fossil fuel projects abroad should end by 2021, saying the move would be “too abrupt”. A report published by the cross-party group in June found UK Export Finance (UKEF) – a government body that underwrites loans and insurance to help British firms secure business abroad – had spent £2.6bn in the last five years supporting global energy exports. Of this, £2.5bn went on fossil fuel projects, with the vast majority in low- and middle-income countries. The EAC said the funding was “the elephant in the room undermining the UK’s international climate and development targets”. It also warned the projects risked locking developing nations into fossil-fuel dependency “for decades to come”.

'Coal for diesel': Redevelopment menaces Chicago neighbourhood - Victories are rare for community activists in Little Village, a low-income, largely minority neighbourhood on Chicago's west side. But seven years ago, activists scored an epic victory by managing to shut down the Crawford Generating Station - a coal-fired power plant that had spewed hazardous toxins and pollutants into the community for decades. The hope was that the shuttered coal plant would be converted into a park or a public space that residents could use. Instead, Hilco Redevelopment Partners, an industrial real estate development company, is tearing it down to make way for a yet another e-commerce distribution centre that promises to draw fleets of 18-wheeler trucks to an area already inundated with pollution. "They're here to make a buck," Edith Tovar, a community organiser with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), told Al Jazeera. "The lives of black and brown people and indigenous people are not as valued as the lives of people who are not people of colour, and it shows." Diesel fumes and dust blanket Little Village, an industrial corridor with a largely Latinx population. The neighbourhood is adjacent to Interstate 55, a major highway that provides hundreds of freight trucks with daily access to distribution centres in Little Village that serve the city and surrounding suburbs. Two-storey brick homes with neatly trimmed lawns sit across the street from the decommissioned Crawford plant - one of more than a dozen industrial sites located throughout the area. Two elementary schools are located just two blocks from multiple industrial sites - a plastic fabrication company, a distribution warehouse, a steel company and an asphalt plant. They are part of the landscape of commercial facilities, including an Amazon delivery station, that dot Little Village and the larger west and south sides of Chicago. "We're trading coal for diesel," said Tovar.

 Two former coal miners sue manufacturers for lung disease | West Virginia Record — Two lawsuits were filed against Mine Safety Appliances Company alleging they were diagnosed with serious lung diseases after working as coal miners for many years. Mine Safety Appliances Company, 3M Company, American Optical Corporation, Cabot CSC LLC, Aearo Technologies, Raleigh Mine and Industrial Supply, Eastern States Mine Supply, House-Hasson Hardware Company, Persinger Division and ten unknown and unnamed individuals were all named as defendants in the suits. One of the lawsuits also names Moldex-Metric Inc., Kentucky Mine Supply Company and Marco Mine Supply. Phillip R. Collins and LaTonya Collins and Ebb N. Preece and Tamara Preece filed the lawsuits in Wayne Circuit Court late last month and early this month. Phillip Collins and Ebb Preece claim they worked as coal miners for many years and during their employments, they used respirators that were manufactured and sold by the defendants for protection against harmful dust. The plaintiffs claim despite wearing the respirators, they were developed complicated coal miner's pneumoconiosis, which was caused by hidden defects in and the inadequate warnings provided with the respirators. The defendants negligently designed and manufactured the respirators' exhalation valves, which the plaintiffs claim did not have adequate protection for normal wear and tear, according to the suits. The plaintiffs claim the defendants failed to provide adequate warning and/or instruction with regard to the respirators, failed to provide fitting instructions and failed to adequately monitor and/or test or prescribe monitoring and/or tests for persons who handled or worked with its respirators. The respirators were defective and harmful dust leaked through them and the plaintiffs breathed in harmful dust and debris, according to the suits. The harmful dust was not detectable to the human senses because it was too small and was odorless, the plaintiffs claimed.

 Coal Industry Pushed State Regulators to Lobby for Power Rescue – - A series of letters from state energy regulators asking the Trump administration to act on coal plant closures was orchestrated by a coal lobbying group, emails show, raising questions about the independence of the public service commissioners.Utility commissioners in six states pressed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to act on an inquiry into whether coal plant retirements are threatening the electric grid. The state officials sent letters to FERC at the request of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, according to the emails and Jon McKinney, a consultant for the coal group working on the effort.Emails from McKinney to the West Virginia Public Service Commissionshow that in some cases, the letters by state officials closely tracked a “sample letter” provided by the trade group, which represents mining companies such as Murray Energy Corp. and Consol Energy Inc., as well coal-burning utilities American Electric Power Co. and Southern Co.The emails were provided to Bloomberg News by the Energy and Policy Institute, which obtained them through a public records request. Regulators in Alabama, Kentucky, Montana, Tennessee and Wyoming wrote similar letters.At issue is whether FERC decides if any further action is needed to prop up the grid after spurning a previous request by the administration to rescue money-losing plants.Watchdog groups such as Public Citizen say the coalition’s involvement in the letters “is a serious problem.” “State regulators are not there to do the bidding of a coal association,” said Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s energy program. “There appears to be evidence the coal industry is directing a campaign by state regulators to push FERC to provide market based subsidies to the coal industry.”

'We are not the bad guys': Origin cops climate, fracking grilling - Australian energy giant Origin faced a grilling from climate campaigners about coal-fired power plant emissions and from Aboriginal landowners opposing the company's fracking plans in the Northern Territory during a day of intense pressure at its annual shareholder meeting in Sydney.Origin was hit with several shareholder resolutions ahead of its meeting on Wednesday criticising the national power provider's positions on a range of environmental and social issues. The resolutions, calling for Origin to accelerate its exit from fossil fuels and abandon its controversial fracking project, prompted the board to argue many of the assertions "lack scientific rigour, peer review or are simply incorrect". "In fact, we are proud at Origin of the leading position we have taken on environmental, social and governance matters," said chairman Gordon Cairns, adding that Origin had been Australia's first to set emissions targets approved by the Science-Based Target initiative, a globally recognised framework referencing the science needed to limit global warming in line with Paris targets. "We are actually on the same side here," Mr Cairns said in response to the activists. "We are not the opposition, we are not the bad guys." Resolutions put forward by minority shareholders called on Origin to commit to closing down its Eraring coal-fired power station in NSW, the largest in the country, earlier than its planned 2032 closure.  . "Origin's current targets and plans actually allow it to continue increasing emissions until 2032 ... as a result, Eraring's emissions have risen every year since 2014," Market Forces legal analyst Will van de Pol said. "This trajectory is completely out of step with the action required to meet the Paris climate goals, increasing our company's exposure to climate change transition risks."

 Chase column: Nuclear power struggling to compete on a level playing field with natural gas and renewables - The Lima News Dr. Robert Chase - Guest Column - We’re now getting an idea of just how expensive building a nuclear plant can be. Ten years after owners of the only remaining nuclear plant being built in the United States first proposed the project, the owners say the total cost of building two additional units at the Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia is likely to reach upward of $27 billion, more than twice the original estimate. Earlier, South Carolina electricity companies opted to abandon construction of two new units at the VC Summer nuclear plant when the project’s estimated cost ballooned to $25 billion. Both projects utilized Westinghouse’s AP 1000 reactor. Now bankrupt, Westinghouse is expected to get back on its feet sooner than had been thought. But with no further reactor orders from U.S. utilities – there haven’t been any new nuclear plants built in this country in 30 years – and the premature retirement of seven operating nuclear plants since 2014, Westinghouse won’t be anything like the company that once dominated nuclear power in the United States. A recent report from the MIT Energy Initiative said, “The recent experience of nuclear construction projects in the United States and Europe has demonstrated repeated failures of construction management practices in terms of their ability to deliver products on time and within budget.” Although there might be a market for advanced reactors like the small modular reactor (SMR) that would use standardized designs and be built in a factory to reduce capital costs and shorten construction times, U.S. nuclear companies are likely to face stiff competition from reactor manufacturers in Russia, China, and other countries that are engaged in a global race to commercialize SMRs. Despite nuclear power’s problems, the Department of Energy has held out the possibility of saving several financially-ailing nuclear plants by providing financial assistance to keep the reactors in operation. But government loan guarantees weren’t of much help for the Georgia and South Carolina projects, and it’s unlikely financially-stressed operating nuclear plants such as Perry and Davis-Besse in Ohio and Beaver Valley in Pennsylvania – all of which are competing against an abundance of cheap natural gas and renewable power – would be able to do any better. Creating a “nuclear renaissance” in this country won’t happen if nuclear plants need to be subsidized. Besides, demand for electricity has plateaued nationwide as a result of major improvements in energy efficiency, weakening the need for baseload power from nuclear power and coal.

 Maine Yankee to issue update on Wiscasset nuclear waste — The Maine Yankee Community Advisory Panel on Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage will meet Tuesday to update Wiscasset residents on the status of the 64 containers of nuclear waste stored at the former Maine Yankee power plant site. The federal government was contractually obligated to remove the radioactive waste by 1998 after the plant was decommissioned in 1996. The advisory panel advocates for the removal of the spent nuclear fuel to a safe location outside New England. Eric Howes, Maine Yankee director of public and government affairs, will also give an update on the Sensible, Timely Relief for America’s Nuclear Districts Economic Development (STRANDED) Act, which was introduced by U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, in July. The act is aimed at providing financial relief to communities like Wiscasset stuck with storing nuclear waste. Should the STRANDED Act pass, Wiscasset would be eligible to receive $15 per kilogram of nuclear waste currently being housed at the site, which is the rate for impact assistance established under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. There are about 542 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel stored at Maine Yankee, meaning Wiscasset would collect over $8 million from the government. According to Maine Yankee, it costs roughly $10 million per year to maintain the 64 canisters of radioactive waste. The spent nuclear fuel is housed in 64 dry storage casks, which stand on 16 3-foot-thick concrete pads. Each concrete cask is comprised of a 2.5-inch thick steel liner surrounded by 28 inches of reinforced concrete.

EnergySolutions signs contract, acquires Three Mile Island nuclear power plant — EnergySolutions has signed a contract to acquire all licenses and assets of Three Mile Island. Under this agreement, the facility would be transferred to a subsidiary of EnergySolutions known as TMI-2 Solutions, LLC, and also facilitates applications to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities for approval of the transfer, followed by the decommissioning of Unit-2 at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station (TMI-2) located near Middleton, Pennsylvania. EnergySolutions, Inc. announced Tuesday it has signed the contract with FirstEnergy Corp. subsidiaries GPU Nuclear, Inc., Metropolitan Edison Company, Jersey Central Power & Light Company, and Pennsylvania Electric Company, acquiring all licenses and assets of TMI-2. "We are excited for the opportunity to safely decommission Unit-2 at Three Mile Island and restore the area to its natural state,” stated Ken Robuck, President and CEO of EnergySolutions. “We currently have four decommissioning projects, two of which will be completed in the next six months. Every project has provided valuable experience with best practices and lessons learned that we will incorporate into this project to safely decommission the facility.” In 1979, TMI-2 experienced a partial meltdown which resulted in the permanent closure of Three Mile Island. In the early 1980s, 99% of the nuclear fuel was removed from the plant, packaged and shipped to a storage facility at Idaho National Laboratory (INL). The facility has remained in a safe and stable storage condition known as Post Defueling Monitored Storage (PDMS) for the past 26 years, according to the press release issued by EnergySolutions on Tuesday. “Every decommissioning project we have performed comes with a commitment to keep the public fully informed of the progress being made and to answer questions that members of the community may have,” stated Robuck. To perform the decommission, EnergySolutions and Jingoli - a construction company headquartered in New Jersey - formed a joint venture called ES/Jingoli Decommissioning, LLC. According to the press release, Jingoli has successfully managed and executed nuclear projects on behalf of a number of utilities in the U.S. and Canada, with experience in the nuclear field from pre-construction, construction management, project controls and decommissioning.

2,667 radioactive bags from Fukushima nuke disaster unleashed by Typhoon Hagibis -  (Taiwan News) — As Typhoon Hagibis hammered Japan on Saturday (Oct. 12), thousands of bags containing radioactive waste have reportedly been carried into a local Fukushima stream by floodwaters, potentially having a devastating environmental impact.According to Asahi Shimbun, a temporary storage facility containing some 2,667 bags stuffed with radioactive contaminants from the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was unexpectedly inundated by floodwaters brought by Typhoon Hagibis. Torrential rain flooded the storage facility and released the bags into a stream 100 meters away. Officials from Tamara City in Fukushima Prefecture said that each bag is approximately one cubic meter in size. Authorities were only able to recover six of the bags by 9 p.m. on Oct. 12, and it is uncertain how many remain on the loose while the possible environmental impact is being assessed.

FirstEnergy Solutions bankruptcy may end soon - Akron's FirstEnergy Solutions says it expects to conclude its restructuring by the end of this year, because U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Alan Koschik is confirming its plan of reorganization. The company, still a subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp. for now, made the announcement on Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 15, after the judge reportedly gave its plan a verbal go-ahead in court earlier that day.Koschik, of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Ohio, "indicated he will confirm the plan that was supported by more than 93% of voting creditors," FirstEnergy Solutions said in a news release. The company said it will "begin to implement the plan, subject to satisfaction of other conditions to the effectiveness of the plan, including all regulatory approvals."FirstEnergy Solutions has been in bankruptcy since March 31, 2018, and had been expected to come out of reorganization in August as a separate company with a new name.That got quashed, however, when the judge refused to confirm the company's plan, reportedly due to a dispute over how union retirement plans would be treated. Koschik said then that he would not approve a plan until that issue was resolved. Bloomberg Law reported on Aug. 15 that union workers will get the same benefits they would have received had the company not filed for bankruptcy.

PUCO wrong to cap fee for energy-efficiency plan, state's high court rules - The Ohio Supreme Court found state regulators didn’t have the authority to limit the amount that FirstEnergy could recover from programs meant to reduce electricity consumption. The company, along with some environmental groups, had argued that the cap was unnecessary to protect consumers against cost increases.State regulators were wrong to impose a cap on the costs that FirstEnergy could recover from programs meant to reduce electricity consumption, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.In November 2017, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio approved FirstEnergy’s programs meant to help consumers become more energy efficient and to reduce demand for the 2017-19 period, and capped how much the Akron-based power company could recover for those programs at 4% of its annual revenue. Those programs were required under a 2009 state law.The PUCO and the Consumers’ Counsel argued the cap was necessary to ensure that consumers weren’t overcharged. The company, along with environmental groups, maintained the caps were unnecessary because other PUCO orders protected consumers against cost increases.The court, in a 5-2 ruling written by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, said the PUCO decision to cap the amount FirstEnergy could recover violated state law.The court said the justices found no “express or implied authorization in the language” of the law for the PUCO’s decision.The ruling comes months after the legislature adopted and the governor signed House Bill 6, the controversial measure that provides subsidies for the state’s two nuclear plants along with two coal-fired power plants. A provision in the bill eliminates the requirement that utilities maintain these programs.Justice Michael Donnelly concurred with part of the ruling and dissented on another. He wrote that the PUCO had broad discretion about how to achieve the law’s objective, but that the PUCO inadequately explained why it selected a 4% cap although there was evidence presented to support a 3% cap.

Anti-bailout group seeks court injunction --The group seeking a voter referendum on Ohio’s new nuclear bailout efforts urged a federal judge on Thursday to prevent enforcement of a law the group contends is handing its opposition the information it needs to harass, intimidate, and even bribe its signature gatherers.Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts also contends that a requirement its paid organizers and managers of its petition effort file forms in advance with the secretary of state’s office is unfair because its opponents don’t face a similar mandate.The group has until Oct. 21 to file nearly 266,000 valid signatures of registered voters to put House Bill 6 on the November, 2020, ballot. Absent that, the law will take effect the next day.The law would impose surcharges on consumers’ electricity bills to create a $170 million-a-year fund. Of that, $150 million would support FirstEnergy Solutions’ nuclear power plants on the shore of Lake Erie — Davis-Besse in Oak Harbor and the Perry plant east of Cleveland.

 Pushy petitioners attempt to prevent referendum on campus – OSU Lantern - Following students wearing headphones down 18th Avenue, cornering them at Thompson Library and ambushing them while eating at the Ohio Union are all tactics aggressive petitioners who swarmed campus have used on students in the last several weeks in an attempt to prevent a referendum on a nuclear bailout from being put on the ballot. House Bill 6, signed into law July 23, will provide a subgroup of Akron-based energy provider First Energy Corporation called First Energy Solutions with around $1 billion over seven years to keep two nuclear power plants in Northern Ohio from shutting their doors. Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts — a political action group opposed to HB 6 — began gathering signatures to put a referendum on the 2020 ballot that would repeal the law. In response, a campaign against the referendum includes a petition and especially assertive on-campus petitioners from political group Ohioans for Energy Security that asks state lawmakers to prevent foreign ownership of Ohio power plants. Gene Pierce, a spokesperson for Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, said in an email that the initiative is trying to sabotage the organization’s referendum efforts. “It’s meant to confuse people into thinking they’ve signed our petitions, and to drain the spot labor market from a vast pool of people who would otherwise be available to work for us,” Gene Pierce, a spokesperson for Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, said in an email. The petition against the referendum is paid for by Ohioans for Energy Security, which says that overturning HB 6 would allow China “control over Ohio” as well as give signers’ personal information to the Chinese government, according to their website and video campaigns. “Warning! Don’t give your personal information to the Chinese Government” a banner at the top of the site reads. “China is quietly invading our Energy Grid and coming for our Ohio jobs.” Pierce said these statements are false. “It’s a totally bogus claim. Foreign entities can invest in American companies, but when it comes to our energy grid they can not control a part of our grid. The U.S. Dept of the Treasury’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) strictly monitors those investments,” Pierce said.

Utica Shale well activity as of Oct. 12

  • DRILLED: 202 (203 as of last week)
  • DRILLING: 166 (165)
  • PERMITTED: 469 (470)
  • PRODUCING: 2,340 (2,339)
  • TOTAL: 3,177 (3,177)

No horizontal permits were issued during the week that ended Oct. 12, and 13 rigs were operating in the Utica Shale.

Regional roundup — Activity has increased in Ohio’s Marcellus and Utica shale plays during the past decade, with counties including Jefferson, Harrison, Belmont and Monroe experiencing the most development. The spike in development has also brought many questions from landowners who have wells installed or are in the process of being installed on their properties.On top of recent shale development, Ohio is also home to many abandoned wells that have now become property hazards.  Ohio State University Extension in Harrison County will hold a shale energy workshop from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday that will address commonly asked questions regarding oil and natural gas development. Those interested in learning about the process for plugging orphan wells in Ohio are encouraged to attend.  Guest speakers will include Dan Lima, agriculture and natural resources educator for OSU Extension in Belmont County and staff from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Oil and Gas Resources.  This event will be held at Puskarich Public Library, 200 E. Market St., Cadiz. The cost is $5 per person. Pre-registration is required and those interested can register before Monday by contacting OSU Extension, Jefferson County at (740) 264-2212 or by e-mail Send registration to OSU Extension, Jefferson County, 500 Market St., Ste. 512, Steubenville, OH 43952.

Report: Ohio counties have received nearly $142M in real estate property taxes from Utica Shale production - A new release of The Utica Shale Local Support Series indicates that there has been a significant increase in the amount of real property tax revenue paid to local schools and governments from the oil and gas production in Ohio since the last report was issued in 2017.These numbers have more than tripled the previously reported amount of $45 million paid out to eight counties between 2010 and 2015.The updated 2019 report, Ohio’s Oil and Gas Industry Property Tax Payments, includes data from eight Ohio counties where oil and natural gas development is occurring including Belmont, Carroll, Columbiana, Guernsey, Harrison, Jefferson, Monroe and Noble counties. The report also examines the various ways shale development is benefitting Ohio’s schools, municipalities and other vital local services.  None of the eight counties have a major metropolitan area and most of of them have struggled to bring in new investments. So, the oil and gas industry has been an asset to these counties by bringing in jobs and providing a source of revenue that wasn’t previously available. “The new report’s findings show that in total, the oil and natural gas industry contributed more than $141.9 million to eight Ohio counties from 2010 to 2017 from this tax alone,” an Oct. 9 news release from the Ohio Oil and Gas Association said.The report list the following key findings for Ohio shale counties:

What's in fracking chemicals? Energy nonprofit demands answers - Ohioans could be exposed to dangerous chemicals that state laws don’t require drilling and fracking companies using them to disclose, according to a report issued by a nonprofit organization.“Ohio and 28 other states have enacted rules that require some public disclosure of fracking chemicals. However, most if not all of these rules have exceptions that allow well owners to withhold chemical identities as trade secrets,” according to a report by the Partnership for Policy Integrity, a group based in Pelham, Massachusetts, that specializes in energy policy.“We looked at Ohio’s records and found trade-secret chemicals being used extensively in eastern Ohio in oil and natural gas wells, which could be some of the same trade-secret chemicals that the (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) has health concerns about. We can’t say that definitively because the identities are secret,” said senior counsel Dusty Horwitt, who wrote the report.“But it’s entirely possible that some of these chemicals could have effects that EPA identified like neurotoxicity, developmental toxicity, lung toxicity, kidney toxicity and liver toxicity,” Horwitt said. “People need to know. People have a right to know, and first responders have a right to know if they might be exposed to those types of chemicals.” Well drillers injected secret chemicals 10,992 times into 1,432 wells in Ohio between 2013 and 2018, according to the report. People can be exposed to the chemicals through leaks, spills, air emissions, the migration of underground fluids from injection wells where fracking wastewater is disposed of, or the migration of oil and gas at production wells. People also can be susceptible when “brine” — a chemical-laden waste byproduct of fracking — is spread on roads as a de-icer, according to the report. “Chemicals comprise only a small percentage of fracking fluid. But due to some chemicals’ high toxicities and the staggering quantities of fracking fluid, a small percentage of chemicals in today’s wells could equal enough volume to contaminate billions of gallons of water if the chemical leached into the water supplies,” according to the report.

Gulfport Sees Higher Q3 Production, Lower Prices - Gulfport Energy Corporation GPOR issued a comprehensive update on third-quarter 2019 results pertaining to pricing and production. Gulfport’s total oil and gas production increased to 1,527 million cubic feet equivalent per day (MMcfe/d) from 1,427 MMcfe/d in the corresponding period of last year. Of the total output, 93% comprised natural gas while the remaining 5% and 2% comprised NGL and oil, respectively.Average realized natural gas oil price (before the impact of derivatives) during the third quarter was $1.64 per thousand cubic feet, lower than the year-ago period’s $2.32. Average realized natural gas liquids price was 38 cents per gallon, down from the year-ago quarter’s 74 cents. Gulfport fetched $51.75 per barrel of oil during the quarter, down from the year-ago figure of $68.73. Overall, the company realized $1.84 per thousand cubic feet equivalent in the quarter vis-a-vis $2.82 a year ago.  In the quarter under review, this Oklahoma-based company drilled three wells, one gross and net operated well in the South-Central Oklahoma Oil Province (SCOOP) and the remaining in the Utica Shale field.  Further, in the third quarter, Gulfport ended drilling three gross operated wells in the Utica Shale and two other, which were in different stages of completion. It also turned-to-sales 16 gross operated wells in the Utica Shale during the period. Gulfport projects its net full-year daily production in the mid-point of the previously provided guided range of 1,360-1,400 MMcfe per day.

Will a push for plastics turn Appalachia into next ‘Cancer Alley’? - Construction cranes climb into the sky and sprawl across the massive petrochemical facility that will turn a byproduct of fracked gas into plastic on the banks of the Ohio River, just outside Pittsburgh. Even at a distance, from the car park of a cancer treatment centre on a nearby hilltop, Royal Dutch Shell’s 386-acre site is a behemoth. It will anchor yet more gas, plastics and chemicals infrastructure in the tristate region of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. The plant would solidify demand for fracked natural gas and the ethane that comes with it out of the ground. It would make 1.6m tons of plastic and 2.2m tons of globe-heating carbon dioxide annually – roughly the same amount the city of Pittsburgh is trying to eliminate. The facility would also release hundreds of tons of toxic compounds into the air. As global demand for plastics grows, the buildout of this industry threatens US progress on the climate crisis and clean air. Opponents say the vast plastics industry will prolong fracking, even after power companies shift further towards renewable power, such as solar and wind. “To me, it’s so obvious that they are trying to lock us into fossil fuels,” said Terrie Baumgardner, a member of the Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Community. At a time when scientists warn humans must stop pulling fossil fuels out of the ground and spewing plastics into the environment, natural gas drilling is booming in Appalachia and the ethane-to-plastics industry there is just getting started.

DEP, CNX reach $1.48 M settlement on abandoned wells The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental protection announced a settlement Friday with CNX in which the company will put up bonds and plug more than 100 abandoned natural gas wells.The order covers 141 conventional wells and five shale gas wells in Allegheny, Washington, Greene and Westmoreland counties. Under the settlement, CNX will post a $1.48 million performance bond to cover the costs of plugging the wells, and the state has given the company eight years to plug and restore the well sites.A performance bond is a guarantee that a company will pay for cleanup costs of its operations, if it ever goes out of business or enters into bankruptcy.The wells were part of a July 2018 order from the state requiring three companies to plug over 1,000 abandoned wells. A March 2019 settlement dealt with most of those wells. This month’s settlement took care of the rest. “These settlements represent a major victory for Pennsylvania’s citizens and our environment, today and into the future,” DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said in a statement.The state considers any well that doesn’t produce oil and gas for a calendar year to be an abandoned well.Methane from abandoned wells can get into underground well water and into peoples’ homes, posing a health and environmental threat. In addition, the wells can leak oil and brine into the environment.The order mandates CNX plug five wells by the end of 2019 and 20 wells a year until all the wells are plugged, a process that should take no more than eight years.

 CNX to plug Beaver Run Wells— The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said Friday it issued a consent order and agreement with CNX Gas Company LLC for well-plugging violations in four southwestern Pennsylvania counties, including seven wells in northern Westmoreland County. DEP said the settlement requires CNX to post a $1.48 million performance bond and provides an extended schedule for CNX to plug abandoned wells and restore well sites, including five in Washington Township and two in Bell Township. Five are along the shores of the Beaver Run Reservoir, while two others are in nearby areas. “These settlements represent a major victory for Pennsylvania’s citizens and our environment, today and into the future,” DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said in an agency news release. The wells around Beaver Run Reservoir included in the agreement are all unconventional wells. In all, there are more than 50 gas wells near the 11-billion-gallon reservoir. The settlement also covers 141 conventional coalbed methane and gas wells in Allegheny, Greene and Washington counties. The agreement announced Friday follows a July 2018 order by DEP to oil and gas operators to plug over 1,000 abandoned oil and gas wells across the state, based on required self-reporting of well production data for 2017. The state Oil and Gas Act requires owners and operators to plug wells upon abandonment. The act defines any well that “has not been used to produce, extract or inject any gas, petroleum or other liquid within the preceding 12 months” as abandoned.

Vote delayed on controversial Beech Hollow Energy plant in Washington County -- In 2016, Rodger Kendall signed an agreement with Ray Bologna of Robinson Power Co. LLC for construction of a natural gas pipeline across his property in Robinson, Washington County. That easement agreement also requires Mr. Kendall and his wife, Susan, to “reasonably cooperate [with Robinson Power] in obtaining any permits, licenses, permissions or approvals, including ... land-use permits” necessary for construction of Beech Hollow Energy Project’s gas-power plant just south of the intersection of routes 22 and 980. As it turns out, Mr. Kendall is chairman of the township board of supervisors. That board held a public hearing Monday on Robinson Power’s application for a township land-use permit to build the plant. But with a Dec. 22 deadline, the board decided Monday to delay taking action after the public hearing. For now, It’s unclear whether the vote will involve the initial 1,000-megawatt gas-fired power plant project that the state Department of Environmental Protection approved in October 2017, or the more recent modifications for a 1,065-megawatt power plant that DEP still is reviewing. Alan Shuckrow, serving as township solicitor during the hearing, said supervisors could approve the permit, on a condition that DEP approves project modifications. The land-use permit is necessary for the controversial power plant project to proceed.

 We finally know what caused the refinery blast that rocked Philadelphia - The June 21 fire at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refining complex was likely caused by a faulty pipe, a preliminary report from the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board has found. The fire, which raged for more than 24 hours, released 5,239 pounds of deadly chemicals into the air. The blaze broke out early in the morning on June 21st when an elbow pipe most likely failed, allowing flammable fluid containing propane and other chemicals to escape. The leaking fluid quickly turned into a vapor cloud, which ignited shortly thereafter. As the fire raged, at 4:15 a.m. the first of three explosions occurred. The second was four minutes later, and the third, which was by far the most powerful, occurred at 4:22 a.m.During the last and greatest explosion, a vessel within a unit containing highly flammable hydrocarbons ruptured, hurling fragments into the air. The blast was so powerful that a 38,000 pound barrel was launched 2,100 feet across the Schuylkill river, where it landed on the opposite bank. The fire illuminated the sky and sent shock waves for miles around the complex. Homes in South Philadelphia shook as debris rained down. Based on stamp marks found on the faulty piping, investigators estimate that it was installed around 1973. The elbow pipe that likely started the fire was so worn down that it was just 0.012 inches thick. As the report noted, this is about half the thickness of a credit card.According to estimates from Philadelphia Energy Solutions, 5,239 pounds of deadly hydrofluoric acid was released during the fire and subsequent explosion. The company estimated that it contained about 1,968 pounds within the refining unit by using water spray, which means that the larger share, or roughly 3,271 pounds, escaped into the atmosphere. Chemical Safety Board interim executive director Kristen Kulinowski said it was lucky that there were “no serious injuries or fatalities.”

Old, corroded pipe led to Philadelphia refinery fire: Chemical Safety Board - (Reuters) - An old, degraded piece of metal pipe that had not been tested for corrosion led to the June fire and explosions at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions oil refinery, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board said on Wednesday. The pipe fitting gave way around 4:00 a.m. ET (0800 GMT) on June 21, releasing propane containing more than 3,200 pounds of highly toxic chemical hydrofluoric acid (HF) that escaped into the atmosphere, the CSB said in its first update on its investigation. Three separate explosions then hurled pieces of the refinery across the nearby Schuylkill River and onto highways, causing a blaze that was visible for miles and destroying an alkylation unit that uses HF to produce components of high-octane gasoline. No one was killed, and only five minor injuries were reported. However, Philadelphia Energy Solutions filed for bankruptcy a month later and shut down the 335,000 barrel-per day refinery, the largest on the U.S. East Coast. “We need to focus on making sure that this type of an explosion at a refinery doesn’t happen anymore because it’s just a matter of time before the facts are just a little bit different and people die or are critically injured,” CSB Interim Director Kristen Kulinowski said at a news conference.

Groups bidding for PES refinery due to tour fire-damaged site –sources (Reuters) - Groups vying for the idled Philadelphia Energy Solutions oil refinery have entered the second phase of the bidding process and are gearing up for visits to the plant, according to three sources familiar with the matter. Roughly a dozen parties are in the running to buy the refinery, a source familiar with the situation said, pitching various uses for the fire-damaged facility that has been used to store and process fossil fuels for the last 150 years. The effort began after PES closed its refinery and filed for bankruptcy on July 21, following a colossal blaze at one of its most dangerous fuel-producing units. Whoever wins the auction to purchase the 1,300-acre site will hold the keys to reopen the largest and oldest East Coast oil refinery or repurpose all or part of it for another use. Prospective buyers are seeking answers to a host of unanswered financial and legal questions, including potential environmental cleanup costs and uncertainty around insurance proceeds. Groups in the bidding process are being given more information about PES’ finances and operations and are expected to tour the site, three sources familiar with the plans said. They have also been asked to submit more detailed proposals, as opposed to limited initial bids, by late November. While the sale process is moving ahead, PES recently detailed in a court filing a way in which it could reorganize the company if it is able to reach agreements with creditors to swap debt obligations for shares in the company.

Mountaineer Gas preps platform to receive natural gas supply – Mountaineer Gas’ natural gas pipeline running from northern Morgan County into Berkeley County has gas in it, but the company doesn’t have any local customers yet. Workers are preparing the pipeline’s western end for a regulator station so it will be able to add more gas to the line in the future. Company officials said they don’t know right now whether gas supply will come from a planned Columbia Gas pipeline under the Potomac River from the north, or from some other source. Moses Skaff, Senior VP of Mountaineer Gas, told The Morgan Messenger last week that his company’s platform – a flat, graded area north of U.S Silica – is being prepared for a regulator station that will let the pipeline receive gas. Skaff confirmed that the recent spur of activity on the gas platform was tied to the September 23 decision by the National Park Service to grant a right-of-way under the C&O Canal to Columbia Gas. The company plans to build a gas pipeline west of Hancock and under the Potomac River. That line would bore under the canal and river. Skaff said his company is “just getting the platform ready” to receive gas. “We’re preparing the platform to take natural gas supply at some point. We don’t know where it’s going to come from at this time,” said Skaff. The local gas line has been “energized” for several months, meaning it is holding natural gas right now. Skaff said the line isn’t holding a large amount of gas, but has been put in service. Mountaineer Gas is doing regular inspections along the pipeline path, including on-the-ground visual inspection along the right of way and detection monitors. Mountaineer Gas doesn’t have any Morgan County customers right now, though U.S. Silica plans to be a customer, said Skaff. His company is interested in running the natural gas line to customers here when they have a bigger supply of gas to distribute. Right now, Mountaineer Gas can’t take on larger customers because the current gas supply coming in from Virginia can’t meet further demand. Skaff said the gas line platform along U.S. 522 can be used now, even without a Columbia Gas line coming in from Maryland. Once work is completed on the platform, the area can be an injection point for gas coming in by truck.

