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

Saturday, November 30, 2019

week ending Nov 30

 Fed's Kashkari Says It's Time For The Federal Reserve To Start Redistributing Wealth - After a decade of unprecedented inequality spurred by the Federal Reserve's policies, which made the rich richer, and the poor and middle classes poorer to the point that just 1% of the US population now owns as much wealth as the middle and lower classes combined... ... the same "apolitical", private Federal Reserve, which is owned by a handful of commercial banks and whose members have never been subject to election by the general population... ... now wishes to formalize its wealth redistribution agenda, and effectively become a political force which determines who gets richer and who gets poorer.  As Bloomberg News reports today (now that it can no longer report on the travails of either its boss, Michael Bloomberg or his challengers for the Democratic primary even if it still has free reign to bash Donald Trump each and every day), Neel Kashkari, the former Goldman employee who was instrumental in the drafting of TARP and the bailout of the US financial system, and outspoken dove at the Minneapolis Fed, said "monetary policy can play the kind of redistributing role once thought to be the preserve of elected officials."  And as Bloomberg notes, "while that likely remains a minority view among U.S. central bankers, Kashkari has helped lay the groundwork for a shift in Fed communication this year."  . When Kashkari, a year into his job, launched an in-house effort in 2017 to examine widening disparities in the economy, yet clearly failing to realize the Fed's own massive contribution to the record wealth inequality between the rich and poor, as it was the Fed's policies that made those handful of Americans who owned financial assets richer than ever, while "redistributing" wealth away from savers and the rest of the American population, he was expecting to generate research that might inform lawmakers’ decisions, rather than the Fed’s."We had historically said: distributional outcomes, monetary policy has no role to play," Kashkari told Bloomberg in an October interview. "That was kind of the standard view at the Fed, and I came in assuming that. I now think that’s wrong.”  For those confused by this word salad, what Kashkari now thinks is that it is right for the Fed to have a role in deciding distribution outcome! The Bloomberg article then launches into an extended report of just how Kashkari hopes to legitimize his effort of elevating the Fed to the rank of supreme US despot, an emperor's circle of unelected, career economists who take central planning in the US to a level the USSR never even conceived of, and we are confident readers can go through it on their own, especially since it includes such phrases as "paradigm shift" which is what the Bloomberg writer decided to throw in to indicate just how above the average reader he himself is, what we will say is this: trickle-down economics has failed every single time.

 Repo Madness: Fed Plumbing Gone Awry - Short-term money markets seldom make headline news. But since mid-September, one of the most important components of the money market—the so-called “repo” market in which traders borrow from each other using securities as collateral — has been in almost constant turmoil. At one point, the market threatened to dry up, with borrowers paying rates as high as 10% per annum.The question that this paper seeks to answer is why don’t US banks temporarily liquidate some or all of their excess reserves at the Federal Reserve when the repo rate surges so far above the rate they receive for holding on to them. Asset pricing theory tell us that the answer must lie in a blend of three ideas: (1) the way that the risk-free interest rate on excess reserves (the IOER) is being set, (2) the extent to which counterparties —the marginal repo-ers—might be experiencing a deterioration in their stand-alone default risk and in the quality of the collateral they offer, and (3) the price the market sets for bearing these risks.At each maturity, elementary economic theory interprets the interest rate on collateralized loans as the sum of a riskless rate and a premium paid for accepting both a delay in collectability and the particular risks posed by borrowers and the collateral they offer. This paper focuses on the Fed’s interest rate on excess reserves and how this rate and the Fed’s upper and lower targets for the fed funds rate distort the term structure of riskless rates. The key point is that the maturity of excess reserves is whatever a bank wants it to be. Paying the same rate for excess reserve balances irrespective of the counterparty bank’s planned maturity conflicts with the idea that the term structure for riskless rates should depend in part on expectations of future economic developments. Forecasting these developments cannot be done with any accuracy in this very uncertain world. Setting a single IOER, irrespective of maturity, distorts the yield curve for risk-bearing in that it is likely to subsidize risk avoidance at most horizons. In a word, the value of the option to let excess-reserve balances ride needs to be priced explicitly.

Fed Chair Powell: "Building on the Gains from the Long Expansion" -- From Fed Chair Jerome Powell: Building on the Gains from the Long Expansion Excerpt on inflation:  For many years as the economy recovered from the Great Recession, inflation averaged around 1.5 percent—below our 2 percent objective. We had long expected that inflation would gradually rise as the expansion continued, and, as I noted, both overall and core inflation ran at rates consistent with our goal for much of 2018. But this year, inflation is again running below 2 percent.It is reasonable to ask why inflation running somewhat below 2 percent is a big deal. We have heard a lot about inflation at our Fed Listens events. People are concerned about the rising cost of medical care, of housing, and of college, but nobody seems to be complaining about overall inflation running below 2 percent. Even central bankers are not concerned about any particular minor fluctuation in inflation. Around the world, however, we have seen that inflation running persistently below target can lead to an unhealthy dynamic in which inflation expectations drift down, pulling actual inflation further down. Lower inflation can, in turn, pull interest rates to ever-lower levels. The experience of Japan, and now the euro area, suggests that this dynamic is very difficult to reverse, and once under way, it can make it harder for a central bank to support its economy by further lowering interest rates. That is why it is essential that we at the Fed use our tools to make sure that we do not permit an unhealthy downward drift in inflation expectations and inflation. We are strongly committed to symmetrically and sustainably achieving our 2 percent inflation objective so that in making long-term plans, households and businesses can reasonably expect 2 percent inflation over time.

 PCE Price Index: October Headline & Core -- The BEA's Personal Income and Outlays for October was published this morning by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The latest Headline PCE price index was up 0.19% month-over-month (MoM) and is up 1.31% year-over-year (YoY). Core PCE is below the Fed's 2% target rate. The adjacent thumbnail gives us a close-up of the trend in YoY Core PCE since January 2012. The first string of red data points highlights the 12 consecutive months when Core PCE hovered in a narrow range around its interim low. The second string highlights the lower range from late 2014 through 2015. Core PCE shifted higher in 2016 with a decline in 2017 and 2019. The first chart below shows the monthly year-over-year change in the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index since 2000. Also included is an overlay of the Core PCE (less Food and Energy) price index, which is Fed's preferred indicator for gauging inflation. The two percent benchmark is the Fed's conventional target for core inflation. However, the December 2012 FOMC meeting raised the inflation ceiling to 2.5% for the next year or two while their accommodative measures (low FFR and quantitative easing) are in place. More recent FOMC statements now refer only to the two percent target. The index data is shown to two decimal points to highlight the change more accurately. It may seem trivial to focus such detail on numbers that will be revised again next month (the three previous months are subject to revision and the annual revision reaches back three years). But core PCE is such a key measure of inflation for the Federal Reserve that precision seems warranted. For a long-term perspective, here are the same two metrics spanning five decades.

Beige Book Finds Expansion Remains Modest ; Employers Bring Back Retirees To Fill Job Openings - One month after the Fed "modestly" downgraded its outlook on the US economy from "modest to moderate" growth to "slight to modest pace", there were no notable changes in the latest, just released November Beige Book, in which the Fed said that at the national level, economic activity expanded "modestly" from October through mid-November, similar to the pace of growth seen over the prior reporting period. The good news for the US economy, which for the past two quarters was almost entirely driven by consumer spending... is that most districts reported "stable to moderately growing consumer spending", and increases in auto sales and tourism were seen across several Districts, even if St Louis noted that "multiple auto dealers continued to note seeing an increased preference for used and low-end vehicles."In welcome news for the US manufacturing recession, more Districts reported an expansion in the current period in manufacturing, than the previous one, even though the majority continued to experience no growth. Meanwhile, the picture for nonfinancial services remained quite positive, with most Districts reporting modest to moderate growth. Some more perspectives on the economy from sectors including:

  • Transportation activity was rather mixed across Districts. Reports from the banking sector indicated continued but slightly slower growth in loan volumes.
  • Home sales were mostly flat to up, and residential construction experienced more widespread growth compared to the prior report.
  • Construction and leasing activity of nonresidential real estate continued to increase at a modest pace.
  • Agricultural conditions were little changed overall, remaining strained by weather and low crop prices.
  • Activity in the energy sector deteriorated modestly among reporting Districts. Outlooks generally remained positive, with some contacts expecting the current pace of growth to continue into next year.

While the economy was roughly unchanged over the past month, the Fed founds that employment continued to rise slightly overall, even as labor markets remained tight across the U.S. Several Districts noted relatively strong job gains in  professional and technical services as well as healthcare, while reports were mixed for employment in manufacturing, with some Districts noting rising headcounts while others noted stable employment levels and one District reported layoffs. And while there were scattered reports of labor reductions in retail and wholesale trade, the prevailing complaint was one of continued labor shortages as the vast majority of Districts continued to note difficulty hiring driven by a lack of qualified applicants as the labor market remained very tight.

Chicago Fed "Index Suggests Economic Growth Slowed Further in October" --From the Chicago Fed: Chicago Fed National Activity Index Suggests Economic Growth Slowed Further in October: Led by declines in production-related indicators, the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) fell to –0.71 in October from –0.45 in September. Two of the four broad categories of indicators that make up the index decreased from September, and all four categories made negative contributions to the index in October. The index’s three-month moving average, CFNAI-MA3, moved down to –0.31 in October from –0.21 in September.  This graph shows the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (three month moving average) since 1967. This suggests economic activity was below the historical trend in October (using the three-month average). According to the Chicago Fed:The index is a weighted average of 85 indicators of growth in national economic activity drawn from four broad categories of data: 1) production and income; 2) employment, unemployment, and hours; 3) personal consumption and housing; and 4) sales, orders, and inventories. .. A zero value for the monthly index has been associated with the national economy expanding at its historical trend (average) rate of growth; negative values with below-average growth (in standard deviation units); and positive values with above-average growth.

Q3 GDP Revised Up to 2.1% Annual Rate --From the BEA: Gross Domestic Product, Third Quarter 2019 (Second Estimate); Corporate Profits, Third Quarter 2019 (Preliminary Estimate)   Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 2.1 percent in the third quarter of 2019, according to the "second" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the second quarter, real GDP increased 2.0 percent. The GDP estimate released today is based on more complete source data than were available for the "advance" estimate issued last month. In the advance estimate, the increase in real GDP was 1.9 percent. With the second estimate for the third quarter, upward revisions to private inventory investment, nonresidential fixed investment, and personal consumption expenditures (PCE) were partially offset by a downward revision to state and local government spending.  PCE growth was unrevised at 2.9%. Residential investment was unrevised at 5.1%. Here is a Comparison of Second and Advance Estimates.

Q3 GDP Second Estimate: Real GDP at 2.1% --The Second Estimate for Q3 GDP, to one decimal, came in at 2.1% (2.12% to two decimal places), an increase from 2.0% for the Q2 Third Estimate. Investing.com had a consensus of 1.9%. Here is the slightly abbreviated opening text from the Bureau of Economic Analysis news release: Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 2.1 percent in the third quarter of 2019 (table 1), according to the "second" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the second quarter, real GDP increased 2.0 percent. The GDP estimate released today is based on more complete source data than were available for the "advance" estimate issued last month. In the advance estimate, the increase in real GDP was 1.9 percent. With the second estimate for the third quarter, upward revisions to private inventory investment, nonresidential fixed investment, and personal consumption expenditures (PCE) were partially offset by a downward revision to state and local government spending. [Full Release] Here is a look at Quarterly GDP since Q2 1947. Prior to 1947, GDP was an annual calculation. To be more precise, the chart shows is the annualized percentage change from the preceding quarter in Real (inflation-adjusted) Gross Domestic Product. We've also included recessions, which are determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). Also illustrated are the 3.21% average (arithmetic mean) and the 10-year moving average, currently at 2.34%. Here is a log-scale chart of real GDP with an exponential regression, which helps us understand growth cycles since the 1947 inception of quarterly GDP. The latest number puts us 13.5% below trend. A particularly telling representation of slowing growth in the US economy is the year-over-year rate of change. The average rate at the start of recessions is 3.35%. Four of the eleven recessions over this timeframe have begun at a lower level of current real YoY GDP.

US economy looking durable despite risks from trade conflict — A series of government reports Wednesday cast a picture of a steadily growing U.S. economy, fueled by solid consumer spending and defying threats — at least for now — from a U.S.-China trade war and a global slowdown.  The Commerce Department estimated that the economy grew at a moderate 2.1% annual rate over the summer, slightly better than it had previously estimated. Other reports showed stronger consumer spending and a rebound in orders for big-ticket manufactured goods.  For the July-September quarter, the rise in the gross domestic product, the economy’s total output of goods and services, exceeded the government’s initial estimate a month ago of a 1.9% annual rate. A key reason is that businesses didn’t cut back on investment spending as much as first estimated.  The economy had begun the year with a sizzling 3.1% GDP rate, fueled largely by the now-faded effects of tax cuts and increased government spending. Many analysts worry that GDP growth is slipping in the current October-December quarter to a 1.4% annual rate or less as business investment weakens further. But most say the slowdown won’t likely be as severe as it might have been because consumers, who drive about 70 percent of the economy, are signaling that they will likely keep spending through the holiday shopping season and into next year. That spending is being supported by rising incomes and an unemployment rate that is near the lowest levels in a half century. Consumer spending gained some momentum entering the final three months of the year, with spending rising by a 0.3% annual rate in October, the fastest monthly pace in three months. And in the U.S. manufacturing sector, which has been struggling with global economic weakness and damage from the Trump administration’s trade conflicts, orders for high-cost items rebounded in October by a 0.6% annual rate after having declined in September.  Economists said the flurry of reports depict an economy that is regaining its footing after absorbing threats this year, from the global slowdown to the intensifying trade war with China, which has perpetuated uncertainties for businesses. Many companies have suspended plans to expand and invest.The GDP report showed that business investment fell at a 2.7% annual rate in the July-September period, the second consecutive decline. Yet that drop was offset by a solid 2.9% gain in consumer spending.Residential investment did rebound to an annual growth rate of 5.1% after six consecutive quarters of falling home investment. Analysts attribute that rebound in part to falling mortgage rates.For the full year, economists think GDP will expand 2.3%, down sharply from a 2.9% GDP gain in 2018. Last year’s increase had been fueled by the $1.5 trillion tax cut that President Donald Trump pushed through Congress and billions in additional spending for the military and domestic programs. For 2020 as a whole, many economists envision growth of around 2%. That would be roughly the annual average that has prevailed since the Great Recession ended in 2009. But it is well below the 3%-plus economic growth rates that Trump pledged to achieve with his program of tax cuts, deregulation and America-first trade policies.

Q3 Real GDP Per Capita: 1.44% Versus the 2.12% Headline Real GDP -The Second Estimate for Q3 GDP came in at 2.1% (2.12% to two decimals), up from 2.0% in Q2. With a per-capita adjustment, the headline number is lower at 1.44% to two decimal points. Here is a chart of real GDP per capita growth since 1960. For this analysis, we've chained in today's dollar for the inflation adjustment. The per-capita calculation is based on quarterly aggregates of mid-month population estimates by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which date from 1959 (hence our 1960 starting date for this chart, even though quarterly GDP has is available since 1947). The population data is available in the FRED series POPTHM. The logarithmic vertical axis ensures that the highlighted contractions have the same relative scale. The chart includes an exponential regression through the data using the Excel GROWTH function to give us a sense of the historical trend. The regression illustrates the fact that the trend since the Great Recession has a visibly lower slope than the long-term trend. In fact, the current GDP per-capita is 7.6% below the pre-recession trend. The real per-capita series gives us a better understanding of the depth and duration of GDP contractions. As we can see, since our 1960 starting point, the recession that began in December 2007 is associated with a deeper trough than previous contractions, which perhaps justifies its nickname as the Great Recession.  The standard measure of GDP in the US is expressed as the compounded annual rate of change from one quarter to the next. The current real GDP is 2.12%. But with a per-capita adjustment, the data series is lower at 1.44%. The 10-year moving average illustrates that US economic growth has slowed dramatically since the last recession.

Q4 GDP Forecasts: 0.8% to 2.0% -- From Goldman Sachs:[W]e lowered our Q4 GDP tracking estimate by one tenth to +2.0% (qoq ar). (qoq ar). [Nov 27 estimate]   From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report: The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 0.8% for 2019:Q4. [Nov 29 estimate]   And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNow: The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in thefourth quarter of 2019 is 1.7 percent on November 27, up from 0.4 percent on November 19. [Nov 27 estimate]CR Note: These early estimates suggest real GDP growth will be between 0.8% and 2.0% annualized in Q4.

Bumbling Congress gives Trump the budget freeze he wanted - White House budget hawks who have failed to rein in government spending in the Trump era might get a major win — by default. Top Republicans and Democrats are fumbling in their attempts to clinch a deal to fund the government over the next year. The result could be a government-wide spending freeze — exactly what Mick Mulvaney and the rest of President Donald Trump’s negotiating team sought months ago. With no agreement in sight and impeachment captivating the Capitol, it’s increasingly likely Washington will be forced to accept another temporary funding bill in December. Lawmakers are already eyeing a monthslong stopgap to stave off a Christmastime shutdown. In the worst-case scenario, a full-year extension could follow. Story Continued Below It’s an outcome that would not only highlight congressional dysfunction but also deny the Pentagon and domestic programs potentially critical funding boosts. Congress passed a massive budget deal earlier this year, but lawmakers still need to pass individual spending bills to divvy up the money. Until those measures are signed into law, Mulvaney and his allies get precisely the same budget restraints they proposed in June. “They’re getting it right now,” Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said. “Sometimes you might think you want something, but that’s not good for the military and that’s not good for a lot of stuff.”

The US Navy doesn’t have enough spare parts to keep its fighter jets in the air  -- The US Navy lacks the parts and materials it needs to keep hundreds of fighter jets operational, which could affect the nation’s ability to fight future wars. That’s the key takeaway from an audit released this week (pdf) by the Department of Defense Inspector General (DODIG), which is focused on the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet—the Navy’s workhorse attack aircraft since 1995. “Although Navy and DLA (Defense Logistics Agency) officials identified the quantity of spare parts needed, the officials could not obtain the quantity needed to satisfy current demand and fill backorders,” reads the partially redacted audit, in the works since March 2018. Because of this, the Navy “may not meet sudden increases in operational mission readiness requirements or the Secretary of Defense’s goal of 80‑percent mission capable rate for the Super Hornet fleet by the end of FY 2019.” About half of the Navy’s 546 Super Hornets were operational as of last year.

 The Navy reportedly asked Carnival Cruise Lines for help with its ongoing aircraft carrier maintenance issues -  Navy officials enlisted the help of executives with the Florida-based Carnival Cruise Line, the largest cruise company in the world, to identify solutions for the ongoing maintenance issues that have stranded a majority of the service's aircraft carriers in non-deployable status, Business Insider reports. Naval Sea Systems Command chief Vice Adm. Tom Moore "a few months back" met with several members of the Carnival Cruise Line team (including retired Vice Adm. William Burke, now the company's chief maritime officer) to discuss "how we have been able to do shipyard maintenance as quickly and effectively as we do," a Carnival spokesman told Business Insider. A spokesman for Navy Secretary Richard Spencer confirmed to Business Insider that the meeting took place, noting that the secretary "believes the Department of the Navy must make every effort to retain and expand our competitive edge.""[Spencer] has met or spoken with companies from diverse sectors offering differing perspectives on sustainment, maintenance, supply-chain management, personnel management, and other topics," Spencer spokeswoman Cmdr. Sarah Higgins told Business Insider.

Navy Secretary Fired Over SEAL Controversy - Secretary of Defense Mark Esper asked Navy Secretary Richard Spencer to resign on Sunday after the Pentagon chief lost confidence in how Spencer handled the case of a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes in Iraq, according to the Pentagon. Spencer's resignation stems from the controversial case of Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who was accused of war crimes during a 2017 deployment and later acquitted of murder. He was convicted in July of posing with the corpse of a captive, according to the Washington Post. Esper asked for Spencer’s resignation after learning that he had privately proposed to White House officials that if they did not interfere with proceedings against Gallagher, then Spencer would ensure that Gallagher was able to retire as a Navy SEAL, with his Trident insignia. Spencer’s private proposal to the White House — which he did not share with Esper over the course of several conversations about the matter — contradicted his public position on the Gallagher case, chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement. -Washington PostEsper said that he was "deeply troubled by this conduct.""Unfortunately, as a result I have determined that Secretary Spencer no longer has my confidence to continue in his position," Esper added in a statement. "I wish Richard well." Spencer made his 'indecent' proposal to the White House after Trump intervened in the cases of Gallagher and two other soldiers on November 15 against Pentagon advice. He also issued pardons to Army Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, who faced a murder trial next year, and former 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who was convicted in 2013 in the murder of two unarmed men in Afghanistan.

Navy cancels review for SEALs after firing of Navy secretary -  The Navy on Wednesday cancelled a peer-review process for three Navy SEAL officers who supervised a fourth SEAL convicted of posing with a dead teenage captive in Iraq. Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said the case was becoming a distraction for the elite force.The decision was the latest twist in the war crimes case of Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, which led to a conflict between President Donald Trump and armed services leaders over military discipline. The dispute peaked over the weekend with the firing of Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer.Gallagher and the three SEALs were notified last week that a board of peers would determine if they should remain SEALs. Trump then ordered the Navy to allow Gallagher to retire as a SEAL with his full rank intact. That led to Spencer's firing over his handling of the matter.

Richard Spencer- I was fired as Navy secretary. Here’s what I’ve learned because of it. -   The case of Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who was charged with multiple war crimes before being convicted of a single lesser charge earlier this year, was troubling enough before things became even more troubling over the past few weeks. The trail of events that led to me being fired as secretary of the Navy is marked with lessons for me and for the nation.  It is highly irregular for a secretary to become deeply involved in most personnel matters. Normally, military justice works best when senior leadership stays far away. A system that prevents command influence is what separates our armed forces from others. Our system of military justice has helped build the world’s most powerful navy; good leaders get promoted, bad ones get moved out, and criminals are punished.  Earlier this year, Gallagher was formally charged with more than a dozen criminal acts, including premeditated murder, which occurred during his eighth deployment overseas. He was tried in a military court in San Diego and acquitted in July of all charges, except one count of wrongfully posing for photographs with the body of a dead Islamic State fighter. The jury sentenced him to four months, the maximum possible; because he had served that amount of time waiting for trial, he was released.  President Trump involved himself in the case almost from the start. Before the trial began, in March, I received two calls from the president asking me to lift Gallagher’s confinement in a Navy brig; I pushed back twice, because the presiding judge, acting on information about the accused’s conduct, had decided that confinement was important. Eventually, the president ordered me to have him transferred to the equivalent of an enlisted barracks. I came to believe that Trump’s interest in the case stemmed partly from the way the defendant’s lawyers and others had worked to keep it front and center in the media. After the verdict was delivered, the Navy’s normal process wasn’t finished. Gallagher had voluntarily submitted his request to retire. In his case, there were three questions: Would he be permitted to retire at the rank of chief, which is also known as an E-7? (The jury had said he should be busted to an E-6, a demotion.) The second was: Should he be allowed to leave the service with an “honorable” or “general under honorable” discharge? And a third: Should he be able to keep his Trident pin, the medal all SEALs wear and treasure as members of an elite force? On Nov. 14, partly because the president had already contacted me twice, I sent him a note asking him not to get involved in these questions. The next day, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone called me and said the president would remain involved. Shortly thereafter, I received a second call from Cipollone, who said the president would order me to restore Gallagher to the rank of chief.

 Mystery grows as Trump administration withholds more than US$100 million in Lebanon aid -  The Trump administration is withholding more than $100 million in U.S. military assistance to Lebanon that has been approved by Congress and is favoured by his national security team, an assertion of executive control of foreign aid that is similar to the delay in support for Ukraine at the centre of the impeachment inquiry. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday congratulated Lebanon as the country marked its independence day but made no mention of the hold-up in aid that State Department and Pentagon officials have complained about for weeks.  David Hale testifies in impeachment hearings, says withholding aid is ‘not normal’ in way U.S. functions It came up in impeachment testimony by David Hale, the No. 3 official in the State Department, according to the transcript of the closed-door hearing released this week. He described growing consternation among diplomats as the administration would neither release the aid nor provide an explanation for the hold. “People started asking: What’s the problem?” Hale told the impeachment investigators. The White House and the Office of Management and Budget have declined to comment on the matter.The $105 million in Foreign Military Funding for the Lebanese Armed Forces has languished for months, awaiting approval from the Office of Management and Budget despite congressional approval, an early September notification to lawmakers that it would be spent and overwhelming support for it from the Pentagon, State Department and National Security Council. As with the Ukraine assistance, OMB has not explained the reason for the delay. However, unlike Ukraine, there is no suggestion that President Donald Trump is seeking “a favour” from Lebanon to release it, according to five officials familiar with the matter.

 Narrative Managers Faceplant In Hilarious OPCW Scandal Spin Job - Caitlin Johnstone - Imperialist propaganda firm Bellingcat has published a response to the ever-expanding OPCW scandal, and it’s got to be seen to be believed.Before we begin I should highlight that Bellingcat is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, which according to its own cofounder was set up to do overtly what the CIA had previously been doing covertly, namely orchestrating narrative management geared toward the elimination of governments which refuse to comply with US interests. NED is funded directly by the US government, which means that Bellingcat is funded by the US government via an organization set up to promote imperialist regime change agendas. Bellingcat is also funded by Open Society Foundations, another imperialist narrative management operation.Syria has been the target of what may be the most sophisticated propaganda campaign in history, and Bellingcat has been consistently rallying behind even the most transparently ridiculous tools of this campaign. This includes the notorious Bana Alabed psyop which at its height saw CNN staging a fake, scripted interview featuring a seven year-old girl assigning blame to Bashar al-Assad for an alleged sarin gas attack in Khan Shaykhun. Bellingcat’s stellar investigative work (which has been praised in fawning puff pieces by mainstream outlets like The Guardian and The New Yorker) concluded that this obvious propaganda construct was in fact nothing other than a little girl and her mother independently composing viral tweets, giving interviews and authoring books about how the Syrian government must be toppled via western interventionism. Bellingcat’s latest phenomenal report on how you’re supposed to think about important geopolitical disputes, titled “Emails And Reading Comprehension: OPCW Douma Coverage Misses Crucial Facts“, addresses the leaked OPCW email which was recently published by WikiLeaks and various other outlets revealing that the OPCW omitted crucial information from its Douma report which indicated that a chemical weapons attack was unlikely to have occurred. I encourage you to go and check out Bellingcat’s new masterpiece for yourself. Don’t worry about giving them clicks; that’s not where they get their money.

After Trump's Afghan visit, Taliban say they are ready to resume peace talks - (Reuters) - The Taliban said on Friday they were ready to restart peace talks with the United States, a day after President Donald Trump visited U.S. troops in Afghanistan and said he believed the radical group would agree to a ceasefire. Trump’s surprise Thanksgiving Day visit was his first to Afghanistan since becoming president and came a week after a prisoner swap between Washington and Kabul that raised hopes for a long elusive peace deal to end the 18-year war. “The Taliban wants to make a deal and we are meeting with them,” Trump told reporters after arriving in Afghanistan on Thursday. “We say it has to be a ceasefire and they didn’t want to do a ceasefire and now they want to do a ceasefire, I believe. It will probably work out that way,” he said. Trump canceled peace negotiations in September after the militant group claimed responsibility for an attack in Kabul that killed 12 people, including an American soldier. Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the hardline Islamist insurgent group, said on Friday they were “ready to restart the talks”.

Trump’s trade war is hurting China’s economy, but it’s giving Beijing an opportunity it never dreamed of -  President Trump will tell you China is "dying to make a deal" with the US. He will tell you that Beijing is tired of paying tariffs to the US (Americans actually pay them). He will tell you that China's supply chains are breaking, and that its economy is on the verge of collapse (arguable but not certain). "We're the ones that are deciding whether or not we want to make a deal," Trump said in a speech at the Economic Club of New York this month. "We're close." Trump's rhetoric on the trade deal represents a gross oversimplification of China's interests. The reality of what Beijing wants is far more complicated than an end to the recent economic hostilities. Instead, it is balancing a variety of interests, some more important than the trade war. "The Chinese are not trying to win," Leland Miller, the founder of Chinese business and economic survey "China Beige Book," told Business Insider. "They're trying to stall so they get the best scenario they can across the board." "Across the board" means a range of domestic, economic, and national-security issues. And "best scenario" means much more than a stable Chinese economy. Beijing's ideal scenario includes a free hand to violate human rights in Xinjiang and Hong Kong; it includes continuing to press for reunification with Taiwan; and it includes achieving the aims of China 2025, the Chinese Communist Party's plan to transition the country's economy to one based on technology. Trump's laser focus on trade has given Beijing the latitude to deal with those and other critical issues without fear interference from the White House.

China to Raise Penalties on IP Theft in Trade War Compromise - China said it will raise penalties on violations of intellectual property rights in an attempt to address one of the sticking points in trade talks with the U.S. The country will also look into lowering the thresholds for criminal punishments for those who steal IP, according to guidelines issued by the government on Sunday. It didn’t elaborate on what such moves might entail. The U.S. wants China to commit to cracking down on IP theft and stop forcing U.S. companies to hand over their commercial secrets as a condition of doing business there. China said it’s aiming to reduce frequent IP violations by 2022 and plans to make it easier for victims of transgressions to receive compensation. The two countries are working toward a partial trade deal and leaving the more controversial issues for later discussions. China’s chief trade negotiator spoke last week about its plans for reforming state enterprises, opening up the financial sector and enforcing intellectual property rights -- issues at the core of U.S. demands for change in China’s economic system. “Strengthening IPR protection is the most important content of improving the IPR protection system and also the biggest incentive to boost China’s economic competitiveness,” according to the guidelines. Local governments will be required to implement the strengthening of IP rights, it said. In May, the U.S. added Huawei Technologies Co. to what’s known as the entity list in an effort to block U.S. companies from selling components to China’s largest technology company. Huawei is accused of being a threat to America’s national security, and has denied those claims. Last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping said his nation wants to work toward a phase-one trade agreement with the U.S. that’s based in part on “equality.” That’s a guiding principle that President Donald Trump just hours later said he doesn’t share. “This can’t be like an even deal, because we’re starting off on the floor and you’re already at the ceiling. So we have to have a much better deal,” Trump said in an interview Friday on Fox News.

China Bids to Lead World Agency Protecting Intellectual Property - Of all nations, China has been perhaps the most aggressive in stealing intellectual property, especially from U.S. companies—a key issue in U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade war with Beijing. Now, Beijing has its sights on leading the global organization that is supposed to protect IP, and which sets international standards for patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Earlier this month, China nominated a candidate to head the United Nations’ World Intellectual Property Organization, or WIPO, signaling its desire to more actively shape the international system for defining intellectual property rights. Given China’s long track record of corporate espionage, rampant IP theft, and support for U.S. enemies, many trade experts are wary, to say the least. Several years ago, the United States even opposed the creation of a patent office in China on the grounds that stringent safeguards for protecting the confidentiality of trade secrets in patent applications might be subject to intrusions in China, according to James Pooley, a former deputy director-general at WIPO who managed the agency’s international patent system. A WIPO official said the agency has no intention of opening a patent office outside the agency’s high-security office in Geneva. Under WIPO rules, patent applications remain confidential for 18 months before they are approved and then made public.“Protecting the applicants’ trade secrets was a core part of what we were doing,” said Pooley, who became a WIPO whistleblower in 2014. “The Trump administration’s view of China is that it is a thief. Why would you want to put the fox in charge of the henhouse?” Ironically, one reason for Beijing’s move is that China is now producing a great deal of IP of its own. For years, China had shown little interest in carving out a leadership role at WIPO. But it has been quietly deepening its relationship with the agency, which sets the rules for international patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Today, more than a decade after Beijing launched its drive to boost indigenous innovation, China has become a major innovator in its own right and is taking a stronger apparent interest in protecting intellectual property—its own, at least. The Chinese bid poses a challenge for the United States, which has been pushing to contain China’s rise as a technological superpower while checking its growing diplomatic clout at the U.N. and other international organizations. China’s potential challenge to the stewardship of global intellectual property standards comes at a time when Beijing is also seeking to rewrite the rules of the road for much bigger swaths of the global economy, including the role of state-owned enterprises and the use of state financing to achieve other geopolitical gains.

Commerce Department issues proposed rule to secure communications supply chain -The Commerce Department on Tuesday issued a proposed rule aimed at securing the nation’s information and communications supply chain from foreign threats. The proposed rule lays out the procedures for the Secretary of Commerce to follow in evaluating potential security threats posed by foreign-owned or operated companies seeking to do business with U.S. companies that involve the information and communications technology and services (ICTS) supply chain. The rule would allow the Secretary of Commerce to identify and assess “transactions” that pose national security risks to the ICTS supply chain, to the nation’s digital economy, and to those living in the U.S. According to the Commerce Department, Secretary Wilbur Ross has already chosen to adopt a “case-by-case, fact-specific approach” to evaluating which transactions should be prohibited. Under the proposed rule, if the Secretary of Commerce decides to ban transactions with a specific foreign company, that company will be notified and allowed to defend themselves before a final decision is made. The rule resulted from an executive order signed by President Trump in May. The order, much like the proposed rule, gave the Secretary of Commerce the authority, in consultation with several other federal agencies, to ban U.S. companies from doing business with specific foreign-owned companies deemed to be national security threats to the ICTS supply chain.   Ross said in a statement on Tuesday that the rules, “demonstrate our commitment to securing the digital economy, while also delivering on President Trump’s commitment to our digital infrastructure.” The agency requested public comment on the proposed rule, and it is open to such commentary for 30 days.

No 'phase two' U.S.-China deal on the horizon, officials say - (Reuters) - An ambitious “phase two” trade deal between the United States and China is looking less likely as the two countries struggle to strike a preliminary “phase one” agreement, according to U.S. and Beijing officials, lawmakers and trade experts. In October, U.S. President Donald Trump said during a press conference with Chinese vice premier Liu He that he expected to quickly dive into a second phase of talks once “phase one” had been completed. The second phase would focus on a key U.S. complaint that China effectively steals U.S. intellectual property by forcing U.S. companies to transfer their technology to Chinese rivals, he said at the time. But the November 2020 U.S. presidential election, the difficulties in getting the first-stage done, combined with the White House’s reluctance to work with other countries to pressure Beijing are dimming hopes for anything more ambitious in the near future, the sources said. The 16-month trade war with China has thrown U.S. businesses and farmers into turmoil, disrupted global supply chains and been a drag on economies worldwide. Failure to address a key reason it was started is already raising questions about whether the sacrifice has been worth it. Meanwhile, many of Beijing’s trade practices that many free-market economies see as unfair remain unaddressed. Reuters reported on Wednesday that the signing of a phase one deal could slide into next year as the two countries tussle over Beijing’s demand for more extensive tariff rollbacks. Officials in Beijing say they don’t anticipate sitting down to discuss a phase two deal before the U.S. election, in part because they want to wait to see if Trump wins a second term. “It’s Trump who wants to sign these deals, not us. We can wait,” one Chinese official told Reuters. Representative Jim Costa, a California Democrat who sits on two key agricultural committees, said in Congress on Wednesday that “pragmatic” Chinese sources had told him the same thing. Trump’s main priority at the moment is to secure a big phase one announcement, locking in big-ticket Chinese purchases of U.S. agricultural goods that he can tout as an important win during his re-election campaign, according to a Trump administration official. After that, China could recede somewhat on Trump’s policy agenda as he turns to domestic issues, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. He will probably leave other major contentious issues to senior aides, who are likely to continue pushing Beijing over the theft of U.S. intellectual property, its militarization of the South China Sea and its human rights record, the official said.

China’s top trade negotiator Liu He talks to Lighthizer, Mnuchin about ‘resolving core issues’ The leaders of the U.S.-China trade negotiations held another phone call on Tuesday morning, China’s Ministry of Commerce said in an online statement. “Both sides discussed resolving core issues of common concern, reached consensus on how to resolve related problems (and) agreed to stay in contact over remaining issues for a phase one agreement,” the Chinese-language statement said, according to a CNBC translation. Liu He, China’s top negotiator on trade, spoke with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the statement said. Also joining the call were Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan, People’s Bank of China Governor Yi Gang and Ning Jizhe, vice chairman of China’s top economic planning body, the National Development and Reform Commission, according to the Commerce Ministry. Trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies have persisted for more than a year, with both countries applying tariffs to billions of dollars’ worth of goods from the other. Rather than address at once all the points of U.S. complaints — which range from bilateral trade to China’s state-dominated economic structure — both sides are first trying to reach a so-called “phase one” agreement. China has said any such deal will require a rollback of tariffs, while the U.S. would like to ensure that Beijing will increase its purchases of American agricultural products.On Friday, Chinese President Xi Jinping told a U.S. business delegation visiting Beijing that China wants “to work for a phase one agreement on the basis of mutual respect and equality,” according to an Associated Pressreport.Xi also said China holds a “positive attitude” toward the trade talks, the report said. “When necessary we will fight back but we have been working actively to try not to have a trade war.”President Donald Trump on Friday said on the television program “Fox and Friends”  that a long-negotiated trade deal with China is “potentially very close.” 

 Trump Signs Hong Kong Democracy Legislation That Has Angered China - President Trump on Wednesday signed tough legislation that would impose sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for human rights abuses in Hong Kong, expressing support for pro-democracy activists in the territory and most likely angering China as the two countries negotiate ending their trade war. “I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, China and the people of Hong Kong,” Mr. Trump said in a statement on Wednesday. “They are being enacted in the hope that leaders and representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences leading to long-term peace and prosperity for all.”  As late as last week, Mr. Trump refused to commit to signing the legislation, which Congress had overwhelmingly approved, saying that he supported the protesters but that President Xi Jinping of China was “a friend of mine.” The bill would require the State Department to annually review the special autonomous status it grants Hong Kong in trade considerations. That status is separate from the relationship with mainland China, and a revocation of the status would mean less favorable trade conditions between the United States and Hong Kong. After the Senate approved the bill, the Chinese Foreign Ministry denounced it, saying it “interferes in China’s internal affairs” and “violates the basic norms of international law and international relations.” Because the bill, in theory, has the support of a veto-proof majority in Congress, it could have been enacted into law even if Mr. Trump had vetoed it.

 US media ramps up anti-China campaign over Uyghur “human rights” - The escalating barrage of propaganda against China emanating from the US and its allies has stepped up another notch with the publication of leaked Chinese documents by the New York Times and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists on the oppressive measures employed against the Muslim Uyghur minority in the western province of Xinjiang. The documents have been seized upon by the US media and politicians to vilify the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime and to ramp up demands for Washington to impose punitive measures on Beijing. Yesterday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that there was “overwhelming” evidence that the CCP was “committing human rights violations and abuses against individuals in mass detention.” The New York Times has run several comments denouncing the Chinese regime following its article on November 16 detailing some aspects of the 24 documents that it obtained, including some 200 pages of internal speeches by Chinese President Xi Jinping and other leaders. An editorial on November 18 entitled “This is not dystopian fiction. This is China,” declared that the documents echoed 1984 and Brave New World and branded the Chinese “reeducation” camps as “modern-day totalitarian brainwashing.” Another comment on the same day, “Beijing’s Secrets of Xinjiang,” criticized the West for being “largely silent” and declared that there was “no excuse for Western leaders, the World Bank or United Nations” for not speaking out. All of this is to a script drawn up by the CIA and US State Department, with the media seeking to outbid one another in their lurid denunciations of China. A particularly filthy comment published in the Washington Post on November 3 was entitled “In China, every day is Kristallnacht.” It provocatively likened China’s cultural oppression and internment of ethnic Uyghurs to the Nazi genocide of Jews in which millions were murdered in concentration camps during World War II. Beijing’s attempts to portray its detention centres in Xinjiang as “re-education” facilities, together with its dismissal of the latest caches of leaked documents as fakes, are simply not credible. On the other hand, the way in which US imperialism and its allies are cynically exploiting the oppression of Uyghurs for their own reactionary purposes is expressed in the inflated claims about the documents. Neither of the two batches of documents, insofar as they have been translated and published in English, support the claim, repeatedly made in the Western media, that at least one million Uyghurs are being detained in Chinese “reeducation camps.” The figure has the character of a big lie, endlessly recycled but not substantiated, other than on the basis of “estimates” by various “experts.”

Canada’s use of Huawei 5G would hamper its access to U.S. intelligence: U.S. official(Reuters) - The U.S. national security adviser urged Canada on Saturday not to use Huawei 5G technology, saying that doing so would put in jeopardy intelligence sharing with the United States and expose Canadians to being profiled by the Chinese government. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau postponed a decision on whether to use Huawei Technologies Co Ltd HWT.UL 5G network equipment until after the October federal election. He has not commented on the issue since winning the Oct. 21 vote. Intelligence sharing “would be impacted if our close allies let the Trojan horse into the city,” national security adviser Robert O’Brien told reporters at a security conference in Halifax. “When they (the Chinese) get Huawei into Canada or into other Western countries, they’re going to know every health record, every banking record, every social media post, they’re going to know everything about every single Canadian,” he said. The question of whether Huawei’s 5G equipment could contain back doors allowing access to Chinese spying is dividing Canada and its partners in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network.

When villain is Obama, not Trump, news suddenly not worth reporting - So the United States has “the world’s highest rate of children in detention.” Is this worth reporting? Maybe, maybe not. Nevertheless, Agence France-Presse, or AFP, and Reuters did report it, attributing the information to a “United Nations study” on migrant children detained at the US-Mexico border. Then the two agencies retracted the story. Deleted, withdrew, demolished. If they could have used one of those Men in Black memory-zappers on us, they would have. Sheepishly, the two news organizations explained that, you see, the UN data was from 2015 — part of a border crackdown that had begun years earlier. We all know who the president was in 2015. It wasn’t evil, child-caging monster President Trump. It was that nice, compassionate, child-caging monster President Barack Obama. Zap. The story made Obama look bad. Hence the story was removed. Not updated or corrected, removed. I know it’s a heavy news environment. Who can keep up? But try to remember this one, because it’s instructive. People think news organizations flat-out fabricate stories. That isn’t often the case. Fake news is a problem that pops up here and there, but the much more systematic and deeply entrenched attack on truth is the casual, everyday bias of reporters.

Racist Stephen Miller Must Go, Activists and Lawmakers Say - Alexis Goldstein - President Trump may be consumed by impeachment, but White House Adviser Stephen Miller remains laser-focused on executing his racist anti-immigrant agenda. Despite calls for Miller’s removal by lawmakers and civil rights organizations, his oppressive policies and appointments continue to be rolled out at a frantic pace. Last week, Hatewatch exposed hundreds of emails Miller sent to the conservative website Breitbart. The emails confirm what we’ve known all along: Miller is a white nationalist hellbent on anti-immigrant policies. Since the release of the emails, more than 50 civil rights groups wrote to Trump demanding Miller’s removal. More than 80 lawmakers have called for Miller’s resignation or termination. The chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus have all called on Miller to resign. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Mazie Hirono have also called for Miller’s resignation. Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro called Miller a “Neo-Nazi” and “a shame to our nation,” and Sen. Bernie Sanders called him “a danger to the American people.” This widespread condemnation has neither lost Miller his job, nor stopped him from rolling out more anti-immigrant policies. On Wednesday, BuzzFeed reported that the Trump administration will begin deporting adults seeking asylum at the southern border to Guatemala, so long as they passed through a “safe third country” on the way to the border. This is the result of an agreement Trump struck with Guatemala on July 26. The courts in Guatemala initially rejected the deal, but Trump responded to that news with threats of tariffs, remittance fees or other retaliation. Days later, Guatemala gave in. Miller’s fingerprints are all over this policy, as he reportedly chastised State Department employee Kimberly Breier for not defending it enough.  Guatemala cannot handle even a fraction of the over 55,000 asylum seekers sent back to Mexico under the Miller-driven “Remain in Mexico” policy, which forces asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their immigration court cases. The border has filled with tent cities as a result, as there is a backlog of nearly 900,000 asylum cases. As criticism of Miller and his allies grows, the White House has responded to the release of Miller’s racist emails by trying to discredit the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which first reported on the emails, saying SPLC was “beneath public discussion.”  But SPLC continues to publishnew information about what Miller’s emails show, including that he planted stories against Sen. Marco Rubio during the 2016 election. Miller prefers to work in the shadows and not leave a paper trail, so the broadcasting of his emails to Breitbart is surely causing stress at the White House.

 Google fires employee who protested company’s work with US border patrol - On Friday, about 200 employees rallied outside Google’s office in San Francisco to demand that two suspended worker activists be reinstated. By Monday, at least one of the suspended workers said she had been fired, with reports that three other Google staffers had also been let go. Rebecca Rivers, a software engineer at Google who had been involved with internal protests against Google’s work with US Customs and Border Protection(CBP), announced her firing on Twitter on Monday afternoon. Three other Google staffers were also fired on Monday, according to an internal company memo obtained by Bloomberg. Leaders of Google’s security and investigations team said in the memo the firings were due to “clear and repeated violations of our data security policies”. Google confirmed the accuracy of the memo published by Bloomberg but declined to comment further. The firings prompted immediate allegations of retaliation from current and former Google employees.  One of the organizers of the walkout, Meredith Whittaker, called Rivers’s firing “craven retaliation” in a tweet. Stephanie Parker, a current YouTube employee, called the terminations “inhumane” and “illegal” on Twitter. “I’m still here, still fighting, and not afraid,” she tweeted. Whittaker and another organizer of the walkout, Claire Stapleton, both left Google this summer after alleging that they had been retaliated against by management. At the rally on Friday, Rivers had said that she had been questioned by the investigations team about her involvement with a petition calling on Google not to provide services to CBP, as well as her social media usage. “I’m proud of what I did,” she said. “I believe everyone has the right to know what their work is used for.” The public protest and firings are the latest indications of growing labor unrest at Google. The company has seen an upsurge in employee activism over the past two years, with many employees demanding a say in how their work gets used, as well as about their rights as workers. Employees have protested a number of Google projects, including a contract to provide AI tools to the US Department of Defense’s drone program, a censored search engine for China, and the provision of cloud services to the fossil fuel industry.

 Trump Says He Will Designate Mexican Drug Cartels as Terrorists— In an interview aired Tuesday, President Trump revealed that he intends to designate Mexico’s drug cartels as terrorist groups for their role in trafficking narcotics and people. He said he has been working on designation for the past 90 days. The designation would make it illegal for people to support members of the organization, and its members can be deported. It also requires banks to block their money and alert the Treasury Department.  This would give the Trump Administration more ability to go after the finances of cartels, and potentially also use cartel affiliation as another pretext for deporting people to Mexico. Mexico’s Foreign Ministry said they intend to seek a high-level meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss the matter, calling it a “very important issue for the bilateral agenda.”

 Melania Trump loudly booed at opioid awareness youth summit in Baltimore -- Melania Trump was loudly booed on Tuesday, as she addressed an event in Baltimore as part of White House attempts to fight America’s opioid abuse epidemic. Donald Trump angered many in Baltimore this summer when in attacking the Democratic congressman Elijah Cummings, he referred to the city as a “rat and rodent infested mess”. That prompted the Baltimore Sun newspaper to tell the president: “Better to have some vermin living in your neighbourhood than to be one.”On Tuesday, the first lady attended the B’More Youth Summit on Opioid Awareness at University of Maryland Baltimore College.She was introduced as “somebody who has made it their personal mission to use their platform to make a difference in this particular area, with wellness and addiction and particularly the opioid crisis that we’re living through right now”.The host seemed to issue a precautionary appeal for civility, telling the audience they were “young people but also ladies and gentlemen”.Nonetheless, a mixture of cheers and boos greeted Trump as she walked onstage. Boos could also be heard as she began to speak, though they quietened down.The first lady discussed her Be Best initiative, which focuses well-being and online safety as well as combating opioid abuse.“I am in this fight with you and I am fighting with you,” she said.Her remarks lasted a little less than six minutes. As she left the stage, she again met with a mixture of cheers and boos. In a statement released later the first lady said: “We live in a democracy and everyone is entitled to their opinion, but the fact is we have a serious crisis in our country and I remain committed to educating children on the dangers and deadly consequences of drug abuse.”

Republican infighting breaks out as Georgia governor appears to disagree with Trump over whom to pick for open Senate seat (AP) — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has pushed back against speculation over whom he’ll appoint to replace retiring Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson.The Republican governor took to Twitter this week to slam what he called “attacks and games” and said more information about his choice would be available after Thanksgiving. The application process has sparked infighting among Republicans.“The idea that I would appoint someone to the U.S. Senate that is NOT pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment, pro-freedom, and 100% supportive of our President (and his plan to Keep America Great) is ridiculous,” Kemp said. Kemp’s comments came less than a week after he made a secret trip to Washington to discuss the appointment with President Donald Trump. White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham confirmed that the two met Sunday.Kemp’s appointee will serve for less than a year before the seat goes up for grabs in an open-to-all special election. That will put both of Georgia’s Republican-held U.S. Senate seats on the ballot alongside President Trump in 2020, raising the state’s profile as a political battleground.Wealthy financial-services executive Kelly Loeffler has risen to the top of the pile of applicants and is seen as a Kemp favorite for the post. But she’s been attacked by conservative groups as a political novice and too moderate.Rep. Doug Collins, one of President Donald Trump’s chief defenders in Congress, has also applied. Collins’s allies have waged a pressure campaign in recent weeks and turned up the heat on Kemp. At the center of the dispute is a debate over who can best help the GOP position itself for success in the November 2020 elections in Georgia. Loeffler’s supporters believe she can widen the Republican tent and appeal to women and suburban Atlanta voters, who have trended more Democratic since Trump’s election. Collins’s supporters, meanwhile, say that an experienced campaigner with proven conservative credentials is needed.

SCOTUS Warns Too Low State Law Campaign Contribution Limits May be Unconstitutional --Following Thompson v. Hebdon, states with low individual-to-candidate or individual-to-group campaign contribution limits may want to review their constitutionality.  In a per curiam (unauthored) opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court instructed the 9th Circuit to decide again whether Alaska law, which limits the amount an individual can contribute to a candidate for political office or to an election-oriented group other than a political party to $500 per year, violates the First Amendment. The 9th Circuit previously upheld the law.  According to the Supreme Court, the 9th Circuit failed to apply the Supreme Court’s most recent precedent involving non-aggregated contribution limits, Randall v. Sorrell (2006). In that case the Supreme Court invalidated a Vermont law that limited individual contributions on a per-election basis to $400 to a candidate for governor, lieutenant governor or other statewide office; $300 to a candidate for state senator; and $200 to a candidate for state representative. The plurality opinion in Randall explained that the problem with very low limits is that they can “prevent[ challengers from mounting effective campaigns against incumbent officeholders, thereby reducing democratic accountability.” 

Supreme Court Suspends House Subpoena Seeking Trump’s Financial Information High court now likely to consider case that strikes at heart of the U.S. Constitution - Wall Street Journal - —The Supreme Court granted President Trump’s emergency request to suspend enforcement of a congressional subpoena seeking his financial records from his accounting firm, a move that could keep the documents from House Democrats for months—if they see them at all. But in tandem with blocking the subpoena for now, the court signaled Mr. Trump would have to move quickly with his appeal, ensuring the president can’t delay proceedings through the 2020 election.

Trump Tax Records Reveal New Inconsistencies — This Time for Trump Tower — Donald Trump’s business reported conflicting information about a key metric to New York City property tax officials and a lender who arranged financing for his signature building, Trump Tower in Manhattan, according to tax and loan documents obtained by ProPublica. The findings add a third major Trump property to two for which ProPublica revealed similar discrepancies last month.In the latest case, the occupancy rate of the Trump Tower’s commercial space was listed, over three consecutive years, as 11, 16 and 16 percentage points higher in filings to a lender than in reports to city tax officials, records show.For example, as of December 2011 and June 2012, respectively, Trump’s business told the lender that 99% and 98.7% of the tower’s commercial space was occupied, according to a prospectus for the loan. The figures were taken from “borrower financials,” the prospectus stated.In tax filings, however, Trump’s business said the building’s occupancy was 83% in January 2012 and the same a year later. The 16 percentage point gap between the loan and tax filings is a “very significant difference,” said Susan Mancuso, an attorney who specializes in New York property tax.A spokesperson for the Trump Organization said that “comparing the various reports is comparing apples to oranges” because reporting requirements differ.Trump had much to gain by showing a high occupancy rate to lenders in 2012: He refinanced his share of Trump Tower that year and obtained a $100 million loan on favorable terms.The vast majority of the gap between occupancy figures could be explained by diverging reports on how much space the Trump Organization used in Trump Tower. In loan documents, the company said it and its affiliates occupied 74,900 square feet in mid-2012, or 31% of the building. But tax reports from the January before and after listed the company and related parties as occupying 41,600 square feet — or about 18% of the tower. “I cannot give you an explanation,” said Kevin Riordan, a financing expert, former accountant and real estate professor at Montclair State University who reviewed the tax and loan records for Trump Tower at ProPublica’s request. More than a dozen tax and finance experts, presented with ProPublica’s earlier findings, also said they could not decipher a reason for the differences. As with Trump Tower, the discrepancies made the two properties — a skyscraper located at 40 Wall Street and the Trump International Hotel and Tower near Columbus Circle — appear more profitable to the lender and less so to property tax officials.

John Bolton announces his next move will be Pac amid calls to testify -The former national security adviser John Bolton acknowledged intense speculation “about what I plan to do next” in a tweet on Saturday morning, but to the disappointment of many did not follow up by saying he would testify in the impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump.Instead, the moustachioed Bush veteran and foreign policy hawk linked to his own political action committee, John Bolton Pac, which seeks “to identify and support Senate and House candidates committed to policies promoting a strong America”.  Reaction was predictably downbeat, the writer Molly Jong Fast responding: “Testify, testify, testify.”The former ambassador to the UN and Fox News contributor became the president’s third national security adviser in April 2018. He left the White House in September this year amid a dispute over whether he resigned or was shown the door.His name has been frequently raised in testimony in the impeachment inquiry, as a senior official apparently appalled by Trump’s moves to pressure Ukraine into investigating unfounded allegations of corruption against Joe Biden and his son Hunter and a baseless conspiracy theory which seeks to shift blame for Russian interference in the 2016 election.  The former Russia adviser Fiona Hill said Bolton characterised the attempts as a “drug deal” cooked up in part by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer who she said Bolton called “a hand grenade that was going to blow everyone up”. It has been reported that Bolton played a key role in freeing part of nearly $400m in security aid to Kyiv which was being held as bait. Furthermore, Bolton’s lawyer has said he has “personal knowledge” of meetings and conversations “that have not yet been discussed in testimonies thus far”. But Bolton has nonetheless asked a judge to decide if he should comply with House Democrats and testify, a move largely seen as an effective means of delay. Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the EU, remains the most senior Trump appointee to have testified – damningly for the president, most observers agreed.Bolton has reportedly signed a book deal worth $2m, prompting suggestions that he intends to save his revelations for the commercial market.  On Friday Bolton returned to Twitter after a two-month silence, claiming to have “liberated” his account after it was “suppressed unfairly in the aftermath of my resignation”. “The White House,” he claimed, “refused to return access to my personal Twitter account. Out of fear of what I may say? To those who speculated I went into hiding, I’m sorry to disappoint!”

Trump impeachment: Republicans dig in as hopes of bipartisan support dashed -   Congressional Republicans dug deep in defense of Donald Trump over the weekend, frustrating Democratic hopes that the impeachment inquiry would build bipartisan support following weeks of testimony laying out how Trump attempted to extract a political “favor” from Ukraine in exchange for official actsAt the same time, the White House said it was preparing for a trial in the Senate. If the House of Representatives votes for impeachment, the matter would move to the upper chamber with Trump’s removal from office on the line.But that prospect seemed distant as not a single elected Republican stepped forward to criticize Trump and members of Congress dodged the question of whether it was acceptable for a president to seek help from a foreign country with a political campaign.“Let me answer that,” the New York representative Lee Zeldin said on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, before zigging to claim Trump had a bona fide interest in fighting Ukrainian corruption and zagging to point out that the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, had been granted a meeting with Trump – at the United Nations.Other Republicans buttressed Trump’s insistence on a baseless and debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was behind 2016 election tampering.“I don’t know,” the Louisiana senator John Kennedy told Fox News Sunday when asked if Russia was behind the interference, as the US intelligence community says. “Nor do you. Nor do any of us.”And yet, even as Republicans declared “case closed”, potentially damaging information about Trump’s Ukraine scheme continued to emerge. The Washington Post cited three anonymous sources in reporting that an internal White House review had uncovered “extensive efforts to generate an after-the-fact justification” for the decision to withhold military aid for Ukraine. Trump and his defenders insist that the aid was not held up in an effort to pressure Ukraine into announcing an investigation tied to Joe Biden, despite a previous statement to that effect, soon retracted, by the acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, and despite the testimony of multiple impeachment witnesses. The ranking Republican on the House intelligence committee, meanwhile, faces allegations he travelled to Europe late last year to meet Ukrainians and discuss digging up dirt on Biden. Devin Nunes has denied the claim and threatened to sue CNN and the Daily Beast, which reported it.

Fox News Host Jeanine Pirro Says Gordon Sondland's Impeachment Testimony Should Be Disregarded Because of His 'Inappropriate Smirking' - Fox News host Jeanine Pirro has claimed that Gordon Sondland's impeachment testimony should be disregarded because of his "inappropriate smirking."  The U.S. Ambassador to the European Union testified in the House impeachment inquiry this past week, stating that there was a "quid pro quo" that linked aid to Ukraine with President Donald Trump's desire for an investigation into his Democratic political rival, former vice president Joe Biden. But speaking on her show Justice with Judge Jeanine on Saturday, Pirro claimed that Sondland, who was appointed to the ambassador role by President Donald Trump, is a "deep state bureaucrat."  She claimed his testimony should be discounted because his "arrogance" and "inappropriate smirking" indicate that he "is not a fan of the president."  "Everything he said was contradicted by the facts. The aid was delivered. There was no meeting. No call, no announcement of an investigation. No quid pro quo," Pirro claimed.  She added: "His testimony is not only canceled by the facts, but by his demeanor, his arrogance and his inappropriate smirking making it clear he, like many deep state bureaucrats, is not a fan of the president." But according to USA Today, Sondland was an hotelier who donated at least $1 million to Trump's presidential inaugural committee in 2017—before Trump nominated him as the U.S. ambassador to the European Union last year. Sondland has described himself as a "lifelong Republican," according to NBC News, and donated to the presidential campaigns of Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush.  Following Sondland's testimony, Trump denied that he knew Sondland well. "I don't know him very well. I have not spoken to him much. This is not a man I know well. He seems like a nice guy, though. But I don't know him well," Trump told reporters. But on Twitter last month, Trump described Sondland as "a really good man and great American."

Impeachment, the Comedy - Will Congress renew Impeachment for a second season? The first season was so fun: a colorful cast of characters, incoherent yelling, and a countrywide lesson on the proper way to pronounce the name of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. (It’s “keev.”) Even the president was watching! Okay, to be fair, the president is always watching. And if this is a TV show, surely it’s a soap opera: the never-ending crisis state of the Trump administration. Every day brings a new drama to unfold, but there’s never any resolution.  We’ve seen hearings before, after all. James Comey. Robert Mueller. Time and again the reasonable public servants come to sit in front of politicians and the cameras, and they say things like: The president was “generally” untruthful in his responses to special counsel Mueller. The president and his administration told “lies, plain and simple” about Comey’s tenure at the FBI. But nothing changes. No one is surprised, after all, that Donald Trump lies—it was practically the central pillar of his campaign.  As a result, it seems that Republican members of Congress really, really don’t care. Trump is lying more than usual about Ukraine, but the GOP has embraced the fiction. Over the course of five public hearings, the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee pointed the finger literally anywhere else than the most obvious source of corruption, duplicity, and self-serving behavior in the White House. It’s the congressional equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and singing at the top of your voice. Ranking member Devin Nunes, in dog whistles that can only be heard by Fox News, devoted much of his time digging for a Ukrainian election-tampering conspiracy that no one believes exists.  This soap opera has a dark sense of humor. The most important revelation of the hearings was a farcical, idiotic bit worthy of Curb Your Enthusiasm by way of Veep: The president’s a loud talker. A loud phone talker. He’s so loud that career diplomat (and modern Adonis) David Holmes heard Trump’s voice, blaring from the tinny speaker of Gordon Sondland’s cell phone in a restaurant in Kyiv, clearly asking if Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky would accede to the investigation. During his testimony, Holmes mimed Sondland holding the phone away from his ear and wincing at the volume of the president’s voice. That little gesture is comedic gold. In a moment it shows you the discomfort of listening to Trump’s voice. Its boorish volume. His words are so craftily vague—”so, he’s going to do the investigation?” being only slightly more specific than did the guy do the thing? The attempt to escape the voice—and the futility inherent.

Independents souring on impeachment underscores risk for Democrats - New public opinion polls are moving against Democrats on impeachment as independents sour on the House inquiry and increasingly express opposition to the hearings that have consumed Washington in recent weeks. The new data comes as a surprise to Democrats, many of whom believe witnesses have offered damning testimony about President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Witnesses have testified that Trump pressed Ukraine’s leaders to conduct investigations of the energy company Burisma Holdings — which was seen as code for probes of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, given the younger Biden’s work for the company as a board member. There has also been testimony that security aid for Ukraine was delayed to put more pressure on that country’s government. Other witnesses have castigated Trump for pursuing conspiracy theories that Ukraine and not Russia was a major player in electoral interference in 2016. An impeachment vote in the House seems inevitable, but it does not appear that any GOP lawmakers will back an article of impeachment. And it remains to be seen whether voters will support the Democratic action or punish the party for going forward with impeachment. “There’s always a disconnect between Washington and what people are thinking out in the states,” said Dick Harpootlian, the former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party and a surrogate for former Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. And Democrats have some worries about impeachment fatigue. “After three years, the country was sick of hearing about Russia, and now the average American either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care about the case we’re making on Ukraine,” said one Democratic fundraiser. According to the FiveThirtyEight average of national polls, support for impeachment has shrunk from 50.3 percent in mid-October to 46.3 percent presently, while opposition has risen from 43.8 percent to 45.6 percent. Among independents in the FiveThirtyEight average, support for impeachment topped out at 47.7 percent in late October but has sunk to 41 percent over the past three weeks. YouGov is among the polls registering that decline, with independent support for impeachment dropping from 39 percent earlier this month to 35 percent now and opposition increasing from 35 percent to 40 percent. An Emerson University survey found an even more extreme flip among independents. In October, independents supported impeachment 48 percent to 35 percent in Emerson’s polling. In the new poll released this week, independents opposed it by a 49 percent to 34 percent margin. In that time, overall support for impeaching Trump swung from 48 percent in favor and 44 percent against to 45 percent in opposition to impeachment and 43 percent in favor.