Appeals court puts Mountain Valley Pipeline permits on hold (AP) — A federal appeals court has put a hold on two permits needed for construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday issued a stay of permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service while it reviews a lawsuit filed by environmental groups in August. The Sierra Club said in a statement Friday that the suspension effectively means that construction must stop on the 300-mile natural gas project. Natalie Cox, a spokeswoman for the pipeline, did not immediately respond to messages from The Associated Press seeking comment. Cox told The Roanoke Times that pipeline officials are “disappointed and disagree” with the 4th Circuit’s ruling. The lawsuit alleges that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s approval of the project failed to adequately protect endangered species along the pipeline’s path. After the lawsuit was filed, the pipeline developers suspended some construction activities. Pipeline officials told federal regulators in a letter in August that they had suspended construction in areas where the work could impact protected bat and fish species. Also on Friday, the company building the pipeline agreed to pay over $2 million and submit to enhanced monitoring to settle a lawsuit brought by Virginia officials. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s office announced that a consent decree had been reached with Mountain Valley LLC that will resolve the lawsuit filed in December. Herring’s office said in a news release that Mountain Valley will pay a $2.15 million civil penalty and will submit to court-supervised compliance with environmental protections. It will also pay for additional third-party monitoring. State officials alleged that developers violated Virginia’s environmental laws and regulations by not controlling sediment and stormwater runoff.

 Mountain Valley Pipeline to pay $2.15M to settle Virginia environmental lawsuit - Mountain Valley Pipeline, the natural gas pipeline that is owned by Pittsburgh-based EQM Midstream Partners, will pay a $2.15 million civil penalty to resolve a lawsuit filed over alleged environmental violations in Virginia.The settlement with the Commonwealth of Virginia also requires MVP to comply with court-ordered and other third-party monitoring of the pipeline project, which will take Marcellus and Utica Shale natural gas from Pennsylvania and West Virginia to Virginia. The 303-mile route in West Virginia and Virginia has been fraught with cost overruns, delays and court action.A news release from Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring said MVP will have court supervision to make sure it complies with state water, erosion and sediment control among other environmental laws along with additional layers of oversight. Future violations would violate the court order, according to a news release from Herring. MVP will be spending its own money to increase erosion control measures and monitor fish and wildlife, and is on the hook to remediate any further violations."This is one of the most significant financial penalties ever imposed in Virginia for this kind of case, and more importantly, we have secured significant new monitoring, supervision and enhanced standards for the duration of the project," Herring said in a statement.The agreement settles a lawsuit filed in December 2018 by the Virginia attorney general for the state's Department of Environmental Quality and the State Water Control Board in five counties in Virginia. The settlement has the approval of Virginia's governor and head of the Department of Environmental Quality, and will have 30 days of public comment before going to the Circuit Court of Henrico County for approval.A statement from MVP said all of the notices of violations have been addressed and most of them involved the large amount of rainfall in 2018. "The MVP project team will satisfy its civil administrative penalty and will implement additional measures of independent, third-party monitoring to ensure compliance with Virginia's court-ordered and court-supervised environmental protections that will further enhance the performance of ESC measures for the remainder of MVP's planned construction activities," MVP said in a statement.

Governor’s staff will address Atlantic Coast Pipeline permit - Gov. Roy Cooper’s office said members of his staff will answer questions about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline permit at a public hearing. But they won’t meet privately with investigators the Republican legislature has hired to dig into any connection between the permit and an environmental mitigation fund. Cooper’s office released letters Friday afternoon between his office and legislative Republicans. The correspondence sets the stage for a potential public hearing for the week of Nov. 4, when staff in the Democratic governor’s office will answer questions about the pipeline permit granted in early 2018. Republican lawmakers hired investigators last year to look into a possible connection between the pipeline’s North Carolina permit and an environmental mitigation fund Cooper set up. Republicans claimed the energy consortium developing the pipeline was pushed into paying $57.8 million into the fund in exchange for the permit. Last year, the legislature gave the money to school districts the pipeline would run through. Lawsuits have stalled the 600-mile natural gas pipeline designed to run from West Virginia to North Carolina. A letter to Cooper dated Friday from Sen. Harry Brown, a Jacksonville Republican, and Rep. Dean Arp, a Monroe Republican, outline three options for Cooper: allow all of his staff to speak to investigators; select employees to talk to a legislative subcommittee on the pipeline; or not allow anyone to speak. Their letter said investigators have nearly completed their interviews. Read more here:

Enterprise to expand Appalachia-to-Texas ethane pipeline - Houston pipeline operator Enterprise Products Partners is moving forward with plans to expand a pipeline to move ethane from the natural gas fields of Appalachia to the company's processing plants and storage terminals in southeast Texas. In a statement released on Monday morning, Enterprise confirmed that it will proceed with the expansion of its Appalachia-to-Texas pipeline. Known as ATEX, the 1,200-mile pipeline moves ethane from the Marcellus Shale and Utica Basin of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio to Enterprise's natural gas liquids storage complex just east of Houston in Mont Belvieu. Estimated construction costs have not been disclosed but the decision comes after the completion of a 30-day open season for producers to book capacity on the expansion project. “The success of the open season reflects the demand for additional, reliable ethane takeaway capacity from the Appalachian region of the country,” Enterprise Senior Vice President Michael C. "Tug" Hanley said in a statement.. The expansion of ATEX will facilitate growing production from the Marcellus/Utica Basin and will provide access to attractive markets on the Gulf Coast through Enterprise’s integrated midstream network.” ATEX can currently move 145,000 barrels of ethane per day but the expansion project will boost that to 190,000 barrels per day. The extra capacity is expected to be achieved through improvements and modifications to existing infrastructure. If successful, the extra capacity will be available by 2022. Ethane is experiencing high global demand by petrochemical plants to make plastics. Enterprise already handles an estimated 80 percent of U.S. ethane exports. The company is building an export terminal at Morgan's Point to begin exports of ethylene, a chemical made from ethane that is also used to make plastics and other products.

  Northeast gas prices take shoulder-season hits - Despite pipeline takeaway constraints being relieved this year, Northeast natural gas prices have averaged lower than last year through much of the injection season. They’ve been especially weak in recent weeks, with spot prices at Appalachia’s Dominion South hub averaging $1.27/MMBtu in October to date, which is about half of where they stood this time in 2018 and the lowest in two years. And earlier this month, on October 4, regional prices went into apocalyptic territory, plunging 30-50% to less than $1/MMBtu — reminiscent of the deep discounts of recent years when Marcellus/Utica producers were operating under severe pipeline constraints. Prices rebounded the very next trading day, but they remain depressed relative to last year. Today, we look at the fundamentals behind the recent price weakness. Starting today, you can also tune into an audio version of the current day’s blog. Click here to find out how to subscribe or start listening by clicking on the play button above.All in all, 2019 was set up to be a telling year for how this new “unconstrained” market would play out in the interim. And, as we said in that same early-summer blog series, the real test for the Northeast’s supply-demand balancing act would come during the low-demand months, typically spring and fall, when Northeast demand is at its lowest and the region is even more dependent on outflows to balance. That’s also the time when pipelines tend to schedule maintenance, which can periodically reduce available takeaway capacity. Well, we’re in the midst of one of those “shoulder seasons” now, and producers are being put to the test. To be clear, daily spot prices in the region had been trending weaker compared to last year for some months now. But year-on-year discounts widened further starting in August, and as of this month, the daily spot prices at Appalachia’s Dominion South hub, which is representative of the Marcellus/Utica supply region, are averaging just $1.27/MMBtu (dark-orange line in left graph in Figure 1), or half of where they stood this time last year and the lowest since October 2017, according to data from our good friends at Natural Gas Intelligence (NGI).

Is The US Gas Boom Already Over? - Natural gas production in the Marcellus and Utica shale plays is growing at a slower pace than before as low prices persist, but demand has yet to catch up to supply.S&P Global Platts reports that energy companies in the Appalachian Basin have started cutting back their new drilling, pressured by low gas prices on the one hand, and shareholder pressure for greater returns on the other.At the moment, spot prices at two gas hubs in the region—Columbia Gas Appalachia and Dominion South—are about $1 per mmBtu. That’s down from $2.50 per mmBtu at the start of the year. During that time, gas production in the Marcellus shale grew by some 1 billion cu ft daily while production in Utica grew by about half that, with the average for September actually lower than the average for August.Meanwhile, natural gas in storage is growing, too. The last gas inventory report by the Energy Information Administration showed the third weekly increase by a triple-digit number: 112 billion cu ft. That’s despite rising demand, too, which makes the outlook for gas producers even bleaker.The production decline is not a snap decision. Several gas producers operating in the Marcellus and Utica plays already warned they would begin cutting back on new drilling in the second half of the year. What’s more, if the low gas prices persist and the forecasts for lower oil prices as well come to pass, lower production would remain for longer.This is not necessarily bad, however. Investor pressure on U.S. energy companies does not only concern returns. Shareholders are increasingly worrying about the carbon, and more importantly methane, footprint of these companies. And still, the U.S. is on track to provide more than half of global gas supply by 2025. In a recent story for CNBC, Todd Wassermann reported that energy companies’ major bet on natural gas, the greener substitute for coal, could backfire because of that investor concern.“There’s a growing concern among investors that the oil and gas industry is making very big bets on natural gas as sort of the foundation for its long-term growth,″ Wassermann quoted a director from a shareholder advocacy group, Ceres, as saying.“If methane is not properly addressed, it really undercuts any claim natural gas has to being lower-carbon,” Andrew Logan said.

Natural Gas Prices Are Too Low -- Natural gas is one of the most volatile futures markets. Since the NYMEX first introduced the natural gas futures contract in 1990, the price traded from lows of $1.02 to highs of $15.65 per MMBtu.The natural gas market has matured over the past almost thirty years. Discoveries of massive reserves of gas in the Marcellus and Utica shale regions of the US and technological advances in fracking to extract the gas from the crust of the earth have increased the supply side of the market. At the same time, replacing coal with natural gas in power generation and processing the gas into liquid form for exportation around the world on ocean vessels have expanded the demand side of the fundamental equation.The growth of the natural gas market caused volume and the total number of open long and short positions in the futures market to increase dramatically. As the two metrics increase, volatility tends to contract. We have not seen a move to above $6.50 per MMBtu since 2008, and the price has remained above the $1.60 level since 1995. As we head into the peak season for demand each year over the coming weeks, natural gas at under the $2.30 per MMBtu level, the price could be too low. The United States Natural Gas Fund ETF product (UNG) tracks the price of the futures market on a short-term basis.October tends to be a month where the natural gas futures market begins to prepare for the peak season for demand each year. Injections into storage turn to withdrawals in November. On October 11, the price fell to a low at $2.187 per MMBtu. Last week, the price of nearby November natural gas futures settled at $2.214, near the low. The monthly chart highlights that at under $2.25 per MMBtu, the price of natural gas fell to its lowest level since 2015 in October. In October 2018, the low was at $3.001. In 2017, it was at $2.723, and in 2016 the bottom was at $2.627. 2015 was a year when natural gas inventories rose above the four trillion cubic feet level for the second time in history. In October 2015, the low price for the energy commodity was at $1.948 per MMBtu. Natural gas is heading into the peak season for demand at the lowest price since 2015. The long-term chart suggests that the volatile energy commodity could be ripe for a recovery over the coming weeks.

Natural Gas Price Fundamental Daily Forecast - EIA Storage Report Expected to Show Triple-Digit Build -- Natural gas futures are edging higher early Thursday on short-covering and position-squaring ahead of today’s weekly government storage report. Prices plunged the previous session, erasing earlier gains as traders raised doubts over the durability of the late October cold that had been creeping into the weather forecasts all week. Sellers also took control on the back of a forecast calling for a triple-inventory build.At 08:54 GMT, December natural gas futures were trading $2.502, up $0.007 or +0.28%.Prices were higher early Wednesday, but sellers took control at $2.564, putting in the intraday high slightly below the October 4 top at $2.568. Bespoke Weather Services also saw “some solid technical resistance.”Prices “then continued lower as the midday weather models showed less potential for strong, lasting cold,” the forecaster said. “The fundamental state, while marginally tighter the last couple of days, remains very weak, and without cold, easily still supports downside risk to current prices. It is up to cold to support the market.”Bespoke went on to s ay that the market will need to see a “solidly cold” pattern for late October into early November to sustain a rally.Early estimates are currently pointing to a triple-digit build from today’s EIA weekly storage report. This would mark the third 100 Bcf-plus injection in the past four weeks. Furthermore, an injection in the triple digits would also comfortably top both the year-ago 82 Bcf build and the five-year average 81 Bcf for this week, according to Natural Gas Intelligence (NGI). Bloomberg analysts are predicting a median 108 Bcf estimate. Intercontinental Exchange EIA Financial Weekly Index futures settled Tuesday at 108 Bcf. NGI’s model predicted an injection of 115 Bcf.

Reported Build In Today's EIA Report Slightly Under Market Consensus, But Provides No Boost To Prices - It was "EIA day" today, which usually means some solid price volatility, but price action today was rather muted in the wake of the number, which actually came in a little under the market consensus, almost dead on our internal estimate. Despite being under what the market expectation was, prices could not sustain the small rally seen right after the release of the report. The November contract did close 1.5 cents higher on the day, but was actually up more than that before the report. Why couldn't the market advance higher if the expectation was for a higher build? Well, a 104 bcf injection is still quite hefty, no matter how you look at it, and it is still reflective of loose supply / demand balances, just not as loose as those reflected in last week's report. Balances still need to show a considerable tightening trend from here in order to sustain a rally, at least in the absence of sustained cold. We do have some significant cold in the forecast as we move to the end of October, as seen in our 11-15 day forecast from this morning. This explains the recent "range-bound" nature of price action recently, as bullish weather trends battle the bearish backdrop of supply / demand balances. Until we see what the weather pattern has in store for November, this choppiness may continue. 

US natural gas in underground storage flips to deficit to five-year average | S&P Global Platts— US working natural gas volumes in underground storage added 104 Bcf last week, flipping the deficit to the five-year average to a surplus for the first time in more than two years. Storage inventories increased to 3.519 Tcf for the week ended October 11, the US Energy Information Administration reported Thursday morning. The injection was less than an S&P Global Platts survey of analysts calling for a 108-Bcf addition. Survey responses ranged for an injection of 95 Bcf to 112 Bcf.   The build was more than the 82-Bcf injection reported during the corresponding week in 2018 as well as the five-year average addition of 81 Bcf, according to EIA data. As a result, stocks were 494 Bcf, or 16.3%, more than the year-ago level of 3.025 Tcf and 14 Bcf, or 0.4%, more than the five-year average of 3.505 Tcf. The NYMEX Henry Hub November contract added 5 cents to $2.353/MMBtu following the announcement. The NYMEX winter strip has once again moved toward a fairly bullish streak, although not to the same extent as was seen in mid-September, when its valuation rose above the $2.80 mark from $2.40 a few weeks earlier. This time, the contract strip has strengthened by about 10 cents over the last week, now trading at $2.52 for the season, up from $2.41 this time last week. The summer build-up has come from strong production, exacerbated by recent declines in power burn demand, according to data by S&P Global Platts Analytics. Those factors are likely to keep injections strong through October, until residential and commercial demand ramps up in November. Fundamentals for the week in progress effectively unwind the nearly 2 Bcf/d widening seen during the week ended October 11. Overall balances moved 2.3 Bcf/d tighter, mainly on stronger residential and commercial demand. Upstream, total supplies are up 0.4 Bcf/d to average 95.1 Bcf/d, mostly on stronger onshore and offshore production, but gains are being slightly pared down by a continued decrease in net Canadian imports. A forecast by Platts Analytics supply and demand model has storage volumes increasing by 85 Bcf for the week in progress, which would increase the surplus to the five-year average to 26 Bcf with several net injections remaining before the flip to heating season.

US Natural Gas Inventories Beat Five-Year Average - Working natural gas inventories in the Lower 48 states totaled 3,519 billion cubic feet (Bcf) for the week ending Oct. 11, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) latest Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report (WNGSR). It’s the first week that Lower 48 states’ working gas inventories have surpassed the previous five-year average since Sept. 22, 2017. Weekly injections in three of the past four weeks all were higher than 100 Bcf, or 27 percent more than usual injections for that time of year. This week’s inventory level ends a 106-week streak of lower-than-normal natural gas inventories. Inventories in the Lower 48 started the winter of 2017–18 lower than the previous average. Cold temperatures during the winter of 2017–18—including a cyclone—prompted record storage withdrawals, spiking the deficit to the five-year average. In the subsequent refill season (usually April through October), warmer-than-normal temperatures grew electricity demand for natural gas. According to the EIA, increased demand slowed natural gas storage injection activity through the summer and fall of 2018. By Nov. 30, 2018, the deficit to the five-year average had ballooned to 725 Bcf. According to the EIA, for this week in 2019, the preceding five-year average is 124 Bcf lower than it was for the same week last year. As a result, the gap has closed partially based on a lower five-year average. 

NY utility pushing pipeline says it will connect customers (AP) -- National Grid says it'll immediately begin connecting over 1,100 customers denied service after New York rejected an application for a new pipeline. The Public Service Commission order on Friday calls on the company to connect those customers. The commission's chair says the law requires utilities to provide gas service without delay when there's sufficient supply. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the pipeline wouldn't be in service until at least next year. A National Grid spokesperson said Friday the utility will connect applicants identified in the order but said it's seeking solutions for the region's "very real gas supply constraints." National Grid is the region's second utility to impose a gas hookup moratorium citing limited pipeline capacity. The nearly $1 billion pipeline would bring natural gas from Pennsylvania's shale gas fields.

National Grid gas shortage warning questioned by pipeline critics Critics of a proposed $1 billion natural gas pipeline are using National Grid testimony and documents to rebut company warnings of gas shortages that are at the core of a moratorium on new gas hookups. A coalition of pipeline opponents made up of activist and green energy groups point to three recently canceled gas supply contracts for the existing Iroquois pipeline in Northport to argue that National Grid has "severely mismanaged or spectacularly misrepresented its gas supply." The coalition suggested the company manipulated the shortage by eliminating "one of Long Island's chief sources of gas." National Grid said it canceled the contracts for financial reasons, and denied the moves caused the downstate shortage. “We believe the Northeast Supply Enhancement Project is the most cost effective and environmentally sound heating supply option available for our customers to heat their homes and run their businesses,” National Grid spokeswoman Karen Young said. The 24-mile gas project would start in New Jersey and connect with existing infrastructure at sea beyond the Rockaways. National Grid gas customers on Long Island and the Rockaways this month received warnings in their monthly bills urging them to “call us before remodeling.” The insert says customers looking to “expand” gas service as part of home renovations should not expect to heat the new spaces with gas.

Columbia Gas vows to meet Friday deadline   — With the threat of $1 million fines — per violation — hanging over them, Columbia Gas on Monday announced its plan to check 713 natural gas service lines throughout the Merrimack Valley by Friday as required by the state utility regulator.On Oct. 1, the Department of Public Utilities ordered the gas company to check gas meters that had been moved from inside homes and businesses to the exterior of buildings.When that switch was made, the company was supposed to have completed certain steps when abandoning old meters and the old services line that led into local buildings. The DPU ordered 713 lines to be checked by Friday and another 2,200 sites to be examined and stabilized by Nov. 15. The company has until Friday to check the 713 sites. Most — 417 — are in Lawrence, while there are 176 in Andover and 120 in North Andover. Any of the work not done after that will subject the company to $1 million fines per violation.  According to a statement issued by Columbia Gas on Monday, “none of the 2,200 abandoned service lines that will be verified are connected to the active gas system. While Columbia Gas is not aware of any immediate safety concerns associated with these service lines, the company will continue to conduct continuous leak surveillance and remediation throughout the area.” The check of nearly 3,000 service lines follows a rebuild of the gas system in the wake of the 2018 gas disaster.After that crisis, which resulted from overpressurized gas lines, thousands of gas appliances were damaged and underground pipes throughout the region had to be replaced. The situation worsened on Sept. 27, when a massive gas leak erupted in South Lawrence, at the intersection of South Broadway and Salem Street. It caused evacuations, business closures and anxiety among the people affected, all of whom had also been traumatized by the 2018 gas disaster.

NATURAL GAS STORAGE Actions Needed to Assess Inspection Workload and Progress toward Safety Outcomes (pdf) GAO - In 2018, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) set a goal for its natural gas storage inspection program to inspect all approximately 400 natural gas storage sites within 5 years, according to agency officials. PHMSA expected that all 25 eligible states would help inspect sites, but only 10 states agreed to partner with the agency. As a result, the agency’s inspection workload increased by almost 60 percent from when it set its goal, according to PHMSA data. Because of the increase in its inspection workload over its preliminary estimate, PHMSA does not have assurance that it has enough resources to meet its inspection goal. Furthermore, PHMSA has not used a workforce analysis to inform its budget requests. PHMSA officials said that the agency does not expect to have enough data until 2022 or 2023 to further inform analysis of its workforce. By analyzing factors affecting states’ willingness to partner with PHMSA and its workforce needs on an ongoing basis, the agency would have better assurance that it has the staff it needs to meet its inspection goal. Health effects have been reported related to chemicals that may be found in stored natural gas. Several federal agencies—including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry —have documented potential health effects of chemicals that may be found in stored natural gas. In addition, some chemicals may be added to natural gas, such as sulfur odorants that give natural gas a distinct smell in case of leaks. The combination of such chemicals varies from one natural gas storage site to another, based on the attributes of that site such as its geologic type and the extent to which sulfur odorants are added to the natural gas before storage. Many of these chemicals have been linked to adverse health effects. However, research is limited on the health effects of exposure to stored natural gas in general and on the effects in particular from exposure to chemicals that may occur in natural gas storage leaks or be present at the storage sites. Reports linking health effects are available on specific chemicals but not in the context of natural gas storage, based on GAO’s literature review

Michigan AG focuses on clean energy, ratepayer support in shift for office --Dana Nessel is taking “a step up from previous attorneys general” on energy-related issues, one observer says. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is on a mission to protect the Great Lakes from pollution and advocate on behalf of consumers against corporate interests. The energy sector provides her a venue to do both. In her first nine months in office, Nessel has emerged as an outspoken supporter of residential utility customers, clean energy, climate change action and — perhaps most noticeably — shutting down the Line 5 pipeline in the Great Lakes. As Nessel clashes with utilities and pipeline company Enbridge, though, critics say she is overstepping her authority and sending the wrong signals to the state’s business community through a politically driven agenda. She’s accused of being “reckless” on the Line 5 issue, and blustering when it comes to fighting with the state’s largest utilities over rate increases. Nessel, a Democrat, follows 16 years of Republican control of the department. Her supporters say she is a relief, both politically and in policy substance, with her vocal support of ratepayers and clean energy. “I think this office does have the ability to help frame some of those arguments and decisions down the road,” Nessel said of climate and clean energy advocacy during a recent extended interview with the Energy News Network. “I have a hard time thinking that I have this limited opportunity to be sitting in this seat and not have worked real hard to do something to prevent catastrophic impacts to our state in years to come.”

Natural gas price fixing case headed to trial; billions sought for Wisconsin businesses, institutions - After a 13-year legal battle that has been to the U.S. Supreme Court and back, Wisconsin customers who overpaid millions of dollars for natural gas nearly two decades ago are about to get their day in court. During the energy crisis of the early 2000s, natural gas prices soared as a result of what federal authorities determined was price manipulation. As a result, Wisconsin businesses, governments and other organizations that bought gas on the open market overpaid by more than $100 million. Eight organizations are seeking to recover triple the overpayment or the entire cost of the purchases, which could be as high as $2 billion, as part of a class-action suit that attorney Bob Gegios said could benefit the entire state. “It’s our view that there’s been a very significant harm in Wisconsin,” Gegios said, noting the money could have been used to pay salaries, fund research and expansion, build schools and roads or lower taxes. Deregulation in the 1990s had allowed large consumers to buy fuel directly from interstate pipelines and other wholesalers. To determine fair market value, customers relied on privately published price indexes based on information reported by natural gas traders. In 2003, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found the traders were reporting bogus data to inflate the price indexes. In some cases, this involved “wash trades,” agreements between two parties to sell something back and forth at the same price that don’t result in any change of ownership. In other cases, trades were simply fabricated.Eight Wisconsin companies — including Briggs & Stratton, Sargento Foods, the printing company Arandell, and Carthage College — sued 11 energy providers in 2006, seeking to recover damages on behalf of all the state’s customers who purchased fuel during the price fixing era.

Q&A: Michigan AG on her office’s shifting course on Line 5, climate advocacy --Critics of Attorney General Dana Nessel downplay her focus on ratepayer advocacy and say her motivations on clean energy issues are politically driven. Advocates say she is giving a powerful voice to those long ignored by Republicans.Either way, Nessel has undoubtedly shifted the course of Michigan’s Department of Attorney General during her nine months in office. She has taken legal action to shut down the Line 5 pipeline and has intervened in national clean energy-related lawsuits, most recently backing California’s stricter fuel economy standards for cars.Nessel is among a cohort of state attorneys general that use their office to promote clean energy, according to a recent report by the New York University School of Law. Nessel has joined 22 other attorneys general in a lawsuit against the federal government’s rollback of vehicle emission standards, as well as challenging the Trump administration’s Affordable Clean Energy rule. She has withdrawn the state from lawsuits — joined by former Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette — involving the Clean Power Plan and ExxonMobil’s climate change disclosures.Nessel says she is driven to act on climate change in the relatively short amount of time she’ll be able to serve as attorney general, and that she has a constitutional duty to protect the Great Lakes. Nessel recently spoke with the Energy News Network for an extended interview about advocating climate change issues, the case for shutting down Line 5, and being an outspoken supporter for residential utility customers. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

US Supreme Court lets stand FERC rates for Transco gas pipeline expansions — The North Carolina Utilities Commission failed to get the US Supreme Court's help in its drive to challenge Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line's interstate natural gas pipeline expansions on the grounds that the projects negatively affected North Carolina. NCUC, in multiple pipeline dockets, has questioned whether the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's approach considers whether pipeline returns reflect market conditions and produce recourse rates that serve their intended purpose of providing a check on a pipeline's market power in reaching negotiated rates with project shippers. But the state regulators lost on the question of their standing to make the challenge in the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, when they sought to overturn FERC orders authorizing three Transco projects approved in February 2017. The projects at issue were the 1.7 Bcf/d Atlantic Sunrise expansion, the 448 MMcf/d Dalton expansion and the 250 MMcf/d Virginia Southside II expansion. Already in service, all three are part of Transco's effort to expand its mainline system, which overlaps key eastern US market areas where both supply and demand is growing fastest. Atlantic Sunrise was a predominantly producer-backed expansion designed to help unlock production from the prolific northeastern Pennsylvania producing area and send it to markets farther south. Dalton and Virginia Southside were primarily demand-pull projects aimed at bringing more low-cost supplies into growing demand markets in the Southeast and mid-Atlantic. After FERC approvals, the NCUC, joined by intervenor New York State Public Service Commission, asked the DC Circuit to set aside the FERC orders on the ground that the recourse rate FERC used relied on an outdated and inflated pre-tax return. The DC Circuit, in an unpublished judgment April 3, found that the state commissions lacked standing because they failed to provide sufficient evidence to establish injury in fact (North Carolina Utilities Commission v. FERC,18-1018). For instance, the court found neither party had shown a substantial probability that capacity from Atlantic Sunrise would flow into their respective states. The Supreme Court Tuesday declined to review that judgment on standing.

Dominion pipeline company in hot water for creek pollution - Since acquiring one of South Carolina’s major power companies this year, Dominion Energy has worked to improve the negative image SCE&G had developed for high electricity bills and a failed nuclear project. But Dominion, a Virginia-headquartered energy giant, recently had to explain why the company’s pipeline division broke South Carolina’s pollution control law when it let muddy, sediment-filled water run into a creek and an Upstate river that thousands of people rely on for drinking water. After months of investigation, state regulators have fined Dominion $4,200 for letting sediment run off a pipeline project the company was building in the Upstate. State regulators say the company illegally discharged sediment along the natural gas pipeline’s 55-mile long route between Spartanburg and Lake Greenwood. The sediment runoff was so significant that a Department of Health and Environmental Control spokesman said the pollution contributed to troubles at an Upstate water utility. At one point, the Woodruff Roebuck Water District had to buy water from another utility because sediment was clogging a river intake pipe near Spartanburg. Not everyone thinks the fine is stiff enough for a multi-billion dollar corporation, questioning whether it will do anything to make the company obey environmental laws.

 Fugro completes deepwater AUV surveys for Shell in US Gulf of Mexico - Fugro has completed several high-resolution geophysical surveys in the US Gulf of Mexico for Shell International Exploration and Production Company. The project required data collection over multiple deepwater lease blocks in the greater Perdido and Mars development areas to support clearance of potential environmental, engineering, geological and archaeological hazards ahead of planned drilling activities. As the preferred contractor for this project, Fugro deployed a Hugin autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) from its purpose-built survey vessel, the Fugro Brasilis. The Hugin AUV is depth-rated to 3000 m and equipped with multibeam echosounder, side scan sonar and sub-bottom profiling sensors. As such, Fugro was able to acquire critical seabed information over the project area safely and efficiently, despite the challenging water depths. Fugro also used a mix of onboard and in-house processing resources to meet an accelerated interpretation and reporting schedule.

U.S. Federal Gulf of Mexico crude oil production to continue to set records through 2020 - U.S. crude oil production in the U.S. Federal Gulf of Mexico (GOM) averaged 1.8 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2018, setting a new annual record. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects oil production in the GOM to set new production records in 2019 and in 2020, even after accounting for shut-ins related to Hurricane Barry in July 2019 and including forecasted adjustments for hurricane-related shut-ins for the remainder of 2019 and for 2020. Based on EIA’s latest Short-Term Energy Outlook’s (STEO) expected production levels at new and existing fields, annual crude oil production in the GOM will increase to an average of 1.9 million b/d in 2019 and 2.0 million b/d in 2020. However, even with this level of growth, projected GOM crude oil production will account for a smaller share of the U.S. total. EIA expects the GOM to account for 15% of total U.S. crude oil production in 2019 and in 2020, compared with 23% of total U.S. crude oil production in 2011, as onshore production growth continues to outpace offshore production growth.In 2019, crude oil production in the GOM fell from 1.9 million b/d in June to 1.6 million b/d in July because some production platforms were evacuated in anticipation of Hurricane Barry. This disruption was resolved relatively quickly, and no disruptions caused by Hurricane Barry remain. Although final data are not yet available, EIA estimates GOM crude oil production reached 2.0 million b/d in August 2019. Producers expect eight new projects to come online in 2019 and four more in 2020. EIA expects these projects to contribute about 44,000 b/d in 2019 and about 190,000 b/d in 2020 as projects ramp up production. Uncertainties in oil markets affect long-term planning and operations in the GOM, and the timelines of future projects may change accordingly.

Five million gallons spilled from Equinor oil facility --MORE than 100,000 barrels of oil - five million gallons - was spilled at the Equinor South Riding Point facility in East Grand Bahama during Hurricane Dorian, Environment Minister Romauld Ferreira said yesterday. To date, more than 35,000 barrels of oil have been recovered from the site. Speaking in the House of Assembly, Mr Ferreira said four thousand acres of forest have been surveyed and 175 acres have been confirmed as affected in some way by crude oil. "The final determination was 119,000 barrels of oil that was spilled during the passage of Hurricane Dorian. Everybody is aware the roof of the storage tanks blew off. Between wind, rain and tidal surge, oil spread out into the forest to the north and to the containment areas." Meanwhile, environment watchdog groups said the oil spill has contaminated water in critical wetland habitats, including an area more than one mile away from the spill. This is according to Waterkeepers Bahamas, Save the Bays, and Waterkeeper Alliance.The groups noted in a joint statement that they tested water samples at five locations near the Equinor spill site and sent 54 individual water samples to an environmental chemist to a certified water testing lab in Wilmington, NC. The water samples analysis displayed distinct petroleum components. The sample profile is distinct and consistent with the makeup of heavy-grade fuel oil, which is not supposed to be there, he noted. The press statement read: "The affected wetlands provide a vital ocean buffer for Grand Bahama, as well as habitat for migratory birds, such as the West Indian woodpecker and red-legged thrush. The wetland also provides a critical cleansing mechanism for the island's scarce groundwater.

Big U.S. liquefied natgas players move fast; smaller ones try to keep up - (Reuters) - A gap is emerging in the U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry as big players such as Exxon Mobil Corp and Cheniere Energy Inc race ahead to build export terminals with fewer long-term contracts, while smaller developers struggle to find financing for their first plants. LNG trade has traditionally been underpinned by long-term purchasing deals which finance multi-billion dollar terminals that liquefy natural gas by chilling it to -260 degrees Fahrenheit (-160 Celsius), load it onto ships, and regasify it when delivered. This is changing. As the market grows and pricing mechanisms diversify, some buyers do not want to commit to 20-year contracts. The growing prowess of oil majors such as Exxon and recent entrants such as Cheniere and trading houses means there are aggregators that can supply buyers more flexibly, making it harder for smaller players. “The industry is moving away from long-term agreements to justify construction of a new facility to a true commodity business,” said Charif Souki, co-founder and Chairman of Tellurian Inc (TELL.O). Dozens of LNG export terminals are being planned in the United States with a total capacity exceeding 300 million tonnes per annum (mtpa). That is equal to the world’s entire consumption of LNG last year. Globally, LNG demand is expected to rise 26% by 2024, far short of such an increase in export capacity, analysts said. “I’m not going to pick a winner or loser here, but I don’t think there is enough support for all of these projects by any means,” said Rich Redash, head of global gas planning, at S&P Global Platts Analytics. Tellurian has been seeking investors for its 27-mtpa Driftwood export terminal in Louisiana. Instead of trying to line up long-term purchase agreements, it offers customers the opportunity to invest in the company’s gas production, pipelines and liquefaction. The company has delayed the start of construction to early next year from a previous target of the first half of this year, according to company presentations.  By contrast, Exxon and Qatar Petroleum decided this year to move ahead with their 15-mtpa Golden Pass project in Texas without substantial long-term agreements, while Cheniere is adding a sixth liquefaction train at its Sabine Pass terminal in Louisiana, initially supported by fewer long-term contracts than in the past.