Independent support for impeachment inquiry rises following public hearings: poll - Independent support for the impeachment inquiry rose after the public hearings, according to a poll released Tuesday. The Politico/Morning Consult poll showed 44 percent of independent voters surveyed backed the impeachment inquiry, a 4-point jump from last week’s poll. Independent opposition to the inquiry also dropped 8 points to 39 percent. This boost in support comes after polls in recent weeks showed a decline of independent support for the investigation. Polls have repeatedly shown that Democrats and Republicans are standing their ground to back and oppose the inquiry, respectively. This week’s poll showed 81 percent of Democratic respondents supporting the House investigation into President Trump, and 81 percent of Republican respondents against it. The even divide among party-aligned voters indicates the influence independents will have in the total opinion. Overall, registered voters in the poll backed the impeachment inquiry at the same rate as last week, at 48 percent, but opposition to the investigation slipped by 2 points to 43 percent. The poll surveyed 1,988 registered voters between Nov. 22-24, in the days following the last public hearings in the House. The margin of error is 2 percentage points. The House launched an impeachment inquiry into the president after a whistleblower complained that Trump asked the Ukrainian president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden days after withholding military aid from the country. Current and former Trump officials have testified publicly in front of the House Intelligence Committee on the White House’s relationship with Ukraine.

Here's How Reuters Gamed A Poll To Show Rising Support For Trump Impeachment - After several major polls revealed a sharp decline in support for impeaching President Trump in the wake of unconvincing public testimony by aggrieved bureaucrats (and at least one House Democrat publicly opposing the move), Reuters/Ipsos now claims support for impeachment has increased. The latest poll, conducted on Monday and Tuesday, found that 47% of adults in the United States felt Trump “should be impeached,” while 40% said he should not.The result, combined with Reuters/Ipsos polling over the past several weeks, showed that the number of Americans who want to impeach the president increasingly outnumbers those who do not. –Reuters  The problem? Reuters sampled a disproportionate number of Democrats. Buried at the bottom of their report, they disclose:The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online, in English, throughout the United States. It gathered responses from 1,118 adults, including 528 Democrats, 394 Republicans and 111 independents. It has a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of 3 percentage points.In other words, Reuters sampled more Democrats than Republicans and independents combined to arrive at their conclusion. They also reveal that " about eight in 10 Democrats [were] supportive of impeaching Trump, and eight in 10 Republicans opposed," and that seven in 10 Republicans felt the House impeachment inquiry had not been conducted fairly. Moreover, "Only two in 10 [Republicans] said an inquiry would be justified for a president who uses his powers for unfair political advantage over an opponent, as Trump is accused of doing."

Two White House budget officials quit over Ukraine aid concerns, says witness - A lawyer for the White House’s budget office resigned partly because of concerns over Donald Trump’s freeze on military aid to Ukraine, a longtime career official from the office has testified to Congress behind closed doors.Mark Sandy of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) told the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry that an individual in the office’s legal division quit in part over issues with the suspension of security assistance to Ukraine, according to a transcript of his deposition released on Tuesday.Sandy also testified that another unnamed official at the OMB also resigned. “Yes, this individual did express frustrations,” he said. “He expressed some frustrations about not understanding the reason for the hold.”In a further sign of pushback, the Pentagon also raised concerns, Sandy added. Two White House budget officials resigned over Ukraine aid freeze, witness says – as it happened Trump is facing impeachment for allegedly using nearly $400m in military aid to bribe Ukraine to launch two investigations for his political benefit. This month’s dramatic public hearings by the House intelligence committee will be followed by one at the House judiciary committee next week. “Are you aware of any individual in the legal division resigning or leaving OMB … at least in part because of Ukraine security assistance,” Sandy was asked. “Oh. Yes, I am,” he replied. “This person expressed concerns to me about actions vis-a-vis the Impoundment Control Act” – a reference to 1974 legislation that forbids the withholding of congressionally-approved aid.

Trump impeachment: White House aides can be made to testify - A federal judge has ruled that White House staff can be made to testify before Congress, rejecting the Trump administration's claims of immunity. The ruling specifically compels former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify to an inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 US election. But it also has major implications for the Democrat-led impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. The justice department says it will appeal against the ruling. The impeachment inquiry is trying to establish whether Mr Trump pressured Ukraine's president to investigate his political rival Joe Biden. The Trump administration has refused to co-operate with the impeachment inquiry and other Democrat-led investigations, directing current and former White House officials to defy subpoenas for testimony and documents. Mr McGahn, who left his post in October 2018, was called to appear before the House Judiciary Committee  in May to answer questions about the president's alleged attempts to impede the now-concluded Mueller investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election. But in her ruling, US District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson said that "no one is above the law".

Former Clinton strategist Mark Penn counsels President Trump on impeachment  -- As President Trump’s White House battles impeachment, he turned to a familiar face last week: Mark Penn, one of President Bill Clinton’s top strategists.Penn visited the Oval Office for more than an hour last Monday, three people familiar with the meeting said, and provided polling data and impeachment advice for the president. Penn reassured Trump that he would not be removed from office, according to people familiar with the meeting, and encouraged him to travel the country as Clinton did when he was fighting impeachment over 20 years ago, officials said.Vice President Pence and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway were present for the meeting. Penn was escorted by Andrew Stein, a longtime Trump friend from New York who recently wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed calling for former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley to replace Pence on the 2020 election ticket.Penn recommended that Trump “stay focused on the substance” of the allegations surrounding trading access and aid for political favors from Ukraine, according to Stein, “and not respond to everything.”Trump has thus far eschewed that approach. The president has sent dozens of tweets attacking Democrats for what he characterizes as waging an unfair battle against him and is fixated on the impeachment process, according to current and former aides, while attacking his opponents as “DO NOTHING DEMOCRATS.” “You’ve got to govern,” Penn told Trump of how Clinton handled the impeachment process, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity. Penn had the task of measuring public support for Clinton during that impeachment process and crafted the administration’s response to allegations of Clinton’s extramarital affair with the White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

House Democrats release final transcripts from impeachment depositions - House Democrats on Tuesday released the remaining witness transcripts from their impeachment inquiry into President Trump. The three House committees that led the closed-door depositions released interviews with Philip Reeker, the acting assistant secretary of state in charge of European and Eurasian Affairs, and senior Office of Management and Budget (OMB) official Mark Sandy. The document release comes as the House Intelligence Committee plans to work through the Thanksgiving holiday to compile a report for the House Judiciary Committee to use in determining whether to draft articles of impeachment against Trump over allegations that he pressed Ukraine's president to interfere in the 2020 election by opening two investigations that would benefit Trump politically. Democrats argued Tuesday that the testimonies of Reeker and Sandy support their claims that Trump surrounded himself with a team of political appointees to carry out their own U.S. policy toward Ukraine, in which the president sought to use nearly $400 million in security aid and the possibility of a White House visit to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open investigations into interference in the 2016 election and the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, one of Trump's top 2020 rivals. “The testimonies from Ambassador Reeker and Mr. Sandy continue to paint a portrait of hand-picked political appointees corrupting the official levers of U.S. government power, including by withholding taxpayer funded military assistance to Ukraine, to further the President’s own personal political agenda," three Democrat chairs said in a statement Tuesday. The House chairs -- who include Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) -- said Sandy implicated the president in withholding aid, pointing to comments acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney made to him. “Mr. Sandy confirmed that he was told by the office of Mick Mulvaney, the Acting White House Chief of Staff, that the President himself had directed the hold on security assistance to Ukraine. However, he was provided no other reason or justification for the hold when he was directed to implement it," the Democrats said, noting that he "raised concerns" that a delay of aid may violate the law.

White House review turns up emails showing extensive effort to justify Trump’s decision to block Ukraine military aid - WaPo - A confidential White House review of President Trump’s decision to place a hold on military aid to Ukraine has turned up hundreds of documents that reveal extensive efforts to generate an after-the-fact justification for the decision and a debate over whether the delay was legal, according to three people familiar with the records.The research by the White House Counsel’s Office, which was triggered by a congressional impeachment inquiry announced in September, includes early August email exchanges between acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and White House budget officials seeking to provide an explanation for withholding the funds after the president had already ordered a hold in mid-July on the nearly $400 million in security assistance, according to the three people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal White House deliberations.One person briefed on the records examination said White House lawyers are expressing concern that the review has turned up some unflattering exchanges and facts that could at a minimum embarrass the president. It’s unclear whether the Mulvaney discussions or other records pose any legal problems for Trump in the impeachment inquiry, but some fear they could pose political problems if revealed publicly.People familiar with the Office of Management and Budget’s handling of the holdup in aid acknowledged the internal discussions going on during August, but characterized the conversations as calm, routine and focused on the legal question of how to comply with the congressional Budget and Impoundment Act, which requires the executive branch to spend congressionally appropriated funds unless Congress agrees they can be rescinded.“There was a legal consensus at every step of the way that the money could be withheld to conduct the policy review,” said OMB spokeswoman Rachel K. Semmel. “OMB works closely with agencies on executing the budget. Routine practices and procedures were followed, not scrambling.” The hold on the military aid is at the heart of House Democrats’ investigation into whether the president should be removed from office for allegedly trying to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rivals in exchange for the U.S. support that President Volodymyr Zelensky desperately wanted in the face of Russian military aggression.

The new details about Trump blocking aid to Ukraine, explained  -New details about President Donald Trump’s hold on military aid for Ukraine — a matter at the heart of the House impeachment inquiry — emerged on Tuesday, due to a newly released witness transcript and a New York Times scoop. Mark Sandy was the sole official from the White House Office of Management and Budget — the office that implemented the hold — to testify behind closed doors to impeachment investigators. And Democrats released the transcript of that testimony Tuesday evening. Sandy said that two OMB officials resigned at least in part due to concerns over the Ukraine aid hold. He also clarified the timeline of the hold, saying he first got questions about it in June, and that the decision had been made to implement it by mid-July. He also said that the key OMB official involved in the process was Michael Duffey — a political appointee and Republican operative who has refused to testify. Also Tuesday evening, the New York Times’s Michael Schmidt, Julian Barnes, and Maggie Haberman reported for the first time on when Trump learned about the whistleblower complaint filed against him regarding Ukraine. They say he was briefed in late August — which may help explain why Trump reportedly started insisting there was “no quid pro quo” days later. Overall, these new details don’t answer every remaining question about the hold on Ukraine aid, but they do tell us more about how it happened — and what Trump knew at the time.  The headline news from Sandy’s testimony is that he revealed that two officials at the OMB actually left their posts — both, in part, due to concerns over the Ukraine aid holdup and its process.  However, Sandy does not name these officials and provides few details on them.

Multiple women recall sexual misconduct and retaliation by Gordon Sondland  - Three women say they faced sexual misconduct by Gordon Sondland before he was the U.S. ambassador to the European Union and at the center of the presidential impeachment inquiry. They say he retaliated against them professionally after they rejected his advances.In one case, a potential business partner recalls that Sondland took her to tour a room in a hotel he owns, only to then grab her face and try to kiss her. After she rejected him, Sondland backtracked on investing in her business. Another woman, a work associate at the time, says Sondland exposed himself to her during a business interaction. She also recalls falling over the back of a couch trying to get away from him. After she made her lack of interest clear, she says Sondland called her, screaming about her job performance. A third woman, 27 years Sondland’s junior, met him to discuss a potential job. She says he pushed himself against her and kissed her. She shoved him away. She says his job help stopped.  All three women have agreed to be named in this story. In all the cases, friends, family members or colleagues of the women recall being told about the encounters at the time. The cases span a seven-year period, ending less than a decade ago. Sondland denies the allegations.

 Trump posted a picture of himself as Rocky. No one knows what to make of it - People are used to seeing Donald Trump’s face transposed on to a lot of things:satsumas, the Queen, a giant floating baby flying across the US and the UK.But this morning, the president himself posted a photo where his head was photoshopped on to something utterly surprising: the super-buff, bare body of the fictional boxer Rocky Balboa.It was tweeted at 10.54am, with Trump offering exactly zero explanation – not even a caption. All we know is that the tweet was sent during a golf trip at one of Trump’s golf clubs in Florida, during his Thanksgiving holiday at Mar-a-Lago.Who knows how we should interpret it? Perhaps the 45th president suffered a blow to the head this morning. Or perhaps he wants us to know he’s a fighter. Maybe he’s upset about of all the low blows thrown his way during his tenure, with people saying mean things like “why does he grab women by the pussy?”Whatever he meant, it led to an outpouring of commentary from the Twitterati. Here’s the roundup.  Could this photo be the ultimate, most real-to-life version of the expectation versus reality meme? Trump, a man born into wealth who became a billion-dollar loser, who eats McDonald’s for breakfast and weighs 243lb (all muscle, of course), comparing himself to a self-made man, born in poverty who rose up against the odds, washboard abs and all. It’s almost too good.

The First Glimpse into Horowitz’s FISA-Abuse Report -Andrew McCarthy, National Review - Is this the tip of a scandalous iceberg? Or is it a signal that Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s much anticipated report on investigative irregularities in the Trump-Russia probe will be much ado about nothing much?A low-ranking FBI lawyer altered a document that was somehow related to the Obama Justice Department’s application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) for a national-security surveillance warrant. The application, approved by the FISC in October 2016, targeted former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page — an American citizen, former naval intelligence officer, and apparent FBI cooperating witness — as a clandestine agent of Russia. Apparently, the document tampering made at least one of the application’s factual assertions seem more damning than it actually was.The FBI attorney, who has not been identified, is also said to have falsified an email in an effort to provide back-up support for the fabricated claim. The lawyer, who was reportedly pushed out of the Bureau when the tampering incident came to light, was interviewed in Horowitz’s inquiry and is said to be a subject of the related criminal investigation being conducted by Connecticut U.S. attorney John Durham. The news was broken on Thursday night by CNN. That in itself is noteworthy. The FBI’s former deputy director Andrew McCabe is a CNN contributor, and the Bureau’s former general counsel James Baker is a frequent CNN guest. The IG’s probe has scrutinized the conduct of both. CNN commentators also include other former federal law-enforcement officials, who have ties to the Bureau and to some of the former officials under scrutiny. CNN’s news story about the evidence tampering is sourced to “several people briefed on the matter,” who were not identified. The IG report is scheduled to be released on December 9, and witnesses have recently been permitted to review a draft of it under tight restrictions. CNN adds that some of the witnesses interviewed expect the IG’s report will “find mistakes in the FBI’s handling of the FISA process, but that those mistakes do not undermine the premise for the FBI’s investigation.” The network describes that premise as the conclusion “that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.” Of course, that only relates half the story — the uncontroversial half. The FBI’s full premise was that the Trump campaign was complicit in Russia’s election interference.

Here is What the Horowitz Report Should Conclude - Larry Johnson, Sic Semper Tyrannis -  You do not have to wait for the Horowitz report. I can give you a preview of what he should have found if he conducted an honest audit.  When you read these facts it is easy to understand how dishonest and corrupt the FBI were in presenting a FISA application to spy on Carter Page.  (except where noted I am quoting from the first FISA application). Let's start with the FBI claim that Carter Page was an "agent of a foreign government."The target of this application is Carter Page, a U.S. person, and an agent of a foreign power, described in detail below. The status of the target was determined in or about October 2016 from information provided by the U.S. Department of State. What information did State supply? Information provided by the notorious Christopher Steele. The Washington Examiner's Daniel Chaitin reported on this in May 2019: Steele met Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kathleen Kavalec on Oct. 11, 2016, 10 days before the first warrant application was submitted, and admitted he was encouraged by a client, the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, to get his research out before the 2016 election on Nov. 8, signaling a possible political motivation.   The notes show that Kavalec believed at least some of Steele’s allegations to be false. Government officials told the Hill that Kavalec informed FBI Special Agent Stephen Laycock about the meeting in an email eight days before the FISA warrant application was filed. Laycock, then the FBI’s section chief for Eurasian counterintelligence, quickly forwarded what he learned to Peter Strzok, the special agent who was leading the Trump-Russia investigation. There it is. Not an assumption. A fact. State passed a false report from Christopher Steele to the FBI and the FBI ran with it. A competent FBI Agent would have asked about the identity of the source of the information. Either the FBI failed to do this or it lied in the FISA application. The FBI had a responsibility to note that Steele was the sole source for the claim that Page was an "agent of a foreign power."  The application reiterates its basis for this assertion: This application targets Carter Page. The FBI believes Page has been the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian Government to undermine and influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election in violation of U.S. criminal law. This is based on the false report from Christopher Steele as well as "cooked" intelligence provided by CIA Director Brennan. Brennan was passing off a low level Russian bureaucrat as a high level source with direct access to Putin. That was a lie. The application then tries to bolster the lie by attributing the FBI's credulity by citing the U.S. intelligence community (an ironic oxymoron). This was a lie. The US Intelligence Community aka USIC had made no such formal determination. If they had there would have been a written document. There was no written document and no evidence that "all 17 intelligence agencies" had coordinated and approved such a document. The Intelligence Community Assessment would not be published until January 2017 and only the FBI, the CIA and the NSA signed off on that piece of fantasy.

Live-blogging the End of the Republic --The title of this piece is increasingly my feeling about the times we are living in. Almost everywhere it has been implemented, the Madisonian system has ultimately failed, ending in presidential autocracy. All of the tools are now in place for the US to fail as well. If Trump doesn’t succeed in a second term, then the Sulla or Caesar who ends our republican experiment is alive now and has learned the necessary lessons. All that is missing is their competent and strategic implementation.   The bottom line is: provided a President has 34 Senators and a majority of the Supreme Court who will back him, he can do anything he wants. And I’m not even sure the Supreme Court majority is necessary. If Trump were to defy the Supreme Court about, e.g., his tax returns, who exactly is going to force him to obey? I’ve made this point before, and Matt Yglesias immediately picked up on it. A couple of days ago, Chris Hayes came around to the same conclusion: One way to understand the constitutional grant of powers to the president is that the president can do *literally* whatever he wants as long as he can hold onto the votes of 35 [sic] senators in his party. Meanwhile conservative columnist Rich Lowry has flat-out stated, in essence, that he would prefer a Trump who tramples on the Constitution but appoints judges who will outlaw abortion to a presidential candidate who believes in the rule of law.  Which proves, as my Sibling Unit pointed out to me, David Frum‘s point that "If conservatives become convinced that they can not win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. The will reject democracy." While winning in 2020 is essential, simply going back to “normal” isn’t going to do the trick. The Constitutional fabric of a President being constrained by the law has been rent. Shoring up and repairing the weak points via updating the Constitution about things like the Presidential veto, emergency powers, appointments to legislative bureaucracies, lame duck sessions of Congress, gerrymandering, and the right to vote are all necessary, even if they appear to be a superhuman lift.

 US Attorney General Barr adds to coverup in death of Jeffrey Epstein - US Attorney General William Barr backtracked on comments he made last August about the circumstances surrounding the death of convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, telling the Associated Press on Friday that a series of mistakes by prison authorities gave the multimillionaire Wall Street consultant the opportunity to kill himself in his jail cell on August 10. Barr said that although he initially had “suspicions” about Epstein’s death under federal custody at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Manhattan, he had come to the conclusions that it was a suicide. Barr added, “I can understand people who immediately, whose minds went to sort of the worst-case scenario because it was a perfect storm of screwups.” The AP report said Barr drew his conclusion “after the FBI and the Justice Department’s inspector general continued to investigate,” adding that he “sought to dampen conspiracy theories by people who have questioned whether Epstein really took his own life, saying the evidence proves Epstein killed himself.” Barr told the AP that “he personally reviewed security footage that confirmed that no one entered the area where Epstein was housed on the night he died.” However, it is not clear what video Barr reviewed, since prior to the AP interview it had been widely reported that both surveillance cameras near Epstein’s cell were discovered to be dysfunctional following their removal as part of the FBI investigation. Barr gave his interview two days after two MCC prison guards, Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, were arrested and charged on multiple counts in connection with their failure to monitor Epstein during the hours preceding his death. The guards, who had worked overtime shifts and extended hours at the understaffed facility, have been accused of “sleeping and browsing the internet” between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m., when they should have been checking on Epstein every half-hour. They are also charged with filing fraudulent reports. An attorney for one of the two, both of whom have pled not guilty, has said that the guards are being “scapegoated.” Even if the claims against them are true, the lawyer notes, such violations are normally considered prison employee disciplinary issues and not criminal actions.

 Lindsey Graham Barks Back At Biden Over 'Obvious Conflict Of Interest' With Hunter And Burisma - Three days after Joe Biden appeared to threaten Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) for investigating he and his son Hunter's dealings in Ukraine, Graham has a response: "We are not going to give a pass to what is obviously a conflict of interest," adding "I believe Hunter Biden’s association on the Burisma board doesn’t pass the smell test." I believe Hunter Biden’s association on the Burisma board doesn’t pass the smell test.If a Republican was in the same position, they’d certainly be investigated!— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) November 25, 2019  Graham is referring to the fact that a corrupt Ukrainian oligarch hired Hunter Biden to sit on the board of natural gas firm Burisma Holdings while Burisma's founder - Ukraine's former Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources, Mykola Zlochevsky - was under active investigation for giving himself permits to drill for oil and gas, laundering money, and taking approximately $23 million US dollars out of Ukraine.According to Ukraine's former prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, Zlochevsky hired Hunter Biden "in order to protect himself."Lo and behold, Shokin claims he was fired "at the request of Mr. Joseph Biden the Vice President of the United States," while his successor Yuriy Lutsenko said in an interview "he began looking at the same case Mr. Shokin was looking at (mentioned above) and he believes Hunter Biden receives millions of dollars in compensation from Burisma. He produced a document from Latvia that showed several million dollars that were distributed out of Burisma's account."

Barr Ends All Conspiracy Theories- Jeffrey Epstein Killed Himself In Perfect Storm Of Screw-Ups -  Caitlin Johnstone -- In an interview with Associated Press, US Attorney General William Barr put all conspiracy theories to rest once and for all by assuring the world that alleged sex trafficker and alleged billionaire Jeffrey Epstein’s death was simply the result of a very, very, very long series of unfortunate coincidences. “I can understand people who immediately, whose minds went to sort of the worst-case scenario because it was a perfect storm of screw-ups,” Barr told AP on Thursday.  This perfect storm of unlucky oopsies include:

In a new interview, Attorney General William Barr said Jeffrey Epstein's suicide resulted from "a perfect storm of screw-ups" and that evidence ultimately shows he hanged himselfhttps://t.co/lhCxD16q4Q — The New York Times (@nytimes) November 22, 2019    “The attorney general also sought to dampen conspiracy theories by people who have questioned whether Epstein really took his own life, saying the evidence proves Epstein killed himself,” AP reports.  “He added that he personally reviewed security footage that confirmed that no one entered the area where Epstein was housed on the night he died.” Well if reporting that he’s reviewed footage which we were previously told didn’t exist isn’t enough to dampen those kooky conspiracy theories, I don’t know what is.

 Obama privately said he would speak up to stop Sanders: report | TheHill - President Obama privately said he would speak up to stop Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) from becoming the Democratic presidential nominee, Politico reported Tuesday. The former president reportedly said if Sanders held a strong lead in the Democratic primary, he would speak out to prevent him from becoming the nominee. A close adviser to Obama told Politico he could not confirm whether Obama would stand up against Sanders. “He hasn’t said that directly to me,” the adviser said. “The only reason I'm hesitating at all is because, yeah, if Bernie were running away with it, I think maybe we would all have to say something. But I don't think that's likely. It's not happening.” An Obama spokesperson, when asked about his previous comments on Sanders, referred to the president’s past comments that he would back whomever became the Democratic nominee. “Look, we have a field of very accomplished, very serious and passionate and smart people who have a history of public service, and whoever emerges from the primary process I will work my tail off to make sure that they are the next president,” Obama said earlier this month, according to his spokesperson. Obama has stayed quiet throughout the campaign about which candidate he would support, but has offered to meet with any candidate in the primary and has given advice to those who meet with him, according to the news outlet. A close adviser told Politico that “I can’t even imagine with this field how bad it would have to be for him to say something,” referring to Obama speaking out against a candidate. But earlier this month, the former president warned the 2020 candidates of leaning too far left at a speaking engagement, saying “the average American doesn’t think we have to completely tear down the system and remake it.”

It’s Official: JPMorgan Chase Is the Riskiest Big Bank in the U.S. - Pam Martens --The National Information Center is a little-known repository of bank data collected by the Federal Reserve. It is part of the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC), which was created by federal legislation to create uniformity in the examination of U.S. financial institutions by the numerous federal regulators of banks.  Quietly, the National Information Center has done something that has likely made Jamie Dimon hopping mad. Dimon is the Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase who has bragged perpetually in his annual letter to shareholders about how the bank he leads has a “fortress balance sheet.” But now the National Information Center has created a graphic profile of JPMorgan Chase versus its peer banks. The graphics crunch a series of important financial metrics at JPMorgan Chase, showing it to be the riskiest bank in the United States. The data used to create these graphics come from what is known as the “Systemic Risk Report” or form FR Y-15 that banks have to file with the Federal Reserve. To measure the systemic risk that a particular bank poses to the stability of the U.S. financial system, the data is broken down into five categories of system risk: size, interconnectedness, substitutability, complexity, and cross-jurisdictional activity. Those measurements consist of 12 pieces of financial information that banks have to provide on their Y-15 forms. That data shows that in 7 out of 12 financial metrics, JPMorgan Chase has the riskiest footprint among its peer banks. One of the 12 financial metrics measures the Intra-Financial System Liabilities of each bank. This shows how much money a particular bank has at risk at other banks by using inputs such as how much of its funds it has on deposit with, or has lent to, other financial institutions; the unused portion of any credit lines it has committed to other financial institutions; and its holdings of debt, equity, commercial paper, etc. of other financial institutions. The idea, obviously, is to understand if another Citigroup or Lehman Brothers were to occur, could it bring your bank down. JPMorgan Chase looks particularly dicey in this regard. The Y-15 data shows that it has $377.9 billion in Intra-Financial System Liabilities which is more than $100 billion larger than the next two largest banks in this category, Bank of New York Mellon and Citigroup.  Another scary category is OTC Derivatives.  Among the biggest banks on Wall Street, JPMorgan Chase has the largest exposure to derivatives, with $45.2 trillion exposure, according to the National Information Center graphic. Yes, we said “trillion.” The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, however, which is the federal regulator of national banks and reports the derivative exposures of the biggest banks on a quarterly basis, shows that as of June 30 of this year, JPMorgan Chase’s notional derivatives (face amount) stood at an even larger $55.7 trillion. (SeeTable 1 in the Appendix here.) In other words, while JPMorgan Chase is backing away from lending in the repo market, forcing the Federal Reserve to effectively bail out Wall Street’s lack of liquidity in overnight lending, that hasn’t stopped JPMorgan Chase from increasing its systemic risk footprint in other areas.

 November 2019: Unofficial Problem Bank list Decreased to 65 Institutions -The FDIC's official problem bank list is comprised of banks with a CAMELS rating of 4 or 5, and the list is not made public (just the number of banks and assets every quarter). Note: Bank CAMELS ratings are also not made public. CAMELS is the FDIC rating system, and stands for Capital adequacy, Asset quality, Management, Earnings, Liquidity and Sensitivity to market risk. The scale is from 1 to 5, with 1 being the strongest.   As a substitute for the CAMELS ratings, surferdude808 is using publicly announced formal enforcement actions, and also media reports and company announcements that suggest to us an enforcement action is likely, to compile a list of possible problem banks in the public interest.. Here is the unofficial problem bank list for November 2019. Here are the monthly changes and a few comments from surferdude808: Update on the Unofficial Problem Bank List for November 2019. During the month, the list declined by six to 65 banks after seven removals and one addition. Aggregate assets dropped by $4.3 billion from the month to $51.0 billion. Part of the $4.3 billion decline came from a $2.1 billion decrease in reported assets with the release of third quarter financials earlier this week. A year ago, the list held 75 institutions with assets of $53.9 billion. Removals this month occurred through merger, action termination, or failure. Banks finding a merger partner include MidSouth Bank, National Association, Lafayette, LA ($1.7 billion Ticker: MSL); Markesan State Bank, Markesan, WI ($118 million); Fort Gibson State Bank, Fort Gibson, OK ($61 million); and The First National Bank of Paducah, Paducah, TX ($44 million). Actions were terminated against The Peoples Bank, Eatonton, GA ($130 million) and The Bank of Houston, Houston, MO ($32 million). Exiting through failure was City National Bank of New Jersey, Newark, NJ ($143 million). Added this month was Beauregard FSB, Deridder, LA ($66 million).

OCC gives banks another break on their assessment fees — The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is once again reducing its assessment fee collected from banks by 10% for the 2020 calendar year, as the regulator says it has increased operating efficiencies. “We have looked to gain efficiency, while delivering the same high-quality supervision to national banks, federal savings associations, and federal branches of foreign banks,” Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting said in a press release. “Now that we have demonstrated the ability to operate successfully at a lower cost, we can reduce the assessments we charge, while ensuring the federal banking system operates in a safe, sound, and fair manner.” The change in the rate will likely result in an $85 million reduction in exam fees collected from banks by the regulator next year, a spokesperson for the OCC said. The OCC uses a scale of assessments it charges banks based on an institution’s size. For example, next year a bank with $40 billion of on-balance-sheet assets will be charged a semiannual assessment of just below $2 million. A bank with $250 billion of assets will be charged an assessment of about $8.6 million. At the lower end, a bank with assets of $1 billion will be charged an assessment of $100,800. A bank with $100 million of assets will be charged $21,000. The OCC also said it is increasing the hourly fee for special examinations and investigations from $110 to $140. The OCC similarly reduced its assessment fee for banks by 10% for the 2019 calendar year. The additional cut in the fee next year will go into effect Jan. 1 and will be reflected in assessments paid March 31 and Sept. 30. The OCC said in a press release that the reduced 2020 assessment level will still enable it to continue to provide “resources that enable the agency to recruit, train, and retain the talent and experience necessary to perform its important mission.”

Threat of negative rates has banks setting floors on loans -- Banks have grown so worried about the prospect of a protracted pinch to interest income that they are increasingly turning to a practice more often used in the complicated leveraged loan market: interest rate floors. The idea is to safeguard against falling rates — and lost future revenue — if the economy takes a step back and the Federal Reserve further reduces borrowing rates to spur growth along. The plans are another sign that more conservative-minded lenders are unwilling to match competitors who are lowering prices or loosening terms to win commercial business. PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh is among those saying they are concerned about excessive risk-taking. The $406 billion-asset bank company is considering setting floors on interest resets on its floating-rate loans,   “We have been pretty focused on thinking about how we can embed floors in our loans,” Singh said. “It’s not an easy thing to do, [given there are] a lot of documentation and operational issues to deal with. But that really helps when you analyze what happens if rates were to go negative. That provides a pretty important source of duration.” There are few data sources on interest rate floors, but Leveraged Commentary and Data, an offering of S&P Global Market Intelligence, tracks how often they are used in the institutional speculative-grade leveraged loan market. These loans are syndicated by banks and sold to investors who often require interest rate floors to guarantee a minimum amount of revenue in case borrowing costs fall too far. As the Fed was cutting rates to prod the economy out of the Great Recession, virtually all loans in this universe carried an interest rate floor. But as rates increased, banks shed these floors as rate risk waned and competition for these loans increased. A little more than 27% of these loans had an interest rate floor attached as of the end of October, the lowest percentage since LCD began tracking the data during the financial crisis. But that figure may start climbing again now that the Fed has cut rates three times since the end of July and uncertainty looms over monetary policy and the direction of the U.S. economy.

What’s Behind the Subprime Consumer Loan Implosion? - Wolf Richter:  OK, we’ve got a situation in subprime consumer loans. The delinquency rate on credit-card loan balances at the nearly 5,000 smaller commercial banks in the United States – this means all banks except the largest 100 – is blowing out, according to Federal Reserve data. In the third quarter, the delinquency rate at these banks rose to 6.25%. That’s higher even than during the peak of the Financial Crisis.Back in 2016, the credit-card delinquency rate at these banks was in the 3% range. It has more than doubled in two years.Credit card balances are considered delinquent when they’re 30 days or more past due. This delinquency rate means that out of the banks total credit card balances, 6.25% are 30 days or more past due. This is a disturbingly large rate.But delinquencies are a flow. Balances are removed from the delinquency basket either when the customer cures the delinquency, such as catching up with past-due payments, or when the bank “charges off” the delinquent balance against its loan loss reserves. But as these delinquent balances were taken out of the delinquency basket, even more new delinquencies fell into the basket, and the delinquency rate rose. Subprime auto loans have also been blowing out.  In the third quarter, the serious delinquency rate of the $1.3 trillion in auto loans has risen to 4.71%, the highest since the worst months of the Financial Crisis, when the auto industry collapsed, and when the US was facing the worst unemployment crisis since the Great Depression. In the third quarter, about 21% of all subprime auto loans were seriously delinquent – meaning 90 days past due. Back in 2009, people were defaulting on their auto loans and credit cards and their installment loans because over 10 million people had lost their jobs. This is not the case today. Back then, new unemployment claims – a sign of layoffs – spiked to astronomical levels. These days, they’ve been hovering near historic lows. So today, these people are working, and they're falling behind on their debt service. Subprime doesn’t mean poor or uneducated. Subprime means having a credit score below 620.For example, a family of two working adults and two kids: The household income is $200,000. They bought a house and stretch to make the mortgage payments. They bought nice cars and have to make payments. Their kids cost all kinds of money, and it adds up, and they’re spending every dime they make.  So they go through daily triage about what to pay: mortgage payments, auto loan payments, minimum payments on their maxed out credit cards, groceries, clothes for the kids, bills, gas, and so on. And they fall behind, and late fees are racking up, and their credit score drops below 620, and they’re subprime.

Think celebrities and CEOs make way too much money? Check out this chart -- In 2016 pop diva Taylor Swift sung her way to $170 million in earnings to take the top spot on the Forbes Celebrity 100 list. The year before that, Uber boss Dara Khosrowshahi took home $94.6 million when he was serving as the chief executive at Expedia. As you can see from this chart — and as you already knew — there are plenty of people making plenty of money in show business and Corporate America. Disney’s Bob Iger made $44.9 million, Oracle’s Mark Hurd pocketed $53 million... Howard Stern, Kevin Hart, Lionel Messi, Adele, Rush Limbaugh, etc. Lots and lots of money. All of them. So what do hedge-fund managers have to say about it?  “Hold my beer,” according to a tweet from Cambria Investment Management’s Meb Faber, who highlighted the two charts, including the one below, for perspective on how much the powerbrokers of Wall Street actually make.Citadel’s Ken Griffin and Renaissance Technologies’s James Simons brought in $1.7 billion each in 2016, combining with the rest of the top 25 earners across the hedge-fund industry to make about $13 billion that year. In the latest roundup, Bridgewater’s Ray Dalio took first place with $2 billion, leaving Simons in second.  How do these guys make so much cash? Well, they typically earn 2% off assets under management and 20% off performance fees — or in Simons’s case, a whopping 5% and 44%. Nice work, if you can get it.

 Company Stock Prices Fall When Women Are Added To Boards Of Directors - Turns out that many companies who seek to embrace equality by any means could actually be doing their shareholders a disservice. But hey, we thought equality of outcome was a guaranteed fast track to utopia! What happened?In fact, many companies experience stock price declines when women are added to the board of directors, Bloomberg points out.An a nalysis of 14 years of market returns across almost 1,900 companies recently revealed that when companies appoint female directors, they experienced two years of stock declines. Companies saw their stock fall by an average of 2.3% just from adding one additional woman to their board.Kaisa Snellman, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD business school and a co-author of the study said: "Shareholders penalize these companies, despite the fact that increased gender diversity doesn’t have a material effect on a company’s return on assets. Nothing happens to the actual value of the companies. It’s just the perceptions that change.”  The study suggests that investor biases are to blame. The study asked senior managers with MBAs to read fictional press releases announcing new board members. The statements were identical, but for the gender of the incoming director. Participants said that men were more likely to care about profits and less about social values, while women were deemed to be "softer". Snellman continued:  “If anyone is biased, it is the market. Investors should consider organizations that add women and other under-represented g roups to their boards because there's a good chance that company is being undervalued.”

GSE limit for single-family loans to surpass $500K in 2020 - Loan limits for most mortgages Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac buy will exceed $500,000 for the first time ever next year, with the maximum for most high-cost areas being $765,000. Next year’s standard one-unit loan limit of $510,400 is based on changes in average U.S. home prices. The Federal Housing Finance Agency’s home price index was up 5.38% year-over-year in the third quarter. Currently, the conforming one-unit property loan limit is $484,350. While the increase in the standard single-family loan limit is significant, it reflects slightly slower year-to-year growth in home prices. During the previous two years, loan limits increased nearly 7%. Regions where 115% of the local median home value exceeds the baseline conforming loan limit are generally considered high-cost areas under the Housing and Economic Recovery Act. The maximum in these regions is 150% of the standard loan limit. Two states and two U.S. territories (Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands) have special statutory authority related to loan limits. In these areas, the baseline limit for one-unit properties is $765,600. Within the mainland United States, certain counties have been designated as eligible for high-cost loan limits. Some of these can be found in California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington state and Wyoming. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is expected to set its 2020 loan limits for government-insured mortgages next month. The lowest loan limit for the Federal Housing Administration program is tied to 65% of the standard conforming loan limit. Subs

 Freddie Mac: Mortgage Serious Delinquency Rate unchanged in October - Freddie Mac reported that the Single-Family serious delinquency rate in October was 0.61%, unchanged from 0.61% in September. Freddie's rate is down from 0.71% in October 2018.  Freddie's serious delinquency rate peaked in February 2010 at 4.20%.   This matches the last three months as the lowest serious delinquency rate for Freddie Mac since November 2007.  These are mortgage loans that are "three monthly payments or more past due or in foreclosure".  I expect the delinquency rate to decline to a cycle bottom in the 0.4% to 0.6% range - so this is close to a bottom.

Fannie Mae: Mortgage Serious Delinquency Rate decreased slightly in October - Fannie Mae reported that the Single-Family Serious Delinquency decreased slightly to 0.67% in October, from 0.68% in September. The serious delinquency rate is down from 0.79% in October 2018.These are mortgage loans that are "three monthly payments or more past due or in foreclosure". This matches the delinquency rate in July and August of this year, as the lowest serious delinquency rate for Fannie Mae since June 2007. The Fannie Mae serious delinquency rate peaked in February 2010 at 5.59%.

Black Knight's First Look: National Mortgage Delinquency Rate Decreased in October --From Black Knight: Black Knight’s First Look: Strong Decline in October Mortgage Delinquencies; Refi Wave Pushes Prepayments to Highest Level in More than Six Years

• The national delinquency rate fell to 3.39% in October, a nearly 7% decline from last year, and within 0.03% of the record low set in May 2019
• Serious delinquencies fell by 10,000 from September, while the number of loans in active foreclosure edged up slightly (+3,000)
• Prepayment activity climbed another 16% in October to the highest level since May 2013
• Prepays are now up 134% year-over-year as refinancing homeowners continue to take advantage of low interest rates
• However, modest rises in 30-year rates in recent weeks – coupled with seasonal slowing in home sales – may dampen prepayment rates in coming months
According to Black Knight's First Look report for October, the percent of loans delinquent decreased in October compared to September, and decreased 6.9% year-over-year.
The percent of loans in the foreclosure process increased 1.0% in October and were down 6.2% over the last year. Black Knight reported the U.S. mortgage delinquency rate (loans 30 or more days past due, but not in foreclosure) was 3.39% in October, down from 3.53% in September. The percent of loans in the foreclosure process increased slightly in to 0.48% from 0.48% in September.

 MBA: Mortgage Applications Increased in Latest Weekly Survey --From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest MBA Weekly Survey Mortgage applications increased 1.5 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending November 22, 2019. This week’s results are being compared to the week of Thanksgiving 2018.... The Refinance Index increased 4 percent from the previous week and was 314 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 1 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 4 percent compared with the previous week and was 55 percent higher than the same week one year ago.... “Mortgage rates stayed below 4 percent for the second straight week and borrowers responded positively, with mortgage applications rising 1.5 percent on the back of increases in both refinance and purchase activity,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Refinances have been strong this month, but we are starting to see the average pace slow compared to the peak experienced in August through October.” Added Kan, “The annual increase in refinance and purchase activity was even more prominent in this report because Thanksgiving was a week earlier last year. However, with roughly five weeks of reporting data left in 2019, the mortgage market is on track for its best year for originations since 2007.”...The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($484,350 or less) decreased to 3.97 percent from 3.99 percent, with points decreasing to 0.30 from 0.33 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

Mortgage Rates at 3.75% Fixed (Top Tier Scenarios) - From Matthew Graham at MortgageNewsDaily: Mortgage Rates Higher to Start Holiday Week Mortgage rates finally moved a bit higher today after avoiding such things for nearly 2 full weeks. The losses were mild today, but nonetheless take the average lender back in line with rates from November 15th. This is more of a commentary on the narrowness of the recent range than the scope of today's weakness. [Today's Most Prevalent Rates For Top Tier Scenarios 30YR FIXED - 3.75%]  This graph from Mortgage News Daily shows mortgage rates since 2000. This graph is interactive, and you could view mortgage rates back to the mid-1980s - click here for graph.

FHFA House Price Index: Up 0.6% in September - The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has released its U.S. House Price Index (HPI) for September. Here is the opening of the report:  U.S. house prices rose in the third quarter of 2019, up 1.1 percent according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) House Price Index (HPI). House prices rose 4.9 percent from the third quarter of 2018 to the third quarter of 2019. FHFA's seasonally adjusted monthly index for September was up 0.6 percent from August. [Read more] The chart below illustrates the monthly HPI series, which is not adjusted for inflation, along with a real (inflation-adjusted) series using the Consumer Price Index: All Items Less Shelter.In the chart above we see that the nominal HPI index has exceeded its pre-recession peak of what's generally regarded to have been a housing bubble. Adjusted for inflation, the index is now at 157.6. The next chart shows the growth of the nominal and real index since the turn of the century.

Case-Shiller: National House Price Index increased 3.2% year-over-year in September - S&P/Case-Shiller released the monthly Home Price Indices for September ("September" is a 3 month average of July, August and September prices). This release includes prices for 20 individual cities, two composite indices (for 10 cities and 20 cities) and the monthly National index. Note: Case-Shiller reports Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA), I use the SA data for the graphs. From S&P: Cities in Sun Belt Region Lead In Annual Gains According To S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Index The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index, covering all nine U.S. census divisions, reported a 3.2% annual gain in September, up from 3.1% in the previous month. The 10-City Composite annual increase came in at 1.5%, no change from the previous month. The 20-City Composite posted a 2.1% year-over-year gain, up from 2.0% in the previous month. Phoenix, Charlotte and Tampa reported the highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities. In September, Phoenix led the way with a 6.0% year-over-year price increase, followed by Charlotte with a 4.6% increase and Tampa with a 4.5% increase. Ten of the 20 cities reported greater price increases in the year ending September 2019 versus the year ending August 2019. Before seasonal adjustment, the National Index posted a month-over-month increase of 0.1% in September. The 10-City Composite did not post any gains and the 20-City Composite posted a 0.1% increase for the month. After seasonal adjustment, the National Index recorded a 0.4% month-over-month increase in September. The 10-City Composite posted a 0.2% increase and the 20-City Composite posted a 0.4%. “After a long period of decelerating price increases, it’s notable that in September both the national and 20-city composite indices rose at a higher rate than in August, while the 10-city index’s September rise matched its August performance. It is, of course, too soon to say whether this month marks an end to the deceleration or is merely a pause in the longer-term trend."

Zillow Case-Shiller Forecast: Similar YoY Price Gains in October compared to September - The Case-Shiller house price indexes for September were released yesterday. Zillow forecasts Case-Shiller a month early, and I like to check the Zillow forecasts since they have been pretty close.  From Matthew Speakman at Zillow: September Case-Shiller Results and October Forecast: Steady as She Goes: The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index® rose 3.2% year-over-year in September (non-seasonally adjusted), up from 3.1% in August. Annual growth in the smaller 10-city index was unchanged from August, and was up slightly in the 20-city index (to 2.1%, from 2% in August). …   In the meantime, annual growth in October as reported by Case-Shiller is expected to stay steady in all three major indices. S&P Dow Jones Indices is expected to release data for the October S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indices on Tuesday, Dec. 31.

LA Has More Vacant Homes Than Homeless People, Report Finds -At least 36,000 homeless people live in the city of Los Angeles, but L.A. potentially has more than 41,000 empty housing units, according to a report released Tuesday by UCLA law students and a coalition of economic justice organizations. Researchers from the UCLA School of Law and nonprofit groups Strategic Actions for a Just Economy and the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, who authored the report, found many of these units were purchased or built as long-term financial investments,and that allowing them to sit unoccupied worsens the region's housing shortage.The findings quantify the number of apartments and condominiums that appear to be investments and/or second homes. However, updated figures obtained by LAist found the report's vacancy figures out of date and inflated.The research used in the report was based on an analysis of property ownership records obtained through the Los Angeles County Office of the Assessor and the commercial real estate information service, Co-Star. Besides taking a look at L.A.'s housing market on the whole, the report also zeros in on vacancies in recently built, luxury residential housing.Researchers analyzed 10 high-end apartment buildings in Downtown Los Angeles and 25 high-end condominium buildings around the city.In the 10 downtown buildings, researchers found an average vacancy rate of over 70% in April 2019, using information provided by CoStar. Most of the buildings were ready to be occupied in 2018 or earlier, though two weren't completed until 2019.These are buildings where the asking rate for a 750 square-foot, 1-bedroom apartment can soar far north of $3,000 a month.  Vacancy rates in the 10 buildings have dropped to 30% since the study was carried out, according to data supplied by CoStar to LAist. In hard numbers, that means 1,544 of 2,809 vacant units in those 10 buildings were filled between April and November.

Housing shortage intensifies, boosting rent prices and home values - With unemployment hovering close to all-time lows, the already limited housing supply is getting bought up and lifting rent and home prices around the country, according to Zillow. Housing inventory decreased by 101,724 units — a 6.3% drop — year-over-year in October, the largest decline in 18 months. Meanwhile, Zillow's Home Value Index grew 4.7% to an average of $231,700 and Rent Index climbed 2.3% annually to $1,600. "Despite some fearful headlines, the U.S. economy keeps on trucking, and that is reflected in the continued rent growth across the country," Skylar Olsen, Zillow's director of economic research, said in a press release. "The unemployment rate remains near record lows and wage growth keeps adding to renters' pocketbooks. The story of today's rent growth is far from just that of a few expensive superstar cities — rather, growing demand for rental housing is bumping up against limited housing supply and low vacancies all across the country." By individual metro areas, Seattle experienced the largest annual inventory drop of 28.4%. Sacramento, Calif., was next with a 20.5% decline, followed by Cincinnati's 17.9% decrease. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Las Vegas's supply rose the most at 13.8%. San Antonio's 10.9% and Detroit's 10.1% increases trailed next in line. Austin, Texas got the biggest boost in Home Value Index, up 7.8% year-over-year. Charlotte, N.C.'s 6.9% and Columbus, Ohio's 6.6% were next. The notoriously expensive San Jose, Calif., and San Francisco markets were the only ones where values declined. Their numbers were a negative-11.1% and a negative-3%, respectively. Rising rents put more of a squeeze on residents in Phoenix than anywhere else in the country. The Rent Index there climbed 6.4%. Las Vegas followed with a 5.2% increase and Charlotte's 4% was next. Conversely, rent in Columbus and Houston fell 1.8% and 0.6%, respectively.

 75% Of Millennials May Never Be Able To Afford Owning A House - More so than with Gen X and the Baby Boomers, housing has become indelibly tied up with the millennial identity. That's largely because economic hardship - or at the very least, stagnation and heavy debt - is perhaps the single defining characteristic of the generation that came or age during or just after the financial crisis nearly destroyed the global economy. And while many had hoped that millennials would find their footing and their economic prospects would improve with time, sadly, that's just not the case for many millennials. And in its latest study of millennial attitudes toward the housing market, Apartment List found that a growing percentage of those surveyed said they fully expected to be renters forever. Unsurprisingly, the percentage of respondents who felt that homeownership would be forever out of reach was higher in expensive urban enclaves like NYC, and many cities across the state of California. But perhaps the most alarming finding from the study stems from the researchers examination of student debt and how the burden of making their monthly loan payments impacts their ability to save for a down payment. At the current savings rate, just 25% of millennial renters will be ready to put down 10% on a median-priced starter home in the next five years (typically, buyers need 20% down to get a mortgage). That means 75% of millennials likely won't be able to afford a down payment any time soon.  To better understand the barrier created by student debt, Apartment List tried to simulate Bernie Sanders' proposal to take all student debt payments and apply them to down payments instead. Apartment List found that the effect would be significant: Across the country the percentage of millennials who would soon be able to afford a 10% down payment on a median condo would rise from 25% to 38%.   After more than a decade of decline, the national homeownership rate is finally climbing again. But the Apartment List study is unfortunately just the latest to show that the situation for millennials hasn't improved. Half of millennials have nothing saved for a downpayment (despite being dangerous close to - or past - the age of 30). If this keeps up, millennials can ditch that tired sobriquet for something more appropriate: Generation Rent.

New Home Sales Down 0.7% in October - This morning's release of the October New Home Sales from the Census Bureau came in at 733K, down 0.7% month-over-month from a revised 738K in September. Here is the opening from the report: Sales of new single‐family houses in October 2019 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 733,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 0.7 percent (±20.4 percent)* below the revised September rate of 738,000, but is 31.6 percent (±23.7 percent) above the October 2018 estimate of 557,000.  The median sales price of new houses sold in October 2019 was $316,700. The average sales price was $383,300. [Full Report] For a longer-term perspective, here is a snapshot of the data series, which is produced in conjunction with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The data since January 1963 is available in the St. Louis Fed's FRED repository here. We've included a six-month moving average to highlight the trend in this highly volatile series.

New Home Sales at 733,000 Annual Rate in October, New Cycle High in September - The Census Bureau reports New Home Sales in October were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 733 thousand.    Sales for September were revised up to a new cycle high of 738 thousand SAAR. The previous three months were revised up, combined. "Sales of new single‐family houses in October 2019 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 733,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 0.7 percent below the revised September rate of 738,000, but is 31.6 percent above the October 2018 estimate of 557,000." The first graph shows New Home Sales vs. recessions since 1963. The dashed line is the current sales rate. Even with the increase in sales over the last several years, new home sales are still somewhat low historically. The second graph shows New Home Months of Supply. New Home Sales, Months of SupplyThe months of supply increased in October to 5.3 months from 5.2 months in September. The all time record was 12.1 months of supply in January 2009. This is in the normal range (less than 6 months supply is normal). Starting in 1973 the Census Bureau broke inventory down into three categories: Not Started, Under Construction, and Completed. The third graph shows the three categories of inventory starting in 1973. The inventory of completed homes for sale is still somewhat low, and the combined total of completed and under construction is close to normal. The last graph shows sales NSA (monthly sales, not seasonally adjusted annual rate). In October 2019 (red column), 57 thousand new homes were sold (NSA). Last year, 43 thousand homes were sold in October. The all time high for September was 105 thousand in 2005, and the all time low for October was 23 thousand in 2010. This was well above expectations of 707 thousand sales SAAR, and sales in the three previous months were revised up, combined.

A few Comments on October New Home Sales -- New home sales for October were reported at 733,000 on a seasonally adjusted annual rate basis (SAAR). Sales for the previous three months were revised up, combined. And sales for September were revised up to a new cycle high of 738,000 SAAR.  Sales were above 700 thousand SAAR in four of the last five months - the best five month stretch since 2007.  Annual sales in 2019 should be the best year for new home sales since 2007. Earlier: New Home Sales at 733,000 Annual Rate in October, New Cycle High in September. This graph shows new home sales for 2018 and 2019 by month (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate). Sales in October were up 31.6% year-over-year compared to October 2018. Year-to-date (through October), sales are up 9.6% compared to the same period in 2018. The comparisons for the last two months are easy, so sales should be double digits in 2019 compared to 2018 - a solid year for new home sales. And here is another update to the "distressing gap" graph that I first started posting a number of years ago to show the emerging gap caused by distressed sales.  Another way to look at this is a ratio of existing to new home sales. This ratio was fairly stable from 1994 through 2006, and then the flood of distressed sales kept the number of existing home sales elevated and depressed new home sales. (Note: This ratio was fairly stable back to the early '70s, but I only have annual data for the earlier years). In general the ratio has been trending down since the housing bust - and is getting close to the historical ratio - and I expect this ratio will trend down a little more. Note: Existing home sales are counted when transactions are closed, and new home sales are counted when contracts are signed. So the timing of sales is different.#160;

NAR: "Pending Home Sales Decline 1.7% in October" --From the NAR: Pending Home Sales Decline 1.7% in October - Pending home sales retreated in October, taking a slight step back after two prior months of increases, according to the National Association of Realtors®. The Northeast experienced a minor uptick last month, but the other three major U.S. regions reported declines in month-over-month contract activity. However, pending home sales were up nationally and up in all regions compared to a year ago.The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings,fell 1.7% to 106.7 in October. Year-over-year contract signings jumped 4.4%. An index of 100 is equal to the level of contract activity in 2001....With the exception of the Northeast, all regional indices saw declines in October. The PHSI in the Northeast rose 1.9% to 95.7 in October, 3.0% higher than a year ago. In the Midwest, the index slid 2.7% to 101.4 last month, 1.8% higher than in October 2018. Pending home sales in the South decreased 1.7% to an index of 125.3 in October, a 5.1% increase from last October. The index in the West declined 3.4% in October 2019 to 91.9, which is an increase of 7.5% from a year ago. This was below expectations for this index. Note: Contract signings usually lead sales by about 45 to 60 days, so this would usually be for closed sales in November and December.

Hotels: Occupancy Rate Decreased Year-over-year --From HotelNewsNow.com: STR: US hotel results for week ending 16 November - The U.S. hotel industry reported negative year-over-year results in the three key performance metrics during the week of 10-16 November 2019, according to data from STR.
In comparison with the week of 11-17 November 2018, the industry recorded the following:
• Occupancy: -3.6% to 64.2%
• Average daily rate (ADR): -0.6% to US$129.96
• Revenue per available room (RevPAR): -4.2% to US$81.49
The following graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average.The red line is for 2019, dash light blue is 2018 (record year), blue is the median, and black is for 2009 (the worst year probably since the Great Depression for hotels). Occupancy has been solid in 2019, and close to-date compared to the previous 4 years. However occupancy will be lower this year than in 2018 (the record year). Seasonally, the 4-week average of the occupancy rate will decline into the winter.

Personal Income increased Slightly in October, Spending increased 0.3%, Core PCE increase 0.1% --The BEA released the Personal Income and Outlays report for October:Personal income increased $3.3 billion (less than 0.1 percent) in October according to estimates released today by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Disposable personal income (DPI) decreased $12.6 billion (-0.1 percent) and personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased $39.7 billion (0.3 percent). Real DPI decreased 0.3 percent in October and Real PCE increased 0.1 percent. The PCE price index increased 0.2 percent. Excluding food and energy, the PCE price index increased 0.1 percent. The October PCE price index increased 1.3 percent year-over-year and the October PCE price index, excluding food and energy, increased 1.6 percent year-over-year. The following graph shows real Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) through October 2019 (2012 dollars). Note that the y-axis doesn't start at zero to better show the change. The increase in personal income was below expectations,  and the increase in PCE was at expectations.  Note that core PCE inflation was below expectations.

Average US gas prices drop 12 cents per gallon — The average U.S. price of regular-grade gasoline has dropped 12 cents a gallon (3.8 liters) over the past three weeks to $2.31. Industry analyst Trilby Lundberg of the Lundberg Survey says Sunday that falling crude oil costs are the main reason for the decrease at the pump. The average gas price has dropped 66 cents over the past 3 ½ months. The highest average price in the nation is $3.46 a gallon in the San Francisco Bay Area. The lowest average is $1.80 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The average price of diesel fell 9 cents over the past three weeks, to $3.03. 

The California DMV Is Making $50M a Year Selling Drivers’ Personal Information - The California Department of Motor Vehicles is generating revenue of $50,000,000 a year through selling drivers’ personal information, according to a DMV document obtained by Motherboard.DMVs across the country are selling data that drivers are required to provide to the organization in order to obtain a license. This information includes names, physical addresses, and car registration information. California’s sales come from a state which generally scrutinizes privacy to a higher degree than the rest of the country.In a public record acts request, Motherboard asked the California DMV for the total dollar amounts paid by commercial requesters of data for the past six years. The responsive document shows the total revenue in financial year 2013/14 as $41,562,735, before steadily climbing to $52,048,236 in the financial year 2017/18. The document doesn't name the commercial requesters, but some specific companies appeared frequently in Motherboard's earlier investigationthat looked at DMVs across the country. They included data broker LexisNexis and consumer credit reporting agency Experian. Motherboard also found DMVs sold information to private investigators, including those who are hired to find out if a spouse is cheating. It is unclear if the California DMV has recently sold data to these sorts of entities.

Elon Musk Says Cybertruck Orders Have Climbed to 187,000 - Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk said orders for its Cybertruck have climbed to 200,000 even after two windows unexpectedly shattered in Thursday’s big reveal. The electric-car maker has a history of unveiling future products to throngs of excited customers, taking deposits, and then delivering years later. Two years ago, Tesla showed off a Semi truck and a next generation Roadster sports car, but neither vehicle is in production yet. This spring, Musk unveiled the Model Y crossover; that vehicle is slated to begin production next summer. The orders, an increase from a 146,000 figure that Musk announced in a Tweet on Saturday, underscores the hard-to-resist nature of announcing deposits, even when they are fully refundable and may never be converted into actual sales. Tesla’s reservation list has long been a source of intrigue for investors, analysts, journalists, fans and skeptics of the company, as it’s often used as a proxy for demand. Musk’s tweet breaks with the recent practice at Tesla, which has stopped giving reservation figures on its quarterly earnings calls, saying the metric wasn’t relevant. “We don’t want to comment on the granularity of deposits -- again, people just read too much into those,” Musk said on Tesla’s first-quarter earnings call in April, when asked about the Model Y. Tesla’s website allows customers to order the truck for a fully refundable $100, and says they can complete their configuration “as production nears in late 2021.” Musk said in a tweet Saturday that 42% had ordered the dual-motor option, which starts at $49,900, while 41% have ordered the $69,900 triple-motor option, production of which is expected to begin in late 2022. Just 17% ordered the single-motor version, which begins at $39,900.

Headline Durable Goods Orders Up 0.6% in October - The Advance Report on Manufacturers’ Shipments, Inventories, and Orders released today gives us a first look at the latest durable goods numbers. Here is the Bureau's summary on new orders: New orders for manufactured durable goods in August increased $0.5 billion or 0.2 percent to $250.7 billion, the U.S. Census Bureau announced today. This increase, up three consecutive months, followed a 2.0 percent July increase. Excluding transportation, new orders increased 0.5 percent. Excluding defense, new orders decreased 0.6 percent. Fabricated metal products, up four of the last five months, led the increase, $0.4 billion or 1.3 percent to $34.4 billion.Download full PDFThe latest new orders number at 0.6% month-over-month (MoM) was better than the Investing.com -0.5% estimate. The series is down 0.7% year-over-year (YoY).If we exclude transportation, "core" durable goods was up 0.6% MoM, which was better than the Investing.comconsensus of 0.2%. The core measure is down 0.4% YoY.If we exclude both transportation and defense for an even more fundamental "core", the latest number is down 0.2% MoM and down 3.2% YoY.Core Capital Goods New Orders (nondefense capital goods used in the production of goods or services, excluding aircraft) is an important gauge of business spending, often referred to as Core Capex. It is up 1.2% MoM and down 0.8% YoY. For a look at the big picture and an understanding of the relative size of the major components, here is an area chart of Durable Goods New Orders minus Transportation and Defense with those two components stacked on top. We've also included a dotted line to show the relative size of Core Capex. The next chart shows the year-over-year percent change in Durable Goods. We've highlighted the value at recession starts and the latest value for this metric.

Dallas Fed: "Texas Manufacturing Activity Weakens Slightly" - From the Dallas Fed: Texas Manufacturing Activity Weakens Slightly Texas factory activity contracted slightly in November, according to business executives responding to the Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey. The production index, a key measure of state manufacturing conditions, dipped into negative territory for the first time since mid-2016, falling seven points to -2.4.Other measures of manufacturing activity were also negative in November, suggesting declines. The new orders index remained negative for a second month in a row, coming in at -3.0. The growth rate of orders index pushed further into negative territory, falling from -5.9 to -9.3. The capacity utilization and shipments indexes turned negative after three years in positive territory, falling to -5.3 and -4.5, respectively. Perceptions of broader business conditions worsened slightly in November. The general business activity index remained negative but moved up from -5.1 to -1.3.… Labor market measures suggested stable employment levels and shorter workweeks this month. The employment index retreated from 11.0 to 0.9, with the near-zero reading suggesting little to no job growth on balance. Eighteen percent of firms noted net hiring, while 17 percent noted net layoffs. The hours worked index dipped from 4.7 to -4.3. Another weak regional manufacturing survey.