Small Ships Next Big Thing for $150B LNG Market - Fifty-five years after the first commercial LNG tanker sailed from Algeria, this segment of the gas industry is pushing into ever more niche markets, upending the economics of energy supply in the process. Its next leap forward will be serving customers whose ports or budgets are too small to handle regular LNG tankers. Known as small-scale LNG, the idea is to make the fuel chilled to minus 160-degrees Celsius (256 Fahrenheit) accessible to factories, trucks, ships and even households. That’s set to spur production capacity growth of 58% over the next five years, more than double the pace of the industry in total. “We are just at the end of the beginning,” said Andrew Pickering, the chief executive officer of Avenir LNG Ltd. a London-based supplier set up less than a year ago to focus on the small end of the business. “Let the established players continue to develop large scale and see how we can connect the two.” LNG already is the quickest growing part of the fossil fuel industry as customers switch away from more polluting forms of energy like coal. The super-chilled fuel is helping reduce smog in cities, it’s bringing affordable energy to isolated markets and even become a bargaining chip in U.S. trade talks. The International Gas Union classifies a small-scale LNG vessel as one with capacity under 30,000 cubic meters. That’s about 1/7th of the biggest tankers from Qatar, the worlds’ biggest LNG producer. The traditional ships helped create a global trade in the fuel, building an alternative for utilities and industrial customers to gas that arrives by pipeline. Smaller tankers can help LNG reach a growing number of buyers that only need a fraction of the cargo that a regular tanker can carry. Gas burns more cleanly than coal, giving it less prominence in the debate about how to rein in climate change. Nations from China to the U.S. are investing in LNG as an alternative that allows the flexibility that doesn’t come with billion-dollar pipelines that link customers directly to often distant production fields. With an LNG terminal, customers can take shipments from any of the countries that produce the fuel -- a group as far flung as Australia, the U.S., Algeria, Angola, Qatar and Russia. As new LNG production plants come online, market players are searching for where to place the increasing supply and finding small customers can absorb great volumes.

Permian Serves As Oil Market Shock Absorber - For the oil market, the Permian Basin acts like a shock absorber. That is a key takeaway from a new report from Austin, Texas-based oil and gas software-as-a-service (SaaS) and data analytics firm Enervus. The report examines geopolitical and domestic impacts affecting the oil, natural gas, and natural gas liquids (NGL) markets. “Global incidents like the attack on Saudi oil facilities that used to send lasting ripples across the world and disproportionately harm the United States are now being dismissed,” Bernadette Johnson, vice president of strategic analytics at Enervus, said in a written statement emailed to Rigzone. “What used to trigger a major buy or sell in crude oil, or cause prices at the pump to skyrocket, are being shrugged off by the markets in a day.” Johnson pointed out that markets have abundant U.S. supplies – primarily from the Permian Basin – to thank. “Absorbing most of that impact is the Permian Basin, which has since jumped to 40 percent of total U.S. oil production, but capacity and bottlenecks continue to be a major problem there,” said Johnson. “The good news is relief is on its way with several planned pipelines expected to come online soon.” Beyond last month’s disruption in Saudi production, steep declines in crude output from Iran and Venezuela have failed to present physical oil markets from being well-supplied, Enervus also noted. “Preliminary data imply global petroleum stocks drew in the third quarter and stocks are expected to draw again in the fourth, but large supply/demand imbalances are in our outlook for early 2020 as total petroleum demand continues to soften and non-OPEC production ramps up further,” the firm stated. In fact, despite the ostensible slowdown in U.S. tight oil production, Enervus contends that production growth in Brazil and Norway will augment U.S. supplies and drive non-OPEC crude and condensate growth to 2 million barrels per day in 2020.

U.S. oil and gas jobs fall as drilling declines: Kemp - (Reuters) - U.S. oil and gas employment has started to fall as the sector contracts in response to lower prices over the last year – and further job losses are likely in the next few months as the rate of well drilling declines further. In 2017/18, the second shale-oil boom created almost 100,000 new high-paying jobs in oil and gas drilling as well as associated services such as site preparation, cementing, casing and pressure-pumping. Employment gains in the oil and gas sector also helped support tens of thousands more jobs along the supply chain including trucking, accommodation, retail and leisure services. The impact was felt intensively in some local areas – especially those overlaying the oil- and gas-rich Permian Basin in western Texas and eastern New Mexico. Non-farm employment in the Midland metropolitan area at the heart of the Permian in Texas surged at an annual rate of 15% in the first nine months of 2018, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows. Non-farm jobs in the Odessa metro area, another Permian boom town, were up more than 10% in the first three quarters of 2018 compared with a year earlier (“Current employment statistics”, BLS, Oct. 4). But the persistent slump in oil prices since the start of October 2018 has brought job creation to a halt and replaced it with a gradual but steady trickle of layoffs (  Nationwide, the number of jobs at companies providing support services to the oil and gas industry, including site preparation and construction, has fallen progressively over the last year. Employment in oil and gas support activities, subsector 213112 in the North American Industry Classification System, had fallen by 14,000 or 5% between its cyclical peak in October 2018 and August 2019. Job losses have coincided with the downturn in activity shown in weekly drilling reports from oilfield services company Baker Hughes, but more job losses could still be on the way. Since November 2018, the number of rigs drilling for oil has fallen by 176 (20%) and for gas by 51 (26%), according to Baker Hughes. Job losses have been much smaller, so far. Oilfield services companies have kept busy completing the large inventory of oil and gas wells inherited from 2018 and putting them into production. Delayed completions of wells originally drilled in the second half of 2018 and early 2019 have largely sustained oilfield employment and ensured oil and gas output continues rising.

The Single Biggest Threat To U.S. Oil Jobs - When earlier this year Whiting Petroleum announced it would cut a third of its workforce, the news did not make a huge splash as it was lost among other cost-cutting efforts in the industry.But when earlier this month Halliburton said it was cutting 650 jobs, the signal became clearer: the U.S. shale boom is slowing and businesses are preparing for a bad-case scenario where the slowdown extends.Indeed, the U.S. oil and gas industry is bleeding jobs. Reuters’ John Kemp reports, citing official data, that the oil and gas support segment had shed 14,000 jobs between October last year and August this year. That’s a 5-percent decline and while it might not be worrying in itself, combined with other data from the industry, it does suggest a slowdown is in motion.New drilling rig additions between September 2018 and August 2019, Kemp wrote, fell by as much as 20 percent, or 176, according to data from Baker Hughes. Part of that may be better drilling efficiency, of course, but there is also the issue of drilled but uncompleted wells, or DUCs, that the EIA includes in its production forecasts as they can be completed and out into production relatively quickly.These forecasts, according to industry insiders, could be misleading precisely because of the DUCs. In an energy industry survey by the Federal Reserve of Dallas, half of the respondents from the oil industry said the EIA had been overestimating the number of drilled but uncompleted wells in the Permian. What’s more, a quarter of these respondents said the overestimation was significant, S&P Global Platts reported in late September. Some oil executives blamed this on the loose definition of a DUC. Kemp, for his part, notes the slowdown in completions as well. Earlier this year, he wrote, completions of wells drilled last year kept the ball rolling and production growing. Yet recently the number of completions has started falling as has the number of DUCs, which declined by 11 percent between January and August.

'Broken system' starves U.S. oil boom of immigrant workers  (Reuters) - New Mexico oil man Johnny Vega laid out his predicament as his crew hoisted pipes from a well during the biggest oil boom in U.S. history.  The son of a Mexican guestworker, Vega cannot find enough legal workers to meet demand for his oil well service rigs. There is no shortage of Hispanic and Latino immigrant workers without work permits he could hire in Lea County, New Mexico - the No.2 oil-producing county in the United States. But Vega says he wants to play by the rules, not least because of a heightened risk of company audits by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under President Donald Trump. As a result, he has equipment that could be generating $700,000 a month standing idle in his yard. “They’re demanding more rigs, more swabbing units, but you don’t have enough employees,” said Vega, who runs Mico Services with around $17 million in annual revenues. “It’s a lack of a system to get legal workers, to have more of a workforce to pull from.” Employers like Vega in the Permian Basin oilfields of New Mexico and Texas say they feel caught between Trump’s support for their industry and his policies focused on tougher immigration enforcement. It’s a dilemma faced in other sectors of the U.S. economy that depend on foreign workers after ICE reported surges of between 300% to 750% in worksite investigations, audits and arrests in fiscal year 2018. Visas for temporary jobs in sectors like agriculture and hospitality have increased during the Trump administration. Oil companies complain of difficulties gaining work permits for immigrant oil workers, who do not qualify for these temporary visas. The Permian Basin, by far the most productive oil field in the United States, has helped make the country a net exporter of oil. Its output growth has recently slowed, but production is still at all time highs. The number of rigs drilling for oil in New Mexico hit a record 115 in early October and labor shortages are felt most keenly in service companies like Vega’s that help keep the oil flowing. The Permian Basin is short 15,000 workers, with demand met by paying overtime and shipping workers in and out, according to data from the Permian Strategic Partnership alliance of 19 energy companies. Thousands of immigrants, mainly from neighboring Mexico, have thronged to the decade-long boom. They often fill the hardest and most dangerous jobs few Americans want, such as using heavy equipment to lift oil well tubing or lay pipeline. For Bob Reid, immigrants provide a solution to labor shortages and a chance for boom-bust oil towns like Hobbs, New Mexico to build a more stable future. “The problem is a broken system that’s preventing them from coming in legally in a way that allows them to pursue a path to citizenship,”

New study blames some Permian Basin earthquakes on fracking - A new study from the University of Texas at Austin is blaming hydraulic fracturing activity on some earthquakes in the Permian Basin of West Texas. In a study released Tuesday afternoon, scientists with the TexNet Seismic Monitoring Program reported that some earthquakes in Reeves, Pecos and Culberson counties may be caused by hydraulic fracturing, a process of injecting water, sand and chemicals deep underground to unlock and oil natural gas reserves in shale geological formations. Previous studies had blamed the earthquakes in oil-producing regions across the state on saltwater disposal wells, which inject wastewater from drilling, hydraulic fracturing and production activities deep underground.“The research done through this new study in West Texas, using a statistical approach to associate seismicity with oil and gas operations, suggests that some seismicity is more likely related to hydraulic fracturing than saltwater disposal,” Alexandros Savvaidis, a research scientist and manager of the TexNet Seismic Monitoring Program, said in a statement. So far this year, TexNet seismographs have recorded 209 earthquakes across the Lone Star State with the strongest documented as a 3.8-magnitude near Synder on Oct. 1. The number of earthquakes recorded this year have already outpaced the 192 earthquakes recorded by TexNet in 2018. Saltwater disposal wells are regulated by the Railroad Commission of Texas, the state agency that regulates the oil and natural gas industry. Railroad Commission officials adopted stricter regulations for saltwater disposal wells in November 2014. Over the last five years, the agency has received 657 disposal well applications in areas of historic seismicity. Of those proposed projects, 302 permits were issued with special conditions that include reducing maximum daily injection volumes and pressures as well as being required to record volumes and pressures on a daily basis as opposed to monthly. Applications for 91 disposal sites were returned or withdrawn. Another 82 applications were sent to hearing while 25 permits were issued without special conditions and 157 applications are pending technical review.

U.S. oil output from 7 shale plays expected at 8.97 million barrels per day in November: EIA (Reuters) - U.S. oil output from seven major shale formations is expected to rise 58,000 barrels per day in November to a record 8.971 million bpd, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a monthly forecast on Tuesday. The largest formation, the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico, is expected to add 63,000 bpd to 4.547 million bpd, the tenth consecutive increase. Production declines are forecast in the Eagle Ford and Anadarko basins. Even though the number of rigs drilling new wells in the Permian and Bakken has declined since the start of the year, output in both basins has increased as the productivity of those rigs reached record levels. Oil production of new wells per rig has risen in most regions since the start of the year. Separately, U.S. natural gas output was projected to increase to a record 84.0 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) in November. That would be up over 0.3 bcfd over the October forecast, putting production from the big shale basins up for a tenth month in a row even though the number of rigs in each region has declined since the start of the year. Output in the Appalachia region, the biggest U.S. shale gas formation, was set to rise about 0.1 bcfd to a record 33.3 bcfd. The EIA said producers drilled 1,184 wells, the least since February 2018, and completed 1,390 in the biggest shale basins in September, leaving total drilled but uncompleted (DUC) wells down 206 to 7,740, the lowest since November 2018. That was the biggest monthly decline in DUCs on record, according to EIA data going back to December 2013.

Climate change: fracking may be doing more damage than we thought - - As greenhouse gases go, methane gets less attention than carbon dioxide, but it is a key contributor to climate change. Methane doesn’t stay in the atmosphere as long as CO2 and is reabsorbed into terrestrial cycles via chemical reactions within 12 years or so. But while it’s up there, it’s much more potent, trapping heat at roughly 84 times the rate of CO2. Scientists estimate that around 25 percent of current global warming traces to methane.When it comes to reducing CO2 emissions, the chain between cause and effect is frustratingly long and diffuse. Reduced emissions today won’t show up as reduced climate impacts for decades. But with methane, the chain of causation is much shorter and simpler. Reduced emissions have an almost immediate climate impact. It’s a short-term climate lever, and if the countries of the world are going to hold rising temperatures to the United Nations’ target of “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial baseline, they’re going to need all the short-term climate levers they can get. In the real world, though, the news about methane is bad and getting worse. It turns out that a mysterious recent spike in global methane levels that’s putting climate targets at risk may be coming from US oil and gas fracking. If that’s true, it’s bad news, because there’s lots more shale gas development in the pipeline and the Trump administration is expected to release a proposed rule Thursday rolling back regulations on the industry, per the New York Times.   In a new paper released in Biogeosciences, Robert Howarth of Cornell University has proposed two facts he says previous studies have overlooked. First, 63 percent of the total increase in global natural gas production in the 21st century has come from shale gas. And second, shale gas production using modern hydrofracturing techniques tends to produce lighter methane than conventional natural gas drilling. Howarth finds that if the lighter methane of shale gas production is explicitly accounted for, “shale-gas production in North America over the past decade may have contributed more than half of all of the increased [methane] emissions from fossil fuels globally and approximately one-third of the total increased emissions from all sources globally over the past decade.”

  Colorado Fracking Study Shows Toxic Chemicals Up to 2,000 Feet Away From Drilling Sites – Newsweek - Data from a Colorado study finds that people living near oil and gas fracking sites may have heightened risk of nose bleeds, dizziness, headaches and other short-term health effects, according to The Denver Post. Right now, state regulators have set a 500-foot minimum setback distance for residences. Evidence from the study finds that residents living between 500-2,000 feet of fracking sites are exposed to benzene and other chemicals.  Chemicals, like benzene, toluene and ethyltoluenes were found at up to 10 times the recommended levels at a distance of 500 feet from fracking operations. Those levels were still unsafe at distances of 2,000 feet from some oil and gas fracking facilities.It is possible for the chemicals used during the fracking process to enter and contaminate drinking water sources. This water pollution can also occur during if flowback, the release of water used during fracking exiting the well, is not properly contained.Combustion, such as the burnoff of excess natural gas, can pollute the air. Diesel fumes from transport trucks and airborne sand particles can also negatively affect the air quality in fracking areas.While the number of studies concerning the health effects of fracking is limited, the NIH says there are three clear dangers from the process, mostly involving workers at well sites. The sand used in fracking can enter the respiratory system and causes diseases of the lungs. Accidental chemical spills can endanger the health of site workers. High levels of hydrocarbons can be emitted during flowback operations, allowing workers to be exposed to those toxins.

Sand deposit could be 'game-changer' for North Dakota oil industry — A deposit of sand in north-central North Dakota could be a boon to the state's oil industry. The sand — a variety specifically needed in the process of hydraulic fracturing — has been found in McHenry County, roughly 160 miles west of Grand Forks between the towns of Rugby and Minot. Another has been found in Mercer County, northwest of Bismarck. Fred Anderson, a North Dakota Geological Survey geologist, said the sand could be a "game-changer" for the state. “The reduction in cost would be high,” Anderson said. “It’s a huge deal for the state of North Dakota." Asgard Resources, of Williston, has received a permit to dig sand in McHenry County, the auditor’s office there confirmed. Asgard Resources also applied for a permit to excavate sand in Mercer County, the Mercer County auditor’s office said. . Sand, or “proppant,” is used in fracking to hold open the fracture in the rock so oil and gas can flow from the rock formation into the wellbore. The North Dakota Geological Survey began researching whether North Dakota sand could be used for fracking about 10 years ago, and learned it was marginal, Anderson said. The North Dakota “windblown,” or quartz, sand contains minerals, so it typically is not the proppant sand preferred for fracking. If oil companies can use North Dakota sand for fracking, it will mean they no longer must haul it in from other placeS, Anderson said. The change could boost the margin for the companies in western North Dakota. Bakken completions can require about 4,000 to 5,000 tons of sand per well, the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources said. The sand can cost as much as $34 per ton, Anderson said.

Ranch hand beats oil giant in court -- A Harding County ranch hand’s five-year fight against a major oil company ended recently when the company paid him $278,320.   Janvrin sued Continental Resources in 2014 for cutting him out of the trucking business in the Bakken oilfield of North Dakota. A jury awarded Janvrin compensatory and punitive damages at the conclusion of a 2017 trial. Continental Resources lost an appeal of the verdict this past August and decided to pay Janvrin rather than pursue a further appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Janvrin formed J&J Trucking in 2010. The company employed other local ranchers as truck drivers to haul drilling pipes for customers in the booming North Dakota oil industry.  Most of J&J Trucking’s business came from CTAP LLC, an equipment supplier with a location in Bowman, North Dakota. The majority of CTAP’s business came from Continental, an Oklahoma-based, top-10 U.S. oil producer and the largest leaseholder in the Bakken region, according to documents filed in the lawsuit. During a February 2014 blizzard, a Continental Resources pickup that was passing through the Cave Hills area of northwestern South Dakota struck and killed two cattle that belonged to Janvrin’s relatives. A local newspaper, The Nation Center News, subsequently published a story about the oil boom’s role in increased vehicle-livestock collisions, and Janvrin was quoted in the story urging companies in the oil fields to slow down their drivers. A Continental supervisor in the company’s Harding County field office was miffed about the article. He quickly passed it up the Continental chain of command, where it reached someone who contacted CTAP. Four hours after Janvrin’s comments were published in the newspaper, a CTAP official called to tell him that CTAP would no longer do business with J&J Trucking. “One day we were going great guns, and the next day we were completely out of business,” Janvrin recalled.   Janvrin had employed up to 29 people, many of them local ranchers who used the jobs to help pay bills on their ranches. Janvrin said a friend who had worked as a lawyer in Alaska, Tom Melaney, told him Continental’s conduct was illegal. Melaney’s advice led Janvrin to Kenneth Barker, a lawyer in Belle Fourche with experience in oil-industry cases. Barker filed a lawsuit on Janvrin’s behalf in July 2014, and the case was tried Jan. 10-12, 2017, at the federal courthouse in Rapid City. The jury awarded Janvrin his full request for compensatory and punitive damages.

Burgum administration renews push for petrochemical plant - (AP) — Gov. Doug Burgum and his administration are wooing the petrochemical industry to build a multibillion-dollar plant to convert natural gas liquids into plastic or other products, bringing value to the commodity that otherwise is being piped elsewhere or burned off as a byproduct of the state’s soaring oil production.Such a factory is far from a new idea and other proposals that were initially met with much fanfare fizzled. And any proposal continues to face long odds as the state continues to wrestle with flaring, which wastes gas and revenue and emits unnecessary carbon dioxide emissions blamed for global warming. North Dakota’s Commerce Department, at Burgum’s direction, has been trying to lure petrochemical companies to build a plant in the state.Shawn Kessel, the agency’s deputy director, said officials have been in contact with “two dozen” petrochemical companies, and narrowed that to a shorter list.“There is interest but I can’t say who we’re working with,” he said.Burgum said it was “premature” to discuss any proposed projects. He did estimate such a plant would cost about $10 billion to build but would not say whether he favors offering incentives beyond a host of tax breaks already available, including an additional sales tax break for such a project approved earlier this year by the Legislature. Burgum said no company yet has asked the state for any special incentives to set up shop in North Dakota.

Group Claiming to Speak for Rural Democrats is Tied to Fossil Fuel Lobbyists – During her time in the Senate, North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp was one of the most fossil fuel-industry friendly Democrats. She voted to block Congress from enacting a carbon tax, approve the Keystone XL pipeline, and expedite the approval of permits for drilling on public lands. Since being defeated by Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) in 2018, Heitkamp continues to push a pro-fossil fuels agenda. Last week, during an interview recorded at a fossil fuel industry-sponsored conference, she encouraged Democrats and environmental philanthropists to take an all-of the-above approach to climate change and to not abandon fossil fuels.   Heitkamp received more than $633,000 in campaign contributions from PACs and individuals in the oil and gas industry during her two Senate elections, including $49,300 from BP, $49,200 from ConocoPhillips, and $43,300 from Occidental Petroleum, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. In the two-year 2018 cycle, she raised more campaign money from the oil and gas industry than any other incumbent Senate Democrat. In April, Heitkamp donated $750,000 of her leftover campaign funds to start One Country Project, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, formed with ex-Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), that says its mission is to educate Democrats on how to appeal to voters in rural districts. Through polling and talking point memos, One Country Project urges Democrats to move to the right on a range of issues, including climate change. Heitkamp is a member of the organization’s board of directors.  One Country Project’s executive director is Tessa Gould, Heitkamp’s former chief of staff who in March became a partner at Forbes Tate, a lobbying firm that represents clients in the natural gas and utilities industries. And the group’s ties to Forbes Tate go even deeper: Its website is registered to Forbes Tates’ director of operations and development, Elizabeth Gonzalez, according to an investigation by MapLight reporter Andrew Perez, and the two organizations appear to share the same D.C. address. Heitkamp paid Gould $55,000 in leftover campaign funds for “strategic consulting” in the first half of 2019, Federal Election Commission (FEC) records show.  Forbes Tate lobbies for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, a trade group that represents companies in the gas pipeline industry such as Cheniere Energy, The Williams Companies, and Kinder Morgan. It also lobbies for electric utilities that burn oil, gas, and coal. Entergy, which Forbes Tate lobbies for on issues related to energy and water appropriations and the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act, among other things, operates 23 power plants that burn either natural gas, oil, or coal located in several southern states. Entergy also operates two petroleum coke-fired facilities in Louisiana.

California governor signs bill limiting oil, gas development – (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Saturday signed a law intended to counter Trump administration plans to increase oil and gas production on protected public land.The measure bars any California leasing authority from allowing pipelines or other oil and gas infrastructure to be built on state property. It makes it difficult for drilling to occur because federally protected areas are adjacent to state-owned land.The law sends a "clear message to (President Donald) Trump that we will fight to protect these beautiful lands for current and future generations," said Democratic Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, who introduced it.Ann Alexander, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, praised the law and other environmental measures the governor has signed."These bills are important steps toward prioritizing California's communities over the oil industry." Alexander said. "In a perfect California, we wouldn't be producing or using oil at all, and we hope to get there soon. But in the California we live in now, the governor and the legislature have recognized the need to protect our citizens from the threats that the oil industry poses to our health and environment."Also on Saturday, the governor signed several immigration-related bills.  Newsom signed a bill that bans the use of noncriminal information from the state's telecommunications database for immigration enforcement purposes, with some exceptions.

Mysterious fire burned in soil at California gas facility (AP) — A California utility is trying to find the source of a small ground fire at its large natural gas storage facility. A Southern California Gas Co. spokesman said the fire extinguished Tuesday did not appear to come from natural gas stored deep underground at Aliso Canyon outside Los Angeles. Chris Gilbride says the company discovered the flames while evaluating whether a wildfire last week caused damage. No damage or leaks have been reported. The storage area was the sight of the nation’s largest known methane release when a 2015 blowout lasted four months and forced 8,000 families to evacuate. The company will test the soil to find the source of the tiny blaze that burned in sandy soil on a steep hillside. The fire did not affect the company’s operations.

Explosion and Fire At Crockett Oil Refinery Shuts Down I-80 --A couple of 8,000-gallon tanks holding diesel fuel exploded Tuesday afternoon at the NuStar refinery in Crockett, shaking the areas of Rodeo, Hercules, and Pinole and sending thick, toxic black smoke into the air. Dual explosions occurred around 2 p.m., as KPIX reports, and in aerial footage two of the tanks appear to have "collapsed." A tanker driver at the site tells the station she had just arrived and filled out some paperwork when she heard a loud "rumbling" and saw "a bunch of people running." She then drove her truck off the property and "I got to the top of the Cummings Skyway and I could see the tops of two tanks completely engulfed in flames."The trucker, named Michelle, explains that the tanks don't contain oil or gasoline, but renewable diesel.  As the Chronicle reports, I-80 is closed in both directions, from the Willow Avenue exit in Rodeo up to the Carquinez Bridge. A grass fire is burning in the vicinity as well, and crews are trying to keep the rest of the refinery's tanks cool to prevent any further explosions. The two tanks on fire are expected to continue burning for hours.Video from a YouTuber below shows the fire ongoing just after 2 p.m. The fire was burning, as KPIX explains, just "a few hundred feet from Interstate 80 just south of the Cummings Skyway in Crockett."The Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office issued a shelter-in-place order for the area, telling all residents to "Go inside, and close all windows and doors. Turn off all heaters, air conditioners, and fans... [and] Cover any cracks around doors or windows with tape or damp towels."The incident is reminiscent of the August 2012 fire at the larger Chevron refinery in nearby Richmond.

 Massive Fire At Crockett Fuel Facility Contained, Shelter In Place Lifted — An explosion and fire ripped through two fuel storage tanks at a facility in Crockett Tuesday, prompting shelter in place orders and a creating a traffic nightmare after a stretch of a major freeway was closed. The incident began at around 1:50 p.m. with an explosion at a storage tank farm at the NuStar Energy facility, which is nestled in the hills above the 90 block of San Pablo Ave. The fire ignited the vegetation on a hillside bordering the storage tanks. At least one of the tanks at the facility was filled with jet fuel. The shelter-in-place orders for Crockett, Rodeo and parts of Hercules were lifted at 9:45 p.m., the county Department of Public Health announced. The fire created a billowing black plume of smoke that filled the skies for hours in addition to forcing the extended closure of a stretch of Interstate 80 in both directions for much of the day. The busy roadway was reopened around 9:20 p.m., but commuters faced gridlock for hours, especially near Pinole. Cummings Skyway between I-80 and San Pablo Ave will remain closed for the NuStar incident command post throughout the night, Con Fire said. NuStar said in a preliminary statement that all personnel were safe and accounted for, and that the two tanks were holding low volumes of ethanol, less than 1% of tank capacity. Adjacent tanks were being cooled to minimize the risk of the fire spreading, the company said. NuStar also said around 8 p.m. that they are investigating whether Monday night’s 4.5 magnitude earthquake in Pleasant Hill could have contributed to the fire and explosion at the facility. Crocket Fire Chief Dean Colombo said the NuStar facility had been inspected a few months prior to Tuesday’s fire. But the facility does not have its own fire brigade or fire equipment, Colombo said. It does have fixed equipment to cool down tanks on the exterior in the event of a fire. The fire was burning just a few hundred feet from Interstate 80 just south of the Cummings Skyway in Crockett. Aside from I-80, authorities closed a number of roads in the area because of the fire.

Did Pleasant Hill quake trigger fuel tank explosion in Crockett? It’s one possibility - An explosion at an oil storage facility in Crockett on Tuesday afternoon sent a huge fireball into the air in west Contra Costa County, shaking buildings and rattling windows for miles around and igniting a fire that burned for hours. Officials were investigating whether the explosion was triggered by a 4.5 quake that struck Pleasant Hill in the central part of the county 15 hours earlier. “It is one of many things we will be looking at as we work with officials to identify the cause of the fire,” said Mary Rose Brown, a spokeswoman with NuStar Energy, the fuel-storage facility where at least one tank exploded just before 2 p.m.The force of the blast felt like an earthquake, residents who experienced it said. Officials said all workers in the area were accounted for and safe. Minutes after the explosion, emergency sirens activated in the area and officials ordered residents in Crockett and Rodeo to shelter in place due to potentially unhealthy air contaminants. The tiny community of Tormey, adjacent to the explosion site and home to about a dozen to 20 people, was evacuated.

 Earthquake probed as possible cause of California fuel fire (AP) — Officials were trying to determine Wednesday if a 4.5 magnitude earthquake triggered an explosion at a fuel storage facility in the San Francisco Bay Area that started a fire and trapped thousands in their homes for hours because of potentially unhealthy air. The earthquake struck about 15 miles (24 kilometers) southeast from the NuStar Energy fuel storage facility in the Bay Area community of Crockett 15 hours before the Tuesday fire that consumed thousands of gallons (liters) of fuel. Aftershocks in the same area were still being felt Wednesday, including one with a 3.4 magnitude. State and local inspectors were investigating the fire that shut down the facility, which according to the company has 24 tanks capable of holding more than 3 million barrels of different kinds of fuels. The seven-hour blaze erupted in towering, stubborn flames Tuesday afternoon at the facility in Crockett, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) northeast of downtown San Francisco. Emergency sirens blared and a column of thick black smoke that could be seen for miles prompted Contra Costa County public health officials to order people in Crockett, neighboring Rodeo and part of Hercules to stay inside with fans and air conditioners off and to seal their windows and doors with tape or wet towels. The concern was that hazardous particulates might be spewing from the fire. County health officials late Tuesday lifted a shelter in place order affecting about 12,000 people. But at least four schools in the area closed on Wednesday as a precaution. The fire began at about 2 p.m. at the tank farm, one of several refining and fuel storage facilities in the Carquinez Strait, a major shipping thoroughfare and a key oil hub. Video footage of the fire showed flames leading up to an explosion so strong it blew the lid of one of the tanks high into the air. The fire badly damaged or destroyed two tanks containing about 250,000 gallons of ethanol, a gasoline additive. The facility also stores gasoline, diesel and aviation fuels, according to NuStar Energy LP. About 200 firefighters fought the flames with foam and water, trying to prevent it from spreading to other tanks containing jet fuel and ethanol. They would knock down the flames but they kept reigniting in the spilled fuel.

Gov. Gavin Newsom fires top official over fracking permits — but won’t ban the oil wells - Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday defended firing California’s top oil industry regulator for issuing too many hydraulic fracturing permits, but offered no details on whether he plans to ban or limit the oil extraction process in the state.Newsom’s chief of staff fired Ken Harris, the head of the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, on Thursday after revelations that, during the governor’s first six months in office, the state approved fracking permits at twice the rate it did in the year before under former Gov. Jerry Brown.Newsom, who opposes fracking, said he was unaware that so many permits had been issued by the agency, known as DOGGR. The Democratic governor said his administration is still in the process of reshaping California’s executive agencies, adding that he has been consumed with crafting his first state budget, dealing with the aftermath of the Pacific Gas & Electric bankruptcy, and other pressing issues.  “There’s a lot of things that, unfortunately, come to your attention with a government as large as ours,” Newsom told reporters during a morning news conference inside his Capitol office. “I don’t think anyone who was paying attention, including the individual that’s no longer there, is unaware of my position on fracking. I’ve been very explicit about it.” Newsom’s actions follow a report by two environmental and consumer advocacy groups, FracTracker Alliance and Consumer Watchdog, which found that along with the increase in fracking permits, a number of California’s top oil regulators and officials held investments in major oil companies, including Exxon Mobil and Chevron. The findings were first reported by the Desert Sun newspaper. During his campaign for governor, Newsom vowed to “tighten” state oversight of fracking and oil extraction in California, which is the fifth-largest crude oil producer among the nation’s 50 states. When he took office he also promised to accelerate California’s transition to 100% renewable energy. Newsom has not taken action to curtail fracking. On Friday, the governor said he does not have the authority to impose a moratorium on permits for fracking, a process that uses drilling and large volumes of high-pressure water to extract gas and oil deposits.

U.S. shale oil output to rise to record 8.52 million barrels per day in July: EIA -  (Reuters) - U.S. oil output from seven major shale formations is expected to rise by about 70,000 barrels per day (bpd) in July to a record 8.52 million bpd, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in its monthly drilling productivity report on Monday.  The largest change is forecast in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico, where output is expected to climb by 55,000 bpd to a fresh peak at 4.23 million bpd in July. Production in North Dakota and Montana’s Bakken shale basin is also expected to climb by 11,000 bpd to a record 1.44 million bpd, the data showed. Output from the nearby Niobrara basin is expected to rise by 10,000 bpd to a record high of nearly 730,000 bpd. A shale revolution and production increases particularly from the Permian basin and the Bakken have helped make the United States the biggest crude oil producer in the world, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia. However, the EIA has revised lower its total U.S. crude oil production growth forecast. It said last week in a monthly report that output will rise 1.36 million bpd to 12.32 million bpd in 2019, 140,000 bpd less than previously forecast. That will top the current all-time high of 10.96 million bpd set in 2018. The rig count, an early indicator of future output, has declined over the past six months as independent exploration and production companies cut spending on new drilling as they focus more on earnings growth instead of increased output. More than half the total U.S. oil rigs are in the Permian basin, the biggest U.S. shale oil play, where active units decreased by five last week to 441, the lowest since March 2018, according to data from General Electric Co’s Baker Hughes energy services firm. The EIA said in Monday’s report that producers drilled 1,318 oil and gas wells, the least since April 2018, and completed 1,395 in the biggest shale basins in May, leaving total drilled but uncompleted wells down 77 at 8,283, according to data going back to December 2013. That was the biggest decline in drilled but uncompleted wells since March 2018 when they fell by 107.

Shale Wells 'Riding the Edge' of Profitability at Present Prices -- U.S. shale oil plays are “riding the edge of profitability” at current prices and the industry faces a significant slowdown in fracking activity if crude falls below $50 a barrel for a sustained period, according to BloombergNEF. The majority of American shale wells make money based on the $51.45 average futures price, or “strip,” for West Texas Intermediate crude over the next two years, BNEF analyst Tai Liu said in a report Thursday. But he added that the historical floor price for U.S. oil of $45, which in the past has been based on so-called half-cycle drilling costs, is likely to rise to $50 as investors use different metrics. “These firms are now being judged by their ability to generate free cash flow,” BNEF said of drilling companies. “Free cash flow sets a higher bar than half-cycle costs from a break-even perspective.“

America’s Great Shale Oil Boom Is Nearly Over -- America’s second shale boom is running out of steam. But don’t panic just yet, a third one may be coming over the horizon. The U.S. Energy Information Administration published its latest short-term energy outlook last week and has cut its forecast of oil production by the end of 2020 for the fourth straight month. It now expects American output to rise by just 370,000 barrels a day over the course of next year. That will be the slowest growth in four years and is yet another indicator that the latest period of rapid shale expansion is faltering. The number of rigs drilling for oil in the U.S. has fallen in each of the last 10 months, dropping by a total of 20% since November. And productivity gains are waning. Drilling in the Permian, the most prolific of the shale basins, fell by 11% in the nine months to August, according to the EIA. The development of the U.S. shale patch is a bit like that of a person. During the first growth spurt in the four years to 2014 the industry was in the toddler phase. Everything was new and exciting, the toddlers stuck their fingers (or in this case their drill bits) into everything, just to see what would happen, and they pushed the boundaries in every direction. The toddler developed quickly, but the outside world taught it a hard lesson with a crash in the oil price in 2014. The second boom from 2016 has been more like the adolescent phase. After picking themselves up and learning to live in their changed world, the young adults developed their muscles and concentrated only on the things that interested them (the sweet spots in the shale deposits) to the exclusion of everything else. This focus has brought bigger output gains than the first boom. In the three years between December 2016 and December 2019 output is expected to have increased by 4.2 million barrels a day, compared with 3.9 million barrels a day between December 2010 and December 2014. The biggest challenges of the second shale boom have been identifying and exploiting those sweet spots, consolidating acreage to enable the use of longer wells, and building infrastructure to move the gas and liquids to markets (including overseas). But with a WTI oil price of about $50 a barrel, some in the shale patch are struggling. Shale companies are being forced to produce more to service their high debts, but they aren’t making any surplus profit to cut their borrowing or pay shareholders. Now those investors are starting to demand more of a return. With the crude price seemingly stuck close to where it is — despite the tensions in the Persian Gulf region which flared up again on Friday — the next round of discussions between the shale producers and their lenders could be difficult.

Warren's Fracking Proposal Has Shale Investors Weighing Risks - The prospect of Elizabeth Warren becoming the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, or the 46th president of the U.S., has energy investors worrying about risks to hydraulic fracturing. “What happens if Elizabeth Warren becomes president and bans fraccing?” was the most common question Sanford C. Bernstein received during recent marketing, analysts led by Bob Brackett said in note Tuesday. They don’t currently have a good answer. Concern on Wall Street has been rising along with Warren’s poll numbers, with sectors such as financials, health care and industrials as well as energy identified among those at risk from her policy proposals. In early September, Warren tweeted that she would ban fracking “everywhere” if she becomes president. The former part of Warren’s plan would have a modest longer-term impact given the “mature state” of areas such as onshore Alaska or the federal Gulf of Mexico, according to Bernstein. However, a fracking ban would offer “much more immediate consequences,” and be “incredibly bullish for both global oil prices and U.S. natural gas prices.” Federal leasing changes could have the most impact on shale drillers such as EOG Resources Inc. and Devon Energy Corp., Brackett said. Kosmos Energy, Hess Corp., Apache Corp. and ConocoPhillips may have little to worry about from a fracking ban, however. Still, any impact from a Warren win may be short-lived. “We have a government with checks and balances,” Brackett noted, pointing to processes which have caused executive orders to be moderated. He also highlighted the ability of E&Ps to re-allocate capital to mitigate effects. And, as RBC Capital Markets wrote earlier this week, most of the sectors seen to be at high risk “are already deeply undervalued versus the broader market.” 

Exclusive: No choice but to invest in oil, Shell CEO says - (Reuters) - Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) still sees abundant opportunity to make money from oil and gas in coming decades even as investors and governments increase pressure on energy companies over climate change, its chief executive said. But in an interview with Reuters, Ben van Beurden expressed concern that some shareholders could abandon the world’s second-largest listed energy company due partly to what he called the “demonisation” of oil and gas and “unjustified” worries that its business model was unsustainable. The 61-year-old Dutch executive in recent years became one of the sector’s most prominent voices advocating action over global warming in the wake of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Shell, which supplies around 3% of the world’s energy, set out in 2017 a plan to halve the intensity of its greenhouse emissions by the middle of the century, based in large part on building one of the world’s biggest power businesses. Still, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from Shell’s operations and the products it sells rose by 2.5% between 2017 and 2018. A defiant van Beurden rejected a rising chorus from climate activists and parts of the investor community to transform radically the 112-year-old Anglo-Dutch company’s traditional business model. “Despite what a lot of activists say, it is entirely legitimate to invest in oil and gas because the world demands it,” van Beurden said. “We have no choice” but to invest in long-life projects, he added.

The Little Canadian Oil Town Ravaged By Big Insolvencies - Fort McMurray, Alberta has officially turned into "the insolvency capital of Canada", according to Bloomberg.  The small oil town's problems are exemplified by the number of people who show up every month at the Wood Buffalo Food Bank. A decade ago, the bank would see about 2,000 people per month, coming by for cans of soup and jars of peanut butter. Now, that number stands closer to 8,000 people per month. Many that come by now are men and women who were "living high before the bust."  The Food Bank's director, Dan Edwards, said: “You never know who’s going to walk through your door. Individuals that have degrees and education and skills—but the jobs just aren’t what they were.”The tiny city of just 75,000 exemplifies the debt problems that are spreading across Canada. As large paychecks and robust overtime have dried up, the bill for many consumers' spending over the last decade has finally come due.  In the Fort McMurray district, consumer insolvency filings were up 39% in 2018, the largest increase in Canada. Claims against property have been up about tenfold in the last three years. The 90 day delinquency rate on non-mortgage loans in the city is up 1.75% in the second quarter, compared to 1.12% nationally. The main driver of the bust has been the five year slump in oil prices, which have halved since 2014. Exacerbating things was a "crippling shortage" of pipelines out of the McMurray Formation, a reserve of crude-laden oil sands. Plans for new lines have been held up in court or by activists, including U.S. activists who have called the oil sands a "carbon bomb". Steve Richardson is a prime example of the area. After working at Suncorp for 5 years, he was let go in May. He had formerly earned 6 figures as a machine operator and would commute from Vancouver, working 14 days on and then 7 days off. Once travel reimbursements stopped, he moved his family closer to the job. But now, he's being forced to cut back across the board - including cutting things like his cable bill. Richardson said: “I spend a lot of time wondering what the next job is going to be. I never got into all the toys. I’m kind of fortunate that way, that I didn’t have to sell everything off like some other people. I’ve seen a lot of that. It’s like a fire sale.”

Journalist warns $260B worth of fracking liabilities could be dumped on taxpayers - Andrew Nikiforuk has dedicated himself to investigating the fracking industry in Canada, particularly in Alberta and British Columbia. Nikiforuk, who spoke in Lacombe on Tuesday as part of Burman University’s Herr Lecture Series, argues the oil and gas fracking industry has created a financial challenge. “It has driven down the price of both oil and gas. And at the same time, the technology is high cost,” Nikiforuk, an investigative journalist who has won seven National Magazine Awards and the Governor General’s award for non-fiction, said of fracking. “Most companies that have gone into fracking are short of cash, highly indebted and barely making a go of it.”Nikiforuk says indebted fracking companies are a problem for municipalities and the province because they don’t pay the taxes they owe, they do not reclaim aging oil and gas wells, and they do not pay their service leases to landowners. This has resulted in more than $260 billion in liabilities for the province of Alberta. “They are a drain on rural communities,” he said. Nikiforuk said that no Alberta government has had a strategy to address the issue. He said the current government has chosen to blame low commodity prices on the federal government and environmental groups.Nikiforuk said it is human nature to find a scapegoat, but believes liabilities will affect everyone.   “Two-hundred-and-sixty billion dollars worth of liabilities is going to be dumped on taxpayers and that should not be happening. “The regulator said that wouldn’t happen. Well, I am sorry, guys — it is happening big time. The regulator didn’t do its job,” he said.

Venezuelan oil output could be halved without Chevron waiver extension: analysts — Venezuelan oil production, already averaging a historic low near 600,000 b/d, could quickly plummet below 300,000 b/d if the Trump administration allows a waiver for Chevron and four US oil services companies to expire next week, analysts told S&P Global Platts. "I think you'd see it go certainly to under 300,000 b/d within a month," said Neil Bhatiya, an associate fellow with the Center for a New American Security. "The question after that is whether and how fast there is backfilling by Chinese, or, more likely, Russian state firms. It will take a while though, so a Chevron-less Venezuela will probably be in the [sub-300,000 b/d] zone for the remainder of the calendar year." At issue is a general license issued by the US Treasury Department on January 28 as the administration unveiled its most punitive sanctions on Venezuela's oil sector. The waiver allowed Chevron, Halliburton, Schlumberger, Baker Hughes, and Weatherford International to continue certain work with PDVSA, Venezuela's state oil company, while those sanctions were in place. The waiver, which was granted a 90-day extension in July, expires on October 25.  Joe McMonigle, an analyst with Hedgeye Risk Management, said that the 90-day extension Treasury granted Chevron and other companies in July was likely the last and only extension for the waiver and served as more of a "wind-down period" for those US companies to prep their departure from Venezuela's oil sector. Chevron "still prefers a waiver and most likely lobbying for it," McMonigle said. "But the reality is, the administration wants to ratchet up pressure and this is one of the few tools left in the toolbox."  Any extension may require National Assembly leader Juan Guaido, who the US recognizes as Venezuela's legitimate president, to provide the administration "political cover" by publicly calling the Chevron extension a necessity for Venezuela's economy,  "If the waiver expires it will certainly have an impact on operations and production for PDVSA,"  Chevron, a presence in Venezuela for nearly a century, currently works with PDVSA on four joint-venture operations in western and eastern Venezuela, including Petropiar in the Orinoco Belt, which produces about 200,000 b/d, including an estimated 40,000 b/d by Chevron and 160,000 b/d by PDVSA. Rosneft or a Chinese company may be willing to operate Petropiar if Chevron's waiver is allowed to expire, which could prevent oil output from falling more than 25,000 b/d to 50,000 b/d in the near term. But Venezuela's current constraint is sales, not production, Monaldi stressed.

Russia Ready To Seize Control Of The World's Largest Oil Reserves - The Venezuelan government is readying to hand over control over state oil company PDVSA to Russia’s Rosneft, a local newspaper has reported, citing sources from the industry.  Russian TASS reports, quoting El Nacional, that the radical move is being discussed as a way of erasing Caracas’ debt to Moscow. The debt is sizeable: at the end of June this year, money owed to Rosneft alone stood at $1.1 billion. That’s down from $1.8 billion at end-March.Two years ago, Caracas and Moscow sealed a deal for the restructuring of another $3.15 billion debt to Russia over 10 years with minimum payments over the first six years. Since 2006, Russian loans to Venezuela have reached more than $17 billion in total.According to the El Nacional report, Moscow had reacted positively to the suggestion, and several commissions had been set up and sent to Venezuela to evaluate the situation at PDVSA. The first feedback from these commissions was reportedly that the company was too large and it needed serious layoffs to become more competitive.Competitiveness remains questionable, however. Most of the U.S. sanctions on Venezuela have targeted precisely PDVSA because of its vital role as the country’s—and the Maduro government’s—cash cow. Rosneft is the subject of U.S. sanctions, too.Rosneft is active in Venezuela in joint projects with PDVSA. However, these activities appear to not be in breach of U.S. sanctions, according to the U.S. Special Envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams. However, Abrams said last month that sanctions may be coming for the Russian company in the future. If the El Nacional report is confirmed, these will likely come sooner rather than later Caracas reportedly wants to hand control over to Rosneft without having to go through privatization. In any case, a change of ownership over PDVSA would need to be approved by the National Assembly, which is controlled by the opposition.

Indigenous Mapuche pay high price for Argentina's fracking dream -- The roar of the burning gas well could be heard almost a mile and a half away, from atop the high plateau where Albino Campo Maripe stood, looking down at the orange flames lapping the earth in the distance. When he was a child, the 60-year-old Mapuche chief used to ride there bareback. Those days are gone for ever. The once-pristine landscape is now dotted with fracking wells and the white patches of land cleared for even more. The panoramic view is nonetheless overpowering. Two crystal-blue lakes, whose far shores blend with the horizon, cling to the edge of an arid and wind-buffeted Martian landscape of red sandstone, rugged promontories and wide beaches. But the image quickly fades to the sight and sound of the fracking well that exploded on 14 September and burned continuously for 24 days, spewing hot gas and other elements into the air from nearly two miles below ground. The raging fire was finally put out on Monday by a team of experts who flew from Houston with 56 tons of special equipment. “This shouldn’t be happening,” Campo Maripe said, “but these are the consequences of fracking.” Fracking accidents happen regularly in Vaca Muerta (Dead Cow in Spanish), one of the world’s largest shale oil and gas reservoirs. In 2018 alone, there were an estimated 934 incidents at 95 wells. There have been leaks from drilling sites, and claims from local people of water pollution and increased ill health affecting them and their livestock. For Argentina’s leaders there is a bigger picture. They believe the shale reservoir can rescue the country from its ongoing economic crises. “This province will transform us into a world power,” the president, Mauricio Macri, said on Tuesday to a crowd of 3,000 people in Neuquén, referring to the nearly 2,000 fracking wells that have been drilled there since the discovery of the deposits was announced in 2011.Neuquén’s indigenous Mapuche people claim Vaca Muerta has brought them not wealth, but discrimination, dispossession and health problems.

How fracking is taking its toll on Argentina's indigenous people – video explainer | Environment | The Guardian - An oil fire burned for more than three weeks next to a freshwater lake in Vaca Muerta, Argentina, one of the world’s largest deposits of shale oil and gas and home to the indigenous Mapuche people. In collaboration with Forensic Architecture, this video looks at the local Mapuche community’s claim that the oil and gas industry has irreversibly damaged their ancestral homeland, and with it their traditional ways of life

Brazil oil spill- 2,000km of northern beaches contaminated (video) Brazil is in the middle of an environmental emergency, with crude oil washing up on once-spotless beaches along the northeast coast.Authorities have launched an enormous clean-up campaign but since the source of the spill cannot yet be found, recovery efforts are painstaking and slow. Al Jazeera's Gabriel Elizondo reports from the northeast State of Alagoas.

 Origin of Oil Killing Brazil's Turtles is Mystery -- More than a month since oil started washing up on some of Brazil’s most touristic beaches, dotting sand with black patches, killing sea turtles and scaring off fishermen, the origin of the crude is still a mystery. “We don’t know the oil’s origin, where it came from or how it got here,” Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque said at an offshore exploration auction in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday. The crude probably leaked from a ship in the ocean, he ventured, adding that it has characteristics similar to Venezuelan heavy crude -- which doesn’t mean it comes from there. Venezuela’s state oil company categorically denied having anything to do with the slick, saying there were no reports of incidents at its facilities or from clients, nor evidence of leaks that could have led to damages in Brazil. The massive spill has already spread along the coasts of all nine states in Brazil’s northeast. Over a dozen sea turtles have been found dead, covered in crude, local newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo reported. Some 800 baby turtles that hatched were kept from going into the sea, the newspaper said, citing Projeto Tamar, one of Brazil’s best-known wildlife conservation projects. The nation’s environmental agency said the oil found on the beaches was not produced by Brazil, and that the country’s Navy and federal police are investigating the spill. On Wednesday, Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said the oil likely originated from Venezuela, citing a report from state-controlled oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA about the characteristics of the crude. Petrobras Chief Executive Officer Roberto Castello Branco said Tuesday that the spill could have come from an oil tanker that sank, an accident when loading oil from one tanker to another, or from a criminal act. President Jair Bolsonaro has said for days that the oil spill was probably criminal, without elaborating further.

Brazils Petrobras collects 200 tonnes of oil residue -  - Brazilian state-run oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro SA said on Wednesday it has collected 200 tonnes of oil residue from the country’s Northeastern coast since Sept. 12. In a statement, Petrobras, as the company is known, said 1,700 environmental agents were mobilized to clean the area affected by the oil spill. Another 50 employees were involved in planning and executing cleaning operations, it added. Petrobras also reiterated that the oil found in the northeastern coast of Brazil does not belong to the company, which will be reimbursed for the expenses related to the cleaning effort.

 Brazils Bolsonaro suggests oil spill could be attempt to sabotage auction (Reuters) - 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 Nov. 6, in which an array of major oil players will compete for $26 billion worth of production rights in large offshore oil areas of Brazil. “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.

Venezuela denies responsibility for oil spills on Brazil beaches(Reuters) - Venezuela’s government on Thursday said the OPEC-member country was not responsible for oil spills that have contaminated beaches in Brazil, after a Brazilian official said the crude was likely from Venezuela. In a joint statement, the oil ministry and state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela said PDVSA had not received any reports from clients or subsidiaries about any oil spills near Brazil. “We consider the statements unfounded,” the statement read, noting the spills were located about 6,650 kilometers (4,132 miles) from its oil infrastructure. “There is no evidence of any crude spill in Venezuela’s oil fields that could have caused damage to our neighbor’s marine ecosystem.” On Wednesday, Brazilian Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said thick crude oil that had been mysteriously washing up on hundreds of kilometers of beaches in nine northeastern states is “very likely from Venezuela.” Authorities have been probing the origin of the oil for more than a month. On Thursday, Brazilian Mines and Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque said the government had not confirmed the origin of the oil, but noted that it had properties similar to Venezuelan petroleum. Researchers at the Federal University of Bahia, one of the states hit by the oil pollution, said on Thursday that their lab studies found a “strong correlation” between slicks spilled off Brazil coast and one of the types of oil produced in Venezuela. “None of the types of oil produced in Brazil have characteristics of the samples analyzed,” the university’s Institute of Geosciences said in a statement.

Exclusive: India's Nayara supplying fuel to Rosneft in exchange for Venezuelan oil - sources - (Reuters) - India’s Nayara Energy has been using Russian giant Rosneft as an intermediary to acquire Venezuelan oil, paying it in fuel rather than cash to avoid violating U.S. sanctions, three sources with knowledge of the transactions said. The United States in January prohibited U.S.-dollar transactions for oil sales from Venezuela’s PDVSA or its units, a measure intended to cut off cash flows and increase pressure on President Nicolas Maduro, whose 2018 re-election has been dismissed as a sham by Washington. The sanctions have made some banks wary of processing any transaction for Venezuelan oil, even if the seller is not the state-run company. They have also scared away some of PDVSA’s customers, while prompting others to buy Venezuelan crude from intermediaries like Rosneft, the sources said. In exchange for the Venezuelan oil, Nayara, part-owned by a Rosneft-led consortium, is shipping cargoes of gasoline and gasoil to the Russian firm, according to the sources, who declined to be named as they are not authorized to speak to media. The United States further tightened sanctions on Venezuela in August, threatening non-U.S. companies with punitive action if they ‘materially assist’ Maduro’s government. But Washington has said that firms, including Rosneft, that take Venezuelan oil to monetize loans are not violating sanctions as long as cash does not reach Maduro’s coffers. Rosneft declined to comment. Nayara Energy and PDVSA did not reply to requests for comment.

Russia Considers Energy Exports In Euros, Rubles As Putin's De-Dollarization Continues --Russia's de-dollarization efforts continue, in line with Putin's promise to lower the country's vulnerability to the ongoing threat of US sanctions, with officials eyeing energy exports next.  “We have a very good currency, it’s stable. Why not use it for global transactions?” Russian Economy Minister Maxim Oreshkin said in an interview with the Financial Times on Sunday. “We want (oil and gas sales) in roubles at some point,” he said. “The question here is not to have any excessive costs from doing it that way, but if the broad ... financial infrastructure is created, if the initial costs are very low, then why not?” Oreshkin mused. Despite less than 5% of Russia's $687.5 billion in annual trade being with the US, it remains that over half of that trade still relies on the dollar, according to Bloomberg figures.But US sanctions now routinely delay Western companies' business with Russia, given they have to check with the US over whether those transactions are allowed. Reuters summarized of the economy minister's latest statements further that "Russia will be able to sell its energy exports in local currency given the popularity of the country’s domestic bonds among foreign investors, who own 29% of its rouble debt."

South Sudan to replace oil pipelines after leakage in northern region - (Xinhua) -- South Sudan said on Friday it will commence replacement of old oil pipelines after it lost about 2,000 barrels of oil in the recent oil spill in the Panakuc area of northern Ruweng state. Daniel Awow Chuang, minister of petroleum, said the government aims to start the renovation of the aging pipelines in a bid to mitigate future oil leakage. "We expect that the pressure in the pipeline will increase within the next few weeks. We should be able to make renovation to the pipelines so that it does not cause any burst in the future," Chuang told Xinhua in Juba. The oil spill occurred last month in blocks 1, 2 and 4 in Ruweng. Chuang also disclosed that the oil spill is under control in the surrounding areas. South Sudan plans to host the upcoming oil and power conference starting Oct. 29-30 in the capital which will see the launching of new tenders for companies through the open bidding process. The oil-dependent country which relies on oil revenue to finance 98 percent of its fiscal budget, recently discovered a new oil well in the Adar area. South Sudan is aiming to boost oil production from the current 175,000 barrels a day to 200,000 BPD by 2020.

Nigeria Demands $62B from Oil Majors-- Nigeria is seeking to recover as much as $62 billion from international oil companies, using a 2018 Supreme Court ruling the state says enables it to increase its share of income from production-sharing contracts. The proposal comes as President Muhammadu Buhari tries to bolster revenue after a drop in the output and price of oil, Nigeria’s main export. It’s previously targeted foreign companies, fining mobile operator MTN Group Ltd. almost $1 billion for failing to disconnect undocumented SIM-card users, and suing firms including JPMorgan Chase & Co. in a corruption scandal. In the latest plan, the government says energy companies failed to comply with a 1993 contract-law requirement that the state receive a greater share of revenue when the oil price exceeds $20 per barrel, according to a document prepared by the attorney-general’s office and the Justice Ministry. The document, seen by Bloomberg, was verified by the ministry. While the government hasn’t said how it will recover the money, it has said it wants to negotiate with the companies. In its battle with MTN, the fine imposed on the company was negotiated down from an initial penalty of $5.2 billion. Nigerian presidency spokesman Garba Shehu didn’t answer three phone calls or respond to a text message requesting comment. Under the production-sharing contract law, companies including Royal Dutch Shell Plc, ExxonMobil Corp., Chevron Corp., Total SA and Eni SpA agreed to fund the exploration and production of deep-offshore oil fields on the basis that they would share profit with the government after recovering their costs. When the law came into effect 26 years ago, crude was selling for $9.50 per barrel. The oil companies currently take 80% of the profit from these deep-offshore fields, while the government receives 20%, according to the document. Oil traded at $58.29 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe Exchange. Most of Nigeria’s crude is pumped by the five oil companies, which operate joint ventures and partnerships with the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp.

Oil spill from Iranian Suezmax tanker under control after explosion— Oil leakage from Suezmax tanker, the Sabity, is coming to an end and the situation is under control, its owner National Iranian Tanker Company said in a statement Friday, and denied reports of fire in the vessel. The oil leakage has stopped and "reached the least," state news agency IRNA quoted reports received from NITC. Shipping industry sources earlier told S&P Global Platts the Sabity was on fire after being hit by "a foreign object" near Jeddah and was spilling oil. "Again, it is necessary to emphasize that there was no fire in the vessel. All the crew is safe and healthy. The general situation of the ship is under control too," the report said. "In two separate explosions, probably by missile hits, at 05:00 and 05:20 [local time], 60 miles from Saudi Arabian Jeddah port, the oil tanker's body exploded," NITC said in a statement. The incident damaged two main tanks of the vessel, NITC said. "The oil tanker has not resumed its course yet...we will shift the oil tanker course to exit the Red Sea," said NITC's managing director Nasrollah Sardashti, who was quoted by IRNA as saying. Iran's state television said the explosion was "probably a terrorist attack." "The ship laden with a million barrels of crude was hit by an object which could be a missile or a mine and this has resulted in a explosion that is causing an oil spill," a source with direct knowledge of the matter told Platts earlier. The explosion and oil spill comes close on the heels of another separate attack on Saudi oil installations on September 14 that has dragged down the country's production and exports. Oil tankers were also attacked in the Persian Gulf in June and such incidents have already pushed up the freight rates and triggered additional war risk premia, which in turn increased the delivered costs of crude and refined oil products.

U.S. sanctions hit global oil fleet as traders shun nearly 300 tankers - (Reuters) - Nearly 300 oil tankers globally have been placed off limits as companies fear violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and Venezuela, driving freight rates to new highs, industry sources said. The move has taken roughly 3% of the global oil tanker fleet out of the market, according to industry sources and data on Refinitiv Eikon, sending rates soaring to secure tankers to ship oil, particularly to Asia. “Freight rates are going through the roof and people are getting very nervous with the cost of shipping,” Unipec, the trading arm of China’s Sinopec, Swiss trader Trafigura, oil firm Equinor ASA, Exxon Mobil Corp are shunning 250 crude and oil products tankers which have carried Venezuelan oil in the past year. Oil companies are also avoiding 43 oil tankers owned by COSCO Shipping Tanker (Dalian) after the United States last month imposed sanctions on two units of Chinese shipping giant COSCO for allegedly transporting Iranian crude. COSCO Dalian also owns 3% of the global very large crude carrier (VLCC) fleet and the absence of its ships was a key driver for supertanker freight rates which hit new highs daily over the past two weeks, traders and shipbrokers said. “This is now a handicapped set of vessels which are difficult to trade,” Anoop Singh, regional head of tanker research at ship broker Braemar ACM, said, referring to the COSCO Dalian tankers. Disruptions from the recent attacks on Saudi oil facilities and the ban on ships that called on Venezuelan ports in the past year have exacerbated tightness in the tanker market, he added. Braemar estimates another 23 VLCCs are also out of service to install emissions cleaning equipment to meet stricter global marine fuel rules from January 2020.

U.S. 'deeply concerned' about untrackable China ships carrying Iran oil: officials - (Reuters) - The White House is warning Chinese shipping companies against turning off their ships’ transponders to hide Iranian oil shipments in violation of U.S. sanctions, two senior administration officials said. “We’ve been messaging very heavily to the shipping companies, you don’t want to do this, it’s not worth it,” said one official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity. “It’s incredibly dangerous and irresponsible behavior.” China is the largest remaining buyer of Iranian oil after U.S. President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions on Tehran’s main export. Trump tightened U.S. sanctions in May in an effort to drive Iran’s oil sales to zero. The sanctions are aimed at quashing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, ballistic missile program and influence in Syria, Iraq and other countries. Its oil exports have fallen to less than 400,000 barrels per day from about 2.5 million bpd. On Sept. 25, the U.S. imposed sanctions on five Chinese individuals and two Chinese COSCO Shipping Corp subsidiaries, saying they had shipped Iranian crude oil in violation of the sanctions. Days later, 14 COSCO Shipping Tanker (Dalian) vessels, about one-third of its fleet, stopped sending location data from their automatic identification system (AIS) between Sept. 30 and Oct. 7, ship tracking data on Refinitiv Eikon showed. The administration said on Tuesday it had independently confirmed that COSCO had been shutting off AIS on its ships. All but three of the ships have become traceable since Reuters’ report ran on Oct. 9. The latest locations for Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCC) Yuan Shan Hu and Cosglad Lake were still unavailable between Oct. 8 and Oct. 16, while Aframax-sized tanker Yang Mei Hu has been untraceable since Oct. 11, data showed.

In "Obscene" Move, Oil Tanker Rates Explode To Record Levels Amid Flurry Of Geopolitical Risks - In a world where multiple-sigma events now happen with daily regularity, few people seemed to notice an unprecedented event taking place in the oil tanker industry, where spot charter contacts for very large crude carriers (VLCCs) exploded above $300,000 as the industry digested the fallout from the US focusing its spotlight on sanctions on oil, especially China's Cosco Shipping company, and from the latest security incident in the Middle East. As Lloyd's List notes, the Baltic Exchange Dirty Tanker Index, which aggregates global shipbroking charter rates, reported that by Friday afternoon, rates for West Africa to China VLCC routes had almost doubled within a day to reach $278,057. Middle East Gulf to Singapore and China routes had reached $305,998 and $300,391 respectively, marking an almost 100% day-on-day increase.  Clarkson's take was even more shocking, reporting that the weekly VLCC tanker rate exploded nearly 15x in hours, soaring from $25,000 to $350,000. "We are seeing record levels today,” said Evercore marine transportation analyst Jonathan Chappell last Friday. "$300,000 VLCC rates are unprecedented, at least in the last 20 years." "VLCC rates have now climbed to levels not recorded before, with spot earnings quoted above $300k/day - and brokers expecting the current activity level to continue,” said Pareto analyst Eirik Haavaldsen, adding that he expects "the product tankers to start benefiting from the obscene crude tanker markets, as more LRs are switching to dirty mode." VLCC rates have been rising sharply since the US imposed sanctions on units of Cosco Shipping. As Lloyds List adds, crude oil tanker rates have increased in recent weeks "as US sanctions have effectively squeezed tonnage out of the market."  As a reminder, in late September, the US government sanctioned some of Cosco’s tankers for importing Iranian crude oil in violation of US sanctions. The sanctions not only knocked out those specific vessels from general availability, but also contaminated those in joint ventures where Cosco has a presence. And even though oil traders have again started booking supertankers operated by the Chinese shipping giant, rates have continued to climb.  A spike in geopolitical risk in the Middle East also helped: Iran recently said that missiles hit one of its ships in the Red Sea, amid a recent surge in political tensions in the gulf. The attack on the Iranian ship has added to risk premiums that were already high following the attack in Saudi Arabia last month.

Asian oil buyers grapple with rising costs as global freight rates jump - (Reuters) - Asian oil refiners are grappling with a jump in global freight rates that shows no sign of abating, driving up costs of crude imports from all regions in the fourth quarter, industry officials said. The cost of shipping crude from the Americas, Europe, Africa and the Middle East to Asia has surged over the past two weeks as companies shunned nearly 300 tankers on fears of violating sanctions against OPEC members Iran and Venezuela. Higher freight rates and a jump in crude premiums after the Saudi oil attacks in mid-September have so far added about $3 a barrel to November-lifting oil cargoes from the Middle East to China, trade and shipping sources said. Oil tanker freight rates are expected to keep rising while COSCO Dalian’s ships remain under sanctions, the sources said. The United States imposed sanctions on units of the Chinese shipper, alleging involvement in ferrying crude out of Iran. “We’ve been in a net loss for most months so far this year, and the fourth quarter doesn’t look good either, as premiums for Middle Eastern grades are high and freight rates have more than doubled,” an official with a Chinese state-owned refinery said.

Asia’s Top Refiner Hit Hard By Iran Sanctions - The largest oil refiner in Asia and in China, Sinopec, is considering cutting refinery run rates as of November as soaring freight rates have eaten away at refining margins, people familiar with the plans told Bloomberg on Tuesday. The global shipping industry has seen freight rates soar over the past few weeks as traders and shippers stay away from booking oil tankers owned by Chinese tanker companies that fell prey to U.S. sanctions for dealing with oil from Iran. At the end of September, the U.S. imposed sanctions on several Chinese tanker owners for shipping Iranian oil, including units of Cosco, who owns more than 40 oil tankers, including 26 supertankers, or the so-called very large crude carriers (VLCCs).The cost of chartering supertankers to carry crude oil from the Middle East to Asiasoared by double digits overnight on the day following the announcement of sanctions as oil traders and shippers scrambled to understand the extent and impact of the U.S. sanctions.Refining margins have yet to catch up with the surge in freight costs and currently, refiners are the ones that have to bear the higher shipping costs.This dramatic increase in procurement costs for oil has led to Sinopec considering reducing refinery runs in November by one million tons, which would be equal to 5 percent of Sinopec’s refining output, one of Bloomberg’s sources said.Some refiners in China and India have reduced spot oil purchases because of the surge in tanker rates, according to Bloomberg.Sinopec is also considering cutting its oil imports for December, four sources familiar with the issue told Reuters on Tuesday. “Refineries are facing strong pressure as spot premiums are high and freight rates have jumped, so it’s not economical to import crude,” one of the sources said.