Richmond Fed: Manufacturing Activity Softened in November  -From the Dallas Fed: Manufacturing Activity Softened in November - Fifth District manufacturing activity softened in November, according to the most recent survey from the Richmond Fed. The composite index fell from 8 in October to −1 in November, weighed down by negative readings for shipments and new orders, while the third component — employment — declined but remained positive. Manufacturing firms also reported a drop in backlog of orders, but the indicator for local business conditions held fairly steady. Survey respondents were optimistic that conditions would improve in the coming months. Survey results suggested modest employment growth and rising wages in November. However, firms continued to struggle to find workers with the necessary skills. Respondents expected this struggle to persist and employment and wages to continue to grow in the near future. This was the last of the regional Fed surveys for November. Here is a graph comparing the regional Fed surveys and the ISM manufacturing index: Based on these regional surveys, it seems likely the ISM manufacturing index for November will be weak again.

November Regional Fed Manufacturing Overview -  Five out of the twelve Federal Reserve Regional Districts currently publish monthly data on regional manufacturing: Dallas, Kansas City, New York, Richmond, and Philadelphia. Regional manufacturing surveys are a measure of local economic health and are used as a representative for the larger national manufacturing health. They have been used as a signal for business uncertainty and economic activity as a whole. Manufacturing makes up 12% of the country's GDP. The other 6 Federal Reserve Districts do not publish manufacturing data. For these, the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book offers a short summary of each districts’ manufacturing health. The Chicago Fed published their Midwest Manufacturing Index from July 1996 through December of 2013. According to their website, "The Chicago Fed Midwest Manufacturing Index (CFMMI) is undergoing a process of data and methodology revision." Five out of the twelve Federal Reserve Regional Districts currently publish monthly data on regional manufacturing: Dallas, Kansas City, New York, Richmond, and Philadelphia. The latest average of the five for November is 1.5, down from the previous month's 2.2. It is well below its all-time high of 25.1, set in May 2004.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims decrease to 213,000 -The DOL reported: In the week ending November 23, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 213,000, a decrease of 15,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 from 227,000 to 228,000. The 4-week moving average was 219,750, a decrease of 1,500 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 250 from 221,000 to 221,250.The previous week was revised up.The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

Brookings Institution study finds a staggering 44 percent of US workers earn low wages - The November 2019 report from the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution titled Meet the Low-Wage Workforce, co-authored by Nicole Bateman and Martha Ross, paints a devastating picture of the reality of working class life in the world’s wealthiest country. The study concentrates on the years following the so-called “economic recovery” championed by former US Democratic President Barack Obama after the Great recession of 2009-2011. The report opens by stating, “As globalization and automation reshape the labor market, workers today must navigate a changing economic landscape...Low-wage workers risk becoming collateral damage, struggling to find their footing in the labor market and an educational system riddled with inequities.” The study defines low-wage workers as those earning less than $16.03 per hour on average across the US. The study found that low-wage workers comprise a shocking 44 percent of US workforce aged 18-64. The largest number of workers impacted by job loss during the Great Recession had earned a high school diploma or less. Three-quarters of the mainly part-time and contract jobs “created” under the Obama administration were filled by those with a bachelor’s degree or higher, signaling a lowering of living standards for the entire working class regardless of education level. According to the study, the largest metropolitan areas have the highest numbers of low-wage workers: 3.5 million in the New York City area, 2.7 million in the Los Angeles region, 1.6 million in Chicago, and about 1.2 million each in Dallas, Miami, and Houston. In less populous areas, low-wage workers make up a larger percentage of the workforce, particularly in the southern and western US. Areas with some of the highest concentrations of low-wage workers are located near the US southern borders and coastlines. Data was gathered from the US Census Bureau’s 2012-2016 American Community Survey 5-Year Public Use Microdata Sample for workers aged 18-64 who worked at any point during the year and did not exclude part-time or seasonal workers. It excluded graduate and professional students, high school students living at home, college students living in dormitories, and those who received self-employment income. Workers with “very low” wages were also excluded, as were those who worked more than 98 hours per week. Had these groups been included there is a possibility that the number of workers considered low wage in the US is actually higher. Over half of low-wage workers are female, or 54 percent, compared to a total of 48 percent in the US workforce as a whole. Both African American and Hispanic workers were overrepresented in the low-wage group, at 15 percent and 25 percent respectively, compared to their total percentage in the workforce. A 52 percent majority of low-wage workers are white. Fifty-seven percent of low-wage workers work full time, year-round. Fourteen percent have a bachelor’s degree, while 49 percent have a high school diploma or less. The remaining 37 percent have attained up to an associate degree or some college education with no degree or are not in school with no degree. About half are estimated to be the primary income earner and 40 percent are raising children.

Job Loss Predictions Over Rising Minimum Wages Haven’t Come True  -Eighteen states rang in 2019 with minimum wage increases — some that will ultimately rise as high as $15 an hour — and so far, opponents' dire predictions of job losses have not come true.The data paint a clear picture: Higher minimum wage requirements haven't reduced hiring in low-wage industries or overall. Opponents have long argued that raising the minimum wage will cause workers to lose their jobs and prompt fast food chains (and other stores) to raise prices.But job losses and price hikes haven't been pronounced in the aftermath of a recent wave of city and state wage-boost laws. And more economists are arguing that the link between minimum wage hikes and job losses was more hype than science. "The minimum wage increase is not showing the detrimental effects people once would’ve predicted," Diane Swonk, chief economist at international accounting firm Grant Thornton, tells Axios.   "A lot of what we’re seeing in politics is old economic ideology, not what economics is telling us today." The doom-and-gloom that opponents have predicted, "are part of the political policy debate," Jeffrey Clemens, an economics professor at UC San Diego, tells Axios. His research for the conservative American Enterprise Institute is often quoted in arguments against minimum wage increases.   But Clemens told Axios: "People will tend to make the most extreme argument that suits their policy preferences, and it’s not surprising if that ends up being out of whack with the way things unfold on the ground." Axios used Bureau of Labor Statistics data to compare job growth rates in four states with low minimum wages vs. eight states with high minimum wages:

  • Since 2016, when California became the first state to pass the $15 minimum wage law, all 12 states have seen growth in restaurant, bar and hotel jobs.
  • Three of the four states with job growth higher than the U.S. median have passed laws that will raise the state minimum wage to at least $13.50.
  • Three of the five states with the slowest job growth rates did not have a state minimum wage above the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.
  • An outlier was Massachusetts, which had the slowest job growth in the sector and currently has the highest state minimum wage: $12 an hour.

 Two new investigations find that some Amazon warehouses have injury rates as high as triple the industry average -Amazon is facing renewed scrutiny over working conditions at its warehouses following two new reports published Monday.In one report, Gizmodo analyzed injury reports that Amazon had submitted as required by law to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a federal workplace-safety agency. According to Gizmodo, by Amazon's own count, injury rates at its facility in the New York City borough of Staten Island were more than three times the industry average.Gizmodo also found that the injuries were often apparently severe, with Amazon workers missing an average of 64 days an injury."It's inaccurate to say that Amazon fulfillment centers are unsafe and efforts to paint our workplace as such based solely on a snapshot of injury recordings is misleading given the size of our workforce," an Amazon representative told Business Insider in a statement about the Gizmodo report. You can read the full statement below.In a separate investigation published by Reveal and The Atlantic, injury reports obtained from 23 of Amazon's 110 warehouses in the US showed that the rates of serious injuries at those locations were more than twice the industry average."Reveal is on to something and it's something OSHA has been talking about for years: there's a dramatic level of under-recording of safety incidents across the industry — we recognized this in 2016 and began to take an aggressive stance on recording injuries no matter how big or small," an Amazon representative told Business Insider in a statement about the Reveal investigation. You can read the full statement below.The Reveal investigation also included several workers' accounts of their experience at the company, including an incident during a gas leak at a warehouse in California, in which workers accused Amazon management of refusing to stop operations — even after a 911 dispatcher instructed workers to evacuate the building — telling workers to use personal time if they wanted to leave.In its statement, Amazon called this accounting of events "inaccurate." The company said that it ceased operations for about 1 1/2 hours and that employees were moved to a break room away from the gas leak. Amazon told Business Insider that employees were still paid while operations were paused and that requests to leave the site were handled on a case-by-case basis. This isn't the first time Amazon has come under fire for working conditions in its warehouses, as reporting from Business Insider has detailed on multiple occasions.

 Google fires four workers in apparent retaliation for their workplace activism - Google’s parent corporation Alphabet, Inc. fired four employees on Monday in apparent retaliation for their involvement in various forms of political activism within the $900 billion monopoly. The Silicon Valley company claimed the firings were the result of data security violations. A memo obtained by Bloomberg entitled “Securing our data” was sent by representatives of Google’s Security and Investigations Team to the entire company staff on Monday. It said, “today we’ve dismissed four employees for clear and repeated violations of our data security policies.” Google representatives confirmed both the firings and the authenticity of the memo. The Google corporate firing memo went on, “our thorough investigation found the individuals were involved in systematic searches for other employees’ materials and work,” and “inaccurate descriptions about Googlers’ work, was subsequently shared externally.” However, no specifics were offered as to how the internal searches violated company policies or what was inaccurate about the externally shared descriptions of Google work. Although all the names of those dismissed by Google are unavailable at this time, Rebecca Rivers, a software engineer who was involved in internal protests against the company’s work with the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), announced via Twitter on Monday, “I was just informed by @Google that I am being terminated.” A group called Tech Workers Coalition posted on Twitter that “Google fired the Thanksgiving Four for organizing at work” and calling on others in the tech community to offer them jobs and for Google employees to speak out against it saying, “This is meant to scare workers, don’t let it.” Significantly, a rally of 200 Google staff people was organized on Friday, November 22 to defend Rivers and fellow employee Laurence Berland who had been suspended by management for allegedly accessing as part of their political activities within the company internal information without authorization. At the rally, both Rivers and Berland publicly stated they had objected to Google’s collaboration with CBP—a branch of the state apparatus mobilized by the Trump administration to attack the rights of immigrants—and denied that they had unauthorized access to company documents. At the rally Berland said, “If we can’t speak up about these issues that concern us about our work, how can we ever hold ourselves and each other to the high standard that we need and the world deserves? Silence and secrecy are not the way for us to come together to solve problems.” As a result of the activism of Rivers and Berland, nearly 1,500 Google employees had signed a petition demanding that the company “publicly commit not to support CBP, ICE, or ORR with any infrastructure, funding, or engineering resources, directly or indirectly, until they stop engaging in human rights abuses.”

Union reaches deal with University of Chicago, creating two-tier system for nurses - On Saturday morning, the National Nurses United announced that it had reached tentative agreement with the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) averting a second strike, which was scheduled for today. The deal comes after a one-day strike by 2,200 nurses on September 20 that was followed by a five-day lockout by UCMC, which hired strikebreakers to fill their positions. The NNU has been in negotiations with UCMC since the nurses’ contract expired in April of this year. While contract negotiations with UCMC were ongoing, on November 14, the National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU) authorized a second one-day walkout when the hospital proposed new staffing requirements that would eliminate patient care support nurses. According to the NNOC, support nurses are critical in providing senior nurses with a variety of patient care responsibilities while offering the younger nurses mentorship. Such a maneuver by the hospital would considerably compromise patient safety as the senior nurses would take on even additional administrative burdens on top of the hectic patient care schedules they face. With nearly 80 percent of the nurses turning out, 92 percent of the rank-and-file voted in favor of the second strike. Despite the continued militant mood of the University of Chicago nurses, little was achieved by the union’s one-day stunt in September that resulted in nurses losing a week of wages without addressing their underlying grievances. These include concerns over the high patient-to-nurse ratios, forced overtime and personal security while working in the hospital. When several other hospitals throughout the country were also walking out to protest unfair contract disputes the NNOC/NNU did nothing to unite these struggles or call to action the 90,000 rank-and-file nurses who are members of the union. On November 20, UCMC began preparing for the November 23 strike by closing its trauma center again, diverting ambulances to other regional hospitals. Pediatric and adult patients were placed on ambulance bypass though the emergency room remained open for walk-ins. Hospital management initiated the transfer of neonatal and pediatric intensive care unit patients as well as high-risk obstetric patients to other hospitals. Elective surgeries were rescheduled. UCMC was also in the process of attempting to recruit 900 temporary nurses from strikebreaking agencies. The nurses will vote on Tuesday on the tentative agreement reached between NNOC/NNU and UCMC. Though the unions claim that the agreement has resolved all outstanding issues, the details surrounding the new Collective Bargaining Agreement remain obscure. According to the Chicago Tribune, “For the hospital, a major sticking point in the negotiations was whether newly hired nurses should get incentive pay, which is a higher rate of pay for hours worked beyond a certain amount each week.”

Nearly half of New Orleans’ all-charter district schools got D or F grades; What happens next? -- The release of the state's closely watched school performance scores earlier this month offered an overall update on New Orleans schools that seemed benign enough: A slight increase in overall student performance meant another C grade for the district. But a closer look reveals a startling fact. A whopping 35 of the 72 schools in the all-charter district scored a D or F, meaning nearly half of local public schools were considered failing, or close to it, in the school year ending in 2019. Since then, six of the 35 have closed. While New Orleans has long been home to struggling schools, the data released this month are concerning. There was an increase of nearly 11% percentage points in the number of schools that received the state's lowest grades from the 2017-18 school year to 2018-19. This year also showed the highest percentage of failing schools in the past five years. The closest comparison was in the 2016-17 year, when nearly 41% of the city's schools, including those then overseen by the Recovery School District, earned D's or F's. "It makes me angry and hurt. Because these are the children of our city," said Ashana Bigard, a parent of two children in Orleans Parish schools and a longtime critic of the post-Hurricane Katrina education reforms that rebuilt the district as a network of charter schools. Experts are quick to point out some caveats. In the past several years, local standards have gotten tougher, and widespread teacher turnover has affected student performance. Officials have also said a number of schools are dealing with other factors, like new leadership or curriculum changes, that are likely to cause dips in grades from year to year and may obscure bigger trends.

 University of Farmington: ICE arrests more at fake Michigan college – About 90 additional foreign students at a fake university in metro Detroit created by the Department of Homeland Security have been arrested in recent months.A total of about 250 students have now been arrested since January on immigration violations by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as part of a sting operation by federal agents who enticed foreign-born students, mostly from India, to attend the school that marketed itself as offering graduate programs in technology and computer studies, according to ICE officials. Many of those arrested have been deported, while others are contesting their removals. One has been allowed to stay after being granted lawful permanent resident status by an immigration judge. The students had arrived legally in the U.S. on student visas, but since the University of Farmington was later revealed to be a creation of federal agents, they lost their immigration status after it was shut down in January. The school was staffed with undercover agents posing as university officials. Out of the approximately 250 students arrested on administrative charges, "nearly 80% were granted voluntary departure and departed the United States," the Detroit office of ICE's Homeland Security Investigations told the Free Press in a statement Tuesday.  Of the remaining 20%, about half have received a final order of removal; some were ordered removed by an immigration judge, and others "were given an expedited removal by U.S. Customs and Border Protection," HSI Detroit said.   The remaining 10% "have either filed for some sort of relief or are contesting their removals with Executive Office for Immigration Review," HSI Detroit said.

West Virginia Inmates Will Be Charged by the Minute to Read E-Books on Tablets –  Inmates at several West Virginia prisons are getting free electronic tablets to read books, send emails, and communicate with their families—but there's a catch.   Under a 2019 contract between the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation (WVDCR) and Global Tel Link (GTL), the company that is providing electronic multimedia tablets to 10 West Virginia prisons, inmates will be charged 3 cents a minute to read books, even though the books all come from Project Gutenberg, a free online library of more than 60,000 texts in the public domain. The WVDCR says the tablets provide access to educational materials, incentives for good behavior, and an easy way to stay in touch with loved ones. But the Appalachian Prison Book Project, a nonprofit that offers free books and education to inmates, says the fee structure is exploitative. "If you pause to think or reflect, that will cost you," "If you want to reread a book, you will pay the entire cost again. This is about generating revenue for the state and profit for the industry. Tablets under non-predatory terms could be a very good thing inside prisons. GTL does not provide that."  According to the contract, using the tablets will cost $0.05 per minute (currently discounted to $0.03) to read books, listen to music, or play games; $0.25 per minute for video visitations; $0.25 per written message; and $0.50 to send a photo with a message. The Prison Policy Initiative estimated in 2017 that wages in West Virginia prisons range between $0.04 and $0.58 an hour. According to the contract, the WVDCR will also receive a 5 percent commission on gross revenue from the tablets. In a statement to Reason, a WVDCR spokesperson noted that no inmates are being forced to use the tablets. Earlier this year, Book Riot reported that numerous Ohio prisons were banning book donations by groups like Appalachian Prison Book Project. Amid media scrutiny, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) announced it would lift the bans for third-party book donations. But family members are still banned from sending print material. In at least one Ohio prison, family members must put money into the inmate's account so they can order it themselves. JPay, which handles money transfers for the Ohio prison system, takes a cut on all deposits. The director of the ODRC is the former general manager of JPay.

 College Costs Skyrocket 112% Above Rate Of Inflation Over Last Four Years  - As the issue of college affordability continues to be a prominent talking point on the campaign trail ahead of the 2020 presidential election, a new study shows that the cost of a college education is still increasing at a rate that far outpaces inflation. The study, put out by the financial technology company Self, found that on average, college costs have risen $2,835 since 2015, increasing 112 percent more than the rate of inflation during the same period.  "While it is somewhat understandable for universities to increase costs in line with inflation, especially when you consider the number of wages and resources needed to keep a university running, the price hikes we have found in some states are double (if not triple) the rate of inflation; posing the question of where is this money going,” Self CEO James Garvey said in an emailed statement to The College Fix.  The analysis found that “university students are paying $29,133 on average across all states just to attend. This is an increase of $2,835 for every year of tuition above the prices student were paying in 2015.” It also found that across all states, Montana had the sharpest increase in college costs, with the average cost going up 30 percent in the past four years. Alaska was close behind with a 28 percent increase, and Texas rounded out the top three with an average cost increase of 20 percent. Texas education watchdog Mark Pulliam told The College Fix in an email that the increase in costs in Texas was likely due to an increase in bureaucratic hirings. “Administrative bloat contributes enormously to the high and rising cost of tuition. In recent years, non-teaching personnel in higher education have exploded,” Pulliam said. “At some colleges bureaucrats outnumber faculty. The ‘diversity bureaucracy’ has proliferated at many schools. UT employs nearly 100 people in its diversity department, some of whom are paid in the six figures. Unnecessary and overpaid administrators are responsible for much of the increased overhead borne by students in the form of tuition increases.”

Watch- Students Say It's Not Okay To Celebrate Thanksgiving -As Thanksgiving Day dawns, The College Fix visited Macalester College in Minnesota to ask students if it’s acceptable to celebrate the holiday.Most of the students said no, and several gave a qualified yes, that being it’s okay to celebrate Thanksgiving as long as one keeps in mind the oppression it represents or that it’s more about spending time with family than honoring the past.For those who said no, they mainly focused on themes such as oppression and colonization.“I think that Thanksgiving has been misconstrued a lot, especially in textbooks,” one student told The College Fix.“It’s kind of just based off of the genocide of indigenous people and I don’t really think that we actually give thanks on Thanksgiving, we just eat a bunch of food and it’s just a bunch of capitalist bullshit.”A few students took this a step further, explaining how they believe most American holidays are rooted in oppression.“What do Americans do except for celebrate unethical holidays,” one student said. Another student interviewed outside the campus chapel said that no holidays with religious connotations should be observed.After spending several hours speaking with students, The College Fix found only a handful who unabashedly supported Thanksgiving. Watch the video:

Law School Donor Sues After Learning His Name Isn’t On Degrees The Law School Doesn’t Give  -With UPenn shooting itself in the genitals with an ill-advised effort to rename itself “Carey Law School” — not to be confused with the University of Maryland’s Carey Law School — law school observers may have missed the burgeoning controversy in Canada over a donor bringing a lawsuit against his namesake school for his name not appearing in enough places.  The Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia finds itself embroiled in a lawsuit brought by Peter A. Allard after the attorney turned philanthropist learned that his name doesn’t appear on the diplomas of higher level law school graduates (e.g., the LL.M.s). Allard’s $30 million donation to the school — the largest of many donations he’s made to the school — included a provision that all degrees granted by the Faculty of Law include a “reasonable reference” to Allard.The wrinkle is that the Faculty of Law doesn’t give out those degrees. While they issue JDs — which do include Allard’s name — higher level degrees are granted by the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies and therefore the school doesn’t believe the agreement with Allard covers those d iplomas.This seems like a good practical lesson in the importance of reading the fine print. Allard, however, did not see it that way and took the school to arbitration. The arbitrator ruled that the school wasn’t acting in bad faith and trying to hide the ball when it came to the departmental divide. Allard is now asking the courts to allow him to appeal the arbitrator’s decision.

CFPB sued for allegedly failing to supervise student loan servicers - A legal advocacy group has sued the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Director Kathy Kraninger for allegedly failing to supervise large student loan servicers that manage the Public Student Loan Forgiveness program. The advocacy group Democracy Forward filed the lawsuit Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California Western Division against the Trump administration, including the U.S. Department of Education and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The lawsuit alleges that the CFPB has abandoned its authority under the Dodd-Frank Act to supervise larger participants in the student loan servicing market. The suit also alleges that the CFPB and Education Department have failed to implement a memorandum of understanding required by the Dodd-Frank Act to coordinate assistance to individual borrowers with private and federal student loans in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. More than 81% of the $1.6 trillion in outstanding student loan debt is held by the federal government but managed by private-sector student loan servicers.

Ralph Nader: American Seniors Are Being Duped - While the Democratic presidential candidates are debating full Medicare for All, giant insurance companies like UnitedHealthcare are advertising to the elderly in an attempt to lure them from Traditional Medicare (TM) to the so-called Medicare Advantage (MA)—a corporate plan that UnitedHealthcare promotes to turn a profit at the expense of enrollees.Almost one third of all elderly over 65 are enrolled in these numerous, complex MA policies the government pays so much for monthly. The health insurance industry wants more enrollees as they continue to press Congress for more advantages.Medical Disadvantage would be a more accurate name for the programs, as insurance companies push to corporatize all of Medicare, yet keep the name for the purposes of marketing, deception, and confusion.  “All this anxiety, dread, and fear, all these arbitrary denials of care—prompted by a pay-or-die commercial profit motive—all these restrictions of what doctors or hospitals you can go to, do not exist in Canada.” Elderly people enrolled in MA will experience its often merciless denials when they get sick. Add that with Medicare Disadvantage you are restricted to networks of vendors. That restricts your choice for competence and skills, and sometimes, requires you to travel longer distances for treatment. This could mean fewer enrollees will utilize their healthcare and more profits for the insurance companies.Under Medicare Disadvantage you are subject to all kinds of differing plans, maddening trapdoor fine print, and unclear meaning to the insurers arguing no “medical necessity” when you’re denied care.The advertisements for Medicare Disadvantage stress that you can sometimes get perks—gym memberships, hearing aids, and eyeglasses, as enticements, but they avoid telling you they are not so ready to cover serious needs like skilled nursing care for critically ill patients.Under Medicare Disadvantage, there is no Medigap coverage as there is for TM. Co-pays and deductibles can be large. Under a recent Humana Medicare Advantage Plan in Florida, your co-pay for an ambulance is up to $300, up to $100 co-pay for lab services, and another $100 for outpatient x-rays.

 Last-Minute Loophole Could Undermine Texas Law Against Surprise Medical Bills - Texas’ bipartisan effort to shield patients from surprise medical bills could be weaker than lawmakers intended when it takes effect Jan. 1. Earlier this year, lawmakers from both parties came together on legislation to protect people in state-regulated health plans from getting outrageous bills for out-of-network care. The new law, known as Senate Bill 1264, creates an arbitration process for insurers and providers to negotiate fair prices in those cases. The intention of the law is to establish those fair prices without ever involving patients. But that protection is at risk of becoming “irrelevant,” consumer advocates in Texas say. “The financial struggle that legislators were trying to remove us from ― trying to protect us from ― patients might be right back in the middle of that situation,” said Stacey Pogue, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities. State agencies are writing the rules to implement and enforce the new law. Some of those rules, which will be discussed publicly in early December, will let hospitals and other care providers send patients bills in nonemergency situations, such as scheduled surgeries. One state agency hashing out how the law will work is the Texas Medical Board, which is run by physicians and regulates other doctors in the state. Pogue said the board has proposed a rule that would expand the use of a narrow exception in the law. SB1264 created an exception for patients who knowingly want to receive nonemergency care from a doctor who is out of their health plan’s network. In those cases, patients would sign a waiver with the expectation of paying those out-of-network costs.

Millennials 'are seeing their health decline faster' than Gen X, worrying experts -The declining health of the millennial generation could have a serious impact on the U.S. health care system, according to experts.“Millennials are seeing their health decline faster than the previous generation as they age,” a Moody’s Analytics report analyzing Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Index data stated. “Without intervention, millennials could feasibly see mortality rates climb up by more than 40% compared to Gen-Xers at the same age.” (Pew Research defines millennials as Americans born between 1981 and 1996.) These declines will lead to greater demand for treatment, which could have a serious financial impact on the cost of health care. “Under the most adverse scenario, millennial treatment costs are projected to be as much as 33% higher than Gen-Xers experienced at a comparable age,” the report stated. “Poorer health among millennials will keep them from contributing as much to the economy as they otherwise would, manifesting itself through higher unemployment and slower income growth.” Part of this is due to millennials’ lifestyles, according to Mark Talluto, vice president of strategy and analytics for Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.  “A lot of millennials, they regularly don’t see a set doctor or a set physician,” he told Yahoo Finance. “There are some challenges there. It could be a challenge related to access [or] convenience.”He continued: “Another challenge is that they don’t feel they’re able to develop a trusting relationship with their provider and that the provider doesn’t know them as an individual with their unique needs. That’s also a barrier to seeking care.”  By not seeking care, millennials risk their health conditions worsening, which could create a rapid increase in the need for treatment.

American Life Expectancy Dropping Dramatically Thanks To White Working Class Male Suicides - After increasing for decades, American life expectancy is now facing an alarming decline thanks mainly to suicides of white working age men. A study published by the journal JAMA, found that life expectancy in America increased from 1959 to 2014 but that the number plateaued in 2011 and began decreasing in 2014.“The study... found that the decline is mostly among “working-age” Americans, or those ages 25 to 64,” reports Live Science.“In this group, the risk of dying from drug abuse, suicide, hypertension and more than 30 other causes is increasing.”The decline in life expectancy for working aged males has not been recorded in other developed countries and is a “distinctly American phenomenon,” according to study co-author Steven H. Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine.According to Lisa Britton, CNN’s coverage of the story omitted the crucial point that the decline was being driven by male suicides.“CNN just did a piece on the declining life-expectancy rate in the US… and failed to mention it’s the MEN’s rate that is declining! Women have maintained a steady rate although there’s been an uptick in the women’s overdose rate (The Wash Post turned their story into that) Wow,” she tweeted.As we discuss in the video below, the only demographic group that has seen a dramatic rise in suicides and “deaths of despair” is white, middle aged, working class men.

Black Babies Twice As Likely As White Babies To Die Before Age 1 -  NPR -- Black babies are two times as likely to die before they reach their first birthday than white babies. That's just one of the startling facts in Priska Neely's reporting on a gap in birth outcomes that has persisted for years. Poverty, education, health care access are all factors. But now research is focused on the role of racism in these statistics. It's simply a chronically stressful condition to be a black woman in the United States. Priska Neely is the senior early childhood reporter at our member station KPCC, which is where she's joining us from today. Hey, Priska. NEELY: Prematurity is the leading cause here. So most of the babies are born too early and too small. This is not a new issue, and it goes back decades. I did some digging in the library and actually found a transcript of a congressional hearing from 1984 that was called Failure To Close The Black-White Gap. But, you know, here we are 30 years later, and the gap is still there. Things have improved. Fewer babies die in general now as we've gotten better at health care and keeping preemies alive, but that gap is still there. So over the decades, society has kind of shifted from looking at this as an individual issue, from, like, blaming black moms for their behavior to then questioning whether genetics are part of it. That doesn't explain it. There have been studies done looking at the birth outcomes for African immigrants who come to the U.S., have babies. And their outcomes are more similar to white women. And now the field is really focused on looking at what's called the social determinants of health and looking at how structural and institutional racism contribute to this issue.So a few things here. One is looking at how different communities have actually been limited to accessing certain things like health care. But there's - also, when you look at individual racism, there's something that's called weathering. That's a term that was coined by a researcher back in the 1970s - looking at how black women's bodies respond to stress over time. And the social experience of being a black woman in the United States can put you at a heightened state. That's a chronic state of stress, and that can have health implications. And that's one of the things that researchers are really focused on in looking at the cause of preterm births.

How Racial Bias May Have Saved 14,000 Black Lives --  When the opioid crisis began to escalate some 20 years ago, many African-Americans had a layer of protection against it.But that protection didn’t come from the effectiveness of the American medical system. Instead, researchers believe, it came from racial stereotypes embedded within that system.As unlikely as it may seem, these negative stereotypes appear to have shielded many African-Americans from fatal prescription opioid overdoses. This is not a new finding. But for the first time an analysis has put a number behind it, projecting that around 14,000 black Americans would have died had their mortality rates related to prescription opioids been equivalent to that of white Americans.   Starting in the 1990s, new prescription opioids were marketed more aggressively in white rural areas, where pain drug prescriptions were already high. African-Americans received fewer opioid prescriptions, some researchers think, because doctors believed, contrary to fact, that black people 1) were more likely to become addicted to the drugs 2) would be more likely to sell the drugs and 3) had a higher pain threshold than white people because they were biologically different.A fourth possibility is that some white doctors were more empathetic to the pain of people who were like them, and less empathetic to those who weren’t. Some of this bias “can be unconscious,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, a director of opioid policy research at Brandeis University.This accidental benefit for African-Americans is far outweighed by the long history of harm they have endured from inferior health care, including infamous episodes like the Tuskegee study. And it doesn’t remedy the way damaging stereotypes continue to influence aspects of medical practice today. “The reason to study this further is twofold,” Dr. Kolodny said. “It’s easy to imagine the harm that could come to blacks in the future, and we need to know what went wrong with whites, and how they were left exposed” to overprescribing.

Federal Prosecutors Launch Criminal Probe of Opioid Makers, Distributors -WSJ - Authorities are using a criminal law more commonly used against drug dealers in probe of at least six major pharmaceutical firms The Way to Save Opioid Addicts Addiction experts are in wide agreement on the most effective way to help opioid addicts: Medication-assisted treatment. But most inpatient rehab facilities in the U.S. don’t offer this option. WSJ’s Jason Bellini reports on why the medication option is controversial, and in many places, hard to come by. Federal prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into whether pharmaceutical companies intentionally allowed opioid painkillers to flood communities, employing laws normally used to go after drug dealers, according to people familiar with the matter. The investigation, if it results in criminal charges, could become the largest prosecution yet of drug companies alleged to have contributed to the opioid epidemic, escalating the legal troubles of businesses that already face complex, multibillion-dollar civil litigation...

 Federal Prosecutors Initiate Criminal Probe of Six Opioid Manufacturers and Distributors -  Jerri-lynn Scofield - The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Federal prosecutors have initiated an investigation into whether six drug companies have intentionally allowed opioids to flow into communities, Federal Prosecutors Launch Criminal Probe of Opioid Makers, Distributors: The investigation, if it results in criminal charges, could become the largest prosecution yet of drug companies alleged to have contributed to the opioid epidemic, escalating the legal troubles of businesses that already face complex, multibillion-dollar civil litigation in courts across the country. Prosecutors are examining whether the companies violated the federal Controlled Substances Act, a statute that federal prosecutors have begun using against opioid makers and distributors this year.By using statutes typically used to target drug dealers, prosecutors are finally seeing these companies for what they are: drug pushers. This approach is unusual but not unprecedented, according to the Journal:Earlier this year, federal prosecutors filed major criminal cases in Manhattan and Ohio that, for the first time, employed criminal statutes that are more commonly applied to drug dealers, legal experts say.When prosecutors from the Southern District of New York announced criminal charges against a pharmaceutical distributor and two executives earlier this year, the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office said the case was unusual.“This prosecution is the first of its kind,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in April, “executives of a pharmaceutical distributor and the distributor itself have been charged with drug trafficking.”CNBC notes in Federal prosecutors open criminal probe of opioid makers and distributors, report says:The investigation marks a significant broadening of the federal government’s focus on pinpointing which parties contributed to the opioid crisis.The six companies to receive subpoenas from the US attorney’s office for the eastern district of New York are: AmerisourceBergen Corp., Amneal Pharmaceuticals Inc., Johnson & Johnson, Mallinckrodt, McKesson Corp. and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., as reported by the WSJ, citing regulatory filings. This investigation is in its early stages; whether or not other companies have thus far also received subpoenas is not apparent. As federal prosecutors proceed, they will likely widen their probe, drawing in more companies and individuals.

Facebook Bans All Content On Vaccine Awareness, Including Facts About Vaccine Ingredients - Just as we warned would happen, the tech giants are now moving aggressively to ban all speech that contradicts whatever “official” position is decided to be “the truth” by the corrupt establishment. This week, Facebook announced it would block all content on Facebook that questions the official dogma on vaccines, which falsely insists that vaccines have never harmed anyone (a hilarious lie), that vaccines contain only safe ingredients (a blatant deception) and that vaccines always work on everyone (another laughable lie).  Facebook is achieving this by labeling vaccine awareness information “misinformation” or “hoaxes.” At the top of the list is the assertion that vaccines are linked to autism — something that even the CDC’s own top whistleblower scientist reveals to be true, yet the vaccine industry claims it’s all a hoax (in order to cover of the crimes of medical violence against children that are being committed by the vaccine pushers). Notably, tech giants are now banning vaccine truth information by labeling it “misinformation” in exactly the same way they ban conservative content by labeling it “hate speech.” They simply invent a false category to justify the ban, all while crushing the free speech of users (and ultimately leading to the vaccine maiming of millions of innocent children). Under this twisted system of speech policing, they can ban any content they don’t like by simply labeling it “false” or “hateful,” even if it’s true and important.

Researchers find dangerous, FDA-rejected drug in supplements—by reading labels - Several supposed brain-enhancing supplements sold in the US contain a questionable drug that has been rejected by the Food and Drug Administration, according to a new analysis published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. Researchers led by Harvard’s Pieter Cohen identified four dietary supplement makers illegally selling the drug, piracetam, in their products. The researchers were clued in to the presence of the unapproved drug by simply reading the products’ labels. Two of the supplement makers brazenly called their brain pills “piracetam” outright. In a twist, researchers found that a fifth supplement maker named its product after the unapproved drug but didn’t actually include any piracetam in the product. Those familiar with the supplement industry may not be surprised by the flagrant products. The sprawling industry now worth over $40 billion is riddled with questionable and unsubstantiated health claims, as well as illicit and potentially dangerous ingredients. Cognition-enhancing supplements, aka nootropics—which logged sales upward of $640 million in 2015 alone—are no different. In fact, earlier this year, the FDA cracked down on 17 supplement makers who illegally claimed their nootropic supplements could treat Alzheimer’s disease. The agency has specifically called out supplement makers for selling piracetam. Piracetam is a small-molecule drug that some have claimed can improve memory and other intellectual functions. In some European countries, doctors prescribe it for involuntary muscle jerks, cognitive impairment, dementia, and other conditions. But a 2004 Cochrane Review that examined 24 studies involving 11,959 study participants found no benefits of piracetam over placebo.  Moreover, piracetam has significant side-effects, including insomnia, anxiety, agitation, depression, drowsiness, and weight gain.

Samoa measles epidemic worsens with 24 children now dead — Authorities said Monday that a measles epidemic sweeping through Samoa continues to worsen with the death toll rising to 25, all but one of them young children. “We still have a big problem at hand,” Samoa’s Director General of Health Leausa Take Naseri said in a video statement. He said more than 140 new cases of people contracting the virus had been recorded within the past day, bringing the total to about 2,200 cases since the outbreak began last month. He said there are about 20 critically ill children who remain in hospital intensive care units. Samoa declared a state of emergency nine days ago, closing all its schools, banning children from public gatherings and mandating that everybody get vaccinated. Teams of people have been traveling the country administering thousands of vaccines. The government also shut down a private clinic and is investigating how hundreds of vaccines were taken without authorization and then sold for a fee. The median age of those who have died is 13 months, according to government figures. The deaths include 24 children under the age of 5, 11 of whom were infants under 12 months. The other person who died was in their 30s. In all, 679 people have been admitted to Samoan hospitals with the disease, accounting for two-thirds of all recent hospital admissions. A majority have been discharged, with about 183 remaining in hospitals. “These hospitals are not designed to deal with this,” Dr. Scott Wilson told Newshub in the capital, Apia. “The minute you get hospitals running at 200 to 300 percent capacity — I think it speaks for itself. It’s incredibly serious.”

Antibiotic-Resistant Fungi Are a Growing Health Threat - In 2013 I took care of a gentleman who underwent surgery for what all his physicians, including me, thought was liver cancer. Surgery revealed that the disease was a rare but benign tumor, rather than cancer. As you might imagine, he and his family were overjoyed and relieved. However, two weeks after this surgery, he developed a liver abscess — an encapsulated tissue infection. Surgeons operated to remove the abscess. Two days later, test results revealed that the abscess was caused by a fungus called Candida that was resistant to echinocandins, our most powerful drugs against this fungus.  The patient underwent multiple surgeries and received various antibiotics thereafter, but his abscess kept growing back. He died four weeks after the first surgery to remove the abscess. The cause of death was sepsis due to his echinocandin-resistant Candida infection, which, at the time, was uncommon in the U.S. This tragic case demonstrated to me firsthand the devastating impact of drug-resistant fungal infections.  In the years since, I have cared for over a dozen patients who have died due to antibiotic-resistant fungal infections. On Nov. 13, 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report on antibiotic resistance threats in the U.S., warning that drug-resistant fungi have become major public health problems. The new report revealed that 18 microorganisms cause almost 3 million antibiotic resistant infections and 35,000 deaths annually. For the first time, this report includes several antibiotic resistant fungi:Candida auris, other drug-resistant Candida (as in my patient above) and azole-resistant Aspergillus fumigatus. These resistant fungi are especially threatening because only three classes of antifungal medicines are currently available. We have heard a lot in recent years about the public health crisis of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but less attention has been paid to antibiotic-resistant fungi. In part, this is because fungi became common causes of disease only over the past 30 years. During this time, the risk for serious fungal infections rose as more people suffered weakened immune systems stemming from increased bone marrow and organ transplantation, new drugs to treat cancer and other diseases, and complex surgeries. The widespread use of more potent antibiotics to treat resistant bacterial infections also has contributed by creating less competition for fungi to grow in human tissues. Fungi are more closely related genetically to humans than they are to bacteria. Therefore, it is hard to develop antibiotics that attack fungi without damaging human cells.

 Air pollution linked with new causes of hospital admissions - Hospitalizations for several common diseases--including septicemia (serious bloodstream infection), fluid and electrolyte disorders, renal failure, urinary tract infections, and skin and tissue infections--have been linked for the first time with short-term exposure to fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5), according to a comprehensive new study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. In addition, the study found that even small increases in PM2.5 exposure were linked with substantial health care and economic costs.  The study will be published online November 27, 2019 in BMJ. "The study shows that the health dangers and economic impacts of air pollution are significantly larger than previously understood,"   Fine particulate air pollution is composed of tiny solids and liquids floating in the air that come from sources such as motor vehicles, coal-fired power plants, and wildfires. Previous studies have shown that, when inhaled, the particles can enter deep into the lungs and cause serious health problems. " Researchers classified the diseases into 214 disease groups. They then analyzed 13 years' worth of hospital admissions records, from 2000 to 2012, from more than 95 million inpatient hospital claims for Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 and older. To estimate daily PM2.5 levels across the U.S., researchers used a computer model that predicts exposure using satellite-based measurements and a computer simulation of air pollution. They then matched the PM2.5 data with the zip codes of study participants. In addition to showing that short-term exposure to PM2.5 was associated with several newly identified causes of hospital admissions among older adults, the study confirmed previously identified associations between short-term exposure and hospitalization risk for a number of other ailments, including several cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, Parkinson's disease, and diabetes. Notably, all of the associations remained consistent even on days when daily PM2.5 levels were below the WHO air quality guideline. In an economic analysis, researchers found that each 1 μg/m3 increase in short-term exposure to PM2.5 was associated with an annual increase of 5,692 hospitalizations, 32,314 days in the hospital, and 634 deaths, corresponding to $100 million in annual inpatient and post-acute care costs, and $6.5 billion in "value of statistical life" (a metric used to determine the economic value of lives lost).

These Phones Emit The Most (And Least) Radiation -- For most people nowadays, their smartphone is within arm's reach 24 hours a day. It's in their pocket while they're at work, it's in their hand on the train ride home and it's on their bedside table as they go to sleep. With this level of proximity and usage, many can't quite shake the niggling feeling that they might be risking damage to themselves in the long run. While conclusive longitudinal research on the effects of cell phone radiation is still hard to come by, for those looking to hedge their bets, Statista's Martin Armstrong shows in the infographics below, the phones that emit the most (and least) radiation when held to the ear while calling.The German Federal Office for Radiation Protection (Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz) has a comprehensive database of smartphones - new and old - and the level of radiation they emit.  Following the criteria set for this chart (see footnotes), the smartphones creating the lowest level of radiation are the Samsung Galaxy Note8 and the ZTE Axon Elite - with a specific absorption rate of 0.17 watts per kilogram. In fact, alongside Nokia, Samsung handsets feature prominently, with eight of the smartphones on this ranking coming from the South Korean company. This contrasts starkly with their major rival Apple. Two iPhones occupy a place in the list of phones which emit the most radiation, compared to none from Samsung, but, as Statista's Martin Armstrong notes, the current smartphone creating the highest level of radiation is the Mi A1 from Chinese vendor Xiaomi. Another Xiaomi phone is in second place - the Mi Max 3. In fact, Chinese companies are represented heavily in this list, accounting for 7 of the top 15 handsets. Premium Apple phones such as the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 8 are also here to be seen, though, as are the latest Pixel handsets from Google.

EPA lays out potential approaches to PFAS reporting - EPA today laid out potential approaches the agency may take in a forthcoming rule to require public reporting on emissions of toxic PFAS chemicals.  Requiring facilities to publicly report their air and water emissions of toxic PFAS chemicals is seen as an important step in helping environmental officials and communities to locate areas of potential contamination. The Trump administration committed to pursuing public reporting of PFAS emissions under the Toxics Release Inventory in February in EPA's PFAS Action Plan. Congress has also moved to require public reporting under the inventory in provisions to the Senate's National Defense Authorization Act. In an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released today, EPA requests comment on which PFAS have sufficient toxicity information to warrant inclusion on the inventory and whether to require reporting for each chemical individually, in groups, or as an entire class.The agency also indicates in the notice that it is considering setting a lower reporting threshold for PFAS than the typical defaults, since the chemicals are toxic and bioaccumulative. The agency asks for comment on what the reporting threshold should be.The notice will be open for public comment for 60 days after it runs in the Federal Register.

Veterans Can Now Learn About Their Toxic Exposure Risks with New VA App - For veterans who think they were exposed to toxic substances during their service, the Department of Veterans Affairs has a mobile application that will help them answer questions about what this potential exposure means for their long-term health. Originally designed for VA providers, Exposure Ed now lets anyone view a list of service-related exposures -- broken down by type, conflict and date or location of service. It also has a map veterans can use to find the closest VA facilities and exposure-related programs. For example, veterans thinking they came into contact with the Vietnam-era herbicide Agent Orange can use the "Exposures" button on the home page for immediate access to a list of illnesses related to exposure. Or, veterans can input in the time and location they served to view everything they might have been exposed to. Related: After Decade of Fighting, the Blue-Water Navy Benefits Bill is Now a Law The last option sorts exposure risks by conflict, ranging from World War II to Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn. Through the app, users can find studies into the exposure, learn how to apply for benefits and connect with certain VA programs, like the "Agent Orange Registry Health Exam for Veterans." There is no log-on needed to access the App's features, and it can be downloaded via the Apple Store or Google Play on smartphones or tablets. It can also be accessed through the VA's mobile app website.

 60% of Toxic Superfund Sites Threatened by Climate Change, GAO Finds - Sixty percent of the nation's heavily polluted Superfund sites—nearly 950 of them—are at risk from the impacts of climate change, including hurricane storm surges and flooding that could spread their toxic legacies into waterways, communities and farmland, a new federal report warns.The U.S. Government Accountability Office report, released Monday, describes the increased risk of toxic substances being washed out by flooding at sites across the country, as well as wildfire risks that could send health-harming pollutants airborne.It recommends that the Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the federal Superfund program, start providing clear, agency-wide instructions on how its officials should incorporate climate change into Superfund site risk assessments and response decisions. That would be a change for the current administration. Currently, the EPA does not include climate change in its agency-wide goals and objectives, preventing the agency from addressing the added risks at contaminated sites across the country as the planet warms, the report concluded."The Superfund program is not providing necessary resources and direction to regional officials that would help them assess and respond to site-specific risks due to climate change," a dozen members of Congress, led by Sen. Tom Carper, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, wrote in a letter to EPA AdministratorAndrew Wheeler in response to the report. "The lack of resources for regional offices is a direct result of EPA headquarters' failure to embrace addressing climate change as a strategic objective," the letter stated. Of the nearly 1,600 "national priority list" Superfund sites not on federal land that were examined in the report, more than half are at increased risk from flooding or storm surge.

 Floods could be leaking pollution from Superfund sites in Charleston area. - Some of the more than 900 most heavily polluted sites in the U.S. — including 26 in South Carolina and two in the Charleston region — already could be leaking from the effects of flooding, sea rise or wildfire, a federal agency says. The Charleston sites already are known to flood during storm tides and other excessive sea rises. The Environmental Protection Agency must do more to protect those National Priority sites, the watchdog General Accounting Office reported to Congress. The properties are also known as Superfund sites. Two of the sites are infamous waterfront tracts in the Neck Area: the former Macalloy and Koppers plants, both of which have been eyed for residential or business development. “To help ensure the long-term protectiveness of remedies, it is important for EPA to understand how climate change impacts” sites such as these, the report concluded. The findings are likely to spark partisan fireworks in a political climate where the the Trump administration actively seeks to roll back environmental regulations and leading figures say they are skeptical about human-induced climate warming. The study was requested by one Democratic congresswoman and nine Democratic and one independent senator. The list includes senators and presidential candidates Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders. South Carolina’s two Republican senators, Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, were not a part of the request.

Puerto Rico’s Next Big Crisis Is Water -- This municipality of roughly 31,000 had been water rationing since June. Again. The first time came in 2015, following a prolonged drought. This summer, another parching dry spell drained the aquifer beneath this seaside enclave on Puerto Rico’s southeast coast to dangerously low levels.  Yet the industries whose pollution Vega, 65, blames for triggering the mysterious respiratory illness that causes him to visit the emergency room to have his chest drained three days a week, kept sucking up water with an unquenchable thirst. Vega, meanwhile, lost water access every Tuesday and Thursday.  This is a disaster that predates the 2017 hurricanes that exposed both the island’s deteriorating living standards and the lethal fragility of its water systems. For decades, this farming region turned industrial hub has tapped the aquifer that stretches more than 50 miles along the southern coast here. But stresses on the once-mighty South Coast basin are mounting. Real estate developers are paving over land that once absorbed rain and recharged the groundwater below. Pollution is contaminating the dwindling supply of freshwater. Agribusiness giants operate with near impunity as austerity renders overextended regulators ineffective.  “Where there is rain deficit, there is saline intrusion, especially in a coastal aquifer,” said José M. Rodríguez, a retired U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist who studied the aquifer for 31 years. Lax regulation, decaying public infrastructure and an ongoing debt crisis have left the troubled U.S. possession incapable of reliably delivering water to all its 3.2 million residents. Less than half the water the public utility treats makes it to ratepayers, and nearly all of that which does is of dubious quality, compelling only the most desperate Puerto Ricans to drink what flows from the tap. The most obvious solution is a total overhaul. But the colonial government, hounded by Wall Street creditors and in a state of chaotic quasi-bankruptcy, can barely keep the lights on, stoking fears that profiteers looking to buy up the indebted public power company may target water services next. “This is an extremely serious issue,” . “Drinking water quality and drinking water quantity are at risk throughout the island.”

Sydney Water Crisis Warnings Ignored by Officials 6 Months Ago, Docs Reveal - New documents show that government officials for New South Wales were warned six months ago that Sydney's water levels would reach emergency levels after the Australian summer and they should act immediately, as The Guardian reported.  Officials who saw the document looked at historical trends and used the 1939 drought as a model course of action rather than account for the city's massive population growth and the demands for water spurred by the climate crisis.  "It's grossly negligent for the government to be planning for water security based on historical trends. Unless they factor in reduced water availability under a hotter climate we don't stand a chance," said Cate Faehrmann, the NSW Greens' water spokeswoman, as The Guardian reported. The document, titled Drought Supply Options Study, from six months ago warned that the water levels in Sydney's dams could fall to just 40 percent of their capacity by Christmas and may be down to 35 percent by May if the summer in Australia is hot and dry and the drought continues, according to The Guardian. The document warned that action was required before the water supply fell below 30 percent, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, who obtained the Drought Supply Options Study. The Sydney water supply, which was 96 percent full in April 2017 and is now 46 percent full, has depleted rapidly at an unprecedented level, which requires immediate action rather than waiting. The study found that water flowing into the dams has been at the lowest rate on record for the last two years while water usage from Sydney residents and companies remains at record highs, as The Guardian reported. "The idea of using the good times to prepare for the tough times has been lost on consecutive NSW governments and here we are again, surprised by drought, having failed to invest in meaningful water security projects, while old leaking pipes lose 110 million liters a day into the ground," wrote Justin Field, a member of the Greens party in New South Wales' parliament, in an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald. He continued:  Something has clearly gone wrong with water planning in Sydney. The government has been chasing its tail with this drought. We knew in the middle of last year that inflows into Sydney's dams were at record lows, just 40 per cent of the previous record low set in the 1940s. But doing anything before an anticipated close election was off the table.  Pushing the pain away has finally caught up to Sydney. Australia's largest city will implement Level 2 water restrictions in December, which will limit the amount of water people can use on a daily basis. That New South Wales government had to accelerate the timetable for Level 2 water restrictions because of the rapid decline in water levels, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

2 million Americans don’t have access to running water and basic plumbing - More than 2 million people in the U.S. lack running water and basic indoor plumbing, according to a new report by the human-rights nonprofit DigDeep and the nonprofit U.S. Water Alliance — and race and poverty are key determinants of who has access to clean water and sanitation.Native Americans are 19 times more likely to lack indoor plumbing than their white counterparts, putting them in the worst spot of any group, and African-American and Latinx households lack indoor plumbing at almost twice the rate of white households, the report found.“The United States is home to some of the most reliable water and wastewater systems on earth, and many Americans believe access is universal,” the authors wrote. “But in fact, millions of the most vulnerable people in the country — low-income people in rural areas, people of color, tribal communities, immigrants — have fallen through the cracks.”Lacking access to safe water and sanitation “makes it difficult to stay healthy, earn a living, go to school, and care for a family,” they added. The report’s analysis drew upon data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Given that survey’s limitations — it doesn’t ask about wastewater services or about the affordability or reliability of water service, the authors said — they also conducted qualitative research on a handful of regions (the Navajo Nation, California’s Central Valley, the Texas colonias, Appalachia, Puerto Rico and the rural South) that struggle with adequate water and sanitation access.

In Brief: Farmers take to German city streets with tractors to protest federal agricultural package - -- On Tuesday, thousands of farmers across Germany protested the federal government’snew agricultural package. Across social media, people shared photos of tractors driving down city streets. In Berlin, a convoy of tractors circled the Victory Column in Tiergarten.Among the measures being protested are regulations that reduce the use of fertilizers and phase out the pesticide glyphosate by 2023. The Land schafft Verbindung, a coalition of more than 30,000 German farmers, says the agricultural package endangers small family farms.In response to the demonstrations, Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture Julia Klöckner told public broadcaster ZDF they are on the “side of the farmers” but that they’re also “on the side of consumers.” The agricultural package also includes protections for insects and an animal welfare label.

French Farmers Descend On Paris In Fresh Revolt Against Globalist Regulations -Around a thousand French farmers in tractors have descended on Paris in a fresh revolt against globalist government policies they say are ruining their standard of living. The farmers assembled on the Avenue Foch, near the Champs Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe to decry regulations which they assert are devastating the agricultural sector. Their main concern centers around “agri-bashing” by the media and politicians, where farmers are being blamed for environmental issues and pressured to amend their behavior in the name of preventing climate change. The farmers are furious at how this is legitimizing attacks by vegan activists on butchers and calls to ban the weedkiller glyphosate, which President Emmanuel Macron wants to outlaw by 2021. They also fear that EU trade deals with Canada and the Mercosur bloc in South America will flood the market with cheaper goods at lower standards. The two main farmers’ unions have demanded a private meeting with Macron to discuss his policies.Thousands of Tractors are blocking the Ring Road and main arteries into #Paris today to protest Macron's attacks on French Farmers.#Agriculteurs pic.twitter.com/UNHqtoYZJn  This is just one of numerous anti-globalist revolts taking place across Europe.Earlier this month, German farmers blocked roads in Hamburg with their tractors to protest against environment regulations. Last month, thousands of Dutch farmers also descended on Amsterdam to protest against a government proposal that livestock production be slashed by up to 50% in the name of preventing global warming.The Yellow Vest movement in France, which just marked its first anniversary, also began as a backlash against onerous gas tax hikes and other regulations impacting rural workers.

Delayed U.S. Corn Harvest Has Resulted In Chaos For Trade Routes - The most delayed U.S. corn harvest on record is resulting in chaos for traditional commodity trade routes.  Corn usually is harvested in the midwest, before it is sent south to be exported, according to Bloomberg. But because farmers in the east, hurt by a spring-time deluge, are holding back on supplies in hope of higher prices, the commodity's price has been pushed higher than the futures market in east - while it remains lower than the futures market in the west. It's a phenomenon known as "basis arbitrage".   The result? Corn is now starting to be shipped "over Chicago": from the west, to supply corn processors, ethanol plants or animal-feed makers in the east. Dan Basse, president of consulting firm AgResource said: “Corn from the west going to east? It should happen at some point but it’s not the way the U.S. market is set up to transport. If basis is strong enough, we will get that pull into Ohio.” The spread on the arbitrage isn't yet large enough to move large amounts of grain, but "it doesn't take much" for that to change, according to Pat Bowe, chief executive officer at U.S. crop handler Andersons Inc. Bowe said: “There’s still a lot of corn out there, that’s a thing that’s amazing and people forget. The problem has been that with the low flat price, the farmer has been reluctant to sell so there’s a lot of on-farm storage and farmers have corn tucked away, they just don’t want to sell at $3.50 a bushel.”A $28 billion government bailout has helped growers with their falling income due to the ongoing trade war, but getting farmers to sell crops remains difficult. Corn prices have been under pressure after crops survived a record spring rain better than expected. Large corn bases for the season have also hurt export earnings, as "outstanding sales for U.S. corn exports so far in the 2019-2020 season are trailing the year earlier pace by 32%, government data show."   But Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. expects farmer selling to ramp up next year as growers make space for their next crop, according to Chief Financial Officer Ray Young.  Young concluded: “At some juncture, corn will get commercialized. There will be a break in the basis here and that will benefit the originators like us.”

There Are Not Enough Pigs In The World To Fill China's Pork Hole  -African swine fever has wiped out herds of pigs all over China - by some estimates more than half - and it now appears the global supply of pork might not be able to satisfy the country's demand in early 2020, reported Bloomberg.The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs published new data on Friday that shows the number of hogs in China dropped 40% in Oct. YoY. The decline is mostly due to the African swine fever and farmers culling their herds to prevent further transmission of the dangerous disease.  The disease has spread from Africa to Europe, and currently across Asia, and are fears pork supplies around the world are dwindling and might not be able to fill China's deficit. Just this week, the Dutch government announced plans to shrink its hog industry (why? because apparently pigs smells - the government says fewer pigs means less odor nuisance and a better living environment, as well lower emissions of ammonia, in the European country with the most cows and pigs relative to land area). A new Rabobank report projects that domestic pork supplies could hit a three-decade low and lead to higher spot pork prices early next year.  In southern China's Guangdong province, spot prices have jumped 230% since January, with much of the gains seen in late summer as the disease gained momentum and farmers were forced by the government to cull more pigs.  Food inflation and a decelerating economy in China are a recipe for socio-economic problems in 2020.

Texas woman killed by feral hogs in 'tragic, rare incident' - A 59-year-old Texan woman has died after being assaulted by feral hogs, in what the county sheriff described as “one of the worst cases I’ve ever seen”. Christine Marie Rollins, 59, a healthcare worker, arrived to look after an 84-year-old patient who she had been caring for almost two years when she was attacked in the early hours of Sunday morning. Sheriff Brian Hawthorne said he would not go into the details of the incident but said he was disturbed by the attack. In a statement, he said: “This is an unbelievably tragic, a very rare incident. In my 35 years I will tell you it’s one of the worst things I’ve ever seen.” Hawthorne said that bites and bruises of varying sizes made it clear that multiple animals were involved in the attack. He said the pigs had taken over some of the pasture and woods of the family land. The issue of feral hogs in the US has been bubbling under the surface for some time. In August, self-proclaimed libertarian William McNabb became a viral sensation when he waded into the debate on gun reform by posing the question: “How do I kill the 30-50 feral hogs that run into my yard within 3-5 mins while my small kids play?”   According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), there are about 5 million feral hogs in the US, half of which are in Texas. They cause billions in damage every year, destroying local wildlife and native habitats, and disturbing locals. However, the USDA does not recommend shooting as a method to control groups of the pigs, which can weigh between 100 and 400lb.  Hawthorne, the police sheriff, said there have been six deaths by feral hogs reported in US history. A University of Nebraska paper from 2013 put the total number of wild hog killings in US history at four. Rollins died outside a home in Anahuac, near Houston, with multiple injuries to her body. An autopsy said she had died from exsanguination – bleeding to death – due to feral hog assault. Hawthorne said officials had immediately believed the cause of death to be an animal attack, but “it was not something we could even come close to announcing until we had the [official] cause of death”.

More than 14,000 sheep drown after ship capsizes off Romania - Nearly 14,600 sheep have died in the Black Sea off the coast of Romania after a cargo ship capsized shortly after leaving the country's Midia port. Rescue workers managed to save only 33 sheep since the Queen Hind overturned for yet unknown reasons on Sunday. The crew of 20 Syrians and one Lebanese were rescued, according to Ana-Maria Stoica, a spokeswoman for the rescue services. Rescuers supported by the military, police and divers tried on Sunday to right the Palau-flagged ship and pull it to the port, she said. According to Romania's Digi24 online newspaper, the losses were estimated at three million Romanian lei (nearly $700,000). Romania's main livestock breeder and exporter association, ACEBOP, called for an urgent investigation. "Our association is shocked by the disaster," Mary Pana, ACEBOP president, said in a statement. "If we cannot protect livestock during long-distance transports, we should outright ban them."

 10 Animals Killed in Fire at Ohio Wildlife Park - Ten animals perished in a fire Thursday at the African Safari Wildlife Park in northern Ohio, Danbury Township police said, as CNN reported.Officer Carolyn DeMore of the Danbury Township Police said that when she arrived at the blaze yesterday evening, she found a zebra running loose and one of the barns engulfed by the fire, according to the Toledo Blade. Demore told reporters that three giraffes, three red river hogs, three bongos and a springbok had been inside the barn before the fire and were killed. CNN explained that a bongo is a large forest antelope and the springbok is a medium-sized, gazelle-like antelope.Holly Hunt, who owns African Safari Wildlife Park in Ottawa County along Lake Erie, confirmed DeMore's report, as NBC News reported. Hunt told CNN that there are 300 other animals in the park and they are all safe. The 100-acre wildlife park claims to be home to more than 50 different animal species including alpacas, zebras, warthogs, porcupines, tortoises, gibbons and a white alligator. The park offers walk and drive-thru safaris, as well as educational programs and hands-on activities, such as camel rides and animal feedings for rabbits, kangaroos and parakeets, according to the Toledo Blade.The park was closed for Thanksgiving, so no people were injured. Hunt said that a caretaker first spotted the fire after a power flicker. The wildlife park lost power completely on Wednesday, according to to CNN. Hunt added that a zebra that was housed in an overhang outside the barn was saved. A giraffe seen fleeing the fire on social media ran into a pond. From there animal keepers and doctors were able to direct it to safety, as NBC News reported.

Climate Change Threatens a Giant of West Virginia’s Landscape, and It's Rippling Through Ecosystems and Lives - As the climate continues to heat up, a cascade of ecosystem effects could pose more risk to the elusive Cheat Mountain salamander and other species tucked inside these Allegheny Mountains—starting with further declines in red spruce, whose reddish-brown trunks stand tall on the landscape and in the lives of West Virginians. The state's spruce population, now around 50,000 acres after decades of logging and pollution, provides a cool, moist refuge for the beloved Cheat Mountain salamander and West Virginia's northern flying squirrel, affectionately nicknamed Ginny. Both were granted Endangered Species Act protection in the 1980s after serious declines of red spruce, and the salamander remains threatened.  The trees also keep streams cold for native brook trout, West Virginia's state fish and a tourist draw.  Scientists warn that red spruce are especially vulnerable to drought conditions projected to become more common as the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere traps ever more heat. Higher temperatures will dry out the soil, lead to more intense drought and damage the state's forested land cover.  Nearly a decade ago, a report from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources marked the trees as "highly vulnerable" and predicted they may disappear entirely as the temperature rises."People always love to say nature's resilient, and it is," said Bartgis, who was a scientist for the natural resources departments in West Virginia and Maryland, and then for the nonprofit Nature Conservancy. "Nature is like people. It's resilient to a point, and we can't keep pushing that limit. Or we can see consequences that we haven't seen before."At one point, red spruce covered the Monongahela National Forest with their thick branches and canopies of yellow-green pine needles. Starting in the 1800s, the timber industry began chopping down the massive trees, using steam trains that threw off hot cinders and ignited fires. Later in the 20th century, acid rain, caused by the combustion of coal—some of it dug out of mountains nearby—wreaked havoc on the recovering trees.

Brazil Amazon deforestation soars to 11-year high under Bolsonaro(Reuters) - Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest rose to its highest in over a decade this year, government data on Monday showed, confirming a sharp increase under the leadership of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro. The data from Brazil's INPE space research agency, which showed deforestation soaring 29.5% to 9,762 square kilometers for the 12 months through July 2019, sparked an uncharacteristic admission by the government that something needed to be done to stem the tide. It was the worst level of deforestation since 2008, heaping further pressure on the environmental policy of Bolsonaro who favors developing the Amazon region economically. The Amazon is the world's largest tropical rainforest and is considered key to the fight against climate change because of the vast amounts of carbon dioxide it absorbs. Risks to the forest drew global concern in August when fires raged through the Amazon, drawing sharp criticism from France's President Emmanuel Macron. At a briefing to discuss the numbers, Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said the rise in deforestation showed the need for a new strategy to combat the illegal logging, mining and land grabbing which he said were to blame. Environmentalists and nongovernmental organizations placed the blame squarely on the government, saying that Bolsonaro's strong pro-development rhetoric and policies to weaken environmental enforcement are behind the rise in illegal activity. "The Bolsonaro government is responsible for every inch of forest destroyed. This government today is the worst enemy of the Amazon," said Marcio Astrini, public policy coordinator for Greenpeace, in a statement. Bolsonaro's office directed Reuters to remarks made by Salles and another official and did not comment further on the issue.

Sumatran rhino becomes extinct in Malaysia after death of last female - The Sumatran rhinoceros – the world’s smallest rhino – has become extinct in Malaysia after the last surviving individual died in captivity, zoologists have said. The Wildlife Department in eastern Sabah state on the island of Borneo said the rhino, named Iman, died of cancer on Saturday. She had uterine tumours since her capture in March 2014. There are now estimated to be fewer than 100 Sumatran rhinos left in the wild, with some estimates suggesting numbers are as low as 30, as poaching and industrial-scale deforestation have destroyed the natural habitats they once roamed. Department director Augustine Tuuga said in a statement that Iman, who was reportedly 25 years old, was suffering significant pain from growing pressure of the tumours to her bladder but her death had come sooner than expected. Iman’s death comes just six months after the death of the country’s only male rhino, and another female rhino also died in captivity in Sabah state in 2017. Efforts to breed them have been futile but Sabah authorities have harvested their cells for possible reproduction. “Despite us knowing that this would happen sooner rather than later, we are so very saddened by this news,” said Sabah’s deputy chief minister Christina Liew, who is also environment minister. Ms Liew said Iman had escaped death several times over the past few years due to sudden massive blood loss, but that wildlife officials managed to nurse her back to health and obtained her egg cells for a possible collaboration with Indonesia to reproduce the critically endangered species through artificial insemination. The Sumatran rhino, the smallest of five rhinoceros species, once roamed across Asia as far as India, but its numbers have shrunk drastically due to poaching and deforestation which have left populations isolated.

'Functionally Extinct' Koalas Have Now Lost 80% of Habitat Following Recent Fires, Experts Say --The recent Australian brushfires and extended drought have decimated the koala population to the point where it may be "functionally extinct," according to an expert at the Australian Koala Foundation, as theDaily Mail in the UK reported. Functionally extinct means the population has become so limited that koalas no longer play a significant role in their ecosystem. Furthermore, the population is so depleted and colonies of koalas are isolated from each other, making the long-term viability of the beloved marsupial susceptible to disease and unlikely to survive much longer, as Forbes reported.   "If we combine all of the estimated deaths of koalas in the bushfires, there could be 1,000 koalas that have been killed in the last two months," said Deborah Tabart, chairwoman of the Australian Koala Foundation, to the Daily Mail. She added that 80 percent of their habitat has been destroyed.  In May, the Australia Koala Foundation estimated there were only 80,000 healthy wild koalas, which rendered them functionally extinct, according to a press release.  The stubborn marsupial has struggled with the climate crisis. When confronted with brushfires, rather than run away, koalas climb trees and curl into a ball as a danger-avoidance strategy. While they are normally quiet, they will yell for help when a situation seems dire. "Koalas don't make noise much of the time," said Prof Chris Dickman, an ecology expert at Sydney University, to the BBC. "Males only make booming noises during mating season. Other than that they're quiet animals. So hearing their yelps is a pretty bad sign things are going catastrophically wrong for these animals." Koalas are notoriously picky eaters and will often eat 2.5 pounds of eucalyptus leaves per day, which is how they get both their nutrition and hydration. Conservationists have raced to install water stations for dehydrated koalas that have not had access to eucalyptus leaves. However, the hotter and drier weather brought on by a changing climate has dried out the leaves of the eucalyptus trees that the koalas rely on, according to The Washington Post. Suburban developments have taken over the forested beaches that koalas are native to and have left the species with fewer and fewer food sources and safe habitats.

Santa Barbara Wildfire Burns 3,000 Acres in Five Hours, Forces 6,300 to Flee -- The county of Santa Barbara, California proclaimed a local emergency after a wildfire spread more than 3,000 acres in five hours Monday night. The so-called Cave Fire ignited shortly after 4 p.m. near Highway 154 and grew to at least 3,122 acres by 9 p.m., the Los Angeles Times reported. It is zero percent contained, threatens 2,400 structures and has forced 6,300 people to evacuate, according to the KEYT News Team."The Cave Fire is causing conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property within the County of Santa Barbara," the emergency proclamation said.The evacuation order covered a five-mile-wide stretch of land, according to the Los Angeles Times. The fire became more dangerous as it moved downhill, driven by canyon winds of 15 miles per hour and 30 mile-per-hour gusts."As this fire gets pushed down canyon, it's going to start getting closer to homes," Santa Barbara County Fire (SBCF) Department public information officer Mike Eliason told the Los Angeles Times. Santa Barbara also requested that California Gov. Gavin Newsom declare a State of Emergency. The county received fire-fighting support from nearby Ventura County, which said it was sending two strike teams of engines, and from the Los Angeles County Fire Department, which battled the flames from a Firehawk water-dropping helicopter, NBC 7 San Diego reported. As of 9:25 p.m., more than 500 firefighters were combating the blaze, according to KSBY News.

PG&E loses bid to get off the hook for billions in wildfire damages — A federal bankruptcy court judge on Wednesday rejected Pacific Gas & Electric’s latest attempt to change a California law requiring utilities to pay for the devastation from wildfires ignited by their electrical equipment. The decision issued by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali preserves a long-standing principle known as “inverse condemnation.”  The century-old law helped drive the nation’s largest utility into bankruptcy protection 10 months ago as it faced at least $20 billion in losses stemming from a series of deadly and destructive wildfires in 2017 and 2018.The ruling is a victory for thousands of people who lost their homes and loved ones in the fires, as well as insurers trying to recover part of the roughly $16 billion they have already paid their policyholders.In addition to using bankruptcy to reorganize its finances, PG&E  hoped the process would enable it to shed the burden of inverse condemnation. But Montali pointed out that there is no evidence yet that PG&E would not be allowed to pass along its wildfire costs if it could show regulators that it had acted as a “prudent operator.” He said PG&E seemed to be “seeking a solution, fire cost reimbursement, in search of a problem.”  Although utilities never liked the concept of inverse condemnation, it wasn’t crippling until recently. That’s because California’s power regulators typically allowed profit-driven utilities to recoup their fire losses by raising their rates — effectively forcing their customers to bear the burden instead of their stockholders. That changed two years ago when California’s Public Utilities Commission rejected a request from San Diego Gas & Electric to pass along losses from a past fire to its customers. Regulators had determined the utility’s negligence in protecting and upgrading its electrical system played a key role in the fires.

Coping With (Power) Loss: California’s Hospitals, Clinics, Patients Face New Reality - We all know that when the power goes out, refrigerators, heaters and air conditioners stop running. Homes go dark, and desktop computers shut down. But those are mere inconveniences. If you need regular dialysis or chemotherapy at a clinic, or you have an infant in a neonatal intensive care unit or a loved one on a hospital ventilator, a loss of power carries far more dire implications. California’s recurrent power outages this year by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Southern California Edison, in response to wildfire threats up and down the state, have forced patients to think about how they get care when the power is cut at hospitals and clinics. Hospitals that provide critical care are required by state and federal law to have backup generators on-site. In California, hospitals, outpatient clinics and treatment centers have long-standing disaster plans in place, which cover the possibility of temporary power outages. “But continuous power shut-offs, sometimes lasting for days and then happening again within a week or two, were never what those plans were intended for,” said Jan Emerson-Shea, vice president for external affairs at the California Hospital Association. “This is all very new to everybody.” Communities in Northern and Southern California have been subjected this year to numerous outages, often with no assurance of when their power would be restored. The utilities’ estimates sometimes miss the mark. The outages are likely to be a long-term problem, given PG&E’s 10-year timetable for fixing power transmission risks.

PG&E says power shutoffs averted hundreds of fire risks, but cities blast lack of coordination -Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), in a filing with state regulators last week, said it found 328 instances of damage to its power lines and hazardous situations during an extended safety shut-off that began Oct. 26 — suggesting its system remains vulnerable to wildfire risk despite ongoing and expensive upgrades. City and county governments, meanwhile, listed a catalog of complaints regarding PG&E's execution of the shut-offs earlier in the month. Californians should not have to put up with the utility's "self-imposed emergency," they argued, especially since PG&E has suggested the outages could continue for the next decade. PG&E's report indicates that frequent safety shut-offs will continue until the utility is able to sufficiently harden its grid, according to Steven Weissman, a utility policy expert and former administrative law judge at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). But it's unclear when that will be. How many local haulers will be left to win franchise contracts, and whether any new entrants join the fray, all comes down to how legislative negotiations play out. PG&E cut power to around 941,000 customer accounts beginning Oct. 26 after forecasting strong offshore winds affecting high fire-risk areas in Northern California, the utility reported in a Nov. 18 filing to the CPUC. Multiple alternatives to shutting off the power were considered — like targeting specific trees that could fall into power lines —​ but PG&E decided that de-energizing its lines was the safest way to avoid a fire. Utility patrols found 168 instances of trees and branches that had fallen into power lines during the outage, and had to clear them away before turning the power back on. In total, crews identified 328 instances of damage or hazardous situations — such as a branch that had become entangled with a power line, which could have sparked a fire if the lines were energized. But not all areas have the same level of risk. "This report provides little assurance that PG&E has a meaningful way to conclude that certain portions of the grid can continue to operate safely in red-flag conditions," Weissman, currently a lecturer at the University of California Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy, told Utility Dive. The shut-offs will likely continue until PG&E has sufficiently hardened its electric grid — but it's tough to pinpoint when the system suddenly becomes "safe,"

Former PG&E employee says he was fired after wildfire safety complaints - Managers at Pacific Gas and Electric Co. failed to address concerns from front-line workers who felt electrical equipment the utility was installing to boost efficiency made power lines more vulnerable to starting dangerous fires, a former employee alleged in recently filed court papers.Todd Hearn, who was a PG&E lineman for more than 20 years, said he repeatedly told his superiors — including the former head of electric operations — that he was troubled by how the company used a specific kind of device designed to automatically restart a power line after it turns off.The devices, called reclosers, allow PG&E to avoid sending workers out to fix temporary faults, which are common. But reclosers can also be risky because they shoot bursts of electricity that can start a fire if a broken line is in contact with dry vegetation. Hearn, 50, claimed in court papers that he and several other employees were particularly concerned about a kind of recloser called TripSaver that PG&E was installing in 2017 — months before its power lines started a series of fires around Wine Country.Hearn alleged that he told management at the San Francisco utility that the company was unsafely installing the TripSavers in areas with high fire risk such as Napa County, where he worked. But he said the company did not take the reports seriously. After speaking up about wildfire safety problems on many occasions, Hearn was placed on leave and eventually fired, he said. Todd Hearn, who was a PG&E lineman for more than 20 years, says he was fired from his job after raising concerns about devices called reclosers installed on the utility’s lines. “They were playing Russian roulette with the fire areas,” Hearn said in an interview with The Chronicle. “We threw safety out the window in favor of metrics. ... It was chaos. We didn’t know what we were doing, but we were putting them up everywhere.”  Civil lawsuits against PG&E are suspended because the company filed for bankruptcy protection in January. So Hearn this week asked the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of California to let him move his case forward — a step even his attorney, Anne Costin, admitted may be unlikely.   Even if the move is unsuccessful in the bankruptcy case, Costin said it is important for her client to “say everything he knew ... so that is publicly out there.” Hearn and Costin are not alone. Another attorney, Dario de Ghetaldi, told The Chronicle he represents four other employees from Napa County who “raised safety issues ... about the installation of TripSavers in high-fire-threat areas.” They were all fired “for reasons that had no basis,” de Ghetaldi said.

Bombogenesis: An 'unprecedented' bomb cyclone will bring 100-mph winds to the West Coast - A rare West Coast “bomb cyclone” is forecast to sweep into southern Oregon and northern California later Tuesday and into Wednesday, bringing 100-mph wind gusts to the coast and multiple feet of snow to the mountains. "This is a unprecedented storm given the track and strength and will being very dangerous conditions to the area," the National Weather Service in Medford, Oregon, said. "High winds and heavy snow is expected to impact the area."As it approaches the coast, the storm is forecast to undergo what's known as bombogenesis, which is said to occur when a storm's central barometric pressure drops at least 24 millibars in 24 hours. (A millibar is a way of measuring air pressure.) The lower the pressure, the more powerful the storm. "This can happen when a cold air mass collides with a warm air mass, such as air over warm ocean waters," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. "The formation of this rapidly strengthening weather system is a process called bombogenesis, which creates what is known as a bomb cyclone."  The word bombogenesis is a combination of cyclogenesis, which describes the formation of a cyclone or storm, and bomb, which is, well, pretty self-explanatory. Many nor'easters – big storms that wallop the East Coast – are the product of bombs. The contrast in temperature between polar air spilling over the eastern U.S. and the relatively warm Gulf Stream waters sets the stage for cyclogenesis on the boundary between these air masses. The word bombogenesis is a combination of cyclogenesis, which describes the formation of a cyclone or storm, and bomb, which is, well, pretty self-explanatory.In the 1940s, some meteorologists began informally calling some big coastal storms "bombs" because they develop "with a ferocity we rarely, if ever, see over land," said Fred Sanders, a retired MIT professor, who brought the term into common usage by describing such storms in a 1980 article in the journal Monthly Weather Review. Many nor'easters – big storms that wallop the East Coast – are the product of bombs. The contrast in temperature between polar air spilling over the eastern U.S. and the relatively warm Gulf Stream waters sets the stage for cyclogenesis on the boundary between these air masses.

A Bomb Cyclone Is One of Two Major Storms Walloping the U.S. Thanksgiving Week - Two major storms are already walloping the U.S. in time for Thanksgiving. A winter storm that has already killed one moved from Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska into the Midwest Wednesday, while a "bomb cyclone" hit the Oregon coast Tuesday evening, according to an Associated Press story published by The Washington Post. "This is an unprecedented storm given the track and strength and will bring very dangerous conditions to the area," the National Weather Service (NWS) in Medford, Oregon, said of the second storm, according to USA Today. "High winds and heavy snow is expected to impact the area."The first storm unleashed nearly three feet of snow on Colorado and led to one death and two injuries when a tractor-trailer collided with two trucks near Vail, Colorado, the Associated Press reported. It also forced the Denver airport to cancel around 30 percent of its flights.The storm is expected to heap a foot of snow on a region stretching from the Plains, to the upper Mississippi Valley, to the upper Great Lakes and northern Maine, and could disrupt airports along the way, NPR reported.It is also predicted to unleash wind gusts of more than 50 miles per hour in the Midwest and Ohio Valley region, according to NWS.The second storm already set a record for the lowest pressure for the month of November Tuesday evening, when its central pressure bottomed out at 970 millibars, according to NWS.  “In general, the lower the pressure, the stronger the storm," The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang explained. The storm strengthened through a process called bombogenesis, when a cyclone's pressure drops at least 24 millibars in 24 hours. Storms that accomplish this feat are referred to as "bomb cyclones." Medford NWS staffer Tom Wright said the air pressure of Tuesday's storm dropped even more quickly than that, according to an Associated Press story published by The Columbian.

Storms in France, Greece and Italy leave 'biblical destruction' - Nine people have died as violent storms swept through parts of France, Greece and Italy over the weekend, causing flash floods, landslides and the collapse of an overpass. Greek media described the storms as leaving a trail of “biblical destruction” in some areas of the country while the overpass collapse in northern Italy brought back a chilling reminder of Genoa’s Morandi bridge giving way during a thunderstorm in August 2018, killing 43 people. Flash floods in France’s Côte d’Azur claimed the lives of four people, while two others are believed to still be missing. Three of the victims were found in cars that were swept away in floods in the Var region, and the fourth was among a group being rescued by the fire brigade when the dinghy carrying them to safety capsized. A tractor in a flooded area after heavy rain in Roquebrune-sur-Argens, France. Photograph: Valéry Hache/AFP via Getty Images One of the worst affected towns was Roquebrune-sur-Argens in the Var, where the Argens River rose seven metres. The French meteorological office said three months’ worth of rain had fallen in less than 48 hours. Members of the French civil defence took part in rescue operations in a number of flooded areas around Cannes and other coastal towns. The orange alert was lifted in the Var and Alpes-Maritimes regions on Monday as the water receded, leaving an estimated 4,500 homes without electricity. Two other French departments, the Puy-de-Dôme and the Gironde, were placed on high flooding alert. Water reaches the houses after the Ticino River overflowed its banks in Pavia, Italy. Jean-Luc Videlaine, the prefect for the Var region, said the rain had been of “historic” intensity and there was considerable damage. Jean-Pierre Hameau of Météo France said the storms and flooding should not be blamed on climate change. Hameau said the phenomena, known in France as cévenols, or Mediterraneans, were relatively frequent in the region. “They occur three or six times a year. It often begins in September when the Mediterranean is warm and there is rising hot air in the south,” Hameau said. “This usually happens in September and October, but sometimes we find these conditions in November. It’s not linked to global warming. We had these cévenols before and there hasn’t been an increase since temperatures rose. However, we have noted an increase in the intensity of the rains.”

 Angry Venetians say cruise ships are partly to blame for flooding - You have probably heard about the record-breaking tides that have flooded Venice in recent weeks. The city had to close St. Mark's Square three times in one week as it grappled with the worst string of high tides that it has faced since 1872. Businesses, homes, churches, and streets filled with cold salt water, and the estimated cost of damages so far is one billion euros.Adding insult to injury is the fact that Venice has been pouring billions of euros into a massive infrastructure project since 2003. Called Mose, it is supposed to protect against this very kind of extreme high-tide incident, but it is neither complete nor effective. Critics have been calling it a waste of time and money since the beginning, but now, in light of the climate crisis, their suggestions are being taken more seriously.What anti-Mose activists would like to see (among other things) is an end to giant cruise ships entering the historic lagoon in which the city was built. They argue that, not only is overcrowding a problem (I've written about this for TreeHugger), but that the ships themselves are contributing to the flooding. Apparently, the ships create huge wakes that in turn erode the ancient and fragile foundations of the cities, which were never designed to withstand such wear and tear. A website called Venezia Autentica explains how it happens: "The displacement in cruise ships is roughly around 50 percent of its gross tonnage: a 100,000t ship will move 50 million liters of water. Even though performed relatively slowly, the movement of such a massive amount of water erodes the hundreds- and even thousands-year-old foundations of the palaces and the streets of Venice. Big ships are not the only cause of this phenomenon, of course. Heavy (and too-fast-moving) motor traffic is to be blamed also for the holes (yes, real holes) being carved in the foundations." The lagoon has been dredged to make room for bigger ships of all kinds. Not only has this destroyed coastal habitats for many fish, rodents, birds, and plants, but it has had a direct effect on flooding: "The heavy digging of the canals to let big ships into the Venetian Lagoon increases the amount of water that enters and exits the lagoon during tides. The direct and most obvious effect on the city of Venice is the increase in number and intensity of high waters, or Acque Alte, which partially flood the city." This just adds more fuel to the anti-cruise ship fire. Angry protesters marched in the wet streets this weekend, called for Mose to be terminated, demanding that mayor Luigi Brugnaro resign, and demanding an end to huge ships if Venice is to be saved from the climate crisis.

100 Trash Barriers to Be Installed in Bali Rivers to Reduce Plastic Pollution - In recent years, Bali has been called the trash island of the world ever since a British diver recorded himself in one of the island's most iconic dive spots fully surrounded in plastics. In December 2017, the Balinese Government even declared a trash emergency.With 80 percent of plastic pollution in our ocean coming from rivers and streams, Make A Change is launching the Sungai Watch project which will place 100 trash booms around Bali along with the environmental startup Plastic Fischer to protect the island of paradise. Sungai Watch is Make A Change's newest project aimed at tackling the alleyways of plastic pollution, our rivers. "In the last 10 years, we have launched expeditions in some of the world's most polluted rivers and have seen first hand the urgent need of action. So to celebrate ten years of hard work, we are excited to be giving back to where it all started, Bali" says Gary Bencheghib, founder of Make A Change. With the support of Bintang, they are launching their 3 first river booms in tributaries of the Ayung river, Bali's most important waterway. The river booms will be set up in the coming weeks and will follow an interactive educational campaign aimed at raising awareness about the importance of not throwing plastics in our rivers. The booms are engineered by the German based company Plastic Fischer, an environmental start up founded by three friends, Georg Baunach, Karsten Hirsch and Moritz Schulz. They have the goal to intercept plastic pollution in our rivers through affordable technology solutions. For the past 5 months, they have been setting up waste collection solutions in Java including their proven successful pilot trash booms on the Citarum river. "We invented effective trash booms that are made of local materials to provide a simple and cost efficient waste collection solution for rivers as soon as possible. They are easy to assemble and maintain" says Moritz Schulz, Plastic Fischer's leading engineer.

Mysterious interstellar object pictured coming towards us from deep space – and will make ‘close approach’ next month - A MYSTERIOUS object hurtling towards our Solar System from deep space has been photographed by scientists. The incoming comet is like nothing scientists have seen before and is believed to have come from another star system.  The comet's tail stretches 100,000 miles long, more than 12 times the diameter of Earth. That makes the visitor, known as 2I/Borisov, only the second interstellar object ever spotted in our Solar System. Discovered in August, Borisov has travelled at least 7trillion miles to get here and will make its close approach with Earth next month. Experts captured a closeup of the object on Sunday using a telescope at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. The image, taken by Yale University scientists, showed the comet surrounded by a bright white glow. Made up of ice and other debris crumbling from Borisov's main body, the ghostly tail stretches a staggering 100,000 miles long. That makes it longer than 12 Earths stacked side by side behind the comet. Travelling at around 110,000mph, the interloper will pass roughly 190million miles from Earth in December, according to Nasa. That's about twice the average distance from Earth to the Sun. Borisov's breakneck speed indicates it came from interstellar space, and will likely return there again sometime next year.

 We’re living through Earth’s second-hottest year, NOAA finds  -This year is increasingly likely to be the planet’s second- or third-warmest calendar year on record since modern temperature data collection began in 1880, according to data released this week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This reflects the growing influence of long-term, human-caused global warming and is especially noteworthy, as there was an absence of a strong El Niño in the tropical Pacific Ocean this year. Such events are typically associated with the hottest years, since they boost global ocean temperatures and add large amounts of heat to the atmosphere across the Pacific Ocean, the world’s largest.According to a new report released Monday, there’s about an 85 percent chance that the year will wind up ranking as the second-warmest in NOAA’s data set, with a possibility that it slips to No. 3. Overall, though, it’s virtually certain (greater than a 99 percent chance) that 2019 will wind up being a top-five-warmest year for the globe.NOAA found the average global land and ocean surface temperature for October was 1.76 degrees (0.98 degrees Celsius) above the 20th-century average, 0.11 of a degree shy of the record warm October set in 2015.Remarkably, the 10 warmest Octobers have occurred since 2003, and the top-five warmest such months have taken place since 2015.October 2019 was the 43rd-straight October to be warmer than the 20th-century average, and the 418th straight warmer-than-average month. This means anyone younger than 34 has not lived through a cooler-than-average year from a global standpoint.So far this year, global land and ocean temperatures have come in at 1.69 degrees (0.94 Celsius) above the 20th-century average, 0.16 of a degree cooler than the record warmest year-to-date, set in 2016, NOAA found. Other agencies that track global temperatures may rank 2019 slightly differently than NOAA will, although their overall data is likely to be similar. NASA, for example, interpolates temperatures across the data-sparse Arctic by assuming the temperatures regionwide are similar to their closest observation location. NOAA, on the other hand, leaves parts of the Arctic out of its data.

As Climate Risk Grows, Cities Test a Tough Strategy: Saying ‘No’ to Developers — Glimpsed from a kayak on West Neck Creek, this swampy piece of land, a pocket of red maple and loblolly pine tucked behind growing subdivisions, doesn’t look like the stuff of existential debate.But this is where Virginia Beach, squeezed between the clamor for new housing and the relentlessness of flooding worsened by climate change, decided to draw its line in the mud.The city last year became one of a small but growing number of communities willing to say no to developers — despite their political and economic clout — when it rejected a proposal to build a few dozen homes on this soggy parcel of 50 acres, arguing that those homes would be unsafe. The developers sued, accusing officials of making their project a scapegoat as voters clamored for action after disastrous flooding.This past May, a judge ruled that Virginia Beach was within its rights to stop the development. The city’s experience could become a harbinger for others nationwide.  “It’s a confrontation with reality,” Bobby Dyer, Virginia Beach’s mayor, said in an interview in his office. “Not everybody’s going to be happy.” As the Trump administration reverses efforts to fight global warming, local officials around the country are forced to grapple with more intense flooding, hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters. That pressure is colliding with development, which provides jobs, homes and taxes but which also can increase the future risk of disaster as construction spreads into floodplains or forests that are prone to calamity.  The outcome of that battle will shape Americans’ vulnerability to climate change for generations — and so far, development seems to be prevailing. In many coastal states, homes are going up at the fastest rate in the most flood-prone areas. The number of new houses in what experts call the wildland-urban interface, where the wildfire threat tends to be greatest, increased 41 percentnationwide between 1990 and 2010. But as the financial and emotional costs of disasters increase, so does the evidence of a shifting mind-set. On Tuesday, the Pew Charitable Trusts, a research and advocacy group, released a report describing how a few cities and states have successfully reduced flooding vulnerability.   The examples include Norfolk, Va., which last year imposed new rules on developers, including a requirement that every new home be elevated.

Greenhouse gases hit another record high in 2018, UN agency says - Levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have again hit a fresh record high, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said Monday. According to its latest Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, globally averaged concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) hit 407.8 parts per million (ppm) last year, compared to 405.5 ppm in 2017. This is 47% higher than the estimated pre-industrial level in 1750. The WMO added that atmospheric methane amounted to 1869 parts per billion (ppb) last year, another new high, while nitrous oxide hit 331.1 ppb in 2018. Methane is over double the pre-industrial level, while nitrous oxide is 23% higher than the pre-industrial level. In a statement accompanying the bulletin’s release, the WMO said there were “multiple indications” that the rise in atmospheric levels of CO2 was “related to fossil fuel combustion.” The bulletin comes before the COP25 climate summit in Madrid, which is scheduled to take place next month. “There is no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline, in greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere despite all the commitments under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change,” Petteri Taalas, the WMO’s secretary general, said in a statement. “We need to translate the commitments into action and increase the level of ambition for the sake of the future welfare of... mankind,”

Greenhouse gas nitrous oxide emissions have 'increased substantially' in the past decade, study finds - Emissions of nitrous oxide — a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide — are going up faster than we thought. It's countries in east Asia and South America that are making the biggest contribution to the increasing emissions, according to a study published today in the journal Nature Climate Change. Natural sources of nitrous oxide include our oceans and rainforests, but it's the human sources that are of most cause for concern — specifically agriculture, including nitrogen fertiliser use and livestock manure. We've known for decades that nitrous oxide emissions are increasing, but since 2009 there has been a "substantial increase" in these emissions, said Pep Canadell, executive director of the Global Carbon project and an author of the new research. Most countries report their nitrous oxide emissions using the methodology of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This approach assumes a linear relationship between the amount of nitrogen fertiliser used and the nitrous oxide emissions that come out at the other end, said Dr Canadell, who is also a chief research scientist at the CSIRO. "Using atmospheric data for the first time, we show that the [linear] relationship is not true when there are regions around the world that over-fertilise," he said. "So there's this threshold [of fertiliser use], and past that amount — which is well above and beyond what plants need — we find an exponential growth in nitrous oxide emissions."

Carbon Concentrations Rise to Highest Level in at Least Three Million Years - The press release from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says it all: "Another year, another record." It is a record we do not want. It is a record of political failure. It is a record based on the politics of climate denial. We have crossed another climate threshold that, yet again, signals we are in deep trouble. We are now experiencing levels of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas, that the earth has not experienced for three to five million years. We are walking – more like stumbling with stupidity – into the unknown. But we know there will be consequences. If we do not change our current trajectory quickly, we risk leaving a very different and dangerous world to our children and grandchildren.According to the WMO's annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, which collects data from fifty four countries, the average concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) reached 407.8 parts per million in 2018, up from 405.5 parts per million (ppm) in 2017.Carbon dioxide is not the only gas on the rise. Methane is the second most important long-lived greenhouse gas. According to the WMO, atmospheric methane reached a new high of about 1869 parts per billion (ppb) in 2018 and is now 259% of the pre-industrial level. Levels of nitrous oxide are 123% of pre-industrial levels.The rise of all three gases shows we are in deep trouble. "This continuing long-term trend means that future generations will be confronted with increasingly severe impacts of climate change, including rising temperatures, more extreme weather, water stress, sea level rise and disruption to marine and land ecosystems," says the WMO. "There is no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline, in greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere despite all the commitments under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. "We need to translate the commitments into action and increase the level of ambition for the sake of the future welfare of the mankind," he added. Taalas also points out that the last time that the earth experienced comparable concentration of carbon dioxide was some 3-5 million years ago, when temperatures were 2-3°C warmer and sea levels were 10-20 meters higher than now. Although we know that we have to reduce emissions now, the WMO predicts that global emissions are not estimated to peak by 2030, let alone by 2020. Richard Black, the director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit in the UK, told The Guardian: "This record level of greenhouse gases should act as a sobering reminder to governments that so far they are collectively reneging on the pledge they made at the Paris summit, of attempting to keep global warming to 1.5C."

 US leads greenhouse gas emissions on a per capita basis, report finds --Greenhouse gas emissions surged to a record high in 2018 and countries, including the United States, are falling short of their stated emission reduction targets, a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme found. The report, published on Tuesday, measures the emissions gap, or the difference between what needs to be done to curb greenhouse gas emissions, and what is actually being done. Now in its tenth year of publication, the researchers behind the report found that the gap is as wide as ever. "The summary findings are bleak," the report said. "Countries collectively failed to stop the growth in global GHG emissions, meaning that deeper and faster cuts are now required." To prevent temperatures rising above 1.5º Celsius — a target set by the Paris Agreement — emissions will need to be reduced by 7.6% annually for the next decade. "Every day we delay, the more extreme, difficult and expensive the cuts become," the report said. Overall, China is the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases, although the United States is highest when measured on a per capita basis. The U.S. is at least 15% above its emission reduction target outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement, which the country remains a part of for now. In 2017, President Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the agreement, but it does not technically take effect until November 2020. U.S. carbon emissions did fall by 14% between 2005 and 2017, although recent and looser regulations over things like power plant and vehicle emission standards has led to an uptick over the last few years. The report outlined ways in which countries can reduce emissions, and said for the United States that could include making the electricity supply 100% carbon free. Implementing policies to make all new buildings and cars clean by 2030 was mentioned as another key area that could have a big impact. It is instrumental for the United States and the other G20 nations to drive worldwide policy on reducing greenhouse gases since together the members account for 78% of all emissions.

Global temperature rises could bring 'destructive' effects, U.N. says - (Reuters) - Global temperatures could rise sharply this century with “wide-ranging and destructive” consequences after greenhouse gas emissions hit record levels last year, international climate experts warned on Tuesday. The head of the World Meteorological Organization said global temperatures could rise by 3-5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels this century - more than three times agreed limits - if nothing is done to stop rising emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions surged to a record level last year, the United Nations said in its “Emissions Gap Report”, released ahead of U.N. climate talks in Madrid next week aimed at spurring world leaders to limit climate change. It measures the amount of emissions cuts needed to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, as agreed in the 2015 Paris Agreement. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year warned of huge global changes if that target is not met, such as the loss of nearly all coral reefs and most Arctic sea ice. Under current national pledges to cut emissions, “temperatures can be expected to rise by 3.2C this century, bringing wide-ranging and destructive climate impacts,” said a summary of the report by the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP). “Being a grandfather - we don’t want to leave that for our grandkids,” the report’s lead author John Christensen told a Geneva news conference.“With 3 degrees we would lose a fairly big fraction of the current (agricultural) yield and areas like Africa where the population is growing would really suffer,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. The UNEP report said the safest temperature threshold set in Paris - of 1.5C - was still achievable, but would require emissions cuts of 7.6% a year between 2020-2030. Limiting the rise to 2C it would mean annual cuts of 2.7%. “We are talking about transformational change now - incremental change simply will not make it. We simply need to transform societies in the next 10 years,” Christensen said.

UN calls for push to cut greenhouse gas levels to avoid climate chaos - Countries must make an unprecedented effort to cut their levels of greenhouse gases in the next decade to avoid climate chaos, the UN has warned, as it emerged that emissions hit a new high last year.  Carbon dioxide emissions in 2018, also accounting for deforestation, rose to more than 55 gigatonnes, and have risen on average by 1.5% a year for the past decade, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) annual emissions gap report.  Global emissions must fall by 7.6% every year from now until 2030 to stay within the 1.5C ceiling on temperature rises that scientists say is necessary to avoid disastrous consequences. The only time in recent history when emissions have fallen in any country at a similar rate came during the collapse of the Soviet Union. During the financial crisis and recession, emissions in the US and Japan fell briefly by about 6% but soon rebounded.  However, technologies such as renewable energy and electric vehicles are now available, and increasingly cheap, which could enable deep cuts in carbon without jeopardising economic growth.John Christensen of the Technical University of Denmark, a co-author of the report, told the Guardian the cuts in emissions now required were “unprecedented”.Postponing action could no longer be an option, said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP. “Our collective failure to act early and hard on climate change means we must now deliver deep cuts to emissions [of] over 7% each year, if we break it down evenly over the next decade. This shows that countries simply cannot wait.”Without such urgent action the world’s fate would be sealed within the next few years as carbon would rise to such a level as to make dangerous levels of warming inevitable, she said. “We need quick wins to reduce emissions as much as possible in 2020, then stronger [commitments under the Paris agreement] to kickstart the major transformations of economies and societies. We need to catch up on the years in which we procrastinated.”

Cut global emissions by 7.6 percent every year for next decade to meet 1.5°C Paris target - UN report -- On the eve of a year in which nations are due to strengthen their Paris climate pledges, a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report warns that unless global greenhouse gas emissions fall by 7.6 per cent each year between 2020 and 2030, the world will miss the opportunity to get on track towards the 1.5°C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement. UNEP’s annual Emissions Gap Report says that even if all current unconditional commitments under the Paris Agreement are implemented, temperatures are expected to rise by 3.2°C, bringing even wider-ranging and more destructive climate impacts. Collective ambition must increase more than fivefold over current levels to deliver the cuts needed over the next decade for the 1.5°C goal. 2020 is a critical year for climate action, with the UN climate change conference in Glasgow aiming to determine the future course of efforts to avert crisis, and countries expected to significantly step up their climate commitments. “Our collective failure to act early and hard on climate change means we now must deliver deep cuts to emissions – over 7 per cent each year, if we break it down evenly over the next decade,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP’s Executive Director. “This shows that countries simply cannot wait until the end of 2020, when new climate commitments are due, to step up action. They – and every city, region, business and individual – need to act now.” “We need quick wins to reduce emissions as much as possible in 2020, then stronger Nationally Determined Contributions to kick-start the major transformations of economies and societies. We need to catch up on the years in which we procrastinated,” she added. “If we don’t do this, the 1.5°C goal will be out of reach before 2030.” The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that going beyond 1.5°C will increase the frequency and intensity of climate impacts, such as the heatwaves and storms witnessed across the globe in the last few years. G20. G20 nations collectively account for 78 per cent of all emissions, but only five G20 members have committed to a long-term zero emissions target. In the short-term, developed countries will have to reduce their emissions quicker than developing countries, for reasons of fairness and equity. However, all countries will need to contribute more to collective effects. Developing countries can learn from successful efforts in developed countries; they can even leapfrog them and adopt cleaner technologies at a faster rate.

States threaten legal action on 'dangerous' EPA methane plan -- EPA should expect a massive lawsuit if it does not abandon its efforts to stop regulating methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, more than 20 cities and states said last week.

Majority believe US government is doing 'too little' to fight climate change: study - A majority of Americans believe the government must do more to address pollution and climate concerns, according to a new study.The federal government must do more to protect clean water, air quality, animals, open lands and reduce the effects of climate change, according to a majority of respondents in the survey released Monday by the Pew Research Center. The survey broke down along party lines, with 90 percent of those who identified as Democrats saying they believe the federal government is doing “too little” to address climate change and just 39 percent of self-identifying Republicans saying the same. However, Republicans within the millennial and younger generations showed more concern than their older counterparts, with about 52 percent of those between the age of 18-38 saying they think the federal government isn’t doing enough to fight climate change, compared to 41 percent of Generation X respondents and 31 percent of the Baby Boomer and older group. Pew conducted the survey with 3,627 U.S. adults between Oct. 1-13. It has a margin of error of 2.1 percentage points. The results highlight a growing national trend of Americans concerned about the effects of climate change and how opinions on how best to act has split the political parties and various generations. A number of polls this year have shown that climate change has grown as a top issue among Democratic voters, making climate action a top speaking point within the Democratic primaries. Surveys continue to also show that the issue is one of most concern among younger generations, with Republican youth particularly split from older GOP generations about the need to address, and vote on, the issue. The Pew survey underscores that divide, potentially offering a window to presidential candidates hoping to win over climate-minded right-wing voters. The survey additionally found a national consensus over the need to shift energy consumption and production toward renewables. About three-quarters of Americans polled agreed developing wind, solar, hydrogen and other alternative energy sources over fossil fuels should be a priority.

Infographic: Major economies drag feet as nations gather for climate talks - — Of the eight major economies that account for 67% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, only Europe is gearing up to extend its Paris Agreement commitment after the European Parliament announced a climate emergency Thursday.  Incoming European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is set to call for EU member states to cut carbon emissions by at least 50% below 1990 levels by 2030, up from a current 40% reduction target.  But ahead of the COP25 climate talks in Madrid starting Monday, climate scientists say around 75% of current national plans are inadequate to put the globe on a path that meets the Paris Agreement's aim of limiting global warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius.  Click here for full-size infographic.  According to Robert Watson, former chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world is on a trajectory of 3-4 degrees Celsius warming, with devastating consequences for sea levels, food security and mass displacement of people. Using the World Bank's 2030 average abatement cost of $75/mt for CO₂, the cost of global net zero emissions would be $3.46 trillion, S&P Global Platts calculates. This cost could be less if countries made full use of global emission trading, which is to be discussed in Madrid. According to industry group IETA, trading could half the cost of abatement. While major economies are yet to commit to extending Paris Agreement commitments, more than 70 countries, 10 regions and 102 cities, including California, New York State, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro, have committed to work towards net zero emissions status by 2050, according to the UN. Data gathered by Platts show the vast majority of emissions are focused on energy and transport, where cleaner technologies already exist and, in electricity generation at least, the costs are reaching grid parity after 20 years of support. "Unless in the next one or two years countries double or triple their pledges and fully implement them, we won't meet Paris, and we will be on a pathway of greater than 2 degrees Celsius with profoundly negative consequences," Watson told the BBC on Wednesday. "When the US pulls out it will make it harder to make 2 degrees, while sending the signal to the rest of the world that, if one of the richest counties can't be bothered, why should anybody else?," Watson said.

China says CO2 border tax will damage global climate change fight - (Reuters) - New European proposals to launch a “carbon border tax” will damage global efforts to tackle climate change, China said on Wednesday, urging a pushback against climate “protectionism”, a week before fresh global climate talks in Madrid. In October, the EU’s new climate commissioner, Frans Timmermans, said research would begin on the new tax, aimed at protecting European firms from unfair competition by raising the cost of products from countries taking inadequate action against climate change. But a border tax, together with a decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to withdraw from the 2015 Paris agreement, would seriously harm international efforts to tackle global warming, China said in a report on Wednesday, making its first formal comments on the proposals. “We need to prevent unilateralism and protectionism from hurting global growth expectations and the will of countries to combat climate change together,” Zhao Yingmin, China’s vice environment minister, told a briefing. Europe’s border tax, part of a proposed “green deal” aimed at making the block “climate-neutral” by 2050, is likely to face scrutiny in the latest round of annual climate negotiations set to begin in Madrid next week. The idea has been welcomed by European steel association Eurofer but opposed by other industry groups concerned about retaliatory trade measures. A tax would probably raise the price of Chinese goods in Europe, and Beijing believes it would violate a core principle of the Paris accord, which says richer countries should bear greater responsibility for cutting emissions.

UN: The world has backed itself into a treacherous corner on climate change -The world is further off course than ever from meeting the goals of the Paris climate agreement and averting climate catastrophe as the divide between countries’ pledges and actions continues to grow.This grim assessment comes from the latest United Nations Emissions Gap Reportpublished Tuesday. “Gap” refers to the difference between what countries have committed to do to limit climate change and what they actually need to do to meet greenhouse gas targets.The findings aren’t surprising, given that global greenhouse gas emissions have reached all-time highs in recent years. But they are still alarming. Since the first gap report was published in 2010, carbon dioxide emissions have risen 11 percent.“The summary findings are bleak,” the report states. “Countries collectively failed to stop the growth in global GHG emissions, meaning that deeper and faster cuts are now required.” The UN’s climate science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, reported last year that limiting warming this century to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the more ambitious target in the Paris agreement, would require immediate, drastic changes to the global economy. The world would have to halve its emissions by as soon as 2030, reach net-zero emissions by 2050, and then pull more carbon dioxide out of the air than it emits thereafter.If the world had gotten its act together in 2010, countries would only have to reduce their emissions 3.3 percent per year to reach the 1.5 degree Celsius target.Now global emissions have to fall by 7.6 percent a year between 2020 and 2030. But according to the new gap report, the current trajectory puts the world’s emissions to overshoot the 2030 target for 1.5 degrees Celsius by 38 percent. The current pace of emissions would lead to as much as 3.2 degrees Celsius (5.7 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming by 2100. This would be a world where millions more people would have to abandon coastal areas due to rising sea levels and vastly more dangerous periods of extreme heat. At the same time, the IPCC has also warned that the changes in the climate already underway are leading to unprecedented and irreversible shifts in lands, oceans, and the frozen parts of the planet, making them hostile to life.

Climate tipping points — too risky to bet against - Politicians, economists and even some natural scientists have tended to assume that tipping points1 in the Earth system — such as the loss of the Amazon rainforest or the West Antarctic ice sheet — are of low probability and little understood. Yet evidence is mounting that these events could be more likely than was thought, have high impacts and are interconnected across different biophysical systems, potentially committing the world to long-term irreversible changes.Here we summarize evidence on the threat of exceeding tipping points, identify knowledge gaps and suggest how these should be plugged. We explore the effects of such large-scale changes, how quickly they might unfold and whether we still have any control over them.In our view, the consideration of tipping points helps to define that we are in a climate emergency and strengthens this year’s chorus of calls for urgent climate action — from schoolchildren to scientists, cities and countries. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) introduced the idea of tipping points two decades ago. At that time, these ‘large-scale discontinuities’ in the climate system were considered likely only if global warming exceeded 5 °C above pre-industrial levels. Information summarized in the two most recent IPCC Special Reports (published in 2018 and in September this year)2,3 suggests that tipping points could be exceeded even between 1 and 2 °C of warming (see ‘Too close for comfort’). If current national pledges to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions are implemented — and that’s a big ‘if’ — they are likely to result in at least 3 °C of global warming. This is despite the goal of the 2015 Paris agreement to limit warming to well below 2 °C. Some economists, assuming that climate tipping points are of very low probability (even if they would be catastrophic), have suggested that 3 °C warming is optimal from a cost–benefit perspective. However, if tipping points are looking more likely, then the ‘optimal policy’ recommendation of simple cost–benefit climate-economy models4 aligns with those of the recent IPCC report2. In other words, warming must be limited to 1.5 °C. This requires an emergency response.

Green Consumerism Is Part of the Problem -- With climate change an ever-looming anxiety, whole industries have sprung up dedicated to help alleviate the stress. Tote bags. Metal straws. Existing companies are trying their best too: clothing retailer Zara has announced that 100 percent of the fabrics it uses will be sustainable by 2025 while Apple has said it has plans to eventually stop mining.  All of this looks great on the surface, but it doesn't help the underlying issue: We are still buying way too much stuff.  Australia — as a rich, developed nation — buys a huge amount of product. In 2016, Australian households spent AUD$666 billion on general living costs, including AUD$20.4 billion on clothes and fashion alone.  The UN Alliance has estimated that the average consumer is buying 60 percent more clothes than 15 years ago, but those clothes are only kept for half the time. This is mirrored in a number of other industries including electronics — we are buying more, and using it less. And at the end of these products' life, most of this isn't recycled or reused — instead it ends up in landfill, and we dig up more resources to create more products.  So, how do we lower our resource footprint? And will doing so crash the whole economy? Dr Ed Morgan, a policy and environmental researcher at Griffith University, explained to me over email that it's possible, if hard, to imagine a sustainable society, because it means a shift of lifestyle and economic systems, which we are currently so stuck in we can't imagine any alternatives. 'But no one in a monarchy could imagine being in a democracy!' The first step is buying less stuff, and what we do buy needs to be used many times. Think a well-used mug instead of a disposable coffee cup. The second step is significantly harder. Experts call for the creation of a circular economy. This is a system where everything we make and use can be reused, repaired, remade, and recycled. No products are 'new' so much as remade from other products. This would heavily reduce waste, and use significantly less resources to produce these 'new' products.

Harvard and Yale students disrupt football game for fossil fuel protest - Students and alumni from Harvard and Yale disrupted the annual football game between the two elite universities on Saturday, occupying the field in New Haven, Connecticut, at half-time and demanding the colleges divest from investment in fossil fuels. More than 200 protesters stalled the high-profile game for around an hour, many chanting: “Hey Hey! Ho Ho! Fossil fuels have got to go!” The protest was briefly booed by some in a crowd of 44,989 and discussed widely on social media. After the protest had delayed the TV broadcast of the game and pushed it toward sunset in a venue without floodlights, most of the protesters left the field voluntarily, escorted by police officers. A handful who remained were told they would be arrested. The number of arrests made was not immediately available.Students began campaigning in 2012 for both schools tostop investing in oil and gas and coal companies that contribute to the climate crisis. Both universities refused, arguing that they would be in a better position to encourage corporate climate action if they remained shareholders.  “They believe that they can engage with these companies and get them to change their fundamentally extractive business models, which we think comes from a place of naivety amounting to gross negligence,” Nora Heaphy, an undergraduate at Yale, said. “It’s absurd to make those kinds of claims. So since then our campaign has moved away from administrative engagement, recognizing that it is often a stalling tactic.”

'The Law Is on Our Side': Extinction Rebellion Celebrates Dropped Charges Against 105 Climate Activists - Extinction Rebellion and its supporters celebrated Wednesday after the agency that conducts criminal prosecutions in England dropped charges against 105 activists who were arrested in London last month for participating in the environmental movement's "Autumn Uprising" actions.  The Crown Prosecution Service's (CPS) decision to end the cases against Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists came after a high court in the U.K. ruledearly this month that a protest ban imposed by London's Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) under section 14 of the Public Order Act was unlawful."It is to be hoped that the police will, in future, take much greater care to act within the law and to balance the right to protest with their desire for public order," Martin Marston-Paterson, one of the XR activists arrested under the section 14 order in October, said in a statement."Extinction Rebellion is glad to see that the Met Police and the CPS have recognized the implications of our successful challenge earlier this month," said Tobias Garnett, a human rights lawyer in the movement's legal strategy team. "It underlines the need for proper policing that doesn't waste precious public resources." These admissions of unlawful arrest, said Garnett, "affirm that when the people of this country assemble peacefully to demand action on the climate and ecological emergency the law is on our side."   Ultimately, Extinction Rebellion expects more than 1,000 cases against XR protesters arrested in October will be dropped. According to The Guardian, the CPS confirmed that the cases discontinued so far include 73 defendants charged with breach of section 14; 24 charged with breach of section 14 and highway obstruction; and eight charged only with highway obstruction.

Is virtue signalling a perversion of morality? - People engage in moral talk all the time. When they make moral claims in public, one common response is to dismiss them as virtue signallers. Twitter is full of these accusations: the actress Jameela Jamil is a ‘pathetic virtue-signalling twerp’, according to the journalist Piers Morgan; climate activists are virtue signallers, according to the conservative Manhattan Institute for Policy Research; vegetarianism is virtue signalling, according to the author Bjorn Lomborg (as these examples illustrate, the accusation seems more common from the Right than the Left). Accusing someone of virtue signalling is to accuse them of a kind of hypocrisy. The accused person claims to be deeply concerned about some moral issue but their main concern is – so the argument goes – with themselves. They’re not really concerned with changing minds, let alone with changing the world, but with displaying themselves in the best light possible. As the journalist James Bartholomew (who claimed in 2015 to have invented the phrase, but didn’t) puts it in The Spectator, virtue signalling is driven by ‘vanity and self-aggrandisement’, not concern with others. Ironically, accusing others of virtue signalling might itself constitute virtue signalling – just signalling to a different audience. Whether it should be counted as virtue signalling or not, the accusation does exactly what it accuses others of: it moves the focus from the target of the moral claim to the person making it. It can therefore be used to avoid addressing the moral claim made. In the only full treatment of the topic in the academic literature (that I know of), the philosophers Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke accuse the ‘moral grandstander’ (their term for the virtue signaller) of perverting the function of public moral discourse. According to them, ‘the core, primary function that justifies the practice’ of such public moral discourse is ‘to improve people’s moral beliefs, or to spur moral improvement in the world’. Public moral talk aims to get others to see a moral problem they hadn’t noticed before, and/or to do something about it. But, instead, virtue signallers display themselves, taking the focus away from the moral problem. Since we often spot virtue signalling for what it is, the effect is to cause cynicism in the audience, rather than to induce them to think the signaller is so great. As a result, virtue signalling ‘cheapens’ moral discourse.

Financing a Global Green New Deal: System Change Needed -  Yves Smith (video & transcript) Please extend a warm welcome to Lynn Fries, a former producer for The Real News Network whose beat was global political economy. She’s produced an independent segment under her banner, GPEnewsdocs, which she is graciously allowing Naked Capitalism to release first, which is an exciting development. Please share this interview and give her helpful feedback.I hope you will enjoy this discussion of the much-debated question of “How to pay for a Green New Deal”. We’ve embedded Lynn’s talk with political economist Ann Pettifor, whose latest book is The Case for a Green New Deal. We’ve had the pleasure of meeting Ann a few times at economics conferences, so it’s particularly gratifying to present her views here. Readers here are so well schooled in MMT that they may find Ann’s tip-toeing into it via simply dismissing the loanable funds theory (that lending and investment come only from existing savings) and explaining that banks create spending out of thin air too cautious a formulation for their taste. But the Green New Deal is a hot topic, and most people have heard only the orthodox deficit scold story about government spending. So Ann may regard this as the most parsimonious way to make her case without getting into a long-winded tutorial on how currency issuers can net spend with their constraint being real resources (which means how they spend matters too).

Where the Carbon Flows: Singapore’s Emissions in a Global Context -  Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke about climate change and the upcoming threat of sea level rise in Singapore. The problems faced by the island nation were nothing new, he said. Monsoon flooding in the 1960s and 1970s, for example, had largely been solved. But now, a new threat was lurking in the distant, end-of-century future. As a low-lying island in Southeast Asia, the country is at risk for some of the worst impacts foretold in report upon report by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Temperatures are rising twice as fast in Singapore as in the rest of the world, and climbing sea levels threaten to flood up to a metre of the island by 2100. “Everything else must bend at the knee to safeguard the existence of our island nation,” the prime minister declared during his National Day Rally speech, comparing the importance of climate defence to that of the Singapore Armed Forces. Among his plans to secure the island, Lee announced that the government would invest at least S$100 billion (US$73.6 billion) over 100 years to build coastal defenses, improve existing infrastructure, and increase research on effects and adaptation.  In a world where many politicians—including the President of the United States—still appear to be in resolute denial of the climate crisis, Lee’s acknowledgement of the issue drew some praise. But others, from local community organisers to scientists in the IPCC, have pointed to the elephant in the room: the emissions that come from industry in Singapore, which account for 60% of the island’s emissions, compared to 6% emissions from households. “It makes no sense to me that we are told to switch off our lights when not in use,” said Ho Xiang Tian of the environmental group LepakInSG, speaking to a crowd dressed in emergency-red at Singapore’s first Climate Rally on 20 September 2019. “But no one has ever told Jurong Island to switch off their lights.”

Stop Building a Spaceship to Mars and Just Plant Some Damn Trees - When it comes to climate change research, most studies bear bad news regarding the looming, very real threat of a warming planet and the resulting devastation that it will bring upon the Earth. But a new study, out Thursday in the journalScience, offers a sliver of hope for the world: A group of researchers based in Switzerland, Italy, and France found that expanding forests, which sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, could seriously make up for humans’ toxic carbon emissions.  In 2018, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s foremost authority on climate, estimated that we’d need to plant 1 billion hectares of forest by 2050 to keep the globe from warming a full 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. (One hectare is about twice the size of a football field.) Not only is that “undoubtedly achievable,” according to the study’s authors, but global tree restoration is “our most effective climate change solution to date.” In fact, there’s space on the planet for an extra 900 million hectares of canopy cover, the researchers found, which translates to storage for a whopping 205 gigatonnes of carbon. To put that in perspective, humans emit about 10 gigatonnes of carbon from burning fossil fuels every year, according to Richard Houghton, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center, who was not involved with the study. And overall, there are now about 850 gigatonnes of carbon in the atmosphere; a tree-planting effort on that scale could, in theory, cut carbon by about 25 percent, according to the authors.  In addition to that, Houghton says, trees are relatively cheap carbon consumers. As he put it, “There are technologies people are working on to take carbon dioxide out of the air. And trees do it—for nothing.”

White House asks Iowa senator for input on biofuels policy: sources - (Reuters) - The White House has asked Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley’s office for input on the administration’s latest proposal to boost the ethanol market in 2020, according to two sources familiar with the matter on Friday, after a flurry of conversations between President Donald Trump and corn-state advocates critical of the plan. The White House request shows the Trump administration may be having second thoughts about the proposal, which the president had hoped would shore up his support in the Farm Belt, a crucial political constituency in his reelection bid, the sources said. The Environmental Protection Agency is already due to miss a Nov. 30 deadline to finalize the proposal, which was drafted after prolonged negotiations. “EPA plans to finalize this rulemaking this winter upon thorough review of public comments,” the agency’s spokesman Michael Abboud told Reuters. At issue is a plan outlined by Trump’s EPA in October that was intended to ensure the administration’s expanded use of waivers freeing refineries from their obligation to blend ethanol into gasoline does not hurt farmers by cutting into U.S. demand for the corn-based fuel. Under the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard, refineries are required to blend 15 billion gallons of ethanol annually, but the EPA can exempt small facilities that demonstrate compliance would hurt them financially. The EPA has roughly quadrupled the number of waivers it has issued since Trump took office.

Ethanol Has Forsaken Us - Each year the EPA dictates the required overall volumes of various biofuels for the following year or two. It then combines those numbers with federal projections of overall fuel consumption to arrive at a percentage amount of ethanol that each gallon of gasoline produced by a refinery must contain. Responding to the government-created demand, ethanol producers swing into action. To create a credit-trading scheme, each new gallon of pure renewable biofuel is assigned a unique renewable identification number. That “RIN” becomes a tradable credit when that gallon of biofuel is blended with enough regular gasoline to meet the RFS. The scheme creates a major conflict between two of America’s most powerful special-interest groups: oil producers and refineries on the one hand, and corn-ethanol producers on the other. With many hundreds of billions of dollars at stake, the result is tectonic political pressures on the government. The fault line, as it were, is the “blend wall”: how much ethanol can be blended into the nation’s fuel supply without corroding automobile engines or violating the EPA’s own emissions standards for ozone and particulate matter. With the nation’s current automobile fleet, that number turns out to be about 10 percent, which is why virtually all the gasoline you put in your car is at least E10. But because the EPA’s percentage-volume obligations are set above the effective blend wall for many refiners, many still “owe” the EPA lots of RINs even after blending all the ethanol they reasonably can into their gasoline. So refineries have little choice but to buy RINs from those who have already blended fuel for themselves or someone else, usually purchasing RINs related to biodiesel instead. That leaves a lot of refiners chasing a small number of excess RINs. The resulting scarcity drives up prices, and produces volatility in both the ethanol and biodiesel markets. The compliance burden falls most heavily on large refiners, but it most immediately threatens the small ones, for whom the law has created a case-by-case hardship exemption. As a result, small refiners put enormous pressure on the White House and the EPA to exempt them from the RFS. And because the EPA tends to grant the small-refinery exemptions in batches (in August of this year it granted 31 of them), the exemptions drive RIN prices down. Angry corn producers then besiege the White House with an army of hired lobbyists and members of Congress, demanding that the EPA allow the sale of higher-percentage ethanol blends and promulgate a higher overall target-volume RFS. As a result of these opposing forces, the government oscillates between helping refineries and helping corn producers, in a pattern that has been almost perfectly continuous since the Obama administration first exercised the refinery exemptions, in 2013.

Company buying Perdue compost plant with goal of using digesters to produce natural gas -   Bioenergy DevCo (BDC), entered a 20-year partnership with Perdue Farms for the supply of organic material from Perdue processing facilities as well as the purchase and management of the Perdue AgriRecycle organic soil composting facility located nearSeaford.The suburban Washington, D.C. company also plans to produce natural gas from poultry waste.Financial terms were not disclosed.“Our commitment to environmental stewardship is stronger than ever. We see this partnership as an opportunity to further expand on the work we’ve done so far,” saidRandy Day, CEO of Perdue Farms. “With Bioenergy, we have found a partner that enables us to be more sustainable, create cost-savings, and help produce renewable energy while continuing to address soil health and nutrient management in the environmentally sensitive Chesapeake Bay watershed.”The AgriRecycle facility is currently permitted to compost 30,000 tons of poultry processing and hatchery byproducts from poultry operations, and poultry litter from poultry farms located on the Delmarva Peninsula. Under the terms of the agreement with Perdue Farms, BDC will purchase the existing composting facility and operate it while working within the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and Sussex County permits process to construct an anaerobic digester at the site. The anaerobic digestion process will transition the poultry processing byproducts to both renewable natural gas and an organic soil amendment while continuing to support the compost facility.

Methane From Pig Poop Could Be Big Business For Hog Farmers  - In a secluded corner of rural eastern North Carolina, at the end of a long and winding farm lane, a pit of stinking hog manure is doing its bit to save the world from climate change. It may be a whiff of things to come. "You're standing in the middle of about 12,000 head" of hogs, says Kraig Westerbeek, an executive at Smithfield Foods, the country's biggest pork producer. The animals live in rows of buildings nearby, eating and excreting. Their manure flows into a big pond, called a lagoon, right in front of us. This is the standard form of treatment for hog waste in this part of the country. In the lagoon, bacteria go to work on the manure, breaking it down. "The bacterial action releases a biogas that's 60% to 65% methane," Westerbeek says. On most farms, that gas just goes floating off into the air — and contributes to the overheating of the planet. Methane is a greenhouse gas with a warming impact at least 25 times greater, per pound, than carbon dioxide. At this lagoon, though, the gas is trapped by a blanket of rugged black plastic that covers the manure pond. The gas lifts the plastic layer and makes it bulge like the floor of a child's bouncy castle. The gas then gets pumped out to processing stations that remove water vapor and carbon dioxide. What's left is almost pure methane, also called natural gas, ready to burn in any gas-fired home furnace or electric power plant. This basic idea — turning manure into energy — is not new. Many dairy farms are doing similar things, often using biogas on-site to power a generator. But Smithfield and the electric and gas utility Dominion Energy have formed a partnership with much bigger plans. They want to expand this to industrial scale.

Eight electric pickup truck manufacturers to load up U.S. market by 2021 - (Reuters) - Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his spacy Cybertruck have ignited a frenzy over electric pickups, and at least seven other U.S. automakers expect to build new battery-powered trucks by 2021. The question is who will buy them. Companies ranging from General Motors Co (GM.N) to startup Lordstown Motors Corp have said they plan to introduce electric pickups over the next two years, and are scheduled to build up to 250,000 a year by 2024, according to industry analysts. Sales of those battery trucks, however, may not exceed 70,000 a year, even when many of the plants hit full production, according to AutoForecast Solutions analyst Sam Fiorani. If demand falls that far short of production targets, “there are going to be a lot of auto execs crying in their beer,” predicts IHS Markit analyst Joe Langley. Musk indicated on Twitter that Tesla has received 200,000 reservations, requiring $100 deposits, within 72 hours after unveiling its Cybertruck, and plans to build up to 50,000 a year. The wedge-shaped pickup is expected to go into production in late 2021, and to start selling for a price of just under $40,000. The total U.S. market for conventional pickups powered by internal combustion engines is just over 3 million. Many of the EV pickups are being touted by newcomers, including Bollinger Motors and Hercules Electric Vehicles, both based in the Detroit area, and Atlis Motor Vehicles, in Mesa, Arizona. Projected prices range from $45,000 to $125,000. Lordstown Motors has a licensing deal with Ohio-based Workhorse to build an electric pickup called Endurance at GM’s former assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio. Lordstown executives have said they plan to start production in late 2020, with prices starting at $52,500. Perhaps the most important new electric pickup is the R1T from well-funded newcomer Rivian, the Michigan startup that includes Ford Motor Co (F.N) and Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) among its investors.