China Makes A Move On OPEC’s No.2 - Following a political backlash in Iran over details of its plans to make Iran effectively a client state through various multi-layered oil and gas deals, China has switched its attention – for the time being at least – to Iran’s equally oil and gas-rich neighbor, Iraq. China has the advantage in Iraq that the northern part of the country – the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan – is already under the control of its increasingly close ally, Russia, with its corporate proxy Rosneft having secured control over Kurdistan’s oil and gas infrastructure in a deal in November 2017. Bridging this gap beautifully is the new development that in the long-running dispute between the south and the north regarding budget disbursements from Baghdad to Erbil in exchange for oil supplies from Erbil to Baghdad, China is to be appointed by Baghdad as its mediator in negotiations, a senior source who works closely with Iraq’s Oil Ministry told last week. As it was, the negotiations between Baghdad and Erbil over the budget-for-oil deal have been going nowhere and have been in a constant state of flux ever since the original deal was struck back in 2014. This deal involved the government of the Kurdistan region of Iraq (the KRG) agreeing to export up to 550,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil from its own fields and those in and around Kirkuk via Baghdad’s State Oil Marketing Organization (SOMO). In return, Baghdad would send 17 percent of the federal budget after sovereign expenses per month in budget payments to the KRG. This agreement was superseded by another in October 2018 that required Baghdad to transfer sufficient funds from the budget to pay the salaries of KRG employees in exchange for the KRG handing over the export of at least 250,000 bpd of crude oil to SOMO. Since the beginning of this year, Baghdad has purportedly delivered on its side but the KRG has not. The sticking point from the KRG side has been the changing metric that Baghdad sought to impose for determining the budget disbursement levels following the independence referendum held in Kurdistan in September 2017. Although from the legal perspective the vote was not mandatory, the overwhelming support for independence – well over 90 percent of the Kurdish population in the north – catalyzed popular support against Baghdad until it was quelled, with the help of Iran. At that point, Baghdad took back on-the-ground control over the Kirkuk and surrounding fields and only held off from further expanding its military footprint across the KRG area because the U.S. signaled that this would not be a welcome development.

One Month After Worst Oil-Supply Halt, Aramco Says All Clear - In the early hours of a sweltering Saturday in September, a volley of missiles pierced the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry, knocking out 5% of global production. A month later, it’s as if the attack never happened.   Saudi Aramco says it’s currently pumping 9.9 million barrels a day, the same as before the Sept. 14 attacks at Abqaiq, the world’s biggest oil-processing facility, and the field at Khurais. While the attacks laid bare Saudi Arabia’s vulnerability to major disruptions, Brent crude has slid below where it was beforehand, trading Monday at less than $60 a barrel. Shiny, freshly painted spherical tanks that separate oil from natural gas and water are back at work at Abqaiq, company officials told reporters touring the damaged sites on Saturday. On an earlier visit to Abqaiq one week after the assaults, gaping holes showed where projectiles had punctured the same tanks. More repairs await; several crude stabilization towers are still charred and encased in scaffolding. “It was very important for the Saudis to restore their position as the world’s reliable supplier,” said Richard Mallinson, an analyst at consultant Energy Aspects Ltd. in London. “The Saudis launched a very active effort to get things back on line and a very big push to maintain their normal supply to markets.”

EIA Further Cuts Oil Price Forecast- The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has further cut its Brent oil price forecast, the organization’s latest short-term energy outlook (STEO) has revealed. Brent spot prices are now expected to average $59 per barrel in the fourth quarter of this year and $63.37 per barrel for the whole of 2019. The commodity is forecasted average $59.93 per barrel in 2020. “Despite the recent increase in supply disruptions, EIA expects downward oil price pressure to emerge in the coming months as global oil inventories rise during the first half of 2020,” the EIA stated in its latest STEO, which was released on Tuesday. “EIA forecasts balances to tighten later in 2020 and expects Brent prices to rise to an average of $62 per barrel in the second half of next year,” the EIA added. “EIA’s October forecast recognizes a higher level of oil supply disruption risk than previously assumed, more-than-offset by increasing uncertainty about economic and oil demand growth in the coming quarters, resulting in a lowered oil price forecast,” the EIA continued. In its September STEO, the EIA forecasted that Brent spot prices would average $60 per barrel in 4Q and $63.39 per barrel for the whole of 2019. The September STEO also forecasted that Brent would average $62 per barrel in 2020. In August, the EIA projected that Brent would average $65 per barrel in 4Q, $65.15 per barrel in 2019 and $65 per barrel in 2020. Back in July, the EIA forecasted that Brent would average $67 per barrel in 4Q, $66.51 per barrel in 2019 and $67 per barrel in 2020. Last month, analysts at Fitch Solutions Macro Research (FSMR) further cut their Brent oil price forecasts. The analysts now expect Brent to average $64 per barrel this year, before dropping to an average of $62 per barrel in 2020. In August, FSMR analysts expected prices to average $67 per barrel this year and $65 per barrel in 2020. In July the analysts forecasted an average of $70 per barrel in 2019, and $76 per barrel in 2020.

 Oil prices edge up, supported by Iran ship attack and US-China trade detente -- Oil prices were little changed on Monday, holding onto 2% gains from Friday amid renewed geopolitical tensions in the Middle East, while a detente in the U.S.-China trade war buoyed market sentiment. Brent crude futures rose 9 cents to $60.60 a barrel by 1208 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures was at $54.79 a barrel, up 9 cents. Both contracts rose more than 3% last week, their first weekly gain in three weeks. Most of the gains were posted on Friday after an Iranian oil tanker was attacked off Saudi Arabia’s coast in the Red Sea. Investigations are underway to determine if the tanker was hit by missiles, which could ratchet up tensions between Tehran and Riyadh if confirmed. The emergence of a phase 1 trade deal between the United States and China and a goodwill move by Washington to suspend threatened tariffs on Chinese products also lifted global financial markets. Investors remained cautious given that few details emerged from the talks, while it may take another five weeks for the two countries to sign a pact. “Traders view the deal in a tentative light as a tariff detente falls well short of bridging the critical trust gap which is an implicit removal of a significant chunk of existing tariff,” said Stephen Innes, Asia Pacific market strategist at AxiTrader in a note. “This baby-step agreement could take weeks to iron out.”

Oil falls more than 2% on U.S.-China trade deal doubts, stronger dollar (Reuters) - Oil prices lost about 2% on Monday on worries that global crude demand could stay under pressure as few details about the first phase of a U.S.-China trade deal did little to assure a quick resolution to the tariff fight. Oil prices also felt pressure as the U.S. dollar .DXY, which has an inverse relationship with crude prices, gained as waning trade deal hopes and ongoing concerns over Britain’s exit from the European Union attracted safe-haven investments. Brent crude LCOc1 settled at $59.35 a barrel, shedding $1.16, or 1.92%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 settled at $53.59 a barrel, losing $1.11, or 2.03%. “The complex is in (the) process of relinquishing a major portion of the late week trade inspired gains as conflicting indications out of the U.S. and China regarding trade progress is reducing risk appetite,” said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates. Late on Friday, Washington and Beijing outlined the first stage of a trade deal and suspended this week’s scheduled U.S. tariff hikes. Brent and WTI rose more than 3% last week, their first weekly increase since the week starting Sept. 20, on signs of progress toward a trade deal that would boost crude demand. But optimism that the trade negotiations would prove successful faded, as China indicated further discussions were needed and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the next round of tariffs on Chinese imports are still set to take effect on Dec. 15 if a deal has not been reached by then. But existing tariffs remain in place and officials on both sides said much more work was needed before an accord could be agreed.

Oil Markets Bearish Despite Rising Geopolitical Risk -- Oil prices fell more than 2 percent on Monday on diminished excitement surrounding the partial trade agreement between the U.S. and China. Following last week’s jolt, investors grew skeptical of the agreement as it became clear that Washington and Beijing had different interpretations of the outcome of last week’s talks. “It’s clearly a market that is very macro-focused right now,” said Ole Sloth Hansen, head of commodities strategy at Saxo Bank A/S in Copenhagen. “Speculators have been quite aggressive sellers during the past couple of weeks.”  . Natural gas production in the Marcellus and Utica shales continues to inch higher, but production could begin to slow as drillerscut back in the face of weak prices. EQT announced last month that it would lay off nearly a quarter of its workforce. The Labour Party in the UK proposed to ban sales of the internal combustion engine by 2030. Cuadrilla has begun removing equipment from its only testing area following the last round of earthquakes in August. There are no plans to resume fracking in the area, and local residents and opponents of the company say that fracking in the UK is now dead.   After the uproar and massive resistance to the proposed cut in fuel subsidies, Ecuador’s President Lenin Morenoreversed course, agreeing to scrap the proposal. Indigenous groups cheered and called an end to protests following the decision. But Ecuador now won’t be able to realize the budgetary savings from reduced subsidies, raising questions about how it will undertake reforms. ConocoPhillips agreed to sell its northern Australian assets to Santos for $1.39 billion. Conoco will exit the Darwin LNG plant.  California passed legislation that bars any California leasing authority from allowing pipelines or other oil and gas infrastructure on state land. The legislation comes in response to the Trump administration’s aggressive leasing of public lands for mining and drilling.

Oil falls on weaker economic growth forecasts and swelling U.S. crude stocks (Reuters) - Oil prices fell on Tuesday, as investors worried that the unrelenting U.S.-China trade war would keep squeezing the global economy, and that swelling U.S. crude inventories would further pressure prices. Losses were limited by optimism about a potential Brexit deal and signals from OPEC that further supply curbs are possible. Global benchmark Brent LCOc1 futures lost 61 cents, or 1.0%, to settle at $58.74 a barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 fell 78 cents, or 1.5%, to settle at $52.81. Earlier in the session, both Brent and WTI fell by more than $1 a barrel following a report overnight that China’s factory gate prices in September declined at the fastest pace in more than three years. Also, customs data on Monday showed Chinese imports contracted for a fifth straight month. The U.S.-China trade war will cut 2019 global growth to its slowest pace since the 2008-2009 financial crisis, the International Monetary Fund warned, but it said output would rebound if dueling tariffs were removed. “The market continues to focus on a weakening global economic growth path that appeared little disturbed by last week’s apparent lack of significant progress at the US-China trade talks,” .  On Friday, Trump said China had agreed to purchase $40 to $50 billion worth of American agricultural goods in a first phase of an agreement to end the trade war.

WTI Tumbles After Huge Crude Inventory Build  -- Oil prices rebounded today after a 2-day slump on hopes for a US-China deal and Brexit again, despite equity market weakness, weaker global growth (IMF) and plenty of supply (EIA forecasts US shale production surge) sparking concern.“The encouraging headlines surrounding the U.S.-China trade war and Brexit seem more optimistic,” said Pavel Molchanov, a Houston-based analyst at Raymond James & Associates Inc.“In that sense, it’s perfectly reasonable for oil prices to show a bit of a bounce.” But tonight, the algos will be focused on inventories.  API:

  • Crude +10.5mm (+3mm exp) - biggest build since Feb 2017
  • Cushing +1.6mm
  • Gasoline -934k
  • Distillates -2.9mm

Analysts expected crude inventories to rise for the 5th week in a row and they did... massively - a 10.5mm build is the largest since Feb 2017 “The market has plenty of supply in the short-term,” said Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at Price Futures Group Inc. in Chicago. Investors are “expecting a big increase in supply this week because the refinery runs are so low.” WTI traded down to around $53.20 ahead of the API data, and tumbled to a $52 handle as the data hit...

 Oil Prices Mixed As OPEC Hints More Output Cuts - Oil prices were mixed on Wednesday as Brexit uncertainty continued and investors fretted about weaker demand for fuel due to slowing global growth. Benchmark Brent crude slipped 0.2 percent to $58.63 a barrel while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were up 0.2 percent at $52.91. The IMF has cut its forecast for growth in both 2019 and 2020, reflecting increased pessimism about the global economy. "With central banks having to spend limited ammunition to offset policy mistakes, they may have little left when the economy is in a tougher spot," Gita Gopinath, the IMF's economic counsellor, said in the half-yearly World Economic Outlook foreword. Meanwhile, Brexit talks are at an impasse as EU and U.K. officials resume Brexit talks later today ahead of a summit of EU leaders on Thursday. On the positive side, oil prices received some support from reports suggesting that OPEC and its allies are committed to maintaining oil market stability beyond 2020. OPEC, Russia and other oil producer allies will do whatever is possible within their powers to ensure relative stability is sustained beyond 2020, OPEC Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo said on Tuesday.

WTI Rallies Despite Big Crude Build, Record Production Perhaps some of the reason for the relief rally is that U.S. refiners are still deep in maintenance, with runs the lowest since Sept. 2017.. Oil prices have been volatile in the hours since last night's major crude inventory build, reported by API, bouncing back on more Brexit and US-China optimism headlines and chatter of OPEC+ deal extension. “The encouraging headlines surrounding the U.S.-China trade war and Brexit seem more optimistic,” said Pavel Molchanov, a Houston-based analyst at Raymond James & Associates Inc. “In that sense, it’s perfectly reasonable for oil prices to show a bit of a bounce.” But if DOE confirms the huge build, we suspect those gains will evaporate rapidly...  DOE":

  • Crude +9.28mm (+3mm exp) - biggest build since April 2019
  • Cushing +1.276mm
  • Gasoline -2.562mm
  • Distillates -3.823mm

This is the 5th weekly build in crude stocks - longest streak since February - and largest weekly build since April 2019. Distillates have drawn down stocks for 4 straight weeks... Crude production rose again to a new record high, despite the collapse in rig counts....

Oil rises 1% on hopes OPEC will extend supply cuts - Oil rose 1% on Wednesday, gaining support due to signs that OPEC and allied producers will continue to curb supplies in December, a weaker U.S. dollar and as traders covered short positions ahead of an industry report on U.S. crude inventories. Brent crude, the global benchmark, rose 1% to $59.34 a barrel. U.S. crude gained 55 cents, or 1%, to settle at $53.36. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies meet on Dec. 5-6 in Vienna to review output policy. Market participants believe the group known as OPEC+ could decide to extend production cuts “and wait until world demand catches up with the supply situation,” said Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates in Houston. OPEC Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo has said deeper output cuts are an option. On Tuesday, he said OPEC would do what it could with allied producers to sustain oil market stability beyond 2020. OPEC, Russia and other producers have agreed to cut oil output by 1.2 million barrels per day until March 2020. “You did see the OPEC secretary general say OPEC could act to keep the market stable, and if we come back under pressure again we might see that again,” said Gene McGillian, vice president of market research at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut. In early trading, prices had slipped because of concerns about weaker demand for fuel due to slower economic growth and forecasts of a further rise in U.S. crude inventories. The dollar weakened after U.S. retail sales data disappointed investors. Oil is traded in U.S. dollars, so oil typically rises when the dollar falls.

Oil falls but losses limited by new Brexit deal - Oil prices fell on Thursday as industry data showed a larger-than-expected build-up in U.S. inventories but losses were limited after the United Kingdom and the European Union announced they had reached a deal on Brexit. Global benchmark Brent crude oil was down by 66 cents at $58.76 a barrel. U.S. WTI crude oil was down 48 cents at $52.88. U.S. crude inventories soared by 9.3 million barrels to 434.9 million barrels in the week to Oct. 11, the U.E. Energy Information Administration. Analysts had estimated U.S. crude inventories rose by around 2.8 million barrels last week. “The U.S. sanctions imposed on the Chinese shipping company COSCO are seriously denting demand for imported crude oil... This has a profound impact on U.S. crude oil inventories as reflected in last nights API report,” “U.S. refinery maintenance is not helping to reverse the current trend and further builds in U.S. crude oil inventories can be expected in the next few weeks.” The United States imposed sanctions on COSCO Shipping Tanker (Dalian) Co and subsidiary COSCO Shipping Tanker (Dalian) Seaman & Ship Management Co for allegedly carrying Iranian crude oil. Adding to concerns about the global economy - and therefore oil demand - data from the United States showed retail sales in September fell for the first time in seven months. Earlier data showed a moderation in job growth and services sector activity. Still, the new Brexit deal helped limit the fall in oil prices. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that Britain and the EU had agreed a “great” new Brexit deal and urged lawmakers to approve it at the weekend. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also said Britain and the EU had agreed a deal. However, the Northern Irish party Johnson needs to help ratify any agreement has refused to support the deal. Hopes of a potential U.S.-China trade deal also supported crude prices. China’s commerce ministry said on Thursday that China hoped to reach a phased agreement with Washington as early as possible, and make progress on canceling tariffs on each others’ goods.

Oil reverses early losses, gains 1% as dollar falters - Oil rose 1% on Thursday, boosted by a weaker dollar and the announcement that the United Kingdom and the European Union had reached a deal on Brexit. Industry data did show a larger-than-expected build-up in U.S. inventories. Global benchmark Brent crude oil settled 52 cents higher at $59.94. U.S. WTI crude oil was up 65 cents, or 1.2%, to settle at $53.99. U.S. crude inventories soared by 9.3 million barrels to 434.9 million barrels in the week to Oct. 11, the U.E. Energy Information Administration said. Analysts had estimated U.S. crude inventories rose by around 2.8 million barrels last week. “The U.S. sanctions imposed on the Chinese shipping company COSCO are seriously denting demand for imported crude oil... This has a profound impact on U.S. crude oil inventories as reflected in last nights API report,” said Tamas Varga, an analyst at PVM Oil Associates. “U.S. refinery maintenance is not helping to reverse the current trend and further builds in U.S. crude oil inventories can be expected in the next few weeks.” The United States imposed sanctions on COSCO Shipping Tanker (Dalian) Co and subsidiary COSCO Shipping Tanker (Dalian) Seaman & Ship Management Co for allegedly carrying Iranian crude oil. Adding to concerns about the global economy - and therefore oil demand - data from the United States showed retail sales in September fell for the first time in seven months. Earlier data showed a moderation in job growth and services sector activity. Still, the new Brexit deal helped limit the fall in oil prices. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that Britain and the EU had agreed a “great” new Brexit deal and urged lawmakers to approve it at the weekend. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also said Britain and the EU had agreed a deal. However, the Northern Irish party Johnson needs to help ratify any agreement has refused to support the deal. Hopes of a potential U.S.-China trade deal also supported crude prices. China’s commerce ministry said on Thursday that China hoped to reach a phased agreement with Washington as early as possible, and make progress on canceling tariffs on each others’ goods.

Oil falls as China economic concerns outweigh rising refinery runs - (Reuters) - Oil prices edged lower on Friday, as concerns about China’s economy outweighed bullish signals from its refining sector, but losses were limited on hopes for progress toward a U.S.-China trade agreement. Benchmark Brent crude oil futures LCOc1 fell 49 cents to settle at $59.42 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 futures lost 15 cents to settle at $53.78 a barrel. For the week Brent fell 1.8%, while WTI lost 1.7%. China’s economic growth slowed to 6% year-on-year in the third quarter, its weakest in 27-1/2 years and short of expectations due to soft factory production and continuing trade tensions with the United States. China’s September refinery throughput, however, rose 9.4% year on year, a signal that petroleum demand from the world’s biggest oil importer remained robust despite economic headwinds. U.S. and Chinese trade negotiators are working on nailing down a Phase 1 trade deal text for their presidents to sign next month, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday. “For now, trade related concerns over a slowed global economic growth path have been pushed to the sidelines as markets await additional guidance regarding U.S.-Chinese trade negotiations,” The ongoing dispute has increased worries about a global recession that would dent demand for oil. The Forties oil and gas pipeline system (FPS) in the British North Sea reopened as planned on Friday after being halted for a few hours by a power surge resulting from a lightning strike, operator Ineos said. The system transports the Forties crude oil stream that makes the biggest contribution to the Brent benchmark. In the United States, falling product stocks countered higher U.S. crude oil stocks, which rose by 9.3 million barrels in the week to Oct. 11. U.S. energy firms this week increased the number of oil rigs operating for a second week in a row for the first time since June. Companies added one oil rig in the week to Oct. 18, bringing the total count to 713, Baker Hughes energy services firm said on Friday.

Oil Prices Down for the Week  | Rigzone - West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and Brent crude oil futures edged downward during late-week trading. The November WTI contract shed 15 cents Friday to settle at $53.78 per barrel. It peaked at $54.62 and bottomed out at $53.35. Compared to the Oct. 11 settlement, the WTI is down 1.9 percent. Brent crude for December delivery also ended the day lower, losing 49 cents to settle at $59.42 per barrel. Brent is down 1.8 percent week-on-week. “Oil prices this week moved up-and-down in-sync with the daily change in perspectives on both a U.S./China trade deal and a final UK Brexit plan,” said Tom Seng, Assistant Professor of Energy Business with the University of Tulsa’s Collins College of Business. “What at first seemed to be major progress between the U.S. and Chinese trade negotiators turned out to be only a minimal advance in concessions by both parties.” Seng noted the U.S. stock market rose and fell as daily expectations for a trade deal moved from optimism to pessimism and crude prices followed suit. He added that global markets closely monitored Brexit talks. “While Prime Minister (Boris) Johnson seems to have gotten a deal approved, the Ireland question looms large as he will need the full support of the majority party from that region,” Seng said, adding that gains in the British Pound over Brexit optimism helped weaken the U.S. Dollar and maintain a floor for crude prices. In addition, Seng observed that U.S. and global manufacturing data have indicated a general slowdown in recent weeks – and further depressing the outlook for energy demand. Also, he noted this week’s Weekly Petroleum Status Report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed:

  • Commercial oil inventories rose by 9.3 million barrels (Bbl) last week, compared to forecasts calling for a 4 million-Bbl increase and American Petroleum Institute figures showing a 10.5 million-Bbl build
  • 435 million Bbl of total crude in storage, or two percent higher than the five-year average
  • 43 million Bbl of crude stored at the Cushing, Okla., hub, representing a 1.3 million-Bbl build and approximately 56 percent of capacity
  • A 2.6-percent drop in refinery utilization to 83.1 percent, equating to 15.4 million Bbl per day (bpd) and a 220,000-bpd decrease
  • An 18-percent year-on-year drop in crude imports
  • Steady U.S. oil production at 12.6 million bpd.

Seng also pointed out that EIA, OPEC and the International Energy Agency (IEA) have lowered their oil demand growth forecasts for the remainder of the year and increased their projects for inventory gains.

 Selling Aramco: The Wall Street A-Listers on the Oil Giant's IPO - Saudi Aramco has enlisted the help of a former Donald Trump national security adviser and an ex-House of Representatives majority leader to pull off the world’s biggest IPO. One-time Trump staffer Dina Powell, a partner at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., and Moelis & Co. Vice Chairman Eric Cantor are among scores of Wall Street veterans hired to sell shares in the kingdom’s state oil firm. The roster of bankers reads like a who’s who of finance, underscoring the importance of Saudi Arabia a year after the murder of government critic Jamal Khashoggi prompted a brief spell of skittishness over doing business with the country. At the end of the month, many of Aramco’s bankers are expected to converge at the Future Investment Initiative -- an annual jamboree to showcase the kingdom’s aspirations that’s been dubbed Davos in the Desert. The Saudi government is set to give the official green light for the IPO at a meeting on Thursday, aiming to raise about $40 billion for the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, and a formal announcement is expected to follow on Sunday. Aramco has hired about 25 institutions to sell the stock. Many bankers have spent years wooing officials to get a lucrative spot on the listing, making intense pitches multiple times to Aramco executives and maintaining ties even as it was delayed. While the selection of firms such as HSBC Holdings Plc and JPMorgan Chase & Co. -- which have long dominated dealmaking in the kingdom -- was expected, other mandates were more surprising and highlight how personal relationships and loyalty matter more than ever. Even though many investors are expected to come from inside the kingdom, more than 300 bankers are now working on selling the deal worldwide. Aramco has been targeting a valuation of at least $2 trillion -- more than double that of Apple Inc.

Yemeni Attack on Aramco Facilities Costs Saudi $2bln Worth of Oil Output - Saudi Arabia has lost $2 billion worth of its oil production after Yemen's retaliatory attacks on the kingdom's vital energy infrastructure last month, according to a report by the Financial Times. The country's output fell by nearly 1.3mln barrels a day in September, from the previous month, according to data submitted to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) by analysts and consultants, which is used by the cartel to set official production targets. Saudi Arabia told OPEC’s research arm that production was only hit by 660,000 bpd, according to a monthly oil market report published on Thursday. Riyadh has sought to emphasize its ability to bring production back to normal levels and the resiliency of the state energy group Saudi Aramco, FT reported. The country has tried to maintain its exports using oil in storage. However, energy consultants, analysts and industry executives have questioned the ability of the country’s production and exports to recover to above 9mln bpd within weeks. It is also unclear how Saudi officials are going to stop such attacks from happening again. The attack by Yemeni forces last month shut down 5.7 million bpd of Saudi Arabia’s oil production, which represents more than half of the kingdom’s or five percent of global output. Energy analysts have stated the raid was akin to a massive heart attack for the oil market and global economy. It has already plunged OPEC's oil production to the lowest level since 2011. The attacks would also cause a decline in Saudi Arabia’s economic growth this year, the World Bank has announced in a report.

The World Turned Upside Down —  When a still-bewildered General Earl Charles Cornwallis surrendered his entire army to George Washington and to the Comte de Rochambeau at Yorktown in 1781, according to legend, a British military band heightened the humiliation by playing a ballad called, “The World Turned Upside Down.” In a time without speed of light communications, telegraph wires, radio or Internet, the fall of the British Empire in America still rocked the entire world. It was celebrated and welcomed from the Emir of Kuwait to the Tsarina Catherine in St. Petersburg. Yet when the Houthi rebel movement that controls much of Yemen wiped out three Saudi Brigades and inflicted at least 2,500 casualties at the end of September, the Western media ignored it. The outstanding analysis of Frederico Pierracini on this web site still stands virtually alone in offering unparalleled assessment of that event. It is out of fashion among Western commentators to admit that any “decisive battles” can happen anywhere unless they are safely in the past and the United States has won them. But when the Nazi Wehrmacht overthrew the legendary French Army in six weeks of operations in 1940 and when the Red Army wiped out the elite combat forces of the Nazis at Stalingrad in the fall of 1942, those battles were indeed decisive and the clock could never be turned back from them. The humiliating defeat that the Houthis have just inflicted on the Saudis is of comparable epochal significance. It does far, far more than confirm the victory of the Houthis in the long, needlessly prolonged civil war in Yemen that has killed at least 100,000 civilian dead over the past four years. The Houthis are now poised to bring the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia itself crashing down. There is dark poetic justice to this development. The House of Saud will fall as it rose, by a clash of arms in which a young, harsh but dedicated revolutionary movement challenged a worthless old reactionary regime supported by the great imperial power of the day and then destroyed it.  Payback is coming. And it will not stop at the borders of Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The world is about to turn upside down again.

Riyadh holds talks with Houthis in effort to break Yemen deadlock -Saudi Arabia has been holding talks with Houthi rebels for the first time in more than two years in a sign Riyadh wants to de-escalate hostilities in Yemen in the wake of last month’s attacks on its oil facilities. The “back-channel” negotiations began after the Iran-aligned Houthis announced on September 20 that they would cease drone and missile attacks on the kingdom, people briefed on the talks said. A week earlier, the Houthis had claimed to have launched the strikes that hit Saudi Arabia’s biggest crude processing facility and the Khurais oilfield, temporarily knocking out half of oil production in the world’s top oil exporter and underscoring the vulnerability of its energy infrastructure. The US and Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for the attack. Tehran denied any involvement and backed the Houthi claims that it was in self-defence for Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the Yemen war, where it leads an Arab coalition fighting the rebels. A western diplomat said the missile and drone attacks on the Saudi oil facilities were key to the shift in Riyadh’s position. “If the Yemen war hadn’t existed, Iran wouldn’t have been able to distract away from its responsibility for the attacks,” the diplomat said. Another factor behind Riyadh’s shift has been the weakening of its coalition after the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia’s main ally, announced in July that it was drawing down its troop presence in Yemen, people familiar with the matter said. The UAE deployed thousands of soldiers in Yemen and trained local forces, making it the coalition’s most important actor on the ground. In contrast, Saudi ground troops have been mostly concentrated in the kingdom’s border region, while Riyadh has used its air force to bombard Houthi-controlled areas. The conflict, which morphed into proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has been deadlocked for years and experts have persistently said there is no military solution. After the Houthis said they would halt missile and drone attacks into the kingdom, Riyadh agreed to halt its bombing raids over four Houthi-held cities, including Sana’a, the capital. The Houthis, meanwhile, have released nearly 300 prisoners, including three Saudis.

Holes in Iranian oil tanker hit by two missiles revealed for first time as Putin visits Saudi Arabia --Damage done to an Iranian oil tanker struck by two suspected missile strikes off the coast of Saudi Arabia has been revealed in new images. Images released yesterday by Iran's National Iranian Oil Tanker Company (NITC) showed two gaping holes in the side of the vessel. For the first time the alleged damage done to the Iranian-flagged tanker showed the square-shaped impacts just above the water line of the Sabiti. Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Saudi Arabia today, where he will seal oil agreements as well as use his influence to defuse rising tensions in the Gulf. The meeting with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman comes following attacks on Saudi oil installations that Riyadh and the US have blamed on Iran, an ally of Moscow. Oil will be 'the main topic of discussion' between the leaders, Russian political analyst Fydor Lukyanov said, as a deal between the 24 members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is due to expire next spring.

Iranian official says oil tanker attack will not go unpunished - A senior Iranian security official said Saturday that an attack on one of the country's oil tankers won't go unpunished, the official IRNA news agency reported. Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said a day after two missiles struck the Iranian tanker Sabiti as it traveled through the Red Sea off the coast of Saudi Arabia that "vicious behavior in international waterways will not go without a response." Shamkhani said an Iranian committee had gleaned some information on the attack from video images from the Sabiti. Also on Saturday, Cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei said Iran is investigating the case while "avoiding hastiness. The mysterious attack, which came amid months of heightened tensions at sea across the wider Mideast, damaged two storerooms aboard the tanker. Iran said the tanker will arrive at one of its ports in about 10 days. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, broke its silence Saturday on the incident, saying through its state-run news agency that authorities received an electronic message Friday from the captain of the Sabiti "that the front of the vessel has been broken, resulting in an oil spill in the sea from the cargo and tanks of the vessel." It said the Sabiti continued moving and turned off its electronic tracker without offering more information. "The kingdom affirms its commitment to the security and safety of maritime navigation, as well as international agreements and norms," the statement on the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.

Pompeo Can't Blame Iran For Attacking Itself - Luongo- Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water someone poked a couple of holes in an oil tanker belonging to Iran. This sent oil prices up briefly in the vain hope of stabilizing them. But, strangely, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was silent. This was a warning to Iran from someone on the Saudi/Israeli/U.S. side, “You won’t win without costs.” Well, of course, that’s true. The big question everyone is asking is, of course, “Who did this?” Details are sketchy with a lot of back and forth. Iran initially reported missile strikes. But Iran’s national tanker company, the owner of the boat, is now ruling out missiles. But who did this is honestly not even relevant at this point. It could be Israel, the Saudis, rogue U.S. or British agents, etc. Once we started down this path of sanctions, attacks on oil assets, and the like, it opened up the possibility of anyone with an axe to grind creating an incident for their purposes and blaming someone else for it. There are so many conflicting priorities on all sides of this issue that all it takes is the right suitcase of money to start a war, or spike oil prices for a few hours, or whatever. I can spin a dozen motivations out of my head right now whereby everyone involved has motive to attack an Iranian tanker. And they would all sound plausible, including the one that you know Mike Pompeo is just itching to waddle away from the buffet table to announce, that Iran attacked itself. And the less that evangelical crazy-man says about this, the better everyone will be. In fact, it is Pompeo’s silence is deafening, since he never misses an opportunity to bash Iran. It makes you wonder just how much he may or may not know about this.

Iran Claims To Have Video Evidence Of Oil Tanker Attack - Iran has claimed that it has footage of last week’s attack on its oil tanker while off the Saudi Arabian Jeddah port, and it proves that the attacks were carried out by Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, according to Mehr news agency, who quoted Abolfazl Hassan Beigi, Iran’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission member.This evidence, Hassan Beigi said, will be provided to the UN and Security Council.“Saudi Arabia and the U.S. are trying to put the blame on the ISIL [Islamic State] or the Taliban for the attack, but the documents dismiss such a notion as no ISIL or Taliban terrorists are present in the Red Sea," Hassan Beigi said, adding that both ISIS and the Taliban were created and sponsored by Saudi Arabia and Israel.Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday, in his first media conference in over a year, that the attack on the tanker would not go unpunished, adding that it was “carried out by a government” rather than an individual.Rouhani stopped short of naming that state actor, however.  “If a country thinks that it can create instability in the region without getting a response, that would be a sheer mistake,” Rouhani said.The Iranian tanker, the Sabiti, was attacked last Friday in the Red Sea, damaging the vessel and causing oil to spill into the water. The Sabiti belongs to the National Iranian Oil Company. The attack on the Iranian oil tanker follows the September 14 attack on Saudi Aramco’s oil infrastructure that took offline nearly 6 million bpd of production. Tensions in the Middle East have been flaring up as the United States continues to sanction Iran’s oil industry for noncompliance with the nuclear deal.

Exclusive: U.S. carried out secret cyber strike on Iran in wake of Saudi oil attack: officials - (Reuters) - The United States carried out a secret cyber operation against Iran in the wake of the Sept. 14 attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, which Washington and Riyadh blame on Tehran, two U.S. officials have told Reuters. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the operation took place in late September and took aim at Tehran’s ability to spread “propaganda.” One of the officials said the strike affected physical hardware, but did not provide further details. The attack highlights how President Donald Trump’s administration has been trying to counter what it sees as Iranian aggression without spiraling into a broader conflict. Asked about Reuters reporting on Wednesday, Iran’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi said: “They must have dreamt it,” Fars news agency reported. The U.S. strike appears more limited than other such operations against Iran this year after the downing of an American drone in June and an alleged attack by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on oil tankers in the Gulf in May. The United States, Saudi Arabia, Britain, France and Germany have publicly blamed the Sept. 14 attack on Iran, which denied involvement in the strike. The Iran-aligned Houthi militant group in Yemen claimed responsibility. Publicly, the Pentagon has responded by sending thousands of additional troops and equipment to bolster Saudi defenses - the latest U.S. deployment to the region this year.