Are electric vehicles really so climate friendly? Germany’s automobile industry is its most important industrial sector. But it is in crisis, and not only because it is experiencing the effects of a recession brought on by Volkswagen’s cheating on emissions standards, which sent consumers elsewhere. The sector is also facing the existential threat of exceedingly strict European Union emissions requirements, which are only seemingly grounded in environmental policy.The EU clearly overstepped the mark with the carbon dioxide regulation that went into effect on 17 April 2019. From 2030 onwards, European carmakers must have achieved average vehicle emissions of just 59 grams of CO2 per km, which corresponds to fuel consumption of 2.2 litres of diesel equivalent per 100 km (107 miles per gallon). This simply will not be possible.As late as 2006, average emissions for new passenger vehicles registered in the EU were around 161 g/km. As cars became smaller and lighter, that figure fell to 118 g/km in 2016. But this average crept back up, owing to an increase in the market share of gasoline engines, which emit more CO2 than diesel engines do. By 2018, the average emissions of newly registered cars had once again climbed to slightly above 120 g/km, which is twice what will be permitted in the long term.  Even the most gifted engineers will not be able to build internal combustion engines (ICEs) that meet the EU’s prescribed standards (unless they force their customers into soapbox cars). But, apparently, that is precisely the point. The EU wants to reduce fleet emissions by forcing a shift to electric vehicles. After all, in its legally binding formula for calculating fleet emissions, it simply assumes EVs do not emit any CO2 whatsoever. The implication is that if an auto company’s production is split evenly between electric vehicles and ICE vehicles that conform to the present average, the 59 g/km target will be just within reach. But the EU’s formula is nothing but a huge scam. Electric vehicles also emit substantial amounts of CO2, the only difference being that the exhaust is released at a remove – that is, at the power plant. As long as coal- or gas-fired power plants are needed to ensure energy supply during the “dark doldrums” when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining, EVs, like ICE vehicles, run partly on hydrocarbons. And even when they are charged with solar- or wind-generated energy, enormous amounts of fossil fuels are used to produce EV batteries in China and elsewhere, offsetting the supposed emissions reduction. As such, the EU’s intervention is not much better than a cutoff device for an emissions control system.

Are electric vehicles more damaging than diesel? - We admire German economist Hans-Werner Sinn for taking it upon himself to warn us that driving an electric vehicle is a halfhearted fix to global warming. From The Guardian’s comment pages:   Electric vehicles also emit substantial amounts of CO2, the only difference being that the exhaust is released at a remove — that is, at the power plant. As long as coal- or gas-fired power plants are needed to ensure energy supply during the “dark doldrums” when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining, EVs, like ICE vehicles, run partly on hydrocarbons. And even when they are charged with solar- or wind-generated energy, enormous amounts of fossil fuels are used to produce EV batteries in China and elsewhere, offsetting the supposed emissions reduction.  All too true. We don’t like the greenwashing and virtue-signalling surrounding the switch from cars designed around the internal combustion engine to battery-powered ones. Sinn, though, is overstating the case to argue “EVs produce more CO2 than diesel”.  Take the article’s following claim:Data published by VW confirmed that its e-Rabbit [or e-Golf, as it is more commonly known] vehicle emits slightly more CO2 than its Rabbit Diesel within the German energy mix.Before we delve into the ins and outs of this, we want to touch on a point raised by the FT’s German industry correspondent Joe Miller, who flagged that — even if Sinn’s point on CO2 emissions is correct — it discards the fact that electric vehicles are not spewing nitrogen oxides on to our roads, contributing substantially to rising numbers of people experiencing breathing difficulties in major towns and cities. It turns out, however, that the point on CO2 emission is also misleading at best. How so? Well the claim, based on the chart below, is not an out-and-out lie:   But plenty of phoney assumptions are at play here.  For starters, it’s odd to focus on the ‘German mix’ when the article is an attack on EU policy to reduce emissions. Germany is abnormally reliant on coal: it far exceeds the EU average in terms of CO2 emissions related to energy use as a result. But its carmakers sell vehicles across the region. And when we look at the CO2 emitted by the e-Golf under a standard EU energy mix, using less coal, then it is less environmentally damaging than its diesel equivalent.

China’s Rare-Earth Boost Threatens U.S., Australia Growth Plans - Surging rare-earth production in China is presenting a new challenge to budding efforts in the U.S. and elsewhere to undercut the Asian giant’s dominance in a market for exotic materials used in everything from smartphones to fighter jets. China said this month it’s raising its annual mining quota for rare-earths to 132,000 tons, 10% above last year’s record high. It’s a move likely to weigh on global prices, dealing a blow to rivals including the U.S. and Australia, countries that agreed just last week to jointly accelerate new projects in a push to diversify the supply chain. The Asian nation generates about 70% of mined rare earths and controls 90% of a $4 billion global market for materials used in magnets and motors that power phones, wind turbines, electric vehicles and military hardware. With the U.S. and China locked in trade talks, there were fears China may restrict access to the materials. Instead, it is bulking up, potentially pushing companies elsewhere “into a tight cash situation” just as they seek to invest in new projects, said Ryan Castilloux, managing director at critical metals consultancy Adamas Intelligence. In the U.S., that puts a target squarely on MP Materials, which runs America’s lone operating rare-earth mine, Mountain Pass in California. The site, which sits less than an hour’s drive from the gambling dens of Las Vegas, resumed sales last year after being mothballed in 2015. This year, the company expects to double its output to more than 30,000 tons, or about 15% of the global total, according to a person familiar with the operation who asked not to be named because the information is proprietary. Now that production is sent to China to be processed. By the end of next year, though, that could change, The company is working to open its own processing center by then that should be able to handle all of the mine’s production.

The U.K. Is Super-Sizing Its Wind Farms - One of the U.K.’s biggest wind farm developers will combine three offshore wind projects into one massive development, making it more likely the venture will move ahead. Iberdrola SA’s Scottish Power Renewables’s decision means it will consider all the work on a facility with 3.1 gigawatts of capacity as a single project. The East Anglia wind farms would be sited off the eastern coast of England and cost billions of dollars to develop. Currently, each of the projects was considered on its own merits. By linking them together in terms of planning, Scottish Power Renewables will be able to drive tougher bargains with suppliers, turbine makers and financial backers that would lend money to support the work. “You have to keep striving to achieve economies of scale,” Jonathan Cole, Iberdrola´s managing director for global offshore wind, said in an interview ahead of an appearance at a conference in Copenhagen this week. “The best way to do that is with super-size projects.” It’s the latest example of extra-large wind farms leading the way in the country. Such projects are set to play a major role in the energy transition as the U.K. strives to meet its target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Turbine suppliers, given the confidence of a major order, could roll out bigger models to suit super-sized wind farms, Cole said. That could mean turbines as large as 17 megawatts, Cole said, larger than the biggest model on the market, GE Electric Co.’s 12-megawatt Haliade-X. Iberdrola lost out on a government auction to sell power from one of the sections of the project earlier this year. The winners in that auction, SSE Plc and Equinor ASA, succeeded with a bid for record-low prices on what’s set to be the biggest wind farm in the world.

IEEFA update: Renewable generation in U.S. is set to surpass coal in 2021 - Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis- It now seems likely that annual renewable energy generation in 2021 will surpass coal-fired output in the U.S. for the first time. Recent trends for coal, which has been rapidly declining, and for renewables, which have been rapidly growing, indicate that by 2021 power-generation totals for both will run at least neck-and-neck, and the odds favor renewables. The balance, it turns out however, will be affected by unpredictable factors, such as weather and changes in public policy, but coal and renewables are rapidly headed in opposite directions in terms of market share. If the crossover point doesn’t occur in 2021, it will without a doubt do so by 2022. Two of the largest coal-fired power plants in the U.S.—the three-unit, 2,250-megawatt (MW) Navajo Generating Station in northeast Arizona and the three-unit, 2,490MW Bruce Mansfield Station in western Pennsylvania—closed this month, the latest behemoths to fall in the rapid reconfiguring of the U.S. electric power generation sector. As a result of these closures and others (IEEFA sees a total of at least 24,000MW of coal-fired capacity closing from 2019 through 2021), the Energy Information Administration (EIA) is projecting that coal’s share of the electric generation market will drop to 25 percent this year (from 28 percent in 2018) and will continue falling in 2020, to just under 22 percent. Also, according to the EIA, coal-fired electricity generation will fall to 993 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2019, sinking below 1,000 billion kWh for the first time in 40 years (see the coal generation graphic below). This estimate, drawn from the EIA’s November 2019 Short-Term Energy Outlook, is a 12.7 percent drop from a year ago, and the agency projects an even steeper decline of 13.4 percent in 2020, pushing down coal’s output for the year to 860 billion kWh. IEEFA sees the trend continuing through 2021 and beyond; the only question is how quickly it will happen. If the sector’s output drops by an additional 13 percent in 2021, annual generation would fall to approximately 748 billion kWh. Even if a more conservative rate is projected—the 7 percent annual decline posted since 2015, for example—coal-fired generation would still fall to 800 billion kWh in 2021.

 US on its Way to Energy Independence - In just a few months, the U.S. will be fully energy independent and by 2030, the country’s total primary energy production will outpace primary energy demand by 30 percent, according to a forecast by Norwegian energy research firm Rystad Energy. “This milestone follows a strong period of growth in both hydrocarbon and renewable resources, and we forecast that the U.S. will have primary energy surplus – and not a deficit – by February or March 2020, depending on the intensity of the winter season,” said Sindre Knutsson, vice president on Rystad Energy’s gas markets team. Rystad Energy expects the Energy Information Agency’s (EIA) next monthly release to show that the U.S. has been self-sufficient in primary energy for a full 12-month period, from October 2018 through September 2019. Knutsson said this will be the first time this has occurred since May 1982. The U.S. had a petroleum deficit of $62 billion in 2018 – equivalent to 10 percent of the country’s overall trade deficit of $621 billion, including goods and services. “These changes in the U.S. energy balance could turn [that deficit] to a surplus of $340 billion by 2030,” said Knutsson. “That adds up to a $400 billion shift, in the space of only a dozen years, thanks primarily to the gargantuan rise of output from the US shale sector.” Rystad Energy believes total primary energy production will grow from 95 quadrillion Btu in 2018 to 138 quadrillion Btu in 2030, with crude oil and natural gas production driving that growth at 75 percent and 38 percent, respectively. Production in the Permian, Bakken and Eagle Ford shale plays will drive crude output growth while supply increases in the Marcellus, Haynesville and Utica basins will drive natural gas production growth.

Do Preventative Blackouts Put California's Renewable Generators at Risk? - Pacific Gas & Electric’s bankruptcy has already threatened the credit ratings of some of the solar and wind farms, cogeneration plants and other independent power generators that rely on the utility to buy their electricity through power-purchase agreements.   Now these generators may face a new threat from PG&E’s massive public safety power shutoff (PSPS) events, meant to prevent its power grid from starting another fire like the 2017 and 2018 blazes that drove it into bankruptcy.   This year’s fire-prevention outages have introduced a “new form of curtailment risk for the state’s independent power producers," according to a recent report from credit ratings firm S&P Global. The concern stems from the possibility that PG&E will effectively shut down projects during PSPS events, and then not pay the developer for the lost production.   The report focused on PG&E, which was far more aggressive than the state’s two other investor-owned utilities with its fire-prevention blackouts in October and November, leaving millions of people without power for hours or days at a time.  In terms of their impact on power-purchase agreements, S&P forecasts only a “modest” financial and credit risk, at least in the near term. Out of the eight California PPA projects rated by S&P, most will face “minimal” risk of losing revenue to PSPS curtailments. That’s either because they’re located in deserts or other low-fire-risk areas, such as some of its solar farm PPA projects, or because their revenue structures rely more on capacity payments than on energy market revenues, such as the two natural-gas-fired power plants it rates.   Still, other projects covered by S&P are well within the state’s high-fire-risk regions and have already been forced to curtail during this autumn’s fire season, the report notes. For example, a geothermal power plant in Geyserville, Calif. was forced to shut down by last month’s Kincade fire. And the Crockett Cogeneration plant was offline during an October PSPS that blacked out the town of Crockett, Calif. shortly before a growing fire forced its temporary evacuation.

 Arizona tribes oppose plan to dam Colorado River tributary — Native American tribes, environmentalists, state and federal agencies, river rafters and others say they have significant concerns about proposals to dam a Colorado River tributary in northern Arizona for hydropower. Phoenix-based Pumped Hydro Storage company is seeking preliminary permits from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to study sites on the Navajo Nation, east of Grand Canyon National Park. The company’s manager, Steve Irwin, has touted the potential economic benefits of damming the Little Colorado River in four locations, including paved roads, tourism and jobs. The Navajo Nation owns the land, and the projects won’t move forward without the tribe’s OK. The tribe wrote in comments posted online Monday that the dams could negatively impact its land, water, wildlife and cultural resources. Cameron, the Navajo community closest to the proposed projects, already has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to deny the permits. The Hopi, Hualapai and Havasupai tribes also said they are concerned about possible impacts to sacred and historical sites and want to ensure the federal government keeps them in the loop on the proposals. “A project such as this would forever disturb a traditional cultural landscape that maintains historic and sacred value and that is part of the cultural identity of the Hualapai people and other neighboring tribes,” The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has no hard deadline to act on the request for the preliminary permits. Construction would not start on the dams for at least a decade if they ultimately are licensed. The projects would create power by moving water between upper and lower reservoirs, known as pumped storage. Such projects are seeing renewed interest as a way to supplement the electric grid.

Native American Tribes Oppose Colorado River Project on Navajo Land -A proposal to dam four parts of a Colorado River tributary for hydropower has drawn significant opposition from Native American tribes, environmentalists and regulatory agencies, according to the AP. Opponents of the project claim that the four dams would severely alter water flows in the main Colorado River in parts that run through Grand Canyon National Park and it would affect the fishery there, according to a press release from the advocacy group National Parks Traveler. Phoenix-based Pumped Hydro Storage asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for preliminary permits to study the feasibility of damming the Little Colorado River, just east of Grand Canyon National Park. All four dams are squarely within the Navajo Nation's land. The company's manager, Steve Irwin, said the projects offer economic benefits to the area, including paved roads, tourism and jobs, as the AP reported. However, the project cannot move forward without the Navajo Nation's approval, which seems reluctant to greenlight the project. The Navajo Nation said the dams could negatively impact its land, water, wildlife and cultural resources, as the AP reported. The Hopi, Hualapai and Havasupai tribes echoed concerns about the project's impact. The Hopi people make pilgrimages and deliver offerings to the Grand Canyon area to reinforce their connection with the land. Besides the affront to sacred Native American land and water, environmental groups see a devastating impact from Pumped Hydro Storage's proposal. Save the Colorado, the Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club and others filed a motion last week that asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reject the permit application, according to NPR-affiliate KNAU.The environmental groups claim that the dams will decimate the primary spawning grounds of the endangered humpback chub. The Interior Department contributed to the public comments period, saying that building the proposed dams and reservoirs could destroy two-thirds of the humpback chub's habitat, as the AP reported.The environmental activists also say that damming the Little Colorado River would destroy the turquoise waters that flow near where the tributary meets the Colorado River. "It's hard to imagine a worse possible place to build new dams and reservoirs than what we've seen proposed in these projects. These new dams and reservoirs would be located about a half-mile outside Grand Canyon National Park," said Michael Hiatt, an attorney with Earthjustice, which is representing the groups, as KNAUreported.

 Fearing for its future, a big utility pushes ‘renewable gas,’ urges cities to reject electrification -  In the small town of Duarte, California, early this year, the state's largest natural gas utility made what has become its standard pitch to city councils: If you care about climate change, stick with gas—because it, too, can be a renewable source of power.Robert Cruz of the Southern California Gas Company urged the City Council to pass a resolution opposing any state regulation mandating "electrification" in buildings.No such state rule has been proposed, but several cities have passed partial bans ongas-burning appliances in buildings, the company's core market. And state legislators have introduced zero-emission building policies that SoCalGas is worried might lead to this same prohibition all over California as the state works toward its zero-emissions goal.Fearing an existential threat may be on the horizon as California races toward a future without fossil fuels, SoCalGas has been exerting its financial and political muscle on multiple fronts, including in at least 40 local governments and inside one of the nation's leading universities, to promote biogas—which the industry markets as "renewable gas"—as a better solution than renewable electricity."Natural gas doesn't have to come from the ground," Cruz told Duarte's city's leaders when he addressed them in February. "Just like electricity, it can be generated from renewable sources." Biogas is methane that can be captured from landfills, wastewater treatment plants, wasted food and cow manure and then transported and used as fuel, just like conventional natural gas.It is theoretically "zero emissions"—better for the climate than regular fossil fuel gas—because it prevents methane from going into the atmosphere, offsetting the carbon dioxide it emits when burned. But it is expensive, the gas pipelines that transport it are prone to leaking methane, and even the most optimistic projections say its potential availability is limited.

Positioning for a low-carbon future, utilities rely on gas, coal in near term - Executives from some of the largest U.S. electric utilities and power providers said they will continue to rely on fossil fuels, including coal, well into the next decade as they position themselves for a low-carbon future. "There's no question that at certain times of the year, the fossil generation fleet is what carries the day," American Electric Power Co. Inc. Chairman, President and CEO Nicholas Akins said in a Nov. 11 interview at the Edison Electric Institute Financial Conference in Orlando, Fla. "If the wind's not blowing, there's the need for these types of resources. They will be there as more of an insurance policy." The decision to run fossil fuel units beyond 2030 comes amid mounting pressure from customers and shareholders to embrace cleaner energy and improve transparency around investment decisions. "We've significantly invested in our facilities to make them environmentally compliant and we've materially reduced our overall emissions," PPL Corp. Chairman and CEO William Spence said at EEI in reference to the continued operation of the company's Kentucky coal plants. "We continue to assess new ways that we can advance a cleaner energy future in the state. In the near term ... the marginal cost of energy from coal is quite low. We're not expecting wind or solar to be economic and to replace those assets really until maybe the early 2030s." Utilities have also championed an integral role for natural gas and coal to ensure the reliability and resilience of the grid. "I tend to think that folks out there who view natural gas as a bridge fuel and people who articulate that have a tough case to make," John Bartlett, portfolio manager and electric utility analyst at Reaves Asset Management, said in a Nov. 12 interview. "I don't view natural gas as a bridge fuel. I think natural gas is going to be with us for a long time."

PJM, NYISO and ISO-NE pay $1.4B annually for excess capacity: Report - PJM Interconnection, New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) and ISO-New England (ISO-NE) retain more control over resource adequacy than the states in their service areas, leading to higher reserve margins and higher capacity market prices, which favor incumbent assets, according to a paper published by Grid Strategies on Thursday.. The report, commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council's Sustainable FERC Project, estimated approximately $1.4 billion per year in total is wasted by the Northeast regional transmission operators and independent system operators by securing a combined 34.7 GW of excess capacity. The analysis criticizes the use of a minimum offer price rule (MOPR) by the regions to "cause consumers to pay for redundant capacity." MOPR costs for consumers across PJM, New York and New England are projected to add up to $45 billion over the next decade. The report released cost estimates for redundant capacity procurement, as grid operators in the Northeast continue to increase reserve margins. However, PJM disputes the over-procurement of capacity in its market. "PJM believes that capacity markets have worked well to ensure reliability at a reasonable cost to consumers," spokesperson Jason McGovern told Utility Dive via email in response to the report. "We also understand that markets are going to continue to need to evolve given the changing policy landscape and the clear indication in some areas that reliability at least cost is no longer the only objective." PJM's reserve margins expanded from below 20% in 2008-2009 to over 35% in 2019-2020, as capacity markets became mandatory markets, according to the study. According to a 2017 PJM reserve requirement study, reserve margins in excess of 20% "provide rapidly diminishing marginal returns," the report added. But it's inaccurate to argue that more reserve capacity will ensure resilience, Rob Gramlich, founder and president of Grid Strategies, told Utility Dive. "Raw capacity is not necessarily helpful to get the dynamic flexible resources we need."

ELECTRICITY: U.S. grid reliability threatened by warming rivers — study -- An inevitable rise in river temperatures from global warming will force increasing numbers of coal, nuclear and natural gas generation plants to curtail operations, adding up to $143 billion in additional grid infrastructure investment that could be needed by 2050, according to a new study by university and national laboratory researchers.

Vermont Doubles Down on Wood Burning, with Consequences for Climate and Health -—  Vermonters have been heating their homes with wood for centuries. Many still do. The Green Mountain State leads the nation in its reliance on wood, with about a quarter of households using it as their primary heating fuel.In a state where winters are cold, forests abundant and people celebrate self-reliance, wood has also made its way into the Vermont's latest renewable energy planning, billed as a way to cut climate-warming pollution. But is it a clean energy solution?  "With the capabilities to burn wood that we have now, with sophisticated equipment, it's our local homegrown renewable energy source," argues Emma Hanson, the wood energy coordinator at the state Department of Forestry, Parks and Recreation, a position created in 2017 to advocate for wood burning.  Wood burning means tradeoffs, though—for air quality, public health and the climate. Wood smoke contains a diverse mix of pollutants that can harm people's health: carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds such as benzene and formaldehyde, and copious amounts of sooty fine particles called black carbon that can penetrate deep into the lungs and cross into the bloodstream. Vermonters already produce about 22 pounds of particulate matter emissions per capita from wood burning each year, by far the highest in the nation. And then there's the climate problem. Living trees absorb planet-warming carbon dioxide and store it, but once trees are cut down and burned, that carbon is released. While advocates of wood burning argue that sustainably harvested wood is "carbon neutral," recent research suggests that many of the climate benefits of burning biomass instead of fuel oil or propane are cancelled out by other climate-warming pollutants, including black carbon and methane, both many times more potent than carbon dioxide.Despite those concerns, when the state updated its Comprehensive Energy Plan (CEP) in 2016, laying out detailed steps for reaching the state's goal of getting 90 percent of its total energy needs from renewable energy by 2050, wood burning was part of the plan.The plan calls for increasing the share of Vermont's total building heating demand met with wood heating from 21 percent in 2016 to 35 percent by 2030. This would effectively double the number of households relying on wood.

Trump's EPA is checking off an anti-environment wish list. Here's who will suffer. - Earlier this month, President Donald Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency relaxed rules meant to keep dangerous heavy metals out of water supplies across the country. Arsenic, lead and mercury — toxins known to contaminate drinking water and cause cancer, birth defects and stunted brain development in kids — are among the toxins that leach out of coal ash. Until now, the coal plants responsible for that coal ash were required to monitor such toxins and install devices to keep it out of water supplies. But Trump’s administration thinks regulating such toxins is unnecessary. Despite ample scientific evidence showing that it will increase health and safety risks, the Trump administration just gave the coal industry permission to dump toxic metals into our water supplies. For Americans who value the environment, public land protections and science, the past couple of years have been difficult to take, to say the least. This is no accident, of course, because those values stand in the way of industry profit, and the Trump administration has made no secret of its desire to boost industry profits at the expense of American well-being. It’s hard to believe that the executive branch would act against the needs and values of everyday Americans and intentionally reduce penalties for those who seek to pollute our air and water. And yet, this is exactly what the current administration is doing. In fact, there has been no effort to hide the anti-environment wish listsbehind recent executive actions. To the contrary, federal agencies seem to be competing with one another to be the biggest boosters of big industry. At the Interior Department, where I worked before being reassigned in retaliation for blowing the whistle on climate change denial, the incoming political team published a request for inputon their regulatory reform agenda and immediately received a long and detailed wish list from the American Petroleum Institute (API), an oil and gas lobbying organization. Other industry interests, such as the National Mining Association and ConocoPhillips, followed suit. This summer, a public lands advocacy organization called theCenter for Western Priorities checked in on how Interior was doing fulfilling those wish lists, and the results were damning. The center looked at 53 industry requests and found that the agency had already met 36 of them and had another dozen in the pipeline. Of those 53 requests, only five had not yet been addressed in some way. The EPA, not to be outdone, satisfied six of the eight demands that it had received from the American Petroleum Institute in less than a year.

AC plans hearing on proposed landfill -  — Anderson County Commission will be holding a hearing in February about a proposed new TVA landfill. TVA has proposed the landfill for the Claxton area, just outside of Oak Ridge. The hearing will be at 4 p.m. Feb. 18. Commission voted unanimously at its meeting Monday night to hold the hearing at the recommendation of County Law Director Jay Yeager. Under the Jackson Law, local governments can block a company from building a landfill within their jurisdiction. According to Scott Brooks with Tennessee Valley Authority’s Public Relations, TVA has already acquired land for the landfill and demolished the houses on that land. In comments to The Oak Ridger, Brooks confirmed that TVA is not certain if it will use the land for the landfill. However, he said the utility has still been pursuing permits related to it. Brooks has talked about the landfill as possibly holding coal combustion residuals, the byproducts of burning coal such as fly ash. As Yeager explained, the Jackson Law could allow the county to prevent the landfill’s construction if it contains materials from outside of the county. He said TVA did not answer the question of whether it would include materials from out of county, which County Commission asked in an earlier resolution. However, Brooks has recently told reporters, “We do not or will not import coal ash from any other location except Bull Run (Fossil Plant).”

Facing backlash, Dominion says it’s willing to have coal plant removed from green energy package -  Amid complaints from businesses and environmental groups, Virginia’s largest utility said it would be willing to let regulators remove a Southwest Virginia power plant that relies almost entirely on coal from a renewable energy portfolio it is aiming to sell to environmentally conscious consumers. The Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center “is in fact one of the cleanest-burning coal plants in the country,” Dominion Energy lawyer Joseph Reid contended early in State Corporation Commission hearings on the proposal Thursday. “But we hear the concerns, the company hears the concerns of interveners that having a co-fired fossil fuel plant in the portfolio could conceivably diminish customer interest.” Dominion formally noted its willingness to let regulators exclude the plant from the portfolio, which is being packaged as a “100 percent renewable energy” offering, in SCC rebuttal testimony filed Nov. 12. Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center, located in Wise County, produces energy using a mix of biomass and coal. Currently coal represents 93 percent of all fuel used by the facility and at a minimum will power 80 percent of its production. An amendment to Virginia law passed in 2009 allows the “proportion of … energy from a facility that results from the co-firing of biomass” to be legally classified as renewable energy. But while opponents of Dominion’s green energy plan — formally known as a renewable energy tariff and named Rider Total Renewable Generation, or TRG for short — expressed satisfaction about the potential removal of Virginia City from the proposal, they remained unconvinced about its overall value. Among their complaints: the tariff would not result in the addition of new renewable resources to Virginia’s fleet, does not meet the environmental sustainability standards many large corporations have set and makes customers pay a premium for energy that is currently less expensive than that generated by traditional fuels.

Santee Cooper opposes Dominion’s effort to delay trial - Santee Cooper opposes yesterday’s tactic by Dominion Energy to remove the Cook case from state to federal court. “Dominion’s action is an attempt to delay a court-ordered February trial of customers' claims about the V.C. Summer nuclear project,” said Santee Cooper general counsel Mike Baxley. At 8:39 p.m. yesterday, Dominion filed notice moving Jessica S. Cook et al. v. South Carolina Public Service Authority et al. from the Greenville County Circuit Court, before the Honorable Jean H. Toal, to the U.S. District Court in Greenville. The filing asserts that out-of-state residency by some electric cooperative customers — a very small part of the overall class of plaintiffs — provides a basis for federal court jurisdiction. Santee Cooper officials said that Dominion’s action is a frivolous maneuver. Santee Cooper will seek all available relief and remedies following from this action and its consequences, according to a press release provided on Friday. “Dominion’s weak legal maneuver follows a series of unfavorable rulings in the South Carolina Court, including orders this week commanding Dominion to cease inappropriate efforts to extract legal costs from Santee Cooper,” said Baxley. “This attempt to leave town under cover of darkness likely also reflects concern that during related depositions, according to media reports, former SCANA executives refused to answer questions, asserting rights under the Fifth Amendment.” Dominion also attempted to delay court proceedings this week by filing an arbitration case against Santee Cooper, which was stayed by the Court and subsequently withdrawn.

Coal analysts say bankruptcy filing is ‘increasingly likely’ for Illinois Basin’s Foresight Energy - Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis -- One of the few major U.S. coal companies to dodge the bankruptcy court may soon need to file for Chapter 11 restructuring if the current market and economic forces working against the coal industry persist, according to recent securities filings. Over the past few weeks, Foresight Energy LP exercised an option to delay a $24.4 million interest payment and negotiated the right to skip a publicly accessible quarterly call to discuss its third-quarter finances. As management of the Illinois Basin coal miner management works to restructure its balance sheet, the New York Stock Exchange delisted its stock and Foresight affiliate Murray Energy Corp. filed for a bankruptcy reorganization. “With a significant debt load and a near-term pricing recovery increasingly unlikely, a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing appears increasingly likely,” B. Riley FBR analyst Lucas Pipes wrote in a Nov. 14 note. While some coal companies struggled to sell assets even through bankruptcy auctions, Pipes noted that Foresight still owns some attractive mining assets, with its longwall mines capable of producing coal at a lower cost than its peers. However, the company has about $1.25 billion in gross debt on its balance sheet. “The partnership continues to engage in discussions with its creditor constituencies and is exploring potential restructuring alternatives,” Foresight wrote in a Nov. 12 securities filing. “As a result of these discussions and potential restructuring efforts, it may be necessary for us to file a voluntary petition for relief under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code in order to implement a restructuring, or our creditors, under certain circumstances, could force us into an involuntary bankruptcy or liquidation.”

OFF TOPIC: Sierra Club's coal warrior talks natural gas, Sen. Manchin -- If politicians are looking to blame someone other than former President Obama for the so-called "war on coal," they might consider Mary Anne Hitt.   As director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, Hitt has worked tirelessly to force the retirement of coal-fired power plants around the country. Despite President Trump's promise to revive the struggling fossil fuel industry, her work seems to be paying off. Since Trump took office, nearly 300 coal plants have been earmarked for retirement.   Still, Hitt is quick to acknowledge the Sierra Club can't take all the credit. The plant closures have been spurred along by grassroots advocates as well as market forces, such as the influx of inexpensive natural gas and renewables."It's now cheaper to build new clean energy than to run an existing coal plant in most parts of the country," Hitt said in a recent interview. "And those economics are not going to turn back in coal's favor."Hitt grew up in eastern Tennessee, where she saw firsthand how air pollution from coal plants tainted the air in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.After graduating from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, she obtained a master's degree in environmental studies from the University of Montana and served for six years as executive director of the group Appalachian Voices. The 45-year-old recently spoke on the phone with E&E News from Shepherdstown, W.Va., where she lives with her husband, 9-year-old daughter and puppy. She addressed the "irreversible decline" of the coal industry, the environmental bona fides of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and criticism that the Beyond Coal campaign has unwittingly boosted natural gas. (interview)

South Korea to Shut Down a Quarter of Its Coal-Fired Plants to Reduce Air Pollution - South Korea will close up to a quarter of its coal-fired plants for the winter months to tamp down on air pollution that the country declared a "social disaster" after several cities experienced record high levels of air pollution last winter, as CNN reported. The shutdown is noteworthy for its timing, since South Korea's demand for electricity peaks during the winter months. However, the energy ministry said yesterday that the plants that remain open are able to supply sufficient electricity, according to Reuters.South Korea's energy ministry said shuttering the coal plants for the winter months would reduce fine dust emissions by 44 percent over the next three months compared to the same period one year ago, as The Guardian reported.After the winter, the country plans to suspend more coal plants, possibly bringing the total up to 27 of the country's nearly 60 plants by the end of March. The shutdowns come at the behest of a presidential committee that recommended a deliberate and systematic move away from coal to step up the country's anti-pollution efforts, according to Reuters.Coal supplies about 40 percent of South Korea's electricity, but there has been a public backlash to the greenhouse gases emitted by coal-fired plants, and public sentiment has shifted to demand cleaner air. Two of the plants that will be closed are older ones that emit more pollution than the others, according to a government official, as Reuters reported.Otherwise, about 30 percent of South Korea's power comes from nuclear generators, and most of the other 20 percent from natural gas. As coal goes down over the winter months, South Korea expects to use more liquid natural gas, according to Reuters. South Korea has been slow to move to clean energy. In March, the International International Energy Agencytold CNN that only 2 percent of the country's energy sector was supplied by renewable sources. The government promised to boost renewables to 20 percent by 2030, according to CNN.

Global use of coal-fired electricity set for biggest fall this year - The world’s use of coal-fired electricity is on track for its biggest annual fall on record this year after more than four decades of near-uninterrupted growth that has stoked the global climate crisis. Data shows that coal-fired electricity is expected to fall by 3% in 2019, or more than the combined coal generation in Germany, Spain and the UK last year and could help stall the world’s rising carbon emissions this year. The steepest global slump on record is likely to emerge in 2019 as India’s reliance on coal power falls for the first time in at least three decades this year, and China’s coal power demand plateaus. Both developing nations are using less coal-fired electricity due to slowing economic growth in Asia as well as the rise of cleaner energy alternatives. There is also expected to be unprecedented coal declines across the EU and the US as developed economies turn to clean forms of energy. In almost 40 years the world’s annual coal generation has fallen only twice before: in 2009, in the wake of the global financial crisis, and in 2015, following a slowdown in China’s coal plants amid rising levels of deadly air pollution. The researchers found that China’s coal-fired power generation was flatlining, despite an increase in the number of coal plants being built, because they were running at record low rates. China builds the equivalent of one large new coal plant every two weeks, according to the report, but its coal plants run for only 48.6% of the time, compared with a global utilisation rate of 54% on average. The findings come after a report from Global Energy Monitor found that the number of coal-fired power plants in the world is growing, because China is building new coal plants five times faster than the rest of the world is reducing their coal-fired power capacity. The report found that in other countries coal-fired power capacity fell by 8GW in the 18 months to June but over the same period China increased its capacity by 42.9GW. In a paper for the industry journal Carbon Brief, the researchers said: “A 3% reduction in power sector coal use could imply zero growth in global CO2 output, if emissions changes in other sectors mirror those during 2018.”

Georgia Power's Vogtle nuclear project risks more delays, report finds - Georgia Power’s nuclear expansion of Plant Vogtle is falling further behind schedule, according to a filing Friday by Georgia Public Service Commission staff and consultants.   Unless performance improves considerably, the latest deadlines for commercial operation of two new reactors by November 2021 and November 2022 are “significantly challenged,” according to the filing. It also flagged safety risks for workers. The project is already years behind its original schedule and billions of dollars over budget. More delays could add costs. And if the price tag rises, electric consumers in much of Georgia could be at risk of increases in their monthly bills. Ultimately, elected members of the PSC will decide how much of the costs get passed along to Georgia Power customers. Many electric membership corporations and city utilities in Georgia are also connected to the project and will have to make decisions about how to recoup costs.Tom Fanning, the chief executive officer of Georgia Power parent Southern Company, told analysts in late October that the company remains focused on the currently approved deadlines. He said there was no change in the  total estimated cost to complete the project.On Saturday, a Georgia Power spokesman wrote in an email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that, “Georgia Power continues to expect that we will achieve the in-service dates of November 2021 and November 2022 for Vogtle units 3 and 4, respectively.”PSC staff and consultants said in the new filing that they have difficulty estimating when the new reactors will be fully in use because a schedule Georgia Power submitted only a few months ago was not reasonable and is “no longer relevant to the project.”The project is already “significantly behind the schedule” that was just set in April, staff wrote.

Georgia Power's Vogtle nuclear project takes another hit from NRC --The former top executive over Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle construction engaged in “deliberate misconduct” when he ousted a contract employee in part for raising safety concerns, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Mark Rauckhorst, executive vice president for the Vogtle project, retired from Georgia Power sister company Southern Nuclear Operating Company in 2018, according to a company spokesman. The dismissal of the contract worker occurred in late 2015. This marks the second instance where the NRC has faulted a Vogtle senior executive for dismissing a worker who had in previous years raised safety issues on the project, which is years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget.The two new reactors south of Augusta are now slated to go into commercial operation by November of 2021 and 2022. But in a filing on Friday, staff and consultants for the Georgia Public Service Commission expressed doubts about whether those dates can be met.The NRC on Thursday made public an official notice of violation against Rauckhorst and a settlement agreement with Southern Nuclear, which is helping to manage the project owned by Georgia Power and affiliates of other Georgia energy providers.The federal agency said it “has placed a high value on nuclear industry employees being free to raise regulatory and safety concerns to the li censee or the NRC without fear of retaliation.”

Georgia Power still confident in Vogtle schedule, despite PSC staff evaluation  — Georgia regulatory staffers said Friday that Georgia Power's two-unit Vogtle nuclear power expansion is falling further behind schedule and likely over budget, but Georgia Power on Monday reiterated its confidence in meeting the completion schedule and announced it has started "major testing" at the facilities. In a Georgia Public Service Commission filing, Don Grace, vice president of engineering for the Vogtle Monitoring Group, said, "The recently established April 2019 Baseline [construction schedule] does not represent an achievable plan, nor does it provide a meaningful basis for performance monitoring and thereby it does not represent an effective tool for updating forecasts of the Project [commercial operation date] and [total project cost]." "The Company itself refers to the 2019 Baseline as a strategy and admits that they continue to use it as such, even when it may look unachievable or aggressive," said Grace, whose VMG was engaged to independently evaluate Southern Nuclear's work on the two 1,117-MW Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear generators. VMG applied a Schedule Performance Index to the work that has been done so far on Unit 3, and applied that to the remaining work to be done. SPI equals planned hours to be earned divided by earned hours. Thus, if the index is greater than 1, it means the earned hours were proportionately less than planned. IN-SERVICE DATES Cumulatively, from April through September, the SPI has equaled 1.35, meaning "it takes 1.35 months to earn progress that was planned for one month." For the period from July 2018 through this September, the cumulative SPI has equaled 1.4. Without a change in schedule, the work on Unit 3 could be delayed to February/March 2022, Grace said in his filing. Regarding work on Unit 4, Grace said it is "difficult to assess at this point," Grace said.

FirstEnergy Solutions plans to change name to Energy Harbor - cleveland.com —FirstEnergy Solutions, the Akron-based coal and nuclear power generating company, announced Monday it will change its name to Energy Harbor once its bankruptcy restructuring is finalized. The company, founded in 1997 as a subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp., runs three nuclear power plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania, as well as coal plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The company has been in the news frequently this year, both because of its efforts to emerge from bankruptcy and because of the passage of House Bill 6, under which it will get more than $1 billion from Ohio ratepayers to bail out its Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants in Northern Ohio. A FirstEnergy Solutions spokeswoman didn’t immediately reply when asked Monday why the company was changing its name. In a release, FirstEnergy Solutions CEO John Judge said the name Energy Harbor “reflects a focus on providing our customers and local communities with safe and resilient energy in addition to industry leading service to manage their energy needs.” The company hopes to win final approval from federal regulators by the end of the year, after which would be entirely separate from FirstEnergy Corp. The new company would be owned by its creditors, including major bondholders Avenue Capital Group and Nuveen Asset Management LLC, according to the Wall Street Journal. It would employ almost 2,800 people, have its own board of directors and issue its own stock, according to company documents.

Murray Energy bankruptcy renews fears about Ohio’s mine reclamation fund - Murray Energy’s bankruptcy case is reviving concerns about an Ohio fund meant to pay for closure and reclamation of coal mines if owners become financially unable to pay those costs. Days before the company sought relief under federal bankruptcy laws, the nonprofit Environmental Law & Policy Center formally asked federal and state regulators in October to evaluate Ohio’s Reclamation Forfeiture Fund, which ELPC claims is underfunded in violation of federal law. As of June, the fund had about $22.2 million, according to a report prepared for its advisory board by Pinnacle Actuarial Resources. The same report estimated the reclamation costs for Murray Energy’s 13 permitted sites in the state at more than $200 million. The total estimate is about $545 million for all Ohio permitted coal mines. “The importance of reclaiming those coal mine sites is not theoretical. It’s a physical reality,” said Howard Learner, executive director at ELPC. If the job isn’t done right, “there are predictable results in terms of contaminating the water and scarring the land. That has an impact on the public.” Support the Energy News Network today The Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement have not yet responded to ELPC’s Oct. 25 letter, spokespeople for those agencies said. For now at least, ODNR does not seem to be overly troubled by the company’s bankruptcy filing. “As we saw with the Westmoreland Coal Company proceedings last year, a bankruptcy filing does not mean solubility or forfeiture of permits,” ODNR spokesperson Sarah Wickham said. “ODNR will monitor this situation as Murray Energy continues operation and remain in communication with the company. Currently, we have no outstanding reclamation violations with Murray Energy across their 13 permits.”

 ODNR Awards 9 Permits for Utica Drilling - Nine permits for drilling in the Utica-Point Pleasant shale play were awarded by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for the week ended Nov. 23.Seven of those permits were awarded to Ascent Resources Utica LLC. Four were for wells in Noble County’s Marion Township while three were in Wheeling Township in Belmont County. Two permits were also granted to Gulfport Appalachia LLC for wells in Pultney Township in Belmont County.  No permits were granted in Mahoning, Trumbull or Columbiana counties. Nor were any permits awarded in Lawrence or Mercer counties in Pennsylvania, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. Through Nov. 23, ODNR had issued 3,206 permits for horizontal drilling the Utica-Point Pleasant shale play, with 2,734 wells drilled. There are 2,366 producing wells in the state.

Oil production increases 9.5% in Ohio's Utica Shale - Oil production in Ohio’s Utica Shale increased by 9.5% in the second quarter 2019, according to new data released on Tuesday by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.Oil production jumped from 4,488,104 barrels in 2Q 2018 to 5,813,755 barrels in 2Q 2019, Kallanish Energy reports.Oil production in 1Q 2019 was 5,073,536 barrels. Ohio also reported that natural gas production increased by 0.8% from 2Q 2018 to 2Q 2019.Gas production went from 554,306,916,000 cubic feet in 2Q 2018 to 614,218,362,000 cubic feet in 2Q 2019.Gas production was 609,452,000,000 cubic feet in 1Q 2019. The quarterly Ohio report lists 2,365 horizontal shale wells, of which 2,317 reported oil or gas production during the quarter.The average well produced 2,509 barrels of oil and 265,092,000 cubic feet of natural gas. The typical well was also in production for 86 days during the quarter.Condensate and natural gas liquids are included in Ohio’s oil and natural gas totals and are not listed separately. The results are available at https://oilandgas.ohiodnr.gov/production.

 Ohio oil and gas numbers released — The Ohio Oil and Gas Association released information on the ad valorem property tax operators’ pay on Monday. Much of the money goes to schools -- and it also supports levies. From 2010 through 2017, local Ohio counties have received close to $142 million. Harrison County raked in $40.8 million, Belmont County $16.8 million and Jefferson County $2.1 million. “Since most of this goes to schools, we're having the opportunity to invest in that next generation and leaving that legacy of an improved economy an improved environment here in southeast Ohio,” said Mike Chadsey of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association. Jefferson County Auditor E.J. Conn said while some counties have seen a decrease in tax revenue from oil and gas, Jefferson County is still on an upswing, partly because the county was initially behind in development and had to wait for pipelines to be constructed. He also noted changes to tax laws have made the process of collecting the money more efficient, and fair in the way the funds are dispersed to communities. “I think the future looks positive,” Conn said. “I do know if it wasn't for oil and gas in Jefferson County, we would be hurting for tax revenue right now because we've seen decreases in other areas in other industries. Public utilities, electric coal-fired power plants, they've been devalued so there's a number of areas that are decreasing, so we're lucky to have this resource."

Shale investment hits $78 billion - The shale industry has invested $78 billion in Ohio since 2011, according to a study by Cleveland State University. Researchers at CSU’s Energy Policy Center at the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs prepared the study for JobsOhio, the state’s privatized economic development corporation.The study looked at upstream, midstream and downstream investments through 2018. Ohio is part of the Utica and Marcellus shale regions.According to the study, during the second half of 2018 the industry invested:

  • • $3.5 billion in the upstream sector, including royalties, drilling and lease payments. Belmont, Monroe and Carroll counties were the most active.
  • • $232 million in the midstream sector, including natural gas gathering systems.
  • • $48 million in the downstream sector, including two electric power plants that burn natural gas.

JobsOhio is looking to bring more downstream investment, such as petrochemical plants, to the state, according to a news release.

Changes could come on fracking on public land - Ohio Oil and Gas Leasing Commission members plan to recommend changes to state law governing fracking on public land and the size and operations of the commission.The commission meeting held Wednesday morning at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources offices was the group’s first since Gov. Mike DeWine took office.  Changes, proposed by ODNR staff, were presented to the five-member commission, which is chaired by Mike Angle, chief of Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Geological Survey, and includes two members representing oil and gas interests, attorneys Matt W. Warnock and Michael W. Wise; one member representing the environment, Richard Shank, former director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and now board president of the Ohio Environmental Council; and a public representative, Steve Buehrer, former state Bureau of Workers’ Compensation CEO.Buehrer was absent Wednesday. “I think we see these ideas ... as the initiation of a much larger conversation,” said Brittney Colvin, a deputy director at ODNR who oversees three divisions, including Oil and Gas Resources Management. “That conversation that takes place between us and the commission, but also I believe with a lot of other stakeholders, whether that be the members of the General Assembly, or certainly important stakeholders that have various vested interest in development.” Some of the proposed changes include:

  • ‒ Adding members to the commission, which could include other representations such as universities or recreational interests.
  • ‒ Ensuring there are no conflicts of interest involving commission members when it comes to mineral rights.
  • ‒ Clarifying language to allow state agencies to make lease stipulations.
  • ‒ Revising state law to allow agencies to use revenues where they see fit.
  • ‒ Requiring nominating groups for leasing land for fracking to conduct necessary title work rather than ODNR.

Duke Energy receives approvals - The Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) has approved a route for a new natural gas pipeline for the southwest region of Ohio, US. The decision to secure a better energy future for residents and businesses through the natural gas deliver comes after a review of Duke Energy’s application and public hearings about the approximately 22.5 km Central Corridor pipeline. In the ruling, the OPSB said the best route for the pipeline is the proposed western route running through Sharonville, Sycamore Township, Blue Ash, Evendale, Reading, Amberley Village and Golf Manor in Ohio. The pipeline will serve customers in southwest Ohio and connect an existing Duke Energy Ohio pipeline near the intersection of Butler, Warren and Hamilton counties with an existing company pipeline in the Norwood area. The demand for the project had been demonstrated through aged and outdated propane-air facilities that are in need of retirement, as well as being able to create a supply balance between north and south systems. Duke Energy Ohio and Kentucky President Amy Spiller said the company looks forward to working on the pipeline route while keeping the community informed. “The OPSB’s certificate to construct this critical infrastructure is an important milestone for the Central Corridor Pipeline, and we thank the board for its thorough review of this project,” said Ms Spiller. The pipeline construction is expected to begin at the end of next year and will take three to six weeks on each parcel the pipeline crosses.

Korean consortium finalizes purchase of 50% stake in Utopia Pipeline from Riverstone - A South Korean consortium of EIP Investment Co., Shinhan Investment Corp. KIAMCO, and energy firm Samtan Co. has closed the deal to take up a 50 percent ownership interest in the Utopia shale gas pipeline spanning from the United States to Canada from Riverstone Holdings, EIP Investment announced Monday.  The recently-completed 268-mile pipeline delivers ethane sourced from the Marcellus and Utica shales in Ohio to the Samica petrochemical market in Ontario in Canada. It will be able to funnel 40,000 barrels of ethane per day by 2038, almost half of the total 86,000 barrels of ethane transported from the U.S. to Canada every day. The ownership acquisition would deliver stable profits to the investors for almost two decades. Riverstone formed a joint venture with Kinder Morgan to build the pipeline in 2016. Kinder would maintain its stake. The consortium also expects additional profits from the deal as Nova Chemicals, a plastics and chemical company based in Calgary that is a major importer of ethane from the U.S., plans to expand its manufacturing plant with an investment of $2 billion in 2021, EIP Investment said. Financial value of the deal has not been disclosed, but market watchers estimated the price at $500 million to $600 million. The Korean consortium was named the preferred bidder for the stake sale in September after beating 10 or more institutional investors from North America.

Public Employees Retirement System of Ohio Grows Stake in Chevron Co. --Public Employees Retirement System of Ohio lifted its stake in shares of Chevron Co. (NYSE:CVX) by 0.4% in the third quarter, Holdings Channel reports. The firm owned 1,225,830 shares of the oil and gas company’s stock after buying an additional 4,604 shares during the period. Chevron accounts for about 0.8% of Public Employees Retirement System of Ohio’s investment portfolio, making the stock its 21st largest position. Public Employees Retirement System of Ohio’s holdings in Chevron were worth $145,383,000 as of its most recent SEC filing. Several other hedge funds also recently added to or reduced their stakes in CVX. Nuveen Asset Management LLC increased its stake in shares of Chevron by 3.6% during the second quarter. Nuveen Asset Management LLC now owns 14,886,232 shares of the oil and gas company’s stock worth $1,852,443,000 after purchasing an additional 14,201,379 shares in the last quarter. BlackRock Inc. grew its stake in Chevron by 3.5% during the 2nd quarter. BlackRock Inc. now owns 131,522,440 shares of the oil and gas company’s stock valued at $16,366,651,000 after acquiring an additional 4,401,622 shares in the last quarter. APG Asset Management N.V. grew its stake in Chevron by 59.6% during the 2nd quarter. APG Asset Management N.V. now owns 5,518,090 shares of the oil and gas company’s stock valued at $602,978,000 after acquiring an additional 2,061,187 shares in the last quarter. Vanguard Group Inc. grew its stake in Chevron by 1.0% during the 2nd quarter. Vanguard Group Inc. now owns 157,513,617 shares of the oil and gas company’s stock valued at $19,600,995,000 after acquiring an additional 1,572,940 shares in the last quarter. Finally, PGGM Investments purchased a new stake in Chevron during the 2nd quarter valued at about $164,371,000. 65.69% of the stock is owned by institutional investors and hedge funds.

With Coal’s Decline, Pennsylvania Communities Watch the Rise of Natural Gas-fueled Plastics -- For Beaver County, just northwest of Pittsburgh, the construction of Royal Dutch Shell’s towering new plastics factory overshadows the closure of the Bruce Mansfield Power Plant, the state’s largest coal power station, located along the same stretch of Ohio River in western Pennsylvania.  The juxtaposition of these two projects, in which one powerful fossil fuel supply rises as the other falls, reflects the broader pattern of changing energy sources in America. A growing chorus agrees the expansion of the natural gas industry, which feeds plastics and petrochemical plants like Shell’s, is moving the U.S. in the wrong direction to prevent catastrophic impacts from climate change. The shale gas industry has been building demand for fossil fuels from its fracked oil and gas wells by promoting turning its products into plastics and petrochemicals.  DeSmog’s Sharon Kelly has created a field guide to the petrochemical and plastic industry and reported on the climate impacts of building a new petrochemical corridor in America’s Rust Belt and expanding the existing corridor, and Louisiana’s Cancer Alley, on the Gulf Coast.  At the forefront of this buildout, the Shell Petrochemical Complex under construction in Beaver County is designed to take ethane from the region’s natural gas fields and transform it into polyethylene, a plastic used in consumer products like food packaging and car parts. At a packed November 6 public meeting at the Beaver Library, Matt Mehalik, executive director of the advocacy group Breathe Project, presented a slide show about the plant and the buildout of the petrochemical industry in the Ohio River Valley. He labeled the Shell plant’s annual permitted 2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions “a disaster from a climate perspective.” He then pointed to the Cheswick Power Plant, another old coal station 18 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, as a comparable carbon polluter. Climate pollution isn’t the only concern for a region which has received an ‘F’ grade for high ozone days (the main component of smog) and particulate pollution in the American Lung Association’s 2019 State of the Air report. Shell’s plastics plant could be joined by similar plants proposed nearby, including PTT Global Chemical’s in Belmont County, Ohio, which would also affect regional air quality. And rumors that ExxonMobil has been searching in Beaver County for a suitable location to build a petrochemical plant like Shell’s have many worried that the area will become too polluted to live in.

Pennsylvania Communities Grow Wary of Worsening Air Pollution as Petrochemical Industry Arrives - While the Ohio River Valley, long home to the coal and steel industries, is no stranger to air pollution, the region’s natural gas boom and burgeoning petrochemical industry threaten to erase the gains of recent decades. Concerns about air quality, which has already begun declining nationally since 2016, are growing rapidly for those living in the shadow of Shell’s $6 billion plastics plant under construction along the Ohio River in western Pennsylvania’s Beaver County.Residents and activists from the greater Pittsburgh area fear that worsening air quality will lower the value of homes, deter new clean business development, and sicken people. “It is not lost on us that Allegheny Health Network is building a cancer institute directly above the cracker plant at the Beaver County Mall,” Matt Mehalik, executive director of the advocacy group Breathe Project, said at a November 6 public meeting about the Shell plastics plant, also known as an “ethane cracker.” “There is a certain degree of sick irony about that.”He warned of the significant healthcare impacts, and the associated financial cost to treat them, from the development of the petrochemical industry in the region.According to the U.S. Office of Fossil Energy, Appalachian shale gas, primarily from the Marcellus and Utica shale plays, is the main driver for growth of the U.S. natural gas industry. “The Appalachian region has abundant resources and extensive downstream industrial activity, particularly in the quad-state area of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky,” a post on the Office of Fossil Energy website says, adding that petrochemical infrastructure represents a key opportunity for the region.The agency touts the potential jobs and business and tax revenues the petrochemical industry could bring to the region. Missing is any mention that with the natural gas and petrochemical industries’ expansion comes a rise in emissions of greenhouse gases, volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter, along with related environmental and health impacts.  Mehalik listed to me the reasons for the growing number of people pushing back against the fossil fuel industry in the Ohio River Valley, despite its traditionally industry-friendly attitudes. “The region is experiencing increasing levels of trauma in the form of environmental disasters that are catching people’s attention,” he said. “The explosion of pipelines, drilling mud spills, wells that are vented, frack water truck traffic everywhere, permitting fights in local municipal governments regionally over petrochemical infrastructure projects, stories of farmland and people’s homes being ruined, water supplies being ruined, and an increasing sense of doom as the Shell plant’s future reality takes shape on the banks of the Ohio [River] across from neighborhoods.”

Two Big Reasons to Attend Appalachian Basin Real Estate Conference  (press release) Royal Dutch Shell is building a $7 billion world class polymers cracker plant in Monaca, Beaver County, Pennsylvania. The plant is nearing completion and could go into operation fourth quarter of 2020. There are currently over 6,000 workers currently on the site as it moves to completion.The second world class cracker plant is a joint venture between with PTT Global Chemical Plc (PTTGC), Thailand's largest petrochemical producer and Korea-based Daelim Industrial Company. PTTGC is about to make the Final Investment Decision (FID) on $7-$9 billion investment on plant which will be located in Dills’ Bottom, Belmont, County, Ohio. While the FID is pending, considerable preparation work is currently being done on the site.Other global oil companies are evaluating petrochemical sites in the Appalachian Basin (Marcellus and Utica shale plays). In addition to these companies, South Korean and Taiwanese companies have had representatives in the Appalachian Basin considering the opportunities that will be evolving in the region. “It is becoming apparent the Appalachian Basin will be generating even greater investment in the upcoming years,” commented Joe Barone, President, Shale Directories, LLC, the company producing the Appalachian Basin Real Estate Conference. The development and investment opportunities attached two world class cracker plants are once in a generation. Attendees at Shale Directories’ Inaugural Appalachian Basin Real Estate Conference will be afforded the opportunity to see first-hand the developments which are taking place as well as the ones that are planned. The Appalachian Basin Real Estate Conference will be held on December 11th and 12th at Oglebay Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia.

Pennsylvania to fund research into fracking health dangers - Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said Friday his administration will spend $3 million on a pair of studies to explore the potential health effects of the natural gas industry, taking action after months of impassioned pleas by the families of pediatric cancer patients who live in the most heavily drilled region of the state. Dozens of children and young adults have been diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma and other forms of cancer in a four-county area outside Pittsburgh, where energy companies have drilled more than 3,500 wells since 2008. Ewing has no known environmental cause, and gas industry officials say there is no evidence linking pediatric cancer to drilling. But the families nevertheless suspect that drilling and hydraulic fracturing, the method that energy companies use to extract natural gas from shale rock, played a role. They have been pressing the Wolf administration for an investigation into any possible link between this extremely rare form of bone cancer and shale gas development — and confronted Wolf himself at the Capitol on Monday. “I want to thank the families that have shared their heartbreaking stories,” the Democratic governor said in a statement Friday. “I understand and support the concerns of parents and desire of community members to learn more about the possible reasons for these cancer cases.” The research, he said, is meant to address “the concern that there is a relationship between hydraulic fracturing and childhood cancers.” One study will use existing research that linked natural gas activity to medical conditions like asthma and, applying the same methodology, try to replicate those earlier findings in the population in southwestern Pennsylvania. The other study will focus specifically on rare childhood cancers, including Ewing sarcoma, with researchers looking at whether these young cancer patients were exposed to fracking more often than a control population.

Pennsylvania To Spend $3M To Study Possible Link Between Fracking And Spike In Childhood Cancer (KDKA/AP) — Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf says his administration will spend $3 million on a pair of studies to explore the potential health impacts of the natural gas industry.Wolf is taking action after months of impassioned pleas by the families of pediatric cancer patients who live in the most heavily drilled region of the state. Dozens of children and young adults have been diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma and other forms of cancer in a four-county area outside Pittsburgh. Ewing has no known environmental cause, but the families have been pressing the Wolf administration for an investigation into any possible link between this extremely rare form of bone cancer and shale gas development. Wolf says the research will address “the concern that there is a relationship between hydraulic fracturing and childhood cancers.” His statement reads: “Ewing Sarcoma is rare and currently has no known environmental cause, but it is imperative that we do all that we can to thoroughly research and advance the science on the health effects of oil and gas extraction.  “Secretary of Health Levine and her team, including the commonwealth’s top epidemiological experts, have done diligent work to explore possible avenues to look more closely at available science. To further their efforts, I am directing the Department of Health to undertake two research projects that will help to better understand the possible health effects related to the natural gas industry, in particular as they pertain to confirmed cases of Ewing Sarcoma and other childhood cancers in southwestern Pennsylvania. “This investment will advance science by building upon previous research and investigating the concern that there is a relationship between hydraulic fracturing and childhood cancers..”State Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine released this statement: “It is essential to better understand the scientific evidence of public health issues related to hydraulic fracturing. These studies will provide us with a more in-depth understanding of this issue than we have been able to do with the resources at our disposal..”  The news of the funding for the studies comes one day after a KDKA Investigation aired into whether there could be a link between fracking and a spike in childhood cancer.Emotions are running high throughout the four-county area of Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties, and at a recent meeting in Canon-McMillan High School’s Auditorium. With fewer than 250 cases of Ewing sarcoma recorded annually in the United States, parents and family members believe they are living in a cancer cluster and the shale gas industry is to blame.

Pennsylvania’s LNG export boom heads to Japan - At the busy Port of Yokohama, near Tokyo, tankers full of coal, liquefied petroleum gas, and liquefied natural gas, or LNG, sail into the harbor from all over the world, including Pennsylvania. Since spring 2018, shale gas from Pennsylvania has been shipped out of an export terminal on the Chesapeake Bay to 20 different countries. Most of those ships went to Japan. Right now, natural gas on the global market is fetching almost $6 per mmBtu, or million British thermal units – about triple the price Pennsylvania producers get selling to the domestic market. Speaking at a recent Chamber of Commerce event in Philadelphia, American Gas Association president Karen Harbert extolled the benefits of exports. “We’ve got the cheapest gas in the world,” said Harbert. “And we’re trading all over the world. Every molecule that we can export that supplants the mullahs of Iran is a good day for America.” The abundant drilling of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus and Utica Shale has created a glut of natural gas and driven down prices. In the past 12 years, shale gas producers drilled more than 12,000 fracked gas wells in northeastern, central, and southwestern Pennsylvania. The price of that overproduction means Pennsylvania’s gas is now selling at about $2.30 per mmBtu. In 2008, before the shale gas boom, natural gas prices averaged almost $9/mmBtu. Producers eager to find new markets now ship gas overseas, aided by newly built pipelines and export terminals. Ira Joseph, head of gas and power analytics of S&P Global Platts, said there’s been an “unprecedented surge” in new supplies of LNG in 2019. “In the case of the Northeast, the Marcellus and Utica, it’s a constant fight to support price,” said Joseph. “Production has gone up so much that to push gas out of the region, it’s been a constant battle to create new pipeline capacity, and reverse existing pipeline capacity to create demand for the gas.” Exports won’t necessarily force the price back up to 2008 levels, Joseph said, but they will prevent further dips. Five new LNG export terminals have come online since 2016. Another 16 have been approved and eight are pending approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC. Japan is the world’s largest importer of LNG. In March 2011, its energy needs were suddenly transformed when the massive Tohoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami led to a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Residents fled the radiation; some never returned to their homes. Japan shut down its nuclear power plants in the wake of that disaster. Increased imports helped make up for the loss. And the newly abundant U.S. shale gas wells provided a solution.

Report calls for ‘cleaner, safer’ future for refinery site (AP) — A city report calls for a “cleaner, safer, and healthier” future for the site of a closed Philadelphia oil refinery but says the near-term future of the site will be determined by the ongoing federal bankruptcy process. The report by the mayor’s Refinery Advisory Group, which held public hearings last summer, calls for uses that protect public safety and health but that also provide “significant long-term economic benefit.” It says, however, that the 1,300-plus-acre site is large enough to support multiple uses, which should include “as many economically, socially, and environmentally positive activities as possible.” Federal investigators said last month that failure of an aging elbow pipe appears to have led to the June 21 fire at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions plant, which closed, laying off almost 1,000 workers.