Oil Aside, Putin’s Saudi Bromance Yet to Yield Dividends - Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit on Monday to Saudi Arabia, only his second since he came to power two decades ago, underscores the new depth in ties between the Kremlin and the traditional U.S. ally. Yet there’s also growing frustration in Moscow at the lack of tangible economic benefits. Putin has built a personal bond with the de facto Saudi ruler, 34-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, famously sharing a high-five greeting with him at the Group of 20 summit last year. Geopolitically, Russia hopes to capitalize on its ability to navigate between arch-foes Saudi Arabia and Iran. But since the landmark deal with OPEC, under which Russia anchored itself to the Saudi-dominated oil cartel in order to stabilize prices, promises of multi-billion-dollar investments and other deals have largely failed to materialize. The Russian Direct Investment Fund said it will sign deals for more than $2 billion of Saudi investment in the agricultural, petrochemicals and other sectors during Putin’s trip. Even so, the fund’s unlikely to take part in the most important deal at hand - Saudi Aramco’s IPO. RDIF Chief Executive Officer Kirill Dmitriev declined to comment. Russia’s Sibur Holding is weighing petrochemical complex in Saudi Arabia worth more than $1 billion, Putin reiterated in a joint interview to Al Arabiya, Sky News Arabia and RT Arabic, RIA Novosti newswire reports. “The Russian-Saudi relationship is good on the surface but it’s lacking substance,” said Alexey Potemkin, chief executive officer of Moscow Policy Group, a consultancy that advises on Russia-Gulf cooperation. “The Saudis promised in return for the OPEC+ deal, Russia would get lucrative investments and great business opportunities, which unfortunately has not happened as the Russians expected.”

Russia, Saudi Arabia Seal Billions In Deals During Putin's Visit --Russian President Vladimir Putin has held talks with Saudi Arabia's king and crown prince in Riyadh as Moscow seeks to increase its presence across the Mideast. Putin and King Salman presided over a signing ceremony on a string of billions of dollars of investment contracts between the two countries, targeting sectors such as aerospace, culture, health, and advanced technology, AFP reported. The deals included an agreement to "reinforce" cooperation among the so-called OPEC+ countries -- the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries plus 10 nonmembers of the cartel -- according to Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman. Russia is not an OPEC member but it has worked closely with the group to limit supply and push up prices after a 2014 slump that wreaked havoc on the economies of Russia and cartel heavyweight Saudi Arabia. Putin said that Russia "attaches particular importance to the development of friendly, and mutually beneficial ties with Saudi Arabia." During a meeting with Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, Putin noted that the Saudi Arabian Public Fund has allocated $10 billion for joint foreign direct investment projects in Russia, a statement said on the Kremlin's website. The 83-year-old king told him that Riyadh looks forward to working with Moscow "on everything that will bring security, stability and peace, confront extremism and terrorism, and promote economic growth."

Compromise Or Genocide - Putin's 'Deal Of The Century' Rapidly Unfolding In Syria - "Putin is capitalizing on the chaotic retreat of the US and Turkey's brutality toward the Kurds in order to assert Russia's leadership," Syria analyst Joshua Landis observed of a newly published Vladimir Putin interview. "He contrasts how Russia has stood beside its beleaguered ally, Syria, while the US has abandoned both its allies, the Kurds and the Turks," Landis added. Putin said in the interview: "Syria must be free from other states' military presence. And the territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic must be completely restored."Given this weekend's rapidly unfolding events, with state actors Turkey and the Syrian Army squaring up on front lines, Russia's role in all this is probably still the greatest unknown, but what do we know at this point?  Precisely one week since Trump first unveiled a US troop exit from northeast Syria while essentially giving a green light to invading Turkish forces, events are unfolding at blistering speed, possibly toward a major Syrian Army clash with pro-Turkish forces, and no doubt toward a complete and final American withdrawal from Syria altogether. Currently Syrian Army convoys including tanks and artillery have begun deployment to northern Syrian battlefronts at a moment US troops have been confirmed in retreat. Syrian state media affirmed that Damascus is set to “confront a Turkish aggression” on Syrian territory, after what appears to be a major deal struck between Damascus and the main US-backed Syrian Kurdish groups.Reuters revealed on Sunday t hat Damascus and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been in direct negotiations, with crucial Russian participation. "The source close to the Syrian government said meetings between the SDF and Damascus had taken place before and after the latest Turkish offensive," according to the report.

Russia denies US news report it bombed 4 Syria hospitals in 12 hours - (AFP) - Russia on Monday denied a US newspaper report that its warplanes bombed four hospitals in rebel-held territory in Syria over a period of 12 hours this year. The Russian defence ministry rubbished the claim in a report by The New York Times, saying "the alleged 'evidence' provided by the NYT is not worth even the paper it was printed on". The May strikes -- which the newspaper tied to Moscow through Russian radio recordings, plane spotter logs and accounts by witnesses -- are part of a larger pattern of medical facilities targeted by forces supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country's devastating civil war. Nabad al Hayat Surgical Hospital -- which staff had fled three days earlier in anticipation of the facility being bombed -- was one of those struck during the 12-hour period beginning on May 5, according to the Times' investigation. A Russian ground controller gave the exact coordinates of the hospital to the pilot, who reported having it in sight a few minutes later, the newspaper said. The controller gave the go-ahead for the strike at the same time that a spotter who was tasked with warning civilians about impending strikes logged a Russian jet in the area. The pilot then reported releasing bombs, and local journalists filming the hospital recorded three bombs going through its roof and exploding. Kafr Nabl Surgical Hospital -- just a few miles (kilometers) away -- was bombed multiple times shortly afterwards. As with the earlier strike, a spotter registered one of Moscow's jets circling, and a Russian air force transmission recorded a pilot saying he had "worked" the target before delivering three strikes that were confirmed by a doctor, the Times said. The Kafr Zita Cave Hospital and Al Amal Orthopedic Hospital were also bombed by Russian aircraft during the 12-hour period. All four facilities had provided their coordinates to the United Nations for inclusion on a list to avoid strikes.

Turkey-Syria offensive: Syrian army heads north after Kurdish deal - BBC News - Syria's army has started to reach the north of the country, hours after the government agreed to help Kurdish forces facing Turkey.State media said government forces, which are backed by Russia, had entered the strategic town of Tal Tamer, 30km (19 miles) south of the Turkish border.The deal came after the US, the Kurds' main ally, said it would withdraw its remaining troops from northern Syria.Turkey's offensive aims to push Kurdish forces from the border region.Areas under the control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) came under heavy bombardment over the weekend, with Turkey making gains in the key border towns of Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad.Dozens of civilians and fighters have been killed on both sides.  On Sunday, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper announced the Pentagon was moving up to 1,000 troops away from the north, citing fears that US forces would end up stuck between "two opposing advancing armies". The Turkish offensive and US withdrawal have been internationally criticised, as the SDF were the main allies of the West in defeating the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria. There are fears about a possible resurgence of the group and the escape of prisoners amid the instability.

Betraying the Kurds - Trump’s greenlight to Turkey to go ahead and exterminate the Kurds in Syria is despicable — a betrayal of perhaps the only good thing that’s come out of this horrible war. But it’s also a perfect example of how nationalist and sectarian movements can be weaponized in the interests of empire. You back them when it suits your interests and throw them to the wolves when it doesn’t. The reason the Kurds are constantly used and betrayed is simple: they have the misfortune of being strategically placed and nationless. For the past century, by dint of fate, their various tribes and peoples have been spread among large chunks of landlocked real estate that does not “belong” to them: Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran — all countries where America and other not-so-friendly players have their sticks in the proverbial geopolitical fire. And so over the years, it’s made strategic sense for America (and its allies) to weaponize the Kurds’ desire for national independence against whoever America at the time decided was its enemy, and then to turn on the Kurds when they were no longer needed.In short: Running an empire is a nasty business. And cynically exploiting national and sectarian groups is a big part of the job. —Yasha Levine

Merkel tells Erdoğan to halt Syrian offensive - Turkey's military offensive in Syria threatens to destabilize the region and boost ISIS, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a phone call Sunday."The chancellor spoke in favor of an immediate end to the military operation,"said Ulrike Demmer, a spokesperson for Merkel, adding that the Turkish leader had requested the call.The call came after Berlin moved to suspend some arms exports to Turkey on Saturday after Ankara launched an offensive against Kurdish militias in northern Syria last week following U.S. President Donald Trump's withdrawal of troops from the region.Merkel also warned Erdoğan that, despite Turkish security interests along the land border, the offensive would likely displace large sections of the population in northern Syria, Demmer said. EU foreign ministers are meeting early this week ahead of a summit of heads of state, with both sessions set to address the situation in Syria.Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told Bild am Sonntag that Berlin has moved to restrict arms sales to Turkey since 2016. The government in Berlin also recently extended an arms export ban to Saudi Arabia. Merkel and Erdoğan also discussed gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean, Demmer said.

Germany, France to curb arms sales to Turkey over Syria operation -Germany and France said Saturday they would not export any more weapons to Turkey that could be deployed in the country's military operation in Syria. “Against the backdrop of the Turkish military offensive in northeastern Syria, the federal government will not issue new permits for all armaments that could be used by Turkey in Syria," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told newspaper Bild am Sonntag. France announced a similar measure on Saturday evening and reiterated its condemnation of the Turkish offensive. "France has decided to suspend all export projects of armaments to Turkey that could be deployed as part of the offensive in Syria," the French government said in a statement. "This decision takes effect immediately." European governments and the European Union as a whole have spoken out against Turkey's military offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces since it began on Wednesday. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressed "grave concern" about the offensive to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a phone call on Saturday evening, the U.K. government said. A statement from Johnson's office said "the Prime Minister was clear that the UK cannot support Turkey’s military action. He urged the President to end the operation and enter into dialogue." Germany's Maas told Bild am Sonntag that Berlin has been taking a very restrictive line on arms exports to Turkey since 2016, and particularly after a Turkish military operation in the northern Syrian region of Afrin last year.Last year, German armaments deliveries to Turkey amounted to €242.8 million — almost a third of all the country's exports of weapons of war, according to the newspaper.

Video appears to show alleged atrocities by Turkish-back militias against Kurds – NBC News - As Turkish forces drive forward into Syria, video appears to show alleged atrocities carried out by Turkish-backed Arab militias, including the execution of a Kurd. Multiple U.S. officials tell NBC News that the video and photographs appear to be genuine.

US military carries out ‘show of force’ in Syria after Turkish-backed fighters get close to American forces, official says - Turkey pressed ahead with its offensive in northern Syria on Tuesday despite U.S. sanctions and growing calls for it to stop, while Syria’s Russia-backed army moved on the key city of Manbij that was abandoned by U.S. forces. Reuters journalists accompanied Syrian government forces who entered the center of Manbij, a flashpoint where U.S. troops had previously conducted joint patrols with Turkey. Russian and Syrian flags were flying from a building on the city outskirts and from a convoy of military vehicles. Russia’s Interfax news agency, citing Moscow’s Defense Ministry, said later that Syrian forces had taken control of an area of more than 1,000 square km (386 miles) around Manbij, including Tabqa military airfield. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said an attack from Manbij that killed one Turkish soldier was launched by Syrian government forces in the region. U.S. President Donald Trump’s unexpected decision to withhold protection from Syria’s Kurds after a phone call with Erdogan a week ago swiftly upended five years of U.S. policy on Syria. As well as clearing the way for the Turkish incursion, the U.S. withdrawal gives a free hand to Washington’s adversaries in the world’s deadliest ongoing war, namely Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies. The Syrian army deployments into Kurdish-held territory amount to a victory for Assad and Russia, giving them a foothold in the biggest remaining swathe of Syria that had been beyond their grasp through much of its eight-year-old war.

US Troops Can Fire Back If Turkey Attacks Positions Again, Pentagon Says --Defense Secretary Mark Esper told "Face the Nation" on Sunday that remaining US troops were caught between Turkish forces and the SDF and that it would be “irresponsible for me to keep them in that position.” Revealing that Trump has ordered “a deliberate withdrawal” from Northern Syria “as safely and quickly as possible,” which includes some 1,000 troops Esper further addressed controversy surrounding a Friday incident where a US base in Kobani came under Turkish artillery fire."And so we find ourselves, we have American forces likely caught between two opposing advancing armies, and it's a very untenable situation," Esper said. According to defense officials speaking to The Washington Post this weekend, the Army believes Turkish artillery fire on American positions in Kobani were deliberate, specifically accusing Turkey of 'bracketing' U.S. forces by firing on both sides of the observation post.Esper was asked about this dangerous escalation, to which he responded that US troops "have the right to self defense and we will execute it if necessary" — thus  indicating that American forces in Syria have been given the green light to fire back if fired upon. “A senior Pentagon official said shelling was so heavy that the U.S. personnel considered firing back in self-defense,” a prior report cited.  "A contingent of U.S. Special Forces has been caught up in Turkish shelling against U.S.-backed Kurdish positions in northern Syria," Newsweek initially reported of the Friday incident. The Newsweek report cited an "Iraqi Kurdish intelligence official and senior Pentagon official" to say that "Special Forces operating in the Mashtenour hill in the majority-Kurdish city of Kobani fell under artillery fire from Turkish forces" amid operations related to 'Operation Peace Spring'. "We had been there for months, and it is the most clearly defined position in that entire area," an Army officer told the Post. Multiple 155mm shells fell "within a few hundred yards of the base on Mistenur Hill," the officer said.

 US Launched Airstrikes On Its Abandoned Ammo Storage & Command Center In Syria - In what appears a final major parting shot as the United States continues its rapid draw down from Syria, the Pentagon has revealed it conducted an airstrike on a munitions storage bunker at a US base on Wednesday to "reduce the facility's military usefulness" after invading Turkish forces threatened it. An official US coalition statement identified the strike on a US military compound located between Kobani and Ain Issa near the Turkish border, specifically at the sprawling Lafarge Cement Factory, which had served as a de facto anti-ISIS coalition command center for the last couple years of the war since it had been wrested from Islamic State terrorists.  The military described that a pair of F-15 jets "successfully" conducted the targeting of the ammo storage site, destroying what the Pentagon wanted to ensure didn't get left behind, calling it a “pre-planned precision airstrike” before Turkish-backed fighters could take control.This also included HQ facilities such as "latrines, tents and other parts of the Syria headquarters" which the US didn't want utilized by hostile forces.  It was part of the "show of force" against nearby Turkish-backed groups, which had been described in reports Wednesday as having come "too close" amid the 'deliberate' draw down of US forces.  "On Oct. 16, after all Coalition personnel and essential tactical equipment departed, two Coalition F-15Es successfully conducted a pre-planned precision airstrike at the Lafarge Cement Factory to destroy an ammunition cache, and reduce the facility's military usefulness," coalition spokesman US Army Col. Myles Caggins said. Lafarge factory before the war, and even for the first few years into the conflict, had been Syria's largest cement factory, owned and operated by a French company.

US Military Unlikely To Withdraw From Syria's Key Oil Fields- Report - The U.S. Armed Forces are not withdrawing from the eastern Euphrates River Valley region of Deir Ezzor or its plethora of oil fields, a military source in Damascus told Al-Masdar News. According to the source, the U.S. Armed Forces won’t withdraw from these areas because of Iran’s presence in eastern Syria and the reality that Damascus would again have access to Deir Ezzor’s vital oil fields. He would add the United States' two largest military bases in Syria are in the east near some of the country’s largest oil fields like Al-Omar.Damascus has wanted the Al-Omar and Conoco oil fields to be returned to their government; however, with the U.S.’ large military presence in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, they have found themselves blocked from these critical petrol supplies.Furthermore, with the ongoing sanctions against the Syrian government, the U.S. administration sees the return of these oil fields to Damascus as a benefit to the state and their allies like Iran. Syria has been under an economic siege for several years now, leaving much of the country in dire need of resources like medicine, gas, and other vital items.Meanwhile, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) is preparing to enter Raqqa city in northern Syria for the first time since 2013, a military source told Al-Masdar News. According to the source, the army has begun moving its troops to the area around the city as they have been given the green light to enter once the U.S. Armed Forces withdraw.

Hundreds of ISIS prisoners are escaping from camps in northern Syria amid Turkish offensive - Islamic State fighters are seizing a chance to escape and regroup as U.S.-allied Kurdish forces turn their attention from guarding thousands of captive extremists to defending themselves from Turkey’s assault. More than 800 suspected IS detainees escaped the Ayn Issa camp in northern Syria on Sunday, Kurdish forces said in a statement, five days into Turkey’s military incursion into norther Syria. Jelal Ayaf, co-chair of Ayn Issa camp, told local media that 859 people “successfully escaped” the section of the camp holding foreign nationals. He also said attacks were already being carried out by “sleeper cells” that had emerged from inside the camp, which holds IS prisoners, internally displaced persons and families or affiliates of IS fighters. While some escapees could be recaptured, he described the situation in the camp as “very volatile.” CNBC could not independently verify the numbers. At least 10,000 Islamic State prisoners are in camps across northeastern Syria, according to Kurdish and U.S. officials. About 2,000 are foreign fighters and the rest Iraqi and Syrian. As Turkish jets bombard the area, many of the personnel responsible for containing those prisoners are being forced to the front to defend themselves or their families, Kurdish forces say. The news comes as the Turkish military expands its offensive into Syria, which began shortly after President Donald Trump announced a U.S. troop withdrawal from the Turkish-Syrian border area and handed responsibility for the area — and the IS fighters within it — to Ankara. Turkey views the Kurdish fighters as a security threat and indistinguishable from a separate Kurdish group that has waged a decades-long insurgency inside Turkey.

Syrian troops enter Kurdish fight against Turkish forces - Syrian troops have begun sweeping into Kurdish-held territory on a collision course with Turkish forces and their allies, a day after the beleaguered Kurds agreed to hand over key cities to Damascus in exchange for protection. The deal, which Kurdish leaders emphasised they had made reluctantly after four days of bombardment by Turkish artillery and jets, threatens to open a new front in Syria’s nearly nine-year civil war, and signals the likely end of US and European military deployments in the country’s north-east. There were several flashpoints across north-eastern Syria on Monday. Syrian rebel groups loyal to Ankara launched an assault on the Kurdish-held city of Manbij with support from Turkish artillery and an air strike, a rebel commander told the Guardian. The militiamen – including many fighters who hailed from the city and fled years ago – clashed not only with Kurdish fighters but Syrian regime troops, fighting together for the first time since Sunday’s deal.  US troops were understood to still be on the ground in pockets of north-east Syria, including al-Saediya village, about 4 miles (7km) west of Manbij. US armoured vehicles were also stationed on a bridge into Kobane, sources said, trying to deter the Syrian regime’s entry into the city where Kurds and the US cooperated to inflict Islamic State’s first major defeat in 2015. Further to the east, the Syrian army said it had reached the town of Tal Tamr, bringing it to within 20 miles of the Turkish border. Syrian state television on Monday afternoon showed government soldiers entering the town of Ain Issa, about 21 miles away from the border. Unconfirmed reports said Syrian army troops had clashed overnight with Kurdish fighters in the city of Qamishli, which was not surrendered to Damascus in Sunday’s Russian-brokered agreement. The final terms of the deal appeared to still be under discussion on Monday, with several contradictory reports of its contents emerging. Meanwhile, Turkish fighters and their allies were continuing to attack Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn, two cities that have been the focus of Ankara’s mission to push Kurdish fighters – whom it considers to be terrorists – away from its southern border and create a 20-mile buffer zone where it says it will resettle at least 1 million Syrian refugees.

Erdogan Lashes Out: Saudis & Egypt's Sisi Are "Murderers" - Claims Assad Killed 1 Million People - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan unleashed a verbal attack against the Saudi and Egyptian governments in statements made Thursday after the latter two states criticized Ankara’s new military incursion in Syria. “Saudi Arabia has to look in the mirror before it criticizes the peace process,” Erdogan said in a speech during an expanded meeting of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), as quoted by the Anatolia news agency. “Who brought Yemen to this situation, except Saudi Arabia, and the Egyptian president in particular, has no right to speak at all, he is a killer of democracy in his country,” Erdogan continued.“I will remind them of the names, and invite them to be honest. I will start from Saudi Arabia, and say you have to look in the mirror, who brought Yemen to this situation? How is the situation in Yemen now? Did thousands of people not die in Yemen? You have to first calculate that,” he said to the audience.“Yemen is currently suffering from extreme poverty. You have destroyed every place. You have to calculate that first. You cannot interfere with us about the operation we launched in Syria to fight terrorism and preserve the territorial integrity of Syria,” he concluded about Saudi Arabia.“As for the president of the Egyptian regime. Don’t ever speak about us! You are a murderer of democracy in your country. You are a murderer!”

Pentagon Confirms Manbij Handed Over To Russia As US Forces Filmed Departing - A stunning development in the key northern Syrian city of Manbij the Pentagon has confirmed a planned handover to Russian military forces is underway amid a Turkish military assault on the region. This also hours after President Trump tweeted that Assad "wants naturally to protect the Kurds" and that the problem should be left to local powers.   Late Monday the main US base in Manbij was filmed empty of US forces, and American convoys were also spotted hastily pulling out of the city as Syrian national forces entered, following Sunday's historic deal between the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Assad government. Newsweek reports the developments follows: The U.S. military has begun a hasty exit from Syria's northern city of Manbij, and is set to help Russia establish itself there amid a Turkish attempt to defeat Kurdish-led, Pentagon-backed fighters at the strategic location, Newsweek has learned. As the Syrian national flag went up over multiple previously US-backed SDF towns on Monday, it was as yet unclear what Russia's role in all this would be. Through Monday there were also widespread rumors that Russian jets were circling over key border posts as Turkish forces shelled Kurdish positions below. The Newsweek report suggests, as we predicted, the blistering fast developments clearly are being driven by significant Russian deal-making among all parties, surprisingly including the US, apparently: A senior Pentagon official told Newsweek that U.S. personnel, "having been in the area for longer, has been assisting the Russian forces to navigate through previously unsafe areas quickly."A Pentagon official says #Manbij will be handed over to #Russia as Russian journalist Oleg Blokhin films a video of the abandoned #US military base in the town.

EU Backs Off Turkey Arms Embargo As Erdogan Holds All The Cards... 3.6 Million Of Them -If you've been paying attention you might have picked up on the irony that Turkey now appears the most powerful country in Europe thanks to the refugee threat. It's further appeared unfazed that the EU has appeared ready to ban all arms deliveries to Ankara over its internationally condemned military incursion into Syria, following Germany and France over the weekend announcing a temporary suspension, fearing weapons would be used against Syria's Kurds.  But alas on Monday the EU proved once again its position is too weak to act: "European Union countries committed on Monday to suspending arms exports to Turkey, but stopped short of the EU-wide arms embargo that France and Germany had sought," Reuters reported. “Member states commit to strong national positions regarding their arms export policy to Turkey,” EU foreign ministers said, stopping short of a Europe-wide weapons embargo.Speaking to Deutsche Welle on Germany's imposed ban which took effect Saturday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said any such move would “just strengthen us.” Not only does Ankara appear unfazed, also as Europe is likely to do nothing really of substance to halt the Turkish operation, it clearly has all the leverage.  As one op-ed commented related to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Sunday phone call demanding that Erdogan put an “immediate end” to 'Operation Peace Spring', why would he listen?... "After all, he has 3.6 million reasons not to."Erdogan threatened last week, not for the first time: "Hey EU, wake up. I say it again: if you try to frame our operation there as an invasion, our task is simple: we will open the doors and send 3.6 million migrants to you," he said.

Turkish-Backed Free Syrian Army Is Deliberately Releasing ISIS Prisoners - As Turkey wages a violent campaign against Kurdish fighters and civilians across northeastern Syria, Turkish-backed proxy forces with ties to extremist groups are deliberately releasing detainees affiliated with the Islamic State from unguarded prisons, two U.S. officials confirmed to Foreign Policy.  Backed by Turkey, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a decentralized band of Syrian rebels that has been linked to extremist groups, has launched a bloody assault on northeastern Syria, executing Kurdish prisoners and killing scores of unarmed civilians and Kurdish fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Over the weekend, a group of Turkish-backed forces ambushed a female Kurdish politician driving on the M4, the main highway through Syria and Iraq, forced her from the car, and killed her.The group even deliberately targeted U.S. troops in Kobani on Friday, two U.S. officials, speaking on background to discuss sensitive operations, said separately. On Oct. 11, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Brook DeWalt confirmed reports that U.S. troops there had come under artillery fire from Turkey, adding that they were unharmed. “It is not a mistake,” one senior U.S. administration official said. “They are trying to push us out.” The FSA, also known as the Turkey-supported opposition (TSO), began in 2011 as a loose rebel group composed mainly of Syrian army defectors who were dedicated to bringing down the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In 2013, FSA fighters reportedly began defecting to the Nusra Front, an Islamist organization with ties to al Qaeda that was also fighting Assad. At the time, news reports quotedanonymous senior military officials saying the Pentagon estimated that extreme Islamist groups constituted more than half of the FSA.The CIA reportedly began recruiting FSA fighters to counter the Islamic State in 2014 when the militant group swept into Iraq and Syria. But the FSA was still entangled with the Nusra Front, and members began exhibiting extremist ideology, said Melissa Dalton, an expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The United States ultimately discontinued its relationship with the FSA because the group lacked organization and proved to be a less viable partner for fighting the Islamic State than the SDF, Dalton said.During Turkey’s 2018 assault on Afrin, in northwestern Syria, Turkish-backed FSA proxies allegedly committed war crimes, including mutilating the bodies of Kurdish fighters and destroying places of worship. Now the group appears to be employing similar tactics in northeastern Syria. In addition to killing unarmed civilians, as Turkey captures territory from the SDF, the TSO is deliberately releasing Islamic State detainees previously held by the Kurdish fighters, U.S. officials say.

US Officials- Turkey Deliberately Releasing ISIS Prisoners, Then Blaming Kurdish Forces - Invading Turkish-backed forces are freeing Islamic State prisoners, according to Foreign Policy, also "executing Kurdish prisoners and killing unarmed civilians, videos show."On Monday a senior U.S. administration official told reporters that Turkey's Syrian Islamist ground proxies are "going to unguarded prisons and releasing ISIS detainees - then blaming Syrian Democratic Forces." And following prior reports since the start of Turkey's 'Operation Peace Spring' of mass ISIS prison breaks as Kurdish positions came under Turkish artillery fire, more former US captives are taking advantage of the chaos.  “The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday that close to 800 members of a camp holding the families of ISIS fighters had escaped after Turkish shelling,” according to an NBC News report. ISIS jail breaks have been reported in places like Ain Issa and Qamlishi city, near the Turkish border, among others. After President Trump last week said Erdogan assured him Turkey would be taking charge of ISIS prisoners amid its incursion into northeast Syria, the president has since issued a statement as part of newly announced sanctions on Ankara, saying "Turkey must ensure the safety of civilians, including relgious and ethnic minorities, and is now, or may in the future, responsible for the ongoing detention of ISIS terrorist in the region."On Monday morning Trump echoed the talking points of Turkish officials in a tweet, who have alleged the Kurds themselves are purposefully letting ISIS terrorists go free, speculating, "Kurds may be releasing some to get us involved."  Trump has since implied that it's now also Assad and Russia's problem to clean up the ISIS threat and "protect the Kurds":

Erdogan Holding 50 US Tactical Nukes 'Hostage' As Trump Authorizes Sanctions - Amid all the media and pundit outrage since Turkey's President Erdogan launched his so-called 'Operation Peace Spring' into northeast Syria last week, vowing to wipe out Syrian Kurdish forces who've long held the border areas, what's been largely missing is acknowledgement of the uncomfortable fact that NATO ally Turkey has long hosted a major portion of America's nuclear Cold War-era arsenal stored across Europe.  And as Erdogan threatens to "open the doors and send 3.6 million migrants" to Europe while under increased international criticism for the rapidly rising civilian death toll in Syria, The New York Times reports the following bombshell Monday: some 50 US tactical nukes are "now essentially Erdogan’s hostages". The Times cites growing alarm by top State and Energy Dept. officials over what the publication likens as a "disastrous" and confusing break from US policy in northern Syria, given not only further expected destabilization in the region, but worsening and unpredictable ties with Erdogan's Turkey, given Trump is now preparing to sign into effect severe sanctions with the aim of attempting to "limit" his military incursion.  According to the report: And over the weekend, State and Energy Department officials were quietly reviewing plans for evacuating roughly 50 tactical nuclear weapons that the United States had long stored, under American control, at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, about 250 miles from the Syrian border, according to two American officials. Turkey is among a handful of European NATO allies which play host to the extensive US nuclear arsenal on European soil a remnant and continuation of the historic Cold War build-up when Washington was locked in battle to deter Soviet expansion in Europe, which also allowed US allies to not have to pursue their own nukes.  The further irony in all this is that Incirlik Air Base is precisely where during the opening years of the war in Syria, US intelligence and military officials teamed up with their Turkish counterparts to wage proxy war against Assad, which involved fueling the jihadist insurgency which birthed the very groups now slaughtering Syrian Kurds and Christians in the country's northeast.

US claims “ceasefire” deal in Turkey’s invasion of Syria - The Trump administration claimed Thursday that it had achieved a major diplomatic victory by negotiating a “cease-fire” in the eight day old Turkish offensive against the Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria. The US president had himself green-lighted the invasion in an October 6 phone call with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and then pulled back US Special Forces troops deployed on the Syrian-Turkish border to facilitate the operation. Announced at a press conference convened by US Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the US embassy in Ankara, the existence of a “cease-fire” was immediately denied by Turkish officials, who asserted that they would never reach such a deal with “terrorist” forces. Ankara regards the YPG, which served as the Pentagon’s main proxy ground forces in the so-called war on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as a branch of the PKK, the Kurdish separatist movement in Turkey, against which it has waged a brutal counterinsurgency campaign for the past three decades. The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a 13-point “Joint Turkey US Statement on Northeast Syria” Thursday afternoon. Nowhere does the document mention a cease-fire, instead stating that Turkey will “pause” its offensive in Syria for 120 hours “to allow the withdrawal of the YPG.” Once the Kurdish militia is driven from the Syrian-Turkish border—the principal objective of the Turkish invasion—the military campaign dubbed Operation Peace Spring will be halted, according to the terms of the agreement. The document begins by affirming the status of the US and Turkey as NATO allies and goes on to declare Washington’s understanding of Ankara’s “legitimate security concerns on Turkey’s southern border” and to affirm a commitment to “protecting NATO territories and NATO populations against all threats.” Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, said after the meeting between Erdogan and the US officials, “We got what we wanted ... This means that the US has approved the legitimacy of our operations and aims.” The deal also promises that no new US sanctions will be imposed against Turkey, and that existing sanctions will be lifted once the military operations in Syria are brought to a halt. The invasion by the Turkish army has killed several hundred and sent at least 200,000 Syrian Kurds fleeing south for their lives. Atrocities have been attributed to Turkish-backed Islamist militias, drawn from the same Al Qaeda-linked forces that were previously armed and funded by the CIA in the regime change war against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Preening before the cameras in Fort Worth, Texas, Trump asserted that “millions of lives” had been saved, as if the shaky pause in the fighting on Syria’s northern border meant an end to the country’s eight year old conflict. He credited the deal to his “unconventional” approach and “rough love.” In a rare statement of truth, Trump blamed the Obama administration for having “lost more than half a million lives in a very short period in the same region” during the protracted regime change operation launched in 2011.

Turkey to suspend Syria offensive 'to allow Kurdish withdrawal - Turkey has agreed to a ceasefire in northern Syria to let Kurdish-led forces withdraw. The deal came after US Vice-President Mike Pence and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met for talks in Ankara. All fighting will be paused for five days, and the US will help facilitate the withdrawal of Kurdish-led troops from what Turkey terms a "safe zone" on the border, Mr Pence said. It is unclear if the Kurdish YPG will fully comply, however. Commander Mazloum Kobani said Kurdish-led forces would observe the agreement in the area between the border towns of Ras al-Ayin and Tal Abyad, where fighting has been fierce. "We have not discussed the fate of other areas," he said. UK-based war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said clashes were continuing in Ras al-Ain despite the ceasefire announcement. It said 72 civilians had been killed inside Syria and more than 300,000 displaced over the past eight days. What prompted the offensive? Turkey launched the cross-border offensive last week, after US President Donald Trump announced he was pulling US forces out of the Syria-Turkey border region. Its goal was to push back a Kurdish militia group - the People's Protection Units (YPG) - that Turkey views as a terrorist organisation. Turkey had hoped to resettle up to two million Syrian refugees in the border area, but critics warned that could trigger ethnic cleansing of the local Kurdish population. President Trump was accused by some of abandoning a US ally, as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) - a group dominated by the YPG - fought alongside the US against the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria. But on Wednesday he said the Kurds were "not angels", and declared: "It's not our border. We shouldn't be losing lives over it."

US-Brokered Ceasefire In Syria Already Shattered By New Turkish Airstrikes - In an entirely unsurprising development, it only took hours for Turkey to break the US-brokered deal for a 5-day ceasefire in northern Syria. The late Thursday newly inked ceasefire was announced by Vice President Mike Pence following a lengthy meeting with President Erdogan; it crucially involved allowing Kurdish fighters to evacuate battleground border towns and in exchange Turkey would agree to halt its offensive.But new Turkish air strikes near the border town of Ras al-Ain have shattered the apparently fragile agreement. "Five civilians were killed in Turkish air strikes on the village of Bab al-Kheir, east of Ras al-Ain," one Syrian war monitoring group cited in the AFP said. Four SDF fighters were also reported killed in that strike, according to the report.  In an official statement the SDF condemned what it called a clear violation of the terms of the US-Turkish agreement. "Despite the agreement to halt the fighting, air and artillery attacks continue to target the positions of fighters, civilian settlements and the hospital" in Ras al-Ain, spokesman Mustefa Bali said.This despite no Syrian Kurdish representatives being part of the closed door, last minute deal-making in Ankara on Thursday, and despite international pundits noting neither Washington nor the US-backed Syrian Kurds received anything significant in their favor.Indeed one Turkish official in the immediate aftermath of the deal had boasted to Middle East Eye "We got exactly what we wanted out of the meeting."