Bankrupt Philadelphia refiner seeks $2.5 million in executive bonuses -court filings -  (Reuters) - The bankrupt Philadelphia Energy Solutions oil refiner is seeking a minimum of $2.5 million in bonus payments to the refiner’s top executives as part of a plan to reorganize or sell the company, U.S. bankruptcy court filings show. This would represent a potential second round of bonuses for PES executives, who were already paid roughly $4.5 million in retention awards after a massive June fire that resulted in the plant’s shutdown. PES laid off hundreds of workers without severance pay or benefits following the blaze. The latest round of bonuses will be paid if PES confirms a reorganization within 15 months of its July Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, according to documents filed with the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware on Friday. Alternatively, the $2.5 million could also be paid if PES secures at least $300 million in net proceeds from a sale, insurance proceeds or other payments, including a lawsuit the refiner filed against the federal government over excise taxes, the documents show. Under the plan, Chief Executive Officer Mark Smith would receive 29% of any incentive bonuses, PES board of directors Chairman Mark Cox gets 25%, Chief Financial Officer Rachel Celiberti 18% and attorney Anthony Lagreca would get 14%. Three other employees would receive smaller amounts.

National Grid to lift natgas moratorium after NY settlement (Reuters) - National Grid said on Monday it would pay $7 million in compensation for a moratorium on new gas customers in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island after the utility reached an agreement with the State of New York. National Grid will lift its moratorium for about two years. Its settlement includes a commitment to invest $8 million in energy efficiency programmes and an additional $20 million in clean energy projects, it said. The company had said in May it would not process new applications for natural gas services in its New York City and Long Island service area until Williams Cos Inc’s Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) pipeline received the permits it needs to proceed. Since then, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo threatened to revoke its certificate to operate its gas franchise in downstate New York, saying the utility had failed to provide “adequate and reliable service.”

National Grid Gas: Independent Monitor To Oversee Return Of Service For 3,700 Customers – CBS New York– The New York State Public Service Commission is stepping in to help resolve the end of National Grid’s gas moritorium that denied service to 3,700 customers.In addition to paying $36 million in penalties, the PSC will also establish an independent monitor for compliance as the utility resumes service hook-ups to thousands of businesses and homeowners.On Monday customers in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island got word they would finally get hooked up for their natural gas service needs.Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an agreement with the utility to immediately lift a six-month-long moratorium on gas service that left thousands with no way to heat their buildings or run their businesses, reports CBS2’s political reporter Marcia Kramer.For months, CBS2 has been demanding answers from National Grid and the governor after thousands of customers were left without gas, including a $92 million development in Nassau County and a Long Island municipal fire department in urgent need of upgrading its facilities.The agreement promises the utility will meet the demand for the next two years, allowing it to restore service to any customers that it had refused and grant all pending applications.

The pipeline war on Long Island isn’t really over - Gov. Andrew Cuomo and National Grid struck a deal on Nov. 25 to end a moratorium on new natural gas hookups in Brooklyn and Queens and on Long Island, but the political fight continues over the future of a proposed natural gas pipeline that would run through Lower New York Bay from New Jersey to New York. Environmentalists say that slowing climate change requires the state to block fossil fuel projects, but the latest deal between New York and National Grid still offers the company a chance to make its case that a pipeline is necessary to ensure economic development in the downstate area – though it does take away a key source of leverage from the company.   National Grid imposed the moratorium in May, after the state Department of Environmental Conservation withheld a state water quality permit requested by the Oklahoma-based Williams Companies to build the Williams pipeline, which is officially known as the Northeast Supply Enhancement Project. Williams has resubmitted the application, which is currently under review by the department. The company will also need a similar permit from New Jersey before it can proceed with the project, which has already received necessary approvals from the federal government. The agreement requires National Grid to provide thousands of new gas hookups that had been put on hold in recent months, pay $36 million in penalties and develop within two years a long-term plan to ensure a steady gas supply going forward.   National Grid will have three months to consider options before a series of public hearings in the four counties that were affected by the moratorium: Queens, Kings (Brooklyn), Nassau and Suffolk. The goal will be to implement this long term strategy by fall 2021 and while renewable energy and conservation programs will be in the mix of ideas, so will the controversial pipeline that led to the moratorium in the first place.    The pipeline would provide roughly 15% of the gas that the company says it needs in future years, according to Elizabeth Arangio, director of gas supply planning at National Grid. “If the project does not become available by the 2020/21 winter season, the companies will not be able to prudently satisfy new or additional service requests without jeopardizing the companies’ ability to provide safe, reliable service to its existing firm customers,” she told the Public Service Commission in April.Pipeline opponents have disputed those claims and cited data showing gas demand is not growing at the rate that National Grid said it would. Increased efficiency and conservation of both gas and electricity have eaten into that projected 10% growth, according to onereport published by opponents of the pipeline.

Gas bans, once a California specialty, arrive in New England  -Cities in California and Massachusetts are advancing what has become the newest trend in the local fight against climate change: bans on natural gas hookups in new buildings. In July, Berkeley, California, outlawed them. A handful of other California communities soon followed. Then, last week, Brookline, Massachusetts, took up the cause. In a 200-3 vote at a town meeting — the form of citizen government employed by many New England towns — Brookline residents approved a plan to block gas hookups in new homes and in major renovations. “We need to do something about climate change,” Werner Lohe, one of the measure’s sponsors, told The Boston Globe. “We need to stop burning fossil fuels inside our buildings. … This is the first step in Brookline toward an all-electric, all-renewable-energy world.” Berkeley and Brookline have a lot in common. Both are among the most liberal communities in overwhelmingly blue states. Both are well-educated and affluent. Brookline’s vote nevertheless signals an important shift in local climate action. Where municipalities previously have focused on reducing emissions in electricity generation, attention is shifting toward the carbon footprint associated with heating and cooling buildings. In Massachusetts, residential buildings account for roughly 15% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Commercial buildings represent another 9.5%. Power plants, by contrast, are responsible for almost 20% of Massachusetts’ greenhouse gases. “If we are going to decarbonize the economy, we have to stop putting gas in new buildings now,” said Deborah Donovan, Massachusetts director at the Acadia Center, an environmental group. “Building stock built now will be us in 2050 when we need to be decarbonized.” But what replaces New England’s fleet of old oil furnaces is a matter of mounting debate. Local climate hawks increasingly are pushing electric heat pumps as a low-carbon alternative, arguing the newer brands are able to withstand the region’s long winters. They’ve had particular success in northern New England, which lacks widespread gas infrastructure.

Warmer Weather And Record High Production Send Natural Gas Prices Tumbling - After what looked like a rather promising natural gas open Sunday evening for the bulls, we have seen nothing but selling since then. Today is the December contract's final day on the board, and as of this writing, it sits at a price level of $2.43, more than 25 cents lower than we saw immediately after the Sunday open.  Why such carnage? The primary reason has been due to a solid warming trend in weather models since Sunday evening. Sunday night's models all trended solidly warmer, and that continued into this morning, with models solidly warmer compared to 24 hours ago.  An even better visualization of the change comes from looking at how forecast trended since Friday in map form. Here is the 11-15 day forecast from midday Friday run of the GEFS:  Now, let's look at the latest run, valid the same days:   Why such a large change? Models have had a difficult time resolving the pattern in the high latitudes. Latest modeling features more troughing (lower 500 mb heights) both around Alaska and over Greenland, a setup which typically keeps strong cold bottled up well north of the United States. As a result, the cold shown in Friday's models has faded away, lowering forecast weather demand.  While weather is most often the primary driver of price volatility at this point in the season, it was not the only piece of bearish news. We continue to see new all-time highs in dry production, with new highs over the weekend, and yet another new high just yesterday.   We are also heading into a holiday period, typically a time when we see a weaker overall market in terms of gas burns, something which could be exacerbated this week, as wind output looks rather high through the long holiday weekend.   To summarize, we've basically seen a "perfect storm" of bearish factors line up so far this week. Granted, the weather pattern is not super warm, so it could be worse, but each of the last two weeks also started off with warmer changes, only to move back colder later in the week.

US natural gas in underground storage falls 28 Bcf to 3.160 Tcf: EIA  - US working natural gas volumes in underground storage dropped by 28 Bcf, decreasing by just under half the five-year average, while the NYMEX January Henry Hub contract fell about 3 cents after the number’s release, continuing recent declines and nearing an all-time low.Storage inventories fell to 3.610 Tcf for the week ended November 22, the US Energy Information Administration reported Wednesday, one day ahead of the usual schedule because of the Thanksgiving holiday in the US.The pull was slightly more than an S&P Global Platts’ survey of analysts calling for a 25-Bcf draw. Survey responses were a withdrawal of between 14 Bcf to 33 Bcf.The withdrawal was well below the 70 Bcf pull reported during the corresponding week in 2018, as well as the five-year average draw of 57 Bcf, according to EIA data. As a result, stocks were 548 Bcf, or 18%, above the year-ago level of 3.062 Tcf and 31 Bcf, or 1%, above the five-year average of 3.641 Tcf.The draw proved well below the 94 Bcf pulled from working gas in storage reported the week prior.Temperatures across the US rose 5 degrees week on week, with warmer weather particularly focused in the Midwest and South Central storage regions. The EIA reported a net injection of 2 Bcf into South Central region storage fields and 1 Bcf addition in the Pacific region.Although temperatures remain 2 degrees below normal, warmer weather for the week that ended November 22 cut out an estimated 49 Bcf of residential and commercial demand, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. Weaker power burn also contributed to the bearish draw, declining an estimated 2.1 Bcf/d, largely in the Southeast.Inventories will continue to be supported into December from strong production receipts out of Texas and the US Northeast, keeping the gas market bearish, barring another cold snap. The now prompt NYMEX January Henry Hub contract has been under heavy selling pressure this week, as forward-looking temperatures have moderated. Since hitting a monthly peak of just under $3.00/MMBtu November 5, the January contract has contracted by roughly 15%. Indeed, entering the report the contract was sitting just above $2.50/MMBtu, or within striking distance of the all-time intraday low of $2.48/MMBtu August 5.

Natural Gas Tumbles as Temperatures Set to Rise-- Natural gas prices capped their biggest November drop since 2001 as forecasts showed no sign of the teeth-chattering U.S. cold needed to boost demand for the heating fuel. The outlook for the second week of December turned warmer overnight, with temperatures now expected to be above normal across most of the contiguous U.S., according to forecaster Commodity Weather Group LLC. “The trends into mid-month should keep getting warmer” without evidence of a stronger high-pressure area that would allow frigid conditions to settle over the Lower 48, CWG said. As gas output from shale basins climbs to fresh highs, the market needs a polar blast to help siphon off the excess supply. Though exports have soared to a record and American homes and businesses are using more of the fuel than ever, production is outstripping demand, leaving gas stored in depleted aquifers and salt caverns near a two-year high. “The weather outlook continues to fall apart for December,” says John Kilduff, founding partner at Again Capital. “Futures broke some key support at the $2.50 level,” and they may now be heading for $2.20, he said. Gas for January delivery fell 22 cents, or 8.8%, to $2.281 per million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prices were down more than 13% in November, and the drop on Friday was the worst one-day slide since January. There was no settlement Thursday due to the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday and all transactions were booked Friday. U.S. gas production rose to 1.5% in August to 112.879 billion cubic feet per day from a month earlier, according to a U.S. Energy Information Administration report Friday.

 Kennebunkport oil leak abates, but source still a mystery- The origin of some dyed #2 fuel oil that the local wastewater treatment plant received through the town’s sewer system early last week is still a mystery. “We have not located the source yet,” Deputy Director of Public Works Chris Simeoni said on Monday afternoon. Simeoni added that the plant is no longer receiving the fuel oil and has cleaned up the plant’s collection system as much as possible. He said efforts are underway to eliminate the possibility of the fuel oil from being introduced into the system in the future. “It’s a water quality concern,” he said. The plant, located on Recreation Way, announced on Thursday, Nov. 21, that it had received what appeared to be the dyed #2 fuel oil via the town’s sewer system on Monday, Nov. 18, at 11:30 a.m. “It is difficult to determine how much fuel oil was received at the plant,” the town stated in a news release. “Crew members immediately began checking the collection system for the source.” They narrowed it down to the residential area of Dock Square. but could not pinpoint the precise source, according to the town. Crew members have been contacting occupied properties in the area and conducting inspections to try to locate the source. They have even been attempting to contact the owners of vacant properties to request making inspections, as well. “It is possible that a residence (or) business may have experienced a catastrophic oil tank (or) oil line failure that may have gone unnoticed and was inadvertently discharged into the town’s sewer system by means of a sump pump,” the town stated in its release.

 Public comments being taken on lawsuit against Mountain Valley Pipeline -- Before a judge decides whether to approve a $2.15 million settlement of a lawsuit alleging environmental damage caused by building the Mountain Valley Pipeline, state regulators will consider public comments on the proposal. About 130 people had submitted input by midday Tuesday, according to Ann Regn, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. The deadline for written comments is Wednesday. DEQ and the State Water Control Board sued Mountain Valley last December, saying the company violated state regulations meant to limit erosion and sedimentation more than 300 times in building the largest natural gas pipeline ever to cross Southwest Virginia. In October, Attorney General Mark Herring announced a settlement that provides a framework for court-ordered enforcement going forward, with the possibility that the financial penalty will exceed the $2.15 million agreement if additional violations occur. Mountain Valley agreed to conditions — which include hiring independent monitors to make inspections beyond what had previously been required by the state — as part of a consent decree that will soon go to a judge in Henrico County Circuit Court. DEQ will review the comments before sending the settlement to the judge, Regn said. Digging trenches to bury the 42-inch diameter steel pipe along steep mountain slopes has led to widespread runoff, washing harmful sediment into nearby streams and onto the property of adjacent landowners. Meanwhile, separate lawsuits against federal agencies led to the suspension of two sets of permits for the pipeline last year, and a third approval was more recently pulled while an appeals court reviews yet another challenge, this one of the project’s impact on endangered species of fish and bats. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the lead agency overseeing construction of the $5.5 billion project, ordered new construction to cease Oct. 15 until the most recent lawsuit, filed by environmental groups against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, is resolved. Since then, Mountain Valley and environmental advocates have continued to spar over pipeline work, which FERC ordered be limited to stabilization of work sites and erosion-control measures to prepare for a winter lull.

FERC takes more time for review of MVP Southgate after route changes - Platts — The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has pushed back the environmental review schedule for the 73-mile, 375 MMcf/d MVP Southgate project, due to recently proposed route changes, and set the timetable for reviewing the 750 MMcf/d Cameron Expansion project in Louisiana. The natural gas project would connect the mainline of the Mountain Valley Pipeline near Chatham, Virginia, and extend to Rockingham and Alamance counties in North Carolina. FERC now expects to release a final environmental impact statement for MVP Southgate on February 14, 2020, rather than December 19 of this year as previously proposed. FERC pointed to changes to the route and revised data for resource impact, filed October 23, in explaining the extension. "Because the supplemental information needs further review and required an additional notice to the landowners affected by the route changes, issued November 15 ... commission staff has revised the schedule for issuance of the final EIS," FERC said. In a July draft environmental impact statement, FERC staff found the project would have environmental impacts, but those would be reduced to less-than-significant levels through avoidance, minimization and mitigation (CP19-14). The report drew objections from environmental groups, concerns about data gaps from the Fish and Wildlife Service and a request from the Environmental Protection Agency that FERC study an alternative route in North Carolina. Developers of two other pipelines, Dominion Energy-led Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line, also touted their ability to offer alternatives that might reduce environmental impacts. The MVP-Southgate project is supported by a 300,000 Dt/d firm contract with the utility Dominion Energy North Carolina, formerly PSNC Energy. The project is targeting in-service in 2021, extended from the November 1, 2020, date listed in its initial application at FERC. The larger, 303-mile, 2 Bcf/d MVP project in October pushed back its in-service target in late 2020 and bumped up its cost estimate to a range of $5.3 billion to $5.5 billion. That project has been targeted by legal challenges to its non-FERC permits, and most recently faced a 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals stay involving its Endangered Species Act authorizations.

SUPREME COURT: Atlantic Coast pipeline arguments set for February -- Wednesday, November 27, 2019 -- Supreme Court justices are set to hear oral arguments in a high-profile legal dispute over the Atlantic Coast pipeline early next year.

Expanding pipeline industry in Louisiana- The pipeline industry is prominent here in the state and quickly expanding.According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there are 20 natural gas pipeline projects queued up in Louisiana. Seven projects completed construction this year.The map of Louisiana is covered with pipelines.  “Our chancellor says that it looks like a spaghetti bowl because there are pipeline running everywhere because we have both liquid and gas pipelines running through the state,” said David Hayes, director of workforce solutions at SOWELA Technical Community College.SOWELA is starting a Pipeline Training Academy to train high-school students in foundational skills, those that want to enter the industry, and those that want to move higher that are already in the industry.“There’s nothing really in the area that is training people for the pipeline industry," Hayes said. "There’s a few smaller things that happen in Houston that I’m aware of but nothing that is a true program or academy like this that will have the impact that we hope this one has.” The academy will have certification programs in more than just pipeline construction, it will also provide certification in operation and management. The curriculum will also focus on more than just natural gas, but water and other aspects of the pipeline industry.

OFFSHORE DRILLING: BOEM rejects $4.4M in leases after critical federal report -- Wednesday, November 27, 2019 -- The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) rejected $4.4 million worth of oil and gas industry bids to potentially drill in the Gulf of Mexico from a recent auction that otherwise netted $155 million.

Congressman Higgins says Fed has helped the oil and gas industry, now it’s Louisiana’s turn  — Federal agencies are making changes to bring more oil and gas jobs to the Louisiana coast, but U.S. Representative for Louisiana’s 3rd District Clay Higgins said the Bayou State could miss out unless Baton Rouge takes action as well. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released a report indicating the Gulf of Mexico will now be treated as two separate provinces: shallow water and deep water. To increase drilling, those investing in shallow water reservoirs will get a higher return on investments and their applications will be considered on a per-project basis. In 2018, 97 platforms abandoned the continental shelf while zero new ones were constructed, but with federal reform and new tech which can locate previously untapped resources, Congressman Higgins said there is potential to reverse the trend. “There’s a tremendous opportunity,” U.S. Representative Higgins told News 10. “We have done everything possible at the federal level to create this opportunity, and we need a little help from Baton Rouge.” Congressman Clay Higgins said he is confident BSEE’s plan to make drilling in the Gulf of Mexico more profitable will work, “The prospect of new projects coming to the gulf in Louisiana is much greater now then it was two weeks ago.”

Commonwealth LNG lands supply deal for one-third of proposed production -  The proposed Commonwealth LNG export terminal in southwest Louisiana has landed a marketing and supply deal that will account for more than a third of the facility's planned production. In a Monday morning statement, the Houston liquefied natural gas company announced a deal with Gunvor, a global LNG marketing and trading firm headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. Commonwealth LNG is seeking permission from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to build a brand new liquefied natural gas export terminal at the mouth of the Calcasieu Ship Channel along the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana. Under the deal, Gunvor will take 3 million metric tons of production from the plant and help Commonwealth LNG land contracts to sell the rest of the facility's production on the global market. Business: Four approved LNG projects to bring billions to South Texas Commonwealth LNG's application remains under review by FERC officials, who are not expected to make a permit decision until the first quarter of 2021. The company expected to make a final investment decision shortly thereafter and deliver its first shipments of LNG in second quarter of 2024. The announcement comes less than a week after FERC officials approved permits for four LNG export terminal projects in Texas. Although the four projects have obtained permits, they still need to land contracts for their production and secure financing for the multi-billion projects.

EDITORIAL: Gassed: LNG companies advance, official actions should start - Three companies that want to build liquefied natural gas export terminals cleared a major hurdle Thursday when they all received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC approval brings the sites closer to reality, although the companies are still at various stages in the permitting process with other agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The companies propose to receive the LNG through pipelines and trucks, then load it onto tanker ships for worldwide distribution. Together they represent nearly $40 billion investment at the South Texas port. Final approval by all agencies isn’t assured and environmentalists and others opposed to the terminals have pledged to step up their fight against them. However, we note that most of the gas that moves through the local port would be shipped to fuel electrical plants worldwide, reducing the need to continue relying on coal- and oil-burning turbines that are greater polluters. LNG is around 16% cheaper than coal, saving users money, and it burns up to 60% cleaner than coal. Even if the ultimate goal is total reliance on renewable energy sources, LNG offers a viable bridge that can be used until technology and cost make that goal feasible. Locally, the terminals bring the promise of jobs. In addition to more than 1,000 total workers involved in the construction of the buildings and pipelines, together they promise to employ hundreds of permanent full-time workers, many, they say, earning salaries above $50,000.M

State permit for Texas LNG remains up in the air - Houston liquefied natural gas company Texas LNG landed a federal permit for its proposed export terminal at the Port of Brownsville but its state permit remains tied up in a legal process that may take at least another four months to sort out. After more than three years of review, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted Texas LNG a permit authorizing the plant to make up to 4 million metric tons of liquefied natural gas per year. Before construction can begin, the company must secure customers, financing and obtain permits from nearly a dozen state and federal agencies. But the company may not be able to obtain a state air pollution permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality until March. With the project facing opposition from the City of Port Isabel and residents from the nearby colonia of Laguna Heights, a panel of judges with the Texas State Office of Administrative Hearings has been tasked with reviewing the state air pollution permit.The judges heard two days of testimony from both sides on Wednesday and Thursday. Attorneys for Texas LNG, Port Isabel and the colonia residents have until Dec. 10 to file their written closing arguments. Responses are due by Dec. 20. The judges have until Feb. 24th to make a ruling. Once a ruling has issued, their decision will be placed on the next TCEQ commissioners meeting, which would most in March at the earliest.

Evacuation Ordered After Apocalyptic Fireball Erupts Over Texas Town In Chemical Explosion - More details are emerging after a massive chemical explosion at a southeast Texas refinery in the early hours of Wednesday ripped through the plant and shattered windows across nearby residential areas of Port Neches, which lies about 90 miles east of Houston. People in homes that are miles away from the blast site reported windows, doors, and rooftops being blown out by the initial shock wave from the blast.  All residents within a half mile of the burning chemical plant have been issued a mandatory evacuation order, and so far plant operator TPC said its more than 175 full-time employees and 50 contractors are all accounted for, though a handful were transported to the hospital for burns and other injuries, at least one in serious condition.  Some of the eyewitness accounts of the chemical explosion collected by NBC News convey at atmosphere of confusion when the first blast occurred at about 1am, resulting in a blaze that overtook much of the plant.Currently the emergency is considered "ongoing" but response crews say they will soon bring it under control."Their doors were blown open... doorknobs themselves were shot across rooms," one resident said. "We didn't know what had exploded and what gasses were in the air," the woman said, and described a panic scramble of nearby residents to flee the area: "I've never seen the traffic like that ever."  And another eyewitness identified as Omar Hamza described a "loud boom" and "bright flash" which was followed by a deafening explosion."We waited for a little bit and we kind of looked outside and everyone was running around and freaking out." He continued, "So we just grabbed the important stuff we needed — I left a note on the door and we left."  Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick, who lives within the evacuation zone, described an apocalyptic scene where he initially thought they were under attack: Branick, who lives less than a mile away from the explosion site, said his wife thought someone was shooting at their home when she heard the blast. "I ran out with my pistol," the judge said, before he realized it was a refinery explosion.

Residents flee fourth major Texas petrochemical fire this year - (Reuters) - Three workers were injured and residents of four towns were told to evacuate after explosions on Wednesday at a Texas petrochemical plant, the latest in a series of chemical plant accidents in the region.An early morning blast at a TPC Group complex in Port Neches, Texas, was followed by a series of secondary explosions that shattered windows and blew locked doors off their hinges.  About 60,000 people within a four-mile (6.4 km) radius of the facility were ordered to leave after a distillation column blew up about at 2 p.m. (2000 GMT) It was uncertain when residents would be able to return, Jefferson County chief executive Jeff Branick said. The explosion was reported by local media and other eyewitnesses. Branick ordered the departures on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday out of fear heat from the fire would ignite petrochemical tanks at the site. Firefighters were spraying water on the spherical tanks containing butane and other fuels to keep them cool, officials said. The mandatory evacuation covers Port Neches and Groves, and portions of nearby Nederland and Port Arthur, Texas, officials said. State police would patrol the communities to prevent looting, Branick said. The plant sits on a 218-acre (88.22-hectare) site located about 90 miles (145 km) east of Houston. It processes petrochemicals used to make synthetic rubber and resins, and a gasoline additive. TPC is nestled among several other chemical complexes that were not affected by the flames. Peyton Keith, a TPC spokesman, said fire officials were determined to let the fire in a butadiene processing unit burn itself out, and were attempting to keep the flames from spreading. He could not say when the fire could be extinguished. A smoky plume visible from miles (km) away released volatile organic compounds that can lead to eye, nose and throat irritation, shortness of breath, headaches and nausea, pollution regulator Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) said.

Just One Week After Trump Rolled Back Safety Measures, Chemical Plant Explosion Rocks Texas Town - Concerns about air quality lingered Wednesday following a major early morning explosion at a chemical plant in Port Neches, Texas that shot a fireball into the sky. The disaster at the TPC Group-owned facility roughly 94 miles west of Houston took place a week after the Trump administration rolled back safety rules meant to protect workers and people who live near chemical plants. In light of the timing, Catherine Fraser, Environment Texas's clean air associate, called Wednesday's explosion "a timely warning that state and federal officials need to do more to keep communities safe."  "It shook our house twice," Shawn Dunlap, who lives in neighboring Nederland, told NBC News. "It was just like a bomb going off." Twitter user @souljaslim52 put it another way: "shit blew tf up." According to a statement from TPC Group, the incident occurred at 1:00am local time. The company said it "cannot speak to the cause of the incident or the extent of damage." The Port Neches Police Department, in a statement posted to Facebook, said, "There's extensive damage throughout the city."Area residents reported damaged homes, with some suffering shattered glass and blown-off doors. Three workers at the plant also suffered minor injuries, the company said."Throughout the morning more booms could be heard in the area as firefighters attempted to control the blaze," reported Beaumont's KBMT.Local ABC affiliate KTRK reported that the chemical burning is butadiene, which the EPA classifies as carcinogenic.Environment Texas's Fraser, in her statement, pointed to the plant's history as cause for particular concern. "This facility has a track record of violating the Clean Air Act," she said, "with five other illegal emissions events just in 2019, emitting carcinogenic 1,3 butadiene and other chemicals, and a history of community complaints." "According to the EPA, the TPC Plant has been in non-compliance 12 separate quarters over the last 3 years, and has received 7 formal enforcement actions over the last 5 years. According to the TCEQ, the chemical of most concern is butadiene," Fraser continued. "The TPC plant emitted 61,379 pounds of butadiene in 2018. Butadiene is a known human carcinogen."

Second Explosion Seen At Burning TPC Plant In Texas - A second minor explosion erupted at the TPC Group chemicals plant that is ablaze after a fire broke out early Wednesday, the Grove Fire Department told Bloomberg.

Texas chemical fire rages for second day, thousands evacuated - (Reuters) - A major fire at a Texas petrochemical plant continued to burn for a second day on Thursday, with the 60,000 people forced to evacuate still uncertain as to whether they could return home in time to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. The fiery blast inside a distillation column at the Port Neches, Texas, TPC Group facility on Wednesday injured three workers, blew locked doors off their hinges and spewed a plume of toxic chemicals for miles (kilometers). The plant manufactures petrochemicals used to make rubber and resins, and the volatile organic compounds in the explosion’s smoke can lead to eye, nose and throat irritation, shortness of breath, headaches and nausea, the pollution regulator Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) said. No impact to water was reported. The plant, 90 miles (145 km) east of Houston, has a long history of environmental violations and has been out of compliance with federal clean air laws for years, according to the Texas Tribune and state records; it was also declared a high priority violator by the Environmental Protection Agency. State agencies are monitoring air quality. Police are patrolling the evacuated communities to prevent looting. TPC spokesperson Sara Cronin said that it was uncertain when the fire would be extinguished or the chemicals burned off but pointed the public to the company’s emergency response website at www.portnechesresponse.com. The explosion was the fourth major petrochemical fire in the region this year.

Pipeline owner sues Texas over flaring - US midstream operator Williams is suing Texas regulators over an exemption it says will give oil producers a "blank check" to flare off associated natural gas whenever doing so would be profitable. The Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas in the state, this summer gave US independent EXCO Resources a two-year exemption from the state's prohibition on flaring for 130 wells in the Eagle Ford basin. The company said it would have to shut in the wells, reducing recovery of oil, if it were unable to flare the gas. But Williams, which owns a gathering system that could service the wells by turning an existing valve, says regulators were incorrect that flaring is necessary. The pipeline operator, in a lawsuit filed last week, says the decision effectively guarantees an exemption to any operator requesting one and marks a shift from a state policy to ban flaring unless an operator shows it is a necessity. "This shift eviscerates the no-flaring rule and policy by effectively giving operators total discretion in deciding whether and how much to flare," Williams said in the lawsuit. Texas producers this year have been flaring record amounts of natural gas, as a shale oil boom generated massive amounts of associated gas with too few pipelines to carry it away. Flaring and venting in the Permian Basin, which straddles Texas and New Mexico, reached an all-time high of 661mn cf/d in the second quarter of 2019, according to the consulting company Rystad Energy. Williams had a gathering contract with the previous owner of the wells at issue in the lawsuit. But that agreement terminated in 2017, and EXCO and Williams have yet to reach a gathering agreement for the wells. The wells' owners said the pipeline gathering rates were uneconomic, resulting in the need to flare. Texas Railroad Commission member Ryan Sitton, in explaining his vote to support the exemption, said he did not want to "artificially force" the producer into a pipeline contract to avoid flaring gas worth $10,000/d when the wells at issue are producing $500,000/d of crude.

 New study blames some fracking practices for Eagle Ford earthquakes -  Earthquakes caused by hydraulic fracturing are more common in the Eagle Ford Shale of South Texas than previously thought, a new study reveals. Researchers with Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and the U.S. Geological Survey analyzed more than 2,800 earthquakes recorded in the South Texas shale play between 2014 and 2018. In a recently published study, the researchers revealed that more than 2,400 of those earthquakes could be linked to hydraulic fracturing activity and that certain industry practices were more likely to trigger them. Earthquakes were twice as likely to happen when operators simultaneously injected fluids into multiple nearby wells compared to when they injected fluids into multiple wells one at a time, the researchers determined. Out of the 2,823 earthquakes analyzed in the study, only 121 of them registered above a magnitude 2.0 on the Richter Scale, which would have been strong enough to be felt by some close to the epicenter.The Miami University study was released a month after researchers with the University of Texas at Austin published a study that linked hydraulic fracturing to some earthquakes in the Permian Basin of West Texas.Previous studies blamed the shale play earthquakes on an industry practice of injecting oil field wastewater deep underground. Those studies prompted the Railroad Commission of Texas, the state agency that regulates the oil and natural gas industry, to enact stricter rules and regulations for saltwater disposal wells.Favoring regulations based on science, Texas Oil & Gas Association President Todd Staples said his organization created a committee that allows members to work with seismologists, geologists and regulators to address the issue of earthquakes.“The oil and natural gas industry is actively working to mitigate impact through recommended practices including pre-completion risk assessment, proper monitoring, and mitigation protocols," Staples said in a statement.

World Cracked Open: When Fracking Came to Town - “When I first bought my property, it was a dream come true, Sharon Wilson told WhoWhatWhy. “The air was beautiful and clean when we first moved out there and the sky was this gorgeous color of blue. I mean blue, not this washed out blue you see in the cities, but this vivid, electric blue.”  What she didn’t realize four decades ago was that she was establishing her home next door to one of the nation’s first and most widespread experiments in fracking — cracking open the Barnett Shale.  She didn’t know anything about mineral rights or threats to the environment. But when the trucks started moving in and the pollution started filling the air, she learned firsthand. Experts say the fracking process releases both methane — a greenhouse gas — and a multitude of hydrocarbons into the air. Hydrocarbons oxidize in the atmosphere in the presence of nitrogen oxide, forming ozone, also a greenhouse gas. Benzene, one of the hydrocarbons released, is a known carcinogen. In addition to emissions that come directly from fracking, scientists have evaluated indirect emissions from trucking huge amounts of water to sites, and transporting huge amounts of hydrocarbons away from the sites,” Gunnar Schade, a professor of geosciences at Texas A&M, explained. According to a study published in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Global Public Health, fracking has been linked to increased heart problems, early births, high-risk pregnancy, certain types of cancer, asthma, migraine headaches, skin disorders, fatigue, and nasal and sinus symptoms. In Wise County, Wilson watched as fracking put an end to her quiet country lifestyle. “There was diesel from the rigs and soot from the flaring and horrible emissions. Eventually, my air turned brown and my water turned black.” “The polluted air was the worst,” said Wilson. “Because you can get clean water somewhere — it’s not ideal, but you can get it. You can’t get air.” This story is not unique. Wilson said she has corresponded with hundreds of people with similar stories, all having their lifestyles eroded by fracking. “You have this deep connection and caring for each other because you have gone through something traumatic. Because I’ve lived through it, I can  help other people,” said Wilson. “I know exactly what it feels like to have your American dream, and then realize that your paradigm of America was false.”

Hill Country Landowners Say Kinder Morgan Is Lowballing Them. Special Courts Are Agreeing. - Kay Pence owns a ranch in the Hill Country town of Fredericksburg. About a year ago, she got a call from the pipeline company Kinder Morgan. The caller told her the company planned to run a section of its 430-mile Permian Highway natural gas pipeline through her property. Pence didn’t like that.“This is going to sound overreactive, but you felt violated,” Pence says. “They have access to your property, and there was nothing you could do.”In Texas, pipeline companies have the power of eminent domain. That means they can take private land even if the landowner doesn’t want to sell. The company only needs to pay a fair price. Companies say this allows them to build the infrastructure necessary to move oil and gas.  “You have property in the Hill Country that is fifth generation and their property is being cut in half,” Pence says. “Their property is ruined.” Now, as building starts on the pipeline, some landowners are rejecting Kinder Morgan’s offers and winning awards vastly greater through a legal process called a condemnation hearing. It’s a unique proceeding where three local volunteers appointed by a district judge hear arguments about the land's value and make a decision.In Pence’s case, an offer of $45,000 for a 3-acre strip of land turned into an award of $1.2 million after the hearing. In Blanco County, a landowner who was told by Kinder Morgan that his land was worth $20,000 was awarded $1.3 million. Another landowner in Gillespie County turned an offer of $85,000 into an $11 million award.Kinder Morgan has appealed some of the awards. But pipeline opponents are pointing to the results of these hearings as evidence the company is undervaluing Hill Country land. Some also see this as proof the company is messing with the wrong small towns.

 Seaway Sets Open Season for Expansion - Seaway Crude Pipeline Co. LLC on Monday unveiled plans for a binding open season for customers to commit to expansion capacity on its pipeline extending from Cushing, Okla., to the Texas Gulf Coast. According to a written statement from the 50/50 joint venture (JV) owned by Enterprise Products Partners L.P. and Enbridge Inc., the open season will run from 9 a.m. Central time on Dec. 16, 2019, to 5 p.m. Central on Feb. 14, 2020. Seaway links to an integrated network of pipelines, storage facilities and export terminals along the Gulf Coast and connects to every refinery in the Houston, Freeport, Texas City and Beaumont/Port Arthur areas, the JV noted. The expansion – announced in October – reportedly would add 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) or more of light crude capacity to the Seaway system, primarily through pump upgrades. Moreover, the JV stated the expansion could include further quality enhancements to segregate heavy and light crude oil shipments. Seaway noted that up to 100,000 bpd of initial light crude expansion capacity could be available as soon as the second half of 2020, with the remainder of the expansion implemented in 2022. The JV, which will determine the final capacity for committed and uncommitted service during the open season, added that its fee schedule starts at 99 cents per barrel for light crude transportation from Cushing. Factors affecting fees include volume, destination and term.

OKLAHOMA: 'Flowback' — a new cause of oil-driven earthquakes? -- Two earthquakes that shook Oklahoma on Sunday evening may be part of a new trend — shaking that's neither natural, linked to oil field disposal nor linked to hydraulic fracturing.

 Evers signs bill making it a felony to trespass on pipelines (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers has signed into law a bipartisan proposal making it a felony to trespass or damage oil or gas pipelines in Wisconsin. Evers signed the measure Wednesday, despite complaints from opponents that it would violate free speech rights and disproportionately affect American Indians whose lands are often affected by pipeline projects. Evers says even though he signed the measure, he wanted to reaffirm that tribal nations “deserve to have a voice in the policies and legislation that affect indigenous persons and our state.” The new law builds upon a 2015 state law that made it a felony to intentionally trespass or cause damage to the property of an energy provider. The bill Evers signed expands the definition of energy provider to include oil and gas pipelines, renewable fuel, and chemical and water infrastructure. The Wisconsin measure has broad support from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and numerous organizations..

Pipeline protester arrested during northwestern Minnesota incident – — An environmental protest on Monday at an Enbridge Energy terminal in northwestern Minnesota resulted in one arrest. Sara-Beth Anderson, 21 of Minneapolis, was arrested on the charge of trespassing on a critical public service facility. The protesters tied three large poles together to form a tripod structure. Anderson then suspended herself from the top of it, hanging above the ground. Clearwater County Sheriff Derin Halverson said they first received word of the Clearbrook protest around 7:30 a.m. Monday. He said it continued until approximately noon. A press release from Enbridge indicated although the demonstration delayed some employees from arriving to work, “the terminal continued to safely operate without interruption.” Anderson released a statement before her arrest, explaining her reasons for protesting in front of the oil pipeline terminal. “I am a diver and love the ocean with all of my heart. The destruction of the sacred is happening because of these terrible decisions to keep extracting, to keep harming the earth despite what climate science has told the world’s leaders,” her statement said in part. Although Anderson eventually lowered herself to the ground, it was not before law enforcement called in assistance from the Beltrami County sheriff’s office to help remove her, Halverson said. Tara Houska, a member of the environmental organization Ginew, was one of the people at the protest. Houska said Anderson lowered herself when officials began cutting through the poles of the tripod. Houska said although there was an ambulance on scene, Anderson likely could have been injured from the fall. “It was a very tense moment … It was incredibly dangerous,” Houska said of the officials’ decision to cut through the poles. “That was the reason she lowered herself; she felt unsafe.”

Keystone XL: police discussed stopping anti-pipeline activists 'by any means' - US law enforcement officials preparing for fresh Keystone XL pipeline protests have privately discussed tactics to stop activists “by any means” and have labeled demonstrators potential “domestic terrorism” threats, records reveal.  Internal government documents seen by the Guardian show that police and local authorities in Montana and the surrounding region have been preparing a coordinated response in the event of a new wave of protests opposing the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, which would carry crude oil from Canada to Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. Civil rights organizations say the documents raise concerns that law enforcement is preparing to launch an even more brutal and aggressive response than the police tactics utilized during the 2016 Standing Rock movement, which drew thousands of indigenous and environmental activistsopposed to the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) to North Dakota. At Standing Rock, law enforcement organized repeated rounds of mass arrests and filed a wide array of serious charges in local and federal courts against activists. Police also deployed water cannons, teargas grenades, bean bag rounds and other weapons, causing serious injuries toprotesters. The documents are mostly emails from 2017 and 2018 between local and federal authorities discussing possible Keystone protests. They show that police officials are anticipating construction will spark a sustained resistance campaign akin to the one at Standing Rock and that police are considering closing public lands near the pipeline project.  The new records have come to light as the Keystone pipeline project hasovercome numerous legal hurdles with help from the Trump administration, and as the project’s owner, TC Energy (formerly TransCanada), is moving forward with initial construction efforts. Among the major revelations in the documents:

  1. Officials at a 2017 law enforcement briefing on potential Keystone XL protests said one key tactic would be to “initially deny access to the property by protestors and keep them as far away [from] the contested locations as possible by any means”, according to an email summary from a US army corps of engineers security manager in Nebraska in July 2017.
  2. Officials with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said in 2017 that the bureau had 10 armed officers in Montana and was prepared to “work with local [law enforcement] to deny access to federal property”. In 2018, army corps officials were also in discussions with the Montana disaster and emergency services department to discuss ways to “close access” to lands near the pipeline route, including areas typically open for hunting and other activities.
  3. A “joint terrorism task force” involving the US attorney’s office and other agencies, along with federal “counterterrorism” officials, said it was prepared to assist in the response to protests and a “critical incident response team” would be available for “domestic terrorism or threats to critical infrastructure”. Authorities have also pre-emptively discussed specific potential felony charges that protesters could face, noting that a “civil disorder” statute was used to prosecute activists at Standing Rock.
  4. Authorities have been preparing for possible protests in the Fort Peck area,home to a Native American reservation and indigenous people opposing the project.

“There is a lot of muscle behind this effort to make sure that Keystone is constructed,” said Alex Rate, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, which obtained the documents through records act requests and shared them with the Guardian. “There are historically marginalized communities, primarily indigenous folks, who have grave concerns about the impact of this pipeline on their sovereignty, their resources, their religion and culture. They have a first amendment right to assemble and make their viewpoints heard.”

 Oil giant confirms sale of its Colorado oil and gas acreage to Crestone Peak Resources - One of the biggest international oil giants is selling its oil and gas lease rights at the northeast edge of the metro area in a deal poised to make Denver-basedCrestone Peak Resources much bigger.  Houston-based ConocoPhillips Co. said Tuesday that it has negotiated the deal.“We can confirm we are working towards a transaction with Crestone Peak Resources to sell our Niobrara assets and will continue to operate the assets until a transaction is complete. Beyond this, we won’t comment,” said Rachel David, a spokeswoman for ConocoPhillips’ Lower 48 oil and gas business. Niobrara refers to geological formation that’s most sought after for unconventional oil and gas development in northeast Colorado.Financial terms of the deal have not been disclosed.Crestone Peak revealed Monday that it had struck a deal to buy 97,000 acres of oil and gas lease rights in Adams and Arapahoe counties and in the city of Aurora, nearly tripling the company’s size in the southern Denver-Julesburg Basin.The deal includes the Lowry Range, a former military bombing range east of Aurora, and some ConocoPhillips acreage in northern Douglas and Elbert counties, too.The company is going through due diligence on the purchase and expects the acquisition to close in early 2020, it said.Crestone Peak would have a total of 148,000 acres on which to drill and operate oil and gas wells.Crestone Peak didn’t identify the seller of the territory it’s acquiring. It mentioned that the Aurora acreage it’s buying is covered by an operator’s agreement with the city, something only a couple companies have in place.ConocoPhillips’ online profile of its Colorado operations said it holds about 100,000 acres of leased rights, and that it employs about 160 people based from an office in the town of Watkins. The company, and its predecessor Burlington Resources Oil and Gas, have operated in the area for years. ConocoPhillips acquired Burlington Resources Oil and Gas in 2006.

Fracking workers exposed to dangerous amounts of benzene, study says - Some workers at oil and gas sites where fracking occurs are routinely exposed to high levels of benzene, a colorless gas that can cause cancer, according to a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.The agency, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommends that people limit their benzene exposure to an average of 0.1 of a part per million during their shift. But when NIOSH researchers measured the amount of airborne benzene that oil and gas workers were exposed to when they opened hatches atop tanks at well sites, 15 out of 17 samples were over that amount.Workers must open these hatches to inspect the contents of these tanks, which could include oil, waste water or chemicals used in high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The real-time readings taken by researchers show that benzene levels at the wells “reached concentrations that, depending on the length of exposure, potentially pose health risks for workers,” the researchers reported in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene. Researchers visited six oil and gas sites in Colorado and Wyoming in the spring and summer of 2013, spending about two days at each site. They outfitted 16 workers at flowback tanks with small devices attached to their shirt collars that sampled the air throughout the day. The key measurements were taken when these workers were standing above the hatch.Over the course of a 12-hour shift, workers open the hatches and stand above them one to four times per hour, breathing in the fumes for two to five minutes each time. This could add up to dangerous levels of exposure to various volatile organic compounds from the chemicals used in fracking, or from the hydrocarbons themselves.Benzene, a component of crude oil, “is of major concern because it can be acutely toxic to the nervous system, liver, and kidneys at high concentrations,” the study authors wrote. As the CDC explains, benzene interferes with the normal workings of cells.

 State Finds Elevated Benzene Level at Fracking Site Near Greeley School - For years, Greeley's Bella Romero Academy has served as a rallying cry for anti-fracking activists who say the elementary school, located about 1,200 feet from an oil and gas site where drilling operations began in 2018, had become a symbol of everything wrong with Colorado's neighborhood fracking boom. Now, state officials have confirmed the results of air-monitoring tests that activists say heighten their concerns about the site's potential health hazards.A mobile air-monitoring unit deployed to Bella Romero earlier this month recorded benzene levels at 10.24 parts per billion (ppb), exceeding the federal short-term health guideline of 9 ppb, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said today, November 25."The state health department does not believe people were harmed by this single elevated measurement but is taking swift action to investigate the cause of the elevated level and conduct additional monitoring," read the department's press release, noting that the mobile lab recorded only one elevated benzene reading in an 85-day test period. The Bella Romero air-monitoring tests come as the state ramps up its efforts to evaluate the health impacts of oil and gas activity following therelease of a long-awaited air-quality modeling study last month. That report found the potential for short-term effects from drilling sites at distances up to 2,000 feet, well in excess of current statewide "setback" minimums, and specifically identified benzene, a toxic chemical that can cause a wide variety of short- and long-term health problems, as a top concern.Following last week's test results, Colorado health officials say they're "conducting an investigation of nearby oil and gas activities on the day of the high reading." The state's air-monitoring unit will return to Bella Romero to conduct additional tests, and will report any additional elevated benzene measurements "as soon as data can be validated."

Shale Slowdown Continues As Oil Rig Count Falls Again - The US oil and gas rig count continued to fall this week, according to Baker Hughes, falling by 1 rig for the week.For oil rigs, this week marks the thirteenth decrease out of the last fifteen weeks, falling 102 rigs in that timeframe.The total oil and gas rig count now stands at 802, or 274 down from this time last year.The total number of active oil rigs in the United States decreased by 3 according to the report, reaching 668. The number of active gas rigs increased by 2, settling at 131 for the second week.  By state, Texas has seen a drop of 126 year on year, while Oklahoma sunk by 94 to hit 51 rigs.Even though the number of oil rigs has declined by 209 this year alone, production has grown from 11.7 million bpd at the beginning of the year to an all-time high of12.9 million bpd—another brand new high for the United States.Oil prices were down on Friday ahead of the data, with WTI at 1:42 pm at $57.86 per barrel (-$0.55), which is flat from last week. Brent was trading down at $62.76 (-$0.45), which is $0.50 under last week's figures.Canada’s overall rig count decreased this week, with oil and gas rigs falling by 11, after last week’s 3-rig increase. Oil and gas rigs in Canada now stand at 126, down 73 year on year. At 7 minutes past the hour, WTI was trading at $57.85 and Brent was trading at $63.35.

Dunn County produced water spill far exceeds initial report - A pipeline that leaked produced water in Dunn County last month released far more of the brine than originally estimated, a state agency said Friday, Nov. 22. The North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality announced that it had received an updated estimate on a Marathon Oil produced water spill about a mile and a half northeast of Manning on Oct. 2. According to an investigation into the incident, 32,826 barrels, or 1,378,692 gallons, were discharged. Marathon’s initial estimates indicated that roughly 500 barrels, or 21,000 gallons, were discharged. “We got out to the site and when we looked at it, everyone kind of knew it’d be bigger than (Marathon) initially estimated,” Bill Suess, spill investigation program manager for the state agency, told The Press on Friday. “They based their calculations on the surface impact they saw at the time, but with just the concentration we had seen in the stock pond, we knew it was going to be bigger — we just didn’t know how big.” As for the discrepancy in Marathon Oil’s estimates for the volume of the spill, Suess claims that, given that the pipeline was buried and that produced water spills are often harder to detect than crude oil, since most of the effects are subsurface, there is no way that Marathon could have been definitive that early in the investigation. The spill site is near a small creek flowing into the Knife River about a mile downstream of a stock pond. No impacts have been detected in the Knife River, the Department of Environmental Quality said in a news release. Produced water is a toxic and often hard to detect natural byproduct of crude oil extraction. “I’d rather deal with a crude oil spill on land, than a salt water spill,” Suess said.

Newsom freezes new fracking permits, but oil drilling permits outpace 2018 - The FracTracker Alliance and Consumer Watchdog unveiled a new website on November 19 to continually map and update the number of oil and gas wells permitted by the Newsom Administration: http://www.NewsomWellWatch.com. “The pace of permitting overall is still on track to beat the total number of permits issued during Brown’s final year in office (2018). The number of drilling and rework permits issued in the first ten months of 2019 through November 4 total 4,049. In the same period of 2018, under Governor Brown, the total was 3,723,” the groups stated.  On November 19, Governor Gavin Newsom froze the approval of new fracking permits as a scientific study of fracking is conducted, but the total number of permits approved under the Newsom Administration still outpace those approved under Jerry Brown in 2018.State oil and gas regulators have not issued a new permit for fracking or acidizing in California since mid-July and have slowed the overall rate of permitting oil wells. Yet public interest groups Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance point out that regulators have granted oil permits at a pace that is 8.8% greater in the first ten months of 2019 than in the same period last year under Governor Jerry Brown, based on an analysis of state data.Three actions were announced by Newsom and the Department of Conservation’s Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR):
1. A halt of approvals of new oil extraction wells that use high-pressure steam to break oil formations below the ground, a process linked to recent oil leaks in Kern County.
2. Rules for public health and safety protections near oil and gas extraction facilities will be updated and strengthened.
3. Pending applications to conduct hydraulic fracturing and other well stimulation practices will be independently reviewed. 
“These are necessary steps to strengthen oversight of oil and gas extraction as we phase out our dependence on fossil fuels and focus on clean energy sources,” said Governor Newsom. “This transition cannot happen overnight; it must advance in a deliberate way to protect people, our environment, and our economy.”

Fracking Blows Up Investors Again- Phase 2 Of The Great American Shale Oil & Gas Bust - Wolf Richter - In 2019 through third quarter, 32 oil and gas drillers have filed for bankruptcy, according to Haynes and Boone.  Since the end of September, a gaggle of other oil and gas drillers have filed for bankruptcy, including last Monday, natural gas producer Approach Resources. This pushed the total number of bankruptcy filings of oil and gas drillers since the beginning of 2015 to over 200. Other drillers, such as Chesapeake Energy, are jostling for position at the filing counter.  Chesapeake has been burning cash ever since it started fracking. To feed its cash-burn machine, it has borrowed large amounts and has been buckling under its debt for years, selling assets to raise cash and keep drilling for another day. But its debt is still nearly $10 billion. Its shares closed on Friday at 59 cents. On November 5, in an SEC filing, it warned of its own demise unless oil and gas prices surge into the sky asap: “If continued depressed prices persist, combined with the scheduled reductions in the leverage ratio covenant, our ability to comply with the leverage ratio covenant during the next 12 months will be adversely affected which raises substantial doubt about our ability to continue as a going concern.”  Other exploration and production (E&P) companies have seen their shares get crushed as reality began to re-set in. Whiting Petroleum shares [WLL] had spiked to $370 in August 2014, when the oil bust was setting in. By the trough of Phase 1 of the oil bust, in February 2016, its shares had plunged to $14. Then new money started flowing into the sector, and its shares rallied to $55 by August last year. Then Phase 2 of the oil bust set in, and after some disastrous earnings reports, its shares closed on Friday at $5.34. In June 2018, Whiting sold $1 billion of callable senior unsecured bonds, with a coupon of 6.625%. The next call date is in October 2025. Through September 2018, the notes were trading at 103-104 cents on the dollar. Then Phase 2 of the oil bust took its toll. On Friday, the bonds closed at 57.8 cents on the dollar, at a yield of 18.375% (via FINRA’s TRACE): The S&P U.S. High Yield Corporate Distressed Bond Index tracks bonds that trade at a yield that is at least 10 percentage points higher than the equivalent Treasury yield (“Option Adjusted Spread” of 1,000 basis points). Chesapeake’s bond illustrated above, trading at 21%, and Whiting’s bond trading at 18.375% qualify for this index with flying colors. Of the 182 constituents in the index, many are energy bonds. Since November 2018, the index has plunged by 28%:

 Icahn to Seek Control of Oxy Board-- Carl Icahn plans to nominate a slate of 10 directors in an attempt to seize control of the board of U.S. oil and gas producer Occidental Petroleum Corp., according to people familiar with the matter. The billionaire investor, who owns a stake in the company valued at about $1 billion, plans to make his move before the Nov. 29 deadline for nominations, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private. A representative for Icahn declined to comment, while a representative for Occidental wasn’t immediately available for comment. Icahn has been a vocal critic of the company -- and Chief Executive Officer Vicki Hollub in particular -- over its $37 billion takeover of Anadarko Petroleum Corp. completed in August. He has attacked the lack of a shareholder vote and the pricey $10 billion financing the company obtained from Warren Buffett to get the deal done. Occidental’s stock has slumped 41% since its interest in Anadarko was first reported in April, wiping out about $15 billion of shareholder value. The company is the seventh-worst performer in the S&P 500 index this year. In a Nov. 8 letter explaining his decision to launch a proxy fight, Icahn said the merger made “no sense” to anyone other than Hollub and certain members of the board, who he said “grossly overpaid” for Anadarko to avoid becoming a takeover target themselves. Icahn has argued Occidental should launch a strategic review, including a potential sale of the combined company, once the Anadarko deal was completed. “I believe it has become apparent — perhaps to everyone except Hollub and her board — that OXY’s massive Anadarko gamble is seriously jeopardizing the company’s future value,” Icahn said in the letter, referring to Occidental by its stock symbol. Houston-based Occidental said this month it plans to cut spending by 40% next year and accelerate asset sales in order to pay down debt and protect its dividend, both of which Hollub described as her “top priorities.” The company said it’s on track to exceed the upper end of its $10 billion to $15 billion asset plan by the middle of 2020, six months ahead of schedule.

Global oil consumption remains sluggish - (Reuters) - Global oil consumption has apparently accelerated since mid-year as lower prices filter through the supply chain, increasing demand and avoiding a big increase in inventories. But all may not be as it seems. Much of the growth has come from China, where reported consumption is rising at rates inconsistent with the country’s slumping auto sales and slowing economy. China’s fuel distributors and consumers have most likely taken advantage of lower prices to boost the amount of products held at fuel depots and in end-user tanks before prices rise again. If that is the case, much of the increase can be accounted for by a one-time shift in the location of stocks rather than a sustainable increase in consumption and it will likely unwind if prices rise again next year (https://tmsnrt.rs/2XP8U7d).  Consumption in the rest of the world remains sluggish, according to the latest government figures reported to the Joint Organisations Data Initiative (JODI). The world’s top 18 consuming countries, each using more than 1 million barrels per day, reported a rise in consumption of 1.6% in the three months from June to August compared with the same period a year earlier. That was the fastest rate since the start of the year and a marked turnaround from the small year-on-year decline in the three months between March and May. But China's reported surge in consumption of almost 13% year-on-year in June-August -- among the fastest rates of the last eight years -- is flattering the figures and hard to square with the country's economic backdrop. Excluding China, consumption in the other top-17 countries was down 0.9% in the three months from June to August compared with a year ago, an improvement on a few months ago, but still weak.  The flat or falling consumption trend in the rest of the world is consistent with the decline in global freight movements and the decline in global manufacturing activity reported in business surveys.

 Freezing in the dark could happen in that place that doesn't believe in our petroleum -  “Let them freeze in the dark” is an old saying that got a lot of play in late November, as famously anti-pipeline, anti-oil, pro-equalization Quebec said on Nov. 21 it was within days of running out of propane due to the Canadian National Railway strike.  A few days later, it was announced a train was expected by Nov. 25 which would tide the province over for a few more days. On Nov. 24, Pembina announced it was essentially coming to the rescue, stating in a press release, “Pembina is preparing unit trains, comprising up to 105 cars, with propane sourced from Western Canada, by Canadian producers at Pembina's Redwater, Alberta, facility. Pembina's facility is the only one in Canada capable of amassing these quantities of propane and building such unit trains.”  Where do you use propane? Basically, wherever you need a flame and there is a lack of natural gas infrastructure. In other words, no pipelines. This includes remote communities, farmers drying grain, your barbecue in the backyard or the one you take to the lake. A few years ago, my dad converted his house on the farm from fuel oil (essentially diesel) to propane heat, resulting in a tremendous cost savings.But I’ve also learned that sometimes propane is used to supplement natural gas supplies, where either there’s insufficient pressure or insufficient energy from the natural gas by itself. In these cases, propane is used in a mixed-fuel scenario.There’s not a lot of pipe moving propane to Central Canada. There once was a dedicated pipeline which carried propane from Alberta to central Canada, the Cochin Pipeline. Kinder Morgan owns it, but is in the process of selling it to Pembina.  In March 2014, the direction of flow on the segment of the Cochin Pipeline from Kankakee, Illinois, to Fort Saskatchewan was reversed to transport condensate westbound.  The eastern portion of that pipeline system now delivers ethane from Ohio to Windsor. Enbridge’s Line 1 takes NLGs to Superior, Wisc., and then its Line 5 takes NGLs from there to Sarnia, Ont.  These days, most propane, at least from Saskatchewan, is shipped by rail, with the rest by truck. A lot goes through the rail terminal at Northgate, on the U.S. border.  This whole supposed crisis in Quebec leaves some interesting questions. How does a province run so dangerously low of a critical fuel supply like propane? Was it the increased consumption by farmers trying to dry grain there, as well as on the Prairies? Or was there some sort of market failure? And if it was, how and when did the government of Quebec step in? Why should governments have to ration supplies?

Unpaid Bills in Mexico Oil Patch Add to Pemex Troubles - Companies that help keep Mexico’s faltering oil wells operating are waiting months to get paid and the debts are building up, complicating efforts to revive an industry whose production has plunged by half since 2004. Petroleos Mexicanos, facing pressure from the government to slow spending, has delayed some payments to contractors for as long as seven months. The result: goods and services are becoming scarcer and contractors are finding it tougher to secure financing of their own. “Investors and credit ratings agencies don’t have confidence in what Pemex is doing in the sector,” said Sergio Suarez Toriello, director of strategy at Marinsa de Mexico, which does contract work for Pemex. “So this is the biggest risk for suppliers: Getting access to resources and financing for working capital and investment.” Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is pushing to end the year with a government-wide surplus, and that effort has slowed payments from Pemex, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg. The president has previously pledged to rescue Pemex from its debilitating debt and long-term production declines. Pemex faces about $100 billion in debt, the most of any major oil producer. Pemex owes Marinsa, which provides marine services for Mexico’s offshore drilling platforms, 155 million pesos ($8 million), according to Suarez Toriello. The company has been waiting seven months for about 47 million pesos of that debt from logistics contracts, he said. The remaining amount has been in arrears for about three to four months. Marinsa isn’t alone. Another international service supplier with an established presence in Mexico is facing delays of more than three months on its payments, said a person familiar with the finances who asked not to be named because the information is private.

Exclusive: Facing U.S. sanctions, Venezuela offers suppliers payment in Chinese yuan - sources - (Reuters) - Venezuela’s government and its oil company PDVSA have offered to pay suppliers and contractors into accounts in China using the yuan currency, five people familiar with the matter said. The move made in recent months is the latest example of how Caracas has sought new ways of making international payments since sweeping sanctions by Washington, intended to force out socialist President Nicolas Maduro, cut off the country’s access to the U.S. financial system. Officials have made the proposal verbally to at least four companies that provide services to the public sector, said the people, including two government officials and three sources from private companies in the financial or oil sectors. The individuals declined to disclose which companies have been approached. The companies are evaluating the proposal, the sources said. Reuters could not determine whether any such payments in yuan have been made. China’s central bank, the Peoples’ Bank of China, did not respond to a faxed request for comment. PDVSA, Venezuela’s central bank, and Venezuela’s information ministry did not respond to requests for comment. Venezuelan public entities have traditionally paid private sector partners in the local bolivar currency or U.S. dollars. But hyperinflation and U.S. sanctions, which prohibit American companies from doing business with Venezuela’s public sector, are complicating those methods.

Two Injured in Offshore Explosion - Two Equinor employees were injured when a portable nitrogen gas bottle exploded on board the Heimdal platform in the North Sea on Thursday November 28. The two injured employees, a man (22) and a woman (19), were taken care of by health personnel on board Heimdal and were transported to Haukeland University Hospital and Stavanger University Hospital. Their injuries are not life-threatening. “This is a serious work-related incident that has strongly affected all of us. Our main priority now is to keep following up and supporting our injured personnel and their next-of-kin. Their colleagues on Heimdal, where the incident occurred, are also being taken care of and we have sent extra personnel offshore to support them,” says Arne Sigve Nylund, executive vice president for Development and Production Norway. There were 70 personnel on board the platform when the incident occurred. It is too early to say something about the cause of the incident, says Equinor. The Petroleum Safety Authority Norway and the police have travelled to the platform to start their investigations. “We have also initiated an internal investigation, and we are helping the police and other relevant authorities carry out their investigations in the best possible way,” says Nylund. He adds that a controlled production shutdown on Heimdal is planned.

North Sea Oil Is Doomed With Or Without Brexit Authored - The uncertainty of the future of Brexit has left the United Kingdom’s economy in stagnation as business investment falters on the eve of the nation’s December general election.  “British business investment has fallen 1.1 percent since the June 2016 Brexit referendum, and analysts warn that it could cause long-term damage to the economy,” according to reporting from Al Jazeera this week. The Al Jazeera report continues, “the International Monetary Fund says China-US trade tensions are hurting investment globally. But Brexit uncertainty threatens to turn the UK problem into a crisis.” The crisis is already beginning, as weak investment patterns have already make the UK’s economy too at risk for inflation for the central bank to be able to stimulate it by cutting interest rates, according to a representative from the Bank of England. All of this will have major implications for the oil industry in the UK’s North Sea, from the obvious impacts of economic slowdown on the domestic energy sector to the added uncertainty of Scotland potentially splitting off from the UK to stay in the European Union.  If Scotland does decide to break away from the UK definitively, it would make major waves in the North Sea drilling industry (pun most definitely intended). In the extremely possible scenario of an independent Scotland, if operating costs or ease become compromised or complicated, it is likely that many North Sea oil producers would very soon opt to take their business elsewhere. Back when this concern first surfaced in 2016, CEO of oil and gas company Petroplan Andrew Speers told CNBC that “Many of the operators and service companies [in the North Sea] with Scottish operations are global by nature and the most important thing is Scotland remains an easy and profitable place to do business.” At the same time, however, there were some experts that speculated that the opposite could be true, and that an economic slowdown could ultimately be a boon for UK oil producers thanks to a deflated pound sterling. “For those in the U.K. and those producing oil in the U.K. North Sea, the weaker U.K. currency will reduce costs because operating costs are paid in pounds but the product (oil) is sold in U.S. dollars,” IHS Energy director Spencer Welch told CNBC. These concerns and hopes are still as valid now as they were in 2016, as Brexit still hangs in the bureaucratic balance.

Crude oil from Brazil spill washes up on a beach in Rio de Janeiro - The Brazilian Navy says it has found small bits of crude oil on a beach in Rio de Janeiro state, the 11th state to be affected by a mysterious and massive oil spill. Authorities reported Saturday finding very small quantities of the black tar -300 grams- but its arrival on a beach in the highly touristic state of Rio is symbolic. The Navy confirmed the oil collected Friday was "compatible" with that found in other states. Authorities have retrieved more than 4,000 tons of oil thus far. The thick, viscous substance first showed up early September and has since polluted more than 720 beaches, rivers and mangroves, hurting fishing and tourism. Authorities have described the spill as one of the country's worst environmental disasters and say more might be coming. 

Oil from spill in Brazil washes up in Rio state -- Oil from a spill that has contaminated a stretch of Brazil's coast was detected in Rio de Janeiro state, the navy said Saturday, as President Jair Bolsonaro warned the country was preparing for the worst. Some 300 grams—a small quantity of oil—were found far from the region's most famous beaches, in the sand in the town of Sao Joao da Barra, as the spill moves southward. The town is located about 300 kilometers (180 miles) north of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's tourism capital, and far from the state's most emblematic beaches such as Copacabana.  On Saturday, Bolsonaro said that "we still don't know how much oil is left in the sea." "In the worst case, if an oil tanker unloaded all of its cargo into the sea, less than 10 percent has reached our shores, which is why we are preparing for the worst,"    Patches of oil have turned up along a 2,000-kilometer stretch of Atlantic coastline, after oil started tarnishing beaches in Paraiba state in late August. It has since spread dramatically and reached Espirito Santo state, which neighbors Rio. Brazil's environmental protection agency Ibama has identified more than 700 locations where the coast has been contaminated. Workers and volunteers wearing rubber gloves are racing against time to clear beaches ahead of the country's peak tourism season. According to the Navy, more than 4,500 tons of oil has been removed and more than 5,000 soldiers mobilized for cleaning operations. The spill has proven deadly for dozens of types of animals, including turtles, and has also reached a humpback whale sanctuary off Bahia state, which has some of the country's richest biodiversity. Early this month, the government named a Greek-flagged tanker as the "prime suspect" for being the source of the oil slicks. The ship, "Bouboulina," took on oil in Venezuela and was headed for Singapore, it said. The tanker's operators have denied the vessel was to blame. 

Brazilian oil spill keeps advancing and has reached the north of Rio do Janeiro state - Oil from a spill that has contaminated a stretch of Brazil's coast was detected in Rio de Janeiro state, the navy said over the weekend, as President Jair Bolsonaro warned the country was preparing for the worst. Some 300g - a small quantity of oil - were found far from the region's most famous beaches, in the sand in the town of Sao Joao da Barra, as the spill moves southward. The town is located about 300km north of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's tourism capital, and far from the state's most emblematic beaches such as Copacabana. “The samples analyzed are compatible with the oil found on the northeast coast,” the navy said in a statement. On Saturday, Bolsonaro said that “we still don't know how much oil is left in the sea.” “In the worst case, if an oil tanker unloaded all of its cargo into the sea, less than 10 percent has reached our shores, which is why we are preparing for the worst,” he said, speaking outside a military ceremony in Rio de Janeiro. Patches of oil have turned up along a 2,000km stretch of Atlantic coastline, after oil started tarnishing beaches in Paraiba state in late August. It has since spread dramatically and reached Espirito Santo state, which neighbors Rio. Brazil's environmental protection agency Ibama has identified more than 700 locations where the coast has been contaminated. Workers and volunteers wearing rubber gloves are racing against time to clear beaches ahead of the country's peak tourism season. According to the Navy, more than 4,500 tons of oil has been removed and more than 5,000 soldiers mobilized for cleaning operations. The spill has proven deadly for dozens of types of animals, including turtles, and has also reached a humpback whale sanctuary off Bahia state, which has some of the country's richest biodiversity. It is the third major environmental disaster to strike Brazil this year. In recent months fires ravaged the Amazon rainforest and in January a mine dam collapsed in the southeast, spewing millions of tons of toxic waste across the countryside. 

About five thousand tons of crude oil collected along Brazils coast -- About 5,000 tons of oil were collected off the coast of Brazil, since the first oil slicks appeared on August 30, the Navy reported. Quoted today by the G1 news website, the report indicates that this figure was communicated by the Monitoring and Evaluation Group (GAA), formed by the Navy, the National Petroleum Agency and the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA).  In this monitoring phase we verified a stabilization of the situation,' said squadron Admiral Marcelo Francisco Campos, who coordinates the group.The monitoring of the affected areas shows that, in the last week, 99 percent of the efforts correspond to traces of oil on polluted beaches (in the northeast and the Espiritu Santo state in the southeast). In Rio de Janiero, 320 grams of the material were discovered.According to a press release published by the group, since the first signs of the oil spill were noted, 803 locations have been affected. Even so, according to the agency, there have been no oil spills at sea for 19 days.The first slicks appeared on August 30, on the beaches of Paraiba. The clean-up efforts are supported by 10,000 military personnel from the Navy, the Army and the Air Force, as well as 5,000 IBAMA, Chico Mendes Institute, Civil Defense and Petrobras employees. According to Campos, the so-called Blue Amazon Operation will have three phases. The first aims to repair and mitigate the damage caused by the appearance of the oil slicks, which started after they first appeared. This phase should continue until December 20. The second phase will be maintenance and control, in which the work will focus on establishing a plan to employ the forces of the group and control new black tides

Brazil‘s oil spill ‘criminally deposited‘ on beaches: Bolsonaro --President Jair Bolsonaro has suggested a criminal element to the mystery oil slicks polluting Brazil‘s northeast coast. About 100 oil spills have been detected along the nation‘s beaches since early September.Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday said appeared to have been “criminally deposited” there, reported Reuters news agency.The crude oil “does not seem to come from an offshore platform,” Bolsonaro told reporters, suggesting it was from another country, without elaborating because of an ongoing police probe. “It could be something criminal, it could be an accidental spill, it could also be a ship that sank. It is complex. We have on our radar screen a country that could be the origin of the oil.”  If the oil originated from a shipwreck, as the president suggested earlier this week, it would still be seeping onto the beaches, he said.

Ex-Petrobras Trader Tells Judge Vitol Bribed Him-- A former Petroleo Brasileiro SA oil trader who went by the code name “Phil Collins” told a Brazilian judge he received bribes from Vitol Group to favor the firm in contracts with the crude producer, court documents show. Carlos Roberto Martins Barbosa said he collected payoffs between 2003 and 2005 to steer fuel oil contracts to Vitol with Petrobras, as the state-controlled company is known, and give Vitol more favorable terms. Payments equivalent to 12 cents per barrel were deposited by Vitol into his bank account in Switzerland, according to his Oct. 23 testimony, which was published for the first time on a court website in Brazil’s Parana state. The alleged bribes were paid following negotiations with the head of Vitol in Brazil at the time, Lauro Moreira, and with the consent of the firm’s U.S. boss Mike Loya and then-Latin America head Tony Maarraoui, the ex-Petrobras trader testified. Loya and Maarraoui have previously been cited in court documents as part of Brazil’s sprawling Carwash corruption probe. “In trading, when you want to get a bribe, you don’t make $10 a barrel in one cargo,” Barbosa said in the testimony. “It’s the perpetuity of a few cents in each sale, in each product, that provides the illicit gain.” Investigators say their long-running investigation is zeroing in on commodity trading houses. On Thursday, Brazilian prosecutors said Swiss authorities executed search warrants at Geneva addresses linked to Vitol and Trafigura Group Ltd., which are the subject of a corruption and money-laundering investigation for allegedly bribing employees at Petrobras. One Brazilian prosecutor said top executives of the two firms could face charges for being aware of and engaging in the scheme.

Diesel oil spill from cruise ship cleaned up at Aotea Quay - Thanks to quick action from our Harbours and Environmental Protection teams, Monday afternoon’s diesel spill at Aotea Quay was mitigated swiftly. While less than 100 litres of diesel hit the water, we activated our emergency response procedures immediately and assisted the oil to break up naturally. The most immediate threat to the environment has passed. Meanwhile we’re working with the oil company to see just how the spill occurred, and to prevent it from happening again. We are continuing to monitor the harbour, but no oiled wildlife has been found.The DomPost reports that the diesel spilled into Wellington Harbour while mega-cruise ship Radiance of the Seas was taking on fuel. Harbour master Grant Nalder confirmed that there were reports of penguins in the area of the spill. Initially, there were fears of up to 800 litres being spilled. The official estimate was earlier about 400 litres but this was reduced today to fewer than 100 litres.

Small amount of oil spilt off Taranaki coast - A "small amount" of oil was recently spotted near floating production, storage and offloading ship The Umuroa off the coast of Taranaki. The Umuroa, owned by BW Offshore, has been operating from Tamarind Taranaki's Tui Oil field and was 60 kilometres off shore when the oil was spotted. In an emailed statement, Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) said a "small amount of oil dispersed naturally" and there had been no reports of any environmental damage. The spokesman said oil across 20-30 metres of water could be seen about 400 metres from The Umaroa. "A helicopter was used to fly over the site at about 6pm Thursday. It found the sheen on the water was dispersing and the area covered getting smaller," the MNZ spokesman said in an emailed statement. "An aircraft was used to fly offer the site at about 9am Friday. It found no sheen and no oil." The Taranaki Regional Council said it was notified of the spill by MNZ but had no involvement in the clean up as it was outside its boundary.

Tamarind Taranaki told to stop pumping oil from offshore - Struggling oil company Tamarind Taranaki has been issued an abatement notice to stop pumping crude oil from three wells in the Tui field off the region's coast after an oil spill last week. Environment Protection Authority (EPA) issued the abatement notice this week to the Malaysian-based company, which is currently under voluntary administration owing more than $190m to creditors. The notice stopped Tamarind Taranaki extracting oil from the Pateke 3H, Pateke 4H and Amokura wells to the Umuroa floating production storage and offtake vessel, or FPSO, in the Tui field until certain conditions were met, the EPA said. Tamarind will be able to resume production when the company complied with the abatement notice conditions, the authority said. Under the conditions the company must "conclusively identify the source of the hydrocarbon sheen and provide evidence to the EPA supporting the conclusion reached, assess the condition of the flowlines and associated connections of Pateke 3H, Pateke 4H and Amokura wells, and provide evidence to the EPA that confirms system integrity will be maintained on start-up." The authority is continuing to investigate the spill which was detected after a 20-30m long sheen about 400m from the Umuroa was discovered about 60km off shore on November 21. The sheen, estimated by Tamarind to be about 100 litres, dispersed naturally. A subsequent survey undertaken by the company found a 10-12 metre split in the flow line connecting the Umuroa to the Tui 2H well. Tamarind Taranaki can appeal the abatement notice and is working with the EPA to achieve compliance. BW Offshore, which operates the Umuroa, is due to leave the Tui field in December 31 after Tamarind Taranaki decided not to renew its contract in September. The Norwegian-based company estimates it is owed $35.8m (US$23m) by Tamarind in unpaid costs. 

Large oil spill reported off Irans Kharg Island - The Iranian Ports and Maritime Organization (PMO) has confirmed a large oil spill off Kharg Island, the home of the nation's largest offshore oil field and main oil export loading terminals. The spill - first reported by TankerTrackers - may come from an oil rig off the island's west coast, according to U.S.-financed Radio Farda, and it began on about November 22. The rig may be one of several in the Abouzar offshore oil field, a large reservoir first developed in the 1970s. The field produces approximately 200,000 bpd of oil, but about 40 out of its 100-plus wells are old and out of production, according to state oil outlet Shana. The spill has spread to at least 12-15 miles in length, according to Iranian sources. Four vessels have been assigned to the task of spraying dispersants to break up the sheen. Given the size and severity, national-level response assets are being mobilized, a PMO official told state media.  According to Mehr News, a dive team repaired a leak in the main oil transfer pipeline from the Abouzar field to Kharg Island earlier this month, with no leaks and no effects on production.

A New Pipeline Could Undo America’s Influence In Asia -- From the moment that the U.S. re-imposed sanctions in earnest on Iran late last year, Pakistan has been looking at ways to resuscitate a deal that had been agreed in principle before the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) last May. This deal involved moving as much gas as Pakistan needs from Iran’s Asalouyeh into Pakistan’s Gwadar and then on to Nawabshah for further transit if required. At the same time, China has been in long-running discussions with Pakistan over the specific projects that Beijing wanted to place in Pakistan as part of its ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) programme. All the while, the U.S. has been trying to stymie any such arrangement but OilPrice.com understands that the Iran-China-Pakistan deal is now back on, and with a vengeance.  Joint statements just over a week ago from both Pakistan and China sides laid out four projects that are part of a ‘broader co-operation’ between China and Pakistan. They all sound relatively run-of-the-mill affairs, although still major undertakings, and are: the upgrading of the Pakistan Refinery Karachi, the building out of a coal to liquid engineering plant based on Thar coal at Thar Sindh, the utilisation of Thar Block VI for coal gasification and fertiliser projects, and the finalisation of the feasibility study on South-North Gas Pipeline Project that traverses Pakistan.  The fact that they are much more significant to the global geopolitical balance was evidenced by the U.S.’s furious warnings to Pakistan, based on the fact that all of these projects are in reality a key part of Beijing’s planned China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which, in turn, is a cornerstone of the OBOR initiative. Even as it was, U.S. South Asia diplomat, Alice Wells, warned that CPEC – which, vitally, includes heavy financing from Beijing and, therefore, a massive debt obligation to China by the host country over time – will only profit Beijing. As it stands, the cost of just the first round of CPEC projects has risen from an initial costing of US$48 billion to at least US$62 billion right now.   For China, the new pipeline – integral to its plan of making Iran and Pakistan its client states over time – has the added benefit of putting the U.S. on the backfoot in the ongoing trade war. For Iran, the incentives of closer ties with China and Russia are principally financial but also relate to China being just one of five Permanent Members on the U.N. Security Council (the others being Russia, the U.S., the U.K., and France). For Pakistan as well there is the added incentive that it is tired of being lambasted by the U.S. for its duplicity in dealing with international terrorism.  In practical terms, Pakistan certainly needs all the sustainable energy sources it can get.

 Landmark Siberian gas to test CNPC's marketing mettle in China's backwaters - - Across China’s coal-burning northeastern provinces, pipelines are being laid, contracts signed and coal-fired boilers ripped out ahead of the arrival next week of the country’s first piped natural gas from Russia. The ‘Power of Siberia’ pipeline, due to open on Dec. 2, will pipe natural gas around 3,000 km (1,865 miles) from Russia’s Siberian fields to the fading industrial region, which has lagged the push to gas in China’s south and east. The pipeline - which will deliver gas under a 30-year, $400 billion deal signed in 2014 - has the potential to transform northeast China’s energy landscape and even slow the country’s surging imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG). It will also make Russia a key supplier to China, to rival Turkmenistan and Australia, boosting ties amid Beijing’s trade war with the United States. More immediately, it poses a challenge for the sole marketer of the gas, China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), or PetroChina, as it looks to drum up demand in the relatively sparsely populated region that has relied on coal for heating during sub-zero winters. The pipeline will emerge in Heilongjiang, which borders Russia, and feed on to Jilin and Liaoning, China’s top grain hub, where rust belt industries have long been overshadowed elsewhere. The region’s industry and 68 million city dwellers consume just 14 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas a year, well below the 38 bcm the pipeline will deliver at full capacity by 2025. Russia’s Gazprom has said it expects to supply 4.6 bcm in 2020, rising to 10 bcm in 2021, 16 bcm in 2022, 21 bcm in 2023 and 25 bcm in 2024. With local power prices capped by authorities to support manufacturing, and cheaper imported coal available via Liaoning’s Dalian port, CNPC faces a tough task to sell gas. “It will take a long time to nurture a market in the northeast where gas-fired power generation barely exists and the industrial sector is weak,” said Li Yao, chief executive of consultancy SIA Energy. “With no take-or-pay contracts in place (domestically), CNPC shoulders most of the marketing risk.” Neither PetroChina nor Gazprom has revealed the gas pricing terms, but Beijing-based analysts said the price is linked to crude oil or a basket of competing fuels. Ling Xiao, a PetroChina vice president in charge of gas marketing, said last month Siberian supplies would be priced “slightly lower” than piped imports from Turkmenistan, but the company “will still be making a loss as (the price) exceeds that of domestic city-gate benchmark rates.”

Qatar Targeting 64 Percent Jump in LNG Capacity-- Qatar, the world’s biggest supplier of liquefied natural gas, plans to boost output capacity by almost two thirds after it adds production facilities to exploit recently discovered reserves. The Persian Gulf state will expand its LNG capacity to 126 million tons a year by 2027, thanks to gas from a newly explored section of the planet’s largest field, Energy Minister Saad Sherida Al Kaabi said at a news briefing in Doha. Qatar can currently produce 77 million tons of LNG annually and expects to raise capacity to 110 million tons by 2024. Qatar’s massive North Field extends onshore into the area around the industrial city of Ras Laffan, Al Kaabi said on Monday. “Studies and well tests have also confirmed the ability to produce large quantities of gas from this new sector,” he said. Qatar’s plan for a 64 percent increase in LNG capacity is likely to intensify a global glut in the fuel. The nation is seeking to fend off competition from rival producers such as Australia and the U.S. that have ramped up production and eroded the Gulf state’s historic dominance of the market. Australia has exported about 70 million tons of LNG this year, compared with 71.9 million for Qatar, according to vessel-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg. The North Field holds more than 1,760 trillion cubic feet of gas, and state-run Qatar Petroleum will “immediately” start engineering work for two additional LNG production plants, or trains, for a combined capacity of 16 million tons annually, Al Kaabi said in a statement. Qatar will be able to produce about 6.7 million barrels of oil equivalent a day by 2027, said Al Kaabi, who also serves as QP’s President and Chief Executive Officer. The country is also looking to invest in LNG facilities in importing countries, possibly including the U.K., Belgium, and Italy, Al Kaabi said. QP is a partner in the Adriatic LNG terminal near Venice, Italy.

 OPEC and Russia likely to extend oil production cuts at upcoming meeting - OPEC and Russia are likely to extend their oil production deal at least through midyear, but if they were to cut more output, as some speculate, it would blindside what has become a complacent market, analysts said.The ministers head into the Dec. 5 and 6 meeting with oil prices near their highest levels in two months. OPEC and Russia and other allies have an ongoing agreement to reduce output by 1.2 million barrels a day, with the biggest cuts coming from Saudi Arabia."At this stage, it's not perfect for a number of producers, but it's not catastrophic either," said Helima Croft, global head of commodities strategy at RBC. "We're kind of treading water."The current agreement expires in March, but many analysts expect the OPEC plus group to extend it until its next meeting in June or even to its meeting a year from now."It's a very unsettled time for OPEC. The gulf between the haves and have nots has widened. Price relief has not been enough to stave off social unrest in a number of key producer states. ... There's no better option at this point," Croft said. "...We've had almost like a second Arab spring."Croft expects the deal to be extended until June, and then ministers will again review it. Many other analysts expect the cuts will be extended as well, but some believe OPEC and Russia could cut even more."A Hollywood shock ending would be if they actually went deeper," Croft said.

Oil rally pauses as hedge funds await trade talks (Reuters) - Oil prices ran out of momentum last week as hedge fund managers stopped buying and realised some profits following a strong rally since the start of October. Hedge funds and other money managers sold the equivalent of 29 million barrels in the six major futures and options contracts linked to petroleum prices in the week to Nov. 19. Fund managers became small sellers after buying 176 million barrels over the previous five weeks, records published by ICE Futures Europe and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission show. Portfolio managers last week sold NYMEX and ICE WTI (-23 million barrels) and European gasoil (-8 million) while buying small volumes of Brent (+1 million) and U.S. gasoline (+2 million). Oil prices have rallied amid expectations the United States and China will reach a limited trade deal, helping the global economy to avoid a recession and supporting oil consumption in 2020. Traders are also increasingly optimistic production growth from U.S. shale will slow next year as price cuts result in fewer new wells drilled (https://tmsnrt.rs/2DgroUp). Neither the trade deal nor the slowdown in U.S. shale output is certain, however, and there is a risk of the market getting ahead of itself. Most hedge fund managers appear content to wait for a stronger signal about the talks before committing more money to the rally, and in a few cases betting on a short-term pullback. With front-month Brent prices already up more than $5 per barrel (10%) since the start of October and $7 (13%) from their August lows, traders stopped buying and made minor sales in a few cases. 

  Oil kicks off week with gains on fresh hopes for US-China trade talks - Oil prices began the week on a brighter note on Monday, posting early gains as positive noises from Washington over the weekend rekindled optimism in global markets that the United States and China could soon sign a deal to end their bitter trade war. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude rose 10 cents, or 0.17% to $57.87 a barrel by 0220 GMT, having ended last week little changed after tracking ups and downs in the trade talks process. Brent crude futures were at $63.46 was up 7 cents, or 0.11%, the benchmark having also finished little changed last week. “It is still all about trade talks,” “It seems to be dominating markets action at the moment.” Monday’s higher opening prices came after U.S. national security adviser Robert O’Brien said on Saturday that an initial trade agreement with China is still possible by the end of the year. This came a day after both President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed a desire to sign an initial trade deal and defuse a 16-month tariff war that has lowered global growth — though Trump also he had yet to decide whether he wanted to finalize a deal while Xi said he would not be afraid to retaliate when necessary. At CMC Markets, strategist McCarthy noted that a move by China to protect intellectual property was also providing a supportive atmosphere for the trade talks. “This is a big step forward for potential trade negotiation if they are adopted as official policy,” McCarthy said. Still, concern remains that events in Hong Kong, riven by months of anti-government unrest, could overshadow trade talk progress. U.S. national security adviser O’Brien warned on Saturday that Washington would not turn a blind eye to what happens in Hong Kong, where demonstrators remain angry at what they see as Beijing meddling in freedoms promised to the ex-British colony when it returned to Chinese rule more than 20 years ago. Over the weekend, the city’s democrats won a landslide and symbolic majority in district council elections.

Oil gains, holds near 2-month high as looming OPEC meeting expected to yield deeper cuts – Oil prices recovered late Monday after a mostly down day, having gained in three of the past four sessions. Prices remained near the two-month closing highs scored last Thursday as “the trifecta of positivity: U.S.-Sino trade talk optimism, OPEC+ compliance and a sturdy U.S. macro data scrim, should continue to resonate” with oil bulls, said Stephen Innes, chief Asia market strategist with AXI Trader. West Texas Intermediate crude futures for January delivery closed up 24 cents, or 0.4%, to $58.01 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. January Brent crude, the global benchmark, gained 26 cents, or 0.4%, at $63.65 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe. Contributing to the positive tone on the trade front, the Chinese government on Sunday released a document calling for more protection of intellectual property rights. Oil futures hit a two-month high on Thursday before choppy trading action took over at week’s end when China’s President Xi Jinping said Beijing wants to work with the U.S. for a trade deal, but was not afraid to “fight back” to protect its own interests, according to the Associated Press. “Traders will be looking for any positive signs that the much-discussed face to face between the U.S. and China will take place before Dec. 15 when the U.S. is scheduled to impose more tariffs,” said Innes. The front-month U.S. benchmark WTI contract ended 0.1% lower last week, while Brent, the global benchmark, logged a weekly gain of roughly 0.1%.   Oil prices have climbed of late as global supplies have fallen so far this year thanks to efforts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, but growth in U.S. shale output and a slowdown in crude demand threaten to ruin that progress. Those are among the big issues that the group will deal with when it holds meetings to discuss the oil market on Dec. 5-6 in Vienna. As officials ready to meet, global benchmark Brent trades around 19% higher year to date, after posting a yearly loss of almost 20% in 2018, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

Oil Inches Higher As OPEC Optimism Returns To Markets - Oil edged back from two-month highs this week as ambiguous signals from the US-China trade talks continue to hinder global trade prospects. News of an OPEC+ production cut extension into the mid-2020s and a more stringent export control system for Nigeria and Iraq added some short-term bullish sentiment to oil markets, but both Brent and WTI have since fallen back into their respective comfort zones. Prices were up slightly on Tuesday morning as a little OPEC-driven optimism returned to markets. The US Bureau of Land Management has issued a draft environmental impact statement on opening up 30 percent of protected areas in the Alaskan National Petroleum Reserve (NPR). The Trump Administration seeks to rekindle North Slope oil field development as production rates went into decline. Previous lease sales in Alaska’s NPR were largely unsuccessful as companies were frightened off by prolonged environmental permits. If pushed through, this legislation would revise 2013 Obama-era protections for the nature reserve.  As the European Parliament braces for a series of votes on new EU commissioners this Wednesday, the political pressure intensifies for EU members to embrace the New European Green Deal which seeks to make Europe the world’s first-ever “climate-neutral continent”. In addition to fulfilling its Paris Agreement commitments, Brussels wants to use Emission Trading income to fund the fossil-dependent countries’ transformation, simultaneously intending to issue a carbon border tax on imported goods. Interestingly, nuclear energy will be considered clean under the Green Deal. Acting upon the European Commission’s Green Deal, Europe’s wind energy associations have asserted exclusion zones ought to be curbed in order to accommodate more wind farms. WindEurope CEO Giles Dickson told Reuters that Europe would need to reassess its maritime spatial planning approach and take on resolving the compatibility of wind energy with fishing and shipping lanes if it wants to speed up its current rate of 3 GWh annual capacity additions.   Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that Moscow will continue to work with OPEC in what he sees as their common task, stabilizing oil markets. Russian officials have recently started to raise the possibility of increasing the amount of gas condensate exports being exempted from the country’s production quota. Labelling the US shale growth’s environmental consequences “barbaric”, Putin has pledged to maintain Russia’s oil output without resorting to shale drilling.

Oil gains as optimism returns to U.S.-China trade talks - Oil prices rose on Tuesday on hopes of progress towards a trade agreement between the United States and China, the world’s biggest oil users, and predictions of a draw on U.S. crude inventories. Brent crude, the international price benchmark, gained 12 cents to trade at $63.77, while West Texas Intermediate crude gained 13 cents, or 0.2%, to trade at $58.14 a barrel. Top U.S. and Chinese trade negotiators held a phone call on Tuesday morning, China’s Commerce Ministry said, as the two sides try to hammer out a so-called Phase 1 deal in a trade war that has dragged on for 16 months. The call took place amid heightened tensions, with China saying it had summoned the U.S. ambassador on Monday to protest against the passage in the U.S. Congress of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. “The optimism that the trade conflict will at least ease somewhat is currently preventing prices from falling,” said Commerzbank analyst Carsten Fritsch. “The positive effect this is having on the oil price is more psychological in nature,” he added, noting that he does not expect oil demand to pick up noticeably even after any partial agreement is signed. On the supply side, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) meets in Vienna on Dec. 5, followed by talks with the broader OPEC+ group featuring other producers that have agreed to cut output, including Russia. “The current consensus is that the OPEC+ supply agreement will be rolled over for at least three months at the group’s next meeting with special emphasis on stricter compliance,” Tamas Varga of oil brokerage PVM said. The head of the International Energy Agency told Reuters that OPEC countries should make the right decision for a “very fragile” global economy. Predicting strong oil production growth from the non-OPEC countries, especially the United States, Brazil, Norway and Guyana, Fatih Birol said: “There will be lots of oil in the markets. I hope they will make the right decision for themselves and for the global economy.”

 Oil up Again Amid Hopes OPEC Will Make 'Right Decision' - Oil bulls’ hopes to keep crude prices positive until next week’s OPEC meeting are being helped unexpectedly by the International Energy Agency’s hopes that the cartel would make the “right decision” on output amid growing supplies. U.S. West Texas Intermediate and U.K. Brent crude futures rose for a second-straight day after the head of the Paris-based IEA, which typically tries to achieve lower oil prices for consumers with soundbites that highlight oversupply, urged OPEC to consider the "very fragile" market for crude at the cartel’s Dec. 5-6 meeting. NYMEX-traded WTI settled up 40 cents, or 0.7%, to $58.41 per barrel, extending Monday’s modest 24-cent climb. ICE-traded Brent, the global benchmark for crude, closed the New York trading session up 62 cents, or 1%, at $64.27, after the previous session’s 26-cent gain. An anonymous source at OPEC told Reuters last week the cartel and its allies, including Russia, are likely to extend until June current production cuts of 1.2 million barrels per day under their OPEC+ cooperation. There’s speculation, of course, that the group will do more by deepening cuts beyond 1.2 million bpd when it meets next week, although there’s little consensus for now on such thinking. IEA chief Fatih Birol altered some of those dynamics when he told Reuters on the sidelines of an energy conference in Oslo on Tuesday that it was up to OPEC+ members to figure out the exact production levels needed of them, although they should be aware of fragile market conditions. Birol also cautioned that a wall of new oil supply was building amid the soft global economy. "It is up to OPEC countries to decide, but what I see is that the pressure is strong on the OPEC plus Russia, as a result of the strong growth coming from the non-OPEC countries – the U.S., Brazil, Norway, Guyana and others," Birol said. "There will be lots of oil in the markets. I hope they will make the right decision for themselves and for the global economy, which is still very fragile."

Oil Steady as Stockpile Data Offsets Trade Deal Hope  - -- Oil steadied as an industry report showing an increase in U.S. crude stockpiles offset optimism that a limited trade deal is getting closer. Futures edged lower in New York after rising 1.1% over the previous two sessions. The American Petroleum Institute reported inventories swelled by 3.64 million barrels last week, according to people familiar with the data. Official government figures due Wednesday are forecast to show supplies slid for the first time in five weeks. President Donald Trump said talks with Beijing on the first phase of a trade agreement were near completion, although he told Fox News later that he was holding up the deal to ensure better terms for the U.S. While a limited pact would be positive, it may not do much to revive crude demand unless existing tariffs are rolled back. China’s economy slowed for a seventh month in November, according to early indicators, highlighting how the trade war is damping economic growth. “The oil market is still pessimistic about the medium-term outlook,” said Daniel Hynes, a senior strategist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. in Sydney. “There’s not much optimism about the trade deal delivering something beyond a halt to rising tariffs.” West Texas Intermediate for January delivery dropped 8 cents, or 0.1%, to $58.33 on the New York Mercantile Exchange as of 7:34 a.m. in London. The contract closed 0.7% higher on Tuesday. Brent for January settlement lost 0.2% to $64.17 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe Exchange after climbing 1% in the previous session. The global benchmark traded at a $5.84 premium to WTI. Trump’s comments came after officials on both sides signaled talks were back on track toward an interim deal after negotiators from the world’s two largest economies spoke by telephone. “We’re in the final throes of a very important deal,” the president told reporters at the White House. “It’s going very well.”

Surprise Crude Build Disappoints Oil Bulls -  The American Petroleum Institute (API) has estimated a crude oil inventory build of 3.639 million barrels for the week ending November 21, compared to analyst expectations of a 418,000-barrel draw in inventory.Last week saw a build in crude oil inventories of 5.954 million barrels, according to API data. The EIA’s estimates, however, reported a build of 1.4-million barrels for that week.After today’s inventory move, the net draw has swung into build territory for the year, standing at 830,000 barrels for the 48-week reporting period so far, using API data. Oil prices were trading up on Tuesday prior to the data release on trade talk hopes for China and the United States surfaced again on Tuesday, with negotiators for both sides conversing today by phone. Still, no tangible progress has been made.At 2:48pm EST, WTI was trading up $0.24 (+0.41%) at $58.28—roughly $2.50 per barrel above last week’s prices. Brent was trading up $0.36 (+0.57%) at $62.98, up almost $2 a barrel from last week.  The API this week reported a build of 4.378 million barrels of gasoline for week ending November 21, compared to analyst expectations of a smaller build in gasoline inventories of 1.222-million barrels for the week.Distillate inventories saw a draw of 665,000 barrels for the week, while Cushing inventories fell by 516,000 barrels. US crude oil production as estimated by the Energy Information Administration showed that production for the week ending November 15 stayed at the most recent high of 12.8 million bpd for a second week in a row.

WTI Extends Losses After Crude, Gasoline Builds - Oil prices roller-coastered overnight after a bigger than expected crude build (from API) sent prices lower before yet more trade-deal optimism sent prices higher this morning, before sliding back to pre-API levels ahead of the official data.“Despite national growth in gasoline inventories, which are quite common in the autumn as refiners emerge from maintenance, concerns are growing for the extended impact of the loss of the PES refinery in Philadelphia,” Tom Finlon, director of Energy Analytics Group Ltd in Wellington, Florida, said in a note. DOE:

  • Crude +1.57mm (-878k exp)
  • Cushing -97k
  • Gasoline +5.132mm (+800k exp) - biggest build since Jan 2019
  • Distillates +725k

After API reported big surprise builds in crude and gasoline, official data showed a smaller crude build of 1.57mm barrels and a huge gasoline build of 5.13mm barrels (also Distillates built for for the first time in 10 weeks)... Overall crude inventories are at their highest since July.US crude production continues top rise to new record highs ignoring the ongoing collapse in the US oil rig count.....

Oil snaps 2-day win streak on surprise US inventory build--  Oil eased on Wednesday after a report showing U.S. crude inventories grew unexpectedly last week and gasoline stocks surged, but losses were limited by optimism that a U.S.-China trade deal would be reached soon.Brent crude futures fell 27 cents, or 0.4%, to settle at $64.00 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude fell 30 cents, or 0.5%, to settle at $58.11 a barrel.  WTI trade volumes were also on track to be lower for the week ahead of the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday.  U.S. crude stocks swelled by 1.6 million barrels last week as production hit a record high at 12.9 million barrels per day and refinery runs slowed, the Energy Information Administration said. Analysts in a Reuters poll had forecast a drop of 418,000 barrels.The more bearish news from the EIA was that U.S. gasoline inventories soared 5.1 million barrels, compared with expectations for a 1.2 million-barrel gain. U.S. gasoline futures dropped 3.63 cents, or 2.1%, to $1.67 a gallon. "Overall, the inventories were disappointing, led by a much greater-than-expected increase in gasoline inventories," "That's definitely leading the way down." Oil prices pared losses slightly after a report showing U.S. oil drillers reduced the number of drilling rigs for a record 12 months in a row, despite fresh production highs. Drillers cut three oil rigs in the week to Nov. 27, bringing the total count down to 668, the lowest since April 2017, energy services firm Baker Hughes Co said in data released two days early due to the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday.Hopes that Beijing and Washington would strike a trade deal limited losses in oil. Prices had risen for the last two days on expectations that China and the United States, the world's two biggest crude users, would soon sign a preliminary agreement, signalling an end to their 16-month trade dispute. "The belief in a positive trade deal continues unabated." That was fuelled by comments from U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday, who said the United States and China were close to agreement after top negotiators spoke by telephone and agreed to keep working on remaining issues. Expectations that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies such as Russia will maintain their deal to restrain supply have supported prices. The producers, known as OPEC+, are expected to extend their supply cut agreement further into 2020.

Oil falls as US rights bill fuels tensions with China - Oil prices fell for a second day on Thursday after official data showed U.S. crude and gasoline stocks rose and President Donald Trump signed into law a bill backing protesters in Hong Kong, fueling tensions with China.Brent crude was down 19 cents, or 0.3%, at $63.87 a barrel by 0854 GMT, having dropped 0.3% on Wednesday.West Texas Intermediate crude fell 33 cents, or 0.6%, to $57.78, after losing 0.5% in the previous session.China warned the United States that it would take "firm countermeasures" in response to U.S. legislation backing anti-government protesters in Hong Kong. Investors are concerned that the move might delay further a preliminary agreement between the United States and China to put an end to their trade war that has slowed global economic growth, and consequently consumption of oil."The approval of the Hong Kong legislation backing protesters is likely to put the trade agreement into question as China has reiterated its threat of retaliation," said Hussein Sayed, chief market strategist at FXTM."If investors suspect that the trade agreement is under real danger, expect to see a sharp sell-off in December. For now, investors are taking a wait-and-see approach."Crude stockpiles in the United States swelled by 1.6 million barrels last week as production rose to a record 12.9 million barrels per day (bpd) and refinery runs slowed, the Energy Information Administration said. Analysts in a Reuters poll had forecast a drop of 418,000 barrels.Investors have also been focusing on next week's meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies including Russia, a group known as OPEC+, which have been withholding production to support prices."We expect OPEC+ to roll over its current production-cut deal, which is set to expire at the end of March, by three to six months," UBS oil analyst Giovanni Staunovo said. "The upshot is that deeper cuts by the entire membership are unlikely." Reuters reported that Russia may call on OPEC+ to exclude condensate — a high-premium light oil mainly extracted during gas production — from its crude oil production numbers.Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Thursday there was no decision yet on this issue. "We are holding discussions, making calculations," Novak told reporters.In the United States, energy services company Baker Hughes reported that the country's oil drillers reduced the number of drilling rigs for a record 12th month in a row. 

Oil Prices Down Amid Rising Crude Inventories, Escalating Sino-U.S. Tensions -Oil prices traded lower on Thursday in Asia after the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that oil crude inventories unexpectedly rose last week. U.S Crude  WTI Futures dropped 0.5% to $57.84 by 12:30 AM ET (04:30 GMT). International Brent Oil Futures fell 0.4% to $62.79. The EIA said oil inventories rose 1.572 million barrels for the week ended Nov. 22, compared with analysts’ expectations for a decline of 418,000, according to forecasts compiled by Investing.com. “While imports did go up a little, refining is steady at near 90% of capacity,” Investing.com analyst Barani Krishnan said. “So, as much as the bulls would like to create a narrative here, they haven’t got the numbers yet for it.” “After last week’s slight miss on the crude build numbers, this week, the market has completely missed the direction on the crude storage,” Krishnan said. Gasoline inventories jumped by about 5.1 million barrels, versus expectations for a rise of about 1.2 million barrels, the EIA said. Distillate stockpiles were in line with a rise of 725,000 barrels, compared with forecasts for a rise of 750,000 barrels. Separately, energy services company Baker Hughes reported that U.S. oil drillers reduced the number of drilling rigs for a record 12 months in a row. Drillers cut three oil rigs in the week to Nov. 27, bringing the count down to 668, lowest since April 2017, Baker Hughes said. Meanwhile, Sino-U.S. tensions intensified once again after U.S. President Donald Trump signed two bills backing Hong Kong protesters into law. The move is likely to complicate trade talks with Beijing, which has repeatedly criticized the U.S. for meddling in its domestic affairs. In a statement released hours after Trump signed the bill, China said the move highlighted the “sinister intentions and hegemonic nature of the United States.”

Oil drops 4%, cutting gains for the month -Oil prices dropped on Friday, cutting into a winning month for crude.West Texas Intermediate futures fell more than 4% to settle at $55.17, posting a 4.1% loss for the week and snapping a 3-week winning streak. Trading volume was lighter than usual Friday, and crude did still manage to finish the month with a 2.3% gain. European Brent futures fell $1.44 to settle at $62.43. For the month prices were up 6%, making it the best month since April.Traders chalked the decline up to the resignation announcement of Iraq's prime minister after weeks of deadly protests, as well as investors jockeying for position before the OPEC+ meeting next week. Following weeks of unrest in Iraq, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi announced plans to resign Friday. Some traders believe an end to the country's ongoing protests will lead to an end of threats to oil disruption, which is bearish for prices. But RBC's Helima Croft said tensions in the country may not be over so soon.

Oil Prices Fall Sharply On Rising Tensions, Looming OPEC Meeting -- After moving modestly higher in the two previous sessions, the price of crude oil showed a substantial pullback during trading on Friday. Crude for January delivery plunged $2.94 or 5.1 percent to $55.17 a barrel, ending the session at its lowest closing level in a month. The sell-off by oil prices came amid concerns rising tensions between the U.S. and China over the situation in Hong Kong could impact ongoing trade talks. The resignation of Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi also contributed to the steep drop, as traders believe the news could help quell weeks of unrest in Iraq. Traders were also looking ahead to next week's OPEC meeting, where the cartel and its allies are widely expected to extend the current output cut of 1.2 million barrels per day. After President Donald Trump signed two bills in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry threatened strong countermeasures. Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang accused the U.S. of interfering in China's internal affairs and violating international law and the basic norms governing international relations. "China will take strong counter-measures in response to the U.S. behavior that interferes in China's internal affairs and undermines China's interests," Geng said. "No one shall underestimate China's determination in safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests," he added. "Nor shall they misjudge China's resolve in implementing the 'one country, two systems' principle and in upholding prosperity and stability in Hong Kong." With a fresh round of protests expected over the weekend, the dispute over the situation in Hong Kong could potentially derail the long-awaited phase one trade deal.

Oil prices fall sharply as reports of a bearish OPEC outcome find traction - Oil prices posted sharp losses Friday, trimming the November gain, as the much-anticipated approval of a production-cut extension at next week’s OPEC meeting grew more doubtful following speculative reports. Saudi Arabia probably will indicate it’s no longer willing to compensate for excessive production by other members of the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries, according to people familiar with the kingdom’s thinking, a Bloomberg report out Friday said. Traders cited that report as helping drive futures down some 5% in an abbreviated, post-holiday session in New York after a quiet start, a move that brought the weekly decline to about 4.5% for the January contract, the steepest weekly retreat for it since early October, according to Dow Jones Market Data. Expectations for the cartel to possibly extend expiring production agreements beyond March when the group meets in Vienna on Dec. 5-6 had driven oil prices to their highest since September as recently as a week ago.Further, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said he would prefer if OPEC and its non-OPEC allies made a decision closer to April on whether to extend their now three-year-old production coordination pact, Russia’s TASS news agency reported Thursday. Russia is considered to be part of OPEC+ with its role as a major producer and policy-influencer, although it is not officially in the cartel.“Oil prices fell almost 5% as fears grew that Russia will block an OPEC+ quota extension,” At Friday’s early close, West Texas Intermediate crude futures for January delivery were down $2.94, or 5.1%, at $55.17 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. the January contract is up 1.8% for the month, the largest single-month percentage gain since June, Dow Jones Market Data showed. January Brent crude, the global marker, fell $1.44, or 2.3%, at $62.43 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe. January Brent expired at Friday’s close. The contract wrapped the week’s trading down 1.5%, trimming its gain for the month to roughly 3.7%. November’s performance for the contract marked the largest one-month gain since April.

Like It Or Not, Saudis Stuck With OPEC Even After Aramco Public Offering -Saudi Arabia’s planned initial public offering of its state oil company, Saudi Aramco, is stirring speculation that it could spell the end of the price-controlling cartel known as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). But such analysis misses a crucial point.On the surface, it makes sense that the future of Saudi participation in OPEC is in question after its state-owned oil company is listed. After all, a publicly-traded Aramco will be under investor pressure to increase short-term profits and boost shareholder dividends, something it doesn’t have to worry about now. The demand to maximize profits will increase as more shares of Aramco are offered to private investors, especially if the Saudi Royal Family seeks a second listing on large foreign exchange.  Upping production would be a natural way for Aramco to respond to demands for more profits. Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, currently produces about 10 million barrels a day. Still, Saudi Arabia has roughly 2 million barrels a day of spare capacity – oil that could be poured onto the market in a matter of weeks if the Saudis choose to.Aramco has a competitive advantage over other oil-producing regions due to its meager cost of production. In its 658-page prospectus for investors, Aramco touts breakeven costs of under $10 a barrel – the world’s lowest. Its closest competitor, the United Arab Emirates which spends $20 to produce a single barrel of oil. The Russians must pay $40 per barrel, and in the prolific shale fields of the United States, the cost is close to $50 a barrel. An increasing number of market watchers, including the International Energy Agency (IEA), are concerned oil demand around the world could start to shrink as soon as 2025. It would make sense for Saudi to try to increase its share of the global market before a slowdown arrives. The kingdom currently provides about 10 percent of the 100 million barrels a day global oil demand. It could quickly increase its slice of the pie by dumping lower-cost oil on the market if it thought those resources might become stranded in a fossil-free future.

Saudi Arabia Arrests At Least 9 'High-Profile' People Despite Jittery IPO Push -- Apparently feeling emboldened by the fact that Saudi Arabia suffered zero repercussions over the Oct.3, 2018 state-ordered murder of Jamal Khashoggi, other than crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) briefly being shunned by international elites for a few months, it's business as usual again in the kingdom of horrors.   In a new breaking report, The Wall Street Journal reveals that "Saudi authorities have arrested several high-profile people in recent days, extending an effort to sideline Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s perceived opponents, despite a push to repair the kingdom’s international image to attract investment."  The WSJ counts nine people total arrested in a span of a little more than the past week who are not particularly known for being dissidents or any level of explicitly anti-government activists. They include journalists, intellectuals and businessmen detained since Nov. 16.   What additionally makes these detentions particularly brazen on the part of Riyadh authorities is that it comes just in the final stages of the kingdom preparing for the launch of what most see as the biggest listing in history, Saudi Aramco IPO.  The damning WSJ report hit the same day that Aramco executives met with Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) officials in the UAE to discuss investment options and possibilities in the oil giant's debut share sale, and at a moment the kingdom is desperate to attract a major anchor investor to ensure success.  It appears MbS no doubt further emboldened by continued support from President Trump even after the Khashoggi affair realizes a pesky little issue like human rights abuses, including torture of dissidents and continued record pace beheadings and crucifixions, can't stand in the way.

Saudi-led coalition says to free 200 Yemen rebels amid peace push — The Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen's Houthi rebels said Tuesday it will release 200 insurgents, as efforts pick up pace to end the conflict in the impoverished country. Patients needing medical care will also be allowed to be flown out of Sanaa airport, which has been closed to commercial flights since 2016, coalition spokesman Turki Al Maliki said, quoted by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA). The coalition had decided "to release 200 prisoners of the Houthi militia" and to facilitate "in cooperation with the World Health Organisation flights carrying people in need of medical care from Sanaa". The initiative coincides with a lull in Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and after a senior official in Riyadh said the kingdom had established an "open channel" with the rebels. "We have had an open channel with the Houthis since 2016. We are continuing these communications to support peace in Yemen," the official told reporters in the Saudi capital. "We don't close our doors with the Houthis," he said. The official declined to be identified and did not elaborate, but the development came after a lull in recent weeks following a spike in rebel missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities over the summer. The comment came after Saudi Arabia separately brokered a power-sharing agreement between the Yemeni government and southern separatists.

Despite threats, Iraq’s medical volunteers keep protests alive - A bloodstained letter warning Reham Feras not to return to Baghdad's Tahrir Square was not enough to keep the 21-year-old medical volunteer from lending her help to Iraq's anti-government protesters. Fearful that her parents would discover the threatening message left anonymously on the doorstep of their family home, Feras hid the piece of paper before slipping out the front door and going to one of the makeshift clinics at the heart of Baghdad's uprising. Last month, protests against Iraq's ruling elite kicked off violent clashes between the demonstrators wearing helmets and goggles, and the heavily-armed security forces. Since then, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been taking to streets to demand the removal of a government they perceive as deeply corrupt and an end to foreign interference in the country's affairs. More than 330 people have been killed since the uprising began on October 1, a toll that could have been higher were it not for the volunteer medics offering first aid and logistical support. Doctors, medical students and even people without prior medical experience have been key in treating the victims of the security forces' excessive use of violence and relocating the critically wounded to nearby hospitals. "The main groups [that are] giving medical aid and treatment to the protesters are volunteer teams," Ali Al Bayati, a member of the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR), told Al Jazeera. Feras, a medical analysis student from Baghdad, was among the approximately 500 volunteers that descended upon Tahrir Square to offer help when the second wave of protests began on October 25. Since then, the number of medics has dwindled to approximately 150, according to the IHCHR. The drop, said Al Bayati, is a direct result of intimidation. "There are some threats towards the medical staff working there from unknown sides," said Al Bayati. Threats, arrests and abductions have fuelled a collective sense of paranoia among the volunteers. Medics from two makeshift clinics recently took down their tents and left, while others spoke softly, worried that the government's supporters or staff had infiltrated their protests.

Iran Equipping Destroyers With Vertical Launching System (VLS) Missile Cells - (FNA)- Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi said on Saturday that similar to Damavand, another Iranian destroyer, Dena, is also being equipped with vertical launching system (VLS) missile cells, adding that the two are marking a new chapter in the country’s naval combat capabilities. "In line with directives of the Commander in Chief, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, who has called for higher level of immunity for sailing units, Iran’s Navy is devising plans for equipping its vessels with VLS missile cells," Rear Admiral Khanzadi said today. “That’s why we are working on missiles for vertical launching systems; and it is not just limited to Damavand [destroyer]. A similar project is underway in the Southern [HQ of the navy],” the commander added. Khanzadi added that Iran will soon fire tests missiles from the VLS, highlighting that all vessels of Iran’s Navy will be equipped with the new system. Early in August, he had announced that Damavand destroyer, which has been under overhaul for the past 21 months, was enjoying many new features and would be equipped with VLS missile cells. He went on recounting that over the course of the past 18 months of overhaul, the destroyer has been completely resuscitated with all previous edition’s bugs resolved and may new features added. Damavand destroyer has been equipped with advanced radar systems with long-range radars to detect targets in long distances, the commander highlighted. Khanzadi went on adding that the same process of overhaul and improving the features of the vessels is underway in the Northern fleet of the navy.

Death toll rises as anti-government protests grip Iraq - Six people were killed and dozens wounded in Iraq's southern cities of Basra and Nasiriya as a result of clashes with security forces, according to the Iraqi human rights council. Meanwhile in Baghdad, street battles between security sources and protesters continued as demonstrators demanding basic services, employment opportunities, and an end to corruption gathered in Tahrir Square on Sunday. "Three protesters were killed in violent clashes with security forces in Umm Qasr, south of Basra, and 78 others were injured. Meanwhile, three protesters were killed in Nasiriya and 71 people were injured," the council said in a statement. "We call on the government to act immediately to put an end to the excessive use of violence against protesters." At least 330 people have been killed since the start of mass unrest in Baghdad and southern Iraq in early October, the largest demonstrations in decades. The death toll in Baghdad, Nasiriya, and Basra over the past 24 hours reached 12, according to security and medical sources. The deaths since Saturday were a result of security forces' use of live ammunition and tear gas against the protesters, the sources told Al Jazeera. Khaled al-Mahanna, a spokesman for the ministry of interior, said on Saturday night three protesters were killed in Baghdad alone over the past 24 hours. More than 100 others were injured, including 30 members of the security forces in clashes with protesters on Ahrar Bridge.

Iraq Orders Closure of 12 News Outlets - - (Iraq Business News) Iraq's media regulator should reverse its decision to order the closure of 12 broadcasters over a licensing dispute and should allow media outlets to freely cover protests in the country, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said on Monday. On November 12, the Communications and Media Commission (CMC) , Iraq's media regulator, ordered the closure of eight television broadcasters and four radio stations for three months for allegedly violating media licensing rules, and issued a warning against five more broadcasters over their coverage of protests, according to a copy of the closure decision, which CPJ reviewed, and reports by localnews organizationsandpress freedom groups . According to the decision, the commission also renewed the closure of U.S.-funded broadcaster Al-Hurra for an additional three months. The outlet was shuttered on September 2 after it aired a report on alleged state corruption, asCPJ reportedat the time. The decision includes a recommendation to the prime minister's office to send security forces to the outlets to force them to close. According to CPJ's review of the outlets' broadcasts, and an official with the media regulator who spoke to news websiteArab News , none of the outlets have been closed as of November 25. The outlets have critically covered theproteststhat have taken place throughout Iraq since October over a lack of basic services, unemployment, and government corruption, according to CPJ's review of their broadcasts. 'Iraqi authorities are using all the means at their disposal, legal and otherwise, to intimidate outlets in an effort to prevent them from covering the ongoing protests in the country,' said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado. 'We call on the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission to reverse this order and to allow TV broadcasters, radio stations, and journalists to do their jobs.

Iraqi forces kill 45 protesters after Iranian consulate torched -  (Reuters) - Iraqi security forces shot dead at least 45 protesters on Thursday after demonstrators stormed and torched an Iranian consulate overnight, in what could mark a turning point in the uprising against the Tehran-backed authorities. At least 29 people died in the southern city of Nassiriya when troops opened fire on demonstrators who blocked a bridge before dawn on Thursday and later gathered outside a police station. Police and medical sources said dozens of others were wounded. Four people were killed in Baghdad, where security forces opened fire with live ammunition and rubber bullets against protesters near a bridge over the Tigris river, the sources said, and twelve died in clashes in Najaf. In Nassiriya thousands of mourners took to the streets, defying a curfew to bury their dead after the mass shooting. Video of protesters cheering in the night as flames billowed from the consulate were a stunning image after years in which Tehran’s influence among Shi’ite Muslims in Arab states has been a defining factor in Middle East politics. The bloodshed that followed was one of the most violent days since the uprising began at the start of October, with anti-corruption demonstrations that swelled into a revolt against authorities seen by young demonstrators as stooges of Tehran.

Iraq's deadly unrest closes roads, schools across south - Iraqi anti-government protesters blocked roads in the country's south with burning tyres on Wednesday, as schools and public offices stayed shut a day after deadly clashes with security forces. The country has been rocked by the biggest wave of protests since the 2003 US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, leaving more than 350 people dead and around 15,000 wounded since early October. Violence had erupted in the southern holy city of Karbala on Tuesday, with one protester killed as riot police fired live rounds both into the air and directly into crowds of teenagers pelting them with rocks. Fearing more bloodshed, Karbala's religious authorities ordered their network of private schools in the city, as well as in nearby Babylon and the second holy city of Najaf, kept shut for two days starting Wednesday. Thick columns of black smoke could still be seen rising from Karbala, which is visited every year by millions of Shiite pilgrims from around the world, as demonstrators torched tyres around and inside the city. In Nasiriyah, further south, local authorities ordered all public offices closed for two days, although they had been largely shut already by ongoing sit-ins and marches. Iraq's street violence has left many thousands wounded. Another 100 protesters suffered injuries in two days of rallies in Al-Hillah, just south of Baghdad, when security forces began using tear gas against protesters. In the protest hot spots of Diwaniyah, Kut and Najaf, activists also cut roads with flaming tyres to keep government employees from reaching their offices. And outside the oil-rich port city of Basra, picketers sealed off the entrance to the Nasiriyah oil field, a contributor to Iraq's exports of some 3.6 million bpd. The country is OPEC's second-largest crude producer, and oil exports fund more than 90 percent of the government's budget.

Iraq PM Announces Resignation After 40 Protesters Killed On Single Deadliest Day -After two months of anti-corruption and anti-government protests have rocked Iraq, resulting in a death toll into the hundreds as the unrest turns increasingly sectarian and which has included the burning of two Iranian consulates, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi says he will resign.He announced in an official statement put out by his office that he will submit his resignation to parliament after the country's top Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, suddenly pulled support, telling the nation in a Friday sermon that parliament should "reconsider its options" after putting Mahdi in power in the first place.The subsequent statement signed by Abdul Mahdi indicated the following: "In response to this call, and in order to facilitate it as quickly as possible, I will present to parliament a demand (to accept) my resignation from the leadership of the current government." Local authorities estimate the death toll since protests erupted on Oct. 1 has soared to over 400 people, with thousands wounded, amid reports of 'live fire' used by police. This includes security forces reportedly shooting some 40 people dead in Baghdad and in southern provinces in what was possibly the deadliest single day on Thursday. At least on top provincial police chief was removed over shooting deaths this week, after Iraqi clerics had previously urged government forces to refrain from using deadly force. Iraq remains a sectarian powder keg waiting to erupt further, given anti-corruption protests have quickly turned to target neighboring Iran's influence; however Mahdi's stepping down may relieve some of that pressure, given he had the close backing of Iran.

Using Iraq and Lebanon uprisings to attack Iran will lead to disaster  - The wave of protests shaking the world resembles a global uprising against neoliberalism. This could be a sign of the insoluble crisis of the Western model, and of its inexorable decline. As usual, the picture in the Middle East region is far more complex. In Algeria and Sudan, protests have led to leadership changes; in Libya, Syria and Yemen, the fighting continues with terrible human costs. In the Gulf, fears are rising over a confrontation with Iran, with some attempting a detente. Meanwhile Turkey has launched a dangerous and bloody military operation in Syria’s Kurdish region. Iran now faces its own protests sparked by a 50 percent rise in fuel prices that have angered a population already suffering the severe impact of US sanctions. At the same time, Tehran continues to slowly reduce its commitments to the nuclear deal in response to US "maximum pressure" and EU passivity and bias.  The protests in Iraq and Lebanon, while domestic in origin, could yet have dire geopolitical consequences in the framework of an enduring confrontation between the so-called "Arab NATO" and "the Axis of Resistance" led by Iran and comprising Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, which is shaping regional dynamics.It is no secret that the current political structure in Iraq centres on a political majority based largely on Shia-inspired parties sensitive to neighbouring Iran, while in Lebanon, pro-Iranian Hezbollah is a major power broker. This represents a thorn in the side of the US, Israel and the Arab countries affiliated with them (Arab NATO). The Axis of Resistance has systematicallyopposed the Pax Americana in the the Middle East. Along with Iran, both Iraqi pro-Iranian political forces and militias and Hezbollah have pointed to a plot behind the protests. Even the highest Shia religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a statement hinting at a possible plot.There is no conclusive evidence to sustain such claims, but there has been a great deal of media spinning in an attempt to portray these protests as an anti-Iranian, anti-Hezbollah revolt especially in Saudi-funded media outlets. Spinning and manipulation might be intellectually dishonest, but they are not a crime. Using deliberate acts and resources to drive a popular protest towards civilian warfare is, however - and unfortunately, Lebanon and Iraq are not immune from such a risk.

Iran says 200,000 took to streets in anti-government protests - (Reuters) - Iran gave a glimpse on Wednesday into the scale of what may have been the biggest anti-government protests in the 40-year history of the Islamic Republic, with an official saying 200,000 people had taken part and a lawmaker saying 7,000 were arrested. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in his strongest remarks since the unrest peaked, described the two weeks of violence as the work of a “very dangerous conspiracy”. He also said the unrest, initially sparked by fuel price hikes but which then spiraled, had been completely quelled. Iran has given no official death toll, but Amnesty International said this week it had documented the deaths of at least 143 protesters. Tehran has rejected this figure. A number anywhere close to that would make it the deadliest anti-government unrest at least since the authorities put down “Green Revolution” protests that surrounded the disputed 2009 presidential election, and probably since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the shah and swept clerics to power. Details of the unrest have been difficult to report from outside Iran, especially after the authorities shut down the internet for a week. Residents and state media said mobile Internet was restored in the capital Tehran and several other areas on Wednesday, after fixed-line internet was partially reconnected on Monday. The Intelligence Ministry said at least eight people linked to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency had been arrested during the unrest.

 Iran Says Over 700 Banks Were Torched In Vast Protest 'Conspiracy' -- After early in the week Iran's top elite Guard commander gave a fiery 'victory' speech declaring the mainstay of anti-government protests which gripped major cities across Iran since Nov. 15 had been quelled, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has followed up with denouncing the unrest as a “very dangerous conspiracy”.  This as according to Reuters Iranian authorities "reported about 731 banks and 140 government sites had been torched in the disturbances." Given the over week-long and government ordered total internet shutdown which had ensued, this claim can't be independently verified. However, during the opening days of widespread unrest which had been triggered by a sudden fuel price hike by as much as 300% in some places when government subsidies were slashed, initial videos posted online showed dramatic scenes of banks and gas stations being torched.  “A deep, vast and very dangerous conspiracy that a lot of money had been spent on... was destroyed by the people,” Khamenei said while addressing members of the paramilitary Basij force. The Basij were among the elite security forces which spearheaded the crackdown against protests. Over the past days sizable pro-government demonstrations have largely supplanted the anti-government unrest, which state media has touted as proof the "conspiracy" against the Islamic Republic has failed.   On Monday Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander Gen. Hossein Salami blamed the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel for fueling the unrest as part of continued covert war against Iran. “If you cross our red lines, we will destroy you,” he threatened.

Iran Says at Least 8 CIA Assets Arrested, Blames US for Torching Hundreds of Banks — Major protests in Iran about the increase in gas prices may be over, but Iranian officials are saying that they believe a US-orchestrated conspiracy was involved in violence seen during the rallies, which involved attacks on Iranian banks. Hundreds of banks were attacked, and Iranian authorities say 7,000 protesters were arrested. Iranian intelligence officials say at least eight CIA assets were among those arrested in connection with the violence.The eight people had been given CIA-funded training, nominally to become “citizen journalists.” Six were arrested at the rallies, while the other two were trying to send information abroad.Some 200,000 are estimated to have been involved in protests, and they were overwhelmingly peaceful. The violence appears to have mostly hit southern Iran, and it is believed a lot of it was centered on banks.

UAE To Host European-Led Naval Mission To Secure Gulf Waters - France announced Sunday that a proposed European-led mission to patrol the Persian Gulf will be based out of a recently established French naval base in Abu Dhabi, and that the naval patrol will soon go "operational" amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington. Paris has spearheaded efforts to get the European maritime security mission off the ground, in competition with US efforts at establishing an American-led mission, which Iran and some European allies fear could lead to war, given Iranian leaders have condemned any US efforts to "police" the vital Strait of Hormuz.  “This morning we formalized that the command post will be based on Emirati territory,” Defence Minister Florence Parly told reporters in the UAE capital. “We hope ... to contribute to a navigation that is as safe as possible in a zone which we know is disputed and where there has already been a certain number of serious incidents,” she explained of the French-led mission.The maritime patrol is expected to start early next year and will involve some ten European and non-European nations.Parly further condemned the latest Iranian announcements confirming that it is blowing past uranium enrichment limits previously agreed to under the 2015 nuclear deal. The maritime initiative since being first proposed in July has received broad support in Europe, including the UK, following the summer-long 'tanker wars' which had resulted in the months-long capture of a British-flagged vessel, later released.