Israeli settlers vandalize Palestinian property in West Bank – A group of Israeli settlers has vandalized Palestinian-owned property in the occupied West Bank. According to a local sources, dozens of extremist Israeli settlers damaged several cars and sprayed racist graffiti on them as well as on the walls of Palestinian-owned buildings in Marda Village, north of Salfit, in the West Bank, adjacent to the Israeli settlement of Ariel, early on Sunday. It added that Israeli settlers also punctured the tires of at least five Palestinian cars. Back in April, Israeli settlers committed similar crimes in Beit Hanina neighborhood in East Jerusalem al-Quds. They also broke the windows of a number of private vehicles. The acts of vandalism and violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians are known as “price tag” attacks, which also target Muslim holy sites. Palestinian activists and rights groups say Israel is fostering a “culture of impunity” for the Israelis who commit such violent acts against Palestinians. The Israeli NGO B’Tselem says settler vandalism in the occupied West Bank is a daily routine and is fully supported by Israeli authorities.

 The US military used more bombs and missiles in Afghanistan last month than it has since 2010 - U.S. military aircraft dropped more bombs and fired more missiles in Afghanistan last month than it has in nearly a decade, Air Force statistics show. In September the U.S. military dropped 948 munitions in Afghanistan, according to U.S. Air Forces Central Command's latest summary of wartime missions. The last time so much ordnance was used in Afghanistan was October 2010, when the coalition tracked 1,043 weapons releases.Both President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary Mark Esper have said the U.S. military has escalated attacks against the Taliban following the breakdown of peace talks in early September. "We did pick up the pace considerably," Esper told reporters on Oct. 4 while returning from a visit to Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and Louisville, Kentucky. "The president did want us to pick up response. You had the heinous attacks that the Taliban and others conducted throughout Afghanistan."

China to lift 95 pct of poor population out of poverty by year-end - Xinhua | (Xinhua) -- Around 95 percent of China's poor population will shake off poverty by the end of this year, a senior official said Friday.Over 90 percent of poor counties will also be removed from the poverty list by the year's end, Liu Yongfu, director of the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development, said at a seminar.With continued effort throughout the next year, the country will wipe out extreme poverty in 2020, Liu said.China has made historic achievements in fighting poverty over the past decades, making the country a major contributor to the world's poverty reduction endeavors.Official data showed that China lifted 13.86 million people in rural areas out of poverty in 2018, with the number of impoverished rural residents dropping from 98.99 million in late 2012 to 16.6 million by the end of last year.

China auto sales fall again in ‘Golden September’ as turnaround hopes fade (Reuters) - Auto sales in China fell for a 15th consecutive month in September, data from the country’s biggest auto industry association showed, dampening hopes for a second-half turnaround in the world’s largest auto market. Total auto sales fell 5.2% from the same month a year earlier to 2.27 million vehicles, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) said on Monday. That followed declines of 6.9% in August and 4.3% in July. Car sales in 2018 declined from a year earlier, the first annual contraction since the 1990s against a backdrop of slowing economic growth and a crippling trade war with the United States. September and October, nicknamed “Golden September, Silver October” by China’s auto insiders, are regarded as the high season for auto sales in the country, with customers traditionally returning to make purchases after summer. The association had previously said it expected sales in the second half to improve, but that overall annual sales would fall 5% year-on-year to 26.68 million vehicles in 2019. As recently as three years ago automakers had enjoyed double-digit annual growth in China, before the brakes came on with the first annual contraction since the 1990s last year.

Worst Slump In A Generation - China Auto Sales Continue Historic Collapse -- Auto sales in China have fallen for the 15th month out of 16 months in September. It's the "worst slump in a generation", according to Bloomberg, as the key Asian market continues to be the poster child for the global automotive recession.  The market fell 6.6% to 1.81 million total units, according to the China Passenger Car Association. The auto industry continues to be weighed down by a slowing global economy, the trade war and stricter emissions rules. The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers is forecasting a drop in vehicle deliveries to dealers in 2019, despite China trying several types of stimulus to drum up demand. Both local manufacturers and global manufacturers have experienced these headwinds in China.General Motors said late last week that third quarter deliveries in China were down 18% and local Chinese manufacturer BYD said sales were lower in September by 15%. Additional data from Marklines shows that names like Mitsubishi, Mazda and Nissan continued mid-single digit declines, while Toyota and Honda were able to (barely) buck the trend.

  • Nissan announced on October 10 that it sold 134,713 units in September in China, reflecting a 4.6% y/y decrease in sales. September sales of the 7th-generation Altima, Lannia, Tiida, Kicks and Qashqai increased. Year-to-date (YTD) sales from January to September totaled 1,090,983 units, reflecting a 0.4% y/y decrease.
  • Toyota sold 143,100 units in September, reflecting a 1.6% y/y increase. YTD sales totaled 1,181,300 units, reflecting an 8.4% y/y increase.
  • Honda announced that its September sales were 138,056 units, reflecting a y/y increase of 4.0%. Sales of the Civic and Accord exceeded 20,000 units. Sales of the Accord, Odyssey, CR-V, Inspire and Elysion, all of which are equipped with the SPORT HYBRID, a highly efficient double-motor hybrid power system, totaled 13,270 units. YTD sales totaled 1,123,570 units, reflecting a 16.4% y/y increase.
  • Mazda announced that sales in September reached 20,619 units, reflecting a 5.9% y/y decrease. YTD sales totaled 161,742 units.

Pork-Panic Sends China CPI To 6 Year Highs As Factory Deflation Deepens - China's producer prices deflated for the 3rd straight month, slumping 1.2% YoY - the biggest deflationary impulse since July 2016 - but, thanks to the explosion in pork prices (as 'pig ebola' spreads), Chinese consumers are facing the worst inflation since 2013.

  • China Sept CPI +3.0% YoY (2.9% exp and 2.9% prior)
  • China Sept PPI -1.2% YoY (-1.2% exp and -0.8% prior)

“The return to PPI deflation since July is not only acting as a drag on manufacturing investment, already under stress from U.S.-China trade tensions and supply-chain relocation, but also poses a major risk for onshore corporate debt refinancing,” Bo Zhuang, chief China economist at research firm TS Lombard, said before the data.“Sustained PPI deflation, where the monthly rate remained below -2% for more than three to six months, would be a likely catalyst for the reversion to old-style credit stimulus.”The biggest driver of China's consumer price inflation was food prices, which rose 11.2% (highest since Oct 2011), thanks to pork prices surging 69.3% YoY - the biggest spike since 2007. The divergence between CPI and PPI is boxing Chinese officials into a corner, fearful of broad-based rate-cuts to rescue PPI from deflationary hell sending CPI even higher, but analysts are hopeful this is 'transitory'...  “Surging pork prices as a result of the African swine fever outbreak could cause headline consumer price inflation to increase beyond the 3% official target in the coming months,” Tommy Wu, senior economist at Oxford Economics Hong Kong Ltd, wrote in a report before the data. “But we don’t think that CPI inflation will rise substantially beyond the target and create a major constraint on Chinese monetary policy.” As we detailed previously, African swine fever, which has been raging across China, and Asia, has decimated pork supplies.  Pork prices are likely to remain elevated for some time, said Betty Wang, a senior economist at ANZ. She said farmers had culled so many pigs that it would take a while for supplies to build up again. "If people feel that food inflation is going up, it may spur policy actions," she added, although it wasn't clear just how Beijing can find a quick and easy substitute to domestic farms.  China has said it could import as much as 400,000 tons of pork as domestic supplies shrink. The country is likely to boost purchases of pork from the US in the coming weeks.

China’s imports and exports fell more than expected in September - China’s import and export data for September came in worse than expected amid the country’s ongoing trade friction with the U.S., Reuters reported on Monday, citing the Chinese customs. In U.S. dollar terms, China’s exports fell 3.2% in September from a year ago, while imports dropped 8.5% during the same period, according to Reuters. The country’s total trade balance in September was $39.65 billion, Reuters said. Economists polled by Reuters had expected Chinese exports denominated in the U.S. dollar to fall by 3% and imports to decline by 5.2% in September, compared to a year ago. The country’s overall trade surplus for last month was forecast to be $33.3 billion, according to the Reuters poll. In August, China’s exports in U.S. dollars unexpectedly fell by 1% year-over-year — the biggest fall since June — as shipments to the U.S. slowed down sharply. Chinese imports, meanwhile, dropped 5.6% in the same period. That brought its trade surplus to $34.83 billion, according to Chinese customs data. In yuan terms, China’s exports in September was 0.7% lower from a year ago, while imports dropped 6.2% during the same period, according to Reuters.

China's economic growth drops to lowest level since 1992 - China's growth dropped last quarter to its lowest level in nearly three decades, as the world's second largest economy continues to feel the pain from the trade war with the United States.China's gross domestic product grew by 6% in the three months to September 30, the weakest quarterly growth rate since 1992 and down from 6.2% in the April-June period, according to government statistics released on Friday. It also missed the average forecast of 6.1% projected by analysts polled by Refinitiv."Trade tension with the US is the key factor weighing on business sentiment and investment activities, although domestic stimulus policies are providing some buffer from the down side," said Chaoping Zhu, global market strategist for JP Morgan Asset Management. The worse-than expected figures emerged just one week after the United States and China reached a tentative trade truce to avoid more damage to the world's two largest economies.  "Ongoing negotiations may have some positive impact on business sentiments, but despite the potential mini deal, most of the US tariffs on imports from China still remain, hurting Chinese exports," Zhu added. The preliminary trade deal reached last Friday includes a halt on US tariff increases that were supposed to go into effect earlier this week. President Donald Trump told reporters that intellectual property, financial services and agricultural purchases were also included in the agreement. But the two sides still appear to be far from striking any sort of comprehensive agreement, and the latest announcement doesn't address some of the biggest issues on the table.

Why US businesses should be worried about China’s corporate social credit system Foreign companies will be required to hand over to Beijing more data for scrutiny. Illustration: Lau Ka-kuen Foreign companies that already encounter difficulties in doing business in China are about to face an even starker reality as Beijing steps up plans for a corporate rating system. In an ambitious undertaking, the Chinese government is building a so-called social credit system that aims to collect and analyse information on its 1.4 billion citizens and rate millions of corporations both domestic and foreign. Its goal is to keep local governments, businesses and people in compliance with national directives. For international businesses, the programme will look at a host of data including business contracts, social responsibility, regulatory compliance and how many Communist Party members they employ. Through a centralised platform using artificial intelligence, the system will rate firms for “credibility” or “sincerity”. Blacklisted companies could face punishments that include being denied access to cheap loans, higher import and export taxes and key personnel being prohibited from leaving China.Foreign companies will be required to hand over to Beijing more data for scrutiny. And the government’s possession of larger amounts of proprietary data and its authority to mete out punishment will give it an even stronger hand in keeping their behaviour in line. While the regulations are still under discussion, the system, which will formally launch by 2020, has already been used as a tool to force international companies to adopt Chinese values on politically sensitive issues.

Exclusive: Satellite images reveal China's aircraft carrier 'factory,' analysts say - (Reuters) - High-resolution satellite images show that the construction of China’s first full-sized aircraft carrier is progressing steadily alongside expansive infrastructure work that analysts say suggests the ship will be the first of several large vessels produced at the site. The images of the Jiangnan shipyard outside Shanghai were taken last month and provided to Reuters by the non-partisan Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), building on satellite photos it obtained in April and September last year. Noting a series of pre-fabricated sections, bulkheads and other components stacked nearby, CSIS analysts say the hull should be finished within 12 months, after which it is likely to be moved to a newly created harbor and wharf before being fitted out. The vast harbor on the Yangtze River estuary, including a wharf nearly 1 kilometer long and large buildings for manufacturing ship components, is nearly complete. Much of the harbor area appeared to be abandoned farmland just a year ago, according to earlier images CSIS analyzed. It dwarfs an existing harbor nearby, where destroyers and other warships are docked.

Hong Kong Has Weaponized The City’s Subway Against Protesters — After a week of complete shutdowns and early closures, and following months of mounting concerns, Hong Kong’s once-prized train system has become another tool of government suppression, say pro-democracy protesters.The Mass Transit Railway (MTR) is the lifeblood of Hong Kong, a state-of-the-art public transit system that zips passengers from one end of the city to the other in minutes. But it has also allowed demonstrators to move rapidly from one protest site to the next, in line with their “be water” strategy.  Current MTR employees told BuzzFeed News they too had concerns in how operations had shifted to support the government since August, expressing dismay over the frequency of stations closing, and allowing more riot police into the stations as the protests have worn on.  Last week, Hong Kong used colonial-era rules to force through an unprecedented ban on people wearing face coverings in public that have become typical garb for protesters. Residents worried about what oppressive measures the government would take next, including the imposition of a curfew or curbing internet access. Tens of thousands took to the streets over the weekend with more hardline protesters torching pro-Beijing businesses and banks along with MTR stations — setting entrances ablaze and smashing windows and ticket machines. The entire train system shut down as a result, a first in its 40-year history.  MTR Corporation said earlier this week that there was extensive damage and while it was working hard to make repairs, it would close early the following day “to allow more time for continuing repair works and inspection.” Early closures have continued all week. Protesters’ skepticism that the MTR genuinely needs to repair recent damages only shows how extensively residents’ trust in the train system has evaporated in the last several months.

Why Hong Kong’s secret societies are attacking protesters -- Hong Kong is slipping into dysfunction so rapidly that, for its citizens, normality is being constantly redefined. Slugfests between riot cops and black-clad protesters. Glitzy avenues lit up by flaming barricades. A DIY catapult heaving stones toward police. Just months ago, much of it would have been hard to imagine. But 19 weeks into a “revolution” to loosen China’s grip over Hong Kong, this sounds like a fairly typical Saturday.  Here’s the latest grim milestone. An elected official, aligned with the protest movement, says local mafia have put a price on his head. Underscoring this claim are strange attacks on his colleagues — other lawmakers, also opposed to Chinese state dominance, getting beaten down by mysterious men. But that’s not the worst part.This official, Lam Cheuk-ting, insists he can no longer rely on the cops for protection. Hong Kong’s police, he and other officials claim, are behaving like “servants” of crime syndicates loyal to Beijing — and thus “forcing people to defend themselves.” So, Lam is ready to do just that. Fit and 42, he is practicing his self-defense moves, traveling only in groups and keeping a paranoid eye out for the “gangsters who want to ambush me. I do think I must be one of their main targets.”His allegations, if true, are cause for despair. Since the 1980s, Hong Kong’s cops have been revered by its citizens and envied across much of Asia. They are the rare department that managed to purge the shakedowns and gangsterism that still plague police units throughout the region. Yet, Lam contends that police are now “colluding” with organized crime — or “at least turning a blind eye” when thugs mete out raw violence toward protesters.The claim, at a glance, feels counterintuitive. Why would Hong Kong’s mafioso take time away from extorting shopkeepers and dealing heroin to beat down protesters? But beneath Hong Kong’s surface are complex power dynamics — a world where gangsters can be pro-China patriots and, for crime bosses, terrorizing a protest might actually be a smart investment.

 Hong Kong Under ‘De Facto Curfew’ as Subway Stations Shut Early Hong Kong’s subway system has closed early for more than a week, effectively cutting off the main mode of transportation for millions of residents. Many are now wondering how long it will last.Following unprecedented vandalism on the night of Oct. 4, when Chief Executive Carrie Lam banned face masks after invoking emergency powers last used in 1967, many stations were left in tatters. The rail operatorMTR Corp. shut the entire network for a whole day for the first time since 2007 before gradually reopening damaged stations.The MTR has said it needs extra time to repair its stations. But as the service keeps getting curtailed, protesters have accused the company of helping the authorities prevent further demonstrations. In recent statements, the MTR has cited a “joint risk assessment with other relevant government departments” as a reason for the closures. A closed MTR entrance gate to the Mong Kok station, Oct. 8.Photographer: Chan Long Hei/Bloomberg“Hong Kong has a de facto curfew,” said a medical professional with the surname Wong, who said his commute from Kowloon City to Tin Shui Wai near the Chinese border recently took him 3.5 hours when an early closure prevented him from taking the subway. “It is not enforced by law, but by a monopoly on transportation.”FOR MORE ON HONG KONG’S UNREST:Police Officer Suffers Neck Wound, Two Held: Hong Kong UpdateHong Kong Is Sinking Into a Recession With No Recovery in SightHow Far Hong Kong’s Emergency Law Can Go: QuickTakeHong Kong Dollar Is Immune to Protests, Disappointing ShortsFor most of the time since protests against China’s increasing grip over Hong Kong began in early June, it was entirely possible for many city residents to continue their daily lives uninterrupted apart from some inconvenience during the weekends. But the disruption to the MTR, the lifeblood of the city, has started to alter life in the Asian financial hub.The subway handles roughly 5.9 million daily passengers in a city of around 7.5 million. Even though many stations have reopened, they still have extensive damage to escalators, turnstiles, security cameras and ticket machines.

 Hong Kong Protest Leader Viciously Attacked With Hammers, Wrenches - Across Hong Kong, the tension between the protesters and the government has been getting worse, particularly after an upsurge in violent attacks on individuals, police and demonstrators alike. But in an especially violent and gruesome attack, Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit, the leader of one of Hong Kong's biggest organizers of non-violent demonstrators was brutalized early Thursday by a group of thugs. The attackers reportedly used hammers and wrenches to beat Sham - who was photographed lying in a pool of his own blood on Arran Street in Mong Kak at around 7:40 pm Hong Kong time. It was the second attack on Sham in two months. Sham was the leader of Civil Human Rights Front, one of the larger groups that has emerged to organize non-violent pro-democracy demonstrations. The organization told the press that Sham was conscious and in stable condition when he arrived at the hospital. Police said he was bleeding from his head and arms when officers found him. The suspects were described as "four non-ethnic Chinese assailants". They reportedly fled in a getaway car. Officers are looking for the car and the attackers, but so far, no suspects have been apprehended. A witness to the crime reportedly said bystanders tried to intervene, but the attackers threatened them with knives. The Human Rights Front condemned the attack, saying it would feed fears of a "white terror" in Hong Kong (which was probably the intention). Sham was on his way to a meeting about a rally that the group has organized which is scheduled for Sunday. Other senior members of Sham's group told the press that the rally would proceed as planned. According to SCMP, Sham and his assistants were confronted by two masked assailants wielding baseball bats and a rod about two months ago. The two weren't badly beaten - the confrontation appeared to be an attempt to intimidate Sham right after police had declared one his upcoming rallies "banned" - but it marked an escalation in the tactics being used to intimate demonstrators, as many speculated that the thugs were part of a group backed by the mainland government.

Policy shift anticipated as North Korea’s Kim rides white horse on sacred mountain (Reuters) - Aides to Kim Jong Un are convinced the North Korean leader plans “a great operation”, state media said on Wednesday in a report that included lavish descriptions and images of the leader riding a white horse up North Korea’s most sacred mountain. In the photos released by state media, Kim is seen riding on a large white horse through snowy fields and woods on Mt Paektu, the spiritual homeland of the Kim dynasty, along with his younger sister and other aides. “His march on horseback in Mt Paektu is a great event of weighty importance in the history of the Korean revolution,” the official KCNA news agency said. “Having witnessed the great moments of his thinking atop Mt Paektu, all the officials accompanying him were convinced with overflowing emotion and joy that there will be a great operation to strike the world with wonder again and make a step forward in the Korean revolution.” It was unclear what the operation might involve, but Kim has often made trips to the sacred mountain at times of major policy endeavours. Analysts say the symbolism underscores North Korea standing up to international sanctions and pressure over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.

Future Thai queen relinquishes royal title over family scandal– The woman who was in line to become Thailand’s next queen has relinquished her royal title following revelations last month that several members of her family were detained in a high-profile corruption scandal. A brief statement from the palace’s Royal Gazette that was made public late Friday said Princess Srirasm, the wife of Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, had asked permission to give up her royal status. The statement gave no reason for the move, but said 87-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej had approved the request. Srirasm has been married to Vajiralongkorn since 2001. The couple have a 9-year-old son who could potentially have become king himself one day, since Vajiralongkorn is the current heir to the throne. Last month, Vajiralongkorn asked the government to strip several members of Srirasm’s family of their royally issued surname after they had been detained along with several police officers in a corruption investigation. They are facing charges ranging from bribery to extortion and using the monarchy’s name for personal benefit. The probe has drawn national attention in Thailand, but many questions remain unanswered primarily because of strict lese majeste laws that carry a penalty of up to 15 years in prison for defaming the monarchy.

Army deployed in Ecuador as protests descend into violence - President Lenín Moreno ordered the army on to the streets of Ecuador’s capital Quito after a week and a half of protests over fuel prices devolved into violent incidents, with masked protesters attacking a television station, newspaper and the national auditor’s office.Moreno said the military enforced curfew would begin at 3pm local time in response to violence in areas previously untouched by the protests. Masked protesters broke into the national auditor’s office and set it ablaze, sending black smoke billowing across the central Quito park and cultural complex that have been the epicentre of the protests. Later, several dozen masked men swarmed the offices of the private Teleamazonas television station, set fires on the grounds and tried to break into the building where about 20 employees were trapped.“They’re trying to enter the station, trying to break down the doors, we’re asking for help but the police aren’t coming,” one employee told the Associated Press.A journalist with the newspaper El Comercio told the AP that the paper’s offices were also under attack. The building’s security guards were seized and tied up and attackers were trying to break into offices where journalists were hiding.  Moreno blamed the violence on drug traffickers, organised crime and followers of former president Rafael Correa, who has denied allegations that he is trying to topple Moreno’s government.

Major Victory for Indigenous Movement in Ecuador - On Sunday, Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno agreed to repeal an austerity package that ignited 11 days of protests led by an indigenous movement that also wants to end mining and oil extraction, Amazon Watch explained. "I'm so happy I don't know what to say. I don't have words, I'm so emotional. At least God touched the president's heart," protester Rosa Matango said in an Associated Press story published by The Guardian. "I am happy as a mother, happy for our future. We indigenous people fought and lost so many brothers, but we'll keep going forward." The protests began when the government announced Decree 883, a set of spending cuts agreed to with the International Monetary Fund in exchange for a loan. That package included an end to fuel subsidies, which caused gas prices to skyrocket, BBC News explained. The harm would have extended beyond gas, Quito-based activist Kevin Koenig explained for Amazon Watch. Ending the subsidies "would have resulted in immediate and massive increases in the prices of all basic goods and services, creating an excessive burden on Ecuador's poorest populations," he wrote. The protests rocked the capital of Quito and even forced Moreno to move his government to the coastal city of Guayaquil. Seven people died, more than 1,300 were injured and 1,152 were detained, according to official numbers reported by BBC News. The protests also majorly disrupted Ecuador's oil production, the Associated Press reported further. Because of protests at oil fields in the Amazon, the country's production more than halved, falling from 430,000 to 176,029 barrels a day.  In exchange for the government withdrawing Decree 883, indigenous leaders will call for an end to the protests. The two groups will then work to draft a new agreement to reduce government debt and spending.

 Credibility At Stake - Maduro's Venezuela Given Seat On UN Human Rights Council - Despite US ally Costa Rica mounting a last minute effort to block the possibility, Venezuela has won a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council, in a shock that will outrage anti-Maduro governments throughout the West, especially Washington.The Washington Post reports of the news that the Maduro government will now hold a key human rights related position at the United Nations in what Caracas officials boasted is an "important achievement": The Maduro government, no longer recognized as legitimate by the United States and around 50 other countries, had sought a return to the 47-member panel to counter an image of international isolation — and thwart investigations into its own alleged abuses.“We celebrate, once again, the Bolivarian diplomacy of peace at the U.N.,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said after the vote. “This victory is historic, since we faced a ferocious campaign.”Thus in a major irony a government not recognized by the US and its allies, and further accused of expansive human rights abuses, now holds a UN decision-making post over human rights. It will serve a customary three-year term. The socialist state reportedly received key support during Thursday's vote from China, Russia, Cuba and other allies, including some deemed 'rogue' states by Washington. Supporters of Costa Rica, which attempted to win the seat in order to prevent Venezuela taking, decried that the United Nation's "credibility" was at stake again.  Past awkward moments for the UN Human Rights council involved Saudi Arabia's election to a seat in prior years, as well as other nations with deeply questionable human rights records and the Philippines and Cuba. Libya and Sudan also won seats Thursday alongside Venezuela.

Fourteen police dead in Mexico gun attack - Fourteen police officers have been killed and three injured in a shooting in western Mexico. The police were carrying out a court order in El Aguaje, Michoacán state, when their convoy was ambushed. A powerful criminal group, the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel, is believed to have carried out the attack. Authorities said all resources would be put into finding those responsible. The region is a hotspot for violence linked to turf wars between drug cartels. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been trying to tackle drug crime since he took office last December. Police patrol vehicles were ambushed as they passed through the town. Reports say the convoy was surrounded by heavily armed men in a number of pick-up trucks who then fired on the officers and set their vehicles on fire. At least 14 police officers were killed and three others injured. El Aguaje is considered to be of strategic importance between two battling cartels: the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel (CJNG) and a splinter group of the Knights Templar called Los Viagras. A message left at the site suggested the attack was carried out by gunmen connected to the CJNG. The supposed leader of the CJNG was killed by Michoacán police less than a week ago.

Global Air Freight Decline Now Worst Since 2008 Financial Crisis - The escalating trade war between the US and China has accelerated the synchronized global downturn. Global exports continue to collapse, and the global Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) remains under 50, stuck in contraction territory. All of these ominous signals indicate a global trade recession could be imminent in 2020.  New data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) shows global air freight volumes, measured in freight tonne kilometers (FTKs), plunged 3.9% in August YoY, and this was the tenth consecutive month of contraction and the most extended decline since the 2008 financial crisis. Global trade volumes are quickly slowing, down over 1% from a year ago. Trade across the world could be at a standstill by 2H20. Air cargo volumes have been hit with tremendous macroeconomic headwinds from a global slowdown that started in late 2017. An intensifying trade war between the US and China has undoubtedly accelerated the global downturn, damaging emerging markets that are highly exposed to exports, like Europe, India, and many countries in Asia. "The impact of the US-China trade war on air freight volumes was the clearest yet in August. Year-on-year demand fell by 3.9%. Not since the global financial crisis in 2008 has demand fallen for ten consecutive months. This is deeply concerning. And with no signs of a détente on trade, we can expect the tough business environment for air cargo to continue.  Plunging air freight volumes across the world is troubling because the industry is viewed as a bellwether indicator of the health of the global economy. A regional view of air freight volumes shows Asia-Pacific and the Middle East experienced the sharpest declines in YoY growth in August. North America and Europe saw moderate decreases. Surprisingly, Africa and Latin America recorded an increase in air freight volume in August YoY.

 World Economic Outlook, October 2019: Global Manufacturing Downturn, Rising Trade Barriers – IMF - Full Report and Executive Summary - Global growth is forecast at 3.0 percent for 2019, its lowest level since 2008–09 and a 0.3 percentage point downgrade from the April 2019 World Economic Outlook. Growth is projected to pick up to 3.4 percent in 2020 (a 0.2 percentage point downward revision compared with April), reflecting primarily a projected improvement in economic performance in a number of emerging markets in Latin America, the Middle East, and emerging and developing Europe that are under macroeconomic strain. Yet, with uncertainty about prospects for several of these countries, a projected slowdown in China and the United States, and prominent downside risks, a much more subdued pace of global activity could well materialize. To forestall such an outcome, policies should decisively aim at defusing trade tensions, reinvigorating multilateral cooperation, and providing timely support to economic activity where needed. To strengthen resilience, policymakers should address financial vulnerabilities that pose risks to growth in the medium term. Making growth more inclusive, which is essential for securing better economic prospects for all, should remain an overarching goal.

Commodities trader Gunvor held criminally liable for acts of corruption- The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) has ordered the company Gunvor to pay the sum of almost CHF 94 million, including a fine of CHF 4 million. The Geneva commodities trader has been convicted of failing to take all the organisational measures that were reasonable and necessary to prevent its employees and agents from bribing public officials in order to gain access to the petroleum markets in the Republic of Congo and Ivory Coast.In a summary penalty order dated 14.10.2019, the OAG convicted Gunvor (Gunvor International BV, represented by its Geneva branch, and Gunvor Ltd in Geneva) and ordered the payment of close to CHF 94 million, including a fine of CHF 4 million. Due to serious deficiencies in its internal organisation, the oil trading company failed to prevent the bribery of public officials in the Republic of Congo and Ivory Coast between 2008 and 2011, (Art. 102 para. 2 Swiss Criminal Code [SCC] in conjunction with Art. 322septies SCC). These acts of corruption, which had the aim of securing access to the petroleum markets in the countries mentioned, was the subject of a previous judgment issued by the Criminal Chamber of the Federal Criminal Court on 28 August 2018 (SK.2018.38). The investigation revealed that during the period under scrutiny, Gunvor had taken no organisational measures to prevent corruption in its business activities: the company did not have a code of conduct to give a clear signal and guidance to its employees on their activities, nor did it have a compliance programme. In addition, it did not have an internal audit procedure and had not appointed a staff member to take charge of identifying, analysing or reducing the risk of corruption. Moreover, no internal guidelines were in place and no training was offered to raise employee awareness and reduce the risks associated with corruption. It therefore seems that Gunvor accepted that a risk of corruption was inherent in the company's commercial activities, at least in the relevant markets.

Conflict erupts over European Central Bank’s return to “quantitative easing” - A bitter conflict, characterised by one leading banking economist as a “War of the Roses,” has broken out in European banking and financial circles over last month’s decision by the European Central Bank to further loosen its monetary policy.At its meeting on September 12, the ECB’s governing council decided to send its base interest rate further into negative territory. It is reducing the rate from minus 0.4 percent to minus 0.5 percent, and resuming its €2.6 trillion asset purchasing program, after a hiatus of nine months, at the rate of €20 billion a month.There was an immediate response. Reflecting the long-standing opposition to the quantitative easing policies in German financial circles, the Bild tabloid depicted the outgoing ECB president Mario Draghi as “Count Draghila”—a vampire, sucking dry the investments of savers. This has been a continuing theme of this section of the press.On this occasion, however, it received support from higher levels. The day after the meeting, Klaus Knot, the head of the Dutch national bank, issued a statement calling the ECB’s actions “excessive.” Jens Weidmann, president of Germany’s Bundesbank said Draghi was “overshooting the mark” and Robert Holzmann, the head of Austria’s central bank, said the decision was a “possible mistake.”Two weeks after the decision, the rift over the ECB decision was highlighted by the decision of the German representative, Sabine Lautenschläger, to resign from the ECB’s executive board. A known opponent of a further easing of monetary policy, her term did not expire until 2022.According to the initial reports of the September meeting, as many as nine members of the 25-member governing council spoke out against the decision. The extent of the opposition has been confirmed in the minutes of the meeting released last week. These show that while there was broad agreement on the need to take action to counter the ongoing slowdown in the eurozone economy, there was significant opposition to the package announced by Draghi. Most of the opposition centered on the decision to resume bond purchases. The minutes recorded that “a number of members” argued that the case for such action was “not sufficiently strong.”

Lagarde's Looming Problem: ECB Has 1 Year Of German Debt To Buy Before Hitting A Brick Wall One month ago, when the ECB's Mario Draghi announced the return of "QEternity", or open-ended bond purchases, as his parting gift (he leaves the ECB in just over two weeks) skeptics - such as this website - were quick to note that no such thing as open-ended QE can exist in a continent that is constrained by the amount of outstanding bonds that the ECB can monetize (and where Germany is coming up with such ridiculous fiscal acrobatics as "fighting climate change" to get the public to agree to issue more debt which the ECB could then monetize).Specifically, as we noted in September, assuming the  proposed €20bn/month in QE, and assuming a split of €5bn in corporate bonds and the balance in sovereign, QE can run for roughly 9 months under current limits when it comes to the most "limiting" European asset: German bunds. Now, about 4 weeks after we first warned, Reuters is out with its own analysis, cautioning that the ECB can buy just over one year’s worth of German bonds under its new asset-purchase program and will have to bend its own rules to keep the scheme running longer, "risking fresh internal and legal conflict."As extensively reported, the ECB decided last month to restart buying debt indefinitely, less than a year after it ended its last QE operation, in the process opening a rift in a normally collegial Governing Council, where most of the "core" central bankers rebelled against the outgoing Italian despot, as conservative policymakers felt they had been strong-armed into a scheme that will be difficult impossible to manage and exit.Opponents of the ECB's new round of bond purchases — which included Europe's biggest and wealthiest countries, France, Germany, and the Netherlands — argued that the purchases should have been an emergency tool, and that indefinite buying will conflict with the safeguards the ECB set up to keep it legal. It would also deplete what little ammo the ECB had in case a real crisis hit as rates in Europe are already deeply negative.Meanwhile, under existing ECB safeguards the central bank's own hands will soon be tied how much debt it can buy should the economy fail to rebound. Those safeguards include buying no more one third of each country’s debt and b uying bonds according to each country’s shareholding in the ECB, commonly known as the capital key.