Trump Officials Meet With 'Strongman' Haftar's Political Team In Major Libya Shift -- Starting last April President Trump caught many in his own administration off guard when he unexpectedly thanked renegade General Khalifa Haftar for "securing Libya's oil resources" at a moment the rebel leader assaulted the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli. The public praise and phone call between Trump and the former CIA-backed warlord  was a shock at the time given the US has maintained a policy of only recognizing the GNA in line with UN allies.But now that continued recognition appears to be shifting fast after this week Trump admin officials held multiple meetings with an official representing Haftar's political team named Aref al-Nayed, expected to hold a top leadership position once Tripoli is 'liberated' by Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA).  Revelation of the high level meetings has renewed speculation and confusion over the future of Washington policy in Libya, and if its priorities will shift to more open support of Haftar's LNA, responsible for a renewed grinding civil war of the past two years which by this past summer had killed at least 1,000.Details of the meetings were first revealed by Defense One as follows:In two meetings with National Security Council officials in Washington this fall, Aref al Nayed, an Islamic scholar and former ambassador to the UAE, has pitched himself as a transitional political leader for Libya after Hifter, the military commander, “liberates” Tripoli, according to documents provided by Nayed and multiple sources with knowledge of the meetings. And the report offers more on Nayed:Nayed, who has previously announced that he is running for president of Libya, fiercely condemns the UN-backed GNA and portrays himself as a consensus choice who will be able to bring together Libya’s tribal factions under a so-called “National Unity Government.” NSC officials were “noncommittal” to Nayed’s proposal, according to a former senior U.S. official familiar with the meetings. Despite the NSC saying's it remains "noncommittal" it's highly unusual for such a meeting to take place, tantamount to meeting with a rebel "opposition" group at a moment it's trying to topple a US-recognized government.The UAE's front men in Libya are laying siege to the capital of Tripoli.

US Forces Attack Boats Caught Smuggling Oil To Syrian Government - The U.S. military reportedly attacked four tanker ferries on Saturday that were attempting to smuggle oil from the SDF-held areas in eastern Syria to the Syrian government territories. According to local reports, the U.S. warplanes targeted these ferries while they were traveling through the southern region of Syria’s Euphrates River Valley.  The reports said the U.S. military managed to destroy the four ferries before they could reach their intended destination, resulting in a number of explosions that were heard in the Euphrates River Valley. The total number of casualties are still unknown at this time.While the ferries did not belong to the Syrian government, they were believed to have been transporting the oil to their territories, which is something that many people in Syria have been forced to do as the U.S. currently occupies some of the Levantine nation’s biggest oil fields. Neither the Syrian government nor the U.S. Armed Forces have reported on this attack that took place on Saturday. It should be noted that the U.S. Armed Forces have carried out similar attacks in the past, especially in the Deir Ezzor Governorate.

‘Filled with hatred and lust for blood’: Turkey’s proxy army in northern Syria accused of abusing civilians - In the month since Turkey intervened to drive US-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters from a broad swath of northern Syria, proxy forces backed by Ankara have been blamed for a growing ledger of abuses against the local population, residents say, undermining Turkey’s stated goal of creating a “safe zone” for civilians.More than 200,000 people have been internally displaced by the Turkish-led offensive, according to the United Nations.Families that have been scattered across eastern Syria say that Turkey’s Syrian Arab proxies have carried out summary executions and beatings, kidnapped or detained their relatives and looted their houses, businesses and belongings.The result, refugees say, is a form of ethnic cleansing – an operation they see as designed in part to force out Kurdish residents and their sympathisers and replace them with Arabs loyal to Turkey. Turkey launched a cross-border military offensive into neighbouring Syria on 9 October with the aim of pushing the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an amalgam of Kurdish-led militias, away from its border.The SDF had spearheaded a US-led campaign against the Isis militant group in northeastern Syria. But Turkey had long viewed the SDF’s presence near the border as a threat because of ties to a Kurdish separatist group in Turkey, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which the Turkish and US governments have designated a terrorist organisation. Turkey essentially delegated the ground offensive to a proxy force, the Syrian National Army, an umbrella group in northern Syria consisting of an assortment of rebel forces opposed to the government of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Many of the group’s factions, made up largely of Syrian Arab fighters, had already fought at Turkey’s behest in two previous military operations over the past three years.

Turkey to test Russian S-400 systems despite U.S. pressure: media - (Reuters) - Turkish F-16 warplanes will fly over the country’s capital Ankara on Monday to test its new Russian S-400 missile defenses, Turkish media said, despite pressure from Washington for Turkey to drop the system. Ankara’s purchase of the S-400s has been a major factor souring relations with the United States, which says the system is not compatible with NATO defenses and poses a threat to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 stealth fighter jets. The provincial governor’s office announced on Sunday that the Turkish Air Force F-16s and other aircraft will conduct low- and high-altitude flights over Ankara on Monday and Tuesday to test an air defense system project. Broadcaster CNN Turk and other media said specifically that the flights were to test the S-400 radar system. Ankara began receiving the S-400s last July but they are not yet operational. Dealers said the reports had a negative impact on the lira, which weakened to 5.7380 against the dollar from a close of 5.7140 on Friday. Tensions in U.S.-Turkish relations played a major role in a near 30% slide in the lira’s value last year. As recently as last Thursday, a senior State Department official told reporters Turkey needed to “get rid of” the system. Those comments came after President Tayyip Erdogan met U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House.

OPCW Caught Manipulating Syrian Chemical Attack Report to Blame Assad — WikiLeaks published an email sent by a member of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), who accused the organization of manipulating their report on an alleged chemical attack that was said to have taken place in the Syrian city of Douma on April 7th 2018. In response to the alleged attack, the US, UK, and France carried out airstrikes on the Syrian government on April 14th 2018. The author of the email was a member of a fact-finding team the OPCW sent to Douma to investigate the attack. The author accuses the OPCW of selectively omitting certain facts. The email, dated June 22nd 2018, reads, “Many of the facts and observations outlined in the full version are inextricably interconnected and, by selectively omitting certain ones, an unintended bias has been introduced into the report, undermining its credibility.” The OPCW team analyzed cylinders at two different locations in Douma. The OPCW report said they had “sufficient evidence” to determine chlorine was “likely released from cylinders.” The author of the email called this claim “highly misleading and not supported by facts.”The email’s author says the samples they analyzed were in contact with a chemical that contained a chlorine atom, which could have been a number of chemicals, and “purposely singling one of chlorine gas as one of the possibilities is disingenuous.”

Leaked email on alleged chemical attack shows 2018 strikes against Syria based on lies --On Saturday, WikiLeaks published an internal email written by a member of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) fact-finding mission to Syria that exposes the far-reaching effort to suppress and distort evidence in order to claim that the government of Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the alleged April 7, 2018, gas attack in Douma, a suburb of Damascus then held by CIA-backed Islamist “rebel” forces.  The revelation once again makes clear the lying character of the campaign to justify the US regime-change operation in Syria, which has turned large sections of the country into a wasteland, killing hundreds of thousands of people and turning millions more into refugees.The alleged attack in which as many as 49 people were reportedly killed was seized on by the governments of the United States, Britain and France to justify the launching of air and missile strikes just one week later against Syrian government forces. The attacks took place just hours before an OPCW fact-finding team was due to arrive in Syria to begin an investigation. The assault brought the US and its allies to the brink of open war not just against Syria, but also against the Assad government’s allies Iran and Russia.The alleged attack in Douma came as Assad was consolidating control of the areas around Damascus and shortly after Trump had announced that US troops deployed to control the eastern half of Syria would soon be leaving. The purported Syrian government gas attack was seized on as a casus belli. On April 8, one day after the alleged chemical attack and before any investigation had been carried out, Trump tweeted that there had been a “mindless CHEMICAL attack” by the “Animal Assad” backed by Russia and Iran, and that there would be a “big price to pay.” Under the guidance of Trump’s newly appointed national security advisor, John Bolton, military options were drawn up to attack Syria. The air and missile strikes were launched on April 13, US time. Saturday’s WikiLeaks release makes clear that the OPCW report published in July 2018 was shaped to conform with the public allegations made by the US, UK and France. British Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens, in an article based on the WikiLeaks release, noted that the doctoring of the OPCW fact-finders’ report “appears to be the worst instance of ‘sexing-up’ in support of war since the invasion of Iraq and Tony Blair’s doctored dossiers.”

New sexed-up dossier furore: Explosive leaked email claims that UN watchdog’s report into alleged poison gas attack by Assad was doctored – so was it to justify British and American missile strikes on Syria?  - A leaked email last night dramatically indicated that the UN’s poison gas watchdog had butchered and censored a critical report on an alleged chemical attack in Syria. If substantiated, the revelations will be severely embarrassing for Britain, France and America, which launched a massive military strike in retaliation without waiting for proof that chemical weapons had actually been used. Unconfirmed reports and videos, showing the corpses of adults and children foaming at the mouth in Douma, a suburb of Damascus, shocked the world in April 2018 and led to a joint Western attack on the supposed culprit, Syria, in which more than 100 missiles, including nearly 70 Tomahawk cruise missiles, were fired. Although the reports and films could not be independently verified, as the alleged events took place in a war zone then under the control of brutal Islamist militants, Western governments, and many Western media, took them at face value.  President Donald Trump tweeted at the time: ‘Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!’Britain’s then Premier, Theresa May, was equally confident of her facts, saying after the missile launch: ‘Last Saturday up to 75 people, including young children, were killed in a despicable and barbaric attack in Douma, with as many as 500 further casualties. We have worked with our allies to establish what happened. 'And all the indications are that this was a chemical weapons attack … We are also clear about who was responsible for this atrocity. A significant body of information including intelligence indicates the Syrian regime is responsible for this latest attack.’ But a dissenting scientist, employed by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) says in a leaked email that investigations on the ground at Douma have produced no hard evidence that the alleged gas attack took place. It appears that these facts were deliberately suppressed in published OPCW reports.

Syria's Assad Says Jeffrey Epstein Did Not Kill Himself - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad waded into the conspiracy theories around Jeffery Epstein's suicide, saying the financier and convicted sex offender was murdered as part of a Western plot to eliminate high-profile people who knew too much. Speaking to Russia's state-run Rossiya-24 station Thursday, Assad commented on the death of Syria Civil Defense co-founder James Le Mesurier, who died Monday after an apparent fall from his Istanbul apartment. Assad and his supporters have repeatedly alleged that Le Mesurier's organization, commonly known as the White Helmets, were not a rescue group but militant operatives working on behalf of his foes, including the United States and the United Kingdom, which he speculated—without providing evidence—may have been behind a spat of apparent assassinations. "American billionaire Jeffrey Epstein was killed several weeks ago, they said he had committed suicide in jail. However, he was killed because he knew a lot of vital secrets connected with very important people in the British and American regimes, and possibly in other countries as well," Assad told the outlet, as translated by the state-run Tass Russian News Agency. "And now the main founder of the White Helmets has been killed, he was an officer and he had worked his whole life with NATO in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq and Lebanon," he added. "Both of us know that they [representatives of the White Helmets] are naturally part of Al-Qaeda. I believe that these people, as well as the previously liquidated [Osama] bin Laden and [ISIS leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi had been killed chiefly because they knew major secrets. They turned into a burden once they had played out their roles. A dire need to do away with them surfaced after they had fulfilled their roles." 

Israeli Army Will No Longer Release the Bodies of Palestinians They’ve Killed -— Israel’s newly appointed defence minister, Naftali Bennett, said on Wednesday that the Israeli army will no longer release the bodies of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces, regardless of their political affiliations.  Bennett spoke to Israeli security heads, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the matter will be discussed for the government’s approval. Israel’s policy of withholding the bodies of Palestinians started since its occupation of the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war.  One such case is Mashhour Arouri, a Palestinian killed in 1976 whose body was released 34 years later. He was one of 317 Palestinians and other Arab nationals whose bodies were withheld by Israeli authorities. Mohammed Abu Sneineh, a lawyer working for Jerusalem Legal Aid Center’s legal campaign, told Middle East Eye that Israel has retained the bodies of at least 50 Palestinians killed since September 2015 when a wave of attacks on Israeli soldiers in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem began. Abu Sneineh said that Bennett’s announcement will legalise the Israeli security forces’ practice. Some of the cases had already been ruled on at the Israeli Supreme Court in September.

Israel expels Human Rights Watch country director Omar Shakir - Omar Shakir, the local director for Human Rights Watch, left Israel for Germany on Monday after being expelled from the Middle Eastern country.The Israeli government has accused Shakir, a 35-year-old American citizen and the rights group's director for Israel and the Palestinian territories since October 2016, of backing a boycott of the Jewish state. He has denied the claim. Before departing from Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Shakir said his deportation was "an attack on the human rights movement" and an Israeli attempt to "muzzle Human Rights Watch.""We will not stop until the day comes in which all people, Israelis and Palestinians, will be treated equally and have their whole human rights protected," he said.Shakir was accused in April of supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel for its military occupation of the West Bank and its building of illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.Israel has formally banned entry of BDS supporters and has pressured Western countries to stunt the movement's influence. The case against Shakir was based on comments he made before he joined Human Rights Watch, some going back to his student days nearly a decade ago. Shakir appealed his deportation, but Israel's Supreme Court backed his expulsion earlier this month.

Leaked Chinese documents show how hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslims are brainwashed in concentration camps - Nearly 500 prisons and camps have been established in the western China region known as Xinjiang, or East Turkestan as many Uighurs call it.Former detainees have described experiencing torture, medical experiments, rape, forced abortions, and other horrors in the Xinjiang concentration camps.And a round of newly-leaked documents, dubbed The China Cables, is the first official look at the extensive efforts to detain and brainwash the Uighur population.Data obtained by the BBC, as well as other media outlets, includes instructions to the officials that run these camps to "never allow escapes," to "increase discipline and punishment," and to maintain secrecy. Daily activities for prisoners are heavily monitored, and only when they are confined for at least a year and show that their behavior, beliefs, and language are changed will they be released, according to the new documents.Among other insights, the documents also show how the Chinese government has been surveilling Uighurs and monitoring their personal data.The newly-revealed documents contradict the government's claim that these labor, or "re-education," camps are a means to voluntarily re-educate members of the Muslim Uighur community to counteract extremism and terrorism.Liu Xiaoming, the Chinese ambassador to the UK, considered the documents fake news, according to the BBC.Leaked documents published by The New York Times a week ago show officials were instructed to inform Uighur students that their relatives had been imprisoned in these camps "because they have come under a degree of harmful influence in religious extremism and violent terrorist thoughts."

The China Cables: Leaked Classified Chinese Documents Confirm China Running Massive Concentration Camps to “Re-educate” Uighurs -  Yves Smith - Oddly, a blockbuster leak based on classified Chinese government documents confirm charges that large-scale prison camps in the Xinjiang region use extreme regimentation and torture to turn its Muslim population, the Uighur, into the functional equivalent of Han Chinese, is not getting prominent play in most Western newspapers even though the number incarcerated may exceed one million. Nevertheless “most viewed” tallies show these China Cable revelations are getting traction. The leaked official documents, of which the centerpiece is a nine-page operating manual from 2017, when the prison camps were opening, were leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which in turn shared them with 17 partners, many of whom did further digging. . The main document plus four shorter, later “bulletins” describe the policies for the prison camps. From the ICIJ overview: The China Cables,…include a classified list of guidelines, personally approved by the region’s top security chief, that effectively serves as a manual for operating the camps now holding hundreds of thousands of Muslim Uighurs and other minorities. The leak also features previously undisclosed intelligence briefings that reveal, in the government’s own words, how Chinese police are guided by a massive data collection and analysis system that uses artificial intelligence to select entire categories of Xinjiang residents for detention…. The China Cables reveal how the system is able to amass vast amounts of intimate personal data through warrantless manual searches, facial recognition cameras, and other means to identify candidates for detention, flagging for investigation hundreds of thousands merely for using certain popular mobile phone apps. The documents detail explicit directives to arrest Uighurs with foreign citizenship and to track Xinjiang Uighurs living abroad, some of whom have been deported back to China by authoritarian governments. Former inmates now living abroad also state that Chinese officials would interrogate Uighur family members separately and intensively, including children, and would require the families accept “relatives” that would participate in family activities as well as take the children away for hours at a time. Refusing these “relatives” would lead to incarceration. Escapees also report torture, daily sexual abuse of women, and forced surgeries and drug use.

China’s High-Speed Railway To Reach 35,000 Km By Year-End — China’s high-speed railway network will continue to top the world with an estimated length of 35,000 km by the end of this year, said China Railway. The total length of China’s railways will exceed 139,000 km by the end of 2019, according to the company. In 2019, China’s railways are estimated to record 3.6 billion passenger trips, up 92 percent from 2012. Bullet trains are expected to handle 2.31 billion passenger trips, a 3.4-fold increase from 2012. Overseas projects like the China-Laos railway, Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway and Hungary-Serbia railway made solid headway this year, garnering global prestige for China’s railways.

Amazon To Open Chinese Store As US Consumer Fades Into Darkness --  Amazon knows the US consumer is quickly deteriorating, and western markets will likely stagnate in the early 2020s. A recent investor call revealed the e-commerce giant's forecast revenue and profit for this holiday season would be below expectations, setting up a pathway for depressed consumer activity in the quarters ahead. To get ahead of waning consumer demand in the US, Amazon is rushing to re-establish itself back in China after it closed its Chinese marketplace in July, sources told Reuters. Amazon is expected to open a store on the Chinese e-commerce platform Pinduoduo on Monday. The company is expected to increase its efforts to sell goods to Chinese consumers via its global platform. Reuters notes that Alibaba and JD.com have dominated the e-commerce marketplaces in China. It was only four years ago that Pinduoduo was able to get a slice of the action in lower-tier cities. The source told Reuters that Amazon's Pinduoduo store would carry goods from abroad. Amazon is making a push back into China as the government modifies its economy from an export-driven model to a consumption-driven economy. The move will likely transform China into one of the largest consumer markets in the world, in the next several years. China recently outpaced the US as having the world's largest middle-class population. Every US consumer goods company knows that the US dominated the 20th century, but now it's China that is dominating the 21st century. China will be the greatest consumption story of the 2020s and will likely outpace the US as a global superpower by 2030. Amazon can read the tea leaves, and they want action in China. 

In South Korea, Chinese and Korean students are clashing over Hong Kong protests - “Do we have a troublemaker?” read the group chat exchange in Chinese. “This woman is so ugly,” one commenter wrote. “My friend found her Facebook details.” Sujin Han looked in horror at the screenshot of a WeChat group someone had sent her. The messages were all about her – her face, personal information and contact details were being shared with the almost 500 members of a chat group for mainland Chinese students in South Korea. As Hong Kong’s unrest continues into its sixth month, students like Han – in her early 20s and studying public administration at Korea University – have found themselves at the centre of a political storm. In recent weeks, South Korean universities have seen a rise in the number of clashes between Korean students and those from mainland China over their differing views on Hong Kong’s protests. These have played out at so-called Lennon Walls, where messages of support for protesters are shared, to areas where pro-protest banners and posters are put up. More recently, Korean students say they have been victims of cyberbullying and doxxing – the publishing of a person’s private details online with malicious intent. “They sent me messages with swear words,” said Han, who hosted a public forum at Korea University on Wednesday that promoted solidarity between Hong Kong and mainland Chinese students in “uniting against dictatorship”. She has not been the only one to experience this, she said. A female acquaintance at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies was similarly attacked with misogynistic abuse, Han said, and even had posters of her face saying “f*** me”, “I’m a parasitic slut” and “I am a mentally ill person” plastered across campus.

Hong Kong police mull entering besieged campus with a warrant to clear last of anti-government protesters - Hong Kong police are preparing to enter Polytechnic University on Thursday morning to clear hazardous chemicals and weapons and gather evidence of vandalism after violent protests resulted in a lockdown of the campus since November 17. The force reached an agreement with the university management on Wednesday afternoon for its operation to proceed. A team comprising bomb disposal officers, detectives, police negotiators, firefighters, paramedics, social workers and clinical psychologists will be sent in, Yau Tsim district commander, Chief Superintendent Ho Yun-sing, said after meeting PolyU leaders on Wednesday. “Our main goal is to restore the safety of the campus and reopen it as soon as possible,” he said. After the university appealed on Monday for an end to the blockade, police assembled a “safety team” to enter the campus in Hung Hom and persuade the remaining protesters to leave. But the force held back from moving in after PolyU preferred to send in its own search teams to look for the last remaining protesters, with estimates that there were dozens still there. PolyU teams went in on Tuesday and Wednesday, but found only one young woman on Tuesday. Although a counsellor spoke to her, the woman did not leave the campus with the team and the university could not explain what happened to her.

Landslide victory for Hong Kong pro-democracy parties in de facto protest referendum - Pro-democracy candidates appear to have made major gains in Hong Kong's District Council elections, as early results trickled in Monday morning, with multiple high-profile pro-government figures losing their seats. More than 2.9 million people turned out to vote in Sunday's elections, which have been framed as a de facto referendum on the almost six months of ongoing protests in the semi-autonomous Chinese city. With more than 95% of constituencies declared, pro-democracy candidates appeared to have won a landslide victory.Speaking to CNN, Kenneth Chan, an expert on politics and governance at Hong Kong Baptist University, said the more than 70% turnout -- higher than any other election in the city's history -- "exceeded many predictions" and demonstrated both Hong Kongers' commitment to democracy and that they are "counting on this election to point a way out of this impasse."Public broadcaster RTHK described the results as a "rout" and a "staggering victory for the pro-democracy camp," with the majority of the 18 district councils expected to flip to pro-democratic control in an "unmistakable message" to the city's leader Carrie Lam.Opposition candidates took nearly 90% of the seats up for grabs, the broadcaster reported.After weeks of increasingly violent unrest, this weekend was remarkably calm, following calls for protesters to avoid giving the government any excuse to call off the elections or close polling stations early. Outspoken pro-government legislators Michael Tien and Junius Ho both conceded defeat in their districts, according to public broadcaster RTHK and Ho's official Facebook page.Holden Chow, Horace Cheung, Vincent Cheng, and Edward Lau also appeared to be part of a string of upsets from the pro-Beijing DAB party, according to RTHK, as votes continued to be counted.One of the conveners with the Civil Human Rights Fronts (CHRF), Jimmy Sham, claimed a victory for the pro-democracy camp in his district of Sha Tin. CHRF has organized some of the largest marches during Hong Kong's nearly six months of civil unrest."Today's result represents (my constituency's) support to protesters. The government should immediately establish the Five Demands and respond to the public's voices," he posted on Facebook, referencing a longstanding protest slogan.

Factbox: What Hong Kong voters are saying about district council elections (Reuters) - Here are comments from voters, politicians, activists and academics on Hong Kong’s district council elections, where pro-democracy candidates romped to a landslide and symbolic majority after residents turned out to vote in record numbers on Sunday.

Hong Kong elections: pro-democracy camp wins 17 out of 18 districts while city leader says she will reflect on the result The anti-establishment reverberations from almost six months of street protests swept through polling stations across Hong Kong on Sunday, as voters in record numbers roundly rejected pro-Beijing candidates in favour of pan-democrats. The tsunami of disaffection among voters was clear across the board, as pan-democrats rode the wave to win big in poor and rich neighbourhoods, in both protest-prone and non-protest-afflicted districts and, in downtown areas as well as the suburbs. Less immediately obvious was whether there was a generational divide in the way people voted, but ousted pro-establishment district councillors suggested that young, first-time voters had been instrumental in dislodging them from their perch.The final election results were confirmed at 1pm on Monday when the vote count was completed at Lam Tin constituency of Kwun Tong District Council. Among the 452 seats up for grabs, the pan-democrats were victorious in 347, the independents – many of them pro-democracy – won 45, while the pro-establishment camp had to make do with 60. The pro-democracy camp now has control of 17 out of 18 district councils. It won all elected seats in Wong Tai Sin and Tai Po district councils. The only council held by the pro-establishment camp was the 18-member Islands district, where eight seats were handed out automatically to pro-establishment rural chiefs. Before Sunday, all councils had been under pro-establishment control since the 2015 elections.In a statement on Monday, city leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor promised to reflect on the voters’ message. “There are various analyses and interpretations in the community in relation to the results, and quite a few are of the view that the results reflect people’s dissatisfaction with the current situation and the deep-seated problems in society,” the statement read. It added that the government would “listen to the opinions of members of the public humbly and seriously reflect”.

Chinese papers avoid details of Hong Kong’s democratic election landslide (Reuters) - Major news outlets in China have largely avoided detailed reporting of district council election results in Hong Kong, where pro-democracy candidates scored a landslide victory that some say amounted to support for anti-government protests. Instead, some reports in China’s tightly controlled media offered bare-bones facts about Sunday’s elections, including how many seats were up for grabs and how many people had voted. The website of Caixin, a leading economic and financial news provider with a reputation for hard-hitting reports, published a list of districts, candidates and vote counts but did not offer any context. However, the tone in editorials was firm. The China Daily newspaper said on Tuesday the result “marks a setback for Hong Kong’s democratic development, as the results were skewed by the illegal activities of the opposition camp to the benefit of their candidates”. “Violent intimidation tactics” were used to “reduce the exposure and visibility of pro-establishment candidates”, it said, including damaging candidates’ offices, cutting their phone lines and internet and removing campaign posters and banners.

Game of Thrones in Malaysia  - The past 48 hours have been remarkable, even by the standards of Malaysian politics. There now seem to be plans afoot to create a new ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, split and weaken Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), and stop Anwar Ibrahim from succeeding Mahathir Mohammad as Prime Minister. The catalyst for these moves appears to be the defeat of the PH candidate in the Tanjung Piai by-election held last Saturday. The PH candidate not only lost to a candidate from Barisan Nasional–Malaysian Chinese Association (BN–MCA) – the opposition grouping that includes the former ruling party – but the margin of victory was more than 15,000 votes. BN–MCA obtained 25,466 votes while Pakatan Harapan’s Karmaine Sardini came out in second place with only 10,380 votes. Ordinarily, people don’t pay much attention to by-elections, but the huge margin suggests two things. Malays and Chinese both voted en masse against PH, the same voters who delivered the party victory just 18 months ago in the general elections, indicating deep unhappiness with the PH administration. And second, Mahathir appears to have lost personal support among rural Malays, which had been key to PH’s victory last year when Bersatu, his new party, managed to secure about one third of the Malay vote. The by-election proved that the rural Malay vote is well on its way back to the opposition.

Imposing Control Through Fire and Blood (interview transcript) Since its first election triumph in late 2005, Evo Morales’s Movement toward Socialism (MAS) has had unparalleled success in transforming one of Latin America’s poorest countries. In thirteen years of MAS government, a quarter of the population was lifted out of extreme poverty, the indigenous majority finally came to the heart of public life, and Bolivia enjoyed the region’s most consistently high GDP growth. All this came to an end on November 10, as army chiefs forced President Morales to resign. After the weeks of intense right-wing mobilisation following Morales’s October 20 election victory — with widespread but unevidenced claims that the vote was fraudulent — the far-right paramilitary leader Luis Fernando Camacho triumphantly marched into La Paz, promising to put “God back in the presidential palace.” Morales was forced to flee the capital, expressing his hope that his resignation could stem the opposition violence. Yet even after the coup, the new authorities have pursued a violent campaign of vengeance against the ousted MAS — and even the populations whom its rule most benefited. Under self-proclaimed president Jeanine Áñez, street violence by white supremacist gangs has spiralled along with police and army repression of anti-coup protesters. Around two dozen people have been killed in the last week and half, as the violence against indigenous people and representatives of MAS and social movements intensifies. One key actor in the ousted MAS government is Álvaro García Linera, Bolivia’s vice president since 2006 and a key architect of the social policies promoted by President Morales. After the coup, both men were forced into exile, taking refuge in Mexico City. On Saturday, November 16, García Linera granted us an interview in the Mexican capital, reflecting on the events of the last week, the deeper causes of the coup, and the role of both domestic reactionary forces and foreign interference in driving unrest.

"They're Killing Us Like Dogs"—A Massacre in Bolivia and a Plea for Help - by Medea Benjamin - I am writing from Bolivia just days after witnessing the November 19 military massacre at the Senkata gas plant in the indigenous city of El Alto, and the tear-gassing of a peaceful funeral procession on November 21 to commemorate the dead. These are examples, unfortunately, of the modus operandi of the de facto government that seized control in a coup that forced Evo Morales out of power.The coup has spawned massive protests, with blockades set up around the country as part of a national strike calling for the resignation of this new government. One well-organized blockade is in El Alto, where residents set up barriers surrounding the Senkata gas plant, stopping tankers from leaving the plant and cutting off La Paz’s main source of gasoline. Determined to break the blockade, the government sent in helicopters, tanks and heavily armed soldiers in the evening of November 18. The next day, mayhem broke out when the soldiers began teargassing residents, then shooting into the crowd. I arrived just after the shooting. The furious residents took me to local clinics where the wounded were taken. I saw the doctors and nurses desperately trying to save lives, carrying out emergency surgeries in difficult conditions with a shortage of medical equipment. I saw five dead bodies and dozens of people with bullet wounds. Some had just been walking to work when they were struck by bullets. A grieving mother whose son was shot cried out between sobs: “They’re killing us like dogs.” In the end, there were eight confirmed dead. The next day, a local church became an improvised morgue, with the dead bodies—some still dripping blood—lined up in pews and doctors performing autopsies. Hundreds gathered outside to console the families and contribute money for coffins and funerals. They mourned the dead, and cursed the government for the attack and the local press for refusing to tell the truth about what happened.

Bolivia approves new elections excluding Evo Morales - Bolivian lawmakers on Saturday approved a bill that allows for new elections and annuls the results of the October 20 election. Interim President Jeanine Anez, a former senator and opponent of Morales, still needs to sign the bill so it can go into effect, and the timeline of the new elections remains unclear. The move comes after Bolivia's worst political crisis in 1 6 years and weeks of unrest that have left dozens dead. The crisis began after Morales claimed he won a fourth term in October's election, despite widespread irregularities and opposition accusations of election rigging.  He eventually resigned on November 10 at the request of the military. After he took asylum in Mexico, claiming he had been ousted in a coup, his own supporters began protesting in the streets of the capital, La Paz. The dispute and resulting civil unrest exposed divisions between indigenous people loyal to Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, and Bolivia's urban middle and upper classes. On Saturday, street blockades enforced by Morales' supporters were lifted, and supplies and goods could again reach marketplaces in La Paz and other cities that had been suffering shortages.The relief followed an agreement Friday for talks between Anez's caretaker government and Morales' Movement to Socialism (MAS) party. In the city of El Alto, west of La Paz, road access was resumed Saturday to a natural gas distribution center that had been a focus of protesters. Reuters news agency reported long lines of people waiting to refill their natural gas tanks. Eight people were killed in clashes between security forces and protesters at the gas plant on Tuesday. Some residents told Reuters they feared the blockade might resume, depending on how talks progress.

Wall Street Shocked Argentine President-Elect Who Ran Against It Not Eager To Do What It Wants - Having been told by the global financial elite that all they needed was a sensible man with an MBA in the Casa Rosada and all of the economic unpleasantness of the previous decade-and-a-half would be forgotten, they went ahead and elected such a man president. For this they were rewarded with more austerity, more national humiliation, a less valuable currency, an even worse economy than before, and all of global finance impatiently expressing indignation at the hapless Mauricio Macri forrefusing to go further down those avenues so as to more effectively line their pockets from their almost hilariously misguided investments.So, with that plan having backfired magnificently (and predictably), with their man Macri out, how does Wall Street approach the new situation, with a new president over whom they have negligible leverage (in spite of having inadvertently helped elect him) and who is substantially less favorable to their (entirely well-earned) plight than his predecessor? Why, how else but with breathtakingly arrogant expressions of impatient indignation?

Attacks on scholars worldwide raise concern - Nature -Attacks on higher-education communities have become a troubling global phenomenon that shows no sign of abating, according to a report published on 19 November.The annual analysis — compiled by Scholars at Risk, an international advocacy network based at New York University — tracks incidents that violate the academic freedom or human rights of scholars or students. This year’s report documented 324 verified attacks in 56 countries from September 2018 to the end of August 2019 (see ‘Threatened freedom’).  The incidents are reported to Scholars at Risk by volunteers. They include violent or fatal attacks on scholars and students, wrongful prosecution or imprisonment, and sacking or expulsion from institutions. Other qualifying attacks include travel restrictions that affect academics, such as the ban on citizens of certain Muslim-majority nations entering the United States, and systemic issues including university closures or military occupation of campuses. This year’s figure is up on the 294 incidents in 47 countries reported in 2018 — but the authors caution that their analyses capture only a snapshot of the situation because many more attacks are likely to go unreported. The report details incidents in countries that have strong higher-education and research systems, such as the United States and the United Kingdom. In one UK case, ten student activists were temporarily denied access to their university during a visit by members of the royal family, and were unable to participate in classes or take exams.But many of the most serious attacks occurred in countries struggling to develop effective academic communities. In five nations, reported attacks surged, the analysis notes. India has seen frequent violent clashes between students and other groups on university campuses over a variety of issues including corruption andsexual harassment; these are often violently suppressed by police. Clashes in ideology also prompted incidents: the report recorded several academics and students who were sacked or expelled from their institutions because they expressed views that their universities did not share.Sudan has seen major crackdowns by police and paramilitary-organizations on political protests at higher-education institutions amid turmoil that toppled the country’s long-time dictator. This led to the temporary shutdown of many universities. The report also notes spikes in attacks on scholars and students in China and Brazil.The fifth featured country is Turkey, where, since 2016, thousands ofacademics have been dismissed, prosecuted, imprisoned or forbidden from travelling for expressing views inimical to the government, or for allegedly being affiliated with groups that the government opposes.

Furious Pakistan Summons Norway's Ambassador After Public Quran Burning & Brawl - Over the weekend Pakistan announced it has summoned Norway's ambassador to convey the Muslim country's outrage over a televised Quran burning incident in the southern Norwegian city of Kristiansand. Similar to the controversial Florida-based pastor Terry Jones attempting to hold a Quran burning rally in 2010, this latest rally put on last week by the Stop Islamization of Norway (SIAN) had attracted a local and international media frenzy in the run-up to the event. Local reports further described that some 500 counter-demonstrators showed up, sending tensions soaring. The head of the anti-Muslim group, Lars Thorsen, stood in front of a considerable crowd and torched the Islamic holy book, and that's when chaos ensued, with at least two Muslim men rushing Thorsen after they jumped a police barrier all of which was captured on film and went viral. Police could be seen subduing the attackers, and in the mayhem the burning Quran fell to the ground, after which the police used a fire extinguisher to put it out.  The filmed incident sparked angry protests in Pakistan's most populous city of Karachi, where locals burned Norwegian and American flags. On Saturday Pakistan's foreign ministry said: “Such actions hurt the sentiments of 1.3 billion Muslims around the world,” the Associated Press reported. The Ministry said further that the public burning of a Quran “could not be justified in the name of freedom of expression,” and demanded that Norwegian authorities "prevent" such attacks on Islam in the future.Turkey is also reported to have lodged a formal diplomatic complaint with Oslo over authorities allowing the Quran burning to happen. Meanwhile, the Muslim youth who spearheaded the attack on Thorsen, forcing the Norwegian man to drop the burning book and attempt to flee, is being hailed as a hero inside Pakistan, with even a Pakistani Army official praising him publicly for “displaying courage to stop an absolutely deplorable action,” he wrote on Twitter.

France Summons Turkish Ambassador After Erdogan Calls Macron Brain Dead -The French government will summon the Turkish ambassador demanding an explanation after Turkey's delightfully outspoken President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, asked if French President Emmanuel Macron was "brain dead."  Ahead of a NATO summit next starting on Dec 4 which will be attended by both men, tensions have mounted around Turkey’s role in Syria and within the alliance; they boiled over on Friday Friday when Erdogan said that Emmanuel Macron’s warning that NATO was dying reflects a "sick and shallow" understanding, telling the French president "I’m addressing Mr Macron from Turkey and I will say it at NATO: You should check whether you are brain dead first."  The quip is in response to Macron's own recent lament over the "brain death" of NATO because of American unpredictability under President Donald Trump and strained ties with Turkey, and said the allies need “a wake-up call." Macron said in an interview three weeks ago there was a lack of strategic coordination between European allies on the one hand and the United States and Turkey, on the other. He has also decried NATO’s inability to react to what he called Turkey’s “crazy” offensive into northern Syria. Macron’s remarks drew strong reaction from European peers who believe Europe still needs to rely heavily on NATO, but he said on Thursday his remarks had been a useful wake-up call and he would not apologize for saying them.

Ukraine Condemns Apple For Changing Map To Show Crimea As Part Of Russia -  Ukraine on Wednesday criticized Apple for changing its location-based apps to show Crimea as part of Russia, implying that the company “doesn’t give a damn” about its pain, as U.S. tech companies face criticism for complying with controversial local laws in order to keep doing business in those countries. Users inside of Russia using Apple Maps or the Weather app will now see that the Crimea peninsula belongs to Russia. One Russian user searched for Crimea’s capital, Simferopol, on Apple Maps and it displayed “Simferopol, Crimea, Russia.” Outside of Russia, Crimea appears on Apple Maps as belonging to neither Russia nor Ukraine. When searching for Simferopol, the result doesn’t list a country next to the city. Meanwhile a search for San Francisco will display “San Francisco, CA United Sates.”Google has taken the same approach. In 2014, Google agreed to display Crimea as part of Russia for users inside Russia. And now, users outside Russia will see Crimea’s capital Simferopol without an accompanying country at all. Apple’s handling of Crimea mirrors what Google has done in Kashmir, a region disputed by India and Pakistan. Outside of India, Google represents Kashmir with a dotted line, indicating the territory is disputed, but inside India the region is labeled with a solid black line, indicating it belongs to India.

Germany under pressure to respond to Uighur internment -  New documents leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) have revealed the extent to which China is systematically surveilling and interning as many as 1 million members of its Muslim Uighur population in the country's northwest.Observers are now calling on Germany, and those of its multinationals connected to companies complicit in the internment, to take action against China, Berlin's most important economic partner. Leaked documents from the years 2017 and 2018, published on November 24, have exposed "the mechanics of the region's Orwellian system of mass surveillance and 'predictive policing,'" the ICIJ wrote. A computer system dubbed the "Integrated Joint Operation Platform" reportedly sifts through mass amounts of surveillance data about Uighur populations to single out individuals engaging in "suspicious behavior" as innocuous as frequent praying and traveling. This information was used to intern more than 15,000 Uighurs in a single week in June 2017 and as many as 1 million people in total, according to the documents. China insists the camps are mere "reeducation centers" used to alleviate poverty in the region and fight radicalization. "Students" were there voluntarily and could leave of their own volition, Beijing insisted. Documents obtained by the ICIJ paint a different picture. Classified operation manuals tell guards how to double-lock doors to prevent "breakouts." Uighurs must also renounce their faith upon entering the camps and follow the state's communist ideology.

Negative-Rates Bite: Bundesbank Fears Financial Stability Risks, Moody's Downgrades Outlook For German Banks - The “risks to financial stability have continued to build up in Germany,” the Bundesbank warns in its Financial Stability Report, published this week. One major risk highlighted by the central bank is that Germany’s current economic slowdown — the result largely of “unfavourable external economic developments” — could turn into an “unexpected economic downturn”. The country’s export-led economy has barely grown in the last five quarters as global trade has slowed. If the situation gets much worse, it could trigger a “deterioration in the debt sustainability of enterprises and households,” which in turn could lead to cascading loan defaults and credit write-downs. Many yield-starved banks have significantly expanded their lending to “relatively high-risk businesses” while simultaneously reducing their provisions against losses on lending. As the Bundesbank puts it, “there are signs that banks’ lending portfolios now include a higher share of enterprises whose credit ratings could deteriorate the most in the event of an economic downturn.”The banks are also heavily exposed to the fast-growing domestic real estate market, one of the few in Europe to have avoided a slump in the wake of the 2008 crisis. Since then, prices have surged as investors, domestic and foreign, have poured funds into real estate, and banks have shifted their focus toward property transactions. Last year alone, house prices in Germany grew at an average rate of 8%. The Bundesbank estimates that property prices in German towns and cities are overvalued by between 15% and 30%. According to the 2019 Global Real Estate Bubble Index, housing in Munich is now the most overpriced in the world. If the economy’s slowdown turns into a downturn, as the Bundesbank fears, Germany’s property boom could turn to bust, leaving investors, banks and developers shouldering large losses. Yet for now, surveys suggest that both households and lenders expect prices to continue rising long into the future. As the central bank notes, even as Germany’s macroeconomic situation deteriorates, the persistently low interest rates not only help to mask that reality, they provide ideal conditions for the financial vulnerabilities to grow further. There are two main things that set Germany’s banking system apart from the rest of the EU:

  1. Its two biggest banks are struggling. Deutsche Bank, Germany’s largest bank, has notched up multiple quarters of heavy losses, has lost over 90% of its market value since 2007, and has faced numerous criminal investigations. Germany’s second largest lender, Commerzbank, was bailed out in the last crisis, is still partly state owned, and has seen its shares plunge in value by over 98% since 2007.
  2. Germany is teeming with over a thousand unlisted savings banks and cooperative banks, which collectively account for over half of the banking system. These banks tend to be small, local and normally lend for productive purposes. Thanks to their prevalence, competition in Germany’s banking sector is more intense than in most other large developed economies, which translates into lower margins and profits. Many of these smaller lenders have borne the brunt of the ECB’s negative interest rate policy, which is as unpopular among the banks as it is among the country’s savers.

Automaker Audi slashes 9,500 jobs in Germany - Audi, a subsidiary of German automaker Volkswagen, will cut 9,500 jobs in Germany over the coming five years. This will leave just over 50,000 jobs at the company's operations, down from the current level of 61,000. The job cuts are part of a global offensive against autoworkers, which experts expect to cost the jobs of at least 15 percent of the 820,000 workers in the auto and parts industries in Germany alone. Over the last year, BMW, GM, Ford, VW, Nissan and other global automakers have carried out mass layoffs of production and white-collar workers in North America and Europe, while hundreds of thousands of workers have lost their jobs in India and China. Worldwide car sales fell in 2018 from 81.8 million to 80.6 million and are anticipated to decline by another three million this year, the largest drop since the Great Recession. The global economic decline has intensified a brutal competition between the transnational auto giants for profits and to corner the emerging market for electric and self-driving vehicles. The restructuring of the global auto industry is leading to a wave of planned mergers, consolidations and a brutal campaign of job- and cost-cutting. The Audi jobs massacre has the full backing of the IG Metall trade union and works council, which spent the past several months working out the details of the layoffs with management behind the backs of the workers. Central works council chairman Peter Mosch had the temerity to suggest that the elimination of virtually one in every six jobs was a successful outcome. “After months of talks, we were able to avert the original cuts demanded by the company in most areas,” he asserted. Mosch also presented the avoidance of “compulsory redundancies” and a pledge to hire 2,000 “specialists” for electric vehicles as victories. The remaining workers will face wage cuts. According to the agreement, the profit-sharing payout, which currently stands at €3,600 (US $3,996) for production workers, will be frozen or cut if the operating profit falls or remains the same. If profits rise significantly, however, the payouts will not automatically increase.

The End of the United Kingdom May Be Nearing - With the general election campaign picking up momentum in mid-November, Prime Minister Boris Johnson took a moment to gaze patriotically into the future. “In 10 years’ time, I confidently prophesy, we will all be citizens of a proud, strong, and whole United Kingdom—more united than ever,” he told an audience at an electric-car factory in central England on Nov. 13. That such a comment could be framed as a bold prediction rather than a platitude shows the scale of the chaos the country has found itself in since voting to leave the European Union in 2016. While England is split over how—or whether—to deliver Brexit and move the country forward, the political dynamics in the three other constituent parts of the U.K. seem more about whether the country should exist at all. In Scotland, where every voting region chose to remain in the EU, the Scottish National Party is gunning to retake districts it lost in 2017’s snap election by calling for another independence referendum. Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, Brexit has pushed the question of Irish unification to the forefront two decades since the Good Friday Agreement largely settled it. The governments in London and Dublin are concerned that any upset to the delicate balance of power might reignite sectarian violence. Even in Wales, which backed leaving the EU, a recent poll suggested more people are flirting with the idea of divorcing the English. A party there seeking to break away is aiming to win a record number of seats and set up a commission to look into how independence might work. The Dec. 12 election was supposed to break the deadlock in Parliament so the U.K.’s psychodrama over its relationship with continental Europe could finally be resolved. Yet an even bigger question now shadows the campaign: Will the country that came together and built a global empire ultimately implode? Johnson was quick to visit Scotland on Nov. 7, a little more than a week after elections were declared, in an attempt to drum up support for the 312-year-old union. Yet many of Johnson’s core constituents couldn’t care less about holding on to the north. In a mid-November poll by Sky News, 41% of Brexit voters said that leaving the EU would be worth losing Scotland, while only 18% said they disagreed; 17% said they’d be happy to see Scotland secede from the U.K. regardless of the circumstances. Scotland has already voted once on independence. The 2014 referendum ended with 55% opting to stay in the U.K. Johnson—like his predecessor as head of the Conservative Party, Theresa May—has refused to sanction another one, and another Tory insider said it simply wouldn’t happen while the party ran the U.K.

UK’s Johnson pitches ‘Christmas present’ Brexit push in manifesto (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will promise to bring his Brexit deal back to parliament before Christmas when he launches his manifesto on Sunday, the cornerstone of his pitch to voters to "get Brexit done". Voters face a stark choice at the country's Dec. 12 election: opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn's socialist vision, including widespread nationalisation and free public services, or Johnson's drive to deliver Brexit within months and build a "dynamic market economy". Opinion polls show Johnson's Conservative Party commands a sizeable lead over the Labour Party, although large numbers of undecided voters means the outcome is not certain. "My early Christmas present to the nation will be to bring the Brexit bill back before the festive break, and get parliament working for the people," Johnson will say, according to excerpts of his speech that he will make at an event in the West Midlands region of England. Contrasting with Labour's unabashed tax-and-spend approach, Johnson's manifesto -- titled "Get Brexit Done, Unleash Britain's Potential" -- will pledge to freeze income tax, value-added sales tax and social security payments. Johnson will also announce a 3 billion pounds ($3.85 billion) National Skills Fund to retrain workers and an extra 2 billion pounds to fill pot-holes in roads. He will also pledge to maintain the regulatory cap on energy bills. Labour spokesman Andrew Gwynne said Johnson's plans were "pathetic". "This is a no hope manifesto, from a party that has nothing to offer the country, after spending ten years cutting our public services," Gwynne said. Think tanks like the Institute for Fiscal Studies have raised questions about the credibility of plans to fund investment from both the Conservatives and Labour. Held after three years of negotiations to leave the European Union, the December election for the first time will show how far Brexit has torn traditional political allegiances apart and will test an electorate increasingly tired of voting. Amid a heated campaign in which the Conservatives have been criticised for disseminating misleading social media posts, Johnson, 55, will say he will "turn the page from the dither, delay and division" of recent years.

Brexit: Boris Johnson’s Extraordinary Manifesto -- Get Brexit Done. Unleash Britain’s Potential. This is the Tory party’s election manifesto, a 59-page document promising a swift Brexit, big spending, tax freezes, an improved National Health Service, and more funding for law enforcement. In ordinary times, the document would be a letdown to fiscal conservatives. But these are not ordinary times. On December 12, Britons will go to the ballot box and decide whether the occupant of No. 10 Downing Street should be Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn, a Marxist and — some believe — a maniac.With regards to Brexit, Johnson is promising a swift and moderate delivery to his Brexit deal and a short transition period. Corbyn is promising a renegotiation followed by a second referendum. Labour has not indicated whether it will be backing Brexit in the referendum.With regards to the economy, Johnson is promising an end to austerity (without tax hikes). He is also pursuing free-trade agreements with the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. His government intends to borrow £100 billion for infrastructure investment. Torsten Bell, chief executive of the Resolution Foundation, has called the infrastructure plan “the biggest increase in the size of the state under a Conservative Prime Minister since Harold Macmillan.” Naturally, however, Corbyn is promising more. Much more. For every $1.30 of spending that the Tories are offering in their manifesto, Labour is offering $36. For starters, Corbyn plans the biggest increase in newly constructed “council” (i.e., welfare) housing since World War II, which would cost $96 billion. Corbyn also wants to reduce the working week to 32 hours (with no decrease in pay); provide free TV licenses for people older than 75, at $961 million (all British residents must buy an annual license to watch TV); create a new social-security system costing $10.8 billion; provide free dental treatment and prescription drugs; free college tuition, for $9.3 billion a year; free “personal care” for people older than 65 and 30 hours of free child care a week for children under four — only $7.2 billion a year for the state to raise your children!

 Sir Ivan Rogers Plays Cassandra Again, Warns of Likely 2020 Brexit Trade Negotiations Train Wreck --  Yves Smith -  I’ve taken the liberty of posting of Sir Ivan Rogers’ well-reasoned, if dire, takes on the state of Brexit text in full; you can also read it at the University of Glasgow website, where he delivered his remarks yesterday. The big message of Sir Ivan’s speech is that Boris Johnson, who Sir Ivan assumes will win in December and get his Brexit pact approved, is making a Theresa-May-level blunder by having repeatedly committed to getting a Brexit trade deal done by the end of 2020, when the transition period expires. Experts have repeatedly tried disabusing Johnnson of this notion, pointed out that a pretty straightforward trade deal with Canada took seven years to negotiate and another year to obtain conditional approval. More recently, the EU slapped down Johnson’s claims, saying by the end of 2020 there would either be no deal or a bare-bones agreement. We’ve pointed out repeatedly that anyone who needs a deal done in haste winds up making concessions to the party that isn’t time pressured. And Sir Ivan agrees:Put crudely, the EU will feel that, in the time available, rather little serious can get done and will think that is no bad thing as it can fully exploit UK desperation to get something over the new line. Why not take advantage of yet another Prime Minister who has unwisely boxed himself in? Sir Ivan also contends that there is a real risk that talks would break down.Sir Ivan also makes a point that we’ve stressed from time to time, but oddly has been neglected in most press coverage and what passes for analysis: that services deals take longer than trade deals do. So it’s well-nigh impossible for the UK to cinch a pact that would cover its critically important services sector, meaning the City of London. And more subtly, a lot of manufacturing has services bundled with the product, so not having a services agreement in place would also hurt some goods sectors.Recall that the UK could seek a one-time one or two year extension by June 2020.Sir Ivan’s argument is that even if Johnson could talk his way out of the political equivalent of pledging his first born to his “EU deal in 2020” promise, Johnson is very unlikely to realize he has a huge timetable problem until after he’s gone past the point of no return. Sir Ivan also points out that Johnson isn’t concerned when he should be about a sketchy agreement with the EU. Johnson and his allies really believe their fantasy of needing to get away from meanie EU. The problem is that quite a few people did the trade math shortly after Brexit. It verges on implausible that there will be enough demand from the rest of the world to replace the lost/diminished EU trade if the UK goes down this radical path. And that’s before you get to considerable transition costs. And of course the UK will also be desperate to get replacement deals for the ones it loses through the EU…and again, need for speed works very much against the UK.

Leaked US Trade Talks Show How Trump Is Dictating Johnson’s Approach to a Hard Brexit - The cat is out of the bag: Boris Johnson is dancing to Donald Trump’s tune, regardless of the damage this might cause to Britain. His promises to maintain Britain’s ‘high standards’ after Brexit are not worth the paper they’re written on. That’s the only conclusion that can be drawn from a set of leaked papers detailing trade talks between US and UK officials over the last 3 years. The minutes, redacted versions of which Jeremy Corbyn held up at last Tuesday’s leaders debate, were posted by an anonymous source on the discussion website, Reddit. They show how the US administration has already successfully bullied Britain into taking a harder Brexit position, which is good for Trump’s geopolitical games and US big business, but bad for Britain’s economy and British welfare. The papers show US officials pushing Britain to an ever harder Brexit position, clear that they don’t want Britain to be a ‘satellite of the EU’ in the way Switzerland is. They even threaten that if the UK continued to push certain EU positions in international forums – something the UK is still bound to do – it could undermine negotiations on a US trade deal. Papers from the time of Theresa May’s ‘Chequers plan’ are illuminating because the administration is clearly furious at May’s promise of long-term alignment with EU standards which would prevent the dilution of British food regulations which US agribusiness hopes to benefit from. US negotiators saw this as a “worst case scenario” and threatened to raise it with Trump ahead of his UK visit. One of the most significant changes which Johnson made to May’s Brexit deal was a weakening of the alignment to EU standards, suggesting US bullying worked. But it’s particularly worrying that economic modelling seen by the trade officials showed this was likely to be good for the US, but much less so for “UK welfare and GDP gains.” We already suspected that the US was pushing lower food standards in Britain post-Brexit. That’s because US food standards are far more favourable to big business than EU standards, and the only way to help US business increase its penetration into British markers is to undermine current regulation. US officials explicitly mention the infamous chlorine-washed chickens, promising to help the British government sell the concept to a sceptical British public. They attack attempts to reduce sugar in food, the protection of regional products (like Stilton cheese and Cornish pasties) and even nutritional labelling, which they say is more harmful than it is useful. While US officials are eager to give US experts and multinational corporations better “participation” in standard-setting in Britain post Brexit, they are deeply critical of Parliament sticking its nose into such issues. They call the European Parliament’s decision to temporarily ban the Monsanto-owned chemical glyphosate “unhelpful”.

Jeremy Corbyn Hates All Jews- Ilargi - For political, but, much more, monetary reasons, the media makes their mark, and therefore Jeremy Corbyn hates Jews, Julian Assange is an unwashed rapist and Donald Trump is Putin’s handpuppet. And if you object, you’re a suspect human being. In order to make money, and retain or gain power, the media and intelligence services, along with the political powers friendly to them, inject opinions into the populace. How Orwellian do you want it? And I get it, depending on where people lean politically, they will think these are entirely separate stories. The right will be against Corbyn, the left against Trump. And all of them together against Assange. I was starting to write about Jeremy Corbyn yesterday, about the innuendo and allegations concerning his alleged antisemitism, and then I thought: wait, Corbyn and Trump is the same story. And Assange. They are very different people, and their stories may appear to be very very different too, but they are not really. My personal opinion is that Assange has far too little support, and that worries me a lot every single day, while Corbyn and Trump just drown in social media and MSM nonsense. The problem is, that nonsense poses as truth today. That is what Corbyn has failed to understand, what Trump made his own to the extent that he could, and what Assange, who saw all of this better and earlier than anyone, has been entirely isolated from. But it’s still the same thing in all three cases. It’s about the media. They have become the story, instead of reporting it. I’ve already said that I don’t think the time is right -and ripe- for Corbyn’s radical plans for Britain -if it will ever be-, but I sure don’t think Brexit should be decided on a pack of lies and smears. Still, it very much looks like it will be. “Social” media, don’t you know.

Boris Johnson Set for 68-Seat Majority According to YouGov Poll -- Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party is on track to win its biggest majority in more than three decades, according to the most hotly anticipated poll of the general election campaign. The Tories will win a majority of 68 seats in the Dec. 12 election, according to a YouGov poll which used a technique that more closely predicted the 2017 election than standard surveys. Such a majority would allow Johnson to deliver on his promise of getting his Brexit deal through Parliament by Jan. 31, and could also give him some freedom to make compromises in subsequent negotiations with the European Union. The poll put the Conservatives on course to win 359 of the 650 seats in Parliament, a gain of 42 on the last election, while Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party is set to win 211 seats, a loss of 51. Of the smaller parties, the Liberal Democrats are set to win 13 seats, while the Scottish National Party are on track to win 43 seats. This would be the best Conservative result since Margaret Thatcher won her third term in 1987. “As expected, the key thing deciding the extent to which each of these seats is moving against Labour are how that seat voted in the European Union referendum,” said Chris Curtis, YouGov’s political research manager. “This is allowing the Tories to overturn quite substantial majorities.”

Eight-day strike by 40,000 UK university workers begins - More than 40,000 lecturers and other staff are striking for eight days at 60 UK higher education institutions from today against an onslaught on their pay, conditions and pensions. The strike follows a breakdown in talks between Universities UK (UUK) and the University and College Union (UCU). Employees at 43 universities held two separate ballots and voted yes to strike over both pay and pensions. These include the Goldsmiths College, Queen Mary University of London, Courtauld Institute of Art, the Open University, University of Manchester, University of Leeds, University of Sheffield and University of Glasgow. Staff at another 14 institutions are striking over pay and at a further three over pensions. Students and lecturers march in London The UCU ballot result showed a determination to fight the decimation of pay, conditions and pensions. At 69 higher education institutions balloted over proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), 79 percent of those voting supported strikes. Of those who voted at 147 universities over pay, 74 percent backed strikes. This year employee contributions to USS shot up from 8 percent to 9.6 percent, with further increases likely. After eight years of attacks on their pension scheme, a typical USS member is being asked to pay £40,000 more into their pensions but will receive almost £200,000 less in retirement—leaving them £240,000 worse off in total. Pay has fallen by around 21 percent in real terms since 2009. Leading up to the strike, Universities UK and the Universities and Colleges Employers Association published an Open Letter to staff that made no reference to including talks on pay in future negotiations. Earlier this year, the UUK warned that increases of between £250 million to £612 million in USS contributions were “simply unaffordable” for many institutions. Rather than fund the scheme, the UUK is planning to fire thousands of full-time staff. The Financial Times (FT) noted, “The extra annual contributions equate to up to 14,000 full time equivalent roles, according to Universities UK estimates.” This offensive against jobs and pensions is backed by a massive strike-breaking operation. Last week the FT revealed that UUK had demanded that institutions affected by strikes “minimise” the impact by using “other teaching staff and rescheduling lectures, with some also threatening to dock pay and pension contributions during the walkout.” Around a million students are impacted at the universities involved. Many students will support the strike, as indicated by a poll by the Students’ Union at London’s Royal Holloway University. In a poll of 800 students, 70 percent voted “To support the UCU’s strike action and its stance in its entirety.”

Thousands of UK university staff begin eight-day strike with support of students  - More than 40,000 university staff began an eight-day strike Monday to oppose attacks on their pay, conditions and pensions. The action involves lecturers, student support services staff, admissions tutors, librarians, technicians and administrators. Hundreds of strikers mounted picket lines at university campuses at 63 institutions around the UK. The University and College Union (UCU) said 43,600 members were involved in the stoppage after voting in two separate ballots to oppose the plans of Universities UK (UUK). The walkout involves workers at almost half the universities in Britain, including University College London, Goldsmiths College, Queen Mary University of London, Courtauld Institute of Art, the Open University, University of Manchester, University of Leeds, University of Sheffield, University of Bristol and University of Glasgow. Everything was done by university management to intimidate strikers. According to the Financial Times, “Birmingham said picket lines on university land would be regarded as trespassing.” Some universities said that striking staff would be docked pay and pension contributions. Staff, including those who were not UCU members, were told by Lancaster and Stirling universities that their pay would be deducted if they did not cross picket lines. Despite picket lines in many cities being even larger than in last year’s well supported strike against pension cuts, Universities UK claimed that less than 10 percent of staff were on strike. Rallies were held, including in Manchester, Bristol and Newcastle, that were attended by hundreds of strikers. Around a million students are impacted by the strike, with many showing their support for academics on picket lines and at rallies.  In the days leading up to the strikes a number of universities threatened students with disciplinary action if they refused to cross picket lines of their tutors and other university staff. The University of Liverpool warned international students that those who did not cross picket lines risked jeopardising their visas to study in the UK. Students refused to be intimidated, not only refusing to cross picket lines in many cases but also joining in marches held during the day and sending delegations to rallies held by strikers.

British TV Network Bans Word Uppity As Racist After A Single Complaint - A TV network in the UK has banned the word “uppity” after a single viewer complained that the term was racist when used to describe Meghan Markle. The farce began after ITV host Eamonn Holmes criticized the Duchess of Sussex’s attitude when she refused to pose for photographs with fans during her visit to the Wimbledon tennis tournament in July.“If you have an uppity attitude, you’re only through the door two minutes and suddenly you’re sitting at Wimbledon and your royal protection are saying, ‘No photographs, no photographs!’” Holmes said on his show This Morning.This prompted one viewer to complain to broadcasting watchdog Ofcom that the term was racist because it was once used by southerners in the 19th century to describe black people in America during the slavery era who didn’t know their place. However, according to the Collins Dictionary, the term only came into popular use after 1929 and simply means, “inclined to be haughty, arrogant, snobbish.”

Queen Elizabeth cancels Prince Andrew's 60th birthday party in wake of Epstein scandal --  Queen Elizabeth II has reportedly cancelled Prince Andrew’s 60th birthday party. Instead, according to The Times, the Queen will host a small family dinner for her son, who is set to turn 60 on Feb. 19.The decision comes after Andrew’s infamous interview with the BBC, in which he spoke about his association with now deceased convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. The Duke of York has been accused of having sex with then 17-year-old Victoria Roberts (an alleged Epstein victim now known as Virginia Giuffre), which he strenuously denies. Roberts says she was forced to have sex with the prince.Epstein died by suicide in August while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges. The interview saw Prince Andrew attempt to distance himself from Epstein, and clear up the accusations against himself. Instead it turned into a fiasco, with Andrew’s explanations roundly mocked. Following the interview, Andrew asked the Queen if he “may step back from public duties for the foreseeable future,” it has been reported.  In a statement, the prince wrote: “It has become clear to me over the last few days that the circumstances relating to my former association with Jeffery Epstein have become a major disruption to my family’s work and the valuable work going on in the many organisations and charities that I am proud to support.” Since the interview, many organizations have cut ties with Prince Andrew and his entrepreneurial platform Pitch@Palace, such as KPMG, Aon and Standard Chartered, as well as Australian universities such as Murdoch and Bond, among others. Andrew has also stepped aside from all of his 230 patronages.