France says only ‘political change’ in UK would justify Brexit extension— Either the U.K. changes its tune or the EU won't change the Brexit deadline, a senior French official warned Wednesday. Only a "political change" in Britain, creating the possibility of a "different dialogue," would justify an extension of the October 31 Brexit deadline, France's state secretary for European affairs, Amélie de Montchalin, told a parliamentary hearing on Wednesday. "If new elections, if there’s a new referendum, if there is a political change that leads us to think that we could have a different dialogue than the one we are currently having, an extension request can be discussed," de Montchalin told a National Assembly hearing. "But giving more time in the same exact conditions we see, it doesn’t give lots of hope that things will go differently," she said. "It’s not three more months that will resolve the complexity of the problem. On the other hand, what can help us is if we have other interlocutors, or that they carry a more aligned position between what the parliament says, what the population thinks and what the government says." The Brexit back-and-forth is coming down to the wire, with London and Brussels pessimistic about prospects for a deal just one week before a crucial European Council leaders' summit. Amélie de Montchalin, France's state secretary for European affairs | Philippe Huguen/AFP via Getty Images In Brussels, EU officials and diplomats are bracing for the possibility that French President Emmanuel Macron will take a hardline stance against any further Brexit delay given the continuing political chaos in London — despite the repeated insistence of other EU leaders that they would never force a no-deal outcome if any chance remained for a deal. It was Macron who, almost single-handedly, pressured his fellow leaders at a summit in April into offering the U.K. only a short-term extension until October 31, while others, including European Council President Donald Tusk, wanted a long delay of a year or more. Macron has indicated that he will make an assessment by the end of this week on the likelihood of reaching a deal based on a proposal put forward by U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Other EU leaders have said much of the proposal is not workable, including the bloc's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, whotold the European Parliament on Wednesday: "At this particular point, we are not really in a position where we are able to find an agreement."

Quo Vadis? - Frances Coppola - When even anti-EU tabloids say the Government's official position on Brexit is insincere, it is time to take it seriously. On Tuesday last week, The Sun reported that the European heads of government had concluded that Johnson's latest genius plan to create a "double border" on the island of Ireland wasn't a serious attempt to negotiate a Brexit deal. "They believe his insistence the dossier be kept secret is an effort to disguise the fact it is designed to set up a “blame game” with Brussels," it said.  An hour after The Sun published its article, Sky News released a briefing from an unnamed "No. 10 source" on a phone call between Boris Johnson and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel: "The call with Merkel shows the EU has adopted a new position. She made clear a deal is overwhelmingly unlikely and she thinks the EU has a veto on us leaving the Customs Union. Merkel said that if Germany wanted to leave the EU they could do it no problem but the UK cannot leave without leaving Northern Ireland behind in a customs union and in full alignment forever. She said that Ireland is the government's special problem and that Ireland must at least have a veto on NI leaving. Merkel said that the PM should tell NI that it must stay in full alignment forever, but that even this would not eliminate customs issues. It was a very useful clarifying moment in all sorts of ways. If this represents a new established position, then it means a deal is essentially impossible not just now but ever. It also means they are willing to torpedo the Good Friday Agreement." This was the second briefing in two days from an unnamed "No.10 source" that said talks were about to break down and it was all the fault of EU countries. The first, reported in the Spectator, accused the Irish taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, of "reneging" on a promised compromise, and it warned that if talks failed and Johnson was forced to ask for an extension to Article 50 under the Benn Act, the UK would "withhold cooperation" from any EU countries that backed the extension. The brusque tone and inflammatory language of both briefings suggest that the source is the same person. Shortly after Sky News's report, Leave.EU issued an incendiary tweet showing a picture of Angela Merkel and saying "we didn't win two world wars to be pushed around by a Kraut."  The ensuing Twitter storm forced Leave.EU to delete the tweet and issue an apology. But Leave.EU know their base well. That tweet will have resonated with people like my neighbour. And the apology was more than slightly insincere, anyway. "The real outrage is the German suggestion that Northern Ireland be separated from the UK," said Leave.EU's co-founder, Arron Banks. That amounts to "we're sorry for saying that it's the Germans' fault, but it's still the Germans' fault".

Brexit party voters will decide Boris Johnson’s fate  -The fate of Boris Johnson’s premiership will be determined by Nigel Farage and the Brexit party. Even if a Brexit deal can be agreed, another extension to the deadline of 31 October still seems possible. If the can is kicked down the road, the question of how Farage’s voters will react is key. Without the support of Brexit party voters, Boris Johnson could wake after the next election to find himself and his party still trapped in a hung parliament. But if he wins over half of Farage’s supporters, while the Remain camp is divided between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, then he could land nearly 350 seats and a comfortable majority. Win over three-quarters and Johnson enters landslide territory. Such calculations depend heavily on how Brexit party voters will react to a further Brexit extension – or, indeed, the nature of any deal agreed between the EU and Britain. There are two schools of thought. The most popular contends that when Johnson’s deal fails and he is forced via the Benn Act to agree to an extension then both he and the Conservative party will suffer a mass exodus of support. Disillusioned by the failure of yet another Conservative leader to deliver Brexit, a large chunk of the six in ten Leavers who remain with Johnson will defect en masse to the Brexit party, joining the one in four Leavers who already sit with the ‘hard’ Brexiteers. Only last week, Farage sought to woo more of them over by taking out full-page adverts in newspapers, warning Leavers that the Brexit choice is ultimately binary: it’s either a bad deal with Boris and the establishment or a ‘clean break’. Were such an exodus to happen, then it would not only slash the healthy double-digit leads that the Conservative party has been enjoying in the latest polls but would most likely ruin Johnson’s hopes of a strong majority at the next election.

IS SUMMIT GOING ON? Boris Johnson talks DUP into major climbdown sparking negotiations for last minute Brexit deal - BREAKNECK negotiations for a last-minute Brexit deal began last night after Boris Johnson seemed to have talked the DUP into a major climbdown. The Ulster unionist party — whose votes prop up the PM’s minority government — previously refused to accept any new customs checks down the Irish Sea. Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay with Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier before their meeting in BrusselsCredit: Reuters But in what looked like a major shift last night, its boss Arlene Foster refused to torpedo the plan that was brainstormed by Mr Johnson and Ireland’s Leo Varadkar on Thursday. She only gave a stern warning to Boris that “no barriers to trade are erected within the UK”. The EU has agreed to carry out intensive talks over the weekend on a new plan to end the impasse over Northern Ireland. Under the “dual customs regime”, the province would remain within the EU’s customs orbit, collecting Brussels tariffs. But it would formally leave the Customs Union with the rest of the UK and benefit from any new trade deals signed by an independent Britain. Member states gave the green light to their Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier to start intensive negotiations with the UK. He was briefed on the plan by his UK counterpart Steve Barclay at a 2½ hour breakfast meeting yesterday. Mr Barnier said: “Brexit is like climbing a big mountain. We need vigilance, determination and patience.” Meanwhile Mr Johnson was tight-lipped last night, refusing to say if his plan would mean Northern Ireland leaving the EU Customs Union.

Dodds warns mooted Brexit compromise ‘cannot work’ - The DUP has poured cold water over a reported Brexit compromise to end the deadlock over the backstop. Deputy leader Nigel Dodds warned the mooted plan - reportedly being discussed by EU and UK officials in Brussels - "cannot work". Reports from the Belgian capital claimed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has sought to revive a proposal first put forward by former prime minister Theresa May for a customs partnership between the UK and the EU. The scheme, intended to avoid the need for customs controls on the island of Ireland, would see Northern Ireland remain politically in a customs union with the EU but it would be administered by the UK. However Mr Dodds - whose party's votes will almost certainly be needed to get a Brexit deal through parliament - told the Italian La Repubblica newspaper that Northern Ireland "must stay in a full UK customs union, full stop". "It cannot work because Northern Ireland has to remain fully part of the UK customs union," he said. He added: "There is a lot of stuff coming from Brussels, pushed by the Europeans in the last hours, but one thing is sure: Northern Ireland must remain fully part of the UK customs union. And Boris Johnson knows it very well." British officials have so far remained tight-lipped in the face of the reports. The reported plan would create a customs border in the Irish Sea with goods travelling from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland being subject to tariffs which Britain would collect on behalf of the EU. Businesses would then be able to claim a rebate once they had shown the goods were for consumption in the UK market. However it would mean that Northern Ireland would be able to benefit from any post-Brexit trade deals the UK struck with other countries around the world.

European Union declares little chance of Brexit deal by Thursday summit - Despite talk of a possible Brexit deal emerging between British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government and the European Union (EU), no deal had been reached after three days of “intensive” talks. Talks began after Johnson and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar met last Thursday and concluded there was a “pathway to a deal” that could overcome the border issues in Ireland post-Brexit. However, on Sunday, the EU said that the new proposals from Johnson on replacing the Irish “backstop”—to prevent the return of a post-Brexit hard border with Northern Ireland—were unsatisfactory. The UK proposes a plan that would effectively mean setting up customs checks on both sides of the border and tracking the destination of all goods entering Northern Ireland, applying differential treatment depending on their end destination. This would leave Northern Ireland in the UK’s customs zone, which is demanded by the Tory’s hard-Brexit wing and its Democratic Unionist Party coalition partners. The EU rejected the proposals as too “complex” overall, with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier telling EU diplomats that there was “no precedent” for such a dual customs system to coexist in one territory. In the latest talks the EU has secured concessions from London, with Barnier saying that Johnson had dropped a demand that the Northern Ireland Assembly have an up-front power of veto before any new arrangements for Northern Ireland come into force. However, UK negotiators were still demanding that Northern Ireland have the power to leave any agreed customs arrangements at a future date. The stage is set for a showdown between the UK and EU leaders who meet for a two-day summit Thursday. If no deal is reached this week, Britain is set to exit the EU on October 31 without one. The Summit concludes Friday—with Johnson faced with having to write a letter to the EU to request a delay to Brexit for three months if he has no deal, according to the Benn Act passed by cross-party MPs opposed to a no-deal Brexit last month. The government has maintained that although Johnson “will obey the law”—and according to a legal submission revealed in a Scottish court last week Johnson said he will sign the letter—the UK will still leave on October 31 without a deal if necessary. Johnson has called an emergency session of parliament Saturday—the first Saturday sitting since the Falklands/Malvinas war in 1982. It is understood he will ask parliament to back a deal if he succeeds in agreeing one, or to support a no-deal exit at the end of this month. There is rising speculation that Johnson may be able to win support for a deal if he secures one, thanks to the possible backing of all Tory MPs and at least 10 pro-Brexit Labour MPs. But parliament will not support a no-deal Brexit.

Boris Johnson’s relationship with the Queen hits ‘rock bottom’ as he is accused of forcing her to deliver a ‘party political broadcast’ for the Conservative Party Relations between Boris Johnson and Queen Elizabeth have reportedly hit "rock bottom" after the prime minister forced her to deliver what constitutional experts have branded a "party political broadcast" for his Conservative Party. The Queen came to the House of Lords on Monday to deliver a "Queen's Speech" which set out a new legislative programme for Johnson's government. However, the timing of the speech, which came shortly before an expected general election, is a breach of the traditional constitutional convention in which such speeches are normally made after an election. The prime minister currently has a majority of minus 45, meaning that none of the legislation the Queen announces on Monday has much hope of getting through parliament before another general election. Read more: Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn had an incredibly awkward chat before the Queen's Speech This has led to constitutional commentators labeling the speech as a "party political broadcast" for Johnson's Conservative party. As a result, Buckingham Palace reportedly took the unprecedented step of demanding a copy of the speech a week early to ensure that there were no nasty surprises contained within it. "Number 10 is pretty worried they've hit rock bottom with the palace so they wanted to get the speech in early," one Cabinet source told the Sun Newspaper. "That left quite a lot of departments upset and in a flap, as a few things weren't ready. It's all been pretty messy and frantic."

This sham of a Queen’s speech could prove the end for Boris Johnson -Folderol, hokum and flapdoodle – the usual absurdities of the Queen’s speech rigmarole were reduced to their ultimate fatuity on Monday. As she named those 26 never-to-be-enacted bills engraved laboriously on goatskin vellum, they might as well have been scribbled in ballpoint pen, these electioneering geegaws and giveaways, embellished with thumbscrews on crime and migration. But nothing matters here except the evanescent promise of an EU withdrawal deal, always just beyond reach. “My government will …” she intoned as if sucking lemons, but she has no government capable of doing anything at all. What heavy lifting it would take to turn this country into Boris Johnson’s “greatest place on Earth”, in its present miserable state caused mainly by him. Leave aside Brexit devilment that hangs by a thread, look at the rest of his empty prospectus. If this was a hunting expedition designed to shoot Labour’s fox, it may have the opposite effect. Black Rod summoned the Commons to hear the end of austerity, but that’s almost as much sham humbuggery as all the rest. There is indeed to be spending, enough to set both the last Tory chancellors gnashing their teeth at the loss of their ill-gotten austerity savings. But come an election, mere announcements of a bit of easing up won’t expunge the bitter era of cuts that will scar the public service landscape for years to come. Bungs may ease the worst, preventing deeper cuts, but Johnson’s “sacred” NHS, schools and police are as stretched and stricken as ever, the jam promised for next year only thinly spread. And there’s still the rawness of a million public sector jobs axed and 2,000 food banks serving those who lost working tax credits. But here’s the tripwire, Johnson’s catch-22. He will only win if he has pulled off Brexit – but his version, Britain out of both customs union and single market, will drastically shrinkhis own Treasury receipts. His Brexit will push the economy into near-recession just as the world teeters towards a Trump trade war slowdown. Already his Brexit referendum victory has made us £55bn poorer, Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies says, pointing to three years of lost productivity on top of this decade of stagnant living standards. Johnson’s Brexit will push his government back into austerity, so in his victory would be his own defeat.

If there’s a pathway, it leads to a dead end  -Chris Grey. From last week. Like most people I was taken by surprise when yesterday’s meeting between Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar ended with a positive-sounding line about being able to“see a pathway to a possible deal”. Quite what that means or will lead to is difficult to say, but it was followed by a meeting between Steve Barclay and Michel Barnier this morning. There was no post-meeting press conference but both sides issuedstatements describing it as “constructive”. However, Donald Tusk stated that Johnson’s plans were “still not workable or realistic” although there were “promising signals”, and Barnier briefed EU-27 Ambassadors and the Brexit Steering Group this afternoon leading to the decision to intensify negotiations. In such a fast-moving situation, sensible analysis is difficult and prone to age fast – and badly. One thing that is quite clear is that Johnson’s “final” offer for a Withdrawal Agreement with the EU is now dead. That is hardly a surprise given that it was never going to fly in the form proposed, for the reasons discussed in my previous post. It may never have been intended as a serious suggestion, but in any case it was never a viable one. The implication now is that Johnson is ready to shift, perhaps to the original, Northern Ireland only, version of the backstop. Another, and perhaps more likely,possibility being touted is that of a Northern Ireland only version of May’s UK-wide customs partnership plan. It was rejected by the EU as unworkable for the UK, butcould be viable on a more limited basis (£). This would see Northern Ireland leave the customs union, but all checks would be on the sea border, with adjustment payments then made where there were tariff differentials between the two customs territories. Also perhaps in play are the consent arrangements in the Johnson proposals, which had been set up in such a way that the Northern Ireland Assembly’s periodic votes on regulatory alignment gave the DUP an effective veto. A different arrangement, giving parity to both unionist and nationalist communities may be under discussion.

UK and EU on verge of Brexit deal  - Negotiators virtually clinched a Brexit deal Wednesday night — with just a dispute over value-added tax standing in the way.All of the other thorniest disputes in the divorce decree had been ironed out, according to five EU diplomats, including highly sensitive provisions for managing the Ireland-Northern Ireland border th -- at had long been the main obstacle to an agreement.  Word that negotiators had nearly reached a deal came after an intense day of negotiations on the eve of a summit of EU leaders in Brussels, billed as a last chance for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to push through a deal before the deadline of October 31 for pulling the U.K. out of the EU.However, clinching an accord among negotiators has never been the toughest hurdle in the Brexit process — and clear political obstacles remain. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson personally had not yet signed off on the negotiators' work, diplomats said.Johnson told his Cabinet earlier in the afternoon that there was "a chance of securing a good deal," his spokesman said, but there are still "a number of outstanding issues."The U.K. government is struggling to win over the support of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party after a series of meetings in Downing Street. Without the DUP it looks very difficult for Johnson to push a deal through the House of Commons, in part because he lacks a majority and also because DUP support could unlock another key faction, Tory Brexiteers.“As things stand, we could not support what is being suggested on customs and consent issues and there is a lack of clarity on VAT,” DUP leader Arlene Foster and deputy leader Nigel Dodds said in a joint statement.

Boris Johnson 'on brink of Brexit deal' after border concessions  - Boris Johnson appears to be on the brink of reaching a Brexit deal after making major concessions to EU demands over the Irish border. A draft text of the agreement could now be published on Wednesday if Downing Street gives the final green light, according to senior EU and British sources. It is understood that the negotiating teams have agreed in principle that there will be a customs border down the Irish Sea. A similar arrangement was rejected by Theresa May as a deal that no British prime minister could accept. Johnson will still have to win over parliament – including the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) and the hardline Tory Brexiters of the European Research Group (ERG) – on the basis that, under the deal, Northern Ireland will still legally be within the UK’s customs territory. One Eurosceptic source close to both camps indicated that such an arrangement would be “extremely difficult for the DUP to swallow”, but neither the DUP nor ERG publicly made any criticism of Johnson’s efforts. The prime minister will brief his cabinet on the situation at 4pm on Wednesday before addressing a scheduled meeting of the 1922 Committee in the evening.  Under his proposals, the prime minister would be able to boast that the UK “whole and entire” had left the European Union. “Northern Ireland would de jure be in the UK’s customs territory but de facto in the European Union’s,” one diplomatic source said of the tentative agreement.

UK and EU strike new Brexit deal in last-ditch talks -  Negotiators from the U.K. and EU reached a draft Brexit deal in 11th-hour talks Thursday, although there are serious doubts that the agreement will be approved by U.K. lawmakers back in Westminster.Sterling rose on news after the U.K. made concessions over the Irish border, an issue that had proven to be the biggest obstacle to a deal. The pound was 0.8% higher against the dollar, at $1.2929, reaching a five-month high but soon trimmed those gains as opposition parties in the U.K voiced their concerns. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on British lawmakers to back the deal when it’s put before Parliament on Saturday.  European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called the deal “fair and balanced.” The “Withdrawal Agreement” was also approved by EU leaders at their summit on Thursday, but it still needs to pass U.K. lawmakers at the weekend. The EU Parliament will also have to ratify the deal at an as yet unspecified date. Speaking after the deal was announced, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said the deal was the result of intense work from both negotiating teams. “We have delivered together,” he said. Giving further details on the deal, Barnier said that Northern Ireland will remain part of the U.K.’s customs territory and would be the entry point into the EU’s single market. He said there would be no regulatory or customs checks at the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (a part of the U.K.). That removed what had been a key issue for both sides. He added that Northern Ireland would remain aligned to some EU rules, notably related to goods.The deal also covers the protection of citizens’ rights and a transition period that will last until the end of 2020. Barnier also said the EU and U.K. would work toward an “ambitious free trade deal with zero tariffs and quotas.” Johnson faced a Saturday deadline by law to request an extension to the current Brexit departure date of Oct. 31 had no deal been reached. However,Juncker has implied that EU leaders won’t allow an extension, even if Johnson asks.This sets up a complicated and difficult day for the U.K. Parliament on Saturday. There are doubts a deal will be approved in Westminster, with opposition parties already criticizing it.While details of the new deal remain scant, the U.K. opposition Labour party said in a statement that “from what we know, it seems the Prime Minister has negotiated an even worse deal than Theresa May’s, which was overwhelmingly rejected.” The pro-Remain Liberal Democrats also said they were determined to stop Brexit altogether and still advocated a second referendum. The leader of the Brexit Party, Nigel Farage, said the deal should not be supported. The Scottish National Party (SNP) has also said it will not vote for the deal.A key ally of the government, the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), has already responded by saying that it cannot support the deal.The U.K. government, which does not have a majority in the British Parliament, needs the DUP’s votes to approve the deal.

Juncker seeks to sell Brexit deal by 'ruling out' further delay - Jean-Claude Juncker has tried to help sell the new Brexit deal in the face of opposition from the Democratic Unionist party by pouring doubt on a further Brexit extension in the event of it being rejected. With Boris Johnson facing an uphill struggle to secure a majority in the Commons when it sits on Saturday, the European commission president piled pressure on MPs who fear a no-deal Brexit into giving their support.Juncker said he was “ruling out” a prolongation, although the issue is solely the remit of the heads of state and government. “If we have a deal, we have a deal and there is no need for prolongation,” he added. The claim was not repeated by any EU leaders. Donald Tusk, the European council president, confined himself to saying that “a deal is always better than a no deal”. Sources in Brussels suggested that previous comments from Juncker in which he had said the bloc would never choose a no-deal Brexit were a “better reflection” of the EU’s position.France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, said: “As far as I’m concerned, I am satisfied we managed to find it and reasonably confident it can be ratified by the British and European parliament.” Agreement on the new deal was struck in a phone call between Juncker and Johnson at 11.10am London time.During a later joint appearance in Brussels the two men called on the Commons to pass the deal so that negotiations could move on to the terms of the trading relationship.Johnson said: “I hope very much … that my fellow MPs in Westminster do now come together to get Brexit done to get this excellent deal over the line and to deliver Brexit without any more delay so that we can focus on the priorities of the British people.”Juncker said the EU would ensure the UK was able to exit on 31 October if parliament gave its consent to the deal on its “super Saturday” sitting this weekend.He said: “We have a deal, and this deal means that there is no need for any kind of prolongation.”The leaders are expected to give their political sign-off to the deal on Thursday afternoon. In a draft statement, the EU27 will urge the commission and European parliament to “take the necessary steps to ensure that the agreement can enter into force on November 1”.

Boris Johnson heads to crucial Brussels summit TODAY: Last-ditch talks go down to the wire after DUP scuppered Brexit draft – but PM and EU remain confident agreement CAN be ‘finalised’ within hours as even hardliners hail ‘great progress’ All eyes are on the DUP as Boris Johnson heads to Brussels today - as the party's leader Arlene Foster became one of the main obstacles to the Prime Minister securing a Brexit deal last night. Mr Johnson tried to put a brave face on as it emerged that a deal was unlikely to be reached, despite frantic efforts to try and find a way through the deadlock. The delicate process was placed in jeopardy by objections from the DUP, who complained that the mechanism for getting 'consent' from the people of Northern Ireland would break the Good Friday Agreement - saying unionists should have a veto. But there was hope an agreement might be reached among EU leaders today, with Donald Tusk, the European Council president saying the 'basic foundations of an agreement are ready' and 'theoretically' could be accepted. While Michel Barnier, the bloc's chief negotiator, told ambassadors last night that an agreement had basically been reached - with the possibility of a formal sign-off today. Mr Johnson now has to convince the DUP and its leader Arlene Foster of his plans, before putting it all to a vote in Parliament on Saturday following further discussions with EU leaders. Mr Johnson remained confident, suggesting at Cabinet yesterday afternoon that he still hoped the DUP could be won over. And he told a gathering of Tory MPs last night that the government was on the 'Hillary Step' about to reach the summit of Mount Everest. He also insisted: 'If it is not possible to achieve a deal we will still leave the EU on October 31.' And he later even compared his intense negotiations to that of a prisoner in The Shawshank Redemption - in which the hero escapes a jail by wading through a tunnel of waste. .

EU and UK agree draft Brexit deal but obstacles remain --The EU and U.K. agreed a new Brexit deal Thursday — but plenty of political hurdles remain before Britain exits the bloc. Word of an agreement came as EU leaders were en route to Brussels for a crucial European Council summit. Negotiators had worked intensively in recent days hoping to clinch a new divorce decree before the summit and met that deadline just under the wire. However, now that text of the deal has been agreed by EU27 leaders, it must be ratified by both the U.K. and European parliaments. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters in Brussels he was “very confident that when MPs of all parties look at this deal, they will see the merit of supporting it and getting Brexit done on October 31 and honoring the mandate from the people.” However, several factions in the U.K. parliament were quick to voice their dissent, including Johnson's partners in government, Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, who issued a strongly worded statement opposing the deal. The opposition Labour Party also criticized the agreement. The DUP, who also blocked a previous pact negotiated by Johnson's predecessor, Theresa May, are key to any deal clearing the House of Commons, in part because Johnson does not command a majority and also because many Tory Brexiteers have said they are looking to the DUP when deciding how to vote. Time is now tight given Johnson's self-imposed deadline to pull the U.K. out of the European Union by October 31. “We've been at this now 3-1/2 years, it hasn't always been an easy experience for the U.K. It's been long, it's been painful, it's been divisive, and now is the moment for us as a country to come together, for our parliamentarians to come together, to get things done,” said Johnson. "I don't think there is any case for delay." A big obstacle had been how to redraw the so-called backstop provision on how to manage the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, in the event that an envisioned Brexit transition period ends on December 31, 2020 without a free-trade agreement in place. The major breakthrough seemed to come when Johnson agreed to an EU demand for a single customs and regulatory border effectively placed in the Irish Sea, that would leave Northern Ireland following a "limited set" of EU customs rules related to goods but remaining in the U.K.'s customs territory. While that represents a clear rewriting of the deal the EU had previously negotiated with Theresa May, it is actually a return to a similar arrangement that May had proclaimed no British prime minister could accept.

Irish PM says Brexit issues remain, EU sources report 'standstill' - (Reuters) - Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Wednesday that last-ditch talks between the European Union and Britain had so far failed to resolve issues standing in the way of an amicable Brexit, with EU sources reporting a “standstill”.  Difficulties centred on trade and the status of the Irish border, although the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, was quoted as saying he was optimistic about a deal. “There is a pathway to a possible deal but there are many issues that still need to be fully resolved,” Varadkar said in a speech. “I do think we are making progress but there are issues yet to be resolved and hopefully that can be done today. “But if it’s not, there is still more time. October 31 is still a few weeks away and there is the possibility of an additional summit before that if we need one ... Although time is running short, I am confident that (Ireland’s) objectives can be met.” Varadkar said he had spoken to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier in the day. Johnson has vowed to take Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a deal. European Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said after Barnier briefed the EU’s executive arm: “Talks have been constructive but there still remain a number of significant issues to resolve.” As the talks dragged on, a planned update for the 27 remaining EU states was delayed to 1500 GMT. EU sources said the talks had reached a “standstill” over a future trade deal with Britain, and the rejection by Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of customs solutions tentatively agreed by negotiators.

Northern Ireland's DUP says it cannot support Brexit deal as it stands – (Reuters) - Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s last-ditch attempt to clinch a Brexit deal was thrown into disarray just hours before a European Union summit on Thursday when the Northern Irish party he needs to help ratify any agreement refused to support it. Johnson had set his hopes on convincing EU leaders to agree a compromise deal at the summit, followed by a vote in the British parliament in an extraordinary session on Saturday, to pave the way for an orderly departure on Oct. 31. British and EU negotiators worked through several nights to agree a draft compromise on the Irish border issue, the most difficult part of Brexit, haggling over everything from customs checks to the thorny issue of consent. But the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which supports Johnson’s government, said it was not acceptable - a step that could spur hardline Brexiteers in his party to also vote against ratification unless he secures additional changes. “As things stand, we could not support what is being suggested on customs and consent issues and there is a lack of clarity on VAT,” DUP leader Arlene Foster and deputy leader Nigel Dodds said in a statement. “We will continue to work with the Government to try and get a sensible deal that works for Northern Ireland and protects the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom.” Just two weeks before the latest deadline for the United Kingdom’s departure from the world’s largest trading bloc, Brexit remains uncertain with options ranging from an orderly departure to a chaotic exit or even another referendum that could reverse the entire endeavour. It is unclear what Brexit will ultimately mean for the United Kingdom and the European project - built on the ruins of World War Two as a way to integrate economic power and thus end conflict after centuries of European bloodshed.

 Johnson’s Brexit deal faces UK parliamentary vote Saturday - The European Union (EU) agreed a deal over Brexit with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday, which was approved by all 27 EU leaders on the first day of a two-day Summit. President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker sent a letter to the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, stressing that it was now time for Britain’s parliament to do its part. The deal means that the UK will leave the EU customs union and be allowed to sign free trade deals with non-EU countries. However, there will be a legal customs border between Northern Ireland (which is part of the UK) and the Irish Republic (which remains a member of the EU). This will mean a border in the Irish Sea, between mainland UK and island of Ireland. Goods will be checked at “points of entry” in Northern Ireland to be determined. A convoluted tariff system is established, whereby duty will be paid on goods coming into Northern Ireland from the UK if deemed “at risk” of then being transported into the Republic of Ireland. A committee comprising UK and EU representatives will decide what goods should be on the “at risk” list. Johnson arrived in Brussels yesterday afternoon to meet EU leaders. Adding to the dismay of pro-Remain MPs, Juncker initially indicated that he wanted no part in planned moves by opposition parties in Westminster to delay Brexit until the new year—a plan laid out in the Benn Act, instructing Johnson to seek an extension if his deal was rejected at a special “Super Saturday” session of parliament or if there is no deal. On Wednesday, the government tabled a motion for Saturday’s emergency session at which it will ask MPs to back the deal just agreed, or to sanction a no-deal Brexit. As news of the deal emerged Thursday morning, the hard Brexit-supporting Jacob Rees-Mogg told parliament that on Saturday there would be a 90-minute debate to either approve a deal or to approve a no-deal exit: “In the event of a motion to approve a deal, that motion, if passed, will meet the terms both of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act [aka, the Benn act] and of section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act [the main legislation governing the UK’s exit].” Juncker tweeted, “This is a fair, a balanced agreement. It is testament to our commitment to finding solutions.” He told the press as he arrived at the summit that this was the only deal on the table. Asked if he thought British MPs would pass the deal, Juncker said “I hope it will, I'm convinced it will … Anyway, there will be no prolongation … We have concluded a deal. So there is not an argument for delay. It has to be done now.” After two hours of discussion, a senior EU official said that Europe’s leaders would follow events on Saturday and reflect on the next steps if they were in a “different situation.” A second source said the EU had chosen not to interfere in a “sensitive domestic debate” (at least not publicly). However, “they leave the door open to the possibility of an extension, to be discussed at a later stage—if required.” Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, in a joint press conference, alongside Juncker, EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and Irish Premier Leo Varadkar, said, “Now the ball is in the court of the UK. I have no idea what will be the result of the debate in the House of Commons on Saturday. It isn’t for me to comment on political developments in the UK. But if there is a request for an extension, I will consult member states to see how they react.”

Brexit: Over to Parliament -- Yves Smith -- I have to confess that I did not anticipate that the EU Council would be willing to sign off on a political draft of a deal where the text that is not final (it has not gone though the legal review) nor been presented to the sherpas for their close reading and advice to their principals. So my bad.Bear in mind that this is not final on the EU end: the deal still needs to be ratified by the EU Parliament, and then formally approved by the EU Council. But the next step in the process is sign-off by Parliament, which is very much an open question.The EU was willing to bend on its normally strict procedures for one simple reason: that Johnson having so committed himself to needing to get a deal by the EU Council gave them negotiating leverage, which they exploited. Even though the non-binding future relationship document envisions a more bare “free trade agreement” type arrangement than May’s deal did, which is something the EU isn’t keen about but must regrettably accept, it got the UK to accept a “sea border” with some rules on customs duties to improve the optics. A high-level explanation fromthe Financial Times: Mr Johnson’s negotiating team has accepted that, following Brexit, Northern Ireland would apply the EU’s customs and tariffs rules and have them overseen by the European Court of Justice. The agreement means there would not be significant customs checks on the island. Instead, all goods would be checked in mainland Britain.The plan bears similarities to the Northern Ireland-only backstop the EU put forward in February 2018. That idea was superseded by Mrs May’s alternative all-UK backstop idea which was then rejected three times by the UK parliament.Under the agreement, Northern Ireland would benefit from UK trade deals with third countries — a key demand of Mr Johnson — and Northern Irish businesses would be eligible for a rebate on some tariffs. But the system would still entail the creation of a significant border between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland. Note that the text is already being criticized as being too sketchy and bearing the marks of being cobbled together, with the risk of allowing smuggling, a big EU concern, and argues more needs to be fleshed out.Some other changes are worth noting. One is that due to the passage of time, the cost of the famed exit tab has fallen from an estimated from £39 billion to £33 billion. And the “future relationship” document, which is admittedly non-binding, contains a huge concession if it holds up: that the UK will maintain a “level playing field” with the EU, as in not undermine EU environmental or labor standards. That gives Johnson a big talking point with Labour, since a big concern was weakening labor rights.  Another very big advantage to the EU of getting this deal done is the blame game. If Parliament fails to approve it or other UK machinations (will skip over the scenarios) result in a crash out, the EU can correctly say it bent over backwards, and the fix the UK is in is entirely of its own doing. This situation also appears to put Johnson in the catbird seat, but we’ll lay out some alternate scenarios below. He is unquestionably in better shape than he was a few days ago.

Brexit news: U.K. Parliament votes to delay Brexit in rare Saturday session – Members of Britain's Parliament passed an amendment Saturday that seemingly forces Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ask the EU for a Brexit extension past the current October 31 deadline. Under U.K. law, Johnson is required to either get his deal approved today or seek an extension from the European Union to that end-of-October date, but Johnson vowed to forge ahead. "I will not negotiate a delay, nor does the law force me to," Johnson said after the result of the vote was announced, adding that he would be putting his Brexit deal up for a vote next week. It was unclear how he planned to get around the law. Saturday's session of Parliament was only the fifth time lawmakers have met on a Saturday since the start of World War II. Some lawmakers are worried that if Johnson's deal passes, the legislation to actually implement it might not be ready by October 31, the date the U.K. would be scheduled to leave the EU. They say there is a possibility the U.K. could be forced, therefore, to exit the European Union "on no-deal terms." Oliver Letwin, a lawmaker behind the amendment and for whom it is named, said it would — if passed — make sure Britain does not leave the EU at the end of the month, "by mistake if something goes wrong during the passage of the implementing legislation." "If they wish to avoid a no-deal outcome, the single best thing they could do is vote for this deal tonight," Johnson told lawmakers during debates in the House of Commons on Saturday. Meanwhile, thousands of people gathered in central London to demand a second public referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union. "I'm here because the only democratic way forward is to ask the British people in a confirmatory referendum: Is this what you really want?" 17-year-old Leo Buckley, who was taking part in the march, told CBS News. "As a citizen of Europe and a citizen of the future, I would like to stay in the EU," he said..

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